December 2012

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Fighting Over the Crumbs…

Snapshots of internalized class warfare in Colomba Costa Cuca, Guatemala:

    -In August, when I was last in Guatemala, a 13-year old classmate of my brother-in-law’s was kidnapped when gang members tried to take his dad’s motorcycle. 3 days later, his body was found in a creek in a whole other state of Guatemala. His arms were cut off, he was decapitated, scalped, and his jaw was cut from his skull.

    -Around that same time, my oldest brother-in-law, the head bookkeeper and supervisor at a large coffee finca, started getting phone calls from extortionists threatening his family. He changed his number. Two months later, a group of men were waiting for him as he left a bank nearby. They put a pistol to his back and told him that they hadn’t been playing around on the phone. I don’t know how he found the–what was it?–$4,000, but he did pay them. He had been too scared to tell anyone, so he didn’t ask Glendi or I for the money. We only found out because his wife found a bank receipt in his pants.

    -During this Christmas, just up the street, gang members used the late night fireworks to cover the sounds of their gunshots as they killed a young man and dumped his body near the cemetery.

    -Today, up the street at a streetside cell-phone card stand, assailants beat the clerk and stole about $1,500.

    -Last week, when my family went up to our school land where there is coffee growing, people had already stolen most of the coffee beans for themselves. You can forget about the bananas…they always are stealing our bananas.

    -Almost every night, we have to listen outside to make sure no one will sneak in to the back yard and steal our New Year’s turkey. It’s happened plenty of times before.

    -Oh, I didn’t even mention last summer, when I personally was stuffing bundles of $2,000+ cash into a red bag in order to pay off some mysterious people threatening Glendi’s sister….that’s a much longer story there.

Hooray for another round of backwards planning, this time for my own political work! I tried to make the scale reasonable, so I’m giving myself a year to figure things out as I move toward my final outcomes. That kind of makes this a new years resolution. Kind of cute that way.

One thing I noticed from last time is that I missed a whole category: pre-assessment. That is where you acknowledge where things currently stand, so that your planning actually starts in a grounded way. I added that section into the plan. So, let’s go.

1) Final Outcome: What do I want to be contributing to the movement by the end of 2013?

    -I am a proud and excited member of some kind of organized political formation—ideally a mass-based organization. This organization is energetically building movement infrastructure and is capable of efficiently utilizing people’s contributions at varied levels of intensity.

    -I am involved in at least one organized group or campaign that leverages my position as a teacher to support youth, family, and community base-building in South King County.

    -I am helping to build a cultural dual power by contributing my ideas in workshops, published writing, and some forms of electronic media. I have at least playtested one of my revolutionary board game designs.

    -In writing, workshops, or some other media, I have collaborated with others to distill and share lessons we’ve learned from years of organizing problems. I am able to propose and advocate for practical solutions to various problems that political groups face.

    -Glendi and I have expanded our Guatemalan holistic school project into a full non-profit fundraising project, so that we can raise money at the scale we need to make it happen.

    -While there are natural ebbs and flows, my activity is more or less stable throughout the year, and is balanced with my commitments to family, friends, work, and self-care.

2) Pre-Assessment: What are my current contributions, capacities, and challenges related to these outcomes?

    -I’ve been re-reading this past blog and…man! Although I tend to be really insecure, I think I can safely say I’m a pretty good writer. I have a ton of rough, partial, sometimes really cool ideas that could probably be helpful if published and shared in the world.

    -But, I really do tend to be insecure. I’m ridiculously sensitive to people reading and criticizing my stuff. This will be a big challenge if I actually want to try writing or speaking for an audience. (Quick aside: Why am I not insecure at all about teaching? My principal watches me all the time, and 120 students have all sorts of mixed opinions about me every day! Yet I actually get a thrill from all that.)

    -I am also ridiculously hot and cold with my political engagement. I get hot streaks like this week, then I go months without checking emails, returning phone calls, or reading anything. Like I’ve said before, underneath that is a lot of anxiety and self-medication through escapism.

    -With my current new teacher work schedule and child care responsibilities, I have from 4pm-6pm free each evening, with weekends being a lot more free. From 6pm-8pm, I tend to be doing baby-care while Glendi works, so if I found child friendly spaces for organizing, that could give me more time. As for weekends, I fiercely guard them for Glendi, Amanecer, and I. But I think I need to flex this more.

    -Right now, with this free time, I’m spending about 2-4 hours a night either playing video games, internet window shopping, or watching TV with Glendi.

    -Our Guatemalan school project has land, and our Secret Cafe fundraisers are making enough each year to at least pay a few scholarships. The ground has been laid for more ambitious planning, fundraising, and building.

    -I know parts of South King County communities relatively well, because I’ve worked there for cumulatively almost 6 years. If I am patient and dedicated, I think I could be a true asset to grassroots base-building there.

    -I feel almost completely out of touch with current anti-authoritarian organizing in Seattle. I know folks in the Black Orchid Collective and a few in Seattle Solidarity Network, but if I don’t want to be a lone wolf type—and I don’t—then I have my relationship-building work cut out for me.

    -Because I am so out of touch with the local scene, I don’t even know if meeting my goals involves joining existing groups, or the much more exhausting work of collaborating to form new groups.

    -Further, because of my life-long tendency to want to feel distinct and special, I will have a dangerous temptation to assume that existing groups aren’t the right fit. I might be right, but I must be careful.

3) Evidence of Success: How will I quantitatively and qualitatively know if I’ve accomplished my outcomes?

I think my final outcomes above mostly do the trick. In backwards planning for teaching, this is where we think of what specific test questions or assignments will let us know that a student has learned what we want them to. But in planning for just myself, it’s challenging to think of evidence beyond just straight-up meeting my goals.

Still, maybe a few things could be more specific…

    -I am a member of no more than 2-3 groups: 1) an explicitly revolutionary group, 2) a group that leverages my teaching work for South King County base-building, and 3) maybe some group related to radical parenting, mutual support, or radical gaming.

    -My email inbox is cleared out by the end of each week, with responses to all who I need to respond to. Same for my phone voicemail and snail-mail inbox. Being personally organized is critical to meeting my outcomes.

    -When I ask my family members, friends, comrades, and coworkers, their responses are relatively similar that I seem to be balancing my commitments well, and they are satisfied with my efforts.

    -In collaboration or on my own, I have published at least 3 pieces or facilitated multiple workshops that I’m proud of. After soliciting feedback, people express that my contributions are helpful.

    -Any strategic or tactical contributions I suggest are taken seriously by at least a handful of other radicals, who are able to share with me how they concretely benefited from my help.

4) Key Milemarkers: What are key moments, accomplishments, or stages on the way to success?

    -At least privately, I am able to roughly map the political constellation of radical Seattle, and I am able to clearly identify spaces where I am excited to work, instead of feeling like I 100% need to do or start my own thing.

    -I find a group for myself!

    -I revise and publish my first piece, and then follow through by engaging with any comments or critiques without hiding in a hole for 6 months.

    -I have made it through 6 months of slow but steady political presence without dropping away too badly…which means that I’ve made it to the end of the school year as well!

    -The group related to my teacher role has its first event—hopefully by spring/summer.

    -I have my first play-date with other radical parents.

    -I have created a playable prototype of my revolutionary board game.

    -Our Guatemalan school project has a Board of Directors and we have completed our 501(c)(3) application!

    -I have political friends who I share meals with at least a couple of times a month.

5) Daily Projects and Activities: How will I move toward my final outcomes on the day-to-day level?

    -I want to coordinate with Glendi to have guests over for meals 3 or 4 times a month. I want to really put some effort into relationship building and maintenance. Oh, how many friendships I’ve lost and squandered from simple lack of presence and care!

    -I reserve about 4 hours a week for political work outside of the house. This is meetings or hang outs. I need to push to make sure my time here is compatible with my baby-care.

    -At first, my out-of-the house time should be focused on a little political tour of spaces and groups, to get a feel for what’s happening. Additionally, I’ll want to keep a calender of events so I can prioritize events that 1) are most interesting, and 2) where I can be more useful than just another body in a room.

    -I reserve another 4-5 hours a week for writing, reading, and creative work in the house. I’d like to be reading at least one blog entry or article a day, and responding in comments 2-3 times a week.

    -I already have some prospects for some cool teaching related work, so I want to follow-up on that and see where it goes.

    -I want to create a personal wants/needs/non-negotiables list for what a political home should look like for me. Then I want to slowly and thoughtfully look for a group in Seattle. If I really don’t find one, then I need to identify individuals who I want to build a new group with.

    -Using my “Lessons Learned From…” as a starting point, I want to reach out to some other people I have in mind to create a deeper synthesis of lessons that we could share as a zine and electronic resource…maybe even a short video project?

    -I need to purge my email, mail, and voicemail. Make a list of outstanding correspondence, and then work through 2-3 of these a day until I’m caught up. From there, I should be clearing these out every couple of nights.

    -To make sure I’m doing all this stuff, I need some explicit mentor or motivator relationships. I need 1 or 2 people who will agree to support me and push me when my downs hit me. I have a list of a handful of people in mind already.

    -I keep writing in my blog. About 1 entry a week or 4 a month feels good.

    -I need to avoid feelings of perfectionism, and be prepared to scale back 1 or 2 projects if I’m getting too overwhelmed. The trick is to scale back smartly, rather than just dropping completely off the planet like I usually do. For now, I feel like really pushing my writing forward is my biggest priority, and so meetings would be the thing to scale back if I had to. I have never invested enough into my writing, and I really want that to change in 2013.

Damn, that was fun, too. My, oh my, how good I feel to have taken the slow, deliberate, and wordy road to move myself from political stagnation and crabbiness to this inspiring plan for my work in Seattle. I am mighty excited. Now, it’s all about the implementation. I think one of my first orders of business, maybe even while I’m still in Guatemala, is to get my mentors/motivators lined up.

As a teacher in today’s public schools, I’m tasked with supporting 100% of my students to meet certain learning goals, and then proving that learning with evidence from student work and activity. There are plenty of political reasons to critique how this plays out in schools, but that’s for another time. A positive that comes from this is that it forces us teachers to think about overwhelming and seemingly impossible educational expectations, and then creatively plan how to accomplish those expectations for our entire, diverse population of students.

This need for planning in the face of seemingly impossible odds is exactly where anti-authoritarians find ourselves, and so I think the teacher practice of backwards planning can be quite useful for revolutionary folks.

Here, I’m going to try an initial draft of backwards planning, by creating a plan for the big-picture revolution. It’s what I personally imagine for a winning anti-authoritarian movement. This draft is mostly just to have fun and get the hang of this, so that my second draft can be a more intimate, individual, and concrete backwards plan for my personal political work.

Here’s what I’m trying: I’m going to sketch a rough backwards plan of what I think the anti-authoritarian movement needs to accomplish to be at the point where it could pull off a successful revolution in the U.S. It’s not a plan for the post-revolutionary society, nor is it a plan for the specific tipping point of transformation (general strike, insurrection, a magically transformational electoral victory, ecological crisis, or defense against an enemy attack that then becomes a revolutionary moment, etc.). It’s a plan for the prerequisites that we need to have so that we can win when a tipping point opportunity shows up.

1) Final Outcome: What do we want the movement to be able to do?

    -At least 1/3 of the U.S. population (about 100 million people) supports and participates in the anti-authoritarian movement; another 1/3 is neutral or sympathetic but skeptical; the other 1/3 may be hostile.

