All posts by slingshot

About Slingshot

Slingshot is an independent radical newspaper published in Berkeley since 1988.

The first meeting for this issue a lot of new people showed up to check us out. It was an impressive turnout – in fact it was the first time in about 20 years where there were more new people than experienced Slingshot people. A two to one ration. There was some old fashioned outreach before the meeting using fliers and social media informing people that this project is a “Do-ocracy”. This idea (borrowed from our neighbors at the Sudo Room) seeks to inspire participation in a community resource by encouraging people to show up when decisions are made. Unfortunately the numbers did not persist and a bare bones work crew continued to carry the project to completion. On one hand this is a bummer for we simply need more people to engage with the work load. On the other hand any effort that people contributes greatly help s to create this reality. All projects thrive by the people putting life into.

Most of our paper publishes struggles that isn’t actually primary to the survival of one newspaper. Which is why we often utilize the space on this page to catalog the heartache and growing pains experienced to get us here. This issue we returned to doing the “All Nite Meeting” the same weekend as layout. A few blurry eyed collective members were left after picking articles for 6 hours. Then before going away from work for a few hours we had to look at the question of what font to present this issue in. Ya see last issue we made a move and bought a new computer thinking that by upgrading technology it would alleviate unnecessary anguish. Turns out this new computer didn’t have our standard Ariel Narrow font. We were pretty split on this minor issue with newer collective members really wanting to change to Garamond. It was conceded to them. It is such a small fringe who obsesses about how a letter strikes the eye – about the same kind of lunatic fringe that cares about politics….. well that is until disaster befalls the normies…

We would love for you to get back to us — send an email telling which way to present our words…oh wait come Saturday morning and we attempt to work on articles our new computer can’t access the internet. We spend money on a new computer or router to make the work load less daunting and it turns out we have to stare failure and confusion in the face – um I mean a glowing screen. Slingshot is pigeon holed as being anti technology its more subtle than that. Most new technologies are best as supplements to time tested ways of getting the word out and creating change. And time is the real element. The time invested to crate change is slow and often without rewards. In this case take your time reading these issues.

Slingshot is always looking for new writers, artists, editors, photographers, translators, distributors, etc. to make this paper. If you send something written, please be open to editing.

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

Thanks to the people who made this: Aaron, Andrew, Darin, Eggplant, Finn, Glenn, Hayley, Heather, Kelly, Lydia, Jesse, Josh, Joey, J-tron, Soren, Stephski, Xander, Zoe and all the authors and artists.

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting on August 17, 2014 at 4 pm at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below.)

Article Deadline & Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 117 on September 13 2014 at 3 p.m.

Volume 1, Number 116, Circulation 20,000

Printed April 11, 2014

Slingshot Newspaper

A publication of Long Haul

Office: 3124 Shattuck Avenue

Mailing: PO Box 3051, Berkeley, CA 94703

Phone (510) 540-0751 • slingshot@tao.ca slingshot.tao.ca • fucking twitter @slingshotnews

Circulation Information

Subscriptions to Slingshot are free to prisoners, low income and anyone in the USA with a Slingshot Organizer, or $1 per issue or back issue. International $3 per issue. Outside the Bay Area we’ll mail you a free stack of copies if you give them out for free. Each envelope is one lb. (8 copies) — let us know how many envelopes you want. In the Bay Area, pick up copies at Long Haul or Bound Together Books in SF.

Slingshot Free stuff

We’ll send you a random assortment of back issues of Slingshot for the cost of postage: Send $3 for 2 lbs. Free if you’re an infoshop or library. Also, our full-color coffee table book about People’s Park is free or by sliding scale donation: send $1 – $25 for a copy. We also have surplus copies of the 2014 Organizer available free in bulk for distro to people who wouldn’t otherwise purchase one such as prisoners, youth and the oppressed. Email or call us: slingshot@tao.ca / Box 3051 Berkeley, 94703.

 

the 2015 Organizer wants YOU

Slingshot collective will make the 2015 organizer this summer. Drop by or contact us to help. We are a tiny collective so we’re relying on the Slingshot miracle to make the organizer. That’s when a variety of folks we’ve never met before show up during the two weekends we make the organizer to sit in the Slingshot loft making art, listening to music, eating food and making decisions at meetings. The Organizer layout party creates a temporary community sort of like an occupation except with pens and glue rather than tents and bongo drums. Sound like fun? Join us.

In May and June, we’ll edit, correct and improve the list of historical dates. Send us ideas for stuff to add that happened since last year. The deadline for finishing is June 27. If you want to design a section of the calendar, let us know or send us random art by June 28. The deadline to finish calendar pages or give us suggestions for 2015 is July 25. We need all new radical contact listings and cover art submissions by July 25. If you have ideas for the short features we publish in the back, let us know by July 25. We try to print different features every year. If you’re in the Bay Area July 26/27 or August 2/3, we’ll put it all together by hand those weekends so plan your visit. . .

Summer Tour: Let’s Visit Some Radical Spaces

Compiled by Jesse D. Palmer

Here are some new radical spaces you can visit that are not listed in the 2014 Organizer, plus some updates. These spaces are opened and kept going by folks everywhere to provide physical expressions of the world we seek — organized around cooperation, pleasure and freedom rather than greed, standardization and control. We’re going to update the entire radical contact list this summer when we publish the 2015 Organizer, so let us know if there is a space near you that isn’t on our radar. By the way, the on-line version of the radical contact list has been broken due to a computer problem and therefore has not been updated since last summer but we are hoping to fix it: slingshot.tao.ca. Happy travels this summer!

The Grease Diner – Oakland, CA

An art gallery and zine shop that has an open DIY silk screening studio. 6604 San Pablo Ave. Oakland, CA 94608. 510 379-0190 thegreasediner.com

Guide to Kulchur – Cleveland, OH

A book and zine shop that hosts events, meetings and Cleveland Books to Prisoners. 1386 W. 65th St, Cleveland, OH 44102 guidetokulchurcleveland.com

Sovversiva Open Space – Montpelier, VT

A community space with a zine library, books, free coffee/tea, a computer, and art supplies that hosts events. They share space with a collective bike shop called Freeride. Open Mondays and other times. 89 Barre St. Montpelier, VT 05602 www.radspacemontpelier.wordpress.com

Shameless Grounds – St. Louis, MO

A sex positive coffee shop with a sex-oriented library shop that hosts radical sex-oriented events. 1901 Withnell Ave Saint Louis, MO 63118 314-449-1240. shamelessgrounds.com

EarthDance farms – Ferguson, MO

An organic farm/school that encourages art, music, resource sharing, and community building around food production and sustainability. They have an artist in residence program, library, classes and volunteer opportunities. 233 S. Dade Ave. Ferguson, MO 63135 314-521-1006 earthdancefarms.org

IntegreTea – Vallejo, CA

A tea shop that hosts a zine library and art space. 717 Marin Street, Vallejo, CA 94590

Time’s Up! – New York, NY

A bicycle direct action/advocacy non-profit that has a space where you can fix your own bike. 99 South 6th Street Brooklyn, NY 11211 212-802-8222. times-up.org

A Place for Sustainable Living – Oakland, CA

A green center that promotes sustainable living, social justice and art with a garden, bike shop, art barn and exhibits about graywater, compost and renewable energy. They host workshops and peformances. 1121 64th Street Oakland, CA 94608 aplaceforsustainableliving.org

Peace Resource Center – Seaside, CA
They have a lending library, computers and host movies and events.  1364 Fremont, Seaside, CA 93955 831-899-7322 peacecentral.wordpress.com

Ollin Calli– Tijuana, Mexico

A worker-advocacy group that leads tours of maquiladoras and has workshops. Pasaje Gómez Local 2025 Tijuana B.C. 22000 664-1902586

Horn of Plenty Community Centre – Reservoir, Australia

They have a library, bike workshop, community garden and host events, music and art. Open Friday & Saturday. 659 Plenty Road Reservoir, VIC 3073 Australia

Bombs and Candies Infolibrary – Philippines

An infoshop with a library. Blk 24 Lot 51 Phase 1 Ciudad Adelina Brgy. Conchu, Trece Martirez City Cavite, Philippines 4109, phone: +639 096028849 candiesandwhims@riseup.net

Changes to the 2014 Slingshot Organizer

The Clear Creek Coop has moved to 3722 Pinehurst Dr. Richmond IN 47374.

The physical address for the Earth First! Journal (1307 Central Terrace) is no longer valid. Their mailing address (PO Box 964 Lake Worth, FL 33460) is still valid. The phone is now 561-320-3840, not the one published in the organizer.

The Roosevelt 2.0 in Tampa, FL is no longer at that address. They are trying to open a new location in Myakka City, FL.

Iron Rail in New Orleans has closed.

Centro Social CCC in San Juan Puerto Rico has closed

Mondragon books in Winnipeg, Manitoba has closed.

The Bloom Collective in Grand Rapids, MI is no longer around.

The Holdout in Oakland is now called Qilombo and the website is now qilombo.org.

The Bike City Recylcery in Fayetteville, AR may no longer be there. We got mail returned from them and other contact info doesn’t work.

From Earth Day to May Day: Towards an Ecological General Strike

Direct actions are planned in the Bay Area between Earth Day on April 22 and May 1st to raise awareness about the intersections of labor, immigration, and environmental issues. Actions may include sit-ins, tree sits, guerrilla gardening, pickets, marches, blockades and strikes. The goal is to challenge the jobs vs. environment myth, to unite workers and environmentalists against the bosses, and rapidly transition unsustainable industries through direct action. The actions will build foundations for directly democratic workers assemblies and environmental unionist caucuses within existing unions that can organize actions to halt the destruction of the planet.

	Workers, the community, and the planet are exploited by the state and capitalist forces that rule over our lives. With capitalism escalating its "extreme energy" rampage of offshore oil drilling, tar sands mining, mountaintop removal, and fracking, a mass movement to oppose these forms of energy is growing and radicalizing. Recently, there has been an increased number of oil spills, pipeline ruptures, oil train derailments, refinery fires, and chemical spills. These disasters have not only harmed the environment but they have also injured and/or killed the very workers whom the capitalists depend on to extract these resources.

The same capitalist economic system destroying the Earth is destroying the lives of the workers with eroding health and safety standards, downsizing and outsourcing the workforce, establishing a “blame the worker” safety culture, and creating dangerous labor conditions all around. These conditions that endanger the workers are also directly harming the communities around them with cancers and asthma from air pollution. Yet boss propaganda seeks to convince us that environmentalists are a threats to jobs. It’s time for workers and environmentalists to take direct action for health and safety and a halt to the destruction of our world.

A globalized ecological insurrection is inevitable and in fact has already begun — from First Nations people leading a militant opposition to new oil pipelines to workers and environmentalists in Japan standing up against nuclear power and pollution. It’s time for an ecological general strike where workers and environmentalists take over and blockade unsustainable industries and dismantle what can’t be rapidly transitioned. Join the action April 22 – May 1: ecogeneralstrike@riseup.net

Hungry for Justice: Prisoner Hunger Strike at the Tacoma Immigrant Detention Center

 

By Alec

1,200 inmates at the Northwest Detention Center outside of Tacoma, WA went on hunger strike March 7, 2014. The Northwest Detention Center is a corporate-owned prison for people facing deportation. The strikers demanded better food, wages higher than one dollar a day, better treatment and medical care, an end to exorbitant prices in the commissary and fundamental fairness and justice. The strikers are also protesting the 2 million people deported so far under the Obama administration with 1300 people being deported every day. Despite his outreach to the Latino community and promises to the contrary, Obama has deported more immigrants than any president in US history.

The inmates at the Northwest Detention center are fed boiled potatoes and beans for every meal, every day. The prison staff treat them as less than human with constant harassment, and intimidation. Detainees are referred to by numbers, not their names. Prisoners have limited or no access to medical care. One incarcerated man who suffered from a severe nosebleed was made to wait twenty-four hours to see a doctor and almost died choking on his own blood.

Rather than respond to the strikers’ demands, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the GEO group have retaliated against the hunger strike. The day after the strike began, the guards’ uniforms changed to riot gear and they began recording the names and numbers of prisoners who were striking. The guards told the strikers that nobody outside cared that they were striking and that they would be denied asylum and deported because of their actions. The guards have also been arbitrarily transferring prisoners to other sections of the prison. The confusion that results from this displacement is a form of psychological torture. Strikers are being isolated from their families and comrades and threatened with force-feeding.

