Category Archives: Winter 2012 (11/27/12)

I, Capitalist: accounts from a life under the empire

This article now available in print from Black Powder Press.

by Teresa Smith

When I was a kid, I used to watch my mother soak things in hot, sudsy water and then pick the price tags off with her fingernails.

Sometimes, I wish I could soak my soul in that water, that I might cleanse myself of all reminders of the cost of things.

$

A few weeks ago, I was sipping tea with my favorite Marxist–he bought me the tea cuz I’m hella broke–and I was telling him how I’d been offered a job that pays $50 an hour, but I was thinking about not taking it.

“Why not?” he asked. “You need that money.”

I had been jobless for over a year, and to survive, I’d been borrowing money from the people I love. My friends were running out of slack, though, and if I didn’t find a job soon, I’d have to move out of my coveted Berkeley attic corner (I pay $215 a month to live in a drafty rat-infested attic with 3 other people) and move back in with my foster parents in the cultural desert of Seattle Suburbia.

“I just don’t think I should start working yet…” I grappled to explain. “I mean… being jobless is teaching me something… something about value, about capital, about the way money moves people… and I think… I’m close–really close–to figuring out what money really is.”

“No, Teresa,” the Marxist gazed at me with intensity. “Money is a magical and elusive thing. You could spend your entire life studying it and never figure out what it is.”

$

But still, I couldn’t stop thinking about money, about the symbols we use to represent value.

In the mid-1800s, Karl Marx devoted himself to the study of capital. So desperate he was to understand the ebb and flow of value that he quit working and spent every waking hour in the London library, studying. He wrote thousands of pages about the way Capitalism works, creating perhaps the most comprehensive explanation of an economic system ever.

But in his manic efforts to understand it, Marx neglected to participate in the system he was trapped in. …and the Beast of Capitalism punishes nonparticipation without mercy.

As Marx wrote, four of his children starved to death.

$

In December of 1989, I worked my first job. I was five years old, selling sprigs of mistletoe door-to-door for $1 a bundle and I loved doing it! I still remember one young man who bought a sprig, winked at me, turned around, and held the mistletoe over a woman’s head. They kissed like at the end of Little Mermaid, and I beamed at them, proud that my mistletoe had facilitated such an excellent moment.

If someone had told me I was doing it for the money, I would have laughed so hard! But I quickly learned that those little paper rectangles were important: money was the symbol that allowed me to take part in the magical ritual of exchange, an ancient ritual that brings random strangers together to share a few moments of existence before going back to the meantime of our lives.

I made over $100 selling mistletoe, and gave it all to my mom. Her eyes lit up–just like when the checks arrived from her sisters. My mother usually spent her days locked away in her room, but with a huge wad of cash in her hands, her depression completely dissipated. She had power now. Power to do things beyond the meager allotment sent by the Welfare office.

“Santa is going to bring extra toys this year!” she grinned.

¥

After college, I traveled to Japan to teach English. I had been looking forward to the job for months–I love teaching! And sure, the students would be paying for the English lessons, but I thought of the monetary exchange as a ritual that would allow the real magic to happen: the sacred connection between human minds grappling to understand a topic.

But after arriving in Japan, I quickly learned that most of my students weren’t interested in the joy of learning: they behaved like customers: arms folded, eyes narrowed, as if it was my job to serve them a Unit-of-English-Language.

For the first time in my life, I learned what it is like to be reduced to an object, a sum of my functions. Some customers treated me so poorly, I wanted to run from the room. But I was held hostage: if I walked out, I’d lose my job. And I needed that job to pay off my college debt.

“How do you stand this place?” I asked my coworker, Ben, who’d worked at the Language Company for several years.

“I don’t,” he smiled robotically. “When I get to work in the morning, I turn my emotions off. And I don’t feel a thing until I leave the office at the end of the day.”

“That’s horrible!” I said.

“Just wait until your first paycheck comes,” Ben replied. “You’ll realize it was all worth it.”

So when my paycheck came, I tried to make it feel worth it: I drank fine saké with my new friends, traveled to some spiffy ancient shrines, and adorned my body with designer clothes from Osaka’s fashion district. But none of these things could make me feel happy–nothing could buy back the 200+ hours I spent each month feeling miserable at work.

I arrived in Japan in summer of ’07, just in time to watch the Japanese economy collapse. Every couple days, I’d reach the transit station and the neon signs would be flashing: “All Trains: 45 Minute Delay.” This meant that yet another newly-fired businessman had thrown himself in front of a commuter train. It always took the transit workers 45 minutes to clean the flesh from the tracks.

Starting in middle school, Japanese kids are taught to pack their feelings in and work hard–even if the work doesn’t make sense, even if they are being treated poorly–for the sake of future remuneration. Like Christians setting aside their own pleasure for the sake of a future reward, Japanese people are taught to displace their pleasure for symbols: grades and money. But when you hollow yourself out for the sake of symbols, what is left when those symbols are taken away?

“You should feel lucky,” said my coworker, Steve, “that you weren’t born in China.” Before coming to Japan, Steve had spent two years working at an orphanage in China. The parents of the 200+ babies he tended were still alive: they were workers at a nearby purse factory. These people had to work 17-hours-a-day, 6-days-a-week, and if they complained, they risked losing their jobs and starving to death. On Sundays, the workers came to the orphanage to clutch their babies with bloodied fingers. These people received pennies for the each purse they made, which were sold for about $400 at designer boutiques in Japan, America, and Europe…. so that workers like me could make our paychecks “feel like something.”

One day in the break room, my coworkers began discussing the ways they’d thought about killing themselves.

“Sometimes, when a lesson is going really bad,” Ben said, “I think about throwing myself off a tall building and smashing through the windows of the building next to it. It would feel so good to go out like that–to use my body to break something.”

A few weeks later, I left Japan. I would have to find some other way to pay off my college debt.

$

When I was 15-years-old, I learned that college costs extravagant amounts of money, so I informed my mother that I was going to stop giving her cash.

“But I need that money,” my mom sounded frightened.

I worked several jobs–shelving books at the library, delivering newspapers, keeping grounds for the landlord–and I gave most of the money to my mom. I thought it was a frivolous thing, that she didn’t depend on the money, that it just made her life a little more fun.

“If you need cash,” I said, “just ask your sisters.”

“Not until they apologize!” A few years before–right around the time I started giving my mom money, actually–she had stopped talking to her wealthy sisters. Three of her five sisters had married rich men, and they sent cash to anyone in the family who groveled hard enough.

“Well,” I said, “if you want extra money, you’ll have to swallow your pride and talk to your sisters, cuz I’m saving up for college.”

Within the next year, I managed to save over $3000–almost enough for 6 months tuition. I was off to a good start. But shortly after my 16th birthday, I went to the bank to and discovered my account was empty. My mother had used her Legal Guardian privileges to drain every penny.

So I got better at hiding my money.

But once I was no longer providing for her, my mom started treating her children differently…

By the time I was 17, the household had grown so violent, my younger sister and I were forced to leave.

$

“I hate our aunts,” said my 14-year-old cousin, Billy.

“You shouldn’t say bad things about The Aunties,” I said. I was a 21-year-old college student, and wanted to be a positive role model.

“Dude, they lie all the time,” Billy said. “And they gossip about my mom.”

He was right: I had once heard one of my aunts on the phone with Billy’s mom, saying “I love you,” and then, immediately after hanging up, she had turned to me and said “My sister is such a worthless person!” Billy’s mother had schizophrenia and didn’t have a husband. Perhaps that is why her sisters thought it was okay to speak so unkindly about her.

“But the aunties love you,” I heard myself say.

“They never visit,” Billy countered.

“But they send you and your mom so much money!”

“Yeah, but money isn’t love.”

I smiled. Money isn’t love. Billy was always challenging me to see those horrible truths I so often tried to ignore. That was something I loved about him: he was never afraid to call me on my bullshit.

Two years later, at the age of 16, Billy swallowed a bottle of painkillers.

When Billy died, I had been frantically trying to find a ride out to see him. I had a horrible feeling… But everyone was so busy working, they didn’t have time to give me a ride. I don’t own my own car, and didn’t I have the cash for a Greyhound ticket.

