Category Archives: Issue #119: Fall 2015

Note: to view other articles in issue #119 scroll down — they appear in the order they were printed in the paper version of Slingshot (you may have to click pages 2 or 3 for some articles)

Migrant Lives Matter

By Wolverine de Cleyre

Recently in Europe, several high-profile mass deaths of refugees attempting to enter the EU have forced a long-overdue conversation about immigration and border policy. Increased security along the land borders has led immigrants to attempt dangerous sea crossings. Almost 3,000 people who attempted to enter Europe by sea this year are missing or dead, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. This is four times as many as 2013, and the year isn´t over yet. The carnage has inspired a mobilization of pro-immigrant sentiments, with tens of thousands demonstrating across Europe, and thousands cheering arriving refugees at German train stations.

Unfortunately, Europe is not the only place where tighter security at the border has led to massive loss of human life. The U.S. government´s immigration enforcement has created a steady barrage of corpses at the border with Mexico, and this needs to be central to our own conversation about immigration.

Much media and political attention have been given to the DREAM act, which would have provided a legal path to citizenship for people who entered the US as children. Meanwhile, according to the Pew Research Center, deportations have increased each year that Obama has been in office, from 360,000 in 2008 to 438,000 in 2013, and the border has become increasingly militarized.

This has forced migrants entering the U.S. to take more dangerous routes, involving days trekking through remote areas of the desert where it is easy to die of thirst and exposure. In the past ten years, more than 2,000 bodies have been recovered from the Arizona desert alone, according to Humane Borders. According to the Washington Office on Latin America, a human rights group, the number of deaths is the equivalent of five migrants dying every four days.

Particularly disturbing, when immigrants, realizing they are near death, decide to give themselves up and call 911 from a cell phone, they often receive no aid.

In most counties along the border, 911 dispatchers, often overwhelmed by the sheer number of these distress calls, transfer them to Border Patrol. These are police, not medical or rescue workers, and their job is to apprehend as many immigrants as possible. They arrest migrants when it’s convenient, and leave them to die when it’s not.

There is no mechanism to keep track of these calls, no accountability for how searches are handled. According to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department, some 70 percent of calls they forward to Border Patrol don’t go through. Those that connect often don´t result in an actual search. Border patrol agents have told No More Deaths that they will only search for people if given exact coordinates, which are often missing due to the spotty cell phone service. Once a search is initiated, Border Patrol usually finds the person in less than an hour. If the person isn’t near a main road and cannot be seen from the air they give up.

I cannot imagine this happening if I, a US citizen, were to place a 911 call that I had gotten lost hiking in the desert. Teams of helicopters would be deployed to look for me. Officers would comb the area on foot until I was found.

911 operators choosing where to redirect these calls can’t ask for I.D., so they have nothing to go on but racial profiling. Whether someone “sounds Mexican” on the phone will determine whether they get police or rescue workers, whether their life is worth saving.

This callous lack of regard for certain human lives comes directly from a system that defines immigrants as criminals to apprehend, not to protect. Those of us who stand against this police attitude in our cities must also stand against it at the border.

We need initiatives like the Dream Act or others to expand the number of refugees that the US takes on. But these legal changes will help only a few; curbing the massive death toll at the border will require something very different.

We also need to recognize that while some immigrants want to become U.S. citizens, many migrants do not. They prefer their home countries. They just want to come to the US to work their ass off for a few years, make enough money to go home and buy a house or start a business. And there´s nothing wrong with that. Human beings are a migratory species, and people have been crossing the U.S. – Mexico since border long before this fictional line existed. The problem is not the undocumented nature of some migrants, the problem is the border.

In order to change the actual facts on the ground, we need to stop insisting that everyone be “legal.” Instead of only enabling regulation for a few, we need to fight border brutality and the criminalization of all migrants without exception or apology. The death toll at the border is the real immigration crisis, and we need to do something to stop it.

We can do this by providing direct humanitarian assistance to people migrating, and by limiting the reach of anti-immigrant police.

Several organizations already exist to provide medical aid to migrants in the desert, or help their relatives recover their bodies. No More Deaths and Humane Borders operate in the Arizona desert, the most deadly region for migrants.

Many major cities, including San Francisco, Oakland, and Los Angeles, have enacted “sanctuary city” laws. These are ordinances which keep local police from acting as or co-operating with federal anti-immigrant authorities. They allow immigrants to go about their daily lives with less fear.

The next legal step is defunding the bloated budgets of Border Patrol and ICE. And those so inclined can take a lesson from the Anti-Raids Network in London, which organizes disruption of immigration raids in progress on a neighborhood by neighborhood basis.

Initiatives like these are not solutions, but rather steps in the right direction. The important thing is to identify the problem, which is not the immigrants´ lack of documents, but the lack of respect for their lives.

 

 

What Is The Queer Agenda?

By Bumble

If you ask a member of the conservative anti-gay group Focus on the Family what the “gay agenda” is, they may mention, “discrediting of scriptures that condemn homosexuality,” “muzzling of the clergy and Christian media,” or even the “universal acceptance of the gay lifestyle.” Ask a liberal, and you’re more likely to hear about eligibility for military service, employment nondiscrimination policies, and the right to buy same-sex wedding cake toppers at the bakery.

As a queer anti-capitalist, let me be perfectly clear: the conservative description sounds way more exciting.

The recent series of legal victories that have driven the ‘gay agenda’ into the American mainstream (same-sex marriage, legalization of homosexuality in the military, etc) has been met with unbridled enthusiasm for most progressives, but it leaves many of us who are more interested in a ‘queer agenda’ with a lot of hard questions. Why does the political mainstream identify access to nuclear family structures, the military-industrial complex, and an exploitative labor apparatus as the most important issues facing queer folks today? Over 40% of homeless youth in San Francisco identify as LGBTQ – what is ‘the gay agenda’ doing for them? What do our newfound marriage rights mean to single queer parents in poverty, who experience none of the social or financial benefits of hitched queers? What did the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell do for queers in countries under U.S. military occupation (including our own), or to queer soldiers with PTSD and limited access to mental healthcare? What does the gay agenda have in store for queer meth addicts whose access to help is all but absent due to a militarized drug war? What does a nondiscrimination policy mean to a queer person in a country with widespread unemployment? And for employed queer folk, what does the gay agenda have to say about their labor conditions? What does it have to say about the fundamentally exploitative nature of their employment?

Not much.

In fact, the gay agenda often actively works against the interests of queer folks by boosting unbridled capitalism and subtly supporting transphobia. For example, while the absurdly-named “Human Rights Campaign” is the largest LGBT advocacy group in the country, the only unions they support are civil unions: they are enthusiastic boosters of the most notorious union-busting corporations, and often treat their own employees terribly. Their president is a wealthy white cis-male (the unquestioned norm among mainstream advocacy groups, with few exceptions) who caters largely to an even wealthier demographic of potential donors who have an enormous stake in the current economic order. They have routinely turned their backs on the tran folk they allege to represent (including dropping them altogether from proposed employment nondiscrimination legislation). Their merchandise is composed of the usual sweatshop fodder.

