All posts by I Steve

the instinct for power in the Occupy movement

Occupy is Chaos

Chaos is a wild horse; we do not tame nor befriend it by throwing it to the ground and beating it with a stick. Gently point its eyes in the direction you want to go.

-Squatter graffiti, Oakland

I attended an event called “How Will the Walls Come Down?” A debate between “non-violence” and “diversity of tactics.” My expectations were low. I had already concluded that hardliners from both sides had dominated the debate, and the vast majority of people in Occupy, who held a view in between, struggled to reach unity on tactics amidst this noise. This formal debate seemed fated to amplify the noise.

These terms are often confuddled by strong opinions about the meanings of “violence” and “diversity.” “Diversity of tactics” is mocked as a euphemism for anything-goes with neither respect nor responsibility. People ask why “violence” in this discussion often means vandalism or screaming, but never includes calling the law on someone or voting. In this piece I’ll call these concepts “militancy” and “anti-militancy.” First because the utter vagueness of “militancy” allows everyone to know exactly what I mean, and also for a rhetorical reason that will be apparent.

There were four advocates of (anti)militancy on either side of the moderator. They all seemed to feel they had a lot to teach Occupy Oakland and little to learn. Two of the four would have said exactly the same things if Occupy Oakland had never happened.

While Occupy events at OG Plaza tended to be a third white people, a third black people, and a third other ethnicities, almost everyone in the audience at this debate was white. Three out of the four (anti)militancy advocates were white. Fortunately the panelists addressed this; a common theme was that the opposing position was from a vantage of privilege. Either the privilege of lenient treatment from the criminal justice system, or the privilege getting the system to work for one without drastic action.

So what the astonishing yet troubling thought for food, was, one of the (anti)militants explained that the Occupy Movement had to choose to be either a transformative revolution cherishing the most oppressed OR a middle-class liberal-moderate tax-the-rich movement favoring the recently dispossessed.

The key word is OR; I advocate AND. OR means that you see which way the movement is going and then decide whether to get on board. AND means that you don’t know where the movement is going, but you still must decide if you’re up for the ride. Combining anarchist tactics AND middle-class populism was a ridiculous experiment that was going great, until tactical anarchists and middle-class populists pointed out that it was ridiculous.

The socialist left must learn to navigate Occupy’s anarchist terrain if we hope to shape and lead the uprising instead of being shaped and led by it. – Pham Binh

The manipulations by the statist left no longer shock, or even amuse; one closes the tab and plays games on Facebook in search of greater relevance. Yet I see my anarchismist .comrades plying the same script. After spending 1-100 years promoting a point of view, it’s natural (while simultaneously perverted) to hope Occupy will fulfill that viewpoint and judge it on it’s ability to do so.

I read about the Occupy plan in Adbusters in August and thought the whole thing was hella stupid. But once I seen it strike a nerve in mass consciousness and that so many good people could stomach it, I started to consider that maybe in this particular case it may be conceivably possible to perhaps CHANGE MY MIND. On the other hand, if Occupy had dwindled and fizzled in lower Manhattan, no one would have stepped in to say that, more edgy or thoughtful tactics, or overcoming racial or gender alienation, would have saved the project from extinction. The success, which convinced me, made Occupy a target for everyone with a conflicting preconceived vision who couldn’t embrace the chaos.

On top of the ideological rigor mortis, some people just need an outlet for their accumulated negativity. Like when someone complains that OO in intruding on the homeless people in the Plaza, then the same person complains that OO is bringing homeless people to the plaza.

…not that we… have any problem with small business being attacked. IN fact, we absolutely love it as ALL business is still business. –article printed in last Slingshot

Apparently, in January, assholes have attacked small businesses again on an Occupy Oakland affiliated march.

“Business” comes from “busy.” 1Any economic activity is a business, a Food Not Bombs chapter, an infoshop (does this explain why so many “radicals” apparently think stealing from infoshops is a good idea?). A small for-profit business is often one more tiresome thing people do to get by, along with wage-slavery or disability, that’s rarely morally perfect.

Now, I’m vaguely sympathetic to the idea that everyone deserves the have their business smashed (just like I’m intrigued by the Christian idea that we all deserve to be miserable, die horribly and be tortured forever). But what if this is being done specifically to attack the idea that the poor AND the middle-class have common interests, the main idea of the Occupy movement. If this idea is so bad, why not let Occupy fail on its own merits?

Or , of course, Occupy might win, and then the normal middle-class white people betray the poor, the anarchists, the people of color and the queers. So? How would we be in a worse position than if we force the middle-class to side with the 1% now?

Occupy is the best thing yet to happen to the American black bloc, the best thing to happen to the Obama campaign (by upstaging the Tea Party garbage), the best thing to happen to the word “decolonize,” and the best thing for Oakland. All aboard the grainer to chaos and have a good time.

1It’s reasonable to believe that this hostility to the very idea of “business” comes from the flooding of radical movements by apathetic hippies during the 1960s. This may have been encouraged by Stalinist ideologues, hoping to achieve Soviet victory and domination by making Western society pathetic and dysfunctional.

The Streets Shout! Riot for Oscar Grant!

By I Steve

If you’re picking up this issue in the near or distant future (from 2009 AD), let me refresh your memory. Late New Year’s Eve, BART police came to the Fruitvale station responding to a report of groups of youth fighting. While they detained many suspects, one BART policeman, Johannes Mehserle, pulled his revolver, waited, and then fatally shot Oscar Grant. Over the next week, people from many paths realized “Whoa! What the fuck!” and a protest happened, which turned into a march, which became an outburst of property destruction and disposal container abuse with over a hundred arrests. This awakened and actualized the natural human capacity to realize another world is possible. Hopefully anyway. Most rational observers acknowledge that the militant protests were the key factor in getting the system to take the killing seriously.

The media (and we assume the police) have noticed a substantial presence of perceived anarchists. This includes everyone who engaged in direct action and covered their faces, and many of those people probably were anarchists. The protest was demonized by the media. Many anarchists feel threatened because times like these are the only time that mainstream media notices anarchists.

People who read between the lines may wonder, who are these anarchists? Are they real? Such a one might consider looking at an anarchist publication from the East Bay to understand such a perspective; perhaps that’s you.

Elements of bullshit regarding the Oakland riot and anarchists:

A powerful, orderly protest was hijacked by anarchists, radicals and/or gangsta youth

The corporate media and the government have two preferred responses to protest; downplaying and ignoring, or demonizing. Only when these fail will they consider appeasement, negotiation, or concession. When, because of lack of opportunity or finesse, only the first two outcomes are available, condemnation is all too often better that irrelevance. Wasn’t it P.T. Barnum who said, “The only bad publicity is no publicity?”

