Category Archives: Feb/March 2004 (1/29/04)

Sea Turtles Resurface

Chanting “Get on the right track — stop killing the leatherback!,” a festive protest of people of many ages dressed in colorful turtle costumes wound its way along the busy streets of San Francisco’s Fishermen’s Wharf. The action this past October marked the launching of the Bay Area-based Sea Turtle Restoration Project’s (STRP) Save the Leatherback campaign for a moratorium on longline fishing in the Pacific Ocean. Longline fishing in the Pacific kills tens of thousands of sea turtles annually to serve up swordfish, shark and tuna poisoned with high levels of methylmercury for lucrative seafood markets in Japan, the US and Europe.

Longlines are the greatest threat to sea turtles, maiming and killing as many as 40,000 each year. Having once swum with the dinosaurs, the more than 100 million year old leatherback now hangs by a thread at the threshold of extinction. The campaign to save it is at the heart of a concerted international effort to end the pillaging of the oceans and needless slaughter of millions of marine species by industrial fishing, while also sounding the alarm about the threat of methylmercury poisoning to people who eat swordfish and other predatory fish.

The Ancient Leatherback

The leatherback sea turtle is the dean of the seven species of sea turtles. Weighing up to 2000 pounds and reaching as much as nine feet in length, the leatherback has a unique external anatomy characterized by a leathery shell composed of skin overlying a mosaic of thin bony plates. The Pacific leatherback takes up to 15 years to mature and returns to the same beach where it hatched. To get there, a single leatherback follows a complex migration route stretching thousands of miles each year back and forth across the entire Pacific Ocean.

Because leatherbacks feed on jellyfish near the surface, they are extremely vulnerable to both swordfish and tuna longlining, both of which are conducted in relatively shallow pelagic (i.e. high seas) water. The rapid explosion of longlines since the 1970s has devastated the leatherback. Estimates of nesting females illuminate a terrifying collapse in the leatherback population — 95% in the last two decades. This nose-dive has aroused widespread international support for immediate action to stop the extinction crisis.

Reversing the Decline

STRP’s Save the Leatherback campaign is undertaking a broad array of initiatives including taking direct action, pursuing strategic legal action, advocating for a UN moratorium on Pacific longlining, educating seafood consumers about the impact of mercury poisoning, and undertaking media and advertising campaigns. STRP achieved its first significant victory when the Red Lobster chain dropped swordfish from the menus of its approximately 500 restaurants in response to a year-long petition drive. We are using this momentum to pressure other high-profile swordfish sellers through the threat of a lawsuit against the Safeway, Kroger’s, Albertson’s and Whole Foods supermarket conglomerates.

STRP teamed up with the San Francisco-based As You Sow Foundation in November, 2002, to conduct laboratory tests of swordfish sold in the five major supermarket chains. When the results turned up alarming mercury levels — as much as twice the level recommend by the US Food and Drug Administration — STRP filed a notice of intent to sue the supermarkets and Red Lobster under California’s Proposition 65, a 1986 “right to know” law which includes a clause requiring the posting of public warnings about toxics in food.

With this evidence in hand, the California Attorney’s General office filed the lawsuit itself in February 2003. To settle the suit, an interim legal agreement between the parties stipulates that stores will post signs warning of the dangers of consuming seafood containing methylmercury, especially swordfish, shark, tuna, king mackerel and tilefish.

The presence of methylmercury in predatory seafood species has garnered extensive international media coverage and public attention in the past few years. Fear of methylmercury poisoning in seafood led to the collapse of the seafood market in Hong Kong in November 2003. Paradoxically, the Japanese government has issued public health warnings about mercury in whale and dolphin meat even while it encourages the hunting of these two species for meat. Thanks to coal burning power plants, the largest emitters of mercury into the atmosphere that is transformed into methylmercury in the ocean, methylmercury continues to rapidly accumulate up the marine food chain right onto our plates.

Predatory fish accumulate methylmercury levels considered unsafe for consumption even by US government standards. Swordfish contains mercury levels that are 500 percent higher, on the average, than levels considered safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Not surprisingly, because the EPA’s allowable concentration of methylmercury is five times lower than that allowed by the FDA, powerful industry lobbyist organizations such as the National Fisheries Institute are pushing a standardization of health regulations in line with the more lenient FDA mercury toxicity levels.

The continued marketing of methylmercury tainted seafood raises deeper issues of corporate influence over government public health regulations as well as emissions from coal burning power plants and automobiles, the two largest sources of methylmercury. As documented by a “Now with Bill Moyers” investigation on PBS in August 2003, industry lobbyists such as the US Tuna Foundation have watered down inspections and talked the FDA into removing tuna from their warning that states, “swordfish, shark, king mackerel and tilefish (also known as golden snapper) contain enough mercury to affect the central nervous system and harm developing fetuses. Pregnant and nursing women, women who might become pregnant and young children should not eat these fish.” At the same time, the Bush administration is sabotaging long awaited reductions in emissions of mercury and other pollutants from the energy industry and auto manufacturers with his so-called “Clear Skies” initiative.

STRP’s emphasis on bringing together the health and environmental impacts of top predatory fish breaks new ground. It brings together new allies working on pollution, nutrition, public health, ocean, animal, fishing and reproductive campaigns to address issues that may have once seemed separate and unconnected. The emphasis on reducing consumer demand for top-of-the-food-chain seafood can help reduce demand by the world’s second largest importer of swordfish in order to reduce the fishing effort and give some breathing room for the leatherback. When demand is forced down, the incentive for continuing destructive and unprofitable longline fishing practice will decline.

Cutting the Longline

At a weekend of direct action protests at the National Fisheries Institute’s (NFI) October national conference and International West Coast Seafood Show in Long Beach California, STRP activists successfully evaded extensive efforts to censor protest. Over the course of the weekend, activists confronted swordfish dealers inside the seafood show who had refused requests to drop the fish from their inventories, hung door hangers reading “Do Not Disturb the Oceans” throughout the five largest hotels where conference and seafood show guests were staying and unfurled a massive banner reading “Swordfishing Kills Sea Turtles” at both the start of the Long Beach Marathon and the exclusive sea food show opening night gala on the Queen Mary cruise ship.

NFI was chosen as a campaign target for its role as an official advisor to the US Trade Representative. The industry lobbying group is pushing for a disastrous expansion of WTO authority over the oceans. It is also using its political clout to subvert eco-labeling, promote longlining and oppose a planned “country of origin labeling” law. NFI’s shameless promotion of cheap imported aquaculture drove US shrimper organizations to quit NFI in protest in October 2003 to pursue a trade embargo.

The longline industry has a lot to fear from the campaign. A 1999 lawsuit filed by STRP and Earthjustice closed two million square miles of territorial waters around Hawaii to Hawaiian swordfish longliners. The US district court judge found that the National Marine Fisheries Service was not doing enough to enforce protections for sea turtles dying on the longlines. When about three dozen Hawaiian longliners relocated to California waters to exploit a loophole in the ruling, the two organizations responded with another lawsuit seeking an injunction to stop longlining once and for all. Legislation is pending in California to ban all longlining.

Saving our oceans from senseless destruction is increasingly gaining steam among as wide a field as the Pew Oceans Commission (which released its report in summer 2003) and the infamous direct action oriented Sea Shepherd.

In fall 2003, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, which manages West Coast fisheries, surprisingly submitted a Fishery Management Plan. At the heart of the plan is a ban on swordfish and tuna fishing in Pacific territorial waters stretching 200 miles.

This emerging consensus is based on a combination of solid marine biology research, activist pressure, and a hefty dose of commonsense. Swordfish are caught using industrial longlines composed of invisible monofilament lines up to 60 miles long and carrying thousands of baited hooks. Each year, longlines float billions of hooks in the Pacific alone. It is a wasteful, indiscriminate fishing method that maims and kills more than 4 million sea turtles, sharks, sea birds, whales, dolphins, porpoises, billfish (such as blue marlin), sea lions and countless other marine species annually. According to a recent stunning Word Wildlife Fund report, about 1,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises are killed each day as bycatch from longline and other fishing methods. In total, 20 to 40 percent of the longline catch is thrown back as so-called “bycatch,” marine life with little or no commercial value. Bycatch rates are even higher for shrimp trawling, reaching as much as twenty times the shrimp caught, including an estimated 150,000 sea turtles in the tropics alone.

Bycatch is also a huge problem for fishers targeting other commercial fish. For example, nearly one half of the swordfish catch is bycatch from tuna fishing and often allowed to be brought to shore.

Bycatch and greed have left swordfish stocks teetering back and forth on the precipice of collapse for the past two decades. The average fish size of more than 300 pounds only a few decades ago (up to 1000 pounds!) have been eclipsed by catches of pre-reproductive juveniles, commonly weighing less than 90 pounds.

The problems plaguing the swordfish population are a microcosm of the larger eco-systemic collapse underway. A study published in “Nature” in September 2003 found that about 90% of our fisheries are close to or already over depleted. It was followed by a November “Science” article warning that fish stocks face extinction within the next 4 decades.

Refuting industry claims that some fisheries are on the rebound, another Nature study in the same year pointed out that an industrial fishery can “typically reduce community biomass by 80% in 15 years of exploitation.” The authors estimated that “large predatory fish biomass is only about 10% of pre-industrial levels.” These historical trends are revealing. “Rebounds” trumpeted by the fishing industry are in actuality a game that the Ocean Conservancy calls “shifting baselines” in which short-term recoveries provide a dishonest picture of real historical declines.

Shifting baselines cannot detract from the impact such a collapse will have on the estimated 1 billion people that rely on primarily small scale fishing for their subsistence livelihoods and protein source. In Chile and the Philippines, for example, subsistence fishers are being pushed out by the privatization of their fisheries as a means to repay international debts. Local access rights are being sold to subsidized foreign industrial fishing vessels exporting to lucrative US, EU and Japanese consumer markets. These industrial fish factories move onto greener waters when they’ve collapsed a fishery, leaving local populations without income and access to affordable local seafood. At the same time, fishers in the consuming countries are being driven out of business in droves by “cheap” imported fish with huge hidden environmental and social costs.

The international character of the ocean crisis caused by industrial fishing requires international action. In many cases, local solutions are not forthcoming because fisheries management agencies encourage privatization, industrial fishing, and industry self-regulation. Add to that international treaties and conventions that fail to restrain corporate fishing operations and we have a crisis.

With the UN set to increasingly take up the issue of ocean conservation in 2004, starting with efforts to condemn shark finning and encourage an end to the bycatch of target and non-target species in a November 2003 resolution, it is critical that the agenda include a moratorium on longlining. The impact of longlining on the ocean and marine life is comparable to the massive slaughter inflicted by driftnets until they were effectively banned from international waters by the UN in 1991. A UN longline moratorium would be modeled after this successful UN moratorium on driftnet fishing.

Dr. Robert Ovetz is a Marine Species Campaigner with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.Sign STRP’s petition calling for a UN moratorium at http://www.seaturtles.org. Also see http://www.savetheleatherback.com. Contact Robert at: robert@seaturtles.org

Seattle’s Over Dude

Lessons from Miami for the Robo-Cop Era

When we’ve just gotten our asses thoroughly kicked, often the last thing we want to hear is any criticism, no matter how constructive. So to offset that, let me begin by thanking everyone who came to Miami. Your planet is ruled by those who show up, and you did so under obviously dangerous circumstances. And if the playout reflected tactical inexperience, the blame rests on more experienced activists who didn’t come or who, like myself, appeared too late to add to the planning discussions.

