Category Archives: Summer 2004 (6/3/04)

Who Wants More Cops?

Oakland Neighborhood Associations Sell Out with ‘Community Policing’

Organized neighborhood groups—representing a small handful of voices—say they speak for all of Oakland as they advocate bringing police, the gun-wielding arms of the state, deeper into the fabric of the city. Couched in euphemistic ‘community policing’ advocacy, pro-cop citizen lobbying groups are pushing for an initiative in the November elections to add 120 more cops to the Oakland PD—after lobbying against a March initiative that would have added only 30 new cops.

Increasing cop presence does nothing to address people’s fears, because cops respond only to their own agenda, which features fear and disempowerment as primary tactics for keeping people ‘in line’. Fortunately, viable models exist for grassroots community patrols that increase neighborhood safety outside of the police-state web. We can look to examples from the Black Panthers to countless neighborhood ‘Pink Shirt’ patrols, to formulate a forward-looking response to the repressed, uncreative pro-cop drivel that serves the state so well.

Who’s calling for more cops? Despite the countless creative ways that people are organized and active in their communities, it’s the picket-fence ‘neighborhood groups’—the North Oakland Voters Association, the North Lake Neighbors Association, etc.—which have a direct line to the Oakland City Council and the Oakland Police Dept. Frequently representing a minute cross-section of a neighborhood’s diversity, neighborhood groups provide the police with cover—in the form of willing complaints from a ‘respectable’ organization of Neighbors—to bust nuisance activities. Not surprisingly, this is one active front on the class war, with nuisances including everything from pesky recycling thieves and noisy nightclubs, to drug dealing, to more destructive acts lumped under the misshapen headline Gang Violence.

Recent enactment of nuisance eviction legislation makes community policing particularly deadly. Landlords are now empowered to evict tenants for being a ‘nuisance’ to the neighborhood—having loud parties, lots of people loitering around a house, unkept yards, etc. For parolees, nuisance evictions are criminalized to count as a second or third strike. Not surprisingly, the police are using this tool to place parolees under even more intense scrutiny.

Quite obviously, the system of cops, courts, and prisons is not stopping the violence that seems part-and-parcel of Oakland neighborhood life. Making rules does not suddenly transform or stop a situation; punishments are not solutions. Of course, the behaviors that cops pretend to want to address are what they are making their money on. The cops’ goal is to have more cops, not to work themselves out of a job. A framework of tickets, fines, and parole guidelines, spiraling upwards into the roar of the ghettobird helicopter, is merely an excuse for not addressing the life/death situation at hand: People are driven, even encouraged, to break the law—whether by committing acts insane or petty—in order to survive.

The basic purpose of police, of course, is not to promote general citizen well-being, but to maintain the basic power dynamics in our society. Their suspicion-driven concept of community safety means harassing into line anybody who does not fit into a very narrow window of appropriate behavior. Fortunately, the police (state) does not have unlimited resources, and this is where ‘community policing’ fits in, a bizarre euphemism for making us do their dirty work, co-opting folks’ legitimate desires for safety. Report drug deals! Call in suspicious characters! Take a stand—call the police! Conversely, community policing implies that we’re bad neighbors, bad citizens, inclined to criminality ourselves if we don’t rat on the bad people down the street.

When something serious happens, the police response is based squarely in the culture of violence that bred the disaster in the first place. People in gangs, people committing ‘crimes’, are just that—people, who amidst the media-glitzed thug life might be looking for a surrogate family and a sense of belonging. ‘Gang members’ are stereotypically inflated into inhuman violence machines to breed fear, resentment, and disempowerment in everybody. It takes a lot to rip out somebody’s heart, but the police state actively encourages a culture of violence, between uncontrollable cop violence, the cop mentality itself, the prison plantation system. If everybody—the people in gangs, the people afraid of them, the people who only see them on TV—were empowered, we would not be in this situation.

We are stuck in this cycle—but we don’t have to be. There are viable models for the real security and safety that comes from knowing you can deal with situations in your neighborhood without calling in another violent gang, the cops. The response to community policing is anti-cop, pro-people community patrols, of which there is a rich, varied history. Some groups, like the Black Panthers and CopWatch, have focused on patrolling the police themselves, establishing community control of the police instead of letting the police control the community. Countless other groups work on the pink shirt/lavender shirt model, frequently used to support queer folx, with people going out in small groups to provide a visible safety alternative to the police. The Mujeres Libres, in Condega, Nicaragua, are a group of women who provide support in domestic violence situations, confronting perpetrators at work to make sure violence does not continue at home. The Nation of Islam has a network of security forces in cities around the US who provide security in situations where real cops or rent-a-cops would normally be used. Girl Army and other self-defense outlets emphasize personal empowerment over reliance on outside forces.

As we work to fit models to meet our own community’s needs, there are a number of questions we can consider. To what degree is violence or nonviolence useful in community patrols? Where is the line between a community patrol and vigilantism? How do we effect personal and community empowerment without becoming goons? Can we do the work to make community patrols ensure everybody’s safety and welcome in a neighborhood, instead of sliding into the exclusion of certain people based on the same tired norms that currently plague us? Can we outsmart the cop mindgame and see drug dealing for what it is, itself a non-violent business transaction? Can we encourage a culture of harm reduction instead of self destruction?

Grassroots community organizing is rarely simple. There is no substitute for knowing and respecting our neighbors, all of them. Chatting with 5-10 people within our comfort zone does not negate the need to build bridges with people who seem very different than us, but live only a few houses away. Fortunately, community patrols have a rich and varied history that makes them a practical focus for grassroots organizing. They’re a good action-oriented response to liberal impotence: “I worked the schools, I volunteered at the rec center, and they’re still dealing across the street!”