There were no good protesters and bad protesters. A broad variety of views exist among both the community and the protesters, and even the rioters as well. Some thought the basic idea of riotous protest was good, but found the vast collateral damage regrettable. A hefty faction thought an in-your-face aggro march was good but would prefer no trashing or scuffling. Some thought there wasn’t enough destruction. Many wished we had never left Fruitvale BART. A lot of people thought everything turned out the best way possible, but I’m not sure how many of them always think that.

The anarchist and “Berkeley radicals” were outsiders and/or opportunists

Yeah yeah, fuck you too. Oakland probably has more anarchists per capita than any mid-sized American city. And outside of what? Oscar Grant lived in Hayward, Johannes Mehserle wasn’t from Oakland, and only a few of the kids on the BART platform probably were. Are we native to the BART system? We use public transit hella more than the assholes who call us outsiders.

They say that anarchists and “Berkeley radicals” were using the shooting to push another agenda. Why yes actually, we do believe events like the BART shooting illuminate the need for a better society. Despite our idealism, there is also a very practical concern that is the basis of solidarity with youth of color and other oppressed communities. Police don’t like anarchists (they especially don’t like anarchist youth of color). If police can kill people with impunity we’re in an awkward situation.

Those wacky anarchists don’t know what they want

We is me and a couple friends but…

We want people to look at the shooting as part of a social problem. The pigfucker media has been portraying this as “did the cop somehow accidentally shoot the guy, or did he blink and become a murderous zombie for a moment?” Every step of the way BART stalled for ways to find an alibi. The state exists to institutionalize incompetence, alienation and cruelty.

Reading the bathroom-wall comments on SFGate comment boards, we read overt racists saying “Why the big fuss about a police killing, but nothing about all the gang-banging shootings?” The covert-racists liberals avoid this question because the answer is so obvious: the police presence in marginalized communities is consistently oppressive, and petty police murder is too much icing on the cake, a sledge-hammer that breaks the camel’s back.

We want a massive overhaul of how our society deals with personal and social justice,

We want a broader appreciation of the powerful idea of a coherent strategy for reclaiming, seizing and transforming public space. This involves many elements; a cohesive plan for grass-roots community security, the procurement of free territory by many ways that create spaces of freedom from ambient atomizing paranoia, and the liberation of anyone connected to such land. This involves communicating a shift of tactical fantasy from random destruction to liberated utopia.

All you who dared to bust loose, what is thy vision?

Tunneling Beneath the Psychic Landscape of the Street Protest Ritual

“Psychological First Aid for Activists: This training is designed to give people the tools they need to recognize the signs of emotional trauma immediately following a difficult experience, as well as the tools they need to provide immediate care and referrals. Some goals of the training are to provide practical help for immediate care, to legitimize the equal importance of psychological first aid to physical first aid, promote emotional resiliency in the activist community, and encourage peer support leading up to large events such as the RNC. The training covers defining stress and emotional trauma, signs and reactions to emotional trauma, how to address those reactions, active listening exercises, breathing exercises, & body awareness, red flags for more serious issues, and preventative care.”

Occurring shortly after my arrival, this workshop is a sort of introduction to RNC reality for me. I am not like the other people here because I do not know why I am here. Most people are attending because they plan to staff the Wellness Center, where presumably, protesters who are traumatized by police violence will go to obtain help. Two men are part of a group that will staff a hotline for people to call when sexual assaults happen between converging activists, and as with the Wellness Center staff, this workshop is a mandatory part of their training. I do not know what I will do when the protests happen. It’s like a rally where I won’t hold a sign because I want to keep my hands free; I remain non-committed so I will be ready if something really needs doing and everyone else is busy. That said, it seems likely that someone will freak out and I will try to help them. Doesn’t that happen a lot?

In most arenas of human struggle — business, politics and war come to mind, the psychological factors are thoroughly studied and analyzed. Why has activism been so much of an exception? Part of it is certainly our alienation from traditional systems of mental health and fitness. Many in our communities are survivors of psychiatric abuse. We see an academic mental health ideology being applied from the top down upon vulnerable people whose experiences are minimalized.

In response, people throughout activist culture have started to implement grass-roots personalist approaches to mental health. These include the global Icarus network, primarily for bipolar people, and many local collectives and informal self-help groups in a city near you. Participants in these projects were instrumental in developing the North Star Health Collective’s psychological response plan in the Twin Cities. The workshop was part of this endeavor.

But there have been other obstacles to activist mental and emotional self-care. A direct action culture has overemphasized heroism and daring exploits — fear, vulnerability to stress, and sometimes even second thoughts are perceived as embarrassing weaknesses. Also, in government and business, psychological programs are imposed upon reluctant peons in the name of productivity and effectiveness. In an anarchistic subculture this is obviously impossible.

I never do end up counseling anyone who is falling apart. But with my attention now drawn inward, my perception of the RNC protest situation is irrevocably altered. Is it Republican dark magic, or ingrained self-destruction in punk culture? Meeting any of my basic psychic needs is a hassle requiring persistence and assertiveness. The direct action plans publicly proposed are absurd. Are they all decoy actions or are the mysterious organizers in denial? In any case, I don’t focus on winning anything; I just want to play my part well and am determined to understand what is going on in new ways. I force myself to eat at least two real meals a day and drink water.

“September 1, 2008, we, the RNC Welcoming Committee, invite all anarchists and anti-authoritarians, all radicals and rabble-rousers, all those who are fed up with government lies and spectacles to show up ready for action and ensure that we leave no place for these expired politicians. What we create here will send the convention crashing off into insignificance.”

“To someone who has never experienced danger, the idea is attractive rather than alarming.” – Carl Von Clausewitz, On War

I meet some people who have come hundreds of miles to do an action together. They want to be a part of the big plan. They are exhausted from AG meetings, cluster meetings, and colossal, long, spokes-councils. For days they have little contact with anyone who is not an anti-authoritarian focused on some decisive activity, and this is their whole experience of Minnesota.

They are tense and cranky. I remember the psychological workshop; I think people who want to do something dangerous and stupid should be calm and grounded so they can do it as intelligently and safely as possible.

A grand variety of projects were under way, organized autonomously from the Welcoming Committee, which rented the Convergence Space. The Welcoming Committee’s bicycle project spun-off as a distinct entity of sorts, building literally hundreds of bicycles to keep out of town activists functional and mobile during their stay. The venerable Seeds of Peace provided food for the massive permitted peace march of 10-40 thousand people (yes, the variation of crowd estimates is unusual), as well as most events over the week of convention related activity.

The North Star Health Collective and Cold Snap Legal Collective were organized locally and independently of the Welcoming Committee. An unprecedented number of people underwent a three day intensive medical training. When the protests finally happened medical resources were constantly available even in the most intense situations.

Most radicals who live in the Twin Cities and most radicals from out of town are on different planets now. See, most people, even most freaks, don’t care about the RNC. So most people stay home, but the smaller number of people who do come here think the whole thing is a great idea and they wouldn’t miss it for the world The people who live here don’t have as much choice about being here and having to perhaps reluctantly deal with the whole thing, but also have options unavailable to outsiders (whether they come or not).

There seems to be a curious mood of harm reduction: militant protesting is like heroin or speed or something, and while we’re all going to be good anarchists and not tell people not to do things, we can also meet with the personal devastation one-on-one and let people know there might be better life-paths. Oh, but are we enabling?

Whatever, fuck that guilt trip. But what does seem to really be happening… is this polarity between anarchy as stereo-typical black bloc chaos, and ultralawfully marching in obedience to a permit (no dis on either intended), without inclusion of the universe of actions in between. Is it fueled by our withdrawal?

“I can’t help thinking of Grand Theft Auto IV ?you hear the copter, you know you’re doing well.” – Christopher Beam in Slate.com

Simultaneously with the huge peace march, there were breakaway marches and makeshift roadblocks scattered throughout downtown. Some people fucked shit up. The destruction was far from massive and not the focus of the actions: some windows, a couple cop cars, a delegate bus got pelted.

I would write an article about such a demo but there is already an article that I like better than the one I would write because the author is mainstream and tries to be non-judgmental (which is funny): www.slate.com/id/2199060/

Someone who is working on getting people out of jail tells me statistics. They say there were an enormous number of people arrested Monday who are from out of town and under 25. The first info-bit is not surprising Saint Paul civic leaders had called out far and wide that downtown Saint Paul was the happening place right now. But the youth aspect troubles many people.

While I might share this feeling later, as the protest unfolds I am inspired. The youth are swift and brave and an equal number of police cannot contain them at first. In the face of police attacks they grow bolder. They stay as long as they can, even when swelling police ranks make mass arrests inevitable.

The police presence is intense and severe throughout the convention. This had been telegraphed by the police attack on Critical Mass exactly one year before. And now they begun with preemptive raids on the Convergence space and homes or crash spots of alleged key people the weekend before the convention.

About 3500 police and 200 Minnesota National Guard were on convention duty Monday the first. While they get a B+ for their research and reconnaissance the police response on the street was clumsy and uninspired. And they made up for their shortcomings with arbitrary brutality. Over four days of the convention, police consistently attacked peaceful demonstrators with a variety of special weapons, even though there was sabotage and disruption only on the afternoon of the first. This culminated on Thursday as McCain rose to speak — a permitted march had its permit revoked by surprise and almost 400 were arrested for a now “unlawful” assembly, while corralled people were sprayed and gassed for no apparent reason.

Even away from from the protests the reality of mass police action dominated the cores of the Twin Cities this week. The daily newspapers reported the police brass boast that they “didn’t take the bait.” Like much in the corporate-imperialist press regarding sensitive matters, this is the precise opposite of the truth. Everywhere felt like occupied Baghdad. More so than either the militant or the obedient protesters, the police did an wonderful job of showing the Twin Cities that you really can’t keep the war over there.

A thousand police can be a thousand times as intense as one police. You try to go to sleep and they’re still parading around in your mind. Police, police, police everywhere. How many people were how injured by the police on what day? And they’re snatching people on quiet residential streets and in far flung exurbs in their pursuit of “rioters.”

Every house has a sign by the door explaining what to do if the police come, do they have a warrant? You have the right to remain silent (so shut up already, keep it to yourself). In RNC week everyone, especially if you look funny, has to expect and have the energy for a harsh encounter at any time, and keep the strength for refusal in reserve.

This is the world each police lives in, they wake up and go to work and there’s a zillion other police. Every second they have to know who to obey and who to command in a web of police culture that encompasses almost everyone on Earth in its grip. As they flood our minds every hour we get more like them. We get spiteful, aggressive, dismissive and indifferent. (We were already desperate.)

The National press ignored the protests, even the national “alternative” media. The local media depicted bands of psychopathic “anarchists” bent on mindless destruction. Hurling urine at people and kidnapping delegates are portrayed as standard “anarchist” tactics. The weekly artsy paper said the best defense against anarchists was “a healthy childhood.”

Even if the discontent was exaggerated and fanned by the corporate press, it was still very real that large numbers of people felt genuine disgust at the “anarchist” activities.

I ride in the back of the metro bus to Minneapolis. Everyone is talking about the protests unless they actually are protesters in which case they’re ready to change the subject. Men of color express annoyance with the police over the disruption of bus service, and opine that the police had provoked the young dissidents into recklessness, and at least some of the window breaking on Fox News was staged. I imagine that a less oppressed group of people might have a less charitable view of us.

The convention is over and the Republicans appear to be unscathed. McCain and Palin go off to rule the world in a real life Handmaid’s Tale with endless war in the biblical lands. But in Minnesota the police state is exhausted, and as confused about who was arrested as we are. The heat is off and people breath easy as the aftermath sets in.

In the secret Anarchist tavern in Eagan, I can’t peacefully sip my port while writing down strange dreams because there are so many college students and crusties excitedly telling thrilling protest stories. Despite the felony charges, the lasting burns of tasers or unusually concentrated pepper spray, and the mass adrenal exhaustion, hundreds of people are wiser and stronger, ready to come back into downtown America, do it better and stop all their wars.

Cop shortage opens doors

There’s been a lot of ink lately about a perceived police shortage in Oakland. This for a department whose motto already seems to be, “This is Oakland: we have bigger things to deal with.” Voters passed an initiative to fund more police, but the actual number of officers is declining because not enough eligible people are applying for the jobs. City hall apologists explain that too many candidates are lost to competition with the military and private firms, but critics say that no one wants to do this work in an ungrateful and dangerous city.

So if a lot of cops don’t want to police Oakland, and a lot of Oaklanders don’t want to be policed, what is keeping this historic consensus from moving forward? An increase in homicide and other violent crime is being blamed on the police shortage (even though this is happening nationwide as the country crumbles), and as usual pundits emphasize that more “beat” officers will stop people from attacking each other with impunity.

A lot of people, ranging from liberals who think social programs are the answer to all of society’s problems to anarchists who want to replace all the perceived useful functions of the cops with grass-roots collectives, believe that we should deal with the excessive violence with some other method rather than throwing more police at the problem. Yet a previous ballot initiative, funding such programs with a little thrown in for more cops, barely failed, while measure Y which barely passed funded a bunch of police with some programs tagged on. Part of the problem was that more people didn’t understand what the programs were and how they would help; I don’t have a clue myself actually.

Besides the convenience this creates for graffiti artists, squatters and other riff-raff, we’ve come upon an ideal time for anti-authoritarian radicals to talk to their neighbors and develop non-statist approaches to street security. Coming from a radical perspective means that we are interested in DIY autonomous measures, not to be confused with “watch” programs that inform to the police to protect property values and conspicuous consumption. The question is how to protect everyone, especially the most marginalized and vulnerable from grievous harm.

