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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“Anarchist” Is Not a Pejorative

April 29, 2014 By: Mel Category: Anarchism

Anarchist ThingsI was not paying any attention to this Cliven Bundy thing and had no intention of writing anything even remotely related. But as I was catching up on my blog reading, I came across this post from The Field Negro.

Cliven Bundy is an anarchist and lawbreaker who should be arrested and thrown in jail… he has been praised in some circles as a true American patriot…Saturday he was surrounded by tea party types, nut job militiamen, and white supremacists, while he dared the federal government to come and take his cattle.

Well they should, and if some of these losers masquerading as patriots get hurt in the process well then so be it. You can’t just shake your d^*k at the law and expect to get away with it. If you give these anarchist an inch they will want a yard…I mean the guy declared that he doesn’t recognize the federal government for crying out loud. (At least not this version of it with the Negro in charge.)

“They have faith in the Constitution,” he told KDWN-AM in Las Vegas on Monday. “The founding fathers didn’t create a government like this.”

They didn’t expect American citizens to steal from their government, either.

One day it is Glenn Beck talking about how us evil anarchists have infiltrated to bring our commie leftiness to Wisconsin. Another day it is Harry Reid saying anarchists have taken over congress through the Republican party. This month it is a “citizen of the world” who has decided that the best way to denigrate a belligerent racist is to call him an anarchist.

To all the people who throw the word anarchist around without bothering to learn anything about it.

Anarchy means without rulers. Anarchy is as opposed to monarchy or oligarchy. We are opposed to being ruled by a few assholes. We are not opposed to small d democracy, the kind where communities sit together and work things out. As one reporter learned from watching the anarchists at occupy:

At its core, anarchism isn’t simply a negative political philosophy, or an excuse for window-breaking, as most people tend to assume it is. Even while calling for an end to the rule of coercive states backed by military bases, prison industries and subjugation, anarchists and other autonomists try to build a culture in which people can take care of themselves and each other through healthy, sustainable communities. Many are resolutely nonviolent. Drawing on modes of organizing as radical as they are ancient, they insist on using forms of participatory direct democracy that naturally resist corruption by money, status and privilege. Everyone’s basic needs should take precedence over anyone’s greed.

I’m not an anarchist because I support “stealing from” government. I’m an anarchist because it is government armies that push indigenous people off of their lands to make room for people like Bundy. I am not an anarchist because I “have faith in the constitution.” I’m an anarchist because I know the constitution was written by and for rich, white men who supported slavery and imperialism. I’m an anarchist because the supposedly wonderful constitution that protects people’s rights may as well be used as toilet paper by the 2.3 million people in prison. I’m not an anarchist because I’m a “patriot.” I’m an anarchist because I reject the suffering caused by arbitrary colonial lines – something a “citizen of the world” should be able to understand.

I don’t know if this Bundy character has ever called himself an anarchist. I cannot stop anyone from calling themselves an anarchist any more than the black church can stop the KKK from professing Christianity. But if you are going to use the word as an insult or suggest that people who are anarchists deserve prison or bodily injury, then perhaps you could take a moment to actually find out what it means.

So maybe read an essay by Cindy Milstein or watch an interview with David Graeber. Watch this video of Ashanti Alston talking about Anarchism, Zapatismo & the Black Panthers. Go check out your local worker-owned and managed cooperative. They won’t all be explicitly anarchist like radical book publisher AK Press, but you will probably find anarchists there. Find your local Food Not Bombs and help them feed people with food that grocery stores are about to throw away, at least when the police aren’t arresting them. Maybe your city has a free school like the one in Baltimore inside Red Emma’s and where you can take or teach a class for no money. Maybe some of the public art in your city is created by anarchists like these women in Bolivia. Maybe you’ll find some anarchists at your local Books to Prisons or your local chapter of the Anarchist Black Cross.

Maybe you could talk to an actual anarchist before you wish harm on us as a group. Because the U.S. has a long, long history of oppressing people for their political beliefs and we don’t need another round.

Is It A Death Sentence if You Were Never Convicted?

April 24, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminal Injustice System

A follow-up to my last post about people sitting in jail without having been convicted of a crime.

