July 2010

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Tonight I leave for Guatemala, to support Glendi in the care of her father and her family. Her dad has diabetes, and his kidneys have failed. It’s pretty much terrible, and it’s been very hard for everyone. It’s been hard for me to be so far away from them.

I bought my ticket yesterday. It’s that kind of trip. I’ll be gone for a week, and probably won’t have time to write while I’m there.

There is much to say, though. I’ve got a heap of questions to unravel and feelings to express about all of this, but they’ll have to wait.

Gotta Read More

Just read this: 7 Ways Reading Makes Writing Better

Gotta say I feel shamed. I know that this site is my little idea and emotion playground and I can do whatever I want, but I feel like if I want to really push my thinking and writing further, I’ve gotta be reading more. I’ve gotta be dialoguing more with other people’s thinking. Engaging more in community with my writing.

That’s gonna be hard with all of my anxieties about intellectualism, and I imagine that I can really hit some blocks here. But it’s about trying, about putting in the practice. So that’s what I’m gonna do. I probably want to start locally, with some friends’ blogs, and with Gathering Forces…but I’m also interested in writing about something the New York Study Group put out about revolutionary approaches to reform.

I’ll keep writing my own thinking and life, but I want to be engaging more with other people’s ideas here. It’s the next step for me, I can feel it.

We are in a political storm season. Or maybe a storm generation. The spiraling out of control of speculative capitalism, growing sex trafficking and commodification of bodies, the coming collapse of the US dollar’s dominance, radical global climate change, the depletion of water resources and coming wars for water control, out-of-control militarization of communities of color and prison expansion, peak oil and the crisis of a new energy configuration, massive language and species extinction…the list of major, systemic shifts and dangerous crises is long, and its real. Even if we take only half of these topics, and halve the estimates of their scale and potential implications, we are still looking at a massive confluence of global crises.

The systems in which we live are going haywire. The mainstream political culture of this country is so off the mark, so dumbed down that it’s seemingly incapable of even talking about these issues for more than 15 minutes, not to mention actually proposing timely solutions. Just watch the Sherrod debacle. Barack Obama, the great moderate hope to bring some neoliberal stability to a system in crisis, has proven that he is also trapped in the undertow, and cannot swim out of it.

If there will be a transformative solution to these dire, mounting problems, that solution will come from mass social movements. I feel confident of this.

But where I have doubts is in the how, and in the if. Because I don’t believe in destiny, or God, or any certainty to social change, that means it feels entirely possible that it’s too late, or that the system is too far along. We could be charging at windmills. Those of us working so hard for change could be certain to lose. There is no guarantee of victory or liberation. Not for me.

But I don’t actually think we will lose, though, nor do I think it’s particularly useful to dwell there. So, for me the “if” question isn’t particularly interesting.

But the “how.” The “how” is endlessly interesting to me!

And today, what’s particularly interesting is this part: how to win by fighting ethically, against a system that is entirely built from dirty tricks?

See, systems of oppression stay alive because they don’t fight fair. They lie, they cheat, they attack and they steal. That is why they are oppressive. This is bad enough if you look at these systems instance by instance: colonization, slavery, holocaust, bracero programs, imperialist wars, sexual divisions of labor, etc. But if you expand your analysis to the historical, systemic level, then you see the real problem with their dirty tricks:

They accumulate.

We are struggling against systems that are still working from wealth and power accumulated during slavery, during the enclosure movement, during the East India Company, during the witch burnings. We are working against systems that grow like rings on a tree, on top of all of the garbage they did in the generations before. How do we beat them in the big fights if they win so many of the little fights, and accumulate and compound their winnings each time?

Well see, this is where I, and many of us, can fall in the trap…the mystique of the immortal enemy, the unconquerable ruler. It’s important to not get stuck here.

One way to avoid getting stuck is to choose to fight dirty as well. Hierarchical movements, cults of personality, unchecked internal oppression, lying propaganda, most forms of armed struggle and electoral politics…all chosen for their perceived pragmatic value…all potential poison to social movements. I don’t want to dwell here either. There are other times and places for discussing the strategic viability of the master’s tools.

There is another way to avoid the trap of hopelessness in the face of the colossus that is global oppression, and it’s also the most simple, and seemingly weak: to look inward. To look at our own strengths as “the little guys” and see those as key to revolutionary change.

A huge number of the most progressive changes in history have been won by those who are most marginalized, using tools and tactics that their enemies thought were too rudimentary or too weak to make a difference. Just look backwards and you’ll see that it’s true. And the way they have done that is they have claimed and fought in spaces in which the accumulated wealth and power of the enemy suddenly became not very useful. You know, because it doesn’t matter how many zeroes you have in your online bank account, no matter how many years those zeroes have been building, if the terrain of a struggle has been shifted to a place without internet!

So if we look at all the modern crises that I’ve mentioned, really look at them closely, things get a lot more interesting. What we see is not just a bunch of all-powerful, monolithic systems that can throw money or force at all opposition and instantly win. We see a multiplicity of human systems, built on human relationships, operating across wide swathes of culture and human experience. They are really big, with lots of joists and struts to hold themselves up…but they are holding themselves up on top of us, the little people, and we are not stable ground!

Look at homophobia, for example. The powerful had a plan to keep it going, and they have put millions into making that happen. They are winning on many fronts, and it will be a long time before homophobia disappears, but there’s something they didn’t count on: their kids aren’t mindless drones. If we see the fight against homophobia as a generational fight, we are definitely winning. The newest generations, even of evangelical kids, just doesn’t care as much about maintaining homophobia as much as the older folks. That is, the human ground that homophobia has stood upon is shifting in time.

Look at something like wal-mart, sort of a symbol of modern capitalist hegemony. The stores might look all the same across the entire planet, but the communities in which they are built are not the same. And so the way to beat these things is to really look inward…what are the particularities, the cultural traditions, the unique values of the community that are being threatened by the corporate monoculture? Those are ripe contradictions for organizing!

It’s our small little individuality, it is our humanity that is the best tool for crafting a winning revolutionary strategy. I believe that it is human relationships, human feelings, and culture that are the most fertile spaces for forging winning movements. We won’t beat capitalism on economics. We won’t. Their numbers will always grow faster than ours because of their dirty tricks. We won’t beat militarism through combat. Their weapons reload faster than we can pick up stones. I think that if we are going to win, if things are going to transform, we will win on the basis of human relationships, and their fierce ability to stick and spread. Not even organizations or marches or strikes or insurrections…not structurally shutting down anything, per se. We will win on relationships, how well we keep them, how well we maintain them…all the other tactics are really just tools for that purpose. There is, of course, much, much more complexity to this, but I think this is a foundational piece for building that complexity up.

For revolutionaries and activists who don’t have time for feelings, for relationships, for some kind of spirituality…who don’t think it’s systematic enough or strategic enough, I think I’m at the point of drawing a soft theoretical line between myself and them. I see a movement without affect and human connection as a dead-end road. I see it as a strategic travesty.

It’s just kind of spewing out now, and so far I’m not saying anything new. But I am kind of building toward something, I promise!

The Double Standard For Capitalist Genocide

I just read this article after seeing it on Democracy Now. The basic point of the article is that big investment banks like Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, etc.–who are always on the search for quick grabs of cash through speculation and the creation of artificial bubbles–got into the grain business over the last 10-15 years or so, and in 2008, the food bubble that created a massive rise in the price of food that led to food riots in over 30 countries, and added an additional 250,000,000 people to the ranks of the starving…meaning over 1 billion starving people for the first time in human history. This food bubble raised the prices on Glendi’s family as well. We remember how much more we had to send for Glendi’s mom to be able to buy the week’s food at the market.

250,000,000 people. If you were going to stand next to that number, you would be 1. But we’re talking 250,000,000…which is in addition to the 750,000,000 who were already hungry before this crisis was created in 2008.

The holocaust is estimated to have killed 11-13,000,000 people. Stalin is accused of starving over 20,000,000. So is Mao in the Great Leap Forward. These are considered totalitarian genocides, and rightly so.

But what does 250,000,000 people going hungry mean if it comes from capitalism? Who get’s tagged with responsibility when it’s a system doing it, rather than individuals who are saluting and wearing uniforms and demanding their photo be put up all over the place, like the old school murderers liked to do? What does it mean when the culprits are the same folks who are seen as the smartest folks in our economy, charged with keeping our luxuries coming?

250,000,000 human beings. For simple, quick profit. For the thrill of inventing new financial tricks that the rest of the world is too stupid to catch on to until it’s too late.

I don’t even know how to get my head, my heart, around these numbers, around this huge crime. But that’s why I have to write about it tonight. Because this can’t be okay. This can’t just be okay, normal, par for the capitalist course. See, capitalism is so good at making even its atrocities seem normal. Standard ebb and flow of the market…temporary fluctuations before resettling on an equilibrium…the expected excesses of trade on its path toward balance. Murder. Destruction. Hatred hidden in numbers and narcissism. Hatred so strong that the murderers don’t even take the time to actively hate the victims…easier just to pretend they don’t exist…nothing more than externalities.

Somebody please assure me that someday, in some way, these monsters will lose. That they will lose their wealth and they will be disgraced. That their children will be ashamed, if they are not already. That some day they will shuffle out of their newly expropriated mansions crying, humbled by the scale of their own dehumanization. Somebody please assure me that someday, in some way, we will change this system so that this can never happen again…and that the number of people starving can go from 1,000,000,000 down to less than 1.

And Then What Am I Going To Do?

“Separate everyday a little more from the things we start
Well I won’t forget my part
In the end what you want is much different from what you choose
Yeah, it’s bigger than me and you
It’s bigger than me and you”
A Jingle For The Product by Dillinger Four

A year from now, I have no idea what I’m going to be doing. I have no idea where Glendi and I will be living. I have no idea what career or education path I might be on. That feels weird and scary, to say the least.

See, my three year commitment at SYPP, the organization where I work, is coming up in December. Glendi and I’s plan for a long while had been that in March of 2011, we’d move to Guatemala for 6 months, to have some solid time with her family in her home context, and to begin a long-range project of building a solidarity school there. For Glendi and I, it’s been a dream. But with the long train of challenges and emergencies that we and her family have faced over the last three years (deportations, evictions, diabetes, accidents, legal struggles, green cards, housemate nightmares), we have now officially exhausted all of our savings, and the dream seems like it needs to be delayed. [here is where you can watch the first 15 minutes of the Pixar movie “UP” to get a sense of how it feels sometimes]

So in the place of that grand plan, there is just kind of a void for me. Do I want to go back to school? If so, for what? Do I want to try my hand at being a teacher? PhD program? Try writing a book? Get another non-profit job? Learn a trade? Truthfully, the options seem wide open for me. While there is a very real pressure to choose a path that will allow us to support our whole family and grow our own close family, within that there are a lot of choices for us to make.

One of the reasons why I chose to start blogging again was just this reality. I need to connect with myself much more consistently and honestly if I hope to see where I personally want to go from here. Glendi and I didn’t ask for the class and imperialist realities in which our relationship and our families exist. That’s what has come with our love. And if we don’t want to fall into the twin traps of selling out and resenting our lives, then it’s important to do some earnest grappling with my own hopes and aspirations for the coming years.

However, right now, at 11:15pm on a Sunday night, I don’t know how much grappling I’m gonna be doing. Maybe it’s enough to just lay the question out here right now, for me to explore with more detail over the next weeks. Because there are so many questions that are wrapped up in this.

One thing I can say for sure, though, and a good foundation for all the exploring to come: I am in love and I am in love with life. And as sad, confused, and scared as I am about the future, I still feel like this life of mine is an adventure. It is a joy in so, so many ways, and I’m genuinely curious about what is to come.

First morning of my weekend and I’m in bed again, now into the third season of Friday Night Lights. Despite all sorts of emotional rollercoaster cheesiness on this show, my interest in this program is still unshakable.

It’s really unacceptable, though, how all of the main characters of color keep getting written out or they just disappear, at a rate of one a season…to the point now that in the third season it’s looking like an all-white cast. What’s up with that? Not to mention that two of the major storylines in the second season had to do with racism, but one of those storylines just…poof…disappeared, while the other one ended up sending the lesson that if a person of color defends themself or their family from racism, they get crushed. No thanks, NBC.

But I also think that I’m beginning to understand the personal appeal of this show for me, as strange as it is to realize: positive masculinity. There is something in some of the main characters, especially the character Coach Taylor, that is like viscerally hitting at my dad issues. Just watching that Coach Taylor character (who’s very well acted, by the way), and the way he makes decisions and yells and is all masculine, but also caring and ethical and emotionally present, it’s like hypnotic to me. It’s weird. This is something that my old therapist had brought up a number of times, my search for models of masculinity that make me okay with who I am and also let me stand up for myself. I don’t really have more to say about it, but it’s almost a scary level of realization to see that that is why I’m watching this silly TV show…what is this unearthing for me?

Although it makes me feel a little weird to claim it, it’s fair to say that I’m a grassroots intellectual. That is, I do a lot of thinking and theorizing about the world, and particularly about social movements, social analysis, and revolutionary strategy, but almost all of it is rooted in either on-the-ground experience, interpersonal communication, or just the rattlings of my own head. I have a very rocky relationship with institutionalized education, and like I said in a previous post, I actually read very little in the way of books or any kind of scholarly literature.

This is all fine, and frankly I have a wee bit of stubborn pride about it. I feel like I’ve come to the views I have through years now of tough experience, and especially in these last few years my feet have really been held to the fire and my more radical views and aspirations have been tested. I’m happy about how I’ve been able to hold onto those politics by actually sharpening them, rather than letting them get dulled out. On the flip-side, this has made me ever more impatient with really, really abstract thinking about politics unless it has real implications for practical work. “So, how do we actually use this in the movement?” is an increasingly common refrain for me.

But I’ve got a problem, and that’s the fact that I’m insecure about how non-academic I am. Even though I usually understand academic folks quite well (though sometimes with a little more work in the case of Antonio Negri or Foucault type writing), I feel intimidated by their language, and by their positions within movement discourse. It’s actually a strong disincentive for me, and a big reason why my writing almost never goes beyond this blog…my little intellectual sandbox of a blog.

Fact is, I harbor a deeply internalized belief that my ideas aren’t valid beyond this space. For awhile this was about overshooting my identity guilt–that as a white middle-class sex-gendered man I didn’t have a right to take up theoretical space. That’s mostly gone now. Instead, it’s a much longer-standing feeling that I’m just not good enough as a thinker and especially as a researcher to make valid points. I feel like I’m just playing with the toys of revolution while my more academic comrades are getting to work with the real thing. I know that this isn’t true, intellectually, but this is what I feel regularly.

So, for example, when my friend asked me to help write a piece for a book project about the politics of radicals traveling, I so wanted to do it, but I froze. When I read a piece in Upping the Anti that makes me want to respond or push the thinking further, I immediately write myself off that I’m not a good enough anarchist thinker to be published there. And oh, how many times have I visited the page for the Institute of Anarchist Studies with an exciting idea that I want to apply for a grant for…only to wither away a few clicks into the pages.

It’s a chilling effect, and I know that I’m not alone. I know lots of great radical, grassroots workers who are brilliant but who wouldn’t dare put things out for publication. It’s not our place, we think, we feel. We’re not intellectually disciplined, articulate, or well-read enough to share those spaces with other thinkers. This is sad, because these folks have a lot to contribute. I think I have a lot to contribute, as well.

There is another piece to this discussion, too, and that’s the feeling that I’m outside of the discourse…not just insecure, but just plain not participating in the conversation. So I read less, and thus benefit less from all of the lessons that other people are learning on the ground. This shows in that I rarely link or reference other people’s blogs. I rarely talk about other people’s writing or even organizing. This blog is like the me-show, and that’s partly intentional–I need a space to reflect on what’s going on for me, right?–but it’s also a consequence of this intimidation, this feeling of being outside the conversation. In fact, I’m writing this post now because immediately after I wrote my little post about Joel Olson’s article, I wanted to delete it. I doubted my ability or right to comment on such a clearly smart person’s thinking. I thought that clearly if I’m disagreeing with him I’m just not understanding him well enough…which always is a potential, but it’s still really chilling. How can I blog as part of a discourse, and not as a lone thinker in my bedroom, when that discourse scares the shit out of me and makes me feel dumb?

How do we break through all of this? I know it was discussed at the US Social Forum, and I was excited about that, but what I heard was mostly from the perspective of radical grad students. What I’m curious about is less how we keep the academy connected to the grassroots, but rather how do we make the grassroots more intellectually robust? How do we break down the many actually useful tools of scholarship and democratize them so they can be used in the daily practices of working people within the struggle?

I love the proliferation of study groups in other parts of the country, and I see it starting to take seed in Seattle. That’s exciting. I think the new accessibility of media is allowing for a lot of neat stuff with oral histories, storytelling, and participatory research. That’s really neat. But I’m even more curious about tools for democratic theory-building, and of the popularization of theoretical tools for mass use. This is popular education at its core, right? Sure, it really has been transfigured into this other, grotesque sort of thing which is just like a long list of “pop-ed” workshops, but there is still a lot of potential for going back to a richer form of popular education.

And for individual political writing and sharing? I’d love to be in a radical writing group with folks, maybe with the goal of putting out an online publication every 3 months or something. That could be cool.

I know personally that I want to confront the intimidation head-on, because really there is a lot more that I want to write, to extend a lot of strategic questions further, but once again I already feel myself freezing up like I usually do on this blog. Come on, Jeremy, not this time!

Update: The more I think about this, the more neat ideas I’m imagining about ways to get grassroots, mass-based spaces involved in theory generation and authentic praxis. There are so many great lessons from past and current movements about this, and with modern technology it could be so cool, and so, so fast compared to the old days!

5 years of writing here…

It’s July of 2010. I started this blog in July of 2005, when I took my first trip to Guatemala. Wow, it’s been so long already.

I just want to briefly celebrate this 5th anniversary of this page. The space that this page has given to me to process and grow has been invaluable. I was reading back over stuff yesterday from all over the last five years, and even though my entries have been inconsistent, I do think they capture a good chunk of where I’ve been at. That feels really good.

And a special thank you to my long lost friend and backdoor site administrator, Dave. I appreciate your support on this so much. Please, also, it’s been long enough, you can send me an invoice for what this page is costing you!

Much love to all who read and all who love me.

Common Action’s Seattle branch just finished reading and discussing this interesting piece by Joel Olson, “Between Infoshops and Insurrection: U.S. Anarchism, Movement Building, and the Racial Order.” For such a short piece, it really gives a lot to talk about, and it was fun sharing perspectives with my comrades.

The main point of the article is that if U.S. anarchism is serious about being relevant and revolutionary, then it needs to do things: 1) take white supremacy seriously as a strategic bulwark of capitalism and oppression, and 2) go beyond the short-sighted tactics of either insurrectionary acts or small-scale subcultural infoshop politics, toward more long-range, strategic movement building. Of course, I highly recommend reading the article to get into the details and arguments behind those two points.

I don’t deeply disagree with the article, and I felt happily challenged by it (especially Olson’s contention about the long history of the US Black freedom struggle being more useful for US anarchists as a revolutionary tradition than the typical European anarchist histories of Spain, Bakunin, Goldman, etc.), and appreciative of its critique of anarchism’s weakness on racism. But at the same time, I’m not quite buying his point about the current racial order and anarchist strategy.

Sure, it’s true that modern anarchists need to both avoid reductionism and avoid this sort of vague, happy catch-all of “all oppressions are equal so we just fight them all at the same time.” We need strategies, and that means strategically chosen fights and political programs. It makes sense. And it also makes sense that struggling against white supremacy is strategically vital.

But that’s the thing, if we are going to really talk about strategy we’ve got to do better than this. While vague “hierarchy” or “anti-oppression” language can be strategically weak in the service of moral strength, the answer to its weaknesses is not a return back to “priority” oppressions. We are struggling against historically complex and highly dynamic social systems, that interact across all lines of collective and individual experience every day. To beat these systems, to transform them, we must understand how fast and hegemonic they are. They defend themselves on multiple fronts. Whiteness is just one of those fronts, even in the US context. Sure, the psychological wages of whiteness do create cross-class alliances that help support capitalism. Sure. But these systems also create hundreds of other strands of dependency, buy-in, and “common sense” across our culture…and if the wages of whiteness ever stopped paying off, you’d better believe that these systems will find other ways to stabilize themselves (and that has actually happened unevenly since at least the civil rights movement). Think about the Red Scare. Think about the patriarchal archetype of the breadwinner. And currently, think about the deep existential disconnect that imperialism creates between almost all folks in the US and those who extract and produce our lifestyle in other countries…the way that imperialism creates capitalist buy-in even among US people of color (even migrant folks in the US!). To be strategic, then, is to be flexible in the face of this dynamism, not to hunker down into any one structural focus that seems to be super clear, for the moment (it’s interesting because so many of the references that Olson makes date back at least 30 years or more, so it doesn’t even quite feel in the moment to me). Of course, it also doesn’t mean to do everything all at the same time with no attention to realities on the ground. Flexibility. Presence. Sharpness, sure, but sharpness that bends.

