gordonzola: (Default)
In the paranoid squatter-punk world of the late ‘80s, FEMA was well known. Iran-Contragate* partially revealed that some of what the FEMA folks were doing was drawing up plans for internment camps in case of war, especially in case Reagan felt politically able to actually invade Nicaragua instead of simply funding the terrorists, rapists, and farm-burners known as the Contras.**

The head of FEMA in those days, Louis Guiffrida, was well practiced in the architecture of political repression since he did a thesis at Amy War College on the scenario of a race war (not "pro or con" but as a what-if scenario). In case you’re interested, he decided that interning all the Blacks was, unlike the WWII Japanese, impractical, so he proposed only jailing the most militant 50,000. He was convinced that Blacks in the Armed Forces follow orders and remain loyal. These plans were updated, (with Oliver North’s help, he was the FEMA liason for Reagan) in the ‘80s to handle jailing lefties and Central Americans in the event of US troops taking on the Sandinistas and/or the FMLN.

The FEMA interment camp news hit the Black press in NYC and the Village Voice but never found a home in the major media outlets. The anarchists tended to go even further, linking it to proposed (at the time) housing of homeless people in decommissioned army bases, calling it a confluence of FEMA power and the enactment of the Kerner Commission conclusions, a way of removing poor people from potentially valuable land.

The Kerner Commission was set up to study the inner-city riots of the late ‘60s. The cynical way of reading their conclusions is that teeming cities, and the cultures they inherit or breed, will always cause riots and/or rebel. This causes property damage and business losses. Therefore what must happen, and what government should push for, is "spatial deconcentration" choking off neighborhoods so that they slowly die off and people have to move away. Less density and cohesion equals less danger to the powers that be.

I love the anarchists. They are my people. But man, for a "movement" with so many "artists" we sure have a tin ear for language. Spatial deconcentration, (much like naming your demo A16 or anything the peace punks named their bands) just isn’t catchy. And theoretically it was a always bit of a stretch to say that it was actually government policy even if it certainly was in the interests of many people with more than their share of government influence.

People often ask me if I ever expected to be a cheesemonger when I was younger. I usually half-jokingly reply that no, I expected to be in jail. And, as much as I really thought about it, I expected FEMA to have set up the prison. To be sure some of that was delusionary, romantic, middle class radicalism, thinking I would 1. be important enough to be sent to a camp and 2. not killed and 3. not be able to get out of it. And certainly that was just one scenario in my head, said for effect more than reflecting my actual thoughts.

I’m writing about this not because I think it’s directly applicable to the current situation but to remind people that FEMA has never been neutral. FEMA is underfunded and unnecessary to the forces of repression these days because Homeland Security and the Patriot Act reach farther than even Reagan dared to hope for. That’s why such an obviously useless crony such as Mike Brown was head of FEMA. I don’t care to argue about the motivations of my enemies, but if the people running the Bush Administration really felt FEMA was important they wouldn’t have handed it someone demonstrably inept.

But these issues are still real issues happening in different ways and this "ineptness" can certainly be used for the advantage of those who appointed him. The rebuilding of New Orleans will be fascinating and horrible to watch. One doesn’t need to be a conspiracy theorist to know that while many people are living in evacuee camps, with strangers, or in churches, other people are already planning to rebuild the city to their liking and to their profit. I mean, duh, that’s the way these things work.

FEMA itself doesn’t need to be an evil entity for this to happen. It doesn’t need to be part of an overarching government conspiracy. But FEMA, as a part of the government which cares for certain types of people over others, will end up aiding the Halliburton rebuilding effort which, if I may predict, will among many other things, probably create a less dense city.*** But who knows? The severity**** of the evacuee camps could spawn effective political evacuee organizations. There will be neighborhood groups and church groups who will be fighting for the interests of displaced poor and working class people. The rebuilding effort will be long and so will the political fights.

We’re talking about the control and reshaping of an almost complete major urban area, something that hasn’t happened here since 1906. It seems like much of the French Quarter is still standing and property in a new, more sanitized, New Orleans might be potentially very valuable. Fear of earthquakes hasn’t stopped my city from becoming one of the most expensive on earth and that trend really began in earnest with urban redevelopment that, by coincidence, involved the mass disruption of certain long-term urban communities. Something Katrina etc. has already done.

*Geez, doesn’t that sound kind of quaint these days?
**"The moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers"
***Which is both good and bad. One doesn’t need to support tower block housing projects in order to point out that the government goal might still be to displace poor people.
****For lack of a better word right now. I assume part of the goal is to make them as uncomfortable as possible so that people seek any other option, both due to cost and the very potential of organization.
gordonzola: (Default)
I was walking by the local fire house, you know the one that saved my apartment…the one that’s now closed a lot of the time due to budget cuts… the one where the big drug and alcohol raid took place last year. Anyways, I was walking past and saw the sign below.


Man, what a depressing urban sight. I mean, I’m glad this program is here if it’s necessary but it really is a tragedy that there was a need to develop a universal symbol for "drop your unwanted baby here". *

I can play enough word games in my head to rationalize it. Surely it’s not that common but it has to be publicized so people know. It’s good to give mothers an option to alleys and dumpsters so their unwanted babies will have a chance to survive. It’s better that babies are given up rather than stay in a home where they aren’t wanted or that are too dangerous. These aren’t necessarily false statements though I also don’t think they are the whole truth either.

But it’s the blandness of the sign and the lack of fan fare that’s troubling. It’s like it’s just another option. I mean, just how many babies are abandoned in this city per year?

I went and tried to search for that information and realized that these programs are national and, of course, controversial. The only numbers I saw were in an old Christian Science Monitor Article which listed Texas having a rate of 14 dangerously abandoned babies a year in 2000 and 2001.

It’s not enough data to really draw any conclusions from, obviously. But let’s do it anyway. Let’s say every state (even though Texas is big and has two major cities) has 14 dangerously abandoned babies. 50 x 14 = 700 babies a year which is probably and hopefully a high estimate. Let’s even round up to 1000 to upgrade for the continuing crumbling of the US economy, health care, abortion services, and traditional communities.

Obviously even one baby left in an alley or a dumpster is a horrible thing. It certainly makes the TV news and the papers when it happens which is probably why a national campaign was undertaken. It’s definitely a low risk political move to try and save abandoned babies.

But what does it do to the rest of us to see the normalization of baby abandonment when the numbers show it is still incredibly rare? I honestly don’t know. A lot of "activist" politics is based on the idea of putting things in people’s faces so they can’t ignore it any longer and have to do something. People, especially people with money, can insulate themselves from the byproducts of consumer culture, gentrification, and capitalism and not letting them ignore it will somehow make them deal with the problem they created. Or somehow make the other people rise up against them. Or something. Much of the activism around homeless issues in SF, for example, is defending squatter camps and people’s right to sleep in the streets. This is a thorn in the side of many downtown business interests in a city that years ago abandoned industry for tourism as its main economy.

The most depressing side of this was a Bay Guardian cover from a couple of years ago when there was a big push to remove the homeless encampments in Golden Gate Park. The cover showed a picture of a homeless guy and his shopping cart with the headline "Leave them alone!"

Now, I know that headlines are produced under time pressure and aren’t a political manifesto. But "Leave them alone" is not a position that any real lefty or anarchist should have. When the left’s position is that poor people, without shelter or work, many with drug, alcohol , or mental health issues should just be "left alone" there is no real left. But then again, there really isn’t much of one anyway. I’m not, duh, saying that arresting them and throwing out their meager possessions is the answer. But think about how this policy plays out.

Rich people go away on vacation. Working people, especially ones with kids, use the parks. To say that people worrying about their kids getting needle sticks or falling into human waste** is not a real concern is pandering to the rich, not putting it in their faces. And what is the result of "putting it in people’s faces" after all these years? Certainly more shelters, more drug rehab, an acknowledgement of basic civil rights for homeless people, but also a general acceptance of the idea that homeless camps will always be with us.

That idea in the ‘80s, when Reagan began the de-institutionalization and cutting of safety nets that helped cause the current epidemic of homelessness, was seen as a shocking tragedy. I’m not writing this to give a balanced view of these issues, that’s, ahem, beyond the scope of this LJ entry, but to point out that there is such a thing as community morale. Universal symbols for abandoning babies is something that will certainly be depressing to many people if they notice it, and honestly, what’s the point of having the signs if there’s no publicity to educate people to what it means?

I think that the "putting it in people’s faces" idea has severe limits politically, and is often borne of privileged activists seeing poverty (or whatever) for the first time and thinking that no one else has seen it before either. But there are times and places where it is the right thing to do. If this "Safe Surrender Site" program is needed in response to the increase in dangerously abandoned babies, (and I’d like to see the numbers that indicate that. The linked article makes that claim but the numbers they quote don’t support it.) then why isn’t it being discussed more? I’m not saying the program is a bad idea, and the law seems like a good one, it’s just one that should cause people to have to think, in the small window of time when this with still be shocking, where is this society going and why? That is if it really is an issue and not just a depressing and cynical, political ploy.

*The internet tells me that this is the law that the "Safe Surrender Site" sign is announcing:

California's "Safe Haven Law" went into effect on January 1, 2001. This law allows a birth parent, or any adult with legal custody of the child, who is either unwilling or unable to care for their newborn the option to legally, confidentially, and safely surrender that child to a hospital emergency room or other designated location within 3 days of birth. This law protects the parent or guardian from arrest or prosecution for abandonment as long as the baby is not abused or neglected.

**SF dog owners are a separate issue. ;)
gordonzola: (Default)
I don’t believe there necessarily will be any one incident that will make the US war on Iraq completely untenable, domestically speaking. But it seems to me that The manipulation of Pat Tillman's death is a fairly big deal. Especially now that the he family is speaking out publicly about the Army manipulation of the reporting of events surrounding his death.

"After it happened, all the people in positions of authority went out of their way to script this," Patrick Tillman said. "They purposely interfered with the investigation, they covered it up. I think they thought they could control it, and they realized that their recruiting efforts were going to go to hell in a handbasket if the truth about his death got out. They blew up their poster boy."

For those of you who don’t follow pro football, Pat Tillman was not only the poster boy for jock patriotism, he was also a symbol of the state of the professional athlete. While the sports media is filled with discussion of greedy and ungrateful millionaire athletes, much of the discussion taking place with just barely coded phrases about race like "hip hop generation", Tillman was a throwback. He was an all-star player, making millions, who dropped everything after 9/11 to join the Army and volunteer for combat duty. He was often likened to WWII athletes who had volunteered for service, sacrificing their careers for duty. This link to WWII, followed the logic Administration’s assertion of the US’s right to invade and kill anyone they believed would become "another Hitler".

I do think that you have to admire the way Tillman backed up his beliefs, no matter how wrong they were. How many people anywhere would give up a multi-million dollar a year contract and actively put themselves in danger? Seriously ask yourself this. He trained his whole life to pursue a career that only employs 1350 people in a country of 200 million. He made that against all odd and quit at the very height of his career for abstract ideals with very real consequences.

Which is what gave his story such resonance. The Army immediately sensed the recruiting potential of this, assigning him to the same Army Ranger combat unit as his brother and highlighting his bravery and honor. The NFL, always in league with the military, made promotional ads about him and had all the teams in the league wear his number on their uniforms when he was killed. His memorial service was televised nationally, a gruesome Army infomercial. Announcers, whether having a sense of patriotism or seeing an opportunity to look stately for future advancement in their careers, piously detailed his sacrifice for the country which were hard to tell apart from the Army ads that ran during timeouts. I wonder how many recruits pat Tillman, in life and death, was responsible for?

Now the story comes out. "Gross negligence", "friendly fire"*, "Army investigation a sham" and the father saying sarcastically about the Army, "Maybe lying's not a big deal anymore."

Wonder how those recruiters are doing with their quotas these days.

* I am old enough, just barely, to remember when that phrase still sounded ironic.
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I know that the chance that anything will happen is non-existent but did people see this article about the fight to change the name of Mt. Diablo?

For outsiders, Mt. Diablo is the highest point in the Bay Area, a beautiful California landmark. I don’t know that the fact that a confused Christian can actually get a name change considered by the Federal Government means anything really. They don’t go into the process that triggers a call for public comment, it could just be that it makes saying "fuck off" a little easier. But The Chron does mention other street names getting changed for their Satanic Diablo names. And let us not forget the changing of Gay Court to High Eagle Road in the height of the ACT-UP era. I've found name-change fights fascinating ever since.

But what is more of an honor to Christianity than honoring one of its prime mythical beliefs as the name of the most visible Mountain in one of the country’s biggest metropolitan areas? Seriously. Does this moron think atheists, Jews, or Satanists named this mountain? Even before reading the article, one would assume it dated from the Mission times and that it indeed supports Christianity by channeling an ideological concept (albeit in Spanish) into everyday use.

According to the Chron, the name does have a specific Catholic history :
The reference to "Diablo" can be traced back to 1804 or 1805, when the Spanish military visited the area in search of runaway mission Indians, according to the Mount Diablo Interpretive Association. At a willow thicket near present-day Buchanan Field in Concord, soldiers surrounded a village but the Indians escaped. The Spanish called the site Monte del Diablo, or thicket of the devil. And later, it was assumed that "monte" meant "mountain."

Yes it’s true. That evil Satan allowed the Indian slaves to escape. That horrific act, which could only be attributed to supernatural intervention against the good intentions of the Spanish military, must be remembered forever.

If only. Instead, it’s a thorn in the side of a Christian hiker, who, ignoring all historical context, attempts to speak for all Christians:
"When I look at that mountain, I see beauty, an entity that was not created by the devil," Mijares said. "The devil does nothing but rob, cheat, steal and kill (and, evidently, rescue Indian slaves. –ed) That is his nature. I've known about this for years, but I've now decided it is time to act."

Not only that. He wants to name the Mountain after its Indian name: Mt Kawukum. Maybe he does get it. Maybe he’s trying to undo a historical injustice. Maybe he’s upset at the linkage of Christian tradition and the eradication of the native people of California.

Nah. According to a little quick internet research, the Volvon Tribe, to whom the proposed name "Mt. Kawukum" is attributed when someone bothers trying to attribute it, were killed off by the Missionaries so no one knows what they called it. The word is in no dictionaries of Californian Indian languages and the "original name theory" was debunked in a 1989 issue of American Indian Quarterly. It was used to market real estate in the early 20th Century though.

Besides, if Mijares really wanted to honor the native people of that area, maybe he’d be interested in toppling the huge statue of Junipero Serra, the founder of the areas missions. It stands above the busy 280 freeway, pointing at those escaped Indians as if to say, "You can’t hide. I’m gonna find you heathen Motherfuckers someday."
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Ok, Ok. I don't really want to get into the Ward Churchill debate. But it's all over my friendslist and I don't want to comment in 10 different journals just to say the same thing.

I don't support firing him or censoring him. Blah, blah, blah and duh. I do appreciate that he was trying to focus discussion on US foreign policy and answer the question of the times, "Why Do They Hate Us?" The idea that they hate our "freedom" still doesn't quite satisfy.

But writing in his press release:

* It should be emphasized that I applied the "little Eichmanns" characterization only to those described as "technicians." Thus, it was obviously not directed to the children, janitors, food service workers, firemen and random passers-by killed in the 9-1-1 attack.

Seems disingenuous considering the tone and message in his original essay:

As to those in the World Trade Center . . .
 Well, really. Let's get a grip here, shall we? True enough, they were civilians of a sort. But innocent? Gimme a break. They formed a technocratic corps at the very heart of America's global financial empire – the "mighty engine of profit" to which the military dimension of U.S. policy has always been enslaved – and they did so both willingly and knowingly. Recourse to "ignorance" – a derivative, after all, of the word "ignore" – counts as less than an excuse among this relatively well-educated elite. To the extent that any of them were unaware of the costs and consequences to others of what they were involved in – and in many cases excelling at – it was because of their absolute refusal to see. More likely, it was because they were too busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cell phones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants. If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it.

while the "power lunchers" obviously wouldn't have included janitors, food workers, etc., being so cavalier with his words in the aftermath of 9/11 was pretty stupid for an "intellectual" and professor. I mean, I guess it would be more forgiveable if he wrote it in his LiveJournal. I'm surprised it took him this long to lose his administrative position. When I read, actually reviewed, a zine with this article in it a couple of months after the fact, I figured his days were numbered then.

In that essay he actually seems to be completely unaware of the existence on non-"little Eichmans" in the WTC at all. Their deaths didn't exist at all to Churchill. This reads like ass-covering to me. And, ya know, he copped the whole "chickens" line from Malcolm X anyway. and we know what happened to him.

I do wonder about the timing of all of this. I guess it's because it's turning into a book now. Any other theories as to why this essay wasn't popularized/attacked before this? Because it certainly was available.
gordonzola: (Default)
ok, the inauguration. Why does any non-Bush-supporter care?

I assume everyone watching the inauguration is doing so because either 1. they're hoping for a riot or 2. want to be watching in case some act of terrorism occurs. Otherwise, watching Bush and his friends get sworn in and spout off about "freedom" is more masochistic than I can comprehend. You guys are hard core.
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Ok, one last thing about the election before we resume our regularly scheduled journal. I find it a little hard to write about because I don’t think the results of elections are obvious until much later. I’m not talking about provisional ballots. I mean that when one is living it, it’s hard to tell if a political moment is a stepping stone for more political evil or its watershed.

Mind you, I can write that and still not find a positive thing about the last election. I was more depressed about California Prop 72 failing than Bush’s re-election at first. 72 would have required large companies to offer health care to workers and pay a minimum of the monthly fees. I can fool myself sometimes. It seemed so obvious, and there was so little media action around it, I assumed it would win fairly easily.

Which brings me to the tragedy of all this Kerry bullshit. How much money and how many volunteer hours were spent on his campaign? The unions should have made 72 their first priority election-wise.* It’s only been the major issue in every large union battle recently, including the grocery and hotel workers. How many lasting institutions or organizing drives could we create with the millions spent on a bad candidate in a doomed campaign?

And San Francisco is no better. All the bond and tax measures were defeated. For the first time in my life I can’t fault a Mayor for announcing lay-offs.** He said if these didn’t pass there would be more cuts and lay-offs and that’s what he’s doing. It’s instructive to remember why they didn’t pass. All had more than 50% of the vote but part of ‘80s "tax reform" made it a requirement that a two-thirds majority is needed to pass new taxes. When the Right Wing started their Reagan-era counter-attack, first they came for the schools. I’m still bitter, as every Californian should be that California’s public schools, once the model for the nation are so under-funded and so bad. Twenty plus years of starvation will do horrible things to a political body.

As for the national election, I wanted Bush to lose because, among other reasons, I think it sets the bar extremely low when a President can get caught, with really no disputing evidence, lying to the country in order to go to war and get re-elected. I don’t believe presidential elections are the source of any real political change, but I really didn’t need any more cynicism, thanks.

I mean, I have jokingly said that elections as a decision between which wing of elites in the Capitalist party gets to manage the War on the Poor for the next four years. Except I’m not really joking.. I think this framework explains a lot of US politics but not everything. Elections are a snapshot in time and of empowerment, and even if there are little actual differences in the candidates themselves, they reflect real power and societal perception of what is "acceptable". Those differences are important if just to show how far away from the society we’d like to live in we are at this given moment.

What’s especially depressing, but not exactly news, about this election is that there is no fantasy left turn by the vast majority in this country. I think that liberals and even the left, in lieu of organizing, envision an overnight transformation sometimes: that those Red State*** folks will have been secretly watching Fahrenheit 911 or listening to Al Franken and on election day will show up in force to vote in "their" own interest. Let’s just say that if that happened, it would be a historical anomaly.

Movements change politics. Duh. The theocratic right is many years ahead of the left in working on this. Of course, it does help that their leaders tend to get assassinated less, but still.

As for all the LJ posts, I will comment here to most of what I read. I love you all, remember, you wouldn’t be on my friendslist if I didn’t. Even if it may just be internet love.

To the Midwest folks beating up on California because it’s no better than anywhere else: In the midst of a huge ideological right wing takeover if it makes you feel good to remind us were all in this together, then fine. Honestly, it’s kind of old news that Prop 187 should have clued you in to years ago. However, I will take you more seriously when so many of your people stop moving here.

To the wanna-be ex-pats: whining about moving is just aid and comfort to the enemy. Sure, the health care and social safety nets of Canada are attractive, in the US only something we can dream about which is the most pathetic thing about the state of US politics that I can think of. But no matter how much this is not our country, it still is our country. The first time I traveled outside the borders of the US I realized that I have no choice but being an American despite what is done in "my" name. While this is obviously a position of the descendent of immigrants, rather than that of a descendent of the kidnapped or conquered, it’s still my birthright. For good or for ill.****

To the Gavin Newsom bashers: Why, oh why, are you making me support a liberal Democrat using his own words? "Never apologize for doing the right thing." Anything else is just weak and you should be ashamed of yourselves. Of course, the bright spot for Democrats (not democrats) here is that you can find a way to blame this whole election on the Greens if you want. The argument goes like this: Matt Gonzalez, a Green almost won the Mayoral election in SF, actually out-polling Newsom on election day. Newsom, to consolidate power and neutralize the burgeoning Green movement in SF, legalizes gay marriage. This galvanizes the right (forget the Massachusetts supreme court for a second) and re-elects Bush. Those Damn Greens!*****

To the moral-voter spin-meisters: I know you aren’t reading my journal but what a bunch of hypocritical bullshit. It’s been said elsewhere but I didn’t want to leave it out. Letting the Right have ownership of the word "moral" is an assault on the dictionaries of the world.

The hangover in SF last Wednesday was pretty incredible. True, many had actual hangovers but the whole city was emotionally drained. It was quiet and empty. The stores and restaurants I passed looked empty. 8:30 at night looked like 3 AM. At one point I laughed at something funny and unrelated to the election and two or three people pointed out that that was the first laugh they’d heard all day. My laugh is exceptionally loud, but this illustrates the mood. Is this election more depressing than 1980, 1984, or 1988? Not really to me. It’s just a continuation. Which of course is a pretty depressing thought. Of course 12 years of Reagan and the other Bush probably permanently destroyed some of those nerve endings so I probably just don’t feel as much pain as I used to.

My advice: first things first, throw a party with friends precisely because we have nothing to celebrate. Then find some useful political work to do, work that is not connected to any major political party.

*I know some did at first. I need to call my friends and find out whether the had to shift their focus in the last couple of weeks.
**I can quibble with who gets laid off of course.
***It’s amazing to realize how the implications of the term "Red State" have changed since the early ‘90s.
****I only asked the Canadian LJers to marry me because I have an internet crushes on them. I don’t really want to move.
*****If you wanna find a bigger villain in the gay marriage world, try the white gay folks comparing Newsom and the marriages to Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. Now that’s insulting and alienating to the traditional constituency of the Democrats.
gordonzola: (Default)
There’s a certain argument that happens in my store that, honestly, I try to avoid. Mostly because it never goes anywhere except to hard feelings. Still, if someone asks me a direct question, I feel it’s my duty to bring it up.

I don’t have a problem with people shopping at Trader Joe’s. It’s cheap. People need cheap food. It’s usually better quality than most cheap food. I could go off on why it’s generally not a good idea for producers to get hooked into their world, but sometimes a cash infusion is important for a business to survive.

But sometimes people just wanna fight. A woman approached the counter the other day and said, "You’ve really raised your prices on this Dutch Goat Gouda."

"Well," I replies, "all imported cheese prices went up at the beginning of the year due to the dollar doing so badly and added transportation costs."*

"Well, this cheese is $9/lb now. It used to be $7.99."

"Yes, that’s true."

"Trader Joe’s has it for less than you. How come?

"Well, they’re a huge company that can buy big volume, they don’t pay union wages, and they only carry a small amount of products compared to other grocery stores."

"No, their prices are lower because of their volume. They pay their workers a fair amount for the job. Sales clerks get $10/hour at least."**

I love it when they tip their hands. Obviously she already had an answer for the "question" she asked. And the only acceptable answer is the one that TJ’s endlessly markets. My answer enraged the customer because I mentioned that people’s wages are actually tied to the price one pays for goods. Now, there’s not a direct ratio obviously, otherwise Whole Foods would be a lot cheaper than it is, but she didn’t want to hear about it.

And honestly, I didn’t even wanna talk about it because showing any kind of class solidarity among jobs generally provokes a negative reaction. Mostly because it’s fucked up when you have to pay more, especially when you can’t afford it, to show that kind of class solidarity. The Nation actually had a decent article recently. One that discussed unions and Wal Mart where the unions admitted that their workers had no choice but to shop their because it was cheap.

The reason I don’t usually mention things like that in response to unknown customers is that they assume I’m trying to guilt them. Not an off-the-wall response really, since the Left’s most notable achievement from, say, 1981-1999, was creating a we’re-so-defeated-this-is-the-best we-can-come-up-with semi-politics of liberal consumerism and "Green" consumption. Sigh.

*All food products must be certified terrorism free by having a documented direct line of ownership and handling from farm to customs. Producers responded by raising all their prices. Plus there’s the whole price of gas thing.
**I tried looking up job applications online but couldn’t fin anything completely comparable. Their management positions seem to start at about $13/hour based on a "47.5 hour week". Did you know that they have to call their managers "Captains" and assistant managers "First Mates"? It’s like the fucking Salvation Army. Food samplers (Hello [livejournal.com profile] elusis!) and part timers seem to start at $8/hour in big cities.
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A deserter from the US Army had a reunion with his Japanese-born wife yesterday. They met in Indonesia so the US couldn’t extradite him. He deserted in 1965 in Korea supposedly to join the workers’ paradise of North Korean socialism.

Just when you think that Cold War habits are dead, the LA Times reporters last paragraph* starts with this great sentence:

In Pyongyang, he apparently lived as a member of the elite, faring better than ordinary North Koreans in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Wouldn’t it be great if they felt the need to identify all foreign leaders and notables this way? Not to mention domestic Presidential candidates, members of Congress, and community "leaders". Especially when this information has nothing to do with the "newsworthy" information of the article.

"Candidates Bush, a multi-millionaire, and Kerry, a billionaire, live as members of the world’s elite, faring far better than ordinary Americans and with a lifestyle beyond the comprehension of most of the world’s citizens."

*well, actually I read it in the Chron which may have cut it up into pieces as they like to do to make more room for ads.
gordonzola: (Default)
By the way, my answer to the previous post’s question would be that the left’s biggest problem is their disdain and/or contempt, real or imagined, for people who work for a living.
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So in my Weather Underground post, a good conversation got going about trashing vs. criticizing of the Left by the Left. Since it’s Labor Day weekend in this country, what do you folks think?. What’s the Left’s biggest problem right now?

Too much infighting? Too many wingnuts with "responsibility"? Failure to support the correct tenets of scientific socialism? Nader? The fact that no one is following the sectarian party you belong to? Lack of any coherence or relevance whatsoever?

This isn’t a poll, so write about whatever you want. Hell, it doesn't even have to be the biggest problem, it can just be your biggest peeve. Don’t post your unpublished manifestos though, please. No right-wing trolls either.

(I include anarchists on the Left, btw, so answer accordingly)

*I tend to recognize May 1st as Labor Day myself, but this is a convenient excuse.
gordonzola: (Default)
I saw the Weather Underground documentary the other night. The theme was the unoriginal, if still true, idea that if you grow up white and rich, you can play around at overthrowing the government and still end up with that nice middle class life.

Now OK, that’s a little unfair. Some of them blew themselves up. A few are in jail. And one or two looked a little worse for wear from all the years underground. Plus, they themselves would be the first to admit that repression hit them much less hard than other politicos without such privileged backgrounds, some of whom paid with their lives.

In some ways I feel the right to be unfair though. Because I felt the pull of the kind of political self-delusions that lead them to start blowing things up. Behind the theory of "Bringing the War Home", the Weather Underground conducted a series of bombings over the years which hurt no one, but destroyed symbols of US imperialism in solidarity with "3rd World" revolutionaries and against US involvement in Vietnam.

The movie traces their growth from student activists to underground revolutionaries to college professors, activists and writers. A common thread among their decision to destroy SDS and become more militant was the idea that world revolution was imminent and there was no time to lose.

While one could see why they might have thought that in 1970, and also in retrospect see why they were wrong, it’s still a parcel of the left’s recruitment strategy today.* I could see, given the right situation, that I could have been convinced of the need to up our militancy in the late ‘80s to the point they did (with even less evidence to back it up than the Weathermen had. When I watched the movie, I could remember impassioned and privileged conversations among people I did college activism with about whether or not the revolution was possible and when it would happen.

"In about 5 years the economy will totally collapse and we need to be ready for revolution and the repression." I remember someone arguing at a political meeting that was an offshoot of our anti-apartheid organizing. A Red Diaper friend once told me that as a child she asked her father when the revolution would happen, "Maybe not in my lifetime, but definitely in yours," was the reply. As a political child of the ‘80s I honestly believed that I probably wouldn’t stay out of jail for much of my adult life if I continued with activism and organizing.

All of which, though you could say in different ways, show they self-delusion of the white left and an unexamined view of both privilege and actual threat we posed. While Cointelpro was very real, the amount that our small, crappy little political groups were cared about by law enforcement was exaggerated, partially to make us feel our work was more important.

Not that the work wasn’t important. But maybe because there was obviously so much work to do and so few of us to do it. The movie’s revolutionaries don’t make some of the claims I remember hearing in the campus movement when I was being politicized. My favorite, was the leftist sectarian who justified his organization spending all their time organizing on campuses because all the great communist leaders, Marx, Engels, Che etc. came from educated middle class backgrounds.

But along the way they do lay claim to the legacy of showing people of color and poor people of the world that some white people will renounce privilege and fight with them for economic and social justice. I can contradict this as a precedent on the national, but not on an international, level. However, that’s if you take the act of blowing up a government or corporate office as a revolutionary act and not just an airy, amusing anecdote or the equivalent of someone stealing a billionaire bully’s spare change when he’s asleep.

Don’t get me wrong. I think that the Weather Underground people were trying their best to overcome their privilege and fight for a better world. And I certainly don’t care about a couple of police statues or a few blown up federal offices. But I also think it’s still a failure of the left to romanticize "revolution" as if it’s a possibility just around the corner. And the movie, for all the historical context and fascinating details, shows the Weather Underground leaders still toying with that idea.

They may acknowledge that they were historically wrong in 1970. But they don’t offer many good reasons for people beyond idealists to fight for a revolution they can’t see happening in their lifetime. And maybe that’s also another example of privilege.

By the way, I don’t think privilege is the only factor in how to judge someone’s political work or worth as an activist. But they brought it up. And for the record, most of the people I did political work with at my snooty college (though the people themselves have mixed class backgrounds) are still doing work I’d consider political, whether it’s teaching or union organizing. The main question the movie raised for me was how to energize new organizers and politicos without selling them romantic suicide or depressing them out of the movement before they begin.

*As is radicalization by police baton, but that’s another essay.
gordonzola: (Default)
"We have to find some cross between being a movement and being a union. The membership must maintain control; the power must not be centered in a few. Maybe we would have some system where the jobs were rotated. It is important to remain free to work on many issues. That takes time, and sometimes it seems as if you get lost on unimportant issues. We're experimenting."

Cesar Chavez, 1965

Happy Cesar Chavez Day everyone. Today is now a California state holiday for one of this country’s great and most innovative labor leaders. I was unfortunately too dumb to remember the march yesterday, but I thought I’d honor Cesar’s memory by telling the story of when we went out drinking together.

In the late ‘80s my college political friends and I were doing a lot of local union work. The university service workers where we went to school were going through bitter negotiations and fighting the "give-backs"* the college was mandating in the new contract. We formed a "worker-student alliance" and provided food, fundraising, and picket support during the inevitable strike that followed. In a moment I’m still proud of, I even managed to fend off the Sparticist League attempt to take over our group during a 200 person meeting I facilitated. Their tactical mistake of calling up their "labor guard" from New York, four beefy, thuggy** white guys in longshoreman’s hats, to menace the meeting didn’t help their "cause".

So it made sense that after the strike was settled we looked for other labor issues to work on. One friend got involved with the new UFW campaign to boycott grapes. Cesar Chavez was touring the country promoting the boycott so we decided to have our college pay him a lot of money to speak and spark a campus boycott movement at the same time.

Amusingly enough, at the last minute I was asked to be a body guard, standing next to Cesar as he spoke, eyeing the crowd and looking for potential trouble. We didn’t really expect any, but Cesar’s regular bodyguard was sick or something, and he wouldn’t go on without guards on each side. Luckily, I didn’t have to make any "In the Line of Fire" type decisions.*** Except for a heckling frat boy or two from the AG school, ("The workers on our farm get treated very well"), the talk went smoothly. He was, as he always was, an eloquent an inspirational speaker.

Cesar was hungry after his speech and this was the moment we dreaded. In his later years, he had gone on a macrobiotic diet and none of the groovy natch places were open this time of night. As unreflective as we were at the time, even we realized we couldn’t bring him back to our squalid anarcho/punk/student house and cook him the hippie slop we specialized in. Our fears were unwarranted as Cesar, always a man of the people, told us that pizza and beer would be just fine.

We ended up at the underground (literally, not metaphorically) pizza place with the bitter bartender. He was Irish and even though the bar had more than one Irish whiskey, he would flat-out refuse to make a drink with anything other than the one from "free Ireland". At if you did insist, look out for spit under the ice cubes. He had made it his main personality trait to hate students and as the evenings got later, and he got drunker, he would often start ranting about privileged college fucks and how we would never understand working class guys like him

So when our group came in, even though at least a third were local union members not students, I thought he would have a heart attack. How dare we be talking with the great Cesar Chavez and not him? It was so unfair that college fucks like us were sitting at the same table as a great labor leader. He was ranting at the bar how we weren’t fit to wipe Cesar’s ass when I came up. I always thought it was a myth that people could turn red with anger but when I offered to introduce him, he did just that.

I wish I could relate great and amusing Cesar Chavez anecdotes, but honestly I remember mostly being too much in awe to participate in the discussion. He told us stories of marches and organizing and violence against UFW members. He told us of our responsibilities as students to try and change the world. He told us the unions would rise again. All inspirational, but nothing I could do justice to in this piece better than his own words below.

Despite his desire for pizza and beer, Cesar’s health wasn’t very good at that point in his life and he was fairly quiet and tired-looking, excusing himself early. The rest of us stayed late into the night, plotting our worker-student organizing and making concrete plans for a student/Gray Panther alliance that we had just started discussing. I picture Cesar having the same effect everywhere he traveled. In his footsteps, thousands of alliances and drives have bloomed.

If you don’t know why Cesar Chavez is an important person, here’s a good start Web searches can gather many, many more.

*Do people still use that phrase? Will they start again soon?
**in the old white street gang sense, not the hip hop sense.
*** I would have preferred that the "labor guard" been there in that situation.
gordonzola: (Default)
(I hope this makes some sense. Usually, if I felt something I wrote was still muddled, like I feel about some of the wording and organization in this, I would wait on posting it. However, given that things may change drastically in the next 24 hours, it didn’t seem like the time to wait. LJ is still my rough draft.)

I don’t think I’m the only one feeling depressed these days.

For those of you who know me in real life, you know that I am not often depressed. I like my job. I have a rent-controlled apartment. I have some great friends. I’m generally in a good spirits most of the time. But, the impending war mood is starting to lay in and it seems to be affecting many people I come into contact with. People seem to come easier to tears and less eager to shy away from a fight.

Slowly I’ve been realizing that we're (we're = almost everyone) all under a lot of pressure right now due to the upcoming war. Most of us (us = lefties of all sorts) still believe that the words we write and the things we do are important to making a better world. Realistically, of course, I know that things I do personally are marginal at best, but to not do them is an option that only leaves me with no hope.

The scary thing is that while what any one of us can do may be marginal, it also matters. People who haven't previously, are paying some attention to lefty organizers and writers*. Certainly not everyone, but more people than usual are searching for something to explain what the hell is going on. How long this crisis window of opportunity stays is open-ended. Certainly the cultish organizational personality of some left groups has undoubtedly sent some questioning people back to the old non-answers delivered by people who at least have a few social skills and seem sane.

The realities are stark these days. I wrote this as a comment in [livejournal.com profile] msjen’s journal but feel the need to repeat it here. A co-worker came to work yesterday in tears. She has three kids and her husband just got his lay-off notice after four years of teaching because of the state budget deficit.

But there's plenty of money to bomb Iraq.

The stakes are very high right now. Being wrong, tactically or ideologically, individually or collectively, will have consequences bigger than we're used to. Which is, of course, a good thing because it implies that many, many people are involved across the world and that there is actually possibility for one of the few times since I’ve been alive. And yet, it’s also out of our hands. We won’t be the ones to decide to drop the bombs or set off the nukes. We can only control our own resistance.

I just can’t shake the feeling that really bad things are coming soon.

*Anecdotal evidence at best, but let’s just assume this for now.
gordonzola: (Default)
Can we talk about hate? More specifically the "Hate-Free Zone" concept? Is that the dumbest thing the Left has promoted in years, or what?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not "Pro-Hate" either. Without being overly naturalizing however, I think we can all agree that hate is a fairly basic human emotion. Hate has positive functions. You know I hate my landlord, for example. While getting completely bound up in one’s hatred for anything is usually a bad idea, certain people, and even classes of people have done a lot to deserve hatred.

I got a call at work the other day that illustrated some of the issues. "Hi. I saw your "Hate-Free Zone sign at the front of the store. I wonder how you can put that up when you obviously hate Christians. Please cal l me back." Now, she obviously has an agenda. But that’s the point. Organizing around the "issue" of "hate" brings us to a lowest common denominator pretty quick. And that LCD can easily ignore the history of a particular discrimination and the way po w er works in society.

Because it’s not about "hate". It’s more likely about racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc; the victimization of less powerful groups in society by those who hold more power. That this isn’t said directly is obviously a tactical decision.

There’s both a cynical message from these signs and an apolitical one. I think there’s an underlying notion among some who see these signs that, nudge nudge, we know what groups we’re really talking about here. I fall more into that camp. Ha ting the capitalists who created this unjust society, for example, is probably OK, just be quiet about it. In this way it’s just another popular front slogan and I probably shouldn’t take it too seriously.

Except that it too easily lends itself to the a political definition. Being "hate free" makes it appear as if we are all on equal footing and that all hate is equal But "hate" is both an individualized and collective concept. Hating an abusive father, for example is often a healthy thing. Maybe it’s living in California, but I’ve heard too many exhortations to "let go of your hate" to not see the creepy, new age side of this message.

Does the "Hate Free Zone" concept seem especially middle class to anyone else? Similar to the language of diversity training, it seems to strive for an ideal of a polite society, a society where one must master a language of over-formalized language. That this is often a privileged skill is rarely, if ever, acknowledged. "Hate is ugly" it seems to say. It’s reminiscen t of gentrifiers moving into a neighborhood and calling the police on long term residents for having junked out cars on the lawn. Does "Hate Free" serve more to stop hate or to keep Left movements in the control of middle class, professionalized, activists?

One of my favorite writers[livejournal.com profile] motel666 had some thoughts on this also. I don’t agree with all of them, but the second paragraph made me laugh out loud.

And as the Clash said, so many years ago, "Let fury have the hour / Anger can be power / Do you know that you can use it?"



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