Breaking down the market in our heads: abandoning the logic of capital

It was easier, when I was younger, to hold onto a sense of righteousness when I looked out at the world, to see very clearly those elements of society that were fucked up and to cast myself against them. One of the most difficult things about continuing to be a radical as I grow older is realizing the extent to which all of the messed up ways of thinking that I am critical of are also present within me and manifest in interpersonal dynamics in my life as much as they do anywhere else.

An insidious example of this is the way that capitalist logic sets itself up as common sense; how any notion of value becomes linked to cash value and acting pragmatically in the world comes to mean hording or selling what is marketable and treating what is inexpensive and abundant as inconsequential. Even in radical circles the effect of this is pervasive, particularly the extent to which we let ourselves become afraid of scarcity and distrustful of the good faith of our friends and neighbors.

Scarcity versus Abundance

On the one hand a critique of scarcity thinking is very simple; systems of power use the idea of material scarcity to frighten people into accepting their legitimacy. The matter is complicated, however, by the fact that scarcity is real. In climates where the ground freezes in the winter or the land dries up in the summer, there have always been seasonal scarcities. With the spread of globalization and the creation of immense wealth and poverty, those climate imposed scarcities have been joined, and in some cases replaced by economically imposed scarcities. As our mass society alters the world to the point of ecological crisis, the specters of newer and grander scarcities everyday present themselves.

It is important to remember that these modern scarcities have been created by the extension of market logic into the environment itself, each new crisis is used as an excuse to expand the jurisdiction of the market system of value. People have been compelled to sever their connections to the Earth and destroy their awareness of its rhythms. The fear generated from that destruction is used to convince people that they need the system.

Whether we treat undeveloped land, forests and waterways as scarce commodities, or abundant commodities, we cheapen them. When we allow ourselves to talk about ecological forces as resources to be managed or appeal to a cost-benefit analysis of environmental destruction as a way to pass environmental laws and encourage green business practices, the very logic that led to these crises remains unquestioned and utterly shapes our thinking about how to address them. As if by seeing the whole environment as a dwindling commodity to be horded and made valuable through the market, we can somehow save it.

The most stunning success of capitalism has been the way that it has extended the sphere of the market into almost every aspect of our lives, expanding well beyond material reality and getting applied to the way that we conduct our emotional life. Friend, neighbor, and family relationships are commonly mediated by its logic of treating any good will as a scarce commodity. People are scared into thinking that what is scarce includes even our own ability to transform ourselves and each other through love. In this way gifts are turned into debts, kindnesses into credit, and interactions into transactions.

Its not that we consciously live our lives in such a callous manner but that it becomes very easy for this kind of thinking to insinuate itself as pragmatic realism and for the logic of passionately engaging with each other and ourselves to be downplayed as naïve idealism. When we are asked to operate as efficient producers and consumers in so much of our lives it becomes difficult to imagine relating to each other differently.

Nature itself hardly responds to scarcity with calculated efficiency, it often responds with wasteful abundance that is impermanent and indiscriminant. Anyone who has watched rotting fruit drop off a tree and realized that it has been feeding all manner of life for weeks knows this. It is in that kind of joyous wastefulness that beauty and love can blossom and grow. Calculated relationships wither, no matter how strategically beneficial they are, relationships born out of the joyful giving of affection and honest desire for connection thrive and produce fruit in ways that were inconceivable when the seed started sprouting.

Bad Faith versus Community

In the first part of his book, The Gift, Lewis Hyde draws a distinction between a market economy where goods are traded with anyone as commodities and a gift economy where goods and services are given and received between people, creating or signifying connection and allowing excess to flow to those in need within a community. A meal cooked, a creative work, or a market commodity can all be gifts to the extent that they are given and received rather than being bought and sold.

In a gift economy there is no strict accounting, there does not need to be because you are dealing with people that you have a relationship with and the actual material that changes hands is only a part of what is happening; social connections are also strengthened. Gift economies work when good faith is assumed on both sides and come into crisis when the relationships they depend on are strained or forced.

An economy of market exchange operates most efficiently between strangers under the assumption of bad faith. Bad faith is the belief that all parties are involved for their own narrow material gain and, left to their own devices, would be cruelly indifferent to each other. Hyde connects this assumption of bad faith explicitly to a desire for authority and the presumption of scarcity: “Out of bad faith comes a longing for control, for the law and the police. Bad faith suspects that there is a scarcity so great in the world that it will devour whatever gifts appear.” (p. 128)

The assumption of bad faith produces more bad faith and leads to actions and attitudes that warrant continued ingratitude and mistrust. It is an inherent part of the culture of capitalism and as such, can seem impossible to change, but it is something that can be addressed and made less powerful on the scale of our actual lives by people who do not view their relationships as strategic, their emotional energy as scarce or their capacity for creativity and love as limited.

It is not, however, as simple as market logic bad, gift economy good. There are moments when it is useful to be able to interact with a person without being drawn into a relationship with them and a gift economy only works in the context of a relationship that is being created and sustained in good faith. Good faith is not something that can be brought into existence by force of will, it must be built. Trying to define all possible interactions as either gift exchange or commodity exchange quickly becomes confining. Nonetheless, getting rid of capitalism means leaving behind the logic that feeds it, it means learning to shrink the areas of our life that are governed by the market and expand the areas that are buoyed by good faith relationships and fed with gifts. When the sphere of the market shrinks to the point that it is not much more than a process used for negotiating barter with strangers, it becomes something that is no longer capitalism. When the relationship networks expressed through gift exchange grow to the point where people trust the strength of their communities, they render the state obsolete.

In the meantime, figuring out how to live in the presence of scarcity, without allowing fearful thinking to dominate our lives and learning how to exist in broken communities without retreating to an isolated place that views everybody else’s motives with bad faith are difficult emotional things to do. They require creating a culture that does not tolerate market logic; that is infused with the ferment
ed juices of abundant emotional life. The more that we can be honest with ourselves and each other about the ways in which we are affected by ugly systems of power and control, the more likely we are to be able to forge that kind of culture in a lasting and meaningful way. The way forward cannot be found, it must be created by each person through a process of engagement.

Real action on climate, not false solutions – protest the COP in Copenhagen

This fall should see massive global protests to pressure government bureaucrats and their corporate opportunist masters to get serious about taking steps to decrease human emissions of global warming gasses. There are protests planned to precede and coincide with the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) in Copenhagen, Denmark December 7-18 — a crucial world meeting under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that is struggling to negotiate a successor treaty to the expiring (and failed) Kyoto Protocol. There will also be a few scattered protests aimed at the hugely flawed greenhouse emissions / climate laws currently working their way through Congress.

But as I write this article, it seems fairly unlikely that there will be protests and resistance at a level anywhere close to the scale of the danger, although it doesn’t have to be like that. Right now, human society is on a path that goes over a cliff — consuming and developing thoughtlessly, competing instead of cooperating, and using up the earth’s finite resources and ability to absorb pollution at an alarming rate. Continuing greenhouse gas emissions at the present rate will cause a climate catastrophe. These emissions are already causing the largest species extinction in world history. And yet instead of building alternative energy infrastructure or learning to use less, the world is building new coal fired power plants every week.

There is a different path available. Many people are working on figuring out the social, cultural and technological details for a new direction in which humans don’t live our lives at the expense of our future and the rest of the environment’s health. Humans are part of the world’s ecosystem — we are not above it or separate from it. When our day-to-day lives depend on killing the earth, we’re really killing ourselves.

It is easy to figure “well, we’re fucked — there is no way to turn this ocean-liner around in time”, and use that as a comfortable excuse to stay disengaged. But this cop-out won’t work in the long-term. Psychologically, it means you have to use more and more emotional energy on denial and justification — avoiding the signs that are increasingly all around us that something is seriously wrong. Wouldn’t it be easier to face the unpleasant facts and rather than turning away, overcome our fears and paralysis by getting engaged in addressing the root of the problem?

It is up to all of us — as individuals, as members of the activist community, and as conscious beings who are part of the natural world around us — to cut through the fog, the sense of resignation, disempowerment and frustration — and figure out how we can go down a different path. If human societies don’t change course soon and figure out a way to maintain the ecological balance on the planet from which we evolved, all the stuff we spend our days working on and worrying about isn’t going to matter.

It is amazing how easily the brewing climate catastrophe can get lost in a blizzard of concerns and problems: the economic crisis, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, health care reform, gay marriage — the list goes on. And for most people, it can be hard enough just to get through the day on a personal level — juggling work, family and a million other things while trying to carve out some time for freedom and pleasure.

Somehow, we have to figure out a way to put decreasing greenhouse gas emissions on the front burner and keep it there to demand real action, not the false solutions, greenwashing, and gradualism leading to non-action that is the current reality. Protests in the streets and grassroots organizing are the key — the mainstream economic and political systems are incapable of changing paths because they created the emissions-dependent world and their power is utterly dependent on maintaining it.

It is becoming more obvious how the outdated structures of power that are killing the planet are the same structures that require inequality, oppression, violence and misery. There’s room to make connections and move the struggle forward across a broad front while not losing sight of the reality that if we lose the environment, our species is going to go down with it.

A Call to Climate Action

Numerous groups are calling for coordinated, global protests during the international climate change meeting in Copenhagen Dec. 7 – 18 . The COP meets once a year and includes government officials from 189 countries plus 10,000 official observers — corporate lobbyists and representatives from mainstream non-governmental organizations.

While theoretically United Nations conferences like Copenhagen could coordinate a global plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, in reality they are like a World Trade Organization applied to greenhouse gas emissions. Elites — whether from the developed world, major corporations, or the third world — prioritize figuring out new, perverse ways to profit from greenhouse gas emissions reducton. Actually reducing emissions is in the backseat, almost an afterthought. The Copenhagen process favors top-down, corporate solutions that permit business as usual — with resulting inequality and profit — to continue with as little disruption as possible.

The most popular corporate solution to global warming is creating a global emissions trading system in which industries in rich countries could continue emissions as usual in exchange for paying someone else who claims to have reduced emissions for “credits” to pollute. The key assumption behind such initiatives is that the most important goal is maintaining constant economic growth, and that emissions reductions are a laudable goal as long as they can be achieved without hurting growth. But this thinking gets it backwards — the endless pursuit of economic growth on a finite planet is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place.

A key aspect of Copenhagen-related protests will be to outline the difference between real actions to address greenhouse gas emissions and false solutions. A real emissions reduction means fossil fuels are left in the ground and not burned — either because alternative energy sources are found or because the energy isn’t required in the first place. A false solution is a solution that allows a particular industry, technology or nation to continue to burn precisely the same fossil fuels as before, or even increase emissions, and yet pat themselves on the back because they’ve used accounting methods to show an emissions reduction. You would think such absurd numerical trickery would be laughed out of the room and recognized as an Emperor With No Clothes, until you realized that this is the primary mainstream response to the climate crisis.

While some people are going to Copenhagen to protest there, the best advice seems to be to avoid international travel and do something in your own community. In Copenhagen, there is likely to be a diversity of tactics ranging from polite lobbying and street protests, all the way to militant direct action to shut down the meeting and symbols of outmoded CO2 emissions, such as local coal-fired electricity plants. Protests in the USA are likely to be along similar lines with tiny actions in smaller places and grander actions in population centers. You can get involved in planning and participating in these actions.

As Slingshot goes to press in mid-September, it is not a good sign that there are currently very few specific times, dates and places being proposed for decentralized actions. That means there’s a lot of room for folks to get involved and make something happen. It might also mean that not much is going to happen unless someone gets up and organizes something soon. You don’t have to wait for someone else to call for an action — you and your friends can do it yourselves. Check the end of this article for links to some of the radical climate action groups.

350 parts per million

To build
up momentum for the Copenhagen meeting, the group founded by early climate visionary Bill McKibben is calling for decentralized, global actions on October 24. likes visible, symbolic protests — many spelling out the number 350 — that can be photographed and emailed into a central website. 350 refers to the maximum number of parts per million of carbon dioxide that scientists believe can be in the atmosphere without leading to disastrous climate change. The folks like it because it is a simple message for people to rally around — not proposing precisely how to cut emissions, but just trying to set a target for CO2.

Currently, there are 390 ppm CO2 in the atmosphere — up from around 280 ppm before the industrial revolution. The number increases every year as more and more fossil fuels are burned to sustain the current of form of human social organization. While the Kyoto Protocol was designed to cut emissions to 1990 levels (which were already too high), emissions have instead gone up and up and up since Kyoto went into effect. Despite all the Al Gore movies and speeches and billboards, emissions have not been reduced. To the contrary, the growing demand for more stuff by a growing world population is being met in the first world as well as in the third world by relying almost exclusively on fossil fuels.

To reduce the CO2 concentration to less than 350 ppm would require much less fossil fuel combustion going forward, rather than the current expansion of fossil fuel use. Over time, natural processes such as plant growth can remove some of the CO2 already in the atmosphere if humans would stop adding more. In the US, 40 percent of CO2 emissions are from burning coal, oil and natural gas to generate electricity — 83 percent of that is from coal. This could be the easiest area to dramatically cut emissions, since alternative technologies to generate electricity already exist and the fossil fuel combustion for electricity are concentrated in a relatively small number of huge facilities.

The website already lists over 1,000 protest plans in over 100 countries spanning the globe, so many people can plug into these actions. According to their website, there will be “school children planting 350 trees in Bangledesh, scientists hanging banners saying 350 on the statues on Easter Island, 350 scuba divers diving underwater at the Great Barrier Reef.” is not a radical group in that they don’t have an anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian analysis — they don’t connect the climate crisis with the many forms of oppression associated with the current order. But to their credit, they are highly critical of the pathetic lack of action by governments and corporations regarding greenhouse emissions and climate change. They seem to understand the distractions and greenwashing that is going on and realize that fundamental change is necessary which can only come from grassroots action. According to their call to action, “This is even more important than changing your lightbulb–this is your chance to help change the way the whole world operates.” They organize public events on a global scale so it makes sense to check their website, find the closest action, and join in.

False solutions — business as usual

To set the stage for the Copenhagen meeting, the US Congress is trying to pass an emissions trading bill known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES, H.R.2454 or the Waxman-Markey Bill). While other developed countries have had global warming laws for the past few years, this would be the first US law aimed at limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The bill would seek to require a 17 percent emissions reduction from 2005 levels for a variety of greenhouse gases (chiefly CO2) by 2020 and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. It also requires electrical utilities to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020 and a few other odds and ends like electrical grid modernization, more electric cars and energy efficient buildings and appliance mandates.

The key to the emissions reductions is to create a “cap-and-trade” system. The government would create emissions credits which would give their owner a right to emit a particular amount of CO2. Over time, the number of credits would decrease. The idea is that the invisible hand of the market would determine how these emissions reductions would happen. A business holding a bunch of credits could reduce their own emissions and then they could sell the extra credits they didn’t need to use for their own emissions, taking the proceeds to help pay for costs associated with cutting their emissions. Or, if it was cheaper for a particular company to buy credits for emissions rather than reducing their own emissions, they could do that. Theoretically, such a system would mean that the cheapest emissions reductions would be made first, and the most expensive would be made last. A similar system was successful in reducing acid rain pollution that is created when high sulfer coal is burned.

The ACES is a timid business give-away. A 17 percent reductions target by 2020 is an extremely modest goal given the scale of the problem and is hard to take a distant 2050 goal very seriously. Under the bill, the government would give out 85% of the credits to various corporations and utilities for free and have an auction for the remaining 15 percent. To the extent the credits can be sold, this means the government gives away billions to heavy greenhosue gas emissions. Moreover, it means companies can make money selling credits for adopting emissions reducing technologies they would have done anyway. Such programs are prone to speculation, difficult to enforce, and legitimize the fossil fueled status quo.

Look for more timid, corporate welfare plans like this in Copenhagen, except applied on a global scale. A key flaw in transnational emissions trading schemes is that rich, developed countries buy credits so they can continue to emit pollution from sellers who are “reducing” emissions in dubious ways. For instance, there are already documented cases in which Europeans (who currently have cap-and-trade) have bought credits from third world projects that would have been built anyway.

A different path

Corporations and the governments that serve them aren’t going to bring us a lower emissions, ecologically sustainable world. There’s no money to be made nor bureacratic systems to expand when people reject the basic goals and values of the industrial age and realize that life is about engagement with ourselves, our surroundings and others, not owning and using stuff. The systems threatening climate catastrophe are the same systems that treat human beings as objects to be controlled, manipulated and used. In fact, a corporation treats people and the environment with a similar disregard: a tree is a natural resource while a person is a human resource.

Going down a more ecologically sustainable path isn’t just about protests and rejecting particular government plans or learning ways to consume less and installing alternative technologies to replace fossil fuels, although some of these changes may be steps along the way. People are going to have to engage each other and find solutions outside of media channels controled by corporations and the state — on the streets and in local communities. The protests this fall can be (with your help) a modest first step.

For more info, contact:,

Down with Health Corp.!

When my partner was laid-off by a multi-national, expletive-deleted, employer in August of 2000, we faced a financial disaster. She had been previously diagnosed with leukemia, had already had multiple lengthy hospitalizations, required weekly visits to a Hematology/Oncology clinic, and would eventually need a Bone Marrow Transplant, an expensive procedure costing more than $200,000. She had only continued working to maintain her health insurance. Now that insurance would be gone in a few months. What were we going to do?

In a weird way that lay-off was the best thing that could have happened to us. It turned out that she was eligible for Medicare because Leukemia is considered a total disability. She applied for coverage immediately after she was laid off. When she finally had the transplant, the costs were covered by Medicare, saving us at least $15,000 in co-payments.

Now the entire country is facing a financial disaster. Private HMO/Insurance companies have bled us to the point of death, while providing an absolute minimum of actual health care. It’s time to expand Medicare coverage to everyone, instead of limiting it to those over 65 and/or totally disabled. The reasons for this are so obvious that they almost defy explanation.

Medicare’s administrative costs are about 4% of its total operating budget. HMO or insurance company administrative costs range between 25%~40%.

The actual price that Medicare pays for a given service or procedure is far lower than a HMO/Insurance company has to pay for the identical procedure. When my partner had her transplant, Medicare paid about $21,000 for a hospital stay and procedure that would have cost a private insurance company over $200,000.

Every employed person is already paying taxes for Medicare. This includes the alleged illegal immigrants. Well if everyone is paying for it, shouldn’t we all be receiving the benefits now instead of waiting until we’re 65 or disabled.

The nurses and nurse practitioners that actually provide most of the services at the clinics would have to spend less time on getting the insurance companies nit-picker approval for every procedure. When I talked to my partner’s nurse practitioner, she told me that she used to spend 4 hours every day phoning the insurance companies trying to get approval for every procedure. They eventually had to hire another nurse just to deal with the companies.

Expanding Medicare would be the least expensive way to resolve the present Health Care crisis. Medicare is a system already in place and functioning fairly well. All it would take is a few minor tweaks to expand coverage, instead of designing a set of entirely new programs.

Some estimates predict that it would save the economy 300 billion dollars to adopt universal Medicare. It would eliminate that alphabet soup of federal and state programs that were designed to deal with the health issues of specific communities, such as Medicaid, Medical, SCHIP, and Workers Compensation Health programs. Industry would not be required to provide health insurance to their employees, (Ford Motor Company consistently pays more in employee Health Insurance each year than they do in sheet metal). We’d all have access to clinics and preventive care, instead of having to resort to hospital emergency rooms, which typically cost 5 to 6 times more.

President Obama and his health-care advisors, already know all of this. So why has there been no mention of a Medicare expansion program from the White House? The White House dismisses a universal health care plan because they say “Americans demand a choice”. Well, there is no choice even for those of us who are employed with healthcare, We get the insurance company that our employer provides. If your employer decides to change insurance companies, it’s “Fuck You Charlie”. He also says that Americans are distrustful of bureaucracy. Well, bureaucracy is what we’ve got. The only actual choice is whether health insurance will be administered by government or corporate bureaucrats. Government bureaucrats are at least slightly accountable. Corporate drones answer only to their masters.

Obama’s plan is designed to simply “reign in” the worst excesses of the private insurance companies, while ensuring they continue their bloated existence, although they may be slightly less bloated than before. But any plan regulating health care is bound to be a very expensive failure and political suicide as long as the Health Insurance Industry and their corresponding thousands of lobbyists control congress through both parties.

Obama could have promoted a Universal Health Care program. Given the enthusiastic support that he had when first elected, and from the health-care rallies that I’ve actually attended, and the people I’ve talked to, including a lot of medical professionals, Obama might have generated enough genuine grass-roots support to overcome the astro-turf, “tea-bag”, and Fox-news style corporate propaganda campaigns. He might have forced congress to legislate some genuine changes in this country. Instead he’s chosen the path of political expediency. That expediency has cost him all credibility and will probably lead to his political downfall.

When Obama was inaugurated president he promised to “Defend the United States against all enemies, both foreign and domestic”. The “Denial of Care” policy means that Blue Cross, Aetna, Cigna, Human Health and all the other HMO/ health insurance companies are directly responsible for more American deaths in any given month, than Al-Qaeda has had for its entire existence.

Introduction – Issue #101

Slingshot is an independent radical newspaper published in Berkeley since 1988.

This paper is a result of folks coming together to exercise their intellect, creativity, and cooperative autonomy. It is in itself an act of community and defiance in the face of capitalism. This issue of the paper contains a lot about health: physical, psychological and spiritual (variously defined).

Health care is a huge topic, with teabaggers protesting (though probably not actually teabagging) the O-man’s proposals. Why are we even debating this? Shouldn’t we all just have health care, as human beings, as beings in general? But we live in some reality none of us signed up for, and the lunatics who think capitalism is a good idea are right now trying to decide if we should be forced to pay for a broken system of so-called health care, which is really just more profit for those with money at the expense of those without. Real health is not just the absence of symptoms, but is also being free enough to choose how to live, being able to live without having to fuck others over or getting fucked over yourself.

The best prescription for health is living true to yourself, without alienation, or an alienating power telling you what to do. We here at Slingshot are struggling toward that goal, though it may be in fits and starts, with our own unexpressed anger and alienation weighing us down, with unhealed hurts blinding us to our beauty and fabulousness. Even with all our woundedness we hope to bring you, dear reader, a large slice of energy, beauty, honesty and vision.

Reports of the death of independent print media appear to be greatly exagerated, at least around the Slingshot shipping basement which fills up with paper this time of year. Together with piles of this paper and huge stacks of the 2010 Organizer, we’re excited to be publishing our first book (see ad to the right). Making a book was a lot of work and even struggle — trying to blend the collective process with the author/editor/artist’s strong ideas about how the book should be.

The point of publishing the book was to protect People’s Park, in Berkeley, from continued University of California repression — they still think they own the land under the Park — and to inspire folks everywhere to create their own parks on vacant land everywhere. Land belongs to all beings on the earth – reclaim it. We hope to have some articles about the current struggles at People’s Park, including illegal arrests of park users and a crackdown on free speech, in next issue. But for now we’ve featured other land issues including a Redwood treesit and I-69 protests.

Slingshot is always looking for new writers, artists, editors, photographers, translators, distributors & independent thinkers to make this paper happen. If you send something written, please be open to being edited.

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.

Thanks to all who made this: Aaron, Amanda, Apple, Bannannna, Bird, Bryan, Eggplant, Kathryn, Kermit, Keziah, Lesley, PB, Rena, Sal, Stephanie, Terri, and all the authors and artists.

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting on Sunday, Dec., 13 2009 at 4 p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below).

Article Deadline & Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 102 by January 16, 2010 at 3 p.m.

Volume 1, Number 101, Circulation 19,000

Printed September 24, 2009

Slingshot Newspaper

Sponsored by Long Haul

3124 Shattuck Avenue. Berkeley, CA 94705

Phone: (510) 540-0751 •

Circulation Information

Subscriptions to Slingshot are free to prisoners, low income and anyone in the USA with a Slingshot Organizer, or $1 per issue. Outside the Bay Area, we’ll mail a free stack of Slingshot to you if you give ’em out.

Back Issue Project

We’ll send you an assortment of back issues for postage: send us $3 for 2 lbs or $4 for 3 lbs. Free if you’re an infoshop or library. Send cash or check to Slingshot 3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley, CA 94705.


Talking back to the man – Gerald Smith – Winner 4th annual Slignshot award for lifetime achievement

Slingshot awarded its 4th annual award for Lifetime Achievement to Gerald Smith at our 21st birthday party in March. Gerald has been a key member of the direct action, grassroots radical scene in the East Bay since Slingshot started in 1988, and long before that. In addition to writing for Slingshot over the years, he frequently drops by our offices for spirited discussions. Gerald challenges lazy assumptions and offers sharp critiques in a funny, comradely and engaging way.

Slingshot created our lifetime achievement award to recognize direct action radicals who have dedicated their lives to the struggle for alternatives to the current system. Front-line radicals frequently operate below the radar and lack recognition, which is too bad. While awards can be part of systems of hierarchy, a complete lack of recognition for long-term activists robs us of chances to appreciate and learn from the contributions individuals can make during a lifetime of organizing. Thanks, Gerald, for your continuing contributions to the struggle. Here’s a short biography of Gerald.

• • •

Gerald was exposed to radical activism and ideas at an early age, and he’s stayed engaged and active ever since. “When I grew up, there was an existing social movement in progress. The civil rights movement was not limited to the South. We had become a mass movement in the North. That social movement made it relatively easy for me to connect — because it was large, because it was clear, it was urgent.”

Born in 1949, he grew up in the South Bronx and went to see Malcolm X with his father when he was 10. “I was enamored of Malcolm X – I thought he was the best thing since sliced bread.” But Gerald didn’t find Malcolm’s religious rhetoric convincing — Gerald had already read and rejected the Bible and religion by the time he was 10.

When Gerald was 14, he joined the NAACP youth group but he found it to be bureaucratic and timid. “The NAACP was afraid of young people — we never made decisions on our own.” So Gerald joined CORE [Congress of Racial Equality] and started organizing rent strikes in Harlem during 1964 and 65. He contrasts activism in the mid-1960s to activism now, noting that at that time, just hanging a flier in a building advertising a tenant’s meeting would bring a significant portion of the tenants to a meeting, ready to go on strike. “It was easy because the buildings were falling down. It was very clear that unity in action – you could actually win things. Now there is extreme alienation – people on the same block don’t even know each other.” Back in 1960s “even in a 14 story project, we tended to know each other.” The rent strikes in Harlem proved extremely effective, as building after building struck and won improved conditions.

In 1967, Gerald entered Manhattan Community College. “That’s when I really started to get political.” He worked on a broad range of political action on the campus. In 1969, he joined the Black Panthers, inspired by the Black Panther 21 case. “It was so clear that they were being framed up. I thought, if they’re framing them up, these guys must be revolutionaries.” Gerald notes that the Panthers were the best people he ever worked with. He worked on the takeover of Lincoln Hospital with the Young Lords and helped run the Martin Luther King, Jr. Liberation School, a free school run by radicals. He also sold the Black Panther paper and continued working on housing protests and strikes. But mostly, he worked on the Panther 21 case.

When the Panthers split in 1971 with ugly arguments broadcast on mainstream TV, Gerald entered a period of serious study trying to understand what had gone wrong. He became more committed to the radical struggle. During this period, he moved away from a black nationalist position and moved towards a class analysis. While he knew that “the oppression is all intertwined” he concluded that “blacks alone couldn’t overthrow capitalism by themselves” and he rejected the multi-vanguardist ideas of the times. He became a socialist.

In 1975 Gerald moved to the Bay Area and soon became involved in the Camp Pendleton 13 case. Black soldiers were facing years in prison after they defended themselves against KKK activity. The campaign achieved complete victory with all charges dropped. He met other activists through the campaign and ultimately joined the Peace and Freedom Party. During the 90s and in the last decade, Gerald has run for statewide public office a number of times as a PFP candidate.

In 1984, Gerald worked on the Longshore Union’s refusal to unload South African ships to protest apartheid. That drew him to the anti-apartheid movement at the University of California, Berkeley, which saw a huge, on-going sit-in in 1984 and a militant shantytown protest in 1985. In 1990, working with activists he met during the anti-apartheid struggle, Gerald was one of the founders of Copwatch in Berkeley, which eventually spread worldwide. He’s worked with Copwatch in Berkeley ever since.

In the mid-1990s, Gerald was one of the early DJs at Free Radio Berkeley, an unlicensed micro-powered radio station at 104.1 FM. Gerald has also worked with KALX, on the Amandla Program, and volunteered at KPOO and KPFA. In 1999, helped organize street protests against a Pacifica takeover of KPFA. Currently he is running for the KPFA board.

He’s also stayed involved supporting political prisoners including imprisoned journalist Mumia Abu Jamal and more recently, ex-Black Panthers charged with murder known as the SF8.

A high point of his activism was when he helped organize a one-day, West coast-wide longshore strike to protest the imprisonment of journalist Mumia Abu Jamal. Seeing the power of collective action, he reflects “this is what keeps you going–this is real. [The action made clear] what this could be — people joining together for a just world – that stays with you.”

It isn’t easy to keep struggling, year after year, avoiding burnout or getting discouraged and bitter. On a trip to France for a worker’s festival, Gerald realized how backward the US struggle was compared to rest of the world. “But I wasn’t discouraged. I thought ‘I’m going to measure up – I’m going to improve.'” Perhaps it is that ability to look at the historical moment and see an opportunity for struggle — rather than a hopeless situation — that enables Gerald to keep on keeping on.

Resistance and recuperation – Tristan Anderson's struggle to thrive past and present

Tristan Anderson is a long-time Bay Area activist and photojournalist who was documenting resistance to Israel’s separation barrier in the Palestinian village of Ni’lin. The weekly demonstration against the wall was winding down when Israeli Defense Forces fired a high velocity tear gas canister at his head, critically wounding him. He was taken to Tel Hashomer hospital in Tel Aviv, where he has undergone several surgeries to reconstruct his skull. I spoke to his partner Gabby on the six month anniversary of his shooting.

Dee: When you first met him, what was your impression?

Gabby: It’s strange to think back to our old life. We met in a tree, at the top of an occupied tree at the Oak Grove Tree Sit in Berkeley. This might be uninteresting to anyone who’s not a tree sitter, but he made an impression on me early on as an excellent climber, with a very cool, very unique climbing style. And it was so interesting because he was completely comfortable free climbing, but was mistrustful of the ropes; whereas I was always very comfortable with the gear and freaked out about the free climbs (moving with no safety line). I can remember him doing this crazy ninja crap, then almost losing it over a simple traverse. I think it says a lot about him. Tristan has a way of being very capable and very confident, and then very humble and goofy at the same time.

Eventually we became partners. We had such a funny awkward start to our relationship. I had this idea that a boyfriend would just slow me down and make me co-dependent, so I was a real pain in the ass to go out with in the beginning. And Tristan was so shy, he used to say “girls are scarier than riot cops”.

D: What are his odd quirks that people find endearing?

G: Oh shit, there’s a lot of odd quirks. For one thing, Tristan at heart is an archivist. He is a collector of things–some useful, some completely strange. And he’s very interested, not just in the preservation of other people’s reclaimed junk, but also in the preservation of radical histories. He’s been very slowly writing a book about his experiences in the anti-globalization movement. The book is part travel diary, part criticism of neo-liberal economics, part riot porn. But he’s had two problems with writing the book. One: he’s too busy running around being a crazy activist to work on his book about activism, and two: that archivist nature. The writing encapsulates every tiny detail of everything that was happening at that time, so what you get is more of a time capsule than a functional story. But this is his nature. It’s highly detailed, highly researched, highly accurate- and almost impossible to read! I love it, but I’m biased.

D: What are his talents, interests, hobbies, inspirations?

G: Tristan’s parents are Back To The Landers. He grew up in a series of stone houses in the woods and he lived with no electricity until he was 12. When Tristan was about 20, he moved to the Bay Area to find other punks and have an exciting life. He’s done a lot of world travel, but he always comes back home to the Bay.

Tristan is tremendously knowledgeable about California wildlife. He builds bikes and goes to protests, he screens patches, digs in dumpsters, eats weird food, reads history books, he watches birds, takes photos, keeps archives, does complicated math in his head, swims in cold funky water, climbs trees, stuff like that. We like each other a whole lot. Tristan’s facinating to hang out with.

He’s a person who believes in putting his beliefs in line with his lifestyle, scavenging food and participating in anarchist struggle. He’s been arrested over 50 times. I remember when he came when the Berkeley Tree-sit was going to be evicted saying, “Okay, I’ll get arrested with you guys but I have to start my new career on Sunday.” We all laughed about that because we knew it was going to be ridiculously dangerous, but he managed to face a 3 day long cherrypicker assault, get arrested, get out, post all the pictures of it on Indybay (search “cricket”), get arrested again, get bailed out, run to work sweaty and exhausted, only to get scolded by his boss for being 10 minutes late. Some people would not understand his lifestyle thinking it must be difficult to plunge into a dangerous, unpredictable situation, but it he took great emotional satisfaction and pride in collective empowerment through street mobilization. He especially has a history of going up against walls, i.e. the Israeli separation barrier, the U.S.-Mexico border, and the fences they built at the Oak Grove tree-sit.

D: Can you talk about some of the struggles he’s been involved in? Some of the places he’s been? Even a quick list would be great.

G: Yes. Tristan’s gone to more crazy protests than anyone I know. And beyond just the local stuff, he lived in El Salvador at the end of the war in the early 90s during the death squads, he reported for Indymedia from Iraq shortly after the invasion, he was in Oaxaca… And he made it out. It’s still hard to believe he got shot while we were just standing around, relaxing. I mean ok, we were standing around in Ni’iln, but still, we were just standing around. We were away from the main body of the crowd. No one was throwing stones. Nothing was happening.. He learned a lot at Genoa during the G8 mobilizations. He’s done a lot of Latin American solidarity work and has strong ties with El Salvador and Mexico. He said the heaviest shit was Oaxaca. His friend Brad Will was a videographer covering the teacher’s strike in Oaxaca in fall 2006. He had plans to meet up with him, but when Brad was killed he flew there right away. He said it was the most amazing thing he ever experienced in his life. The level of solidarity and revolutionary feeling he experienced in Oaxaca was unlike anywhere else. He was out against the WTO in Seattle. Ecuador, Sweden. There are Justice for Tristan posters all over the squats of Berlin. He was in England for an extended period of time. He always joked that in Germany the feminists ran the scene, while in Greece he was often told “You should not talk to girls who believe in feminism”. He was in Argentina during the bank crash. Nicaragua. He’s been heavily involved in the anti-globalization movement. Pretty much almost all of the major mobilizations from the summit-hopping heyday, he was always there. He was a fixture. He also cared deeply for nuclear disarmament, and was arrested protesting the Afghan/Iraq War. The cops got so used to arresting him for San Francisco Food Not Bombs they would stop their cars and greet him with enthusiasm.

D: I remember he would love squatter christmas, which is the time when the students leave their “trash” at the end of the semester to go home. Are there any memorable garbage finds he seemed particularly proud of?

G: Oh, I don’t know. Sometimes he attached value to the most absurd things. I remember when we first started dating, and I was checking out his room full of weird stuff, I noticed he had a whole shelf full of bubbles- children’s bubbles- that he saved because he figured he could bring them to a Reclaim the Streets type party sometime, although I never saw him actually take them anywhere. And on the shelf he had several jars marked “BAD”. So he had found these children’s bubbles in the trash, tested them, seen that several jars didn’t work, labelled them as “BAD”, and then lined them back up on the shelf! We tested them again and indeed they were BAD bubbles. Grudgingly, and I think it was only because we were a new relationship and he was still trying to impress me, he got rid of the “BAD” bubbles.

D: He’s been a committed vegan for 10 and a half years, travelling to other countries where such dietary restrictions are a little bit unreasonable. What kind of weird food has he eaten in the name of keeping veg? This could also be expanded to generally rotten nasty food he’s eaten for the sake of not letting it go to waste.

G: Tristan was born with almost no sense
of smell and therefore a greatly reduced sense of taste. I’ve seen him eat the craziest, most unreasonably rotten things, and love it. He normally keeps a special spoon in his pocket so he can scoop vile rotting things up everywhere we go and eat them. He’ll eat things out of the compost pile! Sometimes he’s not even hungry, he just considers it his solemn duty somehow.

But on travelling: One time, towards the end of the war, I think in El Salvador, he was in the mountains with the guerillas. He was watching a pot of soup being cooked for hours trying to see what they were putting in it. He was so hungry. Everyone was hungry, and what food there was he sometimes wouldn’t eat because he’s that kind of pain in the ass — I mean highly principled — vegan. So, he’s watching this pot of soup all day, and it’s almost ready and it’s perfectly vegan, and he’s licking his lips and then all of a sudden they drop a whole cow’s leg in the pot! And he says “Wait! Wait! you said no meat!” and his friend says, “What? Not meat, flavor.”

D: The people of Ni’lin and surrounding villages have suffered heavy casualties in their resistance to the separation barrier. A surprising thing I’ve noticed from videos of past demonstrations is the involvement of children in the struggle, which indicates to me the deep threat their community is facing. What are the demands of their movement? What does the Wall represent to their current way of life?

G: The Wall is an escalation of the Military Occupation which dominates every facet of life for Palestinians. To live under an occupation with no end in sight is an impossible situation. Villages that have organized to resist the wall being built through their land have been incredibly courageous. They’ve made important gains, and have also suffered a high price. The Occupation affects everyone, including children. It’s not uncommon to see young boys at the demonstrations.

D: In the time you spent in Palestine, what were the wishes of the Palestinians you met? What is their general attitude towards international activists?

G: We were here for only about a month before Tristan was shot, and our time was divided between Palestine solidarity work and hanging out with internationals and Israeli anarchists. I don’t feel qualified to speak for Palestinians, although some things are obvious. This is a struggle for national sovereignty and self-determination. There are people who will tell you that the Israel- Palestine conflict is infinitely complicated, but it’s not. They want reasonable things, like basic freedoms and control of their land and resources.

A large part of this struggle is invisibility and the general anti-Arab racism of the Western world. Internationals are very welcome. You will be fed until you can’t walk, you will marvel at the Arabic language, the beauty of the land, and you will make friends. But it’s dangerous here, so think about it hard before you decide to come.

D: As a Jew, do you see any parallels between the atrocities of the Holocaust and the situation in Palestine?

G: I see that in Israel the right wing exploits the Holocaust at every turn, and then attacks anyone on the left who tries to draw parallels between the vicious right wing militarism of the Israeli State and the right wing militarism of places like Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, etc. The bottom line is that Israel does not get a free ride to human rights abuse because of Jewish suffering in World War II.

D: There seems to be a certain difference in the militarized societies of the U.S. and Israel. The U.S. fights its wars of conquest abroad and, with the help of corporate media, largely out of view of the American public, making it easy for the average person to claim ignorance, whereas the conflict in Israel is played out much closer to home. Does this geographical closeness bring it closer psychologically to the Isareli people? Or does it force them to distance themselves from it even further? Does it seem like the average person there is unaware of the plight of Palestinians, or are they aware of the atrocities and simply justify it as necessary to their national security?

G: I don’t understand Israelis. Invariably the first thing out of every Israeli’s mouth when they hear what happened to us is, “What were you doing there?” Most people here don’t know what’s happening in the Occupied Territories, but more importantly than that, they don’t want to know.

D: What is the experience of Israeli anarchists living in a highly militarized, socially conservative society?

G: It’s a difficult life for Israeli anarchists. First off, you have the draft. Every able bodied Israeli at the age of 18 (with exemptions for the ultra-orthodox) is expected to do several years of military service. The options are principled refusal (which means going to military prison), pretending to be crazy, or going along with it. Either way, this choice that they make as a teenager follows them around for the rest of their life. Those who opt out of the army have a very hard time getting jobs and are heavily stigmatized by mainstream society.

The struggle here is very high stakes. The activists I’ve known here (Palestinian, Israeli, and International) have been the most committed people I’ve ever encountered in my life.

D: When you see the weakness and debility Tristan’s injury has caused him, what do you feel? What does “Justice for Tristan!” mean to you?

G: I have been profoundly affected by this experience. I feel like shit all the time.

There will be no justice for Tristan. Our best hope is a harm reduction approach, trying to make this situation as least bad as possible. This includes access to top quality medical care for the rest of his life, accountability for those personally responsible, and errrr…ending the occupation?

D: Would he be alive right now if he were Palestinian?

G: No. We would have gone to Ramallah Hospital and he would have died, like Basem who was killed with the same high velocity tear gas canister that injured Tristan. He is missed dearly by Palestinian and Israeli peace activists alike.

D: What do the Israeli nurses think of your activism? Do you find yourself biting your tongue in the interest of ensuring adequate healthcare?

G: Some people here know who we are, others don’t. During the ICU time I was a completely traumatized lunatic and I wasn’t eating or sleeping and I was doing all kinds of creepy PTSD things. I used to think that every lazy nurse or uncaring doctor was a self-appointed agent of the state here to finish the job. They used to call security on me about once a week. Now I’m less crazy, no one’s called security on me in months.

D: How has your life been as his constant caregiver and companion? Frustrating, rewarding, both?

G: I believe that eventually life will get better than this for both of us. It’s a very difficult situation, not just because he got shot in the head, but because Tristan came to the Rehabilitation Center and got worse. Everyone else is getting better, and he’s gotten worse.

We waited a long time for a surgery to address the medical complication that was ruining our lives. He’s improved since the surgery, but has suffered other complications. Eventually, the stars will align in the correct way and we’ll be able to get on with the Rehabilitation process. But it’s been very slow going, and for better or worse, my health and well being is very interconnected with Tristan’s.

D: When did you make the decision to stay with him through the hospitalization process?

G: Of course I would stay with him.

D: What kind of support have you seen from the Israeli anarchist community?

G: We’ve gotten a lot of support not just from the Israeli anarchists, but also from their families. They cook for us, visit us, help us with translating, transportation, and countless annoying logistical things. They have been
wonderful, which is a good thing because my relatives here have completely disowned me, and our Palestinian friends can’t get across the border. Without the support and friendship of the Israeli anarchist community, we would be totally fucked.

D: There were a number of demonstrations across the U.S. and the world expressing street solidarity with Tristan in the days following his shooting. Do you feel these played a role in exerting political pressure against Israel to provide medical care?

G: The solidarity demonstrations have been very important. Tristan and I went out into the streets for Carlo Giuliana killed in Genoa and Brad Will killed in Oaxaca, and I’m glad that our community has come out for us. There may come a time when we need to start the demonstrations again. Please support us if we call.

D: What kind of medical support is he going to need long-term?

G: Fuck if I know. But whatever it is, it’s going to be expensive.

D: What are the best ways for someone Stateside to support him?

G: The most important thing is to mobilize for justice and continue the Struggle. In smaller ways, we try to keep Tristan company here and surround him with comfortable, familiar things. Writing letters or sending photos, posters, art or music that he might recognize or enjoy helps keep Tristan tethered to his old life and his old self. It’s important in that way, and also it helps to improve our quality of life here and keep things interesting. (The best kinds of letters are not of the “sorry this terrible atrocity happened to you, free Palestine!” sort, but are personal anecdotes that are interesting or funny. We have quite a lot of freedom about what art to put on the walls of his hospital room and what music to play, but we try to keep his room a space free of police violence or allusions to police violence. And we can’t afford to alienate anyone who works here with free Palestine propaganda.

Of course there’s also the money thing. Money helps, benefit shows help and it’ll make a big difference to us, but we’d rather have you out in the streets.

Letters, photos, stories, and bad jokes about Ronald Reagan can be sent to Tristan Anderson c/o

Jonathan Pollak

10 Elazar St.

Tel Aviv, 65157 Israel

Forest's life on the line – Tree-sitters protect salmon, owls, and bears from suburban development

Cutten, South Cascadia: the McKay Tract canopy. The landscape below presents itself as a patchwork quilt of war.

Looking West one sees the suburb, which is Progress enacting its will upon occupied land. More ‘development’ is slated, but is being blocked. We have met primarily friendly people here who enjoy hanging out in the forest. We’ve asked them if they want their suburb to grow, and they emphatically do not.

Among the second- and third-growth trees to the South lie a few erroneous mini-mansions with stumps in their yards wider than any of the three SUVs in their driveways. The residents enjoy a quiet life, until one of them starts running power tools.

We look East and see the tops of enormous old growth redwoods towering above the hundred-year-old second growth trees. Some friends live here including spotted owls, ospreys, turkey vultures, black bears, newts, voles, flying squirrels, and the occasional arboreal human.

To the North lies a clearcut. Three years ago, Green Diamond came in and cut down every last tree in the marked ‘unit’, leaving a few huge burned-out snags. Pampas grass and milkweed grow to human height in the trees’ absence; this area is dry and becoming dryer. The company planted a few baby confiers, redwoods and others after cutting the area; but those young trees are waiting until a couple more units are razed, then all the land will be re-zoned from ‘timberland’ to ‘residential’, bringing more mini-mansions, more people. So it goes…

Except the forest friends disagree. They want to live, and the forest is their home. For the past several months we’ve been occupying two tree villages in the McKay Tract, tying in as many Giants as possible with traverse ropes to protect them, with our own bodies, from being cut down. Tree-sitting has been used to defend forest land in Humboldt for decades, and traverses enable a few humans to defend large numbers of trees without descending from the canopy one hundred feet off the ground.

We chose this grove because the trees stand directly against the march of Leviathan in the form of suburban development, and the neighbors, human and nonhuman alike, stand with us to give us love and support. One of the groves scheduled to be clearcut features an osprey nest, at least one spotted owl nest, flocks of turkey vultures circling overhead, a trail and campsite used frequently by bears, and a creek that serves as watershed for the Humboldt Bay’s healthiest population of coho salmon. Surely, not just timber-land. The critters have shown much love for our efforts, particularly the flying squirrels and owls who provide moral support and watch us climb.

Green Diamond (GD), formerly Simpson Timber Company, is now the most active transnational timber corporation remaining in Humboldt County. They have clear-cuts scheduled each year all across the Northwest, and have largely escaped public scrutiny by a process of the 21st-century called Greenwashing (see: their name + their website) and alliances with the State.

Example: the Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for spotted owls, which gives the owls a vague, constantly shifting zone of ‘habitat’ on GD land and a few selected remaining ‘wildlife trees’, usually of low monetary value. In return, the GD gets a bunch of ‘Incidential Take’ permits for owls, basically, a license to kill them at will. The GD’s plan for the McKay Tract is clear-cutting, followed by residential development to double the size of Cutten, of course adding more residents to the city of Eureka and more overall stress upon the environment.

So far no chainsaws have fallen upon the McKay Tract this year, so tree-sitters are still needed to live in the canopy to protect this refuge of wildlife from the perpetual war that is Human Progress. Anyone wishing to join us in the forest or in town are encouraged to contact Earth First! Humboldt at (707)-834-5170.

Benson's Chuckle – who said no one rides for free?

The bus arrives just in time. Many people who have had a chance to see and spend an evening in the innocuous white whale of a vehicle have gone to bed a little richer. The bus which has no official name, is a former city bus that was converted into a rooving indy media center. It primarily showcases live music of the underground variety and it rarely disappoints. Maybe it’s a bore, or a catastrophe occurs, like the PA system blows up. In fact people will most likely have a memorable time if a minor dilemma arises. On its maiden voyage across the country, it had just made it out of Alameda county when its bio-diesel engine caught on fire. According to Zach Houson, who went on that particular trip and who does not drive or know nothing of auto mechanics, “I learned that anything you need to fix a car with you can probably make the parts out of gum and garbage and it will hold–even if it’s only temporary.” Stories like Zach’s abound with those who come in contact with this phenomenon.

The bus has been having events for the last three years and has made its way across the country twice. An aborted trip into Mexico does not rule it out as a future possibility. And what of Alaska? China? Prague? The imp-like maintenence man John Benson, who is the bus’ primary keyholder, would probably egg on the most impossible ideas as a calendar item for next month. Fans of the bus often will only hear of an event hours before it’s happening. And many people get drawn to it as they haplessly pass it by chance.

But ambuiguity is probably a boon in this hyper–tense–where’s your permit–open air prison called America. Like guerrilla fighters, the networks of underground artists, striving to express themselves, do not bother to open their dream club, café or bar, knowing that the restrictions and fees will stifle their fun. House shows and temporary storefronts are just as much a part of a touring schedule as a teen center or any place listed in an alternative weekly. Many bands also go to play in empty fields, toxic waste sites, or in abandoned structures–places hard to get to, but once there the tension of the Man’s gaze is gone. The bus operates on this ethos–and may I add, eliminates all those pesky service charges levied that are the result of being so entangled in capitalism.

The story of the bus origin is a parable on how to face adversity. When John Benson’s communal house, known to host shows, decided to take a break just as the touring band season began to spike, he looked into other avenues. While scouring the world’s bizarre market, a notice of a half-built bus lead to a transaction. The bus was a remnant of city public transportation and was then purchased by the Oakland Police Dept to convert into a mobile cop base. Windows were fortified with metal sheets and an odd-looking tower added, but the funds needed to put it on the street dried up. The first road trips and shows were being planned before the stage was built, lights installed, and veggie oil engine tinkered.

I’m sure the OPD doesn’t fancy the end result of their endeavors. Ah the fossils and failed dreams of the police state only creates the playground to romp in. It’s almost too good, like this reality is one of those boring political tracts written by some splinter group like the Situationists International or CrimethInc. But most of those at a show are not engaging in a conscious act of anti-authoritarianism. Much like those Obama parades on election night, people are pleased to take the street and that’s the end in itself. I am often reminded that the constant visits from traveling musicians is a form of barter that predates the exchange of culture for money. And what these tribes of far away artists share is their ideas–however strange. And when the hometown gets a little too small, the arrival of the bus with new faces and ideas for an hour, will change the dead night into a spark of light.

The bus has been in traction back East from the second U.S. tour. A replacement bus has carried the torch for us all the past couple months. Just as we lost hope in seeing that strange funky blob amble on down the road. Proof that the idea and action of taking public space is more important than any one vehicle.

Samantha Dorsett 1975 – 2009

The death of Samantha Dorsett came as a terrible loss to all of her friends in the queer and trans- community, the punk community, and the anti-war movement; also to the clerk at the South Berkeley post office, the waitress at the Vietnamese restraurant, and to all of us on the Slingshot staff. Her life (and death) touched many, including those she had never met, who knew Samantha only through her creative and institution-building work.

In the 90s, in Bloomington, Indiana, Samantha founded Plan-it-X Records and the Secret Sailor bookstore (now Boxcar Books), both of which continue to thrive today. She published a fanzine, Strap Yourself In. After touring with her puppet troupe and several bands, she moved to Pensacola, Florida, where she worked tirelessly to organize protests (and a culture of resistance) against the war in Iraq. She also staffed Subterranean Books, and packed orders for the local Books Through Bars program.

Samantha came to the Bay Area next (“settled” was never the right word for Sam) and was actively involved at the San Jose Peace Center, the Long Haul, and the Book Zoo. She continued to write articles, fanzines, poetry chapbooks, broadsides, and a novel (“Troubled Sleep”) under her own name and several pseudonyms. One of her final published pieces, about the Women’s Choice clinic, was on the cover of the last Slingshot.

Plagued by physical and mental ailments, unable to overcome or escape from the scars of her difficult life, and unable to find a dignified, fulfilling place either in the larger society or in the alternative communities she’d help foster, Samantha took her own life in June 2009.

She was a sweetheart, a troublemaker, a rabble rouser, a scholar, a lover of bunnies, and more. We will miss her always.

Worcester Roots dig deep on lead cleanup

“For the record, there is no valid phytoremediation method for [lead].”(1) That’s how Rufus Chaney began a recent email regarding a contaminated community garden. Chaney would know — he was one of the original researchers in the promising field of phytoremediation, or the use of green plants to remove contaminants from soil. He believes that current phytoremediation strategies offer few solutions to people concerned about lead levels in yards and gardens. Questions lingered in my mind as well, after I documented activists uses of phytoremediation for Slingshot Issue 99. How long does it take to clean up lead with plants? Is this a practical strategy? Plants and mushrooms can remove or break down other contaminants, like arsenic and petroleum products, relatively easily. Getting plants to take up meaningful quantities of lead is tricky.

Successful lead remediation involves a multi-faceted approach, suggests Anita Malpani, the Research Coordinator at Worcester Roots Project, a community group in eastern Massachusetts with a great track record in neighborhood lead remediation. What makes the Worcester Roots Project stand out is their ability to combine activism and science to tangibly improve community soil health. With guidance from experts in the field of lead remediation, like Rufus Chaney and Sally Brown (Univ. of Washington), Worcester Roots conducts their own field experiments. They have strong connections with the UMASS soil testing laboratory. Youth comprise a large part of their organization and are the primary purveyors of the free soil test kits. In fact, neighborhood soil testing is specifically written into their budget and is a cornerstone of their mission “[t]o struggle for a world where everybody is able to access the necessary resources to live a healthy, dignified life, without prejudice, exploitation or toxic environments.”

Malpani took time out from moving offices — their old office in Worcester’s Stone Soup community center recently caught fire — to answer my questions and explain her organization’s new angle on lead remediation. After years of experimenting with lead phytoremediation using Pelargoniums (scented geraniums), the Roots Project is now looking into chemically immobilizing the lead right where it is.

Although Malpani says they’re still hoping to find practical phytoremediation techniques, and are running new experiments with Indian Mustard, she says their new strategy focuses on phytostabilization. They are experimenting with adding phosphate rock, ferrous materials, and compost to the soil, assessing each soil amendment’s ability to bind up and stabilize lead. After adding the amendments, they plant Pelargoniums, which act as a ground cover and keep down dust, in addition to possibly sucking up some lead.

Phosphorus is key to the problems associated with lead phytoremediation, and also to the potential success of their new tactic. A necessary plant nutrient, phosphorus (P) also binds with lead (Pb) in the soil to form the non-toxic mineral pyromorphite. EPA scientists and other researchers like Chaney find that lead joins with phosphorus to make pyromorphite rapidly, and that “pyromorphite will rarely be absorbed if ingested.”(2) The Worcester Roots strategy now depends not on taking the lead away, but on reducing it’s bioavailability. Bioavailable lead is the lead that can damage our bodies when we absorb it. Scientists estimate that only 30% of the total amout of lead in soil is bioavailable.(2) The rest is already sitting tight in complexes with phosphates, sulphates, and organic matter naturally in the soil. Instead of trying to divorce the lead that’s already bound up, why not try to immobilize the rest of it?

“No plant naturally accumulates really high levels of lead from soils,” Chaney points out. Plants physically can’t absorb lead when phosphates are around. He suggests scientists get good results — i.e. experiments showing that plants do absorb a lot of lead — by growing plants in a laboratory and feeding them nutrient solutions that don’t contain phosphates and sulfates. This loophole guarantees that the lead stays soluble instead of forming pyromorphite or other mineral complexes. But a plant growing in a phosphorus-deficient environment is unheathy and won’t give a good yield. Successful phytoremediation depends on a plant’s ability to remove a lot of lead, which is directly related to how large the plant grows. To negotiate this catch-22, Worcester Roots is experimenting with spraying the Pelargoniums with a foliar application of phosphorus. This helps insure the Pelargoniums grow densely and are an effective groundcover, regardless of the amount of lead they might be extracting from the soil.

Despite Chaney’s grim prognosis on the future of lead phytoremediation, other researchers are still trying to find the right plant–soil chemistry combination for significant lead removal. If scientists aren’t using the “no phosphorus in nutrient solution” trick, they’re probably using the chemical EDTA. EDTA is a chelating agent, meaning it surrounds the lead molecules and prevents them from absorbing onto the soil particles, or even prys the lead-mineral complexes apart. Malpani let me in on an interesting conundrum: it’s illegal in all 50 states to use EDTA in phytoremediation projects, because it’s essentially a recipe for groundwater contamination. Once the EDTA frees the lead, the lead can travel easily through the soil and into the groundwater. So why do scientists and remediation companies pursue research with EDTA and other, biodegradable additives like citric acid anyway? Because phytoremediation is potentially so much cheaper than traditional clean up methods, like excavating tons of contaminated top soil and dumping it elsewhere.

The threat of groundwater contamination is real. Minnesota sued a Superfund lead cleanup project at a Twin Cities ammunition plant when the state discovered lead migrating into the groundwater. The EDTA applied to the experimental phytoremediation plot of corn and mustard plants, to increase the plants’ ability to access and remove the soil lead, was instead helping the lead move deeper into the soil and reach the groundwater. The remediation contractors had failed to obtain a permit for using EDTA in the first place.(3)

Back east amidst a sea of old clapboard houses covered in layers of lead paint, the Worcester Roots Project began their foray into lead clean-up with a series of experiments in 2003 and 2004. They set up 8 test plots, tested for lead content, and planted mostly Pelargoniums, with some corn and pumpkins thrown in for variety. They also looked at how the simple addition of compost to the contaminated soil affected the lead content. Malpani told me the experiments were basic, mimicking the lack of control experienced in peoples’ yards. But the concept was proven: lead content was reduced by about 30% in three of the Pelargoniums test plots, which started out with between about 1,000-6,000 parts per million lead. Adding compost also seemed effective. In 17 community gardens and 1 residence with relatively low lead levels (ranging from 48-323 parts per million), no lead was present after annual additions of compost. And in the one compost-only test plot, lead was reduced 41%, down to about 3,500 ppm, after Roots Project volunteers removed the sod and added 1 inch of compost.

These results are great — they make home-scale lead remediation look easy! I wondered, though, if you could really pull out all the lead after planting Pelargoniums for 3 years, or if less and less lead would be taken up each year. Perhaps that 30% was the fraction of the soil lead that was unabsorbed and easy for roots to access.

I found cautious optimism in the scientific literature regarding phytoremediation with Pelargoniums. I also found the time estimate for lead phytoremediation that I had been longing for: a whopping 150 years to remove all the lead from a contaminated field
in northern France!(4) With 1830 mg/kg lead, the field was not that different than some of the backyards tested by Worcester Roots. Even if you were only trying to reduce the lead to below 400 mg/kg, the EPA limit for yards (not playgrounds or vegetable gardens), it would still take upwards of 110 years. That’s a long time to harvest yearly crops contaminated with lead. To make Worcester soils safe for vegetable cultivation and children’s games, Roots Project activists would have to plant, harvest, and dispose of Pelargoniums for more than a century!

Hence the fundamental change in the Roots Project approach. However, a quick search of the scientific literature revealed that there are, of course, still questions about remediating lead with phosphorus and other soil amendments. For instance, what happens when you add phosphorus to the lead-rich soil of a firing range? After 32 months – almost 3 years – only 45% of that soil lead was bound into pyromorphite.(5) Immobilizing more lead would probably require understanding and changing the soil pH. Plus, it’s important to use a less soluble source of phosphate, like bone meal or rock phosphate, to avoid turning any ponds or streams in the area into bright green algae blooms as inorganic phosphate fertilizers leach into the water.

While they’re researching new methods of lead cleanup, what does the Roots Project recommend in the mean time? “If the lead levels are really high (more than 2,000 parts per million), you have bare soil and you have children who play in the yard, we advise you to use barrier methods like building patios, landscaping fabric with mulch, raised beds, and maybe other lead-safe landscaping methods we use,” suggested Malpani. “If it is between 400 to 1200 ppm you could add layers of compost and phosphorus to bind lead and grow Pelargoniums and dispose of them safely.”

For more information, contact Worcester Roots Project at or visit


1. Email from Rufus Chaney, USDA-Agricultural Research Service, to Barbara Emeneau, regarding lead remediation in a community garden in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada pipermail/compost/2009-May/015737.html


3. EPA (2001). Providing Solutions for a Better Tomorrow : Reducing the Risks Associated with Lead in Soil. EPA/600/F-01/014


5. MPCA Settles Alleged Violations at Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant, 06/09/2004.


7. Arshad, M. et al. (2008) A field study of lead phytoextraction by various scented Pelargonium cultivars. Chemosphere, Vol 71, Issue 11, pp. 2187-2192.


9. Chrysochoou, M. et al. (2007) Phosphate application to firing range soils for Pb immobilization: The unclear role of phosphate. Jour. Haz. Matls. Vol 144 Issue ½, p. 1-14.