$

When my sister and I left home as teenagers, we were lucky enough to be living in the Seattle ‘burbs, an area oversaturated with cash.

When local folks found out that my sister and I were “homeless,” they shared their food, guest rooms, let us ride their horses, and one family even took us on a one-week vacation to Disneyland. It seemed to make people feel powerful to share their resources and luxuries with us. When we thanked them, they always beamed, saying stuff like “Well, it makes me feel great to share what I have!”

Eventually, one family in town let us stay with them on a permanent basis. Our new foster parents pushed us to finish high school, and helped us get the loans and financial aid we needed to go to college.

$

A few days after Billy died, I finally got a ride out to the Oregon Coast to see him. I thought that seeing my cousin’s body would create some sort of resolution, but instead, I left the morgue wanting answers.

“Billy was such a nice kid,” his English teacher told me, “but he just wouldn’t do his homework. So I had to fail him. Then, last month, he dropped out of school…”

“His mom wouldn’t let him study,” said one of his classmates. “I went over there to help with his homework, and his mom pulled a gun on me–a fucking gun!–and told me to leave. I guess she was jealous or something.”

“Sometimes he’d come over to our place for a few hours to hide from his mom,” said a neighbor. “We had to send him home at dinnertime, though. We can’t be feeding someone else’s kid, you know.”

It seemed like everyone in the town liked Billy, and knew that he was experiencing intense violence at home. So why hadn’t they rallied to help him the way people had rallied around me and my sister? I felt like I’d fallen into some horrible alternative universe.

I asked the priest at Billy’s church to explain.

“This town is poor,” the priest said as we folded programs for Billy’s funeral. “And it gets poorer every year.”

The town’s economy had tanked in the 1980s after the Oregon fish and lumber industries collapsed. Soon after that, corporate franchises like Wal-Mart and McDonalds moved in. Before long, a majority of people in town were working for the franchises, receiving minimum wage. The low wages made it impossible for people to shop locally, so almost all the local businesses went under. Now, a majority of the town’s money was leaving the town’s economy, flowing from the franchise cash registers almost directly into the pockets of CEOs and Wall Street investors.

“There are over 500 homeless youth in the area,” the priest said. “And countless more at-risk teens. And we are powerless to help any of them. We just don’t have the resources.”

$

My foster dad runs a company in the Seattle area. It’s a good company: a firm that cleans up hazardous waste. He thinks capitalism is working.

“Why?” I asked last time I visited home.

“Because companies like mine are able to provide well-paying jobs with health care to almost a hundred people.”

But not every company is able to be so noble. Once a company reaches a certain size, the CEOs are legally bound to make more money last quarter than they did this quarter–to make a profit. To facilitate this exponential increase of profits, they must create new markets, reduce the quality of goods, and/or reduce the quality of life for their workers.

My foster dad looked at me with deep concern and admitted, “We give our employees annual raises, but not enough to match the rising cost of living. And we have to slash health benefits every year because the cost of insurance is skyrocketing. This year, we had to cut optical… Next year it might be dental…”

My foster dad is trying to run a good company, but his company is trapped in a competitive profit-based economy, so, just to stay afloat, he is forced to reduce the quality of life for his workers every year.

How long will it be, I wonder, before the suburbs of Seattle begin to look like Billy’s hometown?

$

Recently, I spoke with my computer-savvy friend, Brian, who has worked in the Seattle-area tech-industry for the last 15 years. Brian says working conditions are getting worse every year.

Employers like Microsoft and Google no longer take responsibility for their workers, instead calling them “independent contractors.” They only allow these “contractors” to work 5 months out of the year–this allows the employers to legally skirt their duty of providing healthcare for their workers, while also making it difficult for workers to organize and demand better conditions.

In Brian’s most recent job, he worked for Google in a warehouse near Seattle. During the stressful 5-month contract, two of Brian’s coworkers were arrested for bringing guns to work. Brian blames the horrible conditions: Google imported a boss from the tech sweatshops of India to run the place, and this man had all the workers frantically competing against each other, threatening to fire people who didn’t meet the daily work quota. “I have never been forced to work so hard for so little,” Brian says.

During Brian’s time working for Google, he was hounded by creditors, who took almost his entire paycheck. At one point, Brian was left with $30 to live on for 2 weeks. During that time, he ate little more than a carton of eggs. Once a shapely man, Brain’s skin now hangs from his bones.

In a globalized system of Capitalism, the lowest standard of working anywhere lowers the bar for everyone else on earth. If someone in India or China is willing to do your job at a lower pay and without benefits, then it is only a matter of time before your job is reduced to the same inhumane level, or exported all together.

$

As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been jobless for over a year.

When I first lost my job in January 2011, I furiously hunted for a new one. But as the weeks turned into months of joblessness, I eventually lost hope and stopped looking. Now, after a year without an earned income, this high-paying job has turned up, but I’m terrified to take it.

I think I’ve become anorexic about money. As anyone who has suffered from anorexia knows, it isn’t about looking skinny: anorexia is all about control. Throughout your life, you watch your weight fluctuate wildly, until finally, you go a little crazy and say “enough is enough” and you just stop eating. That’s about how I feel with money right now. I’m terrified to trade my labor for money again, whether it’s for $5 or $50 an hour because the moment I step back in onto the Capitalist rollercoaster, I will no longer be in control: the market could fluctuate or my job could be eliminated.

And I am tired of having to gamble in order to feed myself.

$

But even though I didn’t receive any pay this year, I’ve worked quite hard. I edited newspapers, interned at a publishing house, and staffed a youth program–all as an unpaid volunteer. And it felt great to work without money holding me hostage!

I love working, but I never went to touch money again. Because money cheapens everything. Because once we are told we are working for mere symbols (whether it’s grades or cash), we forget our responsibility to check in and be present for the moments that make up being alive, and we forget our responsibility to create real meaning–not just symbolic meaning–in the things we do every day.

$

But my friends have run out of slack. And even though I’ve had a great time working for free this year, my relationships have suffered.

When I lost my job a year ago, I had been living with a man with whom I had been desperately in love. But once I didn’t have my own income, a new, horrible power dynamic entered our relationship: I found myself unable to genuinely express my emotions around him because I felt indebted for the food and shelter he provided me. Our love soon grew cold, and after 2 years together, we went our separate ways.

A similar coldness has entered all my relationships that involve borrowing money. Being put in the position of begging the people you love for money puts a price on love. Soon, your friends can’t trust you to be honest with them. And you wonder if you can trust yourself.

I think I am beginning to understand how my mom and Billy’s mom became so twisted: living on the edge of poverty in Capitalism is living on the edge of death. You feel like a vampire, leeching off the people you love just to survive. They say if a vampire tries to eat food, the food will turn to ashes in her mouth. It is like that with love when you are poor and desperate: love is transformed into lifeless scraps of paper before it can reach you. You take the paper so you can eat today, and your heart begins to starve.

$

When I was a kid, I used to watch my mother soak things in hot, sudsy water and then pick the price tags off with her fingernails.

But I know I cannot soak my soul in that water, for if I cleansed myself of all marks of cost, nothing would be left.

Because Capitalism is not some abstract thing. It is deeply personal. It creates the channels through which care reaches (or doesn’t reach) each of us. And that care transforms us into who we are.

And perhaps my Marxist friend is right: I will never fully understand money. Because the effort to understand money is the effort to understand yourself. It is the effort to understand the flow of power through your life, and the flow of your life as you chase symbols.

I am a hairless mammal. I am completely dependent upon my society for my biological survival. But under Capitalism, my very existence is denied to me if I don’t, in some way, interact with money. It is simply a matter of choosing whether I want money to taint my work-life, or whether I want it to taint my friendships…

$

So I followed the Marxist’s advice and took the $50 an hour job. But what am I doing for this money? I am tutoring a 15-year-old boy whose name, ironically, is Billy.

Like my cousin, this Billy failed high school English. But unlike Billy, his parents have money. His mother is the CEO of a major oil company, and she is giving me hundreds of dollars a month to help her son raise his grades so he can get into a good college. It is important that her son goes to college–not because college guarantees a job (in fact, a majority of unemployed people right now have a college degree)–but going to college has become part of the myth that entitles people to join the 1% of the population that controls a majority of the planet’s resources.