The hunger strike is believed to have been inspired by a February 24 demonstration outside the prison in which protesters blocked vans from leaving the facility. The prisoners inside the vans told other prisoners that people on the outside were putting their bodies on the line to help them. The prisoners wanted to respond to this solidarity action with their own act of resistance. There have been hunger strikes before at this facility that failed because of lack of support from the outside. This time, activists inside and outside the prison have coordinated their efforts, brewing a perfect storm for the GEO group and ICE. The Northwest Detention Center hunger strike is only the latest protest action against deportation in a string of actions that have been taking place for years, growing in number and volume as well as boldness. People are paying attention.

The United States is in the midst of the largest prison build-up in history. There are more black and Latino people in prison now than there were slaves in the South before the Civil War. America has the most prisons of any nation in the world. Many of these prisons are for-profit, meaning they are run by corporations that receive taxpayer money for every person that they lock up. Around 1.6 million people are in state and federal prisons (as of the U.S. census in 2010), and every able-bodied one of them is required to work. Prison laborers are paid between 23 cents and $1.15 an hour for manufacturing clothing, solar panels, weapons, etc. Although it is illegal for Federal Prison Industries (also called “Unicor”) to sell prisoner-made goods to consumers, the government purchases these goods, replacing private sector companies. The result is the elimination of manufacturing jobs, decreased wages, and subsequent damage to the economy. NASA has contracted prisoners at San Quentin to make satellite parts for pennies an hour – a job once reserved for unionized engineers. Soon, the products of prison labor will be floating between us and the stars.

In 2007, a piece of legislation called the “bed mandate” was put into place, requiring ICE to fill 34,000 detention center beds in the US with immigrant prisoners at all times in order to receive federal funds. There is no way to negotiate around this number — 34,000 prison beds are filled by immigrants and the DHS and ICE and get paid.

ICE is focused on locking up undocumented immigrants and they do not care which ones as long as they meet their quota. While some undocumented immigrants are arrested and forced into deportation for breaking the law, many of those detained at the Northwest Detention Center are babysitters, farmers, landscapers, foragers of mushrooms, and shellfish harvesters at Washington’s oyster and clam farms. ICE patrols neighborhoods, forests where immigrants forage, and Department of Fish and Wildlife offices where permits for fishing and foraging are obtained. They work in conjunction with the police, setting up roadblocks that appear to be DUI checkpoints, but are used by ICE to check immigration documentation.

The Secure Communities Act, a piece of legislation encouraging ICE cooperation with local law enforcement, is a factor supporting the astronomical trend of deportation. The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) surveyed the Latino communities in five counties in different states across the US with large Latino populations. Their research showed that since the passage of the Secure Communities Act, 62% of Latinos report that officers stop them without good reason or cause. There is also an increased feeling of isolation and a decreased feeling of safety in the Latino community. The study found that 38% of Latinos are afraid to leave their homes.

Corporations such as the GEO group, which runs the Northwest Detention Center, and the Corrections Corporation of America, receive $165 per night per immigrant that is detained. ICE in cooperation with local law enforcement detains 1,300 immigrants per day. The money that is going into the pockets of these prison corporations is coming out of the taxpayers’ wallets. The Latino community is being targeted more than any other community in this regard, but as ICE becomes more desperate for deportations we may see European, Asian, African and Caribbean immigrants being detained and deported in large numbers.

Over 200 demonstrators rallied outside of the Northwest Detention Center on March 11, 2014. They yelled, sang and banged pots and pans to express their solidarity with the strikers inside, who were denying themselves food to bring immigrant detainees more attention and better treatment. A national day of action took place April 5.

The historic act of resistance at NWDC and other hunger strikes by prisoners against their captors at Guantanamo Bay, Pelican Bay in California, and in Palestine, demonstrates that people will not give up their dignity even in the darkest corners of the world. Prisoners have the strength to use non-violence to highlight the brutality of the system. Rebellions like these are becoming more common as are actions expressed in solidarity with them outside the walls. As the prison build-up continues, we see greater resistance to the conditions of incarceration.

The strikers in the Northwest Detention Center have expressed that they are not striking as individuals but as one group together. They understand that their actions may not save them from deportation or their inhumane treatment. They are refusing to eat because they do not want anyone else to have to go through what they are going through.

You can donate for prisoners’ telephone and commissary accounts, transportation funds for prisoners’ families, litigation fees and organizing expenses at gofundme.com/7orehg.

Pipeline Hemorrhage: resisting the Keystone XL

by Lesley DangerHaddock

All over the world people have been demonstrating against the Keystone XL pipeline, the massive oil pipeline that would send 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta, Canada to Texas. The pipeline would likely spur further development of the Alberta Tar Sands, the largest fossil fuel project in the world that has led to extensive deforestation, water pollution, and violations of indigenous sovereignty, as well as massive contributions to climate change. Keystone XL has been the Keystone issue for many environmental activists.

Matthew and I left on a hitchhiking adventure intending to cover the resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline by following the pipeline the full 1,700 miles. But, as we have talked to activists along the way, we have found that while resistance to the Keystone XL pipeline has brought a lot of needed attention to the detrimental tar sands project, it can also overshadow the equally crucial efforts being made to stop fossil fuel shipment and extraction by local communities.

Before we left we talked to activists in Pittsburg, CA who have been fighting hard against the construction of oil terminals that would receive tar sands shipments by truck and rail, as well as organizers in Richmond, CA who for decades have opposed the Chevron refinery that has been detrimental to the city’s health. As activists in San Francisco locked down the federal building in protest of KXL, the fight against extraction is immediate and personal for local organizers just across the bay.

Our travels thus far have taken us up to Oregon, Washington, and over to Idaho, and organizers there have had similar experiences. In Vancouver, WA we talked to Cager Carbaugh, the president of the ILWU local 4, who has been working with Portland Rising Tide to oppose oil terminals being built in their port. For Cager and the longshoremen, working with volatile oil shipments from the tar sands is a threat to worker safety, and the risk of an oil spill would put their ability to work on the Columbia river at stake.

In Moscow, Idaho, we’ve talked with organizers who have been working upstream of the tar sands fighting shipments of megaloads, massive machinery used for tar sands exploitation, through Idaho. For many local activists, the idea of turning their wild state into an permanent industrial corridor is an outrage. Helen Yost, organizer with Wild Idaho Rising Tide, explicitly told us that the focus on Keystone XL has been a huge barrier, saying that people have been climbing over each other to get arrested protesting the pipeline while ignoring the megaload shipments rolling straight through their towns.

Further, while Keystone XL is absolutely gigantic, there are actually two other pipelines of similar size in the works that, if built, could double tar sands exploitation. The first of these is the $7 billion Line 3 Replacement pipeline project brought to us by Enbridge. Set to open in 2017, this pipeline would ship 740,000 barrels of tar sands per day. The other is the $12 billion Energy East pipeline being constructed by TransCanada. This pipeline is set to open in 2018 and would ship a record-breaking 1.1 billion barrels of tar sands per day.

Keystone XL is tremendously important, but so are the other fossil fuel projects popping up all over North America. With fracking going on in more and more states, the Bakken Shale exploitation in North Dakota, Mountain Top Removal in West Virginia, oil spills happening nearly every week, tar sands exploitation starting in Utah, we can’t afford to focus only on KXL. We have to fight extraction at every level, and look at the work being done in our own communities first.

You can follow our work online at fuelingdissent.org or on Facebook at facebook.com/fuelingdissent. If you have any way to contribute, we need money for food and equipment and you can donate to us through our website.

The ‘Can Do’ Sex Worker’s Collective

by Kyle Merrit Ludowitz

In Chiang Mai, the northernmost city of Thailand, many restaurants, venues, and bars cater to the carnal pleasures of tourists and locals alike. One bar however, stands out among the others: the Can Do Bar is proudly owned and operated by a female collective of empowered sex workers.

Currently employing 20 workers, the Can Do Bar provides opportunities for female sex workers rarely ever offered in Thailand’s sex industry, such as: payment at (or above) minimum wage, 10 paid holidays, observance of 13 public holidays throughout the year, voluntary overtime at full pay, and paid sick leave. The workers are encouraged to join a union or association, and are given full rights to settle disputes in a labor court, and instant access to contraceptives and other safer sex methods, as well as an educational center on the second floor above the bar.

Can Do Bar was formed by a group of sex workers frustrated with being controlled for profit, who quit or fled their former houses, banded together, and pooled the initial Baht needed to start their independent collective. While working along the Myanmar border in northern Thailand, I decided to seek out this collective to experience, and understand this new approach to sex work.

Entering the Can Do Bar on a warm fall evening, I get the impression of an intimately friendly den, instead of a booming nightclub; stings of thin, red lights outline the room’s frame, casting a soft, warm glow across the bar’s dark colored wood, and over the floor to the tables in the far corners. A staircase, with a large centerpiece photograph of a client in the midst of a sponge-bath, wraps around to the second and third floors with bedrooms, and the education center.

Visiting the night before the bar’s large Climate Change Cocktail Party, I interviewed the three women working that evening: Mai, Pae, and Oa. When asked over drinks of Whiskey what message they wanted to convey to other sex workers, their replies were confident.

“The Can Do Bar is fair bar” Mai told me simply. “It’s fun, and it’s enjoyable to be here. It’s not always work either. Sometimes we come here when we’re not working to dance, and sing with our friends. We also host social events, and fund- raisers for our programs, as well as other organizations we agree with, and want to help support.”

Pae explained that the bar is not merely a place for people to find sex, but that it is a space for organizers, and friends of the movement to spread awareness about sex worker cooperatives. “Sex workers can open their own business, be their own boss, and take care of themselves,” Pae said.

Oa expressed, “We can work, be artists (sex work as an act of art), and be safe all at the same time. We live here, and work in good conditions. Every bar can be like us with enough time, and effort.”

There are no exact figures as to the total number of sex workers in Thailand, but a conservative estimate puts the number around 20,000-40,000 women, with a large portion being minors. At this time, sex trafficking places many Thai sex workers in the dangerous positions of forced servitude.

The Empower Foundation is the focal advocate, and co-collaborator of the Can Do Bar’s undertaking, since its foundation in 2006. An organization of predominately third-wave feminists from Western countries, Empower Foundation strives to build women’s confidence so they have a stronger foundation to express their preferences and assert their rights. The Empower Foundation views education and literacy as a fundamental part of building confidence, and it provides educational programs to over 30,000 sex workers throughout Thailand, many of whom are receiving education for the first time in their lives. They host classroom style education sessions in Phatpong Alley (a center of prostitution in Bangkok), as well as the southern island of Phuket, the town of Mae Sai, and the city of Chiang Mai.

Before leaving the bar, I met with Liz Hilton, a representative for the Empower Foundation, to discuss the Can Do Bar’s achievements.

“The Empower Foundation and the Can Do Bar were born out of sex worker frustration” Liz explained. “Workers voiced concerns to their government, but with no active response, they decided to pool together in a collective effort to show that their jobs can be done safely and responsibly.”

“We recently exceeded a global population of 7 billion people,” Liz continued. “That means there have been at least 7 billion sexual acts. The global community does not seem to have a problem with this fact, and regards sex as a natural, private, and personal act. That is, until money comes into the equation.”

Liz Continues“Women have a right to do whatever they choose with their lives, and should be given autonomy to proceed in a positive way. That is what we are doing here. That is what the women of the Can Do Bar are doing.”

With thousands of women involved in Thailand’s sex industry, the struggle to secure fair wages, the necessities of education, medical care,andaccess to contraceptives is an immense task. The thousands of workers denied these essentials each day urgently need change to this system.

Leaving the bar, and looking back at the lights illuminating the painted Can Do sign, I am inspired by these women’s stories, and by seeing what can be accomplished when determined individuals organize. By working together as a collective to empower sex workers, the Can Do Bar shows us the true strength of women when they claim their workplace and sexual rights, and define their own future.

Alphabet Soup: Some Thoughts on the Acronym and Identity Politics

 

by Joey

Folks who have been in or around gender and sexuality-based movement for the past decade or so have probably noticed an explosion of identities. These new words, new names, new ways of describing oneself and one’s relation to the world — and I’m not sure whether they’re really new, or just more visible than ever before — are maybe most apparent in the lengthening of what gets called “the acronym”: LGBT*QQIAP+, as it’s often written in the queer spaces I inhabit. (The T* is for trans* [gender, sexual, etc.] the first Q is for queer, the second for questioning, the I for intersex, the A for asexual, the P for pansexual, and the + for other identities that haven’t made the leap to acronym status yet.) These complex identities and their infinite, unique combinations show a world that is rich in its forms of gender, desire, play, presentation, and power — as some of the subjects in Sarah Deragon’s recent photo show The Identity Project, like Queer Butch Trans Top, Homo Queer Fag Boy Daddy, Daddy Fem Dyke Dom Queen, and Gender Blind Femme Bottom, among others, show. This growing alphabet soup seems to follow a sort of liberal, multicultural logic: the more people’s identities we acknowledge and make visible around the big gender-desire table, the better.

And yet there’s definitely a more complicated internal politics at play: how did we get from LGBT (still the most common form currently, as far as I can tell) to LGBT*QQIAP+? How many people had to identify as pansexual before educators, activists, writers, and others would remember to write a P? Which identities are struggling to be acronymized? More importantly, what is gained and what is lost in the struggle for acronym status, and in the focus on identity that it requires?

***

I come to the acronym from a position of privilege, not just as a white, able-bodied, college-educated cisguy, but as someone who arrived on the scene late enough to find that when I thought of myself as bi, there was already a B waiting for me; and when I thought of myself as gay there was a G, too; and when I started thinking of myself more as queer, well, there was usually a well-entrenched Q. I also came out early enough that my identity never got viewed as opportunistic or new-fangled, the way some people roll their eyes when they hear newer terms like trans-spirit, demisexual, biromantic, etc. While I’ve had to explain what I mean by Queer to more than one relative and doctor, I can generally assume (at least in the Bay Area) that most folks will understand what that means.Since I can sometimes pass as straight — especially when I need to, in this heterosexist world — focusing on identityforegrounds an aspect of myself that, unlike whiteness, male-legibility, and able-bodiedness, might remain invisible. It also probably increases the likelihood of striking up a conversation, making out with somebody, etc., when around others whose queerness is similarly visible. At the same time, as Julia Serano argues in her recent book Excluded (reviewed in this issue), foregrounding queerness as an identity can also be insular and clique-ish, in ways that I’m just starting to think about.

All this business about identity makes a lot of sense to me. When you’re told — by doctors, by family, by psychiatrists, by teachers, by politicians — that you’re one thing and you feel like you’re another thing, it’s powerful to say, “You say I am this thing, but I identify as this other thing. (PS: fuck you).” It sets up an opposition between the world of descriptions by those in power, often with authoritative qualifiers like “biologically,” “legally,” “really” — and on the other hand, a world of self-descriptions, focused on a different kind of authority: individual experience. Breaking down essentialist barriers into who could call herself a woman was one of the major triumphs of feminism in the late 20th century. In this sense, identity is political, proposing a different way of grounding claims about what people are. It’s also immensely helpful, literally saving the lives of folks (especially youth) who are going through the process of finding something affirming and communal to latch onto in a hostile, straight society. And yet, the emphasis on identity seems to have already conceded part of the battle. If those with the prescription pads and guns get to use the verb “to be” — to say what stuff in the world is — why do we hedge our bets with “identify as”? (Here’s a hunch: I think folks are worried that describing themselves as e.g., “being trans” commits oneself to too much permanence, denying the fluidity and change that identity is supposed to allow. If this is true, it’s unnecessary; “I’m lesbian” doesn’t need to mean anything more fixed than the fact that I’m hungry right now. Though a little awkward, Judith Butler’s statement, “a lesbian is what I’ve been being” makes the point well [Imitation and Gender Insubordination; emphasis mine].)

On the other hand, there seems to be some push-back among folks who’d just as soon give up the identity game in favor of a short and manageable description like, “the queer and trans community.” This approach has an obvious problem: it sacrifices some identities while privileging others, contributing to the invisibility of those who don’t feel any resonance with these terms. But maybe that’s the point: by self-consciously substituting an approximation of a lot of people’s identities, it shifts the focus from the person to the political. Here, “queer” and “trans” (but we could probably insert other words) are proxies for folks whose genders, desires, practices, etc. expose them to oppression. The people who feel represented by it, like myself, might see in it less a mirror than a shared politics. What it loses in apparent inclusion it gains in accessibility and recognition. It pushes us outward, proposing other axis for connection and intimacy. It suggests, critically, that our shared identity may not be as fertile a ground for collaboration as we thought, that identity might turn out to be a poor predictor of politics. (I often find more common ground with straight radicals than with queer liberals.)

I think this is what Eve Sedgwick was getting at when she argued in The Epistemology of the Closet that our way of talking about sexuality is limited, our terms tending to focus on the gender of the person using the term and the gender of their sexual partners (e.g., so the story goes, a lesbian is a woman who desires and/or has sex with women). This way of thinking about sexuality leaves out a lot of the sexual picture: What kinds of sex do people have? Do they practice good consent? Do they have sex in exchange for money or other goods? Do they talk with their partners about STIs? Do they film themselves fucking? What sexual politics do they have? How do they view the world? On this score, the proliferation of identities may be helpful: a self-description like “cisgendered feminist butch queen” tells me about this person’s exposure to gender discourse (“cisgendered”) and a little about their politics (feminist). But these terms are also flexible and vague — “butch” looks very different for different folks — and for a good reason: it doesn’t help anyone to police a right or wrong way of being butch, queer, etc.

In pointing this out, I’m not suggesting that the solution is to further expand the taxonomy, adding more identities in a never-ending search for total descriptive perfection, which might only lead to a more atomized culture. (Though I think there’s a pretty radical argument to be made for proliferating identities so infinitely that the concept stops meaning anything altogether — a critique that might end up tracing the limits of language itself, the impossibility of reducing desire or gender to words.) Instead, I wonder about the implications of a suggestion bell hooks offered in 1984: “Often emphasis on identity and lifestyle is appealing because it creates a false sense that one is engaged in praxis… To emphasize the engagement with feminist struggle as political commitment, we could avoid using the phrase ‘I am a feminist’ (a linguistic structure designed to refer to some personal aspect of identity and self-definition) and could state, ‘I advocate feminism.’” (Feminist Theory from Margin to Center, 30-1). This proposal fits gender and sexuality awkwardly at best: one isn’t necessarily advocating anything when one comes out as this or that. But I think that’s exactly the point! Maybe identity is ill-suited to politics to begin with.

That’s not say to that we should discard identity-talk altogether: I don’t think we could if we wanted to, and, again, identity has proven itself to be a helpful tool for figuring ourselves out, socializing, countering oppressive externally-imposed descriptions, and more. These are all definitely important functions, but maybe they’re more helpful for forming a personal bedrock for politics than for praxis itself. hooks’ suggestion makes me wonder: What if we focused less on who’s under the acronym-umbrella (acrobrella?), and more on fighting sexuality- and gender-based oppression? Less on who people are, and more on what they advocate, what they’ll fight for? Doing so might allow us to focus on issues that have been overlooked as “not queer/trans enough.” It might also help us to see how heterosexism and transphobia actually hurt straight and/or cis people, too; after all, these too can be fragile, contingent identities. (To give just one example, “straightness” often comes at the cost of having to constantly shore up one’s identity through self-policing and public disavowals like “no homo.”) Most important, we might see how those not under — or excluded from — the acronym have a stake in the movement, too.

Works Cited:

Butler, Judith. Imitation and Gender Subordination. The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. New York, NY: Routledge, 1993. 307-20.

hooks, bell. Feminist Theory from Marin to Center. London: Pluto Press, 2000. 1st ed 1984.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet. Berkeley, CA: UCP, 1990.

Serano, Julia. Excluded. New York, NY: Seal Press, 2013.

Expell the Cops from Oakland Schools!

By Alec

I am a senior in college awaiting graduation this summer.  I was a violent child. From pre-school on through middle school and even early high school I suffered from outbursts of aggression. I would attack my peers, teachers, parents and counselors; anyone who came into my vicinity. I had more anger than I knew how to articulate.  I would not be on this successful path if there had been a police presence in my elementary, middle or high school.

The Oakland Unified School District employs six times as many police and security officers to patrol the schools as they have counselors for students.  There were 36,180 students, 2,008 teachers, 115 police and security officers, and 20 counselors during the 2012-3 academic year. Black youth in Oakland are being targeted by police, arrested and referred to probation at two and a half times their percentage of the population.  Black youth make up around thirty percent of the youth population in Oakland but eighty percent of youth who are arrested are black.

Raheim Brown was sitting in the passenger seat of a parked car outside of a school dance when he was shot by a school police officer in January 2011. The officer claimed that Raheim attempted to stab him with a screwdriver. The Oakland School District failed to take any action against the officer, Sgt. Barhin Bhatt, who was later made Interim Chief of the Oakland School Police. His successor, Pete Sarna, was put on paid leave due to racist epithets yelled at a black officer. The Black Organizing Project, a community organizing and advocacy group in the Oakland African-American community, took action against Raheim’s killer’s promotion and Barhin Bhatt was replaced by James Williams, the current Interim Chief of the Oakland School Police. Sergeant Barhin Bhatt still patrols Oakland public schools.

Some Oakland students report that school feels like jail as a result of the police presence and that they feel intimidated and unsafe. They feel that the money spent on policing would be better spent providing more opportunities for student work and recreation, keeping them safe by keeping them occupied. Teachers are underpaid and overworked and ten percent of students exhibit chronic absence. A survey conducted by the Black Organizing Project found that sixty-four percent of Oakland public school students don’t like the police presence in their schools and feel that they could have safe schools without police.  

In 2012, the Oakland Unified School District, citing exhaustion and conflicting demands, hired 25 extra police and security officers to patrol Ralph Bunche High school, Frick, Roosevelt and Elmhurst Middle schools and Lockwood and Parker Elementary schools.   

A review of Oakland School Police policies shows that the Oakland School Police have no special training or criteria for dealing with youth. They treat students as though they are adult criminals, arresting them for minor infractions without regard to the problems they may be dealing with in their lives.  No school counselors have been hired by the Oakland School District in recent history.

The police are interfering with children’s lives at their most delicate stages of development. I understand fears about gun violence and bullying in schools as well as drug use, but teachers and counselors are trained to deal with kids whereas police are not. Sometimes all a kid needs is the proof that some people care about them in order to make a positive contribution to her community.

 Oakland students are not getting the opportunities I had: once they get into trouble with their school, they get into trouble with the law and face juvenile detention and court appearances.  Studies show that an arrest at a young age doubles the student’s chances at being pushed out of high school and a court appearance quadruples those chances.

Oakland School police data reveals that forty nine percent of contact the police make with students is for non-criminal behavior such as classroom disruption.  Even the brightest and most talented of our children are known to screw up at some point in their development.  By subjecting them to arrests in their schools we are nullifying their chances at success.   Involvement with the juvenile justice system makes youth far less likely to obtain future employment, go to college or even graduate from high school.

The information for this report was drawn from the Black Organizing Project’s Report, “From Report Card To Criminal Record, the Impact of Policing on Oakland Youth” and from the Oakland Unified School District website.

Stories are Magic: resist the poverty of faux community

By Kermit

A karass – a group of people linked in a cosmically significant manner, even when superficial links are not evident.

A granfalloon – a group of people who affect a shared identity or purpose, but whose mutual association is actually meaningless. A false karass. (Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle, 1963)

Even if you believe that we live in a godless and rational universe governed by physical laws, it is difficult to deny that language is a kind of magic. Through language, we perceive, interpret, and create the stories that frame our understanding of what is possible and fuse meaning onto our lives. Some of these stories break like waves, spectacular and momentary, over the surface of our existence while others are more subtle but longer lasting. They can take the form of fiction, history, science, or conventional wisdom and all of them claim some relationship to physical or emotional truths. As they are told and retold, stories account for and explain the immense variety of lived human experience.

Over time, some of these stories become layered on top of one another and are replaced in everyday thought and speech with a kind of shorthand; a few words or phrases which stand in for complex experiences or insights. This is useful so that we don’t have to pull out a lyre and spend several hours singing the song of ourselves every time we meet someone, but it also lets us live in the illusion that if we use the same code words and root for the same sports team (or broad political tendency), then our ideas are basically the same.

Becoming intimate with someone is a process of unpacking some of the stories that have shaped us and being vulnerable enough to sing them to each other. This intimate sharing thickens the connections between people and contributes to the sense that you and I are part of a rhizomatic social cluster that is palpable and significant. The extent to which a claim of community feels meaningful to me depends, in large part, on whether or not the people in it are linked together with intimate bonds – not necessarily on whether they share an aesthetic, set of judgments, common history, or way of speaking.

The poverty of political stories

The problem with most political discourse is that it tends to emphasize the sameness of our shorthand, rather than the complexity of our individual songs. Politicians are primarily concerned with telling stories that promote orthodoxy and conversion – those which can be bent to the service of convincing people to think the right way. This can even be true when their code words include ‘autonomy’ and when they are overtly critical of the orthodoxy and conversion tactics of others. Over time, it can become easy for those of us who are moved by political rhetoric to slowly, and at times unwittingly, replace a complex understanding of reality and our ambiguous emotional responses to it with clear moral distinctions and strongly held beliefs that feel like party lines.

One effect of this is that people tend to assume that they are members of much larger coherent communities than are actually possible. All of the grand lies of nationalism (whether or not they are attached to states) are based on the assumption that we are very much the same as thousands, or perhaps millions of other people who happen to share a similar quality, belief, heritage, or aesthetic. There is a comfort that comes from this because it simplifies the world and numbs our awareness of the poverty that can exist in everyday life, but it also distracts us from deeper and more thorough lines of inquiry and limits our ability to imagine other possibilities.

In Cat’s Cradle, Kurt Vonnegut invents a word to describe this type of faux-community. A granfalloon is an imagined community not built on actual connections between people, but on the mistaken assumption that some superficial similarity is significant in a way that overrides factors of personality, context, or circumstance. Granfalloons are always false and often harmful because they misrepresent the nature of human connection, but they also become particularly weak and ugly when their objective rationality is questioned.

The stories that create granfalloons depend on an illusion of unity and when that is broken, as it inevitably is, the first response is often to try to salvage the grand narrative at all costs. Frequently this means treating critical voices as enemies and open conflict as a crisis necessitating the ejection of people from our social worlds. This has historically been true whenever the narrative underpinnings of states, religions, and other centers of authority have been challenged.

Unfortunately, radical communities and revolutionary moments are particularly prone to this kind of reactionary response. Do not misunderstand, there are good reasons to be defensive and protective of our actual intimate networks, but when radicals seek to silence dissent within large scale ‘communities’ held together by the thinnest of justifications for the sake of abstract ideals, we mimic the mechanisms of the powerful systems we claim to abhor.

This silencing of critique is particularly troubling. I tend to be more of a mediator when confronted with people or ideas that are in conflict and the skills I sometimes have to smooth things over have been very useful. Despite this – or perhaps because of it – I highly value the presence of strong, critical voices in my social world, voices that force me to look closely at my assumptions and sit uncomfortably in my skin rather than seek easy resolutions and comfortable answers.

Relationship-scale communities are stronger when they are composed of people with diverse constitutions and opinions, including those who are willing to pick fights with orthodoxies. If we shut down without attempting to understand another person’s criticism when it calls our particular orthodoxy into question we miss opportunities to complicate and enrich the stories we are telling

The power to re-enchant our worlds

What I am struck by most, however, when I think about this stuff is the incredible power we all have to shape our understanding of the world. The more aware we are of the inevitable process of narrative co-creation and manipulation inherent in knowing, the more able we are to take responsibility for composing and editing the stories we choose to believe in. The more willingly we accept this responsibility, the more possible it seems to create meaning and purpose for our lives in ways unrelated to received authority or the simplistic rejection of received authority.

Stories which obscure our awareness of our own creative power only serve to strengthen calcified channels of systemic power by encouraging us to submit to narratives we have not shaped. Creating spaces in the world to interact with each other and pursue our passions outside of those systems must involve embracing our own power as story-tellers.

The stories we create are a part of this but they do not exist in a vacuum. Instead, they rub up against one another and are judged by how true they appear in light of other stories we have already accepted. In this way we determine if new stories relate to our established narrative reality or not. Recognizing this process can allow us to more easily focus on and move toward goals that we have shaped ourselves based on our own understanding of reality and our desire to interact with it.

Making people aware of the creative magic inherent in language and storytelling and the extent to which we are connected through the stories we share with each other is, in a way, about re-enchanting the world. To enchant something is, quite literally, to fill it with song. An enchanted world is one that has been sung into existence. The way to understand it is through song and story and myth. This is an inherently subjective process which is, of necessity, recreated every time a story is told.

Cold San Francisco Nights: Home, Housing and Genrification

By Tommi Avicolli Mecca

These days, Tony Bennett wouldn’t be leaving his heart in San Francisco. He’d be leaving his apartment and friends because he got priced out of the city. Or evicted by some speculator looking to make a mint off his beautiful Victorian flat.

Scott McKenzie would simply be telling folks *not* to come to San Francisco unless you work for the tech industry and can afford more than a flower in your hair.

Times have certainly changed for the city that gave the world the Summer of Love and North Beach beatniks, not to mention wonderfully diverse ethnic neighborhoods and a refuge for LGBT folks escaping the horror that still is the heterosexual nuclear (as in toxic) family in this country. Pure unadulterated greed is destroying the heart and the soul of the rebel city that has always welcomed the underdog.

Rents are now the highest in the country. In the working-class Mission district, home to a large immigrant Latino population and scores of artists and political activists, a lovely two-bedroom condo can be rented for $10,500 a month. In the still gay (but becoming straighter by the day) Castro where I live, there are $8,000 rentals above a brand new Whole Foods, proving once again that in America, healthy food is only for the wealthy. Poorer neighborhoods don’t even have supermarkets, only corner stores that soak them for the basics.

A recent report from the Brookings Institute in Washington shows that the city isn’t just the most expensive place to live, it’s also the municipality with the fastest growing income gap between rich and poor. The Institute’s results are based on income reported in the 2012 Census. The tech boom has climbed a chunk of degrees higher since then, meaning the income disparity is even wider now than two years ago. We’re in serious trouble, Houston.

According to the Institute’s study, households earning 95% of AMI (Area Median Income) bring home about $353,576 which is 16.6 times more than those making 20% of AMI which is around minimum wage or $21,313. We may be living in lean times, but the cats at the top are not feeling any hunger pangs.

Income disparity is not the only thing rising astronomically. So are evictions. Now the highest in at least a decade, they are mainly the work of speculators and investors from far and wide cashing in on a sizzling housing market that shows no signs of cooling down, a housing market fueled by thousands of tech workers to the south of here wanting to call San Francisco home. While politicians scramble to introduce legislation to curb the displacement of longtime residents, larger and larger buildings are being cleared of rent-controlled tenants paying lower rents in favor of those who can fork out the ridiculous amounts being demanded for a roof over their heads.

Already, a large part of the city’s work force, including teachers and fire fighters, have been forced to live outside San Francisco. Public transportation to the East Bay is expensive. Within the city it’s simply a nightmare. Google and other company buses create congestion and delays by using MUNI stops (and pay only $1 a stop for the privilege). Their fines go unpaid because of a nod and a wink from city officials.

Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Lee has proposed 30,000 new units of housing, but only one-third of them will be for those who are low-income. The rest will go to the middle-incomers. With 7,000-8,000 homeless on the streets and low-income housing waiting lists in the tens of thousands, you’d think that those without housing and those on the lists would get first dibs when the apartments are built.

Forget it. Lee’s mantra these days is “housing for the 100%.” Meaning that he’s just as concerned about households making $353,576 as those earning minimum wage.

These days, cardboard boxes and jails are the new housing for the poor in “progressive” San Francisco where anti-panhandling and sit/lie laws easily keep the homeless out of sight and out of mind. I honestly have never seen things so bad.

I was born in 1951 in a poor immigrant Italian neighborhood in South Philly. My grandfather came here, like his paesani from il mezzogiorno (southern Italy), with the idea that the streets were paved with gold. Wrong. They were paved with the blood, sweat and tears of men like him who worked for next to nothing and were told over and over again that they weren’t welcome. The Statue of Liberty had a message for them: huddled masses of dagos and wops, go home.

Working six, sometimes seven days a week, Papa made it into the working class, with a house and a car and a small amount of comfort. But not before we were booted out of our neighborhood and the house where I grew up was torn down and “redeveloped.” There went the neighborhood — to the more upscale folks, the yuppies of that decade.

I left Philly in 1991 and moved to San Francisco’s Castro District. I was there when the dot-com boom hit the city like a tornado, causing rents — and evictions — to skyrocket. I helped organize the Castro Tenants’ Union to stop long-term tenants with AIDS from being evicted in my neighborhood. We worked with the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition and other groups that wanted an end to the speculation and displacement and community control of our neighborhoods.

I also helped set up three shelters for homeless queer youth, a free meals program and a place for homeless persons in the Castro and Mission to shower. These days, queer youth make up 40% of the homeless youth population in the city. According to the city’s homeless count, 29% are LGB and 3% identify as transgender.

Things looked dire back then, but who knew they could get so much worse? Far worse. City-wide economic cleansing. Soon, there will only be extremely wealthy and extremely poor people in the city. Our wonderful diversity will be erased. Already, the African American population has been reduced to 6%. In no time at all, if the current rate of evictions continues, the Mission will be predominantly white, the Castro predominantly straight.

We need to take back our housing and our communities. The only way to do that is to take back the land. No one owns the earth. Capitalist society slices it up like a pie and gives people deeds to each piece. Speculators and investors buy up many pieces of this pie and flip them, especially when the market is hot, emptying them of tenants and walking away with huge profits. It doesn’t matter if the tenant is a 97-year-old woman or a gay senior with AIDS. The ends, making lots of dough, justify the means, tossing out single mothers with children or people living on SSI. Under capitalism, housing is a commodity rather than an essential human need, as are healthcare and food, two other human needs that are reduced to mere commodities.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet to turn all this around, short of ending capitalism and making housing a guaranteed right, something that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. However, there are ways to hopefully provide some relief.

We’ve got to take as much of the land off the market as we can so that it can’t be speculated on and doesn’t contribute to gentrification. Using models like the Community Land Trust (CLT), we can turn apartment buildings into co-ops where the existing tenants pay 30% or less of their income on rent, and no one gets displaced. The CLT maintains the mortgage on the land, the tenants in the building make the rules and manage the property. The CLT helps train people on how to live cooperatively, and how to take control of their own lives.

Whole neighborhoods or sections of a city can become CLTs. Dudley Street Land Trust in Boston is the best example. A poor African American community with empty lots that were being used as dumping grounds by people from throughout the city, transformed itself through a CLT. Funding was brought in from outside to help the community build itself up from within.

The CLT is not a quick fix. The acquisition of land is hindered by the ridiculous cost of real estate in cities such as San Francisco. Relying on generous individuals to donate buildings is like counting on politicians or preachers to be honest. Unless one can guilt-trip tech moguls into raising billions for the SF CLT, this is more of a long-range plan for changing how we do housing in this country.

Meanwhile, people should continue to squat and advocate for empty buildings and abandoned land to be transformed into affordable housing controlled by the residents. Legislative fixes, such as California Senator Mark Leno’s proposal that someone has to own a building for five years before he or she can use the state Ellis Act to evict the tenants are helpful in cutting down on speculation, but expect challenges in the courts and the men and women in the black robes to be on the side of those who profit from housing.

Still, legislators need to be finding creative ways to limit and even eliminate speculation and activists should push them to keep working on stronger and stronger measures to keep speculators out of working-class and poor neighborhoods.

Another fix is to fight for true rent control, which would include vacancy control. California cities, such as San Francisco, Los Angeles and Berkeley, have rent stabilization, which only controls the rent while the tenant lives in the apartment. Once he or she moves out, the landlord can raise the rent on the vacant unit to market value. Berkeley once had true rent control (which made it affordable to students), but it was reduced to rent stabilization by a 1995 state law called Costa Hawkins. The fight to strengthen San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley’s rent stabilization has to be done on a state level and is going to be difficult, but it’s a worthwhile one.

The fight may seem daunting, but, as the Chinese philosopher Laozi once said, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.