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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Vilifying Palestinians, Erasing Movements

June 04, 2010 By: Mel Category: Change, Violence

There is no justification for the actions that the Israeli government took this week.  There is no justification for the blockade on Gaza.  There is no defense for allowing settlers to invade Palestinian land, eating it up piece by piece.  The apartheid in Israel/Palestine is immoral, unjust, inhumane, and repugnant.  Everybody knows it.  Even Israel’s defenders know it.

The typical response from defenders of Israel, when faced with Israel’s actions, is something like this one that I read on Facebook this week

And we all know what martyrdom means to Muslims – it is an honor they often seek.

Muslims, you see, are particularly irrational.  (The fact that not all Palestinians are Muslim doesn’t seem to matter in the slightest.)  That’s why, when butted up against a moral wall, an Israeli I spoke to defended his country by saying “Palestinian women strap their kids with bombs.”  What that Israeli meant was – Yes, our actions are crazy, but it’s because we are dealing with crazy people.

Even people who recognize the immorality of Israel’s actions still vilify Palestinians by erasing their actions and ignoring their movements.  Take this video from the Young Turks. (Thanks to Mariana E. for posting it.)

Once again, someone is lecturing Palestinians about nonviolence.  Once again, someone is telling Palestinians that they should learn from Gandhi and Martin Luther King.  Which is infuriating.  Because there has always been nonviolent, Palestinian resistance.

the reality is that Palestinians have consistently chosen nonviolent resistance before arms – from the general strikes of 1936, to the consistent appeals to international legal bodies, to the weekly demonstrations against the wall. It has been the continued dispossession at the hands of Israel, and the silence of the international community despite these nonviolent efforts, that has led some Palestinians to view violence as the only option.

As Yousef Munayyer describes in the article quoted above, if there is a Palestinian Gandhi, he or she is most likely languishing in an Israeli jail.  Just because the New York Times doesn’t report on the nonviolent movements or pretends as though they are new does not make it so.  Like most U.S. media, they prefer not to contradict the image of Palestinians as irrational, inhuman, crazies.

So below I am linking to videos, articles, and websites that show a different picture of the Palestinian people than you get on the U.S. mainstream news.   Next time someone gives you the “they’re all crazy and violent” response, feel free to provide them a link.

You can read about past and present Palestinian nonviolent movements in Tikkun, Peace Magazine and especially this article in The Holy Land Trust.

Here is the trailer to a new film about the protests in Budrus. (Note: I haven’t seen it yet.”

Democracy Now often does interviews with Israeli and Palestinian activists, including this one of three women who toured the U.S. together and this one with two members of Combatants for Peace.

You can find links to Palestinian peace and human rights organizations here and here.

And if you want to get news on Israel/Palestine, forget the New York Times.  Read Electronic Intifada or Mondoweiss.

Even the Daily Show interviewed Anna Baltzer and Mustafa Barghouti about nonviolent movements.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – Anna Baltzer & Mustafa Barghouti Extended Interview Pt. 1
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor Tea Party

Media and Anarchists Violent Reputation

February 01, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Violence

Picture an anarchist in your head.  What do you see?

For most people the image is of a black clad, pubescent boy throwing rocks through a store window or spray painting an anarchist symbol.  People with a better sense of history might picture a slightly older, wild-bearded man making assassination plans.

And it is true that those images have some reality behind them.

There have been anarchists who have participated in violence.  Anarchists fought in the Spanish civil war.  Anarchists have claimed responsibility for political assassinations and other “propaganda of the deed.”  And there are certainly anarchists who have participated in symbolic acts of property destruction.

But does that make anarchists especially violent?

How many philosophies have not been used as an excuse for violence?  We fight wars in the name of democracy.  Assassinations are committed in the name of democracy.  Entire cities have been leveled in the name of democracy.  And yet few supporters of democracy believe their philosophy is particularly violent.

It makes little sense that a few violent acts and some (arguably) violent property destruction warrant anarchists getting such a bad rap.

Then, of course, there are the many anarchists who are/were also pacifists.  Some, like Tolstoy, derived their pacifist anarchism from Christianity.  Gandhi, who was inspired by Tolstoy, meshed his philosophical anarchism with Hinduism.  Anarchists from Howard Zinn to Alex Comfort were pacifists.  Even Emma Goldman, who once supported “propaganda of the deed,” changed her mind after seeing the effects of violence.

Clearly, we have a case of selective, collective memory.  How did that happen? Why are people only associating anarchists with violence?

Perhaps it has something to do with the way media selectively covers anarchism.  The coverage of Howard Zinn’s death is instructive.  An Associated Press story picked up by the New York Times and Washington Post says that Howard Zinn wrote about anarchist Emma Goldman, but doesn’t describe Howard Zinn as an anarchist.  Bob Herbert’s New York Times op-ed doesn’t mention “anarchist” once.  In article after article he is referred to as “left” or “radical,” but not as an anarchist.

Lest you get the idea that the media are loathe to use the word anarchist or anarchy, just try to search news coverage with those words.  The New York Times is happy to associate anarchists with al-Qaida or with Lenin.  Even if no anarchist claims responsibility for a bombing, they are almost certain to get credit for it.   And that doesn’t even begin to cover the times that newspapers try to scare the crap out of their readers by labeling catastrophes as scary anarchy.

Newspapers like the Times and Post are staunch defenders of the establishment.  And the establishment has every reason to try and make anarchists look bad.  As Howard Zinn said,

No doubt that anarchist ideas are frightening to those in power. People in power can tolerate liberal ideas. They can tolerate ideas that call for reforms, but they cannot tolerate the idea that there will be no state, no central authority. So it is very important for them to ridicule the idea of anarchism to create this impression of anarchism as violent and chaotic. It is useful for them, yes.

That doesn’t mean that every lowly reporter is consciously trying to to vilify us.  As a former media person told me, “they have a script” and they are playing it out.  They are writing the narrative that they have been brought up to write, the narrative that will get them promoted, even if that means conjuring up imaginary conflicts while ignoring real ones.

So the question is, what can we do to make it more difficult for the media to vilify us?

Are Anarchists Naive?

November 02, 2009 By: Mel Category: Anarchism

Once people find out I’m an anarchist (and get over the shock that I am not a fifteen year old punk rock white boy who likes to smash windows), they want to know what anarchy is (if not violence and mayhem).  I explain to them that anarchy means “without rulers” and that I am against all forms of domination.

Now, of course, they want to know how we are going to live without domination.  They tell me that, without police, we will have no protection from violent criminals.  They tell me that, without bosses, nobody would do anything and we’d all starve.  They tell me that, without coercion, people would just argue forever and nothing would ever get resolved.  They tell me that, if you remove coercive institutions tomorrow, someone would just go about trying to recreate them.

They think anarchy is a utopian dream.

They’re right.  It is a utopian dream.  And there is nothing wrong with utopian dreams.  Whenever humans have made progress, it has been because of people who had seemingly unrealistic dreams about human possibility.  Mother Jones, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King had utopian visions for the world.  Their visions may not have been fully realized, but they changed things radically for the better.

I don’t believe I will ever see a society that is completely free of coercion and violence.  But that doesn’t mean that I’m just going to roll over and accept coercion and violence.  I don’t believe I will ever see a society where hierarchies don’t exist.  But that doesn’t mean I’m just going to roll over and accept man over woman, white over black, straight over gay, rich over poor, owner over worker.

When they tell me that, without police, we will have no protection from violent criminals; I tell them that half the people who are languishing in prison are not violent criminals.  I tell them that “17.6 % of women in the United States have survived a completed or attempted rape.”  I tell them that most rapes go unreported and most rapists unpunished.  I tell them that, in many cases, the police are the rapists and not protecting us at all.  I tell them that I don’t think I’m protected now.

When they tell me that, without bosses, nobody would do anything and we’d all starve; I tell them that people are starving now.  I tell them that “almost one person in six does not get enough food to be healthy and lead an active life.” And I tell them that there are alternatives to hierarchy.  I tell them about the FASINPAT in Argentina and Arizmendi bakeries in California.  I tell them about AK Press and Mondragon (soon coming to a U.S. town near you).

When they tell me that, without coercion, people would just argue forever and nothing would ever get resolved; I tell them that ordinary people, working together, can come up with solutions on their own.  And if they don’t believe me, they can ask nobel prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom.

I don’t disagree that there will always be people trying to rebuild the coercive institutions that we manage to tear down.  There are people out there who long for the antebellum south.  There are people who would like to bring back ruling monarchies.  And obscene amounts of people supported McCarthyism and the Patriot Act and every other rollback of civil rights some butthead has proposed.  That’s not an argument against anarchy.

I’m not naive.  I understand the challenges.  I understand how imperfect we all are.  But I also see the possibilities.  I see anarchy happening in little (and not so little) ways all over the world.  And I know that the people are wrong who think obtaining power, and using that power over others, is the only way to accomplish anything.  It isn’t the only way.  It isn’t the right way.

I do not believe that the world will ever be all peace, love, and cotton candy.  I do believe that the more people adopt anarchist principles, the better off we will be.

Anarchism and Civil Disobedience

October 05, 2009 By: Mel Category: Anarchism

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.

Oh Great, Another Protest

December 24, 2008 By: Mel Category: Change

Tis the season of protests here in DC.

In the last week I have seen a Code Pink shoe display at the Whitehouse gate, a dancing man wearing a paper mache George Bush head, and a pathetically small gathering of women marching for sex workers rights. In addition to which, at least two groups of drum wielding protesters have marched by my office building.

So what the hell do these people think they are accomplishing? I hate to be the one to break it to them, but protests don’t do a thing. Millions of people around the world streamed out into the streets before the Iraq war and it didn’t do a damn bit of good. Seattle protesters got themselves in the news and even managed to shut down a meeting, but the WTO is still here, the World Bank and IMF are still doing the same crap, and we all just mortgaged the rest of our lives to pay off a bunch of international bankers.

Much of this protest delusion comes from the notion that it was protesters that ended the war in Vietnam. United States participation in Vietnam went on for more than a decade, despite all the protesters. And it wasn’t a bunch of marginalized kids marching that made your average Joe fed up with the war. It was seeing body bags come in by the thousands. It was learning about the lies the government was telling. It was seeing My Lai photos plastered all over the paper. In short, it was journalists who risked their lives telling the truth about what was going on, not a bunch of burnt hippies in moccasin boots.

I’m not saying that it is impossible for a large movement of people to force powerful interests to change their tune, but it is rare and requires strategy. The other day I received an email about arranging a general strike across the whole country. Nowhere in the email does it mention what we would be striking for. Where is the focus? Where is the strategy? How are you going to accomplish something if you don’t even know what you are trying to accomplish?

The email I received says that Gandhi showed us how it could be done. Gandhi did show us how it could be done. Gandhi did not dress up in paper mache heads or turtle costumes. He didn’t gather together disparate small groups all asking for different things. He didn’t conduct protests just to pat himself on the back or meet and greet with like-minded people. Gandhi had a plan.

Gandhi’s most famous protest was marching to the ocean to make salt. Gandhi wanted India out from under British colonial rule and knew he needed to show the world the injustice of British rule. The British imposed a salt tax, which gave them a monopoly on salt. Gandhi’s march to make salt fulfilled a real need, highlighted the injustice of British laws, and showed the strength of his movement.

Gandhi was thrown in jail for starting these protests. His treatment by authorities, and the support for his cause, started a domino effect and protests broke out in other areas of the country. That was all part of his plan, as was the media coverage that he cultivated beforehand. He did not just throw something together at the last minute. Today, people just show up at the National Mall on a Sunday afternoon for protests that resemble support groups.

Your average person sees someone dressed as a stuffed animal or with F&#$ the Gap painted on their bare ass and just discounts everything the group is trying to say. Worse, some of my fellow anarchists seem to think that if you destroy everything now, something better will miraculously spring up in its place. Violence is a sure way to turn people off from what you are trying to say.

So please, don’t send me any more calls to protest. Send me a plan. Invite me to a strategy meeting. Let’s pick a realizable goal, identify the obstacles, figure out whose support is needed, and devise a cleverly effective way of pounding away at it until we get somewhere. And if you try to make me wear some ridiculous costume, we’re through.

Obama, The Military, and the Dreaded P Word

September 15, 2008 By: Mel Category: Violence

During the recent community service forum at Columbia University, Obama said the ROTC should be invited back to Columbia and other college campuses who don’t currently allow them. He said that he recognized the “differences in terms of military policy,” but felt it was a mistake that “young people here at Columbia or anywhere at any university aren’t offered the choice, the option, of participating in military service.”

Now it so happens that I agree with Obama, if only because I don’t feel I have the right to impose my morals on others. But by copping out with a weak statement about “differences in terms of military policy” he avoided talking about some issues that we really need to be talking about.

First of all there is the dreaded P word. No, I’m not talking about Palin…or Pig…or Pussy. I’m talking about Pacifist. Now I don’t expect any politician to be one (god forbid), but it’s like they can’t even say the word. We revere Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and yet being a pacifist is seen as naive and weak. If a presidential candidate uttered the word, would their candidacy immediately go down in flames?

Perhaps even more importantly, military service is not just about sacrificing and laying yourself on the line for others. It is about taking other peoples lives. It involves joining an institution that expects its members to follow orders, even when those orders turn out to be disastrous. Willingness to serve in the military isn’t just about willingness to sacrifice, it is about trust in the people who are going to be asking for your sacrifice.

In my father’s generation (he was born in 1929), military service was far more common. World War II was heinous, as all wars are, but soldiers felt honored and honorable when they returned. They felt they were fighting the good fight. People trusted that their government was sending them where they needed to go.

Many Vietnam-era conservatives will tell you that it was lack of support by traitorous hippies that made Vietnam different. (Ironically, the same conservatives who scoff at distrust of the military will swear that government is incapable of doing anything right when it comes to anything else.) But the truth is that any lack of support from the American people was well deserved by a government that lied to us repeatedly (and continues to do so).

Obama speaks often about taking us past the old battles of the baby boomer generation. He talks about revitalizing a culture of service (military and otherwise). He talks about restoring faith in government. If he really wants to do those things, he can’t avoid discussing the issues at the root of our distrust, and apathy, and unresolved anger.