Category Archives: Political

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.

Markets Not Anarchism – a panning

I had the opportunity last fall to have a look at Markets Not Capitalism, released by the otherwise-excellent Minor Compositions, an imprint of Autonomedia. My comments, however, didn’t make it into the book.

Markets Not Capitalism (or Markets Not Anarchism as I grew to call it in my head) is anything but anti-capitalist and anything but anarchist, despite the explicit claims made by the editors and contributors. Now, to be clear, while I am not a market anarchist, I have no objection to the idea. Enough mutualists and the like have convinced me that an anti-capitalist market economy could be part of an anarchist society. (Basically, such a society would still operate using money but would be setup in such a way that one cannot make money with money but instead only make money by actually doing things.) So I picked up this book feeling hopeful. I thought it would better help me understand my market anarchist comrades.

What I found was disgusting. Here is what I wrote in response:

This book makes the basic assertion that a free market economy will set us free. I consider this to be a remarkably dangerous fallacy.
I do not believe that anarcho-capitalism is a part of anarchism. And despite the protestations one might find within these pages, Kevin Carson’s understanding of capitalism as “government interference with the market” means that much of the “anti-capitalism” involved is simply “capitalism” under some weird up-is-down, war-is-peace, rightwing-is-leftwing double-think.
I do believe that there are a wide range of anarchist ideas, and many of them include market economics, and many of the essays within these pages touch upon them. But anarcho-capitalism is outside of anarchism. An economic system that allows the centralization of power is not an anarchist one, and the ability to make money from your money will do just that.
[This is] a book that makes the claim that black civil rights activists would not have had the right to “resist arrest” when protesting segregation, or claims that libertarian thinkers should defend to the death a bigot’s right to his or her bigotry.
I have no interest in a book would pretend to be anarchist while making such bold claims as that the first enemy of the environmentalist is environmental law. As an environmental activist myself, I know full well that the anarchist position is to use the laws against our enemies when they are useful and to never be constricted by them ourselves. It’s a hopelessly reformist idea to claim that the Clean Water Act should stand between us and the people who are destroying the earth. Anarchists will violate the law and the sanctity of property to destroy what is destroying them.
It was a market anarchist who said it best: property is theft.

Another highlight from the book is the idea, disguised as leftist, that welfare is the anarchist’s first enemy in the fight to destroy economic inequality.

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I am the cancer. I am not a human being, I am the beast.

(or: “Armchairs GTFO”)

Columnist Chris Hedges has an article titled The Cancer of Occupy in which he makes some rather interesting claims.

The ostensible premise of the article is that the black bloc and its attendant anarchists are the cancer that is destroying Occupy from the inside. Now, while I would disagree with this point, I could see a case being made for it. But this is not actually Hedge’s point. Instead, he throws together an astounding amount of misinformation.

Like the idea that the black bloc hates the Zapatistas. That primitivist author John Zerzan (who has not been in vogue among anarchists for a decade) is the primary ideologue of the black bloc. That the black bloc is made up of people who oppose all organization. Or that those who are in the black bloc cease to become human beings but instead become beasts.

I don’t know whether Chris Hedges is doing it on purpose or not, but this is basically a hit piece written by Derrick Jensen against John Zerzan and the anarchists who have spurned him. It is a transparent attempt to sway people over to Derrick Jensen’s cult of personality revolutionary movement “Deep Green Resistance.” (which has as one its other public leaders Lierre Keith, someone who makes public statements that are rabidly and blindly transphobic)

The actual premise of the article is that anarchists, who have rejected Derrick Jensen for being authoritarian, are bad. If this article were genuinely about the black bloc and Occupy, there is no reason to talk to Jensen at all. There is probably no shortage of public intellectuals who hate the black bloc who actually have anything at all to do with Occupy with whom he could have spoken. Using Zerzan as the purported ideologue of the black bloc though is where this subtext becomes completely transparent: Zerzan and Jensen are the two most important “anti-civilization” theorists and they are at odds with one another. Zerzan argues for an anarchist, non-authoritarian way of dismantling civilization. Derrick Jensen has open and widely-published aspirations of being the figurehead of a hierarchical anti-civilization group. Green Maoists, as it were.

Also, for some “not-in-my-backyard” fun, why not compare this new “don’t break any windows” rhetoric to Hedges’s article happily endorsing the greek riots? That’s always a laugh.

I want to go ahead and publicly apologize for including Derrick Jensen in my book Mythmakers & Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction. I realize now that Derrick Jensen chose to be included in that because, at the time, the anarchists were the ones buying and promoting his books.

I do not blindly support the black bloc or any other tactic. All tactics (within ethical bounds) have their time and place. But I’m not on the ground at Occupy Oakland and therefore it is not my place to sit around tell people what tactics are and are not strategic in their struggles. I’m not going to tell the Greeks not to burn things and I’m not going to tell the Zapatistas not to carry (or shoot) guns. I’m also not going to tell local farmers not to organize call-in days against natural gas pipeline developers.

Why Steampunk Still Matters

Parliament and Wake have an amazing essay up called Why Steampunk (Still) Matters. This article comes from some of the folks running the 100k+ member steampunk community on facebook, but it also comes from people deeply invested in radical social change. It comes from people who, like me, felt betrayed by a part of steampunk’s disdain for actually challenging anything within the real world.

It’s long, but it’s worth reading to the end. Even for those who don’t give a shit about steampunk, it’s worth reading, because it gets to why having ideas for the future matters. I remember when I watched the Chomsky vs. Foucault debate how Chomsky lost terribly and sounded like a whiny liberal. But I was frustrated, because the core argument was Foucault arguing that revolt was all that mattered and Chomsky defending the idea of having ideas of what to replace this society with. And I agreed with Chomsky, even though he got his ass handed to him.

Got blackmailed by a cop this morning at Occupy Santa Cruz

This morning I got a text at 5:30am telling me that #occupysantacruz was being raided, so I drove down to the courthouse to film. I crossed the street (it could be argued that I didn’t cross the empty street at the corner) and turned on my camera. Immediately, a cop detained me for jaywalking. Here’s the interesting part: he told me that I didn’t have to get a ticket if I would just leave and not come back for two hours. He told me he had no interest in debating what was and was not public property. I argued with him for awhile and then acquiesced.

It was clear that he didn’t care about my jaywalking and was only using it as leverage to clear me off of public property.

Oakland General Strike

On trucks
Holy shit.

More things will be confirmed later, and i’ll post more photos ASAP, but I just want to get my thoughts down about today while they’re fresh.

I arrived in Oscar Grant Plaza a bit after 9am. On some level, it felt like any big, NGO-sponsored demonstration: a sound truck, portapotties, people under canopies promoting whatever this-or-that cause. And then I remembered: this wasn’t a top-down organized event. This wasn’t something that we requested from the authorities. This was something we organized ourselves, for us. This was was held on occupied (actually, “liberated” feels the better term) territory. The only reason we have Occupy Oakland is because the authorities are afraid of what will happen if they try to take it from us again.

The first march was at 10 and I think there were 2,000-5,000 people on it… it stretched for blocks. We checked in with the nearby banks: yup, they were closed for the day. I doubt that was because they support the occupy movement. We went back to the plaza and a huge banner went up: “Long Live The Oakland Commune” on one side, “death to capitalism” on the other. Thousands and thousands of people from all walks of life, none of whom expressed any qualms at the concept of the Oakland Commune or “death to capitalism.” Another march at 12 left the plaza and visited some further off banks, forcing them with out presence to end business for the day. Some climbers with gear went up lightposts and set up an “occupy the banks” banner that lasted hours at least.

At 2pm the anti-capitalist march headed out. The march was led by a black bloc of most likely at least a hundred, mixed into a larger masked/militant contingent of another few hundred and probably around a thousand to two thousand people overall. Of course, the numbers fluctuated greatly during the march. It went back up to visit the banks, but several of the banks lost their windows. Whole Foods, perhaps in response to a reported threat from management to fire any worker who joined the strike, had its facade redecorated with paint.

Immediately after the property destruction began, the debate raged: was this okay? Did this represent “us”? The only violence I personally witnessed was perpetrated by people screaming “non-violence” who attempted to hurt people who had just defaced property, but it was clear that the march was of two minds. Still, when a group tried to split the march (“non-violent go this way, violent go that way”) they were met by apathy and abandoned their plans. What was fascinating to me, though, was I encountered at least as many non-masked participants who were enamored–or even participating–in the destruction than those who felt alienated or betrayed. One man I saw, shouting into the broken windows of (I believe it was) Bank of America at the bankers on the inside: “Do you hear us now? We tried everything: we wrote letters, we signed petitions, we protested, and you didn’t listen. Did you hear that though? Do you hear us now?”

The march returned to Oscar Grant Plaza and the most beautiful part of the day began. There were two marches, one at 4pm and one at 5pm, down to the port of oakland. Longshoremen are unionized but the terms of their contract prohibit striking. Yet they are allowed to feel “unsafe” crossing a picket line and not work, so when they feel the need to strike, they require others to come down and set up picket lines. We obliged.

And interestingly enough, dozens of longshoremen (out of a workforce of around 300) refused work this morning regardless.

I joined the 5pm march and marched into one of the most beautiful l things I’ve ever encountered. The space, miles and miles long, was entirely flooded with people. The cops say 7,000. One journalist I spoke to estimated 100,000. I personally want to say 20,000-50,000 people. People were climbing on trains, trucks, traffic signals… anything. Everyone was festive, there were bands playing everywhere. People of all walks of life, of all ages and races and sexualities and ableness were represented that I saw. Oakland represented, and Oakland represented hard. Tens of thousands of people engaged in a direct action.

By shutting down the city, we’ve expressed to the government, the corporations, to the world, to each other: we are the ones in control. It is we the workers who made this world. It is ours. We have only to reclaim it from those who seek to control us.

I mean none of this hyperbolically. I’ve been a part of demonstrations across the US and much of the “western” world and I’ve rarely felt anything like this: the feeling that we can win this. That people are sick of being mistreated. That we will rise like lions after slumber.