Friday, November 16, 2012

Media Literacy for Political Actors

Today several hundred of my friends, family, and coworkers, past and present saw the following two images:

They were seen because I posted them to my Facebook News Feed. When I did that, the decades long media blackout of Palestinian reality was in an instant shattered. The pressures of advertisers, lobbies, and newspaper owners was transcended by these two very simple and poingant images that I, in a few seconds, and for free, posted online. Many of the ignorant and the unaware felt the tremour of my knowledge bombs. Many more of the all too familiar felt empowered and were given a highly effective leaflet they didn't have to print or tape up any where. And... a very few people were rather annoyed with me, which of course is precisely what political agitation is supposed to do. Conversations ensued. Words were exchanged. Logical fallicies and underlying priorities and prejudices were exposed. Dents were made.

Yes I am one small person. The New York Times and Post, the Wall Street Journal, CNN and FOX News and MSNBC are much bigger and stonger than me. But today my tiny spear penetrated their armours of indifference and webs of lies completely. The juggernaut remains, but a tiny light peers out from a hole I have created. Now more spears are thrown. Some miss, but many find their mark. The juggernaut is weakened.

Perhaps most shockingly of all was that despite rather polarized opinions the discussion was entirely civil. It was conducted without raised voices by people sitting in chairs and lending their undivided attention to the subject at hand. I had more attention from people who completely disagree with me or who don't care about the issue at all than I could get from a sit down meeting in a bar with someone who agrees with me.

That is the power of the internet, and it is more politically powerful than any journalistic tool invented since paper.

The Triumph of Horizontal Media

The Facebook News Feed is the new news paper. And the News Feed is the new homepage of the internet. While many online news sources endevour to be the new "The Paper", Facebook has actually suceeded in attracting and holding that attention and it has done it by putting us in the drivers' seat. Our editors are our aggregate assemblage of friends and aquaitances. Indeed, the quality of its reporting varies with the intellectual and political levels of one's friends. But even a minority of very intelligent friends, if they post something rather touching and true, can get it transmitted faster through a very large network of not self consciously political people.

Decentralized as it is, the work an editor used to do is spread out among one's entire friends network. And putting together the new "paper" (such as it is) now takes way less time as well as money. The relatively small amount of revenue actually needed to sustain the technical aspects of the project are paid for by very discreet ads.

The people have voted with their feet and made Facebook the home page not because it has the flashiest design or the best paid contributors or because it was implanted with a virus that changed it to your browser's homepage automatically. People like it because they are personally invested in the story that it tells. Though imperfect, it is more democratic than any other written news form in history. The speed at which ideas are assimilated, shared, and dialectically responded to and learned from is much faster than the time it took historically to read a paper, digest it, and then maybe somewhere later that day have a conversation about something you read in it.

And of course like a newspaper if someone has free time or a job with minimal supervision and a computer and the internet, they can waste a lot of time on it. Partly they are learning, and the joy of learning and of sharing things with others (and feeling somewhat connected to one's friends in the process) triggers the brain to release "happy" chemicals. I am not a chemist, but I believe reading Facebook prompts the brain to release similar if not larger quantities of dopamine and seratonin that it does for a committed reader devouring his favorite newspaper over a leisurely morning breakfast. As such of course it is dangerous and needs to be used in moderation, though not becomming addicted to the internet is beyond the scope of this article.

Today one person in my News Feed posted a bit about the absurdity of having the news of Hostess (the maker of Twinkies and Ho- Hos) going out of businesss occupying as much of his feed as posts about the bombing of Gaza or the strike of some Wal Mart workers has. Are not the latter two topics much more important? Indeed they might be. But all popular newspapers have been liked for more than just what is "important."

Even to the most political person Facebook is a newspaper and not a political journal. Most newspapers have humor, culture, relationship advice columns, horror scopes, and much else more besides current events and business trends. Many newspapers even have whole sections devoted to art or cooking. Twinkie feed got popular because it is relevant and an enjoyed, shared, cultural experience. The totality is popular. Though not perfect by any means, it has been voted "with feet" over newspapers as a more relevant, interesting, and enjoyable news tool than anything else.

Certainly in this regard I feel it is often an improvement upon the Newspapers many of our left wing groups have been able to produce. Far too often, in fact almost universally, what gave Pravada or the Daily Worker life and made them attractive are today missing. Our papers are too "serious" for poetry, political cartoons, personal stories, local histories, or sports analysis. Ah, but we have plenty of terrible news of death, oppression, ecological disaster, and human suffering! Also perhaps some reprints of meaningful theory in confusing language written by people most workers have never heard of in a far off land a long time ago! And on page 10 there's a report of a tiny strike in another time zone that will probably end in defeat!

All that and still we are baffled why the time we have spent to distribute such gems of liberation has not sparked more widespread revolt!

The emergence of the internet generally and the News Feed more specifically is good news for everyone but professional journalists and newspapermen. The dream of the liberal intellegensia that more men and women would one day be able to read and discuss and WRITE and thus share their opinions on important issues has been realized. Another dream, that a living can be made as a "journalist", has been crushed. For an unfamous and seemingly un rich person to announce to a room that they are "a journalist" is liable to elicit the same mixture of sympathy and laughter of someone introducing themselves as "a musician" and then asking you to purchase their homemade CD-R or pointing you to their unsigned band's free download page.

News Blogs and News Sites

News blogs and news sites are still very important. Today the name recognition and quality control they offer is as ever appreciated and much sought after. For example, seeing an absurd but politically relevant headline posted and then noticing the URL is from "", will make it more likely to get clicked on and read than the same headline from a news site that elicits no name recognition. It's the same thing as having a friend suggest you dine at a restaurant that you both had a great experience at last time. "Oh yeah, that place was great! Let's go there again!"

For political organizations, the proto groups of what might one day be a serious polilitical force, establishing name recognition among a broad population beyond one's active membership is an essential task.

Furthermore the ability of a single articulate and timely article or video to "go viral" far beyond the established readership of a news source is a very empowering development. Name recogition is also a contributing factor to virality. Do you click more often on You Tube videos' links that have a nice formatted picture, title in bold letters, and short discription, or do you more often click on links that are just a text of an address? Most likely, you click on more links to You Tube. You probably had a good time there the last time.

But while worth investing in, our news sites need to be constructed intelligently. And this goes far beyond questions of layout, colors, or HTML, to which I happily defer to more qualified experts.

Perhaps the most important democratizing feature of the internet to arise in my lifetime besides the News Feed is the emergence of comments sections beneath articles.

All "newspapers of record" from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to the Denver Post have created comments sections. So have many of their often hipper and edgier internet competitors such as Mother Jones, The Nation, and The Huffington Post. Not only have comments sections spread widely but they have come to be as expected to a reader as a restroom or napkins are to a diner in a restaurant. Not having a comments section is almost interpreted as being offensive. Surely, isn't any participant entitled to fill out a comment card on their experience as they leave the plane / hotel / restaurant / employee meeting / GRE prep course?

Readers like comments sections, like the News Feed, for their horizontalism. Now anyone can fact and logic check and if need be raise questions about the articles themselves. And many times a highly rated comment may express a point more articulately than anything in the article. Even when discussions get contentions, reading an exchanged debate of ideas about a controversial subject can be highly educational, perhaps even more education than the origional article.

The theoeretical propoents of the idea that through democratic discussion the right idea can be found- from Socrates to Marx to Myles Horton and beyond- would probably be as baffled by today's technoloy as they would be impressed by it. Most likely the editors of the Neue Richesting Zeitung would take to Facebook, blogs, and comments sections as fast as Mozart or Beethoven would to a modern electronic music studio.

In this context I remain baffled by the reluctance of many left wing news outlets to embrace these changes, particularly as left wing organizations are more outspoken in the potential of ordinary people to come together to solve their own problems. Z Magazine, Counterpunch, and Socialist Worker are a few examples of explicitly radical websites that deny their readers the ability to comment on read material.

The idea that that the ability to host commenting is beyond the technical know how of these outfits is not credible. In touch with many young people with basic to advanced programming skills, there is no technical reason why any of these sites could not host comments. Several much smaller left news sites, such as the North Star or New Left Project have figured out how to do this.

Other excuses fall apart almost as quickly. Many mainstream news sites where readers (with often highly polarized views) are able to comment have found ways to keep discussion orderly. One of the best methods yet devised has been to allow users to rank comments. Highly rated comments move to the top, while lower rated comments move lower. The ability of any reader to flag also allows comments to be hid if they are offensive, and perhaps even removed entirely by an editor if they are extremely malicuous. Flagged and thus hidden comments can be clicked on and read anyway by the curious, helping to avey fears of censorship. The desire to have one's comment actually seen and read, rather than flagged and hidden, motivates even a highly opinionated writer to choose their words carefully.

I have heard it said that that it would take too much time to devote to keeping a comments site orderly. I believe this is another "red herring." Indeed, an editor of a news site does need to periodically review discussion, dowse incipient flame wars, and review flags. But the amount of work from the amount of people this takes is miniscule compared to how much work many dedicated left wing activists currently spend trying to sell hard copies of newspapers. A revolutionary organization with approximately one thousand members may ask each of their members to spend 3 hours getting to, and spending time at, and returning home from a paper sale on a public street corner. Each member may feel like it was worth it if they sold 3 or 4 papers. That's 3,000 man hours a week to sustain a circulation of under 10,000. But more realistically if you include the time it takes to read the whole paper to be able to sell it well, that is more like 5,000 hours. At federal minumum wage that time is worth $36,250 WEEKLY, or $1,812,500 anually.

Or alternately, ONE member of the organization can spend 30 minutes, twice a day, keeping a discussion orderly. We can probably find someone to do that for free, or at least for something far less than the almost $2 million dollars a year in time- money we are collectively foregoing for the sake of an inherited ritual! Either way, by prioritizing a website's attractiveness AND democratic usefulness, it is likely to become a wider, more carefully, and more influentially read thing that it would be if we doubled the amount of time we spent on street corners.

Again, the purpose of this article is not to suggest that political organizations should not have a public presence in their community, and nor does it think that printing educational or otherwise political materials should never be done. But it does maintain that technological change requires adaptation to stay relevant. By doing this, we can be much truer to democratic ideals, as well as better in touch with the habits of the world we are a part of.

In 1936, a worker might read a small run newspaper handed to him by a coworker. He might write a response to an article and send it in the next day, arriving at the press' office two days since he first was handed the paper. Then in perhaps another 3-5 days, if he didn't miss the print deadline, he might see his response printed with some comments by the editiors.

In 2012, very few workers have such habits. Given the ubiquitousness of technology today, is perhaps the most disengenuous straw argument to suggest that by devoting more resources (actually, saving a net amount of resources) to progressive online journalism, we would be "cutting ourselves off" from "the workers". To do so belies a great misunderstanding of how technological the American working class has become. Most of it is computer literate and checks email several times a week (though more often several times a day). Pretending that is not the reality among the class generally (much less its "class conscious vanguard" in particular!) is to hold back our efforts in a vain attempt to flatter the most backwards and unpolitical sections of population. That is not an option for political actors.

If a socialist democracy is to be genuine at all, it is be the product of extremely broad masses of people. It will be learned and spoken by them in their own language and in their own ways of communicating, which in fact quite often might be unfamiliar to the "correct" political "experts". The right idea will be known when an overwhelming number of people have adopted it, much like the best performing car, deodorant, lawn mower or building material is found. Only then can anyone call it the right idea. Though experience matters and leadership is essential, to hold in this day that the right to contibute to a written political discussion must come second to the ability of "leaders" to first screen and proofread all such contributions is to make a mockery of the word radical.

In closing, I would like to remind the comradely reader that I make these suggestions not because I am endevouring to be a heritical deviant from Lenin's theory of the paper. In fact I am quite a fan of his theory and I completely agree with it. Lenin's analysis was fresh because he was looking at the world around him and summerizing the challenges he saw based on how people lived and communicated 111 years ago. We need to do the same thing and continue to look at the world with fresh eyes.

To do that can be quite a challenge! Far too often amid contemporary darkness do radicals bury themselves in the formulations of the past, attempting to find a purity to revive today. In doing so we can wind up glorifying the ossified, passed down product, forgetting the process that lead to its creation. We place hardened basalt under microscopes, yet know nothing of the life and temper of a volcano. We pick apart the contents of a petrified excresion, unable to behold the grace of the animal that walked by so long ago!

To build today's "scaffolding," we'll need all the latest materials and techniques. The ones that people are actually using might be a good place to start.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

You've Got to Stop Voting

I found this article today and I am reposting it here. It is the best piece on the elections I have read. -----------------

The most common activist strategies, such as street demonstrations, protests, etc., rarely seem to bring about any change in government. There is only one nonviolent tactic that has been proven to work. Recently I asked the new president of a local activist group that had banned me from speaking, if I would be allowed to speak under the new leadership. I explained that I'm an election boycott advocate. The reply I got was:

"So my question is - how does NOT voting change anything? I can see actually writing in someone you believe in - but not voting simply is giving up."

I decided to answer the question as thoroughly as I could. Here's what I wrote, which I'm posting here with the person's name removed: South Africa endured many years of violence under the Apartheid regime. Many people and countries worldwide boycotted Apartheid, but the US government insisted on supporting the Apartheid regime, saying that while the US abhorred Apartheid, the regime was the legitimate government of South Africa. Then the Apartheid regime held another election. No more than 7% of South Africans voted. Suddenly everything changed. No longer could the US or anyone else say that the Apartheid regime had the consent of the governed. That was when the regime began to make concessions. Suddenly the ANC, formerly considered to be a terrorist group trying to overthrow a legitimate government, became freedom fighters against an illegitimate government. It made all the difference in the world, something that decades more of violence could never have done.

In Cuba, when Fidel Castro's small, ragged, tired band were in the mountains, the dictator Batista held an election (at the suggestion of the US, by the way). Only 10% of the population voted. Realizing that he had lost the support of 90% of the country, Batista fled. Castro then, knowing that he had the support of 90% of the country, proceeded to bring about a true revolution.

In Haiti, when the US and US-sponsored regimes removed the most popular party from the ballot, in many places only 3% voted. The US had to intervene militarily, kidnap Aristide, and withhold aid after the earthquake to continue to control Haiti, but nobody familiar with the situation thought that the US-backed Haitian government had the consent of the governed or was legitimate.

Boycotting elections alone will not oust the oligarchy, but it is the only proven non-violent way to delegitimize a government.

A lot of people here are complaining about the Citizens United decision. Some want to amend the Constitution because there is no appeal from a Supreme Court decision (their edicts have the same weight as the Divine Right of Kings), but getting enough states to ratify is a long drawn out and not always successful process, as I'm sure you recall from the ERA. But suppose that the corporations spent ten to fifteen billion dollars on an election (they spent at least five billion on the last midterms, so that's not unreasonable) and almost nobody voted. Do you think their boards of directors would let them do it again?

Here are some of the most common canards that political party operatives use to argue against not voting:

1. Not voting is doing nothing.

If you're doing something wrong, or something that is self-destructive or hurting others, stopping might be a good idea. If delegating your power to people you can't hold accountable has resulted in the devastation of your economy, do you really want to keep doing it? If granting your authority to people you can't hold accountable has resulted in wars based on lies that have killed over a million innocent people, do you really want to keep doing it? If granting your consent of the governed to people you can't hold accountable has resulted in government operating on behalf of big corporations and the wealthy instead of on behalf of the people, do you really want to keep doing it?

2. If we don't vote the bad guys will win.

We've been voting. When did the good guys win? Besides, it is often hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Suppose Gore had won, and then died of a heart attack. Do you think the Democrats who voted for him would have been happy with Joe Lieberman as President? Besides, Gore actually did win the popular vote. The Supreme Court stopped the vote count and put Bush in office. So just because the good guys win doesn't mean that they get to take office. Kerry also won the popular vote, but before anyone could finish counting the votes, he had to break both his promises, that he wouldn't concede early and that he would ensure that every vote was counted, in order to get the bad guy back in office again. Our Constitution was written to ensure that those who owned the country would always rule it, so the popular vote can be overruled by the Electoral College, Congress, the Supreme Court, or by the winning candidate conceding, and is not the final say. Even if we had accurate, verifiable vote counts, and everyone who voted, voted for a good guy, it doesn't mean that good guy could take office unless the Electoral College, Congress, and the Supreme Court allowed it. Even then, the good guy might fear that the Security State might assassinate him they way they killed JFK, and either concede or stop being a good guy in order to survive. The Supreme Court, of course, has the Constitutional power to intervene on any pretext, and its decisions, no matter how unconstitutional, irrational, unprecedented, or even downright insane, can not be appealed, so they do have the final say.

3. If you don't vote, you can't complain.

What good does complaining do? When successive administrations of both parties tell you that they will not allow public opinion to influence policy decisions, you can complain all you want and it won't do you any good. But you don't need to vote to have the right to complain. The Declaration of Independence is a long list of complaints against a king by colonists who were not allowed to vote. The right to gripe is one of those unalienable rights that is not granted by governments or kings. If you're treated unjustly, you have the right to complain. A lot of people who voted for Obama are now angry with his policies and are complaining loudly. He couldn't care less.

4. It is a citizen's responsibility and civic duty to vote.

Only if the government holding the election has secured your civil and human rights. If it has not, if it has instead become destructive of your civil and human rights, " is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." —Declaration of Independence

5. Your vote is your voice in government.

In a democratic form of government it would be. In a democratic form of government, such as a direct or participatory democracy, people can vote on things like budgets, wars, and other important issues, and have a voice in government. In our "representative" government, people can only vote for representatives who may or may not listen to them or act in their interests, and who cannot be held accountable during their terms of office, which is the only time they hold power and are needed to represent the interests of their constituents. Waiting until somebody has killed a million people in a war based on lies, destroyed the economy, and taken away your civil rights, and then trying to elect somebody else, is much too late because by then much of the damage cannot be undone and your grandchildren will still be paying for it.

6. Just because things didn't work out the way we wanted last time, and the time before that, and the time before that, doesn't mean that they won't this time.

Some say that Einstein defined insanity as repeating the same experiment over and over and expecting different results.

7. If we don't vote, the Tea Party, the Breivik-types, and all the lunatics will, and they'll run the country.

They're a minority, no more than 10% at the very most. Of the approximately 50% of our electorate that votes, fewer than 10% vote for 3rd parties. The Apartheid regime in South Africa tried to seat the winning candidates after a successful election boycott where there was only a 7% turnout, but nobody thought they were legitimate or took them seriously.

8. You don't have the numbers to pull off an election boycott.

There are already more people who don't vote, who either don't think our government is relevant to them, don't think their vote matters, or don't think that anyone on the ballot would represent them or could, since anyone who represented the people would be a small minority with no seniority in government, than there are registered Democrats or Republicans. We have greater numbers than either major party, but they haven't given up so why should we?

9. People who don't vote are apathetic.

When you vote, you are granting your consent of the governed. That's what voting is all about. If you knowingly vote for people you can't hold accountable, it means that you don't really care what they do once they're in office. All you care about is your right to vote, not whether or not you will actually be represented or if the government will secure your rights. Prior to the '08 election, when Obama had already joined McCain in supporting the bailouts that most people opposed, and had expressed his intention to expand the war in Afghanistan, I begged every progressive peace activist I knew not to vote for bailouts and war. They didn't care and they voted for Obama anyway. That's apathy. But it's worse than that. Once I had learned how rigged our elections are, I started asking election integrity activists if they would still vote if the only federally approved voting mechanism was a flush toilet. About half just laughed and said that of course they wouldn't. But the other half got indignant and accused me of trying to take away their precious right to vote. When I finished asking everyone I could, I ran an online poll and got the same results. Half of all voters really are so apathetic that they don't care if their vote is flushed down a toilet, as long as they can vote. They really don't know the difference between a voice in government, and an uncounted or miscounted, unverifiable vote for somebody they can't hold accountable. They never bothered to find out what voting is supposed to be about and yet they think that they're not apathetic because they belong to a political party and vote.

10. If you don't vote, you're helping the other party.

No, *you* are. By voting for an opposition party, a third party, an independent, or even writing in None of the Above, Nobody, Mickey Mouse, your own name, or yo mama, you are granting your consent of the governed to be governed by whoever wins, not by the candidate you voted for. If there is a 50% turnout, the winning candidate can claim that 50% of the electorate had enough faith in the system to consent to their governance.

11. If we don't vote, our votes will never be counted and we'll have no leverage.

True, if we don't vote, our votes will never be counted. But how does hoping that our votes *might* *sometimes* be counted, provide leverage? The election just held in the UK had only a 32% turnout. Where people did vote at all, since UK votes actually have to be counted, they threw out major party candidates and voted for third parties (George Galloway's Respect Party for one, the Pirate Party for another) and in Edinburgh, a guy who ran dressed as a penguin, calling himself Professor Pongoo, got more votes than leading major party candidates. That's leverage, but it is only possible when the votes have to be counted and are verifiable. Those conditions do not apply in the US.

12. The choice is bullets or ballots, so it's a no-brainer.

The Department of Homeland Security has just used the authority that you delegated to the government when you voted, to purchase 450 million rounds of hollow-point ammunition that cannot be used in combat by law and therefore can only be used against US citizens. Your ballots authorized those bullets. There is a third option: not voting, not fighting, but simply withholding our consent. That has the result of delegitimizing a government that doesn't represent us and demonstrating that it does not have the consent of the governed. It is a legal, nonviolent, effective option called noncompliance. Noncompliance can take other forms, such as not paying taxes or creating alternative systems, but these cannot delegitimize a government. Since governments derive "their just powers from the consent of the governed," withholding our consent is the only way to nonviolently delegitimize a government that fails to represent us.

13. Evil people are spending millions of dollars on voter suppression to deny minorities the vote, and people have fought and died for the right to vote, so the vote must be valuable.

Nobody fought and died for an uncounted vote. While corporations do spend millions of dollars pushing through Voter ID laws and other voter suppression legislation, they spend billions of dollars funding election campaigns to get out the vote for the major parties so that they can claim the consent of the governed for their wholly-owned political puppets. If they didn't want people to vote, those proportions would be reversed and they'd be spending more suppressing the vote than getting out the vote. Voter suppression efforts are aimed at trying to fool the ignorant into thinking that just because somebody is trying to take their vote away from them, their uncounted, unverifiable votes for oligarchs who won't represent them, must be valuable.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Occupy, Radicals, and Elections

I recently read a post about the idea of running "Occupy" candidates in elections.. I like this idea. That is not because I think the Occupy movement is cohesive, or particularly vibrant at the moment. On the contrary I think it's a bit stalled. But what is great about occupy is it is so inclusive of everyone's politics. The fact that anyone is talking about that sort of model and applying it to elections is a breath of fresh air.

I think maybe we, as the American far left, have today an opportunity to change the way we relate to elections. Let us consider our recent historical experience with the things...

Propagandistic Campaigns

The Nader 2000 campaign was highly effective at turning a lot of people on to politics. If Nader had been elected, what would he have been able to do? Some things, yes, he could have done, but the president is not a dictator. There are three branches of government and the other two would have worked as hard as they could to prevent his substantive changes from taking effect. If you think the backlash against Obama is bad now, what do you think the Republicans would be doing if the president actually had had open socialists working on his campaign, or perhaps, as his vice president? An isolated, one term radical president would likely find that a lot of what he was able to do in four years could be undone by a subsequent Republocrat administration.

But I don't think the Nader campaign ever thought it could actually win. That wasn't the point. The point was to talk about serious issues that there was a media black out on, and a political conspiracy of silence about. The real aim of that campaign was, you might say, "propagandistic". To that end, I think it was very effective. Here's a few examples of the way bold ideas, advanced in a confident political way, can get taken up and spread around society:

Today you and I can't go out to eat at a restaurant without the menu and the servers telling you what is local and organic, what doesn't have pesticides in it, and how that restaurant is trying to be sustainable. Of course, if you're a smart person, you may recognize some of that is tragic, because the power your restaurant has to change things is really pretty small compared to what agribusiness is doing, or what the centrally planned, fossil fuel dependent transportation networks are like. But the point here is that the basic stuff we were saying about sustainability back in 2000 is now common parlance. In 2000 no one cared at all about that. Everyone was driving SUV's and dreaming of a 30 mile commute from some home in the ever expanding suburbs.

Do you remember how B.P. co-opted the Green Party's sunflower logo? Of course we know B.P.'s renewable program is marginal to their oil exploration, and the adoption of the logo was a flagrantly offensive example of "greenwashing." However, the fact that they felt it was good business for them to adopt that logo was because people are starting to care about things like peak oil and global warming. Today there are several hundred thousand American students every year taking Environmental Studies classes. There are a lot more engineering students learning about wind and solar power than there were 10 years ago. The Nader campaign doesn't take full credit for this, but the word "Green" is certainly well integrated into our vocabulary and the explosive growth of the Green Party's campaign that year certainly provided a major boost for emerging eco-consciousness.

Fair Trade coffee is a third example. If you were part of some revolutionary left wing of the Nader campaign, you might have scoffed at Fair Trade coffee. Doesn't it seem a bit naive, and utopian, and a drop in the pail to address issues of poverty and exploitation? Well, sure it is. But look at how widespread fair trade coffee is today. More important that the direct effect- real or imagined- that fair trade coffee has on coffee growers is the fact that now whenever we get our cups of coffee, we're thinking, and maybe talking to each other, and saying "Hey, it seems a lot of people who make the things we consume tend to get a hard deal with it. It's a good idea to try and get them a better deal." Maybe the more thinking among us might even go so far as to think about the hard deals we get at our own jobs, and even consider for a moment that one day we might be able to change that. Even Wal Mart is selling fair trade coffee now.

So that is what a successful propgandistic campaign can do. You can get innovative, cutting edge ideas out there and for years after that election ends, those ideas work their way among people's heads and get incorporated into their lives. The Green Party and the 2000 elections were partially successful in making an ideological shift, in winning a political debate. Considering how reactionary this country got after Sept 11th 2001, and how many political people started to abandon politics after protests failed to stop the Iraq War, it is remarkable how many things we talked about as Greens in 2000 and 2004 are things we take for granted today.

To finish off this discussion of propagandistic campaigns, let's just consider how much time and money it took for Nader to run his 50 state campaign in 2000. That's a huge infrastructure. Nader had a lot of good things to say. Were workers' councils, socialist revolution, or the closure of all foreign military bases part of his campaign positions? I don't think so. But the fact the he built his campaign as a broad left / far left venture meant he could get a lot more support and built a lot more infrastructure. As a radical socialist in country where creationists win elections and sit on school boards, I think being part of a campaign where 75% of the things I really care about are being talked about among millions of people is a lot more important than being part of a campaign where 100% of the things I really care about are being talked about by 1,000 or 2,000 people. Let's not forget that lesson.

Fighting for Power Both Political and Economic

Now, what is a whole lot better than being propagandistic?

Fighting for power.

There is a lot of places where power is. There is power in the workplace. There is power in a school board. Sherrifs have power. The federal budget is really really powerful. Court clerks who load the docket with cases likely to overturn aggressive and illegal police convictions for marijuana posession have power. If you've enjoyed a joint without being harassed in Northern California in the past decade you can thank a clerk.

A lot of American leftists are busy trying to build the power of the people "in the streets." Student power is another form of power that is easier to build because students are in a more intellectual environment than most people and they seem more willing attend meetings. And of course anyone who says they are for the working class is going to be all about economic power. You can build some form of working people's economic power by hiring yourself out as an organizer for a large, corrupt, but real union federation. Or you can try and build a small, struggling upstart one like the IWW. Or you can be a card carrying socialist in a workplace trying to figure out how to relate politics to your workers, and how to win small victories around the injustices where you work whether there is a union or not.

We seem to "get" the idea of fighting for economic power. Yet political power still seems like a many- headed hydra we're afraid of and perfer to keep at arm's length.

What I will first say about that is that fighting for political power is essential to the fight for economic power. Anyone who saw the numerous Democratic Party mayors send in the police to arrest and brutalize activists protesting the domination of Wall Street can probably tell you something about the way the political system is used as a tool of class rule. It's absurd to consider that you can build your class' power in one area while ignoring it in the other.

But, doesn't power corrupt? And aren't those capitalist courts and legislatures and congresses? Sure. Isn't everything?

Let's say you go on strike, you form your union, and then you defend your gains and your union while the powers of capital try to whittle you down. What is a contract negotiation? It's something usually done on hostile territory. Just like elections.

For starters, contracts are usually negotiated and signed in some office, which if you are the working class is a place you might not feel comfortable. Offices are where you go when you are in trouble. It's where you stand with your hat in your hand asking for a job or a raise. It's where people who get paid more than you sit and read facebook all day while you take out their trash. Even worse, most of the time when contract negotiations happen you are wearing a suit. That's right. The guy representing the steelworkers and the janitors is wearing a suit. Now it may be prudent, as that is just the rules, that when you are in offices and you want to be taken seriously you wear a suit. But it's still hostile territory that you are on. If you're actually a working class person representing yourself there you will probably feel uncomfortable. A contract itself is not a rational thing that you might understand. Legal contracts are about fine print, loopholes, and ways to get screwed. They require experts to review and scrutinize. They are something that bosses and people with money will always be better at than you, as long as the bosses are the ones with all the money.

I contend that is really no different than the problems ready to envelope an isolated leftist upon his obtainment of political power. Elections are also something that money and bosses are better at than you. State legislature and our Congress are not known to be welcoming of upstart outsiders. On the contrary they are places you should feel uncomfortable if you are at all a rational or warm hearted creature. There, as an elected leftist you will be at some disadvantages, and what you can accomplish will always be limited by arhaic rules and procedures put in place by the candidates of money. Yes. But despite all of that, there are still things you can accomplish. Trillions in spending hang in the balance. Health care plans are decided. Wars are funded. Civil rights are awarded, or taken away. Hearings and investigations are held.

Why should it be so strange to image a few, or even a majority, of socialistic or anarchistic congressmen? I think the idea that the people who work the hardest shouldn't be the poorest is a pretty rational one. I also think that if you are sick, you should go to the doctor, and get fixed, and you shouldn't be financially punished for that. I also like the idea of taking food, and bringing it to hungry people, and feeding them. I have no problem imagining that despite our prejudices and fears, we in America could one day elevate these perfectly respectable philosophies to all the chambers of power- as they exist now or perhaps as they get transformed. So why shouldn't participation in these elections be a normal part of an radical's political perspectives?

Our refusal to fight for political power because of the fact that elected positions are places were people without money or with sensible ideas are disrespected and generally unwelcome is an intolerable legacy we have inherited from decades of defeat. This is capitalism. Every institution is dominated by money. All security guards guard the rich and all guns are pointed at the poor. There is no institution or business freed from the corrupting effects of money. Likewise it is precisely political instutions just as it is businesses where all decisions that effect our lives are made. We have only two choices. We can either try and eek out an existence in some precarious off grid apolitical lifestyle. Or, we can set ourselves to seriously contest all forms of power where ever they exist. We can take over what institutions make sense to keep around and use them for good (I for one am rather fond of sanitation departments and post offices), and where we are obstructed, we can at least prevent them from being used for as much bad. In the long term, we can even dream about abolishing the ones that do nothing productive but only cause harm (such as the School of the Americans in Ft. Benning, GA, for example).

Two Party System as Accepted Fact: A Historical Legacy of Defeat

One problem with the American left is that it seems very few have figured out how to fight for power in a way that aligns daily activity with a long term goal. Now we might say we've got a long term goal, as well as daily activity, but I don't think anyone really has a plan. It seems there is is always this great disconnect, as mentioned in the article I linked to at the beginning of this one, between "A" and "X", "Y", or "Z". Selling socialist newspapers on a street corner once a week, as step one, with a lot of hazy steps between you and "victory", is kind of the radical equivalent of volunteering every week at a soup kitchen or donating cans to the food drive or biking to work or voting for a Democratic presidential candidate. You hope that if you just faithfully show up and do your one small concrete step, that some how, eventually, things will get solved somehow by someone.

Now is that a value judgement I have made? Of course not. It makes total sense if you look at things historically. If you are the American left over the past 10 years or 20 or 30 years you have probably come to realize that you are small and weak and isolated. The enemy is large, well funded, and entrenched. People are apparently passive, when they are not completely unreachable.

Weakness gets expressed politically in different ways. On the one hand you've got liberal support for democrats, which comes in the form of door knocking, financial donations, lawn signs, democratic speakers at protest rallies, etc... We all know what that is and where it goes. It's Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright speaking at the Emergency March for Women's lives in 2004. It's NARAL giving John Kerry a "100%" pro-woman voting score on their website in that year when in 2003 he only showed up to vote on 3 of 11 abortion related bills. It's the 2006 immigrant's rights protests being channeled into support for Democrats in elections, who have proceeded to leave the undocumented in political limbo for another 6 years. It's the politics of sending in donations from your hard earned money to keep some unelected president of some "non profit" well paid, well housed, and in a nice Washington, DC office somewhere where they can talk to Democrats on your behalf.

It's Barack Obama holding his tongue and keeping the military aid flowing while Israel bombs the Gaza Strip.

The flip side of this is more "radical" approaches, which I believe all generally boil down to non-participation in elections or various other forms of ultimate submission to the two party system. This comes in the form of people who proudly don't vote, people who with great demoralization don't vote, people who vote for Mickey Mouse, people who protest against Obama's escalation of the Afghan war but then secretly vote for them anyway because they can't stand John McCain and Sarah Palin, and finally people who deliberately run far left candidates in propagandistic campaigns that are only supported by, say, the Socialist or the Socialist Workers Party.

These latter campaigns fall but little farther in their effectiveness than any of the other methods I've already mentioned. The problem with small, far left campaigns is that those candidates with all their good things to say never are able to reach a mass audience. This is because they don't try to, because they don't try to build a campaign larger than their own small party. Now I've got nothing but love for anyone brave or serious enough to walk around in America and invite strangers on the street to come see the socialist candidate speak tonight. But I also realize that these campaigns are tiny and ineffective. It's like if you wrote a great book and you're ready to be a famous author, and you send it to twenty publishers and you get twenty rejection letters. Maybe someone then suggests you self publish. Then you go out and pay a thousand dollars of your own money to fill your garage up with a bunch of books. It's like the socialist candidate on the ballot. It looks like a real book. It reads like a real book. And it feels like a real book. But the difference between you and guy who is in this 5th printing is that people know and care what that other guy wrote, and you're a guy with a garage full of books that no one is going to read because you have no way to promote or distribute it.

Both the liberal and the radical forms of not struggling for power against the two party system are really two sides of the same coin. They both happen because both the liberals and the radicals feel they can never escape from the two party system. People are too dumb. Money is too powerful. This is all we have. So accept it, and learn to transfer your long term hopes to "After The Revolution", Dennis Kucinich, or the second coming of Jesus. Now I would love to invite the aherants of each of these mythologies to a nice campsite a long a river somewhere with plenty of Colordao microbrews and increasingly legal pot to go around and allow everyone to debate the relative merits of each. As a political scientist, it is my hypothesis that if this experiment were to be repeated three different times, we would come up with three different most likely paths to our salvation.

River beers aside, all of these intangible pipe dreams are what you develop when you are hopeless. There's nothing wrong with hoping for something that will never happen if the hope you get from it is going to allow you to deal with another day. But lying to yourself to be able to deal with another day is not exactly the road to power.

Occupy Changed Everything

Occupy did change everything. But the Zuccotti Park organizers can hardly claim all the credit. What is behind Occupy is many years of neo-liberal assaults on living standards. That was sustained by an elaborate apparatus of deception and denial, cheap credit, and racism. What the recession did was to finally convince everyone that things were wrong. It didn't matter if you were endowed with certain skin color, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, work ethic, or disposition to fair dealing. You were still thrown out on the curb because some rich banker or stock broker you have never even met decided to screw you so he could make more money. As you looked around you began to notice these same people had near total control of the government, and you began to think that that fact might be behind a lot of our problems.

The logic of capitalism is to never end the search for more money and more power. If you don't get it someone else will. The search for money and power has extended so far that it not only controls the government (it has done this, pretty much, for ever), but it has begun to dismantle a consensus between the classes, long known as "the American Dream." Domestic imperial over reach occured. The recession laid bare for millions of people in brutally personal terms what the balance of power in this country had in fact become. The second thing that happened was the Arab Spring. Suddenly, the people we've been bombing and funding the torture and oppression of for decades have started to rise up and teach us some very basic lessons on civics and participation in a democratic society.

Occupy was the political expression of these changes. If the planners of the Zuccotti occupation had flaked out and backed off, someone else would have planned something similar, and it would have caught on as wide spread as Occupy did. A certain level of understanding had been reached and a certain level of confidence, inspiration, and anger existed to break through the walls of our alienating society and act in a collective, political way.

Occupy is organizationally confused right now. But the people are still there, their problems are not going away, and we are waiting and learning and talking to each other and thinking. For the far left, the Anarchism of Occupy taught everyone else a very powerful lesson: that when we stop worrying about the purity of our politics, when we actually come together and join our voices, we can get a lot accomplished and we can connect radical, progressive ideas with mass activity among the disenfranchised classes. That is a very, very powerful lesson.

New Formations

The idea of running "Occupy" candidates is right. But the idea of isolated activists, in different cities, not talking to each other, each with their own fundraising and publicity campaigns, each with their own uphill battle against the corporate media blackout, that is not a winning idea.

What is different now that didn't exist before is that the far left has learned when it works together, it can connect its message and its politics to millions of "ordinary" Americans who have a basic understanding that the problem is, indeed "the 1%". That didn't exist before. What used to be of little more value than theoretical gymnastics about the roles of radicals in elections we now have an opportunity to actually implement.

There have been some attempts to cobble together some national formations out of the different Occupys. So far I hear they have not met with universal success. That is good. If something coherent and productive came out of it immediately there would have had to have been some shadowy group running the show, and we wouldn't have been able to trust it. Our intellectual inheritance as American leftists involves high degrees of mutual distrust, and little practice in working together across tendencies. We grew up, politically, in our own, isolated "holes" of localism. It didn't matter before if we couldn't work together, because we rarely had a mass audience to connect our politics to anyway. The fact that it has been difficult so far to congeal anything tangible or official out of Occupy is proof that we are dealing with real leftists- bless their hearts- inexperienced and fractious as they are.

This is the human material our historical legacy has bequeathed to us. Our primordial and challenged characteristics need not be fatal if we can realize two things. The first is that we have a real opportunity right now to connect radical left politics to millions of American people. The second is that we can only do this when we work together across sectarian barriers. For people who casually throw around such an impossibly inclusive slogan like "the 99%",  I cannot believe it is impossible for my fellow leftists to come to these same conclusions. Perhaps to unite we need not demand that all abandon what all have learned from their own adventures in political theory. Rather, it may be more useful to start from an understanding that theoretical correctness is very much less important than is practical effectiveness. If we were to judge the validity of each others' theories on the basis of what they have been able to concretely accomplish (rather than how they clash with our own preconceptions) we might all be a bit better off.

Elections would be a convenient thing around which to congeal a unifed, left, anti-wall street and anti-two party political formation. Should such a formation one day come into existence, it will have to deal with elections anyway as our class rises from its slumber to take increasingly confident steps to victory. We might as well learn to relate them any way, and I think national elections offer a great opportunity to reach people politically. With great excitement I look forward to the emergence of other "Occupy" candidates, if not even some sort of "Occupy" ticket.

Whether it would be under that or another name I have no idea and in fact I do not particularly care. But I am pretty sure complete ecological collapse will set in before any one of our "three letter" organizations wins a national election on the basis of its own, unique political purity.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Book of Poems is Out

Long awaited, and finally out...

For you the reader here is my book of poems. Poems of rivers and life, the world, justice, difficulty, love, betrayal, death, hope and struggle. Prose of the desert and the ghost towns and the wild places. Voices of myself, snap shots of moments in time, travel, and observation.

As you may understand, a lot of poetry is narcissistic fluff most people have little patience for. Honey sweet words with no substance of life to them. My poems are not like that. My poems are true works of life. They are for people and the world. The are not soothing lullabies to put you to sleep, or to tell you that everything is beautiful and perfect. They are here to wake you up and prod you and reach out a hand to you. Take from them what you will. And pass them on if they are found to be useful.

Walking Away From Dixie has been self published and printed at the Canyonlands Copy Center in Moab, Utah. Awaiting national distribution, it can currently be purchased by using pay pal to send payment + $3.50 S&H to . Current asking price is $10, which can be raised or lowered depending on the purchasers' needs and generosity. All proceeds benefit my food and gas budget as I spend the fall writing a book on Utah's Ghost Towns, a book on the solo duckie run of the Grand Canyon, and a book about living, working and traveling around the Colorado Plateau during the recession. It is 45 pages long of concentrated experience and observation, and is my first book.


The Ripping of the Rivers' Tears
There was a river
Activate the Emergency Response System
Red Velvet Cafe
Head for the Hills
The One Who Travels Alone
The Winter
Me Too, Love
Outer Suburbia

That's About Enough of That
Ghetto Blues, DC
Late Night Re-Runs
Of What Standards Fall Short?
Walking Away From Dixie
Sleepwalking Through the Days of Cotton
The Deception Years
State Highway
Could it be?
I run

America Dawns Malicious
Gunslinger Punk
The Revolutionary that waits
Foreign Fighters
Unbeatable Wall Street
Smacked in the Face
National Forecast
Life Pushes Down
Plenty of Ways

Take Life
When You're Homeless
Banks Pay the Tab
River Character
The Ghost Towns
Occupy SLC
The Interviews

Monday, July 2, 2012

Anti Imperialism in Libya and Syria

Taking a moment from the Canyons and the Rivers, I was invited by a friend to consider a recent post about politics, intervention, and revolution is Libya and Syria. I don't know everything about those countries and I am not an expert in them. But I did feel I had something useful to contribute.

Here is that rather interesting article.

Below is a contribution I submitted to the comments section.


I like this article, and I am glad it is written.

The American left barely exists. The self consciously “Anti-Imperialist” American left, in a country of 300 million people, can probably be housed in its entirety in one of our smaller to middle- sized sports areas. It’s influence is marginal, but unfortunately this rarely translates into approaches of humility. Gazing into the darkness of our political life, often from the vantage of a dingy apartment in some gray, overcrowded, stressful, expensive city of hostile, preoccupied strangers, many of our Anti-Imperialist leftists comfort themselves with dogmas and rigidity. This is understandable. Why do you think Mormon missionaries forego reading non-Mormon literature during their missions? Why do they pray so hard at night and spend so much attention on the neatness of their uniforms? It is difficult to be a missionary, a barer of truth in an apathetic, sinful, and oft unfriendly world. Insulating oneself within the mother-bosom of dogma, icons, and sacred writ is a useful way to strengthen oneself, regardless of how well it retards one’s own development as a critically thinking individual.

I think the “hard left” in the US picked its sides and stuck with them before, and independently of, any facts or developments in Lybia. If you believe certain dictators are better than others, and ought to be supported, despite their authoritarianism, because they have nationalized such and such a resource, or initiated such and such a social program to try and win popular support, you are going to have a hard time finding the right side to be on when one day the people tire of their dictator’s rule. The US “Hard Left” is a collection of aged and unsuccessful revolutionaries who developed politically in the 1960s and 70s. They grew up with a view that authoritarian one party states, and charismatic third world dictators, ought to be supported as liberators because they were fighting against capitalistic exploiters. Long after the capitalistic exploiters had been chased away, and the new emperors began developing their own ways of exploiting people, the fawning and dictator-worship remained. So what if Ghadaffi’s kids were entertained on Caribbean islands by American pop stars while they guzzled cases of Champagne? Their dad has said the word “socialist” before! Therefore he deserves our support. Of course!

I don’t care what the “correct” anti-imperialist line is and I don’t care to try and rank the nation’s countries on a “socialistic” hierarchy where individual freedoms and political rights can be exchanged for social services or a cut of the pie. I also don’t care whether or not a third world dictator is able to buy the support of some of his people by putting gas and oil profits back into infrastructure, because guess what? Global warming is real and Ghadaffi and Chavez’s development of their national resources is, globally, a step in the wrong direction that will contribute to catastrophic changes in weather patterns and sea levels.

If you want to be a usefully political citizen you have to learn to be a critical thinker first. This is a world that is being destroyed ecologically by powerful people who make comfortable living for themselves by keeping the majority of people politically and economically powerless- and more importantly- confused. You can’t trust anyone or any group to do your thinking for you, you have to do it for yourself. That is a practice the hard left organizations in the United States generally (not always) do not train their members in.

Our left does not know what it means to fight to win. They have won little, over my life time. They have been very adept at fighting loosing battles and spouting slogans into the air. If you’re not expecting to win anything anyway, it’s pretty easy to say whatever you want. Being “right” and letting other people know it becomes more important than being effective. Like college sophomores trying to impress one another in a dorm with their knowledge of obscure subjects, our domestically unsuccessful revolutionaries are quite vocal in their instructions to people actually fighting revolutions abroad. These instructions are not usually helpful, but of course, why would they be? There is fundamental disagreement about who “the enemy” is. It is my opinion that most of the allegedly Marxist American organizations thought Ghadaffi was closer to socialism than a post-Ghadaffi Lybia would be. After that point the case was closed. They would have preferred to see Benghazi leveled than to see the different classes, individuals, and parties within that country decide for themselves what political policies their nation should adopt.

People who fight to win, and actually win, often prioritize effectiveness over the integrity of principles. When the people you are fighting have tanks and bombers and snipers and are shelling and bombing you and you can expect to be murdered within a few hours, days, or weeks, at that point military efficiency and effectiveness, not intellectually correct political positions, will be of great value.

Those whose conception of a revolution anywhere today involves a self consciously Marxist, feminist, grass roots network of democratically functioning workers’ councils, with its own movement controlled independent media and accountable leaders, and, heck, commitment to non-violence and secularism to boot, can expect to be disappointed by what actual revolutions actually look like. This even more so in the Middle East. Revolutions are not academic exercises in political correctness. They start with the humans we have today, whose political development has been determined by the real world and the legacy of past victories, failures, promises, and betrayals, and whose resources, allies, and agendas are confused, vacillating, and often contradictory.

Al-Jazeera has been criticized on this page for being controlled by the Qatari monarchy. Hence, I suppose, it must be incapable of ever telling the truth or functioning independently. It must have been illusion then, when I noticed in 2010 and 2011 that Al-Jazeera supported the Egyptian Revolution wholeheartedly from Day One to the great distress and embarrassment of that governments’ principle military sponsor, the United States of America.

I also noticed someone in this discussion posted a link to a Huffington Post article, but no one here then criticized the Huffington Post. Did you know the Huffington Post is run by member of the bourgeois class? Did you know they like to not pay their writers, and that many left writers recently stopped writing for them in protest of its policies? Did you know that the Huffington post website is getting paid by Sears to advertise a new grill they are selling, and while the capitalistic owner of the Huffington Post is being paid by sears for the use of their site, Huffington Post writers are themselves often not paid? Isn’t that a terrible example of capitalistic exploitation? They are even supporting Barack Obama for God sake! So why is a link to their website posted here, and no one points this out, and no one says that everything on the Huffinton Post cannot be believed because it is obviously controlled by a member of the ruling class?

That is because we know the Huffington Post continues to post many useful and relevant articles, despite its short comings. The Huffington Post likes gay people having rights too, and has news about that. The Huffington Post directs scrutiny against the misdeeds of Wall Street. The Huffington Post likes people being able to have health care and thinks Wal Mart workers get a raw deal and that they deserve a better one.

The Huffington Post is an ally of justice, and of oppressed people. At the same time, it functions as an imperfect entity, containing within itself relations of injustice and oppression. Often it sides with oppressors, and is content to celebrate the charity of exploitative billionaires at the same it laments the condition of poverty in America. It is contradictory and imperfect.

As is everything. Everywhere.

Navigating our political world, we must pledge our allegiance to genuine principles, not to organizations, presidents, or parties. All of these can, have, and will fail us. All of them can be corrupted. You can make use of some of them by doing so critically, and you must constantly evaluate what you get from something, verses what potential bad thing might happen later if you get involved with it. By reading the above Huffington Post article, I contributed to advertising revenue and market share of an exploitative and capitalistic news agency. I did so because I felt it was worth it to understand this discussion.

It disappoints, but does not surprise me, that an individual here found a problem with the idea that, “the international left base its positions regarding imperialist intervention on what the 0.2% of the world’s population who lived in Libya might have wanted.” Is this not, then, revealing?

I believe whole heartedly that Libyans and no one else had the right to determine how a revolution in Libya should proceed.

A revolution is made by a people. When you have a movement, and the power structure represses it, you have to decide whether to retreat, re-organize, and try again later, or whether to respond and escalate and accept the consequences of that escalation. Revolutions are highly escalated political dialogues between rulers and ruled people. The right to determine when to risk that escalation, and when to open the pandora’s box of armed conflict, is the right of free people everywhere. When a people decides to have a revolution, it is done not through a ballot box or through an online internet survey. There are those ahead of the game, and those who lag behind it. There are those who lead and those who follow. There are hotheads who invite premature and catastrophic oppression. There are conservatives who mask the protection of their own vested interests and positions behind concerns for “peace” and “orderliness.” Politically “Combined and Uneven Development” is the rule. It cannot be otherwise.

I might also take this opportunity to remind our laptop revolutionaries that an actual revolution is a bloody awful and horrible thing. If you embark on a revolution you know that you are going to risk everything and everyone that you love and that is important to you. You may even loose yourself, and you may find yourself doing terrible things in order to prevent them being done to you.

If and when a revolution is necessary, that is to be determined by an internal dialogue among the people waging it. When it does occur and you find yourself in a military engagement, you are no longer fighting on moral terms. You may have to make compromises and temporary allegiances with untrustworthy, and even politically suspect allies. May I remind you that we in the United States are no longer ruled over by a monarch because of our alliance with the reactionary, slave holding, French aristocracy in the 1770s and 80s? Should black Americans in the 1860s have opposed the intervention of the North in the civil war that freed them because the North was ruled by capitalists?

Were the Viet-Minh wrong to accept the help of the Americans in their fight against the Japanese during World War Two?

Certainly, the Americans later betrayed them. Cold war politics led them to side with the French, and assist their re-conquest of their former colony in exchange for French anti-communist political support. In doing so they turned their backs on their old allies. The Americans ultimately behaved dishonorably and against the goals of the Viet-Minh in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Still, if it was 1943 and you were in Vietnam fighting the Japanese, even if you could see in the future that the Americans might betray you, would you still refuse their gifts of arms and the military training OSS officers were willing to provide for you?

A revolution has the right to choose its own allies, make its own mistakes, and succeed or fail as it will. I support the right of Libyans, Syrians, and everyone else who can expect to be murdered by a dictator’s henchman to secure whatever military support they can from where ever they can get it to support their cause. I’ll leave the long term consequences of such alliances for them to determine the potential benefit, or liability of. No one is going to shoot me tomorrow or shell my house if I fail to win. As such I am not about to substitute my own uninformed and distant opinion for the decisions made by actual revolutionaries actually fighting a revolution.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Against the Tea Party and the Scapegoating of Welfare Cheats

In response to some rather ignorant and hateful remarks posted on a page of mine...

I understand there is a great lack of intelligent political organizations and ideas where you live. But if you really think that welfare cheats are this biggets problem this country has, I think you are really letting some whackos do your problem defining for you.

The economic collapse did not happen because of welfare cheats.

Banking deregulation that resulted in several million Americans loosing their jobs and homes did not happen because of welfare cheats.

The $4 a gallon gasoline you are buying is not that expensive because of welfare cheats.

We did not spent over a trillion dollars invading and occupying a country that never threatened us because of welfare cheats.

There are not tens of thousands of American veterans missing their arms and legs today who are going to live the rest of their lives with spinal damage, TBIs, or PTSD because of welfare cheats.

Welfare programs are a small part of the total federal and state budgets. I find it disturbing you would lash out against the most desperate and degreded people while ignoring, say, the military industrial complex, or perhaps the prison-industrial complex, which at great tax payer expense houses hundreds of thousands of non-violent drug offenders.

Wealth inequality is the worst it has been in this country since the 1920s. When that happens you get poor people doing desperate things and leading miserable lives. However, if you were paying attention at all, you would know that welfare rolls nationally have not gone up significantly during the recession. Food stamp benefits, however, have gone up several times, mostly to people like myself who work hard, get laid of, and spend a short amount of time on food stamps while they are looking for another job.

The greatest donors to charity, in my opinion, are the working class, who work long hours, multiple jobs, for low pay and no benefits, and donate the great wealth they create to the companies they work for.

The tea party is controlled by rich republicans who started the wars and who crashed the economy and who live in Mcmansions while their employees live in hovels with no health insurance. These people are trying to scapegoat the poor and minorities for things the rich have done. They are not a solution to our problems, and they are not on the side of working people. The represent upper middle class haters, attempting to mobolize the middle class behind the rich. No one who works hard for a living need spend any time near them.

My $0.02. And by the way, I am not a Democrat either.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Problem With Atlanta...

... is that it doesn't really want to be a city. It hasn't in decades and it has no sign of changing this attitude. For purely logistical and geographical reasons not of its own choosing, the status of a city was thrust upon it. Today, as I return, I see it continues, ever futher, to unravel.

The great disintegration perhaps began just after the civil rights movement as whites fled the city limits for tax havens and whites-only school districts in the suburbs. The newly independent status of Sandy Springs as its own city consumates the success of this process, which began long ago. Yes, the whites still drive to town because they also like making money and having jobs. Yet to a disturbingly large extent, they don't seem to care about most of the people who live elsewhere in the city, particularly if their skin is a darker color. They vote with their dollars and their feet and these things consistantly choose to keep train tracks and highways and distance in between their neighborhoods and black neighborhoods. Cheap gas prices in the 1980s and 1990s allowed a completely unsustainable, and absurd infastructre of roads, highways, interstates, perimeter interstates, strip malls and big box stores to develop and serve this idea, of seperate and thuroughly unequal Atlantas.

Now the gas prices are crashing it all down. Flight of any kind is difficult at $4 a gallon. MARTA planners struggle with decentralized and spread out population centers just as much as they do with budget shortfalls and operating costs. But no technocrat elected or otherwise will be able to wave a wand and solve the transportation- or any other problems- of this place. Not while people have their present mind set.

Because the present mindset is not that of citizens in a city thinking about how they ought to live and structure their affairs. The mindset is a blend of selfishness and apathy. Absurd monuments to unproductive wealth are constructed to house the well to do while the less well to do struggle along with dead end, low paying, and unfullfilling jobs, as well as completely inadequate education. The city does not look itself over in a mirror for blemishes in need of a remedy. It deliberately conceals its sepsis. It spends millions hosting the olympics. It builds the largest regional aquarium in the midst of a water famine. It plants grass, then burns fossil fuels to mow this grass. And then fertilizes the grass so it will grow faster. And it allows 65 year old men who have worked all their lives building the city to spend their golden years begging fellow riders on a late and broken down train for spare cash to help pay for their heart medicine.

Religious hyprocrisy of the most disgusting and abominable sort blares from the radio, news, and print. Emotional appeals to hate and condemn, wage war, punish, and imprision has completely taken the place of journalism, much less humanity. Lungs choke on idled engines. Teeth rot from Sweet Tea and Coca Cola. Humidity bears down oppressively soaking the skin, driving all away from public centers of gathering, citizens stumbling back for their own private air conditioning.

Until this changes, until enough people around here are able to stick their heads far enough above ground, over the oaks and poplars and pines and past the smokey haze of ozone and carbon monoxide, beyond the reach of the hate preachers and the flag wavers the billboards, liqour stores, cigarettes, and overpasses, until people voluntarily drag themselves from their private suburban asylums and reach this lofty height and see, yes, we are all one city... until they are convinced that it is a good idea to actually go to one another's neighborhoods and learn for themselves what problems, needs, talents, and resources, actually exist there... Atlanta will in all its glory, continue to burn.

Monday, March 12, 2012


Sometimes a certain picture says a whole lot of things at once a lot more efficiently than words.

You might notice some kind of snow covered expensive houses. People spend a lot of money to look at that view of snowy houses. I do not! I am parking for free in a free parking spot, occupying one, you might say. There is still some skiing, a decent base, a snow storm or two on the way. The last two weeks of March will be busy. But,

I am not focused on that! I am in summer mode. The sun is higher every day and it shines warm! Lately between shifts or during an afternoon off this parking lot is my favorite place to hang out. Yes I should be in the library writing but I have earned a bit of time for me. In the sun, taking my socks and shoes off, letting them feet air out and dry off and come to life in the warm, loving embrace of the SUN! That fantastic thing. That tells me all this snow will soon melt. Just river trips waiting to happen, that's all it is around here.

A guitar! I bought a guitar. You might think that's odd for a homeless river guide with a storage unit full of a music studio he never has a place to use. Ahh... but this guitar is different. It is half the size of a regular guitar, so you can take it on trips. It even came with a case! This will be the summer I finally do the guitar on the river thing. I'm learning a set with a few songs, like "the big rock candy mountain", whose depression era tails of the tribulations and dreams of those camping in hobo jungles cooking over fires and dreaming of sleeping under the stars are very very similar to my own transient homeless aspirations.

Those snowy houses in the shade don't do much for me. Right here in the Marsac lot there is sun! And cups of tea and pots of coffee. And books to read, curled up in the warm air. Gotta love that roof, it's black! Passive solar, and warms up fast as soon as the sun hits it. You might think a black roof is odd for the desert, but even in the desert the sun goes down at night and it gets chilly, so it makes a lot of sense. Besides that's when you usually sleep, at night, and the day time you get up early because there is a lot to do. If you must sleep in you can always crank the windows and open the door to get the breeze circulating.

Lately been planning spring trips of epic proportions, as well as family visits. The dry top and pants have arrived from NRS and I should be all set to get on the river.

See you there!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

My Refutation of a "Refutation" of the Hedges article

The Hedges Article denouncing the black block.

The Gato Article denouncing Hedges.

I'm with Hedges. See the points I have previously made. And now, for the speedy demolition of Gato's emotionally changed and factually baseless rhetorical attack on Hedges.


Gato's article isn't quite a great "refutation" of Hedges.

Where to start? Hmm... well first, Gato attacks Hedges for thinking that black block ish ness is a movement, and not a tactic. Well it is both. And so is Occupy. Occupy is a tactic, that then became a movement when a whole lot of people started to do it. Sitting in a Sit in was a tactics some folks at a lunch counter in Greensboro, NC tried back in the early 1960s. It got a lot of press, caught on, and then soon became a mass movement. It happens. Today, there is (something of) a movement among several people to use black block tactics. Amazing, isn't it? I must be some awful journalist as well to repeat such obfuscating generalizations. Next.

According to Gato, "rabble rousers" wear black to "not get pinched by the pigs." Well that is pretty cool. But why then do they so often join protests where many people have not been informed or convinced that they should wear black clothes and conceal their faces and tattoos to prevent themselves from being arrested or identified? Why is it so often the black clad ones with bandannas, "prepared for arrest" (but dressed in hopes of evading it) who feel the need to do things that get so many more other non-black wearing people arrested? Is it possibly because their ideas and their theory is not very effective or welcoming, and they must attach themselves like parasites to larger movements with better (initial) messaging in order to find a crowd of people large enough to attract glamorous police attention? Yuppers.

Gato praises the heroic black block in Oakland which on the day of a recent attempt at occupation that turned repressive "looked mostly defensive." No where does the Gato's article admit that the black block people threw things at police, which they did, and which is a great provocation. Or what about the reputation that black clothes possibly have? Is that a defensive way to dress around a bunch of nervous, amped up cops in riot gear? No. It is an aggressive and tension raising way to dress. If I wear red into a bull pen and start throwing things at a bull, and then the bull kicks my ass, I am not going to write myself an article about how "mostly defensive" I was because I carried a shield into the bull pen. Dressing all black block puts cops on edge and takes the safety's off cans of mace faster than you can say "police state". It's dumb. Period. And I have no sympathy for anyone who tries it and then gets arrested. Non.

Next, the article attacks Hedges for discussing in his article the influence of John Zerzan. In Hedges' article he mentions Zerzan because he is talking about where the black block ideas started to get known about to many people in the United States back in the early 2000s and Zerzan happened to be a fellow who was actively promoting them at the time. He doesn't claim anywhere that Zerzan is controlling the black block "movement" today, like it is some kind of organization with a shadowy mastermind. Nowhere. Nope. Sorry. Not there. Amazing what a hyper defensive person will infer, and invent, and take personally, but which was never origionally said at all. Next again...

Are black block tactics of provoking fights with police and throwing things at them "hypermasculine"? I think they are. How are they not? Isn't it pretty "macho" to dress tough like someone who starts fights, and then go do stuff that makes fights happen? If a woman joins the marines and gets her kicks being arrogant and rude and killing a lot of people she's never met, we might criticize her for indulging in the worse parts of hitherto known as masculine behavior. Her participation in the behavior might however mark a moment in time of transformation for our understanding of the behavoir the word has hitherto be used to describe, based on the kind of people who hitherto were usually the ones involved in that behavoir. Perhaps at such a moment we should indeed change the adjective used from "masculine" to "boneheaded", "neanderthalian", "rude", "mean", "hyper violent", "meat headed", or something else. But whatever word we pick. That's not the point. The point is that the behavior sucks. I don't care if it's men or women or gay people who provoke the police to attack a movement. I still think it sucks they are doing it. And so does Hedges. And if he uses the word "masculine" in pointing this out, I think arguing over semantics isn't really the point. At the end of the day, no one cares if you are a woman or gay behind that bandanna. We just care that you are helping the cops destroy a movement and beat up a lot of people who you have never met and who you never asked how they'd feel about being beat up that day.

Now there's the point about a Double standard in Hedges' thinking, where he has said the "riot" tactics are okay in Greece when used to fight austerity, but that they are not okay in the US. Okay, well that is a good point of contradiction in thinking. I reckon it exists. That means that Hedges may have some contradictory and inconsistent ideas. That is fine. But it doesn't make him a liar or make his piece false. His piece stands as strong as ever.

Gato is very concerned with his black clad friends being arrested and mistreated by the cops. Well that is fine and he has a right to feel that way and it is always unfortunate when the cops arrest and mistreat people. But a political movement that is ostensibly claiming to speak for "99%" of society, particularly the most downtrodden and ripped off, but which allows its messaging and its potential to be determined by a few non-elected actor's "forms of recuperating needed and justified rage", is going to be a short lived political movement that rapidly looses support. And I don't care if your rage is morally justified or politically justified. They way you choose to act it out is politically damaging and you're probably just going to be more unhappy at the end of the day after you helped destroy the one movement that might have actually helped to make the world a better place. So I guess it is good you have all that black to wear because you are going to be a negative and unhappy person for a long time to come I reckon.

Am I wrong in my thinking? I think that it would be awesome if I was wrong. Please please let me be so out of touch that I have failed to see how the American working masses and broader popular classes have suddenly decided that throwing small rocks and "funny objects" at the police is a good idea or laudable behavior. That would be quite amazing for the prospects of trans formative change here. Sadly I do not think it is the case, and I do think that Occupy Oakland is going to see a decline in support in public opinion polls, as well as public responses to its subsequent calls for action, as a result of ill-advised actions taken by black clad individuals there recently.

Refute that.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chris Hedges on The Cancer in Occupy



(Not a really surprising ending...)

“If their real target actually was the cops and not the Occupy movement, the Black Bloc would make their actions completely separate from Occupy, instead of effectively using these others as a human shield. Their attacks on cops are simply a means to an end, which is to destroy a movement that doesn’t fit their ideological standard.”

Events in Oakland, and elsewhere, involving "black block" style provocations have brought the question of such a presence at Occupy events to the fore. Chris Hedges recently wrote a terrific piece on the subject.

In my own political experience over the last decade or so, I've become more and more convinced of the destructiveness of these kind of tactics. Not that I needed much convincing in the first place. But I have seen this in action time and again, usually breaking stuff and graffiti type behavior increases as the political frustration of a movement increases during a period of stagnation or retreat. The search for a way out is abandoned, and those without the patience to build a movement that relates to non-participants put their intelligence on hold for the sake of frustration-venting.

In my opinion, the "black block" is something like a political black hole from whence no protest generally emerges. It is possible that they weren't origionally invented by the media or the police, but in action that possibility is meaningless. Their function, consciously understood or not, is to drive a wedge between any protest they are part of and working class, minority, and mass participation.

"Diversity of Tactics" is the slogan under which movements time and again, with the motivation of being inclusive and open to militancy, have allowed ultra lefts and provocateurs to invite repression and marginalization on movements. 1960s non-violent protests worked, and got popular sympathy, because they were disciplined. That meant they had marshals at the demos who told people, "no, you can't do this at our protest." Maybe that is "authoritarian". And I don't care if it is. Because it worked. Unlike the "anarchism" of the black block, which has left a legacy in the US only of failure, despair, and disintegration.

Let's not confuse "radical" with "violence", or "extreme". Radical means you are interested in getting to the root of the problem, which for us means looking at a systemic analysis and thinking about systemic change.

Radicals with a social perspective, who are not technocrats or part of the bureaucracy, see the main problem isn't just that the capitalists have all the power and the workers don't, but that right now the workers (and many more) are completely disempowered and deliberately under developed politically. There's not a culture of political decision making, thinking about the issues that affect us and our communities, where we live, or our environment. People aren't used to making decisions, speaking their mind, or exercising control over their lives.

A movement that sees the solution to this problem as being key to the solution to the problem of the destructive and unequal economic system we live under is going to have to work to bring people into political struggle, to fight for changes and learn how to organize, responsibly and effectively.

The goal of leadership (and anyone who identifies as an anarchist, reads, produces, and distributes literature and shows up to meetings to organize is a leader in their community whether they want to acknowledge it or not) is to make itself replaceable, to teach others how to do things, because you are not always going to be around. If a movement isn't growing, it is shrinking. If you're not bringing more people into political life, whatever changes you manage to make will stagnate and eventually be threatened by the apolitical masses, over whose heads most evil is secretly (or publicly) conducted.

With that kind of philosophy, you begin to understand that the point of a protest is to bring people out of their rut and into political action. It's not just for you to show up because you will be enough. You won't. But you all might.

Things that invite arrest and police repression will scare most people away, like people who have to show up tomorrow for work because they have kids and rent due and car payments, or maybe undocumented immigrants, or maybe black people already subjected to greater than usual police oppression. These people are not going to be part of a movement they see as having its level of "intensity" determined by an unaccountable group of usually white, usually middle class young people who are not going to suffer the same consequences of arrest as they would.

Being radical, and targeting the system as a whole, the question of violence or non-violence isn't one of principles or morals. It is one of effectiveness. And that is something George Washington and Thomas Jefferson and everyone else who was part of the violent American Revolution understood. You don't just put up flyers building the minutemen militia today. You've got to have the Boston tea party first.

If we can win without violence, so much the better. If violence is necessary for a people to exercise their democratic right as a majority to alter or abolish their form of government, that argument can't be won among a small group of isolated activists in a room somewhere. It is won in a society.

But society is never even going to have that conversation as long as entities like the Black Block continue doing their best to isolate "activism" into a cultish "subculture" rather than a popular, mass activity.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Oh, The Places You'll Go!

This one is good, from one of my favorite books: