After the Take: Workers' Cooperatives in Argentina (12 Years of Self-Management)

The outskirts of Buenos Aires are grim and cluttered, and our route out of the city was lined with weathered billboards stuck like hectic postage on every flat surface. In contrast with the sleek, tech driven city center, the rim of Buenos Aires is still deeply industrial. It’s a place where workers sell the hours in their day for a wage and spend the majority of their waking lives inside a factory answering to a boss. I was there to seek out another way to conduct business; One that provides lives and livelihoods separate from the hierarchical wage system, which for the past 12 years since the economic collapse has been growing in the rubble, inside large warehouses and dusty offices.

For the past two months, I have been visiting, interviewing and working with the worker-owners of Argentina’s empresasa recuperadas, or “taken factories”. The taken factories movement gained enormous momentum after the Argentine economic collapse of 2001, when foreign investors saw their business in Argentina’s strong industrial sector crumble and they closed up shop. Workers at some of these factories saw the lunacy in letting their former work places lie cold and vacant while they were out of work. They already knew how to run the businesses and operate the machines. One by one, they began to occupy their factories and demand the right to work (protected under Argentina’s constitution) and re-start production as a worker owned cooperative. Their logic was that since their labor produced all the added value for the products, and their employers had walked away from their businesses, it was their only option. It was their right to run the factories themselves under horizontal direct democracy.

This movement provided immense hope for many around the world who saw factory occupation and reclamation as the beginning of a paradigm shift; a chance to build a new system within the broken shell of global capitalism. This flood of energy and idealism was undoubtedly released in the US by a film by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis called The Take, which outlines the struggle of one cooperative to gain control of production in their former work place. I had a window into the maturation of this dream and witnessed the textured and complex landscape of factory reclamation in Buenos Aires 12 years after the first factory take over in the early 2000s.

As a student of economics (which in my public university means a student of neoliberal economics) and a young activist, I saw the worker ownership model in Argentina as a beacon I could orient towards; a perhaps-viable alternative and a method of resistance that was widely applicable. The movement has held fast to some fairly radical principles, while also neatly assimilating to dominant business strategies as it has become institutionalized. The stories of workers I interviewed were filled with contradiction, relentless struggle against oppression, and marginalization accompanied by mundane resignation to the status quo. My time in Buenos Aires helped me redefine the meaning of dignified work. It provided me a way to frame the global struggle for worker self- determination.

La Matanza worker-owned cooperative makes screws of all lengths and shapes and sizes, and was reclaimed from its owners in 2003. At the time of the take over, the boss hadn’t paid salaries in ten months. The workers who remained staged a fifteen day occupation of their factory to ensure that the boss couldn’t ferry the stock away and sell it off. The nine current members (or socios) of La Matanza are aging, most close to sixty years old. Some have worked in the dim, cold interior of La Matanza for forty years and overseen the reclamation. They are building new relationships based on horizontal authority and collective decision making with the men they worked next to for so long. None of them drive. Their work clothes are not unlike weekend lounge clothes: slacks and a button-up shirt covered by a comfortable pullover sweater with holes in the elbows. Fine metal dust has been ground into the fabric that stretches over their older-gentleman bellies, giving these men a gentle sheen.

Business is pretty good at La Matanza they said, with a stable client base and higher-than-average returns (they’re not called wages in this coop). They feel secure in their work. Everyone said the biggest problem was the delays they experience when the machines break down.

“Well, how old are the machines?” I asked.

They looked at each other, shrugged, and said casually, “Around one hundred years old.”

When these centenarians break down, the workers take them apart. They hone new parts out of scrap metal and coax them back to life. But it takes a couple days and that’s the biggest impediment to consistent production.

My next stop outside the city was a coop called SG Patria Grande. The outside is as underwhelming as they come (although it’s hard to imagine a deeply impressive warehouse in an industrial suburb), but as soon as we stepped in from the bright sunlight I was surprised by a flurry of color and activity. Boxes were flying around the warehouse, being chucked from the loft and unceremoniously caught and stacked in a truck. Everyone working was young, under thirty-five, and very active, whistling and cracking jokes. The boxes flew through the air with such ease because this coop distributes a wide array of intentionally lightweight and flimsy products: disposables. Every imaginable combination of Styrofoam, cardboard, wrapping paper, and Kleenex lay carefully ordered in a layer of packaging. It’s a warehouse stacked to the ceiling with what amounts to future trash.

Trying to put aside my skepticism regarding the sustainability of their model, I began chatting with Julio, one of the founders of SG. He is 35, super alert and casual. He bounced around on the soles of his bright red Converse as he spoke with us. He started SG with more than a dozen friends when they were in their late twenties. They are all from middle class backgrounds and are much younger than other coop socios I met. They concentrate on building cooperativism as a social movement.

He said that when they first started, there were just a few stacks of boxes at the back, and now they’ve crept forward so that the room is nearly bursting. Like the mercury rising in a thermometer, the huge back stock is a measure of the good health of this growing cooperative.

Julio smiled happily at this thought, but grew serious for a moment and said, “It’s great, but everything in this room will get thrown away”.

This startled me.

He went on. “Yeah, you know that huge trash island the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific ocean? All this stuff will probably end up there, or somewhere like it.”

He was still smiling, but not a cheeky grin, just with the ease of somebody who has come to terms with the truth and has stopped torturing himself about it.

Julio went on to speak candidly about how all the socios know that disposables are an ugly business, but their enterprise is booming right now. The coop has a dream of using funds from their distribution business to open a responsibly-produced bulk food store and restaurant, and seem very serious about making the transition. They realize they will rely on revenues from future trash for at least the next ten years.. They’re trying to offer more corn based compostable products, but they are not confident that these products are a viable long-term alternative.

The contradictions didn’t end there.

On one wall of the warehouse there is a huge colorful mural of a masked Zapatistia warrior with a masked baby on one hip, waving the rainbow-checked indigenous flag. In the US it would be unthinkable to see such a blatant representation of a clearly subversive group like the Zapatistas in any sort of capitalist business establishment. Even odder is that this Zapatista mama is flanked on the wall by a life sized cut out of Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, Argentina’s current female president. She seemed to oversee the entire warehouse with her artificially plump lips pursed in satisfaction. This is the type of small business her rhetoric is intent on supporting, although in practice she strongly favors supporting massive Argentinian corporations. Perhaps more importantly, she represents a distinctly mainstream “business as usual” attitude to capitalism that clashes with the chants of “que se vayan todos” (“get them all out”, referring to the power elite) that rang through the streets in 2001 when the empresas recuperadas movement was born.

That was a time when people were desperate enough to imagine what a more radical shift might look like. The empresas recuperadas movement helped people envision what an economy based in solidarity and horizontal decision-making might be. It helped them imagine how that would change their daily lives and their relationships to their neighbors. Small gains for people clawing their way back towards middle class have tempered that vision and many social movements in Argentina have set their sights on reform and not revolution.

Julio saw me staring in bewilderment at the two women on the wall, he just smiled again and said mischievously, “We like a little bit of everything at SG”.

The socios at SG are doing incredibly admirable work, not just in their business plans and cooperative workshops, but in their ability to live at the axis of a number of colossal contradictions. They live lightly in that complicated and confusing place. They do business with their eyes wide open while laughing in the face of the despair capitalism is supposed to instill. They are thinking carefully and with humility about their place in the movement and in the world, while making sure their families are strong and well cared for. I think they are doing their absolute best, while trapped in a series of oppressive systems. Perhaps this is all we can ask of Work and Business right now; that it allow us to do our best and chuckle at the absurdity when our best still feels like its destroying us and the planet.

The Horrifying Experience of Solitary Confinement

Imagine being locked in a cage alone for 22 ½ hours a day, sometimes for decades on end, with no normal human contact and no exposure to direct sunlight ever. California calls them Security Housing Units (SHU’s), and over 3,000 prisoners are in facilities like this (up to 80,000 in the U.S. ). The majority of these prisons have no windows, computers, or telephone calls. Showers are typically once a week, mail is withheld regularly, meals are pushed through a slot in their cell, and there is no work or rehabilitation of any kind. Conditions like these were the focus of this summer’s two-month long California prison hunger strike by 30,000 inmates which ended September 4.

A major reason this inhumane treatment continues is the common misconception that citizen’s have about who are in these facilities. This is most likely because of the government’s claims that these solitary confinement units are only for the “worst of the worst”. The truth is that there are many prisoners with no record of violence in the outside world in these facilities and that these same solitary confinement techniques are being used in juvenile facilities as well. Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit in Crescent City, California is widely considered by prisoners as the worst facility for solitary confinement in the state, and experts have called it the worst prison in the United States.

Over a thousand prisoners are warehoused in the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison (PBSP) and are never given access to direct sunlight, let alone the right to go outside. The rare occasions that they get visitors (as the prison’s location is also extremely isolated), it is limited to an hour and a half and there is a glass screen separating them. Prisoners are not only separated from the outside world but also from prison staff and fellow inmates. This kind of isolation, consisting of always being inside under artificial light and alone in a small cage 22 ½ hours a day (for multiple decades sometimes), has severe psychological implications.

Stuart Grassian, a Harvard psychiatrist specializing in solitary confinement, found that the effects of this type of confinement included impaired thinking, perception, impulse control, and memory, as well as hallucinations . It was considered after only a couple of weeks of solitary confinement to be “psychological torture”. This treatment of prisoners and their conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison, led to Amnesty International concluding that the facility was in violation of international law . This extremist version of solitary confinement employed by PBSP will therefore inevitably affect our greater society, as these inmates develop a gamut of mental illnesses that go untreated before being released into the population of the outside world. The “supposed” purpose of the prison system in this nation is to rehabilitate, but these SHU facilities instead just inflict severe psychological damage to prisoners who will most likely be released at some point. Prison officials at PBSP claim the SHU facility is intended to keep their other prisons safer from gang violence, yet the SHU is also filled with political prisoners with no gang affiliation. This kind of violence is still on the rise in California’s prison system and has led to the Center for Constitutional Rights filing a lawsuit against the entire California prison system for their use of long term solitary confinement, claiming it is torture and therefore illegal. To put this all in perspective, solitary confinement was utilized in the 19th century as a form of self-reproach but was abandoned after concerns about its psychological effects .

Vaughn Dortch was convicted of petty thievery, got into fights in prison, and was then sent to Pelican Bay State Prison SHU unit. After several months of extreme solitary confinement, he deteriorated psychologically and covered himself in feces. He was then forced to take a bath in scalding hot water and held down by guards until receiving third degree burns all over his body. Medics refused to give him any pain medication for thirty minutes and the head doctor even went as far as saying that he was not burned. Only one individual was found culpable and fired, while no mechanisms were put in place to prevent an incident like this from occurring again .

Todd Ashker was convicted of burglary and sentenced to six years in prison. He got into an altercation with another prisoner over a debt and murdered him (according to Ashker it was self-defense). When an individual commits murder in prison when only serving six years, it can be argued that the defensive nature one must maintain within this type of system might be at least partially culpable. An anonymous informant told prison officials that the murder was connected to the Aryan Brotherhood and as a result Ashker was sent to Pelican Bay State Prison SHU unit. While serving time there he got into an altercation that has two versions of what happened, the State’s version and Ashker’s. According to Ashker, prison guards set him up for a “gladiator style” fight and when things escalated out of control, he was shot with an assault rifle by a guard. His wound nearly severed his hand and he was dumped into a urine and feces covered cell without medical treatment. Lack of sufficient medical treatment then and afterward resulted in an aneurysm in his wound. California’s official story was that they broke up a fight between Ashker and another inmate and that he was warned multiple times before being shot. The Department of Corrections also denies dumping him in a filthy cell and that lack of decent medical treatment resulted in his aneurysm. A couple of questions come to mind when evaluating the State’s official story. How was Ashker allowed so close to another inmate, when he is supposedly in severe solitary confinement with little to no contact with anyone but prison officials? If the State’s story is so accurate, then why was Ashker awarded $225,000 in a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections in a state notoriously tough on criminals? “In this tough-on-crime attitude here in California, it’s always the case that jurors don’t want to give a criminal one red cent, so there must have been something that went on there at Pelican Bay” said attorney Herman Franck .

The only way out of the SHU at Pelican Bay State Prison is to “debrief”, or tell prison officials everything you know about the prison gang you have been “validated” to belong to. The problem is that “debriefing” results in the prisoner putting himself in tremendous danger of being killed once he is back in the general prison population (because of this California leads the nation in long-term solitary confinement). Another problematic aspect of these procedures is the process of “validating” gang members. The gang “validation” process has been criticized because it can occur without evidence of any specific illegal activity and heavily rely on anonymous informants. In Ashker’s case, he has denied ties to the Aryan Brotherhood and has never been convicted of a gang-related crime. If he is telling the truth, then how is he supposed to “debrief” (even if he wanted to)?

As a result of this quagmire and the horrendous conditions that Todd Ashker has had to endure for 26 years, 26 years of no direct sunlight or normal contact with human beings, he has decided to organize to end solitary confinement. Todd has filed lawsuits, organized hunger strikes, and put out a call for a mutually agreed upon ending to hostilities between races and ethnicities in California prisons. According to this agreement, California prisoners end group racial violence against one another and force the prison system to provide rehabilitation programs and end solitary confinement. For these incredible efforts, Todd says he has been given a lack of proper medical care and a plexiglass cell front cover that makes his tiny cell incredibly hot, restricts air flow, and makes it almost impossible to communicate.

It all seems to come down to whether or not the citizens of California feel it is worth psychologically torturing people for years, and in some cases decades, in order to keep the prison system safer (a claim debunked by the increase in prison violence since SHU’s inception). Up until recently, public opinion appeared to be indifferent regarding this issue. However, this is beginning to change after prisoners across California decided to organize a hunger strike. On July 8, 2013, 30,000 prisoners began a hunger strike demanding that prisons :

1) Stop punishing groups for the actions of individuals.

2) Stop rewarding those who provide information on others.

3) Improve nutrition.

4) Institute constructive programs for those in solitary confinement.

5) End long-term solitary confinement.

This hunger strike was the biggest in California history and received support from groups ranging from Amnesty International to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition. There was one suicide (who prison officials denied was a hunger striker initially), dozens hospitalized, and court approval to engage in the force-feeding of prisoners (a violation of international law). In spite of all this, the hunger strikers continued until the state agreed to have public hearings regarding the prisoner’s concerns in October. This incredible organizing effort of prisoners condemned to solitary confinement, in combination with amazing solidarity work being organized by groups on the outside, illustrates what’s possible when the oppressed unite in a mass action against state repression. Let’s just hope that the public hearings accurately reflect what actually goes on in these facilities and leads to the end of this cruel and unusual practice.

Sources: Amnesty International. USA, the Edge of Endurance: Prison Conditions in California’s Security Housing Units.

London: Amnesty International Publications, 2012.

Naday, A.; Freilich, J.; & Mellow, Jeff. “The Elusive Data on Supermax Confinement,” The Prison Journal Vol. 88; 2008.

Grassian, Stuart. “Psychopathological Effects of Solitary Confinement,” American Journal of Psychiatry Online; 1983.

Amnesty International. USA, the Edge of Endurance: Prison Conditions in California’s Security Housing Units.

London: Amnesty International Publications, 2012.

Amnesty International. USA, the Edge of Endurance: Prison Conditions in California’s Security Housing Units.

London: Amnesty International Publications, 2012.

60 Minutes (2012). “Pelican Bay.” Retrieved December 24, 2012 from id=7423194n

Shioya, Tara (October 5, 1995). “Jury awards $225,000 to pelican bay inmate shot by guards.” Retrieved December 24, 2012 from

July 9, 2013. “California Prison Hunger Strike: 30,000 Inmates Refuse Meals.” Retrieved September 19, 2013from

Carroll, Rory. July 9, 2013. “California Prisoners Launch Biggest Hunger Strike in State’s History.” Retrieved September 19, 2013from

Collard Greens and Radicles: New Structures For Freedom After the Riot

It was late afternoon when Brennan appeared on my doorstep and asked for a firearm; “don’t worry,” he told me “I won’t hurt anyone but me.”

I had not seen him in months, and we all knew that he had been losing himself–sleeping on the streets, giving away everything he owned to strangers, talking about things nobody but he could understand. I cancelled my plans for the afternoon and we spent it together. We decided to walk to a community garden to collect some greens for dinner. It was difficult to keep him from wandering off, but I wanted to keep track of him.

The garden was an oasis of unkempt beds and weeds under a billboard on the edge of a busy South Berkeley street. The late afternoon light was golden, streaming gently through the chain link and falling on the delicate green life of the garden. We crouched on our knees, amongst weeds, collecting collard greens. “I don’t like these,” Brennan said. I asked why. “‘Collards’ reminds me of how crust punks keep their dogs. Tied up. Just like everything else. Why keep some plants and kill others? Why not let the weeds grow? Let the dogs free? It’s like language trying to break the world up into bits and own it. Nothing’s separate from anything else; that means I’m not me, not anyone. I’m free.”

At first the things he said had been incomprehensible to me, but now I understood him. In his own cryptic ways, he was articulating a way of thinking that pervades radical thought; his mental break had led him to deconstruct his way out of existence.

I was at a loss for words; I thought I agreed with him; I had for a long time supported these same ideas. Yet they hadn’t freed him. Instead, Brennan was falling apart, and confusing his own negation for freedom. It is a difficult distinction, and in my own way it was plaguing me too.

The dominant culture has imposed its strangling order on the universe through the violent imposition of conceptual and material borders. By defining them, its logic has built impermeable walls between self and society, between human and environment, between man and woman, between this nation and that nation, and it has used these concepts as fortifications, from which it has staged attacks of genocide, ecocide, gynocide, omnicide.

In this logic of compartmentalization, the specificities of things vanish; human beings become numerable, interchangeable, statistical units to vote in polling booths or die in wars; gender becomes absolute and invariant, invalidating each person’s unique relationship to their body; complex webs of ecological life are broken into acres of land, board feet of timber, dollars of revenue. To negate these categories dissolves the mental garrisons that underpin the dominant culture’s war for control.

As I reflected on Brennan’s words however, something came to me. One evening recently, a good friend had shown me an image of the beadwork made by the Huichol people of Nayarit. She is mestizo, but traces her heritage to them. The neat compositions of colorful geometric patterns, I had noticed, were strikingly similar to the wycinanki paper art of rural Poland, the land of my grandparents. Exploring as best I could the aesthetics of other land-based, non-capitalist cultures, I found this basic similarity everywhere: art characterized by an intense reverence for order. This stands defiantly out of place in the terrain of the Western imagination of indigenous cultures, which are so often fetishized for their supposedly chaotic, sensuous tendencies. It also stands in stark contrast to modern and post-modern Western art, which, from Jackson Pollock’s splatter paintings to dubstep, punk rock, and noise music, seems to base itself on the opposite: an obsession with chaos.

This contrast seems to articulate a deep-seated shift in the collective imagination. For land-based cultures, it was order that guaranteed freedom–through the cycles of seasons, the coming of rains, the repetitions of days and nights. If this order failed, there was death. If order remained, there was the possibility of freedom. Cosmopolitan late-capitalism’s aesthetic departure from order signifies the opposite; in a world increasingly suffocated by order–in the grid of the city and the predictability of meaningless work and consumption–chaos instead, has come to hold the keys to freedom. The liberatory nature of structurelessness is not absolute then, but contextual.

That evening amongst the collards and weeds I realized that it was not structurelessness, but further order–the rains and seasons of language and category–that could bring Brennan home. “If the dogs ran free they could be hit by cars.” I mused, still testing my words. “And if we didn’t manage these garden beds, deciding which plants are weeds and which are not, we’d have no food. The dogs give up some freedom to get a different kind in exchange and so do we. If a relationship is a good one, we both end up freer than we began. Language is like that too.” I began feeling more confident. “We lose something by fracturing the world into concepts, but those concepts become tools for sharing experiences, building things, and making art. All relationships require losing some kind of freedom and gaining another. Relationships can be dangerous, but without them, without sacrificing a part of ourselves to cultivate food or friendships we cease to exist. We are the sum of our relationships–between sunlight, water, language, friends, stories and places; doing away with all relationships negates us; it creates death, not freedom. We can’t abolish structure, but we can critique and alter it. It’s by doing that that we can be free.”

He didn’t say anything for a while, still on his knees, head bent against the fading light, washed over by the sounds of cars. I figured that he hadn’t understood. He stared at the collards. Then I noticed a hint of tears in his eyes.

Language, logic, and morals are like gardens–cultivated by human hands and thoroughly managed. They are a tenuous coaxing of unstable patterns from the universe’s slip towards entropy; without cultivation, they quickly recede back into wilderness. This is the case with all life; each living strand utterly inseparable from its surroundings, constantly struggling to pull order from chaos to prolong the improbable imbalance of its existence. By encouraging a few plant and insect species while eliminating others, the garden is always simplistic, yet its simplicity cannot exist without the complexity of the non-human wild, for without soil microbes, water cycles, and pollinators, the garden would die. Similarly, constructed language and logic are co-produced by the ubiquitous and inarticulable grammar, language, and logic of our subjective experience, and the emergent tendencies of the universe.

Against the strangulating order of the global metropolis, it is tempting to fetishize what is structureless and inarticulable. We claim that the dominant culture’s logical constructs are illegitimate because they are not absolute, not naturally occurring. Because no morality or logical structure is naturally occurring, we are unable to offer anything to fill the void that is left when we deconstruct the dominant logic. We un-define all definitions, we riot, denature, and let the weeds grow. And yet it is not the total negation of moral and logical structure that will bring us freedom. Instead, it will be the propagation of new kinds of order to feed us–many different kinds that are, like gardens, dependent on the sun angles and rain patterns place and context. Deconstruction is only the beginning of our struggle, not the end, for the recognition of a logically and morally relative universe is not a justification for logical and moral void, but a call to find our own collective, radical, moral and logical systems. If anything, it makes this even more imperative.

Radical is colloquially defined as ‘that which lies outside or in contradiction to prevailing order–it is reactive, defined by what it is not. This kind of radical moves a system by pushing it from outside, and must remain marginal to retain its identity. However, the word has another interpretation. In the structure of plants, the ‘radicle’ is the genesis point of a root. Framing ‘radical’ in this light suggests a system of critique or counter-logic that challenges a social system down to its roots and sees its many manifestations as connected and mutually constitutive. In this sense, it is opposed to liberalism, which sees social ills as separate issues to be confronted in isolation. This kind of radicalism is a coherent system of logical critique that can suggest the possibility of an alternative world–defined by what it is, rather than what it is not.

The 21st century will be an era of structural breakdown within the dominant culture, as well as the Earth’s climactic and ecological systems. This breakdown constitutes a sort of mass-psychosis, in which centuries or millennia of evolutionary adaptation towards order melt into unpredictability. In this unfolding world, radical movements that champion structurelessness will rapidly lose their liberatory potential. It is within a world like this that the streamlined ultra-logic of fascism can take hold, and has before. The juxtaposition of punk rock and wycinanki attest to this: if chaos reigns, structure will emerge as a liberatory tendency. As radicals, we will need new ways of organizing suited to a world that is slipping towards breakdown–a critique that is radical, constructive, and actively building alternative futures; deconstructing the dominant order to clear space, and building something new there with the intent to inhabit it.

I lost track of Brennan the next morning. He woke up in the room my partner and I share, said “good morning” and walked out the front door, never returning. Weeks later, he contacted his family and asked them to find him. His condition wasn’t cured by our conversation, but it offered a spectacular moment of crystallization and clarity that I hope may have helped him to reach out to his family later. That evening we sat on the porch. He talked about his psychosis, and analyzed himself. “I wish I’d never gone down this road,” he said “this way of thinking isn’t helping me.” We played music together for hours. He said he had not felt so in control of himself in months, that he wanted this feeling back. For that brief moment, I met my old friend again.

Introduction to Slingshot #114

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

This issue comes into the world as the light is fading and we are entering the season of long nights. More state oppression surrounds us with back room deals bent on fucking up the planet and depriving people of a free life… Visible resistance seems to spike from the early spring until now as we progress to the seed of winter. We will fucking rock into the night.

The events in this issue give a slight nod to the ground recently taken. Since our last issue, governments worldwide continued repression of direct action activists — from Chelsea Manning and the NSA to banner droppers in the Arctic. It hasn’t stopped large numbers of us from taking the streets demanding immigrant rights, an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour, justice for Trayvon Martin and others killed by racists and cops, protests over mineral and land rights, and defeat of corrupt overseers in Honduras, Bahrain, etc. The Shit’s On!!

On the surface the ferment may not appear as contagious and hip as the awe inspiring numbers who laid siege to Seattle or the wild fire spread of Occupy. But people are still pursuing that same kind of engagement whether the mainstream news reports it or not. The writing and ideas printed here aspire to express that spirit as it converges wrapped with a crudely made Anarchy sign.

This issue we had one of the largest groups working on the journal in a while. Meetings were attended by upwards of 15 people at a time, including many new folks. There is very little pre-planned about this paper. The articles that make it into print are usually from random sources — but that makes the final paper multifaceted — like the movement itself. Of course it also makes our “voice” Off Beat, and not in a good way. Vital struggles and victories are happening as we are publicizing half cooked ideas and tepid analysis of (non)-events.

This paper pulls together so many disparate voices, sometimes it seems like it’s fighting itself. Our individual ideas are frequently discordant. But when you place our voices side-by-side rather than against each other, you get a choir rather than a battlefield still harmonizing towards a better world.

If you squint your eyes while turning the pages, you may just see this as another paint by numbers political waste of space. A big yawn. You may regard this as the same old recycled (issues) pictures, slogans and manifestos. And worse — presently this project is preoccupied with fluffy solutions. We lack visible and visceral anger and daring illegal acts. No unpleasant invites for those still awake beaconing a dash across barbed wire to freedom in the face of exponentially increasing rules and traps. At best you may hear a familiar song, “Diversity of Tactics” that may drive you from the dance floor entirely. But don’t go. If it’s missing in this paper…write for it, collect info for it, paint for it…

This issue we used full-color rather than the two-tone spot color we’ve been using the last few years. We miss the low-tech simplicity of spot color even while full-color offers new toys to play with.

Often we disparage our relation to money. Money offers poor security as compared with community. This paper allows you to enter a circle of people struggling to make its way without clinging to a bottom line that is determined to sell us out. A free paper for a free people on a free planet. Now is an exciting time for us when we ship off the Slingshot Organizer. That little dayplanner ultimately pays for this project — and enhances so many people’s lives. We hope we’ve done well with the support you have given us.

Slingshot is always looking for new writers, artists, editors, photographers, translators, distributors, etc. to make this paper. If you send something written, please be open to editing.

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

Thanks to the people who made this: Aaron, Alex, Brooke, Carey, Darin, Eggplant, Emily, Fred, Gina, Glenn, Hayley, Heather, Jesse, Joey, Jordan, J-tronn, Kris, Mama Gramps, Mason, Susan, Vanessa, and all the authors and artists who contributed work.

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting on October 20, 2013 at 4 p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below.)

Article Deadline & Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 115 by November 30, 2013 at 3 p.m.

Volume 1, Number 114, Circulation 19,000

Printed October 4, 2013

Slingshot Newspaper

A publication of Long Haul

Office: 3124 Shattuck Avenue

Mailing: PO Box 3051, Berkeley, CA 94703

Phone (510) 540-0751 fucking twitter @slingshotnews

Circulation Information

Subscriptions to Slingshot are free to prisoners, low income and anyone in the USA with a Slingshot Organizer, or $1 per issue or back issue. International $3 per issue. Outside the Bay Area we’ll mail you a free stack of copies if you give them out for free. Each envelope is one lb. (9 copies) — let us know how many envelopes you want. In the Bay Area, pick up copies at Long Haul or Bound Together Books in SF & other places.

Slingshot Free stuff

We’ll send you a random assortment of back issues of Slingshot for the cost of postage: Send $3 for 2 lbs. Free if you’re an infoshop or library. Also, our full-color coffee table book about People’s Park is free or by sliding scale donation: send $1 – $25 for a copy. / Box 3051 Berkeley, 94703.

Cascadia Forest Defenders

The Cascadia Forest Defenders have been blockading the White Castle Timber sale via tree sits to stop the destruction of remaining old growth forests in southern Oregon. They are looking for support, and will provide what they can for people who come out such as food, training and gear. I hitch hiked to Eugene in August where I met up with some of them and learned a bit about tree climbing before we went to the sit.

According to their call to action, “The White Castle timber sale is the first of a new type of clearcut – a Variable Retention Harvest. Variable Retention Harvests cut 70% of a forest leaving the remaining 30% in little scattered patches. The science, developed by Drs. Norm Johnson and Jerry Franklin, is that there is not enough young forest around for species that need more meadow-like habitat, like butterflies and moths.”

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Welcome: Here are Some New Radical Spaces + Corrections to the 2014 Organizer

I just celebrated 20 years of staffing Sunday nights at the Long Haul infoshop in Berkeley, which started in August, 1993. Over the years, it has been amazing to be part of this project as well as to watch radical spaces and infoshops sprout all over the world. Opening and operating infoshops is exciting because they bring people together around the struggle for liberation and social change. They provide space for us to meet and have workshops, films, speakers and parties. Even more important, they are a public place where people wanting to join the radical scene can plug in so we can get beyond being just a clique of friends. At their best, radical spaces help build and sustain the social and political relationships that are essential as we build alternatives to the rotten capitalist monster.

Here are some changes to the radical contact list that will appear in the 2014 Slingshot Organizer. As soon as we took it to the printing press, we got word of new spaces we hadn’t included, and/or found out about errors. For more updates, check the on-line contact list at

People’s Art Collective — New Haven, CT

A radical space with a studio for artists plus free books, clothes and art supplies. They “combine performative, collaborative, interactive, participatory, and site-specific art-making with crowd-sourced, grass roots community organizing to offer solutions to problems in our community. Our solutions are arts-based reimaginings of and disruptions to modes of living which, at individual or structural levels, are alienating, oppressive and/or unsustainable.” Open 5-8 Mon, Tue, Thu, 6-10 Wed and 3-6 Fri. 
212 College St. 
New Haven, CT 06511

Center Street Free Space — Milwaukee, WI

A new anti-authoritarian/anarchist social center that hosts meetings, events and shows. 703 Center Street, Milwaukee, WI 53212

People’s Books Cooperative — Milwaukee, WI

A cooperative bookstore that hosts events. 804 E. Center St.
Milwaukee, WI, 53212 414-962-0575

Green Bike Coop — Waldport, OR

A cute little bike coop that provides free bikes painted green around the tiny Oregon coast village. They also have a workshop for fixing your bike and run classes. Operated by a local literacy and social service non-profit. Waldport is midway between Florence and Newport. 115 U.S. 101 Waldport, OR 97394‎ 541-563-7328‬

Land of Plenty — Akron, OH

An art gallery and metaphysical store with connections to local radical activities. 339 W. Market St. Akron, OH 44303 330-703-5633

UCSD Student Food Co-op — La Jolla, CA

A 35-year old non-hierarchical, student-run, anti-authoritarian food co-op on the University of California San Diego campus. The address is the same as Che Cafe and Groundwork Books. 9500 Gilman Dr. #0323 La Jolla, CA 92093 858-546-8339

Banc Expropiat de Gràcia — Barcelona, Spain

A multi-use, non-sectarian anti-authoritarian space with a free store, space to read/ hangout, radical literature, meetings & classes. Travessere de Gràcia 181, Barcelona, Catalunya, Espanya (Catalan spelling: Spain)

Utopia — La Esperanza, Honduras

Center of meetings and friendship. They host classes, meetings and events and have bunk beds to host visitors. From exit sign to siguatepeque, follow dirt road east 1.5km. Its on the left with a radio tower.

Rojinegro Distribuidora Libertaria — Bogotá, Colombia

cra. 19 # 43-25 Bogotá, Colombia Tel. 245 3623

Librería Valija de Fuego — Bogotá, Colombia

Calle 45 No 20-45 Bogotá, Colombia Tel: 338 2065 – 312 3971982

Café Teatro Kussi-huayra — Santander, Colombia

Carrera 9 No. 9-15, Piedecuesta, Santander, Colombia Tel: 316 5854445

La Redada: Miscelánea cultural y red de colectivos de acción cultural, política y artística — Bogotá, Colombia

Calle 17 No. 2-51, Bogotá D.C., Colombia,

Centro Social y Cultural Libertario — Medellín, Colombia

Calle 46 Maturin No. 40-8 Medellín / Planeta tierra Tel: 239 40 69 centrosocialyculturallibertario.wordpress

Red Juvenil – Medellin — Medellín, Colombia

Calle 47 # 40-53, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia, Tel: (4) 2393670

Colectivo Jaguos por el Territorio — Huila, Colombia

Centro Poblado La Jagua, Garzón, Huila, Colombia, descolonizandolajagua.wordpress

Corrections to the 2014 Organizer

-The address we published for Bellingham Alternative Library is wrong. The new address is 1421 Railroad Ave., Bellingham, WA 98225, although we’re not sure that is right since the postal service doesn’t seem to recognize the address.

-Because they were going through an organizational transition at press time, we mistakenly failed to publish the Meg Perry Center at 644 Congress St. Portland, ME 04102- 207-772-0680.

-We got a report that the Candlelight in West Bend, Indiana no longer exists. Also, it was listed under Wisconsin as well as Indiana – please cross it out in Wisconsin. There is no West Bend, WI that we are aware of.

-Pangea House may no longer be at 109 Central Ave. W. Minot, ND 58703. We’re not sure if they moved or if they ceased to exist.

-Oy – Either the GLBT Resource Center in South Bend, Indiana no longer exists, or they moved, or the post office just returned the letter we tried to send them for fun.

-Oops – we didn’t print the address for Durham Bike coop, 715 Washington St. Durham, NC 27701,‎ 919-675-2453.

-We mistakenly listed the Cream City Collective in Milwaukee. They no longer exist.

-The addresss we published for Lost Generation in Malaysia has changed. They are now at 8c, Jalan Panggung, 50000 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, lostgenerationspace.

-Centro de Cultura Libertaria in Bogota, Colombia no longer exists

Albany Bulb Under Attack

So, it has all come down to this. Twenty years of human habitation, wild art, wildflowers, wildlife, wild lives… All set to come to an end, in a flurry of bulldozers and dirt.

In the early, and mid-1900’s, the Albany Waterfront (along with most of the East Bay shoreline) was a dump, literally. The Albany Landfill was the final resting place for everything from slag (a rock-like byproduct from milling steel), to household trash (I have friends who remember going to the dump with their parents), to debris from the demolition of everything that was in the way when BART was constructed (the original Richmond City Hall, the original Berkeley Public Library, houses, businesses, etc.) The Albany Landfill was created, as a result of that dumping. Twenty years of litigation by various environmental groups finally resulted in the closure of the Albany dump, in 1983.

30 years after local environmental advocates stopped the waters off the Albany Coast from being further filled with trash, the old Albany Landfill is a year-round pitstop for nomadic critters; an endlessly evolving gallery of Found-Object Art; and Home to (at last count) 64 people, who otherwise have nowhere else to live.

In 1993, local police started actually *telling* Albany’s homeless citizens, to go live at “the Landfill”. Then, in 1999, they threw the previously-homeless Albany Bulb residents, back out into the streets. The City of Albany spent money on a dog and pony show of “service organizations”; and put an ordinance on the books (which outlawed, among other things, “loitering” in Albany Parks and Open Spaces), in an attempt to essentially stop homeless individuals from being able to live in their town. Somewhere around the year 2000 (roughly), Albany told their Police to NOT enforce the camping ordinance.

So, not long after the ’99 eviction, people who were homeless in the area, were again, told to go stay at the Albany Bulb. Since then, those living on the Albany Bulb have done so without fear of the police harassment that others endure in nearby Berkeley, being inflicted upon them, just for being homeless.

Since this country’s economy started to *really* tank, and the number of people living on the streets in America has increased, so too has the number of otherwise-homeless individuals, who have (for lack of anywhere else to live) found and made a Home for themselves, on the Albany Bulb.

All these years, alongside those who live here, there are those who visit the Landfill, and enjoy this land for its recreational value. They hike, they walk their dogs, and 99% of them will tell you that the people who profess to be scared of the homeless who live on the Bulb, are being ridiculous.

With all of Albany’s homeless safely quarantined on the Albany Bulb, the City has seen no need to build (or even properly zone part of their town for) a homeless shelter. Albany has only 15 units of low income housing (the Creekside Apartments complex, at 1155 San Pablo Ave.) in the entire city. The City of Albany has never spent any of the funds that it receives from the government, which other cities commonly spend on their *own* homeless, on anything that has actually helped any homeless citizens. Ever.

Yet, in May of this year, a handful of right-wing recreationalists (mostly representatives of Citizens for East Shore Parks) wormed their way into the ears of the Albany City Council. And, in a unanimous decision, the Council voted to spend *more* money, on yet *another* dog and pony show, to be followed up by the “resumption” of enforcement of the camping ordinance, starting in October.

With nowhere else to legally sleep (while homeless), within the City of Albany, an economic cleansing* of sorts, is inevitable. “Economic cleansing” is similar to ethnic cleansing, but is instead done to an economic minority (poor people), as opposed to an ethnic minority.

The goal that the City of Albany is ultimately trying to achieve, is to hand the Albany Bulb over to the State, for the purpose of becoming part of the McLaughlin Eastshore State Park.

However, the transfer of the Bulb to the State, will mean something far more devastating than just 60 or so people becoming “re-homeless”…

From the Eastshore State Park General Plan: “Consistent with the Eastshore park project’s cultural resource guidelines, the practice and products associated with unauthorized artistic expression (e.g., installations, structures, paintings, etc.) on the Albany Bulb will be reviewed in accordance with State Parks’ systemwide (sic) cultural resource procedures prior to their removal.”

East Bay Regional Park District’s definition of a “cultural resource”: “Cultural resources include archaeological, historical, and scientifically valuable sites, areas, and objects.” To the Parks District, as well as to Albany, any art that is not officially commissioned is unauthorized.

That’s right. They’re coming for the art. And, they’ve already started. So far, they have only removed the Art that was on/near the Plateau. But, that’s merely the first few millimeters of their descent down the slippery slope of gentrification.

First, the Art and the Community of Bulb-dwellers… then, off-leash dogs… then…

If you support the right of *all people* to Share the Bulb:

1. Check out

2. Write to Albany City Hall at, or

3. Go visit the Albany Bulb: At 1 Buchanan Street Extension in Albany, California, on the Albany Waterfront. Come see for yourself, we don’t bite. We just want to Share the Bulb… without being forced (back) into homelessness, first.

Stop Hobophobia. Share the Bulb

An Invitation From the Free Farm

When I moved to San Francisco in 2010, I soon faced an all too common situation; getting on my feet while trying to house and feed myself and struggling to do so. I was referred to a newly established urban agriculture project within walking distance of my studio in the Tenderloin, The Free Farm. I discovered not only a means through which I could help grow my own food but also an incredible project that created a community resource and truly served egalitarian purposes. Almost four years later, I am still getting my hands dirty.

The Free Farm is located on the corner of Gough and Eddy St. near the Civic Center. It is a 1/3-acre lot located in the foundation of an old church, which is communally worked by volunteers. The space serves many functions but the guiding principles of the project are to grow food for equitable distribution and empower others to grow food, even with limited space.

On January 1st, 2014, The Free Farm will be evicted and eventually razed to raise a new apartment tower. It will join Esperanza Gardens and the Hayes Valley Farm/Gezi Gardens as the third public garden evicted in the city in 2013 and on an ever-growing list of victims of the gentrification and urbanization of San Francisco. In the view of many of us at the Free Farm, this is a local manifestation of a global historical trend of privatization of land and resources once held in the commons. From Gezi to Zuccotti, the parks, the streets and publicly held lands are controlled by private interests and the landed elite.

We are trying to increase participation and general support for The Free Farm in the final three months before our eviction. It is an amazing space and I wish to cordially invite the global readership of Slingshot to visit and enjoy the space while it is still open and in its current form. If you are found in Northern California and your house or space could use plants, soil, containers, etc., we are looking to distribute as much material as possible to our neighbors.

Public volunteer days are every Wednesday and Saturday 10am-2pm, with a free delicious vegan lunch served at noon. Additionally, the produce from The Farm is distributed onsite every Saturday at 1 pm.

Grass-Fed Greenwash

A friend of mine in New York City recently told me that she eats grass-fed beef because cows are a critical part of any sustainable farming operation. Another friend of mine in Portland told me that he eats chickens that eat only grass. And on yet another occasion, a local developer — a portly, jovial, and very wealthy fellow who I had been organizing against — told me in one of our verbal jousts “I am an environmentalist. I grow grass-fed beef!”

For the record, cows do not create nutrients. Cow manure is good fertilizer, but any sustainable farm can get by just fine with other methods of fertilizing the soil. Green manuring and the use of nitrogen-fixing plants, as well as the direct application of mineral supplements, cover all of the plant nutrients that would otherwise be provided by manure. Such are staple practices of modern organic farming. As for chickens, they do not digest grass. They are pretty happy about the bugs they find in the grass, but “pastured” chickens (or pigs) have to be fed grain or they would starve.

By any reasonable measure, Americans eat too much meat and other animal products. Much attention was brought to the issue of factory farming of animals in the 1980s and 1990s. Vegetarianism grew rapidly for a while. By the 2000s, a backlash had formed under the banner of various food ideologies (Atkins, South Beach, Paleo, Nourishing Traditions) that promote the idea that you have to eat meat because it contains certain nutrients that you can’t find anywhere else. There are voices in the local food movement that endorse grass-fed animals as an environmentally benign solution to growing food, echoing Richard Mannings view from his book Against the Grain that our modern grain-based diet promotes soil erosion, social stratification, and other problems.

Some would argue that meat is necessary to provide specific nutrients that are critical to human health. Nutritional science is a complex business riddled with ideological overlays. Health arguments based on one or two nutrients just don’t make sense. The bottom line is that after the vegetarians have argued about too much fat and the meat eaters too little, vegetarians or vegans who eat little or no animal products have similar lifespans to people who eat modest amounts of animal products. The wealthy who eat meat daily and the very poor who struggle to find enough to eat both have reduced lifespans. Some of the longest-lived people in the world are found in indigenous cultures that eat almost no meat. Such broad-based statistics speak far more than arguing over an individual vitamin.

It has been claimed that grass-fed animals systems represent a net carbon sink. Properly managed grassland, like a forest, sequesters carbon and builds soil. Based on that fact, the claim has been made that grassfed beef is environmentally beneficial. It is not. Measured on a 10 year cycle, methane is 70 – 100 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas. Measured on a 100 year cycle, methane is 20 times more potent than CO2. According to the EPA, “Globally, livestock are the largest source of methane from human-related activities.” Nitrogen oxides are 265 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas, and cattle create 65% of human related nitrogen oxides globally.

When plants decay naturally, their carbon is released back into the atmosphere and some is also trapped in the soil. When those same plants are eaten by human-propagated ruminants, then some of that carbon becomes methane, and the global warming impact is greatly increased. According to recent studies, grassfed beef have a greater impact on global warming than do feedlot beef because of methane. (Feedlots are an enormous environmental problem as well, and a grave ethical concern.) A recent UN study that says the modern agricultural sector contributes more to global warming than transportation. The bottom line is that, because of methane and nitrogen oxides, modern agriculture contributes more to climate change than all of the ships, trucks, cars, trains and buses on Earth.

Even though extensive efforts have been made in recent years to control methane leakage from landfills and natural gas wells, atmospheric methane levels have started rising alarmingly in the last few years. It may be that climate change has already put in place a positive feedback loop whereby warmer temperatures cause the release of methane from the now thawing tundra and from methane hydrates frozen at the bottom of warming oceans, and then that released methane causes further warming. Putting yet more grassfed methane into the atmosphere at this point is a bad plan.

In the U.S., the three leading causes of death — heart attack, stroke, and cancer — are very strongly correlated with high animal product intake. While we gorge ourselves and destroy the global environment in the process, the rest of the world is stratifying into an overfed class who eat too much meat and a growing class of the very hungry who cannot afford food at rising prices. We are well aware of the dire warnings about the environmental impact of human population growth. In recent decades, meat consumption has been growing globally at twice the rate of population. Gandhi has been quoted as saying “The cattle of the rich steal the bread of the poor.” Never could that be more relevant than now.

Lester Brown is a now elderly environmental writer who has studied global food systems for many years. He states the case succinctly. If everyone ate the average American diet, the world could only feed 2.5 billion people. If everyone ate the average Italian diet, the world could feed 5 billion people. If everyone ate the average Indian diet, the world could feed 10 billion people. The difference is created by how much animal products the respective cultures consume. Grass fed beef does not change that equation whatsoever. Already grazing land occupies “30 percent of the ice-free terrestrial surface on the planet” according to the UN FAO. We are living on a planet that is already very heavily grazed. With nearly a third of the land surface of the world under hoof, domestic ruminants are the leading cause of global species extinction. And if there is a suggestion is that a new grass-fed rotation “technology” is going to revolutionize grazing as practiced by pastoralists all over the world, then that would be paternalistic in the extreme, and wrong.

Most of humanity is now urban. In the U.S., the average farm size is nearly 500 acres. It is easy to understand, given the privileges we possess in the US, that our citizens would presume the right to consume meat on a daily basis. But in most of the ‘undeveloped’ world, average farm size is a couple tenths of an acre. Food is a “fungible commodity,” which means it gets shipped all over the world. The US is the leading exporter of grain, which poor people all over the world purchase. Few people are aware that the U.S. is also the leading importer of food. We export grain. We import meat, fruit, and vegetables, and use our superior purchasing power to eat the most expensive food from all over the world. If one espouses selling pastured meats beyond the gates of farm, then I would argue that a failure to be aware of ones relations as a global citizen is morally remiss.

Is the local food movement the foundation of a modern renaissance that empowers ordinary people, or is it destined to serve primarily as grassfed greenwash for the most destructive habits of the wealthy? Many Americans want to drive cars, live in spacious private houses, and eat meat daily, and they want someone to tell them that is okay. The world is now full of big, crowded cities. To imagine that those urban populations can be fed with grass-fed beef is both factually wrong and morally misinformed. Capitalism has driven farmers to maximize profit at all costs, and stripped modern agriculture all humanistic or environmental sympathies. We desperately need a viable local farm movement all over the world to counteract the fascistic consolidation of corporate power that is taking over our food supply. A viable local farm movement cannot be built on selling grassfed meat to the rich.

Alexis Zeigler is the author of Integrated Activism: Applying the Hidden Connections between Ecology, Economics, Politics, and Social Progress, (North Atlantic Books). He is also building a zero fossil fuel farm, see &

Robbins, John, Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples, Bllantine Books, NY, 2007

Pearce, Fred, With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change, Beacon Press, Boston, 2007, p.78

See the EPA’s summary of Ruminant Livestock, available at:

“Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars, UN report warns,”

“Grass-Fed Beef Has Bigger Carbon Footprint,” Jessica Marshall , Discovery News,

“Livestock impacts on the environment,” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Agriculture and Consumer Protection Department:;

Brown, Lester, Plan B 2.0; Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, Norton, NY NY, 2006, p.176 revenge

Brown, Lester, Plan B 2.0; Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble, Norton, NY NY, 2006, p.177

Livestock’ Long Shadow, Environmental Issues and Options, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, LEAD Initiative, 2006, p.4

The State of Food and Agriculture 2006, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome, 2006

There is No Hate in Nature

We live in a rural area. It is not uncommon for a group of people to raise animals to help feed their loved ones. Additionally, many have giant gardens, which they tend throughout the spring and summer months. These people know that they must feed the soil by returning last year’s plants to the ground to make it rich and giving. Some of us collect fruit by the bucketloads from the thorny Himalayan blackberry thickets that line the creeks. Much of the sustenance we receive comes to us in this manner. Though we don’t own a large parcel of land, we manage to raise or collect or trade quite a bit of our food. I’ve been making more of an effort to be observant when I’m outdoors. Recently, I’ve been thinking about parasite/host relationships in the natural world. I’ve been noticing these relationships spinning all around me. Is the Himalayan blackberry parasite or a host? The Pacific Towhee flies her load of blackberry seed for miles in every direction — is she a parasite or a host? Or perhaps she is a messenger? In truth, she fills all of these roles wondrously. The profound significance of these relationships first came to me when I attempted to raise honeybees without administering the recommended chemical medications into my beehives.

I wanted to taste some local honey, but found that much of the domestic honey for sale was very likely contaminated with toxic chemicals like fluvalinate or fenpyroximate. It’s a well-kept secret among bee-keepers, who feel forced by necessity to use these and other pesticides. I learned that virtually every beekeeper in the western world uses a battery of toxic chemicals inside their beehives- just to keep it from succumbing to a onslaught of pests. Chief among their maladies is the Varroa mite, a parasite that has jumped over to honeybees from another insect host. That host has evolved some kind of detente with the mites during the hundreds of generations that they have lived together in Asia. As a host, it provides sustenance to the parasite. The host receives some sort of benefit that science does not yet understand. Developing a mutually beneficial relationship: these things take time to evolve. The honeybee does not yet have a healthy relationship of this kind with the mite. It is a relationship out of balance. The mite population runs unchecked and within a season or two virtually every untreated beehive dwindles and dies. The parasite is not an enemy to the host — in fact often, when the host dies, the parasite also parishes. Both parties actively seek an equilibrium. Arrangements and accommodations must be made between the host and the parasite. Only time can aid in this evolutionary process. Sometimes it takes decades. Sometimes centuries. They generally work things out, given enough time. In the case of the European honeybee, it appears that they can no longer survive without chemical intervention. However, it is the chemical intervention itself that is interfering and thus preventing a healthy relationship from forming. Generations of pesticide resistant mites are born to feed on generations of weakened hives. Only the chemical pesticide companies seem to benefit. Honeybees are doomed because of an abusive relationship. Left alone the thousands of hives might select toward a positive relationship with the parasite.

I’ve been noticing positive relationships of this type all around me. It would appear that such arrangements are ubiquitous in the natural world. Every organism is both a parasite as well as a host; everything consumes the other and is consumed by the other. Rather than the tower-like hierarchy we heard described in our state funded biology classes, it is a hoop. The natural world is something like an oscillating, reciprocating ring of relations. The idea that there is inherent competition and cruelty in these natural relationships is misleading because such an observation is founded on the premise that life itself mirrors human hierarchies and modern human cruelties. The idea here is that the host is solely a victim and the parasite gives no benefit; an invasive species, a freeloader. This is a simplistic misinterpretation and is simply not true. I do not believe that coyotes hate ground squirrels when they cull from their population. I don’t think bacteria and tree roots will hate me when they digest my body when it will, someday be cooling, under the ground. In truth there are no hierarchies in the natural world, not really. No such situation exists; it is a cultural projection. There is no antagonism at all and there exists no competition between species. Every single organism is swirling in relation to and reaction to everything else. It is my observation that the great difference in the constructs of human hierarchical civilization and the natural world is in intention. There is no hate in nature.

I did not hate the two pigs my children and I raised and butchered last fall. On the contrary, we collected probably a thousand pounds of acorns from under the valley oaks nearby to bring to them. Relationships formed between the giant valley oak trees, myself and my children as we collected the fallen fruit. They thanked the trees and requested that we plant some of the nuts into the Earth as a manifestation of that gratitude. I agreed. It is an offering, but it is something more than that. It is a reciprocal relationship. The children intuitively responded to the situation. My children, I, the trees and the pigs are in this together. We sat and watched the pigs artfully hull the meaty nuts with their tongues and lips, neatly spitting out the shells to one side. Why would any modern person take the trouble to collect the nuts? I did it for three reasons. First, and most obviously, I did it to give the creatures the food they desired; so they would get fat. And second because they love to eat acorns; pigs are woodland animals and that is their main staple in the forest and they evolved to eat this food. And third, my children and I crawled around and collected the ten thousand or so acorns because we have had a positive relationship with the pigs. As I kneeled there, in the sharp and spiny fallen leaves filling plastic buckets, I noticed that I was able to spend a great deal of time getting to know my children; their minds are so fine and far-ranging, so excellent. We spent hours in silence or quietly chatting or humming or listening to the birds, as the buckets were filled and loaded into the car. We observed other things about our relationship with these pigs. When I scratched their backs they slumped onto their sides and looked me directly in the eye. These are not unintelligent beasts and they are not pets either. They are something entirely different. Something is passed between us. I decided to begin speaking to them. The smaller of the two of them let out a small slurping grunt whenever she saw me walk into their area and heard my voice. Every evening I sat by them and we watched each other. Growing young pigs seem to be bumptious, gregarious beings. Cautious yet friendly. Physically strong and curiously forceful. They seem so full of life. Writing about them now brings back clear memories from the morning of the kill day.

When the time comes to kill and butcher the pigs, we do not recoil but we are resigned, respectful and quiet. I am avoiding becoming maudlin as I open the door of the barn. I speak to the pigs. I tell them that they are part of us and their flesh will nurture us through the cold months and into the following summer. I thank them. The entire time I have known them, I have been honest and I often have talked about what will happen. In the quiet early morning, I walk up to the 250 pound pig and place the muzzle of the .22 rifle to his forehead just above the right eye. He is contented and curious. I fire the shot and he slumps down and lays on his side, his life is going away now. I must be quick and neat as I cut the carotid artery to drain the blood from him quickly. A few kicks of his feet and now he is dead. I am not sad because this is not the time for such thoughts. I do not glower in misplaced triumph. There is no economy in this and there is no victory here — no glory, not a bit of it — only utility. The being is no longer present — only food and we are. After all, every one of us is food for something. And all of us must eat.

I’ve been thinking about traditional hunters, who I’ve read thank the Mother of the animals. They show her their gratitude because the hunters must bring home food to their loved ones. They say that the animals willingly give their flesh for a family’s sustenance. The hunter says that he thanks the animal because it allowed him a shot. The animal does this out of a sense of sacrifice and generosity. I don’t believe the hunters loathe the animals for whom they purify themselves and whom they wait for. That makes no sense at all and I don’t believe that those practices are mere superstition, either. It is a matter of intention and respectful relationship. Oddly, traditional hunting is often described, by its practitioners as an act of giving rather than a taking. Traditional food collectors talk of success in terms of the great conversations and songs that take place. Relations to others appears to be more important than any other consideration. Even more important than modern notions of efficient food production.

When my friend tells me earnestly that killing is bad, I ask him if dying is equally bad? He says it’s not the same thing — not at all. He is a good friend, so I drop my arms to my sides and I resolve to listen to his ideas. Killing for food is totally repugnant; a relic of our distant, savage past. My friend says that there is better food for humans; that there is no longer any reason to maintain such barbarity. When he finishes telling me his news, I ask him about what food he thinks humans evolved to eat and I ask him about his relationship with the GMO seed companies. He says the concept of evolution is a Victorian construct; a patriarchal mind trick and he says he doesn’t care about those companies and has no such relations. I ask him about his relationships with Monsanto and the soy milk plant pumping out pale liquid protein in faraway Iowa. He says he hates them or that he doesn’t want to think about them. He tells me that someday people like he and I will smash those evils and put the factories to the torch. I agree but I still want to know why he thinks raising two pigs, under the apple trees is barbarous and repugnant. He repeats that killing, for any reason is bad. I want to know if shipping GMO tainted tofu created purely for profit, from across the planet is more humane than food produced by my friends, in intimate, unmediated, autonomous relation. But I like my friend, so I put my hand on his breast and I merely reply, it’s cool.

My partner cooks us a meal. She has the radio on low. Neil Young is singing about Cortez. She is focused and uses the knife deftly as she trims the excess fat off the cuts. She will render all of it down into a pure, clear cooking oil. She is careful not to spill a drop of what she has called, “precious acorn fat”. She tells me over her glass of wine that there’s something of the sacred in this meat. She tells me about her plans to prepare the different cuts of meat for the ones dear to her. She understands the events that led up to this moment; the intensities of nurturing a life and of taking it, the sacrifices of such acts. The meat is for us but not just us, it will also be prepared for people outside our group too. As she and I chat, she cans the clear, scentless oil in giant, half gallon jars that she stores in the cool of the basement. Some of it she will make into a lavender soap to be given to others in the deepest of winter. They receive the gift and breathe in the flower scent. My partner prepares a meal for us for two reasons that I can discern. First she loves the process of working with pure, significant and sacred ingredients and transforming them through hard work and joy into deliciousness. The second is that she loves us. Every aspect of this life is filled with proximity and purpose.