REMEMBER those times you relectantly whispered “yes sir” to your boss and did what he said.
RAGE you felt for his
POWER. IMAGINE implements of your
DESTRUCTION — staplers, paper cutters, shredders, ink pens.
a world free of bosses.
Live as if you’re Already free. a message from Chicken-Fried Tofu.
We stepped into a new realm. A freedom most had never experienced. To take what you know is yours but was locked away from you.”There is one kind of prison where we are all behind bars and the things we desire are on the outside. There is another kind where the things are behind bars, and we are kept out.”- Upton Sinclair. So on 22nd and Charlotte, Nashville Tennessee this had begun. A new age for people. The realization anything was possible. We all had thought it. In the very back of our minds we had wanted it, possibly needed it. To remove the chains of intimidation and to be didactic with love and compassion. How did we plan, and still plan, on teaching these things? To take these abandoned buildings that sit desolate and render them. Make use of these buildings, capitalism has left this dead, we brought it back to life for public good. The building we chose, The Highway and Public Works building sat empty for over 10 years. It once was used in order for public good. Supposed to be by the people for the people, but for 10 years solid it was locked away from people, without homes, stuck in the cold. We have very few options here in Nashville for our growing homeless community, but yet we let these buildings sit and waste. So naturally it is our job as the people to supply our fellow humans with a place to rest and get back on their feet. Here is my account of the story. Unaware of what to expect but so very eager to present this new space. A small initial group made our way to the building to enter and reclaim it. Simultaneously our friends on Occupy Tennessee’s statewide march were planning on informing the crowd once we had reclaimed the space. We were prepared with banners reading: “Capitalism Left This Building Dead, We Brought It Back To Life”, and “Reclaiming Public Property For Public Good”. I grew up in this area. Once a resident 6 blocks away, constantly biking by this place. But now was our time. A time to fix what is unjust. Our government, state, or city will not do it for us. We do not need them. So it is in our hands to do what is best for the people. We need to make our own decisions. So we made our way to the building entering and placing our flags and banners along the outside walls. I could hear the crowd getting closer and closer. Feeling rushed, wanting to present the building as pleasantly as possible. The crowd gets closer and closer. Finally I hear a lovely chant. “We are unstoppable, another world is possible!” as this continues and they finally make the corner all I hear is “Oh shit!” and then a rumble of cheering to follow. People run across Charlotte Avenue in order to make their way to the building. Some of us were already inside. I was outside finishing up hoisting up a banner. Once the crowd made there way up the stair many seemed interested in entering the building. We had prepared for this with some cleaning supplies and face mask. We don’t want our new building dirty after all! People were eager to help clean once they entered the building. We had multiple friends that were aware of what we had planned that attended the march as well, so they knew what to do. We had comrades on the sidewalk chanting away and dancing. There was magnificent energy filling the air. It was almost as if the building it self, along with everyone there, felt liberated. Around 5 people had made it to the top and dropped a banner. Every so often we would hear distant sirens.
Rumors spread quickly of cops coming. It was about 30 minutes in and there was no sign of police but there was a security guard for the car lot in the back that was contacting the pigs. Different people were hopelessly attempting to reason with him. “We are turning it into a homeless shelter! It’s okay!” “Why do that? We are doing this for you and your loved ones as well.” “We are cleaning up! Nothing to worry about.” He just ignored the people speaking and continued to talk on his phone. Shorty there after the cops arrived. People quickly started mic checking. “The cops are here! The cops are here!” One or two pulled up and made there way to the open door. Shoved a comrade out of the way, then shoved me. Grabbing a random person. Claiming to have seen the come out of the building, so that is why they were viciously grabbed. The 5 people still at the top apparently were sitting on the hatch door in order to keep the cops from entering while one mic checked a speech. By this time I had just made my way to the sidewalk. I guess I am lucky, seemed like the cops didn’t want to arrest me that night. Although the cops had yet to enter standing outside the door grabbing comrades as they exited the building. I wish I could remember the exact words our friend on the roof spoke. It was a lively speech, filled with honest truth about why we had this building and what we planned to do with it. Rumor spread of people attempting to exit out the back and being detained by cops. This rumor was true. Still the cops never entered the building. Unaware of what could be inside I suppose. Our legal advisers were attempting to make deals with officers. Metro was there but the building we had taken was State property for our State police were the ones who had to decide. We were told that they were planning on sending the dogs in if the people at the top didn’t make their way down. Then the pigs told us if they came down they would release everyone. Obviously a farce but worth trying as seeing that they had no other choices. We mic checked what they had told us and they made their way down. Immediately arrested and then it was as if what we had talked to the officers about before had never happened. That is no surprise though. They took our comrades about 2 blocks away to a parking lot in order to give them citations. Many lessons were learned from that night. It made us realize our power as the people, and also our limits. This is only the beginning of a long campaign to liberate our city, our world.
The first draft of these ideas, written in a notebook while living at Nashville’s Legislative Plaza with Occupy Nashville, was impounded by Tennessee State Troopers in the early hours of Friday, October 28th. We didn’t know when the troopers would come, so we stayed on guard. I, who once had a perfect eight-hours-and-up-at-dawn sleep schedule felt myself devolving into a nocturnal creature. It’s safer in the daylight, so I slept then, sporadically. Our bodies were already uneasy enough with the basic act of sleeping in a public space—the complete vulnerability of it, a shuddered-awake worry over any peeing dog or pooping pigeon or petty thief. But a person could work out a life around that, before Governor Haslem added immanent arrest to our sleep-worries. Three weeks into the occupation, Haslem cobbled together an emergency curfew for our Legislative Plaza, sending a smiling man in a suit to hand us the paper and zip-tie up notices and parry our questions with a bland ‘you’ll have to ask someone else.’ We were told the curfew wouldn’t begin until the next day, so that night I tucked myself into the tent. Just at the edge of sleep, around 3am, I heard shouts of “Heads Up.” Exaggeration maybe, I thought. But by the time I had my shoes on and tent zipper up, a full line of 80 State Troopers had already formed, backlit surreally by the War Memorial columns. ’Next day’ begins at midnight. We were being evicted. HOLDING GROUND For all its self-parodies and laughter and drum circles, the Occupy movement carries at its core a seriousness I haven’t seen in the States before. The kind that can make even cool 20-somethings want to sing Civil-rights-era songs un-self-consciously; that can lure a hodge-podge of people day after day, to huddle in sub-freezing temperatures with those they didn’t even know three weeks or three days before. Even in Nashville, Tennessee. This is the seriousness of Holding Ground. We talk about the First Amendment as guaranteeing freedom of speech, but what we’re learning with each tent-staking and eviction notice is that the right to assemble—or even just the right to bodily exist— means freedom of space. They’ve given us speech long ago: there’s perhaps nothing we can say anymore that threatens established hierarchies. But the claim of space still has an edge. The Occupation movement has pushed us up against the need to hold a place, to BE somewhere. And when it does this, it both focuses our interest back to the ground under us and clarifies the danger of eviction. The downtown landscape, once a welcoming gleam of music and art and food, turns its bank-spined back to us. Here, you don’t even hold the right to be left out in the
In a bumbling, awkward way, we’re moving toward the seriousness of a long line of occupiers—the ones who have been occupying as a way of life, and sometimes as the only way of life possible. I remember the Mayan campesinos occupying Guatemala’s fertile Polochic Valley, where I spent some time last summer. Suffering from expanding waves of evictions from the Spanish invasion on, and facing astronomically high child malnutrition rates, 18 Kekchi communities had formed a union and reclaimed their ancestral land. This means they planted food and erected shelter where there was once only monocultures of sugar cane, grown for biodiesel. The lines of black-clad men with guns came for them, too. But because this was Guatemala, and the occupiers were poor and indigenous, those guns were drawn, with live rounds inside. The residents showed us the pictures of their dead, and a bag of spent tear gas canisters: you could still make out the company’s Philadelphia fax number on the side, to call for Questions or Comments. As I write this, Paraná, another town in the Polochic Valley, is being completely destroyed, burned down and bulldozed, under the direction of biofuel magnates. Just like 440 towns were destroyed during the 80s at the behest of United Fruit Company magnates. And each time this happens, some people move away from the fertile plains, up onto the steep slopes to find some scrap of land too unpleasant to be coveted by a corporation. And some come back, reoccupy and reoccupy, plant again what seeds can be found. Against this story, and the thousands like it around the world, our own evictions seem like a capture-the-flag game with some aw-shucks Troopers. But our shared focus on a tenuous homeground teaches our bodies something, and that changes the character of the movement. I suspect this is why, when the 29 who were arrested were finally released (at 9 in the morning, five hours after a judge threw out the warrants, objecting to the Administration’s arbitrary declaration of a curfew in order to evict a specific group), they didn’t stumble home to sleep but marched back to where they had been arrested, shouting jubilantly, “Whose Plaza? Our Plaza. Whose Plaza? Your Plaza.” The next day 26 would go through the same ordeal. We start to love our insecure home. The cold granite tiles and uncomfortably noisy fountains. The statues of men running with guns, celebrating armed victory below the cut-stone message that AMERICA IS PRIVILEGED TO SPEND HER BLOOD AND HER MIGHT FOR THE PRINCIPLES THAT GAVE HER BIRTH AND HAPPINESS AND THE PEACE WHICH SHE HAS TREASURED. Words of Woodrow Wilson before sending out working-class American boys to shoot up and be shot up by working-class German boys. War Memorial is now the People’s Plaza. We’re not letting go.
LAND AND LIBERTY Let me be clear why this is strange to me. When the poor of the world fight the powerful, their rallying cry is often Land and Liberty. Tierra y Libertad. In the U.S., typically it’s more liberty and services. While the ‘global south’ struggles for agrarian reform, here we ask for food, healthcare, or shelter without much thought for the landbases that birth them. Part of this is just the blessings of good fortune: care over land is a sign of the kind of necessity we often don’t have to worry about. But one result of having an un-grounded culture is an over-willing surrender of space. We’re usually good-natured about not having any particular right to bodily exist in a place. We default to an acceptance of spatial existence as something you have to buy: rent or mortgage or property taxes. Anything you don’t personally pay for is a special treat, which you can sometimes earn if you fill out the paperwork correctly or are dressed well enough; or which you can sometimes use so long as nobody notices. This is true even of that most quotidian of public spaces, the sidewalk. Even if you try not to block foot traffic, and keep yourself moving in a picket line, it’s been made clear that the sidewalk is not for politics. We’ve all been to demonstrations where police have told us a sidewalk is off-limits, and order dispersal. Maybe we complain, maybe jeer a little, but we typically move along where they tell us to go, provided we get the chance. I remember watching my friend Chris during the G20 protests in Pittsburgh being shoved off a sidewalk by riot cops, pushed into a moving car, and then charged with blocking traffic. The only time I was arrested was when I walked down a public sidewalk with others in Columbus GA, while holding a puppet. The judge decided the puppet and I (and 25 others, including a barber who had stepped out of his shop to see what was happening) were committing the three crimes of picketing, protesting without a permit, and unlawful assembly. I wound up with a day and a half in jail, $300 in fines, 80 hours of community service, and an 18-month banishment from Muscogee County. My story causes no surprise to those who have been involved in movements. In Nashville currently, we are committing a crime if we’re walking on the sidewalk as a group if there are more than nineteen of us. The twentieth person strips us all of the right to spatially exist, even in the most open and public place we can find. The end result of the criminalization of existing-bodily-in-space-while-being-political is the Kettle, in which demonstrators are simultaneously ordered to leave and denied an exit, foreclosed from both their current location and any path of escape. In that case, it’s wrong for a group to be in a space, but there’s no movement from that space that would be any better. Thus, Obedience can only mean Not Being in Space. When the trapped disobey this impossible mandate, as Occupiers of Wall Street learned, they may be met not only with arrests but also with pepper spray to the face.
The ACLU filed a lawsuit against the State for the arrests, and bought us some time: 21 days without a worry of evictions. Now we can get back to what we really want to be doing, my new friend Chris tells me, working to end corporate control and corruption of government, instead of spending all our time on the distraction of defending the First Amendment. But the moment of eviction—when members of a General Assembly were yanked apart, zip-cuffed, dragged to a bus headed toward jail—is, for me, the embodiment of any message we’ve got. Physically stopping real humans from speaking freely and gathering peaceably in public spaces is both precursor and consequence of allowing moneyed interests unlimited ‘free speech’ in the form of buying politicians in private spaces. As one large placard at Nashville demonstrations reads, it’s citizens united vs. Citizens United. Humans on actual ground vs. fictional corporate persons who exist in the interstices of magnetic traces revealed on computer screens and tax-haven office fronts. Who speaks: a body or a ghost? The tents are back at Occupy Nashville, and multiplying. When November 21st comes, we’ll be on our plaza, waiting for eviction. And we’ll be part of a sea of people around the world; farmers in Mozambique waiting for the bulldozers to clean out their houses and subsistence crops for a hedge fund’s land grab or a foreign mine; families drowning in mortgages, expecting the sheriff’s knock at the behest of a bank; the Undocumented, one traffic stop away from deportation, sucked up into the prison system to slake the thirst of a CCA lobby. And of course, we’ll be with the rest of the neo-Occupiers around the country and the world, hunkering down in public under tents and tarps, our insecurity waking us up to the experiences of a kind of global 99%, the ones who don’t know if they’ll be allowed to hold their ground through the night.
A More Recognizable Spectre By Geoff Smith October 18, 2011 The spectre that once haunted Europe has now taken a global position. Long before Occupy Wall Street has began, class struggle has become a welladopted concept. As this protest grows we have been criticized by demagogues such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and various figures in Conservative/neo-liberal media. This is where we need to prepare ourselves. As they dismiss us as merely wanting handouts and sometimes even luxury, they fail to realize that we speak of political power, food, education, and every other human right that is supposed to be part of democratic societies. As if we wanted free Escalades! Some far-right critics even accuse us as anti-Semites (under the anti-Semitic notion that Jews run the global banking system and Wall Street)! No matter how wild these claims get, we must remain strong and united. In doing so, I would like to propose a few, brief ideas on how to create a stronger force. First, let us recognize our situation. What makes us angry is a classic situation of class struggle, which seems to be understood. However, while they call this “class warfare”, are we not just merely protecting ourselves from their class antagonisms? In an essay off of Al Jazeera’s website, Heather Digby Parton discusses how the rich now pay a record low of taxes at 35%, when in 1960 it was 91%. Many of us are workers of some sort, so let us find our strength; they call us lazy, as if we are not as rich because of sloth. I refer to Marx from the “Critique of the Gotha Programme” on the phrase: “Labor is the source of all wealth and all culture.” Here, Marx claims that if this is so, “Therefore, if he himself does not work, he lives by the labors of others and also acquires his culture at the expense of the labor of others.” I would claim that many of those in power did not gain their wealth and culture from their own labor. If that was so, would someone like Paris Hilton not be in the gutter? So with the help of Marx, the idea that we are not wealthy due to our lack of work ethic and creativity is weak. I personally love Elizabeth Warren’s statement against the Republican senator Scott Brown: “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody. You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.” What we need to do is further develop a class consciousness, and understand that we cannot merely protest against the lack of moral value of greed. That is too simple of a plan, and only reaches halfway. Capitalism runs on self-interest and will continue to do so.
Organization is very crucial. The more notoriety that this protest gets, the more those who oppose us will seek to beat it down. And if we are scattered, we will only dwindle to nothing. Yet as the ruling class laughs at us and tries to push us away, we shall only let it fuel our solidarity. We should work for more central ideas. Both Rosa Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin both saw centralization to oust out opportunism. With organization comes motion. Luxembourg states, “Those who do not move do not notice their chains”. Let us evaluate that. In dialectical materialism, it is safe to say that motion is the essence of life. Much of our postmodern thinking (not discussing postmodernism as a whole) almost brings us to conclude that action gives us nothing good. If we merely sit down, the grass will grow by itself. Now the grass has grown out of control. We cannot simply grow with this oppression. The bourgeoisie will not simply step aside and say by all means. We need to seize control. We have adopted the old liberal, economist consensus that we will simply evolve in a progressive line. When does evolution even work like that? Does it not randomly spring up in events? As said by Lenin: “…It is precisely our campaign of exposure that will help us to separate the tares from the wheat …It is not our business to grow wheat in flower-pots. By pulling up the tares, we clear the soil for the wheat… We must prepare the reapers, not only to cut down the tares of today, but to reap the wheat of tomorrow.” Lastly, I want to discuss discipline. Slavoj Žižek said in a 2007 interview: “We have to reappropriate the language of discipline, of mass discipline, even the ‘spirit of sacrifice’, and so on. We have to do away with the liberal fear of “discipline,” which they characterize—without knowing what they’re talking about—as ‘proto-fascist.’” This does not mean that we simply go around the Legislative Plaza in matching uniforms goose-stepping around, or becoming Trotsky’s “collectivized robots”. It refers to us disciplining ourselves (the individual) to achieve our democratic goals. Alain Badiou said in a 2007 interview: “We need a popular discipline. I would even say… that those who have nothing have only their discipline. The poor, those with no financial or military means, those with no power— all they have is their discipline, their capacity to act together. This discipline is already a form of organization.” Forget mindless hedonism or adopting ideologies that allow us to see the problem but justifies our apathy towards it. We must educate and discipline ourselves if we want to achieve the actual goal that we may or may not recognize. Demands have been made. Some are realistic, and some are not. I propose that we give out simple demands that are easy to meet. Therefore, when they are inevitably not met, they are discredited and cannot say, “But in the real world…”
If we do not strengthen our organization and develop an iron discipline, we will only scatter in a dejected apathy. Conservatives call us lazy, and they still are blind. We are only lazy if we do not demand our human rights. But let us drop an idealized love for the poor and middle class; some of us really are lazy, but nevertheless, even a slothful worker that produces the bare minimum still makes the comfort of the rich possible. Though as we wait for either them to send us a thank you card, or for some divine moment where things will change, nothing will happen until we make the move. The “End of History” never came. Educate yourselves, and discover your real power. Unfortunately, I do not have enough room for works cited and parenthetical notation, so forgive my MLA transgressions, and study for yourself. Here’s some titles that I studied from: Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels “Critique of the Gotha Programme”, by Karl Marx What Is to Be Done?, by Vladimir Lenin In Defense of Lost Causes, by Slavoj Žižek http://www.egs.edu/faculty/alain-badiou/articles/we-need-a-popular-discipline/, an interview with Alain Badiou http://english.aljazeera.net/indepth/opinion/2011/10/2011106141230738325.html Digby’s article I do not have a specific piece for Rosa Luxemburg. v
IT CAN STILL GO EITHER WAY – heal or die – but the present madness can’t continue much longer. Unemployment, sweatshops, and profit-driven wars might continue forever, but these torments cannot:
Our predatory debt system, having devoured the whole planet, has begun to cannibalize itself. We’re preparing too little for the end of oil and other nonrenewable resources. And if the plundering of the commons continues, soon the entire ecosystem will simply collapse, killing us all.
Individual efforts cannot save us; we need public policy. But the rich only permit changes that make themselves richer, so we must end the plutocracy. And we must also change our culture, or it will just generate a new plutocracy. Because our economic system is rarely questioned, few in our society are aware of how enormously destructive that system is. It perpetuates, and is perpetuated by, a philosophy of disconnectedness and private wealth, which has reigned since agriculture began 10,000 (turn page)
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How the People Got Their Groove Back: What a Bunch of Farmers Can Teach a Bunch of Occupiers About How to Keep on Going Not so long ago, Americans witnessed the beginning of a mass democratic uprising. Thousands of average people, disgusted by greedy elites and corporate control of government, launched a movement that spread to almost every state in the nation. They did it to reject debt. They did it to fight foreclosures. They did it to topple a world where the 1 percent determined life for the other 99. And they did all of it against incredible odds, with a self-respect that stymied critics. The year? 1877. The people? Dirt-poor farmers who would come to be known as Populists. Now it’s 2011, and the People are stirring again. It’s been over two months since a few hundred dreamers pitched their tents in Zuccotti Park and stayed. These people weren’t Populists, but they had the same complaints. They couldn’t make rent. They had no future. They lived in a nation with one price for the rich and another for the poor. And they knew that whatever anyone said that they didn’t have real democracy. Okay, and so what? What do a bunch of century-dead farmers have to do with the Occupy movement? Well, quite a lot, actually. You see, the Populists came within an inch of changing the entire corporate-capitalist system. They wanted a totally new world, and they had a plan to get it. But as you may have noticed, they didn’t. And now here we are, one hundred years later, occupying parks where fields once stood. We’re at a crucial phase in our movement, standing just now with the great Everything around us—everything to win or everything to lose. It’s our choice. And that’s good, because the choices we make next will echo, not just for scholars and bored kids in history class, but in the lives we do or don’t get to have. The good news is this: the Populists traveled in wagons and left us their wheels. We don’t have to reinvent them. We’re going in a new direction, but I have a feeling they can help us get there. Occupy has done a lot of things right, and even more things beautifully. But strategy has not been our forte. That was okay at first, even good. We didn’t have one demand, because we wanted it all. So we let our anger grow, and our imagination with it. We were not partisan or monogamous to one creed. That ranging anger got 35,000 people on the Brooklyn Bridge after the Wall Street eviction, and hell if I’m not saying hallelujah. But winter is settling now, and cops are on the march. Each week we face new eviction orders, and wonder how to occupy limbo.
It’s time for a plan, then, some idea for going forward. This plan should in no way replace the rhizomatic-glorious, joyful-rip-roarious verve of the movement so far. It can occur in tandem. But we need a blueprint for the future, because strategy is the road resistance walks to freedom. In that spirit, I sat down a few years ago and devoted myself to studying social movements of the past. I wanted to see what I could learn from them—where they went wrong, where they went right. I didn’t trust this exercise to random musings. No, like a good Type A kid, I made butcher paper lists of past movement features and mapped them onto current ones. I asked: What is the revolt of the guard for the climate movement? What’s the modern anti-corporate equivalent of the Boston Tea Party? As I read, I learned a lot about the phases movements go through as they form, what common features they share, and what often breaks them apart. I could name these phases myself, but it’s already been done. And no one has named them better than historian Lawrence Goodwyn, a thinking human if there ever was one and the author of The Populist Moment. Goodwyn said that successful movements go through four stages: First, the movement forms. This happens when people acknowledge oppression and defy it. They create physical and psychic spaces where they can cast off conventional modes of deferment, reject resignation and start acting with radical self-respect. This self-respect involves speaking with the tongue of truth, in the language of radical experience. Millions of people acting with self-respect become a body collective selfconfidence, reordering what is politically possible. Second, the movement recruits. It finds a way to attract masses of people while sharing its message of resistance. Radical recruitment is done systematically and strategically, and recruiters attract people in two ways: they promise tangible relief and provide a motive and blueprint for action. Third, the movement educates. It articulates the ideology of the movement. It offers an analysis of power that liberates folks from past thinking patterns, renames what is possible, and unveils a plan to make the possible plausible. It names both the enemy in power and how to get power back. It’s a murder mystery: It gives folks a suspect, a motive, and a scheme for restoring justice. Fourth, the movement politicizes. The movement politicizes when its alternative solutions run up against the powers that be. It admits that power must change for change to work, and it ousts old regimes through direct confrontations with power. Having created alternative economies, practices and paradigms, it creates an alternative political structure—laws, government, and process—to protect its brave new world.
Occupy Wall Street is by and large in phase one. Fair enough; it’s been only two months. Building a movement took the Populists ten or twenty years, so we could easily rest easily. But for most people I know, there is a deep, darkening sense that we do not have that kind of time. We’ve got to change it all, and we’ve got to do it before the ice caps melt, before that python, global finance, dies and squeezes its victims one last and lethal time. We are on the edge of history. We are urgency embodied. And so we learn from that history. We must. We’ve got to get serious, and fast. We’ve got to make a plan. This plan has to give masses of Americans new paradigms, concrete alternatives, something to join, a way to join it, and a political insurgency to protect it. Along the way, we’ll have to keep a grip on the slippery soul of democracy, practicing consensus and conversation while developing a system of internal communication. So I’m here to publish my lists. In what remains of this essay, I’ll chart a sample way forward. I’ll take you through each phase of movement building, and make suggestions and critiques. I’ll show how the Populists approached the stage; I’ll say what Occupy’s done well; I’ll dig into dangerous attitudes we should avoid; and I’ll offer suggestions for effective actions. Finally, I’ll close with questions we must answer as a movement whatever methods we decide to use. But first, let me tell you where I’m coming from. I am not a pure -ism or -ist, but a mutt: part anarchist, part green, part interim socialist. This is no screed for a certain sect, or the fancy footwork of a shill tripping on a movement I don’t move to. This is an essay written by me, a complicated person who desperately wants a complicated movement to succeed in desperate times. Because I care, I critique. A movement is always a bag of new thinking, old thinking, dangerous and helpful ideas. In this mix I am a free agent. I tell the truth as an act of love. This truth-telling should not be confused with the snark of the bourgeois press, who use condescension as credentials and write dismissive missives to fall asleep at night. There is no snark here. I am no reporter, except in the basic sense: I report what I see, what I observe. Call me an embedded editor-anthropologist—someone who tries to understand the culture of a big idea, then challenges it to be bigger, bolder, more beautiful. And of course, I speak as an occupier, not for the occupation. My observations come from my limited experience and my limitless desire to experience more. It’s in that spirit I write today, straight from the hum of perpetual noticing.
So let’s begin. Movement Forming Populist Example In the late 19th century, farmers everywhere lived on the brink of total poverty. All across the South and West, furnishing merchants gave them credit in exchange for exorbitant interest rates and the claims to their cotton harvest. These farmers were the ultimate throwaway people: poor, uneducated, desperate. And yet they built a mass insurgency movement that nearly transformed the agrarian system into a series of cooperatives. They did this by forming the Farmer’s Alliance, an institution that functioned on the state, county and local levels to benefit, radicalize and defend the poor. The Alliance experience let farmers use their own language to throw down on corporations, capitalism and false democracy. Within a few years, these same farmers were calling for a whole new economy based on new ideas that they had developed themselves. And for a movement that began with poor white southerners, they were astoundingly democratic, defying social censure to include Blacks, women, and immigrant workers in the movement. What’s more, the Alliance had style and knew how to occupy. When they called for mass education or decision-making camps, alarmed townspeople reported wagon trains stretching as far as the eye could see, festooned with signs, banners and evergreen boughs. What We’ve Done Right On my second day at Occupy DC/Freedom Plaza, I looked around me and thought, “Someone needs to do more outreach.” And then it hit me: Someone else didn’t have to. I did. All I had to do was form a committee and decide a time to meet. So I did. It felt so good to act, to move instead of freezing in despair, to be a real human solving real problems. When I left the Plaza, I was a different person, too. I picked up trash instead of balking at the Entire Trash Problem. I spoke to homeless folks instead of retreating in overwhelm. I was that buzziest of activist buzzwords: I was empowered. And I had discussions, too. I talked to a woman who’d walked hundreds of miles to be with us. I talked to a kid who’d walked out of his movie theater job and never looked back. Some of those conversations were gorgeous, and some were the goddamned hardest, most frustrating talks I’ve ever had. Some had me waving my ego like a badge until finally, hours or weeks later, I’d drop it. I realized I was not nearly as democratic as I thought. But it was good to come alive, to see myself as I actually was: a human being amongst human beings, all capable of great goodness and great failure. And I knew this was what corporate reporters could not understand. They wanted our demands. But our first demand was simple. We wanted to come alive. We were there to be somewhere fully, maybe for the first time ever. The media wanted headlines, but we were starting from our toes. What they could not see was this: the dark, fungal growth of decomposing, of old things dying to nourish a new world.
Attitudes to Avoid Aesthetic Anarchism/Damn the Plan. I am all for mass democratic, non-hierarchical movements. I am in favor of taking down the system. I want to work from an outsider position of independence and autonomy. But I have noticed in many occupations a pernicious spirit of aesthetic anarchism. When I say aesthetic, I’m not talking about looks. I’m talking about image. I’m talking about when the form of an idea replaces its substance, or when the rituals of belief replace the point of believing. Aesthetic attitudes prevail when our motive is not to change power, but to be right, fashionable, or cool— a perfect -ism. And since aesthetic beliefs are more about approval than victory, aesthetic believers spend very little time thinking about what victory means or requires. Every movement has its aesthetics (think hippies) and that would be fine if they didn’t disrupt the entire point, which is to win. Because in order to win, you need a plan, and to plan you must consider an array of ideas, challenging conventional wisdom to get at effective action. Radicals say: 6,000 people lost their homes to banks today. Did we help them? What would it take to help them? Then they go from there, letting the need dictate the action. Aesthetic anarchists, however, are content to wait for the word from their chosen Sinai, saying, “If New York does it, we do, too,” or “so sayeth the man in punk-rock black.” They are inheritors of a received culture of ideas—a splinter culture, but a shallow one nonetheless. Their goals are purity and counter-cultural conformity, a strange form of leftist fundamentalism. One of the worst forms of aesthetic anarchism confuses having a plan with being The Man. Aesthetic anarchists equate all structure and strategy with fascism, defining ‘true’ actions as spontaneous and random. Similarly, they see radicalism in terms of approved actions rather than methods. But this Ivory Gutter Attitude gets us nowhere. So let’s be clear, then. Having a plan is not being The Man. It’s not selling out. It’s not fascist. Having a plan means deciding how to engage with power, and how to make power engage with you. Going forward, let’s do less Damning the Plan and more Damning the Man. Let’s decide what we want and create a plan to get there, choosing our actions to fit the problem, not the fashion. So far our movement’s a radical noun; let’s strategize to make it a radical verb. Suggestions • • • •
Practice democracy fairly. Hold ongoing teach-ins on racism, classism, and patriarchy developed by those most oppressed and supported by their allies. Practice democracy fully. Most of us weren’t taught how to make decisions together, so we need to learn. Invite professional facilitators to do trainings on true consensus. Pinpoint places where democracy is breaking down and find solutions. Know your neighbor. Set up a storytelling tent by the info booth. Talk to people about why they are here, what they’re angry about, who they are, what solutions they have. Record the sessions and screen them for the camp at night. Heal. We’re all coming to this with emotion and history. Some of us are new, and impatient. Some of us are old, and can’t bear to fail again. A lot of infighting is the result of unspoken despair and disillusionment. The ‘real’ world silences those emotions, but Occupy is an opportunity for voice. Have a therapist or healer lead the group through grief work—for example, Joanna Macy’s Work That Reconnects. Strategize. Take Goodwyn’s four phases of movement building and brainstorm ways to make them flourish. Challenge cavalier assumptions about what does and doesn’t work. Merge this into a multi-day, consensus-based visioning session and come up with concrete goals and strategies for your local Occupy.
Questions What inherited cultural assumptions am I bringing to the Occupy movement? How do dominant societal narratives on race, class, gender, resistance and revolution impair my organizing? How do fashionable resistance models inform my work, and do they help or harm? And finally: How bad is x problem, how long do we have to fix it, and what would it take to win? Movement Recruiting Populist Example The Populists did not confuse action with aimlessness; they were radicals with a plan. Being destitute, they understood the need to create economic alternatives that immediately relieved other poor people and brought them into broader struggle. They began by identifying their central problem: They needed credit to get farming supplies, but the furnishing merchant controlled credit and exploited them. So they created the Farmers Alliance Exchange, a cotton co-op that pooled resources to buy equipment, market the harvest, and sell in bulk to foreign and domestic buyers. This system allowed the farmers to depend less on the merchant for credit and to sell their crops at better prices. It also served as a powerful recruitment tool: the co-op attracted recruits and showed them through their own experience how and why the dominant economic system failed them. Two millions farmers joined in a matter of three years, forming thousands of suballiances—each with their own cotton buying agent and farmer-lecturer. The Alliance would eventually mobilize this massive and structured base to break up farming monopolies, push for a new financial system, and create a formidable third party. Participating in the co-ops gave average farmers a sense of dignity, greater economic independence, class consciousness, and experience solving complicated problems together. What We’ve Done Right My first day at Freedom Plaza, I lost my wallet. The weird thing is, it didn’t matter. The communal kitchen gave me breakfast, lunch and dinner. Concerned people offered money. The after-dinner dance party and discussion were way better than seeing a movie, and if I’d needed it, there were blankets, sleeping bags and tents for those without. That’s when I realized it: Right there in the capitol of capital, I was in a money-free zone, in a community that met both my physical and emotional needs. When I met an exile from Katrina-era New Orleans, I could invite him to the plaza. He got some pasta and a rousing discussion on the Fed; we heard from him on FEMA, poverty and homelessness. Occupy’s genius is combining what is normally separate. We were meeting our immediate needs while preparing for long-term resistance. We created alternatives that got people involved, then involved ourselves in creating alternatives.
failed. And they’re right. The two-party capitalist system has failed. I am not advocating a return. But consider this: If we don’t confront political power directly—replace it, dismantle it, infiltrate it, whatever—then we actually depend more on it than if we did. Up until now, the Occupy movement has focused on reclaiming space, direct action, and noncooperation. But that doesn’t mean we’re politically independent; it simply means we depend on politics indirectly. That is being co-opted by default. As my friend likes to say: “You may not believe in the State, but the State believes in you.” You can ignore it and avoid it, and for some goals, that works. But any successful alternative will fail precisely by being successful unless it finds a way to confront and change the law. If, on the other hand, you say what you want and how you want it, then form an autonomous group to get it—and if what you want scares the powerful and improves material realities for millions of people—that’s independence. Now, there are lots of ways to build political power besides running for office, some of which I will list below. But we shouldn’t confuse a slicked-out politico pawning our movement with creating populist political force. Remember: radical change is not action-specific. Actions are radical when they challenge the balance of power. A strike could be totally symbolic if it’s not well-planned, while a legal strategy that questions the legal structure can be quite radical indeed. In other words, an action is radical if it shifts power to the oppressed. The question should not be what appears most radical; the question should be what works most radically in a given situation. If, for example, your goal was ensuring food justice for millions of people, you could grow a vast network of gardens without anyone’s say-so. But if you are trying to stop a foreign war, there aren’t a lot of alternatives available. In the former case, you drop out. In the latter, you engage. This engagement can take the form of direct action. It can take the form of a third party. It can take the form of people’s laws. What it can’t do is confuse confrontation with complicity, or else it will fail. If we want to win, we must find a way to challenge political power without compromise. Two last last things First, Goodwyn names four movement phases, but he also names a movement necessity: internal communication. Successful movements, no matter how far-flung and rhizomatic, find ways to communicate their ideas, their methods, their models and their plans. Movements that don’t do this form pockets of intensity or slump into irrelevance. The genius of the Occupy movement is leaderless, local autonomy, but that genius is also a pitfall if we can’t find a way to coordinate efforts. So far, individual Occupies can throw out ideas or even call for actions, but it’s very difficult to organize around something massive or share crucial information. In a leaderless movement, it can be difficult to know where to go to share or get a question answered. It is good to keep in mind that democratic movements often require more structure than hierarchical ones, since in hierarchies you ask the person in charge and in democracies you ask the structure itself—a committee whose membership is always in flux. This makes it more important than ever to identify a clear process of getting information, making decisions, and federating to make large decisions.
