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

Yo Anarchists, Meet the Pastoralists

April 27, 2013 By: Mel Category: Anarchism

women pastoralist gatheringI don’t know about you, but I know nothing about pastoralism. A few days ago, I had a chance to listen to Lalji Desai, a pastoralist from India. The whole time I was listening I kept thinking how much pastoralist ideology and culture reflects the kinds of values and goals that anarchists are working towards.

Interdependence, customary leadership, knowledge sharing, egalitarian community relationships, sustainability, commons, solidarity, direct action, art/culture as transformative…All the things that anarchists talk about are part of the pastoralist tradition. Of course, a lot of that tradition was lost with colonialism. Interdependence became dependence. Customary leadership became hierarchical/political leadership. Knowledge sharing became intellectual property. Community relationships and units were replaced by the nuclear family model. According to Desai, patriarchy, exploitation, disempowerment, the loss of social status…it all came with colonialism and capitalism. And, unlike many of our theorists, the pastoralists are close enough to their history to remember what things were like before.

I haven’t had time to process everything, but I have a few thoughts to throw out here.

Mutual Aid – How can we better help each other. We could learn a lot from people that aren’t so far away from living by the values that we would like to see spread. And many of those communities are in constant struggle over rights and resources. If nothing else, they could use some more attention, especially during moments of crisis. Clearly, there has been a lot of anarchist solidarity with people in Chiapas. But there are so many more communities in the world.

Property – Many of us have a big blind spot when it comes to property. No matter what side of the debate someone is on (and here I am going beyond anarchists), the focus is almost always urban or agricultural. Too rarely do we talk about access to resources that are necessarily contradictory to the kind of private property model we have in the US. In other words, talking about land that can be fenced in is ridiculous when you are talking about fishing communities that need to manage ocean areas as commons or pastoralists who rely on the kinds of animals that can’t (and shouldn’t) be confined to a box.

Animal Rights – Undoubtedly, a big reason why most of us don’t know anything about pastoralists is that there aren’t many in or near our communities. But I wonder if another reason for our blindness is that there are too many people in the animal rights/vegan fundamentalist worlds who ignore cultural issues. In India, some pastoralists were kicked off of their land in order to provide a reserve for lions. They had been living with lions for generations, but suddenly the government made them out to be a danger to them. Now only lions and tourists get access to the land that pastoralists used to use and manage sustainably. How many animal rights folks would have fallen squarely on the side of the government story?

Environmentalism – Lefties in the US love our national parks. Rarely do I hear anyone on the left being critical when other countries start delineating territory as national parks for reserves. Yet those lands are almost always somebodies territory. Environmentalist movements have a horrible record with indigenous communities on those kinds of issues.

Feminism – The person before Desai spoke about indigenous rights, sadly leaving out any mention of North America. But worse than that, she mentioned the double oppression of indigenous women. She said that “traditional” beliefs sometimes negatively affected indigenous women’s rights. What she did not mention, and Desai did, was how many indigenous communities had much more egalitarian relationships before colonialism. That is definitely true with many North American indigenous communities. The belief that “western” women have more rights and that rural communities are backwards is so pervasive and so incredibly inaccurate. We need to get over that.

Taxes – One of the things he mentioned in his talk was how the government wanted them to give up their pastoral lifestyle in order to collect taxes. It is difficult to tax people whose territory is so large that it can take five years to get back to where they started. Of course, that got me thinking about libertarians and conservatives who hate taxes and love a certain conception of private property. I would love to hear an anti-tax debate between them and a pastoralist who would point out that their belief system is in opposition to itself.

That’s it for now, I think. Forgive any spelling or grammar errors. I’m typing this on a kindle with a shit wireless connection and very limited functionality.

P.S. That photo is of a worldwide women pastoralist gathering that I also spoke to Desai about briefly. The photo is linked from here. Haven’t read through the site yet, but it looks interesting.


Deal Breaker

July 14, 2011 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Change, Politics

I recently read The World That Never Was. I really liked it, despite the fact that it includes a gazillion people and can be hard to follow (even for someone who was familiar with many of the players). The book basically covers the period between Haymarket and WWI.

There is one part of the book where the author describes in the clearest and simplest terms what the liberal bargain was.  The government would “guarantee the property of the rich in return for welfare protection for the poor.” A bad bargain, if you ask me, but I suppose it was understandable. So here is my question.

Is it better for us to fight to continue that bargain, meaning for those social protections, or should we just call the whole deal off and go for the property?



**  Sorry that I am not able to put up part two of my media post this week. Work has been busy and I haven’t been able to wrap my head around much.  So this little mini post will have to do for now.

To All the Marriage Pushers

March 04, 2011 By: Mel Category: Politics, Sex, Stratification

If I have to read one more article on how a group of people must somehow be damaged because they aren’t in a 1950s nuclear family, I am going to spit nails.

Kay S. Hymowitz has a piece in the Wall Street Journal where she complains that men in their twenties “hang out in…a hybrid state of semi-hormonal adolescence and responsible self-reliance.”  Poor Hymowitz and her fellow women can’t find a husband and breed.  All the guys are playing video games, fucking around in bands, smoking pot, or watching porn and comedy central.

Don’t feel too bad, dudes.  Tracy McMillan, has been married three times and so styles herself some sort of expert on what is wrong with those loser women who haven’t even managed to get married once.  According to her, women are shallow, selfish, slutty, lying bitches who don’t spend enough time acting like a doting mama to their men. And if you are a black woman who isn’t married, well then your lack of a mate is headline news and asshats like Steve Harvey make money telling you all the ways you should change yourself in order to attract a charmer such as himself. (I just threw up a little.)

