March 2009

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A funny thing happened on the way to Part 4 of my 21st Century Anarchism post…I realized that there is some other theoretical groundwork that I needed to lay out for myself before getting into all of the revolutionary strategery and anarchistyness that I want to explore. Since so much of my understanding of anarchist work relates to education-as-organizing, I need to go deeper into my own ideas of popular education, and how I think they differ from what I see practiced, and practice myself, in Seattle. Thus, this series of posts.

Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is one of my favorite books. I think it’s the only book I’ve read more than 3 times. Sure, I think it can be simplistic, and I think it’s kind of pretentious, especially with all the untranslated quotes and references (what’s up with that, anyway?). However, I think the core of the book is really important and still relevant to organizers and grassroots educators today. In fact, it’s still a core piece of my own theoretical framework and my own ideas of what revolutionary organizing should look like. I think that’s why I get so frustrated by how much I see “popular education” advocates (including myself even) misunderstanding and inadequately utilizing the book’s ideas. Maybe if we better applied and experimented with some of those ideas, we’d have more success as educators and organizers.

Here’s my problem: I think a lot of what is currently talked about as “popular education” these days is really nothing more than doing political education workshops with maybe a heightened level of participatory activities included. I think this is linked with a superficial reading of Freire’s ideas that boils them down to just his critique of the “banking method” of education. That is, we see Freire’s primary contribution as his critique of teachers who deposit knowledge into learners and practice top-down methods, as well as his proposal for more dialogical, participatory methods of education to replace the “banking method.” From there, we think popular education is all about organizing educational activities (workshops) in which people are allowed to share their own experiences and participate in games and brainstorms and small-group activities where they can use their personal experiences as a base to engage the content that is being presented/proposed by the facilitator. I think this is super-common. There are tons of curricula out there that are based around this understanding and application of Freire’s ideas. And I think they make for great, fun, dynamic workshops. It’s useful stuff. However, I think it’s only a shallow understanding of popular education, if it really can even be called popular education at all [I know that the School of Unity and Liberation in Oakland is clear in calling their stuff “political education” instead of popular education for similar reasons as to what I’m saying].

In my view, the ideas of Pedagogy of the Oppressed in particular and popular education in general contain entire levels of richness that cannot be captured in workshops or even in entire series of workshops. What about Freire’s ideas of confronting limit situations, of thematic universes, etc.? Getting specific, and getting beyond Freire’s own counterproductive jargon, I think that the elements of presence and power in popular education require a much larger space and community to achieve their full meaning. Dialogical popular education cannot be restrained to a workshop or classroom setting.

In this series of posts, I want to talk about these elements of presence and power and their relationship to popular education. And I want to do this with an eye toward making this stuff relevant to grassroots educators on the ground, as opposed to academics or classroom teachers (who probably have explored much of this stuff in their own forms). My concern is with how grassroots educators–folks who are already skilled and passionate about political education in study group and workshop settings–can deepen their work and their understandings of themselves as cultural workers and revolutionary organizers. Even more, I want to work this stuff out for myself, so that I personally have a better sense of the kind of organizer and educator that I want to be.

One last point before going further. I’ve gotta recognize that I haven’t read or studied up on this stuff in years, and so I know that there is probably tons of work and ideas about this stuff circulating around (maybe, probably even in Seattle) that I’m not even touching. And I KNOW that in places like the Bay Area of California, there is a lot of fascinating grassroots education work going on that goes beyond workshops and stuff. No doubt.

So, that said, this is my blog and I need to explore this stuff in my way. So that’s what I’m going to do. Feel free to read along and contribute as you’d like.

Life Is Fascinating

To the few or none who read my blog regularly, I want to give you some notice: I’m obviously feeling the need to really think through a lot of emotions and life stuff right now, and this page is my favorite place to do that thinking. So I just hope you’ll be patient as I do all of this thinking and feeling out loud…

Yesterday I was thinking about how interesting life is on so many levels. The diversity of it. The tenacity of it. And most interesting of all, how life makes all living things into subjects of their own story. That is just thrilling to me. The idea that for almost every living thing, they are the center of the universe. Their perception. Their connection to life and the world. The perspective and experiences of a grasshopper or fish are equally present for them as my own for me.

I like thinking about this in relation to my own life and interests and needs. The things that matter to me, the things that make me fret or cry or yearn are so deeply connected to me…and they really don’t have much relevance beyond me. That is, a person trying to survive a morning bombing run by the U.S. military is going to have wholly different priorities than me. They aren’t worrying about non-profit management or what the activist community thinks of them the way that I do. This, of course, is thoroughly linked with more structural questions of power, privilege, opportunity, but right now I’m just thinking about the pure fact of it. That life inherently means a plurality of subjectivities. And that is cool.

Maybe right now you are reading this and you are fretting about something in your life. Maybe you have self-doubts that are similar to mine, but for different reasons. Isn’t it special to pause and recognize the complete uniqueness, and overall global insignificance of that fretting. I just want to recognize you for a moment, recognize your fretting and self-doubt…and let us remind ourselves that life and the world are so much bigger than our own little boxed perspectives.

It is cliche because it is true. My life will go on if I miss a deadline, or if I screw up in my personal life. My life will go on if I am lazy one day or overzealous another. My life will go on, and it will still be running parallel with so many other beautiful lives.

Good morning, then. And I hope you have a good day as your time and life run alongside my own.

The Cops In My Head…

I’ve just been thinking and thinking and thinking lately about my life, who I am, who I want to be, where I’m going. I’m still drifting between depression and inspiration, and I’m amazed at how I used to think I was so emotionally stable…but the truth is I don’t think I ever really was.

You see, I’ve got cops in my head. I’ve had them since I was as little as I can remember. Be they my dad, or teachers, or bullies or influential friends and enemies, I almost always have all sorts of voices in my head telling me who I should be and telling me how I’m not measuring up, etc. Maybe you have similar voices in your head. This is pretty normal, I think. But it’s so interesting how I have dealt with these cops in my head and the toll it has taken.

For so long, I’ve seen my self as an essentially happy person. Beaming even. Optimistic. And I think it was mostly true. I have a vivid imagination, and that imagination tends to veer toward the positive. It’s something I’m very proud of. However, for so long I have felt so comfortable with who I am, and so empathetic about wanting other people to feel comfortable with themselves, that I’ve always been willing to give people little pieces of me. You’re sad and need my time and attention? Of course. You need me to change this or that so you can feel less threatened? No problem. Need me to take up more slack in a group? Okay, you have other responsibilities you need to attend to. This was nothing to me, and I was proud of my flexibility with people.

Only now, at 27, I realize how many of my relationships have had this dynamic at their root, and then other underlying authority dynamics surrounding them. I have felt so flexible, so willing to give and give and sacrifice emotionally, that the other day I was really wondering what I even care about anymore…where have my own passions gone? Where has my own sense of accomplishment or will gone? What do I do because I’m inspired, and what do I do because I’m scared or because someone needs it from me?

For so long, I’ve allowed myself to be flexible that I’ve allowed some pretty core pieces of myself to be chipped away. In many aspects of my life, I feel like such a shell. I feel so different than I felt as an inspired little boy. I’m not cool with that.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I started therapy. I’m trying to figure out some space and some limits in my life to give myself the room I think I need to find myself again. I’m working hard with Glendi to get what I need from her, and to make sure that we are both growing in a way where we can be good to and for each other.

I’m in need of more connection. I’m in need of more passion. I need to find that creativity that fills me with so, so much!

When I was in high school, I was so optimistic and so positive. I felt so open to the world. One of my favorite teachers, Tim, (there is a long and sad story there, believe me…but that’s another day) told me one day: “Jeremy, I’m really worried about you. You are like this vibrant and colorful butterfly. I’m worried about this world crushing you.” I just smiled, so sure and confident. My love of the world and of life were too strong to be able to crush me. Now I’m not so sure. At 27, I’m feeling the strain.

But life still is beautiful. And I still do love the world. There are other possibilities here. And this little butterfly can push back!

Check it out…the 9.12 project.

A right-wing Obama resistance movement? Have you read their 12 values? What? They are laughably bad, like bad writing that a liberal would do of conservatives.

But, clearly there is a following, and Chuck Norris, of all people, has referenced groups like this as having cells all over the nation waiting for the time of a “second American Revolution.” Oh my god. The polarization continues. Get ready for a new round of militia movements, but this time 21st century style. I’m sure they are all about “learning from our terrorist enemy” and are all into decentralization and internet-based organizing. Even the use of the word “cell” is interesting, huh?

Get ready, the next 4-8 years are going to be a very bumpy ride. We gotta be on our toes.

Update: The first article I found on there was a link to an article about new birth-rate statistics. Wow, how racialized do you need go get? The poor brown people are going to take over? The unwed are spreading? Wow! Just wow! Are these people for real? I mean, we know they are, but really??

Still thinking about the economic crisis, and had to take a break from work to write a little bit more.

Why is it so easy for powerful people to decide on and carry out plans that lead to the massive bombing of entire countries, the destruction of entire neighborhoods filled with families, culture, history, and the future of a people? And why is to so damn hard for those same powerful people to think boldly and radically about seizing and re-organizing the assets of massive, heartless firms who have squandered and stolen the world’s money and destroyed the dreams and retirement savings of millions?

Why is the boldness of mass murder so quick to their lips and yet the boldness of economic redistribution completely off the table? Of course, I know the answer, but isn’t it obscene to think about? That millions of people–mostly brown people in other countries who speak other languages–don’t matter for shit. But a handful of absolutely amoral millionaires (who will remain millionaires throughout this economic crisis!) have us wringing our hands about what to do with them. This is an obscenity. And we all know it.

Seriously, the President has authority to BOMB and INVADE entire nations within a couple of months without even seeking authorization…and yet his hands are tied with even $165 million of taxpayer money being siphoned into bonuses? What? I said, what?

This is why I work for social revolution, and why I won’t give that ideal up anytime soon. This system is an outrage. A complete and total outrage. What a stupid world.

The Economic Crisis and “Populism”

I have to admit it. I read a lot of liberal/progressive blogs. Far, far more than I read radical blogs. My liberal/progressive blog reading frequency is only dwarfed by my game blog/forum reading frequency. If I graphed all of this time onto a chart, oh how sad it would look!

But anyway, I read a lot of blogs like Daily Kos, Huffington Post, Open Left, Talking Points Memo, etc. Across the board, and across the mainstream media the talk is about the economy, and about the rising anger of “main street” (read the white working, middle, and especially professional class) in the U.S.. There is a lot of talk about the rise of populism, both from the left and the right, and for the need for Obama to either ride this wave of populism toward transformational policies, or for him to temper it down with his cool-headed reformism.

In all cases, there is a narrative that is deeply class-focused, but with horrible inattention to race (except in regards to immigrant-bashing), and to the real landscape of poverty and exploitation in this country. It’s just simply “middle-class” and fat-cats. Language about working class or poor people is seldom to be found.

Even with all the holes and stupidities in the framing of these narratives, it is so, so significant what is happening here! The class war that has been raging for so long in this country and on this planet is finally being articulated and expressed in the mainstream. And, for the most part, this narrative is not being side-tracked into nativism like “buy american” or calls for border closures (yet). For the most part, this narrative is actually focusing on the power elite. AIG. Morgan Stanley. Bear-Stearns, or whatever. This is fascinating!

So, where are we, the radicals? What will our creative input be? What kind of militance and long-term organizing can we find here?

The truth is, I was caught off guard by this whole economic mess. I think a lot of radicals were. I don’t know how to plug into organizing about this. I don’t know what anarchists’ best roles could be right about now. But I really, really want to.

Direct action case work seems important. Vigilance against the disproportionate impact of the crisis on communities of color. Foreclosure resistance has been mentioned. Community expropriations of abandoned land. Workers’ takeovers. Defense of public spending from austerity policies. Hell, what about campaigns to actually revoke corporate charters and corporate personhood…and to support small local business? This is where being rooted in actual communities is so deeply important. And still not where I’m at personally as an organizer!

Regardless, I think things will probably start speeding up a little in the next year or so. If the Republicans really are going to go for a right-wing populism angle (what does that actually look like policy wise? I’ll tell you…attacks on the social safety net with vicious, racist, sexist bootstrap language!), then the anger and polarization in this country will only get worse. Organizing will be necessary, but it will be way different from the Bush years. Anarchists need to find our place in these coming battles. Our ideas, if we can modernize them, are very relevant right about now.

These are just some things I’ve been thinking about this morning. Don’t have much more, but I thought I’d write a little bit about it all.

Thinking about long-term revolutionary strategy, I think supporting a strong social safety net along the lines of Obama’s agenda is good. But I think equally or more important would be pushing economic stimulus that reaches small businesses and which sidelines or even makes corporations irrelevant. Why? Because in this we can take a lesson from places like Venezuela…working for a growing network of worker/community owned coops that can use the resources of the state to form a viable alternative to traditional capitalism. Does this create a mortal threat to capitalism? No, but it creates the skills and community connections that are vital prerequisites for participatory socialism. I also think pushing for the social safety net spending to be as participatory as possible is another crucial fight! The truth is, I think neo-conservatives are kind of right about a lot of public spending…it does create community dependence and it creates oppressive relationships between the state and poor communities. It doesn’t empower poor people. Helping people start their own projects does. Helping them decide and run their own community revitalization does as well.

I like thinking about this stuff. I’d like to think some more about it…

If Los Salvadoreños Can Do It, So Can I…

On Sunday, yet another long-standing Latin American social movement had a victory on its long electoral (and previously military) path to power. The FMLN won the presidency of El Salvador, and ended 20 years of rule by the arch-conservative ARENA party. From what I read, there has been a lot of dancing and crying in the streets of El Salvador, and the interviews and speeches I’ve seen from Funes, the new president, suggest a strong tone of reconciliation. Same from the Salvadoran establishment Right.

Okay, we’ll see how long that tone lasts.

But for now, this is what I want to say: with all that the Salvadoran people have been through, and with all the stages of struggle that the Salvadoran freedom movement has passed through, I can’t even imagine what this must feel like. 70,000 people killed during the civil war (official numbers, who knows the real numbers, right?). Millions displaced. And now there are red flags waving all around. My congratulations to them all. And my heartfelt wishes to them as their struggle enters a new stage of working to build people’s power through the apparatus of the state, against the resistance of strong and virulent opposition forces.

On a personal level, I also want to say that I’ve been reflecting a lot on my own life and where things are at. And I’m going to keep reflecting. But the Salvadoran story just goes to show the importance of perseverance and presence in the face of difficulties. We live in history, right? Not just in singular moments. Bad days flow into good days, disastrous moments unfold into serendipitous opportunities. I asked for a little bit of support in one of my recent posts and I received it (thanks, by the way). I will be better with time, and with some personal work. And I’ll be sharing that here when the time is right. We live in history, and history changes with us and our choices.

Thanks to El Salvador for inspiring me this weekend, and giving me an extra boost with my own stuff.

This Sunday, I’ll be poised reading the internet and watching streaming video related to the Salvadoran presidential elections. Looks like the left still has a good shot at winning down there.

I like Mauricio Funes from what I’ve seen of him. I think his winning, and his party (the ex-guerrilla FMLN) winning will be a good thing not just for El Salvador, but for Central America as a whole. The leftward tide moves a little bit further north!

Treading Water…

These have been low times for me. I don’t think I can even begin to summarize it here. Needless to say, I’ve been happier in my life.

Of course, I’ve written about my cycles before, so I’m definitely on the down side. But I sure wish I was feeling something else.

Many of my recent (as in within the last 4 months!) posts on this site have been nostalgic and reflective pieces. That’s still how I’m feeling. Really thinking a lot about aging, about compromises in life, about what I wanted for myself as a child vs. what I’m building for myself as an adult. Difficult questions. Not a lot of answers.

If you read this, I think I need a boost. Just a quick compliment or, even better, a fond memory of me. Right now I’m kind of forgetting the good that I do in the world. So, yeah, I’m fishing for compliments and positive attention right now. Isn’t that what blogs are actually about anyways?

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi