Category Archives: Summer 2004 (6/3/04)

Strength Flows From Diversity

The Republican Party plans to hold it’s convention in New York City. Two things are obvious: that George W. Bush will be chosen as their presidential candidate and that tens of thousands of us, with another view of how the world could be, will protest. For radicals this presents an opportunity. We can gather in huge numbers and make an impact. Certainly we make an impact in all of our home cities and areas as much as we can. Going where the Republicans choose lets them have a bit of control and takes some energy from other projects, but for many of us this is an event not to miss.

Already there has been a lot of talk about tactics since many of us want to do more than merely march. We are so filled with emotion by the daily outrages of those who claim to rule this world that to just stand by and say “No!” feels like a betrayal to ourselves. We will take action to stop them or make them feel a bit of what we feel every day. We will march, blockade, be arrested, sit down, break laws and impede the Republicans as we shout our rage from rooftops and alleyways. There have been many critiques, for instance that the Black Block (a militant protest tactic, to avoid being singled out by cops by all wearing black) will just be arrested and that many will be too liberal and just march into protest pit traps. Our goals should not be to force everyone to do things our way. If some people feel better with others dressed in the same fashion scheme, and take their joy in that and are arrested, then so be it. We know there will be arrests, and if some groups make themselves more into targets then that is for them to decide. If others feel the most secure following along and marching into a pen then let them. Our goal should be to, as someone once said, “Make the revolution irresistible.” Telling people that they are doing it all wrong is no where near as effective as leading through example. We fear to expose ourselves to attack and so it is much easier to criticize than to actually propose an idea and do it. Let’s break into small groups and take the whole city. Injustice resides all over, not just in Bush.

Our strength as a movement comes in our diversity and ability to be inspiring. While well-coordinated plans and numbers surely help, they should not be seen as the be all and end all. When we have had the most success has been when we united farmers, nuns, anarchists, immigrants, NGOs, unionists, environmentalists, concerned neighbors and many others. It’s not necessary to all do the same thing or even be in the same spot — all we have to do is show a similar position. When it comes to Bush there is massive opposition, we can ride the anti-Bush tide and his defeat may give a huge upsurge to positive ideals. Bush is merely a puppet of those who hold real power and in New York radicals can continue to educate those around us about larger problems of the governmental system and capitalism. There are many that say “Anyone but Bush”. Imagine if Bush disappeared today. We would get . . . Cheney. We all agree that we need to defeat Bush and the War in Iraq. So let’s fight but also try to show that the world could be different. We could treat each other better, share and trade what we have and empower local communities to head in the direction they see as most fulfilling.

Let’s face it — this struggle is a lot bigger than Bush or the Republicans. Maybe we will have the most amazing plan and best tactics and Bush will suddenly realize that he has been acting from his fear and hurt feelings and that he will be healed by trying to empower himself rather than dominate the world. Even after this we will still have plenty to do. Our struggle will not end in New York. We will have years to come. Let’s make the best of it and try to prioritize treating each other well as we organize, supporting diverse ideas and desires. We can’t just focus on the issues, we also must acknowledge how we feel deep inside. If the Convention carries on unimpeded but all the folks who came to New York feel truly fulfilled, united and excited to carry on, we will have the foundation for the future. If, on the other hand, the action is great but we all leave feeling pissed off at each other, disregarded and angry, we will have made little progress.

It is inside ourselves that we must find happiness and joy in life. When we look around we see so much that must change. Whether it’s children dying of disease after the water is privatized in South Africa, from pollution from chemical plants in the US or from bullets shot in Iraq, we can not find peace inside until we address the problems of the world. So many of those problems start right here in this country, thus we are uniquely positioned to effect them. And we will fight as hard as we can in New York and beyond while keeping in mind that the more we support each other (even when we disagree) the more those others will be there to support us when we need it.

Disrupting Everyday with Agitating Art Projects

Art shouldn’t be an elite thing made by a specialized class of people and then cut off in a museum or traded between rich people. No, we’re all born artists. I’ve never identified as an artist, but increasingly, I’ve been realizing that my self-definition as “non-artist” actually makes me a better artist, if that makes any sense at all.

Even though we’re all born artists, our culture tries to beat the artist out of us. And our culture alienates most people from art. The elite get to enjoy art, while common people are supposed to exist in a mass produced, soul-less environment in which all forms of expression are utilitarian or are designed to control us or Sell Product.

I’m not sure what the best definition of art is, but I think of it as any form of expression which is designed primarily to evoke emotion, thought, reaction, contemplation, or self-observation.

Every moment and every place can be an opportunity for art and the agitation and tension that goes with the best art. My favorite forms of art are when we create situations in which it is unclear where the art creator’s work ends and the art “consumer’s” role begins — in other words, where there is less of a barrier between creator and observer and where everyone gets to participate.

I especially like making art part of everyday life, or rather making one’s life itself art. If you can concentrate on doing that, then you start to live life in the moment — breaking down a focus on the future and goals and replacing those forms of being with a fuller experience of the present and the way things are right now.

In times like these, we need to figure out as many ways as possible of strongly protesting business as usual — of saying “this state of affairs is unacceptable!” We need a vast diversity of tactics — from protests, to direct action, to sabotage, to very strange life participation performance art. Here are two art projects I’ve been working on — maybe these will give you ideas and inspiration to make your own art projects, or maybe at least you’ll think they’re strange and funny.

Gate of Nails — It all started when my housemate wrote an article for Slingshot denouncing cell phones a few years ago. It seemed like everyone was getting them, and they are such an unfortunate technological development — to always be reachable, to have everyone around you talking to themselves all the time, to hear ringing no matter where you go. We posted a sign on the gate of the house: “Please destroy cell phones before entering.” People thought we were odd and ignored the sign. Cell phones kept going off during dinner, around the hot tub, in the bathroom . . .

So a few months ago, we started collecting old broken or abandoned cell phones and nailing them to the gate with huge, thick, scary looking nails. Suddenly, we were getting really strong reactions from everyone who saw them. To physically put a nail through a cell phone — an item considered a sacred necessity of modern existence — How dare you! The gate is right on a major street, so the art piece gets a lot of exposure.

The other day, I talked with some kids walking by who asked “why are you doing that?” I explained that it was an art project, that it was designed to create strong reactions, and that it had worked. They stared at me like I had two heads.

Ever since we started nailing up phones, I’ve realized how much I would like to nail up a bunch of other forms of technology. I still have to find nails big enough to crucify a clock, a computer, a TV set, our refrigerator, our dryer, and a few cars.

Lecternette Theatre — We also recently got a fold-out portable “lecternette” with a built in PA system. It was originally created for the US military, and how we got it is another story entirely. Anyway, we set it up on the porch and have been practicing public speaking — making addresses to the passing cars and random people walking by. It turns out, it is really hard to get comfortable with having your voice amplified. I was in a band and I got used to singing into a microphone after a while — public speaking is a whole other thing. On good days, this is really good art because it make me feel uncomfortable, it makes the passing random people hearing it feel uncomfortable, and it is all about expression. We’ve been discussing having a box on the Lecternette with a bunch of different subjects so that you would go up there, draw a subject, and then have to talk about it for a while. Another idea is that you could be in disguise to talk on the lecternette to free you up to speak frankly since it wouldn’t be you, but a character doing the talking.

On a typical day my voice booms out over cars stopped in traffic: “Your way of life trapped in those steel boxes — going from a meaningless place where you earn money to a meaningless place where you spend it — this is not life! Don’t lose touch with the meaningfulness and the miracle of your life.”

A couple of weeks ago, we managed to combine the lecternette with the gate of nails by conducting a nailing ceremony narrated on the Lecternette, including amplifying the sound of the nail getting pounded through the cell phone. It’s great to reclaim art for the people!

Battling Your Inner Capitalist

As we struggle against capitalism and the ways that it stifles our livelihood and crushes our human potential, we overlook the ways that it is ingrained in us and how we have made it a part of counter culture. Not only are we victims of capitalism, but without even realizing it, we are perpetrators of it. Capitalism is rooted in competition and views everything that facilitates profit as an asset and everything else as opposition. The whole idea of profit has been ingrained in our psyche. Within our everyday interactions we are constantly asking ourselves, “What’s in it for me?”

The conditioning starts as soon as we’re brought into this world. In our first year of life most of us are forced to sleep separately from our parents and we are weaned off our mother’s breast before we’re even a year old (if that). Our parents are convinced that they are doing what is best by preparing us to “fend for ourselves” out there. Society conveys the idea that if we rely too much on our family (or anyone else for that matter), we will grow up to be weak and unable to climb to the top of the consumer pyramid. We cry out for love, safety, and comfort from the isolation of our crib, but we learn that unless we are hurt physically, our cries will be ignored. A whole culture of capitalism surrounds us, sterilizing almost every form of self-expression and interaction. It plants a backwards version of individualism inside of us, teaching us that everything is competition. Trust nothing and no one.

We go through life feeling an unplaceable sense of loneliness and isolation around or disconnection from everyone and everything. As we get older it gets harder to express ourselves, listen, and understand each other within the rigid limitations of consumer culture. But everyone around us seems to be finding the key to fulfillment with their new cars, video games, television, and computers…. then it hits us. “No! It’s all wrong! I need more than this putrid, uninspiring, detached existence!” We start to understand that there is something very shallow about the whole cycle of competition, consumption, alienation, winners, and losers. We decide that we need something much more engaging so we reject society altogether.

But we need to take it a step further than just rejecting the crooked strategies of a capitalist society. Many of us get caught up in making ourselves victims of capitalism, using it as a way to explain away the dissatisfaction that we might still have with our lives. We make capitalism into some kind of scapegoat that exists “out there,” and deny that it exists inside of us. To call capitalism some kind of economic institution is to simplify the complexity of what is really going on in our society; the economic institution is an outcome of it, but its creator is far more wretched.

When we as punks rejected “society,” many of us pulled its evils even closer and immersed ourselves further in The Competition. How often do we put labels on others who are not a part of “our community” or tighten up when some stranger approaches us to offer kind words? Does that voice that says “what do they want from me” still speak in our heads? We make moralistic judgements about people we know nothing about, those who we feel we can’t “profit” from, and we perpetuate the abyss of alienation that we rejected in the first place. As we try so hard to climb out of it, we don’t even stop to notice that the beast we’re escaping from is clinging to our backs and pulling us further into the pit of judgement, competition, and isolation.

In order to break down this system we need to challenge that capitalist variety of individualism-based-on-competition within ourselves. While embracing our autonomy and self-direction, let’s learn how to trust each other, open up to others, and build deeper connections with all of our interactions . . . with everyone. When we deconstruct our own judgements and stereotypes we can see people as they really are, with feelings and needs much like our own, and this is a huge step toward making the fear-based, cold-hearted system crumble.

But our inner capitalist destroys much more than our relations with others; it is far more knifing than that. In society, we are constantly told that we are under qualified; we need to work more before we can get that position that we want, we need to get a degree before we can have the right career. Our personal capitalist takes this demoralization to a whole other level. It tells us that we are too under qualified to actualize our aspirations and dreams, we won’t be good enough, and that we will FAIL. It tells us we need to have more experience, be older, more educated, less stupid, etc.. To protect ourselves from potential failure as well as the dissatisfaction of not realizing our dreams, we tell ourselves that we will do it someday…and when that day comes we will be happy, but not just yet.

We put off joy constantly. Then we die.

I’m writing this as a sort of call to action. I have a very profound need to obliterate capitalism and its destruction of the human spirit and the only way that I see that happening is by starting from the deepest level. Once we embrace life and all of the possibilities that it offers us, the Revolution will be easy. The realization of our dreams is a political act, an insurrection from the soul. Go! Travel around the world, move out into the woods, go back to school for the simple purpose of learning, drop out of school, stop paying rent, write that article or book that you’ve always wanted to, quit your career, start a career, bike across the country, move to Antarctica, strive for the end of all capitalist wars, do what works for you, just look inside yourself and ask: “What are my deepest desires?” and take action! Do it with the passion of knowing that you’re not a victim of the demoralizing machine anymore. Don’t wait, because your little capitalist will jump into your head whenever it gets a chance and soon you could be dreaming of tomorrow again, living from your armchair, and denying your incredible potential and life’s endless possibilities.

The Problem with Anarchist Ego

It seems that more and more anarchist publications are becoming breeding grounds for self-promoting pompous drivel. Perpetuating a cycle of discord not only among fellow anarchists, but others who could be our allies if only our heads weren’t stuck so far up our arses.

The problem is not so much a lack of ideas as it is a superiority complex. It is so easy to turn on those we disagree with because their view of a utopian society isn’t like ours whereas it is much harder to actually challenge the state.

Anarchists, leftists and activists of various sorts all seem to have one thing in common these days: the ability to direct their energy at one another rather than focus their collective energy on the sources of all our misery.

How easily do we forget? This is exactly what the state wants us to do—fight amongst ourselves. All the bickering has made us a stagnant and ineffective farce. We are so busy criticizing each other that we fail to challenge the state or even attempt to create an alternative, relegating ourselves to obscure political theory and unintelligible banter. Perhaps, most shameful of all: we fail to criticize ourselves.

I was very disappointed to read an article recently printed in Green Anarchy, “The left-handed path of repression”. It was a case in point of how easy it is to completely dismiss others, and fail to even address an important issue—likely, because (gasp!) they were critical of anarchists, perhaps even the author of said article.

I happened to live in Eugene at the time the author refers to as when the “leftist emotional plague swept through the Eugene anarchist milieu. . . “ I had a unique privilege to be accepted by all the different factions and circles of the Eugene activist scene. Thus, being able to drink beer and have discussions with the group of women and men that challenged the rhetoric and sexism inherent in the Eugene anarchist scene at the time and then going off to party with the ‘hardcore’ anarchist element—which I’m sure still includes some members of the GA collective. The ability to not be labeled by either side as “the enemy” gave me a unique perspective on the situation and also forced me into the mediator role on occasion.

There are 3 sides to every story-A, B and the truth.

Without getting into names or details, I was very involved with various elements of resistance in Eugene. Most organizing was done by a handful of white men with some rare exceptions. These men were outspoken and had a very dominant presence—which I don’t necessarily believe is a bad trait.

On the other side, there was a group of women and men who were tired of the one-way slant of these men. They sought to focus attentions on issues of sexism, racism and other community issues. Let’s be realistic—in a predominately white college town with a large activist community centered in the heart of the poor district and largely organized by a small handful of white men, the conditions are ripe for sexism, racism and elitism.

The issues these women and men raised were legitimate issues, echoed by me on more than one occasion. But, of course, there was bullshit coming from both sides, which created a dramatic season of Eugene 90210. But, progress was made, a couple of worthless pricks were run out of town, people grew and suddenly a community was trying to evolve. Women were empowered, men were frightened and nothing would ever be the same.

The allegations flew with cries of sexism from one side and allegations of infiltrator and provocateur from the other. Then, BAM, heads collided and we were left with an ineffective bunch of disorganized, disunified factions, Once again, the state is left standing.

I’m still in contact with both sides of this feud. Not a lot has changed over the years. It is disheartening and sad for such an advanced and amazing group of people to be disabled by in fighting. Sometimes, I think I’d rather live in prison than go back to Eugene.

Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to this one instance. It continues to play itself out in all of our politics. Green vs. Red. Anarchism vs. Leftism. So, I’m going to point out what I thought was obvious: It’s a big world. So big, that not one of our political leanings has the solution for everyone, everywhere. At some point, if we actually succeed in our goal of smashing the state, each of us is going to have to decide how we want to recreate our communities. I’m sure that with a world as diverse as ours, each of our communities will be different.

However, there is something standing in the way of all this, and it isn’t some red commie, lefty liberal or green caveman. It is a big, well armed, authoritarian, powerful and deadly state. I hope that faced with this reality, we will find better uses of our time. We are going to have to learn to agree to disagree because it is going to take all our collective efforts to stop this machine and bring down the beast.

We have a long way to go with so much at stake. If our publications actually focused on tactics, alternatives, what works, what doesn’t. . . If we worked on building bridges instead of burning them. . . ?

I suppose this article, like so many dreams will simply become another “what if. . . “. That’s too bad because I’d really like to see us accomplish change and not just dream about it.

I’m not sure what the future holds. I don’t even know when I’m getting out of prison. My sentence, much like our collective future, depends on what you do. It gets said over and over again, but we seem to all have thick heads. Only you can change things. Every single one of us has the power and ability to bring change but too often, we don’t recognize our own power or we allow it to be misdirected.

We have to start in our own communities and build from there. It isn’t going to work from the top down. We have to learn to work together as a diverse community and build from the bottom up. How can we hope to smash the World Bank and bring the G8 to their knees if we can’t get along long enough to do it?

If we are not willing to fight together, if we are not willing to fight for each other because she’s not an anarchist or because his god is different or simply because we disagree about something, then we don’t have anything worth fighting for. Our revolution can’t be about politics anymore. It has to be about life. It has to be about living to the fullest, sharing joy, about building and bring together sustainable communities founded on equality, freedom and respect. If that talk doesn’t start with you, who’s it going to start with?

Jeff ‘Free’ Luers #13797671

Oregon State Penitentiary

2605 State Street Salem, OR 97310

www.freefreenow.org

Torture: As American As Apple Pie

United States Senators and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld are declaring the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by American military personnel “un-American.” But when I look back upon U.S. history, it seems this type of dehumanizing behavior by soldiers upon the perceived enemy is common, if not an integral part, of the lure to participate, as a soldier, in war. In the systematic education of paid killers, the dehumanization of the opponent not only serves as a reason to kill the enemy, but also enables a person to detach from the humanity of another, and kill on command, like a robot, without thinking. We see this type of insulated, authoritarian thinking exhibited in the military, in police, and in the criminal (in)justice system in America. Anyone who has ever been dehumanized by a cop on the street, by guards in jail, or has been shredded through the U.S. criminal (in)justice system understands unwilling humiliation by a government authority figure, right here in America, land o’ the free. It is as American as apple pie. My theory is that part of the spoils of being in war is abusing prisoners of war, whether we are talking about cops breaking in doors and brutalizing people in the “war on drugs” on the TV show “Cops,” or riot police acting like robots with brutality against unarmed anti-war protesters in the “war on terror,” or prisoners of war being humiliated to titillate American soldiers in Iraq.

Philip Caputo, in his classic book, “A Rumor Of War,” says men he knew joined the Marines as a way to escape being an ordinary guy, and as a way to get out of living in their parents’ basement, as well as a means to prove something. I grew up during the Vietnam War era, and I honestly hated all soldiers who had any part in that war throughout most of my teens and 20’s. I thought they needed to NOT PARTICIPATE by any means necessary. I had more compassion on drafted soldiers, but even then thought they should have chosen jail over fighting the war. But then I took a university graduate seminar on the Vietnam War. I studied that war I had lived through as a kid, for months. I grew to see the soldiers themselves as victims of deception by the U.S. Government (and I am seeing something that looks and smells really similar right now in Iraq). I began to realize that Vietnam Vets Against the War, and I, were on the EXACT same side. And these vets had BEEN to war, so their arguments outweighed anything I have to say about it. I began to understand why Vietnam Vets were mad, and felt used, by American government. I see a cousin to that anger now, as people who did support this Iraq war now turn against it, angry they were lied to by their own government, about why we are in this war to begin with.

Caputo talks about the “methodology” of war, and how they were brainwashed as soldiers to talk and think in twisted terms. Maps of Vietnam were blocked off and numbered so they referred to what number they were bombing on the map, rather than village names. They used words like “aggressive defense,” for an assault. The indoctrination of the military, with its patriotic fervor, chanting in unison, “pray for war” was a source of excitement for Caputo, as a young soldier. He was happy when he finally got to “see some action” during 1965-66 in Vietnam, and felt he was helping to rid the world of Communism. But that broke down, once in the height of war. He said once in war, the reason soldiers fought changed. When one’s buddy was killed in action, a soldier wanted to take revenge on all Vietnamese due to American racism. He said General Westmoreland had said that the more Viet Cong dead, the better, basically, and saw war as arithmetic of who lost more people. Thus killing more of “them” was “good” and meant we were “winning” the war. Caputo said soldiers also killed because they got into an odd survivalist mindset, brought on by a sort of culture shock, and exacerbated by the reality that they were only rewarded for killing. As Caputo puts it, “There was nothing familiar out where we were, no churches, no police, no laws, no newspapers, or any of the restraining influences…” He comments on many experiences that are horrific and numbing in war, including seeing wild pigs eating napalm-charred corpses, and him thinking how odd to see a pig eating roasted people, as well as soldiers who saved pieces of Viet Cong fighters they killed, as savage prizes, they would display to one another. Everything is foreign in the war experience and disorienting, he explains. He goes on to say “Out there, lacking restraints, sanctioned to kill, confronted by a hostile country, and a relentless enemy, we sank into a brutish state.”

In the Vietnam War, the U.S. soldiers could not tell ordinary Vietnamese citizens from “the enemy,” mirroring our experiences in the Middle East right now. So they shot farmers as well as guerrilla fighters. This caused an outcry, so the military told soldiers only to shoot Vietnamese people “if they were running.” When that system failed also, the policy often became, if they were dead and Vietnamese, they were just considered Viet Cong (or the enemy). Caputo knew much of what he was experiencing in Vietnam was criminal activity, against humanity itself, but he also was honest enough to admit he liked the power he got from war. When Caputo returned from Vietnam, back to his parents’ basement, he longed to return to Vietnam where he could command fighter jets to bomb a village over a radio. He felt guilty about this desire to return to something as sick as war. He also now felt alienated from his home in America due to the war experience, which also made him want to go back to war where people understood his mindset he had grown into. You cannot just pull people out of military actions like we had in Vietnam, and expect them to reintegrate immediately into society, in my opinion. Thus when soldiers returned from active duty overseas recently, and killed wife after wife, at military bases in Washington state, I thought about this assimilation challenge. We brainwash soldiers to become killing machines, but we do not seem to invest the same time and effort into brainwashing them back to NOT be soldiers with guns aimed to kill once we send them back out into everyday society! The huge rates of homeless vets testifies to the need for better assimilation processes for more productive transitions. Caputo said he could not do basic auto maintenance, but he could assemble an M 14 rifle blindfolded. Often vets return with skills you can only use in a war, bombing villages is not usually in an ordinary job description.

We see examples of how power corrupts in the fabric of American life daily. And I think that the desire to have power over people is a driving force behind many who join the military, whether they desire to control U.S. soldiers as management, or enemy soldiers as prisoners of war. Prisons, jails, the criminal (in)justice system, and police departments, all over America are dealing with this issue of abuse by the authority in charge. It is not just happening in Iraqi prisons, it is also happening in American prisons. Dehumanizing behavior from cops, jail guards, and prosecutors, is often the first red flag a U.S. citizen gets that their rights are about to be trampled upon by the state. It is not that hard to imagine American soldiers torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners of war, if you have ever seen the brutality of American police in the poorer neighborhoods, or on minority citizens. Anyone who has been abused by cops or jail guards is not “shocked” by the abuse of prisoners in Iraq by American soldiers. It is as American as apple pie.

I thought it was telling that Defense SECRETary Rumsfeld was asked in hearings today by a U.S. Senator if perhaps the recent abuse of prisoners in Iraq was “used to soften them up for interrogation.” An outrageous statement, yes, but abuse of people is justified as normal interrogation technique all the time by police and criminal prosecutors. Very often the police justify the end result of a plea bargained confession (or bullied trade of a confession for their life, such as in Gary Ridgway’s case) and disregard the means used in interrogation such as sleep deprivation, lying about evidence, charges and witnesses, yelling, violence, threats, etc., things I would consider abuse under normal instances. Caputo details Marine training abuses, saying the first goal of that abuse was to simply eliminate the weak. Then he says those abuse techniques are used to destroy each man’s sense of self worth. Which is why this dehumanization abuse is also employed by police, jails and prosecutors, in my opinion. I do not find it a big leap to find evidence of U.S. soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners of war. That is why we sent them there, in many ways. That is how we trained the soldiers themselves, through yelling and humiliation and all kinds of strange degradation, to become soldiers. Abusing prisoners of war is what we trained those soldiers to do, in many ways, no matter what dainty words we use to give it a pretty package. There are probably racists in America who feel that the Iraqi prisoners should have NO rights, and they are “getting off easy” with degradation, as opposed to death. These same Americans feel the only prisoners of war who need to be treated as the Geneva Convention outlines are WHITE people. The U.S. female soldier pictured with an Iraqi prisoner on a leash, in her hands, with the prisoner forced to act as a dog, has supposedly said she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I have to wonder if she is referring to her behavior in the picture, or her getting caught? Read Kirsten Anderberg’s articles at www.kirstenanderberg.com.

Book Review: The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs

Corruption, addiction and murder on a large and small scale. This is the story that Douglas Valentine chronicles in his new book The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs (Verso, 2004). Valentine, who is also the author of the definitive story of the US counterintelligence program in Vietnam known as Operation Phoenix (The Phoenix Program), does a thorough job of detailing the crooked and sordid history of the original US agency created to fight the so-called war on drugs. That agency, for those who don’t know the history or have only known the Nixon-created Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), was the Federal Bureau of Narcotics (FBN). Created for fundamentally racist reasons, the FBN was the brainchild of Harry Anslinger — an ambitious law-and-order type guy who devoted his life to protecting America’s upper classes. Anslinger built the agency based on white Americans fears and, in doing so, changed the society’s perspective on drugs from one where virtually everything was legally available to one where the government tried to control every aspect of drug distribution. It is Anslinger and his agency that is responsible for America’s current conception that drug abuse is a police problem and not one better left to health professionals.

Valentine’s central thesis is explained in the book’s introduction. Briefly stated, it is this: “federal drug enforcement is essentially a function of national security, as that term is applied in its broadest sense: that is, not just in defending America from its foreign enemies, but preserving its traditional values of class, race and gender at home, while expanding its economic and military influence abroad.” As the book delves deeper into the story of how this thesis worked out in practice, it becomes clear that this did not always mean that the big-time drug dealers got arrested. Indeed, if they had the right connections and skills (such as those skills required for assassination and those connections that might serve the counterintelligence capabilities of the US), not only were these men not arrested; they were protected in all their enterprises, legal and otherwise.

It’s a tawdry to downright demonic story that comes out in these pages. From questions about the role of big time heroin manufacturers and traffickers in the subversion of governments and democratic movements to stories about MKULTRA (a secret program developed by the CIA to find drugs to use in brainwashing) to LSD experiments on unsuspecting citizens, this book makes it clear that nothing is as it seems in the “war on drugs.” For those who fight battles in this war on a daily basis, be they cops or users, this is not news. The depth of the deception and inhumanity may be, however. The more one reads of Valentine’s work, the more it becomes clear that honest agents and cops have little place in this business. More than once, the reader is provided with the story of an agent’s years of hard work setting up and tracking a big-time trafficker being blown or destroyed some other way because of that trafficker’s connections and use to the national security state.

What is remarkable about this story is that it holds surprises even for those who consider themselves hardened to the realities of government skullduggery. For example, the government’s complicity with various Mafia bosses and their Cuban cohorts make it all but inevitable for questions to be raised about the intelligence community’s involvement in the JFK assassination. In addition, there are several passages that raise the issue of Israel’s role in international drug smuggling since before its inception in 1948 — an involvement, which Valentine believes, continues under the aegis of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad. Of course, this makes perfect sense if one considers the history of US intelligence “encouraging” its surrogates involved in counterrevolutionary work to use drug trafficking profits to buy guns and other weaponry. After all, US intelligence and Israeli intelligence are more than brothers in arms — they are two arms of the same body.

The tone of The Strength of the Wolf is summed up best with a quote from a conversation Valentine held with FBN agent Jim Attie thirty-five years after he retired. “I’m not proud of what I did. It was a dirty job. It was a form of amorality, and to this day I feel tremendous guilt and have unending nightmares as a result of what I did as a narcotic agent.” Unfortunately, Valentine’s book makes it clear that many agents don’t have such qualms. This history makes it abundantly clear that those who directed them certainly didn’t. All of which leaves us common folk with the nightmare of their policies.

Encyclopedic in its scope, Valentine’s book is an important and necessary story that reads like a coherent speed freak’s monologue — detailed and relentless in its delivery. If nothing else, The Strength of the Wolf makes it abundantly clear that many members of the illegal drug business are on government payrolls and that the US “war on drugs” is really nothing more than one more front in the Empire’s war on those who disagree with its plans for the planet. Furthermore, the book leaves the reader with the feeling that this front has only expanded since the end of the FBN. This book and its story certainly makes one skeptical about anything the government might say or do at home and abroad. If the CIA and Mossad could help the ultra-right counterrevolutionary OAS in Algeria in an attempt to divide the anti-colonialist movement back in the 1950s, who’s to say that they aren’t doing something similar in Iraq?

Book Review: Inmate in the Stone Hotel by Raegan Butcher

I encounter a lot of trite crap posing as poetry. Often I read or hear poems that are so bad I squirm in embarrassment on behalf of the author. Having been subjected to many poorly contrived pieces, I was surprised and exhilerated when I began reading Stone Hotel: Poems From Prison by Reagan Butcher. I was sucked in, immediately hooked by the dramatic pictures painted by Butcher–often in few words, but always in vivid detail.

Butcher uses his words to tell the stories of his life, starting with the armed robbery he was convicted for in 1996. He takes his audience through his arrest, the suicide watch he’s placed on, the mental ward he’s confined to, his conviction, and his transfer to prison. The last line of “Prisonbound” reads, “i had 2,555 days to go.” In addition to details of those 2,555 days, the book’s next 86 pages are filled with Butcher’s hopes, dreams, fears, and desires.

I particularly appreciate Butcher’s straight-up honesty. He manages to write about his love for his young daughter and of romance lost without seeming sappy or fake. Whether writing about strip searches (“designed to humiliate/ dehumanize/ demoralize and intimidate”) or self-gratification (“masturbate/ 3 times/ in 20 minutes/ the last/ orgasm/ just a dry/ spasm/ in a cramped hand”), he doesn’t sugarcoat or pretend.

My favorite pieces are his brief and pointed descriptions of inmates he encounters. These poems are as short as eleven words, but they speak volumes nonetheless. Butcher makes each word count.

This book illuminates a skill and talent that goes beyond sharing the details of life in prison, although (according to my friends behind bars) Butcher does that well. The greatest beauty here is that Butcher puts words together in ways that shock and delight. Consider the final words of the final poem in Stone Hotel: “i’ve walked thru hell/ wearing gasoline shoes.” That’s a whole world of meaning in ten little syllables.

Stone Hotel can be purchased for $10 (including postage) by sending well concealed cash or a money order to CrimethInc. Felonius Monks P. O. Box 1963 Olympia, WA 98507

Nettles, Nettles Everywhere

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) grow like weeds in the woods where I live in the Pacific Northwest. Spring is the time to collect the top 6-8 inches of stinging nettles before they flower. You can dry them for later use, or make fresh oil or vinegar infusions, tinctures, hair tonics, herbal drinks, etc. Nettles have been used for centuries in medicines, cosmetics, dyes, teas, and also as an edible, calcium-rich green, like spinach.

Nettles sting with the little hairs under their jagged, heart-shaped leaves, and on their stems. They don’t sting once they are boiled. They usually do not sting once dried, but be careful, as I have been stung by dried nettles. What stings is the formic acid and histamine on the hairs. Harvest the tops of nettles with scissors, gloves, and caution. You can put string up between two corners of a room and hang the nettles up to dry. Once dry, store in containers for later use.

Nettles are good for hair. Pour one quart of boiling water over about 10-20 chopped fresh or dried nettle leaves, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Strain, then put into a bottle to use as a hair rinse. It stays fresh about 2-3 days. If you can add some comfrey root or leaves with the nettles, in the boiling water bath, your hair will be well-nourished from nettles, as well as silky soft from comfrey. To use the hair rinse, shampoo and crème rinse as usual, then pour the nettle water over your hair and do not rinse it out. You can also pour heated vinegar over nettles (and optional comfrey) and let it steep 30 minutes, then use it as a dandruff treatment…but the vinegar stinks, so you may want to rinse that one out afterwards. Nettles are also used cosmetically for facial steams, and as a deep cleanser for oily skin (due to astringent qualities).

Nettle vinegar can be made by soaking fresh herbs in white vinegar. The vinegar leaches the calcium and other minerals out of the nettles, and then you can sprinkle the vinegar on salads, veggies, stir fry, and it will be nourishing. Purple nettles will tint the vinegar a nice rose hue. You can steam young nettles picked in spring, just like kale or spinach. Use the leftover water as a hair rinse. You can add the leaves to soups, stews, and basically any recipe calling for spinach. Nettle tea makes a delicious, nutritious drink just to sip. Some people make nettle beer.

Nettles are high in calcium, iron, magnesium, chromium, potassium, and zinc, as well as vitamins A, B, C, and D. Nettles may nourish the adrenal glands, and are also rich in carotene.

Nettle tea has been used traditionally as an arthritis treatment to break down uric acid crystals in joints. Nettles may also help expel mucous during colds, and are a diuretic. Nettles have been traditionally used to treat asthma, anemia, itchy skin, kidney and bladder infections and stones, diarrhea, dandruff, and as a general tonic. You can rehydrate vaginal tissues by drinking the tea and using it for sitz baths.

Roman soldiers stung themselves with nettles to keep warm in the cold winter. Some people sting local areas with nettles for arthritis pain, saying once the initial sting wears off, they find arthritis relief for hours. In the past, people have inhaled powdered nettle leaves like snuff to stop nosebleeds, as the astringent properties may help external and internal bleeding. Use nettles to replenish your blood and tissues. There are warnings that ingesting large quantities of nettles can cause constipation, stomach ache, skin burning and urinary problems.

Nettles also make a nice yellowish-gray-green wool/silk/cotton fabric dye when mixed with alum. Nettle fibers have been used to make rope, cloth and paper.

As you can see, nettles are some useful plants. Wild plants do not cost money. They can be hand-harvested, hand-dried, and used for better health and beauty, for free. Many people raised in cities cannot identify basic wild edible and medicinal plants. This is a shame. To reconnect with the earth, pick nettles to help you appreciate the gifts the earth gives us, and remind us we need to protect the earth. Take some time out in the sun to harvest plants in the woods. It is anti-capitalist. It is empowering. It is FUN and it is FREE!

Note: Do not eat or drink tea from any plant you have not fully studied and identified properly.

Understanding Mental Illness

I had every intention of writing an amazing and cohesive article on mental health and addiction but ironically I have been too mentally ill to do so. This is a last minute attempt to put some thoughts and ideas out there for folks to think about and discuss in their own communities. This is a personal piece and I have not attempted to cover the whole spectrum of mental illnesses, only what I have experienced, questions that have been raised and how I have dealt with it.

In a recent attempt to ease my turmoil I went camping with a few friends, one of whom is fighting for her life against terminal cancer. There I was, physically healthy but fighting to not take my own life. It made me despise myself and got me to thinking about how the abstract nature of mental illness and addiction is tremendously problematic and alienating for those of us trying to deal with serious mental illness or addiction outside of the current system of western medicine and the pharmaceutical industry.

One of the most common criticisms anarchists have against the psychiatric industry is the labels that are used and the boxes that people are put into. I have been diagnosed bipolar in addition to several other labels ranging from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), to an addict. I have not chosen one label in particular to identify with as my own. Although I have spent most of my life fighting the labels I have begun to draw a certain value in reading and talking with people about their experiences of mental illness and addiction. It makes me feel much less alone in my struggle, gives me ideas about ways of coping that I hadn’t thought of, and it provides hope that yes, maybe I will make it through this bullshit.

Nowadays it pisses me off when people completely dismiss the labels because it invalidates the existence of mental illnesses and leaves me with no words to express my struggle. Something I just got through reading that really explored this idea was Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness: A Reader and Roadmap of Bipolar Worlds assembled by The Icarus Project. I didnt agree with all of it or relate to every page but in general I believe that putting it out there despite the stigmatization that exists is awesome. It’s so important for people who have friends in their community that suffer from bipolar or any other mental illness to educate themselves about it in order to better understand what the meaning behind the label is.

Without understanding there is no compassion and no hope of building community support or of creating radical alternatives to the sterile hospitals we have now. Reading the Icarus Project helped me feel like less of a loser, see connections between myself and others who experience life in a similar way, and it really guided me in deciding whether to try medication or not. I just couldn’t get past judging myself as a sell—out, a traitor to my ideals—think of all the punk points I’ll lose if I don’t just get over it and do it myself!

Pharmaceuticals and the evil companies making bank off of them are the other target of criticism from the radical community. I whole-heartedly share in these criticisms but I do not believe in black and white thinking. Anything can be a tool or a tactic in the appropriate situation or time. There was this one passage in the aforementioned book by Icarus that really struck me and made me reevaluate my feelings and put aside my pride:

“I have an uncle who was one of the founders of the radical anti-psychiatry movement in the 1960’s, along with R.D. Lang and other folks. Among their many efforts, they started a safe-house in New Hampshire called Birch House for people who were undergoing mental breakdowns, the idea was that they would do everything they could—yoga, nutrition, herbs, meditation, and on and on—except use psychiatric intervention—to help people get through a serious breakdown and come back to reality. So I asked him if he thought it worked. He thought for a while, and then he said, well, it worked for some people, but we never had a single bipolar patient make it through without taking medication. We had schizophrenics and depressives and all other kinds of people, but all the bipolar people ended up needing medication. We would try being with them for weeks and they just didn’t get better without drugs.”

I also considered my bipolar uncle who has a tendency to cause serious harm to other people when he doesn’t take his medication. I’m not a scientist but I do have an understanding of the complexity of the brain and the fragility of the chemistry that happens between those fragile synapse firings. I have fought with my brain for about fourteen years now and I am fucking tired of it. Regardless of circumstances I have for the past fourteen years dealt with breakdowns and suicidal depression on a loop about every eight months or so. I’m currently on the tail end of the most recent.

One of the ways that I’ve dealt with regulating my moods is by self-medicating. I began self-medicating when I was 11 and continue to do so to this day. I smoke cigarettes when I’m really anxious and depressed, drink beer to escape and laugh, smoke weed to relax and to fall asleep, and for over a year I was completely dependent on speed. Now I fight every day to stay clean.

There is an obvious trend of stigmatization around drugs and drug users. These moral judgments serve only to further alienate, silence, and contribute feelings of shame for people suffering from addiction. The current “war on drugs” reinforces the societal stigma by legally demonizing drugs and drug use. I view addiction as a mental health issue—not a crime or an action in need of judgment. The majority of people who use drugs to cope with life and develop addictions have either a history of abuse or trauma or an untreated mental health condition.

Plainly, addiction is a case of self-medication. I bring this up because I have known dozens of people in my life that were labeled addicts or alcoholics when in reality they were using substances to cover up a deeper problem. Addiction is about compulsion. The compulsion to escape the pain and stress of life or the ghosts of the past. You can be addicted to anything—food, sex, work, but drugs do far more damage than most other addictions and spiral out of control more often. Once a person is dependent on drugs as a coping strategy everything else in life is secondary—even your own health and well-being. Once you’re addicted to drugs you become subservient to your compulsion. Compulsive thinking is a thought process based on fear and the intense desire to escape that fear.

Anyhow, I have recently in my life decided that I no longer wanted to be addicted to drugs. This leaves me in a peculiar position. If I choose to throw away the coping mechanism that has worked best and most consistently for me in my life what do I replace it with? In order to overcome addiction it is integral to learn healthier ways of coping with intense feelings so that the compulsion to cover up or run away from them becomes alleviated. I’m self-medicating for a reason and if I stop something’s got to give. If I don’t have some sort of plan or alternative to get me through chances are I’m going to end up in the hospital.

A really important piece to this for me has been finding spaces and people that are safe to talk to openly about this shit without fear of judgment. Despite the supposed openness of the radical community, issues of addiction and mental health are really unapproachable. If people spent half as much time supporting people suffering from mental illness as they did criticizing the pyschiatric industry perhaps we’d have an alternative to it. It’s an issue no one seems to want to address and those of us who suffer do so in silence. Having a support network is essential. If you see someone in your community suffering reach out to them—it could make a serious impact to just invite them on a hike or to a show.

I am trying everything imaginable; pharmaceuticals, herbs, acupuncture, yoga, focusing on projects, spending time with friends, riding my bike, camping, drinking tea, sleeping, eating healthier, learning to accept and love myself despite my shortfalls, and still everyday is a ton of bricks on my heart.

Frustration after frustration is what I have found on this journey. What can you do when you need help? It sucks to feel like a drag. I often feel like I’m weighing down my friends and sucking up resources when all I want to do is crawl into a hole and die. We need to have more dialogue around these issues so people feel comfortable talking and listening to issues around mental health and addiction. Radical support groups or networks are one great idea. Merely talking about it amongst friends and in our communities is a huge step. Hell, it’s not glamourous but it’s real.

I want to put a call out for people to submit articles, ideas, stories, advice, pictures, or whatever they see as relevant to mental illness and addiction for a zine project I’m going to begin working on. Schizophrenia, self-mutilation, disassociative disorders, bipolar, depression, alcoholics, addicts—everyone is welcome to contribute. How has it affected your life? What do you envision as a healthier way of dealing with these issues? We need to begin creating alternatives to locking us up or sticking us in cult-like religious recovery groups. Let’s get started.

Send submissions to:

astrogirl

809 Aileen St.

Oakland, CA 94608