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

Occupy DC’s Sunday Standoff

December 05, 2011 By: Mel Category: Seeking

You have surely heard about the standoff yesterday (pics below), but just in case you have been trapped under something heavy or in a 48 hour bong hit haze…

Saturday night, DC occupiers built a structure to keep them out of the elements for general assemblies and teach-ins. I can only imagine the shit that the night duty cops got on Sunday morning when someone arrived and noticed that Occupy DC built a house while they were snoozing in their patrol cars. Oh, how I wish I could have been there for that conversation.

I was planning on heading out on Sunday for the 12:00 p.m. talk by Mark Lance, but when I checked my tweets I saw the livestream of an emergency mini-GA to discuss an ultimatum they received from the police. They had one hour to start taking the structure down or the cops were going to do it for them. By the time I got there, at least some of the occupiers had decided to hold the building and a few had already climbed on top of it.

And thus began a standoff that lasted well into the night.

Park police, horses, city police, SWAT. Everybody joined the party. They cordoned off the area around the house and told everyone inside the police tape that they were going to get arrested. There were some scuffles and quite a few take-downs as the police moved the perimeter out.

I saw at least one person almost get knocked over by a park police horse. One guy was pummeled as he tried to pass under the very edge of a taped corner in order to get by.   And Officer Dickhead Dyson (badge number 3148) shoved one of the occupiers down on the sidewalk and then arm checked me as I was walking in the direction they were telling us to go.

One by one, they removed people from inside the building. The ones who climbed on the roof were a little more difficult. They set up a huge air mattress on one side of the house. A couple roof sitters jumped on that. Then the coppers busted out a cherry picker to get the last ones. One or two went voluntarily. The last ones tried to hang on, most especially David who really made them work for it. Once the last occupier was removed, they came with chainsaws and ripped the structure down.

You can read more from Allison Kilkenny here.

There were a lot of things about yesterday that I liked. I’ll start with them. I liked that they were confrontational by building something instead of breaking something. I liked that the structure gave people an opportunity to talk about lack of housing and lack of public spaces. And I really liked when people managed to be funny and confrontational at the same time.  As they rode the horses into the structure, someone mic checked them and said,

I don’t think it is neighborly to bring your horses into somebody else’s barn.

Another mic check was something along the lines of,

I would just like to congratulate us for being such good job creators. We are currently employing several police to guard our house.

Even some of the cops laughed at that one.

But the day was not without its problems (aside from a massive overreaction by “authorities”). Many people I spoke with said that they did not have agreement from the general assembly to put the structure up. One woman vaguely remembered signing onto something that she never thought would happen. And even if it was approved by the GA, as many said, it was clear that widely agreed upon plans about what to do in case of a confrontation were not made.

The police did not just block off the area around the house. They also blocked off a huge section of tents. Locks were broken. It looks like some tents were searched. And there was a threat that they were going to remove that whole section of the encampment. One occupier, who had been out of the area and unaware of the planned barn raising, came back to find his stuff trapped behind police tape. That included the bike that he needed the next morning for his messenger job.

It did not go unnoticed that the majority of the hold-outs were not from DC. I’ve talked about this before in the context of other protests. If you go to another community, then it is probably not a good idea to be the person elevating the conflict levels. I know that DC is a little different than most places, because what happens here effects everyone.

But the community here is always fucked over for national issues and interests. We are a little sensitive about it. The community needs to be centered. That particularly includes the most marginalized parts of the community, like many of the longtime homeless who are living in McPherson now and who were some of the most upset. That’s just not cool.

As it turned out, they did not take down that area of tents. Last I heard, legal was contemplating filing an injunction to stop them. I saw a tweet earlier that said they are now required to give 24 hours notice before acting on any violations in the park. So I am guessing that an injunction was filed and we got a good result. (Yay legal.)

As I am writing this, I am seeing tweets from tonight’s general assembly and it looks like some of these issues are coming up. If all goes well, and I have every reason to believe it will, they will tweak their processes a little bit to make sure that anything seen as potentially risking the space will go through a process that everyone will be happy with – or at least o.k. with.

P.S. How awesome is that lego recreation of the standoff?

P.P.S. If you see any pics that you want and can’t figure out how to download them, just email me at mel (at) and I’ll shoot them over. (If you click on the slideshow, it will open it in a new window and you will be able to see the image number.)

Occupy Standoff – Images by Pinorrow Photography

Is Protest Possible?

September 28, 2009 By: Mel Category: Conflict, Seeking

The G20 meetings in Pittsburgh brought out thousands of protesters, although you might not know that given the little media attention they have gotten.    You can see an eleven minute video over at Fluxview of a permitted protest.  The city was very stingy with permits.  In fact, the only reason even a bit of protest was permitted in Pittsburgh was because the ACLU took the city to court.

Even the permitted protest was surrounded by cops in riot gear, but they let the protesters be.  Anyone who tried to gather without a permit was attacked.  In this video, some kids who had gathered in a park for a concert (kids who look like they were expecting a confrontation) were tear gassed and possibly shot at with rubber bullets.

Massive protest is allowed, just barely.  It has to be permitted.  It can’t disrupt the normal day to day.  It can’t pose any real challenge to order.  If it does, it will be squashed immediately.  And the police (and military) are very good at squashing.  That is because they have spent decades developing an arsenal of “less lethal” weapons that too few Americans seem to mind being used on us.

They don’t just have batons anymore.  They have pepper spray, light flashes, and rubber bullets.  You can peruse a list of items commonly used by police and military in this Department of Defense Nonlethal Weapons and Equipment Review.  Note, throughout the review, how it talks about “riot control” and “crowd control.”  They describe these weapons as meant to be used when “engaged in missions where a noncombatant threat exists” or for “crowd control during civil disturbances.”

In other words, less lethal weapons aren’t to protect us from harm, they are to protect the authorities from unarmed challenge to the system (and to protect property, of course, which often amounts to the same thing).

Many of the less lethal weapons used by police and military have been thoroughly tested on Palestinians by the Israeli army.  The sonic cannon (or something similar) that they used on Pittsburgh protesters was used on Palestinian protesters in Bil’in as early as 2005.  Tear gas and rubber bullets are regularly used on Palestinians.

And less lethal weapons are dangerous.  Hundreds of unarmed U.S. citizens have been killed by tasers. According to a report by Physicians for Human Rights, hundreds of Palestinians have been intentionally and seriously injured by the Israeli army, often with less lethal weapons like rubber bullets.

As Naomi Wolf points out in this video, protest works, but only if it isn’t the controlled and sanitized version that the authorities allow us.

But the authorities aren’t going to allow it.  We are caught between a sea of bureaucratic permits and an army of cops with less lethal weapons.  Amazingly few citizens seem concerned about the loss of freedom or the threat from overzealous authorities.

In this situation, is protest even possible anymore?

Carnival of the Liberals No. 97

September 26, 2009 By: Mel Category: Misc

Welcome to Carnival of the Liberals.  Lots of good posts this month.  My highlights are preceded by asterisks and followed by short quotes.

It has been one hell of a month or so in the U.S.

The health care crisis, perfectly summed up by  Dave Away From Home’s stark graphic titled Cristina’s Health Insurance, continued to spark contentious debate and even an outburst by Congressman Joe Wilson during Obama’s health care speech.

Torture made headlines again after Eric Holder announced that he would investigate interrogators who went beyond allowed methods.  Talking heads argued about whether or not torture provided accurate information, but as Stump Lane points out in What is Torture For, torture is not intended to get accurate information.

** At Apple of Doubt, Friar Zero goes into excruciating detail about what torture is and Why Torture Matters.

Torture doesn’t provide reliable information, it doesn’t deter future acts of terrorism, it doesn’t separate the guilty from the innocent, it treats prisoners like irredeemable animals rather than men, it’s born out of a primeval need for retribution, it’s subjective and capricious, and it is antithetical to civilized justice.

Treating prisoners like irredeemable animals isn’t just limited to war on terror suspects.  This month saw increasing attention to the Texas execution of (likely innocent) Cameron Willingham, for an accidental fire – a story Executed Today has been on for quite some time.  And Texas was also ground zero for some of the harshest criticisms of Obama’s speech to students, (Rough Fractals).

**The objections to Obama’s school speech appeared nonsensical.  The only explanation seemed to be that they were rooted in The Anti Obama Bigotry that Staring at Empty Pages describes.

It’s not acceptable to say that they don’t want a black president talking to their children, so they make up shit about political “indoctrination” and “subliminal” liberal messages, or compare him to Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il (as Mark Steyn did last week), and won’t allow their children to listen to the president.

Those racism tinged objections continued on 9/12 with anti-government, anti-cap and trade, anti-health care, anti-everything protests as covered on Stupid Right Wingers in Observations From the Tea Bag Protest in DC – 9/12/09.  And now it looks as though anti-government sentiment may be the motive for the murder of a federal census worker, a death that God’s Own Party argues was the result of Fear, Paranoia and Ignorance propagated by right-wing leaders like Michelle Bachmann.

**Meanwhile, as Doctor Biobrain points out, the Counter-Productive Charges of Racism get us no closer to solving our problems.

And rather than discussing the merits of Obama’s proposal, the Republicans gleefully attack us for “playing the race card” and insist that we’re unfairly smearing all “real” Americans; while the media has fun describing the mud fight that ensues.

Ah yes, the media.  When they aren’t giving the Michelle Bachmanns of the world a stage, they are whining like toddlers.  See Mad Kane’s post, Chris Wallace Feels Dissed.  (Don’t feel too bad about the state of our media U.S., River’s Edge was compelled to write In Defense of Local Journalism upon hearing about the troubles of an actually useful major publisher of local newspapers in the UK.)

Is it really a shock that the media aren’t covering anything substantial?  The people who own the media are quite happy to keep us peons squabbling and vilifying one another.  They don’t want any commie George Bailey types inspiring people.  The fact that, as Liberal Agnostic Redneck points out, teabaggers are duped into defending Pottersville works out quite nicely for some.

With all of these crises, an impotent media, and a paralyzed populace, it is easy to get discouraged.  Unless you too enjoy getting your weekly exercise through uncivilized, senseless screaming like the kind Freechezeburgerz describes in Have an Argument and Call Me in the Morning, you might be in a fit of despair by now.

**I mean, where do we go from here?  I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to discover Some Possible Health Care Solutions of Rick Foreman’s in a health care reform bill amendment – perhaps his suggestion that

If you don’t have health care we can pass legislation that will just exclude you from the species. If you’re not considered human then there’s no need to worry about human rights.

The scariest part is that we are dealing with, what should be, easy issues like health care.  We better learn how to have real debates soon or we are going to be in serious trouble when the moral issues get more complicated.  Can you imagine the explosion that will occur when science finally figures out Sexual Reproduction for Same Sex Couples, an event The Chromosome Chronicles describes as not being as far fetched as you might think.  You thought surogacy and in vitro was controversial.  That aint nothin.

It would help if we were able to agree on verifiable facts, or even that there are such things.  But verifiable facts are the purview of science and science is currently in disrepute with a significant portion of the population.  Not even congress is interested in scientific information.

**It is precisely that problem that is addressed in the book Unscientific America.  Unfortunately, according to the Primate Diaries, the book focuses on Rebranding Science, rather than real solutions.

In focusing on science communication alone, rather than unequal access to scientific tools, Mooney and Kirshenbaum have chosen to focus on style rather than substance. They present a host of wrongs but think that mere cosmetic changes will reverse two decades of decline.

And while scientists and other logical thinkers try to figure out how to make science cool again, too many of our fellow citizens live in fact free environments. The gay marriage panic is a perfect example.  All the right’s freaking out has, of course, turned out to be as ridiculous as it sounded.

** Will the facts matter?  Will it matter that, as (((Billy the Atheist))) shows, The Right is Wrong Again: Gay Marriage Does Not Hurt Marriage?

Looks like allowing human rights for all humans did not hurt the family, or the institution of marriage, or destroy America, or any of the other absurdities being spouted by the radical right wing.  Instead, Massachusetts now has a lower divorce rate than it did when the legalized gay marriage.  Oopsie.

Maybe Rick is right and this is all Evidence of Conservatives Mental Imbalance.  Maybe we are all, as the Evolving Mind shows, Normally Biased toward information that supports our already held beliefs.  Maybe liberals and conservatives are just wired differently.  Honest Inquiry asks Are We Born Liberal? and discovers that, unlike conservatives who want predictable familiarity, liberals want change and inclusiveness.

**Mind you, that doesn’t mean that liberal-leaning groups are always so great at being inclusive.  Greta Christina shows, in her post Getting It Right Early: Why Atheists Need to Act Now on Gender and RacePart I and Part II, that progressive movements suffer from the same homogeneity and denial that plagues other groups.

People can have racist or sexist attitudes without being conscious of them. You don’t need to be a torch- wielding member of the KKK or Operation Rescue to say and think dumb things about race or gender. (As someone who has said and thought plenty of dumb things… believe me, I speak from experience.)

So is it hopeless?  Should we all just throw in the towel, buy a shit ton of really good drugs, and go party naked on a warm Caribbean beach until global warming or the nuclear arms race takes us all?  Although that does sound like a good vacation plan, I’m not giving up on democracy just yet.  Neither, luckily for us, is Greta Christina.

**So let me leave you with Greta’s post Decisions are Made by Those Who Show Up: Why Calling Congress Isn’t a Waste of Time, Part I and Part II. We should listen to Greta.  We should get (or stay) involved.  Because as frustrating as our political discourse might be right now, she is right.

When very few people get involved in politics — when very few people even bother to vote, and even fewer bother to call or email their elected representatives — then the few people who do bother are the ones who get listened to. The hard-line crazies get to set the terms of the debate. Them, and the people with money.

And that does it for this month’s Carnival of the Liberals.  If this post left you wanting more of Greta Christina (and really, who doesn’t want more Greta), she will be hosting next month’s edition – scheduled to come out on October 31st.

Rethinking the 912 Protest

September 23, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

It is time for me to enter the 912 commentary fray.  It seems like most of the posts I’ve seen have either ridiculed all the protesters as ignorant racists or completely ignored the obvious racism and ignorance.

Below is a series of photos taken by Chris (that’s the boyfriend), who describes his undercover adventure into the 912 protests:

I would ask each protester in my Oklahoma accent if I could get a picture of their great sign. They would ask me suspiciously, one eyebrow up, who I was with. I told them I was an independent blogger. Not MSNBC, okay. They would ask me where I was from and I would tell them Oklahoma. Geographically okay. I just hoped they didn’t have any lefty sniffing dogs.

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Is it wise, or even fair, to just dismiss the 912 protesters as a hoard of pitchfork carrying, white-hood-wearing, racists?  Some of the signs were appallingly racist.  But most of the signs Chris shot were not indicative of the kind of personal hatred and bigotry that we most associate racism with.

Even the boyfriend, who grew up around people very much like those at the protest, “expected to see screaming lunatics like at the town hall or secessionist meetings I see on the television.”  But as Chris spent more time wandering around and talking to people, he got the impression that:

The vast majority of the people at this event were more government-out-of-my-life Libertarian types as opposed to right wing spittle spewing racists. That doesn’t mean there were not racist messages or people out there, because there were. It seemed, however, that there were more class issues and anti-government issues.

Now it is impossible to separate class and anti-government issues from racism in this country. It is impossible to separate anything from racism in this country, including healthcare. We are saturated in racism. But that is exactly why it is so ludicrous to dismiss people as racist and therefore unnecessary to be listened to.  If only non-racists are allowed to participate in our democracy, then we better anoint a king now.  The only problem is, where do we find the one non-racist to be king?

Dismissing all the protesters isn’t just undemocratic, it also avoids confronting issues that we need to confront.  As Stephen Maynard and Charlton McIlwain point out in their must read post, using racist as a noun only obscures the fact that we are fighting structural racism and not just personal bigotry.

And remember, as you look at some of the more appalling photos and images from that protest, what the media does to us.  There could be a million everyday-looking people at an anti-war march, but the media will film the three naked hippies or the two kids throwing rocks through windows.  We don’t get reporting anymore.  We get Jerry Springer with a veneer of newsiness.

That’s if the media bothers to show up at all.  Note that most of the footage and photos floating around the internet don’t seem to be from major news stations.  Chris said, ” I saw one other person wading through the crowd as I was covering the event. I didn’t see any news trucks.”

The media doesn’t need to stick around because they have no plans to talk about anything substantive.  Darren at Dissenting Justice observes that:

The issue of race has become the latest nonpolicy distraction for the media. Earlier, the media covered violence and mayhem at healthcare town hall discussions — rather than the substance of reform. It then covered the conflicts between moderate and liberal Democrats (rather than the substance of reform). Now, it is exploring whether the opposition to Obama is racist (rather than the substance of reform).

Nobody knows what the hell is in those healthcare bills.  Matt Taibbi says you would have to read 9,000 or 10,000 pages of documents in order to figure out what they are trying to do.  And then the myriad of bills will just go into committee, where who knows what will happen.

It isn’t surprising that people are confused and enraged and feeling as though our government is constantly confusing, deceiving and taking advantage of us.  And since we don’t communicate with each other, it’s easy for the Glenn Beck’s of this world to rake in the cash insinuating that the money of “hard working Americans” is going to be given to less hard-working, less American (less white ) people.

