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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Some Thoughts on Voting for the Newly Disillusioned

August 03, 2016 By: Mel Category: Core, Seeking

I’m seeing quite a few people in my Facebook and Twitter feeds who have just now realized that the political system is not the path to what they are looking for. They are feeling angry, cynical, and lost.

I get it. I’ve been there.

I was crushed when Bill Clinton gave us welfare “reform,” NAFTA, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. I was one of those people everyone blames for the 2000 election because they voted for Nader. And, even though I had long before become cynical, I really hoped that Obama at least kinda meant all that stuff he said about civil liberties. Other people maybe picked Howard Dean or Ron Paul, but many of us have had at least one moment of political hope followed by inevitable disappointment.

Of course we have. We have been trained our entire lives to focus our attention on the shiny circus of Big P Politics, especially presidential elections. We are taught it was LBJ and FDR that made things better. It is as if all the people who went door to door, marched, organized strikes, wrote, exposed corruption, and took direct action did not even exist.

The good news is that now you are free. There are millions of things you can do and millions of people who also think things suck. Now that you have safely eliminated presidential politics from your arsenal of tactics that work, you can put your energies towards better things.

I’ve spent a lot of the last decade reading about social movements – from the kids involved in the civil rights movement to the anarchists in Barcelona. And I’ve spent a bit of time, though not nearly enough, participating in them. I don’t have a magic formula for you, but I do have a basic path that has started to form in my head. It goes something like this.

  1. Imagine how you want your life to be and what is standing in your way. Figure out what you want your world to look like. It doesn’t have to be precise or perfect, but you do need something to reach for.
  1. Find other people who want the same things that you do. Build communities of trust and support. (That trust and support part is crucial.)
  1. Plan direct actions. Ideally they should provide for immediate needs and disrupt the systems of oppression.
  1. Identify the obstacles that you will face and prepare for them, figure out how you will defend yourselves.
  1. Act
  1. Review the action. Figure out what went well and what didn’t. Reassess. Adjust. Make sure all your people are taken care of.
  1. Rinse and repeat.

That doesn’t mean that voting can never, ever be a part of what you are doing.

“If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal.” – Emma Goldman

All due respect to Emma (and I love her), her statement is kind of a case for voting. After all, it has been and still is prohibited for a whole lot of people (former felons, for instance). And it is not true that voting never matters at all. Voting for someone who is less likely to mow you down in the street is a totally reasonable defense strategy. Voting a terrible prosecutor out of office is a legitimate tactic. If two dudes are running for town sheriff and one is a sociopath, we might consider voting for the other guy.

But then we should go right back to working on ending the position of sheriff or prosecutor entirely. We should learn how to build community for ourselves rather than constituencies for people with their own agenda. We should learn how to resolve conflict ourselves, not empower violent authorities to run systems of oppression and retribution.

It is a lot harder to do those things than to stump for a candidate and vote every couple years. But we can only get out from under these people if we take responsibility and represent ourselves. I screw up every damn day in every way imaginable. But that is why it is called a struggle. And it is so much better to be struggling – to be a better person, to build alternate systems, against oppressive structures, with my community –  than to be looking for some kind of savior to come along and make it better.

Now that you are free of the constraints of electoral politics, what are you going to do?

Liberalism and Disempowerment

May 24, 2010 By: Mel Category: Change, Inequality, Politics

By now you have surely heard about Rand Paul’s interview with Rachel Maddow.  Paul slimed around for twenty minutes trying not to admit that he does not support the provisions in the 1964 Civil Rights Act that made it illegal for a private business to discriminate.

On Rachel’s next show, she had a segment on why Rand Paul’s views were so important to get out in the open.  You can watch it here.

Around minute 6, Rachel made the claim that the civil rights act “ended, for example, Woolworths lunch counter practice of only serving white people.”

Actually, no it didn’t.  Four college students – Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond –  took it upon themselves to take that lunch counter.  And a whole lot of other people sat at that counter day after day until Woolworths changed their policy.

You can watch a segment about the Woolworth protest here (excuse the hokey, travel channelish soundtrack).

It wasn’t government action that integrated Woolworth’s, it was direct action.

One of the most frustrating things about the liberal narrative is that it gives presidents, congress, and the supreme court credit for things that they have no business getting credit for.  Elites did not lead the way.  They did things kicking and screaming, if they did them at all, after massive mobilization by everyday people.

And the worst thing is not even that people like Ezell A. Blair, Jr., Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond don’t get credit for what they do.  The worst thing is that the liberal narrative makes it appear that our only option is to vote every four years and spend the rest of the time screaming at our television screens.

It makes you feel powerless.

But we aren’t any less powerful than Ezell A. Blair, Jr., Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond.  They didn’t wait for the government to ride in on a white horse and save the day.  They didn’t sit at home watching Tweedledee Democrat and Tweetledum Republican play political ping pong.  They made it happen.

Want jobs?  Take over a factory.  Neighborhood school an underfunded prison that isn’t teaching you shit?  Start your own damn school.  Pissed that banks are raking in millions while they foreclose on people’s houses?  Put your body between those houses and the sheriffs trying to evict those people.

And the next time someone tries to tell you that those benevolent politicians swooped in and saved black people, remind them who the real heroes are.

Anarchism and Civil Disobedience

October 05, 2009 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Core, Seeking

I recently finished reading Anarchy Alive!: Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory by Uri Gordon.  It’s a great book and a must read for anyone interested in contemporary anarchist thought, action, and dilemmas.

Like many anarchists, Uri emphasizes direct action, “action without intermediaries, whereby an individual or a group uses their own power and resources to change reality in a desired direction.” Direct action can entail blocking a roadway or tearing down a wall. It can also be creating something new within the old system, like a worker-run cooperative.

Direct action is not civil disobedience. Uri explains,

It is important to distinguish between direct action and a related concept, ‘civil disobedience’. I take the latter to mean any conscious collective defiance of the law, either for moral reasons or in an attempt to mount pressure on the authorities to respond to one’s demands…Thus civil disobedience is essentially a confrontational form of political dialogue between insubordinate citizens and the state, which does not challenge the basic legitimacy of the latter (since the state is expected to act in response to the disobedients’ demands – changing an unjust law, for example).  Often civil disobedience is accompanied by rhetoric that calls on society to live up to its professed ideals, reinforcing rather than challenging the status quo on society’s basic relations and institutions

I see Uri’s point, but I believe the picture he paints is incomplete. Often, the primary dialogue is not between the insubordinate citizens and the state, but between the insubordinate citizens and other citizens (either of their own country or of other countries in the world).

Actions by Gandhi and Martin Luther King were specifically designed to demonstrate the violence and injustice of the state.  MLK chose Montgomery, Alabama because he knew that the particularly brutal authorities would take action that would shock people, people who were not necessarily allies to that point.  Civil disobedience is theater as well as dialogue.

Anarchists could learn from their example.  It is a fact that there will never be anarchism without widespread commitment to anarchist principles.  Anarchists need to be more aware of how their actions will be perceived from the outside.

Anarchists should anticipate how their actions will be presented to the public by authorities and media.  And anarchists should be ready to respond to that presentation – clearly and creatively.  Unless we learn to do that, people will not be receptive to what we are saying.