I’m always annoyed by Slingshot articles that proclaim what everyone else needs to do in mass cohesion, when the author hasn’t done anything. They should do it themself first and then write an article about their adventure (and why they know everyone else should do this in light of their experience). So I regret saying the preceding, which must be expressed this way because it’s only people staying in one place with roots in the same Oakland Flats neighborhood for years, seeing the same neighbors every day, a description that hasn’t been me in over four years, who can follow my suggestions. While few Slingshot readers live in the far-Eastern avenues, many have dwelt for years in outer West Oakland, the other hotspot.

But I’m also suggesting to others because time is running out. Like the other symptom of Brown-era municipal collapse, the school system, the vacuum can be filled by State or Federal control. After all, why was the military practicing invasions in Oakland a few years back? And currently most police applicants are screened and rejected, many for reasons we would agree with. If they deal with the problem by letting more questionable people join the force, or importing applicants living in far-flung reactionary suburbs, life here could become more challenging. Another solution from columnist Douglas Allen-Taylor in the Berkeley Daily Planet is a police hiring blitz in the inner city, diverting potential gangland enforcers into law enforcement.

While this is unlikely, it’s still important for the anarchists to reach these kids first. I know of a couple households who are open and caring, with firm boundaries, to the most troubled kids in the neighborhood, and this will certainly make a difference later on. If you happen to like government-based prevention programs, it’s time to invest in grassroots collectives, because the way local governments invent and fund programs is by imitating the people, since they don’t know what to do themselves.

Besides prevention, it also makes sense to put energy into “restorative justice” resolution systems, and domestic violence rapid response teams. But if everyone’s not comfortable with everything, we can leave the occasional maniac with a sawed-off shotgun to the Oakland PD for now. The bad guys on TV are only a small part of urban violence; it’s building community that will do the most towards safer and saner neighborhoods.

Goverment is the disaster – a case for mutual aid in the Mississippi Delta

Less than half a mile away, at the New Orleans Convention Center, Sadique Jabbar’s first meal Friday was a bag of Cheetos someone gave her around 11 a.m.

“You know the only reason we’ve been fed?” Jabbar said. “Some men out of prison have been breaking into buildings, getting food for us and bringing it back here.”

–San Francisco Chronicle, 9/3/2005

New Orleans has always had a reputation as a cruel, dangerous place, from a large underclass sensationalized by the stereotypes of white Southerners, a mystique of voodoo and heartbreak, and a tradition of callous plantation aristocracy that somehow infected wealthy tourists from all over.

But I also found a silver lining of heart among the people. Loitering with no money at all ten years ago, a man of about forty panhandled me saying he needed food. I said I had no cash and didn’t know when I would eat next. “Then come with me!” he said. I followed him for seven blocks as he hussled people for change and got kicked out of every business we entered (they knew him). Eventually he had two bucks, bought a chili cheese dog and split it with me.

After the deluge, every day I would walk past the newspaper racks in Oakland and the word “Anarchy!” would cry out from at least one of the daily papers. Unfortunately, what they were referring to was hysterical coverage claiming that while the police in New Orleans were too busy amid the disaster and the military had, um, not arrived yet, all the remaining people had turned on each other in an outbreak of murder, rape and robbery. Which is of course exactly what people like to tell Anarchists will happen if the government were “turned off” (and what racists say will happen if African-Americans are allowed to run their own affairs).

Of course anarchists respond by saying humans are biologically social, and can coordinate and cooperate with each other. “Mutual aid” means that an economy can be based on the practice of people identifying the interests of a whole community as their own. But the imposition of a world run from the top down deprives us of the opportunity to live that way, as the way we relate to each other is dictated by hierarchies and abstract market theories.

And in the end it was the anarchists who get to say “I told you so.” After a few days, even the corporate press told stories of people helping each other survive. Not only did the alternative web media carry these stories, but also many astonishing reports of law enforcement and other government people actually preventing and obstructing spontaneous acts of mutual aid, and deterring people from even helping themselves.

Snapshots of Genocide

Two paramedics in town for a convention, stranded in the wake of hurricane Katrina gave their account of self-organization and abandonment in the disaster zone, after venturing out after a couple days holed up in a French Quarter hotel.

. . .The much-promised federal, state and local aid never materialized and the windows at Walgreen’s gave way to the looters. There was an alternative. The cops could have broken one small window and distributed the nuts, fruit juices, and bottle water in an organized and systematic manner. But they did not. Instead they spent hours playing cat and mouse, temporarily chasing away the looters. . .

We created a priority boarding area for the sick, elderly and new born babies. We waited late into the night for the “imminent” arrival of the buses. The buses never arrived. We later learned that the minute they arrived to the City limits, they were commandeered by the military. . .

We questioned why we couldn’t cross the bridge anyway, especially as there was little traffic on the 6-lane highway. They responded that the West Bank was not going to become New Orleans and there would be no Superdomes in their City. These were code words for if you are poor and black, you are not crossing the Mississippi River and you were not getting out of New Orleans… 1

Even the Red Cross was blocked from entering the disaster area. From the Red Cross website (in the first few days):

The state Homeland Security Department had requested — and continues to request — that the American Red Cross not come back into New Orleans following the hurricane. Our presence would keep people from evacuating and encourage others to come into the city. 2

Another survivor described his experience:

A lot of those young men lost their minds because the helicopters would fly over us and they wouldn’t stop. We’d do SOS on the flashlights, we’d do everything. And it came to a point. It really did come to a point where these young men were really so frustrated that they did start shooting. They weren’t trying to hit the helicopters. Maybe they weren’t seeing. Maybe if they heard this gunfire they will stop then. But that didn’t help us. Nothing like that helped us. . .

Finally, I got to Canal Street with all of my people that I had saved from back there. There was a whole group of us. I — I don’t want them arresting nobody else — I broke the window in an RTA bus. I never learned how to drive a bus in my life. I got in that bus. I loaded all those people in wheelchairs and then everything else into that bus and (sobbing) and we drove (crying) and we drove. 3

Scientific Analysis

There’s more; go to Indymedia New Orleans for stories and links to everything. But speaking of shooting, did some people attack other people because, as the liberal media says, poor, marginalized, underprivileged people do that because of their frustration and resentment towards society, or because humans always burst into sociopathic extremism when not guarded by the government, or because some people go insane when living in black water filled with sewage and bodies for days with no food or water in the heat?

Perhaps in order to have insight and objective knowledge about these questions, we should perform a simple scientific experiment, providing a control group for the New Orleans public policy research just carried out by the federal government. First, we’ll need twenty five thousand wealthy white people, FEMA officials, Haliburton management, Republican party hacks, and so forth. Then we flood their houses with six feet of black water. Then we herd them into a stadium and leave them to themselves with no food or water, and overflowing toilets, while armed people keep them in. Then we watch what happens with those cameras used to televise sports events. Perhaps we could get a grant for this from the mega-billion dollar corporate relief budget.

“Be Prepared!”

Even if mutual aid, cooperation and ingenuity naturally arise in a disaster, many people will revert to the way society trained them. The solution is to be ready for community to fill the void where government fails.

In Berkeley/Oakland, prepare for the big one; and anywhere, be ready for martial law or fascist coup, biological/chemical/nuclear attack, another hurricane (they’re only getting bigger and more frequent), a tsunami, or even a meteor. Not only by stockpiling canned food, drinking water and batteries, but also by talking to your neighbors, including the ‘normal’ ones, about what to do when the bottom drops.

How will medical emergencies be handled? The East Bay hospitals are ON the Hayward Fault. What to do about cops and robbers- keep them out of the hood or deal with them on our terms? Does anyone have a satellite phone?

Whatever your semantics, I hope you’ll still find this misquote something In Slingshot 1989 inspiring, “Chaos Is not Anarchy, but it is the raw material from which Anarchy can be forged.”

1. from ‘Get Off The Fucking Freeway: The Sinking State Loots its Own Survivors’ by Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky

2. www.redcross.org/faq/0,1096,0_682_4524,00.html #4524

3. from transcript of video interview with Neville posted at Baton Rouge, WAFB.

D.I.Y. Community Safety

no prisons, no cops

If our philosophy for community safety is anarchic and decentralized, inevitably the average person will play a greater role than in the society where most of us were raised. Just like we live in a world organized around petroleum, television, race and gender oppression, we’ve been programmed to depend on a hierarchy of authority for safety and legitimization. And, just as we can live well without petroleum, tvs and bigots, we can live safely without police.

Many people, including anti-authoritarians, pride themselves on meeting their needs without requesting or attracting police attention. Communities of color, freaky looking people, people with unconventional gender/sexual expression, people already known to the police, people who like drugs, very drunk people—why, the list of people with reservations about police interaction is endless. Add to this everyone with a do-it-yourself philosophy to life and those in remote areas without access to rapid law-enforcement response.

Why do people—some very often, others very rarely—think they need police, courts, and jails?

  • Resolution or mitigation of a dangerous, violent, or even annoying situation.
  • Dealing with on-going threats or unsolved crimes.
  • Having a procedure for people to seek justice and hold each other accountable.
  • Stabilizing the community amidst social upheavals and natural disasters.
  • Getting into locked cars (your own), writing off fix-it tickets, finding towed cars, etc. (often created by cops, ironically)

It’s not necessary that all of us have every skill for our communities to be safe. I can study the nuances of mediating disputes, while you can learn how to open car doors, and we’re both available to people who need us. But I will focus on situations when a need to protect others is unexpected. This is not a manual on dealing with threatening situations, but some things to consider before you intervene. My purpose here is to reflect on my own experience in unexpected interventions and share what I’ve learned.

Stressful decisions

When you intervene to stop or prevent violence, you will probably act at one of five levels:

  • Run or walk away
  • Observe without intervening
  • Mediate between people, or verbally confront an attacker
  • Put your body in the way, restrain a person, or even threaten consequences
  • Fight.

Observing the situation

Observing is usually a fine option if violence isn’t occurring, and always necessary if you may intervene later. Unlike the police, we may truly feel that a situation is none of our business. If you do stay uninvolved:

  • Observe as much as possible without compromising your need for distance. Remember that people can be confronted or attacked simply for watching.
  • Take inventory of whether you can involve others who can be more helpful. If you choose a solution other than observation, consider how many others are available. By definition, it’s a community solution when more people participate.
  • Consider thoughtfully your feelings as to whether pure inaction or calling law enforcement is the more just choice when you can’t intervene, though of course you would prefer neither.

Verbal intervention

Take a moment to read the excellent list of techniques (see sidebar this page) for diffusing and deescalating a situation. As you can’t keep this list in front of you when talking to people, take note of which ideas appeal to you the most; you may feel most natural applying these. Also keep in mind the basic principles underlying these tactics:

  • Be as conscious as possible of the person you are trying to communicate with, their state of mind, feelings, and what the person needs from this situation. Is the person about to get carried away by a sudden emotion?
  • Be aware of your body. Where it is and what messages it is sending? What is your voice like?
  • Be aware of your emotions, how you’re doing, and your stress level.
  • Distinguish between vital issues, trivial matters, and concerns where an underlying need can be met a better way.

Physical intervention

Keep in mind that physical intervention is undesirable unless verbal intervention has failed or there isn’t time given the danger posed by the situation. The basic points about verbal intervention apply here, as does the sidebar. One difference is that when you become physical, the potential for violence dramatically increases. It is important to state the obvious, calmly name the reasons for your actions and to watch your posture, because the body is not always where the mind is. But at the same time, you need to think about how you will respond to violence. You should also consider that getting involved physically could put you in trouble with the law, if someone else decides to call the cops, regardless of your good intention.

People will escalate if they believe you’re afraid, expecting to meet their demands through intimidation. While respecting your need not to be harmed, it is most important to avoid acting from fear. If you choose to express fear don’t let it be, or appear to be, your dominant motive. Confidence in your ability to defend yourself and others is helpful, and should certainly be cultivated. But physical intervention is always a risk, as everyone can be whooped by someone. Self-assurance serves one’s commitment to doing what is best and life-affirming when we remember risk and consequence. We can create this courage by knowing how our intervention serves community. We all can help stop the cycle of bullshit. Reflect on life and death, and what they mean to you—they will affect your choice of action.

Most situations benefit from having a context. When I have compassion for, or even like a person, or I don’t think the crisis is important enough to come to blows, it turns out better than if I’m acting from preexisting beliefs. If you are a pacifist I don’t think you should lie about that (or about anything) in a confrontation, but it probably won’t diffuse the situation by making the aggressor feel safe. It could even instigate them.

Oops! It’s violence!

I am not a pacifist. I believe violence is acceptable to stop or sometimes prevent greater violence, or in a group process that all parties consent to. I do not believe initiating violence is an acceptable way to process anger. Despite my values, I don’t think I’ve ever had to punch someone to create peace, and only a couple times do I think I should have in retrospect. And my best hope is that anyone inspired by this article succeeds in bringing tension to a halt at an earlier stage.

Suppose reason has failed and you are in an unreasonable situation. Everything is happening in fractions of seconds. There is no logical way to limit how its escalation. Now you have to trust your body and your instincts to do a good job. These are you just as much as your thinking mind.

As I’ve said, this is not a manual. I’m not qualified to teach you fighting techniques and don’t hope to do so in a Slingshot article. Or to make a list of bullet points here. I don’t know what your schedule is like or whether you have time for martial arts lessons or weapon training. I do feel that the more people know in a movement or community about the techniques and technologies of self-protection, the stronger and more self-reliant a people we are.

Community solutions

Networking with your neighbors is a great way to increase the safety of your community. How a network of neighbors, many having different views than yours, may choose to interact with the police is unpredictable but worth the effort. What matters is that a response to violence is created by residents, not the police or municipal government. Be aware of people in your neighborhood showing signs of violence or sociopathy. Support children and youth struggling in the community. Every person’s well-being affects overall safety.

Having alliances with both your neighborhood and radical community can also protect each others’ houses, defend vulnerable and targeted community members, and create coherent community demands and political positions. If there were ever civil disorder because of martial law, rioting or civilian conflicts, knowing who and what are safe is important. Stock up for earthquakes, hurricanes or floods: enough for everybody. A combined effort can save a community.

If you are concerned with how people around you are responding to violence and crime, organize workshops on non-violent action, mediation, self-defense, emotional crisis intervention, intimate violence. Consistently clarify the sense of personal boundaries within the community. At a collective house, one hundred people gathered to confront violent real-estate speculators who were intimidating the residents. Another community developed a phone-tree for collective instant response to police misconduct.

What you do when there’s no time to think depends on what you’re prepared to do and what you’re trained to do, and the agreements you have made with your inner self. Somebody once claimed that the difference between a community and a scene is the infrastructure we create to meet people’s needs. Be serious about your preparations for seriousness.

What I Didn’t Learn in New York City

I didn’t go to the protests at the Republican National Convention for many reasons. I was totally broke, and had no idea what to do when I got there. But none of this had tended to stop me in the past. What was different this time was my reservations about mass protests at major party conventions. In the year 2000, the series of mass protests that had shaken the WTO and the World Bank/IMF seemed to hit a wall at the R2K in Philadelphia and D2K in Los Angeles.

One reason was that our protests expose things, and the presidential horse race is already designed to flaunt itself in a year long super-distraction. We don’t come to these things just trying to prevent some ghastly new development in the global terror super state; we try to get in the way of business as usual which has a bit more momentum.

So I was sitting in a house, a very comfortable sublet by I Steve standards, watching the play by play on NYC Indymedia. I had been at actions like this before, so I feel the day after day of exhausting non-stop demonstrations, camaraderie, commotion, arrests, solidarity. . . But now, even though I could almost smell the pepper spray I could blink my eyes and I was back in a quiet room in sunny California. Where I could without adrenaline look at MSNBC, The New York Times, Newsweek, and try to figure out how all this protest measured up to the evil Republican media spectacle.

I knew that if I was there, I wouldn’t care so much about how much the protests were suppressed in the corporate media, which reported that only 100,000 people marched on Sunday, and mostly ignored everything else. The New York Times reported a bit more, because for them it was local news, and they’ve been surprisingly aware that Bush and his oil gangsters are destroying corporate civilization. Anywhere else one would really have to dig for convention protest stories; there was more regular coverage earlier about how the authorities were preparing for the upcoming protests.

So I started to really wonder about protest culture again. This worldwide network of people engaged in figuring out things we don’t like, such as George Bush, prioritizing them, and responding to the most important things by protesting against them. For a while, we had this idea of “direct action,” and the slogan, “from protest to resistance,” indicating that rather than just protesting, we were going to actually obstruct the things we don’t like. But more often than not, the result of this strategy was that we used this obstruction to protest more dramatically, rather than use protests to obstruct. In retrospect, what we were really doing was protesting against the fact that all we do is protest.

In New York, a half million people decided in various ways to deal with their feelings about the Bush administration by protesting against it. As far as I can tell, while most people in this horde had no ties to the anarchist movement or the Kerry campaign, like these two groups they weren’t oriented toward winning anything.

Bush is bad and protesting him is fine of course. But I think there would be less existential frustration if we realize a couple things. First, that this idea of vigorous protest, around which our protest culture revolves, is based on our vision of grassroots, direct democracy. In this democracy, the collective decisions of society are the synthesis of the deep self-expression and actions of the people.

Second, that we do better protesting things that are simply undemocratic than protesting the mainstream system of democracy, which is based on majoritarianism. For them it’s democratic if when 2/3 of the people want to put left-handed people in labor camps, we turn in ourselves or the left-handed people we know, even if we’d rather not. In countries that don’t have even representative democracy, like Indonesia under Suharto for example, people seem to have better luck bringing down the government with mass protests.

Radicals usually address this problem by attacking and discrediting majoritarian democracy. We usually attempt this discrediting in years that are divisible by 4. What I’d like to see happen is that we, from 2005-2007, figure out how to get the basic idea of direct democracy, and how it differs from majoritarian, representative democracy, into the heads of all Americans. Then in 2008, when we go out and protest, both we and everyone else will know what we’re doing.

Anarchist Voters’ Guide

I was talking to my brother on the telephone about how I might cast my vote, when he explained, “You can’t vote, you’re an anarchist.” When I started to object, he began lecturing me on how participating in elections was completely incompatible with the principles of Anarchism. As I began complaining about his shallow stereotypes, he revealed that he was only quoting me from perhaps a decade ago.

Yes, it’s true. I voted for Mr. Mondale in 1984, after Dr. Helen Caldicott explained on her lecture circuit that Reagan’s election would make accidental nuclear war a mathematical certainty because Reagan would deploy medium-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe. After the election, I learned that Mondale also supported the medium-range missiles.

Disillusioned, I didn’t vote again until 1997. In that year, there was a ballot initiative in California authorizing people to kill a lot of mountain lions. Although I don’t know any personally, I love cougars and rushed to the polls to offer my opinion on the issue. Since then I have not been strict on voting or not voting.

Ye Olde Anarchiste Party Lyne

As a whole, self-proclaimed anarchists claim, regardless of each individual’s personal capacity for compromise, to be much more averse to voting than the average person. But anarchists vote in the same numbers as everyone else, 30 to 40 per cent each time. Although there is a difference: normal people abstain out of despair, believing their vote won’t change anything, while anarchists vote out of despair, believing their grassroots social organizing isn’t changing anything.

I remember in 1992, Profane Existence proudly announced they were organizing a boycott of the presidential election because the candidates were virtually the same. Imagine if all, say, 10,000 copies of Profane Existence were read by twenty people and all of them obeyed the boycott (and 40% of them would have otherwise voted). Some eighty thousand people would have abstained, added their voices to the other seventy million eligible voters who didn’t bother. Wow.

I’m at least a little amazed at how so many anarchists who are doctrinaire about how voting is irrelevant put so much energy into condemning electoral participation. Might as well canvass a precinct. Late August this year, among the “million” protesters against the Republican National Convention, will be at least twenty thousand hard-core anarchists, gathered around Madison Square Garden to draw attention to the notion that the real power lies elsewhere. Some of the same people who say that voting is consenting to be governed, pay income tax but refuse food stamps on principle. What-ev.

