Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, abolitionist, anarchist who likes the letter A

If Education is Indoctrination, How Do We Refuse?

November 13, 2015 By: Mel Category: Change

For about five years now, I have been volunteering with an adult literacy program in DC. That is a couple hundred Monday nights that I spent reading (mostly) black history with my “learner.” (The program refers to him as a “learner”.)

I hope I’ve helped him. I know he helped me. There have been times in the last five years when there was not much in my life outside of work. Since my work life is in the nonprofit industrial complex, that means way too much time around valedictorians with hero complexes. But even when I didn’t have time for friends or anything else extra-curricular, I always had that time on Monday night.

Aside from the relief of being with someone who knows that a job is a way to put food on the table and not the whole of your identity, I learned a lot. I know more about Frederick Douglas, Fanny Lou Hamer, and even the history of black wrestlers. (Turns out wrestling is fascinating. Who knew?)

But I’m almost certain that I am going to stop tutoring. The reason is that my “learner” has a goal of passing the GED. So we stopped reading black history and started doing GED prep work. Meaning we stopped reading black history and started reading a bunch of Europeans.

I’m supposed to teach him Emily Bronte and Plato. I’m supposed to help him decipher blog posts by obnoxious, white yuppies. I’m supposed to help him take paragraph-long Dickensian sentences and make them sensical.

And the whole time I am doing it I just keep asking why. Why the hell does a person have to know that crap in order to be worthy to have a job?

I end up trying to teach him test-taking tricks and explaining that, while his answer makes a lot of sense, it isn’t what they want him to say. I end up trying to teach him enough of the white supremacist code to maybe pass a test, to maybe get a piece of paper that tells the world…..what? That he has been socialized sufficiently into European education and won’t shake things up too much?

I’ve been thinking about quitting for a while, but I keep hesitating. I hesitate for the same reason I end up doing a lot of things that I am not 100% in favor of. I don’t think my discomfort should stand in the way of what someone else says they need. So I find myself in this dilemma.

Not helping someone to jump through the hoops that may give them some material advantages doesn’t seem right. But neither does participating in the indoctrination process when I want to be participating in the exact opposite.

So what do we do when faced with choices like these? How do we find ways to help people get by in the here and now without becoming part of an indoctrination process that moves in the opposite direction of what we know needs to happen?

Thinking of Calling 911? Reconsider.

July 08, 2015 By: Mel Category: Change, Criminal Injustice System

Stats on foster careIn 2012, Prison Culture posted a little story.* The author’s friend wrote:

I saw a toddler running down Ashland barefooted and wearing very little clothing. No one was in sight. A month ago, I know that I would have immediately called the police. In light of recent events, I got out of the car and did my own detective work. I was nervous. The child was pre-verbal and I’m not good with small children, plus I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was painfully conscious, however, that calling the police might bring irreversibly negative consequences for someone — a family, the baby, me.

The good news is that I found another passerby. We wrapped the baby in my sweater and together we went door-to-door until we found the mom, who by that point was hysterical because she realized that her child was missing. Between the neighbors confirming the child’s identity and the woman’s expression when we walked up with the baby, we were pretty confident the child was hers.

Now contrast that story with two others from recent history.

You may have heard about Danielle and Alexander Meitiv. They have been fighting protective services for letting their kids go to a playground by themselves. Like a lot of incidents, it all started when someone decided to call the cops. Luckily for the Meitivs, they are suburban, white professionals with the resources for an attorney and a lot of public sympathy. They won’t be losing their kids.

Contrast that with Debra Harrell. Harrell let her child play in a park while she worked her job at McDonalds – a job that doesn’t pay enough to afford day care. When someone in the park discovered that the child was not there with a parent, they called the cops. Harrell was arrested. She lost her job. The state took her kids. She was lucky that her case received national attention. She got her job back and received the resources to fight. Many poor women and children of color are not so lucky. The “child welfare” system disproportionately chews up poor children of color.

Most white children who enter the system are permitted to stay with their families, avoiding the emotional damage and physical risks of foster care placement, while most black children are taken away from theirs. And once removed from their homes, black children remain in foster care longer, are moved more often, receive fewer services, and are less likely to be either returned home or adopted than any other children.

Note the stats in that graphic. But a post about the terrifying foster care system is something for another day.

Most of us do not yet have alternate means of dealing with some types of violence. We need to work on that. For now, I certainly wouldn’t judge anyone for dialing 911 about a murder or a rape. But perhaps we can all agree that calling the cops shouldn’t be the first resort for everything that seems a little off?

Conservatives are supposed to be about personal responsibility. Liberals are supposed to be about social justice. Radicals are supposed to be about creating a better system. So what would be your excuse to call the police instead of taking responsibility, finding out what is going on, and trying to do the right thing? I suspect even some cops must get tired of being called for every bullshit thing. There have to be a few who would rather investigate murders than lock up mothers.

Surely this is one tiny (and yet not so tiny) thing that most people can agree with.


*Do read that whole Prison Culture post. It is good stuff.

What Do You Mean By Leader? Why Don’t You Just Say That Then?

June 14, 2015 By: Mel Category: Change, Nonprofits

There Can Be Only One - Image from Highlander movieHow is it that so many people are stuck in The Highlander method of getting things done?

Let’s just strike the word leader from our vocabulary. No more Oprah comments about leaderlessness in social movements. No more hand-wringing about the lack of replacements for non-profit leaders. And no more confusing leaderlessness with structurelessness.

Groups need vision, inspiration, decision-making, facilitation, public representation, resource procurement, planning, expertise, conflict management, and accountability mechanisms.

But it does not have to be that, the minute a group gets together, the biggest narcissist takes over. It is possible to find more equitable and long-lasting means of providing those things than picking a “decider.” Lots of people have successfully managed commons, navigated consensus decision-making, and still found ways to mitigate power imbalances. Not easy, but certainly not impossible.

Sadly, my experiences have been that – even in supposedly left nonprofits that explicitly support things like worker cooperatives – there is an automatic default to The Highlander Model. And in the non-professional groups that I have been involved with, people don’t take the time to carefully think through all the various responsibilities usually taken by the “leader” in order to make sure that we don’t end up with either a mess or an informal/hidden power structure.

So lets just get rid of the word leader and focus on what needs to get done and how.


Great. Thanks.

That Time the State Got a Little Date Rapey

October 07, 2014 By: Mel Category: Uncategorized

On Monday, the Guardian posted a piece about how Keith Bristow, director general of the National Crime Agency, thinks that citizens in the UK must give up more of their freedom for safety. Bristow says; however, that consent is important and that “consent is expressed through legislation.”

Back on the home front. New York officials allowed a company to put beacons in hundreds of phone booths around the city. New Yorkers were not told that these tracking/ad devices were being placed all over and had no opportunity to object.

If that isn’t infuriating enough. How about this.

Cops downloaded photos from a woman’s phone and then used them to set up a fake Facebook account without her knowledge. The account was used to communicate with suspected drug dealers that knew her. The pictures included one of her in her bra and underwear. They also included pictures of two small children – her son and niece. The government thinks it was totally entitled to do this, saying:

Defendants admit that Plaintiff did not give express permission for the use of photographs contained on her phone on an undercover Facebook page, but state the Plaintiff implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cell phone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in an ongoing criminal investigations [sic].

You see, the woman in question had been prosecuted for playing a minor role in some drug dealing (allowing her friends to keep things at her house). She cooperated in exchange for a light sentence. Much like the scum that thinks if you say yes to a date then you are saying yes to everything, the cops did what they wanted.

As I was talking about all this with @bcduggan, I started thinking about that affirmative consent law that they passed in California. And I started thinking about what that Bristow character said about consent. He is right. In the totally non-functioning “representative democracy” that we have, we are told that consent is expressed through legislation. If you want to change something, spend 10 or 20 years trying to get legislation passed.

In the meantime, whatever inconceivable violations people can think of that you have not managed to specifically legislate against will continue. Just don’t think about how, by the time you get that legislation passed, they will find more ways to abuse you. And if there is a power imbalance that puts the consent equation in the abusers favor – say the power of a cop or prosecutor or maybe a little roofie?

Well, she didn’t say no.

Things You Might Have Missed

September 26, 2014 By: Mel Category: Uncategorized

Man removing graffiti. Graffiti of man removing graffiti.What do you do when somebody removes your street art? You take a picture of him and then put him up on the very same wall. So meta. So hilarious.

DC PD will soon be experimenting with body cameras, but are police body cameras really such a good idea?

LAPD killed almost 600 people between 2000 and 2014.

A Texas cop thinks Copwatch and Peaceful Streets are domestic terrorist organizations. He also thinks they are starting a revolution. Let’s hope so.

Thirty two people have lost their jobs at Florida Dept of Corrections for prison deaths, including the guy who had his skin burned off in a shower. But some say the ones truly responsible were promoted while little people were scapegoated.

Don’t get too excited about prison reform or the end of mass incarceration. Evidence for change is slim.

There is a whole dirt bike and ATV culture in DC. It isn’t legal. Police run over riders. Riders run over pedestrians. Like one woman said in that first article, “If the city can build skate parks and traffic lanes for bicyclists, why can’t it find a solution for these riders?” I mean you wouldn’t believe the bike lanes and million dollar dog parks around here.

According to CDC “Between 2006 and 2010, condom use decreased by 4% overall; among teens, the drop was nearly 50%.” Holy shit, kids. I hope to hell this isn’t true for DC also. Our rates of HIV/Aids are epidemic. Like officially epidemic.

Speaking of epidemics. What would you say to 1.4 million cases of ebola by January?

At first I thought that people rifling through your garbage and then fining you for throwing away too many banana peels was going to be the most invasive thing I read about this month. Then I thought, no, it is the kids who have to get fingerprinted and their biometric data collected to get their school lunch. But then I watched this video of cops forcibly taking blood from drivers who refused breathalyzer tests.

Conservative Republican Kentucky town opens public gas station…and loves it.

A long but fascinating report from GRAIN on the rise of supermarkets in Asia and the effect on small farmers and open markets.

Quite happy that I haven’t had to put up with much abuse on the internets. I like my tiny corner and thoughtful commenters. But I have seen what goes on in other spaces though. And it surprises me not at all that trolls are sadists and psychopaths in the rest of their lives too.

Another good piece against the “sharing” businesses in Jacobin.

Hitting kids is a bad idea. Adults on the other hand…. (I’m a little cranky this week.)

In Hong Kong, students are protesting elite colonization of their city.

In Chile, three people who are “accused of being members of an anarchist cell” will be charged in the recent bombing.

Also in Chile, three ex army officials will be charged for Victor Jara’s murder.


Why I Am Ambivalent About the Education Debt Jubilee

September 24, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Students at Oxford UniversityJust about every Monday for a little over four years I have been going to the library and meeting D to read (mostly) books about black history. D is a lovely man with a couple of decades on me who didn’t have the opportunity to finish school and who made it to adulthood without knowing how to read. D is not alone. A 2007 report found that 36% of DC adults are functionally illiterate.

Every year the organization I volunteer with has a recognition ceremony. Many learners stand up and tell their stories during the event. The room is filled with people who have been failed completely by our society and, especially, our school system. After all, while more than a third of adults in this town are functionally illiterate, only 60,000 of them do not have a high school diploma. One gentleman in particular I have never been able to forget.

The man was in his fifties or sixties. He stood up and described what it was like to grow up not knowing how to read. He told us how ashamed he was to tell anybody. How he was able to graduate from a DC high school without being able to read. After graduation, not even having the ability to fill out an application, he couldn’t get a straight job. So he sold drugs. Then he did drugs. Then he became addicted to drugs. He ended up in prison. Lost his family, his freedom, and decades of his life. And there was this “hardened criminal” crying as he laid it all out for us.

DC may have some of the lowest literacy rates in the country, but according to the National Adult Literacy Survey, millions of people in the US demonstrate the lowest literacy skill levels. Some of them are immigrants learning a new language. Many have disabilities. Many are from older generations who had even less access to schooling. Some are just poor and ignored. All of their options are limited because of their literacy barriers.

Now, if you know me at all, you know that I do not put much stock in the education certification system. The system is not the answer to poverty. Going to a university is about continuing to be one of the privileged few. Promoting education allows us to ignore race and class and other accidents of birth. It is pretending like we live in a meritocracy and that a meritocracy is a good thing. It is about believing that the uneducated deserve their terrible fate so that some of us can enjoy our good lives guilt free.

They must just suck, right? Can’t read. Can’t eat. Not my problem. Should have been “smarter.” Should have worked harder. (As though we don’t all know lazy asses who have had everything handed to them on a silver platter and tireless sacrificers who have never caught a break.)

I started writing this post when I found out that this week is Adult Education and Family Literacy Week in DC. But shortly after I started, articles started coming out about the education debt jubilee. And I found myself feeling incredibly ambivalent. I’m happy for those people who are free of their education debt. It would be great if millions of students insisted that they no longer be shackled by debt before their life even really begins.

But I cannot get excited about a campaign that focuses on college debt when I spend every week focused on people who will be incredibly lucky if they get a GED and a stable job that pays more than minimum wage. Education debt campaigns are about less than 7% of the world population. As bad as education debt may be, we are not the “wretched of the earth” by any stretch of the imagination.

Astra Taylor and Hannah Appel recently wrote an important article about the scam of for profit colleges. A business that charges people tens of thousands of dollars for a product that is virtually worthless and markets itself to the people who can least afford it is repugnant. Sucking resources from those who can least afford it is how our system works – mortgages, payday loans, legal fines – and we should be taking down the institutions that do it.

But focusing on for profit educational institutions while accepting the stratification that higher education was meant to enforce is not helpful. It is like getting your drawers in a bunch about private prisons, but being fine with the rest of the racialized caste system of social control that relies on mass incarceration. We need to get much more basic than that.

In their article, Taylor and Appel wonder if it is “time to ask whether education alone can really move people up the class ladder.”  With all due respect, that is the wrong question. It is time to ask whether or not there should be a ladder. And the answer is no.

In the end, we all have to ask ourselves some questions. Can there be justice in a society that has ladders? Should we be fighting for affordable higher education or should we be battling against the social hierarchy that considers those with education “higher”? Do we put our energies into fights where the immediate benefits would be felt by the most privileged third or tenth? Or should we focus on those people who are struggling the hardest for mere survival?

I don’t know what all the answers are, but I feel fairly certain that fixing “higher” education is not one of them.


A note about literacy: Literacy is hard to measure. What skills you need depend on your community and culture. The literacy survey sets the following framework – “Using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” The lowest levels of literacy that I refer to above would include people who may be able to do routine tasks (make out a check, sign their name, identify a meeting time on a sheet) and some that don’t even know the alphabet.


Book Review – Philadelphia Fire

September 22, 2014 By: Mel Category: Book

Philadelphia FirePhiladelphia Fire by John Edgar Wideman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book so much. It was ostensibly about a hideous and important piece of history that too few people know about, which is why I wanted to read it. And it has beautiful, poetic (if sometimes unnecessarily pretentious) writing. If I had read certain bits of it as separate short stories or poems, I would have loved those bits. But all together it just doesn’t work. It was all over the place.

There is very little about the actual Move bombing or group in the book. So if you are looking for that you will be disappointed. It is more about the history and social problems in Philadelphia. Which might have been fine. Except that it is written in a very stream of consciousness style, which I despise. The characters are impossible to give a shit about; most of them are barely fleshed out anyway. And the one you spend most time with is an asshole. He is, like the book, incredibly self-absorbed.

Except for a few moments when I was able to get lost in the prose, I spent most of the book thinking that I wish he would get to the point. A point. Any point. Are you throwing up your personal anguish just to do it? Or are you using your personal anguish to understand deeper things about yourself, the people around you, society? Too often it felt like throwing up thought. Like a first draft with potential. Like he said, “Screw it. I’ll let the reader edit.”

And how do you write a book about government murdering people and the society that allows that, but spend more time on the main character’s creepy voyeurism than on the actual people killed?

I get the symbolism. I get that it is up to individuals to do something and that those individuals need to somehow find a way out of their traps and issues. I get that this giant mess of a web was pulling in important bits in unique ways. Sometimes it even kind of worked a little. But isn’t there something more important?

One of the lines in the book is “Better to light one little candle than to sit on one’s ass and write clever, irresponsible, fanciful accounts of what never happened, never will. Lend a hand. Set down your bucket.” And that line comes in a fanciful book that was ruined by cleverness.

View all my reviews

Things You Might Have Missed

September 12, 2014 By: Mel Category: Misc

St. Louis PD shot sixteen other people before Michael Brown in 2014.

I do not encourage contacting the police. Usually, when I read a story about someone calling the cops, it ends with somebody getting beaten or shot who shouldn’t have. But I send sincere thanks to the woman who turned in her phone so that the police department could go after the pig that texted “I wish someone would pull a Ferguson on them and take them out. I hate looking at those African monkeys at work…I enjoy arresting those thugs with their saggy pants.” She cannot be too popular amongst the PD right now.

Speaking of bad outcomes after the cops are called. The eight-year-old who was tased? The state attorney claims the cops were totally justified. Ummm. If you cannot handle an eight-year-old, knife or not, perhaps you aren’t cut out for “protecting and serving.”

Or how about the guy who called the cops who shot a Walmart shopper. He isn’t suspicious or anything.

Glen Ford from Black Agenda Report has been on fire the last few weeks. Here is an interview he did on This is Hell! focused mostly on police militarization and the counter-insurgency army that cops really are, with a little misleadership class sellout on the side.

Very interesting interview with Professor Angela A. Allen-Bell about Terrorism, COINTELPRO, and the Black Panther Party

Further to that robot conversation from a few posts back, now you can be freaked out about robots and the cloud together. You’re welcome.

Yes, for the millionth time, the stats about sex workers are bullshit.

There is a big brouhaha because the leader of Greenpeace has been jetting back and forth between Luxemburg and Amsterdam on a weekly basis. The focus is mostly on the hypocrisy of racking up that massive carbon footprint, with a little bit of wasteful spending outrage on the side. But what about the fucking class issues? Ugh. These are the kind of horrible assholes I have to deal with on a regular. The kind who pat themselves on the back for helping the world as they live the bougiest of lives.

Also under the heading of repulsive nonprofits, Pathways to Housing has not been paying the rent for their mentally disabled clients. This is despite the fact that these people have been turning over their social security checks to the agency. But don’t worry “The group’s president, Sam Tsemberis, made nearly $300,000 in 2013. Boothe made $174,000 last year, and four other Pathways executives cleared six figures, including a $182,000-a-year psychiatrist.” So the really important people are totally covered.

I really need to check out that Samaritans show.

Mentally ill inmates in a Michigan women’s prison are being tortured.

The bombing in Chile is being blamed on anarchists. It is also being used to resurrect/reinforce some Pinochet era anti-terrorism laws. You may recall that, just a bit over a month ago, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR) ruled that several Mapuche “activists’ rights to freedom of expression, presumption of innocence and their right to question witnesses had been violated when they were tried and found guilty under the anti-terrorism law. The law allows the accused to be held without bail before trial, to receive higher penalties for crimes and to be sentenced based on anonymous testimony.” What a coincidence.

Meanwhile, Latin America has horrifying rates of violence against young people . And gun deaths in Honduras have doubled in less than a decade. A total of “49,294 homicides were reported during the 2005-2013 period”.

I also saw a report of anarchists being targeted and imprisoned in Egypt. But I’m not finding much on this. Anyone?

Guess who has the highest housing costs in the USA? We’re number one, DC!! Maybe it is time to get in contact with OneDC.

I’ll leave you on a slightly more positive note. Restorative justice in Illinois schools. It works.



Prison Health Care: Money for Nothing

September 08, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminal Injustice System

Antique Human Diagram for BloodlettingAt the beginning of August there was an Alliance for Healthcare forum on Health Care Behind Bars. One of the panelists was Debra Rowe of Returning Citizens United. This isn’t the first time I have heard Debra talk about this. I was lucky enough to be on the Criminal Injustice Committee with her. I’m not sure that the full impact of what she is saying comes through in such a formal talk. So I’ll share what I remember from the talks I heard.

When Debra was incarcerated in the 80s, her and the other women found themselves providing hospice care for people dying of AIDS. There was virtually no health care and they had to fight to get even minimal attention paid to the inmates who were sick. But that’s not all. Prisoners were being tested for HIV. Reports were coming out about HIV infections in prison. But they weren’t telling the prisoners they were sick. The people only found out when they started becoming symptomatic.

Not much has changed. Despite prisoners being blood tested upon entering prisons, they are not being told what the results are. Debra recounts an instance where a man was tested several times by several different prisons and never once told that he had Hepatitis C. The rates of Hepatitis and other infectious diseases are incredibly high in prison. One study estimates that 17.4% of those in prison have Hep C. If they are left untreated, those people could die. 

People who know they have a health issue struggle to get any kind of care in prison. One woman who wrote in for the mother’s day issue of Tenacious: Art and Writings by Women in Prison explains:

Betty, one of our Golden Girls, fell on the uneven pavement on Sunday morning, Sept. 8th, while walking back from an Art Therapy class with interns from the Gerontology Department at USC. Luckily she had put in a co-pay the day before, and so would likely be seen in the next day or so. A copay is a prison system alert that some kind of care is needed; it is called a co-pay because the system charges an inmate $5 for every visit. Cheap by free world standards, but enormously expensive for inmates as this reflects about 33% of their monthly average salary at an 8 cents an hour job…

despite many health care visits, the foot is still broken, still untreated, now nineteen days since the fall, but the system will assure you that she is being seen and taken care of.

Suffering with a broken foot for 19 days and having paid for the privilege. That’s the prison health care system.

Though prisons have not figured out how to do even minimal care, they have figured out how to make millions of dollars. At least 20 states have outsourced all or part of their prison health care to private for-profit organizations like Corizon, about whom you can read a damning list of abuses and scandals around the country in this piece on Prison Legal News.

Another corporation getting into the prison medical business is CenteneCentene had 2013 service revenue of $ 10,526,040. Not all of that was for prison health care. In fact, much of it was saving governments money on medicare spending. In other words, they make most of their money off of “the families of low-income single mothers.” You can read all about their famous cost cutting and army of lobbyists here.

It isn’t surprising that they are so good at getting government contracts considering how well-connected they are.  The board includes Former Majority Leader Dick Gephardt and former Governor of Wisconsin Tommy G. Thompson. Of course, there are plenty of banks, insurance companies, and the obligatory Microsoft guy on the board as well.

One other thought about the health care forum I linked to above. For a minute I thought that nobody was going to bring up racism or poverty. That it would just hover there unspoken. Luckily, another Criminal Injustice person, popped up during the question and answer session and made sure nobody forgot. Christopher Glenn also brought up the 500 mile rule for DC inmates, which is something I should write about soon.

Things You Might Have Missed

September 05, 2014 By: Mel Category: Misc

The New York City school teachers who wore t-shirts to school showing their support for NYPD can go straight to hell.

Related to my last post, The new Luddites: why former digital prophets are turning against tech

Another black person with a gun license had a run-in with cops. This time, rather than arrest, they just beat him up.

That cop that likes to rape black women in Oklahoma also killed a guy.

Another killer cop decided to light the woman on fire afterwards.

Balko comprehensively covers how poor people in St. Louis County are getting screwed by the injustice system.

What happens when a cop tries to do the right thing? The police department starts investigating them.

Someone was just saying the other day that they thought the militarization of police was a good thing because it made all sorts of military equipment more available for appropriation. Considering that police departments keep losing stuff, that isn’t so far-fetched.

Thirty years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.

Nice piece about Tenacious: A Zine of Art & Writing by Women in Prison, which we should all be subscribed to.

Someone please explain to me how 181 pre-K students and 201 kindergarten students were suspended from school for violence, drugs, alcohol and/or weapons in the 2012-2013 school year.

There is so much wrong with this story about a 14-year-old who had sex with a 20-year-old (statutory rape), found out six years later that she had his kid, and is now having his wages garnished for child support.

I’ve been saying for years that age segregation is a disaster. I started noticing the problem in activist spaces that are almost always segregated (usually with those in the kid years completely absent).

Hats off to LulzSecPeru for stirring up shit over there.

I thought I had posted a link to this talk about anarchist fiction with Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Killjoy, but maybe not.

And last, but not least, Chinese artist Ai Weiwei gives us a DIY tutorial on blocking a surveillance camera (pictured).