Politics

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Well I finally did at least something with my writing. All that work that I put in over the summer–for which I woefully neglected this blog–finally got shared out into the world with this self-published piece and fancy new site (thanks Lambert Rochfort for that work!). It’s a big piece, cumbersome and very me in that I refused to pare things down into a few select, refined ideas and instead went for the big comprehensive package angled at like 3 or 4 entirely different audiences. It’s a mess, but I think it’s a charming mess.

But so be it. The piece wasn’t about making a big splash or getting things perfect. It was about catharsis. It was about breaking through a political (and thus, for me, spiritual) loneliness that’s probably deeper than I’ve felt in decades. I had to get that out, and I had to just let myself do it in the ways I know how, or that loneliness would keep shaving pieces off of me.

What comes out of it, though riddled with imperfections–from minor to almost embarrassingly major–is something that I am proud of on its own, but which I’m even more excited about as a potential project. My hope is that it will give me the confidence to spring into some existing local conversations while also initiating new ones, all toward the goal of creating some new political spaces that can hold more of us.

That was my big new year’s resolution for 2014–to end the year as a member of a political group that feels right to me–and we’ve still got 2 1/2 months to achieve it!

The title line is one of the biggest cliches that our social movements have come to know. Oh, how many millions of times it’s been said, in how many thousands of interviews, panel discussions, memoirs, hagiographies, lectures to young militants at the knees of their elders.

Repeated. Repeated. South Africa. The Soviet Union. China. Cuba. France. Venezuela. Spain. The labor unions. Civil rights. The Green movement. The non-profit sector. Even Occupy.

It’s so tired, so rote, the disconnect between the insurgent ideals that social movements use to rally their forces and destabilize power, and then the betrayals that they commit once they have become the new establishment.

But cliches exist because they contain common truths. They unearth common problems that need solving. And this problem of power, of how to utilize it and sustain it and keep it rich, lively, participatory, and well-dispersed–oh this problem is something really worth pondering.

Power. Popular power. My intellectual and political passions just keep narrowing in on this idea, and on the challenge of making it more than a slogan. I’ve got these two writing projects just floating here, gathering pieces of evidence and argument, getting stronger and more interesting the more I read, and talk, and work my day job. Anti-authoritarian movements do not like to plan for the realities of power; they like to imagine themselves always banging on the walls outside. I want to help movements think of ways we can more firmly embrace the question of power–and not just shallow, disruptive power, but generative power, creative power.

The job of our movements, the absolutely most pressing job, is to help people prepare themselves for power. It is the only way that anti-authoritarian movements will ever win. We win when so many millions of us are so damned confident and practiced and even bored with the realities of people power that it feels like a forgone conclusion that we should just be running all this shit ourselves, all together, all the time.

I have come to understand myself as having roughly two “specializations” or focuses when it comes to the radical thinking that I most enjoy: popular education/political development and structures for political organization. The reasons why I have these focuses are 1) I believe that the left heavily—almost pathologically—overemphasizes social analysis and so I prefer to keep my head tilted toward vision and strategy, 2) my visions and strategies continuously tell me that revolutionary work is fundamentally educational in nature, and 3) I believe that building dynamic, healthy, high-capacity organizations is perhaps the most critical factor in the success of that revolutionary work. I adore thinking about education so much that it has become my day job. I am so gaga for all things organization that organizational daydreaming is one of my favorite free time hobbies.

You can imagine, then, how baffling and tantalizing a puzzle it is for me that the U.S. left has such a spotty history with building revolutionary organizations. I’ve been writing about this a lot lately, and I just wanted to share some notes about different aspects that I’ve been thinking about.

When I was 12, in Oak Harbor, Washington, I was playing ball tag with my best friend when I witnessed his neighbor charge out of his house yelling, and then brutally kick his dog in the ribs with steel-toed boots. I cried almost instantly. I didn’t care that my friend might see me and think I was weird. This was wrong, and I cried. I then called my mom to tell her and get advice. She gave me the number for some animal control and welfare organizations on Whidbey Island, which I later called, and then she paused and praised me for how sensitive a person I was. This was a defining moment in my identity development. I was a sensitive person. I defended an animal and I wasn’t afraid to cry when things weren’t right.

In Guatemala, in the present day, our family has two dogs that no one pets or plays with, which serve simply as night guards. There are four or five other dogs who come to hang out and socialize, steal some food, kill a duckling, or go to the bathroom. Along with all the rest of my family, I yell for them to leave. I curse and complain with the chorus. When one of the men in the family came charging out with a leather belt to scatter them yelping, I said nothing. In fact, I think I was happy that he was taking care of a problem. When one of their dogs got in a fight and its tail got infected, I don’t remember feeling anything. I merely nodded in the affirmative as the family predicted how many days it would have left.

What happened to me? If I am still a sensitive person, and supposedly still a dog lover, how is it that I let myself become so desensitized?

A surface analysis might just attribute this to individual personality changes, growing up, getting jaded—that something changed in me on an individual level. But I believe this has far more to do with the overwhelming power that human culture has to both submerge and unearth our best selves. In this case, I didn’t just magically become less sensitive, I changed to conform with a culture that expected a far less sensitive—and more violent—relationship with animals. For the most part, I have prioritized my family’s smooth (read: with minimal conflicts or controversies) acceptance of me over my love of animals. It’s just one example of the situational moral and emotional shifts we make all the time to fit in with our surrounding cultures.

I think these dynamics are important, perhaps even key, to building a winning revolutionary politics. People rarely change, for better or worse, as isolated individuals. We change as cultural participants. Prison guards may or may not enter their jobs with previous violent or sadistic conditioning, but you can bet that almost all of them retire as worse human beings. Insurrectionist and individualist anarchists might wax poetic about the liberation of individual desires and the destruction of a barcode based existence, but they sure do tend to talk and dress and party all the same as each other. John Brown wasn’t just individually moved as a white person to violently resist slavery, he came from an intense American masculinity that melded with an intense church tradition that told him slavery was a sin. We are social beings, cultural beings. Our best and worst human potentials, our heroism and our villainy, unfold out of our common cultural pools. This doesn’t have to be seen as a problem. It’s just a feature of our common humanity. If we want a revolution, we must revolutionize our cultures. Revolution is cultural change.

But here is where many radical people get into a sort of chicken-and-egg debate cycle. How can you change a culture without transforming the material conditions within institutions? But how can you change institutions without changing the cultures of those within them? Round and round we go, and so many of our movements harden into positions that are either mechanically focused on institutional organizing at one end of the spectrum, or exclusively spiritual, counter-cultural, navel-gazing at the other end. Our way through these debates is the synthesis of the opposing positions. Yes, revolutionary work, at any level, is cultural—even spiritual—change. But institutions, through their accretion and solidification of social traditions and relationships, are the engines that generate culture. In fact, what makes any institution viable is its ability to create and sustain a specific pattern of social behavior—a culture. To try to change culture outside of institutional change is like continuously mopping the floor of a flooded house without ever thinking to turn the faucet off. Thus, revolutionary work is counter-cultural, even spiritual, work, but it should be grounded in the concrete realities of both existing and alternative institutions, not just diffuse culture building that lacks institutional ties.

This is why I’m so passionate about the organizational questions facing revolutionaries, and why I’m so baffled by how awkward the left is about handling them. I believe that explicitly revolutionary organizations are crucial vehicles for changing culture. They are the missing link between external organizing and internal process. However I see too many people who see them as either unnecessary, or as something for the far-off future, or as some kind of necessary evil.

I imagine the totalitarian and bureaucratic legacy of Marxism-Leninism is a major culprit in this, but I observe that leftists are hyper-wary of organizational projects—especially anything beyond single issue or campaign work. It’s like we go into the work holding our nose, or dipping our toes in, not wanting to get too close or too deep. I imagine, like my dog example, that we are worried about creating a culture which dehumanizes us, which, in the name of efficiency, strips us of what we love most about our radical selves. Certainly, building any organization carries this danger. We can become organizational robots, puppets to the mass line that so many party-builders of the past have become. But guess what: avoiding organizational questions doesn’t change that danger, it just makes the acculturation process more chaotic, informal, and implicit. Anti-organizational milieus can be just as conformist and dehumanizing. In fact, I would argue that our lack of organizations makes radicals far more vulnerable to the acculturating tendencies of the dominant culture. We just get good at hiding it when we go to parties, meetings, and fundraisers.

When we try to avoid organizational experimentation, we do avoid some dangers, but we also miss out on huge transformative opportunities. See, the institutional nature of organizations can be just as much of an asset as a liability. By institutionalizing practices that are liberatory, reflective, compassionate, inspiring, and rooted in ethics of solidarity, we have the potential to accelerate the process of cultural change way beyond what any informal scene or milieu can offer. People change faster, and more profoundly, when they are changing within a group that they are committed to, and that is committed to them.

I know this, because I’ve experienced it in quite an unlikely place: the small high school where I teach. Officially, I work for the State, in an institution that is unquestionably part of a large and problematic bureaucracy. But, damn, the intensity and quality of the collaboration that our school has been able to generate is thrilling. It’s some of the most satisfying work I’ve ever done, I relish it every day, working face to face, building a culture with people who don’t even share my politics or interests. The cohesiveness of the institution, our collective commitment to its mission, and the humanizing work structures that we’ve built allow us to build a culture that makes us better teachers, and better people. Why is it so hard for leftists to build organizations with that same dynamic?

I am optimistic about our ability to create organizations that hold radical values and visions at their core, and which institutionalize practices of both mutual aid and mutual inspiration. In fact, I don’t think it even has to be as hard as we make it. Like I said earlier, I think the left’s overemphasis on social analysis—a process of breaking society and people apart with our sharp radical scalpels—actually also makes it harder for us to come together. By relaxing a little, softening our edges a little, and just getting together to do some pretty good work around some pretty good ideas, I think we could get so far. I want to see us experimenting so much more with new organizational forms!

Sometimes simplistic identity politics are just easier than actually thinking about the realities of power and relationships. Over the years, I have been served well by facing potential conflict by just bowing, acknowledging the depth and obscenity of my privileges, and asking for readmission to the good graces of my more marginalized friends or comrades. Not manipulatively either, I’m talking genuinely believing that my privileges simply make me more wrong than people who’ve faced more violence, or trauma, or exploitation. The formula that this approach provides can ravage one’s sense of agency and self-worth, but it eases tension, and it allows one into all sorts of spaces where one would not normally be invited.

The problem is, those kinds of politics aren’t just simplistic, they are dangerous. They are patronizing and flat. The truth…god!…the truth is just so much harder and messier.

I’ve been here in Guatemala for almost two months, which is actually one of my longest consecutive stretches yet. In that time, I’ve spent nearly every moment in this same house with my family. That much time in close quarters with between 12 and 23 people? You don’t need an MTV reality show to know that things are going to get real. Pet peeves. Petty and not so petty conflicts. Days without speaking to certain people. Sulking, simmering, then later singing together. Always, at least one person is having a bad day or is feeling sick, and on a good number of days that includes me.

This is to be expected from any extended family trip, I know. Especially with in-laws. But how does one manage that when the landscape of culture and power is as freaking weird as it is in our case? What does it mean when your in-laws feel comfortable teasing you all day long, playing with you, but when they are actually angry with you, they say nothing because they know that you are their sole provider? You have the power to cut them off at any level you want, from luxuries like cable and ice cream, all the way to electricity, health care, and food. How does that not just totally screw up the authenticity of a relationship? How do I handle, at the same time, that Glendi and I have all this power and responsibility, but I also feel like I’m never allowed to say “No” to anything, because then I will be a hoarding, cheap, privileged gringo? What happens when I know I’m being lied to or manipulated, as sometimes happens?

Tonight, I crossed the line from playful family banter to being a North American ogre, and I just don’t know how to process it cleanly. I don’t usually write about details like this, but this time I feel like I was sufficiently in the wrong that it won’t embarrass or shame my family to share it. I need to write this out, and maybe it can help some others in my life have a little window into the constant, exhausting complexities of our family situation.

Here’s the story.

In rural Guatemala, the word agua doesn’t mean water. In reference to beverages, it means soda. If you want to drink actual water, you need to ask for agua pura. The Guatemalans I know almost don’t drink plain water at all—usually only after playing an intense sport or if they are sick or something. With their three meals a day, they drink sugary coffee, sugary packaged juice (like Tang or Kool-Aid), sugary soda, sugary boiled water, or a sugary corn-flour water that they make. They think plain water is a very gringo (or canche, which literally means blonde-haired) thing to enjoy. They think it tastes bad, and they often make jokes that it’s more for animals to drink than people. I know this, I’m used to this, and I’ve been fine weathering 6 years of constant comments about how weird I am for what I prefer to drink at the table. I’ve always been a big water fan.

Fine. This has been fine for years, and mostly I’ve just been fine with boiled water from the family well.

Then comes the baby, and in consideration for her baby stomach and our decision to not give our baby coffee and sugared drinks, we started buying big jugs of pure water. The whole family could access them, but the family still made constant comments that they were for the baby and also for me, because I prefer water to coffee and other sugary stuff.

Two jugs a week, supposedly only being used by a few people, because no one else even likes the stuff.

Over time, I start realizing that the two jugs are being finished in 2-3 days, with me accessing a tiny portion of the water. I’m playing basketball with the family every day, and I’m drinking almost nothing. My pee is almost always yellow, often dark yellow. Some days I’m only drinking 2 or 3 coffee mugs of water in an entire day that includes almost 2 hours of intense basketball. I can’t find water because it’s being used for juice packets, or because everyone else is drinking pure water as well.

When the water is gone, few people even mention it. They go back to their sugared coffee and sugared boiled water etc. The baby doesn’t have pure water to drink and neither do I. Not until the next delivery in 3 days, or unless we go out and buy more from the local stores.

Okay, context set—from my perspective, at least. So, here’s what happened tonight.

It was dinner, just a few hours ago. Chile Rellenos. Delicious. The family, as usual, is drinking sugared coffee. I have my bag of pure water, which we had to buy earlier today because there wasn’t any water and no one had said anything for a few days—I don’t like to be demanding here. Suddenly, I see one of the teenaged boys asking for pure water instead. At lunch, I had noted that 4 other family members had drunk from the bags of pure water along with their coffee also.

In the sarcastic, even caustic style that I see my family tends to use, I said loudly to the whole table, “Ah, I see how it is. Whenever there’s no pure water here, no one cares, no one complains, and I just go without water for days. But when we finally have water, everyone suddenly wants it. You all finish it in two days and then I don’t have any water any more!”

I was smiling. For me, this was a family nit pick, not actually something that’s a huge deal for me. My family, however, was not smiling. The teenager pushed his pure water away in a “never mind” gesture. Glendi left the table, her food untouched, and sobbed in her bedroom. One of the twins later ran to his bed—which I share with him—and cried for 20 minutes.

Glendi told me that I was bitter and yelling and that I hugely insulted her family, claiming that pure water is only good enough for the gringo and that no one else should be able to have it, not even the young ones. The twin, crying and crying, told me that if he had millions he could buy all the water he wants, but since he’s poor, only the rich, proud gringo gets to have the water.

With one side of my mouth, I apologized for hurting feelings and being insensitive. With the other side of my mouth…immediate defenses. I explained that my tone was an attempt to use the family’s sarcastic style, and that I actually was mostly just ribbing on them for what I saw as hypocrisy. I told them that of course I’d actually prefer for them to drink pure water, but if they want to, then we should buy enough for everyone, or we should boil enough, and all it would require is spending less money on powdered drinks and sugar…that it was an issue of family priorities, and pure water is only a priority when it’s in the house—for me and the baby’s consideration—and when it’s not in the house it’s not even an afterthought.

Nothing. They went to bed angry and hurt. See, I crossed a line of class and culture that is so hard to uncross. I exposed myself as privileged and as an outsider, and that’s just how it goes. Here’s what I let slip from my mind: although I am one of their sole providers, it is highly humiliating and insulting for me to ever criticize their consumption decisions, especially with the kids and especially with life-affirming and healthy things like water. I understand how they read what they did into my words, and I understand how there were so many other ways that I could have broached the subject. I also understand my reasons. It feels so messy to me.

This particular situation will clearly wash over after a few days. The family will probably whisper and gossip about it for awhile when I’m not around. It will probably make it to some circles of aunts, uncles, and in-laws. Can you believe what Jeremias said?

That’s fine with me. I think it’s important for my family to be able to be mad at me. It’s healthy and authentic. However, I wish we could talk about it more openly, rather than either speaking in sarcasm or in broad class strokes.

That’s the thing, though. How do we talk about this stuff openly? Because the need for money is so constant, because Glendi and I are always giving so much, there are so many little screw ups or moments like this, so many reminders of the one-sided nature of our situation, so many examples of how the power dynamics distort the fullness of our relationships. I don’t know how to navigate to a place where we discuss this openly and healthily. For example, why didn’t I just use my abundance of conflict resolution and even teaching skills to just directly address my frustration about water weeks ago? (seriously, I sometimes don’t know where the hell so many of skills go when I’m down here!)

So hard, so sad, so confusing. And I just end up feeling really bad about myself, while still also feeling unheard.

I wish I knew more people with these same unique family dynamics, but I still haven’t had much luck. I could really use more people to talk to about this.

Poems for When You’re Older #3

August 2013, 14 Months Old

Here in the Caserio, they keep thinking you’re a boy.
After the correction, always the short pause,
then the question,
“Why no earrings?”

My love, forgive me,
but how could I welcome you here,
with a ritual so full of metaphor
for so many things to come?

To hold your head in my palm as I sing,
those same songs that help you sleep,
while another hand
quietly rubs the ice that numbs you.
To leverage this smile and soft voice that you know,
as the needle tears through.
To see you scream, as I pat and coo,
as this thing
that has nothing to do with who you are,
or who you could be,
this thing that was mined and made
by hands we will never know,
becomes a part of you.

This thing they will know even before your name.

Almost there, almost complete.
Here, just a little clasp
to keep your body
from pushing it away.
And here, babe,
just some dabs of alcohol,
because this thing is want to bring infection.
But after a few days, look!
All better. So pretty.
Your skin has grown
around the thing.
Adapted to the lifeless and cold.
As if it were natural.

It isn’t.

My love, forgive me,
but I figured that this world
will try enough enough on its own
to stab you,
puncture you,
and tell you that’s who you are.
I didn’t think it was a father’s job
to help it along.

Robert Frost, Meet Karl Marx…

All well-worn trails radiate calmness,
where so many boots, and shoes, and sandals,
paws, galoshes, and fleshy summer toes,
have worked the earth down into rounded edges,
like the dulling of a knife.
The line is almost fuzzy, out of focus,
between the smooth and clean undulations
of brown clay
and the unkempt edges of grass, forest, jungle.
It suggests an unspoken collective contract
between thousands,
that by asynchronously walking this same ground,
–you earlier, and me right now–
all those messy things might be held back,
kept in their place.

These are the properties that trails have.
They are social relationships, set in slow motion.

And just as the same path
can hold its rough, yet unmistakable integrity
as it grazes green fields,
then cuts deserts,
dips into seasonal creeks,
or polishes down the jagged rocks from other years’ avalanches,
it can bring the same familiarity
to fashion and fad,
to rituals of control.
To horror. To loss.
Just as the disparaging dinner table remark,
the offhand comment about your body,
is easier to take when it’s not the first,
so is each bloody sidewalk,
diabetic death,
wad of safety money rolled into newspapers,
made so much softer, even soothing,
by the rhythm of its repetition alone.

“It’s okay, my friend,”
the trail always whispers,
“you are not the first to see this thing.
Just keep going.
I need your lone, humble tread,
to make it easier for there to be a next time.”

At around the same time that I read the news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal, 4 people were shot just up the road from the house here in Guatemala, as they were commuting in the same truck that Glendi’s siblings usually take to go pick coffee. A 7 year-old girl and her 16 year-old brother died in their mother’s arms. A man who was shot in the groin ended up losing both of his legs. If Zimmerman’s trial sent the message that black lives don’t matter—which it did—then what of these campesinos, whose deaths will not even lead to an arrest?

There is a connection here, between what is happening in Guatemala and what happened to Trayvon Martin in Florida—which itself is just a brutal extension of the profiling and violence that youth of color face across the United States. There are layers of lessons here, but to see them all we have to go beyond the easy conclusions about race and fear. We have to be willing to step beyond simple liberal outrage and even self-identification with Zimmerman’s fears of black masculinity. Of course, there is truth at that level, but if we want to just wallow there we might as well just loop Ludacris’ scenes from the movie Crash over and over on top of the cable news coverage and we’ll have all the in-depth analysis we need. People across our planet have been taught to fear black people. Yes, it’s absolutely true. I am absolutely included. But that is not all this is about.

What Zimmerman did wasn’t just the tragic overreaction of a scared and damaged man, and his acquittal wasn’t just a lone aberration of justice. Zimmerman’s trial was a personalized example of a deep yet unspoken U.S. doctrine: that disproportionate and deadly force is entirely justified in order to defend American comfort from even the slightest rumblings of The Other. Trayvon Martin was an outsider in a gated community, and he made Zimmerman uncomfortable. When Zimmerman acted on that racist discomfort and confronted Martin, Martin did what no Other is allowed to do, he responded naturally with appropriate defensiveness to a threatening and abusive person. That is, Martin stepped out of his place, and Florida law gave Zimmerman the legal right to defend himself—which is to say, defend his sense of entitlement and comfort—and he killed Martin right there.

Those of us North Americans who live comfortably in our privileges find it easy to shake our heads and pout our lips. We can cry for Trayvon and we can wear black solidarity hoodies. We can wring our hands and acknowledge the fearful Zimmerman that lives in all of us. I personally have no qualms with these responses. I must and will acknowledge my own racism and my place in propping up such a racist order. But let’s be real. What Zimmerman thought he was doing for his neighborhood is basically what happens each time our country sends out a drone strike, sponsors a coup, or authorizes an ICE raid. Self-defense. Standing our ground. The comfort levels of those that matter must be defended, at all costs to The Other.

What Zimmerman did was scarcely different from what the powerful have continued to do to Guatemala since well before 1954: strike out at even the slightest sign of justified self-defense with completely disproportionate brutality. The consequence of Zimmerman’s actions and acquittal is a U.S. environment where the lesser value–the Otherness–of black people’s lives has been re-affirmed, even by legal institutions. The simmering consequence of these same dynamics in Guatemala is that Glendi’s friends, neighbors, family members all have been touched by countless deaths that no one outside of these communities even cares about. They are just another permanent Other on the world stage. They pick our coffee and our bananas, but they are easily replaced.

If there is any truth to the connections that I’m making, then any calls for post-trial racial healing and introspection ring hollow without a far deeper soul-searching. If we are so interested in healing, are we willing to relinquish our comforts so that we can take our bloody boot off the necks of half the planet? Are we willing to stand down our drones and our bases and militarized police forces?

No? Am I being too extreme, too rhetorical? Then how convenient, and how useless so much chatter about one trial in Florida.

Top-level play and throwaway play

I want to draw attention to two genres of competitive video games that demonstrate a huge spectrum of player behavior, from silly and casual, to embarrassingly, nerdily intricate: fighting games and real-time strategy games (including the sub-genre known as multiplayer online battle arenas—MOBAs). I’ll break them down really quickly here:

Fighting Games: Usually 1-on-1 battles between a diverse array of characters who fight each other in martial arts or street-fighting type competitions. Each player selects a single character or a small team of characters. The characters usually have a certain amount of health, and they fight each other until one player or the other’s health is depleted. What makes these games strategic is that each character has a very specific set of attacks, ranging from simple weak punches, kicks, and slashes, to highly powerful special moves (often with magical or supernatural effects like fireballs or huge explosions), and massive chains of combination attacks. Good players need to master the ins and outs, the strengths and weaknesses of not only their characters, but also all the other characters they might match up against. Example video games, for those who care: Street fighter, Tekken, Soul Calibur, Marvel vs. Capcom, Mortal Kombat, Super Smash Bros.

Real-Time Strategy Games: Can be 1-on-1, 3-on-3, or 5-on-5 battles between larger forces of units who are fighting on a battlefield. Each side has a base which provides safety or defense, and which sometimes generates resources to buy improvements for the players’ forces. One side wins when the other side’s base is destroyed. The strategy comes from knowing how to make quick decisions to manage the resources that are coming in while also mastering the nuances and subtleties of each individual fighting unit. Like fighting games, these units often have options between basic attacks and more flashy and specialized abilities—and even sometimes highly powerful “ultimate” abilities—but the more powerful abilities usually have big limits to how often they can be used. Good players know how to manage these factors of resources and unit composition, while also paying additional attention to the specific terrain of the map or battlefield. Example games: League of Legends, DOTA, Starcraft, Warcraft, Command and Conquer.

Before I go any deeper into game land here, I have to make a critical disclaimer. Although I will be using some of the language and concepts from the competitive communities that play these games, I have no interest in endorsing these games or their communities in any way at all. I’m not suggesting that people go out and play these games, and I am not saying that we should be like these communities. The games—though I sometimes guiltily enjoy them—can often be violent and filled with stereotypes or exaggerated and objectified portrayals, especially of women. The competitive communities themselves would likely even be hostile to us and our politics. Unfortunately, a big chunk of competitive gaming scenes are dominated by proudly elitist attitudes, misogynist and heterosexist bro cultures, and regressive positions around ideas like anti-imperialism, anti-racism, or any of the other values that we want to uphold. My goal here is merely to see some of what they say about winning, and about unhelpful elements that disrupt winning strategies, and leave things at that.

Even though these games are all focused around silly street fights and fantastical battle scenes, what makes them applicable to anti-authoritarian movements (beyond the startling preponderance of masked dudes with dark clothes and menacing gazes) is that core element of strategic games that I spoke of earlier: the judicious use of limited resources and options. The top-tier players of these games—some of whom play as full time jobs, living off sponsorships and tournament winnings—intimately know the minutiae of what is and is not possible in any given situation. They know the wild powers and huge offensives that they are capable of, but they also know the drawbacks and weaknesses that are constantly pushing back against them. They know what pacing is appropriate for what kinds of match-up with their opponents. In team games, these players know the unique roles that they are able to play in supporting the overall team strategy, and they also know when they are capable of flexibly changing roles in the face of what’s happening from moment to moment. If you read their articles or watch their online videos, these players have vocabularies and theories about their games that casual players of the very same games can’t really access at all. Why? Because they have broken down their games to the very basic systems level—often to the point where they are paying attention to things as mundane and technical as individual frames of character animation or specific pixel glitches on a map or battlefield.

If we’re going to win, our movements need similarly sophisticated levels of strategic understanding, with a granularity of detail about what we’re facing and what we’re capable of. We need to understand the array of tactics and strategies that are available to us, and in what situations each is most useful—not just most spectacular. Further, we need to better recognize and manage our limitations—what our activities cost us, in terms of time, resources, and positioning in relation to the systems of oppression that we’re fighting.

I think our movements are a long way from achieving a high level of strategic mastery, and current global developments suggest that we’d better hurry up. However, in contrast to competitive gaming, I don’t think this requires all revolutionary-minded people to become full-time, elite strategy experts or anything. I think the mass and grassroots character of movements makes the strategic work that we need to do potentially far more accessible and horizontally distributable—a form of radical crowdsourcing—if we are willing to set up the kinds of participatory organizing structures that would help us do it efficiently. To make this happen, though, requires some very judicious, focused, and coordinated use of our precious few resources.

The troubling thing is, it’s quite hard to be judicious, focused, and coordinated when we’re stuck in the anarchist clown car that is the Pacific Northwest scene. Insurrectionist, anti-civ, nihilist, and other similar tendencies are distracting, disorienting, and they sap many of the few options and resources that we have. They practice patterns of discourse and behavior that aren’t just bothersome for their own scenes, but they tend to throw all of us off our game.

Competitive gamers have generalized some archetypes that can help me explain what I’m talking about.

Trolls

Many people who are familiar with the toxicity of online political debates are probably already versed in this one. Trolls are players who enter into a game—especially team games—with the explicit intention of screwing around with everyone else and trying to get them angry and riled up, all for their own amusement. They use in-game chat channels to spit slurs and insults, all while sabotaging the actual game play. They join a game and pretend to be committed and then, when things get tough, they disconnect from the game and throw off the whole balance of a match. They especially love to call out serious-minded players for hurting a team, when they are the ones actually being least helpful.

The most obvious examples of trolls in our movements are informants, snitches, and agent provocateurs. I certainly don’t believe that all insurrectionist types are agents of the state, and I’m not about to throw out that accusation. However, we know that our movements are full of these professional destabilizers, and there should be no doubt that they are going to be concentrating their energy on the most outspoken, explicitly militant segments of our movement—the insurrectionists. No surprise then, that insurrectionist heavy discussions are absolutely painful to participate in—especially online. They are filled with classic trolling behavior: name-calling, circular logic, more-radical-than-thou accusations, straw arguments, and chest-puffing, all flitting anonymously this way and that. It seems the favorite targets are any anti-authoritarian radicals who dare suggest more tempered positions in a struggle or who in any way seem more “liberal” than their self-proclaimed anarchist standard. For just one example, read the discussions on Puget Sound Anarchists about those anarchists who wanted to raise money for some broken small business windows after the 2013 May Day—troll feeding frenzy. You would think that if only the cops and informants were doing the trolling, they would easily stand out so that we could shine light on them, but the fact that the general tone and manner of insurrectionist discourse—at least in writing—so closely matches troll-type styles, it’s hard to tell one’s enemies from one’s friends.

What’s unhelpful about this? Well, it contributes to a climate of distrust and disorientation, and it makes more sensitive folks—like me—doubt ourselves whenever we posit something different than whatever the most blustery, judgmental voices are saying. And because those loudest voices tend to be goading us on toward more polarized, militant, and mean-spirited positions, it also creates a snowball effect that can have even more serious consequences…even including entrapment.

Button Mashers

When people don’t have experience with complex strategic games, or they are uninterested in getting better, they tend to do something very predictable: they just quickly, randomly hit buttons and throw out whatever flashy attacks they can muster, with little regard to the strategic value or consequences of what they are doing. They will repeatedly mash on the same single attacks for game after game, becoming painfully predictable to even novice opponents. They will use their most powerful super abilities as soon as they have accumulated the resources to do so, without thinking about appropriate timing—for example, focusing on only one target when the ability was designed to take out four. They will never hold back to block in a fighting game, or they will only use the one row of punch buttons without ever even noticing the three kick buttons that are right there. Because their game play is so fast and random, they actually do win some times, and can thus create an image that they are better than they actually are. Because these kinds of players are really usually just looking for some quick fun, they are fine with superficial understandings of the way the game works—they just want to see all the bangs and crashes and colored lights that shine when they mash those buttons.

I think insurrectionists provide a picture-perfect model of button mashing. They are friggin’ everywhere, mashing out wheatpasted posters, flyers, and newspapers; smashing in ATMs and bank windows; mashing up newspaper boxes at marches; mashing, mashing, mashing. They are prolific, they are fast, they occasionally hit really effectively in a way that impresses everyone, but mostly they just seem to be flailing around at every possible target…usually with the same flashy attacks each time. Reading their writing, even by their more influential intellectuals, is like watching a brand-new strategy game player who just keeps shooting off the same huge ultimate attacks in the middle of an empty battlefield, waiting for their resources to charge up, and then doing the same thing again. Why? Well, you know, total liberation now! Flames this, flames that, everything in flames! No subtlety, no pacing, no base-building. Just rupture, rupture, rupture. The volume is always at maximum. Fundamentally, insurrectionist seem to have forgotten that the anti-authoritarian game controller doesn’t just have a row of “disruptive attack” buttons—we also have 3 or 4 additional “building constructive power” buttons. Who knew?

What’s unhelpful about this? A number of things. Because they are so fast and so prolific, they confuse people—even longtime anarchists like me—into thinking that they are playing the game correctly. When they occasionally do something cool with their militancy and spectacle, they fool us into thinking their path might actually bear fruit. It won’t. While the militant tactics and the powerful rhetoric that these folks employ really are useful in the context of a powerful, massive movement, insurrectionists are usually using them way outside of a strategic context. With the limited time, resources, and options that we have, and our small numbers, every time we hit the attack button when we should be hitting our build buttons is a huge strategic waste. Huge. Moreover, when the fun and spectacle wears off, when things get dirtier, harder, less anonymous, when the amorphous “some @narchists” settle back into being very real parents, coworkers, partners, bill-payers, we will end up losing a ton of the people who got caught up in rush of the button-mashing, because they will have burnt out without having ever seen how much deeper, how much more enriching, diverse, and powerful the movement could have been. It’s a one-note kind of radicalism, it’s a one-riot stand, and it doesn’t make very many people stick around for the long-haul—especially since part of that button mashing includes moving and traveling from place to place all the time!

Feeders

It’s one thing when people’s actions just set themselves back or just disorient us, but it’s something entirely worse when their actions directly strengthen the opponent. In the sub-genre of strategy games called Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBAs), there is a phenomenon called feeding. When a player rushes in too hot too quickly, or when they make lazy mistakes, they end up getting themselves killed by the other team, which then makes the other team significantly stronger. When the same players keep doing this over and over, their teammates will likely scold them as feeders. Whether intentional or not, they are serving more to feed and nourish the opponent than they are helping their own side. Because they are so busy dying and feeding, dying and feeding, they not only neglect their own in-game evolution, they force everyone else on the team to step in and defend them and carry them through the game.

Folks can deny it all they want, they can denounce my opinion as sectarian, they can trot out whatever pre-fab justifications about the state that they’d like, but I will argue that insurrectionists are feeders. Through hyper-militance and adventurism, they absolutely feed the state and other opposing forces. Of course, the state will seek to disrupt any movement that it deems a threat, so we should always blame it before blaming comrades for whatever repression it causes. However, before we’ve even reached the point of actually being a threat, insurrectionist antics give the state the pretext to pre-emptively marshal huge numbers of resources to repress us. When that repression comes down, it doesn’t just come down on the loudest, it comes down on all anti-authoritarians, creating a chilling effect on our activities, sowing paranoia, and siphoning off time and money into legal defense for actions that do not actually move us any closer to our goals. At this stage of the game, how are black bloc smash-fests building the movement we need, in proportion to the heat they bring down on us, the public fear they generate (and they do generate fear if you actually talk to non-anarchists), and the legal defense fundraisers they require—which could have been fundraisers for actual, sustainable anarchist counter-institutions? I love considering strategic arguments to the contrary, but watching the difference between the systemic responses to the 2012 and 2013 May Days, for example, all I saw was a state that has become nicely fed, while the constructive anti-authoritarian impact in the Pacific Northwest has drastically declined. Stop feeding, please.

What do we do with this?

I have no illusions about this piece changing the outlooks or behavior of insurrectionist types. I am not a sectarian and I can understand that they will keep doing what they are doing. Apparently they think they have good reasons. I don’t want to spend my own precious resources and options trying to stop them; I don’t want to be the movement police. But I don’t have to be quiet about how unhelpful I think they are, and I don’t have to hide the fact that I would love to outnumber them so much that their ideas become as marginal as I think they should be.

But the way to get closer to a winning direction is not to stomp and whine and ask these folks to stop. The only way is for more strategically oriented anti-authoritarians to come forward—boldly, publicly, militantly—with a different kind of politics. We need to show new ways of pressing anarchism’s buttons, in fresh, innovative, and coordinated ways. We need to delve deeper into how revolutionary conflict actually works, and what winning actually looks like, and we need to share this with each other using increasing levels of detail, sophistication, and accessibility. Once again, we win by judiciously using those few, precious resources and options that we have in order to build dynamic, flexible mass movements. So let’s do just that.

In practice, I think this looks like slowing down for awhile, while building strength to really speed things up in the future. I think this looks like a big increase in strategically oriented local writing and discussion events. It looks like a flourishing of popular education projects to evenly disperse valuable skills across our communities. It looks like developing our abilities for healthy communication and debate, so that we can isolate and expose the trolls. It looks like putting down long-term roots in neighborhoods and communities where we will experiment with anti-authoritarian possibilities for the long-haul. It looks like honoring the courage and creativity that militant anarchists do show to all of us, while pushing that militancy to be more visionary, more diversified, more sustainable, and more rooted in large-scale grassroots power than the current tendency toward clandestine, lone-wolf attacks. It looks like a lot of things that folks, even some of the people I complain about, are already doing—but doing it with more strategic focus and coordination.

For those anti-authoritarians who agree, who are also interested in building revolutionary movements that can win: we should get together and play.

Note: Reading this again, it looks like I was in the mood for a polemical tone. If you happen to be a new reader here, please note that I’m not trying to hate. I think disagreement, even polemic, can be healthy. If you think I’m being too mean or sectarian here, go ahead let me know. No use talking about the unhelpfulness of something by doing so in an unhelpful way.

I feel like anti-authoritarian revolutionaries in the Pacific Northwest just can’t get a break. In the 90’s and early 2000’s, we had the anarcho-primitivists running around spitting nonsense and flashing their arrogance, strutting as if they owned the movement—even while they shouted everyone else down by saying that we didn’t own the movement. Now, thanks, it seems, to some Californian winds that have blown north—which themselves seem to have blown in from entirely different European climates—we have new currents of nonsensery causing anti-authoritarians like me to stare at the ground, saying nothing, for fear of the denunciations that will surely come. Insurrectionism, anti-civilization anarchism, and even nihilism seem to be ruling the day around here—at least in terms of public expressions and articulations of revolutionary ideas. If you aren’t down with those politics, it can feel mighty lonely sometimes.

But I feel too old for this. I want to win, and I believe that anti-authoritarian politics, that anarchism, has powerful tools to offer toward that purpose. The problem is, all these bad ideas keep hogging anarchism for themselves. I’ve grown tired of sitting quietly and waiting for each self-righteous and noisy fad to wind down, so that anarchism might have some space to breathe and blossom in the positive directions that I think it might go. The fads just keep coming, they keep anarchism stuck in the same ruts year after year, all the while hoarding and suffocating so much of our best language, history, tactics. I’ve had enough of that.

I want to win, and it is this sentiment that I keep circling back to when I get all into a huff like this. I want to win, and I think these tendencies are mostly unhelpful, and often actually harmful to our chances of winning. This owes in large part to the fact that many of these tendencies have very different ideas about what winning even means, or they eschew the idea or possibility of winning altogether. Fine, fine. They should believe what they want, but let’s at least be real about the ways this screws things up for the rest of us.

In this piece, I want to help explain why I think current insurrectionist-heavy tendencies are unhelpful to those of us who actually want to win a social revolution. To do this, I’m going to make an analogy to something that is almost as strange, subcultural, and insular as anarchism itself—competitive video games. I recognize that this analogy might not feel fitting or useful for all readers, but it’s been exceptionally helpful for understanding my own approach to radical strategy, so I’m going to indulge it here. Let’s see what it can show us.

What is the game and what is winning?

As so many of us self-serious, fist-clenched revolutionists have told ourselves so many times, social revolution is not a game. As playful as it can sometimes be, as much dancing as our revolution might need, it is also certainly ugly, painful, real. People go to prison. People burn out and lose all hope in life. People die. There are incredibly important things at stake here; I know this well, with my own emotional scars to show, and I’m not about to be dismissive about it.

Nonetheless, there are definite, instructive parallels between strategic games and the conflicts that anti-authoritarian revolutionaries are engaged with against systems of global oppression. Those who are charged with maintaining those systems of oppression know this, and that’s why military and intelligence forces regularly run war-game scenarios, why economists run all sorts of simulations using game theory, and corporate strategic literature is rife with references to sports or board games like chess or go. Games have things to teach us. In imaginary play situations, they can give us practice at the kind of strategic thinking that can actually make a difference in real people’s lives.

At their core, here’s what strategic games—be they sports, board games, or video games—are: they are specific scenarios of conflict, between forces with opposing aims, who must judiciously utilize their limited resources and options to outmaneuver, overpower, subvert, or outlast their opponent(s). This is a pretty good match for what revolutionary anti-authoritarians are trying to do. We have our forces, those of us who want a world built around solidarity, freedom, and ecological justice. There are the myriad opposing forces, who, either out of indoctrination, coercion, or malice, are in the business of defending current oppressive social systems—capitalism and imperialism, the state, patriarchy and heterosexism, white supremacy, ableism, religious oppression, etc. The conflict takes place in concrete times and places: our workplaces, schools, government institutions, neighborhoods, homes, forests and oceans, bodies, and even our minds. Thus we have our conflict, we have our forces (or teams, or players), and we have our scenario (or board or playfield). I think we can agree that the game analogy holds so far.

But I think the fact that there is a conflict (or conflicts) between different forces is beyond debate. I think the really sticky question is whether we can accurately carry over that all-important game concept of victory conditions; that is, games are usually designed to have winners and losers, but is a revolutionary conflict something that can actually be said to be winnable? When I say that I want to win, what in the hell does that mean, and how might my understanding differ from other anti-authoritarian tendencies?

I’m just going to come out and say what I think winning means. I believe that we win when a majority of the billions of people, on this planet are immersed in social systems where they can live and work in dignity, where they can participate equally in the decisions that affect them, where they have access to their proportional share of social and natural wealth, and where surrounding species and ecosystems are respected as well. This means ecological, democratic socialist or communist economies; free and open cultural and gender structures; and deeply participatory, community-based decision-making systems. It could—and probably should—mean thousands of different variations on these themes across the globe, but all of them guided by those key, participatory and liberatory characteristics.

I should emphasize that winning doesn’t have to mean achieving a perfect functioning of all these new systems. Winning doesn’t have to mean perfect lives for 100% of all people. For me, winning means getting at least to the point where the current systems—based on hierarchy, exploitation, and oppression—no longer hold sway, where the powerful have been pushed to lose or disperse their power, and where our fledgling liberated social systems are sufficiently established that they are spending more time evolving and improving themselves than simply defending themselves from threats. In short, I believe we win when the “game” changes from being primarily a competitive conflict against forces that want to uphold oppression, into a cooperative challenge where the majority of social forces are working together to face the trials of building new, far-from-perfect systems. Winning doesn’t mean an end of challenges, it means the creation of a dynamic, cooperative new context in which our society faces those challenges—with limited danger from the oppressors.

So, yeah, I want to win this. Moreover, I believe that this kind of winning is possible. In fact, I actually believe that, as bad as things are right now in the world, we still have a fair shot of achieving this. But if we’re gonna make it happen, we have to speed up our learning curve. We’ve gotta sharpen up our strategies. We need a good, solid “team” of highly diverse and flexible mass movements. And, well, the current crop of insurrectionist, anti-civ, and nihilist tendencies that are so loud and proud right now are just so unhelpful in this regard.

Of course, if folks disagree with my idea of winning, then they have no reason to care about being helpful or unhelpful. Why should they? But that is the biggest issue here. If anti-civilization people don’t even want complex social systems to exist after the fall of the current system, then they certainly have a different idea of winning and they don’t want to help design better social systems. If insurrectionists think that mass movements and long-term revolutionary strategies are the presumptuous territory of an obsolete old Left, then their ideas of victory will tend to be very individualized, spontaneous, or even non-existent. And, nihilists…well…I guess they don’t believe in winning by definition. I get it if they aren’t thrilled about helping to build a massive anti-authoritarian movement that they don’t even believe in.

All these different ideas about winning are fine, and non-sectarianism should be a watchword every day, but the problem is this: even though we might have radically different ideas about victory or its possibility—or even the right to desire victory in the first place—we are still here in the same game. We are struggling within the same context of conflicts, forces, and scenarios. Not only that, but we’re actually all essentially claiming to be on the same team, with the same colors, flags, mascots, etc.

Now, have you ever played on a team with people who have totally contradictory hopes and intentions for what winning or losing looks like? Those two teammates chasing each other in circles in the corner? That one person who keeps stepping away to check text messages? The kid who got frustrated about a missed opportunity so just threw the rest of the game so the other team could win? How fun was it, for how long?

And this brings me to competitive video games. See, video games are designed for a whole range of interests and intentions. There are what are called casual players, who are just occasionally messing around to purely have fun at a superficial level, there are more serious players, who would like to win in their local circles, and there are competitive players—who are committed to spending huge amounts of time to learning the nuances and contradictions of the game so that they can definitively win. What’s interesting is that all these different types of people can be playing the same game, but they have totally different approaches to it, approaches which totally don’t mix in actual play. Playing for a quick fun time, playing to screw around with people after a few drinks, and playing to win a tournament or something brings out totally different decisions…totally different uses of the limited resources and options that each player or team has. That is exactly what we see in the anti-authoritarian movement. A completely messy mix of all sorts of intentions and tendencies, dominated—in my view—by folks who are either uninterested in or unprepared to think about winning.

Competitive video game players, players who want to win, have come to notice and understand some patterns of players who are less strategic or who have explicitly anti-strategic intentions, and they have names for some of those patterns. I think these apply to insurrectionist-heavy ideas and behaviors that we see in the Pacific Northwest today.

I’ll be exploring these soon enough in the conclusion of this piece.

Ah, I see what you did there, Karl!

Almost 17 years now of radical politics, and I confess that I’ve never read more than a few excerpts from the writing of Karl Marx. I think my anarchist pride provided me a sturdy shield from the intellectual intimidation that I always felt when reading his stuff. Sure, I’ve read dozens of analyses and summaries, listened to a heap of lectures, but I’ve never actually read much of his work.

Well, what a start to my Guatemalan summer…I’m reading Capital. I’m about 1/3 of the way through and…man, Marx sure was a clever chap.

It’s like a suspense story. A slow, quiet build up with careful and calculated exposition, Marx introducing his characters: use-value, exchange value, commodities, money, labor. They dance around each other, doing all their routine things, everything looks so pleasant and serene, so stable, so status quo. Then…the twist. What’s this profit thing doing here? This surplus-value? This little apostrophe after the M? Something just doesn’t add up, something isn’t right. When we look again, look more closely, the status quo is…wait for it…the scene of a crime! Enter his analysis ripping capitalism to shreds. Seriously, when I got to that chapter about labour-power as the source of surplus-value I dropped the book and went, “Oh no you didn’t, Karl!” It’s a tough sell, I know, but after the first couple of chapters, Marx’s Capital becomes a page turner!

Not to say that I’m completely convinced. I’m not. There’s nothing so far that’s making me want to shout from the rooftops that I’m a Marxist and that I embrace the “Marxian method.” Still, intellectually, I’m impressed and engaged, and it’s making me think all sorts of things about movement building.

Capital is making me want to get back to my ideas about accumulation and dual-power that I’ve written about before. The way that Marx understands the congelation and accretion of labor–>into commodities–>into capital–>into power is so useful. I think it’s actually the most useful thing about Marxism, so far in my view. Of course, Marx’s ideas help us understand how the capitalist system works, and potentially what can destabilize it (although those predictions have not borne much fruit for long-term movement gains), but they can also help us understand how labor (human activity) could also be accumulated and transformed outside of market transactions…this interests me far more.

Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s Glendi’s birthday present to me of time to reflect in Vancouver, BC. Maybe it’s that my first year of teaching is coming to a successful end. Maybe it’s the inspiration of my friends and colleagues. Maybe I’m even starting to heal from some of my past pain. Certainly, some of it is the strength and beauty of my baby.

Whatever it is, I’ve been on a roll in May, reading, writing, and building community with energy and good spirits. I’ve actually hung out with 3 different friends this week, and I’ve gone to the radical coffeeshop twice on my own as well!

I feel so good.

As usual, once my brain gets going, it’s so fun where it takes me. I’ve got a bunch of pieces of writing and thinking that I’m working on. If you are actually reading this, here are some things that you might hopefully look forward to:

  • A review of Chris Crass’ Towards Collective Liberation
  • Campaigns are the New Black…Bloc: The Strategic Dangers of ‘Non-Reformist’ Reformism
  • Trolls, Feeders, and Button-Mashers: What Competitive Gaming Can Tell Us About Unhelpful Anti-Authoritarian Tendencies
  • A response to Andrew Flood’s piece, “Revolutionary Organization in the Age of Networked Individualism”
  • Some Lessons I’ve Learned From My Past Revolutionary Organizations…part 3
  • Sucking Out the Poison: How My Daughter Is Saving Me From Destructive Masculinity

    I’ve also re-read pretty much all the major pieces on this site, and I’m making plans to select and polish at least one for publication over the summer in Guatemala…which tends to be my most intellectually productive time of the year.

    Can someone fill me in? In current anti-authoritarian circles, what is the current state of dialogue/debate about forming organizations? Any new regional or national initiatives? Any new compelling arguments why we shouldn’t be talking about that question right now?

    Because I’m really baffled about why more people aren’t trying? Where is our modern Love and Rage, or Movement For A New Society, or whatever else?

    This isn’t rhetorical, I actually feel out of the loop and would love for someone to tell me where those discussions are at right now.

    Found this in my drafts. Wrote it in 2011. Given the gun control debacle, the overturning of the Guatemala genocide case, the 26,000+ sexual assaults that are happening annually in the military alone, the surreal monstrosity of Guantanamo, the crossing of the 400ppm carbon threshold, this seems appropriate right about now.

    Where do you stand?

    That is the question that we should be asking, constantly. The refrain. The invitation.

    At this point, the stakes are so clear, the realities are so stark, the trajectory is so predictable that it is no longer truly a matter of debate about what is happening in our world. It is known. We know it. And we know, quite clearly now, that those who continue to express doubt about naming it have a vested interest in the confusion. The deniers are now caricatures of themselves. There is no going back from that. It is now common knowledge.

    There is a millenia long war going on, and it’s now not even happening too slowly to notice it. It’s rocketing along. It is a war against almost all of us. It’s a war with ever multiplying targets. Like I said, we know this. It’s so well known that it’s boring.

    So then it’s simple. Where do you stand? What are you doing? How are you going to contribute to ending the war? That should be the question. That should be as basic a getting to know you question as “what’s your sign?” or “what’s your favorite type of music.” Because the war is more constant than the weather. It’s not an “are you political?” thing. That would be acting like this is about opinions. This isn’t about opinions. It’s not an opinion where our water is going. It’s not an opinion who makes my stuff, and what it costs them. It’s not an opinion that each day not fighting is a day that they are consolidating power. And it’s not an opinion that there is a “they.” There is. They know it, and so do we.

    So where do you stand? Everyone has an answer, whether implicit or no, and so everyone should be asked it. Because it’s going to take quite nearly everyone to turn this thing around.

    I know that where I stand shifts. I know that I waver, I wobble. We do this a lot. I can live with that, and I will. But still, I know where I stand.

    There is now no doubt that this thing is broken. Where do you stand on trying to help get it fixed?

    Oops…now I remember why I didn’t ever post this! I thought it was too ableist to frame everything around “standing.” I’m going to ponder this a bit and maybe edit it or take it down. Hope you don’t mind seeing me in process.

    Less than two weeks after his historic conviction for Genocide in Guatemala, Efrain Rios Montt has been let off the hook by the constitutional court.

    Democracy Now has been doing a fantastic job of covering this story, so I don’t have much to say here except this: this has nothing to do with simple court disputes, and everything to do with Guatemala’s military oligarchy. How dare those poor blanket wearing Indians try to take down an ex-president and general–and potentially even the current president. How dare that uppity female judge actually lay down a conviction and then order additional investigations. The masters of Guatemala wouldn’t have it, and what they want, they get. For now, at least.

    But this won’t go away so easily. That case, that trial, that conviction…all of it was hard-won by resilient people. They will not give up, and I doubt now that President Otto Perez Molina will get away so unscathed next time. Movements may take time, but they do move. Someday, oh someday, Guatemala will have its spring again. And justice will come, if not with courts, then with torches.

    What I don’t write about…

    I don’t write about teaching, my students, and my job, because that’s gotten me into trouble before. If I did, I’d have so many dozens of stories, analyses, and questions to share. I know that I’m only ready to write about that stuff here when I have sufficiently processed and synthesized it all to a more abstract and general conceptual level. Then, and only then, will I really get into it on this page. But oh my, I have learned so many things about teaching, schools, and social change in this year.

    I don’t write too much about the ups and downs of my marriage, and related issues of masculinity in relationships, because I don’t quite trust the audience. I think there are still a few people out there who doubt my relationship or who would be a little too satisfied to take in that vulnerability, and even imagining that deters me from sharing (if you imagine that I’m talking about you, you’re actually probably wrong). I wish I could, though, because long-time relationships offer amazing food for thought…and I am disturbed by the power of gendered divisions of labor in my life.

    I don’t write about my family very much, because that’s family business and it needs to be handled there first. If I don’t have the strength or energy to bring my analysis up directly with them, then I’m not going to share it with the world here first.

    I don’t write about sexual assault and community accountability in activist communities, even though it’s been a huge part of my work in activism, and I think about it quite a bit. I don’t talk about it because that topic–in my view–is the number one way to destabilize movements and I don’t take that lightly, so I prefer to keep those conversations face-to-face. However, my close people know that I have A LOT to say about it.

    I don’t write about all the ways I screw up with my family in Guatemala because it shames and embarrasses me…which is probably why it’s time to write about it.

    I don’t write about topic __________ because I just am not making the time I should for it.

    Thanks, Amanecer, for knocking this down and reminding me of it.

    Say, have you ever read this book? The Ecology of Everyday Life by Chaia Heller? If not, you should go get it. For me, it was one of the more brilliant and creative pieces of theory to come out of the global justice movement period, and I thought it marked a high point for both the eco-feminist and social ecology arms of anti-authoritarian politics. Sadly, I think it was greatly under-appreciated and missed. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Heller’s book referenced anywhere, especially in the last 5-10 years. Have you?

    This would actually be a great book to do a reading group about, if anyone’s looking for something. I remember loving it and devouring it in a night.

    Actually, why isn’t there more discussion of eco-feminism generally? Books like Greta Gaard’s Ecological Politics and Ecofemism: Women, Animals, Nature had huge influences on me in the early 2000’s, and they don’t seem to get any love or references anymore. Big mistake, because a ton of that thinking still holds up and it’s so, so rich.

    It feels serendipitous. After weeks or months without logging in, I go on Facebook to check on an old friend who’s coming to town. Ths leads me to discover a new book is out, by another person who probably should be my friend but who I’ve never met. I find said book and I start to read it. It’s beautiful.

    Chris Crass’ Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy speaks to precisely the sentiments I expressed about anarchism in my previous post, and reinvigorates and validates just so many of the things that I have come to believe about winning social change for the long-haul. There are a number of elements I’ll hope to come back to in future posts, but for now I just feel fortunate to find this book right now. Yay!

    This weekend, like so many times before, I was drawn into a couple of conversations with non-activist folks about what “the anarchists” have done in Seattle. May Day hiijinks, street fighting, smashed bank windows, all those bandanas and balaclavas. I trot out all my weathered and withered replies: that those tactics don’t represent my style of anarchism; that I think they are immature, but that they also aren’t “terrorism” or usually even “violence” exactly; that the criminality of street fighting or black blocs is trivial in comparison to the daily criminality of the system; that I will support legal defense for such folks, though I lament how it distracts us in the movement. Again, and again.

    And then we don’t even talk about anarchism again until some other smashy media spectacle months or years from now. Cue my responses one more time.

    So, why am I an anarchist, then, if I don’t see myself at all in the current public face of anarchism? Why do I settle for just being an apologist for what I believe are losing tactics? What am I getting out of this, anyway? When is it time to cut the cord, and grow up from a philosophy that tends to always skew to the younger set? Why do I keep sitting at the anarchist table, when so many other bigger kids have changed seats?

    It’s pretty remarkable how quickly my answer comes, and how simple it is. Because anarchism is my philosophy. That’s it. To say anything different would be an opportunistic lie.

    I believe in this thing, in this idea. The core beliefs of anarchism–of social anarchism, of anti-authoritarian anti-capitalism, of libertarian communism–still guide and inspire me. Anarchism’s basic analysis of power still holds strong for understanding both the travesties and opportunities of society. The anarchist legacy–flawed though it is–of the Spanish revolution, of the First International, of Emma Goldman, the IWW, of Dorothy Day, of Gustav Landauer and Peter Kropotkin, is a legacy that I am proud to be a part of. For me to try and change the name while keeping the ideas is just playing into baiting and historical forgetting. For me to dump the ideals all together would just be betrayal of who I am. Seriously, what else do I want to claim to be? A Democrat? Some vague progressive? A plain vanilla socialist? None of these come close to the richness that I find in anarchism’s potential…a potential that still remains dormant in the 21st century.

    Nope, I’m not going to give up on the word. I’m certainly not going to abandon it to the whims of whatever insurrectionists or smashy-types who want to throw it around. They can go ahead and keeping working with the word, too, because…yeah…all that hooligan stuff is part of the historical tradition as well (including that legacy that I mentioned above). I’m sticking around with anarchism in spite of the elitist crusties and all the the security-culture let’s-make-everyone-else-less-secures, not because of them; but at the same time, I’m not too scared of guilt by association.

    But if I’m gonna stick with the word anarchism, I can’t just keep being an occasional apologist for what I see as crappy manifestations of it. I…better say we…we’ve got to go public with an actually different position, a reason why we keep siding with anarchism despite such tactically bankrupt nonsensery. If anarchism is something more than the same old bricks and windows, simplistic chants, and shallow promises of immediate revolutionary gratification–then what is that something else, and how do we let it manifest itself now? What are the other options?

    Please don’t tell me that the only other option is the quiet, reluctant example of all those thousands of “mature” anarchists who are doing indispensable work on the reformist and non-profit sidelines. Yeah, yeah, I know about all them because I’m one of them–but that can’t be our great anarchist alternative to the street fighting. “We’re anarchists: we do liberals’ work even more energetically and effectively than them, but we sure have a mighty fine self-critique while we do it.” C’mon, can’t we do better?

    No. My kind of anarchists, the anarchists who–in my opinion–really take winning seriously, need to start getting more public. More groups. More literature. More interventions in pop culture…and more toe-to-toe interventions with the smashy-kids to share some of our experience–as condescending as that sounds, and is.

    Easier said than done, sure. And sure I’ve said this dozens of times before. Okay, what’s next, then, Jeremy the Grouch?

    I have pretty much one parenting skill in which I can say I’m better than Glendi: putting Amanecer to sleep. My tactic–beyond the basic ingredient of love and tranquility–is singing…mostly just whatever songs from my childhood.

    However, sometimes I just can’t bring myself to sing the original versions of those songs, so I retool them to match my values a bit more. A favorite example:

    Silent night, hopeful night,
    All is calm, the future is bright.
    Proud young anarchist father and child,
    Precocious infant, tender, yet wild.
    Dreaming of justice and peace,
    Working for justice and peace.

    In this together…

    I get home weary, with shoulders slumped. My movements to the front door fluctuate between shuffle and ooze. Dazed, blank, I turn the key and step into the living room and, each time, it’s such a warm and energetic shock what I see.

    Each time, for about the last month or so, I get to enter the house and see my daughter’s masterwork. I get to see the joyful product of her newest, most dedicated hobby.

    You see, my daughter is a radical librarian. And a damned systematic one, at that.

    Pretty much each morning, afternoon, and evening, she race crawls into the living room, grips our bookshelf and lifts herself up, then proceeds to pull my books from their homes one, by one, by one. We put them back, she crawls back and does her work again. She will not be deterred.

    —-

    I think about those books today, and their soggy corners from all the chewing and slobber…and I can’t stop thinking about the news.

    Guatemala. The historic, heroic trial of the dictator Efrian Rios Montt–the architect of the worst of the Guatemalan genocides in 1982-3. Just before damning testimony will be shared about the current president, Otto Perez Molina, and his involvement in the genocides as a young officer…the trial is annulled. There is video of those days, when his code name was Major Tito. He is standing over the bodies of some radical peasants. Their skin is dark brown, like Glendi’s brothers. Her dad.

    The peasants had radical books on them. Like mine. They were killed.

    Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Today. FBI agents in Hawaiian shirts are visiting activist houses. Not so subtle intimidation before May Day. They even visit Left Bank books, where so many of these books–now on the floor–once came from. Where so many times I thought about which titles would be most useful for building a revolution.

    All the death and all the fear of so many generations who have struggled for a different world than this one. So many legacies are in those pages, now squeezed between those craggy, tooth-pocked gums of my baby. How many people have had to hide, or burn, or justify their possession of those books I come home to? How many comrades in danger, or shock, just because they happen to be more active than I am?

    If, one day, my daughter chooses to agree with what those books are about? And she chooses to act?

    Will she be safe?

    Will she remain undeterred?

    So, like 2 years ago I wrote part 1 of a series of reflections about my time in revolutionary groups. I had part 2 almost done, and I had part 3 outlined…and then I just stopped.

    I just found part 2 in my drafts folder. It’s got some interesting stuff that shouldn’t just be forgotten. Here it is.Part 1 focused on lessons around handling conflict. Part 2 is focused on addressing oppression, and then the final part is about improving revolutionary praxis. Like I said in the first part of this series, these are my thoughts as I got them down on the page, and I reserve the right to change them, add to them, and delete them as I feel more clarity.

    ADDRESSING OPPRESSION (this is focused on how revolutionary organizations address oppressive dynamics and try to build a liberated culture internally…questions of addressing oppression on the larger scale will be taken up in the next part)

    Have a holistic, intersectional perspective. My own political trajectory has taken me all over the map about how I theorize oppression, and whether I think there are core oppressions or linchpin systems or anything. And although I feel fewer and fewer comrades at my side about this, as so many of them move toward more materialist perspectives, I still remain unconvinced that oppression has only one source, one foundation, or one weak point (such as class struggle, white supremacy, patriarchy, etc.).

    People are complex, our relationships are complex, and that means our social systems–and the dynamics of hierarchy and oppression underlying them–are complex. It makes perfect sense for radicals to seek out powerful, and efficient means of understanding these systems in order to identify priority areas, and I do think there are priority areas, but in the end I believe that revolutionary organizations are best served by a perspective that acknowledges and seeks to address–at least at the personal level–the ways that power and oppression manifest across all differences of identity and experience. That is, I think organizations should work from a holistic perspective that believes that all forms of oppression need to be addressed simultaneously–even if there are sometimes strategic priorities within that work.

    I don’t say this because I believe all struggles are equal in their revolutionary potential, but rather because all forms of oppression actively live, grow, and do their damage within each of us, and we need to build organizations and a revolutionary culture that can hold us and help us heal and grow from where we’re at and what we’re feeling. We need organizations that can see us as whole people, which means we need organizations that can deeply understand the complexity of what keeps us boxed in.

    Be clear about how huge and insidious oppressive systems are, in the world and within each of us. This one is pretty straightforward. Oppressions run deep, and the infrastructure that sustains them is ridiculously large and resourceful. We have to be honest with ourselves: this is a long struggle, and there are no magical shortcuts. Even those with an insurrectionist perspective need to recognize this. We will not experience total liberation in our lifetimes, and probably neither will the next few generations. Instead, we will have periods of progress and setbacks, and we will consistently push up against the limits of how fast society can move, and how much personal change is possible over the course of our lives. Within our organizations this means…

    It’s important to expect and offer personal accompaniment, but it’s a trap to expect and offer personal liberation. There can be a real cheerleading element to revolutionary work, where, in an effort to stave off feelings of desperation and futility in the face of an overwhelming enemy, we rah rah about will, and transformation, and living completely new lives. This hopefulness is essential–because I do believe that social transformation is possible if we’re able to hold it as a vision–but it can also shoot us in the foot.

    Revolutionary organizations–and larger social movements–cannot deliver total personal liberation, and often our cheerleading to the contrary causes us big problems. I would bet that thousands of potential organizers pass by the radical left each year because of the disconnect they see between our lofty promises and ideals and our less-than-stellar, very human realities. People get frustrated when we can’t solve their problems in timely ways, and especially when they see that our organizations and movements can’t alleviate the pain of living in this society.

    What we can and should do as organizations is be present with people, and accompany them in their struggles. If a person is abused, downsized, evicted we can’t always win the fight, but we can be there fighting with them, and then–and this is critically important–we can still be there the next day as their comrades and community members. That presence, that essential solidarity is less fancy than the poetry of “build total liberation now,” but it’s far more lasting when things get hard in the movement.

    Also, as people within a thoroughly messed up society, we are individually thoroughly messed up. We have weird hangups, prejudices, triggers, desires and compulsions that have evolved out of our daily practices while trying to get by in this world. These are deep within us, and we have to be patient with ourselves and each other as our perfectly clean and clear radical ideals crush up against our dirty and weird realities. That contradiction, and our presence and growth within in it, are the struggle.

    Our lives don’t fit in their boxes, so our organizations shouldn’t be boxy. Okay, so our society is constructed around systems of oppression and exploitation that create social dichotomies and then box us into identities based on those dichotomies. At the same time, we know that society’s identity boxes don’t match who we actually are. They are social constructions, which often have been imposed on us through force.

    So, if we are seeking to create something new, our organizations are not served by structuring ourselves around those same boxy identity forms that never fit us in the first place. Separatist groups, people of color or white only groups, women only spaces, or other identity based formations that key off of identities that the system made for us are not lasting formations. Sure, they are potentially very important for specific functions and caucus type spaces in order to make space to build skills and consciousness without the disruptive presence of privileged people’s defensiveness or entitlement. That makes sense. But in the end, the movement has to be multiracial–race being a social invention after all–intergenerational, multi-gender, accessible, and even cross class in the sense of multiple layers and cultures within all the non-owning classes.

    I believe that building a winning movement means working with each other across identity, seeing and feeling commonality, and even holding each other’s pain–even if we feel that it’s coming from a more “privileged” place than our own.

    We are who shows up, and we work from there. There are times when groups have a majority of one or another identity, and if that identity is more on the privileged side of things, then groups can sort of freeze up into this, “if we don’t get more diverse than we can’t do anything.” This is garbage, and it often only leads to either navel-gazing or awkward “diversity recruiting” drives. No thanks.

    Instead, when groups gather, they should acknowledge who’s there, honor who’s there, and then have honest conversations about how best to move the group’s work forward. If the group happens to be majority white, for example, that doesn’t mean that the group doesn’t have legitimacy until it meets some quota or something…it still has the potential to do fantastic work. However, the group does need to recognize the dynamics of being majority white, understand why that might be, recognize what unique responsibilities and perspectives such a formation might have, and realize that in the end the group will probably have to dissolve into a larger multiracial organizational form rather than ever having the possibility of recruiting people of color into its existing form. Sure, sometimes groups do need to just dissolve and start from scratch if they are incapable of authentically and respectfully participating in community struggles because of their makeup…but I think the pattern of groups just stopping and starting around purely demographic issues is often a waste of time.

    Avoid formulaic and linear conceptions of leadership. This is where my original draft stopped, and I can’t remember what I wanted to say here. Knowing what I think about this topic, I imagine that I wanted to talk about how organizations have many vital tasks to do, some of which are more celebrated than others. Within a group, members have a wide variety of strengths, skills, and interests. These all offer different forms of leadership, many of which are unacknowledged because they aren’t public. This is a classic feminist argument and I don’t need to go deeply into it, but…

    The multiple forms and strands that leadership can take in groups can really help a group explode in creative directions if it is nurtured in the right way. Now, if only I remembered all my original thinking about this point!

    All the other great reflections I forgot to write down. I can’t remember the specifics, but I know that I wanted to talk more about some of the specifics of personal improvement work vs. public political work. I wanted to talk about specific ways that oppression and superiority get internalized and play out in groups. I wanted to specifically talk about addressing oppressive dynamics in groups. I didn’t get any of that written down. That’s a shame. Right now it’s a school night so I certainly don’t have the energy to remember all this stuff…but here’s hoping that I come back and add more reflections in time.

    1)

    2)Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces by Raul Zibechi. This is the first non escapist sci-fi book I’ve read in awhile. It’s awesome. It explores how social movements in El Alto, Bolivia have been able to maintain such militant and prolonged mobilization that has transformed the politics of their country–while still refusing to be co-opted by the state. His central argument is that the movements are not separated from daily life, but rather completely enmeshed in people’s whole lives–it’s this community and relational aspect that gives the movements their potency. Yes. Lot’s of lessons for us in there, which I’d like to talk about when finished. I’d highly recommend this book for book groups to read and discuss.

    3) I’ve come back to pre-writing for a novel I’ve been working on for awhile. A long walk around Vancouver was perfect for my inspiration, as I worked through some long-standing story blocks. I don’t want to talk about it much, but the inspiration is that I love fantasy and sci-fi novels that build deep and convincing worlds–Middle Earth, Game of Thrones, China Mieville’s cities. I believe that a revolutionary and post-revolutionary world could offer similarly exotic and escapist settings, and I’m disappointed in radical fiction writers because they always hover around the moments of insurrection, but they don’t describe the world to be built afterwards. I don’t mean utopia, but what actually would be there afterwards. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed is a great exception, but I wish there were more. So, that’s what I’m playing with.

    So, I fell off the world again….

    Glendi knows me so well! For my birthday on Wednesday, she gave me a quite unexpected gift: a 3-day trip to be alone with my thoughts in Vancouver, BC. Here I am, beginning the 3rd day, and it’s no coincidence that I’m coming back to my blog–and clearing out the copious amounts of spam comments–during this special time alone. Something still isn’t quite working in my daily life.

    Here I was in December and January, reading, writing, eating with people, balancing my workload and my social anxiety all quite well. Then, pretty much exactly when Glendi and the baby came home from Guatemala, the old patterns crept in. It’s not them. It’s me and my introversion.

    Introversion is not shyness. It’s a shorthand way of talking about where our energy comes from. My energy comes from having ample time alone–first to decompress from exhaustion and any person struggles, then to ease into more creative and inspired work. I like being around people, and I love my time with Glendi and Amanecer. But social interaction, even with them, drains me. When we are all in the house, I don’t know where to find my energy. I only know how to energize myself when I have hours and hours laid out before me. When I have to find my alone time in scraps of 30 or 45 minutes here or there, I get cranky and then just fill that time with electronic mind-mushing. In this way, I have frittered away 3 months since last writing. I’ve read almost nothing, I’ve talked with very few people beyond my family and co-workers, and I haven’t been to a single political event.

    Don’t get all mopey and down on yourself. Just acknowledge it, take responsibility, and move forward.

    I just reread my Backwards Planning for the Revolution. Yes, I am so happy that at least I wrote myself a really practical guide for how to get out of the funk and try again. The goals and ideas still make sense to me. What I wrote still speaks to where I want to be. But I need to readjust to 3 realities:

    1) I need to more realistically understand a father’s time limitations. I will not have more than a few 1+ hour stretches of free time. Free time is there; hours and hours of it. But it’s all chopped and chunked up into 10-20 minute moments. I grumpily cast this off as lost time and waste it. I need to become a scavenger and salvager. I want to try positively embracing and playing with these fragments of alone time.

    2) I need to own up to my exhaustion. When I am teaching, I feel energized. When I get home, I am drained. I’m only sleeping 6-7 hours a night, so I’m physically tired also. It’s silly to have high creative expectations of myself in the weekday afternoons when I’ve spent so much creative energy trying to teach well. As I get more practiced at teaching, this might change, but for now it’s just plain true that I don’t have that much mind or social power left after work. Do I just designate my weeknights as recuperation time, then? Not quite. I just need to prioritize work that will also be restful–low stakes social stuff, lighter reading, lighter writing.

    3) My social anxiety is more debilitating than I want to admit. Intellectually, I can recognize and rationalize around it, but the truth of my daily life is that I live in a constant white noise of anxiety about email, mail, and phone messages. It takes me days to find the courage to go through my email and phone messages, even just to delete unwanted stuff. The longer I wait, the worse it is. I feel like I’m currently standing underneath a tidal wave of correspondence that I owe to so many people…but then I think that they all must be so disappointed in me…so I can’t contact them…so maybe another day…and so it goes.

    See, these three realities work in wicked concert together. Because it takes so much strength and energy to face my social correspondence, I never feel like I can do it with just a 10 minute fragment of time. So I spend those 10-20 minutes trying to find escapes to avoid thinking about the mounting social anxiety. I play and consume. This is my cycle. This is how I self-medicate and what I’m self-medicating for.

    If I’m going to accomplish my goals, healing from my anxiety and pain need to be priorities for me. I need friends again. If not, then I need a therapist.

    Zero Dark Thirty…

    I was surprised by how upset I was after seeing Zero Dark Thirty, the new film about the search for and killing of Usama Bin Laden. The movie immediately reminded me of The Battle of Algiers, in that it shows glimpses of the logic and cold brutality that imperial powers employ to get their way. Throughout, I kept widening my eyes, telling myself, “Watch this, Jeremy, this is what your government does in your name.” It’s like a textbook example of how the colonial mindset and gaze distort all notions of safety, “protecting the homeland,” and self-defense.

    While the movie certainly doesn’t show the full extent of the U.S.’s crushing role in the Muslim world post 9-11–where are the drone strikes leveling villages, the special forces in Afghanistan collecting human ears?–the grand sense of entitlement to violence and victory shows in the scenes of torture; in the amoral, almost non-chalant attack on Bin Laden’s compound; and the numerous rapid-fire, paranoid and Islamophobic scenes of brown Pakistani faces–which brown face in the market is the terrorist? It could be this one…it could be this one…maybe this exotic and dangerous looking woman in hijab. I still think Argo wins this year’s prize for Islamophobic rapid-fire shots of dangerous and mysterious looking Muslim crowds…but still, this movie comes close

    I don’t have anything too novel to say about the movie, but I do want to talk about one more thing. Watching it, especially the numerous scenes of torture, I couldn’t help but think of Guatemala in the 1970’s and 80’s. As Greg Grandin’s The Empire’s Workshop tells us, many of the practices that the CIA still uses now were tested and evolved in their brutal counter-insurgency work in Latin America. And the policies were generated by many of the same neo-cons who got started back with Reagan and who then continued with Bush. As I watched the movies, I imagined all the people who look like Glendi and her family–the peasant leaders, indigenous guerrillas, socially conscious Catholic organizers, and brave college students–who had their hands strung up in the same way, who had their mouths filled with the same wet clothes…who were broken and humiliated by that same cold, brutal logic. It is not okay, what is done to protect us here in our privileges. It’s not okay with me at all.

    The Left Must Watch Venezuela Closely…

    Hugo Chavez is gravely ill. It is likely he will no longer be president of Venezuela. Are there individuals who can replace him? Is the radical grassroots ready to accelerate the building of power from below? Regardless of the state of the Venezuelan left, the Venezualan right and the U.S. are probably doing some rapid-fire strategic simulations right now to figure out how they want to destabilize things.

    I understand the critiques of Chavez and the Venezuelan process from the left, especially from anarchists. So much of it is well-founded. However, despite all the immense contradictions, there is no other country where bottom-up participatory socialist ideas have such a strong cultural and intellectual hegemony…even if the institutional reality hasn’t matched the ideals. There are millions of Venezualans who actively discuss and attempt to build bottom-up popular power in their communities. Millions is a big number. If that process is crushed or degenerates into either violence or pure apathy, what a huge setback for the global left.

    All of us have a stake in this. Anti-authoritarians, specifically, have a stake in aggressively supporting and advocating for the radical grassroots positions that will emerge in the absence of Chavez. Are you watching? Are you paying attention? Anarchists, if you ignore this because you hate Chavez, you are missing something of global, historic significance…a process that needs speeding up, but which is in danger of ending.

    Also, check this out by George Ciccariello-Maher, Dual Power in the Venezuelan Revolution.

    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.

    All the personal struggles and surprises aside, I’ve spent the bulk of the last year focused on learning how to be teacher. Now, with the first, tiniest amount of free time, I’ve noticed my mind pedaling around the same question: how far have my grad school stint and my career choice pushed me away from my revolutionary ideals?

    If we look for the answer in my participation in organized and explicit social movement activities, then the response that reflects back is dazzlingly clear: I’ve been almost completely M.I.A. I’ve missed basically all of the major political events and initiatives in Seattle for the last year. I missed Occupy, I’ve missed all of the major Seattle Solidarity Network fights, I’ve missed the port workers and transit organizing, I’ve missed organizing against the new youth jail, and I haven’t been to a single radical educational or discussion event. Given that pretty much my entire identity has been wrapped up in radical politics since I was 14, this is a drastic change. It’s a stark absence from the world I know best, and I’ve certainly felt the void.

    But the question cannot end there. If it did, then not only should I be depressed and disappointed in myself, but my integrity should also demand that I rethink my decision to be a teacher. Yet that’s not at all how I feel. The truth is that I’ve felt largely satisfied over the last year. I feel well-grounded in my politics and strategic vision, and I’m optimistic about my ability to integrate a teacher’s approach to social change with the more traditional social movement work that I’ve been missing lately. In fact, as I’ve been thinking, I’ve realized that my original question might be inappropriate.

    Perhaps a better question is: how has my time focused on teacher education contributed to my revolutionary ideals? Yeah, with that question, things get a lot more interesting.

    In many ways, my year in teacher-education-land has been a useful retreat from the often insular world of radical organizing. First, it’s given me personal space to build new relationships outside of the radical subculture, and that has been healthy and rewarding. More importantly, though, it’s given me the opportunity to think about movement dilemmas using a variety of new lenses. More than ever, I believe that education is central to revolutionary movement building, and getting intensive, formal training in educational theories and techniques has really expanded my political toolbox.

    I’d like to elaborate on some of this here.

    Let’s start with some basics. Revolutionary organizing, at its root, is about facilitating people’s personal transformation. It’s about transforming people’s relationships to their own sense of power and potential, their relationships to each other, and their relationships to larger social institutions. Some can disagree with this and frame it differently. They might say, for example, that it’s not so much about changing people, as about changing the structures that hold people’s true natures back, but that’s a mistake. The “structures” are almost never actually structures—we’re not fighting against giant concrete slabs, after all—but rather very human social relationships that need to change, which means individual people, values, and decisions that need to be transformed. I will gladly debate radicals all day long about this: revolutionaries are in the business of helping people to change. I think that’s our necessary starting point.

    Well, wouldn’t you know it? Teachers are pretty much in the same business. Teaching is all about organizing a social environment, and facilitating experiences, that allow people to grow deeper and more sophisticated connections with themselves, each other, and the world. That is, teaching is about helping people to grow and change toward their higher potential. Teaching and learning are both intensely personal while also being highly social—much like radical organizing. And, at its best, teaching is a process of supporting people to realize their full potential as historical agents.

    That said, revolutionary organizing and teaching are also markedly different. Public school teaching begins in a context of coercion, and it does involve state-mandated content. It is riven with elements of social control and indoctrination. I don’t need to go that far into all this, because I think we can just take it as a given. I’m not under any illusion that just by being a school teacher I’m doing radical work. I’m not. Teaching is not enough to make more than a small dent in the armor of this system.

    The point, though, is that there are some tips and techniques in teaching that are almost directly transferable to revolutionary organizing.

    I think at this point it’s probably most useful to just list some examples off.

    Know Your Students, Know Yourself. This one is kind of a gimme, but teachers are taught to know their students well, and to use a wide variety of techniques to do this—icebreakers, interest surveys, one-on-one conferences, pre-assessments, open houses, field trips, etc. Teachers are also taught to be grounded in their own identity, style, and preconceived notions about students—including being aware of our institutional privileges. As radicals, this seems like all obvious stuff, but how well do we actually implement trying to know our people? How do we use data? How do we use internal movement surveys? Do we do one-on-one conferencing between new folks and movement veterans—I know they do in some cities—or use other forms of relationship building beyond parties or go-arounds at workshops?
    The political parties are absolutely obsessed with data-mining, microtargeting, and knowing everything they can about their constituencies. If I walk into a radical info-shop or social center, on the other hand, people often won’t even look at me or acknowledge me. Seriously, I’m 31 and I’ve been an anarchist for 16 years, and I’m still scared to enter radical spaces because so few people make a friendly effort to know me!

    Metacognition and Learning Strategies. A big thing in teaching these days is this idea of metacognition, or thinking about thinking. The idea is that helping students to explicitly think about and articulate how they think will help them think better. For example, it’s not enough to know the answer to a math problem, it’s potentially more important to be able to describe how one found the answer, and why the method worked. Teachers are also encouraged to identify the tricks that skilled readers/writers/quantitative thinkers use and to explicitly teach those to students as learning strategies. Students learn how to infer meaning in texts, make predictions in stories, visualize numbers in a wide variety of ways, or break unknown words into their component parts.
    We need this in a big way in revolutionary work. Everything is so mystified and loaded with jargon, that especially new organizers feel like they have to read dozens of books before they can hold their own with veterans. This is a mistake. There are very real tricks to thinking systematically and strategically about political realities, and those tricks can be taught. Similarly, manipulative and abusive politics are rife in our movements because people are using techniques and tactics that most of us aren’t metacognitively aware of. We need more awareness of when we are creating straw positions, when we are using anecdotal evidence, when we are creating false dichotomies, imagining zero-sum situations, etc.

    Students Need Regular, Specific Positive Feedback. Current thinking about classroom management and “discipline” in schools is that students respond best to warm classrooms that offer a ratio of 4 specific, positive pieces of feedback for every 1 piece of constructive criticism. However, the positive feedback can’t be hollow or like “everyone gets a trophy because we’re all equal.” It should actually be relevant to the student and their actual participation. Both positive and critical feedback should be framed with an understanding of the student as being in a process of learning, without an imposition of artificial deadlines. Further, feedback should be pretty much constant, so that students have a regularly updated sense of their progress toward their various learning goals.
    In revolutionary work, criticism is one of those things that we’re particularly bad at. From the group-think of criticism/self-criticism, to passive aggressive notes and open letters—which usually means humiliating people publicly because we’re too scared of a one-on-one discussion—to just straight-up name calling—can’t we just ban attack words like “liberal,” “bourgeois,” “reformist,”–we are mired in terrible ways of handling difference. We also are pretty terrible about giving new people information about how they can learn and grow from mistakes. In fact, do we even learn from most of our mistakes on the radical left? Not so sure.
    In the context of a caring and stable political community, the teaching tips of 4-to-1 positive feedback and consistent delivery of specific feedback could do some amazing things.

    Zone of Proximal Development. So, there was this soviet-era educational theorist named Vygotsky, who current teaching theorists love. Vygotsky was all about social learning, the idea that we learn less from a teacher depositing knowledge in us, and more from working in a group with our peers. People who like Paolo Freire would find things to like in Vygotsky’s thinking. Well, one of Vygotsky’s ideas was that all of us have our current ability levels, but we have also this whole extended level of potential which is what we are capable of with the support or presence of a more capable peer. This is the zone of proximal development. The idea, then, is that with strategic cooperative grouping, students can develop their learning even faster because the support and modeling of their peers expands their potential.
    This is a very simplified gloss of the idea, but it’s useful for thinking about mentoring and division of labor in revolutionary circles. We don’t need a rigid system of step-up/step-back all the time. We also don’t need individual role-rotations, where veteran organizers swap out of a role and new people swap in. If we have mixed ability working groups that share tasks cooperatively, people actually can show remarkable abilities to grow rapidly, without having to throw new people to the wolves, and without having to shut down veterans’ experiences entirely.

    Scaffolding. Another very popular Vygotsky related idea is the idea of scaffolding. The theory here is that human beings build their learning as a web of relationships to prior experiences and knowledge. So, knowing this, teachers should use students’ prior experiences as a foundation, and then build supportive scaffolding up so that students can move higher and higher toward whatever the learning goal is. Scaffolds can take many forms. They can include visuals to aid texts, or blocks and manipulatives for students to physically work with in a math class, or just helping students have pre-requisite knowledge before taking on advanced concepts.
    I think this idea of scaffolding is especially salient for revolutionary organizing. Most people do not have a lot of prior experience with radical ideas, with collective self-management, or with confronting systemic oppression. However, they do have many, many experiences with surviving and navigating said oppression. Organizers should consciously think about how their tactics and initiatives help scaffold different experiences for people to learn new, relevant revolutionary skills. We should explicitly ask ourselves what future ideas and skills our various events and actions are scaffolding. Are we building only militant confrontational skills, or only academic skills, or only meeting and discussion skills? How do we scaffold for a future society if we don’t know what that society will look like?
    One group that I think is an excellent example of revolutionary scaffolding in action is the Seattle Solidarity Network. By taking on small, winnable fights against bosses and landlords, and organizing hundreds of people in collective action in these fights, they are scaffolding many critical skills and attitudes that will be useful for whenever a time for larger, more protracted radical campaigns are necessary.

    One More For Now: Inquiry-Based Learning. In teaching, there are many different philosophies about how to actually present new content. One strategy is inquiry-based learning. This is closely connected with Freire’s problem-posing education. The idea is that a teacher presents a dilemma or situation, and provides access to a variety of pieces of authentic information (texts, resources, tools, etc), and students are tasked with building their own understanding by trying to create an approach to the problem. Once again, this is a gloss, but that’s the big idea.
    This should be really common in revolutionary educational work, but it’s not. Rarely do we have workshops in which people are actually using authentic data sources (newspapers, statistics, past activist experiences) to develop realistic approaches to scenarios. Instead, most of our workshops use highly abstracted games or veiled scenarios that often inspire only shallow thinking about solutions. We learn big concepts from these activities, like how to select a target, or how to make a fun chant, but we don’t develop high-level strategic and tactical thinking skills. The nuance is usually not there, and I believe the ability to handle the nuances of radical politics is one of those metacognitive tricks that keeps some people in radical work, while others burn out and quit.
    I think our revolutionary workshops and education projects need to—as they say in the teaching world—develop higher expectations.

    Okay, I’m still getting back into the groove of blog writing, so I think I’ll cut this off here.

    The point should be clear by now, though. Although I’ve been away from revolutionary work for a long time now, I’ve been learning a whole bunch as I prepare to become a teacher. I’m excited about applying some of that learning to social movement work in the Seattle area in the near future.

    Thinking Strategically About Occupy Together

    So, this Occupy Together movement is definitely a thing. It’s potentially a really big thing. And what’s particularly cool about it is that it’s full of people who are new to activism and organizing.

    For those of us who’ve been around for awhile, this presents a challenge. How do we avoid sticking our noses up at the movement’s various mistakes and contradictions, and actually join in and meaningfully support what’s happening?

    With my life so over-capacity right now, it’s been hard to think about how to best contribute…but one answer I have is writing. I can at least share some of the ideas and questions that I’m asking to help generate more strategic thinking.

    So, get ready for a series of posts trying to think strategically about Occupy Together!

    The Escuela Popular Sindical…

    For me, Glendi’s uncle is kind of like the leftist, Guatemalan version of my Alaskan grandpa. During all of my adolescence, my grandpa would take me aside at the family gatherings and he would try to engage me in discussions of conservative ideas. I love him dearly for it. He was so concerned about me, and my descent into revolutionary socialism that he gave me a deep exposure to his perspectives and his intellectual heroes, like Rush Limbaugh. I learned a ton, including a respect for conservatives as people, even as their ideas repulse me. Glendi’s uncle gives me almost the exact same vibe that I remember from growing up, except the ideas that he’s trying to expose me to are on the other side of the political spectrum. At family gatherings we sit together and talk about Guatemala, the U.S., rich and poor, religion, and social struggle. He makes me feel so comfortable here.

    In the hours before the church service that we had for Glendi’s dad here in the house, I sat with her uncle and talked with him about the upcoming elections. He told me that he had no hope for any changes, and then he proceeded to talk about the ongoing land occupation that he’s involved in, the organization, Plataforma Agraria (Agrarian Platform) that he participates in, and about the radical radio programs he listens to. When I talked to him about my upcoming studies, he started getting excited and told me that he too was taking classes at the university, and that’s when things got really interesting.

    It turns out that Glendi’s uncle is taking these Saturday classes in Political Economy and Popular Education at the nearby university in Xela. The classes are free, and they are taught voluntarily by radical professors who aren’t otherwise free to share all of their perspectives. Glendi’s uncle loves the classes and how much they are opening up his mind about the way Guatemala works, the history of colonialism, and the necessity of struggle. He’s well into his fifties, but he looks like a teenager when he talks about these things.

    Naturally, I wanted to see the classes for myself, so this morning at 6:30 he came by and we took the 1 ½ hour bus ride together to Xela. We had a quick cup of coffee sitting there at a stand at the bus terminal, we walked a brisk and winding path through the open market, and then arrived at the university at 9am.

    There were multiple classes taking place at the same time, but the class we entered was political economy. The students were all indigenous, 5 of them men (ranging in age from late 20’s to mid 50’s) and 10 of them women (mostly in their mid-twenties, and almost all in traditional Mayan clothes). Many of the students seemed to speak an indigenous language in addition to Spanish, and the youngest man speaks Spanish, Mam, and English (he spent 7 years working in a chicken farm in North Carolina, and in a restaurant in Lousiana). The professor looked to be in his sixties.

    When we entered, the class had already started, and the topic was gender roles and patriarchy, and their relationship to private property. The perspective was definitely Marxist, with a strong slant toward discussion of the specific history of colonialism and imperialism in Guatemala. It was very lecture-based, and the students were deeply attentive but quiet. I was fascinated, especially to see such concrete analysis and discussion of dynamics that I witness all the time here, but from a solidly Guatemalan perspective.

    At one point, the professor had to step out, and the students started talking to me, naturally curious about who I was and why I was there. They asked for a quick English class and I obliged, teaching them typical greetings at the whiteboard (the classroom was old and dirty, as most Guatemalan classrooms are…like one would imagine a really old, poor elementary school classroom in the U.S….except the whiteboards looked relatively new and clean.). Then we discussed all sorts of politics. It was so fun!

    To close the class, the professor played a CD of this kind of radio play (I’m thinking that it was from the guerrilla times, when they had a clandestine radio station) about the true story of the Spanish conquest. It was entertaining and informative, but I couldn’t get a sense of what others thought.

    The second and final class was related to actual techniques of teaching and sharing political ideas. The focus today was on making a magazine, and the professor—a middle-aged lighter skinned woman—guided the students toward understanding how to select themes, analyze problems and conditions, and how to organize the theme into different articles. She was really smart, funny, and good at guiding student participation. By the end of the class, the students had voted on their magazine’s theme, which will be health and the political conditions surrounding it.

    After the class, Glendi’s uncle introduced me to the professor. I asked if the classes were linked to any specific political organization, and she told me that, no, they are just extensions of the university, which the professors are fighting to get formalized into real courses. She continued to explain that she is a deeply committed revolutionary and that during the war, the university was a key base for the urban guerrilla (according to Glendi’s uncle, the professor actually spent time in the mountains). She told me that many students and teachers died because of their participation. I told her about the revolutionary study groups that I see around me and participate in in the U.S., she was very excited and we mutually acknowledged our international bond of struggle.

    Just like the evangelicals here who always greet each other with “hermano” and “hermana,” there is something so deeply warming about greeting other leftists across international lines. I feel rejuvenated. Especially because of so many terrible things happening around us here in Guatemala all the time, it feels so good to be able to talk with Guatemalans using a language and perspective that can mostly share. While I’m not a Marxist, I very much appreciate the Marxist understanding of class and power, and it was really cool to see that applied to this specific country’s context. It just fits so much better for explaining all that’s happening to us than the religiously heavy language that I mostly hear.

    Even cooler was to see the explicit expressions of hope from the students. They don’t expect anything from the upcoming elections, and they don’t expect any major changes soon, but there was an optimism about long-term change and movement building that I don’t usually see in Guatemala. Glendi’s uncle, for example, doesn’t believe that he’ll live to see the revolutionary changes that are necessary, but he says that he’s taking the classes so that he can help the next generation.

    It’s that kind of attitude that hits me in the tear ducts every time.

    I like to pretend sometimes,
    that I got this hunching spine
    from working so meticulously at my craft.
    Each day carefully placing my toolbox on the table,
    unfolding the lid and curling my soft pink fingers into their positions
    to forge these words into some kind of weapon,
    to whittle at these ideas until they pierce the chest.

    I like to pretend sometimes
    that this glow is a kiln,
    I wipe my brow, and it makes no matter
    that my hand comes away dry.
    Because this feels like the work of a workman,
    and I make like I’m adjusting my spectacles
    and gripping my tweezers
    as I deftly shift another syllable.

    I like to pretend sometimes
    that I’m just like that man I watched
    crack firewood with ballet strokes,
    cut grass finely with a dull machete,
    coax coffeebeans to fall with massaging fingers,
    like the spider spindling the fly.

    I like to pretend sometimes,
    because I’m good at it.
    Because that is what carefree little boys do.

    Because what fun is it to recognize
    that this squirming bad posture
    comes from all the slouching,
    as I remove a handful of Doritoes from the bag,
    and gently wipe the orange dust on my bedsheets,
    so as not to sully my controller?
    What adventure is there in the truth
    about all the books I never wrote,
    all the marches and meetings I left early
    because I didn’t want to miss my shows?
    How do I look at Don Mario’s picture,
    and remember wincing at the sunburn from swimming,
    that day when he planted all day and then collapsed?

    I like to pretend sometimes,
    not because I feel guilty or inadequate,
    but because this is what I know how to do.
    Because, don’t you understand my part in this whole thing?
    My actual craft, at which I excel?
    My calling is to escape, over and over again,
    Using all the fine instruments that more calloused people make for me.

    My emotional resonance was tuned early to Skywalker,
    my first loyalties were to the autobots.
    And so all the grandeur and dedication of art and revolution,
    gets tiresome after a half hour with no breaks.

    However, my pretending didn’t prepare me
    for marriage,
    family,
    and so much loss.
    I didn’t expect the toll on my artisanship,
    as the loom with which I textured my fantasies
    broke apart in my arms.
    All the posing and posturing feels awkward,
    when the people next to you in the picture
    are the real deal.

    Now, at least for a moment,
    this writer is not content with pretending.
    I open this toolbox again,
    and the glow this time feels like nothing more,
    and nothing less,
    than what it is.
    I unearth old notes and plans and blueprints,
    search for my sharpest and most effective verbal implements.
    I hunch here and stare into these white spaces
    and I feel driven to fill them.
    Because now I don’t want to be a craftsman,
    but instead, there’s something I need to craft.
    These soft pink fingers need to come up with something,
    that can stab and tear,
    that can motivate and heal,
    that can take on just a piece of the fighting work
    that so often falls to more calloused hands.

    You are killing my family.

    Don’t think that I don’t know that. Don’t think for a second that I’m fooled by all those temptations you offer for us to blame ourselves, for me to blame them.

    Well, okay, for a second I was fooled. But not now. This has you written all over it.

    See, I can follow the money, I can follow the violence, I can follow the misinformation, there’s actually quite a number of trails I can follow back to you. The coffee trees, the dialysis bags, the gunshots, the distended bellies, the fucking casket that’s lying there in the living room right now…I know it’s you.

    You made their homeland into an experiment in fractured, traumatized psychosis. That is what your counter-insurgency and your anti-communism boiled down to. You run the poor against each other just like those bored, twisted rich kids that pay homeless men to fight to the death. And now, you want me to actually believe that this is happening because my family just isn’t doing things right? That we just don’t work hard enough? Are you kidding me?

    And you’re right. I can’t do shit about it right now. The powerlessness is palpable. This pain, this unimaginable frustration, has me gnawing at my own hands, has us sniping at each others’ jugulars. But I like to think that there are at least small parts of us that are saving up just a little bit of the rage that we’re not investing in self-hate, in circular attacks. And that little bit, we’re saving for you. Multiplied by 7 billion, that rage could count up to something big.

    Hopefully it’ll be enough to topple you. Hopefully, I will get to see it. Hopefully, when we have taken it all back, and you are curled into your isolated little corner, you will just repeatedly tell yourself that you just didn’t work hard enough, that you just didn’t have the drive to succeed. That would be a good laugh.

    I forgive many people for many things they do to me. I forgive easily, and I forgive in abundance. It fills me with dignity to do so.

    But I don’t forgive you.

    I want my father in law back, you pieces of shit.

    I’m really excited about next Tuesday. Me and a handful of other local political souls are meeting together for a special discussion about what we’ve learned from our various fallen revolutionary organizational projects. Hooray for reflection and self-evaluation! What’s especially cool about it is that we’ve carefully decided that we don’t want to focus on stories of what happened or just critiques of errors and bad personalities, but instead we want to distill our experiences into concrete lessons for the future.

    Because I want to be prepared for the discussion, I’m trying to write down some of the lessons that I’ve learned over these years. Keep in mind that I’ll be editing this for awhile, so you might want to check back over the multiple parts from time to time.

    HANDLING CONFLICT (I’ve put this section first, because it’s so critical to avoiding organizational implosion)

    Explicitly discuss different personal communication and conflict styles. In the non-profit, corporate, and conflict mediation worlds, there is a wealth of curricula, charts, tables, and funny cartoons that help people identify their conflict and communication styles, and tips for relating across different styles. Groups should use these early and often, tailoring them as needed (with some class and cultural consciousness, for example) as a part of group formation and new member orientation. It’s amazing how much trouble we get into when we misinterpret each other’s style cues…especially across identity differences.

    Groups should strongly avoid seeking one homogeneous conflict/communication style. It won’t work and all it really means is that the people with that style will dominate and everyone else will blame themselves for not measuring up to the “right way.”

    Create structures for conflict mediation before problems occur. Groups should have preventative structures and channels already established to handle conflict before anything happens. Members should do internal training about how these structures work, and how to utilize them in a variety of scenarios. That way, when problems do occur, members have already internalized a sense of what it means to handle the conflict responsibly.

    Create regular spaces for self-evaluation and critique. I am skeptical of the cricisim/self-criticism of the Maoists, but I do think groups should create regular spaces for self-evaluation and the airing of constructive criticism. It’s important to have an expectation in the group culture that everyone will receive criticism, so that everyone can improve our work. But this is so dependent on these other lessons being heeded as well…because otherwise these spaces for criticism are just weapons for vindictive and manipulative personalities.


    Dedicate and honor time for appreciations.
    Organizing for social transformation is hard, especially when the opposition heats up. We need a steady stream of love and encouragement from each other, and this should be structured into the group at regular intervals…and not in a way in which the good is always accompanied by a “but.” We need spaces and times where all we hear are the good things…with a trust that our criticisms and unmet needs will also have structured spaces to be heard.

    Let it out or let it go. If you have a problem with someone in the organization, it’s a simple choice: either it’s not a big enough deal to communicate out to the group–and then you need to authentically work to let it go–or you can’t let it go and you need to find a responsible channel to communicate it…ideally directly to that person. If you’re scared, or you are unpracticed in conflict resolution, that’s a real challenge…but it’s not an excuse. Be creative and find resources you can trust. Keeping it to yourself and building resentment is not a legitimate option.

    Make an anti shit-talking commitment. Shit-talking is poison to movements, and it’s also a preferred channel for intentional destabilization by the powerful. If you are going to talk critically about someone without talking directly to them–or communicating through previously established group structures–then you only have one reason to do so: to constructively seek or give advice for how to eventually deal directly with said person or utilize established group structures. If weeks have passed and you’re still talking to uninvolved people about this without constructively engaging with the people directly involved in the conflict, then you are entering shit-talking territory. And if someone has been coming to you for more than a week to talk critically about someone who is not you, and they aren’t seeking or utilizing constructive advice, then you are also in shit-talking territory. We need to stop this! Period.

    Seek to name conflict honestly. It’s common in radical groups to couch our conflicts in political terms, when the real problem is personal. We don’t like someone, but we say it’s their ideas. We feel threatened, but we say that it’s actually about pressing political disagreements. This stuff should be aired out honestly. Even if I think the root of a conflict is about ideas, I need to also be up front if I’m feeling insecure, threatened, jealous, etc. This isn’t about being touchy-feely, it’s about honestly naming the root of what breaks apart organizations. If a person can only frame their conflicts politically, but they clearly manifest emotional responses to those conflicts, that’s a red-flag that they aren’t fully articulating what’s going on for them. Because so many groups actually fall apart around issues of sex, relationships, violence, jealousy, and power-mongering, this is really important to hold on to.

    Anger is not unprincipled behavior. Anger, defensiveness, yelling, crying, are not inherently disruptive or unprincipled behaviors. They are normal human responses and survival strategies for intense situations–even if we don’t perceive the same intensity in some situations. If members are angry or yelling, they should be given space, and they should be clearly acknowledged, and the actual conversation should be paused until they can return to a mutually respectful tone. This does not mean admonishing or shaming them, or using their yelling against them later. Sure, yelling and anger can be used to dominate and manipulate situations, and this is unprincipled behavior, but that’s not always the case. How much of a pattern is this, and how disruptive to the group? We all have a lot of internalized baggage about this based on our upbringings and cultural/class backgrounds, and we need to be careful about putting political spins on it when it’s actually pretty complicated.

    Crystallize and map political conflicts with imagination and patience. A group doesn’t know if a conflict is truly political and not personal until the politics of a conflict have been thoroughly articulated, polarized, and the points on the spectrum between different sides have been identified for potential compromises. If one side of a conflict can’t clearly, respectfully paraphrase the authentic position of the other sides of the conflict–even if they thoroughly disagree–then the conflict is still personal. It’s still in the realm of not having enough trust, patience, or respect for the other sides to even clearly listen to and articulate what they are saying. A common trap here–especially around conflicts of power, privilege, and identity–is when one side of a conflict says they are tired of having to explain this over and over, and so it’s not worth their time to have to explain it again. This might be true, and that might be perfectly legitimate, but that’s personal–it’s about trust in the group…it hasn’t yet been crystallized as a political conflict, because all sides haven’t had a chance to fully be heard and articulated. Further, once the sides of a conflict have been articulated, distilled, polarized to their key components, the group should imagine what possible compromise positions could exist. The group should consider these positions carefully before any votes or splits. If the group isn’t willing to make the time to consider these compromise positions, then the conflict is probably personal, and the members really just don’t want to work together anymore. Like I said, that’s fine, but don’t call it a political conflict when it’s not.

    Assume good, revolutionary intentions…and specifically name the behavior that makes you doubt those intentions. As marginalized individuals within a harsh, oppressive culture, we get into the groove of feeling like we’re alone in our revolutionary intentions and our intense hatred of injustice. It can be an almost default reaction to mistrust the commitment, ethics, and good intentions of those around us. That’s why it’s so important to consciously work to assume good intentions from our fellow group members, and only doubt those intentions when there is specific, nameable behavior that makes us doubt them. Then, we should clearly communicate those behaviors through established structures so that the individual and group can respond. If you can’t name behaviors that make you doubt someone, then seek support to more deeply explore what is making those doubts rise for you personally–beyond that the ethical thing to do is take them at their word.

    Take internalized oppression seriously, but don’t project it on others. I think a lot of the conflicts and other problems that we have as individual activists and as groups comes from the ways we’ve internalized oppression as well as privilege. Whether arrogance and domination, defensiveness and a sense of perpetual crisis, or constant passivity and self-doubt. This is something that our groups should take seriously, and should put time and resources into supporting their members with. But, there is an overlapping problem of individuals projecting internalized oppression and privilege onto other members, and using that as a shortcut to keep from actually understanding or respecting other people’s emotional realities. This is really dangerous, and it tries to make us experts in something that we actually understand very little.

    Same as the above, take mental health issues seriously, but don’t play psychologist. Groups should seek and develop robust politics around ableism, trauma, self-care, and mental health, and these should inform our structures, our support systems, and our approaches to conflict. However, we should not make the mistake of thinking we can diagnose and pathologize members who demonstrate behavior that we don’t like or understand.

    Acknowledge the possibility of infiltration. We know it’s a real threat, and we know that they will use conflict as a constant wedge to destabilize and neutralize our groups. It’s naive to pretend that it won’t happen to our groups, and it’s also dangerous to live in permanent fear of each other. Groups should do internal training about past patterns of agents and informants in groups, and should seek to distill best practices for maintaining an open and trusting culture while still keeping strategies of destabilization in check.

    Recognize the high likelihood that you’re wrong. The track record of the radical left is bad. In fact, it’s terrible. So, chances are that the make-or-break, super dire political disagreement that makes you feel like the whole revolution hinges on what your fellow members do right now…that’s probably a bullshit, self-important exaggeration. What happens too often is that we break relationships and split organizations over differences that end up being badly characterized in the first place, and 3 years later we end up all being wrong, and in the same terrible political state…just with fewer friends and more cynicism. We lose too often to act like we actually know what we’re doing. We don’t know, and we should be humble and flexible about that.

    If there is an active process going on:

    If you aren’t formally involved in the process, don’t insert yourself into it. It’s simple. If members of your group are in an official organizational conflict process, then it’s not your place to be informally talking with individuals about this. Period. It doesn’t matter if they are your friends, and it doesn’t matter who brings it up. Gossip and side-talking almost always feels innocent or even productive while it’s happening, but it’s toxic. Build good official group processes, and then trust and honor those processes…which means setting clear personal boundaries while those processes are going on.

    If you can’t trust and commit to the process, then be clear about that. If there is an official group process going on, but you actually think it’s ineffective, or manipulative, or a straight-up witch hunt, then it’s your responsibility to be honest about that and to state clearly to what extent you are willing to honor the boundaries of the process. It is a death sentence for the integrity of a process if participants in that process are simultaneously pursuing other avenues for dealing with the conflict without informing the group. This is especially true in community accountability processes.

    Set real boundaries for disruptive/hurtful behavior. Kicking members out of a group or demanding that they meet certain conditions to keep participating are real options that groups need to consider in conflicts. There really are people (not just infiltrators) who just aren’t in a position to respect group processes or commit to doing work in a respectful way, and it is a major drain on a group’s energy to focus months and months of energy just to keep members in check. Groups need to discuss this point and set boundaries around it. If a significant amount of members’ collective energy is constantly being used to respond to and intervene in one member’s behavior…then that member needs to go, and maybe be referred to some other resources. However, it is critical, so critical, that the group have developed some good politics and internal training about ableism, institutionalization, and mental health related oppression, so as not to continue oppressive cycles if working with people who have a history of such conflicts related to their mental health.

    Part 2:
    ADDRESSING OPPRESSION

    Part 3:
    BUILDING A CULTURE OF REVOLUTIONARY PRAXIS

    Last week I wrote a piece to play with some ideas of how to build revolutionary change on a mass scale, with an emphasis on collecting and harnessing the activities of masses of people. I want to continue that thinking a little bit more here, with some other ideas that I’m playing with that I think tie together.

    A Dual-Power Kind of Nationalism

    One of the most powerful things about a dual-power revolutionary strategy is the way its ideas can capture people’s imaginations, and really help them think about what a totally different kind of society could look like. It’s very poetic, visionary, and hopeful. On the other hand, one of the strategy’s biggest weaknesses has been how decidedly small-scale, diffuse, narrow, and meager most actual dual-power style projects are.

    It’s so common for a dual-power vision to inspire activists and artists to pour hours into community projects that they internally see as the seed for a transformative shift…but what the rest of the community sees is a cute, if somewhat uncomfortable bike space or community garden or food pantry. It’s neat, and it brings lots of character to the neighborhood, but it’s hardly the radical threat to institutionalized oppression that activists had hoped to embody. And after all their work, the founders often either move on, or they recognize this problem and they try to get their project to be even more serious, significant, accessible, and efficient…and this is usually the road to yet another professionalized non-profit organization. Even more sustainable, even less of a threat to the system.

    But this isn’t an indictment of the whole strategy. I’m a big advocate for the strategy. The problem is scale: both the scale of the individual dual-power projects, but also–critically–the scale of the messaging of the project.

    What if we had a new kind of nationalism in our revolutionary movements? A type of nationalism that is inspired less by the identity-based or geographically centered nationalism of past decades, and more inspired by ideas like the Zapatistas’ Other Campaign, and other autonomist type projects.

    I really hate to use pretentious-sounding language like “anti-nation,” but that’s kind of what I mean. What if a sizeable group of anti-authoritarian dual-power advocates got together and sort of put out a declaration, even a constitution, for a dual-power nation…a project of constructing a functioning parallel society right here and now, all over the place. This wouldn’t just be some insurrectionist style declaration that dissolves away so sweetly and so emptily, like cotton candy on the tongue. This would be a concrete project of identifying all of structures that an alternative society would need, and then actually supporting people to build pieces of those structures now, to whatever capacity they have. The lone bike project, for example, wouldn’t be a lone bike project, it would be the transporation or ecology arm of a much larger project; and it would actually be accountable to the needs that such a project entails, not just the sub-cultural proclivities of people who like bikes and hate cars. Same for the community accountability collectives…they would be understood as accountable to and prefigurative of the society’s needs for safety and defense.

    This is a pretty large idea, and I’m not going to go deeply into it in this series of posts, but I want to at least get clear about why I’m mentioning it: if we can frame and structure our dual-power projects as the expansive, revolutionary threats that we intend them to be, then we also expand our ability to grow them more quickly and creatively through mass energy.

    Let’s stick with the bike project for a little while. I want to stick with it because these projects are so common amongst my fellow radical type folks, but I personally feel like they are kind of a waste of a lot of revolutionary energy (as they are currently formulated). Yet I don’t think I’m going to convince people to stop working on them. Instead, I’m hoping that they’ll work them to a more revolutionary purpose.

    If a more or less inactive but sympathetic person walks into a radical bike project, and it’s just framed as a bike project, what is the potential for inspiring and harnessing that person’s creative activity toward revolution? Beyond reducing their consumption and carbon footprint (which is at least something!), not much. They might be inspired to take a tire patching class, or even to become an occasional volunteer, but it kind of ends there.

    Now imagine if that project–with the same enthusiastic bike activist volunteers putting in their creative work and hours–was branded as, wedded to, and accountable to a larger dual-power society-building project. On the wall there are explanations about the larger project, sign-ups and notices about other linked projects, invitations to mass assemblies, etc. When the inactive person walks in to get their bike fixed, they are also told (in a respectful and non-pushy kind of way) about how the bike project operates and how it’s rooted in this vision for a new society. There are clearly presented volunteer opportunities, event opportunities…and crowd-sourcing activities (I’ll get to this in another post). This person may say no to all of this stuff, but they came in to fix a tire and they leave having at least engaged with a transformative vision for society. And if it was done in a responsible and friendly way, it won’t push that person away in the future, either.

    If that same stuff is happening at the food pantry, conflict mediation center, radical mental health center, with shared branding (like a little logo on all the fliers and brochures that says “member of the new society building project,”) each and every day that these projects are providing their alternative services, then there is a substantial opportunity for engaging thousands of people a month–in a big city like Seattle. And if these were all linked to a common volunteer management system, a common internal education system, and a shared dues or income-sharing system, there could be really effective harnessing of people’s activity. And if these projects were linked to, and accountable to mass-based decision-making assemblies…wow.

    And since this project could be national or international, it could also allow people to continue and link their work as they travel or move.

    What’s special about this approach is that it turns our small scale projects–and their distance from our large-scale vision–into an asset rather than a liability. When we have a clearly articulated vision for the structures our communities need, and we see the gaps from what we have and can communicate that openly and transparently, then people who are inactive will perceive a clear, concrete invitation to not only be active, but to be active creatively to solve meaningful, potentially revolutionary problems. This is something that I’ve learned from the non-profit world: there are way more people out there who are interested in being involved in radical projects than we think…we just haven’t invited them and motivated them with structures and activities that keep them in the movement. This dual-power nationalist idea could be an approach to this–even better in concert with the revolutionary congregation idea!

    Another strength of this approach is that it doesn’t ask people to change their interests to suit a singular, linear Revolutionary Strategy. It doesn’t tell the bike activist, “hey, you’re wasting your time and you should study more Marx,” (which they won’t do anyway, they’ll just think you’re a jerk…trust me!). Instead, it actually takes people’s existing interests and even their hobbies and it invites them to connect with a more revolutionary edge–something they are often yearning for anyway. And it would even give existing alternative projects an opportunity to link in and affiliate themselves without too much muss and fuss. Once again, it’s all about expanding our capacity for collecting, irrigating, moving, recycling people’s human activity…not narrowing them.

    In Part 3, I want to actually dig into the actual, concrete activities involved in dual-power work themselves. How do we create a wide variety of activities that can meaningfully collect a wide variety of people’s “rogue” activity? Stay tuned for that exploration.

    Ever since I first became a radical, I’ve had this recurring thought process that is really troubling and sobering for me. Maybe I’ve mentioned it before here? It usually happens when I’m moving around a city’s center, or in a crowded place like a mall or a stadium. I scan intently around me, watching into every skyscraper window, watching every stadium seat, every passerby with their shopping bags, children, and hurried expressions, and then each time I ask myself: do you really believe that all these people are going to actively change their lives and not only participate in a revolutionary movement, but then afterwards in the difficult business of helping to democratically run society? Honestly, all or most of these people? All of these windows, all of these seats, with all of these people and all of their lives and stories and priorities? They’re all, or almost all, going to be talking about people’s power and community/worker control and collective liberation? Who are you kidding?

    This gets me for a half-hour or so. It always does. I get upset, tumble through the briefest stint of depression, and then I find the threads that give me hope in the mass nature of change. If technological revolutions like the telephone, the TV, Facebook can enter into all of these people’s lives, why can’t revolutionary ideas and practices, properly organized? And if social shifts like universal (or not quite universal) suffrage, women’s liberation (at least at the 2nd wave level), recycling, the minimum wage, and voting for a black man can spread through masses of people, then why can’t more radical ideas and practices? And if our language is constantly shifting at a mass level, with new words and phrases like “bourgie” or “couch potato,” shooting across the culture, then why can’t the same happen with more powerful words?

    That usually settles me down, but then it begs the question: how do revolutionary ideas and practices get to that level of mass impact, and become integrated into the core practices of millions of people’s daily lives?

    I’d like to play with some ideas here, probably over multiple parts.

    Fluid Dynamics and Popular Energy

    Imagine that each of us human beings is a faucet of water or even a sprinkler–it helps to actually imagine people’s heads as big faucets, or their hands as big firehoses–and that whenever we are active and doing anything–which is pretty much always except when we are sleeping–our actions, our practices are manifested as the water flowing out of us. It might flow out at different volumes and velocities, it might pour and it might spray depending on the day or the time, but all of our actions flow out of us like water. And, just like our actions which always are happening in real time, once the water flows out, it’s in the world, it has passed through us and it’s on its way somewhere else. You with me so far?

    Now imagine that if you take a bunch of people and their faucets of activity, and you focus them in a steady flow, all standing over a huge concrete hole, and you have them all stand there and just flow their energy, their activity into that hole. At first it may seem like it’s an impossible task to fill a huge whole like that, but with enough people standing there for enough time, that hole will fill right up.

    That is precisely how capitalism and other systems of oppression and exploitation (but capitalism in some uniquely dynamic ways) have survived, evolved, and built the tremendous, overwhelming infrastructure that they have today. That’s where the skyscrapers, the malls, the stadiums, the highways, the war machines, have come from. The powerful have created a system of hoarding, corralling, focusing, and collecting our human activity, our constant flow of water, so that it is leaving us and our control, and then it’s flowing into someone else’s pools, bottles, tanks, and reservoirs, to be used as the new owners see fit. Usually–but not always–that process happens to us in the form of a job, rent, or shopping, right?

    This is something that is so useful about Marx, actually. In his discussions of human activity as labor, his understanding of the exploitation of labor, his crucial idea of alienated labor in which the products of our activity leave our control, and in his understanding of the mode of production–or, in this case, the organization of the faucets and the plumbing.

    See, this is all really critical to my first point. What makes these horrible social systems so big, powerful, and effective is not the systems themselves, it’s us. It’s actually the fact of how many of us human beings there are in the world, and how amazing and dynamic we are…and how these systems have found a way to harness and exploit that at a mass level. But, as is old news to most socialists and syndicalists, when the masses shift and turn their faucets elsewhere, the system dries up and can even die. These systems depend on the steady flow of our human activity.

    So, if this is a cursory understanding of the fluid dynamics of exploitation and capitalism, what are the fluid dynamics of revolutionary change?

    Well, the first thing to realize is that even when we’re not on the job, we are always flowing with activity. In rest, in eating, in socializing, in intimacy, in play, in hobbies…we are still working, producing, flowing out into the world.

    What activism is for most of us–except those who are full-time activists–is the attempt to redirect just a tiny portion of the faucet in another direction, even if it’s a slow drip…so that at least for a moment our activity can go toward something different, more promising.

    But here’s the trouble: after we have defiantly redirected the flow of our activity, after the water of our rebellion has left us and entered into the world, where does it go? What lasting impact does it have? Think about a huge protest march, for example. Sometimes I think about it as like a flash flood of rebellious human activity. It flows roiling down the street–essentially a canal organized and controlled by the powerful–it makes a lot of noise and it showcases a forceful and hopeful energy…but then it flows to a stop, and then just drains away. Some drops of water may linger on the streets, but the for the most part, all of that human energy just flows and then dissipates. It’s not captured, it doesn’t enter into any movement reservoir, it can’t be recycled or irrigated out to other radical projects. It just comes, and it goes.

    If the system exists as it does because of its ability to capture, direct, and capitalize on the flow of human activity, and if our radical movements depend on siphoning off a mere drip, drip, drip of that exploited energy, then we’d better be damned good at harnessing every last drop of that activity! But we’re not.

    What are the capturing devices of our revolutionary movements? What is our plumbing and infrastructure? Do we have the means in place to make use of not only the intense flow of activity of full-time activists, but also the occasional, rambling trickles of busy and overworked people who don’t have much time for activism?

    Sometimes I imagine the state of the left like a powerful hose shooting a jet of water into a ceramic bowl. A handful of really smart, intense people just throwing their energy out there, but most of it just bounces away, and very little of it ends up being collected. No wonder our attrition rate is so high.

    What, then, is a revolutionary plumbing and collection strategy in this analogy?

    Well, the insurrectionist or general strike perspective would involve singular, massive turning of the faucets, alongside an occupation or smashing of the plumbing around us. That’s all fine but I think that’s less useful for the purposes of this analogy. In that perspective, what matters is taking or destroying control of all the infrastructure that’s already built…which I agree with, but for this analogy I’m more interested in the process of capturing the flow of energy that we’re missing every day that there isn’t a revolution.

    Instead, I want to talk about the dual-power, or pre-figurative revolutionary strategy with this faucet analogy. Dual-power is the idea of our movements building the new world now, in the shell of the old, with the hope that eventually the alternative we are building is a sufficient counter-power to the old system, and then we can wrest final control from that old system or it just withers and dies. See, here is where the faucet and water analogy can be really helpful!

    What this strategy essentially says is that we want to create new capturing devices, right now, so that we can harness the slow trickle of wayward, rebellious energy and turn that energy in a lasting, sustainable way against the system. If the system can exploit mass energy to build skyscrapers and highways, then we can harness more and more rebellious activity to build clinics, neighborhood councils, mutual aid structures. Right on!

    However, in practice, what this usually ends up looking like is a handful of very subcultural people who have found the means to completely redirect their energy to flow into a handful of very subcultural projects, and there’s sort of a culture of, “if you haven’t completely turned away from the system, then you don’t really fit here”…we don’t want the drip, drip of mainstream people’s extra after work energy…we only want the full-time energy of people who are “dedicated” to revolution. This is a crime.

    Working in the non-profit world, and seeing how grassroots fundraising and volunteer management work, I can’t overstate how angry it makes me the way that dual-power practitioners are wasting opportunities to capture and collect massive amounts of human activity. It’s so upsetting. It is possible to build a dual-power strategy that isn’t subcultural, and that truly is a threat to the system. It is possible that dual-power, pre-figurative strategies are a meaningful, peaceful alternative–or compliment–to insurrectionist or general strike revolutionary strategies. But we’ve got to be more clever about how we think about people’s precious time and energy.

    I’ll explore more about this in part 2.

    As I’m thinking about working with others to form a new study group, and as I’m preparing part 5 of my revolutionary congregations piece, I am reminded of this piece, “Roots in the Movement,” that I wrote back in 2005. I wrote it as a final paper for college, and then completely abandoned it. But every once in awhile I rediscover it and I get excited.

    If I wrote it again, it would be different…it really shows me what I was prioritizing back then. But nonetheless, I think it’s a fun piece of imagination, and it fuels me to think creatively about current organizing possibilities.

    For those who read my last post, I’m feeling much better now, and I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about some real progress for some of the people in my life.

    In general, I’m feeling optimistic about almost everything right now. Life is moving forward in interesting ways for me, and so I want to give a quick update about some things right here.

    -Just 5 more weeks at my job of 3 1/2 years, and I last weekend I completed the hardest part of it! We had our annual spring fundraiser and for the first time in more than a decade, we decided to not do an auction (for anti-capitalist value reasons, not money reasons). This was really scary for us, and we were prepared to make way less money. But, in fact, we made almost double what I expected, and actually surpassed the donations from past auctions. It feels like such a positive way to transition out of my job.

    -After long agonizing, I did decide to go to grad school to get my Master In Teaching. I begin in early July, and I’ll be in school for a year. That means that I’m going to be trying to chill during this last month or so of work. I am so eager to actually feel rested and calm for at least the next couple of weeks.

    -Glendi’s family is still struggling so much. We’re sending all the money we can, and that’s still not enough, but at least they seem to be holding on for now. For now, what else can we do?

    -Some old organizing friends and I are starting to talk about forming a new, open study group in the fall. We just had a meeting yesterday, which I came to thoroughly ambivalent, yet which I left feeling inspired. I think, after the hardship of the breakup of Common Action, I’m now ready for a new political project, and this one is feeling pretty good. Right now, we’re discussing it as a study group that will center around questions of revolutionary intersectional politics…that is, understanding how systems work in an intersectional way, and trying to ask what revolution actually looks like for those systems. Yes!

    -I’m starting to work on game design again. This is part of my own real-life game (which I’m still rocking through, though I’m scoring myself less frequently than before as I’ve internalized a lot of the habits)…to be more creative again.

    The board game I’m working on is a cooperative game, in which the players must work together to build a post-revolutionary economy. The game will have multiple phases in which players have different roles. For example, in one phase each player represents a different industry’s workers council, and in another phase each player represent a different region’s consumer council. The idea is that players need to discuss and negotiate where to invest the economy’s limited resources and labor to produce a better life for all. Of course there would mechanics representing reactionary opposition, which players would have to cooperatively deal with. This is so fun to design, but the trickiest thing is boiling the concept down to its most essential parts, so that it still fits the them but without being too complex or fiddly.

    -I think I’m going to get a haircut. Like a serious haircut. Like maybe even a buzzcut. I think I’m just about tired of having longer hair.

    Reflections to come…

    My lovely little blog, I haven’t forgotten you, nor am I avoiding you for some emotional reason. I’m just far too busy as I’ve said goodbye to some wonderful out-of-town guests, as we wrap up two grant applications and prepare for our spring fundraiser this Saturday at work, and as I get things organized for grad school (yes, I am going to study to be a teacher!).

    So probably not much writing here until at least Sunday. However, I have so much I want to talk about! Here’s just a preview of what I’m thinking about:

    -A new series of pieces I’m thinking of calling, “Transformation Is A Spiral,” or something like that. These are pieces that acknowledge the cyclical and spiral like nature of radical politics, and how, after experience, we often come back to previously rejected positions, but with new insights. For example, how my ideas about dropping out and abolishing the school system have changed…or my recent troubles with approaches to community accountability that are based solely on the wishes of the survivor. Tough changes in my thinking that I want to make time for.

    -Reflections on this last weekend visiting with my old friend Chris Dixon, and my new friends Andy Cornell and Harjit Singh Gill, who were on tour for the book, “Oppose and Propose.” There were plenty of moments that caught me off guard with exciting thoughts and I’d like to capture them.

    -A fifth part to my Revolutionary Congregations piece, focused on ideas for how such formations could be started from the ground up…since that’s the biggest criticism of the idea I’ve heard expressed to me so far.

    -Thinking through all of the exhilarating ways that I’m feeling challenged by Marxist and insurrectionist positions on political questions, and the positive effects that it’s having on my thinking.

    -Some fun and interesting pieces on fluid dynamics and revolutionary strategy, as well as the power of crowd-sourcing for building accessible mass movements.

    -Some writing about love, loneliness, and trust…because these are feelings that I’m feeling and thinking about a lot lately.

    As always, there’s the caveat that I might write more than this or none of it, but at least I’ve got something in writing to keep me honest.

    With all my heart to the few (but growing few, for sure!) who read this thing.

    Pain is a gas, not a liquid…

    Right now there are people crowded into shipping containers, into the floorboards of trucks, on top of freight trains, naked in rivers with their clothes in plastic bags tied to their bodies…all trying to get to my country.

    They have signed themselves up for years of debt with monthly 10%+ interest accruing, offering whatever possessions, or even family members, they have as collateral…so that they can come here to do exploitative, under-the-table work.

    Right now there are people, perhaps millions or even hundreds of millions of people, who would trade torturous pain for the possibility of even half the opportunities and comfort that I have. And there are hundreds of thousands who are actively trying to make that trade…right now.

    This is an indisputable reality of this world. These are the raw facts of daily life within global economic apartheid. Over here we can go days or lifetimes without thinking about it, but those millions of people remain whether we acknowledge them for a moment or not. This is real.

    But here is the thing that confuses me (beyond the sheer injustice of it all, of course): if I know how unbelievably fortunate I am, and how many people–including my own family members–would suffer so much to experience a fraction of what my life offers, why is it that my own stress and pain feel so strong, so all-consuming? Why is it that the worries that I have this morning, all the anxieties about my never ending to-do list, always feel like they are near the top of the 1-10 scale, even though I’ve actually experienced far worse moments in my life in the past…even in this same year?

    I think this is how pain and stress work, and I think it’s why empathy and lasting solidarity are so hard to maintain for so many. Pain and stress have a way of filling up whatever spaces they are given, whether those spaces are substantial and complex, or small and trivial. The way they fill the body, the alerts they send out to the mind and gut, they often ring out in the same tone, regardless of their urgency. Rather than being a substance like a liquid that you can measure and see how close it is to filling up your capacity to handle it, pain and stress are gases that fill up all measuring devices; so hard to quantify, so confusing in the way they haze over your perspective.

    By any intellectual calculation, I have so many hundreds of reasons to be happy on this Monday morning, and to be excited about the privilege of doing the kinds of tasks that I get to do this week. The things that I will get paid for, and the amount that I will get paid for them, would feel like both a dream and a cruel joke to so many millions of people. Yet I am here in bed at 8:30am right now (once again, a privilege to not work until 10am) and my stomach is churning with so much acid, I feel so uncomfortable in my body, so uncomfortable in my being. I feel like I’m screwing everything up, like things can’t possibly go right even though my last 30 years show me that, for me, so much ends up going right.

    The pain of insecurity, the fear of failure, and then the self-hatred for feeling these things despite my privilege…
    How is it that these feelings can be so strong while having so little basis? It’s gotta be physiological, right? It’s gotta be the brain and body chemistry, no? The simple fact that our evolutionary toolbox only contains so many gradations of stress and alarm chemicals, and that we were never meant to use them for things like event planning and campaign organizing?

    If we pull back and just look at ourselves and each other across this planet, it’s really pretty sick and fascinating. While one person can’t handle the stress of figuring out which new car to buy, another is struggling to figure out how to keep the electricity on…yet the actual physical sensations and cerebral signals they are both experiencing actually give them a lot in common.

    While I fret and groan and come close to crying about how I’m going to possibly finish this week of work productively, I know on so many levels how I should have more perspective and a much more tranquil response…but I’m still a mess anyways.

    I just finished reading Jon Krakauer’s “3 Cups of Deceit,” the 90 page article that exposes Greg Mortenson–the author of the bestselling books “3 Cups of Tea” and “Stones Into Schools”–for his lies and tricks. Wow. Almost every page drew out a verbal exclamation from me as I read it on the bus. Krakauer makes a devastating case against Mortenson and his charity, Central Asia Institute, which has received over 50 million dollars to build schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He paints a portrait of a man so wrapped up in created a heroic image of himself and his work that he’s willing to throw his own close people under the bus, including the communities that he’s supposedly dedicated to.

    I read the article as soon as I heard about it because, I have to admit, I was inspired by Mortenson like millions of others. I read “3 Cups of Tea” last winter when I was in Guatemala, when Glendi and I were finally getting serious about building a free community school down there. I was mesmerized by the story of a humble, complicated white guy who, through the building of respectful relationships with people at the grassroots–and without government intervention–helped communities provide education to thousands of children. While I was upset by some of the implicit Islamaphobia in the book, I still thought that it was a powerful story of how much can be accomplished when privileged people approach solidarity from a place of listening, mutual respect, and responsibility.

    Ha! It’s really jaw-dropping how far from the truth the stories were. I won’t spend my time going into all the details because they’re all over the net, but they include at least dozens of schools that simply don’t exist, dozens more “ghost schools” that are just empty buildings because teachers and supplies were never sent, Mortenson repeatedly claiming that a group of people who treated him with the utmost respect and friendship were Taliban who had kidnapped him for 8 days, and the subsequent banning of Mortenson from certain communities for his defamation of them. It goes way beyond this, though.

    I feel sick. Not because I’m actually surprised–somehow a large part of me just reacts, “It figures”–but because of what it exposes about the ethics of international solidarity work. While Mortenson’s offenses are particularly outrageous, they actually highlight how easily such projects can be corrupted. See, the reason Mortenson got away with this for so long is because of the tremendous distance–geographical, cultural, linguistic, and technological–between the communities in which he was supposedly working and the communities in which we live. This distance allowed him to be a gatekeeper and a translator, and it made it really hard to enforce meaningful accountability. I actually think this phenomenon is rampant in international solidarity projects (and in U.S. non-profits), and I actually feel hints of it in my own representations of Guatemala here in the U.S. When privileged people have the power to set the narrative of what marginalized communities need, it is a pretty much a certainty that eventually that narrative will become corrupted and abusive.

    This is what should have tipped us all off, and which I assume many anti-imperialists have probably been arguing against for years: that Mortenson has spent the last 15 years endlessly speaking for communities, without making any real efforts to step back and support those communities to speak for themselves. That open communication– based in authentic and lasting dialogue between the community affected and those wishing to work in solidarity–is the foundation for ethical international solidarity projects. If it’s not there, then we should always know that something’s fishy.

    And if it’s not messy, then we should also assume that something’s wrong. International, cross-class, cross-cultural communication is fraught with contradictions. Differences in perspective and education level are real. It doesn’t usually make for heartwarming, page-turning bestseller material. In the Mortenson case, for example, it’s ridiculous to assume that the top priority for every community was building a school. That narrative should have been doubted from the beginning, as Krakauer touches upon. What happens if a community wants a medical clinic, a road, a mill, irrigation? How did those conversations happen? One of the tricks of the Mortenson books was that they did have some of that messiness, but it’s incredible to see how much of it is projected upon the communities and not the North Americans. And it’s really telling that I didn’t notice it until now.

    It’s impossible for me to separate this thinking from Glendi and I’s own aspiration to build a school. So far, it’s been very much our project. We do have a plan for moving toward community control of the project, but there is no question that the project is starting from our own values, priorities, and money. Two ways that we’ve made sense of the ethics of this are that 1) Glendi is rooted in the community where we are working, and this project comes from her own dream to make this school happen, and 2) the current channels of community leadership are so corrupt that if we try to engage them they will potentially destroy or deeply distort the project…and so community control has to wait until we can do more on-the-ground organizing. I think these two points have merit, but what is the process by which the community itself–not the community power structure, but the base community–gets to speak for and control the project? Is it going to be a patronizing decision by us, the benefactors, that now our neighbors are “ready” to assume control? Do we just go to a mass meeting with a big check and do whatever the first mass meeting decides? This is not easy, and I would argue that anyone who thinks it is doesn’t have much on the ground experience in such things.

    So if authentic international communication, decision-making, and accountability are hard, there’s at least one thing that’s not so hard: telling the truth! This is where Mortenson’s “management style” is straight up racist and criminal. While I know that my presence in Guatemala, every dollar I send, every dollar I hold back, every piece of advice I give from my perspective is problematic, at least I admit it openly. I talk about it. I ask about it. I try to read about it. That’s the least I can do. That, in my view, is the basic humility that privileged folks need to have when working in communities that are not our own. Honesty and transparency are the bare minimum…they are what allow us to turn our perpetual screw-ups into lessons, and then into solid contributions.

