Monday, December 11, 2006
Our latest issue is out in stores now... but please, if you have not done so yet, support the magazine by subscribing directly or making a donation today.
Also, if you are in the New York Area, check out our issue launch event at the Brecht Forum this Wednesday evening (Dec 13th)...
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Remembering Fred Hampton (1948-1969)
Fred Hampton is not nearly as well known as some of his fellow Black Panther Party members like Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Personally I heard about him first while watching PBS's "Eyes on the Prize" series in back in the late 80s but being pretty young I dont think I remembered his name until I heard that Dead Prez track sometime in early 2000.
Check out this interview with Eddie B. Allen Jr (via New Black Man) about Hamptons life and also this video sent to me by a friend (Bryan Proffitt) down in North Carolina.
A few years ago I was having dinner with two long time activists who were very active in the anti-war and anti-racist movements of the 60s and early 70s after an event, and I remember them waxing poetic about Fred Hampton and what a big blow to the movement it was after the Chicago Police/FBI assassinated him. They said that Hampton was perhaps the best speaker that they had ever seen, and that he was an amazing organizer out in Chicago. He was supposed to have been the one who had brought together the "original rainbow coalition" specifically working to unite Black and Latino activists across race and class lines in a way that had never been seen before. Hamptons life and subsequent murder serves as a reminder to all of us that the mass social movements of the 60s did not simply "fade away" or "die out" but rather were constantly facing brutal repressions by the US government, the CIA & the FBI.
But as Fred Hampton once said "You can jail a revolutionary, but you can't jail a revolution... you might murder a freedom fighter..., but you cant murder freedom fightin"
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
If you are a subscriber to Clamor Magazine, you will receive a letter this week announcing that it is going out of business. The letter says, in part:
We’re writing to you today because we’ve decided to stop publishing Clamor. We set out to create an independent magazine that would bulldoze borders, defy dogma, and inspire instigation. We wanted to create a magazine that extended the vibrancy of the underground zine community to a larger general audience and share the enthusiasm and energy we saw in our fellow do-it-yourselfers. We intended to redefine the progressive magazine. And while we feel like we accomplished those goals at various stages, one goal we never fully realized is that of making Clamor economically sustainable.
… The obstacle of servicing old debt on an otherwise sustainable project while also negotiating major shifts in the magazine industry have proven too burdensome for us to continue publishing. But effective movement media doesn’t need to last indefinitely to be successful. We’re confident that many people have been inspired to do great things after reading about others doing the same in Clamor. We know this because we’ve been consistently inspired by the stories of struggle and triumph in Clamor. And while we’ll miss that, we’re also confident that there are independent media projects being born at this very moment with even greater promise. Read More...
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Narconews is posting regular updates. For minute by minute postings, check out Indybay. Also a good interview with a APPO member was recently translated by Chuck Morse.
Statement from APPO:
A large number of people are reported detained in various parts of the city. Two deaths are the result of the confrontation. (as of 9:33)
The federal police began, around 5pm, to attack the members of the APPO that were peacefully demonstration in the areas around the zocalo. These aggressions caused the conflict that is still continuing between the police and the members of the APPO and its supporters.
The streets of the historic center area battle ground and the federal police began to discharge fire arms against the protesters about an hour ago. Read More...
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
Get On the Bus! Protest in DC January 27th!
From our friends at War Times:
The U.S. electorate delivered a "thumping" to the Bush administration November 7 and even Henry Kissinger now admits there's no chance for a U.S. military victory in Iraq. The Bush administration is on the defensive and openly scrambling for a "Plan B" (or C, or D...)
It is a moment when antiwar pressure from the grassroots can make a big difference.
Below is the call just issued by United for Peace and Justice for mass action January 27-29 demanding that Congress act immediately to get the U.S. out of Iraq. Following the call is an additional message presenting some initial thinking on how to make this demonstration creative and unique. Please consider participating & supporting...
-War Times/Tiempo de Guerras
Tell the New Congress: Act NOW to Bring the Troops Home!
Join United for Peace and Justice in a massive march on Washington, D.C. on
Saturday, January 27, to call on Congress to take immediate action to end the war.
On Election Day the voters delivered a dramatic, unmistakable mandate for peace. Now it's time for action. On January 27, 2007, we will converge from all around the country in Washington,D.C. to send a strong, clear message to Congress and the Bush Administration: The people of this country want the war and occupation in Iraq to end and we want the troops brought home now!
Congress has the power to end this war through legislation. We call on people from
every congressional district in the country to gather in Washington,DC - to express
support for those members of Congress who are prepared to take immediate action
against the war; to pressure those who are hesitant to act; and to speak out against
those who remain tied to a failed policy.
The peace and justice movement helped make ending the war in Iraq the primary issue in this last election. The actions we take do make a difference, and now there is a new opportunity for us to move our work forward. On Election Day people took individual action by voting. On January 27 we will take collective action, as we march in Washington, DC,to make sure Congress understands the urgency of this moment.
Join United for Peace and Justice in this crucial push for peace!
Just when you thought that the Cosby Show, and more recently Barack Obama, had proven to white audiences that "racism no longer presents a serious obstacle to black folks", along comes Michael Richards (one of televisions more lovable charaters of the past 15 years) and shatters our hopes and dreams...
Saturday, November 18, 2006
(From my friend Naomi at Umich)
this tuesday, a student at UCLA, Mostafa Tabatabainejad, was asked to
leave the library because he did not have his student ID. when he did
not immediately leave, the campus security officer checking IDs came
back with the police. as the student was walking out of the library, an
officer grabbed his arm. when he protested, the police used a taser gun
on him, at least five times. they continued to tase him even as he lay
motionless on the ground and, according to some witness accounts, after
he was handcuffed. they also threatened to tase students in the crowd
who asked for the officers' badge numbers.
just a couple things about tasers:
-tasing a person for 3-5 seconds can immobilize them for 5-15 minutes.
this means that when the officers ordered him to stand up, he most
likely was not able to because he had just been tased--and then, of
course, they tased him for not standing up.
-148 people have died from tasers since 1999.
this is a serious, violent crime and the UCLA police CONTINUE to stand
behind it. the implications of the crime and its defense by authorities
are grave and monstrous. please get this information out there.
some articles (there are many more out there accessible through google):
yours in struggle,
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
If only Eminem (aka Slim Shady) had released his video a few months before the 2004 elections (instead of the few days before), we might have seen a very different result in Ohio. Well two years later people have finally gotten mr. shady's message. Not as if much is going to change with a new section of the US ruling class now in power of course.
As author JoAnn Wypijewski summed it up in recounting what the Clinton years gave back to the progressive wing of the democratic party during the 1990s (at a time when the democrats really did have 'a progressive wing' highlighted by Jessie Jackson and his 'Rainbow Coalition':
"By a brisk accounting of 1993 to 2000, the black stripe of the Rainbow got the Crime Bill, women got ‘welfare reform’, labor got NAFTA, gays and lesbians got the Defense of Marriage Act. Even with a Democratic Congress in the early years, the peace crowd got no cuts in the military; unions got no help on the right to organize; advocates of dc statehood got nothing (though statehood would virtually guarantee two more Democratic Senate seats and more representation in the House); the single-payer crowd got worse than nothing. Between Clinton’s inaugural and the day he left office, 700,000 more persons were incarcerated, mostly minorities; today one in eight black men is barred from voting because of prison, probation or parole."
But even those of us who understand the true nature of the democratic party, have to admit that it feels better waking up this morning, knowing that the country has made a seemingly conscious decision to not slide further into the tightening grip of the radical right. The midterm elections, in which the democrats, left for dead only a few months earlier, have taken over both the house and the senate, have proven to be a national referendum on the War in Iraq. Unfortunately we live in a country where the only way this can be expressed is through voting for the Democratic party, but still anti-war forces should count that as a victory. Even Rumsfeld has just been told to step down, something unimaginable in the days following September 11th, when aguably he personified the shape of the future of US policy.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Mexico is on the brink. For those not familiar with the current explosion of popular movements all over Mexico (you remember its that southern neighbor that we took California, New Mexico and a few other territories from way back when), please check out the latest developments on www.narconews.com (and while your there donate a few bucks to one of the best independent media organizations in the Hemisphere). While many on the left have been following Iraq, Palestine and Venezuela more carefully, right next door we are seeing a series of significant popular mobilizations that are of great importance to our own movements. With one important section of the US ruling class now starting to face the consequences of their ill conceived invasion of Iraq (for them most importantly the 2006 midterm elections), it has been hard to play a more direct interventionist role in the political affairs here in the Americas. This of course does not mean that there are not other ways, one only has to look at the elections in Nicaragua and the voting in the UN for the new security council seat to see the they have not forgotten about "their traditional backyard".
Still, events are spinning out of control for US planners throughout the Americas and those building a movement "from below and to the left" here in the US better start paying attention to one of the most important of these examples. Mexico is important right now in so many ways, not the least of which is its physical proximity to the US. The massive immigrant rights mobilizations here during the spring time and the estimated 12+ million so called "illegals" that work and live in this country and who have strong ties to their families and culture of struggle back home should give us all significant hope during the coming period.
Coming off a major electoral fraud scandal over the summer, and in the midst of an impressive national campaign by the Zapatistas, the media's attention has finally started paying attention to the peoples struggle in Oaxaca, in part due to the recent murder of New York Indymedia activist (and friend of mine), Brad Will.
Im currently in the middle of editing a major section on Mexico for the next issue of Left Turn magazine so will not have much time to post, but do check out the various links and figure out a way to support the APPO and the local movements on the ground. Below is a communique put out yesterday by the popular assembly of the people of Oaxaca, in the midst of an attempted police invasion of the local university. The students and their allies courageously fought off that attempt but we do not know what tomorrow will bring.
COMMUNIQUÉ FROM THE POPOULAR ASSEMBLY OF THE PEOPLE OF OAXACA
In these moments, the Federal Police (PFP) are trying to enter Ciudad
Universitaria (the university facilities in Oaxaca), they have launched tear
gas inside and some elements have entered the premesis. Before these facts
which violate any judicial orders including University Autonomy, which the
Autonomous University Benito Juárez, in Oaxaca, won after a great student
struggle, and which cost the lives of many of their best students.
The Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca makes the energetic call for
the absolute defense of Ciudad Universitaria. We cannot permit that these
university students be assaulted by the forces of occupation that the
despots of the PFP have become.
We call the people of Oaxaca to the absolute defense of Ciudad
Universitaria, en past days we have called for the peaceful withdrawal from
the points where the APPO were established, and we did that to demonstrate
the APPO's disposition towards dialogue in this conflict, despite the fact
that the government of Fox and Calderón, evidenced by the invasion of
federal troops, was not. We showed ourselves to be prudent, willing to
dialogue, the invading forces were not assaulted, and we only called for
peaceful resistance; all of our actions were carried our in an orderly and
peaceful manner, we ordered withdrawal so as not to fall into provocations,
we called for people not to fall into confrontations with the PFP despite
their aggressions. But as imperialist lackeys, you, Fox and Calderón,
confuse prudence with weakness, peacefulness with cowardice, and thinking
that the people of Oaxaca are a cowardly people, you are trying to put an
end to them.
We give, then, the instructions to all the people of Oaxaca to advance in an
organized and determined manner towards Radio Universidad, and to defend at
all costs Ciudad Universitaria, and the University Autonomy that is being
The people of Oaxaca are a valiant people, and this we have demonstrated in
these 5 months, we have demonstrated it throughout history, we defeated the
French Army during that occupation, despite our technological disadvantages,
and even then some stateless people collaborated with them, and history has
judged them; the same people that in those times collaborated and applauded
the intervention of the French Army are today applauding the death of 19 of
our compañeros, applauded the intervention of the PFP, are now complaining
that their businesses have been looted by the PFP, lament that their
daughters are being sexually threatened by the PFP, and this is just the
Just as President Juárez showed us how to defend the principles of the
Republic, just as Juárez and Magón showed us how to fight and to defend the
dignity of the people, today, the people of Oaxaca will go to battle in
defense of Ciudad Universitaria, in a disciplined and organized manner, we
will defeat the invaders, the army of occupation, and if Fox doesn't order a
stop to this offensive, he will bite the dust, our lives and our blood will
not be spilled in vane, justice and reason are on our side, and we are
hundreds of thousands of Oaxacans that will fight on this day.
Sirs, Vicente Fox, Carlos Abascal Carranza and Felipe Calderón, you all are
responsible for the deaths at the hands of the PFP and the PRIista
paramilitaries, and you all will be responsible for the deaths that results
from your stupidity and political interests.
NOT ONE STEP BACKWARDS
FOREVER, UNTIL VICOTRY
ALL THE POWER TO THE PEOPLE
By THE POPOULAR ASSEMBLY OF THE PEOPLE OF OAXA
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Its that time again... Issue #22 has hit the streets. This fall issue features first hand reporting from Lebanon and Gaza as well as an in-depth article on Anti-Arab racism, Islam & the Left. On the home front, we dive into the pressing issue of charter schools and the slow privatization of our entire public school system as well as the one year anniversary of Katrina and what its looking like on the ground in New Orleans.
Everything is going well with the magazine, but as always we need your support in helping keep the project alive. Please consider making a donation or taking out a subscription for you and your friends/family.
Friday, September 01, 2006
“Walking, We Ask Questions”
The Other Campaign in Spanish Harlem
By RJ Maccani
Inspired by the Black Panther Party and Chicago’s Young Lords, the New
York Young Lords Party launched a surprising first campaign in the summer
of 1969. Called “The Garbage Offensive,” it was designed to force the New
York City Sanitation Department to make more frequent pick-ups in East
Harlem (often referred to as Spanish Harlem or simply “El Barrio”). The
Garbage Offensive won the trust and respect of their neighbors and
garnered the Young Lords Party local and national visibility. Although
inspired by the Black Panther’s community-based programs, the New York
Young Lords didn’t expect to be picking up garbage when they discussed
forming an organization to improve living conditions in their primarily
Puerto Rican neighborhood. Before launching their first campaign, however,
the Young Lords went to their neighbors to find out what they most wanted
to see changed. The Garbage Offensive was the fruit of this dialogue, the
will of the people. Proudly inclusive of their Latino and Black neighbors,
the New York Young Lords’ center of gravity was Nuyorican (Puerto Rican
New Yorkers), and the independence of their homeland, Puerto Rico, a
More than 35 years later, El Barrio is home to more than 100,000 people,
half of whom are Latino. New waves of immigrants from around the world and
white gentrifiers have changed the face of El Barrio. Spanish is still its
most spoken foreign language, followed now by Chinese and other Asian
languages, Arabic, and several African languages. Whereas the Latino face
of El Barrio had been primarily the Nuyorican with citizenship, today it
is increasingly immigrants from Mexico and elsewhere, many of whom lack
U.S. citizenship (or any legal status for that matter), who make up its
Spanish-speaking population. Nearly 40 percent of El Barrio’s residents
live below the poverty line. It is here, in this place and at this time
that the Movement for Justice in El Barrio (MJB) is emerging. The radical
reference point and inspiration is no longer the Black Panther Party but
Mexico’s Zapatistas and the national initiative they form a part of, the
Movement for Justice in El Barrio
MJB was born almost two years ago when residents of El Barrio, some of
them congregants of Saint Cecilia’s Church on East 106th Street, began to
organize against problems with their landlords. To support them in
addressing their grievances, the church hired Juan Haro, a founding member
of AZUL (Amanecer Zapatista Unidos en la Lucha), a Mexican immigrant
organization inspired by and in solidarity with the Zapatistas. Haro
worked with the residents, they successfully organized against the
landlords to win their demands, and the church ended its involvement.
With residents in five buildings organized, Haro and the founding members
decided to form MJB as an immigrant-led, community-based organization that
would fight for social justice and against all forms of oppression in El
Barrio. Over the past two years, MJB has employed media tours, court
actions, protests, and direct actions against landlords, mortgage lenders,
and city institutions to challenge the unjust housing system in El Barrio.
Through this work, MJB has grown to 180 members in 16 buildings. In August
of 2005, MJB began studying locally based social justice movements from
around the world in order to better understand their own struggle in its
global and historical context. The Zapatistas and the Other Campaign were
among the movements studied. Through this process they decided to adhere
to the Zapatistas’ Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle and, since a
majority of their membership is Mexican, MJB decided to join the Other
Campaign as well. And they did not do so quietly…
Since joining the Other Campaign, MJB has been reported on extensively and
favorably—in New York City—on television and in print, in Spanish and
English—for its continued work against gentrification in El Barrio. They
have created a video, “Message to the Zapatistas”, that is to be brought
down to the border at Juarez City for the meetings of the Other Campaign
with Delegate Zero (Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos). MJB has
organized a protest at the Mexican Consulate in solidarity with the people
of Atenco. At the invitation of another adherent group to the Sixth
Declaration, Latinos Unidos en Acción (Latinos United in Action), MJB gave
a presentation on Zapatismo in New Haven, Connecticut at a community forum
for immigrants of color. They made a second presentation in Hartford at
the invitation of another group, Latinos Contra la Guerra (Latinos Against
In July of this year MJB launched its latest initiative, a comprehensive
community consultation process called “La Consulta del Barrio.” MJB is
ready to grow and, as you will see, the Consulta is very inspired by the
Other Campaign. Through town hall meetings, community dialogues, street
outreach, door knocking, house meetings, and a community-wide vote, MJB’s
members have consulted their neighbors in El Barrio for direction and to
decide which problem, in addition to gentrification, they will begin
organizing around. I attended their first public forum held at St.
Cecelia’s Church where, less than two years before, the complaints of a
few disgruntled tenants helped to sow the seeds of MJB…
La Consulta del Barrio
On July 23rd, residents of El Barrio trickled in to the sparse basement of
St. Cecilia’s for the first public meeting of the Consulta. They received
bottled water, a photocopied El Diario NY article about MJB, and copies of
the Zapatistas’ Sixth Declaration to read while waiting for the forum to
begin. Young children were invited to draw and play. With half of the
room’s 60 folding chairs filled, the organizers decided it was time to get
Rotating between male and female members, MJB introduced its organization
and the reasons for the Consulta. One member summed up the importance of
the Consulta with humility, “We are but one organization. How can we make
decisions for El Barrio? We’ve learned that we can fight together and that
the people themselves can fight without having to be under one leader.”
They capped off the introduction by explaining a bit about who the
Zapatistas are and why they, MJB, are adherents to the Zapatistas’ Sixth
Declaration. Before moving into a larger conversation about problems in El
Barrio, they showed their video, “Message for the Zapatistas.”
Featuring snippets from interviews with over a dozen of MJB’s members,
“Message…” is a powerful expression of their perspective, politics, and
direction as Mexican immigrants fighting for justice “on the other side.”
Moving through different themes and capturing equally men’s and women’s
voices, the video captures their views on why they left Mexico, what they
think of Mexico’s political parties, their struggles in NYC with housing,
work, immigration, and the Mexican consulate, their commitment to the
equal rights of women and queer folks, and their reasons for joining the
Other Campaign. The video is a scathing indictment of the Mexican
political system, neoliberal globalization, and oppression in the US.
Describing the Other Campaign as “the magic touch to find another way,” an
MJB member explained that it inspired them “to fight in NYC and to claim
justice now” while building towards a greater goal: “to free Mexico and
This was as clear and forward an introduction as I’ve ever seen and it led
into a group discussion of MJB’s next steps. Through an internal
consultation of its membership, MJB had generated a list of the eight
biggest problems in El Barrio other than gentrification: the sexual
harassment of waitresses, mistreatment in the hospitals, bad service at
the Mexican Consulate, police abuse, jobs paying less than the state
minimum wage ($6.75 per hour), the high cost of public transportation, the
proposed immigration laws, and the high cost of sending money back home
($4-5 for a $100 remittance) as well as the mistreatment they receive from
the intermediary companies.
Nearly everyone in attendance spoke up regarding the problems in El Barrio
and the possibility of organizing to make change. Some people thought that
MJB should expand its organizing beyond the borders of East Harlem and
others thought that they should not pick just one problem but, rather,
attempt to fight all these problems simultaneously. At the conclusion of
the forum each attendee filled out a ballot with their name, phone number,
and address, and circled the top three problems they would like to see
addressed by MJB. Before leaving, attendees took stacks of flyers to hand
out to their friends, family, and neighbors, providing information on the
location and hours of the public voting booths MJB was setting up in El
Barrio as part of the Consulta. And for people who were not able to attend
a forum or go to the voting booths, the flyers included MJB’s phone number
for people to call, leave their contact information, and vote by phone.
The idea of the Consulta is not just to generate consciousness and
symbolic participation (voting) in the community but also rather to
inspire more people to become active in the struggle. After a month of
activity, the first stage of the Consulta del Barrio is complete with 782
immigrants in El Barrio having cast votes. Just announced, the three
problems in El Barrio that received the most votes are 1) jobs that pay
less than minimum wage; 2) the proposed immigration laws; and 3) bad
services at the Mexican Consulate.
Stage two of the Consulta del Barrio is set to begin. Community dialogues
will be held for each of these three problems, starting with the problem
of bad services at the Mexican Consulate (including having to wait in line
overnight just to receive service). The second forum will be about jobs
paying less than minimum wage and the third on immigration laws. Based on
the level of interest in the community at each forum, MJB will decide
which problem, in addition to gentrification, they will prioritize.
The Struggle is Listening
Amidst the din caused by electoral fraud, it has been harder to hear in
these past few months the scream for justice coming from Mexico’s Other
Campaign. There are two Zapatista sayings that are well worth remembering
in these times. They are, “We walk slowly because we are going very far”
and “Walking, we ask questions.” In less than a year since the Other
Campaign was announced from the mountains of Southeast Mexico, the Other
Campaign has walked from the Zapatista communities in Chiapas, through the
32 territories of Mexico, and across the border all the way up to East
The Other Campaign grows not by captivating the audience with flashy
advertisements but, rather, through listening and walking. Like the Young
Lords of Spanish Harlem’s past, the Movement for Justice in El Barrio is
dialoguing with its neighbors today and preparing for surprising results
tomorrow. Whether fighting for the freedom of its political prisoners in
Mexico or halting gentrification in New York City’s El Barrio, the Other
Campaign continues to walk and listen and grow.
RJ Maccani reported for the Other Journalism on the activities of the
Other Campaign in the state of Oaxaca as a member of the “Ricardo Flores
Magón Brigade.” He lives in Brooklyn where he organizes with the NYC
Childcare Collective and publishes the blog Zapagringo.
MJB can be contacted directly by writing to
Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Check out this amazing website which features video, photos, and press
releases from several direct actions that took place across the country
yesterday in response to the ongoing Israeli agresssion in Labonon & Gaza!
WASHINGTON, Aug. 22 — Americans increasingly see the war in Iraq as distinct from the fight against terrorism, and nearly half believe President Bush has focused too much on Iraq to the exclusion of other threats, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
The poll found that 51 percent of those surveyed saw no link between the war in Iraq and the broader antiterror effort, a jump of 10 percentage points since June. That increase comes despite the regular insistence of Mr. Bush and Congressional Republicans that the two are intertwined and should be seen as complementary elements of a strategy to prevent domestic terrorism. Read more...
Some Post Lebanon Cease-Fire Stats
Numbers of people killed (7/12-8/14):
[Lebanon]: nearly 1,300 civilians confirmed killed while bodies are still being dug
up from under the rubble, Estimates of Hizballah fighters killed range from 100 to 600.
[Israel]: 43 civilians, 114 soldiers killed
Destruction of infrastructure (7/12-8/14)
[Lebanon]: 15,000 homes, 29 ports, airports, water and sewage treatment plants, power plants 630 roads, 23 fuel stations, 73 bridges; 7,000 private homes; 900 businesses and farms.
[Israel]: Dozens of homes, public buildings, businesses, and forests
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Build the US Social Forum!
The US Social Forum (USSF) process may just be our best opportunity in decades to build a broad movement "from below and to the left" in this country. It might not be the Other Campaign, but this ain't Mexico. The actual forum, scheduled to take place next year from June 27th to July 1st in Atlanta, is not the ultimate organizing goal but rather one step in a networking process that has already begun and will continue after the first national forum is over.
According to the USSF website,
Next summer's Forum plans to address four key current issues--the Gulf Coast Crisis, Immigration, Environmental Justice, and War/Violence--throught the lens of white supremacy, local/global economic justice, culture, and movement building. There will also be space for self-organized workshops that fall outside of the four issues, but are still deeply connected to the overarching lens.
The Forum could be an excellent space for education and analysis around the Zapatistas' Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle, for networking and strategizing amongst Mexicans and Chicanos in the US who are a part of the Other Campaign, and for those of us who are building the intergalactic network. The participation of poor and working-class people is a central concern of the USSF organizers and it should be for us, who seek to build a left movement "from below," as well.
Project South is the "anchor organization" working to build the US Social Forum as part of the local host committee, the USSF organizing committee, and the national planning committee. Both the USSF organizing and national planning committees are made up from members of the working groups and regional committees. Both individuals and groups can participate in the working and regional committees although only organizations are eligible for seats on the USSF organizing and national planning committees.
Now is a great time to get involved! Join a regional committee, mobilize people to attend the forum, propose a workshop or employ your artistic talent, raise money and resources for the USSF and specifically to support poor and working-class attendees, publicize the forum, make sure that youth are an integral part of the USSF, or just sign up to volunteer!
If you want to get involved but still have some questions about where to get started, Alice Lovelace, the USSF national lead staff organizer, is a good person to ask...
For people in my region, there will be a regional meeting for the USSF Northeast from September 22-24 during the Connecting the Local & the Global Conference at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. For more information about organizing for the USSF here in the Northeast, contact Suren Moodliar.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
To get a sense of how Hizbullah is emerging after their most recent defense against the Israeli army (what most people in the region seem to be cleary seeing as a victory), check out this interesting article in todays New York Times.
It is hard for most people in the US, even the most conscious left activists, to break out of their internalized anti-arab, anti-muslim, hysteria and see the importance of the recent developments in Lebanon. Hizbullah has proved to indeed be the last remaining resistance force in the Middle East, the most strategically important region in the entire world, that is able to stand up to US/Israeli imperialism. In the face of a silent international community, a long row of Arab puppet regimes falling over themselves to get in line with the US response, and a (as usual) paralyzed UN, Hizbullah was the only group standing in the way of the oncoming Israeli tanks and US "precision guided" missles heading towards civilian targets throughout Lebanon.
While Israel, with as always full US support, moved in to occupy and destroy much of Southern Lebanon over this past month, most progressives were paralyzed and did not know how to respond. Some decided it would be useful to write essays on how Hizbullah represented a "right-wing" force. While making some important points (Hizbullah is in fact not a "left wing" force and holds many values that would contradict our notions of equality and social justice, duh!), these critiques seemed a little out of touch and somewhat cold and calculated in the face of what was actually going on in Lebanon at the time.
Other anarchist activists I happened to be on a discussion list with forwarded bizarre statements like this one from England, which basically wanted to "call out the left for supporting Hizbullah", a claim which is so ridiculous it is hard to know where to start. From what i saw pretty much everyone, from the new york times to progressive zionists, to liberal anti-war coalitions, were pointing out how somehow Hizbullah started this "conflict" by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers and that people needed to be clear on that as they went out to protest the "disproportionate reaction."
Now it is true that my perspective is heavily influenced by the fact that several of my political mentors happen to be long time Lebanese activists, including Bilal El-Amine who has been couragously reporting from the front lines in Southern Lebanon over the past few weeks on Flashpoints Radio every weeknight. I heard first hand what it was like for their family to go through this horrifc past month. What is was like to get their sick elderly father airlifted out of Lebanon, their aunt staying behind because she did not have the will to move out of her home yet again at her age. You could hear in Bilal's voice, as he reported every night, what the Hizbullah resistance meant to him and the majority of the Lebanese people. Where as usually, as a local media activist in Lebanon, he would be dealing with all of the problems that they presented as a political movement, now he saw that they were the only ones to defend the country and could appreciate their heroic resistance against great odds.
Now does this mean that we go and hang our green and yellow Hizbullah flags out of our Lower East Side apartments? No, i dont think so. It simply means that we have to work harder to understand the complexities of resistance to foreign occupation forces (whether in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq...) and to have the decency to not dictate the politics or terms of those forces from behind our computer screens as we sit on our IKEA couches.
Political Islam emerged in the Middle East through a complicated process that was very different then for example the Nazi facists in Europe or the Christian fascists here in the US. Trying to impose our analysis of how those movements grew and our opposition to those movements onto a region like the Middle East will fundamentally be flawed. We have to understand the role of US intervention in the suppression of secular democratic and left forces in the region, and what that means for our political movements right now.
In the meantime, for more background reading check out the following interviews with Gilbert Achcar:
Besides this older interview with Achcar back in 2000, check out the recent one hour radio interview he recently did on Against the Grain together with Lara Deeb who recently authored an informative primer on Hizbullah on MERIP's website.
Monday, August 07, 2006
Friday, August 04, 2006
Defending my enemy's enemy
Question to the U.S. left and anti-war movement about the current war in
Lebanon: If we want Israel to fail in its stated objective to destroy
Hezbollah, does that mean we want Hezbollah to win?
The Israeli attacks on Lebanon are a mass atrocity, a calculated,
long-planned campaign of terror that is inflicting vastly more suffering
on civilians in Lebanon than Israelis are facing from Hezbollah missiles.
Since 1978, Israel has invaded or occupied Lebanon repeatedly and has
killed tens of thousands of Lebanese civilians. This is closely bound up
with the long history of Israeli land theft, persecution, and mass
violence against the Palestinian people, and the current Lebanon war is
bound up with the latest Israeli violence in Gaza and the West Bank. In
these attacks, the Israeli state has acted largely as U.S. imperialism's
number one client and proxy, its actions interlinked with Washington's
occupation of Iraq.
So let's be clear: We have a pressing responsibility to defend the
Lebanese people, demand an immediate end to Israeli attacks, and expose
the deadly U.S. role in the conflict.
But let's be clear about something else too: The fact that Israel and the
United States want to destroy Hezbollah does not make it a positive
political force. To be sure, Hezbollah has staunchly resisted Israeli
aggression for years. It runs a sizeable network of social services and
has a solid base of popular support centered in the largely poor Shi'i
community but cutting across denominational lines. Yet no matter how
courageous its fighters may be, no matter how many schools and hospitals
it runs, Hezbollah is essentially a right-wing political movement. Its
guiding ideology is Khomeini-style Islamic fundamentalism. Hezbollah's
political ideal, the Islamic Republic of Iran, enforces medieval religious
law, imposes brutal strictures on women and LGBT people, persecutes
religious and ethnic minorities, and has executed tens of thousands of
leftists and other political dissenters. This is not exactly a liberatory
In the framework of our basic opposition to the Israeli attacks, it's
important for us to be open about our political criticisms of Hezbollah.
That doesn't mean echoing the U.S. government/mass media line -- criticism
doesn't mean demonization. Even if we accept that some Hezbollah armed
actions have wrongly targeted civilians, it's transparent nonsense to say
that Hezbollah is a group of "terrorists" and Israel is just trying to
defend itself. It's quite possible that Hezbollah sometimes engages in
anti-Jewish scapegoating, but the organization is not continuing Hitler's
work and does not exist in order to kill Jews. Rather than try to impose
Islamic rule on Lebanon by force, Hezbollah has repeatedly acknowledged
the country's pluralistic character. And Hezbollah is not the root cause
of the conflict with Israel. It is primarily a response -- a deeply flawed
one -- to Israeli and western aggression in Lebanon and the Middle East,
and to the oppression of the Shi'i community.
Among the statements on the Lebanon war I've seen so far from U.S. leftist
and anti-war groups, most condemn the Israeli attacks against the Lebanese
people but say little or nothing about Hezbollah's politics. Two notable
exceptions are the Workers World Party and the Spartacist League, both in
statements dated July 21, 2006. Workers World describes Hezbollah as the
leader of a "national resistance movement" and argues that, for both
Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas, Islam "is the ideological form
whose actual content is the struggle against imperialism." An article
published in Workers World newspaper four days later describes Hezbollah
as "a guerrilla resistance army with Islamic leadership" which "gained
wide political legitimacy for its determined resistance and its
well-organized, non-corrupt social services."
The Spartacist League takes Workers World to task for "prettifying"
Hezbollah in this manner, and notes that during the Cold War both the
United States and Israel "fostered the growth of Islamic reaction as a
counterweight to Communism and secular nationalism." The Spartacists
declare, "As Trotskyists, we in the Spartacist League militarily defend
Hezbollah against the Israeli military machine in this conflict, while
maintaining our political opposition to this reactionary fundamentalist
I know it's not popular to say nice things about the Sparts, but on this
issue they take a good position and Workers World takes a bad one. To
treat Hezbollah as anti-imperialist while glossing over its right-wing
religious ideology is dishonest, simplistic, and short sighted from a
propaganda standpoint, because it leaves you open to easy critique. The
Spartacists' double-edged position -- we oppose Hezbollah's politics but
defend them against Israeli attack -- respects people's intelligence more
and offers U.S. activists a clearer and more principled way of relating to
the conflict. It acknowledges the war's political complexity, instead of
reducing it to Good Guys versus Bad Guys, but it also doesn't treat the
two sides as equivalent or mirror images -- it takes a stand.
What's missing from the Spartacist League position, however, is a clear
recognition that Hezbollah is both right wing and anti-imperialist. I
don't mean Hezbollah is inconsistent -- I mean its opposition to Zionism
and its U.S. patron is rooted in a right-wing philosophy. This doesn't fit
conventional leftist categories, but it's not unique. Although the Islamic
right was helped by the United States and Israel during the Cold War,
today it includes some of the most militant and strategically important
opponents of these same governments. (Hamas, the Taliban, and al Qaeda are
other prominent examples, very distinct from each other and from
Hezbollah.) We may not like this situation, but we need to find ways to
understand it and deal with it.
The title of this essay refers to the book My Enemy's Enemy (Kersplebedeb,
2001), which warned that far-right politics were strong and growing within
the anti-globalization movement -- and that many leftists were wittingly
or unwittingly complicit in fostering this growth. My Enemy's Enemy helped
crystallize the concept of a "three-way fight" to describe the global
political situation. Instead of an essentially binary struggle between
right and left, between the forces of oppression and the forces of
liberation, three-way fight politics posits a more complex struggle
centered on the global capitalist ruling class, the revolutionary left,
and the revolutionary right. The latter encompasses various kinds of
fascists and other far rightists who want to replace the dominance of
global capital with a different kind of oppressive social order. This
means there is no guarantee that militant challenges to global capitalism
-- including popular anti-imperialist struggles -- will take a progressive
or liberatory form.
Three-way fight politics is still a new and primitive analytic tool, but I
think it's an important framework for discussion and a helpful corrective
to oversimplifications that are common on the left. The Lebanon war
highlights the concept's usefulness as well as the need to develop it
further. Three-way fight politics has largely been used to draw a line
between leftist and rightist versions of insurgent politics, to help
leftists recognize the differences and warn them against dangerous
alliances. Sometimes -- as with the anti-globalization movement -- that's
exactly what's needed. But sometimes -- as with the Israeli attacks on
Hezbollah and the people of Lebanon -- what we need to do is defend
rightist forces, in specific ways and specific situations, against a
greater political threat. My enemy's enemy is not necessarily my friend,
but sometimes we need to defend people who are not our friends.
This approach to the Lebanon war raises many questions that I won't try to
answer here. Within the basic outlines I've presented, what does critical
defense of Hezbollah include and what does it exclude? What kinds of
tactics and slogans best represent this position? Beyond the immediate
situation, when does this kind of stance make sense, and when is it
counterproductive? How, concretely, does it differ from solidarity with
leftist forces? Given that right-wing anti-imperialist fighters are tying
down U.S. imperialism and its allies in several countries, to what extent,
if any, could this widen the space for liberatory movements? Such
questions merit serious discussion, and that can only happen if we go
beyond a simplistic Us-versus-Them model of politics. George Bush declared
after September 11th: Either you are with us or against us. Surely we can
do better than that.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Hear Left Turn Magazine founding editor Bilal El-Amine reporting from Southern
Lebanon at: http://www.flashpoints.net
More news from Lebanon and Palestine at:
A LETTER FROM CHOMSKY AND OTHERS ON THE RECENT EVENTS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
July 19, 2006
The latest chapter of the conflict between Israel and Palestine began when
Israeli forces abducted two civilians, a doctor and his brother, from Gaza. An
incident scarcely reported anywhere, except in the Turkish press. The
following day the Palestinians took an Israeli soldier prisoner - and proposed
a negotiated exchange against prisoners taken by the Israelis - there are
approximately 10,000 in Israeli jails.
That this "kidnapping" was considered an outrage, whereas the illegal military
occupation of the West Bank and the systematic appropriation of its natural
resources - most particularly that of water - by the Israeli Defence (!)
Forces is considered a regrettable but realistic fact of life, is typical of
the double standards repeatedly employed by the West in face of what has
befallen the Palestinians, on the land alloted to them by international
agreements, during the last seventy years.
Today outrage follows outrage; makeshift missiles cross sophisticated ones.
The latter usually find their target situated where the disinherited and
crowded poor live, waiting for what was once called Justice. Both categories
of missile rip bodies apart horribly - who but field commanders can forget
this for a moment?
Each provocation and counter-provocation is contested and preached over. But
the subsequent arguments, accusations and vows, all serve as a distraction in
order to divert world attention from a long-term military, economic and
geographic practice whose political aim is nothing less than the liquidation
of the Palestinian nation.
This has to be said loud and clear for the practice, only half declared and
often covert, is advancing fast these days, and, in our opinion, it must be
unceasingly and eternally recognised for what it is and resisted
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
Ten Questions for Movement Building and Reflections on the Current Period
By Dan Berger and Andy Cornell
For five weeks in the late spring of 2006, we toured the eastern half of the United States to promote two books--“Letters From Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out” (Nation Books, 2005) and “Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity” (AK Press, 2006)--and to get at least a cursory impression of sectors of the movement in this country. We viewed each of the twenty-eight events not only as book readings but as conscious political conversations about the state of the country, the world, and the movement.
Of course, such quick visits to towns and cities in different parts of the country can only yield so much information. Because this was May and June, we did not speak on any school campuses and were unable to gather a strong sense of the state of campus-based activism. Further, much of the tour came together through personal connections we’ve developed in anarchist, queer, punk, and white anti-racist communities—and, as with any organizing, the audience generally reflected who organized the event and how they went about it rather than the full array of organizing projects transpiring in each town. Yet several crucial questions were raised routinely in big cities and small towns alike (or, alternately, were elided but lay just beneath the surface of the sometimes tense conversations we were party to.) Such commonality of concerns and difficulties demonstrates the need for ongoing discussion of these issues within and between local activist communities. Thus, while we don’t pretend to have an authoritative analysis of the movement, we offer this report as part of a broader dialogue about building and strengthening modern revolutionary movements—an attempt to index some common debates and to offer challenges in the interests of pushing the struggle forward.
Challenges and Debates:
The audiences we spoke with tended to be predominantly white and comprised of people self-identified as being on the left, many of whom are active in one or more organizations locally or nationally. We traveled through the Northeast (including a brief visit to Montreal), the rust-belt, the Midwest, parts of the South, and the Mid-Atlantic. Some events tended to draw mostly 60s-generation activists, others primarily people in their 20s, and more than a few were genuinely intergenerational. Not surprisingly, events at community centers and libraries afforded more room for conversation than those at bookstores. Crowds ranged anywhere from 10 to 100 people, although the average event had about 25 people. Even where events were small gatherings of friends, they proved to be useful dialogues about pragmatic work. Our goals for the tour were: establishing a sense of different organizing projects; pushing white people in an anti-racist and anti-imperialist direction while highlighting the interrelationship of issues; and grappling with the difficult issues of organizing, leadership and intergenerational movement building. The following ten questions emerge from our analysis of the political situation based on our travels and meetings with activists of a variety of ages and range of experiences.
1. What is organizing?
Every event we did focused on the need for organizing. This call often fell upon sympathetic ears, but was frequently met with questions about how to actually organize and build lasting radical organizations, particularly in terms of maintaining radical politics while reaching beyond insular communities. There are too few institutions training young or new activists in the praxis of organizing and anti-authoritarian leadership development. This doesn’t stop people from taking on radical political work, but it does limit the movement’s widespread effectiveness, particularly in smaller towns. Part of the problem is that many of the nationally visible entities that do provide training in organizing and leadership development—specifically, the mainstream labor unions—are not anti-authoritarians rooted in a radical analysis of society. The training centers that are based in such an analysis, such as Project South, the Midwest Academy, and Z Media Institute, lack the capacity to work with all the activists interested in gaining such skills. Developing this capacity is crucial, as younger radicals in particular need models and mentors of how to be rooted in a community, mobilizing around concrete demands, consistently bringing new people in to the movement and keeping them there. At the same time, we need to be more aware of those organizing initiatives that already exist and the ways we can be of most use to them.
When discussing organizing, we often heard the common refrain to “go knock on doors.” However, it’s not enough to encourage people to just start knocking on doors as individuals or loose groups. Without a sense of why they are there or a program about which to talk with people, door knocking will yield few productive results. Thus, it is not just about encouraging people to organize, as much as people needing the skills, confidence, and groups with which to do so. Furthermore, potential organizers need careful guidance on the different tasks, goals, challenges, and motivations the practice of organizing has to include if we are to take seriously the now decades-old challenge to organize not only in oppressed, but also oppressor communities (and to understand how most people are multiply situated in relation to different forms of privilege and power).
To be sure, there is a lot of organizing going on. The most successful work that we saw was more locally or regionally based than nationally, yet there are various projects that seem to be bringing in new people, operating from a systemic analysis, and winning concrete demands. An organizer we met in Pittsburgh offered the useful definition that the task for radical organizers and organizations is twofold: Build Dual Power, Confront State Power. That is, we must develop our own power—by building coalitions, political infrastructure, and visionary, alternative institutions that prefigure the types of social relationships we desire—while simultaneously confronting the state, right-wing social movements, and other forms of institutional oppression. One without the other is insufficient. This twofold approach can also address what an organizer in North Carolina identified as the gap between opposition to something and action around it—a chasm that is solved by a feeling of empowerment, the belief that people can actively contribute to making change.
The widespread interest in organizing that we found, as well as the “Build Dual Power, Confront State Power” conceptualization, seems to be a somewhat promising departure from the tendency among many young anti-authoritarian activists to reject the concept of leadership outright. Since organizing implies leadership and leadership implies hierarchy, the process of moving others to take action or even agree with one’s political analysis has been seen as suspect, and sometimes rejected outright in certain circles. This, we fear, has prevented activists from building the types of respectful personal and institutional relationships across social divides that can provide the groundwork for active solidarity. It has lead many younger activists to focus on creating elective alternative communities and model projects (infoshops, puppet troupes, publications, service projects) that are intended to exist outside of the sphere of oppressive values and institutions. The call to build “dual power” respects the importance of these initiatives, but the paired determination to effectively confront the power of the state and other reactionary social forces demands, in addition, a type of strategic, coalitional work requiring semi-permanent organizations, mass involvement, and openness to a range of tactics. We believe that this work requires skillful, democratic, grassroots leadership with an unabashed commitment to organize others in a manner that helps them, in turn, to develop their own leadership skills.
2. How do we build intergenerational movements? (A Challenge to Young and Old!)
Most people we met do not work in productively intergenerational groups or live intergenerational lives outside tightly prescribed roles (e.g., teacher-student). This presents a challenge for activists and organizers of all ages, who constantly need to be looking to work with those older and younger. Recognizing that the struggle is for the long haul means that no generation can or should exist in a political vacuum. While both younger and older folks bear the responsibility for this, the onus may indeed rest on older people to make themselves available; most young people we met were excited by the prospect of intergenerational discussions and groups but didn’t know where to find the older radicals in their area. (As people in our mid- and late-20s, we have a responsibility to find and work with the teenage radicals who are just now becoming political conscious and active.)
Intergenerational movements are not simply about people of various ages being in the same room. Instead, it is about building respectful relationships of mutual learning and teaching based on a long-haul approach to movement building. In raising this issue, we saw three typical responses that are generally unhelpful to building intergenerational groups and movements: The Nike Approach (Just Do It!)—the older activists who tell young people to just go out there and change the world already, and to stop looking for validation from older people. But young folks aren’t looking for a go-ahead; we are out there, doing our best. Validation and encouragement from people we respect can bolster our resolve, but what we’re really looking for is mentorship, multigenerational commitment and solidarity. We’re willing to put ourselves out there, even to make mistakes. But it would be helpful if we didn’t have to make the same mistakes older people have already made. And young folks need to see that older activists maintain their political commitments in both word and deed. The Retired Approach (We had our turn, now you try)—several older activists echoed the sentiment that they did their best and now it was up to us. Some with this position argue that they and their generation need to get entirely out of the way of the young folks, which functionally removes older people from the equation. This abandonment masquerading as support is equally unhelpful in actually learning from the past and moving forward together because it serves to enforce a generational separation. The Obstructionist Approach (Only if you accept my politics and unquestioned leadership)—people with this position demand adherence to the politics and vision of the older generation as the prerequisite for any working relationship. They make The Retired Approach more appealing and are a reminder that, frankly, some people do need to get out of the way. This is where older allies committed to collaboration could be potentially helpful, proving that political divides are not inherently generational gaps.
A lack of intergenerational relationships and groups is apparent nationally and locally. In one town we visited, for instance, the “peace community” seemed to lack any relationship to anyone under 50 or to impoverished communities of color that are most directly affected by the war machine. Another town saw a largely generational split over confrontational anti-war activism, where older people generally refused to support anything confrontational or anyone using those tactics. Yet when the younger folks went out by themselves to picket the recruiting station, they were able to successfully shut it down on two separate occasions. Intergenerational movement building could be useful not only in expanding the base of people willing to engage in such confrontational tactics (and thereby hopefully contributing to hastening the war’s end) but also in trying to push other older people to work with and support youth leadership.
Young people, for our part, make it difficult for movement veterans to find us and assess our work when we organize only as temporary affinity groups that usually lack office space and sometimes even contact information. Expressing interest in building such ties is also important. When one of us off-handedly commented to an SDS veteran and radical historian that many younger activists would appreciate being asked by organizers of his generation to have coffee or lunch and talk shop, he seemed genuinely surprised. “Really? You think folks would want to get together with people like me?” We assured him that we at least appreciated it—especially when the older folks picked up the tab.
What young people don’t want to deal with is patronization or abandonment, people who focus on their glory days or on lecturing ‘the youngens.’ What young folks do want are older activists who remain steadfast in their resolve and organizing, who seek to draw out the lessons from their years in the struggle (and are clear about where they differ with others of their age cohort without being sectarian), who look to younger activists for inspiration and guidance while providing the same, and who are focused on movement building. Building on the more multigenerational roots of Southern organizing, two older organizers in Greensboro beautifully summed this up at an event in saying, “We aren’t done, we’re not leaving, and we’re in this together.”
3. What role do militancy and confrontation play?
In our experience, almost no one was talking about engaging in acts of violence—even at events focused on the Weather Underground, an organization remembered most for its tactical embrace of large-scale property destruction. Despite the occasional utterance of a desire to see the White House reduced to rubble, there is a clear understanding that the movement is not at the level of militant confrontation with the state that radicals were in the late 1960s and early 1970s. (This was, to be sure, a distinction we focused on in talks about that political moment relative to this one.) While some people may romanticize the past or have facile notions of militancy or underground resistance, most of the people we met were interested in developing strategies and tactics that could effectively end the war and contribute to other fundamental changes in society. Particularly in relation to the war, we noticed widespread disappointment with the national coalitions: for being sectarian, for mobilizing but not movement building, for not developing or supporting youth leadership, for not using the pervasive frustration with the war to deepen anti-war and, ultimately, anti-imperialist consciousness. People want to not just register their dissatisfaction with the war through petitions and periodic protests but actually end it, and many young people in particular don’t see either of the dominant anti-war coalitions as vehicles for doing that.
Many people are looking for other ways—including more confrontational ones—to directly target the war machine. In fact, various groups and individuals have been directly confronting the war machine on a local scale since the U.S. invaded Iraq. To date, this seems largely to have taken the form of counter-recruitment work. What such confrontation has meant varied based on the specifics of a particular community; in some places, a picket was enough to shut down a recruiting center, whereas in other places it meant attempts to enter and disrupt the center or block its doors. The groups we were most impressed by were able to develop a strategy that incorporated a sense of direct action in line with the state of local movement. That is, they upped the ante in directly confronting the state, pushed the notion of what was acceptable somewhat beyond what the movement had been doing in that town to date (e.g., from vigils to protests, from protests to civil disobedience), and maintained relationships with other activists and groups who may not have engaged in the same tactics but who remained committed and sympathetic. Such an approach recognizes that increasing pressure on war-makers requires us to continually expand the movement numerically, while simultaneously increasing the militancy of those prepared to take risks. It also recognizes the careful maneuvering and relationship building work required to navigate the tension these two goals inevitably produce. We need to build mass movements where militant tactics can be present without dividing the movement—and it was a former Catholic Worker who underscored this point for us in expressing critical support for militant wings of the movement historically.
Counter-recruitment work and the growth of organizations led by Iraq war veterans and their families remain the most exciting and promising aspects of the U.S. anti-war movement. Since anti-war organizing has not been the primary focus of either of our political work for the past couple years, we were very excited to hear first hand accounts of successful, repeated, day-long shutdowns of recruiting offices and similar actions. However, several challenges remain, including making this work more coordinated, extensive, and visible on a national level. Furthermore, direct action anti-war efforts need to expand beyond recruiting centers to other targets, such as the offices of war profiteers, that can be materially impacted by relatively small groups. The small victories reported by organizers in numerous mid-sized cities seem to imply that local actions might be more successful than those against obvious, heavily-policed targets such as the Pentagon, that require significant lead-time and national coordination. Activists whose circumstances don’t allow them to participate bodily in such actions have important roles to play in securing legal and financial resources, as well as working to prevent less militantly inclined sectors of the movement from denouncing or attempting to marginalize those seeking to obstruct empire from functioning.
If, as we argued throughout the tour, militancy is not to be conflated with violence or property destruction, but is instead understood as a stance of political integrity and commitment in spite of serious consequences, activists young and old might also more seriously consider the challenge directed at the two of us by a long-time radical pacifist anarchist who housed us for a night: the challenge of becoming “war tax” resistors. While the unpublicized, moralistic actions of scattered, aging individuals that seem to have characterized the war tax resistance movement for many decades haven’t proven particularly appealing to many younger radicals, it seems that a coordinated, media-savvy campaign of joint declarations of tax resistance by a significant group of the younger generation activists, expressing an explicit anti-imperialist politics, has enough potential to ignite debate as to at least be given a thoughtful appraisal. “After all,” expressed our new friend, “the only thing the government wants is your money. They sure don’t care if you vote, or if you approve of what they’re doing.”
Whether withholding taxes or sabotaging Bechtel is on the table, concretely understanding the prospects, pitfalls, and practice of increasing confrontation is a vital need in this period—both in terms of our local/regional work as well as for the movement on a national level.
4. What about anti-racism and multiracial movement building?
Throughout the tour, the only discussions that were genuinely multi-racial—where people of color comprised at least half of those in attendance, rather than only a smattering—were either organized by people of color groups or ones where the local event organizers had consciously worked to ensure the event was co-sponsored and planned by a variety of local organizations, including ones comprised of and led by people of color, who worked to bring their members and contacts out. Because the left, like U.S. society in general, remains significantly divided by race proactive measures are needed to create multi-racial spaces where work to bridge that divide can take place. When that work was done, and when participants started from a place of respect, recognizing our differences as well as our similarities, we found that we shared similar analysis of the current situation and many common principals of the world we would like to move towards. As participants in these conversations often arrived at their radical politics from different experiences, we found that discussing our motivations and the thought processes that lead us to do the work we do helped participants build trust and understanding. Recognizing and appreciating the sacrifices and contributions to the broader struggle for justice made by people from the different organizations, nationalities, and tendencies of those in the room, was also important to this process.
At one event, an older white/Jewish activist queried the extent to which young people’s lives and groups today are multiracial and wondered what the specific factors were that divided white activists from people of color. In response to the latter, we argued that radical young people’s social lives are often in large part built around oppositional youth cultures such as hip-hop and punk that tend to be racially distinct. Furthermore, few organizations or forums exist where younger activists from different class and race backgrounds can interact while taking part in discussions and joint work. This leaves young people to meet and attempt to forge connections on a personal basis—an often difficult and intimidating task in today's fraught racial landscape. Encouraging multiracial interactions and organization building is a task where guidance and direct involvement from older generation activists could prove especially useful.
Building these multiracial relationships requires steady organizing, a demonstrated commitment among white people to racial justice politics, and incorporating anti-racism into our daily lives—recognizing that ‘multiracial’ and ‘antiracist’ are related but not interchangeable phenomenon. It emerges from and through the organizing work, not from proscribing all-white versus only-multiracial organizational forms; both models exist, and each has its own advantages and disadvantages. The call for Black Power, raised 40 years ago, challenged whites to organize with other whites against racism while practicing concrete solidarity with people of color liberation movements. How do we build a radical power base among white people that is profoundly anti-racist to contribute to toppling white supremacy? Few people are framing the struggle in those terms. And how do class differences among white people shape the ways in which people can be won over to anti-racist politics? White folks of our generation seem to be better at talking to other white people about racism, though not necessarily organizing them or making material aid and concrete solidarity central responsibilities of our political work. One problem lies in being too comfortable with all-white spaces, as well as in thinking that the presence of some people of color makes the event or group not a white space. Debate over organizational forms continues, but the need to shift the politics, culture, and practice of the movement in thoroughly anti-racist ways remains a priority.
At some events where we challenged people to discuss the differences in how white supremacy operated in the 1960s and how it does currently, many demurred. This may indicate that race and racism are topics still so loaded that many white people feel unsure how to navigate even a discussion of them, let alone political practice. In many ways, we’re still fighting to understand the significance of the national liberation struggles of the last generation (including Black Power) to such an extent that we haven’t been able to grasp all the nuances of modern white supremacy. One of the advances by the Black liberation struggle and other theorists of “internal colonialism” in analyzing the situation of people of color in the U.S. was the recognition that white supremacy was about class relations as well as racial oppression. That is, being oppressed nationally/ as a colonized people means bearing the brunt of military or police violence, disproportionately occupying the most precarious positions economically, being denied access to land, and under constant cultural pathologization or attack. Even if generally not expressed as a position of (neo-) colonialism, many of these realities are still true for the Black and Brown populations of this country, immigrant and citizen alike, and yet the relationship of race to gender to class is still a challenging one for many U.S. radicals to grasp and organize around. While left scholars have written extensively about the “new imperialism” in recent years, few of these accounts attempt to theorize imperialist-race relations within the United States. In addition to what it offers in understanding the situation of African Americans, such an analysis certainly provides insights into the super-exploitation and racist discrimination directed at Latin Americans and Asians who have migrated to industrialized nations after being pushed out of their home countries by free trade agreements, structural adjustment programs, and brutal counter-insurgency operations.
If we are to undertake useful anti-racist work as leftists differently positioned in U.S. and global racial hierarchies we need a thorough and frequently updated understanding of the many and quickly changing racial projects presently at play. Clearly, though, the current crisis situations we are living through don’t provide us the option of sitting idle while great thinkers perfect a comprehensive new framework for understanding race; theoretical breakthroughs are made in the course of struggle. This means we must do our best to internalize lessons of the past and to practice anti-racist principles daily in our personal relationships and movement building initiatives as we target white supremacy with a program of racial justice.
5. What does solidarity mean, especially with the immigrant justice movement?
In our events, we talked about solidarity as a centerpiece of radical activism, particularly among white people. Building off the example of the Weather Underground and other white anti-imperialists of the 1970s, we defined solidarity not just as financial or administrative support of other people’s struggles but fundamentally recognizing the ways in which we all would benefit by the successes of movements of oppressed people and the ways, therefore, that we all have active roles to play in the movement. The challenge, then, is to give life to an active notion of solidarity where people with privilege don’t sideline themselves but instead endeavor the difficult task of both providing and respecting other’s leadership in the movement, based on our complicated positioning and responsibility.
The need to understand, untangle, and unleash solidarity was particularly apparent for us in relation to the immigrant rights movement and to the situation in the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina captured people’s attention and empathy, but few people seemed to know how to express concrete solidarity with people from the region. In terms of immigrant justice, we saw widespread inspiration from and interest in the movement from the people we met but a general confusion about how to be involved. While individuals turned out to rallies and marches, they frequently didn’t know next steps or ongoing work they could participate in. Non-immigrant activists rooted in small towns sometimes had stronger pre-existing connections to leaders within local immigrant communities than those in larger cities, and were therefore able to plug-in to demonstration prep-work and help mobilize supportive communities. Even in these situations, however, radicals committed to anti-racist movement building sometimes felt conflicted between their political analysis and their understanding of what successful movement building strategies (and common respect) require. In North Carolina, for instance, organizers we met agreed with the critique of the relation between capitalist globalization and the influx of undocumented workers expressed by a dogmatic Marxist organization that had positioned itself to take a leading role in spring-time immigrant rights mobilizations. However, they also found it important to let local immigrant communities set the terms of their movement, even though representatives of those communities took a more liberal approach emphasizing that hard-working immigrants deserved respect.
Two positive examples in terms of solidarity with the movement, one we saw and the other we heard about: In Chicago, a day laborer worker’s center tied to a group called the Latino Union relied on numerous volunteers from outside the various Latino communities to teach English language classes, provide tech support, and other tasks. And the mobilizations in the southwest to confront and disrupt the Minutemen vigilante groups are an exciting recent example of active anti-racist solidarity. They work to intercede and prevent the racist violence and intimidation carried out by the Minutemen, while presenting an anti-racist perspective on immigration to whites, in person and through the press.
6. What is the state of the struggle today, particularly internationally?
In talking about movement history, we always focused on the national liberation struggles as the dominant revolutionary force of the post-WWII period (circa 1945-1975)—and how that is not the primary mode of struggle today. This shift is due both to those movements' successes, in gaining formal independence, and their shortcomings, including those pointed to by feminist and queer critiques of nationalism and the state as constructs for liberation. To this can be added broader political economic changes: capitalist globalization weakening the state as a means of achieving self-determination and attempting to isolate revolutionary governments, the (if nothing else, environmental) link between self-determination and interdependence, and the presence of right-wing opposition to imperialism. Based on this reality some organizers are describing the climate as being a “three-way fight.” “Three-way fight” politics argue that the struggle today consists of the global capitalist/imperialist ruling class (of liberal, moderate, and conservative persuasions), the revolutionary left, and the revolutionary right (al-Qaeda, neo-Nazis, etc.). The question of what it means to be on the left today, of deciding friends and enemies, is a complex one that needs to be treated seriously. (For more, see the blog http://www.threewayfight.blogspot.com/).
What are the criteria for being on the left, both within this country and internationally? And how do or should we think about those forces that are not leftist but are tying down, and therefore limiting, U.S. imperial reach? This question is particularly urgent for the anti-war movement, as there is a wide array of forces opposed to U.S. imperialism—in Iraq, Afghanistan, the U.S. and elsewhere—that are not revolutionary leftists or our allies, and yet their existence stalls the ability of the U.S. to pursue military conquest elsewhere (from Venezuela to Iran and beyond). This has created confusion in the U.S. of who and what to support on the international level, and has particularly effected the anti-war movement in terms of there not being a clear, progressive-revolutionary, mass-based movement to champion as the victor in Iraq the way the National Liberation Front was for Vietnam. At the same time, there are other situations of imperial aggression and revolutionary Left activity that people rarely brought up in discussions of international politics. Debate about the occupations of Iraq and Palestine prevailed, whereas few people mentioned Haiti, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Nepal, or elsewhere. We need to sharpen our international awareness and connections beyond the hotspot areas.
When discussing the Weather Underground, we talked about a time when national liberation struggles abroad had a lot of influence on the domestic left. People on tour didn’t speak in much depth about their assessment of the international left as a whole or its effect on organizing in this country. However, there is a definite impact. Many groups, especially in Latin America, are pushing forward ideas about more direct and participatory forms of democracy on an international scale. This doesn't seem to be derived from a deep study and adoption of classic (European) anarchist texts, but more from building on local and indigenous traditions of self-governance and self-management. (Here, of course, the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico, stands out as a particular example.)
As in the 1950s and early 1960s, there is a strong anarchist impulse in several of today’s auspicious organizing projects. These anarchistic currents flow among people and groups who do not consider themselves anarchists (for instance, organizations such as Incite! and Critical Resistance, which seek non-state solutions to problems such as domestic violence and are doing some of the most thoughtful work around state violence and restorative justice). To these projects could be added those who proudly identify as anarchists in some of the more successful anti-war, racial justice, and workplace organizing that we saw. Thus, the anarchist critique of state power, and its valuing of principles such as direct democracy/ transparency and mutual aid find much expression in radical movements.
At the same time, as an ideology for making revolution and building a non-capitalist, anti-oppressive society, anarchism is woefully undertheorized. Though anarchism remains powerful as critique, many seem to adopt it as a vision and organizing model more by default than as a result of the concrete political programs it offers. Social democracy and authoritarian communism have been proven un-solutions. Anarchism has had little chance to prove itself a success or a failure. A significant factor in the Marxist-Leninist turn among sectors of the 1960s/1970s left was the fact that various third world revolutions were based on those ideas. With that model no longer dominant, anarchism has reemerged—if not as a fully realized framework, than as a sensibility and a name for a deep-rooted belief in the possibility of radical alternatives. And as third world liberations struggles helped define ’60s and ’70s radicalism in the U.S., anarchism today is buoyed by the exciting recent experiments and successes in Latin America. Still, while opposition to the state in its current form and criticism of the state as a construct are both valuable, and despite the fact that anarchism has attracted many impressive and committed organizers, an ideology that is dominant by default is not a stable enough ground to fight from. We have serious and substantial work to do to create a praxis that synthesizes and further develops the achievements of feminist, anti-racist, Marxist, anarchist, queer and ecological theory and practice.
7. How do we organize simultaneously on local, regional, national, and international levels?
Many people expressed a desire for a national (or international) movement and yet frustration with attempts to date or confusion as to how. The rebirth of Students for a Democratic Society (see www.studentsforademocraticsociety.org) should be seen as an effort to move in that direction. SDS organizers we met boast of significant interest among not only college but also among high school students (building, no doubt, off the successful and impressive role of high school youth of color in struggles for education and immigrant justice). While the ’60s nostalgia indicated in the organization’s choice of name and promotional materials concerns us, perhaps the explicit modeling on an historic initiative has helped to overcome the hesitancy towards building nationally coordinated organizations expressed by some radicals in recent years. How successful SDS will be in training people as organizers, incorporating a profoundly diverse membership and leadership, and building a radical anti-war, anti-racist, queer-positive, and pro-feminist program among students is unknown and unfolding.
While SDS is developing, there are other efforts at regional organizing that are more developed, recognize geographical specificity, and extend beyond students. The two main networks we saw were the Northeast Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC, a syndicalist association of anarchists involved in union organizing primarily in Montreal and Boston) and Project South (a Black-led training and leadership development organization based in Atlanta). Project South helped organize the recent Southeast Social Forum and is spearheading the U.S. Social Forum to be held in 2007, which should prove an exciting prospect for developing regional and national collaboration.
In general, although urban areas have a bigger left base and more organizing going on, it would be a mistake to overlook or neglect the political work emerging from rural and non-urban areas, particularly in the South. The South has been a vital place in U.S. radical history, and it remains the site of an impressive multiracial and multigenerational collection of organizers and organizing. In smaller towns, sectarianism tended to be less of a problem because people cannot afford the disunity that often prevails in bigger cities and places with a larger left presence.
8. How do we relate to sectarian groups?
In addition to the ever-present divisions of class, race, and generation already mentioned, a wide gulf persists, as it has for decades, between groups seen to be sectarian and those not. This division runs so deep that participants on the opposing sides frequently refuse to recognize one another as true radicals, or members of the left. Although they exert a bigger presence in the major cities, the various groups hocking papers, obsessing over the “right political line,” and supposedly building vanguard communist parties are a ubiquitous, if frustrating, reality for those, including us, who take different approaches. We ran into people active in such groups—more than a few them doing concrete political work—in several places, including smaller towns that would have seemed unlikely homes for these groups. While many of us have learned (or been counseled) to ignore them, this response is insufficient. It is not enough to write them off for their dogmatism, their rigidity, or their hostility to other groups—although all of these things tend to be there in the practice if not the theory of groups such as the Sparticist League and the International Socialist Organization.
Despite these characteristics, sectarian organizations have an appeal that needs to be understood. Such groups offer people, especially newer activists, a defined organizational structure, political education, leadership development, and a sense of strategy and participation in a broader movement. All of these attributes are valid and valuable, even if their application is thoroughly problematic. The fact that democratic and non-sectarian groups have generally been unable to offer such things to newer activists expands the ranks of the sectarian groups. We need to see what they do right so as to understand their appeal. We need to be able to articulate our differences with these groups more specifically and concretely than we have to date. It is insufficient to dismiss them solely for peddling papers too aggressively or making long-winded statements during Q&A periods. Rather, our criticisms must be of their political vision and organizing approach—one which prioritizes the promotion of their organizations over what is best for the movement as a whole. Where possible, we need to have some kind of relationship to these groups—not to tolerate their disruptions or manipulations, but to be able to work with the expatriates and frustrated former members. And, ultimately, we need to out-organize them, to build organizations and movements that offer a sense of analysis, development, and program without making claims at being the vanguard or losing our sense of transparency.
9. What role does the environment—as well as the environmental movement itself (particularly its more militant sectors)—play in the movement?
During our travels we were gently criticized for saying little about where ecology and environmental activism fits into libratory practices, and specifically, the lack of contributions by eco-activists in the Letters From Young Activists book—criticism we took to heart.
We were pleasantly surprised to find that even in as unlikely places as rust belt cities, many of those who came to events were aware of and concerned about the slew of recent indictments, investigations, and grand jury subpoenas against radical environmental activists, occurring predominantly in the Western half of the United States. This is a positive sign, since even those who find property destruction to halt development tactically unsound should find common cause in fighting the post-PATRIOT ACT increases in surveillance and arrests, in addition to the undemocratic grand jury investigations that have been crucial in cracking down on many radical movements, historically and still today.
The militant environmental and animal rights movements face significant repression, which merit our solidarity, and yet there are also legitimate political differences that should not be overlooked or minimized. To cite a somewhat extreme example, a “green anarchist” recently responded to a query about what “a primitivist response to the global AIDS crisis would look like” by arguing that in the long run, the crisis might be for the best, as it reduces the human impact on the environment! Approaches like this, not surprisingly, have not attracted a very broad following, at least not in the places we visited. Such misanthropic and anti-civilization politics do find a following among some sectors of the radical environmental movement. Yet, with widespread concern over and attention to the global climate crisis, among other things, an environmental focus can provide a crucial point of organizing. We met with a 91-year-old movement veteran who was most politically inspired today by the urban gardening and ecological self-sufficiency movements. She promoted the slogan made popular by Black farmers, “If we can’t feed ourselves, we can’t free ourselves.” At the same time, a community organizer working predominantly with low-income Black women championed these efforts while disagreeing that everyone is able to participate in them and that they are sufficient to meet the needs of the most marginalized.
The environment serves as a limit and Achilles heel to neoliberal developmentalism. The fact that the eco-system cannot support all inhabitants of the planet in living anything like current American lifestyles proves the lie that neoliberal policies are pursued as the most promising path to universal material well-being. The environment also provides a personal stake for economically privileged people in anti-capitalist struggle. Capitalism doesn’t only destroy pristine potential vacation spots for the well-to-do, it threatens the sustainability of life on earth in general. If the idea of total ecological collapse in some unspecified, seemingly far-off future, is not tangible enough to inspire action, the threat of more localized, if still catastrophic, climate-related disasters in the lifetime of children and grandchildren might provide some impetus to fractions of the middle classes in industrialized countries to enter into anti-capitalist alliances. A greater emphasis on ecology and sustainability in an anti-imperialist organizing approach, then, has some potential to link constituencies and perhaps to attract some passionate activists who had previously focused primarily on direct action eco-politics.
10. How can we develop strategy?
Fundamentally, the above questions and our discussions on tour all revolve around developing a winning strategy within the movement—a strategy to stop the war, to repeal the right-wing attacks (on immigrants, on queers, on women…), to raze the walls and borders, and to begin proactively building non-capitalist alternatives. What does it mean to say all the issues are connected? How can we move forward on different fronts but with a defined strategy to win? How can we organize in a way that successfully targets the root causes and not just the more visible outgrowths? These are the type of tough questions we need to be grappling with in defining broad, long-term strategies. Strategy, of course, grows out of analysis, organizing, and reflection—intentionally grappling with the realities, possibilities, and pitfalls of the contemporary political conditions, and of the “forces on the ground” that do and could constitute the left. While there are many difficult questions we need to answer, our biggest deficiency is not a lack of analysis of the political situation. Rather, with academics and organizers too often lacking strong organizational ties to one another, circulating information and disseminating analysis remains one of the biggest challenges to informed strategic planning. In addition to building these linkages, we need a much better assessment of our forces. The left is so splintered that we often don’t know what organizations exist, what resources we have, and what each other is doing. As overwhelming a task as it sounds, if we are to begin developing winning strategy, we need to map out the left by city, state and region. Taking these steps can deepen our understanding of the situation, its roots, and possibilities for ruptures in the system, along with popularizing and organizing around radical conceptions.
There is a defined relationship between the war, immigration, prisons and criminalization/repression, patriarchy, the media, the transgender liberation movement, radical unionism, the education system, struggles for the environment, and beyond. How do we connect those issues in our own work? How do our organizations work strategically on different fronts but in shared strategy/coalition with groups working on different fronts? What should we expect to happen, and what goals should we set for ourselves for the next 10, 25, and 50 years? Collectively grappling with these questions can lead to collective liberation.
Although at nearly every event we critically discussed Weather’s gender politics and read a powerful excerpt from the Letters book about the state of the feminist movement and the continued centrality of a gender analysis to radical political projects, few people seemed interested in discussing the state of feminist and LGBTQ activism in the U.S. or how to conceptualize and respond to the persistent right-wing attacks against women and queer rights. While many seemed to acknowledge and decry the severe and unique burdens placed on third word women by war and by the new international division of labor, we had few conversations about how to conceptualize the relation of domestic feminist and queer work to anti-imperialism and a unified left political project. Regrettably, this is a pattern that we have reproduced in this report. It signals a need for more concerted theoretical work and relationship building in these areas. At the same time, the strengths and legacies of the queer and women’s liberation movements, along with the emerging transgender liberation movement were apparent. Even if not the subject of as much explicit conversation, many young people in particular have internalized feminism and queer and transgender liberation as fundamental to their politics, and queer cultural expressions infused many of the activist scenes or spaces we experienced.
Histories of groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the original Students for a Democratic Society show the important role played by traveling speakers and organizers in attempts to link local efforts, debate strategies, and provide support to activists who felt isolated in less than hospitable climates. Though we didn’t represent an organization, we found our trip to be a success and worth the effort (not to mention, a lot of fun), as it allowed us to make new contacts and pass along old ones, debate common issues in many places, and serve as a transmission belt of ideas and actions between different cities. More traveling to promote ideas, books, films, and other projects is likely to help create and expand activist networks and to raise the level of discourse in ways that will hopefully lead to more formal connections. Of course, traveling requires time and money, making fundraising and assistance to aid in such efforts crucial.
We would like to thank everyone who helped organize events, provided us with a place to stay, donated generously for gas money, engaged us in brilliant conversation, or otherwise helped make our trip incredibly fun, productive, and stimulating. We decided to write this report because we have found similar “debriefs” and “report-backs” by traveling comrades to be thought-provoking and to provide a feeling of connection with a wider movement that it is often easy to loose in the daily grind of local work. We hope this report has, to some small degree, served these same purposes, and we are eager to hear your reactions and continue these conversations.
Dan Berger is a writer, activist, and graduate student in Philadelphia. He is the co-editor of Letters From Young Activists, author of Outlaws of America, and a member of the anti-imperialist affinity group Resistance in Brooklyn. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andy Cornell is a union organizer and graduate student living in Brooklyn, NY. He is a contributor to Letters From Young Activists and editor of the political fanzine The Secret Files of Captain Sissy. Contact him at email@example.com.