Why is it that people are so fixated on marriage?  Why is it so fucking important to them that they will excoriate anyone who doesn’t hop right onto the marriage bandwagon? (Why the hell is our tax money going to try to make poor people get married?)

Usually, marriage pushers say some crap about marriage being the foundation of society. Horseshit. Marriage as a monogamous death pact has not been the foundation of society. The foundation of society has always been much bigger than the fragile nuclear family.  If marriage has historically been the foundation of anything, it is privilege, hierarchy, sexism, and the accumulation of property.  The kind of marriage we are familiar with is an ownership arrangement.*

If you really want to get to the heart of why people are so marriage obsessed, you must read the conservatives on the subject. Here I actually appreciate them. Most people pretend that they want you to change your entire self for your own good. They tell you it is what you really want. They tell you it is about love. At least some conservatives are honest.

Sam Schulman says that marriage is about controlling sexuality, especially women’s sexuality.  And we can’t possibly let the gays marry, cause gay marriage has nothing to do with controlling who people can fuck. It’s like telling everyone they can go out and fuck willy nilly.  We can’t have that. And my god, didn’t you realize that,

Even in modern romantic marriages, a groom becomes the hunting or business partner of his father-in-law and a member of his clubs; a bride becomes an ally of her mother-in-law in controlling her husband.

How the hell are two gays supposed to navigate those all important elite and gender specific roles? I mean all our parents hunt and belong to a club right? (Seriously, you should read his piece.  You can’t make that shit up.)

These people piss me off so much. They want you to revere an institution that gives them privileges. They want you to modify yourself to serve their needs. They want you to give up looking for something real so that you can be as miserable as they are. They want to stuff you into the same tiny box they have stuffed themselves into.  They want you to have the opposite of love.

Love is not about putting people into boxes, making them into something that suits you. As James Baldwin put so perfectly, “Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.” These people are telling you to put on more masks, to be as phony and miserable and deluded as they are. And for what? So rich people can have a system for property inheritance? So selfish people can delineate which tiny group of people they have to care about in life? So men can delude themselves into thinking that there is some virginal housekeeper waiting to take care of him who will never, ever want to fuck anyone else?

To hell with that.

Guess what? Not every girl has that Disneyland princess fantasy that McMillan and the rest claim we do.  As Violet so eloquently put it, some women listen to all that crap and think “Yes, I’d like to put a ring on it. The kind attached to a ball gag.” And here is another crazy fact for you. Men are actually human beings with feelings and not just walking hornbots. No, it is true.  I swear. It is possible to be a man and actually want something more than sex or money from people. I know, I could hardly believe it either.

I have no intention of getting married. I knew that by about the age of fifteen. It doesn’t make me damaged. It makes me someone who actually thinks about things before doing them. I have no idea if my fourteen-plus year relationship will last another four years or fourteen years or forty years. I do know that I love my video game and guitar playing, pot smoking, porn and comedy central watching bfriend. And I have no intention of telling him to “grow up” and fit into some Ozzie and Harriet idea of what a man is supposed to be. And I know that he loves me, not despite the fact that I am angry and raunchy and thoroughly undomesticated, but because of it.

So to all you marriage pushers who want the rest of us to sacrifice our happiness on the alter of your delusion – I know you hate to see people be honest about who they are, despite the harsh social consequences people like you met out for not conforming.  It must remind you of your own phoniness, unhappiness and mediocrity. I kind of feel sorry for you, but mostly I just want to tell you to suck it.


*  If you have never read Stephanie Coontz’s book, Marriage A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, I would highly recommend it.

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 (  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

Homeland Security’s Power on US Mexico Border Challenged

April 15, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics, Stratification

* Update Below

You have undoubtedly heard about the border fence being built on the U.S. Mexico border. You may not have heard what is being done in order to get it built.

When congress enacted the the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, they gave the head of Homeland Security absolute and unreviewable authority to violate any state or local laws in order to get the border fence up.

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.

Just to be clear, the head of Homeland Security gets to define what the law means. She can do whatever she wants. Her decisions cannot be challenged by a court unless the challenge is directly related to a violation of the constitution.

In this case, the former Secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, decided that his mandate was to do whatever was necessary to build the fence and maintain the fence. Expanding his mandate from building to maintaining means this power goes on into perpetuity. He refused to state what laws he was violating (simply that he was violating a bunch) and never clarified how far this legal no mans land extended.

The federal government was sued by the County of El Paso, Frontera Audubon Society and others. Lower courts ordered that the government did have the authority to wave all local laws in carrying out the instructions of congress – problems with water services or endangered species be damned.

There are many who don’t give a hoot whether or not U.S. citizens have their property taken away or get caught on the wrong side of the fence. And there are many who don’t care whether those citizens can receive water and other basic services or whether or not endangered species die. But even those people should surely be concerned if congress can give one person or agency carte blanche to ignore whatever laws they see fit, at their discretion, with no check on their power.

This unprecedented infringement on private, local government, and state rights is coming before the Supreme Court for review tomorrow. The petitioners argue that judicial review should be a requirement. Let’s hope they hear it.

For links to all the relevant documents in the case, check out Turtle Talk.

* The Supreme Court is refusing to hear the case. Looks like Homeland Security can do whatever it wants.