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’

Is the Media Liberal?

August 06, 2012 By: Mel Category: Politics

A friend of mine just posted this nifty graphic showing how much more often the media quotes the GOP. But I’m not sure that it says much.

If conservative is defined as wanting to live by religious doctrine or being anti-abortion, then the media is not particularly conservative. If conservative is defined as supporting current institutions of privilege, power, and domination, then the media is conservative as hell.

If liberal is defined as wanting fundamental changes and real social justice, then the media is not liberal. If liberal is defined as being classist, elitist, and status-seeking, then the media is liberal as hell.

When people who identify as conservatives call someone a liberal what they often really mean is that they are classist and arrogant – which many liberals are. When people who identify as liberal call someone a conservative, what they often really mean is that they are sexist and white supremacist – which many conservatives are.

But you can find classism, arrogance, sexism, white supremacy and every other wrongheaded, hierarchical view among people who identify as liberal or conservative or anything else. You’ll also find people who identify as liberals who are not arrogant and people who identify as conservatives who are not white supremacist.

As far as I’m concerned, both “liberals” and “conservatives” are fundamentally conservative. Is the mainstream media radical? Hell no.

Dear Reformists, You’re Welcome

July 20, 2012 By: Mel Category: Change, Politics

You're WelcomeThe problem with people who focus on reform is that they don’t seem to understand how reform actually happens. They want to focus on influencing the people in power by gaining access. That almost never leads to change, or at least not the kind of change that we need. Reform happens in one of two ways:

1. You find an insider who agrees with you and they perceive that they can do something without suffering any political consequences. That is incredibly rare. And the only things that don’t lead to political consequences, like a loss of political contributions, are things that are not going to significantly change our lives.

2. The people have already decided to ignore or challenge the rules and reform becomes self preservation. If enough people decide that they are not going to bow down to the powers-that-be then the powers have two options. They can increase repression or they can change the rules to reflect what the people have already decided to do. Otherwise, their power is completely delegitimized.

My aim is to delegitimize the state. If the state wants to make some reforms in order to hold on to power a little longer, and those reforms help some people, that’s cool. My aim doesn’t change. And since my aim is not reform, I am not going to stop pushing when reform happens. Reform is not an end, but a delay. That doesn’t mean we vilify reformists for delaying the evolution. The only way to ensure that we don’t replace a horrible system with an even worse one is to be patient enough to have most of the people on the same page. That takes time.

But reformists need to stop vilifying radicals as well. That isn’t only because of their misunderstanding of how change happens. It is also because they are not appreciating how much the uncompromising rabble-rousers outside help them. The more radical we are, the more reasonable they seem. The more reasonable they seem, the more access they have. Without us, the people who want to use “insider strategies” aren’t going to get a foot in the door.

Lets take the civil rights movement. The minds of people had changed. And the people most affected by racism decided that they were no longer going to obey. There were sit-ins, bus boycotts, freedom rides. And because so many people’s minds were already changed, many joined those first few. Now, not only was the United States embarrassed on a worldwide scale (claiming to be a beacon of freedom while attacking peaceful protesters with dogs and hoses), but they risked a complete breakdown of authority. So the laws changed. Do not kid yourself that they changed because of the huge heart of the people sitting in the Whitehouse. Perhaps other leaders would have chosen the full-scale repression route, but ultimately it was self preservation.

What’s more, the existence of more revolutionary groups pushed the state to work with the part of the civil rights movement that was asking for justice within the current structure (as opposed to the part that wanted to bring the whole thing down). While you could argue that the Civil Rights Act had serious political consequences for democrats, ultimately it legitimized the state. If you don’t believe me, try having a conversation with a liberal about social justice and why it was direct action and not something LBJ signed that ended segregation.

So next time some reformist gives you crap for being “unrealistic” or “not serious” or “naive” or some such bullshit just say “you’re welcome.”

 

And…Not Either/Or

April 16, 2012 By: Mel Category: Politics

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Stand Your Ground a Distraction?

April 02, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics, Violence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No shit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One last thing.

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

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

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

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

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

_____________

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

Kony and the Problem with Advocacy

March 09, 2012 By: Mel Category: Change, Politics

I’ve been thinking a lot about advocacy the last couple weeks, in large part because that advocacy mindset keeps seeping into the movement building and organizing work that I’m involved in. I wrote a little bit about this in my post on the perils of DC activism. But then a friend sent me the Invisible Children video on their Kony campaign and I think it is time to expand a bit on what I was saying.

Like I said in the other post, I am not completely against advocacy.

People have immediate and pressing needs. Sometimes a minor reform can actually help somebody without increasing the state’s power. Changing the crack to powder cocaine sentencing discrepancy does not challenge the racist prison industrial complex. Though I’m sure those people getting out of prison a bit early are glad someone did it.

It is possible to have radical goals and still spend some of your time dealing with the power structures in order to help people in the here and now. But many of the people who do that work do not have a critique of the system. They think the system needs tweaking, but that it is the best we can do. Sometimes those people will run into so many roadblocks that they accidentally hit on something. But without a radical critique of the system, and of power itself, they end up being misdirected into doing things that are completely wrongheaded.

The Invisible Children video is inspiring in a lot of ways. And they get some things right. It all starts with a personal relationship, with someone coming face to face with a human being who would rather die than keep on living in constant danger of being kidnapped and turned into a murderer. Not being radical, his first thought was to go to the US government to fix things. Finding that they didn’t give a shit, he turned to educating and organizing everyday people. One by one they built awareness and relationships.

But then they used that strength to go right back to the power structures to ask them to fix it. I’m supposed to cheer the involvement of the U.S. government and military in Uganda? Ask an Iraqi or one of the millions of people being tortured in U.S. prisons how great they are. And what about the Ugandan government? Are we really supporting the government that wants to kill gay people, that murdered nine people during their elections, that regularly tortures and imprisons people on a whim?

The goal should not be to get enough collective strength to make power seeking thugs pay attention – whether they call themselves LRA or Senator. The goal should be to get enough collective strength to make power seeking thugs impotent.

Now, of course, you are thinking. But what should we do?

I don’t understand the situation in Uganda well enough to propose a solution. Neither do you. Neither do people in the US government, probably not in the Ugandan government either. I’m still trying to understand the situation in my own city well enough to avoid doing dumb shit that will make things worse. How arrogant would I have to be to think I could come up with the answer for Uganda? And that doesn’t even begin to address histories of colonialism, imperialism, racism, privilege…

The people in the communities of Uganda are the only ones who know their situation well enough to pose workable answers. That doesn’t mean we ignore people who are suffering. It means we support people in resolving their conflicts. But we need to do it on their terms and with the understanding that we come from a position of power and privilege, a position that the aim is to dismantle. We need to do it without turning to people who are responsible for equally heinous shit.

P.S. That pic comes from afriPOP with African reactions to the video.  This piece on Clutch is worth a read too.

Shoot the Messenger

January 09, 2012 By: Mel Category: Change, Politics, Violence

First commandment is not to shoot the messengerTa-Nehisi Coates wrote a post about Ron Paul the other day. He featured a clip of Paul talking about the civil war. In the clip, Tim Russert asks Paul about his statement that “Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war. There were better ways; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery.” Paul stood by his previous statement,

600,000 Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn’t have gone to war. He did this just to enhance and to get rid of the original intent of the republic…Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. The way I’m advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years. Hatred and all that existed. Every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. That doesn’t sound to radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

Coates put up the video to demonstrate Paul’s ignorance about the civil war, one of the reasons he could never vote for him. (Ever hear of a little place called Haiti, Ron?) The post inspired a lot of comments about war and pacifism. Being Coates’s blog, they were mostly intelligent and thoughtful.

Not so intelligent or thoughtful was this screed on Mondoweiss. Jerome Slater refers to Ron Paul as simpleminded and then goes on to make that tired argument about what Howard Zinn referred to as the “good wars.” I mean what kind of evil, naive, stupid person couldn’t see that we needed to fight the nazis in WWII? Right?

Howard Zinn never claimed to be a pacifist. But he did challenge conventional beliefs about the American Revolution, the Civil War, and WWII. You can see one of his presentations here. Here is what he had to say about the civil war.

You can’t deny that the civil war is fought and slavery is ended. But even while not forgetting that – that is very, very important – it is worthwhile at least looking at the other side of the balance sheet. 600,000 dead in the civil war…in a population of 30 million…600,000 today would mean we fought a civil war in which 5 million people died.

What if we want to end racial segregation, or maybe even slavery? Should we fight a war in which 5 million people died in order to end slavery? Of course, we want slavery to end. But is this the only way it could have been done, with a war that takes 600,000 lives? There are countries in other parts of the world and in the Western hemisphere that did away with slavery and without a bloody war, all over Latin America and the West Indies. It is worth thinking about.

It is not that we want to retain slavery. No. We do want to end slavery. But again, we have to let our imaginations go. Is it possible that slavery might have been ended some other way? Maybe it would have taken longer. This is a very important factor. If you want to avoid horrendous violence and accomplish something, you may have to wait longer. The nice thing about violence, it is fast. You want to accomplish something fast, violence will do it. But very often you can accomplish the same thing without violence if you have a more orchestrated plan of – not submission, not appeasement, not giving in, not allowing the status quo to go on, but – gradually eroding the status quo…

We did not really end slavery. It is not simply they were slaves and now they are free. No they weren’t free. They were put back into serfdom, not slavery, but serfdom after the civil war. They were left without resources. They had to go back and work now for the same plantation owners that they were enslaved by with the same kind of restrictions on them because they had no resources. So to say slavery was ended, not quite true. And as you know, black people then went through 100 years after the supposed end of slavery and after the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments are passed to the constitution promising racial equality. For 100 years after the supposed end of slavery black people are segregated and live as second class human beings.

I think the similarities between what Ron Paul said and what Howard Zinn said are striking. The thing is, I don’t ascribe the same intentions to Ron Paul as I do to Howard Zinn. Paul is a politician who has been associated with all kinds of nasty racism. Zinn was a teacher and civil rights activist who was beloved by former students like Alice Walker.

Kevin Drum says that “Ron Paul is such a profoundly toxic messenger that his support for a non-interventionist foreign policy probably does the cause more harm than good.” He may be right about that. But I think the bigger problem is that we are all to often only capable of hearing ideas when they come from sources we like.

Let’s take another quote.

Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?

That quote almost sounds anarchist. I might think that the person who said it had some interesting ideas. Unfortunately, the quote came from Ronald Reagan’s inaugural address.

One of the truly unfortunate things about politics is that politicians adopt the language of ideas that people respond to, but they only adopt them in order to gain power. Then we associate that language and those ideas with the actions of dishonest, smarmy politicians and close our minds to the ideas themselves.

I’m not trying to defend Ron Paul here. I sure as hell won’t be voting for him (or anyone else). I also think that there are quite a few more things to factor in when thinking about whether or not there was another way to end slavery. Slavery was violence. Slaves were beaten, raped, and killed every day. But it upsets me that people can’t keep an open mind, even when the idea is delivered by a hideous messenger.

Nobody is right all the time. Nobody is wrong all the time. Important ideas can come from unexpected sources. And we need to be able to question everything, to weigh everything, particularly where lives are at stake. It is only by keeping ourselves open to all information, no matter where it comes from, that we have any chance of not repeating the mistakes of the past.

Unlike Paul, Howard Zinn did not make a definitive statement about whether or not the civil war should have been fought. He only asks us to contemplate if there could have been another way.

You have to imagine something that didn’t happen as opposed to accepting something that did happen…Otherwise we are going to be stuck with history. Otherwise we are going to be stuck with doing the same thing over and over again, because this is the only way it can be done.

How is that simpleminded?

Targeted, Vilified, Ignored

December 22, 2011 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Politics, Violence

In a strip mall, right across the border from DC, there is a small event center called Plaza 23. People can rent the space for all sorts of things, from birthday parties to cabarets. Often, they have go-go shows.

Go-go is DC music. This is a city that can be incredibly segregated by both race and class. Go-go is the music of the working class and poor black people that are all too often targeted, vilified, or ignored. The people who listen to go-go are portrayed as violent and dangerous. So is the music they listen to and any place that plays it.

That isn’t to say that there have never been violent incidents at or near go-go shows. But any time there is violence nearby, it is all too easy for the “authorities” to swoop in and scapegoat the artists and venues based on already preconceived ideas about who listens to go-go.

Plaza 23 is located in PG County, Maryland. PG county had a spate of violence in January of 2011. Unfortunately for Plaza 23, and all the other music and dance venues in PG County, the sixteenth homicide of 2011 happened not far outside the Plaza after a TCB show.

In response, the PG county council passed an emergency bill regulating dance halls. Lowlights of the bill include:

  • A $1,000 nonrefundable license fee
  • A background check and denial of a license to anyone who has been “convicted of a felony, violating any Federal or State laws relating to offenses involving moral turpitude, or crimes involving financial misrepresentations”
  • A security plan, including installation of cameras inside and outside
  • Private security officers to patrol the perimeter
  • Suspension or revocation of the license at the whim of the “authorities”
  • No dancing between 2:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.
  • A $1,000 fine or up to six months in jail for anyone who “is a licensee, and/or owns, leases, operates, is in charge of or in apparent charge of an adult dance hall or teen dance hall, or promotes a facility or event required to be licensed under this Division without first having obtained a public dance license”. Same penalties for violating any provision of the act.

The emergency bill sailed through the PG County council in July of 2011. Just before the bill was passed, the owner of the Plaza tried to get his license renewed, but the county was not renewing them. Applications in accordance with the new bill were not made available until October. In November, as the Plaza was trying to apply for their license, they were cited and closed down.

According to this Washington Times article from December 18th, “no new dance hall licenses have been granted and the county has ceased to renew old licenses…save for the two venues whose old dance hall permits are still valid, Prince George is a dry county in regard to dancing.”

Isn’t this the plot from Footloose?

Shutting down the Plaza because someone got shot outside is like saying we should shut down the Hilton across from my house. After all, Reagan got shot there. And those shady political types are always gathering there. It’s just too damn dangerous. And perhaps we ought to outlaw homes too. That is where the biggest chunk of violent crimes occur.

That part about hiring security for the outside of venues. They were already required to do that. Every event required inside security and the hiring of off duty cops for the outside. Except that the PD in PG county refused to show up for some shows. That saying about how we should respect cops because they run towards violence while we run away from it – turns out not so much.

What about felons not being allowed to own dance venues? DC has the highest rates of incarceration of any city in the United States, often on bullshit drug charges. Three out of four black men in DC will go to prison. Then they come out and nobody will hire them. On top of that, all kinds of licenses are denied to former felons. Now we can add owning a dance hall to that list. How is a person supposed to make a living?

Ironically, at the very same time this is happening, the DC council is holding press conferences on jobless ex-offenders.

“We need to look at helping ex-offenders get businesses and apply for contracts,” said Charles Thornton, director of the Office of Returning Citizen Affairs in the D.C. Mayor’s Office. “If you own a certified business, with more contracts, you can hire who you want.”

Charles, maybe you could go and have a chat just over the border? In fact, perhaps you could have a chat with a whole bunch of Maryland officials. While incarceration rates across the country are decreasing, Maryland has the dubious distinction of being one place where they are going up. Somehow I don’t think bills like this are going to help.

Plaza 23 is not giving up without a fight. They have hired an attorney. But they are fighting without being able to operate their business. And their funds are sure to dry up soon. They are asking people to spread the word and to sign this petition to let them operate while they contest this.

I said before that this is about a community that is routinly targeted, vilified, or ignored. Let’s not be the people that ignore them.

Occupy, Unions, NGOs and the Perils of DC Activism

November 30, 2011 By: Mel Category: Change, Politics

The CapitalI moseyed over to Occupy K Street last night for the general assembly and the action committee meeting. Not much to say about the GA – except maybe to mention that there was a serious shortage of women. Of the two that spoke, one offered to take notes and the other was reporting back from the committee that cleans and does dishes.  I’ll let you make your own comments.

The action committee meeting was much more interesting. If you have been following a certain blogger (who I most definitely would never, ever socialize with – please don’t ban me too) then you know that the action committee is exhibiting some of DCs most common ailments.

There are a whole lot of people in this town who make their living in orgs that lobby. That includes me, by the way. I work in the advocacy department of the Oxfam International Secretariat. I don’t lobby. I make sure people get paychecks and that their insurance doesn’t get cancelled. (There. Full disclosure. Happy now?)

I don’t actually think lobbying is very useful. I do think the watchdog role we play has some use. My peeps watch the World Bank and IMF. But I stay the hell away from all that shit in my spare time. I’m sure a lot of the people down at occupy are like me. They are paying their rent by working in an org that they hope doesn’t do more harm than good and are happy to have an outlet for the stuff that might matter. The revolution will not be funded and all that.

The thing is, it is extremely difficult to get out of the professional, policy, advocacy, pro-democrat mindset in this town. And not everyone is just paying the bills. There are a lot of climbers in DC. That includes lots of people in organizations that you may think are warm and fuzzy.

Happily, the first part of the action committee went pretty well. While we were still talking national politics, the general tone was that democrats and republicans are equally responsible for our mess and should all be targets. So far so good.

But then the conversation turned to actions sponsored by SEIU et al. While the committee separated itself from them to some extent, we were still basically talking about actions that will inevitably connect Occupy with organizations that spend money and energy to elect democrats to office.

One minute we were talking about how fucked up it is that the democrats are having a $1,000 a plate fundraising dinner. The next minute we were talking about supporting (however nominally) an organization that funnels millions of dollars to democrats in order to get access to the halls of congress.  (How’s that been working out for you, SEIU?)

Orgs that focus on the political process drain all our energy. They are part of the problem. Any organization that is taking our money and giving it to political candidates needs to be a target. They are screwing us. The idea of marching on K street with a bunch of lobbyists (albeit more benign ones) makes my brain hurt.

Nonprofits shouldn’t get a pass either. We spend too much money on the political process as well. We can’t support candidates, but we spend a lot of time on policy. I should note here that, while the Oxfam International Secretariat is not unionized, Oxfam America is represented by…wait for it… SEIU.  (It may be very awkward in the office tomorrow.)

I’m not saying that nobody should ever lobby for anything. People have immediate and pressing needs. Sometimes a minor reform can actually help somebody without increasing the state’s power. Changing the crack to powder cocaine sentencing discrepancy does not challenge the racist prison industrial complex. Though I’m sure those people getting out of prison a bit early are glad someone did it.

But that is not radical change. And people need to recognize that being reformist and radical at the same time is damn near impossible.

The capital occupies this city. It is just too tempting for activists to focus on big, sexy targets like congress, especially in a town where so many people move here specifically to focus on national and international politics. Then we have the continuous stream of outside protesters that come in needing coordination, support, and places to stay.

It weakens us.

All the time that we spend on protesting the national government or supporting the constant stream of demonstrators to the capital is time we do not spend on local DC issues. We live in a city that has hideous statistics. Three out of four African American men in DC will spend time in prison. Our illiteracy rates are through the roof. Our AIDS rates are astronomical. Unemployment may be as high as 50% in some areas.

And by allowing ourselves to be sucked into the national political scene again and again we lose so many potential allies that would work with us if we were focusing on their daily struggles.

Another thing I noticed last night, and that I have noticed in lots of activisty spaces in DC, is the rather narrow age range present. I was probably one of the oldest farts there. We live in a city that is packed with people who have experience with everything from CORE to ActUp. Where are they at?

It seems to me that a lot of activists get burned out on the national protest scene. It is emotionally draining and shows very little results. A person can only do that for so long. Some of those people go off and work in small orgs focusing on local issues. Those people need our support and we need their experience.

I don’t know how we avoid getting caught in the national, international, labor, NGO, lobby black hole. I’m not sure if the reform v. radical or agitating v. organizing conflicts are resolvable – or even manageable. And I have no idea if we can actually get more people in on this conversation. But I don’t see where things are going if we don’t try.

The Power to Take

November 21, 2011 By: Mel Category: Politics, Violence

A former Israeli president just got seven years in prison for rape. The disgraced former head of the IMF has been accused of sexually assaulting at least two women. And now it appears that DSK was having orgies arranged in a prostitution scandal that involves police and other government officials -possibly paid for by private corps trying to get in a little extracurricular lobbying.

Herman Cain is accused of sexually assaulting at least one woman and harassing many more. There are stories about cops raping women all the damn time. We have coaches raping little kids.

So often, the response to all this shit is shock and disbelief. At worst are those fuckers who call rape and assault “harassment” or “sexual relations” or some such nonsense and then promptly deny that sexual harassment exists. (LOL to Coates response in that last link.) At best you might have someone observe that power corrupts. The fact that power corrupts seems pretty obvious to me. It does. But a better question is,

Why do people pursue power in the first place?

People pursue power in order to take the things they want without having to consider other people. They pursue power to lessen the likelihood of having to suffer any consequences for acting on their most violent, greedy, selfish desires.

I’m not saying that all people who pursue power are rapists. Maybe assaulting women isn’t your thing. Maybe you want to take other people’s land and get away with it. Maybe you want to be able to call in the military to protect your oil wells. Maybe you are just convinced that you are the smartest person in the whole damn world and, if you had power, you wouldn’t have us pesky plebeians getting in the way of your plans for saving us.

I’m never shocked when powerful people abuse others. I’m shocked when they don’t.

Deal Breaker

July 14, 2011 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Change, Politics

I recently read The World That Never Was. I really liked it, despite the fact that it includes a gazillion people and can be hard to follow (even for someone who was familiar with many of the players). The book basically covers the period between Haymarket and WWI.

There is one part of the book where the author describes in the clearest and simplest terms what the liberal bargain was.  The government would “guarantee the property of the rich in return for welfare protection for the poor.” A bad bargain, if you ask me, but I suppose it was understandable. So here is my question.

Is it better for us to fight to continue that bargain, meaning for those social protections, or should we just call the whole deal off and go for the property?

Discuss.

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**  Sorry that I am not able to put up part two of my media post this week. Work has been busy and I haven’t been able to wrap my head around much.  So this little mini post will have to do for now.