Woman Unbound: Some Notes on Gender in Capitalism

by Teresa Smith

When I was a kid, my mother taught me how to manipulate men.

She was a single parent with a disability that prevented her from working, and her smile and charm helped us get the resources we needed to survive. She flirted her way into getting our car fixed, into having overdraft fees waved at the bank; she even got a social services worker to eliminate her massive student loan debt. When mom got pulled over by cops, she would bat her eyelashes and pretend to be an idiot: “Oh my goodness officer! I had no idea the taillight was out!”

It always embarrassed me and my sister to watch this performance. It wasn’t mom’s real personality. Afterwards, she would regain her pride by telling us, in her most macho voice: “I hope you were taking notes, girls. This is what you have to do to survive.”

We lived in a large government-assistance housing complex, and I frequently babysat for sex workers, watching their kids while they were out making extra cash. I remember one girl, a six-year-old, Sarah, tore a large chunk of her hair out one night when her mom was late getting back from a job. It was getting later and later, and we kept watching Disney movies, pretending everything was okay, and I didn’t notice the way Sarah was pulling one strand of her hair out at a time until there was a big, bloody bald patch on the side of her head. This was the Seattle-area in the ’90s, and the Green River Killer was still out there. A couple of the bodies of women had been dumped within miles of our apartments.

When Sarah’s mom finally showed up, Sarah threw her arms around the woman’s waist and began crying.

“Get the fuck off me,” her mother cussed her out and hit Sarah a few times before the woman locked herself in her bedroom and bawled.

I never asked what stalled Sarah’s mom that night. I didn’t want to know.

Most of the woman I talked to growing up had exchanged sex for money at least a few times. My mom frowned upon sex work — she was religious and came from a wealthy family — but she borrowed money and favors from her boyfriends all the time.

Patty, the lady who lived next door, once laughed and explained that sex work is “just the same as marriage, only you don’t have to clean their damn socks!”

I got a lot of advice from the women in my apartments: “You should shave your legs, paint your nails.” “If a man starts talking, pretend you’re interested in whatever he says, no matter how stupid he is. Don’t ever act bored by a man.”

These were life-skills they were teaching me. Skills to survive, or at least live more comfortably. But the whole thing disgusted me. When I asked about love, these women tended to laugh. And I hated the way they complained about their men: talking about them behind their backs, much the way a worker might rant about a boss.

But perhaps that is exactly what was going on: Just as the males/workers were lying about themselves in order to manipulate their bosses into giving them cash, the females / dependents were inventing ways to more easily extract that money from the workers.

With our system of care so wrapped up in money, we find that the rarest luxury in this society is trust. Trust that your lover/provider will keep paying your bills even if you don’t have sex with them whenever they want. Trust that you will still be loved by your lover/dependent even if you lose your job. More often than not, this kind of trust is destroyed by the statutory nature of such relationships, and love is left wounded somewhere in the dark.

I didn’t realize my mother was actually trying to help me when I was twelve and she nagged me for months to pluck my eyebrows — “You’ll never get a husband with that unibrow!” — until finally she lost patience and pinned me to the bathroom wall and I wept while my little sister solemnly tweezed the offending hairs. How obsessed my mother was with my imaginary future husband! As if he were a specter lurking over me, watching for any sins against his taste.

In the early 90s, everyone knew the story of Lorena Bobbitt, the woman who chopped off her husband’s dick threw it from the window of a moving car. Some storytellers made Bobbitt out to be a harpy worthy of Greek legend: Lorena innocently smiling as she invites the ill-fated man into her bed, a murderous glint in her eye.

My mom had the best version of the Bobbit story, and the neighbor kids used to come over and beg her to tell it. Mom made Lorena into a trickster, much like Briar Rabbit, with the husband cast as a sort of Elmer Fudd character, hunting through the reeds for his escaped penis. “It’s got to be here somewhere!”

All of us kids disliked the men who prowled around our apartments, beating on doors and moms, drunkenly crashing into things with their cars, leaving a trail of dented mail boxes, scuffed up garbage cans, and fist-sized holes in walls and doors.

When I was in the fourth grade, my best friend Joey and I frequently spent our afternoons together, taking apart old radios, playing with soldering irons, eager learn how things work.

One night, Joey came straight to our apartment after spending the weekend at his dad’s trailer in the Cascade Mountains. I knew something was wrong: his shoulders were pulled up around his chin like his head was trying to escape into his neck.

We sat down in the kitchen and my mom brewed us some tea.

Finally Joey started talking. He spoke for about twenty minutes, and the only part I remember is the way he described his dad holding him down and jamming things into his ears. “First it was a pencil…”

Joey’s face was pale and a little green, like he was about to throw up.

“I hate it when people touch my ears,” he shuttered.

“I hate high places,” I said, and I told him about the time my mom’s boyfriend dangled me from the highest bridge in Eugene because I was “giving him lip.”

I didn’t talk about the time my dad was in town and tried to crush me under a mattress.

Then my mom spoke up and told her finest rendition yet of the Lorena Bobbitt myth, opening with the husband running into a police station, hollering, “My wang! My wang! That woman’s wacked off my wang!”