The anger and confusion is legitimate.  It is the target that is too often confused.  Glenn Greenwald (the Glenn that people should be listening to) says:

It is true that the federal government embraces redistributive policies and that middle-class income is seized in order that “someone else benefits.” But so obviously, that “someone else” who is benefiting is not the poor and lower classes — who continue to get poorer as the numbers living below the poverty line expand and the rich-poor gap grows in the U.S. to unprecedented proportions. The “someone else” that is benefiting from Washington policies are — as usual — the super-rich, the tiny number of huge corporations which literally own and control the Government.

In the first link of this post, there is a video of some anti-czar protestors. The interviewer points out that Ronald Reagan appointed the first czar and that Bush increased them. The protestors had no idea. It’s easy to ridicule them for being ignorant, but by doing so you might miss something important. One of the women says she has been a republican all her life, but is rethinking that now. That’s what we really need, a whole lot of Americans rethinking their knee jerk support of the republican and democratic parties. That’s what we could get if we actually spoke to one another.

I’m not saying it will be a piece of cake or that everyone is equally open to new information. Too many people, right and left, are closed minded as hell. Chris didn’t talk to everyone, but he talked to enough people to give him an impression that he wouldn’t have gotten from sitting in front of the televison

Once people realized my t-shirt was Bob Marley and not Go Army (same green color), they stopped giving such candid proud photos. They would still talk to me though, guarded perhaps. But they would still have an ideological political discussion with me. I believe, to save our democracy, we need to find a way to have those conversations in the midst of all the crazies.

***P.S. Still on the Hunger Challenge this week.  Yesterday went a bit better.  I managed to stay in my $4 budget and get to the gym.  I was still sadly lacking in veggies though.

White Men Are Scary (and Other Health Debate Observations)

August 11, 2009 By: Mel Category: Politics

There is an interesting comment stream on the Dissenting Justice blog this week.  Darren criticizes the disruptive behavior of the health care protesters in his post.  Many of the commenters called foul, claiming that liberals did not object when their side compared Bush to Hitler or disrupted meetings.

So the questions are

  1. Did liberals do the same thing?
  2. Did no one object?
  3. Are liberals being hypocrites?
  4. Why?

I think the answer to question one is yes.  Liberals certainly compared Bush to Hitler.  I doubt you would have to look too hard to find links calling Bush a fascist. As for Darth Chaney, we had to hit the fictional characters to describe the evil he represented. And Code Pink did disrupt congress with anti-war protests.

I disagree that nobody took them to task for it though.  Code Pink is derided on the mainstream left and right.  Check out this hilarious Daily Show clip.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
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Still, I think there is some hypocrisy here.  I laugh at Code Pink.  I’m not laughing at the health care protesters.  That is because of one simple fact.

I’m not scared of Code Pink.

The health care protesters, on the other hand, scare the shit out of me. I’ve never heard of anyone dying at the hands of a middle-aged, jewish mother in pepto-bismol pink.   (Although I sometimes think my jewish mother might be the death of me.)

Angry white men, on the other hand, are a whole different story.  When I see red-faced, white men spewing rage I think of lynch mobs and assassins.  I think of James Earl Ray and Timothy McVeigh and Scott Roeder.

You have guns.  We have pink feather boas.

I’m wrong though.  I’m not wrong about historical facts and I’m not wrong to be prudent when faced with angry people (especially if they might be armed).  But I am wrong to act out of fear.  When fear is a motivating factor, what you get is a bunch of scary people yelling at each other.  Fear cannot be the basis for democracy.

I’m also wrong to stereotype people I don’t know.  There are millions of people who think abortion is as wrong as Scott Roeder did, but they didn’t all go to abortion clinics and kill people.  Conservative guys don’t all go home at night and put on pointy, white hats.  Howard Zinn is an old white dude too.

There are people who genuinely believe that socialized medicine is a horrible idea, think it is coming, and don’t want to lie down and let it happen.  And I respect their right and willingness to stand up for what they believe, no matter how much I disagree with them.

It is possible, maybe even probable, that many of these people are connected to the Republican party or insurance companies or right wing lobby groups.  The fact is that all those people are also Americans.  They are Americans who, I believe, do not have the welfare of all of us in mind, but they are still Americans.

So here is my challenge to all sides.  Ask yourself what you are afraid of.  Ask yourself if you are acting out of fear.  Ask yourself if you can do better.

Oh Great, Another Protest

December 24, 2008 By: Mel Category: Seeking

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.