Community patrols encourage people to be active on the very streets they’re fearful of, the streets they travel every day. They have the potential to effect both direct improvements in people’s lives, and structural change within the system, by challenging the power and relevance of the police. In neighborhoods as diverse as Oakland’s, radical organizing around community safety has the potential to address the culture of violence that perpetuates homicides, the undertone of racism and classism that sustains complaints about noisy nightclubs and recycling thieves, and control of the police state in our lives. We can call out community policing as bullshit, because the path to a viable alternative is clear.

Assaults on US Hegemony At Home and Abroad

For those hoping to limit the American empire’s power and violence, the outcome of the war on Iraq has in some ways been a very good thing. The attempt at unilateral American military intervention has been a disaster for America’s rulers. Despite all of the United States’ vast military might, America has been unable to win militarily against a determined, lightly armed local insurgency. All the firepower, armor, airplanes, missiles and high tech gadgets are ultimately a false form of power — the war against Iraq has exposed this for all to see.

In practice, the ability to kill on a mass industrial scale cannot bring control. This capacity can only bring death, which is far removed from control over a population. Each additional Iraqi civilian cut down by American guns hurts American control over Iraq’s population and breeds more resistance, more seething anger, more hands clutching RPG launchers and planting roadside bombs.

In order for an empire like America — and the global capitalist system which America’s rulers serve — to profit from military aggression, global capitalism needs to acquire economic opportunities after the war — open markets, cheap labor for its corporations, raw materials. You won’t hear anyone talking about it, but the main reason that US rulers want to crush the insurgency in Iraq is not so our hand-picked Iraqi overlords can have a peaceful day on which to hold elections, but so the world’s corporations can start making profitable investments in Iraq. Investment and trade only work in a context of stability. The American imperial military can kill thousands of Iraqis, but it is powerless to create stability — an environment where workers go happily to their jobs to serve their corporate economic masters. The US military hasn’t even been very good at protecting oil extraction from Iraq, which should have been the easiest and most basic form of post-war economic looting.

By alienating the Iraqi population with repeated instances of clumsy brutality — shooting up and invading mosques, bombing wedding parties, torturing naked Iraqi prisoners — the American occupation has all but ensured that if Iraqis finally are permitted to go to the polls, they will elect representatives hostile to American imperial interests, if not a radical Islamic state.

US military planners had hoped to establish numerous permanent military bases in Iraq as a launching pad for further aggression in the Middle East. But after a year of occupation, American troops have their hands full just protecting their own asses, leaving little time to consider further invasions of Iran or Syria.

Given the failure to achieve any perceptible post-invasion imperial goals, the deaths of 11,000 Iraqis and over 800 American soldiers must be seeming a bit “unfortunate” even to the fanatical US regime.

Although Bush tries not to care, the whole situation has been made far worse because he ignored and offended all of America’s capitalist allies with his unilateralism. The US military weakness exposed by the war on Iraq has also shattered the political theory behind efforts like the Project for the New American Century — that as the only super-power left standing, the US could further increase its power by freely using all that military might, without taking into account the views of all those pesky allies.

In fact, using American military power has made the US empire politically weaker in the eyes of the world, not stronger. The US may be the only super-power left standing, but that coin has two sides. Either it means every other country will be scared and compliant, or it sets the stage for other global political blocks to unite to take down the biggest bully on the block.

Given all that the war on Iraq has revealed, we can hope the American imperial masters won’t try anything like this pointless, unilateral military adventure again anytime soon. It is also a bonus that the US military is tied down in Iraq for the time being. The world outside Iraq has rarely been safer from US military terrorism than it is at the moment.

The War at Home

Anti-authoritarians in the belly of the beast here in the US still have a special and crucial role to play in working to limit American imperial power and if possible, destabilize US military and economic might. The key continues to be adopting a diversity of tactics and maintaining flexibility to hit the weak spots at crucial moments. Given the astonishing failures of the war on Iraq, it is curious that domestic expressions of opposition to the war and the occupation have been so flaccid up to this point.

A year ago, during the build up to the war against Iraq, millions of people in the US and abroad poured into the streets to protest the war, but as the occupation has floundered, there have only been a handful of smallish protests led by sectarian groups. Predictably, the Democratic party has failed to criticize the war and occupation. Thus, there has been an odd vacuum of opposition to one of the hugest recent examples of US imperial arrogance and violence.

Perhaps for many, the daily bad news from Iraq (and Israel and the environment and so many other sources) has caused something like “atrocity fatigue” — events have gotten so bad that we’ve become paralyzed. Like a deer caught in the headlights of an on-coming truck, those who could be marching within the US to denounce its disastrous occupation have felt frozen, unable to fight back.

While millions of Americans undoubtedly oppose the occupation and its abuses, private, invisible opposition does nothing to limit US imperial power and turn the political tide against the militarists. People outside the US are left to conclude that most Americans support or are indifferent to the occupation — the torture, the killing, the suspension of press freedom, the stifling of Iraqi political opposition — because all official US voices from Bush to the Democrats have basically supported the occupation. People within the US who privately oppose the occupation or are developing serious questions about its wisdom feel isolated because all media and political voices seem to either support the occupation or just want to make minor reforms so it can be kinder and gentler.

Imagine how differently events like the prison scandal or the ever-climbing body count would look in the context of a vigorous, public opposition movement to the occupation and the militaristic, imperial policies that led to the occupation. Not just an occasional large protest in San Francisco led by a sectarian group, but numerous small and large acts of resistance across the nation occurring every day, every week.

Such visible and public opposition would change the political climate in Iraq, in the world, and in the US. In Iraq, protests would encourage resistance from US soldiers who have concluded that the war is just another disastrous mistake. The war in Vietnam finally became impossible when US troops refused to fight. Even John Kerry, when he was much younger, asked “Who wants to be the last man to die for a mistake?” Indeed.

The Iraqi population would be emboldened to continue resisting the occupation. It is crucial for everyone to understand that regular people in Iraq and regular people in the US have precisely the same enemy — the killers in power in the United States.

Around the world, a strong and visible resistance movement in the US would further degrade the power of the US rulers. Why should populations in Europe, South America, Africa and Asia fear the US empire when that empire is threatened by chaos in the streets at home?

What we need is a way to organize frequent, public resistance to events in a more timely and more heart-felt fashion. The establishment left is a big part of the problem. They have poured all their resources into rare, centralized, stage-managed protests in major cities which are transparently weak, ritualistic and socially isolated.

What is needed is a way to go around the establishment left — which didn’t organize anything while pictures of Iraqis subject to torture flashed on TV screens for weeks — and empower grassroots people everywhere. Building informal, decentralized, autonomous networks in towns big and small across the country is the only effective way to maintain a constant swarm of visible resistance activity.

In Berkeley in the 1980s, I remember a tradition called a BART alert. When folks learned of an outrageous event — say the recent attack on holy sites in Najaf or the recent prisoner torture photographs — someone would phone up the local radio station to declare a BART alert. (BART is the local subway system, and there is a station in downtown.) The station would broadcast calls for the BART alert all day, and maybe some flyers would quickly go up around town. There were phone trees that would be activated — you would call 3 people, they would call 3 people, and so on, reaching a few hundred people in a couple of hours.

At 6 p.m. (always the same time) everyone would meet at BART, there would be a few quick speeches on a bullhorn, and then a march through town which often seemed to end up at the ROTC office on campus or some other suitable symbol of the US imperial monster. It being Berkeley, sometimes windows would get smashed, etc., but the effectiveness of the action didn’t really depend on that kind of thing, although it sure was satisfying.

These protests were great because they were very spontaneous, they took hardly any organizational resources or time, required no city permits or dependence on sectarian groups, and they kept opposition timely, heart-felt, grass-roots, and visible.

What if people around the country set up similar systems for calling small protests quickly? Instead of a sectarian group calling a protest ever 2-3 months in San Francisco and Washington DC, you would have protests going on all over the place every week. Sure, a lot of them would be small. 50 people in Madison, Wisconsin. 35 people in Middletown, Conn. 15 people in Houston. But small protests break the paralysis of inaction. Protests that start small get bigger. People get empowered to realize that everyone in the US can resist the occupation. A tiny protest in Iowa City can mean a lot more — and is harder to dismiss — than a much bigger protest in San Francisco.

Having a constant storm of decentralized, smaller acts of resistance will emphasize a diversity of tactics. The point will be doing something public rather than just sitting at home — isolated and powerless in private. At this crucial stage of history — when the American empire is especially vulnerable — now is the time to seize any opportunity available to say “this occupation is unacceptable and we’re not going to stand idly by.”

Slingshot Box

Slingshot is a quarterly, independent, radical newspaper published in the East Bay since 1988.

This issue is coming out as we prepare for the big Biotech action in San Francisco. It also looks like the entire Slingshot collective will be on the streets in New York City for the Republican National Convention. As busy as we get with the paper and the Organizer, it is crucial to remember that it is not enough to write what should be done, or think what should be done — you have to put your body on the line and do what needs to be done.

This issue, we bought our first typewriter and have been wondering why we waited so long to acquire this essential piece of lower-tech. So many radical publications suffer from a computer influenced sterility — how do you expect to reject the master’s ideas when you spend your days tied down by the master’s technology — staring into a fuckin computer?

Another exciting part of creating this issue was how the collective felt more bonded and caring. A number of us are going through various life difficulties, and we took better care of each other on a personal level instead of just suppressing our personal sides so we could pour 110% into the struggle. This way of operating is more human, more sustainable, and ultimately allows us to be more effective.

We wanted to apologize for omitting prison artist Harvey Pritchard’s name from his awesome artwork that was in last issue on page 3. Write him at Harvey Pritchard P-25785, PBSP SHU, C7-117C, PO Box 7500, Crescent City, CA 95532.

And speaking of art, Holi told me an amazing story about the cover art he made. It is of the view out of the house he lived in growing up in Indonesia. The Evil Industry (not owned by Indonesians) put up those buildings in the rice fields, 10 ft away from houses, and said they would only be warehouses — but then started production in them and shook the whole village 24 hours a day!! So Holi’s dad made some slingshots to give to all the kids and other people got out their tools and the whole town attacked the factories for 3 days, breaking the roofs and machinery until the factories stopped production and became warehouses again. Holi fears they will start production again soon. Fucking Globalization BULLSHIT!

Yeah, so… Slingshot is always on the lookout for writers, artists, editors, photographers, distributors and independent thinkers to help us make this paper. If you send something written, please be open to editorial changes. We are also looking for articles in Spanish or for people who can help us translate articles from English to Spanish.

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

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting August 14 at 1 p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below).

Article Deadline and Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 83 by September 18, 2004 at 3 p.m. We expect the next issue out in early October.

Volume 1, Number 82, Circulation 12,000

Printed June 3, 2004

Slingshot Newspaper

Sponsored by Long Haul

3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA 94705

Phone: (510) 540-0751

Letters

Star chart

Dear Slingshot:

I finally received my long awaited 2004 Slingshot Organizer from AK Press & despite the fact that it was “contrabanned” by the local prison staff, I was able to execute a clever conspiracy to get my grubby paws on it anyway.

