All posts by Astrogirl

Compassion & confrontation – breaking the cycle of anger starts with you

I biked in Critical Mass a couple of months ago here in Berkeley, child on my back pumping my legs to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden as 35-40 of us paraded our alternative transport model around town. I was having an excellent time that within moments developed into an angry assault and an a reactionary extravaganza.

We were blocking an intersection in the heart of the Telegraph strip when an irate motorist drove head-on into three stopped bicyclists. I was witness to a driver react with rage in a physically violent manner that could have seriously injured 3 or more people who were directly impacted.

Following that I watched as a slew of people reacted violently, trying to chase down and kick the car. The group then moved on, fueled by adrenaline and anger and behaved in ways that isolated many other people who were hoping for a bike ride not a battle. In the end rather than raising awareness in the community we alienated ourselves and distorted our message.

This chain of events epitomized the lack of empathy and the disconnect between effective communication skills and political engagement. It crystallized anger as an issue of vital importance for me personally, but also as a significant issue for the larger radical community and society at large.

We should all be angry and outraged at the injustice and violence that is killing our kin as well as the ecosystem. From that anger we need to grow something useful, we need to use it as an energy source for anti-capitalist struggle. If we don’t try to bring about change from a place of compassion we are only going to replicate the same dynamics as those used by our oppressors. Learning to know ourselves and to deal with our difficult emotions of despair and anger in healthy ways in combination with learning to communicate with others in emotionally responsible ways is a necessary step in creating a cohesive and positive social change movement.

This is not to say that I have always interacted in non-violent ways in my activism, nor that I am advocating non-violence as the only effective means of change. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I identified as militant and fought in front lines like we were going to have a new society tomorrow goddammit! My words were volatile, my spirit was screaming and my actions reflected this. I have no regrets. What I remember more precisely is the quality of the feeling inside of me: despair, rage, destruction, adrenaline, and idealism all mixed up in this maelstrom totally lacking self-discipline and internal balance. Coming from a place of anger fueled positive action but in many ways I blew my load everywhere, too early without much forethought. Speaking of blowing my load, let’s consider gender as it stands in relation to anger.

Everyone gets angry but there are often differences in how men and women experience and manage anger. Our culture plays a major role in shaping our behaviors. An angry woman, a loud woman, an assertive woman can easily be invalidated as a crazy bitch or emotionally unstable, but a man with these same qualities is often seen as a powerful champion of an important cause. It is in line with our cultural norms for men to exhibit toughness, violent words and actions, and to seek revenge. Anger in men is often viewed as “masculine”. Women often learn to internalize their anger, creating an unhealthy stew of pressure-cooked emotion that eats away at mental health and self-esteem.

In social situations such as critical mass, demonstrations, meetings, and the like it is common for men to externalize aggression while women draw back. While this is not true for every person it tends to be a common manifestation in group behavior. In ten years of activism I have seen woman after woman driven away by overbearing male figures in the movement (including myself). I have been thanked many times by women quieter than myself for being an assertive and fiery voice in situations where they felt uncomfortable or silenced.

It seems that the majority of events and actions in our radical communities that are direct action oriented are often treated as parties or opportunities for reactionary explosions. They are not strategic or thought out attempts to communicate a message or challenge the system, but the expression of feelings and ideas that have not been very well processed or articulated. If we are to educate or inspire or even dream of making a substantial dent in the system we need to start considering what that takes.

What would a less reactionary, more compassionate movement look like and what would it entail? In my vision of a more cohesive and effective movement I see people who have spent a lot of time learning to be emotionally responsible, how to communicate in non-abusive ways and how to manage conflict and stress. I see strong community support for people invested in this type of work. There would be a communal validation of our human experience as scary and confusing in a world that seems to be on the verge of collapse. It would entail individuals working very hard in support groups or with mentors to address issues of privilege, socialization and communication. It is not enough to advocate for issues that are a symptom of capitalism — it is integral to address the deterioration of community engagement and that is directly related to the erosion of trust for one another.

What does that mean for me right now? I think a great deal about anger, my actions, thoughts and their implications. I try not to allow my anger to propel me forth into action without thought. Most importantly I aim to act out of compassion. Sometimes it’s the only thing I can do to create positive change and break the cycle of violence that is consuming our lives, our society and our planet.

We Junkie the People

I used to think drug addicts were all the same breed of wasted potential—easy to spot and best avoided lest they try to hustle you. They were “those people” and I was better than that. That was until I became hooked and discovered a world vastly different than what I had imagined.

I remember looking at my friend Stan’s teeth as he laughed on the day I met him. The remaining few jutting out like islands in a sea of animation. Frank, a 55 year old ex-biker who has been using crystal meth for over thirty years graduated from U.C. Berkeley, married, has a daughter he is in contact with and currently owns a home which he shares with several friends. He is not the stereotypical tweaker out to steal your stereo. In fact he’d probably rather make you dinner.

Junkies are people. People who are me, who are you, who are people you know. I have learned more about what it is to be human from junkies than from anyone else in my life.

The stereotypes that I had internalized about drugs and drug use were challenged when I discovered how many of the long term users I knew were intelligent, creative, productive, and perceptive people who accepted me, laughed at my dumb jokes, and showed me generosity. I came to understand the solace and relief that drugs provided. A magic that can erase unbearable pain or focus a scattered mind.

