Category Archives: Feb/March 2004 (1/29/04)

Beyond Troops Out Now

What can radicals do to resist the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan aside from making vague demands of “Troops Out Now”? The occupations are dragging on and on, gradually fading from the media spotlight and becoming just one more unpleasant but routine aspect of “business as usual.”

Let’s start an Iraq and Afghanistan solidarity movement in the United States, reminiscent of the solidarity movement US citizens built in the 1980s with the people of El Salvador and Nicaragua. Solidarity movements help keep public attention focused on the occupations and their failures, making it more difficult for the government to push a new war against Iran or Syria until the current mess gets resolved. Maybe it could help prevent the US from making any more messes.

A radical solidarity movement would focus on proactive alternative visions for Iraq and Afghanistan developed by the Iraqi and Afghan people themselves. In attempting to justify the war, Bush has repeatedly claimed he has “liberated” the Iraqi people and told the world that decisions about Iraq will be made by Iraqis. We need to call him on this lie — Bush’s policies have given power to US corporations and a tiny clique of hand-picked US operatives.

While Iraqi society is highly complex and fractured, two things have become clear: the Iraqis want the occupation to end, and they want direct elections to determine their own future, not the US transition plan which is designed to enhance US control. Under the US plan, caucuses in Iraq’s 18 provinces will select a transitional assembly. The transitional assembly will then select an interim government in June, which will draft an Iraqi constitution.

American solidarity activists could help oppose the US plan here in the belly of the beast, while advocating for more participatory and democratic alternatives.

A solidarity movement will undermine US military policy by humanizing the “enemy” and making human and cultural contacts. For instance, folks can do education about Iraqi and Afghani geography, music, culture, film, crafts, and food. Maybe there are even some Iraqi punk bands?! Activists can push sister city declarations between American cities and occupied cities in Afghanistan and Iraq. We need to avoid the pitfalls of trivialization: this isn’t about middle class folks buying a few exotic crafts and a few trust-fund kids going on radical vacations to Baghdad. The key is figuring out how to make grass-roots contacts between Iraqi individuals and civil society groups and American activists and organizations.

Bush is trying to shove privatization, corporate globalization, consumerism, fake democracy and social conservatism down Iraq and Afghanistan’s throats. The US also hopes it can use both Iraq and Afghanistan as military bases in their respective regions. Most Americans don’t know this is happening because there is far too little independent contact between people in the US and people in the nations the US is occupying. At the moment, corporate media outlets and the largest non-governmental organizations are almost the only “independent” eyes in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is crucial that members of American civil society also find ways to independently monitor — and oppose — what is going on.

Regular Iraqis and Afghanis need to have advocates in the US so that they don’t face the American military machine alone. Similarly, American activists opposed to the occupation and the trend towards a global American military empire need contacts with the military’s most direct victims so we can figure out what we can do that will be most helpful.

Bush and his ilk are politically vulnerable on the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan if we keep these occupations in the public’s eye. Troops are getting killed and wounded on an almost daily basis, gradually wearing down morale amongst the troops and military families. Troops had their tour of duty in Iraq extended, and many reservists have faced extreme disruption to their private lives, jobs and businesses as the Iraqi insurgents have forced Bush to maintain over 100,000 troops in Iraq. When Bush requested $87 billion in additional occupation spending, it was clear most Americans were unhappy about shouldering such a heavy financial burden and felt the money should be used to meet domestic human needs.

And for what? The war appears to have been pointless. Iraq was not an imminent threat to US security, nor related to September 11. Despite spending hundreds of millions of dollars searching, US troops have been unable to find any weapons of mass destruction. The rush to war was based on a calculated intelligence manipulation and falsification.

If we let the US get away with these occupations with no opposition, their hands will be even freer to start their next war and expand US military colonization abroad. We need to go beyond demanding “Troops Out Now” — because that is a demand the US government already wants to accomplish for its own reasons, so it can use the troops elsewhere. Instead, let’s figure out how to join with our Iraqi and Afghan brothers and sisters and people around the world to block the United State’s military ambitions.

Breastfeeding at the Barricades

When I sat in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) at the hospital and nursed my daughter for the first time, I knew in a visceral way that my life was forever changed. I felt it in my bones (not to mention my uterus and my nipples).

So much about discussing parenting quickly becomes cliché. And so many of the clichés are true. I have never been as in love with or committed to anyone as I am to my daughter. I have never been as tired as I was in the first three months of her life. Being her mother has made me look at the world in a whole new way.

My parents thought they could change the world by changing their lifestyle, and so they dropped out and went “back to the land.” I thought the world needed to be changed through direct confrontation and intervention, and so I left the land and went “back to the city” where I remain, and I hope the world is changing but it’s hard to tell how much and whether any of it is for the better.

I still believe the world needs confrontation and intervention to change, but I also think a bit of lifestyle change, such as how we raise our kids, is part of that picture too. I keep returning to the idea that we parents can change the world. I keep thinking about the ways a capitalist, white supremacist, patriarchal, state-based culture impacts and shapes our children— how children raised in this culture grow into adults who perpetuate these structures and systems. I keep thinking about how to break that cycle.

I am hesitant to talk about how I think our parenting strategies impact our world, because the idea that our problems stem from our approach to raising our kids can look like placing the blame for all of our woes upon the already overburdened shoulders of parents, rather than the psychologists and other “experts” who use their status to pressure parents into unnatural and detached parenting methods. But so much of who we are as people can be tracked to our early childhood experiences, so it seems worth considering the idea that how society approaches parenting can shape society.

Western culture, the dominant culture of the United States in particular, fetishizes individuality and self reliance to such an extreme that we expect children to be self-sufficient before they learn to talk. Mainstream parenting values self-reliance over support, compassion, and interdependence. As parents we are endlessly cautioned not to “spoil” our babies by meeting their needs, because then they might always expect their need to be met! By responding to our children’s needs as though they are frivolous wants, we teach them an inability to distinguish between needs and wants, and we lose the ability to distinguish the difference ourselves. Mainstream parenting philosophy says that a baby’s desire to be held and comforted is manipulative, when a compassionate approach tells you that it is a valid need. Our children learn how to relate to the world by the way that we treat them, and when we are disrespectful, dismissive, cruel and indifferent to our children as a way to make them strong, they grow into disrespectful, cruel and indifferent adults. I am convinced that if compassion were strongly valued in parenting, it would gradually become more valued in our society at large.

I have always loved the concept of building the new world as we destroy the old world. Creating as we destroy, shaping as we tear down. This has shaped my concept of radical parenting. That on the one hand, I need to continue to confront the evil dominant world, to add my thinking and my energy and my strength to the struggle to overthrow capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, and the state. On the other hand, I want to raise my child as much as possible as though the world I wish to live in already exists. I want to raise a child who can reject and fight against these systems of dominance and oppression, yet who can also function in the world. I want to be an excellent parent.

Excellent parenting looks different to different people. To me it is about putting my daughter’s well-being ahead of my own conveniences. It means not blaming her when parenting is hard. It means taking care of myself. More concretely, it means consistently treating her with respect, supporting her efforts at self-determination, and keeping her safe. It means learning how to raise a girl-assigned child in a patriarchal culture who has a strong self esteem and can kick ass. It means modeling principled choices and behavior. It means doing research and thinking critically about how to parent and picking and choosing the tools and techniques that are right for us. It means recognizing my child’s need for love and comfort as being as important than her need for food. Does it mean more?

