All Power To The People

I just returned from the PIELC conference in Eugene, Oregon. PIELC stands for Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, and it’s pronounced “e-law” owing to people’s fine habit of ignoring when things change their name.

Tomorrow I’ll talk about PIELC and the amazing workshops I went to, and you can learn all kinds of good stuff about biomass electrical generation (in short: it’s bad). Tonight though, I just came back from the saturday night show. Two bands played: Samba Já, a 30-piece drum corps; and Blackbird Raum, my friends and comrades from Santa Cruz. Activist and ex-prisoners Jeff “Free” Luers and Ramona Africa of MOVE.

Until his release last December, Jeff Luers had been in prison the entirety of my involvement with anarchism. The short of it was that he burned two SUVs at a car dealership in the middle of the night as a statement against car culture’s destruction of the earth, and was sentenced to 22 years for something like $40,000 dollars in damage. After years of appeals, his sentence was dropped to 10 years, which he served. He’s a natural speaker, and he talked about the need for the environmental and social justice (and anarchist) movements to stop being so divided. About how our commonalities are so much more important than our differences. That we need pretty much every tactic available to us: not just direct action, and certainly not just arson. We need lawsuits and marches, we need public awareness and we need media campaigns, and we need direct action.

Blackbird Raum has always been dear to my heart. I don’t want to talk shit, but I’m not really a fan of “folk punk,” by and large. Usually, it kind of takes the worst parts about bad punk (three random chords on a guitar, bad lyrics) and the worst parts about bad folk (lack of energy), and combines them into, well, the worst of both worlds. (Folk metal, by the way, is the inverse: the good stuff out of metal and out of folk). Anyhow, Blackbird Raum is the good stuff out of punk (anger and alienation expressed intelligently, plus the unity and comradery of mosh pits) and the good stuff out of folk (accordions, washtub basses, interesting and complex music, great shit to dance to). This was the first time I’d seen them on a stage and all electrified and such, but it was amazing nonetheless.

And then, Ramona Africa. Ramona Africa, well… in 1985, the philly cops firebombed the MOVE (a primarily african-american environmental organization) house, killing everyone except Ramona and one child. The fire eventually consumed the entire city block, all to stop the group from composting and broadcasting their political messages. Anyhow, Ramona is still part of MOVE, which continues to this day, and her speech was simply astounding. She was a keynote speaker earlier at PIELC, so I heard her twice today.

There’s that cliche, “all power to the people.” And you know? I’d never heard it explained. But it’s beautiful. The idea is simple: the power is always in people, in us as individuals. Governments only have power when we pretend like they do. If we stop believing they exist, they will cease to be. Obama doesn’t go to war: soldiers go to war. When we say “all power to the people,” we are saying “we are responsible for our fate. Always have been, always will be. The government isn’t going to stop oppressing us of its own free will.” We are awknowledging that we all have responsibility for what’s happening. We need to stop abdicating our power. We need to bring the power back to the people.

“The people,” isn’t just a mythical thing, an abstraction like “The Man.” “The people” is us. It’s not like “hey, we’re the people, so our protest is instantly right and everyone needs to agree with us, cause we’re the people.” It’s that we’re the people, you’re the people, even the people who hate us are the people. But we, the people, have all of the power. Always have, always will. It’s not a request, it’s not a demand, it’s a statement of truth.

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