April 2007

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I just recently finished reading the memoir of a relatively prominent leftist by the name of Michael Albert, called “Remembering Tomorrow.” Albert is one of the founders of South End Press, as well as Z Magazine and Z-net. He’s written or co-written many books about revolutionary theory and post-capitalist vision, such as “ParEcon,” “Looking Forward,” and “Liberating Theory.” His memoir is not great, and in some places it downright pissed me off (mostly regarding his treatment of the Black Panthers, women’s liberation, and really many parts of the sixties in general…if you ask me to explain myself, I will, but otherwise, I’ll save it), but still it was well worth reading and it inspired me.

The truth is, I have read I think almost every book that Michael Albert has written, some a couple of times (his earliest work with Robin Hahnel, “Unorthodox Marxism,” is actually my favorite). I first discovered his writing when I was 16, and his thinking has been pivotal in my own development as a radical. In many ways still, I’m kind of an “Albertist” in my radical worldview. At the same time, he’s definitely a sixties white, male leftist, with many of those trapping and contradictions, plus I’ve had friends tell me that’s he’s kind of a jerk, etc, and that all probably holds too. But all of this together, I’m glad that he has lived and done the work he has, because he has helped me to become a better thinker, a better, radical, and frankly a better person. His writing frankly helped me transition from standard white male anarchism toward listening to the ideas of my anti-racist and feminist friends. If I hadn’t had that role-modeling from an older white male radical intellectual, I don’t know if I would have listened as intently to my friends’ demands for me to change my ways…even still it took me years.

I’m writing about all of this because, in the book, Albert mentions numerous times that actually, among his prominent radical friends, his thinking is actually met with silence. He seems genuinely frustrated by the lack of critical response he gets even from his friends about his work. I was wondering why this might be…maybe he’s hard to be honest to, maybe, personally, he’s an asshole (as I’ve heard from some, but not all), maybe he’s such an obnoxious debater that no one wants to get into it with him….or maybe they actually just don’t care very much to help push his ideas forward. Maybe engaging in his theorizing and vision doesn’t seem worthwhile to them, which I think is just kind of crazy. I know that almost all of my friends have had almost no interest in reading the theorizing of an old white male leftist. I’ve let them have that opinion, but that hasn’t stopped me from keeping up with his work, and I don’t regret it. Frankly, I’ve met very few other contemporary US radicals of different identities who talk about revolution and actually winning as much as he does (other inspirations that come to mind are the women of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence…they are on the cutting edge, way far ahead of Albert in many ways on many things…but I don’t think all).

But his discussion about the great silences that surround his work really shook me, because honestly it is kind of how I feel about my work. For a really long time, I’ve felt that while overall I’m liked (mostly, I think, because I’m nice, a good listener, and very non-threatening…and a perpetual optimist, which I think people sponge off of, because they aren’t…it can actually be very draining for me), I don’t think I’m recognized as actually very useful as a radical thinker, or as the kind of asset for social change that I have worked hard to try to be for years. Usually, this doesn’t bother me much at all, I’ve gotten used to it, being within a political context of non-white males who really don’t trust people like me very much for doing much more than staying quiet and nodding along, as “allies”…because of such a long past of broken trust by white male radicals. I get this, and I have just sort of been patient, because I know that someday someone will ask my opinion, and someday that will be able to make a difference…like it did for awhile at the school. But that is precisely it. I have realized that now that I’m feeling un-valued and thrown away at the school, a key source of my intellectual and radical self-esteem has shriveled, and I’m realizing that outside of the school, in this radical “community” that I am more or less a part of, I actually have almost no developed base of trust, where I am known or appreciated as anything other than a smiling, humble background character.

Like I said in my ego post, all of us have egos, and all of us want to be validated and valued, like we’re contributing. That goes for me, too. Not because I want to be a big leader or have fame. I simply want to feel useful. We have a revolution to build, and I think I’m pretty young, smart, energetic, and frankly ethical, and so I want to have a place where I feel like I can make a difference. But the problem is that nobody really wants me……but it’s not just me they don’t want. Nobody really seems to want anybody. Because nobody really thinks that way on the radical left. People on the left mostly just seem to be thinking of themselves, of their pet projects, and on getting everyone else to just be spectators, or marchers, or readers, or donors to them. People signing up to be equal, active participants in creatively building grassroots organizations? No, there is almost no interest there.

This is what capitalism has done to the radicals. It has sucked us dry and turned us way too far inward. And not inward in a healing way (that would be great, and is necessary), but in an unhealthy, cannibalistic way. Let me explain:

On one level, capitalism has captured many of our really energetic intellectuals, influencing them to go to universities and become academics, where they will be totally isolated from the movement outside of books and, worse, where they will be so pressured to come up with original theses and ideas etc….more books and cutting edge analyses, even though we really have many good ideas already, we just don’t practice them, and so we have radicals who just end up making old ideas more inaccessible, then they don’t engage with each other, they find cozy positions in society and…suddenly…where did they go? Off the streets, out of the neighborhoods, and into the ivory tower.

On another level, capitalism takes some of its cash and it doles it out to foundations, who dole it out to non-profits (read The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, by INCITE! must-read book), who then suck up our most accomplished and efficient organizers, having them organize stale campaigns and, worse, fundraisers, when they should be doing grassroots base-building outside of the non-profit system. They become professionals, who have traded efficiency in making narrow gains (and then exaggerating their victories for their donors and boards of directors) for effectiveness in building a mass-based visionary politics. Suddenly, where did all of the dynamic organizers who were willing to work for free go?

And the rest of us? With professional intellectuals making our ideas less user-friendly, not more, and with professional organizers making our work less ordinary-person friendly, not more, those of us who don’t join have to find normal jobs, where we are tired, and then we do activism on the side, in more or less unfunded and unstable groups, where we have a constant brain and ability drain into the academy and the non-profits, and we are left with sad little radical groups…which really just become the equivalent of farm teams in baseball…just a way for the big leagues to recruit our best and brightest, leaving us hanging.

Do I sound bitter? I am. I’m also furious. I have been a radical activist for more than 11 years. I still don’t have a radical group to belong to. Almost no one around me even seems very interested in the idea. My inspirations have all gone on to grad school. Maybe I will too. This makes me so sad.

Everything we know about global warming, water, and oil tells us that we are the generation that must take swift, decisive action. Us. Everything we know about the system tells us that it will not make these changes fast enough, or good enough. We must get organized and act for fundamental systemic change. We have the knowledge, the creativity, the generations of experience, the kick-ass intersectional revolutionary ideas and the ability to popularize them. We could win. We really could. But why aren’t we organizing more?

Because capitalism has bought too many of us off, and it has us cozying up. It had me for four years, at the high school, and I’m just now realizing how many other great things I could have and should have been doing. I still don’t regret it…at all. But now that I’m on my way out, I’m antsy to really find something effective to do now.

We can’t let this system beat us. We just can’t allow it. We are the generation to begin turning the tide. I want to rejoin that effort. Fuck getting paid for it (although, of course, I understand that some people have survival needs much bigger than my own…I’m speaking for myself)…fuck getting a book published out of it…I just want to make the world better….and yes to have my close people see my worth. This isn’t too much to ask.

Read this now.

Just last week, speaking to an international gathering of women, president Chavez declared that the socialist revolution will end machismo in Venezuela, that he is an enemy of machismo. He also said that he used to be a machista. He praised the women of Venezuela as being on the front lines in the struggle for the new society.

Bueno. Nice words, Hugo. Yet I am far more likely to side with the perspective expressed in the linked article above. Although I support the Venezuelan revolution, and although I am inspired by that revolution, there is absolutely always room to be critical, even disgusted, and I am disgusted with the way Chavez’ relationship with Iran plays out continuously. But it’s not just limited to Iran. What about the relationship with the Chinese government? What about his ally, Daniel Ortega, now leftist president of Nicaragua, and his step-daughter who came forward and declared him a child sexual abuser? Just CIA spin, or is that a not-so subtle leftist smokescreen to avoid holding him accountable? I side with her.

I understand oil-power politics, and the need for Iran and Venezuela to stick together to survive US imperialism, but still we must ask ourselves, in order to keep our souls, at what cost? And we cannot just look away from the fact of who pays those costs…the women of these nations, especially the women of Iran.

I believe that Venezuelan women are probably way better off under Chavez than before. I met many women there who were returning to school, becoming organizers, starting businesses with loans from the incredible women’s bank…these are real victories for Venezuelan women, and they are related to Chavez’ policies, but we can hold these truths and still acknowledge the unacceptable, the unjust, the unthinkable that is still happening, even with male leftist revolutionaries supposedly moving toward a “non-machista” society.

Why do such beautiful things crumble sometimes?

Tomorrow, we have a staff meeting at the high school, in which mine and Briana’s work will likely be called into question, and it may very well mean that our services are no longer wanted.

I have worked there for four years now. It has simultaneously been the hardest, most painful, most powerful, and most effective political, emotional, and personal work I have ever done in my young life. They have been four incredible years. I will not regret them if this is the end, but I don’t want this to be the end. We’ve been working with a vision and a strategy, and for it to get rolled back this year, at this point, would be a major, tragic loss.

Tomorrow we will present our views, and all of the staff members will present theirs, and we’ll see where we all are. I have no idea what to expect. There frankly have been a lot of rumors going around about divisions and factions, and that freaks me out…because in dramas like that the radicals and visionaries are usually the first to be sacrificed.

I’ll let you know what happens, but I am preparing to leave. Crying sometimes. Enraged sometimes. Most of all sad for the students. I know that I am nowhere near the kind of educator and ally they really need at that school, but at the same time I KNOW that I am good for them, that Briana is good for them. If we leave, it should be because the school is ready to move on without us, not just because our work is not wanted or understood anymore.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it? Our work was possibly never wanted or understood as it really was, but rather as an idea, easily tokenized and marketed, of “student voice” and “student empowerment” and “social justice.” But then folks start to see the substance underneath the style and they get scared. It is a story that is WAY too old. I’m sorry to have to be just another rerun of it.

In this way, it was good yesterday to re-discover my old writings, and to recognize my own radical visionary abilities again. I think I’d forgotten lately that I am a valuable thinker and worker for social justice.

Wish me luck tomorrow, and still don’t forget to check out the writings, when you have time.

I’ve posted four of my most substantial pieces of writing from the last 5 years. Check them out (they are Word documents).

Two of them are works of revolutionary theory. The other two are attempts to express that theory in more creative, visionary ways (that is, they are fiction). I’m proud of all of them, with their flaws and gaps and all that.

To be honest, I’m thinking about maybe trying to do something more with some of these pieces. Not like a book, but at least trying to publish these as articles or zines…with some modifications, of course. I’d be interested to know what people think about that.

But seriously…the last two pieces are actually pretty fun reads, in my opinion, so I suggest checking them out.

Love you…and please be kind with any constructive criticism…because I am SUPER-INSECURE about my writing. Not defensive, but insecure.

P.S. If you do like any of the pieces, please tell other people about the blog!

New look, and more stuff coming!

Hi folks…

Well, I’ve gotta say that the old design of the blog was becoming too claustrophobic for me (but great job designing it, Dave! It served me well.) and so now I’m moving on.

The new design will make it easier to navigate and find things. It’ll also allow me to present more different types of content in the blog, which I’m really excited about.

So, you should come visit again in the next few days, and see what’s up!

It’s late and I should be sleeping, but…

I wanted to visit and to say hi to my little blog.

I’ve been busy. With some things that I still don’t want to talk about here. And with other things like applying to grad school (to become a teacher? Yikes!), and with designing a Magic: The Gathering style card game.

Tomorrow I have a meeting to find out about the future of my work at the high school, and I imagine that it will be pretty tense. So maybe that’s why I’m not sleeping right now.

I feel like this blog is becoming like a distant friend now…where I’m keeping so many things to myself that I feel like it doesn’t represent me or “know” me anymore. I don’t want this to be the case.

UPDATE: The official count, now at 59% of votes counted, is a victory with 82% voting for the constitutional assembly! This is fantastic. And I was reading some mainstream Spanish language press today and they are already shaking their heads at the Ecuadoran people, as if they don’t know what they are voting for…so sad, the constant patronizing tone of elites.

The referendum to rewrite the constitution of Ecuador won today with 78% of the vote, which also can be seen as a massive mandate for leftist president Rafael Correa. This is wonderful news, as this was pretty much Correas only campaign promise, and he has achieved it within the first 4 months (to the day, I believe) of his presidency.

The next step will be to elect a constitutional assembly, and then they will rewrite the constitution…and this will be the next battleground. The right will try to keep Correa’s forces from having a strong majority in the assembly, so that the constitution will be watered down.

The path of constitutional reform has been the path of both Chavez and Morales as well, and although the Venezuelan process paved the way for massive changes in that country, the Bolivian process has been shakier, mostly owing to the strength of the opposition within the assembly. Let’s hope that this 78% yes vote suggests that Correa will be able to get a strong majority in the next phase.

But we can be sure that the right, with US backing, will not rest, ever, in its attempts to destabilize and discredit this process every single step of the way.

So, like many folks, I believe that our society’s gender binary system (that is, the simplistic division of our species into two fixed categories of men and women, without any flexibility between them) is really messed up, and I really want it to change.

One of the ways that many people have tried to change this system is by tweaking the English language in ways that allow us to blur and even dissolve gender distinctions…especially regarding pronouns.

Instead of “He and She” and “His and Her” people have tried things like “Zhe and Hir” and “Squee and Squir”. I’ve always liked this, in theory, but to be honest the pronouns have always been a bit clumsy coming out of my mouth. Surely, this owes a lot to years and years of living in the gender-binary system, and not being accustomed to other ways of expressing and talking about gender…but I also just think that the sounds are a little bit hard to make…

And so, I want to show you another way to mess with gender and pronouns that’s really creative and really easy to use. It was thought up by friends Briana and Eva.

Very simply, you just turn the first letter of someone or something’s name into the pronoun. To make it possessive, just add ‘s to it. So simple. So, for example, my pronoun is J. So, “Jeremy’s birthday was yesterday. J turned 26. J’s friends and family were very happy to celebrate with J.” or…”Jeremy was talking to Briana last night, and B thought that J had made some really good points…”

See, it’s simple, and it’s cool. And what if you don’t know someone’s name? Then use P, for person. If it’s an object, use the name of the object, or sure, use T or O for Thing or Object. It’s cool!

Just read this piece by Sujatha Fernandes, about the relationship between Venezuela’s popular movements (at least in Caracas) and Chavez’s government. It’s really quite good, and it illustrates alot of the dynamics between top-down and bottom-up revolutionary approaches that I’ve been talking about on this blog for awhile now.

The Venezuelan process is interested for so, so many reasons, but one of those reasons definitely is how the state-civil society interaction is happening, and how a radicalized mass-base is pushing forward the radicalization of a government, so far using incredibly open and peaceful means.

Good stuff, and it makes me happy on this rainy Sunday.

One Week…No Post…

For those who have noticed my absence this week, I’m sorry.

I’ve been having a real hard time at the job and it’s kind of sucked away my emotional energy.

Truth is, I’ve had a lot that I’ve wanted write about…be it ideas about local organizing, Iraq, the Democrats, analysis of oppression, The Good Shephard, Borat, the upcoming constitutional referendum in Ecuador (April 15th!), and much more.

But really there is a more important post that I’m working on that should be up some time in the next week, so just be patient.

In the meantime, check out the comments on my post about Oppression Olympics. Some one wrote in and challenged me with some really good points.

Hope y’all are well.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi