Who's Schools? Not Ours.

How Oakland public schools and schools across the country are losing the battle against the free market

I’ve taught in Oakland Public Schools for several years, and in that time, I’ve seen the school district endorse and pursue policies designed to gut public education of any real value or liberatory use to students. It’s not just a question of the District caving to the national bipartisan pressures for education deform embodied in the most recent version of No Child Left Behind. The Oakland Unified School District, under its various Superintendents and abetted by its variously elected and appointed and — now — merely advisory school boards, has been pillaging the public schools for years.

In some senses, it has had little choice, because the funding system for American education is utterly fucked up, based as it mostly is on local property taxes. If you reduce property taxes, you starve public education. California chose, as a state, to do that in 1978 when it passed Proposition 13. Before that, California often ranked among the top of states in per pupil spending. Now, it is 47th or 48th.

If you listen to the endless shite every standard US political talking head spouts — from Bush, to Schwarzenegger, to the editorial page of any given corporate newspaper — you’d think that the USA was united behind the strongest initiative to promote public education since John Dewey. Everyone bellows that children are the future and education must improve — that students are being shortchanged by the way schools have been left to rot and starve. But when you pull aside the curtain of Babel, the reality heads in the opposite direction — the funds needed to maintain — much less improve — education have been systematically withdrawn. What explains this bait and switch?

Teachers in public schools — especially, although not only, urban schools — look at what is happening around us and conclude that public education as an institution may soon cease to exist. Some kids will still be educated well — if they can pay for a private school. Those who can’t will attend a hollowed out shell of a school, with exhausted and severely depleted missionary teachers. Public schools will be nothing more than holding pens for the unemployed of the future — in Oakland, for example, the African-American kids, the Latino/as, the Cambodians and Laotians and Ethiopians and Yemenis and Vietnamese and Hmong and on, and on.

How can this be? How has the government — in a wholly bipartisan way — succeeded in covering its intentions with plausible sounding language? School districts from Philadelphia, to Milwaukee, to Chicago, to Compton have come under the microscope of the politicians, have been declared “failures”, and have had “reform” imposed from without and from above. The reforms forced on districts all have in common the driving goal of saving money, most often by a twin strategy of weakening and ultimately trying to bust teachers’ unions, and closing public schools and replacing them with private ones.

Politicians use free market ideology to justify starving schools of money. This ideology holds that private enterprise trumps ANY public service. Everything should be privatized, because the private realm, motivated by the profit motive, functions more efficiently and promotes competition, which will bring about the best possible form of public education. “Failing” public schools will be outcompeted by semi-public charter schools which have been freed from the dead hand of bureaucracy (and also, coincidentally, allowed to select the students they admit by an interview process, which undoes the entire NOTION of a free, universal, public education). If public schools want to woo pupils, they’ll have to clean up their acts and whittle down their budgets.

Free market ideologues seek to degrade public services (in this case education) so that people will prefer the private option, along class lines — school choice and/or vouchers. As the school system crumbles, both in infrastructure and in content, people who have been materially “successful” can afford the private option, while people who cannot afford the private option are assumed to deserve the public schools which exist — and which are being continually run into the ground.

Politicians can’t SAY that, because it runs too clearly into problems of not only class divisions — which most Americans fail to recognize and deny the existence of — but into the realities of race and the resegregation of American public schools. So politicians call for BETTER schools, higher standards, more well-trained teachers, more uniform curricula, and more efficiency. They assert that money spent on public education should be tracked carefully and its effects measured quantitatively, as in any business. The slide between a rhetoric of praise for education and the reality of starving public education of funds is accomplished by the shift to a language — and to policies — which equates public schools to private enterprise. In many ways, this process is simply the logical end of the Free Market

Free, quality public education not only undermines the notion that the market is better for EVERY purpose, but it might actually produce critically thinking citizen activists who could come to QUESTION that ultimate “truth”.

My life as an Oakland Teacher

When I started, thrown into the deep end of the pool with nothing but an emergency credential, Oakland schools were in what seemed to be their perennial chaos. Classes had no teachers and were taught for the whole year by a parade of substitutes; teachers quit after a week on the job; schedules were made for the school year, and then “the button was pushed” at a particular site and the entire schedule was changed, so every student’s classes changed and often what the teacher was expected to teach changed, as well. Students were reading far below their own grade level, their math skills were poor, and absence rates were high. All those problems existed then, seven years ago. They exist now, too. Every District administration has tried to address those problems, but the way they have chosen to address them is essentially by lowering costs and “streamlining.”

The first blow (during the period since I started work in Oakland) was to streamline WHAT children would be taught. Their reading scores are low, their math skills are poor. Solution? Get rid of any EXTRANEOUS curriculum. They started with the middle schools, as their test, and when that succeeded (at saving money, not at raising test scores or reading levels) they began to extend it to the elementary schools, and they are eyeing the high schools for the next stage.

What’s extraneous? Anything that isn’t state mandated or Readin’, Writin’, or ‘Rithmatic. So where Oakland middle school students once had classes in art, music, foreign languages, and maybe real esoterica like drama or band, they now had one fewer class a day, and their schedule is: Math, Science, Gym, English, History, Reading. The periods were made longer — they still had the same minutes in school, and hey, that’s all that counts, is minutes in the seats, which translate into the OTHER major part of school funding in the US, “ADA” — Average Daily Attendance.

Federal dollars are apportioned to all schools in two ways. First, they’re given as “Title I” funding to schools assessed as having a high rate of students living in poverty, which itself is related to the proportion of students eligible for a means-tested free lunch program. Second, federal funding is based on how many students are at school on a daily basis. In urban school districts, many things cause children to miss school: frequent moves, becoming homeless, being sick for environmental causes (e.g. asthma, etc), being pulled out of school by their parents because of a lack of affordable childcare for younger children, and so on. This means that a dist
rict where there is a lot of instability is penalized and receives LESS funding than a school in a district which is say, suburban, where kids don’t move as much, aren’t sick as often, aren’t needed at home, etc.

Eliminating art, music, foreign languages, and that extra class period had one other bonus benefit, as well: it lowered salary costs because it meant teachers (of art, music, French, Spanish, etc.) were laid off — or had the seniority to bump someone ELSE into being laid off. It also meant that middle school teachers lost one of their two contractually mandated conference periods — non-teaching time when teachers could meet with parents, plan lessons, and take care of administrative tasks. Again, this meant fewer teachers would be needed and salaries could be eliminated.

This first assault was before No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Oakland led the way. Also before NCLB, the state of California passed the Immediate Intervention for Underperforming Schools Program (IIUSP). Schools with low standardized test scores were identified as IIUSP schools, and shown both a carrot and a stick. The carrot was money for the schools to get themselves back on track. That doesn’t sound bad, but in my experience, it translated into about $45,000 for a consultant firm to be brought in to tell us how to improve ourselves — the managerial model — and endless meetings creating school plans that were then tossed out the next year by a new principal. This happened at least twice at the school I was at, where we had four principals in six years.

The stick was that if test scores didn’t show improvement over a three year period — by some special formula that was calculated for each school — then the school would face forced restructuring. This is pretty much exactly what NCLB also offers, although No Child Left Behind adds many, many other benefits, like permission for high school senior males’ names to be automatically forwarded to the armed services for ease of recruiting, limiting guidelines on curricula, and “school choice” — actually is a scam to undercut public education.

Oakland, unsurprisingly, had dozens of IIUSP schools. Most of them tried hard to fulfill impossible criteria. The instability of site administrations and the continual cuts in funding made improvement next to unachievable, and in any case, the whole point of judging any poor or inner city school by its standardized test score results is to ENSURE that it fails. By definition, any norm-referenced standardized test MUST have half of the people taking it “fail” — if too many students get a response right, it’s thrown out.

Union Busting

In order to have the business flexibility to implement much of “No Child Left Behind” — as well as all the other cost-saving measures — Oakland Unified needs to weaken, and would ultimately prefer to destroy, the teachers’ union. Recent contracts have featured not only the same kind of concessions that most unionized American workers are facing — health caps, salary cuts, and speed-up — but have begun chiseling away at the very right to work according to a collectively bargained contract. If a school is transformed to a charter school, for instance, the teachers at that site have to reapply for their jobs individually, and waive their contract rights. That’s union busting, plain and very simple.

How did we get to this point?

Oakland Unified “lost” a hell of a lot of money a few years ago. It appears that previous district administrators were cooking the books— not necessarily to line their own pockets — but to fund hard won salary increases for unionized Oakland teachers. Oakland teachers got a pay hike — up to 17% over three years. The district, has been looking for ways to knock it back ever since.

Estimates of the missing money varied. $60 million? $40 million? $80 million? A fucking LOT, that’s all. The school board decided to ask for a state bail-out loan. It came with strings attached — a district takeover and an imposed State Administrator, Randolph Ward, who’d cut his teeth down south, imposing austerity and misery on Compton.

Ward has total control over the district, except perhaps for Jack O’Connell, the State Superintendent of Education. But within Oakland, he reigns supreme. At his whim, policies are in, or out. Schools are opened, or closed. Administrators are fired or transferred. And the general PHILOSOPHY of what public education should be changes.

A year ago, the Oakland Education Association, the teachers’ union, got copies of some documents from the weekly Principals’ Meeting — one was a primer on “Results Based Budgeting”, and the other was produced by the district’s legal department for the benefit of principals — sort of a toolkit to use to carry out the demands of the first document.

Results Based Budgeting, or RBB, is a metaphor. It is the supreme metaphor of our nation in these times, which is to say, the metaphor of the market. Schools, in this metaphor, are businesses. Instead of students, they have clients. Instead of education, they have product. Instead of learning, or skills, they have a “profit”, translated as standardized test scores (and attendance rates) that consistently RISE. Just like capitalism, schools that don’t make a profit with the inputs they’re given (with ADA money, with central funding), that is, schools whose test scores don’t rise and whose attendance doesn’t get up to 96% or above and stay there, should be closed. They have failed to compete.

To “allow” schools to participate in this grand new narrative metaphor, funding changes needed to be made. In the name of site-based power, funding should not happen from Downtown, but from the school itself. All funding. Including salaries. Instead of some faceless bureaucrat downtown cutting your funds for enrichment activities and field trips and library budgets, you can cut these funds yourSELF! And instead of some faceless bureaucrat downtown deciding between custodial services and campus supervisors, YOU (well, your principal) can decide.

But most importantly, instead of every teacher at every school representing a 6.0 hour full time employment “position”, whose salary is provided, calculated, and paid from downtown — now each teacher is paid out of the school’s own separate budget, which is calculated based on federal Title I funds, on property tax allocations (which are uniform) and on ADA funds (which are not). Teachers’ salaries are not identical, though. They range from cheap first year newbies through expensive veterans. If you’re the principal who has the power (and the only final power) to set the school site budget, what decisions about staffing do you want to make? Two teachers for $38 K each, or one for $55 K? Supposedly the contract prevents this kind of ruthless layoff for financial savings, because tenured teachers have safeguards to their jobs.

Ah… but that was the point of the SECOND document circulated at that principals’ meeting, which was a three page bulletin (with tasteful clip art illustrations) prepared by the OUSD legal department on How to Fire a Tenured Teacher. Three sheets, front and back, filled with tips on what you can fire them for, how to document it, what the timelines are, and what exact vague language in the contract works best (how about “failure to maintain an appropriate learning environment”?).

The race was on. How much could the district undermine teachers’ contractual rights so that this beautiful new machine of efficiency and cost-effectiveness would ease seamlessly into operation?

The answer has been revealed over the course of this past year’s negotiations for the new union contract. Ward, seizing the initiatives offered by the No Child Left Behind school choice options, has increased the tempo and is implementing the “penalty stages” in underperforming schools (remember, underperforming in the numbers game, not u
nderperforming educationally, or socially, as part of the community these schools serve) before it’s legally required. He has proposed closing thirteen Oakland schools and transforming them into a sort of internal/external hybrid charter school, and although the district swore up and down that teachers in these schools would retain their union rights, the truth has now come out.

Teachers who want to stay at the schools they’ve been at, often for years, must reapply for their jobs, have no guarantee that they will get their job back, and must sign individual contracts. There is no union, if those are the conditions. Even the few schools which fought back and organized their own “small autonomous school plans” are being scrutinized and forced to participate in the involuntary transfer of key teachers. Ward is playing psychological warfare games with demoralized and angry teachers just when the contract negotiations have reached the point where what is likely to be a horribly concessionary contract offer will be made — with concessions designed to facilitate the destruction of the union and the further gutting of public education.

So what is there in Oakland schools? There are no electives for middle school students. There is a threat to the once-weekly electives for elementary students. There is a campaign to demoralize and force the departure of experienced, veteran teachers. There are cuts in funding to EXACTLY the stressed schools which most need more resources, rather than less, based on their failure to reach unrealistic Average Daily Attendance numbers — schools who didn’t reach the 96% target last year had this year’s budget cut by the percentage less than 100 that they reached, often up to 12% or more. There are “school choice” transfer policies that say that students have the right to change from their neighborhood school — if it’s “failing” — to a better school, which in Oakland often means a school in the middle-class hills areas, but there are nowhere NEAR enough spaces in those schools for the students who COULD qualify by virtue of being at a “failing” school. And there is a campaign to bust the union of some of the people who care the very most about the meaning of public education and the right of every child to an honest, liberatory, rich learning experience.

What’s happening in Oakland is being replicated across the nation. If we don’t want a school system which is segregated into public day care with some rudimentary instruction for the poor and private schools for the middle and upper classes, we need to begin fighting NOW. The Oakland teachers’ union has been organizing demonstrations in downtown Oakland and at the School District Administration Offices — go to them. Call the union — (510) 763-4020 — for information about a local coalition to fight Ward.

Climate Change: We Must Intervene!

Fighting for sustainability and the redistribution of power

“Stop Further Climate Change and End Emissions Now!” Can we take climate change activism beyond utopian demands like these, into the realm of meaningful strategy? With direct action we can insert a radical angle into the global debate on how to deal with climate change. We can point out the false nature of different technological “fixes” for climate change. And we can run our own public media campaign to counteract the corporate media vacuum.

When mainstream scientists and policymakers try to synthesize the research into policy, they continue to favor the corporate status quo, asking: How little can industrialized society be changed while still avoiding “dangerous” climate change? What are “unacceptable mitigation costs?” What reduction in emissions can “realistically” be achieved? Considerations of ‘realistic’ change avoiding ‘dangerous’ consequences inherently involve value judgments about what life it’s okay to endanger.

As radicals, we can start our debate from the opposite point: What would have to happen to curtail emissions completely? Is it realistic to think of ending greenhouse gas emissions overnight? Not really, because people almost everywhere depend on the fossil fuel-fed global transportation system for food—from US suburbanites to Pacific Islanders relying on imported rice. But it is very feasible to make sustainability a key factor in all decisions, and inherent in sustainability is redistribution of power.

July 7 is the International day of action around Climate Change, as UK prime minister Tony Blair takes over the presidency of the G8— the group of eight wealthy countries that effectively controls the world’s economy— and says he’ll focus his presidency on Climate Change and Poverty. Ha!

Add to this the recent ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on February 16, 2005, which essentially corrupted sustainable development practices and the baby steps towards emissions reductions, thus furthering colonialism and fossil fuel extraction.

And you have so many hooks for fabulous climate change actions!

British direct action group Rising Tide is currently gearing up to tear massive holes in the corporate media scam otherwise known as the G8 summit; there’s lots of solidarity work we can do in the US. Tony Blair and the G8 will undoubtedly use the upcoming summit to take the moral high ground in a big beautiful media stunt—while continuing to grossly exacerbate climate change around the world.

Why put energy into actions targeting a fancy schmooze-fest where little ‘real’ work gets done, especially when it’s across the ocean? Most of the G8’s negotiations take place not at the high-profile summits, but at ministerial meetings scattered throughout the year. Similarly, the work we do to combat climate change in our everyday lives is invaluable—like educating people about their own contributions to immanent climate change (transportation accounts for 60% of California greenhouse gas emissions), working to shut down local corporate polluters like the East Bay’s ChevronTexaco, and having funny actions against public transit fare hikes. But it is crucial to meet the media stunts in Scotland July 7 with our own high-profile actions— because the climate change battle is largely being fought— and currently lost!— in the media.

The scientific understanding of climate change is improving daily, and only points to a more devastating future. But the corporate-government elite continues to excuse themselves from action by saying there’s no hard evidence— while actively funding ‘skeptical’ scientists and thinktanks that publish editorials denying climate change science. Here in the Bay Area, we have access to Oakland’s Independent Institute, a conservative thinktank which publishes the work of Dr. Fred Singer, a retired University of Virginia professor who has admitted receiving funding from Exxon, Shell, Unocal and Arco. He works closely with the American Petroleum Institute, which includes all major oil companies. Stanford’s Global Climate and Energy Project has also received funding from ExxonMobil.

Hard evidence? There was never any hard evidence of the need for the US to invade Iraq— but war and occupation is always more convenient than lowering consumption and switching to renewable energy sources. Killing civilians for oil and creating new ‘democratic’ market economies abroad is much more conducive to creating wealth than is curbing economic growth in the name of real sustainability. “The global war on terror had no cost-benefit analysis, no uncertainty analysis, no inquiry into the efficacy of the methods to pursue the ends. Uncertainty is a non-argument,” pointed out a scientist speaking to British activists preparing for the G8. “The science is clear in big picture terms. What to do in political terms is the great unknown, whether it’s from government-business, NGO, or grassroots activist perspectives.”

Policymakers are concerned with achieving certain limits on CO2 emissions within a certain time period, but it’s hard, from a radical perspective, to come up with a precise demand for emission cuts. Rising Tide advocates 90% cuts in industrial world greenhouse gas emissions—and in a nifty decentralized action suggested people reduce their public transit fares by 90% to highlight the connections between affordable public transit and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But this demand is based on 1990 recommendations of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

What should our demand be now that its 2005? Rising Tide came up with the 90% figure based on the ability of the earth to absorb X tons of carbon a year— an ability that is rapidly lessening as climate change and deforestation take their toll. As climate change continues, scientists predict that the world’s oceans— one of the main carbon sinks— will acidify, making them chemically unable to absorb CO2. Now that emissions are higher and the earth is able to absorb less carbon, what would the figure be— 98%? 99.9%? Scientists are standing by with models correlating the probablility of a certain rise in global temperature with specific ecosystem effects— but they say that their job is to respond to limits set by officials, not to suggest the limits themselves. Science, of course, is politically neutral!

What’s realistic, not from a status quo perspective, but from a historical perspective valuing all life? Do we demand that countries responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions— like the US— reduce our emissions more than currently developing countries? Rapidly developing countries like China and India are approaching the US in terms of emissions; this industrial growth leaves plenty of people at the bottom, like in the US. Equity and sustainability are key. In many parts of the industrialized world, we must learn to live with less, whereas poor people in many developing countries would clearly benefit from living with more than a bit more— which capitalism is not going to provide.

Scientists and policymakers like to think of addressing climate change with a “portfolio” of technological fixes, many of which are not at all sustainable. For example, nuclear power is frequently mentioned as an attractive power alternative for both the industrialized and the developing world! Nuclear reactors themselves don’t emit CO2—but many parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, like uranium mining, processing, enrichment, dealing with the waste, and transportation, are highly carbon-intensive. Not to mention that other pesky potential ecological disaster: radioactive waste!

Many of these technological fixes are institutionalized in the Kyoto Protocol, ratified by 141 countries around the world, not including the US. For example, the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) allows industrial countrie
s and corporations to generate carbon credits by investing in carbon sink projects in developing countries. CDM projects, like large-scale monoculture tree plantations, large dams, and nuclear power plants, are in effect another form of colonialism under the mask of sustainable development as they take up land being used locally and transfer the benefits to rich industrial countries.

As scientists play with models predicting the consequences of different emissions targets, as policymakers pretend that there is no evidence demanding immediate action, and as the general public bumbles along watching mainstream news covering terrorist threats and interrupted by SUV commercials—we must intervene! With our climate change activism we must do the work here in the US that the media is not doing: inform the public that climate change is a real threat requiring immediate action, highlighting the voices of people already affected by extreme weather and climate chaos—and largely, by centuries of colonialism. We must make it extremely inconvenient for US policymakers and corporations to deny and ignore the growing scientific understanding of climate change.

Direct action against climate change must happen in the streets at rush hour; in public transit offices as they raise fares and cut services to poor areas; at conservative thinktanks when they editorialize that climate change is anti-american; at the homes of oil and coal company CEO’s as they authorize more fossil fuel extraction. We must challenge the notion of the “summer driving season,” and disrupt the feel-good art exhibits and symphonies sponsored by oil companies.

“The end of our current social system… is on the cards,” note activists preparing for July 7. “It can either be a voluntary transformation, or we can burn all the oil and have such a transformation imposed by nature. It’s a stark, yet simple choice.”


The hidden epidemic and me… and you too!

Years ago, a friend of mine came back from a regular visit to the ol’ gyno saying she had been told she had cervical cancer. She was freaking the fuck out. Who wouldn’t? After a follow-up however, she came back much less flustered, “They told me I have cancer and then I find out it’s just some virus that 50 percent of people have that doesn’t do anything.” This virus, that according to some studies, more like 75 percent of sexually active people will carry at some point in their lives, was HPV: the Human Papilloma Virus. At the time, we knew little about it and it seemed that even the gynecologists didn’t know all that much more. Because, while my pal was a long way from cervical cancer, HPV was not something to write off.

Awareness about HPV has increased tremendously recently because of its link to cervical cancer and the sadly overwhelming incidence of women suddenly and unexpectedly being informed of “abnormal pap smears” and having words like ‘moderate to severe dysplasia’, ‘pre-cancerous cells’, ‘colposcopy’, ‘loop electrosurgical excision procedure (LEEP)’, ‘cervical cancer’, ‘biopsy’, etc. become a part of their standard vocabulary.

The Human Papilloma Virus is a group of more than 100 viruses, most of which are linked to the common wart. “Papilloma” refers to the small raised lesions many of the strains produce. Out of these 100, thirty of these strains affect the genital area and can be spread through sexual contact. Within this group of thirty, there is a differentiation between “low-risk” forms of HPV and “high-risk.” Low-risk refers to the group of HPV responsible for genital warts. Low-risk HPV, while replete with its own set of novelties, has a minimal (but still there) chance of turning into- da..da..dummmm- cervical cancer. High-risk HPV on the other hand, has, unfortunately, been found to be the leading cause of cervical cancer (if not the only?).

The fact that some strains of HPV cause cancer, while others “only” cause genital warts, combined with the rampant increase in transmission over the last few years, makes it a subject worth knowing about. And hey, cunts being the lovely permeable sex organs they are, are hella times more likely to contract HPV, not to mention every other STD known to our genitalia at large. So those among us sportin’ cunts should read up. I wish I had back when my grrrl friend mentioned the virus we knew nothing about. That said…

Onto my second run in with HPV. A new lover and I had sex with a condom, tralala. Things got more serious, I found out he could not hold an erection while wearing a condom (makes the idea of safe sex a misnomer at best) and we moved into the realm of unprotected sex. I noticed a small bump on the shaft of his penis close to the body, but as it looked like a blip in the melatonin spectrum of his special skin, and assuming he was as in touch with his body and STDs as I was with mine, I wasn’t immediately concerned. I did nevertheless, inquire pretty quickly about it. He said it had been there for about a year and had not changed over that time. My instincts told me it might be a wart but, having never actually seen one (of the genital persuasion), I largely ignored it. Until a year later, after being monogamous with this person, I suddenly was blessed with the revelation that yes, indeed, that was a wart. And now I was the proud owner of HPV as well.

I was initially angry- at myself for being so careless, not following my instincts; at my lover for not paying more attention to his body, at the world for deeming me the lucky one. HPV haunted me, taunted me, made me feel worthless and undesirable, made me resentful, as STDs tend to do. This was before I realized that, while unsightly, genital warts are relatively harmless, and that their appearance, while not fun in any sense of the word, was an indication that I had contracted one of the low-risk strains of HPV, which rarely develop into cervical cancer.

So I went about losing them and that’s when the fun really began. Oh, just trichloracetic ACID applied to the most sensitive, vulnerable part of my body. Burning stinging searing acid to burn off bits of what is essentially a direct canal to the inside of my body. Or the uncomfortable sensation of “cryotherapy”, or freezing them off with liquid nitrogen. Oh, and then there was the do-it-at-home treatment ALDARA (.05 percent imiquimod topical cream) that actually says, “make sure to wash off with soap and water 6 hours after application to avoid a severe skin reaction.” SEVERE skin reaction!? What the hell does that mean? Well, it means yer cooch starts to burn like hell and the skin starts to slough off in painful bleeding cycles. Hey ya’ll, sorry about the mental images I’m conjuring but it is important to get the full story. So then, after the burning settles in, about 2 weeks after the commencing of the cream applications, the yeast infections begin. Your cono is like, “I don’t know what the hell this burning shit is you’re rubbing all over me, but its fucking up my Ph and you will pay!” Needless to say, it was all very traumatic.

So then, after all the burning, freezing, open wounds, and yeast infections, not to mention the abstinence and mental trauma of the “contraction of an STD”, the warts disappear and I have a moment of peace. Only to find out, no, they’ve just migrated— “To your cervix. We’re going to have to take a sample.” Biopsy and Colposcopy. Which means they crank you open with the speculum, use a special magnifying glass called a COLPOSCOPE to peer inside your vagina, take a little pair of scissors and some local anesthetic and basically lop off enough chunks of your cervix to give them a definitive idea of what is going on. And I could actually hear the snip snip of my cervix being biopsied and colposcopized or what have you. But then I find out that I have only mild dysplasia and run a low risk of developing cervical cancer. Whew! But wait, what is “dysplasia”? Basically, dysplasia is an area of abnormal cell growth on the epithelium (the layers of cells covering the external surface of the cervix), also known as intraepithelial neoplasia. After collecting a sample of cervical cells through a pap, there is a system for categorizing different levels of dysplasia. Mild dysplasia is categorized under LSIL, which stands for “low-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions” (squamous being the cells on the topmost layer of your cervix). Moderate, Severe and carcinoma in situ (pre-cancerous cells, the last step before cancer) are combined under HSIL, “high-grade squamous intraepithelial lesions.” So, my dysplasia was categorized as low-grade which rarely turns into cancer. But, fact of the matter is, however low, there is still some risk of pre-cancerous cells developing . . . .

I do, nonetheless, count myself as a lucky one . . . because now, after a series of paps every four months to make sure the abnormal cells on my cervix (most of which are gone now due to the biopsy’s snazzy snipping) have not mutated into a pre-cancerous scare, I can return to a somewhat normal relationship with my cunt. And, LUCKILY, with warts, after some time, especially if you treat them, your body recognizes them as a foreign entity and will eventually build up antibodies to kick them out of your system. This often results in halting a recurrence of the warts. Some studies even show that people with well-functioning immune systems can completely rid their bodies of the virus.

It has been a year and a half and my body seems to have mostly rid itself of HPV. The trauma of my reproductive organs as open wound lingers, however. Something so closely tied to my desire and sexuality(as well as a slew of other things), mental and physical, turning into a medical dilemma that not only threatens my body’s ecosystem but left me self-conscious, undesirable, a
nd angry over the fact that every time I have been in a medical situation in the last 5 years has been for something related to my reproductive organs, leaves a bit of a scar. And I do consider myself one of the luckier ones- I have not had to deal with the possibility of cancer, surgery on my cervix, hysterectomy, or any other invasive reproductive horror.

Meanwhile, I find out in the last month that one of my housemates has high-risk HPV that has developed into pre-cancerous cells on her cervix. Shortly after, I find out one of my dear friends from home is due, in a few weeks, for a LEEP (Loop Electrocautery Excision Procedure) which involves a wire loop emitting electric current inserted into your cervix to scrape off the infected layers while simultaneously cauterizing the wound…LOVELY. And within two days of finding that out, I get a phone call from my sister in New Mexico telling me her best friend just got diagnosed with HPV and is freaking out. WHAT is going on?!? All of these women I know simultaneously grappling with this scary, if treatable, disease?

The problem here is that many women do not even know what HPV is. More are becoming familiar with it, either through the unfortunate event of contracting it, or because of its role as the ‘leading’ (umm . . . only?) cause of cervical cancer. Meanwhile, education about it does not seem to be happening fast enough to counteract its proliferation. For a long time, it has not been considered an STD, which stunts the spread of information as far as I am concerned. Doctors have told me it is atypical of other STDs so it has not been categorized as such. But it IS spread primarily through sexual contact and one has to wonder if the fact that men are not as affected by it has anything to do with its under-the-radar location. If HPV were categorized as a STD and addressed in sex education (as long as the extremely dangerous Abstinence-oriented sex education does not completely prevail) to both males and females, sexually active people could take steps to lower their risk of contracting it.

So many people are still completely in the dark about HPV even though there’s a damn good chance you’re carrying one strain or another as I write this. It is estimated that up to 15 percent of women aged 20-30 have HPV and that up to 75 percent of sexually active women and men will acquire HPV at some point in their lives. The Center for Disease Control estimates that by age 50, at least 80 percent of women will have acquired HPV. 5.5 million new cases of sexually transmitted HPV are reported every year. AAH!

A big problem is that, even though men are as much carriers of the virus as women, unless a man has low-risk HPV and develops warts, it is largely undetectable. And even with low-risk, depending on one’s immune system, it make take a while (3 months to a year, to many years) to show up, or may never even show up at all. And with high-risk HPV, there are no real detectable symptoms in men and so it is often passed to women by partners who have no idea they are carrying the virus. Men and women both need to be educated about HPV, WHAT it is, the different types, WHAT it does, and how to protect yourself . . . .


>REGULAR PAPS!! This is true for all ages of women. While HPV is especially prevalent in those aged 20-30, women over 60 count for 1 in 4 cases of HPV. Catching even the high-risk types of HPV early can mean little to no trauma over what could, if left unchecked, lead to cancer and/or the inability to have children.

> STOP SMOKING! We all know it kills ya anyway but cigarettes are especially detrimental to women’s bodies. Carcinogens in tobacco smoke accelerate the growth of abnormal HPV infected cells.

> GOOD NUTRITION. Lots of anti-oxidents and foods full of beta carotene: fruits, fruit juices, green leafy vegetables, and orange and red veggies.

> HEALTHY IMMUNE SYSTEM. Keep your immune system up by maintaining a generally healthy lifestyle. I know this sounds like old hat and no fun but simple things like sleeping enough, making sure to move your body (exercise, walking, biking, dancing, yoga), saunas/sweats to purge toxins, staying away from craploads of the white death (you know I mean sugar-and take it from me, baker extraordinaire, I know how evil and yes, addictive, the stuff is) and immune system suppressants (drugs . . . alcohol . . . All the good stuff). . HPV will often wait until your immune system is compromised to show itself. Mine didn’t appear for a year after consistently sleeping with someone carrying the virus.

THE GOOD NEWS?? A vaccine seems to be on the way. Research is being done on a vaccine that targets HPV types 16 and 18, the two most associated with cervical cancer. There is also a new test for women that uses DNA samples within the cervix to test for HPV infection. An all-around vaccine would be tricky as there are so many strains and so many people already infected, but curbing the spread of HPV and the contraction of some of the strains even if you are already infected seems damn SuWeeeet to me.


The state of California actually has a snazzy thing called “Family Pact” for low-income ovary bearers to get free reproductive healthcare through the state. Many clinics can give you information on it and help you gain access to this fabulous resource.

On top of that, here’s some clinics that do sliding scale or FREE gyno exams…

Women’s Choice Clinic does sliding scale paps and will also help you apply for Family Pact if you qulaify. Ph: (510) 836-5676, 510 14th St. Suite 3, Oakland.

Planned Parenthood does sliding scale as well (but still not cheap enough for a lot of us) and accepts Family Pact. Ph:1-800-967-7526, 482 W. MacArthur and 210 Eastmont Town Center, Foothill and 73rd- both in Oakland.

Women’s Community Clinic in San Francisco does FREE paps, prego tests, STD testing y todo. They accept drop-ins but appts. are reccommended. Ph: (415) 339-8709, 2166 Hayes St., Suite 104.

Slingshot Box

Slingshot is an independent, volunteer-run, more-often-than-quarterly radical newspaper published in the East Bay since 1988.

The profusion of flowers, the days staying light until later, the warm temperatures — spring is so amazing. A time to reorganize, refocus and clean house. This is a good time to refine our experiments at combining personal lives filled with excitement, freedom and pleasure with the struggle for social progress. It can’t be a trade-off, where we have to choose between grim activism and private escapism. That is a false choice. In fact, living a full life amidst an impersonal system of death, toil and boredom is subversive. How can we share and spread our subversion this year?

Let us count the ways: * Our collective is looking forward to a retreat this month to talk about long-term vision. We’re excited to be publishing more often with more contributors — who knows what other improvements and projects we may conjure up?!?

* Some members of the collective are looking forward to the summer travel season — experiencing different ways of living and getting to see the efforts of other radicals around the world — plus adventure & romance!

* This issue features Xarick’s second installment in his series on global warming. We hope we’ll see more activism — and individual behavior change — in response to global warming. Global warming is the mother of all environmental threats — almost every industrial activity that supports the modern way of life contributes to global warming. Continuing with business as usual — living the way you grew up and the way your parents lived — is simply not a sustainable, long-term option. Addressing global warming means attacking the centralization of power in the hands of the techno/industrial elite. How will we live better, more simply and less materialistically in the future?

* Finally, along with new struggle, new adventures and new plans, some of us in the collective have been experiencing up close the amazing part that death plays in the cycle of life and change. It hurts and is disorienting to lose people we love, but like spring, death can offer us an opportunity to look back on where we’ve been and think ahead to what we might be able to do with the time we have left. Death teaches that our lives are short, and that we have to make each moment count. And it underlines the things that are really important — the way we love each other, our capacity for pleasure and creativity, and how amazing it is to just wake up in the morning.

Slingshot is always on the lookout for writers, artists, editors, photographers, translators, distributors and independent thinkers to help us make this paper. If you send something written, please be open to editorial changes. Note: because of the large volume of submissions we receive, we may not contact you back if we don’t use your submission.

Editorial decisions are made by the Slingshot collective, but not all the articles reflect the opinions of all collective members. We welcome debate, constructive criticism and discussion.

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting May 8 at 1 p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below).

Article Deadline and Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 87 by May 28, 2005 at 3 p.m. We expect the next issue out in mid-June.


McJesus: Corporate Christianity

Dear Slingshot:

Regarding “The Guts of American Christianity” (Issue #85): Good article. I think it’s timely and important that we, as a movement, begin to take stock of what institutional religion is up to, and how these communities either impede or could support revolutionary ends.

Something surreptitiously left out of the article, however, is the extreme collusion between contemporary churches and capital.

San Antonio, home of five military installations, and numerous corporate churches is a perfect example. Last weekend, I went to a “church” called “Tree of Life” outside of New Braunfels Texas. This is no small “community” based church, but rather a huge corporate compound that resembles more a mall or shopping center than a traditional church. Our idea was to leaflet the parking lots with anti-war propaganda that had an ethico-moral reprobation of the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan. (The parking lot alone is on acres and acres of concrete, replete with red jacketed security, orange-coated attendants and toll booths.)

However, what really blew our minds was walking into the church and seeing a fucking $tarbucks and Kri$py Kreme Donut franchise inside the church! We were somewhat mentally prepared for spectacle, but it was still nothing short of shocking to witness such a blatant display of pro-capital collusion inside the “temple.” (If it could be properly so called. One immediately thinks of the story of Jesus and the “money-changers” and wonders what it would be like for Jesus to come along and smash the fucking corporate enterprises inside the temple!) Anyway, I lack the prose to sufficiently describe this post-modern church/mall thing, and our reactions to it. Really. I did notice that their literature, located in their book kiosk across from the $tarbucks, was mainly corporate propaganda. Titles like “How to Close the Deal of Your Life,” and “The Seven Steps to Successful Partnership,” etc. Business seminar authors like Zig Ziglar and such seemed to “out-trump” (to borrow from their heavily capitalist metaphor lexicon) any religious topics in the traditional sense of the word. And where the “services” were being held resembled more of a Cinemark movie theater than a church: reclining movie theater seats, (although I didn’t notice any cupholders on the armrests!), two giant twelve foot plasma screen TV’s, corporate rock playing on the loudspeakers, and multi-colored arena rock lighting to boot. This was more like a business seminar than a church in my estimation. However, experiences like this do raise some serious questions about the nature of religion within capitalist societies and the ability of capital to subsume any and everything within it’s reach. Also, the nature of language within these socio-religious architectures and how meaning is imbibed through a collusion of two distinct paradigms: One, the metaphorical language of religion, and two, the metaphorical language of the corporation. Perhaps they are not distinct at all. Check out: www.treeoflifechurch.org.

I would recommend visiting the “new campus tour” and watching the video. It was apparently made before the monstrosity was finished being erected, but it will give you a good idea of the nature of these corporate churches.

Another thing we realized after drifting through this place was the difficulty we face in critiquing the social structure among adherents to corporatized religion because it is so deeply tied to their ideology. For instance, because a $tarbucks is where they go to worship, it is associated with their religion and takes on some of the more metaphysical characteristics of their faith. So it tends to be viewed as integral to their faith; an attack upon it, or the system of low wages and social sterility it represents then becomes an attack on their belief system. (??)

At any rate, this collusion between the corporate structure and the structure of contemporary churches should be given over to some serious analysis…..

—[Name withheld]

Palestine: 2 States is too many

Dear Slingshot:

Before the Palestinian election, leftist papers were replete with editorials on how leftists / socialists / anti-authoritarians / etc should support Marawan Barghouti for the leadership of the PLO. Around this time, Slingshot carried an article by Zeev Bin Natan [“PLO to Arafat’s Popular Successor: Stand Aside for the Puppet” (Issue #84)] that stated “At the present critical juncture, anti-authoritarians should be part of a broad international movement to ensure the emergence of a new Palestinian leadership with strong ties to the Palestinian masses”. This sentiment is not unique to Mr. Natan but instead seems to hold weight within the American radical left, and is what I hope to address here.

The notion that it is not our place as Americans to critique other cultures’ liberation movements, and instead support them in their quest for “autonomy,” even under a nationalist banner, holds no place in anarchist theory. Rather, to support Marawan Barghouti, one would have to ignore two fundamental tenets of anarchist theory. The first is the issue of representation.

Just as not all Americans have the same interests, and thus cannot be accurately represented by any one person, neither can all Palestinians. Throughout the election season in our country, groups such as the Bl(A)ck Tea Society and Anarchist Resistance highlighted that no political leader can accurately represent our will. In fact, no one can accurately represent us but ourselves. This holds not just for Americans, but also Palestinians; Natan’s assumption that Barghouti can somehow represent “the Palestinian masses” is racist at best. To quote Sam Mbah of the Nigerian Awareness League, “Freedom does not mean equal access to coercive power [through free elections], but rather that it means freedom from coercive power.” A nationalist bourgeois Palestinian government will still rely on the same authoritarian apparatus as the Israeli occupation government.

Secondly, nationalist struggles built around racial and ethnic lines ignore a deeper current that more accurately highlights the real conflict: class. Barghouti, along with the rest of the PLO’s leadership, represent the wealthiest of the wealthy in Palestine. His interests are diametrically opposed to that of the Palestinian people. As has been shown in every example of modern de-colonization, once the western occupying power was removed, the bourgeois “leaders” of the popular liberation struggle quickly filled their role.

The best example of this process, an example that resonates deeply in Palestine, is South Africa. One of the strongest opponents of the European exploitation in South Africa (both of poor blacks and poor Afrikaners) was COSATU, a syndicalist-oriented trade organization. As the union grew in strength though, its leadership was taken over by members of the bourgeois democratic African National Congress. Although successful in overthrowing apartheid, their struggle did not fundamentally change South African society, as the members of the ANC, who had promoted solely racial struggle, occupied the positions of power left vacant by the Afrikaners. Soon after winning the first “free” South African election, Nelson Mandela proceeded to enter into agreements with the World Bank, returning South Africa to the control of European and American capital and leaving “his people” in the same poverty they had known for hundreds of years.

The same will happen in Palestine, even under a single unified government. Men like Marawan Barghouti ultimately will follow not the interests of their people, but of their class. Real freedom in Palestine will not come from nationalist struggles, but rather from revolutionary class struggle, which will unite all those exploited, regardless of ethnicity, and break the chains of the capitalist state. To quote the Israeli National Traitors An
archist group, “Two states for two nations is two states too many”.

—Pete X

Military Recruiting – Putting a Wrench in the Gears

Military recruiters have felt the pressure from citizen attacks in the past year, and they are responding with fear. The resistance is coming from all segments of society and from all over the political spectrum. On inauguration day students in Seattle surrounded and forced recruiters off their campus, and similar events have occurred all over the map, resulting in increased security by recruiters. Traveling in pairs, caller ID and dark blinds at offices are among the measures implemented this winter. (1) However, it’s not only roving mobs and molotovs that threaten recruiters; high schools and colleges are finding ways to expel recruiters, military families are speaking out, and enlistment is down. The pressure is making folks at ArmyTimes rethink their recruiting strategies, but oddly, they don’t seem to be rethinking the war.

Although the military spends $3 billion a year to recruit young people, it’s becoming less effective (2). While the draw of college money has long hooked people from both poor urban and rural areas, the truth of its elusiveness is setting in. African Americans are enlisting at half the pre-war rate (14% instead of 23%) and women of all ethnicities are scorning the service. (3) The Pentagon refuses to publish numbers about AWOL soldiers, but the fact that Canada considered granting refugee status to some former soldiers indicates a significant presence. Military families are speaking out about the atrocities and trauma of soldiers, about the lack of training and gear, and about health problems that will result from exposure to radioactive munitions. It’s getting harder to sell death to kids these days, but Uncle Sam is still trying.

Speaking out against the war machines is not enough. Schools won’t be safe until recruiters are afraid to enter campuses (middle school to college) and until parents & communities destroy draft records and recruiting stations. Kids need access to information about the atrocities committed by our military to open up markets and destroy independent societies, so that they support Veterans for Peace instead of ending up amputee veterans. The army has described the future of its marketing & it’s petrifying. Knowing that “Army of One” is a load of shit, they’ll try to convince mothers of 17 to 24 year-olds why their kids should enlist and ask Iraq vets to sugarcoat the occupation in TV ads (3). But will they tell stories about how ignorant soldiers shoot carfuls of people because the American hand gesture for “stop” means “hello” in Iraq?

Besides targeting recruiters and stations, finding sites where the ASVAB (test for Army career “options:) is given could be fertile ground. My high school just reversed its policy of testing all juniors & 5/6 opted not to test. (4) How different would some people’s lives be if they could learn a trade at community college instead of enlisting? Besides, most people don’t get the job of their choice after enlisting and half never get any of the college money promised by recruiters.

The Armed and Coercive Forces have gotten into schools other ways as well. Besides ROTC and JROTC, the No Child Left Behind Act mandates that the personal information of every student be available to recruiters or the schools lose federal money. (5) While some districts have sent home letters so parents can refuse to release the info, most districts haven’t notified parents of the privacy invasion. It’s bad enough that the CIA tracks our library habits—but the Marines dialing up kids on their cell phones?

On the good news front, Yale and Harvard Law Schools challenged the Solomon Act last year, which formerly required that recruiters have equal access to students as other potential “employers.” However, based on the fact of gay discrimination in the military, the law was declared unconstitutional. Universities, which receive federal funding, may not discriminate and therefore can exclude any agency that does. (6) It puts joy in your step to know that bigots dig their own holes, huh?


In Slingshot issue 85, “Strike the War’s Achilles’ Heel,” PB Floyd offered some great ideas on how to organize a campaign against military recruiters. There were even lists of recruiting stations in the article and some have been targeted since then! While signs and crowds are good, creativity is great.

Students are the most publicized protesters of recruiters and military action, and dozens of colleges have seen recent disturbances. Besides Seattle, students in San Francisco; Madison; New York; Binghamton, NY; Bloomington, MN; Chicago; and Berkeley have all hassled recruiters off the stage. The irony is, college students are more likely to have the resources to avoid enlisting. We need to protest at the hopeless job fairs where half of all employers are military and follow around recruiters who go out and casually ensnare kids who are just hanging out. What if every pair of recruiters had shadows? What if you got information to people who were cashing their GA checks or outside the welfare office? Chances are, the folks at Eastmont Mall in Oakland need support more than the kids at Berkeley High. Flyer outside churches, where duty and fear can be molded into patriotism. Because recruiters are everywhere, we can be everywhere too. Even if the recruiters believe the lies they sell, we don’t have to.

The Army is at least 6% behind in meeting its recruiting goals for 2005. (3) Let’s all help make it a record year. 20%? 50%? Just how much can you reasonably disrupt your local station? And after you immobilize recruiters, might as well turn boot camp into a temporary autonomous zone. There’s just so much to be excited about. What are you waiting for?

(1) NY Times, February 21, 2005

(2) www.truthout.org

(3) ArmyTimes.com

(4) Manchester Union Leader

(5) www.ufpj.org

(6) from Knight Ridder

Lost in the Secular World

Why Americans love faith institutions

However much it may disgruntle the devoutly secular, all culture is steeped in institutional faith. Easy to forget sometimes, especially in the Bay Area and on the west coast in general, but most of the country and world is deeply influenced by religion. To work intelligently we have to acknowledge that reality and let it influence our own actions. Once we get to know faith institutions better, it’s possible to explore another question: what strategies are desirable for secular, politically left radicals, knowing what institutional faith offers people?

People join faith communities for many reasons. The first European settlements in the U.S. were so religiously homogenous that it was dangerous to not participate. Non-churchgoers were seen as witches and devil-possessed, and were castigated from the struggling towns to survive on their own. Religion in relation to society doesn’t overtly carry the same weight today. Instead, people seek out faith communities seemingly of their free will. The social and geographic context encourages us, however, to pledge allegiance to one or another religious organization. There has always been a strong rhetoric advocating secularism in the U.S. Separation of Church and State is written into the Constitution but all the presidents and powerful positions were filled by Protestant men for over half this country’s history; a majority of them still are. Church and State remain essentially joined, as the top political individuals belong to only a few, very similar, institutions of faith.

Breaking out of religion became more possible when geographic communities became culturally more diverse. People from all over the world, with their own religious practices, found themselves living up next to each other in the explosion of urban industrial America in the 19th century. In an unofficially Protestant nation, there were two potential results. Either there would be explicit repression and the rise of a religious state, or government would have to extract itself from the influence of religion. It did some of both.

Living as we do several generations after religious tensions tested this country so overtly (remember that the very first confrontation was with the American indigenous, and that was resolved through genocide), new forces have driven people back to religion, and in particular, religiously informed politics. In North America we have the unique distinction of living in places that were built to break up walkable communities. Much of present urban America was shaped in the 1960s or after, when living, working, and playing in one place became passé. In rural areas, cities, and neighborhoods that orbit around cars, a vacuum of isolation now bars us from strong community connections. Those connections would provide a sense of self, social identity, and political purpose. In the absence of cultural (i.e. immigrant and ethnic) or geographic (i.e. neighborhood) community, most people go searching for a placebo. They frequently land on churches, mosques, synagogues and the like. This is not random.

Faith communities or more accurately, faith institutions, replicate hierarchy and patriarchy, maintaining the existing order of society. They offer guidance in overwhelming, chaotic surroundings, often in the form of authoritarian orders. Unlike in secular society, however, they are presented in a paternal manner that feels familial (based on the patriarchal model children learn at home). Folded into teachings of love, justice, and morality (concepts open to wide interpretation), the rituals and tenets of faith almost always replicate leadership from above and dominance by male figures. The paternal hierarchy of religious order answers a strong yearning for close knit community. Even though hierarchy, patriarchy, and capitalism threaten and destabilize us, many people associate them with the need for safety and comfort. This is pure reflex. We were all raised amidst these oppressive structures. We know what to expect and how to respond. On a certain level, we respond positively to these systems. Realizing this can inform the culture of radical propaganda and groups. We’re good at critiquing hierarchy, patriarchy, and capitalism. We might go further, and start to acknowledge and compensate for how appealing these institutions are, because they are etched deeply on our psyches. The simple fact of feeling familiar draws millions of people to prefer this social arrangement to anything different.

As radicals of social, anarchist, non-hierarchical, feminist inclinations, it’s vital to recognize this genuine human need for feeling comfortable, oriented, and safe. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, these impulses rank directly under physical demands of food, water, warmth, and rest. Political struggle is much less urgent to our survival instinct.

Many people would rather be told what to do because it’s familiar than endure the struggles of learning new, less oppressive, ways of existing. The lessons that faith institutions teach are very puzzling. They contradict themselves. Despite the teachings of all the holy books, which command (or suggest as morally imperative) sharing with others and living through acts of compassion and love toward humanity, the deeply ingrained dream of independence, bootstraps, and superhero I-did-it-all-by-myself success perseveres. While preaching compassion, community, and generosity, faith institutions frequently act out individuality, criticism, and disregard for the social welfare of humanity. Why don’t people want a community that allows them to decide what they believe, who they love, what they do with their bodies and whether or not their children die in crusades? Why do they prefer the insularity of a conformist “in” group to compassion for everyone? An inclusive perspective of who deserves survival and justice allows people the freedom to be different from one another. The “in” group (which radical communities also easily replicate) demands unnecessary and repressive conformity.

Why do people go for this? Often it’s a question of family. In the words of a radical who was raised in an Apostolic Christian church, “How could you quit it? It’s the only thing you have.” She recalls being told that people outside the church were “morally inept.” There was no way to know any different because everybody she knew was in the church. It was a community in isolation. She explains that “people dropped it, but [they] came back because they wanted their families,” who completely rejected individuals who left the church.

A radical leftist movement can’t replicate right wing institutions that harbor one’s entire childhood community and family. But maybe it can compete. Some radical communities are doing this quite well. People recreate family, build new structures of support, safety, and familiarity. They do it consciously, well aware that we need these elements in our lives, more than we need to develop sharp political analyses and win campaigns (though they don’t need to be mutually exclusive).

Another thing that faith communities offer people, which nothing else in U.S. culture does, is the permission to be ethical or moral in the world. Ethics is a formal, deductively logical system of deciding right and wrong; morality is a set of codes based on cultural agreement of a people, for determining the same. In a nation where intellectual discussion of politics is shunned and religion is dogmatically if artificially banned, there is little room for ethics or morality to play an overt role. (However, if you want to sway people to totalitarian or capitalist policy, you can use the façade of morality as propaganda.) This is an important lesson for lefty radicals. Humans want to incorporate their intuitive sense of right and wrong into their intellectual grasp of politics and social vision. Again, it’s up to us to string the words together that do this. We certainly have examples from our history. Emma Goldm
an swayed crowds with her passionate claims for anti-war and anarchist beliefs on the basis of ethics. In Living My Life, she recounts a hostile audience in England, which she turns to her favor. On the topic of war, she deplores: “Who is there who would supinely sit by when what is best and highest in a people is being throttled before his very eyes?” More recently, the decentralized model of acting and speaking not as a leader but as a participant of radical social movements has yielded many anonymous voices that dissolve hierarchy and patriarchy and result in a less oppressed society. Madjiguène Cissé of the Sans-Papiers (a grassroots organization of African immigrants living in France) writes in We Are Everywhere (Verso 2004), “If we had not taken our autonomy, we would not be here today…Many organizations [told] us we could never win…We had to learn democracy…women have played an extremely important role in this struggle.”

Faith communities also possess the strength of longevity. Show up at city hall with your synagogue and people won’t say, “Jews? Never heard of ‘em.” To hook up with a faith community is to tap into a several century, even multi-millennial, history that works as credibility—or to a lesser degree, notoriety—in the broader world. Faith communities have a reputation for being honest and moral, despite the historical record. In reality some people are and some people aren’t honest and moral, as everywhere in societies. But the perception makes it easier accomplish things, as faith institutions can solicit broad support based on general trust.

In other times and places in history, revolutionary, secular movements were able to gain broad popularity (early 20th century Spain, currently in Afghanistan). Those movements were popular as a result of the complete control and overt repression of the faith institutions (Catholicism and fundamental Islam, in those cases). We do not live in such a place and time. Religion has a heavy influence on society around the globe, but here in the U.S. we aren’t living under its total control. And if we don’t want to wait around for the “moral majority” to create such blatant disaster, we need to understand where our own radical communities fall short and that faith communities fill some of those gaps. The opposite is also true; faith communities often obstruct revolutionary change. But what they do provide is a little higher on the hierarchy of needs, so we need to cultivate those same phenomena with our social and political critiques.

1st Annual Slingshot Lifetime Acheivement Award

What a Long Strange Trip it’s Been

At Slingshot’s 17th birthday party, the Slingshot Collective awarded the first annual Wingnut prize for Lifetime Achievement to our comrade B Soffer. B’s auto-biography appears below. Slingshot created the Wingnut prize because direct action radicals generally lack awards and recognition, and that is sad. While sometimes awards are part of systems of hierarchy, a complete lack of recognition for long-term activists robs us of changes to appreciate and learn from the contributions individuals can make during a lifetime of struggle, disruption and wackiness.

By Wingnut, we mean an individual who walks the thin line between insanity and a refusal to abide by silly social conventions, mixed with a radical political analysis and practice. Wingnuts are incapable of recognition within the “mainstream” radical movement because they’re too on the edge. Folks like Noam Chomsky and David Solnit make great contributions to the movement, but they get enough recognition from the more respectable parts of the movement and mainstream society. Wingnut activists are little known outside their immediate circle — on the national level, they are invisible. Except to Slingshot and other wingnuts that is. Wingnuts can be — and usually are — a bit annoying at times, but their heart is utterly in the right place — with the struggle for liberation.

So we salute B — a real wingnut. We’ll announce the 2nd annual award on Slingshot’s birthday March 9, 2006. Nominations will be accepted until then.

Autobiography of B

By B

Conceived in Chicago, born in Jamaica, B’s been on the road ever since. B has never completed or graduated from any school including but not limited to college, high school, junior high, or grammar school although he has attended all of them. In the early sixties B volunteered in the New York office of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) the most radical of the national civil rights groups. At this time he was living in Greenwich Village and working in folk music clubs. In the mid-sixties he was arrested a couple of times for vagrancy in Arizona and was involved in a successful case the ACLU used in challenging that law which started “any non Indian who…”. B has been arrested over 120 times in the previous millennium (his last arrest was in April 1999 at the protests over the take-over of progressive radio station KPFA).

In the late sixties B was active in the antiwar and counter culture movement, primarily in NYC. B published an underground newspaper (mimeographed Street Sheet), ran a switchboard, worked with Abbie Hoffman et al. and was on the original steering committee of the Youth International Party (YIPPIE!). B spent most of 1968 organizing to get people to come to Chicago for the Democratic Convention where he miraculously avoided being arrested. However, while trying to recruit talent for the “Festival of Life” in Chicago, B was ejected from the Newport Folk festival and run out of town by the police for giving pornographic literature to a nun. B was also one of the 700+ folks who were arrested in the occupation of Columbia University (Math Building Commune).

The decade ended with the Indians back on Alcatraz and B as one of the original crew of the Hog Farm commune “Fast Bus”, The Incredible ASP. Later, after being part of “Wavy’s Navy”, B got off the bus and went to live in Vermont to work with Earth People’s Park a 600+ acre piece of land that was bought on the Canadian border with the only rule imposed from off the land being “Access to the land will be denied to nobody”. In Vermont, B’s Commune became involved with a network of collectives known as “Free Vermont”. As part of Free Vermont B was involved with founding the Burlington Free Clinic and practiced medicine there as a “paramedic”. During this time he was one of the founders of The Vermont Health Rights Committee a local chapter of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. B left Vermont to nip at the heels of the “Freedom Train” a national Bicentennial Sell-abration on wheels that visited all 48 contiguous states. After a couple of years on the road B landed in Southern California where his uncle had a computer business and the Hog Farm had an organic Grape Farm.

The Eighties began with B in Berkeley, living with the Hog Farm on Woolsey St. and working in Babylon, the Hog Farm’s Answering Service. It was a relatively quiet decade for B who did some electrical work and opened and ran Acme Solvents, a company in Oakland. Politically B was involved in some local issues in Berkeley such as Rent Control, People’s Park and the fight to save the Ashby Flea Market and B also did a small amount of local work on some national issues like the anti-apartheid movement. To help the Hog Farm pay off the land bought in Mendocino County, B has worked with the Grateful Dead “skeleton crew” in campgrounds, back stage in the Kids Room, as part of “Flash” (the dragon that danced at the Dead Chinese New Year’s shows) and in various other Hog Farm functions for the Grateful Dead as well as at Electric on the Eel and Hog Farm Pignics.

The Eighties ended with B involved in working to organize a Green Party and trying to put it on the ballot in California. After a few years work in which B personally registered over 3000 people (of 88,000 required) as Greens, in 1992 the Green Party of California received ballot status. B has been active with the Green Party ever since. B is one of the founding members of the John Muir Greens. B is a self proclaimed “State-ist” and is prepared to die for the State, but hopes that before that is needed we will be able to have at least a halfway decent one.

As B has been fading into his twilight years, content to rest on his laurels, he enjoys hanging out and giving people a hard time. Upon hearing that he had been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award, B wanted to be sure to give thanks to all the little people who made his receiving it possible, the elves, the dwarfs, the munchkins, the hobbits, the gnomes and dare it be said, the trolls. Yes, even the trolls…

Jennifer Dieges: June 6, 1969 – March 19, 2005

Jennifer Dieges, an occasional Slingshot writer and Organizer artist who lived with a number of Slingshot collective members, died March 19 of breast cancer. She was 35.

Jenn and I were a couple for a little over a year and after we broke up, we were best friends. She moved into my house two years ago and died there — in her own bed with her dignity intact. I was with her when she died, along with her mother and her sister. All our housemates were outside her room as she breathed her last breath.

Jenn was raised in a conservative Republican family in Southern California and her life represented an impressive journey to new ideas. She considered herself an eco-feminist and lived her ideals in many big and small ways. She loved communal living, sharing and living lightly on the earth. She was an avid bicyclist who biked to almost all her chemotherapy treatments. As she got too sick to ride by herself, she would ride on the back of my tandem bike. She protested the WTO in Seattle even though her doctor told her to avoid tear gas because of her treatments.

Jenn was a citizen of the world serving in the Peace Corps in Togo in West Africa after college and also living in England and Australia. She was terribly disappointed that her cancer prevented her from living on all 6 continents.

Jenn was a poet who wrote and read constantly. Her last Slingshot article entitled “Getting Around is Not AUTOmatic” appeared in issue #84. She was a loud person — argumentative and opinionated — with a great heart. She cared about everyone around her equally, without ranking people. At the very end of her life when we were scheduling people to sit with her, I handed her a list of the huge number of people who wanted to visit and asked her to tell me who should get to come first — she wrote “1” next to all the names.

She was an outdoors person who loved river rafting, backpacking, skiing and rock climbing. Even as the cancer weakened her body, she refused to let it limit her adventures. She went snow camping — cross-country skiing with a frame backpack to hot springs in the Sierras — about two months before she died.

After the cancer had metastasized to her bones, Jenn completed her teaching credential and became an English teacher at Berkeley High School where she helped found the School of Social Justice and Ecology — a small school within a school. She beat the cancer when it spread to her brain with a single radiation treatment. When the cancer spread to her liver, she kept teaching while doing increasingly harsh chemotherapy.

Jenn fought cancer for 7 years and the cancer hung over her the whole time I knew her. But Jenn never let the cancer define her life — she lived life like she didn’t have cancer. Mostly, unless she told you she had cancer, you wouldn’t know. Jenn didn’t lose her fight with cancer — in a profound way, she won.

Ann K. Bulla: December 30, 1977 – April1, 2005

Sometimes those with the deepest understanding of the world around them are the most paralyzed about how to make use of that knowledge. At times Ann Bulla revealed a profound wisdom which ecstatically mixed eastern spirituality, anti-civilization thought, traveling drop-out culture and synchronistic intuition. Through this understanding, Ann led the people around her on adventures which changed and enriched our lives, while she often remained unaltered and unimpressed, still seeking an experience that was deeper and more intense.

Ann was a mystery to most who met her or saw her around — perhaps because she demanded that her few long term interpersonal relationships be so intense that they became a torturous journey to the heights of ecstasy and the depths of despair.

Ann explored a vast range of life styles. She spent time at Twin Oaks, East Wind and Ganas intentional communities, followed Rainbow Gatherings, and rambled with a band of spiritual freaks dedicated to traveling without money in search of God on a journey that led her across North America twice, including a stint living in a cave in the desert outside Moab, Utah. She bottom lined with East Bay Food Not Bombs, lived at S.P.A.Z. collective, sang with the Eastern-influenced experimental band “Co” and traveled to both Mexico and India because of dreams and premonitions of enlightenment, direction and healing.

In the end Ann was a mystery even to herself. She never quite knew if the jarring depersonalization, torturous anxiety, and deep depression which plagued her were caused by repressed memories of molestation, biochemical imbalances, energy problems in her chakras, black magic, or demonic possession — at times she hypothesized all of these.

The world could have destroyed Ann: she could have become a Prozac popping drone, a lobotomized prisoner of the state’s psyche wards, or a lost soul wandering the streets in an angry babbling daze. She saw these imminent possibilities and told me in the last couple months of her life that she just wanted to get out now, before things became a whole lot worse. Despite all the ideas that her friends and family inundated her with about how to become healthy again, it was the option of taking autonomous power over her own life and death which ultimately drew Ann most intensely. Perhaps she was in a muddled suicidal trance, or perhaps she saw more clearly than all the optimistic people who loved her so much that they couldn’t let go.

Ann’s final hours were her last great adventure: she stole a car, took it out into a wild area of fields and woods, hiked up into hills full of deer, turkey and butterflies, and lay down as the sun was setting and the stars coming out, to set off on her final, deepest and most intense experience of all.