    I’m curious about what will happen to Greg Mortenson and his charity. I personally hope that he loses his fortune. I hope that, in his absence, the communities that were supposed to benefit from his work will find more listeners and authentic supporters. And I hope the thousands of other projects like his will take a long hard look at ourselves, and start making some deep changes to our work.

    This is my first time writing a post on a mobile device, while waiting for Glendi to get out of a meeting.  So it’ll probably be short.

    I just started rereading Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride, and while I was waiting for that to arrive I read Richard Wright’s Black Boy/American Hunger (perhaps one of the most stunning and beautiful books I’ve yet read), and both of these have me thinking about the profundity of internalized oppression/privilege, and the implications for organizing.  When the structures and cultures around us have so strongly defined what normal is, and what our desires are supposed to be, how do we, collectively, transcend those limits and live liberated lives?  How does that not feel so scarily unfamiliar, so uncomfortable, that we actually prefer it to the familiar pain that we’ve grown into?

    There are lots of smart responses to these questions, from Gramsci and counter-hegemony, to somatics practices, even some observations on the transformational power of insurrectionary activity.  For me, this stuff is so fun and important to think about.  But I think the starting place for any attempt has to be a recognition of the depth and complexity we’re dealing with here.  Eli Clare’s metaphor of the mountain, and the earnest reflections on the conflicted desire to climb it, Wright’s poignant and rich analyses of a variety of white and black internalizations of white supremacy…they have hit me hard with the miniute details of how the system seeps into us.  That doesn’t wash out easily.  Our names and identities are tied into it.

    This is why it kind of frustrates me when thoughtful revolutionaries seem really tied up with predominately institutional solutions.  That’s fine, but the concrete, soulful practices are truly where we consistantly make the most mistakes and where we have the most to learn.

    More on this at some point, in some way.

    In part 1 of this piece–which I wrote more than two years ago–I complained that the way popular education has been, well, popularized in our current movements tends to satisfy itself with a critique of the “banking method” of education and with a desire for “dialogical,” “problem posing,” and participatory education, and how in that self-satisfaction it loses a lot of its richness and useful complexity. I then briefly suggested the concepts of presence and power as potential helpers in deepening grassroots education at the social movement level.

    While I don’t want to spend this article writing about Freire and Pedagogy of the Oppressed alone, I do think getting back to that book is a good first step to seeing the untapped potential of the popular education approach. See, in most movement discussions of popular education in which Freire is referenced (and this is actually less of a problem when Myles Horton, Highlander, and the civil rights movement are the reference points, since they were less academic and more rooted in a movement context that is popularly understood), we get really stuck in chapter 2 of that book.

    While chapter 2 is great in its discussion of the banking method, student-teacher relationships, and the alternative of dialogical and problem-posing education, there are two other chapters that come after it! In chapter 3 the concepts of minimum thematic universes–systematically mapping out the underlying themes and categories of students-teachers’ experiences and worldviews, and using a team of investigators to develop an in-depth and contextually relevant curriculum–and limit situations–those opportunities when the student-teacher’s own worldview confronts its contradiction with reality and with its own unrealized potential, and thus is pushed to grow and expand the thematic universe–are introduced and, though the elaboration is unnecessarily academic, the ideas are fascinating. Except for AK Thompson’s Black Bloc, White Riot, I don’t think I have seen even a reference to the idea of limit situations in many years. In chapter 4, dialogue is explicitly politicized in a very useful proposal for a change in the way revolutionaries relate and communicate with the masses, going beyond the classroom setting to the movement setting at large.

    Like I said, I don’t want to get stuck on Freire, but my point is that, even using this one book as an example, most social movement approaches to popular education are stuck at what I’d consider the tactical level. We are concerned with how participatory the content is in the individual instance of education–almost inevitably the 1 1/2 hour to 2-day workshop–but we spend much less time talking about the long-term strategy of popular education as praxis: as a process of reflection, action, and then more reflection that, over time, transforms ourselves and the world.

    This is where I want to go now with this piece. I would like to explore how grassroots educators can deepen popular education at the level of strategic, long-term praxis. I think the concepts of presence and power can aid us here.

    Presence: Weaving Revolutionary Curriculum Into the School of Life

    I think the best thing that grassroots radical educators can do for ourselves is to de-emphasize the thinking of ourselves as short-term workshop facilitators or classroom instructors and, instead, to more intentionally understand ourselves as long-term (that is, multi-year, multi-decade) accompaniment to both our students and to the movement. That is rather than rooting our understanding of ourselves in these singular (and often repetitive) educational interventions like the workshop, we think about ourselves with a long-view, as organic intellectuals who are present and engaged in praxis with the people around us for a number of years. We see ourselves consciously, systematically weaving educational dialogues and problem posing questions into the years long struggles and changes of our localities, making community life itself our priority area–with classrooms and workshops as tactical tools, but not the core of the thing.

    A story to help give this texture:

    I worked at Tyee High School for 5 years, alongside my friend Briana Herman-Brand. In that first year we started using political education curriculum with youth as young as 8th grade, usually in 1-4 hour workshop style sessions. At the time, I went through a process that I think many radical educators go through. As the sessions progressed I judged our success based on how much energy and participation I saw, and how dynamically and creatively youth worked with the concepts. I assumed that because it was participatory and that youth engaged so well, that the specific intervention was transformational and revolutionary, and I went home each of those evenings really excited. Then, I’d run into those youth weeks later, and they would still be using oppressive language, fighting, sexually harassing other youth, etc. This was the moment of self doubt in which I started questioning both their abilities to learn and my workshops’ abilities to teach. I would end the year not knowing how successful any of my work had been, especially with the youngest youth, who were particularly all over the place in their reactions.

    Well, Facebook can be a beautiful thing! Because now, 7-8 years later, I can reconnect with many of those youth, and a good number of them have explained to me the power of even some of our most unforgettable programs–one of which I had actually completely forgotten!–and it even shows in some of their career choices. One particular young woman, who I had a really hard time working with, just straight up disappeared from my life after her 9th grade year, and then I saw her again back at Tyee 5 years later and she was doing a similar Americorps position to my old job, citing our time with her as an inspiration. As most educators know, the feeling that news like this gives you is priceless.

    Education takes time. Building knowledge takes time. That’s why the concept of praxis is so crucial. The workshop, the lecture, even the book are not the fulcrum of education, as I think we know. Life is. Experience is. Our conscious, curricular interventions are just that: interventions into the daily actions and reflections of the people we’re working with. The implications of this, then, is that our interventions can be much more powerful if we can approach them with a long view.

    We already know that a weekend long workshop is more effective than a 2 hour workshop. We already know that a 10 week program is better than a weekend workshop. And we know, implicitly, that long-term organizing relationships are the most effective of all. So I think we should put more of our focus and attention there. If we, as radical educators, know that we are committed to a place for at least, say 4 years (even better if it’s more like 10-20), then I think we should work with other similar committed people and really map out a curricular approach that is based on our movement presence over that long period of time.

    By movement presence I mean the traditional writings, weekend workshops, guest speakers, 10-week programs, etc., but I also think about long-term mentoring relationships (something I hear a lot about from my friends in the Bay), yearly reflection and commitment-setting events, programs of organizers writing letters to future selves and actually delivering those letters, and the study, mapping, and articulation of the trends that we are observing over the years. How are the winds changing? Where does movement energy seem to be going? Most of us are left guessing on these questions, relying on anecdotal evidence, but this is an area where grassroots educators, along with researchers, could really be helpful!

    This is also where inter-generational relationships are so powerful! By maintaining their presence in our communities and our movements, by sticking through all the past dramas and dissolutions, victories and failures, movement elders can offer essential insights to all of us. Though I’m still young, my own 15 years of experience can often be really helpful to younger or less experienced organizers, often in sort of unexpected ways. For example, when younger activists complain about the state of the left and how right wing our culture is, I give them an example of the current events section of Barnes and Noble. When I first starting looking for books at Barnes and Noble in the mid-nineties, I jumped for joy when I could find even a single Howard Zinn or Noam Chomsky book. Now, walk into a Barnes and Noble current events section and you can see Naomi Klein, Vijay Prashad, Amy Goodman, the Zapatistas, etc. Not ideal, but a huge shift! (funny/sad sidenote: the New Age section has also grown to overtake the philosophy section) This is just one trend that can be useful to talk about to give context to the growth of the left/progressive forces, but it requires a long term presence to see it.

    Presence is also important for radical educators to model because of how hard organizing is, how thankless it can feel. Simply the act of staying in the struggle, still being there after so much hardship, can be inspirational and can give much needed depth to people’s sense of movement commitment. After 9/11 pushed the global justice movement into a sad sort of hibernation, the moments when activists simply came out of their homes to see each other and to see long-standing organizers still doing work was really pivotal in rebuilding and strengthening the anti-war movement.

    As a small town person, I’ve always had a deep love for the small town regulars. The old man in Oak Harbor who would wave to passing traffic near the Roller Barn. The Bellingham bus driver who would always start his route with a Simpsons trivia contest. I believe that is a conscious role that radical educators (and really by that I mean all revolution-minded organizers and artists!) should take up. We should be movement regulars; humble, helpful presences who can listen attentively, ask questions, and provide solid educational content that is attuned to the current local context, the key questions that the local movement is facing from year to year.

    This can help us to go beyond the repetitive cycle of 101 workshops, and really engage with popular education as the praxis that it’s supposed to be.

    I have a lot more that I can say about presence, but these ideas are still feeling pretty raw, pretty first draft. I think I’ll leave it here for now, talk about power next time, and then refine the ideas further in a future pass.

    I’m excited. Today I hit level 3 in my real-life video game, and all signs point to me only increasing my commitment to this project until at least the “beta” phase is over at level 10. From there I’m going to re-draft my missions, improve my reward system and point structure, and try and see if I can make it a multi-player game by recruiting a couple other people to play it with me!

    But here I want to talk more about why I’m doing this in the first place, and how I’m conceiving of the eventual end of this game.

    The purpose of this game is to leverage both my playfulness and my propensity toward game addiction to become a better friend, partner, comrade, organizer, and thinker. It’s about using fun and games as a means of actually helping myself to mature and get more “serious” about the way I want to contribute to the world in my lifetime.

    The roots of this are many: I’m getting older (30 on Sunday) and working with youth all day increasingly makes me feel old; I’m responsible for a huge family and will hopefully be a father in the coming year or so; I’m professionally adrift; family finances are a constant hell; I’ve been struggling with politically-rooted depression for a good decade now; and yet I’m still deeply, thoroughly, gut-level committed to building a just and democratic world.

    Though there’s always more to learn, of course, I feel like my 15 years of radical struggle now have given me a pretty good idea of the work that I want to be doing, and the kind of social movement participant that I want to be. I’ve made my peace with the fact that I don’t want to be a famous movement superstar (though I do want to write a book or two). I know that I don’t care about professional advancement (except to bring Glendi’s family stability and to fund the movement) and I know that no matter what job I have, I’ll always hate working. I know that I want to be rooted in one geographic region and to slowly foster long-term revolutionary movement building from there. But all this time the sticking point has been the follow-through.

    So many years of insecure fumbling. So many hard experiences of failure, followed by months of despondency. So many repeated conversations, promises, proposals. As the stakes have gotten higher and higher (now with lives depending on me being present and responsible), I’ve come to realize that it’s time to really get growing. It’s time to really apply what I’ve learned over the years in a meaningful, consistent way.

    Thus, the game. The game is a way of motivating myself–really its more of a manipulation–to do the kind of personal work that I know I need to do to be the organizer and person I want to be. By getting points for participating in social spaces, attending political events, reading, playing, walking, and appreciating the work of friends and comrades, I am building new practices for myself that key off of my already developed triggers of, “just one more game,” and “I’ll quit as soon as I level up.”

    The idea was actually inspired by what I’ve seen from people doing Somatics and Trauma work. Their idea, in a nutshell, is that we are sort of made up of our practices, and that those practices are based on years of responses to the world that we live in, so the things that we do that are unhealthy are usually rooted in survival strategies that once worked for us, but which are no longer serving us so well. The trick to growing and changing, then, is to be engaging with our mind-body-spirit (soma…somatics) to develop new, centered practices that can take us toward our values and our commitments. Right on. The problem is there are a whole bunch of reasons why the straightforward somatics practices and groups won’t work for me right now, so I chose to come up with something that could meet me right where I’m at and support me from there.

    It’s working. My god it’s working so beautifully.

    It’s my hope that in 6 months, 9 months, a year I will have developed and internalized enough new practices that the framing of the game can go away, and I can engage in more social ways of doing this work. Somatics groups? Maybe. Revolutionary organizations? I hope. Revolutionary congregation building? If only!

    Of course, if the game does pan out for me, I’ll try to share about it, maybe with a special website, or a small book, or a youtube video or something. I do think it’s fun and creative and could be a help to a lot of other gamer types. But that’s not the point for me.

    The point, for me, is entirely personal.

    I want to end this game considerably more practiced in the skills and habits that I want to carry with me into fatherhood and old age. Because I know that my ideas and habits will continue to get more ossified with age, I want to make a big offensive right now toward getting myself on a better track. Of course, there is no endgame in trying to be a better person, but I believe there will be a point where I can do it without these wonderful training wheels that the game provides.

    Onward to level 4, then level 10, and then version 2.0 of the game!

    This past Sunday, I got to have a really nice–though too brief–phone conversation with a good friend of mine, in which my friend gave me warming praise for my revolutionary congregation writing, as well as a lovably packaged critique. The critique went something like this: “I like your writing and I’d love to read what you think about ablism. Its absence seems pretty stark in your posts.” Now, in my opinion, that is a skillful critique. Positive, engaging someone with an interest in their opinion, while also pushing them to grow further into their values. Magnificently done.

    And my friend was absolutely right. I had actually been triggered to a similar thought in Part 1 of the congregations piece, when I mentioned churches having disability accessible spaces–I began thinking about how lonely that one little mention of ablism is in this whole blog of mine. And with my friend’s push on Sunday, I’ve decided to do something about that. I’ve started re-reading Eli Clare’s work, and my co-worker Sunny just let me borrow their Disability Studies reader from college. I do think the absence is stark, and I can bodily feel that it’s deliberate. Similar to my absence of deep discussion around transphobia and trans liberation, ablism is one of those areas where I get physically uncomfortable talking about it, both because of the trickiness of language and the fear of speaking wrongly, as well as the lack of time and energy that I’ve put into studying it.

    The absence is particularly jarring for me because I really agree with an important theoretical observation that I believe my friend Bruin (was it you, Bruin?) made to me: that ablism is the canary in the social movement coalmine. The idea is that if a social movement or a movement organization fails to make good space for people with disabilities, that is a strong negative sign for the long-term sustainability or liberatory quality of said movement. I think this observation is brilliant, just totally right on. Because the same skills and structures that it takes an organization to be less ablist are much the same skills and structures that make it responsive to issues of abuse and sexual violence, to issues of self-care and burnout, and to issues of power hoarding and space sharing. They are the skills of patience, consideration, listening, and caring. Particularly because of the vast diversity of disabilities that exist in our current society, the flexibility that our movements require to meet the anti-ablism challenge is powerful preparation for the flexibility that our movements need for thousands of other issues and tactical challenges as well.

    Okay, so if I really totally believe this, then why such a low prioritization of study and work on ablism? Hypocrisy, of course! While I believe it theoretically, I think that I’m embodying the contrary, ablist reaction of thinking that addressing ablism is too hard, that it’s not worth prioritizing, that it’s not a core issue…and even that god-awful default defense of the status quo: that talking too much about ablism is divisive. Additionally, in my secondary reaction to my friends critique I found myself thinking, “but that’s not an issue I know about or have experience with, that’s something that other people are blogging about.”

    It’s this last thought that I want to talk about today, with the other stuff coming later as I read more.

    It’s incredible how, in the areas where we are privileged or where a deeper critique frightens us, we can ignore constantly lived realities that are staring us in the face. That’s the case with ablism. I seriously can’t believe that I think ablism is not an issue that I’m dealing with, when actually it’s all around me!

    First of all, my own chemical sensitivities, and the fact that almost all perfumes and chemical smells give me an instant headache…and thus that I have headaches weekly.

    Then, there’s the youth organization where I work, and the deeply challenging politics of unspoken and unseen learning disabilities and how youth hide them, but then are lightly teased about their behavior…but it’s never politicized beyond calling out the teasing, and we adults don’t know what to do because we don’t want to put a youth on blast by naming it as ablism, but then it also never gets talked about. This has been an issue for years, and I think about it every time certain youth are in the office, but our inaction and our lack of strategizing around it is actually pretty terrible!

    There is my last post about being put into gifted programs at a young age…and the whole flipside of that of people who I’ve loved who were put into remedial programs, medicated, sent to tutors, etc. Their experience also made me hate the system that separated us…yet I never considered it ablism??

    There is Glendi’s hospitalization, the months of healing afterwards, and the patience I occasionally lost as the weeks of taking care of her went on. And there’s that question that Glendi hoarsely voiced the day after the emergency, about whether she was broken.

    There is Glendi’s friend and college classmate in Guatemala who, after a bus accident 6 years ago, is paraplegic and who lives in this tight, winding little cobblestone alley and almost never leaves her house…and has been systematically shut out of the teaching profession that she was previously in.

    There are my friends who write and talk and think brilliantly about disability and ablism, but who are also living much deeper realities ablism than I am. I think about them, and I think about supporting them, but it’s sadly typical that I haven’t take the step of really applying the politics beyond it being something that’s sort of “their thing.”

    Then, there is the really, really big reality. The daily family issue. The unspoken tension underneath much of the suffering in our Guatemala family. There is Glendi’s dad’s condition. As a man with type-2 diabetes who now also faces kidney failure, he has been unable to work for 3 years now, and the pain and shame of him not being able to contribute financially to his family has been a defining frame this whole time. In the mix of poverty and manhood and rural pride, the ablism piece has been there this whole time, but I’ve been missing it! All of the embarrassment that gets expressed, the exasperation with life and the questioning of what living really means. The softly spoken question, so wrapped up in ablism, of when is the time to give up, stop operating, pull the plug. And for us, with the economic power in the situation, to miss this piece is profound. Man, this is big.

    This is bringing up a lot of questions for me, and a lot of feelings. But I think this is the point where I need to quiet down, do more work, and do more reading. This was sort of just a first clearing of the lot lot before building the foundation. The additional building will come slowly.

    I am so thankful to my friend for the push to be thinking about this, and I’m excited for Eli Clare’s Exile and Pride to arrive in the mail. As hard as it can be sometimes to overcome the initial hump of defensiveness, I love realizing the places where I need to stretch myself and grow.

    Patience Is a Faith-Based Initiative…

    Here in the few remaining moments we have left,
    just what do you propose we say in our defense?
    That much was decided before any one of us were born?
    That we were nothing more than objective observers to the madness
    and throw up your hands in sadness?
    “We’re powerless to change anything anyways.”
    So just lay back upon your death bed
    and gaze idiotically back up the chain of command
    from which we receive our directives.
    I guess it’s just common sense to preach
    what ought to be but ensure it never is in the present tense
    –Propagandhi, Last Will and Testament

    There are nights where it feels right and true to approach change as a patient builder, with a plan of struggle that will take decades. I can sleep soundly and wake up motivated in the morning. But then there are nights like tonight. I can’t sit still, I can’t feel comfortable in my body thinking about the possibility that I might die without seeing some real measure of justice and equality in this world. It’s like the day after a sunburn, that unbearable itch after the pain…I can’t just go to bed with this feeling.

    I talked to Glendi–who’s in Guatemala right now–on the phone this evening, and it looks like it’s time to send money again. Her dad is without pills, there is no food, her siblings’ school projects are lacking materials, and they are behind on paying for the new water project we just raised money for. Nunca alcanza, nuuuuunca alcanza. It’s never enough. And for my lovely, fierce Glendi, that means that she never gets peace…not even on the night that she herself almost died did she get peace.

    And I can’t take this. Can’t we put the struggle on fast forward, skip to the part where we win? Can it really be that we’re still somewhere in the first act, and the disc keeps skipping backward? And so in the meantime does that mean that all these millions of families have to keep trying to play tricks on tragedy each day in order to see the next?

    I have a hard time with militancy. I abhor violence and violent rhetoric. But there is no denying this sharp edge that comes out, like retracting claws, when nights like this come along.

    I know the theory from many angles why guns and seizures of power will not bring the justice that we need. But that just means that our other ways–our building and constructing and fighting with moral force and creative nonviolence–had better be that much better…relentless…focused.

    Atheist or not, tonight I cling to this faith with a desperation matching any churchgoer: that there will be some redemption for this pain that doesn’t leave them…that there will be peace within a hard-won justice for at least the young twins by the time they are grandparents. And instead of praying for it, I write for it here…with the feeling that it’s echoing futilely off into the silence just the same.

    “How many times have I wondered if it is really possible to forge links with a mass of people when one has never had strong feelings for anyone, not even one’s own parents: if it is possible to have a collectivity when one has not been deeply loved oneself by individual human creatures. Hasn’t this had some effect on my life as a militant–has it not tended to make me sterile and reduce my quality as a revolutionary by making everything a matter of pure intellect, of pure mathematical calculation?” –Antonio Gramsci

    I was so struck by this quote when I first read it in 1999, that I remember just wanting to envelope dear old Antonio in a great, warm hug. I wanted to embrace him in a way that could communicate my soul deep recognition of what he was expressing. I wished dearly, regardless of the distance of time, language, place, and mortality, that we could be best friends. I felt, at that time, that he was speaking words that I couldn’t dare to admit to myself, but which I felt and was acting out to disastrous effect in all of my relationships.

    Now 12 years later, I re-read the quote in AK Thompson’s Black Block, White Riot (that’s gonna have to be a subject of another, post), and I am struck by something else: I have changed so much as a social and emotional person, that the quote no longer feels like it speaks to me at all. Though elements remain, I am not the loner kid that I once was. And, even though it’s pure geeky fantasy, I smile a little imagining that my good comrade Tony Gramsci has been evolving alongside me as well.

    How did this happen? What shifted and at what speed? Truth is, I hadn’t even realized the change until I thought about this quote. I assumed that I was still the same socially awkward person I’ve always been, and that’s still I how talk about it most of the time. But that’s less and less my reality. In fact, increasingly over the last, what, maybe 8 years, I feel like I’ve been so full of love for the people–even the enemies and strangers–around me that…well… like this:

    “Sometimes there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.”–From American Beauty

    I’d like to take a few paragraphs here to investigate this wonderfully gradual transformation of pretty much the core of who I am.

    The Hermit Who Got Radical

    As far back as I can remember, I’ve preferred to be alone. Growing up, I so loved talking to myself and pacing around my back yard, weaving my own narratives with my own characters, that I had very little interest in friends. Even until 11 or 12 years old, I remember there were school kids who wanted to be my friends and who I’d have slumber parties with and stuff, but I also distinctly remember getting to a point after an hour or two of playing that I’d just send them home, so that I could let the game unfold how I wanted it to by myself.

    It was at that time, at 12 in 7th grade, that I started making up my imaginary stories about the utopian hidden islands where there was no money, no poverty and homelessness, and no destructive technology. My first hint of anti-capitalist thought.

    By 13 and 14, I was pretty sure that I was going to be a hermit…running away to the woods in my favorite park at McHugh Creek in Alaska, living in a cabin with a typewriter, Thoreau style. At Steller Secondary School, I got introduced to Eastern philosophy, and I decided instead that I wanted to be some kind of monk, a Siddhartha. Enter the critique of the material world, add a few readings about capitalism and the destruction of the soul, and soon I’m getting into socialism and anarchism.

    And thinking back about my social life and my early radicalism, it’s so humorously sad the way I thought about it: the people all around me felt so boring and shallow and mean, so dull and uninspiring…but if only we could have a revolution, then maybe everyone would be into poetry and philosophy, imagination and learning like I was. In short it was, “I’ll finally have people worth being friends with after the revolution.”

    Yet from middle school through high school I did have friends, and some really great ones. I have lifelong memories, and deep appreciations for all that we shared together. But back then I so rarely had them over to my house, I so rarely thought about their emotional realities, and I didn’t really think of myself as having them in my life forever. It was just gonna be until I ran away or moved on. Girlfriends and crushes just the same, or even worse.

    And when tragedy struck, when an ex-student died, when my mentor was exiled away after serious scandal, when a member of our friend group committed suicide, even after my grandma died until the moment of her funeral…my tears wouldn’t come. I’d try to convince myself of the importance, of the ethics of crying, but it didn’t happen. I didn’t know for sure if I even cared. I was really quite terrified that I didn’t care at all. And it also often annoyed me that other people seemed to cry and care so openly.

    In college, the WTO protests, summit hopping, revolutionary collectives and the feeling of imminent social transformation…and it was also my lowest time, as I was a terrible friend, a cold co-organizer, and an even worse relationship partner. I was charming, inspiring, and I made lots of people want to be close to me, and I treated them all like they weren’t serious, deep, or revolutionary enough to see the best of who I was. Although there’s always been a part of me that’s been deeply sensitive and empathetic, for some reason I wasn’t really good at applying those skills in close quarters. It broke down when it involved actual one-on-one interaction and vulnerability. I remember feeling so lonely, so unappreciated…but really I was just a big jerk who didn’t see the wealth of love, intelligence and goodwill all around me.

    And the Grinch’s Heart Grew Three Times Bigger That Day

    I can’t believe it…really I’m almost embarrassed to realize it…but 9/11 changed everything. In the climate of repression, depression, and demobilization that followed, and the social and political vacuum that it created, something got tweaked within me. My radical community in Bellingham was torn asunder, I was depressed in my relationship, and I didn’t know or want to meet anyone in my new town of Seattle. And in the deep marginalization I felt by the right wing surge, I feared that I had lost some of the best comrades and allies that I had yet known.

    It was in my first year of doing work at Tyee High School, when a young man felt the trust to come out to me for the first time in his life, that I think I noticed that my heart had changed. I remember being alone and stuck in traffic on I-5, thinking about this young man and his fears for his manhood, his future, his family, and yet his excitement at finally admitting it someone else…and I, of course, broke down crying. But I think it said as much about me as it did about him, as I remember thinking, “oh my god, other people have whole complex emotional lives and struggles just like I do…and this is what it feels like to let them in.” A raging, frackin’ beautiful torrent…cold and foamy river water just rushing over you, as you let someone else’s reality connect with yours. Oh my god…I-It becomes I-Thou. It was so sharply memorable. And I felt so much poorer for not having felt it more in earlier years.

    But it was just a moment. Slowly over the next 5 years came other moments. Brief punctures through my numbed-out, computer addicted haze of 2001-2009. Guatemala, of course, and my blog were powerful forces for emotional connection. Losing vital and complicated friendships, and leaving my lovely Tyee. Finding Glendi, of course, was another one, but even there the learning came slowly. Learning to love consciously, on the daily, is a wickedly beautiful journey.

    But to talk about this without talking about feminism would be a farce. Because parallel with all of this story is the story of being challenged by women in my life, by reading and organizing with other men, by seeing the realities of gender violence, and struggling with my own internalized definitions of manhood. This was an undeniable prerequisite to me being able to access and move through my emotions in these years. This is, in so many ways, a story of gender redefinition, and the discovery of new ways to be a man. That wall, that shield, that barrier that I had learned from my dad, my brother, my uncles…it was such a big part of what’s needed to come down in order for the real complexity of relationship and community to be able to rise up in me.

    And here in 2011, in a life that is now dominated by supporting others, sending money to others, offering care and closeness to others, I just feel so differently than I did all those years ago. I feel immersed in a politics and identity of affection. Still, I need my time alone. Still, I flake regularly on my friends’ phone calls and emails. Still, I go off by myself and talk to myself and spin imaginary narratives. I don’t think there’s any coincidence in the fact that I do this kind of writing most when Glendi’s in Guatemala and I’m alone all night in the house. And still, my solitude is my best friend, without question. But at the same time, I feel my relationships so much more. I feel the struggles and the insecurities and the desires of those around me…like feeling the subtle thread of a spider web with your own hands, whereas before you were wearing boxing gloves.

    I feel full to bursting with love, and that is now what keeps me thinking and dreaming of revolution. Where before I wanted everyone to change for me so that I could enjoy them more, now I want everything to change for us, so that we can all share in the beauty of this thing together. The mathematical calculations are still present, and valuable, but they are now knitted with intimacy and care.

    And that has given me a freedom, too, to grieve for those old losses that I couldn’t tear up for back in the day. To all those I’ve lost to get this learning: I miss you and I’m sorry it’s always been taking so long.

    Click here to go to part 3.

    I’m going to wrap up my writing about revolutionary congregations by discussing some of the potential pitfalls and criticisms that I would expect from this approach.

    I also should state that, although I believe that this is a good idea that’s worth trying, I am not wedded to any one social change strategy or organizational form. I guess I kind of think of my mind and my imagination as kind of a nonviolent, radical left DARPA—I like thinking about all the different creative and wacky ways that we could do revolutionary struggle, but I know that most of them will go nowhere. Even though I’ve been quietly suggesting this idea for 6 years now, I’m prepared to be wrong. But I’m no longer interested in just being quiet about it because of that possibility.

    Okay, then, what are the potential problems or push-back that I anticipate from this proposal?

    The Master’s Tools/Christian Dominance Problem

    I often fear that even mentioning Christian churches and anti-authoritarian revolutionary politics in the same breath is a non-starter. After all, the evangelical right is on the “enemy’s list,” and Christian cultural dominance is an historical part of this system that we’re trying to transform. Therefore, people have good reason to be skeptical of any lessons we might learn from church structures, and especially of any organizational forms that we might adopt that could potential replicate Christian cultural dominance.

    Okay, that’s real. However, the model for revolutionary congregations that I’ve proposed is not actually very “churchy” at all, and I think it could be transformed even more to be even less churchy, while still retaining the important structural elements that make it what it is.

    In case I didn’t make it clear elsewhere, I don’t actually want us to call these churches, and really I don’t think we should use the word congregations beyond this piece. In fact, I even played with the idea of not even mentioning churches anywhere near the proposal, but I think that’s pretty intellectually dishonest and silly. I believe that the left needs to get better at learning lessons from outside of the narrow revolutionary canon, so at least in this first proposal I want to be clear about its intellectual roots.

    Nonetheless, it might be true that I’m arguing for a cultural form of organizing that somehow has inherently oppressive elements. But if that’s the case I need help identifying them. Weekly gatherings? Basic political agreement? Building infrastructure through offerings? I don’t see anything oppressive in these elements. Nor do I see anything particularly middle class, white, or otherwise culturally narrow—for those who might put forward that critique. But then again, I’m prepared to be wrong.

    Magnifying Cultural Insularity

    A criticism that one friend of mine has leveled against the revolutionary congregation idea is that it’ll just attract to same old faces from the social justice community, and wouldn’t actually reach non-political masses. A similar critique is that this model would allow communities to get comfortable in their numbers and just build and even celebrate their insularity.

    This concerns me as well, but I don’t think there is anything about this model that makes it more culturally insular than any form. In fact, quite the opposite. Because the weekly gatherings have the potential for exploring all types of issues and programmatic styles each week, there’s a lot of room for a wide variety of experiences and ideas to be explored by a big group of people. Still, there would need to be deliberate work to maintain movement building relationships with other communities and organizations, and there’s no way around that.

    But the fact that this structure is so open, and emphasizes recruitment also is a help in avoiding this problem.

    Over-emphasizing the Personal, at the Price of the Structural

    This organizational model is centered around weekly gatherings that, although political, are mostly about personally connecting and rejuvenating ourselves as radical people. That is, there is no minimum level of political action demanded of members.

    The danger of this, as Andy Cornell discusses in Oppose and Propose and as we’ve seen in many other radical groups that make space for the politics of process, caring, and healing, is that revolutionary organizations can slowly lose their edge of political action. They become dominated by individualist or lifestylist attitudes and disengage from the deep (and hard) fighting and building that revolutionary change requires.

    I think this danger is very real, but it’s a danger that any organization that makes any space for feelings is going to face. We are people, and we are complex, and we are believing in and fighting for things that create a deep disconnection from the society and people around us. It is a completely natural survival strategy to take whatever spaces we get to retreat and lick our wounds, or try to numb ourselves and avoid the fight altogether. There are no structural magic bullets for this problem. It has to be part of the basic founding statement of the organization, reinforced in the culture and messages of the weekly gatherings, and supported through a warm, inviting, yet militant culture of action among the more active members of the congregation. The group has to be aware of the danger of retreat and de-politicization, and guard against it with conscious action.

    I think the opposite danger is far worse, however. The reason why I support trying this revolutionary congregation model is because I think most revolutionary groups heavily de-emphasize the caring, reflective work, to poisonous consequences. How many people do we lose every month, every year because they no longer feel like they can keep up, because they feel a need to balance their lives and have no space to do that and stay active, because they feel like they can’t measure up to the radical superstars in our midst? And how many of the great lights from previous radical generations had hidden problems of drug and alchol addiction, abusive relationships, and untreated trauma that ate away at them personally while we celebrate them publicly? By rooting our organizations in a shared, reflective space—the weekly gathering—we also shift the pace of our revolutionary work from a non-stop and unhealthy urgency to something slightly slower, more affective, but more sustainable.

    It’s a Structure, But What’s the Strategy?

    The revolutionary congregation proposal is about experimenting with a different organizational form for doing radical social change work. It’s not a strategy in itself. It’s not naming specific targets for action, specific counterinstitutions (beyond the congregations themselves), or specific elements of theory (for example stances on the centrality of race, or of class struggle). That’s deliberate.

    My view is that revolutionary anti-authoritarian movements in the U.S. are far too undeveloped to be focusing our organizational forms solely around specific strategies. This is a big cause of the sectarianism and disorganization that makes us so perpetually weak. Despite the fact that probably millions of us agree on broad elements of vision and and analysis, we split and fracture into smaller and smaller little organizational universes on the basis of questions that none of us are even close to knowing the answers to.

    The revolutionary congregation model is about grouping together and building community around larger points of agreement among radicals (but, once again, not as catch-alls…there should be some sharpness and clarity to the basic founding statement), while giving space to experiment and develop different strategies and theories from within the congregation. For instance, there are probably 8-10 radical groups in Seattle right now that have disagreements over specific tactical questions and especially questions of issue emphasis. We could maintain those disagreements even if we were all in a revolutionary congregation together, with room for all those people to experiment with those ideas…but with the regular community space of gatherings and study groups and infrastructure to keep us working together. This also allows for groups who recognize that their strategy isn’t working to be supported in swallowing their pride and quickly rejoining their fellow radicals, without the need for bitter splits, self-blame, and burn-out.

    I think we’ve inherited way too much sectarianism from the Marxis left, and I think that has been punctuated by the internalized politics of brand loyalty that corporate culture has taught us since we were young. We pick sides around relatively minor questions, and then they become identities. And the price is that they keep us not only from coalition, but even from the basic relationship building and infrastructure building that could make the left, as a whole, much more powerful.

    Indeed, I know that even this idea—regardless of its merits—will potentially go nowhere because of that sectarianism.

    I think I’ll probably think of more over time, but I’m actually way behind on some work, so I think I’ve gotta just post this now. Probably expect a few more edits later.

    Click here to go back to part 2.

    Okay, time for my description of the revolutionary congregation, as I have imagined it up to now. Please keep in mind that this is my first time articulating this in writing with any depth, so I imagine it’ll be pretty rough.

    Overview

    The core purpose of the revolutionary congregation is to serve as a stable community for people who condemn the current organization of our society, who want to believe that a wholly different, participatory organization of society is possible, and who want to gather together and fight for that new society right now. The most fundamental goals of this particular formation are:

    1) To provide a consistent, warm space for participants to reflect, internally and interpersonally, on revolutionary ideas as a comprehensive worldview, and the implications of those ideas not just for society but for our lives as whole people.

    2) Build infrastructure for shared personal growth and study, shared action, and shared counterinstitution building, which is also then shared with broader movements.

    3) Provide opportunities for a rich variety of programming that allow people to connect with revolutionary politics from a variety of different angles, education levels, and personal needs

    Rooted in “The Idea”

    Like the Spanish anarchists who talked about living and fighting for “the idea” and who let that basic, core aspiration fuel them for generations, the revolutionary congregation is rooted in a basic statement of beliefs and aspirations.

    This statement wouldn’t be more than 2 pages long, and ideally it would be less than one page. It expresses, in as accessible of language as possible, the core principles, analysis, and vision of the congregation. This can be as general or specific as each formation wants, depending on what kind of base-level political agreements that they want from the beginning.

    The critical thing about the document is that it honestly spells out what ideas people are seeking to congregate around; it expresses both analysis, vision, and strategy; and it articulates the need for both personal change (including a changing orientation to our power, privilege, and material relationships to the world) and institutional transformation.

    This document forms sort of the essential compact of trust between members of the congregation. There is an understanding and trust that anyone who keeps coming, no matter what their level of education, level of time commitment or particular interests, believes in those core beliefs. There is a regular celebration and mutual recognition that all participants are fueled by these ideas and hopes, and that though we are each walking individual paths towards transformation, and at different speeds, we all broadly share the same destination. As the Zapatistas have said, “we walk at the pace of the slowest.”

    I should emphasize that this is not a wishy-washy, catch-all document. Being simple does not have to mean being vague or simplistic. For example, the opening line of the IWW preamble is, “the working class and the employing class have nothing in common.” It’s simple, it’s accessible, but it names the system honestly.

    What’s important about this first point is that this organizational model is based on a belief that “the idea,” at root, is pretty simple, and that we can build large fighting organizations that allow people to build skills and take action at all levels of education and dedication, so long as they agree with those simple ideas. It holds that this is a sufficient foundation from which revolution minded people can build a rich and nourishing community. This differs from many cadre examples where revolutionaries seem to believe that they need to come to careful and detailed political agreement before they feel like they can settle into building a political home together.

    The Weekly Gathering

    The most basic building block of the revolutionary congregation is the weekly gathering. Different from a mass meeting or weekly workshop, this is a 1 ½ to 2 hour convening in which people share music, poetry, and art, but also hear opinions and reflections about current events and revolutionary ideas, and have opportunities for participatory dialogue as well. More than anything else, these gatherings are designed to refuel the soul and keep the mind energized after a week of having to survive in our absurd society.

    Additionally, the congregation could have occasional “street gatherings,” in which instead of meeting at their usual location, participants gather and carry out their program in particular sites of struggle (like a picket line or in a squatted building, etc.). The gatherings could also offer a regular opportunity for guests to come and share about movement experiences elsewhere, but it’s always really important that it be more than just a news and announcement session.

    After the gathering, there is a food and chatting period, as well as resource booths, action bulletin boards, and petition tables for people to check out (sort of like a weekly resource fair and potluck).

    The gatherings would be planned thoughtfully, with a multi-issue emphasis, by member-run committees, not by any permanent leadership. That is, there would be no pastor or single congregational leader. I’ll discuss the leadership question in more detail shortly.

    Opportunities to Go Deeper

    In addition to the weekly gathering (and maybe duplicate gatherings at other times for people with different work schedules) the congregation offers groups, programs, and action projects throughout each week. Multiple levels of study groups, action committees, counterinstitution committees, solidarity committees with larger struggles, somatics practice groups, caucuses and personal change groups, childrens and seniors programs, art classes, etc. would be offered.

    A lot of these opportunities would also be open to the broader public, and many congregation members would probably spend their weeks involved in other, non-affiliated movement projects, not just congregation projects.

    The idea here is to offer opportunities for growth and action directly to members, but also to encourage building and actively participating in the larger movement.

    Speaking personally as someone who is responsible for a huge family and who has a really hard job, this model is perfect for me. It allows me to be a full-fledged member of a revolutionary community, sharing space and art and life each week with both my other busy comrades and my comrades who are full-time, super intense organizers. At the same time, I can take on additional activities as I am able, and those who are more free can take on a whole lot more without feeling like my busy schedule is holding them back.

    Here’s another thing that’s cool about this: it allows way more people to share in the comradeship that makes revolutionaries form cadre organizations in the first place. Think about it: cadre organizations usually exist to 1) give committed revolutionaries a space to feel safe and not alone in this harsh world, 2) do in-depth theoretical development together, 3) create finely honed strategic interventions in movement work. This congregation model allows 2 and 3 to happen in small mid-week groups, just the same as a cadre model, but it’s all grounded in a 1 that includes potentially hundreds more people (people who agree with the politics but don’t have time for the intense theory or strategizing). This overcomes the primary problem of cadre organizations: that they create insularity, and the lonely righteousness of being more “serious” than everyone else in the movement.

    Building Revolutionary Infrastructure

    At the weekly gatherings, financial offerings would always be requested and expected, and that money would first be used to build a space (I imagine that first congregations would start by meeting in existing schools and non-profit spaces, just like fledgling churches do), and then furnish that space with resources like a childcare area, a gym, a playground, a kitchen, a music setup, a stage, etc. even our own schools!

    Along with building congregation-specific infrastructure, additional money would be put towards supporting counterinstitutions that serve the larger movement, as well as action campaigns that the congregation believes in.

    This part is really exciting to me, because evangelical churches generate a lot of dollars, and they put a lot of those dollars toward international mission work. I’d really like to see what revolutionary congregations could support with that kind of money on a global level.

    The Leadership Question

    Leadership development is a big priority in the revolutionary congregation idea. The goal is to offer consistent, structured encouragement and opportunities that move people from their first curiosity about the group, to their attendance and agreement with the core beliefs, to their active membership in the congregation, to their committed action and organizing, to their conscious democratic participation in the core leadership of the organization.

    Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church is really helpful here. He has a whole diagram that shows the flow from the larger community, to the curious crowd, to the congregation, to the committed, and then to the core.

    Rick Warren Diagram

    All self-identified congregation members would be welcome to participate in decision-making and in all committees. But what’s particularly cool about this model is that the hardcore people have lots of opportunities to delve deeply into analysis, theory work, experiments in strategies and actions, but in committees where they are bolstered and held accountable by the larger congregation that they belong to. Similar to the Zapatista idea of “governing obeying,” those who don’t have the time or interest to be full-time revolutionary organizers or theorists are able to be in weekly communication and have direct oversight over the work that their more intense comrades are doing. This is the reverse of the cadre model, where the professional revolutionaries concoct their revolutionary ideas first, and only then decide when and how the masses are prepared to see them.

    Geography and Size

    I imagine that revolutionary congregations would start as singular, geographically amorphous entities in all areas, but especially in big cities the idea would be to get them as local and neighborhood-based as possible. I think 200-300 people congregations would be ideal, but part of me would be really curious to see an experiment in a 30,000 person mega-organization like Rick Warren’s church is.

    The Question of Power

    The revolutionary congregation does not have the goal of becoming a mechanism of popular power in itself. Its goal is to provide what George Lakey has called a “base camp” for people to learn, grow, reflect, and take care of themselves between their interventions in the larger sites of struggle such as workplaces, community councils, etc.

    In this way, they have a very similar role to the FAI and ateneos in Spain or even to the old IWW halls.

    However—and I think this is cool too—because of its infrastructure and resource base, in moments of crisis, social collapse, or insurrection, this model does offer the flexibility for like-minded congregations and sister counterinstitutions to quickly federate and become sovereign communities…if that’s what the conditions demand. This is exactly the capacity that right-wing evangelicals are building. It’s a structure that allows us to be prepared at a moments notice for revolutionary opportunities like the Spanish anarchists had in 1936, like the Bolsheviks had in 1917, and like we’ve seen recently in Egypt and Tunisia.

    Recruitment

    Because the revolutionary congregation isn’t religious, and is advocating for a down-to-earth, democratic approach to the problems of daily life and the world, participants should have no qualms about spreading the word of their congregation. What’s more, because the center of the congregation’s life is the weekly gathering, it’s not as if entry-level activities are some afterthought that the group has to come up with–which then is dropped when intense organizing heats up, which is another common phenomenon with cadre organizations. Of course, because this is a model so similar to a church model, people would need to be careful about not copying the annoying tendencies of both Christian and Social evangelicals (that is, paper peddlers), but this, funny enough, another area where evangelicals have done a lot work, sort of understanding the nuances of their recruitment.

    Now, of course there will be questions and issues of the demographic makeup of congregations, just as there are currently with both radical groups and churches. But I don’t think this model absolutely depends on the need for, for example, always multiracial groupings, or cross-class groups. I think it’s possible, though not ideal, to form even relatively homogenous congregations that are honest with themselves about that reality, and then seek to build relationships of trust, solidarity, and shared resources and action with other congregations and organizations. But like I said, that’s not the ideal.

    Building a Revolutionary Movement to Scale

    Because this model is both growth oriented and focused on building its activity around the whole lives of its participants, I think it could be uniquely capable of building revolutionary ideas and counterinstitutions to the scale that we need to be a threat to the system.

    One thing that kind of irks me about us radicals is that we get so self-satisfied about all of the neat and special organizations and collectives we have across the country, yet we don’t think more intensely about how weak their diffusion makes them. I mean, it’s fantastic that we have a radical mental health collective in New York, and massive community gardens in Detroit, while we have bike projects in Tucson, and Seattle Solidarity Network fighting bosses and landlords in Seattle. But the the problem is that to actually be a serious force, we need all of those types of projects and campaigns in all localities, actually being accessed daily by stable populations of people! Sometimes I think we almost take it is a badge of pride that some regions and cities have their own little unique collectives, but as soon as we move from niche thinking to revolutionary thinking, this should be seen as a considerable problem and a challenge.

    The evangelicals and other spiritual groups have been successful at building to scale, and almost entirely from their own grassroots fundraising, as opposed to making demands on the state or foundations in order to survive. This is because they have a mass base and they regularly receive offerings, but it’s also because they build outward from that core premise of building institutions that serve the spiritual and material needs of their congregants. It’s that fixed orbit around the central idea that’s so important, and it could give coherence to the current chaos of disparate projects–that are also usually unaccountable to a base–that the radical left faces now.

    Closing

    At least for now, these are my main points about the revolutionary congregation model. I’m hoping that after I get this all written and I share it around a little bit, then I can polish it into a more formal article. Hopefully then it will generate enough discussion and interest that some people (please be people in Seattle!) will be willing to try experimenting with it.

    But before we get that far, and potentially waste resources on a model that could be disastrous, I have one more section to write: the pitfalls and criticisms that I anticipate from this proposal.

    Click here for part 4.

    I had a lot of fun writing Part 1 of this piece, in which I talked about 8 things that I thought we could learn from the U.S. evangelical movement (and I think it really does qualify as a movement). However I realized that if I really want to explain my thinking decently, this is going to have to be at least 4 parts. Here, in Part 2, I want to take a little bit of a detour to talk about the gap I see in revolutionary organizational models that are currently discussed amongst anti-authoritarians. In part 3, tomorrow, I’m going to propose an experiment in creating “revolutionary congregations” as a potential mass revolutionary model. Then, eventually, there will be a Part 4 where I will discuss pitfalls and critiques that I anticipate with such an experiment.

    The Organizational Gap

    One thing that I want to make clear right from the start is that I’m proposing a strategy of building revolutionary congregations not as some kind of lazy copycat maneuver, nor as some cynical ploy that I think could appeal to the masses although I actually dislike it, but rather because I personally thirst for an effective, long term revolutionary organization to put my energy into, and most current models on offer leave me unconvinced. That is, I think there’s a gap in our spectrum of revolutionary organizational options, and it’s one that I think my idea of revolutionary congregations could fill.

    As I see it, the following list summarizes the organizational models that anti-authoritarians currently have on our menu. Of course, in practice many of these forms can be fluid and they overlap with each other, and there’s probably some that I’m missing, but I think this gives a pretty good picture of what’s out there:

    -Collectives/Affinity Groups
    -Study groups
    -Non-profits or alternative institutions (including radical healing and therapy groups, collective houses and intentional communities)
    -Online communities
    -Lone-wolf/security culture phantom organizations (like the Earth Liberation or Animal Liberation front)
    -Clandestine militant groups
    -Spontaneous and specific groups like Black Blocs or other quickly forming and dissipating formations
    -Direct action and campaign groups (including direct action casework groups like Ontario Coalition Against Poverty or Seattle Solidarity Network)
    -Various lifestyle groups, craft groups, or practice clubs
    -Political parties
    -Labor/student/consumer unions
    -Cadre organizations
    -Revolutionary mass organizations
    -Networks or federations of collectives
    -Community assemblies or councils

    I believe that, depending on the context, all of these forms are potentially useful and can serve specific functions in building a vibrant ecosystem of social movements. However, as anti-authoritarian revolutionaries, it is vitally important that at least some of our organizational forms can answer the question of building mass democratic power. Are our organizations building, in some way or another, the concrete mechanisms for millions of people across the country and the world to directly discuss and decide on the economic, political, and social organization of their own communities and of the society as a whole? If so, what are the sites where this power will reside and how will it be exercised? How will people be supported or prepared to participate dynamically and equally in the exercise of that power? How will that mass democratic power be defended from degeneration and hostile counter-revolution?

    Advocates of all the above models have at least partial answers to these questions, but in my view the most interesting and promising debates are currently between the advocates of cadre organizations, advocates of revolutionary unions and community assemblies, and advocates of revolutionary mass organizations.

    Those who favor cadre organizations tend to argue for the approach of social insertion, or of being a conscious minority within either existing mass spaces or within new spaces that the masses build out of their own self-activity. That is, they don’t believe its the place of conscious revolutionaries to build organizations for the masses to then “come to them,” but rather that they should work within the masses and argue for their positions within those spaces—while simultaneously maintaining their small, consciously revolutionary side groups.

    Those who favor revolutionary unionism or community assemblies tend to argue for building mass organizations of workers–or consumers or the unemployed or community members–who will build enough power as a class/community to shut down or take over the workings of the system and then reorganize it along radical democratic lines…usually with a lot of counter-institution building in there as well.

    Those who favor mass revolutionary organizations tend to argue for building explicitly revolutionary organizations that are designed to grow and support the energy and participation of large numbers of people of a wide variety of experience and commitment levels (unlike cadre organizations). They actively recruit and politicize even non political people. However rather than choosing just certain specific sites of mass power like unionists/syndicalists do (the workplace, the community, the schools, etc.) they often maintain a more flexible approach of trying to build and strengthen multiple movements, spaces, and forms of mass democracy, through both confrontational action and counterinstitution building.

    Of course, these aren’t necessarily rigid positions and there is some mixing within current discussions—particularly with some recent interesting writings about “intermediate level” organizations by groups like Miami Autonomy and Solidarity.

    Yet within these discussions I’m observing that the cadre organization tendency is winning the most adherents among people I know and trust (and I include class struggle “especifismo” or platformist strategies as cadre tendencies), with revolutionary unionism and communal council “unionism” (along the lines of either the Wobblies or libertarian municipalism) running a distant second, and with the mass revolutionary organization tendency somewhere in third.

    This is disturbing to me, because I am skeptical of the cadre model as potentially elitist, self-important, and inaccessible to working revolutionaries trying to live balanced lives, and I am skeptical of revolutionary unionist tendencies because of their strategic rigidity in rooting themselves in specific sites of struggle that the current system is capable of rapidly transforming or shifting in response to movement gains (as it did to the labor movement and as it has done to many historically organized neighborhoods and communities). In short, I’m an advocate for mass revolutionary organizations, and I’m frustrated that the tendency is not more popular.

    I believe one reason for this is that we are sorely lacking in workable proposals for how such organizations could look. We just don’t have many visions out there for organizations that:

    -Are explicitly revolutionary, multi-issue, and multi-identity
    -Are capable of supporting memberships of hundreds, or even thousands within an area
    -Are capable of providing a democratic and nourishing political home to both hardcore activists and busy, tired working people, without making the hardcore people feel held back or “dumbed down,” or making the busy people feel tied to the vanguardism of a well-studied elite
    -Are recruitment friendly, warm, and accessible to non-radicalized people
    -Support approaches to movement building that see organizers as whole people with the need for balanced and healthy lives
    -Are simultaneously building grassroots funds, infrastructure, and people power for confrontational action; personal growth and internal education; and counterinstitution building
    -Are strategically spry and allow for the transience of populations and the quick shifting of social, political, and economic realities

    I believe that the evangelicals have things to teach us on this front, and that the building of revolutionary congregations might be one organizational experiment that could help us hit all of those marks.

    Tomorrow, finally, I’ll explain what I mean and propose how they might work.

    Click here for part 3.

    Since 2004, I have been insistent to the friends and comrades around me that the radical left needs to learn more from both the right wing and from evangelical churches. I think this started when I watched a PBS frontline special about George W. Bush called “The Jesus Factor.” Watching that, I realized the scope of the divide in this country; that there was a whole spectrum of millions of people who I had no daily contact with who had wildly different views about Bush, about the war, and about what even life and society are all about. I jumped into that, reading lots of stuff, and I came to see both the evangelicals and the right wing more broadly as a form of mass movement that had tons of elements that the left could learn from. At the time, this wasn’t a very common idea, and people around me thought I was a little weird…but now this is pretty much accepted as true.

    When I went to Guatemala, my thoughts got even more complex about this. I saw a country that had experienced a 37 year civil war, in which revolutionary ideas, though suppressed, were spread throughout the population, and yet, after the peace was signed, in the areas where the guerrillas had been really active the only social force that was really growing was the evangelical church (one can read about this in Rethinking Protestantism in Latin America by Garrard-Burnett and Stoll). Especially since my wife herself calls herself an evangelical, I felt a need to understand this phenomenon and at least try to respect it.

    Okay, so I think the left has a lot to learn. But what, specifically? What do I see the evangelicals and the right doing that I would like to see us doing more?

    1) A Comprehensive Worldview

    One point that I’ve often made is that both evangelicals–and the right more generally–offer a totalizing worldview that offers masses of people a way of processing the ups and downs of their daily realities and a way of participating in communities of people that share that worldview. At the same time, the left tends to only offer single issue or wishy-washy ways of interacting with left values, and doesn’t offer sufficient spaces to engage deeply with a comprehensive worldview–especially in ways that connect with our personal lives and contradictions. Sure, in small revolutionary collectives it happens, but these are often insular and elitist spaces…on a mass level, the left doesn’t trust non-activist people to engage with a left worldview…as if they aren’t prepared or can’t handle it or something.

    2) Multi-Layered Infrastructure

    Make no mistake, there are probably millions of U.S. evangelicals who have embraced what is more or less a duel-power strategy. They are building a Christian country parallel and under the surface of the larger U.S. society. Evangelicals have their own flag that they raise, they put that little jesus fish on their businesses to signal out which businesses to support, they have their own TV channels, toy lines, video games, publishers, therapists, food producers, summer camps, etc. And the very reality of everyday church buildings themselves is worth paying attention to. On almost every other corner in the U.S. there is a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue with comfortable meeting spaces, a kitchen, a childcare area, music equipment, and more (not to mention the stadium sized mega churches that serve more than 10,000 people at a time!) Contrast that to a handful of labor temples and the occasional super-uncomfortable info-shop.

    One recent example: Glendi has a side job with a non-profit that sells fair trade Guatemalan goods at various festivals and sales throughout Seattle. Each weekend of November and December Glendi had me helping her at these different winter bazaars at different progressive evangelical/protestant churches. We went to 5 different churches, and all of them were multi-leveled, disability accessible, with playground equipment, a stage with sound system, meeting spaces and classrooms, childrens programs, and each one had current events bulletin boards and posters put up from their “social justice committees” about issues of LGBTQ rights, the war, poverty, etc. These are people who I would never expect to see at a protest. Yet they are utilizing these space and even talking about social issues each week.

    3) Whole-Life Programming

    Evangelicals don’t just do sermons. They don’t just do bible studies. They have music. They have socials. They have excursions. They have couples support and singles meetups. They have sports leagues. That is, they look at every facet of life and they have tried to create and support a response from within their own movement and values.


    4) Grassroots Fundraising

    One of the reasons they are able to support their intense levels of infrastructure isn’t just because they have the numbers, but because they have a culture of grassroots fundraising through tithing and weekly offerings. Though it can definitely be manipulative, fraudulently used, and competitive, the regular stream of money coming from ordinary people’s pockets and into church infrastructure is huge! Now the left has something analogous with non-profit infrastructure, but the crucial difference is that with churches people are paying for something that they participate in monthly, weekly, even daily. With non-profits we are usually just donating to a separate, professionalized group that isn’t intimately connected to our daily lives or even accountable to a social movement.

    5) Clear and Unapologetic About Values and Purpose

    One highly recommended read about evangelicals is Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church. See, Christian bookstores have a whole section in them called Church Building (they also have another section on “Spiritual Warfare,” also worth checking out), and one day in 2005 I found that book. It’s pretty incredible and one of the big lessons of it is that churches shouldn’t pretend to be what they’re not. They shouldn’t hide their beliefs in order to grow. Instead, they should clearly state their purpose and doctrine, and then they should build a warm and inviting environment for those who choose to embrace that purpose as well.

    See, evangelical churches don’t really care about alienating non-believers. They believe, by and large, that the bible is the inerrant word of God, and that there isn’t that much room for interpretation. Thus, if you don’t like it, tough. Now I don’t advocate the same arrogant attitude for the left (and I do think it is arrogant on the part of evangelicals and all fundamentalists), but I do think it offers important lessons about movement building.

    The left can build mass organizations with clearly stated, radical politics, and still have them be warm, accessible spaces for people of all political levels and levels of commitment. We don’t need to do this thing of picking a single issue with a simple message, and then looking for the most promising elements within that single struggle and offering the deeper truth of our radicalism to those select few who can “take it.” We can be fully, openly radical from day one, and build from that position with all people, even the non-political.

    6) Widespread Leadership Development and Small Group Democratic Practices

    Because evangelicals in particular (except for maybe some pentecostals?) don’t believe that God speaks to only select elites, everyone is capable of leadership and active participation in the church. Sure, patriarchy is often heavily in play within churches, and a lot of churches have power tripping pastors, but at the same time churches are filled with all sorts of committees and study groups and charity societies that empower ordinary people–particularly women and young people–with real leadership roles. Once again, if you go to that Church Building section of the Christian bookstore, you will find literature on building “small group ministries” and other types of cell structures that teach evangelicals how to maintain, recruit, resolve conflicts, and evolve small groups of active members. That is, they have put serious thought into bottom-up leadership development and mentorship!

    7) Mind-Bogglingly Huge

    There are tens of millions of evangelicals involved in all of the above stuff. That means that they are participating daily in building and evolving their infrastructure and ideas. They are learning lessons about structure, small group dynamics, recruitment strategies, conflict resolution, leadership development at a pace and scale that significantly dwarfs anything we’re doing on the radical left. Sure, not all their lessons learned apply to us, but there are lots of things that are common to any social movement that we could learn from them so that we can grow faster and smarter. Which brings me to my last point for part one:

    8 ) They have Spawned Their Own Radical Left Current

    Ever heard of Shane Claiborne? I hadn’t either, but he’s a bestselling young evangelical author who’s basically a Christian crusty-punk type anarchist. He’s anti-imperialist, anti-consumerist, and he gets massive stadium mega-churches to chant along with him this catechism of radical Christianity he wrote. He is just one of thousands and thousands of a new generation of evangelical radicals who still believe in the bible (and thus retain some really messed up views about things like queerness) but who have interpreted the bible to be a total rejection of capitalism, the state, and the current system. These ideas are being discussed RIGHT NOW in hundreds of bible studies across the country, and they have very little overlap with the language or culture of the left. But the evangelical movement is such a huge force that it spawns its own internal movements to develop, especially with new generations of youth who have different interpretations of doctrine than their parents. Seriously, this stuff is worth checking out and seeing how we can ally with them!

    These are just 8 points that I could think of this hour about why we should be learning from the evangelicals. Ironically, many of these points also apply to how we could learn from Hamas, Hezbollah, or the Muslim Brotherhood. They also have very similar processes going on that are making them a scary force to reckon with in their countries.

    These observations about churches and evangelicals have progressively made me more insistent in my view that revolutionary anti-authoritarians should try to experiment with creating similar structures but which are rooted in our visions and values.

    In complete seriousness, I believe that we should consider a strategy of building revolutionary congregations.

    When I say this some of my comrades end up agreeing with me, but most dismiss me pretty quickly. Fair enough, but since 2004 I have yet to be convinced otherwise. So I’m starting to think that I should be working hard to do some convincing of my own. So, in part 2 of this piece, I’m going to lay out a proposal for what I mean by revolutionary congregations.

    Click here for part 2.

    I’m getting more and more excited by some of the scholarship and discourse happening in anti-authoritarian radical circles lately. With Oppose and Propose in the mail, having seen Team Colors speak in Detroit, reading Upping the Anti, Left-Turn, Advance the Struggle, Gathering Forces, I see lots of people of roughly my same generation wrestling with the same questions that I’ve been wrestling with on this blog.

    What’s particularly exciting to me is that as the debates and investigations simmer, the questions become more focused, more specific and, thankfully, more testable. What was once just sort of a general clamoring to “think strategically,” to “move from resistance to revolution,” to grow “from protest hopping to building local power,” has refined itself into wonderfully substantive questions of concrete organizational forms; approaches to conflict, healing, and care; stances in relation to electoral power, dual power, non-profits, and unions; strategic international alliances, etc. I think we are at a point where thoughtful, creative, and disciplined radical scholars could really do some good research and get us some really useful data.

    In fact, the only reason we have gotten this far is because radical thinkers, both outside and inside the academy, have been persistent enough to form these questions…evolving research to the point where the qualitative sort of movement observations, interviews, syntheses can soon launch into more quantitative types of research. As critical of revolutionary academics as I am–partly out of my own envy for not going that route myself–I am so thankful that we’ve gotten to this point.

    But now the challenge of these newer types of scholarship looms large.

    See, what I’m now really interested in is numbers and measurements. It feels weird to say it, but I am. Like Andrea Smith from Incite! Women of Color Against Violence has talked about, I don’t think we’re honest enough about what’s working and what isn’t. Both to sustain our reputations, our self-images, and our funding, we radicals gloss over our work, and whether its truly effective. We are so vocal and frankly so self-satisfied that we’re even doing the work and articulating it–which does deserve real affirmation in this hard world, I should say–that we spend far too little time on meaningful evaluation. We say things like, “I’m really inspired doing youth work,” “I’ve been really focusing on anti-violence work for 10 years,” “I’ve really had a lot of experience running action campaigns,” but we rarely evaluate how successful this work is, beyond how it makes us feel. How many community accountability processes are actually successful? How many revolutionary organizations last more than five years? What is our organizations’ attrition rates, and rates of new leadership? I believe that the vast majority of radicals experiences are those of failure. I really do. Sure, we learn tons of lessons, but that’s exactly my point! Let’s get some scholarship on this, so that we can really quantify those lessons! And since I’m probably full of it and just haven’t done the research myself, someone point me to the scholarship that’s already out there!!

    How many radical collectives are there in the US? What’s the breakdown by ideology? Is it different geographically? What’s the membership growth rate, the attrition rate, the average age and demographic breakdown? What victories have we seen, and what kinds of victories have they been? How many people are experimenting consciously with dual-power, and how many are doing campaign work focused on winning reforms from targets? What curriculums are proving effective? How do we measure the success of radical curriculum in the first place? What are people reading and how are they sharing it? What are the best practices for handling conflict? What are examples of actually radicalizing non-subcultural people? What is the effective meeting size for authentically practicing democracy? What kind of preparations do people need from a variety of educational levels to feel fully empowered to participate equally in democratic groups? What are the best practices for transformative justice and what’s the “recidivism rate” for aggressors who’ve participated in those processes?

    Obviously, this is data that those in power might already have or really want, so trying to get it for ourselves could be a double-edged sword. But that’s how many movement scholarship goes, and in the end I think it would be ridiculously helpful.

    As much as my alternative, free-school loving, anti-academic self hates to admit it, solid data is crucial to building power. We need to be learning what’s working and what’s not. What’s actually helping people build power and what’s not. And what, concretely, numerically, does the exercise of popular power look like? The gathering and use of that data is also something we could really learn from the electoral politics people, since they live and breathe all that demographic data, micro-targeting, district breakdowns and all that stuff.

    This all reminds me of something my friend Erik Dreyer said to me once back in high school about the difference between skiing and snowboarding. Skiing, Erik argued was a sport to be taken seriously, whereas snowboarding was still just a hobby. He said that in ski races, the winners were determined by the measurement of micro-seconds, whereas in snowboarding the winners were still seconds apart. When snowboard races were down to the tenths or even hundredths place on the stopwatch, he said, then snowboarding could be considered a sport.

    I don’t know if I agree with him, but I do think this carries over to us in radical politics. It is when we can know and speak to our successes and our failures in a refined way, with knowledge and data to back it up, that we will know that we have transcended the game and mere identity of revolutionaries into the serious and lasting building of power. I think we are getting there, at least a good couple hundred, maybe thousands of us across the country. But we’ve got to keep on pushing it.

    —An important side point—

    Within this is all is a big self-critique as well. I think one reason that I have avoided further academics and real scholarship is my lack of discipline in my own study. For some reason, despite always getting nearly flawless grades, I never picked up good organizational or study skills. I don’t take notes on my reading, almost ever. I don’t highlight or mark readings in any way. I read things–essays, books, etc–entirely, and then usually respond from memory. Which means that in spaces of writing, especially this blog, I don’t reference many people or really speak to their specific quotes or points, but instead just my general memories of their points. It’s sloppy, and it frustrates me.

    This is something that I really want to improve about myself and my writing. I want to learn good study habits, good organizational skills, so that I can actually participate in these growing debates and studies with confidence. Because currently I feel like I’m running alongside a slowly accelerating train of radical thinking. I’ve been able to keep up from my casual little blog in my casual little radical lifestyle because the whole discourse has been moving so slowly…but now that the theory and the learning is speeding up, I fear that I’ll be left behind, alone with increasingly crackpot and outdated theories. In order to avoid that, to stay engaged, I want to really get some of these skills down!

    Last night I went on a long walk by myself–one of those things that I’ve been doing a lot more of since I started playing my little game. It was just wonderful, my head just galloping through creative idea after creative idea, reflecting and expanding on dozens of thoughts and memories, all punctuated by loud and soulful music on my headphones. I made it through my neighborhood and all the way through the Seattle arboretum, where the plants and the mud and the blossoms gave tangibility to the coming spring. And on my way back, waiting there at a crosswalk for a light to change, I developed this big, childish grin. I had just this grand, warm smile, standing there all alone on the street.

    And there was something revelatory about smiling like that. It felt so familiar, so comfortable, like something that had been aloof had finally settled into place. It felt like me. It felt like me putting on my own face again. And that’s when I started to cry, out there on the street. Huge, gasping sobs.

    See, I had realized then how important the simple act of smiling is to me, to my relationships, to my history, and to my politics. And I realized also how rare it’s been to smile so naturally over the past 10+ years.

    I was thinking about how many relationships I’ve built just starting with my smile, and how many awkward situations I’ve made more comfortable. I thought about the trust I’ve built with friends and family ever since childhood, and how many people I’ve made feel heard and recognized, just with my grin.

    This is not about being boastful, or exaggerating my strengths, but I think I have enough experience in this world to know that my smile is a gift, and with it the ability to make people feel seen and validated, to be inspired with creative and wild dreams, to connect with a playfulness that they often feel unable to access in other spaces. And, honestly, I believe that it’s helped me win a fair share of people over to radical politics–it’s a powerful revolutionary tool. But it’s not just a gift. It feels more like a critical piece of who I am inside, my identity. If there is an archetypical form of me, a “platonic,” perfect form of me, it would have disheveled hair, bad posture, and that huge, silly smile with crooked teeth.

    But that’s also what felt so wrong about the whole thing, how much I’d missed the feeling. Over the last 10 years or more, I’ve gone from project to project and group to group, even across the country in the process, and consistently the predominant memories, the most visceral lessons, have been negative. Scathing political critiques leading to dissolutions and splits. Entire groups of friends who no longer speak to each other. Actions and projects that blossom with tremendous progress, and end up condemned publicly and retold as cautionary tales. Those places in Anchorage, Bellingham, Seattle where it still stings to walk by. And lately, more personally, just the stone-heavy, dull, steady crushing of capitalism, xenophobia, corruption, and disease that is rolling over our family members one by one.

    In all of this, my smile only surfaces briefly, and too often as a veneer for much more stormy thoughts beneath. And here is where I have learned to put in the self-criticism of my privilege and sense of entitlement–that really this negativity is how the majority of people are made to feel, so I should be careful about lamenting too much. And that is true enough, that’s a fair point. But it’s not my point. My point is that my disconnection from my own smile, my alienation from that deep and authentic pool of creativity and happiness that I have known since I was 4, has been a tremendous blow to my revolutionary potential. And any strategies that I may be trying to develop about being a better organizer had better have a priority on reuniting me with my smile!

    If there is a role for radical scholars, skilled campaign planners, tireless fighters, fierce poets…then there is a role for making people feel happy and for encouraging them to imagine outlandish things. I think that’s a role I’d like to fit again. And I plan on doing just that.

    Aint nothing going to break my stride
    Nobody´s going to slow me down
    Oh no, I have got to keep on moving

    In my opinion, a critical starting point for any leftists in the U.S. who want to come up with a long-term change strategy is to take a long, hard look at the Right and why they win so often. I’ve been saying this for years, and when I first started saying it a lot of my friends didn’t take me very seriously, but they sure do now. Nowadays, I think it’s taken as a given that we have lessons to learn from the Right. And I think far more people on the left now are much better about recognizing the Right’s genuine mass-movement elements.

    So, one strategy that I think the Right is quite good at is the broken record approach. They will take up a radical position, and with a long-term view they will just repeat it and repeat it and try it and try it and just drive through whatever scorn and doubt and whatever else until, maybe 10, 20, 30 years later they’ve basically created a hegemonic shift. Previously outlandish ideas become “common sense.” This is also something that social movements try to do, but the Right, especially with how well funded they are and how pro-capitalist they are, can afford to do it in a much, much more consistent and stable fashion. In public at least, you just don’t see them wavering the way the left does…or at least the way liberals do. they just keep repeating themselves ad nauseum.

    So enter Wisconsin, and the long time national war against organized labor, and particularly public employees unions. What we saw there was a radical governor who staked a radical and unnecessary position and stuck to his talking points all the way through, even in the face of massive, historic protest. In the process, he’s become a right-wing hero. Thankfully, he’s also galvanized a huge new coalition of folks to oppose him and any similar attempts in other states, and this is critical…but we’ll get back to that later. The thing is, whether Scott Walker would have won or not, they are still going to keep trying this. Even if he’s recalled, they’ll keep trying. That’s what makes the Right so good at winning! They want to destroy public unions, and they will just keep throwing attempt after attempt out there until they win. They are willing even to wait a few years if the electoral climate shifts, but even 5-10 years from now they would try again with new offensives.

    The Right doesn’t quit. They will just keep pushing and repeating and repeating their simplistic and terrible ideas over and over until they win them. And then when they have won, because their ideas are all about privatization and deregulation, it’s just a snowball effect of power that keeps their gains from being reversed. Like a harpoon, once they get it in, it’s hell to get back out.

    So Wisconsin, and the current all-out assault on public unions is also related to another Right wing broken record: privatized education. The war against public schools and public school teachers is a deep part of this, and they aren’t about to give up. The schools represent both a vast market opportunity and a great culture-shaping opportunity, and they will use charter schools, merit pay, accountability tests, and lots and lots of talk about equity and racial justice to win what they want. They have already been highly successful in getting liberals on board with almost all of their educational ideas, and so really the only holdouts are the unions. If the unions go, I believe so do our schools. And I have plenty of problems with the teacher’s unions (especially from a youth rights perspective), but they are the last line of defense and the Right knows it.

    I cannot begin to describe how terrible I think privatized education will be in this country as it spreads. They talk so much about accountability, but we already know that capitalism is brilliant at externalizing accountability. Once the corporations get in (and they already have through the charter movement), there will be no stopping them. The broken record strategy will also synergize wonderfully with mass school curriculum development.

    And when I talk about the Right here, I don’t necessarily mean the cultural right–the evangelicals and tea-partiers–I mean the capitalist Right, who include the majority of Democrats as well. If they win these union battles, and then the subsequent privatization battles, there is even more at stake for future generations of political consciousness. And then, of course, with net neutrality undone as well, things get even uglier.

    So back to my original point. The Right is good at using a broken record strategy. We have to recognize this and plan for it…not act surprised every time they try their some old stuff.

    However, we don’t have the resources or unity to match them in that strategy, so what do we do? Like so many other issues, I think our best answer is the building of small, locally aware and present local grassroots power. We don’t win with a matching volume megaphone. Theirs is always bigger and has longer battery life. We win with familiar whispers; the whispers of neighbors and friends who aren’t buying it anymore. That was a big piece of the growing protest in Wisconsin, and it’ll need to be developed further across this country. Good old fashioned community building, and door to door community education. I’m trying to run the angles in my head and from my reading, but I just don’t see any other way that we win.

    Not Tragedy, Just Poverty…

    On January 19th, Glendi and I lost the baby we had just found out about days before. We nearly lost Glendi as well, from the internal bleeding. That exact same day and hour, Glendi’s dad was hospitalized for the fourth time because of end-stage kidney disease. Glendi’s mom, newly diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver (maybe from malaria or hepatitis, we still don’t know) had been running a fever for 3 days. Weeks later, she’s still running a fever. Our 2 years of savings ran out just about right then. We have no insurance for Glendi’s emergency, so we’ll just have to wait and see about that. And then, on January 20th, Glendi’s cousin was murdered in Guatemala city while attending a funeral for one of his other cousins. He died along with six others, gunned down right in front of the church by gangsters.

    This is just the pain of 2011, so far. 2010 was already one of the hardest years yet. More hospitalizations; paying over 2 thousand to secure Glendi’s brother a teaching job, only to have him not be paid a dime (in a public school!) for the ENTIRE school year, and then to be downsized at the end of it; her other brother finding a job driving trucks that pays only $250 a month, with an average of 20 hour days, 6 days a week–no exaggeration. And I won’t say much about 2009, because it was no joy either.

    Just so much struggle, while still only moving backward.

    With emotional cycles that already swirl between inspiration and depression, this reality has been hard for me to take. The first few problems, I could face it optimistically alongside the family, with an attitude of, “we’ll make it through this thing, things are gonna get better.” But then after a few years of nonstop crisis, the optimism has gotten really ragged. I think one reason for the even more constant numbing activities–video games, tv, online window-shopping, almost never being able to be alone with my thoughts–is that I don’t know how to think about myself, my family, or our future anymore. One becomes scared of making plans or hoping, because that is one more thing that you’ll probably lose.

    Sometimes, from my perspective and upbringing, this feels like some kind of grand, almost poetic or operatic tragedy. Something from a movie. It’s been easy for me, and the people from my world and community, to get stuck there. But that is not what this is. What this is, actually, is exposure to the global reality of poverty. What looks and feels like personal tragedy when seen from an individual and family lens is actually the institutionalized experience of millions of people around us. This pain is the status quo in Guatemala and in so many other places across the world.

    We are not alone with the malaria, cirrhosis, or kidney disease. They are rampant in Guatemala. We are not alone with the unemployment or terrible, exploitative jobs. We are not alone with the street violence. Just talk to Glendi’s neighbors, cousins, colleagues; all of them know these stories in some form or another. It’s sad to hear what is happening to the family, but it’s no surprise for folks.

    In the U.S., there is a simplistic notion that countries in the global south (or in the poor U.S.) are there to provide resources and cheap labor and wide open markets to the rich countries. This is true, on a systemic level. However, this is not actually what makes a whole country like Guatemala run. There is only so much profit to be made in Guatemala from resource extraction and labor exploitation, and there are far more people there than are needed to make that profit–that is, there is a huge surplus population. The coffee and banana workforce have been downsized and converted from a feudal system of peasants who live on the land where they are exploited to a day-laborer system with no job security and no economic stability. This means that there is a huge swell of people with few work prospects and desperate needs, and this creates a roiling economy of poverty that is brutal, predatory, and ever-present. Narco-trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, bribery, sex trafficking, scams and schemes, robbery, this is what fills in the spaces where there is no more room for the traditional exploitative jobs, or the small household stores, or remittances from the U.S.. And the hunger, pain, violence, and disease that accompany this reality are also sources of exploitation and predation.

    I write about this not to diminish or even distract myself from the pain of our personal reality, of this terrible 2011. I’m writing about this because I need to realize that I’m not alone in this pain. And being in the U.S., Glendi and I have access to resources that millions of others don’t have. So to lose too much hope, to give up the fight against this system, it’s just something that I can’t do. It’s a shock to see how so many people live, and to see the people who I know and love living it. But for them, it’s sad but not all that new, and they keep trying to move forward.

    I’m hurting, we’re hurting, but we’re not alone. Sticking together, trying to stay present with each other, with our feelings…maybe we can build the resilience to push back even harder at this system. This is why Tunisia, Egypt, Venezuela, Bolivia are so inspiring. Because sometimes these humble and hurting people can fight back and win. Hopefully that parallel reality can help me stay away from the constant video games for a few days, at least!

    I mentioned in my previous post that I want to talk about the tendency amongst radical leftists in the U.S. (or in the places I’ve lived, at least) to commit, split, then quit–a pattern of constant fluctuation between intense and creative activity, then bitter conflict and decline, and then dissolution and burnout. In short, nearly the polar opposite of what I’d consider healthy radical praxis. This is a subject that I’ve been thinking about for years now, but it really hit me sharply with the recent dissolution of my own organization. So, let’s get into it a little bit, the revolutionary politics of staying with and leaving organizations.

    This last Saturday I got pretty majorly schooled on something regarding local Seattle politics, and I feel deeply grateful for it. See, it was the 10th anniversary event of a group I used to be involved with, the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites (soon to change their name), and it was a stellar event! Hundreds of people showed up, it was lively and positive, filled with young organizers who I’ve never met, as well as older folks who I’ve know as long as I’ve been in Seattle. The speeches and music were solid, the reflections were poignant, and on top of it, they probably raised about $6-10,000 for the Duwamish Tribe in their struggle to reclaim their tribal recognition from the federal government. It was powerful.

    Yet, when I left CARW in 2004-2005, I insisted to people close to me that I thought CARW is a walking-dead organization, lifeless and too overcome with navel-gazing and awkward white guilt to accomplish anything. I was convinced that the group was a waste of time, and I probably convinced other people around me as well. I was wrong.

    Because of the persistence of handful of people–and also with some potentially sketchy backroom stuff seeming to happen at some points–the group confronted a number of its deepest barriers to solid activity, and it has become a thriving place for mostly young white people, mostly newcomers to organizing to build their skills and practice through accountable work in multiracial movement building. I didn’t think this was going to happen. I was sure that Seattle would need a new type of group to be able to accomplish that. But by sticking with the group as it was, by working with that model, that stupid name, and then by restructuring it and growing through praxis–through constructive action and reflection–the group has accomplished far more in its tenth year than in any year before it.

    So, I got schooled. But the lesson goes far beyond this example.

    I now believe that persistence–or I’d prefer the more politically deep terms of presence and praxis–is a far more crucial element to building a revolutionary movement than good theory or good structure. If you have sustained presence and praxis, if you have people who are committed to each other and to a project for the long-haul, then all the other political elements can evolve with time. But if you lack that stability, that slow-burning commitment, then having fantastic politics and cutting edge structures won’t matter much. The groups won’t survive their first rashes of serious conflict.

    I am increasingly disappointed by the kind of radical politics that I practice because of their lack of a track record around these values. I see my generation of anti-oppression anarchists and anti-authoritarians as being really sharp at critique, and increasingly good at the warm fuzzy vision and healing talk, but I see us really bad at staying put: staying put in contradictory or even mainstream spaces–including the spaces we come from, staying put in our own projects and organizations that we found…even staying put in a single city long enough to build a cultural presence there.

    This is a damning reality. It is especially damning because our politics are rooted in a vision of community and dual-power. But you don’t build either by moving every 3-5 years, by following jobs to new cities, or by splitting an organization over specific definitions of class struggle, stances on anti-imperialism or whatever. You build those things through engaged presence, through years of just humbly, reliably being there; just doing simple, good work for real changes in people lives while communicating how it connects to a larger transformational vision. You build those things by watching people’s kids grow up, and being there when they are in need. You build those things by building spaces, homes, offices that can accrue archives and art and years of stories on their walls…by building a long-term cultural presence in which revolutionary ideas have marinated long enough that they are simultaneously futuristic, timely, and nostalgic. And within all that, you must build a culture of flexibility, reflection, and mutual growth…praxis.

    This is what makes the 1930’s Communist Party so interesting, especially in how it influenced the New Left, filled with so many red diaper babies. This is also what makes the Spanish revolution so downright amazing: a culture of engaged revolutionary presence that spanned generations, which was institutionally rooted in community learning centers. The 1936 generation of Spanish anarchists were partly the children and even grandchildren of anarchists. That is beautiful.

    So back the point I started with: revolutionaries in the United States need to put more concentrated energy on the simple question of staying and leaving, and when either is appropriate. The specific theory work, the specific organizing skills and analysis is all crucial, of course, but we need to really be grappling with our tendency to want to quit things when they are hard, or to declare things dead, counter-revolutionary, problematic, etc. before we’ve truly let them run their course.

    In my own case, while I voted along with the membership to dissolve my anarchist organization, I did so because I personally lacked the energy to convince folks to stay. But I actually probably do think it was a mistake. If things had gone a different direction at just a couple of meetings, and if we had stuck together 2 or 3 more years…wow, the things we might have been able to do within that particular name and organizational form.

    Now, I don’t believe that we should just buckle down and wed ourselves to whatever organizations are around us without ever initiating new things or putting old things to rest. There is a place for dissolution, splits, and always new formations. But those are just that: formations. They are structures for handling communication, decision-making, learning, and coordinated action. They are not relationships! What matters is how much relationship infrastructure gets sustained or lost when we split or quit or build something new.

    Oh, how much of what we do and don’t accomplish in politics is really about relationships, wrapped in relatively transparent political costumes! So often, we really quit groups or have splits because we don’t like each other, we don’t know each other, we feel slighted, we feel unappreciated, we feel like we’re better than other people, etc. We may call it political disagreement, but that’s rarely the deeper reason. It’s rarely the disagreement that keeps the work from really moving forward, it’s the communication foibles…the weird psychological projections and defensiveness. And it’s the culture of “I need to be more theoretically special than you so I have to invent something I disagree with you about.”

    And how much of these relationship conflicts really have to do with a basic lack of trust that we will be in each other’s lives a year from now? How would they change if we knew, with certainty, that we’d still be organizing together in 10 years? How would our debates change? How would the pace of our conflicts shift, or the language of our disagreements? Would we shit-talk the same way? Would we go home from meetings questioning whether people even heard us or even like us? I think a huge factor in what makes us quit and split so easily is that we are scared of investing in each other and of being rejected.

    So here’s where I’m at: I’m not ready to commit to any new or existing organizational projects right now, but I feel oh, so ready to commit to a city and its people. I love to imagine myself as committed to Seattle, or at least to the Puget Sound I-5 corridor. I want the people in my community to know that…to know that as long as they are here and not actively sold out, then I am here with them…in the same organization or not, I know that I will see them and embrace them at events, at marches, in the funerals and in the secret cafes. I know that we will share our eventual free health care clinics together, and our radical free schools. I know that we will see our fair share of internal violence flare up, and we will respond to it together as a community. I love thinking this way, as committed to being present in a revolutionary community rather than as only wed to a specific organization. I also love thinking about being an elder in 30 years.

    Okay, it’s 1am, and I think I’ve made my main point…to be developed or not as I go into my current ideas more. Because next I want to talk about what I actually am thinking about for a new organizing project, as well as another explanation of why the left needs to learn more from churches.

    A number of weeks ago, the anarchist project that I had put two years into, Common Action, decided to dissolve. I don’t actually want to write too much about the organization itself, especially because we are going to put out a more thorough history and analysis within the next year. But I do want to write here about the dissolution of groups in general, and the pros and cons of radicals and our tendency to commit, split, then quit.

    Building up to that post, I thought it would make sense to post my responses to the discussion questions that we had before our final General Assembly in November. This was something that all remaining members had to write before coming to the General Assembly, and it generated some really good thinking from the group. Perhaps some pieces of this won’t make sense, but for the most part, I think it’s a pretty accurate description of what I’m hoping for, organization-wise, right now. Other members had some fantastic stuff to say in there responses, and hopefully those will be published in some form for other people to see, but I can only share what I wrote.

    There are some points in here that I don’t think I got to explain fully to Common Action members before we dissolved, and maybe I’ll feel motivated to develop them out further…for example, my proposal to focus on building skill sets within specialized groups, rather than on trying to build a larger mass organization right now. This idea felt weird when I articulated it, but it nonetheless seems correct to me, and I want to play with it more.

    Common Action General Assembly Discussion Questions
    Jeremy Louzao, 11/05/2010

    1) What do people need from an organization in order to be part of it?

    Okay, so there are lots of types of organizations, and lots of types of people, so I’ll keep this to what I think people generally need from a “primary” political organization that expects a good chunk of their time:

    -A sense that the organization validates their overall world view, and is in line with their ethics
    -A sense that the organization has the potential to have a concrete impact on people’s lives or society…and ideally has a history to back that up
    -A sense that the organization’s work fits coherently into a winning strategy for systemic change, even if the organization is just a tiny part of that strategy
    -Feeling known and acknowledged by a good portion of the people in the organization, and being recognized for one’s unique skills, interests, quirks, and aspirations
    -A proven climate of open and healthy communication, in which members can feel comfortable to raise concerns to the group without fear of being shut down or accused of screwing up
    -The organization is flexible enough to reflect, learn from its mistakes and successes, and change to match changed realities
    -A culture of self-evaluation and humility in which members regularly model taking responsibility for their own mistakes or personality difficulties without needing to be told
    -Structures and practices of decision-making that are transparent and democratic, but which are also efficient and don’t waste everyone’s time with nit-picking over details…which means that committees are formed wherever details and nit-picking are necessary
    -Meetings that feel nourishing, efficient, and productive: the beliefs and politics that draw people together are acknowledged and present in all meeting spaces, but goals and agendas are clear, and people leave having accomplished at least 2/3 of what they set out to accomplish in the meeting
    -Transparent, accountable, and motivated leadership. Ideally, everyone demonstrates leadership, but if that’s not the case, then the leaders consciously work to inspire leadership in others. Organizations in which everyone’s a follower are some of the most disempowering, navel-gazing experiences I’ve ever had. Also, organizations shouldn’t pretend like we’re all equally leaders if some members are doing nothing and others are doing almost everything. That is unfair to all.
    -Conscious, explicit discussion of members’ growing edges, and the sharing of roles and training to help all members push those growing edges as far as capacity allows
    -A sense of support and respite from the brutality and crazymaking of the “outside world.” Structures and spaces made for members to share about their personal lives and struggles, and people feel listened to and supported; but within this the organization’s political, systemic work is not lost. Members who are in crisis or who can’t sustain work beyond their personal lives are actively supported to get the help they need (without guilt or shame), but the work of the organization does not become completely centered on these individual needs
    -A social climate that allows all members to feel like they are on equal footing as comrades, without the need for jealousies of those whose friendships are stronger, or sexual competition, or feelings of isolation for those who prefer to “stick to business” and not become friends with their comrades
    -A mutual acknowledgement that we are all imperfect people who are working on becoming better people, and of the hard work that this is

    2) What type of organization do you want to be part of?

    [I also pretty much answered question #4 here]

    Here I need to articulate both my ideal—which I believe is achievable but is still a number of years off here in the Pacific Northwest—and what I want to be a part of right now, in order to build towards my ideal.

    My ideal organization is a mass revolutionary organization, analogous in many ways to both the 1930’s U.S. Communist Party and to many modern day mega-churches. This organization would have explicitly revolutionary politics, which means that membership would be based on a shared belief that the current social structure is broken and needs to be transformed by bottom-up, mass action toward:
    -worker/community control of the economy
    -equality and justice across a wide gender and sexuality spectrum (beyond traditional dichotomous views of both man/woman and gay/straight)
    -equality across communities, ethnicities, cultures, and generations…and a dismantling of the myth of race
    -ecological justice and a sustainable industrial system
    -community based participatory democracy, with major decisions coming directly from the neighborhood and workplace level and then nesting upward
    -international solidarity and the dismantling of the myth of nationhood
    -many other pieces that are related to universal justice and equality (animal rights, undoing ablism, religious freedom, etc.)

    This organization would focus on four main areas of work:
    1) Internal education and sustained support for personal healing and growth
    2) Cultural work and external education to build a counter-hegemony against the right, liberals, and Marxist-Leninists
    3) Support and funding for large-scale experiments in alternative institutions
    4) Mobilization and organizing to resist the agenda of oppressive institutions and the ruling classes, and to defend the gains of the revolutionary movement

    However, unlike the old Communist Party (and similar to the mega-church movement), this organization would see itself as just one part of a much larger movement, with other small and mass organizations doing parallel work…the shared goal across these organizations would never be to be “the one big party or organization.” Instead, they would focus on the building of alternative institutions across the movement that can link, align, share resources, and slowly converge toward a counter-power that can rival and overtake the existing power structure. I think the open source software movement and much of the rise of the internet shows us the power of this sort of “viral” revolutionary approach.
    A core piece of this organization would be its mass revolutionary character. That is, it upholds sophisticated, radical politics, but also sustains multiple levels of involvement and membership, from periphery members who agree with the politics but who can’t make any commitments to action, to core members who want to work full-time for revolution. All of these members stay together in one organization, with mutual accountability and oversight across the group.
    Another core piece of this organization is that it would be multi-racial and intergenerational and generally “multi-sectoral.”

    I don’t believe that any organization that exists right now locally, or which we might form, will become that ideal organization. I imagine that this organization would form down the road when our local movement context is strong enough that a number of like-minded groups and individuals can come together, dissolve and merge their current organizations, and consciously form something bigger. This, I believe, is the best hope for a multi-racial, intergenerational organization in the Pacific Northwest.

    So, in order for a mass revolutionary organization to emerge and be viable, there are a variety of core practices that are going to first need to be refined by smaller, more specialized groups that could eventually merge together and share their practices:
    -Groups that focus on theory-building, research, and hardcore social analysis
    -Groups that focus on popularizing that knowledge and applying it to multiple levels of internal and external education
    -Groups that focus on whole-body healing and personal work
    -Groups that focus on on-the-ground tactics and campaign organizing
    -Groups that focus on community specific problems and realities (identity-based groups, youth and elders groups, neighborhood based groups, churches)
    -Groups that focus on community accountability and alternatives to the criminal justice system
    -Groups that focus on other alternative institution building
    -Probably a ton of other things that I couldn’t think of
    While a common way to imagine the formation of a revolutionary organization is to imagine one group forming that tries to focus on all of these (an error which I think we made in Common Action), I think it makes much more sense for groups to focus on getting really good at just one or two of these things, with the goal of merging together later.

    So, with that said, which specialized group do I want to be a part of? Well, because of my own past focuses and skill-set, I think I’m most interested in being in a group that focuses on both popularizing knowledge and personal transformation work from a revolutionary perspective. To be more specific, I would like to be part of a close-knit, revolutionary organization that focuses on studying revolutionary ideas and history and popularizing those across our local community and across local progressive/radical movements. At the same time, the group would focus on how to integrate people’s personal experiences and aspirations into a revolutionary worldview, so they can see themselves as nourishing and being nourished by the movement.
    While a number of CA members have mentioned wanting to slow down and focus on studying, I find myself agreeing but also asking, “to what end?” If it’s toward the end of then popularizing the ideas we are learning through external education, propaganda, creative actions, etc…then I’m in. But if it’s toward trying to focus on campaign-organizing or on trying to form a full-on mass revolutionary organization from scratch, then I’m more skeptical.
    As far as analysis, I believe that studying and talking about class and capitalism is crucial, and I think talking about gender, sexuality, and race are also crucial. And, of course, I think all of these should be discussed in a way that sees their intersecting, systemic natures. In practice, if the organization continues to be majority white, then I think developing and then popularizing deep race politics should be a priority.

    3) What level of commitment does it take to be part of such an organization

    At this stage, members would be expected to be active for maybe 5 hours a week? This wouldn’t be all meetings, but would include study groups, committee meetings, work parties, and participation in other groups’ events. Over time, as the group hones its practice, it would hopefully make room for lighter levels of commitment, with members who just want to be trained to do occasional trainings or project support on specific educational projects.
    In general, I think all revolutionary organizations should make it a priority to evolve towards having multiple levels of involvement. This practice of balance and work-sharing are crucial to eventually sustaining a mass revolutionary organization.

    4) What ideas (vision and strategy) do you have for moving forward towards this type of organization, for the short and long term?

    I covered this above.

    5) What is the need that we think Common Action is there to fulfill?

    I think Common Action has attempted to fill a couple of needs: a need for work on transformative justice in movements (a decidedly mixed experiment, but with a lot of strong lessons); a need for popularizing revolutionary ideas (I think we have a lot of potential here); a need for participation in mass organizing (pretty bad track record on this); a need for theory-building and strong research and social analysis (pretty bad track record here as well); a need to articulate and model revolutionary ideas and structures (an okay attempt); etc.

    Right now, I would argue that if we are going to continue with Common Action, that we focus on internal education and then popularizing revolutionary ideas across the local mainstream and across the left, with an emphasis on integrating the need for personal transformation work into that.

    6) What does an organization need in order to function?

    In addition to what I stated in question #1, mainly just follow-through, a culture that motivates and supports members, and clear structures that are actually followed…and if not followed, then refined or dumped until they are practiced efficiently.

    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.

    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!

    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.

    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.

    No time like the present…

    For years now, I’ve been in orbit around a cluster of ideas that I think are really significant, but which I still haven’t been able to really explore to the depth that they deserve. These are the ideas that I tried to go into in my series of 21st century anarchism posts, as well as my barely-begun series on presence, power, and popular education, but in both cases I got stalled before things could get really interesting These are also the ideas that most make me come back to this blog…because I know that there is something important here that I want to articulate, but that I need more time and experimentation to get it out.

    Basically, I’m talking about ideas that relate to being a better organizer, building a better revolutionary movement in the U.S., balancing life and activism, and meaningful popular education. At the core of these ideas, there are a couple of key words that I’ve been playing around with for a long time: mutual inspiration, personal cycles, and presence. These are words that just keep coming up for me over and over in my life and my work, and there is something there that I want to unlock. There is new theory there. There is really strong organizing potential. But how to get at it?

    The answer to this question, I think, lies in the concept of presence itself. It is a tremendous challenge to both hold long-term revolutionary vision for our world, and to be daily present within that world. Even more, it is so, so difficult to see the needs we have for the people around us, and their potential, but to be present with the people they are right now–especially with their own personal dramas–and to really work with them from there. Never mind the constant struggle to be present with our own pain, loss, and senses of inadequacy when we feel like we should be so much more. And in my own case, it’s really hard for me to present with myself for long enough to really develop these ideas that I want to contribute to the world.

    And so I return to this blog, specifically as a reminder that there is a space where I can be present with myself; where I can give myself that careful mix of patience, challenge, and attention that make the concept of presence so powerful to me.

    In my daily life, things have gone back to feeling so heavy, with the burden of a non-profit and its legacy on my back, with intense internal activist dramas burning around me, and with what seems like less and less time to both take care of myself and meet people’s expectations of me. With that heaviness, it’s even more important to assert what I think is most important for myself, and what I want to be contributing with the youth, the resources, the experience, and the time that I currently have. Because as I get older and as I say yes to more and more of other people’s requests of me, I feel the danger of losing myself and why I became an organizer in the first place.

    So, with that said, I’ve cleared some space again to give this another try. To work on articulating these ideas that I think are so important…not only to the social movements around me, but to myself as I’m grasping for meaning and for air.

    In my time in Guatemala, I had the opportunity to tour Glendi’s sister’s high school in the city of Coatepeque. In the Guatemalan education system, youth spend a couple of years studying general secondary studies in what’s called Basico (basically junior high through freshmen year), and then they spend 1-3 years studying specialized studies in a Carrera. At Vicky’s school, the major Carrera is primary education, and it focuses on training certified primary school teachers.

    The school was located on a city block, wedged between other businesses on either side, all in a one-story cinder block row. Walking through the narrow entrance was the main office, which was just a single desk, with an old manual typewriter, an aged hole-punch, and stacks of papers. On the walls were little hand drawn cartoon faces and cartoon suns and clouds, the kinds of decorations you’d expect to see in a place teaching primary school teachers. Past the main office was an open air courtyard, and all of the classrooms themselves. Maybe 8-10 cinder block square spaces the size of maybe a small U.S. classroom, with rows of very old, chipped wooden desks. The ceilings were that foam paneling stuff you see in office buildings, but browned in many spots by leaks. On the floor were rusty electric fans, and the only thing on the wall (especially since it was still “summer” break time), was a half-chalkboard/half-whiteboard panel.

    I didn’t see a single book anywhere in the whole school. I didn’t see any technology either, except for the manual typewriter at the front desk. The registration system was made up of students’ names in a single notebook.

    This is a private school. It costs us more than a month’s worth of an average Guatemalan’s salary to pay for this school each year. Imagine paying for this level of schooling for 5-10 children.

    I was shocked and deeply saddened by this experience. To know that even private high schools like this are not even comparable to the access to education and resources that a public high school offers here in Seattle. The difference is night and day.

    And this really got me thinking. What does it mean to think about youth empowerment–which is my paid work–in an anti-imperialist way? What does it mean to support youth empowerment for marginalized young people in the U.S., which respects and validates their experiences of oppression and their demands for equity…but in a way that also encourages solidarity with the very different realities and needs of fellow youth across the globe?

    Truth is, I actually think that we’ve been bad at this in our own organization. When young people come in with complaints about their day, about their school, about their lives, the almost automatic response is to take their side, nod our heads, and universally respond, “man, that’s so messed up.” And it is…but I also think it’s important to be aware of the relative privilege that U.S. youth have compared to youth in other parts of the world. Building a global revolutionary youth empowerment movement demands this. What is the role for context and broader thinking when talking about injustice and organizing in U.S. youth’s lives?

    What I want to avoid doing in thinking about this is playing oppression olympics. I don’t want to discount any youth’s experiences of injustice, be it racial profiling in the hallways, or lack of access to quality textbooks, or whatever. However, doesn’t real youth empowerment for U.S. youth also mean education about their incredible level of privilege and access in the bigger global picture, and the need for them to flex those muscles for justice as well? How can youth organizers in the U.S. work on their own issues and fight for changes, while also recognizing the other issues that youth are facing in other places, even within the U.S.?

    For example, Glendi. When she was ten, her family pulled her out of primary school completely. She was set to work on the coffee plantations, spreading fertilizer and doing other tasks…for 4 years. She began 4th grade at 14 years old (the age that U.S. youth are usually high school freshmen). This is not uncommon. She was lucky, in fact, to get the option to return to school at all…her sister never did return after 6th grade. Her mom has a 3rd grade education, and still regrets the lost opportunity. Vicky’s school was described above, but what about the fact that in addition to school, she also gets up at nearly 4am every morning to grind the maiz for tortillas, handwash the clothes for 12 people in the communal tank, handwash the dishes for 12 people in the communal tank, sweep and mop the floor, and cook breakfast before and after going to school? At the same time, facing similar problems that young people face here, such as sexual harassment on the bus and by teachers, inaccurate and racist education, and structural racism against her and her peers as indigenous youth.

    This is a fundamentally different structural reality for young people–and Glendi’s family is actually relatively well off within the village!–than what the majority of even marginalized and poor youth face in the U.S. Indoor plumbing, library access, public transportation, mail systems, etc…are basic infrastructural elements that even the U.S. poor mostly have access too…at least in Seattle. Even undocumented latino immigrant youth have a relative privilege compared to many of their peers in Latin America…because they made it across the border…that is a big, big deal! I think these different realities should be really taken into account when we talk about organizing, and what youth empowerment looks like.

    Really, what I’m trying to say is that in the U.S., youth empowerment must not just be about empowering young people to face their own oppression in their communities, but also to build up a radical, movement-based sense of themselves and organizing in solidarity with youth who are fighting their own oppression on a global scale. This means that within our moments of “that’s so messed up” we also have moments of recognition of how many options youth here actually have–like my organization, which pays youth up to a 3-month Guatemalan salary to organize for change–and how they can use that structural privilege to fight against imperialism.

    What I’m also trying to say is that when I eventually move to Guatemala for a short or long period of time, I want to think about how to do youth empowerment work there…and I really want to think about how it could look different from what we do up here in Seattle.

    I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts about this stuff over time.

    Writing my last post has got me thinking about all sorts of possibilities, which was exactly my intention in writing it. When I post on this blog, I think I somehow give myself permission to think more intensely, to feel more honestly, and to engage more profoundly with the relationships in my life. So I’m glad that I took the step and wrote some stuff out.

    And tonight I finally saw Michael Moore’s Capitalism: A Love Story, and it’s got me thinking even more. If you are a radical in the U.S., I’m sorry, but I think you have to see it. Not because it’s so super good or anything, but because I think it’s important. A major media presence is repeatedly claiming that capitalism is a deep social evil. Not just once. But repeatedly. Talking with priests about it. Criticizing propaganda that teaches to the contrary. And pretty much outright encouraging folks to look more into socialism. That is a major cultural happening. As we can see, the red scare is finally, perhaps deeply breaking, particularly among young people. Thanks, Mike, for helping out.

    But what’s really interesting to me about the movie is thinking about anarchist responses to it, and to the crisis and community reactions to the crisis that the movie is talking about. I’m noticing a reluctance among some anarchist I know to really delve into these more straightforward economic issues like foreclosures, layoffs, etc. Maybe it’s a fear of staying in that class reductionist framework of organizing. Or perhaps they worry about just jumping in to the “issue of the day” like the Socialist parties do, thus exploiting people in their struggles. These are both good things to be wary of, but I think we do have to admit that this is an important historical moment to be talking and organizing around the economy. In new and intersectional ways, of course, but in ways that speak clearly and elegantly about the class struggle that really does exist.

    I’m thinking hard about what I’d like our Seattle branch to be organizing around, and I’m enjoying it. Right now I’m leaning towards something related more explicitly to the economy, but maybe I’ll shift elsewhere tomorrow. I’m not sure. Hopefully I’ll come back soon and write more about it here…it’ll keep my energy up!

    On the verge of a big new organizing project…

    So, I’m a member of a regional anarchist organization here in the Pacific Northwest. It’s called Common Action. When it was founded and when I joined, it was called Class Action Alliance, but the majority of us thought that name sounded too class reductionist, conjuring images of the old left shirtless white male worker swinging the big hammer and all that. The name change was just one of many instances of growth that we’ve gone through as an organization in our first year of existence that has given me a profound sense of hope in this particular grouping of radical people. I think we’re on to something here.

    And this week we just had our Seattle branch meeting, and we came to the agreement that it’s time for us to engage in a common project, or a common focus, or even in a common campaign. You know, common action. For a long time, we’ve been doing a lot of internal and structural work. We’ve been doing a lot of consciousness raising events in the community that have built quite a bit of goodwill with fellow radical and progressive groups in the region. And now it looks like we’re ready for a new level of organizing together. Yes!

    But the question is what? And how? What is the most valuable type of political struggle for organized anarchists to be doing? How does it differ from organizing that is done by groups from other political tendencies? And if it’s not different, then what is the point of even labeling it as anarchist? These are questions we have discussed frequently in our branch and in our whole organization, but now it’s time to try putting some of those concepts to the test.

    Within our particular tendency of anarchism, there is a lot of talk about “social insertion” within mass struggles. That is, engaging humbly and fully within non-anarchist spaces of struggle, so that anarchism’s very practical and principled ideas can be put to use directly at the grassroots. I agree with this tendency, except I have a lot of questions about this notion of “mass struggle.” What is mass struggle in contemporary U.S. society? The anti-war movement? The climate change reform movement? Anti-austerity movements within poor communities? Obama supporters and the netroots? It’s tricky. What if the greatest political potential, the potential for really creative and innovative action, doesn’t exist within current “mass struggles?” Do we hold off on those ideas because they didn’t emerge from a grassroots, non-anarchist base? Or is that kind of idea a fetishization and exotification of “ordinary” people, and their historical destiny to spontaneously spin mass movements out of their own initiative? What about the fact that most of the “mass struggles” we see in U.S. society are actually the products of highly professionalized and well-funded reform groups that are already geared heavily toward policy advocacy and engagement with people in power? What is the anarchist contribution there? There are lots of smart people debating these ideas, as always, and I think it’ll do me some good to start reading more in the radical section of my personal library again…no more liberal progressive mish-mush for awhile, Jeremy.

    We won’t have a decision for a little while, and then from there the actual planning and development of the project will take even longer, but even these initial brainstorming conversations are invigorating. Do I finally get to actually try out some of my long-held ideas about praxis, community education, and dual power? It’s a like a dream come true.

    And I can tell you now, I have my own ideas unfolding out of the cracks of my mind, and forming into some pretty cool visions. Hopefully I’ll take the time to work out some of those ideas here.

    So there is a cool little idea that I’ve had for a couple of years that I don’t really do anything with, but my friend Bruin prompted me to write about: Revolutionary Sundays.

    See, one common frustration within activist and organizing circles is event overlap. This group plans their big rally for this day, and then two days before discover that this other group planned their reportback for this same day. Not to mention that on the same night this non-profit has their auction, but it’s also the day that so-and-so will be in town giving a great talk. Everyone throws up their hands, and curses themselves and each other for not being more in coordination. It feels like amateur hour.

    But what if we converted this frustrating occurrence into a strength? What if we avoided the accidental event overlap with purposeful event overlap? What if we liberals, progressives, radicals, scheduled all of our public events, open meetings, and cultural gatherings on the same day…say Sundays? I think it could actually have really powerful effects on us as a movement.

    Think about a really good conference, or something bigger like a big music event or the World Social Forum. In those events, there is no possible way that a person can go to all of the things they want to. And that is one of the most exciting things about it! You know that there is so much cool stuff going on, that you can’t make it to all of it…but you are also happy because you know that there are other people who did make it to that other event. There’s a critical mass.

    What if that happened every Sunday? A whole slew of events to pick from, and maybe a little program that you can read to pick from. When you are at one event, people give a brief summary of what else is happening that same day, and you fill enriched to know there are so many people who care, so many groups doing good work.

    Mobilizations for petitions or door-knocking would be so easy. New people in town would find it so easy to make friends and get the lay of the land.

    Sure, it would mean that groups couldn’t depend on the usual suspects to make it to all their events, and it would force growing out to new people…

    …but I think this would be so cool. It would give such a great meaning to the question, “what are you doing this Sunday?” Like a political code word. Neat.

    So, how about this economic crisis, huh?

    California and Illinois going broke. OFFICIAL broad unemployment figures at 16.5%. We’re facing something serious. Something I still can’t get my imagination around.

    Just got a letter from a funder at the non-profit where I work. 2/3 of all foundations are suspending or re-evaluating their grant programs for 2009. Non-profits all over Seattle are falling or are on the verge of falling. It’s the end of a certain era.

    As more and more grants are cut, and social services are slashed, there will be very few ways to contain the anger and necessities of millions of people…which means that revolt is imminent!!!

    Not.

    It means that despair and shame are on the horizon, now more than ever. Strange crimes and all sorts of examples of internalized oppression. When class consciousness is so foreign to U.S. culture, the anger turns inward, or outward at some marginalized “other” such as undocumented immigrants, other P.O.C. communities, queer folks, etc.

    And without its non-profits what will the left do? Hopefully we’ll get more grassroots, get back in touch with our base communities. But I don’t know. Like I said, I can’t fit this economic crisis into my imagination yet. I think my entire life of economic privilege has made the idea of not having, of not knowing where the money will come from…well, it just doesn’t come very easily to me.

    I can only imagine that you try to protect your children from really seeing what you do. And that you hope that the rhythms of world will have already broken and embittered them by the time they find out. Because children really do tend toward love and joy, and we both know that they would be crushed to know what their dad does when he goes to work.

    Yeah. I’m angry at the world today. Mighty, mighty angry.

    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.

    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!

    Bolivia has a new constitution!

    I can’t believe I am just finding this out two days after the fact. Where was I??

    On Sunday, Bolivia held a referendum to approve its new constitution, and the new constitution was passed with more than 61% of the vote. This is a great victory for Bolivia’s social movements and its indigenous majority, and it should hopefully bring a tiny bit of momentum to that country’s leftward shift. The right wing has been brutal and active there, putting every possible obstacle in front of meaningful social transformation. I hope this contributes toward their slow downfall.

    General elections in Ecuador in February. Chavez’ new constitutional amendment in February. Salvadoran presidential election in March (the FMLN just won a majority in the municipal elections about a week ago!). Let’s hope for more ballot victories for the left, and more grassroots growth to accompany it!

    Please, Obama, a progressive shock and awe!

    Here’s a quote from the inauguration speech:

    “Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions – who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short. For they have forgotten what this country has already done; what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose, and necessity to courage.

    “What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them – that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”

    This is exactly the kind of language that Naomi Klein speaks to in her book The Shock Doctrine, when neoliberals use moments of crisis to impose a massive, radical capitalist agenda, often within the span of months. With words just like this, they have dismantled public infrastructures and social safety nets across the world, systems that took decades of hard struggle to build.

    Now, Obama is using these words, and dropping all sorts of progressive code words and references. And, UNLIKE, most of the neoliberals in the past, Obama actually has a huge mandate for radical changes. So, here’s to hoping that he’ll take a cue from the right and just bombard us with all sorts of programs and proposals.

    Even if many of those programs don’t pan out (much like FDR’s original New Deal proposals), the psychological effect on our country of a “shock and awe” of hope could really electrify things. And with Obama’s new “Organizing For America” structure, in which he hopes to keep is entire grassroots campaign mobilized to push for his agenda, he is in a perfect position to resist any bigwigs who try to stop him. EVEN MORE, those bigwigs are cowering and losing money! They need bailouts even to keep plodding along. He really is in a perfect position to push through some great stuff.

    Will he? Probably not. Liberals and progressives are notoriously bad at seizing initiative. But this is the first day of his presidency, so at least I get to hope so.

    But, some good signs: He wants a stimulus plan of $900 billion dollars, passed by mid-February. That will supposedly have zero earmarks. Wow! Supposedly he’ll give an executive order to close Gitmo within the week. Supposedly there are a bunch of executive orders on their way regarding surveillance and the constitution and such. Here’s to hoping.

    Maybe, for once, it won’t only be the right wing that’s good at seizing initiative in a crisis.

    Propaganda and “Othering” in Action…

    Just read this AP article on Huffington Post: Israelis get creative in coping with rocket threat

    I just shook my head.

    There’s nothing wrong with writing a story like this. It is interesting and important to know how a people cope with having rockets dropped into their houses, near their coffee shops…right before their weddings. It allows us to connect with those who suffer this kind of violence. It makes distant people seem not so different from us…how beautiful. Truly. And how necessary.

    But how sad. Because I am not seeing the front page stories about how Palestinians “get creative” with the bombs, and constant bulldozers, and checkpoints, and settler incursions, and destroyed olive trees, and poverty, and dead and wounded children. About the endless cycles of jail time and searches. About all of the weddings and birthdays missed because of rockets or tanks or long stops by soldiers trying to get to the event in time. I’m not seeing the stories of how they have “coped” with occupation and displacement for so many decades.

    No. There is no balance in this coverage, which is no surprise. When there are human interest stories about Palestinians, I see people running here and there from bombs. I do see screaming women or crying fathers. But what I don’t see is the context. The connection. Because even screaming victims of war are easily distanced and othered. Where is the history? Why are occasional rockets in Israel given the treatment of something that folks are getting used to, that is becoming daily…when the violence that Palestinians experience is portrayed as immediate, ahistorical, a big flashing siren…and not what it really is…a gaping wound, constantly jostled and stretched and re-opened, barely given a moment to scab or scar before the flesh is torn again…and again.

    I am angry about this, if you couldn’t tell.

    Just a quick observation to keep me writing.

    I was taking a walk the other day and I was thinking about the individualist bent of U.S. culture, and I was thinking specifically about libertarians and Ayn Rand types, and the more I thought about it, the more baffled I got.

    I mean, it’s really just silly. It’s one thing if someone is literally living on a piece of land, growing their own local food, bartering fair prices for everything, and thus they think any kind of social program, or taxes, or whatever is taking from their own hard work. This could be a passable excuse for individualism.

    But that’s not our modern society! The global capitalism that individualists themselves celebrate is one of the most socially integrating forces in world history! It is based on complex and minute connections and relationships between people all over the globe. The idea that almost any product, or any piece of infrastructure comes from the “sweat” of any one person’s “brow” is just ridiculous.

    We are social beings. And advanced societies are incredibly intricate engines of social relationships. Ever piece of food, every road, every piece of media is not only produced by multiple people, but it is rooted in the historical legacy and accumulated productivity of millions. Right now, every single thing surrounding me was built and shaped by thousands of human hands and minds (and probably lives lost). Any philosophy that doesn’t take that into account–and that stay’s with simplistic Locke-style references to “fruits of a man’s labor”–is simply intellectually bankrupt.

    Take the idea of privatization. The very idea of privatization is based on the individual human being, in that the creativity and passion and innovation of an individual person is much more powerful than groupthink and collectivism. Hmmmmm. Interesting. Because in practice privatization has nothing to do with anything private. It’s the turning over of one kind of collective property (belonging to the public or State) to a different kind of collective property that is shared less equally, but nonetheless collectively (among shareholders). What is going on here?! What is more collectivist and groupthink than the kinds of brand identification and bureaucratic structures that exist in corporate America? How foolish.

    Seriously, next time I get in a discussion/argument with an individualist I think I’m just going to have to go off about how absolutely nonsensical this supposed bedrock American value actually is.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love the power of individual human beings. I think we are incredible! But I will never forget the social context from which our individual beauty and power come from. Language itself is a fluid social construction that is maintained across generations ONLY because of human interaction and connection. An individual can write incredible, heartshaking poetry, can make me cry and yearn and scream…and that writer owes their words to the thousands of people who have nurtured her/him with conversation for years! And even more, the beauty and relevance of that poem to me is precisely because of our shared social context, language, and life experiences that gave us a similar artistic sensibility. When we start talking about land and labor and economies, the social argument becomes even more clear.

    We are beautiful alone precisely insofar as we are beautiful together. Anyone who thinks they’ve found their uniqueness or their specialness only because of their distance from the “mediocrity of the crowd” has to be careful…not only do they owe that crowd their lives, but also their words.

    We should be present with what has made us, and celebratory of what we in turn can make. But when we start separating ourselves from our roots…that’s when hubris and corruption form…and to me pure individualism is nothing but hubris and corruption.

    Please, if any of you few who read this are individualists, comment so we can keep talking about this.

    Quick Venezuelan election update…

    Things are certainly complicated. While in almost any other electoral context the Venezuelan regional elections would have been considered a near-sweep for Chavez’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the situation is actually not so clear-cut.

    The election had record-breaking participation (65.45%) and the PSUV won 17 of 23 state governorships, but lost some really crucial states. It also seems that they lost pretty handily in Caracas itself. Now, this is the first election for this new socialist party, so one could argue that they kicked ass. But reading commentary on some Chavista sites, it seems that this shows a decline for their candidates…and it specifically shows a dissatisfaction with the way that Chavista politicians (not necessarily Chavez himself) are governing.

    Looks like the next couple of years will be rocky for the Venezuelan process. Just like the aftermath of Chavez’s failed constitutional reform last year, he’s going to have to shake stuff up, and there is a big question of whether changes will fall to the right or to the left. If he’s listening to his base, it sounds like they want more power for the communal councils, more accountability from the representative elements of the government, and less corruption and clientelism.

    I’ll hope to keep writing about this as my understanding gets better (or my questions get more profound), but for now I’m afraid I have little to say that’s not being said on Venezuela Analysis.

    Meanwhile, in Ecuador, general elections to elect the new government after the recent passing of the new constitution will be held in late April. And in Bolivia and Paraguay? Hmm…don’t know. Should do some reading about that.

    Eyes on El Salvador in 2009…

    Just a quick note. Last night Glendi and I attended an event talking about elections in El Salvador in 2009. They take place in March, and though there is always danger of US intervention and fraud, right now the FMLN (former guerrilla group turned political party) candidate, Mauricio Funes is on track to win.

    This will be a big deal if it happens. Not only because it’ll be the second ex-guerrilla group after the Sandinistas to win power in Central America, but also because it will keep the leftward tide moving in Latin America. Who knows, maybe 2012 in Mexico? It also will of course have interesting implications for Guatemala, and their weak center-leftist president, Colom.

    In other news, Venezuela has its regional elections on Sunday, will almost all the governorships and mayor positions in play. It’s the first vote after the Chavistas’ constitutional referendum loss, and Chavez and the United Socialist Party of Venezuela are putting A TON of energy into it. I’ll be watching closely, as it will be a good gauge of what direction the Venezuelan revolution is moving.

    Pieces of Memoir… Part 1

    When I was studying for my Master’s in Teaching, I had to write two autobiographical essays. I dreaded the assignment, and waited until the due date to write both of them. But now, just having re-read them, I think there is a lot there that I almost never share with anyone…so, why not post them here.

    Bear in mind, that I wrote these a year ago. Also bear in mind that I wrote them both in about an hour or two. With that in mind, I hope you like them. (Oh, and Christina isn’t her real name.)

    ***

    I had to search through my seventh grade yearbook to learn that her name was Christina. Thirteen years ago I didn’t ask or care. She was merely a prop for me, a comic foil that allowed me to fit in exactly in proportion to how left-out I made her feel; and for these purposes she served me well. I made the whole playground laugh, so easily and instantly, and all I had to do was make her cry. I didn’t then know the full price, for her or for me. Even at night, sobbing and hating myself, I didn’t know what would come from my choices. I didn’t know that Christina would transform my life.

    Christina was one of a handful of developmentally disabled students at Oak Harbor Middle School in Whidbey Island, Washington, and she was not the first of them who we surrounded and terrorized. She was just the latest in what was more or less a rotation. As we got bored with stealing one kid’s football or aggressively imitating the slurred speech of another, we would eventually come around to her. And she was mine. I picked her out in the playground, I motioned for my friends to follow me, and I chose those soft spots that I wanted to prod and irritate until I got my desired response. It was a calculated process of emotional brutality, targeted less at our victims and more at each other, a bunch of scrawny white middle class kids who’d learned from our movies, our sports, our dads, and especially our older brothers that this is what one does to be cool: you focus so intently, so callously on the strangeness, the weakness, the frailty of The Other that no one would dare suspect that you carry those things in yourself.

    Without the ability to articulate it, and with no one to articulate it to, this was exactly what was going on for me. In my head, in my heart, things felt terribly wrong in the world, and I didn’t know where I belonged. I saw homeless men arguing with lampposts in the streets and I wondered how I was different, why I deserved friends and comfort while these men deserved ridicule. I saw National Geographic specials about poached gorillas and elephants and I rose up screaming at the television, at the unjust absurdity of the world. I even watched Corky struggle with Down’s syndrome on ABC’s “Life Goes On” and TV movies about Special Olympics superstars overcoming their obstacles and I remember feeling so much love and respect for them in their dramatized struggles. But I had my friends, and my brother’s older, cooler friends were always hanging around, as well. None of them talked about these things. They talked about cars and video games and the way women’s bodies were supposed to look. The message was clear: Talking about those other things made you gay. Mama’s boys talked about those other things. Pussies talked about those other things. I didn’t want to be called those names, and so I didn’t say anything about what was going on for me. I just focused on being cool instead, and that meant going after Christina.

    Most of the time, I just sort of walked circles around her, tagging her and getting her to chase me, pretending to play with her while everyone laughed along from a distance. The last time was different, though. We all thought she had a crush on me, the way she giggled and tagged me back, and so I thought I was brilliant when the week of the spring dance arrived and I formed my little plan. On the Thursday before the dance, I came up to her really nicely, really slowly. I smiled at her and she smiled at me, and I faked nervousness, pretending to search for words.

    “I was just, you know, wondering if, you know, maybe you’d go to the dance with me?”

    She blushed brightly, her eyes widened, and she stepped back and turned around. I spun around her to see her face and she was smiling, nervous, clearly surprised. She ran off, laughing, probably not knowing how to respond, then she ran back to me, with a huge smile. She was going to say yes, I could tell, and that was just too much for me. I acted quickly.

    “Not! I was just joking, retard!” I ran away to my group, and we walked, chuckling and jostling, back to our classes.

    When school ended that afternoon, I ran home by myself, crashed into my bed, and cried. The person who I was inside, the person who I wanted to be, was nothing like the person who I was presenting in public. The gap was so great, and it felt so unbridgeable, that I started thinking about suicide.

    I was lucky though. That summer, my parents had to move us from Washington to Alaska, and for me that move was a lifesaver. I remember consciously thinking that I would have the opportunity to start from scratch, to finally redefine myself in my own way. And I was.

    In eighth grade, I was unashamed of getting good grades, of having multiracial friendships in a racist town, in being drug free among stoners, and in making friends with the so-called nerds of my school. In ninth grade, I got accepted into an alternative school, where nearly everyone had rejected the conformity of traditional schools, and where, for the first time, my confusions about the world were not only validated, but also reflected back in new and challenging ways. At 14 years old, teachers and students were introducing me to Socrates, Buddhism, anarchism, and the writings of Karl Marx. In that new, open environment, my mind exploded open. I felt like I was identifying with a new worldview every week, debating publicly and privately about questions of materialism, freedom, desire, meaning, and equality.

    I’ve only recently realized that all of my intellectual and emotional processes in that exciting time, and up to the present, had their roots in the contradictions of my experience with Christina. Inside, I had long felt a deep love and sensitivity for the world, for other creatures and people, and even for her. But outside there were all of these forces pushing and pulling me away from who I was. They were not just pushing me away from basic decency and respect for people like Christina. They were also pushing me toward more and more consumerism at the expense of my childhood imagination; toward the objectification of women at the expense of authentic desire; toward classroom docility at the expense of intellectual curiosity; toward some vague college track at the expense of my genuine passions and interests. I came to see that modern social forces were far from benign. They were often deeply irrational and oppressive, even murderous. With Christina I had fallen into a myriad of society’s traps, and the move to Alaska freed me just in time to breathe, reflect, and decide that I didn’t want to go down that road ever again.

    By 17, I was a committed radical social justice activist, in love with books, and especially steeped in economic justice and de-schooling literature. Even in an incredible alternative high school, I felt stifled and I decided to drop out. I tried college for a few months, but decided to drop out again. The struggle was calling. I decided to focus on full-time radical activism, fighting for farm workers’ rights in Skagit Valley, against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, for anarchist revolution in Los Angeles, and for community control of public space in Bellingham.

    All my experiences eventually brought me back to college, by choice this time, rather than by obligation, and they even landed me a job back in the public school system, doing youth-empowerment work in a diverse urban high school near Seattle. I still work at the school, and it feels like such a privilege to work with young people and to provide them support for the kinds of vulnerable, challenging reflection that I wasn’t encouraged to engage with until many years too late. In that job, I discovered my passion for education, and my desire to be a teacher.

    For me, every part of who I am is related to the story above. I love life tremendously, and I love sharing it with so many people, animals, and other living and non-living things. Sometimes the beauty is simple overwhelming. At the same time, ever since seventh grade, I just can’t ignore the ridiculous, inhumane, and sometimes unspeakable social systems and relationships that thousands of years of human history have built around us like a cage. I can’t pretend that racism ended with Martin Luther King Jr. or something. I can’t pretend that sexism faded in the 1970’s. I can’t pretend that poverty is on the downswing because the news is optimistic about the Dow or Nasdaq. I can’t ignore the realities of Iraq, Burma, Guatemala, Haiti. What I only viscerally felt in seventh grade, that something is terribly wrong in the world, I now know from experience and from research. Something is terribly wrong. Many things are terribly wrong, and they need to change. I want to be a force for that change, and for almost 11 years now I have tried. For me, that has meant participating in social movements that seek systemic transformation, that strive for the creation of new social institutions built on human cooperation, equality, and dignity. I’m not dogmatic, though. I recognize the possibility that I might not be on the exactly right path.

    Every day, I try to find that difficult balance between my deep appreciation for the beauty of this life and my deep outrage at the injustices of this society. For me, this is a kind of amazing dance between my heart and my mind. I know that I need both perspectives, that without one or the other, I would be hollow. I owe Christina for pushing me to the deep introspection that has brought me here.

    13 years ago, I didn’t know Christina’s name, but she did change my life. I will always carry shame inside me, knowing that her experience of me was probably not similarly beneficial. Whatever lessons I might have learned do not excuse how I treated her. I hope that somewhere she has forgiven me, but I would support her fully if she never does. All I can do is what any of us should do in the face of those inexcusable choices that we sometimes make when we try to solidify our status or our privilege: recognize my humanity, face forward toward my potential, and try once again to act vigorously for justice.

    Me and My Propagandhi Connection…

    “When all is said and done, just cuz we were young, doesn’t mean that we were wrong.”
    -Propagandhi, “Rock for Sustainable Capitalism”

    When I was 15 my brother bought me a pop-punk sampler CD for Christmas, and on that CD was a song by a political punk band called Propagandhi. The song was called “And we thought nation states were a bad idea…” and it was all about the rise of neo-liberalism. It gripped me tight. It opened my eyes to a whole new type of music and expression (before that my favorite band had been the Beatles), and one line just completely spoke to how I was feeling as I was becoming a young, angry anarchist: “And I’m just a kid! Can’t believe I have to worry about this kind of shit…what a stupid world!” I sang and screamed that song in my bedroom all winter in 1995.

    Ever since, I’ve had a deep connection to Propagandhi’s music. Well, actually, I think think their music isn’t very good. But there is something about their lyrics, and how they sing them that just speak to my exact feelings about the absurdity of our current society. I don’t think they’re the best band. They aren’t even my favorite band. But whenever I listen to them, I feel less lonely, more understood, and especially more grounded in why, after 13+ years, I’m still a radical.

    The quote at the beginning of my post is really ringing true for me lately. I’ve been thinking a lot about my teenage years, and my education as an activist. I am so proud of who I was, of my naivety and my deep desire to be a good person. I am proud of the poems and manifestos that I would write in my notebook. I still read them sometimes and I’m actually pretty impressed. I was a pretty sharp and sensitive kid…and actually way more open to later anti-racist and feminist politics than I sometimes give myself credit for.

    Just because we were young, doesn’t mean that we were wrong.

    Young Jeremy, I’m so, so happy for how you’ve grown up. I’m so happy for the choices you made and the thoughts you had…because you led me to where I am now, at 27. I’ve learned a hell of a lot that you didn’t imagine then. I don’t know what you’d think of my compromises. Married. Working. Still playing video games. Still eating meat. Still driving and wearing store-bought clothes. But I want you to know that I haven’t forgotten those things you used to tell yourself, those better lives and worlds that you used to dream while bouncing the tennis ball against the garage. I’m walking the path that you found for me…and I so wish we could just spend an hour or two together. It would be so fascinating to get your opinion of all that is happening right now.

    But instead, I’ll find you in the Propagandhi songs…because when I sing quietly on my walk to work, I can hear you faintly singing along.

    Embracing the Historical Moment

    I believe that right now we are living in an historical moment in the United States where anarchists and other like minded radical folks can have a tremendous impact on the future of our society. Conditions in the U.S. are such that we can feel the desire for social change in the air, and it goes far beyond the rise of Obama and the explosion of green marketing (though both of these are highly significant). Within activist circles we have accumulated a wealth of tools and historical lessons that allow us to engage in revolutionary politics in ways that are both effective and sustainable. Further, communications technology has evolved to such a point of speed and ease (with anarchist linux-masters at the helm of so many innovations!) that new actions, new experiments, new structures, and new models can spread within minutes across the world. If we are willing to step forward together, humbly yet confidently, unafraid of our politics and of their value to the people around us, we anarchists have the potential to do some incredible things in the 21st century.

    And when I say incredible things, I am not talking at all about advancing the anarchist “brand,” but instead about advancing anarchist politics. To be honest, I don’t care much at all about having more black flags at marches, or more anarchist bookfairs, or more media coverage of anarchists. I don’t care about people self-identifying more as anarchists, either. What I care about is that the politics that have made anarchism so special to me can be pushed to their limits, and that they can make their rightful contributions to the political struggles of the coming years. I don’t care who gets the credit, I don’t care what colors or symbols our groups have…I just want to participate in an ecosystem of social movements that practice the three values I discussed in part two. And I want it really, really bad!

    So, what should anarchism look like in the 21st century? What do I actually mean when I talk about pushing our politics to the edge?

    This is where I get overwhelmed with all that I want to say, and I’m not sure how to structure it. All the pieces are very interlocking, and I don’t think more of my standard numbered lists will do the trick. Perhaps I should go into a little speculative fiction to get us started…working backwards from just one possible future…

    Imagine a future U.S. (or former U.S.) in which massive social changes have already taken place. Multinational corporations no longer exist, and community/worker’s cooperatives control the vast majority of productive wealth. Political power is rooted strongly in well-organized local communities, and then filters from the bottom up as the scale of decisions gets more complex. Cultural and gender categories have been exploded to the point that one can’t speak about a dominant culture or gender or sexuality, so much as a multiplicity of inherited and chosen cultures, genders, and sexualities that are fluid, well represented in art and media and education, and celebrated across the society. The society has had discussions about disability and age as important parts of human existence and human diversity, and institutions have been restructured to maximize not only access but actual participation and influence in social institutions by young people, elderly people, and people with a wide range of disabilities. There are no longer one or two imperial nations, but instead we really live in a multi-polar patchwork of liberated nations, bioregional federations, free territories, plus maybe a few old school nation-state hold-outs. Most of all, imagine that this isn’t just one singular revolutionary reality that is equal across all communities. It is, as the Zapatistas say, a world where many worlds fit, and any block you visit, any town, city, bioregion could have wildly different cultures, food systems, work days, architectures, forms of resource distribution, public spending priorities. So much human potential that was trapped in sadistic, iron-spiked cells of oppression has now freed itself, and its vibrant colors flow across the landscape.

    This could be. This kind of society is possible. But how did our imaginary revolutionaries get from here to there?

    Whereas some Latin American, African, and Asian revolutionaries may have stories about long marches from the underground to the streets to the ballot boxes, and from there using the resources and machinery of state power to effect a slow transition to 21st century participatory socialism, I think U.S. revolutionaries, if they succeeded, would have a different story to tell:

    In the 21st century, with growing political, military, economic, and ecological crises, U.S. society finds itself fracturing. The power elite see their imperial hold on the world crumbling as previously subservient nations get defiant, as their multinational financial shell-games start falling apart, and as strategic resources get in shorter supply. Faced with this situation, they do what they do best, squeeze harder to keep their grip, lashing out like furious hydra at all possible threats to their dominance. About 25%-35% of the population of non-elites support this course, out of patriotism, fear for the safety and well-being of their families, or just an outright desire for their side to stay on top. But a huge number of people are feeling the strain, and they are looking for alternatives. They are tired of losing people in war, rising prices, lies and scandals from politicians, of seeing only straight white men in power, and are dead tired of so much violence, division and alienation around them. Changes in the climate are obvious and people are increasingly willing to make sacrifices and investments in order to stave off more natural disasters. A savvy bunch of power elites and politicians see this sentiment in the air, and they cater to this desire for change, with new green products and change-based campaign strategies. But their roots are the same as ever, and as long as actual political, cultural, and economic power fails to flow to ordinary people, a sizable number of those people aren’t buying what’s being sold to them. They had been fooled by false promises too many times before.

    Enter the anarchists, and other like-minded radicals. Reading the historical moment, we engage, en masse, in two forms of struggle, always in coalition with non-anarchists and often non-radicals: ongoing resistance to the policies and practices of the elite, and local neighborhood, school, church, and workplace organizing to build community, tackle tough issues, and, most importantly, to build a popular consciousness that the local is the root of people’s power, and that through local organization another world truly is possible. Since praxis makes perfect, in both poles of struggle anarchists focus their energy on inspiring people to experiment with participatory, interactive, and sustainable forms of organizing, forms of organizing that build concrete skills and bring concrete benefits to the community even when larger campaigns lose or blocs of people bail out. Anarchists also are always trying to link issues and connect the dots of power in our work, speaking to people’s moral sensibilities about how privilege and oppression keep us from doing all that we could be doing. In time, we come to be known and trusted as skilled, humble, conscientious, ever optimistic, and even pushy without being too annoying. Over time, people trust themselves more and more, and begin to exercise power in more and more different areas of their lives.

    We anarchists aren’t sneaky or manipulative in this work. We let people know who we are and what we believe. We don’t act like an anti-gentrification campaign or a community garden will bring a revolution, but we instead talk about local struggles as stepping stones in a movement…a movement whose endpoint is the building of lasting structures of community power. To this end, we talk regularly about the need for democratic communities to form, federate, and exercise power parallel to the state (or sometimes swallow up local government institutions entirely). Here we are explicit as well, supporting and proposing forms of organizing that have the potential to crystallize into these longer-lasting alliances and intentional community federations. There is no shadow-puppetry or cadre nonsense. We are, as some anarchist-communists say, a conscious minority. We say what we want, as fellow community members, and we engage and compromise with our fellow community members as we see fit.

    In time, the state and the elites see the threats and opportunities that our democratic communities represent, and they both repress and court them. We resist the repression of course, and use it as a rallying point for more communities to democratize and federate. As for the courting, this all depends on strategic decisions and compromises, and our communities work to negotiate from positions of strength. Eventually, there are politicians who have risen out of these communities to try to win state power, Chavez style, and our federations have to decide whether to support them or not. But regardless, our work as anarchists remains: let other people negotiate with the powerful, our role is to support people’s own sense of power and to encourage power-building at the grassroots…anything else is doing liberals, progressives, and socialists jobs for them.

    Through a combination of state power and local organizing, corporations are slowly limited and then dissolved. The military is democratized and the police are radically restructured and localized. The prison system is abolished and replaced with forms of transformative justice. At all points, we anarchists focus on the grassroots, encouraging our communities to keep the pressure on the state while never forgetting the local roots of power. We are always looking at the next visionary step, always looking for how to help people maximize their own skills and potential, rather than looking up at those with power. Our people are always down here, with us.

    And slowly, not easily, we start to have something that looks like the society we had dreamed about.

    This is, of course, just one fantastical speculation…but I think the core elements of a 21st century anarchism are contained within, regardless of how the actual process of struggle plays out. I think many of these elements are things that anarchists (and even more so, other radicals) are already doing, and I think others are things that we still have yet synthesized into our work. In coming blog entries, I want to pull out and discuss these elements, and definitely go deeper than this little sci-fi story goes.

    But overall, I believe that there are certain things that we can and should be doing to embrace the historical moment that we still aren’t quite doing…at least outside of certain pockets of the country.

    (To be continued…)

    Nepal…

    Quick aside from the anarchism stuff…

    In Nepal the Maoists who were engaged in armed struggle since 1996 have recently won a majority in the constitutional assembly, and just abolished the monarchy, giving the king just days to leave his palace before they convert it into a museum. WOW!

    I’ll be following this more closely in the future, as the Maoists are certain to have a clear majority in the government, and we’ll be able to see how radical socialists can transition from armed struggle just two years ago to state power (through elections!)…and we’ll get to see how they govern. With India and China right there, I hope they don’t get messed with too much…but then again I know nothing about the Nepalese struggle…so maybe I should do some research before I say too much more.

    [Note: Something happened to me when I wrote part one of this little series. So many ideas, many of them long suppressed, rushed back to me, demanding to be elaborated here. I’ve become overwhelmed by all of the things I want to say, and my original outline kind of stopped making sense. What this means is that I might take an even more episodic approach, with little self-contained sections rather than an essay style that has one section that transitions into the next. We’ll see. One great thing about blogging is that I don’t need to fret too much about my writing style…I just have to share my ideas however works best for me!]

    Overcoming Our Reluctance

    In my now almost 13 (!) years as an anarchist, I have noticed a pattern in anarchist circles that is both completely understandable and really unfortunate. I’ve noticed that anarchists broadly fall into two categories: the loud & proud anarchists, and the reluctant anarchists. Loud & proud anarchists are clear in their self-identification as anarchists, they tend to embrace the historic anarchist tradition, they often use historic anarchist symbols like the black flag and circle-A, and they are usually not afraid to talk about fighting a revolution, smashing the state, fucking capitalism, etc. They are also often open to bold and militant action, often without thinking too deeply about the consequences. Reluctant anarchists, on the other hand, tend to be ex-loud & proud anarchists who have since lost their desire to claim their “anarchisticity.” They have often been humbled by the amazing work of non-anarchist traditions, and/or have been embarrassed by the overall whiteness, straightness, punkness and unflinching militance of loud & proud anarchists, all to the point where self-identifying as an anarchist ceases to make sense or even brings up shame. Reluctant anarchists thus tend to spend more time among non-anarchists than other anarchists, they often eschew militant Anarchist action to engage in “progressive” work that loud & prouds might call reformist, many of them embrace anti-oppression and identity politics in ways that have strained their relationships with the mostly white, straight anarchist subculture, and they tend to only share their anarchism with the soft whisper of a closely guarded secret, or through code-words like anti-authoritarianism, or libertarian socialist.

    If the highly biased descriptions above didn’t make it clear, I fit squarely in the reluctant anarchist camp. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I tend to not like loud & proud anarchists, and I would generally choose to hang out with radicals of many other tendencies (revolutionary nationalists, women of color and white feminists, queer & trans liberationists, some types of marxists, green party folks, old new lefties) rather than hang out at the loud & proud anarchist infoshop. I think my reasons are pretty clear: I don’t feel comfortable in the loud & proud subculture; I don’t agree with the dusty, turgid politics of class war anarchists and I think primitivist green anarchism is just silly; I think that loud & prouds’ sense of intersections and anti-oppression analysis are really lacking; I don’t like the sectarian and alienating ways that many loud & prouds talk about non-anarchists; I think the militance-for-militance sake attitude is often not only strategically bankrupt but dangerous to our movement; when I am around them I feel judged for the way I dress and the way I approach process; and, more deeply, I feel embarrassed, on almost a bodily level, to be associated with them because they remind me of who I used to be and of so many of the mistakes I have made.

    But I don’t want to get hung up talking about loud & proud anarchists. I know I am over-generalizing, yet I also know that my sentiments are usually confirmed at every explicitly anarchist function I attend in the United States (maybe other countries are different?). Regardless, I am much more interested in talking about my folk, the reluctant anarchists. Because while there are definite reasons why well-meaning, critically thinking folks might choose to back away from the anarchist label, I think it can be costly to our politics. I think many of us reluctant anarchists lose some important things in the transition, which I think we might want to reclaim.

    In many cases (I think the Bay Area might be different, bless their cutting-edge radical souls), when we step back from anarchist politics, we reluctant anarchists enter into new political spaces that take away our edge. We enter into the non-profit sector and learn important skills that we might not have even thought about before; we enter into coalition-based campaign work and realize that demanding a vague revolution is way, way different than fighting for specific, winnable demands (although groups like the Northeast Federation of Anarchist Communists seem to have learned that lesson while maintaining their anarchism, good for them!); we go to school and conferences and study groups and learn about analyses of the system that traditional anarchist sources don’t even touch. Sooner or later we have learned so much more from other places and traditions that it feels silly to still call ourselves anarchists…

    …yet for many of us that loyalty still remains. We still feel something there bonding us to “the idea” (as the Spanish anarchists used to call it), but we often chalk it up to nostalgia, nothing more. Yet I think our instincts are right. There is something in anarchism that most of our new non-anarchist spaces aren’t quite matching, and the blurrier that something gets, the more we stand to lose. I think that in far too many cases, we slowly begin lose the revolutionary, utopian, deeply democratic values and ideals that originally drew us to anarchism, that make anarchism so special, and we end up settling into the goals and values of the new spaces we occupy, at the price of our revolutionary edge.

    For me, there are three sort of basic things about anarchism that make it important to me:

    1) Its deep faith in individual human beings, and its utopian belief in the kind of society that human beings can construct by working together. This is what gives anarchism its profound and beautiful interplay between the social and the individual, between individual human desire and expression and collective solidarity. This is what makes Crimethinc stuff so appealing to so many, I think, and it is also what makes anarchists generally the life of the party. Unlike so many others, we actually have a sense of entitlement to a much better world, and we aren’t afraid to say that. Many people have never even been asked what kind of better world they could have, yet anarchism takes pride in its utopianism. It urges us to dream in ways that even revolutionary socialists can’t often match. That dreaminess is contagious. And it shouldn’t be dismissed lightly.

    2) Its profound rejection of all forms of illegitimate authority and oppression. Anarchism has, within the very roots of the word itself, a strong foundation for a holistic, anti-oppression analysis. While anarchism has historically been the tradition of certain, sometimes privileged groups, and while it has historically focused on capitalism and the state at the expense of other systems of oppression, there is no lack of powerful stories of anarchists in queer and trans liberation struggles, animal rights struggles, anti-racist and anti-imperialist struggles, abolitionist struggles, disability right struggles, and more. Some of the founders of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence are anarchists…and I don’t think that’s just a coincidence for how radically grassroots and revolutionary some of their ideas are. Same for Critical Resistance. Anarchism has always had an anti-oppression streak to it, and potentially now in 21st century more than ever.

    3) Its commitment to actually practicing the values we share as we fight for the society that we want.
    Anarchism doesn’t hold pragmatism above all else, unlike so many other political tendencies and spaces. Instead anarchism holds its values above all, and it urges us to practice our ethics in the here and now rather than waiting for a revolution or a winning of state power. We are called to build the new world in the shell of the old, to experiment here and now with grassroots democracy, with socialist resource sharing, with gender-norm fucking, with new communal arrangements. This is where anarchism gets its militance from, because we are the ones we’ve been waiting for…if not us, who? If not now, when? Anarchism pushes us to avoid rock-stars, demagogues, and experts. It demands that we listen for the quietest and we look to the smallest. It is also why anarchists can feed the homeless for free from dumpsters, why anarchists knew how to fix bikes better than anyone when everyone else was still driving, why they have lovely gardens…the DIY ethic is a deeply anarchist ethic, and it is shame when reluctant anarchists get re-tied to consumerist, wasteful, ultra-pragmatic spaces when we leave anarchism behind.

    These three things are what make me continue on as an anarchist. It doesn’t matter whether we use the anarchist label or not, but I think building a 21st century anarchism is all about reclaiming these three basic values and principles, and then building off of them using all of the vast resources we’ve acquired in non-anarchist spaces. Through innovation and exploration and synthesis, I believe we are capable of new levels of revolutionary work in the U.S., and that is what I want to get into next time. Leaving behind our reluctance, there is some work to do.

    During the 2005 World Social Forum in Brazil, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez helped put socialism back on the geopolitical menu by declaring himself in favor of “socialism for the 21st century.” He claimed that his previous belief in a “third way” between capitalism and socialism was mistaken, and he envisioned a new path toward socialism that would not repeat the mistakes of failed past experiments. In a climate of deep and accelerating disillusionment with neoliberal capitalism, a major world leader made the “S-word” a little bit safer to say, and he fired up the imagination of millions who saw the possibility of a new direction for Latin America and the world.

    Chávez’ words fired me up, too, along with so many of his speeches and declarations since. As I have gushed about many times on this blog, the Venezuelan/Latin American process toward socialism is no joke; there is something real happening there, and it fills me with a deep, warm hope. There is no question that they are doing it their own way, with all of the questions, and blunders, and contradictions that it entails. Indeed, all over Venezuela, South America, the global south, and the world, people are carrying out experiments in participatory democracy, and in community and worker control of resources. As the long winter of U.S. imperialism gives way to a multi-polar spring, these experiments are poised to bloom like thousands of beautiful flowers. Chávez’ words were a powerful recognition of this visionary reality, and a vital endorsement (many would say co-optation) of its revolutionary potential. For me personally, they made me feel like I wasn’t crazy for being a radical.

    But this brings up a simple but very dangerous problem that I want to confront here. It’s the problem of–to use Tom Cruise’s fluid and profound Scientology vocabulary–Spectatorism. It does very little good to simple watch and romanticize and ooh and aah about the struggles and victories of folks across the world. One should not only maintain a critical eye for the differences between rhetoric and reality, but more importantly, one should use the inspiring examples of others to push against one’s own edges (what that wonderful man Paulo Freire called one’s “limit situations”) and grow to new levels of revolutionary work. I don’t want to be only a spectator of the beautiful work of the Venezuelan revolution, or of the Zapatistas, or of the militant South Korean trade unions, or of U.S. groups like INCITE! or Critical Resistance. I don’t want to be just a revolutionary consumerist, reading my Left Turn and listening to my Blue Scholars while I rent eye-opening documentaries on Netflix.

    While I am still here sharing this life with you, while my mind still feels clear and my hands, feet and body still serve me, while my bank account is healthy and while I feel so much love and support from so many directions, I want to be of use. I want to make as big as contribution as I can. And when or if all of those things go, I want to still contribute just as much, if not more.

    If Chávez’ speech is just greeted with a spectator’s excitement (or boredom or cynicism), then it is guaranteed to become what some fear: another example of revolutionary work being co-opted by top-down leaders at the expense of authentic grassroots democracy. But if Chávez’ speech is greeted as a challenge, as an invitation (whether intended by Hugo or not) to make our mark and give our 2 cents to the revolutionary project, then we can really get somewhere. I choose the latter. And here I want to confront my Spectatorism a little bit by talking about how we can build (in fact, are building!!!) a 21st century anarchism in the U.S. that can parallel the Bolivarians’ 21st century socialism.

    (To be continued…)

    So, I can’t bring myself to talk about myself right now on the blog, so instead I’ll talk about politics.

    A lot has happened while I’ve been away, and there is a lot that I’d like to cover (Burma, gender justice, the US anti-war movement, immigration justice, and so much more), but I want to make sure that I cover that which I’ve been best at covering: shifts in power in Latin America.

    About a month ago, Rafael Correa’s leftist coalition in Ecuador triumphed in their elections to the constitutional assembly. They have more than a sufficient majority to write any constitution they want, and the draft of the constitution that they are discussing is really promising. They are heading toward a similar kind of “socialism for the 21st century” as Venezuela…not the neo-liberal stuff of Chile and Brazil. I’m excited about this process, and I think they have a lot more momentum in their favor than the constitutional assembly in Bolivia, which is just having a really, really hard time right now.

    At the beginning of November, the center-leftist Alvaro Colom defeated the right wing ex-general (and school of the Americas graduate, and ex-head of the secret police) Otto Perez Molina, to become the president-elect of Guatemala. It’s so weird, Glendi and I have actually seen him speak in person, so I’ve been within 15 feet of the future president of Guatemala! I wasn’t hopeful during his campaign, but his victory speech was so directly tied to his ideas and his social-democratic ideology, and his follow-up announcements as well, that I believe that he does want to bring change to the country. Also, in a Telesur interview they asked him if he’s a leftist, and he said something like, “if being against neo-liberalism, which has brought so much misery to Latin America makes me a leftist, then yes, I’m a leftist.” That was impressive. He also declared that he would have normal, friendly relations with Cuba and Venezuela, and is already set to discuss petroleum deals with Hugo Chavez in December! This is a good sign…he’s not playing to the powerful by distancing himself from the Latin American left. He’s also not afraid to reference Jacobo Arbenz, the last lefty or center-lefty that Guatemala’s had…who was ousted in a coup in 1954. I’ll keep blogging about Colom, but for now I’m enthusiastic.

    On December 2, Venezuelans will vote on new constitutional reforms…69 of them in total (voted in two bloques). These are designed to “deepen” and “accelerate” the move towards socialism and popular power. The media has focused primarily on the reforms which would allow indefinite re-election of Chavez, and which would allow for certain democratic liberties to be suspended in states of emergency…and I think there is real room to criticize these. However, the reforms also include major strengthening of the super-democratic communal councils, prohibition of discrimination against LGBTQ people, social security for informal workers, lowering the voting age to 16, a 36 hour work-week, free education through the university level, separating popular militias from the military command…and more. I think it’s certain that if this passes (and polls are all over the place on this one), the process in Venezuela really will change significantly. That country is moving!

    In Paraguay, a popular ex-bishop, who is rooted in liberation theology, Fernando Lugo, is running for president and is ahead in the polls. They call him “the red bishop.” Elections aren’t until 2008, so we’ll see. But this looks really promising.

    Also promising is Mauricio Funes, a respected long-time journalist in El Salvador who is now running for president with the ex-guerrila group, the FMLN. He has a really strong chance of winning, and watching videos of him on youtube, I totally think he’s got what it takes. If he wins, then Central America will definitely be considered as part of the leftist trend in Latin America. Right now, it’s too much of a mixed bag to tell. Now come on Mexico! Must we wait until the 2012 elections for you to go left, or might you have a revolution before that?

    This was just a little update. In future weeks I’ll want to write more about Venezuela, and maybe about Colom, but for now this is fine. I’m just trying to get in the habit of writing again.

    Hope you all are doing well!

    Here We Go Again…

    Hi there,

    First off, my apologies to those who have commented and who have not yet received a response. Please be patient with me.

    Second, you really should read this article about the battle for Bolivia’s future, and then read the Movement Toward Socialism’s Vision for a New Bolivia. This is really promising, I think.

    Third, and most importantly, I leave for Guatemala on Friday! Glendi and I will be coming back to the U.S. together on Saturday, June 30th. My life is about to radically change at the end of this week. Wow. I am excited, nervous, stressed, scared, and then excited again. It’s a whirlwind, as one can imagine.

    The good thing is that I have lots of support. Many people have emailed me or called me with support, and many people also are supporting me face to face. Moreover, talking with Glendi every night is really grounding and relaxing, as is talking with her family, who are definitely sad right now, thinking about saying goodbye to her for a good number of months.

    But the hardest thing is having no clue about what I’m going to be doing for us to be able to live come the fall. I’m really leaning against going back to school right now. It just doesn’t feel right, and it will be expensive. At the same time, I don’t have a sustainable job anymore at the high school (they still want my work, but don’t have the money…can anyone point me to any grants or fellowships?)…so the big question is “What Now?” I don’t know, but I think it involves getting more focused on concrete organizing and pushing my politics, and thus maybe even looking for a more brain-free kind of job just to pay the bills. We’ll see.

    I just took a break from cleaning the apartment in preparation for Glendi in order to write this entry. Perhaps I should get back to work.

    More to come, I hope.

    Read this now.

    If you understand Spanish, you can then watch the whole National Assembly debate here, and it is amazing. It’s history in the making, a major victory for the Venezuelan revolutionary process, and a clear sign of the kind of deep debate that many Bolivarians are willing to accept and are pushing for down there. What an incredible blow against the opposition.

    You also should check venezuela analysis to read some other new articles about the progress of the revolution, and especially the article about communal power vs. capitalism…it’s all so exciting.

    I’m doing well. VERY busy, but doing well.

    Well, as you can imagine I’ve been busy in my personal life, and I haven’t updated the blog in a little while.

    In the meantime, however, I have been keeping up with current events, and I have been especially intrigued by how closely U.S. mainstream media is following the situation in Venezuela regarding the decision to not renew the broadcasting license of RCTV (think of a network like NBC, and the government deciding to not renew its license at the expiration date), and to replace the channel with a new public broadcasting channel called TVes. RCTV was one of the biggest media opponents of Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution, they were involved in the coup in 2002, among other things, and lately there have been major protests over this issue, and on Sunday there were violent demonstrations that left both protesters and police injured.

    Things are heating up down there, as is coverage in U.S. media, and I want to analyze it a bit…but no today. I just got home from work and I’m tired. But I do want to encourage folks to visit venezuelaanalysis.com to catch up on your own. This situation could turn out to be significant.

    I support the government’s decision in this case, and following the discourse about plans for the new channel has actually been quite inspiring. Just imagine one of the big capitalist networks losing public airwaves and those airwaves being given to independent, participatory, community media (that is, this will be independent public media, not state media). That’s something I could get being. These public airwaves networks are essentially examples of corporate welfar anyway, in my view.

    More later.

    Over the last few days, Guatemalan presidential candidate Rigoberta Menchú and her political alliance have begun to discuss their plans for Guatemala, should they win. However, they are saying that they won’t officially announcement their programs and plans until next week.

    What they have hinted at, though, is pretty interesting in my opinion. Crucially, they are calling for constitutional reform, including the possible convocation of a constitutional assembly, to “build a new republic.” While possibly not as ambitious as Evo, Correa, or Chávez, it is an interesting parallel.

    Further, they discuss guaranteeing indigenous political participation and gender equality in political parties, regulating property, reforming the intelligence services (notorious in their brutality) to come under democratic control, redefining the role of the military, fighting corruption and crime, reforming the economy and tax system, and more and more and more.

    As of like two weeks ago, Menchú was in 4th place with only like 5%, but the most popular, Alvaro Colom, only has like 25%, and the campaigns only officially started last week. The majority of Guatemalans are indigenous, and so if Menchú can energize indigenous communities, I think she could possibly have a shot at second place, thus being a part of the second round, against Colom. This would be really interesting, with Guatemala facing a turn even slightly leftward for the first time in half a century.

    Guatemala doesn’t have the kind of social movement strength that Ecuador or Bolivia had in electing their presidents. It is very much still a traumatized society, from everything I’ve observed and read. So maybe there just won’t be a strong lefty government there for a long time. But even a non-corrupt social democratic government, which can build even basic civil institutions (like a tax system, a real justice system, school systems, health care, etc.) would be a massive improvement. I do think that Colom’s center-left UNE is corrupt, but they also have a very strong infrastructure and they can also possibly win a lot of congressional strength, so I don’t think even their win would be so, so bad. At least they could get some institutional functionality out of it.

    I’ll write in more detail about the campaign and compare the candidates as things build. But for now I’m just glad that ambitious language like “new republic” and “constitutional assembly” are being discussed. People in Guatemala don’t trust the system. That’s why talking about going beyond or outside the system is refreshing to me…and hopefully will be refreshing to the indigenous base. But the deeper question is, do indigenous Guatemalans trust Menchú or think she’s a sell out, and do they believe in her electability enough to vote for her instead of Colom (who also has his base amongst indigenous people)?

    In the writings section I’ve just uploaded a college reflection paper, in which I wrote about an INCITE! event I had attended back in 2005 (in New Orleans, before Katrina…), but more broadly about the perspective that I had about INCITE! as an organization at that time.

    I wanted to share this with folks because on this blog, but even more in emailing with some blog readers, I’ve been thinking a lot about questions of identity-based politics and identity-based spaces within revolutionary politics. I do not think that the INCITE! paper reflects all of my current thinking about either the organization or the larger questions, but I do think it is provocative.

    In our class the other day we were having a discussion about the N-word and who is allowed to say it, and who isn’t. In the class, some of our students showed a clip from a documentary called “The N-Word,” and in it Chris Rock makes an observation about how white people are often so intent on their right to say it, precisely BECAUSE it is the one thing that white people are not allowed to say. I think the point holds so much truth, and I think it’s just one example of entitlement around privilege (think also about men demanding, every year, to march in some Take Back The Night! marches…I know that it’s different from the N-word, especially thinking about trans folks and about male survivors of sexual violence, but among some males I think there is an entitlement thing going on around the demand to march). I recognized then in writing the piece and now still that entitlement plays a part in my own reflections on INCITE!, but I really do think my thinking and feelings go deeper than that in this case. I genuinely want to be a part of a large revolutionary organization with deep, complex anti-authoritarian politics. I believe my radical work would be so much stronger if it was linked in a structure with other like minded folks. It makes me sad that I don’t have that kind of group right now.

    I have a right to that sadness, while I also have the responsibility to join with folks to do something about it…

    …which means MARCHING INTO INCITE! MEETINGS AND DEMANDING THAT THEY LET ME JOIN!!! SI SE PUEDE, SI SE PUEDE!!!…

    …no, of course not. It means organizing with other anti-racist white folks, other feminist men, etc…to try to build supporting radical structures that are actually worth the time and energy of groups like INCITE! to work with us. The burden is on the privileged to build new organizing structures, and to transcend old, unworkable models of “allyship” and “solidarity.”

    …Which is something I’ll be blogging further about in coming days. In the meantime, check out the piece in the writing section.

    PS Had another staff meeting today. Things are still a big mess. All bets are off. The decision has been postponed until next Tuesday. I’m so sick of waiting…I’m just moving forward as if we don’t have a job there, and maybe we’ll be pleasantly surprised. It’s more important to work with the students and help them build their initiative and structures until the end of the year. And so that’s what we’ll keep doing.

    Meanwhile, in Bolivia…

    I just read this article and it just showed me how little I know about what is happening in Bolivia.

    Before Evo was elected, I was following the Bolivian movements daily, but then I kind of shifted gears and just looked for what Evo and his government have been doing, with less attention to the movements. That is, I shifted my attention up the hierarchy. This was a mistake, and now I feel very disconnected from the changes being made in that country. This is especially sad because of the uniquely indigenous characteristics of Bolivia and its movements, which are important in themselves, but which are also important for one of the other Latin American countries with a majority indigenous population: Guatemala.

    The idea of de-constructing and re-constructing a country away from 500 year old colonial roots is a massive one. I imagine that the debates happening in Bolivia are really profound and rich. The problem is that unlike with Venezuela, I don’t know what the good websites are. Perhaps I need to do some research.

    Last week, Rafael Correa, the president of ecuador gave a brief and hastily organized press conference in which he spoke out strongly against the actions of his brother, Fabricio, to create a new “Correaist” organization, called the RCD movement (citizens democratic revolution…but also Rafael Correa’s initials). This organization was organized in support of the president, with aims of participating in the constitutional assembly, but the president called it ridiculous and absurd, saying that the revolution needs to be based not on family ties and personalities, and not a cult of personality, but in the power of the people.

    He repeated in a variety of ways about the need for unity and not dividing into new groups, as well as his rejection of the cult of personality, and his rejection of tying Ecuador’s “magical moment” up with his personality or that of his family, or with an organization, or with the government, insisting instead that Ecuador’s moment should be seen as a time for the people, once the people have awoken. He has also specifically said that he doesn’t want to hear anyone calling themselves “Correistas.” Hmmm….interesting.

    I have said many times that I like this guy. Now I like him even more. Similar strategies and politics and bravery as Chavez, but very different stylistically, and I think it will have implications for the future.

    But I should note something else interesting here, and that is the class differences between Correa and Chavez. Correa is Univeristy of Chicago educated, middle class. Chavez is a working-class ex-soldier. Correa’s style seems different, more moderated, more…well…middle class. Whereas Chavez speaks in a much more working class style…which can actually draw some comparisons with George W. Bush, style-wise…at least in that he is speaking to his base and not to the intelligentsia (although I don’t think Chavez is faking it). I enjoy listening to Chavez speak, because he packs a hell of a lot of substance into all of his speeches (he always seems to have a book ready to pick up and talk about…like it’s an episode of Reading Rainbow or something…I’ve never seen any other world leader do that), but his style can also be really annoying to me, and I want to think some more about why that is. It definitely irks me and my anarchist tendencies, but there is more going on than that, I’m sure.

    But still, this press conference by Correa really interested me, although I’d bet there is some other stuff going on behind the scenes with his brother. Only time will tell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Read this now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    One Week…No Post…

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

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

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

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

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

    Hope y’all are well.

    Quick read about Bolivia’s Morales…

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

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

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

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

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

    More good news from Ecuador…

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

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

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

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

    Venezuela: Some Kind of Dictatorship, Huh?

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

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

    Interesting Local Action…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Rigoberta Menchu and Chavez Updates…

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

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

    Nerd Stuff: Music…and the Democrats…

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

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

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

    Hugo and Barbara…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Chavez’s New United Socialist Party…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Thankfully, though, I met some feminists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    So suck on that, Macaulay Culkin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Latino men. That was the issue. Period.

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

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

    “Sir, we don’t ask.”

    “Well, then you’re supporting criminals!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Viva Casa Latina…

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

    Art, Poetry, and Changing the World…

    Well, I just got back from an amazing youth poetry slam and on my way home I was crafting a post about it. I was going to write about how, for me, poetry is the closest I feel to a revolutionary spirituality, a kind of deep, whole sharing of ourselves, our subjectivities, within a shared context. We are all there, and we get to watch as the center is shifted from person to person, with new stories and perspectives and ways of connecting us to something powerful through language, and intonation, and movement.

    So, that was what I was going to write about…but then I read my friend Andrew’s blog and he, amazingly, has said much of what I was going to say. That is a neat bit of serendipity. It kind of made my day. Please read that entry, and then keep reading his blog, because he’s a sharp and dedicated fellow.

    In other news, Seymour Hersh was on Democracy Now! today, that was interesting.

    Venezuela’s Vice President gave a great speech at the anniversary of the “Caracazo”, the anti-globalization uprising in 1989 that arguably kicked off the current revolutionary process. Once again, he talked about how the communal councils will become the new form of government of Venezuela, a communal socialist government. He also talked specifically about how if the government tries too hard to direct or manage the “explosion of popular power” it will only kill popular power; and about how the government needs to get out of the offices and into the streets. This is a good sign, but of course time will tell.

    I’m searching daily for more news about Rigoberta Menchu, but right now the Guatemalan media is more focused on the brutal killing of 3 Salvadoran congress people by Guatemalan police officers. Clearly it’s a really big deal, whether it is related to organized crime, or the state, or whatever.

    Maybe someday I will write a poem and post it here. I did write poetry in high school. Even did some slams and had a show downtown. But then I just stopped, and for some reason it feels hard to start again. But that’s how it felt to write in this blog, too.

    Random Things…

    It’s really interesting to me how the entire flavor and texture of life can change simply by changing the ways in which we engage ourselves in it.  Just by writing in this blog again I feel so many parts of myself are opening up in other parts of my life, and I feel like my mind and senses are getting sharpened.

    I’ve started working alot in the garden of my 6-person collective house.  We’ve been tearing up weeds and digging some paths and then laying down bricks and gravel to make them pretty.  Yesterday I helped install a low fence made out of old bicycle wheels dug halfway into the ground.  I’m also renovating our greywater system, which recycles shower water through  series of sand filters, into a small bathtub pond which then filters the water more, until it is ready to go through a hose and water the garden.  It’s neat.  Also I’m talking with my housemates more, eating better, being better with email correspondence (including writing to some old friends).  I’m applying to grad school to get my master’s in teaching (maybe).  I’m more focused at work (sometimes).  And I’m more present with my friends, family, housemates, and partner.  This blog is some kind of amazing medicine for me.  And it’s an addiction.  I come home from work and I just want to write in it, but then I stop myself because I realize that I would just be writing about work all the time.  So it’s better to pause, think, and wait before I just write whatever.

    So, now for some random things I learned today:

    -Just read Seymour Hersh’s new article (look, I can do links now, thanks Dave!) in the New Yorker about the administrations shifting foreign policy in the Middle East.  Damn.  So it looks like we’re covertly siding with Sunnis in order to contain the Shiites, to the point of financing radical Sunnis (like Al Quaeda allies???) to attack Hezbollah, etc…all of this running without congressional knowledge through the Vice Presidents office? Wow!  Now that’s sinister!

    -Today the socialist president of Ecuador,  Rafael Correa (remember, I like this guy), ordered the military to make itself useful by providing for the public good, in an emergency order to build and repair the highway system, using the money that was slated to be used to pay the foreign debt.  This is important for two reasons: 1) Because Correa is making good on his promise to prioritize the “social debt” of the country over the foreign debt, and 2) Because Correa is playing like Chavez in trying to integrate the military into a protagonistic, civil role in the transformational process.  Very, very smart.  Arbenz and Allende fell not solely for lack of military support, but it was part of it, so this is good stuff.  By the way, Correa also has insisted on having a woman as the defense minister.  Even after the first one was killed in a plane crash, he made sure that her replacement would be a woman.  ALSO, he refused to allow anyone call his wife the first lady (primera dama), because he says it is sexist.

    -There is an article here about Chavez and his environmental projects.  It’s a bit propagandistic, though I tend to like Eva Golinger’s writing.  This is a bit much, considering that there are still major critiques to be made of the Venezuelan governments oil projects, industrial projects, and ambitious pipeline projects.  Some more perspective, please, Eva.

    -Didn’t play any Star Chamber today.  I was too tired from work to concentrate.  Plus it’s more fun to read the news on the internet.

    -Watched the Oscar-winning Melissa Ethridge song on you tube…and I just started crying all over the place.  That would be a longer blog post to explain why (the last post can give you an idea, I think).  This world is just so, so beautiful and we deserve so, so much better.  Does global social transformation really need to be so hard?
    Darn you power elite for always being such sticks in the mud!

    I have nothing particularly profound to say tonight, but I had a hard day that has only gotten harder as it has progressed. And the thing is that all of it has involved watching other people who I care about who are hurting.

    Don’t want to be naive guy here, but why are so many people hurting? Why are so many people so lonely, or self-doubting, or, just tired of living?

    Sometimes I just sit here, in my bed, and I just look up at the ceiling and I think about how seriously, deeply fucked up our society really is. I try to allow the enormity of it pass over me. I don’t care what cynical folks say, or post-oppression folks, or folks who make themselves feel smart by being dismissive of rage and sadness at the world…I don’t care what they say because I, even with all of my happy times and great privileges, can see just how totally senseless this place is. Not the world, because the WORLD is beautiful. But our SOCIETY…

    Senseless. Without fucking sense.

    And it’s amazing how many people there are who get paid, who get degrees, who build status and careers all trying to explain this mess, to package it as THE way, trying to argue how it’s good for us, that this is the best of all possible worlds. Well, perhaps so, but it still sucks…and it could be a whole lot better.

    To all of you who I know or who know me and who are in pain, I love you. I love you from the core of me, from my baby self through my wide-eyed toddler self and beyond. You may not believe me and that’s part of the problem, huh? And I am sorry. And if I’m a part of the pain then I hope you really know that I’m sorry.

    When I was little I just wanted to cuddle up with the Snuggles Detergent bear. I just wanted to lay in those soft warm towels with that cute little bear. Boy, have I seen alot since then.

    The 5 Motors of the Venezuelan Revolution…

    Right now, the Venezuelan government is using some really consistant messaging regarding its objectives and plans in its “march toward socialism,” framing much of their current work in terms of “5 motors” that will speed Venezuela like a locomotive towards their socialist future.

    These motors are (and you can see an interesting graphic in Spanish here: http://www.minci.gob.ve/motores/62/11852 ):

    1) The enabling law: “The direct route to socialism.” This is the law that will allow Chavez to pass certain laws without congressional approval for 18 months. The argument is that there are many people in the National Assembly who claim to be Chavistas (the whole assembly is filled with Chavez supporters, since the oppisition backed out of the last elections in a bid to discredit the process…and because they knew they were going to lose anyway) but who will hold back and sabotage the process, and so Chavez says he needs this so that the people don’t have to wait any longer for the changes they are demanding…this is the argument, anyway.

    2) Constitutional reform: “A socialist state of law.” Chavez has called for the election of a new constitutional assembly to change the constitution to make it more in-line with a socialist nation…that is, stronger labor rights, and especially they are talking about highlighting “social property” rights over private property rights. The new constitution will have to be approved through a national referendum.

    3) Morals and enlightment: “Education with socialist values.” Chavez’ brother Adan seems to be in charge of this one, and it’s a massive educational project to push the country in a socialist direction culturally and ideologically. It will affect the public school system as well as the universities and I also imagine that it will involve “promoters” or trained organizers who will be pushing for socialist ethics in their communities and workplaces…it’s essentially training to create a socialist mass base.

    4) The new geometry of power: “The socialist reordering of the geopolitics of the nation.” This is about transforming government infrastructure (as well as foreign policy relationships) to get rid of old structures and bureaucracies that ostensibly are slowing the process down, and to form basically a new Venezuelan state that is in line with their notion of “21st century socialism.”

    5) Explosion of communal power: “Protagonistic democracy, revolutionary and socialist!” This is what I was talking about earlier…transforming the state by basing it much more strongly in local, grassroots communal power through communal councils. The vice president has been talking alot about this lately, telling the communal councils more or less to get ready to become the new government.

    Now let me be clear that most of these both excite me and scare me. They excite me because they are a new discussion of socialism that is consciously post-Soviet, in that they consistantly and explictly declare that they don’t want to be like Russia, China, or Cuba…and that they don’t want to have Bolshevik or Stalinist structures (Chavez himself speaks very well about these historic lessons). They excite me because 2 years ago Chavez had just barely mentioned socialism in a World Social Forum speech, and now it’s plastered all over the government websites…that is, they are rapidly speeding up and radicalizing. But they scare me because it is a massive, powerful state with a strong figurehead, and so many of these “motors” can easily just be methods for indoctrination and solidification of state control. What is socialist education? Because of US cold war brainwashing, it seems almost inherently totalitarian…but really it’s also what I really would like to see. It all depends on the actual content of what these motors are. What kinds of laws will Chavez fast-track? How will the new constitution be different? What are socialist values? On the values question, I’ve seen Adan Chavez speak on youtube and stuff and it seems like they are trying to challenge notions like competition, speculation, profit-seeking, egoism…maybe even machismo and racism. This could be powerful education…or it could just be indoctrination into patriotism and loyalty to the state. We have to wait and see.

    But this brings me back to why I’m most excited: because of that 5th motor. The explosion of popular power is the final motor because the government sees it is the most important and final step…the transition from a top-down statist past (and process) towards a new Venezuela based in grassroots popular power. That’s not me projecting my anarchist wishes…that is how these folks actually talk. The discourse is about popular power, the 5th motor is the goal. And if that really is true, if that desire is authentic, then I believe that grassroots energies can keep Chavez’ ego in check and keep the state in check so that the revolution doesn’t get diverted into yet another form of state domination. This is what’s interesting about the Venezuelan process: that their strategy is so based in activating and inspiring the grassroots base to take up more space and initiate more projects (they support grassroots indymedia, Chavez has called on workers to take over their factories, etc…). Now I’ve read so often that this kind of thing is common in the early years of revolutions, then the state gets scared of the people and clamps down, so I’m still waiting and watching for that other shoe to drop.

    And in many ways it already has. The Venezuelan process is also really gross in many ways, beyond the cult of personality. The oil politics create a lot of contradictions with ecological values. Indigenous rights are not respected as much as is claimed, especially regarding industry and land use. Abortion is still illegal (although hopefully not for long). Anarchist critics of the state are harassed and lumped together with the right-wing opposition…and many times criticism of Chavez is treated as a no-no. I have heard from a number of people that Chavez is quite a womanizer (he’s separated from his wife…his second wife). The government is spending billions on new weapons (perhaps justified but the military presence really is strong down there), etc.

    I am an excited yet critical supporter of this whole thing. History tells us that this great experiment can only end badly, as all other experiments with state-driven revolution have. But not all revolutions end in dictatorship…so even if the powers that be do settle in and slow down the Venezuelan process before it truly bares fruit…at least the people might get some new schools and hospitals out of it. But imagine, just imagine, if they actually manage to form an entirely new kind of country out of it. New forms of decision-making and participation. New forms of economic production, consumption, and exchange….

    Oil money and modern online tools for information-sharing and democratic decision-making might make it possible. I hope, I hope, I hope!

    Hooray, the Right Wing is Divided!

    Just read an article on the front page of today’s New York Times, which talks about this shady conservative group called the Council for National Policy (it includes such right-wing heroes as Tim LaHaye, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Paul Weyrich…real good guys), who are typically a major Republican power…but at their latest meeting they left feeling frustrated because they don’t trust any of the major candidates for the Republican nomination. McCain, Guiliani, and Romney aren’t authentically conservative for them.
    In other words, the Right wing is divided. They don’t have a unity candidate like W any more, and so the infighting is likely to be a lot more brutal this time around. And hopefully this means that they lose in ’08, but we’ll see.

    I Love You, Venezuela…

    When I was 14, I kind of decided that I wanted to be a revolutionary.

    That decision transformed my life.

    Being who I am, with all of the privileges associated with a white, male, middle-class identity, I have always just been sure that I will see global revolution in my lifetime…just like other kids of my identity were sure that they could become doctors and politicians and businessmen. The mythology of our culture is, after all, that we can do anything we put our minds to…I just applied that to global social transformation. And that has always made me one of the most optimistic radicals that I know.

    Well recently I’ve been talking with old radical friends and we get to talking about we’ve grown and changed and settled and compromised…and we get to talking about hope, and I say, “yeah, I feel like I have more hope for revolution now than I’ve ever had before.”

    …and they just kind of stare at me. Or can’t believe it.

    And really, to respond, I only need one word: Venezuela.

    There is something magical happening in Venezuela. It is the magic that happens when the energies and aspirations and minds of millions of ordinary people are awakened into social movements. There is a genuine revolution happening there. And it is speeding up so fast that I don’t think the English translators have caught up yet.

    It’s not all about Hugo Chavez. Yes, he is the leader, the icon, the figurehead…yes he has tons of power (and now more with the “enabling law” which allows him to fast-track new laws without approval from congress)…and yes there is a gross cult of personality around him (seriously, it’s really gross). But it really isn’t all about him. What he symbolizes, what he talks about, and what he is trying to create is not all about him…it is literally about giving power to the people. I know that sounds weird…especially coming from an anarchist. But it’s the truth.

    From the beginning, Chavez has said that to end poverty power must be given to the poor, and since the beginning he and his people have been transforming Venezuelan infrastructure to open up more spaces for popular participation and organization.

    Down there, the discourse is very lively around democracy. WAY more lively than here. Unlike supporting Hillary or Obama or McCain or whatever, down there supporting Chavez implies wanted to actually be A PART of the process. They are very critical of representative democracy down there. They talk a lot more about participatory and DIRECT democracy.

    And institutionally, these new forms of democracy are blossoming. The Venezuelan state is massively funding new Communal Councils…which are directly elected and recallable councils that represent 200-400 families only…and they are being given state funds to improve their own communities…also there is more and more talk about workers councils…about democracy in schools…about participatory budgets. The discussion of economic democracy and Socialism is now mainstream in Venezuela. The movement toward democratic socialism is now a mainstream debate…and it is a fiery one.

    What I see in Venezuela is millions of people engaged in a very messy process that a lot of people outside of Venezuela don’t really understand (and I KNOW that I don’t fully understand it…but I’m reading about it, in Spanish, every day). It is a process that my radical friends and I have only been dreaming about…but down there they are building it. And soon, too, in Ecuador, in Bolivia…maybe in Cuba someday. Maybe in Nicaragua…maybe even in Guatemala.

    So yeah…I still consider myself a revolutionary. And I still believe that we can do it. Venezuela can’t show us the way…because the US is much too different. But it should definitely be lighting a fire under our asses.

    My god (who doesn’t exist)!

    I didn’t expect it, but it’s happening…Guatemala, of all places, might be joining the leftward trend in Latin America.

    Rigoberta Menchu, indigenous leftist winner of the Nobel Peace Prize has entered into this September’s presidential race in an alliance with her new indigenous movement, Winaq (which is a Mayan word meaning the whole integrity of a person…or something close), and the center-left Encuentro Por Guatemala, which is headed by Nineth Montenegro, another famous activist, and I believe one of the founders of GAM (mutual aid group…a group of families of the disappeared). The press in Guatemala is all over the place in their comments about Rigoberta (an indigenous leftist woman running for president!), and most seem to think that she won’t win but that she might come in 2nd or third…but no one really knows.

    The problem is that the front-runner is Alvaro Colom, a social democrat (center-left, more or less) who is something like 12 points ahead of second place Otto Perez Molina…who is a hard right ex-General (from the genocide days of the civil war) who’s campaign slogan is simply “firm hand.” Now with Rigoberta in, she’s going to be taking votes from Colom…which might end up just strengthening the ex-general to win in the second-round of voting. Boy I hope not.

    My partner, Glendi, and I (that’s a long and beautiful story that I’ll tell you all soon enough!) actually saw Colom speak back in August of 2006. He wasn’t bad. But he’s not all that good either. She’s rooting for Colom. But I’m rooting for Rigoberta. Because if she wins, she’ll probably sign on to ALBA alongside Evo Morales, Carlos Ortega, Chavez, Castro, etc…and then Guatemala will get cheap oil, doctors, reading programs, etc…and those alliances are so important.

    If Colom wins, maybe he’ll pursue similar alliances, but I’m not sure, because the right wing is already attacking him as a “Chavista” and he’s vigorously denying it.

    This will be an interesting 6 months in Guatemala.

    I think I’ve become so entranced with what has happened in Latin American electoral politics (that is, social movment oriented politicians actually winning power and making real changes…not always but sometimes…watch Ecuador…I like Correa way more than Chavez…he actually talks about sexism) that I fooled myself into thinking it could happen here anytime soon.  It won’t happen here, and certainly not with Obama…it seems that he’s mostly still bought into same old elite electoral system–read this:

    http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=11936
    (By the way, can someone contact me and tell me how to more elegantly add links in these posts?  I forget)

    So, basically I will of course vote for him when the time comes, but I’m not going to get excited about him…at least not for now.

    And I should probably cancel my registration and blog on my.barackobama.com

    Seriously, what was I thinking.

    So, Barack Obama…

    I’m a sucker for people who talk about hope and cynicism, and for people who talk about transforming not just politics but the ways we do politics…and so, I’m sad to say that this anarchist, with all my critiques and understandings of the bankruptcy of U.S. politics, the ways that elites work to choose and exclude candidates, etc…with all that I’m still finding myself buying into the Barack Obama hype.

    I go to the bookstore sometimes and find a quiet corner and skim through his book…not willing to commit the money to buy it so I just read bits and pieces. And, frankly, his politics aren’t that impressive, but his style is engaging. And that’s scary to me.

    But his Iraq stance is good. He wants some kind of universal health care…but still in the end he’s just a politician, a liberal, etc.

    Now, of course, there are all of the other analyses to be made regarding identity, and context, and history. The possible brutality of a national discourse in which a white woman will be pitted against a man of color, all of this stuff about whether Obama can claim blackness, etc. This shit is real, and it will be an essential part of the coming campaigns, even though it seems like Obama doesn’t want to talk about it. Other people will, and are. And over on Hillary’s side, she’s talking all of the time about her womanhood. But obviously the dynamics of sexism in this country play out very differently than the dynamics of racism.

    Something about Obama, though, is that he’s not all fluff. This speech is what made me buy-in…

    http://obama.senate.gov/podcast/060628-call_to_renewal_keynote/index.html

    So we’ll see where all of this goes. I think it will end up being very ugly. Especially if Bush attacks Iran, then I think all of the discourse changes, since it seems all the democrats want to get tough with Iran, but when it ends up being a total disaster, I just think U.S. politics will get really ugly.

    There is much more to say and explore, but some other time. I’d like to talk about Edwards and Obama and their supposed interest in the grassroots. I want to talk about the amazing change in mainstream media discourse in just two years, and the hope that brings to the left…and I want to talk about politics and presidencies outside of the U.S. Jose Bové running in France…Rigoberta Menchú running for president in Guatemala (wow!). Chávez in Venezuela. Correa in Ecuador. Evo in Bolivia…and Lopez Obrador claiming to be the legitimate president of Mexico. These are very, very interesting times.

    More later…if I don’t get caught up once again in the self-doubt.

    I got back from Caracas on Monday evening. I’ve been pretty much home sick since then. Nothing serious, just a sore throat and slight fever.

    But it’s made it even harder to acclimate back to my life here in Seattle…especially because of all that I experienced down there in Venezuela.

    Don’t be fooled by the lack of updates to this blog…the reason I haven’t written isn’t for lack of things to write, but just the opposite. I was having so many back-to-back experiences every day (from 7am to 2am…I only got about four hours of sleep a night) that I couldn’t find time to search for an internet cafe and write up my reflections.

    Only now, sick at home and bored, am I finding this time to type something up.

    And what do I have to say?

    Well, fundamentally, I can say that I have come back to the United States with a whole new level of hope.

    For the first time in a long time, I feel like I have real hope for the world that is not based in my own self-generated fantasies of a different society, but rather in concrete processes that are actually taking place. For the first time in a long time, I can sit back and relax as my hope is refilled from an external source rather than from my own rusting reserves of teenage idealism…it feels so refreshing.

    In Venezuela–and more broadly in contemporary Latin America and in the World Social Forum–there is something happening. It is something that people like me and my friends have been dreaming about and have been predicting for years, only to be called naive, only to be accused of misunderstanding human nature. There is a process underway that is engaging millions and millions of people in the creation of a new kind of society, based around a handful of key values: inclusion, participatory democracy, socialism, and integration.

    The process is not perfect. In fact, it’s a mess. There is corruption. There is mismanagement. There is conflict. There is chaos. There are power struggles and there are injustices. It would be foolish to hide these or to apologize for them. They are real and they are a problem. But at the same time the process is also real. It is not made moot by it’s contradictions, in fact it might end up being strengthened by them…

    I know that this is all vague so far. Sorry for that. But what I’m talking about is actually very solid and concrete and measurable…and it goes like this:

    Venezuela, historically, has been a tremendously unequal country. 60-80% below the poverty line, while the middle and upper classes have enjoyed a US/Europe style consumer lifestyle…including shopping trips to Miami for new clothes (Venezuela isn’t that far from Florida…or Cuba for that matter). At the same time, it is one of the most oil-rich countries in the world…but historically only the top few have benefited from this wealth. As in most Latin American countries, there have always been social movements in Venezuela…there have been coup attempts, Guerilla movements, protest movements, riots (especially the 1989 riots in Caracas called the “caracazo” which arguably led to the current revolutionary process)…and these have left a legacy which eventually led to a left-wing coup attempt by a young paratrooper named Hugo Chavez Frias in 1992…Chavez’ coup failed, but he became a popular hero, was able to build a movement from jail, and then ran for president in 1998 on a promise to change the entire system, starting with a new constitution. He won. He won by 55+ %, which is rare for Latin American elections…especially since he didn’t really have a party. But he won. And he immediately held a national referendum to ask about rewriting the constitution. This passed. Then he called for elections for form a representative constituent assembly. This happened. Then the constitution was written, hastily debated at all levels of society (but emphasis should be put on the word hasty), and then it was also put up for referendum. It passed…and became one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, spelling out such rare things as social security guarantees for housewives, a whole chapter on indigenous rights, the idea of participatory democracy as opposed to mere representative democracy (that is, citizens actually directly participate in decision-making, they don’t just elect higher representatives to do all that in their name), rights for people with disabilities, etc…I have a copy and it really is quite amazing. It actually became a huge source of pride, especially for poorer Venezuelans, who for the first time began to feel included in the political process.

    With the new constitution, Chavez and the entire government needed to be “re-legitimized” and so he and the entire new national assembly were re-elected in 2000…again by majorities. Then the reforms came. Land reforms. Fishing reforms. Oil reforms. The rich became antsy and they began to more seriously resist…

    In 2002, with US support, the rich organized a coup. It only lasted 3 days. The poor supporters of Chavez, along with the rank-and-file of the Venezuelan military, came out of their homes and barracks and took the power back, putting Chavez back into the presidency (there is an amazing documentary about this, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” and you need to see it).

    But the rich didn’t stop. They organized an “oil strike,” shutting down Venezuela’s most important industry and smashing the economy. But over time, this tactic failed as well, because lower-rank oil workers took over oil production, and Chavez filed the upper-bureacracy…stabilizing the economy again…

    Then Chavez began deeper reforms. The missions. Mission Robinson, which seeks to complete eliminate illiteracy through free neighborhood reading programs. Mission Ribas and Sucre, which allow adults to finish high school and college, also for free. Mission Barrio Adentro (1, 2, and 3), which provide doctors and clinics within poor neighborhoods for absolutely free care. Mission Mercal, which provides special supermarkets with heavily subsidized foods….all of this paid for by oil profits that previously had only gone to the rich.

    And so the rich kept at it…and they tried to use the constitution itself against Chavez…being a progressive constitution, it allows for the population to recall any politician from power, even the president. And so the opposition gathered signatures from 20% of the population (though this is disputed), and there was a recall referendum in 2004…once again Chavez won with a 55% majority. Only solidifying his political stability.

    Since then, Chavez has become even more radical in his programs. More money for the missions. More money for social spending. Increased support for the formation of worker’s cooperatives as opposed to traditional top-down capitalist businesses…and just last year he finally used the “s-word”….Socialism. That is the direction that Venezuela is heading in. I couldn’t be happier.

    Chavez states, repeatedly, that Venezuelan socialism will be fundamentally different than the USSR, or Cuba, or China…those models do not work (in my view, they aren’t socialist at all). In the Venezuelan process, they are trying to build socialism right alongside this other thing, called participatory democracy. They want equality, but they want it anchored in a democracy that allows people to discuss and debate and have real control over how things develop in the society…and this is what I saw in Venezuela.

    In Venezuela, we visited a number of cooperatives, and missions, and community meetings, and we met with a large number of folks who are involved in this revolutionary process, and what I saw in all of this gave me hope. Just as I said in the last post, Chavez is not a dictator. He’s not perfect, and I think he’s too popular (he’s like a folk hero, with t-shirts, and dolls, and posters and all that…not by imposition but genuinely because he’s so popular…which is a problem. No person should be that popular, it’s dangerous), but at the same time there are millions of people trying to make this process happen independent of Chavez…and I think they will succeed. With time, I think they will succeed.

    Okay, I’m tired for now…but I want to end this post just by saying that I think we in the US need to study what’s happening in Latin America very carefully. First, because if we don’t then we are going to be taken very much by surprise when we see a whole slew of socialist societies right down there at our South. But second, because we can learn so much from what is happening about how our own society should be changed. Hopefully we can do it without a strong personality like a Chavez…but I hope we do it somehow.

    To all of those who actually read this thing,

    I’m back at the keyboard again, preparing to share more about myself, my life, my ideas once again…and it’s taken another bit of international travel to get me here. I’m going to Venezuela.

    Through a unique opportunity at my college, I am traveling to Caracas, Venezuela to attend the 2006 Americas Section of the World Social Forum, which is a massive annual gathering of people who believe that “another world is possible” (that’s the forum’s slogan). There are expected to be around 100,000 people attending, from all over the Americas, and there are 2,200 scheduled workshops, meetings, performances, speeches, etc.

    This is all really exciting, but honestly I’m more excited just to be going to Venezuela itself. I’ve been following the political developments in Venezuela since 2003, pretty much on a daily basis, and I believe that people down there are genuinely trying to create a peaceful social revolution…which hopefully those of us in other countries can learn from (both positive and negative lessons). At the same time, however, this revolutionary process is very polarizing down there, and there is A LOT of media/government bias here in the U.S. about what they are trying to do in Venezuela, and so it’s very hard to get accurate information.

    A good tip is: DON’T BELIEVE WHAT THE MEDIA SAYS ABOUT VENEZUELA. Hugo Chavez, the president, is not a dictator. He is not just another Fidel Castro. Flawed? Yes. But dictator? No.

    Okay, this is enough for now. More as it comes…in the meantime check out this site to learn more about the Venezuelan revolutionary process (they call it “el proceso”).

    You can also check out info about the forum itself here.

    I love you, all of you who are actually reading this, and I hope to keep you energized and reflective and inspired as I tell you all about my experiences.

    It’s really strange and beautiful…these little things that keep happening, these little coincidences…I’ll learn a word in Spanish just accidently, then 15 minutes later in a totally different situation it’ll end up being a key word in a conversation…little bits of serendipity.

    Por ejemplo, I had just wrote that post on my blog about my anarchist atheism, right? Well, last night, me, my friend Peggy, and my friend Terezia (who actually spent a year in Guatemala and a year in Mexico, so she speaks fluent Spanish…leaving me feeling awe-inspired, jealous, and inadequate all at once) decided to hang out at the house of their friends…one of whom is a teacher at my school. So they are two young, hip Guatemalans…and from 10pm to 4am we hung out at their house, while they all drank rum and cokes (me, just cokes with lime juice…since, of course, I don’t drink), and we talked in Spanish… and…serendipity…the discussion was about anarchism and about atheism! In Spanish, I actually had to hold my own trying to defend and explain my ideas…why I wasn’t just totally naive and stupid…why being anarchist is more than their stereotype of someone who wears all black, has dreadlocks, plays hack-sack (?), and juggles with fire sticks (?!)…and it was an incredibly fun night, that felt exactly like all of my favorite nights of staying up with friends having political conversations…and I just would pause periodically and be like…this is in Spanish!….this is in Spanish! And it felt like just another night with friends (although my talking was obviously slow and full of errors)! Just 5 weeks ago, I knew 100 words in Spanish…and I couldn’t say anything out loud…and now this…I not only could defend anarchism, I actually got them to acknowledge the beautiful and elegant philosophy that it is (much of this was framed in a debate between anarchism and communism…which they are more familiar with…and I tried to bring feminism into the equation as well…of course).

    So, it was a great night…and it was a great way to say goodbye to my time here in Xela as I head for the mountains. And there’s something interesting about this, as well…

    I can’t remember if I wrote this here…but for my graduation at the mountain school two weeks ago (they have a graduation every week for students who are leaving…where the students are asked to do something, sing, dance…etc. in Spanish) I did an activity of popular education which we do here in the states…this group brainstorming activitity that is meant to counter sexism and build consciousness about the difference between how men are raised and how women are raised…it’s called the act like a man/act like a lady boxes…anyway, I did this activity, facilitated it and explained it totally in Spanish…and it worked! And the two male teachers got kind of defensive…and one of them started arguing with me in Spanish…so I had to try to argue back in Spanish (very, very hard!). The women, however…at least most of them…loved it.

    So, what I’ve been hearing is that teachers have actually been talking about my activity still these last two weeks…one of the women even did it with one of her students! Ooh, how flattering…cross-cultural solidarity and movement building in just a little way…so I really look forward to going back there and seeing those folks again.

    See you in a week!!!

    Okay, first…for those few who may be reading this who didn’t know: I am an anarchist. Now, there is no reason to be alarmed, because being an anarchist does not mean I believe in chaos and destruction, or that I am a bomb-wielding terrorist or anything…anarchism is a political philosophy just like any other. To be really simple about it, it’s a philosophy that people deserve the maximum amount of freedom possible and thus that we deserve a society that is free from all forms of oppression: sexism, racism, homophobia and heterosexism, ecological destruction, poverty and economic exploitation, and government oppression and war, etc…it is a philosophy that believes in grassroots, participatory democracy…it IS radical, it COULD be called naive or utopian, but it IS NOT mean-spirited, cynical, or destructive…and if anyone has any more questions about it, I would love to talk with you about it…for hours and hours and hours.

    Now, with that said, I really want to write about something that I’ve been thinking about for awhile now: my spirituality.

    Somewhere in the last few years, especially as I’ve become more and more fascinated with the growth and organization of right-wing christian movements in the US, I’ve started to become really bothered by the fact that I, as an anarchist atheist, am so often considered non-spiritual…and so I’ve been thinking, writing, and talking with Briana about this, trying to get a grasp on just what my beliefs are…what my spirituality is…so here I’d like to chat a little bit about it.

    “If You Don’t Believe In God, Then What Do You Believe In?”

    I believe that we are here, right now, and this is it. This is our life…and it will only last for a short time, and then we will be gone. Because what we are, as human beings, are beautiful, complex, and fragile patterns of matter…nothing more, yet nothing less, which have risen like a wave out of deep and rich process of evolution…but which will ultimately crest and crash back into the ocean of particles and elements that we were born from…and with our deaths, our memories, our consciousnessess will scatter in all directions…circulating back into the stew.

    There is no higher consciousness guiding us, there is no grand plan…there is simply energy and matter and time…and the dancing, dancing relationships between them…

    “Boy, That Sounds Depressing”

    Now, I know so many people who hear this and think it’s so depressing…but I’ve never understood that…I think it’s just the opposite…I think it is an immense and almost unthinkable blessing that out of a gigantic mess of natural processes and chemical reactions…we have actually come to be, with our eyes and ears and our languages and cultures…that out of completely lifeless and soulless universe life actually DID happen, and that these impersonal processes have actually led to the evolution of PERSONALITIES…our personalities…and so we are lucky enough to be here…alive…and we are here together right now…sharing this thing, this experience of life…and really we are all we’ve got…

    And this is another thing that is so depressing to so many people…this idea that without God we are alone in the universe…but when I hear THAT perspective I get depressed…because it feels to me like it’s missing the whole point: WE ARE NOT ALONE IN THE UNIVERSE. We are surrounded by life…we are surrounded by personalities and emotions and consciousnesses…more than we will ever be able to comprehend. People, bird, fishes, three-toed slothes, amoebas, viruses, chimpanzees, mushrooms, forests…what I don’t understand about people who believe in God is…why isn’t this enough…Why isn’t it enough that we have eachother? Why do we need something above us, watching over us? What extra comfort does that give…because for me that idea is far more scary…(that there is a boss in the sky that has a plan for me and that He doesn’t have enough respect for me to actually treat me like an equal, to introduce himself…and to level with me about what the point of this world is…but that’s just me. I don’t think it shows any real kind of love to leave your children in the dark, suffering and dying so you can watch and judge…that seems pretty abusive actually…sorry, I went a little too far into the negative there…apologies).

    So this is the foundation for my spirituality…a spirituality of us…a spirituality without a hierarchy or a need for a leader or for a top-down plan…it is a spirituality that says: we are here, in this beautiful world, and we are here together…now we have a choice…we can work together to learn and grow and celebrate all of the beauties together…or we can fight and exploit each other and waste our lives…or we can tell ourselves that this world is actually just some kind of test or fake world, and that real life begins after we die…as for me, I choose the first. And by choosing that first, I have my moral code and I have my politics…and I don’t need any ten commandments or other scriptures to tell me not to kill or hate or steal…because I know that we’re sharing this life…so I don’t have any reason to do any of that bad stuff.

    “But What Happens When We Die?”

    Now there is one other part…and that is the whole death piece. I know that alot of religious people find it really important this question of what happens after we die…and there is all this fear of that after death piece…and for those people who feel like they need to know that they will live forever somewhere…there is no comfort I can give…because that sounds boring to me. I find it far more fascinating and powerful and neat that really I just have this tiny window…that I need to make this as powerful an excursion as possible…and…

    …and I need to make sure that I am doing what I can to help my fellow people and creatures get the most out of their lives as well…because that’s the point for me, that we get to live TOGETHER…so this is why justice is essential for me…and also I believe that it is only in each other that we find our meaning and where we can become bigger than ourselves…by carrying the stories of those who came before us, and having our children carry our stories…we become a part of a larger project, something that, while not immortal and absolutely eternal…will continue for more than just one or two generations. We find meaning in our lives in how we live with each other…and for ourselves.

    And so my spiritual practice is in sharing my life with my family, my friends, my neighbors…my spirituality is rooted in the struggle for justice…my mass is those times when we sit around to tell our stories, and where we bring forward the stories of the past…of those people who had their time and then passed…for us to learn from, for us to be nurtured by, for us to be inspired by (and for us to acknowledge those billions who have been wronged)…

    This works for me…this fulfills me and enriches me…this gives me meaning…and this makes sense to me…

    And I’d love to hear what you think about it…

    “But Atheists Don’t Have The Communities That Churches Offer”

    And this is absolutely true…I think one of the strongest and most positive things about religions are the social elements…the congregations, the discussion and study groups…the buildings that you can go to at least once a week to find people who connect with you about a deep part of your life…they connect with your most basic worldview…

    And this is why I keep saying…not even joking…that anarchists and other social justice activists need to start building churches…or something similar…I would love to have a place to go once a week where I knew I could find people who shared my beliefs…where we could celebrate together and tell stories and histories together…share donuts and tea…in fact, strategically, I think it’s going to be essential for building commmunities that can actually change this world.

    Ooh, this was a fun post to write!

    A short history of Guatemala…

    Well, there were the Mayans and other indigenous peoples. Millions and millions of them for thousands and thousands of years. It was a country of many cultures, many languages, many complicated political relationships…some very democratic and inspring…some less so…but people were living their lives and growing and learning and changing…socially evolving as all humans do…or at least try to do.

    Then there were the Spanish…looking to expand their holdings…and thanks to Columbus…they came here, and they tried to conquer. They brought their weapons, they brought their diseases…and they brought their bodies…which many used to rape the women of this and other countries…tearing apart communities, disrupting gender and family systems, and creating new “races” of peoples in the Americas…ladinos. The Mayans resisted…they fought hard…but here in Guatemala one group of Mayans sided with the Spanish against another…and ultimately all were defeated…yet many made for the mountains…where they have been living in resistance for more than 500 years.

    With the Spanish came the church and all of it’s elements…conversions, land confiscations (lots and lots of land!)…some progressive priests…and many, many brutal ones. A colonial economic system was set up that was designed to feed Spain…and that it did…first with plants like indigo which was used for dyes…then with finca after finca of coffee and bananas.

    And as the system evolved, just like in the US, Guatemala won its independence…but it remained a country based in dependence on other countries…Spain, the US, Germany…(there are a lot of German roots among the rich classes here). Much land was transferred among few hands, from the church into the pockets of landowners, who set up a variety of systems (including slavery…and there are people of African descent here too) of forced labor…to use the endless supply of indigenous people to generate larger and larger profits…this is an old story…but one that still doesn’t get told often enough…

    And, unique to Guatemala, there was one particular US company that ended up getting a really special deal: the United Fruit Company…which was mainly in the banana business, but also basically owned the country, all of the electric systems, and the whole railroad system on the side…and the rich were very very happy.

    But, eventually, in the mid 1940’s, the people got tired of this obviously criminal situation, and there was a revolution…and new presidents rose up who began reforming the system…bringing more democracy (“literate” women could now vote…which was pretty clearly aimed at excluding indigenous/poor women), and, finally…land reform…more land in the hands of ordinary people…less land in the hands of the super rich and the corporations.

    The United Fruit Company didn’t like this…so they contacted their friends in the CIA (and this is documented…there literally were FRIENDS in the CIA…or close to it), and the US began to make a lot of noise about Communist Guatemala…

    …and so, there was a coup…the army took control of the government…executed tens of thousands of people…activists, intellectuals, artists…and they turned back all of the reforms that had been made in the previous ten years…

    …and for ten years they held their power with an iron fist, making the rich richer…as is almost always the story…until a couple of more progressive army officers decided they wanted democracy back…and so they tried to launch a new coup…

    …but it was unsuccessful, and these men were forced to go into hiding…and thus was born the guerilla.

    And for 36 years in Guatemala, there was a civil war. As a way of dealing with the guerilla, the Guatemalan government used every possible tactic of terror, torture, and control possible…all with the support, training, and (especially in the 60’s) the direct leadership of the United States. To be an activist in Guatemala was to commit suicide…as hundreds of thousands of people were disappeared (kidnapped and never seen again), more than 400 villages were completely massacred…because the government had a strategy of “draining the pond to get at the fish…” that is, kill all of the people surrounded the guerillas, and then killing the guerillas.

    In the late 70’s, during Carter, US-Guatemala relations got more sketchy…because of Carter’s asking for stronger human rights guarantees in relationship to arms sales…and so direct military aid from the US stopped…but really it was just funneled through Israel…and so you can see pictures of tanks and airplanes in Guatemala with Hebrew writing…and the Guatemalan military actually was trained by Israeli advisors about how to deal with the restless Mayans (and the Mayans in the mountains were the base of guerillas…they are also the majority…they are also the most poor and oppressed in the country…and they are also the people who were most targetted for killing…it was genocide…plain and simple genocide)…and so the tactic of completely destroying a Mayan village, then relocating the survivors into new “model” villages where no one spoke the same language…and thus couldn’t organize…this tactic was actually called “Palestiniazation” (can you believe that?!!!).

    In the 80’s, under Reagan…the murder could get back on track with full US support…and during 1982-83 alone, something like 80,000 people were killed…while the US congratulated Guatemala’s progress towards democracy in fighting communism (and the guerillas were not Communists…in any strict sense…socialists yes, most of them, but not communists).

    During this time, wealth just stayed in the same hands, more or less, and actually got concentrated further upward…and by the mid-80’s 87% of the population lived below the Guatemalan poverty line…87%…

    In 1985, there were some democratic reforms…and the military no longer directly ran the government (that is, on paper), and this led slowly towards the peace talks, and the peace accords of 1996…which I plan on reading because they are supposed to be beautiful…but they have just barely, barely been implemented.

    Right now, the former organization of the guerillas, the URNG, is now a leftist political party…which is extremely small, weak, and divided…and so…this is kind of the attitude that is most common around here…people who are tired, cynical, thinking about themselves more or less…and many many leftists who are wonderinf if anything was gained from that 36 years of fighting…since even now, the land situation has not changed. However…there is less racism against Mayans than there used to be…and there are some strong feminist movements here, and some really strong women in positions of power…but overall the sense I get is that people are tired, depressed…and lacking hope…

    Political discussions here are not excited debates and discussions about visions and ideals…my observation is that they are far more grounded…mostly denunciations, critique, complaints…about corruption, about crime (and this is important, because the war didn’t really end, it just got transferred in the streets, into the street crime of corrupt cops and growing, growing, growing gangs…which, incidently are some of the same gangs that Latino kids at my school claim)…

    And when I was at the mountain school…walking down the narrow muddy paths of the villages, watching the kids play in the street…I imagined the sight of the army rolling in…killing all of these incredible kids…burning the parents alive in the tiny church…and leaving the few survivors left to die in the hills. I couldn’t help seeing this as I walking down those streets, and I didn’t want to prevent myself…because this blood, this blood here in Guatemala is almost directly on US hands…and though it’s not my fault as just one American…it is my responsibility to know this history…to reflect on it…and then, having done that…doing what I can to support these people here in fixing their horribly, horribly messed up country.

    It is very much a country living with post-traumatic stress disorder…and no one wants to talk about it.

    Jesus Es Verbo No Sustantivo.

    One of the harder things for me to deal with here in Guatemala is the religious situation.

    See, I’m an atheist. I grew up Catholic, but I am an atheist…and those who know me well know that I’m a pretty outspoken atheist actually…I don’t like hate religious people or anything (after all, my family is religious and I love them)…but I’m certainly very critical…

    But here, things are very, very different. When I told one of my teacher’s that I was an atheist, she was like…”hmmm, interesting, I think there might be a few of those here in Guatemala.” And soon I actually discovered that she is an Evangelical Christian…a feminist, socialist evangelical christian.

    And this is the situation: Basically, there are two major religions in Guatemala, Catholocism and Evangelical Christianity…it used to be much more Catholics, but during the 36 year civil war, the US evangelical establishment worked with the Guatemalan government to evangelize the population…because the Catholic church had an increasing number of clergy and parishoners actually starting to fight poverty…and even supporting the guerillas, and the government wanted to use evangelism to counter that…to spread the idea that yes, suffer here under us on earth, but be happy in heaven…in fact, many catholics were killed, priests, nuns…and in some villages the evangelicals would come in and say: “when the army comes, if you are catholic you will be killed, but if you are Evangelical, you will live.” And so now the evangelicals are almost outnumbering the Catholics…

    But even more confusing than this…which was confusing because I’m not used to thinking of Catholics as socially progressive, powerful activists (and it should be made very clear that even here they are still pro-traditional gender roles, anti-birth control, and anti-choice…)…is the fact that, given this history, all but two of the teachers at my school are EVANGELICALS (the other two being Catholics)…yet these women are feminist, they are socialist, they are at least somewhat anti-homophobic…I just couldn’t get my head around it…they were so different than any evangelicals I’ve met in the states…

    And still, I don’t know what to make of all of this…in a future post, I want to write about my atheism, because I’m actually quite proud of it…of how I started with a lack, with a rejection of religion, and how out of that…with my partner and best friend Briana, I feel like I’ve been able to build a uniquely atheist spirituality for myself…I think that will be a fun post.

    But for now, I’m just weirded out…I just don’t understand so many things about Guatemala…but what I have heard from one evangelical woman is that during the war she lost so much, she suffered so much pain…that she felt like in religion, through the notion of a personal relationship with god, and the idea of heaven…she felt like at least someone understood her and was paying attention to her…this is something I can understand, although it makes me sad…because there really should be tons of people, living flesh human beings, family, friends, neighbors…who can provide that kind of recognition and support…

    But we don’t have that kind of world yet…

    Finally, in my experience here, and hearing all of the work that the Catholics have done for social justice here…I have become a lot more softened toward the need to work with religious folks in the states…something I’ve been avoiding for awhile…

    Because as a really good folk song down here says: Jesus is a verb, not a noun…and there are those fighting for a church of the poor, for a church to improve the world here and now…and there are those who just claim their religion and then go on raking in their cash…clergy definitely included.

    Yes, dogs can be racist. How do I know? Because of the 3 dogs at the mountain school. Anytime there is a North American in the driveway, approaching the school, whatever, they are totally calm…they trot up, they turn over on their backs to be scratched (yet funnily they never actually get scratched, because they are so dirty and flea-ridden and scarred up)…yet almost any time they see a Guatemalan, of any age, the three of them charge forward, barking and snarling, chasing kids down…and so the kids who come on Wednesdays are often scared to come near the school for fear of the dogs…and two times I actually escorted kids past the dogs…with my magical soothing white skin to keep the dogs at bay…

    So weird, yet a completely true story.

    The Dorm In The Mountains

    I came to the mountain school upset, because of the woman in the street, and in my first days there I remained upset, because I (and a few other folks) was trying to solely use Spanish, and yet it seemed like almost all of the students were using English all the time. Even more, there is actually rule at the mountain school to only use Spanish when there are Guatemelans around, but still, even then, there was so much English…

    Plus, in general I’m not one for group social dynamics, and I was definitely feeling anti-social. I’m the same way at parties…I just sit in the corner and wait for people to talk with me…and if not…I’ll just pout there the whole time.

    But the mountain school is such a unique environment, with like 4 bedrooms with 2-4 beds in each, that social interaction is required…and so I pretty quickly became friendly and open with the group…and also, the school is excellent in that it does a really good job of making people feel welcome, and every Monday, everyone (including the teachers, who actually live in other towns 10-15 minutes away) plays a name game…and that really solidifies bonds.

    So there in my two weeks at the school, I had my share of joking nights, group cooking experiences, political discussions, study sessions, personal story exhibitions…and this is a reason that I didn’t want to leave…it just felt good to be there, in the school, in my classes, in the whole environment…even in the many emotionally intense times in the villages, or hearing stories.

    One night, for example, I started talking with just 2 people about how I didn’t know what to do in regard to buying gifts for people back home…because I want to bring things back, and I want to support local economies a bit…but at the same time I think it’s extremely problematic when folks buy things from other cultures that are culturally significant, and just take it as a souvenir…what activists in the states call cultural appropriation…for example, I’ve read and heard numerous times here that Mayan women hate to see non-Mayans with their clothing, their blouses and skirts…because this is something that they have fought more than 500 years to have the right to wear, to hold onto their culture…and yet they sell this stuff, because people will buy it and it will provide an income…yet I don’t want to be that person…taking a piece of their culture, a piece of their struggle, and just bringing it home as a gift that will go on some friend’s or family’s wall…that’s just not me…

    And so this conversation started with just the 3 of us, and pretty soon half the students were involved, and there was arguing, but mostly there was just reflection about what our place is as North Americans here…with our money that can buy us pretty much anything we want…if we wanted, it could probably even buy people…so what does it mean to be responsible in that kind of situation of unequal power between us and them?

    Anyhow, the school was really fun, in just a dorm style social sense…and, of course, it was vast majority women, which is always where I’m most comfortable…so that added to the fun of it, because I didn’t feel weird being a feminist man around a bunch of non-feminist tourist dudes or anything (and there are such dudes, cruizing for Guatemalan women in the bars…but not as many as I’d feared…although I don’t actually go to the bars!!!)

    Still waiting to see if I’ll get to go back…

    A note: This post has some intense stuff that may be triggering for survivors of violence.

    And so there were these two autonomous villages I was visiting, certainly poor, but showcasing a level of community and solidarity that I’ve never seen in the US…in my very particular suburban culture…I’ve tasted it in my extended Alaskan family, but nothing this strong…

    But this is all romanticizing, because the reality of life in Fatima, Nuevo San Jose, and I imagine much of the countryside in Guatemala is something much deeper and harder than it first seems.

    First, the sexism. The work of the women…everyday, for every meal, making tortillas from scratch (literally, often from the whole kernels of maize), washing the clothes (every day because of so many kids, and by hand…which I had to do at the mountain school, in the giant sink that’s called a pila…and it just ripped apart my arm muscles trying to ring all my pants out…and those were just clothes for my one person!), cleaning, taking care of kids, cooking, shopping…and then…being available to their husbands.

    There is a reason there are so many kids here, and the reason, plain and simple, is male domination. It is the men who refuse to use condoms. It is the men who reject birth control (it is widely believed there that getting a vasectomy makes a man gay…which I’ll talk more about in a second). It is the men who expect their wives to be always available to them, and who judge their maleness on the number of kids they have…it is sexism, plain and simple…

    And it is the men who are spreading aids in these communities…yes, aids, because these men don’t have work or they only have work in other cities…and so every day they are traveling to other cities…where they have mistresses and prostitutes…and then back to their wives…where aids and other sexually transmitted infections are spread…and this is not just general, this is a reality in Fatima and Nuevo San Jose specifically. Sexism and machismo are very real here…and they are deadly…as they are in the United States also…I didn’t hear any stories about domestic violence, but I’m sure it’s a reality, just as it is everywhere.

    And as for sexuality…here it is something that isn’t talked about…and since children aren’t supposed to move out until marriage…there aren’t many options for clandestinely queer folks either…but there are queer folks in Fatima and Nuevo San Jose…closeted…and at least one of them is an alcoholic…

    Also, there was a teacher in the school in Xela who is lesbian, and who had to flee to the United States in order to be with her partner without being harassed, attacked, and completely rejected.

    And there is the work. The constant work. Work to chop and gather firewood, work to support the family, work on the fincas during certain seasons…these people work extremely hard, men and women…but especially the women and girls.

    And there are gangs (but not in Nuevo San Jose and Fatima…yet), and there drugs, and there is alcohol, and there is a family with a developmentally disabled baby…who has never seen sunlight because the family is too ashamed to take her outside…she’s three years old…

    And things are just simply hard…painful in ways that I’ve never seen or understood. What aspirations are there? What ¨I can do anything if I just work¨ idea? These people have been working for generations, not even asking for anything but sufficiency…and they were denied even that…until they fought…and they are still fighting, simply to have water, to have a little school…to have houses that actually can stand a windy day…and still, there is no work…the school is the most stable work…and with growing free trade (the reason there is no work is because free trade concepts have destroyed the notion of fincas having permanent employees…now it’s walmart, temp job style…where people are hired for three months at a time…paid almost nothing with no benefits…and then fired) policies, this situation will not improve.

    There is a reason why feminism and socialism are talked about so much here (and the women talk about feminism a lot…not the women in the villages, but my teachers)…and that’s because they are needed. Period. They are needed.

    Jeremy’s In A Cryin’ Mood

    Well, I cried yesterday calling Briana about my blog and the email I had recieved and I talked about my feelings and some of my experiences and I just started gushing in the internet cafe…

    And now I’m in the language school, at my break, and I decided to check up on the Zapatista guerillas in Mexico (who, for those who don’t know, have guns but haven’t actually used them in ten+ years, and who are some of the most inspiring fighters for justice I’ve ever read about or followed) reading the newest translation of a communique at this site

    …and I just started crying again…because it talks about this new generation of youth who have grown up in that struggle and how they are making the struggle even more strong and brave and inspiring than the previous generation…for me, it’s so beautiful…

    Anyhow…more later about the mountain school.

    I just checked my email and I had recieved a message from one of my closest friends challenging me for being so dry and so anthropological about such a powerful, sad, unacceptable situation as I saw there on that first day at the mountain school, and I really want to write more about this because I’ve been thinking alot about this very thing these last few days…about how I’m writing about my experiences here, and how I feel this dissatisfaction with how disconnected my writing style is from the feelings I’m feeling and all of the ways that I’m being pulled and twisted by having seen even the little bit I’ve seen of what things are like here.

    In truth, I feel like there is something really tremendous building inside of me, with much of the shape and momentum of a whirlpool, which is frothing and fomenting with anger and fear and pain and sadness…and definitely guilt…and I think much of this began when I saw that woman. Before that, I feel like my experience here had been relatively unchallenging for me, but seeing her, and then seeing the reaction of the people who lived in that area, and feeling my alienation from the situation, our ‘observer’ status here, and my fear of saying or doing more, I feel like a big part of me started sucking in…and I found myself wanting to focus more and more on Spanish, on Spanish…studying, studying…to avoid all that I was feeling by being in a situation that is so wrong in so many ways…

    I don’t know if I know how to really describe this…

    Basically, I feel like after seeing that woman, and then spending more time at the mountain school, seeing the poverty, the struggle, learning more of the history of the area, of Guatemala, and of Central American in general…I kind of shut down emotionally. In my last post, I was kind of trying to portray that, that banal resignation in the face of really horrible things which I have witnessed numerous times here…and I feel like in the last two weeks alot of my emotions have been swallowed in this manner, because I don’t how how to hold it…I just don’t know how to hold this kind of reality right here, in front of myself, in my consciousness…I’ve never had to do that, this intensely, before. I’m a person so used to looking for solutions, so used to finding tactics and strategies, and trying to move towards reconciliation with people as soon as I can…and here, none of that works…this is a situation I can’t change here, there is a history and a reality that I cannot take back…I can’t take back the disappearances, the murders, the rape, the terror, the trauma, the violations of every kind of dignity…it’s just there, present in the air and in people’s stories, in people’s daily lives…and I don’t know how to hold that very long in front of myself…so, Spanish, Spanish, studying, studying…telling myself that maybe if I had just a few more words, a few more conjugations of verbs, maybe I could be that much more helpful…

    But no, this is a situation that the little white boy Jeremy can’t fix…instead, I think I need to be more attentive in my observations, in my reactions, so I can learn what I can, connect where I can…so where I can help (and there are constant opportunities), I am emotionally ready and willing to step up…

    …It’s just so much, it’s this massive torrent of pain and injustice…how do people here not completely lose themselves in that…that’s a feat of tremendous struggle and resistance in itself.

    To anyone who was struck, hurt, offended, offput by the dryness of my previous post, I’m deeply sorry…it was a symptom of a much deeper problem, of my disconnection…my inability to put ME into these stories…and it’s something I’m working on…poco a poco…little by little.

    Important Note: This story is painful, and may be triggering for survivors of violence. I’m sorry.

    On Sunday morning, there were four of us heading to the mountain school, all of us gringos…and we decided to meet at the big Catholic church in the central park of Xela. I had arrived early, though, so I spent a half an hour in the church, exploring the architecture, the stained glass and high, high ceilings, admiring the stations of the cross potrayed by full sized mannequins of Jesus behind glass displays…and watching people as they lit candles and prayed.

    And then the four of us took a minubus (minivan packed full of passengers) to the bus terminal, where we then borded a chickenbus (a brightly painted old american schoolbus with primary school-sized seats…that same brown vinyl that I remember from growing up)…and sat for half an hour while people boarded trying to sell us stuff…candy, soda, fried meat of some sort…and then off, for an hour and half in a completely packed bus, through the windy roads and the beautiful fog, past all sorts of towns and billboards and brightly painted cemetaries (they don’t seem to do the anglo grey cemetary thing here…it’s all reds and greens and yellows and blues…) and the biggest leaves I’ve ever seen on plants (I hear they’re called orejas de elefantes…elephant ears)…until we reached the town of Colomba, which…oops!…was past where we were supposed to go. No harm, though, the ayudante pointed us to the bus stop going back the other direction, and we sat in Colomba for ten minutes where all of the locals just stared and stared at us with our backpacks…very different atmosphere…not unfriendly, just not used to gringos.

    And then back on the bus for ten minutes until we got to our stop, which is a big yellow sign for the village of Santa Domingo…and we got our bags from off the roof of the bus, and we were ready to walk down the stone street to the mountain school…

    And just 30 feet down the road, we saw her…a woman lying in the street, maybe mid twenties, with flies circling around her, with a stick of bamboo awkwardly placed between her legs and under her skirt, and with a bundle of bananas under her skirt as well. I thought that I was seeing a dead body, and I can still feel my body’s shock response.

    One of my companions grabbed the woman’s shoulder and tried to wake her up, but no luck…she was alive, however. And then my mind began circulating around the question of rape…of what to do, of how to support her…another companion walked to the house right there, and found a woman living there, who expressed no interest in helping us, and then we found another older man walking by, who also expressed no interest…so I and another volunteered to run to the mountain school for help while the other two waited with the woman…

    …and we ran, and the mountain school was only about 100 feet further, with a nice little welcome sign, a driveway, and then a gate onto this beautiful property with a cute little white stucco house, with hammocks and chairs on the front patio, and a beautiful political mural…and I ran in, and an American woman and a Guatemalan woman came with me to check it out…and when they saw the woman…

    …oh, well, it was just ____, a known drunk…and so we were urged to just leave her there, because she was known to try to fight people when she wakes up…and one of the women of the school said that she might try to talk with the family for them to go check on her later…and so we left the woman there, in the street, with the stick, but they moved the bananas and pulled her skirt down…and all four of us, I think, were unsettled and wondering about that woman for the rest of our time there…

    The Subtleties Of Growth

    I’ve just returned from two weeks that have changed my life. Not any kind of drastic change…not any kind of sell my possessions, drop out of the world kind of change…something much more silent and soft…like the fine hairs on my cheeks. I’ve had this weird sort of privilege of dropping into the middle of a situation that was so incredibly foreign to me that my brain was forced to create new categories of thought and understanding in order to be able to function…for two weeks, I was dropped into these two communities, Fatima and Nuevo San Jose (both associated with la escuela de la montaña…the mountain school), I ate every meal with families in these two communities, and within this, my understanding of poverty, of struggle, of work, of families, of religion, of education…all of it was shaken and challenged and…with that, just as with my learning of Spanish…I feel like I have grown enormously.

    I don’t know how I’m going to be able to write about these last two weeks. There is so much to tell, and even more to process and analyze and reflect on…

    I think I’ll probably try to do it in little bits, snapshots of my experiences…

    No time to describe my daily life today, once again…but that’s okay, because I’d rather discuss the process of learning a language and the power of it for me…

    For me, learning a language feels something like walking around, gathering precious stones…with each word I pick up, memorize, use, whole new avenues of discussion and sharing are opened up. I learn the word baño, and suddenly I don’t have to hold it in anymore. I learn the word cuesta and I can find out how much things cost…I learn the word ejercito (army), and then the story of Guatemala begins to unfold. The story of CIA organized coups, US supported massacres, kidnapped and tortured activists (many younger than me), North American and European corporations gobbling up this land and its people for centuries…the story of a country that many of us in the United States would have trouble even finding on a map (including myself, even four months ago!)…with each word I can come so much closer to a person, to buried histories…and it’s beautiful and endlessly satisfying.

    But it’s exhausting too…as I find myself spending entire days trying to figure out what I want to say to my “host family” (I’m living with a mother and her two sons, 18 and 21 years old)…do I want to ask about movies, or do I just want to talk about food…not many options yet…and a couple of days ago I was just pacing around a group of stores because I was scared to go in and have to ask for la espuma (shaving creme)…because here in Xela, the stores are counters with their products behind them…so to buy something requires human interaction and communication…and each night I have no problem falling asleep, because my brain has been fully active for sixteen hours…trying to find the right endings to verbs…trying to figure out whether I’m saying “of” or “for,” trying to figure out just one more way to understand people’s stories…

    I go to bed each night feeling full intellectually…but its impossible to sit completely comfortably here…because this is not my country…and my country does not have a pleasant history here…and my responsibilities, as someone who wants to struggle for justice in my country alongside folks struggling for justice here in Guatemala…my responsibilities feel very real to me…and that’s primarily why I’m here, learning Spanish…so I can be that much better at fighting for a better world alongside others…

    …and it’s important to recognize how much farther ahead folks down here, in Latin America, are in that struggle than those of us in the States are…we have much to learn, and much to inspire us. I just want to keep gathering these stones…just want to keep listening and paying attention…

    Currently Reading:

    -Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi