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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Oh Hey. There Are People in the Food System.

February 20, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Painting of FarmworkerMonday night I listened to a presentation about the Our Harvest Union Co-op in Cincinnati. They are modelling themselves after Mondragon, but with a union twist. The goal is to put a little more justice in the food system and they are going to do it by growing and distributing food on a large scale. The hope is to be able to certify food from the ground to the market as union – living wages, benefits, not dying of heat stroke

Once upon a time I lived in Santa Cruz and worked for the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS). My coworkers at CASFS studied what people cared about in the food system. It turned out that they cared more about how animals were treated than how people were treated.

I can’t say that I was surprised. Santa Cruz was the first time I was exposed to people for whom food was a religion, a way to exert moral superiority. It wasn’t everyone, of course. But there were many people who thought they were better than everyone else because of their vegan, free-range, probiotic, cruelty free food choices. Self righteousness is always annoying. But to be so self-righteous about food choices and not give a shit that workers on organic farms are treated as poorly as their conventional counterparts. Infuriating.

We shouldn’t have to choose between cruelty to animals and cruelty to people. And a lot of the time there is an overlap. No pesticides on organic produce means no pesticides on the people picking that produce. But when it comes down to it, if I have to chose, people come first. Sorry.

And just so you know, I will not be responding to any comments about speciesism. We are different. The fact that anyone is asking me to make a moral choice about my food is confirmation of their belief that I am different. I respect the people who make that moral choice. But nobody is asking a lion to make a moral choice about eating a gazelle.

But I digress. The point of the post is that there are people in the food system and they are often treated like crap. In fact, most of the lowest paid workers in the country work in food – from migrant farm workers to fast food cooks. And sometimes the food choices we make affect workers in ways we haven’t thought of. For instance, on Monday I learned that the poultry industry is the least unionized. So if you are buying more chicken thinking it is healthier than beef, you just upped your chances of exploiting some workers.

Minor consumer choices here and there aren’t going to bring down the whole system. And we sure as shit should not get too proud of ourselves for slightly better food choices. There is no way to extract yourself from the system completely. But if a whole lot of worker-managed, co-op, union companies started taking off…you never know.

P.S. Painting by Cynthia Vidal

When Feminism Gets it Almost Right…But Not Quite

February 19, 2014 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Meryl Streep in DoubtEarlier this month twenty cities hosted an Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. Most Wikipedia contributors are men. The result being that entries on women are sparse. So these women are trying to fix that. Which is great.

There are all kinds of theories about why women contribute less to Wikipedia. One being that they have less spare time. Another being that Wikipedia can be a hostile and argumentative place. But Jacqueline Mabey thinks it is also socially formed self perception.

“We don’t raise young women to consider themselves authorities on anything…We raise them to doubt, constantly, their work and themselves.” Librarians are seen as the only female-dominated group that overall is a fan of Wikipedia, but Mabey says even they are cautious about editing. “These are women with double masters degrees,” she said. “I’m like, yes, you can edit it! The 18-year-old boy who doesn’t know anything is editing it, and he doesn’t even question it!”

You will get no argument from me that there are a lot of women who are hesitant to speak because they doubt themselves and a lot of young men who think they know everything. But the inference seems to be that we should get women to think they are authorities. And that is exactly the wrong thing.

Wikipedia is, at least in theory, anti-authority. You don’t need alphabet soup at the end of your name to contribute. You don’t need to have spent 20 years in an ivy tower collecting credentials. All you need is interest. The idea of Wikipedia is that our collectively imperfect knowledge makes something better than any one person – no matter how “authoritative” – could make alone. We don’t need more people who think they know everything, or pretend that they do. We need less of that.

But that is all too often how it goes. A gender gap or injustice is presented and then I am told that I should act more like an archetypal dude in order to right that wrong or get some socially acceptable level of success – authority, money, power. I mean, if I have to read another article about how I am not ambitious enough, I am going to lose my shit.

We don’t need more ambition or more authorities. We need more humility and doubt. Don’t encourage women to act like the worst kind of cocksure men. Encourage them to participate in things like Wikipedia precisely in so far as it undermines the whole system of authorities and status.

 

Bank of America is the Spawn of Satan

February 18, 2014 By: Mel Category: Misc

Skank of America

My work, sadly, still has credit cards with Bank of America.  I have been on hold with them for the last 38 minutes and counting. You see Bank of America decided it was an awesome idea to fire a bunch of people  so that they could have “fourth quarter 2013 net income of $3.4 billion.” Oh no. Sorry. Did I say fire? I meant “lower personnel expenses…to streamline processes and achieve cost savings.”

Why are we not outside these banks with pitchforks again?

Maybe some people actually thought that a portion of the 8.5 billion fine for foreclosure abuse and the 11.6 billion to Fannie Mae was punishment enough? Not even a year’s worth of profits people.

More about Bank of America’s run for most corrupt bank here.

 

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A Little Help? Anarchist on Grand Jury Duty

February 18, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change

Marisa Tomei in My Cousin VinnyI’m on grand jury duty starting Monday and lasting five fucking weeks. This isn’t the first time I’ve been called for grand jury duty. The last time went like this.

My fellow grand jury members and I were put in a room. A jovial prosecutor explained a wee bit about what was going to happen. We would hear witnesses and then we would decide if there was enough evidence to send the accused to trial. Oh wait. Did I say witnesses? Sorry. I meant witness.

You see, I was on a “special” speedy grand jury where each case had only one witness – a cop. Almost all the cases were bullshit drug cases.  For example, a cop comes in and says he found some dude on the street with a crack pipe. My fellow grand jury members would raise their hands to say that they should go to trial. End of case. Next.

Presumably, they needed to institute this speedy process to go through all the black people they are picking up for weed.

In a grand jury, you don’t need to have a unanimous decision. It isn’t like I could vote no and nullify. So I just refused to participate. After a couple of days of me sitting in the hallway reading books and a mild interrogation by the lead prosecutor, they dismissed me.

But here we are again.

I’ve started to do a little grand jury research. But I could use some help. I’m specifically interested in information about how I can fuck up the process. So send it my way. If you don’t want to share it in a comment, email me at mel (at) broadsnark.com

Thanks!

Fear of Cat Food and Other Anti-Revolutionary Yarns

February 13, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change

Scrooge and Marley MoneylendersSometimes you come across an article that so perfectly encapsulates something you have been obsessing about that you have to dust off your blog and throw out a minor rant. Latina Lista published just such an article this week.  So here we go.

According to a study by the (in no way biased) Prudential, “Latinos’ love of family today could spell financial trouble for retirement years.”

We are trained to be in constant fear. Fear of losing our jobs. Fear of losing our homes. Fear of medical bills. Fear of  ending up some solitary, elderly person eating cat food in a hovel. The answer, as is jammed into our heads, is to get on board with the system and try to hoard as much as you can. Don’t let those family and friends dip into your cash. Security comes with obedience and accumulation. Security comes by giving what little money you have to the dipshits at Prudential.

So how does that work out for people?

For one thing, going along with the system is not going to save you. My parents did everything they were supposed to do. There was a small business and a chamber of commerce membership.  There was a house and retirement savings. But along came Office Depot to squeeze my father’s business out. Then medical bills from a massive stroke. And of course there was some middle class lifestyle debt. When the IRS came around looking to take our house, did going along with the fear system help? Nope. You know what did help? Friends who lent my parents money.

Contrary to what we are told, security is mostly an illusion. And what security we do have comes from relationships, not possessions.

But the system desperately needs us to buy this lie. If we stopped fearing, if we stopped thinking we are in it alone, then nothing could keep us doing what we are doing. Nearly everyone I know is quietly plotting their freedom. We hate our jobs so much that we have to escape for bathroom cries. We have insomnia and anxiety. We are constantly medicated and looking for bullshit distractions.

And those are just the people who have enough privilege to still have jobs and something to fear losing. The truly amazing thing about the system is that we are fodder no matter what. If you have a job, you spend most of your waking hours away from the people and things you love in order to make money for greedy bastards. That isn’t enough though. They also want you to hand over some of what little money you make to “secure your retirement”. By which they mean that they want to invest your money in things that will make them money and hurt you. How?

Let’s say you have a retirement account. You’ll have a selection of mutual funds to chose from. Some of them may even say that they are “socially conscious.” What that means, generally, is that they will avoid one or two problematic sectors (like arms dealing). Everything else – sweatshops, union-busters, private prisons – they are all on the table. In short, these Prudential people are working on getting Latinos to give less money to their family and instead invest in the private prison corporations that put them in immigration detention.

When some investment banker tells you to stop giving money to your people and start “investing in your future,” what they are really doing is using you and your fear to finance your own oppression. And if you can’t benefit them through your labor or contributions, then they’ll throw you in prison and make money off of you that way.

I’m not going to tell you that, if you walk away, everything is going to be o.k. The other lie we are told is that we will be rewarded for doing the right thing.  You probably won’t. In fact, doing the right thing often means suffering. Just ask all the political prisoners out there.

Do it anyway.

And try to make it easier for other people to do it too. Let your friends and family and community know that you have their backs when they want to take a risk. Let them know that, so long as you have a roof and some food, they won’t starve or have no place to sleep. Nothing will change unless we are willing to risk something. We can’t make things safe. But we can make it a little easier on each other if we do the exact opposite of what that article is trying to get us to do.

And maybe, just maybe, if we could help each other get over our fears and take care of each other a little bit better, enough people would walk away to make the whole thing coming crashing down.

Oh Hello. Are You Still Here?

January 27, 2014 By: Mel Category: Misc

Finally got around to getting the site back up.  Thanks to those of you who checked in.  I am indeed alive and may perhaps even drop a line or two on here in the nearish future.

Harassment is About Power

August 22, 2013 By: Mel Category: Inequality

Yesterday it came out that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner is resigning in the midst of a sexual harassment scandal. Apparently he enjoys groping his employees. Also a groper is  Kentucky state representative John A. Arnold Jr. Just the latest in what is pretty much everyday news.

Earlier this week, Rolling Stone blasted Bloomberg for claiming to care about the safety of New York City children when 21% of the 145,652 NYPD street stops were of children. You might not think these things have much to do with one another. But they do.

I actually used to work for a law firm that represented plaintiffs in sexual harassment cases. There were bosses that busted into locker rooms while employees were changing. Bosses who liked to grope their employees. Bosses who conditioned promotions on getting their dicks sucked. Some all around charming dudes. (And yes. All of the defendants sued by the law firm were dudes. And all of the people who ever called for sexual harassment related consultations were women.)

Sexual harassment cases in the U.S., even the ones that should properly be called assault, are handled in civil court. If you get sued for sexual harassment, you may just have to pay a couple million dollars in damages. And I have to admit that winning those cases felt good. It was rare that someone actually lost their job for assaulting their employees. But watching some douchebag have to fork over millions of dollars does bring a certain satisfaction.

In theory, the law firm I worked for also did employment discrimination cases. But we never took any because they were so impossible to win. Even when some guy called us because n$%%@r was spray painted on his door, we didn’t take it. That kind of harassment wasn’t a winning case.

Mind you, at the law firm where I worked, we regularly put in 15 hour days. We worked weekends. We got yelled at. We were expected to do personal errands for our bosses. We got calls at 3 o’clock in the morning to be asked about files (at least until my phone got cut off and I let it stay cut off). In other words, we were subject to the kind of harassment that a lot of people have to deal with on their jobs. Most of us have to eat a certain amount of shit to earn a living.

I don’t say that to make light of sexual harassment or shrug off our collective shit eating. I say it because it shouldn’t be this way. For anybody. For any reason.

Public discussions about sexual harassment frustrate the hell out of me. First you have to deal with those people who deny that it exists at all. Then you have to deal with the ones who say that it exists, but women should get over it. Or the ones that hear any report of employer abuse and say people should just get a new job – as though someone who had been unemployed for years and has kids to feed can walk away so easily.

But sometimes I am even more frustrated by the people who agree it is a problem. Because invariably the response is to turn to the criminal injustice system, to become like France where you can (theoretically) be sent to prison for a couple years. Or they just want to continue suing people for money. Always, they ignore the fundamental issue.

Harassment is about power. People who have power feel they are entitled to whatever they want. People who don’t have power, or at least have less of it, will suffer consequences for sticking up for themselves against the powerful. The way to end sexual harassment, or any kind of workplace harassment, isn’t to transfer a little power from a boss to the injustice system. The answer is in getting rid of the power imbalance to begin with. That isn’t to say that, with no bosses, there would never be conflict. But confronting someone with equal power doesn’t carry the same kinds of consequences and risks. And the sense of entitlement bread by power will be, if not gone, severely diminished.

Now lets bring this out of the workplace. Because harassment doesn’t just come from bosses.

There has also been a lot of news about street harassment lately. That isn’t just people saying obnoxious shit to you on the streets. For instance, my friend Mandie recently had some guy grab her waist while she was waiting in line at 7-Eleven. My most frequently experienced harassment comes from douchebags who think it is o.k. to touch my hair. And then there was that fucker a few months back who thought it would be cool to slap my ass. I share Mandie’s homicidal thoughts when things like that happen.

Some people have an overinflated sense of entitlement. And while it may be less obvious than workplace harassment, street harassment is also an assertion of power.  You wouldn’t slap your boss’s ass, grab the waist of some MMA fighter, or go up and rub a cops hair. There would be consequences. When you do things like that to someone, what you are saying is, “I am entitled to whatever I want. And what are you gonna do about it anyway?”

And really. What are your options? Retaliation will likely end with harsher consequences for the person standing up for themselves (worth it as those charges may be). Like the woman in DC who was being accosted late at night and, after she pepper sprayed the dude, had assault charges brought against her. The law isn’t made for everybody.

Which brings us back to that Bloomberg article. Because it isn’t only random dudes on the street that are harassing people. Police harass people, especially young men of color, every day. They can stop you, grope you, and say horrible shit to you on a daily basis. Not a damn thing happens to them.

There are women who are recording street harassment of women. And there are men recording street harassment by cops. But how many of them are out recording both? The fact that Hollaback is actually sharing information about street harassment with a govenrment agency doesn’t give me much hope that those women are making the connection.

Harassment – bosses of employees, men of women, cops of anybody they can get away with – is all about power. To try to use those very same systems of power to deal with the abuses is futile. It doesn’t help to “hold accountable” those in power. We need to be removing those positions of power and the sense of entitlement that goes with them. And we need to be making connections (though not equivalencies) between all the different power structures and hierarchies that create the conditions for abuse.

We won’t see an end to sexual harassment without getting rid of bosses. We won’t see an end to police abuse without smashing the injustice system. We won’t see an end to street harassment without ending the hierarchy that mets out power, privilege and entitlement based on an accident of birth.

 

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.

 

 

What About the Hunger Strikes?

July 23, 2013 By: Mel Category: Change, Inequality

Over the last several years there have been prison hunger strikes all over the country - North Carolina, Ohio, Georgia, California… What has been going on in California is just incredible.

Inmates in two-thirds of the state’s 33 prisons, and at all four out-of-state private prisons, refused both breakfast and lunch on Monday, said corrections spokeswoman Terry Thornton. In addition, 2,300 prisoners failed to go to work or attend their prison classes, either refusing or in some cases saying they were sick.

Think about that for a minute. Think about the amount of coordination it took to organize 30,000 prisoners. Think about the obstacles for people trying to organize, not just within a prison, but between prisons. And many of the organizers are in solitary confinement.

The organizing crossed racial lines and gang affiliations. The collective that organized the strikes put out a statement committing to end all racial hostilities, recognizing that the prison system uses those conflicts and prejudices to keep the incarcerated divided and disempowered.

In conclusion, we must all hold strong to our mutual agreement from this point on and focus our time, attention, and energy on mutual causes beneficial to all of us [i.e., prisoners], and our best interests. We can no longer allow CDCR to use us against each other for their benefit!!

I’ve written about these strikes a few times and linked to stories about them. And I’ve been continually frustrated that few people seem to be paying any attention. People’s lives are at stake. Prisoners died after the last actions. Several of the current strikers have required medical attention. And the California Department of Corrections is retaliating against the spokespeople. Our attention could actually save someone, or at least make retaliation a little more difficult.

I’m going to be honest with you. And I’m probably going to piss people off here. But I don’t understand why my inbox is filled with announcements of protests and actions for Trayvon Martin and absolutely nothing about the hunger strike.

Not. One. Thing.

I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. Is what George Zimmerman did to Trayvon Martin more tragic than when a cop shot an unarmed 14-year-old hiding in a shed? Is it more racist than the school to prison pipeline where 90% of New York school arrests are children of color? Is it more infuriating than the rapes and murders that regularly occur in juvenile detention centers?

For a whole lot of people it seems to be. And I really don’t understand it. But I saw something on Facebook this weekend that gave me pause. It said something like “calling Trayvon a thug is like calling JonBenet Ramsey a whore”.

I get it. Trayvon wasn’t doing anything wrong. But what if he was? What if he had gotten into a fight or stole a car or sold drugs? Would we be talking about him? What if George Zimmerman had a badge and a gun? Would we still be talking about it? As of 2011, there were 63 police shootings in Miami-Dade county alone that were under perpetual “investigation.” Twenty-five of those involved fatalities. Who is talking about them?

Sometimes people need a symbol to get them motivated. And the temptation is to chose one that is pure and innocent. Rosa Parks wasn’t the first person to refuse to give up her seat for a white person. But some leaders of the civil rights movement didn’t want a pregnant teenager who was too low class and too dark to be their rallying cry.

But this isn’t 1955. Our injustice systems depend upon criminalization. They depend upon us accepting that “thugs” deserve what they get. Or at least some people don’t merit a public outcry when they are shot in the street, or executed by the state, or tortured and raped in prison. It isn’t o.k. to only rally around the pure and innocent any longer. We have so many laws that nobody can even count them anymore.

The whole game is to make sure that they can discredit people to keep us in check.

I really hesitated to write this post. I was hoping somebody else would do it. I try to write mostly about things I have some experience with. And I have absolutely no way to wrap my head around what it must be like to have a child, much less one that has to face so many risks. But getting shot in the street by a vigilante is a lot less likely than ending up behind bars being tortured by the state.

I know that many of the people organizing Trayvon Martin protests are focused on the bigger picture. They are connecting this shooting to systemic issues of policing, racial profiling, the school to prison pipeline… I love those kids who occupied the Florida governors office.

But not everyone is making those connections. And too many of the emails I am getting are from people who have their necks permanently stuck looking up at power. Lobbying to overturn stand your ground laws or protesting ALEC or getting those few people who have disposable income to stop buying things is not going to smash this system. But a movement led by the people who have been most pummeled by the system just might. These people have signed do not resuscitate documents. They are ready to die for their rights and we are ignoring them.

Not to mention that, while they have managed to coordinate 30,000 people across prisons, we (who are in relative freedom) can’t even manage to coordinate amongst ourselves enough not to have competing Trayvon protests.

I really don’t want to shit all over the organizing that is going on right now. I hope that this case starts something huge. I hope all the actions are successful. But I can’t bring myself to focus on them and ignore the hunger strikes. So I’ll be spending my free time contacting prison officials and prisoners. I hope some of you will make some time to do the same. The addresses and phone numbers are here.

Cops Break up NSA Spying Press Conference

June 14, 2013 By: Mel Category: Change

I interrupt my regularly scheduled post to share what happened today at a tiny press conference and rally about the NSA spying.

Capital police decided that we did not have the proper permit to be there. The speakers kept speaking. The cops warned us that we would be arrested. They then started harassing media. Cameras started shutting down. Speakers started cutting their speeches short. After the second warning, as I don’t think anybody was prepared for arrest threats at a press conference, everyone split up so that no group was more than 25 people.

The last protest that I went to was in Guatemala. You know that Central American country that people refer to as “third world” or “developing.” The place many people only know about because of civil war and genocide. That place. Well, I imagine we had a permit for being in the central plaza. But I seriously doubt we had a permit to block the road and door in front of the presidential palace and then drum annoyingly.

Amazingly, nobody was threatened with arrest.

Aren’t you estadouidenses glad that you live in a country that is a beacon of freedom for the world?

I’m tempted to go into a long diatribe about the protest, prisons, criminalization, social control, and our shrinking spaces. But I’m going to have to save it for a day when I have more time. I will just say this.

There are risks involved with doing the right things, the necessary things. The system has been increasing those risks. I think that means we are all going to need to so some serious thinking about what risks we can take and then be willing to take them. Because their plan can backfire. They are counting on us to not make sacrifices. But if we all take the risks, thoughtful and strategic risks, then we can crash the justice system and all the other systems too.

If nothing else, we should all probably prepare to be arrested for pretty much anything that we do from now on – press conferences, walking downtown, doodling on a school desk,  wearing a thong bathing suit, asking to see a warrant, being too poor to pay a debt, your kid skipping school

I mean if we are going to get arrested for that kind of bullshit anyway, shouldn’t we at least make it worthwhile?