I have high hopes, yet realistic expectations. My daughter might or might not be a revolutionary, but I am determined that she have the capacity!

What the anarchist utopia looks like will be determined by the people who live in it. I think it will include respect and reverence for all people and creatures. It will emphasize collectivity and interdependence over rugged individualism, and respect for autonomy won’t be at the expense of mutual aid and free association. In the anarchist utopia I’m hoping for, everyone will expect all of their needs to be met, and scream like hell when they aren’t. In the anarchist utopia, people will be gentle with each other regardless of age— or any other factor.

Building the new world in the shell of the old involves living as much as possible as though the anarchist utopia was already here, incorporating as much of the values and systems and methods of our ideal world into our actual world. This is why I live collectively, for instance, and use collective decision making where I can. And I continually explore how to apply this approach to my parenting in ways which are also excellent parenting.

I won’t say that approaching parenting this way is going to make the revolution, but it is one of the necessary components for radical social change, and who better to begin this approach than the (broadly defined) anarchist/radical community? It’s worth doing because the process of exploring these ideas is constantly challenging and deepening my political analysis and commitment. And it’s worth doing because it is a damn good way to raise a child, and parenting is worth doing well.

Thanks to the radical parents and parent allies who offered input, suggestions and support. Rahula Janowski can be reached at anarchakitty@riseup.net.

Terrorism: Normalizing the Global Cop

With the emergence of the age of globalization, war has increasingly taken on a character that may be described as “policing”: that is to say, it has become increasingly normalized. Thus, while systemically necessary, war in the past has generally been viewed as an abnormal event, a scourge to be avoided. The same can be said of violence in general. However, there is one type of violence that in our society takes place as part of the normal social routine: policing. The situation where the police violently disable and apprehend a “suspect” is not generally viewed as problematic or abnormal, and in fact is considered desirable. The war on terror takes up and expands this principle in a process leading to the establishment of a global police state.

The term police state is well known, but it is not immediately clear what specific characteristics distinguish such a state from other possible states. The term is generally associated with a situation in which a policing agency of the state acts outside the law to arbitrarily punish or kill innocent people, in order to intimidate or otherwise subdue the population in accordance with the repressive political requirements of the government. This formulation, however, seems to more closely describe the activity of “criminals” rather than “policemen”. As we shall see, the two in principle cannot be clearly delineated.

Alternatively, we may view a police state as a state in which the laws are excessively repressive and entail gross enforcement activity that violates the rights and freedoms which people would otherwise have. At bottom, though, whether the police state apparatus enforces laws or violates them makes no difference: the essential characteristic is the manner in which the laws are enforced or violated. The defining characteristic of a police state is the use of violence or threats of violence for political purposes. This, not coincidentally, is also what is generally taken to be the definition of terrorism.

The distinction between violent crime and terrorism differs primarily in the purposes for which the violence is used: “personal” enrichment in the former case and “political” enrichment in the latter. The phenomenon of “terrorism” is emerging within the global capitalist system in the role that was previously played by “crime”. For example, the recent efforts by certain segments of the US ruling class to include the copying of copyrighted intellectual property within the definition of terrorism is but one piece of circumstantial evidence that backs up this assertion. That it would make sense at all to seek to expand the coverage of the term “terrorism” in this manner is underpinned by the systemic role which the phenomenon of terrorism is to play in the emerging global capitalist order.

The Capitalist System

For the purposes of this article, a system may be incompletely defined as a set of distinct and superficially independent entities, the behavior of which is determined by essential connections and interrelations between them, which cannot be observed when observing the district entities. A defining characteristic of a system is that it is hidden from (cannot be affected by) the entities which form part of that system.

A living body is an example of a system, comprising distinct elements such as organs. If an observer were to stay within the limits of a living body, observing the various organs, fluids, etc. that can be found within it, it would be altogether opaque what the nature of a living body as such is. A living body becomes recognizable as a living body only when viewed within the context of the broader environment in which it exists, such as the system of nature, or the system of the universe. In other words, a system can be recognized as such only when seen in the context of some greater system of which it in turn is part. Consequently, the greatest system, i.e. the universe, must necessarily remain fundamentally opaque to us. By the same token, we have no way of changing the universe as a whole. The system of the universe defines and delimits the range and nature of actions which we can take or conceive of taking.

The system which we shall consider here is the currently existing system of human socioeconomic relations, frequently referred to as the capitalist system. It should be noted that capitalism here refers not to an ideology or belief, but to a mode of production or a system of economic organization, where by economy we mean the set of practices, devices and arrangements by which people secure whatever is necessary for them to live. The term capitalist is also used to denote a certain set of people within this economic system; for the sake of clarity, such people will be referred to here as the (capitalist) ruling class.

What role does the phenomenon known as the “war on terror” play within the capitalist system? It should be noted that when we speak of the objectives, needs, etc. of the capitalist system, we are not speaking about the objectives, etc. of any group of people. While it may make sense to say that the capitalist ruling class has a certain commitment to, or interest in, maintaining the capitalist system, whereas other groups of people may not have, or may have less of, such commitment or interest, the capitalist system includes the ruled class as much as the ruling class, and is a product of the activities of the ruled class no less (and in certain respects much more so) than those of the ruling class. Likewise, while the interests of the system and of certain groups within the system may appear to coincide in some respects, the interests of the capitalist system are distinct from the interests of the capitalist ruling class.

There may be some lack of clarity here as to what, if anything, the system per se actually constitutes beyond a theoretical construct. There is no simple answer to this question. The system is not a separate entity that is comparable to the various entities that are components of that system. However, at the most concrete level, the system can be conceived of as the set of relationships that results from the totality of the actions of all the components of the system, and which substantially determine the subsequent actions of those components.

Thus, when a given component, say a person or a nation, takes a certain action which has certain consequences, those consequences of that action which affect the overall status or operation of the system can be seen as being actions of the system. When such consequences in turn cause a member of the system to take a certain action, that action can be viewed as an action of the system. It follows from this that we cannot act outside of the system; however, this does not preclude the possibility of taking actions that will substantially modify the subsequent behavior of the system, even to such an extent that the system could be said to pass out of existence.

Feeding the System

Next, let us briefly (and no doubt incompletely) examine the mode of operation of the capitalist system, particularly with respect to its most recent trends.

The dynamic of competition is a requirement for the capitalist system. The goal pursued by the players in this competition is generally characterized as being the accumulation of capital (that which has value). Since capital itself is the feedstock for further accumulation of capital (“it takes money to make money”), the process of competition for accumulation necessarily leads to increasing concentration of capital.

But since capital is the primary requisite for participating in capitalist competition, increasing concentration of capital reduces the field of players on which the dynamic of competition depends. The increasing concentration of capital consequently threatens the possibility for further competition, and thus the capitalist system itself. This can be seen as being an inherent contradiction of capitalism.

The need for more fodder for the system — more things of value to compete for — has brought about what is often referred to as the process of globalization. However, as the capitalist system globalizes, the sphere of competition — what is available to compete over — necessarily shrinks: the inherent contradictions of capitalism that drive globalization are not resolved by it, but merely expand to a global scale. This process creates pressure on the system to create situations that will promote the dynamic by which the system is sustained.

