Category Archives: Harvest 2006 (9/28/06)

US regime insists on torture – Hocus pocus, there goes Habeas corpus!

States in general — and the United States government in particular — have always abused and tortured those they have held prisoner. This is a reality that is easily lost in the current debate over the Bush Administration’s effort to redefine the Geneva Convention and amend the War Crimes Act to permit torture and to protect CIA agents from criminal prosecution for torturing alleged terrorists suspects as part of the post-9/11 war on terror.

The US, directly or through puppet armies, has consistently and systematically used torture and mistreatment of prisoners during all of its wars and in numerous counter-insurgency campaigns around the world. The US has actively supported right-wing allies in their use of torture. The School of the Americas (now Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in Georgia was created to train military officials from other countries to torture and kill political opponents of US foreign and economic policy. This is to say nothing of the routine use of torture and abuse by US police forces and in US jails.

What is very different about Bush is that ordinarily, governments try to deny or hide their torture and abuse of prisoners. Modern governments tout their civil rights laws protecting citizens from mistreatment to legitimize the government. Most average Americans don’t immediately think of the USA as a purveyor of torture and abuse because in the past when ugly details leaked out, the government didn’t celebrate. Government officials would either deny the allegations or blame the torture and mistreatment on “a few bad apples.”

Bush, to the contrary, doesn’t want to deny that he has used what he calls “tough interrogation methods.” He’s proud to publicly advocate these methods and this rhetorical shift feels scary.

Although Bush denies that these methods amount to torture, most people would call them torture. The Bush administration got its lawyers, lead by now-University of California Berkeley law professor John Yoo, to define torture very narrowly to include only: “serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.”

CIA sources told ABC News that six “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” were approved in 2002 and used on at least a dozen alleged al Qaeda members jailed at secret CIA prisons on military bases. They included:

“1. The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.

2. Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.

3. The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.

4. Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.

5. The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.

6. Water Boarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.”

These were official policy — not mistakes made by a few bad apples. CIA interrogators had to receive written permission to use each technique from the deputy director for operations for the CIA. A cable had to be sent and a reply received each time a progressively harsher technique was used.

All of the al Qaeda suspects subject to these methods eventually “broke” and provided information. However, the information wasn’t always correct. Ibn al Shaykh al Libbi, after enduring all of the above methods, finally broke after being water boarded and then left to stand naked in his cold cell overnight where he was doused with cold water at regular intervals. He told his tormentors what he thought they wanted to hear — that Iraq had trained al Qaeda members to use biochemical weapons. Bush used the confession to justify attacking Iraq. It later became clear that al Libbi had no knowledge of such training or weapons and fabricated the statements because he was terrified of further harsh treatment.

At least three prisoners died after being subjected to the Bush torture techniques. One detainee died of hypothermia in Afghanistan at a mud fort dubbed the “salt pit” that was used as a prison. The prisoner was left to stand naked throughout the harsh Afghanistan night after being doused with cold water. Another CIA detainee died in Iraq and a third detainee died following harsh interrogation by Department of Defense personnel and contractors in Iraq.

Bush has argued that it is okay for the USA to use “tough methods” because the world has changed since 9/11. As Professor Yoo put it: “When you’re fighting a new kind of war against an enemy we haven’t faced before, our system needs to give flexibility to people to respond to those challenges.”

Bush asserts that since the USA are the good guys, no matter what the USA does in the name of national security is okay. Bush claims that only terrorists will be abused, but since Bush has reserved the power to unilaterally define who is a terrorist — whereupon they may be imprisoned for long periods without any court hearing — the shift on discussion of torture applies to everyone. The government has labeled activists charged with arsons as “eco-terrorists” — does this mean they will be subjected to torture during interrogation? What about harsh treatment?

Some suspect that Bush’s public and vigorous defense of abusive questioning is more about a power grab and politics than torture. Since torture is (at least publicly) considered so unacceptable by “civilized” societies, Bush can prove that he wields absolute power by getting Congress to pass legislation to re-interpret the Geneva Convention to permit Bush’s activities. The Geneva Convention is an easily recognized, universally accepted legal standard. Bush sends a strong message by proving that such an “old world,” “pre-911″ standard is irrelevant in the War on Terror.

Politically, the USA right-wing eats this “tough guy” stuff up. Right-wing talk radio shows are filled with contempt for weak, traitorous liberals who want to invoke silly laws to protect the rights of terrorists. When 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain recently opposed the president’s attempt to re-interpret the Geneva Convention, he was attacked as soft on terror by the right wing of the Republican party.

It should be noted that the argument over Article 3 of the Geneva Convention already accepts Bush’s contention that anyone accused of being a member of al Qaeda is not a “prisoner of war” under the Geneva Convention. Article 3 is the lowest standard in the Geneva Convention. Bush doesn’t like Article 3′s prohibition on “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.” Article 4 of the Convention defines “prisoner of war” to whom a higher level of protection applies.

Article 17 of the Geneva Convention provides: “No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.” The whole discussion of torture hasn’t even touched on Article 17 because the mainstream USA political establishment has accepted Bush’s refusal to consider terror suspects as “prisoners of war.” This is a war on terror in which the USA takes no prisoners.

In addition to torture, Bush sought and partially won other legal changes which are also totally contrary to the American legal tradition. For instance, as of this writing, he apparently won legislation to permit military trials of terror suspects that would allow the use of evidence obtained under torture or torture-like coercion. He sought but apparently didn’t obtain legal changes to bar defendants from hearing the evidence against them.

Again, these proposals were attractive to Bush precisely because they are considered barbaric by the international community, the press, the legal community, and liberals. Bush doesn’t need their support, and he wants to rub their noses in their utter powerlessness to protect basic legal standards they thought were beyond his reach. Bush has the NASCAR nation on his side, and who gives a fuck about a bunch of un-armed college professor wimps?

Bush had to seek legislation to overturn the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in which the court ruled that the Geneva Conventions protected prisoners labeled as terrorists by Bush. The introduction of Bush’s legislation states “the Geneva Conventions are not a source of judicially enforceable individual rights.”

The very definition of a state is that the people running the state have a monopoly on the use of violence. If you are in charge of a state, you aren’t considered a terrorist when you kill, injure or take hostages (prisoners). In fact, if you are at the top of a state hierarchy, you can define your opponents as terrorists or criminals and based on that definition, you can do to the “terrorists” precisely the same acts that you claim makes them terrorists in the first place.

The Bush administration and its allies have exploited the attacks on September 11 to change the boundaries of public debate. Before 9/11, it would have been hard to imagine a US president publicly advocating torture — even though history demonstrates that torture is always on the table for the USA and other governments. As George Lakoff points out, the Bush clan have been masters at framing public debate in the United States. By portraying all of its actions since 9/11 as part of a War on Terrorism, the Bush administration has vastly increased its power and hidden its blunders and weaknesses. By claiming the USA is in a war, terror suspects become the enemy — dehumanized and deserving of any treatment the Bush crew can think up.

Liberals who support the basic idea of government, hierarchy and authority hope they can swing back the pendulum on Bush’s power grab and put torture back in its Pandora’s box. They would rather discussion of torture be taken off the table — but they are happy to maintain the CIA, the army, and police as long as the violence implicit in these structures are kept better hidden.

Radicals understand the debate on torture differently. States and power structures always reserve the ability to torture and kill — that is the vital foundation necessary to maintain the gross power inequality that permits America and a few privileged people to dominate and exploit the rest of the world. The open discussion of torture exposes uncomfortable questions that radicals want to raise: why are some lives worth more than others and why do a few people get to decide what happens to everyone else? How is it that Americans, composing 5 percent of the world’s population, use 25 percent of the world’s resources? Why is it that violence is okay for the rulers, but any resistance is terrorism? If there is a struggle for the survival of the American way of life, is this way of life just or fair? Or is the American way of life based on theft, fear, and murder?

