BroadSnark

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
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Archive for February, 2014

Cooperation is the Problem

February 26, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change

When I speak to people about a cooperative society, I often get a lot of push back. I’m told that people are competitive. I’m given examples of scary people, violent people, sociopaths. I’m told that cooperative society is against human nature.

I generally respond by telling people there is plenty of scientific evidence out there that cooperation is actually what humans, and other species, do naturally. We wouldn’t have survived very long without cooperation and mutual aid.

Today, as I am serving jury duty, I am struck by how incredibly cooperative people are. Unfortunately, people are often cooperative with the wrong people and for the wrong reasons.

The jury receives its instructions almost entirely from the prosecutor’s office, the exception being the judge who swore us in. That judge, to his credit, told us that we did not work for the prosecutor’s office and said several times that we were a buffer between the state and the accused. But since that initial moment with the judge, all of our information has favored the prosecution and the jury wants to cooperate.

They tell us that our job is only to find probable cause and that a jury will later determine the facts. They don’t mention that a mere 3% of federal cases go to trial. They tell us that the defendant will be represented by counsel. They don’t mention that they aren’t entitled to good counsel. They tell us that we should not concern ourselves with what will happen to the person at the end of the line. I’m sure that’s what they told the person stamping transport documents in Nazi Germany too.

People are mostly inclined to go along. They are inclined to follow the rules (maybe especially in a place like DC where so many work for government or nonprofits or were class valedictorian).  But it isn’t just that they acquiesce to authority, it is that they also don’t want conflict. And this is how you have relatively decent people who have some doubts about the process, or at least feel uncomfortable with the system, going along with it.

People want to cooperate. They don’t want to be hated. They don’t want to make the nice lady in the prosecutor’s office job harder. They don’t want to hold everyone up from going to lunch because there is more to discuss. Fighting against the current – whether majority opinion or bureaucratic process – goes against most people’s desire to cooperate.

The only small positive thing I have to say is that every person who is non-cooperative makes it just a little harder for people to go along. The more we can tip the scales, the less it becomes about whether or not to cooperate and the more it becomes about who or what to cooperate with. The more it becomes about the difference between cooperation amongst equals and deference to authority. And then, maybe, we can start having some real talk.

Support the People Not the CML

February 25, 2014 By: Mel Category: Politics

Evo MoralesWhat is going on in Venezuela right now has brought to the surface a lot of tensions between different parts of what is usually referred to as the left. That’s a good thing. And I expect I may write a few things about those conversations in the coming weeks. But I want to start with this quote my friend Navid put up on his FB page.

As an anarchist I still support the governments of Venezuela & Bolivia. Why? Because they are building popular governments & are in the process of distributing power to the bases. Anarchists & Libertarians that are living under neo-liberal governments & have produced no structural change to the way they are governed want to criticize & dismiss the work that the governments of these revolutionary movements. It would be nice if Evo Morales didn’t have to be a president. But because we are still living in a world with nation states, most of them republican, social movements & the governments they put in place will continue to struggle with the contradictions of distributing power through the state. Anarchists & Libertarians that want to take what they think is the ‘principled high road’ of not supporting & in some cases dismissing the work of the governments of social movements, I don’t think have a vision of how we can actually achieve a world without borders or states. I would love to be able to wish & dream this into existence but the fact is, there are steps, and none of them lack contradictions. We have to acknowledge reality & collectively deal with it. — Cexilia Poncho Rojo

I don’t know any anarchists who don’t struggle with the fact that we sometimes support state programs or political changes as a practical matter in the here and now. We understand the contradictions. You will find plenty of anarchists who protest for state funded housing and education. You’ll find plenty of anarchists who vote.  We get that we live in a world where it is expected that we will all live in states or participate in groups led by a charismatic male leader (CML).

But

As someone whose beliefs are fundamentally a critique of power, I will always raise an eyebrow toward anyone who pursues power. I will always be skeptical about what will happen to even the best intentioned person who attains power. I will always be vigilant in watching how people use their power. Because I believe that power corrupts. Most importantly, I make a very large distinction between the people, the social movements that bring someone to power, and the CML that becomes the face of that movement.

Evo Morales has an inspiring personal narrative. But the movement that brought him to office is what really counts. And when those people turn around and protest President Morales in order to force him to cancel an amazon road project, I have no internal contradiction about whether I should support the president or the people who put him in power.

It is the same for other social movements as well. I have respect for MLK, but I believe that Ella Baker was right that the movement made Martin, not the other way around. Ultimately, it is the people who are important, not the power center or the anointed face – as inspiring as that person may be. As a bonus, when you keep your focus on the people instead of the CML, perhaps losing that leader doesn’t put the whole movement into disarray.

It is an exaggeration to say that all governments and leaders are exactly the same. Some are definitely more responsive or more repressive than others. In so far as there may be people out there who are summarily dismissing the beneficial things these governments have done, Rojo’s criticism is valid. But in so far as I am expected to confuse support for the people with uncritical support for the CML, which is often what people seem to want, that just isn’t going to fly.

 

 

Congratulations! You Deserve a Drink or Something

February 21, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change

Everyday Awards‘Precisely at the point when you begin to develop a conscience you must find yourself at war with your society.’ James Baldwin

Yesterday, on my post about the food system, Todd commented that it is hard to find inspiration these days. To which I replied that maybe we need to give credit to anyone who hasn’t given up yet. The more I think about it, the more true it seems.

I don’t want to lower the bar or anything, but some days it is such a fight just not to give up and give in. Sometimes it is tempting to sit in front of the tv and pretend things aren’t happening. Sometimes it is tempting to go along with the program and stop fighting the pressures to conform and social climb. Sometimes it is tempting to tell your principles to shut up so you can get along and not be in constant war with people. Sometimes it is tempting to drown yourself in booze or heroin or oxy or whatever it is that makes it all go away.

Some days I really think I have no fight left. But them I find a little more somewhere and maybe that is more of an accomplishment than I’ve been giving myself credit for. So I congratulate all of you that still have a little fight left, especially the ones who have been dragging your ass out for decades. Nicely done.

HT to @bcduggan for the graphic

Oh Hey. There Are People in the Food System.

February 20, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Painting of FarmworkerMonday night I listened to a presentation about the Our Harvest Union Co-op in Cincinnati. They are modelling themselves after Mondragon, but with a union twist. The goal is to put a little more justice in the food system and they are going to do it by growing and distributing food on a large scale. The hope is to be able to certify food from the ground to the market as union – living wages, benefits, not dying of heat stroke

Once upon a time I lived in Santa Cruz and worked for the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS). My coworkers at CASFS studied what people cared about in the food system. It turned out that they cared more about how animals were treated than how people were treated.

I can’t say that I was surprised. Santa Cruz was the first time I was exposed to people for whom food was a religion, a way to exert moral superiority. It wasn’t everyone, of course. But there were many people who thought they were better than everyone else because of their vegan, free-range, probiotic, cruelty free food choices. Self righteousness is always annoying. But to be so self-righteous about food choices and not give a shit that workers on organic farms are treated as poorly as their conventional counterparts. Infuriating.

We shouldn’t have to choose between cruelty to animals and cruelty to people. And a lot of the time there is an overlap. No pesticides on organic produce means no pesticides on the people picking that produce. But when it comes down to it, if I have to chose, people come first. Sorry.

And just so you know, I will not be responding to any comments about speciesism. We are different. The fact that anyone is asking me to make a moral choice about my food is confirmation of their belief that I am different. I respect the people who make that moral choice. But nobody is asking a lion to make a moral choice about eating a gazelle.

But I digress. The point of the post is that there are people in the food system and they are often treated like crap. In fact, most of the lowest paid workers in the country work in food – from migrant farm workers to fast food cooks. And sometimes the food choices we make affect workers in ways we haven’t thought of. For instance, on Monday I learned that the poultry industry is the least unionized. So if you are buying more chicken thinking it is healthier than beef, you just upped your chances of exploiting some workers.

Minor consumer choices here and there aren’t going to bring down the whole system. And we sure as shit should not get too proud of ourselves for slightly better food choices. There is no way to extract yourself from the system completely. But if a whole lot of worker-managed, co-op, union companies started taking off…you never know.

P.S. Painting by Cynthia Vidal

When Feminism Gets it Almost Right…But Not Quite

February 19, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Meryl Streep in DoubtEarlier this month twenty cities hosted an Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. Most Wikipedia contributors are men. The result being that entries on women are sparse. So these women are trying to fix that. Which is great.

There are all kinds of theories about why women contribute less to Wikipedia. One being that they have less spare time. Another being that Wikipedia can be a hostile and argumentative place. But Jacqueline Mabey thinks it is also socially formed self perception.

“We don’t raise young women to consider themselves authorities on anything…We raise them to doubt, constantly, their work and themselves.” Librarians are seen as the only female-dominated group that overall is a fan of Wikipedia, but Mabey says even they are cautious about editing. “These are women with double masters degrees,” she said. “I’m like, yes, you can edit it! The 18-year-old boy who doesn’t know anything is editing it, and he doesn’t even question it!”

You will get no argument from me that there are a lot of women who are hesitant to speak because they doubt themselves and a lot of young men who think they know everything. But the inference seems to be that we should get women to think they are authorities. And that is exactly the wrong thing.

Wikipedia is, at least in theory, anti-authority. You don’t need alphabet soup at the end of your name to contribute. You don’t need to have spent 20 years in an ivy tower collecting credentials. All you need is interest. The idea of Wikipedia is that our collectively imperfect knowledge makes something better than any one person – no matter how “authoritative” – could make alone. We don’t need more people who think they know everything, or pretend that they do. We need less of that.

But that is all too often how it goes. A gender gap or injustice is presented and then I am told that I should act more like an archetypal dude in order to right that wrong or get some socially acceptable level of success – authority, money, power. I mean, if I have to read another article about how I am not ambitious enough, I am going to lose my shit.

We don’t need more ambition or more authorities. We need more humility and doubt. Don’t encourage women to act like the worst kind of cocksure men. Encourage them to participate in things like Wikipedia precisely in so far as it undermines the whole system of authorities and status.

 

Bank of America is the Spawn of Satan

February 18, 2014 By: Mel Category: Misc

Skank of America

My work, sadly, still has credit cards with Bank of America.  I have been on hold with them for the last 38 minutes and counting. You see Bank of America decided it was an awesome idea to fire a bunch of people  so that they could have “fourth quarter 2013 net income of $3.4 billion.” Oh no. Sorry. Did I say fire? I meant “lower personnel expenses…to streamline processes and achieve cost savings.”

Why are we not outside these banks with pitchforks again?

Maybe some people actually thought that a portion of the 8.5 billion fine for foreclosure abuse and the 11.6 billion to Fannie Mae was punishment enough? Not even a year’s worth of profits people.

More about Bank of America’s run for most corrupt bank here.

 

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A Little Help? Anarchist on Grand Jury Duty

February 18, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change

Marisa Tomei in My Cousin VinnyI’m on grand jury duty starting Monday and lasting five fucking weeks. This isn’t the first time I’ve been called for grand jury duty. The last time went like this.

My fellow grand jury members and I were put in a room. A jovial prosecutor explained a wee bit about what was going to happen. We would hear witnesses and then we would decide if there was enough evidence to send the accused to trial. Oh wait. Did I say witnesses? Sorry. I meant witness.

You see, I was on a “special” speedy grand jury where each case had only one witness – a cop. Almost all the cases were bullshit drug cases.  For example, a cop comes in and says he found some dude on the street with a crack pipe. My fellow grand jury members would raise their hands to say that they should go to trial. End of case. Next.

Presumably, they needed to institute this speedy process to go through all the black people they are picking up for weed.

In a grand jury, you don’t need to have a unanimous decision. It isn’t like I could vote no and nullify. So I just refused to participate. After a couple of days of me sitting in the hallway reading books and a mild interrogation by the lead prosecutor, they dismissed me.

But here we are again.

I’ve started to do a little grand jury research. But I could use some help. I’m specifically interested in information about how I can fuck up the process. So send it my way. If you don’t want to share it in a comment, email me at mel (at) broadsnark.com

Thanks!

Fear of Cat Food and Other Anti-Revolutionary Yarns

February 13, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change

Scrooge and Marley MoneylendersSometimes you come across an article that so perfectly encapsulates something you have been obsessing about that you have to dust off your blog and throw out a minor rant. Latina Lista published just such an article this week.  So here we go.

According to a study by the (in no way biased) Prudential, “Latinos’ love of family today could spell financial trouble for retirement years.”

We are trained to be in constant fear. Fear of losing our jobs. Fear of losing our homes. Fear of medical bills. Fear of  ending up some solitary, elderly person eating cat food in a hovel. The answer, as is jammed into our heads, is to get on board with the system and try to hoard as much as you can. Don’t let those family and friends dip into your cash. Security comes with obedience and accumulation. Security comes by giving what little money you have to the dipshits at Prudential.

So how does that work out for people?

For one thing, going along with the system is not going to save you. My parents did everything they were supposed to do. There was a small business and a chamber of commerce membership.  There was a house and retirement savings. But along came Office Depot to squeeze my father’s business out. Then medical bills from a massive stroke. And of course there was some middle class lifestyle debt. When the IRS came around looking to take our house, did going along with the fear system help? Nope. You know what did help? Friends who lent my parents money.

Contrary to what we are told, security is mostly an illusion. And what security we do have comes from relationships, not possessions.

But the system desperately needs us to buy this lie. If we stopped fearing, if we stopped thinking we are in it alone, then nothing could keep us doing what we are doing. Nearly everyone I know is quietly plotting their freedom. We hate our jobs so much that we have to escape for bathroom cries. We have insomnia and anxiety. We are constantly medicated and looking for bullshit distractions.

And those are just the people who have enough privilege to still have jobs and something to fear losing. The truly amazing thing about the system is that we are fodder no matter what. If you have a job, you spend most of your waking hours away from the people and things you love in order to make money for greedy bastards. That isn’t enough though. They also want you to hand over some of what little money you make to “secure your retirement”. By which they mean that they want to invest your money in things that will make them money and hurt you. How?

Let’s say you have a retirement account. You’ll have a selection of mutual funds to chose from. Some of them may even say that they are “socially conscious.” What that means, generally, is that they will avoid one or two problematic sectors (like arms dealing). Everything else – sweatshops, union-busters, private prisons – they are all on the table. In short, these Prudential people are working on getting Latinos to give less money to their family and instead invest in the private prison corporations that put them in immigration detention.

When some investment banker tells you to stop giving money to your people and start “investing in your future,” what they are really doing is using you and your fear to finance your own oppression. And if you can’t benefit them through your labor or contributions, then they’ll throw you in prison and make money off of you that way.

I’m not going to tell you that, if you walk away, everything is going to be o.k. The other lie we are told is that we will be rewarded for doing the right thing.  You probably won’t. In fact, doing the right thing often means suffering. Just ask all the political prisoners out there.

Do it anyway.

And try to make it easier for other people to do it too. Let your friends and family and community know that you have their backs when they want to take a risk. Let them know that, so long as you have a roof and some food, they won’t starve or have no place to sleep. Nothing will change unless we are willing to risk something. We can’t make things safe. But we can make it a little easier on each other if we do the exact opposite of what that article is trying to get us to do.

And maybe, just maybe, if we could help each other get over our fears and take care of each other a little bit better, enough people would walk away to make the whole thing coming crashing down.