The primary objective of the capitalist system as such, or of any system, for that matter, is self-preservation: ensuring the continued existence of the system, insofar as possible. To this end, an operative objective of the capitalist system is that it remain opaque to its members. That is to say, the capitalist system, as a system, must conceal itself from any action that could terminate the operation of the system, and thus from any critical insight that could lead to such action.

Insofar as the interests of the capitalist ruling class lie in preserving the capitalist system, they consist likewise in preventing the possibility of any critical insight on the system: the relationships that define and are defined by the capitalist system must be submerged and dissipated in other relationships, the opposition to or overturning of which will not disable the operation of the system itself. That is to say, given its nature, the capitalist system is bound to produce substantial discontent among many of its members.

Such discontent can in turn serve, directly or indirectly, as a motivation to develop critical insight or take critical action against the source of that discontent. The goal of the system is to channel that discontent into some other, sub-systemic sphere, in which it may be dissipated without impinging on the continued existence of the system. As we shall see, the “war on terror” is one such sphere.

The competitive capitalist system necessitates economic growth, either through the increase in the number of individuals living under the capitalist system, or through an increase in the economic needs of an individual. A capitalist system cannot be sustained in a world with a stable population of materially sated individuals.

An inevitable result of the need for growth is that, under the capitalist system, it is essentially a requirement that all persons seek to accumulate capital — given as that is one of the two possible sources of growth. The dynamic of the capitalist system relies on this drive on the part of its participants. While the effort to accumulate capital may not prominently characterize the behavior of absolutely all people today, it is an objective of the capitalist system to make it so. The process of globalization represents an effort in this direction. At a systemic level, it is this requirement of the system itself that underlies the often forced and violent nature of the imposition of globalization measures. This systemic requirement underlies the imposition of policies by the advanced capitalist powers on the “developing” regions (i.e. those where people have not been making enough effort to accumulate).

The process of globalization thus has two sides: the accumulation of “developing” capital by the ruling classes of advanced capitalist powers, and the furtherance of accumulation efforts on the part of “developing” people. The claim often proffered by proponents of globalization, to the effect that “we just want to make them rich”, is thus not entirely false. However, the dual nature of globalization can often lead to the opposite, but systemically not undesired, result. Indeed, given the fact that capital accrues from prior capital, such a result is to be expected.

By this very same process, globalization, which seeks to expand the capitalist economy, inevitably ends up shrinking the dynamic or motivating source for that expansion. As the process of capitalist competition globally sorts itself out into winners and losers, the excitement of the game naturally dissipates. To reinvigorate its essential dynamic above and beyond what the natural limits to the process of expansion will allow, the capitalist system employs the technique of abnormal conflict, i.e. war.

Shifting Sources of War

Such conflict is abnormal not in the sense that it is unusual, but rather in the sense that it deviates from the primary modality of conflict, i.e. market competition. Traditionally, war was waged by one state actor, or a group of state actors, against another. There are, however, certain constraints as to the sort of war the capitalist system can allow. This stems from the fact that war, while serving to reinvigorate the economic processes of capitalism, can also potentially destabilize the capitalist order sufficiently to create an opening for critical insight and action against that order. The allowable scale of destruction is thus substantially constrained.

We may gain insight to this at the systemic level by observing that, under globalization, with the shrinking dynamic of capitalist competition that it inevitably brings about, the possibility for traditional war likewise shrinks. This is not to say that such a possibility has been eliminated: rather, the point here is that the demand for war under advanced global capitalism exceeds the supply that can be offered by the traditional war model. Thus, the need for new sorts of wars emerges. Most recently, this has manifested in the form of the war on terror.

In the early stages of capitalism, the primary modus operandi in the military sphere was conquest and colonization, sometimes accompanied by extermination of the conquered peoples. The United States itself was created by this very mechanism. With further development of the capitalist system, as more sophisticated modalities of control emerged, conquest per se largely ceased to be appropriate.

The process here is analogous, for instance, to the transition from slave labor to wage labor that occurred in the US domestically around the time of the Civil War. The newer modalities of control are more sophisticated in the sense that they are more difficult to discern or oppose. In this regard it may also be mentioned that any such modality can be effective only for so long, as eventually it becomes identified and opposition to it emerges, for instance the anti-imperialist or anti-colonial tendency that led to the dissolution of the various European colonial empires and the emergence of independent nations states dominated by the various European states and subsequently by the United States and other global players. The liberation here was not a liberation from domination, but a transition from one form of domination to another, just as in the case of the transition from slave labor to wage labor. Whether such transitions constitute an increase in freedom or not depends on the metric that one uses to measure it, and no obvious single metric suggests itself as being particularly appropriate. The overall process, however, can be characterized as a process of the reduction in overt domination and increase in covert domination.

Normalization of Terror

The role or criminals — transgressors against the established social order — is more or less analogous to the role of war as discussed above. In this regard, the police have served the role not so much of fighting and eliminating, but rather of normalizing crime (where “normalizing” can be understood to mean “allowing it to occur within the normal course of social events”, i.e. without fundamentally destabilizing the social order). Crime, in turn, serves to normalize the policing apparatus which superficially fights it. The fact that police forces can and often do themselves engage in crime is, from a systemic point of view, neither surprising nor problematic, as police and criminals both serve the same operative purpose of the capitalist system.

The role of the criminal within this operative purpose is now passing to the post of terrorists, and to be arrayed against them is the global police state. Much as the local police state has served to normalize crime, the global police state will serve to normalize terror. By the same token, it will serve to normalize the “war on terror”, which systemically serves the same purpose as the terror which it purports to fight. This purpose, at bottom, is to sustain the global capitalist order by stimulating the dynamic that is to motivate its participants, providing a controlled sphere into which discontent with the system can be released, concealing the system that is the source of that discontent, and neutralizing any activity that may threaten the continued existence of that system.

The project for the creation of a global police state that is being pursued through the mechanism of the war on terror entails other elements. Notable among these is “National Missile Defense”, i.e. the creation of space-based weapons platforms that would enable the global ruling class to instantaneously neutralize threats within what is to become the normal course of affairs under a global policing regime. Biotechnology or genetic engineering is another pillar in this edifice, which aims to allow the ruling class to shape the genetic structure of beings within its domain in accordance with the requirements of the global capitalist system. Discontent with the global system that cannot be allayed through technologies of psychological control, such as the media, entertainment and religion industries, is to be channeled into and neutralized under the category of terrorism.

Nothing is Eternal

While more can be said about the details and mechanisms of this emerging order, what is perhaps most notable about it is the fact that it is utterly incapable of resolving the substantive problems which people face today. In its advanced phase, the capitalist system becomes most dangerous. Nothing is eternal, and as the capitalist economic system nears the end of its evolutionary potential and its ability to sustain life degrades, it becomes most blinding as to the possibilities of resolving the problems which the system presents. The war on terror is but the latest if not the last manifestation of this blinding effect. It is not inconceivable, given the means of destruction we have deployed to safeguard our “freedom” from each other, that the human race, absorbed in fighting the terror and mass destruction of its own making, will forego the avenues for its continued existence and expire along with the failing system of socioeconomic relations under which it has most recently lived. But neither is it inevitable.

The changes that would have to be made in the human economy, that is, the human way of life, in order to continue living, are substantial and beyond the scope of any individual’s cognitive capacity. While we can reasonably say that such changes would have to be radical and revolutionary, we cannot draw up a complete blueprint of exactly how this process of change should or would take place, nor should we delude ourselves in trying to do so. While social revolution is frequently conceived of as a political or institutional transition, the sort of change that is needed here can perhaps be more aptly described as civilizational. The revolution that transformed the feudal system to the modern capitalist order was a long, tumultuous process that altered nearly all aspects of life. There is no reason to believe that the next revolution will fulfill itself through some quick and painless exercise.

It is proposed here that, in approaching the nontrivial task of our survival in the face of collapse of the system by which we live, we must begin by gaining insight into the operation of that system. If we understand the problems facing us to be systemic, our analysis of those problems must likewise be systemic. While the capitalist system is not directly visible to us in itself, we can discern it by observing it within the context of other systems, such as the system of nature, or the system of human history. Such analysis is significant not as an intellectual exercise, but as a basis for action which we may take in accordance with our findings. Those findings must be substantially correct, as our life depends on them; and thus our analytical approach must be highly reliable.

With respect to the war on terror, we conclude that, for those who value life, this is not the right war to fight. Ultimately, supporting, opposing or otherwise participating in the war on terror is immaterial and can do little to change the reality of terror, the source of which lies elsewhere.

In putting forward the necessity for proper analysis as a basis for valid action, we do not preclude the engagement in actions which, under such an analysis, would not be fully valid. Little of what we do will be fully valid or fully effective in achieving the goals which we should like to pursue. The validity and utility of such actions emerges in what we can learn from them, and in the progress that we can make based on such lessons. Thus, we must engage in such actions, including political actions, in the manner of experimenters and students, not professors and priests. More importantly, we must not, in engaging in such actions, abrogate the search for yet more valid action. In making vague denunciations of the capitalist order as bad, we must not deceive ourselves that we must thus be any better.

While some may see the task before us as being primarily a matter of enlisting enough people in an anticapitalist movement, we conclude here that the primary task is discovering the paths that will lead us toward solutions to the problems of global capitalism. The reason global capitalism persists to this day is precisely because the solutions to its problems have so far not been discovered. The process of discovery of such solutions is in itself a necessary and sufficient condition for resolving those problems.

Letters

Color Us Sorry

Hello, I just wanted to write because I am a fan of your organizer and really appreciate the effort that you put into it each year. I went to your website to buy one, but have decided not to because I am very disturbed at your name for the dark blue color, “Bruised Thighs.” As a rape survivor, it brings to mind the memory of that experience and horrifies me that you would name the color without regard for the actions that cause people (particularly women) to have bruised thighs. I really hope that you understand my perspective. I’m not trying to over-react to something that seems so small and meaningless. I’m only trying to point out something that I am not sure has passed your mind yet. Thanks for your continued hard work. Sassy Lee

Slingshot Note: we changed the name on the website as soon as we got this letter.

What Flavor is a Slingshot life saver?

Hey Slingshot Folks, I just started reading the zine and I think it’s great! I also purchased an organizer, which is a lifesaver. What a great idea. Anyways, myself and my friend Linda started setting up shows in Durango, really out of self-interest and it has unexpectedly snowballed into what is now more or less a scene. Pretty insane that a small town like Durango would generate a punk/hardcore scene. Well we kind of see the next step in this little phenomenon as trying to move the scene from simply an alternative culture, a culture that for the most part is just a smaller culture within the dominant capitalist one, into a counterculture — one that challenges the status-quo. We’ve started passing out literature and food (from the newly formed Food Not Bombs chapter) and Slingshot should definitely be part of that. So, in too many words what I’m getting at is could you send a bulk order to us at the lichen house? Beyond shows, we also bring literature to Food Not Bombs gatherings, special events and drop them around town. Thanks! clayton

Slingshot Note: there are now over 250 folks getting free packages of Slingshot for distribution in their towns. Let us know if you would like to get added to the list.

Infoshop Update

Here’s another update of radical spaces and infoshops. Let us know if you know of any new spaces or places that have closed.

Rochester, New York Infohsop

The Rochester Infoshop is a cross tendency radical anti-capitalist library that hosts everything from anarchy, anarchist-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, primitivism, green anarchy, deep ecology, platformism, situationism, council communism, autonomist marxism, internationalism, international struggles, globalization, existentialism, and periodicals. They’re seeking donations of good periodicals, so send ‘em some. 222 Driving Park Ave. Rochester, NY 14613

Olympia, Washington Zine Library

Located in Last Word Books, an independent, student run collective bookstore, you can visit the zine library 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. 119 5th Avenue SE, Olympia, WA 98501 360-357-5255

Craiova, Romania Infoshop

Anarchists in Craiova have opened a library and infoshop featuring metings, workshop, and video showings. “The place is situated in the center of the town so it is gonna be very practical and we hope that the impact of our activities there will be very big.” They’re seeking zines, books, videos, etc. Popescu Adi, Aleea TeatruluI, BL.T2 Apt. 21, Craiova, DOLJ, COD 1100, Romania

Black Planet Books closing; will relocate and reopen with new name

Black Planet Books in Baltimore, Maryland has closed. They plan to reopen with a new name in April at a new space at the corner of St. Paul & Madison St. in the Mount Vernon district. Mount Vernon is a very centrally located area in the northern part of Baltimore. They will open up as a Cafe – Bookstore selling Fair Trade coffee and pastries. Watch this space for details.

Barricade infoshop, Australia

The 2004 Organizer contained the wrong address. The correct address is PO Box 199, East Brunswick VIC 3057 Australia. The current Shop address is: Upstairs @ Irene Community Arts Warehouse, 5 Pitt Street, Brunswick, VIC 3056

Autonomous Valley Collective

Folks are getting together an anti-authoritarian collective in the Antelope Valley (North Los Angeles County). They’re putting out a benefit music CD. No public address yet, but contact them at geocities.com/ AutonomousValley

Ecolibrium Environmental Shop

Located in Burlingame on the Peninsula South of San Francisco and just north of Silicon Valley, they carry zines, alternative magazines, videos, ecological products, clothing, bumpster stickers, shirts…lots of cool stuff. They also show free films once or twice a month. Check them out at 1160 Capuchino Ave Burlingame, CA 94010 (650)342-6054.

New Year, New Tactics

“So when you want to know good white folks in history where [people of color] are concerned, go read the history of John Brown. That was what I call a white liberal — those other kind, they are que

By Tomàs

It is a new year and I’m a year older; I normally take this time of year to digest what has happened, to plan for the future, to consider new paths I want to explore, to weigh the importance of things I have been doing. I look for new role models, new sources of inspiration.

When I think back about this year, I remember the earnestness of the people in my life trying desperately to do something, to make something happen, to affect a semblance of change. I think of my own actions, the subtle and not so subtle forms of resistance — writing, vandalism, billboard liberation, subversive and biased materials in my classes, premeditated encounters with folks I know disagree with me, guerilla theater. These have all been fun, all had their effect. But it is a new year and I am a year older, time’s a ticking and so a new year calls for new tactics, new role models.

John Brown saw 50 years of his liberal, law-abiding, business-making life do absolutely nothing to end slavery, to prevent the spread of it. For most of those years he did what normal anti-slavery proponents did: he stated his disapproval, he gave to helpful charities, he parented against it. Hell, he even moved to the free state of Kansas to leave the apathetic north that refused to pay anything but lip service to ending slavery and so he could simply live his life. He did what most of us do — see the evil and hope it will end, fight it by avoiding it, by turning away from it, by secluding ourselves from it.

But he changed. He happened to be in the epicenter of the Kansas guerilla war between the North and the South. And yes lots of things happened to him, but within five years or so he became the John Brown of myth (and of course lotsa romanticizing). Nevertheless, he decided to go to war against his government, he decided to pick up arms, to rally troops, to fight with deeds and bullets rather than words and money. Here was a man who could have continued to live happily within the confines of “feel good northern liberalism,” like so many of us do today; he could continue to benefit from his privileged position in society, like so many of us today eat, celebrate, work, recreate never once questioning these privileges; yet, he became the race traitor, the one who abandons his team when it is clearly in the lead, the one who recognizes community and connection and fears not the abandonment of riches and privileges. He gave it up and welcomed the salve and the redemption of authentic living. There are others like him that are the traitors: straight people standing with queers in direct action and not just in celebration on Castro street, the whites who attempt to understand reparations, who attempt to see diversity as diverse and multifaceted rather than food fairs and foreign films, men who refuse to let other men tell jokes about or comment on women in any fashion, adults who step in and speak up for youth who are continually demonized by cops, teachers, childless couples, single adult hipsters, anyone who has forgotten what it means to be young. There are others. And then, there’s you. And me.

I think we need to see how it is imperative to support those working for change in any way possible because it is only in the complete refusal to participate in this exploiting and dehumanizing way of life that it will change. It is, therefore, crucial that we support and encourage people to fight back with whatever weapons they want to employ. If you’re a parent, get involved with other parents in the PTA, if you’re a hipster, ride that bike, if you’re an E.L.F. member, burn that fucking condo.

But, and here’s the key, if you’re in the PTA and E.LF. actions come up, voice your solidarity with E.L.F. and the biker beside you in your minivan; if you’re on your bike, smile to that lady struggling to parent with hope and love and share stories with your people about direct action as necessary for change in the same way riding your bike is.

We can’t make the mistake of abandoning militant fighters because we don’t agree with their tactics; this only ostracizes them from their support network and makes them easy pray for FBI and police repression. Look at the Black Panther Party; they spoke of guns and middle class white liberals ran screaming.

Look at what happened in Seattle when anarchists smashed Nike town windows and liberal do-gooders circled the store singing we shall overcome and pointing out the perpetrators. I for one won’t burn a building down, but I’ll be damned if I choose not to recognize the need to change the course we are traveling. By any means necessary.

If you don’t like violence, don’t do it and don’t stand for the violence perpetrated in your name by cops and the government on its own citizens. When you hear about E.L.F. or other militant fighters, recognize the fight’s the same, but the tactics might be different. And we need them all if we are to have the luxury of thinking about how we could choose to live if we had the choice. I don’t know about you but I want that choice. And I want it now.

So this year I want more direct, confrontational actions on my part and on yours. I want you to know that when you step up, I got your back, when you pick up rocks, I’ll pick up rocks; I want us to consider new ways we can become the traitor to the privileges we all have access to. I want you to think of John Brown swinging from the gallows pole and instead of feel fear, feel inspired.

“I may be hung but I will not be shot. But what I will do is this: I will raise a storm in the country that will not be stayed so long as there is a slave on its soil.” John Brown

The Radical Foment underneath Venezuela’s (somewhat ) radical leader, the glorified Hugo Chavez

“We don’t want a government, we want to govern!” says Carlos Ortega, co-founder of Radio Perola, a community station at the center of local activism in the Caracas barrio of Caricuao. ”We want to decide what is done, when it’s done and how it’s done in our communities.”

People in Venezuela are in a remarkable position. With the encouragement of the leftist government, approximately one million people there are organizing themselves in a huge popular movement with strong anti-authoritarian strains. The democratically-elected president, Hugo Chavez, is the public face and voice of this monstrous movement– but it does not depend on him.

After seeing a salutary documentary on his successful recovery from the right-wing coup attempted against him in April 2002, it was impossible for me to not feel optimistic. I saw thousands of people take to the streets and force the opposition to return Chavez from a deserted island to the presidential palace.

But what was the real revolutionary potential of the grassroots social change sponsored by Chavez’s Bolivarian Movement? How did Chavez’s position as president affect his ability and motivation to make revolutionary change? More than optimism, I wanted an analysis of Chavez as a tool against US imperialism.

Beyond Bolivarian Circles

Chavez institutes political empowerment and social change through Bolivarian Circles, government-funded neighborhood organizations named after Simon Bolivar, a revolutionary fighter against Spanish colonialism in the early 1800s. The Bolivarian movement is essentially an action-oriented political party, and the official Bolivarian Circles include elements of political action committees in the US. But neighborhood organizing goes beyond government-sanctioned activities.

“Many barrio residents are taking action with little heed for official directives or government sanctions,” Reed Lindsay, a US reporter based in Argentina, wrote in the Manchester Guardian.

In the barrios, Bolivarian Circles fix broken water supply systems and run recycling programs. Committees take censuses and chart family histories as a part of a government plan to give land titles to families who have squatted in slums for decades.

On their own initiative, people organize “citizen assemblies” to discuss everything from neighborhood dynamics to national politics, and create local planning councils where city authorities are forced to share decision-making power with community representatives.

This mobilization led parents and students to take over a barrio elementary school last winter and restart classes with volunteer teachers, when the instructors walked out during the strike called by the right-wing opposition last winter.

And in the absence of Venezuelan doctors, who won’t enter the poor barrios, people receive door-to-door visits from Cuban doctors brought in by Chavez. The doctors operate out of health clinics taken over in the early 1990s by people fueled by what some call the first insurgency, the 1989 Caracas barrio riots that led to Chavez winning the presidency almost 10 years later.

The Venezuelan Constitution is a major force behind public mobilization. While Chavez is charismatic, it is the Constitution, based strongly on ideas of social equality, that people latch onto, read and discuss in the streets. At first I was impressed that Chavez had re-written the Constitution. As it turns out, new governments in many South American countries often bring in a new constitution to lend legitimacy to their regime. But rarely does a Constitution, the cornerstone of a state, provide inspiration for people to organize themselves independently.

“Paradoxically, it has been those leaders with feet of clay who have placed in the people’s hands some tools to develop the politics that will get rid of them, with a clear touch of autonomy and self-management;” writes the Venezuelan anarchist collective El Liberatorio.

Roland Denis, a leftist organizer and ex-minister in Chavez’s government, looks beyond this apparent dilemma. “Here it has been possible to reconcile grassroots movements inspired by anarchism with a conception of a different state…. There are projects in Venezuela that demonstrate that it is possible to transcend the contradiction between self-governance and the state.” If anti-authoritarian organizing permeated Venezuela, would people reinvent the state, or end it?

For the present, regardless of the tenacity of the state, people are making powerful, radical, meaningful changes in their lives and communities.

“It isn’t just about tens of thousands of people in the street, or even the constitutional changes that empower people,” observed solidarity activist Diana Valentine in January 2003. “In everyday encounters there’s this spirit of change–after greeting each other in the street people will immediately start talking about the projects they’re organizing, studying they constitution, establishing cooperatives.”

“What is new is not so much what the government is doing, but what is happening outside it,” says Arlene Espinal, a social worker and resident of a poor Caracas neighborhood. “There’s been a powerful reawakening in the barrios.”

Because the movement and the state are closely related, it is somewhat difficult to determine what would happen if the state changes direction. If a new regime changes the constitution yet again, how will the million people inspired by it on a daily basis react?

“The opposition might be able to slow the reforms and make people suffer–but stopping the revolutionary aspects of the process, the people’s self-organization and empowerment, they will find more difficult,” writes Reed Lindsay.

I would like to give people credit: that they are inspired and will continue to fight.

Who is Chavez?

Predictably, Hugo Chavez is more of a mixed bag than let on by ogling international leftists.

Despite his inspirational radical rhetoric, many of his specific economic reforms are more moderate. The laws governing land reform, oil, banking, and fisheries all impose modest limits and regulations much like what exists in other capitalist countries, especially in Europe.

“Here there are three worlds,” summarizes ex- Chavez minister Roland Denis. “There is a revolutionary process that is not just represented by the government, but by popular movements. Then there is the government, which does not assume clearly defined positions. Finally, there is opposition of the oligarchy and of the middle-classes who are ideologically controlled by the former.”

“The presidential leftist rhetoric is often combined with a favorable policy towards financial and profiteer sectors, suggesting the configuration of a new hegemonic bloc behind the “Bolivarian” regime,” says Francisco Sobrino, editor of the Argentinean journal Herramiente, who accuses Chavez of having a “fickle” relationship with the Venezuelan masses.

His analysis: “Nowadays the neoliberal tide is ebbing in the region, but it is not immediately replaced by a truly popular or revolutionary large wave. New heterogeneous regimes may then emerge filling the power vacuum, as a reflection of or reaction to those deep developing social trends. Chavism is just one of these cases.”

Chavistas want to make the state efficient, not sell it off to foreign interests as suggested by the World Bank, but neither turning it over to collectives and popular control.

“There’s a strong streak of authoritarianism in Chavismo. For all its talk of participation, there’s been a centralization of power in the hands of the president.” says Carlos Correa, of the human rights group Provea.

Some attribute his moderate reforms to an attempt to walk a moderate tightrope between the people’s demands and the looming hand of the United States. But Roland Denis, the radical minister whom Chavez fired after 10 months, thinks differently: “I do not believe that the ambiguity of the Chavez Government has to do with fear of intervention. Rather, it is a consequence of a lack of clarity, debates, and confidence in the capacity of the self-governance of the people. The inhabitants of the barrios unconditionally supported the government during the coups, risking their lives. But the state hardly reaches out to the barrios. There is a closed, almost fort-like conception of power.”

As the Venezuelan anarchists are happy to point out, this is hardly surprising. “To claim that power will dissolve itself is as ludicrous as to claim that History is a mechanical sum of events that will bring us unerringly to freedom and social justice. These will only be conquered by keeping with the anti-capitalist struggle without abandoning, even for a second, our critical spirit and inquisitiveness.”

Revolution or regime change?

Sadly, Chavez’s position is growing more tenuous, as both external and internal forces converge against his leadership.

Chavez and Brazilian President Lula de Silva are the two strongest South American leaders who oppose the US proposal for a NAFTA-modeled Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). While Lula’s opposition is based on market concerns (the US refuses to open it markets to key Brazilian imports), Chavez’s concerns with the FTAA are moral and based on his commitment to social equality. In this sense, he is a stronger anti-globalization ally than Lula. In reaction to his strong stance, the US is funding the right-wing opposition to Chavez.

On Chavez’ s home front, poor Venezuelans, who despite the government’s community organizing have not seen their bottom-line economic situation improve significantly, are getting angry and impatient for concrete change.

And it seems that Chavez is actively eliminating any dissenting views within his government, dismissing ministers more radical than his moderate position.

All this will likely come to a head this March with a mid-term recall election. Up for recall is Chavez himself, 34 Chavista politicians, and 38 opposition politicians, many of whom are former Chavez supporters. Chavez’s support is strongly based with the increasingly-frustrated poor. Will he survive between the rock of angry people and the hard place of US imperial ambitions? Now is certainly the time for Chavez to bite the bullet and align his policies with his radical rhetoric. It’s not like the middle classes, constantly inflamed by “anti-communist” messages from the right-wing media, are going to be swayed by his timid economic reforms.

Chavez’s strength is the poor, and the poor’s strength is themselves. International anti-authoritarians should stand with the people in Venezuela as they use Chavez as a tool to create revolutionary change. The Chavez government opens up space for powerful, concrete, unprecedented change in the lives of millions of previously unempowered poor people. Radical organizing is radical organizing, regardless of whether it happens under the guise of the state or under the boot.

Contact El Libertario, the Venezuelan anarchist collective, via Emilio Tesoro, apartado postal 6303, Carmelitas, Venezuela. or ellibertario@nodo50.org.

Sources:

Francisco T. Sobrino, Filling the Vacuum After neoliberal failure: The confrontation in venezuela. Against the Current 4/30/03

Reed Lindsay, Venezuela’s slum army takes over. The Observer, 8/10/03

El Libertario editorial, Issue 33.

Zelik, Raul. Venezuela and the Popular Movement, an interview with Roland Denis. Z Magazine 8/03

Tearing Down the Walls Between Us

building understanding through communication

One of the greatest ironies out there is that while anarchists claim to value cooperation, mutual aid, sharing, individual responsibility and respecting autonomy, all too often one finds incredible in-fighting, contention, controversy, ideological sectarianism, splits, name-calling, poor group dynamics, denial of responsibility and distrust within the anarchist scene. Anarchists claim to want a sweeping global social revolution based in local grass-roots organizing, yet it is well-known that anarchism as a coherent body of thought largely stays within a narrow sub-culture of activists, theorists and punks. I believe that there is a way out of these problems, and I believe that Compassionate Communication (also known as “Nonviolent Communication,” or “NVC” for short, I use all three terms interchangeably) can serve a vital role in us getting out of this mess. NVC is not a new way of policing how we speak, nor does it require two or more people practicing it in order for it to work. I’ve seen people use NVC to help themselves get really honest and vulnerable with other people, to help facilitate great compassion, caring and understanding among people, and I would really like to see anarchists and anti-authoritarians engage in this way of relating as well.

Compassionate Communication can be explained as series of tools, understandings and a framework that helps us focus our attention on whatever is really important and fundamental to others or ourselves in a given moment. One of the things that initially drew me to NVC was the many obvious similarities between it and anarchism. For example, NVC literature and materials repeatedly speak of eliminating relationships of domination, hierarchy and power over people. NVC emphasizes the importance of autonomy, cooperation, individual responsibility and interdependence, and many NVC proponents express a desire for a global social change to where a critical mass of people are living their lives based on voluntary cooperation, mutual aid, real democracy, and respecting one another’s autonomy.

NVC also appealed to me because I saw the cross-overs between it and my appreciation of the writings of the 19th century anarchist philosopher Max Stirner, what with NVC’s exhortations to not act out of guilt, shame, fear, duty or obligation but because you clearly see how it can meet your own needs or because you see how you can enjoy contributing to the well-being of others. While cross-overs with anarchism initially piqued my interest I soon discovered that there is a lot more to NVC as well.

I see NVC in many ways picking up where anarchism leaves off. I see anarchism as providing a broad social framework, envisioning a world without capitalism, patriarchy, the State or other forms of hierarchy and domination while also providing a coherent set of positive principles through which to live and organize by. I see NVC, in turn, as both providing a useful guide in how to apply anarchist principles to our lives and organizing as well as how to reach out to and genuinely connect with other people who are not anarchists or radicals. This can help us to both live our values, as well as to grow and spread our movement to social revolutionary proportions.

NVC itself can be described in two ways, the NVC model and the NVC consciousness. The NVC model is but a mere guide, a useful framework, that will hopefully aid in one achieving the NVC consciousness. The NVC model is broken down into four parts: observations, feelings, needs and requests.

Observations are clear, factual things that we experience in some way. It could be something that we see, hear, touch, etc., or it could even be a specific thought or memory that goes through your head. NVC makes sure to not mix observation with any form of evaluation, judgment, or interpretation. It seeks to keep the observation as pure and factual as possible. The observation is just something that happened, not what we or others think about something that happened.

Feelings are a clear physical or emotional thing that one experiences. NVC makes sure to not mix feelings with evaluation or judgment and only keep it in the realm of what one is directly experiencing. For example, some feelings would be “excited”, “overwhelmed”, “confident”, or “irritated” as opposed to “cheated”, “patronized”, “unwanted” or “ridiculed” which are feelings mixed with evaluations or judgments.

Needs are the fundamental motivating reasons for why we do the things that we do. Needs are universal, everyone has the same fundamental needs, and they exist independently of a certain person doing a certain thing. Needs are not just physical, psychological, or social. What NVC considers to be needs are things that are needed for a human being to have a really meaningful, enjoyable and fulfilling life, as opposed to just physically surviving. NVC makes a clear distinction between needs and strategies to meet needs. For example, “money” and “status” are considered to be just strategies to meet needs, whereas food, safety, autonomy, and appreciation are considered to be fundamental needs. Needs being met or not met are the cause of ones feelings, whereas the observation that one experiences is the stimulus for the feelings.

Requests are clear and doable things that we can ask to meet our needs. Requests are distinctly different from demands, things that one is asked to do and will be punished for if one does not carry them out. NVC strives to have people ask requests and carry them out not out of a hope for a reward, nor out of fear of punishment. NVC hopes to have people fulfill the requests of others purely out of a desire to contribute to the well-being of others or one’s self.

So, to put these steps into the NVC model with the intention of expressing one’s own state of being, one would say something like: “When I see you get high” I feel “conflicted” because I am needing “to stay away from drugs right now”, would you be willing to “refrain from using in front of me?” Likewise, if one is to use the NVC model to guess at what someone else might be experiencing, one would say something like: “When you see your house mates argue” do you feel “upset” because you are needing “to feel safe”, and would you like me to “talk to them for you or schedule a house meeting where we can talk about this?”

A lot of people see the NVC model as being the entirety of NVC, and as a result come to a conclusion that NVC is just some kind of stilted formula for how to speak with people. It is for this reason why I consider it to be very important to be mindful of the NVC consciousness, which is the end goal that the NVC model is supposed to aid in one achieving.

The NVC consciousness is a certain mindset, a certain way that one views and approaches both one’s self and others. This includes staying aware of the four components of the NVC model in one’s dealings with others and with the thought processes that pass through ones own mind as well. However, unlike the NVC model, the consciousness of NVC is by no means sequential or formulaic, it is an awareness, a focus that one keeps in mind. The NVC consciousness also keeps in mind other things as well, like that one is not the “cause” of another persons emotions – peoples needs are the cause, that people are responsible for their own actions and choices that they make, that it makes more sense to connect with the needs behind what people do rather than punishing or rewarding them, that we are all human beings rather than labels, roles or enemy images, that in the long run it meets our needs in a more authentic and sustainable way to find solutions that meet the needs of all involved rather than just meeting our needs at the expense of others.

Miki Kashtan, coordinator of the NVC Social Change Project, elaborates on this last point: “When we use force, blame and self-righteousness instead, even if we manage to create the outcome we want in the short run, we distance ourselves from those whose actions we want to change. Success in the short run does not lead to the transformation we so wish for, neither in ourselves nor in those we are trying to change. Sooner or later, those with more power will prevail, and we are left bitter and defeated. This cycle is a major cause of ’burn-out’ among activists.”

This brings me back to the application of NVC to anarchism and activism. I see a lot of in-fighting, controversies, splits, and general contention within the anarchist/activist scene, and I think that a lot of this stems from how we view and relate to one another and ourselves. For example, when we call people “selfish”, “reactionary”, “authoritarian”, “sexist”, “lazy”, “close-minded”, or “bourgeois”, we are not referring to a clear observation that we are reacting to, nor are we referring to what we are personally feeling, needing or what actions we would like to see. Labels such as these serve to project enemy images on those we are referring to, it is the automatic drawing up of “sides” with the implication being that the side that is labeled such is the “bad” side that deserves to be punished somehow.

I would like to see instead of this, an empathic interplay. When someone says or does something that you are triggered by, first you can check in with yourself, see what you are reacting to, see what you are feeling and needing, and what specific action you would like to see the other person do. Then you can express this to the other person, and if they respond by saying something that triggers you, you can repeat this process with this new stimulus. Another option is to empathize with the other person who is doing something that you do not enjoy. What is this other person feeling and what are their underlying needs behind what they are doing? You can guess at this and ask the other person for clarification on whether this is true. This can in turn be another kind of dialogue that you can have to help resolve this situation.

I tend to find it the most useful to engage in a mix of these two processes, both checking in with myself to see what is going on within myself as well as empathizing with the other person to try to discover what is going on within them and why they are doing what they are doing. It does not help to jump into a situation with an immediate goal in mind that one wants to see come about, I find it far more useful to make sure that a clear mutual understanding is established. Only once I am certain that we are all very much aware of which feelings and needs are active for everyone involved do I go about a process of creatively strategizing to find ways to meet the needs of all those involved.

NVC has great potential to be used in community outreach and organizing. Often, anarchists and radical activists exist in a very unique and marginal sub-culture, which makes it hard for us to truly understand those we regard as “mainstream” or “non-political”. NVC can be used to help us dissect what exactly is going on with those whom we do not understand, with those that we are alienated from for various cultural reasons. “Mainstream” and “non-political” people all have feelings and needs as well, and it is through the use of NVC that we can bridge the gaps between us and help us bring about clear mutual understanding while simultaneously allowing them to understand us.

When I first started seriously looking into Compassionate Communication, it took me a while to really get it and apply it to myself. For me, it was just such a different paradigm than what I was used to. I was used to labeling, judging and evaluating myself and other people. I was very stuck in my own head, part of which was because of the anarchist arguing culture that I came from. Soon I started understanding it more and more, until one night I had an epiphany that a lot of the conflicts, problems and unhappiness within the anarchist scene that I had experienced, I had actively contributed to myself. I realized that failed projects and friendships in my life could have developed differently if I knew and practiced NVC back then.

NVC has helped me connect with my own humanity and the humanity of those around me. I was able to stop viewing other anarchists as “reactionary”, “authoritarian”, “incompetent” or any other negating label, and instead was able to see them as actual human beings, striving to meet various needs of theirs in the best way they know how. The same goes for apolitical people. I stopped seeing them as “clueless”, “consumerist” and “short-sighted” and was able to see them as the fragile, scared and fallible human beings that they are, trying to get by in this world. Sure, all too often I lose the NVC consciousness and go off on labeling and judging myself or others, but at least now I know that a deeper understanding and way of authentically relating to other people without domination and hierarchy is indeed possible right now.

I would like to invite you to learn more about Nonviolent Communication. I suggest that you check out these books/pamphlets:

“Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” by Marshall Rosenberg, a pretty thorough introduction to NVC.

