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

Archive for March, 2012

What’s Different with Trayvon?

March 29, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Stratification

Last week I wrote about how I think that the Rush Limbaugh shit storm was in large part because of who the target was, how people perceived her, and what they thought their role towards her should be.  Now I’m thinking about how much attention the Trayvon Martin murder has gotten and why.

Black kids are killed all the time. They are killed on the streets. They are killed by cops. They are killed by prison guards. Why did this one cause such an uproar while the others end in silence?

There is this idea that racism is only personal prejudice – extreme personal prejudice. George Zimmerman confirms that view of racism for us. Racists are those southern, white, redneck, low-class, militia, KKK types. And in this case, we even have a German name for added umph. You can practically see the Hollywood script being written.

When some southern vigilante kills a black kid, everyone can be up in arms without questioning our society and all the institutions in it. Not so when it is a cop or a prison guard. When an “authority” does it, we either have to accept it or question authority. Not so when racism is not personal prejudice but systemic, institutionalized, economic and social subjugation. Then the fault is not some redneck. Then the fault is ours.

It is true that some people are making the connections, but how many? How long will that last? And why does it have to take a kid murdered by a stereotype to make people pay attention? Weren’t all those other dead kids human too?

Probably not. At least not in the minds of a lot of people.

Not surprisingly, the dehumanization of Trayvon has begun. Somewhere along the line we have accepted that a person who smoked pot once or did one stupid thing in their life deserves to suffer for all eternity, or even die for their arguable imperfections. Only in a truly sick society would any of the accusations – true or not – matter at all.

Be upset that some kid was shot down in the street. But be more upset that so many people accept a society that glosses over its racism by focusing only on people like Zimmerman. Be more upset about the millions of people who languish or die in prisons because we have accepted dehumanization as a way of life.

Things You Might Have Missed

March 27, 2012 By: Mel Category: Misc

There are two Positive Force shows coming up. One is a benefit for Jobs With Justice on April 14th. The other is for the DC Trans Coalition on April 27th. Come out if you are in town.

On April 24th we will be occupying the justice department. Here is why.

The Cooperative Development Institute is giving out scholarships to attend the National Worker Co-op Conference.

Like I didn’t already hate enough.  They sent me an email with this horseshit today.

And in related news – Please read this piece on Knights in Shining Armour: Men who Rescue Sex Workers and Slaves.

Do you think any of the people who make grand claims about universal stupidity actually think that they themselves are stupid? Cause I read this article as telling me that the people who are making that claim are dumbasses who don’t know what they don’t know.

This Atlantic article about the effect of everything being for sale is interesting, even if for nothing more than the absurd stats that kick it off.

And finally

Using Prejudice

March 22, 2012 By: Mel Category: Seeking, Stratification

I’ve been watching the fall of Rush Limbaugh with a certain amount of glee, but also with some ambivalence. I’m perfectly happy for him to get shit for calling Sandra Fluke a slut after testifying about contraceptives. But I am wondering why all his other equally offensive comments didn’t come with the same amount of backlash. Why did he go too far this time?

He went too far because he directed his comments toward someone who is put on a pedestal. I don’t mean her as an individual. I mean a young, white, college student who fits the idea of what is pure and good and needs to be protected. If Fluke was a prostitute,  if she lived in a trailer, if she wasn’t white, if the news media had been able to traipse out a parade of guys she had slept with, if she was trans, if she was a guy – then things would have played out very differently.

I was thinking about this the other day when someone was telling me how Occupy received good press in the beginning and then it turned, at least in the mainstream media. But that isn’t really true. Occupy wasn’t receiving much press until some white women in New York were kettled and maced by cops. The police had crossed a cultural line.

When a Hollywood movie wants to show us that the character is a bad guy, what do they do? They have him hurt a woman. If they want to show that he is a good guy, what do they do? They have the dude rescue some woman in distress. So when somebody attacks a woman who fits the mold of who is supposed to be rescued, all hell breaks loose.

There are some times when using sexism is about the only available option. The Madres de la Plaza de Mayo were able to protest when nobody else could. Not even the dirty war government of Argentina could mow down a bunch of mothers and grandmothers. But in protesting, they also reinforced the idea of  our role as mothers, of women as non-threatening.

So I have been thinking about whether or not it is possible to use stereotypes and prejudices without reinforcing them.

The only example I can think of so far is Budrus. (If you have not seen the movie about one of the towns in Palestine that is fighting that Israeli wall, you should.) Women were not involved at first. But the daughter of one of the leaders convinced her father to let the women protest.  Faced with the Israeli bulldozers she thought, correctly, that they would be more hesitant to run over women. It worked.

In the case of Budrus, they were both challenging their role in their community and using sexism at the same time. But that seems to me to be pretty rare. And it is such a difficult line to walk.

It isn’t just reserved for gender roles and stereotypes either. Dave Chappelle has an amazing ability to use stereotypes to deflate them. I love the skit he did on whether or not white people can dance. But Chappelle has said that one of the reasons he quit the show was because of “the realization that his racially charged comedy was too often lost on an audience a little too enthusiastic about repeating the N-word.” In other words, he was afraid he was just reinforcing the stereotypes and prejudices he was trying to challenge.

Can people use prejudice to fight for justice? Or is it always destined to backfire in the long run?


Things You Might Have Missed

March 21, 2012 By: Mel Category: Misc

A wee bit late with this post as I was at the march last night. I have comments, but I think I am going to ruminate on them a bit more.

You should check out CD’s latest, Foreclosing on the Commons. And what amazing photography. 🙂

Would liberals who like to quote Warren Buffett talking about raising his taxes please just shut up now?

Step one: Destroy local economy. Step two: Claim that community cannot have freedom because their economy is too weak. You have to at least give them credit for their evil genius.

If you have never read The Tyranny of Structurelessness, please give it a go. If you have, give it another go. Very much my life right now.

One of my most favorite people in DC wrote a post about how loss will make you look at a place differently.

Turns out that Ugandans don’t much care for that Invisible Children video. I suggest the IC people  stay away from that town.

And yet another example of government and corporations colluding to fuck people over, this time in Ethiopia.

Looks like Greece’s barter/local currency/timebank economy is set to explode.

Am I the only one who is completely ambivalent about the proposed Arizona law criminalizing “passive” resistance? I mean, I appreciate the irony, but isn’t the point of nonviolent resistance to go to jail? The freedom riders filled the jails by the hundreds (thousands?). That’s how they won.



Things You Might Have Missed

March 13, 2012 By: Mel Category: Misc

Did you know that we have one third of all the women prisoners in the world? USA! USA!

A while back I wrote about collections and how, if everyone actually showed up to court, the whole system would collapse. Well now someone is talking about it related to the criminal (in)justice system. We should do this.

Surely the government won’t abuse their claim to shut down any internet domain that they don’t like.  Nahhh. Never.

Can someone please explain to me why it is controversial to accept money from strippers to fund a little league team? The asshat who wrote that article thinks they are “inappropriate.” As opposed to what? Would they have accepted money from Goldman Sachs? From one of the banks that crashed the economy? From a politician? I would happily replace every banker, lobbyist, lawyer, and politician in this town with a stripper. They have the most honest job in DC.

Kony and the Problem with Advocacy

March 09, 2012 By: Mel Category: Politics, Seeking

I’ve been thinking a lot about advocacy the last couple weeks, in large part because that advocacy mindset keeps seeping into the movement building and organizing work that I’m involved in. I wrote a little bit about this in my post on the perils of DC activism. But then a friend sent me the Invisible Children video on their Kony campaign and I think it is time to expand a bit on what I was saying.

Like I said in the other post, I am not completely against advocacy.

People have immediate and pressing needs. Sometimes a minor reform can actually help somebody without increasing the state’s power. Changing the crack to powder cocaine sentencing discrepancy does not challenge the racist prison industrial complex. Though I’m sure those people getting out of prison a bit early are glad someone did it.

It is possible to have radical goals and still spend some of your time dealing with the power structures in order to help people in the here and now. But many of the people who do that work do not have a critique of the system. They think the system needs tweaking, but that it is the best we can do. Sometimes those people will run into so many roadblocks that they accidentally hit on something. But without a radical critique of the system, and of power itself, they end up being misdirected into doing things that are completely wrongheaded.

The Invisible Children video is inspiring in a lot of ways. And they get some things right. It all starts with a personal relationship, with someone coming face to face with a human being who would rather die than keep on living in constant danger of being kidnapped and turned into a murderer. Not being radical, his first thought was to go to the US government to fix things. Finding that they didn’t give a shit, he turned to educating and organizing everyday people. One by one they built awareness and relationships.

But then they used that strength to go right back to the power structures to ask them to fix it. I’m supposed to cheer the involvement of the U.S. government and military in Uganda? Ask an Iraqi or one of the millions of people being tortured in U.S. prisons how great they are. And what about the Ugandan government? Are we really supporting the government that wants to kill gay people, that murdered nine people during their elections, that regularly tortures and imprisons people on a whim?

The goal should not be to get enough collective strength to make power seeking thugs pay attention – whether they call themselves LRA or Senator. The goal should be to get enough collective strength to make power seeking thugs impotent.

Now, of course, you are thinking. But what should we do?

I don’t understand the situation in Uganda well enough to propose a solution. Neither do you. Neither do people in the US government, probably not in the Ugandan government either. I’m still trying to understand the situation in my own city well enough to avoid doing dumb shit that will make things worse. How arrogant would I have to be to think I could come up with the answer for Uganda? And that doesn’t even begin to address histories of colonialism, imperialism, racism, privilege…

The people in the communities of Uganda are the only ones who know their situation well enough to pose workable answers. That doesn’t mean we ignore people who are suffering. It means we support people in resolving their conflicts. But we need to do it on their terms and with the understanding that we come from a position of power and privilege, a position that the aim is to dismantle. We need to do it without turning to people who are responsible for equally heinous shit.

P.S. That pic comes from afriPOP with African reactions to the video.  This piece on Clutch is worth a read too.

Things You Might Have Missed

March 06, 2012 By: Mel Category: Misc

If the G8 want to hide themselves as far away from protesters as possible, I propose we shoot them off into space and leave them there.

James calls out rich people hypocrisy over on Cubik’s Rube.

The more I read (and read about) Steven Pinker, the more I truly hate that man. There is a Pinker take-down in my future.

School arrests are out of control.

The Genesis of Aid is really funny.

But it isn’t as hilarious as this post about Dominque Strauss-Kahn’s prostitute parties.

HT to @ArchieAid for those last two.

More Revolutionary Than Thou

March 01, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking

On one of the videos from the recent Occupy4Prisoners action in DC, somebody spots a guy on the roof of the jail. At first they think it is a sniper. But when they zoom in on them, they see that it is someone working on the camera.

The protester starts to heckle the guy, telling him he should be ashamed to work at the prison, etc.

That moment has been bothering the hell out of me this week. I see this kind of stuff all the time, people making harsh judgments about others based on one tiny piece of information. That guy probably didn’t work for the jail. He probably works for some camera company that sent him out to fix the equipment.

Maybe that guy hates that he fixes cameras at the DC jail. He probably knows people in there. This is DC, where the vast majority of black men are going to be arrested and probably go through that hell hole. How could a black man in this town not know somebody? Maybe he’s been there himself and that camera company is one of the few that is actually willing to hire someone with a record. Maybe that guy has kids and parents to take care of and it is the only job he could get.

Should he quit his job because some of the clients suck? Should he let his kids starve in the name of ideological purity? Can you find me someone out there who never works for or buys from any organization that does fucked up things? I’m sure everybody reading this grows all their own organic food and weaves their own clothing to avoid the food and clothing industries. And surely none of you pay taxes that pay for bombs we drop on kids around the world. Right?

I’m not saying that it does not matter how we earn our living or who we give our money to. There are many choices people make that say a lot about who they are and what their priorities are. But there is no perfect way to earn a living in the world the way it is. There is no way to completely extricate yourself from every racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist, colonial, exploitative, violent, vile system. It is everywhere.

We are not going to build movements to end any of that if we can’t show basic respect to people who may not have yet reached the same conclusions or who don’t have a life that allows them to make the same choices.

When people make snap judgments, when they can’t show people basic respect, when they get caught up in the greener-than-thou or more-revolutionary-than-thou bullshit, it makes me think they are more interested in their personal identity than they are in actual social change.

And that is a damn shame.