Category Archives: Summer 2005 (6/9/05)

Liquify the cone of power

Progressive and radical thinkers conventionally regard the structures of power as a monolith. The metaphor of resistance imagines a massive force — the collective army of market incentives, state power and social norms — arrayed against a disorganized, disenfranchised and intimidated populace. According to the conventional metaphor, a resistance must be radicalized, assembled and organized in a counter-force sufficiently powerful to overwhelm the colossal momentum of the status quo. This metaphor of resistance, though it calls itself a rejection of the monolith, actually embraces a monolithic strategy. It arrays a new, revolutionary monolith against an old, reactionary one. We cannot build a qualitatively different future if we allow ourselves to be governed by conventional metaphors based on overwhelming force.

I propose a fairly simple and straightforward alternative metaphor — a pyramid or, more accurately perhaps, a cone. In this metaphor, a tiny elite concentrates its power at the head of the cone, supported by a larger though rather less powerful industrial middle class, which in turn rests atop the massively large and vastly less powerful multitude. Unlike the monolith metaphor, this alternative intermingles the oppressed and the oppressors in the same structure, with the flow of power depending as much on the complicity of the masses to release their power upward as on the demands of the elite to appropriate this power.

The powerful monolith of the conventional model is represented in the proposed metaphor by the energy of markets, state and social norms to maintain society’s conical shape. This shape is maintained not by a monolithic force from outside the cone shoving the masses into place, but by a complex system of incentives and threats that operates within the cone, compelling people at all levels of the structure to comply with its requirements. Maintenance of shape holds the highest importance for the elite because the lower strata of the cone serve as the foundation for their advantage. Shapeliness, in this metaphor, becomes the leading political and economic imperative.

Activism

In the conical metaphor, the tactics of activism change dramatically from those suggested by the opposing-monoliths metaphor. In the cone, it is clear that elites and the masses are not opposing forces, but interdependent. Elites depend on the appropriation, or “suck,” of power from the base; and the masses are caught in a dependence on the conical structure itself to provide their work, salary and defense, plus whatever other perks (if any) their station in the cone allows. Over the past three centuries there has been a distinct evolution from the enforcement of this appropriation of power by overt force to a system that has won the multitudes’ voluntary complicity. Cynically, one might describe modern capitalist democracy merely as the elite’s most subtle — and perhaps most effective — means of power appropriation yet devised.

Rather than monolithic, the proposed metaphor depicts the multitudes’ surrender of power as extraordinarily diffuse, occurring at every juncture in the fabric of social relations throughout the body of the cone. This suggests an equally diffuse strategy for social change. Such a strategy would have two components: first, the negative act of not complying with the conical imperative to push one’s power upward through the structure; and second, the positive act of circulating one’s power locally and non-hierarchically.

The failure to comply with the appropriation of power by the elite systemically weakens the conical structure by undermining its shapeliness. The shape of the cone is defined by the consistently upward direction of power. When that direction is subverted, the cone loses its sharpness of definition and begins to ooze at the points where power is no longer flowing upwardly — a threat to elites because they depend on the cone’s structural integrity to remain so heavily at its head. Some seepage of power within the cone is, of course, inevitable. Elites recognize that the system isn’t perfectly efficient and have a certain degree of tolerance for seepage. But if activists succeed in subverting the appropriation of power more broadly, they will eventually attract the angry glare of elites who will use force to stiffen the gooey points within the conical structure that threaten to undermine it.

In addition to cutting off the upward flow of power, the reservoirs of power thus conserved can be used to create and maintain an alternative social infrastructure — the training ground for building the skills of utopian life, and experimental models for “post-revolutionary” institutions. Within modern constitutional guarantees, at least in the developed West, most of the alternative structures are perfectly legal. But, as the seepage of power becomes of increasing concern to elites, a crackdown on non-conical institutions can be expected, and constitutional guarantees denied.

But even before alarm bells start ringing in the elite’s war-room activists incur a fairly substantial opportunity cost. By refusing to cooperate with the conical structure, activists deny themselves whatever upward mobility the structure might otherwise have provided. And in doing so, they violate many social norms. This pressure, a strong feature of the conical design, has a profound destabilizing effect on activist culture, consistently weakening and foreshortening the resolve of individual activists to persist in their work. This explains why activism becomes merely a “phase” for many, or gradually morphs into increasingly mainstream (and therefore conical) activities.

As the movement for radical social change approaches its objective, the price of remaining active in the movement rises. The strategic function of raising the price, from the elite’s perspective, is to draw activists into a battle of force, a battle social movements are bound to lose most of the time. But even when those movements prevail, their reliance on force to achieve power invariably characterizes their subsequent management of power — yet again, one elite merely supplants another. One might conclude from this consistent pattern in human history that liberatory movements are undermined to the extent that they rely on force to win their objective. If this principle is basically true, as I believe history demonstrates, then activists must find strategies for social change that remain non-complicit with the paradigm of force, even — especially — as the intensity of the state’s violence rises to an unbearable pitch.

Anarchy and Non-Violence

There are two kinds of anarchism, one that is negative and absurd (which I call nihilistic anarchism), and another that represents the highest possible standard of freedom and justice (idealistic anarchism). Nihilistic anarchism, which focuses exclusively on the destruction of the status quo, tends toward violence, while idealistic anarchism focuses on developing the tools, models and strategies for a liberatory society, and tends strongly away from violence. Gandhian non-violence, for instance, unfolded completely, is utterly anarchic in the best sense.

The essence of anarchism lies in the ideal of a non-hierarchical distribution of power — that is, a society where power is not concentrated vertically (as in the cone) but dispersed horizontally and shared freely by all. While this vision often meets with ridicule for its uncompromising idealism, I believe it actually represents the direction toward which human history has always tended and will — given sufficient time — increasingly approach. What’s more, anarchism defines purely how to live beautifully today, no matter how unlikely the realization of a beautiful society may be tomorrow.

Paradoxically perhaps, I would suggest that anarchism is not itself an ideal, but a strategy for approaching a mostly and necessarily undefined ideal. Anarchism is a way of moving through one’s life, and of moving through history. It represents the political expression of the genius and diversity of human community. Understood in this way, anarchism is the opposite of violence, and provides the principle of non-complicity with force that liberatory movements need in order to overcome the pressure of the conical structure to fight force with force.

Strictly speaking, anarchism is not a movement, either (though, in a broad sense, it’s sometimes useful to speak of it that way) — unless we’re very careful, the language of ‘movement’ taps into the metaphor of opposing monoliths. The anarchic principle might better be described as a contagious tendency toward non-complicity with hierarchies of power, spontaneously expressed and uniquely defined according the specific, local exigencies of the moment. While nothing in anarchism precludes the development of institutions, planning or strategy, its leading characteristic rightly remains a strong sense of local self-determination.

In a fundamental way, the anarchic impulse is not one of struggle (to fight against) but one of relaxation. Ooze in conical lines of power represents a reduction in the effort of pushing. The cone actually relaxes to a degree, much to the anal-retentive horror of elites. But this relaxation cannot under any circumstances be commanded or imposed, for obvious reasons. The anarchic principle suggests instead a dual strategy of modeling non-complicit sharing of power, and inspiring the multitude to imagine a different kind of life. Illuminated by compelling models and inspired idealism, alternative structures can be designed, tested and improved in a diffuse and broadly participatory way.

The relaxation of complicity provides an elusively simple response to power’s effort to match force with force. The more force elites apply to the gooey zones of the relaxing cone (in hopes to stiffen it to a more exploitable shape), the more one should relax. In graphic terms, this means that the flow of power being diverted and circulated non-hierarchically should rarely be concentrated to resist the opposing force of the state, but instead further diffused and more-broadly circulated. In practical terms, we can best respond to efforts by elites to arrest, terrorize and militarize activists by draining resources from the points of conflict established by the state and redirecting them into alternative structures. In short, when power is liquid it can flow toward the common good; only when solid can it be co-opted along a vertical, hierarchical axis. So, when I speak of relaxation I am not suggesting any kind of passivity, but an intensely active, imaginative and collaborative flow of energy. I am referring to a relaxation of form, not action. Just as rivers conquer mountains, there is nothing weak or ineffectual about a liquid erosion of oppressive power structures.