    -We have built a cultural dual-power that provides diverse, rich, and daily whole-life programming at a mass level. This dual-power has made special effort to reach and engage with armed forces personnel stationed across the globe.

    -We have built sustainable, practiced organs for directly-democratic decision-making and the accountable execution of those decisions at workplace, neighborhood, and school levels.

    -We have built an active network of millions of people (let’s say 10,000,000) who can mobilize and use a wide variety of direct action tactics (read: not protest, but direct action) to defend the movement or push the movement forward.

    -Our sources of strength are sufficiently balanced across rural and urban areas and key industries that we could generate the resources to sustain ourselves even if the rest of the world and the country boycotted us post-revolution.

2) Evidence of Success: How will we quantitatively and qualitatively know when the movement has achieved our outcome?

    -In polls and surveys, at least 1/3 show support or sympathy with the anti-authoritarian movement…not just our values, but the movement itself.

    -At least, say, 30 million people have actually signed on to some kind of 1-2 page statement of revolutionary vision or purpose.

    -When asked, 100 million people have at least 1 daily contact point with the anti-authoritarian movement, be it participation in an assembly, accessing anti-authoritarian media, utilizing anti-authoritarian consumer options, or having daily contact with an organizer who they respect.

    -The movement has at least 20-30 highly successful examples of workplace, neighborhood, and school direct democracy, with at least 1,000 more that are at least in embryonic form. If we have at least those good examples, their model can spread fast in a more heated revolutionary situation.

    -On any given week, at least 1-2 million people are engaging in some kind of direct action across the country…and on following weeks, we see a different 1-2 million mobilizing. At least 1/3 of these mobilizations are in rural areas.

    -At least 30,000,000 people have participated in a strike, boycott, or walkout within, say, a year-long period of time.

    -There are GI coffeeshops and alternative institutions established near almost all military bases. If you can’t tell, I think the distinct nature and cultural hegemony of the U.S. military is a unique challenge for U.S. revolutionaries.

3) Key Milemarkers: What are some of important stages or accomplishments on the road to our outcomes?

    -A majority of the most serious, dedicated, and principled anti-authoritarian forces (I don’t give a shit about the adventurists and wing-nuts) have signed on to a 1-2 page statement of unity, which is a foundation for their organizing and outreach. The number of signers goes from 500, to 1,000, to 10,000, to 1,000,000…and rising.

    -We have established our first examples of successful mass-based cultural organizations in both urban and rural contexts. These organizations have weathered the storms of conflict, internal power dynamics, repression, and apathy and have gone on to survive and thrive.

    -Anti-authoritarians have been key, even majority participants in at least a few large-scale direct action campaigns that directly threaten a major corporation or state apparatus…and we win a significant number of our demands. These victories solidify our credibility with non anti-authoritarians.

    -In at least a few urban and rural contexts, we have established our first successful, lasting examples of large-scale workplace, neighborhood, and school direct democracy.

    -We have established our first anti-authoritarian equivalents to schools and universities, and child and youth participation rises from hundreds, to thousands, to millions.

    -We have established our first 24-hour outlets for news, entertainment, and educational programming…whether these are networks of local initiatives or a national electronic media.

4) Day-To-Day Activities: What specific actions, projects, or other contributions will help make this stuff happen?

    -A 1-2 page statement that is clear and accessible, but also captures all the important non-negotiables that make serious anti-authoritarians who we are…this statement should be the back-page of our leaflets, a sidebar on our websites, and a brief aside in all of our public speaking. Agreement or disagreement with the statement is an empowering and clear decision point for all newcomers to a movement.

    -Experienced organizers should continue to collaborate extensively to synthesize and share lessons for how to problem solve around movement killing dynamics: internal movement violence and failed accountability; repression and infiltration; wars of personality; hyper-identity politics and the opposite, hyper-defensiveness about identity; super-star worship and jealousy; overwork and burnout; and navel-gazing and drowning in process. Actual solutions and models should be proposed, tested, and then energetically advocated for. Let’s figure this shit out and move on, please.