“Don’t Be Nice, Be Real” by Kelly Bryson, an introduction to NVC with some broader social analysis thrown in as well.

“The Heart of Social Change” by Marshall Rosenberg, a pamphlet on applying NVC to social change activism.

“Punished By Rewards” by Alfie Kohn, an explanation how motivation and systems based on rewards and punishment does not help us in the long run.

Or you can check out these NVC web-sites:

http://www.nonviolentcommunication.c

http://www.cnvc.org

www.baynvc.org for NVC events that take place in the Bay Area.

I would also like to invite you to join me and NVC trainer, Miki Kashtan, for a free introduction to NVC at the Long Haul infoshop Sunday March 7th, 7-9PM.

Another Crazy Anarchist Wingnut

My personal rEvolution, very much a work in progress, has been a slow creep leftward into the radical. My father and stepmom had a bourgie requirement that when my sisters and I became teenagers, we took on some kind of community service. We were privileged–white, middle class, Catholic kids in New England–and my folx’s response was noblesse oblige. They had know idea how far I would take it.

My first “gig”, you might say, was volunteering for a risk-reduction non-profit to keep kids off drugs. I had friends who were smoking marijuana or doing meth at 13 to ease family or personal trauma, and my response was less than compassionate. I knew they needed support, but didn’t understand how to give it to them without judging. Self-medication was a foreign idea.

By a stroke of luck, I met an amazing sex educator who invited me to work at her reproductive health clinic for teenagers. I worked there for all of high school, and did sex ed for clients who came from as far 3 hours away. We provided everything but abortion services (clinic was 40 minutes away) and it probably saved my life to have education and health care. Besides knowing my body and safer sex techniques, I learned empathy and love. When a sexually assaulted 12 year old asks you how to get an abortion, you either hate the world or decide to be empathetic more often. I learned that shame only keeps us from being real with one another. I wish anarchists hugged each other more.

During college (I love math and wanted formal training), I taught with my school’s rape crisis center for four years. Although it took me a while to see the racism and classism that taints a lot of feminism, I got to teach classes on the porn industry to frat boys, edit a queer column for the student newspaper, model consensual communication with high school kids, explore alternative (non-prosecutorial) justice with survivors and coordinate workshops on sex trafficking. By speaking publicly on so many issues, I processed my own identities as a survivor, queer-female, polyamorist, and slut. Of course, I’m always renegotiating and growing.

I finally understood the effects of capitalism and awakend to my own outrage when I left the States. During my semester in Hungary, I saw people terrified of the instability of the market economy and terrified of old and new state repression. Trade, privilege, community and exploitation were thrown in my face. The communities and land that people depended on were disappearing with an influx of foreign capital and youth emigration was leaving the region without a future. Transylvania is being destroyed as farmers, herders and artisans are forced to low-wage city jobs. Everywhere, it’s the same shit, different corporations.

When I returned to the US, post 9/11, it was hard to reincorporate. I’ve never been into accumulating stuff, but the only “collective” living situations I saw were college kids in rented shit-holes or Christian communes. It took me almost a year to find people who were articulate anarchists and to realize what I was becoming. Some I found through Unitarian young adult networks and others through local justice work. As liberal politics grew less enticing, I felt the urge to be in a community where being different, freakish, ME, was ok.

It took me awhile to distinguish between punk and anarchism. There is such an overlap in the Northeast, that I felt isolated because I liked bluegrass and didn’t know “Against Me.” My longstanding association with punk was a-political, skinny, sex-deprived boys who went to shows and jumped around. That’s never been my scene. I have since met lots of cool punks, anarchists and anarcho-punks, but I felt alienated at first.

Moving to East Oakland has made me acknowledge my racist-nativist acculturation–coming from a state that’s 96% white, and hanging out in Berkeley makes me itch to grow organic vegetables. I’m figuring out how to live my ethics without condemning conservative old friends and simultaneously create a radical future for myself. Big questions still loom for me personally, and I don’t pretend to have answers. How will I eat when I’m old? How do I feel about satiating my inner nerd and getting a PhD? Will I be a radical poly parent some day?

I’m grateful that, for all the shit I say about radical politics, I haven’t lost my family or old friends. When I told my parents about being harassed in Miami at the FTAA protests, they were scared, but they didn’t think I was crazy. For me, revolution is about clean water, allowing people autonomy in education, love and work, and riding a bike cart for Food Not Bombs deliveries. If that makes me crazy, I don’t need any medication.

A Scene Critique

Put This Paper Down

The sad state of the world over the past few years — the increased concentration of power — spiraling environmental destruction — the Iraq war and occupation — Bush’s naked attempts to create fear — stepped up attacks on privacy — is creating a deeper level of popular opposition to the structures of power than has been seen for quite some time. Increasingly, huge numbers of folks who used to think of themselves as “mainstream” are having to face the fact that the systems of power they believed were justified, reasonable and legitimate are instead threats to freedom, peace, stability and life itself. There are opportunities for something positive to come out of a very scary situation.

The question is, how can folks in the activist community promote this transformation? And assuming more people are willing to take action against the system, what actions can we take?

I haven’t heard very good answers to either of these questions and I wish the activist community would think about them carefully and seriously. In such dangerous times, the activist scene appears to be going about business as usual, which means that it is celebrating its own marginalization and impotency, rather than trying to figure out how to attack the system.

If we’re going to help people decide to reject the system, we have to be willing to talk to people who aren’t already involved in the activist scene. This means people of different ages, races, backgrounds. On the most basic level, it means that we shouldn’t write-off so many folks because we think that they are too mainstream to ever oppose the system. We have to give people some credit that they’re not stupid. We need to stop rejecting people who aren’t young and pierced.

It’s true that ultimately, people must transform their own consciousness and political understanding, but there is a role for political outreach. Outreach doesn’t mean that we should all become preachers of a radical faith — we need to realize that thinking or behaving as if we have the “truth” just sets up a new hierarchy.

What I mean is that activists can encourage dialog and discussion — questioning authority. We should also realize that the system maintains power by keeping people isolated from each other and breaking down common spaces and moments when people can interact outside of realms organized by the market. We ought to be about creating these types of free spaces — and not just for ourselves and our friends, but for people who are isolated from discussion about political issues and isolated from political action.

At a time like this, we need to stop spending so much of our activist time organizing endless conferences or events primarily meant for people already involved in “the scene” — anarchist picnics, anarchist soccer teams, etc. Even a lot of actions seem mostly directed at folks who are already involved — basically, we organize an action by trying to “organize” those who are already organized and in the activist community, rather than by organizing society. The idea of organizing means organizing society, not just organizing the could-be organizers.

The forces of power spend huge amounts of energy on media propaganda and public manipulation. We need to figure out a grassroots response, and more than that, a way to go beyond responding and communicate a positive alternative agenda.

Day to day life in advanced capitalism can be grim — living alone, working a meaningless job that takes up most of your time and energy. There is a hunger for community and finding some kind of meaning or hope for a better future. If our process and actions empower people, provide meaning, and are based on community and connection, they will be powerful because they will fill the gap that the current top-down society creates.

I hope the activist community will make a New Year’s Resolution to start taking itself more seriously. Far too often, we get distracted by single issue campaigns because we assume that our efforts are incapable of addressing the biggest, systemic issues. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy — we make our own resistance irrelevant when we assume it can’t succeed.