BroadSnark

Thoughts on politics, religion, violence, inequality, social control, change, and random other things from an autonomous, analytical, adopted, anarchist, atheist who likes the letter A
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Archive for the ‘Violence’

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.

What’s Different with Trayvon?

March 29, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Violence

Last week I wrote about how I think that the Rush Limbaugh shit storm was in large part because of who the target was, how people perceived her, and what they thought their role towards her should be.  Now I’m thinking about how much attention the Trayvon Martin murder has gotten and why.

Black kids are killed all the time. They are killed on the streets. They are killed by cops. They are killed by prison guards. Why did this one cause such an uproar while the others end in silence?

There is this idea that racism is only personal prejudice - extreme personal prejudice. George Zimmerman confirms that view of racism for us. Racists are those southern, white, redneck, low-class, militia, KKK types. And in this case, we even have a German name for added umph. You can practically see the Hollywood script being written.

When some southern vigilante kills a black kid, everyone can be up in arms without questioning our society and all the institutions in it. Not so when it is a cop or a prison guard. When an “authority” does it, we either have to accept it or question authority. Not so when racism is not personal prejudice but systemic, institutionalized, economic and social subjugation. Then the fault is not some redneck. Then the fault is ours.

It is true that some people are making the connections, but how many? How long will that last? And why does it have to take a kid murdered by a stereotype to make people pay attention? Weren’t all those other dead kids human too?

Probably not. At least not in the minds of a lot of people.

Not surprisingly, the dehumanization of Trayvon has begun. Somewhere along the line we have accepted that a person who smoked pot once or did one stupid thing in their life deserves to suffer for all eternity, or even die for their arguable imperfections. Only in a truly sick society would any of the accusations – true or not – matter at all.

Be upset that some kid was shot down in the street. But be more upset that so many people accept a society that glosses over its racism by focusing only on people like Zimmerman. Be more upset about the millions of people who languish or die in prisons because we have accepted dehumanization as a way of life.

On Porn Stars and Seamstresses

February 23, 2012 By: Mel Category: Sex, Violence

I know Chris Hedges has been blowing up the internets lately because of that piece he did on the black bloc. But I’d like to take him to task for something he said back at the beginning of January in this C-Span interview.  It comes about 12 minutes into the second hour when he starts talking about pornography.

I get very angry with the liberal class and the left over their refusal to condemn pornography. Why is it morally indefensible to physically abuse a woman in a sweatshop in The Philippines or in Southern China, but somehow it is an issue of free speech when it is done by the sex industry in the United States?

When I started interviewing these women who came out of the porn industry, having suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, I instantly after literally a minute or two said these people all have PTSD. And I wrote it graphically and brutally. And I think intended to engender a kind of disgust.

I never write in the chapter we should or shouldn’t ban porn. I just said if you want to defend porn than you better understand what it is you’re are defending. These women, and they are just thrown up, ya know they last one or two years on the sets. And then if they continue within the industry they just in essence become call girls shipped around the country in hotel rooms and its just awful.

But they are popping handfuls of painkillers before they go on the sets. This violence which sells, and porn it’s not the soft lit porn of the playboy channel anymore. It is so-called gonzo porn. The violence is not simulated. It’s real.

These women are black and blue by the time they finish. They are constantly going in for surgery for anal and vaginal tears because they are penetrated by two three dozen men in the course of an afternoon, knocked around, abused, insulted verbally, assaulted physically. And I was, as somebody who doesn’t watch porn, I was pretty blown away. It was really sick.

You are going to be surprised to find out that I actually agree with Hedge’s analogy at the top of that quote. There are comparisons between the porn industry and the clothing industry. But not every person who makes clothes is a sweatshop worker. And not everyone who is a sex worker is brutally gang raped for two years and then thrown on the streets to be interviewed by white knight book writers.

Donatella Versace is no more in the same place as a sweatshop worker in The Phillipines than Jenna Jameson is in the same place as someone making a gonzo film in Vegas. Every industry we have in our society brutally exploits people somewhere in the world. If it isn’t a sweatshop worker, it is a farm worker. But just because farm workers are exploited, poisoned, and dying from heat stroke does not mean that Mario Batali and his whole industry should be shut down. (Well, o.k.  Maybe him.)

I don’t know what pisses me off the most about this crap. How someone can be so smart and so intellectually dishonest? How sanctimonious it is? How he turns every woman in porn into a victim with PTSD? How he erases every man or lesbian from the porn industry? It is just so hard to chose.

 

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?

Sex, Age, Consent, and Power

January 05, 2012 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Sex, Violence

Mel at SixteenJust after I turned sixteen, I met this guy who would end up being my boyfriend for about a year. He was twenty-two. He didn’t think I was that young at first. I never lied to him, mind you. He just didn’t ask me the night we met. I regularly passed for older in clubs, buying cigarettes, whatever. That’s me at sixteen in the pic. I have a bag full of snacks, several packs of cigs, and a jug of rum. (Clearly, my hobbies haven’t changed much. Except I mostly drink vodka now.)

By about a year and a half after that pic was taken I will have been kicked out of school, kicked out of my house, working two jobs, and taking care of myself. Which is to say that I wasn’t a particularly young sixteen. And my boyfriend wasn’t a particularly old twenty-two. He was just coasting, living with his brother, and figuring out what to do since a motorcycle accident ended his army gig.

I was not the only one of my friends who dated guys quite a bit older than them. In fact, I’m having a hard time remembering people any of us dated who weren’t quite a bit older than we were. Some of my friends were passing as 21 when they were 15. If they had dated guys their age, they would have looked like pedophiles.

Not surprisingly, my parents were not pleased with my choice of boyfriend. My father found his phone number one day and called him. To this day I do not know exactly what he said. My boyfriend, ironically, was always trying to get me to repair the relationship with my parents. Whatever my father said to him was something that he thought would have set me off. So I can only assume that my father threatened him. He moved to Chicago soon after.

Now you may be thinking that my parents were just worried for my well-being. They weren’t monsters. I’m sure they were concerned. But I am also sure that they did not think for one minute that I was being taken advantage of. While most kid’s parents were always on the lookout for “the bad influence” (including my parents when it came to my sister), my parents knew that I was too strong-willed for that. The year before they said to me, “We know nobody makes you do anything you don’t want to do.” True then. True now.

So when I read about people being prosecuted for statutory rape, or just vilified for having relationships with people much younger than they are, I take a personal interest. My first reaction is often, “I wonder what the supposed victim has to say about all this.” Lately, I’ve come across a ton of stories that involve people with big age differences.

Let’s start with this guy. A twenty-two year old man was friended on Facebook by someone pretending to be a fourteen-year-old girl in order to get information about the guy’s brother. He arranged to meet the fake fourteen-year-old for sex. The police were waiting for him. He’s going to jail for three years. Now, even though I suspect the guy is probably a cretin, I still don’t think he should be going to jail. I’m not cool with prison, but especially not sending someone to prison for a crime they wanted to commit. And we can’t even judge the maturity of the “victim” since there wasn’t any.

What about this woman? She was a high school teacher. She had sex with one of her soon-to-be-former students on prom night. He was a week away from his eighteenth birthday. She is going to spend five years in prison for that. Are we really saying that the boy had no free will? A week later he would have been eligible to enlist in the military. That is just mindbogglingly outrageous to me.

Then there is this woman. She had sex with three of her daughter’s tween friends and is now facing eighty years behind bars. I think what this woman did was wrong, not least because her daughter is going to need some serious therapy. This woman needs some therapy too. But eighty years behind bars? And when you compare that with say, the police officers who were acquitted of rape charges in New York…

That is not to say I don’t get seriously repulsed by some of the stories I read. Why would a forty-nine-year-old man be getting a thirteen-year-old fucked up so that he could grope her? What kind of fifty-two-year-old would be trying to get with a fourteen-year-old? What about thirty-four and thirteen? And I have no words for this cop who molested an eight-year-old autistic girl.

When exactly does someone cross over from being a child, incapable of consent, to an almost adult with possibly poor judgment but the ability to make decisions for themselves? For me, the pivotal age was fourteen. Everything changed for me that year. For other people it will have been different.

Clearly, a bigger age difference matters. But it matters less and less as people get older. We might raise an eyebrow at the celebrity couples with huge age differences, but we don’t generally assume that they are criminal. We might think they are damaged. We might think they are immature, having a crisis, in denial about their age, or incapable of having a healthy relationship. But I would hope that we wouldn’t come to definitive conclusions based on a picture and a couple birth dates.

I’m thirty-eight and can hardly imagine being attracted to a twenty-year-old, much less a tween. But my inability to comprehend how someone my age would do that hasn’t erased the clear memory of how powerless and angry I was at being dismissed and coerced as a teen. My parents abused their power to force me into not doing something they didn’t want me to do. To me, it is essentially no different than parents who force their teen daughters into marrying someone they don’t want to marry.

What this really comes down to is power and consent. In some situations, there is a power imbalance regardless of age. A teacher has power over a student. A cop has power over pretty much everyone. A boss has power over their employee. A guard has power over their prisoner.  As someone who believes that the ideal is for all relationships to be relationships of equals, I think we should be aiming to get rid of power imbalances. Instead, we usually end up restricting relationships in order to preserve positions of power. That seems a little back assward.

But we also have to confront the fact that things like age and physical strength also involve imbalances of power. And imbalances of power make consent a very tricky thing. Sadly, as I’ve written about before, most of us are pretty bad at consent in even the best of situations. Which means there are no easy answers. But people don’t like ambiguity, especially when it comes to sex or young people.

So I guess my question to you all is – How do we prevent abuses of power, both by the kinds of adults who molest children and by the kind of adults who dis-empower and coerce young people?

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.

Vikki Law on Gender Violence and Police

December 21, 2011 By: Mel Category: Change, Violence

The post I was going to put up today is not quite ready yet, but I came across this video of Vikki Law over on the INCITE! blog. (I was lucky enough to meet Vikki and attend one of her talks at the NY anarchist book fair. She rocks.)

When someone asks you how to handle violence without police, send them this.

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.

Occupying the Narrative

November 10, 2011 By: Mel Category: Change, Violence

Kids Protesting on Bank Transfer DayDemonization of the occupy protests is in full swing now. The violence in Oakland was just what some people needed to start the narrative change that we are beginning to see. The Washington Post is running stories about occupy violence. Fox news accused occupy protestors of knocking over an old lady. (Complete bullshit, of course.) There are stories about evil drug users and sexual violence galore. Or you could just read The Heritage Foundation’s little wrap up.

I was going to write about how frustrating it is when things are going well and some buttheads come along and get into unwise confrontations, losing us immeasurable good will.  I was going to ask how we can keep clueless people or sabateurs from doing things that media will use to demonize everyone. Basically, I was going to write about how to deal with bad actors.

But that is a trap. Those things need to be discussed. We need to keep people safe, preferably without involving police. We need to block people who are out to sabatage us. But we are never going to be able to control everyone’s actions or prevent people from doing dumb things near us or in our name. We will never be able to control the national media narrative. It isn’t in their interest. Chris Hedges is right.

It is vital that the occupation movements direct attention away from their encampments and tent cities, beset with the usual problems of hastily formed open societies where no one is turned away. Attention must be directed through street protests, civil disobedience and occupations toward the institutions that are carrying out the assaults against the 99 percent. Banks, insurance companies, courts where families are being foreclosed from their homes, city offices that put these homes up for auction, schools, libraries and firehouses that are being closed, and corporations such as General Electric that funnel taxpayer dollars into useless weapons systems and do not pay taxes, as well as propaganda outlets such as the New York Post and its evil twin, Fox News, which have unleashed a vicious propaganda war against us, all need to be targeted, shut down and occupied. Goldman Sachs is the poster child of all that is wrong with global capitalism, but there are many other companies whose degradation and destruction of human life are no less egregious.

So instead I would like to focus on some of the things we are doing right, the things we need more of.

The picture above comes from what might be the cutest protest ever. A bunch of parents took their kids out for bank transfer day. Adorable children holding handmade signs telling banks to share is total win. And bank transfer day itself was a resounding success.  650,000 people joined credit unions last month, more than all of last year. Even some rich people are dumping BOA.

How many people in this country are paying rent to slumlords for unsafe buildings without heat and water? This Harlem resident marched down to Occupy Wall Street and got a cadre of protesters to help her stand up to her landlord. That is some real shit that people can get behind.

Far too many people don’t have homes at all. Many of them are staying in the same parks with occupy protesters – like this guy who seems to have found a new mission in life. As Barbara Ehrenreich pointed out, living on the street has made homelessness a little more real for many of the participants. But some are taking it to the next level and actually trying to help protect the homeless encampments that are always under attack.

There are whispers of debt strikes beginning. Bloods and Crips are now best friends. Man’s best friend is running things in Denver.

But I think my favorites have the be the direct actions in response to foreclosures. This woman re-entered her foreclosed home, with the help of some activists. Occupy Atlanta moved their encampment to a police officer’s home that is about to be foreclosed upon. And the occupy foreclosures movement looks poised to keep growing.

The media is unlikely to pick up on these things with as much relish as they do violence. So we are going to have to publicize the shit out of them ourselves. But when you have gorgeous visuals like those kids marching, or heartstrings-tugging personal stories about elderly people without heat, it isn’t very hard to get people interested in the story.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have to talk about how to deal with violence and sabatoge. It is especially important for us anarchists, who have to deal with much of the bullshit being done in our names (or at least blamed on us). It wouldn’t hurt for us to post videos of clean-up crews going in and fixing what was broken or shots of us blocking people from doing dumb shit. But we can’t let that become the predominant narrative.

So lets take the focus off of the encampments and the minor skirmishes between protesters and police (by which I do not mean ignore police brutality). Let’s get the focus back on the real conflict – everyday people banning together to fight powerful forces that they can’t stand up to on their own.

Don’t Be Like Che

March 17, 2011 By: Mel Category: Change, Violence

Che Guevara is everywhere.  He is on t-shirts, sneakers, bags, bedazzled boots, and even children’s books. The bedazzled boots don’t really bother me so much.  Not likely that the person wearing those has actually read any Che and they probably won’t be mistaken for someone who is about to go traipsing through the jungle to start a foco.

It is all the attention from the radical left that really irritates me. At first I thought, maybe they just don’t know what he was about. Maybe they’ve never read his work. Maybe they don’t know what he was doing in Bolivia. But as I watch some of the people who love Che, I am beginning to see that they probably like him for exactly the reasons that I don’t.  Because I keep seeing people in our communities emulate all of Che’s most problematic characteristics.

Guevara was a privileged, white kid from Argentina whose parents were about as close to blue blood as you could get. He eventually became politicized, hooked up with Fidel Castro in Mexico, and joined Castro’s revolutionary movement – a movement that had lots of support, even amongst many of the middle and upper classes who now claim to have always hated Fidel. It was a revolution rooted in community, history, and cultural understanding. And it was the only thing Che was involved with that wasn’t a total failure. (I’m not romanticizing the revolution here, just acknowledging that they achieved their goal.)

After the revolution, Che was in charge of the economic policies in Cuba. And he fucked it up royally. This is not my opinion.  Guevara got on Cuban television and told the people he had designed “an absurd plan, disconnected from realty, with absurd goals and imaginary resources.” (Castañeda 216). He did some other awful things in his post-revolutionary Cuba days. He was instrumental in setting up the labor camp where dissidents and homosexuals were sentenced to hard labor for their “crimes against revolutionary morals.” (178)

Guevara decided to go back to what he thought he did best. He took off for the Congo to participate in the anti-imperialist fighting there. Che should have known better. Even as Castro’s BFF, the fact that he was not Cuban was an issue during the Cuban revolution. Now Che was off in Africa, a place he knew jack shit about, trying to lead troops of Africans.  Many were incredulous at best. Egyptian President Nasser “expressed his astonishment and attempted to dissuade him, explaining that a white, foreign leader commanding blacks in Africa could only come across as an imitation of Tarzan.” (283)

The Congo mission was a failure, as Che himself admitted. But instead of learning from his mistakes, he headed to Bolivia to start a continent-wide South American revolution. Nobody seems to be sure why Bolivia was chosen. The country had a relatively popular elected president. The people had been through a revolution only fourteen years earlier. The 1952 revolution led to some land reform, a lot of food shortages, and the virtual economic takeover of Bolivia by the United States. Nobody in Bolivia wanted a revolution repeat.

The communist party in Bolivia was not supportive. Che claims they backed out. Mario Monje, Secretary of the Communist Party of Boliva, claims that the Cubans lied about Che’s intentions.  Either way, when Che saw he had virtually no local support, he should have turned around and went home. But he did not. He and his group, virtually no Bolivians amongst them, planted themselves in a country not their own and determined to start a war. So here he was, some white dude from Argentina, wandering around indigenous communities in Bolivia and trying to instigate violence that would force those campesinos to take his side.

The campesinos were having none of it. Let’s try to imagine how many times in the last 500 years those people have seen some conquistador come in and claim they were there to save them. This group of outsiders knew nothing about the community. Che and his crew did not know the people or the language. They were so ignorant that they were trying to teach themselves Quechua. Too bad they were in a place that was Aymara and Guarani. And when the news got out that a bunch of outsiders were starting shit, Guevara just lied and claimed that the majority of the movement were Bolivians.

Every single month, Che’s diary of Bolivia tells how they were having no luck in recruiting locals. It tells how the people were informing on them. It tells how they took locals hostage, took their animals, forced the locals to feed them, and made the locals targets of the military. Again and again, Che describes how terrified the people were.

Not surprisingly, Guevara was turned in. He was murdered. Bolivians went on to have their own revolution, a relatively peaceful one. They elected an indigenous man, leader of the once-scorned coca growers union. And unlike with the post-Obama-election liberals in the United States, Bolivians have continued to raise hell every time they don’t like the policies that their government is supporting. Turns out those campesinos didn’t need some conquistador to come in and do it for them. Imagine that.

Every time I see some privileged person protest touring, I think of Che. Every time I hear about some insurrectionists starting shit in other people’s neighborhoods, I think of Che. Every time some twenty-something white dudes audaciously roll into a room like they have all the answers – summarily dismissing the experience and knowledge of everyone else there – I think of Che. Every time I see some supposed radicals who can’t recognize how inappropriate it is to “lead” or “save” or “help” the poor people or black people or brown people, without bothering to ask their opinion about it, I think of Che.

I do admire Che’s willingness to give up so much of his privilege, to suffer and sacrifice for his beliefs. But a person can never give up all their privileges. And he certainly didn’t lose the false sense of superiority that comes with having been told all your life that you are at the top of the food chain. We don’t need more arrogance, racism, cultural insensitivity, machismo, violence, and sexism. That might get your mug on a t-shirt someday, but it isn’t going to make the world a better place.

Imagine if Guevara had not made a new man the center of his philosophy.* What if he had stuck around to fix his fuck ups in Cuba? What if he took care of his official and unofficial kids? How cool would it have been if he had recognized that he couldn’t impose his beliefs on others? How amazing if he had said that it is time white dudes stopped trying to be in charge all the damn time? Now that would have been fucking revolutionary.

______________

* Guevara’s pep talk to the troops, “This type of struggle gives us the opportunity to become revolutionaries, the highest form of the human species, and it also allows us to emerge fully as men; those who are unable to achieve either of those two states should say so now and abandon the struggle” (Guevara 208). Apparently, I am unable to attain the “highest form of the human species” (not being a man). Guevara seems to have put himself in that category, above all the rest of us riffraff. How nice for him.

Castañeda, J. (1997) Compañero: The Life and Death of Che Guevara. NY, NY, Vintage Books.

Guevara, C (2206). The Bolivian Diary. NY, NY, Ocean Press.