Admittedly, this strategy becomes increasingly difficult as the state devotes more and more resources to provoking a violent confrontation. This suggests an extremely unfortunate but, I think, inviolable rule: if a social movement cannot withstand the intensity of violence from elites long enough to replace those elites non-violently, the movement is probably not sufficiently mature to achieve its stated ends.

The struggle-by-relaxation is necessarily iterative. With each attempt, both sides become savvier about methods and consequences. This iterative process could repeat any number of times (as it has on a smaller scale already). But another dynamic will eventually overtake it. Looking long over the past centuries and millennia, the advancing march of this new dynamic can be clearly detected, and it represents the promise of the human experiment. It may be described as the dawning understanding that the oppressed masses actually possess greater power than elites. This is the dynamic of collectivization.

In terms of the conical metaphor, collective power (as opposed to individual power) is represented by the volume of the shape of power. In the massive global cone, obviously the vast majority of volume resides toward the base. Once the people who are represented closer to this base fully grasp their collective power, as opposed to the illusory upward mobility promised but denied by elites, not only will they refuse to yield their power to those elites, but they will collectivize their power on a horizontal basis.

Historically, the first ascendant impulse is to the vertical consolidation of power, where the individual’s ambition trumps the common good. Only later, as it happens, does the second impulse to horizontal sharing of power, where the common good is harmonized with individual aspirations, gain ascendancy. Consolidation comes first because it requires no wisdom; sharing comes second because wisdom combined with experience reveals that everyone is much better off in a cooperative rather than competitive society.

The Revolutionary Impulse

The opposing-monoliths metaphor, the paradigm of force, inspires a lot of talk about revolution. But revolutions, so far, have turned out merely to revolve the cast of characters doing the oppressing and being oppressed. As the proposed metaphor suggests, the more hopeful and realistic path toward a just and free society is probably both evolutionary and, in a limited sense, inevitable. The function of activism, therefore, is not to foment a forceful radicalism but precisely to engender radical non-force; to unleash into political space a creative, liberatory impulse that is already latent and burgeoning. This is, of course, a kind of revolution. But perhaps it might better be described as an anti-revolution — the relaxation of forceful intent, and the nurturing of an organic and authentic relationship to power.

It’s an extraordinary claim to suggest, as I have, that society is inherently utopic. This flies against the dominant strain of cynicism that has captured and paralyzed most of us. We tend to see history making exactly the opposite case — that power always tends toward greater consolidation, and that history merely repeats this pattern over and over again. This encourages, I fear, a violent approach to our radicalism and utopic dreams, because we feel compelled to impose progress on a resistant world. But this compunction is ultimately neither necessary nor fruitful. I suggest we trust that history favors the multitude. Our task is not to reverse its tide, but to learn how to ride its currents more skillfully.

When we approach our activism in this spirit it becomes clear that utopia isn’t locked in some distant future. It happens right now. Utopia ignites in the imagination, and unfolds in the ways of life pursued by those who imagine utopically. It is utopic to withhold power from the upward flow of the conical structure, and utopic to circulate that power horizontally in your neighborhood and community. While this work may seem, in the short-term, to make negligible difference in the lives of the billions of oppressed, in addition to transforming the few it touches directly, our utopic activism opens up myriad worlds of possibility, hastening a brighter future for all.

Interview with Navy Resistor PABLO PAREDES

Navy Petty Officer Pablo Paredes became the first member of the Navy to refuse to fight in the Iraq war when he refused to board a Navy ship bound for Iraq in December. Pablo tried to submit a conscientious objector (CO) application, but it was dismissed as not meeting proper criteria, leaving Pablo vulnerable to prosecution.

He was convicted by a military court martial May 11 but received a lighter sentence than expected: two months restriction, three months hard labor without confinement, and reduction in rank to E-1. The prosecution had asked for three times as much hard labor.

During sentencing Paredes was permitted to explain his reasons for refusing to participate in the Iraq war: “I am guilty of believing this war is illegal. I’m guilty of believing war in all forms is immoral and useless, and I am guilty of believing that as a service member I have a duty to refuse to participate in this war because it is illegal.” He introduced expert testimony showing that the war was illegal because it was not in self-defense or authorized by the United Nations.

Prosecutor Lt. Brandon Hale commented that Paredes “is trying to infect the military with his own philosophy of disobedience. Sailors all over the world will want to know whether this will be tolerated. Sailors want to know whether doing what he did is a good way to get out of deployment.”

I interviewed Pablo by email on May 6, 2005.

Kirsten: This was a very courageous move. What did you do the night before this action?

Pablo: I just kept it very simple. A few friends and an early night. I spoke with my wife over the phone for hours and hours, and got very little sleep. I guess it all happened too fast to prepare adequately.

How did you weigh out these choices? How did you finally decide to take action and to let your conscience trump your fears?

Well it was very spontaneous. One moment we were discussing irrational ways to get kicked out of the military, like drugs or injuries (self induced) when in the mix of all that, a calm and collected e-mail from a good friend in Japan changed everything. My friend said ever so innocently, and with no idea it would be an eye opening comment, “Why don’t you just refuse to go?” This was such a simple solution to a very complex problem, but often times that’s the best way to go. At the root of everything, I didn’t want to; I refused to take part in this illegal and immoral war and why not just say so and forget all the outlandish ideas that don’t address the root of the matter.

Did anyone else’s courage help inspire you in this act?

I have been inspired after the fact by people like Camilo Mejia and Carl Webb, but at the time I was not familiar with their situations. I don’t know how to explain it, but it wasn’t a scary moment, it was an opportunity. After four and a half in, and being at a point in my life where my beliefs and values were completely incompatible with military service, I was looking for an event like this to act on my conscience and not against it as I’d been doing for some time now. So in some ways it was liberating, it let me make some sacrifices that cleared my conscience of the stain that assisting our armed forces in the cause of war had put on it. I felt like I was doing a sort of penance. When my mother confessed at church (she’s Catholic), she’d always come back feeling like her conscience was clean and a weight had been lifted off of her shoulders. That is what I felt.

In some reports I read, you say a stay in Japan recently changed many of your views in life. I wondered if you could expand on that?

Japan today, is a very good place to compare to the US — in many ways to think critically about our state of affairs. It is a mirror economy and yet there are stark differences. In Japan homelessness is insignificant in comparison to the US. Crime is also minimal in comparison. In Japan the moral values that most people harbor, though more agnostic than we tend to think of ourselves in the states, are very strong. The culture values life, not just in rhetoric but in action. It is more obvious in their defense forces which can not be used for attack, or in their push for the Kyoto Protocol. But specifically what changed me most about Japan is the nationally accepted idea of personal responsibility to the whole. It sounds very simple and it is but it does not exist as social doctrine in the states, we tend to be more about accountability to ourselves. In Japan every one from the guy that packs your meat at the supermarket to your auto salesman are committed to excellence and treat the customer like the boss. This makes certain things work so well. I reflected on this social doctrine and how humanity could be if it were internationally accepted. This is the root of my objection to war. It’s understanding how I am part of a human race that each member of which must work for its success and not in opposition to it. War is the ultimate example and expression of opposition to humanity.

Have any of your friends died in the Iraq war?

No, I am a Navy sailor and spent most of my days in a small ship that did not have much to do with the current aggression. No one I know, nor friends of friends have died in Iraq, but it doesn’t take that to realize how wrong this war is. I had a very safe job in the Navy. It consisted of maintenance and troubleshooting of a missile system. A missile system that has never in the 30 + years our navy has had it been used in a conflict. The current aggression does not use navy war vessels for anything more than cargo ships, realistically this is not a naval battle. I say this to emphasize the safety of someone doing my job, and to explain that my actions had not a thing to do with fear. I did what I did because it will take folks in safe cushy places to resist to bring this war to an end. When our politicians who never see the real images of war decide to resist and act on conscience not money and politics, then the killing will stop.

I see some reports say you were denied CO status partially because you made public statements to the media saying you are not opposed to all wars, but did oppose the Iraq war. Did you understand before you made those comments the distinction between an objection to all wars and an objection to a specific war, as it applied to CO status? In light of your CO experiences, what advice would you give others who are considering refusal to fight and/or are applying for CO status?

I never said I am not opposed to all war, I most certainly am. What the military has done is edit a few media excerpts into making such a case. For example, in one interview I spoke of how politically Afghanistan made more sense than Iraq, I never approved of the attacks on Afghanistan, I was merely expressing how ridiculous, even politically, the invasion/occupation of Iraq is. I encourage every service member to ask him/herself what is in their conscience and to act on it. If that means filing for CO then do so, if it means business as usual then who am I to judge?

I would encourage anyone who is planning to file for CO to seek counseling from the GI Rights Hotline (girights.objector.org or call (800) 394-9544). First, the system is rigged for you to shoot yourself in the foot in applying for CO so if you don’t have counsel you will do exactly that, even then it is not easy to get approved.

What advice would you give to others considering joining the military?

Become very informed, and consider the source of your information. Ask yourself ‘what if the US invaded my mother’s or father’s home country? Do I want to give up my right to speak out against unjust war? There are millions of questions, and actions one should consider before joining, but unfortunately they sign you up at 18 and 17 when you are most likely to not ask those questions.

Do you feel you are being used as an example and that other soldiers are watching you and your case to decide if they should risk following their conscience and refusing to fight the Iraq war? How does That responsibility feel?

I am sure the Navy is aware I am the first Navy resister and in some ways that makes me an example. As far as other military members, I don’t encourage anyone to do what I did, it was my decision, it did not come from pressure, and so no one else should be pressured into such a decision. I would actually encourage people whose conscience is troubling them to seek CO. Imagine if half the military thought it out and filed a CO claim, there would be no illegal action, no one in jail, but it would definitely have an effect. If you think War is wrong, then you would be ill-advised not to consider CO an option.

Now that you’ve taken these actions, what are your future plans?

I take it one day at a time. I hope to teach at the university level one day, and I want to travel very much.

How has this experience made you feel about America and “freedom?”

I really hate borders, they do nothing but what they are designed to do and that is divide people. Freedom is a beautiful word but we know nothing of it, we speak of freedom in the context that our government allows us to, that in itself is not freedom. Two years ago freedom meant checking out books in a library with no one investigating you, not anymore. Lawyers used to call it freedom to represent their clients without fear, after Lynn Stuart that has changed. Freedom is freedom always; if it’s constantly redefined it never was freedom.

Your impending court martial must be terribly frightening. How do you handle the stress so as not to just fall apart?

I keep very active. I have been involved in so much since I took my stand, from forums to anti-recruitment, to March 19th protests, that it is hard to stop and realize the severity of the situation. Also, I want to keep grounded and know that as long as people like Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier, and history with people like Nelson Mandela, provide me with role models who really faced persecution for their beliefs, then my cross is very small to carry.

In a best case scenario, what do you hope to accomplish through your actions?

End the War and Occupation in Iraq, and move only forward from there. Kind of ambitious, right?

What have you learned from this?

I’ve learned that individuals can make a big difference.

Check out: www.kirstenanderberg.com

Contra La Pared: Pablo Paredes Resistir La Guerra

El oficial en activo del ejército naval (Navy), Pablo Paredes, se convirtió en el primer miembro de la Navy de negarse a pelear en la guerra en Irak cuando se negó a abordar un barco de la Navy que se dirigÍa a Irak en diciembre. Pablo trató de obtener una solicitud de “conscientious objector” (negarse a participar por razones políticas o religiosas), pero se lo negaron por no cuplir con los criterios, dejando a Pablo vulnerable a la persecucion legal.

El 11 de mayo lo sentenciaron en una corte marcial militar pero recibió una sentencia menor de lo que esperaba: dos meses de restricción, tres meses de trabajo pesado sin estar confinado y reducción de su rango a E-1. La acusasión había pedido el triple de trabajo pesado.

Durante la sentencia de Paredes se le permitió explicar sus razones por las que se negó a participar en la guerra de Irak: “soy culpable de creer que esta guerra es ilegal. Soy culpable por creer que la guerra en todas sus formas es inmoral y vana, y soy culpable por creer que como miembro del servicio tengo la obligacion de negarme a participar en esta guerra por ser ilegal. Hizo referencia a testimonios de expertos que muestran que la guerra es ilegal porque no fue en defensa propia o autorizada por Naciones Unidas.

La parte acusadora, Teniente Brandon Hale comentó que Paredes “está tratando de infectar al ejercito con su propia filosofía de la desobediencia. Los marinos de todo el mundo van a querer saber si esto va a ser tolerado. Los marinos quieren saber si hacer lo que el hizo es una buena manera de evitar que los envíen a la guerra.”

Entrevista a Pablo vía e-mail el 6 de mayo, 2005.

Kristen: Lo que hiciste toma mucho valor. ¿Qué hiciste la noche anterior a esta acción?

Pablo: Me la tomé muy tranquilo. Vi a unos cuantos amigos y me acosté temprano. Hablé con mi esposa en el teléfono durante horas y horas, y dormí muy poco. Supongo que todo sucedió demasiado rápido para prepararme adecuadamente.

¿Cómo tomaste estas decisiones? ¿Cómo llegaste a la decisión de tomar acción y dejar que tu conciencia triunfara sobre tus temores?

Bueno, fue espontáneo. Un momento estábamos discutiendo sobre maneras irracionales de ser expulsado del ejército, como drogas o heridas (hechas personalmente) cuando enmedio de todo esto, un e-mail que me mandó un amigo desde Japón cambió todo. Mi amigo lo dijo inocentemente y sin saber que sería un comentario que me abriría los ojos: “¿por qué no te niegas a ir?” Es una solución demasiado simple a un problema muy complejo, pero casi siempre es la mejor manera de actuar. En el fondo yo no quería. Me negaba a participar en esta guerra ilegal e inmoral, así que por qué no decirlo y olvidarme de todas las ideas ridículas que ignoran la raíz del problema.

¿El valor de alguien más te sirvió de inspiración para actuar así?

Me han inspirado personas como Camilo Mejía y Carl Webb después de los hechos, pero en esos momentos yo no estaba familiarizado con sus situaciones. No sé cómo explicarlo, pero nó fue un momento de temor, fue una oportunidad. Después de cuatro anos y medio, en un momento de mi vida en donde mis creencias y valores eran completamente incompatibles con el servicio militar, estaba esperando un momento como este para seguir mis convicciones y no de ellas, como lo había estado haciendo durante un tiempo. Así que de alguna manera fue liberador, me permitió hacer algunos sacrificios que limpiaron mi concienca de la mancha que me había dejado ayudar a nuestras fuerzas armadas en la causa bélica. Cuando mi madre se confesaba en la iglesia (ella es católica) siempre regresaba sintiendo que su conciencia estaba limpia y que le habían quitado un peso de encima. Así me sentí.

¿En algunos reportages que leí, decías que una estancia en Japón recientemente cambió tu visión del mundo de muchas maneras. Me pregunto si puedes hablar sobre esto.

En la actualidad Japón es un buen lugar para comparar con Estados Unidos, de muchas maneras y para pensar critícamente sobre nuestra situación. Es una economía similar, pero hay diferencias muy notorias. En Japón el número de personas sin casa es insignificante comparado con Estados Unidos. Los niveles de criminalidad también son mínimos en comparación. En Japón los valores morales de la mayoría, aunque más agnósticos de lo que nos gusta pensar de nosotros mismos en Estados Unidos, son muy fuertes. Los valores culturales de la vida, no sólo en la retórica sino en la acción. Es más obvio en sus fuerzas de defensa, que no pueden ser usadas para atacar, o para promover el Protocolo de Kyoto. Pero espefícamente lo que más me impactó sobre Japón es la idea aceptada a nivel nacional de la responsabilidad personal sobre la totalidad. Suena muy sencillo y lo es, pero no existe como doctrina social en Estados Unidos, donde tendemos más a hacernos responsables de nosotros mismos. En Japón todos, desde el que empaca la comida en el supermercado, hasta el vendedor de automóviles, están comprometidos con la excelencia y con tratar al cliente como jefe. Esto hace que algunas cosas funcionen muy bien. Yo reflexioné sobre esta doctrina social y sobre como sería la humanidad si fuera aceptada internacionalmente. Esta es la raíz de mi objeción a la guerra. Es parte del entendimiento de que si soy parte de la humanidad en donde cada miembro tiene que trabajar para su éxito y no en su contra. La guerra es el ejemplo y expresión últimos de la oposición a la humanidad.

