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The Case Against Voting

Wed, 11/21/2018 - 15:10

via Center for a Stateless Society

by William Gillis

So we’ve survived another election cycle and the inevitable surge of libertarian socialists like Chomsky lecturing anarchists about our abstention from voting.

I want to be clear: it is certainly true that the results of elections can matter. Unless you’re gonna roll the very long odds on a type of accelerationism, a bumbling centrist would be better than literal Hitler. Today, as the republican party lurches to the furthest white nationalist extremes, the “eh the parties are the same” rhetoric no longer cuts it for many. However. Just because the results of an election matter, doesn’t remotely mean that your individual vote matters.

The odds of your single vote swinging an important election are astronomical. There is no getting around this reality. Elections in representative democracies are all or nothing affairs: either a politician or piece of legislation wins or it doesn’t. Up until you can tip the balance one way or another your vote is of no causal consequence on the outcome. A typical election in my home state is settled by voting margins in the hundreds of thousands. Voting with the winning or losing side is inconsequential in such cases.

Yes, the stakes of the election’s results may be high for millions, but the odds of influencing the few elections with such stakes are, for most, usually smaller than one in a trillion. You can do far more net good handing out a twenty to a homeless person, caring for those in your life, organizing meaningful alternative infrastructure that directly helps others, or just doing the daily work of sustaining your own mental health.

Voting is thus far more irrational than buying a lottery ticket. At least with the lottery ticket there are plausible utility functions and economic conditions for impoverished people where the one in a billion chance is a good investment. There are exceptions where hyper-tight races with huge stakes are known about in advance, but this is almost never the case and certainly wasn’t the case for the vast majority of ballots cast this year.

Your act of voting doesn’t matter, but the fact that so many leftists think it does reveals deep collectivist irrationalities that DO matter and affect other actually relevant forms of activism and strategy.

The argument for voting is very Kantian: “act so that if everyone acted so…” and “if no literally one voted then voting would matter again” but if literally no one voted the government wouldn’t maintain legitimacy. And in any case this is not an actual causality. When you vote you don’t magically cause everyone else like you to vote, you are a distinct agent with distinct internal thoughts. Your individual actions have only very weak externalities beyond the direct consequences of your choice/vote. You could very well campaign to influence how others vote by deluding thousands and then not vote yourself since your personal vote would still be irrelevant, indeed I know some sharp-minded liberals who’ve done precisely this.

Unfortunately the delusional thinking behind voting crops up in leftist inclinations in general. They want to build giant organizations, giant armies, with individuals all acting in low return-on-investment ways, in hopes of aggregate impact. They don’t search for opportunities of high impact individual direct action. Thus, leftists gravitate towards “you have an obligation to show up for a meaningless protest” type stuff. Sure the demonstration only had a thousand something people milling about in hidden embarrassment, but if it had a hundred thousand then maybe they could storm some building and change something! If you just keep voting, keep attending demonstrations, keep buying lottery tickets, then maybe just maybe…

Democratic thinking seeks to build numbers first and foremost. It considers “having” more people to be the very definition of success. When this lens gets applied to organizing it detaches activism from a direct evaluation of consequences.

We are asked to keep showing up for meetings in an organization in hopes that one day this ritual of civic participation will transmute into potency and positive consequences. But very quickly the participation becomes the end in and of itself. The size of membership becomes the sole metric of success. The feeling of “community” sustained by these rituals becomes our real payoff.

Just as democracy teaches us to defer accomplishing things until after The Election, leftist politics slides into deferring accomplishing things until after The Revolution. The party is to be built up until one big breaking moment where the investment suddenly pans out.

Of course, until that moment, one more person joining doesn’t really accomplish anything. And so leftists become obsessed with instituting the same suppression of individual rationality among their members as democratic governments do to their citizens. Participation becomes a moral good in and of itself, acts are policed and rewarded in ways increasingly divorced from their consequences. The rituals are what matter, all talk of goals or efficiency be damned.

Collective action like voting often requires top-down enforcement and/or precommitments and sacrifice of continual individual agency so that you all march lockstep into action.

But anarchists — as opposed to leftists — don’t accept giving up personal agency and constant clearheaded evaluations. And we refuse to embrace systems, institutions, or strategies that necessitate that.

Instead we advocate direct action and finding ways of getting the goods without first having to scale up to a giant mass of people. Our projects are generally geared to slope upwards in impact rather than being all or nothings, so that every additional bit of energy or time people invest directly accomplishes something real, like feeding the homeless or arming trans women. Unlike voting — which is channeled through a centralized chokepoint and makes your involvement meaningless until a very specific amount of people are involved — this approach allows someone’s involvement to directly pay off in positive consequences. Rather than pouring energy into fighting sweeping universal abortion laws, we can simply build networks of abortion provision that are ungovernable, every new facility or cell a win. This gives individuals getting involved informed agency in their participation, in that they know the payout from their investment, and it gives them actual payout every step of the way. In this process our strategies and projects cultivate active engagement every step of the way, rather than perpetuating a culture of passivity and complicity in larger institutions and habits beyond reproach.

Even when we do work towards very distant goals like social transformation, the work that we do ideally moves that transition closer, sooner. We may not yet have sufficient numbers to normalize a new social norm or launch a project, but we hasten the day it will arrive and thus minimize the time people will have to live under the interim state of affairs. In our democracy a ballot measure isn’t passed the moment enough names sign a form, even if a measure is put on a ballot years later a whole new election with new acts of voting are required.

But most importantly, in our rejection of the democratic psychology, anarchists open ourselves to being on the lookout for opportunities of individual action. When agency is correctly grounded back in the individual minds that constitute the only true agents in the world, anarchism restores a personal responsibility often occluded or avoided by democratic thinking. Anarchism demands that we ask at every moment, “what should I do to best liberate all?” It requires constantly reevaluating our model of the world and our personal context within it.

This is why it’s almost always anarchists who seize opportunities for high-impact action like hacking corporations, coding tools that will be used by millions, or assassinating dictators. We continually build high impact tools, art, and are the ones happy to go to prison to stop a pogrom affecting hundreds. When it comes to making a huge difference there’s a ton of low hanging fruit, as a friend of mine said, “in this broken society there’s no excuse for not personally saving thousands.”

If democratic thinking is Kantian, a blueprint of habits and rituals to be unthinkingly stuck to regardless of effectiveness, indoctrinating us to operate like a slave with a cop in our head, anarchism is by contrast act consequentialist — demanding active consideration of causes and impact at all moments, and staying open to unique contexts.

There are of course rare situations where a vote has some higher chance of being meaningful. And the stakes can be quite high. Anarchist purity police are not going to arrest you for voting. But such situations are starkly rare and, for most of us in America, living in states and counties solidly one color or another, almost never something we’ll see. This is important because countering democratic thinking is critical to turning the tide.

The appeal “yes but if everyone thought the same as you” is meaningless first of all because our individual decision to vote or not has no magical casual impact on others’ decisions. At best by objecting to the democratic psychology and irrational arguments we can carve out some cultural space for people to gain more agency and clearheaded evaluations, maybe persuade a few. But second of all, if more people thought like us they’d help pluck the remaining low-hanging fruit.

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The Earth is in a death spiral. It will take radical action to save us

Sun, 11/18/2018 - 17:51

via The Guardian

by George Monbiot

It was a moment of the kind that changes lives. At a press conference held by climate activists Extinction Rebellion last week, two of us journalists pressed the organisers on whether their aims were realistic. They have called, for example, for UK carbon emissions to be reduced to net zero by 2025. Wouldn’t it be better, we asked, to pursue some intermediate aims?

A young woman called Lizia Woolf stepped forward. She hadn’t spoken before, but the passion, grief and fury of her response was utterly compelling. “What is it that you are asking me as a 20-year-old to face and to accept about my future and my life? … This is an emergency. We are facing extinction. When you ask questions like that, what is it you want me to feel?” We had no answer.

Softer aims might be politically realistic, but they are physically unrealistic. Only shifts commensurate with the scale of our existential crises have any prospect of averting them. Hopeless realism, tinkering at the edges of the problem, got us into this mess. It will not get us out.

Public figures talk and act as if environmental change will be linear and gradual. But the Earth’s systems are highly complex, and complex systems do not respond to pressure in linear ways. When these systems interact (because the world’s atmosphere, oceans, land surface and lifeforms do not sit placidly within the boxes that make study more convenient), their reactions to change become highly unpredictable. Small perturbations can ramify wildly. Tipping points are likely to remain invisible until we have passed them. We could see changes of state so abrupt and profound that no continuity can be safely assumed.

Only one of the many life support systems on which we depend – soils, aquifers, rainfall, ice, the pattern of winds and currents, pollinators, biological abundance and diversity – need fail for everything to slide. For example, when Arctic sea ice melts beyond a certain point, the positive feedbacks this triggers (such as darker water absorbing more heat, melting permafrost releasing methane, shifts in the polar vortex) could render runaway climate breakdown unstoppable. When the Younger Dryas period ended 11,600 years ago, temperatures rose 10C within a decade.

I don’t believe such a collapse is yet inevitable, or that a commensurate response is either technically or economically impossible. When the US joined the second world war in 1941, it replaced a civilian economy with a military economy within months. As Jack Doyle records in his book Taken for a Ride, “In one year, General Motors developed, tooled and completely built from scratch 1,000 Avenger and 1,000 Wildcat aircraft … Barely a year after Pontiac received a navy contract to build anti-shipping missiles, the company began delivering the completed product to carrier squadrons around the world.” And this was before advanced information technology made everything faster.

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86 Organizations Demand Zuckerberg to Improve Takedown Appeals

Sun, 11/18/2018 - 17:45

via Motherboard

by Caroline Haskins

Over the past year, Facebook has been forced to expand its content moderation practices in response to human and civil rights groups, who have argued that the company is not doing enough to protect its marginalized users from hate speech. Now, Facebook has been subject to criticism alleging that the company enforces its content moderation policies inconsistently in a way that puts marginalized users at a disadvantage.

An open letter to Mark Zuckerberg signed by 86 organizations and published on Tuesday implores Facebook to provide a clear, fast mechanism that allows users to appeal instances of content takedowns and account deactivations. The letter‚ which was spearheaded by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Article 19, Ranking Digital Rights, and the Center for Democratic Technology (CDT)—expanded upon the Santa Clara Principles published earlier this year, which called for all social media platforms to improve its transparency and responsiveness to flagged posts and appeals for removed content.

In April of this year, Facebook launched appeals for posts that are removed on grounds nudity, hate speech, or graphic violence. The press release claims that one of Facebook’s human content reviewers will review all appeals within 24 hours, and notify users if their appeal has been approved or denied.

The Facebook appeals process was largely an attempt to balance the company’s quickly expanding content moderation process. For perspective, Facebook reportedly had about 4,500 content moderators in May of 2017, which grew to 7,500 human content reviewers in April of 2018.

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The neoliberal order is dying. Time to wake up

Sun, 11/18/2018 - 17:39

via True Publica

by Jonathan Cook

In my last blog post I argued that power in our societies resides in structure, ideology and narratives – supporting what we might loosely term our current “neoliberal order” – rather than in individuals. Significantly, our political and media classes, who are of course deeply embedded in this neoliberal structure, are key promoters of the very opposite idea: that individuals or like-minded groups of people hold power; that they should, at least in theory, be held accountable for the use and misuse of that power; and that meaningful change involves replacing these individuals rather than fundamentally altering the power-structure they operate within.

In other words, our political and media debates reduce to who should be held to account for problems in the economy, the health and education systems, or the conduct of a war. What is never discussed is whether flawed policies are really the fleeting responsibility of individuals and political parties or symptoms of the current neoliberal malaise – manifestations of an ideology that necessarily has goals, such as the pursuit of maximised profit and endless economic growth, that are indifferent to other considerations, such as the damage being done to life on our planet.

The focus on individuals happens for a reason. It is designed to ensure that the structure and ideological foundations of our societies remain invisible to us, the public. The neoliberal order goes unquestioned – presumed, against the evidence of history, to be permanent, fixed, unchallengeable.

So deep is this misdirection that even efforts to talk about real power become treacherous. My words above might suggest that power is rather like a person, that it has intention and will, that maybe it likes to deceive or play tricks. But none of that is true either.

Big and little power

My difficulty conveying precisely what I mean, my need to resort to metaphor, reveals the limitations of language and the necessarily narrow ideological horizons it imposes on anyone who uses it. Intelligible language is not designed adequately to describe structure or power. It prefers to particularise, to humanise, to specify, to individualise in ways that make thinking in bigger, more critical ways near-impossible.

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Tech Workers Need to Keep Organizing

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 05:45

via Jacobin

by JS Chen

Tens of thousands of Google workers in over forty offices around the world recently walked off the job to protest their employer’s handling of sexual harassment claims. Collectively, they are demanding an end to Google’s culture that has fostered sexual harassment and abuse. Their demands not only include more transparency around harassment incidents but also a commitment to end gender inequities in pay and opportunity, among other issues in the company.

This protest against leadership in tech and others in recent years, signals a realization among tech workers that their interests and values differ vastly from those of their bosses, and that the only way to fight for their demands is to organize.

Today, the fight centers on the rampant sexism within these tech giants. But tech workers can and should fight the oppression and exploitation both within their companies and inflicted by their companies with the technology they build.

To do so, tech workers must first realize that they too, despite their often-high salaries and office perks, are workers. And like any other kind of worker, to advocate for their interests on the job, they need to get organized.

Why Some Tech Workers Don’t Think of Themselves as Workers

When we think of tech workers, we think of free pizza, table-tennis work breaks, casual attire, and six-figure salaries — hardly typical features of the working class in our minds. That’s no surprise: Americans typically think of income as synonymous to class. A large-enough paycheck qualifies you as part of America’s upper-middle class.

But this is the wrong approach to defining who is working class and who is not. Under capitalism, class is defined by one’s relationship to — and ownership of — the means of production. In tech, like any other industry, there are owners (the bosses, the executives, and the shareholders, who make money off workers’ labor) and there are workers (who can only survive by selling their labor).

Workers create more value for the owners than what it costs the owners to hire them. That additional value is then pocketed by the owners as profit.

For example, the average Apple engineer, who makes on the lower end of a six-figure salary, generates $1.9 million of revenue for Apple. This means that Apple gets about 10-20 times the monetary value per engineer than what it costs for to hire them.

Why is this class distinction so confusing for tech workers? Why is it that tech workers don’t think of themselves as “workers”?

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‘This Is Our Darkest Hour’: With Declaration of Rebellion, New Group Vows Mass Civil Disobedience to Save Planet

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 05:23

via Common Dreams

by Andrea Germanos

To underscore the planetary emergency and denounce the U.K. government’s inaction on the climate crisis, a new group calling itself Extinction Rebellion rallied over 1,000 people to block Parliament Square in London on Wednesday. The direct action marks the launch of a mass civil disobedience campaign, with the group issuing a “Declaration of Rebellion” against the government because the activists “refuse to bequeath a dying planet to future generations by failing to act now.”

Police arrested 15 people taking part in the action, but organizers say the wrong people were taken into custody. “If we lived in a democracy,” Extinction Rebellion declared in a tweet, “the police would be here to arrest the criminal politicians who are wrecking the planet.”

The DECLARATION OF REBELLION against the criminal inaction of the UK government on #ClimateBreakdown has just been made.#ExtinctionRebellion

— Extinction Rebellion (@ExtinctionR) October 31, 2018

Noted speakers at the action included Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, journalist George Monbiot, and 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, the Swedish schoolgirl “on strike” from school over her own government’s climate inaction.  “We’re facing an immediate unprecedented crisis that has never been treated as a crisis and our leaders are all acting like children. We need to wake up and change everything,” she stated.

Green Party MEP Molly Scott Cato took part as well. In an op-ed at the Guardian, she explained that she felt there was no alternative to being a lawmaker turned law-breaker. “We are prepared to halt lorries entering fracking sites; to stand in the way of bulldozers building roads and block traffic along heavily congested and polluted streets. Direct actions like these have a long and proud history; it’s time to carry them through in a systematic way to protect the climate, and to be willing to be arrested for doing so.”

Pointing to the latest IPCC report and the World Wildlife Fund’s latest assessment of the Earth’s declining biodiversity, she added, “It is no exaggeration to say that our survival as a species is at risk. Enough. Enough of words; of hypocrisy and broken promises. It’s time to act.”

The thin blue line between people and the politicians who are commiting wilful climate genocide through their criminal inaction on climate breakdown. #ExtinctionRebellion #FossilFree #ZeroCarbon2025

— Extinction Rebellion (@ExtinctionR) October 31, 2018

The #ExtinctionRebellion are doing this for your future. This is a climate emergency. The UN says that we are almost out of time and the UK government is failing us. Rebel for life with us.

— Extinction Rebellion (@ExtinctionR) October 31, 2018

Peace, love and respect for earth and all of its life. #ExtinctionRebellion for #ZeroCarbon2025.

— Extinction Rebellion (@ExtinctionR) October 31, 2018

The declaration declares, in part: “The ecological crises that are impacting upon this nation, and indeed this planet and its wildlife can no longer be ignored, denied, nor go unanswered by any beings of sound rational thought, ethical conscience, moral concern, or spiritual belief. ”

As such, we “declare ourselves in rebellion against our government and the corrupted, inept institutions that threaten our future,” it continues.

They charge they government of having “wilful complicity” that “has shattered meaningful democracy and cast aside the common interest in favor of short-term gain and private profits.”

“This is our darkest hour… The science is clear—we are in the sixth mass extinciton event and we will face catastrophe if we do not act swiftly and robustly.”
—Declaration of Rebellion“This is our darkest hour… The science is clear—we are in the sixth mass extinciton event and we will face catastrophe if we do not act swiftly and robustly.”—Declaration of RebellionThe declaration, said noted U.S. climate activist and author Bill McKibben, “should ring true not just for Brits, but for Americans (who have a declaration in their past) and for people anywhere.”

Wednesday’s action was far from the end of the road for Extinction Rebellion; they’ve got a week of action lined up for mid-November in London if their three demands— that the government openly communicate the severity of the crisis and urgency for change; enact legally binding policies to slash emissions; and allow for a Citizens’ Assembly to monitor and hold government to account for enacting to “the bold, swift, and long-term changes necessary”aren’t met.

“This is just a warm up. Rebellion Day is on November the 17th. Same time, same place,” the environmental group, which is backed by nearly 100 leading academics, tweeted.

The escalating actions, they say, are because we “are raging against this madness and our hearts are breaking.”

“We have a right and duty to rebel in the face of this tyranny of idiocy—in the face of this planned collective suicide.”

“We are going to act,” the group says, “and in acting together we will overcome.”

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

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Zuck’s Empire of Oily Rags

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 05:07

via Locus magazine

by Cory Doctorow

For 20 years, privacy advocates have been sounding the alarm about commercial online surveillance, the way that companies gather deep dossiers on us to help marketers target us with ads. This pitch fell flat: by and large, people were skeptical of the efficacy of targeted advertising; the ads we got were rarely very persuasive, and when they did work, it was usually because the advertisers had figured out what we wanted and offered to sell it to us: people who’d previously shopped for a sofa saw ads for sofas, and if they bought a sofa, the ads persisted for a while because the ad targeting systems weren’t smart enough to know that their services were no longer needed, but really, where was the harm in that? The worst case scenario was that advertisers would waste their money with ads that had no effect, and the best case scenario was that shopping would get somewhat more convenient as predictive algorithms made it easier for us to find the thing we were just about to look for.

Privacy advocates tried to explain that persuasion was just the tip of the iceberg. Commercial databases were juicy targets for spies and identity thieves, to say nothing of blackmail for people whose data-trails revealed socially risky sexual practices, religious beliefs, or political views.

Now we’re living through the techlash, and finally people are coming back to the privacy advocates, saying we were right all along; given enough surveillance, companies can sell us anything: Brexit, Trump, ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, and successful election bids for absolute bastards like Turkey’s Erdogan and Hungary’s Orban.

It’s great that the privacy-matters message is finally reaching a wider audience, and it’s exciting to think that we’re approaching a tipping point for indifference to privacy and surveillance.

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A Breach In The Dam

Sat, 11/17/2018 - 04:58

via Medium

by Daniel Sieradski

The same liberal Jewish boomers who gave in to efforts by the Jewish Right to divide the Black and Jewish communities in the ’70s are back again to divide Jews from their would-be allies with reactionary tribal impulses, and this time they’re dead set on being the breach in the dam that lets the Nazis through. Not two weeks after the worst massacre of Jews by a white supremacist in American history, the Jewish boomers and their junior aspirants have found someone to blame for the attack, and it’s none other than Palestinian American activist Linda Sarsour.

Here’s why I’m fuming:

Any day now the President of the United States can sign an executive order, as he has threatened to do, that will strip citizenship from those who were born in America to parents that were here illegally. This would render my septuagenarian mother, who was born to two Holocaust survivors who sneaked into the country by overstaying their tourist visas, a stateless refugee. (And what will that make me?)

While this possibility simmers in the background, undocumented and documented immigrants alike are being rounded up, thrown in cages, having their kids taken from them and sent halfway across the country, and are then deported without their children who, when they are are lucky enough to be reunited, suffer from severe emotional and psychological trauma from which they may never recover.

Likewise, transgender men and women are being stripped of their civil rights and publicly humiliated at airports by a federal agency that has been ordered to reject their passports.

Add to this the attacks on women’s right to choose, the rights of workers to organize in their workplaces, the right of Black people to vote, and so on, and it becomes clear that everything this administration stands for will result in the destruction of all that we as Jewish people of conscience purport to care about.

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Veterans for Peace March to Reclaim Armistice Day in Washington, D.C.

Wed, 11/14/2018 - 16:04

“All we are saying is give peace a chance.”—Peace marchers on Sunday at March to Reclaim Armistice Day in Washington, D.C.

This past Sunday, peace advocates, including Veterans for Peace protested in Washington, DC.

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Strikes and Picket Lines, Explained

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 19:30

via Teen Vogue

by Kim Kelly

The past month has seen multiple sports teams run afoul with one of the most important current labor actions in America: a massive nationwide hotel work stoppage happening right now, with more than 7,700 members of a hospitality workers’ union on strike.

On October 4, 2018, when the New York Yankees baseball team was spotted crossing a hotel workers’ picket line in front of Boston’s Ritz-Carlton, they were lambasted online for their lack of solidarity with the workers there. A week later, the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team crossed that same picket line to stay at the hotel, whose striking workers are predominantly women, people of color, and immigrants. The Edmonton Oilers ice hockey team crossed the border from Canada as well as the picket line to do the same thing on October 9, and now, this past week, the Philadelphia Flyers ice hockey team committed the exact same offense.

Why is it such a big deal that they and their unionized cohorts crossed the Marriott picket line? Why does the concept “never cross a picket line” matter? What does it mean to “go out on strike” or to be a “scab”? Let’s break it down using these recent examples.

A strike is a planned work stoppage that occurs when the members of a union collectively agree to refuse to work until their demands are met. This usually happens after contract negotiations have broken down and a majority of members have voted to authorize the strike, which is what the Marriott workers have done.

All four teams mentioned above have incredibly strong unions backing them and enjoy the benefits of said unions’ lucrative collective bargaining agreements. Thanks to the players’ union, the Yankees and the 29 other teams covered are among the highest-paid athletes in the world, with players’ paychecks running well into the millions.

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The Bike-Based, Anarchist Public Health Project That’s Keeping People Alive On Olympia’s Streets

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 19:23

via KNKX

By Bethany Denton & Gabriel Spitzer

It’s been going for about two decades on the streets of downtown Olympia. As a practical matter, on one early autumn night, that translated into two young women on rickety mountain bikes, towing large black bins lashed together with more or less whatever is available.

“It’s just this random jumble of like, what can we bungee to this thing today? Did the bungee break? Do we have bike inner tube? Do we have rope? Do we have anything?” Cassie says.

But the contents of those bins are carefully thought out: free clothes (especially socks), tarps and sleeping bags in colder weather, donated food and drinks, and, crucially, clean supplies for injection drug users.

Krista Kohler, who has been riding with Cassie for seven years, assembles the drug supplies into kits for people who use.

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Abolish the Military

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 19:06

via Jacobin

By Greg Shupak

Lisa Simpson had the right idea. In a 2002 episode of The Simpsons, the elementary school student tries to impress two college kids by putting a sticker on her bike that says “US Out of Everywhere.”

It is a slogan that should be ubiquitous on the Left. With the string of disastrous military interventions across the world in recent years, it’s even more apparent that US crimes aren’t isolated — there’s an underlying structure that produces them.

Tackling that underlying structure, though daunting, also fosters opportunities for unity. Because of the sheer destructiveness of US militarism, and its vital role in maintaining global capitalism, a reinvigorated antiwar movement could bring together leftists with a broad range of concerns.

So on Veterans Day, here’s how US militarism stands in the way of a just world — and why the Left should come together to bring it to its knees.

1. US imperialism breeds racism.

For starters, the main victims of the US military have been people of color. Just since World War II, there are the millions slaughtered in Korea and Indochina, the over one million killed in Iraq, and the tens of thousands in Afghanistan — all of which have then been affixed with dehumanizing labels to rationalize the murdering sprees.

The bigotry doesn’t stay overseas. Using racist language to legitimize attacking Arabs or Southeast Asians contributes to the dissemination of racism against minorities in the United States.

There’s also the long-running presence of Klansmen and Neo-Nazis in the American forces and the tacit acceptance of their presence by officials. As Reuters’ Daniel Trotta reported in 2012, white supremacist groups encourage their followers who join the Army and Marine Corps to acquire the skills to overthrow the “Zionist Occupation Government” that they think is running America and to prepare for the race war that they see as imminent.

Former service members such as Wade Page and James Burmeister have carried out racist murders on US soil, and a 2008 report commissioned by the Justice Department found that half of all right-wing extremists in the United States had military experience.

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Take Your Pick: Law or Freedom

Mon, 11/12/2018 - 18:55

via CrimethInc

How “Nobody Is above the Law” Abets the Rise of Tyranny

We saw you last night among thousands of other anti-Trump demonstrators around the US. Their signs proclaimed, “No one is above the law.” You were the one with the sign reading “I love laws.” We need to talk.

Really, this is what gets you into the streets? Trump’s goons have been kidnapping your neighbors, preparing to block your access to abortion, openly promoting “nationalism,” calling the targets for lone wolf assassins who send mail bombs and shoot up synagogues—and your chief concern is whether what they’re doing is legal?

And if Trump and his cronies were to change the laws—what then?

If you’re trying to establish the foundation for a powerful social movement against Trump’s government, “no one is above the law” is a self-defeating narrative. What happens when a legislature chosen by gerrymander passes new laws? What happens when the courts stacked with the judges Trump appointed rule in his favor? What will you do when the FBI cracks down on protests?

If everything that put Trump in a position to implement his agenda were legal, would you be at peace with it, then? When some nice centrist politician takes office after him, but the police keep enforcing the policies he introduced and the judges he appointed keep judging, will you withdraw from the streets? Come to think of it, where were you under Obama when people were being imprisoned and deported by the million? Perhaps you have no problem with millions of people being imprisoned and deported as long as no one colludes with Russia or talks over a journalist?

We saw other protesters with signs entreating us to “Save Democracy.” Didn’t democracy inflict Trump on us in the first place? Isn’t it democracy that just brought Bolsonaro to power in Brazil—a racist, sexist, and homophobic advocate of the Brazilian military dictatorship and extrajudicial killings? If democracy enables outright fascists to legitimize their authority rather than having to seize power by force, what’s so great about it, exactly?

If “no one is above the law,” that means the law is above all of us. It means that the law—any law, whatever law happens to be on the books—is more valuable than our dearest desires, more righteous than our most honorable aspirations, more important than our most deep-seated sense of right and wrong. This way of thinking prizes group conformity over personal responsibility. It is the kiss of death for any movement that aims to bring about change.

Social change has always involved illegal activity—from the American Revolution to John Brown’s raid at Harper’s Ferry, from the sit-in movement to the uprising in Ferguson. If not for the courageous deeds of people who were willing to break the law, we’d still be living under the king of England. Many of us would still be enslaved.

That is what makes your cheerleading for the FBI so chilling. You’re familiar with COINTELPRO, presumably, and many of the other ways that the FBI has set out to crush movements for social change? Imagine that your best-case scenario plays out and the FBI helps to orchestrate Donald Trump’s removal from power. What do you think that the FBI would do with all the legitimacy that would give them in the eyes of liberals and centrists? It would have carte blanche to intensify its attacks on poor people, people of color, and protesters, destroying the next wave of social movements before they can get off the ground. Nothing could be more naïve than to imagine that the FBI will focus on policing the ruling class.

The greatest peril we face is that Trump’s government will be replaced by a centrist government that will continue most of the current administration’s policies without violating any rules or norms. The more Trump’s regime is described as exceptional, the easier it will be for the next administration to get away with the same activities. In the long run, the system is at its most dangerous when it does not outrage people.

Mobilizing to support an FBI Director in response to the firing of one of the most racist Attorney Generals in living memory—this is the same “lesser of two evils” argument some have made for voting taken to its logical extreme; this approach guarantees that we will be reduced to advocating for the second worst of all possible evils. Firing Jeff Sessions helps Trump evade Mueller’s investigation, yes, but let’s be clear—men like Sessions, Trump, and Mueller do the most harm in the course of carrying out their official duties in strict observation of the law.

What Gives the Law Legitimacy in the First Place?

In the feudal era, when kingly authority was thought to be bequeathed by God and laws were decreed by kings, it was at least internally consistent to hold that everyone had a sacred duty to obey them. Today, this assumption lingers as a sort of holdover—yet without any rational basis. Certainly, the law decrees that no one is above it, but that’s just circular reasoning. What obliges us to regard laws as more valid then our own personal ethics?

Partisans of democracy like to imagine that laws arise because of their general utility to the population as a whole. On the contrary, for most of the history of the state, laws were decreed by monarchs and dictatorships—and only existed on account of their utility to rulers. Sovereignty itself is a fundamentally monarchist metaphor. If we no longer believe in the divine right of kings, that undermines any inherent claim that laws could have on our obedience. Rather than blindly complying, we have a responsibility to decide for ourselves how we should act. To cite Hannah Arendt, “No one has the right to obey.”

The law masquerades as a sort of social contract existing for everyone’s benefit. But if it’s really in everyone’s best interest, why is it so hard to get people to abide by it? The truth is, neither the powerful nor the oppressed have ever had good cause to obey laws—the former because the same privileges that enable them to write the laws release them from the necessity of observing them, the latter because the laws were not established for their benefit in the first place. It shouldn’t be surprising that a billionaire like Trump does not obey the laws. What’s surprising is that you still think that the rest of us ought to.

What’s the difference between the illegal activity of a Donald Trump and the illegal activity of a person who engages in civil disobedience? If “no one is above the law,” then they’re both equally in the wrong. No, the real distinction between them is that one is acting for selfish gain while the other is attempting to create a more egalitarian society. This is the important question—whether our actions serve to reproduce hierarchies or undermine them. We should focus on this question, not on whether any given action is legal.

What we are seeing today is the fracturing of our society. The peace treaties that stabilized capitalism through the second half of the 20th century are collapsing, and members of the ruling class are adopting rival strategies to weather the crises ahead. On one side, nationalists like Trump are betting on chauvinism and brute force, preparing to make the best of it as society splinters into warring groups. On the other side, centrist technocrats want to present themselves as the only imaginable alternative, using the specter of Trump and his kind to justify their own quest for authority. When they get back into office, you can bet that they won’t turn down any additional power that Trump has vested in the state. Your advocacy for “the rule of law” is music to their ears. And, of course, whatever additional power and legitimacy they concentrate in the state will be passed on to the next Trump, the next Bolsonaro.

Each side aims to instrumentalize the discourse of law and order in order to outflank the other in the battle for power. This isn’t new; it’s as old as the state itself. Immediately after the confirmation of Kavanaugh, you’re a sucker to imagine that the law represents some sort of social consensus rather than the edicts of whoever happens to control the institutions. To fetishize obedience to the law is to accept that might makes right.

To march under the banner “no one is above the law” is to spit in the faces of all those for whom the daily functioning of the law is an experience of oppression and injustice. It is to reject solidarity with the sectors of society that could give a social movement against Trump leverage in the streets. It is to assert the political center as a discrete entity that holds itself apart—that views both Trump and the social movements that oppose him as rivals to its own power. Finally, it is to legitimize the very instrument of oppression—the law—that Trump will eventually use to suppress your movement. Remember “Lock her up”?

You have to ask yourself some important questions now. Do you love laws—or justice? Do you love rights—or freedom?

If it’s laws you believe in, you’re on the right track. Just don’t have any illusions about what it means to value the law above everything else. If it’s justice you want, on the other hand, you need to be prepared to break the law. In that case, you need a totally different narrative to explain what you’re doing.

If it’s rights you’re after, you’ll need a government to grant them, protect them, and—inevitably—take them away when it sees fit. Whenever you use the discourse of rights, you set the stage for this to occur. There are no rights without a sovereign to bestow them. On the other hand, if you love freedom, rather than vesting legitimacy in the government, you’d better make common cause with everyone else who has a stake in collectively defending themselves against invasive efforts to impose authority, whether from Trump or his Democratic rivals.

From the anarchist perspective, all of us are above the law. Our lives are more precious than any legal document, any court decision, any duty decreed by the state. No social contract drawn up in the halls of power could provide a basis for mutually fulfilling egalitarian relations; we can only establish those on our own terms, working together outside any framework of imposed responsibilities. The law is not our salvation; it is the first and greatest crime.

Further Reading

The Centrists: An analysis from January 2018 that has proved prescient.

From Democracy to Freedom: The difference between government and self-determination.

The Centrist Paradox: According to this study, of all political persuasions, “centrists” are the ones who have the least interest in democratic models for governance.

Don’t celebrate the exception; abolish the rule.

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Apocalyptic Climate Reporting Completely Misses the Point

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 02:18

via The Nation

By Daniel Aldana Cohen

re we doomed? It’s the most common thing people ask me when they learn that I study climate politics. Fair enough. The science is grim, as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just reminded us with a report on how hard it will be to keep average global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But it’s the wrong question. Yes, the path we’re on is ruinous. It’s just as true that other, plausible pathways are not. That’s the real, widely ignored, and surprisingly detailed message of the IPCC report. We’re only doomed if we change nothing. The IPCC report makes it clear that if we make the political choice of bankrupting the fossil-fuel industry and sharing the burden of transition fairly, most humans can live in a world better than the one we have now.

And yet doom is what’s being amplified by seemingly every major newspaper and magazine, and the mainstream media more broadly. A standout example was David Wallace-Wells’s hot take on the IPCC report for New York magazine, charmingly titled, “UN Says Climate Genocide Is Coming. It’s Actually Worse Than That.” There’s a lot to say about the emotional texture of this kind of reporting. But the deeper problem is how this coverage fails to capture climate breakdown’s core cause-and-effect dynamic, thus missing how much scope for action there still is

Reporting on the IPCC, and climate change more broadly, is unbalanced. It’s fixated on the predictions of climate science and the opinions of climate scientists, with cursory gestures to the social, economic, and political causes of the problem. Yet analysis of these causes is as important to climate scholarship as modeling ice-sheet dynamics and sea-level rise. Reductionist climate reporting misses this. Many references to policy are framed in terms of carbon pricing. This endorses the prevailing contempt in establishment circles for people’s capacity to govern themselves beyond the restrictions of market rule. Meanwhile, the IPCC report is overflowing with analyses showing that we can avoid runaway climate change, improve most people’s lives, and prioritize equality through a broad set of interventions.

It remains physically possible to keep global warming at a relatively safe 1.5 degrees Celsius, and certainly a less safe—but not apocalyptic—2 degrees. This would require dramatic changes in economic policy and doubling down on the powers of public planning. Taxing carbon is essential, but is just one of many complementary tools. Using “command and control” regulatory methods, the Clean Air Act cleaned up much of the United States years before “market mechanisms” became famous. Indeed, “command and control” is the centerpiece of the best climate policies in the United States. Take California: There, the state’s regulatory mandates forcing utilities to source more renewable energy are the main reason emissions have gone down. In contrast, the market-mechanism piece of California’s climate policy, a “cap and trade” program, has failed to slash emissions; it may even have facilitated a moderate increase in carbon pollution in the state’s poorest neighborhoods.

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Noam Chomsky Calls Trump and Republican Allies “Criminally Insane”

Wed, 11/07/2018 - 02:09

via Scientific American

By John Horgan

I don’t really have heroes, but if I did, Noam Chomsky would be at the top of my list. Who else has achieved such lofty scientific and moral standing? Linus Pauling, perhaps, and Einstein. Chomsky’s arguments about the roots of language, which he first set forth in the late 1950s, triggered a revolution in our modern understanding of the mind. Since the 1960s, when he protested the Vietnam War, Chomsky has also been a ferocious political critic, denouncing abuses of power wherever he sees them. Chomsky, who turns 90 on December 7, remains busy. He spent last month in Brazil speaking out against far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro, and he recently discussed the migrant caravan on the radio show “Democracy Now.” Chomsky, whom I first interviewed in 1990 (see my profile here), has had an enormous influence on my scientific and political views. His statement that we may always “learn more about human life and human personality from novels than from scientific psychology” could serve as an epigraph for my new book Mind-Body Problems (available for free here)Below he responds to my emailed questions with characteristic clarity and force. — John Horgan

Do you ever chill out?

Would rather skip personal matters.

Your ideas about language have evolved over the decades. In what ways, if any, have they remained the same? 

Some of the earliest assumptions, then tentative and only partially formed, have proven quite robust, among them that the human language capacity is a species property in a double sense: virtually uniform among humans apart from serious pathology, and unique to humans in its essential properties.  The most basic property of the language faculty is that each internal language generates an unbounded array of structured expressions, each of which yields an interpretation at the interface with other cognitive systems (basically a linguistically-articulated thought) and can be externalized in some sensorimotor system, usually speech, in ways that allow others to access our thoughts – a property of language that Galileo and his contemporaries rightly regarded with awe and wonder.  Basic ideas about the mechanisms that have these remarkable properties have also proven fairly stable, though there has been great progress in refining them and reducing them to principles simple enough to provide sound explanations for many surprising aspects of language and to suggest a plausible evolutionary scenario.  From the outset, 65 years ago, the languages investigated closely were typologically varied, and in tandem with theoretical advances inquiry has proceeded to unprecedented typological range and depth.

Your claims about the innateness of language helped inspire evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics, which attempt to trace human thought behavior to their biological roots. And yet you’ve been critical of these fields. Why?

Not so much of the fields, which are surely legitimate and important, but of some of the practices within them.

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Why I’m Not Voting

Tue, 11/06/2018 - 16:59

by Eric Laursen

On a short visit to Austin, Texas in June, I heard that one of my favorite one-hit wonders from the long-ago British punk-pop scene, Wreckless Eric (“(I’d Go) the Whole Wide World”), was playing at a local club. I quickly bought tickets.

Wreckless gave a tremendous show. The songs from his new album were terrific, angry and political, and he interspersed them with acid, dead-on comments about the Trump administration and America’s descent into racist right-wing populism.

Then he let us have it. “You know, if you didn’t vote, you might just as well have voted for him.”

That would include me. I’ve heard a lot of this kind of thing in the months since.

On Tuesday, millions of people will vote in a midterm election that’s touted as one of the most consequential in decades. This is perfectly understandable. Depending upon the outcome, America could effectively re-endorse President Trump and his party. Or it could reject the celebritician in the Oval Office and re-embrace the party of the Obamas and the Clintons.

Millions of people, perfectly eligible to do so, will not vote, however. Once again, I’ll be one of them, and I’m happy to explain why.

Non-voters are this year’s pariah class, much as Ralph Nader and Jill Stein voters were in past elections. Whatever the outcome on Tuesday, we’ll be criticized for not doing our part, for putting principle over practicality, and for helping entrench the Republican Right in power.

But this entirely misses the point. It’s easy to shoot the messenger when you don’t like the message, and non-voters have been sending an increasingly loud and consistent message for at least 50 years now: we’ve lost our faith in electoral democracy. A Gallup poll in January found that less than half of Americans have confidence in the presidency, only 8% in Congress, only 29% in the Republican Party, and only 36% in the Democratic Party. The media, which plays an important role in legitimating our political establishment, rates only 30% approval.

This shouldn’t be news, either. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, public trust in government in the U.S. declined from around 75% in the early 1960s to 18% in 2017. Almost half (45%) of adults—more than 100 million people—didn’t vote for anyone for president in 2016. And this shift isn’t confined to America. According to a recent World Bank study, voter turnout worldwide declined from about 80% in 1945 to about 65% in 2015.

The message, in other words, isn’t about the candidates, their platforms, or the way they’re covered in the media. It’s a deep disillusionment that’s been growing for decades with an electoral democracy that becomes less democratic all the time, a sclerotic and highly institutionalized two-party system that suppresses radical voices (unless they’re from the right), and a (predominantly white, male) political and economic elite that’s expert at deflecting and neutralizing opposition to its leadership but conveniently tone-deaf when  it comes to understanding and addressing in honest and effective ways the issues that opposition raises. Millions of people, at least tacitly, have concluded that the system doesn’t need change from within, it needs to be changed.

The burden is on the people who hold the reins of government and party-political power to prove to us why we should bother voting, not on us to explain why we don’t. As Mark Twain and Emma Goldman are variously rumored to have said, “If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.” To understand how right this still is, just consider the ongoing voter-suppression efforts in Georgia and other states, the mammoth Pentagon budgets that pass year after year with “bipartisan” support, and the budget-cutting economics that keeps the richest country in human history on track to become the most economically unequal as well, no matter which party holds power. Consider the persistence of racism and the marginalization of people of color, despite decades of alleged government wokeness.

Or consider possibly the greatest emergency in human history: the rapid warming of the planet after two centuries of energy reliance on fossil fuels. Democratic lawmakers and candidates would have us believe that unless we put them in power, the Trump administration will continue to undermine international efforts to stop global warming. But the best the governments of the world—led by electoral democracies like the U.S.—have been able to agree on is feel-good gestures like the carbon tax and business-friendly half-measures like the Paris Accords, which substitute “market-based solutions” for the fundamental changes in industrial production needed to alter our course.

Global warming represents a supreme test for electoral democracy. If it can’t address this clear and present danger, whichever politicians are in charge, then what reason do we have to stay faithful to it? Aren’t we better off looking for—experimenting with—new ways, outside the State, to organize our response to a problem that threatens to annihilate us?

Let’s turn that question around: In the face of the evidence that voting doesn’t work, when we vote, who benefits? Why do “they” want us to keep going through this exercise (as long as we’re not black or brown or immigrant)? Voting is not the popular exercise of political power, but the surrender of our power as equal members of a human community. Voting affirms the present system. It signifies our assent. It keeps us hoping against hope that the next statesperson-hero—the next FDR, the next JFK—is just around the corner if we go to the polling place, play our assigned role, and pull the lever. It maneuvers potentially revolutionary social movements into unthreatening political channels (the best decision Black Lives Matter ever made was to not endorse candidates). It nudges us to blame specific policies and politicians, rather than take a desperately needed hard look at electoral democracy itself.

There’s something more we give up when we vote: the ability to say “No.” States, governments, and socio-economic orders crave legitimacy: it’s the one thing they need from ordinary people, in some ways even more than obedience. The right to say No to the whole damn thing is the most powerful political weapon we have as members of this or any society, because it denies the State legitimacy. When we vote, we give it up—just for today, perhaps, but if we do it over and over, pretty soon it becomes forever.

There’s a plausible argument for voting I hear a lot: that, flawed as it is, electoral democracy gives us a chance to perform triage when a serious threat like right-wing nationalism looms, and buys us the time to pursue bigger changes. Perhaps—but haven’t we been through this exercise too many times already? How many more years will we decide to fix the roof when the building’s foundations are rotten?

“Form’s survival conceals the disappearance of content,” the novelist Marguerite Yourcenar wrote of the political culture of the later Roman Empire; doesn’t our participation in the increasingly empty ceremony of elections represent a desperate hope that we can still find content where it no longer exists?

All too often, progressives are presented with a false choice between our current, failing electoral democracy and the hard-right, xenophobic, exclusionary nationalism represented by figures like Trump, or perhaps some resurrected form of Soviet Communism. This is wrong both historically and as a matter of practical, day-to-day reality. Human beings have always experimented with different ways of organizing themselves to fulfill their needs and desires as a community. From self-governing urban and agricultural communes during the Middle Ages to today’s worker-owned enterprises, cooperatives, and indigenous forms of organizing like Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement, we’ve been proving for centuries that we have the capacity to formulate alternatives that could lead to a more directly democratic, more economically equal, more sustainable society: one that can squarely confront an existential problem like global warming.

And that’s the worst thing about voting: it distracts us from the need to explore, collectively, without mediation by governments or politicians, how we can manage our future. Electoral democracy is not the end of history. No political system is, or ever will be. Devising the next one won’t be easy. But rather than distracting ourselves with the increasingly tired show the Democratic and Republican parties repeatedly trot out, we urgently need to get started. If not now, when?

Eric Laursen is an independent journalist, activist, and the author most recently of The Duty to Stand Aside: Nineteen Eighty-Four and the Wartime Quarrel of George Orwell and Alex Comfort (AK Press, 2018).

More on why anarchists don’t vote can be found at our special section Anarchism and Voting.

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With Eyes Wide Open: Notes on Crisis and Resistance Today

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 16:39

via Upping the Anti

by UTA Editorial Committee

A crisis is a terrible thing to waste. For the last two years, the financial crisis and global recession have presented the left in North America with the best opportunity in recent memory to move beyond the defensive postures of “resistance.” Rocked by the most severe financial crisis since the 1930s, global capitalism reeled as the very premises of the neoliberal project were called into question. But despite this opportunity, no significant mass movement emerged, and the political and organizational
limitations of the anti-capitalist left were clearly underlined.

Financial crises have been a recurring feature of neoliberal capitalism over the last three decades. Until recently, these crises were largely confined or displaced to countries and regions outside the US (Argentina, Russia, Mexico, and Southeast Asia, for example). Between 2007 and 2009, however, crisis came home to roost. The very heart of global capitalism – the US financial system – sustained a direct hit. As Wall Street fell victim to its own excesses, large swaths of the working class were hammered. The credit crunch descended into a major recession. Mortgage foreclosures and unemployment reached levels not seen in a generation. An even more dramatic 1930s-style meltdown was only avoided because trillions of dollars in public funds were injected into the financial system and the economy.

For a brief moment, this debacle marked a major crisis of legitimacy for the capitalist class. And they knew it. A traumatized financial press announced the end of an era, conceded the need for extensive new forms of financial regulation, and even advocated forms of “strategic populism” aimed at forestalling the drawing of more radical conclusions. After all, longstanding policies aimed at subordinating societies to the dictates of capitalist accumulation had led to disaster, and governments that claimed they could not find the money to adequately invest in education, health, and welfare programs somehow found the means – almost overnight – to bail out financial institutions and big companies.

The bailouts extended to capitalist financiers came with relatively few strings attached. In contrast, those aimed at large industrial employers in Canada and the US explicitly made “sacrifices” by workers a condition for support. These events not only revealed the hypocritical character of neoliberal politics – austerity for workers and poor people, public support and largesse for capital -– but also made it clear who will be forced to pay for the crisis if the capitalists get their way.

One might have expected such a dramatic unraveling to embolden the left to articulate radical alternatives. Along with unprecedented public awareness of the threat of eco-catastrophe and the growing disillusionment with imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, the crisis should have compelled us to act decisively in order to seize a rare political opportunity. However, with the exception of a few exemplary instances (including direct action against foreclosures and factory shutdowns), this opportunity has largely been missed. The openings that became visible during the acute phase of the financial crisis are rapidly closing. And, in the absence of a sustained challenge from below and from the left, capitalist elites will continue dealing with the crisis on their own terms and at our expense. The situation remains uneven; however, we do seem to be rapidly moving from conditions under which fundamental challenges to the system could have resonated strongly toward ones in which politics will likely be dominated by conflicts over how workers and oppressed people will be made to pay.

In an effort to salvage financial capital and prevent a slide into outright depression, massive public deficits are being racked up. But the piper, having played her trillion-dollar tune, must be paid. In the US, many states are on the verge of bankruptcy. The recent attacks on the public university system in California provide a taste of things to come. In Canada, governments at both the federal and provincial level are softening up the population with talk of the “difficult decisions” that lie ahead. As soon as private capital is stabilized, there’s little doubt that public austerity will once again be on the agenda.

Already, the Canadian government has engaged in attacks on pay equity, environmental regulation, and refugees. In Ontario, we have seen cuts to welfare programs, the withdrawal of funding to desperately needed transit projects, and talk of widespread privatizations. New anti-union labour laws have been introduced in Saskatchewan. More aggressive attacks are surely on the way.

Unfortunately, this is familiar territory for the left. Defensive postures of “resistance” to such attacks have dominated our agenda for much of the past thirty years. The failure to seize the day in
2007-2009 relegates us once again to a terrain likely to be dominated by defensive struggles. In this context, it’s useful to reflect on what we can learn from previous experiences in which defensive struggles coalesced into important episodes of collective action. In what follows, we consider the Solidarity coalition that formed in British Columbia during the 1980s and the Days of Action that took place in Ontario during the 1990s.

As different as these two episodes were, some important similarities stand out. In both cases, government austerity programs prompted alliances between the labour movement and a range of popular and social movement forces. These alliances culminated in significant challenges to right-wing governments. However, these promising mobilizations fell short of fundamentally altering the political terrain by failing to move beyond defensive struggles and toward the articulation of radical alternatives.

Each mobilization was comprised of both relatively “top-down” initiatives by organized labour and more “bottom-up” mobilization by social movement activists and anti-capitalist radicals. This combination of forces gave the mobilizations their dynamism; however, it also highlights one of the main reasons they ultimately fell apart. As the resolve of key sections of the union component dissipated, their leaderships abandoned the field. The remaining participants (including large numbers of militant union members) were unable to sustain the momentum or expand the struggle. To be sure, these struggles were inspiring and represented high-points of anti-neoliberal resistance. Nevertheless, sober assessment requires that we understand them as “heroic defeats.” These defeats are important: they highlight the crisis of organized labour and the ongoing difficulties faced by other oppositional forces aiming to mount effective resistance to capitalism.

Today, similar dynamics will doubtless come into play as governments try to balance budgets on the backs of the working class. However, our goal should not simply be to replicate the desirable aspects of our previous efforts. Learning lessons from past failures is important; however, we need to be equally sensitive to the dynamics of our current condition and to the ways that history, for better or worse, is unlikely to repeat itself.

As the 20th century neared its end, right-wing governments in BC and Ontario introduced bold neoliberal austerity and restructuring programs. Both regimes played a central role in elaborating the kind of “authoritarian populism” that’s now a mainstay of bourgeois politics in North America. However, these neoliberal offensives also created a compelling basis for trade unions, diverse social movement activists, and others to come together in coalitions of resistance.

During the early 1980s, recession provoked fiscal problems for BC. In response, the Social Credit government began attacking public sector workers in the name of managing the financial crisis. At the same time, they redirected public resources from social spending to subsidies for capital and infrastructure projects designed to attract international investment. After being re-elected on a platform of “restraint” in the summer of 1983, Social Credit quickly introduced a comprehensive austerity program that attacked trade unions and the women’s and anti-racist movements. These moves coincided with a more general restructuring of the state along increasingly centralized and authoritarian lines.

Spearheaded by public sector unions, the Solidarity coalition emerged later that summer with the goal of defeating the government’s restructuring program in the short term, and developing vaguely defined political alternatives in the longer term. The coalition’s immediate focus allowed it to cultivate broad opposition. However, while this approach led to large mobilizations, it also hindered strategic and tactical discussions and papered over important differences between the liberal, social-democratic, and anti-capitalist currents within the initiative. Differences also emerged between the coalition’s sponsors in the union
bureaucracies and its grassroots and rank-and-file membership.

Between August and October of 1983, the Coalition successfully organized demonstrations and engaged in disruptive tactics (including an occupation of the provincial cabinet offices). The series of strikes scheduled to begin on November 1 with the Government Employees’ Union seemed to herald a successful escalation of resistance. However, while there was significant support within the coalition for a general strike to defeat the government’s program, other sections of the movement espoused more limited objectives. For many trade union bureaucrats, the defense of seniority rights for public sector workers was viewed as a “winnable” demand. By drawing on the threat of spreading strike action, they thought they could secure the necessary leverage. The division between those calling for a general strike and those seeking limited concessions set the stage for the coalition’s collapse. After just two weeks of spreading mobilizations and strike activity, top labour leaders quietly sold out the wider movement by signing a deal reached in the Premier’s living room.

In many respects, the genesis of the Ontario Days of Action was quite similar. After the union-affiliated New Democratic Party (NDP) won a surprising election victory in 1990, it proceeded to junk its progressive proposals in the face of a recession. In this process, it went so far as to tear up public sector collective agreements. In the next election the NDP went down to defeat, and the infamous neo-conservative government of Mike Harris came to power. Inaugurating a self-styled “Common Sense Revolution” in 1995, the Conservatives began sacking public sector workers and cutting education, health, transportation, and welfare expenditures. Deploying a polarizing “suburban strategy,” the government targeted everyone from welfare recipients to public school teachers. -In this way, the broad-based and ideologically charged nature of the Conservative program helped to create an equally broad constituency for resistance.

As in BC, the fight-back was built in large part by an alliance between sections of the labour movement and a range of social movement and left activists. The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), several public sector unions, and a variety of social justice and left activists succeeded in pushing the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) into supporting a series of “Days of Action.” Aimed at different cities starting in late 1995, these one-day rolling strikes and mass mobilizations grew to impressive proportions. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets and set up picket lines against the government. For a growing number of people, escalating the protests into a province-wide general strike came to seem both necessary and desirable. More importantly, it also came to seem increasingly possible.

Once again, however, divisions within the coalition would ultimately undo it. Casting their lot with social-democratic electoralism, the more conservative private sector union leadership tried to keep a lid on protest. In opposition to them stood the CAW and several public sector unions who were spurned by the NDP’s about-face while in power. These forces were more militant, more serious about forging durable alliances with social justice activists, and more open to escalating the confrontation with the Harris government. However, they were unable to carry this position within the OFL, where the leadership was increasingly plagued by timidity and opportunism. In the end, the threat of a province-wide general strike and protest was quietly withdrawn and the Days of Action petered out.

Elements of the union-social movement alliance built during the fight-back persisted for a time in local networks and in the burgeoning anti-globalization movement of the late ‘90s. For a time, the CAW maintained its political and financial support for the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) as it continued a fearless – but increasingly lonely – campaign against the Harris government. The CAW flying squads – impressive examples of working class self-activity – also continued to slog it out.

However, the CAW leadership had begun to move toward a more conservative and bureaucratic business-unionism. In the process, it jettisoned its own traditions of internal democracy and rank-and-file activity along with its commitment to resisting concessions and “partnerships” with employers. It put the leash on its flying squads and ceased supporting OCAP after they raucously occupied a Minister’s office. Around the same time, they began courting Liberal politicians in order to secure subsidies for bosses and shareholders at the auto companies. The now-infamous image of Buzz Hargrove sporting a wide grin while he put a CAW jacket on Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin at the high-point of the 2004 federal election – an episode that some in the labour movement still refer to as “jacket-gate” – offered bitter proof for anyone still in doubt about the union’s dramatic transformation.

It’s no doubt true that some of the momentum built up during the Days of Action was carried over – particularly among young people – into the anti-globalization movement that flowered in the late 1990s. However, despite the new spirit of mobilization, mass alliances between unions and the new social movement failed to emerge. This problem took on a tragic character when, during mobilizations against the Summit of the Americas in Québec City in 2001, union leaders led their members on an infamous “march to nowhere.”

As we consider today’s “post-crisis” political moment, what can we learn from the episodes sketched above? First and foremost, it’s evident that “sell-outs” by sections of the labour leadership were central factors in past demobilizations.(1) However, while there’s no question that these sell-outs betrayed both the union rank-and-file and the social movement left, conveying our failures as a story about “bad leaders” is too simplistic. In order to understand these failures in a productive way, it’s necessary to highlight the differences concerning tactics and strategy that pervaded the movement. These differences coalesced around questions of extra-parliamentary action and “illegal” strike activity and around whether – and to what extent – it was possible to have faith in electoral politics. In both BC and Ontario, movement actors remained uncertain about the prospects – and even the desirability – of any broader political project emerging from the coalitions they had forged. These divisions affected unions, social movements, and explicitly left components of the coalitions. In the end, however, the future of the movement was effectively decided by those labour officials who withdrew their support. In this way, they highlighted the inability of social movements and radical left forces to independently sustain and develop the struggle.

With its slide into bureaucratic economism and electoralism, the whole trajectory of trade unionism in the post-war period made the movements’ “betrayal” by labour bureaucrats highly likely.
Given that this is the case, what’s perhaps more surprising is how few capacities existed – within and across union memberships, within and across various social movements and community groups -– to provide a basis for sustaining the movement once labour officials defected. The coalitions were highly vulnerable to being sold out, then, because of the limitations of their own component parts.

In particular, these components failed to build broad, principled, and effective radical left formations across sectors of the resistance coalition. If such left formations had been present, they could have fostered vigorous tactical and strategic debates. In this way, they could have made sell-outs more difficult and ensured that the movement was not simply rolled up by union leaders once they got cold feet. As Bill Carroll and Robert Ratner have noted in their instructive review of the Solidarity experience, “in the absence of open debate over tactical priorities and strategic objectives, the stage was set for ultimate prioritization of demands in an opportunistic way.”(2) In the end, the BC and Ontario government austerity programs proceeded more or less as scheduled. In both cases, movement defeats set the stage for even more comprehensive attacks on workers, poor people, and the public sector. Although they were ruthless, these attacks failed to provoke proportionate resistance from the demoralized constituents of the defunct coalitions.

Given the historic role played by labour bureaucracies in these defensive struggles, it’s important to ask whether today’s official labour movement will adopt even the limited forms of resistance they did in the ‘80s and ‘90s. After all, labour has since suffered more defeats -– both self-inflicted and structurally-induced. Meanwhile, the main labour bureaucracies seem less interested in, or even capable of, fostering the limited forms of struggle that sometimes emerged at the end of the 20th century. Clearly at play in the “heroic defeats” of Solidarity and the Days of Action, the crisis of old-line trade union strategies has only deepened in recent years. And, despite the hopes of many workers and activists, the radical renewal of the labour movement seems – at this point – a distant possibility. With the degree of union immobilization and timidity on display in the face of the recent financial meltdown, it’s easy to be pessimistic. It’s a depressing situation, but activists who reflect on this history will likely enter future rounds of struggle with fewer illusions about what can be expected from labour officialdom when push comes to shove.

We are, however, not the only ones who can learn from past mistakes. The right-wing regimes of the 1980s and 1990s attempted broad-based austerity programs that targeted a number of important constituencies at the same time. This provided the basis for immediate alliances that, under different conditions, would have been more difficult and time-consuming to develop. The coherence of the attacks also provided movements with clear targets. Capitalist elites may have learned their own lessons from these experiences. If they have, the coming years will probably be marked by uneven, selective, and phased in attacks aimed at isolating potential allies and picking off targets one by one. The success of such divide-and-rule tactics can already be seen in the recent mobilization against public transit fare hikes in Toronto, where municipal politicians successfully drove a wedge between segments of the potential anti-hike coalition by offering an eleventh hour exemption to students. Student groups obligingly abandoned the fight and left the remaining opponents of the policy to go it alone. As might be expected, their efforts were unsuccessful.

Public sector workers will undoubtedly be a key target of the coming attacks; however, today’s rulers will take greater care to isolate them in order to avoid provoking potential allies. The financial crisis and its aftermath provide a golden opportunity for the right to target public sector workers and “sell” these attacks to other workers. In the absence of a credible counter-narrative, workers faced with mounting economic insecurity, job losses, wage and benefit cuts, decimated or non-existent pensions, and an overall intensification of their exploitation, are more likely than ever to rally around a perverse politics of resentment. As public sector workers increasingly find themselves among the privileged few with secure employment, decent wages, and good pensions -(things enjoyed by fewer and fewer members of the broad working class), they will be extremely vulnerable to isolation and being set up as scapegoats. Unless our defensive struggles against cut-backs and concessions are linked to broader and more radical visions of what public services could be (and, more broadly, what a democratic economy might look like), and unless public sector unions can demonstrate that they’re fighting for all workers and their communities, attempts to isolate them will likely have considerable traction.

In this context, we can count less than ever on principled action from the traditional private sector unions, especially those in “mature” or declining industries. Confronted by structural sea-changes and aggressive employers, many of these unions have resigned themselves to the conservative task of managing decline and trying to salvage jobs and pensions for older workers, often by agreeing to the demoralizing and futile strategy of accepting concessions as well as “two-tier” wage and benefit structures that sacrifice new hires. The current crisis has only reinforced the conservative reflexes that come with this orientation. If private sector unions seem less willing than ever to go to bat for others in the old ways, they are even less likely to adopt the new and more ambitious strategies demanded by the fight today.

Given the moribund character of today’s official union movement, the onus now falls squarely on those committed to building dynamic anti-capitalist formations. There is some hope in the fact that neoliberalism and the ‘free market’ ideologies will be harder to defend; blaming fiscal crises on ‘lazy workers’ and ‘welfare moms’ is more difficult in the current context of bailouts for the rich. And the bitter pills of bankruptcies, plant closings, and rising tides of unemployment and under-employment will almost certainly generate increasing discontent. But despite these changes in objective conditions, the need to build principled unity amongst anti-capitalist forces, increase our collective
organizational and institutional capacities, and develop a political framework that enables people to imagine and fight for real alternatives to capitalism is more urgent than ever.

What will this require? For one thing, efforts to overcome the sectarianism and fragmentation of the anti-capitalist left are clearly of the utmost importance. Some divisions – those clearly not arising from principled disagreement – can safely be put behind us with a little effort. Others are likely to remain “live” for some time, perhaps indefinitely. This means that greater cooperation – let alone forms of political regroupment – cannot be achieved by glossing over disagreements. Consequently, new political projects will have to create spaces where these disagreements can be debated openly and often. This is not a prescription for “getting along.” Rather, it’s a call for devising better ways not to. In order to succeed under current conditions, we need to build political cultures where even sharp disagreements can be welcomed as healthy opportunities for clarification. Institutional mechanisms that facilitate this culture are important; however, in the absence of a genuine spirit of political openness and generosity, they will not be enough. Such political generosity will be key when we confront those tensions that arise whenever forces with different political cultures and languages (not to mention different traditions of organizing and decision-making) come together to get things done.

Efforts to network and build mutual support between existing initiatives – to “support each other’s struggles” – are indispensable; however, both in their own right and as necessary first steps in building trust, they are not sufficient. New anti-capitalist efforts will need to move beyond the existing terrain of groups, struggles, and personalities. A litmus test of success for such initiatives will be the extent to which novel patterns of political affinity, practical activity, and leadership -– the building blocks of a new “we” -– can emerge from the radical left as it currently exists.

All of this is, of course, much easier said than done. But, difficult as it may be, concerted efforts along these lines are urgently needed. As the need to do things differently becomes clearer, it’s incumbent upon each of us to learn from each other’s efforts. It’s in this context that we highlight the efforts of the Workers’ Assembly of Greater Toronto. To be sure, the extent to which we can generalize from a particular context is always limited; however, there are important aspects of the Toronto initiative that deserve consideration.

Launched in the wake of the economic crisis and motivated, in part, by a perception of the limits of existing anti-capitalist groups and struggles, the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly gathers together many of the city’s existing socialist and anarchist groupings along with members of social movement organizations like OCAP, the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, and No One Is Illegal. The Assembly finds its roots in “Rebuilding the Left,” a Toronto-based regroupment initiative that briefly emerged around the height of the anti-globalization movement. One reason that Rebuilding the Left failed to gain traction was that component groups were reluctant to build an organization per se. For some, this was because, in the heady days of anti-globalization mobilizing, they did not see the need. For others, it was because they were keen to maintain their own organizational forms and reluctant to commit to something new. In the case of the Workers’ Assembly, however, such reservations appear to have been put aside for the moment. The organization was formally launched on the basis of individual membership; it is not simply a network of existing groups.

In terms of its political basis of unity, the Workers’ Assembly can best be summarized as a combination of “anti” politics – anti-capitalism, anti-oppression, and anti-imperialism. Its aim is to “build unity and solidarity amongst the working class defined in the broadest terms” whether unionized or non-unionized, employed or unemployed, with or without status, and all of those facing any forms of discrimination and oppression.(3)

In addition to the fact that it’s managed to come together at all, the Assembly has several features that make it promising as a new anti-capitalist initiative. For one thing, its geographic focus provides important opportunities to bridge the divide – so common in the radical movements of recent years – between relatively abstract “anti-capitalism” and relatively particular issue-based struggles. In this way, the Assembly provides a promising point from which to fill in the gaps of this divide and to develop a more comprehensive anti-capitalist analysis and practice appropriate to our times. It also provides opportunities to plug into, bring together, and reinvent political work already being carried out in a variety of areas.

Consider one of the main areas that the Assembly has committed itself to pursuing: a multi-faceted movement for free transit in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).(4) The cost of transit in the GTA has increased steadily over the past decade and constitutes a form of “regressive taxation.” Fares paid by poor and working class people disproportionately fund the system as a whole. As a draft pamphlet produced by members of the Assembly points out, the campaign for free transit has the potential to link up with and influence a whole range of movements:

[Our] vision includes vibrant, sustainable neighborhoods; clean air; participatory politics; equitable distribution of resources; and public space where we are free to speak, gather, play, create and organize. We want to build an understanding of transit users not simply as consumers of a commodity, but as members of the public entitled to participate in conversations about the kind of city we want to live in.

Local caucuses might bring together “workers, students, anti-poverty activists, environmentalists, and neighborhood organizations who might not otherwise work together.” Furthermore, transit issues intersect with many of the struggles that people involved in the Assembly are already working on – the environment, housing rights, migrant justice, opposition to privatization and the defense of public space, the right of access to city services, exclusion from the democratic process, union struggles, and so on.

Perhaps most important, however, is the fact that the transit campaign indicates how we might begin to move beyond a strictly defensive posture. There’s no question that public transportation will be an important political question in the coming years. The areas of Toronto least served by the city’s aging transit network are in the midst of an unprecedented population boom. Without public investment of the kind that the government of Ontario recently shelved, it’s inevitable that this issue will develop into a significant political pressure point. If ambitious and radical demands are pressed now by strong city-wide coalitions, it may be possible to shape how public transportation is understood and fought over when the politicians can no longer ignore the crisis.

Along with building organizational infrastructure, the growth of the radical left requires the development of anti-capitalist political programs that articulate our demands in a positive form. The politics of the “three antis” are the lowest common denominator of the radical left today. As such, they are an important starting point for any process of regroupment. Nevertheless, mass struggles cannot thrive without programs and campaigns that make radical ideas concrete. The transit issue shows how struggles to de-commodify key goods and services, for example, could help form beachheads for a renewed revolutionary politics for the 21th century.

Initiatives like the Workers Assembly are absolutely vital to renewing the radical left. However, we must recognize how modest our capacities remain – especially in light of our present political context. Can such initiatives grow and mature in the course of a larger fight-back, or will we be doomed to continue operating from our various “silos”? Presuming that we do overcome our sectoral divisions, how can initiatives like the Assembly address the tensions that led to the demise of the movements of the 80s and 90s?

The challenges and dangers are many. There’s the danger of falling into incrementalist and reformist positions in the context of particular campaigns; of mimicking the postures of union and social movement officialdom organizing around similar issues; of subordinating the development of a radical and independent class perspective to immediately “winnable” demands that don’t necessarily improve our capacity to expand the struggle; of falling into a narrow and “localist” politics of urban space and place. Paying heed to the lessons of previous episodes of resistance – the need for broad, principled, and effective anti-capitalist formations linking sectors and struggles, the need to promote vigorous tactical and strategic debates to forestall “opportunistic prioritization,” and the need to build capacities to act independently of mainstream union and social movement forces – will be helpful as we proceed.

Although the future is uncertain, new initiatives such as the Workers Assembly have the potential to become dynamic and relevant institutions attracting a broader sector of the currently unengaged left. In order for them to live up to their promise, initiatives such as these have to develop their own political capacities – including, of course, a funding base. They need to become institutions worth fighting for: centres of working class and movement power simultaneously engaged in building practical struggles, sharpening and expanding anti-capitalist analysis, and developing unifying visions of a post-capitalist future. In pursuing these objectives, they must also avoid falling prey to the dogmatism and top-down politics that have plagued many labour and socialist organizations in the past.

Some habits of contemporary radical movements will also have to be consciously undone. In a talk delivered to the Workers’ Assembly in April 2010, Rafeef Ziadah – a leading organizer with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid – pinpointed three debilitating movement habits that continue to limit our capacity to work together and connect to a broader social base. Ziadah called these habits the Politics of Guilt, the Politics of Purity, and the Politics of Misery. (5)

Initiatives like the Workers’ Assembly offer the possibility of building better political and organizational tools than we now have through common struggles against capitalism and all forms of oppression. They have the potential to become radical formations of the kind that were so needed but so lacking in the struggles against neo-liberalism waged in the past. Ensnared by our past, we may squander this potential through sectarian infighting. But this is not inevitable. And, if we face the challenges outlined above with eyes wide open, we may yet be able to rebuild a dynamic and transformative radical left capable of rising to the challenge of the present conjuncture.


1 See Bryan Palmer, 1987. Solidarity: The Rise and Fall of an Opposition in British Columbia (Vancouver: New Star Books); Michael Goldfield and Bryan Palmer, 2007. “Canada’s Workers Movement: Uneven Developments.” Labour/ Le Travail, 59.

2 Carroll, William and R.S. Ratner, 1989. “Social Democracy, Neo-Conservatism and Hegemonic Crisis in British Columbia.” Critical Sociology 16(1), p. 39. We have relied on this account for many of the details of the Solidarity episode.

3 See the Workers’ Assembly website at for the complete vision statement.

4 Currently, another principal focus of the Assembly is developing responses to the anticipated attack on the public sector in the context of the economic crisis. The vision discussed so far by the Assembly quite rightly emphasizes the building of links between workers providing public services and the residents who rely on them.

5 See for a video of Ziadah’s talk.

The post With Eyes Wide Open: Notes on Crisis and Resistance Today appeared first on Infoshop News.

The (Trans) Kids Are Alright

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 13:51

via Center for a Stateless Society

by Alex McHugh

Recently, the Trump administration, through the Department of Health and Human Services, issued a worrying memo about gender identity. In the memo, HHS argues for an interpretation of gender and sex that would define gender as “either male or female, unchangeable, and determined by the genitals a person is born with.” This would roll back the expanded definition of gender put in place by the Obama administration. It follows a series of anti-trans moves by the president, including his attempts to ban trans people from the military, and the administration’s guidance to schools to enforce gendered bathroom policies.

A lot of people are very worried because this targeting of identity in particular can be quite dangerous for trans people living under such a regime. Dean Spade lays out some of the ways in which identification laws and legal definitions harm trans people in Truthout:

For the last 16 years, I have been involved with efforts to reduce the enforcement of gender categories on trans people and everyone. When I started doing this work in 2002, many state and local agencies and federal administrative regimes that keep gender marker data about people didn’t have clear policies, or didn’t have any policy at all, about whether someone could change their gender marker, or even what evidence or documentation the gender marker on someone’s records or ID is based on. As trans legal organizations began to emerge in the early 2000s, we worked to identify ways to reduce the harms trans people face because of gender norm enforcement.

As a poverty lawyer working at the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, I saw this harm in my clients’ lives. One client was kicked out of school when she and her friend showed up dressed as women, coming out to their peers and teachers. Another client had her welfare benefits terminated when she showed up at her mandatory “workfare” assignment because the supervisor marked her as absent, saying she wasn’t “work ready” if she dressed as a woman. Another client needed placement in a domestic violence shelter but the shelters would not admit her because she was trans. One client was convicted on a drug charge and wanted to serve part of it in the drug treatment program, but the program would not take him because he was trans.

So legal gender definitions are certainly more than just words for trans folks. But I don’t want to focus on this memo that much because I don’t think it’s really going to matter and I don’t know that the big show of opposing it is focusing energy and resources in the right direction. Part of the problem is that Mr. Trump is doing this right before the election. My guess is that he’s trying to appease evangelical conservatives he might have lost, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a significant political move meant to signal an opposition to queer rights generally, and trans people in particular. The problem is, by focusing the debate about this attack on queer rights on his little election ploy, a lot of folks are getting pushed towards electoral change as the mechanism to fix this. I can’t tell you how many people have tried to tell me a “blue wave” will fix this in the past few days.

But the problem of trans rights and visibility is much deeper than the administrative decrees about how the state sees us. Trans people are facing a much bigger threat right now and we need the resources of resistance focused on that. This century’s iteration of fascist movements seems to be significantly anti-trans, in a way that has already led to the targeting of trans people by far right thugs, not to mention the actions of police all across the country. The current alliance between fascist extremists and US law enforcement is troubling on all counts, and especially so for people with marginalized identities. I can only speak to experiences as a trans person, but this alliance is certainly bringing terror to immigrant communities, black communities, native communities, and many others in similarly extreme ways.

So, I get the fear and anger at this decision, but I think there needs to be a much more considered response — and perhaps a proportionately extreme one — to the rising tide of fascism in this country.

What we’re up against

The cultural aversion to trans people that has existed in many societies across time, with which this political oppression closely allied, is what we need to fight right now. And that means approaching the issue on all fronts and, in particular, creating more and more space for trans people to exist publicly and be treated civilly. Resisting only the end result of anti-trans bigotry will leave us with a continuing cycle of backlash as we have seen in this country before. As we are seeing right now. So, as much as there is a fight to be had over official policy and the role this can play in access to resources and care, we need to think bigger than this decree — we need to question why the Health and Human Services Department has any fucking say in someone’s gender identification to begin with, and why the state even has the power to enforce something like this.

Thankfully, we are already fighting back along these lines. Trans people are very good at continuing to exist, and I think that this time around, the administrative memo is going to be a small blip in the coming fight for space and rights. Trans people exist more visibly than ever in the US right now and this meme is indicative of the mood in some parts of the trans community right now:

Trans people have been living with this kind of fear and social isolation forever. This is not new. This is very fucking unfortunate, but as any trans person will tell you, the possibility to not be legally erased was only recently opened for us anyway. In fact, the state of Ohio, among others, still doesn’t allow the correction of birth certificates to reflect one’s gender expression — not to mention the lack of non-binary identification options on most official documents. And many require proof of surgery (expensive, often-not-insurance-covered surgery) to change all sorts of documents.

And so we have learned how to seize space and to make it clear that we exist by just being, and being more visibly. Increasing visibility for trans folks and trans issues over the past few years has certainly been a mixed bag. From other spots of backlash, to media representations that divided the queer community, it has been a rough road. But one area in which trans rights have progressed steadily, and an area which can’t be easily returned to its previous state, is that we are much more visible now. So, denying the existence of trans people has a much less serious effect. We can keep the fight going in plain sight — but we have to make sure we’re fighting the right battles and stay focused on the deeper problems.

“The dems will help”

Bullshit. So I mentioned a lot of people are responding to this news by hyping up for November’s vote and trying to get everyone to vote for the blue team. This is just absolutely ignorant of the ways in which progressives and the Democratic party have thrown trans rights under the bus time and time again. Let’s start with Hillary Clinton.

Not only has she continued to stand by her intern-abusing husband despite being a “feminist icon,” she and the rest of the centrist Democrats were at best uninistered in queer rights, just like any Republican or right winger. It wasn’t until very recently that Democrats started talking about LGBT rights in a positive way, and the rollback we’re discussing right now only got rolled forward in the last administration. Democrats and centrists only recently started offering lip service to trans rights and it’s important to remember that their continuation of this support depends entirely on public opinion. The assumption that after this rapid switch, all transphobia has left the Democratic party is ridiculous and dangerous. In self reported surveys, Democrats’ views on trans rights are certainly better than Republicans’ but a full third (34%) still don’t see trans identities as legitimate.

We can also look at North Carolina governor, Roy Cooper. Like many centrist Democrats:

Cooper has not been known for defending LGBT rights in his career. He comes from the same centrist, triangulating Democratic political tradition as the Clintons, one which produced the homophobic Defense of Marriage Act, and the egregiously racist 1994 crime bill and 1996 welfare reform. As attorney general of North Carolina, he only stopped defending the state’s gay marriage ban as of 2014, and only because Virginia’s ban went down in federal court.

So it’s clear we’re not going to regain these rights — and keep them — by putting our faith in Democrats and progressive organizations. Only truly radical change is capable of making life fair and comfortable for trans people in this country. And the same is true for many marginalized folks.

The war in the streets

In a way, we’ve already won. Previously trans rights and trans activism was sidelined even within radical, activist communities and organizations. Historically, trans people and other queer folks have been targeted by all sides politically, with even far left movements enforcing anti-gay and anti-trans policies. Even radical feminism has its own special brand of transphobia now that grew out of the general cultural aversion to trans people when radical feminism was taking off.

Today, though, a significant portion of the far left, and many many activist spaces are open to and even centering of trans rights and trans experiences. Part of this is because the backlash we’re experiencing now against transness and queerness has shifted from a more purely cultural to a still cultural but also political battle with the return of the far right. In some ways, the alt-right folks who target trans-ness in particular are spot on about who their enemies are. By making trans lives a political spark point, movements on both the left and the right have increased focus on trans rights to the level of the political. This sucks in a lot of ways — for instance, it makes it exhausting to live as a political trans person and have your identity constantly the focus of debate, threats, and anger. But it has meant that trans people have a visibility within the radical left that was not historically present. And that’s significant.

Today, trans activists make up a very large contingent of radical activists in the United States. Trans rights are often — though not always — centered, along with similar support for other queer forms of identification. And it means that, despite the Trump administration’s targeting, despite violent backlash from far right idiots, despite everything that trans people continue to face right now, we’re getting better at seizing space and rights along with it. One very encouraging thing over the past few days has been seeing how many people are mobilizing against this.

Some of the new work getting done around trans issues is very good and I’m still tentatively optimistic that we’re building some strong networks that will be ready to keep resisting the rising tide of fascism in this country — legal recognition or no. But we’re not going to do that by voting for Democrats or engaging with an electoral system that has denied our rights and existence time and again. The issue isn’t just that Trump hates trans people — it’s that many many people in the US also hate trans people and want us not to exist. There are many things that will help though. Here’s Dean Spade again, suggesting ways to contribute to mutual aid:

What does mutual aid look like at this time? If we know trans women are being sent to men’s prisons, and all trans prisoners are vulnerable to violence, medical neglect and isolation, it looks like becoming pen pals with a trans prisoner through the lists provided by Black and Pink’s prison pen pal program. Becoming pen pals with a prisoner can reduce the likelihood they will be targeted, help them have emotional support through the targeting, and help them plan and find resources for when they are released. If we know the administration’s policies will further exclude trans people from homeless shelters and housing programs, we can work to create community housing-sharing programs. We can form groups that plan housing stays for trans people coming out of prison or aging out of foster care, to help people transition to stable housing as they find work or get benefits access in order to help address trans homelessness. Mutual aid can also include accompaniment programs so that people don’t have to go to court or doctor’s appointment or on public transportation alone. We can create child care shares, bail funds, ride services for people visiting prisoners and volunteer chores services for people who are sick or disabled.

Additionally, trans activist Noah Julian Zazanis put together this list of “How to Show Up For Trans Comrades” over on Medium. In addition to material and emotional support for trans folks, he notes that opposing transphobes is a big part of being an ally as well. In a section on “no platforming” he suggests that cis allies:

  • Deny transphobes a platform. If they’re speaking near you, show up and shout them down. Yell at anti-trans pundits and politicians in restaurants.
  • Familiarize yourself with anti-trans arguments, and learn how to shut them down. Take the time to learn about TERFs and other forms of popular transphobia.
  • If your friends are sharing transphobic articles or spreading anti-trans ideas, call them on it. Don’t let transphobia or transmisogyny slide. The same goes for family, though of course only you know your family situation and your safety is paramount.

And it’s worth considering why there are so many trans activists working and acting in radical spaces. It’s because we recognize that demanding, or begging, or voting for the government to give us recognition and rights is not going to work. We have seen our lives and rights get trampled on time and time again, despite promises from progressives, their political parties, and their corrupt organizations. We need those who consider themselves allies to help us strike at the root. We need an end to all the institutions that carry out these disgusting orders, and allow them to come up. Trans justice requires radical change.

The post The (Trans) Kids Are Alright appeared first on Infoshop News.

Anti-Statists for LA’s Public Bank: Charter Amendment B

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 12:35

via Center for a Stateless Society

by Eric Fleischmann

Very soon, the citizens of Los Angeles, California will vote on Charter Amendment B. This amendment, if passed, will allow for the creation of a public bank for the city. Although I am not a resident of LA or even California, I’d like to give my tentative support for this amendment and outline why I think this is a sound libertarian stance to take. Firstly, the public bank has the potential to reduce state power; furthermore, the public bank has the capacity to produce decentralization in the financial system; and last but not least, there is historical precedent for anti-statist support of a public bank.

Charter Amendment B’s official website Public Bank LA states that Los Angeles pays $100 million every year in banking fees and interest and nearly 50% of the cost for infrastructure projects are made up of payments for bank interest and fees. The city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2017 also attests to these high costs, listing $170 million spent in fees and $1.1 billion spent in interest that year. Accordingly, the first of Public Bank LA’s five-point agenda is “Save Money”—specifically the taxpayer’s money. Of course, it would be better if there were no taxes at all but having less tax money squandered is still an improvement. However, I would be extremely hesitant to advocate for what could potentially be a consolidation of state power simply to save a buck.

It is my strong suspicion though that the public bank will not only save tax money but actually produce a net reduction in power for the state and its cronies. This perspective is gleaned through what Chris Matthew Sciabarra refers to as “dialectical libertarianism.” The dialectical strategy, as Sciabarra puts it, entails attempting to “grasp the nature of a part by viewing it systemically–that is, as an extension of the system within which it is embedded.” Through this method, proposals can be made that will actually diminish the state’s control over people’s lives. Kevin Carson—in reference to Sciabarra’s method—writes, “the corporate economy is so closely bound up with the power of the state, that it makes more sense to think of the corporate ruling class as a component of the state.” This is immensely evident when looking at the banks that might do business with LA.

Formerly, the city of Los Angeles did most of its banking with Wells Fargo, but in 2017 this relationship was severed. However, the search for a new bank has the city facing sinister pseudo-alternatives. Wells Fargo, and the big banks that could potentially take its place as the city’s de facto financial institution are deeply rooted within the state apparatus. According to the Center for Popular Democracy, major Wall Street corporations like JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and BlackRock have made loans to and held debt for the private prison companies CoreCivic and GEO Group. These same companies are directly involved in the detention and separation of illegal immigrants. Food and Water Watch reports that seventeen different financial institutions, made up in part by several major banks, have made loans and put resources towards Dakota Access LLC and associated companies and stakeholders. The Dakota Access Pipeline is egregious for numerous reasons—the disrespect for the Sioux people and the environmental impact—but the pipeline, much like the banks, is also deeply entrenched with the state. Portions of the pipeline route in Iowa were seized from farmers by the government through eminent domain and law enforcement officials reportedly used tear gas, rubber bullets, water hoses, and percussion grenades against protestors. The major banks in the United States, the very ones LA must choose from, are so intrinsically part of the corporate-state spiderweb that they are essentially part of the state itself. Therefore, although it may seem paradoxical to say a public bank would decrease state influence, it could potentially weaken the state-capitalist mechanism.

A reduction in the state’s scope of dominance is certainly a prospect worthy of endorsement, but the public bank could also generate another effect that is in line with libertarian goals: decentralization. It is common knowledge that in 2008 the United States, and the rest of the world along with it, experienced possibly the largest economic crisis since the Great Depression. What isn’t so easily agreed upon is what caused this crisis. The general narrative of the mainstream left is that it was the greed of big-wig bankers and a severe lack of regulations. The opposing narrative on the right is that the blame falls on the Federal Reserve and their manipulation of interest rates and other interference in the economy. A proper left-libertarian analysis combines the sentiments of both and criticizes a lack of accountability in the financial system and centralized economic control. A possible solution to these problems presents itself in financial democracy and cooperation—institutions such as mutual banks and credit unions. As M. George van der Meer writes in In Defense of Mutual Banking, “With the capitalist banking apparatus as it is, crises like that of 2008, will not abate at least not for very long intervals. Capital and credit concentration gives way to complacency in business, to waste, to destitution for the people whose work hours drive industry forward.” The second point on Public Bank LA’s five-point agenda is “Community Development”, a subpoint of which is “Support small businesses and cooperative ownership structures by increasing the lending capabilities of local credit unions and community banks.” If the creation of a public bank in Los Angeles can reduce state power and help decentralize the financial system and the economy in general it deserves endorsement, or at the very least consideration, by libertarians both leftist and otherwise.

The last point to be made is that there is historical precedent for an anti-statist endorsement of a public bank. I purposefully did not lead with this because to support something simply because those ideologically aligned with oneself have done so is dogmatic. However, it does add merit to the arguments previously stated. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, as is well known amongst left-libertarians, was one of the very first people to refer to themselves as an anarchist and is generally considered to be the father of anarchism. Proudhon himself was a proud proponent of a public bank, which he referred to as the “Bank of the People.” As Charles A. Dana explains, “The purpose of the Bank of the People is, as we have seen, the emancipation of labor and the consequent establishment of the republic of wealth.” For Proudhon there was no contradiction in advocating for a public bank if its creation struck a blow against state-capitalism, and neither should there be for libertarians today.

There are certainly issues with Charter Amendment B. Creating a public bank could cost taxpayers a hefty sum. The ballot measure lacks details as to how the bank will be overseen and how political interference will be avoided. Making loans at artificially low interest rates, as proposed in Public Bank LA’s five-point agenda, runs the risk of creating economic complications. These problems cannot be dismissed or taken lightly, but they are not confined to a public bank and can easily be applied to any private bank with which LA might choose to do business. Charter Amendment B has the potential to cut back state dominance and decentralize the financial system. It should therefore be openly endorsed by libertarians.


The post Anti-Statists for LA’s Public Bank: Charter Amendment B appeared first on Infoshop News.

Climate Justice, Climate Debt, and Anti-Capitalism: An Interview with Patrick Bond

Thu, 11/01/2018 - 05:23

via Upping the Anti #10

by Chandra Kumar

Patrick Bond is a political economist and activist living in Durban, South Africa, where he teaches political economy and eco-social policy at the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN). Before the African National Congress came to power in 1994, he was active in the international anti-Apartheid movement as well as the US student movements and community movements in the 1980s. He continues to be active in labour, ecology, and anti-racist struggles in South Africa and internationally, and has written prolifically on neoliberalism, imperialism, ecology, the politics of global justice movements, structures of racism in global political economy, and on various aspects of South African and Zimbabwean politics. Bond’s books include: Climate Change, Carbon Trading and Civil Society: Negative Returns on South Africa’s Investments (co-edited with Rehana Dada and Graham Erion for Rozenberg Publishers and UKZN Press, 2008, 2007); The Accumulation of Capital in Southern Africa: Rosa Luxemburg’s Contemporary Relevance (co-edited with Horman Chitonge and Arndt Hopfmann for CCS and the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, 2007); Looting Africa: The Economics of Exploitation (Zed Books and UKZN Press, 2006); and Trouble in the Air: Global Warming and the Privatized Atmosphere (edited with Rehana Dada for CCS and TransNational Institute, 2005). Chandra Kumar interviewed him in February 2010.

Why have you been critical of the so-called “cap and trade” approach to dealing with carbon emissions and climate change – a strategy that has been endorsed even by people on the left like Robin Hahel?

For the tiny group of left environmentalists who genuinely support carbon trading – and Canada has its share – there are two problems: first, believing your own progressive politics will fail against the neoliberal enemy, and hence adopting mainstream logic, which is the main reason for most of the controversies with pro-market greens (such as Robin); and, second, believing the claims of neoliberal hucksters that a carbon market can work.

Those claims have been systematically debunked since October 2004, when the Durban Group for Climate Justice gathered activists and intellectual critics from around the world and began networking and expanding our critique. Serious climate activists have made opposition to carbon-trading a fairly central plank, such as in the global critique of Kyoto’s market provisions and various national legislative debates, as well as at the Third World coalface in Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) projects and forest campaigning, led there by Indigenous peoples. Carbon-market conferences are now regular scenes of protest.

This stance contrasts with most of the Big Green groups – though not Friends of the Earth – whose leadership think carbon trading is the last best hope for legislation in North America, for stronger implementation in Europe, and for the buy-in of big Asian and Latin American polluters on the basis of complex market incentives. But it turns out that due in large part to right-wing opposition, the cap and trade legislation, which was supposedly ready for passage in the US and Australia in 2009, was defeated. So there’s really no hope for a coherent global market, with carbon priced sufficiently high to fund renewable energy (at more than $50 per tonne), which is what these light-green advocates had expected would be in place by now. It turns out that the pragmatists hoping to cut a deal with more enlightened fractions of capital (such as allegedly far-sighted financiers) overestimated the level of support for pricing carbon. They also assumed that widespread fraud would be eliminated instead of spreading, as we saw with the Hungarian government’s resale of carbon credits that wrecked European prices in March.

As a result, with the gridlock at Copenhagen and on Washington’s Capitol Hill, as well as in Ottawa and Canberra, the carbon market is dead. Of course, we’ve argued that it was already dead as an ecological project, for the purpose of financing renewable energy. After all, from mid-2008 to early 2009, the price fell from more than €30 per tonne to less than €9 per tonne. And this was the third such carbon market crash.

Market chaos is helpful, though, because genuine climate activists – even some who still work, however uncomfortably, within Canada’s Climate Action Network – are now able to more readily jettison vain hopes of climate policy alliances with liberals, bankers, and corporations. That leaves us better able to seek direct caps on polluters through regulation, as well as direct-action strategies and tactics to keep the oil in the soil, coal in the hole, and tar sand in the land. Plenty of excellent Canadian and US activists are leading these battles, such as Indigenous people in Alberta, networks of anarchists, radical greens, and eco-socialists.

Climate talks broke down at Copenhagen. The G-77, representing 130 countries, suspended talks because they felt the countries of the North – with the US and Canada being the most glaring culprits – were unwilling to accept responsibility for their emissions. We heard the phrases “climate debt” and “climate justice” coming from representatives of the South. What do these concepts refer to and how do you think activists in countries like Canada should take them up?

“Climate justice” is the phrase that was popularized as a movement slogan at the December 2007 launch of the network Climate Justice Now! in Bali. The idea of climate justice brings together radical environmentalism with global justice currents such as those forged by Zapatismo, and by the protests in Seattle, Quebec City, Soweto, Bhopal, the Narmada Valley, and several other cases of recent Indigenous activism and anti-capitalism. The indigenous, small island, African, and Andean leadership we’ve seen is vital given this movement’s need to take direction from those most adversely affected. It has been aided by political-strategic inputs from inspiring organisations like Focus on the Global South, whose best-known intellectuals, Walden Bello and Nicola Bullard, are influential critics of neo-liberal, Northern-dominated “multilateralism.”

Another great boost for these efforts came from the research and eloquent reportage of Naomi Klein who in late 2009, assisted many in the North to realize how much they owe the South in damages for taking up too much environmental space: that is “climate debt.” The phrase is most closely associated with Quito-based Acción Ecológica and its advisor Joan Martinez-Alier of Barcelona, but Jubilee South chapters from Manila to Buenos Aires have also made this a campaigning issue.

Last April, in an inspiring statement to the UN General Assembly, the Bolivian government played a leading role in putting climate debt on the UN’s agenda. In September the World Council of Churches endorsed the idea despite the opposition of some Northern members. But the big breakthrough in the last half of 2009 was the willingness of the Ethiopian tyrant, Meles Zenawi, to demand a Copenhagen commitment to Africa of up to $100 billion per year by 2020, without which the Africans would walk out. They even did a November dress rehearsal at a preparatory meeting in Barcelona. Hearing this, our Durban guru Dennis Brutus replied, “Then we should ‘Seattle Copenhagen,’ with the left outside protesting and African elites inside denying consensus, so as to delegitimize the process and outcome, just as we did in 1999.” That was a logical trajectory for climate politics, especially when even the establishment scientist James Hansen cogently argued in The New York Times that, because of carbon trading, no deal at Copenhagen would be better than a bad deal. No one I met in the Climate Justice (CJ) movement in Copenhagen had any illusions that an agreement worth endorsing would emerge.

A week before Brutus died, on December 19, the Copenhagen circus imploded. As Bill McKibben of put it, “Obama blew up the UN.” This news pleased Dennis immensely, given the contours of a bad US-driven deal: insufficient CO2 cuts, unwillingness to pay the climate debt, and inability to break from the centrality of a carbon market. After signing on, the South African president Jacob Zuma looked like a hapless mugging victim staggering drunkenly home from a pub. He really didn’t know what hit him in the negotiating room on December 18 and, along with everyone else, his environment minister shook her head the following week and said, “I’m disappointed,” – because the South African ruling class (like Canada’s) needs legitimacy for ongoing mineral-based plunder, and they didn’t get it. Three of the last words Dennis said to me were, “serves them right!”

As for the climate debt demand, some of us (including me) were naive to believe Zenawi, who detoured to Paris on his way to Copenhagen and, with the enthusiastic support of Nikolas Sarkozy, promptly cut his demands in half by accepting lower financial transfers and removing the walk-out threat. But now that the climate debt genie is out of the bottle, US officials – in denial of course, refusing to acknowledge the concept – and Europe will continue to be badgered to pay by CJ activists. So will South Africa, which owes the continent a vast amount, given that we emit 42 percent of Africa’s greenhouse gases but have less than 8 percent of its population.

One of the nuanced debates is whether the debt should take the form of individualized and potentially commodifiable “Greenhouse Development Rights” or whether instead we can move toward more transformative and collective strategies for claiming debt instead. Another debate concerns the form in which the climate debt would be paid, since no sensible climate debt activist trusts the kinds of strategies that the likes of Hillary Clinton offer: CDM expansion via carbon trading, or the traditionally corrupt, corporate-dominated, and geopolitically-influenced aid of the sort the Canadian International Development Agency is infamous for. We’re even unsure of the reliability of the G-77 climate financing demands, which include both public payments and market mechanisms.

You were a student of David Harvey. In The New Imperialism (2003), he provides an updated Marxian analysis of US imperialism in the context of a neoliberal order bent on “accumulation by dispossession.” Despite this critical analysis, he ends the book by calling for a return to something like Keynesian social democracy, rather than for building socialist movements to actually overthrow the prevailing economic order. What are your views on Harvey’s recommendations?

I love that book, except those last pages. In 2003, having recently moved to New York and possibly envisaging a President Howard Dean (who was then making a good run in the early going and sounding globo-Keynesian in the wake of the world’s 1997-2001 financial chaos), David had every reason to hope that a rational US elite would replace the widely hated Bush. In retrospect, proclaiming such an early death for neoliberalism was overly optimistic. After all, the 2008-09 chaos left the IMF’s most enlightened minds advocating Keynesianism for the North but increasing austerity nearly everywhere else – even in South Africa where, in late 2008, we were running budget surpluses yet had vast un-met social needs.

Still, the times have been ripe for that sort of idealism, and there’s probably no harm in making a Keynesian argument now and again, even if just to help push Stiglitz, Sachs, Krugman and Soros leftward. However, my problem with a call for global Keynesianism or for global governance is that it distracts us from the harsh reality of power imbalances at the global scale. Since the 1996 Montreal Protocol ending CFCs, and perhaps some subsequent minor advances in the Convention on Biodiversity, it’s abundantly clear that the world’s rulers can’t get their act together. Hoping for meaningful change from these global summits has become an exercise in frustration: from Kyoto (1997) to Copenhagen on climate (2009), from Monterrey (2002) to Gleneagles (2005) to Washington (2008) to London and New York (2009) on global financial reform and development finance, from Seattle (1999) to Cancun (2003) to Geneva (2009) on trade and World Trade Organization reform, from one failed Bretton Woods Institution or UN General Assembly and Security Council reform to the next, from the UN Millennium Development Goals (2000) to whatever gimmicks will come next, from the G-8 to the G-20 (Canada 2010), from Davos to Davos to Davos, from the Washington Consensus and neoliberalism to neoconservatism to an alleged post-Washington consensus after 2008. What a merry-go-round of grand rhetoric and stultifying inaction.

These guys are desperate for a global solution for even one single global problem, and they are not getting anywhere close. All they really have to offer is stale analyses and then inaction. And that’s mainly because their own national capitalist classes are up against the wall. They go into negotiations with a mindset that exacerbates the problems, as was evident in Copenhagen.

Given this adverse balance of forces, which will continue into the foreseeable future, any talk of global governance is a dangerous distraction, whether of the Keynesian or Giddensian Third Way or neoliberal sort. I believe our offensives should instead be planned primarily where the left can generate a genuine change in power relations, such as at the national level and perhaps in regional combinations as the Bolivarian bloc has sometimes been capable of doing.

Of course, we’re nowhere close to the left taking power elsewhere. So we’ve come to realize, these past couple of decades, that it’s really at the local levels where movement building can shake the global elites – something that Harvey acknowledges by putting “accumulation by dispossession” at the centre of his recent analysis. Like Rosa Luxemburg’s theory of imperialism in The Accumulation of Capital in 1913, or Naomi Klein’s privileging of extra-economic coercion in The Shock Doctrine, or our own race-class debates in South Africa regarding the “articulation of modes of production,” or Trotskyist (and post-Trotskyist) references to combined and uneven development, the crucial insight concerns the extreme stretch of market power into the non-market sphere during periods of long-term capitalist downturn and amplified financial crisis.

As Karl Polanyi’s idea of the “double-movement” suggests, very serious political resistance can be found in the consequent pushback. Our best case is probably the Treatment Action Campaign’s successful demand for access to AIDS medicines, in which local activism joined by ferocious international solidarity beat the Clinton-Gore administration in 1999, the Big Pharmacorps in 2001, and Thabo Mbeki’s regime here from 2003-08. The result was that 800,000 South Africans with AIDS are now getting free Anti-RetroViral (ARV) drugs. Because Mbeki took so long to surrender, the cost of this war was high. In the process, 330,000 lives were unnecessarily lost.

Still, thanks to this precedent, millions are getting access elsewhere in Africa – consuming pills made as generics in African factories and not paying for patents held by pharmaceutical companies in New Jersey or Zurich. A decade ago, these treatments would have cost $15,000 per year each; and so, decommodification and deglobalization of capital through the globalization of people’s struggles is how we can defeat accumulation by dispossession in one of the most critical areas: intellectual property rights.

Local resistances to water and electricity privatization offer another set of excellent struggles. Harvey writes encouragingly of the precedents set in Soweto’s water wars, which helped kick Suez (the French water company) back to Paris in 2006. These struggles take decommodifying “socio-economic rights” discourses right up to their limits. This limit in South Africa turns out to be a maximum of 25 litres of water per day per person for free. Now – after a Constitutional Court defeat for activists last October – rights-talk has moved into “commons” narratives and the liberation of water from the despised prepayment meters thanks to crafty neighbourhood re-plumbing teams. In Canada, Maude Barlow’s Council of Canadians, David McDonald at Queens University, and Tony Clarke’s Polaris Institute have come along on this journey with us.

Our challenge remains stitching together these sorts of victories across the expanse of the New Imperialism, and linking them up into a coherent political strategy. We’d hoped the World Social Forum would do so and, when David and I strolled through Porto Alegre in late January discussing this, it was with sadness that we realized there is still too much World Social Forum “open space” and not enough connecting-the-dots. Maybe the Fifth International project launched by the Bolivarians will help, but let’s see.

In terms of climate politics and climate justice, how should we orient ourselves to the emergence of more social democratic language since the financial meltdown of 2009 in the US and the election of Barack Obama?

Simply listen and look at the evidence soberly. It wasn’t surprising that, after the spectacle of a kind of bailout-based financial crony capitalism for Obama’s Wall Street friends, Larry Summers would arrange a budget freeze. This merely amplifies the damage being done by what’s called “the fifty Herbert Hoovers” (that is, all the austerity programs at the state level).

With this sort of evidence, I think you’ll end up reacting to Obama’s occasional populist bank bashing by replying, “Talk Left, Walk Right,” as we do here in South Africa, and also maybe “Obummer!” Or even “You Lie!” as do his rightwing critics. The illusions in US Democratic Party politics will then lift, and it will be back to the hard but rewarding task of grassroots- and labour-organizing.

I spent 2003-04 at York University in Toronto with the single most talented group of English-speaking political economists, and they are really tackling this matter of Washington’s excessive power and residual neoliberalism. While I have occasional differences with Leo Panitch and his comrades about interpreting capitalist crises, they know the US state as well as any analysts out there.

As for climate politics, having spent a month in San Francisco after Copenhagen, I was very inspired by the willingness of Climate Justice Movement-West cadre there to tackle Chevron, with dozens of arrests. They also protested at the Danish Embassy, at Senator Barbara Boxer’s office, and at City Hall. On Tax Day (April 15), they will disrupt an emissions market conference. Carbon traders have also become targets in Chicago and New York. I’m also impressed that activists and lawyers have beaten back applications for nearly all the proposed new coal plants in North America. In the US, West Virginia critics of mountaintop removal are doing brilliant activism, which included a March sit-in at the Environmental Protection Agency that forced their director, Lisa Jackson, to move toward banning the coal blasting that destroys Appalachian streams and rivers.

Halting tar sands exploitation in Alberta is crucial. Our Montreal based comrade Shannon Walsh made a film – H2Oil – that teaches us so much and helps to forge links from Alberta to the community in which I live, South Durban, which is Africa’s major oil refining site south of Nigeria.

You have written about what you and others call “global apartheid,” signifying a racist global economic order that shares certain characteristics with the apartheid system. How do you relate issues of race to questions of climate change and ecology generally?

The most obvious way in which race is related to concerns about climate and ecology is waste disposal – including greenhouse gases – and how the most adverse impacts of these processes occur in residential areas predominantly populated by people of colour.

Remember the famous December 1991 World Bank memo by its then chief economist Lawrence Summers (actually plagiarised from his friend Lant Pritchett), which said that “Africa is vastly underpolluted, [since] the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste on the lowest-wage country is impeccable, and we should face up to that.” Once you look at where Obama plans to build his new nuclear plants, you’ll see on-going evidence of environmental racism.

The same goes for Africa. The largest landfill in Africa is here in Durban at Bisasar Road, situated just south of the famous Kennedy Road and its 4000 black “African” shackdwellers – who until last September, included leadership of the group Abahlali baseMjondolo – amidst working-class and lower-middle-class “Indian” and “coloured” communities. This case of extreme environmental racism began under apartheid in 1980 when the dump was forced onto unwilling residents who fought hard against it and who believed the African National Congress (ANC) when they promised to close it in 1994. In part because Summers’s toxic logic spawned carbon trading, the World Bank and neoliberal municipal bureaucrats came with their own unrealistic promises – of jobs and university scholarships for the communities – provided that the dump be kept open and methane gas from rotting rubbish be turned into electricity, albeit with a massive increase in flaring and with all manner of hot super-toxins released in the process. From 2009, carbon credits began flowing into Durban municipal coffers at $14 per tonne so that Northern polluters can keep warming the climate. None of the Abahlali members got jobs or bursaries; that was a World Bank and municipality hoax.

Bisasar is South Africa’s most famous and largest “Clean Development Mechanism” (CDM), and the leader in the continent. Thanks to Sajida Khan, who hosted the inaugural Durban Group for Climate Justice meeting in 2004 and died of cancer in 2007 (which, by the way, she developed twice by breathing Bisasar fumes every day), we know more about how CDMs are closely correlated to this kind of global-apartheid climate-racism and how they cement in local racism borne of state power and capital accumulation.

Still, the five stooges who co-signed the Copenhagen Accord last December provided a shocking confirmation of global climate apartheid. Quite simply, these five men of colour – Obama, Zuma, Manmohan Singh of India, Wen Jiabao of China, and Lula da Silva of Brazil – represented the interests of mainly white-owned industrial capital and mainly white over-consumers against the masses of climate victims who are predominantly people of colour.
Some of the very worst-off rural victims of the coming climate disaster will be the Luo of Kenya and the Zulu of South Africa. The sacrifice by Obama and Zuma of their relatives on behalf of big capital and consumer hedonists is especially poignant, and is reminiscent of the way Frantz Fanon described the pitfalls of African leaders’ “national consciousness” in The Wretched of the Earth.

In the face of a global capitalism dominated by the most ecologically destructive states, located mainly in the global North, how would you suggest that activists in places like Canada and the US form alliances with movements in the South that challenge not only ecological destruction but the rule of capital more generally?

South Africa has an exceptionally vibrant climate justice movement – and we need one because of the extreme contributions that global capital makes to South Africa’s climate footprint. Measured by the CO2 emissions in the energy sector per person per unit of output, we’re 20 times worse than the US. And that’s so BHP Billiton, Arcelor Mittal, Anglo American Corporation, and others can enjoy the world’s cheapest electricity – between USD $0.01 and $0.02/kiloWatt hour, cross-subsidised by low-income consumers who are paying as much as $0.10/kWh through prepayment meters. The first figure will stay the same thanks to apartheid-era deals that locked in cheap power for decades; meanwhile, poor and working people are facing price hikes of 300 percent over the next three years.

So there’s a proliferation of community protests, many over “service delivery” – for example, excessively expensive electricity or simple lack of access in places like Kennedy Road, which leads to repeated shack fires that cause respiratory health problems. Thus far, we have not been successful in linking these protests to trade union struggles against electricity privatization. I feel that such linkages will, however, occur in coming years. Eskom and the World Bank will be useful targets in the next weeks, given the latter’s USD $3.75 billion loan to the former. We have a couple of hundred groups lined up to protest, stretching across the world.

Forces in the South, such as Indigenous people and environmental and community activists in the Niger Delta and Ecuadoran Amazon, offer some very serious climate justice leadership. Acción Ecológica persuaded Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa to consider an oil-in-the-soil plan to prevent drilling in the Yasuni National Park in 2007. By June 2009, that plan was rewarded with a $50 million a year commitment by the German government, though it appears to be in trouble now.

Most spectacularly, Niger Delta activists keep vast amounts of oil in the soil through both non-violent and armed struggle. In the former category, Environmental Rights Action in Port Harcourt insisted on an end to extraction and exploration. In the latter, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta continues to kidnap foreign oil workers, demanding that they vacate the Delta for good. Thanks in part to organising by the Ogoni solidarity Forum, Shell Oil was kicked out of Ogoniland in June 2008 – 13 years after the company arranged for Ken Saro-Wiwa’s execution, an act for which they settled an Alien Tort Claims Act lawsuit out of court in June 2009 for USD $15.5 million.

At a September 2008 conference here in Durban, the radical NGO Groundwork linked Oilwatch to several dozen anti-oil activist groups from across the continent. A month later, citing climate concerns, the South Durban Community and Environmental Alliance began a legal appeal to the national government, aiming to reverse a $2 billion Durban-Johannesburg pipeline investment which would double oil refining in the polluted community.

These are examples of serious strategies put in place to halt climate change at the supply side. Though they are still microscopic in nature, these strategies and tactics could be much more effective than carbon markets in stopping emissions. Many have been inspired by Alaskan and Californian environmentalists’ ability to withstand US oil company pressure to drill in the tundra and off the coast. The struggles against Chevron in the Bay Area are really good models, including actions at the company’s Richmond refinery.

How can labour be radicalized on the question of climate change? What about the many workers whose livelihood depends on carbon-emitting industries? Is the main problem here with the union leadership, or is it something to do with the relatively higher standards of living enjoyed by unionized workers in the global North?

Those are tough questions. The leading union here on these issues is the National Union of Metalworkers, and their leaders know it makes sense to make a “Just Transition” from these untenable jobs in aluminium smelting to equally skilled and remunerated work doing the construction, installation, and maintenance of passive-solar hot water heaters. These are needed atop every home across this country and continent. Lacking is the $1200 per unit subsidy required, so that’s a point of contestation with a government that these unions helped bring to power in 2008 in order to replace the neoliberal Mbeki regime.

It turns out, though, that the current Zuma regime is just as bad in most areas; but a communist Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies, is now making the right noises about green jobs. The metalworkers have to keep their eyes on a fast-changing industrial policy, on macroeconomics – where they lead the country in criticizing monetarism – and on maintaining leftward momentum in union and Communist Party politics. It’s a hell of a hard job.

One of the great inspirations for them is the writing and speeches of Sam Gindin at York University. They have also learned a lot about the failings of corporatist strategy from the United Auto Workers and the more recent foibles of the Canadian Auto Workers.

These problems are partly due to leadership failure and partly, as you say, a function of the old “labour aristocracy” defence of living standards. All of us need a bigger dose of critical education – such as The Story of Stuff project and other attempts to address rampant consumerism – so that we can organize for more free time and a better quality of life instead of two McJobs, overpriced real estate, nonstop television advertisements, and underpriced consumer goods that do environmental and social harm.

Do you think that the anti-globalization movement has evolved into the global climate justice movement? Do some of the same problems within the global justice movement haunt the climate justice movement?

 Climate justice politics are picking up the best lessons of the last fifteen years of global justice activism. We saw that with the Climate Justice Action mobilizations in Copenhagen. Climate is an issue that encompasses so many others, in much the same way that trade did for Seattle activists in 1999. It will only get stronger and, hence, a great deal of time is being spent negotiating good process, such as how to make the Cochabamba meeting called by Evo Morales in late April as effective as possible notwithstanding financing and language challenges. Every so often, a huckster will pop up trying to claim the traditions of climate justice, such as we saw with the TckTckTck campaign; so, vigilance about what qualifies as justice is critical – especially now that the Climate Action Network membership is in disarray with their carbon trading strategies and tactics so discredited.

In addition, we still need every component of the global justice movement to toughen up. There are roughly three dozen fields of action where transnational movements of radical civil society forces have generated formal networks and sites of solidarity, often under severe difficulties; however, the difficulty of working out of the silos remains.

What significance do the experiments with “Bolivarian Socialism” in Venezuela and Bolivia have for the global climate justice movement?

Of course, the Bolivian Indigenous and radical social movements’ transition from opposition to state power is inspiring, and we’ve followed the complexities through the principled stance of the Cochabamba water movement in part because their April 2000 coming out party and the South African independent left’s emergence were so similar (Cochabamba’s autonomist Oscar Olivera discussed this so eloquently with Soweto’s socialist Trevor Ngwane over coffee in a DuPont Circle bookshop during the World Bank protest mobilization, to mutual benefit).

We are very inspired to hear that Ecuador is moving back to a more reasonable macroeconomic policy with its 2009 default on the foreign debt, ejection of World Bank staff, and its work with the Bank of the South. We are even more inspired to know that Indigenous people in the Ecuadorean Amazon and Acción Ecológica are fighting so hard against the petro-Keynesianism of Rafael Correa, who looks increasingly repressive.

Can Hugo Chavez move to a post-petrosocialist vision more motivated by decentralized power and resources? Following dispatches from Marta Harnecker, Edgardo Lander, Michael Liebowitz, Fred Fuentes, and Kiraz Janicke in Caracas, and Michael Albert’s persistent efforts to inject participatory ideas into the Fifth International, Venezuela has – and will continue to have – its ups and downs on this path beyond capitalism.

We are desperately hoping that Chavez becomes as serious a climate justice leader as he seemed to hint at becoming in Copenhagen. As evidence to the contrary, however, in September 2008, he sold the idea of a new oil refinery in South Africa to import his junk dirty-shale, and outgoing president Mbeki bought it just before being tossed out of power. So we may be stuck with a white-elephant $8 billion refinery for the state company PetroSA.

When, a month later in Caracas, Dennis Brutus and I asked Chavez and his environmentalists if they could please keep their oil in the soil, was not the answer we were given. For now, though, the critique we share of global capitalism is the basis for much more collaboration and debate. From there, the movement to unifying action is inevitable, as we try to keep the coal in the hole in South Africa – it will require a great deal more pressure from the Bolivarians against our ruling party, a process that began in Copenhagen when Chavez and Morales chastised Zuma for his sub-imperialist climate posture. But, as Marx said, each proletariat has to deal with its own bourgeoisie first, and that’s still the most critical thing for us to bear in mind before we are sucked into unrealistic alliances aimed at global deal-making.

The post Climate Justice, Climate Debt, and Anti-Capitalism: An Interview with Patrick Bond appeared first on Infoshop News.