Crossing the Desert: the art and tech of the Transborder Immigrant Tool

by Hayley Steele

Each year, hundreds of people lose their lives crossing the desert from Mexico into the United States. In response to this tragedy, members of Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab have designed the Transborder Immigrant Tool (TBT).

To create the TBT, they took a Motorola i455 cell phone and cracked the GPS applet to create a simple compass-like navigation system. Motorola i455s can be obtained for less than $30, and are even cheaper on eBay. Besides assisting with basic navigation, the TBT shows where to find water left by Border Angels, where to find Quaker help centers, how far you are from the highway – things that could save the life of someone making the crossing.

Besides being a practical navigation tool, the TBT is also a work of art, and includes recordings of poetry on sustenance and survival in multiple languages written by poet Amy Sara Carroll, a member of the group.

As Amy explains, “…often—rightly enough—conversations about crossing the Mexico-U.S. border refer to disorientation, sun exposure, lack of water. The Transborder Immigrant Tool attempts to address those vicissitudes, but also to remember that the aesthetic—freighted with the unbearable weight of ‘love’— too, sustains.”

The design-phase of the TBT was completed two years ago.  In November 2009, the group was preparing to distribute the device through NGOs, churches, and other communities south of the border. However, the mainstream media – with Fox News at its forefront – threw a fit, leading to investigations of group members, three of whom are professors at the University of California in San Diego. “Can public funds be used to break the law?” was the premise of these investigations. But since when was it illegal to save people’s lives?!

Ricardo Dominguez, a spokesperson for the project, recently did a brief interview with Slingshot member Hayley Steele, revealing the latest news.

Hayley: How has distribution been going? Has it been difficult getting the Transborder Immigration Tool into the right people’s hands?

Ricardo: Due to the intense investigation of the project during 2010 by both my own institution (UCSD) and the call by three Republican Congressmen to have the project stopped – we (Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab) were not able to move forward with the distribution of the project. Our/my legal counsel advised against doing this part of the project till the investigation was over.

Hayley: A few people at the Slingshot Collective expressed concern about Border Patrol agents finding a way to track people who are using the TBT through the surveillance devices embedded in cell phones. How was this issue addressed in the TBT’s design?

“…often—rightly enough—conversations about crossing the Mexico-U.S. border refer to disorientation, sun exposure, lack of water. The Transborder Immigrant Tool attempts to address those vicissitudes, but also to remember that the aesthetic—freighted with the unbearable weight of ‘love’— too, sustains.”

Ricardo: TBT is a single-bounce GPS device, only to be turned on once at the start of the journey and then turned off—and not to be turned on again until it is needed. This single bounce activates the database of locative wave-points to current water caches left out by NGOs in Southern California. From that point on TBT does not attempt to connect to any GPS signal or any other signal. This disallows any triangulation to take place—unless the user who is lost in the desert turns on the cell phone function and is lucky enough to reach a signal to dial 911 and allow for possible triangulation.

Hayley: Is it possible for individuals to independently download the TBT onto their own cell phone? If so, would they need to disable certain surveillance devices on their phone to prevent being tracked?

Ricardo: As I mentioned, it is a database, so it can be altered to create any kind of walking tool. Brett Stalbaum, a new media artist and co-founder of EDT 1.0/2.0, has a website where you can download the code (without the water cache location wave-points). This will allow anyone to develop a TBT-like gesture for any border situation or for any type of locative art project.

Hayley: If someone is interested in assisting with border-disturbance technology, how might they best get involved?

Ricardo: We always need cell phones, so if you have a working cell phone of any type and want to send it to us – that would be great. Just contact us: Or if you want to download the code and work on expanding it in other ways. Also if you speak and write in another language, we welcome translations of the poems on TBT. Or if you have extra funds—please donate to Water Station Inc.  or Border Angels, they are really the core of what is the most important aspect of TBT. Of course if you have the time to come down on the weekends to help fill up the water caches around the Imperial Valley Desert, Anza Borrego Park and the surrounding areas that would be of great help.

The members of Electronic Disturbance Theater 2.0/b.a.n.g. lab are: Micha Cárdenas, Dr. Amy Sara Carroll, Elle Mehrmand, Brett Stalbaum, and Ricardo Dominguez. Check out their website at: or for the code.

A New Mode of Self: How Pharmaceutical Companies Hijacked the Brain

by Samara Steele

A few years ago, I was given a prescription for Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SRIs) for a seizure disorder. Like cocaine (which is technically an SRI), pharmaceutical-grade SRIs prevent your brain from reabsorbing serotonin (“the happy chemical”), causing old serotonin to float around with nowhere to go, creating a sort of pleasant “hazy” feeling. SRIs are usually used to treat depressive disorder, but my neurologist explained that they sometimes prevent seizures.

For my first year on the drug, it seemed to be helping my epilepsy. But after two years, I started having problems. My thinking got fuzzy, it became difficult to use language, and for the first time in my life, I found it nearly impossible to make new friends.

I spent another year feeling like a zombie before I realized the SRIs were to blame. I stopped taking them, and after a painful period of withdrawal, I started feeling like I could think again. Recovery has been slow, though, and in the two years since I’ve been clean, I’ve had to gradually rebuild the skills I lost. Everything from my balance to my body-awareness to my short-term memory is still screwed up.

Sadly, I am not the only one who has been royally screwed  over by psychiatric medication.

In his latest book, Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs and the Rise of Mental Illness (2010), journalist Robert Whitaker shows how each type of psycho-pharmaceutical drug has its own unique way of damaging and debilitating its user. According to Whitaker, before psychiatric drugs came into mainstream use, 85% of people diagnosed with bipolar disorder could return to their jobs within a year of diagnosis, and suffered no long-term brain damage. But now – with drugs being prescribed to a majority of bipolar patients – less than 30% can return to work, and most of them suffer from long-term cognitive impairment!

Whitaker’s book contains a bounty of scientific studies that show how the drugs used to treat “anxiety,” “depression,” “bipolar disorder,” and “schizophrenia” cause more harm than good. The author has made these studies free to the public at the Mad in America Website.

The bottom line is: Psycho-pharmaceutical drugs are not safe. They prolong the illnesses they are supposed to treat and cause long-term brain damage. (Not to mention the “official” side effects: liver damage, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, kidney failure, birth defects, increased risk of suicide among children – the list goes on and on!) Yet, today, 1 in 8 Americans is on a psychotropic medication, with these dangerous drugs being prescribed to children less than two years old!

This creates a bit of a mystery: if these drugs are so bad, why are people taking them?

I believe the foremost cause is the rise of an idea/practice of the treating the brain as self: treating yourself as if you are nothing more than a passive brain.

For the last two decades, pop-science writers and have been working relentlessly to convince people that they are their brains. The goal of these writers often is connected to opposition to religion. They think that, by convincing people they are simply brains, the idea of the soul will disappear and religion will vanish.

A good example of this kind of writing can be found in The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul (1994) by geneticist Francis Crick. On the opening page of the book, Crick writes: “you, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.” The book goes on for several hundred more pages, promoting the idea that the “self” is completely isolated to the brain.

In contrast, cognitive theorist Alva Noë is an adamant opponent of the idea of the brain-self, and in his book, Out of Our Heads: Why You are Not Your Brain (2009), he explains, “Consciousness is not something the brain achieves on its own. Consciousness requires the joint operation of brain, body, and world. ….consciousness is the achievement of the whole animal in its environmental context.” Alva also says that the idea of the brain-self is dangerous to individuals who use it.

But Alva’s words often fall on deaf ears. For decades we have been conditioned by “educational” magazine articles, books, and TV programs to think of ourselves as our brains. This leads us to believe that our thoughts, feelings, and urges are the results of “brain chemistry” over which we have no control.

