Category Archives: Autumn 2011, (09/30/11)

Crash the Party – Expose the American Legislative Exchange Council

Folks in Arizona are calling for “creative diversity of tactics” during five days of protest November 29 – December 3 against the American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) “States and Nation Policy Summit” in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale. ALEC helps corporations pass laws to increase their profits. The protest and day of direct action on November 30 aim to expose the cozy relationships between big-name corporate interests and the right-wing politicians who service them.

The Council is a non-profit forum where corporations work with legislators to write model laws to strengthen corporate power through deregulation, attacks on labor and immigrants, and by weakening environmental and health laws. The model legislation coming out of ALEC is introduced in state legislatures nationwide by thousands of state representatives and other politicians — and ALEC claims that roughly 17 percent of the proposed bills are signed into law. ALEC claims to have almost 2,000 legislator-members — about 1/3 of all state legislators from all 50 states, the vast majority of whom are conservative. 98 percent of its income comes from corporate sources representing a Who’s Who of 300 major US companies, trade groups and law firms.

Despite ALEC’s bold-faced role in putting government at the service of corporations, most people haven’t known about ALEC until recently. There were small protests at ALEC’s spring meeting in Cincinnati and its annual meeting in New Orleans. In July, the Center for Media and Democracy released roughly 800 leaked model bills developed by the Council that are now on-line and subject to public scrutiny. If thousands of people disrupt ALEC’s Phoenix meeting, it will help expose ALEC and make it a household name.

Twelve years after 50,000 demonstrators shut down the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle on November 30 using a “diversity of tactics” to expose the way the WTO puts government at the service of corporations to exploit the Earth and her people, could history repeat itself in Phoenix on November 30, 2011? By pushing state and local governments to serve corporate interests, ALEC is like an internal-US version of the WTO. Many folks around the country are making plans to be in Phoenix in late November, and solidarity protests are planned for November 30 nationwide.

American Legislative Exchange Council Exposed

ALEC’s mission statement explains that it exists “to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty, through a nonpartisan public-private partnership of America’s state legislators, members of the private sector, the federal government, and general public.”

ALEC currently has 9 task forces on different topics, each co-chaired by one elected official and one or more representatives of the “private sector” i.e. a corporate representative. Together, corporations and elected officials develop model legislation. Task forces include: Public Safety and Elections; Civil Justice; Commerce, Insurance and Economic Development; Education; Energy, Environment and Agriculture; Health and Human Services; International Relations; Tax and Fiscal Policy; Telecommunications and Information Technology.

ALEC has a board of directors composed of elected officials, plus a “private enterprise board” composed of corporate representatives. The private enterprise board includes representatives from (among others) the right-wing Koch brothers (Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC – Mike Morgan), ExxonMobil Corporation (Randy Smith), Peabody Energy (Kelly Mader), AT&T (Bill Leahy), Wal-Mart Stores (Maggie Sans), Coca-Cola (Gene Rackley), Kraft Foods, Inc. (Derek Crawford), State Farm Insurance Co. (Roland Spies), UPS (Richard McArdle), Intuit, Inc. (Bernie McKay), Bayer Corp. (Sandra Oliver), GlaxoSmithKline (John Del Giorno), Pfizer Inc (Michael Hubert), Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) (Jeffrey Bond) and the American Bail Coalition (William Carmichael).

The 800 model laws drafted by ALEC are mind-boggling in their pro-corporate scope. They cover school privatization, green house gas emissions, union busting, industrial farming, biotech, fracking, pesticides, liquified natural gas, childhood lead exposure, health insurance, coal ash, international trade, water, banking, consumer protection, auto insurance, credit cards, tort reform, voter ID, guns, death and taxes. ALEC provided inspiration for Wisconsin Governor Walker’s bill stripping public union of collective bargaining rights that led to massive protests in early 2011.

ALEC’s corporate members pay $7,000 to $25,000 a year, plus thousands more to participate on task forces. Legislative members pay $50 a year. Besides getting access to model legislation written by ALEC, legislators and their families receive all-expense-paid trips to ALEC meetings (read: free vacation) where they can network with wealthy corporate representatives — potential campaign contributors. ALEC spent $251,873 for childcare during 2009 so its guests could enjoy themselves. The November Summit meeting, for instance, will be at the luxurious Westin Kierland Hotel in the wealthy Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale.

Criminal Injustice

It is either fitting — or ironic — that ALEC is having their meeting in Arizona given ALEC’s involvement in drafting Arizona Senate Bill 1070, the harsh anti-immigrant law passed in 2010 that sparked massive protests and a boycott against Arizona. SB 1070 requires Arizona police to attempt to determine an individual’s immigration status during a “lawful stop, detention or arrest” when there is reasonable suspicion that the individual is undocumented. The law makes it a misdemeanor for any alien 14-years old or older to be in Arizona without carrying federal registration papers. SB 1070 also makes it illegal to give rides to immigrants or “conceal, harbor or shield” them if they are in the US illegally. The law, which almost requires racial profiling, is on hold after a federal judge issued an injunction blocking its enforcement.

During a December, 2009 meeting in Washington DC ALEC developed a model act with provisions that would become SB 1070 known as the “No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act.” At the time, Arizona Senator Russell Pearce, who introduced SB 1070 in Arizona, was an executive member of ALEC’s task force on Public Safety and Elections. The private enterprise executive members of the task force included Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the US, as well as the American Bail Coalition, representing bail bondsmen and bounty hunters. The National Rifle Association was the private enterprise chair of the task force.

It is significant that corporations which stand to profit when more people are arrested and imprisoned are pushing laws that will accomplish that goal. For example, CCA was expected to earn $74 million for operating private immigration detention centers during 2010.

SB 1070 is not the first law-and-order bill linked to ALEC. ALEC and its partners in the private prison business were behind the dozens of Three Strikes, truth-in-sentencing and mandatory minimum laws passed by states over the last 20 years. ALEC’s model Three Strikes law was called the “Habitual Violent Offender Incarceration Act.” These laws have helped double the number of people imprisoned in the US in the last generation, particularly decimating communities of color. The US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world — over 2 million people. ALEC’s corporate partners have made millions off human suffering.

ALEC has tried to focus the war on terrorism against non-violent environmental protestors by drafting “The Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act” (a broader version of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act) and the “Environmental Corrupt Organizations-Preventative Legislation and Neutralization” act which treats activists like organized crime syndicates. Even publishing this article could be illegal under the act. These laws have been proposed in at least 16 states.

Because of ALEC’s role in drafting SB 1070, Arizona activists in Project Baldwin describing themselves as “a group of people in occupied Indigenous lands” are organizing the protest in November. Their call to action notes “Whether maintained by the state or corporations, we’re against all systems of control. We are for freedom of movement for all people. ALEC should know there are a million better things to do with their time than plotting mass incarceration. But there’s nowhere we’d rather be than confronting their meeting. We’re calling for four days of action here in occupied Onk Akimel O’odham lands from November 29th – December 3rd, 2011, with an emphasis for action on November 30th (N30!). We encourage a creative diversity of tactics on N30, the 12th anniversary of the Seattle uprising against the WTO. No matter the acronym, ALEC is no different than all the other gangs of businessmen, politicians, and bureaucrats that we’ve been resisting for over 500 years.”

Colonialism

Project Baldwin puts ALEC in the context of colonialism: “Ultimately, there is nothing particularly remarkable about ALEC – everywhere those who benefit most from capitalism meet to devise ways to tweak the existing systems of economic exploitation to work more effectively in their interest.

“Internationally, institutions like the WTO and the IMF are the mechanisms of neo-colonialism, manipulating international markets and rewriting national laws to more efficiently channel the flow of resources from south to north, from poor states to wealthy ones, from marginalized peoples to the global ruling class. ALEC, in turn, represents the collusion of capital and the state to orchestrate the same process at the domestic level in the U.S.

“The policies that ALEC promotes are fundamentally designed to maintain control over marginalized populations upon whose exploitation the nation’s corporations and ruling class depend to maintain their economic and political domination. For instance, ALEC’s work on the behalf of the prison industry has targeted communities of color for criminalization and incarceration, creating a constant flow of human fodder for the prison industry and reinforcing the racialized and class-based hierarchies that underpin capitalism.

“It is important to articulate resistance to ALEC in terms of what it represents on a global scale and the role it plays in the over 500 year process of colonization in the Americas. ALEC presents the unique opportunity to resist colonialism by directly confronting capital and the state while illustrating the ways in which each institution supports and defends the other.

“ALEC is the perfect example of how hollow and false social democracy is. ALEC and every one of the policies it promotes deserve to be directly confronted with fierce and uncompromising resistance to interrupt their ability to destroy lives and promote misery.”

For more information about ALEC and how you can go to Arizona to shut it down, check out: alecexposed.org or azresistsalec.wordpress.com or email projectbaldwin@riseup.net. To plug into the November 30 solidarity action in the Bay Area, contact: communityactiondefense@gmail.com, Communityactiondefense.wordpress.com

Beyond Adverse Possession: Seeking Revolution in Oakland’s squats

by Samara Steele

This year unlikely revolutions have blossomed around the globe, with whole populations rising up, riding the wave of their own rage, dethroning dictators and denouncing disparity. It is hard not to be caught up in the euphoria of it all–the people of Egypt dancing in Tahrir Square as Mubarack’s regime crumbled, the people of Tunisia carrying the flame of Bouazizi all the way to the capital, the anti-austerity protests sweeping through the town squares of Europe, the burning of London as disenfranchised youth released their rage in Tottenham.

Watching so many moments of human expression on the news, I couldn’t help but celebrate the emotional victories of all of these people. However, I harbor strong doubts when I hear activists claim that these revolts mean “capitalism is collapsing.” The myth that capitalism can somehow “collapse” is perhaps Marx’s greatest error in his nearly flawless economic theory.

It can be fun to fantasize about the fiery end of capitalism–be it a collapse or a revolt–but economic modes of production don’t die quite so easily

Capitalism has already collapsed about 8 times now. The worst was perhaps the Recession of the 1890s, during which entire countries went bankrupt and the populace overthrew various governments around the globe. Individual political and economic systems entirely toppled, but capitalism just started over. The people couldn’t imagine anything new, so from the rubble of their burnt out cities they just began re-enacting capitalist exchange.

In building our strategies to end capitalism, it’s worth investigating the “fall” of the previous mode of production, feudalism.

During the reign of feudalist distribution, a handful of noble-born aristocrats owned the land and means of production, while over 90% of the population served them as serfs. Starting in the 1500s, a merchant class arose who (at first) sold goods to the aristocrats. As these merchants accumulated wealth, they were able to create a new “capitalist social space” with a value system that allowed non-aristocrats to own land and acquire wealth. Eventually–after 200 years of developing this capitalist space and social practices–the merchants no longer needed the aristocrats. The so-called “revolutions” in America, France, etc in the 1700s were simply the gesture of shrugging off the parasitic aristocratic class. The real revolution had begun in the 1500s, when merchants built the foundations of the capitalist practices that would eventually make feudalism unnecessary.

In that vein, I am convinced that if we want capitalism to actually stay collapsed at some point, there will need to be a new type of economic distribution to replace it. We must work to build new social spaces in which post-capitalist identities and practices can evolve.

I was mulling over these ideas when I moved to Berkeley a few months ago and began to get involved in activism here. I was surprised to discover that many local activists live in houses they neither rent nor own–these activists are part of the Radical Squatting Movement. This movement can be traced back to the European Autonomous Movements of the 1970s, when revolutionaries turned away from the overtly political tactics of the Revolt of ’68, and instead began to build underground “autonomous” social spaces outside of the values of capitalist exchange. This kind of squatting quickly spread to the U.S., gaining momentum in NYC of the 1980s, and continuing to grow in fits and starts through the 90s and 00s. The more I talked to folks about these squats, the more I wondered if they were the sort of social space from which new types of economies could grow.

Boasting hundreds–or perhaps thousands–of squats, the city of Oakland could be called the West Coast Capital of Squatting. This summer, I explored several explicitly radical Oakland squats, primarily focusing on two houses, Comedia and Spackle House, because these two houses represent opposite ends of the spectrum:

Comedia is a mural-bedecked open-door squat that hosts travelers, punk shows, a bike shop, and a small zine library; whereas Spackle House is a white-walled invite only squat where a small group of activists and their friends quietly relax between activities.

All names of people and houses in this article were changed to protect privacy, with the exceptions of Steve De Caprio and Heather Wreckage.

COMEDIA (open-door punk house)

The gate to Comedia bares a giant circle-N. As I push through the gate and enter the yard, it seems I have entered a very different sort of space; a space where the false hierarchies of capitalism have been abandoned. Dolls hang from trees. The sides of the house are painted with intricate murals. As I walked through the halls, the paintings on the walls and ceilings steal my attention. Symbols, animals and blurs of color abound. I find myself thinking of the Chauvet Cave Paintings in France. But this art was not created by long-dead prehistoric humans: the living artists are all around me, cooking, writing, talking, braiding hair. They may be fully modern humans but to me it seems like there is a sense of wildness about the squatters. No one is acting “businesslike.” Moods seem to flow, unrestrained: bursts of joy, exhaustion, annoyance, and anger are expressed, instead of hidden behind customer-service-like masks. These people are very different from the “professional” activists I encountered in college and while working for NGOs–instead of scrambling to bolster their resumes, these people are concerned with honestly expressing themselves as part of their work to change the world.

In the past Comedia was a duplex, but a stairwell has been constructed uniting what had once been two separate homes. I dash up the stairs and make my way to the living room that doubles as a show space and for guests to sleep in, just in time for the weekly house meeting. About twenty people are seated in a large circle. Some of them have brightly colored hair and piercings. Others are dressed a bit more formally, as if they just got back from a part time job.

Pris, one of the house members, facilitates the meeting. She is swathed in black lace, a tutu, and combat boots. If you count the chicken coop and the two tool sheds, Comedia only has space for eight permanent house members at one time. Almost everyone in the room is a visitor.

Pris asks everyone to go around the circle and say their names, and how long they plan to stay at Comedia. One young woman says she’s staying here until she spanges enough cash for a bus ticket home to San Deigo. A pack of dreadlocked travelers are on their way to a treesit in Oregon, and are grateful to have a floor to crash on tonight. A longtime house member introduces himself as Turnip and says he’s either “staying until next week, or until a thousand more Comedias spread across the globe.”

As the house denizens introduce themselves, one person stands out. He is a middle-aged man who introduces himself as Bill. Bill has grey hair and talks like an engineer. He wears a brand-name fleece jacket and gold-framed spectacles. Bill was recently laid off. “I will be homeless within the week,” he says, explaining that he hopes to come live at Comedia in his time of need.

Pris bites her lip. “Why don’t you come hang around the house this week, to make sure you can… tolerate it.”

On the living room wall, just behind Bill, the words “Safe as Hell” are painted in black.

Just last week I rode my bike to Comedia after work and Billy, a Comedia house member, showed me the giant red welt on the back of his head where just a few hours before, a long-time visitor beat him repeatedly with a broom handle. The visitor had been acting strange all day, muttering under his breath, then he just hauled off and attacked Billy. Lavender, a flute-playing traveler with long dreadlocks, pulled the attacker off Billy and calmed everyone down. The attacker was immediately kicked out, but everyone was still jittery and shaken.

“This kind of fucking bullshit happens at least once a week,” says Barleycorn, a house member, in an interview a few days later. He explains that it’s often visitors and travelers who bring the violence.

Comedia strives to be a safe-space, so house members don’t tolerate violence, harassment, or non-consent. The house also has a no-hard-drugs policy, and a ban on alcohol (except during house shows). But some visitors disrespect the house’s policies, leading to disturbing scenarios followed by people being told to leave.

Members of Comedia have considered ending the open-door policy, which allows anyone to stay for at least 3 days. But for every disrespectful visitor, there are at least ten awesome ones: solid folks who come and learn about squatting and self-governance, and occasionally get plugged into the activist community. Several writers and artists for Slingshot have been Comedia visitors, and many Comedia visitors have gone on to spread squatting elsewhere. “I estimate at least 1200 people come through Comedia a year,” Barleycorn says. Comedia is a community space that builds something beyond itself, and the open-door policy is a part of that.

Every few weeks, there’s a musical extravaganza going on at Comedia, often drawing over a hundred people. One night it was Holy! Holy! Holy!, who played in the nude, encouraging the audience to also throw their clothes off as they rocked out to the intense tunes. This was followed by a hip-hop group, with backup dancers in chains. This evening was immortalized in Dreams of Donuts #13, a zine put out by Comedia member Heather Wreckage. Almost everyone at Comedia is either an artist, writer, musician, model, and/or photographer. Living in a squat allows them the time and flexibility to weave artistic expression into their lives.

Additionally, almost everyone at the house has been involved in activism in some way, be it marching in the Oscar Grant protests, feeding the homeless with Food Not Bombs, working on new squats with Homes Not Jails, staffing local infoshops, or defending animal rights.

When a bedroom in Comedia opened up in August, dozens of people vied for it. As the house members deliberated who to give the room to, of the major things they considered was how the candidates spent their time. Two candidates had been staying in the Comedia bunk room for nearly a year, but did not actively engage in activism and spent much of their time away from the house working and taking university classes. These two were well-liked by many house members, but the collective ultimately chose to give the room to two newcomers who were involved fulltime in the activist community.

“The house tends to have far more cismen than other genders,” Pris tells me in an interview. Cismen (short for “cissexual men” or “cisgender men”) are people who were assigned the male gender at birth and continue to identify as male. Because Comedia has more self-identified males than other genders, several people from a nearby queer-only squat have accused Comedia of being “male-dominated.”

“It’s really frustrating to hear people say the space is male-dominated when there are so many complexities with gender and powerplay going on [at Comedia],” says Finch, who lives in the Comedia Attic. Last winter, house members collectively decided to turn the Attic into a safe-space for women, trans folk, and queer people. Straight males are not allowed in the attic, except by invitation. The Attic has its own meetings, separate from the rest of the house, where gender issues can be discussed without the presence of males. “Living in Comedia, I have become more vocal and a powerful woman,” Finch says.

As I continue dropping in on Comedia, I notice how much I enjoy being in the space. Even though some of the travelers terrify me, I find myself missing Comedia when I’m away for too long, wanting to come back. Being there feels good, feels comfortable.

One day, I run into Turnip at the Long Haul infoshop, and Turnip tells me that, the night before, he had asked some drunken travelers to leave Comedia because they had broken the drinking ban. As these travelers staggered away, their dog was hit by a car and killed in the street in front of the house. Immediately, people from Comedia banned together to help them bury their dog and struggle with their grief. These sorts of convoluted interactions have no right or wrong answer.

As we discuss the issue further, Turnip eloquently states, “There are a lot of problems at a squat like Comedia that are rooted in poverty, violence, despair, and social injustice, but at the same time there’s a direct engagement with life’s dramas. A lot of people are insulated from these conditions by spending all of their time maintaining their status in the system, but they are missing out on a real life experience.”

SPACKLE HOUSE

(invite-only chillout zone)

As I climb the steps, I worry I’m at the wrong address. Spackle House seems so quiet, so white-walled, so… normal. I knock on the door, and am greeted by a long-haired man in a collared shirt who introduces himself as Steve De Caprio. Steve is often called “The Squat Guru” by other squatters, and has dedicated the last decade of his life to defending the rights of squatters in court.

We sit down in the living room, and have a lengthy discussion about the philosophy and legality of squats. Steve explains that one of the biggest critiques of the Squat Movement is that it is not sustainable because it depends on capitalist waste. But squatting itself isn’t supposed to last forever: “Squatting is a tactic towards building a revolutionary infrastructure.”

In the late 1990s, Steve traveled through Europe, staying at legendary squats in Belgium, France, Spain, and Italy. Many of these squats had cafes, libraries, schools, and daycares. Shortly after returning to the U.S., Steve was laid off from his job, but instead of looking for a new one, he moved into Comedia, which was the only explicitly radical squat in Oakland at the time. Seeing the need for a network of squats, Steve began cracking new houses.

Steve envisions a future squat-based society, in which there are open-door houses like Comedia, but also lots of small, specific houses–houses for writers, houses for parents with children, houses for people recovering from addiction. This world wouldn’t be a true utopia–squats are too complicated to fit everyone’s needs all the time. But something magic does happens when we stop distracting ourselves with jobs: navigating our convoluted relationships with other humans becomes the work of our lives.

Spackle House may soon become one of the first houses in the State of California to become legally owned by a squatter. Steve explains that, according to Adverse Possession laws, if you live in a house for 5 years and pay all the back taxes on it, it should become years. “But it’s never that easy: the city will always try to screw you.” Currently, the city refuses to recognize Spackle House as a legitimate structure until Steve pays a contractor to redo much of the work he’d done himself. Perhaps, on some level, the city officials are scared of what Steve is doing: if a squatter succeeds in legally obtaining property, what would that mean about capitalist ideas of ownership?

A few years ago, when the cops came to shut down Banana House, a previous house Steve cracked, Steve had lashed out aggressively, leading him to spend some time in jail. “I should have just walked away, cracked a new house,” Steve says, “But I put my emotions ahead of the revolution… me being in jail didn’t accomplish anything.”

Another criticism of the Squatting Movement is that these squats gentrify poor communities by bringing white people into minority-only neighborhoods. But Steve explains that “In a world this convoluted, there is no clear, neat path to being revolutionary.” In the 1960s, strikers could take unemployment, and there were more resources available for people who wanted to work for social change. But now those who want to make change must make complicated choices to create the time and space they need. “When you do something positive in this society, you always get some revolutionary backlash,” Steve says.

*

Weeks later, as I finish up this article at the Long Haul Infoshop, several folks from Comedia have shown up to help with the Slingshot layout and design. Some of them have read my article and have mixed feelings: everyone seems to have a different idea about what squatting is, what it could be, and how it should be represented. But I’m beginning to suspect that no one–not even Steve De Caprio–knows exactly what squatting is.

Climbing the hills of Oakland, looking out over the sea of houses, it is impossible to tell which houses are owned and which are squatted. As we try to grapple with the complexities, words escape us, and the movement roils beneath the surface.

The economic theory at the beginning of this article was heavily influenced by the work of Evan C. Buswell.

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TEXT BOX 1 (can go anywhere on page):

Terminology

crack a squat / open a house – to begin the process of transforming an abandoned building into a home

to dumpster – to rescue food and other useful items from going to the landfill

Homes Not Jails – a squatter activist group

right of adverse possession – the part of English common law that allows anyone who has lived in an abandoned building for 5 years to become the building’s lawful owner (local laws may vary)

to spange – to engage in the age-old art of asking pedestrians for excess cash

traveler – someone who journeys form squat to squat, usually by hoping trains, bike touring, and hitchhiking

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TEXT BOX 2 (can go anywhere on page):

“Squatting is occupying unused territory. It is creating an autonomous zone amidst a proprietary world.”

–Breez, a radical squatter

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TEXTBOX (can go anywhere on page):

“If a chieftain or a man leaves his house, garden, and field and hires it out, and someone else takes possession of [it] and uses it for three years: if the first owner returns and claims his house, garden, and field, it shall not be given to him, but he who has taken possession of it and used it shall continue to use it.”

–Hammurabi’s Code, Law #30,

written 1700 BCE

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TEXTBOX (can go anywhere on page):

Three Tips for New Train Hoppers

1 – Find an experienced guide to go with you on your first trip.

2 – Hopping off a train while it’s moving (“hoping on the fly”) is dangerous as fuck. Even if it’s only going 2 miles an hour, your clothes can get caught very quickly. A couple of our friends have lost their legs this way.

3 – Don’t feel pressured to drink. Yes, drinking is a big part of train culture, but you may feel more comfortable staying sober around trains. Trust your instincts on this one.

Love,

Slingshot

Hungry for relief – Inmates Strike

By the time you read this article, prisoners across California will have embarked on their second hunger strike in just a few months. Rising up against conditions of torture, the first hunger strike lasted three weeks in July, with thousands coming together in an unprecedented show of unity and force. The second hunger strike may not be as large as the first, but it promises to be more brutal, and there is a real risk that prisoners could die. If you’re on the outside, there are many ways you can support those on the inside in their struggle – indeed, your involvement and action are crucial.

The second hunger strike will necessarily build on lessons learned in July. While prisoners in many facilities were struggling against their own conditions, that strike was initiated by prisoner representatives in Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Unit (SHU), a solitary isolation facility located in the remote edge of northern California by the Oregon border.

It is not surprising that the largest prisoner protest in years, one that brought together people from different nationalities and organizations, kicked off in the Pelican Bay-SHU, for this unit embodies key aspects of the State’s most ambitious, and destructive, policies.

Cells in the SHU have no windows, just fluorescent lights which are never turned off. Prisoners spend 22-23 hours a day thus confined; when they are allowed out it is to be brought (alone) to what is euphemistically called an “exercise yard” – in fact, just a larger enclosed space with grating instead of a roof. There are no contact visits with loved ones, ever. Violence from guards is commonplace. Merely shouting out to another prisoner through your cell door can be considered a disciplinary infraction. Prisoners are fed substandard food, they are punished collectively for issues involving individuals – generally on a “racial” basis – and their indefinite SHU sentences end only if they agree to “debrief,” that is to say, to snitch.

These are the conditions in which people have spent years, even decades, of their lives – often with no prospect of ever getting out.

The SHU is best understood as a long-term behavior modification program. This kind of treatment was developed in the 20th century, under the auspices of both sides during the Cold War, with the goal of destroying people without breaking the rules of Geneva Convention. The result was yet another new weapon in the hands of the ruling class. In America the first experiments in this vein were the Marion and Lexington Control Units, specifically aimed at political prisoners and prisoners of war. Today, close to 100,000 people suffer in such units, which sprouted like a plague across the country in the late 1980s.

If the SHU is a ruling class weapon, who is it aimed at? The answer to this is two-fold. On the one hand, control units are aimed at “security threats” within the prison system, a category that includes anyone organizing against oppression: jailhouse lawyers, revolutionaries, and other “troublemakers.” People have ended up in the SHU for having a book by George Jackson, or a tattoo of a Huelga bird. More broadly, though, the SHU is aimed at all prisoners. Throughout the system, the threat is, if you step out of line you’ll be put in “segregation.” Even those who are not sent to the SHU are subjected to isolation conditions that have been perfected in institutions like Pelican Bay.

For the democratic State, every weapon of oppression must be accompanied by a propaganda attack. This is the way in which the ruling class enjoys what US political prisoner George Jackson referred to as the State’s prestige, or what Italian political prisoner Antonio Gramsci referred to as hegemony. So what could be termed psychological or ideological warfare is the necessary companion of every assault on the oppressed. In the case of the SHU, this psychological warfare takes the form of the gang label.

Accusing people of belonging to a “gang” has become a convenient way to deprive those people of the ability to communicate, to develop politically/intellectually/culturally, and to pursue what are supposed to be their rights under the system’s laws. Many people are understandably fearful of the violence and mayhem associated with many criminal organizations, and these fears are exploited by bodies such as the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) in order to justify clamping down on any collective activity, accusing those they don’t like of being members of “gangs” whether or not this is true. Perhaps not so coincidentally, this works to isolate these people from their communities, further eroding the ties of solidarity that exist between poor and oppressed people, leading to an increase in atomization and antisocial violence which in turn makes these communities all the more vulnerable to actual criminal organizations and oppressors operating on both sides of the law.

In other words, repression of “gangs” serves as a fig leaf for the repression of any collective action or organization by the oppressed that does not suit the plans of the oppressor. This dynamic exists in communities throughout the United States, but like most oppressive dynamics it appears in its most concentrated form within the prison system.

As recently explained on the California Correctional Crisis blog, produced by faculty and students at University of California Hastings College of the Law: “To curb criminal gang activity, we have adopted special sentencing rules and uniquely oppressive correctional practices. This special treatment goes beyond the mere development of special investigation practices, evidentiary rules and penal technologies; it includes the development of a new body of knowledge that regards gang members as special, their lives and behavior beyond the reach of ordinary human common sense. But we have done more: By examining gang practices as special and unique, through the lens of clinical expertise, we have relegated gang members to the status of incorrigible specimens, who can only be studied, controlled, governed, and suppressed through special, dehumanizing technologies.”

The SHU is itself one such dehumanizing technology.

The July Hunger Strike: Round One

Predictably, a major concern in July was that many prisoners suffered a marked deterioration of their health, a situation the prisoncrats exploited in an attempt to break the strike. Strikers were advised to take multivitamins and salt tablets – and yet these were often not available. CDCR insisted that everyone was being monitored, but there were reports that this “monitoring” consisted of someone standing at a cell door asking if the prisoner was feeling alright. Prisoners were supposed to be weighed daily, but this was sometimes done while they wore chains, sometimes not, making the entire exercise somewhat pointless.

When it became clear that some prisoners were willing to continue regardless of the consequences, the State started exploring other options. On July 20, CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate announced that he would seek a court order allowing prison officials to force-feed striking prisoners – including those who had signed advance medical directives indicating that they did not wish to receive any such life-sustaining measures.

Force-feeding is the State’s trump card when dealing with hunger strikes. It is intensely painful, especially when the patient resists, and is often used as an excuse for physical violence from guards and other staff. Indeed, force-feeding has itself been described as a form of violence. At the same time – despite the fact that prisoners have died while being force-fed, and that the World Medical Association prohibits the practice – in the public’s eye the procedure often reduces the urgency of a strike, because people incorrectly believe that the health of a person being force-fed is no longer at risk.

Nevertheless, the State never ended up playing that hand. On July 22, CDCR Undersecretary Scott Kernan met with prisoner representatives, and an agreement was reached whereby the strike would be suspended, in exchange for which the CDCR would begin making significant changes to address each of the prisoners’ five demands. Specifically, Kernan promised that the hated debriefing policy would be replaced by a step-down program based on behavior, not purported “gang” affiliation.

While CDCR did make some minor concessions on the spot – allowing prisoners to purchase warm clothes and art materials, for instance – as days turned to weeks, many of the prisoner representatives began to feel they were being played. Meanwhile, CDCR put out the word that the prisoners had settled for these token concessions, denying that there had been any promise for more significant structural changes. It was an intolerable situation: CDCR was aiming to undo the July hunger strikers’ most important accomplishment – their unity and moral prestige at having resisted torture – and was trying to make it look as if people had settled for crumbs, as if the whole struggle had been over “beanies and calendars”.

In this situation, it was soon decided to resume the hunger strike.

Round Two: Thoughts on the Eve of a Storm

This article is being written exactly two months after the end of the first hunger strike – and less than 72 hours before the start of the next one. Writing beforehand but knowing that this will be read during – or even after – the second strike, poses certain challenges. Nevertheless, the experiences over the summer point to some clear lessons that people would do well to keep in mind.

1) In resisting conditions of torture in the SHU, the prisoners are challenging an important ruling class institution. The SHU, the prison system in general, and specific “anti-gang” policies, are central to how the government controls oppressed people in the United States. The State will do all it can to hold on to these weapons. It will exploit the difficulties prisoners face when communicating with each other and the outside movement. It will exploit fears about gangs and criminality. It will exploit prisoners’ medical conditions. It will exploit every advantage it has – which is why it is all the more important that each and every one of us who opposes this system support the prisoners’ struggle.

2)

3) The struggle to support the prisoners is hampered by a lack of resources. The Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition is strapped for cash. California Prison Focus did not have sufficient funds to publish its Prison Focus newsletter prior to the second strike. A very small number of people have been doing most of the work. If the second hunger strike persists, a lack of outside support will translate into dead prisoners. More people and organizations need to get involved.

4)

5) Autonomous action seems to be on the agenda. While the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition has done an excellent job, its mandate is to amplify the voices of the prisoners, not to provide leadership. As for the hunger strikers, the prison system as a whole is designed to prevent easy communication with the outside – and nowhere is this more true than in the SHU. It is not realistic to expect people in isolation cells to micromanage an outside solidarity campaign. People need to think about how to intervene, because nobody’s going to come up with a grand plan for us.

6)

7) Escalation will occur, whether we can match it or not. CDCR has already stated that the response to a second hunger strike will be harsher than what occurred over the summer. As possible preparation for this, prisoners received disciplinary warnings after the first strike, informing them that they had broken prison rules, that this was being entered into their file, and that they would be punished if this happened again. Action on the outside has to be imaginative and inspiring, more than just phoning politicians. The prisoners have made a point of framing their struggle as a nonviolent one, but even with that limitation there are a wide range of options that should be explored and pursued.

8)

9) The prisoners don’t come from outer space, they come from communities. They have family members and loved ones. These are the people who will have to take the lead in developing a strong movement on the outside, one that threatens the State so that it comes to see ending its SHU torture program as the lesser of two evils.

10)

To get involved with the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition, contact prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity@gmail.com or call: 510.444.0484

To keep up to date with activity around the hunger strike, visit the blog at http://prisonerhungerstrikesolidarity.wordpress.com or subscribe to Hungerstrike News by sending an email to hstrikenews@yahoo.ca

To connect with other people working around the hunger strike, including many family members of prisoners, check out the Pelican Bay- California Hunger Strike Solidarity! group on facebook.

DO SOMETHING!!!

HUNGER STRIKE DEMANDS:

1. Eliminate group punishments. Instead, practice individual accountability. When an individual prisoner breaks a rule, the prison often punishes a whole group of prisoners of the same race. This policy has been applied to keep prisoners in the SHU indefinitely and to make conditions increasingly harsh.

2. Abolish the debriefing policy and modify active/inactive gang status criteria. Prisoners are accused of being active or inactive participants of prison gangs using false or highly dubious evidence, and are then sent to longterm isolation (SHU). They can escape these tortuous conditions only if they “debrief,” that is, provide information on gang activity. Debriefing produces false information (wrongly landing other prisoners in SHU, in an endless cycle) and can endanger the lives of debriefing prisoners and their families.

3. Comply with the recommendations of the US Commission on Safety and Abuse in Prisons (2006) regarding an end to longterm solitary confinement. This bipartisan commission specifically recommended to “make segregation a last resort” and “end conditions of isolation.” Yet as of May 18, 2011, California kept 3,259 prisoners in SHUs and hundreds more in Administrative Segregation waiting for a SHU cell to open up. Some prisoners have been kept in isolation for more than thirty years.

4. Provide adequate food. Prisoners report unsanitary conditions and small quantities of food that do not conform to prison regulations. There is no accountability or independent quality control of meals.

5. Expand and provide constructive programs and privileges for indefinite SHU inmates. The hunger strikers are pressing for opportunities “to engage in self-help treatment, education, religious and other productive activities…” Currently these opportunities are routinely denied, even if the prisoners want to pay for correspondence courses themselves. Examples of privileges the prisoners want are: one phone call per week, and permission to have sweatsuits and watch caps. (Often warm clothing is denied, though the cells and exercise cage can be bitterly cold.) All of the privileges mentioned in the demands are already allowed at other SuperMax prisons (in the federal prison system and other states).

Introduction – issue #107

Slingshot is an independent radical newspaper published since 1988.

At the risk of implying that Slingshot has any set conventions, creating this issue of Slingshot was unconventional. Usually, we finish layout during a single weekend, but this time, the work of editing and designing ran into Monday night. After an anarchist debate in the Long Haul dispersed we ourselves debated fiercely over the cover image. Some strongly wanted it to depict armed people to demonstrate self-defense by any means necessary. Others felt the guns in the image were triggering and portrayed over-simplistic stereotypes of anarchists as being primarily interested in violence. The passionate discussion lasted for hours. Like the anarchist debate hours earlier there was moments of angry orations and hurt feelings. In the end we never reached consensus and the image is published over the objection of some collective members.

Even if we can’t agree on particular images or even if we have reached consensus or not, all of us can agree that the current system is shit. But collectives are given the task to take on far simpler problems–like this introduction. When we get to work we see we are passionate about our ideas, our lives, and our commitment to each other even when we disagree and feel pissed off.

The world is teetering on the edge of revolution — yet it’s possible the worst aspects of our lives may continue indefinitely. Many things are missing from this issue; such as the police murders of civilians in San Francisco and Oakland, and activists across the nation facing jail time for simply filming the police in public. Also, new rounds of protests have sprung up in California schools where students have been brutalized trying to occupy a building on UC Berkeley campus. We even got an article about unreasonable fines causing local homeowners getting evicted but it didn’t make it in here. We hope the blow back from austerity will move people in the US to revolt, echoing uprisings all around the world. The forms that these revolts will take are unknown.

The time for us to make Slingshot come out more frequently and help push for radical change is more evident then ever. Readers should take our call for submission seriously and use this great resource to help fight against the forces of death and slavery.

Political projects like this often bore people. Radicals’ communications too often reflect military thinking or the lifeless coercion of the courtroom. This might make you feel like you have to be strong and if you show any sign of defeat you are a failure: this is wrong. We are a community and a family. It’s alright to be vulnerable. It’s alright to strive for warmth, color and light. Thank you all for your tears.

• • •

Slingshot is always looking for new writers, artists, editors, photographers, translators, distributors, etc. to make this paper. If you send something written, please be open to editing.

Editorial decisions are made by the Slingshot Collective but not all the articles reflect the opinions of all collective members. We welcome debate and constructive criticism.

Thanks to the people who made this: Abhay, Bird, CiCi, Dee, Enola, Eggplant, Ibrahim, Jeff, Ignored, Kathryn, Kerry, Kristi, Llosh, Luci, Mark, Samara, Solomon, Susie-Q, Sweet Potatoe, Yoyo Khadafi and all the authors and artists.

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting on Sunday, December 11, 2011 at 4 p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below.)

Article Deadline & Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 108 by January 14, 2012 at 3 p.m.

Volume 1, Number 107, Circulation 20,000

Printed September 30, 2011

Slingshot Newspaper

A publication of Long Haul

Office: 3124 Shattuck Avenue

Mailing: PO Box 3051, Berkeley, CA 94703

Phone (510) 540-0751

slingshot@tao.ca • slingshot.tao.ca

Circulation Information

Subscriptions to Slingshot are free to prisoners, low income and anyone in the USA with a Slingshot Organizer, or $1 per issue or back issue. International $3 per issue. Outside the Bay Area we’ll mail you a free stack of copies if you give them out for free. Note: they come in 1 lb. packages – you can order 1 package or up to 6 (6 lbs) for free – let us know how many you want. In the Bay Area, pick up copies at Long Haul or Bound Together Books in SF.

Slingshot Back Issues

We’ll send you a random assortment of back issues of Slingshot for the cost of postage: Send $3 for 2 lbs. Free if you’re an infoshop or library. Also, our full-color coffee table book about People’s Park is free or by sliding scale donation: send $1 – $25 for a copy. PO Box 3051 Berkeley, CA 94703.

Book and Zine reviews

Conspiracy to Riot in Furtherance of Terrorism: The Collective Autobiography of the RNC 8

Edited by Leslie James Pickering

Published Oct 2011

Arissa Media Group

www.arissamediagroup.com

In the days leading up the 2008 Republican National Convention, police raided homes, rallies, and public parks, arresting the eight young activists who organized the RNC Welcoming Committee. While there were many groups facilitating protests of the convention, the Welcoming Committee was explicitly anarchist/anti-authoritarian, and operated on a leaderless model. After their arrest, the organizers were charged under the Minnesota Patriot Act with “conspiracy to riot in the second degree furtherance of terrorism.” Since then, many of us have rallied in support of the RNC 8. But who are these eight extraordinary revolutionaries? And what can they teach us?

This book chronicles the lives of RNC 8 members in their own words. They tell their stories, recounting formative childhood moments, the development of radical ideals as young adults, and the organization of the Welcoming Committee. They also discuss their experiences of other actions, adventures traveling the country, and dealing with informants. An great book for anyone involved with activism, providing inspiration and useful internal critique. (samara)

Node Padjomo – Summer 2011

Po Box 2623

Bellingham WA. 98227-2632

This year was declared “The Revenge of Print” by some and if you want to catch a whiff of it you can check this shit out. Though this one doesn’t focus on zines entirely so much as it covers Tape Trades, Mail Art and other resources. So really it might be construed as a splinter group out to get you to use the post office before it goes the way of video stores. I especially appreciate how it is hand made with trippy layouts, and how it comes out methodically three times a year. Next deadline is November 15th. And if you want to further investigate zines check out your local library, or find Zine World, Xeography Debt or Maximum Rock & Roll. (egg)

DAYGLOAYHOLE, Issue #1

benpassmore.blogspot.com

benPassmore@rocketmail.com

When a porning oogle spills beer on his laptop, the computer morphs into an evil overlord that blows up half the world and enslaves most survivors. Out from the rubble marches a lone hero by the name of No Limitz: a katana-totting gutterpunk with a badass dog and his name tattooed to his forehead. No Limitz doesn’t give a shit about saving the world–just about filling his belly–and perhaps it is his very lack of ideology that makes him immune to the evil computer’s powers of enslavement. As No Limitz wanders the disseminated landscape in search of grub, he is forced to fight his way through roving bands of bloodthirsty cops, mutant scarbo ‘rough bears, and various minions of the digital overlord. Created by the illustrator of the Raging Pelican, every page of this comic is statured with traveler jokes and hilarious details, inviting the reader to slow down and take it all in. I laughed my ass off at least five times while reading the fifteen pages–and I rarely laugh when I read. If you liked Brandon Graham’s Multiple Warheads, you’ll royally dig DAYGLOAYHOLE. (samara)

Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice

Compiled & Edited by Alia Malek

Published Sept 2011

McSweeney’s, Voice of Witness Series

voiceofwitness.org

Meet Adama, a sixteen-year-old Muslim American who was seized from her home by the FBI on suspicion of being a suicide bomber. And Nick, a senior at Ponoma College who was arrested when he tried to board a plane with English–Arabic flashcards in his pocket. And Rana, a Sikh man whose brother was gunned down outside a gas station in the first reported hate murder after 9/11.

Released on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Patriot Acts is the latest installment of McSweeney’s Voice of Witness series. It contains the first-person accounts of eighteen people who have been subject to human and civil rights abuses in the wake of 9/11, from discrimination to torture to FBI surveillance.

Written simply and clearly, this book is highly accessible and deeply moving. Don’t be put off by the heavy subject matter: in spite of so much abuse and injustice, the narrators are brimming with hope. If you are having trouble explaining why you are radical to your liberal friends and family members, hand them this book. (samara)

VEGAN: Ethics and Nutrition

C_best82@yahoo.com

Strike up the band! The movement now has another tract of front line animal rights ideas to join the small army of propaganda that already exists. This recent document though seems to directly respond to the spate of anti-vegan backlash—mostly from such books as the Omnivore’s Dilemma and The Vegetarian Myth. The arguments seem clear-headed and at times joyfully snotty. I mean really why take such assholes as Michael Pollan seriously?—unless he’s in conversation with an uptight vegan purist. Thankfully this zine isn’t a put off. Though much of the knowledge is from books and internet factoids there is an underlying love for animals motivating this one. There are lots of pictures to warm you up with. The facts are stated and people can join the revolution and are not made to feel less if they don’t. (egg)

WARMER

aidankoch.com

gyunyunyu@hotmail.com

Seattle zinester Aidan Koch splays the gentle fraying of the human spirit in a dreamlike collage of words and line drawings. Faces fade into horrific scribbles, empty word-bubbles erupt from parted lips, chronology unwinds. Unnamed characters sit on porches guzzling two-buck Chuck, stretch out on beaches, and search for warmth in the spaces between gestures and words. An inverted hand motif seems to imply that every action manifests inwardly, as if, perhaps, the real narrator of the zine is some unconscious mind reveling in the lingering imprints of human experience. Fragments of oblique dialogue propel the reader along on this journey: “Some things will never be the same. Bones. And lungs…” This zine spawns more questions than answers as it motions towards those deeper truths for which we have no symbols or pictures. (samara)

Oh Mycology – radical mycology convergence reportback

This Labor Day weekend, over 200 people from many countries and cultural backgrounds gathered in northern Washington State and spent 4 days sharing knowledge about the many uses of the fungal kingdom at the world’s first Radical Mycology Conference.

The fungal kingdom is the fifth and possibly least explored branch of the tree of life. As one of the youngest natural sciences, mycology (the study of fungi) has largely been kept to professionals and academics, however in recent years public interest in fungi has grown.

We consider the use of fungal species for environmental betterment as an extension of “radical” or “deep” ecology, which considers all beings as having an inherent value and interdependence.

Fungi are important to all living (and previously-living) things, and they play an especially vital role in the life cycles of plants. Fungi are responsible for the decomposition of all woody material, turning dead plant matter into fresh new soil so new plants can thrive. Also, certain fungi create complex networks of underground mycelium (that’s the white stuff you see when you pull back a decaying log) that serve to channel nutrients and water between plants, helping maintain the health of the ecosystem beyond the fungi’s immediate needs. Newer studies are showing that fungi make up a significant portion of the inner structure of plants and help the plant ward off parasites.

With so many ecological disasters occurring throughout the world, fungi have emerged as a powerful ally in the fight to save the planet from ecological collapse. In the last decade or so, mycologists have discovered that the same enzymes that fungi produce to digest their food can also be used to break down toxic chemicals and petroleum products as well as filter farm effluent from watersheds. Species have been discovered that digest plastics, disposable diapers, motor oil, DDT, and Agent Orange. In addition, fungi may be used to remove heavy metals from polluted soil. This new field of “mycoremediation” was a main topic of focus at the RMC.

Workshops also included cultivation methods, mycopermaculture (mushrooms in the garden), mycomedicinals, mushroom paper and dye making, and fungi and lichen identification. Professional mycologists from Oaxaca presented on enthnomycology and folks from the Amazon Mycorenewal Project spoke on their work to clean up oil spills in Ecuador using oyster mushrooms. One presenter spoke about their work with the Mushroom Development Foundation, which teaches Indian farmers to grow mushrooms from agricultural waste as a supplemental income and food source.

All this took place on a communal farm, and by the end of the convergence, we had put theory to practice by setting up 2 beds of King Stropharia mushrooms to help decompose the humanure produced at the farm. We also installed burlap sacks full of Blue Oyster mushrooms around the farm’s water source to help filter the water and prevent erosion to the surrounding hill side. In addition, a “mycelial burrito” of oyster spawn, cardboard and woodchips was established in the farm’s forest garden.

To join the Radical Mycology Network please email radmycology@gmail.com or visit www.radicalmycology.com.

Dead End – Resistance builds against tar sands

The on-going struggle to stop the Keystone XL pipeline — which if built would carry oil produced from Canadian tar sands in Alberta to refineries in Texas, Oklahoma and Illinois — is the latest attempt to make the process of human-caused climate change concrete and visible so we can try to slow it down. Between August 20 and September 3, 1,252 people sat-in outside the White House and were arrested to pressure President Obama to reject Keystone XL — one of the largest eco civil disobedience actions since the anti-nuclear power movement in the 1980s.

Due to an unusual legal quirk, Obama has personal authority to deny a permit for construction. His State Department found in its final environmental impact statement released August 26 that the project would have “limited adverse environmental impacts” and Obama is expected to approve construction of Keystone XL later this fall, bowing to the power of the fossil fuel industry and their “jobs” propaganda. Activists are keeping up the pressure to get him to change his mind.

No matter how the decision goes on this particular project, organizing against climate change is entering a new phase. After years of education, polite activism and international meetings, the power structure is all talk and no action. Obama and the big oil companies know that it makes no sense to invest $7 billion building long-term oil infrastructure like Keystone XL if they’re serious about limiting emissions, especially when alternative energy projects are starved for funding. The struggle against tar sands exposes the dead end of the corporate / industrial system’s fossil fuel dependence.

Producing tar sand oil is more difficult and expensive than producing conventional oil and generates more carbon dioxide (C02) emissions. More importantly, expanding production of unconventional oil reserves like tar sands dramatically increases the globe’s available oil reserves. The more oil and other fossil fuels are available, the more may ultimately be burned, raising atmospheric CO2 levels and creating greater climate change.

Keystone XL shows that as easy-to-produce oil runs out, the current economic and political system will invest whatever is necessary to find more oil to prop up the status quo oil / fossil fuel dependent system. The market on its own will not lead the transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy. Only organized resistance against the power structure can stop climate change.

To be successful, climate change activism has to move beyond its single-issue, reform orientation and understand that it is part of a larger struggle. On one side are corporations and valueless economic systems that promote efficiency for its own sake, divorced from any concern for human happiness or the health of the earth. On the other side are human beings and our love for freedom, pleasure, beauty, and life. At bottom, the struggle to stop climate change is a struggle of values and for meaning.

Unconventional Oil

You are already burning oil produced from tar sands in Canada. In fact, the Keystone XL pipeline is just an expansion of the already existing and operating Keystone pipeline, which already brings 590,000 barrels of tar sand oil per day to the US. Keystone XL would expand imports by 510,000 barrels to 1.1 million barrels per day, which would be 5 percent of US consumption and 9 percent of US imports. Twenty-percent of US oil imports are now from Canada — Canada supplies more US oil than any other country — and about half of Canadian oil production is from tar sands.

To understand why Keystone XL is different from other oil pipelines, you have to understand how radically different oil produced from tar sands is from what most people think of as “oil.”

“Unconventional” oil is the innocent name for oil supplies like tar stands that are not liquid and are therefore not generally counted as part of the world’s oil reserves. There are several times the quantity of unconventional oil reserves as there are conventional oil reserves — perhaps more than 5 trillion barrels vs. 1.3 trillion barrels for conventional oil.

The world burns about 89 million barrels of oil per day or 30 billion barrels of oil per year, so 1.3 trillion barrels of conventional oil will be exhausted in about 45 years. If one includes unconventional oil reserves in the world total, the current oil-dependent system can operate for more than another 100 years.

If industrial society burns all of the conventional oil and then is able to continue its current fossil fuel dependence by burning unconventional oil reserves, as well as the much larger supplies of coal and natural gas, atmospheric concentrations of CO2, as well as other ecological consequences of industrialization, are likely to get much worse.

Unconventional oil supplies are different from traditional oil reserves because they are more difficult and expensive to remove from the ground and turn into usable fuels. Tar sand oil, for example, is virtually solid — a mixture of sand and heavy tar — and therefore cannot simply be pumped from the ground like regular oil.

The first commercial exploitation of tar sands was the Suncor strip mine opened in 1967. Tar sands are dug out of the ground, loaded into huge trucks that can haul 400 tons of material (the largest trucks on earth) and mixed with hot water and chemicals to make the ore liquid enough to be pumped to a treatment plant. There, tar is skimmed off the top of the mixture and chemically treated to make synthetic crude oil. Two tons of sand must be mined to get one barrel of oil (1/8 of a ton). The process uses massive amount of water and energy and produces massive amounts of waste stored in huge lakes.

More recently, the oil industry has developed special drilling techniques to extract oil from tar sands without digging up the tar sands. While this might seem less environmentally disruptive than a massive strip mine, these processes are energy intensive and produce unique types of pollution.

In one method as known Steam Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD), oil workers drill two horizontal wells that can extend for miles, one 5 meters above the other. Drillers pump high temperature steam into the upper well, sometimes for months at a time, to heat the tar sands around the top well. The steam is heated by burning huge amounts of natural gas. As the tar heats up, it flows to the well on the bottom and can be pumped to the surface. Another method called Vapor Extraction Process (VAPEX) injects solvents, not steam, into the upper well to dissolve the tar. In Toe to Heel Air Injection (THAI), oil companies pump air underground and then set the underground tar on fire to heat the tar so it will flow to a horizontal production well.

What all these methods share are greater environmental costs compared to regular oil production. Each unit of energy used to produce tar sand oil creates 6-9 units of energy — well below traditional oil production. The CO2 emitted producing oil from tar sands makes burning a gallon of tar sand oil up to 20 percent dirtier than regular oil, or almost as carbon intensive per unit of energy as coal, which is normally the most carbon intensive fossil fuel. Tar sands production also uses a lot of water — roughly 2 – 4.5 barrels of water for each barrel of oil produced.

Dead End

Tar sands oil production is the face of things to come. As the easy to exploit oil begins to run out, oil companies are moving into deeper waters and more inconvenient corners of the world to keep the oil flowing — and investing hundreds of billions of dollars to develop unconventional oil supplies. Keystone XL is a long-term investment in continued oil dependence — money not available to develop alternatives to fossil fuels.

Perhaps one reason why climate activism hasn’t significantly slowed fossil fuel development or redirected investment towards alternatives is because the climate problem is too big to comprehend. Keystone XL gives a face to the problem. Tar sands are the worst of the fossil fuels — the most desperate and the least sustainable.

But are tar sands really fundamentally different from other fossil fuels? No. All fossil fuels are unsustainable — dependent on non-renewable, limited resources. Burning any fossil fuel from “clean” natural gas to tar sand oil in your Prius contributes to climate change. Fossil fuels represent simplistic, short-term, means to an end technology. While everyone knows that burning oil isn’t sustainable or good for the planet, we use emotional denial to get through the day — there is no way for any of us to continue our current lifestyles without fossil fuels.

The real issue is not just saying “no thank you” to tar sands oil or fossil fuels in general. The current system focuses on resources, production, power, technology and trade. Human beings and what makes our lives worth living — love, pleasure, freedom, self-expression, engagement with others and the world around us — are frustrating obstacles to efficiency and increasing corporate profits. If we’re lucky and obedient workers, we get to enjoy our “hobbies” on the weekend.

It’s time to challenge the out-of-control economic and political systems that steal our lives and are destroying the earth. While we can’t continue our current lifestyles without fossil fuels, who wants to, anyway? The highly centralized, highly managed, push-button consumer world is not freeing us, making our lives meaningful or making us happy. The system needs oil, but people got along just fine without it for thousands of years. We need to build a world in which human needs come before the needs of the system so we can build a new world without oil.

The Heart of Humboldt – bird’s eye view of the tree sitters in Eureka

Currently threatened by the twin forces of logging and development, the tree sitters of Eureka’s McKay tract have been struggling to protect this unique watershed in Humboldt, California for the past 3 years. I joined the sitters for a tree-top chat to talk strategy, envision campaign victory, and elaborate on what it’s like living 100 feet off the ground.

Where is the McKay tract?

This is ancestral land of the Wiyot people who were massacred by white settlers around the time of the 1860s California Gold Rush. These 7000 acres of redwood were logged at the turn of the century the old fashioned way, with teams of oxen and roads made with logs. Then the residual old-growth was logged again about 50 years ago. The western edge of the McKay abuts a large suburb, which developers are planning to expand on top of the world’s most fertile territory for growing redwood. This land has regrown from being cut over, with several groves over 60 and the grove we’re occupying over 100 years old. This grove is already showing signs of old growth biodiversity, which is why we’re sitting here.

What sort of habitat is it?

Pileated woodpeckers have come back, which is a good sign that this forest is developing habitat complexity. Once the woodpeckers build nests in the snags of the larger trees, other species start to move in. There are foxes, deer, ospreys, hawks, black bears spotted owls, and flying squirrels that live in this forest. There’s a diverse mix of alder, various pines and spruces, ferns, lichens and mushrooms as well. It’s also a wildlife corridor to the Headwaters Preserve, one of the last remaining stands of old-growth redwood in the entire world. If this area becomes protected it could vastly expand the worlds’ reserve of old-growth in the long run.

What makes this area so special?

Redwoods grow faster here than anywhere else in their natural range. This place has a high potential for regenerating back into old-growth forest. Creating a community forest in Eureka with recreational camping, hiking and biking, and limited selective logging could generate far more local economic activity than a new housing development would. You can cut about 30% of a forests’ growth of a given year sustainably. But the older groves need to be left alone, probably with no trails to let it recover from the past years of use.

Wait, you’re saying there are logging operations that Humboldt Earth First! is not opposed to?

Our 4 demands are: 1) stop clearcutting, 2) stop aerial spray of herbicides, 3) no logging unstable slopes (landslides ruin water quality) and 4) protect endangered species habitat.

Perhaps more so than other timber companies, Green Diamond [which owns the Mckay tract] is experimenting with selection logging/sustainable forestry on other parcels, but so far they continue to reserve the right to clearcut. One part of the amoeba is going in the direction of sustainability, the other is going towards clearcutting. It’s our job to push that amoeba in the right direction.

Redwood certainly is a hot commodity. What do they use the wood for?

Redwood is largely a luxury item. It’s mostly affluent people who buy it. The lesser quality stuff is used for pallets and fruit boxes. The higher end second-growth becomes decking, roofing, and hot tubs.


Don’t you have anything better to do? I mean, you must sit around and smoke a lot of pot.

It’s fun, but we don’t occupy trees because it’s fun. We do it because we’re part of a larger movement to protect the biodiversity of the natural world for future generations. Even if we can’t stop every form of exploitation and destruction, it’s worth fighting to improve the world we live in and give humans the best possible odds for survival.


You’re saying there’s global significance for protecting this forest?

The Pacific Northwest is essential to the world’s bank of sequestered carbon. Currently, the Amazon actually emits carbon because of climate change and clearcutting the land. So it’s absolutely vital for the Pacific Northwests’ temperate rainforest to continue doing what it does best–sinking the carbon in the ground and keeping it out of the atmosphere. Old-growth redwood forest has the most biomass per capita of any ecosystem in the world, making it the ideal candidate for reducing the impact of massive CO2 emissions. They also create their own fog and precipitation, bringing and storing much-needed water.

What are your plans for the future?

We want to build a Forest Defense University for folks coming from other bioregions, to trade skills and transfer those back to their own local struggles. Like an activist exchange program. Issues are popping up everywhere, and there’s not as many skilled climb trainers as there should be. By inviting people to learn here and go back, it strengthens the network of Earth First!ers using direct action as the first line of defense against destruction in their neck of the woods.


What do you do all day?

Tree sitting is a misnomer because there’s always something to do–setting traverses, platforms, hauling things, missions. There’s a lot of stuff you need to be good at for tree-sitting (or tree-steading as we’ve come to call it)–how to track, build trails and structures, stay warm. It’s all the intensity of wilderness survival, plus you’re in a tree 100 feet off the ground.

How do you become a tree sitter?

Anybody can get in touch with us and arrange plans to stay in the tree village. You need to have an orientation and climb training before tree sitting. We prefer at least 1 week commitment to justify taking the time to train, unless you have prior experience. We will be occupying for the next year for sure, so come out.

It’s like a big house, spread out over 40 rooms. And we’re looking for housemates. If you’re serious about defending the Earth, here’s your chance to dig in and get your hands dirty on the front line. Get in touch at efhumboldt.org

Or set up your own tree-sit to defend an area where you’re from. Living in trees is a complex affair, but the basics you’ll need are food, water, LOTS OF ROPE, and people in town to organize ground support. You should know the most common life-safe knots and be comfortable with heights.

What’s the plan if logging begins?

Keep your eyes peeled for a call to action. If logging started we would want as many eyes on this place as possible. If you’re trained already or have gear and climbing experience, get here now.

So once a particular part of the forest is clearcut, the topsoil erodes and it’s completely fucked, right?

Not really. Your habitat for a diversity of species is lost, but the potential is still there. Humans have only been logging this way for about 100 years, a blink of an eye in redwood time. Considering there are so many factors–species resilience, soil quality, climate change, I can’t say I know how a given area would regrow. But these species are tenacious–given time left alone, they will come back. A forest is always growing, changing, evolving.

Do you see any room for human intervention that could aid regeneration of these clearcuts?

There’s lots of room for restoration forestry on GD land. Much of the forest in the McKay tract is overgrown, meaning a large fuel load and increased risk of wild fire. Cutting in these areas would actually help the forest, but it needs to be done sustainably.

Why is GD destroying spotted owl habitat? Isn’t it federally protected?

GD was the first timber company to obtain an “incidental take permit”–essentially, a permit to harass, harm, and kill up to 80 endangered spotted owls. The company self-monitors how many owls they kill, and then re-files for more permits if they run out or didn’t kill enough in time.

It must be so surreal to be constantly hovering on the edge of abyss. What is being a forest defender like on an emotional level?

I’m an adrenaline junkie. It’s a wide range–fun, terrifying, surreal. It can go from nice to intense in about 1 second. A lot of the climbing and adventuring we’re doing is fun, but we’re not doing this because it’s fun. Especially when logging is going on around you. You go to the ground world and everyone’s driving around like it’s a normal day, while the woods behind them are getting slammed. People in cities often have a hard time relating to the ecosystems that give them food, timber, recreation. That’s a huge reason why having these spaces to encounter wildlife is so essential in the modern age–we lack the sense of connection it takes to stop fucking up the planet.

What’s the climate difference between the forest and the clearcut?

When you’re in the forest it’s shaded and cool, moist even. You can hear birdsong all around you. Walking to the clearcut, you notice how much hotter and drier it is. There is far less biodiversity.

What does victory mean in this campaign?

Green Diamond would have to change to entirely sustainable forestry. On a day-to-day level, they haven’t logged in the watershed in the 3 years we’ve been tree-sitting, so I definitely see that as 3 years of success. They get better loans from the bank to rezone from timber use to commercial, so there’s a financial incentive for them to develop.

Would you come down if this area was put into land trust and turned into a publicly-run community forest?

If community forest meant actual restoration and sustainable forestry, Earth First! would support it. If they wanted to log the oldest trees as part of the plan then of course we’re against it. I would be into them taking 1/3 of the growth per given year if they left the oldest trees.

The timber industry is always complaining about jobs, but what they don’t realize is that while restoration forestry may take longer than conventional methods, their net standing timber would increase. Meanwhile workers get paid, and their lumber is a higher grade upon harvest.

How do you plan to get the money for all this?

It’s not our job to negotiate the specifics of a land transfer. We’re here in the woods as the first line of defense. Environmental lawyers and larger conservation groups that have the financial and political capital should be the ones to figure out the details of an official deal.

How does living in the tree change your relationship with the place?

I would say it heightens your awareness, alertness, and sensitivity to your surrounding environment.

Leap Day Action Night – February 29, 2012

Leap Day — February 29, 2012 — is the perfect opportunity for decentralized, spontaneous, uprisings and unrest against the dreary business as usual of global industrial capitalism and for a new world organized around human happiness, beauty, justice and ecological sustainability. Can you and your friends organize an event in your town to create a large and geographically diverse Leap Day revolt?

Leap Day is an extra day — a blank slate waiting to be transformed. Leaping is an uplifting, explosive, hopeful action. Put down this paper and try it right now –you’ll feel different and maybe better. Leaping can move you from an isolated, inconvenient spot surrounded by mud or snakes or a chasm to the next solid ground. When you leap, you leave the ground and fly free into the unknown.

The stability of the corporate / technological system is more fragile than it has been for decades. The stagnant recession and the increasingly wide gap between the super rich and the declining middle class have been undermining the legitimacy of the system for billions of people in new emotionally powerful ways.

The economic crisis is unfolding just as 200 years of industrialization and rapid population growth have pushed the ecological costs of our unsustainable lifestyle to the breaking-point. Normally during a recession, prices tend to fall as demand decreases. This time, prices for food, fossil fuels and other resources are still going up as a result of climate change-related crop failures and the depletion of easily produced oil and minerals. Clean air, clean water and topsoil are all endangered while toxic chemicals concentrate in our body tissues.

All around the world, people are responding through beautiful, creative, powerful revolts. Each situation is unique but generally what unites the Arab spring, the London riots, unrest in Greece, the M15 movement in Spain, student revolts in Chile and mass occupations in Israel are oppressive political and economic relations coupled with an utter failure of the system to offer any sanctioned alternative.

That same dynamic perfectly describes the US as we move to 2012. Obama, the Tea Party, the non-profit-industrial complex, religion, the media, consumer society — none of them offer a way out of the economic injustice, meaninglessness and environmental devastation of day-to-day normality. To the contrary, they all seek to maintain and enlarge the very systems that are not working.

The most striking thing about the current moment is the relative lack of unrest in the US in the streets, schools, workplaces and throughout society. There aren’t significant, broad-based US movements organizing resistance nor is there a lot of unorganized, spontaneous disorder.

But just like a tiny spark can ignite an inferno on a hot windy afternoon in a dry forest, it is easy to imagine a popular uprising spreading through the US — it’s just hard to say what might touch it off.

Which is why it’s so important to poke and prod the system by creating new, visible and destabilizing situations — throwing snowballs at banks, organizing unsanctioned parties at rush hour, unruly bike rides with illegal sculptures on the interstate, and rowdy, exciting, engaging protests.

It’s time to stop letting our rulers define the limits of what is possible by always protesting against the latest austerity measure, police crackdown or oil spill. Revolts are successful because they create their own energy and inspiration — a precious sense of creativity and possibility that comes through collective action.

We have to check-in with what we’re struggling for and appreciate the humbling beauty of the world and other people around us. Our gratitude and love make life meaningful and give us strength and courage to take on the inhuman forces of blind obedience, unjust order and the computerized death machine. In the chaotic, terrifying confrontations to come, remember to tell those around you how you love and appreciate them.

Revolting on Leap Day is arbitrary — high time and yet it could be any other time just as well. In 2000, in the wake of the huge protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, some of us in Berkeley created what we think was the first Leap Day Action Night. The size, radicalism and rebellious success of Seattle was a welcome surprise to many its participants — the energy we shared there is a great model for what we need now.

For 2000 Leap Day, one tiny meeting led to a night of mobile disruptive tactics with music blaring from a bike mounted sound system in front of banks and chainstores throughout downtown Berkeley — long on action and inspiration, short on tired protest rituals. We deployed finger puppets, not the huge puppets you sometimes see at tamer protests, because you can run while wearing one. Confused businesses just shut down and the police didn’t know how to react.

Leap Day 2004 saw decentralized protests in Berkeley, Houston, New York, and Manchester, England. In Berkeley, black clad marchers carrying a “closing” sign threw glitter, foam “bricks” and popcorn at dozens of chainstores and banks while using a pretty red bow to tie doors shut. The action was festive yet determined, with no arrests.

The call for decentralized revolt on Leap Day 2012 is open-ended in terms of tactics, goals and strategy. The broader the critique of social institutions and the farther from single-issue-activism-as-usual, the better. It is up to you and each other local community to figure out how to use this extra day for something exciting and new. Decentralization and openness are a key strength and necessary if unrest is to expand and engage the larger community.

Leap day can be a kind of laboratory to see what actions feel relevant and engaging in view of local conditions. It’s useful to take time to let your imagination run free from time-to-time and go beyond single issues and well-worn patterns of radical activity. Why does every action have to take the same form with similar signs, chants, etc.? How can we articulate our vision for the future now in dynamic, emotionally resonant, new ways? While unrest can be militant, its also important to maintain a sense of humor and avoid grim self-seriousness. How can we reach beyond the same folks we typically see at radical events? Leap Day at its best can help break down the artificial separation between “activism” and living our lives full of enjoyment and freedom. Living full joyful lives must ultimately be the same as building a new world.

You don’t need permission to celebrate Leap Day, and there is no organization, no structure and no email list. There is no success or failure. This is about taking matters into your own two hands and seeing what might happen.

Check out leapdayaction.org to post ideas, resources, local action callouts, and report-backs. Leap for it!

Occupy Wall Street!

By Liane Apple

The occupation of Wall Street was just beginning as Slingshot went to press — it is hard to say how it might evolve by the time you read this. Inspired by “Arab Spring” and the Egyptians who rocked Tahrir Square with mutual aid and a vision for their country, the occupation is leaderless, inclusive, participatory, and has avoided single-issue reformist demands. The occupation exists to expose a litany of issues: corporate personhood, bank bailouts, budget cuts, the misappropriation of wealth by the rich and the global control of the financial market from Wall Street itself. The financial district in New York directly controls the world money system, and incidentally the poverty of the whole planet. People at Occupy Wall Street are facing the bull.

After Adbusters magazine proposed the idea, the loose-knit internet group Anonymous helped organize the occupation with meetings this summer prior to the kickoff of the occupation to organize food distribution, media outreach, legal and street medic support. All of those logistics have also happened spontaneously by individual people power. Since the first day of the protest, people have steadily come onto the streets to join daily marches, to sleep in the park, to play music, to take their pants off, and to otherwise reclaim their voice from the oppression of the ruling class.

Signs are like a carpet on the sidewalk for people passing by to see. ‘People before profit,’ ‘End corporate personhood,’ ‘Banks got bailed out – we got sold out’ are some of the slogans that ring from the park and from the vibrant group of people who occupy it. Marches happen everyday from the park to the New York Stock exchange, with drums banging, people chanting and holding signs, disrupting business as usual.

Corporate media has covered the occupation, but considers it a failed attempt to shut down Wall Street. In reality it is just beginning and the movement is growing. As Slingshot goes to press, protestors have been camped out for over a week at Liberty Plaza Park in the financial district of New York. There have been related financial district occupations in San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Canada, England, Spain, Greece, Italy, Germany, Australia, Israel, and Japan, some of which are still ongoing as Slingshot goes to press.

Police still surround the areas in New York where there are protesters and dozens have been arrested and brutalized, not without scrutiny from copwatchers and lawyers from the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild. It is a point of discussion amongst the group to continue to resist police repression of the event and to maintain voice and power.

Everyday the park occupiers hold a General Assembly, which is facilitated as a consensus meeting. At the assembly people talk about the park autonomous zone, and hear announcements from working groups, such as direct action, food, and media outreach. The general assembly provides space for anyone to have a voice and it also inspires creativity and communication amongst the group.

Participation of steady numbers of concerned people is crucial of the Occupy Wall Street movement and toward life less controlled by world markets and businessmen. Each one of us represents our own voice but together our voices ripple outward louder.