Beyond Fatalism – Reframing Climate

The climate is changing before our eyes. In Berkeley, we’ve only had 5 inches of rain in a year and the weather is nothing like it was just 25 years ago when I moved here. And everywhere else, we’re seeing extreme weather events — burning heat, bitter cold, and violent storms. Although everyone notices and almost everyone realizes these changes are related to human CO2 emissions, we continue with business as usual. Climate chaos risks a mass extinction, crop failure, starvation, and social collapse, yet there is no sense of a popular uprising or outpouring of resistance like we briefly experienced during Occupy.

Rather, we’ve fallen into a psychological rut in which many people seem to have given up on the idea that our species will survive or can solve such an overwhelming problem. We’re left with hip cynicism that fetishizes the Apocalypse, or, more commonly, resignation and denial. The problem isn’t a lack of proposals, but rather that cutting emissions on a global scale is such a big project that any individual action appears meaningless. To eliminate CO2 emissions, everyone and everything has to change, but it’s hard to say what one can do right now to bring this about.

Sensitive people who can’t stop caring are gradually going mad from the contradictions — driven to hopeless isolated acts of vandalism or retreating into the ineffectual self-centered survivalism of backyard gardening or going back to the land. But none of these acts does anything to effectively attack the actual problem: that a tiny number of powerful people are running everything to concentrate wealth; that in the process, they have destabilized the ecosystems on which we all depend for our very survival; and that checks on their power by civil society are lacking.

The invisible hand of the market, left to its own devices and in control of the world’s governments, will not reduce reliance on fossil fuels since the market on its own doesn’t build in the costs of fossil fuel dependence. While some climate change is already inevitable, an inspired widespread movement can still make a difference and avert the most disastrous climate disruption and human social collapse.

It’s time to shake off this bad dream and say fuck this shit — let’s DO something. When I look at my daughter’s face and think about her future, I realize that life is too enjoyable and the world we inherited too beautiful to let it go down the drain so some oil companies can make a short-term buck.

We need to culturally and psychologically re-frame the way people think about climate change so we can get beyond being overwhelmed and instead focus on what we can do. It’s impossible to be sure that anything we can do at this point will make a difference, but it is certain that if no one does something dramatic soon, we’re screwed.

Just knowing the disturbing facts laid out in the Al Gore movie hasn’t been enough — and in fact seems to have backfired. Rather than building momentum for people to make personal and systemic changes in the way we relate to the earth, widespread awareness of climate change has enhanced fatalism and resignation.

Our experience with Occupy offers a peek at how to proceed. As with global warming, Occupy tackled economic issues so overwhelming and complex that people had tuned out. Until we figured out how to (briefly) tune back in. What we need now is a revival and expansion of the energy behind Occupy directed at the economy and the ecology.

Building a popular uprising depends on breaking down psychological isolation and building community. Resistance has to flow from our hearts and be inspired by our humanity, excitement, engagement and direct participation. As we build a movement, we will build momentum, fearlessness, and the psychological resources necessary to overcome the way things are, and instead see the way things can be.

A successful movement addressing climate change must attack inequality and capitalism because a system organized by valueless competition and economic efficiency can’t preserve the environment which is owned by no one and operates on its own separate internal logic. Capitalism necessarily seeks to maximize the human transformation and domination of nature — processing trees, rivers and the air we breathe to enlarge the bank balances of the oligarchs on top.

Up until recently, the struggle against capitalism has mostly been about justice and fairness for the humans it enslaves, but now it must be about our survival as a species and defense of the Earth on which we depend. If the global environment collapses, the poor and those in the Global South will suffer first and worst since whatever food and water remains will be seized by those with the most money and power in even more extreme ways than what already happens.

Bill McKibben quotes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as calculating that humans can emit a total of 565 gigatons more CO2 without going above a 2 degree C increase in global temperatures — an increase that might be manageable. For a sense of scale, humans emitted about 32 gigatons in 2012. Unfortunately, the London-based Carbon Tracker Initiative calculated that the fossil fuel companies already have coal, oil and gas reserves that would emit 2,795 gigatons of CO2 if burned. That means 80 percent of the fossil fuels that corporations have already discovered must not be burned. And yet the fastest growing part of the economy is environmentally destructive exploration and development of even more fossil fuels — Increasingly focused on difficult-to-extract “un-conventional” sources like tar sands.

All of the hype about fracking leading to American “energy independence” is very literally crazy talk — drilling and mining our own graves. We have to avoid confusion about fracking, XL pipelines, tar sands, trains carrying oil and coal, and other big fossil fuel projects. They aren’t bad primarily because they may pollute local water sources or risk spills, but because if the gas and oil they bring to market are burned exactly as intended — to run our clothes dryers and propel our cars and airplanes — our asses will be cooked. A lot of anti-fracking and pipeline campaigns are taking on a not-in-my-backyard flavor — passing laws to keep impacts away from populated areas — but this misses the point and further confuses and diverts energy we need to build a successful movement to avoid climate chaos.

The first step towards achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions needs to be an end to new investments in fossil fuel infrastructure, and a shift of the hundreds of billions of dollars annually spent to alternatives like solar, wind and conservation. At the beginning of WWII, the US rapidly converted its economy to war production, and quickly developed numerous new technologies for the war effort, most notably the atomic bomb. An uprising to stop climate change by achieving zero emissions needs to harness similar grassroots energy and creativity for positive goals, including in particular learning how to use less of everything.

Struggle outside and against the institutional structures is essential. There is no way to know precisely what will capture the hearts and imaginations of the billions of people who must together create this massive transformation. Given this, the key is for many people and groups to consistently test out different efforts, angles and ideas. Only through experimentation and diversity may we stumble on a way to break through the psychic paralysis that is gripping us.

During the summer of 2011, there was no reason to expect that Ad Busters’ call to “Occupy Wall Street” would catch fire the way it ultimately did, when so many previous calls to action were ignored. History is full of such moments when particular people, events or actions succeeded at triggering change when previous efforts had been in vain. As Nelson Mandela observed, “it always seems impossible until it’s done.”

As we focus on sparking and participating in a global uprising able to overturn the fossil fuel Goliath, are our personal actions irrelevant? Personal acts are not enough because they don’t attack the economic systems that drive climate change, but they aren’t irrelevant or pointless either. The world is the way it is because of webs of choices that everyone makes — powerful people as well as less powerful people. The market and economic structures restrict our individual choices and put many decisions in few hands. But at some level, the system supplies a fossil fuel-dependent world because people demand one. Fossil fuels enable a particular type of instant, throw-away existence and in turn socialize individuals who desire such a life.

Economic and political transformation has to come with a parallel cultural transformation in which the individual lives we desire shift from being about things to being about engagement; from consumption to community; and from living large to living lightly. Our daily choices to feel more happiness while using fewer resources are another form of experimentation and practice for such a cultural re-orientation.

These choices aren’t about guilt — either directed at ourselves or others — but rather they express our humanity. We can feel more alive to the extent we’re self-reliant, present, and active. The fossil fuel age has accompanied an insidious psychological slide towards distraction and meaninglessness as we’ve tried to replace every human skill and interaction with technology — begging the question of whether the world we’ve created even needs us, other than as passive consumers. Living more lightly on the Earth — transforming nature less and participating as a part of nature more — is about more than just averting climate catastrophe. In the end, the transformation we seek is about reclaiming what is really important about our lives from corporations and their mediated, fossil fuel-dependent cages.

"Walmart's selling the Slingshot organizer?!" – Addressing Rumors

Right now if you Google “Slingshot Organizer” the first thing you get is a sponsored link to purchase the 2012 Slingshot Organizer from the Walmart website. A few weeks ago a link to this search result went viral on the internet and Slingshot got lots of emails from horrified people wondering why we would sell the organizer to Walmart.

Slingshot collective does not sell the Slingshot organizer to Walmart and there is no reason to think that anyone can walk into a brick–and–mortar Walmart and purchase a Slingshot organizer. We think the Walmart website lists the organizer for sale because their computer automatically lists every book that is available through the book distribution network on its website.

The experience of having numerous heartless corporate websites like Walmart, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and even Sears (!) list our volunteer–published radical organizer — without any of them asking us or our collective ever mailing any of them a copy — demonstrates how capitalism run on auto–pilot by computers works. The process of homogenization and alienation of products from the people and communities that produce them is powerful and disorientating.

We are certainly annoyed and embarrassed that these websites list the organizer, and we suspect that most of them would be annoyed and embarrassed too, if they knew about it, given the scandalous anti–corporate contents of the organizer. There were protests nationwide on Black Friday against the appallingly low wages and poor working conditions at Walmart and we’re pretty sure Walmart wouldn’t enjoy the organizer’s suggestions on occupying banks or resisting police repression.

Slingshot collective distributes most of the organizers we print directly to a network of infoshops, food co–ops, and small independent bookstores that we’ve built relationships with over the last 20 years. We also distribute about 20% of the organizers through the following small, independent distributors: AK Press, Buy Olympia, Small Changes, Microcosm, Pioneers Press, Vision Works, Last Gasp, Active Distro (London) and Kersplebedeb (Canada).

All of these distributors are collectives or small mom–and–pop operations that have long traditions in the alternative / counterculture scene. Some of these distributors have relationships with larger book distribution companies which is how we think the Slingshot ended up on the Walmart and other corporate websites. It is hard to know if making the organizer available to independent bookstores beyond our own network through distributors is worth the price of also making the organizer available to the big corporate players who are systematically destroying independent stores. Capitalism and dehumanizing high technology present countless lose–lose propositions like this — most of them a lot more oppressive and environmentally destructive than listing Slingshot on a website.

A few years ago, a Borders bookstore sent Slingshot collective an order for some Slingshot organizers. We decided at a meeting that we would refuse to fill orders from big business fucks — because we want to support independent bookstores and alternatives to the capitalist machine. While we have never sent organizers to any big corporate entity, it is hard to keep their computers from sweeping us up along with every other product out there.

We hope folks who use the organizer will ignore the corporate websites and get an organizer from a small collective near you. Doing so supports that collective as well as our collective.

25 years of Slingshot

Slingshot collective turned 25 years old this spring — the first issue was published March 9, 1988. Twenty-five years is a long time especially for a loosely organized, all-volunteer radical project. Why did the collective form in the first place, what has held it together as it has evolved, and what have we learned over the years?

The first issue was a single sheet of 11 X 17 white paper, folded in half. It was raw and militant, with handwritten headlines and hilarious seditious graphics. From the beginning, the idea was for radicals to write about the actions we are organizing in our own voices — avoiding any translation by media middlemen. In 1988, the internet hadn’t been invented so grassroots radical information was spread through in-person discussions, over the phone, or in print. We wanted to inspire rebellion and get more people involved in the struggle. The paper had a hyper-local focus: radical activities around the UC Berkeley campus, Telegraph Avenue and the Southside Berkeley neighborhood.

The rough punk layout style offered a sharp contrast with the slick propaganda magazines published by the various Marxist party organizations that hung around Berkeley in the late 1980s, to say nothing of the mainstream media. But the look wasn’t just a style — it was also a direct result of our lack of funds, resources and professional training, plus the haste and immediacy with which we made each issue.

The first few months, we published one tiny photocopied issue a week, with each one coming together in less than a day. We didn’t have a set publishing schedule but when we wanted to publicize a planned action or have a discussion in the aftermath of a protest, we would decide to make an issue. A small group would get together in the afternoon to figure out who should write what, we would write articles for an hour or two, and then we would sit around gluing the layout together and drawing headlines and graphics. The paper would be finished around midnight and the next day at 7 am, someone would take it to Krishna Copy when they opened and they would finish printing it for us by noon. 1,000 copies cost $70, which we would collect from the people making the issue and a few friends. At noon, a bunch of us would sit in Sproul Plaza — the central walkway at the university — to fold the papers and hand them out to the lunch-time rush of students. Usually all 1,000 copies would be handed out by 5 pm.

By the end of the spring semester, 1988, the core group was pretty exhausted and had published 11 issues in 2 months. In August, 1988 we published a fall dis-orientation issue for new students, which was our first issue on newsprint. After that, we published every month or so through the spring of 1990, getting to issue #35 in about 2 years. Some issues were tiny and photocopied while others were on newsprint. Money was always extremely tight and a combination of punk shows, t-shirt sales, and donations from the staff paid the printer bills.

In May, 1990 all three core collective members from the first 2 years — me, Nick and Detti — left Berkeley and it looked like that would be the end of Slingshot. However that winter, the first George Bush fought the first Gulf War against Iraq, and other Berkeley radicals came out with an issue of Slingshot in early 1991. From that point on, while Slingshot came out more infrequently, new issues kept popping up as necessary

Through this period, the development of the collective was organic. No one ever sat down to plan for the future or figure out how to grow the paper. Instead, each issue responded to what was going on and the desire to get the word out. The collective was an extremely loose open collective, which meant that whoever showed up to the meeting was the collective, and a slightly different group of people would work on each issue. It was easy for new people to plug in and for other folks who got tired of the project to step away. While being an open collective could sometimes be complex when dysfunctional or disruptive people would start coming to meetings and piss everyone off, overall being an open collective has been a huge strength for Slingshot because it has allowed so many brilliant people that no one in the group had ever met before to get involved over the years.

In February, 1993 Slingshot began renting an office at Long Haul, a radical community center run by SDS founder Alan Haber, which marked a significant commitment by the group to keep publishing indefinitely. Prior to that, Slingshot had been a registered student organization at UC Berkeley, which enabled us to have an office in Eshleman Hall, a building that hosted student groups. We never liked the name “Eshleman” and used to call it “Eshleperson”, then “Eshelcreature” and finally “Eshlebeing” Hall. As the University restricted access to Eshlebeing Hall to students with a picture ID and our group ceased to involve many students, we decided it wasn’t worth staying on campus anymore.

After moving to Long Haul, we developed the publication process, format and schedule we still use today. We make a newsprint paper roughly quarterly doing most of the work on evenings and weekends so people who have to work can participate. With less frequent publication, the paper has focused more on analysis and proposing alternative frameworks for understanding reality instead of just news. However, when big events have come up like the WTO protest in Seattle in 1999, the attacks on September 11, and the Occupy movement in 2011, Slingshot quickly pulled together issues to respond.

A key moment in Slingshot’s evolution was 1994 when we made the first Slingshot Organizer (the 1995 edition). The organizer started out with 400 copies photocopied, folded and collated by hand and bound with a rubber band. As it gained popularity, the organizer erased Slingshot’s early poverty, but more importantly brought Slingshot into new hands and new communities. The organizer is created using the same decentralized, by-hand process that makes the paper, with 30 or more artists contributing to each edition.
How the Slingshot process works

Slingshot’s process is designed to give everyone in the group as much of an equal say over how the paper gets put together as possible and balance individual initiative with collective decision making. To decrease the power concentration of experts, the process attempts to involve everyone in every part of the work, rather than having a division of labor in which a small number of experts do particular kinds of work.

Each issue, we agree on and publish next issue’s article deadline. When the deadline comes along, all the articles get put in a binder and the collective — composed of whoever shows up for the meeting — reads all the articles. People make copy-editing marks on the articles and write a sentence or two at the bottom to say if they think it should get published or not, and what editing or re-organization might improve the article. No one is an editor or in charge — everyone is. By the end of the weekend, with multiple people reading each article, the comments often indicate a general consensus about whether an article should run or not.

The next Friday night, the collective eats a meal together and then has an “all night meeting” to make a final decision about which articles to publish and what page every article should go on. We deal the articles out to everyone in the meeting like cards, so everyone has a pile in their lap. Then the meeting goes around and around the circle and each person puts the articles in their pile up for discussion. The goal is to give each person a chance to speak and to avoid the need for a facilitator.

The all-night meeting often involves lengthy political discussions, dramatic readings of sentences from various articles, and sometimes bitter disagreements. Often some articles get published over objections from some members, and the collective is fond of publishing two articles which take the opposite positions on a particular topic. I think this refusal to adhere to a rigid party line or always print articles with predictable politics — and an openness to print articles that need work and that are written by inexperienced authors — is a key to making the project interesting. It is good to be modest about our own understanding of the world and suspicious of people who claim they know the one true answer. Instead, it can be enough to have a lot of good questions and discussions. I think Slingshot is at its best when it offers a big tent to a lot of different conflicting ideas.

After the all-night meeting on Friday night, the collective spends all day Saturday and Sunday making the layout, writing headlines, and creating art. We make the paper by hand, meaning that each page is physically pasted together by cutting up the text, graphics and hand-drawn headlines and gluing them together with sticky wax. This gives the paper the Slingshot look but also makes the process more collective and accessible, since you don’t have to know particular computer programs or have other special skills to make a page. In a world choking on standardization and computerization, making art by hand is personally liberating and embodies the world we are trying to create.

During layout weekend, people take one or more pages to design, which they do individually, but everyone is hanging around together at the Long Haul while it is happening. We eat together, take turns being DJ, gossip and joke, and people come and go throughout the weekend. Meetings to decide what colors to use and other topics happen around mealtimes. Layout is kind of like a party with pens, rulers and razor blades.

Usually the group who read the articles and went to the all-night meeting isn’t large enough to do all the art ourselves, but luckily lots of artists and friends drop by during layout weekend to take a page or pitch in by drawing. We’ve taken to calling this the Slingshot miracle — the way our layout party attracts enough energy to get the project done in style. Having our office in an open community center helps because whoever is traveling through can come upstairs and help make the paper.

At the end of the weekend, the collective gets back together to look at all the pages and potentially fix a few things as well as decide on cover art. The paper goes to the printer and gets back by the following weekend for a big mailing party. Distribution happens organically — locally by bike and nationally by people in towns everywhere contacting us to volunteer to be on our mailing list to distro papers.
Spiritual glue

Looking back on 25 years of the project, I think Slingshot has kept going because it acts as a spiritual glue that holds a community together while always expanding and renewing the community by welcoming new people. People aren’t working on the paper out of a sense of obligation. Rather, it’s for fun and excitement. Working on Slingshot one can potentially be an artist, an author, an editor, a bicycle delivery person, a music DJ, a sales person or a cook. Reading each new round of articles, you get to stay engaged with radical campaigns and ideas. Most of my best friends, housemates, lovers and heroes I’ve met while working on Slingshot. Being in the collective makes my life more meaningful.

To the extent possible, we’ve organized Slingshot the way we want a new world to operate — based on cooperation, worker control, freedom, beauty and pleasure. At the best moments, working on Slingshot can mean living a little piece of the revolution now. Hopefully readers can sense this in the materials we create. I think a successful project — or a successful life — means focusing not just on an objective, but on the process and the experience you have doing it. Slingshot continues because it tangibly makes our lives better than if it didn’t exist. And as long as that continues, so will Slingshot.

Pint Sized Subversive

I became a father last summer when my daughter Fern was born. As little as she is, Fern is already an amazing teacher. The most precious things I’m learning aren’t about babies or being a parent, but about what it means to be human and what is important about life. While I’m still too new a parent to feel qualified to write much and this is a little disorganized, here are my initial impressions.

The best part of spending time with Fern is watching her joyfully unrestrained face when she hears music, sees my face, or looks up in the sky. Seeing the happy and loving way Fern relates to the people and animals around us underscores how the world we live in as adults — organized around stress, ownership, competition, scarcity, consumerism and shame — is imposed on us by cultural, political and economic systems. These qualities aren’t natural or inherent to humans as animals — we’re born way better than the world we grow up in and eventually inhabit. Radicals and the counter-culture are struggling to defeat these oppressive systems and create new structures aimed at supporting the underlying humanity I see in Fern, that prioritize the search for pleasure, engagement and love. Spending time with Fern makes it easier to imagine a future where we’ll all be more present and full of wonder and joy.

Another striking thing is the way people treat you when you walk around carrying a cute infant. From the grizzled hardware store workers, to the homeless guy spare changing, to people in line at the grocery store — people’s faces light up with happiness when they see Fern. Absolute strangers who would normally scowl or ignore me walk right up and want to talk. They are kind and even loving.

I keep thinking, “why can’t strangers on the street treat each other like this all the time?” Spending time with Fern offers a window into the kind of world I want to help build — a world organized around human interaction, caring and community — not the mainstream world which is so ground down by corporations and the state with all their inequality, violence and misery that people avoid each other.

Watching how hard my partner Kristi works nursing Fern is humbling. Soon after Fern arrived, I started seeing all the adults I met in a different light — imagining each of us as a tiny baby being nurtured day and night by someone. Realizing how much energy and love went into each one of us, I started having floods of compassion for other people — complete strangers. Without trying to repeat a cliché, Fern helps me see everyone around me as valuable members of a huge family.

So far we’ve raised Fern without a car because we live in an area where we can get by without one. Because she is still too little to go on a bicycle, I’ve mostly been walking for the last 9 months. Moving slowly on foot gives me a lot of time to notice the world around me, what’s going on with Fern, and what’s going on with myself.

But moving slowly so you have time to notice things is increasingly rare these days. The capitalist / industrial machine is constantly speeding everything up and overwhelming all of us with sensory overload. As assembly lines and computers move faster and faster, the speed and inattention bleeds over to everything about how we live our lives

Fast transportation is symbolic of this shift, but also propels it. Raising Fern without a car makes life slower and more complex. We’ve redefined both what is possible and what is desirable. When the modern world makes so many things possible, it is up to us to figure out whether we want all that speed and power, or whether those kinds of freedoms are really cages.

Caring for a baby means a lot more hanging around than I’m used to and not being able to get as much done as I could without a kid, or having to get it done more slowly because I only have one hand free. Because of how I was raised, I’ve always felt a constant internal psychological pressure to be productive. By contrast, Fern is just about being. She doesn’t feel that she has to justify her right to exist. She just gradually grows up. Spending time with Fern helps me kill the boss in my head and realize that I’m no different from her, or the cat, or a rock floating in space. We all exist and are legitimate because we exist. None of us have to prove anything to anyone.

At the same time, mainstream society sees babies not as tiny subversives bringing anti-capitalist inspiration to their parents, but as a huge market for consumerism. It is amazing to see all the plastic bullshit that suddenly seems necessary to raise a baby in a modern industrial context.

A question from the moment Fern was born is how my participation in radical projects is going to shift now that I’m a parent. It has been a huge struggle because the radical scene eats so much time, while Fern needs someone with her round the clock. When it’s my turn, Fern takes all my attention so I can’t multi-task and get a little Slingshot work done on the side. My single parent friends have to cram what’s left of their own lives into naps and after bedtime, when they probably need to sleep themselves. With 2 parents, you can switch off childcare, but that creates its own problems.

A big reason I’ve been able to maintain my involvement with Slingshot as much as I have is because Kristi has done more than her share of childcare. This has freed me to stay more involved than I would have otherwise, although I’m still far more pressed for time than I was pre-parenthood. This gender-division feels patriarchal, out-dated and embarrassing. I didn’t think we would fall into these roles and I don’t like it. Part of it results from breastfeeding, which makes equal distribution of childcare difficult no matter how much two parents might want more equality. We hope this will change as Fern gets older. But beyond that, it is amazing how strong our patriarchal socialization is because each of us seems to desire different amounts of time with Fern, that just so happens to mirror traditional roles.

Kristi has a very hard time letting me or anyone else take care of Fern, which is apparently pretty common for new moms. I want to spend time with Fern, but I don’t want to be with her as much as Kristi does.

While we were making this Slingshot, I was sitting in a meeting that was dragging on too long and I suddenly realized how much I missed Fern. I’ve found that my emotional energy in radical contexts has shifted. On the one hand, I fiercely want to stay active in radical projects to be part of the struggle to destroy capitalism and build a new world out of its ashes for myself, the natural world, and other people. Fern makes me even more committed. When we’re walking and I see the road crowded with cars thoughtlessly spewing carbon, I feel pissed off wondering if she’ll get to enjoy the forests I’ve loved. And parenting is isolating — maintaining involvement in radical projects is one of the few times I get out these days.

And yet I feel less patient with the inefficiency and frustration that accompanies radical projects. I’ve tried to figure out ways to dial back my involvement, pass tasks to others in the groups I’m in, and concentrate on maintaining my favorite projects so I can spend more time with Fern, but it has been tough to balance. I’m constantly feeling torn so that no matter what I decide to do, it feels like the wrong thing. When I spend a whole day working on Slingshot, I miss Fern and feel bad that my partner has to do all the work. But when I decide to step back from radical work, I feel like I’m giving up who I am and folding just because I’m a parent.

I hope someday Fern will be able to participate in some of these projects or at least play in the corner while they are happening so it won’t feel like it is such a choice between being with her and being engaged with radical projects.

Most radical projects I’ve been part of have very few parents in them, and numerous people who used to work on Slingshot stopped coming around so much when they became parents. At Occupy Oakland, many of us were proud that there was a Kids’ Village, but if you hung around you realized that most of the parents were concentrated there, not distributed evenly in the other committees. Many parents have written critiques of how radical groups make participation by parents difficult, and sometimes parents set up childcare or other structures to try to improve the situation. This is important work.

Despite all of this, I love Fern and I feel happier than I’ve ever felt before having her in my life. Getting to hold such a strong emotion day in and day out is intense and transformative. I can’t tell yet how this may inform my activism, my writing, or the way I live my life but I’m trying to observe and learn while enjoying it.

When mental health isn't DIY

A month ago, a California criminal court sent my close friend Nick, who was one of the founders of Slingshot in 1988, to the state mental hospital where he will be involuntarily medicated with antipsychotic drugs. It hurts to write it — what could we, his friends and community, have done to avoid this? Sadly, I don’t know.

Nick is one of the most fearless, tireless, committed radicals I’ve ever known. He’s always been intense about fighting the system and injustice, but also funny, creative, modest, and caring. Nick designed the Slingshot logo by dripping ink out of a bottle. I met him a week or two after Slingshot started and he helped me develop a much more radical analysis of the system and inspired me with his militant street tactics. Back in the 1980s we lived together and worked on the paper and went to protests. At a riot on Telegraph Avenue in 1990, he was the only one with a protest sign, which read simply “no more liberalism.” He created funny graphics and articles for Slingshot that brilliantly mocked authority. In the early 90s, after traveling in Germany and seeing radical Germany calendar/organizers, he made a pocket calendar that inspired the first Slingshot organizer. Nick was always making a flier and organizing a protest.

Possibly after suffering a head injury during a police beating in 1998, Nick’s mental health began to gradually deteriorate. He got more and more isolated and began having wild delusions that he was being followed, that his family were mass murders, and that his friends had betrayed the radical movement and were part of a vast conspiracy. There was no way to talk him out of these delusions or convince him that he needed help. He made activist-style fliers and organized protests alleging misconduct against members of his family and a bunch of his closest friends, including me.

After his mother passed away he picketed his brother-in-law’s business for months accusing him of cutting his mother’s head off and keeping it alive to torture her. He sought a restraining order against a long-time local activist who Nick had been living with and circulated fliers accusing him of being a mafia leader and a child molester. At one point Nick thought all Latino men were part of the conspiracy — later it was all gay men.

For years, Nick’s friends would periodically exchange a flurry of emails to see if anyone could figure out what to do, usually triggered by a new shocking delusion Nick was having. But we were never able to come up with anything between do-it-yourself remedies, which weren’t working, or the heavy mainstream options that we found unacceptable: bringing in mental hospitals or the state.

I felt so frustrated and powerless for years because I wanted to help Nick, but he didn’t think he had a problem. So you couldn’t suggest that maybe he try acupuncture or herbs or meditation or talk therapy. Instead, Nick impulsively sold his possessions and jumped on airplanes to flee dangers he was perceiving but that none of the rest of us could detect, running to Europe, the East Coast, or up North. Nick has a ton of friends who gladly took him in and offered him space and time to relax and recover, but he just got worse.

By the time Nick finally landed in jail facing a felony battery charge for elbowing an 11 year old boy, his paranoid delusions were so deep that while many people loved Nick, his community was worn down, out of ideas, and scared to stick our necks out and argue with him anymore. Nick had turned on a lot of his closest friends who told him there was no conspiracy and that he needed help. I use the term “paranoid delusions” not to pathologize Nick or attack people who are not neurotypical, but merely because it is descriptive. Nick couldn’t function because he was terrified about things that were not really happening.

Nick is not a violent person, but when I would hear about mentally disturbed people who went on shooting rampages or killed themselves, I would pray Nick would never go off that edge. It felt irresponsible to not be doing anything.

I want more options for people who are experiencing serious mental illness. But as it stands, the decision Nick’s friends couldn’t bring ourselves to make is now out of our hands. Nick is locked up in a psych ward.

I don’t think this is the end of Nick’s story. I have to believe that some of the drugs or therapies available can bring Nick back. I’m hoping that Nick’s community can communicate with the state hospital, monitor his case, let them know they’re being watched, and advocate for Nick to receive meaningful care, rather than just being locked up. It’s a long shot at best.

If you’re a friend of Nick’s, have experience with this, or know about treatment options for people with paranoid delusions, please email Slingshot to share information. Have other radical communities figured out ways to help delusional comrades who didn’t think they had a problem without involving the police? I hope this is only the beginning of this discussion.

get ready for a General Strike May 1

The call for a global general strike beginning on May 1 is exciting and with luck, millions of people will rise up and shut down the economy — but we need to make sure any general strike has a strong foundation, moves our struggle in a positive direction and addresses regular people who aren’t already active within the occupy scene. Calling a general strike — in which everyone in every industry and job is asked to risk their livelihood by walking out — is a dramatic act. If successful, it would mean stores and factories would close, transport would cease to function, and day-to-day commerce would grind to a halt.

There is a risk that those calling for the strike are being romantic and impractical — getting ahead of themselves. Most of the hundreds of occupations around the country are just in the beginning stages of the long, difficult process of building social connections to large numbers of regular people in the community — a necessary pre-requisite for effectively pulling off a general strike. While building an effective general strike is a major long-shot, it is not entirely impossible given the powerful social contradictions disclosed by the occupy movement, which the mainstream political and economic system is incapable of addressing.

Some of the calls for action circulating as Slingshot goes to press that try to explain why there should be a general strike need additional thought and work. For example, the call to action issued by Occupy LA reads, in part, “The goal is to shut down commerce worldwide and show the 1% we will not be taken for granted, we will not be silenced, WE WILL NOT MOVE until our grievances are redressed.”

Now is not the time to reduce the beauty of the occupy phenomenon to protesting-as-usual in which we organize events for the sake of organizing them — without really believing our own rhetoric or aiming to succeed — or in which we beg our rulers to redress grievances for us. This concedes that those in power are legitimate and have a right to retain their power. Why should we beg them for crumbs rather than uniting to topple them?

We have to ask whether we really want any of the things those in power can give us? The reason so many of us occupied across the country is that the political and economic systems are broken. Our votes, our job searches, our compliance with bureaucratic rules, our passive acceptance of corrupt power structures — none of it got us anywhere. Within the occupation, we dismissed our faith in the failed system and instead built our own solidarity, community and power to begin to redefine what is important in the world and destroy the structures of power that stop us from living the lives we really want.

In a redefined world, the capitalists, the bankers, their politicians and the whole modern power structure will be as irrelevant and ridiculous as the kings, serfs and slavery of 200 years ago seem to us now.

Occupy is, fundamentally, about class struggle. The wealth gap between the majority of people who work for a living and the tiny fraction who skim off most of the money by virtue of owning stuff, not by working, has reached a breaking point. Anything the rulers own was created by us — those who work. Yet decades of propaganda have sold many people on the idea that we need the rich as “job creators” and that if they get richer, their wealth will eventually “trickle down” to those below.

The first phase of the occupy movement has been about gathering strength, recognizing our numbers, grasping community, and liberating a wide-ranging critical discussion of the existing power structure. The crucial role of opening up dialog cannot be overstated. It is hard to remember how unfashionable and difficult it was to talk about class inequality and economic injustice just a few months ago. Slogans like “we are the 99%” articulated something everyone knew, yet few wanted to openly discuss. We have to start by killing the businessman in our heads.

But as powerful as standing up against gross economic inequality felt last fall, the occupy movement can’t succeed by just being against things. We are for a new kind of world and while part of it is about money and a fair distribution of wealth, our real power comes from something deeper. Being for something new brings us creative, courageous, passionate juices that arise from love. That is one reason why our occupations felt so meaningful — we were building a community and creating libraries, kids villages, medic tents, general assemblies, rather than just being against something.

The key to a new world is not just re-distributing money in a more reasonable fashion. Rather, the key is exposing the big lie behind the corporate rat-race that the 1% are pushing — that our lives are mostly about money and things and that a pay increase or a fatter bank account will give us satisfaction. Capitalism requires constant economic expansion, which means the system has to constantly psychologically manipulate us to want more, buy more and work more. The list of material goods and services that defined a “good life” in 1950 would be considered poverty in 2012. And the things we want now won’t seem like enough in another ten years, unless somehow we step off the hamster wheel.

In developed economies like the US, we’re way past the point where more stuff improves our lives. The typical suburban house keeps getting bigger, cars and electronics keep getting more sophisticated and super stores are stuffed with products. Many people are always seeking the next new thing or experience but when they get there, it always feels somehow empty. The system expands by transforming things we once did for ourselves, our families or our communities into services provided by industry — entertainment, cooking, grooming, healthcare, childcare. The economic machine expands voraciously, addressing its own needs for growth rather than human needs for freedom, connection and engagement.

Psychologically, many of us suffer fallout from these economic imperatives and assume that bigger is always better, leading us to try to improve the size and scale of our protests and actions, rather than concentrating on the quality of our actions. So if an occupation or protest is good, the next action has to always be bigger, more disruptive, louder.

The most important aspect of the early days of the occupy movement was not size, per se, although it was important that the moment spoke to people and that a lot of people plugged in. Rather, the novel thing was the way we felt at the occupation — the amazing sense of engagement, agency, community and dialog.

Those days and those experiences were so powerful to so many of us that now, our attempts to re-create those feelings may paradoxically make it more difficult for us to move forward. Feeling so good is like crack — we want that feeling back. But you cannot organize the surge of excitement that was present at the birth of the occupations — it happened because conditions were right and we were lucky enough to be there to experience it. That doesn’t mean we can’t keep things moving, but there is a danger in trying to simplistically re-create the particular tactics or symbols of particular moments rather than staying aware of the mood now and letting that be our guide as tactics change and evolve.

Calling a global general strike can be a reasonable tactic to respond to social conditions, but for it to be relevant it has to be part of an integrated struggle — it has to evolve organically from our lives and our communities. It has to be big but also deep, touching grassroots and hearts. We have to go beyond making big actions for their own sake if by doing so the exercise feels alienating or meaningless. To avoid that, we have to figure out how our actions will keep us present, build community, encourage critical thinking, create dialog, while discrediting and de-legitimizing the system. How can we point out the a
bsurdity of a system where a handful of people control everything because of a few numbers on a computer screen? Billionaires and their fortunes are the modern equivalent of the divine right of kings.

Engaging and changing minds is way more crucial than providing “colorful visuals” for media consumers. Our actions have to avoid becoming just another part of the modern media spectacle — we are not faceless numbers at a protest. How can we avoid getting distracted by traditional traps — endless ritualized struggles with the police or boring engagements with election year politics — and instead focus on creating an alternative narrative outside of the currently available categories? To keep the scene moving in a positive direction, we have to focus on as big a picture as we can conceive and bring up ideas not currently on the table.

While autonomous action has been a key strength of the occupy movement, and the original Wall Street occupation came out of an autonomous call from Adbusters magazine rather than consultation with the community, we may now be suffering from too much of a good thing as many occupations, organizations and individuals all simultaneously call ambitious, sometimes national actions like the multiple, simultaneous calls for a general strike. There is a fine line between an autonomous action and an adventurist action. It is probably impossible to get a good balance between autonomous action and actions designed by committee that, after going through too many general assemblies and quasi-bureaucratic hoops, become mushy, watered down exercises that appeal only to the lowest common denominator. Still, we can think about the tension and try.

As Slingshot goes to press, there are three months left to build a national general strike. That’s not long for a traditional gradual organizing campaign, but an eternity for a wildfire or an idea whose time has come. Resistance can easily take off if it tastes delicious in everyone’s mouth. This has to go far beyond the relatively small pockets that occupied last fall, and that only will happen if we keep our mind on the quality of the process and the feeling of engagement and participation. We can make the general strike if we do it for ourselves and the world we are creating and if we do it with love in our hearts.

Bulldozer Alert! still defending People's Park

Activists are organizing to resist an early morning surprise attack by a bulldozer-wielding University of California landscaping crew against People’s Park in Berkeley December 28 that reduced trees and volunteer-built gardens to sterile piles of wood chips. Pushing back to prevent future destruction invites park supporters to increase outreach about what the park means and what it has to offer.

People’s Park is arguably an occupation that’s been running for 43 years. Constructed without permission, it created a beautiful community on vacant University of California (UC) land in 1969. Clashes with police lead to rioting, police shootings that left one man dead, and a National Guard occupation of Berkeley when UC tried to seize and destroy the park. The UC has always claimed to legally own the land on which the park still sits on Dwight Way east of Telegraph, but since 1969 they have never been able to control it. Over the years, park users have practiced “user development” by building and tending gardens, trees and landscaping. Like our occupations now, it is a rare place in the city open to everyone, hosting a free speech stage and daily free food servings — and attracting many homeless people and traveler kids.

Unable to take back the park outright, the University has periodically tested the waters to gauge continuing support — tearing up gardens, destroying freeboxes and bathrooms constructed by park users and building sports courts on the park against the will of park users. Community resistance to these attacks have usually caused UC to back down.

It remains to be seen how folks will resist the most recent attack. As early as 4 am on December 28, UC bulldozers protected by police leveled landscaped garden areas and tore out and grinding up numerous fruit trees. Work crews cut down the historic Council Grove of trees that hosted many park meetings. They also cut the top off a trellis built by volunteers that had earlier been approved by UC officials after almost a year of tedious meetings. The bulldozer destroyed plum trees, native manzanita, olives, grape vines, kiwi plants, maguey, nopales cactus, and a mature rose bush as well as beautiful plants like pink amaryllis bulb flowers, pyrocantha and a palm like plant. The surprise attack came during a holiday week to minimize the number of witnesses and students in the area.

Each time UC has tried to mess with the park, its been like stepping into a hornets nest. The park is still relevant today, both as a symbol of past victories and as liberated land that still, amazingly, is mostly outside of the control of corporations and government. People’s Park exists for use, not for sale.

The best way to protect the park and scare UC off from further attacks is to use the park as a thriving venue for radical action, alternative culture, art, music and life outside of consumerism. East Bay Food Not Bombs has served lunch a 3 pm Monday-Friday at the Park for the last 20 years. Since last fall, every Sunday at noon anarchists have assembled to use the park as liberated space, inspired by liberated spaces in Greece.

While over the years the park has served as a launching pad for generations of radical activities, each new generation of students at the UC Berkeley campus generally shows up unaware of the park’s legacy or its potential. It requires constant effort to keep community education about the park alive for the students and folks in Berkeley in general. As occupations crop up across the globe, we can expect more actions to liberate land, and stiff resistance to defend what we’ve already seized. Plug into what’s going on a People’s Park, or build your own park and defend it this spring.

Unmasking the Thing – ALEC conceals the corporations that write the laws

To the extent the occupy movement wants to expand its focus beyond local occupations onto the national stage, exposing and disrupting the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and its member companies offers an amazing opportunity because of the way ALEC combines corporate economic domination with political control. ALEC is a non-profit funded by the largest corporations where industry representatives work with conservative legislators to write pro-corporate model legislation which is then introduced into state legislatures across the country by elected officials who are ALEC. ALEC’s model laws focus on deregulation, attacks on labor and immigrants, and weakening environmental and health laws. 98 percent of ALEC’s income comes from 300 major corporate sources — companies like ExxonMobil, Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, Bayer. Around 1/3 of US legislators from all 50 states — 2000 in all — belong to ALEC.

Following a spirited multi-day protest and direct action against the national ALEC meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona November 30-December 3 that led to the arrest of 25 people and police use of pepper spray, Occupy Portland has called for a national day of action against the corporations that fund ALEC on leap day, February 29. They are calling for “creative direct actions” to “shut down the corporations that are part of ALEC . . . shut down corporate headquarters and stop business as usual.” ALEC member companies have corporate outposts in almost every city and village across the country, so there’s no way for ALEC to hide from the hundreds of decentralized occupations.

Occupy Salt Lake is already discussing how to protest the 39th annual meeting of ALEC July 25 – 28 in Salt Lake City. Like the historic protests against the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, WA that brought together activists from all over the continent and shut down the meeting as well as the whole city, folks from occupations across the land could potentially converge on Salt Lake City to make the connections between the way the 1% use ALEC to write laws to serve corporate interests, not the public interests.

A key feature of the occupy phenomenon has been opening up dialog and debate on subjects like economic inequality that, for too long, weren’t discussed much. A secret to ALEC’s effectiveness has been the way it has exerted so much influence with so little public attention. Exposing ALEC and the boldfaced way corporations literally write the laws that increase their power is a key in the struggle against corporate domination.

In July, 2011 the Center for Media and Democracy released roughly 800 leaked model bills developed by the Council that are now on-line and subject to public scrutiny. Everyone should check out their website to understand what an octopus ALEC really is. The proposed laws cover school privatization, green house gas emissions, union busting, industrial farming, biotech, fracking, pesticides, liquified natural gas, childhood lead exposure, health insurance, coal ash, international trade, water, banking, consumer protection, auto insurance, credit cards, tort reform, voter ID, guns, death and taxes. ALEC was behind the anti-immigrant SB 1070 law in Arizona as well as Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s attack on public union organizing rights there.

In many ways, in many places, and with many voices, ALEC is being exposed.

To see the leaked 800 bills, check To plug into the Feb. 29 protest, check For a report about the Arizona protest and how to support those arrested, check Check out Occupy Salt Lake City at

What next? What have we learned and what can we add now?

As Slingshot goes to press, the hundreds of occupations inspired by Occupy Wall Street are struggling to transition tactically from tent cities to other actions that will help the amazing momentum behind the movement to continue and expand. Many occupations have been swept away by police raids and those that still exist face severe challenges from internal dysfunction and winter weather. But the political moment that made the occupy movement possible is not about a particular tactical expression. It can and will continue without tents. In fact, moving beyond tents may help the movement expand since the residential aspect of occupations have eaten up so much energy on camp logistics.

No matter what tactics gain support next, the movement has to stick with the key aspects that have made it so extraordinary:

• Re-defining what is possible. Now isn’t the time to retreat to what may seem “realistic” and limit our ideas or demands to areas defined as acceptable by the system. Two months ago, none of what we have already achieved seemed within reach. The occupy movement is strong when it stretches the world to create its own reality. It is hard to think or write about what to do next precisely because at long last we’re in uncharted waters and we don’t actually know what is possible. We need to prolong and expand that sense as much as possible and see where it goes. We need to fight anything that is going to end this moment, narrow it, or concede to reality. The most important battlefield is in each of our heads and our collective consciousness — moving beyond the voices from the system that try to limit our imagination.

• Provoking dialogue and discussion. In just a couple of months, the occupy movement has dramatically shifted the social landscape by opening long-overdue debate over wealth and power inequality and whether the capitalist system is working for the average person. One of the most powerful parts of our General Assemblies has been break-out groups where we talk to people we’ve never met before about what is wrong with the world, and what we can do to create something new. These discussions have spread throughout society and millions of people are talking about class, power and injustice in new ways and for the first time in our lives. This explosion of dialogue is powerful. We need to do whatever we can to keep the conversation going and broaden it. Start some conversations with strangers at the bus stop, your neighbors, your family, co-workers, etc. These discussions are extra exciting and fruitful right now.

• Keeping the focus on the big picture and avoid getting sucked into reformism or single issue politics. Almost since the beginning, media pundits have asked for a list of demands — “what do they want?” To the credit of the occupy movement, we’ve mostly avoided reducing our movement to a laundry list of reforms. The key insight of the movement has been that the political / economic system is bankrupt and is the problem. This isn’t just a protest so we don’t want any crumbs the system can give us. We have to resist any effort to hijack the movement by pursuing single issues or to serve particular political parties or union leaderships.

• Maintaining horizontal structures such as the General Assembly and avoiding the development of leaders or bureaucracies. All of the three points, above, will be easier if we maintain the radical decentralization of the movement. How can we build the sense of community and equality we feel at the General Assembly into the fabric of everyday life? The goal isn’t just about running a particular meeting or structure with participatory democracy. Ultimately, these structures change how people treat each other and how each of us approaches the world. Decentralized structures change our assumptions — are other people hostile competitors or our community?

All of us are empowered to expand decentralized spontaneous actions to more neighborhoods and new groups of people. It’s up to each of us to take initiative to make this happen — everything that has happened so far has happened without any central leadership deciding it should happen, but rather based on individuals and small groups taking action on their own. Right on!

In Oakland, a number of specific tactical ideas are under discussion as of press time. No doubt more will be dreamed up by the time you read this in towns and cities around the world. No doubt you can think of some other ideas and do them yourself:

• Kittens. Early on, a speaker at the Oakland General Assembly pointed out how all our energy was focused on the few blocks surrounding the occupation, and how much better it might be if we spread our energy around the city talking to folks, organizing and agitating. What would we look like if we were kittens — adorable but with claws — climbing all over the place and getting into everything, as opposed to the herd-like formation of traditional marches?

• Neighborhood assemblies. The Occupy Oakland general assembly often involves 400 or more people. For larger cities like this, it may make more sense to break up into smaller neighborhood assemblies or subcommittees of the citywide General Assembly. The Occupy Oakland General Assembly originally met every night, but after 2 weeks switched to four times a week. The nights without a citywide General Assembly could be a time to decentralize.

• Direct action and strikes. The initial occupations disrupted business as usual and brought people who were dissatisfied with the system together. Once we found each other, our sense of isolation and powerlessness vanished. In Oakland, the occupation has been the launching pad for numerous marches and actions against banks and other oppressive institutions. This can expand. While taking direct action, we need to figure out ways to target disruption against the rulers and minimize collateral damage where possible. The Oakland general strike is also a model for future wildcat (non-official) job actions that hit the 1% where it hurts — against one company or industry, or in one city, region, or nationally.

The system is fragile economically and politically. It is up to us to figure out all the ways in which its legitimacy is compromised and exploit those soft spots. Banks, corporations and mainstream electoral politics aren’t offering answers, but our direct actions can.

• Building occupations. Occupations don’t have to be in public parks. Many occupations around the country are experimenting with occupying bank-owned buildings or other buildings needlessly sitting empty because of the failures of the economic system. Closed factories? Closed schools, parks or other public buildings? These actions are highly symbolic and, when successful, provide space safe from the weather with doors to help limit access to individuals bent on disrupting us.

• Foreclosures. Another campaign under discussion is to research foreclosed buildings about to go to auction, or families about to lose their homes, and show up to disrupt the process (with the families blessing, of course.)

• Re-occupation. Since the second Oakland police raid on November 14, many have discussed how to re-occupy the original site downtown. Occupations have numerous components: the general assembly, space for informal discussion, libraries, medic tents, kitchens, kids areas, art supplies for making signs, media tents and residential tents for sleeping. One option under discussion is to continue activities during “legal” daylight hours and develop mobile versions of infrastructure like food, media, etc. — doing everything the occupation did prior to a raid except without residential tents.

Such a strategy could focus our energy on the best parts of the occupation — communication and community — while de-emphasizing the residential aspect, which is the most problematic for us to maintain for our own interna
l reasons.

In pursuing these transitional tactics, we can consider what have we learned over the past couple of months during these occupations, and add aspects that have been missing.

The current eruption of protest is more than just unfocused anger at recession and austerity. It reflects a widespread sense that the system is not working, growing out of the last 40 years of stagnant wages while corporate profits soared. For years, the 1% busted our unions, eliminated living-wage jobs, and privatized social resources with very little resistance. Now, finally, resistance seems to be breaking out all over all at once.

Now is a great time to start diverse discussions about the horrors of capitalism beyond just wealth inequality.

Capitalism has systematically sucked meaning, community and stability from our lives. With all the consumer items and labor saving inventions, we’ve lost our humanity. People want to cooperate and share with those around them, but capitalism requires constant competition, increasing isolation and loneliness, a relentless speed up, and a race to the bottom.

Capitalism is good at making more stuff, making it cheaper, and doing so with fewer people. As people psychologically adapt themselves to these economic goals — attempting to measure satisfaction with material wealth rather than with our connection to ourselves, other people and the world around us — we gradually drive ourselves insane. Consumerism, corporate jobs and mediated suburban life are meaningless. Human beings need more than computers and bank balances — we need freedom, emotional intensity, and un-managed, challenging adventures.

Moreover, capitalism is killing the planet. Some of the amazing energy behind this movement may be coming from an underlying, almost subconscious sense of despair about the environment. How much of our emotional energy is going to suppress and deny our awareness that the climate is changing, that rivers and oceans are dying, that forests and wild places are shrinking? We have to ignore these things to maintain our sanity as we do what is necessary to exist within this system — driving to work, plugging into the grid, buying our food from industrial farms far away.

The occupy movement can blow the lid off all kinds of un-discussed, unspoken aspects of our economic and political system. While the rhetoric of the 99% is theoretically weak, it is also charmingly and subversively inclusive — folks from many different walks of life with different ideas have to grudgingly agree that they are, in fact, part of the 99%. Most politics and the culture war, etc. have been all about looking at the world based on different assumptions and ideological positions. Occupy changes the lens from “what precisely should happen” to “what position in the system do I occupy and what benefits me?”

What is going on is fundamentally not a left-wing version of the tea party. The tea party has always remained firmly rooted in system-defined limits of what is possible. In fact essential to the tea party are assumptions that the structure of the markets are “natural” and inevitable, and that the US Constitution carries religion-like weight. To the contrary, the occupy movement is all about rejecting tired structures and ways of thinking that are no longer serving us.

The occupy eruption is so extremely exciting because we’ve broken our isolation and sense of powerlessness. We’re finally discussing topics long ignored. And we’re not assuming we’ve lost before we’ve even started to fight.

Grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory – solidarity does not equal un-critical

The state and capitalism are the greatest purveyors of violence, i.e. killing people and using force rather than discussion to obtain goals. To the contrary, anarchists are working to build a world based on consent and voluntary cooperation, rather than coercion, arbitrary authority and violence. It is therefore ironic that when a handful of people broke a few windows early on November 3 after the 10,000-strong November 2 general strike in Oakland, mainstream discussion concentrated on blaming anarchists for violence and sought to make the term “anarchist” synonymous with “violent.”

Some people claimed that anarchists had tried to “take over” Occupy Oakland and the general strike, when in fact the foundation of the occupy movement rests on anarchist principals such as horizontal decision making, mutual aid and participatory democracy. It’s not an exaggeration to say that anarchists organized and founded Occupy Oakland.

Anarchists are not, however, a homogenous group with a single party-line. Many of us felt that the unfocused property damage late at night after most people involved in the general strike had left was a tactical blunder — grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. Just because property destruction is not violence against human beings and pales in comparison to the violence of the state does not mean that breaking windows of local businesses, needlessly burning barricades, and trashing the streets around the occupation with spray paint was a good idea. You do not have to engage in or support inappropriate tactics in a particular situation to prove that you have a right of self-defense, that the state is more violent than activists, or that property-destruction tactics might be appropriate at certain points.

The most militant street tactic is not always “better” or more radical. Street tactics aren’t just photo-ops to dress in black and look cool. Street tactics can help shine light on social contradictions, build movement or serve other purposes. Militant tactics that appear random shrink the movement and alienate people who could otherwise be radicalized and join.

One of the worst results of the November 3 middle of the night fire and smashing was how it trapped most of us in endless and ritualized debates over property destruction vs non-violence which crowded out almost all other discussion for a couple of weeks after the general strike. At a time when we urgently needed to be figuring out what the movement should do next, what new tactics we could adopt, and what new targets we could tackle, people on both sides of the debate recited rhetorical points. It didn’t seem like either side honestly felt they could convince the other side or particularly cared — but neither side could let go, either. The stalemate just went on and on — and continues still.

The late night fire on November 3 eclipsed everything else that happened on November 2. In particular, at 11 pm that night, people seized a vacant building a block from the occupation — a logical and timely extension of the occupy movement. Had the building occupation not been followed by lighting barricades on fire and trashing the area, there might have been exciting dialogue about the building seizure — even if it got busted by the police. The media and politicians would have criticized the seizure of private property, but such seizure would be easy for most people to understand, easy to defend, and thought-provoking.

After November 3, some people argued that lighting the barricades on fire was a justified act of self-defense after police began gathering to raid the occupied building, or that it was just an attempt to blow away tear gas that had not yet been fired. This makes no sense — if anything, the burning barricades made police action more likely. Are those who lit the barricades seriously arguing that they could militarily win an engagement with a couple of hundred armed police, when they were unarmed? If so, why didn’t setting the barricades on fire protect the building occupation? If the police were able to take back the occupied building whether or not we built barricades, why build them?

It is dangerous to be tone deaf as to how actions may be perceived and dismiss anyone critical of a particular action as a stupid liberal. The concept of solidarity between radicals is important — we need to stand together when attacked. But it isn’t helpful solidarity to unquestioningly support militant tactics that go awry. Treating these questions like academic debates where we try to advocate purely ideological points misses the point. Actions have consequences. We should focus on radicalizing ever expanding numbers of people. Tactical mistakes that isolate us take us in the wrong direction.