All posts by Molly Coddle

The Day The World Turned Plastic PayRoll Cards Rob Low Income People

Corporations have created another ridiculous system, which pretends to offer the benefits of banking to poor and working class people. Touted as an alternative to the high fees of check cashing stores and payday advances, payroll cards really increase the bottom line for corporate interests, allow the government to spy on us and further the abstractions of economy.

The advent of payroll cards further plasticizes the economy, mimicking the transition of government aid like food stamps, from checks to debit cards. Rather than offering workers more protection and flexibility, the system reinforces poverty through encouragement of spending and an increase in liability for theft and fraud.

How They Work (Or Don’t)

Payroll cards were created in the late 1990s as way for corporations to reduce their payroll costs (labor and printing). Payroll managers–banks, credit card companies or independents–contract with corporations to manage low wage payrolls. Employees are issued plastic cards, like debit cards, into which the managers deposit wages. The cards can be used like ATM cards or for purchases. McDonald’s, Sears, Fedex, and Cingular have already implemented new payroll systems.

The employees likely to use payroll cards are part-timers, low-wage workers or anyone without a bank account. Since direct deposit is cheaper for businesses, payroll cards become a sort of poor person’s direct deposit. However, payroll accounts lack the security of both bank accounts and cash under the mattress.

Traditional bank accounts are protected federally by Regulation E, which affords account holders no liability for theft or fraud on their account. Funds must be restored and the banking institution absorbs the costs. Similar liability coverage exists for users of major credit cards, although they are not obliged to offer complete protection. Payroll cards are neither bank accounts nor credit lines, and so they are not specifically protected by any federal regulation. You might say that one relies on the goodness of the issuer to protect the user. Not always so reliable… I came across this issue while reading a state bar journal, and the conclusion was basically that there is no legal precedent to protect users of payroll accounts.

However, beyond this basic drawback, payroll cards are generally more expensive for employees than establishing a regular bank account. While it’s true that check cashers can take up to 25% of a payday advance, many banks now offer accounts with no minimum balance and less than $100 a year in fees. Credits unions usually offer even better deals. Payroll companies can charge fees monthly, for withdrawals, for transactions, and per deposit. Wouldn’t it make more sense to give people bank accounts than rob them with fees, if they must work and bank to live in the present?

Why We Should Be Concerned

The claims that private payroll services and Visa/Mastercard make about the convenience of the cards doesn’t really hold up. If people are interested in saving, then knowing how much cash you have is more helpful than the abstraction of plastic. Practically, how do you pay rent with these things? And, how would they help any of us escape the absurdity of money and commodity and exchange rates. Until we start thinking outside of transaction, we can never truly escape the capitalist paradigm. Self-sufficiency, community resources and a certain amount of luddism would help more than fake bank accounts.

If you must participate, cash is safest. Unless you are shopping online (whatever retail therapy that is…) cash is easier and less time consuming than credit. Cash is usually invisible when we need it to be–leaving no record of your whereabouts or buying habits. The more we use trackable methods of payment, transportation and communication, the closer we come to shackling ourselves with GPS tracking devices. It seems as though convenience is too often tied to surveillance.

Ultimately, payroll cards don’t address the issues of sustenance that poverty presents; they just give a nice, bourgie feel to spending. “Look, we all shop with plastic now.” The motivation for reaching the “unbanked”, as payroll card users are patronizingly called in finace, isn’t to create security, but to profit by inventing need. Some folks who don’t have bank accounts are receiving federal assistance & would lose their aid if they had any bank balance. (I know someone whose disability was cut off because he made “too much money” working part-time at minimum wage.) Instead of offering any kind of stability, which payroll companies present to employers, the system ultimately undermines well-being by creating dependence on ATMs, reducing people’s access to their resources, and encouraging a mentality of corporate paternity. (Some companies offer discounts when purchases are made with the card through their programs.)

Beyond the immediate concerns of hand to mouth life (not that they are trivial), the growth of plastic economy demonstrates our distance from the fundamentals of life. Food comes from grocery stores (or dumpsters), heat from vents, and money, however alienating, comes from automatic tellers. Sometimes death even comes from un-manned machine guns. It’s all part of the video-game anaesthesia that corporate anti-culture sells to us. Do work which is unfulfilling so you can buy things to fulfill you. For this you need credit. Therefore banks, and jobs and economies and exploitation. Payroll cards just bring more people into the fold; more capital to be recycled into offshore bank accounts while most of us live off a ridiculous wage. The absurdity of our economy becomes clear when conveniences cripple us. Payroll cards are just another one of those conveniences.

Military Recruiting – Putting a Wrench in the Gears

Military recruiters have felt the pressure from citizen attacks in the past year, and they are responding with fear. The resistance is coming from all segments of society and from all over the political spectrum. On inauguration day students in Seattle surrounded and forced recruiters off their campus, and similar events have occurred all over the map, resulting in increased security by recruiters. Traveling in pairs, caller ID and dark blinds at offices are among the measures implemented this winter. (1) However, it’s not only roving mobs and molotovs that threaten recruiters; high schools and colleges are finding ways to expel recruiters, military families are speaking out, and enlistment is down. The pressure is making folks at ArmyTimes rethink their recruiting strategies, but oddly, they don’t seem to be rethinking the war.

Although the military spends $3 billion a year to recruit young people, it’s becoming less effective (2). While the draw of college money has long hooked people from both poor urban and rural areas, the truth of its elusiveness is setting in. African Americans are enlisting at half the pre-war rate (14% instead of 23%) and women of all ethnicities are scorning the service. (3) The Pentagon refuses to publish numbers about AWOL soldiers, but the fact that Canada considered granting refugee status to some former soldiers indicates a significant presence. Military families are speaking out about the atrocities and trauma of soldiers, about the lack of training and gear, and about health problems that will result from exposure to radioactive munitions. It’s getting harder to sell death to kids these days, but Uncle Sam is still trying.

Speaking out against the war machines is not enough. Schools won’t be safe until recruiters are afraid to enter campuses (middle school to college) and until parents & communities destroy draft records and recruiting stations. Kids need access to information about the atrocities committed by our military to open up markets and destroy independent societies, so that they support Veterans for Peace instead of ending up amputee veterans. The army has described the future of its marketing & it’s petrifying. Knowing that “Army of One” is a load of shit, they’ll try to convince mothers of 17 to 24 year-olds why their kids should enlist and ask Iraq vets to sugarcoat the occupation in TV ads (3). But will they tell stories about how ignorant soldiers shoot carfuls of people because the American hand gesture for “stop” means “hello” in Iraq?

Besides targeting recruiters and stations, finding sites where the ASVAB (test for Army career “options:) is given could be fertile ground. My high school just reversed its policy of testing all juniors & 5/6 opted not to test. (4) How different would some people’s lives be if they could learn a trade at community college instead of enlisting? Besides, most people don’t get the job of their choice after enlisting and half never get any of the college money promised by recruiters.

The Armed and Coercive Forces have gotten into schools other ways as well. Besides ROTC and JROTC, the No Child Left Behind Act mandates that the personal information of every student be available to recruiters or the schools lose federal money. (5) While some districts have sent home letters so parents can refuse to release the info, most districts haven’t notified parents of the privacy invasion. It’s bad enough that the CIA tracks our library habits—but the Marines dialing up kids on their cell phones?

On the good news front, Yale and Harvard Law Schools challenged the Solomon Act last year, which formerly required that recruiters have equal access to students as other potential “employers.” However, based on the fact of gay discrimination in the military, the law was declared unconstitutional. Universities, which receive federal funding, may not discriminate and therefore can exclude any agency that does. (6) It puts joy in your step to know that bigots dig their own holes, huh?

TACTICS

In Slingshot issue 85, “Strike the War’s Achilles’ Heel,” PB Floyd offered some great ideas on how to organize a campaign against military recruiters. There were even lists of recruiting stations in the article and some have been targeted since then! While signs and crowds are good, creativity is great.

Students are the most publicized protesters of recruiters and military action, and dozens of colleges have seen recent disturbances. Besides Seattle, students in San Francisco; Madison; New York; Binghamton, NY; Bloomington, MN; Chicago; and Berkeley have all hassled recruiters off the stage. The irony is, college students are more likely to have the resources to avoid enlisting. We need to protest at the hopeless job fairs where half of all employers are military and follow around recruiters who go out and casually ensnare kids who are just hanging out. What if every pair of recruiters had shadows? What if you got information to people who were cashing their GA checks or outside the welfare office? Chances are, the folks at Eastmont Mall in Oakland need support more than the kids at Berkeley High. Flyer outside churches, where duty and fear can be molded into patriotism. Because recruiters are everywhere, we can be everywhere too. Even if the recruiters believe the lies they sell, we don’t have to.

The Army is at least 6% behind in meeting its recruiting goals for 2005. (3) Let’s all help make it a record year. 20%? 50%? Just how much can you reasonably disrupt your local station? And after you immobilize recruiters, might as well turn boot camp into a temporary autonomous zone. There’s just so much to be excited about. What are you waiting for?

(1) NY Times, February 21, 2005

(2) www.truthout.org

(3) ArmyTimes.com

(4) Manchester Union Leader

(5) www.ufpj.org

(6) from Knight Ridder

Sunday School for Sinners

Some radicals have intimate contact with Christian conservatism, through family or community. Others have seen it only on TV or as “opposition” at a protest, like the January anti-choice rally in San Francisco. Perhaps some people have even worked on issues with the more progressive Christians. Whatever we know, it is not enough. The breadth and pervasiveness of modern American Christianity make it imperative that we study in order to overcome. And, though the social repressiveness of Christianity is often touted, little is written on the left about why Christianity has become so successful.

One of the best marketing tools used in the last decade by the right has been the label “compassionate conservative.” This term has found a home along the economic spectrum of the right, demonstrating its flexibility. For those who are “conservative” and wealthy, it has come to mean “I want my cash but I don’t mean to screw anyone else.” For those who are social/moral conservatives, the message is more “When I impose the morals of Christ, I’m doing it for the good of those degenerate, sinning, murderous homosexuals.” Kind of like killing the Inca so they couldn’t sin after baptism. What this means for us is a united front of language and action that isn’t easily penetrated. Conservatives (in fact, all ruling power) have been ok with contradiction for a long time, and pointing out that war and the murder of doctors is at least as wrong as abortion isn’t liable to change anyone’s mind.

The other duality of conservatism (besides its fiscal/moral split), is its neighbor/enemy stance. Though the Gospels tell us that we should have compassion and find a way to humiliate rather than kill our enemies, the modern interpretation has been much more tribal. Christians are very likely to help you out in a pinch (this is good to remember if you are traveling cross-country), but their leaders are also likely to raid your ass in a crusade if you threaten the obesity of their empire.

So, just as many of us resist the blanket definitions of anarchist/radical/left-of-left, we must know what kind of Christian we are talking to. Are they pacifist, non-evangelizing soup kitchen folk or door to door bible salesmen with a message of apocalypse? Maybe they are permaculturing, off-the-grid survivalists who use alternative fuels, shelter travelers and make jam? It’s only respectful to find out who you’re speaking to or about. However, remember that it’s for Jesus.

TRAITS OF SUCCESS

The success of churches today rests on many pillars. First, the capitalist-libertarian erosion of the public safety net with the exportation of living wage jobs has forced hordes of families to seek refuge elsewhere. Churches have long been a staple fixture of inner city communities, and they are often one of the only meeting places in rural communities. Some church complexes (and this is Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, not “cults”) are comprised of sanctuaries, daycare, kindergarten to high school, bars, lounges, soup kitchens and pantries, shelters, gyms and fields, banquet halls and more. Many hospitals began as part of church work, and charities like Habitat for Humanity are still Christian run. What if you saw all that on an infoshop brochure?

Christianity provides (like many religions) comprehensive community. Rites of passage — especially birth, coupling and death — have a defined meaning and place. Rituals offer physical and spiritual satiation, whether communion, baptism, speaking in tongues, bible study, or holiday celebrations. Because there is a role for each generation, people can participate from their birth until death with uninterrupted transition.

Christian propaganda has become insidious, or at least, ubiquitous in pop culture. Christian rock, country and gospel have stations all over the country; television sitcoms portray the dilemmas of growing up Christian in a “secular” society; evangelizing radio dominates the airwaves and even recreation has gone Christian. Surfers, biker gangs and even punks have converted en masse. This obviates the message that being “for Jesus” is dowdy or dorky; in fact, it’s cool. Even fashion has evolved to reinforce Christianity. “What would Jesus Do?” adorns jewelry, bags and the trim on clothes.

BOTH SIDES OF THE COIN

I view the Christian empire with a mixture of awe and disgust. There is much to be admired in the organization, and just as much to abhor. The best expressions of Christianity have created a symbiotic community based on love and service, while the most repressive rely on fear and ignorance.

There are a few lessons which radical communities could take from the success of American Christianity. First, we will only be successful when we have no shame about what we believe. Broadcast is important, and people know when you’re scared. There is a fine line between information and evangelism, but silence will never attract more people to radical movements. Second, many Christian communities work to be self-sufficient. The libertarian idea of independence can only be realized when we have both the competence to support ourselves and the communities to pool resources in. As Miles Stair reminds us, the government “has no affirmative duty to protect us” so well-being is the responsibility of individual and community (1). However, beyond some organizing strategies and a wee bit of love, Christianity has tormented this hemisphere for centuries.

The morals of love and brotherhood purported to be such a part of the Christian experience often function as the rewards for good behavior. Churches allow anyone to “come as you are,” but staying that way is often out of the question. Conformity includes creed, behavior and identity and becomes repressive quickly if one is not looking for imposed order. To someone seeking order, it can even be comforting. Unfortunately, the story passed on by most Christian sects is contaminated by St Paul (the defamer of Mary Magdalene) and the racism which brewed in Europe and exploded in the colonial Americas. Sunday morning is still the most segregated time in the US, which says a lot if many people depend on church for community and social welfare. Connections between sexual repression and abusive behavior have also been documented (2). As much as Christian morality denounces over-stimulation as unhealthy, lack of stimulation — whether knowledge of our bodies or just good fucking — does a whole lot of bad, too. It would be impossible to blame the US’s “isms” entirely on Christianity, but the propaganda does certainly reinforces them.

Within the cocoon of the San Francisco Bay Area, it’s easy to believe that radicalism has a chance to shape our society. Collectives are alive here; there are queer and anarchist people of color scenes, and protests regularly draw tens of thousands. But even if there were 500,000 post-lefties in the country, we are vastly outnumbered by the volume and communities of the right. Isolated, small town radicals may have a better idea of the work it will take to challenge the power and ideology of conservatism than Berkeley gardeners. So, engage the next bible seller you see, tell new creation stories, and send a spy to church if you can’t stand to go yourself. We can’t confront the Christians until we know enough to offer a real alternative.

(1) Miles has a great right wing survivalist page, endtimesreport.com. Besides avoiding the “mark of the beast,” he’s actually got good tips on self-sufficiency. (2) Eric Schlosser’s book “Reefer Madness” has a whole section on the porn industry & American bipolar attitudes toward

The A in Family

In order to create a bridge between self-determining individuals and community people need family. Whomever it’s comprised of; whether the ties are blood or choice, we are shaped and supported throughout our whole lives by family.

I struggle with the family aspect of being an anarchist precisely most of the family I have are not radicals. The people who would bail me out of jail or visit me everyday in the hospital or cook me dinner if I had a baby don’t understand anti-capitalist libertarianism. But I love them, and must somehow bridge myself into my community with this “foreign” family.

How do I do this? I find more people within my community to take on those roles. I put more of myself into my affinity groups than just the work that needs to be done. I double up on role models, so that I have my grandfather of blood and my grandfather of radical faerie empowerment.

A century ago in the States, family was several generations thick, several degrees of cousins wide and capable of adopting orphans, “godchildren” and unmarried friends. With the rise of industrial labor, families changed as they moved to find work. Developers created single family housing for the masses, and the suburbs were born. From the fifties onward, media and the economy have impressed that the fam is just ma, pa, your siblings and the dog. Moral conservatives who fight for a return to “family values” are responding to this degeneration of support networks. They just offer alternatives unpalatable to many queer, open or radical people.

Anarchist family, for me, is the multigenerational network of people who support, teach, challenge, love, encourage, rely on and accompany us through parts or all of our lives. We make a family of our hearts when our blood kin–by death, distance or dysfunction–can’t be with us. In short, who would you cry with?

I have heard people lament over the imbalance of generations within anarchism, within every scene. People note that we lack a connected community of older (like, post-menopausal) radicals who can offer wisdom and tactics, as well as children with whom we practice our consensus and commitment to self-determination. Yes, radicals have kids and yes, radicals are grandparents but our movements are still youth centered. Communities of mature radicals won’t intersect completely with communities of younger radicals—socially or politically—so we must find other ground to meet on. We can appreciate the experience and company of people at a different stage of life without needing to be the same. If we generally lack role models and youth we foster, how are we to improve our practice of anarchism with each generation?

The healthiest forms of non blood anarchist family I’ve seen are collective houses that intentionally interweave their lives. Besides having physical space to gather, houses have the informal contact that make intimacy possible and support easier to ask for. It can be easier to break out of loneliness when you’ve only got to go downstairs to dinner.

Outside of houses, long-term collectives are the anarchist structure best suited to “family building.” We had a big transformation last year at Slingshot, when we finally spent more time hanging out than working on the paper. When life’s serious shit descended on several of us, it wasn’t awkward to ask for support. In fact, it would have been awkward not to ask for support. That was when I knew that my family had grown.

By no means do anarchists have a monopoly on chosen families. Churches, unions and social clubs have taken the place of blood family, especially in the twentieth century. A family can be created by any group with affinity, given that it satisfies certain needs. First, people must be held together by a purpose. In blood families, it can be as simple as obligation, but it can be complex. People must have incentive to care for one another, and the care must be reciprocal. Often, we are cared for by family in our youth and then return that love later on when the people who foster us get older. There must also be space and time for regular intersection and a culture to hand down. Families have stories of origin, and of the joys and sufferings shared, as well as a reason why they are unique and important. The stories may change, but they must be passed on.

The public debate on family doesn’t address our need for support in the face of economic or emotional privation. When the religious right talk about “family values” and “preserving family,” the overtones of sexism and heterosexism make debating that much more difficult. However, addressing the fears about love and support are simple. If a family is held together by patriarchy and guilt, it probably isn’t satisfying to be a part of. We can never be obliged to love and we can never regulate true family. We will find a way to be ourselves within our blood families or we will find families that love us as we are or we will do both. Maybe so many people pass through radical scenes but settle for boring jobs and weekends mowing the lawn because there is no family ready-made to be had around here, just the ingredients for one tailor-made. They fall prey to the mainstream narrative that family is a little nuclear clique. We must each choose (mutually) our mentors, our teachers, our sibling-peers and the people we will encourage in turn.

Let your redefinition of family be a step toward a more radical world. Invite fellow radicals closer, and share, in small ways at first, anarchism with your existing family. Think about what culture your families have given you and what you want to pass on. We need to hand different stories and values to the next generation, and first we must make them family.

I wanted to write about family because of my twelve cousins. We played and feasted together every Sunday until I was twelve. They taught me fun, cooperation, mischief, solidarity, and love. And though we now gather only once every few years, they are people who know me beneath the skin and love me still. It’s never hard to come back together. I find relief knowing that they are in the world, and hopefully it is mutual.

Fuck the Draft

We’re gonna need more than a peace vigil to counter the next wave of the war on terror. Congress is considering reviving the draft, and more of us than ever could be cannon fodder. As says the adage, things could get a lot worse before they get better.

Although alternative media have been talking about the draft since last year, corporate media haven’t uttered a syllable about the twin Senate and House bills waiting in committee for quiet passage. This is an election year, and Congress people know that voters don’t want their kids (or themselves!) killed.

It is shortsighted to believe that the comeback of Selective Service is due to our conquest of Iraq, though certainly it’s related. Plans have been underway since 1999 (before Bush & Co) to revise conscientious objector regulations, and draft boards are, again, being staffed. While we could be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan as peace keepers with automatic weapons, US corporations also need troops to ensure their domination of African, Southeast Asian and South American resources and markets.

Revisions to draft guidelines include the expansion of eligibility to all men and women ages 18-35. To minimize the classism felt so keenly in Vietnam, college students who are drafted will receive only a one semester deferment. Canada has agreed to turn back all potential émigrés thanks to border technology that connects our ID to SSS records. Technology systems like TIA-Total Information Awareness (see slingshot issue 77) will make it difficult for draft dodgers to access bank accounts, sign leases, get public assistance or apply for work. In fact, dodging may effectively make someone an undocumented resident.

Restrictions on conscientious objectors are more stringent than thirty years ago. Fewer people are likely to successfully lobby for alternative service. Maybe the government has learned from Israel, where generals comprise the CO review board and no one ever gets CO status.

The changes in guidelines will draw soldiers from a larger, more representative pool than the overt racism and classism of earlier drafts. As a feminist, I believe that men should not have to fight in wars, not that women deserve the same opportunity for slaughter. How, when we talk about equality, can it mean the equal chance of death, instead of equal opportunity for life? No one should be drafted. Everyone should resist.

Congress doesn’t care about the draft, at least partially, because so few of them have eligible family members. Under old regulations, fewer than 10 members had children eligible for service. Will W be sending his twins to the front line? Or will they, too, join the Texas National Guard and step on base only for dental appointments?

There is no such thing as benign military service. It is impossible to act with dignity while carrying a government issued weapon and following orders. People with genuine intentions travel with medical supplies and 50lb bags of rice, not rocket launchers. The Pentagon lies about the number of soldiers killed and the number of civilians slaughtered. Private contractors die, and are subject to no justice/penal systems because Geneva doesn’t cover them and Iraq has no civil systems. The torture which has plastered newspapers this spring is standard issue, brought over with American prison wardens. We’re more likely to start infecting Iraqis with Hepatitis C (rampant in US prisons) than democracy. The atrocities by civilian and military Americans are further proof that only the conquered are subject to laws and that our national subconscious is still racist and homophobic.

The wars fostered through this draft will only increase the cycle of civil war, arms dealing and natural resource extraction that has been so effectively used to impoverish the “Third World.” The profits of large corporations rest on cheap resources, and illegal profit from the big three markets: arms, drugs and labor (sex or sweatshop). And, we, if we become soldiers, will hold open the doors to their banquet halls.

The return of selective service would make a lot of anarchist lifestyles desirable. Gleaning–using what’s extra–squatting, diy food and clothes, discarding money, encouraging free skool learning and alternative travel all become necessary for anyone avoiding the draft board. Learn for yourself and teach your neighbors.

While the failure of a draft bill would surely make it easier for most of us to avoid death or murder for a while longer, the passage of SSS reinstatement could unify people of all demographics. Grandmothers make great radicals. We need to use this promise of death for American youth as common ground for radicalizing our communities. There is no courage in the mainstream left, but there is lots of room for organizing. We need solidarity against military recruiting in our high schools, against police and prison abuse, against complicit media and for stronger communities.

For “official” info on the draft, visit www.sss.gov. For info on conscientious objectors, visit www.objector.org.

Youth Takeover Conference Not State Sanctioned

When funders of the spring activist conference for high school students in Petaluma, CA, mandated that presenters represent all points of the political spectrum, two of the student organizers left and made their own gathering. Hosted at the Phoenix Theatre, about 40 people from around the Bay gathered to share and learn skills. Slingshot was there to table and I got to meet lots of great people!

If you’ve never had reason to visit Petaluma, the Phoenix is definitely a high point. Once a playhouse, the space has been gutted (all the floor seats are gone) and repainted with graffiti and murals. Skate ramps line the walls, and angsty, youthful scrawlings cover the bathroom walls. It was, simply, the perfect place to gather punks and other young radicals.

The conference lived up to its location. After a breakfast from Food Not Bombs, the organizers outlined the day and everyone introduced themselves. The crowd was small enough to be personal, but also a good turn out. The day hosted about a dozen workshops on a variety of topics. Presenters came from Berkeley copwatch, Santa Rosa FNB, Project Censored, the local feminist club, gun control supporters, and students against GMO’d food. The knowledge in the crowd collectively was quite impressive. Besides workshops, there were also activist groups tabling and a radical, portable bookstore. I definitely left feeling confident that a few people, a good idea and a little bit of food can bring people together.

Herbal Abortion is not D.I.Y.

I ate chocolate pudding while I waited for the home pregnancy test to react in the bathroom. It’s funny how the packages all make it sound as if we’re dying to have babies. Well, some people have died trying to get safe abortions. I didn’t want to end my pregnancy with drugs or surgery, if possible, and this is a lot of the information I found out about herbal abortions.

Abortion isn’t about playing god anymore than anarchism is. If we as anarchists support self-determination, then the moral component of the abortion debate becomes defunct. Abortion is killing, but not murder. Americans would like to think that death is avoidable, and for that reason liberals have tried to sugarcoat a women’s right to choose with an it’s-not-about-the-fetus argument that disregards the emotional intensity that everyone I know has experienced when choosing to abort. When we recognize that something is dying—if only a possibility of life—then it’s possible to grieve and move forward.

In countries where abortions is legal, accessible and (gasp!) subsidized—most of Western Europe—pregnancies result in 1/3 to term, 1/3 miscarried, 1/3 aborted. These are Catholics, folks. Most women who seek abortion are over 20, many with children already. The “posterchild” (16, whore) for anti-choice campaigns is just as deserving, but less common than they’d like you to think.

So, it’s not rare, and it shouldn’t be shameful, to abort a fetus if one reasonably believes it’s a bad idea to bring another life into the world for any reason.

It’s all connected

From a purely biological perspective, birth control and abortion are dialects of the same language. Barrier and spermicidal methods generally prevent contraception by killing or averting sperm, hormones prevent ovulation or inhibit implantation of the embryo and “abortion” is the detachment and removal of the fetus from the lining of the uterus. But depending on your view, all of these things could be fucking with nature. If this bothers you, think about where you sleep and what you eat: we alter nature all the time, and some of it is really beautiful. Some of it, well, read the rest of this paper.

This is not DIY

While understanding herbal medicine can help each of us monitor our own health, by no means is abortion something to be undertaken alone. Besides the psychological crap, from the world and our own brains, inducing abortion is physically taxing. Don’t spare your partner’s weak stomach—they had a hand in this. Whether a one night stand or a long term partnership, it’s always the work of two. It’s fair to demand support and TLC. If you’re reading this as a partner or supporter, don’t wait to be asked! Offer to help without being condescending. She deserves to be cranky at this stage.

First you should know

Let me preface this section with a big disclaimer: I am not a doctor or health care practitioner. Though several herbalists and alternative health care practitioners were interviewed to verify safety, etc., everyone’s body is different. If you believe you need to use an abortifacient, at least give your doctor or local clinic a call. They may freak out, but it’s NECESSARY to have somewhere to go in case you hemorrhage. My homeopath was really supportive and offered more ideas for taking care of myself. If you choose to use any of the methods listed here, and they do not cause a miscarriage, you must receive a medical or surgical abortion. Also, don’t go it alone. Your body will really appreciate the support of someone cooking, massaging, accompanying you through this.

Remedies

Two complimentary herbs that work together are black and blue cohash. One strengthens the uterus and the other induces contractions. Other herbs to combine (often referred to in herb guides as “harmful to pregnancy”) are angelica, parsley leaf and root, tansy, rue, and cotton root bark. If you decide to use pennyroyal tea, be sure to drink it hot while you are warm (think: in a hot bath). NEVER, ever, ever ingest pennyroyal oil, as you will die. It’s lethal. If you use homeopathics, take a 30c remedy of cauliphylum with the herbs. While you are taking any abortifacient, and generally for endocrine health, it’s good to also take nettle tea. It may help shorten hemorrhaging afterward and help you return to a normal menstrual cycle. Getting sufficient iron, magnesium and calcium from greens will also quicken physical recovery. Arnica, after your bleeding has slowed, will also help recovery.

The best way to take many herbs is by an infusion—a tea steeped over night and often reheated to ingest. Drink at least a quart a day as soon as you miss your period. Tinctures—distillation of herbs into alcohol—are the strongest remedy (therefore, most likely to work) and require either an herbalist or several weeks preparation. Choose a clear liquor (vodka is good) and soak the dried herb in a sealed container for 3 weeks to 3 months. Then, dilute the solution with half water and take a daily dosage of an eyedropper full 3 times a day. If you are having sex that could get you pregnant, it’s a good idea to prepare one just in case you need it in the future. Once you’re pregnant, you don’t have time to wait for distillation.

For most efficacy, take no more than two herbs at once, and for at most a week at a time. If you’ve tried two remedies, and haven’t started bleeding, see a doctor. Whatever’s inside you has been subject to enough toxicity that you need a medical or surgical abortion. After 6-8 weeks, it’s probably too late to induce abortion yourself.

Thoughts on self-care

-Take sick days, if you work and can.

-Allow a friend or lover to help you out.

-Write or draw or talk or meditate on your -thoughts and expectations and emotions.

-Prepare for some grief, but don’t force it.

-Eat food that doesn’t traumatize your body, and some that’s just plain comforting.

-Talk about it, to people you feel safe with.

Regardless of whether herbal abortion works, there is something satisfying about understanding your body and how it responds. As much as Western medicine has tried to distance women (and men) from their bodies, we can take ourselves back. Reproduction isn’t an abstract argument over population, it’s a personal choice and experience that most of us face eventually. And because each of us will respond according to our own lives and realities, we should have as many tools available as possible to help us through it.

Another Crazy Anarchist Wingnut

My personal rEvolution, very much a work in progress, has been a slow creep leftward into the radical. My father and stepmom had a bourgie requirement that when my sisters and I became teenagers, we took on some kind of community service. We were privileged–white, middle class, Catholic kids in New England–and my folx’s response was noblesse oblige. They had know idea how far I would take it.

My first “gig”, you might say, was volunteering for a risk-reduction non-profit to keep kids off drugs. I had friends who were smoking marijuana or doing meth at 13 to ease family or personal trauma, and my response was less than compassionate. I knew they needed support, but didn’t understand how to give it to them without judging. Self-medication was a foreign idea.

By a stroke of luck, I met an amazing sex educator who invited me to work at her reproductive health clinic for teenagers. I worked there for all of high school, and did sex ed for clients who came from as far 3 hours away. We provided everything but abortion services (clinic was 40 minutes away) and it probably saved my life to have education and health care. Besides knowing my body and safer sex techniques, I learned empathy and love. When a sexually assaulted 12 year old asks you how to get an abortion, you either hate the world or decide to be empathetic more often. I learned that shame only keeps us from being real with one another. I wish anarchists hugged each other more.

During college (I love math and wanted formal training), I taught with my school’s rape crisis center for four years. Although it took me a while to see the racism and classism that taints a lot of feminism, I got to teach classes on the porn industry to frat boys, edit a queer column for the student newspaper, model consensual communication with high school kids, explore alternative (non-prosecutorial) justice with survivors and coordinate workshops on sex trafficking. By speaking publicly on so many issues, I processed my own identities as a survivor, queer-female, polyamorist, and slut. Of course, I’m always renegotiating and growing.

I finally understood the effects of capitalism and awakend to my own outrage when I left the States. During my semester in Hungary, I saw people terrified of the instability of the market economy and terrified of old and new state repression. Trade, privilege, community and exploitation were thrown in my face. The communities and land that people depended on were disappearing with an influx of foreign capital and youth emigration was leaving the region without a future. Transylvania is being destroyed as farmers, herders and artisans are forced to low-wage city jobs. Everywhere, it’s the same shit, different corporations.

When I returned to the US, post 9/11, it was hard to reincorporate. I’ve never been into accumulating stuff, but the only “collective” living situations I saw were college kids in rented shit-holes or Christian communes. It took me almost a year to find people who were articulate anarchists and to realize what I was becoming. Some I found through Unitarian young adult networks and others through local justice work. As liberal politics grew less enticing, I felt the urge to be in a community where being different, freakish, ME, was ok.

It took me awhile to distinguish between punk and anarchism. There is such an overlap in the Northeast, that I felt isolated because I liked bluegrass and didn’t know “Against Me.” My longstanding association with punk was a-political, skinny, sex-deprived boys who went to shows and jumped around. That’s never been my scene. I have since met lots of cool punks, anarchists and anarcho-punks, but I felt alienated at first.

Moving to East Oakland has made me acknowledge my racist-nativist acculturation–coming from a state that’s 96% white, and hanging out in Berkeley makes me itch to grow organic vegetables. I’m figuring out how to live my ethics without condemning conservative old friends and simultaneously create a radical future for myself. Big questions still loom for me personally, and I don’t pretend to have answers. How will I eat when I’m old? How do I feel about satiating my inner nerd and getting a PhD? Will I be a radical poly parent some day?

I’m grateful that, for all the shit I say about radical politics, I haven’t lost my family or old friends. When I told my parents about being harassed in Miami at the FTAA protests, they were scared, but they didn’t think I was crazy. For me, revolution is about clean water, allowing people autonomy in education, love and work, and riding a bike cart for Food Not Bombs deliveries. If that makes me crazy, I don’t need any medication.

Oragsms Without Obligation

Once upon a time I thought that polyamory was a radical act, and when I finally came out last year as a poly person, I realized that it’s not always a choice. I last about a month in a monogamous situation–it’s stifling for me–so I’ve begun to consider poly as I see other non-dominant sexual preferences, as conscious radical choices or natural urges. It’s also helped me understand that monogamy works as well for some people as poly works for me.

Coming out has been a bit painful–telling friends one at a time, finding a supportive community that understands–but rewarding. I’m developing my own ethic for intimacy, since I don’t believing extending a monogamous framework to many partners is sufficient. My influences have been anarchism, Buddhism and the wisdom of my community. Principally I’m working on overcoming physical and emotional scarcity, practicing full disclosure, and seeing love as a gift exchange.

My vision of functioning polyamory is to become my own primary partner. As I discard the residual morality of monogamy, having a primary relationship seems less necessary. As I understand my own completeness, I can honor intimacy without prioritizing, and practice honesty with partners instead of getting permission to be poly from them.

The need for fidelity is changing as I depend less on others’ approval for my self worth. Just as I would be delighted over my best friend finding a new lover, I find delight in my lovers’ new joys. Cheating, per se, is not about sex, but about emotional dishonesty and breaking commitments. If a lover of mine had unsafe sex, broke a date to fuck someone else, or lied about what level of intimacy they wanted, I would be hurt enough to need the issue addressed. However, everyone has different triggers, and we can only know by discussing them.

The biggest downfall of being poly for me is the amount of time it consumes. I could spend the next 50 years happily dancing, cuddling, talking, fucking and processing and never do another minute of justice work, but it would be a life less than fulfilling. Knowing that my love is not finite but my time and energy are will form the most concrete boundaries of my relationships. If only orgasms could overthrow the government.

I firmly believe in non obligatory relationships. Love is a gift exchange and in order for intimacy to be healthy, I must give and receive. While I can’t know what joy is coming, I expect it, as well as some pain. Growth often comes from such discomfort.

As I stray farther from monogamy into my own definitions of intimacy, I find more gratification. I know that I’ll be grateful for lovers and at other times retreat to my own self-satisfaction. Either way, I’ll know that I’m loved.

Miami: A Personal Account

Being at the FTAA protest in Miami in November was both amazing and brutal. Besides proving to me that the anti-authoritarian movements in the US must continue networking to increase the efficacy of public confrontation, I saw incredible community built by locals and transplanted activists. It was a great lesson that being radical, and being effective, isn’t about attacking the fence.

I was one of the protesters who showed up at the FTAA convergence space on Wednesday at noon, with a little bit of jet lag. So I’ll first give a huge thank you to the people who got there days or weeks early and made food, sleep, outreach and media arrangements and to those who stayed late to do legal support.

Before I arrived, lots of people had said that “Miami” didn’t want us there, that there were no radical people, that there was no support. Rumors even circulated that some people were paid to protest. While it’s true that the resistant infrastructure could use some love, the people we met were generous, supportive, and scared of what FTAA might do to their families in the States or in Latin America. Knowing that police brutality is a regular occurrence for many residents, I don’t blame them for not showing up with rocks or molotovs.

There are three reasons why I go to large protests: to participate in public resistance, to join a temporary autonomous zone, and to smash the state. Usually, I feel success on the first two, and Miami was only different in the degree of brutality inflicted on protesters. If anyone needs proof that the police state is thriving in the US, Miami demonstrated it. Police Chief Timoney, who orchestrated the paramilitary repression of protest, is one psychotic MF.

The Food Not Bombs operation at the space was one of the finest I’ve seen. With at least 4 food pickups a day, and so much food left over that we gave some back, the generosity of local grocers and distributors was incredible. Meals were served downtown and at the convergence space, with approximately 2000 people fed per sitting.

The community garden, which I never actually saw!, left a living reminder for Miami of what the protest was about. Clean air, green space and drinkable water are essentials–and FTAA will make them all scarcer. It will leave a more permanent mark than anything else we did there, in noticeable contrast to the low-wage, dead-end jobs that FTAA will usher in.

As far as confrontations, transportation (spotty) and the weather (sticky) definitely gave a home-team advantage to the police, and Miami is a town without alleys or public parks. Even the churches downtown were locked.

Tactically, Miami was a beating in the streets. From Sunday to Sunday, police rounded up protesters, arrested pedestrians, conducted illegal searches and gassed or beat crowds. By my best estimate, 10% of non-union protesters were arrested and many more subject to police violence. Buses holding thousands of protesters were blocked from entering Miami Dade County. Far from being provoked, the police was pro-active in its oppression and violence.

While I was downtown on Thursday night with friends feeding homeless people, we were stopped and illegally searched by a troop of bicycle cops who claimed that “God was in charge” and threatened us with “fifty thousand volts of electricity” from a tazer for waiting on a corner to cross the street. One cop asked why “a girl like you would shave her head” and I told him I had cancer. Which is totally possible–I haven’t seen a doctor since I lost my health insurance. He took it like a kick in the balls and I had the “privilege” of a less-than-thorough (illegal) pat down. It felt good to get one direct hit. When I found out later that queer people had been assaulted and tortured in prison, a knot tied up my intestines. I feel for those folks. It could have been me.

After more than 150 arrests on Wednesday and Thursday, for “offenses” as egregious as breathing, there was a fabulous jail solidarity march and rally in front of the prison. With drums and signs and our lungs, we let those on the inside know that we were grateful and working toward bail. Although no one outside knew at the time, some friends in prison told me that our presence helped them do solidarity and make demands for lawyers and food and release. And then, there were riot cops. Timoney (or someone) had arranged for the protest to be surrounded on three sides by riot cops armed with everything but AK-47s. Police negotiators told the press, before they told protesters, that we had three minutes to disperse or be gathered illegally. While the street spokes council kept talking, affinity groups took to the sidewalk. If I hadn’t walked home through the projects (where police know better than to go), I probably would have been rounded up like dozens of other people who left peacefully.

If anarchism or radicalism or anti-capitalist resistance is ever going to dismantle capitalism and its tools, we need to learn from international movements and drop our fears. As long as we depend on the state and capitalism, for education, food, transportation or housing, they will continue to oppress us. Two delegations that were noticeably absent from the action were indigenous people and small farmers–both under assault in this country since Roanoke and the Great Depression, respectively. The people I met in the Miami projects loved what we were doing,

but didn’t join us. People with skin and social privilege must find a way to minimize risk for those people (people of color, immigrants, queers) who are most targeted for police brutality so that they can participate in resistance without additional oppression.

About three blocks from the convergence center on Friday afternoon, two Latino men in a pickup truck stopped to talk to me and a friend, both dressed in black with bandannas. “Watch out for drug dealers in this neighborhood,” one told me.

“I’d rather meet any dealer than any cop in this town today,” I replied.

“Well, I’m glad you all came down here. I didn’t think any white people gave a shit about me. But my family in El Salvador needs clean water and it doesn’t look good,” he said. “We’ll have to keep working on this.”

Yes…we will.