Category Archives: Political

The City That’s Not a City

Article first appeared in Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic #6.

What do you call a city that’s not a city?

No idea.

But the label isn’t really what matters. What does a city that’s not a city look like? That’s where it gets interesting.

The settlement of cities is one of the primary traits that distinguishes a civilization from other forms of societal structuring, like a band or a tribe. And if we’re looking to move past civilization (which is the core theme of my column), we’d better take a closer look at cities themselves.

My dictionary told me that a city is a large town. That didn’t do me much good, so I turned to town: “an urban area that has a name, defined boundaries, and local government….” And immediately, a lot of the problems with cities are apparent.

Government is an easy one for me to dismiss: I’m an anarchist. I don’t believe in “the State” or what is traditionally construed as government. I don’t like the idea of one central body that makes all the decisions. And I don’t like being told that all I get to do is pick the person who makes the decisions for me. I’m much more interested in community and individual self-governance. There’s that old cliche: democracy is two sheep and three wolves deciding what to have for dinner. Well, at least that’s a cliche in the circles I run in.

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How to Survive the Collapse of Civilization

Article first appeared in Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic #5.

The first thing to know about surviving the apocalypse is this: you’re not going to survive the apocalypse. You’re not special. If everyone dies? That includes you. If the ecological crisis that triggers the collapse (my money is on runaway global warming, personally) doesn’t get you, then the further militarization of our society probably will.

If you want to survive, and I cannot express this strongly enough, you should not go run and hide in your little isolated cabin somewhere by yourself or with five of your friends! (Unless there are zombies.) If you simply retreat and wait for the world to right itself, you’re a coward and not even a very bright one; if you leave all of the work to other people, things aren’t going to come out so pretty. It is this sort of cowardice, this individualistic gusto, that arguably got us into this trouble in the first place. If you stand idly by and watch a fascistic army take control, you will, in the end, die. If you don’t try to organize with people to kickstart a permacultured agriculture to feed people, you will, in the end, die. If you live with two other people and never see another living soul again in your life? You might survive, but you might very well wish you hadn’t. When your appendix ruptures and whoops you forgot that your brother isn’t a surgeon? You will die.

Like it or not, humans are social animals. Our best hope to stay alive, and furthermore, to thrive, after an apocalyptic event is to discover social solutions.

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So You’ve Decided to Reject Civilization

This article first appeared in Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic #4.

Congratulations! You’ve decided to reject civilization! There are so many reasons why you might have done so.

Maybe you’ve watched so many post-apocalypse movies or read so many books and comics that you really wish the world would hurry up and end so you can get on with living as you’d like to. Maybe you’ve intellectually come to understand the horrors of the modern political system, and have determined that its roots run all the way back to when some folks started locking up food and only giving it out in exchange for labor. Maybe you’ve looked to the world around you and decided that the monstrous evils being perpetuated against the natural earth really are unforgivable, and the complex of societies that has allowed that to happen ought to be destroyed—or at best ignored. Maybe you just like harvesting wild food but don’t see why we have to give up living in cities.

Whatever your reasoning, we’re quite happy to have you in the ranks of the post-civilized.

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Cooperative Scavenging

This article first appeared in Dodgem Logic #3, published in 2010.

“We have no more interest in repairing civilization than a scrapyard does in repairing cars. When you see a roadkill deer, you don’t attempt emergency breathing–you skin and eat it. Well, if you eat meat.”
–Sara Czolgosz

In the previous issue, I laid out the basics of post-civilization theory (affectionately referred to by most people I know as “post-civ”). The really, really short version of it is: we don’t like civilization, but we’re not primitivists either. Oh sure, we learned a lot from our relationship with civilization, but in the end, it was just too abusive. It’s time to break up, it’s time to move on.
In this issue, we’re going to take a close look at post-civilized approaches to production and highlight a possible way to undermine the capitalist economic system.

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Take What You Need and Compost the Rest: An Introduction to Post-Civilized Theory

I was a columnist for Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic, a UK magazine of comics, anarchy, and all-around weirdness. It ran for a bit over a year and I contributed to all but the first issue. I’m going to start publishing my articles here over the next couple of weeks. This was my first article, publishing in Dodgem Logic #2 in 2010, and is essentially a slightly longer rewrite of post-civ!, a collaboratively written introduction published by Strangers In A Tangled Wilderness 2008.

Well, that civilization thing was interesting, now wasn’t it? I mean, it certainly seemed worth a shot. We got a lot out of it: telescopes, wheelchairs, wikipedia. But we also just about took out the natural world. Science, agriculture, and specialization have done a lot for expanding cultural ideas and communication, but they’ve done even more for genocide and ecocide.

So it’s time we gave up the noble, failed experiment altogether and moved on to something new.

Continue reading Take What You Need and Compost the Rest: An Introduction to Post-Civilized Theory

Grand Juries Out West

I was driving through Virginia a week ago when I got a frantic text from a friend in NY. “Houses were raided in Portland. Is everyone okay?”

I lived in Portland for years, so I started calling around. And no. Not everyone was okay. Multiple activist houses were raided, guns drawn. Sealed warrants: we don’t know what their excuse for the violence was, and we may never know. We do know they were raiding the house looking for black clothes and anarchist materials.

Land of the free and all that.

But it gets worse than some guns-drawn-broohaha over the scary scary anarchists who may or may not have been involved with whatever protests. They subpoenaed two of my friends, Dennison and Leah (pictured above), to testify before the grand jury.

A grand jury is a strange creature. If you’re called to testify in front of a grand jury, you have to talk. Your constitutional protections don’t apply. Your right to remain silent doesn’t exist. You become legally required to snitch, to provide whatever information they ask of you, about whomever they ask. If you don’t talk (which, for the record, you should not), the judge can arbitrarily put you in prison for contempt of court. It’s not a criminal charge, so you’ve no right to those wacky things like “a trial.” You just go to prison because some bastard in a suit or a robe or whatever decides s/he doesn’t like that you won’t tattletale. If they put you in prison, it’s usually for six months. And when you get out? They can make you testify again. And if you refuse, right back in you go for another six months. Somewhere, Kafka and Orwell are fighting it out in some afterlife to decide who gets to use that idea for a book.

Grand juries demand resistance. Even if you don’t know anything they want to know, their very existence is so repugnant that they ought never be complied with.

My friends Dennison and Leah have announced their intention to resist the grand jury, that they will do nothing more than give their names. That they will refuse to answer all other questions. So they’ve announced to the world that they’re willing to go to prison without being convicted of any crime rather than play into the hands of the state. That they’re decent people.

The existence of grand juries is a secretive evil, one that must be dragged out into the light. We need people knowing about it, talking about it, condemning it. Resisting it.

One group in Portland that has come together to resist the recent grand jury is No Political Repression (okay, not the catchiest name, but it gets its point across). They’ve got a public statement against grand juries signed by a huge variety of political and cultural groups, and more importantly perhaps, a way to donate directly to those facing grand juries.

Direct action shuts down the largest mountaintop removal site in Appalachia

In West Virginia and elsewhere throughout Appalachia, they cut down entire mountains and dump the debris into the nearby valleys, killing everything, land and communities alike. It’s called Mountaintop Removal (MTR), and it’s an apocalypse.

It isn’t happening without a fight, but Appalachians are damn poor, and no one with power listens to the complaints of poor people. Coal is an incredibly powerful industry.

Yesterday, 50 activists used direct action to shut down Hobet mine, the largest MTR site in Appalachia. Ten of them locked themselves to a rock truck, and news reports have at least one other climbing a tree, using their bodies to keep the site from operating for the day.

Twenty of them were arrested and aren’t to be released until they put up the $25,000 apiece in ransom the state demands. One arrestee, Dustin Steele of Matewan, WV, has reported that he was taken into a room and beaten by cops after his arrest, and other witnesses have it that protesters were being physically assaulted by police while being arrested.

I’m not neutral in this (surprise surprise): the state and the coal companies are quite clearly and demonstrably in cahoots to keep the mountaintops falling, despite the cancer, despite the black water, despite the obliterated ecosystems, despite the collapse of local economies and the flight of communities, despite the flooding, despite the outrage. Any reasonable person would be opposed to the nightmare that MTR causes. Please, please, consider helping out. Get involved directly, whether through the system or through direct action. Spread the word, let people know about what’s going on. And consider donating to the bail fund for the remarkably brave people putting their bodies between the land and the machinery of its destruction.

Some of my photos and posts about MTR sites and the resistance to it:
Wise County, VA
the flooding of Mingo County, WV, caused by strip mining
what’s left of Kayford Mountain, WV

These Burning Streets, a poetry book by and fundraiser for Kelly Rose Pflug-Back

I’ve been working for awhile with the now-imprisoned anti-g20 activist Kelly Rose Pflug-Back to put out her first book of poetry, These Burning Streets. She got sentenced yesterday to fifteen months for her part in protesting the g20 in Toronto a few years ago.

Kelly is an inspiration to me, for any number of reasons. Try this: if you google her name, the top results are a mixed bag of published poetry (and people lauding her poetry) and mainstream news reports about how she’s an evil terrorist black bloc rioter. And, of course, mixed in with those is her blog, which has a good deal of her poetry on it.

Or try this article about how badass she was at her sentencing:

Kelly Pflug-Back calmly smiled at friends after Ontario Superior Court Justice John McMahon denounced her leadership role, albeit limited, in the June 26, 2010, rampage.

“Ms Pflug-Back appears nonchalant and has not acknowledged that her actions were not an appropriate way to get her message across,” McMahon said.

He noted that during previous sentencing sessions the 23-year-old social activist from Guelph has appeared indifferent, yawning and playing with her hair.

and what leadership role was that?

The Wilfrid Laurier University student wielded a pole to smash windows and directed fellow rioters to avoid smaller stores.

I can never be happy when someone I know is led away to spend almost a year of their life locked in a cage, but I’m happy to know that she’s loved and supported by so many.

What we’ve done is put out her book as a fundraiser for her. Combustion Books is distributing These Burning Streets for $8, with all but postage and printing costs going directly to Kelly. AK Press has agreed to carry the book under the same fundraising terms as well. The book is out at the printer at the moment, but we’ll send out any copies that get ordered as soon as we get it back from the printer.

For more on Kelly’s story, check out this profane existence interview with her.

Tranzmission – books to queer prisoners

To my knowledge, there’s only one books-to-prisoners program in the US that focuses on getting material to GLBTQQIA prisoners: Tranzmission, based in Asheville, North Carolina. They’re all volunteer and they handle hundreds of letters a month and send out a ton of care packages. Queer people and folks of alternative sexualities/genders/etc. are incredibly isolated and fucked with by the justice system and prisons, and I’m really happy someone is trying to support them. In addition to sending books, they operate a pen pal network to make sure that people inside have someone to talk to.

But even though they deal with the entire country, almost all their funds are raised locally. That’s got to stop. They need money to send books and zines to prisoners and to raise awareness around queer issues and incarceration. They’ve got an Indie Go-Go campaign right now and could really use your help.

If you can’t donate money, consider becoming a pen pal with someone.