What I said tonight in the meeting is that I vastly prefer intersectionality, and particularly the contributions of woman of color feminism, as a way toward a strategic analysis. Intersectionality, when done right, doesn’t let us off the hook in terms of a tuned-in, robust understanding of race…but it also doesn’t allow us to be simplistic with that understanding. It trusts our intellects to hold the multiple structural realities that people live in their real lives…just like women of color must hold those realities every day! What keeps this from being strategically vague, then? Well, because it is based on looking at the actual experiences of those who are affected by these structures, rather than us fighting abstract categories of oppression and then trying to find structural symbols to manifest those fights (like fighting police or racist school testing to undo racism, for example). That is, we build the frame out of the intersections on the ground, rather than picking fights on the ground to fit the predetermined frame.

Still, even this doesn’t get us to the level of a winning strategy. Whether talking about anti-racism or intersectionality, there is still the same challenge of picking fights and building programs that have the greatest ability to overturn the system and build a new one…with the limited time, people, and resources that we have. This is where I agree with Olson that movement building is vital…and this is also where I think the strategic questions get really interesting and potentially innovative. If the system is as dynamic as I say, and as complex, what are the sites of struggle, the organizational forms, the demands and long-term methods of building people power that can break through that dynamism? Intersectionality (or anti-racism if one still insists) is just the analytical tool…it still isn’t the actual strategy…not even close. So what more do we need?

This is the number one political question that has been on my mind for years. And I’m glad that this and other articles are giving us room in Seattle to get to this. Maybe I’ll find an opportunity in all the difficulties of my life to share more of my theoretical ideas after all.

The Wonder Beyond the Numbness…

“If you knew that you would find a truth
That brings up pain that can’t be soothed
Would you change?
Would you change?”
-Tracy Chapman, “Change”

It’s just plain neat how the way we spend our time–our daily practices, as somatics folks like to talk about it–can totally affect our consciousness and our mood.

Like I said recently, I spent almost the entire weekend in bed, watching TV and playing video games. Essentially, I spent the weekend numbed out. When difficult ideas surfaced in my mind, or stresses began to appear, I would just dive further, surfing the web on my laptop while I watched TV. Playing cellphone games while listening to podcasts. Total sensory overload as a way to shut out feelings as well as the physical pain of my sprained foot and burned finger (small cooking accident).

Very well, but something interesting happened when I chose to turn off Friday Night Lights and try my hand at blogging again. That decision woke me up. It woke my feelings and intellect up! Not only was I reflecting on the US Social Forum, but my mind just started working through all sorts of discourses, project ideas, potential blog posts…including this one. I can’t really emphasize how different I felt. I almost felt like a different person entirely…myself. Exhilarating.

But you open up the flood, and it really comes flooding. I woke up this morning and the first thing I did was turn on some music. Tracy Chapman, singing my soul. The tears came quickly. That when I let myself think and feel, I’ve gotta think about the choices I’ve made, the pressures I feel, a grown man dying in Guatemala and growing Guatemalan young people depressed at the structural walls overshadowing them. The father I may become soon enough, and how I don’t want to be the fathers I’ve seen. How lost I feel when I think about life post-SYPP. Things I’ve mostly written about here before. What mistakes have I made? How badly have I strayed from the path I wanted? How wrong was I about what this life would hold for me?

But also, the flood of the beautiful, the wonderful: how fascinating it is the level that babies’ brains have to work to learn language, and how dazzling it is all the new ideas and poetry that linguistic structures allow; how stunning it is to watch people in my life learn, grow, change…watching younger cousins and ex-students and my own family members…ooh what a privilege it is to participate in; and how utterly overwhelming, how dwarfed I feel by that long train of people before me who have chosen to keep believing in the struggle for the beautiful and fair. I was just so, so happy to feel bathed in this, to feel the wonder of this little world of ours.

You know, maybe this is Bipolar Disorder (if that’s even real)…biochemical cycles going from the numbness and depression to the frantic and awed. But I don’t think so. I think I did make a choice last night to think and feel and reflect…and I think this happiness is really just me connecting to myself again, like coming back to an old friend. And that connection had me dancing alone in my bedroom with a sprained ankle this morning, holding my laptop like a guitar and belting out Christian pop tunes…with feeling.

That was pretty great.

So, Glendi’s in Guatemala for a month–which is a future post in itself–and I’m alone in the house with a sprained ankle. So this weekend I had very little to do.

I played a whole lot of video games (Tales of Monkey Island and Monster Hunter for the win), and then I started streaming this TV show that my friend Bruin had mentioned, Friday Night Lights. An NBC series about a high school football team in a small, depressed West Texas town? Not for me, I thought. Well, I bought in as soon as the pilot, and I’m embarrassed to admit that I watched all 22 hours of the first season in a day and a half. I was in bed watching the show for 15 HOURS on Saturday. In fact, before I started writing in this blog tonight I was just finishing the 4th episode of the second season!

So what do I like about it? Do I have a political reason? Not really. I just think the stories are good. It’s pretty much about the whole town and people’s lives, not just football. Now, there are layers of politics to explore and the show does explore them–there’s lot’s of stuff about ablism, some about race and class, a little bit about gender so far. But honestly, I don’t think much of it is all that deep (except for the ablism storylines, which I think are compelling and pretty rare for mainstream entertainment), but it’s gripping for me. I wouldn’t actually recommend it to you, necessarily, but it was gripping for me.

One thing that I particularly was struck by, oddly, was the way people set boundaries in the show. There is a whole lot of “get out” “leave and never come back,” “do the right thing or face the consequences,” kind of talk in the show, and it’s sort of the dominant way people make tough choices in the program. A lot of sort of razor-sharp decisiveness, whether it’s about monogamy or reconciliation, or quitting drinking, or confronting injustice. This didn’t strike me as realistic at all, because I’m very indecisive and I’m terrible at setting boundaries…but I think what is intoxicating about the show is watching people make tough choices and growing by leaps and bounds in each hour long episode…and here I am struggling for years just to even maintain an internal dialogue with myself through mediums like this blog! I think I was drawn to the escape into this world where tough situations are so clear and easy to confront and take action on. If only it were so.

It’s almost midnight now on Sunday night, and I have to get up at 6am to go to work and work on a grant with a deadline…but I’m mighty tempted to put on one more episode to fall asleep to.

Why should anyone but me care about my addiction to this silly show? I have no idea, but I think there are more profound things at work here, relating to how I’m feeling about real life in general. Which hopefully I’ll get to soonish.

From June 21st to the 26th, I traveled to Detroit with 9 youth and 2 adults to attend the US Social Forum (USSF), a gathering of between 15,000 and 20,000 social justice activists from all over the country and beyond. I actually started writing my blog reflections about the experience as soon as I was on the plane home, but as usual I started over-thinking it and just stopped writing. So, instead, I think I’ll just share some of my reflections in bullet points, before I start forgetting everything.

-The trip was exhausting! Because I went in my co-director role at Seattle Young People’s Project, serving as an adult chaperone for 9 young people (ages 12-19), I felt like I was constantly checking in with youth, texting someone or another, helping people find workshops, staying up until 2 or 3 in the morning debriefing the experience with the other adult support people. It felt more like work than any kind of trip. However, the good side of this was that I loved it! I really treasured the opportunity I had to really think about supporting teenage activists as they were having this one-of-a-kind experience. It was special to think about their experiences, to listen to their questions, to hear their frustrations, and to reflect back what I was observing from them. It felt like popular education as it was originally theorized: a process of dialogue and reflection where themes are presented, contradictions are unearthed, and new learning unfolds as that new experience clashes with the worldview that the student brings to the table. Though I can’t say that I slept well each night, I did go to sleep very, very happy. I felt really alive.

-Speaking of youths’ frustrations, the USSF has a lot to learn about being youth friendly. Youth were continuously frustrated by the inaccessibility of workshops, intimidation about asking questions (even being laughed at when asking someone to break down the meaning of neoliberalism), the lack of attention to all-ages party spaces throughout the week, and the sorry state of the designated “youth space” which youth said was relegated to a smelly basement (though I never saw it). I’ve heard similar but unique critiques about the ablism of the forum, as well as numerous instances of transphobia (particularly around the issue of gender-neutral bathrooms) but I don’t feel like I know enough to go into detail about it. Google it and I bet you’ll find some brilliant pieces of reflection.

-This was my 3rd time in Detroit, and ironically it was the time that I felt most disconnected from the realities of the city. I spent almost all my time in a very heavily-policed and well-developed area of downtown, and the sheer number of activist folks everywhere gave downtown Detroit a very surreal atmosphere. Many people expressed frustration about this, and made comments about how people should have left downtown to talk with “real Detroiters” and I hear that…but at the same time I was annoyed by how often this came from other white folks, who I felt were kind of falling into some exotification of local folks. As I’ve described it to my friends, it felt almost like some kind of racist petting zoo, with radical white folks talking about walking up and hugging random black people all over town, and asking people for their life stories because they are “so much more interesting than what’s happening in workshops.” I wondered how many of these folks would do the same thing back in their home towns, with the folks of color there? Because of the heavily policed and fair-like atmosphere, it just felt off, the level of entitlement to people’s stories and struggles that I saw people displaying. But maybe that’s just me.

-But speaking of Detroit, the plenary event on the first night of the forum was fantastic! A panel of some Detroit movement elders (including one of my long-time revolutionary stars, Grace Lee Boggs) talking about the history of Detroit as “a movement city” was really powerful. Listening to the discussion of the Detroit uprising of ’67 (I believe), and of movement history before and since, I fluttered my eyes and told my comrades from Common Action that I was in heaven. And I was. I love hearing people talk about their revolutionary experiences, especially when they are older and they still identify as movement people.

-This really hits at something that I’ve been learning about myself generally. I’ve got a big, sappy place in my heart for themes related to aging. I think and write about my own aging a lot (and I will continue to do so, I imagine). The movies that most often make me cry are crap like “The Notebook” or damned “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” not because they are that good, but because they show old people reflecting, making legacies together, and dying. So, watching old radicals reflecting on their contributions to not only a general revolutionary movement, but to the movement in a specific geographic location…it was almost too much. I started crying a bit right in the plenary. It brings up such vivid imaginings of who I want to be at 80 or 90, if I make it…of how I want to contribute and listen and share with my younger comrades in whatever city I end up being committed to.

-As for the workshops, well I spent a lot of time helping young people go to their workshops, and so I missed a number of slots, but almost every workshop I went to was excellent: meeting youth organizers from Mississippi talking about leadership transitions; watching anarchists and other radical scholars talk about movement-based research; a mind-opening workshop about building a leadership pipeline for youth to transition into the social justice movement, as an alternative to the school-to-prison pipeline; a workshop on transformative organizing that integrates whole-body, somatic approaches to personal change to great, structural movement-building thinking; a workshop with some really interesting new-school Marxist type folks about revolutionary approaches to reform; a workshop on US Solidarity with ALBA and the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela; an assembly on a youth-led national student bill of rights campaign…and more. All of these workshops, every single one, was engaging and exciting to me, and I was left with dozens of questions each time.

-This was one of the best parts of my experience (alongside my reflections on youth support): how intellectually electrified the whole thing made me feel. To be honest, as my infrequent blog posts should show, I’ve been in a real political rut. Very busy with work and organizing, but not really inspired or motivated. Just plain down, to be real honest. And one of the consequences of that is that I don’t actually read very much or engage much with current movement discourses. I read maybe seven or eight books a year, that’s all! For me, that’s really sad. But the interesting thing is that at the forum, I was amazed by how fluid and sharp I was in all of the discussions. Even in more tough-vocabulary Marxist discussions I was so happy to so quickly follow all of the exchanges, but also to quickly think about it, process it, and have handfuls of questions at all times. I was just brimming with questions! It was great!

-Many of those questions are potential topics for future blog posts: questions about the relationship between reform that engages the State and the building of revolutionary alternatives; questions of the efficacy of transformative justice organizing within our movements; the role of parties and cadre organizations in building the US left; the role of the city and citizenship as primary revolutionary sites of struggle; the question of community, spirituality, and the search for a political home…and oh so much more!

-But a big highlight for my trip was the personal connections I made in Detroit…almost entirely with people who I already knew: an absolutely heart overflowing hour+ with my brilliant old friend Chris Dixon (thanks, Chris!), a euphoric discussion until 4am with 3 comrades from Common Action about class struggle, transformative justice, and the church model of organizing; late-night debriefs and confessions about race, age, identity and vulnerability with my fellow adult support people…I just felt so connected with these people who I’m organizing with and who I have known for awhile.

-In short, for my organization the USSF was a solid experience that will pay off for our organizing. For me personally, it was even better: a vital refresher that came at a perfect time, a time when I’ve been doubting more and more who I am in relation to movement work. It was a great reminder of just how comfortable I am thinking about revolution, social movements, strategy, theory, and down-to-earth questions of change. It’s like since I was 14 my mind has become finely tuned to this stuff (which is pretty much the case), and I had really missed it. So it was great to feel it again.

There, now I wrote that, all in a half-hour. Here’s hoping this quick post keeps me writing here again.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi