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 the ‘Seeking’

My Two Cents on Getting Involved in Movements and Activism

December 07, 2016 By: Mel Category: Seeking

Photo of sign that says Occupy Everywhere and Never Give it BackEven before Trump was elected, more people were asking me for advice on getting involved in something besides electoral politics. After all the questions and chats, I have a few thoughts to add to my earlier post for the Newly Disillusioned.

Take Care of Yourself

I know it can seem selfish and that advice about “self care” has become eye-rollingly ubiquitous. But if you cannot take care of yourself, then you are no help to anyone. If you drive yourself into the ground and need people to pick you up off the floor, you are taking them away from things they could be doing to make things better. If you are in a constant stream of bad relationships (romantic, friend, colleague, comrade…), then you are sucking energy away from yourself and everyone else. You will hurt more than help if you are overflowing with unexamined rage, prejudices, and privilege. None of us will ever be perfect, or perfectly able to take care of ourselves, but personal responsibility and self awareness are prerequisites to useful action.

Help Those Closest to You

The mindset of just “take care of your own” and screw everyone else is part of how we got into this mess. At the same time, if you cannot be relied on to help the people you love, how can anyone rely on you for anything? Besides, when you know someone well, you are in a better position to understand what they might need. When you “help” people you don’t know, it often goes terribly wrong. (Hello nonprofit industrial complex. I’m talking to you.) All of us will need help and support at some point. All of us will get sick, lose loved ones, and have our hearts broken. Most of us will have times where it is a struggle to just get by. We need to be able to rely on each other so that life’s tragedies don’t derail us completely. The more we can rely on each other, the less people can control us through fear of destitution.

Expand Your Circle

Just make sure that those closest to you are a diverse enough group that you are also supporting some of the most marginalized people in our society. Our society is so stratified and segregated that many people don’t have any relationships outside of their own race, class, age, physical ability, religion…  Poor people tend to know poor people. Professional/managerial class people tend to know other people like themselves. The further down you are on our societal hierarchy, the harder it is to be able to meet your basic needs. If all the college-educated professionals are only helping each other, we have a problem. For those of us who have had it relatively easy, sometimes the best thing we can do is make it possible for someone else to fight the system that is crushing them.

Let People Help You

I have an amazing group of friends who are all loath to “burden” anyone with their problems. I get it. Taking care of yourself is important. There are always people out there who have things worse than you do. Everyone seems to have so much on their plate. How can we possibly ask more of them? The thing is, we cannot succeed without functioning support systems. And we cannot have functioning support systems if the most reliable people are never willing to ask for help when they need it. Mutual aid requires that we all be willing to both give it and receive it.

Work with People You Like and Trust

It is tempting to think that people who show up for the same protest or organizing meeting have the same values you do. It is tempting to think that people who seem to share your principles can be relied on when it really counts. But experience has taught me that is not the case. Sometimes it is the conservative friend, the one who thinks your actions are foolish, who bails you out after. If you get involved in movements and community groups, you will meet all kinds of frustrating people. There will be racist, feminist women and misogynist, anti-racist men. There will be elitist union reps and homophobic environmentalists. There will be people who say lovely things and show up for every protest, but cannot be relied on to do anything that doesn’t come with fame. Take stock of who you know and what they are trying to do in this world. Think long and hard about who you really think would have your back in an emergency. Keep those people close.

Do Things With Joy

I have a tendency to do whatever needs to be done. Agendas? Sure. Meeting notes? Sure. Collecting money? No problem. It isn’t a bad thing. You don’t want to be the person who is never willing to do grunt work. There are far too many of those people already. But if you find no joy in what you are doing, then you will not keep at it long enough for it to make a difference. We are all so busy. We all have to spend so much of our lives on obligations, especially to our paying jobs. The best way to make sure that our extracurriculars are successful is to make sure that they bring us the joy, community, and sense of possibility that we all crave. There are so many things wrong and so many ways to be a part of trying to change them. It may take a while, but you can find something that won’t feel like another job.

Small is Big

When something newsworthy happens, there is an immediate effort to start identifying the charismatic, (usually) male leader who supposedly brought it into being.  When we hear about the bus boycott, we hear about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. We don’t hear about all the people who worked at their job, took care of their family, and then put in just a little extra driving carpools or knocking on their neighbor’s door. We don’t hear about the thousands of people who really make things happen in small ways. Heroic figures can be inspirational, but they can also be paralyzing. If you think any effort needs to be fame-worthy or it is worthless, then you won’t do anything. Besides, the fame seekers are often motivated more by ego and savior complexes than anything else. Don’t undervalue the little things. The little things are more important than they might seem.

In Short

There is no end to the struggle for justice. It isn’t as though, if you can just get through a few hundred sleepless nights, we will arrive at utopia. If you really want to work for a more just world, then you just signed on for a lifetime job. We don’t need more people who make speeches all day and leave the child rearing and cooking to someone else. We don’t need more people who burn themselves out after six months and contribute to the constant churn in our organizations. We need strong, grounded people who take care of themselves and others. We need collaborative, organized communities that provide foundation and protection. So just start where you are at, find good people, keep your ego in check, and try a little something.

Dipping a Toe Back In

October 16, 2016 By: Mel Category: Seeking

toe-in-water-772773_1280You may have noticed that I haven’t been writing much lately. It has been hard to prioritize. It isn’t just the full-time job or that I am prioritizing framily and community over the solitude needed to write – though those things play a huge role. It is also because I started to wonder why I was writing.

What I love about writing is how it helps me think things through. It forces clarity and brings up questions I didn’t even realize I had. And I like thinking things through publicly on this blog…sometimes. When it was good, people helped me to see things that I had not thought of. I found a lot of kindred spirits, some of whom became friends that I cherish.

But sometimes I let myself get sucked into debate with people who were not trying to grow or build anything. Sometimes I found myself wasting time being the female opinion for dudes who weren’t really capable of even attempting to see things outside of their own experience. Sometimes I wasted precious time on haters and trolls who just liked to stir up shit. It is so easy to get caught up in other people’s agendas –  to wake up and realize you just spent days, weeks, or months being responsive to everything except the things you most want and most value.

I want to write again, but I’m going to be careful to use this blog for the good parts – finding like-minded people, finding people who want to work on similar things, opening a conduit for information about the areas I’m working on, and having genuine discussions with people who have different experiences.

To that end, I thought I would share some of the things I’m working on (or planning to in the very near future).

  • A book on Grand Juries
  • A creative/community space that is child friendly
  • A DMV (District, Maryland, Virginia) media project
  • Making things (I’m painting again!)
  • Starting a Diaspora pod (or some other alternative to Facebook/Twitter that isn’t for profit)

The grand jury book is the first priority. If any of you know folks who have served on grand juries or have some expertise in that area, please ask them to get in touch with me at mel (at) broadsnark.com

So what have you all been up to?

 

Some Thoughts on Voting for the Newly Disillusioned

August 03, 2016 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking

I’m seeing quite a few people in my Facebook and Twitter feeds who have just now realized that the political system is not the path to what they are looking for. They are feeling angry, cynical, and lost.

I get it. I’ve been there.

I was crushed when Bill Clinton gave us welfare “reform,” NAFTA, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I was one of those people everyone blames for the 2000 election because they voted for Nader. And, even though I had long before become cynical, I really hoped that Obama at least kinda meant all that stuff he said about civil liberties. Other people maybe picked Howard Dean or Ron Paul, but many of us have had at least one moment of political hope followed by inevitable disappointment.

Of course we have. We have been trained our entire lives to focus our attention on the shiny circus of Big P Politics, especially presidential elections. We are taught it was LBJ and FDR that made things better. It is as if all the people who went door to door, marched, organized strikes, wrote, exposed corruption, and took direct action did not even exist.

The good news is that now you are free. There are millions of things you can do and millions of people who also think things suck. Now that you have safely eliminated presidential politics from your arsenal of tactics that work, you can put your energies towards better things.

I’ve spent a lot of the last decade reading about social movements – from the kids involved in the civil rights movement to the anarchists in Barcelona. And I’ve spent a bit of time, though not nearly enough, participating in them. I don’t have a magic formula for you, but I do have a basic path that has started to form in my head. It goes something like this.

  1. Imagine how you want your life to be and what is standing in your way. Figure out what you want your world to look like. It doesn’t have to be precise or perfect, but you do need something to reach for.
  1. Find other people who want the same things that you do. Build communities of trust and support. (That trust and support part is crucial.)
  1. Plan direct actions. Ideally they should provide for immediate needs and disrupt the systems of oppression.
  1. Identify the obstacles that you will face and prepare for them, figure out how you will defend yourselves.
  1. Act
  1. Review the action. Figure out what went well and what didn’t. Reassess. Adjust. Make sure all your people are taken care of.
  1. Rinse and repeat.

That doesn’t mean that voting can never, ever be a part of what you are doing.

“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” – Emma Goldman

All due respect to Emma (and I love her), her statement is kind of a case for voting. After all, it has been and still is prohibited for a whole lot of people (former felons, for instance). And it is not true that voting never matters at all. Voting for someone who is less likely to mow you down in the street is a totally reasonable defense strategy. Voting a terrible prosecutor out of office is a legitimate tactic. If two dudes are running for town sheriff and one is a sociopath, we might consider voting for the other guy.

But then we should go right back to working on ending the position of sheriff or prosecutor entirely. We should learn how to build community for ourselves rather than constituencies for people with their own agenda. We should learn how to resolve conflict ourselves, not empower violent authorities to run systems of oppression and retribution.

It is a lot harder to do those things than to stump for a candidate and vote every couple years. But we can only get out from under these people if we take responsibility and represent ourselves. I screw up every damn day in every way imaginable. But that is why it is called a struggle. And it is so much better to be struggling – to be a better person, to build alternate systems, against oppressive structures, with my community –  than to be looking for some kind of savior to come along and make it better.

Now that you are free of the constraints of electoral politics, what are you going to do?

Over-Reliance on the Law

February 08, 2010 By: Mel Category: Seeking

Over the weekend, a friend of mine posted a video (below) about a Fox news report that was squashed.

Several years ago, Fox reporters were working on a story about Monsanto and rBGH.  Monsanto, upon getting wind of the story, had their attorneys send Fox a letter threatening to sue.  Fox wanted to squash the story, but were afraid the reporters would tell the world.  So instead, Fox management beat the story into a form that Monsanto would like better.

The reporters were eventually fired for not being willing to lie in their news report.  The Fox station attorney sent them a letter confirming that is why they were fired.  The reporters understood this to be a retaliation claim.  They believed they would be protected under the whistleblower statute.  But the courts ruled that a news show lying on the air was not illegal and therefore there was no whistle to blow.  Ergo, no protection for the reporters.

All of us discussing the post agreed that it was appalling.  The poster suggested that we start a campaign to make lying by the news stations illegal.  It was an instinct I understood, but all I could think of were the potentially disastrous consequences.

If we want to see what happens when it is easier to sue a news organization, look no further than the United Kingdom.  Libel laws there are much different than in the United States.  And corporations are taking advantage of those laws to sue newspapers and bloggers.

News organizations afraid that they are going to be sued are likely to self censor.  In fact, this very Monsanto incident is the perfect example of the kind of self censorship that news organizations are practicing.  Monsanto threatened to sue them, presumably for libel.  And rather than risk the expense of a court battle, Fox’s response was to cave to the threat of a lawsuit.

While this Monsanto case is disgusting, how would yet more laws that people can be sued under help rather than cause even more self censorship?  And even if there was no danger from self censorship, how could we be sure that honest mistakes were not prosecuted?

This is not just an issue of a free press or of free speech.  It is about how we are handling all of our society’s problems.  Our first instinct is – We must do something!  We must pass a law!  It has gotten to the point where we can’t walk out of our house without breaking a law.

Every time we try to resolve a problem by passing a law, we give up that much more of our power.  And we tip the scales that much further in the direction of the wealthy and specially educated.

Access to the justice system, and results from the justice system, are dependent on how much money you have and how much understanding you have of legal codes, precedents, rules of procedure and a million other pieces of specialized knowledge that most of us do not have access to.

When we turn everything into a law, we turn everything into something that requires an attorney and a judge.  We empower those people at the expense of our own power.  If every solution proposed requires a law, then availing yourself of that solution requires an attorney.  Can you afford an attorney?  I can’t.

This post isn’t about bagging on attorneys.  I worked for attorneys for a decade.  And some of the attorneys I worked for were fighting the good fight.  They worked on civil rights cases and sexual harassment cases.  (I’m talking quid pro quo – you can keep your job if you suck my dick kind of cases, not ooh I don’t like the bikini calendar cases.)  I even did a millisecond internship with the ACLU.  But even the attorneys fighting the good fight cannot deny that the courts, for all the publicity that those few breakthrough civil rights cases get, are all too often on the wrong side of history.

There is no way to craft laws that can only be used for good, that cannot be exploited by those with the power and money to exploit.  The solution does not lie in empowering more attorneys and judges.  It lies in addressing those inequities of power and money directly.  It lies in taking back our own power.  It lies in coming up with solutions and problem solving mechanisms accessible to all of us.

Howard Zinn Will Be Missed

January 27, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Seeking

I feel very lucky that I had the opportunity to see Howard Zinn at Busboys and Poets last year.  I wish I had a recording of his talk.  The gist of it was that no politician is going to bring us the change we need.  We have to make the change happen.  Here is an amazing interview (and critique of voting) with Walter Mosley (who I also love).

Are Cynic and Optimist Mutually Exclusive?

January 22, 2010 By: Mel Category: Seeking

People often complain that I’m cynical and pessimistic.  I’m always looking for the catch, the ulterior motive, the dark side.  Every new plan, from health care to tax reform, I am immediately poking holes in.  Many of my friends are liberal, nonprofit types who are very attached to these plans.  And they get pretty frustrated with me.

And maybe I am cynical.  Certainly, I question people’s motives.  But I prefer to see it as being honest.  I see what happens with each of those grand plans and new policies.  I see how putting our future in other people’s hands leaves us feeling lost and powerless.  I see every person who gets power abusing it.  I see the “solutions” to problems causing more problems than they solve.

Willful blindness isn’t going to make those problems go away.  It isn’t optimistic to put all your faith in a charismatic leader and cross your fingers.  It isn’t optimistic to ignore the hypocrisy, backroom deals, corporate giveaways, ethical compromises, obstructionism, and usual screwing of the public.

On the contrary, the pessimists are those people who think that is the best we can do.  I think we can do better.

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Preparing for Peace

January 18, 2010 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Core, Seeking

Many people believe that some injustices are so heinous that violence is not only necessary, it is obligatory.  But they rarely take the next step.  They rarely imagine what would happen after the violence stops, assuming it can be stopped.  Who among them is going to create a better, more just world?  A soldier?

A soldier is not trained to create.  He is trained to destroy.  Military training is about smashing a person’s ego until they are willing to obey without question.  It is about instilling hierarchy.  It is about learning to dehumanize the “enemy.”  It is about suppressing pangs of conscience.  It is about becoming a killer.

When the soldier returns from whatever horrors he has to see and participate in, he brings the horrors back with him.  Returning soldiers have mental health problems.  They are more likely to have drug and alcohol problems.  Many are suicidal.  Some are homicidal.  Is that soldier, with all his problems, the person who will be able to create a better way of life?

Contrast the training of a soldier with the training of a non-violent resister.

Imagine the inner strength, patience, and command over your own emotions it takes to face down dogs without responding with violence?  Imagine the vision that comes from that kind of discipline and self awareness.  How could that not be better preparation for building a more just world?

When James Baldwin and Malcolm X debated each other (recordings below), Malcolm X asserted his right to defend himself.  He claimed that the black man’s freedom rested on his willingness to do “the same thing that Patrick Henry did to make this country what it was for white people.”  And in doing so, he called out the hypocrisy of idolizing the actions of one person and vilifying those same actions when another claims the right to them.

That hypocrisy is indisputable.  So is the fact that Americans idolize violence and violent heroes.  But while Baldwin did not dispute Malcolm X’s facts, he did dispute his conclusions.

“Patrick Henry is not one of my heroes…I don’t see any reason for me, at this late date, to begin modeling myself on an image which I’ve always found frankly to be mediocre and not a standard to which I myself could repair…the only thing that really arms anybody when the chips are down is how closely, how thoroughly, he can relate to himself and deal with the world…I don’t think that a warrior is necessarily a man…It is very difficult to be a man…What it involves, for me anyway, is an ability to look at the world, to look at whatever it is and to say what it is and to deal with it and to face it.

A soldier will have a very hard time looking at the world and seeing it for what it is.  A soldier has to lie to himself.  How could a soldier stand not to?  You can’t make a better world by creating people who can’t look into their own hearts, who have to live in denial of their actions.

We all have the right to defend ourselves, but we also have the obligation to examine what we will become by exercising that right.  If, in the process of becoming the victor, you have to also become a monster, what have you really won?

Ignoring Elites is so Elitist

November 06, 2009 By: Mel Category: Core, Politics, Seeking, Stratification

Jim Vandehei and Mike Allen at Politico wrote a story about how Obama’s White House is “working systematically to marginalize the most powerful forces behind the Republican Party.”

The Heritage Foundation quoted that story and then did a fascinating little maneuver where they tried to turn “the most powerful forces behind the Republican Party” into the “average Americans” that progressives have “contempt” for.

The argument goes like this.  Obama’s people are shutting out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Rush Limbaugh, Wall Street executives, and Fox News.  This shutout shows that Obama is targeting those organizations, just like Saul Alinsky advises people to target their enemy in his book Rules for Radicals.

Alinsky said that the middle class was “materialistic, decadent, bourgeois, degenerate, imperialistic, war-mongering, brutalized, and corrupt.”  Ergo, Obama, who is using Alinsky’s tactics, has contempt for the middle class.  Since all Americans are, of course, middle class; Obama hates you and wants his elite friends to make all your decisions for you.

Let’s break that down a little.  Wall Street executives, whose bonuses are being paid with the tax money Obama gave them, are feeling shut out?  Even better – Wall Street, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News are “average Americans?”

And, goodness me, aside from Saul Alinsky, no one on earth has ever attacked (by ignoring) another person – not ever.  So this must be an Alinsky thing, cause the world of politics was all civility and roses aside from that.

Oh, I could go on and on.

What should we take from this (aside from the fact that Heritage is full of shit)?

Republicans have done a very good job of painting Democrats as elitist.  That isn’t particularly difficult.  Democrats are elitist.  So are Republicans.  This whole town is elitist and everybody is working to get their elites as much as they can.

The good news is that many (most?) Americans, while still widely accepting of all the hierarchies that prop those elitists up, have a little voice in their head that responds negatively to the idea that ivy league Wall Street schmucks should get bonuses for screwing us or that you need alphabet soup at the end of your name in order to be capable of making a decision.

That’s why people respond to messaging like that.  And that’s a good thing. Or, at least, it could be if people besides The Heritage Foundation were tapping into it.

Are Anarchists Naive?

November 02, 2009 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core, Seeking

Once people find out I’m an anarchist (and get over the shock that I am not a fifteen year old punk rock white boy who likes to smash windows), they want to know what anarchy is (if not violence and mayhem).  I explain to them that anarchy means “without rulers” and that I am against all forms of domination.

Now, of course, they want to know how we are going to live without domination.  They tell me that, without police, we will have no protection from violent criminals.  They tell me that, without bosses, nobody would do anything and we’d all starve.  They tell me that, without coercion, people would just argue forever and nothing would ever get resolved.  They tell me that, if you remove coercive institutions tomorrow, someone would just go about trying to recreate them.

They think anarchy is a utopian dream.

They’re right.  It is a utopian dream.  And there is nothing wrong with utopian dreams.  Whenever humans have made progress, it has been because of people who had seemingly unrealistic dreams about human possibility.  Mother Jones, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King had utopian visions for the world.  Their visions may not have been fully realized, but they changed things radically for the better.

I don’t believe I will ever see a society that is completely free of coercion and violence.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m just going to roll over and accept coercion and violence.  I don’t believe I will ever see a society where hierarchies don’t exist.  But that doesn’t mean I’m just going to roll over and accept man over woman, white over black, straight over gay, rich over poor, owner over worker.

When they tell me that, without police, we will have no protection from violent criminals; I tell them that half the people who are languishing in prison are not violent criminals.  I tell them that “17.6 % of women in the United States have survived a completed or attempted rape.”  I tell them that most rapes go unreported and most rapists unpunished.  I tell them that, in many cases, the police are the rapists and not protecting us at all.  I tell them that I don’t think I’m protected now.

When they tell me that, without bosses, nobody would do anything and we’d all starve; I tell them that people are starving now.  I tell them that “almost one person in six does not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life.” And I tell them that there are alternatives to hierarchy.  I tell them about the FASINPAT in Argentina and Arizmendi bakeries in California.  I tell them about AK Press and Mondragon (soon coming to a U.S. town near you).

When they tell me that, without coercion, people would just argue forever and nothing would ever get resolved; I tell them that ordinary people, working together, can come up with solutions on their own.  And if they don’t believe me, they can ask nobel prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom.

I don’t disagree that there will always be people trying to rebuild the coercive institutions that we manage to tear down.  There are people out there who long for the antebellum south.  There are people who would like to bring back ruling monarchies.  And obscene amounts of people supported McCarthyism and the Patriot Act and every other rollback of civil rights some butthead has proposed.  That’s not an argument against anarchy.

I’m not naive.  I understand the challenges.  I understand how imperfect we all are.  But I also see the possibilities.  I see anarchy happening in little (and not so little) ways all over the world.  And I know that the people are wrong who think obtaining power, and using that power over others, is the only way to accomplish anything.  It isn’t the only way.  It isn’t the right way.

I do not believe that the world will ever be all peace, love, and cotton candy.  I do believe that the more people adopt anarchist principles, the better off we will be.

Watching Your Tone

October 26, 2009 By: Mel Category: Seeking

What’s the best way to communicate ideas?

There was a blogger I was following until recently.  We disagreed on some very fundamental issues, but I don’t read things for confirmation of my beliefs.  I read to be challenged.  And I wanted to understand her point of view.

She wasn’t an easy person to read.  She is young and full of rage.  She has, from what I can tell, good reasons to be full of rage.  And she has every right to use her space to scream and curse and yell and direct that rage out at the world.

The last thing I am going to do is be one of those people who tries to shut others up by telling them to watch their tone. But a reader is only going to stick around and be raged at for so long.

I edit the hell out of some of my posts.  Other posts I don’t publish at all, because I don’t see anything productive coming out of posting them. And sometimes I am torn about the self editing.

But I don’t just want to use my blog to vent.  I don’t just want to find like-minded people (although it is a big perk).  I want to debate.  I want to open my mind to new ideas.  And I want to explain myself well enough so that people who disagree with me will at least understand my position.

Raging won’t accomplish that.

I was reading a blog post today.  Fofi tells about how one trainhopper/hitchhiker advised her to get people laughing in order to ask them for money.  My father, the consummate salesman, gave me the same advice when I found myself having to sell legal services to attorneys.

People are more responsive when you put them at ease.

Unfortunately for me, I’m only funny once or twice a year.  (That might explain why I was such a shit salesperson.)  But I can try to get my message across in a way that people will hear it.  It won’t always work.  And it won’t always be possible.  But it’s worth the effort.