The Operating System


In the last few months, Exit Strata has been working hard to evolve our platform so that it may best support and bring visibility to projects that model the use of creativity in social activism. We’ve been bringing you organizers from around the world working with 100,000 poets and musicians for change, creative recovery efforts for sandy, and are engaged in conversations with poets/musicians involved in activism in Gaza and the Arab Spring/Tahrir Square.


This has been an incredible honor and opportunity — but so too has it brought into harsh relief on multiple occasions a reminder that freedom of speech is very much not a human right yet granted in many parts of the world. The good news is that no one represses anything that is deemed not a threat — so if ever there was a doubt of how potentially powerful poetry and music and art for social action/(r)evolution can be, one need only look at its suppression throughout history.


The sad news is the treatment of artists in the places where this practice is still commonplace — many artists, poets, and musicians bear the threat of arrest, abuse, or even death for speaking their minds via their work. Most of us are familiar with Chinese Artist Ai Weiwei‘s repression and arrest, the decades long Iranian campaign against Salman Rushdie (the price of whose fatwa has just increased to 3.3 M dollars), or the exile of Pablo Neruda, but traditionally only a handful of these stories have risen to the press or the public eye.


The good news, however, is that social media allows an international community of protest to the quick and voluminous response to calls from MoveOn and other grassroots organizations. Here’s a great graphic on the types of numbers this shifting movement is now consistently pulling — let’s hope it inspires you to stay or remain involved, or perhaps to ramp up your participation.


This week I received a letter from Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion, the organizers of 100,000 Poets for Change, asking for support of Mohamed Ibn Al Ajami, a Qatari poet facing life in prison for his work aligned with the spirit of the people’s uprisings in Tunisia. The video above is from Democracy Now, and what follows is Terri and Michael’s letter and a petition they have been working on with Bologna organizer Pina Piccolo. Please read and consider supporting this important effort.


Every story like this one is potentially your story.
It is essential that we stand together with artists and creators everywhere in support of our right to human expression.
Here’s a good place to start.
Dear Friends of 100 Thousand Poets for Change,
Please find below an extremely important petition, “LIFE IN PRISON FOR A POEM”,  that Terri and I and Pina Piccolo (100 Thousand Poets for Change-Bologna, Italy) have been working on with friends.


We feel this initiative is extremely important. As poets and artists we have a personal stake in seeing this poet released from prison. His persecution is the persecution of all poets and we feel this is something we can’t stand by and watch without taking immediate action.
 We are very excited by the broad community support we have received thus far and it would be a great honor to have you join us in support of this action by signing the petition and forwarding it to like-minded friends.


Thank you for all you do!
Peace and love,
Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion
GRAPHIC: Roots Action logo header
A poet has been sentenced to life in prison for reciting a poem.

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Qatari poet Mohamed Ibn Al Ajami’s crime consisted of reciting a poem extolling the courage and values of the popular uprisings in Tunisia. For that he’s been sentenced to life in prison.
We have the opportunity to join with a remarkable list of prominent poets from around the world in urging the court in Qatar to reconsider.
Rather than making itself an instrument for cracking down on dissent, we believe that the Court should uphold Mohamed Ibn Al Ajami’s right to free speech. The poem he recited called for an end to intolerable conditions, a demand that for the past two years has been aired by millions throughout North Africa and the Arab world.

In this spirit, we poets and non-poets who perceive the need for worldwide change at the social, political and ecological level, call on the Court to review the appeal, stop siding with repression and lend its ear to the movements that have sprung up all over the world for dignity, social justice and freedom, virtues that poets all over the world are endeavoring to voice and deliver using the beauty and power of poetry.

Please forward this email widely to like-minded friends.
— The team
First signatories:
Michael Rothenberg, Terri Carrion cofounders 100 Thousand Poets for Change
Michael McClure, Poet/ Playwright, USA
Sam Hamill, Poets Against War, USA
Sarah Browning, Split This Rock, USA
PEN American Center
Code Pink
Abraham Entin-Move To Amend Sonoma County, founder
Susan Lamont-Peace & Justice Center of Sonoma County, coordinator
Philip Levine, United States Poet Laureate (2011-2012)
Ron Silliman, Poet/Silliman’s Blog
Alice Walker, USA
Pina Piccolo, 100 Thousand Poets for Change-Bologna
Roberto Malini, Genoa, Italy
Naomi Shihab Nye, USA
Sergio Rotino, Italy
Adam Vaccaro, Milanocosa, Italy
Steed Gamero, Peru/Italy
Rebeca Covaciu, Italy
Alessandro Brusa, Italy
Shailja Patel, USA/Kenya
El Habib Louai, Morocco
Natalia Molebatsi, Azania
raphael d’abdon, Azania/Italy
Jack Hirschman, San Francisco, USA
Agneta Falk-Hirschman, San Francisco, USA
Gabor Gyukics, Budapest, Hungary
Karam Youssef, Cairo, Egypt
Kristaq Shabani, President of the I.A.P.W.A “Pegasi” Albania
Robert Priest, Toronto, Canada
Eliot Katz, Hoboken, New York, USA
Lance Henson, Cheyenne/USA
Ipat Ciuraro, Italy
Fabio Petronelli, Italy
Alexéi Tellerías Díaz, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Betty Esperanza, Montreal, Canada
Alfredo Gonzalez-Baranquilla, Colombia
Nana Nestoros,Volos, Greece
Mariposa de la Rocio, Montevideo, Uruguay
Chapal Saha-Bogra, Bangladesh
Bart Plantenga, The Netherlands
Elliis Ebakor, Nigeria
Pilar Rodríguez Aranda, Mexico City, Mexico
Dean Johnson, Birkenhead, United Kingdom Songwriter/Playwright
Karim Metref, Italy
Antar Mohamed Marincola, 100 Thousand Poets for Change-Bologna, Italy
Mohamed Malih, Italy
Gassid Babilonia, 100 Thousand Poets for Change-Bologna, Italy
Paul Polansky, Serbia
Ed Warner-Poesia, Italy
Marina Mazzolani, 100 Thousand Poets for Change-Bologna, Italy
Patricia Quezada, 100 Thousand Poets for Change- Bologna, Italy
Andrea Garbin, poesiadalsottosuolo, Italy
Chris Abani, USA
Martín Espada, USA
Teresa Mei Chuc, USA
Marcia Lynx Qualey, Cairo, Egypt
Khaled Mattawa, poet USA/Libya
Fady Joudah, USA
Glenys Robinson, UK/Italy
Mitko Gogov, Strumica, Macedonia
Dennis Formento, New Orleans, LA, USA
Carolyn Forché, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., USA
Patricia Smith, USA
Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Brooklyn, NY, USA

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