Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Iraq: A Tipping Point?

This week has definitely brought us the most intense debate around Iraq since the weeks right before the US invasion in March of 2003. War Times just released its most recent month in review entitled "Iraq: Things Fall Apart" which outlines in detail the crisis the Bush adminstration finds itself in. The article starts out:

"Things are coming apart in Iraq. The U.S. occupation is blundering from one crisis to another with no guiding strategy beyond "staying the course" (keeping a permanent military presence in the country). The occupation-fueled Shiite-Sunni conflict is growing in fury, casualties and dangers. The ripple effects of both the occupation/resistance and Sunni/Shiite conflicts are spreading throughout the region. The longstanding effort to cover up U.S. torture and related brutalities has collapsed. Support among the U.S. public for Bush's Iraq policy has plummeted to record lows and several of Washington's few remaining international supporters are jumping ship. Divisions within the U.S. governing elite have turned into open and nasty fights." Read More...

As De La Soul's classic rap album released in the summer of 1996 so eloquently stated "The Stakes Is High" and we all have an important role to play in trying to exacerbate these current divisions into a larger 'crisis of legitimacy' for the administration. Today Bush outlined his "strategy for victory in Iraq", stating that "we will stay as long as neccesary as is needed to complete this mission". Bush has been forced over the past two years to constantly re-define what 'completing this mission' means exactly, especially when referring to the training of the new Iraqi army which has received several large set-backs.

ZNET has been publishing a number of good pieces on Iraq this week including an article by Gilbert Achar and Stephen Shalom today on the 'Strategic Redevelopment' vs. 'Out Now' positions that are being debated among many progressives across the country. Noam Chomsky & Ed Herman (co-authors of the classic book 'manufacturing consent among others) also have a new 'Q&A on the Iraq War' which address some of these same issues. It will be interesting to see how the major segments of the anti-war movement react to these new developments. So far UFPJ & Win Without War have agreed to co-sponsor a Dec 6th day of action around 'national call-ins' to congressional representatives. I wonder, following the successfull September 24th-26th demonstrations in Washington DC, if UFPJ will break out of the 'regular protest schedule' and organize a major demo before their March 20th anniversary date which is so far set as the next large protest.

For the time being lets all find ways to get involved locally and take advantage of this historical moment!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Revolution Will Not Be Funded!

Im excited to announce that we finally have the audio files available on the web for this great event we did back in October on the topic 'The Revolution Will Not Be Funded". The forum which brought out a diverse group of about 60-70 activists from around New York City, was co-organized with Sista ii Sista partly as an issue release event for our special issue of Left Turn magazine on the same topic.

For those of you not familiar with the topic and subsequent debates within various movements, the theme 'The Revolution Will Not Be Funded' was taken from an amazing conference organized by INCITE! in the spring of 2004. In that conference the organizers sought to answer a series of important and overlapping questions including:
  • What is the history of how the non-profit model developed, and what reasons did it develop? How did it impact the direction of social justice organizing?
  • How has funding from foundations impacted the course of social justice movements?
  • How does 501(c)3 status impact social justice organizations' relationship to the state?
  • Are there ways the non-profit model can be used subversively to support more radical visions for social change?
  • What are the alternatives for building viable social justice movements? How do we fund the movement outside the non-profit structure?
  • What models for organizing outside the NGO/non-profit model exist outside the U.S. that may help us?
These are just a few of many questions that were addressed at the INCITE! conference a few years back. For those of you who are interested, I highly recommend you ordering the set of audio recordings from the conference itself which are now available on their website. Its $55 for the entire 5 CD set but its well worth the costs, especially if you can split it with a few local activists and or organizations. I feel like its important to build on each others work and interact with a similar set of questions on a larger level so that we are not constantly re-inventing the wheel or figuring out how to deal with these similar problems in isolation of each other. Conferences are often really boring and not that useful to activists on the ground, but this one was a rare exception, so again if you can go order the CD's!

For a good background article on the topic check out an article written by Andrea del Moral for Lip Magazine earlier this year. As i mentioned earlier we did a whole special section on it in Left Turn #18 and one of the feature articles written by Eric Tang is available online as well. The article is titled "The Non-Profit & The Autonomous Grassroots" and is kind of an overview of the shift towards the Non-Profit model over the past few decades coming out of the social movements of the 60s and early 70s. The article is not so much a wholesale critique of the modern Non-Profit as much as a sober analysis of the central role it plays in the United States context. In other places (Chiapas to name one prominent example), the Non-Profit (termed NGOs in most countries) plays a 'supporting role' to the more radical autonomous movements (In that case obviously the Zapatista uprising) instead of a 'leading role' which again is too often what we have here in the US. The reasons for all of this are complicated but its a fascinating subject which i feel leads you to really think through what kind of organizing your currently involved with and what possibilities arise once you are able to think outside of the 'non-profit industrial complex' box.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Lula, the Workers Party & the Corruption of Hope

This is gonna be a real short post because im kinda out of it following thanksgiving with the family. Ive also been staring at a computer screen for the past 5 hours trying to edit this upcoming (really good) article on UFPJ & The Anti-War Movement for the winter issue of Left Turn magazine. In between eatin mashed potatoes & turkey i came across a back issue of The Nation which had (suprisingly) quite a few good pieces in it. One that caught my eye was a well written article by Hilary Wainwright (Editor of Red Pepper Magazine) called: 'Corruption of Hope in Brazil' which is an overview of the Lula presidency in Brazil and his fall from grace amid corruption scandals... I guess the picture says it all.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Holidays !

We have been saying it since we got there, but its time to get the hell out of Iraq! Actually let me re-phrase that, its time to get out of the entire Middle East. There is of course a big difference, as we have recently seen with all of the fuss around John Murtha's (Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania) 'Troops Out Now' resolution. As Gilbert Achcar points out:

When Murtha says "redeploy" -- instead of withdraw -- the troops from Iraq, he makes clear that -- despite his rhetoric -- he doesn't want to really bring them home, but to station them in the Middle East. As he told Anderson Cooper of CNN:

"We ... have united the Iraqis against us. And so I'm convinced, once we redeploy to Kuwait or to the surrounding area, that it will be much safer. They won't be able to unify against the United States. And then, if we have to go back in, we can go back in."

Moreover, Murtha's resolution calls for the U.S. to create "a quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S. Marines" to be "deployed to the region."

I guess what can you really expect from the Democratic party right? In New York we had to read all about how Hillary Clinton (the next Democratic Party Presidential candidate from all indications) opposed withdrawal of US troops from the region, basically putting her in agreement with Cheney's comments earlier in the week which heavily criticized those starting to raise criticism of the ongoing occupation of Iraq.

Hillary Clinton, more then any other Democratic party member, shows me how non-existent the political 'opposition' in this country really is. A few years ago i participated in a sit-in of her offices when it became clear that she was going to totally disregard the New York anti-war sentiment and vote for Bush's war resolution on the floor of the Senate. Besides the symbollic action, we demanded (and won) a one hour face to face meeting with Ms Clinton herself. After 'expressing our concerns' in various (actually quite articulate) arguments, she told us something that i will never forget. In response to a question about her voting against the interests of her New York constituents she said "You know what... i take all of those things into consideration... but at the end of the day I have to do what i feel is right".

I think that pretty much sums up the US system of so called 'representative democracy' (and why even during certain strategic points in time, im not a big fan of electoral politics). Clinton was 'doing what she felt was the right thing' which was basically thinking ahead to her future 2008 presidential nomination and totally disregarding everything else. On a similar note the action we did that forced the meeting with Clinton taught me a lot about the old IWW (Industrial Workers of the World) slogan "Direct Action Gets the Goods". A few weeks after we met with Clinton i ran into a member of Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, which is a grouping made up of various family members who lost loved ones on September 11th but were not down with the subsequent US militaristic responses. They had been asking Hillary for a meeting for nearly two years without even a reponse...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Against The Grain Radio Archives!

I love books... I love to go to bookstores, Check out the 'new releases', read the blurbs on the backs - all that good stuff. My problem is, i am a slow ass reader. I cant get through a book unless im really motivated or (which has been the case over the last few years) if im at one of my construction sites where i dont have to do too much and i can make good use of my time. The last book I read cover to cover (and high recommend) was Barbara Ransby's biography of Ella Baker titled Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement; A Radical Democratic Vision. One of these days i will get to writing a review of it for the blog, it was pretty inspiring.

Still we know that a large part of becoming radical intellectuals (not to be confused with academics) is that we gotta know our history, we gotta study movements past and present and figure out what other people with similar ideas have been doing over all these years. For us slow readers and those like myself who cant always figure out 'the big words', audio and video are good learning tools. I remember when i started getting active when i was at college and i discovered David Barsamian and his great radio show Alternative Radio. I stumbled on a big box of Alternative Radio recording on ebay and spent my whole senior year listening to speakers like Edward Said, Noam Chomsky, Vandana Shiva, Eqbal Ahmad, Howard Zinn etc. Having moved from New York City to Western Massachusetts and feeling kind of out of place i spent many evenings falling asleep to one or another great talking on a variety of subjects.

Enter a great website called Against The Grain which i only found out about sometime around the summer of 2004 but have visited many times since. Its a radio show which is aired on KPFA (the Bay Area Pacifica affiliate) three times a week, but more importantly its a show thats archived at KPFA so that you dont have to miss a single show. Produced by C.S. Soong and Sasha Lilley, Against The Grain is usually a one hour interview with a series of authors, theorists and activists from around the country, with an occasional taped lecture thrown in the mix. The nice thing is that unlike Alternative Radio, they take it one step further by actually featuring lesser known activists who are actually organizing on the ground and sharing their personal experiences. Although i still love to listen to my man Chomsky break it down once in a while, at this point i get a lot more out of a current 'debate on the feminist or anti-war movement' or an analysis of Hardt and Negri's book Empire (which i cant understand for the life of me but im slowly learning..).

The KPFA archives go back for several years and cover every subject you have ever wondered about. I highly recommend it as background radio while your playing your Playstation game or whatever you do to relax around the house (maybe thats just me?). A few months ago myself and Rayan El-Amine (another editor of Left Turn Magazine) were asked to appear on the show to comment on the situation in Palestine as well as the state of 'The Global Justice Movement'.
France: After the Riots

Another insightfull piece on ZNET by Doug Ireland on the 'post rebellion' period in France. Interesting specifically is the complete paralysis of the so called leftist 'socialist' parties who for the past few weeks have been focusing on who of their personal candidates will run for office in the year 2007 (obviously something much more important). Ireland's analysis has been some of the best online and i really dont have much insight to add. Having lived in Amsterdam for several years growing up i can say that these same tensions are at extremely high levels specifically in Hollands urban centers (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Haag). Basically the Western European powers have had a hard time confronting the fact that the cheap immigrant labor that they 'imported' to do 'the dirty rebuilding work' during the decades following world war II are not happy with their role on the bottom of the socio-economic food chain and daily racism they are confronted with in all of these cities. For more background on the situation specifically in France read this blog's second entry on November 7th.

Monday, November 21, 2005

CIW Campaign continues...

For those not familiar with the CIW (Coalition of Immokalee Workers) and their inspiring campaign around Taco Bell over the past few years which finally culminated in an important victory this past spring check out David Solnit's article: "The New Face of The Global Justice Movement" which was our feature article in Left Turn #17 over the summer.

CIW has outlined its next steps in several recent calls to action, including a campaign they are initiating against McDonald’s. The CIW and the Student Farmworker Alliance campaigns have been primarily effective because of the specific models of organizing they have employed, breaking out of the traditional union organizing model by forming strategic alliances between the farmworkers themselves, their immediate allies, campus groups across the country and a long list of faith based, community based, and peace and justice groupings from around the country.
Looking at the current climate of organized labor organizing today, specifically the complete funk that the AFL-CIO is in (and has been in) for the past several years (decades?), its important that we are seeing a revivial of grass-roots labor activism around the country outside of the national union bureacracy. Obviously this is only a small part of a much larger picture in terms of talking about building strong working class movements in this country, unfortunately the AFL-CIO is still kind of 'the only game in town'.

I remember after September 11th 2001, there was a great shift within many student and youth activist communities from labor solidarity organizing to anti-war activism. This has meant that over the past few years many young activists have not engaged with the labor movement as much as previous generations and more or less feel alienated by the AFL-CIO (unless they need a job out of college which works them 70 hours a week for minimal pay). Campaigns like the ones that CIW has run i think are important just even in the sense that they keep these ideas and tactics alive in young peoples minds when we are talking about real movements that will eventually be able to create broader levels of change.

For those interested in a good article on the debates within the AFL-CIO around the whole split over the summer check out a piece written by Marc Rodrigues called "Urgency for Change: Labor Troubles and the New Unity Partnership" which also tries to address kind of the relationships of new layers of activists toward the larger labor movement.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Counter Recruitment Movement

Thinking strategically about stopping something as big as the US invasion subsequent occupation of Iraq can be a daunting task. You got the people who say "We gotta mobilize... lets get on the bus to DC" (often referred to as the 'liberals'). Then you got the people saying "we gotta take direct action and physically disrupt this war machine... time to lockdown a busy intersection" (often referred to as the "radicals"). And then somewhere in between you have folks who, while recognizing the importance of both the aforementioned tactics, focus on something tangible. Something that is almost a combination of direct action and protest politics, in this case Counter-Recruitment work. Military counter-recruitment work is key for several reasons:
  1. It directly interferes with US war efforts
  2. Often involves reaching out to or supporting those most effected by the War right here in the United States--poor and working class communities of color from the inner cities (specifically African American and Latino), & isolated working class white youth from the suburbs.
  3. Strategically attacks one of the militaries weakest links--the need for new soldiers as the war grows more and more unpopular.
And make no mistake about it, the war is growing more unpopular by the minute. Although I agree with those that don't put too much faith in public opinion polls, it seems like generally across the board people are really turning on the Bush administration, even the other pro-war party (the democrats).

On the local front it was nice to see some of the local anarchists actually get out in the streets and do something strategic and on politcally on point. While there is often a lot of critique eminating those circiles (often correctly) lamenting the fact that liberals are happy to march around in circles, it is rare to actually see folks get involved in some concrete way in the growing anti-occupation movement. As Ali G would say RES-PEK to those who were out there doing their thing... we could use a lot more of it!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Looking South: Venezuela, Argentina & The New Social Movements

After returning home from a series of frustrating meetings or sub-par 'activist' events here in the city, I often forget how many inspiring things are going on all over the world right now... As organizers living in 'the heart of the empire' i often feel like we think 'its all on us', which can be a dangerous way to think sometimes.

I remember always being fond of this great quote by Noam Chomsky that is featured in the documentary Manufacturing Consent where says (in that specific case talking about Palestine) : "They rely very crucially on a very slim margin for survival thats provided by dissidents and turbulance within the imperial societies...and how large that margin is, is for us to determine..." The quote is of course pointing out the obvious, that what we do here in the US has a great impact on people all over the world. I still think thats a good way to understand the current reality of military power in the world but one has to be carefull not to take away the agency of those that are resisting these policies on a daily basis.

The example of Latin America is so interesting right now because you can argue it is a unique combination of the US being so bogged down in Iraq (itself a combination of primarily the Iraqi resistance and to a lesser extent factors like the anti-war movement in the US and international 'civil society') that is opening up some spaces for the governments of countries like Venezuela and various autonomous social movements across the continent.
John Pilger recently wrote a great article for ZNET on all of this, focusing specifically on Venezuela as the rising 'post-Iraq' enemy of the Bush administration. Just recently Bush was down in Argentina and was met with both huge demonstrations outside of the summit as well as sharp criticism inside the actual meeting, specifically from Hugo Chavez who did not mince words. The real inspiration though comes not from the rowdy demonstrations or the fiery rhetoric from a head of state, but instead from the social experiments and forms of organization that we are seeing in these countries.

Michael Albert, who helped start both South End Press and Z Magazine/ZNET recently took a trip down to both Argentina and Venezuela and wrote some interesting report backs. Both of the pieces are fairly long but well worth the read. Albert who's specific interest lies in studying alternative forms of economic organization brings a lot of insight into these articles through the specific questions he asks of the people and government representatives he meets. Anarchists and anti-authoritarians here in the US are often weary of supporting specifically the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela but its important that we study what is taking place there because i think we will be able to learn a lot by what happens there in the coming years. I will write more about Venezuela specifically in a later post, im trying to catch up on some reading on the subject. One article i can recommend if you can get your hands on it (it will hopefully be online soon) is one that we ran in Left Turn magazine #17 by Peter Brogan, who wrote an excellent piece looking into the possibilities and openings that the Chavez government was creating through his vision of a 'radical participatory democracy.'

As my man Ali G would say...."You'se betta learn..."

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Boondocks premiere

So im realizing as im going along here that many of my first few posts are kind of 'popular culture' oriented (movies, tv shows, books) while what i would really like to get into at some point is more along the lines of actual 'organizing strategies' but maybe this is just my way of pulling all of you in...

I was really excited when i started seeing all of these Boondocks billboards popping up all over New York City a few weeks back. I never imagined that Aaron McGruder's popular comic book strip would be translated into a nationally televised tv show. Come to find out that Cartoon Network (which airs the show on Sunday nights as part of their 'adult swim block') is spending a record amount of money on Boondocks (According to their people, its the most they have ever spent on one of their animated shows). The first show finally premiered this past sunday and it lived up to the hype. Catch the re-runs if you can but i will leave you with just one scene. The crew (Huey, Riley and Granddad) moves into a (all-white) suburban home and they are invited to a garden party at the major's house. About half an hour into the smooze-fest Huey grabs the open mic and proclaims: "whats up people... just wanted to let you know that Jesus was black, Ronald Reagan was a terrorist, and the Bush administration knew about 9/11..."

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Film Release: Paradise Now

Just seeing the preview for this film in theatres is an experience worth paying $10 for. I remember the chills i felt running down my back when i heard the promo man in the raspy voice say "On the streets of Palestine...". I looked around the packed room and realized what an impact the preview alone must be having on all of those viewers. I have to say i was a little weary after the preview started with the sentence "from the most unlikely place... comes a call for peace..." and then ended with the phrase "Sometimes the best decisions are the ones you dont make...".

But a week later i received some free advance screening tickets and checked it out. The film was amazing. Furthermore it is being nationally distributed through the WarnerBros independent label (of all people) and so we need to go out and support it! Go to the films website and check out if its playing in your city. Like all independent films if it does well in its first few weeks it will open in larger numbers across the country.

Notes From The Global Intifada

A few updates from the Left Turn website team -- We have the Doug Ireland article on France up right now and will hopefully be adding some other content in the coming days. Also for those of you looking for on the ground reporting and analysis from New Orleans, check out our archive of articles by fellow editor Jordan Flaherty as well as the Katrina Resource archive where you can find information on how to support the various grass roots organizations that are working hard to rebuild New Orleans.

We have worked hard to update the website regularly with some of the best content from around the web as well as original pieces written either for the website or Left Turn magazine itself. To give you a sense our past few features have included: "Gentrifying Disaster" a great piece on New Orleans by Mike Davis, "Profit & The Autonomous Grassroots" an article from issue #18 addressing the 'Non-Profit Industrial Complex' (more on that subject in a later post)
by Eric Tang, and "Syria’s Curious Dilemma" by Bassam Haddad re-printed from the excellent magazine Middle East Report. If you are not familiar with Left Turn magazine or have been seeing it around for a while but have yet to subscribe, please do so! In September/October since we released the last issue we have gotten over 80 new subscribers which is by far the most we have ever gotten over such a short time period. Subscriptions also go a long way toward making sure the website continues to be fresh and regularly updated. Finally check out our national events calender which we are trying to build on -- if anyone has any important events that you think would be relevant for us to post please feel free to contact us through the website.

Monday, November 07, 2005


An important new book Letters From Young Activists just came out from Nation Books. I encourage folks to check out the books website and try and attend one of the launch events. Here in New York we have an event tomorrow night at Bluestockings books (a great activist run bookstore in the Lower East Side). Also some of us are organizing an event at NYU on November 17th entitled "To be Young, Black, and Left: Priorities and Possibilities" featuring a few of the books contributers including Kenyon Farrow who is a fellow blogger living in NYC. Details of this event are also posted on their website.


I was going to focus on some local events for my first few posts but stuff has really been popping off in France with widespead rioting now entering their 12th night. Doug Ireland has written an insightful piece, one of the few that have been circulated so far. Check out ZNET for a formatted version of his essay "Why Is France Burning? The Rebellion of a lost generation".

After deciding that I should take advantage of my current state of unemployment by (among other things) starting an online blog, it took me a while to decide on a name. I finally ended up going with 'Ideas For Action' both because i think it fits with what ima try and do with this thing but also because its the title of a great book by long time activist, teacher, and writer Cynthia Kaufman.

My parents actually gave me this book about two years ago when they visited Modern Times bookstore out in San Francisco, one of the few great bookstores still around in the United States that have not been bum-rushed by Mr. Barnes & Nobles and the crew at Amazon (I might write more on this later, but it always saddens me when activists still buy radical books at places like Amazon instead of supporting their local bookstores just because they save a few bucks...we gotta support our idependent bookstores and pubishers!) .

The description of Ideas for Action reads:

"From the Enron scandal to global warming, from the war on terrorism to the war on drugs, a growing number of people are unhappy with the status quo. Yet those genuinely interested in reading about the issues find that few contemporary theorists are seriously committed to accessible, clear writing. Furthermore, the mainstream media rarely represents social movements, and the theories associated with them, without distortion or bias.

Written in an engaging and accessible style, Ideas for Action gives activists the intellectual tools to turn discontent into a plan of action. Exploring a wide range of political traditions—including Marxism, anarchism, anti-imperialism, poststructualism, feminism, critical race theory, and environmentalism—Cynthia Kaufman acknowledges the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of political movements and the ideologies inspired or generated through them.

Kaufman incorporates elements of her own activist experiences, and offers a coherent analysis without pretending to offer "the final word" on complex issues. Instead, she encourages inquiry and further investigation, offering readers the information to orient a critical understanding of the social world and a glimpse of the excitement and rewards of serious intellectual engagement with political ideas.

Ideas for Action examines the work of diverse thinkers such as Adam Smith, Paulo Freire, Stuart Hall, and Grace Lee Boggs. In chapters that cover economics, imperialism, racism, feminism, the environment, authority, nationalism, and the media, Kaufman's insights break the chains of cynicism and lay a foundation for more effective organizing."

Especially for younger activists (she had her own students in mind when she wrote the book) this is a great introductory read both into the world of political theory (which is often too complicated for most of us to understand) and actual activism (she starts off the book by describing what she felt like when she came to her first organzing 'meeting', a feeling i think many of us have shared in common over the years. Anyway its good stuff so without logging on to Amazon try and get your hands on it...