Category Archives: Autumn 2008, (11/26/2008)

Beyond Capitalist Food Production: How and why I made a solar fruit dryer

This past summer, I built a solar fruit drier to preserve fruit that my housemates and I gathered from neighbors’ yards. The solar drier helps close the circle on my personal campaign to step off the fossil fuel powered food system by re-learning how people used to get their food before the industrial age. I’ve learned that growing or gathering my own food for free — even in an urban environment — is not only possible, it is deeply enjoyable and very educational. When you connect with your own food, you learn about alternative ways to measure time — guided by the sun and the seasons, not clocks and human make-believe. You learn to talk to your neighbors and find ways to cooperate with them, rather than just trying to stay out of each other’s way. You learn about distributing food outside the capitalist market system. And you learn a lot of very tangible do-it-yourself skills. This article provides simple plans for building your own solar fruit drier, and describes why you might want to.

The way we currently live and eat — in a very complex, high-tech, corporate food production and distribution systems totally dependent on fossil fuels — is killing the earth with global warming, soil depletion, ocean dead-zones and poisons. These systems subjugate people to the needs of the market and concentrate power in a few hands while removing most of us from any understanding of how things work. We lack a real voice in deciding how the economy is operated.

How is it that “low-tech” people 100 years ago could grow their own food and live in balance with the earth, but modern people with all our development and learning can’t seem to do the simplest human things — like eating — without damaging our only home’s life support systems?

How is it that with such a high “standard of living” due to all of this industrialization, people are so sad, so lost, so confused, so addicted, so unhealthy? The high-tech modern world hasn’t brought us happiness or meaningful engaged lives equal to the resources it consumes, the cultures it destroys, and the people it dominates. Could it be that most people’s actual level of satisfaction, humanity and engagement was higher before we had all these fancy industrial toys?

I don’t know but I can say that I’ve found a measure of connectedness, meaning, beauty, and calm as I’ve re-joined life’s web as an active participant — rather than merely as a consumer — by growing, gathering, processing, distributing and enjoying home-grown food. This is slow food on the cheap — do-it-yourself slowness, not just another food fad offering expensive products for you to buy after a long day at work.

So back to the solar fruit drier. The main type of food I’ve been able to gather in the Bay Area is fruit. As described in previous Slingshot articles, if you look around your neighborhood, you start to notice lots of fruit trees that aren’t getting harvested — the fruit is just falling on the ground. If you knock on the door, your neighbors are often happy to let you harvest their tree, and you’re building community in the process.

But what you learn as soon as you start gathering fruit is that the biggest problem is having way too much all at once. What to do? Going beyond capitalist ideas of ownership is a good first step — figure out how you can give away the fruit you just gathered. Get on your bike and ride around to friends, infoshops, farmers markets — I like to give free food out at Critical Mass Bike rides. At the end of the day, you’ll still have more than you need, and that is where preserving food comes in.

Drying food is the oldest method of preserving food because it is the easiest. In some climates, you can simply cut up fruit you harvest, spread it out in the sun, and it will dry. But this has a few problems which is why I built a low-tech (but still nifty) indirect/pass-through fruit drier. If you dry fruit right out in the sun, the sun’s rays bleach out some of the vitamins and nutrients in the food. You may have problems with bugs or other critters. If it rains, you’re in trouble. Before this summer, my housemates and I used an electric powered fruit drier that worked well, but I didn’t like the connection with a huge fossil/nuclear powered electricity grid.

I got the basic design for my drier from two excellent articles written by Dennis Scanlin published in Home Power Magazine (#57 and 69) and I made some modifications described here. I built the solar drier to sit on part of the (south facing) front steps of my house. It is built in two parts that unhook for winter storage; the solar collector and the drying box where you put the fruit. (See diagram.)

The idea is that the sun shines on the solar collector (an insulated box with plexiglas on top) and heats piece of black metal window screen inside. The screen gets very hot. Cool air flows into an opening at the bottom of the collector and as it circulates up through the hot window screen, it gets hot. The hot air rises and pulls more cool air into the bottom of the collector creating a steady flow of air upward through the system.

At the top of the collector box, the hot air enters the drying box. It is just an insulated box with a door at the back. You build wood frames and stretch fiberglass window screen over them on which you lay sliced fruit. At the top of the box, there are adjustable vents allowing hot air to escape. If you close the vents, the box will get hotter and if you open them more, the box will get cooler. During the day, hot air moves from the bottom of the box to the top vents, drying the fruit inside.

On an average day, temperatures in the box are 140 – 150 degrees, which is great for drying fruit. If the temperature gets hotter than 150 degrees, it can deplete vitamins from the fruit, so you have to open the vents on top more.

I made the drier mostly from scrap lumber and a $5 scrap of plexiglas from a local recycled building material center (Urban Ore.) I had to spend about $30 on the two types of window screen and a piece of rigid foam insulation that I moved from the lumberyard to my house via bike trailer. The best black metal window screen is from New York Wire. I used old bike inner tubes cut in half to seal around the door on the drier box and between the solar collector box and the piece of plexiglas. The Scanlin article suggested using a special type of solar collector glass but I think anything clear (and cheap) will work just fine. The only error I made building the whole thing was using some duct tape to hold the rigid insulation together inside the drying box. Oops — the drier gets way too hot for duct tape!

The best part of this project is figuring out how to use it. When my housemates and I used the electric fruit drier, you could put the fruit in to dry anytime you wanted. You just flipped a switch and it worked — the fossil fuel use, capitalist labor, eco-destroying technology and centralized economic power all neatly hidden. This, by the way, is the real problem with modern technology — it hides what is really going on and makes things that are actually really, really complex and ecologically troublesome look “easy” and quick to the end user. There is nothing easy for the environment or human workers about using electricity or other forms of technology that tie your daily life to the death-machine.

But I digress. To use a solar fruit drier, you have to fit your schedule around the sun. This is a surprisingly difficult psychological shift. Modern people hate having to adjust their schedule to the earth or the sun. We have been socialized to want instant gratification and to be insulated from how things are. Using a solar drier means you have to wake up a half hour early and cut fruit to put in the drier before work, rather than doing it at night, because the fruit will get all brown and mushy if you cut it and leave it overnight waiting for the next day’s sun.

In the cool and often foggy bay area climate, I’ve found that it usually takes a day and a half to dry fruit and that it dries unevenly. After the first day, I go through the fruit and pick out whatever has dried (usually smaller pieces.) The more uniformly you can slice the fruit, the better. Cutting up fruit to dry it meshes well with using home grown organic fruit since there are always a lot of pieces of fruit with worms or other defects that need to be cut up to be used. I usually grade the fruit when I harvest it — “eating” fruit with no defects goes in the fruit bowl and wormy fruit gets dried.

This year I harvested, moved by bike, and solar dried apples, pears, peaches, apricots, tomatoes, plums and pluots (a cross between plums and apricots).

It isn’t often in the modern world that you get to eat a truly fossil fuel free food product. By fossil fuel free food, I mean food that is grown, harvested, transported, processed, and distributed without burning fossil fuels. For me, that also means food that isn’t bought or sold because the market economy is so soaked in oil. Once capitalism gets a hold of an alternative good or service like organic food, for instance, the real spirit is lost and producers just aim to meet the minimum standard of some legal definition. It is so ironic to think of people buying organic tv dinners at Whole Foods, the world’s biggest and most centralized health food corporation, or buying organic milk shipped from a feedlot in Colorado. Organic?

We need to go beyond the organic label or even farmers’ markets by re-connecting with the food we eat. I recently heard that a study found that the fossil fuel consumed per unit of food by farmers markets was actually more than industrial food because of economies of scale, i.e. lots of pickup trucks going short distances vs. a big semi moving more food longer distances, but for less fuel per unit. I don’t know if this is true — I volunteer at an organic farm that sells at the Berkeley farmers’ market and I’m convinced that the food they raise is better on many levels (psychic, land use, ecological) than Safeway.

To get out of the ecological collapse human society is currently creating, we have to re-think everything. That means re-claiming ancient ways of preserving our food with the sun, not fossil fuels. And it means recognizing that food is what connects us to the earth and to other species, — it isn’t just another business. We are animals on an abundant earth and we are part of the food chain. Gathering, hunting and growing food is an essential human — and an essentially humanizing — act.

The Politics of Inclusion: Tips on Supporting Parents and Children

Let’s make a better world without leaving out the mamas (and papas, partners, child-care providers) and children this time! Here are some concrete things you can do to support parents and children in your scene.

1- Give children attention. Say something to them: just be your true self, whatever you are thinking, they are open to that. Children act better when they get attention. In the beginning of a meeting if a group gives the children some attention, they are often happier and better behaved for the rest of the meeting.

2- Develop childcare as an ongoing relationship with a child – it takes some time to get to know a child before they are comfortable with doing stuff with you away from their parents.

3- Offer a slot of time, to spend time with a child on a weekly basis

4- Integrate children and adults: it’s more pleasant to watch children with other adults to talk to; it’s more pleasant for the children to see adults enjoying each other and not feel a burden to them.

5- Include children in the planning of any activity, like a sewing workshop for instance.

6- Doing something child-friendly? Ask a kid if they want to come along. (Lizxnn has been taking Siu Loong for critical mass rides for three years and she loves it.) Children can benefit from activities their parents don’t do and parents can benefit from the time to themselves.

7- If a baby is crying because it needs to be held and the parent has their hands busy and cannot hold it; offer to hold the baby.

8- If a child is making a disturbance in an area, offer to go outside with the kid so the parent doesn’t have to leave the event.

9- Meet parents at their level: come visit them at home or where ever their spaces are. Let parents talk about being parents: realize having a child is like having the most intense love affair you have ever known (says one parent. Another says – not.)

10- Acknowledge children: don’t treat them like they are invisible

11- To announce that we are OK with children making noise (at meetings we wish to make parent-w/small children-friendly), we can talk over them, and value mothers and children sticking around. The announcement can help put mothers at ease.

12- Give us a smile!

ALSO – When providing child care at political events (and every event should have child care!)

13- Visit the children and childcare providers in daycare – and say “Hi!” Childcare providers can feel isolated from others at the event. Have a cup of tea with them! (suggested by Siu Loong, age 5)

14- Parents with different aged children have different needs. Parents with younger children or children who aren’t comfortable leaving their side yet would benefit from childcare that was off to a side of the same room or more central to the main events. Parents with older and more independent children benefit from having them in a different room or floor. Either way, childcare must be assessable.

15- Parents need to give more input to the day-care providers, about their and their children’s needs during the planning of the event, in order for the childcare provider to better assist them. At least tell them you are coming and the age of your children.

16- It’s comforting for parents to know childcare is available, even if they don’t use it

AND – Contemplate

17- How much work/consuming being a parent is: 24/7; in the beginning years it’s hard to even think straight: one is still adjusting to being a parent and young children’s needs are very intensive

18- That radical parents don’t fit in at mainstream places, like their children’s schools – so when they go to an anarchist gathering and don’t feel supported by their own culture – how bad that feels.

These suggestions are from the “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Anarcha-feminism & Supporting Mothers and Children” workshop at La Revolta! To get a copy of the 22 page workshop handout: you can download it from: http://bengal.missouri.edu/%7Emaxwellr/DontLeaveYourFriendsBehind.pdf or send a dollar to Vikki Law P.O. Box 20388 NY NY 10009 or China Martens P.O. Box 4803 Baltimore MD 21211 USA

Waking to the Horse’s Breath: A Visit to the World of Work Trade

Living without money is more fun! Work trade is where you work in exchange for room and board while you travel. In essence, it’s probably the cheapest way to travel the world, meet people, and eat real good local foods. Every situation is different and there are cool and not so cool people to work for, as in the alternate capitalist Babylon world. This is something that everyone should experience. I did receive some government assistance through food stamps, and knowledge from work-trading in the New Orleans area that, if the emergency ever arose, to go to the emergency room without identification (at least in America) and they will treat whatever your condition may be. You may just need to play the character role of a mean person from back home, or just an imaginary friends name you know.

I won’t say which Hawaiian island I was on when I got this dream position. I had previous knowledge of a local plant on the islands known as Kava, with the plants’ name known as Awa (pronounced ava). It is a stress relieving drink that you make by taking the root of the plant and drying it in the sun. You then grind it into small bits or cut it very small, (some stores sell it as a powder or extract) and then put it into a cheese cloth, sock, or old t-shirt; basically anything that will strain it. You take some good filtered water, and pour over the kava into a big bowl, portions vary, but you’re supposed to dip the kava into the water in the bowl and squeeze many times also. The water will turn a tan dirty color but obviously, the darker the color, the more strong the kava will be! Native Hawaiians, before Captain Cook screwed everything up, would have political meetings, where everyone of importance would drink a coconut cup filled with Kava before meeting. Nobody fought, but issues were heard and complaints addressed. Sounds like we could all use some more kava in our lives right?

I took care of between 200-300 awa plants on a plot of land of about 3-4 acres in the middle of this wild valley known as the Valley of the Kings (hint hint). I had a mountain view in front of the plot of land, where the sun would first hit around 6:16am. The valley floor we were situated in had about a mile wide mouth at the black sand beach at the ocean, and grew wider as you went further back into the valley.

My camp/situation was about a two-mile hike into the valley from the entrance, which was a long crazy super steep mile you needed four wheel drive for. I walked down many times, but only walked up a few. I went on many adventures just exploring the area, just as you should, explore your area.

I was dropped off on this amazing solo adventure with a shovel, an axe, a saw, a machete, a propane tank, stove hook-up, a box of dried food goods, two bags of my stuff (clothing, chess, soccer ball), also a bunch of matches, two lighters, a big straw hat, an army cot, and three blankets (one from the airlines). At the site, I found five five-gallon buckets and two spools of metal wire.

My mission that I chose to accept was three fold. 1) To work solo to keep the plants weeded and watered. 2) Plant keiki (baby) awa plants (80 in total) and 3) build tri-pod tee-pees to protect the awa plants from the wild horses trampling feet.

Sometimes I would wake up early in the morning, or late at night, to hear the horse breath through their mouths… if you’ve ever been around horses, you know what I mean. I’d slowly put on some shorts and slowly unzipped the tent and sneak outside. It’d be dark sometimes, dusk maybe, and I’d sneak up very slowly, as slowly as possible towards the horse(s). I’d move a bit faster than desired most of the time and the lead horse, or only one sometimes, would just stand and stare in my direction, or possibly right at me, for a long time, and I’d just stay perfectly still… and even more closer when they went to graze again. When I was close enough, or felt it was the right timing, I’d sprint towards them with a scream, flailing my arms around and they would bolt! There’s nothing like scaring a large wild animal that you know is not going to attack you. A wild boar on the other hand… well it’s another story.

We had no barbed wire fence around our plot to keep the horses and boars out, but we also had wild cats and mongoose in the valley. Mongooses were brought here the island to deal with the rat problem. The problem is rats are awake at night, and mongooses are awake in the daylight. So they both just live separate lives, and now there are two problems instead of one. There were a bunch of awa plants areas with rocks around them that needed weeding, as well as there were individual plants scattered around the forest, as a forest planting. This specific farmed land had started about three years ago as that’s how old the oldest awa plants were I was told.

There was an awesome section that had been planted by some kids I knew, one plot was in the shape of a peace sign, the other was two ovals in the shape of the moon two-thirds filled I guess; placed opposite each other, it became a vagina, their plan all along. It felt good to weed and water those plants. I had plans of building an earth oven as there had already been an existing L shaped rock wall I could have turned into a C shaped structure with a space in the back for exhaust. All these plans were great on paper, but not practical for the amount of time I spent there vs. exploring and basic living. I used the fire pit under the bamboo structure for most of my cooking needs. I actually prided myself for not turning on the propane stove for the first week I was there… and I only turned it on when I got the tea kettle as the propane didn’t burn the sides of the kettle as the fire had. Although I am an omnivore, the need for the kettle was there because all the water I boiled in the pot I brought tasted a bit like hot dogs… no good.

Another crazy thing that happened was the discovery of wild coffee trees in my back yard! It was tree dried (meaning raisin) in the month of May. And I just took these black dried berries off the trees from a bunch of neighbors places, in the understanding of course that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness sometimes than permission (same with the bananas, mangos and papayas). You had to break open the black berry and you’d have two pods, and in each pod was a green coffee bean! At first I picked what I thought was a dosage of coffee for a single coconut cup, and roasted it over the fire in a pan, constantly moving it. It popped and crackled, and I believe I burned the beans on two occasions that I made cowboy coffee. I ground the coffee in a plastic bag bashing it with a rock, and it was some of the best tasting coffee I feel I ever drank.

All these experiences, while suckling on the teat of federal assistance, made me a better person. If you’ve ever worked for a job for over a year, you’ve paid your dues and deserve this sort of work-trade situation while getting food stamp benefits. Living also on lots of bananas, papayas, granolas, and other healthy food, including going prawn (shrimp) hunting was a blessed experience of an adventure. Yes I dug holes in the ground to do my business, but now I find peeing in a bowl of water not only wasteful, but also highly impractical… GO WATER A TREE or some other plants, and if you’re stuck in a metropolis Babylon land someplace, until you break free… if it’s brown flush it down, if it’s yellow, keep it mellow!

A Fight to Stop I-69 Reveals the Bigger Battle

In a massive police operation involving at least three Indiana law enforcement agencies, a tree-sit, blocking the construction of a superhighway was brought down in its fifth week on June 20th. Named Camp B-Rad in tribute to Brad Will, the tree-sit delayed the clearing of dead trees for the first leg of construction for several weeks and was declared a free state. Though the tree-sit was evicted, and eight activists were arrested, many on questionable charges, the fight to stop this road is far from over.

For seventeen years, opposition to the building of new terrain I-69 between Indianapolis and Evansville has been fought by citizens of Indiana, growing to overwhelming proportions. Even the Indiana Department of Transportation (InDOT) has admitted that 75% of Indiana opposes its construction, and 94% of the 22,000 public comments on their Environmental Impact Statements condemn it. Many of these people, including those working with Roadblock Earth First! and the I-69 Listening Project, have come to realize that there is no democratic process in the building of I-69 – those with money and power simply don’t care about the repercussions of their actions.

The I-69 will destroy 7,000 acres of land including the Patoka Wildlife Refuge and evict over 400 people including an Amish community. It is part of the NAFTA superhighway that will enable the most ugly visions of FREE TRADE. The road will go as far north as Ontario and is planned to run all the way south to Mexico. It will connect with superhighways of the controversial Plan Puebla Panama project in Mexico and Central America. The PPP will pave over previously untouched jungles and displace indigenous and rural communities, causing them to seek sustenance in new sweatshops brought to them by NAFTA or in the US where they would work for slave wages. All of this, just to feed American and Canadian consumer “needs.”

With this future in mind, anti-I69 activists constructed a tree-sit near Evansville, Indiana in protest of this completely undemocratic process, hoping to delay construction to allow local landowners time to take their cases to court and get a fair amount for having their lives ruined by this highway. The tree-sits erected on May 18 are known as “dunk’em sits,” meaning that the platforms were held up by support lines running through pulleys that were attached to the trees. While the two trees occupied were not set to be cut, their support lines were tied off to 50-foot tall trees already cut down and set to be cleared by May 31 in order to prepare the area for the on- and off-ramps in the first 1.77 miles of construction this summer. Therefore, if anyone tried to cut the lines in order to clear the logs away, the platforms would drop sitters over forty feet. Police and media visited the tree-sit numerous times and were informed about the potential for injury or death repeatedly.

At 5:30 AM on June 20th, the five activists at the tree-sit awoke to thirty police officers swarming around woods of the tree-sit. The two tree-sitters, Andrew Joyce and Emily Cross, and the three on ground support, Laura Barnett, Nick Steinke, and Banu Quadir, were informed that they were being evicted from the grove and had fifteen minutes to leave before they would be arrested. The police also stated they would have no regard for the safety of those being evicted. The ground support crew chose to follow the instructions of the police, left the property, and walked on State Road 68 toward a nearby gas station at the intersection with SR 57. At this time, the police sent a negotiator up one of the occupied trees in an attempt to convince the sitters to come down. The sitters refused and one attempted to lock down. The police then used a cherry picker to remove both of the sitters, disregarding their assertions that such actions endangered their safety.

Indiana State Police (ISP) arrested the three ground support crew for charges of obstructing traffic. tree-sit supporters in nearby Evansville were informed of the arrests and mobilized to observe the eviction. Two vehicles drove to the tree-sit which was an approximate 30 minute distance away.

. At 6:30 AM, the first vehicle, a truck driven by Chad Frazier with two passengers riding in the bed (Michelle Soto and Eric Magas) left Evansville and soon realized they were being followed. They were stopped by ISP and Chad was tackled by police officers and forcibly shoved to the ground. One of the officers accused Chad of spitting on him, which he denied, and threatened to charge him with battery. Simultaneously, the two completely cooperative passengers were arrested at gunpoint and Michelle was shoved onto the hood of the truck. The second vehicle was stopped as well with the passengers being briefly detained and were threatened with arrest if they proceeded to the tree-sit.

The eight arrestees were taken to the Warrick County jail.. The charges brought by the state prosecutor Todd Corne included many questionable charges all of which were misdemeanors, except for Chad’s two charges. All eight were bailed out for $2450. We would like to note the wide variety of undue force, intimidation attempts, and unconstitutional tactics used by the police on June 20.

On May 19 two residential neighborhoods were visited by protesters chanting “I-69 Stop It Now” and “Polluting the land, polluting the water. Profiting off the earth’s slaughter” in front of the homes of John and Michael Gohmann, contractors for Gohmann Asphalt. The company has been awarded the contract to construct the first 1.77 miles of I 69, and now have decided to start a legal battle with activists. Gohmann seems to be working in conjunction with the FBI, Indiana State Police and various other law enforcement agencies to cripple the movement. At the second Gohmann demo 15 people were arrested solely on misdemeanor charges and yet the collective bail was upwards of $40,000. Those arrested are facing between one and three charges, these being trespassing, resisting law enforcement, and conversion (exerting unauthorized use or control of someone else’s property.) Many of these charges are groundless and clearly an attempt to intimidate activists into refraining from future actions against the road. No plea agreements have been accepted and trials dates are expected to be ongoing throughout the fall and possibly continue into the winter.

Additionally, a lawsuit, which appears to be a SLAPP suit, has been filed against the 16 individuals arrested at actions at the Gohmann Yard in Haubstadt, Indiana. A SLAPP suit is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, in which a corporation or developer sues an organization in an attempt to scare it into dropping protests against a corporate initiative. Gohmann is seeking restitution for alleged damages. It is clear that the supposed “damages” are completely fabricated or, at the very least, hugely inflated. Gohmann was initially seeking $16,000 from the one individual arrested at the first action, but has since added the other 15 people arrested at the second action and increased the sought restitution to over $27,000. Included in the lawsuit is a statute stating that the defendants are potentially liable for up to three times that amount. This exorbitant sum is being demanded, despite the fact that the first person arrested was offered a plea agreement for their criminal charges requiring only about $330 in restitution for these supposed “damages.” This incredibly exaggerated and inaccurate sum seems to be intended to crush the movement against the I-69 and anyone who dreams of trying to stop this road.

Gohmann is filing a restraining order against all 16 people in a final attempt to quell their first amendment rights. The restraining order contains many over the top stipulations. Should it remain in place it would require that defendants remain a minimum of 100 yards away from any site that Gohmann has proprietary or monetary interest in. This would include all 1.77 miles of the route. The restraining order extends to many situations out of the control of defendants such as proximity to Gohmann trucks or driving by Gohmann sites.

According to many lawyers who have been consulted, the restraining order contains a law used to protect workers from potential stalkers and violence. A law typically used in domestic abuse situations is also cited. Clearly, this is an abuse of these laws, as none of the actions by defendants were violent, or intended to cause or threaten violence. Included in the restraining order were inflammatory documents and statements attempting to link defendants with extremist groups such as the Earth Liberation Front (an underground group which engages in sabotage and direct action in defense of the Earth). They attempted to link defendants to various other environmental groups with which they have no connection. It seems like an attempt to portray defendants as being part of a much broader network of eco-radicalism.

The legal situation can appear somewhat bleak right now. However, as one lawyer commented, “these are their biggest guns and they are pulling them out now, at the beginning.” Often large companies or the state attempt to overwhelm smaller groups with a lot of legal bureaucracy, knowing that it is a greater burden for those with fewer resources. These are clearly scare tactics meant to consume our energy and time but legally appear to be fairly groundless. Despite these difficulties the defendants plan to continue fighting this on all levels and will not let these tactics of intimidation stop them.

Though the tree-sit only lasted for four and a half weeks, it was able to delay construction for over two weeks, given that Gohmann’s clearing contract was supposed to end by May 31. Some of us foresee an even stronger campaign in the spring of 2009, as restraining orders and SLAPP suits are the most commonly used legal tools against activists; once we beat them, Gohmann will have nothing left. The restraining order is being handled by an Indiana ACLU lawyer and the civil suit is being handled by a friendly Indiana lawyer at a discount rate. The campaign is currently in a transition, as many long-terms have left the campaign and others leaving in the spring, but organizing among students and the leftist community of Bloomington is still happening.

We now call for folks to act in solidarity to let everyone involved with I-69 know that their participation is unwelcome and sinister. We also put out a call for fundraising, and the formation of affinity groups to travel to Southern Indiana to get to know the area for resistance next spring.

Besides the glamour of being shoved into the dirt by cops, we still need to organize community meetings, garden, fix bikes, cook food for large groups, go door-to-door, make flyers, hold workshops, find more housing, gather supplies, and lots more. If you are unable to come to Indiana and money is tight in your community, check out our wish-list at stopi69.wordpress/how-to-help, and send the supplies our way. Make sure you check out stopi69.wordpress.com/forum for the ride and supply boards.

Legal funds or contacts are greatly appreciated and being sought. If you have any ideas or resources please contact roadblockef@yahoo.com

Barking Pigs and GOP Elbows: A personal reflection on the RNC riots

Left to make our way to the undisclosed location of our affinity group’s action on our own terms, Monday began as all others did since Frenzy and I arrived in St. Paul, MN to protest the Republican National Convention: late starts, unfocused meetings, and the untrustworthy gaze of someone I am supposed to be trusting to save my ass in a dire situation. Instead, I only feel my ass would be served on a plate to the cops. There was such a strong presence of cops on East 7th Street where we got off the bus, much further from our sector and downtown than we’d originally expected.

I walked with another person, S and met up with H on our way there. He came by bicycle and reported back to us about the plan. “We’re fucked.” We couldn’t think of what to do. A mustached older man rolled up on his red motorcycle. “Lookin’ fer a protest?” he inquired behind dark sunglasses. H mumbled no and the man revved off, perhaps in search of others “lookin’ fer” RNC-related mischief. We decided to split the scene, go to a cafe, and reconvene. S and I only got as far as the cafe, Frenzy would meet up with me later afterwards to do some legitimate scout work around Sector 2ish with the Communications group. On foot we headed toward downtown, toward the sirens, toward the helicopters. Toward the police. Toward the mayhem. Toward the battle against the state, the corruption, the hypocrisy and teargas, the fences and retaliation, the horses and the dumpster barricades, the apathetic and active native Minnesotans. Toward the beauty of fighting for what we stand for.

I want to preface what I did and saw next by saying I really miss my bicycle, Priscilla. I can ride smoothly and swiftly and cover a lot of ground on that vintage 5-speed. Today I felt lame, my feet hardly moving, my legs making the pedaling motion they’re so used to, but not succeeding in the way they’re used to. Either way they learned to book it once we saw three cop cars heading west, or south, or east. We were continually on the move, from West Kellogg Blvd. to East 6th Street.

We even had a chance to rub elbows (literally) with Republican delegates. After walking a few blocks from the grocery store we spotted charter bus after charter bus filled with what we knew to be delegates. We crossed the street with them, smiled at them, and almost made it to the first checkpoint across the street from the Excel Center. We were mesmerized at the giant FoxNews screen that projected a foxy blonde anchor in a red dress reporting Republican rhetoric spun more than a salad mixer. Along our detour into the “battlefield” of downtown St. Paul, we met up with a Democrat who was very active in following us around to each action, if not just to observe the sheer number of cops present.

So there was the peace march that we slipped into. And there was the Anarchist Anti-Capitalist bloc we marched alongside. It was glorious and I almost forgot how badly my feet hurt until the hill we had to climb up to the Capitol building. Turns out we both needed rest. Then . . .

Enter The Crazy Anarchists! Staking out the Crowne Plaza on Kellogg where delegates were being bused out. There was a sound system, a row of mobile riot cops, and, before long, horses. I felt sorry for the horses. Such a beautiful animal shouldn’t be used to make a menacing figure more menacing. It’s like associating butterflies with the plague.

So there were the horses. Then there were the full-on riot police, with shields. Whew! I did what I could to stay away from the frontline as I was not wearing black and had a very awkward tote bag to carry around. Nevertheless we remained with them as pepperspray shot through the air. A stream of Silly String quickly followed in pursuit. All the while I’m thinking, “So THAT’S what teargas feels like . . . ” Frenzy, though not directly tear-gassed, felt its stinging effects carried through the strong wind as we were alongside the Mississippi River. Still we followed not too far behind the black bloc, and the cops.

The final showdown that brought our day to a close was the closing in and execution of a mass arrest attempt by the police. I myself nearly panicked. First they moved west. Then the National Guard moved in, weapons drawn. I remember hearing three shots — there may have been more. I just wanted to run. I still only felt comfortable observing. I didn’t want to be arrested today.

There were two parking lots separated by a street. Frenzy and I were walking east, I’m planning an escape route so we can book it if need be. I’m still consciously in “Activist Mode.” Where the road curves to the south, a line of mini-vans stop as if at a traffic light, and out of each minion comes six to eight cops in full riot gear, bats drawn. The crowd disperses quickly. I begin to sprint. Frenzy screams, “STOP!” and I freeze. I watch as all the people with dental-floss applied patches are run down and thrown to the ground. Medics are not resisting arrest. I can’t say what I would have done if that had been me. You feel so brave until terror comes at you with zip-tie style handcuffs and a wooden bat. But I was still. I was silent. And I was dressed in pink and yellow. I think these three components made me invisible to the police force taking over St. Paul that day. There was a lady cop barking orders, stalking back and forth like an angry bull ready for the opportunity to charge a matador. She didn’t so much as glance my way except to view what was beyond me — protesters dressed the way protesters are supposed to be dressed. I wanted to punch her, she was attacking people I associated myself with and loved. When she looked in Frenzy’s direction, he mustered out in a cracked voice, “Thanks for all your hard work.” I wanted to punch him. Later he told me he said it out of fear, to make us appear as if we blended in more.

Once the crowd cleared except for those lying on the hot asphalt, Frenzy said with exhaustion, “I’m done for today. Let’s go.” I found myself speechless, both at the apparent failure illuminating Frenzy’s words and the leftover scenery of the raid. People were up against a wall, hands up, their backs to the police. A plain-clothed citizen stood by as a medic and a protester had their faces in the asphalt, a cop approached with a pair of those zip-tie handcuffs. I regretfully turned my head the other way and began to our next task of finding a bus that would stop for us and deliver us back to Minneapolis.

Tunneling Beneath the Psychic Landscape of the Street Protest Ritual

“Psychological First Aid for Activists: This training is designed to give people the tools they need to recognize the signs of emotional trauma immediately following a difficult experience, as well as the tools they need to provide immediate care and referrals. Some goals of the training are to provide practical help for immediate care, to legitimize the equal importance of psychological first aid to physical first aid, promote emotional resiliency in the activist community, and encourage peer support leading up to large events such as the RNC. The training covers defining stress and emotional trauma, signs and reactions to emotional trauma, how to address those reactions, active listening exercises, breathing exercises, & body awareness, red flags for more serious issues, and preventative care.”

Occurring shortly after my arrival, this workshop is a sort of introduction to RNC reality for me. I am not like the other people here because I do not know why I am here. Most people are attending because they plan to staff the Wellness Center, where presumably, protesters who are traumatized by police violence will go to obtain help. Two men are part of a group that will staff a hotline for people to call when sexual assaults happen between converging activists, and as with the Wellness Center staff, this workshop is a mandatory part of their training. I do not know what I will do when the protests happen. It’s like a rally where I won’t hold a sign because I want to keep my hands free; I remain non-committed so I will be ready if something really needs doing and everyone else is busy. That said, it seems likely that someone will freak out and I will try to help them. Doesn’t that happen a lot?

In most arenas of human struggle — business, politics and war come to mind, the psychological factors are thoroughly studied and analyzed. Why has activism been so much of an exception? Part of it is certainly our alienation from traditional systems of mental health and fitness. Many in our communities are survivors of psychiatric abuse. We see an academic mental health ideology being applied from the top down upon vulnerable people whose experiences are minimalized.

In response, people throughout activist culture have started to implement grass-roots personalist approaches to mental health. These include the global Icarus network, primarily for bipolar people, and many local collectives and informal self-help groups in a city near you. Participants in these projects were instrumental in developing the North Star Health Collective’s psychological response plan in the Twin Cities. The workshop was part of this endeavor.

But there have been other obstacles to activist mental and emotional self-care. A direct action culture has overemphasized heroism and daring exploits — fear, vulnerability to stress, and sometimes even second thoughts are perceived as embarrassing weaknesses. Also, in government and business, psychological programs are imposed upon reluctant peons in the name of productivity and effectiveness. In an anarchistic subculture this is obviously impossible.

I never do end up counseling anyone who is falling apart. But with my attention now drawn inward, my perception of the RNC protest situation is irrevocably altered. Is it Republican dark magic, or ingrained self-destruction in punk culture? Meeting any of my basic psychic needs is a hassle requiring persistence and assertiveness. The direct action plans publicly proposed are absurd. Are they all decoy actions or are the mysterious organizers in denial? In any case, I don’t focus on winning anything; I just want to play my part well and am determined to understand what is going on in new ways. I force myself to eat at least two real meals a day and drink water.

“September 1, 2008, we, the RNC Welcoming Committee, invite all anarchists and anti-authoritarians, all radicals and rabble-rousers, all those who are fed up with government lies and spectacles to show up ready for action and ensure that we leave no place for these expired politicians. What we create here will send the convention crashing off into insignificance.”

“To someone who has never experienced danger, the idea is attractive rather than alarming.” – Carl Von Clausewitz, On War

I meet some people who have come hundreds of miles to do an action together. They want to be a part of the big plan. They are exhausted from AG meetings, cluster meetings, and colossal, long, spokes-councils. For days they have little contact with anyone who is not an anti-authoritarian focused on some decisive activity, and this is their whole experience of Minnesota.

They are tense and cranky. I remember the psychological workshop; I think people who want to do something dangerous and stupid should be calm and grounded so they can do it as intelligently and safely as possible.

A grand variety of projects were under way, organized autonomously from the Welcoming Committee, which rented the Convergence Space. The Welcoming Committee’s bicycle project spun-off as a distinct entity of sorts, building literally hundreds of bicycles to keep out of town activists functional and mobile during their stay. The venerable Seeds of Peace provided food for the massive permitted peace march of 10-40 thousand people (yes, the variation of crowd estimates is unusual), as well as most events over the week of convention related activity.

The North Star Health Collective and Cold Snap Legal Collective were organized locally and independently of the Welcoming Committee. An unprecedented number of people underwent a three day intensive medical training. When the protests finally happened medical resources were constantly available even in the most intense situations.

Most radicals who live in the Twin Cities and most radicals from out of town are on different planets now. See, most people, even most freaks, don’t care about the RNC. So most people stay home, but the smaller number of people who do come here think the whole thing is a great idea and they wouldn’t miss it for the world The people who live here don’t have as much choice about being here and having to perhaps reluctantly deal with the whole thing, but also have options unavailable to outsiders (whether they come or not).

There seems to be a curious mood of harm reduction: militant protesting is like heroin or speed or something, and while we’re all going to be good anarchists and not tell people not to do things, we can also meet with the personal devastation one-on-one and let people know there might be better life-paths. Oh, but are we enabling?

Whatever, fuck that guilt trip. But what does seem to really be happening… is this polarity between anarchy as stereo-typical black bloc chaos, and ultralawfully marching in obedience to a permit (no dis on either intended), without inclusion of the universe of actions in between. Is it fueled by our withdrawal?

“I can’t help thinking of Grand Theft Auto IV ?you hear the copter, you know you’re doing well.” – Christopher Beam in Slate.com

Simultaneously with the huge peace march, there were breakaway marches and makeshift roadblocks scattered throughout downtown. Some people fucked shit up. The destruction was far from massive and not the focus of the actions: some windows, a couple cop cars, a delegate bus got pelted.

I would write an article about such a demo but there is already an article that I like better than the one I would write because the author is mainstream and tries to be non-judgmental (which is funny): www.slate.com/id/2199060/

Someone who is working on getting people out of jail tells me statistics. They say there were an enormous number of people arrested Monday who are from out of town and under 25. The first info-bit is not surprising Saint Paul civic leaders had called out far and wide that downtown Saint Paul was the happening place right now. But the youth aspect troubles many people.

While I might share this feeling later, as the protest unfolds I am inspired. The youth are swift and brave and an equal number of police cannot contain them at first. In the face of police attacks they grow bolder. They stay as long as they can, even when swelling police ranks make mass arrests inevitable.

The police presence is intense and severe throughout the convention. This had been telegraphed by the police attack on Critical Mass exactly one year before. And now they begun with preemptive raids on the Convergence space and homes or crash spots of alleged key people the weekend before the convention.

About 3500 police and 200 Minnesota National Guard were on convention duty Monday the first. While they get a B+ for their research and reconnaissance the police response on the street was clumsy and uninspired. And they made up for their shortcomings with arbitrary brutality. Over four days of the convention, police consistently attacked peaceful demonstrators with a variety of special weapons, even though there was sabotage and disruption only on the afternoon of the first. This culminated on Thursday as McCain rose to speak — a permitted march had its permit revoked by surprise and almost 400 were arrested for a now “unlawful” assembly, while corralled people were sprayed and gassed for no apparent reason.

Even away from from the protests the reality of mass police action dominated the cores of the Twin Cities this week. The daily newspapers reported the police brass boast that they “didn’t take the bait.” Like much in the corporate-imperialist press regarding sensitive matters, this is the precise opposite of the truth. Everywhere felt like occupied Baghdad. More so than either the militant or the obedient protesters, the police did an wonderful job of showing the Twin Cities that you really can’t keep the war over there.

A thousand police can be a thousand times as intense as one police. You try to go to sleep and they’re still parading around in your mind. Police, police, police everywhere. How many people were how injured by the police on what day? And they’re snatching people on quiet residential streets and in far flung exurbs in their pursuit of “rioters.”

Every house has a sign by the door explaining what to do if the police come, do they have a warrant? You have the right to remain silent (so shut up already, keep it to yourself). In RNC week everyone, especially if you look funny, has to expect and have the energy for a harsh encounter at any time, and keep the strength for refusal in reserve.

This is the world each police lives in, they wake up and go to work and there’s a zillion other police. Every second they have to know who to obey and who to command in a web of police culture that encompasses almost everyone on Earth in its grip. As they flood our minds every hour we get more like them. We get spiteful, aggressive, dismissive and indifferent. (We were already desperate.)

The National press ignored the protests, even the national “alternative” media. The local media depicted bands of psychopathic “anarchists” bent on mindless destruction. Hurling urine at people and kidnapping delegates are portrayed as standard “anarchist” tactics. The weekly artsy paper said the best defense against anarchists was “a healthy childhood.”

Even if the discontent was exaggerated and fanned by the corporate press, it was still very real that large numbers of people felt genuine disgust at the “anarchist” activities.

I ride in the back of the metro bus to Minneapolis. Everyone is talking about the protests unless they actually are protesters in which case they’re ready to change the subject. Men of color express annoyance with the police over the disruption of bus service, and opine that the police had provoked the young dissidents into recklessness, and at least some of the window breaking on Fox News was staged. I imagine that a less oppressed group of people might have a less charitable view of us.

The convention is over and the Republicans appear to be unscathed. McCain and Palin go off to rule the world in a real life Handmaid’s Tale with endless war in the biblical lands. But in Minnesota the police state is exhausted, and as confused about who was arrested as we are. The heat is off and people breath easy as the aftermath sets in.

In the secret Anarchist tavern in Eagan, I can’t peacefully sip my port while writing down strange dreams because there are so many college students and crusties excitedly telling thrilling protest stories. Despite the felony charges, the lasting burns of tasers or unusually concentrated pepper spray, and the mass adrenal exhaustion, hundreds of people are wiser and stronger, ready to come back into downtown America, do it better and stop all their wars.

Pompous Police Presence Pervades Protests

I was outside the Democratic National Convention for the four days of its life in Denver, CO. The heavily armed, massive police presence in Denver was daunting even to convention delegates. Police on horseback, police on motorcycles, and SUVs rolling down the street with three or four helmeted police on both side running boards and on the rear bumper, squadrons of cops leaning against buildings, lurking in alleys, and poised on street corners suited in protective gear reminiscent of Star Wars, armed with gas guns, tasers, shotguns, semi-automatics, and who-knows-what gadgetry; Denver police and sheriffs, police from other jurisdictions (one afternoon I found my way blocked by mounted police from Cheyenne, Wyoming), dozens of federal police agencies and countless armed private security guards were ubiquitous.

One evening I was walking down the street past a federal courthouse talking into a cell phone when a guy pulled up and jumped out of his car to take a picture of a church across the street. Immediately, a couple of armed security guards ran out of the building and grabbed his camera. “Hey, that’s a nice church, make a nice picture,” I volunteered. “Just keep moving!” was the reply. “I’m not in your way,” I rejoined. “This is federal property, just keep moving!” I was on the city sidewalk.

Still conversing on the cell phone, describing to my friend what was happening, I moved to a bus bench at the end of the block and watched as more guards and police emerged from the courthouse. One of them (Federal Protective Police) came over to me and demanded ID. As I handed it to him I asked “What’s the problem?” “You were interfering with the officers.” “No, I wasn’t in their way at all.” “What have you been smoking?” “I don’t smoke.” “Put that cell phone down when i’m talking to you.” “I’ll just keep it on, thanks.” Wham! He grabbed the phone and shut it, and put me in handcuffs. “For your protection and mine.”

Ten minutes later, after ID checks had run their course, he let me go. This was not an uncommon experience — in the days following I heard countless similar tales.

Unlike Chicago ’68, where a peace plank had been introduced on the floor, and where Connecticut Senator Ribicoff in his nominating speech for George McGovern denounced the “Gestapo tactics” of Mayor Daley and the Chicago police, there was a great disconnect between the official Democratic Party convention agenda and protesters. Denver Mayor Hickenlooper, a Democrat, did everything he could to isolate demonstrations and make protesters invisible. Only as a result of the Iraq Veterans Against the War march was a bridge put in place between street demonstrations and the party inside.

Prior to the opening of the convention, a federal judge had ruled that security needs outweighed First Amendment considerations, and affirmed the city’s right to restrict protesters to a fenced-in area out of sight of convention attendees. The Free Speech Zone, which actually appears as such on official maps, consisted of a 50,000 square foot parking lot surrounded by a 10 foot high chain link fence and an inner rail iron fence, with no bathroom or porta-potties.

Addressing a rally Sunday prior to the convention, Ron Kovic pledged: “I gave three-fourths of my body in Vietnam and i’m not going to be put into a cage in silence.”

No demonstrations took place in the Free Speech Zone.

However, in a park far from downtown and the Pepsi (convention) Center, the mayor had permitted organizers to place tents and hold support activities but forbidden them to sleep. There a national group called Tent State University facilitated much of the organizing, including logistics for Wednesday’s IVAW-sponsored Rage Against the Machine concert at the Coliseum, and including Resurrection City Free University, a 4-day series of more than 40 colloquiums on the park lawn with presenters such as Vincent Harding, politician Cynthia McKinney, writer Vincent Bugliosi, and Professor Stephen Zunes.

Because they were forbidden to camp at Tent State, at the end of long, hot days 30 or 40 people trekked to what they called the Freedom Cage to sleep. No fires were permitted, amended to “no heat sources” after someone tried to cook breakfast on a battery-powered hot plate. Campers had to walk three or four blocks to bathrooms, harassed at police blockades coming and going. Stadium lights were kept on at all times and, as people started to retire, giant floodlights were turned on for the remainder of the night. Police in cherrypickers kept an all-night vigil over the 30 or 40 campers who woke each morning to find themselves surrounded on the ground by Secret Service among others.

Rambunctious Radicals Rectify Republican Reality

I write on the finale of the Republican National Convention, sitting in a house not my own, not more than 15 miles from police repression and violence. I sit pondering my role in all of this, in the world I want to create, and I’m not sure what that is.

I decided to go to the RNC earlier this year in hopes of participating in the largest gathering since the WTO in 1999. I used my “Economic Stimulus Package” to fly out here. As months went by I participated in meetings and invited the Welcoming Committee to The Long Haul. This would be my first large protest, as the ones I had been to before were anti-war types in San Francisco and local issue things. I over-prepared with goggles, respirators, gloves and other items that seem silly now. Two days before I was supposed to leave, the Long Haul Infoshop was raided, which put me in a state of paranoia and worry.

Once in the Twin Cities the theme of raids followed with the convergence space being raided on Friday and houses of the 8 main organizers over the weekend, resulting in their arrests. Later we learned that they were being watched the whole time by the police, every word they said taken seriously. Monday morning held promises of the convention being crashed by Hurricane Gustav — we finally had Mother Nature on our side!

The first day held elaborate plans, most of which failed. Those were foiled by the police joined the march down town with “funk the war” which was half dance party, half riot. We breathed tear gas, dragged stuff into the street and enjoyed the fear of the crowd. I dressed extremely conservatively, in polo shirt and khakis, which was the smartest thing I had ever done. As a group of black bloc around me were all thrown to the ground I was invisible to the police. The would not look at me because I was not a perceived trouble maker. I witnessed a woman — a medic — thrown to the ground, and this changed things for me.

This event started a personal dialog that lasted for 3 days. The actions of the protesters created a spectacle, but barely reached media due to the impending hurricane and Sarah Palin’s pregnant daughter. This begs the question, what does mobilizing at these events do? I left my community when it needed me the most to participate in this spectacle. I know not of one delegate bus that was permanently stopped that first day and that the delegate entrances were so relaxed, I walked right up to the gate and rubbed elbows with delegates, wearing an American flag hat, of course. If the Welcoming Committee’s task was to stop the convention, they failed. What the Welcoming Committee did do was revive the Anarchist movement and with this new energy, we must ask ourselves:

Should we spend energy attacking the structures of power, or should we build a world we want to live in and then fight to protect it?

It seems that the main focus of this mobilization was to attack the Republicans for all of their shit. This, however, resulted in building of infrastructure that needs to stay in place such as:

* A free Bike Shop

* Two free meals a day

* Housing for those who needed it, and

* A general location for radicals to meet and mingle

It makes me sad that some of these projects will disappear after the RNC is over. This shows we can all be united by a common enemy, but why must this be temporary? The common enemy is everywhere — all the time!

The Anarchist community is very good at organizing against things but not very good and organizing FOR things. I would like to see a national movement of people challenging the structures of power with their own projects and then fighting to protect them. The street fighting that goes on now is preemptive and always when the power expects it.

Tonight more people will go to jail, the police will torture them, and the RNC will go on as planned, nominating John McCain as their president. Most importantly, 8 people will have the hardest year of their lives for being idealistic and thinking they could change things. It will be a long trial with insane justifications.

Let’s come strong out of this one and remember we must have LOVE OVER FEAR!

Let’s bring back to our communities the passion from the RNC and build something more. The revolution is now and it’s not going to be in the streets: it’s going to be in our communities.

Anarchy We Can Believe In!

When it was first announced that Denver would be hosting the 2008 Democratic National Convention, there were a lot of different responses, but the vast majority amongst the radical left was that of fear and cynicism. People reacted everywhere from vowing to leave the city during convention week to taking a damage control stance, making the argument that “it’s better that we try to shape how this will affect us than the state or other activists we might disagree with.” There was very little local excitement or enthusiasm in organizing around the DNC.

Compare that to the sentiment amongst many anarchists on a national level. In what was probably some of the earliest and most thoughtful dialog around convention protests, the anarchist/anti-authoritarian network Unconventional Action (UA) emerged. The attitudes of those who initiated the UA network stood in stark contrast to many in Denver. Instead of a fear or dread of the negative impact the protests would have on local projects and the straining of resources, UA folks were preparing eagerly for the event, seeing it instead as an important springboard to a revival of anti-capitalist resistance and diversity of tactics at mass mobilizations.

In between this strange tension of outside enthusiasm and inside naysaying grew Unconventional Denver, an appropriate blend of the two. Admittedly, the group really was born of the more hopefully cynicism of Denver- the hope that by participating in the planning process, that we might be able to frame the protests in a less fucked up way than past events have been, maybe even creating some inspiration.

Organizing Amongst a Divided Left

Most major cities have a strong dose of bitterness, burned bridges and sectarianism. Denver is no different. Some had hoped that the DNC might serve as an impetus to band together. Unfortunately, it seems the opposite happened. In the middle of the disagreements, Unconventional Denver stood- caught between groups that had falling outs. We certainly had our own share of slip ups, miscommunications and thoughtlessness. In the end though, we were able to stay out of a lot of the politics and stay focused on our goals for the protests. I would attribute a lot of this to our points of unity: our respect for a diversity of tactics and emphasis on working in a horizontal fashion. Working in a non-hierarchical structure was a great way to show anarchism in action.

The DNC as a Failure Anarchists Talk Big…Again

When Unconventional Denver first started, there was a lot of talk about doing a mobilization right and learning from our mistakes. Somewhere between then and the conventions we got lazy, fell back on the familiar, and recreated some of the exact mistakes we vowed to avoid. I remember at the first few consultas folks were saying that,

• it was better to have an achievable goal we accomplished than call for something vague and grandiose that would fall short

• our actions should speak for themselves

• when you take a snapshot of us in the streets people will know exactly what we are fighting for

• we use the power of satire and humor in a respectful, but effective way against the Democrats

• we recognize the role the DNC plays in the furthering gentrification and racist development of Denver and work with those most affected by those forces to effectively fight its march onward.

One of our biggest faults was that, after our first national consulta, we decided that we would come up with goals for the DNC that would inform our strategy. When making goals, the number one rule is to keep the goals to around three and that those goals be measurable in some way. Doing this helps focus the group and makes them meaningful, something that can be constantly looked at to assess the work we’re doing. We essentially did the opposite- coming up with fourteen goals! Many of them were unrealistic and difficult to measure. Here they all are-

• shut down, disrupt, or delay the convention

• storm convention events

• dismantle Denver’s capitalism, gentrification, and eco-devastation networks

• feel our movement’s power as a confrontational force

• make direct action a threat again

• bring our international anarchist movement back into the public consciousness

• build momentum for the opposition to the RNC

• ensure that the DNC is a thing of rowdy beauty

• turn the DNC’s festivities into our own

• bring the direct action that meets the needs of local communities

• continue multiracial coalitions with multiracial turnouts

• stop racist development and the targeting of immigrant communities

• further Denver anarchist community’s ties with other local struggles

• have such a good time and create something so magnificently awesome that no one will ever want to leave. ever.

So looking back, many of the goals were unrealistic, but even the goals we set which we might have achieved, such as turning the DNC into a thing of “rowdy beauty” isn’t very helpful in guiding us towards whether or not the work we did was a success. Had we come up with two or three very solid goals it would have helped us tremendously in terms of prioritizing when our small, overtextended group repeatedly tried to take everything on, oftentimes forcing us to abandon efforts or scale them back significantly.

Radical Shouldn’t Mean Irrelevant

Radical politics should strike a chord with those who experience the violence of the state and capitalism in the most acute ways. The Democratic National Convention was an event that fit perfectly into the City of Denver’s continual racist and classist development. The changing face of Denver is one that is very insidious. Mayor Hickenlooper, a liberal Democrat, is a down to earth, feel-good guy who has prompted many nice sounding initiatives: a Denver Greenprint, opening of the new Denver Art Museum, reinvestment into Downtown Denver, Denver’s Road Home initiative are a few of the projects spearheaded by the City. This new, hip, eco-friendly urban center is accessible only to a certain demographic, namely rich middle to upper class residents. While the Denver Art Museum opens its doors, police are targeting neighborhoods of color with aggressive “Broken Windows” policing. As Denver touts its initiative for the homeless, the city ups its harassment of people in Civic Center Park and declares that all free food programs need to be moved inside and out of sight.

The Democratic National Convention was exactly the type of major event needed to continue pushing forward a progressive image while simultaneously securing extra funding and equipment to forcibly maintain the inequities of capitalism. The push to move the food distribution programs inside had been on the table for years, but suddenly it found extra funding and urgency to make it happen in time for the DNC. The Democratic National Convention also supported the push for posh retail outlets and high end restaurants at the expense of local, long time businesses. The City continued pouring in money to redeveloped areas of downtown while a housing crisis displaces communities that have been together for generations.

What would the DNC protests have looked like if Unconventional Denver and other protest groups used this analysis to guide organizing? The sad part is that we had this analysis early on. We even had it buried in the long list of goals. Again, had we been more purposeful in our intent maybe we would have ensured that we spend the time to educate ourselves on these issues and ask those struggling against police brutality and gentrification, how the DNC protests could aid their work and where we could work in coalition with one another. Instead, with vague aspirations of making direct action a threat again, we settled into white privilege and the familiar, to neglect real coalition building

So the cynics were right. We didn’t disrupt the functionings of the DNC, our messaging was at times unclear, the protests lacked broad diverse participation and both our major days of action- disrupting the fundraisers and blockading the convention were completely called off. Once again, we anarchists talked big and failed to follow through.

The DNC as a Success

But the cynics were also wrong, and probably wrong on the most important level. The Democratic National Convention is a symbolic event. Unlike a free trade agreement meeting where actual decisions must be made, in which direct action can actually affect those outcomes, the DNC was completely scripted. We knew who would be elected and even shutting the convention down completely would not prevent the two-party system from moving forward.

The primary point of organizing for the conventions was to revive the diversity of tactics model and make anti-capitalism relevant again. We wanted to leave a new generation of activists with a sense of the power that comes from organizing to make change ourselves instead of electing leaders. We wanted to highlight the brutality of the state and the beauty of resistance. In this sense, we won and we won big.

Dynamite Comes in Small Packages

For a group as small as we were, we fucking rocked it. Despite being one of the smallest DNC protest groups our productivity was impressive. As a result, anarchists and anarchist messages were prominent throughout the week: the Reclaim the Streets event; the anti-capitalist march, the green and black bloc and the key roles anarchists played in the Iraq Veterans Against the War march

I’d much rather have a deeply flawed mobilization spark a renewed enthusiasm for resistance, than one which saps resources or ends as soon as the police leave the streets of a city to continue its occupation of neighborhoods. I know that the DNC imbibed a new sense of hope amongst myself and many other anarchists and radicals. Let’s take that energy forward.

Michael Rossman, 1939-2008

Michael Rossman, a Berkeley-based radical who spent his life struggling for a new world, died May 12 at his home surrounded by friends and family. He was 68. Rossman was a red-diaper baby who became active in UC Berkeley’s first radical political party, Slate, in the late 1950s. He is best known for his participation in the 1964 Free Speech Movement during which he was part of the leadership along with Mario Savio, Suzanne Goldberg, Jack Weinberg and others. He spent nine weeks in jail as a result of his involvement in the FSM. He wrote a number of books including “The Wedding Within the War” (1971) which described his experiences in the counter-culture. He has some of the best lines in the documentary film “Berkeley in the 60s.”

By the time the Slingshot crew met Michael, he was archiving political posters and he helped us clean out numerous historical items from our offices at the Long Haul. He never set out to be an archivist but by steadily compiling since the 60′s he had acquired the largest known collection of posters by a single individual. Michael never gave up on the radical movement. He organized conferences that would reunite FSM participants and friends. He was a supporter of People’s Park and he spoke out for the Memorial Oak Grove. A renaissance man, he was filled with energy and had many interests and talents aside from activism. He was a poet from early on and loved music, art and math. He taught primary school math for 30 years and helped run Camp Chrysalis, a summer program that took children to state parks around Northern California, for 25 years. His home in Berkeley was filled with not only books and posters but also exotic plants that would spill from their pots and blur the line with the overgrown plants outside his window. His front door was often left open.

In 1969, he celebrated a three-day hippie marriage celebration with Karen McLellan who he had met at UC Berkeley in 1963. They finally got legally married only months ago. Rossman is survived by McLellan as well as their two sons and a granddaughter.