These actions are not at all in vain; the large militant turnout at every meeting of corporate globalization has sent the message each time that the conscious people of Earth find this a repugnant wrong turn in the evolution of the whole human species. The demonstrations have contributed vitally to the failure of many negotiations and the watering-down of others, such as the FTAA.

In every city I hear report backs, telling of a city under total militarization, and the repression of even the most innocent spunkiness with a methodical yet thoughtless violence. All this is true. But amidst the disorientation from the surrealism of the police overload, we must not lose sight of our own power under even the most desperate circumstance.

The Myth and Reality of Seattle

“…the blockade was organized in open, public meetings and there was nothing secret about our strategy. My suspicion is that our model of organization and decision-making was so foreign to [the police's] picture of what constitutes leadership that they simply could not see what was going on in front of them.”

Starhawk, “How We Really Shut Down the WTO”

Myths lend meaning to our lives. The Legend of Seattle: People from all walks of life, turtles and teamsters, liberals and anarchists, children to grandpeople, united in a surge of humanity that simply overwhelmed the forces of police repression and corporate dominance. And giant puppets doubled our size! Our vibrant energy created a free zone where all was possible and anything could be created, or destroyed.

There’s a lot of truth in the story, of course. So we’re inspired to try the same thing over and over. But the tale neglects the roles of dumb luck, on the one hand, and adherence to the basic idea of direct action, on the other. Elements of dumb luck include:

* The meeting was scheduled in the Pacific Northwest, ground zero for forest defenders, and just a hoppity from the Bay Area.

* In a city with no tactical police experience since the thirties.

* The Clinton Administration welcomed, encouraged and condoned the protests, in a cynical plot to channel the energy of the people to extract concessions from poor nations (This backfired).

The Essence of Direct Action

To take a homely example. If the butcher weighs one’s meat with his thumb on the scale, one may complain about it and tell him he is a bandit who robs the poor, and if he persists and one does nothing else, this is mere talk; one may call the Department of Weights and Measures, and this is indirect action; or one may, talk failing, insist on weighing one’s own meat, bring along a scale to check the butcher’s weight, take one’s business somewhere else, help open a cooperative store, etc., and these are direct actions. David Wieck, “Habits of Direct Action,” from Liberation, 1958

In these late days, we may just have to live with the term “direct action” being used to mean civil disobedience, sabotage or violence (granted these actions may at times be direct). So to avoid confusion, I’ll ask, how direct are our actions? Substance over symbolism, having a goal, and a reasonable chance of success, are elements of directness. Once we leave the classroom or the butcher shop, actions vary across a continuum of directness. In Seattle, our action plan was kinda direct, because it involved an attempt, although mostly symbolic, to blockade the ministerial. When implemented, the plan became more direct when we succeeded, against probability, in stalling the meetings for hours.

In successive actions, blockading meetings naturally became harder. In DC, the delegates awoke at 4 AM one day to beat the gauntlet. In Philadelphia, the convention was held far from downtown, so disrupting afternoon business as usual became the alternate plan. In Quebec City, unable to surround, people attempted to break through the fence and storm the meeting. Utterly symbolic of course, but spectacular for sure.

In Miami, it was obvious days or weeks ahead that the fence wasn’t coming down. Presumably, when people discussed direct action, they referred to symbolic attempts to pull down the fence (with obvious real consequences), or mysterious unannounced affinity group actions. Discussion focused on how those who did not want to do direct action and those who did could accommodate each other. Secrecy and security are important, but it’s troubling when no one understands what we mean by direct action except that it “gets the goods.”

When we say direct action, we usually mean civil disobedience, sabotage, and occasionally even violence. When the police and the media say violence, they mean civil disobedience, sabotage or any form of direct action. I worry that when we call our behavior direct action, and the police call it violence, and all we’re actually doing is protesting without a permit or parade marshals, in a city that they have closed down where we are not bothering anyone, our language contributes to their terror-baiting of our movement, and the criminalization of all unsupervised dissent.

Who’s fucking streets?

Black Blocs were invented in Europe in the 80s. The Bloc would break off from the mainstream march, destroy a few things, and merge back in to the teeming mass. Since then, mass organizers have asked Black Blocs and other such militants to distance themselves from the main group (if they dare exist at all), out of respect for those with different tactical ideas, or who are more vulnerable to police violence: children, aged, and the disabled.

The problem we’ve seen is that militants blocs are like armor that requires infantry, or ‘gators needin’ a swamp. In Seattle, we still controlled the city at noon, and the Black Bloc went wild. In San Francisco when the war began, the police had mostly regained control of the streets by noon, and the Black Bloc was mass arrested. In Miami the police controlled every inch of downtown pavement all week, and a teeny Black Bloc was dispersed fifteen blocks away. Nice try.

But regardless of militancy, every mass action should have a traffic management plan. Let’s read civil engineering texts on how urban traffic flow is designed. Let’s train ourselves in holding intersections as long as possible and flying to the next one, non-violently of course, as part of an overall plan. And if the traffic situation is hopeless, as it may have been in Miami, let’s keep that in mind in our “direct action” plan; that’s we’re not only surrounded and outnumbered, but paralyzed.

And one last thing, the purpose of meeting up at 7 AM is to blockade someone who meets at 8 AM. Otherwise, as in Miami, for example, where the delegates met in the same hotel they slept in, it just isolates the die-hards, and sleep-deprives the partiers.

The Land of Opportunity

“To be attacked by the enemy is a good thing,” said Mao. While this is an exaggeration, if we’re never attacked we’re probably not being effective.

While direct action often coincides with civil disobedience, the principle is different. The principle of civil disobedience is to not back down against unrighteous force, regardless of the consequences. Tactical direct action is a crime of opportunity. It’s about spotting the weakness- tactical, ethical, economic, emotional, whatever- in the opponent and acting on that point. This opportunity doesn’t always arise in a demonstration; finding your chance wherever it arises is the direct action life-style.

But protest, and civil disobedience, is worthwhile on its own sake, to speak truth to power. As the Mao quote suggests, if a multi-million dollar tyranny arises to prevent the most symbolic gestures, that in itself is a sign of our progress. Don’t despair because all you get away with is puppets; speaking your mind under a police state is way more powerful than talking in a democracy.

They will overextend themselves. If not next time the time after, we will get the drop on them again.

“The more you tighten your grip Darth Vader, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” – Princess Laia

Ronda de Pensamiento Autonomo, Presente!

Hundreds of organizers, activists, artists, families, workers, piqueteros — members of asambleas, unions of the unemployed, and self-managed collectives — gathered in a reclaimed warehouse for the Ronda de Pensamiento Autónomo (Round of Autonomous Thinking) January 8-11 at Roca Negra, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. As part of Enero Autónomo (Autonomous January) the gathering sought to discuss and expand upon the concept of autonomy and horizontal practices and movements. From many countries and struggles they gathered to build upon the practices of direct democracy, horizontalism, autonomy, and struggle that unite the many fibers of people and practices into a fabric of passion and hope for bringing the new world in our hearts into existence. Here is the space where these shared stories and dreams meet, where rage meets pragmatism in fruitful dialogue and strategizing.

Roca Negra (Black Rock), as the space is known, is a former chop shop in Lanus, an area on the outskirts of greater Buenos Aires that was reclaimed by the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. It is a fitting a space as any, a place that was formerly used for the operations where those screwed by economic conditions would steal from others to survive – a place that is now used for the growing of vegetables and raising of livestock to support the members of the unemployed worker unions that have called for this international gathering.

The hundreds gathered in this space come from many locations and struggles, from the Unemployed Workers Movements (MTDs) and neighborhood assemblies to indigenous communities of the Mapuche and Guarani and activists from the US and Europe. There are members of countless autonomous collectives and self-managed workplaces, including Mujeres Creando (Women Creating) from Bolivia, the Landless Peasants Movement (MST) from Brazil, Autonomista Socialista de Suecia (Sweden), the Worcester Global Action Network (from the US) and Cooperativa La Asableraria (Italy). Coming from many places and experiences the discussion is united by many common features: struggling against the corporate globalization of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, building and sustaining cooperative projects and community organizations, fostering independent media and sources of information, confronting the many varieties of oppression that exist worldwide.

International encuentros such as this one reinforce and make clear the need to build common projects, genuine solidarity, and connections of mutual aid between radical organizations. Through many discussions any emphasis was placed on how solidarity must go beyond fundraising to genuine political support and working together, common projects and work beyond piqueturismo (activist tourism) and fetishizing militant chic. When funding from NGOs, grant making foundations, government sources, and religious charities come with questionable strings attached, the building and maintaining of truly autonomous movements necessitate webs of support that enable the maintenance of dignity and self-determination. Poverty pimping and paternalism don’t magically disappear when the situation becomes international.

While it is important to appreciate the beauty and resistance displayed by organizers in Argentina, Brazil, and everywhere, it is also important to not overly idealize such movements or to forget the situations they face. For instance, while the work of MTD La Matanza and Solano is amazing and encouraging (and largely responsible for bringing together this gathering), these unions represent only a small portion of the unemployed workers who are involved in such organizations, many of whom are being co-opted and bureaucratized by the Argentinean state as it continues to repress the more radical organizers. Many of the community asambleas neighborhood associations that formed after the December 2001 financial crisis have since fallen apart as things have become more stabilized and the middle class has been bought back into the system, even if slowly.

The point of such observation is not to deny the validity or importance of such organizing, but to realize that if we as activists and organizers want to understand, support, learn from, and from with organizations not just from Argentina but anywhere in the world, it makes little sense to try to do so without gaining a fuller understanding of the political situation. Building common projects and forums of understanding means interacting with the situation as a whole, and not just the organizers whose politics and practice comes closest to the kinds of organizations that we find most desirable.

There is much to be gained by the formation and maintenance of such networks and spaces of dialogue, passion, and autonomous thought, strategy, and action – but also much to lose if idealism prevents seeing the situation in full view and acting upon such. Imagining new worlds cannot blind us to the harshness of the existing world, or to overlook the inevitable growing pains as words from the heart and social creativity expand to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow.

Enero Autónomo: www.eneroautonomo.org.ar

Miami: A Personal Account

Being at the FTAA protest in Miami in November was both amazing and brutal. Besides proving to me that the anti-authoritarian movements in the US must continue networking to increase the efficacy of public confrontation, I saw incredible community built by locals and transplanted activists. It was a great lesson that being radical, and being effective, isn’t about attacking the fence.

I was one of the protesters who showed up at the FTAA convergence space on Wednesday at noon, with a little bit of jet lag. So I’ll first give a huge thank you to the people who got there days or weeks early and made food, sleep, outreach and media arrangements and to those who stayed late to do legal support.

Before I arrived, lots of people had said that “Miami” didn’t want us there, that there were no radical people, that there was no support. Rumors even circulated that some people were paid to protest. While it’s true that the resistant infrastructure could use some love, the people we met were generous, supportive, and scared of what FTAA might do to their families in the States or in Latin America. Knowing that police brutality is a regular occurrence for many residents, I don’t blame them for not showing up with rocks or molotovs.

There are three reasons why I go to large protests: to participate in public resistance, to join a temporary autonomous zone, and to smash the state. Usually, I feel success on the first two, and Miami was only different in the degree of brutality inflicted on protesters. If anyone needs proof that the police state is thriving in the US, Miami demonstrated it. Police Chief Timoney, who orchestrated the paramilitary repression of protest, is one psychotic MF.

The Food Not Bombs operation at the space was one of the finest I’ve seen. With at least 4 food pickups a day, and so much food left over that we gave some back, the generosity of local grocers and distributors was incredible. Meals were served downtown and at the convergence space, with approximately 2000 people fed per sitting.

The community garden, which I never actually saw!, left a living reminder for Miami of what the protest was about. Clean air, green space and drinkable water are essentials–and FTAA will make them all scarcer. It will leave a more permanent mark than anything else we did there, in noticeable contrast to the low-wage, dead-end jobs that FTAA will usher in.

As far as confrontations, transportation (spotty) and the weather (sticky) definitely gave a home-team advantage to the police, and Miami is a town without alleys or public parks. Even the churches downtown were locked.

Tactically, Miami was a beating in the streets. From Sunday to Sunday, police rounded up protesters, arrested pedestrians, conducted illegal searches and gassed or beat crowds. By my best estimate, 10% of non-union protesters were arrested and many more subject to police violence. Buses holding thousands of protesters were blocked from entering Miami Dade County. Far from being provoked, the police was pro-active in its oppression and violence.

While I was downtown on Thursday night with friends feeding homeless people, we were stopped and illegally searched by a troop of bicycle cops who claimed that “God was in charge” and threatened us with “fifty thousand volts of electricity” from a tazer for waiting on a corner to cross the street. One cop asked why “a girl like you would shave her head” and I told him I had cancer. Which is totally possible–I haven’t seen a doctor since I lost my health insurance. He took it like a kick in the balls and I had the “privilege” of a less-than-thorough (illegal) pat down. It felt good to get one direct hit. When I found out later that queer people had been assaulted and tortured in prison, a knot tied up my intestines. I feel for those folks. It could have been me.

After more than 150 arrests on Wednesday and Thursday, for “offenses” as egregious as breathing, there was a fabulous jail solidarity march and rally in front of the prison. With drums and signs and our lungs, we let those on the inside know that we were grateful and working toward bail. Although no one outside knew at the time, some friends in prison told me that our presence helped them do solidarity and make demands for lawyers and food and release. And then, there were riot cops. Timoney (or someone) had arranged for the protest to be surrounded on three sides by riot cops armed with everything but AK-47s. Police negotiators told the press, before they told protesters, that we had three minutes to disperse or be gathered illegally. While the street spokes council kept talking, affinity groups took to the sidewalk. If I hadn’t walked home through the projects (where police know better than to go), I probably would have been rounded up like dozens of other people who left peacefully.

If anarchism or radicalism or anti-capitalist resistance is ever going to dismantle capitalism and its tools, we need to learn from international movements and drop our fears. As long as we depend on the state and capitalism, for education, food, transportation or housing, they will continue to oppress us. Two delegations that were noticeably absent from the action were indigenous people and small farmers–both under assault in this country since Roanoke and the Great Depression, respectively. The people I met in the Miami projects loved what we were doing,

but didn’t join us. People with skin and social privilege must find a way to minimize risk for those people (people of color, immigrants, queers) who are most targeted for police brutality so that they can participate in resistance without additional oppression.

About three blocks from the convergence center on Friday afternoon, two Latino men in a pickup truck stopped to talk to me and a friend, both dressed in black with bandannas. “Watch out for drug dealers in this neighborhood,” one told me.

“I’d rather meet any dealer than any cop in this town today,” I replied.

“Well, I’m glad you all came down here. I didn’t think any white people gave a shit about me. But my family in El Salvador needs clean water and it doesn’t look good,” he said. “We’ll have to keep working on this.”

Yes…we will.

Slinghsot Time Machine: 2008

Operation Canadian Freedom

Washington DC — October 1, 2008 — With just weeks remaining before President Bush’s historic run for a third term, the Bush Administration announced that the first ground troops had crossed the Canadian border, beginning Operation Canadian Freedom.

“Coalition forces from 64 nations have begun the battle to liberate the Canadian people, who have suffered under years of tyrannical free health care and legalized gay marriage,” commented Bush in a nationally televised address from the Oval Office. “We know that some of the terrorists who attacked us on September 11 came to the US from Canada. Canada is a clear and present danger to the freedoms that we Americans hold so dear,” said Bush.

Reporters embedded with the Third Infantry Division reported only slight resistance, with three soldiers injured when their Humvee struck a moose.

Bush went to war after Canada refused to turn-over its weapons of mass destruction, although Canada denied having any such weapons and repeated inspections by United Nations weapons inspectors had found no weapons. “We know that Canada must have weapons of mass destruction, because they have repeatedly denied having weapons of mass destruction — what are they trying to hide?” Bush told the nation.

Flag waving TV reporters were present at Niagara Falls as tens of thousands of American troops, and hundreds of thousands of private contractors from the nation’s top multi-national corporations, crossed the border. The Army’s newest weapon, the $46 million mobile McDonalds attack restaurant, saw its first combat with an early morning Big Mac attack. The invasion force also included troops from the 63 other coalition countries — 6 foreign troops in all.

After the president’s address, the President’s spokesperson dismissed protests from members of the international community. “We have the mutherfucking nuclear weapons — so shut the fuck up! You’re next!” He also denied that the invasion had anything to do with the upcoming presidential election. The election will be the first time a president has sought a third term since the 22nd Amendment was repealed in 2005.

As soon as the invasion was announced, the Department of Homeland Security announced that it was increasing the nations’ threat level to Red — banning all public assemblies of 5 or more people for fear that terrorists could attack public gatherings. Citizens were advised to stay indoors and monitor television programming for further instructions. All sports events will proceed as scheduled.

Slingshot Expansion

As the Slingshot collective celebrates 16 years since publication of the first Slingshot zine, we’ve been discussing where the project should go now. We would like to expand our focus from just publishing this zine and the Organizer to include new publishing projects — posters, pamphlets, stickers and maybe even books. We also hope to improve our website so it can offer updates, articles, columns and additional information that won’t fit into the paper.

As part of this effort, starting with this issue, we’re going to try publishing more frequently — every 2 months instead of quarterly. To make this experiment a success, we need to locate a lot more writers — folks who can either write something regularly or just contribute something now and then. We’re excited about finding writers from all over the country and the world so we can enlarge our focus and cover stuff going on all over. If you know of anyone who might be interested, point them our way! A list of publication dates and deadlines is below.

We would also like to find folks in the Bay Area who can spare one day per issue to help with our increasingly massive mailing (over 6,000 copies.). Of course we’re always looking for folks to join the collective and participate in everything our project does on a day-to-day basis — editing, layout, design, art. Come to a new volunteer meeting to plug in.

ISSUE #81

New volunteer meeting: February 22

Deadline: March 27

Back from printer: April 8

ISSUE #82

New volunteer meeting: May 2

Deadline: May 29

Back from printer: June 10

Also, Remember to put note about matching grant program into the Slingshot box:

Thanks to everyone who ordered a Slingshot Organizer, which helps pay for this paper and everything else we do. We’re using some of the proceeds to help support Prisoner Literature and Books to Prisoners projects around the country by offering matching grants. If you work on such a project, contact us for details. Also, if you work with any activist group in the Bay Area that is looking for a way to raise funds, we will match dollar for dollar up to $50 money you raise at a cafe night dinner at our headquarters at Long Haul. Contact us for details.

Slingshot Box

Slingshot is a quarterly, independent, radical newspaper published in the East Bay since 1988.

We can sometimes sense whether the activist scene is expanding or contracting by how many articles get turned in each issue. This issue we were flooded with articles, and after cutting a bunch, we just barely squeezed them into these 20 pages. So maybe 2004 will be a good year for the resistance — it’s about time!

Spring in Berkeley makes us think of new projects and new possibilities. We don’t have to put up with the way things are — a world based on violence, consumerism, fear and power — we can build a new world based on cooperation, simplicity, sustainability and love.

We are constantly reminded of how fragile our lives, our health and our minds are. We all need to take time to care for ourselves even while we redouble our struggle against the system. And we need to live in the present. Living our lives must combine resistance, expression and joy each day.

As the issue comes out, tens of thousands of Southern California grocery workers are still on strike. We express solidarity with them in their struggle to maintain decent benefits and pay.

Thanks to everyone who ordered a 2004 Slingshot Organizer, which helps pay for this paper and everything else we do. We got so many decorated letters and insane gifts with the orders: earrings, shirts, buttons, stickers, even a feather decorated mock missile. All the creativity really made the huge volunteer effort of shipping 15,000 books fun. We’re using some of the proceeds to help support Prisoner Literature and Books to Prisoners projects around the country by offering matching grants. If you work on such a project, contact us for details. Also, if you work with any activist group in the Bay Area that is looking for a way to raise funds, we will match dollar for dollar up to $50 money you raise at a cafe night dinner at our headquarters at Long Haul. Contact us for details.

Slingshot is always on the lookout for writers, artists, editors, photographers, distributors and independent thinkers to help us make this paper. If you send something written, please be open to editorial discussion.

Editorial decisions are made by the Slingshot collective, but not all the articles reflect the opinions of the collective members. We welcome debate, constructive criticism and discussion.

EU starts Intimidation Campaign against Anarchists

Anarchists in Italy and throughout the European Union are currently facing severe repression in the wake of a series of bomb attacks against various European bankers, police, politicians and EU officials.

On January 5th, the Italian Interior Minister announced the creation of an EU-wide task force designed to combat and crush “anarchist insurrection”. Greece, France and Spain are also expected to take part by persecuting anarchists in their respective countries in coordination with Italy. Meanwhile the European Parliament is undergoing a “security review” .

On the morning of December 21, two bombs exploded in front of the home of European Commission President and former Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi. In a letter sent to the daily “La Repubblica”, a group calling itself the Informal Anarchist Federation claimed responsibility.

A week later a small firebomb was placed in a hollowed out copy of “The Passion” by D’Annuzzio (an early Italian fascist), and mailed to Prodi. Although it exploded in his hands he was unharmed. Earlier in the year a similiar book bomb was mailed to the Carabinieri (the Italian paramilitary force who murdered Carlo Giuliani during the G8 protest in Genoa in 2000) HQ, the bomb burned off two fingers of the policeman who opened it.

During his tenure as President of the European Commission, Prodi oversaw the development of an EU wide military known as the European Rapid Reaction Force.

Bombs were also mailed to Jean Claude Trichet, president of the Central European Bank; Jeurgen Storbeck, director of Europol, an intelligence agency; the Eurojust office, an EU police force which helps to coordinate investigations between EU nations; and other targets.

In its letter, the FAI (not to be confused with either the Italian Anarchist Federation, a syndicalist group which has the denounced the bombings; or the Iberian Anarchist Federation of Spanish Civil War fame) boasted “That today we have hit at the apparatus of control that is repressive and leading the show that is the new European Order.” The Italian government is dubiously claiming that the FAI is an umbrella federation of various anarchist groups and that they have a list of 200 anarchists and anti-authoritarians who they claim have connections to the group. Although the thought that there might exist some gargantuan-sized, formal organization of anti-authoritarians should strike any commen-sensical anarchist as absurd, the implications are clear: the Italian state is prepared to prolonge and extend its repression of anarchists that has been going on continulously at least through the last decade and off and on since Mussolinni.

In 1997 the Italian state arrested insurrectionary anarchist writer Alfredo Bonnano during an intimidation campaign against anarchists and held him in jail for over a year (along with 57 others), charging him with being “the Anarchist Godfather” and with being the founder of a terrorist organization called the “Revolutionary Organization of Anarchist Insurrectionals”. It was later revealed that the name of the nonexistent group came from a lecture given by Bonnano at the University of Thessonikki years before. Bonnano is best known for writing “The Anarchist Tension”, “Armed Joy” and other pamphlets in the insurrectionist strain of anarchism.

Insurrectionism is an anti-moralist, self-organizational anarchy that advocates constant conflict with authority and the effectiveness of illegalism as a means of survival. Insurrectionists have been the main targets of the Italian government because of this support of “illegal” activities such as bank robbing, attentat and bombings. Although, as always, these tactics have been the center of major debate and controversy within the anarchist millieu itself.

Calls have been made for solidarity actions to take place around the globe, to demand that the Italian Government and the EU immediately halt any plans to mass-arrest or intimidate anarchist writers and activists. There has also been a request to publicize the current situation in all anti-authoritarian publications.

During the campaign to release Bonnano, numerous protests and actions were aimed at Italian Consulates in Paris, London, Athens, Buenos Aires, San Fransisco and Tokyo. While in jail, the prisoners made a statement which applies appropriately to the current accusations of the Italian government: “Judges know perfectly well that the anarchist organisation they talk about does not exist. They know the model of an armed gang- a mirror of their own model- cannot be applied to the real relationships between anarchists.”

Teaching the Conqueror’s Language in the

In “rejecting the Iraq quagmire” (PB Floyd, #79), its duplicity and failures and lies, we should also be opposing the recruitment of North American, British and Australian ‘experts’ to help implement the ongoing ‘reconstruction’ and creation of an American puppet plutocracy in West Asia. An integral component of the “colonialist shell game” Floyd calls attention to is the occupiers’ need to impose English as a working language for the occupation and future satellite. This article looks a bit at imperial English in connection with this latest conflict in America’s drive to implant its culture & power & megalanguage across the globe.

The anti-occupation movement should be pressing on campuses and in professional organizations for those with ‘needed skills’ to refuse to cooperate with this monstrosity. And that means teachers of English as well as ‘professionals’ in a hundred other disciplines. And ordinary American taxpayers from all walks who foot the staggering bills for this ‘transfer of expertise.’ Who watch their kids get sent as soldiers to protect it.

An Influx of “Know-How”

The Pentagon already needs entire battalions of interpreters — or brigades of imported teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL) to administer the “rebuilt” Iraq now on the drawing boards. The lucrative “market” for EFL being opened up by our generals will be a windfall for teachers from Sydney to Seattle. Experts from numerous other fields are also being recruited to “reshape” Iraqi education, from kindergartens to universities. And platoons of Western researchers, including grad students, will soon descend on a ‘pacified’ Iraq as transnational foundations seek to fund new projects. North American, British and Australian universities will attempt to set agendas for “collaboration” and research in Iraqi academe. In this complex picture, I want to concentrate on the predictable massive infusion of what Chinua Achebe called “the world language which history has forced down our throats.”

EFL on the March

American hegemony — its geopolitics driven by the key assumption that it has defined the way of life that must be adopted by all — must rely on the learning of its language in order to maintain and cement its control. In Iraq and Afghanistan, as elsewhere (Pennycook 1994;1999). While EFL suffuses at a dizzying pace along the Gulf, generating a veritable boom in lucrative positions for “native-speaker” EFL teachers and applied linguists, Iraq has for two decades remained an impenetrable fortress. Now those walls have been razed, quite literally, and the scramble for jobs to teach EFL and other academic specialties in Iraq is in the offing.

EFL administrators and “teacher trainers” in the British Council and U.S. Dept. of State are beginning to lay the groundwork for what they may call “Operation Iraqi English Literacy”. That is only in “pragmatic” hands-on character for the BC and the Education Office within the Department of State — they are after all a proven arm of the British and American governments in the implementation of cultural policy centered on spreading the blessings of the hegemonic language. The English Language Fellow Program funded by the Dept. of State will probably soon announce big-bucks “openings” in Iraqi academe. The commercial “EFL industry” from Melbourne to Maine is now gearing to set up a whole chain of private schools and language centers in the ruins to aid the Anglo-American firms already cashing in on their bonanza. Peace Corps planners doubtless hope to realize an old dream: penetrating the high schools and villages in a major country in the Arab East, gaining a foothold in a region where the PC is still largely outside. American universities are also scouting the Iraqi terrain for appropriate sites to set up “branch campuses” (like City U/Seattle across Eastern Europe) to promote democracy, teach business management and of course EFL, molding the new pro-American Iraqi “elite” in the image of Wolfowitz, Halliburton & Co. Helping to consolidate an Iraqi economy and polity coupled like a caboose to the US engine. And masterminded by educators, planners, economists, engineers, consultants and other ‘professionals’ from the states.

Hegemony’s Machine

As Hodge (2002) has put it: “The “new world order” is a Disequilibrium Machine, a manic device which produces exponentially increasing inequality (of power, wealth, health, conditions of life) on a planetary scale, affecting all nations and peoples, transforming political and cultural relations between people, changing the relations between humans and all other species, between humans and the life processes of the planet itself. It is a single process at every fractal scale.”

This is the device — its imaginary and brutal reality — we are now up against and must struggle to counter. As our “gunfighter nation” regenerates itself through violence and unilateral conquest on ever new ‘frontiers’ (Slotkin 1993), the English language teaching profession in particular needs to interrogate its vested interest and central role in the maintenance and reproduction of the language of Empire and its pax Americana (Phillipson 1992; Pennycook 1998).

Academic Moratorium?

Students, educators and others who are outraged by this war and the values it represents must question any ‘complicity’ by their professional organizations and universities in the “transfer” of knowledge and skills under the occupation. Under conditions of “neocolonial” reconstruction and semi-military administration, the first imperative is an academic and professional boycott or moratorium on expatriate personnel recruitment for projects and employment in Iraq, and on participation in externally generated and uninvited “research.”

The complicity of the ‘knowledge industry’ in the planning and oiling of the Occupation and Iraq’s ‘satellization’ and subjugation has to be focused on, as it was during the resistance campaign against the war and American presence in Vietnam — and the ‘secret war’ (1964-1973) against the people of Laos, where I work. And where the effects and residua of that American bombardment, the heaviest against any rural population in human history, are still felt, still visible, still dangerous.

Suffocating the Space of Capitalism

What the vast majority of ordinary Iraqis need at this disjuncture is autonomy. And like the Palestinians, oxygen to survive. Help in what Zapatistas call “suffocating the space of capitalism” (Esteva 2001). In any new beginnings in education, the bottom line should be self-reliance, dignity and sustainability: Iraqi educators will have to lead the way, with their priorities, at their pace. Wary of “imposed imports” and “research projects” from the Anglo-American West. In this process, Iraqi language educators will need time to come to critical grips with the cultural politics of English as an international language, its inherent aporia: the problematic linkages between the diffusion of English and social inequality, English as a narrow-door gatekeeper to privilege and power (Dua 1994; Pennycook 2001). And English as a Trojan horse that helps to deepen and perpetuate their dependence on our imperial periphery.

Grassroots Pedagogies of Resistance

One progressive alternative for us is to join in hands-on solidarity with people’s grassroots movements in Iraq as they crystallize. In ‘reclaiming the commons,’ the principal right for all Iraqis, the kind of education that should be created need not be in the mold of what Western ‘developers’ deem necessary — as a tool for their own neo-colonial penetration of the society and economy. What is needed is to generate opportunities for practical learning beyond the classroom in changing Iraq from the bottom up. Zapatistas are doing this across Chiapas and Oaxaca. Even in arrangements for learning, its content and social ‘certification.’

Such autonomous, holistic community-rooted education is at the heart of Madhu Suri Prakash & Gustavo Esteva’s exciting book, Escaping Education: Living as Learning Within Grassroots Cultures (NY: Peter Lang 1998). It’s one all anarchists should read. A brief excerpt is available at http://www.multiworld.org/m_versity/althinkers/gustavo.htm . We have to be thinking about alternative landscapes of learning for those who constitute the majority of the people on this planet, what Prakash & Esteva call the Two-Thirds World. We need to be talking about anti-authoritarian approaches to the regeneration of soil cultures, and building resistance to indigenous cultural meltdown in the global classroom. To help people take creative steps in “escaping the certainties of development, progress and education; recovering their own truths” (ibid.: 73).

Especially those of us who teach on those dominated ‘peripheries,’ to which Iraq has now been added. Learning from what Prakash & Esteva term the ‘refusenik cultures’ and ‘grassroots postmodernism,’ the ‘diversity of liberation in the lived pluriverse’ (ibid.; 35-85): “Postmodernism at the grassroots describes an ethos of women and men who are liberating themselves from the oppression of modern economic society. The reign of homo educandus and homo oeconomicus go hand in hand. Liberation from one cannot occur without liberation from the other” (81).

Pedagogies of Rerooting

One prime component in this pedagogy of localization (ibid.: 129-131) is the people’s right to their own language, learning to “fashion a voice for themselves from amidst the deafening channels of domination” (Canagarajah 1999: 197). To be multilingual, OK, sure. That’s cultural hybridity. A fact of our era and its geopolitics. But to ‘conscientize’ learners to withstand and oppose the agendas of Empire and McWorld (Freire 1993), learning to ‘read the wor(l)d’ critically. And to interrogate the headlong dominion of English. As Canagarajah (1999: 2) reminds us, the resistance perspective opens doors to the possibility that “the powerless in post-colonial communities may find ways to Ö reconstruct their languages, cultures, and identities to their advantage. The intention is not to reject English, but to reconstitute it in more inclusive, ethical and democratic terms.” Anti-authoritarians should help define what that reconstitution can mean.

References

Canagarajah, A. S. (1999). Resisting Linguistic Imperialism in English Teaching. Oxford: OUP

Dua, H. (1994). Hegemony of English. Mysore: Yashoda Publications

Esteva, G. (2001, May). “Interview with Gustavo Esteva, by Sophie Style.” ZMag, http://www.zmag.org/ZMag/articles/may01style.htm

Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum. The translator M. B. Ramos notes there that ‘conscientizaÁ„o’ refers to “learning to perceive social, political and economic contradictions and to take action against the oppressive elements of reality” (17)

Hodge, R. (2002). “Monstrous Knowledge in a World Without Borders.” borderlands e-journal, 1 (1), 14, http://www.borderlandsejournal.adelaide.edu.au/vol1no1_2002/hodge_monstrous.html

Pennycook, A. (1994). The Cultural Politics of English as an International Language. New York: Longman; _______. (1999). “Development, Culture and Language: Ethical Concerns in a Postcolonial World,” http://www.clet.ait.ac.th/hanoi_proceedings/pennycook.htm

_______. (1998). English and the Discourses of Colonialism. London: Routledge

_______. (2001). Critical Applied Linguistics: A Critical Introduction. Mahwah, N.J. Erlbaum, esp. pp. 46-73

Phillipson, R. (1992). Linguistic Imperialism. Oxford: OUP

Slotkin, R. (1993). Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of the Frontier in Twentieth-Century America. New York: HarperPerennial, esp. pp. 10-21, 654-660

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An earlier version of this appeared in ZMag, June 2003. The author is based in Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic. Email:

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