Category Archives: Organizer Essays

Read Information and Inspiration (Book list)

FICTION

Stranger in a Strange Land—Robert Heinlein

To the Finland Station—Edmund Wilson

Infinite Jest—David Foster Wallace

Letters of Insurgents—Fredy Pearlman

No One Belongs Here More than You—Miranda July

Dangerous Visions—ed. Harlan Ellison

Les Guerilleres—Monique Wittig

God Resigns at the Summer Meeting and Other Plays—Nawal El Saadawi

Treasure of the Sierra Madre—B. Traven

Without a Glimmer of Remorse—Pino Cacucci

Death Ship—B Traven

Perdido Street Station—China Mieville

Stone Junction—Jim Dodge

The Sally Lockhart Mystery—Phillip Pullman

Android Karinina—Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters

Bread and Roses Too—Katherine Patterson

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies—Jane Austen and Seth Grame Smith

ZINES

East Village Inly—Brooklyn NY

Ker-Bloom!—Pittsburgh, PA

Punk Punk—SF, CA

Geneva13—Geneva, NY

No Gods No Mattress—Berkeley, CA

Eat the State—Seattle, WA

Dreams of Donuts—Oakland, CA

NON FICTION

A Thousand Plateaus—Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari

Empire—Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt

The Coming Community—Giorgio Agamben

The Art of Not Being Governed—James C. Scott

The Space Between Notes: Rock and the Counter-Culture—Sheila Whiteley

Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound, and Imaginary Worlds—DAVID Toop

Women of the Arab World—ed. Nahid Toubia

Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution—Arif Dirlik

Resistance: An Indigenous Response to Neoliberalis—ed. Maria Bargh

Fearful Symmetry—A Study of William Blake—Northrop Frye and Nicholas Halmi

Zami: A New Spelling of my Name—Audre Lorde

Worshipping Walt: The Whitman Disciples—Michael Robert

Off the Wall: Political Posters of the Lebanese Civil War—Zeina Maasri

Introduction to Civil War—Tiqqun

Although of Course you End Up Becoming Yourself—Dave Lipsky

Heart Sutra—Red Pine

Lies my Teacher Told Me—James W. Lowen

People’s Park Still Blooming—Terri Compost (shameless self-promotion)

 

Beyond Doom

It can seem so attractive to just give up and say “fuck it” when we’re confronted day after day with the grim reality of our world today. Staying emotionally engaged with the ongoing industrial destruction of the environment and with pervasive human suffering from war, inequality, isolation, and misery is overwhelming. Many around us are concluding that we’re doomed—they’re giving up on the future and retreating from the struggle for a different world. Whether it’s reeling in terror about global warming, peak oil, 2012, or a coming plague, people are checking out. It can be hip to be cynically dispassionate about our world’s certain doom and the human race’s role as a cancer on the earth.

Corporations and mainstream culture cultivate this attitude because people who’ve given up make better consumers. Mainstream culture depends on a vicious cycle in which economic relations focused on individualism and seeking private profit create psychological conditions of isolation, loneliness, and meaninglessness that in turn support those same economic relations by reducing people’s ability to resist or change the system. Thus system requires constant competition and economic growth as ends on themselves, which in turn increases human impact on the environment. On a finite planet, industrial capitalism has reached the point where its ecological impacts are unsustainable, so without some change, we may in fact be doomed.

Under capitalism, each individual acts selfishly to maximize his or her consumption. A huge part of modern consumption is the quest for ever-more privacy and individuality—private cars vs public transit, houses in the suburbs vs apartments in town, packaged fast food vs group meals, a TV set for each bedroom. All of this privacy comes at a huge environmental cost. But even more costly is the psychological fallout. The more successful an individual gets, the more lonely, isolated, and meaningless their life tends to become. When you only know how to seek satisfaction through consumption and individuality, you’re constantly dissatisfied—always going in search of the next thing as soon as you realize that what you just got doesn’t make you happy. Each new degree of privacy and individuality you achieve leaves you feeling more alone, afraid, and dependent. And the more meaningless your life feels, the more you want to consume to cope with the emptiness, increasing your ecological footprint.

We refuse to participate in the system’s collective suicide. The best way to respond to the terrifying capitalist rush over ecological cliffs is to replace a sense of despair and passive resignation with courage, action, and empowerment. That means fully facing and feeling the depth and seriousness of the ecological crisis, the grinding poverty, and the war and injustice dished out by the system. Rather than turning away in despair and fear, we have to learn how to hold this scary moment in our heart, look deeply, and approach it anew. How can any of us summon so much courage? As individuals, we’re small and weak in a sea of negativity. But just as the individuality of the system makes its participants powerless and scared, when we join together with others and struggle for a different future, we are empowered.

The alternative to consumerism, individual privacy, corporate ownership, and ecological catastrophe is a new set of priorities and human interactions—sharing, collective living, cooperative work. These values and actions also create a feedback loop that makes these alternatives more powerful the more they are used. Psychologically, the more your cooperation with others to get what you need, the less alone and passive you feel. As you increasingly get to control your own destiny as an active participant rather than as a passive consumer, viewer, and employee, your self-confidence and courage builds. When you seek satisfaction inside yourself, in your relationship with other, and as part of all life on earth, your life fills with meaningfulness, engagement, and love. And as one’s life focuses on things that do not cost money and do not come from corporations, your ecological and social footprint declines. Your life connects more with those around you, and you become less dependent on sweatshops, global transport networks, and high tech gadgets.

It is crucial to keep in mind that the trappings of the seemingly solid and permanent system are in fact temporary and fleeting. Some of us can feel left behind when we try to compare ourselves with people who are successful within the mainstream society. But the socially acceptable life path you are expected to take—employment and consumerism—is not intrinsically part of the human experience or even necessary. As we increase our involvement in alternatives to the system, we alter our consciousness. We realize that social interactions that seem “natural” are in fact created by powerful people to serve their interest. It doesn’t have to be that way. We can get together and create a new reality. And we don’t have to be doomed or afraid.

 

Don’t Chew on This—How a Conscientious Approach to Our Food Can Subvert the Death Industry

It’s becoming harder and harder to find healthy, natural foods. Even staples like bread have a virtual novel of artificial ingredients. One way we can take back our lives and stay healthy is by avoiding all the engineered food pushed by the industrial food machine. Reading ingredient labels is a great way to avoid putting poison into your body. It makes sense to be leery of items on an ingredient list that you don’t recognize. The less ingredients on the list, the more likely it is actually “food.” One way that people choose to eat healthier is to go vegan.

Following is a list of food ingredients that may contain animal products and are therefore not vegan. If you’re trying to be a vegan or are cooking for someone who is vegan, you’ll need to avoid products containing these items. Many people choose a vegan diet to combat speciesism, boycott factory farming, decrease their carbon footprint, for a healthier life, or for other reasons. Hopefully this list can help beginning vegans, someone shopping for a vegan household, or someone who would just like to make the occasional cruelty-free choice.

Albumen/Albumin—protein from egg whites

Aliphatic Acid—can be derived from animals

Ambergris—from whale intestines

Amino acids/Alanine—protein from animals or plants

Artificial flavor/colors—can be animal-derived

Aspartic acid/Aminosuccinate acid—can be animal derived

Aspic—can be animal derived

Bee pollen—from plant matter collected on bees’ legs (legs often torn off in the process)

Beeswax/honeycomb benzoic acid—can be animal derived

Bonechar—animal bone ash

Bonito—dried flakes from fish

Calciferol—can be animal derived

Calcium stearate—a mineral from hogs and cattle

Caprylic acid—can come from cow or goat milk

Carmine/Cochineal/Carminic acid—red pigment from the crushed female cochineal beetle

Casein/Caseinate/Sodium Caseinate—milk protein

Cerebrosides—fatty acids and sugars in the covering of nerves

Chitosan—fiber from crustacean shells

Cysteine—amino acid from urine and animal hair

Ergocalciferol/ergosterol—can be animal derived

Fatty acids/Fish liver oil/Fish oil—can also be from marine mammals as well as fish

Food coloring/dyes—pigments from animals, plants, or synthetic sources

Gelatin—protein from cows and pigs

Ghee—a milk derivative

Glycerin/glycerol—can be from animal fats

Honey Isinglass—internal membranes of fish bladders

Isopropyl Palmitate Lactic Acid—from blood and muscle tissue

Lactose—milk sugar

Lanolin/Lanolin acids—from the oil glands of sheep

Lard—fat from hog abdomens

L-Cysteine—an amino acid from animal hair

Lecithin—can be from animal tissue or eggs

Lipase—enzyme from the stomachs and tongue glands of calves, kids, and lambs

Lipoids/lipids—fat from animals or plants

Marine oil—from fish or marine mammals

Marshmallow—gelatin

Methionine—can be from eggs or casein

Milk protein—from cow milk

Monoglycerides—from animal fat

Musk—secretion from some mammal genitals

Myristic acid—acid in animal and vegetable fats

Natural flavor/sources—can be animal derived

Oleic acid—from animal or vegetable fat

Omega 3/fats/oils—can be animal derived

Panthenol/dexpanthenol/Vitamin B Complex Factor/Provitamin B-5—from animal or plant sources

Pepsin—from pigs stomachs

Polysorbates—from plant or animal fatty acids

Rennet/rennin—enzyme from calves stomachs

Shellac/Resinous Glaze—can be resinous excretion of certain insects

Spermaceti/Cetyl Paimitate/Sperm Oil—oil from sperm whales or dolphins

Stearic acid—animal fats and oils

Tallow/Tallow fatty alcohol/Acetylated Tallow/Stearic Acid—rendered beef fat

Urea/carbamide—excreted from urine and other bodily fluids

Vitamin A—usually animal derived

Vitamin Bs—usually animal derived

Vitamin Ds—usually animal derived

Whey—from milk

White sugar—can be filtered with bone char

Worcestershire—usually contains anchovies

 

Will You Go Down on Me

Good sex, in our opinion, is an act of mutual aid. Every person, regardless of gender, is responsible for contributing to the wellbeing and pleasure of their partners and themselves. We must explore and know our own desires and learn to speak them. We must hear and respond to the desires of our partners (even if that means accepting refusal gracefully). This means finding the words to express how we like to be touched, spoken to, tied up, and cuddled. Fucking is any raunchy act, and all of it requires consent. Getting explicit permission, however vulnerable and scary it may seem, is a great turn-on. What better than knowing that your partner really likes it when you touch them that way, talk in that voice, or use that prop? What is better than knowing you can ask for anything, and will at least be considered respectfully? There is no way that we or our relationships can grow if we don’t find safe spaces in which to explore.

If you have never spoken during sex, or asked permission, or blurted out your desires, feel free to start small. Most people hear compliments well, and appreciate encouraging suggestions. However, it’s equally important to discover the boundaries of your comfort zone (often situational) and speak them as well. Starting off with “this feels so good” or “I love it when you…” or “I’d like you to spend the night if you’re interested” is fantastically brave. If you’re not there, work on moaning—just get yourself vocal. Steady yourself for disappointment (and delight), and enjoy the benefit of good communication. You may find out that a lover has fantasies they didn’t share or they may entrust you with a story of trauma that is a gift to know and share the burden of. Often, people’s boundaries are related to past experience, and creating a safer “right now” can help some people to open up closed doors. Reading your partners’ nonverbal cues is equally important, as is verbally checking for consent about each different act in which you may engage. There is no implicit consent to touch someone’s genitals because you have kissed them, or to have intercourse because you’ve had oral sex. I once met a couple who’d been together for three years and had never said a word in bed. He didn’t know that she’d never come and she didn’t know how to ask for what she wanted! If your partner tenses up or cries or is unresponsive, it’s really important to stop, check in, and support what they need. Remember, all of us have triggers, and not everyone is capable of communicating when they’re reliving trauma. Don’t restrain your partner unless it’s part of consensual play, and check in before you lock the door (this can be a subtle act of power). Be honest about any risk factors you bring, such as Sexually Transmitted Infections, whether you have unprotected sex with other people, and if you have allergies to glycerin or spermicide (in lube) or latex. Details make all the difference.

It’s also important that we take care of our community and help out our friends. Sometimes people are too hurt, distracted, or intoxicated to be concerned with their wellbeing. At the very least, we should directly check in with them about what they want and expect, and possibly act to get them to a place of lower risk. It’s also important to confront people (in a supportive way) who act aggressively, because they may not understand that what they are doing is possibly assault. Rapists in prison admit to an average of 11 acts of assault before they are convicted. They are either okay with what they are doing, or don’t believe that there’s anything wrong with it. The reality is, it’s a habitual behavior. Better to find out and help before it’s a problem situation. Putting people in prison or exiling them from scenes will not stop sexual harassment. We need to find ways to address the behavior without destroying the person.

While being so direct about sex is outside of most norms, it transforms sexual experiences. When we are sure that we agree with our partners about expectation and desire, there is no fear to distract us—only pleasure and humor. The most important part of speaking our desires is realizing that they are ours to fulfill—not our partners’. It’s much less pressure to offer someone a choice (“would you like to come home with me or would you rather hang out here?”) than a request (“would you come home with me tonight?”). Too often, it’s easier to say yes than to explain “yes, I want to come home with you but I’m nervous because I haven’t been with anyone since…” If we allow for slow and comfortable intimacy, we are likely to experience it more fully and joyfully.

So, if you are often the initiator of your sexual experiences, experiment with patience and let someone else take the lead. Even if it means being alone more often, you may find that you enjoy yourself more when you have partners. If you are less likely to initiate sex, think of ways you could safely ask for intimacy. Having the support of friends could make it easier to approach that really great someone. It’s our responsibility to create new sexual expectations based on good communication that not only reduce the likelihood of sexual assault, but affirm that sex is normal and necessary. This begins with teaching children healthy ideas about their bodies and believing people when they share stories of sexual assault. Consider it turning on the lights. There are endless ways for us to end our internal oppression and explore healthy, better sex.

 

Standing Still in the Eyes of Storms (on Burnout)

Imagine a garden bursting forward in a riot of color, smell, and prickliness. Some plants are humble-looking but bountiful, and others bring beauty and joy to those who look at them. Each plant has its own unique relationship with the earth, and natural affinities emerge among the seeming chaos of competition for space. Some years we pour enormous amounts of energy into seed-saving, layout, planting, and care, only to watch the plants whither in an unexpected drought. Other more forgetful years we dine on tenacious volunteer tomatoes and peaches that have planted themselves unexpectedly. Keeping some weeds for salsas and ground cover is useful, but if we let them go to seed there will be no end to the invasion. Once we harvest the fruits of our labor before the cold comes, the bed lays fallow, dormant, lying in silent fecundity for the return of warmer months.

Just like the garden, we must treat ourselves and others with vigilance and respect if we want to bear the fruit of revolution. Demanding too much or too little can sabotage our own intentions for growth. Luckily, there are many opportunities to weed out unproductive emotions and behaviors and compost them into the rich, fertile foundation of a world beyond oppressive consumption.

There is a common pattern in activist circles in which individuals follow an arc of becoming radicalized, participating in street demos and community organizing with full force for years. Then they hit middle age and find religion, get a “real” job, or begin to raise a family of their own. They leave behind the lost hope that our little pockets of activism have the ability to create anything lasting or meaningful. They shed their subcultural ties and step back into the system where they left off.

We can break down this dichotomy of self-care vs. political involvement by more consciously incorporating ideas of emotional support and wellness in movements for change. Ideally, our political work should nourish and strengthen our personal life. But when overwhelming stress saps away creativity, it’s natural and healthy to create space for others to involve themselves while you take some time to recharge. The world we are fighting for is not a distant perfect revolutionary utopia, but a flawed and human-sized hodgepodge of interests fluctuating in the here and now, so we might as well support each other while doing it. If we expend our energy criticizing the efficacy of others’ projects or charging into unstrategic battles with the police, we will exhaust the energy and passion we need for the tedious day-to-day work of movement-building. Someone who can prepare a simple meal with love and kindness may be doing more for world peace than someone who screams and shouts hateful words in collective meetings.

Our emotional maturity has a profound impact on how we relate to others. For example, racists, rapists, and cops reproduce the violent relationships that were modeled to them as children. A true revolution must develop compassionate ways to deal with our most dysfunctional and damaged members and seek to create a fabric of continuity and health for each other and future generations to come.

Life is long, and sometimes we lose sight of what we are trying to do, whether it’s as small as giving yourself permission to love completely, or as large as the emancipation of all beings who live on Earth. In these moments, the most important thing to do is to stop doing and start being. Taste the air moving through your body. Send the writhing roots that live in your feet deep down into the core of the earth. Move your body to the pulse of your deepest and most ineffable self. Allow your mirth and creativity to gush forward in all directions. When that seemingly impenetrable line of storm-troopers advances on the crowd, the face of allies in your community and our nonhuman brothers and sisters will give you the strength to shout “I love you, you’re beautiful, now CHANGE!”

 

Write a Prisoner

Many people in radical circles spend a bit of their time doing prisoner support activities. This can range from joining a books-to-prisoners project that mails free books to inmates, to individually becoming pen-pals with a prisoner. Some people focus on political prisoners—prisoners held because of their involvement in radical actions or framed because of their beliefs. Other people see the entire prison-industrial complex as illegitimate, criticize the way that it targets marginalized communities, and/or believe that it is wrong to imprison people at all. Many people are in prison because of the war on drugs, or because economic inequality under capitalism impoverishes entire communities and pushes people to do illegal things to survive.

A key way we can support prisoners is by communicating with them. Prison is a deeply isolating environment. In an email-dominated world, writing an old-fashioned letter on paper can be surprisingly rewarding for you as well as a prisoner. There are many pen-pal networks that connect prisoners with those on the outside. Here are some tips on writing letters to prisoners:

-When writing to prisoners, you have to put their prisoner number on the first line of the mailing address to get it through.

-Make sure to put a return address on your letter. If you are writing to a prisoner you don’t know, it may be best to use a PO box or other neutral address.

-If you’re writing to a prisoner, keep in mind that the prison officials or other authorities may read your letter. Don’t discuss anything sensitive. If the prisoner is waiting for trial or sentencing (or on appeal), it may be better not to discuss the details of their case.

-Prisons prohibit mailing certain items like books, food, money, etc. Ask the prisoner for the rules.

-Don’t make promises you can’t keep, like offering to find a lawyer to take their case, sending them money or expensive items, offering them housing on release, organizing a support campaign, etc.—being let down when you’re locked up can be especially devastating. Be clear about your intentions. If you’re not looking for a romantic relationship, it can be helpful to everyone involved to say so right off.

-While the fact that the state is locking people up is shitty, it doesn’t follow that all prisoners are angels. They are people just like everyone else, and some of them are flawed or can be manipulative. If you think about prisoners as just like everyone else, it will help you to use reasonable caution without treating them better or worse than you would any other pen-pal.

-Be careful about accepting collect phone calls from jail—prison collect calls are usually absurdly expensive.

Here are some resources to get started:

Critical Resistance: www.criticalresistance.org

Anarchist Black Cross: www.abcf.net

 

In the Name of Better Sex Everywhere

In this political and historical climate, great sex can be a quite subversive, expansive, and radical mode of dismantling socializations and creating alternatives to mainstream sex culture, which can often be toxic, bland, unhealthy, and boring. Comfort in one’s skin and sexuality, consent, and self-care are essential. There is no way to have freeing sex without actively checking in with yourself and whoever you’re having sex with about emotional and physical comfort and openness. If folks are shutting down, disassociating, or not that into it, the how the fuck can it be any good? Knowing what one wants is not easy—part of what can make sex so revolutionary is discovering what it is we like and pushing ourselves (consensually of course) to and beyond our limits. This is not a discussion of relationship models: polyamory, monogamy, or non/multi-fidelity, self-sexing, sleeping around, etc. Who we do it with and how we negotiate these relationships is indeed a part of having great sex. These preferences evolve and fluctuate. The intricacies are limitless and differ based on individual experience. Therefore, discovering which models work for us is a personal choice distinct form the issues below. An important disclaimer is that these suggestions are based on the opinions and experiences of one person, which are always changing anyway. If they don’t work for you right now, please feel free to ignore them and move on with your life.

Laughter

I laugh a lot during sex: from a coy giggle, to a belly laugh, to laughing at myself at an awkward moment or just as a way to communicate joy. One may laugh solo or in unison with sex partners. It is important to relieve any insecurities or anxieties that unexpected gaiety may bring up. Sometimes I laugh to relieve tension—not get so caught up in my “performance.” There is a myth that we should act a certain way during sex; virile, coquettish, animalistic, blasé, submissive, dominant, alluring, etc. Laughing helps hush those voices, freeing me from self-defeating expectations of hotness. Sound can also act as a reflection of what is going on and as a release for the sensations being experienced; crying, screaming, moaning, and gasping are all marvelous additions to this sex symphony, enhancing the intimacy of the experience.

Role-Play

Roles like butch or femme or top or bottom are awesome, but anything gets boring if not tweaked or switched up from time to time. It is very easy to stick with what we’re good at or cling to a role or identity out of habit. Role-play can be a great way to challenge one-s rigidities and discover hidden perversions in a safe context; availing oneself of the opportunity to receive when previously being the provide, taking turns sucking and being sucked, biting and being bitten, slapping and being slapped, holding and being held. There’s also drag, props, and outfit sex. Incorporating costume changes can work wonders in the bedroom. Just imagine what the addition of a mermaid outfit, a map, and kitchen utensils could add to your sex life. Story telling is another aspect of role-plat. It can get intricate with scripts or songs, heck, even a dance routine. The important thing here is that everyone is okay with where the story goes. These games could challenge political and social norms in positive and smarty-panted ways. It is important to remember that this is fantasy and that these role-play scenarios set up safe consensual spaces for folks to go there consciously, critically, humbly, and with an open mind. Reading aloud can also be a un way to explore roles. Reading stories, erotic or not, can absolutely add a certain something to the moment. It gives an added activity and focus and brings in more opportunity for fetishes. For example, reading an entomology dictionary, political theory, or porn to each other adds a certain geeky quality that can really do it for folks.

Redefining Sex

Lately I have switched my focus away from stereotypical notions of genitals and genital contact (boys get blowjobs and girls get finger banged). There is so much to play with and destroy, pervert, re-name. It is respectful and sexy as hell to ask people what they call their boy parts and how they want them touched. When opening up what we consider erogenous zones, more conversations about re-imagining bodies, gender, and society may become possible. Anybody can get a blowjob anywhere on their body and the same goes for finger banging. I try not to focus on genitals and orgasms but nerve endings and what turns them on and also works on an emotional level for a person.

Lube

It is astounding how many people have sex without lubrication. The orifice foes not matter, what matters is that it feels good. In my opinion, everything is better with lubrication, lots of it. Different folks like different qualities of lube, from sticky to slippery, gummy to smooth, chunky to creamy even. I would love for more people to experiment with what works best for their bodies. Slip it in.

Pushing Self-limits

Sex can push everyone beyond comfort zones. Many things we are taught are dangerous or scary, nasty or off-limits can be explored safely in a sexual situation. Personal stories of abuse, neglect, self-hatred, and other of the myriad of private struggles surface in this practice, and what is good limit-pushing for me may not at all be good for you in your process. It is important to go at our own paces with boundary pushing and not to go places inappropriate for our own experiences. Many issues can come out with consensual boundary pushing; power dynamics, stereotypes to be debunked, pain thresholds, ideological differences, and the concept of the comfort zone in general. I have hope that if we hold enough space for each other to expand these concepts, then maybe other forms of social and environmental change are possible.

 

DIY Bike Touring

Here are some tips on low-cost, do-it-yourself bike touring—taking your bike on roads outside cities. You don’t have to have a ton of money, a fancy bike, or tight spandex alien pants to bike 100 miles to the next town over a couple of days. It is easy to think that you have to drive a long way and go to some special place like a national park to be on vacation. But when you start bike touring, you re-discover what our ancestors knew—there are tons of amazing places really close to every city that are well worth exploring. When you bike tour, you see space and distance in new ways that you totally miss when you[re speeding by in a car. Just like biking in town, bike touring is ecological, healthy, and way more fun than being locked in a glass and steel coffin. You also meet more people bike touring than traveling by car or plane. Good luck!

Planning your trip

Picking a good route is key to a good trip. Look for secondary roads that will have less traffic. Lots of traffic can be stressful even if there is a wide shoulder. On the other hand, a tiny road with no shoulder can be a great ride if there isn’t a lot of traffic—you can just go in the ditch whenever a car goes by. If your trip is in a hilly area, you may want to look at a topographical map to avoid hills. If a road follows a river, it will usually be more or less level until it leaves the river and jumps to the next valet. You can buy fancy bike maps from groups like Adventure Cycling that show lots of details important to cyclists, or look at books about bike touring, but you can plan a good trip even with an AAA map. Asking about routes at bike shops also helps. The more research you do in advance, the less you’ll have to figure out on the road and the more you’ll enjoy the ride. If your route doesn’t go through a town at least every 40 or so miles, you’ll need to carry extra food and water. Note that not every town on a map has food and water in very rural areas.

What to Bring

You don’t need a fancy bike, but more gears help. Tires thinner than knobby mountain bike tires are better because they have less friction, but really thin tires can have trouble with rough roads and carrying weight. The key is to make sure that riding does not hurt your body, because if it hurts to go 2 miles across town, it will really hurt you on a long trip. Check that the seat is adjusted to the right height—your knees shouldn’t be too bent at their lowest position. A comfortable seat makes a huge difference You’ll at least want working brakes. Pumping the tires to the full pressure also makes riding easier.

The most common mistake that bike tourists make is bringing too much stuff. You’ll feel every extra ounce on each hill. Avoid carrying anything in a backpack or shoulder bag. You want all the weight you carry to be on the bike, either in a basket or a bike bag. You can get used bike bags, make your own, or use fancy new ones. The basic things you’ll need include:

-Basic bike tools like patch kit and pump, Allen or hex wrenches, and a pocket knife with a screwdriver. The longer you’re biking and the more you know about bike repair, the more you’ll tend to bring—for instance, a spoke wrench or a chain tool—but keep in mind that if you break down, you can usually hitchhike or take a bus to a town with a bike store. Avoid silly weight like extra tires!

-Water bottles and a bit of food, but keep in mind that bike touring is not like backpacking. You don’t have to be self-sufficient for days. You’ll fill your water bottle and get food every time you hit a town, usually a few times a day, so it is best to avoid carrying a ton of food or water. You can take a camping stove, but it is extra weight and isn’t all that necessary.

-A tent or tarp, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, sunscreen, toiletries, and soap.

-Fewer clothes are better. Warm layers for night, and shorts and a t-shirt for riding. One change is sufficient if you wash each day and dry them on the back of your bike while you’re riding.

-Safely stuff like a helmet and bike light that can double as flashlight.

Where to Stay

Some people camp in campgrounds, a few of which even have cheap hiker/biker sites. Some city parks, churches, or country stores allow bike camping; ask around. Lots of times people will let you stay in their yard or on their land if you make friends and ask. Warmshowers.org is a website for traveling cyclists to find free places to crash for the night. Other cyclists camp illegally. If no one can see you from the road, it might be okay, but this can also be stressful if you get caught.

You can put your bike on some city bus routes or commuter trains to get beyond the urban sprawl for a nicer start for your ride. The more you talk to people you meet and ask questions or for help, the better time you’ll have.

 

Ride Slow, Talk Fast– Critical Mass!

Critical Mass bike rides are spontaneous, leaderless rides that begin at specific times and locations in various cities around the world. Since no one organizes the rides, they have no agreed agenda or demands. They aren’t a protest. Instead, when we ride on Critical Mass, we’re living the world we would like to see—filling the streets with bikes, laughter, human speed, clean air, engagement, and life. At Critical Mass, we can bike down the street safe from speeding cars—together—empowered by our numbers. Critical Mass is a celebration.

Critical mass rides sometimes enrage car drivers because bike traffic competes with car traffic for space on the road. Cars have their critical mass 29 days of the month when bikes get crowded out—it’s called rush hour! Critical mass is a single day when bike traffic briefly outnumbers car traffic. Maybe in 50 years, bikes will outnumber cars every day. As concerns about climate change increase, people are searching for alternatives like bikes. A community of cyclists is developing—demanding respect and some space on the road.

Even though every ride in every city is different, frequent Critical Mass riders (mass-holes?) have been learning ways to make our rides better. Here are some tips for riding in Critical Mass or creating your own:

- Ride Slow, talk fast: The key to a successful Critical Mass is having enough bikes riding close enough together so as to take up all or at least one lane of the road. That makes riding in the zone filled with bikes fun and safe. To keep the ride together, the people in the front have to bike really slow—un-naturally slow. If the front goes fast, the ride will quickly get too thin and break apart—allowing angry car drivers into the breaches. Tiding slow is actually a great opportunity to meet your fellow riders, sightsee, smell the flowers, or catch up with friends.

- Smile and wave: It is inevitable that you’ll eventually come across an irate motorist. When this happens, it is best to de-escalate and meet anger with joy. Don’t take the bait to stop your bike and argue—just keep moving and ring a happy bike bell. Keep in mind the point of Critical Mass—to have fun riding our bikes together. Most mass-holes do not want to intentionally delay traffic—rather, we want to be traffic and ride. When a ride gets angry and confrontational, you’ll quickly lose a lot of riders—and they won’t want to come back next time.

- Mass Up!: If you’re at the front, it’s up to you to notice if the ride behind you is getting too thin or spread out. If it does, stop at a red light and wait for the ride to mass up.

- Adjust tactics depending on size: If a ride is huge, it may take up all lanes and run traffic lights to keep things moving and together. These behaviors don’t work if you’re on a small ride—it just pisses off drivers, makes the ride look arrogant, and turns the ride into a stressful battle, not a fun party. If the ride is tiny, consider just taking a single lane and obeying all traffic laws. It can help to turn frequently so cars are not backed up behind you.

- -Determining the route: Some rides use a system called “xerocracy” in which anyone who wants can hand out a Xeroxed flier suggesting a route. Other riders discuss and agree on a general route before the ride. Some have a typical route that they repeat ride after ride. Others pick their route on the fly—whoever is in front makes the decision at each intersection about whether to turn right, left, or go forward. Watch out about going in circles! It can be nice to discuss a fun place to end while you’re riding—a park, the shore, a bar, a good place to watch the sunset, etc. Some rides end at parties, bike film festivals, political events, or outdoor bike-in movies.

- Dress up and decorate your bike! The more fun and beautiful a ride is, the more riders it will attract and the less angry motorists will become. You can include bikes with sound systems, pass out snacks, or have theme costumes: A Halloween ride or a bike prom ride, etc. Some riders carry signs or hand out fliers to explain what is going on to people that they pass by.

- How to start a ride: If your town doesn’t have a ride, anyone can start one by simply picking a meeting spot and a time and place. You don’t need permission, since no one’s in charge! The most popular time is 6 pm on the last Friday of each month—nut any time will do as long as you keep it consistent. Then you can announce the ride for a month or so and get all your friends to go. You can put fliers on bikes you see locked up around town. Once you’ve had your first ride, hopefully word of mouth will keep the ride going into the future. If police show up at your meeting spot, keep in mind that Critical Mass has no leaders and thus no one can really speak to the cops on behalf of the ride. Bikes have a right to ride together if they like—just happy coincidence!—and don’t need permits to do so. If the cops demand that you get a permit, ask them if they make cars get a permit for rush hour!

 

Know Your Trannies

This culture is wedded to binaries: good/evil, left/right, with us/against us, pick your favorite. And this society wants things to stay in whatever either/or box they get put into, we don’t like gray areas. Gender and sex is one place where ambiguity is particularly not tolerated; parents, doctors, and the State all want to know your sex and gender, preferably at birth. Further, having ambiguous gender or transitioning from one perceived gender to another can cause some people to react violently. Because gender is such a charged topic, transgendered people often don’t receive the respect they deserve. This is a short, incomplete introduction to transgender topics.

In this society, this is the usual scenario: a baby is born and one of the very first things done is sexing the child. Everyone wants to know—boy or girl?

Some folks don’t like this binary from the start; their genitals don’t seem to match either male or female completely. These folks are called intersexed. Unfortunately, because of the anxiety of doctors, parents, or society around sex/gender, panic ensues and intersexed individuals are more often than not subjected to surgeries they do not need and may not want, an which can be damaging to a pleasurable adult sexuality. Adults seems to have a hard time imagining infants ever being adults and having sex or getting pleasure from their genitals; so, it seems, genitals are for identifying infant sex only, not for the pleasure of the person who has them. How sad.

More often, we are born with genitals that look like either male or female and so we are assigned a gender at birth to match either “boy” or “girl.” This works for most—or so it seems. Males are happy being men in male bodies, females are happy being women in female bodies (excepting the malaise of late capitalism, of course). But what if this is not the case? For some, the sex they are assigned at birth does not match the gender they feel inside. They are girls in male bodies and boys in female bodies or somewhere in between, because not all trans folks see themselves as one or the other, but rather on a continuum of gender.

Though not all trans folks dismiss the binary sex/gender divide, they just see themselves on the wrong side of it. For the most part, transsexual is a term used by folks who have completed sex reassignment (or who want to). For FTM (female to male) transsexuals, this means taking testosterone and having top surgery (double mastectomy) and bottom surgery (hysterectomy, vaginectomy, and either metiodoplasty or phalloplasty). For MTF (male to female) transsexuals, there are hormones and vaginoplasty and labiaplasty. Not all transgendered folks are transsexuals, and not all want all the surgery, for various reasons. Sometimes they just don’t want surgery, or don’t have healthcare, or enough income to pay for hormones and/or surgery, because trans folks can suffer from discrimination in employment just for being trans/ Some trans guys, for example, just take T (testosterone), or just take T and have top surgery. Also, not all trans folks see themselves as either male or female, but as some combination of both. These folks sometimes use the term genderqueer, which reflects issues with or a rejection of the usual societal gender binary.

The main thing to remember about trans folk is that they are people just like everyone else. Having respect for what pronouns trans folk want to use is a good start. For instance, FTMs usually want to be called he or him. MTFs prefer to be referred to as she or her. And some trans folks use ze or hir, or make up pronouns to fit them. These can be hard to get used to, particularly when someone is transitioning, but trying yo use their preferred pronoun is only respectful. It is true that some trans folk don’t “pass,” but gender is not about what you see from the outside, but what the person feels inside. Transwomen and transmen struggle enough with their own body dysphoria and internalized transphobia that getting called out on their looks can be devastating. So if you see someone who might be trans, don’t ask them in front of a bunch of people; in fact, don’t ask at all. If they want you to know, if it is relevant to your relationship, they will let you know. This can also be an issue of safety for a trans person. Violence against trans folk is frequent and often deadly, so outing a trans person is never a good idea.

Another huge issue is bathrooms, and for trans folk using the “wrong” bathroom cab get them beat up or worse. Until gender neutral bathrooms are the norm, chances are that you will see an ambiguously gendered person use a bathroom now and again. DON’T PANIC! Adult usually know what bathrooms to use, and being trans does not alter this ability. Not panicking just might keep someone form getting beaten, and since a lot of violence against trans folk is perpetuated by police and other authority figures, altering them is not wise either. (Not that we anarchists would ever call cops anyway, right?)

Increasingly, trans identity is being seen as an individual matter; who we are is our business and not the prerogative of doctors or the larger society. No matter how comfortable we are in our bodies, trans or not, we are all affected by binary gender roles, though this is most blatant and violent with transgenders. Gay men, no matter how butch; femmy men, no matter how straight; butch women, straight and lesbians; nerdy guys, the list goes on of people oppressed by binary gender norms. Trans folk cross these gendered lines and forge a way beyond just this or that, man or woman, male or female. By listening to and celebrating trans folk, we too can unhinge ourselves from the yoke of conforming to roles we may not want.

Some books on transgender issues:

-Trans Liberation: Beyond pink or Blue—Leslie Feinberg

-Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us—Kate Bornstein

-Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism—Patrick Califia

-The Testosterone Files—Max Wolf Valerio

-Nobody Passes: Rejecting the Rules of Gender Conformity—Mattilda ed.

-Intersex Awareness Day: October 26th

-Transgender Day of Remembrance Day: November 20th.