Somehow, HRC is the face of the mainstream gay movement. And yet, the strange thing is that their classist, and often racist approach to politics rarely works anyway. As Urvashi Vaid writes, “Gay and Lesbian people are at once insiders, involved openly in government and public affairs to a degree never before achieved, and outsiders, shunned by elected officials unless they need our money or votes in close elections.” Their proposed non-discrimination policy didn’t pass after they removed protection of transfolk from the writing of the bill either. Why even bother?

The real victors of the mainstream LGBT movement are not necessarily members of the queer community (even the middle-class queer community) but economic powerhouses that have found a powerful new marketing strategy: pretending to care about queers, and taking their money. Liberals and conservatives alike frequently interpret these developments, from ‘gaycation’ travel agencies to rainbow Doritos, as indications of ‘growing acceptance,’ but identification of social groups as potential consumers shouldn’t be confused with acceptance. In 1995, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (most famous for marketing cigarettes to children with the cartoon character “Joe Camel”) launched a campaign called Project SCUM. The goal was to target “alternative lifestyle” (read: queer) communities by appealing to the alienation that often accompanies coming out. Despite the subsequent outrage of many high-profile activists, this has become standard practice in the marketing world, which considers the ‘queer demographic’ an ideal consumer base, and reconceptualizes the alienation that accompanies queer life in a sexist, transphobic, and homophobic world as a void that can be filled with consumer goods and services. Media representations insist that the proper place of queers is in the mall (or at the bar) with the same intensity that they insist that the proper place of women is in the kitchen. We can look for inspiration here from Guy Debord, who writes that, “This worker, suddenly redeemed from the total contempt which is clearly shown him by all the varieties of organization and supervision of production, finds himself every day, outside the production and in the guise of a consumer, seemingly treated as an adult, with zealous politeness.” HRC, for their part, gave Reynolds a ‘corporate accountability’ score of 100% in 2009.

In the United States, HRC has attained a new level of hegemony over queer struggle thanks to their public identification with the triumph of same-sex marriage in the Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges: their official logo, a simple equality symbol in a red or blue square, has become the standard symbol of those who support the mainstream brand of ‘marriage equality.’ What most enthusiastic celebrants of the Supreme Court routinely fail to admit is how utterly reactionary and even heteronormative the new court precedent manages to be, even as it ostensibly supports marginalized sexual communities. In his majority opinion, Kenney wrote that “Without the recognition, stability, and predictability marriage offers, their children suffer the stigma of knowing their families are somehow lesser. They also suffer the significant material costs of being raised by unmarried parents, relegated through no fault of their own to a more difficult and uncertain family life.” This is the kind of stigmatizing, normalizing precedent that can ultimately be used to hurt any and all queer parents who are not in the kind of nuclear families recognized under Obergefell v. Hodges. Where is the legal language that protects single queer parents, or queer parents in nontraditional (nonmonogamous, legally unmarried, etc) relationships? One would hope that the biggest LGBT rights organization in the world would have at least expressed concern when highest court in the country asserts that only ‘recognized, stable, and predictable’ family structures are positive environments for children,’ but instead we heard nothing but calls for jubilant celebration from the HRC.

But what about the rest of us? Why would we seek to become more like straight people through militarism, marriage, consumerism, or employment, when none of those things ever made straight people happy in the first place? If self-proclaimed ‘mainstream’ groups like the Independent Gay Forum are right when they announce, “We deny conservative claims that gays and lesbians pose any threat to social morality or the political order,” it is only because the LGBT image has been reduced to one-dimensional and politically ‘neutral’ identities in the public mind. But if the gay agenda has failed us, we can still turn to the queer agenda, one that has rich historical roots. Standing up to ‘homonormativity’ has been a struggle since the beginning of queer movements. The first gay journal, Der Eigene (1896-1932) was also an anarchist journal, and published radical articles until it was shut down by the Nazis. Even Oscar Wilde, arguably the most celebrated queer writer in modern history, famously noted, “I think I am rather more than a Socialist. I am something of an Anarchist, I believe.” Today, groups such as Gay Shame and Black and Pink continue to push a radical queer agenda to dismantle capitalism, racism, and the state.

The goal of queer liberation requires that we not only stand up to not only to oppressive heterosexuals in power, but to system of hierarchy itself that empowers them – and that means that radical queers will need to stand up to LGBT capitalists as well as straight ones. The queer agenda, then, is a familiar one: the destruction of capital, the formation of healthy community bonds, and the cultivation of a social rupture that upsets hierarchies such as heterosexism, ableism, racism, and nationalism. We bring a lot to the table that is often missing in heterosexist radical communities: an unusually articulate understanding of the role of bodies in radical struggles, a vibrant historical relationship with feminism, and a sobering familiarity with the realities of the medical system. These aren’t assets that can simply be married away.

No cop out! Calling for a climate uprising

By Jesse D. Palmer

The climate change group 350.org and others have called for a series of global marches and mass mobilizations before and after the so-called Conference of the Parties (COP 21) meeting scheduled in Paris from Nov. 30 – Dec. 11. The call to action gives us a chance to reject suicidal corporate business as usual and create a new world that is sustainable as well as just and free.

COP 21 is a massive meeting of the world’s governments to achieve a legally binding agreement about climate and emissions applicable to all nations on earth. It’s called COP 21 because it is the 21st annual meeting following the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Cutting through all the jargon, the world’s governments have been playing at addressing climate change for more than 20 years, and they’ve accomplished embarrassingly little so far. Global emissions have gone up almost each year since the industrial revolution, and they’ve actually increased more quickly since it became clear that CO2, methane, and other human-related gas emissions are causing an ecological catastrophe — the sixth great species extinction in the 3.5 billion year history of life on earth. Without swift action, the climate may become so destabilized as natural feedback loops kick in that humans could face widespread crop failure, famine and social collapse.

How could this be, given all the political, media and scientific focus on climate change over the last 20 years? We’re way beyond the time when it is a matter of understanding the problem. Now, nearly everyone realizes (or has to actively struggle to deny) that the ordinary day-to-day functioning of modern society is unsustainable. Yet there hasn’t been a significant response because the global economy is based on burning carbon, the world’s governments are beholden to big corporate interests, and regular people who have nothing to gain and everything to lose haven’t figured out how to break through the structural, political, cultural, economic, personal and psychological paralysis and turn our ship in another direction.

Governments talking at COP 21 isn’t going to fix this problem — but it does give us a focus around which to build the kind of decentralized, grassroots, global momentum necessary to dump fossil fuels and the bankrupt thinking, politics and technology that thrive on dirty energy.

It’s time to shake off our collective stupor and move forward with real change. The technology to transition away from carbon emissions exists, but the handful of people in charge — the ecological 1% — prefer to focus investment dollars on drilling in the arctic, fracking, building pipelines, and other projects that lock us into fossil fuels for another generation, not the wind farms and other alternative tech we need right now.

The situation looks grim because cutting emissions requires global coordinated action but we’re at a moment when most of us feel isolated, powerless and overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. This isn’t something any of us can address alone.

Confronted with 20 years of inaction and a power structure resistant to action, it is increasingly popular to sound all pragmatic and grown up: “It’s too late, the climate will crash and burn no matter what anyone does, we’re all going to die from massive famines and ecological collapse, don’t waste your time.” It’s a seductive headspace — it is highly romantic and dramatic because it places our lives at the end of history. It is comforting to have certainty about the future, but the truth is we really don’t know what is going to happen and life is usually a lot more complex and grey, not so black and white..

It is clear that the climate is changing and every corner of the world, every species, and every society is at risk. The question we just can’t answer yet is how bad it will all end up being. Given the grave reality, maybe it is actually comforting for some people to think “I won’t survive and have to see this go down.”

But learning to feel comfortable with doom is the wrong response. It isn’t the kind of energy we need individually, collectively, culturally and politically to build the unprecedentedly broad, sustained and powerful social movement we need to fight those who profit from climate change.

A less comforting thought is that if we do nothing to avert climate chaos, privileged people in the developed world will use their wealth and military power to maintain their lifestyles in armed camps — sucking up the last remaining food and defending borders against billions of starving, thirsty climate refugees. If you’re “lucky” enough to be on the inside of the fence with some food to eat — which most of the smug, youthful anarcho-pessimists are likely to be — you’ll watch as whole ecosystems, oceans, and societies die off before your eyes. Climate collapse, in other words, won’t get you off the hook.

If our response is resignation, depression, denial and apathy during an ecological red alert, chances are we’ll look back at our lives right now and ask “how could we have just sat there and done nothing knowing full-well what was at stake?” The longer we’re all checked out, passive, fatalistic — individually and collectively — the worse climate change is going to be. The earth isn’t going to mete out climate justice to the oil companies and corporations — only organized, courageous, loving human beings can do that.

At some point, the world will shift away from a carbon based world — even in a dystopian world run by oil company goons. It greatly matters whether this shift happens next year, or 10, or 50 years from now, because the difference will be measured in lives, in forests, in languages.

Getting out in the streets around COP 21 matters because it can help us move out of isolation and realize that virtually everyone around us and around the world already wants to wake up and wants to change course. Throughout history, power has always appeared irresistible and the status quo inevitable — right on the evening before moments of change.

Social movements are moments when people come together and are able to transcend individual isolation and powerlessness and accomplish change that appears impossible. You can’t schedule one of these moments when you need it — but you can make yourself available and join in when it arrives. If you felt the ecstatic energy during Occupy or blocking a freeway during the Black Lives Matter protests last year, you realize how much is possible when minds and social dynamics begin to shift. These recent moments have been fleeting with mixed results. A climate-oriented movement needs greater reach and staying power, but will be based on the same spark.

To get ready, we can practice building conversations that erode the assumptions we’re swimming in — that burning carbon, letting oil companies decide our future, and letting business as usual run us off a cliff is natural, inevitable or necessary. Bringing up climate change in everyday interactions normalizes and localizes the discussion. Over the past few months I’ve been trying this as an antidote to my own sense of anxiety and frustration and it really helps — it makes me feel better and the people I speak with are glad I brought it up. Actions around COP 21 offer a mass-moment to start conversations and make connections.

This is also about social organization. The world is too interconnected, complex and fast-moving and human’s technological power to alter nature is too great to leave life and death questions up to the will of a faceless market that is a-moral, dehumanizing, and that fails to consider (much less value) qualities like freedom, love, health, or life. The systems of private ownership, concentration of wealth and centralization of power are brutal and ecologically unsustainable holdovers.

Many people are realizing that it isn’t enough to simply change the way we get electricity. We need to understand the climate crisis as the strongest evidence that our hierarchical, greed based social organization is a dead end. Centralized, unaccountable corporate and government structures are increasing inequality, hurting our health, and making our lives oppressive, stressful, lonely, boring and miserable in addition to destroying the natural world. Why would we put up with this?

It is crucial to focus on who is benefitting because it is a tiny number of people. Since most of the world’s population is at risk without getting anything out of the system, this is an inherently vulnerable arrangement if we wake up, get together, and fight.

If you don’t go after what you really want, you’re certain not to get it. This is true on both a personal and a social level. Things we want personally — balanced lives based on fun, meaning, engagement and cooperation with others — align with the direction society has to go if we are to survive on our beautiful, fragile planet.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a strange sense of guarded optimism recently which I feel a little embarrassed to admit. For more than 20 years I’ve become more and more alarmed as the implications of global warming have become clearer, yet the social and political power structures have failed to respond.

But the funny thing is that the people I actually see and interact with on a day-to-day basis have never seemed more energized. All around me I see people working on amazing projects — radical social centers, land trusts, coops and alternative technology. I see parents pouring love and energy into their kids. I see people passionately loving each other; artists and musicians creating; cyclists pushing to the top of the next hill.

There is an energy building that is deeply responsive to and inspired by the climate crisis — that demonstrates that people want to survive and build a better future. A lot of these projects are strictly on a local basis because people feel hopeless about the global situation and so they’ve withdrawn. Since local projects won’t get us where we need to go, I’m hoping all these folks can re-engage with protests, re-engage with international networks, re-engage with the idea that we can and must build a global movement. While these actions may not feel as tangible nor as immediately satisfying as building a garden, the only way we’ll survive is to unite to fight the ecological 1%, the oil companies, the special interests, and the governments and political structures that do their bidding.

Tactics like the fossil fuel divestment movement that target universities and other public funds can sound like a liberal half-measure, but I think these efforts are a good start especially since investment is the way our society determines what is valued. Why can Shell invest billions in arctic drilling in 2015 given the climate implications?

It’s obvious we need to leave that shit in the ground. 350.org has issued a call to leave 80% of fossil fuels in the ground and fully transition to zero emissions by 2050. If we were really serious, we could get to zero emissions much faster. During WWII, virtually the entire US industrial system switched to war production in a matter of months and all kinds of technology evolved rapidly — the atomic bomb being a particularly notable example. The world needs to rapidly turn talent, money and technology towards energy sources and ways of living that don’t endanger life. Don’t tell me, “oh we can’t ditch fossil fuels” like it’s a physical law and I’m crazy. Alternatives exist now and the crazy thing is to keep burning fossil fuels thoughtlessly.

We need to fight the fossil fuel 1% in the streets as well as through the divestment movement. Over the last 20 years — maybe it’s because of the internet? — the number of street disturbances seems to have decreased each year, and this has taken a toll politically, spiritually and psychologically. There is a quality of shared experience and power in the streets that helps you be strong and feel that power structures can be fought, and that the future is up for grabs.

We need to practice physically disrupting the status quo like exercising a muscle. When people visibly put their bodies in the way of the machine, it is magnetic and can energize and inspire millions of other people who care — who want to do something — and are just waiting for the right moment.

The worst danger we face is succumbing to the idea that because things are a particular way now, those conditions are natural, inevitable, and permanent. I was recently reading a beautiful children’s book to my three year-old about the people who lived here before this land was covered in concrete — before the idea of humans changing the climate was imaginable. I was struck by how the idea of people living here for generations in harmony with the earth seems both invisible and impossible just a few hundreds years later.

For humans, things can change dramatically in a short time. It may be that someone standing here in 300 years — living in an ecologically sustainable future — will look at our oil-drenched lives now with their own sense of wonder. There’s really no way to know what the future will look like, but what we can say is that it makes a difference where you put your time, energy and heart now.

 

Pull Quote:

 

November 28 & 29:

Global climate march in Paris & worldwide

 

 

 

Issue #119 Introduction

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

This issue got off to a promising start. At the article deadline, there were already a reasonable number of coherent articles. We didn’t get into any nasty arguments and had fun sitting together editing. At the end of an unusually short and efficient production meeting late Friday night, we heard a ruckus outside and saw a large group of people standing outside our office doing something with rope. We burst outside to witness a gaggle of birthday partygoers smashing (and burning!) a Donald Trump piñata and singing in Spanish, a joyous whirl of hugging and laughing and smiling. It was a wonderful reminder that enjoying our lives with the people we love and fighting the forces of oppression and misery are part of the same process, a process that is as ubiquitous and inescapable as it is diverse.

The next morning we were ready for a great weekend making this issue. We pushed the button to turn on our office computer and… POPPPFWOOM! A loud crack rang out and the toxic smell of burning circuitry filled the room. Apparently after being used to type numerous neo-luddite Slingshot articles, our computer had joined the struggle by committing suicide! But nonetheless, here’s a new issue. We did it!

Slingshot is an all-volunteer collective — we only work on this thing because it’s a good time. This means different things to each of us – whether it’s a chance to be creative, toss around ideas, meet people, or feel engaged with the world around us.

At one point, someone wanted to make the front page look like an old-timey newspaper from 1890 and was trying to come up with a slogan for the paper like old papers used to have. At first we came up with “All the shit that’s fit to sling,” and then more self-mocking ones like “information, inspiration, or whatever else shows up,” “Too dumb for your cool sister, too cool for your mom,” “We hardly proofread it!,” and “Well, at least we tried.”

What was clear out of the brainstorm is that this project wouldn’t be fun – and therefore wouldn’t be possible – if our main priority was perfection or the purely outward focus of creating a “serious political journal.” We know Slingshot could be a lot better. A do-it-yourself world is rough around the edges. It’s like real life, plenty of false starts but also laughter, friendship, music, and a feeling of meaning and satisfaction at the end. This issue was put together by an especially small crew but engaged a lot of people from society’s fringes who are usually totally invisible to the mainstream.

As we send this issue out into the world, we want to mourn the disappearance of Nabolom Bakery – the unofficial Slingshot café. It was a 70s collective that outlasted most others and maintained its funky public living room feeling to the end. A former Nabolom collective member who also volunteers for Slingshot realized that her Slingshot office key also fit the Nabolom door lock and vice versa – a fitting coincidence.

Slingshot is always looking for new writers, artists, editors, photographers, translators, distributors, etc. to make this paper. If you send an article, 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: A. Iwasa, Cedar, Eggplant, Finn, Gretchen, Holiday, Isabel, Izzy, Jesse, Joey, Korvin, Timothy, Xander 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 Dec. 13 2015 at 4 pm at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below.)

Article Deadline & Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 120 on January 16, 2015 at 3 pm.

 

Volume 1, Number 119, Circulation 20,000

Printed September 25, 2015

 

Slingshot Newspaper

A publication of Long Haul

Office: 3124 Shattuck Avenue Berkeley CA 94705

Mailing: PO Box 3051, Berkeley, CA 94703

Phone (510) 540-0751 • slingshot@tao.ca slingshot.tao.ca • twitter @slingshotnews

 

Slingshot free stuff

We’ll send you a random assortment of back issues for the cost of postage. Send $3 for 2 lbs. Free if you’re an infoshop or library. slingshot@tao.ca

 

Circulation information

Subscriptions to Slignshot are free to prisoners, low income, or anyone in the USA with a Slingshot Organizer, or $1 per issue. International $3 per issue. Outside the Bay Area we’ll mail you a free stock of copies if you give them out for free. Say how many copies and how long you’ll be at your address. In the Bay Area pick up copies at Long Haul and Bound Together books, SF.

 

Against Rape Culture! Against the State! Anarchist Responses to Sexual violence: A conversation

By Joey

Currently a social worker for folks living with HIV, I’ve worked around sexual health for five years. In August, I interviewed my friend Tuck who lives in Eugene, OR and works in sexual assault survivor support and advocacy. Her work includes on-call crisis response advocacy, e.g., for someone who has experienced a recent sexual assault and chooses to either come in and disclose, or goes to the hospital to get a kit done, or wants to make a police report, or wants accompaniment to any of those. She also accompanies clients to court, staffs a crisis line, and trains volunteer advocates and crisis line workers.

J: What’s the current system like for responding to sexual violence?

T: The current mainstream system for responding to sexual violence, specifically for Oregon – and I will say that I think things are transitioning in law enforcement in an effort to become more trauma-informed – is that if someone is assaulted, they can go to a hospital and get something called a sexual assault forensic exam kit, which collects forensic evidence from their body, and they may get interviewed about what happened, anonymously or identified. The process for making a police report is that they’re interviewed by the responding officer (a beat cop), and that person collects initial evidence, might interview witnesses, might talk to the perpetrator, and then if they decide there’s enough of a case it gets passed on to a detective and possibly eventually to a DA.

The survivor can also file a lawsuit, but I don’t know as much about that. There are other services that folks become eligible for as well, like reimbursement from the state for lost wages, mental health care, etc. People also have civil protective options for their safety, which aren’t dependent on having a criminal case.

J: The state plays quite a large role then.

T: Yeah, I’ve started collaborating with a perpetrator intervention program, and there are some things in place around restorative justice or community accountability, but these are all community-created, not civic in any way. Most of it is the state.

J: The reason I reflected how much involvement the state seems to have is that we’re an anarchist publication and we’re – I am – interested in the groups you just mentioned, which are doing this at the community level, not at a civic level, as you put it. Two questions: what are the implications of the state having so much involvement, and could you saw more about the programs that are doing this kind of work on their own from a restorative justice lens?

T: I’ll answer the second one first. The question I’ve been thinking about is what does accountability mean? There’s a whole host of issues related to responding to sexual violence as a crime: one of the main problems is that the criminal legal system is so based around property that it doesn’t translate to these harms that are more spirit-based. How do you understand or quantify intent or impact?

I think that one of the issues that a lot of community accountability processes – and there’s a great book called the Revolution Starts at Home that has a ton of info about projects that folks have done around accountability, specifically confronting sexual violence in activist communities – is that people seem to mimic the criminal justice system in the ways they’re approaching accountability. Everyone is innocent until proven guilty, so then you have to prove that crime took place, which when it comes to something like theft is demonstrable: I used to have a bicycle, now I don’t. But when it comes to something like sexual violence, especially around consent, it becomes much harder to prove, as any detective will tell you, and it doesn’t really reflect what actually happened in an act like sexual assault.

What ends up happening is that there are big town hall meetings, people present evidence, and people’s character comes under attack. If someone has more social capital, they’re more likely to believed; if someone has shaky standing in their community, that comes in as well. So there are a ton of problems that arise when we try to recreate a system that is inadequate to respond to this type of event — and, I would argue, is inadequate to respond to most things.

I’m by no means an expert on transformative justice, but I do feel that there are things that can be learned from survivor support movements, that would better inform accountability and transformative justice projects. People who have worked so closely with survivors are better equipped to understand the impact of sexual violence on people and should therefore be part of crafting the response to it.

Within anarchist/radical/whatever communities, there’s often an agreement around shared values, and one of those is that we need to develop alternatives to the state, so there’s more of a framework in place for working on this, as well as a high value on community; sometimes it doesn’t work that well, but at least folks see each other as members of a community rather than people who happen to live in the same town. Well, I don’t just work with survivors who are anarchists, I work with survivors from everywhere – how do we provide for folks who aren’t necessarily already involved with radical spaces?

J: I think there’s maybe a tension between folks who would say they’re not concerned with how well you can scale up a project like that: if you can make a project work in your community, that’s what you can do, and any attempt to scale up becomes inherently recuperative – and on the other hand, I think there’s a lot to say for the idea that, as you put it, a lot of people who experience sexual violence aren’t in those communities – and a lot of people who are swallowed up by the prison-industrial complex aren’t in those communities.

T: I think the issue is seeing community accountability as a replacement for the criminal legal system, because it’s too big. We can’t have a community accountability practice end up as a town jury.

The problem is if you imagine that you’re going to rehabilitate a perpetrator, for example, or work with them so they stop perpetrating violence or unlearn toxic patterns of violence and control, which is a task radical communities often give themselves – we’re working so far out of our skillset. And a lot of the time we don’t have healthy communication and boundaries, because we’ve never had it modeled for us. Especially in communities that are more transitory, it’s hard to imagine how personal-work-based change takes place. So how do we make community with each other that’s accountable, that takes care of each other, where each member is committed to working through their own stuff, where the social norms support that? I think it’s much more about culture-shifting than creating another non-profit or collective; there’s a lot of good to be done in having community workshops where people talk about these issues.

J: What do you think prevents communities from being accountable?

T: That’s a good question. When you see a problem this systemic, the answer is always that it’s a system issue. Sexual violence is deeply raced, deeply classed, based in colonialism; and these dynamics are recreated in our relationships. All of that affects what we do. So creating accountable community is in part about destroying patriarchy, white supremacy, heterosexism, etc, and it’s as difficult as any anti-oppression work that we have.

J: The thought in the back of my head was, it seems like part of the reason we don’t have accountable communities is because we don’t have to do the work of creating accountability; people just call the cops and imagine that the cops and the prison-industrial complex will somehow do that work for them. Does that resonate with you at all?

T: Largely, people want to keep sexual violence an invisible issue. When you look at the statistics on sexual violence and domestic violence in our country, it’s staggering — it’s epidemic. To confront that means confronting a huge part of our entire culture. Most people don’t want to think about it, and even people who understand that aren’t necessarily thinking about what survivors have to work with. So they might reflexively say, “Don’t call the cops,” but they don’t know what it’s like to be a survivor or the choices they have.

I will say that the movement to end sexual violence works really hard to ally itself with the criminal justice system; it’s been an intentional act over the past three decades to get cops to respond adequately to sexual violence. Remember that most kinds of sexual violence weren’t even crimes until recently, and if they were crimes they were property crimes – marital rape wasn’t a crime until 1994.  A lot of the initial work went to moving these issues from the realm of private business to public crimes. And we’re now left with the result of that. A lot of that trajectory coincided historically with a state that said, “You know what we’re really into? Throwing everyone in prison.” And those two movements worked really well together. While critiquing that, I also want to hold that people had real safety reasons for doing that, and continue to.

J: Yeah, it would be a misstep to blame a survivor who calls the cops. We’re in agreement there. But a little while ago I wondered what you think the implications are of the state being so involved in the response process, and I was thinking on a more systemic level about the historical process you just described – of the genocidal levels of incarceration coinciding with this new approach of collaboration with the criminal justice system.

T: I feel a strong critique of the DVSA [domestic violence, sexual assault] movement around its cooperation with the criminal justice system, and that critique has been brought forward by women of color advocates consistently, and especially black and indigenous women, who had named so much of that. The history is really reflective of the ways white voices dominated the movement – they didn’t see obvious consequences to that choice to work so closely with the criminal justice system.

In terms of what are the effects of state involvement, I think there’s been an intentional process of mystification around how the criminal legal system works: most people think that an individual presses charges against an individual, but that’s not how it works. So survivors come to the system saying, “this is what so-and-so did, and it wasn’t OK.” But what they find is that it’s taken entirely out of their hands and comes down to an issue of consent, where one person can say it was consensual and the other can say it wasn’t, and then the law says, we don’t know who to believe.  This is an important lesson for accountable community processes, to know that we don’t want to do that, too. Instead, approaching survivors from a trauma-informed perspective takes us away from this abusive criminal justice system: it’s not an issue of, “only one person can be right here,” but rather two people perceiving a situation differently, where one person has been harmed, and the harm is what we need to address – not what did or didn’t exactly happen.

J: And it seems like the state doesn’t have any way to deal with processes from that framework.

T: No, it’s not a part of the framework. I’m curious about what will happen, because the way consent conversations have advanced in the past 10-15 years is outstanding. We’ve developed these nuanced ways to talk about consent as an active process, and a lot of prevention work is based around consent education, but none of that has made it into the state. That is just not how consent is reflected in the law.

The other thing is that trauma-informed care is working its way into some parts of the state response, but not all. Things like understanding flight-fight-freeze as a normal trauma response hasn’t made its way through yet. So people are still questioned about, “Why didn’t you leave? Your car was there – why didn’t you take off?” Because people don’t understand how trauma works.

There’s a common question I hear of why haven’t people put work into community accountability? Well, a lot of people have, and do this work around the world, but in my personal experience there’s a pattern where some people do this work and many people don’t. And that’s often across gender lines – who does emotional labor, and who can choose to ignore sexual violence. Who chooses to support survivors by working on these issues, and who doesn’t.

J: I think that parallels a long-standing critique of activist communities – and this is somewhat of a caricature of the critique – looking at who’s out in a riot, for example, and who’s taking care of the kids of those folks.

T: Who will do the dishes after the revolution, type of stuff.

J: Yeah, it’s both predictable and sad to see that dynamic here as well… Anything you want to add?

T: The only thing I would want to add is to leave you with, what do we need to be accountable to one another? What are the ingredients for the recipe of accountable communities? We need to be survivor-centered, etc. I’ve learned in doing this work that those ingredients are skills that you can learn, ways of looking at the world – at power – that can be reframed. What we know is that people in positions of power sexually assault people with less power because they know the survivor won’t be believed. That’s a classic situation that’s well known, and yet in radical communities we don’t have a deep understanding of that.

So part of being accountable means learning about patterns like that, to demystify sexual violence. We know that rape culture is more than a movie with a fucked-up portrayal of non-consensual sex, but is actually present in these subtle ways.

So again, what do our communities need to be able to do this better, if we want to have an alternative space?

J: Right, and that recipe connects to so many other struggles… Thanks so much,  Tuck!

 

Leap For It! Leap Day Action Night Call to Action February 29

By Jesse D. Palmer

Leap Day — February 29, 2016 — is an extra day that gives us a chance to look at how we spend most of our days and wonder if we can’t do a little better? If the answer is “yes”, Leap Day can be an arbitrary but overdue moment to create decentralized, militant and yet creative and hilarious uprisings against the various oppressive systems that vex us.

The odds of evolving a brain like ours that can comprehend its own existence, play, create and love while spinning on a tiny rock in an infinite universe — those are very long odds. And yet people spend most of their lives just scraping by — facing constant pressure at jobs we hate, looking at computers when we would prefer to be at the beach. The world is full of instability, fear and loneliness as we constantly compete for virtual friends, overpriced housing and products that are killing the planet.

Leap Day is a gimmick. Systems of inequality, racism, police violence and environmental destruction are vulnerable, but they won’t collapse on their own. They need our help. Everyone is standing around waiting for something to happen or just focused on the latest outrage. We need to take the initiative and throw the first punch every once in a while.

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 mobil 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 a finger puppet. 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.

In 2012, right in the wake of the Occupy Movement, we had a funeral for capitalism in Oakland, complete with a real coffin and a brass band leading a procession through the streets to a dance party. The police had taken our camps, but they couldn’t make us love our bosses or the 1%.

The call for decentralized revolt on Leap Day 2016 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 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 laboratory to see what actions feel relevant and engaging in view of local conditions. It’s useful to let your imagination run free and go beyond the well worn patterns of radical activity. 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 in the streets? Leap day at its best can help break down the artificial separation between “activism” and living our lives full of enjoyment and freedom. Living 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, no email list. There is no success or failure. This is about taking matters into your own two hands and seeing what might happen.

There may be to ideas, resources, local action callouts and report-back at leapdayaction.org. Slingshot also has big posters we can mail you for free if you email us. Leap for it!

 

The 6 regrets of the dying

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

6. I wish I had used Leap Day every 4 years to get out in the street and be brilliant, creative and zany to smash capitalism, patriarchy and the state!

Tools against police terror: apps to protect yourself & others

By x.lenc

Cell phones are effectively cops in your pocket, but as long as you’re carrying one around, you may as well use whatever resources are available to keep the cops in check. I reviewed a number of Android apps that can be used for ‘copwatching’ – i.e., recording cops on the street to have a record when shit goes down – in various capacities. Good luck!

Mobile Justice CA

Cops have been known to snatch phones away from copwatchers recording their abuses to delete the evidence; this app automatically streams your footage to the ACLU, so the video isn’t lost completely even if the cops take your phone. The app is easy to use and even includes a digital Know Your Rights pamphlet, but unfortunately it’s up to the ACLU to handle your videos once you upload them, so it’s hard to know for sure how well the program actually works. In the meantime, it’s pro-bono, so what do you have to lose?

Five-O

Five-O allows users to submit incident reports describing interactions with police in their area, generating scores for local departments and individual officers in your area. The idea is an admirable one – it provides a forum for users to discuss the worst cops in their neighborhood, and identify patterns in local policing. Unfortunately, the forums are largely devoid of actual discussion, probably in part because the poor layout makes the entire app very cumbersome to use. Hopefully there will be updates in the future, because this app shows a lot of promise.

I’m Getting Arrested

I love this app, it’s so simple! With a single tap of the screen, users can send a pre-written MMS text and your location to a list of contacts of your choosing announcing that you are being arrested and any other information you might want to send. It’s ideal for use amongst affinity groups at high-risk protests and riots, but it could be helpful for anyone carrying out a direct action, or even just for walking home.

MyCompanion

This was app was designed to allow your friends to virtually ‘walk you home at night’ by tracking your trip via GPS. They’ll be notified when you get home (or if you suddenly go off-course, get pushed, etc), and in the meantime buttons onscreen allow you to instantly call the police or mark an area as ‘suspicious’ if you feel nervous. While the app is clearly designed with, ahem, an attitude towards the police that you might not share, it can still be used to help comrades keep track of each other if you feel nervous about being nabbed by the police (i.e. when leaving a protest, or when there is a warrant out for your arrest).

Police Scanner

I don’t speak pig latin so police scanners are largely incomprehensible to me, but if you find it helpful to listen in on a department’s radio chatter, this app can give you access to a remarkable array of police bands, though not all departments seem to be covered. Personally I find twitter more useful during a riot, but to each their own.

 

Pharmaceutical Patriarchy

By Wolverine de Cleyre

Filbanserin, marketed as Addyi, is a drug recently approved by the FDA to treat “hypoactive sexual desire disorder,” a disorder which does not currently exist in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) but is included in the International Classification of Disease. It has been referred to as the “pink pill,” likening it to Viagra for women. However, while Viagra increases blood flow to the genitals, Flibanserin purports to do something entirely different, to act on neurotransmitters in the brain to increase sexual desire. But before we get into a discussion on whether this is totally awesome or really, really creepy, let´s first look into whether or not it actually works.

Some trials of Flibanserin found no effect at all. Data averaged from the two “best” studies, which involved 5,000 women, found that Flibanserin increased the number of “sexually satisfying events” from 2.8 to 4.5 times a month. However, women receiving placebo reported also an increase of “satisfying sexual events” from 2.7 to 3.7 times a month.

Women with any sort of physical or mental health problems, or issues in their relationship, were excluded from the study group, although these restrictions will not apply to prescription of the drug.

What this boils down to is an extra .7 satisfactory bangs per month from effect of the drug. At $250 per month, that works out to $357 per bang. So, kind of a bleh aphrodisiac.

Flibanserin also has serious side effects like fatigue, dizziness, and nausea, and dangerous drug interactions with such common substances as antidepressants, hormonal contraceptives, and alcohol.

In combination with alcohol, the drug lowers blood pressure to such an extent that 1 in 5 patients lost consciousness after only two drinks. Bizarrely, these alcohol safety tests were done almost exclusively with men. It´s well documented that alcohol affects female bodies more heavily than male ones, so the actual effects are likely much stronger, but at this point unknown. Drinking a kombucha may actually make you incapable of driving. And unlike Viagra, which is taken only when you actually want a woody, Flibanserin must be taken everyday, [much more lucrative for drug companies] and effects do not show up for several weeks.

Why did the FDA decide to approve this drug? Well, they didn´t. Not the first two times at least. Flibanserin was soundly voted down by the FDA panel years ago, due to its serious side effects and lack of benefit. And yet, it passed on this third submission, despite no change to the drug or new studies demonstrating safety or efficacy.

What changed was a media campaign entitled Even the Score, funded by the drug´s owner, Sprout pharmaceuticals. It accuses the FDA of sexism, due to the fact that there are several erectile dysfunction treatments for men, and none for women. The gist is that prudish government regulators are preventing science from giving ladies the sex life we deserve. Many professionals with financial ties to the drug’s manufacturer, Sprout, have given media statements without disclosing this relationship, making the debate seem like women’s groups against the government.

This is pinkwashing at its most blatant and cynical. First off, it´s a faulty comparison, as none of the drugs for men claim to increase sexual desire, they just work on plumbing.

Its feminism is obviously shallow.

I´m really stuck by how, in both the drug company literature and physicians discussing the drug, the effect on the “relationship,” in other words, a dude, is nearly always mentioned in the same breath with the woman´s distress over her lack of sexual interest. Comments such as:

“I would point out that simply having a low sex drive should not necessarily be seen as a problem unless the woman is distressed by that or it is causing impairment in an important intimate relationship.”

So, the impatience of a woman’s spouse is what determines whether or not she has a medical condition, and this definition is being sold as feminism and equality.

The story of Flibanserin brings up a larger issue. The language of equality is easily co-opted. Equality usually means that a group of people excluded from power get integrated into the mainstream, and receive some of its benefits. What does equality mean in a system that is as fundamentally fucked up as our own? Does equality mean equal numbers of male and female police officers beating unarmed people to death? Does it mean more brown people in the military, or more queers clearcutting forests?

Do we want the “equality” to treat one’s body like a machine, to view sexual performance as a metric of manhood or womanhood or success as a human being? The “equality” to be up for fucking regardless of whether you´re exhausted from your soul-sucking job, your grey commute, or sole responsibility for your three kids?

Flibanserin is also symptomatic of the way that our society deals with its issues. A widely applied, technological solution for what is at base a social, structural problem. For example, genetically modified grains justify themselves with the promise to feed the world, but there is already enough food to feed the current population. The problem is that it´s unevenly distributed, so some people go hungry. Helicopters and drones are used to patrol the US-Mexico border and arrest immigrants, but this does not address the reasons that people want or need to migrate, or why employers choose to hire them, so people find a way through. These high-tech band-aids do not address the root of the problem, and in fact they distract us from understanding what the real problem is.

We need the time and space to know our own bodies and to cultivate our desires, and the power to choose lovers who turn us on. And sometimes, just sometimes we need freedom from sex, freedom from having to be responsible for the sexual needs of another person. What we do not need is a 250 dollar drug that makes us pass out over two beers in return for seven-tenths of a half-decent lay per month.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Urban Farms: 3 reasons why they will change your life and the world

by TRS, Deputy AgitProp Minister of Occupy the Farm

I have been around farming my entire life. I grew up in a rural state where small scale family farming is commonplace and an integral part of local communities. My college had a working farm, complete with a campus CSA program. Ironically, it wasn’t until I moved to California that I began working on community farms and came to view farming as part of my ideal lifestyle as well as my political work. I have volunteered and spent time in dozens of community gardens and farms around California and lack of community support in terms of volunteers and donated resources seem to be one of the larger issues that limits the growth of these spaces.

There are countless factors that contribute to this, including issues of class and race, but I think that for somebody who hasn’t been a part of a community farm, it can be hard to understand how becoming involved will benefit them, their community and the planet. Decentralized food production must be thought of as part of multi-generational projects, huge processes like rebuilding topsoil, replanting forests, and detoxifying the soil, air and water, comprised of billions of small actions. Although I don’t think kale is going to save the world, I think individuals and radical social movements would greatly benefit from a greater involvement with urban farming, particularly as a form of direct action.

On the individual scale, there is a real and significant material benefit from decentralized agriculture. It is relatively simple to grow high yield crops (which already compose a large portion of people’s diets, i.e. greens, squash, potatoes, etc.) even in small spaces and even where there is only concrete or a fire escape. There are even more options for growing more obscure foods like purslane, chickweed, and plantain, “weeds” with high nutritional and often medicinal value, and that could already be growing in your backyard. It is possible to grow a significant portion of your own food with a minimal amount of space and time commitment. With the added infrastructure and space of community farms, the potential bounty grows; most community farms produce enough for their volunteers and their community. A couple of hours volunteering can provide you with week worth of fresh, local produce. In addition to nutritional and personal economic considerations, there is a long list of ways farming, gardening or just hanging out with plants are good for you: health benefits from physical activity, pollution remediation, and plant medicines, mental health benefits from better nutrition and exposure to plants, connecting with the natural world, expanding one’s personal skill set and resilience, et al.

Beyond immediate personal benefit, supporting urban farms directly benefits your comrades and community. It is becoming increasingly common for urban farms to distribute their produce to surrounding communities for free or by donation at weekly farm stands. In food deserts, farms can increase access to healthy food for communities ignored by the dominant food system. Groups like Food not Bombs and events like protests, book fairs and fundraisers are other possible outlets for urban farm produce. Gardens and farms can function as community green space that can host meetings, potlucks and activist events.

The dominant food system and agro-industrial model is fundamentally broken. The food we eat is toxic and the way we grow it is destroying the planet and poisoning humanity. The racism and classism inherent in this system causes a disproportionate impact on low-income communities, communities of color, and the global south/”third world”. While I do not believe that consumer politics have the ability to create substantial systemic changes, I do see value in reducing one’s participation and complicity in oppressive and environmentally destructive systems, and consider it to be a form of resistance.

Occupy the Farm emerged in 2012 to defend the Gill Tract in Albany, CA, a piece of historic farmland owned by UC Berkeley, from development. Through a diversity of tactics, including direct action occupation the group won access to farm 1.5 acres of the 20 acre parcel and to begin to implement our vision. The Gill Tract Community Farm thrives and has become an open air laboratory and classroom as well as a functioning farm that has given away 1000s of pounds of free produce to volunteers, the local community, and activist groups. The farm also supports our continued resistance to the planned development of the rest of the Gill Tract, not just by providing food for our direct actions but also as a site of community outreach and new member recruitment. Development is imminent; check occupythefarm.org and our social media pages to keep up with the situation at the Gill Tract.

This article is not meant to be all inclusive, it only outlines my vision and my analysis. I encourage people to check out their local farms and make their own conclusion. This is a call to action. Put your praxis where your mouth is and then put food into your mouth.

Alive and Well: a visit to Zapatista Territory

by Wolverine de Cleyre

Wedged into the back of an overheated a van, I am weaving through the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico, waiting to arrive in Oventik, a Zapatista town that is having their annual Festival del los Caracoles, their Snail or Spiral Festival. The Zapatistas are an indigenous resistance movement that first captured world attention January 1, 1994, when several thousand of them took control of towns and cities in Chiapas, freed prisoners from jail, and set fire to police stations and military barracks. The news was accompanied by gripping images of masked women with a baby in one arm and a gun in the other.

The van dumps me out into blissfully fresh air, in front of a gate and a sign announcing Zapatista Territory. A masked woman tells me I will have to wait to check in. Eventually, another masked person comes to inquire and write down my name, country, profession, collective, & whether we are adherents of the Sexta.

The “Sexta” refers to the EZLN’s 6th public declaration, put out in 2005. They outline what they´ve been doing, and the structures they’ve developed for autonomous self-government in their struggle. They describe their fight not just as something for themselves, or indigenous people in Chiapas, but as a union of the world´s dispossessed, exploited and rebellious against capitalism and neoliberal economic policies. They call for mutual aid between all groups struggling to preserve their difference and autonomy against corporate globalization.

Entering Oventik, I´m overwhelmed by the murals covering all of the buildings. Very few people live here, it´s rather a center of administration for Zapatista territories. I pass a two-story hospital, complete with pharmacy, on my way to the main stage, where hundreds are assembled to watch a girl’s basketball tournament. There have been different sports competitions between villages all today and yesterday. Around the corner are 15 schoolrooms arranged around a central courtyard.

It has the feel of a 4-H festival. This is partly because of the straw bales, but more because of all the kids running around, the family feel of the event. This shouldn´t be surprising, as the Zapatistas are essentially a network of indigenous families, rather than individuals who ascribe to a particular political ideology.

I have just a sleeping bag, not a tent, and there´s supposed to be political discussions at night that I want to stay for, so I find a masked person and ask where I should sleep. He checks in with some folks and takes me to an area with a roof, talks to the people there for a second, and rushes off to attend to other things.

I introduce myself to the women next to me, but they just look at each other and giggle. Do they not like me? Are they weirded out that I’m here? It takes me a minute to realize that they don’t speak Spanish, only Tzotzil, one of the many indigenous languages in Chiapas.

The EZLN is not the only indigenous organization that has come into conflict with the Mexican government over the years. But the Zapatistas are unique in that they advance the interests of more than a single ethnic group, meaning that the organization encompasses several languages. In this area, people mostly speak Tzotzil, but the Zapatista network also includes speakers of Tzeltal and Chol.

I’m getting hungry, so I make my way over to some tables where they´re dishing out tacos, chalupas, and coffee to a lively crowd. There are a lot of Spaniards here, some Europeans, and Mexicans from big cities, along with Zapatistas. All around me, people are having political discussions. I strike up a conversation with some teachers from Tuxtla, the capital of Chiapas. Mexico has a very powerful teachers union, and I knew that they were fighting a new exam, one that would cause a teacher to get fired if they failed it.

Annabel told me why she feels that their struggle is connected with the Zapatistas. She explained that it was ridiculous to have one national exam for teachers operating in different regions of Mexico. “There are teachers in Chiapas that don´t speak Spanish well. Their classes are in Tzotzil. The government wants to fire those teachers, wants to send in teachers from Mexico City that know nothing about the students or how they live. They want everyone to be the same, more central control, more standardization.”

Trekking back from the bathrooms, she asks what people think of the Zapatistas. I reply that when I was younger, 6 or 10 years ago, everyone on the left talked about the Zapatistas, but it seems to be less in fashion now. “You know, I think everybody looks at movements in other countries for how they relate to your own. When the talk was about globalization, the Zapatistas offered a vision of an alternative. In the last year, the big fight is against police violence in the cities, violence against bla–“

And I am hushed as two lines of masked men and women march past us, a solemn procession.

“Who are they?” I whisper after they pass.

“The Clandestine Committee,” they proceed through the crowd to the front of the stage.

There is a speech. Despite the big military concentration just down the road, despite the presence of and clear reverence for the masked individuals in front and walking through the crowd, the speaker doesn´t talk about the glorious resistance of fighting, martyrs, or the brutality of the evil government. It’s all about producing healthy and pure food, remembering that man and woman are equal, education of children, and resolving conflicts with each other. The translation in Tzotzil seems longer than the Spanish version.

Then the music starts and the basketball court and beyond becomes a dance floor. The Zapatistas don’t drink alcohol. This was a controversial decision that was pushed through by Zapatista women, partly because of alcohol´s associations with violence and sexual assault. In this crowd of over a thousand, I see no conflicts all night, and I’m amazed at how giddy and ridiculous I feel without alcohol, how light I feel without having to fend off drunken guys. There are still hundreds of couples dancing when the last band wraps up at 3am.

In between dancing, people eat and drink coffee. Zapatistas are used to foreigners coming through, and they´re comfortable and confident talking. The ones I spoke to had absolutely no interest in our demonstrations, our revolts, our publications. All they ask me is “And what food projects do you have? And what of the education of your children?” They are not incredibly impressed by my replies.

I think about the difference between the Zapatistas and radical folks in the US. Radical rhetoric and imagery from anti-government folks usually focus on the glory of resistance and struggle, crowds in the street and cop cars on fire, as the important thing, the exciting thing.

In contrast, Zapatistas see the real work, the important thing, as growing their own food, raising their children, living together. They are willing to engage in armed struggle to defend this autonomy from a government they feel has no legitimacy, but that´s not what they want to devote their energy toward.

The government mostly leaves them alone these days, aside from a paramilitary attack in 2014 that killed a Zapatista teacher. The state doesn´t try to enter their territories. They don´t pay any tax to the government, don´t send their children to government schools, and put EZLN markers on their cars in lieu of license plates. Their autonomy is due both to their own unbending will, and international pressure that keeps the Mexican military from slaughtering them wholesale.

The Zapatistas are alive and well.

I can’t copy them, as I am not, and can never be, tied to a piece of land in the way that they are. And I wouldn´t want to, as I’m lazy and the thought of being so enmeshed with my extended family makes me nauseous.

What we can learn is to neither shun violence, nor confuse the most conflictual action with the most radical. Conflict with the state is neither synonymous with nor alien to radicalism. Where do we start? Perhaps in building something so lovely that we too will be inspired to defend it.