When I was thirteen, I stopped shaving my legs and became involved in a political battle to save some wetlands in my town. When this happened, many of the women in my apartments stopped speaking to me. I was blatantly ignoring their advice about looking pretty and not speaking my mind. Many of the moms discouraged their daughters from hanging out with me. A ten-year-old girl confronted me and said, “My mom thinks you should shave your legs.” During that time, I got death threats from two of the teenaged boys in the apartments.

By the time I was sixteen, I stopped hanging out with poor people, and started befriending folks in wealthier cliques.

My new friends were all children of white-collar workers, and their parents seemed to have gender all figured out: they spouted theories of gender equality and encouraged their daughters to become scientists. They acted as if sexism didn’t exist, as if women can be independent self-possessed individuals without fear of any social repercussion. And in their homes, this seemed to be the reality. I began to wonder if all the gender nastiness from my earlier life came simply because I hung out with poor people.

Some friends I met through activism helped me get into college, and I dreamed that academia would be a place where I could interact with men honestly, without fear or manipulations.

After going off to university, however, I found myself combating whole new restrictive gender dynamics: teachers who tended to call on male students more than female. Male students who became furious at me if I rejected acts of chivalry. Two of my female roommates had verbally abusive boyfriends. Several of my female friends were raped during college. In fact, I am pretty sure that all of us were raped at least once somewhere along the line: every time I made close friends with a woman, she would eventually disclose the details. It hurt my heart to hear it every time. And when a rapist finally got me, I was startled by how fast all the bullshit started hitting me: Trying to share it with people and having them ask, “What were you wearing?” And, while getting the restraining order, which involved the traumatic experience of seeing my rapist in court, having the judge repeatedly ask me, “Was there any alcohol involved?” As if these are worthy excuses. As if consent can be overridden so long as certain factors are involved.

After my rape, I found out my mother had also been raped. I already knew that my sister had been raped.

One in three American women admits to having been raped at some point in her life, but in my family, none of the women escaped.

When I told my older cousin about my rape, she said, “That’s the thing about college: all your friends start raping each other.”

Female oppression expresses itself differently among the wealthy: the designer date rape drugs, the games played with money and favors, shaming culture that frightens rich women away from voicing their abuse. But underneath it all, there is still that same dehumanization, that same belief that a female is nothing more than a body, and that body is simply a product for consumption.

What does it mean to be a woman in 2013?

In Dreams of Donuts #15, Oakland zinster Heather Wreckage wrote, “I pretty much believe that all female-bodied people have P.T.S.D. because of the constant trauma due to our “gender”.”

When I first read this, I was somewhat annoyed. I don’t want to think of myself as a trauma survivor. But, to my greater annoyance, I think Heather is on to something.

There are so many jokes about the “battle of the sexes,” but how frequently do folks bring up the war?

A friend who works at a woman’s shelter told me an alarming statistic: “During the Vietnam war, 58,000 American men were killed overseas. Meanwhile 62,000 American women died from domestic violence back home.”

But it isn’t just the moments of violence that make womanhood so difficult. To rephrase a Nietzsche quote: Rape is perhaps the dark flower of the horrible seed of America’s culture around gender.

A woman in this society is socialized to be a dependent. Being a dependent means that someone in your personal life has taken charge of your ability to receive money, and under capitalism, it is your access to money that determines how and whether you will survive.

To make her a better dependent, a woman in this society is conditioned to be working customer service all the time. She receives constant social pressure to undermine herself, to repress her ability to articulate her desires. She is supposed to be receptive to the situation, to make others feel comfortable and say “yes” to everything all the time. She must take responsibility for the “mood of the room,” to accommodate the needs of everyone else the moment they feel them. She swallows her anger. She stifles her pain. It is all about pleasing others while looking “attractive,” while appearing to be enjoying herself.

Isn’t it strange how everyone talks about the way a woman looks? It is usually the first thing people say about a woman. It starts to get to you, after a while. A multimillion dollar cosmetics industry has built a veritable empire upon this insecurity, selling women beauty supplies that are frequently made of glass, road kill, lead, and other toxic materials. Many women don’t care if their makeup is increasing their risk of cancer: better to have a shorter life than live with the constant insecurity that, if I let my appearance slide, my food, clothing, shelter, care, and companionship will disappear. Only, no matter how much makeup you lather upon it, that sense of swelling panic never quite leaves.

In my daily life — walking to the supermarket, riding the bus, going to workshops, parties, and classes, I frequently find that I am treated poorly if I don’t act in a self-deprecating way. As a woman, if I’m too assertive, people tend to respond negatively. When I was young, I had more energy to face this shit. In fact, I welcomed it. Once or twice a week during my sophomore and junior years of college, I painted a mustache across my upper lip and sagged my jeans and went to class in my “man costume,” and when people asked me if I was dressed that way for a reason, I’d ask them if they were dressed their way for a reason.

It is strange remembering those college shenanigans now, and asking myself why my energy for such things has disappeared.