¿Alguno de tus amigos ha muerto en la guerra de Irak?

No. Soy un marinero de la Navy (ejército naval) que pasaba casi todos los días en un barco pequeno que no tenía mucho que ver con la agresion actual. No ha muerto nadie que yo conozco o que es amigo de amigos en Irak, pero eso no tiene que suceder para darse cuenta qué tan mala es la guerra. Yo tenía un trabajo muy seguro en la Navy. Consistía en el mantenimiento y funcionamiento de un sistema de misiles. Un sistema de misiles que nunca, en los más de 30 anos que lo ha tenido el ejército, ha sido usada en un conflicto. La agresión actual no usa las naves de guerra de la Navi para nada más que como naves de cargo. En realidad, no es una batalla naval. Digo esto para enfatizar la seguridad de alguien que está haciendo mi trabajo y para explicar que mis acciones no tenían nada que ver con el miedo. Hice lo que hice porque se necesitan personas que están comodas y a salvo para resistir y terminar con esta guerra. Cuando nuestros políticos que nunca ven las imágenes reales de la guerra decidan resistir y actuar según su conciencia, y no según el dinero y la política, entonces va a terminar la guerra.

He visto algunos reportes que dicen que te negaron estatus de “conscientious objector” porque hiciste declaraciones públicas a los medios diciendo que no te oponías a todas las guerras, pero sí a la guerra de Irak. ¿Antes de hacer esos comentarios entendías la distinción entre objeción a todas las guerras y objeción a una guerra en específico, según el estatus de “conscientious objector”? ¿A la luz de tus experiencias como conscientious objector, qué consejos les darías a otros que están considerando negarse a pelear y/o están solicitando un estatus de “consciencious objector”?

Yo nunca dije que no me opongo a todas las guerras, prácticamente sí lo hago. Lo que el ejército ha hecho es manipular las citas de mis declaraciones a los medios para crear este caso. Por ejemplo, en una entrevista yo hablé de cómo políticamente la guerra contra Afganistán tenía más sentido que la de Irak, pero nunca aprobé los ataques en Afganistán. Yo sólo estaba expresando lo ridícula que es, incluso en el sentido político, la invasión y ocupasión de Irak. Yo invito a todos los miembros del ejército a preguntarse a sí mism@s qué tienen en la conciencia y que actuen segun ella. Si eso significa solicitar un estatus de “conscientious objector”, que lo hagan, si significa dejar las cosas como son, ¿quién soy yo para juzgarlos?

Yo invito a todos los que están planeando solicitar un estatus de “conscientious objector”, que primero busquen apoyo en la línea teléfonica GI Rights (girights.objector.org o llamar a (800)394 9544). El sistema está tersgiversado de manera que cuando solicitas estatus de “conscientious objector” te pongas la soga al cuello tu mismo(a), y si no recibes asesoría esto te va a pasar, e incluso así no es facil que te aprueben.

¿Qué consejos les darías a otros al considear ser parte del ejercito?

Informarse muy bien y considerar la fuente de la información. Preguntarse a sí mism@s “¿qué pasaría si Estados Unidos invadiera el país de origen de mi padre o mi madre? ¿Quiero renunciar a mi derecho de protestar en contra de guerras injustas? Hay millones de preguntas y acciones que un@ debe considerar antes de unirse al ejército, pero desafortunadamente lo hacen a los 18 o 17 anos cuando es probable que no vas a hacerte esas preguntas.

¿Sientes que te están usando como ejemplo y que otros soldados te están observando a ti y a tu caso para decidir si deben arriesgarse a seguir a su conciencia y negarse a pelear en la guerra de Irak? ¿Qué se siente tener esa responsabilidad?

Estoy seguro de que la Navy está consciente de que soy el primer miembro de la Navy en resistir y que de alguna manera eso me convierte en un ejemplo. Respecto a otros miembros del ejército, yo no los invito a hacer lo que yo hice; fue mi propia decisión, no lo hice por estar presionado y nadie debe sentirse presionado de tomar esa decisión. De hecho yo invitaría a la gente a quienes estan teniendo problemas con su conciencia a tratar de obtener estatus de “conscientious objector”. Imagínate que la mitad del ejército pensara así y que hicieran esa solicitud, entonces no habria acciones ilegales, nadie iría a la cárcel, pero definitivamente tendría efectos. Si piensas que la guerra está mal, entonces te aconsejarían mal para que no consideres la opción del estatus de “conscientious objector”.

¿Ahora que tomaste estas acciones, cuáles son tus planes a futuro?

Considero un día a la vez. Espero algún día ser maestro a nivel universitario, y quiero viajar mucho.

¿Cómo te ha hecho sentir esta experiencia respecto a Estados Unidos y la “libertad”?

Yo realmente odio las fronteras, no hacen nada más que lo que están disenadas a hacer: dividir a la gente. La libertad es una palabra preciosa pero no sabemos nada sobre ella. Hablamos de libertad en el contexto que nuestro gobierno nos lo permite, pero eso no es libertad. Hace dos anos tener libertad significaba sacar libros de la biblioteca sin que nadie te investigara, y eso ya no es verdad. Antes los abogados llamaban libertad de representar a sus clientes sin miedo, y después de Lynn Stuart eso ha cambiado. La libertad es siempre libertad y si constantemente está siendo redefinida, nunca fue libertad.

Tu Corte Marcial pendiente debe ser aterradora. ¿Qué haces para que el estrés no te despedace?

Me mantengo muy activo. He estado involucrado en tantas cosas desde que tome mi posición, desde foros hasta las anti-reclusión, hasta protestas del 19 de marzo, que es difícil parar y darse cuenta de la gravedad de la situación. También quiero mantener los pies en la tierra y saber que mientras haya gente como Mumia Abu Jamal y Leonard Peltier, e historia como Nelson Mandela, voy a tener modelos a seguir que realmente enfrentaron la persecusion por sus creencias, y entonces mi cruz se vuelve menos pesada.

En el mejor de los casos, ¿qué esperas lograr a través de tus acciones?

Terminar con la Guerra y la Ocupacion en Irak e ir solo hacia adelante desde ahi. Es ambicioso, ¿no?

¿Qué has aprendido de esto?

He aprendido que los indiviudos pueden hacer una gran diferencia.

Vean: www.kristenanderberg.org

Transit Wars: Revenge of the Seats

There’s no doubt about it, it’s getting increasingly difficult for poor people, as well as those of us who choose not to drive, to get around the Bay Area these days. Right now AC Transit, Muni and BART are all facing serious budget deficits to the tune of millions of dollars, and with all three services proposing a combination of layoffs, service cuts and fare increases as the solution, it seems that — as is most often the case — the burden of these deficits is going to be put squarely on the backs of those who can afford it the least. As Sylvia Darrensburg — the lead plaintiff in a recently filed lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC) — points out, those with the least are public transportation’s most loyal patrons.

The MTC is the board that controls the distribution of funds to the Bay Area’s various transit agencies, which includes the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) rail system connecting the suburbs of the East Bay with the financial district of San Francisco, Muni, San Francisco’s bus system and AC Transit, the bus system for the East Bay. MTC handles billions of dollars a year and has consistently given larger sums of money to commuter rail systems and BART, services for middle class, white commuters whilst providing next to nothing for Muni and particularly AC Transit, which are primarily used by low income, ethnic minority people.

Sylvia Darrensburg is a middle aged African American woman who lives in east Oakland with her three teenage kids.

“My rent is 60% of my income” she told me shortly after we met at the interview spot of her choice, Wendy’s on 25th and Broadway in downtown Oakland.

“So it makes it pretty hard for me to purchase a car right now. I’m stuck in this cycle of poverty, but I’m a Chabot student. I’m trying to break that cycle.”

I met with Sylvia to talk about the lawsuit against the MTC and to get a more personal account of what’s going on with public transit in the Bay Area than I had been getting from the official spokespeople I had been chasing down over the last couple of weeks.

Sylvia talked with me about what had led her to join the lawsuit against the MTC. She said that over the three years she has been taking AC Transit she has noticed a steady decline in service as the fares have continued to go up. She became involved with a transportation justice work group known as Lifeline, a coalition of community agencies and concerned citizens who joined together to find the source of why low income families were not getting the service they needed. What they discovered, Silvia says, is that AC Transit wasn’t the culprit behind this, it was the MTC.

“The MTC has repetitively, consistently delegated money to rail systems that service primarily white middle class well to do clientele and funneled the money away from low income, transit dependent patrons. The thing that prompted me to be a plaintiff in this is for one I have three children. In addition to myself they are dependent to get to school. I spend a minimum of $105 to $150 a month just for AC Transit, that doesn’t include BART, and I do use BART. And now, because AC Transit has a $8 million shortfall they choose to turn to their most vulnerable patrons, me and others like me to make up for it.”

The funny thing is that BART, which is getting the lions share of public transit funding from the MTC at the expense of other agencies, currently has a $53 million deficit. How can that be the case? Well, maybe it’s because like AC Transit, BART does not control its own funding, and while it does get more money than the bus systems from the MTC, most of the money that MTC controls is not going to public transportation at all, but rather to continuous expansion of freeways. This fact makes it clear that the MTC is more concerned with making things easier for auto-oriented suburban commuters than providing reliable and affordable transportation for everyone.

That’s not to say that BART hasn’t played any part in its own budget problems. There are plenty of examples of gross mismanagement. The most ludicrous example I dug up was the $3 million spent several years back on a virtual reality simulator which is used for training future train operators. Is this really necessary? How hard can it be to operate a BART train? I can’t recall one crashing ever. Whatever the reason for their budget deficit, the results are the same. The BART board of directors recently approved raising minimum fare from $1.25 to $1.40 and eliminating 115 positions within the system, mostly station agents. Couldn’t they have gotten rid of the BART police instead?

I spoke with Harold Brown, a member of the amalgamated transit union, local 1555, the union for train operators and station agents shortly before these cuts were passed. At the time the union was in negotiations with BART to prevent them from eliminating those positions. He told me that what these cuts meant was that there will be more vacant toll booths and less people around to help BART riders, especially the elderly and disabled who often need assistance from station agents. When asked why BART has a budget deficit Mr. Brown told me that much of the financial trouble was due to high executive salaries and the frequent hiring of outside consultants to do work that could be left to current employees.

Jim Allison, media relations spokesperson for BART has a somewhat different opinion. He says that the budget deficit is mostly due to the fact that ridership has not bounced back since the dot com bust of the late nineties. He claims that paying for health benefits for employees is also straining the budget. I asked him if BART was considering any other means of balancing the budget besides the constantly recurring layoffs and fare hikes. Seemingly missing the point he told me that there had been talk of introducing parking fees of $1 per day at BART parking lots and reducing discount fares from 70% to 62.5% off regular ticket price. Both these measures have since passed. The only idea Mr. Allison mentioned that didn’t pass on the budget deficit to BART patrons was pursuing revenue through increased sales of advertising space. There is a plan to print advertisements on BART tickets and one to have commercials play on the wall of the trans bay tube, a kind of flip book to be seen by commuters on their way to Embarcadero in San Francisco.

I’ve always thought that if BART had a flat rate and 24 hour service like the New York subway for example, it would bring in a lot more riders. Revenues would go up, traffic congestion would go down and everyone would be happy. I didn’t bother asking about the flat rate because I knew that I would be shot down in flames, but I did ask why BART hadn’t considered offering 24 hour service, which doesn’t seem too far fetched to me. Allison told me that the computer network which operates the BART system — state of the art technology when BART first opened its doors in the 1970′s — is unable to remain in operation 24 hours a day due to its need for continuous maintenance.

It was at about this time that I realized that all of the details had been blinding me from the big issue. Obviously BART will never run 24 hours or have a flat fare. I’d been spending far too much time trying to figure out how to make BART more accessible for everyone who wants to use it, not just the well off business people. It’s clear to me now that BART has no interest in accommodating the rest of us, so instead of trying to make them change their anti-poor policies what we should be doing is seeking a viable alternative. Let their elite rail system rot. If they end up going bankrupt, good!

Back to Wendy’s and Sylvia Darrensburg.

“I don’t know what BART is doing with their money, but one thing I know is that BART has a deficit, yet they’re expanding. AC Transit can’t expand. They’re struggling just to maintain basic operational services. So where’s the money going? They got money to spend, but we don’t even have money to make ends meet. They don’t seem like they’re hurting, but it’s obvious we’re hurting.”

When BART was sold to the voters of Alameda county way back in 1962 it was on the basis that it would provide cheap and efficient transportation for all Bay Area citizens. However, as the Black Panthers correctly predicted in their party paper dated August 12, 1972– when BART was just about to open its doors — BART would not in fact fulfill this promise. In the article “Riding from bad to worse on BART” the Panthers pointed out that the citizens for rapid transit committee, who organized the campaign for BART, referred to in the article as “the forty thieves” included the heads of such big businesses as Bank of America, PG&E, Wells Fargo, Crown-Zellerbach and Kaiser industries. Furthermore they note that before opening its doors BART administrators said that fares would range from 25 cents to $1. Then that fare scheme was later rejected. Surveys were conducted to determine “what the traffic will bear” and the fares were changed to a range of from 30 cents to $1.30.

“With this BART became the first public transportation system in history to raise its fares before it even went into operation” the paper states.

So… it has been established that BART can eat a bag of dicks. Of course, we have seen these fare raises as a continuing trend over the years, not just for BART but for all the local public transit agencies.

I spoke with representatives from both AC Transit and MUNI and asked them if they had considered trying to get funding from big downtown businesses and chain stores. After all, isn’t it them who profit the most from public transportation? In both cases they told me that it was out of their control, which is true…I guess, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Public transit agencies could stand up to big business if they wanted to, and I think that the majority of transit riders would be behind them 100%. Of course, this is never going to happen…unless there’s some kind of coalition formed between the transit systems boards of supervisors and transit riders. The transit system is never going to take the first step on this though, so who is?

At least people like Sylvia Darrensburg are taking a step towards some kind of accountability. I was curious about the big picture still. Is national policy playing a part in our local budget deficits?

“There’s always money, so it’s a national issue of how the whole economic system is put together. Government appropriation of funding. We keep voicing our opinions, we keep getting in their faces. This lawsuit is one of the ways to say, you have to listen. We’re gonna hold you accountable.”

Sylvia made it clear however that if the case was won, that money would not be going into anyone’s personal pockets.

“The whole point is that it’s not money poured into peoples pockets or the representatives pockets, but back into AC Transit so everybody can get the service they need.”

Our talk went well and Sylvia was more that happy to talk at length about the lawsuit, but I still felt there was something missing from the equation. Who is to blame?

When I started researching for this article I was coming from the standpoint that all of the local transit agencies were screwing us, that whilst we were paying ridiculous amounts of money for the privilege of mobility, somewhere there was a bunch of fat cats sitting around a swimming pool, maybe in Vegas, drinking martinis and laughing at all of us suckers paying the best part of $6 just to get to San Francisco and back again. Who are those fat cats? BART? The MTC? Or is it the people they are pandering to? Like Sylvia said, there is always money. But where is it going, and why? There seems to be a never ending supply of money going into these endless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there’s always money for suburban sprawl and new roads here at home, but when it comes to public services, whether it’s schools, health care or transportation, we always seem to be fighting over the bread crumbs.

While I get overwhelmed with whom to blame, Sylvia has a clear enemy. “MTC is the culprit. If I was the CEO of a company and then I just took off with the money, I’m accountable. Now, this isn’t a clear cut embezzlement or anything like that, it’s just accountability for appropriating money.”

I asked one last nagging question before we parted ways.

I wonder why it’s in their interests to give more money to one system over another. What are they getting out of it?

“Whatever the reason, whatever the fringe benefit that they’re getting from it, it’s not just, it’s not okay, and we’re not going to tolerate that kind of nepotism or favoritism. It’s called discrimination. They’re not dumb, they’re getting something out of it.”

Somehow I’m reminded of the current situation with Oakland’s public schools. How the state decided that the district wasn’t capable of managing its money and so they replaced the democratically elected head of the school board with that scum sucking pig Randy Ward, who ever since has been closing down public schools and turning them into charter schools with no concern for public interest, and rendering the school board powerless to question his decisions. Could it be that with the MTC giving almost no funding to AC Transit that they’re paving the way for another state takeover of what by all rights should be a public agency? Mere speculation, but the way things are headed it seems that someone has to ask the obvious question.

SlingShot Box

Slingshot is an independent, volunteer-run, more-often-than-quarterly radical newspaper published in the East Bay since 1988.

This summer issue represents many synthesizing elements in transition. We are increasing our print run from 12,000 to 13,000 because of the increase in distro help all over — we have reached almost 400 distributors in the USA and around the globe.

Our old fashioned way of laying out the paper by hand is continuously threatened as we run out of and lose the ability to buy materials necessary to make it possible. If you know of distributors of tabloid sized layout paper or Rubilith, pllleeeeeaaase let us know! Then we won’t be subject to the de-humanizing experience of desktop publishing.

Our collective is always in transition — after an amazing retreat at the ocean to focus our crew, half of them left or were away for this issue but amazingly, new folks stepped in so there were still a dozen folks working on the issue. We’re always excited to have new energy and the insights of new people. Special thanks to Catherine who hung around all week-end and drew most of the art in this issue.

Perhaps the theme for our summer issue should be hope and reinvention as we continue to learn how to dream our desired new world into existence through collective expression.

The challenges facing all of us are great — to dig deep and find the most successful and meaningful modes of resistance. Theory and practice are continuously refined and integrated in the hard work of daily demands.

We express solidarity in the spirit of bright, sunny days with all the people in the world working for liberty and justice. We hope you find something that personally excites you in this issue.

Slingshot is always on the lookout for writers, artists, editors, photographers, translators, distributors and independent thinkers to help us make this paper. If you send something written, please be open to editorial changes. Note: because of the large volume of submissions we receive, we may not contact you back if we don’t use your submission.

Editorial decisions are made by the Slingshot collective, but not all the articles reflect the opinions of all 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 21 at 1 p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below).

Article Deadline and Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 88 by September 17, 2005 at 3 p.m. We expect the next issue out in late September.

Volume 1, Number 87, Circulation 13,000

Printed June 9, 2005

Slingshot Newspaper

Sponsored by Long Haul

3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA 94705

Phone: (510) 540-0751

slingshot@tao.ca • www.slingshot.tao.ca

Letters To SlingShot

EASY TO GET FAMILY PACT

Dear Slingshot,

In response to cara’s article about HPV in the last issue. A few comments:

As an insider in the health care system, I would like to verify that Family Pact does not do income verification. (FPACT is the state funding available to everyone, not just ovary bearers, to cover reproductive health services such as paps, birth control, STD tests/treatment, urinary tract infections, breast checks, and other issues ranging from lost condoms to green discharge). It’s a one page application you can fill out at any reproductive health clinic and is available to low income folks who don’t have any health insurance (but they don’t check up on that either). Also, they ask for your social security number, but you can still get the funding if you don’t have one or don’t want to give it out. One of the fucked up things about FPACT is that it is only supposed to be available for those who are “at risk of causing a pregnancy”, totally alienating people who’ve been sterilized, older folks, queers, and trannies, while blatantly ignoring the issue of STD’s/sexual health in these communities. I’ve never heard of anyone being asked about their sexual orientation when they apply for FPACT and every health care provider I know overlooks this discrepancy when discussing practices with their patients.

Another thing about FPACT is that it does not cover abortion or pre-natal care. Once you are pregnant, you are ineligible for any services until you are not pregnant any more. If you go to a Medi-Cal office with income and pregnancy verification, social security card (if you have one), and ID, they’ll sign you up for “Emergency Medi-Cal”. Then, you can get services for abortion or pre-natal care/birth for free. You are allowed to make more money ($1850/month I think) to qualify for this since the pregnant woman counts as two people. It’s pretty fucked up that they count a little sack of cells as a whole other person, but it allows more access to women so I guess I’ll pick my battles…

The HPV vaccine is still in research stages, but so far has shown to be effective both in preventing folks from picking up new strains, as well as protection from already existing strains that haven’t surfaced yet. However, right-wing activists are on a mission to slow the research and prevent the vaccine’s release, claiming that it will encourage pre-marital sex!

Laughable but true. These are the same fuckers who are chipping away at abortion and emergency contraception access, who would rather see women die than get the services/health care that they need and deserve. So.. lets not let them gain any more ground than they’ve already stolen.

-Syddartha

WE ARE NOT ALONE

Dear Slingshot,

Being depressed most of my life, getting HPV was just another notch in my belt for battlescar experience. Because in addition to that, I also have HSV (the other unmentionable STI). It just really drives the point home that life does, and will suck.

Anyway, I think it’s really important to let people know that infected people are out there, we are not alone. The thing that needs to be done is education and testing and acceptance. Men especially need to realize, that yes they can have the virus without symptoms! What is wrong with humans that they can’t believe they have something unless they are bleeding out the mouth!!

The guy who gave me HSV probably to this day has never been tested and will keep spreading around the virus because he can’t fess up to responsibility. It’s a shame.

With your article, the veil drops, the hidden become free. More people need to stop joking, turning the cheek and realize that there are individuals who live with STI everyday and go on. We are not criminals, diseased vagrants of society and for that matter, who’s judging?

I just wish more people are willing to write down their thoughts like you did. I can’t tell you how valuable it is.

Your article made me feel stronger and ready to take steps to face the world. I’m not like everyone else and why should I be? But at least I know…

-anonymous

OCTOGENARIAN ANARCHIST

Dear Gentlepersons,

As a former Cab driver (age 84) I’d be glad to pass out free copies of slingshot to Cab drivers as they get a lot of dead time to read and pass out your words of wisdom to their “Captive Audience”, their fares. The Bay Area distributors should use this in giveaways.

I lived in Berkeley and Albany and Oakland from 1946 to 1952 when first married to a 17 year old Cutie I met while a patient – She was so good looking I left the lights on when we went to bed.

Anyway, get some sample copies into the hands of Cab drivers. They will make great advertisers for you.

Send as many copies as you wish, if too big for my P.O. Box they put them in a locker – up to you. I wonder if Haliburton Oil has a nice big helicoptor on the roof of their office bldg. in Iraq… ala the escape from Saigon??

-W. Bain

THE LIGHT WENT ON

To Slingshot;

I’d like to stress that this being the first time reading your magazine, I’m very impressed by all the things I’m reading regarding issues that have always troubled me. I am 27 now and had never heard of an anarchist movement at work. I now understand where it is that I’m standing in life. Being a foreigner in this country, I’ve gone through what many people don’t: racism, socialism, poverty and moreover, a victim of my own ignorance. I’m presently serving six years of a ten year sentence due to my ignorance ( I’ll be released next year and then deported to Mexico).

I need to get all and any information that could be of any help for someone like me. A beginner. I’m also interested in contributing en Espanol to help open the eyes of my people. Because I know and I’m aware that there lies too much ignorance and misinformation toward the Hispanic community.

I’m closing this letter hoping I’ll hear from you soon. I wish the best to everyone working on the cause. Stay strong and recognize where you belong. Love for all.

Benjamin Gomez I -TDC#883261

Neal Unit – 9055 Spur 591

Amarillo TX 79107

PS anyone willing to write to me is welcome!

REACHIN OUT

Hey there all you beautiful slingshot kids

My name is Bar-B, you know like that ugly little Matel doll, & I’m in prison at V.S.P.W. in Chowchilla for sellin weed. It’s fuct, but hey, go figure. Look at everything this fuct up society does. But any-hoo my point to writing you is that I’m a grrrl who’s a big fan of your zine. I hate this prison bullshit because I’m out of the loop with issues that I’m passionate about & I have no one to talk to about activism in here. People think I’m so weird in here because I’m covered in tattoos, I don’t shave, I don’t eat meat, my ears are stretch huge, I’m re-dreading my hair because they made me cut them off when I got here. People try & say “what are you” & I just let their feeble minds call me a “punk rocker” because every time I’ve said I’m an activist, they look clueless & I’m sick of explaining. So I just got off track…. I would love it if you could send me your zine until I get out. I get out 3-14-06. I normally pick up stacks of your zine every time I go to the Bay Area & bring them back home to Chico & pass em out at Food Not Bombs, shows, record shops & hand em out to any traveling kids that come through. Green Anarchy hooked me up with your address, Earth First’s address too. I’m trying to get put on an A.B.C. list so if you know how maybe you could help me out & put my name & C.D.C # & address on it. Well I could write forever but I’m sure you guys have enough shit to do. I was just wantin some info & so on. I hope to hear back from you soon.

Thanx,

Bar-B

The Day The World Turned Plastic PayRoll Cards Rob Low Income People

Corporations have created another ridiculous system, which pretends to offer the benefits of banking to poor and working class people. Touted as an alternative to the high fees of check cashing stores and payday advances, payroll cards really increase the bottom line for corporate interests, allow the government to spy on us and further the abstractions of economy.

The advent of payroll cards further plasticizes the economy, mimicking the transition of government aid like food stamps, from checks to debit cards. Rather than offering workers more protection and flexibility, the system reinforces poverty through encouragement of spending and an increase in liability for theft and fraud.

How They Work (Or Don’t)

Payroll cards were created in the late 1990s as way for corporations to reduce their payroll costs (labor and printing). Payroll managers–banks, credit card companies or independents–contract with corporations to manage low wage payrolls. Employees are issued plastic cards, like debit cards, into which the managers deposit wages. The cards can be used like ATM cards or for purchases. McDonald’s, Sears, Fedex, and Cingular have already implemented new payroll systems.

The employees likely to use payroll cards are part-timers, low-wage workers or anyone without a bank account. Since direct deposit is cheaper for businesses, payroll cards become a sort of poor person’s direct deposit. However, payroll accounts lack the security of both bank accounts and cash under the mattress.

Traditional bank accounts are protected federally by Regulation E, which affords account holders no liability for theft or fraud on their account. Funds must be restored and the banking institution absorbs the costs. Similar liability coverage exists for users of major credit cards, although they are not obliged to offer complete protection. Payroll cards are neither bank accounts nor credit lines, and so they are not specifically protected by any federal regulation. You might say that one relies on the goodness of the issuer to protect the user. Not always so reliable… I came across this issue while reading a state bar journal, and the conclusion was basically that there is no legal precedent to protect users of payroll accounts.

However, beyond this basic drawback, payroll cards are generally more expensive for employees than establishing a regular bank account. While it’s true that check cashers can take up to 25% of a payday advance, many banks now offer accounts with no minimum balance and less than $100 a year in fees. Credits unions usually offer even better deals. Payroll companies can charge fees monthly, for withdrawals, for transactions, and per deposit. Wouldn’t it make more sense to give people bank accounts than rob them with fees, if they must work and bank to live in the present?

Why We Should Be Concerned

The claims that private payroll services and Visa/Mastercard make about the convenience of the cards doesn’t really hold up. If people are interested in saving, then knowing how much cash you have is more helpful than the abstraction of plastic. Practically, how do you pay rent with these things? And, how would they help any of us escape the absurdity of money and commodity and exchange rates. Until we start thinking outside of transaction, we can never truly escape the capitalist paradigm. Self-sufficiency, community resources and a certain amount of luddism would help more than fake bank accounts.

If you must participate, cash is safest. Unless you are shopping online (whatever retail therapy that is…) cash is easier and less time consuming than credit. Cash is usually invisible when we need it to be–leaving no record of your whereabouts or buying habits. The more we use trackable methods of payment, transportation and communication, the closer we come to shackling ourselves with GPS tracking devices. It seems as though convenience is too often tied to surveillance.

Ultimately, payroll cards don’t address the issues of sustenance that poverty presents; they just give a nice, bourgie feel to spending. “Look, we all shop with plastic now.” The motivation for reaching the “unbanked”, as payroll card users are patronizingly called in finace, isn’t to create security, but to profit by inventing need. Some folks who don’t have bank accounts are receiving federal assistance & would lose their aid if they had any bank balance. (I know someone whose disability was cut off because he made “too much money” working part-time at minimum wage.) Instead of offering any kind of stability, which payroll companies present to employers, the system ultimately undermines well-being by creating dependence on ATMs, reducing people’s access to their resources, and encouraging a mentality of corporate paternity. (Some companies offer discounts when purchases are made with the card through their programs.)

Beyond the immediate concerns of hand to mouth life (not that they are trivial), the growth of plastic economy demonstrates our distance from the fundamentals of life. Food comes from grocery stores (or dumpsters), heat from vents, and money, however alienating, comes from automatic tellers. Sometimes death even comes from un-manned machine guns. It’s all part of the video-game anaesthesia that corporate anti-culture sells to us. Do work which is unfulfilling so you can buy things to fulfill you. For this you need credit. Therefore banks, and jobs and economies and exploitation. Payroll cards just bring more people into the fold; more capital to be recycled into offshore bank accounts while most of us live off a ridiculous wage. The absurdity of our economy becomes clear when conveniences cripple us. Payroll cards are just another one of those conveniences.

Big Wigs At G8 The Object of Our Hate

Once again the time has come for the spectacular meeting of the 8 major capitalist countries of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, England and the US

(And the European Union) to talk about how to screw over the people in more inventive ways! Hooray! The G8 is a yearly meeting of the developed counties in the world to decide on policy that will increase their wealth and decrease quality of life. The issues at hand this year are the current situation with Africa, climate change, countering terrorism, and supporting reform in the Middle East. The meetings always happen in the summer and this meeting is taking place on June 5-8 in Gleneagles, Scotland, and by pictures on the web site is seems to be in the middle of nowhere, perfect for capitalists, bad for protesters.

A group from the UK called “dissent network” has been calling on people to come to Scotland and protest these meetings. The protest starts at 10 am June 5 th. at Scottish carnival arts centre. But that is a lot to ask given that most of the people I know who would be willing to break some windows, have to hitchhike or jump trains just to get around. But we do live in the largest economic country in the world so we do have a bit of responsibility when events go on like this. So basically go to the protest if you can and tear shit up. And if you can’t go, do some work at home to fight the power. I’m planning an event at the pacific stock exchange involving pennies, super glue and messages. But in all seriousness, it’s meetings like these which really define where we are in the spectrum of how much are we going to take. Capitalists have been perfecting this representational system of government for a long time and it has only benefited them. All this is doing is destroying our lives and our environment.

You HAVE to be the change you want to see in the world. You can not rely on someone else to do it for you because nothing will get done then. Every change that has happened in this world has been because people have stood up and said “Screw that, I am taking this into my own hands.” And that’s the real point to all this, it’s not just to show countries how much stuff we can break but its to tell them their systems are archaic and people have found a new way of life, One that puts people, animals, and earth first and not these abstract concepts of corporations and ownership. Change will come someday, do not be discouraged. It may take years, even centuries maybe even billions of people will have to die to have this change come. But change is happening. So just ask yourself, where do you want to go today? (Damn Microsoft).

For more information go to http://www.dissent.org.uk

Gregg is a writer for YEDO! zine www.yedozine.cjb.net and loves dumpstered

BorderHack 2005

Responding to the right-wing Minutemen’s threat to begin vigilante immigration enforcement along the California / Mexico border as soon as July, activists in Southern California are mobilizing a week of action August 3-7 on the border entitled BorderHack 2005. Earlier this spring, the Minutemen sent hundreds of armed volunteers to patrol the Arizona-Mexican border and report undocumented immigrants to border patrol cops. While the Minuteman Project claims to be unaffiliated with racist groups, it is difficult to take this claim seriously given xenophobic statements posted on their website warning that the US is being “devoured and plundered by the menace of tens of millions of invading illegal aliens” and that “future generations will inherit a tangle of rancorous, unassimilated, squabbling cultures.” Their solution, apparently, is to send racist thugs with weapons to harass Latino immigrants entering the US.

Conflict between Minutemen and their supporters and Latinos in Southern California are already heating up. On May 25, four protesters at a speech by gun toting Mexican-hunter Jim Gilchrist were hit by a car driven by a white Minuteman type — two were hospitalized. Instead of quickly arresting the driver, police protected the vigilantes and attacked the crowd with batons and threats of pepper spray, arresting 8 people on trumped up felony charges. In response to the arrests and the possible arrival of Minutemen, activists in San Diego are mobilizing.

BorderHack 2005 is still in the planning stage — they hope to issue a Call to Action soon. Currently under discussion are a week of speakers, workshops, forums, marches/rallies, camps, media labs and agitation on and around the border. “This summer will be explosive and we must drown out the racists with our struggles for justice in border communities, and an honest conversation about globalization and migration” notes one organizer.

To get involved, contact deletetheborder.org orborderhack.org for updates

ABORTmissION ABORT missION

I’m smoking a cigarette with a coworker on our break and she tells me her period is a week late. I ask her what she is going to do, how long she is going to wait until finding out if she is pregnant or not. Her response is that she will wait four weeks because that’s how long it will take to find out if she’s pregnant.

“That’s not true,” I say. “It took me only a day to realize I was pregnant.” I ask her what she will do if she is pregnant and she says she will have it. I get kind of confused, seeing how young she is and she says that since she is a doula and is gonna have children at some point anyway, then why not now?

Well, that whole conversation set me off to thinking about children, parents, abortions, religion and everything else that comes along…

When I was 16, one of my best friends from high school got pregnant and had an abortion. I remember meeting her to talk over coffee and cigarettes. When she told me, I just hugged her and said, “You’re such a strong woman. I am so proud of you, going through all this alone, without the stupid guy. Are you sure? You seem like you are. If I was the one pregnant I’d have it…” I remember seeing her eyes and her asking me why I’d have it if I was only 16. I used to be one of those people who’d say, “If I ever get pregnant I’ll fucking have it even if I’m 14. It’s a human being.”.

I did not grow up in a Catholic family- my parents were some hippies who hung out with other hippies in Spain, where I grew up—but as you might know, most of the Spanish population is Catholic, so the culture is very Catholic. Even if you don’t want to grow up with those beliefs or ideas, Catholicism is everywhere. So I was kind of a mixed up hippy believer.

I believed if two people made love and one of them got pregnant, then it was meant to happen. I If I ever got pregnant, I would have it. I could not kill a human being or soul that was growing or developing into a child. I knew that raising a child would be really hard but I thought, All a baby needs is love, and I got plenty of love to spare.

And then…I got pregnant. I was 19. Two months after September 11, I took a trip to Ecuador and Peru to get out of the States, find who I was again. During that trip I decided I would go back to the States, go to college, fix my paper status, and travel…

I had a lot of plans for myself, projects for the future—finally I wasn’t confused or lost, I knew what I wanted. And then, one day at the gynecologist’s office, I took a pregnancy test just in case. The boy I had been fooling around with and I had not been as careful as we could have been, so…just in case. I called the gynecologist the next day and this is how the conversation went:

“Hi, I want to know to results of the pregnancy test that I took yesterday.”

“Oh, it’s positive.”

“What? Are you sure?”

“Yes, I am sure. You are pregnant”

“You ain’t kidding me?”

“Of course I am not! Do you want to set up an appointment for a prenatal test?”

I didn’t even know what that meant. “Do you mean an abortion? Can I have an abortion tomorrow?”

“You have to call another number to set up an abortion and no, you cannot do it tomorrow. You have to wait 3 to 4 weeks. If they do it now the fetus would break into pieces and it would damage you, it is too small.”

“Shit…3 or 4 weeks to wait. Ok, I’ll call that number!”

Those first 5 minutes were really intense. I did not think about having the baby but about having an abortion. It was something that I had never thought about and was “against”, but in that moment, the decision came right from my heart—and it was right.

A month and a week of pregnancy is a lot of time to think. The boy and I had long conversations. The idea of having the baby was out there, I told him I thought maybe I could have it and just raise it on my own. He said he would be helping no matter what—but neither of us wanted to be parents. We did not want to be together anymore; we each had our own plans and wanted to live our lives. We realized that if we stayed together and gave up our lives to focus on the baby’s life, we could end up a miserable and unhealthy family. The guy (who’s one of my good friends now) and I would only have been together for the baby, and oh shit poor baby.

Although I have seen tons of young parents out there (and more in the radical scene) who get pregnant and decide to have it, many stay together only so the child can be raised by both of them-but what a fucking pity! Two people who don’t want to be together are together only for the child’s sake? Don’t they realize that the child could grow up realizing that and feeling shitty? I know a lot of young people who got pregnant and decided to have the baby for a number of different reasons. Some not the healthiest: they were against abortion; they grew up catholic; they wanted to keep the other partner; they wanted to feel more whole as a woman or human being; or…boredom. I was just talking to one of my good girl friends a while ago and said I feel really sad about all these young people I know that now feel miserable because they have babies, and how there are tons of babies out there who need parents. I said that so many of us can’t even take care of ourselves, so how are we ready to take care of smaller people, when she told me that she had also had an abortion. She was only 17.

In Spain (and other countries), as well as some of the states in the US, if you are under age 18 and get pregnant, you cannot have a “legal abortion” without a parent’s signature or consent. Let’s say you tell your parents and they are Catholic or anti-choice? They might make you have it or kick you out of the house and disown you. So some women choose not to tell their parents and end up having super-expensive illegal abortions that could totally fuck them up. Or women almost kill themselves by drinking liters of pennyroyal oil. Or they end up keeping the baby because of a fear of Catholicism declaring women dirty if we have sex before marriage, or sinful because we choose not to have it. What gets me the most are three points that my friends brought up to me in a recent conversation: age, money and religion(culture).

>Age. Who’s to say how old we ought to be to have children? The system? The man? A system ruled by Patriarchy? Fuck that shit. So, we gotta tell our parents we don’t want to have a baby because we are only 15 and having fun, it was all a mistake, we gotta tell them so we can have a legal abortion. But oh wait! My parents are super catholic, they’re against abortion. Oh shit..What are we gonna do? Bye bye to my life.

>Money. Fuck bureaucracy and all that crap. My friend had to pay more than $300 because she was a minor and didn’t have health insurance. That is money that most of the population doesn’t have to spare. So, are they fucking privatizing Freedom of Choice as well? What the hell!!. So, let’s say a person is totally broke, or doesn’t have a SSN or any insurance at all, then the best option for them is to bring a baby into this world? Whatttttttt? >Religion. Fuck the Pope and everyone. Fuck the whole Catholicism brain wash piece of shit, making young women feel dirty and bad because they get pregnant or are sexually active early in life, and for teaching generations of people that “killing” a fetus is a “sin.” And who’s to say that, the Pope?..That person there, a male, some one that will never get pregnant (at least not nowadays, maybe later with Genetically Modified Technology), will never have to worry about a late period, will never be treated like a piece of shit for carrying a fetus …Oh please, let the women be.

I think about and give my thoughts to all those strong women in other countries or in jails, cultures and religions where abortion is taboo and women don’t have the privilege or the option of choosing. I also know, even when we can choose, there are a million pressures from the outside preventing or making women feel guilty for having abortions. I just know that I am damn glad I made the choice I did. I think about what I am doing right now in my life and “a baby” does not fit in that picture at all. It took me a year to get over it, but it was not as dramatic for me as other people often picture it, not even physically painful. I do not regret my choice. I do wish I had known about herbal abortion more but I didn’t, so I had to deal with the hospital shit: I slept through the operation and woke up “un-pregnant.”

I woke up from a dream. I had been stuck to an idea of abortion that I didn’t even understand. Becoming pregnant made me realize that not only is love important and necessary to take care of a little human, there are other issues imperative in the raising of a child. Things like community support, economic support, a stable home and family, and even more important—being ready to have and raise a kid. I do not feel bad about having an abortion, I now have a lot of respect for it and see it as a big challenge that forced me to open my eyes and helped me be more realistic. Now I don’t think that having an abortion is killing a human being, now I realize that it is about being mature, having choices and making choices. I also realize that a fetus is just the beginning, if it’s not wanted then the world will regret it…and I didn’t want that to happen. . *Solidaridad para mis hermanas.