Now as to the point of this letter: I now find myself at a facility located outside any major metropolitan area that provides an unhindered view of the starry night thus creating an opportunity to utilize the star chart included in the Organizer, that is if I knew how to use it. If you could, please send me instruction. I understand the concept of degrees, but I lack the knowledge of a bearing point and how the zodiac is represented in the heavens. Any information and instructions related to this would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks so very much in advance. I Take care and keep fighting the good fight.

—Colin @anderson #165334, ASPC F-N.U.3, PO Box 8000, Florence, AZ 85232

Orgasms

Dear Slingshot:

Regarding “Orgasms without Obligation” by Molly Coddle (Slingshot #80). Sorry that this letter is so late. In this institutionalized environment, mail is not always reliable so I’m (at last!) reading someone else’s Slingshot. But I wanted to write, even if I’m late for the press, so I can give my appreciation to Molly for her article, her bravery and her outspokenness. It’s not easy to stand up to the repression embedded in our Puritanical culture. Who knows, if people weren’t so repressed, so deprived, if they were actually HAPPY of FREE, maybe we/they wouldn’t succumb to such rampant consumerism, the devastating sense of want (and blame) that eats away our lives as well as depletes the world’s resources . . . maybe we’d find a NEW way?!

This is hardly new news, the “make love not war” generation tried . . . but revolution hasn’t matured yet, and nether have we ripened past spiritual adolescence. Maybe there’s still hope, maybe we won’t have to sink under the pitch black of fascism in order to break free and change.

Publications like Slingshot and articles like Molly’s (and “Seattle’s over dude “ by ISteve) give me hope.

P.S. I am writing this from Texas Death Row, where they have recently decreed that we will no longer even be allowed to have, to hold the naked beauty of humanity close to keep us warm at night — no longer (after June 1) will we be allowed to have nude or partially nude photos of our sweet hearts (were I so lucky!) I would encourage y’all not to forget your brothers and sisters behind these walls. Isolation chills humanity, and can kill humanity, unless you reach out and help.

—Karl Chamberlain #999241 Polunksy Unit, 3872 South FM 350, Livingston, TX 77351.

Bob Black

Dear Slingshot:

While I appreciate much of Bob Black’s writing, allow me to take issue with point number eleven of his theses on the “Anarchist Identity Crisis” (Slingshot #81) in which he states that “self-sacrifice is counter-revolutionary.”

On the contrary, it is conceivable that self-sacrifice could be a necessity in saving a revolutionary movement. For example, someone might have to jump overboard to save a sinking ship which is being chased by a fleet of fascist cyborg zombies. I doubt Bob would have much problem with this act of altruistic self-sacrifice if he was busy bailing and I doubt he would later remember the jumper as untrustworthy. It is the revolutionary altruist whom I would trust more than the egoist — one for all does not necessarily imply all for one. Furthermore, bob’s “disastrous act of benevolence” is a rather banal attempt at oxymoronic humor which, perhaps, betrays his idea. A terminally ill revolutionary could undertake a mission of self-sacrifice without taking anyone with him. And the action could be defended, if not supported, in solidarity.

—Fried Chicken, Rockford, IL

Fuck the Draft

We’re gonna need more than a peace vigil to counter the next wave of the war on terror. Congress is considering reviving the draft, and more of us than ever could be cannon fodder. As says the adage, things could get a lot worse before they get better.

Although alternative media have been talking about the draft since last year, corporate media haven’t uttered a syllable about the twin Senate and House bills waiting in committee for quiet passage. This is an election year, and Congress people know that voters don’t want their kids (or themselves!) killed.

It is shortsighted to believe that the comeback of Selective Service is due to our conquest of Iraq, though certainly it’s related. Plans have been underway since 1999 (before Bush & Co) to revise conscientious objector regulations, and draft boards are, again, being staffed. While we could be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan as peace keepers with automatic weapons, US corporations also need troops to ensure their domination of African, Southeast Asian and South American resources and markets.

Revisions to draft guidelines include the expansion of eligibility to all men and women ages 18-35. To minimize the classism felt so keenly in Vietnam, college students who are drafted will receive only a one semester deferment. Canada has agreed to turn back all potential émigrés thanks to border technology that connects our ID to SSS records. Technology systems like TIA-Total Information Awareness (see slingshot issue 77) will make it difficult for draft dodgers to access bank accounts, sign leases, get public assistance or apply for work. In fact, dodging may effectively make someone an undocumented resident.

Restrictions on conscientious objectors are more stringent than thirty years ago. Fewer people are likely to successfully lobby for alternative service. Maybe the government has learned from Israel, where generals comprise the CO review board and no one ever gets CO status.

The changes in guidelines will draw soldiers from a larger, more representative pool than the overt racism and classism of earlier drafts. As a feminist, I believe that men should not have to fight in wars, not that women deserve the same opportunity for slaughter. How, when we talk about equality, can it mean the equal chance of death, instead of equal opportunity for life? No one should be drafted. Everyone should resist.

Congress doesn’t care about the draft, at least partially, because so few of them have eligible family members. Under old regulations, fewer than 10 members had children eligible for service. Will W be sending his twins to the front line? Or will they, too, join the Texas National Guard and step on base only for dental appointments?

There is no such thing as benign military service. It is impossible to act with dignity while carrying a government issued weapon and following orders. People with genuine intentions travel with medical supplies and 50lb bags of rice, not rocket launchers. The Pentagon lies about the number of soldiers killed and the number of civilians slaughtered. Private contractors die, and are subject to no justice/penal systems because Geneva doesn’t cover them and Iraq has no civil systems. The torture which has plastered newspapers this spring is standard issue, brought over with American prison wardens. We’re more likely to start infecting Iraqis with Hepatitis C (rampant in US prisons) than democracy. The atrocities by civilian and military Americans are further proof that only the conquered are subject to laws and that our national subconscious is still racist and homophobic.

The wars fostered through this draft will only increase the cycle of civil war, arms dealing and natural resource extraction that has been so effectively used to impoverish the “Third World.” The profits of large corporations rest on cheap resources, and illegal profit from the big three markets: arms, drugs and labor (sex or sweatshop). And, we, if we become soldiers, will hold open the doors to their banquet halls.

The return of selective service would make a lot of anarchist lifestyles desirable. Gleaning–using what’s extra–squatting, diy food and clothes, discarding money, encouraging free skool learning and alternative travel all become necessary for anyone avoiding the draft board. Learn for yourself and teach your neighbors.

While the failure of a draft bill would surely make it easier for most of us to avoid death or murder for a while longer, the passage of SSS reinstatement could unify people of all demographics. Grandmothers make great radicals. We need to use this promise of death for American youth as common ground for radicalizing our communities. There is no courage in the mainstream left, but there is lots of room for organizing. We need solidarity against military recruiting in our high schools, against police and prison abuse, against complicit media and for stronger communities.

For “official” info on the draft, visit www.sss.gov. For info on conscientious objectors, visit www.objector.org.

Anarchist Voters’ Guide

I was talking to my brother on the telephone about how I might cast my vote, when he explained, “You can’t vote, you’re an anarchist.” When I started to object, he began lecturing me on how participating in elections was completely incompatible with the principles of Anarchism. As I began complaining about his shallow stereotypes, he revealed that he was only quoting me from perhaps a decade ago.

Yes, it’s true. I voted for Mr. Mondale in 1984, after Dr. Helen Caldicott explained on her lecture circuit that Reagan’s election would make accidental nuclear war a mathematical certainty because Reagan would deploy medium-range nuclear missiles in Western Europe. After the election, I learned that Mondale also supported the medium-range missiles.

Disillusioned, I didn’t vote again until 1997. In that year, there was a ballot initiative in California authorizing people to kill a lot of mountain lions. Although I don’t know any personally, I love cougars and rushed to the polls to offer my opinion on the issue. Since then I have not been strict on voting or not voting.

Ye Olde Anarchiste Party Lyne

As a whole, self-proclaimed anarchists claim, regardless of each individual’s personal capacity for compromise, to be much more averse to voting than the average person. But anarchists vote in the same numbers as everyone else, 30 to 40 per cent each time. Although there is a difference: normal people abstain out of despair, believing their vote won’t change anything, while anarchists vote out of despair, believing their grassroots social organizing isn’t changing anything.

I remember in 1992, Profane Existence proudly announced they were organizing a boycott of the presidential election because the candidates were virtually the same. Imagine if all, say, 10,000 copies of Profane Existence were read by twenty people and all of them obeyed the boycott (and 40% of them would have otherwise voted). Some eighty thousand people would have abstained, added their voices to the other seventy million eligible voters who didn’t bother. Wow.

I’m at least a little amazed at how so many anarchists who are doctrinaire about how voting is irrelevant put so much energy into condemning electoral participation. Might as well canvass a precinct. Late August this year, among the “million” protesters against the Republican National Convention, will be at least twenty thousand hard-core anarchists, gathered around Madison Square Garden to draw attention to the notion that the real power lies elsewhere. Some of the same people who say that voting is consenting to be governed, pay income tax but refuse food stamps on principle. What-ev.

The Bush Mystique

From Noam Chomsky on down, people feel it in their bones, that this election is a little different. The presidential election is one factor among many, but all-in-all two futures are in competition. Whether two billion humans die off mid-century, or five billion. Whether half a million species are extinguished, or two million. Whether I Steve works a shit job while cultivating an anarchist idealist self-image on the side, or actually has to really struggle to eat.

Before you say I’m totally cynical, I’d like to add that I believe anarchist revolution is possible. But it’s much easier to brutally overthrow a Green government, so we should aim to elect one in the medium future. In the meantime Kerry is a Republicrat. This was painfully clear when the Republican McCain was openly considered as a running mate. But Bush is not a Republicrat. He and his forty million followers are Trans-Republican Sub-Humans (TRaSH). Mutants that devour petroleum and lard, eating the planet, as both they and their cars become larger and larger.

It’s a fuck of a lot like Spain in 1936, when, disillusioned with the results of their abstinence in the previous election, the Anarchists voted for the Republicans (liberals) who won, triggering a fascist military coup. This was a time when Emma Goldman herself took the case to the Western “democracies,” arguing that the bourgeoisie states she had battled her whole life were way better than the looming Cthulu of trans-national fascism.

Now it would be unfair to equate Bush-era Republicans with mid-20th fascists. The Republicans have none of the imagination, urge to self-sacrifice, or spiritual depth that the traditional fascists had. But the comparison is still important; in compromising with liberals and authoritarian Socialists, the anarchists in Spain were swallowed by the former’s incompetence, bureaucracy, and treachery and the country was lost. How can we in America 2004 chart a different course?

A Short To-Do List

Anarchists, despite extreme cynicism about electoral politics, have always cast votes idealistically. What’s with the anarchists voting for Nader? A candidate who can’t win who epitomizes the ideal of an honorable candidate? We need to be like any other constituency; buy corrupt candidates who will serve our short-term conveniences, while we pursue our long-term solutions in grassroots bottom-up organizing. We should sponsor candidates who will pardon our locked-up friends, and have a contingency plan for if they betray us.

We can do this sort of organizing much better on the small scale. Fundamentalist wingnuts built their political base in the 80s by taking over school boards. A fringe group like anarchists can do the same. Imagine anarchist ideas introduced at the elementary school level on a massive scale. It’s not completely feasible to do something like this on a presidential scale uniting all the anarchists, where we all trade our votes for some agreed upon conditions. But perhaps we can unite around a few simple principles:

Vote against war: Selective apathy.

If a Republican president starts a big war, vote for the Democrat. If a Democrat starts a big war, don’t vote. Four hundred thousand anti-authoritarians saying, a big war might help sustain capitalism but it might cost you your job and your “legacy.”

Win or stay out: If voting could change the system it would be illegal. But manipulating the electorate can create change and often is illegal. Remember Prop. 21, the initiative to put California children in prison? No one was exited about sponsoring it, except they needed a “tough-on-crime” idea, and the voters weren’t psyched on it, except for being generally in favor of tough-on-crime initiatives. Easy target. Marxist sectarian groups took the issue to teenagers (who can’t vote, kinda like campaigning to owls for forest preservation), and declared victory when despite the initiative’s passage some youth joined their organizations. Anarchists did nothing except tailgate the Marxist campaigns so as to be generally against it. Couldn’t someone have bought a few TV ads, lamented the San Francisco Bay Guardian?

Support private guns: Despite the racist NRA propaganda, gun control is primarily intended to disarm people of color, developed after the Black Panthers occupied the California state legislature with weapons. 20th century genocide has been accomplished just fine with machetes when guns were unavailable, and we all know that America is hella violent because of endemic psycho-sexual sickness and not access to weapons, and even a non-violent anarchist revolution is easier without a government monopoly on firearms.

But the reason I bring this up is that ten-twenty million people vote TRaSH solely out of fear of being disarmed. As a Sierra Club newsletter lamented, all their environmental candidates lost because of real or perceived gun positions, while the Sierra Club takes no position on guns or hunting. Once we pressure all our progressive and liberal friends and family to accept that guns exist, the TRaSH will have no chance of election, and we can get back to fighting Republicrat sponsored globalization.

And fireworks: the fucking Green Party was sponsoring a municipal resolution to ban fireworks. Protect us, daddy! If you can’t trust me with a bottle-rocket how can you trust me with a vote?

Don’t worry, be happy: If I hear just a little more dirt I might change my mind, but right now I think it will be fun to push the Kerry button. If I get up before 8 PM. It might not matter because of the computerized voting system where it’s all fixed anyway, but it certainly won’t do any harm. And I’ll feel a little more aligned with the hundred million ordinary Americans, voters or not, who have no interest in conquering the world, even if Mr. Kerry isn’t one of them, and less like an elitist anarcho-snob.

Voting is fun. I greet the nice elders who work two days a year, and meet my neighbors. It’s like hitch-hiking, ya never know what random people from what walk of life you’ll run into. Though if it turns your stomach, don’t bother; it’s not worth it and it’s not important. Don’t hate me for my casual, thoughtless decision, and we’ll continue working together on our collective households, cooperative workplaces, and direct action affinity groups.

People’s Park History

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the creation of People’s Park in Berkeley, Calif.

At the start of 1969, the site that is now People’s Park was a dirt parking lot. The university had bought the property for new dorms in the mid-60s but then after demolishing the wood frame houses that had been on the lot (which had, coincidentally, formed a home base for many radicals which the UC Regents wanted out of Berkeley) the university never built the dorms. In the spring of 1969, after it had sat empty for some time and become an eyesore, community members decided to build a park on the lot. Building the park mobilized and energized many of the hippies, street people, activists and regular Berkeley citizens who participated. They were doing something for themselves, not for profit or bosses. Hundreds of people worked hard putting down sod, building a children’s play ground and planting trees. From the beginning the ideal was “user development”–the people building a park for themselves without university approval, planners, etc. Seizing the land from the university for legitimate public use was and is the spirit of the park.

After the initial construction on April 20, negotiations with the university over control of the park continued for about three weeks. For a while it looked like a settlement could be reached but suddenly the university stopped negotiating and in the early morning on May 15 moved police into the park. A rally protesting the fence was quickly organized on Sproul Plaza on the UC campus. In the middle of the rally, after a student leader said “lets go down and take the park,” police turned off the sound system. 6,000 people spontaneously began to march down Telegraph Ave. toward the park. They were met by 250 police with rifles and flack-jackets. Someone opened a fire hydrant. When the police moved into the crowd to shut off the hydrant, some rocks were thrown and the police retaliated by firing tear gas to disperse the crowd. An afternoon of chaos and violence followed. Sheriff’s deputies walked through the streets of Berkeley firing into crowds and at individuals with shotguns. At first they used birdshot but when that ran out, they switched to double-0 buckshot. 128 people were admitted to hospitals that day, mostly with gunshot wounds. James Rector, a spectator on a roof on Telegraph Ave., was shot and died of his wounds a few days later. The day after the shootings, 3000 National Guard troops were sent by then Governor Reagan to occupy Berkeley. A curfew was imposed and a ban on public assembly was put into force. Mass demonstrations continued and were met with teargas and violence by the police. 15 days after the park was fenced, 30,000 people marched peacefully to the park, and active rebellion against the fence subsided. The fence stayed up.

During the summer of 1969 on Bastille day protesters marched from Ho Chi Minh (Willard) park to People’s Park. Organizers had baked wire clippers into loaves of bread and lo and behold–the fence was down. Police attacked and a riot ensued. The fence was rebuilt and didn’t finally come down until 1972. In Early May, President Nixon announced the mining of North Vietnamese ports. The same night as his announcement, a hastily-called candlelight march in Ho Chi-Minh Park, starting with only 200-300 people, grew into thousands as they marched through Berkeley. During the night, people tore down the fence around People’s Park with their bare hands, a police car was burned and skirmishing with police lasted into the wee hours

In 1980, the university put asphalt over the free parking lot at People’s Park to turn it into a Fee parking lot. Students and others occupied the ground and began to rip up the pavement. After a week of confrontations between students and police, the university let the issue drop and the pavement was used to build the garden at the west end of the park. During the late 1980s the university employed a subtle strategy to again try to retake People’s Park. Community efforts to make improvements in the park, such as installing bathrooms, were met with police and bulldozers, while police, through constant harassment elsewhere, forced drug dealers to do their business in the park. These tactics continue today. In 1990 and 1991, the City of Berkeley negotiated a deal with the university to “save the park” by “cleaning it up.” The university agreed not to construct dorms on the land if sports facilities were constructed and the character of the park was changed. By this time, the park was being used to provide services to the growing number of homeless in the Southside area including free meals and a free box for clothes. The park continued to serve as a meeting place for activists and as a forum for political events and free concerts. It became clear that “cleaning up the park” meant eliminating freaks and the homeless. On July 28, 1991, the university again put up a fence at the Park so that it could construct a volleyball court there, part of the “cleanup” plan. During protests that followed, police fired wooden and rubber bullets at fleeing demonstrators every night for 3 nights in a row. Hundreds of police occupied Berkeley. All the while, construction continued on the volleyball courts, which were eventually completed. The Courts stood, despite constant protests and vandalism, from 1991 to 1997, when they were finally removed by the university due to complete non-use. As the Park celebrates its 35th Birthday, volunteers continue “user development” of the Park as they use the wood which once formed the hated volleyball courts to build an entrance trellis to the Park, complete with flowers.

Reclaim the Commons 35 Years Later

Dateline Berkeley

With the war and invasion of Iraq there is a chance for people to get out in the streets and air their grievances of living in the world today. But all too often the large protests(any sponsored by ANSWER for example) do not allow for the participants to do much there or when they go home. This was the impetus to change the yearly People’s Park festival. It being the 35th anniversary it is evident the park has weathered the quick and nowhere changes of America. What has definitely changed is how completely Americans and the people worldwide indoctrinated into industrial/capitalist culture are being shut apart from one another. The seen & unseen controls that define how popular culture gathers and exchanges information are taken as a given, though living this way has created irreversible by-products. No one wants me to go into the pros and cons of cellphones, factory farming, landlords, global trade, cars, tv shows (reality or what not) and other so called advancements in our landscape and lives. Alternative culture that the creation of the park once boldly took a stand for seems to exist simultaneously next to an insane capitalist one. The crown achievement of modern life is the absurd amount of time invested in hustling money. This is a factor in how less and less people are spending downtime in public even though there are more of us alive than ever. The chance encounters that once defined the commons have changed with what we are told is popular culture. And nowhere is safe be it Bangkok, Berkeley, or what have you. The Bay Area underground once documented in comics and rock bands, in university journals or fanzines, are not what play out in the streets in 2004. The fact that we haven’t seen much printed or said from the street perspective is another factor in how the park feels these days.

The anniversary went well but i would like to say something of the planning process that helped make it happen. There was the run of the mill boring meeting details that went on once a week speckled with some controversy. What wasn’t clear was getting the core group to run with the idea of stopping the entertainment and the speakers on stage to get people to intermingle and host a modest dozen workshops. Our motivating concern was to stop the spectacle of the stage and unidirectional communication. Some of us felt it wouldn’t go off well. Admittingy how many people will go off on a plant walk? or to a talk on prostitutes rights? to a poetry circle? and how many fucking times do we only hear of radical liberations of the 60’s? The skeptics thought at best we were experimenting with the program.

The day itself was laconic at first with a hint of feeling bleak. By one thirty a modest sized crowd was witness to what Berkeley can expect from a publicized day at the park. That is some token Native Americans drumming on stage with a ceremonial procession of the audience holding hands spiraling alongside the naked activists(they were the controversy during the planing meetings). Then followed by the name says it all band…Funky Nixons.Thankfully people were not scarred away. When the sound was turned off for the workshops there was a large crowd. Some people watched skaters. Some went a block away to the free speech mike. Albany’s punk rock band SCA played after crusty punk kids tiraded how yuppies and shoppers are ruining Berkeley and the world. And of course the workshops got a few people to talk and create connections. From what I could tell it went well, it was quite a scene to walk through the park and see every 10 feet something different going on.

During our planning process I noticed what I consider a victory. At the meetings preceding the festival people would hang around after the official business was discussed. We would talk of the issues going on, the suffering that hits home, current events and entertainment and just gossip. It is the way humans and culture has spent its time under the sun. And when the sound got shut off after Fleshies played, people hung out in the park. Normally they would leave, instead countless people lingered , all of them doing their own thing. I also think its worth saying is that i’m impressed by the example how a little effort by a group of people goes along way in making something like this happen. And i view it as a liberation not acknowledging the boundaries that say the ground is owned by a place called america.

Post Script

A couple weeks after the celebration somebody’s version of user friendly meant setting the freebox on fire. This is viewed as a slap in the face by a broad range of people and so far has been treated as such. With calm dignity a group of folks have set to rebuild it.

Youth Takeover Conference Not State Sanctioned

When funders of the spring activist conference for high school students in Petaluma, CA, mandated that presenters represent all points of the political spectrum, two of the student organizers left and made their own gathering. Hosted at the Phoenix Theatre, about 40 people from around the Bay gathered to share and learn skills. Slingshot was there to table and I got to meet lots of great people!

If you’ve never had reason to visit Petaluma, the Phoenix is definitely a high point. Once a playhouse, the space has been gutted (all the floor seats are gone) and repainted with graffiti and murals. Skate ramps line the walls, and angsty, youthful scrawlings cover the bathroom walls. It was, simply, the perfect place to gather punks and other young radicals.

The conference lived up to its location. After a breakfast from Food Not Bombs, the organizers outlined the day and everyone introduced themselves. The crowd was small enough to be personal, but also a good turn out. The day hosted about a dozen workshops on a variety of topics. Presenters came from Berkeley copwatch, Santa Rosa FNB, Project Censored, the local feminist club, gun control supporters, and students against GMO’d food. The knowledge in the crowd collectively was quite impressive. Besides workshops, there were also activist groups tabling and a radical, portable bookstore. I definitely left feeling confident that a few people, a good idea and a little bit of food can bring people together.

A Look at Nothing: the politics of possession

As anarchists, we all hate capitalism and we all want to do away with traditional property relations. We all want to change in some pretty fundamental ways how we relate with†the material world and among one another. I figured that it would probably help to make some clear distinctions between the different alternatives to traditional property relations that are out there. If we want to live and experience a way of living and organizing that is very radically different, I think that being quite clear, articulate and up-front about what exactly we would like to see can go a long way. So, here are some of the different alternatives that I see out there that we could explore. This is not a definitive exposition, just an initial volley to get us started in explicitly thinking about how we would like to relate outside of traditional property relations. All of these are not only approaches that society can use after a massive anti-capitalist revolution, they are also practices that we can to some extent apply to our own lives right now.

Gift Economy – This is the notion that when the need arises, people will spontaneously contribute “gifts” towards the end of getting something accomplished (acquiring sustenance, giving one’s labor, paying rent, etc.). Behind this concept is still an entrenched and unexamined notion of property. Logically speaking, in order to give a gift one needs to own something to give first. Gift economy then boils down to a different more informal form of charity work and humanitarian aid to others. It is the unconditioned transferring of ownership of something over to another person.

Sharing – Sharing is basically on one’s own initiative expanding the sphere of those who access and use a certain resource without expecting any compensation in return. For example, if you owned and were eating a sandwich, a hungry person with no food came along, and you let them eat the sandwich along with you, then that would be an example of sharing. It is expanding the field of use, but not the field of control, within a relationship of ownership.

Collective Ownership – This is the concept that a certain group of people has equal or cumulative ultimate say over how certain resources are used. It is shared control, but not necessarily shared access. It is a concept of property where certain people have ultimate say over it together.

Partnership – This is a concept of both shared control and shared use taking place within a context of property relations. In the business world this takes place in the form of “business partners”, in romantic relations the term “partner” usually connotes such a relation taking place in regards to material objects, and the less-than-revolutionary nature of most of the talk about the “partnership paradigm”(by authors like Raine Eisler, Daniel Quinn, Marshall Rosenberg, etc.) seems to hold such a notion as well, that is, still maintaining property relations but in this new form.

Stealing – This is a transferring over of ownership of something against the will of one of those involved. The concept of property relations is maintained, it is just that this is an instance of disruption of the code of conduct surrounding how property relations are to take place in a civil and respectful manner.

Natural Giving – This concept/phrase is one that I first came across in the work of Marshall Rosenberg, the originator of Nonviolent Communication. The concept is that when people have all their fundamental†needs met, they engage in “natural giving”, that is, joyfully contributing towards the well-being of others without keeping tallies or expecting anything in return. The theory goes that this is the natural state of people, and that through the rise of Domination systems and life-alienating thought processes humanity became educated out of engaging in this way of acting.

In many ways ”natural giving” dove-tails with the famous anarchist theorist Peter Kropotkin’s notion of Mutual Aid, that is, humanity being programmed in it’s very intrinsic nature to naturally help one another out and support each other in order to continue to get people’s needs met and survive as a species. Natural giving is a needs-based form of compassionate action that does not necessarily have to exist within a paradigm of “ownership”.

Non-Possession – More than anything, this is a personal attitude and approach to life that an individual can take towards the world. This concept dove-tails with the Buddhist concept of “non-attachment” in that one is not attached to considering other objects, or people, “theirs”.

Likewise, this concept also crosses over with polyamory as well, seeing “possession” and “possessiveness” as essentially being the same fundamental experience and internal process.

Thirdly, I see this view as also having ties with what the author Frederick Mann calls EF-Prime. EF-Prime is an approach/belief that we distract ourselves from factual reality with different stories of authority, conformity and obedience to collective abstractions – that essentially what we call the “government” is in actuality a mass psychosis that millions of people are experiencing together, and playing off each other with, all at once. Non-possession does not recognize any invisible lines or chains between people and objects or other people – each is taken in, appreciated and respected in it’s full uniqueness and individuality while not being statically tied to anything else.

I personally hold the most affinity with this last concept, what I call “Non-possession”. I see this as being the approach that is the most deeply, genuinely and fully liberatory and authentic. I also see it as in many ways opening the door for an anarchic spiritual journey as well, if one were inclined to take such paths.

I see the concepts of “natural giving” and “mutual aid” as being approaches that could potentially be seamlessly integrated with that of “non-possession”. “Non-possession” could be seen as one’s internal, personal approach to life whereas the other two are what happens in interpersonal relations.

All the other alternatives to traditional property relations, to me, just do not have the kind of expansive freedom, choice, flexibility, and variety of possibilities that I see the natural giving and non-possession approaches as offering. All the other forms I see as either as being dependant upon the happenstance “generosity” of others, is chained into the obligation of asking for permission before-hand, or is based on a profound alienation between people. With both natural giving and non-possession, one in some sense “has to” understand one another in a profound way simply in order to live. When the illusions come off, what it really means to “live” becomes very clear.