    -Cultural projects, and lots of them. More workshops, trainings, music, theatre, movies, video games. More cultural meeting spaces. You know I’m all about revolutionary congregations!

    -Experimentation, and lots of it. Immediate and constant attempts at mass-based organization building. Experiment, reflect, revise, and repeat again. If an attempt fails, try a different one. Our ideas are already good enough to have mass organizations now; we don’t need to wait for some cadre period first…I’m increasingly convinced that cadres are a strategic error.

    -Do the same experimentation process in direct action work and with attempts at direct democracy at workplace, neighborhood, and school levels. With all of this, we don’t know what is a prerequisite for what, so we kind of need to throw a lot of things at a wall and see what sticks.

    -A constant background context of small victories…a la Seattle Solidarity Network. While we are working and tinkering with bigger-picture stuff, we should be choosing and fighting little fights that we can win.

    -Documentation, and lots of it. Anti-authoritarians should evolve a dedicated, energetic research and polling network—designed to collect ongoing data for movement use about what works and doesn’t for achieving our goals.

    -Hella relationship-building. The greatest way to sustain a movement is for the movement to be infested with positive and healthy relationships. Even though we don’t have the theory and the structures down and we’re not even close, there is nothing keeping us from a friendly and warm vibe with a spirit of openness and experimentation. Lots of potlucks, one-on-one lunches, intermural sports, socials, etc…but boo to always having alcohol involved in social stuff.

    -A patient, multi-generational timeline. It is absolutely true that, given special conditions, all of our final outcomes could ramp up and be accomplished in a matter of years or a decade. However, anti-authoritarian revolution is by far the hardest revolution to actually win—hence our track record of zero. We should be flexible and lithe, ready to pounce on opportunities, but we also need to treat each other with a lot of patience…this will probably take a long time and we are small enough now that the stakes of our individual and small-group failures are actually really low. Let’s take advantage of that by really stretching, playing, and slowly trying to get things right as we grow and evolve.

Wow, that was fun. I love thinking about this stuff. Finally, after this and the last piece, I think I’m grounded enough for the harder work: backwards planning for my own political work, which I can jump right into in the new year.

Note to the reader: this piece is me processing a bunch of stuff. I thought about not posting it, but something I’ve found about this page is that I tend to be more useful to others when I am more open and vulnerable. In this case, I tried to be as clear as possible about the steps of my processing so that maybe it could be helpful to others when they are trying to think through political negativity.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I felt like I’ve become more grumpy and conservative about politics lately, often complaining to myself about the state of organizing, while contributing less than ever. The feeling has been bothering me since I wrote about it, to the point that it’s affecting my sleep.

I don’t want to be that person, that cliché who snipes at other radicals—mostly younger folks—while never knowing or admitting whether it’s because of genuine disagreement, or just bitterness about how my own life choices have distanced me from the struggle. Here, while I have some time in Guatemala, I want to work through some of these feelings, and see if I can come out the other side with a healthier orientation to politics—and especially to the local organizing that I tend to react most strongly to.

Step 1: Breathe, Ground Myself, and Notice My Feelings

When I pause, close my eyes, and just feel, it’s amazing what my body tells me that I don’t want to tell myself. The tension I feel in my back and chest when I think about what’s happening in Seattle, the signs of anxiety that I detect as I catch up on reading political blogs, they show me that there is certainly more going on for me than political disagreement—though I’ll get to that part soon enough. Underneath all my rationalizations, the most visceral feelings I have are more personal—and more petty—than political.

I am jealous, and I am scared. I am jealous that people are out there taking risks, writing things, building groups and countercultures, and growing a movement that seems even more large and significant than anything I’ve done…while I work, play video games, and numb myself in a consumerist domesticity. At the same time, I’m scared that other people will build a winning movement without me, that someone else will write the great books that I want to write, and that I will just be a has-been, sellout teenage-anarchist-turned-professional. I am scared of being left behind, especially as I age.

