A Problem of Understanding: The Egyptian Revolution 2011-2013

With a situation as complex as the Egyptian Revolution, the tendency might be to throw your hands up in the air and proclaim ignorance. However, that is not good enough for a country and region that is so important not only unto itself, but also in the context of our geopolitical world. It would be simple to proclaim what has happened as just another example of American and Israeli imperialism. While that is certainly a key element, it goes deeper than that, perhaps encapsulated best by two intertwined, but I think still helpful, concepts: Power and Money. Broadly, I will focus the concept of “Power” on the domestic sphere; on who has controlled the country and why. With “Money” I will deal with the international players and how both military and direct monetary aid have dramatically affected the crisis.


To understand 2013 you have to go back as far as 1981. At least. It was in that year that Hosni Mubarak became the President of Egypt in the wake of the assassination of his predecessor Anwar Sadat, a man who in many ways lay the groundwork for the US-Israel-Egypt connection. From 1981 to 2011 Mubarak ran the country as a dictatorship, holding sham elections every few years, but truly running a one-party system. That party, the National Democratic Party (NDP) ruled with reckless abandon, controlling the media, the military, the police and every other branch of the government.

It also had a trick up its sleeve, one that takes us back even farther in time to 1967. It was in that year that Egypt first enacted Law No.162 as it found itself engaged in the Six-Day War with Israel. This law, more commonly known as the Emergency Law, allows for the government to extend its powers even further: arresting and detaining people without charges, violently suppressing the press and so on. In 1981, because of the crisis surrounding the murder of Sadat, Mubarak used Law No.162 supposedly to quell that particular crisis . . . and then he just never bothered to take it back. Mubarak was a master politician in this regard, justifying the law to the international media and the UN in whatever way was suitable at the time: sectarian violence, Communism, Terrorism. He would maintain his power any way he could, and the world either bought it or turned their heads in silence.

By 2010, Mubarak was responsible for imprisoning approximately 10,000 people with no charge. This is one of the main reasons that power began to shift these last few years–as he utilized this law again and again to hang on to control, the circle of people being attacked widened. Individuals in the press, feminists, anti-capitalists and anti-Western thinkers were all targeted. However, above all, it was the Muslim Brotherhood, a socio-political Islamic organization, that was most under the microscope. Perhaps as many as half of those found in Egyptian prisons with no trial at the genesis of the revolution had direct ties to the Brotherhood.

Another element of power which cannot be discounted is that of succession. With Hosni Mubarak aging, rumors persisted from at least 2000 that he was grooming his son Gamal to take power once he stepped down. Both father and son dismissed this allegation, stating that Egypt was a democracy, but never leaving out the possibility that Gamal could take power in a legal election as his father supposedly had. With American and European aid dollars flowing into the country in huge sums, many suggested that the international players would support this “smooth” transition to ensure their investments would not be devalued.

In any case, by January 25th, 2011 (not coincidentally “National Police Day”), power had become so centralized and so criminal, that protests exploded throughout the country, with people demanding a myriad of things. Two targets were common to virtually all those in the streets: repeal the Emergency Law and remove Mubarak from power. The protestors’ diversity, so critical in Mubarak stepping down from power on February 11th, 2011, would soon prove to be a mixed-blessing at best.

Next, an interim government led by Omar Suleiman was nominally in charge, but it was really the military in control under the guise of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). In the final days of Mubarak’s rule his Security Forces remained loyal, but the armed forces quickly switched sides . . . more on this later. It was decided that they would control power for six months until an election could be held, but further massive protests sped up the timeline.

On June 21st, 2012 it was announced that former Muslim Brotherhood member Mohammed Morsi had been elected with 51.7% of the vote. Power had been transferred from the hands of a dictator to the Islamists of Egypt, moderates by some standards, but still a group that the West (and particularly the United States) looked upon with great trepidation. Perhaps Sadat and Mubarak had ruled undemocratically, but imperialistic nations could look the other way because aid monies ensured a close union. The Brotherhood was a different story altogether.

On November 22nd, Morsi issued a decree that immunized his own decision-making, thus widely expanding his powers beyond what was designed by the Egyptian Constitution. People were in the streets once again, and Morsi was forced to back down and repealed the decree only 16 days later, his hold on the country now shaky. In the end, his rule lasted for almost exactly one year, as protests against his own concentration of power began June 21st, 2013. He was deposed in another military coup on July 3rd and replaced by military commander Abdel Fattah El-Sisi. Once again the army held the reins, but this time power was placed in the hands of the Supreme Court, led by Adly Mansour. As recent massacres of pro-Morsi protestors have shown, it is the US-backed military that continues to run Egypt, whomever gives the speeches and goes on television.


To begin with, Mubarak’s Egypt was a wealthy regime, especially for those at the top of the pyramid. Centralizing power does indeed allow for a certain kind of efficiency. With no opposition, many things can be done, and done quickly. Of course, this kind of regime also leads itself to immense amounts of corruption.

However, the words “corruption” and “government” nearly always go hand in hand, so who was funding that well-equipped military? Why, it’s none other than an organization that would make Mubarak’s cronies and their petty corruption blush: the American Government! And why would the US want to support violent, autocratic demagogues like Mubarak and Sadat? “Defense of Israel”, of course.

Massive military aid to Egypt dates back at least to the Camp David Accords of 1978. It was there that US president Jimmy Carter, Sadat, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin hashed out a deal that would, amongst other things, commit billions of US dollars through grants and military aid to both Israel and Egypt. For the next twenty years, continuing unabated as power transferred to Mubarak, Egypt would receive over one billion dollars annually, creating the massive and modern Egyptian military of today. In 2008 alone the US supplied Egypt with more than $1.5 Billion in foreign and military aid. This is second in the world behind only Israel for dollars received. “Defense of Israel” was oft cited as the reason for this flow of weapons and money, but of course the arms dealers who hold such power in the US were more than happy to both encourage and profit from this arrangement.

After Sadat’s death, Mubarak maintained his power, both domestically and internationally, with amazing consistency throughout his rule, but when the protests truly became too vast to ignore in 2011, one of his earlier decisions came back to haunt him. Starting as early as 1982, Mubarak began to give some of the best business contracts to members of the military. He hoped that having the armed forces ensconced in the Egyptian economy would foster loyalty, as they now had a direct relationship with both himself and the stockmarket. This concept worked for nearly 30 years, but when the regime seemed on the verge of collapse, it was revealed where the military’s loyalties really lay: their pocketbooks. Rather than support Mubarak in a bloody war against the people, the military recognized (as do all “good” Capitalists) that stability is the key to making as much money as possible. Thus, the army could both profit not only from the protests by keeping things “business as usual” in terms of their precious stockholdings, but also play the role of pro-democracy heroes for the international media.

The people were not to be fooled. Even though the military did take control in 2011, they were watched closely by both civilian-groups and the media, and anger quickly turned against them whenever they tried to concentrate power. Crucially, no matter how much money the businessmen claimed to be making, nor what the GDP figures showed, Egyptian wealth had never spread to the vast majority of citizens. In 2010, 40% of the population was living on less than the equivalent of $2 US per day. This included massive youth joblessness for a well-educated, but under-employed demographic of both men and women between the ages of 19 and 30. In fact, one of the major demands of the original radical demonstrators was for a new, much higher minimum wage and, maybe even more ambitious, a maximum wage. Funny though, as the various new regimes took power and the other demands for governmental reform were met or at least addressed, the issue of wages has not changed at all since 2011.

Back to where we started: Power and Money. Since this all began in early 2011, at least 846 Egyptian citizens have been killed, 6,000 have been seriously injured, and 90 police stations have burned to the ground. The Egyptian Revolution called for great changes in a variety of sectors and the call was heard throughout the region and the world. The so-called Arab Spring, beginning with the uprising in Tunisia, followed soon after by Egypt, did not happen in isolation. In the subsequent months major rallies were held in Algeria, Syria, Bahrain, Iran amongst others . . . but what has changed? Wealth is still distributed unequally, the army still rules with reckless abandon, and power has not truly been placed in the hands of the Egyptian people. The uprising itself certainly has shown that collective unity can be a powerful force in the modern world, but it has also made clear the limits of that power. An international economic system dependent on oil and/or American money is simply unsustainable for the vast majority of the globe’s population, and until that system is fundamentally and collectively addressed, the cries of the protestors will continue to fall on deaf ears.

1. This does not include Afghanistan ($8.9B) and Iraq ($7.5B) which are generally not counted since much of this money filters directly to American troops and corporations.

Stamp Out Privatization: Berkeley Residents Fight to Save the Post Office

You may not know this, but our US postal system is under attack. The 1% are looking to divvy up our postal services and properties so they can make big profits. Bankster-driven bubbles and crashes create government deficits, mass unemployment, foreclosures and debt nightmares for the 99%. Deficits and bankruptcies created by this economic crisis are used by the 1% to demand cuts in government spending and the privatization of public services. Public education, health care, water and power utilities, parks, libraries, highways, military, prisons, and postal systems, are all threatened with conversion to for-profit institutions. Thus in 2006, Congress passed poison pill legislation forcing the United States Postal Service (USPS) to pre-pay 75 years worth of employee health care benefits in advance, over a 10 year period. For 30 years prior, USPS was in the black. But not anymore. After 7 years of forced prepayments there is now a $16B deficit, $15B directly caused by this pre-funding requirement.

Now that the postal system has been made “sick” with an engineered deficit, the 1%er management is prescribing cutbacks in services and employees, and the selling off of valuable postal property assets. In 2012, USPS management announced a plan to sell the downtown Berkeley Post Office building on Allston Way. A graceful neoclassical structure built in 1915 and designed by Oscar Wenderoth, The Berkeley Post Office was designated City of Berkeley Landmark #38 in 1980. Its beautiful architecture, New Deal Murals in the lobby and central location make it a casual gathering place and a treasured part of the public commons for the people of Berkeley. A local, Richard Blum, is one of the 1%er vultures circling for privatization prey. Husband of Senator Dianne Feinstein and a UC Regent, Blum is chairman of CBRE, the international real estate firm given an exclusive contract to sell off USPS buildings. In a recent interview with Peter Byrne, author of “Going Postal” an exposé of Blum and CBRE’s profiteering at the expense of USPS, he disclosed that their business practices have lost the postal system multi-billions of dollars of assessed value and inordinately benefited customers of CBRE.

Even though the City government officials and citizens opposed the sale of the building, USPS management moved forward as if providing service to the people was secondary. So many of us in the East Bay organized independently and later as Save the Berkeley Post Office, Strike Debt Bay Area and Berkeley Post Office Defense to occupy the grand steps of the post office with tents, literature and food tables on July 27, 2013. We protested the sale of the historic building, the potential privatization of our postal system and the destruction of our commons. We had banners, signs and loads of information to pass on to the public as we occupied. There were as many as 24 campers and a dozen tents at one time, some just slept in sleeping bags. The camp bravely remained there 24/7 for 33 days until Berkeley Police tore out our tents on the night of August 28. Most of the tents and belongings were destroyed or lost. A few items were recovered and now we are filing claims with the City for reimbursement. City officials professed solidarity with our camp even as police harassed and shut us down. So why did they crash us down? Only time will tell, but it seems the usual – destroy the action, claim ignorance, wait to be sued, pay the tab, then repeat. During the encampment we made the issue of privatization and the selling off of our commons into an item for discussion across the nation. Even the New York Times and Washington Post published an article on the Berkeley Post Office occupation.

If we look back in history, our postal system existed before 1776 and was the first iconic presence of US public services. It was in every state and county. Letters were expensive, and mostly for the rich, however postage was subsidized for newspapers. This was done purposely to serve the information needs of the commons and to keep the people politically informed. In 1911 Postal Banking was introduced. The minimum deposit was $1 and the maximum was $2,500, and paid two percent interest on deposits annually. It issued US Postal Savings Bonds in various denominations that paid annual interest, as well as Postal Savings Certificates and domestic money orders. Savings in the system spurted to $1.2 billion during the 1930s and jumped again during World War II, peaking in 1947 at almost $3.4 billion. Organized to benefit immigrants and the working poor who didn’t trust commercial banks, the US Postal Savings System was shut down in 1967. Private banks had captured the market, raising their interest rates and offering the same governmental guarantees.

Zoom ahead to 2013 and we find our postal commons under attack by corporations and the rich. Having blown their wad on the shadow wealth of the derivatives and financials market, dynamiting the housing market with predatory loans and cheap buyups of foreclosed properties, they are now circling public service institutions around the globe. And postal systems are profitable privatization targets. Postal privatizations are underway in the UK, the EU, Japan and other nations. Here at home they have been selling off historic downtown Post Office buildings, eliminating mail collection boxes, cutting back staff and services. All justified by an engineered deficit!

Congressman Darrell Issa from Southern California was the author of the poison pill 2006 legislation and has recently proposed the elimination of home delivery of the mail, requiring each of us to daily pick up our own mail. UPS and FedEx desire the postal system package mail, Pitney Bowes desires the distribution business. Commercial businesses won’t touch home mail delivery as it the most expensive operation from which they will not be able to profit.

From my perspective, the largest group of losers in this privatization “reform” are prisoners. Over 2 million people are warehoused in prisons/jails and growing numbers of human beings are now being housed in I.C.E. detention facilities, which also face privatization demands. The trend of building more jails in California is on the rise thanks to people like Gov. Jerry Brown who feels that non-violent and aging prisoners just CANNOT be let out to join the greater society. The one form of communication with that outside world for many of the poor people who make up most of those incarcerated, is the US post office (USPS). The cost of a stamp vs the cost of a 15 minute phone call once a week ($17.00) can be as much as $16.54. Prison jobs can range from ZERO (GA) to 4.73 a day. You can see how the postal service means a great deal to incarcerated people. The idea of a privatized postal service would mean a great deal of economic hardship on those incarcerated far away from family and friends. Hawaiians are routinely shipped to prisons in states like Arizona, making visits nearly impossible and phone calls too expensive. If USPS becomes a privatized entity we can surely expect the cost of stamps to rise considerably and the level of service will decline. A for-profit organization has only one objective…to maximize profits and minimize expenses. The USPS and other public institutions have no such goal. They are run to provide a service at cost, rolling any “profits” back into service. Why would anyone think that a private corporation would do a better job than the public sector?

The effort to save the Berkeley Post Office is still being fought even though the camp has been removed. There is a lawsuit; an official appeal by the Mayor and City Council to Postal management; and a move to rezone the parcel to eliminate commercial uses and mandate civic uses only, making a purchase by profiteers undesirable. And, if the sale goes forward, possibly announced after October 5th, we will be back with our tents to say… “no to the sale! no to privatization! this is OUR commons and we won’t let you, the 1%, have it!”

Read a Book You Little Rugrat: Slingshot Reviews 'Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison-Industrial Complex'

My favorite thing about edited anthologies is that I can never finish long books. Essays, I can do. My second-favorite thing is that readers usually get a wider range of perspectives and, in the best case, a variety of writing styles. Captive Genders: Trans Embodiment and the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) delivers both, offering theory, personal narrative, interviews, policy papers, legal analysis, and even a manifesto from writers representing a full spectrum of gender identities, with complex and varied relationships to the PIC and to the academy. These writers bring queer and trans struggles together with prison abolition movements in an unprecedented way. Even the cover is telling of the book’s radical commitments. The front image, a photo of burning cop cars from the 1979 White Night Riots (which began after Dan White was acquitted in the murder of gay SF Supervisor Harvey Milk) says a lot — Captive Genders isn’t a dry slog of politically disinvested theory, and that the book is as attuned to its genealogy as it is to radical programs for the future.

As for the long title, I get the impresson that Smith and Stanley chose their words carefully here. The book’s stated focus is on trans embodiment — not trans identity or trans people. On the one hand, ’embodiment’ is an apt lens for examining gender in spaces where the body is heavily policed and disciplined, as Lori Girshick documents in her groundbreaking study of gendered dress code and behavior enforcement in women’s prisons (cleverly titled Out of Compliance). All prisoners at Central California Women’s Prison, for example, are forbidden to wear boxer shorts, regardless of gender identity. Julia C. Oparah covers similar ground in her essay Maroon Abolitionism, focusing on the intersection of race and gender enforcement in the penal system while linking this critique to the metaphorical cages that confine all of us. These approaches also help avoid some of the usual concerns with identity politics (who gets to count as trans, whose rights we’re fighting for, etc.). On the other hand, I was disappointed not to find any discussion of why the editors chose embodiment as their theoretical angle, especially since the term has a legacy in feminist theory going back at least to Simone de Beauvoir.

My favorite parts of the volume shed light on some lesser-known moments in queer and trans resistance. In “Street Power” and the Claiming of Public Space, Jennifer Worly tells the little-known history of Vanguard, a group that sprang up in San Francisco’s Tenderloin in the 1960s. Pulling together Vanguard flyers and newsletters, as well as some firsthand accounts from folks in the scene, Worly shows how Vanguard centered their work around young sex workers and other economic and social outcasts to fight privatization, homelessness, social isolation, and police brutality – unlike the assimilationist homophile movement that was already active in San Francisco in the 1960s. I enjoyed reading about Vanguard’s actions, like their symbolic ‘sweep’ of the Tenderloin that reappropriated the terms of gentrification and so-called ‘urban renewal,’ and the riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, a diner that had hired private security to harass young queens and hustlers. Though the Compton’s Cafeteria riot took place in 1966, it’s often overshadowed by the better known 1969 Stonewall uprising, so it’s nice to see it getting some attention here. Worly even makes this all relevant to the contemporary scene, in a neat critique of liberal sexual politics:

“Vanguard’s foregrounding of the queer youth or adolescent challenged…the very cliche often used to apeal to American ‘live and let live’ ideals: that the law should not interfere with what ‘two consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home.’ Vanguard’s street-sweep illustrates the woeful inadequacy of this cliché as an appeal for the rights of queer and trans youth, who might be consenting but are not adults, who in many cases had been expelled from the protections of ‘the home,’ and its aegis of privacy, and who, as street-based sex workers, depended for their very survival upon queer modes of accessing public – not private – spaces for specifically sexual purposes.”

The same could be said for the current obsession with marriage as the lodestar of gay liberation.

Nadia Guidotto adds another valuable contribution (Looking Back) to the less-told history of queer resistance in her account of the 1981 Toronto bathhouse raids and the riot that followed. The violent response to the raids, she argues, brought gay men together with women feminists, people of color involved in anti-police-brutality work, and others who were fighting against the state regulation of their bodies and sexuality. This kind of coalition building is as necessary today as it was then – especially for the project of prison abolition.

Two pieces that stand out, especially when read together, focus on queer immigration: glimpses of the production of normative queer subjects in the asylum process (How to Make Prisons Disappear) and HIV/AIDS-related abuses in Immigration and Customs Enforcement prisons (Regulatory Sites). Other highlights of the volume include a much-needed critique of sex offender registries (Awful Acts and the Trouble with Normal) and a lucid, almost surrealist personal essay (Hotel Hell) that meanders from the nitty-gritty regulation of life in a residential hotel to a heartfelt call for folks to consider how their tactics make their bodies vulnerable to the PIC.

If you asked me to find some weak points in the book, I might complain a bit about the seemingly excessive interpretive liberties Stephen Dillon takes in his account of imprisoned queer writing (The Only Freedom I Can See). Really though, my only complaint is that with such a wide variety of perspectives and styles, the collection ought to be organized a bit more linearly, and better curated, with something like an editor’s note at the beginning of each piece. I guess what I’m saying is I just want Eric Stanley and Nat Smith to hold my hand as I read their book – which I suppose is pretty queer.

Prison Rape Elimination Act vs. Dept. of Criminal Justice

The Place–Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), Huntsville, Texas. The Victim (Vic)–a deaf/physically handicapped/ safe keep prisoner. Safe Keep (SK)-are prisoners of a “Protected Class”/at “High Risk” the Vic wears diapers for bowel and bladder incontinence, a fact known to fellow prisoners due to TDCJ’s practice of “Strip-Harass-Humiliate” and because he is forced to shower with others, despite sanitary and safety issues. Propaganda refers to SK as “The Gay Wing” and SK Prisoners in a derogatory or even sexual manner, making the Risk that much higher. The Wing has 126 beds, and is usually at 95% capacity with prisoners.

In May 2012, the Vic, along with about 30 other SK prisoners, went to the chowhall for the evening meal (about 4:20 PM). Officers then placed a number of General Population (GP) wings, including Medium Custody, right behind SK. The maximum capacity of the South chowhall is 234 people, so by 5PM all tables were full. Both serving lines were backed up to the closed and locked doors and about 125 Prisoners, including SK, were staged (standing) in a small area by the locked exit doors waiting for Egress (see Texas Barriers Act).

Two GP Prisoners attacked the Vic from behind and began to physically and sexually assault him. They pulled down his pants and tore off his diaper; pushed their fingers in his rectum; masturbated him while trying to kiss him; slapped his testicles and buttocks; pulled on his penis and scrotum. This went on for some 20 minutes before the doors were open and Egress was allowed. The Vic, with his pants still around his ankles, was knocked to the floor and trampled by the rushing crowd to the laughter of guards.

The Officers on duty did not attempt to stop the Assault, nor did they file the required reports, which would have identified the assailants and witnesses. A Ranking Officer at the Central Desk refused to communicate with the Vic because he is deaf. They instead used a standard TDCJ threat in a direct order to “Go to your wing or go to Lock Up and get a disciplinary case!” This also eliminated the mandatory medical evaluation and documentation. Furthermore, all correspondence (to Wardens, Major, Building Captain, Psych, Safe Prisoners Coordinator, Risk Management, PREA Ombudsman) went without reply and the first step of the grievance simply disappeared.

TDCJ has a legal responsibility to protect all prisoners, with special regard to all in Safe Keep. They have a duty to respond to crimes committed in their institution. Yet they purposely prevented the Vic from reporting and documenting this physical and Sexual Assault; then left him to suffer harassment and humiliation by staff and other Prisoners and to live in fear for the next assault.

This is but one of many offenses regularly covered by the Texas Prison System. The Administrators–by inaction and denial–sanction Rape, Extortion, Physical and Sexual Assault. Where the PREA states a zero tolerance for sexual assault; TDCJ has enacted a zero tolerance for sex. There is a big difference between sex and rape. TDCJ policy is clearly a statement against Homosexuality. Rape and extortion are crimes committed by the deprived or those who feel shame for their desires and forcibly take what they want from those who are weaker–At High Risk. Suggesting all forms of passive sexual release–masturbation, porn, etc.–are some sort of crime is a bit like prohibition and has the same affect. Rape, extortion, physical and sexual assault have been against the Law, even in prison, long before the words of the Prison Rape Elimination Act; yet homosexuality is not against the law.

Most people may not have realized the severity of these crimes in prison, but wardens and guards had to know. But to acknowledge the scope of this problem now is to admit incompetence or that they allowed it. This is why the PREA has no real power to stop prison rape in TDCJ. The PREA Ombudsman, Safe Prisons Coordinator, and Grievance Officers work for TDCJ. As yet there are no cameras on this building, the chowhalls, or Safe keep. There is no outside watchdog agency. The day TDCJ officials are held criminally responsible is the day we begin to stop prison rape.

A Hard Rain(bow) is Going to Fall: Permisiveness or Domination — Is There a Third Way?

When I showed up at the Montana Rainbow Gathering and unknowingly camped across the main trail from a large fenced area with a menacing “Enter at Your Own Risk” sign, I had no idea that these neighbors would shape and impact not only my experience that week, but the experience of those who participated in the Nonviolent Communication workshops I came to offer as well.

Initially I found it amusing that this group of people would choose to identify their camp as “The Projects.” “How strange that the elements of outside society are re-creating themselves here,” I thought. I had never heard of this camp despite this being my fifth national rainbow gathering. Many of the other rainbow attendees refer to this crowd as “crusties.” The typical Project camper, of which there were a few dozen it seemed, is a traveler (hitchhiker, train hopper) with dirty black and grey clothes, usually with patches and holes, but more of the latter. They were loud and raucous, ignoring the rainbow policy of “No alcohol in the gathering!” asking passersby to give them snacks, and setting off fireworks till the wee hours of the morning (another rainbow no-no with the dangers of forest fires, not to mention people wanting to experience the rejuvenation of the quiet forest outside city limits).

It didn’t end there though. This group was on one side of many conflicts throughout the week. I don’t think they always “started” it per se, but they did seem to be purposefully antagonizing those around them with such antics as putting logs and digging holes in the path at night, so that people walking through without a flashlight would trip. Ouch. My approach to this was to just go around, because I quickly came to the conclusion that the more people reacted to their behavior in any way, the more things escalated. I also saw what they were doing as mostly harmless, a letting off of steam that builds up from being in cities too long.

Sometimes these folks got into fights with each other, which once again didn’t bother me as much as some other people. It seemed like consensual fighting, more letting off steam. This is just what these people did for fun. It’s not my idea of a good time, but different strokes for different folks. Sometimes it did seem that people got involved who were not so consensual about it, however, and that’s when it became really dramatic. During these times, I found myself in a conundrum. Despite my skills with NVC, there was simply too much going on for me to see any meaningful way I could contribute to defusing a brawl. There were so many people yelling, there were already people from Shantisena (the rainbow peacekeeping infrastructure) trying to help, that all I could do was give silent empathy to all involved from the sidelines, and try to help the sensitive souls of bystanders by inviting them over to my camp, Empathic Rejuvenation, to relax and ground.

During these times, I wondered if this was a situation for protective use of force. Marshall Rosenberg, founder of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), made this distinction between using force to protect health and safety, and using force to punish–punitive use of force. The second would be considered violence in the NVC system. For me the line between these two things gets really blurry though. Although most NVCers, including myself, would see capital punishment as punitive use of force, proponents could argue it’s protective in the sense that it can discourage others from killing people (whether or not this is the case, people can and certainly do argue it). One of our options, that was never acted on, was to ask the police overseeing the gathering to intervene with this camp. I was even convinced for a day or two that this would be a good course of action, mainly because I was sick of the fireworks.

But, I thought, wouldn’t I be hypocritical if I asked the police to intervene for my cause (no fireworks) but oppose them for intervening in other cases? There are many “illegal” things happening at a rainbow gathering–people walk around nude, have their dogs off leashes, and bring a variety of blacklisted substances for recreational or spiritual use. No, I didn’t want to promote such an arbitrary double standard. I want to let go of brute force as a solution to minor problems, and find other creative ways to deal with social challenges. What this meant in this case, was until we found a better way to work with this group of people, we had to default to putting up with them in the meantime. In the grand scheme of things, walking around logs and holes is not that big of an inconvenience. I’d like to save protective force for more important things–such as when there really are nonconsensual fights, although in this case brute force didn’t seem to help with that either, just more escalation.

I still don’t know what creative solution would work for the Projects and the rest of the rainbows to live together in peace. One thought I have is to work with the Shantisena crew next year, offering them the powerful tool of NVC-style empathy, both for their own rejuvenation and to use in the midst of conflict. This idea inspires me; I see it as a new frontier in human development (which I also see in the gathering as a whole). It is painful to me to see how quickly some of the people who say we want a new world resorted to brute force in the face of The Projects, a tactic of the so-called “old paradigm.” I believe looking at situations through the lens of human needs helps to defuse a lot of the “us vs. them” energy and open up at least the possibility for a solution that works for everyone involved. I hope that activists and rainbows and all cultural transformers will consider learning more about the NVC system for resolving conflict; it is one of the few things that gives me hope that the miracle of a more peaceful society will ever emerge.

Resources for learning NVC: BayNVC.org, (Also see Miki Kashtan’s blog “The Fearless Heart”) norcalnvc.org (in Chico, where I live) cnvc.org (Center for Nonviolent Communication, founded by Marshall Rosenberg)

There's an Anarchist Behind Your Computer

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of anarchists equate computers with authority and social control. This is strange to me. The people who design computers and write software have their own subculture, and its principles are highly aligned with anarchy. Certainly capitalism has put its mark on the computers we use daily, but that’s simply because the ever-expanding behemoth of commoditization poisons everything it touches. This can be compared to the music industry: few would argue that rock and roll is a capitalist tool, simply because it has been turned into a product that is bought and sold. Yet hardware and software are being treated this way, and those who make it are viewed with disdain.

The word “hacker” is misunderstood in popular culture to mean someone who cracks into other people’s systems (that’s properly a “cracker”). Among those who code software, a hacker is a clever person who comes up with a better way of doing something. The way hackers generally express themselves is in writing better and more efficient code. But any clever solution is considered a hack, and most hacks are not malicious.

An example of non-software hacking would be Phil Zimmerman, a hacker who wanted a way for anti-nuclear activists to be able to communicate securely. The data encryption program he came up with (PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy which, like many hacker words, is a bit of a joke) is widely used today. But back in 1991, the US government didn’t like that his data encryption was getting into foreign hands so they charged Zimmerman with “munitions export without a license”. Zimmerman’s hack was to print out the source code and get it published by MIT Press. As a book in the library of congress, he could argue that PGP was protected under the First Amendment. A clever hack.

Note that when I say coders are part of an inherently anarchist subculture, I don’t mean to say that every person who writes code adheres to these beliefs. But I am saying that the subculture itself is inherently radical. As an analogy, one might argue that the history of punk music is deeply tied to anarchist principles. But no one would presume that means every punk fan, or even every punk music band, lives by these ideals. But you might go so far as to say that exploring the history of punk and striving to live a punk-as-fuck life would likely push one towards a more anarchist way of thinking. This is what I’m saying about software and hardware developer culture. Many people today are chasing down engineering degrees just to get a decent paycheck. But those who do it out of love, and those who seek to understand the inside jokes and ethos from whence their language was written, will find a radical belief system at its center.

The freedoms hackers strive to promote are of import to all who use computers. The Internet, open source, and crowdsourcing are the biggest and most successful applications of anarchist principles in the history of recorded civilization. It’s time anarchists took note of their most natural ally: the software hacker.

Here are some of the principles that are critical to the hacker subculture. They may strike you as familiar.

Information Should Be Free

“The Net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” –hacktivist John Gilmore

The geeks who write code and design computers believe information should be free and open. To hackers, any system is better if kept transparent. This belief was born of seeing how unrestricted access to information can allow the creation of better software. But those who follow this philosophy tend to be opposed to censorship in all forms.

Hacktivist Richard Stallman puts it this way: “Arrangements to make people pay for using a program, including licensing of copies, always incur a tremendous cost to society through the cumbersome mechanisms necessary to figure out how much (that is, which programs) a person must pay for. And only a police state can force everyone to obey them.

Consider a space station where air must be manufactured at great cost: charging each breather per liter of air may be fair, but wearing the metered gas mask all day and all night is intolerable even if everyone can afford to pay the air bill. And the TV cameras everywhere to see if you ever take the mask off are outrageous. It’s better to support the air plant with a head tax and chuck the masks.

Copying all or parts of a program is as natural to a programmer as breathing, and as productive. It ought to be as free.”

Julian Assange and Wikileaks are well known examples of hackers making efforts to keep information free. You may also be familiar with whistleblower Edward Snowden, who was essentially a professional hacker.

Open Access

The practical application of a philosophy of openness leads into the next hacker ethic: sharing. It’s not enough for information to be free. Hackers believe that code should be shared.

Without open access to the code that makes up our software, it’s difficult for projects to be improved or bugs tackled. Progress slows to a crawl. Conversely, the strides made through cooperative coding have inspired a generation of people who turn to the wisdom of crowds for all kinds of projects.The Internet itself is an example of the possibilities of collaboration that succeeds on such a staggering scale, it would have beyond the scope of imagination for most people alive several generations ago. Writing software works much the same way: when coders use sites like Github to work together, they’re able to produce far more than they could alone. Hackers believe this is not only a convenience, it’s a right.

This struggle has been with hackers since the beginning of computers. In the early days of coding, software wasn’t seen as a commodity. Most software only ran on the machine it was made for, so it didn’t even occur to them that it was something that could be bought or sold.

Coders shared freely, and it was common to build on or perfect software that others had begun. The Harvard Computer lab had a policy that they’d not allow installation of software unless the code was publicly posted. At MIT good software was developed by coders accessing a free box of sorts, from which they’d improve the code and put it back for the next person to use.The nature of coding is collaborative, in that, at a certain magnitude, it becomes impractical for one person to complete the code on her own. While factory workers had to grow into the idea that they should control the means of production, software uniquely began as a completely open culture of free sharing.

“If you can’t open it, you don’t own it”

Thus true hackers believe in the “Hands-on Imperative”: users should be able to tinker with things. For example, it’s commonplace these days for companies to state in their license agreements (those long EULAS we sign) that warranties that are void if the owner attempts to take the object apart and put it back together. Another example is Digital Rights Management (DRM), the corporate practice of putting extra stuff in data like mp3s, e-books and video games to make them difficult to share. Hackers would consider this malicious, and might even refer to such code as a virus.

Free as in Speech

Coders aren’t mere armchair revolutionaries. Hackers fight for these principles of on a daily basis. In the examples above, a hacker is giving the man the finger just by fixing a friend’s laptop,or creating a torrent file to illegally share the latest DRM-protected video game. My point is not that these are highly revolutionary actions, my point is that they do these things with the spirit of rebellion. Most people don’t care about or understand issues like DRM and EULAs, but hackers feel that these corporations are impinging on their rights and they’re happy to fight back.

It was Bill Gates who spread the notion that code was something that should be paid for. In 1976 his widely distributed “An Open Letter to Hobbyists” complained that because engineers were sharing his BASIC software, the new Microsoft company was unable to profit. To many the idea of selling software was an alien concept, and there were plenty of others who were offended he was hiding the code. It had to be hidden, or anyone else could copy and sell it, but that also meant the coders couldn’t make their own improvements and mods. This went against the very values hackers had bonded over. Gates was sacrificing quality for profit.

In response to this growing idea that a page of ones and zero could be a product, beloved hacker Richard Stallman started the GNU software project in 1983 and founded the Free Software Foundation in 1985. Their manifesto outlines this belief that software should be “free,” not as in beer, but as it is in the phrase “free speech.”

The Free Software Movement promotes open source software. This just means you can see the code, and modify it or share it with others. The focus is put on creating better software rather than restricting access for the sake of greed. The biggest name in open software, is the operating system GNU/Linux. Linux is also easier to hack, gives the user more control, and has better security and privacy…all because the hackers who coded it value freedom, privacy and security. You may think that few people use Linux, because most home computer users run corporate software (like Microsoft). However, the very people who design their machines, build their software, and run their websites use open source free software instead (like GNU/Linux). It’s because of the open source movement that there are so many free (as in beer) programs available, no strings attached.

The people who make open source software are building complex data structures and giving them away, just for the love of creating code and the belief that it should be free. This free software is behind many advances in the technology gap, such as the One Laptop Per Child program. Open source programs like GIMP and Audacity further bridge the economic gap by allowing free entry into previously expensive skills like photo and audio editing. This has been critical to the rise of independent media. While some anarcho-primitivists may oppose the use of technology, they must admit that strides taken to make computers free and accessible to all break down socio-economic barriers.


Coders believe things function better when there’s no central authority. Who rules the Internet? No one and everyone. Governments all over the world are trying to pass legislation to control this perfectly open space, or give that control to corporations (e.g. CISPA, SOPA). And it is the hackers who are fighting these changes, both within and outside the system. Anonymous is an example of a group of hackers who fight corporate control by any means necessary (yes, they’re pranksters about it, which is the hacker way).

Hackers: Against All Authority

Another tenet of hacker culture is a general mistrust of authority. It’s only natural that a subculture in favor of sharing, decentralization and transparency would be opposed to beauracracies and authoritative systems.

Hackers don’t respect the labels of authority. This culture built on playful competition prefers people prove their skills. Perhaps this is because so many of the suits they’ve been required to answer to, be it from college funding boards or hiring managers, know *nothing about the languages of code.

Moreover, it’s those same authority figures who continually strive to profit off of the endeavors of software coders. At every turn the hacker runs afoul of those who would take their art and profit from it. The Luddites may think of coding as a boring and analytical practice. But to hackers, writing code is an art, not a science. The very languages that software is written in have evolved to reflect the culture and humor of those who invented it. I do not exaggerate when I say that great code is appreciated much the same way as a beautiful painting or poem. But unlike a sonnet, these codes are inextricably linked to everything from phones to hospital equipment to weapons systems.

*The Jargon File, a repository of hacker phrases, refers to suits as the “worst of all in hackish vocabulary.” It also says in that same introduction, “Hackers, as a rule, love wordplay and are conscious and inventive in their use of language. These traits seem to be common in young children, but the conformity-enforcing machine we are pleased to call an educational system bludgeons them out of most of us before adolescence.”

We Also Sell Books

The San Francisco Anarchist Book Fair has metastasized into the Anarchist Spectacle. Attendees don’t participate, but merely consume (books, t-shirts, and posters), while being passively entertained by lectures from leading anarchist theorists, writers, and the occasional activist pitching the latest convergence. Often the most entertaining feature of the SF book fair is not a planned event but rather some fiasco arising from the hubris of the planning committee: setting the venue for the last book fair inside Northern California’s preeminent porn studio; preempting other longstanding anarchist events by scheduling a second day for the fair; calling for the arrest of those who had the impertinence to throw a pie in the face of the fair’s featured celebrity author (and then attempting to solicit any who had witnessed the event to rat out the perpetrators); etc.

We admire and respect the pioneering efforts the SF book fair to produce one of the first anarchist book fairs in North America. There remains an excitement to the SF book fair, but its focus seems to have narrowed into simply selling books and anarchist paraphernalia. We’re not saying that there are never any real conversations, tensions, or dynamics at the SF Book fair, but lately those interesting conversations happen despite the book fair, not because of it.

These conversations are why we’re wildly enthusiastic about all the anarchist book fairs from Eugene, Oregon to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Like the medieval town fairs, book fairs provide a vibrant link between anarchist communities. They’re also a lot of fun, with music, dancing, dinners and/or camping trips both before and after the fairs.

At the East Bay book fair, we are attempting to provide a formal structure to interactions and conversations between anarchists that occur worldwide. There are no speakers per se, but circles of conversation, and people (mostly local) who will host and facilitate. This book fair is not for an audience, but for participants: people who want to engage anarchist ideas directly, not watch someone else do it.

As a post-modern medieval fair, we’ll be our own entertainment. Bake sales, punk shows, and dinners precede the fair; more parties and a camping trip occur afterwards. The book fair will also be a costume party with prizes. We’ll have karaoke, an art table and childcare. There’ll even be a panel discussion of Anarchist Art featuring William Blake, Thomas Pynchon, and Banksy. For a complete schedule follow us on twitter @eastbayanarchy.

We are East Bay Anarchists. We are not arrogant enough to think we have the answers. We are not stupid enough to blindly accept anyone else’s answers. We also sell books. Come by the Humanist Hall at 790 27th St., Oakland on Oct. 26 between 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM and check us out. Be sure to wear your costume!

Zine Reviews!!!

A new wave of publications clutter the Long Haul shelf. These fresh faces makes it easier to not rely on feeding at the trough of the corporate agenda (im looking at you NY TIMES). Hey also we got new issues from Node Pajomo, Muchacha, Dreams Of Donuts, Asswipe, Shards of Glass in Your Eye, The Stowaways and No Gods No Matresses — all of which we reviewed recently. Their contact is the same, and guess what, their zines are improving. So look those ones up as well. (eggplant)

That’s Not Okay-Boundaries for the Conflict Avoidant

A mostly light-hearted zine about how to prctically and gently apply boundaries to our every day lives without being grumpy assholes. Well-written and ridden with cute drawings. (enola d!)

New World Rising summer 2013
PO box 97
Hudson, NY 12534

A publication with the rough edges showing. The writing is proudly anarchist and…. freshman. The topics are presented as if reciting the A-B-C’s of black bloc activism: genetically modified foods, bee colony collapse, rebellion to authority and consensus decision making are raised and dispensed with generic abandon. The lack of depth or nuance will probably service Jr. High students wishing to survey an alternative scene as they raise a bold voice to mainstream culture. The unfocused prose and politics has as much funk and honesty as an open mic nite at a sketchy café. Maybe future issues will kick ass — already there’s potential because some gems of personality emerge from it. The pages crowded with words and art show real care in the production. The evidence of actual hands engaging in any open space make it distinct from the “Wordshop” variety of literature. It’s creative whole resembles a publication not seen much since shit made in the 1980’s. Another plus is the off set printing, this makes some pages have smears of ink that give off an intoxicating smell. (eggplant)

Meditation Is Easy/Tyler Twombly’s Guide to Meditation, Hypnosis and Cults tylertwombly@gmail.com davidgodzilla@gmail.com

One side of this zine is clean and straight-forward how-to, the other handwritten history and debunking of the transcendental meditation cult and resources to learn TM techniques without paying for it. Smart split, Complimentary and informative. (enola d!)

Something For Nothing #66 & #67
516 Third St NE
Massillon OH 44646
Free (a couple of stamps)

Let me warn the most radical out there that this work is made from an avowed Christian. Thankfully he doesn’t use the space to convert readers. But that doesn’t diminish the subtle creep factor. Christians have a tendency to insinuate an agenda into places (like punk rock) that is seemingly harmless. And yet so much harm is created by psychopaths using Christianity as a refuge. This zine is now 25 years old and having to read “Thanks to God” over the years instantly activates my dyslexia. It is a competently made production that is attractive to look at even if the words are slow food. The MR&R reviewer really didn’t like the 15 pages in #67 devoted to chronicling the gas station the editor worked throughout the 1990’s. I was about to agree when I found myself with a job and reading with increasing interest during my breaks. It is a flaw of American culture to give primacy to “exciting” things–over our real life experiences. Also the existence of Something for Nothing marks the in between era of the 1980’s when zines were focused on music and politics, and the 90’s zines — which were mostly personal musings. The combination as seen here goes to providing a rare outlook of the world. Both 66 & 67 have numerous pages dedicated to slice of life entries as well as pieces on music. Roots reggae (like Strictly Roots etc) and the Hard Core band 7 Seconds are given ample space of contemplation by someone who cares. At worst sometimes relating irrelevant information. But his shear love of the music genuinely sparks my interest and gets me to visit those sounds. (eggplant)

Stoner Doom #1

A kinda sci-fi graphic novel zine that involves stoners and doom but exceeds the expectations given by those descriptors. This is hot off the press and the first in what will be a series. Intricate artwork that shows a lot of time, thought and maybe caffeine inspired creation. (enola d!)

Baitline!!! #46
74A Coleridge St.
San Francisco, CA 94110

Baitline!!! is back with another freaky issue! Look inside and you instantly feel like you’re in another world. This FREE classified includes prisoner letters, show fliers, penpal requests, people looking to hook up, and public service announcements – all adorned with some pretty scandalous drawings. Send Baitline!!! your ads, fliers, and wildest desires! (V)

Bookish Beasts #1 Spring 2013

An organ of the center of sex and culture…um pun intended. My first view of it was that it exemplified everything that is a bummer of present day San Francisco (where it originates). That is its made by head smart experienced people but presented in a sleek nothingness filtered through a computer. The whole “Everything must be clean,” hegemony. I mean there’s plenty of art but flipping through it the shitty resolution that was used makes it all look forgettable. I truly miss the grisly hand made underground papers. Alas once I really sat down with it did it start to warm my center. I liked the opening piece explaining the Center’s reasoning for collecting sex related materials. And later I learned that at campus libraries the bathrooms with double doors are best to look for when cruising for a hookup — that made me stop to think. And admittedly some of the pictures are pretty cool. I think the future issues they will fine-tune the art of getting your eyes to stick to the pages. Sex is communication. Zines is communication. Perfect match eh? (eggplant)

Maximum Rock N Roll #365
PO Box 460760
San Francisco, CA 94146

The October issue of this long-running punk zine brings us a Czech Scene Report, interviews with the bands Kontrasekt, Big Black Cloud, Violent Party, and more. What sets Maximum apart from the rest is it’s opinionated columns and review sections, spotlight on punk bands and DIY projects from all over the world, and it’s brought to us each and every month on gritty, black and white newsprint. I love that anyone can submit an interview or a guest column, and if you live in the bay area and want to help out, they are always looking for shitworkers. Keep your eyes peeled for the Queer issue in January. (Van)

Specious Species #6
www.speciousspecies.net, lbelly.donohoe@gmail.com

In this issue of Specious Species, Joe explores the topics sex and death. This zine is packed with information and filled with some of the best interviews I have ever read. There is an interesting interview with Wendy O. Matik about her views on polyamory, a spotlight on Cathee Shultz and her Museum of Death, poetry, short stories, a brief history on Grigori Rasputin, and much, much more! I’m still combing through this zine (all 142 pages) and learning interesting facts about each subject. Specious Species is always a pleasure to read and is HIGHLY recommended for those interested in underground culture. (Vanessa)

1636 Fairview St Berkeley, Ca 94703

I started writing the author of this zine, Tomas Muniz (of Rad Dad), a postcard about how brilliant, beautiful and emotionally stirring Dirty is before I had even finished reading it. Short prose and poetry about the body, touch, intimacy, love, insecurity. Those secret kinda of things we’re not supposed to talk about. (enola d!)

Cometbus #55, #55.5- ‘Pen Pals’ and ‘Love you Like Suicide’
PO Box 4726 Berkeley, CA 94704

In ‘Pen Pals,’ Aaron writes about his complicated and platonic friendship with Yula, a feisty, stubborn Ukranian girl who also acts as his sidekick as they roam the streets of Berkeley. On these same streets resides ‘Iskra,’ a leftist paper that Aaron describes as ‘no frills and no fun,’ which he finds refreshing and inspiring. As ‘Iskra’ is taken off the streets, so is Yula, as she moves away and keeps in touch with Aaron anonymously through postcards. In ‘Love You Like Suicide,’ Aaron hands the pen over to Jo Treggiari. Jo’s story is much darker and takes place in Oakland, more specifically, Ghost Town, an area where people walk around like the living dead. This is a story about heavy drug use and addiction. It is also about Jo’s friend, Holly, who she loves so much that it hurts. The ending is tragic, but the writing is beautiful and compelling. Although these stories are extremely different, they both share a common theme. They are both about complicated (and important) friendships, letting go of the past, and moving on the best you can. I’m glad Cometbus is still kicking and bringing us poignant and thought-provoking stories about growing up and staying punk. Here’s hoping for 55 more issues! (Van)

Storming Heaven #1 June 2013

Anarchism from Seattle. Made by people who would seem to spend a lot of time on the internet finding insurrectionist related news then venting on the streets afterwards. No tolerance for liberalism here though not quite ready to advocate we all pick up guns or leave bombs in banks. I can see that on the night each new issue is printed minor property damage will probably visit the corporate business part of town. If this review were a scratch and sniff your nose would be greeted by the fresh smells of rain and spray paint.(eggplant)

Miserable Future

October 19 – 12 – 4

Global Frackdown protest in many cities to stop oil and gas fracking. In Oakland at Oscar Grant / Frank Ogawa Plaza 14th & Broadway globalfrackdown.org

October 19 – 20

New Orleans Anarchist Book Fair nolaanarchistbookfair.org

October 19 – 21

Trans and/or Womyn’s Action Camp, Augusta region, Maine twac.wordpress.com

October 20 – 4 pm

Slingshot new volunteer meeting 3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley

October 25 – 6 pm

Halloween San Francisco Critical Mass bike ride – gather at Justin Herman Plaza and dress up yur bike. sfcriticalmass.org

October 26 – 10 – 8

East Bay Anarchist book fair @ Humanist Hall in Oakland eastbayanarchist.com

November 3 – 12 – 4

Let Them Eat Zines Perth Town Hall, Austraila perth.wa.gov.au

November 8 – 8 pm

East Bay Bike Party eastbaybikeparty.wordpress

November 8-10

Winnipeg Anarchist Book Fair DIY Fest wpgbookfairdiyfest.wordpress.com

November 10-11

Boston Anarchist Bookfair Simmons College bostonanarchistbookfair.org

November 10 – 6 – 9

Penpal Writing Night 2nd Sunday of each month 3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley

November 16 – 17

Expozine Montreal, Québec 5035 Saint-Dominique expozine.ca

November 17 – 7 pm

Free Movie: From the Back of the Room (documentary about women in punk) 3124 Shattuck, Berkeley thelonghaul.org

November 22 – 24

Protest the School of the Americas Ft. Benning, GA www.soaw.org

November 23

Carrboro Anarchist Book Fair Chapel Hill, NC carrboroanarchistbookfair.wordpress

November 29

Buy Nothing Day

November 30 – 3 pm

Article deadline for issue #115 3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley

December 7 – 10 – 5 pm

East Bay Alternative Book and Zine Fest Berkeley City College eastbayalternativebookandzinefest.com

December 14

Humboldt Anarchist Book fair humboldtgrassroots.com