Looking for dignity, finding revolution: how North Africa & the Middle East inspire us

Can the revolts in North Africa and the Middle East of the past few months inspire similarly energetic uprisings in the US against the self-destructing industrial/financial system and the handful of people who profit from it? The revolts in Egypt, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, etc. have demonstrated how quickly a society can move from resigned acceptance of an oppressive status quo to open defiance. It is inspiring to see how fragile seemingly intractable power structures can be.

The US, too, is ripe for revolt despite the superficial appearance of stability indicated by the millions of people who dutifully head off to work everyday focused on consumerism and corporate media. Social pressure is building over increased inequality and injustice that is barely discussed in mainstream dialog, much less addressed. The last 40 years of tax cuts for the rich, corporate globalization and union busting have created the largest wealth inequalities since before the Great Depression. All of the fruits of US economic growth in the last 30 years have gone to the richest 20 percent of the population, with just 1 percent getting the lion’s share. Ever year, millions of Americans have fallen out of the middle class and into marginalized economic hopelessness. Meanwhile, it becomes more clear every year that the environmental consequences of the ever-expanding industrial machine are not sustainable. The oceans are dying, the air increasingly filled with CO2, forest and mineral resources depleted, and farmland exhausted.

As exciting and inspirational as it has been to follow the revolts in the Middle East, it is easy to feel despair, alone and small when you compare their successes to our situation in the US.

Perhaps that’s how Mohamed Bouazizi felt in Tunisia. In December, Bouazizi, a 26 year old street vender, touched off the current wave of revolts when, in total frustration with police abuse, corruption and his struggle to survive, he set himself on fire. In fact, he was not alone. Everyone around him was thinking roughly the same thing he was thinking. They couldn’t take the rotten system anymore. But until Bouazizi’s act, most people did nothing – they kept their dissatisfaction bottled up and hidden. Maybe out of fear. Or maybe because it is natural for people to be resigned to unacceptable circumstances when they feel isolated. We get used to tolerating our circumstances and feel powerless to change them.

Once a spark was lit in Tunisia, it turned out thousands of isolated and resigned people were ready to join with others and risk everything against a seemingly all-powerful system. And not just in Tunisia – the spark started fires that spread country to country. People even turned out for protests in China, although those protests were instantly crushed by the massive police state.

Watching the revolts from the US, the bravery and determination exhibited by so many thousands comes through powerfully. What is it they have, and we lack? Or are we all psychologically equipped to rise up? And if so, when and how?

The feeling of dissatisfaction and yet resignation is familiar in the US and to people everywhere and throughout history. The emotional basis for inaction in Tunisia or Egypt or Syria before the current uprisings – and the way people can break free of their inhibitions and take huge risks to demand a new world – are the same no matter where you are. In North Africa and the Middle East, anyone getting out of line faces torture chambers and murder, and yet they are rising up anyway.

The power structure in the US (usually) uses more subtle forms of control to establish cultural hegemony and political stability. There are a million cheap thrills to constantly distract attention from the oppressive operation of the system. Most people conclude that the current structure of society is inevitable and that there are no realistic alternatives – even people deeply unhappy with the status quo.

No one knows what might spark mass resistance to the system in the US – there are no easy answers or magic formulas. At the very least, it is crucial to continually discuss alternatives and articulate the values and stories that underpin them. Whereas the system emphasizes competition and imagines each individual as a mini-entrepreneur, rising or falling against everyone else based on his or her individual talent and initiative, it is important to discuss and expose the role of social class and centralized power.

The alternative to a corporate industrial world that concentrates all wealth in a few hands at the expense of workers, communities and the environment is a system of decentralized, voluntary associations based on cooperation and production for use, not profit. The alternative is organizing society around meeting human needs, sustaining the earth, and promoting freedom, pleasure and beauty. The alternative is to make decisions consciously and collectively, rather than letting economic and technological systems unreflectively exercise most of the real power over our lives.

The huge protests in Madison, Wisconsin against attacks on public-sector unions and the recent riots and protests against police killings in Seattle and Portland have demonstrated how people can push back, even though these protests are reactive and defensive. It’s time to take the initiative and go on the offensive. This means talking to people we don’t already know, taking risks, building new communities where none exist, and pushing each of our boundaries.

The stories that people use to help them understand their lives are a critically important piece of the puzzle. There is a constant and continuing battle over values and stories. Purely activist efforts are too simplistic and too focused on facts and rationality – they assume that everyone is operating with the same stories and that particular facts will be interpreted the same by everyone. In fact, depending on the stories you start out with, two people can see the same facts and come to startling different conclusions.

Mainstream culture and the pro-business interests that control its organized side have developed compelling stories about what is important in life and the nature of human beings that make it very difficult to notice particular facts or take effective action. If you assume that the most important characteristics of human beings is their selfishness, competitiveness and individualism, then the fact that the world is organized around profit, private property and centralization of wealth and power appear to be natural results of human qualities, rather than particular power structures created to benefit a minority of the population.

The assumption that people are basically selfish is not supported by the most important relationships people have with each other, which are cooperative and generous. On a day-to-day level, we spend far more time sharing and cooperating with our families, our friends, and those close to us than we do competing with them or acting selfishly. The relationships that are most meaningful to us are cooperative, generous, sharing relationships. By contrast, our competitive and individualist interactions exhaust us, stress us out, and don’t give us a sense of meaning, satisfaction or happiness. Instead, they make us feel alone, small, scared and constantly inadequate. You never feel a sense of wonder at merely existing with no need to justify your value during your daily interactions with the market economy and the technological industrial machine.

We need to articulate and live stories of sharing, community and cooperation to oppose the mainstream’s one-sided story of selfishness and isolated individualism.

It is in the interest of those in power to view people as primarily selfish economic actors – concerned with rational decision making aimed at accumulating material goods. Cooperation and sharing are invisible to the market economy because they don’t concentra
te wealth. For the capitalist system to continue expansion, it must constantly invent new needs and develop new markets, which in a developed economy means figuring out ways the market economy can meet needs previously met informally through the family or the community.

So cooking at home gets replaced by instant dinners and fast food supplied by corporations. The market supplies video games, television and a gym membership to displace free recreation like playing in the woods or hanging out with friends in the streets. Kids who formerly walked or biked to school get rides from their parents. Granny doesn’t come around to do childcare and some mending – she goes on a cruise or to a casino, or a nursing home, while the kids go to daycare and the clothes get thrown away and replaced with new ones from China.

When people do things for themselves and those around them, it builds feelings of solidarity and group identity that allows people to stand up to centralized power structures. By contrast, the more of our lives we spend working meaningless jobs and enjoying superficial corporate treats, the less sure of ourselves we become and the more alone, isolated and powerless we feel. Increasing participation in the system weakens the ability to resist the system.

The sense of working class culture in the US – that people who work for a living have different interests than their bosses – may be at all time low because people’s lives have become so focused on individualized pursuits and so stripped of shared, cooperative activities. Driving alone, living alone, enjoying personally directed media entertainment alone, eating alone – all of this has psychological effects that accumulate over time. Without opportunities to practice cooperation, it is easy to buy mainstream stories about which of our impulses – individual or collective – are most natural and human.

I still don’t know how people in the US can finally move to action from our deep resignation, but I feel encouraged in the knowledge that I can do something by staying present and trying. Standing in a crowd can make a difference, at least for those of us there. Any society can move quickly from resignation and acceptance to revolt – the difference is a small psychological shift, building on feelings already present in all of us all the time. Being together – a community in the streets visible to others – can help build that change as it always has across the globe and throughout time.

Naked repression doesn't compute

“I believe geopolitics will be divided between pre- and post-Cablegate.”

– Julian Assange

In December of 2010, after releasing secret US diplomatic cables, Wikileaks was subject to widespread, extralegal repression by corporations and governments, particularly the US government. This repression was shocking to many techies, journalists, civil libertarians, and other defenders of free speech on the internet. Much of the commentary showed a newfound awareness and suspicion of “the state.” I myself had slowly drifted from radical to more liberal over the last few years, but was rudely re-radicalized in early December 2010 by the nakedness of the repression. Many others, especially programmers and other techies, were radicalized by those events.

Wikileaks was started several years ago to provide a way for whistleblowers to leak both corporate and governmental information of public importance in a safe, untraceable way. Wikileaks would verify the information and then publish it. By 2008, Wikileaks was officially considered an enemy of the US military – as we know by an Army Counterintelligence Center document leaked to (and published by) Wikileaks!

Wikileaks has produced the video “Collateral Murder” which shows a US helicopter crew engaged in multiple war crimes, including the murder of a wounded Reuters journalist and civilians coming to his aid as he crawled in the gutter. Wikileaks also published the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan War Logs, extremely detailed reports from the ground of those wars, which showed among other things that the military had been keeping track of civilian casualties in Iraq and that the numbers are higher than previously believed.

In late November, Wikileaks with four partner newspapers began publishing part of a cache of 250,000 US diplomatic cables. This came to be known as “Cablegate.” In many cases, the cables were not new information, but they provided confirmation of various crimes and deceits of the US and other governments. Having been written by US diplomats, they are “authentic” and suitable for mainstream news in a way that the work of someone like Noam Chomsky is not. It was immediately after Cablegate that the repression began in earnest: its website was attacked; its DNS provider stopped service; Amazon, its web service provider, kicked them off; and Paypal, Mastercard, and Visa all prevented people from making donations. (Visa and Mastercard will still take donations for the KKK, no problem.) There were calls for assassination and trials for treason (for non-citizens!) by US politicians and pundits.

The ruling class was clearly panicking. Wikileaks had brought to light a trend of the last several years – that the internet limits their ability to control information and leaks of this kind, and that broad masses of people are ready to mirror and distribute evidence of their crimes. Cablegate made many people aware of this quite suddenly – and the shock of this realization is one reason that the US ruling class reacted as harshly as they did. But even if they succeed in killing Wikileaks, the idea of Wikileaks is out – and being incorporated into people’s everyday expectations of the internet. When Egyptians broke into the offices of Amn Dawla (State Security), they stole thousands of documents – and immediately put them on the internet.

The cables themselves, as well as the repression of Wikileaks, are potent organizing tools to educate ordinary people and activists about the nature of US imperialism. The cables focused attention on the blatant misbehaviour of the state and the United States government’s obsession with the “national interest” above its alleged concerns about “human rights” and “democracy.” While this has not been addressed so directly in mainstream media, it is evident in the discourse of various subgroups – nationalists from Germany to Pakistan, environmentalists, activists against the copyright industries, and true activists for human rights and democracy – who can see in various cables how the US has acted against them.

I see in Cablegate a huge opportunity for anarchists and other radicals to educate, radicalize, and organize newly pissed off people. I also see a responsibility for us to organize to defend and expand the internet freedoms that give us more power versus the state – check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation ( eff.org ) and various grassroots efforts. I also think it is paramount that we defend Bradley Manning, who allegedly leaked all of this wonderful information to us (see other article).

“The real ‘insurgency’ is the one being fought at home. To the state, every defiant citizen is a terrorist, in mind if not in practice. Wikileaks helps us make one thing clear: we will not enter this battle unarmed.”

– Maximilian Forte

Free Bradley Manning!

Bradley Manning is a 23-year-old Army intelligence analyst who has been charged with passing classified material to Wikileaks. If it is true, then far from being a criminal, he is the only person to have fulfilled obligations under international law by exposing war crimes.

For almost a year, Bradley has been in solitary confinement in a maximum-security Marine brig in Quantico without so much as a pre-trial hearing. He is getting the worst of the usual US prison conditions with some flavours of mistreatment imported from Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib: he is not allowed to exercise in his cell and was forced to sleep naked. He will soon be transferred to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he will be farther from friends and family and from large numbers of supporters.

The more attention given to this issue now, the more likely the judge will make his trial public – a pre-condition of a fair trial. Please check out www.bradleymanning.org for ways to support Bradley – sign the “Stand with Brad” petition, make a donation to his defense, write him a letter, get stickers or a t-shirt, or join a protest.

Anonymous: hacktivists defend free information

For the last four years, a loose collective of hackers has been causing trouble all over the Internet, pissing off oppressive governments, religions, and corporate tycoons alike. They call themselves “Anonymous,” and in youtube appearances, they wear Guy Fawkes masks like the hero of Alan Moore’s classic anarchist comic book, V for Vendetta. Indeed, following the exploits of Anonymous feels somewhat like reading a comic book.

Anonymous’ mission is simple: to protect human rights and keep information free. Their “hacktivist” activities include cyber-attacks against the Church of Scientology, Egypt’s Ministry of Information, the Fine Gael Party of Ireland, the white supremacy websites of Hal Turner, the Zimbabwe Government, the (ex)-Tunisian Government, the Americans for Wealth website, and perhaps my favorite:

In February 2010, in response to the Australian Parliament’s motion to use internet censorship software to prevent its citizens from viewing some types of porn (namely, porn with female ejaculation and with small-breasted women), Anonymous launched ‘Operation Titstorm’ in which they defaced the Prime Minister’s homepage, crashed the parliament website, and spammed legislators with thousands of naughty pictures. A few hours before this occurred, the group sent an email to journalists, stating:

“No government should have the right to refuse its citizens access to information solely because they perceive it to be unwanted… The Australian government will learn that one does not mess with our porn. No one messes with our access to perfectly legal (or illegal) content for any reason.”

During Cablegate of December 2010, Anonymous declared solidarity with WikiLeaks. Then, when MasterCard and Visa blocked online donations to WikiLeaks, Anonymous retaliated by crashing their websites. The group also launched Operation Leakspin, which involves sorting through the 900,000+ leaked military documents on WikiLeaks and spreading important ones that may have been overlooked.

In the meantime, the FBI has been running around in circles trying to stop WikiLeaks and catch members of Anonymous. In February, Aaron Barr, a self-described “master of counter-hacking” from HBGary Security Firm, announced to the media that he could take WikiLeaks down and dismantle Anonymous. Barr threatened Anonymous by telling the Financial Times that he had obtained personal information on many of the group’s leaders, including their real names. Anonymous responded swiftly and thoroughly: They took down Barr’s website, stole his emails, deleted his company’s backup data, trashed his twitter account, and remotely wiped his i-pad.

“Ddos!!! Fckers,” Aaron sent from his iPhone as a DDoS attack hit his corporate network. (This and all 30,000 other messages Aaron Barr has ever sent via the web are available for immediate torrent on piratebay.com.)

Neither the FBI nor corporate security firms can stop Anonymous as they patrol the dark corners of cyberspace in the name of truth, justice, and information freedom.

Who are these masked marauders? Whoever you are, W3 CLUM51LY 50LUT3 Y0UR 1337 H4X0R 5K1LL5.

Against the Poverty of Language and Thought: Defending Ambiguous Situations

Cell phones are an overpowering, ever-present factor in society. A factor which has multiplied at a staggering rate.

They help to deal with the fear of the unknown. Supposedly they protect children, assuring that the child will never be stranded or outside of the watchful parental gaze. If a car breaks down, one no longer needs to risk getting a ride from a stranger, a risk which is primarily having to confront the overwhelming alienation of our community.

The cell phone constantly bombards the user with updates. It is simpler than having to risk making mundane choices yourself. The user is never difficult to contact about anything, no matter how banal.

The cell phone fulfills the need to be hip and current. Those without mobile communications devices are constucted as being outdated, in the cultural lag, backwards. By owning a cell phone one can feel progressive and up to date.

The underlying motivations for cell phone ownership are fear and convenience. Ultimately fear avoidance and convenience are the same thing – the avoidance of ambiguous situations.

It is no extreme statement to say that capitalism creates false needs. Fifteen years ago cell phones were a rarity, certainly no necessity. How did we live before? They are now a need. We need it like a fix of cellular smack.

It is now standard at many jobs, even low paying ones, to expect ownership of a mobile phone. Employers can constantly contact employees. Labor engulfs everyday life.

Due to the addition of text messaging the cellular communication is trapped between orality and literacy. It has neither the improvisation and open ended nature of spoken language, nor the complexity and depth of written language.

This contributes to a poverty of language. The exchange is constant, yet nearly meaningless. This poverty of language contributes to a poverty of thought.

The E911 system, required by law to be included on all cell phones, allows the location of any cell phone to be triangulated, via GPS, within a few yards. The communication device becomes a tracking device. The cell is a cell.

Paranoid? Maybe. After all, they can’t be tracking everybody all the time, there are just too many people. Precisely the point. The E911 system fulfills the concept of the Panopticon analyzed by Michel Foucault. We know they can’t be paying attention to everyone at every given moment. At the same time we know that they have the capability for surveillance on anyone at any given time.

This position causes the internalization of the control of surveillance. The oppressor is no longer a clear external force, it is now a formless totality which impersonally constrains us. This formlessness makes it difficult to remain autonomous against it, it can not be pinned down. Furthermore, the user knows that they consented.

Cellular technology is transforming human beings into cyborgs. The technology grows more ever-present. The user becomes more and more integrated into the totality. McLuhan argued that the integrated circuit and the television were extensions of the nervous system. He seems to have been premature. The cell phone is closer to the realization of this extension of the neurological system. Remember McLuhan’s often forgotten companion point – every extension is also an amputation.

The cell phone is becoming a permanent extension. It is responded to nearly automatically. This interaction forms a feedback system – a cybernetic system. What thoughts are ours, in this cybernetic system? This cybernetic transformation is particularly noticeable in the case of earpieces and other hands free devices.

The question this brings up is not one of right and wrong. It is a matter of admitting that these devices cause major shifts and determining if these shifts are what we actually want. It has been pointed out to me that the picture I present may even be too optimistic. As for my participation in these shifts, personally, I refuse and resist.

All aboard!! Except bikes?

Bicycles and trains are natural allies in providing alternatives to private automobiles for transportation, or they can be. When rail operators permit bicyclists to easily and quickly take bikes on trains, the combination of bikes and trains each extend the other’s reach. You bike to a train station, ride the train, and then bike from the train station to your destination. In the Bay Area, you can carry a bike onto the BART subway trains as well as commuter trains like the Capitol Corridor to Sacramento or Cal-Train between San Francisco and San Jose. Thousands of people with bikes ride on these trains every day.

By contrast, it is fairly difficult to take your bicycle on Amtrak’s long-distance trains that travel across the US. You usually have to partially disassemble your bike and put it into a special $10 box to carry as checked baggage, which limits you to getting on and off the train at the relatively few stations that permit checked baggage. Boxing the bike requires removing peddles and loosening the handle bar stem, all requiring special tools. These rules discourage people from taking their bicycles on long-distance trains.

It doesn’t have to be like this. On some Amtrak routes – like the Cascades between Vancouver, BC and Eugene, Oregon and others (see chart) – you can bring your bike on the train quickly and without boxing it up. The routes that accept bikes without boxes either have bike racks in the baggage cars or bike racks in the entrance area of coach cars.

Luckily, Amtrak ordered 55 new baggage cars in 2010 to replace the fleet of used baggage cars it inherited from private passenger railroads when it was created in 1971. The old baggage cars (the youngest is 49 years old!) don’t have bike racks, but the new ones will. They’ll be delivered in 2012.

The new baggage cars raise the possibility that all long-distance trains could easily accept un-boxed bikes, but Amtrak isn’t promising anything. According to Amtrak spokesperson Vernae Graham, “The plan is that the new baggage cars that Amtrak acquires will be equipped with some form of bicycle racks or storage capabilities. It is unclear if all, some, or any of the train services will allow ‘roll-on/roll-off’ bicycle capabilities. This will depend on route characteristics, schedule time, and other factors.”

Why should anyone care? Over the past few years I’ve become as passionate about riding the train as I am about biking. On a superficial level, these lifestylist transportation choices sometimes begin as an attempt at reducing one’s carbon footprint out of concern about global climate change. Bikes only use the fossil fuels necessary to build a bike, and train travel generates only about half as many greenhouse emissions as plane or auto travel.

But the real reason I love taking the train and riding my bike is how these experiences change my own consciousness and how they change my relationships with others. Car travel reinforces an individualized, unreflective, hurried world view that fits nicely with the type of consciousness the industrial system needs in its workers and consumers. We’re social creatures who are always deeply dependent on other people, but the car promotes the myth that each of us is an island competing, rather than cooperating, with everyone else. Car consciousness is all about selfishness. When you drive a car, it’s easy to feel hostility to the other drivers – out of my way! Cars zip around – all the speed, ease and instant gratification hiding the huge social costs of the industrialized world required to build road networks and create fuel to keep cars moving.

By contrast, train travel is often a cooperative, shared, social experience that humanizes fellow travelers. Especially on long distance trains, strangers talk to each other. Riding the train, you notice the landscapes you’re passing, not just the road ahead and your destination. The train can be a break from doing and a step into being – a time to notice things and just exist.

Bicycling engages one’s entire being in an almost meditative way, the present moment thrust forward, breaking down the split between your body and your mind as both cooperate to keep moving forward. Biking can be individualizing but often isn’t – you’re much more likely to talk to another bicyclist you pass than if you were both in cars. Biking takes time and slows down your consciousness to a more natural, human speed.

It is interesting to note that the right-wing Tea Party movement has specifically targeted funding for rail travel but has never met a freeway project it doesn’t want to throw money into. Highways eat up far more government funding than rail, so if the Tea Party was really primarily interested in smaller government, wouldn’t they go after roads? Perhaps the cooperative nature of train travel threatens their free-market, individualist ideology?

To stay in power, the tiny number of people who control the corporate system need everyone’s psychological acceptance of a deeply unjust system that centralize all power and resources created by all of us in their hands.

Within each of us, there are individual impulses like selfishness and competitiveness, as well as social impulses like cooperation and sharing. The market system only sees half of us, assuming all our decisions are “rational” i.e. made out of individual self-interest. The market ignores our cooperative actions and self-directed activity – sharing with our family, volunteering in our community, helping out friends, and taking free time – because these are not market transactions. This side of our lives doesn’t contribute to the Gross National Product or make money for corporations, is not managed by anyone, and has no marketing budget.

But for most people, the community side of our lives and our self-direct activities are far more important and satisfying. We live to share with our loved ones and experience the world. Working a job and going to the store are necessary but don’t give us a deep sense of meaning or belonging. Market-based experiences are frequently fleeting and superficial, while self-defined and community-based experiences are memorable and essential.

Those in power want to emphasize our individual, market-oriented impulses because these strengthen their power. Social institutions that psychologically individualize us and make us dependent on the system – cars, suburban housing, corporate media – make individual people see the private enterprise system with its emphasis on selfishness and competition as natural, inevitable and just. Even individuals who come out on the bottom of the economic heap can come to believe that they deserve to be there – that their poverty is a social Darwinist result of their own failures – rather than the functioning of an inherently unjust economic system which concentrates resources in one social class at the expense of everyone else.

By contrast, interactions that are outside the market system or that emphasize cooperation, collective identity and other people build our ability to think outside of the corporate system. Travel by train and bike are tiny examples of experiences that provide alternatives to dominant normalizing systems. Promoting these and many other alternative day-to-day experiences may help build a subtle psychological foundation that can help us awake from our political slumber and openly attack the unjust, inhuman and ecologically suicidal system that rules the world.

If you want to ask Amtrak to accept more bikes, call 800-USA-RAIL or use the website form at amtrak.com.


Train name Location Served

Capitol Corridor SF Bay Area / Sacramento

Cascades Vancouver BC / Eugene

Downeaster Boston / Portland, ME

Downstate Illinois Service Chicago / Quincy, St. Louis or Carbondale

Missouri River Runner Kansas City / St. Louis, MO

Pacific Surfli
ner San Diego / San Luis Obispo, CA

Piedmont NYC / Charlotte, NC

San Joaquin SF Bay Area / Bakersfield

Earth first! tree sits city hall – Defend the Everglades! Resist Scrippts Biotech!

Since Everglades Earth First! kicked off the Briger forest canopy occupation on February 14, resistance to the expansion of Scripps Biotech campus on 683 acres of pine flatwoods ecosystem has been growing across the state of Florida. The site includes wetlands and is home to rare and endangered species, including gopher tortoises, indigo snakes and hand ferns, along with dozens of migrating and wading birds. The Palm Beach Gardens expansion includes an animal testing lab for corporate-driven science, including genetic engineering, nanotechnology and bio-warfare. It is being subsidized by $579 million tax dollars.

The tree-sit lasted for six weeks on a highly visible location along two major roads visible to thousands passing by daily. After the Palm Beach Gardens Police arrested two of the treesitters and cut the trees they were in, Everglades Earth First! responded on April Fools Day with a retaliation tree sit in front of City Hall. Police arrested one tree-sitter, but not before the public scrutinized the Mayor’s order to cut trees in an area designated as a protected preserve under the “mitigation” required in the development permit.

Since the direct action campaign kicked off following this year’s Earth First! Winter Rendezvous and Organizers Conference, dozens of activists have been trained in the skills of backwoods forest defense (which are new to this part of the world). We have gained much support of the public through our high profile actions, and the project that was expected to begin construction this year has yet to break ground. Now that this project is on people’s radar, new legal challenges against their permits are also surfacing.

At this point, we plan to continue building momentum through door-knocking in the surrounding neighborhoods and continuing to monitor the site for endangered species which could delay or cancel the project once and for all.

But if permits are issued to move forward with building the animal testing labs and surrounding biotech city with condos, strip malls, hotels, etc., they will meet resistance every step of the way. Keep your ears out, as we’ll be looking for help from our friends across the country to make sure this project never happens! For background, photos and videos, check out ScrapScripps.info or call us up at 561-249-2071

Tips for DIY bike touring

One of the most liberating experiences of my life is biking out of my town, loaded up with all the gear and supplies to be self-sufficient for days on end. With the wind in my hair and the sun at my back, I feel truly free. Even in a group it’s empowering to know that every member is transportationally autonomous AND cross-compatible with other modes. If a couple people want to spend an extra day somewhere or speed ahead to the next attraction, everyone can have their way.

In addition to the inherent liberation and autonomy, bike touring introduces you to the places you go more intimately than other modes of travel. Your routes can’t be just interstate X from this city to that city, and the side streets and low-traffic roads that cyclists must take are inevitably the roads less traveled. Being “out in the open” also facilitates interactions with locals that you would otherwise miss. In contrast to most other modes of transportation, bike touring is more about the journey than the destination.

To some people, a do-it-yourself bicycle tour is a tour that you plan and execute without a guide service or a non-profit you are fund-raising for. I congratulate anyone whose tour is their own. For people who are already taking more time and effort to travel, I recommend taking the DIY approach one step further. You will be more self-reliant, and you can save a lot of money, too.

Here I offer some DIY tips for three aspects of touring: Mechanics, Food, Lodging and Building and the “Touring Bike.” Even if you have top-of-the-line equipment and stay in hotels when you travel, consider this advice as back-up planning for unexpected challenges…such as your bank deactivating your debit card because you crossed a state line and didn’t tell them (this happened to me). There is also a peace of mind that comes from riding your own handiwork from place to place on a route you make yourself..


You can save a lot of money by doing your own repairs. You also won’t have to depend on a kind motorist giving you a lift to the next town if you can work through your own breakdowns. At the very least I recommend knowing how to patch a tube when it goes flat. Most bike shops offer classes. If there is a community bike co-op where you live, you may be able to learn while volunteering and even exchange hours for parts. A tip for the road: bike shops often put partially used equipment out back (tires with half their tread, patchable tubes).


If I am not in an urban area I will just find an inconspicuous wooded area and camp out. If I am in an urban area where I don’t have pre-existing social relationships, I usually turn to a website and community found at www.warmshowers.org. Similar to couchsurfing.org (but for bike touring), users create profiles for themselves, whether touring or hosting, and find each other and network to provide mutual aid in the form of housing, food, tool/parts/maintenance help, even vehicular rescue. In a pinch (and for fun) I have camped on the flat rooftops of businesses that have a ladder in the back, but scrammed in the morning before the owner called the cops.


Dumpster-diving on a bike tour is very practical because it reduces net waste and saves money. It’s also more interesting because it’s usually not the same-old dumpsters that you’re used to back home. If you don’t dumpster-dive, you can still save money and waste by preparing your own food (with or without a stove) rather than eating at restaurants all the time.


If you have a bike that was made for touring, you still might find this section interesting. Listed below are most of the defining features of traditional touring bike designs. Most are accompanied by a work-around or “hack” that tells how you can achieve the same goal without having to shell out for a bike that was made for touring.


“Heel Clearance,” or enough space so your heels don’t hit your camping gear in the back: I recommend either getting a rack that extends further back or ziptying one of those wire shelving grates on either side to keep your gear out of your spokes. Cat litter buckets also make great panniers.


Low enough gears so that you can climb hills when fully loaded: I recommend either putting mountain bike gears on your bike or just touring on a mountain bike.


Comfortable seat, handlebars, and positioning of these relative to each other. I ride with cruiser style handlebars attached with a mountain bike stem to a road bike frame, but practice-rides will define comfort for you.


Front rack capability: use a rear rack on the front of your bike unless you really want to shell out the cash for a “front rack.” Since bike-tour-specific components are a niche market, front racks tend to be expensive.


Other useful pieces of DIY touring equipment: busted innertubes as bungee cords, box-wine “space-bags” to carry water (they also make great pillows).

There is a more complete list in my 56-page zine, “HOW TO DIY BIKE TOUR” which is available online for free at www.zinelibrary.info/diy-bike-tour or at an infoshop near you. If you know any tips or tricks, I am always searching for new ones to tinker with: diy.bike.tour@gmail.com. I am also very open to suggestions and criticism, constructive and otherwise.

Bicycle touring is very liberating, and it’s also a lot easier to stop and smell the roses when you’re going 15mph on a bicycle. Whether stealth-camping, dumpster-diving, or customizing your bike, the more that you do yourself, the more you are empowered and prepared for whatever adventures await you.

Critical Mass vs. Bike Party: leaderless doesn't mean disorganized

Berkeley’s Critical Mass bide ride – the leaderless bike parade that joins the evening commute on the second Friday of each month – turned 18 years old this spring and it is amazing how much conditions for cyclists have improved over those years. You see more and more people of all kinds, ages and purposes riding all kinds of bikes on East Bay streets. Berkeley and other cities have created networks of bicycle boulevards with improved crossings and safety features. There is more bike parking, although never enough to keep up with heavy demand from more cyclists.

And yet the Berkeley mass rides, which gather at 6 pm at Berkeley BART, are much smaller these days. The decline is in stark contrast to the rapid rise in popularity of the East Bay Bike Party – another group ride that starts two hours later on the same night as Critical Mass. While both rides appear similar from the outside, they are organized differently and their relative popularity points to the challenges facing non-hierarchical organizing.

Both rides seek to fill the streets with bikes to build community between cyclists and just for fun. But whereas Critical Mass is leaderless and provides a rare and dangerous opportunity to participate in on-the-fly group decision making which puts responsibility for the outcome of each event onto all of the participants, the Bike Party is a hierarchical exercise. Mirroring mainstream society’s division of people into managers or consumers, the Bike Party follows a pre-determined route published in advance on the internet. A team of organizers with bullhorns tell participants when to turn and enforce a “how we ride” list of rules: “stop at red lights” and “stay in the right lane” so auto traffic can pass.

The Bike Party stops at two or three pre-determined spots along the ride to dance and socialize while Critical Mass stops less, mostly if there is a problem. Both rides have bike trailers with sound systems blaring music and some level of bike decoration. The Bike Party has a theme each month. March was “The Big Lebowski.”

At the moment, people are voting with their peddles for the Bike Party organizing style. The Bike Party rides have been wildly successful and a lot of fun. The Bike Party has solved some of the key problems that have plagued Critical Mass for years: unnecessary and ugly confrontations with motorists that can make the ride feel more like a battle than a celebration, poor route decisions made on the fly by whoever ends up at the front of the ride, and the ride splitting apart because the people in front go too fast. Perhaps because the Bike Party is consistently fun and mellow, it seems more diverse to me in terms of age, race, and the type of cyclists who attend. You see cycle commuters, spandex weekend warriors, and most of all lots of hipsters.

Despite the things I like about the Bike Party, something is missing. The last ride I was on felt cold and anonymous – I noticed people weren’t talking to each other as much as on a Critical Mass ride, but instead were mostly in groups talking to the other people in the group they had come with. Because the ride is organized over the internet, it feels less organic, less like a real community, and more superficial. The vibe was familiar to many social situations – sort of passive and disengaged because someone else had taken responsibility for making the decisions in advance and all you had to do was go along.

Several times a big group rode along mostly in silence, not knowing what to say except when someone would yell, “bike party.” People kept yelling that – what does it really mean? It almost underlines the stubborn refusal of the Bike Party to mean anything, even though any big group of bikes riding in the street cannot avoid challenging auto domination, no matter how much the organizers want it to be non-disruptive to cars and “just fun.”

In contrast, riding in Critical Mass is always electrifying, participatory, spontaneous and social. Because no one is in charge and anyone can lead just by being at the front, debate between strangers to figure out what to do next breaks out at almost every intersection as well as back in the body of the ride. Having these discussions with strangers builds a sense of solidarity and shared responsibility for the ride. It feels like a community. Sometimes having responsibility and yet no actual control can be frustrating and exhausting – you don’t always get your way and you often feel like other people are making unfortunate decisions. Yet the process is engaging, raw and real. You never know what is going to happen next, which is a rare feeling for most of us. Not only does it feel out of the ordinary to fill the streets with bikes, it feels out of the ordinary to be in a large group making collective decisions.

The difference between the Bike Party and Critical Mass is like the difference between being in a boring, scripted peace march organized by ANSWER and running with the black bloc.

What does it mean for anti-authoritarians that one of the longest running regular leaderless public gatherings is declining, to be replaced by a managed, programmed, obedient bike parade?

Many people – including anti-authoritarians – are so used to being directed by leaders and bosses that when there is no boss, they act as if having no boss means “I should act the fool” rather than figuring out a way to act responsibly and cooperatively with others. The main problem with the Critical Mass rides – which has been successfully addressed by the Bike Party – is the tendency of a few hyper-macho hotheads to use the ride to work out their own anger issues. People don’t want to go on a bike ride that yells obscenities at every car, engages in dangerous moving violations and gets into fists fights.

Despite the flaws inherent in Critical Mass, it is worth going, working to revive it, and taking responsibility for making the ride more functional while you’re there. To build a world without bosses where we organize things on our own, we need more opportunities to practice. Many people are putting their energy into collective businesses, communal houses, and DIY projects which each give us chances to create our own realities with others. Group process while sitting in a meeting is a lot different and less intense than group process in a group of hundreds of people you don’t know while you’re moving over the pavement.

The psychological level of social transformation is key. The system hopes to keep us passive – in public schools, as employees, as passive viewers of concerts and sporting events, and as customers at malls and restaurants. And the system seeks to train some of us as managers. Are the Bike Party organizers falling into the trap? The counter-culture gives us too few chances to transcend our normal roles and practice something different.

Join San Francisco Critical Mass (which is still huge) the last Friday of each month at 6 pm at Justin Herman plaza (Embarcadero BART). Berkeley CM is the second Friday at Berkeley BART at 6. The East Bay Bike Party (fun and worth it) is the second Friday at 8 – check the website for location. There is also a San Francisco Bike Party (first Friday) and a San Jose Bike Party (third Friday) – I haven’t been to either yet. For info, sfcriticalmass.org or eastbaybikeparty.wordpress.com.

Outside the fences: the rewilding of Detroit viewed from a prison

Outside the fence, the tom turkey jumped up on the stump, rock, or whatever piece of junk was back there to elevate him above the weeds, spread his feathers and gobbled away impressive and noisy, and all the more so as it was happening just a few feet away from the fences of a state prison in the City of Detroit.

The year was 2010, and I had just been returned to this particular prison after being transferred out in 2005 and taking a near 5-year tour of the Michigan prison system, from Kincheloe in the Upper Peninsula to Ionia and St. Louis in the approximate center of the state. Over the course of which, I did manage to see my fair share of wildlife, which was to be expected when you are plunked down next to a woods or farm fields in some isolate area.

Having grown up and spent the greater part of my 57 years in the Motor City, I was very familiar with the neighborhood. In fact, prior to catching this case in 1998, I was working no more than ten blocks away. At that time the sum total of local wildlife, besides various small birds and rabbits living in the nearby cemeteries, consisted of a pair each of red tail hawks and snow owls that would stop by in the Spring and Autumn to fest on the rats inhabiting the local Coney Island. When it was torn down, the rats left, and the hawks and owls stopped coming.

I first arrived at this particular prison in 2003 and was pleasantly surprised to see that the pair of red tail hawks stopped here to feast on the large population of pigeons, fattened up on bread fed to them by prisoners leaving the chow hall. However, there wasn’t much else in the way of wildlife to be seen, except some passing geese and sea gulls, plus a couple of pheasants, mourning doves, and rabbits living in the saplings and brush growing alongside the railroad tracks.

That has dramatically changed. Upon returning here in 2010, I found a veritable explosion in the local wildlife population. There were now at least a half dozen pheasants, over a dozen mourning doves, and numerous rabbits, all living along the railroad tracks in the saplings turned into trees and brush. Moreover, there was a flock of turkeys living in the brush and swallows, neither of which I had ever seen in the city before. The hawks were still around and I even saw a fox last year. The guards have told me that they’ve seen skunks (I’ve smelled them), possums, raccoons, wild dogs, and even coyotes outside the fences.

No doubt the animals are using the rarely used railroad tracks as a corridor to more into and around the ruins of Detroit, where the only businesses that seem to be left are junkyards and prisons and block upon block of homes sit vacant and derelict. At least, in this neighborhood anyway.

That being the case, I imagine it is only a matter of time before I hear the coyotes howling at night and see my first Motor City deer, aside from the little Formosa deer that have run wild on Belle Isle in the Detroit River for years. All of which, gives me some hope for the future of the planet. If the animals can survive here, in the toxic ruins of a former industrial center, they can survive anywhere and that goes for us Motor City humans too!