So, when a believer in the brain-self has behavioral problems, unwanted thoughts, or uncomfortable moods, she observes herself passively and does not feel empowered to change. She is locked out of her own internality. Furthermore, traditional aspects of human culture like “love” and “free will” come into doubt. “If these things exist,” the logic goes, “they must already be hard-wired into my brain.” So the individual stops working to cultivate these things – she stops developing her personality. And she begins to feel miserable. Then she sees an advertisement…

The 40-billion-dollar psycho-pharmaceutical industry has hired a small army of advertisers and lobbyists to manipulate people into believing that their drugs will provide happiness, completeness, and a quick fix to all of one’s problems. And when someone believes they are their brain, these drugs seem like their only hope.

Many drug ads are also designed to make people think they have a mental illness when they don’t.

So the individual makes an appointment with a “psychiatrist” (they really should just be called “dealers” now…or maybe “priests” would be a better term).

Just as the Catholic Church stole the Platonic soul by claiming that their priests were the only ones with access to it, the institution of brain-based psychology has co-opted Freudian terms, (the word “psychology,” for example) and claimed that their agents are the only ones who can access an individual’s internality. Just as the Catholic priests held souls hostage, these new psychiatrists hold brains hostage.

Unlike Freudian psychiatrists of the past, these new brain-based psychiatrists do not talk to patients about their thoughts and feelings. Instead, like a Catholic priest in a confessional, a brain-based psychiatrist asks for a list of “symptoms” (sins) for which she administers a “medication” (absolution/communion). And, like medieval peasants on communion, patients fetishize these drugs (“These pills are saving me from my brain disorder!”), developing a deep emotional attachment. But unlike communion wafers, these drugs alter a person’s basic ability to think, express emotion, and feel desire – making it even more difficult to get away.

So, instead of dismantling religion, the idea of the “brain-self” has given rise to the Cult of the Psycho-pharmaceutical, with both patients and psychiatrists sucked into this oppressive structure of beliefs and rituals.

That’s right, the psychiatrists are believers themselves. One reason for this is that many “trusted” leaders in the field have sold out. For example, Dr. Joseph Biederman, a full Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, received 1.6 million dollars from drug companies from 2000 to 2007. In exchange, Dr. Jo authored dozens of “scientific” papers promoting the use of ADHD medications. Countless other field leaders let the drug companies buy them out, creating a sea of mis-information disguised as science.

On top of this, drug companies market directly to psychiatric practitioners, using even more intense propaganda than what the public sees. Additionally, a majority of psychology professors have been converted to pharmaceutical psychiatry, so most psychology students are only exposed to the doctrine of medication.

And it’s hard watching someone suffer. Who can blame psychiatrists for wanting there to be a quick fix for their patients’ problems? In their desire to help patients, they are led by their emotions to believe that the drugs work. The neurologist who put me on SRIs, for example, was also using them herself.

But the reality is, we have problems no pill can fix.

The global economy has entered a phase of Late Capitalism in which individuals are becoming increasingly isolated, environmental conditions are disintegrating, and the majority of the populace is working harder and harder for the benefit of a handful of elites. Then, when people are unhappy in this shitty situation, they are told they have a “brain disorder.”

By blaming our emotional problems on our own biology, we fail to look outside ourselves for alternative causes. Reality disorders – problems with the environment, social order, and workplace – go ignored while people obsessively drug their brains into oblivion.

Thanks to the idea/practice of the brain-self, the capitalist mode of production has infiltrated our bodies and penetrated our core beings. Our moods, thoughts, and emotions have been transformed into commodities to be sold back to us. And, as Late Capitalism slouches towards Neo-feudalism, we are stripped of our revolutionary potential.

Michel Foucault once wrote, “The body is the prisoner of the soul,” but more than ever, the body is becoming prisoner of the brain.

Lately, I’ve started seeing an acupuncturist once a week. Besides the needlework, she prescribes herbs and helps me plan my diet. My epilepsy has gotten much better, even though she isn’t specifically treating it: she and I are working together to take care of my whole body.

In the meantime, I’ve been obsessively reading real scientific articles about the brain, trying to get a better idea of what it actually is.

One thing I’ve learned is that the brain doesn’t just “stop learning” at some stage in development. The brain can actually stay “plastic” throughout adulthood, meaning you have the ability to learn new things your whole life. No matter how old you are, your brain isn’t written yet. You always have the power to change.

The brain is just part of the nervous system, which is just part of the whole body. Whatever you do with your body is going to have a direct effect on your brain. If your body receives healthy levels of exercise, wholesome food, sunlight, fresh air, and frequent human interaction, the brain remains healthy and “plastic.” But if the body doesn’t receive these things, the brain becomes “depressed,” impairing the brain’s ability to make new connections. This makes it harder for the person to learn new things, and can lead to other disorders.

Our Late Capitalist system keeps most people too busy to engage in the healthy lifestyle needed to keep the brain “plastic.” If, as a culture, we had time to prepare and eat healthy food, exercise at least three times a week, hang out in the sun, breathe fresh air, and actively socialize for an hour or two a day, most of the “illnesses” psycho-pharmaceutical drugs treat would be cured.

Ultimately, the brain is the tool of the spirit. Whatever we strive to become, the brain will re-wire itself to support us. If we practice love, our brains become better at loving. If we cultivate free-will and practice making educated decisions, our brains will become better at that. The active-brain is a reminder that all of our thoughts and actions matter in this huge task of forming our identities as liberated human beings.

The Slow Mood Movement

It is not enough to merely reject the brain-self. New ideas of the self must develop to take its place. The Slow Mood Movement is all about re-thinking the way we think of ourselves. Inspired by the Slow Food Movement’s rejection of fast food, Slow Mood aims to resist the buying and selling of “fast moods.”

Here’s an excerpt of their manifesto: “We are taking it slow. Slowly learning to feel our inner states. Slowly developing the cognitive tools needed to make healthy decisions for ourselves, our communities, and our world. Slowly learning to expand our emotions to connect with other people as people, not functions. We know these things can’t be given to us instantly. We have to build these things ourselves, over time.”

To get involved, see their website:


Don't believe the nuclear hype: business as usual is the real catastrophe

As scary as the current Japanese nuclear disaster is with radiation displacing thousands of people and poisoning the ocean around the plant, the environmental damage caused silently by the business-as-usual use of coal, natural gas, oil, and hydroelectric power is arguably greater than the current nuclear crisis. The mainstream media doesn’t send out camera crews to film coal-fired power plants operating as designed, or natural gas fracking wells, or mountaintop removal mining, but that doesn’t mean that each isn’t an ongoing ecological catastrophe.

To understand what Fukushima really means, it is helpful to step back and avoid seeing the disaster in isolation. Does the catastrophe mean there is merely a problem with this plant design, or nuclear power as a whole, or the entire highly complex technologically dependent way of life we’re a part of? Is the problem the way electricity is produced, or that the system needs so damn much of it in the first place? What can we do to move in a different direction?

The nuclear disaster in Japan is a warning against nuclear power — perhaps just in time to slow down a global rush towards construction of more nuclear power plants to supply exploding demand for electricity. Many reasonable people have recently begun supporting nuclear power as a “clean” — or at least non-greenhouse gas emitting — supply of power; a way of continuing business as usual and fueling rapid economic expansion while avoiding devastating climate change.

For nuclear power, the infrequent nuclear accidents that release radiation are by no means the most worrisome risks. The greatest risk from nuclear power has always been the waste. In the US and around the world, there is no realistic plan for permanently and safely disposing of the waste, some of which can be dangerous for 100,000 years.

While most of the attention at Fukushima has been on the partial meltdown of the reactor cores and release of radiation from the containment structures, it is now apparent that a significant amount of radiation released has been from spent nuclear fuel stored in cooling ponds. In the US, with no permanent nuclear waste disposal site, it is instead stored in identical large cooling ponds at each nuclear plant, sometimes for many years. After waste cools for 5 years, it can be moved to dry storage casks, which then pile up around the plant waiting for some place to go. But many plant operators aren’t putting waste in casks because to do so would cost billions of dollars. This is a dangerous legacy to leave future generations.

Nuclear also fails the “clean” test because the uranium used in reactors has to be mined, creating more radioactive waste and contaminated water around mining sites that is rarely discussed. Perhaps this is because many mines are on indigenous land. And while Obama and leaders around the world have signaled their desire to build more nuclear power plants as an alternative to fossil fuels, private industry is holding back because in addition to the dangers, building nuclear power plants is extremely expensive — possibly cost prohibitive when compared to cheap fossil fuels. Most US nuclear power plant construction stopped in the late 1970s not because of the Three Mile Island nuclear accident, but because building nuclear plants was not cost competitive.

And yet nuclear is potentially less dangerous than burning fossil fuels, because with nuclear power at least someone has a rough idea of where the waste products are. When people burn fossil fuels, the waste goes up into the atmosphere and drifts at will, changing the chemistry of the oceans and warming the climate.

One hundred years from now, it is highly likely that the disastrous environmental changes caused by fossil fuel combustion — which will effect every part of the globe, not just areas near industrialized population centers — will dwarf the more confined dead zones that are nuclear power’s legacy. Climate change threatens to collapse agricultural production by creating climate chaos where farmers need predictability — freak storms, untimely freezes in normally warm regions, heat waves, droughts in some areas and unusually heavy rain and flooding in others. Ocean acidification could wipe out fish as we know them by dissolving the calcium that makes up bones and shells. Biologists already believe we’re in the sixth global species extinction, on par with the climatic changes that caused dinosaurs to go extinct.

Coal-fired electricity emits the most carbon dioxide (CO2) per unit of power generated, although a recent study by Cornell professor Robert Howarth found that natural gas may contribute more to global warming than previously thought because of significant emissions of unburned gas during drilling and transport, which is 20 times as potent a green house gas as CO2. Gas drilling is expanding and gas prices falling as new fracking techniques open up gas fields around the US, often threatening local water supplies.

The US alone burns about 1,000 million tons of coal per year according to the US Energy Information Agency, mostly to generate electricity. Coal emits about 5,000 pounds of CO2 per ton burned. Mining it causes localized devastation. Despite this, coal plants with 50-year service lives are still being constructed in the US and around the world. India and China are completing approximately one new coal-fired power plant per week.

If the US closed all of its 104 nuclear power plants tomorrow, which produce about 20 percent of US electricity, coal and gas are the cheapest and most likely alternatives.

The US is gearing up to increase coal exports, mostly to China and India. Washington state is currently considering two proposals to construct coal export terminals — one in Longview at the mouth of the Columbia river that could export 60 million tons per year and the other in Bellingham north of Seattle that would handle 24 million tons per year. Each would load coal onto ships moved by train from the Power River Basin in Montana and Wyoming.

The common threads that join nuclear, coal, natural gas and oil is centralized corporate control, short-term means-to-an-end thinking, and a blind reliance on technology without attention to consequences. It is easy to see the way power is constantly and automatically consumed in our world as inevitable, invisible or even natural.

Is anyone asking whether all this electricity is really meeting our most important human needs — for freedom, for meaning, for pleasure, for expression, for community? Unlimited electricity is most important to the hyper complex systems all around us that steal our time, manage our desires, and try to distract us from what is going on with cheap thrills, empty-calorie treats, facebook status updates, and media extravaganzas.

Its likely that a world with less electricity would be a world in which each of us could be more fully alive, human, and free. How often during an average hectic workday do any of us get a chance to stop and take a moment to notice the enormity and wonder of our existence? Standing on our feet, feeling gravity, feeling the wind flow around us and the sun warming our skin. Our wired society has stolen these moments from us just as it has stolen the stars from a dark night sky.

Disasters like Fukushima can focus our minds and help us build resistance, community, and alternatives. Or, they can be used by the system to distract us from the ongoing, daily disaster of business as usual. Resistance is possible beginning in each of our own heads and spreading to those around us. The nuclear and coal worldview depends on massive centralization and scale, and therein lie its vulnerability because it has lost touch with what is important and human, just as they have become disconnected from what is healthy, sustainable and safe.

Immigrant Labor in the "New" Mississippi

I used to live in Los Angeles but now I live in a small town called Tupelo, Mississippi, a place in which everyone idolizes Elvis. I’m here because I racked up student loans, couldn’t find a full-time job in nice, warm Los Angeles and needed to be able to afford my basic necessities and help my family out. Moving here was like a slap in the face.

I had been heavily involved in activism in college and tried to at least maintain community ties and assist with community movements and events when I could after graduation. Social justice was and still is in my blood, but I wound up a slave to The Man. The Man to me is a company called ABC* Furniture Industries Inc. This place, like so many others in Mississippi and the rest of the South is wound up in corruption scandals beyond my wildest imagination.

The conditions for immigrants anywhere are difficult but they’re so different from what I’m used to seeing in Los Angeles that they really scare me sometimes. I’m used to jornaleros, and micas, getting sold in MacArthur Park. Mississippi and other areas in the South are different.

Here, E-Verify ensures that cronies steal identities and sell them to undocumented immigrants at elevated prices. Sadly, some of these cronies are Latinos who are bilingual, have their papeles and find immigrants to be a lucrative form of business. ABC Furniture Industries knows about these transactions. In fact, a lot of supervisors are involved in procuring these identities and selling them to undocumented immigrants and one of them (I will call him Ricardo*) went to jail for this. Ricardo is now a supervisor again. It turns out that he had a collaborator in Human Resources named J who would steal the information while Ricardo would make the fake I.D.s in his computer. Ricardo still sells information, he extorts employees every week and it’s like nothing ever happens. The employees he commits these crimes against are too afraid to talk. I have not reported him because he leaves no paper trail, and because the employees who were brave enough to explain how the scheme works requested that I don’t. And so I will not speak in their name because they are afraid, and I respect their wishes.

Working as a translator for Human Resources at ABC Furniture Industries (though I have been trying to find more a socially responsible job), the worst part of my job is having to tell people that their information mismatches the information on E-Verify. When this happens, the person’s job offer gets rescinded. I have seen people enter and try to get hired using two or three different names and it’s always sad to see them go. I know in my heart that if E-Verify didn’t exist, the people in question would not have to go through this. But keeping a job after the E-Verify process is over is no walk in the park either.

The furniture industry is full of very difficult jobs and the place I work in very fast-paced. There are dangerous machines everywhere and because this is the South, the factory I work in has employees who have a substandard education, a product of the racist/classist system at work, of course. The lack of certain skills makes it difficult for some people to understand the basic training manuals and safety guidelines. The place I work at is strictly anti-union and the management and HR reps are known to be corrupt, and they are known to treat people like garbage, so the employees often have no one they can turn to. Because I must feed my own family it is very hard for me to have my activist cap on at work, so I must keep it hidden in my heart. Many of the employees who have gotten to know that I am “different” are understanding enough to know that I can’t change anything for them using factory rules (and as someone who has to repress her socialist/anarchist views, I knew this anyway) and so the only thing I can do is patiently listen to their stories and write them out, then send them out to compassionate people like you who actually want to know what is going on.

The factory employees have truly educated me during their 10 minute breaks and during run-ins during lunch hour. They’d told me about how the police have taken away their entire week’s earnings because the factory I work in has a lot of clout, and if you work here, no one asks you to show I.D. in order for you to cash an ABC Furniture Industries check. Usually it happens like this: cops sit on a road in their car and wait for a Latino to drive by, they ask them to show a driver’s license and if the person doesn’t have one, they ask the person to take out their wallet, then the cop takes away the money or any payroll check and tells them they can go.

I have seen employees come into work with broken fingers, arms and legs, on wheelchairs, with knee injuries and on one occasion, I saw someone come in with an eye patch after a staple pierced her eye. This is something called “light duty” and for some reason I feel it’s not legal, but I was an art student and I know nothing about laws, so I’m stuck on this. A lot of the upholsterers have complained about arthritis and carpal tunnel, which is a direct result of the fast-paced, unsafe conditions at work. Because the employees here get paid based on production, the company also takes away a lot of their money and has terrible payroll practices.

Last week, one of the employees (I will call him Emilio) had an accident that I truly believe will stick with him for the rest of his life. Emilio was the fastest person in his assembly line. He broke his clavicle because he tripped on a cart full of wood (the carts where I work weigh 2500 pounds). He fell on the hard cement and all of his weight somehow fell on his shoulder. He doesn’t know how long he’ll be out. He is undocumented and hurt. I took a big risk in letting him know that I would try to find him a lawyer if he needs to but ONLY if he promises not to let anyone know I am helping him, and ONLY if any contact about this problem occurs outside of work. He agreed to these conditions and told me he’s afraid of speaking out because he has no documents, but that if his arm doesn’t get better, he said he will look for me because he’s sick and tired of the verbal abuse, fast pace, and pain he faces because of work.

I could tell you more, but then I would have to write a book. I hope someday I can speak about these things in front of crowds and let the world know. But most of all, I hope that someday all the exploited workers of the world and their allies can get together to truly end these conditions.

*Names have been changed for worker protection.

You may contact Tamar Libertad Ximénez at

Violence in New Orleans Overshadows a Complex Community

This winter there was an unusual wave of violence in New Orleans. Right? There must have been, because people were freaking out. The news covered it. Even Slingshot, out in California, wrote to ask about all the “intense shit” going down here.

This winter there was no unusual wave of violence. There was no surge, no increase, no uptick. December was a bad month, but only as bad as it usually is. There were only as many killings (and robberies and assaults) as there always are in the run-up to Christmas. What was different was white people died.

I could say it differently, but differently would be less honest. I’m not saying the deaths of these white people weren’t terrible, or that anyone shouldn’t be upset. These people were loved. They were also in New Orleans, a city that’s been U.S. #1 for per capita homicide years running, in a neighborhood so notoriously dangerous many cabbies won’t visit it. For context, there were 165+ murders of black folks in New Orleans in 2010 – not a few by cops – and six Latino victims of homicide just in the same two-week period between Dec 7 & 21st.

• The St. Roch neighborhood is no joke. I’ve had more friends robbed at gunpoint in St. Roch than in the rest of the city combined. People die there pretty often, which was why I found it strange when shitloads of “tourist punks” appeared there last fall, dozens, hundreds, swamping whole blocks. All of a sudden, out-of-towners were squatting St. Roch in numbers way beyond anything anyone can remember, and some even began panhandling there. It’s very upsetting to a lot of New Orleanians that anyone would come to one of the poorest cities of America, into one of its poorer neighborhoods, and ask the locals for money. It’s apparently so upsetting that when a horrible St. Roch squat fire killed eight people, a lot of my friends expressed anger and disgust towards the dead rather than sympathy. “Fuck those fucking kids,” said some folks who really should know better, some who were themselves those kids not so long ago. It was a shameful failure of compassion.

Meanwhile, a wave of hysteria erupted over a reported series of shootings, rapes, kidnappings, robberies, and home invasions, crimes perceived as targeting young white people in and near St. Roch. In reality, the crime victims weren’t necessarily travelers, punks, young or white, but rumor ran the streets. Panic hovered close, its wings fanning mistrust. Some of the more alarmist of us smelled a race war brewing… and some of us cleaned and loaded our guns. When a black sixteen-year-old kid confessed under NOPD interrogation to having (somehow) committed almost all the crimes single-handedly, supposedly radical whites celebrated and wished him jailhouse rape, crowing in triumph over this teenager being tried as an adult. People who in the past have supported prison abolition or bemoaned police brutality now celebrated on Facebook like a lynch mob.

How did things come to this?

For centuries, people across all social classes have come here for the same reasons: because New Orleans is exciting, because she is beautiful, and because they feel her wildness permits them to cut loose. They do things here they’d be too scared to where they came from, whether that’s dancing unselfconsciously, getting silly drunk, vocally advocating insurrection, peeing in the street, drawing graffiti, squatting a house, hiring a sex worker, or affecting a tough new don’t-give-a-fuck persona their peers back home would laugh at.

People often visit New Orleans looking for a boozy, adult Disneyland or an open creative sandbox, a backdrop for their fantasies. Sometimes people come with good intentions and feel they should be greeted as liberators. Sometimes they come without good intentions but nevertheless feel themselves exempt from the city’s mind-blowing economic disparities.

One reason people find it easy to ignore New Orleans in favor of their fantasy is that much of New Orleans is not obvious to the casual eye, nor even available. Many of the city’s problems and almost all of its rewards are simply not accessible to a visitor, outrageous as that may be to someone conditioned by life in the era of Google. New Orleans hasn’t been indexed. She isn’t searchable – there is no app.

All American cities have lives beneath their surfaces, but New Orleans’ is more ancient, more occult, and more deeply layered. Among newcomers’ frustrations is often a sense of being stranded on the outside, outside shared histories and unflyered shows, stuck on the surface while the city’s “real life” bubbles away beneath. New Orleans is indeed comprised of innumerable groups and communities that exist in relative secrecy, cultivated or de facto. Some groups are highly formalized – underground carnival krewes, tribes of Mardi Gras Indians – most are informal but still as closed.

Some newcomers remain cheerfully unaware of the layers. To them, their also newly-arrived friends and an only recently trendy neighborhood are what New Orleans is. To them, the culture of New Orleans is whatever musical subgenre’s being written up in national media, and the heart of the city is whatever fun new social spot their pals just showed them. Many newcomers bring their own groups and networks, settling into a transitory, ready-made milieu of those who dress similarly. They develop their own “scenes,” pick new favorite bars and claim, Columbus-like, new neighborhoods.

While tourist punx come to enjoy themselves, the same as any conventioneer, others visit with a determination to honor New Orleans by aiding it. Would-be activists, church groups, and idealistic itinerants all swing through town with approaches tested elsewhere, or nowhere, eager to prove useful during the weeks they will reside here. Often, all of the above end up drunk in the same bars.

New Orleans is intensely enticing. Colors are more vivid here, smells are more pungent. The dense, dreamlike atmosphere softens sounds. There’s an addictive quality to the city, and once you’re hooked, nowhere else will scratch the itch. This is what compels some visitors to stay here and build community here, and it tugs at those who’ve left. I could spend paragraphs describing it, but most people just call it magic.

Part of this magic is that New Orleans still has culture – multiple cultures – created outside the context of capitalism. We have traditions that exist outside of efficiency, cost-effectiveness and “common sense.” As the port at the mouth of the Mississippi, New Orleans was instrumental to the expansion of American capitalism into the American west, but New Orleans herself has always stood a little apart from that. Her heredity is old-world Catholic, Caribbean, African. In a nutshell, in contrast to the rest of the country, we ducked the bloody Protestants.

In an America driven by innovation and determinist notions of progress, where time, technology and life move “forward,” everything the newest and next, New Orleans remains in a deep, beautiful rut of cycles and seasonality. After a while, it’s hard to remember ever living differently.

Those who visit New Orleans to party and those who visit to “do good” have something important in common. In fact, they have everything in common. They are visitors. They are visitors to a dangerous city whose poor are not content to be passive, a dangerous city of extreme inequities where intentions count for nothing, and a city of dangerous difficulties which even the locals surmount only by sharing resources and relying on longstanding personal relationships.

One aspect of the incalculable damage done to New Orleans by the flood and subsequent diaspora five years ago was the shattering of New Orleans’ community and neighborhood networks. These vital alliances of extended family and neighbors were how many poor New Orleanians got by. When your cousin from the next block got a little windfall, you found out about it, and everyone shared. These networks can be seen in old-line carnival kr
ewes, whose members find each others’ children good jobs in a city where there are hardly any. All these extended tribes exist in contrast to the limits of the atomized, alienated “nuclear families” promulgated as the building block of American society the last five decades or so.

The death & diaspora caused by the Army Corps of Engineers’ criminally shitty levees back in ’05 flung New Orleanians to the wind; many still have not returned and are unlikely to. Thus, houses still stand empty in neighborhoods that politicians and police don’t care about. Buildings stand empty, and people looking for ways to live outside of the system of private property, who are attracted by all New Orleans has to offer, move in and squat.

Many of these wanderers come from dysfunctional backgrounds. You can tell because they don’t greet you on the street. Their life experiences or the defective acculturation they were subjected to in the dystopic anomie of millennial America have made them afraid. They affect aloofness as a defense mechanism, but that aloofness comes across here as a snub and an ugly, pointed insult. They don’t greet their neighbors, they don’t introduce themselves, they don’t say hello to strangers and aren’t willing to pause and pass the time. There are even some visitors who make noise late at night in working-class neighborhoods, who graffiti poor peoples’ houses and piss on their lawns. Small nicks deepen into bloody social rifts.

All visitors arrive knowing very little of New Orleans, because here only direct experience can inform. Some visitors survive by luck and think New Orleans is easy, but most find out the hard way. Some are violently exploited. Visitors may know no better, but whose job is it to educate them? They struggle to survive because they are not hooked into community, because they don’t have the support networks necessary to survival, but how can they participate in these networks when they don’t live here, when they’re only passing through?

The flipside to New Orleans not being an industrialized, efficient modern city is that New Orleans still operates under the plantation model. Just as the subtle complexity of New Orleans life conceals beauty, it also conceals hardship and horror. This is a city that has exploited black people to death from the date of its inception. Now in 2011, slavery is alive and well thanks to the criminal “justice” system, providing the prison labor that underwrites our tourist economy and swaths of our regional agriculture.

That’s a literal plantation system: guards on horses with guns while black men in chains hoe fields. That’s egregiously bad, and again, not always visible to the visitor, but New Orleanians of color are also exploited for their culture, a culture which is repackaged for sale to visitors. There is plenty of agency involved in this, and the system’s not nearly as simple as black & white – nothing is, here – but New Orleans is nevertheless a modern-day plantation in a number of complicated ways, and a city where your skin and class signifiers determine when you’re allowed to be where, under what circumstances. This mostly means people of color getting harassed and arrested for being in “white neighborhoods,” but it cuts other directions too.

Seeing visitors flaunt the social rules of New Orleans, those deep-running and unspoken understandings, is angering to many New Orleanians, not necessarily for noble reasons. It’s also annoying when people who haven’t lived here, without a demonstrable investment in our future, arrive wanting to effect change. It takes a lifetime to understand New Orleans; how dare someone roll into town intending to take a wrench to her? Go home; fix home. I would posit all change in New Orleans needs to come from New Orleanians, or else it’s imperialist and should be violently resisted. Likewise, all “improvements” to New Orleans need to originate with her people, or else they’re just normalization and homogenization… an attempt to impose square pegs on round holes.

Last December, were white people being “targeted” in New Orleans’ black neighborhoods? Was that a special New Orleans thing? Was it maybe a form of resistance to gentrification? The truth is, people are robbed here constantly. People are killed here all the time. St. Roch is a war zone. That isn’t cool or commendable but it’s unmistakably part of how New Orleans is. It reflects desperation, disparity and disobedience. A sudden, unprecedented influx of self-segregating newcomers into a poor neighborhood already traumatized by the flood only means new prey for the neighborhood’s pre-existing predators. It means those who steal for a living don’t have to cross dangerous neighborhood boundaries to find unarmed people with stuff, even if the stuff’s just a mandolin or a laptop.

Efforts to make New Orleans “safer” almost always arise from white people being victimized, and are annoying because they don’t seem to acknowledge how wildly unsafe New Orleans has always been for everyone.

Making New Orleans “safer,” in practice, means one of two things: either so thoroughly, terminally and permanently subjugating the city’s poor that it becomes safe for anyone to walk anywhere at any time shouting drunkenly on their iPhone without someone who has neither an iPhone nor the money to get drunk doing anything about it, or (less likely) addressing the extraordinary hardships and poverty that underlie New Orleans’ impossibly high crime rate. That crime rate is a complex expression of complex problems I would assert no visitor, no matter his or her education or intentions, can do anything about.

Making New Orleans “safer” means making her more “civilized”… and so-called civilization comes at a price. May I suggest visitors stay the fuck out of dangerous neighborhoods? May I suggest visitors understand their role as visitors, and please try to be careful, and have fun in ways that don’t imperil themselves? I hope that’s not too much to ask, or an infringement on your sacrosanct right as an American to do absolutely whatever you want all the time regardless of context, history or surroundings. I’m begging you, please don’t become a statistic. Please don’t be a martyr, please don’t be an excuse for sinister forces with power and wealth to intervene and fuck things up even more. Don’t be a poster child for those in the suburbs who already hate poor New Orleanians and who call for the further destruction of affordable housing. Don’t be a poster child. There’s already enough wrong.

But by all means, please do come visit. Come do what makes you feel good, whether that’s drinking alcohol or working in a community garden or walking around chanting prayers. New Orleans invented all the good music; enjoy some. Dance your angst off, eat some salty food. Come visit, and if it seems like all the locals care about is getting your money from you, don’t think about it too hard. When your shit gets stolen, laugh it off. Visit, and scoff at the “rich” “tourists” you see in the French Quarter. As long you keep tipping, no bartender will tell you you’re wrong. Visit, and if you spend enough money, New Orleans may limp onwards another little while, thanks to the generosity of visitors such as yourself.

Slingshot Issue #106 Introduction

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

Is making Slingshot – or engaging with any alternative project – more like planting a garden, or more like harvesting one? In other words, do we do this because we’re hoping it will somehow change the world and make the future better, or are our motivations more about how this project changes our lives right now? Our many forms of resistance – protests, building workers collectives, getting off the grid – have to nourish our souls and give us opportunities for creativity and freedom while we’re doing them for them to be sustainable and worth continuing.

Making the paper isn’t our job nor are we forced to do it out of a sense of duty or obligation. Participating is one way we can spend our days that it is engaging and social. Actually, it’s a blast. A big part of its sustaining relevance is the way it helps weave webs of community – drawing different scenes and different types of people together in interesting and new ways. A world without bosses or consumers is a world where people do things not because of a separate payoff, but out of the inherent pleasure of the action itself. Throwing your life into the counter-culture by joining a collective or starting your own is not certain to save the planet, but it may save you from boredom and meaninglessness.

Moving into the summer season opens up possibilities for travel, fresh tomatoes, rowdy forest gatherings, lazy warm afternoons, swimming and meeting new friends. Despite the harsh events of the world – wars, ecological disasters, injustice and oppression – we can’t forget to enjoy what is still possible.

We had a moment of stress at a meeting a few days before going to press when articles on some important topical events didn’t materialize: anything about US military action in Libya, something on union busing in general and protests in Madison in particular, analysis about the revolts in North Africa and the Middle East. We wanted these articles but in the internet age, it often makes more sense to rely on electronic media to keep up on rapidly changing events. Our niche as an on-paper publication is arguably different.

• • •

Some people have asked about our landlord’s bankruptcy – are we going to lose our space? The court process is continuing and it is still too early to know. And what about our lawsuit against the FBI for the police seizure of all our computers in 2008? Our lawyers and the government filed motions to end the case recently, but the judge is still considering them. And they say collective process is too slow to be “practical”. . .

• • •

If you get multiple copies of the paper in the mail for free distro, please let us know if you move. The post office has started charging us $12.50 for each returned envelope!

• • •

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

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

Thanks to the people who made this: Abhay, Alena, Anka, Bird, Brian, Dee, Eggplant, Heather, Jayson, Julia, Jesse, Kathryn, Kermit, Ramona, Samara, Sandy, Sunny, Thomas and all the authors and artists.

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting on Sunday, August 28, 2011 at 4 p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below).

Article Deadline & Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 107 by September 17, 2011 at 3 p.m.

Volume 1, Number 106, Circulation 19,000

Printed April 28, 2011

Slingshot Newspaper

A publication of Long Haul

Office: 3124 Shattuck Avenue

Mailing: PO Box 3051, Berkeley, CA 94703

Phone (510) 540-0751 •

• • •

Circulation Information

Subscriptions to Slingshot are free to prisoners, low income and anyone in the USA with a Slingshot Organizer, or $1 per issue or back issue. International $3 per issue. Outside the Bay Area we’ll mail you a free stack of copies if you give them out for free. Note: they come in 1 lb. packages – you can order 1 package or up to 6 (6 lbs) for free – let us know how many you want. In the Bay Area, pick up copies at Long Haul or Bound Together Books in SF.

Slingshot Back Issues

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

Midwest peast activists resist FBI witch hunt tactics

Across the nation, more than a thousand people are poised to jump into action if – more likely when – 23 anti-war and international solidarity activists are subpoenaed or indicted on “material support for terrorism” charges related to their non-violent work. On September 24, 2010, the FBI executed a highly coordinated attack on activists in Chicago, Minneapolis and Grand Rapids, MI involved in the Minneapolis Anti-War Committee, the Palestine Solidarity Group, the Colombia Action Network, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. Early in the morning, more than 70 FBI agents swept into homes and seized activists’ political and personal papers, financial records, computers, passports and other documents (even children’s drawings).

In Minneapolis, the FBI raided the office of the Anti-War Committee, seizing documents and computers. Most of the activists raided that day were also subpoenaed to a grand jury in Chicago, with several other subpoenas being served within a few days.

The raids and subpoenas were coordinated with the help of an FBI infiltrator who went by the name “Karen Sullivan.” “Karen” had infiltrated the AWC months before the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, MN and had worked her way into the inner ranks of the organization. She took on prominent roles, including speaking on behalf of the AWC at various events, facilitating meetings, even going on a trip to Israel with two other AWC members. The AWC later found out that “Karen” had helped sabotage that trip by alerting the authorities about it and turning her office key over to the FBI for the raid. Over the years, “Karen” had woven a vague but poignant story of her life to earn others’ trust, even posing as a member of a couple with a person who went by “Daniela Cardenas” who she had met at a political event attended by other AWC members.

In the wake of the raids, 23 people have been subpoenaed and have refused to testify before a grand jury, standing in solidarity with each other and their comrades abroad. These activists recognize that the grand jury is a witch-hunt that poses a threat to their movements, their comrades in countries such as Colombia and Palestine, their communities here in the United States, and themselves. They all invoked their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and did not testify. People who have refused to testify before grand juries have often faced jail time for civil contempt of court. Judges can jail witnesses for the life of the grand jury – up to 18 months.

A grand jury is a panel that hears evidence from a prosecutor and decides whether or not to charge someone with a crime. People can be jailed for contempt of court if they do not answer the questions. The jurors are handpicked by prosecutors with no screen for bias. All evidence is presented in a cloak of secrecy with no judge present, the transcript sealed, and the public barred from the room. Prosecutors have no responsibility to present evidence that favors those being investigated, which almost invariably helps them get the indictments they want. Grand jury witnesses can’t bring a lawyer with them.

Judges often give witnesses one of two kinds of immunity in order to prevent them from pleading the Fifth and force them to testify. Use immunity is the better of the two since it prevents the witness from being prosecuted based on what anyone testifies about, whereas transactional immunity only prevents what the witness says about themselves to be used for prosecution (i.e., other people’s testimony can still be used to prosecute them). Historically, many people have refused to testify even after being granted immunity since it is clearly a way of pitting activists against each other and making them feel that they have to snitch on others to save themselves. Rather than being coerced into betraying their comrades, they’ve been jailed for contempt.

At this time, none of the 23 have been offered immunity, jailed for contempt, or indicted. Any of them could be called back to testify at any time and jailed if they refuse, or charged with a crime. Given the looming threat, the 23 have been organizing a pre-emptive defense campaign of protests, petitions, call-in days to the prosecutor, speaking tours and regional organizing conferences. Dozens of organizations and prominent activists, both nationally and internationally, have also issued solidarity statements in support of the fight against this repression. The targeted activists are bracing for the next stage of state repression even while they’re in the midst of dealing with their current situations. They are struggling to have seized property returned to them, which is an onerous if not impossible legal battle to fight while an investigation is ongoing. Several have also been targeted for additional security searches at airports while traveling, whether for giving presentations about their situations or for other reasons.

To help with resistance, you can sign a pledge to take action in the event of more subpoenas or indictments, donate to the legal defense fund, check out upcoming support events and protests in your area, join one of the 15 regional support committees, or create a new one! Info:

Strategy toward a world without cops: police accountability vs. abolition

Over the past fifteen years, I have consistently written about policing from an abolitionist perspective, but the great majority of my actual political work would fit more or less comfortably in the police accountability framework.

I begin with this point because I believe it is quite a common situation, not only for police abolitionists, but for revolutionaries of all various kinds.

There is a common – and, I think, mistaken – technique for wishing away our discomfort about the distance between our hopes and our actions. It is to assume that every reform is a step on the road to abolition; that they are all “moving in the right direction” and ought, therefore, to be supported.

The problem is that not every reform is really a step in the right direction. The history of criminal justice reform is a sobering study in the law of one step forward, two steps back. It was reformers, remember, who created the modern prison system. It was reformers who argued that the police should prevent crime, and reformers who helped establish their autonomy from partisan politics. Community policing – which has only increased the police involvement in social affairs, and has not reduced levels of police violence – has been sold to the public under the banner of reform. Reformers have even added to the police arsenal – giving the cops tasers and less-lethal weapons in an effort to reduce shootings, for an example.

Thanks to the work of reformers, the cops today are better trained, better paid, more well armed, and better organized than at any other point in history. And shouldn’t this, after all, be what we expected? Isn’t the point of reform to improve the institution, that is, to aid its work? As Foucault argued, reform is “part of [the] very functioning” of the criminal justice system: “it constitutes, as it were, its programme.”

With all that on the ledger sheet, one might be tempted to just refuse to participate in any reform or accountability efforts at all – that is, to refuse to have anything at all to do with any project that does not have abolition as, not only its final aim, but as its immediate aim.

But this, too, would be a mistake. Obviously, we do not at present have the power to simply disband the police force. So if abolition is our goal – and not merely a moral precept that we organize our daydreams around – then that leaves us with the hard work of building an oppositional political movement that is capable of eliminating the existing criminal justice system. That movement, of course, will have to engage in other action while it is building its strength; to a very large extent, it will build itself up by engaging in other action.

A resolute insistence on “nothing short of abolition” would in effect make us irrelevant to political processes as they unfold. We can, and should, make forceful arguments for abolition. But if the only thing we can say is that there should be no police, then we become, in a sense, neutral as to any and all immediate questions concerning the powers or practices of police as they presently exist. It’s pretty damn embarrassing to have no relevant opinion as to whether the police should carry tasers, or on the issue of racial profiling, or on the question of whether killer cops should be fired.

