Category Archives: Spring 2006 (4/6/06)

Arise Argentina – reports from the frontline for environmental justice

People across Argentina mobilized March 24 to commemorate the 30 year anniversary of the initiation of the military dictatorship in which at least thirty thousand people were “disappeared” — kidnapped, tortured and murdered. In every village, town and city in Argentina, hundreds of thousands poured into the streets.

In my town, there was a big march. The night before some zapallistas (members of the Squash Front) painted a huge poem on the front of the police station where the center of torture and internment for the city was. Then we collected hundreds of pounds of poor cow bones from the slaughterhouse with which to build a bone sculpture and altar for the anniversary march. By the next morning when we went to make the sculpture the hour before the march, the bones had gotten so rotten and stinky that it was a disaster of foul odor and rot. So we took the stinking bones and hid them next to the cathedral. When the march passed the cathedral, people hoisted them out, and the anarchist kids, bless their hearts, braved the rankness and began to pelt that church with hundreds of huge stinking slimy bones — they even broke some windows. Lots of folks joined in. And also three dozen hollow eggs filled with red paint.

It wasn’t just any church — the Catholic hierarchy was completely complicit with the military dictatorship, and not only complied, but assisted in the tortures and disappearances, identifying people to kidnap & torture. The Church has mostly remained impune to this day. The crowd was chanting “Iglesia Basura, Vos Sos la Dictadura!” (Church, Trash, You are the Dictatorship)

We had blessed the poor bones first as best we could, understanding that the poor cows are exactly just as much victims of torture and murder as their human counterparts thirty years ago and today. And hoping that our consciousness will rise to where someday we will treat our bovine brothers and sisters with as much respect as we should treat our bipedal kin.

From Coup to Business as Usual

The military coup, initiated in 1976, lasted seven years, and from a capitalist, corporate, exploitative point of view, was quite “successful.” The repression was brutally focused on the people and parts of society who were striving to build a more equitable and self-sufficient country. The military dictatorship destroyed labor unions, small businesses, the left, and opened the doors for the intrusion of the “world economy” — transnational corporations, dependency, poverty and shackling debt — into Argentina.

Now, thirty years later, the very same government officials are speechifying about the barbarity and cruelty of the dictatorship – while they are busy carrying out the vicious economic, social and ecological policies which their predecessors so brutally imposed on this once proud and beautiful country.

The people of Argentina are aware of this contradiction: the spirit of resistance is strong. As I write this, thousands of citizens in Gualeguaychu are encamped, blocking the highways, blocking the construction of a multinational pulp mill along the river Uruguay. Indigenous rights groups are actively occupying and taking back ancestral lands. Campesinos are waging battles to keep their lands, anti-mining activists are struggling against US and Canadian mining companies, agricultural activists are working against GMOs and agrotoxins, to name a few examples.

It seems that in Argentina, as in many Latin American countries, the question of the “environment” is a political time bomb that could explode in any of many moments and places – for example, the issue of the toxic paper mills has turned huge international debate, initiated by a handful of citizen activists – who still are blocking the bridges, borders and highways, exercising a strong and very democratic popular will. The same could happen with respect to soy production, to the control of water and land, and to mining.

Argentina is a beautiful country, with a wealth of “natural resources.” But poor old mother nature is getting raked over the coals in Argentina. Transnational companies are literally dragging and selling away her very earth and living matter on an scale unprecedented even by Latin American standards. This is the result of international trade directives imposed by institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF and carried out by a compliant and rewarded Argentine ruling class — a ruling class that has been developed and cultivated through over forty years of political and economic violence.

However, not too long ago, Argentina was a country with a promising destiny, with a vision of development not dependent on world capitalism. In Argentina today one can still find plenty of people with solid leftist politics and sensibilities, and strongly progressive, autonomous principles and modes of community organizing are still alive, however sometimes almost buried under stultifying day-to-day economic pressures.

In 2001, Argentina surprised itself and the world with a powerful, anarchistic explosion of popular will against globalization and corruption. Workers took over factories, democratic community assemblies emerged as the expression of popular will, alternative autonomous projects formed, and people took to the streets to demand change. In general, these projects have withered considerably in the past few years. Structural adjustments made in 2002 meant that for foreign investors, Argentina suddenly became 70% cheaper to invest in. The invasion of foreign capital and goods, (especially Chinese made goods), has continued to destabilize the autonomous projects and small businesses, while propping up the upper class.

Social programs, such as welfare and unemployment and pension programs, were huge demands of the social movements post-2001. Some of these demands were achieved, but at a great cost: the government now uses the distribution of welfare as a powerful tool of social and political control, coopting many of the social movements as it preserves its own hold on power.

Argentina has suffered through a huge, multibillion dollar foreign debt, a debt which first served to prop up the military dictatorship of 1976-1983, loans which lined the pockets of the upper class in the 1990′s and to this day still pay for useless dam and infrastructure projects which only serve multinational corporate interests. The Argentine people have paid their debt many times over, however interest keeps piling up. Recently in December ’05 the Kirchner government announced a debt payoff and forgiveness plan with the IMF. The bottom line of this plan is that the government of Argentina has agreed to economic measures that don’t surprise anyone: they have agreed to continue giving away rights to Argentine natural resources to multinational corporations who promise “investment” and “development” which carry devastating economic and environmental costs.

The Disaster of Soy Monocultivation

The transgenetic soy business is booming in Argentina. The majority of the millions of acres of fertile soil of the Pampas is now dedicated to soy crop, 99% of which is transgenetic. 1,250,000 acres of forest, plains and wetlands are bulldozed and burned yearly (that is 3,400 acres daily) converted into fields of soybeans drenched in glyfosate and fertilizers. The thin topsoil of the scrub-forest plains, or monte, or the north, already clearcut of native Quebracho hardwood forests forty years ago, will not last 10 years before it is completely exhausted, worn away and toxic. In this North region, the mineral and organic manner of the thin topsoil is literally being converted into soybeans, and shipped away. Every three hours, 365 days a year, another supertanker carrying 25 million kilos of soybeans plies the mighty river Paraná towards foreign ports.

Argentine soybeans are crushed and turned into animal feed by US companies (Cargill) and shipped by international firms to feed primarily European factory farm pigs, beef and chickens. Argentines pay six billion dollars a year to US and European firms to pay for the fertilizers and glyphosate, and pay Monsanto for their seeds, or will pay a surcharge to Monsanto for using bootlegged transgenetic seeds. Most of the universities, trade and governmental agricultural institutions have been bought and are controlled by corporate agri-pharmo-petroleum interests.

There has been a huge redistribution of land in the past ten years, as millions of agrarian people who lived in the “campo” or farmland, large numbers of them indigenous, have lost their land and their connections to the land, and have migrated in the “villas” or slums, that ring the overburgeoning cities. Due to the soy revolution, lands which once supported one family per acre, have now become more “productive” — and now only support on the average one worker per 900 acres. Argentina is rapidly losing its “alimentary sovereignty” as it has become a exporter for global corporate feed lots.

The very landscape and climate of huge regions of Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil are being transformed by soy cultivation. As former wetlands, rainforests and headwaters of the huge Paraná and Uruguay rivers are bulldozed into soy fields, the climate changes, erosion increases, and the river loses its ability to absorb water in the rainy seasons, making flooding inevitable (for example the floods of Santa Fé in 2002 which killed hundreds). Due to international shipping, the mighty Paraná is being converted into a “superhighway” for shipping, and dredging of the river just exacerbates the danger and problems facing the river and those who live nearby it.

The rivers and ocean are being rapidly overfished: In the rivers, poor and unemployed families are paid poverty wages by transnational fishery companies to illegally drag-net the rivers — every single fish they net is processed into animal feed for factory farms in Brazil. In the past few years overfishing and contamination is sending many bedrock species of fish (squid, loboster, hake in the Atlantic, Sábalo in the Paraná river) towards extinction.

Water Speculation: The Great Argentine Aquifers

The landscape of Argentina is being sold off to foreigners. From Bennetton in Patagonia to George Soros’ soy fields, to the Gap’s multimillion acre spreads in Misiones, land is being sold off, subdivided, monocropped and speculated. The greatest speculation is over water rights. Argentina is home to a large portion of the Guaranì aquifer, and many believe that water rights and sales will be the gold mine of the post-soy years, as soybeans are expected to lay waste to Argentina’s fertile fields within the next 8 years. This region, called the Triple Frontier for its border with Paraguay and Brazil, is becoming heavily militarized, as the United States has penetrated deeply into this region via Paraguay, building bases and projecting its force for this crucial resource.

