A friend of mine posted this to facebook. One of the commenters asked how far back we are supposed to go.
The thing about colonization, land grabs, genocide, slavery, gentrification – whatever manifestation of deciding you want something from people and just taking it – is that erasure is a key component. Which means the people that can go the farthest back are the people who are writing the wrong history.
A few years ago there was a post on Womanist Musings about how she could not trace her family history because she is the descendant of slaves. I also cannot trace my history. I am adopted and information about my biological relations is not available to me. My adopted family has a trail that ends in the holocaust or the pogrom. Who knows where all those wandering Jews wandered/were exiled from.
Getting to the origin of things is impossible. But we should still try. Because if you think about how hard oppressors have worked to destroy the histories of people, then you know just how important it is to protect and resurrect as much of it as you can. There is a reason why the Spanish destroyed the codices.
But when it comes to seeking justice, it is the present that is the most important thing.
The thing about this graphic, and the post that went with it, is that it is so easy to interpret it as referring to family history rather than current power imbalances. The history of one Spanish descended person in South America is not the important thing. The important thing is the unequal power of that descendant in the here and now. The important thing is the wealth that was extracted and continues to be extracted. They are injustices that have roots in history, but would still be problematic if they were new.
I agree that roots are important. I agree that we should be undoing our collective mindfuck – whether that is reclaiming indigenous beliefs or coming up with new ones. But identity and history are incredibly complicated. How do the principles outlined in this graphic get applied when the Cherokee nation decides to expel the descendants of black slaves who took the trail of tears with them?
For me the question is always about what is happening right now. What is most important to address right now? Who is suffering right now? What is the history that got us here, in all of its complexity, and how do we stop the bleeding?
Why are you wasting energy on the character of one or two board members or CEOs or other social climbing fuckwads?
We have a systemic problem. Our problem is anybody who wants to be on the board of one of these companies. Our problem is that we nearly cannot live without giving our time and money and bits of our soul to these horrible people. Our problem is that these organizations are built on our backs. They poison you. They spy on you. They steal from you. And then a few of them make a donation or come out in favor of some bullshit cause and people think, “Awww. Well that one doesn’t seem so bad.”
They are bad. The system is bad. It is rotten to the core. The fact that some of these climbers support gay marriage or hire black people or know enough not to say anything too offensive in public does not change things. In fact, I would rather have all the companies run by people like Condoleezza Rice. It is more honest that way. When the woman who went shoe shopping while New Orleans drowned is the face of things, it is harder to pretend that things aren’t evil.
Rice wanted success on the terms that people who appoint board members define. That picture of her is from Augusta national. She has no problem joining a club that excluded women until 2012 and excluded black people until 1990.
Well, congrats to Condi and all the other people who spent their lives pursuing power and money and attained it. Congrats to stepping on whoever you needed to in order to get what you want. Now to those of us who would like to think we actually want a world with different values, how about we start getting as serious as they are? Meaning how about we stop getting distracted by measuring the relative horribleness of the owners/climbers and focus on the system itself.
A while back there was a Reddit argument between a Marxist and an anarchist. They were having the usual debate about what happens when a movement takes state power. The anarchist said something along the lines of, “When you take the state do you promise not to execute me by firing squad.” (There is something of a history here.) The Marxist’s reply was something along the lines of, “When we take state power do you promise not to start an insurrection?”
“Touché,” said the anarchist.
I’ve been trying to keep one eyeball on the happenings and debates in and about Venezuela right now. By that I do not mean the composition of the people in the streets. The evidence of that seems pretty clear. I’m paying attention to the disputes on “the left.” I’m thinking a lot about how those disputes could actually make movements towards justice stronger instead of being weaknesses that can be exploited by those who are clutching onto their power and privilege.
As anarchists, we will always be suspicious of and critical of power. I will never accept hierarchy or coercion, even from those who seem to share many of my other values. I’ll never support police power and its abuses, even if I am in moderate agreement with their bosses. I will never be comfortable with a top down model of change. However, I am also very practical. So while I cannot support a top down model of change, I can nominally support a power structure that provides more room to move toward the society I want to see.
I think us anarchists have to look at power structures and ask some practical questions. Do the people, especially the most oppressed, support the power structure? Are we less restricted and repressed under this power structure? Is there more room for our transformational projects to take hold? If I can answer yes to those questions then I can be, at least, less against that power structure than another.
But I will never stop being critical and bringing attention to the inconsistencies and hypocrisies. And when those criticisms are greeted with absolute hostility, as though any criticism means being traitor to the revolution, or at least on the side of the oligarchs, that is infuriating. It is especially infuriating because paying attention to our criticisms could actually strengthen the very movements that get so pissed at us.
Take this piece by José Antonio Gutiérrez D. He is not vilifying the government as a whole, but he is saying that many have been sucked up into its power structure and have become corrupt. He isn’t asking to undo what has been done or denying the positive things that have happened, but he is pointing out that some of the most radical democratic projects – like worker managed factories or real land distribution – have fallen by the wayside with disastrous consequences. Most importantly, he is pointing out the danger of resolving this crisis through more state power instead of through more people power.
Apart from the immediate measures (such as harmonizing the price of petrol, curbing the flight of capital, speculation and hoarding), it is essential to understand the real nature of the social contradictions facing the “process”. It is not enough to recognize that it is not perfect or that it naturally has contradictions. These contradictions and limitations must be identified, discussed, critiqued and corrected. We cannot just close ranks around them, justify them, nor even less so make a virtue of them and close our eyes to the impeccable “leadership” of the leaders.
The people today cannot be a passive agent nor nothing more than government shock troops: they must take back their capacity for political action, for acting themselves, with their own agenda, because socialism will not be built by the State. Decentralization, the autonomous development of the organs of people’s power and social control is an essential task in the present moment. There must be a transfer of power from the State apparatus to the popular movements and their organization
If I were to sum up my line of thinking at the moment, I guess it would be something like this. Centralized and hierarchical left movements should listen carefully to the criticisms of even the most pain in the ass anarchists. We are showing you your weaknesses, weaknesses that could be your downfall. (By downfall, I mean both the chance of losing power and the chance of becoming totalitarian.) And anarchists should be clear in their constant barrage of criticism that we also acknowledge – in so far as it exists – the community support and changes brought about by hierarchical movements.
I realize that this will be an uneasy and somewhat temporary truce. But at this time, we need each other. The world is less and less willing to accept any of the isms. When an anarchist criticizes a movement or government for authoritarianism or when a woman criticizes it for sexism, they need to be taken seriously without people getting defensive or dismissive. Those criticisms show you the weaknesses that need to be addressed. There is, unfortunately, very little room for error when trying to make a massive social change. There is, fortunately, less and less room to placate people by saying that their concerns will be dealt with later. We’ve all heard that before and we know that moment never comes.
So lets keep having that dialogue and critique and use it to make us stronger. Because the powers that we are up against are immense and we don’t have a lot of room to fuck up.
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.
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.
‘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.
I’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.
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
Sometimes 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.
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.
Inmates in two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons, refused both breakfast and lunch on Monday, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners failed to go to work or attend their prison classes, either refusing or in some cases saying they were sick.
Think about that for a minute. Think about the amount of coordination it took to organize 30,000 prisoners. Think about the obstacles for people trying to organize, not just within a prison, but between prisons. And many of the organizers are in solitary confinement.
The organizing crossed racial lines and gang affiliations. The collective that organized the strikes put out a statement committing to end all racial hostilities, recognizing that the prison system uses those conflicts and prejudices to keep the incarcerated divided and disempowered.
In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention, and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners], and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!!
I’ve written about these strikes a few times and linked to stories about them. And I’ve been continually frustrated that few people seem to be paying any attention. People’s lives are at stake. Prisoners died after the last actions. Several of the current strikers have required medical attention. And the California Department of Corrections is retaliating against the spokespeople. Our attention could actually save someone, or at least make retaliation a little more difficult.
I’m going to be honest with you. And I’m probably going to piss people off here. But I don’t understand why my inbox is filled with announcements of protests and actions for Trayvon Martin and absolutely nothing about the hunger strike.
For a whole lot of people it seems to be. And I really don’t understand it. But I saw something on Facebook this weekend that gave me pause. It said something like “calling Trayvon a thug is like calling JonBenet Ramsey a whore”.
I get it. Trayvon wasn’t doing anything wrong. But what if he was? What if he had gotten into a fight or stole a car or sold drugs? Would we be talking about him? What if George Zimmerman had a badge and a gun? Would we still be talking about it? As of 2011, there were 63 police shootings in Miami-Dade county alone that were under perpetual “investigation.” Twenty-five of those involved fatalities. Who is talking about them?
Sometimes people need a symbol to get them motivated. And the temptation is to chose one that is pure and innocent. Rosa Parks wasn’t the first person to refuse to give up her seat for a white person. But some leaders of the civil rights movement didn’t want a pregnant teenager who was too low class and too dark to be their rallying cry.
But this isn’t 1955. Our injustice systems depend upon criminalization. They depend upon us accepting that “thugs” deserve what they get. Or at least some people don’t merit a public outcry when they are shot in the street, or executed by the state, or tortured and raped in prison. It isn’t o.k. to only rally around the pure and innocent any longer. We have so many laws that nobody can even count them anymore.
The whole game is to make sure that they can discredit people to keep us in check.
I really hesitated to write this post. I was hoping somebody else would do it. I try to write mostly about things I have some experience with. And I have absolutely no way to wrap my head around what it must be like to have a child, much less one that has to face so many risks. But getting shot in the street by a vigilante is a lot less likely than ending up behind bars being tortured by the state.
I know that many of the people organizing Trayvon Martin protests are focused on the bigger picture. They are connecting this shooting to systemic issues of policing, racial profiling, the school to prison pipeline… I love those kids who occupied the Florida governors office.
But not everyone is making those connections. And too many of the emails I am getting are from people who have their necks permanently stuck looking up at power. Lobbying to overturn stand your ground laws or protesting ALEC or getting those few people who have disposable income to stop buying things is not going to smash this system. But a movement led by the people who have been most pummeled by the system just might. These people have signed do not resuscitate documents. They are ready to die for their rights and we are ignoring them.
Not to mention that, while they have managed to coordinate 30,000 people across prisons, we (who are in relative freedom) can’t even manage to coordinate amongst ourselves enough not to have competing Trayvon protests.
I really don’t want to shit all over the organizing that is going on right now. I hope that this case starts something huge. I hope all the actions are successful. But I can’t bring myself to focus on them and ignore the hunger strikes. So I’ll be spending my free time contacting prison officials and prisoners. I hope some of you will make some time to do the same. The addresses and phone numbers are here.
Capital police decided that we did not have the proper permit to be there. The speakers kept speaking. The cops warned us that we would be arrested. They then started harassing media. Cameras started shutting down. Speakers started cutting their speeches short. After the second warning, as I don’t think anybody was prepared for arrest threats at a press conference, everyone split up so that no group was more than 25 people.
The last protest that I went to was in Guatemala. You know that Central American country that people refer to as “third world” or “developing.” The place many people only know about because of civil war and genocide. That place. Well, I imagine we had a permit for being in the central plaza. But I seriously doubt we had a permit to block the road and door in front of the presidential palace and then drum annoyingly.
Amazingly, nobody was threatened with arrest.
Aren’t you estadouidenses glad that you live in a country that is a beacon of freedom for the world?
I’m tempted to go into a long diatribe about the protest, prisons, criminalization, social control, and our shrinking spaces. But I’m going to have to save it for a day when I have more time. I will just say this.
There are risks involved with doing the right things, the necessary things. The system has been increasing those risks. I think that means we are all going to need to so some serious thinking about what risks we can take and then be willing to take them. Because their plan can backfire. They are counting on us to not make sacrifices. But if we all take the risks, thoughtful and strategic risks, then we can crash the justice system and all the other systems too.
My relationship with my parents started a downhill slide when I reached my teen years and never recovered. My father was the type of person who never wanted to talk about anything. He would blow up once in a while. But mostly he handled the hurt – the hurt that he felt or that he dished out – by having a couple scotch and sodas and some cigarettes and refusing to talk about it. He was over it, or so he claimed, and you should be too.
(Hmmm. Wonder where I got my coping mechanisms from?)
My mother, on the other hand, would entertain the conversation. But she is unable to grapple with the fact that she is human and imperfect. So, when faced with something hurtful she has done, she will just deny it happened. Or she will deny that it hurt you. Or she will move the conversation to some hurt she is feeling, or some sacrifice she thinks she has made, so that she can deflect you.
I don’t expect people to be perfect. Maybe I expected it from my father when I was a child. I certainly don’t expect it from anyone now. But when the things that have caused you enormous pain are denied, when you can’t even speak of them, there is no way to move on. You can suppress them until you implode. You can let them build up until you explode. You can jump up and down screaming about them in the hopes that they will be acknowledged. But you can’t really let it go. You can’t repair the relationship, tear down the walls, work on building something better.
That blindness that my parents had wasn’t one-sided. I was blind to their pain too. It wasn’t only that they wouldn’t, or couldn’t, talk about it. I didn’t have the experience to understand it. There are some things that I will never experience and will never understand. And my reactions and rebellion, while perhaps understandable, were not always productive for any of us.
But the difference between me and my parents is that they had all the power. My father could determine what was and was not going to be spoken about. The only power that I had was to hold onto my anger and to refuse to speak at all. So that is the power that I took. And when I say that I refused to speak, I mean not one syllable. And when I say that I held on to my anger, I mean that I was one pissed off kid.
This doesn’t just happen in personal relationships. It happens in communities too. Like when you express the frustration of dealing with certain types of behavior and the response is to deny or deflect. It doesn’t have to be the individual that actually did the thing in question. It is equally frustrating to get that from people who refuse to believe what they haven’t seen, don’t want to see, are incapable of seeing. Or maybe they just don’t want to be honest with themselves about whether they, as imperfect people, have done some of those things themselves.
We all do shitty things sometimes. We make mistakes. But we should never forget that some people have the power to determine what gets heard, what is deemed important. Parents have the power to shut kids down. Teachers have the power to shut students down. Governments, media, and academia have the power to shut everybody down. Since all of those institutions have been mostly in the control of people who have a very narrow range of experience, some people have been shut down much more than others.
Not only does that just suck, we all suffer for it. Because, the thing is, power and privilege are blind. Or as Junot Díaz put is so perfectly in his keynote (below), “The funny thing about our privilege is that we all have a blind spot around our privilege, shaped exactly like us.”
More privilege. More blindness. The more you are similar to the people with the power, the more likely you are to see your life and your story reflected. And the more you will be blind to the fact that those stories do not reflect other people’s experiences. The more you have been conditioned to assume that the world will listen to you, the easier it is to talk. The more you have been shut down, the harder it is. The less power and privilege you have, the more you are forced to understand and hear the stories of those few people who do have the power and privilege. Which is why Sherman Alexie can very accurately say to Bill Moyers, “I know a lot more about being white than you know about being Indian.”
Nobody can really understand another person’s experience. The older I get, the less I think people can even really understand their own privilege. But perhaps we can all get to the point where we understand that we have privilege and blindness. Maybe we can recognize where the holes are, whose stories are not being told. Maybe we can stop denying other people’s experiences when they do tell their stories.
I really hope so. Because if we can’t manage to start listening to people, especially the people who are heard the least, then we are fucked. People need their truth/frustration/pain to be acknowledged so that they can move on. We need to understand who has more power in every state/community/group/relationship/situation and act accordingly. We all need to see the truths that power hides from us, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unconsciously, if we are to build something better. We need to stop getting stuck somewhere between privilege and pain.
P.S. If you have yet to watch that keynote by Junot Díaz, it is definitely worthwhile.