But of course no one really is neutral in quite the way that I’m suggesting. The point is, that to be strictly consistent in an absolute “no reforms” stance would require us to act as though the smaller immediate controversies were of no importance to our larger cause. In reality, the situation is quite different. If we are ever going to be able to build an effective police-abolitionist movement, we have to be seen to be addressing these immediate concerns, and doing so in a way that connects to a broader social vision.

The difference between the police accountability perspective and the abolitionist perspective is not a question of reforms or no reforms. The difference is, in fact, much deeper. The two views suggest fundamentally different visions of society, and correspondingly, different logics of political action. Accountability and abolition are not merely different goals, but different strategic orientations.

The “police accountability” framework suggests, necessarily, that policing can be improved simply by bringing it under the control of the community, or if not the community, then at least its elected representatives. This approach suggests, of course, that the institution will survive, albeit in a more friendly, more lawful form. The view of policing implied in this perspective is that it is legitimate and necessary, and that the problems it presents are the effect of individual misconduct or organizational dysfunction.

The abolitionist critique, on the other hand, is that the problems of policing – the racism, the class bias, the violence – speak to the real character and the deepest purpose of the institution. The answer, then, is not to create better, smarter, more sensitive, skilled, and law-abiding cops; the answer is to get rid of the institution altogether and put in its place something that genuinely does meet our needs for public safety and dispute resolution. As it happens, that requires a totally different kind of society, one without the inequalities that the cops preserve, and the hope is that by going after the cops we bring that new society closer to existence.

Now these are very different ways of looking at our society, and thinking about the police. But they are not so divergent as to make cooperation impossible: For while abolitionsists want to eliminate the police, so long as they exist we also want to limit the abuses they can inflict.

The challenge is to pursue only those reforms that lead us closer to the goal of a world without police. That means avoiding reforms that help police institutions to repair themselves, that extend their lives or increase their power, that bolster public confidence in the criminal justice system, or that expand the cops’ reach into or influence over community life.

Unfortunately it is impossible to create two stable lists of good or bad campaigns. The decisions here turn on questions of strategy, which means they are bound to change as conditions do. What is daring and radical today may seem tame and conservative in a year; and what would represent an unconscionable concession in one part of the country might actually be a signal victory in another.

So I’m not going to propose a concrete agenda. But I can offer some criteria that will help us set our priorities. Worthwhile campaigns should do at least some of the following: Discredit the police in the public view. Isolate the cops politically; divide them from potential sources of support. Suppress officer morale; impede recruiting; and promote whistle-blowing. Reduce the resources available to the criminal justice system. Frustrate the police in the pursuit of their own agenda; publicly demonstrate that the law-and-order agenda can be defeated. Present the case for abolition. Situate our demands as part of a larger movement for freedom and equality. Undercut the cops’ sense of impunity. Exacerbate rather than mitigate the crises in our opponents’ organizations. Give the community a sense of its own agency. Draw increasing numbers of participants, and show a greater depth of commitment and an increase in activity over time. And in general, shift power away from the police and toward the community.

In short, we need to pursue reforms that make further changes more, not less, possible. And we need to do so in ways that expand rather than restrict the opportunities for further struggle. If we succeed in all that – while also avoiding the dangers of co-optation and surviving the repression we will inevitably face – then we can win reforms that do genuinely build toward a world without police. We can work for accountability and abolition simultaneously, but we can only do so with an abolitionist


Kristian Williams is the author of Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America and American Methods: Torture and the Logic of Domination (both from South End Press). He is a member of Rose City Copwatch, in Portland, Oregon.

Dear Slingshot, My Class is Cancelled

March 25th, 2011

To anyone affiliated with Slingshot, I an a fifteen year old high school sophomore in New York State. I requested and received a copy of your zine through Maximum Rock N Roll. I was inspired by the articles inside and if I’m ever in Berkeley I’ll be sure to visit the Long Haul Infoshop Radical Library.

I am writing you this letter because the administration at my school is laying off teachers at my school and I don’t know what to do. It all started yesterday morning. When I walked into my French class my teacher, a sweet lady of 55 with an Ohio accent, was too upset to speak. Or teach for that matter. She asked me to go get the Chemistry teacher, who had no class that period, to come watch us. After I obliged she walked out with no explanation, and was gone for about twenty minutes. When she came back she began packing up her bag and putting on her coat, telling us that she had to leave. Someone asked her if she felt alright and she said no. She left that following period, and a substitute was called in. We learned the next day, today, that she would be losing her job at the end of this school year.

Life is unfair enough for my dear French teacher. Her husband’s health has been failing for a number of years: he battled Cancer a while back. I don’t know what she would do without a salary.

Later that day my cooking teacher announced that after this semester all of her classes will be cancelled and she will be laid off. This means no more Food Preparation, no more Gourmet, no more International Food, no more Home Economics, no more Sewing, and no more Human Development. This teacher lives for cooking. It’s no exaggeration that we are the reason she gets up in the morning. She constantly uses her own money to buy us supplies, and has pleaded with the school board to let her teach more classes. She believes that what she teaches is just as necessary as Math or English, and I agree.

I also found out that my old woodshop teacher is getting laid off. Like my other two teachers, he’s been in education since the stone ages and he’s truly passionate about his job. He was my student advisor four years ago. Back then we would have ten minutes every other day where we would just sit around at the start of the day in a teacher’s room shooting the breeze. But that wasn’t enough for the Tech teacher. I remember it like it was yesterday. He asked us one morning what we wanted to do, something charitable. Someone jokingly said “end world hunger.” So we ended up getting local artists to donate ceramic soup bowls. We made a boatload of minestrone soup after school in the Home Economics kitchen, the same kitchen that is supposed to sit vacant and silent next year, and served it up. We sold the one-of-a-kind bowls of soup in the faculty lounge. The profit we made went towards Doctors Without Borders. The whole experience really impacted our eleven year old minds, and apparently everyone else, since we got in the local paper.

This isn’t the only example of passionate teaching of my old Tech teacher. I took three more classes with him, and every time he pushed our abilities to the max. I also took an after school club with him, which he did on his own time out of his own free will. We can’t just let someone like that go.

So here I am, writing this letter, listening to my Dad’s old Floyd tapes, and begging you to tell me what to do. Teachers like this come once in a lifetime, and me and many other students and parents will do anything to save them. As you can see, they are not incompetent quite the opposite. Please help us save our school and prepare ourselves for the future.

Yours Truly,

A. F.


Thank you for reaching out. I’m Suzanne. I have worked with Slingshot & been an activist over the years. I have also been a teacher & am currently an educator at a museum in Oakland. I live with several of the Slingshot regulars & when they were talking about how to respond to you I was there. We all were grateful for your letter, & for me, having worked with young people for 20 years, I knew I had some things to say to you. Some will be easier than others to hear.

First off, the things you are all facing in your school are emotional, deep, personal AND so connected to the big picture mess of this country. You can’t do it alone. Organizing those that care could help. Taking some inspiration from the folks in Madison, standing up is ‘preferable’ to silence, but it is a lot of hard work, there are no guarantees. That said, the work, the process, your voices matter so much, regardless of outcome. I want to say that to be honest. That you all can step up with courage & conviction, acting as if you will certainly win the fight, & walk the razors edge knowing that you may not get the outcome you set out for.

Can you get people together and see what your numerous talents & willingness/time is like? See what tactics people are ‘comfortable’ with or willing to do … letters, petitions, phone blitz, office take over, flooding open comment periods at meetings of the school board or city council, there are tons of possibilities. There may be folks in your community that have done this before. If you need some more help, you can call me.

All that said, win or lose, whatever you do to reach out and celebrate your teachers, telling them how much they have mattered to you will mean so much to them. They are strong people, teachers have to be. They will be knocked down by this, but we don’t know what happens next, some great opportunity could. We don’t know but we can believe in them & support them … letters for them, a party, a surprise. I know it will help them to feel strong as they struggle with their next steps.