Paper Companies

The paper companies, mostly European, are stripping millions of acres of native woodlands, from the hot and humid North down thousands of miles south to Patagonia. Native woodlands are replaced with fields of genetically-modified eucalyptus or pine. These acres qualify as “green space” for CO2 credits on the Chicago Stock Exchange, increasing the wealth of pollution-credit traders. Paper mills are widely known and hated as some of the most contaminative single source emitters in the world, and there are a dozen in Argentina, spewing their vile filth in the rivers of the Northeast. Uruguayan president Tabaré Vasquez supports plans to build a huge transnational paper mill on the Uruguay river, and this has led to an unprecedented movement against the paper mills, and a mobilized local population on both the Uruguay and Argentina sides of the Uruguay river — the largest demonstrations of the year (50,000+ persons) have been against the paper mills.

Last week in my town, masked commandantes of the “Frente Zapallista” (Squash Front) carried out attacks against a paper mill, pelting the grounds and plantations with hundreds of “biodiversity bombs” clay balls filled with compost and a diversity of organic seeds which they had cultivated in the local anarchist occupied permaculture garden.

Transnational Mining Plunder

Large portions of the Andes mountain range are literally being stripped and shipped away. Transnational gold mining companies, mainly US and Canadian, have managed to buy dirt-cheap rights to thousands of square miles of mining claims, within a “Binational Treaty Zone” along the ridge of the Andes bordering Chile, whose splendid peaks have become an international Free Trade Zone for the plunder of mineral ore containing gold, silver and copper. Firms such as Barrick Gold, Xstrata, Rio Tinto, Newport, Billon, etc. have invaded the agrarian mountainous region, creating a political and economic infrastructure for the extraction of ore in huge “open-pit” excavations, processing of the ore with thousands of tons daily of deadly cyanide, generating millions of tons of toxic emissions and acid drainage, and shipping the ore to the United States. Firms pay less than 1.5% royalties on the gold they export, and use mind-boggling amounts of water and electricity and diesel, subsidized by the Argentine people. The mines are generally located at the very headwaters of the rivers which bring the water to the arid agricultural Andes foothills regions, diverting the watersources and returning the waters and aquifers polluted with deadly combinations of heavy metals, acids, cyanide, mercury and arsenic.

The resistance against mining is being carried out mainly by younger people, fed up with the fact that for them, there is no future in strip mining. They are organizing protests, concerts, and educating. Oops I got myself thrown in jail in a small town for distributing “Barrick Dollars,” demonstrating how US companies like Barrick Gold bribe corrupt local officials to implement polluting projects to which residents are opposed.

Dodgey NGO’s

One interesting phenomenon observable in all these cases is a wave of dubious, pro-industry NGO`s posing as environmental advocates in order to facilitate the continued exploitation of land and people. Groups including Greenpeace, World Wildlife Fund, Vida Silvestre, etc., have participated in, for example a campaign called “Sustainable Soy,” participate in the creation and legitimization of bogus “Carbon Credits” which enable the clearcutting of virgin forests and the creation of vast plantations of monocrop genetically modified tree plantations for paper manufacturers. These groups make deals directly with transnational companies for the creation of bogus “natural reserves” behind the backs of the people who live in affected areas, painting a green face on the continued expansion of the extraction and contamination. All over Argentina, and Latin America, activists and environmentalists are learning to identify and reject the false NGO’s who are really just front groups for capitalist interests.

The Fight Against Transnational Capital

Argentina has clearly entered a new phase of intense extraction and exportation of its natural resources by international firms. But there are groups and movements fighting against this. In Santiago Estero, Cordoba, el Gran Chaco, many groups of indigenous and agrarian peoples are uniting to fight their displacement and evictions. Mapuche people are organizing against land speculators in Patagonia. Activists and ecologists are engaged in fights on many different levels, for example the hundreds of thousands of people who have marched against the proposed paper factories on the Uruguay/Argentina border. In the Andes, groups of Vecinos Autoconvocados (Self-Organized Neighbors) are rising up and joining together with communities throughout Latin America to reject the contaminative gold, silver and copper mining companies. Workers are entrenched in bloody strike against petroleum companies in Las Heras, in the south of Patagonia.

Argentina has a rich tradition of autonomous organizing, a strong left-wing bent and gravel in its gut. Settled by waves of anarchists expelled from Italy and Spain at the turn of the century, anti-statist traditions still live on. The public University system is still free. The experiences of the uprising of 2001 and the importance of concepts such as community decision making by assembly, rupture, horizontality, worker management, autonomy, the role of women in the movement, give a lot of hope for possibilities for the Argentine people to keep struggling against the selling off of their country. The environmental situation is a time-bomb that is building up pressure, as the people continue to build strong counter forces.

Biodiesel for the revolution? I DON’T THINK SO!

As biodiesel becomes increasingly popular, we need a sobering reality check about its “sustainability”. As a potential solution to the crisis of disappearing oil reserves and climate change, there is a lot more to the picture than dumpster diving french fry grease to run hippie buses. We are now at a point where there is more demand for biodiesel than can be provided by used cooking oil. “If the entire annual output of used vegetable oil were diverted into the fossil fuel market, it would last us 36 hours,” according to Alexis Ziegler. The specter of industrial agriculture growing acres of genetically engineered mono crops in order to continue to power inefficient large vehicles, is anything but green. While biodiesel is debatably less toxic and has less emissions than petroleum-based diesel when burned, can function in current diesel engines and is touted as a candidate to replace fossil fuels as the world’s primary energy source for transportation, a number of important questions still remain unexamined.

One critique often absent in the biodiesel argument is the fact that a biodiesel world does nothing to diminish car culture and its requisite problems. It would be wonderful if only public transportation was a candidate for biodiesel conversion — this at least could be sustainable. However, biodiesel fans, in their enthusiasm to convert all cars don’t seem to consider the fact that roads will continue to take over what little we have left of nature, and we will not be any further away from a society of isolating over-consumption. Sure, SUV’s and other huge gas guzzlers are terrible for the environment but is a biodiesel Hummer really that different?

Though studies show that some emissions are less for biodiesel than petrol diesel, biodiesel still does not burn clean. Also there is little consideration of the often inefficient, old, polluting engines that are burning the biodiesel. In addition, there is a lack of information about the quality of fuel being burned from numerous unregulated sources. Many can attest to bodily reactions from breathing the french fry stench spewing out of biodiesel powered trucks.

Same infrastructure: Agribusiness, Capitalism

One major question, we must ask ourselves in the current frenzy of biodiesel love is whether it is sustainable on a global level which means looking beyond whether the EPA considers biodiesel a hopeful way to mitigate global warming. What about the problems that no “green” car can solve such as traffic accidents, road rage, and destruction of wetlands in favor of freeways and parking lots.

Another big problem caused by biodiesel is that it sets up a competition for land use. Arable land that would otherwise have been used to grow food or left wild would instead be used to grow fuel.

While some believe biodiesel is a grassroots effort with a minimal audience, the truth is that agribusiness and capital already have plans to reap huge profits from the world’s intentions to “cure their oil addiction,” which not surprisingly include environmental degradation, exploitation of workers, and large scale production plants popping up in countries all over the world. ADM (Archer Daniels Midland), the world’s largest agricultural processors of soybeans and corn and the most prominent recipient of corporate welfare in recent US history, recently announced plans to build its first wholly owned biodiesel production facility in the US. According to ADM, the 50-million-gallon facility will be located in North Dakota and will use canola oil as its primary feed stock. ADM is already part owners of large biodiesel plants in Germany and Singapore.

Palm Oil and its path of destruction

Far uglier than the fact that biodiesel does nothing to change car culture is something that the biodiesel industry fails to mention in their marketing and promotion. While the European Union, the British and US government, and thousands of environmentalists imagine biodiesel as simply leftover vegetable oil or grease from McDonalds or even oil from algae growing in a pond, and enthusiasts continue to slap “Biodiesel for the Revolution” bumper stickers on their cars, they don’t realize that the major resource fueling the “revolution” will be at the expense of destroyed land and cheap labor from the palm oil industry in Southeast Asia.

There is increasing evidence and concern that the environmental impacts of palm oil include clearing rain forests to make room for large, new palm plantations and reducing habitat for threatened species such as the orangutan. What’s more, the resulting plantations are often run by agribusiness using low paid migrant workers destroying local and indigenous cultures.