Suggestions Delegates return from the national convention and use the demands and grievances to start an Occupy Party. This party wouldn’t join power, but confront it. It would exist to change the system, but also to recruit masses of people to the Occupy movement and get working for a new world. The candidates would not be leaders but conduits, wearing Everyone masks and refusing to reveal their identity. They could literally change with every debate, every interview, physically embodying the diversity they represent. Yard signs wouldn’t have names but manifestos: “I Am Everyone and I Want ______.” And the name on the ballot? The 99 percent. Engage in massive, coordinated direct action. Delegates at the Occupy convention could also decide priority targets for direct action, then organize local Occupies to coordinate simultaneous actions. With only a few thousand people well-organized people we could shut down, say, the banking system in the United States. We just need to pick a goal and get the numbers. (Direct action is an especially good tactic for people who don’t like to mess with electoral politics. But if it’s to be effective, it has to be massive and it has to be coordinated. Creative actions get publicity, raise awareness, intimidate the powerful, and make people feel empowered and important. Mass action stops the machine.) Create People’s Laws. This could be coordinated on a national level or done to suit each particular Occupy, but the idea’s the same. Come up with a law that dramatically shifts power (for example abolishing corporate personhood) and run it as a ballot initiative—a form of direct democracy. Use the ensuing organizing drive to educate and recruit people into the movement, then fight like hell to pass the law. Remember, though: This is municipal civil disobedience, so prepare to escalate in court. Questions You might not agree with my suggestions, but you’ve got to answer my questions. First, what kind of government do I want? (Because a government is, at its core, a decision-making process and body. Everyone has a government. They just have to say what kind it is.) For the Occupy movement, this will probably involve describing both an interim government and an ultimate government. What do we want while the current system exists, and what do we want when we’ve won? Then ask: Do I want to replace, transform, infiltrate or abolish the government? If I do not want to engage in conventional politics, then what is my plan for confronting existing power? Attitudes to Avoid The Complicity Complex. The politicization of the Populist movement appears to be a simple moral tale: the Populists got political and so got coopted. The solution is, of course, to not engage in conventional politics. But the real lesson is actually double-edged. Because it is just as true that the Populists failed because they didn’t engage enough, believing they could do radical economics without radical politics. In reality, though, noncooperation can’t work without transforming power at the level of government. be controversial to some Occupiers, many of whom reject conventional politics because the system has
The Populists had a system of sub-alliances that each had their own flavor and attitudes, but they coordinated through a system of trained lecturers and annual convergences. In between big events, they communicated through their own Reform Press Association, a collection of local, regional and national papers that communicated key ideas, agreements and perspectives to farmers all over the country. Occupy Nashville has met this need by reviving the Revolutionary-era Committees of Correspondence, using these working groups to communicate throughout the state. Others have started Occupy collaboration sites or suggested a kind of informational Pony Express where appointed people travel to share critical information. Whatever the solutions are, Occupy must create a centralized virtual and physical space to share and plan together or we will fight too much alone. Second, as I finished this essay, the evictions started. One by one, Occupies faced police in riot gear solving ‘public health threats’ with tear gas and pepper spray. Some of us held our ground, some were routed but regrouped and reclaimed, and others are in limbo, wondering what to do next. There are signs at most evictions that say something simple and profound: You can’t evict an idea. That’s true, and the idea of an occupation is capable of outlasting a centralized physical occupation, going forward to occupy homes against foreclosure, occupy classrooms, occupy elections, whatever. But this is an uncomfortable stage because the magic of Occupy has been the centralized physical occupation, a place where so much more happens than the tasks at hand. As my friend bemoaned: “I don’t want us to go back indoors to meetings only ten people attend, only to go back out and find all the people who gathered once but then dispersed.” And that is a real concern. On the other hand, occupations can become mired in problems of self-defense, and the occupation itself can supersede the work that needs doing. We need to regroup our local Occupies and ask ourselves some serious questions. First, what are the pros and cons of a centralized, physical occupation? What are the most pressing needs in our community and are they met better by one occupation, many small and targeted occupations, or another route altogether? If our occupations went dark or indoors, would we lose a certain magic and swagger that we need? If yes, how can we best defend or reclaim an occupy space, and what skills do we need to do that? How can we get those skills, and how can we divvy up our energies to meet both the needs of the occupation and its purposes? What are our goals and how do we meet them in the style and spirit of the Occupy movement? And finally, how do we keep the magic alive? That last question might sound silly, but it’s the most important. Because the Occupy movement didn’t invent the grievances its making or the problems it’s fighting. Most of these problems have existed for decades or even centuries, and have been fought for just as long by devoted dissidents. What Occupy has brought to this mix is radical hope and the magic of gathered imagination, gathered rage, gathered force. It’s brought possibilities so fast and thick they feel like the new texture of reality. And that’s what we cannot afford to lose.
NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE
a message from... Chicken-Fried Tofu
This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice. — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
ngraved on the front of the United States Supreme Court building in Washington is the phrase “Equal Justice Under Law.” It doesn’t take an expert either in the world or in the annals of human civilization that “justice” and “law” are, at best, tangential to one another and that one is perpetually at risk of threatening the other. First it is essential not to commit the fallacy so many scholars do: that law and justice are synonymous. Law is the very human outcome of a political process where we have rules governing what we do to each other and for each other and for ourselves but without which we have explicitly affirmed our support for that particular law; justice is doing The Right Thing, whatever that may be. Alarm bells might ring now: You could be asking yourself with skepticism, “What about the social contract we learned about in fourth-grade social studies? Government with consent of the governed!”
Sadly, that’s not really the full social contract being the individustory. What we all undoubtedly al and the sovereign populace (the learned was the work of Hobbes state), the parties to the social conand to some extent Locke and tract may as easily be the individual Rousseau. We never learned about and other individuals who contract the next generation of social con- to abstain from coercing each othtract theorists, those who write on er while maintaining sovereignty the subject, saying things like: within the individual. Maintaining “What really is the Social Con- personal sovereignty, of course, is tract? An agreement of the citizen very Nietzsche; we can all become with the government? No, that the Übermensch, if you will, if we would mean but the continua- deny purging ourselves of self-detion of (Rousseau’s) idea. The so- termination in favor of living in a cial contract is an agreement of church governed by the State and man with man; an his priests. A criminal is a person agreement from which must result The engraving with predatory insticts what we call sociabove the Supreme who has not sufficient ety.” Court entrance ascapital to form a That’s Pierreserts what we ascorporation. Joseph Proudhon sume to be a be— Howard Scott in 1851. As he nign concept—that states in the citation above and in law is the mechanism by which we General Idea of the Revolution in maintain fairness and equity with the Nineteenth Century, the social one another. Implied in that statecontract does not lay out positive ment is that law is necessary for rights (e.g., State, you shall do X), justice. but only negative ones (e.g., State, But what is the mechanism you shall not do Y). Proudhon— through which our laws are craftand his like-minded contempo- ed, adopted, promulgated, enraries, and to some extent those forced and interpreted? If it is true who came after him and influenced that through law comes justice, by the likes of Kant (I’m talking we must then agree that the prospecifically of Morals By Agreement cess through which laws are dealt by David Gauthier)—believed that with—in America, through the the social contract doesn’t require three “branches” of government, “giving up” anything to the sover- the legislature, the courts and the eign; instead of the parties to the executive—are structurally fair.
Corn can’t expect justice from a court composed of chickens. — African proverb
The law is an adroit mixture of customs that are beneficial to society, and could be followed even if no law existed, and others that are of advantage to a ruling minority, but harmful to the masses of men, and can be enforced on them only by terror. — Peter Kropotkin, Words of a Rebel
We know that isn’t so. Today’s legislatures—and now even our courts—have been infiltrated by corporatism and undue influence. Professional, paid lobbying activities have never been more pronounced. Laws operate to benefit some at the disadvantage of others; that’s what our republican form of democracy has told us. But even with the safeguards of something akin to democratic decisionmaking exist in this country, we know that the powerful benefit from the law more than the weak. In that way, law becomes a tool for the dominant to oppress the meager, and law becomes a tool of tyranny. It is without a doubt that one of the gravest errors we can make is to conflate law with justice. That’s nothing new in this country or anywhere. The Supreme Court struck a compromise in the landmark Erie Railroad Co. v. Tomkins case concerning what substantive law applies in federal courts after states’ interests collided with railroads, the powerful “1%” of the early 20th century. There are many more examples of corporatism and the elite favoring law that benefits them to the disadvantage of the many, and this
probably is not the venue to set those out in detail, though I will consider discussing a few notable examples in future installments of this column. What is different now is that the objective level of corporate spending on political campaigns has risen sharply over the past decade and that government has repeatedly declined to regulate industry that hurts the commons, such as mountaintop-removal mining, financial services reform, media accountability, etc. Nothing highlights the farce of law leading to justice than the existence of private prison companies, such as Nashville-based Corrections Corporation of America and the GEO Group, which together represent the overwhelming majority of private prison companies operating in the United States. These companies not only enjoy the benefit of the operation of law they effectively lobby for, but they also hurt the commons in people by profiting off every body jailed in their facilities. There is no incentive for rehabilitation in these facilities. Their incentive is profit, and more prisoners (in a country with the highest
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread. — Anatole France, The Red Lily prison population in the world!) and longer sentences. The companies have cornered the market on detaining non-criminal immigrants in lieu of their detention, a watershed event for their profits. With the existence of corporations such as these, how could we ever say that law is fair? Some call our great Constitution the safeguard against oppressive laws, when they may exist. They argue that through adherence to the guarantees of personal liberty in the Constitution, that we can be assured that we shall never be oppressed. Again, this requires two assumptions: (1) that the Constitution as written was structurally, explicitly and categorically fair and equitable to all people, placing them on equal footing with the government (since it is well-understood that we do not enter into disputes with the all-powerful State on even keel); and (2) that the interpretation of that hallowed document is also fair. I will certainly expand on these points in the future, but you know where that’s going.
Others of the legal liberalism school of thought, a descendent of the thinkers of the Enlightenment and the people who ran around Paris shouting, “Liberté! Égalité! Fraternité!” adhere to the assurance that no law may be enforced by the government unless it conforms with universal principles or fairness, morality and justice. The adherence to A.C.A.B. this belief rests again on some culturally defined or widely understood notion of what fairness is. Modern international law, founded upon the principles of the Nuremberg Trials, is especially reliant on this concept, that “divine” or “natural” law should govern all written laws and norms. In doing work for the Office of the Prosecutor for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, a U.N.-imposed court that seeks to punish acts of violence including and connected to the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, I often found myself reaching to find principles aligned with jus cogens—Latin for “compelling law”—
which is the law that no state could ever deviate from because it is a “peremptory norm” fundamentally understood by all governments. I quickly found that there are few legal concepts we can all agree with, and the examples of jus cogens are quite rare: no torture, no genocide, no piracy on the high seas, no slavery and no wars of aggression. It was particularly difficult, then, helping the Tribunal craft a definition of what everyone in the world can understand the definition of “terrorism” to be and still have the Tribunal respected by the United Nations’ member states. Furthermore, the norms we all may agree come from a “higher place” are highly personal. Some believe in Jesus, others Muhammed, others believe in “do what’s right,” and the personal biases and internalized and expressed oppression of others, personal biases and prejudices, cultural centrism and patriarchy, classism and values associated with economic fairness all inform a feeble, human judge’s belief of what that peremptory norm looks like. We have too long relied on the religion of the state to save us from ourselves. The solution? Abolish the state. Let us make our own decisions for our own benefit. Let those who fundamentally disagree step aside
and live in another community or better yet, craft norms and guidelines in the spirit of consensusbuilding. Max Stirner, the great German individualist philosopher distilled the role of the state and its laughable hypocrisy into a sentence in his book The Ego and His Own: “The state calls its own violence law, but that of the individual crime.” I am confident other writers in this zine are capable of elaborating more eloquently than I on the subject of what a community without oppression looks like. But for now, I am resolute that the state has failed miserably in adhering to what seems to be the foundation of its legitimacy—that law makes justice. It is true that law has also been used to uplift and empower. But how long did it take for the judicial system to intervene to remedy those atrocities? How many atrocities remain uncorrected? And did the courts ever do anything to fundamentally change the human mind’s error in treating “different” people differently? Is it really better that they are doing all this for us? Ever wonder if we’d be better off if we just did this shit ourselves? Chicken-Fried Tofu plans to write each month with thoughts on the law, justice and another world, which is possible.
IT IS NOT A JUSTICE SYSTEM, IT IS JUST A SYSTEM.
An Injury to One What can the anarchist labor movement teach us about solidarity in the fight against sexual violence? Tristan Call (blogs and organizes with The Mormon Worker) Can Men and Women Have One Big Union? Back in June 1905, workers representing dozens of unions from around the United States gathered in Chicago to form one big revolutionary union, the Industrial Workers of the World. IWW members, or Wobblies, as they came to be known, left a permanent mark on our country, helping to win battles for the 8-hour day, free speech, overtime pay, workplace safety, and the right to organize. But the biggest thing they left was their idea of 'solidarity unionism,' summed up in their motto, “an injury to one is an injury to all.” Heard through the filter of today's liberal multiculturalism, that motto might ring of “we're all in this together”, the sort of hollow inspirational grandstanding we're used to seeing on classroom posters and corporate advertising and moralistic sermons from capitalists in suits. But that's not at all what the Wobblies meant by it – they were the original class warriors of American labor, and if there is a clear historical precedent to today's “We Are the 99%” it is probably the preamble to the IWW constitution: “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common”. But even after drawing a clear line between the 'owners' and the 'workers', the abusers and the abused, they were still left with one major challenge: how to convince the 99% of people who worked for a living, as divided as they all were by race, gender, language, and trade, that they had common interests. The Wobblies emerged out of an environment where only white male skilled workers (like carpenters and railroad conductors) were really encouraged to organize for better labor conditions. The Wobblies, though, saw that ultimately if there were any workers that could be underpaid and abused on the job, those conditions would eventually become a reality for everybody because they could always replace you with someone a little more desperate for the job –a prediction that's been dramatically illustrated over the last several decades, as US corporations have gradually replaced their 'good union jobs' with outsourced sweatshops. The Wobblies' predictions and their message of solidarity hit close to home. I work as a volunteer at the Workers' Dignity Project, a scrappy outfit of immigrant workers and allies fighting to stop the wage Lucy Parsons, Chicago anarchist and co-founder of the IWW
theft epidemic in Nashville. Since I answer the organization's phone, I'm the first listener for desperate stories. This morning a construction worker called; fifteen minutes earlier his former boss had spotted him on the interstate and chased him, tailgating his truck, pulling alongside the cab to shout, and following him off the exit –when the worker pulled off and stepped out of his truck, the boss yelled he was going to have him killed, soon, if he went anywhere near the Workers' Dignity Project again, before jumping back in his Mercedes and speeding off. Or last week: I got a call from a woman whose husband was picked up by the police in a routine traffic stop during a construction job in Louisiana, and has been incarcerated for more than three weeks because he didn't have an ID. Their boss is refusing to pay the $8000 he owes for weeks of contracted work, and now she is about to give birth, without her husband or the cash to cover medical expenses. When workers in Nashville do stand up to this kind of brutality, they usually do so with an explanation like this: “I am tired of being treated like nothing. I might not win this battle, but if I don't stand up, my boss is going to do this to lots of other people after me, like he did to me and lots of people before me.” They are struggling for the benefit of someone else down the line, knowing that if one worker can be abused with impunity the bosses will get used to it and eventually use those same tools against everyone. The Tyrant's Toolbox For men engaged in the struggle against patriarchy and sexual violence, “an injury to one is an injury to all” isn't always easy to apply literally. We might resonate with the touchy-feely idea that we're 'all in this together', or the sentimental notion that I'm just affected as my girlfriend by misogyny because I love her and don't want her to feel bad, or the real but still laughably inadequate worry that oppression hurts the oppressing class (in this case, men) as much as it hurts the oppressed (in this case, women). But, in the end, women are still usually the ones that bear the brunt of sexual violence. Is gender just different, or does the Wobbly slogan hold any promise for us here? I think men can benefit enormously from a feminist (woman-centered) analysis of power and abuse, even when they are trying to fight violence against men. Bear with me for an example or two: Last month I read Yashar Ali's “A Message to Women From a Man: You Are Not 'Crazy',” about what happens when men are cruel, and then when women confront that cruelty men blow it off as women being 'overly emotional' or 'unable to take a joke.' For this, Ali borrows the term 'gaslighting' from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a greedy husband schemes to steal his wife's jewelry: He realizes he can accomplish this by having her certified as insane and hauled off to a mental institution. To pull of this task, he intentionally sets the gaslights in their home to flicker off and
on, and every time [his wife] reacts to it, he tells her she's just seeing things. In this setting, a gaslighter is someone who presents false information to alter the victim's perception of him or herself. Today, when the term is referenced, it's usually because the perpetrator says things like, "You're so stupid," or "No one will ever want you," to the victim. This is an intentional, pre-meditated form of gaslighting, much like the actions of Charles Boyer's character in Gaslight [...] The form of gaslighting I'm addressing is not always pre-mediated or intentional, which makes it worse, because it means all of us, especially women, have dealt with it at one time or another. Those who engage in gaslighting create a reaction -- whether it's anger, frustration, sadness -- in the person they are dealing with. Then, when that person reacts, the gaslighter makes them feel uncomfortable and insecure by behaving as if their feelings aren't rational or normal. As the online comments attest, the article served as a sort of inkblot test for its readers. One critical comment that really stood out to me, though, and which I think can help us think through the politics of solidarity in male feminism, goes roughly like this: “Gaslighting is done by and to all genders; it isn't just a tactic men use against women.” Which is, of course, true, although the commenter misses the article's point: when was the last time you heard a guy say, “ya, that girl was just cray-zee”? Probably yesterday. When was the last time you heard a girl say that about a boy? Probably less recently. But on the other hand, this gender-neutral theory of abuse has a point: the reality is that abusers are often not that creative – they use the weapons and practices they already know, and use them against whoever they have selected as their next victim. But abusers do often have a lot of practice – and in a patriarchal society, a lot of their abuse is practiced at the expense of women. Let's think of a typical example from my middle-school days: girls were treated as though they were more irrational, weaker, less intelligent, and generally less valuable than boys where I lived in northern Alabama. So when a boy wanted to pick on another boy, it was generally as simple as labeling that boy a “girl” and then treat him as he would normally treat a girl. Tactics like these are used all the time to hurt both women and men- but they are developed and practiced most often and viciously on women. When men get 'gaslit' (or worse), we are being subjected to a patriarchal tactic that exists largely to subordinate women. If we really want to understand what we are experiencing, feminist analyses of patriarchy will help us see general patterns. Similarly, a lot of the tools that were developed by American white supremacy are now used against white people too – for example, the abuses of convict labor in our prison system Inmates at the SCC, one of California's first integrated prisons, in 2009 were developed as a way of violently controlling African American laborers after the 'abolition of slavery', and those patterns persist, but those tools are now used against white prisoners as well. Even if we recognize that today's abusive CEO's and prison guards could very well be African Americans themselves, our critiques of the
prison system will always lack depth and our resistance will lack grounding if we don't recognize how those tools became patterned and practiced through white supremacy. Derrick Jensen, my favorite male feminist thinker and a creative writing teacher in the California State Prison system, suggests in his book The Culture of Make Believe that: Most people acknowledge that at least on the inside, rape is not a sex crime, but a crime of power. In an all-male prison, the absence of women forces men to create women, that is, to create a subordinate class, the feminine to their masculine, the submissive to their aggressive, the penetrated to their penetration, to create a class of the fucked. Male prison rape, then, is an atrocity in which, on the surface, no women seem to be involved. But in a real sense, women are intimately involved: they are the class on which this kind of brutality is rehearsed 'in real life'. After all, as Jensen goes on to point out, male prisoners are raped at a rate between 9 and 20 percent, but, There's something interesting about the rate at which men in prison are raped: it's lower than the rate at which women are raped in the culture at large. Most studies suggest that 25 percent of women in the United States are raped during their lifetimes, and another 19 percent have to fend off rape attempts. I suppose you could say that for women –and not just those in prison – rape is “a fact of life.” When a man goes to prison, everyone seems to think: “Oh, shit, he's going to get raped.” But every day, women walk down the streets, or stay in their homes, and face that same possibility. To adapt the Wobblies slogan, then: behind every injured man, there is a series of injured women. We begin practicing solidarity by understanding that we all have different experiences, different risks, different privileges and vulnerabilities, and the structures of oppression in our society are a result of specific racialized and sexualized patterns that go back hundreds or thousands of years. Oppression is not equal. Then, we realize that even if some of us are at more immediate risk that others, we can't afford to ever let the oppressors successfully practice, because they will inevitably use that practice against us, too.
Check back for Part 2: Rape survivors organizing against capitalism in today's IWW, and the the politics of gender in Occupy Nashville.
Rise and fall, after all Its historical precedence Examine the evidence The one and the many Hold up, there’s plenty Possessions are fleeting Money has no meaning Hoarding and affording Can’t hide the mourning Without community What are we Alone and afraid Hobbes’ Leviathan has won To ensure we endure Occupy Everything, Demand Nothing False legitimacy from false consent Majority rule is just a coercive tool We the people Have the power We the people Can stop injustice Civilly disobedient Leaders are expedient Restore community Repair humanity Egalitarian existence Sustainable development One planet. One people. Together we end the destruction Fueled by greed and corruption
This is Southern-Fried Freedom, a decentralized, non-hierarchical collective based out of Nashville, Tennessee. Our objective is to spread a...
Published on Feb 13, 2012
This is Southern-Fried Freedom, a decentralized, non-hierarchical collective based out of Nashville, Tennessee. Our objective is to spread a...