The Bush Mystique

From Noam Chomsky on down, people feel it in their bones, that this election is a little different. The presidential election is one factor among many, but all-in-all two futures are in competition. Whether two billion humans die off mid-century, or five billion. Whether half a million species are extinguished, or two million. Whether I Steve works a shit job while cultivating an anarchist idealist self-image on the side, or actually has to really struggle to eat.

Before you say I’m totally cynical, I’d like to add that I believe anarchist revolution is possible. But it’s much easier to brutally overthrow a Green government, so we should aim to elect one in the medium future. In the meantime Kerry is a Republicrat. This was painfully clear when the Republican McCain was openly considered as a running mate. But Bush is not a Republicrat. He and his forty million followers are Trans-Republican Sub-Humans (TRaSH). Mutants that devour petroleum and lard, eating the planet, as both they and their cars become larger and larger.

It’s a fuck of a lot like Spain in 1936, when, disillusioned with the results of their abstinence in the previous election, the Anarchists voted for the Republicans (liberals) who won, triggering a fascist military coup. This was a time when Emma Goldman herself took the case to the Western “democracies,” arguing that the bourgeoisie states she had battled her whole life were way better than the looming Cthulu of trans-national fascism.

Now it would be unfair to equate Bush-era Republicans with mid-20th fascists. The Republicans have none of the imagination, urge to self-sacrifice, or spiritual depth that the traditional fascists had. But the comparison is still important; in compromising with liberals and authoritarian Socialists, the anarchists in Spain were swallowed by the former’s incompetence, bureaucracy, and treachery and the country was lost. How can we in America 2004 chart a different course?

A Short To-Do List

Anarchists, despite extreme cynicism about electoral politics, have always cast votes idealistically. What’s with the anarchists voting for Nader? A candidate who can’t win who epitomizes the ideal of an honorable candidate? We need to be like any other constituency; buy corrupt candidates who will serve our short-term conveniences, while we pursue our long-term solutions in grassroots bottom-up organizing. We should sponsor candidates who will pardon our locked-up friends, and have a contingency plan for if they betray us.

We can do this sort of organizing much better on the small scale. Fundamentalist wingnuts built their political base in the 80s by taking over school boards. A fringe group like anarchists can do the same. Imagine anarchist ideas introduced at the elementary school level on a massive scale. It’s not completely feasible to do something like this on a presidential scale uniting all the anarchists, where we all trade our votes for some agreed upon conditions. But perhaps we can unite around a few simple principles:

Vote against war: Selective apathy.

If a Republican president starts a big war, vote for the Democrat. If a Democrat starts a big war, don’t vote. Four hundred thousand anti-authoritarians saying, a big war might help sustain capitalism but it might cost you your job and your “legacy.”

Win or stay out: If voting could change the system it would be illegal. But manipulating the electorate can create change and often is illegal. Remember Prop. 21, the initiative to put California children in prison? No one was exited about sponsoring it, except they needed a “tough-on-crime” idea, and the voters weren’t psyched on it, except for being generally in favor of tough-on-crime initiatives. Easy target. Marxist sectarian groups took the issue to teenagers (who can’t vote, kinda like campaigning to owls for forest preservation), and declared victory when despite the initiative’s passage some youth joined their organizations. Anarchists did nothing except tailgate the Marxist campaigns so as to be generally against it. Couldn’t someone have bought a few TV ads, lamented the San Francisco Bay Guardian?

Support private guns: Despite the racist NRA propaganda, gun control is primarily intended to disarm people of color, developed after the Black Panthers occupied the California state legislature with weapons. 20th century genocide has been accomplished just fine with machetes when guns were unavailable, and we all know that America is hella violent because of endemic psycho-sexual sickness and not access to weapons, and even a non-violent anarchist revolution is easier without a government monopoly on firearms.

But the reason I bring this up is that ten-twenty million people vote TRaSH solely out of fear of being disarmed. As a Sierra Club newsletter lamented, all their environmental candidates lost because of real or perceived gun positions, while the Sierra Club takes no position on guns or hunting. Once we pressure all our progressive and liberal friends and family to accept that guns exist, the TRaSH will have no chance of election, and we can get back to fighting Republicrat sponsored globalization.

And fireworks: the fucking Green Party was sponsoring a municipal resolution to ban fireworks. Protect us, daddy! If you can’t trust me with a bottle-rocket how can you trust me with a vote?

Don’t worry, be happy: If I hear just a little more dirt I might change my mind, but right now I think it will be fun to push the Kerry button. If I get up before 8 PM. It might not matter because of the computerized voting system where it’s all fixed anyway, but it certainly won’t do any harm. And I’ll feel a little more aligned with the hundred million ordinary Americans, voters or not, who have no interest in conquering the world, even if Mr. Kerry isn’t one of them, and less like an elitist anarcho-snob.

Voting is fun. I greet the nice elders who work two days a year, and meet my neighbors. It’s like hitch-hiking, ya never know what random people from what walk of life you’ll run into. Though if it turns your stomach, don’t bother; it’s not worth it and it’s not important. Don’t hate me for my casual, thoughtless decision, and we’ll continue working together on our collective households, cooperative workplaces, and direct action affinity groups.

Police State Update

Prisoner Teachers Can Save California

As all you left-coasters already know, California is really fucked up because they built the world’s biggest prison system with 160,000 inmates and cut taxes, gutting the education system in the process. Says one California teacher, “Every semester, English teachers at Berkeley High must write letters to parents asking them to buy paperback copies of novels that the schools can’t afford to purchase. Many teachers have reduced written assignments because increased class size doesn’t allow them to grade so many papers.”

It’s about time we put two and two together- make the prisoners teach the kids. I’m introducing this great idea in an anarchist-type publication, of course, because I know the idea will really gel with all those young anarchists who always say school is just like jail anyway. And it’s good ol’ Socialism too: Right now all those people incarcerated on public funds are working for peanuts with private industry. Paying them shit to teach our children puts the profits from the prison boom back into our communities.

There are two ways to go about this, or perhaps we can try a mixed approach. One way is to have a little prison in every community where the children can go everyday. Each classroom will be like a visiting room with a screen dividing the teacher from the students. Guards will be hired to control both the teachers and the students. The other approach will be to send children to prisons in the Central Valley ten months out of the year. The children will be housed in dormitories built into the prison complex. This option is sure to go swell with parents who always send their kids to summer camp, but is accessible even to poor families.

But what do our current teachers think of this? “We have no job security anyway. What do I have to do to get one of these new jobs anyway?”

Keystone State Kops Foiled

Last month, Camilo Vivieros was acquitted along with two co-defendants of throwing a bicycle at Police Commissioner John Timoney at the 2000 RNC protest in Philadelphia. For those of you unfamiliar with either person, Camilo is pretty much the nicest person in the world, a housing organizer in Providence, Rhode Island who inspires everyone he meets with his wholesome glow, and John Timoney is one of the world’s biggest assholes, a fanatical hater of protesters who goes from city to city to command police forces against mass actions, most recently at the FTAA in Miami.

The trial was a farce, with Timoney claiming that although he did not see who did it he was sure it was Camilo. While some activist writers claim that Timoney was betting his career on this prosecution, it isn’t so. Timoney was always a paper tiger, or a used toilet tissue tiger. We all knew that he never had the brains to run an urban counter-insurgency, and his federal handlers ran the show. Rest assured, at the next convergence the local daily will feature another stupid human interest story about the gritty street cop turned chief who gets two-fisted tough with those pesky anarchist hoodlums.

Now why did this silly prosecution happen at all? You can’t understand the Philadelphia P.D. until you go there. Before I visited the Brother Lovely City myself I read and heard all about police attacks on MOVE, the Mumia Abu-Jamal case, and couldn’t believe either side’s version of the events. But being there, especially at the RNC 2000 and seeing tactical police collide with each other and fall off their bikes, and hearing the “mainstream” press in the city rant viciously against anyone who disagrees with the police or thinks the Mumia prosecution might have been a little biased. . . It’s not so much that these particular cops are cruel, corrupt, or stupid, which they are to some degree, but what makes them unique is a wild enthusiasm with a reckless disregard for their own safety that gets them injured or shot a lot.

It’s Really Too Bad

Remember the docks protest in April ‘03 in Oakland, where the police blasted everyone with special munitions without any provocation? We had the one year anniversary last month and the port shut down to avoid any trouble and the police kept a respectful distance. The Oakland Tribune article on the front page the next day made it sound like the cops and protesters were all peace and love with each other now.

After it happened last year the Amnesty International and the United Nations were really upset. Which is weird because it wasn’t really that brutal for Oakland. Oakland has traditionally been an African-American city where police insanity is the status quo. Any attempt at militant direct action has always been met by overwhelming force. But now that the whole Bay Area, including and especially Oakland has been subjected to three degrees of gentrification, suddenly the bunch of white protesters getting bashed in a U.N. human rights concern for real! Maybe we’re turning into Berkeley or Amherst here!

But following up on the city response, by reading the Berkeley Copwatch Report online, maybe it’s still good ol’ Oakland. Rather than let the Citizens’ Police Review Board investigate, the City Attorney and City Manager set up a special 5-member panel to investigate. After meeting twice the panel concluded they were given insufficient time and resources to investigate and unanimously decided to disband (Oakland Trib 8/15/03). “It’s really too bad,” said City Council member Jane Brunner of the panel’s decision.

Wandering the Winter Wonderland Against the War

After residing in Minneapolis, Minnesota for several months, I made a cameo appearance in Milwaukee, followed by a week in New Orleans, before visiting the Bay Area. I attended anti-war demonstrations in all of these cities, and made several observations on the way of the dying republic and emerging empire.

Minneapolis

It wasn’t until winter set, and it sunk in that the president was serious, that the movement expanded beyond the sectarian groups and core activist culture. Before this, the message of the protesters marching in circles was pacifism; that war is always bad and shouldn’t happen. While of course pacifists should get out and speak their mind, I was concerned whether the message was getting to most Americans that this particular war was ludicrously short of any standard of justification.

The movement that arose in winter was all about “ordinary people” standing up and being counted. Minneapolis participated in the worldwide protest days with crowds of ten thousand. Lawn signs against the war appeared throughout residential neighborhoods, proclaiming “Say NO to War in Iraq. Call your congresspeople.” The creators of the signs felt that even in this rather progressive city, the media had made the upcoming war seem so normal, popular and reasonable that ordinary people had to really struggle to bring the anti-war position out of the margins.

As wartime grew closer, counter-demonstrations grew in size and significance, and “Liberate Iraq” lawn signs appeared in identical style.

Inspired by rumors from San Francisco, some people sought to organize a disruptive day after action, but the plan was reduced by least common denominator consensus to ordinary civil disobedience.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

People in Milwaukee tell me they don’t go to protests there because they are small and disempowering (yes, I realize that’s backwards). But the turnout at the recruiting center just off campus wasn’t so bad. The kids put it on; no serious organizations were involved, except a Unitarian minister who was a police liaison. Although the group steered clear of literal disruption or law breaking, they were feisty enough that the police wanted to declare an unlawful assembly anyway. No one took the threat seriously.

If all of Milwaukee’s odd cultural elements cooperated they might have quite a resistance. Maybe next century.

Meeting the War God in Andrew Jackson’s Square

An anti-war march in the French Quarter (yes, they seriously proposed re-naming it the Freedom Quarter) was rather reminiscent of a Mardi Gras parade in Berkeley. As we dipped briefly into the Central Business District and up Decatur Street, big jock looking tourists were screaming and cursing at us. I wondered about the masses of people in opinion polls. Were they all ogres like these, or were there rational humans involved? How did they justify this war through the thin Hitlerian “big lie?” I wanted to talk to a pro-war person and learn.

As the protest wound down in Jackson Square, and I drank a lot of coffee and sat far enough away to not hear the dull speakers, my prayer was answered. A man in his fifties walked up to me and started debating me. At first it was just like the Tom Tomorrow cartoon. He’d bring up 9-11 or nuclear weapons, and I’d explain the truth of the matter, and he’d immediately change the subject. His wife listened to the discussion from a fearful distance.

He gradually slipped in concepts like the origin of human evil, and the intelligence behind the universe. I realized that he didn’t share my curiosity about the other team; he thought that the protesters needed their souls saved just like the drunkards and fornicators of Mardi Gras. What else but the great tempter himself would inspire people to gather publicly against our rightful civil authorities? I kept looking at my watch so he’d realize I had somewhere to go (anywhere).

San Francisco

The e-mail from the Slingshot zone requested perspectives on America outside the Bay Area anti-war bubble. Seeing the glorious, historic downtown San Francisco action the day after the war started, I contemplated what makes the rest of the country different. Part of it is certainly the strong anti-war public opinion in the inner Bay Area. But what really struck me was how everyone hit the streets, artists, punx, and workers. Everyone just felt that it was time to act. In other cities, the perception of “protest culture,” was that walking around with a sign was something that only the “activists” did. I didn’t see people from the rest of my life at demonstrations. People everywhere say orderly protests aren’t enough. But whereas in San Francisco that means do more, everywhere else it seems to mean do nothing. Ironically, part of the reason I strayed from Oakland was my feeling that the activist ghetto vortex was too out of touch with other people.

Boy Scouts in Battle

On the road, by train, bus and plane, people didn’t talk about the war. Unlike 9-11, there was no perception of national consensus that would make such politics polite conversation. But I still get the sense that no one, regardless of their beliefs, believes the corporate media anymore. I found the Eastern Washington local paper on the train; the front story was about U.S. troops risking their lives to save a little old Iraqi lady caught in the crossfire.