The Malaysian government is refocusing the use of palm oil for production of biodiesel due to the growing demand for alternative fuel sources. The plants produce 100,000 tons of biodiesel annually and because Malaysia is the world’s largest producer of crude palm oil, they intend to make the most of its advantages.

According to George Biodet of the London Guardian, other new refineries are being built in the Malaysian Peninsula, Sarawak and Rotterdam. Two foreign consortiums – one German, one American – are setting up rival plants in Singapore. All of them will be making biodiesel from the same source: oil from palm trees. “The demand for biodiesel,” the Malaysian Star reports, “will come from the European Community … This fresh demand … would, at the very least, take up most of Malaysia’s crude palm oil inventories.” Why? Because it is cheaper than biodiesel made from any other crop.

Effects on Land Use

Some nations that have pondered transitioning fully to biofuels have found that doing so would require immense tracts of land if traditional crops are used. Analyzing the amount of biodiesel that can be produced per unit area of cultivated land, some have concluded that it is likely that the United States, with one of the highest per capita energy demands of any country, does not have enough arable land to fuel all of the nation’s vehicles. Other nations may be in better situations, although many regions cannot afford to divert land away from food production. “Abusing our precious croplands to grow corn for an energy-inefficient process that yields low-grade automobile fuel amounts to unsustainable, subsidized food burning” noted Cornell Scientist David Pimentel.

Industrial agriculture requires petroleum inputs in the form of fertilizers, pesticides, and fuel for tractors and transport. “American agriculture now invests three calories of fossil fuel for each calorie it produces. That is long before anyone considers putting those calories into a gas tank,” observes Pimentel. What about the long list of additional costs of industrial agriculture such as polluted runoff, topsoil loss, habitat loss, farm workers’ illnesses from pesticide exposure, ground water depletion, contamination of traditional crops from genetically engineered crops, unpredictable damage to natural ecosystems from genetically engineered organisms, loss of small family farms and arable land in general, consolidated control of our food supply by large corporations and so on. So while filling up your tank at Berkeley’s own Biofuel Oasis, which seasonally sells fuel from industrially grown and most likely genetically engineered, virgin soy oil, consider these ramifications.

Conclusion

Instead of repeating the same old patterns of unsustainable use and swapping one industrial fuel dependency for another, its time to move beyond the reformist preservation of car culture which stands behind the banner of biodiesel. Real solutions are needed that address our society’s tendency to use up one resource and move on to the next until the new crisis is upon us. We should all raise our eyebrows and wonder at the corporate vultures circling and G.W. Bush telling us to stop “our oil addiction”. Changes that reduce consumption are imperative; better fuel efficiencies, public transportation, local lifestyles, walking, biking, e-commuting, local food productions and such offer a future of hope that biodiesel just can’t supply.

Asleep during the protest – But there’s nothing boring about resistance

It has been more than three years since the US invasion of Iraq and, despite the humiliating failure of the war for the US empire, the slaughter continues. Neither Bush nor the Democrats can figure out a way to pull out US troops even though at this point, it is hard to imagine a favorable outcome. Bush just noted that it would be for “future presidents” to decide when to pull out troops — thus, he expects the occupation will continue until at least 2009. Bush can’t declare victory and leave in the face of civil war and insurgency fueled by the presence of US troops. Nor can he afford to admit defeat — admitting the hollow nature of US military power would be too costly for the US empire. The insurgents don’t need to defeat the occupying army — they only need to prevent the US from winning — which they have done. The pathetic Democrats — no matter what they may think — are too scared of being called wimps to say much of anything. Ultimately, most of them support the US imperial project and don’t want to see a defeat for US power any more than Bush.

So even as the US public increasingly concludes that the war is a total failure — begun for reasons that turned out to be lies and maintained at great cost for no comprehensible purpose — the mainstream political system is incapable of ending US involvement in the war. It would appear that this “alternatives-vacuum” would present an ideal opportunity for a third force –independent from the Democrats and Republicans — to organize opposition to the war.

Yet the recent March 18 national day of protest sponsored by ANSWER was a small and ritualistic affair — easily ignored perhaps because it was incapable of disrupting business as usual. Or maybe it was smaller than one might expect given the un-popularity of the war because people have protest-fatigue and are feeling discouraged. Marching down deserted streets on a Saturday in the hope that the media will notice doesn’t seem like a strategy equal to the task of stopping this disastrous war. Some anarchist types commented that they didn’t go because it was organized by the creepy sectarian ANSWER coalition, but isn’t the war worse than ANSWER? The current anti-war efforts aren’t breaking through, but it isn’t totally clear why — just that they aren’t.

This historical moment has all the ingredients for a political shift that could discredit the Republicans, the Democrats, and ineffective, bureaucratic protest machines. Figuring out how to seize this moment is the key task for radicals in 2006 because once the dam of opposition to the war really breaks free, its flood will be capable of carrying away considerable deadwood. The fertile ground for war opposition is demonstrated by the quick rise in prominence of Cindy Sheehan, who came out of nowhere and is now a key anti-war spokesperson. She stumbled on a dramatic tactic at the right moment.

Radicals need to be out in public trying lots of different angles — only by trying lots of experiments can we have any hope of stumbling on the right opportunity at the right moment. With luck, the social pressure that has built up around the war can be harnessed and used generally against the US imperial project abroad, the security state at home, and the US way of life that is destroying the earth every day. It would be a shame if the contradictions created by the war were met with a single-issue anti-war movement rather than a broad uprising against the whole social structure which created the Iraq war and which constantly justifies violence — against human beings and nature — as business as usual.

War and Empire

Maintaining a constant state of war is highly useful for a superpower because it provides the perfect excuse to centralize wealth and power, attack civil liberties, and it keeps regular people from taking aim at their real collective enemy — those in power. For those in power, the bloodshed in Iraq, human rights violations in the US and by US allies, systematic destruction of the environment, and structural poverty and misery are acceptable costs of doing business.

The war on terrorism is the ideal type of war for the US empire because it can never end, since it defines the “enemy” as any social group or individual who opposes the system — how does one forever “defeat” opposition? Even non-violent environmental activists can be labeled “terrorists” and included within the war on terror. Ultimately, anyone who opposes the rulers can be categorized as a terrorist.

Those in power emphasize that terrorism is not a “legitimate” form of social action because it uses violence — a highly Orwellian and illogical argument since the elite’s response to terrorism is violence, death and destruction on a massive scale. Bush denounces those who take hostages in Iraq while the US holds thousands of Iraqis prisoner in their own land. Those in power label any resistance from the oppressed “violence” while any systematic violence carried on by governments or corporations is just “business as usual.” Terrorists are defined as such because they hold the “wrong” ideas, not based on their activities and tactics.

But the war on terrorism alone wasn’t enough of a “hot” war to serve the system’s and Bush’s goals. Bush hoped the invasion of Iraq would “remake” the politics of the Middle East — not, as he claims, by promoting democracy, but by demonstrating that any opposition to US dominance would be crushed.

Thus, the disaster in Iraq — while it is a tragic waste of human life — is in a twisted way a positive development because it has crippled or at least delayed US hopes of empire. Because Bush cannot “win” in Iraq and thus cannot withdraw troops, he is unable to begin a new war with Iran or Venezuela. The US death machine has been taught a lesson it won’t soon forget — with all its sophisticated weapons, it could not ultimately establish control.

Radicals across the globe and here in the belly of the beast have an excellent opportunity to emphasize the paradoxical weakness of the US as a superpower. The disaster in Iraq will be impossible to forget for at least the next generation. Just as the US was inhibited from launching a major war for a generation after being defeated in Vietnam, Iraq has the potential to prevent future US leaders from launching a similar adventure for the next 20 years. It is up to radicals here in the US to repeatedly emphasize the failure of the pre-emptive war policy: Iraq was a war of choice motivated by a lust for power and sold to the public with lies. There is a pattern to US history — the same could be said of Vietnam.

The ultimate success of radical opposition to the war would be to extend the de-legitimization of the US empire from its foreign wars to it domestic abuses and from dramatic examples of violence to the routine, everyday way in which the US empire is destroying the earth and subjugating its population. The disaster in Iraq has much in common with numerous domestic economic, social and environmental policies that benefit a few and devastate everyone else. The key is uncovering the connections between all of these seemingly unrelated structures — shining a light on the power elite and on the system which serves it.

Direct Action

Direct action, creativity and vision is what can separate radicals from the institutional protest machine that has so far been unable to effectively exploit the historical opportunities for social change presented by the crisis in Iraq. Protest marches that come from the heart can create a sense of solidarity and power, but when they become ritualized and obligatory — devoid of passion — they become political wallpaper. The same can be said of “disruptive” tactics that become ritualized and sterile — like a black bloc that feels like a dress-up party with the militancy of a funeral. The key to effective action is not necessarily the tactic itself, but the spirit with which particular tactics are practiced. Perhaps because disruptive tactics entail more risk, they are more likely to carry genuine feeling. The protest against the WTO in Seattle was disruptive, but even more it was heartfelt.

Tactics and events that are unique, joyful, humorous and exciting are all more likely to get through society’s stabilizing armor and churn up social motion. Now might be the time to think of lots of really funny or outrageous or even fabulous actions. What about having Halloween on the 4th of July with corporate and military zombies dripping with blood?

US activists have a dramatic advantages in destabilizing the US empire since we are, after all, right here in the belly of the beast. We need to figure out how to exploit this advantage by figuring out the social, industrial and economic choke points. Where can a small number of people have a huge effect with a very small investment of energy? What does the system require that can be disrupted? What physical and social locations does the system believe to be “safe” — the system’s guard will be at its lowest at these points.

It is crucial to have lots of different folks in different areas trying different things. Diversity and experimentation can uncover weak spots, plus unexpected actions are highly disruptive to a system that always seeks control and predictability. For example, plenty of folks have been going after military recruiters with mixed results — if this effort begins to become ritualized and stale, maybe its time to switch to targeting military contractors or other aspects of the war machine.

US involvement in Iraq will come to a close — by blocking the war, we can participate in laying the foundation for a new future.

Top US military contractors, 2005

The following military contract are making billions of dollars from the Iraq war arming the US imperial death machine. These corporations have offices, factories and operations all over the US. Thus activists almost anywhere can find good targets for disruptive actions aimed at the US war effort in Iraq. The arms makers here at home are crucial to the function of the US military abroad — they shouldn’t get a free ride here in the US while the slaughter continues in Iraq. Get together with your friends, use you’re creativity and be effective!

Rank Company Leader 2004 Defense Revenue (millions of dollars) % Revenue from Defense

1 Lockheed Martin Robert J. Stevens $34,050.00 95.8%

2 Boeing W. James McNerney, 30,464.00 58.1%

3 Northrop Grumman Ronald D. Sugar 22,126.00 74.0%

4 Raytheon William H. Swanson 18,771.00 92.7%

5 General Dynamics Nicholas D. Chabraja 15,000.00 78.2%

6 Honeywell David M. Cote 10,240.4 40.0%

7 Halliburton David J. Lesnar 8,000.0 39.1%

8 United Technologies George David 6,740.0 18.0%

9 L-3 Communications Frank Lanza 6,133.8 88.9%

10 Science Applications International Corp. Ken Dahlberg 4,686.0 65.2%

11 Computer Sciences Corp. Van B. Honeycutt 3,779.0 25.6%

12 General Electric Jeffrey R. Immelt 3,400.0 21.9%

13 Rolls-Royce Sir John Rose 3,069.0 27.0%

14 Misubishi Heavy Industries Kazuo Tsukuda 2,516.7 9.9%

15 Alliant Techsystems Daniel J. Murphy Jr. 2,516.0 89.9%

16 ITT Industries Steve R. Loranger 2,414.0 35.8%

17 United Defense Industries Thomas W. Rabaut 2,292.0 100.0%

18 Titan Gene W. Ray, Chairman 2,004.0 97.9%

19 Saab Åke Svensson 1,900.0 64.3%

20 Bechtel Group Riley Bechtel 1,742.5 10.0%

Source: www.defensenews.com

Slingshot Issue #90 introduction

Slingshot is an independent, radical, quarterly newspaper published in Berkeley since 1988.

Hanging in the east bay radical scene can be so inspiring. We wish we could somehow write up and publish all of the myriad experiences we have every day that give us insights into how a new world might look. When people live their lives for pleasure — based on cooperation — living simply with few possessions but great richness and complexity — every day feels like it lasts forever filled with adventure, powerful emotions, long talks, hugs and dancing. Also gathering, mending, struggling and growth.

Sometimes it seems like the normal rules that control the operation of the rest of the world are crumbling in our personal daily lives, even as those rules seem to grow more oppressive out in the “real world.” But what is real anyway? Who says you have to spend your oh-so-short life working a job you hate, living compromise, letting days slip away? We’re dropping out of the rat race and into another place — a place where we get to define the questions, the conflicts, and our paths. . . .

The government’s recent prosecution of activists merely for writing or talking — without them committing any illegal actions — is designed to scare us. Here’s a little scary story that happened to Slingshot recently. We got a call from a reporter with The Herald-Sun in Durham, North Carolina. She was writing an article about some graffiti at a military recruiting center there and wanted us to comment on a report that we were responsible because of an article we had published about the Iraq war. Of course, we’re in Berkeley and don’t have any members in North Carolina, so we were fuckin’ confused! By the time we called her back, she had already published the article:

The motivation for the graffiti may have come from a [article] that urges readers to make “an anti-recruitment effort.” The [article] allegedly written by members of the organization The Slingshot Collective, lists 46 recruitment centers in 24 states as eligible targets for “disruptive actions designed to cripple the U.S. war effort in Iraq.”

We got hate emails from North Carolina after the article ran. She quoted the police and the military recruiters, so one of them must have given her the information. Who was it in the government who read our article and decided it meant that we were responsible for any random graffiti painted on a wall somewhere? A lot of our friends have reported similarly strange incidents and visits from homeland security. Despite it all, we’ll keep publishing as we please until they drag us off or we run out of James Brown tapes and beer. Take that spell-check.

Slingshot is always looking for new 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.

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.

Oops! — a ton of letters from prisoners asking for papers didn’t get typed in & didn’t get last issue – we’re trying to fix the problem.

Thanks to all who worked on this: Artnoose, Hefty Lefty, Kale, Cara, Sal, Dale, Eggplant, Gregg, Lew, Rachel, Nissa, Maneli, PB.

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting on April 30 at 1 p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below).

Article Deadline and Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 91 by May 27, 2006 at 3 p.m. — however we may put off publication until the fall depending on events this spring, in which case the deadline would be delayed until September. If we decide to publish in June, we’ll display one ass in the North tower of the Long Haul. If we’re going to publish in September, we’ll display two asses in the North tower.

Volume 1, Number 90, Circulation 14,000

Printed April 6, 2006

Slingshot Newspaper

Sponsored by Long Haul

3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA 94705

Phone: (510) 540-0751

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

Back issue Project

We’ll send you a random assortment of back issues for the cost of postage: send us $2 for 2 lbs or $3 for 4 lbs. Free if you’re an infoshop or library. Or drop by our office. Send cash or check to Slingshot to: Slingshot 3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA 94705.

Circulation Information

Slingshot is free in the Bay Area and is available at Long Haul and Bound Together Books (SF), plus lots of other places. Contact us or come by if you want to distribute Slingshot for free in the Bay Area.

Subscriptions to Slingshot are free to prisoners, low income and anyone in the USA who owns a Slingshot organizer, or cost $1 per issue. International is $2.50 per issue. Back issues are also available for the cost of postage. National free distribution program: Outside of the Bay Area, we’ll mail a stack of free copies of Slingshot to distributors, infoshops, bookstores and random friendly individuals for FREE in the US if they give ‘em out for free.

Letters to Slingshot

What happens when history washes away?

Dear Slingshot

This letter is in response to Alec’s article in the Winter 2005 Slingshot, “Grasping the Spirit of New Orleans.”

What struck me about this article was Alec’s attempt to get to the heart of what makes home. What are all the little bits of life that converge in one space at one time to create the experience and feeling of “home”? And when a disaster like Katrina wipes neighborhoods clean of moms-dads-kids-cars-fences-gardens-stoops-motion-color-activity-stillness, what remains? And even if people return to the decimated neighborhoods they call home, what has been lost in the meantime? What is it that ceases to be?

When I first moved to the East Bay from New Mexico almost 2 years ago, I assumed the ever creepy Emeryville had been a case of sprawl, developers snatching up empty lots and dormant warehouses to create a pre-fab chain store city. Never would I have known, were it not for the lovely plaque the city of Emeryville erected in homage to the past it has eaten up, that this area was once home to speakeasies, brothels, gambling, and all the other “seedy” and rich tokens of life flush with railroad tracks. Who knew that somewhere in the not-so-distant history, there behind the Home Depot and Semi-Freddi’s Bakery Cafe, the gambling men and brothel moms lorded over Emeryville? Now the filled in marshlands, sterile suburbia built on trash heaps, is left to shoppers with a penchant for double non-fat decaf lattes and cheap mass produced Swedish furniture.

It made me think of what Alec was getting at when he tried to describe “what we, who love the city, might have collectively lost amidst all our personal losses and tragedies…”? What he described as “…the way that banana leaves sound when the rain drums against them… the people who sit on their front stoops, or if there are people on their front stoops, and what they say to you when you go by. Like what is sold in a grocery store…-organic chai for $6.99 or collard greens for 49 cents.” What makes New Orleans, or Albuquerque or Oakland a “home”, a shared experience for thousands of people? And when disaster strikes, when hurricanes or tsunamis or civil wars demolish entire neighborhoods and cities, will what is built in their place be “home”? As New Orleans regains it’s footing from Katrina, the next (un)natural disaster they face is the storm of developers vying for the decimated sweeps of NO’s cityscape. So what happens when the natural disaster is good ol’ gentrification?

Moving from Albuquerque during its first waves of widespread gentrification, I saw the old neighborhoods of downtown, home to generations of Hispanic families, breached and infiltrated to build pricey homes for wealthy transplants from California and New York seeking “culturally rich” places to live. I watched “culture” commodified and sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. I watched as gentrification’s mascot — the sage green, brick red and mustard yellow lofts — move in and infect whole city blocks. I watched the Downtown Action team in their sporty red polo shirts patrol the streets on shiny bikes, keeping downtown free and clean of such “eyesores” as Food Not Bombs and the local transient and homeless folks. I watched locals alienated for the benefit of tourists and outsiders with money. And since moving to Oakland a year ago, I have witnessed the same exponential spread of towering new apartment buildings and white hipster art galleries into poor and black neighborhoods.

What happens when developers eat up the history of whole city blocks, forcing out the holders of the history and supplanting neighborhoods with sterile tokens of consumption and comfort? What does happen when history is washed away? Or bulldozed away? What remains? And what is built in its place? What happens when no traces are left and all people remember are the Starbuck’s and Old Navy’s and chichi juice bars and yoga studios? When this is what becomes peoples’ history? When our history is based on the erasure of history? And what happens when generations of kids grow up historyless? Where does that leave us?

–CM, Oakland CA

Anarcho prison talking points

Dear Slingshot,

I am currently in jail/rehab in Northeast Ohio. However this is not a sob story so I’ll cut to the chase….I went to a party with a friend of mine from Philly, PA. We became quite intoxicated. She then said she had a gift she knew I would like. She proceeded to slide me a little red book called, “Slingshot 2006 Organizer.” I glanced through it, and found that I DID indeed like it.

The week that followed landed me here for four months. While I didn’t plan this “vacation.” I did happen to have your organizer with me, which leads me to my final point…I love this thing, and it has gained quite a following here among my fellow felons. The “Don’t Dream it, Be it” section has been copied more than I care to count. It has spawned many late night discussions of gov’t control, anarchist theories and so on. Discussions that may never have come about had this book not sparked interest. People who called me a domestic terrorist when I first told them what I am and my beliefs now understand and many agree with me. It was hard breaking through the commercialized propaganda idea of anarchy, but I got through to them.

Fight the good fight. -Brad M

What if the mountains cried? – help stop mountaintop removal

“What if every time you turned on a lightswitch, a mountain exploded?” This is the question posed in the opening scene of Jeff Barrie’s film entitled Kilowatt Ours. The camera zooms in to show the lightswitch flicking on, then immediately cuts to real footage of mountaintops collapsing in great explosions, transforming in the blink of an eye from naturally sculpted mountain peaks to swirling heaps of dust. Fueling the detonation is a quantity of explosives that daily exceeds the total used in the war against Iraq. What Barrie’s film depicts is business-as-usual in Southern Appalachia, where coal mining companies like Massey Energy have made a killing — not just in terms of profit, but in the environmental, economic, and in some cases, human sense as well — in some of the poorest and most biologically diverse regions in the United States.

The method is called Mountaintop Removal (MTR). It’s a process that begins with forest clear-cuts, proceeds to mountain blasting that can pitch boulder-sized debris high into the air (the technical term for it, “fly rock,” is more than an understatement), and utilizes machinery that reaches skyscraper heights to extract thin seams of coal buried beneath the peaks. Once the mountaintops cease to exist in any form other than a pile of shattered stone and earth, they are termed “overburden” and shoveled into surrounding valleys, effectively choking off the streams below and endangering all of the aquatic species and other life that depend upon those water sources for survival. Not surprisingly, people who live in the coal fields have to buy water rather than use what flows from the tap; to drink water downstream from dynamite blasts and coal washing would be asking for cancer. After the coal is extracted, it is sent to the prep plant to be washed. All of the brackish water leftover from this process, which is filled with toxins and heavy metals, is kept onsite in what are known as “sludge ponds.” A disaster in Martin County KY occurred in 2000 when one of these holding ponds burst, and the 300+ million gallons of toxic black sludge that spilled out flooded two separate creeks, exceeding the size of the ExxonValdez oil spill by 30 times. The soil there is still contaminated with sludge. The coal company called it an “act of God.”

I first saw Kilowatt Ours in Asheville, NC. The showing was in an auditorium filled with educated, left-leaning, environmentalist-types. They seemed to enjoy the movie, which first focused on a problem (MTR) and then offered a solution (renewable energy sources). But during the question-and-answer session after the movie showing, many of the questions from these liberal audience members sounded like this: “Are there tax credits available for installing solar energy systems in my home?”

A vision of the mountaintop blasting once again flashed through my mind.

“Are there tax credits available for installing solar energy systems in my home?”

I remembered seeing a bright orange-tainted creek seeping from a nearby MTR site. And seeing a water filter from a coalfield home that was stained brown.

It was at that precise moment that I understood every derisive and derogatory statement I had ever heard radicals make against this class of people; every mocking joke, every sneer, every sarcastic statement, every pissed-off round of verbal ammunition ever directed against LIBERALS suddenly occured to me with an overwhelming sense of clarity: They just don’t get it! We live in a world where coal mining companies are allowed to come in to the lowest-income rural counties and put people’s health at risk. Destroy the environment. Destroy the local economy. Destroy mountain heritage. Even in one case, pay a resident to dig up and relocate their late family members’ graves in order to get around the provision that a mine cannot be within a certain distance of a cemetary. All for the sake of a resource that fuels cancer-causing power plants and is propelling us into a climate change disaster. And these liberals actually sit there and think that all they have to do to change it is install solar energy systems in their home, and receive a tax credit as an added bonus.

Please, reaffirm my faith in humanity! It should have been obvious to anyone sitting in that room that there is an urgent need to make it so inconvenient for these companies to operate that they will be forced to change their ways. That is why this is a call to action, and not a step-by-step instruction on how to enter your solar credit into your tax form.

So what if you’re penniless, and a solar system is out of the question, yet you feel compelled to help oppose this evil destructive machine? Even if it means riding freight cross country into Southern Appalachia where you’ll present yourself respectfully to the locals, sleep in a self-provided tent and eat meager meals of rice and beans while offering up creative brilliance and revolutionary spirit to a consensus-based group of like-minded radicals? Well, there is an excellent option for you.

It’s called Mountain Justice Summer. And it’s about making change. MJS activists successfully called attention to a disaster-waiting-to-happen in the form of a sludge pond and coal prep plant situated directly beside an elementary school in Marsh Fork, West Virginia, helping to get the permit for a coal silo revoked by showing that it was way off the permit boundary. They marched in memory of a boy who was killed in his sleep by a boulder dislodged from a MTR site. In Lexington, KY, activists held Bill Caylor, head of the Kentucky Coal Association, good to his word that coal is harmless and safe enough to eat by preparing him a snack of sludge on a silver platter. They presented it to him in front of media cameras, and he dutifully took a taste of his own medicine. And on Zeb Mountain, TN, the largest MTR site in the state, activists staged a blockade in front a work road with a banner that read: “We Won’t Stop Until You Do.”And MJS activists, too, are true to their word.

Above are just a few of the highlights from MJS 2005, which was born out of a coalition of grassroots organizations working throughout Appalachia to put a stop to MTR. Mountain Justice Summer 2006 is right around the bend, and you are more than welcome to come on down to Southern Appalachia and join in. There is so much to do, and it won’t happen without people like you who actually care, and have the courage to do something about it.

To get involved, visit mountainjusticesummer.org and click on Join Us!

Killer Cosmetics – Are Women dying to be beautiful?

Killer Cosmetics – Are Women Dying to be Beautiful?

By Kale

Women today are wondering how they can prevent breast cancer. Unfortunately, many of the personal care products that are used on a daily basis are now known to contain chemicals that increase the risk of developing the disease. Chemicals such as parabens and phthalates are not only unpronounceable, they are also virtually unregulated by the FDA. Safer substitutes exist for many of the dangerous chemicals that abound in cosmetic products, and its time that cosmetic companies stop poisoning women.

Mainstream media focuses on “lifestyle causes” of breast cancer. For example, women who do not have children, or who wait until their 30′s are at higher risk because of prolonged exposure to their own estrogen hormone. High exposure to radiation, especially excessive x-rays before the age of 12, can increase the risk of breast cancer. Mammograms performed in the 70′s emitted 10 times the amount of radiation compared to current levels.

The approximately 10% of breast cancer incidences attributable to heredity is also being better understood. Women who have a family history of breast cancer should be particularly vigilant because they are already at higher risk.

What remains the least understood is how toxins in our air, food, water and workplace contribute to the disease. The chemicals found in cosmetics are of great concern because of their direct application to the body and use primarily by women. According to the National Toxicology Program at the US Department of Health and Human Services, 52 chemicals are known to cause cancer and 176 chemicals are probably human carcinogens. Certain industrial chemicals, many of which contain chlorine, promote tumors in test animals only in the presence of estrogen, i.e. in female animals.

A recent study found the chemical paraben in human breast cancer tissue (Darbre et al 2004). Parabens are used as preservatives to increase the shelf life of many cosmetics and some foods. Parabens have been shown to mimic the action of the female hormone estrogen, which can drive the growth of breast tumors. Scientists believe that preservative chemicals found in samples of breast tumors probably came from underarm deodorant. Their analysis of 20 breast tumors found high concentrations of parabens in 18 samples.

Previously published studies have shown that parabens are able to be absorbed through the skin and bind to the body’s estrogen receptors where they can encourage breast cancer growth. The researchers concluded that the safety of products containing parabens need to be established before the public continues to be exposed to this chemical.

Phthalates are another chemical component of many perfumes, hairsprays and other personal care products. Phthalates are also known to be hormone-mimicking chemicals that could increase the risk for breast cancer due to the way they disrupt the hormone process. In Sept. of 2000 the Center for Disease Control found high levels of phthatates in every one of 289 people tested especially in women of reproductive age. This led them to comment that exposure to this toxin is more prevalent than previously suspected.

It is criminal that many of these carcinogenic cosmetic products are being marketed specifically to adolescent women who are particularly vulnerable due to already fluctuating hormone levels. The Environmental Working Group released a report entitled “Skin Deep” which revealed that 1/3 of the products tested contained one or more ingredients that are known or suspected to cause breast cancer, Cosmetics companies such as Avon and Revlon who claim to want to fund breast cancer research in hopes of finding a cure, continue to use ingredients believed to cause cancer in their products.

What makes more sense than funding research to “cure” breast cancer is to take action to prevent exposure to chemicals that are known or suspected to be harmful to our health in the first place. Safer substitutes already exist and companies need to know that people’s health is more important than profit, and its time to make the switch. More information about this is available online at www.safecosmetics.org.

Research about the environmental causes of breast cancer, including the toxic components of many cosmetics, is not generally available to the public. Instead, mainstream media focuses on the lifestyle and hereditary causes of the disease. Limiting alcohol intake, eating a low fat diet high in fruits and vegetables and exercising regularly are all understandably encouraged. Environmental factors continue to be ignored and chemical manufacturers continue to profit. How many more woman will have to die before the public starts demanding safer products be made available?

Building bridges – Japanese peace movement builds solidarity with Iraqi secular civil resistance

Japan is one of the minor members of Bush’s “coalition of the willing” in terms of troop commitment, but the Asian superpower’s anti-war movement has made more progress than any other in the world in establishing direct links of human solidarity with the civil resistance in Iraq–groups of the embattled secular left which oppose the US-led occupation and the Islamist insurgents alike.

Over the weekend of January 28-9, Japan’s Movement for Democratic Socialism hosted a meeting dubbed, with greater comprehension than concision, “The International Conference Aiming at the Complete Withdrawal of All the Occupation Forces and Reconstruction of Democratic Iraq in Solidarity with the Iraqi Freedom Congress.” The event brought together some 500–mostly Japanese, but also including small delegations from the United States, France, the Philippines, Indonesia and South Korea. Front and center was a delegation of five–including a girl of nine named Sanaria–from Iraq, representing a political alliance that stands for inter-ethnic solidarity against the occupation, and resisting the trajectory towards civil war.

Report from the Autonomous Zones

The Iraqi Freedom Congress (IFC) is a new coalition, founded just a year ago, bringing together labor unions, student groups, women’s rights organizations and neighborhood assemblies to defend civil society against the occupation troops and profusion of armed factions in Iraq.

The IFC is working to establish a parallel structure to that of the US-backed regime and armed militias linked to ethnic and religious groups. Its working model for this program is a neighborhood in Kirkuk, which the IFC has established as an autonomous zone, dubbed Al-Tzaman (Solidarity).

“Anybody can live in this area,” IFC president Samir Adil said of Al-Tzaman, speaking to a group of international activists at the Tokyo conference hall. “This is a humanity area–nobody has the right to ask you your religion or ethnic identity.”

The neighborhood of some 5,000 has a mixed population of Sunni Arabs, Christians, Turcomans, and Kurds, and has been an IFC autonomous zone for a year. In a city starkly divided by vying ethnic factions, it has become a haven for peaceful co-existence. The IFC re-named the neighborhood “Solidarity” from its Saddam-era militarist appellation of Asraiwal Mafkodein–”Prisoners of War and Missing,” a tribute to conscripts lost in the war with Iran.

“There is no government in Iraq–the government is only within the Green Zone,” Adil says, explaining the proliferation of ethnic and religious militias. “If you give security they support you.” Adil admits the IFC has established armed checkpoints in Al-Tzaman to prevent infiltration by militia and insurgent groups at night. He claims a local presence by the al-Zarqawi network has been cleared out by the IFC’s efforts. Adil says the IFC is now seeking to establish a second autonomous zone in the Baghdad neighborhood of Husseinia–and is in a contest with the Shiite Badr militia, which has a presence there.

“Every household in Iraq is armed now,” Adil says. “Iraqi society is a jungle society–you have to have a gun to defend your family.” Despite this reality, he emphasizes that the IFC is seeking to build a civil resistance to the occupation–not an armed insurgency. “Civilian people are paying the price for the armed resistance, so we believe it is a bad tactic,” he says. “But we are mobilizing the people to protect themselves.”

In addition to Kirkuk and Baghdad, Adil says the IFC has a significant presence in Basra in the south and in the northern Kurdish-controlled zone.

“Iraq has become an international battleground,” Adil says. “Every terrorist group and every terrorist state wants to exploit the situation in Iraq–Iran, Sunni political Islam backed by Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the US. And every faction has its own media. The pro-American and Islamist groups all have their own satellite TV stations.”

This brings Adil to the IFC’s special agenda for the Tokyo conference–to raise international funds for the IFC’s own satellite station. Adil says the US-backed politician Iyad Allawi controls two satellite stations (including the US-funded Iraqi network), while Shiite factions have three (including the Iranian state network), and four more are voices for Sunni “political Islam.” Adil includes Qatar’s Al-Jazeera among these last four.

“If we get sat TV we can bring many hundreds of thousands into our movement and bring about a big change in the next six months,” Adil says. He also believes this project could change the general climate of the Middle East, where Adil says secular left perspectives have no media voice.

Adil, like many of the IFC leaders, is a veteran of political struggle against the Saddam Hussein dictatorship and a follower of the Worker-Communist Party of Iraq, founded after Operation Desert Storm to oppose both the regime and US imperialist designs on the Persian Gulf region. Having fled Saddam’s Iraq after being imprisoned and tortured, he returned in December 2002 to help revive an independent political opposition.

If post-Saddam Iraq affords the possibility of building a new political movement, the new ethnic and religious polarization makes that movement more essential than ever, Adil says. To illustrate how the atmosphere has changed, Adil, who was born into a Shiite family, says he only became aware that his wife was born into a Sunni one when they discussed returning to Iraq together and realized their “mixed” marriage could become an issue. His wife chose to remain in Canada.

Also attending the Tokyo conference was Nada Muaid, vice president of the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq (OWFI), who described the group’s work–including volunteer medical teams, computer classes for women, and shelters in Baghdad and Kirkuk for women fleeing domestic violence or “honor killings.” Such cases of women being murdered by their own families for real or perceived “violations of honor” including adultery or even rape have exploded since the US invasion, Muaid says. “Political Islam has pushed women back under this occupation.” And now basic services are in rapid decline because of the heightening insecurity. “NGOs are pulling out due to kidnappings just as needs are growing–water is poor quality and unreliable, blackouts are frequent.”

So OWFI is organizing self-help projects for women; and the group is now seeking to expand its medical teams into full health clinics.

It is similarly picking up the slack in documenting systematic violence against women as foreign human rights organizations are reducing their presence on the ground in Iraq–again, just as the need is growing. “Abuse and rape are routine in the Interior Ministry’s political prisons,” Muaid says. “We are monitoring the human rights situation, sending reports of abuses to Amnesty International. But it is too dangerous to bring foreign rights workers to the country. And the existing human rights groups in Iraq are politicized–either they are pro-US and only report abuses by insurgents, or pro-Islamist and only report abuses by the US.”

Azad Ahmed Abdullah of the Children’s Protection Center told a similar story. The group was founded in 1999 in the Kurdish zone, and spread after fall of Saddam, to help children wounded or left homeless in the war, or addicted to drugs. It runs shelters in Baghdad and Kirkuk, and is establishing programs in Basra and Sulaymaniyah.

Abdullah sees the collapse of the economy and public services as fueling the growth of political Islam. “The public schools now demand payment that many families cannot afford,” he says, “Religious schools are filling the void. And political Islamic groups exploit children for suicide bombings.”

Sanaria, the young girl from Kirkuk who was part of the IFC delegation, recounted how friendships are torn apart in her school by the ethnic tensions, how she was ostracized by Turcoman and Arab classmates for speaking Kurdish.

The fifth member of the Iraqi delegation was Ali Abbas Khafeef, who is Basra leader of both the Freedom Congress and the Federation of Worker Councils and Unions in Iraq (FWCUI). Like Samir Adil, he is a veteran of the Baathist prisons–only, after seven years in Iraqi prisons for labor activities, he was drafted and spent another 13 years in Iran as a prisoner of war.

Khafeef says the FWCUI is growing in Basra despite death threats and harassment against its leaders. It has organized strikes in the local transport and petrochemical sectors, and publishes the weekly newspaper Workers Council. Among its affiliates is the new Homeless Association, with 15,000 members in Basra. In defiance of threats, the FWCUI held a thousands-strong Mayday march through downtown Basra last year. Like OWFI’s Baghdad rally for International Women’s Day, this was a more powerful statement than many such marches around the world given the atmosphere of terror in Iraq.

Iraq Adventure Threatens Japanese Anti-Militarism

The Movement for Democratic Socialism (MDS) is one of several groups in Japan opposing their country’s involvement in Iraq, where Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has dispatched some 530 troops. These forces are ostensibly involved in reconstruction and other “noncombatant” activities, but there is growing talk on the Japanese right of a greater military role–and even abandoning Article 9 of the post-war constitution, in which Japan officially “forever renounce[s] war as a sovereign right of the nation.” Already, Japan has the world’s fourth highest military budget, after the US, Russia and China–despite Article 9′s stipulation that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”

With the start of the Iraq adventure, MDS helped organize a series of Tokyo public hearings for the International Criminal Tribunal on Iraq, and loaned support for Occupation Watch, a Baghdad-based group of international volunteers who monitor US military abuses. It was through this work that MDS became aware of the groups which now make up the IFC. Over the past two years, the MDS brought members of these groups to Japan to testify at the Tribunal and to participate in the annual Zenko conference (an acronym for “national assembly,” .Japan’s oldest anti-war organizations.) MDS also sent two delegations of Japanese activists to Iraq, where they were hosted by the civil resistance groups.

Says Mori Fumihiro, an MDS leader and co-chair of the Japanese Committee for Solidarity with Iraqi Civil Resistance: “We were impressed with their struggle as a humanitarian movement. They are involved in unarmed struggle against the occupation. They demand a secular and non-religious government as well as full equality between women and men. They call for the global anti-war movement to make solidarity with them… I believe that they are part of a global anti-war movement and anti-global capitalism struggle and that international solidarity with them will strengthen our struggle.”

The MDS and Zenko conferences have helped build support for the Iraqi civil resistance groups internationally. The group Solidarité Irak is now working to support the IFC in France, and its representative Nicolas Dessaux attended the January conference in Tokyo. Members of the US group United for Peace & Justice have also attended, and in a step towards international coordination between the US anti-war movement and Iraqi civil resistance, the IFC held marches coinciding with last year’s Sept. 24 mobilization against the war in Washington DC. The IFC marches against the occupation that day brought out 600 in Baghdad and 3,000 in Basra–again, numbers rendered more significant by the fact that street mobilizations in Iraq are now routinely attacked by either occupation troops, security forces or armed factions.

At the July 2004 34th Zenko conference, the most intransigent voices opposed to adopting solidarity with the Iraqi civil opposition in the meeting’s final resolution came from American and British delegations. MDS president Sato Kazuyoshi wrote up an evaluation of the debate after the conference–and explained why MDS finally rejected the criticisms:

“The most disputed point in the conference was about the slogan of solidarity with Iraqi Civil Resistance. Representatives of the ANSWER (“Act Now to Stop War & End Racism”) Coalition in the U.S. and of the Stop the War Coalition in the U.K. expressed their view that ‘we can’t say from outside Iraq which of the anti-occupational resistance forces are right,’ and that ‘it is a matter to be left to the self-determination of the Iraqis, and the world anti-war movements have only to focus on bringing troops home.” In response to this argument, representatives of the UUI (Union of the Unemployed in Iraq) and OWFI (Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq) emphatically protested and asked what is wrong with building solidarity with movements that are demanding the withdrawal of occupation forces, and aspiring to a free, egalitarian and secular Iraq…

“Presently, the Movement for Democratic Socialism (MDS) is right in the middle of the struggles against the war on Iraq, hoisting aloft the flag of solidarity with the Iraqi Civil Resistance… The tactics adopted by the Islamic armed forces, i.e. kidnapping, confinement, abduction, beheading, assassination, cannot be justified…for the sake of opposing U.S. imperialism. They are trying to materialize an Islamic dictatorship in Iraq, not a democracy. Iraqi people do not want the U.S. occupation forces to be replaced by a dictator…

“In the case of the Vietnam War, victory was achieved through combining armed struggle and global anti-war movements. However, the National Liberation Front and the army of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam did not direct their guns toward the civilian population. Nor did they commit suicide bombings… In the Vietnam War, the victory was achieved because they succeeded in mobilizing all anti-U.S. imperialist forces, regardless of religions and ethnicities…

“It should be a natural right for the OWFI to protest against Islamist groups that intimidate women who don’t wear a hijab (head scarf). It should also be a natural right for them to criticize the kidnapping of women in the name of resistance. How do these events relate to the interests of the U.S. imperialist occupation? What is wrong with women struggling for their own safety?”

The statement concludes: “We have to strengthen the Iraqi Civil Resistance, which is struggling to drive out the occupiers and to realize secularism and democracy in Iraq.”

Towards a Free, Secular Iraq

Even a month before the horrific bombing of the Golden Mosque at Samarra, Samir Adil warned that Iraq was sliding towards collapse of the government, and civil war. “More than a month after the elections, pro-occupation terrorist groups are still forming a government in secret deliberations,” he said. “This is not democracy, this is a sham. Social services, security–the elections didn’t solve anything, they just gave legitimacy to the same scenario. Ethnic and nationalist conflict is deepening day by day. The militias carry out disappearances, throw bodies in the desert every night.”

The room for civil political activities closes day by day. On Jan. 1, US forces opened fire on a demonstration against high oil prices in Kirkuk, killing four. Days later, two were killed in Nasiriyah when Iraqi security forces opened fire on a march against unemployment.

Adil says the IFC advocates complete non-collaboration with the Iraqi government as long as the country is occupied by foreign troops and as long as the new state is predicated on “dividing power and oil proceeds between the ethnic factions.” Instead he calls for “public accountability and visibility on administration of resource money for the benefit of the Iraqi people as a whole.”

While Arab nationalists call for officially defining Iraq as “part of Arab homeland” and Kurdish nationalist parties ultimately seek secession, Adil says the IFC sees Iraq as first and foremost “part of the world.” He says the IFC opposes federalism as a recipe for civil war and the permanent fracturing of the Iraqi state. He calls for an Iraqi state in which the citizen is not a member of an ethnic or religious group but “human first, human last and human always.”

Adil sees the Western press as complicit in Iraq’s slide towards civil war by failing to note the existence of the secular opposition, or even to recall Iraq’s tradition of secularism as an independent nation. “They define our society as reactionary, religious. Nobody is talking about our secular society.

Asked for a final message for readers in the Unites States, Adil says: “The US lost in Vietnam not because the US lost soldiers in Vietnam, but because they lost the support of the American people. But we don’t want the American people to just protest to bring the troops home, but to support the secular progressive forces in Iraq, to think about the Iraqi people. We do not want another Taliban regime or Islamic Republic in Iraq.”

For more info check out Iraqi Freedom Congress at www.ifcongress.com, the Movement for Democratic Socialism at http://www.mdsweb.jp, and Zenko at http://www.zenko-peace.com.

Demolish the border – “two tier” sanctioned slavery

As Slingshot goes to press, the US is experiencing the largest civil rights uprising in a generation as hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans and their supporters rise up to demand fair treatment for immigrants and to oppose H.R. 4437 — The Border Protection, Anti-terrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005. The law calls for construction of a 700-mile long wall along the US/Mexico border and would make illegal immigrants — and anyone who offers them support — felons. This would criminalize huge numbers of legal as well as “illegal” Latin Americans.

The massive, heartfelt marches — the size of which caught even their organizers by surprise — and the explosion of high school walk-outs and spontaneous protests across the land are not just about a single proposed law. The explosion of protest represents the awakening of a sleeping giant. Census figures show that there are more than 41 million Latin Americans in the US — yet this population has yet to see political power and respect equal to its numbers. These protests are not business as usual. A new spirit of liberation is in the air.

One participant at the Los Angeles march remarked, “The vibe in the air and the overall energy was infectious as you saw everyone from church goers to gang bangers all fighting to keep this oppressive bill from passing.” Dramatic reports from high school walk-outs in dozens of cities tell of arrests and heavy-handed police tactics underlining the enthusiasm, militancy and wide support behind this struggle.

While superficially the protests target H.R. 4437, the passion behind them is fueled by the grinding daily injustice that is US immigration policy. It is estimated that there are more than 12 million “illegal” immigrants in the United States. They make up 1 in 20 US workers. American employers depend on cheap labor provided by these workers who live in poverty and in constant fear of la migra (immigration police.) The US economy is built on a two-tiered foundation of inequality with “illegal” workers unable to organize to demand decent conditions.

Defeating H.R. 4437 won’t address this systematic injustice. While xenophobic Republican members of the House of Representatives push H.R. 4437 and the idea of refusing citizenship to children born in the US of “illegal” immigrant parents, Bush and business interests are pushing “guest worker” programs which would maintain a two-tier system designed to permit business to exploit immigrants for cheap labor. If all “illegal” immigrants could somehow be arrested and deported, the US economy would come to a screeching halt. Business owners know this and want to ensure their access to cheap labor — cut off from full civil rights. Although there are sharp divisions splitting both major parties over immigration policy, all mainstream politicians — Democrats and Republicans — want to ensure immigrants maintain their inferior and oppressed status.

The uprising in the streets demands respect and full participation for immigrants. Ultimately, this cannot be achieved within the mainstream US political system. Governments seek to divide people based on national and racial lines to facilitate exploitation by private employers. The immigration situation — in the US and around the world — is a perfect example. By creating artificial divisions between people — legal vs. illegal, native vs. immigrant, Mexican vs. US — corporations can play divide and conquer. While Latin Americans struggle for just treatment in the US, similar struggles are going on in Europe, Asia and the Middle East involving immigrants from Africa, Turkey, Pakistan and many other poor areas.

Regular people need to unite against their common enemy — the tiny number of rulers who control the global economy. Borders and nations are fake lines drawn on maps imposed by the rulers for their own benefit. How ironic is it that Latin Americans — descents of the original occupants of this land — are considered “immigrants” while European Americans are considered “native born?”

On May 1, activists are calling for a national general strike and boycott by immigrants: “Un dia sin immigrante” (A day without an immigrant.) They are calling for “No Work, No School, No Sales, and No Buying” as well as marches “around symbols of economic trade in your areas (stock exchanges, anti-immigrant corporations, etc.)” There will undoubtedly be many more school walk-outs and actions leading up to May 1. No human being is illegal. Only when all people are free can there be freedom for any one of us.

For information, contact Bay Area Coalition to Fight the Minutemen stoptheminutemen@ lists.riseup.net or Depoten a la Migra: deporten.a.la.migra@lists.riseup.net

Revolution on wheels! Critical Mass: changing how we protest

In this discouraging period when the world is going to hell around us yet the signs of visible resistance — riots, strikes, protests, creative acts of defiance — sometimes seem in short supply, monthly Critical Mass Bike Rides continue to offer fantastic opportunities to get out of your armchair and into the street with a powerful vision of another world.

Critical mass rides have been happening in the Bay Area since 1992 and now occur in over 325 cities around the world. The idea is simple — people gather for an urban bike ride during rush hour. By having a bunch of bikes together at the same time, our usual biking experience of vulnerability and second-class citizenship under the iron boot of car domination is radically transformed. Once critical mass is attained, riding a bike becomes ”normal” for a change. We can ride safely, we can talk with others around us and experience our surroundings more fully, we feel free, the air smells cleaner, and the snarl of traffic is replaced by the joyous sound of hundreds of bells and whooping.

Critical mass has no leaders, usually no planned route, and no official or specific demands. These elements are CM’s strengths. Instead of a few leaders deciding what everyone should do, everyone cooperates, taking collective responsibility for the ride.

The lack of specific demands opens up huge opportunities for communication, debate, and community involvement in figuring out how the future should look. Inherent in critical mass is a lived vision of how the streets could be if transportation was human centered and environmentally sustainable. CM can’t be reduced to a single issue or bought off with a few reforms offered from above like a few more bike lanes and bike parking, etc.

Critical mass is positive and about living how we want now, not delaying our dreams while we beg someone in power to change things for us. My favorite rides try to avoid nasty confrontations with cars, and instead focus on riding our own bikes — making our own reality rather than just complaining. When I’m on critical mass, I want to forget that cars even exist at all. I don’t ride to slow auto traffic — it seems like cars slow themselves down easily enough every rush hour without my help.

While going to traditional, ritualistic protest events can feel like a chore, going to critical mass is like going to a party. And while so much of radical activism feels like you’re operating within a ghetto of people who already share your views — skillshares, protest pits, infoshops — critical mass is outreach on a very grassroots level since the rides typically go through all kinds of neighborhoods and reach lots of different kinds of folks. It is always amazing to see what a positive reaction the ride gets — a lot of regular folks understand on a gut level how hostile an auto dominated world is, and want to see alternatives. Fun, creativity and beauty are infectious. Perhaps some of the folks we pass this month will be riding with us next month.

From an activist point of view, CM is ideal because it takes virtually NO time and energy to organize, and yet provides an opportunity to be literally in the streets — massively disrupting business as usual — every single month. In the face of the war and the constant onslaught of industrial capitalism, raising hell is absolutely essential both on a personal and a social level. I have noticed that I get personally depressed when I go too long without doing something tangible to put my body into the gears of the machine. Riders sometimes carry signs or shout slogans if they want, but even if they don’t, CM protests the status quo.

On a very deep level, public events like critical mass feel subversive because of their voluntary, participatory, decentralized, free character. CM isn’t a part of the left-wing political machine or just another symbolic act — it is the very best expression of anarchist practice.

In the earlier days, I remember a big portion of the ride being radicals, anarchists, environmentalists and freaks of all stripes. These days, the rides are bigger, more broadly inclusive racially and with respect to age, and more fun than ever. One thing I’ve been sad about over the last few years is that I see less radicals (at least from my scene!) at the mass. It isn’t good when you see more of your scene at a private, politically invisible party than at a public even that takes over the streets. If you haven’t been on a ride for a while, check it out!

Critical mass happens the last Friday of each month at 6 p.m. at Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco and many other cities around the world — check www.critical-mass.info for a list. In Berkeley, Critical mass starts at 6 p.m. at the downtown Berkeley BART station on the second Friday of each month. A new ride just started in Oakland, Calif. at 5:30 p.m. on the first Friday of each month at Frank Ogawa Plaza at the corner of 14 and Broadway, near the 12th St. BART station.