This life of seeing how hard things can be & actually caring is heavy at times, we have to pace ourselves. It is really important to trust others to take care of themselves while we help, step up with courage & our values about the world we want to live in.

You matter Alejandro, already in your young life you have done beautiful things. I hope this helps somehow to know that folks at Slingshot care, tell us what happens.

With you in your struggle,

Suzanne Pegas

& the Slingshot Collective

A Web of Possibility – Info Shops & Radical Community Centers

Thanks to all the people who’ve written and emailed Slingshot with corrections to the radical contact list published in our organizer and on our website. It is humbling and inspiring to hear about new projects as well as to share information about changes to existing ones. It is easy to see your own small, struggling scene in a particular area and not realize that you are joined by thousands of people working on similar projects all around the globe. Together, we’re building a web of community that is exciting for its energy, diversity and vision for a new world based on freedom, pleasure and ecological sustainability. During the summer traveling season, we hope many people can use this list to find like-minded folks, and we hope many of the projects on our list will be enriched by new energy from folks passing through. Here are some updates – check for even more.

Coffee Strong – Lakewood, WA

A veteran-operated GI coffeehouse located 300 meters of the gates at Fort Lewis that supports war resistance and provides a safe place for soldiers to share the effects of wars. Free coffee, internet, a library, and referrals to community resources, including GI Rights counseling, legal support and Veterans Benefits. They host concerts, movies and other events to active-duty military personnel, veterans, and their families. Also a meeting place for various organizations and support groups. 15109 Union Ave SW Suite B, Lakewood, WA (mail: PO Box 99404, Lakewood, WA 98496). 253-581-1565.

Autonomia – Seattle, WA

A radical community space featuring concerts, films, art shows, community meals, free skool classes and workshops. They have a free store, coffee, computers and host L@s Quixotes Infoshop and Radical Library. 600 24th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144,

Blood Orange Infoshop – Riverside, CA

They have (or are creating) a lending library, bike collective, zineworks, free skool, radical show space, art gallery. At the People’s Gallery: 3643 University Ave., Riverside, CA 92501 in Studio #2.

Zine Apothecary – Minneapolis, MN

A zine library. 3310 15th Ave S, Minneapolis, MN 55407,

Under the Hood Cafe – Killeen, TX

A GI coffeehouse located a few blocks from 53,000-troop Fort Hood: Coffee plus they offer support services for soldiers and veterans include referrals for counseling, legal advice and information on GI rights. “Pro-Soldier, Anti-War.” 17 S. College Street Killeen, Texas,

Committee on US/Latin American Relations (CUSLAR) – Ithaca, NY

A campus based organization with a resource center / hang out space. 316 Anabel Taylor Hall, Ithaca NY 14853

Secret Art Space Gallery – Bethlehem, PA

A basement art studio that hosts all-ages, drug/alcohol free concerts and DIY, underground art events at night. Please email for location:

Cosmic Beauty School – Lawrence, KS

An intentional community & resource-sharing center for learning & integrating permaculture, holistic health, and social justice. 1145 Pennsylvania St, Lawrence, KS 66044,

BikeWorks – Edmonton, Canada

A volunteer operated community bike shop with tools, parts and bike repair help. 10047 – 80 Avenue (access is through the back alley), mail: PO Box 1819, Station Main, 
Edmonton AB 
T5J 2P2. 780-433-2453,

Sattya Media Arts Collective – Kathmandu, Nepal

A resource space for artists, writers, filmmakers, photographers, and other creative people. (Sattya means “truth” in Sanskrit.) Near the Zoo in Jawalakhel neighborhood on an un-named street with no numbers– see the website for a handy map and email them for precise directions. Mail: G.P.O Box No. 12668, Kathmandu, Nepal. +977 9813.485.716,

Kultucentret Glassfabriken – Malmö, Sweden

A non-profit cultural center and vegan café featuring shows, movies nights and workshops. Kristianstadsgatan 16, 214 23 Malmö, Sweden, (+46) -040 – 23 81 01

CAJ Molodoi – Strasbourg, France

An autonomous center. 19, rue du Ban de la Roche – 67000, Strasbourg – France. 03 88 22 10 07 /

Infoshop Roko i Cicibela – Zagreb, Croatia

A library and autonomous space with zines, books, coffee, tea and events. Frankopanska 1, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia

Changes to the 2011 Slingshot organizer

Iron Rail in New Orleans lost their space; they’re looking for a new one.

Modern Times Books in San Francisco has moved. Their new address is 2919 24th St.

The LUNk House in Lincoln, NE, an infoshop with a radio station, has moved. The new contact info is 1315 S. 24th Street, Lincoln, NE 68502 402-585-LUNK (5865) They also host the IWW and a Food Not Bombs project.

The Fargo Moorhead Community Bike Workshop has moved. The new address is 209 Northern pacific Ave N., Fargo, ND 58102, 701-478-4021,

Solidarity! Radical Library and Revolutionary Center is no longer on 8th Street. They are now at the ECM at 1204 Oread Ave, Lawrence, KS 66044.

The Greenleaf Coffee Cooperative at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC still exists and was mistakenly left out of the 2011 organizer. (They were closed over the summer so we couldn’t confirm their listing.) 5800 W. Friendly Ave. Greensboro NC 27410

The Grease Pit in Minneapolis lost their space and is closed while the look for a new one.

Sister’s Camelot moved to a new space: 2310 Snelling Ave S. Minneapolis, MN, 55404.

L@s Quixotes Infoshop and Radical Library has moved and is not at 600 24th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98144.

Voxpop in Brooklyn, NY has closed.

We published a confusing address for Lucy Parsons Center in Boston. They are moving to the address published during 2011 (358 A Center), but they haven’t moved yet. Until they move, they are still at 549 Columbus Ave, Boston MA. Sorry for the confusion.

We got a package returned from the Taos peace house marked “box closed.” Let us know if they still exist and moved or if they are no longer around.

Elm City Infoshop in New Haven, CT lost their storefront.

Wrench in the Works in Willimantic, CT is gone.

A traveler told us that Firefly Lending Library in Miami, FL is gone.

They also told us that Loose Screws Infoshop in St. Augustine FL has been gone for at least a year.

Finally, they found that Outer Space in Charleston, SC also no longer exists.

Free Radicals at 803 Railroad Ave. Tallahassee FL are no longer there. That address is now the Farside, a collectively run music venue.

Le pavillon noir squat in Caen, France has been evicted.

Le Café Les épines in Strasbourg, France is closed now.

L’athénée libertaire in Bordeaux, France was listed on our website as closed, but is reportedly “fucking alive!” (It was listed correctly in the paper edition.)

Le local libertaire in Dijon, France was also listed on the website as closed, but still exists. (It was listed correctly in the paper edition.)

We have tried to find contacts in Africa without much success, but we did get confirmation that the contact we used to have in South Africa – Zagreb Anarchist Movement – does not exist anymore. They still have a publishing project: They make a newspaper called Ispod plocnika They also have an anarchist bookfaire: Let us know if you come across any contacts in Africa or other under-represented areas (India? Middle East?)

Which spaces should we list?

The radical contact list we publish in the organizer has evolved over 17 years with most of the listings s
ent in by our readers / users. Since our collective has never been to these places, we’re never sure if we should list them or not. Increasingly, we’re getting emails from folks asking us to de-list places we’ve listed because they aren’t really radical. We’re accepting suggestions about how to deal with these situations. For the moment, here are places that folks have asked us remove:

Dandelion Communitea Cafe in Orlando, FL. We heard: offers vegan food but besides that there’s nothing radical about it.

Ethos Vegan Kitchen, Orlando, FL. We heard: same as above.

Omladinski Ck13 – Novi Sad, Serbia. We heard: Just a regular club and not radical.

The “bar le real” in Perpignan, France. We heard: is now just a shit bar, nothing DIY and “social” or “radical”