We decry Bush’s torture but torture is just the tip of the iceberg — the most acute expression of a system with bosses and workers, owners and tenants, police and citizens. The ultimate struggle remains to tear down the structures that carry out the everyday, business as usual oppression on which this society is founded.

Postscript

It is odd that John Yoo, the primary legal architect of the Bush policy of worldwide torture and of Bush’s use of “signing statements” to place himself above the Law, is a law professor at UC Berkeley, only about one mile from where this article is being written. An alliance of Bay Area organizations are sponsoring a weekly “Teach-In And Vigil Against American Torture And The Dictatorial Presidency” in front of Boalt Hall Law school every Tuesday between 12:30 and 1:30 from now until December 21. According to their literature “We do not seek to limit Prof. Yoo’s academic freedom, but we will exercise our own free rights to hold vigils and teach-ins expressing our strong moral objection to the torture and unlimited presidential powers that he advocates.” If you’re in Berkeley, check them out at the corner of College Ave and Bancroft.

On solidarity and prisons – words from Rob Los Ricos

Rob Los Ricos was recently released from prison after serving a seven year sentence for throwing a rock at a cop during a protest in Eugene OR. on June 18, 1999, six months before the WTO protests in Seattle. He is an anarchist writer and reviewer who has been published in Anarchy: a Journal of Desire Armed and the Earth First! Journal among others. Below are excerpts of a speech he gave at the Long Haul Infoshop on September 20, 2006.

Don’t Piss in Water

Prison was kind of a weird experience. I don’t know if anyone here is familiar with the Green Anarchist perspective, but I’ve been that way pretty much my whole life. …My anarchist ideas were more inspired by Native American social structures than…by anything I’ve read by anarchist writers. I didn’t start reading any anarchist literature until sometime in the mid eighties. I knew I was an anarchist, basically in my heart, because I’d read this book about the Comanche Indians where the anthropologist or sociologist who’d written it went out of his way to drive home the fact that this was an anarchist society. [It was] not one that had anarchism as its core principle, but in practice…it was anarchist. He just brought that up over and over again throughout the book. This guy [the author] was not an anarchist but he was fascinated by the fact that there was this functioning, thriving society completely anarchistic…

So that was where I got, first of all, a lot of respect for the way that Native American people lived. The Comanches [were] a nomadic [horse herding] tribe in the high plains near the area where I grew up, and I had a tremendous amount of respect for them as a people and the way that they were able to resist assimilation and conquest for over four hundred years. Once they got themselves some horses, they were hard to track down and even harder to beat militarily. That was basically where my anarchism came from…When I started reading anarchist stuff at first I was not too thrilled about it–so much division historically… and anyone who [practices anarchism] knows we are still divided in many ways.

[In Oregon, before going to prison]…after living my entire life just trying to get by, I was finally falling in with a group of people. We were living more according to our beliefs about not having a job or income or paying the bills month by month but more living through scavenging and squatting in the forest on some land where we had permission to be. Basically having very little contact with society in general. That was part of the problem that later arose in Eugene because we were unused to being around policemen or being in situations where I had to watch myself. So, I was totally unprepared. Prison was really bad because I wasn’t used to being indoors. I was living outdoors either on the beaches in Hawaii or the forests of southern Oregon for 3-4 years before going to prison, and I was actually kind of proud of the fact that I had to be forced to piss in water…You shouldn’t be pissing in water you can drink. Anyways, I didn’t live indoors and so the only way I was able to be forced [was to be] locked in a cage and made to live this sedentary lifestyle that I had totally rejected. I felt pretty smug about that at first.

Heart Check

As awful, as dehumanizing a place as it was, I did actually meet some really awesome people while in prison… the coolest cellmate I had by all accounts was Critter (Craig Marshall) who was my cellmate for about four months… It took Free (Jeff Luers) longer to get in (sic) and be processed by the system… because… [Critter] took the deal that was offered whereas Free wanted to take it to trial. Apparently they had a chance to discuss this and Free didn’t have a problem with that. There was a letter recently in the Earth First! Journal saying that because Critter took a deal that makes him a snitch against Free. That’s totally not the case… [the letter writer was] definitely not speaking on behalf of anyone… Critter was an exemplary convict while he was in prison and [there is] a lot of respect for both of these guys because there’s one thing that [the other prisoners] respect in prison, and that’s people that stand up for and fight for what they believe in their heart. That’s why our zine, the zine Free and I did together was called Heartcheck because in prison that’s the only way you can judge a person–by what’s in their heart and what they’re willing to stand up for and what they are willing to fight for.

Chow Hall Strike

I can’t even remember why we did this, but I think it had to do with the phone system. They were messing with the phone system in Oregon… people were complaining about it and their solution to fix it was basically to force everyone to buy phone service from some company in Texas… the whole thing [didn't] make any sense. The money that you put into it [was] non refundable even if you never successfully make a phone call… and you [had] to give them fifty dollars just to have the privilege… to make a collect phone call… [So] while people were protesting that, we decided–just to show the administration that we can do things with out their knowledge or without their consent–we decided to have a day where no one would go to the chow hall and eat. I was working in the chow hall at the time because… I had just gotten out of the hole, and you have to go work in the chow hall before you could get any other kind of job there… We organized this lunch room strike. It was just amazing because out of maybe 2200 prisoners incarcerated… only about 200 people went to the chow hall. The place didn’t fill up. Normally, they have to pace people coming in because there is only seating for 400 people, and they have to run people a tier at a time… It usually takes a couple hours to get everyone fed, but this time it took about 20 minutes because they would run an entire cell block and twelve people would come out of, say, 700. Before I went to work we were walking up and down the tier, those of us that had money on our books… making sure that… everyone knew that it was a strike, [saying] “don’t go to chow hall” and making sure that they had food… You can get a little packet of ramen for ten cents so we had stacks of them and… would toss them [to folks without their own food, saying] “eat this and if you need something later we can get you something later.”… As the meal progressed, and no one was coming to chow, the guards were getting nervous. Then the administrators that you never see–the assistant warden and the warden–came down. You never see them in the chow hall, because basically it’s not a safe place for them to be. And, the captain on duty and the lieutenants–they all came to the chow hall and were looking around because it was a sea of empty seats. They were like “There’s something going on” and it really scares them because it makes them realize that they are not in control of this place. They are just not in control. They are in control because we allow them to be; that got their attention. They were kind of scared and they talked to the shot callers–everyone knows who the shot callers on the yard are–…and asked what the deal was and basically whatever the phone system was… They went ahead and shut that down and tried something else.

Later, there was a phone strike–people were not using the phone or not being allowed to use the phone by the other inmates. Eventually they broke that down, put the place on lock down and if you didn’t like it, “too bad because that’s the way it was.”

Torture

To get to the issue of torture, there is torture in the Oregon system and… they kill inmates sometimes. That’s the Intensive Management Unit where they do all this, and the Intensive Management Unit is like the prison within a prison. The hole, which is a disciplinary segregation unit, is just a jail. Basically you’re misbehaving and they are going to put you in there, but if you are really crazy or out of control… if they think you’re a really serious threat, they’ll put you in the IMU…

[recording inaudible -- Rob explains that while he was in prison an inmate was found dead in the IMU and that the official story] …was that he had hanged himself in his cell but according to one of my friends that worked on the clean up crew–that went to clean up blood–he said that blood was all over his cell. I mean, all over that place and it looked like he’d just been beat to death because there [were] blood splatters everywhere. You could see… how it sprayed after someone had just whacked him across the head with a stick or something… It was all over… on the ceiling and everything… [Anyway] they keep [the prisoners they torture] in isolation and they pretty much do whatever they want back there. Most of the shenanigans going on at Abu Ghraib and other places abroad…are [being committed by] national guard soldiers that were prison guards before they went over there, you know. That was their… specialty as a national guard person… being a prison guard over there. I’m sure that just about everything that happens over there, they were doing also here before they went over… maybe not on the same scale as they are doing it over there… [because] over there… no one gives a shit, whereas over here, they have to be careful and not get caught.

Pulling Together

I was released finally on June 29 of this year and–what can I say–it is great to be out of prison. It is great to be visiting these different communities; seeing what’s going on place to place; and meeting a lot of people I have only had contact with by mail; being able to give hugs and seeing what’s been going on, because things got crazy there for a while and things have grown a lot since I’ve been in prison. There are a lot more anarchist-identified people, a lot of anarchist-type projects going on in every city I’ve been to so far, and I’m just more aware all the time. We have a very large movement now and we have a lot of resources. Sadly though, we are a very fragmented movement, and people don’t realize just how big we are and just how many resources we have at our disposal. We just really need to start…putting our differences aside and start working as a community because, especially in Oregon, there is a lot of shock and…numbness [from] a number of people turning state evidence. [This is people] testifying against their comrades whom they have taken actions with in the past and now are willing to send to prison [to] try to save their own ass. [We would be more effective] if we had stronger ties as a community, [if] we were a stronger movement that was more closely knit where people didn’t drift in and out of it, and people didn’t feel like they had no future in it, and people didn’t feel like only their closest friends were [trustworthy]. We really have to pull together as a movement and become a more cohesive and coherent group that can withstand pressure from the police, that can withstand arrest, and when people go to prison we can support them and help them deal with the situation they are in and get them out as healthy human beings [who] can actually come back as part of our movement again.

Uprising renders fraudulent government impotent – Oaxacan teachers’ strike develops into statewide resistance

By Rochelle

Oaxaca City, Mexico, September 17–Graffiti calling for the ousting of the Governor of the state covers almost every blank wall as I wander through the historic district of Oaxaca City. The Zûcalo, or main square, and the 50 blocks that surround it have become the home of the statewide teachers strike since the end of May. Sliding through makeshift blockades of metal sheeting and barbed wire, large pieces of concrete and in some cases reclaimed government cars and buses, I enter the encampment. On either side of the street, multicolored tarps cover blankets and cardboard used at night to sleep on by the thousands involved in the struggle. In the center square a community kitchen gathers donations and prepares large pots of beans and rice. A clinic has been set up by supportive medical workers to serve those who have left their villages and are living in the encampments. Many teachers embroider, read the latest movement communiqué, and gather in circles to hold meetings. Banners from unions and municipalities from all over the state supporting this popular struggle hang between trees and light posts. Stencils depicting Mexico’s revolutionary heroes, calling for the people to rise up and demanding the release of political prisoners are everywhere. All of the amazing art of resistance reminds me of the anti-WTO actions in Seattle. This encampment in the main square marks where the movement began last May. It has since expanded, and encampments can now be found throughout the city. They now surround all government buildings and protect the four radio stations and the transmitters that have been taken over by the movement. These four channels air meeting and march announcements, discussions, alerts, and calls for backup at the scenes of government repression. This is just within Oaxaca City. At least 200 villages in the state have joined in and reclaimed their town halls.

How the Movement Began

Seventy percent of the 3.5 million people who live in the state of Oaxaca are indigenous. Over half live in abject poverty, 35 percent do not have piped water in their homes. You can’t spend a day in Oaxaca City without seeing poor native women with barefoot children in tow who have come from the surrounding villages to try and make money selling gum and cigarettes. Many of the rural communities are empty of men who have fled to the US to try and make money filling the low pay, harsh labor jobs the US economy depends on. The Mexican constitution demands that all children have the same access to education. Yet today in Oaxaca, the average person spends only 5.6 years in school, two years less than the national average. The conditions in the rural schools are extremely poor, with a lack of basic infrastructure. Children often come to school hungry, barefoot and are without desks, books, and pencils. For the past 26 years, Section 22 of the National Union of Education Workers has held an annual statewide strike. Some of the demands this year included raises, basic supplies and breakfast for the students. Each year the teachers camp out in the main square of Oaxaca city until an adequate compromise is reached. This year things played out a little differently. At 4:30am on June 14, while teachers and their families were sleeping, 3000 police raided the encampment; a helicopter fired tear gas, and cops beat people and burnt their belongings, leaving over 100 people injured. The teachers resisted with sticks and rocks, reclaiming the square later the same day. And they have remained ever since.

Construction of the Popular Assembly

Immediately after the government repression, a mega march was held. 400,000 people came to show support for the teachers. A new entity was formed of the 350 organizations that mobilized alongside the teacher strike called the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO). Through hours of meetings, this organization has come to represent not just the voice of the striking teachers but also the voice of all those in the state who face oppression and injustice. According to Florentino, a member of the press committee, “APPO does not set out to impose any decisions, what we set out to do is to integrate all the people so that together we can organize and govern the state.” Without leaders and using collective decision making, APPO advances daily with announcements of new actions and strategies. The indigenous people of the region have a long history with this type of organizational structure; many municipalities are still run by the general assemblies under the traditional native customs of “usos y costumbres.” These assemblies are unaffiliated with political parties and select the municipal presidents who lead by following, accountable to those who select them.

On August 16 and 17, APPO held a forum entitled “Building Democracy and Governability in Oaxaca,” with sessions covering the design of a new state constitution, creating democracy from below, movement inclusion and respect for diversity. The rich history of the people organizing in this fashion was clear to me as I sat in the back row in a room of over a thousand, watching decisions being made efficiently. Since the formation of APPO, a clear consensus decision was made to change the primary demand from those of the teachers’ to the resignation of the Governor of Oaxaca, Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. They make this demand because of his responsibility in the violent repression of their democratic teachers’ strike, because he came to power through fraud, and because as governor he has favored corporate interests and undermined social organizations.

Corrupt Governments and their Development Plans

Corrupt, exploitive governments are nothing new to Oaxaca or Mexico. In fact, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), made up of the conservative right, light skinned, wealthy class, has monopolized the governorship of Oaxaca for the past 80 years and national government for over 70 years, prior to the current President Vicente Fox’s rule. There were hopes for Fox to step out of the traditional exploitive role but his party, the National Action Party (PAN), has carried on the PRI legacy of neoliberal expansion, corruption, and repression of social organizations.

With help from the leaders of the Central American countries, Fox initiated Plan Puebla Panama, PPP, a neoliberal development mega project praised by the United States. This project, claims one of its main goals is to improve the conditions for the people of the region. In actuality, it is stealing land from indigenous people for infrastructure projects to move resources more quickly into the hands of multinational corporations and commodifying their culture for the tourist industry. One of the projects with huge implications for Oaxaca is the creation of a super highway at Mexico’s skinniest point, the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, in order to move resources more readily across the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific. This transportation corridor will be lined with sweatshops, without labor or environmental laws. “For all of these objectives, the government of Oaxaca is key to the realization of the project,” explained Florentino.

Ulises Ruiz Ortiz is a carbon copy of the most corrupt PRI leadership, which exploits and represses the majority indigenous population. PRI serves the interests of foreign corporations–a perfect match to prepare the region for the implementation of the PPP. Unable to be elected democratically, Ulises stole his position through vote buying, ballot box tampering, and computer fraud. On December 1, 2004, his first day as governor, 40 armed men including PRI municipal leaders with police support occupied the Noticias, a major newspaper for the region which covered the illegitimacy of the election. The newspaper has been operating out of a different location ever since. In the 21 months that Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz has been in power, 37 people have been killed for political reasons. With this record, his response to the democratic teachers’ strike on June 14 comes as no surprise.

Government Repression Continues

The repressive tactics against the movement have continued since June 14. Arrest warrants have been issued for at least 80 movement “leaders” including members of the teachers’ union. Four have been abducted from the street by unmarked vans; photos of one, a biologist severely beaten, were seen in the local news. The faces of the four political prisoners and a strong call for their freedom can be seen wheat pasted downtown. In response to that repression a march was held on August 10. With only one day’s notice, I was shocked to find over 20,000 people at the gathering point. Half way through the march I decided to skip over a few blocks and try to get further ahead, closer to the front of the march. As I ran around the block to rejoin the masses, I heard shots ring out, and I was suddenly joined by others running to get closer to the front. When we arrived, the march was at a standstill and chaos abounded. In front of me a 50 year old woman picked up a piece of concrete and was dropping it on the curb to make smaller rocks. I realized people were scrambling to pick up sticks and rocks for defense, and some were running for cover in a nearby church. A man lay dead in the street. Government goons had shot randomly into the crowd, killing José Jimenez Colmenares, a mechanic and the husband of a teacher. Clearly this was meant to intimidate and create fear. Yet, the movement remains dedicated to not taking up arms. Instead APPO has used the main strategies of creating a situation of ungovernability in Oaxaca, preventing the state government from meeting, orchestrating state wide strikes, blockading bank and wealthy business, and controlling transportation through highway stoppages.

In late August the federal government finally agreed to negotiations with APPO and 28 representatives, half teachers, went to Mexico City. These negotiations are not likely to go anywhere because the federal government refuses to back down and the movement is unwilling to compromise on the resignation of Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. A teacher living in an encampment outside one of the radio stations explained, “Some compañeros want to accept the crumbs that the federal government is offering us and say that maybe we better return to class so that this can end peacefully, as if nothing has happened, but there are a lot of us that say no, because this would imply forgetting the reality that we have been living until now. I insist this type of repression before has not been seen in Oaxaca and if we allow it, believe me when I say, that we would condemn the state of Oaxaca to live like this. Something that would not only affect the teachers but every social group that would want to rise up in the future.”

Power of Community Radio

Radio has played a very significant role in this movement, giving new voice to the voiceless. A radio station created by the striking teachers with community support was destroyed by the police during the June 14th repression. In response, students from the Autonomous University of Benito Juarez reclaimed their radio station, Radio Universidad, and it became the means of communication for the movement. It too was shot into by government goons and acid was poured on the transmitter, destroying the station. On August 1, a 3000 woman march moved through downtown clanging pots and pans, in the spirit of the march of “cacerolas” in Chile, calling for the resignation of the governor. Leila, a member of the women’s coordination committee of APPO explained, “The pots and pans reflect that in Oaxacan homes, there is no food. In a country where there is no justice, no equality, where there is no respect for human rights, these pans are not only empty of food but also of these basic principles.”

After the march ended in the main square, a contingent of 500 women decided to take over Channel 9 CORTV, a state wide television station and its two affiliated radio stations. After a few hours the women got the channel back on the air. They began to express many reasons for the takeover, to continue the pressure for the governor’s resignation, to reclaim the space for the community, to air the news that is not getting covered and to use the mode of communication for organizing and spreading word of the needs of the movement. On August 21st police and government goons attacked the transmitter control room for Channel 9 taking it and two affiliated radio stations off the air. A contingency plan had been created and within hours 11 radio stations were under the control of movement members, many of them women from Channel 9.

Encampments and street blockades were set up to protect the new stations from plain clothed cops and paramilitaries who appear at night and fire into the encampments. One movement member guarding a radio station was killed, bringing the total deaths to eight. This repression has had the opposite effect of its apparent goal to disable the movement through fear, instead, more people can be found sleeping in the encampments outside the radio stations, and the determination of the people seems stronger. On September 3, APPO declared the Governor banned from the state and have essentially taken over control. Florentino explained, “For us the process of destruction of the government and the resignation of Ulises has already ended so that a phase of construction can begin, of creating governability, of showing that we are capable of governing ourselves.”

In this National Climate the Winds of Oaxaca Reach Far and Wide

While the people have managed, at least for the time being to reclaim Oaxaca from the hands of the corrupt and repressive leadership, on the national level Felipe Calderon, with the help of the conservative Federal Election Commission (TRIFE), has managed to fraudulently steal the national presidency. On September 6, TRIFE unanimously handed the presidency of Mexico to Calderon even though he had only half a percent lead out of 41.6 million votes over the left PRD candidate Manuel Lopez Obrador amidst an immense amount of evidence pointing to fraud. Obrador, who some on the left have criticized as a moderate, has campaigned on helping the poor and is refusing to back down, mobilizing millions against the fraud in Mexico City.

In preparation for the his final State of the Union address on September 1, President Fox planned to keep the Obrador supporters at bay with 10 foot tall metal barricades, thousands of armed federal police, water cannons and military snipers stationed on rooftops of surrounding buildings. He did not foresee the 155 senators and congress members who felt the election was fraudulent and who prevented the speech from the inside by taking over the podium. Fox ended up giving a televised address. On September 16 at a National Democratic Convention, the people voted Obrador as President of a “parallel government” with plans to prevent Calderon from taking office on December 1. Those in power continue to try and carry on with business as usual. According to a White House spokesperson, two days after Calderon was handed the presidency, George Bush expressed the desire to “meet at the earliest mutually convenient opportunity” especially to move forward on Plan Puebla Panama. Try as they might, they can not continue to ignore what is being created in the poor and indigenous communities in Oaxaca and throughout Mexico.

“The worry that is maybe the biggest of all is the fear of being repressed, the fear of being incarcerated, the fear of being harshly beaten, and of course, the fear of dying because that is what we are exposed to,” states a teacher afraid to share his name. Yet the dignity and courage in his eyes, and in the eyes of so many, suggests to me that perhaps the strength of this mass mobilization of people with justice in their hearts and a clear understanding of the roots of their exploitation in their minds can withstand this brutal repression. As Slingshot goes to press there is a period of calm in Oaxaca but repression could come at any moment. The largest defense against this repression is international solidarity, as we have seen throughout the Zapatista uprisings in Chiapas. APPO has recently called for international solidarity and for actions at Mexican consulates throughout the world.

This struggle for human rights and self determination is not new and repression is clearly not confined to Oaxaca. In fact, Oaxaca is simply another front in this global struggle for social justice. And we, in the U.S., in the belly of the beast where it is the easiest to carry on and maintain the status quo, we must stand tall and not let a single casualty in this struggle go unnoticed. Those in power gain strength with each exploitive act and development plan that increases the distance between the very rich and the growing poor. Throughout the Americas things are changing. In South America, the grassroots movements are expanding, electing left leadership. And in the US, the immigrant rights movement is on the move. The potential for solidarity is endless. The former Chiapas Bishop Samuel RuÌz GarcÌa, a long time advocate for the poor and indigenous communities, attended an APPO forum. In the closing ceremonies he stated, “it might be that we are standing in two time dimensions, the past and the future. In these days we are living something that we are leaving, and cement is being placed beneath something that doesn’t come automatically but is the result of working together, of our construction.”

Rochelle can be reached at rochelle@riseup.net and photos from the movement in Oaxaca can be found at www.globalsoil.wordpress.com. For up-to-date info on Oaxaca and Mexico in English and Spanish www.narconews.com/en.html

Slingshot issue #92 introduction

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

Often when working on the paper we are faced with the dilemma of deciding what is news and will be relevant for the three months an issue is on the streets after we print it. For example, we published a long article about Oaxaca even though the situation there could change dramatically the day after the paper comes off the press, because the events there are inspiring and underreported in mainstream news. We hope the Oaxaca phenomenon will spread throughout Mexico and inspire people in the US, including the immigrants’ rights movement.

On the other side of the coin are important but complex, detailed articles like the update of the Green Scare arrests. The gauntlet of information can leave those “not in the know” feeling a little lost. Because it is a frequent feature in our paper (like the Iraq debacle or People’s Park) readers may conclude there is nothing new to say. But that is the nature of prolonged struggles as opposed to sensational news. The recent Green Scare coverage in Rolling Stone was good at describing characters, but then framed them as idiots. By contrast, if you look at the beautifully written obituaries in this issue, we hope you’ll feel the real and funky people who inhabit our world of resistance.

We apologize for not having a Spanish page in this issue. Disculpenos por la absencia de la pagina en español. En el futuro, necesitaremos articulos en español.

As usual, we had a hell of a time getting people to send us articles and art. Ironically, our most responsive contributor-base is our prisoner readership. We would love to have first person narratives and radical social/political analyses. We are still working on better ways to accept unsolicited contributions. All too often, people send us unformed outlines posing as articles or just rants.

We also need more black and white art for covers and article graphics. We’ll do more original posters if you send them, and we thought that “First the dishes, Then the revolution” would be a great slogan for the next one we feature.

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 working with the editorial collective.

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.

Thanks to all who worked on this: Artnoose, B (for lunch only), Eggplant, Jessica, Hefty Lefty, Kathryn, Maneli, Melinda, Molly, PB.

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting on Sunday, November 26 at 4 p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below).

Article Deadline and Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 93 by January 6, 2007 at 3 p.m.

Volume 1, Number 92, Circulation 15,000

Printed September 28, 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 has 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.

Traveler’s Infoshop Grapevine

People all over the world wrote in to tell us about new infoshops and radical spaces we should list in the 2007 Slingshot Organizer. No sooner had we typed in all the information and taken the Organizer off to the printing press than a bunch more people contacted us with more information — which will have to wait for the 2008 Organizer.

We’re always looking for information about new spaces or changes to existing places so that people traveling around can find places and so activists can network informally to cooperate on projects. If you’re traveling around and find mistakes in info from us or find out about more places we can list, please let us know. We’re trying to post information we receive on our website: slingshot.tao.ca.

Jack Pine collective – Minneapolis, MN

A radical community center / free space / youth hangout. 2815 E. Lake St. Minneapolis, MN 55406, 612-729-2837, www.thejackpine.org.

Rocktown Infoshop & Freespace – Harrisonburg, VA

A new radical space, they feature an infoshop with books, CDs, zines, etc., a radical library and a free store. Open 1 pm – 4 pm Sun-Tues & Thursday and Fri-Sat. 12-6. 85 E. Elizabeth St. Harrisonburg, VA 22802 (540)437-0577

Castle Olympus – Columbia, SC

It is a new collective space with a free library and a show space. They host workshops and punk rock potluck picnics. 119 South Parker St. Columbia, SC 29201, 843-618-4759.

Belfry Center for Social and Cultural Activities – Minneapolis, MN

They are a new space with a book and zine library host the Bat Annex Free School. 3753 Bloomington Ave S., Minneapolis, MN 55407, 612-724-4293, belfrycenter.org.

Swords Into Plowshares Peace Center – Kalamazoo, MI

They tell us they are a “hub of youth activism and organizing in Kalamazoo, mostly serving Western Michigan University students.” 2101 Wilbur Kalamazoo, MI 49006 (269) 344-4076 Organize@KzooPeaceCenter.org

Mendocino Coast Environmental Ctr.

I was biking down the coast and happened upon this place in the very tourist-y city of Mendocino. The volunteer at the desk didn’t know the street address but it’s right on the main street. PO Box 1125, Mendocino, CA 95460, 707 937 -1035.

Sedition Collective – Houston, TX

They have a lending library, a small retail section, free broadband internet/wi-fi and a “free box,” as well as serving as a drug/alcohol-free hangout spot. They are open 4 pm – 7 pm, Wed-Thurs, 1-7 Sundays, and are available to be booked for meetings/events/etc. on Fridays and Saturdays. 4420 Washington Ave. Houston, TX 77007.

Media Island International Olympia WA

They host Food Not Bombs, Indy Media, have meetings space, computer access, a library and movies. 816 Adams St. SE, Olympia, WA 98501 360-352-8526.

Bikehouse – Salt Lake City, UT

A bike library open to travelers and radicals. 519 E. 600 S. Salt Lake City, UT 84102.

People traveling around sent us lots of new international contacts – we don’t always have a lot of information about what they are precisely. Hopefully someone will visit these places and give us info about what they are.

Biblioteca Social Reconstruir – Mexico City

Someone wrote in to say they’re not gone – they’re just moving. They are at Dolores #16 Despacho 401 near the Bella Artes metro station. Not sure of the postal code or phone.

Biblioteca Social Praxedis G. Guerrero

A cool new space. Open Wednesdays and Fridays 4-8 pm at Gobernador Curiel 2133, colonia ferrocarril, Guadalajara, Jalisco. cooperativa_regeneracion@yahoo.com.

Ernst Kirchweger Haus – Vienna, Austria

An awesome autonomous center/squat with an infoshop. Wielandgasse 2-4/A-1100 Wien/Austria, www.med-user.net/infomaden

Infoshoppe kasama – Zurich Switzerland

An infoshop (?) at militarstrasse 87a Zurich Switzerland

Centre internationale de recherches sur l’Anarchisma – Switzerland

An infoshop (?) at Beaumont 24 Lausanne 1012 Switz.

Infoladen Rabia – Switzerland

An infoshop (?) at Bachtelstr. 70 Winterthur 8400 Switz.

KTS – Freiburg, Germany

An infoshop (?) at Baslerstr. 103 79100 Freiburg Germany

Krtkova Kolona – Czech Republic

An infoshop and cafe that has been open since 2001. Socharska 6, 170 00 Praha 7 Tel: +420 604 247 218.

Alternative Information Center – West Bank, Palestine

An infoshop (?) at Building 111 Main Street – Beit Sahour, occupied Palestine – 00972-2-2775444

Alternative Information Center – Israel

An infoshop at Queen Shlomzion Street 4 (2nd floor) – West Jerusalem PO Box 31417, Israel – 00972-2-6241159, alternativenews.org/

Daila – Israel

An infoshop (?) at Queen Shlomzion 4, West Jerusalem, Israel, www.dailazoo.net/

Young Communist League of Israel

An infoshop (?) at Koresh 14, entrance 5, apartment 8, West Jerusalem, Israel, www.banki-shabiba.net

Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions

An infoshop (?) at Ben-Yehuda 7, West Jerusalem, Israel, www.icahd.org/eng/

Kafé44 – Stockholm, Sweden

An infoshop and coffeehouse. Tjarhovsgatan 44, Metro; T-Medborgarplatsen, Stockholm, Sweden, +46-8-6445312 info@kafe44.com

Anchor Archive Zine Library – Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

They are a year-old zine library. Check ‘em out: 5684 Roberts St. Halifax, NS. B3K 1J6 Canada. 902-446-1788.

Changes / mistakes in 2006 organizer

• The Urbana-Champaign IMC is now at 202 South Broadway, Suite 100 Urbana, IL 61801, 217-344-8820

• Third space in Norman, OK has a new phone #: 405-307-8379.

• Mat Hatters Infoshop in Danbury, CT has closed.

• Behind the Rocks Infoshop in Hartford, CT closed.

• Burning River Infoshop in Cleveland wrote in to say they are, in fact, gone but folks can contact the following addresses in Cleveland: Cleveland Anarchist Black Cross, PO Box 602543, Cleveland, OH, 44102 or FNB at veggies@clevelandfoodnotbombs.org. A new infoshop is scheduled to open in January, 2006.

• Black Star Books in New Zealand has new information: their new address is Corso Building, 111 Moray Place, Dunedin, New Zealand. Their postal address remains the same (p.o. Box 812 Dunedin, New Zealand). Their contact email address is now info@blackstar.nihil.nz and website www.blackstar@nihil.net.nz

Changes / mistakes in 2007 organizer

• We printed the wrong phone # and postal code for Haymarket Books and Cafe in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The correct info is T2G 2M8, 403 -234-0260. The street address published is correct.

• The address for Utopia Infoshop in Prague has changed to Karlova 25, Praha 1, Czech Republic. Note: someone from the Czech Republic wrote to say they had “changed their politics” and shouldn’t be listed anymore – other communications from Europe didn’t agree.

• Someone wrote to say that the La Comuna Libertaria in Guadalajara is not really operational anymore.

• Better than Television in Charlottesville, VA does not appear to exist anymore – we have had mail returned from them and their phone number is disconnected.

Emerging from Iraq War Depression

As the situation in Iraq has deteriorated into virtual civil war over the past several months — with 140,000 US troops presiding impotently over the carnage — it is more clear than ever that the US has lost in Iraq (no matter how one may define the vague US mission there) and that it is only a matter of time before US troops pack-up and head home defeated. After three and a half years and over 2,700 American military deaths, the clumsy US occupation has brought little reconstruction or political reconciliation. Instead, the situation on all levels — economically, in terms of health and education, from a human rights perspective, and with respect to public safety — is worse than it has ever been in Iraq’s history. There is still not sufficient electricity, water, employment, medicine in the hospitals, etc.

Sectarian groups and militias on all sides are operating death squads and torture chambers that make even Saddam Hussein’s gross human rights violations look at least more orderly if not more tame by comparison. According to figures from the Iraqi Health Ministry and the Baghdad morgue collected by the United Nations, 3,009 civilians were killed in sectarian and insurgent violence in August, 3,590 in July, 3,149 in June, 2,669 in May, 2284 in April, 2378 in March, 2,165 in February, and 1,778 in January — a total of at least 21,022 so far for 2006. And those are the ones whose bodies have been located and who have been counted — many people have simply disappeared. Wounded civilians and military members — often permanently disabled — total several times the number killed.

The catastrophe in Iraq is a continuing waste of lives and money on all sides. Over $316 billion has been spent by the US alone on Iraq to date according to estimates from the Congressional Budget Office — for what? The US occupation — rather than containing the sectarian violence and insurgency — has only fueled these trends. It is becoming increasingly clear that healing and peace in Iraq are impossible with US troops there. Peace and stability in Iraq may be impossible for years given the mess that the US occupation has made of Iraqi society. The only silver lining may be that Bush is somewhat less likely to invade Iran or other countries in his remaining two years given the way the US military is tied down in Iraq.

As the situation in Iraq gets worse month after month and the bodies pile ever higher, the key question is whether there is any way to stop the occupation while Bush remains in power. At the outset of the war, Bush totally ignored huge international and some domestic opposition to the war. His administration has consistently been in its own world, unconcerned with facts that run contrary to their ideological positions. Early opponents of the war became dispirited as it became apparent that Bush would simply ignore our demands to stop the slaughter. Now, with a majority of the public turning against the war, Bush still seems unmoved and the situation seems particularly hopeless and depressing.

It is, however, a mistake to conclude that those of us living in the US should rest in our armchairs just because Bush has been able to ignore us so far. Social cracks are developing that are constraining Bush’s options and bringing closer the day when continuing the occupation as it has been will simply become impossible. To the extent more and more people refuse to accept the war and break the silence and depression surrounding the war disaster — in lots of small and large ways — the popular illusion that the Iraq quagmire is inevitable will further erode.

Increasing numbers of US troops are refusing to go along with the war. US generals just announced that they will have to maintain or even increase current troop levels for another year. It is getting harder and harder to find troops to send to Iraq without breaking the US military. Some military officials are even discussing offering citizenship to foreign nationals if they’ll go to Iraq to fight for the US first. Such a step is not symptomatic of a population united behind the war. Rather, it represents desperation on the part of government officials trying to maintain an unwinnable occupation that has lost public support.

Most of us aren’t soldiers, but we can publicly and strongly support military people who refuse to go or youth who refuse to join the military in the first place. There are all kinds of small ways to help advance a ground swell of opposition to the occupation: printing, distributing and wearing “stop the occupation” shirts, hanging up lawn signs, writing letters to the editor, bringing Iraq into conversation, turning out for anti-war marches and protests, etc. The only hope of ending the occupation sooner rather than later is shaking off our disempowerment and depression and refusing to let the occupation go on in silence.

While biking down the Oregon/California coast this summer, I rode into the tiny fog shrouded town of Albion. At the tiny market there, someone had set up a trailer filled with small wood crosses — one for each solder killed in Iraq. Now is not the time to forget Iraq and hope it will go away. The occupation is lingering on because the majority of Americans who oppose it haven’t translated their private opposition to public resistance. This time, the silent majority are those against the occupation. It’s time to end our silence.

People’s Park:still there-go use it.

People’s Park in Berkeley, California — located between Haste Street and Dwight Way above Telegraph Avenue. It’s still there. And it’s still a trouble-maker embodying our dreams, society’s problems and the University’s attempt to control it. People’s Park is one of the few places in this country with a claim to being Common Land. Though the University of California, Berkeley (UC) holds a paper title to the land that they obtained by abusing eminent domain and calling in police and the national guard to quell protests 38 years ago, they really don’t control this land. Their attempt to build volleyball courts and convert the Park into a student sports playground in the early 1990′s failed. The resistance that sprang forth was spirited and powerful. The coalition of people who resisted the volleyball court birthed a whole community that includes East Bay Food Not Bombs (FNB), CopWatch and nourishes Slingshot. The Park seems to rise to its glory in conflict, but how is it today in its daily existence?

First, it is good to recognize its very existence as success. The Park has resisted plans to build dorms, sports courts and parking lots. Currently the University says that it wants to keep it as a park. That’s good. Now there is a dynamic tension about what kind of park that is. One of the looming issues is about “homeless services” in the Park — FNB and numerous other groups serve free food at the park and many groups and individuals bring clothing and other items to share with others at the park.

Also the new People’s Park Community Advisory Board has initiated a “comprehensive planning process” for which the University agreed to provide $100,000 for the hiring of expert professional planners, or at least those professionals who plan how to plan. This is completely against the nature of the Park and the concept of User Development — wherein park users decide what should be done and then do it themselves — that People’s Park embodies.

The Community Advisory Board is hand selected by the University to “advise” them. There is nothing democratic about the process. Currently the board includes three conservative neighbors from the Willard Neighborhood Association (WNA) which sued and caused the demise of UC’s coolest student co-op, Le Chateau. Now these WNA board members are after the Park. One is challenging incumbent city council member Kriss Worthington who has consistently been supportive of People’s Park and user and community development of it. George Beier, Kriss’s challenger, made his quick fortune selling software to corporate banks and now has plenty of time to work on raising his property value. He talks sweet but anything said to him goes in one ear and out the other. His plan is to make People’s Park more of a lawn (like Willard Park), get the University to redesign it, install spy cameras and build a cafe on the valuable open space. If any cafe goes into People’s Park it would have to serve FREE food!

Besides threatening to “redesign” the Park, the challenge to “social services” is in full force. The most obvious attack is the repeated removal of the Free Clothing Box by the University. People’s Park has always been a place where people can share and help others. The Freebox stood for many years to assist in our community’s exchange of used clothes until it was arsoned. UC police have prevented numerous attempts by volunteers to rebuild the box. People still bring free clothes to the park only now, the clothes are distributed in a pile on the ground in front of the dumpsters. Even this method provides clothes for an amazing amount of people. The University is interested in removing services to make the Park less attractive to “those people” — homeless people, street punks, poor people and freaks. It has placed an outspoken UC Berkeley Architect professor on the advisory board who wants to remove the serving of free food and other services.

The Park has a fair amount of resiliency to official planners and changing anything successfully will require cooperation with the people who use the Park. In the meantime the Park has been really nice this year. Despite claims that the Park is under-used there are actually lots of people in it: playing chess and basketball, sleeping, sharing food and conversation, or playing frisbee. It also remains a refuge for the homeless and mentally ill. It is a surprisingly healing place, where people who may not be accepted in most realms of society can find peace, support and community. Most of this is provided by the community itself with no taxpayer services.

Truly the fate of People’s Park lies with you. It can only be a common land of sharing, a place cared for and improved through user-development and a joyful testament to the thousands of people who have in some way contributed to this dream, if you carry it on. To complain about the Park to some authority totally misses the point. Be the Park you want to see. If you want it to be a comfortable place to study or picnic, grab a few friends and go there. If you’d like to go to more music shows, organize one. If you want it cleaner, pick it up. The Park was born by people deciding to cooperatively create beauty out of an injustice and an eyesore in their neighborhood. It is much too rare in this country that we have both the opportunity and obligation to participate in such creative action.

I have hope. There are beautiful young people serving lunch, there are student groups volunteering to fix the free speech stage, there are homeless people who are gardening, there is kindness and sharing among society’s forgotten, there is basketball, chess and puzzles, there are many churches and groups who bring food to share, there is a generous flow of donated clothes, there are tomatoes and birds and lots of different people who would not meet if not for this special park. No, it’s not paradise, there are also still fights and littering and people so broken it’s tearful. But if you brave it, if you claim People’s Park as yours, as it is, you just may feel its embrace, a gift from someone before, that manifests as a sweet apple, new shoes, sunlight on a flower or that nugget of truth from a stranger’s lips. Go there.

Camp Trans and Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival Announce Changes

This August, Camp Trans and the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival announced changes in a 14-year struggle over the explicit exclusion of transgender womyn from the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF) is the largest and longest-running women’s separatist music festival in the world, started in 1976 in rural Michigan. MWMF emerged from the radical women’s community of the 1970s and encompasses a wide range of women and a wide range of political views. In recent years, MWMF has been criticized for what some see as regressive ideas about gender, self-identification and separatist space.

In 1991, a trans woman was kicked out of the music festival in an event that would become historic. The MWMF created an official policy specifying that the festival is for ‘womyn-born-womyn’ only, and asking that anyone not identifying as a ‘womon-born-womon’ not attend the events arguing that women who were born and raised as women share a common experience and thus need separate space. Since 1994, Camp Trans has been staging protests and cultural events directly across the road from the entry gate to the MWMF, with the explicit goal of changing this policy. Camp Trans believes that all self-identified women should be welcome at the festival. Camp Trans’ tactics have ranged from direct education work with festival attendees, to a national boycott campaign pressuring artists and performers not to play at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. Camp Trans has also emerged as its own yearly festival, drawing 100-200 participants each year for music and workshops focused in transgender communities. A variety of artists and activists have spoken out in support of trans inclusion in recent years, including the Indigo Girls, Emi Koyama (www.eminism.org) and author Michelle Tea.

This past August, two transgender women bought tickets at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival gates, stated that they were trans women, and were permitted into the festival by the women working at the gate. Camp Trans responded to this event with a press release proclaiming the struggle to be over, and celebrating unity between Camp Trans, and supporters of trans inclusion within the festival. (see the release at: http://camptrans.squarespace.com/latest-news/2006/8/21/camp-trans-press-release.html) The festival responded with a press release contradicting Camp Trans’ message. According to MWMF owner and proprietor Lisa Vogel, “if a transwoman purchased a ticket, it represents nothing more than that womon choosing to disrespect the stated intention of this Festival.” Vogel’s basis for continued exclusion of trans women is also articulated: “I ask that you respect that womon born womon is a valid and honorable gender identity.” (see the release at: http://www.intraa.org/story/mwmfpolicyrebuttal)

It is unclear which of these naratives will end up being more accurate regarding the festival in the coming year but the understanding of gender in radical communites is changing According to Camp trans organizer Jessica Snodgrass, “this is not about winning. It’s about making our communities whole again. The policy divided people against each other who could be fighting on the same side. We want to be part of the healing process.”

Transitions In Radical Feminist Space – Exciting Prospects For Inclusion

This was originally composed as a letter to members of my extended transfeminist community to fill them in on the events of Camp Trans/Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival (MWMF) this August. I was at both festivals this year, and this was my eight year attending either Camp Trans or MWMF. These views do not represent the views of Camp Trans.

For the first time since official trans exclusion began at the festival in the early nineties, an out transsexual woman purchased a ticket and went into the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival without resistance from festival organizers or attendees. Across the street, Camp Trans had its own cultural festival of workshops, musicians, poets, trans and non-trans attendees of all genders, and celebrated its 16th year of protest and culture!

Did the trans exclusion policy of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival change? Is trans exclusion over?

I am sure in the year to come that much discussion will ensue within the broader queer and feminist community connected to Camp Trans and the MWMF about the festival’s longstanding policy excluding trans people and specifying MWMF as a space for ‘womyn-born-womyn’ only. Here is what I believe to be the bottom line:

Trans womyn attended the festival this year without harassment, and the policy is no longer being enforced, by Festival organizers or participants. An out transsexual woman also gave a workshop on trans inclusion inside the festival for a group of about 60 womyn and the “Yellow Armbands”, a group of feminist trans allies at the MWMF, organized within the festival all week for visibility of trans issues and inclusion of trans women. As far as I know, Camp Trans will no longer be explicitly protesting the policy. Trans people and allies will be at both the Festival and Camp Trans next year because the majority of the womyn at Festival are open to the presence of trans folks at festival, open to the fact that the times are a-changin’, and open to a deeper dialogue about feminism, transfeminism, oppression and inclusion in womyn’s spaces. It won’t be easy, but it is happening. After all these years of fighting and debating, the transphobic status quo that once supported excluding transwomyn from womyn’s spaces is no longer as powerful. The written policy, the word of Lisa Vogel and the potential vehemence of a few transphobes at the festival, simply do not matter as much as they once did. Transphobia in this womyn’s community holds less weight now, and the tides are turning in this small corner of the radical world. A weight is slowly being lifted and this is a gift to all of us who have invested time and energy into building feminist space for so many years. Trans womyn are womyn, and we hope they will finally be welcomed as such in the coming years at the Festival.

I think it’s important not to frame this issue in terms of a Camp trans victory over the Festival, or an end to the Festival as it has been. This change represents a positive advancement in the ability of different sectors of queer and feminist community to work together. It represents something positive for the future of both camps. It’s time to celebrate that together.

Okay, so why does this whole thing matter?

1. The festival matters: The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is the largest and longest-standing radical, feminist, womyn’s separatist space in the world. Festival leaders have been consciously excluding womyn who identify as trans from their space for about 15 years, leading to a huge and divisive controversy in feminist and queer communities all over the US and some parts of the world.

2. Trans people matter: We are strong, amazing, influential people just looking for a place to be. Trans people negotiate a painful and direct marginalization on a daily basis to varying degrees in this culture. For most of us, just as many lesbians have experienced, there is no place to go, very little support, and no such thing as ‘trans-friendly-anything’ in the daily world we walk through. We are forced to isolate pieces of our identity and hide pieces of our past and present at almost all times, for many reasons. We spend so much time trying to prove our validity it’s virtually suffocating. Transwomyn experience oppression from multiple angles as womyn in the world who also have a unique and marginalized experience as trans.

3. Unity matters: Spaces like Camp Trans and the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival are meant to be a breath of fresh air for people who live lives that are stifled by this kind of marginalization. Ideally, they give us strength to go back out in the world and engage in our fights for survival and justice. Many of us are part of struggle in various sectors of a left-wing progressive or radical movement to change the conditions of our lives and of many people’s lives globally. Feminism and a struggle against heterosexism and transphobia are an integral part of building strength in this movement, and unity amongst womyn, trans and queer people and all feminists is about as important as it has ever been. We are living in a politically devastating time, fighting an uphill battle. It is desperately important right now to be fighting racism, transphobia, sexism, classism, and all forms of oppression that divide us within our movements, in order to build stronger unified fronts against the people who truly hate us, and hate all of us. The right wing in this country wants us to be divided, and they love that we fight with each other as much as we do. The divide between Camp Trans and the MWMF has long represented an extremely painful rift experienced by many womyn and trans folk, and the bitterness that is born out of never having a place of calm or a space to be slightly safer from everyday harassment. It is far easier, sadly, to tear each other to shreds than it is to build inclusive, radical safer spaces, even for a week out of the year. The growing ability to build feminist space together and to challenge and overcome transphobic fear within this space is hugely important in a broader political context. This doesn’t mean that oppressive attitudes within radical feminism are over, but it allows an example of a time when oppressive attitudes have been challenged and changed. The spaces we’ve been building for so long exist intact, and we grow stronger every year.

4. Healing matters: Even those who are uncomfortable with the idea of trans womyn at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival must understand that this moment is a positive one, and one of healing. This uncomfortable moment will invariably mean growth. This piece of land and community of people in Western Michigan will support that growth to happen, for all who are involved. After seven years of participating in this fight, and ten years of connection to MWMF, I can say for the first time that I feel an immense amount of trust in Camp Trans and in the Festival. All I want is a space that is larger than a closet to chill in for a week. Gimme a field. Gimme some woods. Give it to me on my beautiful home turf of Michigan. And give it to my friends, who ARE WOMYN, who are feminists, who are part of this community.

What should we be talking about in our communities and preparing for next year?

The rumor mill works fast and a number of contradicting stories are in circulation regarding the events of this year. Please don’t focus too hard on the details around the two trans womyn admitted this year–very few people were present and therefore very few people can speak accurately to those details. Take my personal recommendations instead!:

Let’s talk about how Camp Trans, the Yellow Armbands, and a large amount of MWMF workers and attendees are looking forward to welcoming trans people onto the land next year, and beginning to truly work together to support the existence of another trans-inclusive womyn-only space. Let’s talk about how happy this coalition of womyn and allies are, to be creating a more inclusive version of womyn’s community that no longer excludes some of the most invisible and marginalized womyn who walk this planet. This is part of our path to healing, radical, feminist community.

If you have been boycotting the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival because of its trans inclusion policy, next year is the year to GO BACK TO THE FESTIVAL! For MWMF to work towards a genuine, grassroots trans inclusion, trans people and allies need to be there in full force, starting next year, from now on. The policy didn’t go away, but its message is no longer the most important message. Folks with a better message need to be there to push this change along.

If you have participated in Camp Trans in past years, or always wanted to go, GO BACK next year! Camp Trans needs feminist, anti-racist trans folks and allies to continue building a space in those woods that can support political development, cultural festivities, and a continued relationship with the MWMF as the Festival’s gates open up to the people who’ve been camping across the road. These coming years have been a long time coming and they are going to be some of the most challenging, and most celebratory years these spaces will see. Come on down and get a piece of the action.

Congratulations everyone, we are real!

Five years ago at Camp Trans I think it was hard for most of us to imagine that things were really going to change, and change so fast. Many people gave up or stopped participating for personal or political reasons. If you are not able to be in Michigan for any number of reasons, celebrate. Talk it up. Start talking it up now and talk it up until next year. Camp Trans and anti-transphobia allies at MWMF have ushered in a turning of the tides, through a lot of real, concrete work. It didn’t fall out of the sky; boycotts, educational campaigns, media work, and endless heartfelt conversations for many years have built this change. Tell everyone how proud you are that people in your extended feminist community have pushed a true paradigm shift in the last fifteen years. Keep on working for change in your communities and keep on believing that change is going to come, and it won’t fall from the sky (how nice would that be?) it will be created and cultivated by real people like us.

PEDALING IN THE FACE OF DISASTER Critical Mass ties it all together

The August 25, 2006 San Francisco Critical Mass commemorates Hurricane Katrina and the ongoing destruction of New Orleans. It was exactly one year ago, on August 25, 2005, that Katrina reached hurricane strength, beginning the process that led to New Orleans becoming “the worst disaster in US history.”

But as we mourn the destruction of New Orleans, those of us in San Francisco can’t help but remember that before Katrina it was our own city that held the title of “worst disaster”–and may yet again! Of course we all know that an active fault line rumbles beneath our feet, threatening to shake our city into rubble. But we also face looming disaster in the form of rising waters, as global temperatures (due, in no small measure, to the global car culture) raise the shoreline, and no one really knows how high it will go.

To acknowledge this fact, we propose a route along our current shoreline southward and through what was once Mission Bay before turning north and tracing a route along the FUTURE shoreline at a line approximately 15 feet above the current sea level. Many times we will traverse the original shoreline too, long ago filled in with sand and soil from San Francisco hills that are no more.

FEMA, the Federal Emergency Manipulation Agency, is blamed for flubbing the relief effort in New Orleans. But FEMA has done its job perfectly! It has channeled billions in relief funds directly to the same businesses that have profited so handsomely from the destruction of Iraq. No doubt the same insider corporations–like San Francisco’s Bechtel–are now lining up for a chance to “rebuild” the birth clinic of the “new Middle East” in Lebanon.

FEMA’s job is to preserve and extend class divisions in the U.S. Disasters like Katrina are opportunities for radical social engineering on behalf of society’s owners. It’s not incompetence when FEMA makes the disrupted lives of New Orleans’ poor and black population into a story of permanent displacement, bur rather it’s a long-cherished goal of the city’s wealthy owners. FEMA is the federal government’s velvet-gloved fist to smash communities that have ideas of their own, dividing people to ensure confusion, isolation and dependency. The next step is to blame the victims for their condition. After months or years of delay and inadequate support, the dispersed and atomized victims are abandoned to their fates, urged to get on with their new lives.

When we bicycle together in Critical Mass we’re engaged in a very different kind of radical social engineering. Critical Mass is a monthly practice of spontaneous collective cooperation and self-direction, just the opposite of a militarized bureaucracy like FEMA. More importantly, Critical Mass is an actively maintained social vaccination against the kind of isolation and despondency FEMA creates and enforces. Communicating in the heat of the moment, solving problems face to face, cooperating with people we otherwise haven’t had much contact with, are all practical skills in disaster preparedness. And let’s face it, when the streets are filled with quake rubble, the bicycle will become the transportation of necessity, just like it was in 1906.

We cannot delude ourselves about how bad the world is, how much worse it’s gotten since we started riding before Clinton’s first election. In this age of cynicism, an unforgiving world is made meaner and colder by the haughty self-righteousness of venal government and business leaders, unapologetic profiteers and brazen war criminals who think they can escape justice forever. They won’t, but no thanks to Critical Mass cyclists, who don’t address this larger drama. We don’t leave, or haven’t yet, our self-defined limits of a rolling monthly seizure of the streets (a mere bike ride? hardly!) to contest the larger culture in other ways, but maybe that’s OK.

Few of us are passive witnesses to this madness. During our daily lives we discuss and imagine alternatives all the time. We help each other live better lives through mutual aid and cooperation. Many people are tinkering in the growing mountains of waste to invent new homegrown technologies that anticipate the problems facing future post-oil survival. With a growing embrace of a broader ecological agenda, our small acts of resistance and renewal are already shaping the world to come. Our common wealth will be based on locally produced organic foods, wind and solar electricity, bicycling and recycled biofuels, restored habitats and daylighted waterways, vibrantly creative and diverse artistic cultures of free expression and easy-going tolerance, new combinations of urban and rural, and a media renaissance providing unprecedented breadth and depth in proliferating forms and outlets. Freed from the rigid limits imposed by profit-seeking, scientists could address problems they consider “unrealistic” today. Medical care can open up to many of the world’s traditions, leading to new ideas about health, sickness and treatment. We can decide together what work is worth doing and what stupid and destructive work should stop immediately.

Who knew that riding home together once a month could open the space to imagine such a different world? How many of us realize that we’re already pedaling in the right direction?