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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Book Review – Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther

March 13, 2014 By: Mel Category: Book

Marshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black PantherMarshall Law: The Life & Times of a Baltimore Black Panther by Marshall “Eddie” Conway

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Coincidentally, I finished reading Eddie Conway’s book on March 4th, the day he was finally released from prison after 44 years. I’m still thinking about it. I’m particularly thinking about how bad we are at learning from other people’s experiences and how much even one man’s story has to teach us.

Change takes risk and sacrifice. Eddie Conway lost his freedom for 44 years. He isn’t alone. Others lost their lives to violence or sometimes to just plain giving up. And there are other sacrifices. Sometimes it isn’t clear that they are worth it. For instance, Conway talks about being absent from the lives of his children. It wasn’t just because of prison. He was absent before prison because he was always busy with the movement.

Community support is fundamental. The Black Panthers obtained the support of their community in Baltimore by providing free breakfasts to children and setting up a community health clinic. In prison, the group Conway was involved with remained popular across divisions because they always advocated for the benefit of all the prisoners.

Success is the seed of your destruction. The more successful you are, the more you will become a target of the state. That is especially true if you provide services to the community that the state is not. The state will do anything to destroy you. The state will lie. The state will spy. The state will falsely imprison and kill. Even widespread community support cannot save an organization that the state is determined to destroy.

Information is essential. Even with community support, a media narrative can take off. Even die-hard supporters could start to doubt. One of the most successful prison rebellions involved prisoners who climbed up to windows where they could grab the attention of the community. Once the people most affected are allowed to speak, people see the truth. But the media is designed to create the white noise that drowns those people out.

Movements eat themselves. The image of the Black Panthers that was sold by the media attracted the kind of people who were easy targets for agent provocateurs. Anarchists have that same problem. We need to find ways to be disciplined in our organizations and to deal with the fact that agents will always be among us. We also need to deal with well-meaning but overzealous, unstrategic, and destructive people who help the state to discredit us.

I started this off by saying how bad we are at learning from other’s experiences. What I was specifically thinking about was Green is the New Red. It is a great book in many ways. But what made me furious was that the young, white kids involved seemed utterly shocked at the level of oppression that came down on them for their actions. I don’t know how anyone who had read even a page of history could have been shocked. I don’t think anyone should be taking actions – especially very confrontational actions – without understanding what they are getting into.

So read some history and know what you are facing. Conway’s book is a good place to start.

View all my reviews

Is the Media Liberal?

August 06, 2012 By: Mel Category: Politics

A friend of mine just posted this nifty graphic showing how much more often the media quotes the GOP. But I’m not sure that it says much.

If conservative is defined as wanting to live by religious doctrine or being anti-abortion, then the media is not particularly conservative. If conservative is defined as supporting current institutions of privilege, power, and domination, then the media is conservative as hell.

If liberal is defined as wanting fundamental changes and real social justice, then the media is not liberal. If liberal is defined as being classist, elitist, and status-seeking, then the media is liberal as hell.

When people who identify as conservatives call someone a liberal what they often really mean is that they are classist and arrogant – which many liberals are. When people who identify as liberal call someone a conservative, what they often really mean is that they are sexist and white supremacist – which many conservatives are.

But you can find classism, arrogance, sexism, white supremacy and every other wrongheaded, hierarchical view among people who identify as liberal or conservative or anything else. You’ll also find people who identify as liberals who are not arrogant and people who identify as conservatives who are not white supremacist.

As far as I’m concerned, both “liberals” and “conservatives” are fundamentally conservative. Is the mainstream media radical? Hell no.

Occupying the Narrative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ciao Newsrooms. I Won’t Miss You.

July 07, 2011 By: Mel Category: Change

Chris Hedges recently wrote one of those sad obituaries for newsrooms. He longs for the old timey orgs like in All the President’s Men. But I’m not buying all the chicken little stuff when it comes to news. I don’t think the death of newsrooms is such a tragedy. And I’m not just saying that because I don’t care for the “fraternity.”*

First of all, as he admits in the article, the mainstream news orgs haven’t exactly been bastions of accurate information or checks on power. And the more professionalized journalists have gotten, the more they have served the interests of other elites. Today’s ivy league, journalism/public relations, grad degree douches are a far cry from George Seldes picking up info at his corner bar.

Speaking of George Seldes. Back in the 1920s, he quit his newspaper job and went freelance because the papers weren’t any better back then than they are now. He had to turn to book writing in order to get the information out there that his editors wouldn’t release. Sound familiar? Maybe those big newsrooms Hedges laments losing never served our interests?

It is true that “newspapers sustained writers.” As someone who writes and who occasionally thinks it would be nice to not have a day job, I sympathize with how difficult it is to earn a living. But I also have very mixed emotions about getting paid for writing. The truth is that I sometimes feel like I should pay you. Seriously, some of your comments are as long as any post I ever wrote. I don’t write this blog because I think I am some kind of author(ity). I write this blog because I want to think out loud. I want to share my experiences and hear about yours. I want to have a conversation.

Should people really be paid for having an opinion? Everyone has an opinion and everyone’s opinion is important. Why should Maureen Dowd or Matthew Yglesias to get paid for their thoughts? What makes them so special? Their analysis is usually downright sad next to most of yours. And if we professionalize opinionating, where does that leave us? Maybe it is not the loss of newsrooms that is responsible for a “decline in public discourse.” Maybe it is that we abdicated our public discussion to talking heads, ivy league brats, politicians, and celebrities.

And yes, Hedges is right that the internet can be an “ideological ghetto.” But it is also very easy to get out of your ghetto. And the internet gives me a chance to challenge the ideas and information that I come across. As far as I’m concerned, the free for all and direct challenges of the internet are a better check on false information than the professional news orgs have been.

What about that “culture and ethic” that Hedges says we are losing? Doesn’t that insinuate that only reporters are capable of thinking critically, verifying facts, or having ethics? Shouldn’t we all be thinking critically? Why are we creating some special class of people who have been trained to evaluate information? Why aren’t we concerning ourselves with how all of us can up our ability to weed out the bullshit?

As to the idea that “newspapers took us into parts of the city or the world we would never otherwise have seen or visited” - Did they? Do they? Should they? We have virtually no local news in DC. I live in the capital of the mother fucking USA. It is a city where a third of adults are functionally illiterate. We have the worst infant mortality rates in the country. We have the highest AIDs rate in the country. Unemployment in some wards is 20%. But you hardly ever read about that.

You know what though. There is not one legitimate reason why a person living in Dupont needs to read about all that in a damn newspaper. I don’t need a journalist to show me what being poor and forgotten is like. I can just hop a metro a few minutes from my house and be surrounded by poverty. I don’t need a reporter and some newsprint to stand between me and what is going on. I can just go out and talk to my damn neighbors. Novel idea, eh?

And the same goes for worldwide issues. Maybe I can’t go all over the world. But I don’t really need a reporter standing between me and news from other places either. When reporters are only going to war zones as embedded journalists, what is that really telling us? Aren’t we better off focusing on getting people access to equipment and distribution mechanisms that will allow them to tell their own stories?

Hedges talks about how newspapers sent photographers out to get shots of what was going on. But do we really need photographers if we have camera phones? A newspaper photographer can’t be everywhere at once, but we can. It isn’t professional photographers that blow shit open anymore. It is amateur cameras like the one that caught the Rodley King beating. It is citizens armed with technology by orgs like Witness. I’ll take a citizen with the balls to hold their SIM card in their mouth and get the video on YouTube over a professional newspaper photographer any day.

I realize that journalism is more than just opinionating or snapping photos. I realize that investigations take a lot of time. But I don’t think the newsroom model is the only way to accomplish that. I don’t think it is the best way to accomplish that. I am not going to miss newsrooms. But I do think that we all need to think seriously about how we gather, analyze, and distribute information. And we have to be thinking about the conflict between the need for information to be free and the need for people who gather information to pay their rent.

So you all ponder that a bit. I’ve got a follow-up post going for next week. We can continue the conversation then.

__________

*A fraternity (Latin frater : “brother”) is a brotherhood, though the term sometimes connotes a distinct or formal organization and a secret society. via Wikipedia.

 

The Big Show

April 08, 2011 By: Mel Category: Change, Politics

Why do anarchists spend months organizing protests around events like the G20 or the IMF/World Bank Spring Meetings?

I’ve heard some reasons over the years, but none of them are very convincing to me. Some people say that we need to publicly protest those institutions of power. Some say it is about not letting them take over our cities and streets. Some see it as an opportunity to build solidarity with like-minded people. Some people just get a rush from confrontation and smashing things up.

But aren’t there better ways to do all those things?

Maybe the question isn’t so much what we are doing there. Maybe the question is, what are they doing there?What are those meetings for anyways? Decisions are made long before those meetings happen, as anyone who has to lobby the key players weeks or months in advance can tell you. Very little of import actually occurs there. It is mostly a media opportunity for glorified PR people/presidents/head hoohas.

Honestly, I am beginning to think that these events are planned just for us. Clearly, a media event is for public consumption. But I mean that these events have the added benefit of keeping activists occupied with shit that won’t make a difference. It makes us predictable.

If we are spending months organizing protests at the G20, we are taking that time away from organizing in our communities. If we are spending our money on international flights, we can’t use it for other things. If we focus all our energies on the World Bank and IMF only twice a year, then we leave them to perform business as usual every other day. It is a game. We are playing by their rules. Why are we letting them set the schedule?

And don’t even get me started on the grand excuse these meetings are to give shit tons of money to the “security” apparatus.

These events attract media. If we think we can get productive media attention, that media attention might do something, then maybe it is worth a little energy. But otherwise, shouldn’t we use our time more wisely? Shouldn’t we at least be surprising?

Responding to Anarchy in the News

May 06, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism

I keep an eye out for mentions of anarchy or anarchists in the news.  More often than not, when we are mentioned, it relates to some act of destruction that is being condemned.  Anarchist responses to these reports, if there are any responses at all, are usually confined to internal discussions on anarchist blogs.

I realize that many times we do not respond because we aren’t convinced it was really anarchists that are to blame.  When the newspapers blamed anarchists for turning a snowball fight into a political protest it was completely fabricated.   Other incidents were later discovered to be at the instigation of police provocateurs. I think that makes us hesitate.  I mean why defend ourselves when we didn’t do anything?

And then there is the issue of private property.  Many anarchists are against private property.  Even anarchists who see property destruction (the usual form of violence blamed on us) as counter-productive, hesitate to take a strong stance against it because of their basic feelings about property.  And they rightly point out with frustration that many of the individuals who get very upset about property destruction don’t get as outraged about mass incarceration or war or other state violence.

But regardless of whether or not we are blamed fairly, regardless of our individual feelings on property, regardless of any hypocrisy, I think we make a huge mistake when we don’t respond to these incidents.  We can’t just allow the police and media to represent us.  Those of us who disagree with the actions that we are blamed for should condemn them publicly.  We should also be shouting from the rooftops when we are wrongly accused.

Right now, almost all the news reports about anarchists are negative ones.  They are images that we have to overcome when we speak to people about our ideas.  But it might be possible to turn those incidents into opportunities.  If we could coordinate rapid responses – letters to the editor, ads in weeklies, clean up crews – we might be able to turn things around.  We might be able to educate the public on what we are really about.

There were at least two May day incidents in the U.S. that are being blamed on anarchists – one in Asheville and one in Santa Cruz.  Since I’ve lived in Santa Cruz, I’d like to tackle that one.  I think a good start would be a short letter, signed by as many of us as possible.  It could be something along the lines of:

An Open Letter to the People of Santa Cruz

This past Saturday night, several people went through downtown Santa Cruz vandalizing businesses.  We do not know who those people were or whether or not they call themselves anarchists.  What we do know is that we, as anarchists, strongly condemn their actions.

Anarchy is not about destruction or violence.  To the contrary, it is the belief that a world without rulers will be a more just and more peaceful world.  The signors to this letter have a wide range of views on how to bring about an anarchist future and what that future would look like, but none of us believe that smashing windows is going to help people understand our ideas.

I would try to get it in as a letter to the editor.  If that doesn’t work, I’m willing to fork over some cash to get an advertisement in the local weekly.

If you have thoughts, suggestions on wording, or want to sign on, please say so in the comments or send me an email (mel@broadsnark.com).  Be sure to give me a way to contact you so that, if there are any changes to the text, I can run them by you.  I hope to have this wrapped up by the weekend, so please share this widely with people who might be interested.

Thanks. Mel

Over-Reliance on the Law

February 08, 2010 By: Mel Category: Change

Over the weekend, a friend of mine posted a video (below) about a Fox news report that was squashed.

Several years ago, Fox reporters were working on a story about Monsanto and rBGH.  Monsanto, upon getting wind of the story, had their attorneys send Fox a letter threatening to sue.  Fox wanted to squash the story, but were afraid the reporters would tell the world.  So instead, Fox management beat the story into a form that Monsanto would like better.

The reporters were eventually fired for not being willing to lie in their news report.  The Fox station attorney sent them a letter confirming that is why they were fired.  The reporters understood this to be a retaliation claim.  They believed they would be protected under the whistleblower statute.  But the courts ruled that a news show lying on the air was not illegal and therefore there was no whistle to blow.  Ergo, no protection for the reporters.

All of us discussing the post agreed that it was appalling.  The poster suggested that we start a campaign to make lying by the news stations illegal.  It was an instinct I understood, but all I could think of were the potentially disastrous consequences.

If we want to see what happens when it is easier to sue a news organization, look no further than the United Kingdom.  Libel laws there are much different than in the United States.  And corporations are taking advantage of those laws to sue newspapers and bloggers.

News organizations afraid that they are going to be sued are likely to self censor.  In fact, this very Monsanto incident is the perfect example of the kind of self censorship that news organizations are practicing.  Monsanto threatened to sue them, presumably for libel.  And rather than risk the expense of a court battle, Fox’s response was to cave to the threat of a lawsuit.

While this Monsanto case is disgusting, how would yet more laws that people can be sued under help rather than cause even more self censorship?  And even if there was no danger from self censorship, how could we be sure that honest mistakes were not prosecuted?

This is not just an issue of a free press or of free speech.  It is about how we are handling all of our society’s problems.  Our first instinct is – We must do something!  We must pass a law!  It has gotten to the point where we can’t walk out of our house without breaking a law.

Every time we try to resolve a problem by passing a law, we give up that much more of our power.  And we tip the scales that much further in the direction of the wealthy and specially educated.

Access to the justice system, and results from the justice system, are dependent on how much money you have and how much understanding you have of legal codes, precedents, rules of procedure and a million other pieces of specialized knowledge that most of us do not have access to.

When we turn everything into a law, we turn everything into something that requires an attorney and a judge.  We empower those people at the expense of our own power.  If every solution proposed requires a law, then availing yourself of that solution requires an attorney.  Can you afford an attorney?  I can’t.

This post isn’t about bagging on attorneys.  I worked for attorneys for a decade.  And some of the attorneys I worked for were fighting the good fight.  They worked on civil rights cases and sexual harassment cases.  (I’m talking quid pro quo – you can keep your job if you suck my dick kind of cases, not ooh I don’t like the bikini calendar cases.)  I even did a millisecond internship with the ACLU.  But even the attorneys fighting the good fight cannot deny that the courts, for all the publicity that those few breakthrough civil rights cases get, are all too often on the wrong side of history.

There is no way to craft laws that can only be used for good, that cannot be exploited by those with the power and money to exploit.  The solution does not lie in empowering more attorneys and judges.  It lies in addressing those inequities of power and money directly.  It lies in taking back our own power.  It lies in coming up with solutions and problem solving mechanisms accessible to all of us.

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?

Irrational Fears and the Status Quo

January 29, 2010 By: Mel Category: Inequality, Violence

It seems like I have spent my entire life trying to fight off the irrational fears that people have tried to instill in me.

I was advised not to ride the bus in Ft. Lauderdale or I’d get robbed. I was told if I went to Liberty City, I would get beat up. Before I went to Mexico, Estadounidenses told me it was too dangerous. When I was in Playa Chacala, they told me I would be mugged in Guadalajara. When I was in Guadalajara, they told me I would get mugged in Mexico City. In Mexico City, they told me I’d never survive Guatemala.

If I let myself be afraid every time someone told me horrible things about a place or a people, I would never go anywhere or talk to anyone.

The people who were trying to make me afraid weren’t fearful from experience or reliable knowledge.  It was all just rumor, sensationalist news reports, and general fear of the OTHER – especially if that other was poor and black or brown.  People are so ready to believe negative things about poor people of color that you have to assume they want to believe those things, need to believe those things.

Why?

What if that fear went away tomorrow?  What if we all assumed, just for a day, that everyone was doing the best they could to get by.  What if we assumed, just for a day, that poor people aren’t poor because they are less worthy, less smart, less hard-working, or just plain less?  Where would that leave us?

It would leave us with a lot of questions.  It would leave us asking how things got to be this way and what forces are at work keeping them this way.  It would leave us wondering about how those inequities relate to accidents of geography, skin color, and birth.  It would leave us wondering if those inequities aren’t accidental at all.  And it would leave us asking who benefits from us distrusting each other so much.

It’s easier not to think about those things.  Thinking about those things, for many of us, leads to questioning our privileges, our world views, our lives.  And we would rather not do that.  So we just live in fear and try to avoid looking at the everyday tragedies.

But every once in a while, a tragedy unfolds that is so catastrophic that we cannot ignore it.  So Katrina hits New Orleans or an earthquake hits Haiti and willful ignorance becomes impossible.  That’s when our schizophrenia takes hold.

We watch the tragedy unfold on the television and our hearts break.  We imagine the horror that those people are going through.  We send millions of dollars to relief organizations and stay glued to the news reports.  We ask ourselves, why?  How could something so horrible happen?  And we want to know if it could have been prevented.  Most importantly, we want to know if it could happen to us.

Before long, the news reports turn from rescue to rioting.  A little scuffle over some desperately needed food is played on a continuous loop.  Report after report conflates appropriation of the means to survival with, not just theft, but violence.

And all these scary reports happen just in the nick of time.  Some part of the back of our brains had begun to wonder if there was more to the story than just an “act of god.” Perhaps someone mentioned how poor Haiti was and we wondered for a moment why.  But before we had to take any trouble looking into it, those “journalists” showed us what dangerous people we were dealing with, incapable of organization or development.

So you see, this couldn’t happen to us.  We can rest assured that we deserve our privilege.  No need to examine history or economic systems.  No need to wonder why these “acts of god” are so much more destructive when they happen to poor people.  Just pat ourselves on the back for our generosity and move on.

And when the United Nations and the U.S. government prioritize “security” over medical supplies, leaving doctors to find saws in hardware stores in order to perform amputations, there is no need to question that decision.  These are dangerous people.  You are sure of it.  You’ve been told over and over your entire life.

There is no need to read about the history of Haiti.  There is no need to seek out journalists who are actually talking to the people we are supposed to be so afraid of.  There is no need to listen to people on the ground who tell us over and over and over and over and over again that the reports of violence are a lie.

Ignorance is bliss.

I’m not saying that there is no real danger in the world.  I certainly wasn’t going to volunteer to drive a bus through Zona 18 in Guatemala.  But isn’t it time we were a little more skeptical about the daily vilification of poor people of color?  Why is it that so many people found my blog looking for information about which non-profits are trustworthy; yet so few people show anything like that kind of skepticism when it comes to news reports making survivors out to be criminals?

So long as we allow fear to substitute for fact, the status quo will go unchallenged.  And that suits some people just fine.

Snowball War Update

December 21, 2009 By: Mel Category: Anarchism

The agro cop that pulled out his gun at the snowball fight might actually be in a tiny bit of trouble here.

Yesterday, when I wrote about this, there were only a few articles around.  Now there are so many that I can’t even begin to give you all the links.  It’s being covered everywhere from the Huffington Post to the BBC to the Sydney Morning Herald to the South African News Blog.

That guy is known worldwide for being afraid of snowballs.  I almost feel sorry for him.  (O.k., not really.)

Washington City Paper reports that Detective Mike Baylor (that would be agro-cop’s name) is now on desk duty.  The Associated Press reports that Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier called his actions “totally inappropriate.” (Duh!)  And the Washington Post has a pretty good overview in today’s paper.  I’m not going to hold my breath that anything major will happen, but the fact that this went worldwide made it impossible for them to ignore it.

That horrible article from the local news that I linked to yesterday is still up.  Some German based news site has made it even more sensationalistic with their headline, Wild D.C. Snowball Fight Was Fun Until The Anarchist Show Up. DCist reports that CNN picked up the phony protest story. And the Scottrossblog has coverage of Faux News picking up the protester angle also.  It looks like Faux subsequently dropped that part of the story and the rest of the coverage I have seen left it out.  Good thing there were so many cameras around.

Some of the comments on the articles and blogs were hilarious.

“Stupid environmentalist wacko liberals… bringing snowballs to a gun fight.” LevonTostig at USA Today

Isn’t a Hummer built to withstand the impact of a snowball?” MillardFil at TPM

There were a lot of other, more annoying and more troubling, comments on different blogs and articles.  But I don’t have time to be thoughtful about them right now, so I’m going to leave them for another day.