Just in case you had not heard the full details about the homeless veteran who baked to death in a cell at Rikers last month. He was there because he was too poor to make bail.

Homeless and looking for a warm place to sleep on a cold night in February, Murdough was arrested for trespassing on the roof of an apartment building in Harlem. He was presented with two options: (1) either pay the city $2,500 in order to be released — a cost-prohibitive sum for someone without a job or a home, or (2) be detained on Rikers Island and wait for his case to be adjudicated, a process that can take months or even years.

You can read the rest on the Pretrial Justice Institute blog here.

You’ll also read about Kalief Browder who was arrested at 16 and held for almost three years without ever having been convicted of anything.

Who is the criminal here?

 

Incarcerated Until Proven Innocent

April 22, 2014 By: Mel Category: Criminal Injustice System

Infographic on bail in America

http://www.pretrial.org/the-problem/

I am officially finished with grand jury duty. Which means I now get to start the process of unloading on you all of the frustrations of watching our injustice system in action. And I think I’ll start with an article I came across just an hour after leaving the prosecutors’ offices.

Marktain Kilpatrick Simmons, 43, was jailed in November 2006 for the stabbing death of Christopher Joiner and yet his case has not yet gone to trial. Hinds County Judge Bill Gowan denied bail for Simmons, saying he wanted to hear more evidence of Simmons’ mental problems, according to The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.

Similarly, Lee Vernel Knight, 47, has been in jail without trial since December 2007, accused in the Christmas Day stabbing death of his brother, Michael Palmer. Knight, who has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, had previously been committed to the state hospital. Gowan ordered Knight committed to the state hospital in 2013, but there have been no beds available there.

If you are counting, that means those men have been in jail awaiting trial for six or seven years. Let me just let that sink in for a moment. They have been locked up for years without having been convicted. Their cases are some of the most egregious that I have heard, but they are not alone.

As I was listening to one of the cases presented before my grand jury, It dawned on me that the accused had been in DC jail for a very long time. In fact, he will likely be in jail for about two years before he goes to trial. I confirmed with the prosecutor that he was indeed being held waiting for trial and not on some other charges. I asked her if that was typical. It is. She estimated a year and a half wait for trial. She didn’t say how many of those people are waiting in jail.

But as you can see from the Pretrial Justice Institute infographic posted here, 60% of the people in jail nationwide are waiting for trial. And just in case the loss of freedom for months or years is not enough of an injustice for you, how about this.

Research shows that among defendants facing the same charge and who have the same criminal history, those who are kept in jail before trial receive worse plea offers, are sentenced to prison more often if they are found guilty, and receive harsher prison sentences than those who are released under court-ordered supervision.

Studies also find that just two to three days in jail pending trial can have a significant and lasting impact on a defendant’s family, such as the loss of permanent employment or, for single parent households, a child being placed in state custody.

If they were rich, they would be waiting for their trial at home. We have a system where Bernie Madoff gets to walk around while he waits to be tried for a $50 billion Ponzi scheme, but the poor and homeless and mentally ill will spend months or years in jail without having been found guilty of anything.  Many of them will eventually be acquitted of the often petty crimes they are accused of.

And meanwhile the bail bonds people are raking it in. There are “15,000 bail bond agents work in the U.S., who write bonds for approximately $14 billion every year. Those companies are backed by multibillion-dollar “insurance giants.” 

Amazing how much money people make off of the poor.

According to this Christian Science Monitor article, DC is one of the better places when it comes to holding poor people for minor things on bail they cannot afford. But even those accused of murder are still only accused. What is all that nonsense we are told about our rights to a speedy trial and innocent until proven guilty?

 

Airbnb – Profiles of Gentrification

April 21, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change, Culture, Inequality

Sign for New DC construction "Meet you at the top"I’m going to an event in New York this June and I was thinking about using Airbnb. But then I saw this article.

As many as 7,500 San Francisco housing units are kept off of the rental market and are instead set aside for users of Airbnb and services like VRBO.com, KALW reported.

Activists with the San Francisco Tenants Union identified 1937 Mason Street, a three-unit building, as apartment housing set aside entirely for vacation rentals, the radio station reported. To make matters worse, the former renters there were ousted with the Ellis Act

The Ellis Act allows San Francisco landlords to “go out of business” and kick everybody in the building out. Sometimes the units become condos. Sometimes the landlord kicks everybody out to make room for Airbnb.

7,500 units is only about 2% of the 376,942 total San Francisco housing units counted in the last census. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot. But when you look at it in the context of the massive displacement in the Bay Area, the situation becomes clearer. Colorlines reported that

Between 1990 and 2011, median rental housing prices in San Francisco neighborhoods in the late stages of gentrification increased 40 percent. What’s more, the rental price increases and housing crisis have fueled the displacement of blacks and Latinos from both cities.

Between 1990 and 2011 the proportion of black residents in all Oakland neighborhoods fell by nearly 40 percent. Perhaps more stunning, black homeowners were about half of north Oakland’s homeowners in 1990. By 2011 they were just 25 percent of the neighborhood’s homeowners.

Washington DC, where I live, has been getting whiter, more expensive, and more unequal as well. We have “the fourth-highest gap between richest and poorest residents of large U.S. cities. While the poorest 20 percent of D.C. residents make on average under $10,000 per year, the top five percent make over $530,000 per year.” This income inequality is playing out in the housing market in a huge way.

According to the most recent data compiled by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment in DC is $1,412 a month, the second highest in the nation. To afford rent in DC without spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing, a renter would need to earn $27.15 an hour, over three times DC’s $8.25 hourly minimum wage. In other words, a minimum wage earner would need to work 132 hours a week to pay rent in the district. Since 2000, DC has demolished at least nine public housing properties, which coincides with the city losing more than half its low-cost housing units in the past decade. Meanwhile, DC’s homeless population has quadrupled since 2008.

So I started thinking about who exactly is benefiting from Airbnb in my town.

Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile Airbnb Profile

Best I can tell, of all the profiles I randomly clicked, not one of them seemed to be from this city. Only one of them might not be white. It seems likely that they own their properties, especially that real estate agent. They travel all over the world. They surely make way more than $10,000 per year. And they live in neighborhoods that are newly infested with bougie bars and luxury condo projects with slogans like “meet you at the top.”

I’m not putting those profiles up so that you can hate on those people. The truth is that they aren’t all that different from me. I am not from DC. I have a college degree. I’ve been able to travel some. I work for the anti-poverty wing of the non-profit industrial complex in an office full of people who aren’t from this city and have never been poor in their lives, people who look a lot like those profiles. If I had decided to climb the ladder or if my parents had a little money, I’d probably be them.

I talk about privilege blindness a lot and this is one of those moments when my own smacks me in the face. It never occurred to me to think about who Airbnb was marketing to, how much privilege is required to participate, or how it is contributing to the disasters that are happening in cities all over the country. In fact, I thought it was a great thing to avoid staying at the big evil chain hotels. But if the Best Western is hiring locals at union wages and your Airbnb is run by a landlord who kicked out a bunch of residents to make more money, that chain hotel starts to look a lot better.

We cannot end oppression with consumer choice. Some decisions may cause a little less suffering than others and that is reason enough to try to make ethical life choices. But the system is designed for the benefit of a few people and most of those people will probably not even see the havoc they are causing. They will, in fact, think they are doing something great.

Check out this letter from Airbnb’s cofounder and CEO. Do you think when he tells his employees not to “fuck up the culture” he is referring to the culture of those people who are getting pushed out of DC/San Francisco/New York to make room for the young white professionals who like to rent out their $300,000 condos for extra cash when they travel around the world?

When those of us who have the privilege of choices think about making those choices ethical, we need to realize that we are going to be blind to many (maybe most) of the effects of our actions. We need to realize that having the space to think about the ethics is a privilege. Maybe, if we shut up and pay very close attention to the most marginalized people, we can start to see how much the world is designed for people like us at others expense. Maybe we will all learn that the most ethical travel decision would be to decide to do it a lot less and to spend that time and money in our communities working toward smashing the systems that make ethical choices impossible.

I needed a reminder. Maybe some of you all did too.

 

Things You Might Have Missed

April 20, 2014 By: Mel Category: Misc

Graffiti in DCThis article about social security going after people for their parents supposed debts made me so furious.

You may be following the protests in New Mexico. But don’t forget that murderous cops are everywhere. Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin put together a body count for Memphis.

The thing about protesting immigrant detention from the inside is that they can just deport you.

A little reminder about the struggles that indigenous people are in, especially on the border.

More Than 900 Workers Have Already Died Building Qatar’s World Cup Infrastructure. How is this even a little bit ok?

Cannot wait to read Astra Taylor’s new book. This section on women and the internet is spot on.

We all need to take up the cause of working less. Getting our time back might just be the most important bit of activism we can do.

Also helpful would be making our spaces a lot more hospitable to children and caregivers.

And can we all keep ego out and remember that activism comes in many forms, not just the ones that put you in the spotlight.

This came out like a month ago, but on the off chance that you did not read Ta-Nehisi Coates takedown of liberals willful ignorance at how white supremacy works, it is here.

 

Total Information. Who Can You Trust?

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

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

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

So what is this REAL ID?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Identity, Decolonization, and Justice

April 15, 2014 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Change, Violence

Anti-Colonial Anarchism or Decolonization

A friend of mine posted this to facebook. One of the commenters asked how far back we are supposed to go.

The thing about colonization, land grabs, genocide, slavery, gentrification – whatever manifestation of deciding you want something from people and just taking it – is that erasure is a key component. Which means the people that can go the farthest back are the people who are writing the wrong history.

A few years ago there was a post on Womanist Musings about how she could not trace her family history because she is the descendant of slaves. I also cannot trace my history. I am adopted and information about my biological relations is not available to me. My adopted family has a trail that ends in the holocaust or the pogrom. Who knows where all those wandering Jews wandered/were exiled from.

Getting to the origin of things is impossible. But we should still try. Because if you think about how hard oppressors have worked to destroy the histories of people, then you know just how important it is to protect and resurrect as much of it as you can. There is a reason why the Spanish destroyed the codices.

But when it comes to seeking justice, it is the present that is the most important thing.

The thing about this graphic, and the post that went with it, is that it is so easy to interpret it as referring to family history rather than current power imbalances. The history of one Spanish descended person in South America is not the important thing. The important thing is the unequal power of that descendant in the here and now. The important thing is the wealth that was extracted and continues to be extracted. They are injustices that have roots in history, but would still be problematic if they were new.

I agree that roots are important. I agree that we should be undoing our collective mindfuck – whether that is reclaiming indigenous beliefs or coming up with new ones. But identity and history are incredibly complicated. How do the principles outlined in this graphic get applied when the Cherokee nation decides to expel the descendants of black slaves who took the trail of tears with them?

For me the question is always about what is happening right now. What is most important to address right now? Who is suffering right now? What is the history that got us here, in all of its complexity, and how do we stop the bleeding?

Drop the Faux Condi Controversy Already

April 10, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change

Rice at Augusta Golf ClubThe internets are up in arms that Dropbox has named Condoleezza Rice to their board.

What the hell is the point?

Newsflash. Companies are “led” by awful people. I have written before about working for Duane Andreas of Archer Daniels Midland, whose food you certainly consume. Do you eat Kraft? (Check yes if you chow those veggie boca burgers.) Well their board has a Nike exec on it. Do you buy sweatshop shit from Nike? Well, they have a Starbucks exec on their board. Like a little Starbucks? They have former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the guy who blocked the release of torture photos. Own an apple product? Say hello to defense contractor and lethal laser weapon maker Northrop Grumman.

Why are you wasting energy on the character of one or two board members or CEOs or other social climbing fuckwads?  

We have a systemic problem. Our problem is anybody who wants to be on the board of one of these companies. Our problem is that we nearly cannot live without giving our time and money and bits of our soul to these horrible people. Our problem is that these organizations are built on our backs. They poison you. They spy on you. They steal from you. And then a few of them make a donation or come out in favor of some bullshit cause and people think, “Awww.  Well that one doesn’t seem so bad.”

They are bad. The system is bad. It is rotten to the core. The fact that some of these climbers support gay marriage or hire black people or know enough not to say anything too offensive in public does not change things. In fact, I would rather have all the companies run by people like Condoleezza Rice. It is more honest that way. When the woman who went shoe shopping while New Orleans drowned is the face of things, it is harder to pretend that things aren’t evil.

Rice wanted success on the terms that people who appoint board members define. That picture of her is from Augusta national. She has no problem joining a club that excluded women until 2012 and excluded black people until 1990.

Well, congrats to Condi and all the other people who spent their lives pursuing power and money and attained it. Congrats to stepping on whoever you needed to in order to get what you want. Now to those of us who would like to think we actually want a world with different values, how about we start getting as serious as they are? Meaning how about we stop getting distracted by measuring the relative horribleness of the owners/climbers and focus on the system itself.

Things You Might Have Missed

March 30, 2014 By: Mel Category: Misc

Not one more deportationI have to start these posts again, because I keep losing track of articles and it is a pain in the ass to find them again on twitter.  So here goes.

If you did not catch this Ta-Nehisi Coates post about how “progressives” deny white supremacy and structural racism, read it. Coates says they “misunderstand.” I think its more than misunderstanding. At the very least, we should call it willful ignorance. But he’s way nicer than me.

More hunger strikes. Now they are coming from immigrant detention centers in Takoma and Texas. Both owned by The GEO Group.

As I was arguing with my fellow jurors the last few weeks, one of them brought up the changes that will occur because of the new DC marijuana laws. But I tend to agree with the folks in this interview that it won’t do a damn thing to help the black kids being picked up for street selling. They won’t be getting licenses to sell legally.

If we cannot get people to care about the record number of exonerated last year and what they go through once they get out, how much more impossible to get people to care about those who actually did do something violent?

Really, in order to get people to care about the people in prison, we have to get them to care about the poor and the mentally ill. But even when people hear about the bipolar woman who was locked up for more than two years without charges or the homeless vet who baked to death in Rikers, they still don’t want to face how fucked up things are. I guess nobody wants to think about the fact that poverty or mental illness could happen to them too.

Here is another thing that came out so clearly in jury duty. People really believe that everything is scientific. They were expecting ballistics reports and DNA. Instead they got unreliable witnesses and sloppy police work. Not that it mattered. Even without bullshit experts or real evidence, people were happy to indict.

Part of the problem is how much people want to believe police, despite all the reasons police have to lie and the long history of them being caught in those lies.

I am still turning over in my head how the people in jury duty could have the racial disparities staring them in the face every day and not have a problem with it. Speaking of disparities, did you know that “Native Americans make up little more than 1 percent of the nation’s population” but “at any given time, 43 percent to 60 percent of juveniles held in federal custody were Native American”?

And finally, since being in jury duty made me despair for humanity, I will end with this post about Kitty Genovese. She was the woman attacked in Queens in 1964 and whose case became proof that New Yorkers just didn’t give a shit. Supposedly, all these people heard her attack and did nothing. But that turns out to be mostly bullshit.

 

Book Review – One Game at a Time: Why Sports Matter

March 18, 2014 By: Mel Category: Book

One Game at a Time: Why Sports MatterOne Game at a Time: Why Sports Matter by Matt Hern

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book so unexpectedly much. It is a delightfully philosophical and down to earth critique of and defense of sports.

Hern pushes back on the idea that sports are a different and lesser kind of cultural product – as opposed to, perhaps, music or painting. Like all of our cultural products, sports both reflect and create our society. And we should take that seriously. He also argues that “a generalized disrespect for sports, athletes, physicality, and even materiality is not just a class thing it’s also bound up with race, gender, sexuality, and lots else – creating a clusterfuck of bodily loathing, fear, guilt, shame, distrust, and misapprehension.”

The book uses sports to talk about all of those things and more – race, gender, sexuality, capitalism, authenticity, violence, pain, cultural appropriation, the commons. It is amazing how much he managed to pack into a relatively short book.

A long time ago I had a boss who didn’t have a television when her daughter was little. My response was to ask what her kid spoke to the other kids at school about. She answered that that was precisely why they eventually got a television. I think Hern makes a strong case for sports on many levels, not just as a means for communicating with the millions of avid fans and participants out there. But just the opportunity for public discourse alone should convince people to take it seriously.

Read it. Really. It is fantastic.

View all my reviews