Most addicts I know have incorporated drugs into their daily lives and have no intention of quitting. Not like it never comes up but the options available are unnattractive. Nobody wants to give up their dope in exchange for withdrawal, assimilation and reentry back into the same fucked up world that they were trying to escape from in the first place. Especially if that means sacrificing the acceptance, support and security that is provided by their community. The drug communities that I have experienced have functioned as support systems. It gives me hope to see that humans, however wounded, have a natural tendency to come together and work as a community.

Our society fails to meet basic human needs of love and community. It is fragmented, cold, driven by greed, war, lies, and dependent upon the fear and insecurity of its population to maintain the status quo. Those who should give us love and teach us self-worth and respect, those who should guide us without an agenda and respect our boundaries, those who should teach us to hug, kiss, laugh, cooperate and respect, teach us to hate. Addicts are well aware of this. Many share histories of abuse and/or mental illness.

We have yet to break free from the shackles of morality and learn to be humans rather than judges. If there are those in need of love they deserve to be acknowledged, encouraged and treated with compassion.. I’m not trying to say that there aren’t thieves who have lost themselves in drugs and hustlers who won’t pick your pocket as they look you in the eye. There are all types. It’s the same with all people; there are some you can trust and some who will burn you. Perpetuating stigmas and participating in the dehumanization of a group of people strenghthens the hierarchal system we are trying to dismantle.

The question is not how do we help addicts get clean but how do we offer support without passing judgment. We must transform our society into a society that is based on love instead of fear and create a world that is not so unbearable to live in that the population needs to be drugged or entertained in order to cope with it. We can begin by starting a dialogue that acknowledges addiction and questions the way addicts; the homeless, the mentally ill, and all of those in need are dismissed. Sharing our stories of addiction with one another will help to break the spell of shame and alienation around drug use. The love and support of other addicts and the understanding and acceptance of those who do not use is an integral part of challenging the stigma. It would be much easier to overcome addiction if folks did not feel as if they had been branded with the scarlet letter. I think the best we can do is think about what Stan said to me last time I saw him, “A real simple act of humanity can bring people back.”

I am currently working on a multimedia project exploring the complexities of addiction and what that means in our society. I am looking for contributors willing to share their stories and insight on addiction. If you want to get involved or contribute please contact me for more information. Email me at astrogirl@riseup.net or mail me at 809 Aileen St, Oakland, CA 94608

“A drug is neither moral nor immoral-it’s a chemical compound. The compound itself is not a menace to society until a human being treats it as if consumption bestowed a temporary license to act like an asshole. In other words, drugs do not cause behavior. How a person acts after taking a drug is determined by a complex interaction of variables, a process in which the user’s beliefs and choices play crucial roles. (Taken From Saying Yes to Drugs)

Understanding Mental Illness

I had every intention of writing an amazing and cohesive article on mental health and addiction but ironically I have been too mentally ill to do so. This is a last minute attempt to put some thoughts and ideas out there for folks to think about and discuss in their own communities. This is a personal piece and I have not attempted to cover the whole spectrum of mental illnesses, only what I have experienced, questions that have been raised and how I have dealt with it.

In a recent attempt to ease my turmoil I went camping with a few friends, one of whom is fighting for her life against terminal cancer. There I was, physically healthy but fighting to not take my own life. It made me despise myself and got me to thinking about how the abstract nature of mental illness and addiction is tremendously problematic and alienating for those of us trying to deal with serious mental illness or addiction outside of the current system of western medicine and the pharmaceutical industry.

One of the most common criticisms anarchists have against the psychiatric industry is the labels that are used and the boxes that people are put into. I have been diagnosed bipolar in addition to several other labels ranging from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), to an addict. I have not chosen one label in particular to identify with as my own. Although I have spent most of my life fighting the labels I have begun to draw a certain value in reading and talking with people about their experiences of mental illness and addiction. It makes me feel much less alone in my struggle, gives me ideas about ways of coping that I hadn’t thought of, and it provides hope that yes, maybe I will make it through this bullshit.

Nowadays it pisses me off when people completely dismiss the labels because it invalidates the existence of mental illnesses and leaves me with no words to express my struggle. Something I just got through reading that really explored this idea was Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness: A Reader and Roadmap of Bipolar Worlds assembled by The Icarus Project. I didnt agree with all of it or relate to every page but in general I believe that putting it out there despite the stigmatization that exists is awesome. It’s so important for people who have friends in their community that suffer from bipolar or any other mental illness to educate themselves about it in order to better understand what the meaning behind the label is.

Without understanding there is no compassion and no hope of building community support or of creating radical alternatives to the sterile hospitals we have now. Reading the Icarus Project helped me feel like less of a loser, see connections between myself and others who experience life in a similar way, and it really guided me in deciding whether to try medication or not. I just couldn’t get past judging myself as a sell—out, a traitor to my ideals—think of all the punk points I’ll lose if I don’t just get over it and do it myself!

Pharmaceuticals and the evil companies making bank off of them are the other target of criticism from the radical community. I whole-heartedly share in these criticisms but I do not believe in black and white thinking. Anything can be a tool or a tactic in the appropriate situation or time. There was this one passage in the aforementioned book by Icarus that really struck me and made me reevaluate my feelings and put aside my pride:

“I have an uncle who was one of the founders of the radical anti-psychiatry movement in the 1960’s, along with R.D. Lang and other folks. Among their many efforts, they started a safe-house in New Hampshire called Birch House for people who were undergoing mental breakdowns, the idea was that they would do everything they could—yoga, nutrition, herbs, meditation, and on and on—except use psychiatric intervention—to help people get through a serious breakdown and come back to reality. So I asked him if he thought it worked. He thought for a while, and then he said, well, it worked for some people, but we never had a single bipolar patient make it through without taking medication. We had schizophrenics and depressives and all other kinds of people, but all the bipolar people ended up needing medication. We would try being with them for weeks and they just didn’t get better without drugs.”

I also considered my bipolar uncle who has a tendency to cause serious harm to other people when he doesn’t take his medication. I’m not a scientist but I do have an understanding of the complexity of the brain and the fragility of the chemistry that happens between those fragile synapse firings. I have fought with my brain for about fourteen years now and I am fucking tired of it. Regardless of circumstances I have for the past fourteen years dealt with breakdowns and suicidal depression on a loop about every eight months or so. I’m currently on the tail end of the most recent.

One of the ways that I’ve dealt with regulating my moods is by self-medicating. I began self-medicating when I was 11 and continue to do so to this day. I smoke cigarettes when I’m really anxious and depressed, drink beer to escape and laugh, smoke weed to relax and to fall asleep, and for over a year I was completely dependent on speed. Now I fight every day to stay clean.

There is an obvious trend of stigmatization around drugs and drug users. These moral judgments serve only to further alienate, silence, and contribute feelings of shame for people suffering from addiction. The current “war on drugs” reinforces the societal stigma by legally demonizing drugs and drug use. I view addiction as a mental health issue—not a crime or an action in need of judgment. The majority of people who use drugs to cope with life and develop addictions have either a history of abuse or trauma or an untreated mental health condition.

Plainly, addiction is a case of self-medication. I bring this up because I have known dozens of people in my life that were labeled addicts or alcoholics when in reality they were using substances to cover up a deeper problem. Addiction is about compulsion. The compulsion to escape the pain and stress of life or the ghosts of the past. You can be addicted to anything—food, sex, work, but drugs do far more damage than most other addictions and spiral out of control more often. Once a person is dependent on drugs as a coping strategy everything else in life is secondary—even your own health and well-being. Once you’re addicted to drugs you become subservient to your compulsion. Compulsive thinking is a thought process based on fear and the intense desire to escape that fear.

Anyhow, I have recently in my life decided that I no longer wanted to be addicted to drugs. This leaves me in a peculiar position. If I choose to throw away the coping mechanism that has worked best and most consistently for me in my life what do I replace it with? In order to overcome addiction it is integral to learn healthier ways of coping with intense feelings so that the compulsion to cover up or run away from them becomes alleviated. I’m self-medicating for a reason and if I stop something’s got to give. If I don’t have some sort of plan or alternative to get me through chances are I’m going to end up in the hospital.

A really important piece to this for me has been finding spaces and people that are safe to talk to openly about this shit without fear of judgment. Despite the supposed openness of the radical community, issues of addiction and mental health are really unapproachable. If people spent half as much time supporting people suffering from mental illness as they did criticizing the pyschiatric industry perhaps we’d have an alternative to it. It’s an issue no one seems to want to address and those of us who suffer do so in silence. Having a support network is essential. If you see someone in your community suffering reach out to them—it could make a serious impact to just invite them on a hike or to a show.

I am trying everything imaginable; pharmaceuticals, herbs, acupuncture, yoga, focusing on projects, spending time with friends, riding my bike, camping, drinking tea, sleeping, eating healthier, learning to accept and love myself despite my shortfalls, and still everyday is a ton of bricks on my heart.

Frustration after frustration is what I have found on this journey. What can you do when you need help? It sucks to feel like a drag. I often feel like I’m weighing down my friends and sucking up resources when all I want to do is crawl into a hole and die. We need to have more dialogue around these issues so people feel comfortable talking and listening to issues around mental health and addiction. Radical support groups or networks are one great idea. Merely talking about it amongst friends and in our communities is a huge step. Hell, it’s not glamourous but it’s real.

I want to put a call out for people to submit articles, ideas, stories, advice, pictures, or whatever they see as relevant to mental illness and addiction for a zine project I’m going to begin working on. Schizophrenia, self-mutilation, disassociative disorders, bipolar, depression, alcoholics, addicts—everyone is welcome to contribute. How has it affected your life? What do you envision as a healthier way of dealing with these issues? We need to begin creating alternatives to locking us up or sticking us in cult-like religious recovery groups. Let’s get started.

Send submissions to:

astrogirl

809 Aileen St.

Oakland, CA 94608

No Honor In Honor Killings

Issues of violence against womyn are not tied to any one region of the world or to any particular religious or cultural groups. Violence against womyn is an issue that affects the entire human race. From an anarchist perspective the first group of humans to be subjugated by another group of humans was womyn. This violence takes on many different forms worldwide and is perpetuated in myriad ways. It is integral that this be recognized and that our understanding of misogyny and it’s deep roots in the development of societies worldwide resonate with us so that we can avoid perpetuating this oppression. Honor killings are but one extreme and unreported form of violence is manifest.

Honor killings are executed for instances of rape, infidelity, flirting or any other instance perceived as disgracing the family’s honor. Any action construed as disrespectful towards men or the traditional way of life warrants an honor killing. In the eyes of society it is not only expected but required.

A human rights report published in 1999 stated that honor killings took the lives of 888 womyn in the single province of Punjab in Pakistan in 1998. In 2002 461 womyn were murdered in Pakistan for immoral behavior ranging from being raped to cooking poorly. In Jordan published figures state that one womyn a week is killed for losing her chastity whether she is a victim of rape or rumor.

Honor killing began in the Middle East long before the birth of Christianity or Islam when Arabia was populated and ruled by nomadic tribes. The code of honor killing has its roots in the Hammurabi and Assyrian Laws from 1200 BC. which declared womyns chastity to be her families property. These laws evolved from an unforgiving desert and are common to Arabs of the region regardless of their religion. Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims as well as various Christian sects dwelling there today still believe in the towering importance of man’s honor. Sharif Kanaana, professor of anthropology at Birzeit University in Palestine explains that it is a “complicated issue that cuts deep into the history of Arab society.” The practice stemmed from the patriarchal society’s interest in maintaining strict control over designated familial power structures. “What the men of the family, clan, or tribe want is the reproductive power. Womyn are considered a factory for making men. The honor killing is not a means of control of sexual power or behavior but an issue of fertility and reproductive power,” explains Sharif Kananna.

In 1998 the U.N. conservatively estimated that over 5,000 womyn are killed for reasons of honor each year although it impossible to really say when many cases go unreported. 1998 and 2000 U.N. reports document the practice occurring in Yemen, Lebanon, Egypt, the West Bank, Gaza, Bangladesh, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, India, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Brazil, Ecuador, Uganda, Morocco, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. In the Turkish province of Sanliurfa, one young womyn’s throat was slit in the town square because a love ballad was dedicated to her over the radio. This behavior is considered a normal response and is often celebrated by the family and the community. The general feeling is articulated well by former Jordanian Minister of Justice, Abdul Karim Dughmi in August of 2001 when he responded to a question about honor killings in instances of rape with a smile and said, “All womyn killed in cases of honor are prostitutes. I believe prostitutes deserve to die.”(Taken from the Jordan Times).

“The honor of the family is very dependent on a woman’s virginity,” says Shadia Sarraj of the Women’s Empowerment Project at the Gaza Community Mental Health Project. A woman’s virginity is the property of the men around her, first her father, later a gift for her husband; a virtual dowry as she graduates to marriage. In this context, a woman’s honor is a commodity which must be guarded by a network of family and community members. The woman is guarded externally by her behavior and dress code and internally by keeping her hymen intact.”

Often burning the womyn or scarring them with acid are the preferred method of men committing such crimes. The Progressive Women’s Association, which assists attack victims, tracked 3,560 Pakistani womyn who were hospitalized after being attacked at home with fire, gasoline or acid between 1994 and 1999. About half of the victims died. Such crimes are also rife in Bangladesh where some 2,000 womyn are disfigured every year in acid attacks by jealous or estranged men. In most cases the men who commit the crimes go unpunished or receive reduced sentences. According to Rana Hussieni, a Jordanian Human Rights Activist campaigning against crimes of honor, today in Jordan, there are about 40 womyn who are spending time in prisons without any charge or court ruling because they became pregnant out of wedlock or were involved in immoral affairs. Some of the womyn have been in for 11 years because the authorities are afraid to release them due to the probability that they will be murdered by their families.

The story of a brother and sister in Daliat al Carmel, a small Israeli Druze village in October 16, 1995 illustrates the societal pressure to carry on the tradition. forty-year-old Ittihaj Hassoon got out of a car with her younger brother on a main street of Daliat al Carmel where over ten years before Ittihaj had committed the unpardonable sin of marrying a non-Druze man. Now, after luring her back to her home village with promises that all was forgiven and her safety assured, her brother finally had the chance to publicly cleanse the blot on the family name with the spilling of her blood. In broad daylight in front of witnesses, he pulled out a knife and began stabbing her. The witnesses quickly swelled to a crowd of more than 100 villagers who approving, urging him onóchanted and danced in the street. Within minutes, Hassoon lay dead on the ground while the crowed cheered her killer, “Hero, hero! You are a real man!” Four years later when Suzanne Zima interviewed Ittihaj’s brother Ibrahim for the Gazette in Montreal he told her, “She is my sisterómy flesh and bloodóI am a human being. I didn’t want to kill her. I didn’t want to be in this situation. They (community members) pushed me to make this decision. I know what they expect from me. If I do this, they look at me like a hero, a clean guy, a real man. If I don’t kill my sister, the people would look at me like a small man.”

Avenging family honor is a product of societies in which womyn’s bodies have become a brutal tool in reproducing patriarchal control. How many of these crimes are based on tribal customs and how many are based on the frustrations of societal pressure? In Norma Khouri’s book, Honor Lost, recently published in 2003, she explains the culture of fear that womyn in the middle East grow up under. She says, “We are controlled by the fear that generations of male dominance have instilled in us, a fear reinforced by our mothers. Our only option seems to be to live within the rules, regulations, and beliefs of the men who govern us. We absorb from birth that breaking the code, is very, very dangerous.” Honor killings are not purely about men attacking womyn, in fact, oftentimes womyn aid in the honor killings because they see it as necessary in protecting the family.

Activists throughout the Islamic world are fighting to end the practice. Some of the most noteworthy work includes RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, an independent political/social organization of Afghan women fighting for human rights and for social justice in Afghanistan. RAWA has done work including meeting the immediate needs of refugee women and children, the establishment of schools with hostels for boys and girls, and a hospital for refugee Afghan women and children in Quetta, Pakistan with mobile teams. In addition, they have conducted nursing courses, literacy courses and vocational training courses for women.†

The Independent Women’s Center operates three shelters in the Patriotic Union territory of Kurdistan and is currently working on opening one more shelter in the capital of Erbil which lies in the Democratic Party territory. The number of honor killings in Patriotic Union territory has steadily declined over the decades due to the hard work of human rights activists in the area, from 75 in 1991 to 15 in 2003.

Even in Saudi Arabia, known to be particularly oppressive to womyn, there are emerging human rights groups that are independent from the government. They are currently struggling to determine their structure and striving to investigate human rights abuses without government interference. In Jordan activists are fighting to abolish Penal Codes that allows for the murders and protects the murderers.

The mere knowledge that people around the world are watching what is going on gives strength and provides support to the activists who are helping to educate and make change in their own countries. For those of us who want to help there are several avenues. Educating people in our own countries and raising funds to support regional projects that are providing assistance to womyn, gathering information for statistics, and through raising awareness internationally.

While it is essential that we examine the different ways misogyny is manifest worldwide it is integral that we direct our opposition toward the oppression of womyn everywhere and avoid contributing to the current anti-Islamic hysteria that is sweeping through the Western world.

Honor killings are only one form of misogyny that is endemic worldwide. Let us not forget the over 5,000 womyn in India who are murdered annually because their dowries are considered insufficient, deaths due to “crimes of passion” in Latin American where men serve minimal sentences for killing their wives on suspicion of infidelity, the unsolved murders of womyn in Juarez, Mexico, the one womyn raped every minute in America, and the numerous economies that are dependent on sex trafficking (700,000 to four million persons trafficked annually worldwide-mostly womyn and children.)

Clearly misogyny and violence towards womyn is a global issue and is not the doing of any one religion or culture. Misogyny is the consequence of something much more complex: power, greed, the commodification of womyn and the global belief that permeates cultures worldwide that womyn are the property of men.

To find out what womyn in the Arab world are working on check out http://www.arabwomenconnect.org/

If You Mean It, Be It

Many of us become active because we see things that outrage us. We want to change them. Unfortunately, our good intentions tend to dissolve in a reactionary activism that falls short of recognizing the depth of what we are fighting against. If we see a homeless person and have a surging feeling that we need to help them we may do one of several things. We can give them change from our pocket, give them a less insulting sum of money, or become truly affected and strive to change the system that creates this situation. The eradication of the root causes, hierarchy and capitalism, is the only fight that will bring revolution as opposed to revolutionary acts which will not necessarily create fundamental change.

Dedication to eradication of hierarchy and capitalism requires that one follow a certain course.

The first step to revolution is confronting yourself. Many people tend to disregard this step or claim that they have experienced it while in reality they are shamelessly perpetuating hierarchy within their radical community. Oftentimes knowledge of current events and history is mistaken for awareness.

Looking at oneself and changing socialized behaviors that reflect fears and insecurities which are partially responsible (along with structural factors) for institutions such as sexism, homophobia, and racism is no small task. This means confronting fears, studying dynamics in relationships, and if followed through it means having a transformative experience and breaking free of the power of socialization. In doing so one gains control over his/her own socialization (it never disappears) and is able to change his/her behavior. Like any major life transformation there is a high price to pay. The difficulty of facing personal flaws and affecting and losing relationships are two examples why many radicals do not fully realize this step before becoming involved in activism.

Being social beings, once awareness has been raised there is a desire to share what has been learned with others. The next step is to take that feeling and educate as many people as possible. It is not going to a demonstration but the impassioned education of those in ones community that will change the system. This step can be characterized as interpersonal transformation or simply as raising awareness.

Once awareness has been raised in a community the question of those who have taken personal responsibility becomes “what can we do?” This is the closest we have ever come to seeing revolution. This joining together of dedicated revolutionaries can and has led to amazing organizing and group work. The Zapatistas are a formidable example of revolutionary organizing. This is the difference between an activist and a revolutionary.

This leads us to the unknown final step in reaching revolution. Unknown because it has never existed. When a large enough transformation takes place and it is a movement of people who truly have experienced the aforementioned steps, then there is a strong basis for a true revolutionary movement: a movement that is truly committed to changing the system and eradicating hierarchy. A revolution under any other circumstances will only be a tiring repetition of age-old struggles for power with varying levels and appearances of oppression.

Trashed and Toxic

West Oakland Community Fights Back

The gorging gut of capitalism necessitates excessive production and consumption as well as devastating unsustainable environmental damage. Industry proliferates, millions are spent to convince a gullible public to consume, and the profits line the bulging pockets of the rich. Many Industries — oil, automobiles biotechnology — are detrimental to the environment while providing scant comfort or enjoyment for the humans they supposedly serve.

Collectively, industry and the acceptance of an industrialized society has created a standard of living that is destroying the planet. Destroying it quietly for those who reap the benefits of this unsustainable lifestyle and destroying it glaringly for those who do not.

Zip code 94607, West Oakland, is the ultimate example of a local community that does not benefit from the luxuries afforded by industry, but suffers from its waste products. Its the ultimate example of environmental racism.

The oldest district in Oakland, West Oakland is home to 23,475 residents. It began as a vibrant and diverse working class community based around what served as the final stop on the TransContinental Railroad. By the mid-1900’s the population consisted of mostly African American residents and West Oakland became known as a center of black cultural and social activism — it was called the Harlem of the West.

After World War II and the subsequent economy boom, the government implemented “Federal Renewal Projects” for West Oakland. This meant freeways and additional industry that was to be the beginning of a physical fragmentation of the community that would continue to the present day.

By the 1980’s, residents of West Oakland had to live with numerous toxic brown-fields, high lead concentrations, illegal dumping and massive industrial activity. Their home contained the Port of Oakland and the Oakland Army Base, with massive railway yards, freeways and constant truck traffic to serve the port and base. Neighborhoods were broken up by freeways and factories, with housing contaminated by lead built right next to industrial facilities. The neighborhood had a higher rate of exposure to toxic materials than in the almost any other community in Alameda County.

There are many negative environmental crises currently afflicting the area. Between January and June of 2000, the City of Oakland removed 263 tons of illegally dumped garbage from the streets. This was three times more per capita for West Oakland residents than for residents in the rest of Oakland. Nearly 82% of area residents live near an industrial area. In 1998 West Oakland generated six times more toxic chemicals than the rest of Oakland combined. There are higher incidences of asthma within the zip code area 94607 than in the rest of Alameda County. (See graph).

In 1998, 34,103 pounds of toxic air releases were reported by the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) (See graph) Keep in mind that TRIs only account for half of the toxins and pollutants discussed. Point sources such as automobiles, local business (Laundromats), and residences are not included in these numbers.

In response to these and other economic and social problems (a lack of civic engagement, the lack of sufficient public transportation, etc.) the community formed a partnership to address the crisis. 7th St/McClymonds (a local community activist group) and Pacific Institute (a local research organization) joined forces to developed the Environmental Indicators Project (EIP). The project aims to answer questions raised by disadvantaged communities by conducting research to promote revitalization.

Aman Bloom, a West Oakland resident and EIP Neighborhood Committee member note, “The impact on me came from the overall sum of the indicators. This project proves that there is a socially-responsible community of researchers whose interests coincide with the grassroots and who can take part in the process of improvement without taking control.”

This community driven project functions democratically with the residents deciding what needs to be measured or reported to further their own community goals. In the beginning the most important part of this process was choosing the indicators. As it is used in this research project, an indicator (like rates of asthma) is a measurable result of pollution. The community then can organize to reduce the indicator by going after its causes.

West Oakland residents defined quality of life in their community as “the economic vitality, the strength of the social institutions, the well being of its members and the state of its environment.” Most similar projects focus on environmental threats on a larger scale, such as asthma rates for entire cities or states rather than asthma rates within a city’s zip-code. This project is one of the few neighborhood projects that show such glaring environmental racism on a neighborhood scale. A scale that often goes unnoticed.

The work that has been done has made information available and understandable for the general public. The Environmental Indicators Project is the beginning of a strong local community movement against environmental racism. It has engaged and activated its residents and is providing them with the means to improve their community.

Out of the project, the Clean Air festival was born, with over 600 attending a demonstration in front of Red Star Yeast (a major West Oakland polluter) in 2001. Countless community groups are working on all of the indicator projects. They are providing an inspirational example as well as a working model of community activism that often goes unnoticed in a time when globalized struggles are at the forefront of our vision.

Give Capitalism the Rope to Hang Itself

I was sitting and waiting for the train to come when something that had been stirring in my brain for nearly a year began to ferment once again. I wasn’t thinking about this “something” at all. Unsurprisingly, I was daydreaming of Emma Goldman and imagining that I might at some point in my life come close to touching upon her sincerity. In Living My Life she tells of one of her first experiences speaking in front of people. She has been strongly influenced by Johann Most and is speaking in Cleveland to a group of animated workers. She gives them a “sarcastic arraignment” and prods them to fight for more than temporary gains. It is then that an old worker rises to speak

“he said that he understood my impatience with such small demands as a few hours less a day, or a few dollars more a week. It was legitimate for young people to take time lightly. But what were men of his age to do? They were not likely to see the ultimate overthrow of the capitalist system. Were they also to forgo the release of perhaps two hours a day from the hated work? That was all they could hope to see realized in their lifetime. Should they deny themselves even that small achievement? Should they never have a little more time for reading or being out in the open? Why not be fair to people chained to the block?”

This was a turning point for Emma that impressed upon her the need for independent thinking. For some reason this particular sentiment hit me when I was tossing around the current Roe vs. Wade situation in my malcontent brain. The thought of losing Roe Vs. Wade with the impending implantation of one more demonic “supreme” court “justice” makes me grimace and choke back vomit. I do not believe in petitioning the state and this leads me to wonder what is the female anarchist role in the struggle to maintain control of our bodies? Those who will suffer from the overturning of Roe vs. Wade more than just ideologically like myself, are the poor, uneducated, people of color, i.e. the same people who always lose under capitalism.

Should I organize demonstrations? Should I implement abortion workshops? Should I tour the poorest areas of every city and town with information? What would be effective?

I am not writing this to supply answers or information but to provoke thought in the hopes that the thought will provoke action, and that action a reaction. I have found that when I have a question it is best to ask it because questions either supply answers or deliberation. Both of which I consider productive. It is from these humble musings that I found myself scratching at the walls of the beast. Perhaps, this particular issue seems too liberal for some. Many, in my experience, see it the way Goldman leered out over the crowd of haggard workers.

It is time that we begin to educate and organize everyone possible, from every angle. The system doesn’t work and there is always a personal connection to that. For womyn, this is a good example. Let us tie every struggle into a knot (also a good birth control method) and point at the big mess of capitalism.

For information on herbal emmenagogues (stimulating menstruation) or herbal abortifacients (encouraging abortion) go to:

www.geocities.com/RainForest/Vines/2279/intropt.htm

Crackdown! Dissent May be First Casualty of War

Patriotism n. 1) The inability to distinguish between the government and one’s country; 2) A highly praiseworthy virtue characterized by the desire to dominate and kill; 3) A feeling of exultation experienced when contemplating heaps of charred “enemy” corpses; 4) The first, last and perennial refuge of scoundrels. Patriot n. A dangerous tool of the powers that be. A herd member who compensates for lack of self-respect by identifying with an abstraction. An enemy of individual freedom. A fancier of the rich, satisfying flavor of boot leather.

-The American Heretic’s Dictionary

In the past six months we have seen the deaths of anti-capitalists in Genoa, Papua New Guinea, and Brazil. As radicals, there is one thing that is important to understand when considering the tragedy of September 11: It was the US government’s hatred and fear of alternatives to capitalism (socialism) that motivated us to fund the Taliban in the first place. The operation to terrorize the Soviet Union is coming home to us twenty years later. The real danger is attacks on civil liberties and the likelihood of the government turning its focus to dissidents within its borders. Once that happens, we are all in grave danger.

Let us consider what the United States has done historically during crisis or times of “National Emergency”:

-During the Civil War:

  • Anti-war newspapers were banned from the mail.
  • The Reverend J.R. Stewart, of Alexandria, Virginia was arrested for failing to include a customary prayer for the president of the United Sates in his sermon.
  • Civilian courts were suspended in peaceful regions of the country-especially where Democrats held power-allowing trial in military courts.

-During World War I:

  • In 1918, Eugene Debs, was tried, convicted and sentenced to ten years in prison for a speech in which he criticized the conviction of several World War I-era draft resisters and opponents of conscription. He served three years before being granted a pardon.
  • Upton Sinclair was arrested for reading the Bill of Rights at a rally.
  • Roger Baldwin of the ACLU was arrested for reading the Constitution. All of this was made possible by the Sedition act which permitted the government to target dissents in the U.S.

-During World War II:

We found it appropriate to put over 110,000 Japanese-Americans in “holding” camps (also known as concentration camps).

The only legal authority for the Vietnam War was the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which was found to have been based on a fabrication almost immediately after it was passed.

The First War Powers Act granted the President broad powers to censor mail, cable, radio, or other means of communication.

The Second War Powers Act allowed the government to exercise broad economic powers, including seizing private property (this can be done under the International Emergency Economic Powers Act if national emergency is declared).

The Middle East has been treated by the media much the same as the Soviet Union was during the Red Scare. Activists and critical civilians alike were rounded up in peacetime red scares for years. The “with us or against us” attitude will inevitably lead to a conflict between lovers of freedom and nationalists. The Combating Terrorism Act of 2001 has been passed by the Senate, greatly expanding the power of federal authorities to spy on online communication, and some are even talking about national identification cards.

“Operation Infinite Justice” has led to what is the most frightening attack on our liberty: the new cabinet position for “Homeland Security” which will enable increased communication between the police and the military and give law enforcement the “tools they need to track terror at home.” This, folks, means martial law, justified injuries, deaths, and imprisonment of protesters (terrorists). With all of this the American public will be too frightened and swayed by the mass media to act.

If the government was so concerned with security why would they allow airport security to be run in the private sector (minimum wage workers) and why would they oppose FBI background checks on the workers? We need to be aware and raise questions of the ulterior motives of our government. The National Security Agency is huge and has incredible resources and knowledge. The National Security Agency was responsible for creating a pretext for the invasion of Cuba (one idea was to shoot down a CIA plane designed to replicate a passenger flight and announce that Cuban forces shot it down) and has been listening to Osama’s telephone conversations for years. It is not plausible to believe that NSA didn’t have knowledge of a planned attack on the U.S.

Whether it is only to go forward with the militarization of space, or whether there are reasons beyond our wildest imagination, we must urge ourselves and the public to replace emotional immersion with logical analysis and education. It is crucial to be aware of the patriotism that September 11 spawned because this patriotism will blossom into hatred of dissidents and will justify a violent response by police and military to protesters in America. Today may be the day to read up on the counter intelligence program (cointelpro) used by the FBI on activists in the 60′s and 70′s (check out Ward Churchill) because the death in Genoa will not be the last and we may soon find ourselves in the spotlight-demonized by the media, stoned by our neighbors, and hunted down by “Homeland Security.”

“During times of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

False Villains – Systematic Causes

*Islam in Arabic means submitting to Allah the one and only god. *Muhammad is the prophet of Allah. *Mecca is the Holy City. *In the beginning Islam provided a suffering Arab community divided by intertribal wars with power, unity, and triumph. *Mosques are the “churches” of Muslims.*The Five Pillars (key duties) of Islam: …Shahada: A profession of faith recognizing that Allah is the only god and Muhammad is his prophet. Salat: Praying five times a day at dawn, midday, when the sun begins its descent, sunset, and when night falls. This is a quick exercise in intense meditation. Fasting: During the month of Ramadan from sunrise to sunset. Giving Alms A Pilgrimage to Mecca.

(The Five Pillars say nothing of terrorizing other people.)

Until the suicide bombing on September 11 I had never given very much thought to the Islamic religion because I come from the viewpoint that organized religion is an oppressive and controlling force that allies itself with government. As the Middle East continues to be demonized by our government I find it necessary to educate ourselves and our communities on the matter so that the demonstrations of ignorance through acts of violence, unnecessary sideways glances, threatening phone calls, ugly nationalism, and ironically enough, a rejuvenated love for the christian god can be thought of more logically and come to an end. Bush may have criticized intolerance but it still exists and needs to be addressed.

If David Koresh had been referred to as a “christian terrorist” the entire country would have been up in arms protesting the use of the two words together. It is just as ridiculous to use the term “islamic terrorist” that I continue to hear repeated not only by the media but also by individuals within earshot.

Bin Laden is not the representative for the entire Muslim community (which is 1/6 of the world’s population). In fact, he is a representative of one small fundamentalist group that was trained and funded by the United States (we gave them $43 million dollars just 4 months ago to destroy poppies-as part of the “war on drugs”).

Believing that all followers of Islam are terrorists is comparable to believing that all christians are devout followers of Jerry Fallwell. It is this ignorance that is allowing for people in this country to believe that a military retaliation is necessary, it is ignorance that is fueling the recent hate crimes in our communities, and it is ignorance that allows Bush to further an arms race that is ineffective and costly. The real danger is not individual spiritual beliefs or religions but fundamentalists of any religion who use their religion to justify actions that are not justifiable by any earthly circumstances.

Muhammad Atta who was the pilot for the first jet that crashed into the World Trade Center was from Egypt, a country that spends only 4% of the budget on health care. Poverty causes anger and rebellion and as we impose policies on the international community that pressure them to privatize their resources; their government in turn cuts further into public spending, which results in higher unemployment rates and increased poverty. There are very understandable motivations for attacks on the United States and we need to think critically about our foreign policy.

Aside from stealing bread off the tables of the poor consider Reagan’s 1983 bombing of a Lebanese village, Bush’s “smart bomb” of civilians seeking shelter in Baghdad, or Clinton’s 1999 “mistakenly” dropped missles on a pharmaceutical company in Sudan. Abbas Hamdani of the Mediterranean Quarterly, Fall 1995 articulates it well in the following paragraph:

“The Middle East grew more restive when the days of employment and comparative security under socialism gave way to infitah, or an opening of countries to the free market and Western capitalism; when poverty and inflation increased; when bread riots erupted; when national pride was hurt and humiliated; when Palestinians were thrown out of their lands and homes; and when the superpower; America, vetoed many United Nations resolutions granting Palestinians their legitimate right to return to their homes and achieve their self-determination, while doling out billions of dollars every year to Israel and strengthening its occupation of Palestinian lands.”

It should be no surprise that there are people in the world that despise us; and not because “we are the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity,” but because our freedom and opportunity come at the expense of the freedom and opportunity of the majority of the world’s population. Who is the real terrorist in this story?

If there is any doubt consider that America brought the Taliban to power, promoted Saddam Hussein for a war against Iran, allied itself with the most reactionary regimes in the mideast and sponsored the ongoing military occupation of Palestine by Israel. Not enough? How about Israel’s invasion on Lebanon in 1982 where 17,000 civilians died? Or maybe the half million children that have died because of our sanctions on Iraq. You think 5,000 is a big number? Consider the terrorists that we armed and paid in the 1980′s massacre of more than 30,000 Nicaraguan civilians. Vietnam?

With Bush’s “Operation Infinite Freedom” where he has threatened to “stop, eliminate, and destroy” terrorism where it grows (sort of like spraying your lawn for weeds, right?) we are embarking on a war that really will be infinite. How long will it take to “weed out” all of the terrorists? Will the impossible demands on the people from Afghanistan result in bombing? How many bombs will we drop before the people of this country protest against the ridiculous policy that has no attainable outcome? How many must die at our expense and what civil liberties will we lose in the meantime?

Until we change our brutal, militaristic, foreign policy and follow rules of international law there will be terrorists. The weapons of mass destruction the United States has in themselves are a form of terrorism on the rest of the globe; it is intimidation, and until we put down our arms we are inviting opposition. There will continue to be idealistic and fundamentalist attacks on capitalism and the West and it is up to progressive people in the west to use this opportunity to educate our own communities about capitalism and it’s effects on the rest of the wolrd.

Capitalism is the real terrorist in this world because it rewards greed and motivates the greedy to get what they want by any means necessary. When we get sick or go to war it benefits our economy. We need a new system based on humane principles, mutual aid, and strengthening of local infrastructures. The time is now, there are millions more lives at stake and things are only going to get worse as the nation becomes more hysterical and war hungry.

Call any of these Islamic organizations in San Francisco to show support and counteract all of the ignorant hateful messages they are receiving:

Islamic Bulletin/Masjid Al Noor 415-552-8831 Islamic Society of SF/Masjid Darussalam 415-863-7997 SF Muslim Community Center 415-563-9397 The Mosque and Islamic Center of SF 415-282-9039