Category Archives: Organizer Essays

Tips on Collective Process

 

As we build new non-hierarchical projects, businesses, houses and institutions, efficient, clear and open group process can make our work a lot easier. Making decisions as a group shouldn’t have to mean sitting in endless disorganized, frustrating meetings or letting our groups be dominated by those with the loudest voices. Here are some tips on how to create effective, fun, cooperative structures for liberation.

Decision Making Process

• If possible, come to meetings having already thought about concrete things to say and discuss.

• Starting a meeting well sets the tone for what is to come. Make a clear agenda that everyone understands and agrees on. Select people to play roles at the meeting: a facilitator or co-facilitators, a time keeper, someone to take minutes, and maybe a stack-keeper and vibes watcher for bigger meetings. Go around the circle and have everyone introduce themselves and perhaps check-in with how they’re feeling to build a cohesive spirit for the meeting.

• Meetings are more fun when there’s food and drink served.

• It can be helpful to have a brainstorm to generate lots of ideas on a particular agenda item. Everyone throws out ideas and no one comments on them or discusses them at the time. They are written down and organized or discussed later.

• Sometimes people raise their hands to speak to a point. The facilitator or stack-keeper will call on people and keep their comments in order. Other times a “talking stick” gets passed around — only the person holding the stick can speak.

• Sometimes, it is nice to have a “go-round” so that everyone in the circle can speak to a point or at least say “pass.” That will give quieter people who might not raise their hand a chance to speak.

• During the meeting, after discussing a point on the agenda, one or several people can state specific proposals or counter-proposals for the group to act on. This avoids general discussion that doesn’t lead to a clear decision or action.

• When a meeting is having a hard time getting to a decision, it can be helpful to take a non-binding “straw poll” to get a sense of how people feel on an issue. It may be that most people already favor one course and a straw poll can move the meeting from discussion to reaching a decision.

• Many groups use consensus to reach a decision — the process of only making a decision when, after thorough discussion, everyone agrees to a proposal or agrees to stand aside and not block it. This can take longer because it takes time to hear everyone’s point of view and requires people to compromise but avoids a group splitting between winners and losers.

• At the end of the meeting, make sure the date is set for the next meeting. Doing a check-out to state how people thought the meeting went can help heal hard feelings that may have developed during the meeting. It also helps to have people repeat what they agreed to do at the meeting so everyone remembers who will do what later. Write up minutes and distribute them to the group.

Organizational Development

• Groups that grow slowly and organically — starting with small goals and letting the project expand with the group rather than biting off a huge task right from the start — tend to keep going rather than burning out. Avoid endless discussions of abstract structure and procedures before you’ve even done anything.

• Collectives work best when they stay small — maybe the size of a band or at most a smaller chamber orchestra. If a project requires more people, several independent collectives can communicate and cooperate on it.

• Having an established welcoming ritual for new members will help the group seem open rather than a closed clique of friends.

• Some collectives are open to anyone who wants to join. Others are closed collectives — new members have to be invited to join by the existing group. Figure out which kind your group wants to be based on the goals and needs of the group. It is okay to decide who you want to work with — being closed can help deal with disruptive people. On the other hand, open groups can include new energy, people and diversity outside your personal friendship network.

• Finances should be open and not mixed with anyone’s personal money.

• Keep a binder with all the minutes of meetings to maintain history as membership changes.

• Avoid development of an “in-group” by rotating tasks, sharing information about how things work, and publicly posting meeting times if the group is an open collective.

 

Books that Blew Our Minds –

Fiction

The Days of Abandonment – Elena Ferrante

Nevada – Imogen Binnie

The Activist – Renee Gladman

Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler

Drown – Junot Díaz

The Good Soldier Švejk – Jaroslav Hašek

Nightwood – Djuna Barnes

 

Nonfiction

How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read – Pierre Bayard

Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? – Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

The Secret Life on Puppets – Victoria Nelson

Towards a Creative Nothing – Renzo Novatore

Feminism Is for Everybody: Passionate Politics – bell hooks

Are Prisons Obsolete? – Angela Davis

A Crime Called Freedom – Os Cangaceiros

Parasite Rex – Carl Zimmer

Walled States, Waning Sovereignty – Wendy Brown

The Fire Next Time – James Baldwin

Shotgun Seamstress Zine Anthology – Osa Atoe

The Gentrification of the Mind – Sarah Schulman

 

 

Poetry

Top 40 – Brandon Brown

Prelude to Bruise – Saeed Jones

Citizen – Claudia Rankine

The Heart’s Traffic – Ching-In Chen

Letters to Wendy’s – Joe Wenderoth

The Maximus Poems – Charles Olson

Collected Poems – Kenneth Patchen

Engine Empire – Cathy Park Hong

Inter Arma – Lauren Shufran

Life on Mars – Tracy K. Smith

 

Comics

Sex Criminals

Bitch Planet

Fun Home

Black Science

Pretty Deadly

Watching the Detective

How to monitor the police: Copwatch

In a free, non-hierarchical society, there wouldn’t be a police force — a group of people paid by those in power to use violence to enforce laws. Laws are typically made by elites to protect their power and social position, and therefore a primary function of police is to protect inequality. Historically, the most oppressed communities have suffered the worst abuse and violence at the hands of police. In response to this brutality, people have organized to protect our communities by watching the cops. These efforts try to deter the worst police abuses by exposing them to public attention. While the police are always watching you, usually no one watches the police. The Black Panther party originally existed to follow police patrols and stop their abuse of the black community. In more recent years, activists around the world have started Copwatch projects to keep an eye on the police.

The following are exerpts of the Berkeley Copwatch Manual on how Copwatch groups monitor police activity. If your town doesn’t have a Copwatch project, you can start one by gathering friends and forming your own citizen patrols. Good luck!

 

Copwatch’s main tactic is to discourage police brutality and harassment by letting the cops know that their actions are being recorded and that they will be held accountable for their acts of harassment and abuse. To this end we will: record incidents of abuse and harassment, follow through on complaints, publicize incidents of abuse and harassment, educate those who don’t believe that police harassment exists.

Defuse Situations

As Copwatchers, we don’t want to escalate a situation to where police arrest someone as a way of getting back at us. We must learn how to assert our rights and to encourage others to assert their rights without endangering someone who is already in some amount of trouble.

We do not attempt to interfere with officers as they make routine arrests. We document and try to inform the cops when we feel that they are violating policy or the law.

Shift Procedures

• Be sure your warrant status, bike or car is up to date. Don’t give the cops any opportunity to bust you. Assume that this could happen.

• Identification can be very helpful if the police detain you.

• Have a partner for safety as well as good Copwatching. It is very important not to confront the police alone. You must have a witness and someone who can verify your story in case of a problem

• Make sure that you are not carrying anything illegal! No knives, drugs, etc.

• Wear a Copwatch identification badge.

• Be sure that you or your partner brings things you will need to Copwatch: Incident forms, the Copwatch Handbook, Police Dept. complaint forms, Copwatch literature to distribute, tape recorder, police scanner, video recorder, cameras, copy of Penal Code

During Shift

As you observe a situation, one partner records what officers are saying or doing, while the other quietly gets information from witnesses. Consult and share information. Get a firm grasp of the situation first. Record as much information as possible. Witness names and numbers and badge numbers are important. It also helps to write down when, where and what time the incident happened. If there has been an injury, encourage the person to see a doctor and take pictures of the injuries as soon as possible. Distribute Copwatch literature while you are observing a stop so that people understand that you are not just there to be entertained but are actually trying to help.

Remember that you have the right to watch the cops. You don’t have the right to interfere.

When you observe police remember that you don’t want to make the cops more nervous than they already are. Keep your hands visible at all times. Don’t approach an officer from behind or stand behind them. Don’t make any sudden movements or raise your voice to the cop. Try to keep the situation calm. You don’t want to get the person in more trouble. If an officer tells you to step back, tell the officer that you do not want to interfere, you simply wish to observe.

More Assertive Style:

• Ask victims if they know why they are being arrested or detained.

• If the stop is vague, ask the cop to name the Penal Code Section that they are enforcing.

• Have educational conversations with people standing around.

• Don’t piss the cop off if you can help it. Don’t let it get personal. No name calling!

• Identify yourself as “Copwatch.”

• Try to stay until the stop is concluded. Remember that Rodney King was just a traffic stop originally.

• If a person wants to take action, give them complaint forms.

• Don’t assume who is right and who is wrong. Observe and document before taking action.

Be Careful:

• Don’t inadvertently collaborate in a crime (don’t become a look-out, warning if police are coming, etc.)

• Taking pictures or videotaping can be a problem if the detainee doesn’t want you to. Respect them. Tell them that you are working to stop police misconduct. If this doesn’t satisfy them, turn off the camera.

• Don’t make promises that you can’t keep. Don’t tell people you will get them a lawyer or take the cops to court, etc.

• Don’t be afraid to say “I don’t know” if you are asked legal questions. That is better than giving out wrong information.

To see the full manual or for other information, check out www.berkeleycopwatch.org.

Tips for dealing with the police – Know Your Rights

These suggestions from the National Lawyers Guild “Know Your Rights” guide summarize the rules to which the police are theoretically subject. However be careful: the police, the courts, and the government can and do ignore these rules when they feel like it. Sometimes, police retaliate against people for exercising their rights. These tips may help you later on in court, and sometimes they won’t. But even though the state can’t be counted on to follow its own laws, it still may be helpful to know what these laws are so you can shame particular state agents or deal with particular situations. Always use your best judgment — if you aren’t doing anything wrong, there may be no reason to be excessively paranoid or escalate a potentially innocent and brief encounter with a police officer who is just saying “hi” into an ugly situation by acting suspicious and refusing to say “hi” back. The point is to avoid giving information.

Providing this information isn’t intended to scare you into inactivity or make you paranoid. The vast majority of radical projects proceed with no interference from the police. The police hassle and arrest people because they hope that such repression will frighten the population into submission. We can take reasonable precautions while continuing the fight for liberation.

 

Never Talk to the Police

Anything you say to an FBI agent or cop may be used against you and other people — even if the questions seem routine or harmless. You don’t have to talk to FBI agents, police or investigators on the street, if you’ve been arrested, or if you’re in jail. (Exceptions: Your name, date of birth and address are known as “Booking questions” which are not included in your right to remain silent. Also, in some states you can get an additional minor charge for refusing to identify yourself after a police stop based on reasonable suspicion). Only a judge has the authority to order you to answer questions. Many activists have refused to answer questions, even when ordered by a judge or grand jury, and subsequently served jail time to avoid implicating others. It is common for the FBI to threaten to serve you with a grand jury subpoena unless you talk to them. Don’t be intimidated. This is frequently an empty threat, and if they are going to subpoena you, they will do so anyway. If you do receive a subpoena, call a lawyer right away.

Once you’ve been stopped or arrested, don’t try to engage cops in a dialogue or respond to accusations. If you are nervous about simply refusing to talk, you may find it easier to tell them to contact your lawyer. Once a lawyer is involved, the police sometimes back off. Even if you have already answered some questions, you can refuse to answer other questions until you have a lawyer. Don’t lie to the police or give a false name— lying to the police is a crime. However, the police are allowed to lie to you — don’t believe what they say. If you’ve been arrested, don’t talk about anything sensitive in police cars, jail cells or to other inmates — you are probably being recorded.

What To Do About Police Harassment On The Street

If the police stop you on the street, ask, “Am I free to go?” If yes, walk away. If not, you are being detained but this does not necessarily mean you will be arrested. Ask, “Can you explain why you are detaining me?” To stop you, cops must have specific reasons to suspect you of involvement in a specific crime. Police are entitled to pat you down during a detention. If the police try to further search you, your car, or your home, say repeatedly that you do not consent to the search, but do not physically resist.

What To Do If Police Visit Your Home

You do not have to let the FBI or police into your home or office unless they have a search warrant. If they have an arrest warrant you may limit entry if the person surrenders outside. In either case, Ask to inspect the warrant. It must specifically describe the place to be searched and the things to be seized. Do not have to tell them anything other than your name and address. Tell the police that you can not consent to the search unless it is also inspected by a lawyer. If the officers ask you to give them documents, your computer, do not consent to them taking it. However physically trying to block them from searching or seizing items may escalate the situation. You have a right to observe what they do. You should take written notes of their names and what they do. Have friends act as witnesses.

What To Do If Police Stop You In Your Car

If you are driving a car, you must show police your license, registration and proof of insurance, but you do not have to consent to a search or answer questions. Keep your hands where the police can see them and refuse to consent (agree) to a search. Police may separate passengers and drivers from each other to question them, but no one has to answer any questions.

What To Do If You Are Arrested

Repeatedly tell the police “I am going to remain silent, I would like to see my lawyer.” If you suffer police abuse while detained or arrested, try to remember the officer’s badge number and/or name. You have the right to ask the officer to identify himself. Write down everything as soon as you can and try to find witnesses. If you are injured, see a doctor and take pictures of the injuries as soon as possible.

Searches at International Borders

Your property (including data on laptops) can be searched and seized at border crossings without a warrant. Do not take any data you would like to keep private across the border. If you have to travel with electronic data encrypt it before crossing and make an encrypted back up of any data before crossing in case your computer or phone is seized.

Police Hassles: What If You Are Not A Citizen?

In most cases, you have the right to a hearing with an immigration judge before you can be deported. If you voluntarily give up this right or take voluntary departure, you could be deported without a hearing and you may never be able to enter the US legally again or ever get legal immigration status. Do not talk to the ICE, even on the phone, or sign any papers before talking to an immigration lawyer. Unless you are seeking entry into the country, you do not have to reveal your immigration status to any government official. If you are arrested in the US, you have the right to call your consulate or have the police inform the consulate of your arrest. Your consul may help you find a lawyer. You also have the right to refuse help from your consulate.

Police Hassles: What If You Are Under 18 Years Old?

Don’t talk to the police — minors also have the right to remain silent. You don’t have to talk to cops or school officials. Public school students have the right to politically organize at school by passing out leaflets, holding meetings and publishing independent newspapers as long as these activities do not disrupt classes. You have the right to a hearing with your parents and an attorney present before you are suspended or expelled. Students can have their backpacks and lockers searched by school officials without a warrant. Do not consent to any search, but do not physically resist.

Common Sense Activist Security Measures

Don’t speculate on or circulate rumors about protest actions or potentially illegal acts. Assume you are under surveillance if you are organizing mass direct action, anything illegal, or even legal stuff. Resist police disruption tactics by checking out the authenticity of any potentially disturbing letter, rumor, phone call, or other form of communication before acting on it. Ask the supposed source if she or he is responsible. Deal openly and honestly with the differences in our movements (race, gender, class, age religion, sexual orientation, etc.) before the police can exploit them. Don’t try to expose a suspected agent or informer without solid proof. Purges based on mere suspicion only help the police create distrust and paranoia. It generally works better to criticize what a disruptive person says and does without speculating as to why.

People who brag about, recklessly propose, or ask for unnecessary information about underground groups or illegal activities may be undercover police but even if they are not, they are a severe danger to the movement. The police may send infiltrators/provocateurs posing as activists to entrap people on conspiracy charges of planning illegal acts. You can be guilty of conspiracy just for agreeing with one other person to commit a crime even if you never go through with it — all that is required is an agreement to do something illegal and a single “overt act” in furtherance of the agreement, which can be a legal act like going to a store. It is reasonable to be suspicious of people in the scene who pressure us, manipulate us, offer to give us money or weapons, or make us feel like we aren’t cool if we don’t feel comfortable with a particular tactic, no matter why they do these things. Responsible activists considering risky actions will want to respect other people’s boundaries and limits and won’t want to pressure you into doing things you’re not ready for. Doing so is coercive and disrespectful — hardly a good basis on which to build a new society or an effective action.

Keep in mind that activists who spend all their time worrying about security measures and police surveillance will end up totally isolated and ineffective because they won’t be able to welcome new folks who want to join the struggle. We have to be aware of the possibility of police surveillance while maintaining our commitment to acting openly and publicly. Smashing the system is going to require mass action as well as secretive covert actions by a tiny clique of your trusted friends.

More info contact the National Lawyers Guild: 415 285-1055 or 212 627-2656; read The War at Home by Brian Glick or Agents of Repression by Ward Churchill

 

“I Love it when you . . .”

Good sex is an act of mutual aid. Every person, regardless of gender, is responsible for contributing to the well-being and pleasure of their partners and themselves. We must explore and know our own desires and learn to speak them. We must hear and respond to the desires of our partners (even if that means accepting refusal gracefully). This means finding the words to express how we like to be touched, spoken to, tied up, and cuddled. Getting explicit permission, however vulnerable and scary it may seem, is a great turn-on. What better than knowing your partner really likes it when you touch them that way, talk in that voice, or use that prop? What is better than knowing you can ask for anything, and it will at least be considered respectfully? There is no way that we or our relationships can grow if we don’t find safe spaces in which to explore.

If you have never spoken during sex, or asked permission, or blurted out your desires, feel free to start small. Most people hear compliments well, and appreciate encouraging suggestions. However, it’s equally important to discover the boundaries of your comfort (often situational) and speak them as well. Starting off with a “this feels so good” or “I love it when you…” or “I’d like you to spend the night if you’re interested” is fantastically brave. If you’re not there, work on moaning—just get yourself vocal. Steady yourself for disappointment (and delight), and enjoy the benefits of good communication. Often, people’s boundaries are related to past experience, and creating a safer “right now” can help some people open up closed doors. There is no implicit consent to touch someone’s genitals because you have kissed them, or to have intercourse because you’ve had oral sex. If your partner tenses up or cries or is unresponsive, it’s really important to stop, check in, and support what they need. Be honest about any risk factors you bring, such as sexually transmitted infections, whether you have unprotected sex with other people, and if you have allergies to glycerin or spermicide (in lube) or latex. Details make all the difference.

It’s also important that we take care of our community and help out our friends. At the very least, we should directly check in with them about what they want and expect, and possibly act to get them to a place of lower risk. It’s also important to confront people (in a supportive way) who act aggressively, because they may not understand that what they are doing is possibly assault. They are either okay with what they are doing, or don’t believe there’s anything wrong with it.

While being so direct about sex is outside of most norms, it transforms sexual experiences. When we are sure that we agree with our partners about expectation and desire, there is no fear to distract us—only pleasure and humor. It’s much less pressure to offer someone a choice (“Would you like to come home with me or would you rather hang out here?”) than a request (“Would you come home with me tonight?”). If we allow for slow and comfortable intimacy, we are likely to experience it more fully and joyfully.

So, if you are often the initiator of your sexual experiences, experiment with patience and let someone else take the lead. Even if it means being alone more often, you may find you enjoy yourself more when you have partners. If you are less likely to initiate sex, think of ways you could safely ask for intimacy. Having the support of friends could make it easier to approach that really great someone.

It’s our responsibility to create new sexual expectations based on good communication that not only reduce the likelihood of sexual assault, but affirm that sex is normal and necessary. This begins with teaching children healthy ideas about their bodies and believing people when they share stories of sexual assault. Consider it turning on the lights. There are endless ways for us to end our internal oppression and explore healthy, better sex.