This part is very telling: I am far more threatened by other radicals’ potential success than I am by the possibility that our movements might be losing. Pretty sad, Jeremy.

This is what happens when your identity, since you were 14 or 15, has been based on not only a vision of a revolutionary movement, but especially on a belief—even a sense of entitlement—that you will be a special and celebrated contributor to that movement. When your context and your choices start increasingly contradicting that identity, you either grow and reassess who you are, or you start frothing up and lashing out. I’d rather do some growing.

So, what do I do with my not-so-healthy feelings? Where do I go next?

Step 2: Own the Unhealthy Feelings, Identify Positive and Healthy Goals, and Refocus There

Even further below my jealousy and fear, there is a guilt and a dissatisfaction. I am not quite happy with who I am politically. While I don’t think I’m currently self-hating or depressed or anything, I do know that there are ways I want to grow.

I want to better appreciate the ways in which my teaching work, fatherhood & partnership, and our commitment to our family in Guatemala uphold, rather than contradict, my political values. And where these things do contradict or excessively strain my politics, I want to do something about it. I want to better use community resources, friendships, and movement opportunities so that my personal life and teaching work can evolve within a movement, not alienated from it—which is mostly the case now.

I have the perennial goal of working through the pain and self-doubt that have festered from many past organizing and interpersonal experiences. This includes finding constructive alternatives to the self-medicating I do with consumerism, video games, and obsessive internet use.

Given the realities of my life, work, and personal commitments, I want to renew my confidence in who I am as a political person. Instead of subconsciously judging my political success or failure based on my teenage self’s dreams of full-time revolutionary activity—not to mention hubris and fame-seeking—I want to continue developing a more balanced, humanist, and feminist sense of what my own political contributions can be. I want to be confident and comfortable with who I am as a revolutionary, even if I can only contribute a few hours of explicitly revolutionary work in a week.

This means that I also desperately want to reflect and decide on how to use my precious few free political hours each week to make the best possible contribution to revolutionary movement building—with minimal interference from unhealthy jealousy, fear, ego-centrism, or attention-seeking.

So, after this internal emo-fest, exploring these personal things that are making me crabby and cold toward current political work, what will my healthier orientation to that work be? How do I want to participate? Is all my grumpiness just personal and unjustified, or do I have also have legitimate concerns to air about local politics?

Step 3: Having Recognized the Internal Stuff, Explore the Critiques and Disagreements That Remain

Acknowledging my jealousy, fear, and other personal issues and putting those on the table, there are still a handful of things that are making me uncomfortable about the current political context, at least here in Seattle. I want to at least mention them here, for potentially more discussion or even public intervention later.

An escalation of militant rhetoric and tactics, while the mass base shrinks

At the height of the Occupy movement in Seattle, I would say that there was a genuine mass attraction to what was happening. The language and populist angle of the movement spread far into popular culture and is still referenced by some non-active people today. However, as radicals dug in and fought valiantly for their positions, the masses have not stuck around. Anti-capitalists have not created sufficiently attractive “containers” for the aspirations and activities of non hardcore people to grow and blossom, yet at the same time the rhetoric of revolution, insurrection, and class struggle seems to be heightened. Anti-authoritarian revolutionary strategies can only work with millions of people involved, and our ability to build a mass base should be our most important barometer of success—of course, while maintaining our principles.

The movement is not growing fast enough, especially given the potential that Occupy had. We can blame the historical moment. We can blame the powerful. We can blame the identities or class compositions of the participants. We can critique people for being liberals and reformists all day and night. However, I believe that those critiques, in the end, often fog over radicals’ own failures to attract people to our positions. I think radicals, from the beginning of Occupy on, have been speaking a language that is unnecessarily at odds with mass culture.

One quick example: the black bloc. I can recognize the bravery and efficiency of the black bloc. I recognize that there is a huge difference between property destruction and actual violence. I understand that they are going to do their thing, even though it’s not my thing. However, I also think they scare the shit out of people. What’s the good in that? Black bloc: take a look and reflect on tactics like the European Ya Basta! (white overalls) folks during the anti-globalization movement—there are ways to be militant while also effusing color, hope, and opening spaces instead of closing or trashing them.

An uncomfortable political dialect

This connects with the point above, but it’s more personal to me. When I read a lot of today’s political blogs, including the writing of people who I really like and respect, I just kind of feel…off. If I need to let this go, I will, but I least want to air it out a little bit.

First, I’m seeing very little positive vision or strategy in people’s work these days. What are we building? What’s the point? What I see is a lot of issue-specific fights, which often get really intense—mostly because a small minority of people make them intense in pre-determined ways—but which don’t tell us what we’re fighting for. I know I’ve always been a kind of posi- kid, but I also know that most people don’t like to spend all of their time fighting, fighting, fighting without a deep connection to the vision underneath.

Second, I’m both intimidated and worried about the reliance of some of today’s most thoughtful and committed anti-capitalists to materialist, class reductionist, or otherwise Marxist language. I’m not anti-Marxist. I think Marx and Marxists have been very useful for a lot of things—particularly for understanding capitalism. However, I think they suck at communicating with ordinary people and at practicing anti-authoritarian revolutionary strategy. To reference Marx himself, I think way too often some really great people are talking with the corpses of past Marxist moments in their mouths. Anything more I have to say about this, I think I’ll say in direct response to the things I read or hear.

Third, this struggle is going to take a long time, and that means that radicals can’t always have our volume on at full
blast. There is way too much epic language in people’s writing, way too much bombastic rhetoric. The insurrectionist anarchists are the worst on this point—and Crimethinc before them—but it’s spread to a lot of the things I read in Seattle. I’m sorry, but most of the time, we revolutionaries have to be just people living our lives—and even our revolutionary writing has to reflect this. We can’t expend every breath as if we were on the barricades. It’s exhausting and it’s insincere.

A subculture that seems increasingly closed and paranoid

I don’t have much to say about this because it’s mostly anecdotal, but the impression that I get is that as repression has heated up in Seattle, radicals have become more subcultural and more closed than they were a year ago. This is unfortunate, because, despite police repression, the actual state of the movement is way too weak to justify this closed type of attitude. A movement has to be huge—or the repression has to be much more significant—before it starts acting all underground like.

From what I can tell, Seattle organizers are really on the defensive. Repression, sexual violence, and immigration attacks are dominant issues. I just hope that radicals can figure out ways to flip these defensive issues into potentially offensive issues so that it becomes real work that builds power instead of distracting from other, so-called “real work.” I’m excited by how “Who Are You Callin’ Illegal?” is trying to make that strategic flip from defense to offense, for example.

It’s amazing how much the Seattle radical scene has changed in the last year and a half. At the same time, I’ve felt tremendously unwelcome in a number of spaces—particularly anarchist spaces, and that feeling has gotten worse lately. That’s a big problem, because I’ve been doing this for a long time. What about newcomers?

There. When I really get down to it, these are the things that have been legitimately bothering me. I’ve gotten them off my chest, now what?

Step 4: Figure Out What the Hell You’re Going to Do, Jeremy!

Here’s the outcome I need from this lengthy processing session: a new orientation toward actually working in community with other Seattle revolutionaries. What am I going to do?

This is where my teacher training kicks in. It’s time for some backwards planning! When teachers need to plan a big, intimidating unit that could last months and months, we are taught to plan backwards…starting with the vision we have for what our students will know at the end of the unit, then planning how our students will be able practice that knowledge in the world, how we will confirm that knowledge through assessments, and then, finally what day-to-day activities will help us achieve these educational goals. This is what I need to do for my own organizing activity.

And that is going to have to be another post : Backwards Planning For the Revolution!

It’s winter break for me, and we’re spending all of it in Guatemala with Glendi’s family. In addition to celebrating Christmas and the New Year with her siblings, we’re also here for the first step of getting Guatemalan legal custody of her four youngest brothers, so we can start trying to bring them to live with us in the U.S. It’s going to be a long and expensive road. For this reason, Glendi and Amanecer—our 6-month old baby, for those who don’t know—are going to be here indefinitely, until the court process is finished and we’ve procured Guatemalan passports for each of the boys.

In the free moments here, I’ve been reading a good number of books—some about teaching, some fantasy novels, and a good number about politics. It’s a rare opportunity to reconnect with some anarchist reading, so I’ve been diving into In the Crossfire: Adventures of a Vietnamese Revolutionary by Ngo Van, Building Utopia: The Spanish Revolution 1936-1937 by Stuart Christie, and Decolonizing Anarchism: An Antiauthoritarian History of India’s Liberation Struggle by Maia Ramnath. For some reason, I’ve developed a habit of reading 5 or 6 books simultaneously, so all this reading has been extra enriching.

However, because all three of these books discuss peasants’ struggles and peasants’ realities quite a bit, reading has been a depressing reminder of the current state of things in Guatemala and beyond. Reading Ngo Van’s accounts of his peasant childhood from 1912 to the 1920’s, I was taken aback by how similar his life and cultural experiences were to Glendi’s—some 60 year’s later in the 1980’s. After finishing Building Utopia, I described for Glendi’s family how anarchist militia columns marched across the Spanish countryside and attempted to help liberate peasant communities and collectivize land as they passed. The response from her siblings—who had just returned from picking coffee—was a predictable, resigned silence. In his old age, someone asked Ngo Van why he kept so active in politics and struggle, and he responded, “Because the world hasn’t changed.” He’s so right. One only need to look at the peasantry to see how the fundamentals of capitalism and oppression have stayed intact.

Actually, the fundamentals have gotten a lot worse. Because while peasants traditionally lived in a social contract that at least offered stable employment and income—exploitative though it was—in Guatemala, they are now no longer peasants, but farmworkers. They have been proletarianized by having their homes kicked off the land, where they have to be rehired as essentially temp workers. Where once they got a pittance of a salary but also a finquero-owned house, a school, a church, and a communal water source, now they just get the pittance of a salary, and they have to fend for themselves for all the rest.

It’s summer here, and my family members have been going to the finca to pick coffee every day. As a group of 6-8 people working 6 hours together, they collectively make about $12 a day—after picking about 250-300 pounds of coffee. Their two week salary was just enough to pay for yesterday’s meal of little beef patties and elbow macaroni salad. Seriously. One day’s meal—plus some extra kitchen ingredients—cost two week’s salary for 6-8 people. Without outside income sent from the United States, how do Guatemalans survive?

Can the world be changed?

I think I still believe it’s possible. With a new baby, a new place to live, and a new job, I’ve been far away from my own organizing spaces in Seattle, but I’ve been watching some of it from afar, with a certain grumpy old man attitude. I’ve been annoyed at the rhetoric radicals use, the decontextualized escalations of militancy, the often simplistic framing of issues into “revolutionary” and “reformist,” and the overheated and frantic responses to repression. I’ve been especially dismayed by the cultural, political, intellectual, and tactical effects that insurrectionist anarchism has had on Seattle. Silently complaining to myself and making no positive contributions whatsoever, I’ve watched myself get more conservative. But now, with some space to think, read, and write, I think there’s a healthier approach. I hope there is, at least.

When I read about revolutionaries of the past, my hope refills and I feel motivated to keep pushing, but when I think about the present, both in the movement and in my own family’s reality, my energy vanishes. Luckily, I still have two weeks of reflection time here in Guatemala to improve on this dynamic.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi