back cover – Tips for dealing with the police
These suggestions from the National Lawyers Guild “Know Your Rights” guide summarize the rules to which the police are theoretically subject. However be careful: the police, the courts, and the government can and do manipulate and ignore these rules. Police often retaliate against people for exercising their rights. These tips may help you later on in court, and sometimes they won’t. It’s best to know your rights so you can decide when to assert them, even though the state can’t be counted on to follow its own laws. Always use your best judgment — if you aren’t doing anything wrong, there may be no reason to be excessively paranoid or escalate a potentially innocent and brief encounter with a police officer. The point is to avoid giving information.
Providing this information isn’t intended to scare you into inactivity or make you paranoid. Even in the current context, the vast majority of radical projects proceed with no interference from the police. The police hassle and arrest people because they hope that such repression will frighten the population into submission. We can take reasonable precautions while continuing the fight for liberation.
Never Talk to the Police
Anything you say to an FBI agent or cop can and will be used against you and other people — even if the questions seem routine or harmless. You don’t have to talk to FBI agents, police or investigators on the street, if you’ve been arrested, or if you’re in jail. (Exceptions: Your name, date of birth and address are known as “Booking questions” which are not included in your right to remain silent. In some states you can get an additional minor charge for refusing to identify yourself after a police stop based on reasonable suspicion). Only a judge has the authority to order you to answer questions. Many activists have refused to answer questions, even when ordered by a judge or grand jury, and subsequently served jail time to avoid implicating others. It is common for the FBI to threaten to serve you with a grand jury subpoena unless you talk to them. Don’t be intimidated. This is frequently an empty threat, and if they are going to subpoena you, they will do so anyway. If you do receive a subpoena, call a lawyer right away.
Once you’ve been stopped or arrested, don’t try to engage cops in a dialogue or respond to accusations. If you are nervous about simply refusing to talk, you may find it easier to tell them to contact your lawyer. Once a lawyer is involved, the police sometimes back off. Even if you have already answered some questions, you can refuse to answer other questions until you have a lawyer. Don’t lie to the police or give a false name— lying to the police is a crime. However, the police are allowed to lie to you, in fact they are trained to — don’t believe what they say. If you’ve been arrested, don’t talk about anything sensitive in police cars, jail cells or to other inmates — you are probably being recorded.
What To Do About Police Harassment On The Street
If the police stop you on the street, ask, “Am I free to go?” If yes, walk away. If not, you are being detained but this does not necessarily mean you will be arrested. Ask, “Can you explain why you are detaining me?” To detain you, cops must have specific reasons to suspect you have committed or about to commit a crime. Police are entitled to pat you down during a detention. If the police try to further search you, your car, or your home, say repeatedly that you do not consent to the search, but do not physically resist.
What To Do If Police Stop You In Your Car
If you are stopped while driving a car, you must show police your license, registration and proof of insurance, but you do not have to consent to a search or answer questions. Keep your hands where the police can see them and refuse to consent (agree) to a search. Police may separate passengers and drivers from each other to question them, but no one has to answer any questions.
No matter your age or documentation status you have constitutional rights: right to remain silent, right to a lawyer, and protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
Common Sense Activist Security Measures
Don’t speculate on or circulate rumors about protest actions or potentially illegal acts. Assume you are under surveillance if you are organizing mass direct action, anything illegal, or even legal stuff. Resist police disruption tactics by checking out the authenticity of any potentially disturbing letter, rumor, phone call, or other form of communication before acting on it. Ask the supposed source if she or he is responsible. Deal openly and honestly with the differences in our movements (race, gender, class, age religion, sexual orientation, etc.) before the police can exploit them. Don’t try to expose a suspected agent or informer without solid proof. Purges based on mere suspicion only help the police create distrust and paranoia. It generally works better to criticize what a disruptive person says and does without speculating as to why.
People who brag about illegal activities, make reckless proposals, or ask for unnecessary information about underground groups may be undercover police but even if they are not, they should be treated with extreme caution. The police may send infiltrators/provocateurs posing as activists to entrap people on conspiracy charges of planning illegal acts. You can be guilty of conspiracy just for agreeing with one other person to commit a crime even if you never go through with it — all that is required is an agreement to do something illegal and a single “overt act” in furtherance of the agreement, which can be a legal act like going to a store. It is reasonable to be suspicious of people in the scene who pressure us, manipulate us, offer to give us money or weapons, or make us feel like we aren’t cool if we don’t feel comfortable with a particular tactic, no matter why they do these things. Responsible activists considering risky actions will want to respect other people’s boundaries and limits and won’t want to pressure you into doing things you’re not ready for. Doing so is coercive and disrespectful — hardly a good basis on which to build a new society or an effective action.
Keep in mind that activists who spend all their time worrying about security measures and police surveillance will end up totally isolated and ineffective because they won’t be able to welcome new folks who want to join the struggle. We have to be aware of the possibility of police surveillance while maintaining our commitment to acting openly and publicly. The changes we seek will require mass movements as well as secretive covert actions by a small groups of your trusted friends.
For more info contact the National Lawyers Guild: 415 285-5067 or 212 679-5100; read The War at Home by Brian Glick or Agents of Repression by Ward Churchill
a14 – We read it for you – Slingshot looks at newsletters, newspapers, magazines, zines Instead of our cell phones
These are publications that came to Long Haul Info Shop. It’s amazing that they are still cracking away in this age of extinction. They are kinda hard to read since Covid-19 and the 2020 Elections not only take up most of the air space around town but the pages of these works.
Most of these papers could use your eyes and mind or they might disappear. We also received new issues of Fifth Estate, The Lavender Menace, Razor Cake, The Match, Earth Island Journal and the Rebel Worker. We just got them at deadline and think they are all worth hunting down.
#80 Summer 2020 $5.00
PO Box 42531, Philadelphia PA. 19101
This long running periodical prints 3 times a year. They seems to use their time between editions to write savvy articles about current events as well as having a deep understanding of the historical precedent of anarchism. This issue not only looks at how Covid intersects with radicals but also topics exploring issues effecting Chile, South Africa, the Press and the ever dreaded 2020 elections. There is a fair amount of things that would interest a progressive activist with articles showing a deep concern over issues like labor, poverty, war and police abuse. The approach here is bookish and has a sharp conviction of their brand of radicalism. The pages are dense with words and what graphics you find hardly appear larger than your thumb. This alone could scare most frivolous journeys into this offset-printed magazine. To further induce yawning the piece on Covid by Ian MacKay almost delves into academic-speak. This issue has a 3 part series dissecting how Marxist scholars misinterpret Proudhon’s view of the Paris Commune. There is very little to get the impression that the writers occupies a street and talks to strangers (but then again most of us are lacking in that area). Kropotkin seems a very real person to the point that the people today walking around ready to change the world will be held back by this old way of thinking.
I almost want to get a subscription. (egg)
$20 for 1 year subscription
PO Box 34236, L.A. CA 90034-0236
A newspaper for hardcore progressives in the Los Angeles area. Regular features include write-ups of local concerns like abusive police, a community calendar that covers the gambit of activist concerns and a regular column from Mumia. This issue warns of a group of astroturf activists attempting to change the Pacifica radio network for the worse. And in other bad news the Peace Center where this paper and many activists groups operate out of is in danger of being sold. It seems that the minute founder Aris Anagnos died his son is attempting to dissolve the board and destroy this vital organizing space. You are cordially invited to intervene. (egg)
The Gainesville Iguana
September 2020 $15 for 1 year subscription
PO Box 14712, Gainesville FL 32604
I read this during a stultifying heatwave–which is a good setting to regard this Northern Floridian activist newspaper. It’s long running and consistent voice makes the factoids reliable. It’s a bit mainstream for me. I understand the norm for that region is that its full of reactionary (right wing) people so they are taking a chance putting themselves out there. Still, for my tastes the September issue has too much election items compelling the reader to run to the embrace of the Democrat party.
Thankfully there are other issues covered; news of the local university being challenged about using prison labor, a local river about to be given to Coca Cola to sell as bottled water and a farewell note written by Congressman John Lewis. There’s a directory of activist groups in the area and even a wrap-up of news items worthy of attention but couldn’t make print due to space limitations.
There’s a piece on a local school that was named for a confederate soldier and a lyncher now being renamed to celebrate an Africa American woman physicist…who worked on the atomic bomb in WW2. They don’t expound much on the harm that invention has brought to humans and the living planet. At least her bio is fleshed out. The same is done for a couple of local activists given obituaries. But more impressive I found out Scott Camille is alive by reading about an award he just got. He was a soldier that occupied Vietnam. When he came home he helped organized the Winter Soldier forums where soldiers gave public testimony about war crimes the US military enacted. He then helped to create the VVAW (Vietnam Veterans Against the War) where they held a rally outside the gates of the White House. There they called the president a “mother fucker”, denounced the military and threw their war medals over the police barricade. This should be a weekly protest in the modern age — that simple act will make the orange man flee to the panic room.
Worth reading to fight the power (egg)
September 2020 $3.99
A solid production that means life and death for its readers. This is a glossy magazine with some fancy layouts and graphics. At times the ads almost take over having the energy and verve you’d see in the mainstream press. Quite a few news items and reporting on AIDS medicine will would require special attention for the uninformed. This issue pays tribute to the passing of Larry Kramer — who not only impacted the world and the Gay community, but made a special impression on the crew making POZ. Many facets of his life are given space. Who knows, that old person irrationally yelling at the meeting may have a long list of cool things they were involved with.
Covid is a prominent topic given that this community learned how to survive the pandemic of AIDS. This monthly publication mixing science and medicine with the spirit to take on city hall and the federal government makes for some smart activists. POZ gives a good example of collective action being utilized to solve an untenable situation. (egg)
July/August 2020 Subscription $10
1188 Franklin St. S.F. CA 94109
Get a load of that name, Dispatcher harkens back to the age of publications using zippy titles. Besides you know what (see intro) this issue looks back and deep at the 1934 General Strike in San Francisco CA. The events of Bloody Thursday swayed the general public to support the demands of dock workers. This made the present day Longshore Union (ILWU) who have unceasingly supported radical causes. Shit no one touches like shutting the ports in solidarity for jailed Black political prisoner Mumia Abul Jamal, as well as in protest of the US invasion of Iraq. Everything in here relates to ILWU and their allies. This issue features a full page tribute to John Lewis and looks at his lifelong work expanding Civil Rights. This issue also has a call to support the dock workers of the Pacific Northwest who are in conflict with grain companies who hope to break their agreements. These companies even started a lawsuit the week of X-mas demanding protesting workers pay up to $250,000. This article is pretty ripe with traditional union jargon which isn’t the case for the other pieces. Duller fare does makes up a portion of the read — small news items like someone retiring or a zoom conference reminds me of a college newspaper. Dispatcher is a newsletter in newspaper format. They have enough money to sport full color designs on each page. That and the use of open space makes the world of a labor union seem wealthy and welcoming. There’s a section that wraps up this issue called “Transitions.” Man, what is it about activist papers and their army of the dead? (egg)
Cometbus #59 Post-Mortem $5
PO Box 1318 Cooper Station, NY NY 10276
You can glume from the title that the theme of this issue alludes to the ever popular sense that we entered the end times (yet published before Covid). But don’t despair, when you see the parade of weirdos and their projects you’ll be in safe harbor. You will get a taste of the hustles that they divine to keep their head above water as they make use of their short time here to create a new world.
This issue opens with people who made independent record labels and bands, which is a given considering this zine’s pedigree coming from the 1980’s punk scene. This then takes it a step farther featuring people who created movements like Riot Grrrl, people who opened book stores like Bound Together Books or performance and community spaces like Intrepid. Comic Publishers like Fantagraphics. Squats. Radical Archives. Vegan donuts. Skateboard Mags. There’s a real sense that making a counter cultural institution is normal and necessary. Special attention is paid to the humans who make organizations and how they’re flawed and mortal. Many questions are poised including the hard fact that our people get old, sick and die while keeping the doors open.
This is in zine format with large clear type to relax your eyes after looking at a screen for 7 hours. It makes for brisk reading. The 23 chapters are fairly short so that its easy to read while waiting for public transit or to sneak a peek while at work. It’s also a joy to read. Ordinary info is given flourishes often one sees in creative writing classes but here the word play is adept. Also unusual is that in this age of internet searches the main body of info is extracted from conversations Aaron had. These interviews span a wide range of people from 1960’s radicals to Occupy Wall street radicals. The whole thing is designed for impact….and to nudge readers to look at things in a deep way. (egg)
Search for Weird / V. Vale Bio-Comic #0$10
Artist Krusty Wheatfield transcribes talks with independent publisher V. Vale. The art is mostly minimalistic (even sloppy) while the life story has a grandness. Who knew that young Vale lived in an adopted family who were Black? Who knew that he got a $100 check from Allen Ginsberg and that set the motion for him to start printing the punk newspaper Search & Destroy? Krusty goes kinda deep with the details of Vale’s life in a tone that is humorous and generally delightful. This is the first of many comics on Vale to come. Good if you want to peek behind the scenes of a counter culture and get quirky personal anecdotes. Better than the internet. (egg)
$6 or $30 for 1 Year Subscription
This monthly glossy magazine covers the vast and diverse world music related to Metal and Hardcore Punk. World wide in scope. This issue talks to people making shit in Canada, Sweden, Idaho, Portland and Oakland. This issue has a lot of content that’s very much aware and supportive of the Black Lives Matter uprising since George Floyd’s lynching. In general this publication sides with enlighten people (woke?)–though there is a tirade/editorial this issue about a co-worker that smells of sexism. Thankfully this publication distances itself with right wing ideology. Interesting since there’s a large segment of this music scene that relishes in being mean and stupid.
Decibel also gives space to makers of craft beer this time featuring Black owned businesses. A fascinating regular feature is an interview with a mother of a gigging heavy metal-er. The personalities you get go beyond the generic images of long hair growling men though they do get a lion share of the stage here. Decibel covers a wide range of expression under the banner of loud, heavy and fast music. Even if you don’t understand the sound these people are making its written about in a way that compels the imagination. If you look at it all as a facet of a cutting edge artist movement you might get what the noise is about. You might actually see people creating a different reality than the sterile strip mall that’s eating the planet. (egg)
Baited Area #1 $10(WHYYYY!)
You leave the party away from the popular crowd who are upwardly mobile and carefree. Just on the threshold are people making shit, commenting on reality. Armed with surrealism and hacked technology. This publication is composed of short (but in-depth) talks with these people. They are friends so there’s warmth and follow through with what’s said. The concepts are given room to breathe. People making comics, noise music, performance art, bad movies. People who read books and drop acid. There’s also a thoughtful essay on vasectomies that explores the reactionary response normies give to the act of disabling your reproductive abilities (see also Slingshot #414 ). But it adds another room to the idea—sex without the possibility of children enhances the pleasure of sex. Cut your nuts with this paper. (egg)
Warning: Most likely you’ll need a magnifying glass.
Fluke #18 $4
PO Box 1547, Phoenix AZ 85001
Fluke No. 18 has a little bit of everything for everyone. From skater culture to hobo graffiti to punk shows – all cracks of alternative arts and culture were reached with this edition.
One of the most prominent pieces was an interview with Susan A. Phillips, doctor in anthropology and researcher of “gangs, graffiti, and the US prison system since 1990.” Her interview tapped into various graffiti scenes throughout the U.S. Phillips speaks on early taggers like hobo artist A-No.1 and rail rider buZ blurr. She comments on the social aspect of graffiti and its position as a medium to give the silenced a voice. Overall, a very interesting interview with great takes.
A connecting link in this edition was artist buZ blurr. buZ is not only not only mentioned by Susan Phillips, but also in an interview with lead singer of The Dicks/Sister Double Happiness Gary Floyd. Gary’s interview shifted into its own thing too shedding light on his experience as a gay punk in Austin, Texas and opening for Nirvana.
buZ, himself, wrote a short piece and created some art about his friend, filmmaker Bill Daniel. Bill had his own interview with Fluke and spoke about zines, the everlasting influence of Cometbus, and how he began looking at hobo graffiti. The way the zine is laid out gives it a very fluid feel. The various interviews that mention buZ definitely gives this edition a “small world” impression and offers a rad perspective into how community is created in alternative spaces.
I think one of the coolest aspects of this edition are the various anecdotes spread throughout it. One of my favorites was “Affle House 1999” written by Fluke author/curator Matthew Thompson. The anecdotes do a great job of pulling at the strings of nostalgia. Sick photos, like some from photographer Sergej Vutuc, work with the anecdotes and transport the reader inside these intimate settings – giving them a chance to look around and stay for a while.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable edition. It is filled with more amazing art and stories than I could review here. It is a great pick-me-up for anyone who misses the sense of community and friendship during these tumultuous times – or equally for those who are looking for inspiration to start off their hobo graffiti adventure. (Alexis)
a13 – Air hug those radical spaces
Compiled by Jesse D. Palmer
Radical DIY events spaces, libraries and zine shops are doing what they can to provide community and alternative resources as the pandemic drags on. If there is one near you, please give generously since rent is still due and a lot of income has dried up. Here are some additions to the 2021 Slingshot Organizer, as well as some corrections. An updated on-line contact list is at slingshotcollective.org/radical-contact-list/
What’s Left Records – Colorado Springs, CO
An underground/DIY oriented record store w/ zines and events. 829 N Circle Colorado Springs, CO 80909 719-203-5826
Bookspace – Columbus OH
A mobile and on-line radical bookseller Bookspace that sells books and zines at flea markets, poetry readings, and other events in Columbus. They are trying to get a space to host events. bookspacecolumbus.com
1418 Fulton Daily Market – Fresno, CA
A PoC owned community centered bookshop that hosts printing and zine-making workshops, book releases, bike club meet-ups and photo walks. 1418 Fulton St Fresno, CA 93721 559-697-3044 1418fulton.com
A European Tour
Following are a number of spaces in France and one in Switzerland sent in by our friend Giz in Marseille:
+ Mille babords 61, rue consolat – 13001 Marseille, France
+ Manifesten 59 rue Thiers – 13001 Marseille
+ La Salle Gueule – 8, rue d’Italie – 13006 Marseille, France
+ L’élégante – 8, rue du petit Goye – 63600 Ambert, France
+ L’étoile noire – 5, rue saint jean – 02000 Laon, France
+ La rétive – 42, rue du faubourg d’Auvergne – 30100 Alès, France
+ La Lezarde at the 66 grand rue – 30270 Saint Jean du Gard, France
+ Espace Autogéré Rue du docteur César-Roux, 30 1005 Lausanne Switzerland
Corrections to 2021 Slingshot Organizer
• Bluestockings Books in New York closed. The project is going to restart at 116 Suffolk Street soon.
• Blackbird in Chico, CA has closed.
• Peace Iowa lost its space – pocket only.
• We forgot to include Goodness Tea at 261043 Hwy 101 Unit 3 Sequim, WA 98382 360-670-1041.
• Issues in Oakland closed largely due to the pandemic. They were not on the radical contact list, but they sold the organizer for years and were friends. They paid their bill in full even though they had to close the shop, which isn’t the way it often goes.
• Just Books / Réalta Civic and Social Space in Northern Ireland is closed.
• Infocentrum Salé in Prague, Czech Republic has closed.
• Avtonomna Tovarna Rog at Trubarjeva cesta 72, 1000 Ljubljana, Slovenia changed its name from Socialni Center Rog.
a12 – Towards mutual aid during Covid-19
By droolz & spewz
“MUTUAL AID IS NOT CHARITY! IT IS AN ATTACK!”
Mutual aid is a long tradition of reciprocity and camaraderieship, both materially and interpersonally. When people work together, identifying our needs and thinking of creative ways to fulfill them for one another, we break apart false ideas that we are separated from each other. By way of mutual aid, we grow roots for reconnection enriched by the soil–our visions of thriving communities–and readily plant seeds for the possibility of our collective future.
Since pandemic, several Bay Area mutual aid efforts have gone underway in response to compounded challenges. Some have also transformed to implement new safety precautions, but also because this time has given us a hard poke to examine systems that do not work (and never have). There’s a collective mourning, a collective reassessment of things; many of us (even gasp! those outside of political circles) have been given this moment to reflect upon our relationships–with ourselves, with each other, and to the current economic system we try to survive in.
For some, shifts in awareness around the pandemic are felt much differently. When I (droohlz) was doing a food drop-off at an encampment in Oakland, one of the residents said they didn’t even know there was a pandemic going on until one or two months after the shelter-in-place order began. However, can we think of a time in which such far-reaching interruption of everyday life has happened?
Despite the opportune moment for collectivity, there’s also been an increased risk to fall into hella apathetic headspaces, hopelessness, and despair, for those of us aware of how shit just seems to get worse even more so…especially as we struggle with isolation.
I see it as like, yeah, we’re extremely fucked right now in ways we haven’t been in the past. But since we’ve been put in this situation where we’ve been forced to rethink things, what possibilities are there for mutual aid in this moment and what do they hold for the future? By thinking in this realm, can we maybe hit pause of the normal flow of hopelessness and fear?
In terms of food security, many current mutual aid projects addressing these issues actually didn’t stem from the pandemic, since they have been deeply entrenched within communities for as long as they have existed. But some are choosing to see now that they have some degree of autonomy to gather people and resources together, and in doing so, expanding our networks to each other.
The food redistribution groups mentioned below are making a mockery of overconsumption and what is considered “work” (the the capitalist system) by recapturing food “waste” and in turn feeding people delicious, healthy food. They do this through a decentralized power model (with everyone participating as they can), helping build a different foundation of basic health for houseless communities. In return, new systems of care and love begin to form from within, and communities can begin to change.
…I (rachelle) grew up in Fremont, CA. The wealthy bedroom city full of townhouses and Silicon Valley types city treats houselessness like a big blister on its face, and does anything it can to brush unhoused folks under the proverbial rug. While there is a lack of allocated resources for the unhoused in Fremont, money is spent on cops and homeless sweeps in the name of development. Seeing my friends and a mutual aid organization rise to try and meet the (usually apolitical) town’s needs gave me an unbelievable hope for the future.
Renegade Feedings is a grassroots group which distributes food and supplies to unhoused people in Fremont, CA while working to connect them with greater resources outside of Renegade’s abilities. Since 2019, founders Paul Webster and Justin Valenzuela coordinate all the volunteers making shit happen.
P: “Instead of serving food at a fixed location, they go into encampments to pass out food and develop relationships with the people living there. We get to know these people and build deeper connections within our community. It’s hard to really help someone when you’re just passing out food and leaving…we try to listen to people and hear what they’re saying–to learn what they really need. With that, we connect them with resources and through those resources, they can get the help they want. Our usual situation is when we see someone on the street, we stop and ask if we can help out.”
Renegade visits two to four major encampments in Fremont regularly, but most of their distro is to less formal arrangements. They use 4-5 groups of volunteers to drive to specific areas in Fremont, and if they see someone (even just one person) camping out, they go up and ask if they need any resources and then take it from there. The food Renegade distributes varies, depending on where they source it from. During the pandemic, they’ve joined forces with another local mutual aid group called Meals to Heal.
J: “I saw Meals to Heal was on Nextdoor, so I reached out and asked if they wanted to collaborate on feedings during COVID. They were like, ’Bet.’ We’ve been doing that for a steady amount of time. They actually have stopped doing their own feeding program while trying to establish a community kitchen.”
Renegade also sources hot meals from local restaurants, and ready-to-eat (but close to expiration) foods from Tri City food banks. The meals are ready and prepackaged, and volunteers create kits with supplies and snacks.
When Renegade Feedings first started, it was just a thing to do with friends once a month. But later on, they realized that they could build a network in which everyone could be involved.
J: “It’s really all about community. We’re really asking: ‘How can we truly build a community where, if someone needs help, we can provide that help?’ We’re fighting this parasitic, individualistic, capitalistic society where we try to take-take-take and do everything ourselves. Everyone’s different, but we can all collaborate..and together we can make better decisions….
Food Not Bombs East Bay is an all volunteer-run organization established in 1991 which cooks anywhere from 60-100 hot meals six days a week, and serves at People’s Park. The Park feedings have sadly seen a decline in people showing up, so FNB recently started distributing the excess hot food out to Oakland encampments.
Silver Zahn works in multiple food justice organizations throughout the East Bay.
Silver: “When the pandemic hit, I had just started volunteering with EBFNB. Most of their volunteers are older folks who are immuno-compromised; luckily I’m very able bodied, so I needed to step in because these people couldn’t show up.”
In the kitchen, normally all are welcome, but now we have to deal with logistics of limiting the number of volunteers we can have working at one time. Problems have popped up, since a lot of people want to volunteer but can’t commit to a regular schedule…organizing random volunteers around a schedule has been messy. Right now, we want concrete people who can show up for specific times on specific days”.
Throughout the pandemic, FNB EB has also been doing their regular distribution of prepackaged foods to encampments throughout Oakland and Berkeley.
How this usually works is that volunteers pick up refrigerated packaged foods a few days from their posted expiration date from a national distributor in Oakland. The volunteers then load up their bike carts (or car) and ride around, looking for new and familiar faces to offer food to. Sometimes, water in reusable bottles is distributed, and when the pandemic started, they were even distributing donated hand sanitizer bottles from the students at UC Berkeley.
Food Not Bombs in Arcata, CA, been occurring for over 30 years now. The origins of the group are mysterious, seeing as it has been picked up and passed around by different community homes and groups over the years. It shape-shifts the way most things do in this town, due to its constant fluctuations of being a travelling hub.
At this time, the Bayside Community Hall is hosting us alongside Humboldt Mutual Aid efforts. They reached out to us when the pandemic hit, incidentally in perfect timing. The community house we were cooking out of had asked us to stop cooking there since they have an elder and a newborn living in their home. The transition was seamless and worked out fantastically.
Our operations have changed a lot since the days of bike carts and the huge plaza demonstrations that people associate with our chapter. We have had to switch to distributing food in compostable to-go containers, because before the pandemic we used communal dishes and a wash station at our servings. Using these containers has raised our expenses. Luckily, we were given a grant by a local organization to supplement our funds for the next year as we adapt to the changes brought on by the pandemic.
There have been some struggles with conflicting opinions regarding the extent of safety protocols being put in place as food distributors between individuals and collectives in our area. We are adapting and growing through a shared motivation and interest for restoring food waste and being a presence advocating for non-violent direct actions.”
Our friend Silver also helps out with the North Oakland Restorative Justice Council, which put together a distribution project in response to the pandemic. The reason the distro is on a three-week cycle is that the donations need to sit for two weeks to “quarantine.” As a collaboration with and for the community, they get specific donations from the community and make up to 500 “packages” with hot meals, hygiene products, groceries, batteries, tents, and other personal items on request that people need. They then spend all day driving around to encampments and delivering the kits.
Food Not Bombs volunteers rách and Dara mask up and prepare to distribute food to encampments in the Lower Bottoms, West Oakland, CA. Credit: ANKA
In the face of crumbling infrastructure and climate crisis, in addition to redistribution, it is more important now than ever to cut our dependence on the corporate food supply and be able to sustainably grow and provide our own communities with the healthy food we need. Urban farms and guerilla gardens are making this possible within our cities.
Leah Van Winkle told us that at the Gill Tract Community Farm in Albany, CA, the Gill Tract Farm Coalition has been working toward food/land access and food sovereignty in the East Bay for nearly a decade. With several partnering groups, including Sogorea Te Land Trust, Black Earth Farms, and the Gill Tract Herb Collective, they’ve been growing food and herbs and distributing them for free to the community from the all-volunteer run farm.
Leah: “When COVID hit, our work continued and new opportunities to feed the community came our way. Working with local organization Fresh Approach, we’ve received some funding from the USDA Farmers to Families Foodbox program to source local, organic produce from farmers around the greater Bay Area. We are primarily working with Latinx farmers in Salinas, CA, who have lost virtually all other markets for their produce. We then pack 1000 CSA-style produce boxes each week, that we are then able to freely distribute to the local community!”
With 10+ distribution partners, they are reaching folks all over the Bay – primarily those of marginalized identity living under the poverty level. They’ve heard countless testimonies that these boxes are providing the cleanest, freshest food a lot of these families have ever had access to, greatly furthering the mission of food access for all!
As you have read, groups have still been figuring out how to support the most impacted communities differently from a charity model, making moves towards mutual aid. While they are autonomously organized and for the most part not funded by anyone in particular (in fact, pretty much every week are scrambling for resources), true mutual aid requires both parties to collaborate and exchange. Members of these groups share a common vision for a liberated future, one in which they don’t have to exist because everyone is able to meet each other’s needs in community. However, it is yet to be stated how the recipients of the aid are in turn participating in some kind of reciprocal process with the volunteers, materially and politically. This is definitely a way in which mutual-aid-intending groups need to grapple with their approach in a way that is revolutionary and dismantling these systems that choke us, leaving us on ontologically separate ends.
If you’ve ever done food distribution, you’ll see how much work it is, how frustrating it can be because it’s never enough, but it can still be a break from the everyday monotonous way of accepting the conditions we live in. You’re agreeing that shit is fucked up and the worst thing to be is immobile. As both of us continue to work in food distribution, we are also looking for ways to actually build relationships across communities, to get to work on bringing some shit down. As we thwart attempts at mass pacification by getting up to do something, what is actually our purpose and how are we getting there?
Because true mutual aid allows for us to envision what we will grow, and practice doing it, building upon intra-communal resilience…once we have prepared the soil.
Do you see a need? Maybe you should try to fulfill it! Consider plugging into already forming groups, rely on the communities for networks, or start a group yourself to make safe and healthy food accessible in your area.
Please feel free to email Slingshot and give us updates about what cool stuff you are doing in your town 🙂
a11 – Mutual aid is our secret weapon
By Karma Bennett
The flip-side of the tribalism taking over America is a force sorely lacking on the left: the notion of community. If people can be driven to endanger their own health in support of a thinly-veiled con man, what might they do in support of a movement for self-actualization, freedom, & justice, and why aren’t they?
Among 45’s most ardent supporters are evangelicals. These are people who gather in community at least once a week. They look to their church for support and save their pennies to give back to that community. The community is stronger than rationality or rule of law. To wit, one of the first claims of sociology is that the rule of law of one’s community has a stronger pull than the wider laws of society (anomie).
Look to moments when the left has won significant battles. The Civil Rights movement was also born in churches. The Black Panthers grew out of community members providing mutual aid through programs like school lunches. Unions are a powerful force in part because workers, in spending day after day together, can easily form communities. The hard work of forming a union is the strengthening of community to the degree that workers feel they can trust one another to keep the organizing of a union secret.
Other movements that have grown quickly are built of autonomous zones, like Occupy. People sharing food, shelter, childcare and medical supplies quickly develop community bonds.
Now let’s assess where the left is at today. To those who want to fight climate change, how many are part of a community that meets weekly to work on this issue? Indeed the most successful group that has brought attention to the climate crisis are the student walk outs. Consider that students are inherently powerless. Their only power is in their pre-existing community.
I’ve been involved in countless lefty movements, most of them ineffective. I recall an Indymedia group I volunteered for in the nineties that was driven by one determined and amazing single mom. Despite her efforts, the group had only a handful of volunteers. I suggested they start having socials to bring in new people. But no, they said, these are not the kind of half-assed recruits they wanted. Stopping corporate oligarchy isn’t supposed to be fun, they argued. You do it because you have to. Because it’s necessary. Activism becomes a form of self-sacrifice. As it turns out, self-sacrifice isn’t popular.
Compare this to a friend who explained why she still attends church even though at heart she doesn’t believe in God. She explained: she has friends there. They sing songs together. Being a part of the church makes her feel good. I wonder, is the church weakened by her lack of belief? Or is it stronger because of the size of their community?
Long before cancel culture was a term, the left has been overly careful of purifying our ranks to only the most devoted. Casual participants who are more interested in making friends and breaking bread are deemed unworthy and do not belong.
This point of view fails to recognize that devotion is only fostered through participation. Few people will take the time to read the pamphlets and learn the issues without the pull of community. So folks find their community elsewhere. There’s more community in a casual Dungeons & Dragons group than in many activists organizing for change in their own neighborhoods! You will find that the organizers that last are the ones engendering community.
If you have found that you joined a rally or attended a political meeting because you should, not because you wanted to, you intuitively feel the heart of the problem. Years ago, I lived in a temporary autonomous zone formed to protest the poor monitoring of the sweatshops for my university’s apparel. I remember being surprised how much I enjoyed doing tedious work like dishes and cleaning up. It felt like all labor was important, because all of it was necessary to achieve change. It was frustrating at times, and celebratory too. In community we build toward something together and that sparks an excitement for all that must be done. Perhaps there must be sacrifice for us to reach our goals. But it can’t only be sacrifice. The surest way to get people excited to show up is to create a space that fuses those goals with a commitment to building bonds between members.
A lot of people like to joke that Gil Scot-Heron was wrong when he sang that the “The Revolution Will not be Televised,” but they leave out the second half of the line, “the revolution will be live.” If people don’t come together to build the thing, the revolution won’t happen in the first place.
“You’ll not be able to stay home brother. You’ll not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out…”
Through the connective power of the Internet, these words are more prescient than he could have imagined. Many of us care deeply about the issues that plague society, but that caring happens in isolation. You will not be able to participate by blacking out your Facebook avatar or posting a story on insta-Twitter. Those things do help with advocacy, but in the face of mask-off fascism, advocacy is no longer what is needed. You will not be able to Instagram your way to the revolution, brother, because community organizing doesn’t happen through a screen.
What Is Community?
I’m not saying community can’t be built on the Internet. Perhaps at this point it would help to establish what community is.
The root word in community is munos meaning debt. A community is a group of people who are in debt to one another. This mutual debt builds trust. (For a thorough exploration of debt and community, I highly recommend the book Debt: the First Five Thousand Years by David Graeber.) All of society is a web of acts done for one another. Before market economies meant that debt could be scrupulously measured, the daily routines of life engendered community. The lawyer who defends you in court could not do so without the farmer who makes her food, while the farmer could not share his crops without the construction worker who builds the roads, on and on we are in debt to each other, tracing back to the original bonds of debt you owe to the family that fed you and changed your diapers.
However, capitalism decreases our communal bonds by giving us immunity. There’s that munos root word again, this time meaning free of debt. By putting an exact price on everything, we feel free of obligation to the restaurant that feeds us, or the lawyer who defends us, or the crew who lays asphalt. We may debate whether the labor of the lawyer is worth twice that of a social worker, but it is taken as an assumption that everyone is better off with the attachment of some exchange value for the work they contribute to society. We come to believe that we are truly immune to our debts to society. This leads to isolation and distrust on an epic scale.
Mutual Aid Is the Key to Community
It is only in service to one another that community is built. I am not speaking of the good feeling that people get from volunteering. I’m speaking of the gratitude people feel for what has been done for them at no price. If you preside over a local club, you will feel indebted to the secretary who takes the time to write out the notes and the editor who takes time to publish the newsletter, just as they are grateful to you for taking the time and energy to organize the meetings. If these roles were paid, they would engender entitlement, as participants debate whether your contribution matches your compensation. Stripped of this framework, these acts instead create gratitude, and that gratitude inspires further commitment. It’s through such small acts that relationships are fostered, and a web of these relationships make up a community.
There is a crisis of community in American society. Immunity, the community killer, has become the goal of American life. How many would rather drive to the store than trouble their neighbor to borrow a cup of sugar? Though true immunity is impossible for society to function, people feel safer if they can claim they owe nothing to anyone. But without these debts they become increasingly isolated. In isolation we can’t organize against injustice.
What Can We Do?
We would benefit from putting community at the heart of our organizing efforts. Getting to know one another, building trust and cooperation are just as important as creating agit-prop and organizing rallies.
We might consider how our movements make people feel. Are they showing up because they feel obligated or guilty? Or are they excited to be a part of a group they feel warmly towards, who shares their values? Do they have fun? Do they trust one another? What do organizers know of the lives of the other participants? Of what struggles they face? Of who is important to them? If they were snatched up by Trumplethinskin’s goons, how long before those in your group would notice?
When we look out for one another and share resources, these acts of mutual aid have the added power of fostering community.
A movement built of isolated activists is easy to infiltrate or destroy. Instead we should strive for more than a gathering of people with a common goal. We can make our spaces a third place, a home away from home. While we tear down the state, we can also work towards the future we want to build through acts of kindness and generosity.
a10 – Jump out of the electoral cis-tem
By Zoe Lopez-Meraz
Someone accused me of trying to sell snake oil when I announced I was entering the City Council race. For anyone new to that term, it’s saying that I’m tricking the people by trying to sell politics as any kind of solution to our problems.
They’re not wrong. The world burns around us because of extractive capitalism as we pillage the earth for all her resources in exchange for fast fashion, depleted food systems, endless war, and fleeting comforts.
There have been many candidate forums and interviews, and really I have been asked basically three questions at this point:
- What is my stance on the new stadium proposal?
- What will I do about homelessness and housing?
- Do I agree with defunding OPD?
These are important issues to talk about, but it’s pretty clear where any even slightly left-leaning candidate sits in those discussions, and it’s low-hanging fruit.
I want to talk about greed. I want to yell about resource hoarding. We are in over our heads because of unfettered capitalism. We treat the basic need of shelter as a business. We foam at the mouth over professional sports revenue. And by we, I mean the political system. I mean the hands exchanging shakes behind closed doors. I mean the people allowing countless lives to be lost as they wait for perfect policy and perfect candidates that will never happen.
I want to talk about rematriating this whole country. The divine feminine is a nurturing energy that has the stamina to get torn to shreds and keep showing up with grace. 2020 has been screaming for more yin, for more rest, to slow down and examine where we are and how we got here. But we keep barreling ahead, ignoring that our clothes are on fire and we’re running on shards of glass right over a cliff with no bottom. We need feminine wisdom to lead with a resilient, forward-thinking heart. We need to end the culture of dominance and applaud softness and vulnerability. It is so much more powerful to be vulnerable than to be “tough”.
I want to talk about reparations. This country was built with the blood and sweat of colored bodies. And it’s even commodified blackness at that. Blackness has won our wars, got us to the moon, raised our children, and the repayment is incarceration, predatory lending, and sterilization. As if that slow, strategic death wasn’t enough, now they’re just being murdered in broad daylight: sleeping in bed, birdwatching, jogging. And our country is still telling us to ask nicely for equality.
I want to talk about gender identity and neurodiversity and ableism. About collectivity and true sustainability.
As long as political discussions stay centered on the spending of resources and not on the effects of ego, extraction, and toxic masculinity, the world will continue to burn around us, filling our lungs with ash.
a10 – The forgotten fight of Okinawa and self determination
By Karen Smith
‘That would be 500 yen’ uttered the 20-something surfer with a ‘naicha’ (Okinawan for mainland Japanese) accent demanding that our family pay for parasols at Nakagusuku beach on Miyakojima Island, where my family on my mother’s side come from. I will never forget that moment; the look of shock on my mother and my second-aunt’s faces. The beach that they once knew to be untouched was now rammed with tourists and litter scattered everywhere. A hipster from the mainland peddling parasols and snorkeling gear from the back of his VW Van seemed to have claimed that space as his own to commodify.
I thought going back to Miyakojima would cleanse my eyes and ears, tired and sore from the noise of fighter jets and the hideous display of US military bases on Okinawa’s main island. Instead, I saw more of the juxtaposed landscape of pristine nature and militarism present on the main island. Military trucks and bulldozers passed by, on their way to clear lands for housing complexes and stations for the Japanese Army. They were adorned with the Imperial Japanese flag, a painful reminder of Japan’s fascist past, but also a real reminder that Japan has not moved on but backwards, into the terrifying reality that many still live to remember, including my grandparents.
Formerly known to the Chinese as the ‘country of courtesy’ the Ryukyu Kingdom (now Okinawa), are a group of islands that had its own bustling economy and served as an important trade route between South-east and East Asian countries. Made up of 150 islands, 60 of which are uninhabited, have various traditions, customs and languages that are distinct from one another, but all share the Okinawan spirit omnipresent across the archipelago. Purveyors of diplomacy and peaceful inter-state trading, the Ryukyu Kingdom was an empire in its own right.
The Kingdom of the Ryukyus was subsequently annexed in 1879 during the Meiji Restoration and became Okinawa prefecture. This, however, did not mean Okinawans were now Japanese, instead mere colonial subjects of Imperial Japan. My grandmother often recalls how she had to wear a ‘Hogen Fuda’, a heavy slab of wood around her neck as a punishment for speaking in Miyako. Ryukyuans, Ainus, Africans and Taiwanese, were among the many indigenous people put on display at Imperial Japan’s ‘Human Pavillion’ (Human Zoo) held in Osaka in 1903.
Fast forward to World War 2, Okinawa was used as a buffer to fend off American forces attacking the mainland. To instil fear of the US and foster allegiance to Imperial Japan, the Japanese Army convinced up to 700 people from children to the elderly to commit mass suicide. The lives of one-third of the total population were lost to the war and rendered 90% of the population homeless. The Shuri Castle, once home to the Ryukyu Dynasty was burnt to rubble. These memories are some that haunt people like my grandmother, who understandably still cannot speak about them.
Japan ‘sacrificed’ Okinawa not once, but twice. As part of Japan’s post-war peace process, full administration of Okinawa was given to the US Being under US authority, Okinawa was excluded from Japan’s post-War constitution as well as the US obligation to guarantee human rights as it was not formally part of the US
27 years of US occupation was fraught with human rights abuses against the locals with Agent Orange even being tested out as Okinawa was used as a base for the US brutal war in Vietnam. After enduring 27 years of injustice, hoping that under Japan’s rule life would get better, Japan yet again betrayed the Okinawan people.
Currently, Okinawa holds over 70% of Japan’s US military bases but accounts for a total of just 0.6% of Japan’s total landmass. Our rainforest continues to serve as a ‘Jungle Warfare’ training centre for the US military. The gang-rape of a 12-year old schoolgirl by US servicemen in 1995 prompted a referendum a year later, on the future of US military bases in Okinawa. An overwhelming majority of 89% voted against it, but the central government were not legally obligated to respect the result. Ignoring the referendums are a regular occurrence. In February 2019 another referendum against another military base was ignored. The most devastating part of this is the fact that the new base is being built on Henoko Bay, home to two coral reefs, 300 endangered species and to the near-extinct Dugong, which will all be destroyed in the name of ‘security’.
In June 2020, the Japanese Prime Minister and openly fascist Shinzo Abe stepped down from his role citing health concerns. Abe, the longest-serving leader in Japan’s history, had no shame in openly discussing his ambitions to revert Japan to its Imperial Wartime state. He was dedicated to denying important facts in Japan’s political history, such as Japan’s use of sex slaves and the forced mass suicides of Okinawan people during WW2.
Abe’s successor, Yoshihide Suga, has vowed to continue Abe’s policies into the future, meaning very little change on issues such as US militarism and cultural & ecological preservation in Okinawa.
But regardless of politics, one thing that has remained constant is the Okinawan will and drive to ensure that their culture and their right to self-determination is never forgotten.
Unlike in the mainland, Okinawans refuse to sing the Imperial Japan Anthem, and the cultural dance ‘Eisa’ remains a mainstay of the high school experience for Okinawan youth.
Protests outside US military bases are common in Okinawa. The majority of demonstrators are elderly Okinawans who remember the sordid, painful history of US militarism in their land.
Expressing too much dissent in Japan can have harsh consequences and is heavily frowned uponw, but campaign groups such as No Base Henoko as well as the vibrant, active Okinawan community in Hawai’i are dedicated to shedding light on an issue that is seldom put on the international agenda.
In the words of Franz Fanon, the immobility of the native is condemned, unless they put an end to their colonization. Perhaps that is why Japan does everything possible to veto any efforts made by Okinawans and refuses to recognize us as indigenous, as that would automatically give us the legal right to claim back the lands that were forcibly taken from us.
Whilst the free movement of people remains a heavily scrutinized and over-reported topic, the free movement of nuclear weapons, military bases and overworked foreign workers across islands in the Asia-Pacific such as Okinawa goes widely underreported. Absence of the voices of Okinawans as well as Chamorros, Nauruans and Hawaiians are the reason why indigenous futures remain uncertain and are close to being pushed over the precipice of fascism and climate devastation.
7 – Time to remove the logic of capitalism from the energy sector
By Teresa Smith
In September, entire towns in Western Oregon and Washington burned to the ground in hours, while giant fires swallowed vast swaths of land.
As I write this, forests that I used to walk through as a child are still burning — forests of ferns and mossy evergreens that used to sparkle with dew, forests that are now completely dried out.
Thanks to climate change, the climate of the West Coast no longer matches the ecology. We don’t get enough rain in Oregon and Washington to support rainforests anymore, so now they are leaving via fire. Many parts of California are likewise now too hot and arid for their pre-climate-change ecologies, and each year the fires in Cali get bigger and more intense.
These massive fires are going to continue, likely for the next decade or two, until the relics of the old ecosystems completely burn off. This is what climate change looks like. We don’t get to go back to the way things were.
Last summer, I had a chance to meet with a few climate scientists and look at climate data and climate models with them.
The thing about this experience that shocked me the most is that I learned that many climate scientists have not been entirely forthright about the data: they have been showing us models that make things look better than they actually are. These climate sciences have been caving in to the pressures of toxic positivity, and so some of them are pretending the crisis isn’t as bad as it is. As one scientist I spoke to explained, “We don’t want to scare or depress people, so we just show them the less intense models.” But the less intense models don’t factor in the acceleration of burning carbon that is actually happening, so they have lured us into a false sense of security, of thinking we have more time than we do. But if you look at the models that match the acceleration of carbon emissions that is actually occurring (for example, the CanESM5 model under SSP585), you see exactly why we have massive fires spanning from the lip of the Pacific to the Rockies right now. Carbon emissions are accelerating rather than going down. Things are worse sooner than most of the projections they were showing us.
It may be too late for the West Coast’s ecology, but we need to fight like hell if we’re going to save other parts of the ecosphere. Otherwise, our entire planet is going to end up a lifeless husk.
A number of my friends in carbon-free off-the-grid communities in rural Oregon have been displaced from their homes due to the fires, and the entire West Coast has been choking for weeks under the thick smoke — smoke that is filled with deadly PM2.5 particles.
Perhaps the biggest take-way from all of this is that we can’t simply “drop out” and go create carbon-free communes in the woods. No matter how “carbon-free” our individual lifestyles or communities become, climate change will follow us, wherever we go.
We are having to wake up to the reality of just how interconnected we all are. Many humans are on course to burn down the planet. There is nowhere to hide from their behaviors. If we are going to end climate change, it will have to be a collective process.
It is easy to blame consumers, but the reality is: it is the carbon dealers who need to be shut down — through divestment, public policy, and diversity of tactics.
The carbon dealers have been tricking us into blaming other consumers for climate change for decades. In the late 1990s, BP Oil created the “carbon footprint” campaign as a way to direct attention towards consumers and away from the oil companies. Meanwhile, oil companies and private utilities have been actively working to kill carbon-free and lower-carbon alternatives. Those corporations have been fighting to force an economy upon us in which carbon is increasingly put into the air.
Why are the corporations doing this? Because they are legally beholden to their investors to create more money next quarter than this quarter.
The legal impetus for growth is perhaps the most fucked up thing about any corporation: investors can sue CEOs who fail to turn a profit — meaning in the case of oil companies, our whole legal system is compelling them to put more carbon in the air next year than this year. The same goes for private utilities.
If there is one thing that has become increasingly clear: When the energy sector is governed via capitalism, we are committing collective suicide.
Why aren’t there solar panels on every roof? Why haven’t electric cars replaced gas-powered ones? Why isn’t there a light rail system in Los Angeles and in many other key cities?
- Because private utilities have spent the last 40 years dismantling pro-solar policy.
- Because big oil companies fought to sequester patents and crush all lower-carbon alternatives.
- Because automotive companies literally pulled up the light rail tracks in LA and other places because they wanted to enforce dependence upon cars.
It is time to face the fire. The transition to a carbon-free society can’t happen while the logic of capital controls the energy sector. And the transportation sector probably needs to be de-capitalized as well.
Now more than ever, we should be putting every ounce of strength we have into completely ending practices that put carbon into the air.
It is time to endthe production of cars with combustion engines.
We need to de-carbonize the system of transporting things, or better yet: switch to hyper-local production of food and goods.
It is time to de-carbonize the electric grid.
The practice of burning coal for power must go.
We need to remove the logic of capital from oil, from the electric grid, from the entire energy sector, and from most forms of transportation as well.Time is up.
If humans survive these times, we’ll probably spend the next few millennia writing tragic poems about how we gave our power over to these deranged institutions called “corporations” that ran rampant and destroyed our air, water, and ecology and caused untold levels of harm for nothing. Nothing the capitalists promise each other will be worth anything on a dead planet, and if capitalists continue controlling the energy sector, that is the only possible outcome.
As we grieve the ecosystems that are now leaving us, we must awaken to the fast work that needs to be done if we such to keep our planet habitable.
How much carbon is going into the air?
- The typical passenger vehicle emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide in a year.
- Around 17% of CO2 emissions come from transporting goods.
- At least 1,763 million metric tons of carbon were emitted in 2018 by the U.S. electric grid (that accounts for around 30% of the total 5,268 million metric tons of carbon emitted by people of the United States that year) (source: EIA data).
- 17% of the U.S. power grid is still powered by coal
6 – Burn down the factor or the cross-faded embers in the west
By Young Carhartt
Sugar Beet Harvesters Everywhere. The Time Has Come. Lock Out, Tag Out, Throw Away The Key. Burn Down The Factory. SOS. Call For Bodies. This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Two Of Us. Fuck The Borders From Wyoming To Minnesota. Against Refined Sugar And Its World.
These are the words that came to mind, just for a moment, when it felt like there was nothing left to lose during the October 2019 sugar beet harvest. During our negotiation with the bosses for more money, safer work conditions and better housing, a Northern Plains autonomous zone flashed through my mind. Trash barricades and tire fires across the sugar beets piling yard, a message to the industrial barons and landlords that their time was up.
But that choice came down between making a statement or making a few thousand dollars. And I was broke. The sugar industrialists knew they could go broke too. Confused by the anger and demands of our large crowd of dirty 20-somethings living out of cars, the Express Employment representative simply said “I mean, you guys chose this lifestyle.”
Take off your mask, pretend to take some deep gulps of the fresh prairie’s air and join me for a moment by the fair confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. This is not a call to action, just a chance to stretch sore limbs and reflect. On the very stretch of river where Sitting Bull was forced to hand over his Winchester rifle to the US military, you will find the sugar factory and this lifestyle.
The atmosphere of the beet harvest could be gauged somewhere between an Earth First! rendezvous and Juggalo gathering. But instead of sabotaging industrial machinery or getting fucked up, you get paid to operate industrial machinery and get fucked up. For a month of work, you can drive away with an average of $4,000. That’s a huge check if the only other job you can get is as an underwater ceramic technician (dishwasher).
My first season in 2018 was a good gamble. Some more notable memories include punks mobbing the only hotel hot tub in town with bottles of champagne, forming a choreographed dance crew on the clock rather than work, and a lot of downtime in the break room for absurd conversations fueled by burnt coffee and kratom. October 2019 was a different hand of cards; overtime hours were cut, beet pilers were broken and stuck in mud every night and a record number of beets went rotting in the fields. From the farmers who had to pay over $300 an acre for their rotten beets to the workers shoveling a biblical amount of mud out of the pilers, it was a miserable experience.
The large expanse of prairie between the Mississippi River and Rocky Mountains happens to be a great place to raise sugar beets, as some white settlers came to find out. The sugar factory, beets fields and piling yard are located in a place commonly called “the middle of nowhere” but is actually the homeland of the Assiniboine people. It’s much closer to the 49th Parallel than the closest big cities of Denver and Minneapolis, which are both a 10 hour drive away. It’s a place where you can see the pulsing colors of Northern Lights, if the open flames of oil wells don’t block it out. On a quiet night camping next to the river, you are just as likely to hear coyotes as you are drunken semiautomatic gunfire.
Out on the dirt roads, the only visible connections you can trace back to the U.S. are the oil pipelines. They cut through this part of the planet like a rich kid’s really expensive and really hazardous tinker toy. It is safe to assume that some men very far away from here are making more money than you or I will ever have in our lives, while the water and the communities of people who use it are left with the side effects. The drilling, movement and consumption of oil is of the highest priority. Everything and everyone else is in the way. Water is not sacred, it’s an afterthought. It is slimy on your hands as it comes out the faucet, and it is an unspoken rule to never drink it. It’s like falling into a Beehive Design Collective poster at your infoshop or drug dealer’s wall.
Amidst a mural of factories, railroads, monocropping, gas stations, Trump flags, empty boomtowns, neon casinos, fast food, McMansions and trailer park man camps, there’s a natural world holding it all. You fall through the river valleys where herds of bison, sagebrush, wild horses, prairie dogs, wildflowers, dinosaur bones, tallgrass, prickly pear cacti, cottonwoods, deer and antelope play. It is outstandingly beautiful in a region that is an outpost of American colonialism, and its only role to the rest of the country is based on the extraction of resources. But you land into this mural on a curious detail. It’s an abandoned train bridge and tunnel covered in graffiti. It’s crawling with the laziest, brilliantly creative and soon to be drunk people in the US workforce for the month of October. They’re burning pallets, playing instruments and eating birthday cake: punks.
Coming to the Northern Plains from all directions is this ragtag night crew. Down the highways in busted vehicles with dashboards full of animal bones, dead flowers, faded cassette tapes and parking tickets. Like pages ripped from Steinbeck and thrown into the winds of I-94. It’s a rugged individualism balanced with a queer collectivism. Underneath everyone’s attitudes, dirt & glitter is a mutual understanding that for the length of the harvest, everything, good or bad, would be shared.
American agriculture heavily relies on a large transient workforce of migrants to harvest its food, and this includes the more classical hobo. While over 80 percent of US farmworkers are Latinx, why does the sugar beet harvest specifically attract crowds of punks? If you believe the oral history of 1st generation punk train hoppers, it began in the mid-90s when East Coast blueberry harvest gutterpunks heard from ski bums that the beet harvest in Renville, MN was easy money. 25 years later you will be run out of Renville by the sheriff if you have so much as a rattail. Not only because the town was host to more than 25 years of punks being out of the gutter and into the operator’s booth, but because somewhere along the line “Burn Down the Factory” stopped being an empty threat. It is worth noting here that one source of the word “punk” is of Native American origin. It’s the Leni Lenape Nation’s word for the wooden dust, ashes and embers useful for starting fires.
The author William Least Heat-Moon defines the Western myth cycle shortly; “A stranger enters town. A stranger leaves town.” Walking down main street I could tell from people’s expressions. I was the stranger. While standing by the cannons of the abandoned military outpost Ft. Buford, it felt obvious that there was a connection between Sitting Bull’s surrender and me getting paid. And one between the buffalo’s extermination and fields of genetically modified sugar beets.
If I tell someone that I spent October at the sugar beet harvest, a certain coziness glazes their face. They think of lush farm fields, smiling faces and sunshine. It looks more like any dystopic-apocalyptic sci-fi film. Darkness and clouds of dust surround heavy machinery on a moonscape of Monsanto dirt, pumping living things into piles. Open flames shooting out of oil wells compete with the floodlights to cast surveilling light on every movement, from coworkers sneaking sips from a Real Tree flask, down to the fox crossing the piling yard in a panic. The constant grinding gears weighed against the constant silence coming in through the night and across the empty fields. The eco-feminist and nihilist voices in my head stage their debates from 6PM to 6AM. 12 hour shifts are a long time to shiver and stare off into truckloads of beets shooting across conveyor belts. Most of my thoughts revolve around how I’ll spend my wintertime and paycheck.
~~Spirits are low for the night shift. We’re a skeleton crew and it’s all hands on deck as the sun begins to set. The line of beet trucks stretches all the way to the horizon. The dayshift is glad to get back to their RV park. It will take hours before any of us hears the cracking open of a PBR can or feels the warmth of Top Ramen. Within 10 minutes the piler I’m working becomes clogged with heavy mud, caking every moving part of the machine. The punk foremen (& in the nightshift’s case the label foremen is gender-neutral) pull up in a beat-up truck to try and help followed by their boss in a much newer truck. The foremen’s boss is known as The Agriculturist, the ultimate decision maker and liaison between the factory and piling yard. She is unimpressed by the night crew’s audacity to ask for more money and has in the past cut our overtime hours as punishment. She throws a shovel in my direction.
I begin digging mud out when there’s a disturbance from the other end of the piling yard. An RV tears across the dirt weaving through empiric lines of beet trucks and kicks up clouds of dust blowing in my direction. The RV screeches to a stop and the passenger door bursts open spilling empty Bud Lite Lime cans across the ground. A scrawny figure in a bright orange safety vest & black ski mask bursts from the RV and sprints towards me and The Agriculturist. He screams like a bat out of hell, “BURN DOWN THE FACTORY!! FUCK YOU!!” hands me a fresh box of Domino’s Pizza and gives the boss middle fingers. The RV’s pilot and comrade in a ski-mask peel away to deliver scammed pizzas to the rest of the night crew, understaffed & hungry on the pilers. I take a slice and pass the rest off to the foremen, all of us covered in mud but laughing for the first time in what seems like ages. ~~
Although the settlers in this part of the US would welcome Trump graciously, it’s hard to imagine that the president, or anyone else wearing a suit for that matter, could ever be bothered to pay a visit. You’d have to see a burning factory and the suspension of law and order first. Since the arrival of Lewis and Clark in 1805, the west has been militarized, bought and sold all to the benefit of rich white men.
In 2020 AD, when every day seems worse than the last, and the only news is bad news, it becomes crippling to feel that there could be something worse than “No Future”. I try to imagine a future that isn’t techno-fascist environmental catastrophe with cops to enforce any inequality. I look for lessons from Sitting Bull, his knowledge that a different world is always possible and is physically right under our feet. I try to imagine a belonging that doesn’t require Usernames or Passwords, a belonging without Terms or Conditions. A belonging that aims for living with the seasons instead of against them. I think of pallet fires in train tunnels and its spontaneous choir of singing voices that can create a night’s shelter. Sharing birthday cake in the darkness and making wishes before the fire goes out.