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Updated: 11 min 37 sec ago

The horror story that haunts science

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 15:41

via Science

By Jon Cohen

On 1 August 1790, a precocious student named Victor Frankenstein submitted a radical proposal to an ethical panel at the University of Ingolstadt in Bavaria. Under the title “Electro-chemical Mechanisms of Animation,” Frankenstein explained how he wanted to “reverse the processes of death” by collecting “a large variety of human anatomical specimens” and putting them together to try and “restore life where it has been lost.”

Frankenstein assured the institutional review board (IRB) that he had the highest ethical standards. “If I do succeed in fully animating a human or human-like creature, I will provide the creature with information about the study and allow it, if it is capable, to choose whether or not to participate further in continued observation and study,” noted the budding scientist. If the creature had “diminished capacity,” Frankenstein promised to bring in a third party to act in its interest and treat “the being” in accordance with recognized standards.

Of course no such proposal ever went to bioethicists at the University of Ingolstadt, where the fictional Frankenstein created his monster. In 1790, even a real Frankenstein would have faced no ethical reviews. But the proposal does exist in a 2014 paper, which speculates about whether the Frankenstein story would have had a happier ending if 21st century safeguards had existed 2 centuries ago. It is one of many riffs on the novel to be found in biomedical literature. In conceiving her story, Mary Shelley was influenced by the nascent medical science of the day and by early experiments on electricity. In return, Frankenstein has haunted science ever since.

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Single Payer Could Solve the Rural Hospital Crisis

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 15:36

via Jacobin

By Frances Gill

America’s rural hospitals are closing down at an alarming rate. According to the North Carolina Rural Health Research Program, there were seventy-two rural hospital closures between 2010 and 2016, close to double the number that shut down between 2005 and 2009. Hundreds more are teetering on the brink of closure.

Consequently, rural America faces a serious health care delivery challenge, which is made all the more urgent by the fact that rural residents tend to be much sicker to begin with. They have higher rates of chronic conditions and greater psychological distress. Rural counties have higher death rates from unintentional injuries, more motor vehicle injuries, greater premature mortality (below age seventy-five), higher suicide rates among men, and higher infant mortality rates.

Health disparities between rural and urban America are very well documented, and geographic access — the ease or difficulty of traveling to a health care provider — is one of the commonly offered explanations for this disparity, especially in the case of traumatic accidents or other medical emergencies. When these rural hospitals close their doors, the distance between a person’s home and the nearest medical facility increases dramatically, and so too does the time it would take an ambulance to reach them in an emergency.

Rural hospitals have been struggling for years, largely due to changing demographics in rural areas. Right now, the most powerful predictor of closure is profitability, which is partially a function of the characteristics of the community a hospital serves. As the American populace has shifted to urban areas, the populations that remain in rural areas have gotten older, poorer, sicker, and less likely to be insured. In other words, providing their care is more costly. Rural hospitals have been dealing with the financial strain caused by these changing demographics for well over a decade.

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Keeping the Poor Poor: How Government Automates Inequality

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 03:27

via The Progressive

by Jake Whitney

In the fall of 2008, after Indiana launched its automated benefits eligibility system, Omega Young was notified that she needed to recertify for Medicaid. Young suffered from cancer, and on the day of her appointment she was undergoing treatment and unable to attend. She placed a call to her local help center to let them know. Nevertheless, the system registered that she “failed to cooperate,” and cut off all her public assistance, including food stamps, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals.

Young embarked upon a months-long appeal to restore her benefits, during which she was unable to afford medications and struggled to pay her rent. Finally, on March 2, 2009, Young got her benefits back. She had died on March 1.

Automating Inequality, Virginia Eubanks’ new book about how automated eligibility systems “profile, police, and punish” the poor, is loaded with horror stories like Young’s. They are not all as tragic, but serve as alarming evidence that Americans continue to treat poor people as second-class citizens. Eubanks’ central premise is that the poor are largely portrayed, particularly by conservatives, as either criminals or freeloaders and as the main problem with American society. Because of this portrayal, Americans tolerate systems that dehumanize and surveil the poor to a degree that would not be tolerated if the systems were designed for other classes.

While supporters of automated systems claim they increase efficiency and remove prejudice from decision making, Eubanks contends that, in fact, these systems possess inherent biases and make benefits harder to obtain, overturning the gains won by the welfare movements of the 1960s and 1970s.

Eubanks’ argument is powerful, but the book would have benefitted from a deeper discussion of income inequality and the policies that aggravate it. Indeed, the gap between rich and poor in America is wider than it’s been since the Great Depression, and it’s harder than ever for poor Americans to ascend the income ladder. Policies such as trickle-down economics, mass incarceration, and outsized court fees help keep the poor poor. Automated eligibility systems, Eubanks reveals, also play a role.

The biggest victory of the welfare rights movement, Eubanks tells us, was a court ruling that redefined welfare as personal property, not charity. This meant due process had to be provided to recipients before benefits were removed. The ruling led to a long stretch when the poor could easily access benefits.

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Not the Droid You’re Looking For: Subtler Political Points from The Last Jedi

Thu, 01/11/2018 - 03:11

via Center for a Stateless Society

by Alex McHugh

The Last Jedi, Rian Johnson’s recent continuation of the Star Wars saga, has generated many new takes. Yet most focus on debates about aesthetics, storytelling, cinematography, fandom politics, and concerns with fantasy physics rather than the social and political commentary of the movie. Perhaps it’s because the main political messages of this installment were so heavy-handed and obvious. Not only do those evil arms dealers get rich while destroying the galaxy, they abuse children and horse-creatures to boot! (yawn)

Kylo Ren may be a little more conflicted and complicated than your average action-movie villain. But as the allegorical alt-right edgelord, his somewhat pathetic sad-boy histrionics struck me as similarly on-the-nose. Making the free-spirited hacker DJ come off like a selfish jerk felt like an unnecessary, but predictable, jab at the crypto-anarchist movement.

Hell, there’s a reason the most vapid, liberal anti-Trumpers lifted the name “the Resistance.” The new trilogy’s main plot has the kind of political points that appeal to people who think electing Democrats is going to save us from this hellscape.

There are, however, some truly interesting political dynamics at play in The Last Jedi. Beyond the battle between light and dark, the film explores the inner dynamics of resistance fights and the interaction of faith and politics in pretty exciting ways.

What makes the rebels good?

As in the standalone Rogue One, the Resistance is portrayed a little differently than the Rebels in the original trilogy. Instead of a unified, unproblematic front, our heroes are a bit more human. While this film didn’t go quite as far into the complicated dynamics of insurrection — Rogue One’s exploration of the line between resistance and terrorism has a special place in my heart — it did problematize hierarchy, bravery, and strategy in new and interesting ways.

David Sims explores the new dynamic around bravery in an article in the Atlantic, explicating the ways in which the Resistance’s motivations are more complex — and relevant — than in earlier films. He states, “Johnson roots [Finn’s] rebellion in Finn’s trauma (he was brainwashed into service by Phasma and her cronies as a child), but also in the oppression Rose shows him on Canto Bight, which extends beyond the heartlessness of the First Order.”

We’re probably supposed to view Finn’s attempt to desert as shameful, but it’s pretty understandable and I was sympathetic to his choice. After all, I’ve made similar decisions in my own life recently — choosing, as Finn did — to reverse them once I deepened my understanding of mutual oppression and realized that saving myself wasn’t going to be worth it if I left my friends to the fight.

This urge to flee is a central theme in the movie, and is a major contrast with the earlier films which portrayed the heroes as larger than life, beyond self-preservation, and purpose-driven. Natalie Zutter sums up the eerie familiarity of watching Resistance fighters desert over on

[W]hen you’re an adult, who can see where the cogs have gotten stuck in the gears and the system is churning toward collapse, there is a shameful relief in how The Last Jedi highlights that tendency toward the denial, the selfish self-preservation. This is how a Star Wars movie speaks to its audience in 2017…. Finn doesn’t choose to rejoin the system; he is stunned and dragged back into the fight.

Again, Rogue One did this a bit better, highlighting how people born into a rebellion — and those unable to flee — don’t really get a choice in whether to fight or not. But presenting the people of the Resistance as scared, confused humans, rather than confident and stable superhumans gives the film room to explore some really important themes of which I want to turn to now: the inner workings of military resistance and the role of faith in rebellion against oppression.

Military resistance necessitates some ethical dilemmas

Some of these are obvious: Murdering people is generally ethically wrong, unless you have a damn good reason to do so. But what I want to look are the issues that remain once you decide fighting is absolutely necessary. Military institutions necessitate some amount of hierarchy and some amount of anti-individualism (in the form of devaluing self-preservation). They value “bravery” in a way that’s not always productive.

The Last Jedi takes an interesting look at all of these issues. Vice Admiral Holdo’s portrayal is particularly amazing on this front. Her refusal to explain the plan to Poe seems mean-spirited at first. If she’d just told him what she had cooking, his kooky sub-plot wouldn’t have been necessary. Poor Poe! But on a second pass, her actions make sense for a military commander. Why the hell should she answer to him? He’s proven to be reckless and hard to work with. She outranks him and is, presumably, busy as fuck getting everything ready. Plus, she’s a new leader who probably feels the need to assert a little dominance over a frightened and demoralized crew that doesn’t quite trust her yet.

I don’t want to over-analyze this dynamic, but it got me thinking about a few things. Military infrastructure is especially prone to this kind of miscommunication/power struggle/misalignment of incentives. When you rely on one leader and follow her without question — General Leia Organa in this case — her death or incapacitation creates a power vacuum. The hierarchy also focuses at least some of everyone’s energy on maintaining their own place in it, over actual success. Did Poe hatch the plan because he really though Holdo couldn’t hack it? Or did he just want to regain his former glory and prove that he really did know best?

This sub-plot also did some beautiful things with misogyny (this probably deserves it’s own essay). To my embarrassment, even I hated Holdo at first. I was sitting there in the movie theater thinking “fuck, I didn’t trust this woman either.”

We’re told she’s a galaxy-famous commander with more than a little experience under her belt. Leia — whose judgement everyone trusts unquestioningly — names her interim Resistance leader. But she’s a woman, with pink hair and all. Maybe I just need to unlearn some more misogyny than other Star Wars fans, but it feels like this was intentionally set up to make you root for roguish, manly starfighter Poe until you realize he’s actually being a bull-headed jerk.

Again, militant organization lends itself to misogyny. Bro-y posturing has destroyed a good many real-world movements. If we’re indeed heading in an insurrectionary direction, accounting for and combating misogyny in the ranks is an enormous challenge we have to be ready for.

The dynamic between Poe and Vice Admiral Holdo also played with bravery in very a welcome way. Again there’s a lesson about misogyny in Poe’s assertion that Holdo is a coward for considering using the transports. But bravery isn’t always strategic. In fact, as we learn through Poe’s repeated failures and close calls, it’s often downright stupid.

Which brings me to my favorite line in the movie:

“We won’t win by destroying the things we hate—only by saving the things that we love.”

Sometimes the best you can do is hide in a hole and pray for each other. Our female leads all embody this well. From Vice Admiral Holdo’s clear-minded thinking in the face of sure defeat, to Rose’s decision that having Finn around is more important than destroying some giant cannon, and even Rey’s insurance that there’s still something to love within Ben Solo’s conflicted heart — and the Jedi religion itself. It’s the women of the Resistance that hold onto those things worth saving and show us that the revolution isn’t about tearing anything down, but building each other up.

That outlook takes a certain kind of faith.  As does military resistance generally.  It’s often not rational to put your life on the line for the sake of some political or moral victory. That’s why we have to brainwash soldiers to get them to fight in imperial wars. To get in the fighting spirit, rational decision making has to be replaced with something else. For real-world militaries, faith in the nation is what we’re talking about here. This is why nationalism feels and looks so much like a religion — it is. That’s what’s strong enough to override someone’s will to live.

Fittingly, a lot of the movie’s message drove at a similar point. Whether you call it hope, or faith, or “the light,” it’s that tiny fragment of possibility that keeps our heroes going. And this time, it’s distinctly religious.

Any revolution needs religious faith

“The Force” has always been a religious beast, with different films treating it with various degrees of religiosity and seriousness. In the original films, it’s a lot like Buddhism. Loosely spiritual, a lot of meditation, and enlightenment has to do with recognizing oneness and balance.

In the prequels trilogy, we get a bit more about the Force. It’s simultaneously science-ified with the introduction of midichlorians and deepened as a religion with ritual Jedi burials, a formalized Jedi Order, and a virgin birth as well. But there’s something different about this leg of the saga. Whereas earlier films were about achieving enlightenment through mental and physical discipline, and then about following codes and hierarchies to continue a tradition on a well-worn path, The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi have put a special emphasis on faith itself.

Faith is hard to define. It’s sometimes approached as a feeling, sometimes as a type of non-intellectual knowledge, sometimes as an action or set of actions. Personally, I’m partial to Soren Kierkegaard’s formulation of faith which is about personal transcendance more than anything else. This looks something like mystery and an openness to possibility. And it looks a lot like Master Luke transcending himself as his Force battle with Kylo Ren ends and, having achieved his purpose, Luke becomes one with the Force.

Rather than having faith in something or someone — a legendary Jedi Knight or, the Jedi Order — this kind of faith is the inclination to continue towards the unknown, trusting in divinity to lead the way. Hope is a close approximation, but faith is a bit more complex. It’s not just believing that everything will turn out okay, it’s continuing towards the future even while accepting that everything might not be okay.

When we meet Luke Skywalker in The Last Jedi, he’s living in an absence of faith. He’s seen what his attempts to continue the tradition of the Jedi have wrought. This is central to his later revival. In order to access the powerful form of faith that allows him to save the Resistance and, in doing so, sacrifice his own life, he has to lose the intellectualized, formalized trappings of a traditional Jedi Master.

Luke’s reasons for wanting to end the Jedi tradition are good ones. He sees that his attempts to train Ben Solo/Kylo Ren were misguided and arrogant. He sees that these old texts and traditional ways aren’t particularly helpful in battling a darkness that persists. He sees that the battle between the light and dark sides isn’t a war that can be won, but an endless process of making and remaking. As Jedi power rises, so does Sith.

This nihilism is familiar to many of us attempting to wade through the cycles of political life. The Rebels may win, but the First Order will follow. Luke may become a master, but his students will surpass his power. We may move on through World War II and then the Cold War. But fascism will rear its head again. So what’s the goddamn point?

This threat of nihilism makes faith a necessary component of the kind of continuous war anarchists are called to.

Religious notions can be messy when combined with political movements. Combining these areas of life means the actions of some shithead burnt-out Jedi can hamstring your political movement. The choices of the Jedi Council and Master Qui Gon Jinn’s decision to train up Anakin contributed materially to the creation of the Empire (There’s a kind of arrogance that comes with thinking you’re anointed). There’s even a fan theory that Snoke’s First Order is indeed the “first order” of Jedi, that Snoke himself has been reborn many times and was originally the first Jedi knight. Religious power is a dangerous thing.

And yet, it’s also the only way forward. Tellingly, Luke’s stance on ending the old ways to make space for a new world mirrors Kylo Ren’s. In killing Snoke and burning the Jedi temple, Luke and Ren are acting in concert to deny the natural cycles of light and dark that have existed through all time.

I had one friend point out how much more mythological this particular Star Wars movie was. I’d agree. The Jedi religion here is not about self control or tradition built up over years. It’s opaque and mysterious and fraught with danger. You can’t access the light side of the force without engaging the dark as well.

Thankfully, Rey is undeterred.

Rather than fearing and shying away from her darkness and that in Kylo Ren, she embraces it, goes deeper, and finds the light that’s there as well. This is faith. “If you only believe in the sun when you can see it, you’re not going to make it through the night.”

This marriage of light and darkness is central to real-world faith as well. Insurrection takes us to dark places. Refusing to access that revolutionary spirit because its shadow scares us, does a disservice to our future. The light is there as well as the dark and to stop fighting in the face of moral complexity — in fear of our own dark potential — is the truest face of cowardice.

The Last Jedi brings this constellation of ideas — about bravery and cowardice, about moral ambiguity,  faith, insurrection, and crucially sacrifice — into brilliant interaction. The political and the spiritual are wrapped up tight, even more closely than in previous films. That gives the story a power and relevance that the strikes through the ham-fisted main plot.

Faith is risky, but it’s not flat boldness. Faith is ambiguous, but there’s still right and wrong. It’s the recognition that the way forward is not through smashing and bombing, but something much more tender and loving. Faith is about seeing past yourself and your desires and your thoughts and your being to the whole beautiful, mysterious, complicated tapestry of life.

Faith isn’t chosen and this is what separates it from ideas about hope and bravery that are self-directed. Faith is about following the light where it leads — or even being dragged along by it — because it’s right and you’re wrong, and your will alone doesn’t really matter.

Faith is what keeps us going, resistance fighter or no, and just as the world of the Last Jedi needs faith to see tomorrow, we do too.

How Coffeehouses Fueled the Vietnam Peace Movement

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 02:32

via New York Times

By David L. Parsons

In the summer of 1967, Fred Gardner arrived in San Francisco with the Vietnam War weighing heavily on his mind. Gardner was 25 years old, a Harvard graduate and a freelance journalist for a number of major publications. He was attracted to Northern California’s mix of counterculture and radical politics, and hoped to become more actively involved in the movement to end the war. He was particularly interested in the revolutionary potential of American servicemen and couldn’t understand why antiwar activists and organizers weren’t paying more attention to such a powerful group of potential allies.

Ever since completing a two-year stint in the Army Reserves in 1965, Gardner had been closely watching the increasing instances of military insubordination, resistance and outright refusal that were accompanying the war’s escalation. From the case of the Fort Hood Three — G.I.s arrested in 1966 for publicly declaring their opposition to the war and refusal to deploy — to the case of Howard Levy, an Army dermatologist who refused his assignment to provide medical training for Special Forces troops headed to Vietnam, it was clear that the Army was fast becoming the central site of an unprecedented uprising. By 1967, the “G.I. movement” was capturing national headlines.

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Climate and Weather Disasters Cost U.S. a Record $306 Billion in 2017

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 02:20

via Inside Climate News

By Nicholas Kusnetz

Hurricane Harvey’s extreme rainfall and the most devastating wildfire season on record contributed to $306 billion in damages from climate and weather disasters in the United States in 2017, shattering the previous record by more than $90 billion, according to a federal report released Monday.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s recap of the nation’s climate over the past year found that 2017 was the third-warmest on record. What’s more, it was warmer than average in every state across the lower 48 and Alaska for the third consecutive year. (Hawaii is excluded because of a lack of historical data and other factors.)

“That’s pretty unusual,” said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at NOAA and the lead author of the report. Such a stretch hasn’t occurred in many decades, he said, and is a sign of the degree to which the climate is warming. “The contiguous United States is a pretty big place, and there are features of the climate system that usually make some places colder.”

While 2017 was not the hottest year, each of the five warmest years since record-keeping began in 1895 have come since 2006. The average annual temperature in the contiguous U.S. last year was 2.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th Century average, and five states registered their warmest years on record: Arizona, Georgia, New Mexico, North Carolina and South Carolina.

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Surrealism on the Barricades

Wed, 01/10/2018 - 02:18

via Fifth Estate # 398, Summer, 2017

by Ron Sakolsky

excerpt from
Breaking Loose: Mutual Acquiescence or Mutual Aid? LBC Books, 2015,

Back in 1995, as the banlieues burned, the Paris Surrealist group put out a tract entitled Warning Lights: A Surrealist Statement on the Recent Riots in France, delineating the unrealized potential of such multi-racial uprisings in the inner suburban immigrant quarters to spread across the country.

In this publication, the Paris Group dreamed out loud that the stark despair that initially fueled the riots could transform itself from a purely destructive trigger for the cathartic enactment of localized rage into a concurrent vehicle for a deeper and more widespread rebellion.

As they expressed it:

“The rulers have been given a good hotfoot and have been forced to unmask themselves. Where the police abuse their powers, the state of emergency gives to their abuse the legitimacy that it lacks. In a flash, such warning lights have revealed the return of a possibility that seemed to be lost: that of throwing power into panic. From now on, we can imagine the strength of an uprising that would-beyond the inhabitants of the ghettos-include the whole population suffering from the rise of impoverishment, and would turn into civil war against the organs of capital and the state” (Paris Group of the Surrealist Movement, 1995).

In this vision, the flames of the radical imaginary would be reignited on the barricades.

In this same incendiary spirit, the New York-based and surrealist-inspired revolutionary artists’ group, Black Mask, had earlier quoted André Breton’s maxim: “Authentic art goes hand-in-hand with revolutionary activity,” in one of the group’s initial theoretical statements, “Art and Revolution.”

The quote, which was supplied to them by Franklin Rosemont of the Chicago Surrealist Group, led them to urge artists to make an exodus from the galleries into the streets.

In their confrontational 1967 “Wall Street is War Street” march, twenty five men in black wearing balaclavas and skull faces marching against capitalism and for “total revolution” projected a militant identity that can be seen to have been a seminal influence on future radical street tactics.

As art historian Gavin Grindon has acutely observed, “This was the first use of collective, masked-up black dress during a demonstration in an urban centre among Western social movements. As this style was combined with the tactics of breakaway groups, police confrontation, and property damage, the group anticipated, and perhaps indirectly influenced, the style and tactics of later “black bloc” groups which emerged en masse among 1980s German autonomen.”

As time went by, Black Mask would increasingly emphasize anarchist direct action tactics, renaming themselves the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers in solidarity with the burgeoning black liberation movement of the times.

This brings us to the Ferguson uprising of 2014 in the States which was kicked off by a deadly incident of police brutality in which Michael Brown was murdered by the forces of law and order. As Crimethlnc reported firsthand, the complexity of insurrectionary events there was played out in relation to an internal struggle for meaning that unfolded among the diverse participants in the uprising.

In their words:

“Liberal leaders and authoritarian groups have far and wide fought hard for control of the narrative in Ferguson. The recuperative power of the black left was in full effect, expressed via an array of tactics to discredit everyone who could not be reconciled with the state. Despite the forces arrayed against them, many people in Ferguson were determined to gain control of the streets, and pushed the would be managers aside” (Crimethlnc, 2015).

In contrast to the pacifying managerial narrative emanating from the accomodationist voices of those career activists and erstwhile reformers that sought to narrowly frame these events in civil rights terms; the St. Louis Surrealist Group, in the tradition of not only the above Warning Lights diatribe, but of the Chicago Surrealist Group’s polemics on the Watts riots of 1965 and 1992, boldly proclaimed:

“Our solution prescribes, among other things, the immediate dissolution of the police and other structures of authority, brutality, exploitation, and conformity, as well as the creation of cities of wonder where people of all races, ethnicities, genders, and other diverse affinities can mix in an environment of creative fecundity based on absolute freedom.” (St. Louis Surrealist Group in Hydrolith 2, 2014).

Here was an inspired and inspirational negation of mutual acquiescence that at the same time affirmed an exhilarating vision of mutual aid.

The insurrectionary freedom of the riot can be both a freedom to take direct action against police repression by burning a cop car or engaging in an unmediated redistribution of wealth by looting, and a freedom from the illusion that fundamental change can come from within the system. The latter illusion acts as one of the bulwarks of mutual acquiescence.

As Key MacFarlane has pointed out in relation to the Baltimore uprising of 2015, which was triggered by the street-level execution of Freddie Gray by the police, the “nothing to lose” stance of the rioters was a political flashpoint.

“For those who side with it, it rules out the possibility of reform or progress under current structures of mediation. We don’t want your shitty low- income apartments the fires say. We want to incinerate every last remnant of a dying generation-from the convenience stores where we give our money to a system that casts us aside, to the churches whose leaders tell us we have sinned. From the apartment buildings where we live, to the senior homes where we go to die. For so long we have paid the rich in complacency, and when we have not we have been shuttled off to prison-to smolder.” (MacFarlane, “Rites of Passage,” online 2015).

The flames of the riot are disconcerting not only to the powers that be but to their loyal opposition. By dismissing burning and looting as irrational and ineffective, the latter miss their incendiary importance in incinerating the debilitating illusions that buttress mutual acquiescence. Accordingly, they attribute such acts to the political naiveté of the participants or circulate rumors of police infiltration rather than trying to understand them as indicators of radical refusal.

As Scott Jay argues in deflecting the claim that most of those who engaged in the Baltimore riots were merely police agents provocateur:

“There are black people all over the city throwing rocks at the police. We do not need to make up reasons why somebody would do this. The very concern that ‘peaceful protest’ is being ruined by people throwing things is a completely backward approach to social struggles, usually pushed by liberals who really do want to keep protests symbolic for good media coverage and to appeal to the good nature of those in power” (Jay, 2015).

Jay’s article evidences a struggle about meaning in relation to rioting that is at once tactical and strategic. Anarchists tend to be concerned with fronting tactics that avoid re-legitimatizing institutions of authority while strategically setting the stage for social revolution.

Ron Sakolsky, who has broken loose from the United States, now resides across the border-lie on a little rock in the Salish Sea called Sla-Dai-Aich.

His upcoming book, Birds of a Feather: Anarcho-Surrealism in Flight (Eberhardt Press), will be out sometime this Spring.

Collective Action Behind Bars: A history of jail solidarity and its importance for today’s social change movements

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:49

via Upping the Anti #18

by Kris Hermes

About the author: Kris Hermes is a Bay Area-based activist who has worked for nearly 30 years on social justice issues. The events surrounding the 2000 RNC protests led to his years-long involvement with R2K Legal. Since 2000, Hermes has been an active, award-winning legal worker-member of the National Lawyers Guild and has been part of numerous law collectives and legal support efforts. Last August, PM Press published Hermes’ book Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000, which centres on the development of repressive policing policies and how activists worked collectively to overcome that repression.


As residents of Philadelphia and Cleveland anticipate this year’s political party conventions and the mass protests that they invariably invite, the Republican convention hosted by the City of Brotherly Love 16 years ago holds many important lessons. It was in Philadelphia during the protests against the 2000 Republican National Convention (RNC), that then-Police Commissioner John Timoney developed an aggressive model for policing dissent that included unwarranted surveillance and infiltration, preemptive and unlawful arrests, as well as rampant violence. Notably, this model has become the normative law enforcement response to mass demonstrations across the US, whether reacting to mostly-white Global Justice activists, the Occupy Wall Street movement or, more recently, youth of colour demonstrating against police violence under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter. However, the way that RNC 2000 protesters resisted the legal system in Philadelphia that is also important to our political history and provide vital lessons to those protesting in the streets today.

With the intensified use of militaristic, violent, and repressive domestic policing methods, activists are increasingly forced to spend time in jail and endure criminal prosecution for their actions. But, by using certain tactics collectively, activists have mitigated harm in jail and achieved objectives that would have been impossible through individual action. According to the Just Cause Law Collective (JCLC), the term “solidarity tactics” encompasses “many different forms of non-cooperation, all of which are designed to produce leverage for collective bargaining.”1

The word “solidarity” is ubiquitous today and can be interpreted differently depending on the context in which it is used. Some people act in solidarity with those struggling in other countries. Some show solidarity with political prisoners. Occupy Wall Street activists prioritized “jail support” as a form of solidarity between arrestees and their comrades standing vigil outside the jails. White activists contemplate ways of working in solidarity with today’s youth of color leading the Movement for Black Lives. People are probably most familiar with solidarity tactics historically used by organized labour, such as pickets, strikes, and boycotts.

The JCLC argues that the use of solidarity tactics by criminal defendants is less well-known amongst activists, but can be effective “particularly when the defendants are well-organized, similarly-situated, and working together in large numbers.”2 Jail solidarity, as it has become known, has a rich history in the US through its periodic use over the past hundred years by many different social movements. When activist arrestees have utilized their collective strength, often through militant and confrontational tactics, they have won demands and built power against a legal system designed to coerce and oppress. Integral to the success of jail solidarity is the ability to exploit vulnerabilities in the legal system through collective action and non-cooperation. This is achieved because the authorities need the cooperation of arrestees to process them, it’s expensive to detain large numbers of people, and many jails are near or beyond capacity and unable to deal with heavy influxes. Jail solidarity is typically used with the aim of achieving certain goals, such as gaining equal treatment for all arrestees; protecting targeted groups and individuals, such as people of color, immigrants, and queer people; helping to negotiate the widespread dismissal or reduction of charges; and politicizing the incarceration process by forcing a public discourse and controlling the media narrative.

By refusing bail, arrestees can stay in jail together and place greater strain on the state. But this can sometimes involve a serious time commitment. And, while effective negotiations can eliminate the need for arrestees to defend themselves later in court, it can also take several days to achieve that goal. Therefore, such tactics are often only used by those who can endure the real-world consequences of spending days in jail, like missing out on work and other economic, social or family obligations.

Non-cooperation tactics can vary dramatically and are often as creative as the arrestees employing them. The mass refusal to provide identification is the foundation of contemporary jail solidarity and the tactic most familiar in the activist milieu. By agreeing not to carry identification, to use aliases or “action names,” and refusing to cooperate during processing, arrestees can severely hamper the efforts of jail authorities and create a singular, collective identity that builds strength and fosters selflessness. This unified approach, which can be understood as an extension of collective political action in the streets, stands as a human bulwark against the jail system’s efforts to atomize and incapacitate those under its control.
Other non-cooperation tactics include collectively sitting or lying down, refusing to walk or move, surrounding or piling on top of those at risk of being isolated, refusing to get dressed, and changing clothes with other arrestees. Singing, chanting, and making loud noises are also common tactics used to strengthen solidarity, meet a demand, divert attention, or generally disrupt the jail process. All of these tactics risk being met with retaliation; many arrestees have been brutalized for their refusal to cooperate, underscoring the significance of deciding when, how, and how long to engage in such tactics.

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Bail Reform: Explained

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 21:43

via In Justice Today

By Jessica Pishko and Jessica Brand

In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines — like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine — so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current.

In September of 2017, Atlanta Police arrested 48-year-old Sean Ramsey for holding up a sign that read “homeless, please help,” an apparent violation of a law forbidding pedestrians from soliciting rides or business. He then spent an astonishing 72 days in jail for that offense, unable to pay the $200 cash bail. It cost the county $5,580.40 to keep him in jail. The county released him only after the Southern Center for Human Rights intervened on his behalf. [Hannah Riley / HuffPo]

In New Orleans, Magistrate Judge Harry Cantrell will not set cash bail lower than $2,500, no matter the charge. A man found with drugs in a backpack — cash bail set at $7,500. A man who earned $700 a month from a disability check, accused of threatening people with a shiny object — $10,000. Brian Gisclair, now a plaintiff in a class action law suit, spent 40 days in jail unable to make the $2,500 bail set on his possession of cocaine charge. If defense attorneys object too hard to Cantrell’s practices, Cantrell threatens to hold them in contempt. [Bryce Covert / The Nation]

Kalief Browder, 16-years-old at the time of his arrest, was held on Rikers Island for three years because he could not afford to post bail. Browder was accused of stealing a backpack. When he refused to plead guilty, and instead continued to profess his innocence, the Bronx prosecutor requested a bail amount that he could not afford. So, Browder ended up in the notorious Rikers Island Correctional Center for three years where he was beaten, abused, and held in solitary confinement. [New Yorker / Jennifer Gonnerman]

Browder’s suicide, two years after his release from Rikers, illustrates the very real and lingering harm that jail time causes even for those who are never convicted of a crime. All this was because Browder — like many people — could not afford to post bail. [The Atlantic / Ta-Nehisi Coates]

More recently, the Bronx District Attorney’s Office fought to keep 18-year-old Pedro Hernandez detained at Rikers Island for two years because he could not pay the $250,000 bail amount imposed for highly questionable charges that were plainly contradicted by eyewitness accounts. [In Justice Today / Nick Malinowski] Hernandez was finally released pending trial through funds raised from a nonprofit. The charges were later dismissed. [Prince Shakur / Teen Vogue]

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Reflections on the Growing Anti-Regime Protests in Iran

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 17:59

via Communist Anarchism blog

Below is a recent report on the current situation in Iran first published on the website of the Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists. We may not share the same political outlook as that organisation but we reproduce the report for information.

“In comparison to the mass protests that arose in 2009 after the fraudulent presidential election, these protests are different in several important  respects:  1. They directly oppose poverty and  systemic corruption.  2. They include the wide participation of the working class  (men and women), many unemployed. 3. Demands include an end to the Islamic Republic, Death to Supreme Leader Khamenei, Death to president Rouhani,  Death to the “Revolutionary Guards” and an end to Iran’s military intervention in Syria and Lebanon.  4. In some cases,  individual women have bravely taken off their headscarves or veils  in public places and have encouraged others to follow them.

Frieda Afary

December 31, 2017.

The protests that started in the city of Mashhad on Thursday December 28  have quickly spread to more than 40 cities including Tehran, Kermanshah, Rasht, Isfahan, Shiraz, Hamedan, Kerman,  Zanjan, Ahvaz, Bandar Abbas, and even the city of Qum, Iran’s religious capital.  The participants are mostly young people under 30 but in some cases have included parents with their children. So far, at least 5 people have been killed in Lorestan and over 50 people have been arrested by heavily present security forces.  Some government buildings and banks were set on fire by the protesters and pictures of Khamenei and Khomeini have been burned.

In comparison to the mass protests that arose in 2009 after the fraudulent presidential election, these protests are different in several important  respects: 1. They directly oppose poverty and systemic corruption. 2. They include the wide participation of the working class (men and women), many unemployed. 3. Demands include an end to the Islamic Republic, Death to Supreme Leader Khamenei, Death to president Rouhani, Death to the “Revolutionary Guards” and an end to Iran’s military intervention in Syria and Lebanon. 4. In some cases, individual women have bravely taken off their headscarves or veils  in public places and have encouraged others to follow them.

No one can deny that these protests are arising after at least a year of almost daily labor actions and strikes against non-payment of wages and terrible working conditions, as well as protests by impoverished retirees, teachers, nurses and those who have lost their meager savings in bankrupt banks.

Slogans have also called for freedom for all political prisoners and an end to dictatorship.
At the same time, there is no doubt that there is a strong nationalist tone to some of the slogans such as “Neither Gaza, Nor Lebanon, I sacrifice my life for Iran” or a monarchist influence expressed in slogans which support the legacy of Reza Shah Pahlavi.

Some Iranians believe that the protests might have been started by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to consolidate its power, given the infighting within the regime and the threat of a direct war between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Others believe that monarchists and the Mujahedin Khalq, with support from the Trump administration, have had a major role in encouraging the protests.

For those Iranians opposed to all these actors and genuinely hoping for a liberatory movement, it is extremely important to learn from the lessons of the Syrian revolution. If the mass movement against poverty and dictatorship limits itself simply to the overthrow of the regime without an affirmative and progressive vision,  it faces the danger of being taken over by right-wing populists or monarchists and becoming a pawn in the imperialist rivalries.

This is a time when those Iranian socialists and Marxists who do not support authoritarian brands of socialism can make a difference by organizing within this movement on the basis of opposing  Iran’s capitalist state, helping the development of  workers’ councils,  defending and promoting women’s struggles against patriarchy/ misogyny,  and speaking out against the discrimination suffered by  Iran’s ethnic and religious minorities such as Kurds and Bahais.

Deepening the content of the current protest movement is the best way to challenge and oppose imperialist war drives by the U.S., Israel, Saudi Arabia, Russia, China,  Iran, Turkey, and to express solidarity with other progressives in the region and around the globe who demand social justice.
Frieda Afary

December 31, 2017″

Alliance of Syrian and Iranian Socialists

Americans should break the 222 pound meat habit in 2018

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 17:56

via The Hill

by Dr. Neal Barnard

Will Americans really eat more meat in 2018 than ever before? The U.S. Department of Agriculture said last week that the average consumer will eat 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry in 2018. For the health of Americans and the environment, let’s hope that this prediction proves false.

Nobody outside of the meat industry would argue that eating 222 pounds of meat is healthful. In fact, the USDA’s 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say that “lower intakes of meats, including processed meats; processed poultry … have often been identified as characteristics of healthy eating patterns.”

But eliminating meat from your diet altogether is the safest bet, because even amounts significantly smaller than 222 pounds are dangerous. A new study in the European Journal of Cancer found that eating just 9 grams of processed meat a day — about three slices of bacon or two sausages a week — can increase the risk of breast cancer. That’s just 7 pounds of meat in a year.

Here’s some more meat-and-mortality math: 222.2 pounds is 100,788 grams. Divide that amount evenly over 365 days, and it’s 276 grams per day. That’s more than double the amount of daily meat intake it takes to increase your risk of breast, colorectal, prostate, and pancreatic cancers, stroke, diabetes, and death from heart disease, according to a study in the Journal of Internal Medicine.

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The Vietnam Legacy of War Tax Resistance

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 05:36

via Fifth Estate # 395, Winter 2016

by Erica Weiland

An enduring image of Vietnam War resistance is men burning their draft cards. And, draft resistance played a big role in raising the profile of war tax resistance. Vietnam era draft resisters like Randy Kehler and Ed Hedemann followed up their refusal to fight with a refusal to pay for fighting, following the example of World War I and II draft and war tax resisters like Ammon Hennacy and Wally Nelson.

Ed Hedemann, who continues his work today with the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee says, “They tried to draft me during the Vietnam War and I refused, then they wanted to draft my taxes and I refused, because I don’t see the difference between doing the killing myself or paying for someone else to kill.”

War tax resisters, whether or not they were subject to the draft, either maintained a low, untaxable income or simply didn’t pay the IRS for some or all of their tax bills. Many resisters refused to communicate with the IRS in any way, including filing tax returns. Reasons for practicing war tax resistance varied, but often included the desire to not cooperate with state violence as a matter of conscience.

As young men planned draft resistance, those not subject to the draft used war tax resistance to show solidarity. Beth Seberger told a 2011 conference of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee how she started resisting:

“When I told a friend I didn’t feel right about paying the IRS because of our country’s involvement in the Vietnam War, he said, ‘Then don’t! Haven’t you ever heard of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker? They don’t pay taxes.’ This was astounding news to me, and I was ready for it. I had two older brothers serving in the Air Force in the war, but I had been more influenced by Martin Luther King Jr. and his example of nonviolent resistance. I was seeing many young men my age struggling with their consciences over what to do about the draft. We women didn’t have that decision to face, but I felt paying taxes showed support and actually did give money to help carry on the war. The war resisters’ tax pie chart in that period showed 69 percent of discretionary spending going to pay for past, present, or future war expenditures. 69 percent! I only owed $18 and change for my 1969 taxes, but I sent a letter to IRS with my tax return and no check.”

War tax resisters during the Vietnam War era faced a wide range of consequences for their non-cooperation including levies on bank accounts and garnishment of wages, letters and visits from IRS agents, lost jobs, seized cars and houses, and in a few cases, jail time.

In 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson asked Congress to levy an additional tax on telephone bills to fund the military deployment in Vietnam. Activist Karl Meyer (still a war tax resister, and now a founder and member of the cooperative Catholic Worker community Nashville Greenlands) wrote the “Hang Up On War” pamphlet to encourage resistance to this telephone tax. By the end of the war, it is estimated that as many as 250,000 to 500,000 people had resisted the telephone tax.

The organization National War Tax Resistance was formed in 1969 as a response to the surge in interest in income and telephone tax resistance, and at its peak had 192 chapters. War tax resisters also sought support from organizations like Peacemakers and War Resisters League. Many resisters gave their taxes to alternative funds that redirected the money to community organizations more deserving of financial support.

During the length of the war, many prominent individuals took up resistance. For example, in 1968, the Writers and Editors War Tax Protest took out ads in three publications, listing writers and editors who pledged to refuse to pay the income tax and/or telephone tax. Signers included Howard Zinn, Allen Ginsberg, Grace Paley, Frances Fox Piven, Adrienne Rich, Helen and Scott Nearing, Kurt Vonnegut, and Philip and Daniel Berrigan.

Noam Chomsky was also a signer of this ad. In a 2011 interview, he said, “I organized tax resistance in 1965, with a friend. I kept at it for about ten years. I don’t see it as a principle, it’s a tactic. And I felt I had exhausted its potential as a tactic right about then, so I stopped.” Many, if not most war tax resisters seemed to agree with Chomsky. War tax resistance declined sharply after the war ended in 1975, and National War Tax Resistance also folded that year.

In 1982, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee was formed. Many new resisters during the 1980s took their stand as a result of U.S. support of Central American dictatorships in Guatemala, Nicaragua, and El Salvador. There have been surges of war tax resistance during each of the wars in which the U.S. has been involved (though records of how many people are resisters is hard to come by).

Those who have kept up their war tax resistance since the Vietnam War or who have started it since then tend to see it more as a principle than a tactic. If cooperating with the militaristic state during wartime is wrong, then it’s still wrong during what passes as peacetime when the military is readying itself for the next conflict.

War tax resistance during the Vietnam War was among the largest expressions of non-cooperation with a violent state, alongside GI resistance, draft resistance, and the many mass rallies and protests. Today, war tax resisters from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives continue refusing to pay taxes to support state violence.

Erica Weiland is the social media consultant for the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC),, although opinions expressed here are not official positions of the organization.

Union Renewal From the Margins: Perspectives on Organizing Precarious Workers

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 05:27

via Upping the Anti #12

by Adrie Naylor

Over the past few years, international migration has been a popular topic in the mainstream media in both Canada and the United States; however, this attention has often centred on asylum seekers, “queue-jumpers,” trafficking, racial profiling legislation and, less often, the tragic and preventable deaths of undocumented workers. Left out of this discussion has been the critical perspective of migrant workers themselves, as well as an examination of the efforts that have been made by migrant workers, social movement organizations, and trade unions to organize and build alliances. In March 2011, Adrie Naylor sat down with five organizers to discuss the issue of precarious work and transnational labour migration in Canada and the US, the challenges of organizing around labour issues in marginalized communities, and to strategize about alliance-building on the left.

Beixi Liu is an intern at the Workers’ Action Centre in T oronto. H e became involved in the Centre after being employed through a temp agency where his rights were violated.

Marco Luciano is a coordinator at Migrante, a migrant advocacy group based in the Philippines. H e also works as a staff person at Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1281.

Linelle S. Mogado is a policy advisor at the Ontario Ministry of Labour in occupational health and safety. She practiced labour and employment law in California on behalf of unions and workers, where she also volunteered with Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland, serving monolingual Spanish speakers.

Esery Mondesir is a former organizer with S ervice Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1, where he worked primarily with home care workers.

Sonia Singh is an organizer at the Workers’ Action Centre. She is also involved in Justice for M igrant Workers and M igrant Workers Alliance for Change.

What is precarious work? How has the growth of precarious work in recent years been connected to neoliberal restructuring? What is the relationship between precarious work and migration?

Sonia: Precarious work is marked by flexibility. It’s the polar opposite of a nine-to-five job with benefits and the expectation that it could last for many years. A range of employer practices facilitate the creation of precarious workers with diminishing standard protections: contracting out, using sub-contracting chains, using temp agencies, misclassifying people as independent contractors, and using temporary foreign worker programs. There is real state complicity as our laws are eroded or not enforced. That’s the context of our fight to start building back those protections, including for workers who never had protections in the first place because they’ve just been temporary workers, temp agency workers, and temporary foreign workers not seen as deserving those rights.

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Rebel Friendships: What makes a social movement?

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 05:12

via Fifth Estate # 397, Winter, 2017

by Eric Laursen

Social movements, not establishment reformers, have nurtured and propelled the most important liberatory struggles of the last half-century, from the Civil Rights and Gay Rights struggles to the Feminist Movement to Native American nations recent uprisings against fracking and pipelines.

Social movements create collective engagement, pockets of resistance that “reframe a politics of everyday life,” as activist and academic Ben Shepard writes in his recent book, Rebel Friendships: “Outsider” Networks and Social Movements (2015, Palgrave Macmillan), even as they gather support and ignite overwhelming demands for change.

These movements aren’t organized from the top down; sometimes they aren’t organized at all initially, because they grow out of networks of friends, neighbors, co-workers, victims, lovers, and ex-lovers. Sometimes they happen almost by accident, like the angry, passionate gay rights movement that emerged from Stonewall in 1969—but the people who made that movement knew each other, or at least recognized one another as a face at the other end of a bar.

These friendships are the essence of any society based on autonomy and self-organizing. Democracy—the kind anarchists Pyotr Kropotkin or Emma Goldman imagined, not the brand that passes for liberal or social democracy in the hands of a Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders—starts with individuals, communities, and the relationships and affinities that bring them together.

That’s why Goldman refused to separate personal and sexual liberation from the larger political struggle for peace, self-expression, and workers’ rights. Democracy had to involve something more than the freedom to sell one’s labor and vote a new set of masters into office every few years. It had to be powered by a radical intimacy that razed class, racial, and gender barriers and widened the boundaries of the democratic decisions we can now make into something unlimited.

Political organizing isn’t truly transformational unless it grows from radical friendships or helps to create them.

“A general outbreak of public resistance to militarism would contribute more to the removal of sexual imbalance than any action through the channels we have come to regard as political,” poet, biologist, and anarchist Alex Comfort suggested in 1949, as he was helping to launch the Ban the Bomb movement in the UK. Ban the Bomb would help birth a radical political culture in Britain in the 1960s and Comfort would go on to write The Joy of Sex in 1972, the first fully-illustrated, sex-positive, how-to guide to be carried in mainstream bookstores.

There are countless other examples. The farm workers’ movement of the same and succeeding decades grew out of the tight relationships, based on family, community, and technical knowledge that generations of grape harvesters developed in the American Southwest—quasi-communal and quite unlike the middle-class white communities that ignored and exploited them.

Radicalism repeatedly flourishes on college campuses, despite their role in cementing new generations of a ruling elite, because so many students, removed from the roles they accepted at home, begin to see the possibility of new kinds of relationships and communities.

Organizers in a range of social movements, from Black Lives Matter to the Occupy movement to the anti-WTO movement of a decade ago, can trace their activism to periods in their lives that took them out of themselves, sexually as well as politically.

Behind, or at the core of, each of these movements were friendships, between individuals and among small circles that widened out in various degrees of commitment. Shepard’s book revisits the stories of some of the remarkable individuals who were the catalysts of these immensely significant communities of choice.

Eric Rofes, historian and one of the most important gay organizers in the post-Stonewall decades, was also a master networker whose work building a gay men’s health movement pulled in and energized countless younger activists. “Rofes favored the notion of ‘families of choice’ as a method to create relationships that transcended the work of organizations or projects,” Shepard writes.

There was New Yorker Bob Kohler, a veteran of both the Civil Rights Movement and Stonewall and a founder of the Gay Liberation Front and, later, the SexPanic! in the late 1990s. Kohler in turn was a mentor to Sylvia Rivera, who spent much of her life homeless, alcoholic, on drugs, or a combination of the three, but who was instrumental in pulling together a militant transgender movement in New York, decades before anyone had heard of Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, through her legions of friends and acquaintances on the streets of the city.

More remarkable individuals and relationships burst out of the story of Time’s Up!, the collective in which “friends clashed, fought, danced, and pushed the lines between public and private space within a burlesque of do-it-yourself street activism,” as Shepard describes the group that organized New York’s legendary bike rides.

Many Time’s Up! activists helped import the nonhierarchical process of the group into the Occupy movement in 2011.

It’s not always a pretty story. Feuds between friends whose relationships are pivotal to social movements have destroyed them, or nearly so. Kohler and Rivera’s stormy friendship alone provides important lessons in how personal relationships can both galvanize and demoralize the people they inspire. Police understand well how social movements operate and are practiced at infiltrating and creating rifts between activists.

All the more reason why telling the story of these movements can be nearly as important as living them. Almost by definition, social movements generally don’t keep phone logs, ledgers, or meeting notes or provide articles of incorporation. Much of the history that’s passed on is oral. But the more we know, the better able we are to see trouble on the horizon, and respond.

Just as importantly, reclaiming these histories reawakens the radical impulses that lead to specific instances of change in society and helps us to see past the compromised, ever-narrower, self-serving and self-perpetuating organizations that the remnants of social movements so often congeal into when the movement begins to disintegrate.

Groups like ACT UP and Occupy deliberately set themselves up as networks of autonomous individuals and affinity groups, with a minimum of the professional infrastructure, financial hierarchy, and focus on self-perpetuation that’s typical of the Nonprofit Industrial Complex.

They coalesce and then—but not always—disintegrate or burn out as the moment dictates, leaving room for other groups to rise up and take the struggle to the next stage. Often, their legacy is much more powerful than that of better-known, more careerist organizations: the latter can bring about reform, but social movements can engender new ways of being.

There’s a pathos to the stories of social movements that mirrors human beings’ struggles against isolation, often transitory attachments and attitudes, and the fleeting nature of life itself. “Loss is part of modern living,” Shepard writes. “Many find themselves isolated from communities, sitting and looking at computers, and isolated from their own labor. Friends come and disappear; modern living is an ongoing loss exercise. Struggling against isolation, movements build cultures of their own. Here the intersection of friendship, harm reduction, and support make participation in social movements feel authentic. New ideas and innovations take shape through this mix of bodies, actions, and ideas.”

Social movements are sometimes caricatured as cliques and subcultures. And while subcultures can sometimes be exclusionary and inward-looking, they can also save the lives of the many isolated individuals who find refuge in them. Accounts of funerals and end-of-life support groups punctuate Rebel Friendships, underscoring the enduring nature of the personal ties between veterans of social movements and also the strong organizing impact of the AIDS epidemic.

On the brighter side, sometimes friendships are more than just that. Sex can play a role in organizing as well. “Sex and friendship were not opposed or linked,” Shepard writes, echoing Foucault; “the ties between the two fostered communities of care and pleasure.”

Shepard devotes a great deal of space in his book to the rise of LGBTQ activism and the social movements that grew out of it, in part because he participated himself, but also, arguably, because they play a critical role in the development of all social movements of the past 40 years, at least in the U.S.

Community, in the queer world, is almost by necessity intentional—much more so than in conventional heterosexual society. Friendships, physical and otherwise, are vital to the community’s existence, and so a great many object lessons and examples of how to organize social movements can be gleaned from the decades of politically aware LGBTQ life—lessons in civility, respect, mutual support and care, and the importance of solidarity with other struggles against other oppressions.

Shepard makes a strong case that a fairly direct line runs from Stonewall to Time’s Up! and Reclaim the Streets, to the campaigns against corporate globalization and the Occupy movement, among many others. Urban movements of resistance that organize in the face of a power structure insistent on not just ignoring them but negating their existence, they popped up often unexpectedly, never in exactly the same place twice, in a kind of ongoing guerrilla war against injustice and their own oppression and marginalization.

Like all social movements, they drew strength from an implicit utopianism and the promise of personal as well as political liberation. The marrow of much of their history—and their future—is the role played by the individuals, couples, and knots of friends and lovers who help to catalyze them.

Eric Laursen is a writer and activist living in Massachusetts. His most recent book is The People’s Pension: The Struggle to Defend Social Security Since Reagan (AK Press, 2012).

This Prison System Has Severely Limited The Books And Fresh Food That Can Be Sent To Inmates

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 04:45

via Buzzfeed News

by Mike Hayes

New York state’s prison system restricted the types of books people can send to inmates at three prisons to a handful of romance novels, the Bible and other religious texts, drawing or coloring books, puzzle books, how-to books, a dictionary, and a thesaurus.

The system has also banned families from sending fresh fruit and vegetables to inmates at the facilities.

The state’s Department of Corrections and Community Supervision launched a program in December 2017 that limited care package purchases by families and loved ones of inmates to a list of approved vendors selected by the department.

Directive 4911A, which is currently being piloted at Greene, Green Haven, and Taconic correctional facilities, states that family members and loved ones of prisoners in these facilities must now purchase items for inmates from six vendors listed on the state’s department of corrections website. The department claims that the program offers “a variety of food and articles at competitive pricing for inmates, their families and friends; while maintaining security, and providing an efficient operation.”

The directive states that the inmates at the three facilities “may only receive packages directly from an approved vendor with the exception of a wedding ring, release clothing, and non-electric musical instruments from their family.”

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The Irma Diaries: Hurricane Irma Survivor Stories Should Be a Climate Change Wake-Up Call

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 04:40

via yes! magazine

by Lornet Turnbull

There’s a popular quote often attributed to Mark Twain that was used in a radio ad in the Virgin Islands many years ago: “Everybody talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it….”

It always seemed strangely inappropriate in a place where people seldom talk about the weather, and where blue skies produce picture postcard days and temperatures seldom vary from the mid-80s. In the islands, the saying goes, as in much of the Caribbean, the weather is pretty predictable.

But really, it is not.

Rising sea levels, longer dry spells and erosion of precious beaches are affecting people’s lives and livelihoods. And in her new book, The Irma Diaries: Compelling Survivor Stories from The Virgin Islands, British Virgin Islands author Angela Burnett warns that unless there’s some real movement to curtail greenhouse gas emissions, the series of deadly hurricanes that churned their way through the Caribbean in September 2017 could be a glimpse into a future of unprecedented weather.

“There is a real possibility that a hostile climate could eventually make the islands I have always called and cherished as home uninhabitable,” writes Burnett, who works as a climate change officer in the British Virgin Islands.

Irma was the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricane in recorded history, and it left a trail of destruction and despair across the Caribbean and Florida. The British Virgin Islands, a territory with a population of 36,000, took a direct hit.

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Where Corn Is King, the Stirrings of a Renaissance in Small Grains

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 04:36


by Twilight Greenaway

To the untrained eye, Jeremy Gustafson’s 1,600-acre farm looks like all the others spread out across Iowa. Gazing at his conventional corn and soybean fields during a visit in June, I was hard-pressed to say where his neighbor’s tightly planted row crops ended and Gustafson’s began.

But what distinguished this vast farm in Boone, Iowa, was a thin, 16-acre strip of oats Gustafson had planted in a loop around the barn. At the time, the chest-high oats were at the “milk stage.” When Gustafson squeezed the grains embedded in the feathery grass between his thumb and forefinger, they released a tiny dollop of white liquid, a sign that they would be ready to harvest in about a month.

Oats and other “small grains” like rye and triticale stand out in Iowa — the nation’s number one producer of corn, a crop that covered more than 90 million U.S. acres in 2016 and was worth more than $51 billion. As is the case all over the Corn Belt, most Iowa corn is planted in rotation with another ubiquitous crop: soybeans. That Gustafson is willing to plant something other than corn and soy in Iowa makes him an outlier.

“I’m doing this for the soil,” says Gustafson, 40, and that’s a bigger deal than it may sound.

The majority of conventional farmers leave their soil barren for nearly half the year, exposing it to erosion in a state where some townships see as many as 64 tons of soil per acre run into waterways each year. Along with that soil come the remnants of fertilizer applications, in the form of nitrates and phosphorus, which foul drinking water, choke out aquatic life, and spur toxic algae blooms. Des Moines Water Works, the state’s largest water utility, spends an estimated $1.2 million per year to remove nitrates from drinking water to meet U.S. Environmental Protection Agency safety levels.

To begin to counter that tide, Gustafson and a growing number of farmers are working to keep small grains and other plants in the soil year-round. Many say they decided to take this approach after meeting Sarah Carlson, a 38-year-old, no-nonsense agronomist from rural Illinois, who has spent the last decade alternately challenging and supporting hundreds of farmers from a small office in Ames, Iowa, with her colleagues at Practical Farmers of Iowa (PFI). Their goal is to help producers diversify, improve their soil, and maintain autonomy within a landscape dominated by a handful of powerful agribusinesses.

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Donald Trump and College Football: A Match Made in Hell

Tue, 01/09/2018 - 00:05

via The Nation

by Dave Zirin

Tonight a significant portion of the United States will be watching the national college-football championship in Atlanta, pitting the University of Alabama against the University of Georgia. Donald Trump will reportedly be in attendance, which is surprising considering the fact that he’s not known to be a football fan. His only interactions with the sport have involved destroying the USFL, failing to buy an NFL team, defending the name of the Washington R*dskins, and calling black NFL players “sons of bitches” last fall for protesting police violence during the national anthem. Trump thinks a sport he never played has gotten soft, with too few concussions for his liking.

Trump is not a friend of football—he just loves breathing in what is most reactionary about the culture that surrounds it.

The official reason Trump is going to the game, according to professional prevaricator Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is that he wants to go to “Trump country.” One would be forgiven for being concerned that this president thinks there’s an actual place called Trump country. But let’s assume that Huckabee Sanders means a place where Trump’s bruised ego can bask in friendly surroundings. It’s still bizarre, considering that Alabama just elected Democrat Doug Jones to the Senate and exit polls show Trump holding a 48 percent disapproval rating among voters in one of the reddest states in the country. As for Atlanta, they like Trump about as much as low-sodium barbecue sauce. This is the city that Trump described as being “in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested).”

Not surprisingly, Trump’s visit will be met with protests. A group called Refuse Fascism is organizing people to take a knee outside the stadium. In explaining their protest, one organizer said in a statement, “Trump dissed Atlanta by calling it ‘crime infested’—code for ‘too many Black people.’ dissed John Lewis for correctly calling him ILLEGITIMATE; dissed football players of conscience, women, immigrants, LGBTQ people, Muslims, science, critical thinking, the environment; threatens the whole world with nuclear holocaust…” In other words, they’ve got reasons.

These demonstrations matter for reasons beyond the fact that Trump should be protested on general principle. They matter because the revolt against racism in sports that we have seen in both the NFL and high schools over the past year skipped college football. The NCAA is a multibillion-dollar operation run by coaches who are often the highest paid public employees in their states, more powerful than university presidents.

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A Missouri Dollar General Voted to Unionize — Then a Manager at Another Store Asked About It and Was Fired

Mon, 01/08/2018 - 17:13

via The Intercept

by Zaid Jilani

When a group of workers at a Dollar General store in Auxvasse, Missouri, voted to unionize in early December, employees at nearby stores wanted to know whether the move would affect them. Margeorie Nation, the manager at a Dollar General in Glasgow, another Missouri town, raised her concerns in a conversation with other store managers. She also posted about it on a private social media account.

Shortly thereafter, she lost her job.

“I’ve never been written up. I’ve never been reprimanded. Nothing,” Nation told The Intercept. In fact, she said, her store was given a company award for sales and customer satisfaction last year.

The discount store chain’s employee handbook makes clear the company’s philosophy of remaining union-free. “Our union free status is one reason we continue to grow and provide employment while many unionized companies have declined,” it states.

Missouri lies at the heart of a national debate about unionizing. This year, it became the 28th state to enact a right-to-work law that says workers cannot be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. Ten days before the law was to come into force, labor unions, which oppose the law, gathered 300,000 signatures to put the issue directly to voters in the 2018 election.

Dollar General is a hallmark of the low-wage economy, as its low-cost goods often provide a lifeline to communities that can’t afford to shop at big retailers. But along with low-cost goods often come low wages for employees. As HuffPost’s Dave Jamieson reported in 2013, various dollar store chains like Dollar General have worked hard to keep employee compensation low through tactics like classifying certain employees as managers to avoid paying them overtime.

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The Truth About “Trailer Trash”

Sun, 01/07/2018 - 20:04

via CounterPunch

by Sonya Salamon – Katherine MacTavish

“Trailer trash” remains one of the last unquestioned relics of political incorrectness in our nation. This slur rests on fundamental cultural assumptions about people who live in trailer parks: that they are simple-minded, lawless, reckless with fertility, and indifferent to the very behaviors that mark as them worthy of ridicule. As a toxic slur, the “trailer trash” brand works to stigmatize an entire category of people marginalizing  them from mainstream society.

During the late 1990s, the two of us spent considerable time at the kitchen tables of parents raising children in rural trailer parks. Virtually all of these parents worked full time in manufacturing and service jobs in which wages have been stagnant for decades. They embarked on mobile home ownership just as financial giants like Countrywide opened a gateway to homeownership for low income households by offering high-interest loans with no down payment. Trailer park residency was not a lifestyle choice but the consequence of financial realities and a dream that homeownership might offer their children a kind of stability, security, and respect they lacked in their own  adverse childhoods. Today, some 12 million Americans live in one of our nation’s 45,000 rural trailer parks.

In our decade of field research in rural Illinois, New Mexico and North Carolina, we documented how the ‘trailer-trash’ slur undermined the self-worth and identity of working-poor families living in trailer parks, as homeowners.  As one mother explained to us, “I never tell anyone where I live… I’ll do almost anything to avoid saying I live in [a trailer park]- I’m too embarrassed about it.”  Her perception of the need to manage stigma by protecting one’s address was a belief uniformly shared by white families, in particular, as we found ‘trailer trash’ seems to be a variant of the ‘white trash’ put down commonly used toward the rural poor.

We found little evidence for the stereotypical notions of slovenly lives embodied in this slur. The 40 trailer park families we came to know well were employed, limited their family size, and the mobile home they owned and the rented lot it sat on were neat and well maintained. Unlike media representations, they were not the poorest of the poor, nor were their neighborhood conditions typified by crime, noise, litter, deteriorated housing, or poor social services. They wanted good schools for their children and to be respected as proud homeowners in the wider rural communities where they lived.

Buying a home, even one with wheels beneath, was for the families we studied, a major accomplishment. Many were the first in their family to mount the initial rung on what they hoped was a ladder leading to conventional homeownership on owned land. But for most families, realizing the benefits of their hard-won status as homeowners is compromised by our national contempt for trailer parks and those who call them home. That contempt, which inaccurately portrays rural trailer park life, bore real social and economic consequences for the families we studied.  It is time we put this outdated and inaccurate slur to rest and instead honor the accomplishments of these rural families as pioneers settling a tarnished housing form that with wider national acceptance, and adjustment of the structural and financial challenges homeowners face, holds the potential for addressing our national affordable housing crisis.

Sonya Salamon, an anthropologist and Professor Emerita of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Katherine MacTavish an Associate Professor at Oregon State University are authors of the recent book: Singlewide: Chasing the American Dream in a Rural Trailer Park.

Photo by Steve Snodgrass | CC BY 2.0