All posts by slingshot

It’s Not all about us

By Finn

Since the non-indictment of Darren Wilson and the increased visibility of the Black Lives Matter movement, there’s been a lot of dialogue about how white folks ought to act as protesters and organizers, especially with respect to how white activists dominate space during actions. Part of being white in the United States means getting to believe that it’s one’s inherent right to be dominant at all times. This belief is so pervasive throughout our culture that it often plays out in explicitly anti-racist protests, actions, and organizing spaces. Though many white activists come from a place of genuinely wanting to effect change, the culture around white social justice activism makes it easy for white folks to keep the spotlight on themselves.

Being involved with planning and events and carrying out high-profile actions is glamorous, doing behind the scenes logistics or shitwork is not. Nor is it glamorous to step out of the spotlight and change diapers or do dishes or skip the POC dance party or otherwise decentralize one’s own experience. This may be why, when white allies decide that an event or collective needs fewer white people or more POC, they often take steps to exclude white people while excepting themselves by virtue of being “allies”.

Within the Slingshot Collective, which is at the moment largely (but not entirely) white, there’s been a lot of conversation about constructive ways for white people to support Black Lives Matter. Some of us have encountered fliers at protests with suggested “protocols and principles” for white activists, but many of these fliers read more as a list of “don’t”s than a list of “do”s. To that effect, I’d like to offer an alternative, somewhat more fleshed out list of suggestions:

When gaining awareness of the history of oppression, it is common for white folks to react with feelings of guilt. Although this is an understandable way to feel, such emotions in and of themselves do not contribute to struggling against oppression, and often paralyze people from doing anything productive, especially when folks feel the need to process such emotions during a planning meeting or action. If you’re really struggling with feelings of guilt, try processing them with a therapist or trusted friends, outside of the meetings and actions.

Be a good listener. When you speak, speak in your own voice – not for other people – and make room for other folks to speak as well. Stepping back doesn’t mean never speaking at all – it means speaking with self-awareness and consideration of others’ desires to be heard.

Don’t be afraid of messiness and difficult emotions. Rather than focusing on our fears of imperfection, we could embrace our own imperfect humanity and accept that we’re going to make mistakes, we’re going to get confused, and we’re going to feel uncomfortable. Acknowledge your mistakes, make an effort to do better, and move on.

Be honest with yourself about what you don’t know. As white people, there are times when we’ll be approaching solidarity with an outsider perspective – this isn’t inherently “bad”, it just needs to be acknowledged.

Avoid making sweeping assumptions about groups of people and their “leaders”. Following the leadership of people of color often assumes that POC are a monolithic group that all share the same goals, politics, and leaders. If an organized group of “white allies” wishes to seek out guidance, they have to make a decision on which POC are worth listening to, whose voices they think are most representative or worthy. Rather than assuming the existence of a “leadership”, educate yourself on a variety of perspectives and experiences.

Just because you have white privilege, doesn’t mean that folks of color are helpless and need or want white allies to step in and “lift them up”. None of us are benevolent saviors, and it’s paternalistic to act otherwise.

The phrase “white supremacy” often conjures up images of Nazi skinheads, but the reality is that white supremacy is not an extremist belief. It’s a structural, systemic problem that, beyond underpinning racial privileges and oppressions, universalizes white experiences such that white people do not have to think about the fact that they’re white. It isn’t anyone’s fault that they are born into a white supremacist society, and it also isn’t possible for white people to exempt ourselves from being part of this society, just by claiming “allyship”.

Challenging white supremacy is messy and complicated and all of us are going to fuck up. As white people, we need to get over this. Making mistakes is part of learning and growth and we don’t need to freak out about always saying the right thing or doing the right thing or otherwise being Perfect Non-racist White Activists. It isn’t All About Us. We don’t need to apologize or feel guilty for having privilege, or whine about how we aren’t responsible for privileges we didn’t choose to have, or make a lot of self-righteous noise to prove to everyone how not-racist we are. Ultimately, solidarity isn’t about self-absolution or feeling guilty or trying to prove one’s own benevolence. It’s about acting in support of others’ struggle for liberation out of a sense of shared humanity.

there is no heterosexual queer

by Finn and Joey

We are two non-heterosexual queers, and we feel compelled to reply to Otto Destruct’s essay Who is the Heterosexual Queer in issue #117 of Slingshot, in which a straight man argues for the existence of a universal queerness based not on sexual attraction, but on…well, we’re not entirely sure. We think Otto is a well-meaning guy who is genuinely, existentially, trying to not be an asshole and to redeem his historically laden masculinity. That matters a lot, and, as he says, there’s “a lot of work to be done toward liberation.” But he has chosen the wrong toolset for the project, marshalling a misunderstood reduction of queer theory and gay history to do the work. To describe “the heart of queer theory” as the banal liberal claim that “all identities are legitimate” is not only to insert an anachronistic layer of identity speak, but to remove queer theory from politics altogether. No one needed queer theory to tell them that it was okay to be straight; in fact, queer theory might unsettle that notion. We do need queer theory to tell us how heterosexism colludes with the State and how we can fight this.

While we’d argue that queer theory challenges the idea of a consistent sexual self, Otto crafts a narrative of sexual self-realization in which queer theory imbues us with the “right and responsibility to be honest with ourselves” about our “true” sexual identities. Otto asserts that, thanks to queer theory, “we are all queer now”, inviting us to question what happens when the presumedly universal queer discovers their heterosexuality. Such a contrived experience does not reflect that of the vast majority of straight people. The assumption that “we are all queer now” is post-heterosexist – it assumes that queerness has become the dominant culture and that one’s heterosexuality is realized only after a good bit of introspection. Such a narrative ignores the way heterosexuality is taken for granted and enforced in much of the world, the US included. One does not need to engage in soul-searching to come out as straight, as straightness is simply assumed. (Nor does one necessarily need to engage in soul-searching to realize they’re queer; the step-one- soul-searching-step-two-coming-out narrative is a stereotype that smacks of an outsider’s perspective.) To assert that the existence of queer theory somehow makes us all queer is no less absurd than to claim that the existence of critical race theory makes us all people of color.

Otto’s complaint that “some parts of our scene use words like ‘cis’ as derogatory terms” is in some cases valid, but we think he’s missing the point. He seems to assume that we choose to participate in systemic oppression, or at least that it’s unfair for someone to be associated with oppression just because of the reality of their body. However, inherent in systemic oppression is that it is not a “fair” system, and that we do not choose our roles in it. It’s a common idea that the politics of oppression is about feeling guilt and self-hatred for our roles in a system that we didn’t create. These feelings, though understandable, distract from taking responsibility and actually confronting the systems responsible for creating oppression. A sense of guilt or personal invalidation is not a prerequisite for acknowledging one’s privilege.

Otto blames this supposed anti-het-ism on the “orthodoxy of glitter”, the pressure to be a certain type of queer that serves as a prelude to an imagined anti-heterosexual genocide. We acknowledge that within queer circles there are norms of presentation (though we think the dominant mode at the moment is masc-of-center, not glamarchist), but find the notion of some conspiracy to exterminate heterosexuals laughable. More to the point, the “orthodoxy of glitter” is anything but “a way for people to avoid thinking about their heterosexuality and whatever privilege that might entail.” In a society that takes heterosexuality for granted, het folk are already off the thinking-about-privilege hook.

Either because of or despite (we can’t tell) the guilt Otto thinks he’s supposed to feel about being het, Otto does seem to be holding himself accountable: he describes “plac[ing] others’ emotional experiences in the fore,” “valorizing communication,” and “admitting he’s wrong” as proof of a queered — redeemed — heterosexuality. And while we do think the world needs more empathy, communication, and humility, these traits do not make him feminine or queer. Again, Otto seems to have identified the wrong set of tools for his project; what he’s doing is less about gender or sexuality than it is about not being an asshole. (We’re looking forward to a gender abolitionist project that severs accountability from gender altogether.) “Is it such a contradiction,” he asks polemically, “that I should display these [ostensibly feminine traits] too?” Of course not, nor, despite what Otto thinks, is it a contradiction for a masculine guy to wear a leather jacket.

Otto’s problem is a conflation of sexuality and gender, because the leather jacket was and is a trope of masculinity. The men who wore it from Folsom Street to Christopher Street back in the 70s weren’t marking themselves as feminine; they were appropriating the style of oppressive, straight masculine culture (cops included) to betray their [masculine] gayness. Otto’s essay turns this on its head without even acknowledging it: gays on Castro ironically appropriated the costume of straight men to underline their queerness, while Otto, inversely, rides on this appropriation, wearing the contemporary style of queerness to announce his heterosexuality. But the move doesn’t work, and Otto ends up, as one Slingshot commentator who was active in ACT UP wrote, “misrepresenting himself.”

Furthermore, when Otto notes that he doesn’t need to be gay to use this supposed “backdoor to masculinity”, he’s free-riding on something that those gays in the Village and elsewhere fought and died to create. As a trapping of “traditional masculinity”, Otto takes his leather jacket as his privilege, devoid of the personal experience of injury and exclusion that often comes with being queer.

In other words, the leather jacket is not Otto’s “backdoor to masculinity”; it’s his masculinity superhighway. Gay leather daddies of the 70s weren’t novel because their clothes were masculine, betraying an internal femininity, though surely some were self-identified pansies — they provoked a “crisis of representation,” to quote AIDS writer Leo Bersani, because their coats were markers of heterosexuality. The author’s self-presentation, on the other hand, of a straight guy dressed as a… straight guy, is not a “lie that tells the truth” (as he would have it), but a truism that tells itself.

 

Dear Soren

Dear Søren is Slingshot’s new advice column. Living in an existential hell? Seeking transformative justice? Poly drama? Write to slingshot@tao.ca with the subject header: DEAR SØREN, or write to:

Dear Søren c/o The Long Haul

3124 Shattuch Ave. Berkeley, CA 94705

…and we may run your letter in the next issue. Please include as much pertinent information as possible but keep it under 300 or so words. Søren will do her best to respond to everybody who writes, but can’t give legal advice.

 

Dear Søren,

A while ago I moved to a small town in an effort to explore the possibilities of anarchist organizing in smaller-scale, rural communities. One of the projects I have been working on is a bike kitchen, a place to access tools, bike parts, and help to get or fix a bike. The vast majority of the parts we get are pulled from the dump, which they kindly let us do for free. It’s a great resource, but the variety and quality of stuff can be lacking at times.

Every year in a nearby town they auction off all the abandoned bikes removed by the Marshal’s Department, and donate the money to scholarships for local students. A few of us went and checked it out. I asked around about where all the bikes that were not worth selling went. Before I knew it there was a cop in front of me giving me his card and telling me that they throw them away and we were welcome to grab as many as we want whenever they are around. I felt a little bit dirty in that moment holding that card. That was a few months ago and I have yet to do anything. The few people I consider “radical,” that have anything to do with the project, don’t think it’s much of a big deal.

Is it on par with dumpstering food from a fucked up corporation? Or is it collaboration with the state, punishable by death? Would it have been okay if we had risked taking them without asking? But now that we have permission, it’s wrong?

Sincerely, Cyclist Going in Circles

 

Dear CGIC,

One of the major pitfalls of anarchist or collective organizing that I have seen is over thinking and over processing. Often, when we try to recreate how we live, work and interact, we find ourselves second guessing and triple checking ourselves or one another. This questioning is an important part of the anarchist project, but not when it gets in the way of getting shit done.

This sounds like a wonderful endeavor and having access to free bikes that you can save from the landfill is nothing to spurn. I can understand feeling uncomfortable and disgusted interacting with the cops, but you don’t have to shake their hands gushing “Gee thanks, Mr. Officer Sir!” Yes, you are encountering the enemy, but we encounter the enemy every day. You are not aiding them by taking their garbage and turning it into something useful. You are aiding everybody in your area who needs a bike. I see no difference between taking it without asking or taking it with permission, except that “theft” will bring unnecessary risks that may harm you, your comrades and your project. Of course it’s “okay” to take them without asking, but is it worth it? I’d save taking those risks for strategic times when you can confront the enemy for clear, intentional reasons, or for when you have no other choice.

Another thing that I can’t help but address is how you’ve mentioned that collaboration with the state is punishable by death. I hope you’re joking!

You said that you’ve been mulling this over for a few months now and nobody else in your circle of affinity has raised any objections to getting the bikes via the Marshal. I think you should go ahead and get moving before the bikes get thrown away. If it still doesn’t sit well with you once you clean, fix up and finish the bikes or any usable pieces, why not discreetly stencil or engrave FTP on them? Sometimes we can get playful instead of just getting uncomfortable.

You are doing important work. Don’t let having to brush a cold shoulder with the state stop you.

Love, Søren

A Way outta no way: take the under the table route to work

by Robbin Will’s Alms

I had the germ of the idea to write this while walking back home on Genoa St. in Oakland. Lost in a dream I was brought back to the world as I spied an American melodrama taking place a few feet from my path. What looked to be a father and son stood on their sunny suburban yard with dormant gardening equipment standing idle. There seemed to be an unspoken tension between the two. I imagined the dad interrupted the kid’s play time with the mundanity of grooming the yard. As I passed them my mind drifted to my own adolescent days that were filled with productive activities and chores designed by my parents. Often the motivating factor was to give me a taste of the adult world, and get me a little bit of spending money. I played back this 5 second window into someone else’s reality and how it measured to my own experience until I struck dirt on a modern phenomenon. What I witnessed is the indoctrination of exchanging labor for money. I dreamed of writing zines, or songs or movies that would expose this ritual. To unveil the person to person practice of learning collective suicide. People weaning people onto capitalism.

But as I later played back this scene in my head and tried to mustard some workable metaphor for later generations I realized a vital factor missing in the critique of capitalism; the role of government in getting a cut of the fruit of one’s labor. For the lesson of father and son engaging in the labor exchange for money to be complete, they needed me, a complete stranger. I should have been given a cut of the boy’s bread. For some reason people have grown used to seeing the money leave their hands as soon as they get it and never question who handles it and what foul purposes come of it. Witnessing the last ten years where the government uses our resources to expand war culture and police abuse accounts for the dubious ends of paying taxes. To top it with banks scamming people out of their homes, crashing and getting bailed out reveals the entrenched economic divide we live under. Rejection of this reality was a major factor that drove me to the counter culture and free spaces.

I was walking through the same neighborhood with friends to a coffee shop when we were given the moves by 3 kids – barely 5 years old it seemed. The boy asked us if we wanted to buy anything in the box that they were holding. Someone in our party busted up laughing and pointed out that their box still had “Free” written on it. It made me laugh for quite a few days. But my own laughter was over shadowed by the worries of raising money to give to some stranger at the end of the month.

These past few years as the United States pretends to rise out of the recession, all around me I’ve seen the human ingenuity to make money. The most impressive to me are the ways people figure out a way to raise money under the table. The number of garage sales have spiked everywhere. Some of them, such as those in the Mission District of San Francisco, don’t even have garages behind the merchandise. The sidewalks have sprouted with an outdoor permit-less market. One can even find a impromptu market of Chinese elders selling their food bank goods. None of it looks pretty appetizing. Even the large number of lemonade stands gives me pause, “Everyone must be trying to squeeze a fuckin’ dollar.”

But the most common route these days of making an independent living is in using technology, and it has appeared to hit a wall. In the past two years ride shares & AirB&Bs blew up in this country and across the planet. It is a way that people can offer up their existing resources like a room in their house or a seat in their car. It does seem like an inventive way to link two people in need. This internet fad replaces people actually sharing these resources without charge – inverting the radical act of making everything for free. With this cyber-capitalist worldview everything is available to be sold. And with each exchange someone you don’t know gets a piece. The internet site acts as the middle man who gets a sizable cut. But that cut isn’t deep enough. Lawmakers have followed the money and are enacting regulations and fees to cut off the growth. The other routes of raising revenue on the internet – eBay, for example, has started requiring people to pay taxes on their sales. I interpret these developments as the commons closing up once again.

But as the landscape we inhabit continues to transform into a corporate prison, each sign that rules are being broken revitalizes the air between us. Witness bold teenagers dancing for $ on the local subway trains. A small boom box and several amazing dance moves fill the space between stops. An injection of life comes to the other riders and their money is well placed. There doesn’t seem to be many people who dislike these little shows. And the presence of performance art in public means more now, given how many cities world wide are enacting restrictions and fines for busking musicians and performers.

Sometimes a panhandler will work the subway cars. I once heard a train’s driver scold a woman for doing so over the intercom. I really desired to call the driver back on their speaker with a “Fuck You”. But my demeanor is tainted from the Bay Area’s long history of sympathizing with homeless people. The hypocrisy of judging and limiting how people make money while doing nothing to help them attain vital resources irks me. I have seen conservative newspapers demonize people who recycle cans and bottles. They had the audacity to call it stealing.

People who think that work is accessible to everyone is wrong. Elderly people or people with disabilities can’t get work. People are discriminated from getting hired based on race. There are people who have pride in what they do and can’t lower themselves to do the shit work that is available. And people out of prison especially have limited job opportunities while at the same time being stigmatized for not “fitting in.” Often announcements of declining unemployement rates fail to mention that people who stop looking for work are not counted as ‘unemployed.’

For about a year I tried collecting cans and saw it was populated by people I just listed who are denied jobs. I found it paid poorly. I mostly was rewarded by being able to see the lives of the people who push around large shopping carts under all kinds of conditions. Their spirit and intelligence impresses me.

My most lucrative experience in the underground economy was in selling trinkets outside of big events. Distributing beads, flashing lights and political buttons gave me the most to be excited about making money under the table. Often I would be on the fringes of large gatherings and the people- watching offered its own rewards. I also came to see how much people want to throw away money once they have it.

It was while doing unpermitted vending all day for an ethnic holiday that I saw my coworker talk shop with a food vendor who was working the corner with me. I would’ve have thought the guy selling hot snacks was totally legitimate and it blew my mind that he was surviving on a reserve of audacity. As the two old timers went down a list of celebrations to come that had promising crowds that I start to see more closely how savvy people learned to live free within the system.

I am reminded to not write a piece that ponders on mere survival under this stupid social and political order. Imagine a restructuring of what it means to live in the modern world. To somehow get humans to rethink what labor is and what is worth having and doing in this world. That strip malls are better off being deconstructed and turned into open space – or if you’d prefer, food production. Both are probably needed. Both ways of reordering our reality think of the child in the future someday becoming intimate with the land once again. Knowing the names and uses of plants, animals, creeks, hills and ecosystems. It seems government has accomplished one thing pretty well: getting the populace dependent on having a middle-man provide our survival needs. Housing, food, community and life in general will be better off in the hands the people who use it.

I got my first taste of an underground economy by selling zines or other things we make at punk rock shows. Often it was encouraged to charge just above the price it took to make them. The tradition of having “merch tables” gave me a window into independent ways of exchanging resources as a teenager. It was here I got my start in living the fantasy of not having a job and making it work. The underground spoiled me for later years, as I had ultimately to negotiate with the real world. But in some ways the underground economy is the prehistoric world peeking out in this age. And somehow more people need to start seeing that the way we live now isn’t always the way it’s been or going to be.

Fifty years ago when everywhere seemed be in an explosive meltdown mode there existed a weekly paper called the Berkeley Barb. It did a lot to create the many radical things the town is known for (hippies, radical politics, multicultural, perversion). Part of the machine of the Barb one can observe was how it recruited hard up people to sell the paper on the street and reap meager profits. The Slingshot is like a diminished and shoddy shadow of what the Barb was like during the height of it’s powers. Lately I see a guy on Telegraph Ave selling Slingshot newspapers to the throngs of people flowing up and down the Ave. Our paper is free, and I’m not sure what other people in the collective feel about this but it has a ironic charm to me. People finding a way out of no way.

Cat Bloc: protect your identity through the power of cute

by Samara Hayley Steele

After seeing several friends subpoenaed for being photographed during a protest, I became too frightened to go to protests. For over a year, starting in 2013, my anxiety over getting photographed and ending up in court was just too high to consider joining in.

Additionally, the standard protest anonymity tactics of hiding one’s face behind a black ski mask or a Guy Fawkes mask did not appeal to me. I just don’t want to be running around in a charged situation wearing a scary mask. For example, during J28 (the police siege of Oakland that occurred on January 28th, 2012), I was wearing a gas mask to protect my lungs, and I recall people backing away from me in fear, even friends, until I took the scary mask off.

#CatBloc strikes again! #occupy #capitalism #cats

A photo posted by Hayley Steele (@samarahayleysteele) on

 

Last October, I found a different strategy: the Cat Bloc strategy. It’s about being cute and unrecognizable at the same time. The trick is to cover your whole face, and to obscure major lines of your nose, cheekbones, and forehead. Additionally, you’ll want to hide your ears and the shape of your head with a cat-ear wig. Since then, I’ve attended over a dozen marches and demos—on topics ranging from climate change to tuition hikes to racism and police violence—dressed as a cat.

My experience has been largely positive. The thing about being dressed as a cat is people generally are excited to see cats. I get lots of hugs and high-fives. At worst, teenagers might back away due to the uncoolness factor. But I wasn’t scaring anyone, at least. And even close friends didn’t recognize me until they heard my voice! It was a great way to stay anonymous without being scary.

While dressed as a cat, I found that my behavior changed over the course of each event. At the beginning of a protest, I’d show up, not knowing what to do, but I found that as the event went on and people kept giving me smiles and positive feedback, I found myself wanting to be more helpful. That’s how I found myself doing things like directing traffic, standing over potholes to warn people not to trip, and other activities intended to keep people’s bodies safe.

Cats are our natural allies, and protected humans’ supply of grain in ancient civilizations.  As I played with what it mean to do Cat Bloc, it became more and more about protecting people’s bodies, no matter who they were or which side they were on.  My goal was to stop physical harm from happening to human bodies, and to also help people in emotional distress.

Ultimately, Cat Bloc became a type of emotional harm reduction, as I strove to check in with people who seemed to be experiencing emotional crisis in the midst of some pretty intense moments in which windows were being smashed and fires being started.  Sometimes, when chaos like that it happening, it’s good to just have someone dressed in a cute costumes around to say, “Howdy! How you freeing right now? I’m hear if you want to talk.”

#arrestselfie #KettleAtRoss #blacklivesmatter

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After walking out of jail following a Black Lives Matter protest last November, I had a conversation with some priests who were arrested with me. One of them agreed that being at a protest in “Priest Drag” (as the venerable father called it) changed the way people treated him, which in turn changed the way he treated others. Another priest agreed, and explained that wearing her priestly collar at public gathers helped people identify her as someone ready to provide emotional help. Cat Bloc is very much like that, only it’s a little more open to folks who aren’t ready to engage with someone evoking a religious background.

I think it’s good to have both cats and priests, and also maybe some people dressed as fairies, at protests to provide emotional support work.  I think having easy-to-find emotional support workers on the ground helps prevent trauma and harm.  It reminds people to lighten up.  ”Look, there’s someone dressed as a cat.” And things get lighter.

While carpooling home from jail in 2014, I spoke with a young white man who had been frequently attending #BlackLivesMatter protests using the Black Bloc tactic of hiding his identity with a ski mask. “The mask definitely changed the way I’d act,” he explained, and said that as the protest wore on, he found himself acting more and more pushy. He even started using a cartoonishly aggro “pro-wrestler voice,” and at one point, he actually pulled a megaphone out of a black man’s hand and took over directing the march. “I wish I hadn’t done that,” he said.  ”It was like the mask, and the fear it created in people, just started taking over.” The combination of a hidden identity and a scary mask had led this man to commit a macroaggression towards the very people whose rights he was marching for.

I remember the way people cowered away from me while I wore the gas mask on J28. Seeing others physically cower away from you feels weird. Try it with a friend some time.  Try having a conversation while wearing gas mask or scary mask.  Isn’t that weird? I don’t recommend ever wearing a black ski mask or Guy Fawkes mask to a party: people will likely get triggered and have to leave.  And if you wouldn’t wear it to a party, should you really be wearing it to a protest?

For some people, seeing others cower brings out their inner bully. This might explain some of the odd behavior I’ve seen from police officers, whose uniforms are a type of scary mask.  I’ve seen uniformed riot cops commit spontaneous crimes such as pinning people down and beating them them without restraint or reason.  Doing this is actually a crime called “extrajudicial punishment,” because only a judge is allowed to determine what punishment a person gets.

But perhaps the fear-cycle created by police uniforms contributes to the bullying behavior that emerges from some officers. What would happen if police had to wear bunny ears? Or dorky sweaters? Perhaps if their clothing made people smile, it would help the officers remember their own humanness.

I hope we will soon live in a world without police.  Or perhaps a world in which the institution of the police is so radically changed, we barely recognize it.

Meanwhile, if, like me, you are anxious about being photographed at a protest, and want to do some emotional care support work, consider the joining Cat Bloc!

You have to be prepared though, if you try this yourself, for some intense interactions.  For example, at one point, I felt compelled to protect the windows of a small latino-owned local business during a protest with a lot of window smashing happening.  For the most part, everyone kindly passed that spot when I held my arms out and said, “Please protect this local latino-owned business.”  But there was one guy who really wanted to take out those windows… It was a very intense interaction in which, of all things, he threatened to pee on me (!) before finally he left, leaving the windows in tact.  Yowza! But that is the sort of thing you must be ready for.

Dressing as a cat, for me, brings out a certain type of power and bravery that I have a harder time accessing in my normal garb.  More than once while dressed as a cat, I was able to peacefully walk between two people who were starting to fist fight, and helped them talk it out.  But maybe Cat Bloc is just my jam.  Perhaps there’s a different animal or cute figure for you.  Cats aren’t the only way, for sure!

Oh my! The #catbloc has returned. #divest #ecocide

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The Mesh Spring – The Nodes are Coming!

By SudoMesh

The Internet can put the world’s knowledge at the fingertips of a young student. It can provide access to tools for community building. It can give a voice to those who have been politically marginalized. But for many of Oakland’s citizens, access to the internet is still a luxury.

Luckily, Oakland’s Sudomesh group is working to bring free and open internet access to all of Oakland’s citizens though the People’s Open Network. The Sudomesh group is a volunteer organization that is building out a free, open, decentralized wireless internet network using technology known as “wireless mesh networking.” The mesh network relies on a series of wireless antennas spread throughout Oakland. Internet traffic is able to hop from node to node and automatically route traffic around slower nodes or holes in the network. The main advantage of this decentralized system is that it allows communities to provide free internet access without having to rely on monopoly internet service providers like Comcast or AT&T. Mesh network systems are also extremely fault-tolerant; in the event of a natural disaster it is possible for the mesh network to continue to provide internet and communications to Oakland’s residents even if the main internet providers go down.

For the past few years the group has been hard at work coding and testing a small-scale test network. Now the group is ready to expand out the network to all of Oakland. Every Sunday the group gets together to mount new wireless “nodes” on homes and businesses throughout Oakland. Thanks to generous donations of money, equipment and time, Oakland’s free mesh internet is expanding quickly. Each weekend brings the group closer to the goal of providing free, open internet to all of Oakland. For donations, to volunteer time or to join the People’s Open Network, visit peoplesopen.net.

 

Let Me Speak

By Matti Salminen

Sometimes I like to allow myself to speak only to myself. And I don’t feel this is something which I should be ostracized for…period. Yes, I am someone diagnosed with schizophrenia—and I am goddamned proud of it. I am proud of all the days I’ve spent in isolation, in misery, ashamed that I could not function in this world well enough to be independent. I am proud that growing up did not come easily to me. Without my distaste for normalcy—and my penchant for a disordered life—I’d be boring.

A while back I saw an adolescent acknowledge and say hi to a person who can often be seen talking to herself. Others in this young person’s group laughed and made fun of the eccentric woman. But kids are just kids. And I do not want to judge others as unkempt any more than I like to be judged so myself. However, I would like to be as unashamed of my madness as the person whom those kids were ridiculing.

Social difference runs deep in the fabric of my character. It goes back to the first and second grade. Throughout my childhood and adolescence I was not unpopular, but very fringe. Then in my adulthood I was hard working; but maybe too broadminded to fit into the nine to five routine. Then, at the age of 22, I decided to abstain from sexual intercourse for an entire four years. The intention was to do a spiritual cleanse with which to find fertile soil deep in the recesses of my mind. My desired outcome was to develop my own code of ethics. But in that time of exile I slipped into madness. Where I intended to find a root to my existence, I found a portal. This portal—once I entered it—led to the exact state of consciousness I hoped for when I set out to abstain. I have created a philosophy of learning that is my code of ethics. But because this journey to the “fertile soul” led to suicide attempts and incarcerations—I’m crazy.

Living in exile, you learn to find resources in your psyche to cope with the fear of losing your mind. Ironically, talking to myself is something that I’ve found helpful in times of emotional depravity. I do not think that I—or anyone else—who wishes to talk to themselves should have to hide this for fear of being ostracized. Talking to one’s self does not mean a person is not presently aware of their surroundings. It does not mean that they do not have the rationale to engage with another person. And it certainly does not mean they deserve to be treated as though they were on trial.

Any and all eccentricities can be contorted into perceived “mental illness.” For proof, just look to see how much money the psycho-pharmaceutical industry is raking in. And at how the rate of diagnosed mental illness has risen in developed nations. All of us should feel as though we have a right to the mind-states we choose…or…do not choose. No one should have the power to say that my differences make me less employable or otherwise fit for society. Mad Pride is a movement for all people to be able to be themselves freely.

Viva Ché Café: Notes from a San Diego Venue/Infoshop

When you visit the Ché Café, a collectively operated all-ages show space and café on the University of California San Diego campus, the first thing you see are colorful, slightly messy murals covering a low tattered wood building – nothing sterile, professional, expensive or polished in sight, but rather an obviously do-it-yourself space run by volunteers because they love what they’re doing. It’s a stark contrast to the soulless mediocrity everywhere else in the world churned out by armies of employees who hate their jobs. Perhaps this explains why the University of California is so bent on destroying the Ché: they want to make sure no one sees examples of alternatives to the dominant structures.

After years of pressure, the University won an eviction lawsuit in November, but while the case is on appeal the Ché Café is still going – and the struggle against the university’s attempts to snuff out counter-cultural landmarks continues. Ché Café has hosted hundreds of punk and alternative music shows over 35 years, including big names and unknown acts alike. At UC Davis, the university administration tried to destroy the iconic Domes housing cooperative, but was forced to back down. At UC Berkeley, counter-culture holdout Cloyne Court was evicted and sterilized last year. The Ché’s future is still up in the air.

In addition to petition drives and student organizing at UCSD, members of the performing arts community have called a boycott of all artistic engagements on the UC San Diego campus to save the Ché. The boycott letter demands:

1. Stop all attacks on the Ché Café and reverse its eviction efforts.

2. Refrain from enforcing a lockout of the Ché Café and refrain from using any form of violence, force, law enforcement, or other drastic and coercive tactics against members of the Ché Café Collective and its supporters.

3. Work alongside representatives of the student body to recognize the Ché Café for the historical landmark and unique creative venue that it is.

4. Restore funding to the Ché Café and allow students and supporters to fulfill a dynamic and creative vision for the use of the space.

If you want to help the Ché, you can contact university and state officials, or donate money. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. Contact thec hecafe.blogspot.com.

Shannon Williams (1966 – 2015)

By Gerrard Winstanley

On January 20th, Shannon Williams, a great friend, a great mom, a sex worker, and a passionate and articulate advocate for sex workers’ rights, died of brain cancer. She was 48 years old. The illness was sudden and a large community of family, friends and comrades have been in shock and have been grieving for her.  Lots of us in the Bay Area knew Shannon or would recognize her. We marched on the street with her, tangled with cops together, played with her sons, talked about anarchism, or teaching, or fucking, or cool science. We made s’mores with her around a campfire or swam naked in rivers together. The really lucky ones got to love her and be loved back.  Shannon was a total knockout.

At two memorials for her, Shannon was remembered by family and friends for her openness and warmth, her wit and her bravery. Shannon was a person you wanted to get to know.  She was a really grounded person but also adventurous and idealist.  She didn’t hide her emotions and pretty much always told you how it was. She was a good talker and didn’t shy from an argument. (Unless it was stupid, and she’d tell you so.)

Shannon sometimes called herself an anarchist.  I think her anarchism, like Emma Goldman’s, was based in an aggressive optimism about people and their ability to change or to just roll with something good.  I’ll never forget how unfazed she would be when her then two-year old son would do things that would cause lots of other parents to freak out.  Once at a restaurant, I saw little Gabriel go up to another table and take food from someone else’s plate.  When I pointed it out, Shannon said “It’s fine, they’re adults, right? They can handle it.” And she was right. Like his mom, the kid knew how to make friends.  At the time of her death, Shannon was also doing a beautiful job raising two other boys, aged 7 and 9.

Shannon’s advocacy for sex workers really picked up steam after her bust for prostitution in Oakland in 2003. At the time, Shannon was a public school teacher in Berkeley, and the right-wing discourse that blamed “bad teachers” for everything from poverty to violent crime was gaining momentum.  After the press picked up on the “prostitute teacher” story, Shannon fought to get her teaching job back and asserted that consensual sexual acts between adults should not be outlawed. As she told the press at the time, “as a feminist, I believe in every woman’s right to self-determination, and that includes sexually and economically.”

She ultimately did not go back to teaching (at least not in a classroom) and decided to spend more time on advocacy.  Aside from counseling other sex workers at Saint James Infirmary, Shannon worked politically to decriminalize prostitution and combat the agenda that equated sex work with human trafficking. She helped get the city of SF to stop the cops from the absurd and abusive practice of using the possession of condoms as evidence for prostitution. When she died, she was working on a campaign to gain immunity from prosecution for sex workers who report a violent crime against themselves or one of their comrades.  It’s barbarous that a cop would try to arrest someone for prostitution who goes to the police in desperation after a violent assault or rape.  Shannon’s fierceness and plain-spoken reasoning will be missed in that fight and in others to come.  And her generosity and beauty will be missed by everyone who knew and loved her.

 

Freedom Machines Against Bike Helmet Laws

By Jesse D. Palmer

Let’s hope that a proposed law that would require adult bicyclists in California to wear helmets will be defeated – not just because it won’t save lives and will limit the expansion of bicycling, but because the government should keep its filthy hands off of our beautiful, liberatory bicycles. California State Senate Bill 192, introduced in February by Sen. Carol Liu, would make California the first US state to require adults to wear bike helmets, and would also require reflective clothing at night, under penalty of $25 fines.

Pro-bike groups point out that the law will set up an unnecessary barrier to casual bicycling and imply that bikes are dangerous and sport-like, which will discourage people from biking. Studies are divided as to how much safer one is wearing a helmet, bike advocates point out, but what is certain is that as more cyclists fill the streets, we become more visible and it becomes safer for everyone to bicycle. While bicycling has increased dramatically in California since 2000, the rate of injury has dropped by 45%.

An hour of bicycling is twice as safe as an hour riding in a car, plus the physical activity of bicycling dramatically reduces risk of health problems associated with inactivity. According to the California Bicycle Coalition citing a 2011 British Medical Journal study, “bicycling with or without a helmet saves as many as 77 lives for every life lost in a crash.” After Australia required all adults to wear helmets in the early ’90s, the rate of cycling began declining, according to a World Transport Policy and Practice study.

But let’s be clear – one of the greatest strengths of bicycles as a technology, as a community, and as a way of life is that biking is free, mostly unregulated, cheap and therefore egalitarian, ecologically sustainable, constantly inspiring, beautiful, graceful, balanced, healthy fun, joyful, and sexy. Bicyclists obey the laws of physics and nature, keenly aware of gravity, hills, wind conditions, light and weather. We’re small and vulnerable, so we pay close attention while we’re riding and bike defensively – not because of laws, but because of common sense. When we come to a stop sign with no cars in sight, we preserve our momentum and roll right through. Not just criminal cyclists ride like this— every bicyclist rides like this.

Bikes are one of the last areas of life where you don’t need a license, registration, insurance, or dependence on a huge corporation for fuel. Bikes are do-it-yourself – you power yourself, you can fix them yourself, a basic used one is cheap, it’s free and quick to park, and they promote, self-reliance, de-centralization, and independence.

Because of these factors, bicyclists share a strong sense of community, cooperation, sharing, and love. We wave and say hi when we pass each other; if we see someone who needs help we stop; and when we see other cyclists, it makes us happy, not filled with road rage.

Bicycling promotes a rolling meditative engagement with the world in which you notice your breathing, your heartbeat, the air’s smell, and the colors of plants and houses you pass. Unlike driving, you don’t become hypnotized and tuned out – isolated and insulated from the world around you. Bicyclists focus on and appreciate the people and neighborhoods close to them. Unsustainable fossil-fueled transit warps one’s sense of speed, time and space by giving the illusion that going fast and far is easy. This is a selfish, shortsighted, outdated illusion we must move beyond to survive on our fragile planet.

Bicycles are freedom machines that help us think, live, and interact in new more healthy, sustainable and respectful ways. As the world teeters on the brink of collapse, it’s crucial that we defend and expand wild unregulated corners of reality that are thriving free from the oppressive weight of corporations and their government bureaucracies. The biggest risk to cyclists are cars driven recklessly by yahoos who yell “wear a helmet” to every bicyclist they see. Get on your bike and ride, and, if you want, wear a helmet sometimes.