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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Reparations and Aspirations: In Response to Coates and Connolly

June 25, 2014 By: Mel Category: Change

Acoma Pueblo New MexicoThanks to Ta-Nehisi Coates, people are talking about reparations. Which is great. But we appear to be dancing around what facing our history would necessarily mean for our future. And we don’t appear to be able to talk about doing anything outside of lobbying the very same political system that got us here.

One reason reparations seem impossible is that we cannot wrap our heads around a conception of justice that is meant to repair harm. We live in a society focused on retribution, not restoration. We send people to prison for decades for selling weed. We let poor women die in prison because their kid skipped school. We put the mentally ill in solitary confinement. We barely blink when the imprisoned are raped by guards, even juveniles. As a society, we stopped talking about rehabilitation a long time ago. Now we only talk about “paying” for crime and compete with each other to see who can be more cruel “tougher”.

Is it really surprising that people are afraid of what justice would look like?

What if, instead of retributive justice, we had restorative justice? In a society where people can only think in terms of retribution, an honest accounting is impossible. In a restorative justice process, an honest accounting is the first step toward repairing the harm done to individuals and the community. A restorative justice process is meant to transform the participants in a positive way and decrease the chances of future harm. Unlike our current system, the aim of restorative justice – including reparations – is not to make the perpetrator(s) suffer.

To talk about reparations is to acknowledge our need for an entirely new conception of justice, one that applies to all of our society. But we also need a hell of a lot more than that.

I found myself nodding in agreement to part 1 of N. D. B. Connolly’s response to Coates’s article. How did reparations to Israel from West Germany turn out? Not so great for the Palestinians. How often are relatively wealthy black people participants in the subjugation of poorer black people? A lot. What happens when you try to address one injustice without addressing the others? A mess. What became of our government’s attempts to look at the history of its crimes? Nothing much.

Our systems are systems of subjugation. Success within our society is dependent on oppression. It is essential but not sufficient to try and repair the damage done by slavery and white supremacy. We live in a complex hierarchy where your position is determined by your race, hue, ethnicity, gender, class, possessions, sexual preference, physical abilities, mental abilities, certifications… If all reparations try to do is bring more black people into the current definition of success, we will fail miserably. There will still be workers having their paltry wages stolen by McDonalds. There will still be migrant farm workers dying of sun stroke. There will still be poverty and an epidemic of teen suicides on reservations. We will still be drone bombing brown people in countries around the world.

In part 2 of Connolly’s response to Coates he makes some suggestions on what we should do about our toxic system. Unfortunately, despite his recognition of how problematic is the “tendency…to propose modest solutions within established government structures,” that is just what he did. It isn’t that I am against reinstating felons right to vote. It is that we should be talking about prison abolition. It isn’t that I don’t recognize the problems with the castle doctrine and stand your ground. It is that the castle doctrine and stand your ground have little to do with the epidemic of police violence (and police kill many more people than vigilantes do). It isn’t that I cannot see the value of removing the need to show discriminatory intent. It is that suing for discrimination does nothing to transform our injustice system or to put our workplaces in the control of the workers.

No amount of constitutional amendments or court cases are going to transform our government and economic system to one that is not based on hierarchy and subjugation. We need to think bigger. We can have a society based on cooperation and mutual aid. We can have community control and direct democracy. We can abolish prisons, democratize the workplace, and dismantle the military industrial complex.

I know many of you think I am too radical (or maybe delusional). But there is no other way. We cannot repair any part of our damaged society without a radical transformation of its values and institutions. Conversely, for those of us who have been working for radical changes, we cannot be successful unless we face the white supremacist core of everything we are trying to change.

You cannot, for example, talk about the prison industrial complex without acknowledging that it is part of a continuum from slavery to present. The thirteenth amendment said “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime.” And today we have millions of people, disproportionately of color, laboring behind bars for pennies an hour to make some of the richest companies in the world even richer. And if that 37 cents an hour isn’t enough to cover your overpriced commissary tampons for the month – too bad for you.

Perhaps this seems overwhelming. Perhaps you are wondering where would we even start. The good news is that we have already started. You just might not have noticed yet.

There are already restorative justice organizations all over the country. There are already schools taking different approaches to conflict resolution. There is already a movement for change being led by tens of thousands of people who are incarcerated. We already have workers who refuse to just roll over for the owners, workers who are taking control and democratizing their workplaces. We even have communities with truth commissions.

No real radical change has ever come from above. The kind of change we need has always started with communities, churches, communes, and street corners. Processes that are grounded in community are based on and build relationships of trust. They are processes where the people are participants and not just spectators. And if our movements are rooted, they have a chance of withstanding the inevitable onslaught by those who don’t want real justice.

Also, processes that are grounded in community can adjust to local history and circumstances. Because restorative justice in Birmingham is going to look very different from restorative justice in Acoma Pueblo. We need to talk about what happens on reservations and on the Mexican border too. We need to remember that the history of the United States is not only the history of following Europeans as they crossed the continent. It is not just the history of that portion in the East that we call North and South.

