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 April, 2012

Shame Redistribution

April 23, 2012 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking, Stratification

A little while ago, I was watching this video of Michelle Alexander. In it, she talks about how struck she was by the silence within the communities most affected by mass incarceration. House after house in these neighborhoods had family members in prison. But people weren’t talking about it. And a big reason for that was shame.

Not long after, some of the people from the housing committee of Occupy DC were telling us how they had a hard time finding people willing to admit that they were being foreclosed on. People were too ashamed to admit it publicly. The shame was so great that they would rather lose their home.

It is incredible to me how we have all been shamed into silence. We are ashamed of being targeted by police. Ashamed of being taken advantage of by shady mortgage lenders. Ashamed of being poor. Ashamed of what we look like or who we have sex with. We are just inundated with shaming for so many things that we have no business being ashamed of.

Meanwhile, I’m researching Wells Fargo and their investments in private prisons. And I’m thinking about these mutual fund managers who shamelessly  sit at their desks buying stock in private prisons that torture people. Then they go home to their McMansions or posh condos and bask in the glory of having all the things the rest of us are shamed for not having.

There is a lot of talk about redistribution of wealth. But I think maybe we need to start with a redistribution of shame.


Anti-Authoritarianism, Anti-Racism, and Avoiding the Subject

April 20, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Stratification

In response to my Trayvon post, one of the commenters denied that police and prison guards killed black kids and brought up how many black people were killed by other black people. I responded to the comment, but I think there is a bit more to say.

Within the black communities that are most affected by violence, there is a lot of discussion about black people killing each other and how to stop it. But poor black people don’t get attention from major media or get invited to Harvard symposiums to discuss race. When people do hold rallies or talks on the issue, there is no media. Few people outside those communities hear about it, much less show up.

Maybe it appears to some like nobody talks about it, but anybody who thinks that black people are ignoring black on black violence is clearly not speaking to any black people, or even just reading ColorLines (where that graphic came from).

But a lot of white people who don’t want to be perceived as racist do avoid the issue. Which means the only white people who talk about it are white supremacists who want to blame some kind of inherent defect – biological or cultural – for violence in black communities. Which, of course, makes it that much more impossible to talk about.

So we have too few real conversations about why things are the way they are and what can be done about it. It just turns into a racist shit show or an argument about personal responsibility versus oppression.

I don’t want to rehash everything I wrote in Who is Responsible. I’ll just reiterate that personal responsibility, social circumstances, and structures of domination are not mutually exclusive.

I’d also like to make one other related observation. I’ve been looking at drug war stuff for eight or nine years now. And I have found that a lot of my best information about police/state abuse comes from libertarians who have a real beef with authority and an obsessive penchant for documenting its abuses. Unfortunately, they all too often have done no work to understand how all the isms, including racism, are used by the authorities they hate.

I have also observed that the kind of information that drug war warriors and libertarians document doesn’t seem to reach people outside of their circles. So while I have seen many posts about Trayvon, I have seen almost no posts about the guy who was killed because a social services person thinks they smelled weed during their visit.

If only more anti-racists would become anti-authoritarian. If only more anti-authoritarians would become anti-racist. Then we might really start to get somewhere.

Occupy the DOJ

April 18, 2012 By: Mel Category: Events

And…Not Either/Or

April 16, 2012 By: Mel Category: Politics

Taibbi had an interesting post up a bit ago about the growing consensus about big banks. He talks about a report by the head of the Dallas fed’s research department who is calling for an end of “too big to fail” banks.

Moreover, he talks about an inherent perversion of the system that has led to a two-tiered regulatory environment: a top tier where the misdeeds of TBTF banks are routinely ignored and unpunished (“virtually nobody has been held accountable for their roles in the financial crisis,” he writes), and a lower tier where small regional banks are increasingly forced to swim upstream against “the law’s sheer length, breadth and complexity,” leading to a “massive increase in compliance burdens.”

To me, the dichotomy outlined by Rosenbaum helps explain the appearance of two seemingly contradictory major protest movements: a Tea Party movement fulminating against a repressive, overweening regulatory regime, and the Occupy movement railing against an extreme laissez-faire system bordering on lawlessness.

It’s amazing how often the liberal leaning who want more regulations and the libertarian leaning who feel over-regulated think they are on different sides. Usually, they think the other side is completely blind and not operating on facts. But often they are both operating on facts, just different sets of them.

When I hear about cops raiding a barbour shop under the pretext of the drug war and then charging people for (heaven forbid) doing hair without a license, it is nearly always from a libertarian. And when I hear that regulations had some minor moderating effect on the free for all that is the conspiracy between government and big business, it is nearly always from a liberal. (Granted, they don’t often  explicitly recognize that conspiracy.)

Nice to see some acknowledgement that two seemingly contradictory views can actually both have some truth to them. Could people be beginning to add two and two together?

Things You Might Have Missed

April 11, 2012 By: Mel Category: Misc

Charles Davis is covering for Glenn Greenwald this week and wrote two really great posts. And I’m not just saying that because one of them relates to the campaign the criminal (in)justice committee is working on.

I don’t know how I didn’t know that the guy behind the IMF was a spy.

According to the NYT, communists are hot and anarchists are scary.

How low do you think voter turnout can go before people stop calling it apathy and start calling it awareness?

Really 911?

Maybe the cops can’t be bothered to show up for shootings because they are too busy keeping us safe from hemp pants and bongs. (Fashion police?)

First I get a letter from Gloria Steinem via Code Pink that asks me to write to Hilary Clinton and Susan Rice – two women who never met a war they didn’t like – to ask them to pretty please not bomb Iran. Then I read that Steinem has now joined the rescue industry and has been in India talking out her ass (here and here). News flash, Gloria. Having lady parts does not make you an expert on all things involving women. Nor does it make someone biologically anti-war.  Will she never go away?


Revolution in the Echo Chamber

April 09, 2012 By: Mel Category: Seeking, Stratification

Organizing for radical change means building relationships and networks. It is natural that we start building with the ones we already have. We don’t need to start from scratch. And connections built on years of shared experiences are probably going to be stronger than ones based just on philosophical beliefs or political aims.

The thing is, in a world that is so divided by gender, age, race, religion, class, culture, geography, and so many other things; our networks are often filled with people very much like us.

Sometimes that’s o.k. I don’t think it is a huge tragedy that a punk collective is mostly white dudes. And sometimes homogeneity is absolutely essential. An organization of people returning from prison is going to reflect who is targeted for criminalization. A day laborer collective is going to be made up of day laborers. If those kinds of organizations are run by a bunch of people who don’t have those experiences, then they are guaranteed to turn into a shit show.

But if you are trying to do something bigger, you can’t be in an echo chamber.

I posted a comment in my last Things You Might Have Missed about the amount of white dudes in ZNets new International Organization for a Participatory Society. I was going to leave it at that and never think about the organization again. But someone tweeted me that I should tell people about it because “more diverse membership is essential.”

Yes. If their aim is worldwide revolution – if they claim to be “anti-sexist” and “anti-racist” and “bottom-up” – then they should have a membership that actually reflects the world. When they got together and saw that their limited network didn’t get close to bringing in even a teeny sampling of perspectives, they should have Stopped Right There. Because they are clearly not ready for the project they are trying to take on.

This isn’t just about “diversity” as some feel good, warm fuzzy bullshit. It is that each of us has experienced the world in a very different way. And if you are trying to do something on the scope of worldwide revolution, you better damn well make sure that you are hearing and speaking to as many different experiences as possible right from the start.

It does not matter how many books they read or how much internal work they have done to combat their inner racist or inner sexist. It is next to impossible to create an organization that will reflect or attract people who they don’t really understand. It isn’t just that I look at all those dudes and roll my eyes. It is that their limited experiences do not give them the tools to create something that is going to make me want to join them.

That would be fine if they wanted to start a punk collective or Kropotkin reading group. It isn’t fine for this.

This isn’t the first time I have criticized organizations for this kind of thing. Invariably, there is somebody who tells me that I should jump in and make it better. So I shouldn’t be surprised that I was asked to publicize this project so that they can get more diversity.

Not going to happen.

I don’t believe something that starts off fundamentally wrong can be fixed so easily, probably not at all. More importantly, I am sooooooo tired of people asking for those of us who are not white dudes to spend all our precious time fighting through their organizations. How come you think you get to sit around planning the revolution, but my time is supposed to be spent making your shit more “diverse?”

That isn’t how I am going to spend my time. I’m going to be here working through my own limitations and privilege. I’m going to work on strengthening the networks I have and building relationships across all those divides. Maybe someday, with enough patience and humility, I might be able to think about taking on something with the kind of grandiose goals that IOPS has.

Any of you who want to step out of the echo chamber and join me are more than welcome.

Protest: What’s the Point?

April 06, 2012 By: Mel Category: Seeking

Last month there was a silent march in protest of multiple acts of violence against GLBTQI people in DC. Not everyone was happy that it was a silent march. As one friend put it, hate crimes are an effort to silence. A silent march seemed to be the opposite of what should be done. I think the organizers lost quite a few people by making it a silent march.

Not everyone who objected to silence decided not to come to the march. Quite a few people, many of them with Occupy DC, decided to go. They also decided to ignore the organizers’ (and many of the participants’) desire for a silent march. They got loud. It so happened that I was at the back of the silent marchers and directly in front of the occupy people. I guess I didn’t look scruffy enough to be an occupier, so one of the organizers asked me to move up with the marchers and help them separate themselves from the occupiers.


Honestly, I have mixed emotions about the silent march. They lost people because it was silent. But I also know at least one person who did not go because he heard that people were planning on doing their own thing, regardless of what anybody else thought. So loud and confrontational lost people too.

If people thought that a silent march was bullshit, why not organize something different at another time? Why try to hijack another event? Or at least, if you are going to be more confrontational, do it in a clever way. Some of the protesters set up candlelit memorials in the intersections after the marchers went by. Still silent, but also more confrontational.

More importantly, the route of this march went through Columbia Heights and Shaw, some of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in this city. Many of those marchers were the very middle class white people who are part of that gentrification. The whole time we were walking I was wondering how those longtime residents were feeling about this march of gentrifiers. And I was wondering how many of those marchers had made real efforts to build relationships with the people who had been in that community their whole lives.

I am ambivalent about protests and marches. Too often they seem to be about nothing more than venting or warm fuzzies, rather than actually building the relationships that any real movement for change needs to be based on. Too often they seem to burn bridges rather than build them. There is a great list of questions over on Waging Nonviolence that people should ask themselves after actions. I can’t remember ever sitting in a room with people who actually asked them.

If you want real change, you have to have a significant number of people on your side. At the very least, you need most people not to want the cops to bash your head in. You don’t get that by completely disrespecting people. Is it really a great surprise that hardly anyone shows up when cops come to demolish occupy camps? People are only going to show up when they know you, when they like you (or at least respect you), when they know you have their back too.

I’d love for some of the people who showed up for that march to answer the questions I linked to above. I suspect the results would be sad – on all sides.


Things You Might Have Missed

April 04, 2012 By: Mel Category: Misc

I caught up on a lot of blog reading this weekend, but I’m going to try not to do too big of a link bomb.

ZNet has a new thing called the International Organization for a Participatory Society. Who are the participants in this society? Apparently, a whole lotta white dudes.

Some very excellent points made in this article about that creepy app “Girls Around Me.” I concede some points, but I know a lot of people who check in are not looking to run into strangers on the street.

And for Pete’s sake, do not give that app to DSK. Apparently, he thinks women are “equipment” or “luggage.”  Charming.

This is an old, but really interesting, article about the history of guns. (HT Joey)

If you want to know what people mean when they say heterosexism, read this.

This story is appalling. Part of me really wants to honor this girl’s dying request.

Excellent post by Audacia Ray on Why the Sex Positive Movement is Bad for Sex Workers’ Rights.

Happy 20 year anniversary to the Kolkata Sex Worker Collective.

Kolkata might want to send some of their badass women to Indonesia with a planeload of miniskirts.

Intellect or emotion? Turns out intellect might be overrated.

Nice interview with bell hooks. I am in total agreement with her that Americans are more anarchist than they think.

Finally, a real estate firm I can get behind.

I’m not in 100% agreement with this article, but here is a depressing fact. “Most of the 2.3 million Americans in prison today have children in the juvenile justice system (500,000) or in foster care (550,000).”

Anytime you can find an excuse for a masturbation campaign, you should take it.

Is Stand Your Ground a Distraction?

April 02, 2012 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Politics, Stratification

A lot of people, especially in mainstream media, have been talking about the “stand your ground” law. Darren Hutchinson wrote an excellent post about how “stand your ground” has nothing to do with the Trayvon Martin case. Definitely read the whole thing, but the short of it is this.

In some states, self-defense is not available if the defendant had the ability to “retreat” from the harm. In other words, if the defendant could have escaped the danger without using violence, then the use of force is not justifiable. These states impose a duty to retreat in order to discourage the unnecessary use of force.

In 2005, Florida amended its law to remove the duty to retreat provision. So long as the person claiming self-defense had a legal right to be in a particular location, that individual can stand his or her ground and remain there without any duty to retreat from the threat

So why are people talking about lobbying to reinstate the duty to retreat in the context of this case? Doesn’t that imply that the shooter was possibly acting in self defense? An armed man followed an unarmed kid under the pretext of there having been some robberies in the neighborhood? Even if you believe the kid might possibly (eyebrow raised) have punched the shooter who was creepily following him, that just boggles the mind.

Did Martin have a TV in his hoodie pocket?  What if he had stolen the world’s tiniest TV? Is theft now a capital offense? Zimmerman didn’t even see the kid do anything, much less have reason to fear for his life. Is every bar brawl where somebody punches somebody now a self defense claim for murder? Not even the people behind the law change think it applies in this case, cynical as their statements may be.

Let me repeat. ZIMMERMAN WAS FOLLOWING HIM!!! I’m sorry to yell, but really.

This case isn’t just tragic and infuriating, it is absurd. And we should be focusing on the absurdity that any kind of self defense claim was accepted by the police. Seems to me that talking about the  “stand your ground” provision as though it applies is almost helping the defense.

We should be focusing on the murder and on the police and prosecutors who let someone walk away from it. Why are so few people discussing all the citizens of Sanford that have come forward about how local police have handled their cases? Why aren’t we discussing a pattern of Sanford police letting people connected with the police department get away with murder? Why is there so little discussion about how Zimmerman may have walked away from previous charges because his father is a judge? I mean the guy had an altercation with a cop and got no charges. Who the hell does that ever happen to?

The law is applied differently to people who are poor or black or otherwise marginalized.

“I can tell you that if it was the other way around, someone would be in jail by now,” Ulysees Cunningham said Wednesday.

No shit.

Florida is a cesspool of thug cops and corrupt officials. One of my earliest memories growing up in Florida is of the Liberty City riot that broke out after a bunch of white cops got away with beating a black man to death. The cops tried to cover it up. The truth came out. They went to trial and then they walked away.

Nothing much has changed. Seven black men were shot and killed by Miami police in the course of eight months. As of last July, there were 63 police shootings in Miami (25 resulting in death) that remained under perpetual “investigation” while nothing happened to the officers. Growing up in Florida, I can tell you that I didn’t know many young males that were not regularly harassed by cops. If you were black, it was far worse and far more often, but Florida cops are real fucking thugs.

To the best of my knowledge, the “stand your ground” provision does not compel police and prosecutors to let somebody go if there are no other witnesses. It may be true that self defense claims have increased since the law was enacted. And the Garcia case that Ta-Nehisi Coates mentions on his blog is disturbing as hell. But I personally would be careful to assume that is typical.

Changes in the law around the obligation to retreat actually came about in part in response to battered women who killed their abusers.

And 100 years later, courts and legislatures faced a new problem: What to do with women who said they were victims of domestic violence and had killed their husbands to save themselves? Did you have a right not to retreat if the person coming after you lived under the same roof? At first, the answer was no, to the fury of feminists. Then in 1999, the Florida Supreme Court said a woman who shot and killed her husband during a violent fight at home could successfully call on the Castle Doctrine to argue self-defense. “It is now widely recognized that domestic violence attacks are often repeated over time, and escape from the home is rarely possible without the threat of great personal violence or death,” the court wrote.

What if we were talking about obligation to retreat in the context of one of the women who was in prison for murdering her abuser and finally pardoned by the Ohio governor? What if it was somebody faced with a bunch of armed Neo-Nazis stopping them on the street? What if Martin had been able to wrestle the gun away from Zimmerman and shoot him? Would you want the prosecutors to claim that he should have run away? We’re talking Florida here. The state would have killed Martin for sure.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that it is how laws are selectively enforced that is at the root of the horrors that are our criminal (in)justice system.

One last thing.

Growing up in a very liberal, urban household, I was under the impression that it was only white supremacists stocking up for a race war that wanted guns. In the last fifteen years, I have met a whole lot of gun loving people who distrust/hate authority (especially cops) far more than they dislike people of other races and ethnicities.

I’m not saying that said people are free from racism. Racism is in the air and water in this country. I’m saying that I was often mistaken in what I imagined peoples primary motivations to be.  I was often mistaken about where their anger and rage was focused. Not always mistaken. But often enough.

Florida is an extremely libertarian state. Even the liberals lean libertarian. Focusing on a provision of the self defense law doesn’t only seem to help the defense. It also distracts attention from the massively corrupt and abusive authorities in the state (especially police and prosecutors). And it decreases any chance people in Florida might have to build the seemingly unlikely alliances that might actually have the power to change things.

Let me be clear that I do not think focusing on police abuse and corruption should be instead of focusing on racism. Racism needs to be front and center. But we also need to be focusing on classism, privilege, power, and the abuses of power that are epidemic in the criminal (in)justice system.

It would not be easy to make those alliances. And it is asking a lot of people to try. But what other way is there?


* If anyone has good data on the cases that have used “stand your ground” as part of the defense, send them along.