Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Government Is Good.

What is tragic is that the promise of "American Democracy" has been reduced to the current situation. I will not comment on the reasons for the shut down. Republican obstructionism is well enough documented elsewhere. What I will do is argue against hopping wholeheartedly upon the "anti-government" bandwagon. Within the context of the political crisis a lot of people's usually inactive political brains start working and thinking. That is good. But a legitimate dissatisfaction with the the childlike fanatics in Congress gets, like everything else, filtered and interpreted first and loudest by a lot of people with money and terrible priorities, much like anything else you've ever read about in the news.

In the context of the shut down, an "anarchist" coloring to outspoken critique has been adopted by many with far from libertarian values. The good part of this is it shows how problematical "anarchism" can be, when the corporate agenda tired of anyone rich being taxed or having to respect environmental protections or support programs that help working people is able to appropriate the language of "anarchism" with so such effectiveness in its critique of "government." I can't help but fear that behind each smart and well meaning person's assertion that "the shutdown proves government doesn't work" is a Newt Gingrich smugly rubbing his hands together and licking his chops, imaging how even more citizen cynicism will allow him get away with laying off even more teachers, OSHA inspectors, park rangers, and EPA employees.

Millions of ordinary people work for the government. And in the middle of a terrible economy a lot of them don't know when they're going to get their next paycheck. That is nothing to celebrate.

Thus, let us take a moment to appreciate the many things the government does GOOD.

First, let's thank our teachers. Government runs free public education. That is a revolutionary concept. Education used to be something only people with lots of money could afford and everyone else's kids were destined for the coal mine the saw mill or the textile factory from the day they were born and had very little alternatives otherwise. It was also a lot harder for them to tell when they were being cheated at pay time because they couldn't read and had trouble with math. Government changed that and shaped American into a literate society.

Today, teachers are often underpaid and have to do a lot of work much of it outside the class room and very underrecognized. They often use their own time and resources to provide things that underfunding of schools doesn't get for students. A teacher will scan the readings from a book and put them online in case you cannot afford a book. A teacher will buy paper if the school doesn't provide it. A teacher will put in countless hours at home to grade your paper and add some comments that might help you write better. And you don't even have to pay for it!

Breakfasts and lunches served in schools also provide millions of children the only nutritious meal they might get in a day. That makes a world of difference to survival, not to mention cognitive development. Today, state and federal governments run food banks and pantries and distribute food stamps to people with no jobs or people whose jobs don't pay them enough to buy food. Food stamps has one of the lowest rates of abuse of any government program. It's literally kept several million of us alive in the past few years who never thought we'd have to use them, and provided a much needed psychological boost when things have seen the most hopeless.

Governments also run public libraries, archives, and historical societies. In addition to paying for their operation because they private sector won't, government librarians and archivists have developed professional standards, sophisticated universal data retrieval systems, and plans for long term storage of sensitive objects and special collections. Government archives provide records that we own what we own, and that we lived where we lived. Serial numbers and records of paid property taxes makes it harder for people to steal things from us, whether it's a camera stolen out of your car or if you are a Native American trying to prove a historic claim to land someone is trying to take away, develop, or trash. If you're eligible for compensation because you've got health problems from mining uranium or being exposed to asbestos at work, government archives can prove you lived and worked where you say you did and get you that compensation.

Public libraries are the practical expression of the idea of democracy at its best as. At the most basic level, when it is cold outside (or too hot!) and you don't have shelter, you can go into a library where it is warm (or air conditioned) and just survive for a while. You can use a restroom and get some water to drink. When you are down on your luck the public library may be more likely to help you than many people who call themselves your friend, and is certainly more likely to help you than your old boss in the private sector which probably has something to do with the reason you are down on your luck in the first place.

Beyond these immediate needs the library embodies the very best of enlightenment ideals of education and advancement. You can learn about your society. You can meet with others to do events. You can figure out what things used to be like, why they are like they are, and how they might be different. You can type up and print a resume. You can do a job search online if you don't own a computer or you aren't able to pay for the internet or if your private sector built laptop stopped working after three years like it was planned to. You can also retrain yourself at a library. You can take your Food Handlers' and Alcohol Serving classes online at a library. You can also learn how to work in a new industry. A lot of people work in the restaurant industry. That server whose able to make money selling wine and food to people by talking about it, how is he know all that stuff? It's probably because he sat down and read about it somewhere. Even if he doesn't know every detail about the manufacture of wine and food itself, the psychological tricks he uses to get people to drive up their tickets may have come from a psychology. Maybe he learned them in a library.

Another example of government at its best is the National Park System, "American's best idea."

Park Rangers at National Parks and monuments pick up the trash. That forest grove or sandy beach you think is so pretty? It didn't look like that yesterday. A government employee walked out there and cleaned it up after private citizen defecated behind a bush and left food packaging around. Places that look like wilderness today do so because they are "managed" as wilderness. Native plants are reintroduced to keep destructive invasives out. Tamarisk removal or the eradication of cheat grass and its replacement by tall healthy native grasses are not things most citizens seem willing to volunteer their time towards. Old mining sites are reclaimed, their toxins and hazards mitigated. Fragile soil crusts are protected, studied, and advocated for. Ecological and historical lessons are shared with the public.

On BLM lands government employees provide what little protection there is for one eighth of the landmass of the country. The precursor to the BLM was the grazing service, formed in 1934 when public lands were treated rather differently. Ranchers couldn't make a living or feed hungry people because the range was overgrazed. Mining companies abandoned toxic waste when ever they wanted and contaminated watersheds. Those adorable wild burrows and majestic wild horses weren't placed in adoption programs to prevent their destructive environmental impacts. They were shot and left to die. If a forest fire threatened your home, you were on your own. If the places you went on vacation were covered in feces, toilet paper, cigarette buts, and trash, no one was going to help you clean it up.

The BLM is a controversial agency today in large part through its support of the oil and gas industries. These criticisms are fair, as oil and gas extraction is environmentally destructive as well as irresponsible in their contribution to carbon emissions. In defense of the BLM, every single person who criticizes oil and gas extraction benefits from those industries several times a day. While society decides to use a resource, the agencies in charge of the places those resources exist is going to allow them to be used. New directions need to come from political leaders and citizen's adoption of alternatives before current infrastructure can be abandoned. To the agency's credit, a lot of work goes into the mitigation of development's impacts, particularly by BLM archeologists. To the extent that the agency may make poor decisions regarding resource management (and plenty of poor decisions have been made), I remind the reader that it does not exist in vacuum. The Department of the Interior under which it operates is subjected to the same corruptible influences as any other executive agency.

On my own personal journey through life, government has been there in a lot of ways that no one else has, and I have never been a government employee. When I was homeless I was able to use the bathroom, wash my face, and stay warm at the public library. When I decided to go back to school, I checked out a GRE book for free from a public library and used it to do well on a test. The historical research I did in public libraries, which I started doing when I didn't have job because it seemed like an interesting way to pass the time, led me to produce enough work of sufficient quality which has convinced a major university to fund my studies there and allow me to be a teaching assistant. Now I have a shot at better pay and more career options besides working for restaurants forever. Thank you, Grand County Public Library.

During the past five years I enjoyed a rewarding career as a concessionaire in National Parks and on BLM managed lands because the government cared enough about those places to preserve them. The rivers I worked on were there because Park Service Rangers in Dinosaur National Monument, along with their allies in the boating community, took their jobs as stewards seriously enough to keep an unnecessary dam from burying the Green and Yampa River Canyons. People paid me money to take them down wilderness river sections because those places were beautiful and special. In Desolation Canyon BLM rangers in the 70s were able to convince their agency to manage that section as wilderness. As a result the trash gets picked up, the historic and archeological sites are preserved, and the oil and gas rigs are kept from penetrating it. Today Desolation Canyon is a designated National Historic Landmark, one of the ecologically healthiest parts of the Colorado River system, and one of the most popular boating destinations on the Colorado Plateau.

Like a ranger being able to graze on land protected from overuse, myself and whole lot of other people have found jobs in a multi billion dollar tourist industry because the government has managed to save enough of our most special places from being trashed by self interested, private individuals. Beyond the monetary value of this industry, the life lessons people learn in wilderness settings about working together, self reliance, ecology, preparedness, situation assessment, planning, and accomplishment are worth every bit as much as what people are learning from books in school.

As a Park Service concessionaire and an occasional volunteer BLM Ranger, I am NOT happy about the government "shutting down." That doesn't mean I'm not happy to see the clowns in congress out of their chairs for a while. In fact, I think that's something we need more of. That doesn't mean abandoning the idea of government, but it means recognizing there is a need to take it back. The World War II Veterans guarding the WWII Veteran's Memorial are showing the way forward. No, we do not personally need to guard every single building or place shut down by the government. We've got busy lives. There's park rangers for that. But what we do need to do is to assert that the people running the government are doing it wrong, and that we have a responsibility as citizens to step up and reclaim ownership over our "representative" government.

The problem with government isn't that it exists but that its specific structure as presently configured is very elitist. The two party system is far worse than a "clumsy" democracy. It is a corporate political dictatorship that allows those with very much money to have a disproportionate say. The Citizens United decision that allows no limits to the price and openness with which one might purchase a politician does not so much change anything as much as it makes more efficient what has been going on for a long time. The state and political parties intertwine their structures and exclude alternatives to their rule in a very similar way to the old Soviet Union. The media colludes with them to black out fresh ideas and third party bids. The primary system and the role of money in elections insures only those who can convince a large number of wealthy people that they will represent their interests will even get their names heard. Instead of rule by intelligent, respected, and accountable fellow citizens, the spectacle is one of jesters before a king.

In spite of this, government does do great things and can continue to do great things. Much of it is in fact a largely helpful system of cooperative planning, sharing, and mutual assistance. The problem isn't with the idea of working together with your fellow citizens to fund projects you need or being able to vote on things. The problem is that if you have a good idea about how what needs to be done, what needs to be funded, and what your community's priorities should be, you'll never be able to influence this government unless you have lots of money yourself, or you convince enough people who do that you are ready to "play ball."

This should be an opportunity for citizens to take back lost control and reject the hegemony of the two party system. We should begin thinking about alternatives. We should not be passive, as we have been for so long, while self interested capitalists use "anarchist" coloring to further advance an agenda of privatization and corporate control. Like the veterans, we need to defend what is ours.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

German Intelligence Breaks With the US Over Spy Program

It was reported today that

"Germany has dissolved a fifty-years-old surveillance pact with the United States and Britain in response to a “debate about protecting personal privacy” in the country, which was sparked by revelations of the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden."

"Following Snowden’s leaks, which disclosed the span of the NSA surveillance program and revealed that Germany is the most spied on EU country by the US, there has been a heated nationwide debate on whether the alleged massive privacy breach of German citizens should have been allowed."

"The documents leaked Snowden say that the US spy agency combs through half a billion of German phone calls, emails and text messages on a monthly basis."

"German government officials have insisted that American and British intelligence agencies were never given permission to break Germany’s strict privacy laws."

Here in America, I am most surprised not by how outrageous the spy program itself is, but by the reactions of my fellow Americans to it. A surprising number of them see nothing wrong with it, and many are actually *glad* it exists and feel it is keeping them safer. I do not deny that the construction of an authoritarian national security state that destroys its citizens civil liberties and eradicates their privacy has resulted in the discovery, and prevention, of several crimes. Were we to install a police man into every American's home, classroom, gymnasium, and workplace to watch their doings 24 hours a day, we would probably prevent many more crimes. However, one might say there is a point at which the line has to be drawn, and the costs associated with such a program begin to out way its benefits.

To clarify the points under which a rational person might find fault with the employment of government agents manning computers monitoring that who millions of their citizens call and email every day, the following three assertions will now be made.


The first reason is that our foreign policy is the cause of terrorism, as well as the deaths of hundreds of thousands of middle eastern people and the suffering of millions more who chafe under the corrupt governments we have supported in around the world. Well over a hundred thousand of them were killed by our military in Iraq, which is a country that posted no threat to us at all in 2003 and which was invaded on the basis of deliberately misleading information cherry picked and dishonestly presented by the Bush Administration.

Trying to stop "terror" while maintaining unjust and unethical relationships with our neighbors on this planet won't work. Furthermore it is extremely immoral to attempt it.


Secondly, even if the spying was used "for good", an election could easily change that. What would Sarah Palin do with a tool like this? What would Michele Bachmann, Eguene "Bull" Connor, or any of the other violent racist who ran the country 60 years ago? People in the 1950s lost their jobs for having showed up once at a march for relief for unemployed people, or for having their names on petitions opposing arms embargoes to Republican Spain. What damage to the lives and well being of ordinary, non-criminal citizens could be organized by a malicious and politically motivated controller of these spying tools? An unscrupulous person could do tremendous damage with it.


Thirdly, this is not how free people live. It's reminiscent of the Stalinist regimes of Eastern Europe, or even the one party states of much of the rest of the world. This is the kind of program a government that doesn't trust its citizens and is afraid of them would invent. A tool like this should have been invented by Saddam Hussien or North Korea. It is a shame the nation that so proudly and loudly brags about its "Freedom" has invented it.

I propose the war on terror is not designed to make us safer, or to make the world a better place. Rather than perusing peaceful and sustainable relationships with our fellow inhabitants of this planet, our leaders have demonstrated reckless militarism abroad that it is difficult to criticize without the word "empire" coming to mind. The idea of a perpetual international "war on terror" is an excuse for the Military- Industrial Complex to keep its jobs. Hundreds of billions of dollars in taxpayer funding is at stake, and those who build bombers and bullets and staff the pentagon and the over one thousand military bases around the world want a global war to keep their jobs. I believe it is this unscrupulous and powerful interest, which President Dwight Eisenhower once warned us of, which is really behind the drive to create a militaristic, fearful, and spied upon citizenry.

As Ike puts it,

"The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together."

This is not the way a free country should operate, but it is the path we have all made inevitable by acquiescing to the "war on terror." The blame lies not just on George W. Bush's head, or Barack Obama's heads, or their advisers or hangers on. The blame should cover the whole nation who voted for either of these people and who have been asleep while our political culture has grown more and more putrid.

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.