In Defense of Hope

Let’s talk about hope, for a moment, because a lot of days recently hope feels like the only thing that matters. It’s easy to let it slip away from us.

I haven’t lived through events like this before, and I’m no prophet, but I assume the world will not return to how it was before. I assume the old status quo is gone. A new one will take its place.
I hope the new status quo will be better. I hope it will be built of resilient, interwoven communities. I hope it will be kinder. I hope the horrors of capitalism that have been laid bare will live on only in history books. I hope the horrors of policing and judicial solutions to crisis stay plain for everyone to see and become dark historical footnotes. I hope we remember mutual aid. I hope that in the new status quo that we remember we can just… take care of each other.

That’s what I hope. I think it’s a long shot, but I think it’s possible. I’ll work my hardest to make it happen, and I hope you will too. If I didn’t think it were possible, if I didn’t have hope, I don’t know what I would do.
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How to Live Like the World is Ending

The world might be ending.

* * *

There’s a commonly replicated piece of anarchist folk art that means a lot to me. I don’t know who drew it. It’s a drawing of a tree with a circle-A superimposed. The text of it reads “even if the world was to end tomorrow I would still plant a tree today.”

I grew up into anarchy around this piece of art. It was silkscreened as patches and posters and visible on the backs of hoodies and the walls of collective houses. It was graffitied through stencils and it was photocopied in the back of zines. It’s a paraphrasing of a quote misattributed to Martin Luther (the original protestant Martin Luther, not Martin Luther King, Jr., although plenty of people misattribute the quote to him as well). The original quote is something like “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” The earliest reference to it anyone can seem to find is from the German Confessing Church, a Christian movement within Nazi Germany that sought to challenge Nazi power. The quote was used to inspire hope, to inspire people to action.

That’s something I can get behind.
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A Man Named Gray

There are, presumably, a lot of men named Gray. This is a story about one of them. His name doesn’t really have any particular metaphorical importance. He’s not subdued or subtle or medium or in-between or anything good you’d want out of a man with a name like Gray. Instead, he’s a combination of tragic and awful. Usually I go through a lot of work to anonymize people when I write memoir, but I don’t think I’m going to bother this time. I’m a little salty, even ten and fifteen years on. The reasons will become apparent.

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Afraid of the Woman in the Mirror

When I was a kid, I was terrified of the woman in the mirror. Say her name seven times in a dark bathroom while spinning. She’ll appear. Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary.

I never did it.

I also, for a good chunk of my childhood, wouldn’t close the door to the bathroom.

I almost saw her, every time I passed the mirror. In my mind’s eye, she was old. Almost beautiful, almost ugly. Long dark hair framing her face. Confidence, terrifying confidence, in her eyes.

In fact, she looked a lot like me.
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What Are We Going to do About These Concentration Camps?

The first time I saw the Klan, I was ten years old. My brother and one of my sisters were in the car, and my dad was driving. We were stopped at a light and maybe five Klan members in full regalia were offering leaflets to white drivers. My father, a white man, rolled up the window, locked the doors, and grabbed the steering wheel in a death grip.

When the light turned green, we drove away.

“Those people carry guns,” he told us.

He was excusing himself for not getting out of the car and physically confronting five large men, an action which could easily have put him in the hospital or worse. He probably did the right thing. He had three children in the car. There were five of those guys. The cost/benefit analysis of starting a fight was all wrong. But the Klan, wherever it shows its hideous face, should be confronted. Should be fought, through whatever means.

Sometimes we have to fight.

Which brings us to the concentration camps in America.
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Why Did You Sink the Red October?

I think this story about Finland starts in Sweden.

It was 2005, and I was twenty-two.

At ten or eleven at night my bus crossed the bridge from Copenhagen to Malmo. The border police got on, singled me out, and pulled me off the bus. I was sort of used to that by then. You could play “one of these things is not like the other” in pretty much any non-squatted space in Europe and I would have been the odd one out. I had long hair and patched-up black clothes, sometimes both a beard and a skirt, and you can sort of imagine a haze of flies around me at any given point.

“Where are you headed?” a guard asked once I was in the freezing night air outside the bus.

“Helsinki,” I said.

“Where are you staying in Helsinki?”

I wanted to say “you’re Sweden, not Finland, so it’s none of your fucking business.” Or I could have been honest: “I’m staying with the girl I loved through all of high school, who I haven’t seen in five years.”
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In the Shadow of Bluebeard’s Castle

“Those who make revolution half way only dig their own graves.”
—Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, 1793

“No great idea in its beginning can ever be within the law. How can it be within the law? The law is stationary. The law is fixed. The law is a chariot wheel which binds us all regardless of conditions or place or time.”
—Emma Goldman, 1910

content note: non-graphic description of misogynist violence

There’s this fairy tale, maybe you’ve heard it before. Bluebeard’s Castle. It’s sort of a feminist parable, in the old school way where a lot of traditional folklore is basically “hey women, don’t trust men. They will murder you.”

There are ways in which accountability processes and other attempts at restorative justice in radical communities just empower abusers and assaulters. Whenever I think about that, I think about Bluebeard’s Castle.
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The Only Time I’ve Seen the Dead

“You poor drowned rats,” our savior told us. “You have to let me take you home.”

It was raining and it was winter and we were huddled in the dark under the awning of some convenience store somewhere on the Oregon coast. No one would pick the three of us up. My friends were Swamp Rat and Tortoise, two women who’d sat in trees and blockaded roads and hopped freight and lived free lives and they weren’t even as old as my twenty years.

Our savior was sixty, with gray pigtails. She told us she was dying of Lyme’s.

We piled into the back of her SUV and she drove us deep and deeper into the woods. She lived far away from anything, like a witch in a fairy tale. Like a witch in a fairy tale, she could have murdered us.
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I Won’t Lie to Anyone I Wouldn’t Punch

Violence is, at its core, about controlling other people. It’s perhaps the rawest expression of control. Pacifists have done an enormous amount of work detailing all the ways that violence wrecks havoc upon our society, and they only thing they’re wrong about is claiming that violence is, therefore, never justified.

Most of society accepts the need for self-defense — that is, using force to counter force. When someone is attempting to control you, it’s reasonable to attempt to curtail that behavior on their part. Violence isn’t the only — not even the most common — form of control, however, and people sometimes forget that violence is often an acceptable response to people utilizing other methods to control our bodies and our actions. Fighting back against systems of control is a reasonable and ethical thing to do.

Lying is also, at its core, about controlling other people.
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Some Viking Warriors Were Probably Men

The TV show Vikings, one of my all time favorite shows, is plagued by historical inaccuracy. The armor worn by everyone is more or less absurd. The steering board on all the longships is on the wrong side. The representations of viking government are pretty flawed. But there’s one thing that I assumed was inaccurate the first time I watched the show that might not necessarily be such fantasy after all: it turns out that some viking warriors may have in fact been men.

I know that sounds absurd, like PC culture gone amuck. Men are, on average — and I don’t mean to disparage the capability of individual men here — less competent on the battlefield. Their higher center of gravity makes them less stable. Their voices are too guttural and low to carry well across the din of battle. Testosterone makes them prone to irrational behavior and leaves them poor candidates not just for leadership roles but even subordinate roles. Their larger body mass makes them easier targets for missile weapons and less capable of the sorts of guerrilla tactics that vikings favored on their raids. To say nothing of how men are socialized to constantly bicker with other men.

Men, with their upper body strength, are remarkably well suited to the simple labor of farm work.

In an agricultural society like viking-era Scandinavia, men are simply too valuable to be risked in warfare. While raiding was a prominent part of the culture, it was farming that served as the lifeblood of the community. Men, with their upper body strength, are remarkably well suited to the simple labor of farm work.

Despite all of that, male anthropologists have been insisting for decades now that some men participated in the warrior culture of the vikings. I’m starting to be convinced.
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