March 2007

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Quick read about Bolivia’s Morales…

Just read this piece about Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia.  You should check it out, it’s an easy read.

Also, an update about the Guatemalan elections:  A recent poll has Rigoberta Menchu in second place to Alvaro Colom, 20% to something like 32%.  If the two of them make it to the second round and shut out the hard right candidate, Otto Perez Molina, that would be excellent.  But there are still many months to go and I don’t think the campaigns even legally start until May.

Knowing the opposition: Part 1

Okay, so maybe I’ll have to create a new section on this blog, to talk about the political and cultural opposition that we face in trying to change the world. Because the opposition is real, it is more organized than us, and right now it is stronger than us. For awhile we were okay because we were off the radar, and now we’re a little bit better off because public opinion seems to be moving slightly leftward due to the war and the rise of the democrats…but we should make no mistake about the fact that there always have and there always will be forces who want to disrupt us, discredit us, or otherwise neutralize us in our work to change this world…in our work to limit the power of a few and expand it into the power of a multitude.

That said, check out this article, about the depth of police spying before the Republican National Convention protests in 2004. Now, this was a special case because we’re talking about the notorious NYPD,, we’re talking about a national event of the dominant political party, plus all of the extra NYC Homeland Security funding and priorities as well…but those of us in social movements should just assume that this kind of stuff is happening all around us at all times. If we normalize caution then we lower the chances of it becoming paranoia, which is crucial. Because one of the goals of our opposition when they do this kind of thing is to get us to mistrust each other and dissolve our relationships. So being prepared for what they might throw at us is absolutely essential, right?

However, another side to this story: when my friend was arrested in New York during the RNC protests, his arresting officer whispered to him, “I wish I was on the other side of the line. I hate Bush and I hate this war. But you know, this is my job.” Many folks might just roll their eyes and latch on to the “just following orders sentiment,” but not me. I think it is significant to know that underneath even riot cop gear there are folks who sympathize with us…because that means that there are possibilities, given certain tactical/strategic situations, when we could actually reach them. But hey, I’m an optimist.

More good news from Ecuador…

In their battle with the oppositional majority of the senate, the Ecuadoran president, Rafael Correa, and the Ecuadoran social movements have scored some significant victories lately, which should pave the way for a new constitutional assembly which will actually have the power to transform the Ecuadoran state.

This is excellent news, because this was also the first step taken in the Venezuelan process, and it was also pretty much Correa’s primary campaign promise…as a step toward creating a new, more just Ecuador.

What is particularly important about this, in my view, was that it was a chance for the social movements to test their strength in an alliance with the president (the president actually called for peaceful protests from the grassroots, I think on a couple of occasions, during this battle), and in winning this conflict hopefully they feel more empowered, galvanized, and even more willing to take some radical risks in the constitutional process. In Venezuela, each time the grassroots was successful in responding to the opposition’s tricks (the 2002 coup, the 2003 oil strike, the 2004 recall referendum, etc.), it created a radicalizing environment to speed up the revolutionary process. So I’m really glad that the grassroots is backing Correa and his plans in this way (he has an over 70% approval rating).

Particularly powerful is that the indigenous movements in Ecuador are quite strong, and during the elections they were skeptical of Correa (though, Correa does speak alot about indigenous people, and actually speaks one of Ecuador’s indigenous languages), having been sold out by previous non-indigenous leftist politicians, but from what I’ve read they are now fighting on his side.
Watch Ecuador, my friends. I really like what’s happening there.

Venezuela: Some Kind of Dictatorship, Huh?

The Venezuelan Electoral Council has approved 28 requests for recall referenda, something that their [rather amazing] constitution allows, and which was first practiced against Hugo himself in 2004. Yet still, our media, our politicians, the elites will look down so condescendingly at the “democratic dictatorship” of that country, while, what, we have illegal wiretapping, uncountable (an unaccountable!) detentions of mostly immigrant people, etc., etc.. It is such a farce, such a farce, the political discourse of this country.

It really is maddening, isn’t it, knowing that you’re living within the belly of the empire, and that the entire system is set up around you to make you okay with it, to make you want to revel in it, to glorify it and feel pride it and believe it? It’s just wild.

I had the day off today and I was in such a creative mood that my brain really can’t keep up with all of the different ideas that it’s coming up with. I started to think about all of the billions of us there are, and I know that some of us might be more “idea oriented” than others, but I still just kept thinking about all of the amazing ideas that people have inside them that they may never share with anybody. Little ideas, big ideas, all of it.

Today I was riffing and doodling and journaling about 2 book ideas, about a serialized TV drama idea, about a board game idea, about a movement building idea, about the kind of house I want to build some day, about how I want to organize my new bedroom (I’ve just moved to another room in our collective house), and even more ideas than these. I was so excited that I wanted to write all about it in this blog, but I’m coming to learn that it’s important to pace myself, otherwise no one will read what I write due to being overwhelmed.

But, I do think it would be nice to write more of my ideas down, so I’m going to be thinking about how to do that. For some of these ideas, I actually have a fear that they will get stolen and used by someone else (especially the board game ideas) so I’ve been more secretive (did you know that Seattle is like a board-game designers’ capitol city??)…so I kind of want to do some research about all that intellectual property stuff…of course if I actually make a game and try to sell it, it would be not-for-profit, but I still don’t want the for-profits to steal it first.

Does anyone know if what I’m writing on this blog is protected intellectual property? If so, does that protect any ideas I might share or not? Any lawyers hidden among you 2-3 people reading this?

For now let’s just say that the creative ideas that I share on this site are not to be copied or stolen by anyone without communicating with me about it! Got it? Hopefully that would hold up under the law.

Here’s just one piece of my ideas to start: I would like to form a board game design collective to design a series of political board games that kind of work like a franchise: like one cohesive world (realistic or sci-fi or fantasy or maybe with animals like Redwall or Animal Farm), but with games playing out on different scales. All of them involve social movements struggling against a complex system, and sometimes competing and cooperating with each other, but each game would allow that theme to play out with different game mechanics. For example, at the macro scale, a risk/axis-of-allies style global revolution game with lots of pieces and rules and grand strategy; a more localized regional or national revolution game (like Settlers of Catan or El Grande); a discussion and relationship based “building a movement” game (like Diplomacy); a zoomed-in street-tactics or movement tactics game (more like chess or go or like the collectible miniatures games like HeroClix); a post-revolution building game (like Princes of Florence or Puerto Rico); a Magic the Gathering style card game (but without the capitalist collectible model); and eventually even a role playing game. I’ve worked on bits and pieces of the mechanics of almost all these different games, but it always comes down to the math. Most game designers are strong in math and probabilities and decision trees, and I’m not. I like thinking about people’s interactions and how rules can foster those interactions, but when the specific cards need to be made or whatever the math overwhelms me. That’s why I’d really like to have a collective, and we could run it radical style and use it to help spread alternative pop cultures and also fund the movement…so if anyone is interested in starting something like that, based broadly on the “franchise” idea of multiple games taking place in the same revolutionary universe, please let me know!

So more on that idea as it develops, and more of my other creative ideas in the future. Ah, it feels good to actually get some of these ideas shared with someone!

Interesting Local Action…

Check this out, on my friend Andrew’s blog.

I’ve been thinking about how I still want to be writing more about more local, more grassroots kinds of things, but I think I realize why its hard: the vast majority of the political work that I’m doing and seeing relates to my work at the school, and I’m reluctant to speak about that work in a public forum like this as long as I’m employed there and working for the State. But I wish I could say more, because that work is so very, very satisfying, more than any other political work I’ve done in the more than 10 years that I’ve been an “activist.” Someday I’ll talk about it.

I was watching Saturday Night Live the other night (yeah…that would be Saturday) and Chris Rock opened the show. I want to comment a little bit about what he said.

First off, it should be obvious that I’m writing from a white-guy, feminist-identified perspective; and I recognize that there is messed up, offensive stuff on SNL all the time so there is this question of why I am going after Chris Rock of all possible targets, but at the same time it was just such a clear example of Oppression Olympics (that is, arguing over who suffers worse under the system), and it was showcased as the opening of the show (the “live from New York” opening) so it really just got me worked up.

Basically, the sketch was him just sitting at a desk with a suit and tie, basically doing a stand-up routine about the Democratic primaries. He talked about how this Obama vs. Hillary thing is really becoming a suffering contest, over who has suffered more: white women or black men. He then proceeds to say that there is really no way we can compare the suffering of white women to black men.

I don’t remember many of the specifics, but he definitely brings up history like lynching and says that white women were never lynched…and talks about how white women couldn’t vote for like a second. And he says that white women are actually the majority so they could have had a woman president like decades ago…then proceeds to say something like along the lines of “bi***es, what are you complaining about.” He also talks about how everyone LOVES white women. He wraps up by saying that for these reasons he believes that Obama will not only be the nominee, but will be the next president, and the first black president…and ends with an ablist “retard” joke about Bush (which, in fairness, is standard for SNL).

Now, I’m not outraged or anything. I’m just sad. As a middle-class white guy, having certainly grown up with something of the perspective of the powerful, I believe that this kind of joking, talking, thinking is what serves the powerful — white guys like me, and the richer ones — best. Divide and conquer, you know. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if white guys are the folks who end up most appreciating Rock’s piece…because, contrary to what Rock says, everyone does NOT love white women, and many white men frankly don’t really miss an opportunity to hate on, dismiss, humiliate white women (and women of color as well, for sure). Rock has served their interests nicely.

What’s also sad is the inaccuracy of it. Officially, black men had the vote before white women AND women of color, especially outside of the South….which really is only to say that basically the system sucked for all of these folks for a long, long time, and still does.  Also, before, during, and well after the times of legal slavery, white women actually suffered “legal death” after marriage…that is, they officially, legally and culturally lost their identities and legal rights, become essentially the property of their husbands. And though white women weren’t historically lynched (and neither were women of color, proportionally…does that mean they had it easier than the men?), they were burned alive as witches (and we’re talking THOUSANDS of women in Europe!) and still are beaten, raped, killed by (mostly white) men on a daily, hourly basis. AS ARE WOMEN OF COLOR. To think that white women are loved and have it easy because they often share the homes and beds of the white male power structure is a mistake. Being closer to the oppressor doesn’t necessarily make one safer around the oppressor (as women of color working in white homes have known for centuries).

So, what’s my point? That white women have it worse? Nope, I fundamentally reject that game. And I regret that Rock or anyone else would play it.

Let’s be simple, in order to be clear: Black men, men of color are oppressed under white supremacy. White women are oppressed under patriarchy. Women of color are doubly oppressed under both systems and in the interactions between them. I believe that to go down the road of denying others’ oppression in order to bolster the case for one’s own oppression will always end up serving the powerful.

I don’t think that’s what Chris Rock meant to do…to serve the powerful…but it’s actually not the first time that he’s inadvertently done that with his comedy. I remember all of my white high school friends repeating his “I love black people, but I hate n****rs” joke with glee after his HBO special came out. Just like in the movie Bamboozled…privileged people eat that stuff up. White America also did the same thing to Chappelle, by the way…but to his credit I think he saw it happening and got out while he could (and thanks to Alisa for pointing me toward that analysis).

And so, the winner of this event in the Oppression Olympics: the system. Like always.

Edit: Here’s a link to the Chris Rock sketch.

Rigoberta Menchu and Chavez Updates…

Here are some articles about Rigoberta Menchú’s run for the presidency of Guatemala (one, two). Seems like most commentators think that this year will be more a practice run for her, and that her real chances to win will be in 2012. If that’s the case, then Alvaro Colom will hopefully win, and we’ll at least get some kinda-sorta leftist in that country. But who know’s what’s going to happen by September?

Chávez has been cranky lately about other radical Venezuelan parties and organizations not being willing to dissolve themselves to join his new united socialist party, and I think his reaction is really telling. I mean, come on, how can he so easily expect the Venezuelan Communist Party — with decades and decades of history of struggle — to dissolve themselves so easily to join a party that will clearly maintain Hugo has the figurehead? His reaction really bothers me and I don’t think it bodes well for the future of the process…which overall is still beautiful, but seriously, Hugo, practice what you preach and move aside a little bit!

Nerd Stuff: Music…and the Democrats…

Sunday morning and I’m listening to Propagandhi’s latest album (they are a Canadian political punk band). I just had the strongest urge to hear them after my week of work. I’ve been listening to them since I was 15 (wow, 10 years!) and they just have a specific kind of white-boy “I can’t believe all of this is happening in the world and my parents never told me about it so now I’m REALLY pissed” rage that speaks strongly to me.

Also have the urge to listen to some Cat Stevens and Tracy Chapman today. And earlier this week I was listening to Alanis Morrisette. She has some really good feminist songs!

Been following the democratic presidential race daily, because it’s something to do, and every day John Edwards is impressing me more and more. Never expected it. Now clearly I am pulling for Obama and Hillary for the identity milestone reasons, but politically Edwards is setting himself apart more each day. He’s actually talking about real stuff on a daily level. For example: talking about ending poverty in the US by 2030 (at least talking about it), talking about drastically cutting down carbon emissions, talking about a non-aggression pact with Iran, about the genocide in Darfur, about net neutrality, about withdrawing troops now, about supporting rights of workers to organize, and most recently, talking about a cabinet level global poverty position, which would be his priority approach to national security…classrooms not battlefields (which still could signify expansion of empire, but AT LEAST by feeding people and providing books instead of killing them). So, yeah, he’s intriguing right now.

Hugo and Barbara…

You can check out the Barbara Walters story on Hugo Chavez here (bottom video)…better than I expected, frankly.

There was some stuff cut about his comments about Condoleeza Rice, which I think is interesting, because honestly what he has said about her is flat out unacceptable (stuff along the lines of needing a good man to loosen her up and shit like that).  I think he’s basically a typical sexist male leftist in many ways, and even the marriage pieces kind of hint at that…what a simplification to suggest that he’s just too dedicated to the poor of the earth to be able to stick with his family…and those of us who struggle to be good partners and family members are less dedicated?  Hmmm…. 

Watch the first video–especially near the end–if you want to see some of Walters’ own commentary.  She seems downright sympathetic of him, not really even reacting strongly when she says he’s a socialist, which I thought was significant.


Another Friday evening. Got home from the high school a few hours ago, cooked some dinner, then mopped the kitchen floor. I’m tired.

And right now I don’t know why I do this.

Do you ever get that? I bet you do…those moments or days where you forget why you’re doing the work you do, why you’re living where you’re living, why you made all of the chains of choices that brought you to this point?

I think it’s really healthy to let reality unravel like that every once in awhile. Everything in moderation, and all that, but for me it helps remind me that this, my life, is just one of many possible lives, and that there are many other choices I could be making. It’s grounding, I guess.

Working at a high school, and being there to organize for social justice of all things, is just so tiring on every level. My body is tired. My back hurts. I’m perpetually sleepy despite almost always getting 8+ hours. I cherish my evenings and my days off like warm, golden honey. Even five minutes more on the snooze alarm is worth resnuggling into my bed for. Perhaps this is just the working life in general, but I’ve never felt it so strongly as this year, working this hard at this high school.

In other news…there is a lot happening in Ecuador…with 57 opposition senators being fired by the electoral commission or something for trying to stall the constituent assembly…and Chavez, as you probably know, made a tour across Latin America and the Caribbean in an effort to overshadow Bush–and succeeded. Chavez is actually on Barbara Walters tonight…check it out. Locally, the Tacoma Port protests have marched on, and I still would like to tell my story about that someday. It was weird to be there, with tear gas and weird sparkling fireworks things flying around me…and yet I was perfectly calm, just trying to help other people out, trying to keep people from running and panicking. Interesting bodily response, I thought.

There is so much that I still don’t share on this blog and I wonder when I will have the guts to break those silences.

One last thing: I believe that the next generation of activists will be much better at what they do than we are…and I think that we are actually pretty good.

I love all of you. Until next time.

OH AND PS:  Still having vivid dreams nightly.  Last night I was fishing  by hand for salmon in a creek.  It was kind of beautiful.

Another fact about me that some people know and others don’t: I’m straight-edge, which is a stupid punk-rock term that means that I don’t drink, or smoke, or do drugs. Never done any of those things and I doubt I ever will. I’m not judgemental or in your face about it, it’s just kind of something I came to in high school and never felt like giving up…it’s an eccentricity that I like about myself.

When I was in high school I had this super dorky slogan I told myself: “Dreams Over Drugs.” Truth is, I’m a very, very vivid dreamer (I often have lucid dreams, in which I know I’m dreaming and I can shift and control them…so I very rarely have nightmares), and so I decided that I would focus on my dreaming as an alternative to the psychadelic drugs that my friends were doing.

What I’ve found is that if I actively try to remember my dream from the night before, especially if I write it down, then I will dream vividly again the next day. I’ll let you know if this is confirmed by my dreams tonight…

Edit: Yep, I had very vivid dreams last night, and since I remembered them I hope the cycle will continue and my dreams will just get better.

So I Guess I’m Getting Old…

Got home at 4am this morning, from a protest in Tacoma against a shipment of military stryker vehicles at the Tacoma port…there were many riot cops, tear gas, rubber bullets, all that stuff.  I have a story to tell, and many comments on how old I felt watching the younger folks and how silly I thought some of their militant impatience was.  I want to delve more into this, but for now I’m tired.  See you later.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for awhile, because in my writing over the last couple of weeks (and, for me, especially brought home by the “ego-trip” post I wrote last night), I’ve noticed a seeming contradiction between my stated values and my choice of topics, and I want to address it here.

So, I’m an anarchist. What that means is that I believe in nice things like grassroots participatory/direct democracy, cooperation, freedom, social justice, community-based sustainable living, and equality. Being for these things means that I’m also against the different forms of injustice and oppression that exist in this society of ours…things like sexism, racism, homophobia/heterosexism, transphobia, ableism, imperialism, ageism/adultism, religious oppression, and certainly also authoritarianism and capitalism…because–for my family members out there who might be reading this–in my view capitalism isn’t just a benign, freedom-loving economic system, it is system that doesn’t work for the majority of people, it corrupts all of us with anti-social consumerist and competitive values, and it is a leading force in the dismantling of our planet. Bueno, so far so good. So, yeah, I’m an anarchist (which to me could also be considered a mixture of feminist, socialist, libertarian, radical democrat, anti-racist, environmentalist…what-have you)…

…yet, for all my supposed anarchism, and for how much I talk up grassroots social movements and communities organizing to change things from the bottom-up, I have noticed (as have many friends) that I spend an awful lot of time talking about, writing about, and paying attention to “revolutionary” governments, elections, politicians like Chavez, Morales, Correa, now Menchu, etc. and not a lot of time talking about more bottom-up movements and projects.

So, this seems to be a contradiction. Could it be a rekindling of my old teenage obsession with old radical “heroes” like Mao and Ho Chi Minh and Lenin? Is it just more ego stuff playing out across my blog?

That would be the simple answer. But I don’t think it’s the correct one, and I want to explain why.

I spend A LOT of time thinking about the idea of revolution. Like, a lot of time. Like morning, noon, and night. And for me, what revolution means is a massive reordering of things…of ideas, of attitudes, of relationships, of social structures, sometimes even of physical space. This is what I want for our society, because I think our society is due for a massive restructuring. The old structures suck.

That said, I spend a lot of time thinking about how revolutionary folks like us are actually going to make a revolution…and as I see it, we have three basic strategies:

1) We can fight the power. We can protest, organize, sabotage, confront, rebel against the existing system and do what we can to destabilize it so that it comes crumbling down and then…and then…and then this is where this strategy gets us in trouble. Because once a system, a way of life, a certain ordering of things has collapsed, what do people do then? Who’s to say that things will be better after the system falls? Sweet, the power is off, the sewers are backed up, there are people looting in the streets, rape is rampant…no thanks. There is clearly a limit to this strategy. Certainly, if the powers that be are too strong we can’t win anything, and so trying to weaken them through resistance (of different forms, and I really, really hope that those forms can be peaceful…) is important…but this strategy only takes us so far, which brings us to…

2) We can become the power. We can work to get elected or we could even work to gather strength and take over power forcefully. We would then have control of the existing infrastructure more-or-less intact, and then we could begin to dismantle or reconstruct it without the chaos and destruction and possible violence of strategy #1. That is, with this strategy, especially in electoral form, a slow, peaceful revolution is possible, and it could even be voted along, as is happening in Venezuela. The problem, of course, is that power corrupts. Even more, the system is designed to sustain itself, and that means the rules of the system are designed to make real, meaningful change almost impossible, and so trying to change things within the system almost never works…because the system changes you first. This has been shown to be true with coups just as much as elections. Good thing there is a third option:

3) We can build the power. That is, from the bottom-up, we can try to build an alternative structure of communities and relationships right alongside the old structures, and we can feed those structures and help them grow, hopefully to a point where they are so well-organized, lively, beautiful, and influential that the old ways just don’t make sense anymore, and people jump ship to the new system we built. An analogy would be the development of the internet, and how it has influenced more and more people to watch less tv and read less traditional corporate media in favor of blogs, etc…

As for me, I’m a gung-ho #3 guy. For me, #3 is the backbone of the revolution. Like I explained above, I believe that #1 is necessary to keep the system in check and to fight against injustices on a day to day basis, but #3 remains the prize that I want to keep my eye on.  My heart is in building new kinds of power and social relationships, it’s just so compelling to me as a process and a project.
However–and this is where I am different from many other anarchists–I know that within any process where significant numbers of people are doing #1 or doing #3, there will always emerge people who want to take a shot at #2, people who think there is a shortcut to power, either through direct force or through the electoral path. (Chavez is a great example of this. He is an ex military man. He became radicalized in the military, in a context in which he was fighting guerrillas, and working in rural communities…and over time he decided to organize to take power. First, in 1992, he tried the forceful route, with a failed coup that made him into a popular hero. Then, in 1998 he tried again through the electoral route…and he won an astounding victory. Now we get to watch his journey through strategy #2 unfold, and we get to see whether change really comes from it or not…) These #2 people are inevitable, and whereas most #1 and #3 people write them off as sell-outs or would-be tyrants, I think that since they are inevitable, we ought to look at them as a necessary part of any strategic equation and, on a case by case basis, see whether they can help us or not. I don’t think it’s totally black/white.

So, right now, what I see happening in Latin America these days is that #1 and #3 social movements have gotten to such positions of strength (and on the other side of equation, the existing power structures have lost so much credibility) that #2 people have managed to step up and actually win power…in Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile (kind of), Uruguay, Bolivia, Nicaragua…almost in Mexico, and possibly this year in Guatemala. Most of these #2’s are opportunists, some are more genuine than that. In all cases, their power is built on the legacies and sacrifices of decades of #1 and #3 people. I don’t deny this and I don’t lose sight of this, at least in my head, when I write about them…

But having both seen the utter shit situation of Guatemala, as well as the immense oil-wealth and power of Venezuela, I believe that there is something very unique about the role that #2 people who manage to win power can play. With traditional state power come tremendous political compromises and contradictions, but at the same time, there come massive budgets (compared to just the average social movement), there is infrastructure, there is the logistical power of the military and the civil services…These are nothing to sneeze at.

Let’s make up one example: access to reproductive health services for young women. #1 people would go a protest route, and maybe they’d win some more funding for some clinics or a change in consciousness about how intersecting oppressions are limiting access. #3 people might start a neighborhood group or a non-profit clinic and they can make a difference in scores of womens’ lives. But, and I saw evidence of this in Venezuela, if Chavez just reads a book about young womens’ lives and decides that something needs to be done, he can throw his oil money down…and in 6 months there could be 500 neighborhood clinics with creative programs all over Venezuela…the resources at the disposal of radical governments (especially those awash in oil money!) are exponentially greater than the resources of us #1 and #3 people…

And that is essentially why these #2 folks like Chavez and Morales and Correa intrigue me so…Because they are getting shit done SO FAST…stuff that my friends and I could write or dream about, and maybe do in our own communities, but nothing at the scale of a radicalized state.

Does this mean that I’m now a #2 person? Not a chance. I believe that, in the end, #3 is still the backbone, and that is why I’m intrigued that Chavez seems to recognize this with his communal council and socialist party strategies. He’s trying to build bottom-up power through a top-down process…and that woefully backwards, but it is riveting to me as an experiment.

Frankly, though, Chavez is still alive and in power precisely because he has the support of the #1 and #3 people of his country, and there are masses of them. They united to bring him to power, they united to get him back after the 2002 coup, and he owes them everything. That is why he is such a unique phenomenon.

As for me and us in the United States, I don’t think the lesson that Venezuela has for us is that we should go the #2 electoral route, too. No, I think our game is way too rigged for that. Rather, I think it is far more important to look at what Morales and Correa and Chavez are doing and see how we can convert those into #3 lessons and strategies here…slower, but still effective, and preserving their moral center.

This is also where the lessons of Mexico’s Zapatista and Oaxacan rebels, Brazil’s landless workers movement and Argentina’s horizontalist movements are so, so important. They have doggedly pursued #3 strategies, and their movements are going a whole lot slower, but they still have their souls almost fully intact, and they have loads of lessons for us.

So, this is where I’m at. I write so much about Venezuela and stuff, honestly, because they are doing so much…they have the resources to generate change so fast, and so that generates news really fast, too. The movements in South Africa, Oaxaca, Chiapas, San Francisco, Canada, Georgia, and Seattle don’t have those resources, so the news cycle is, frankly, much slower. And so I write less about them. But believe me, when something catches my eye, I’ll write about it.

Also, just to think about, the Christian Right has definitely been pursuing a strong #3 strategy as well (once again, watch Jesus Camp), and they are hoping that pays off (and it is) in #2 victories for them. So let’s watch them closely, because they know what they are doing.

Hope this post makes sense to you…just wanted to explain some things.

Chavez’s New United Socialist Party…

Just got done reading an article and watching a video about the Chavez government’s plan to form a new United Socialist Party in Venezuela. If we take them at their word, the plan matches their stated goals of expanding grassroots democracy and building socialism from below using militant bases as the first steps towards broader debates, elections, and then a founding conference, and then finally a referendum on the founding document of the party. If one compares it to other existing political parties it really does seem pretty cool, but I still worry about the idea of so many existing radical parties and organizations folding into this one party…what about plurality and ideological diversity? What price do revolutionary processes pay in the name of the unity?

One positive possibility in the formation of this party is that so far the Venezuelan process has been characterized by a unity around Chavez, but a disunity around ideology, program, trajectory, levels of radicalism, etc. The formation of a massive grassroots-based party with a clear political program and ideology could shift the possibilities for revolutionary unity away from the persona of Chavez and toward an actual mass-based politics. We’ll see if they pursue this angle…but frankly I’m worried that once a cult of personality has begun, it will be hard to move away from it…at least until Chavez is out of office or retired completely.

Regardless of the outcome, all of this just reinforces why Venezuela is so interesting to me…because it is an actual PROCESS. Not just rhetoric or vague visions of a possible lefty future. They are trying to construct something within a certain context, with certain conditions and certain opposition, and the simple fact of that, the simple existence of this process in the world is fascinating to me. Just fascinating.

I want to talk a little bit about growing as a political person, and the significance of that for me.

When I was a little kid, like 6 years old, I used to watch the TV show “Family Ties” with my mom. I don’t have many concrete memories from the show, but I do remember that I looked up to Michael J. Fox’s character, Alex P. Keaton, and I remember that he loved Ronald Reagan, and so I loved Ronald Reagan, too. I also remember the youngest child on the show, a cute little blond-haired kid, and I remember that I was entranced by him. I was entranced by the idea that there was actually somebody my age on TV. More importantly, I remember that I was very concerned with whether he was younger than me or older than me, because if he was younger than me, then somehow that reflected on me and my self-worth…that I was actually older than someone on television. That maybe I could even be on television.

The same thing happened years later with Macaulay Culkin, right after Home Alone came out. I remember reading a magazine and I found out that he was 3 months older than me and I was devastated.

When I was 16, I heard something about how the old philosopher David Hume wrote one of his most famous works before the age of 21 or something, and I told myself that I was going to beat him, and publish my first book before the age of 20. It didn’t happen, and I remember having a tinge of sadness on that birthday, although I didn’t tell anyone.

Also, when I was between the ages of 14 and 20, I was very interested in historical figures like Mao and Lenin and Stalin and Ho Chi Minh, and read biographies of all of them. I was particularly interested in their beginnings as leaders, in their school years, in their twenties, and I took mental notes of how I was stacking up. Was I going to make history like them? Was I going to be a famous leader?

I sure wanted to be a leader like them. Clearly, I would be a leader who would NOT be a butcher or a sellout or a hypocrite, I would be the one who broke the historical legacy of faulty leaders. Who truly WAS a liberator. I would be different, and that would be my particular claim to fame. The anarchist version of the Mao, of the Lenin (complete contradiction in terms, though it is)…and the biographies would highlight my distinctions boldly.

For a good number of years, I lived my life and grew as a political activist and organizer with a very real kind of double-consciousness going on. I genuinely wanted equality, social justice, liberation for all people, and I could imagine many details of that dream. But at the same time, I wanted that global liberation to come FROM ME, from my innovations, and leadership, and legacy. As if the revolution were Arthurian legend, I wanted to be the ONE to pull the sword from the stone (actually…thinking about it…that too was an old cartoon that really spoke to me growing up…interesting). I was a revolutionary optimist partly because I knew that it was my own destiny to usher in the revolution.

The problem was that, of course, there was a fundamental contradiction between my supposed beliefs in direct democracy, massive grassroots social movements and non-hierarchical social structures and my own ego. And over a number of years, as I began to rise in the “activist ranks” and began to find myself being offered opportunities to assert myself as a leader, as a spokesperson or whatever, that contradiction became a lived reality that really started to affect my choices. Especially in the climate of post-WTO radical organizing in the Pacific Northwest, I found myself faced with questions of integrity that held many of my friendships in the balance.

Thankfully, though, I met some feminists.

And, as so many feminists do for wayward young activist dudes, they introduced me to a way of thinking that, for them–and I would imagine most marginalized people–was just second nature, but to me was earth-shattering: they introduced me to the reality that I am not the center of the world.

From those first rocky interactions with feminism (I very nearly lost most of those friendships, too…in fact I pretty much did), I was eventually pushed and guided toward critiques of white racism, and then even more deeply into women of color’s thinking and organizing around ideas of multiple, intersecting oppressions…and each time, each day, each conference, each book just shook me further and further away from notions of myself, of who I am, and of why I’m here.

The realization, so obscenely simple: that there are actually billions of people on this planet, all of whom hope to be good people, to do good, to be recognized in their work, to be loved and cared for and admired. And that for me to want to claim all of that, to hoard that all for myself and for my posterity…how brutally greedy and foul it is…and how typical.

This shit simply just shook me to my core. Not like in one night of epiphany, but much more slowly, over time, in a process of realization that really just doesn’t stop.

Egos. Of all the questions that surround us when we think of social change, I think this question of ego often gets missed or, more often, misunderstood. It is sooooo deep, and it goes so far beyond just me and my particular story, and it goes so far beyond just white dudes, or white people, or middle class people, or educated people. It is much, much deeper, and I think much more crucial than the particular experiences of one or a handful of identity groups.

This is about who we are, about our places in the world, and about, like I said, a very real desire to be loved and to BE RECOGNIZED in this life. It is so simple but there is so much there, and if we look at social movements (or really any grouping of people) it is amazing to see how far egos and their misplaced desires and insecurities take us. The hierarchical, competitive nature of our society and of all oppressive societies fundamentally warps our senses of our selves — certainly some more than others, and probably proportionate to how close we are to the centers of power — and it warps our ability to hold our own value and desire for recognition alongside that of those around us. We sabotage even those we love because we see and feel threats to our egos all around us.

For me, this question of ego has required me to examine and redefine pretty much every aspect of who I want to be, of how I define success for myself. I cannot deny that it is still fun to think about being able to give speeches that draw crowds, to write a book and maybe get on c-span bookTV, to maybe be somewhere in a history book…and I think a lot about the implications of those lingering fantasies. But more commonly these days, these years, I feel like what I want for myself has shifted towards things much more simple. I dream much more often now of participating in revolutionary processes so big and complex that my own head couldn’t possibly hold onto them, of revolutions that would make me feel like a constant tourist, watching in awe as the people all around me create new things and we really learn from each other. I think about my personal success as the building and sustaining of even just a small community…of shared food and reinvented holidays and kids running around and looking up to us maybe for a few years, but then discovering our foibles, rebelling, and then maybe then reconciling with us years later…I think about plants, and simple music, and simple writings that maybe only my friends read, like these blog entries. I think about designing and playing games. I think about doing good work at a local level, like in the high school where I work, and fighting so hard for the people around me…with the people around me. Knowing them. Crying with them…and just weeping and embracing in sharing our losses and our triumphs.

What I think about is the significance of being just one among many, and rather than thinking that means something boring, conformist, robotic, I think about the magic of it: that we live in a world that is so richly filled with beautiful, brilliant, creative people, and that if unleashed we could share in so much joy and discovery every day, on every block, in every nook and cranny of our lives. In this life it is a privilege to be one among so many who are so fantastic.

Over time, and through the struggle of many patient people who love me and believe in me, I have come to see that there is something far, far more beautiful than the sight of a billion posters with one great liberator’s face: billions of faces making billions of unique posters about their own mutual inspiration and liberation.

So suck on that, Macaulay Culkin.

Venezuela’s Communal Councils

Just read this article and thought I’d link to it. It’s a good overview of Venezuela’s communal councils, and I think it does a good job of exploring the numerous questions that are bound to be raised in a process like this. A lot of these questions remind me, on a much smaller scale, of questions raised in the high school transformation work I’ve been doing these last few years.

Speaking of which, I’ve been feeling very overworked and emotionally exhausted working at the high school, and that is a big reason for why I haven’t posted since Saturday night. This is sad, because there is much that I want to talk about. I have a whole list of topics that I keep on a crumbled piece of paper in my pocket.

For now, though, I feel safe in asking you to go rent the documentary Jesus Camp and then please come back here and comment on it. Anyone who’s been around me these last few years knows how much I talk about and think about the Evangelical Right and their movement-building work, and this movie really puts faces on the stuff I’ve been thinking about; namely that they are trying to build a rich, parallel subculture which acts a base for eventually winning power in the US. This movie is especially interesting because it focuses on one of the most essential elements of any culture or subculture which hopes to sustain and reproduce itself: the children. It’s a freaky vision of what’s happening out there, but I hope also that it’s a wake-up call. I will write more about this in the future.

Been playing the board game Carcassone a lot with my brother and his wife. Damn is that game fun! Especially with the towers expansion, which makes the game a lot more cutthroat and interactive.

This past Thursday, I went to a special neighborhood meeting that was called because a local non-profit, Casa Latina, wants to relocate all of its services to our neighborhood, and some of the neighbors are concerned. Frankly, some of them are terrified and, as usual, those damned isms are the culprit.

Racism, classism, and xenophobia, to be more specific.

See, Casa Latina is an organization with the purpose of helping mostly Latina/o immigrants to pursue work, education, and personal empowerment. They have ESL programs, women’s empowerment programs, and they also have an active day-labor center, which helps immigrant workers to find day-labor within more dignified conditions than they might otherwise find. Basically, they are doing really good, important work.

My neighbors all seem to agree. Except some of them don’t want that work to be done “in their backyard.” “Can’t you do your good work somewhere else, doesn’t our neighborhood have enough non-profits doing good work?” (actual statement) “Our neighborhood is finally moving away from being a social service magnet, this is taking us in exactly the wrong direction.” Basically, the message was: go help poor Latina/os elsewhere. Here they’re good enough to build our houses and cut our lawns, but god forbid that they actually stick around and set up shop here!

It seems that our neighborhood, Jackson Place (sort of within and between the International District and the Central District in Seattle, right along Jackson st.), is definitely undergoing a process of gentrification, with fancy condos going up and businesses moving in (target is also looking to relocate nearby), and so Casa Latina is exactly the kind of thing that some folks just don’t want. It’s bad for the property values, you know. More white professionals? All for ’em! More poor brown people? What, what?!

So basically this is how the meeting broke down: the majority of the members were older Asian folks, with some older white folks. The majority were against Casa Latina (but this was just the last in MANY community meetings about this project…and this one was organized by the angry neighbors who seem to have not have heard about the MANY other meetings!), and there were a handful of us who welcome Casa Latina. Also, there were a number of women from the Casa Latina board strongly and clearly defending their project and their organization, and there were two Mexican immigrant men who spoke very emotionally and painfully about the effect that racism and distance from their homes has caused them here in Seattle.

In my view, the “antis” already had their minds made up before the meeting even started. The majority of them were defensive, distrusting, and snotty as hell…basically insinuating that Casa Latina has been planning this project deceptively and with some kind of sweetheart deal with the city, and that they are trying to sneak these new offices onto our streets without telling any of us. When the women strongly explained that this was not the case, it seemed like most of the folks weren’t listening. And there’s a reason for this: the isms had drowned out all other noise in the room.

Only five minutes in, the real issue was out in the open: the anger had nothing to do with lack of open communication or planning protocol or anything, and it had everything to do with the image of poor Latino men out on the street-corner waiting for work.

Latino men. That was the issue. Period.

“I’ve been living here twenty years and we have fought prostitution, drugs, homeless people, people sleeping in benches…and we are terrified of this. We don’t want you here in our neighborhood,” yelled the angry white man who then proceeded to interrupt pretty much everyone else in the room as the night went on.

“Just tell me, are these people legal, or are they illegal?” Another white man chimed in.

“Sir, we don’t ask.”

“Well, then you’re supporting criminals!”

“You don’t even do a background check? We have children going to school nearby, how can the city allow this?”

Fear. Fear. Fear. The image of Latino men, huddled together in the morning, speaking in tongues…who knows what they are saying in that language of theirs…perhaps they are planning on kidnapping our children…or selling drugs. You know, because drugs do come from, you know, those countries down there.

God, it was just a few rifles short of being a Minuteman meeting…and the sad thing was that some of those angry folks weren’t white…they were Asian. It was actually quite devastating, especially in that the “antis”‘ petition actually compared the deal that the city made with Casa Latina to the JAPANESE INTERNMENT! What the?!

There were some allies who spoke up, and the two Mexican men held their ground (even when one of them told the Asian folks that their minds had been poisoned by the racism of white people…every one gasped and laughed at him…despite him being completely right), and frankly Casa Latina is going to win this, because the actual majority of the neighborhood supports them…but it was so painful to watch as stereotypes just rolled along and just got worse.

But I could only smile during the last minutes, when things were really made clear. The old angry white man, who had been yelling and interrupting, all to much applause, decided to tell us a story about how there were three groups doing neighborhood break-ins. One group was caught, and they were three Latinos. (At this point, I loudly said, “OH GOD, here we go!”). He told us that they had climbed up and broken into like the third story of the building…

“They were Latinos who broke in like this. Not black people. Black people just do not break into buildings. Black people will break into your car, or steal other stuff, but they don’t break into buildings.”

And with that, I hope the rest of the “antis” really got to see what position they were associating themselves with. The same old bullshit, dressed up as civic concern for the neighborhood. Those old White Citizen’s Councils were all about being civic minded as well.

Every day more lines are drawn in a not-so-new war against immigrants. Before Thursday, I didn’t know that our own block would end up being a battlefield.

Viva Casa Latina…

Pero, realmente, viva la revolucion…porque una chiquita organizacion como esa no va a poder ganar lo que realmente necesitamos…un cambio completo de este sistema tan injusto, corrupto y criminal. Poco a poco…

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi