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 ‘Politics’

On the BRICS Bank and Missed Opportunities

August 04, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change, Politics

BRICS summit photo opYou have probably heard about the new BRICS bank. There were a lot of celebratory posts on my Facebook and Twitter feeds. I can’t say that really surprised me. But I am a little disappointed.

I can understand why people would be happy to have any challenge to the World Bank/IMF, US/European chokehold on the world economy. It is lovely that there isn’t only one game in town. But it isn’t as though the BRICS bank is based on better principles. It isn’t as though their development projects are going to be beacons to social justice.

But it isn’t actually the BRICS bank I want to talk about per se. I was listening to Patrick Bond in this interview about the bank and the “inter-imperial rivalries” that it is an outgrowth of. It got me thinking about missed opportunities.

Everybody knows about divide and conquer. I hear plenty of people talking about how we are divided. Just try googling “divided working class.” But rarely do I hear people talk seriously, and strategically, about divisions between elites.

And there are a lot of divisions between elites. Many revolutions are less insurrections by the oppressed than they are disputes between elites. Sometimes, like in Colombia, the people who were dragged into the disputes were screwed when the elites decided to ban together. But other times, like in Mexico, people were able to exploit the rifts between elites and make some changes. Not perfect changes, obviously, but they got something.

It isn’t just applicable to war. How do the old car companies feel about Google now that they are getting into the car game? Why do Google and Facebook care whether or not the cable companies win on net neutrality? How do you think former Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and AIG people feel about being losers in the game they were playing with Goldman Sachs?

I’m not suggesting we spend all our time trying to figure out what these people are doing. Our efforts need to be focused on building at the community level. But that doesn’t mean that we cannot keep our eyes peeled for opportunities that may come up because these greedy, ego-maniacal, sociopaths are constantly at each others throats too. And so are a lot of the local thugs – politicians, developers… – in our towns.

Looking to exploit those rifts would be a lot more productive than cheering when someone who is mildly less of a dick gets a little bit larger piece of the power cudgel with which to beat us.

Your Well-Intentioned Regulations Will Not Bring Justice

June 23, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics

Playa Chacala, MexicoYou have heard of “too big to fail.” Well, the World Bank recently posted a piece called Too Small to Regulate. It is an argument for big business. In fact, it is an argument for industries to be run by just a handful of big companies. It is easier, they say, for the government to keep up with a few behemoths than to try and monitor a whole bunch of independents. According to the authors,

The reason regulation is needed is that, as Nicholas Kristof argues in one of his recent columns, a firm’s “business case” does not always coincide with what is socially desirable. Many actions have harmful side-effects on bystanders who are not party to the decisions—“negative externalities” in the language of economics. It is not in the interest of the firm, on its own, to pay heed to the negative externalities it inflicts. Regulation, with carefully calibrated penalties, can help bring a firm’s profit-maximizing motive into alignment with society’s overall interests.  

There are so many people that I wish would read and think about that article. Because there are so many people I know who are both fervent supporters of increased regulation and fervent supporters of small businesses, buying local, co-ops, independents… Like them, I did not always see clearly that those things are very often (maybe mostly) in opposition to one another.

Laws and regulations are not magic. There are costs and consequences. The consequences will always be more severe for the marginalized and discriminated against. The benefits will always be enjoyed disproportionately by the most powerful and privileged. The US is, after all, an oligarchy. How could anyone expect regulations to benefit anyone but the current and aspiring oligarchs who pay for them?

Marijuana is being legalized all over. With legalization and regulation has come a devouring of small-scale growers and retailers. In Canada, growing for your own personal use has been nixed in favor of large-scale capitalist enterprise with prohibitive start-up costs. One Ottawa entrepreneur

underestimated the money they would need by a factor of three, largely because of the government’s regulatory demands. The application ran 300 pages, not including attachments. And before they could even submit applications, Tweed and other growers had to secure sites for their operations and obtain all local permissions. Applicants who passed the initial vetting then had to pass a final, two-day inspection.

California growers are experiencing similar changes as marijuana becomes taxed and regulated. Maybe you think that is a good thing. But one of the reasons for legalizing marijuana was to stop the arrest and incarceration of users and small-time dealers. If the barriers are too high for legal sales, then the same people will  continue to get arrested. If you don’t believe me, then you aren’t paying attention to the people of color who are getting arrested for cutting hair without a license.

A long time ago I read an interview with Michelle Alexander where people asked her about legalization of drugs as a response to The New Jim Crow. She wisely pointed out that the system will find another way to criminalize and caste poor people of color. She was right. And now she is pointing out that white men are now getting rich from selling pot while black men are still behind bars for doing the same thing.

I know what some of you are thinking. You are thinking that we need regulation to prevent discrimination, environmental damage, and other predatory behavior. But does regulation really work?

We had environmental regulation, but that didn’t stop BP from spilling millions of barrels of oil. Our government’s response was not to hold them fully accountable. It was to limit their liability and save the company. Which is what will always happen. Because incorporation is the government giving people permission to do things without personal consequences. Rarely will regulations actually take down a big company. Rarer still will they take down any of the individuals in it, no matter what they did. People died in that BP oil spill. Who at BP is answering for that? Nobody. Because while the feds will happily raid and shut down an Amish farm, you will not be seeing them in the BP executive offices.

I am not saying that no regulation has ever made a difference in anyone’s life. I’ve written before about the ambiguities and moral dilemmas that we face when dealing with the world as it is while still trying to move it towards what it should be. I am saying that we must take into consideration the costs. And we need to think bigger.

We need to be able to imagine a world where we don’t have a government-protected corporation killing people without consequences. We can do better than trying to force the Walmarts of the world to put in wheelchair ramps, hire minorities, and pay a living wage. We can do better than hoping that people get the kind of job that most of us have – one we hate where we can barely muster a fuck to give. We can do better than monstrous organizations run by sociopaths who are o.k. with poisoning people, because they know they will never be challenged professionally, much less held accountable personally.

Those of you who are fighting for regulation really need to think about the consequences of what you are fighting for. Towns all over this country have had their local businesses eaten up by Walmart. Our food system is controlled by a handful of companies. Unless you go live in a tree somewhere, you almost cannot avoid google. And soon even a remote forest probably won’t save you.

Do you want to be a society of wage-slaves for multinationals or a society of independent, democratic, creative, unique organizations where humans have agency? Because if it is the latter, you need to think a little more carefully about regulation as a solution to our problems.

 

Unincorporate the Worst Company in the World

June 02, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change, Politics

Adbusters has a new thing. They are asking us to vote on the worst company in the world. The idea is to have a campaign to revoke their corporate status. They are calling it the birth of the corporate charter movement.

I think this is a good idea.

People need reminding that corporations are created and sanctioned by the state. They need reminding that incorporation is, by definition, government protection. Why should anyone get limited liability? If there is any time when that is appropriate, when should it be?

I don’t have any hope that we will be able to take down Goldman Sachs. But I think this is a really important public conversation to have.

Total Information. Who Can You Trust?

April 16, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminal Injustice System, Politics

Uncle Sam is Watching YouMy roommate texted me the other night that she needed my social security number. She was doing her taxes via TurboTax and they wouldn’t let her file without it. In DC, there is a housing credit for which it is obvious that neither me nor my roommate are eligible. But TurboTax made us go through a whole bunch of questions that were supposedly necessary to assess our eligibility. The program asked for all household members and their social security numbers. I ditched TurboTax and went with H&R Block who didn’t ask me to share my roommates personal information with them.  

Just as I’m thinking about how infuriatingly accustomed we all are to giving information to government and/or private companies,  I get an email from the DC government informing me that it is time to get my REAL ID. Apparently, back in 2005, a national ID was snuck onto a piece of military spending legislation. I’m told that there was a bit of a stink when it happened. Many states, in fact, said they would refuse to participate. But it is slowly rolling out anyway.

So what is this REAL ID?

The federal government no longer wants the states to be able to determine their own rules for issuing drivers licenses. And while the feds cannot exactly force the states, they can make certain state IDs not usable for federal identification purposes. That means, for example, that your state ID could not be used to board a flight within the U.S. They say these new regulations are about anti-terrorism. But they are more about anti-immigration and about cataloging all of us for ease of future harassment and control.

What I and every other license holding resident of DC will need to do is go down to our local DMV with at least four pieces of identification that meet their standards. In my case, for example, I’ll have to go down there with my passport, social security number, apartment lease, and a bank statement. All of these items will be scanned and held in their system. I will also have my picture retaken and added to their facial recognition database. The ID that I will be issued must have a machine readable zone. Here is what the NYCLU had to say about that in this report they issued (p. 14).

Similar to a bar code, the machine-readable zone must contain minimum information to allow any entity with a reader to capture the data on a driver’s license. The Real ID Act mandates the following minimum information be included in the machine-readable zone: license expiration date, issuance date, state or territory of issuance, holder’s legal name, date of birth, gender, address, unique identification number, and inventory control number for the physical documents maintained by the state.

DHS has granted states the authority to add information to be contained in the machine readable zone, including biometric information, such as iris scans or fingerprints. DHS has decided that the personal information contained in the machine readable zone will not be encrypted, which means that it will be easily accessible to government agents and the private sector. Moreover, there is no prohibition on third party access to information contained in the machine-readable zone.

So basically the states can include iris scans, fingerprints, or pretty much any creepy thing they want and they cannot encrypt the information. Even if you are one of those people who trusts the government to compile limitless data on you, are you really o.k. with anyone you need to show your ID to having that information? There are already bars that scan people when they walk through the door. Do you trust every bar and gym and restaurant with your iris scan?

I’m not even going to entertain the arguments about needing this for our security. Nothing the government does is for our security. It is for their security at the cost of ours. If you want to read some of the arguments, then feel free to click through to the congressional testimony or this article from Bruce Schneier.

What I will do is ask people to imagine the kinds of abuses that could occur with a system that collects that much data about all of us in one place. Think of the number of people who will have access to my name, face, gender, dob, social, passport number, bank account, and address. In Ohio, they freaked out because they found out that 30,000 cops plus had unfettered access to DMV info with facial recognition. Multiply that times the fifty states. Police routinely abuse their access to information to harass, stalk, or murder citizens. Now we are just making it easier.

Do we really need to write yet again about the kind of files that the federal government has been collecting on activists from the beginning of time? Here is a handy summary of some of the more well known acts against us by our government.

What is it going to take for people to stop rolling over and start asking why it is o.k. for us to be cataloged by a cooperating cabal of government and private agencies?

 

The Classism and Ignorance of Liberals

March 17, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics

This photo came from “Being Liberal” on Facebook. My friend posted it with some comments about how problematic it is for liberals to denigrate the rural poor who are then scooped up by the republican party. But I am going to be waaaay more harsh.

I am so tired of liberal/democratic/progressive classism.

What is your evidence that the democratic party is so great for poor people? You know who are in prison right now? Poor people. You know who put a whole lot of them there? Democrats like Bill Clinton, “the incarceration president.” When one of the political parties suggests dismantling the prison industrial complex and the military industrial complex, you let me know.

All this voting “against your economic interest” is a load of crap.

Poor people vote in far fewer numbers than rich people. And it so happens that Kentucky, the state being bashed here, has some of the lowest voter turnout in the nation. Sometimes people don’t vote because they have been permanently disenfranchised due to their incarceration. (Kentucky has the 6th highest rate of disenfranchisement in the country.) Sometimes they don’t vote because they cannot get to the poll. Sometimes they don’t vote because they don’t have ID. Sometimes they don’t vote because they know it won’t make a damn bit of difference in their everyday lives.

Anyone who wants to point out that the poorest states are republican should be slapped in the face with a list of the states that have the largest income inequality. My home, the resolutely democratic DC, is at the top of the inequality list. It is followed by New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. And the inequality is only getting worse. Where’s that voting against your economic interest nonsense now? Or are you proud that the rich people in your state/city earn so much that average income figures hide the hideous poverty of the people who clean the houses and mow the lawns of the elite?

If the only thing that you are considering when you vote is your own economic interest then you are a complete asshole. When I make decisions in my life, I make them based on my values and conscience. I don’t make them based on how much money will be in my bank account. (If you need proof, look no farther than my bank balance.) For a whole lot of you, voting your “economic interest” really means protecting your privilege.

In my experience, the people who post pictures like this have almost never been to the “fly over” states or bothered to speak to the people who live there. Their ideas of the rural, white poor come from media coverage – which is apparently oh so accurate when it comes to this one group of society. Or maybe they are just watching bad television that uses “hicks” as the villains because it is a socially acceptable meme.

If you haven’t seen or experienced something for yourself, you should really hold your judgement. Reading a study about a community does not make you knowledgeable. It is not o.k. to dismiss people as ignorant because they don’t have a degree or because they go to church. It is not o.k. if we are talking about poor, indigenous people in Bolivia. It is not o.k if we are talking about poor, white people in Kentucky.

The truth is that liberal, “educated” people need the low-class, ignorant hick meme. So long as they exist to denigrate, nobody has to acknowledge that racism, classism, and sexism are systemic and will require a complete upheaval of the systems that give so many liberals the privileges they currently enjoy. As was pointed out so well in the comments of this post, when a lot of white liberals say “racist,” what they usually mean is low-class.

Our problems are not going to be resolved through party politics. They sure as hell aren’t going to be resolved by shitting all over people you have never met. In fact, I would think a prerequisite to democracy would be actually speaking to the other people involved.

Perhaps, if people stopped being such ignorant snobs, they would find out that there is a whole lot of knowledge, mutual aid, and radical thinking that they are totally missing out on. Maybe the people who want to save themselves from mountaintop removal use Christian langauge in West Virginia. Maybe some of the biggest cooperatives serve the needs of (oh my gosh) republicans in the south. Does that make those efforts worthless?

Maybe we all have a lot to learn.

/end rant

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.

 

 

Tobacco, Taxes, and Thuggery

August 21, 2013 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics

Back when I started smoking I could get a pack of cigarettes for around $1.35.  Ah, the good old days when I could kill my lungs on the cheap. When the mega taxing of cigs started, I could just hop over to the Seminole reservation and get a carton for $18 or so. No more it seems. Monumental, greedy douchebags like New York State Senator Carl Kruger (who should still be serving his sentence on corruption charges) couldn’t stand missing out on a little revenue from the reservations.

Reservations are supposed to be sovereign. “States have no authority over tribal governments unless expressly authorized by Congress.” Of course, nothing stops people like me from hopping over to a reservation and taking advantage of tax free cigs. State governments, especially New York, sent themselves into a tizzy about it. They argued that non-native people shouldn’t escape the tax. (Never mind that, if I go to another country and buy the shit out of some cheap cigarettes, I am totally allowed to bring them back.)

I’ve been following this story for a while, as I am

1. Addicted to cigarettes

2. Think it is about damn time we stop screwing with indigenous people

3. Like any story that makes unquestioning, liberal tax love inconvenient

4. Love the DIY FU response from the Oneida

5. Think the drug legalization movement needs to pay attention to people being prosecuted for smuggling legal things

Of course, people are getting around the taxes in all sorts of ways. And, of course, the government is getting thuggish about it – like confiscating truckloads of cigarettes made on one reservation and bound for another. In March, a few Indian smokeshops were ordered to pay more than $10 million for selling untaxed cigarettes.

Then today I come across this AP article that conveniently leaves out any context when telling about a couple from Independence, Kansas that is under a 43 count indictment for smuggling cigs to be sold on reservations. (Side note: I’ve been to Independence, Kansas. Not a lot going on there job wise.)

I haven’t seen a whole lot of people paying attention to this. And I’m wondering why. Is it because the normal small government and anti-tax crew don’t give a shit about what happens on reservations? Is it because the gooey liberals who claim to care about indigenous people love taxes and forcing “healthy behavior” on people? Is it because conservatives like state government and liberals like federal government and almost nobody really cares about preserving any kind of freedom from both? Or am I being to complicated. Is it just that most people don’t even know indigenous people exist anymore?

I’ll leave you to decide.  I’ll also leave you with this Dave Chappelle snippet. Enjoy.

 

 

Victor Jara, Solitude, Justice, and the USA

January 07, 2013 By: Mel Category: Politics

It looks like Victor Jara’s murderers have some small chance of being brought to justice. Jara, if you are unfamiliar, was a musician and activist in Chile during the dirty war. He was tortured and killed by Pinochet’s thugs. Now Chile is prosecuting his murderers and it turns out one of them is hiding out in the US. Jara’s widow is calling for his extradition.

Coincidentally, I’ve been thinking about a Jara quote I just read in 33 Revolutions Per Minute.

It seems nobody dares to be themselves. They are afraid of solitude and because of that, everyone is alone in a mass of lonely people

He was talking about us estadounidenses. I always assumed that fear of being yourself was a universal human trait, but maybe we in the U.S. have taken it to a whole new level.

It is ironic that people aren’t themselves because they fear others won’t like them. If people don’t really know us, how can they like us? Besides, isn’t it partly sharing faults, secrets, doubts, fears, and fuckedupedness that connects us. Makes sense that the less we are willing to do that, the more isolated we all feel.

So if Jara was right, what is it about our culture that walls us off so thoroughly? Are the boxes we put each other in even smaller than in other places? Is it connected to how punitive we are, how unforgiving? How do we break that? How can we change anything if we don’t break it?

Course, as punitive as we are when it comes to minor drug offenses, we have a history of refusing to extradite thugs like Luis Posada Carriles and Emmanuel Constant. Given that we supported the government that killed Jara, I won’t hold my breath.

Here you can listen to Jara’s singing one of his last songs. The words and an English translation are here. I kind of prefer Francesca Ancarola’s version on that site and below.

 

Really, Laura, Really?!

December 19, 2012 By: Mel Category: Politics, Violence

I had no intention of writing anything about the school shooting in Connecticut. Maybe Pablo Neruda could have found words to talk about something like that, but it is beyond my capacity.

I understand the desire for people to ask how it could happen and how we can prevent it from happening again. But there is a fine line between asking why and using a tragedy to push your pet policy positions or promote your philosophy. It isn’t a line I want to walk.

But then I read this piece on Jezebel and I just can’t let it go.

Some incredibly brave woman wrote about being the mother of a child with serious mental health problems. If you haven’t read I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother yet, do it now.

Try to imagine what it would be like to be that mother. Imagine trying to cope with your kid’s behavior. Imagine the terror every time you hear about a serial killer or mass murderer. Imagine having to wonder – Will I have to put him in prison? Will my kid kill himself? Will he kill me? Will he kill somebody else? What if my only option to stop him from killing me or someone else is to kill him? You know that thought has to have gone through her mind.

If that child ever does anything horrible, the first thing anyone will ask is where the parents were. No. Scratch that. They will ask where the mother was. They will want to assess blame. They will want to dissect every action that woman has taken. They will want to know why nobody was warned.

Well, we have been warned. And we have been pleaded with. That mother put all her anguish out for the world to see. But instead of thinking about how hard that was, how hard it must be to live like that, some compassion-challenged asshat at Jezebel called the woman’s torment a distraction.

A fucking distraction.

According to Laura Beck, we are supposed to leave mental health diagnosis to the experts. But someone whose last posts included World’s Best Airport Pianist and Alison Brie Loves to Rap, Danny Pudi Loves to Beat Box is fully qualified to declare that mental health care needs to take a back seat to gun control. And if that means using someone else’s tragedy and shitting all over a woman’s cry for help. Fuck em.

No. Laura. Fuck you.

I rarely blog anything truly personal, at least not the details. It is so difficult to dig up the most painful things that happen to you and lay them out for the world. And there are too many Lauras out there who can’t even see what it is that they are shitting on.

So when I read something like I am Adam Lanza’s Mother, the only thing I am thinking about is what it would be like to experience that. I’m thinking how fucking hard it would be to share it and how hard it would be to not share it. And I’m thinking – Whatever you do, lady, don’t read the comments!

So, Laura Beck, how about this. How about you take the most awful thing that has ever happened to you in your life and write about it. How about you dredge up all the pain and splay it out for the internets to use and to tear apart and to tell you how your pain is completely besides the point. Maybe then you might find some tiny bit of compassion in there somewhere?

No? Well then stick to writing about airport pianists.

Confessions of a Former Liberal: A Response to Rebecca Solnit

October 02, 2012 By: Mel Category: Politics

Boy Confessing to Priest "You First"By now you have probably read, or at least heard about, Rebecca Solnit’s piece on TomDispatch titled The Rain on Our Parade. Salon republished it as Hey left wing: Quit griping.

Solnit is frustrated that us radicals are constant Debbie Downers who do nothing but bitch and moan. We can never see anything positive. We are ebullience crushing, sanctimonious, disgruntled, sour, bitter, narcissistic, privileged, fools who lack any compassion for the people who will be helped by the incremental policy changes that Democrats will bring us.

Ouch.

I will give Solnit this. I think that radicals are too often better at pointing out problems than offering solutions. I wish that the Criminal (in)Justice Committee spent more time talking about restorative justice and other alternatives to incarceration. People need a positive vision to fight for and not just enemies to fight against.

But the Democratic Party and incremental policy change are not that vision.

I used to be a liberal. I was brought up to believe that the people who voted Republican were all ignorant, racist, homophobic, Christian fundamentalists who were beyond redemption. The implication being that people who voted for Democrats were not those things. The “good” people voted for Democrats and our only option for change was to cross our fingers and hope more people would pick the Democratic Team.

I was excited that my first election put Clinton in office. He wasn’t 250 years old. He wasn’t going to arm Contras. He talked about civil rights and justice. I thought things were going to be different. But they weren’t. In fact, in a lot of ways they got a hell of a lot worse. And I knew that Clinton was about as good as it was going to get. It was a horrible and paralyzing realization.

Contrary to Solnit’s assertion that us radicals fixate on international issues and ignore the national issues that Democrats are better on, it wasn’t international issues that made me give up on Democrats. It was studying drug policy. It was understanding that Bill Clinton was arguably the worst president on the drug war. It was understanding how racist our criminal (in)justice system is and how Democrats (including our current vice president) were front and center pushing the policies that have 7 million people under correctional supervision.

Studying drug policy opened my eyes to other things to. Like that a whole lot of libertarians who voted Republican were actually paying attention to an issue that most liberals didn’t (and still don’t) seem to notice. Here liberals were pretending to care more about poor people and people of color, but (at best) ignoring one of the systems that targets them mercilessly. Suddenly, I had to reassess my view of who was the enemy and who I had common ground with. Suddenly, I found myself in conversations with libertarians and conservatives and people who defied our limited categories.

Losing my liberal baggage and walking away from electoral politics is not about hopelessness or nihilism or sanctimony. Walking away from electoral politics was what finally started to give me some hope. If I kept smashing my head against our electoral system, I would have permanent brain damage from all the political concussions. It isn’t “an excuse for not really doing much.”  It was the opposite. It allowed me to see possibilities that politics keeps hidden. It allowed me to start building the unlikely relationships that the defenders of our hideous systems are rightly terrified of.

I find it incredibly ironic that Solnit says that radicals are being divisive, that we fall into a “cartoonish black and white.” It isn’t just that she says it in an article that has such contempt for us and has understandably pissed a lot of people off. It is that she also talks about how we have to “counter the Republican right.” It is that she talks about how we have to be intelligent and empathetic, unlike those people. How is that not divisive? I no longer see the right as Republican. I certainly don’t see it as the people who vote Republican any more than those who vote Democrat, at least not all of them.

I see the problem as the systems that crush us all – the criminal (in)justice system, the school system that is designed to teach us the futility of resistance, the corporate behemoths who bleed us dry, the thugs with guns here and abroad – and whoever it is that upholds those systems. Any president, or anyone who wants to be president, has the job of conserving those systems. And that means that they are the problem.

I get that sometimes a small policy change can make a real difference in someone’s life. And I do not begrudge the people who work for those changes, even though I believe that they are operating on a gross misunderstanding of how change happens. If a movement is big enough, if the culture shifts, the change will come no matter who is in office. But a politician cannot make change (even if we think they want to) without the movement. The movement is what is important. Solnit herself uses the Montgomery bus boycott as an example. That wasn’t an election. That was direct action. That was a movement.

It is so frustrating to see people buy into the right/left, Democrat/Republican divides that have so little meaning. I can’t stand watching people waste their time begging at the doors of the powerful and watching them be worn down by it.  That is what I find divisive. That is what I find hope killing. That is what keeps us from resolving problems and coming up with creative solutions.

I get frustrated too, Rebecca. Sometimes I need to let out a good rant. I live in DC. I am surrounded by party loyalist “progressives” who focus myopically on the few scraps Obama has thrown and close their eyes to the damage he has done with bombs, bailouts and a total disregard for civil liberties. Sometimes the only response I am capable of is to puke out a damage list. Sometimes, when someone accuses me of being a brat for not being grateful that the person who cut off my arm gave me a band-aid,  I really lose my shit.

So I won’t hold all the insults against you. But I hope the insults and uncharitable assumptions are out of your system now. Because every moment we spend being frustrated at each other’s frustration is one less moment we spend building the relationships and movements that might actually do something.