There can be no repair without a radical transformation of our society. There can be no radical transformation of our society without an honest accounting of where we have been. And there can be neither repair nor transformation from the top down. In fact, we should be aiming to eliminate the hierarchies that got us into this mess to begin with.

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.

The Bad Actor Objection

June 02, 2011 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Movie

Have you ever seen the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance?  My friend @JamesTulsaALL recommended it. He thought the movie addressed some important issues. He was right.

For those of you who have not seen it. Jimmy Stewart is an attorney who heads out to the wild west to carve out his future. He is robbed and beaten by some thugs. It turns out that those thugs have been tormenting the town. The town sheriff, a bumbling and fearful fool, will do nothing. Stewart, filled with righteous outrage, is determined to use the law to put a stop to those thugs.

Also central to the story is John Wayne. Wayne is the town tough guy. The thugs don’t fuck with him. But he isn’t too inclined to do anything about the thugs fucking with everybody else, at least not until Jimmy Stewart drags him into it. Even though Wayne doesn’t want to get involved and acts like a hard-ass, we are supposed to know that he is really a good guy.

Stewart and Wayne play the liberal and conservative archetypes in that movie. Stewart is the liberal. He is an educated attorney from back east who hasn’t a clue how to fire a gun. He knows what is right and he is going to make sure it happens. Wayne is the conservative. He is tough. He can shoot guns and kick ass. People respect and fear him. The weak (including liberal Jimmy Stewart) need his protection.

Stewart and Wayne are the movie’s heroes. Stewart’s righteous indignation and lawyerly smarts along with Wayne’s brawn and good aim save the day.

The whole movie rests on the premise that an entire town full of people were completely incapable of dealing with a few thugs. The townspeople were, in fact, so pathetic that the best they could do was elect the most chickenshit amongst them for sheriff. You and I are supposed to believe that nothing can ever be accomplished without a hero. We are supposed to believe that we are helpless in the face of anti-social behavior.

I don’t believe that. I don’t have that low of an opinion of you or of me. And I definitely don’t think that we should design our whole society around what some disturbed people might do. Once you stop believing the myth that only a hero/politician/general can save the day, then the whole justification for the authoritarian state comes crumbling down.

At least in the movie, Stewart and Wayne actually did get the job done. In real life, Stewart and Wayne would be conspiring with the evil ranchers and thugs in order to rob us all blind. In the real world, there are no heroes. There is just us.

I will not guarantee that, if we managed to create an anarchist society tomorrow, it would not some day become authoritarian. Maybe some exceptionally bad outside actors would show up and the society would not be able to defend itself. Maybe internal divisions would weaken the community and make it an easier target. Maybe the society would, eventually, build back the kinds of hierarchies we have today. Maybe we would have to go through the whole process over again in 100 years or 50 years or even 10 years.

So what?

Should we not even try? Should we just concede to the people and systems that cause so much misery? “It won’t last forever” is a terrible reason not to pursue something. Nothing lasts forever. We should be trying for the best we can do, for as long as we can do it.

And we cannot fall for the myth that we are helpless in the face of a few bad actors.

Is Universal Possible?

September 02, 2010 By: Mel Category: Anarchism, Politics

A couple weeks ago, I went to a forum at Cato called Are Liberty and Equality Compatible?.  (Cato, meh.  Free lunch, score!)  The short story is that James P. Sterba was trying to find a way to squeeze a liberal philosophy into a libertarian mold.  What he came up with was this:

1.  Libertarians believe in negative liberty.  Nobody should be aggressed against/interfered with.

2.  If the rich should have the liberty to enjoy their excess without being interfered with, then the poor should have the liberty to take what they need from the rich without being interfered with.

And presto chango, a positive liberty becomes a negative liberty.

Clearly, nobody at Cato was buying this, not even the leftists in the room. But if anyone had been buying it, Sterba would then have tried to convince them that what we are really talking about is a conflict between different equal liberty principles.

The rebuttal was from Jan Narveson.  I’m not going to go into the whole back and forth.  You can watch it on Cato’s site if you are interested.  I just want to talk about one of the core elements of Narveson’s (common) argument.  He believes that we need to look for principles that all people can agree to, based on their rational self interest.  And he thinks the non-aggression principle is the bees knees.

But can everyone really agree to that principle?

In the context of our argument of rich v. poor, non-aggression only goes so far.  At some point, non-aggression no longer serves the rational self interest of the poor.  Non-aggression against United Fruit Company was an absurd prospect for a land-starved Guatemalan.  Sterba could have made a stronger case that a certain amount of equality (or at least basic needs being met) is a prerequisite to widespread adoption of the non-aggression principle.

More importantly for this discussion, define aggression.  There are some people who think it is aggression to break a bank window (even though the only consequence is a few hundred dollars from the bank’s coffers).  But some of those same people don’t think it is aggression to pay off corrupt officials in order to buy huge swaths of productive farmland in Africa and then ship the products to Dubai while the Africans in that country starve.

And there are people who think the exact opposite.

Of course, the six hundred pound elephant in the room during that discussion was property.  One of the reasons we can’t agree on a definition of aggression is that we can’t agree on who gets to use what resources.  Land is one of the most contentious issues in the world, as is what lies below it.  Those conflicts are not going away any time soon.  Maybe never.

I like principles.  I spend a lot of time trying to root out what principles people are operating from.  But I’m not sure we are going to get very far if the plan is to convince 7 billion people to define aggression the same way and agree not to do it.  And while I pick on the core libertarian principle here, I could write this post about universal human rights and come up with an equally skeptical conclusion about universality.

Universal may not be possible.  And if it is true that universal is not possible, then what?

Drug War Ping Pong

July 12, 2010 By: Mel Category: Drugs

Lately, I’ve seen several articles holding up Colombia as some kind of model for how to deal with drug war violence.   The latest one is this piece in Foreign Affairs in which Robert Bonner claims that Mexico should follow Colombia’s example.

Really people?  Colombia?

Colombia is ranked number 138 on the Global Peace Index.  That makes it the most violent country in Latin America, one notch above North Korea.  Colombia is the only Latin American country where the gap between rich and poor is increasing.  Union members in Colombia are routinely murdered with impunity.  According to Human Rights Watch:

Colombia presents the most serious human rights and humanitarian situation in the region. Battered by an internal armed conflict involving government forces, guerrilla groups, and paramilitaries, the country has one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons in the world.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that Colombia should not be held up as anyone’s example.  But more importantly, I would like to point out that the problems in Mexico are, in part, the result of the drug war ramp up in Colombia.  And the massive drug trade in Colombia was, in part, the result of Mexico’s drug war ramp up in the seventies.

In 1971, Tricky Dick declared his war on drugs.  Shortly after, the U.S. put tons of pressure on Mexico to do something about the Mexican weed that was coming into the United States.  Mexico obliged and started the first eradication program.  They dumped paraquat on the marijuana crops.  Reports surfaced that paraquat tainted marijuana was being sold in the U.S.  Of course, nobody stopped smoking marijuana.  They just started growing it in the U.S. or buying it from marijuana growers in Colombia.  Marijuana production and distribution lines shifted.

Colombia is a huge country with a tumultuous political history – including years of violence and a tendency toward private armies.  In the 1960s, in response to a pact between liberals and conservatives that screwed most poor/indigenous/Afro-Colombians, armed guerrilla groups started operating in large swaths of Colombia’s territory.  The government had no ability to enforce laws in those areas.  Smugglers didn’t have to worry about government interference in their business.

Marijuana growers and guerrillas had a somewhat symbiotic relationship at first.  A little piece of the action for the guerrillas and they left each other alone.  And then cocaine got popular.  Colombians had the supply lines set up already and were conveniently situated between the Andean coca producers and the U.S. market.  The money made in cocaine was insane.  The more wealthy the cocaine dealers got, the more they became the enemy of the guerrilla groups.  Naturally, the drug cartels started their own armies – paramilitary forces.  And then the bloodbath really began.

By the 1980s, the Colombian and U.S. governments decided they were going to crack down on the drug cartels.  If your criteria for success is that the government of Colombia did not completely disintegrate, than I suppose you can say that their efforts were a “success”.  But as I pointed out above, Colombia is hardly a peaceful paradise.

More importantly, as the heat was turned up in Colombia and in the Caribbean, the drug corridor moved back to Mexico and Central America.  It’s like the most vile game of ping pong.  The violence doesn’t go away.  It just ebbs momentarily and springs back worse later, often with an even more corrupt and totalitarian government in place.

The next time you hear someone say that Mexico should follow Colombia’s example, smack em on the head for me will you?

Neruda on Memorials

May 31, 2010 By: Mel Category: Misc

Orozco MuralNothing I could say today that Neruda didn’t say better. (My crap English translation is below.)

Sangrienta fue toda tierra del hombre.
Tiempo, edificaciones, rutas, lluvia,
borran las constelaciones del crimen,
lo cierto es que un planeta tan pequeño
fue mil veces cubierto por la sangre,
guerra o venganza, asechanza o batalla,
cayeron hombres, fueron devorados,
luego el olvido fue limpiando
cada metro cuadrado: alguna vez
un vago monumento mentiroso,
a veces una cláusula de bronce,
luego conversaciones, nacimientos,
municipalidades, y el olvido.
Qué artes tenemos para el exterminio
y qué ciencia para extirpar recuerdos!
Está florido lo que fue sangriento.
Prepararse, muchachos,
Para otra vez matar, morir de nuevo,
Y cubrir con flores la sangre.

Bloodied was all of man’s earth
Time, buildings, roads, rain
erase the constellations of the crime,
what is certain is that a planet so small
was a thousand times covered in blood,
war or vengeance, trap or battle,
men fell, they were devoured,
later the oblivion cleaned
every square meter: sometimes
a vague deceitful monument,
sometimes a bronze clause
later conversations, births,
municipalities, and the forgetfulness.
What arts we have for extermination
and what science for eradicating memories!
It is covered with flowers what was bloody.
Prepare yourselves, boys,
To once again kill, to die again,
And cover with flowers the blood.

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

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
Marines in Berkeley
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political Humor Spinal Tap Performance

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.