When her Billy is done with college, there will be a six-figure “entry level” job waiting for him, and he will believe he earned it.

$

What does it mean when a CEO can spend $400 a month to have her son tutored, while factory workers must send their children to live in an orphanage? What does it mean when an investor can jet to Sicily for a weekend jaunt, while the restaurant workers that staff the companies he “owns” don’t even get paid maternity leave? What does it mean when one community is able to help its homeless youth, while another community cannot?

I’d call this Feudalism, but the truth is, it is much worse.

Our ancestors brought this Demon of Capitalism upon us because they wanted to end the harsh disparities of Feudalism–a system in which 1% of the population claimed absolute power because they were born into “noble families.” But Capitalism is simply a new myth to uphold the same disparities:

Now, instead of claiming their power through birthright, the ruling 1% claim they have earned their power. This is the myth that money creates.

Those of us at the bottom of the pyramid receive money for working hard, so we believe the myth that the ruling class also earned their positions. But the average CEO makes 650 times the amount as the average American worker. How could it be possible to earn such an inflated amount of power?

The horrible truth is that money has nothing to do with work, and everything to do with power. The people who are already in power have access to infinite amounts of money because they own our debts, they set our wages, and they print the money that we are given for our labor. And we are tricked into believing that other people can somehow earn this level of power, when the game was rigged in their favor from the beginning.

On top of normalizing the same disparities that existed under Feudalism, the Capitalist myth includes the need for exponential increase of profits. So products will continue to break sooner and sooner, the planet’s resources will continue to be devoured, and the conditions for workers will get worse with each passing year. All so the CEOs can convince the investors that their company made a profit. All so the aristocrats can play a game that justifies their own status.

$

My mother lives alone in a trailer park now. I visit her a few times a year, and she always asks for money. She knows I don’t have any–that I am broke and still haven’t paid off my college debt–but she still asks. Old habit, I guess. Perhaps it is the only way she knows how to ask for love.

$

A few months after Billy died, some marine biologists found his mother’s body floating in a tide pool, her fingers wrapped around the gun in her pocket, her bleached hair dancing with the ebb and flow of the sea.

$

None of us chose to be born into Capitalism, but every day, we choose to continue it.

From the moment we received our first grades in school, we became invested in the system–a system of competing to receive symbols instead of working to build love. We became transfixed by the game of “Just one more dollar, just one more paycheck, just one more lottery ticket, just one more investment…” Soon, we become so invested in our symbol-laden Capitalist Identities, we forget to ask ourselves if the system is worth it. But as we run faster and faster chasing the Idol of Money, why does happiness draw further and further away?

Are we ready to end this game?

Are we ready to evolve?

*     *     *

This article now available in print from Black Powder Press.

design by Jen Goble for Black Powder Press

 

get ready for a General Strike May 1

The call for a global general strike beginning on May 1 is exciting and with luck, millions of people will rise up and shut down the economy — but we need to make sure any general strike has a strong foundation, moves our struggle in a positive direction and addresses regular people who aren’t already active within the occupy scene. Calling a general strike — in which everyone in every industry and job is asked to risk their livelihood by walking out — is a dramatic act. If successful, it would mean stores and factories would close, transport would cease to function, and day-to-day commerce would grind to a halt.

There is a risk that those calling for the strike are being romantic and impractical — getting ahead of themselves. Most of the hundreds of occupations around the country are just in the beginning stages of the long, difficult process of building social connections to large numbers of regular people in the community — a necessary pre-requisite for effectively pulling off a general strike. While building an effective general strike is a major long-shot, it is not entirely impossible given the powerful social contradictions disclosed by the occupy movement, which the mainstream political and economic system is incapable of addressing.

Some of the calls for action circulating as Slingshot goes to press that try to explain why there should be a general strike need additional thought and work. For example, the call to action issued by Occupy LA reads, in part, “The goal is to shut down commerce worldwide and show the 1% we will not be taken for granted, we will not be silenced, WE WILL NOT MOVE until our grievances are redressed.”

Now is not the time to reduce the beauty of the occupy phenomenon to protesting-as-usual in which we organize events for the sake of organizing them — without really believing our own rhetoric or aiming to succeed — or in which we beg our rulers to redress grievances for us. This concedes that those in power are legitimate and have a right to retain their power. Why should we beg them for crumbs rather than uniting to topple them?

We have to ask whether we really want any of the things those in power can give us? The reason so many of us occupied across the country is that the political and economic systems are broken. Our votes, our job searches, our compliance with bureaucratic rules, our passive acceptance of corrupt power structures — none of it got us anywhere. Within the occupation, we dismissed our faith in the failed system and instead built our own solidarity, community and power to begin to redefine what is important in the world and destroy the structures of power that stop us from living the lives we really want.

In a redefined world, the capitalists, the bankers, their politicians and the whole modern power structure will be as irrelevant and ridiculous as the kings, serfs and slavery of 200 years ago seem to us now.

Occupy is, fundamentally, about class struggle. The wealth gap between the majority of people who work for a living and the tiny fraction who skim off most of the money by virtue of owning stuff, not by working, has reached a breaking point. Anything the rulers own was created by us — those who work. Yet decades of propaganda have sold many people on the idea that we need the rich as “job creators” and that if they get richer, their wealth will eventually “trickle down” to those below.

The first phase of the occupy movement has been about gathering strength, recognizing our numbers, grasping community, and liberating a wide-ranging critical discussion of the existing power structure. The crucial role of opening up dialog cannot be overstated. It is hard to remember how unfashionable and difficult it was to talk about class inequality and economic injustice just a few months ago. Slogans like “we are the 99%” articulated something everyone knew, yet few wanted to openly discuss. We have to start by killing the businessman in our heads.

But as powerful as standing up against gross economic inequality felt last fall, the occupy movement can’t succeed by just being against things. We are for a new kind of world and while part of it is about money and a fair distribution of wealth, our real power comes from something deeper. Being for something new brings us creative, courageous, passionate juices that arise from love. That is one reason why our occupations felt so meaningful — we were building a community and creating libraries, kids villages, medic tents, general assemblies, rather than just being against something.

The key to a new world is not just re-distributing money in a more reasonable fashion. Rather, the key is exposing the big lie behind the corporate rat-race that the 1% are pushing — that our lives are mostly about money and things and that a pay increase or a fatter bank account will give us satisfaction. Capitalism requires constant economic expansion, which means the system has to constantly psychologically manipulate us to want more, buy more and work more. The list of material goods and services that defined a “good life” in 1950 would be considered poverty in 2012. And the things we want now won’t seem like enough in another ten years, unless somehow we step off the hamster wheel.

In developed economies like the US, we’re way past the point where more stuff improves our lives. The typical suburban house keeps getting bigger, cars and electronics keep getting more sophisticated and super stores are stuffed with products. Many people are always seeking the next new thing or experience but when they get there, it always feels somehow empty. The system expands by transforming things we once did for ourselves, our families or our communities into services provided by industry — entertainment, cooking, grooming, healthcare, childcare. The economic machine expands voraciously, addressing its own needs for growth rather than human needs for freedom, connection and engagement.

Psychologically, many of us suffer fallout from these economic imperatives and assume that bigger is always better, leading us to try to improve the size and scale of our protests and actions, rather than concentrating on the quality of our actions. So if an occupation or protest is good, the next action has to always be bigger, more disruptive, louder.

The most important aspect of the early days of the occupy movement was not size, per se, although it was important that the moment spoke to people and that a lot of people plugged in. Rather, the novel thing was the way we felt at the occupation — the amazing sense of engagement, agency, community and dialog.

Those days and those experiences were so powerful to so many of us that now, our attempts to re-create those feelings may paradoxically make it more difficult for us to move forward. Feeling so good is like crack — we want that feeling back. But you cannot organize the surge of excitement that was present at the birth of the occupations — it happened because conditions were right and we were lucky enough to be there to experience it. That doesn’t mean we can’t keep things moving, but there is a danger in trying to simplistically re-create the particular tactics or symbols of particular moments rather than staying aware of the mood now and letting that be our guide as tactics change and evolve.

Calling a global general strike can be a reasonable tactic to respond to social conditions, but for it to be relevant it has to be part of an integrated struggle — it has to evolve organically from our lives and our communities. It has to be big but also deep, touching grassroots and hearts. We have to go beyond making big actions for their own sake if by doing so the exercise feels alienating or meaningless. To avoid that, we have to figure out how our actions will keep us present, build community, encourage critical thinking, create dialog, while discrediting and de-legitimizing the system. How can we point out the absurdity of a system where a handful of people control everything because of a few numbers on a computer screen? Billionaires and their fortunes are the modern equivalent of the divine right of kings.

Engaging and changing minds is way more crucial than providing “colorful visuals” for media consumers. Our actions have to avoid becoming just another part of the modern media spectacle — we are not faceless numbers at a protest. How can we avoid getting distracted by traditional traps — endless ritualized struggles with the police or boring engagements with election year politics — and instead focus on creating an alternative narrative outside of the currently available categories? To keep the scene moving in a positive direction, we have to focus on as big a picture as we can conceive and bring up ideas not currently on the table.

While autonomous action has been a key strength of the occupy movement, and the original Wall Street occupation came out of an autonomous call from Adbusters magazine rather than consultation with the community, we may now be suffering from too much of a good thing as many occupations, organizations and individuals all simultaneously call ambitious, sometimes national actions like the multiple, simultaneous calls for a general strike. There is a fine line between an autonomous action and an adventurist action. It is probably impossible to get a good balance between autonomous action and actions designed by committee that, after going through too many general assemblies and quasi-bureaucratic hoops, become mushy, watered down exercises that appeal only to the lowest common denominator. Still, we can think about the tension and try.

As Slingshot goes to press, there are three months left to build a national general strike. That’s not long for a traditional gradual organizing campaign, but an eternity for a wildfire or an idea whose time has come. Resistance can easily take off if it tastes delicious in everyone’s mouth. This has to go far beyond the relatively small pockets that occupied last fall, and that only will happen if we keep our mind on the quality of the process and the feeling of engagement and participation. We can make the general strike if we do it for ourselves and the world we are creating and if we do it with love in our hearts.

Radical Action Art

Art might have been dead for some time. It was killed by Jackson Pollock, for instance, who was bolstered with the help of the shadow government in the United States (spelt C.I.A.). His images were used to promote an image of the U.S. as a place of rough edges that would presumably be a reflection of the freedom to be found in the West – a conscious juxtaposition to the Soviet threat to empire. So for a time America became the place for blue jeans, bubble gum, discordant music, and abstract expressionism. It was an easy move to be made, an erasure of the socially conscious art currents of the time. “What unrest? We have jazz.” It was in this environment that the Situationist International could call the beats the “right wing of the youth revolt.”

The elements of this youth revolt that made it into dominant histories were disparate, to put it simply: bohemian tenements churned out a few generations of artists who reflected the American way. With coffee sitting in their guts, the new American art produced what was little more than glorified navel-gazing. These constructed images of revolt were impressed on the minds of generation after generation and simplified until any real political content they might have contained was trivialized if not altogether lost. Art rebellion took little more than an expensive drug habit and some paint.

Open an art magazine today and what you will find are a bunch of pretty pictures, that much is true. But for what? None of it actually brings anything new to the table. Trends in the art world reflect esoteric traditions (be it abstract expressionism, or pop surrealism, or so-called degenerate art, etc.) strung together by the happy art students of yesteryear. Beneath the trade magazines is another oil-saturated beach… Beyond the niche magazine rack, though, is a world of artists who are now actively resisting the depoliticization of art practice. This wave of political artists knew that everything else seemed old and tired because it was, that one was only a part of one’s time with an awareness of the networks of power that shape our daily lives.

“Contemporary art is, first of all, an art activism for us, and not the piles of the art-rubbish kept in the galleries,” says Natalia Sokol, member of the actionist art collective Voina. Formed in Russia in 2005, Voina started by planning and executing anonymous street actions that would lay the foundation for the group and its more public incarnation. Voina, meaning “War,” developed a means of guerrilla street theatre that might find its origins just as much in the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers as Antonin Artaud.

By 2008, Voina was executing actions that they themselves began to publicize online through video documentation. Their actions conisted of social antagonism on a grand-scale – from a 60 meter phallus that overshadowed the Russian police headquarters to an orgy in a Moscow museum (during elections, nonetheless), Voina in a sense broke the mold for anarchist action. In the production of a short film, they gave themselves the excuse to overturn police cruisers: in the end passing the ball to whomever is willing.

Voina is a reflection of a new Russia that has now been dealing with capitalism and its supportive bureacrats for sometime. Dominant media narratives present the Russian context as anachronistic, with Voina’s attacks being seen as a natural product of a backwards society. The question as to how the situation might be similar in the U.S. is altogether avoided. For many, the sort of antagonism found in the movements of Voina would be out of the question in a more developed democracy, or ignored as they often are. But it is clear that the failures of democracy-in-the-name-of-capitalism are making themselves more and more apparent across the world. “Nowadays, when even hope for democracy in Russia is ruined,” says Voina conspirator, Alex Plutser-Sarno, “painting flowers and pussy cats or making any other ‘pure’ art, lacking a socio-political content, is to support the right-wing authorities.” Plutser-Sarno prefers a skull-and-crossbones.

It is true that the present generation’s art has been energized with radical social and spatial ideas. Art, however, has always been influenced by the “political.” In the West, we might think of classic examples such as David’s Death of Marat (a leader in the French Revolution), Picasso’s Guernica, or Shepard Fairey’s Obama poster. It’s not by the accidental hazards of information distribution that more marginalized art from the undercurrents of culture and the “undeveloped” world have not been more widely circulated. As Judith Butler once unfortunately said at a bourgeosie art happening in SF in the Spring of 2011: (QUOTE)

Here are some examples of politicized art from the fringes: Maria “Marusya” Nikiforova’s paintings and sculptures created in an interim time between fighting as an anarchist revolutionary in pre-Soviet Russia, Theatre of the Oppressed workshops in Latin America, posters made by the Association of Artists for Freedom of Expression (1st Palestinian Intifada), anti-apartheid prints from the Screen Training Project in Joahnnesburg, the San Francisco Digger’s free/widely attended concerts, and woodcuts depicting the Gwangju uprising against the brutal South Korean military in 1980.

Just as the African National Conference’s contribution and leadership for the anti-apartheid movement is often over-commemorated at the expense of less-celebrated leaders and parts of the movement (SUCH AS), so has American “Progressive Art” taken center stage to fringe art movements such as squatter punk art.

Some radical art is in plain sight and simply needs the right contextual history to understand it: have you ever gazed closely at the murals in the SOMA Rincon annex post office in San Francisco? The artist, a Frenchman named Anton Refregier, was forced to censor his own work when officials had a look at his paintings of union victories and the enslavement of Native Americans by Spanish missionaries. This 1948 work remains a blatantly anti-colonial and anti-capitalist bit of propaganda, though it resides over the gateway to another mural inside the Rincon building. The Rincon building’s newer mural (created in the 1980′s) references Refregier’s style through the trappings of neo-art deco revival. However, the content all but laughs at Refregiers’s message and triumphs the censoship that clipped its wings. The 1980′s mural is mostly about shiny technocratic futures where everyone will pertly go about processing data on computers, smelting more steel for high-risers, and developing new drugs in the pharmaceutical industry.

We can therefore dismiss the idea that art has not been “radical” or “politicized” until now. That’s certainly how it feels most of the time, and that’s what a contemporary art current called ‘Experimental Geography” has attempted to address. The “experimental” part of that moniker refers to a fluid, non-dual definition of art. Art should be about expoding boundaries, not creating new constrictions. The “geography” part is about the spatial, social, and political awareness that artists re-adopted, revived, and hoisted up on their shoulders as part of the important tools of activist/ artist work. What did Natalia Sokol means when she said “Contemporary art is, first of all, an art activism for us” ? If neoliberalism is based upon a culture of conquest, plunder, cartesian measurement, categorization (often racialized), and mapping, then the art of resistance must understand the spatial aspect of our society and world, as well. Geography, in the cotemporary sense, is not about knowing about the capitals of all the countries of the world. Instead, it draws from two major philisophical wells: Marxism and the production of space. Geographers are influenced by Marx by his idea of production. Just as commodities are made, so are ideas and cultural artefacts, albeit in different ways. Thus, one of the most important questions that contemporary experimental geography asks is not “Is this art?” but “How was this art produced and how will it in turn produce new socio-political realities?” The logic is, then, that if a work of art is produced through the vain attempts of rich art students to gain sexual partners, and it comments little if at all on any political or social struggle, that it is not worth much at all as a piece of art.

Instead of telling the reader what experimental geogrpahy is, one beautiful example called the “Transborder Tool” can help show the point of this new wave of art action. The “Transborder Tool” was created by a collective with ties to the University of California, San Diego. The B.A.N.G lab created a simple geographic information systems software-supported platform for cheap cell phones. The result? A cheap, easy, mobile way to access information about where to find water, food, and shelter used by undocumented immigrants crossing the U.S.-Mexican border. Included with the tool was poetry recited by members of B.A.N.G. The author of the poems said of her work “(The poetry) acts as one of the Transborder Immigrant Tool’s internal compasses, clarifying the ways and means by which I and my collaborators approach this project as ethically inflected, as transcending the local of (bi-)national politics, of borders and their policing.” The collective who created the tool thus made powerful statements against nationalism, national borders, and the destruction of human life and hindrance of free movement that go along with such products of modern nation-states. The”experimental” part was plain: a détourn of two technological emblems of power: Geographical Information Systems Science (GIS) and cell phone technology, turned on their heads. The experiment had mixed results: some lauded it as an important reappropriation of technology. Glenn Beck wept piteously on FOX about the terrorist-intellectuals who “believe in overthrowing the government of the United States of America.”

Contemporary geographers and contemporary experimental geographers are influenced by Marx, but they are equally inspired by a man called Le Febvre. Le Febvre believed that the new spatial code, rather than texts, maps, and graphics, would be action. A spatial code of action would mean that ideas about space (borders, militarized zones, plazas, shopping malls, billboards, foreclosed homes owned by banks…) are now most effectively communicated through action as opposed to symbolic language. Artists have followed suit, whether that means to organize flash-mob style street theater or to communicate a call to radical organizing through symbolically communicated art. A poster can still incite a riot, even though it is representational.

Trevor Paglen coined the term “experimental geography,” although he does not have a monopoly on the practice of such a discipline. Paglen was a graduate student in the Geography department at UC Berkeley, where he was also active in the art department. Today, he helps run a blog called “Art Threat.: Not only does Art Threat document hundreds if not thousands of works of political art, but they report on radical news and they participate in protest actions: on January 18th of this year their website went dark for 24 hours to speak out against the Stop Online Piracy Act that would shut down any website displaying or linking to copyright content. One of Paglen’s books, “I Could Tell You But Then You Would Have To Be Destroyed By Me,” is a catalog of patches worn by military personnel. The insignia denote secret “black” covert operations. His curation of these patches is certainly a work of art, but how the patches were compiled, and what kind of reaction they in turn elicit from people is of the patches in the book is called “Project Zipper.” A smiley face wearing sunglasses and a zipped smile reads “we make threats not promises.” The patch represents a secret project by the 413th Flight Test Squadron. Said one disillusioned and alienated member of the “black world” when he saw Paglen’s patches, “I’ve seen that sort of thing a lot. Those are gang colors.” The actions that Paglen’s art calls us to do is obviously to oppose the power that is derived by the United States’ government through military secrecy.

Recently in Oakland there has been many examples of radical art or experimental geography providing spatial tactics of resistance. As this issue of Slingshot whet to print, Occupy Oakland was creating large puppets to use for the Occupy Wall Street protest on January 20th. Chalk art in Oscar Grant Plaza depics a pointilllism of Guy Fawkes and colorful announcements about Fuck The Police marches. During a general assembly last fall, someone silk screened “Hella Occupy Oakland” posters depicting the city. We can look at such as poster and under stand that the call to occupy and the depiction of city buildings invite us to enter into more public spaces or foreclosed homes and claim the geographies of life, action, and resistance that have been stolen from us.

Slingshot Introduction – issue #109

Slingshot is an independent radical newspaper published in Berkeley since 1988.

Every time we make Slingshot, there’s that moment of panic when we realize all the shit we neglected to include in the paper. Yesterday, there was a huge protest in San Francisco’s financial district. There are still troops in Iraq (despite the fake pull out), as well as in Afghanistan, and these lingering wars are sucking up cash that could go to teachers. Even creepier, the recent announcement that US Marines will be stationed in Australia (?!) And what the fuck is going on with Pakistan? And all of us are biting our nails as the long-held squat (in which many of our collective’s members reside) is faced with the threat of eviction — maybe for real this time.

Part of what needs to be expressed in an unvarnished, earnest way is that we’re not okay with the way things are going and we’re turning our energy to something else. The community of people that create this newspaper want to live the struggle that has so recently engaged us to the limits of our ability — but we also want to record it. We don’t have to specialize in one task — observing or participating — in order to build powerful resistance.

We hope the existence of this project makes clear that anyone can step out against the machine and build alternatives. Making a paper is do-it-yourself — you can make it up, write it up, draw it up, figure it out and mail it out. You don’t have to be an expert or have training. If you’re thinking, struggling, writing or making art, we would love to meet you — don’t be shy — send us something.

• • •

Seen at the Seattle GA: someone made a motion to change the group’s website slogan to read: “Occupy Seattle: A Leaderful Movement” because “all of us here are leaders.” The motion was approved, but some folks immediately protested, explaining “some of us would prefer to be identified as leaderless.” The GA ultimately decided to change the website to read: “Occupy Seattle: A Leaderful and Leaderless Movement.”

• • •

While making this issue’s poster, we had a weekend-long brainstorm to come up with poster slogans. Here’s some of the ideas we came up with that we didn’t use. If you have artistic skills, please send us a poster for one of these, or an even better slogan you come up with:

• Whatever is Toppling Should Also Be Pushed

• Capitalism: Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain

• Take Action Seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously

• DEMAND LOVE

• Forget What You’ve Been Taught – Start by Dreaming

• Cut – Baker B

• Maintain the Perpetual Moral Unhinging of the Machine

• Speak to my Ass. My Head is Sick.

• Capitalism is over, get into it

• I would think of a slogan, but my brain isn’t there right now

• Why should our virtues be grave? We like ours nimble-footed

Goodbye Capitalism, I won’t miss you at all

• • •

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 collectives members. We welcome debate and constructive criticism.

Thanks to the people who made this: Anka, Ant, Baker B, Bird, Claire, Cyd, Eggplant, Glenn, Jess, Jesse, Joey, Josh, Kathryn, Kazoo, Kermit, Lew, Martin, Roxanne, Samara, Solomon 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, February 26, 2012 at 4 p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below.)

Article Deadline & Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 110 by March 10, 2012 at 3 p.m.

Volume 1, Number 109, Circulation 19,000

Printed January 27, 2012

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.

corners of the Globe – radical community spaces

As we create a new world based on cooperation, justice, pleasure and sustainability, folks around the world are occupying spaces where we can experiment, learn, and build strength and community. Here are some new or existing radical spaces that asked to be listed in the radical contact list for the 2013 Slingshot organizer. It is exciting to see so many communities from so many corners of the globe building alternatives to the rotten economic and political systems that oppress us and are destroying the earth. While our resistance is global, each individual project is a struggle to keep going. Drop by and offer some support and a hug (if they want one). Find the updated radical contact list on our website: slingshot.tao.ca. Happy traveling.

Earth House Collective – Indianapolis, IN

A community center that hosts concerts, classes, art, film and performance with a vegetarian cafe. 237 N. East Street, Indianapolis, IN 46204 317-636-4060, www.earthhousecollective.org

Firehouse 51 – Modesto, CA

A social center with a library, work-space and silkscreen shop that hosts meetings, films and speakers. 410 James Street, Modesto, CA 95354 modestoanarcho.org

Community Center Coalition – Lancaster, PA

A space with zines and info that hosts community projects and events. 307 N. Queen St, Lancaster, PA 17603 717-393-3848

The Holdout – Oakland, CA

An organizing and events space with a bookstore and bike shop that hosts workshops, classes, meetings and events. 2313 San Pablo, Oakland, CA 94612 theholdout.org

Casa TAller Aziz – Brownsville, TX

A workshop house for craft skill sharing with an herb garden and a hostel. 1205 West Elizabeth, Brownsville, TX 78520

Soapbox – Philadelphia, PA

An independent publishing center with equipment, instruction and skillsharing for do-it-yourself printing, art and zine making. They host events and have a zine library. 741 S. 51st St. Philadelphia, PA 19143. www.phillysoapbox.org

Bartertown Diner & Roc’s Cakes – Grand Rapids, MI

A collectively-run / worker-owned vegan / vegetarian diner with class war kitchen classes. 6 Jefferson Ave SE Grand Rapids, MI 49503. 616 233 3219 bartertowngr.com

Hungry Knife – Arizona City, AZ

A rural, collectively operated art, design and residential space. “South-Central Arizona’s Most Dangerous Arts and Crafts Collective!” 10565 W. Fernando Drive Arizona City, AZ 85123-3287 (mail: P.O. Box 3287 Arizona City, AZ 85123-3287), (520) 466-8353, www.hungryknife.com

Family Visions Ctr. – St. Louis, MO

A community center/house that hosts Food Not Bombs events. 3706 Texas Avenue St. Louis, MO 63118 314-600-2762

GNU Gallery – Fort Collins, CO

A DIY art gallery / music venue. 109 Linden St., Fort Collins, CO 80524 gnugallery@gmail.com

Twin Oaks Community – Louisa, VA

A long-standing (since 1967), democratically run agrarian ecovillage / intentional community of about 100 people who share income and housing, operate community businesses, and grow about 70% of their own food. They host an annual Women’s gathering and an intentional community gathering. 138 Twin Oaks Rd, Louisa VA 23093 540-894-5126

Quimby’s Bookstore – Chicago, IL

A small press, independent publishing, zine and comic oriented bookstore that hosts events. 1854 W. North Ave. Chicago, IL 60622 773-342-0910 quimbys.com

3rd Ave Collective Infoshop – Prince George, BC, Canada

Volunteer run with a lending library, zine collection, coffee/tea, Food Not Bombs, free internet, a gardening club, bike tools and art supplies. They host meetings, events and films. Open 7 days a week. 1157 3rd Ave, Prince George, BC V2L 1T6, Canada 3rdavecollective.com/

Centre for Community Organizations – Montreal, Canada

A social justice non-profit with a lending library. Suite 470, 3680 Jeanne-Mance, Montreal QC H2X 2K5 (514) 849-5599http://www.coco-net.org/

Freiraum Dachau – Dachau, Germany

An autonomous center with an infoshop and cafe. Brunngartenstr.7 , 85221 Dachau, Germany. freiraum-dachu.info/

Underground art space AGIT – Busan, South Korea

An indy artist space that hosts parties, concerts and alternative events. 74-36 Jangjeon 1-Dong, Geumjeong-gu, Busan, South Korea 8216-866-1235; artbefree@gmail.com

Bingage Cafe – Seoul, South Korea

A radical cafe – send us a description if you visit. 2-22-1 Yongsan-Dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea +82(70)8748-1968

Go Straight Cafe – Taipei, Taiwan

A gathering spot that hosts events, discussion groups, fundraisers and meetings. Tingzhou Rd., Zhongzheng Dist., Taipei City 100, Taiwan (three lane 27
 Taipower building station exit first, along the alley Lyle rich left straight ahead.) +886 (2) 2365-7303

HANTENCHI – Fukuoka, Japan

An infoshop & bar – active in anti-nuclear work. Shintenjin bld 2nd floor 1-23-4 Imaizumi Chuo-ku Fukuoka-city Japan

Bar Six – Okinawa, Japan

A punk oriented bar with shows – their website has an anarchy @ at the top, but the text is all in Japanese, and I don’t read Japanese. The Google translation is beyond useless. Comes well recommended from anarchist comrades in Asia. 1-36-10 chuo Okinawa-city Okinawa Japan, ch6x.com/

Wooferten – Hong Kong, China

A non-profit art collective that hosts workshops, discussions and performances with “social-political relevance.” Their website notes “instead of attempting an out-of-place white cube arty gallery, Woofer Ten moulds itself more like a community centre, a platform for art projects to explore new approaches in bridging the community and art making. Woofer Ten treasures the participation of our neighboring community and audiences, and see its art programs as creative interventions upon our community and society at large.” G/F 404 Shanghai Street, Kln., HongKong +852 3485 6499, www.woofer10.blogspot.com/

Changes to the 2012 Slingshot Organizer

• We forgot to publish a listing for the Candlelight Collective in West Bend, IN. Their address is 258 N. Main St. (Basement), West Bend, WI 53095, candlelightcollective.com. This is especially bad because we left them out of the 2011 organizer, too. Sorry. Note to editor: DO NOT forget this listing for 2013!

• The address for the Clear Creek Coop in Richmond, IN has changed. It is now at 710 East Main Street Richmond, IN 47374-4312.

• Sedition Books in Houston is no longer at 901 Richmond – they are reportedly looking for a new space.

• The Blood Orange infoshop has moved – they are now at 3485 University Ave. Studio 2 Riverside, CA 92507

• We managed to list the wrong address for Lucy Parsons Center for two years in a row! Now that’s dedication . . . but in the wrong direction. For 2012, they are actually at 358A Centre Street, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130, (617) 522-6098. We listed them at that address in the 2011 organizer, because we knew they were going to move there at some point soon, but they didn’t actually move until December, 2011. For unknown reasons, we went back to the old address for the 2012 organizer, even though we clearly knew a year before that that they were about to move. Please visit them.

• Open Books has moved – their new address is 1040 N Guillemard St. Pensacola FL 32501-3160.

• We got mail returned from Boing! anarchist collective in Salt Lake City – no one answered their phone when we called so we’re not sure if they exist anymore or not.

• Little Sisters in Vancouver, BC got left out of the organizer – they are at 1238 Davie St. Vancouver, BC V6E 1N4 604-669-1753.

• We heard that the Roberts Social Center Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada may lose their lease in May unless they can purchase the building. Stay tuned.

• We forgot to list Utopia Infoshop: Bělehradská 45, Czech Republic.

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Accepting nominations for the 2012 Wingnut Award

Slingshot will award its eighth annual Award for Lifetime Achievement — the Golden Wingnut — at its 24th birthday party on Sunday, March 11 at 3124 Shattuck in Berkeley (8 pm). Slingshot created the Lifetime Achievement Award to recognize direct action radicals who have dedicated their lives to the struggle for alternatives to the current absurd system. Wingnut is the term some of us use to refer to folks who blend radicalism and a highly individual personal style — more than just another boring radical. Golden Wingnuts mix determination, inspiration and flair. The winner has their biography featured in our next issue, and will receive a wingnut trophy and super-hero outfit.

We’re looking for nominations. To be eligible, an individual has to be currently alive and must have at least 25 years of “service”. Please send your nominations by 5 p.m. on March 1 along with why a particular person should be awarded the Golden Wingnut for 2012 to slingshot@tao.ca.

were you born in a barn ?!?! don’t let the cold air of the NDAA in

By Discreet Music

“What’s said in this room — stays in this room.” This is a common instruction for political groups when meeting over a sensitive subject. Unfortunately people need to learn or possibly relearn this maxim. Activist papers such as this one often warn of the creeping police state, yet life goes on for most people. That is the way the state operates though — insidious maneuvers of foul play while most people continue in their distractions and keeping their heads above water. The most recent move came in the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act in the beginning of this year. It has only angered the usual watchdogs groups of civil rights and activists, but hasn’t reached the irie of say, the teenybopper set. The act essentially green lights the government to imprison US citizens without a trial — and even opens up the possibility of execution.

The proponents of the Bill assure us that the expanded powers will only apply to terrorist groups. But the vague definition of enemy combatant potentially opens the door to anyone. This grants Americans the privilege to feel what most people in the world have felt coming from the US government since 9-11. The government has already proven it’s right-leaning tendencies in carrying out their laws. One example is in downplaying the harassment and assassinations of abortion doctors while it labels Food Not Bombs — a non-violent group that feeds the homeless — as terrorist. The possibility of a mass movement in this country — one that is not right wing — being labeled as terrorist is almost predictable. With the Occupy movement becoming increasingly effective one could easily see it being smeared and labeled as outlaw.

The irony of the new provisions of the NDAA is that it empowers the US government to do what other governments have practiced for decades. Places like Egypt and Tunisia have had similar laws to terrorize the population and consolidate power, which have been a major factor in igniting the protests that started the Arab Spring in early 2011. To the people paying attention it comes as no surprise when governments act in a hypocritical manner. It is why we protest — and have been waiting for more people to protest as well.

The oppression that the NDAA precipitates is not going to be outright, but gradual. Locally, Occupy die-hards are being stopped and harassed by the Oakland police for simply being involved with the movement. There is also word from people who are arrested that they are being tagged and processed as terrorists. The government simply does not want an organized and independent people ignoring their dictates. Dig those days at the Oakland Commune where the police were chased out of the camp. It is actions like that which must never be exported out of Oscar Grant Plaza, or it would be the doom of a false order.

I don’t know if people encounter this condition in other places, but California is pretty loose. Lately I have encountered lots of people being really casual in talking in public places about shit like Occupy street protests, pot trimming or squatting. At times people are in mass transit or at other times they are at a party — the point is we are among strangers and even employees of the state. My normal approach in discussing our resistance is to be discreet. What unnerves me is the sort of pride and flaunting of illegal activity that they feel compelled to express in a loud volume. It’s not like any of us are engaged in real underground activities, yet I still have mixed feelings regarding boasting. On one hand a majority of the laws are bullshit and shouldn’t be given the dignity of obedience, on the other I do not desire to carelessly give out any information.

Still, it is better to have people out of the courts and prisons doing community work. Many of the people I described have not met the system head-on, so they have not considered the consequences of careless talk. Try a grand jury for example. In the meantime the, “What’s said in this room” mantra can apply not only to meetings, but to the protests and actions we go to. So some friendly reminders are in order:

WHEN IT COMES TO ILLEGAL ACTIVITY

*Don’t talk about details of an upcoming action

*Don’t mention details of actions in email, on the phone or in the mail

*Don’t talk about past actions. Don’t post photos of actions on-line or print them

Now I’m not referring to publicizing our movement or above ground actions, but rather to broadcasting a face with illegal activity. And even if you might not regard something you do as illegal political activity, it’s possible that the state will. The more they have to work to get information the less time they have to hinder our movement.

If I may mix metaphors — there’s a phrase for sex play that signifies when getting carried away with pleasure to say, “Stop” in some manner to signify when a boundary is crossed. “Safe Words” then allow for the play to continue, with accompanied grunts, groans and noises, but allow for a fun time for both parties. So let me put forth as we play “fucking the system” together that we adopt a safe word — or phrase. “Were you born in a barn?” will mean for me, “Please stop talking about sensitive information.” Find your own safe word and have a hot time as they say. We’ll need the heat to counter the intended chill of The NDAA — which goes into effect March 3.

Bulldozer Alert! still defending People’s Park

Activists are organizing to resist an early morning surprise attack by a bulldozer-wielding University of California landscaping crew against People’s Park in Berkeley December 28 that reduced trees and volunteer-built gardens to sterile piles of wood chips. Pushing back to prevent future destruction invites park supporters to increase outreach about what the park means and what it has to offer.

People’s Park is arguably an occupation that’s been running for 43 years. Constructed without permission, it created a beautiful community on vacant University of California (UC) land in 1969. Clashes with police lead to rioting, police shootings that left one man dead, and a National Guard occupation of Berkeley when UC tried to seize and destroy the park. The UC has always claimed to legally own the land on which the park still sits on Dwight Way east of Telegraph, but since 1969 they have never been able to control it. Over the years, park users have practiced “user development” by building and tending gardens, trees and landscaping. Like our occupations now, it is a rare place in the city open to everyone, hosting a free speech stage and daily free food servings — and attracting many homeless people and traveler kids.

Unable to take back the park outright, the University has periodically tested the waters to gauge continuing support — tearing up gardens, destroying freeboxes and bathrooms constructed by park users and building sports courts on the park against the will of park users. Community resistance to these attacks have usually caused UC to back down.

It remains to be seen how folks will resist the most recent attack. As early as 4 am on December 28, UC bulldozers protected by police leveled landscaped garden areas and tore out and grinding up numerous fruit trees. Work crews cut down the historic Council Grove of trees that hosted many park meetings. They also cut the top off a trellis built by volunteers that had earlier been approved by UC officials after almost a year of tedious meetings. The bulldozer destroyed plum trees, native manzanita, olives, grape vines, kiwi plants, maguey, nopales cactus, and a mature rose bush as well as beautiful plants like pink amaryllis bulb flowers, pyrocantha and a palm like plant. The surprise attack came during a holiday week to minimize the number of witnesses and students in the area.

Each time UC has tried to mess with the park, its been like stepping into a hornets nest. The park is still relevant today, both as a symbol of past victories and as liberated land that still, amazingly, is mostly outside of the control of corporations and government. People’s Park exists for use, not for sale.

The best way to protect the park and scare UC off from further attacks is to use the park as a thriving venue for radical action, alternative culture, art, music and life outside of consumerism. East Bay Food Not Bombs has served lunch a 3 pm Monday-Friday at the Park for the last 20 years. Since last fall, every Sunday at noon anarchists have assembled to use the park as liberated space, inspired by liberated spaces in Greece.

While over the years the park has served as a launching pad for generations of radical activities, each new generation of students at the UC Berkeley campus generally shows up unaware of the park’s legacy or its potential. It requires constant effort to keep community education about the park alive for the students and folks in Berkeley in general. As occupations crop up across the globe, we can expect more actions to liberate land, and stiff resistance to defend what we’ve already seized. Plug into what’s going on a People’s Park, or build your own park and defend it this spring.

Conceptualizing Disruption – Republican, democrat, corporations

In the context of the national occupy movement which has wisely rejected both the corporate-Democrats and the corporate-Republicans, it isn’t too early to begin thinking about how folks might converge to disrupt the national political conventions this summer. The Republican National Convention (RNC) is scheduled for August 27-30 at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa, FL, while the Democratic National Convention (DNC) will be in September 3-7 at the Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Even a cursory examination of the Democrats and Republicans demonstrates that they are the same snake with two heads representing the interests of corporations. On any policy important to corporate expansion and control, they share one position and act in concert to promote economic growth — which means expanded corporate control of our lives. The tiny number of issues on which they differ only put in more stark relief the extent to which they share a single platform on the really important issues of economic power.

Massive and militant protests at both the Democratic and Republican National conventions this summer can move forward a fundamental challenge to the corrupt political system in the United States. While most regular people struggle to get by and think it is obscene for a few thousand people to control most of the wealth and power in society, neither party wants to give more then lip service to inequality, since they exist to preserve the wealth gap and are funded by the richest individuals and corporations. It’s time to crash the party and expose the empty spectacle of the presidential election for what it is.

The Republicrats, the government, Wall Street, the mainstream media, etc. are all institutional expressions of a vast system of corporate domination in which powerful economic forces dominate the earth and its people. Decisions affecting everyone are monopolized in a few private hands — made for short term profit — and disregard any consideration of human happiness, beauty, sustainability or health. Somewhere in New York, a few men are paying themselves billions to decide which species will survive, who can go to the doctor, what jobs you can seek, whether the air will be clean, and what you will do, buy, and know. They meet in secret. Its not a conspiracy — its called private industry. The Democrats and Republicans are where corporations buy control of the US government for mere pennies.

Disrupting the conventions isn’t about “protesting” the Republicrats — it’s about creating a crisis that will open up dialog about alternatives to politics-as-usual and corporate control. Its about building our own power and community of resistance. The corporate media won’t accurately report it, but that won’t matter. People around the world intuitively understand what it means when thousands of people surge into the streets and create chaos.

As we’ve done with our occupations, its time to smash the veneer of “satisfaction” with business as usual. We don’t have to just take the world anymore — something else is possible and it’s happening right now. Tame marches and scripted civil disobedience actions won’t be enough. Our advantage lies in being unpredictable, refusing to operate on the system’s terms, and having fun while doing all of it. Have you ever seen a cop smile?

Believe it or not, Charlotte is called “the Wall Street of the South” because of all the financial companies located there. Police started riot training for the convention in October, 2011 and the city council has passed new anti-protestor laws in January that ban camping, body armor and gas masks based on laws passed in Denver before the 2008 DNC. Authorities in Tampa are reportedly expecting 15,000 protesters and are working with the Secret Service to define a free speech-free area around the convention in which no protests will be permitted. We can beat the expectations, can’t we?

London Prole bailout!

The 2011 London riots were borne of an intense rage and disaffection. What we witnessed was a jumbled, chaotic response to the shit the status quo is throwing at us, the end of a delicate inertia, a loud awakening from a frustrated sleep in which ‘protest’ was generalized to the point where everything was a target and everything was there for the taking. It was a protest without demands, a rebellion without a cause, a display of nihilistic anger launching itself against the totality. No platform, manifesto or programme, no leadership demanding some reform or the repeal of some piece of legislation, but a succession of confused acts of destruction that were characterized by a refusal of all the conditions of everyday life in post-industrial capitalism. A direct assault on the commodity form and the temporary halt of our retail rituals as people’s deep resentment and fury manifested itself against the high-street chainstores, just as they discovered payment for the exalted merchandise was now optional.

The London Riots had been a long time coming. Mark Duggan’s death was a spark in a tinderbox. The financial crisis and the subsequent corporate bailouts exposed the system for what it really is in essence: a parasitic political economy based on state-sanctioned and legitimatized looting. It was high time the residents of Tottenham, Peckham, Liverpool and Manchester engaged in some of their own mass-expropriations. Call it a proletarian bailout. Qualitative Easing.

Was this short-lived revolt a hyper-capitalist display of the consumerist ethic in dangerous overdrive; the quick accumulation of sweat-shop commodities and status-symbols by a decadent youth corrupted by… grime and hip hop music!?!? The mass-shoplifting opened the floodgates of materialist false-needs and desires, but here in the place of payment-at-the-till was a liberation of all these goods from their status as commodities. Instead of a price-tag was a debased and subverted exchange value – no money to perform its regulatory function, no currency to mediate or restrict – a free-for-all (re)distribution in which we took in reality all that is promised to us by advertising in abstraction. Retail capital’s feeble defense left wide open by roaming teenagers who were realizing, physically and directly, that the system only works this way because we allow it. And for a short time during the insurrections, the system was at their mercy.

As the looted sportswear, phones, nappies, booze and food were strewn over the roads in London, the carnival quickly spread to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester. These rioters have no ideology, no political affiliation and no leadership. This is what makes them uncontrollable and dangerous. This is where their strength lies. They couldn’t have been bought off with any concession or placated by the promise of an independent enquiry: Michael Heseltine’s Garden Festival has lay in ruins for years. Theirs was a total revolt, albeit a muddled and disjointed one. What it showed was an untapped potential, a disorder that exposed the weak, vulnerable Paper Tigers of authority when faced with an enraged mob with nothing to lose.

Of course we can adopt the language of the press; these rioters were just selfish, opportunistic chavs, yobs, hoodies, gangs, proles, lumpen. Or we can start borrowing from the politicians’ discourse; these riots weren’t political, they were motivated by nothing but greed. So they say. But if we take them for their word, what could be more political than greed? This is the ultimate threat to the present (dis)order – not the Trade Union ‘movement’ or the phoney left: The former being all too cosily rooted in its historical role of integrating workers into wage-labour peaceably, acting as arbiter between labour and capital and channeling all the frustrations and grievances of their membership into nice moderate demands (or polite requests) for quantitative increases in wages or conditions, with paid bureaucrats destroying any genuine militancy or desires for a qualitative transformation with negotiations, compromises and pay settlements. The ‘radical’ left meanwhile, are still soaked with patronizing, vanguardist rhetoric and are still committed to the tired old modes of paper-pushing, representation and hierarchical organizing. Capital’s gravediggers are the recalcitrant youth, the criminals, the unemployed and the unemployable who refuse most vehemently to be absorbed into societies’ racket.

Presently, there is no political consciousness among them. No concept of the possibilities, no concept of what could be. What unites them is a shared disaffection, a general discontent and a visceral and innate hatred of the police as the most visible figures of state authority in our communities. We have not seen the (material) ‘immiseration’ of the proletariat that Marx predicted and Bakunin shunned. The ‘massification’ of the workers that he foresaw, and the advent of organized labour did not lead to our world revolution. Taylorism, scientific management, standardization, increased division of labour, de-industrialization and the rise of the service economy, Trade Unionism, cheap credit, embourgeoisement and our beloved social safety-nets (through which no-one can fall?) are all part of the same social pacification package.

As alienation, drudgery, uniformity and apathy have become the omnipresent hallmarks of our society, we have seen the corresponding perfection of assimilation techniques that have lulled many into a dull passivity. The decades of the white-collar working class, the extraction of surplus value from our cognitive labour, post-fordism, the promises and the myths of social mobility, the paternalistic welfare state, – through which we depend on Big Government for our very survival – the huge array of products available to all who are willing to sell themselves over on a temporary contract with flexible hours, the plasma screens that allow us some vicarious rest-bite from the commute, the boss, the office politics and the staff meeting, the choices in fashion and gadgets that define us and communicate who we are through the Order of Signs and Symbols, our decision to choose one ‘Made in an Eastern Workhouse’ iTwat over another. What does your phone say about you? I am Mercedes. I am what I am. I am Nikon. I’m the kind of liberal/creative type that uses a Macbook. I’m the kind of busy, metropolitan man that needs a Blackberry. Consumption, separation, representation, mediation, alienation. Late capitalism’s ‘Bread and Circuses’. And then the riots that shit on all that, whether consciously or not. A Grand Rejection of everything that’s been used to buy us off and keep us kneeling.

It goes without saying that houses going up in flames in London’s ghettoes is no call for celebration. It is also obvious that we’d have no moral qualms if they’d instead burnt out the luxury apartments of Chelsea Harbour, the offices of Canary Wharf or better still, raided the mansions of Surrey stockbrokers. But we’ll shed no tears over the charred skeleton of the SONY warehouse, the Pawn-brokers on Peckham high street or the Brixton Nandos. It is telling that swarms of police occupied the shopping districts around Oxford Street and stood guard, fiddling outside the retail Cathedrals of the West End while the suburbs burned. It is also worth mentioning a message on the so-called ‘Peckham Peace Wall’ which reads, ‘Take it to Parliament, Not to Peckham’, and the unsurprising prevalence of, ‘Feds had it coming’ post-its, or words to that effect.

But the rioters lashed out against their own immediate surroundings, against the familiar. Some even smashed through the windows of the stores in which they worked. Isn’t it obvious why? The square mile and the City of London are worlds away. Their violence had to be directed against the embodiments of arbitrary power on their streets, and not only the police. The glass facades of Carphone Warehouse and Footlocker, the purveyors of well-marketed signifiers of social status and identity, who compensate staff with five pounds for every hour of tedium and humiliation and somehow expect diligence and loyalty – these were the first to go. These are the sources of our modern malaise and simmering ennui, and they deserve no more respect than the Palace of Westminster or the Tory HQ at Millbank. The rioter never gave them any.

Many on the left have only talked of ‘social exclusion’, as if our society was normally an edifice of peaceful relations that had somehow managed to forget about an ostracized ‘underclass’. As if the solution could be more ‘social inclusion’; to reabsorb these lumpen malcontents into the world of wage-labour and civil society, to guarantee them a future of minimum wage drudgery and voter registration twice a decade – some participation, some inclusion in the racket. After the banlieue uprisings in France in 2005, someone wrote; ‘Those who have found less humiliation and more advantage in a life of crime than in sweeping floors will not turn in their weapons, and prison wont teach them to love society.’

Check the author’s blog kpbsfs.wordpress.com