Once, in college, a male student opened a door for me. I thanked him, even though I really didn’t need the door opened, and I decided to return the favor by walking up to the next door and opened it for him. He scowled and said, “I was just trying to be nice!”

Another time, I was trying to hang my bicycle from a ceiling rack in my apartment building, and, as I had the bike precariously balanced over my head, a guy suddenly walks in and eagerly says, “Let me help you!”

“I got it,” I grunted and finished hanging the bike. “But thanks for the offer.”

“Yeah, whatever,” my neighbor mumbled as he locked up his bike. “Fucking feminist bitch.”

So what’s with that, anyway? All those guys who get mad at you for denying them the ability to rescue you?

But then there are the times that, to my great shame, I’ve allowed myself to be rescued.

My last year of college, for example, I got out of a parking ticket by batting my eyelashes in traffic court, talking in a fake bimbo voice, and saying to the judge, “I’m so sorry! I didn’t even see that it was a No Parking Zone!” And the judge dismissed the ticket, just like that. Before this, I’d watched three other people — all male — have their parking ticket appeals rejected. The judge seemed quite pleased with himself for having rescued me, and for the next five minutes, he lectured me about staying safe while driving. I nodded and smiled as he droned on, and all I could think was, “So this is what it means to be patronized.”

The judge was in a position of authority over me (I did not have the money to pay that ticket, and he had the power to relieve me of this financial burden), so I allowed him to play rescuer.

So perhaps, we might say, that a male’s ability to put himself in the role of “rescuing” a woman is totally dependent on how much more power he has than her based on the inequalities that exist in our class system. If those eager young bucks who tried to help me with the door and bicycle had had me by the balls the way that judge did, I surely would have allowed them to play out their fantasies of “chivalry.”

Sometimes, I allow myself to imagine what life would be like if I lived in a world in which the dynamics of gender are no longer reinforced by class, a world in which everyone could emerge as the people they would be if we weren’t bound to these weird social roles that are assigned to us at birth based on the lottery ticket of genitalia. What would sex be like if it was impossible to attach all these strings to it? What would it be like to ride the bus? What would it be like if my boyfriend and I didn’t have to work so hard to “contribute equally to the relationship,” to no longer to go through all the discussions and extra chores and exchanges of money and guilty feelings and all the “I really want to check in with you on this because I need to know if I’m being a burden?” What would our relationship look like, post-capitalism? But my big hopes are reduced to something very small when, every day, I am confronted with gender dynamics. Because even though he and I live in a consensus-oriented co-op, and even though he wears eyeliner and I orate about politics, neither of us can escape the subtle power that finances have over both of our lives.

One in four American women experiences chronic nerve pain. When I find myself stuck in bed, grappling with the sense that my lungs and chest are imploding, I often realize that the pain started when I allowed someone to overstep a boundary.

American women are twice as likely to experience depression as men. In the book Silencing the Self: Women and Depression, social theorist Dana Jack shows how women are conditioned to self-silence: to bottle our opinions, thoughts, and feelings. By doing this, we become disconnected from our surroundings and the people around us.

Our mothers and grandmothers didn’t implement better gender relations by simply wishing or lamenting. They were actually out there in the factories, unions, and courts, negotiating for new laws and protections for women.

4000 American women die each year from domestic violence. What would happen if we took a page from our foremother’s books and united to protect each other? We have a lot of power–we make their food, live in their homes, care for their children…

This is the ugly direction we face as every relationship becomes increasingly politicized. If the cultural theorists are right, as capitalism enters its final stages of decay, we are seeing individuals (rather than companies) pitted against each other, until every type of human interaction becomes meditated by the negotiations of capitalist exchange. So perhaps capitalism’s dying days will be marked by women rising up Fight-Club-style, pinning our former masters to the ground, razor blades held to their quivering balls, as they beg us for mercy while we demand that the rapes, the murder, the oppression end.

But rather than war between the sexes, perhaps we will find a way to peacefully relieve each other of the arbitrary duties assigned to us by gender. We could harness the power of language–the power that language has to represent and reinforce our myths. We could liberate our genitals from the straight-jacket of gender and start telling different types of stories, stories about our day, stories about how, this morning, I had amazing sex with my partner, and as the ravenous jaws of my cunt closed around the swelling bud of his gentle phallus, both of us were consumed. And it is a coincidence that the penis in this story belonged to someone who considers themselves male, and that the vagina to my female-identified self, because it could have been any combination of adjectives and body parts. And I do believe that, if there is a moment in physical reality from which the myth of gender emanates — it is the moment when pleasure is transcribed into language.

And yet, I hesitate to get too excited about dismantling gender. Even if we successfully liberate ourselves from arbitrary gender roles, capitalism will simply develop a new game to dictate who will receive care and who won’t. One can only imagine the types of new cruelties people will invent if capitalism continues, what kind of new myths will be used to justify the inequalities inherent in the system.

When I was nine years old, my mom was having trouble with a former lover and we decided to move away and change our names. I told my sidekick, Raymond, a seven-year-old who liked to wear a bath towel cape. His mom, Brandy, was pissed when she heard we were leaving. She came over to our apartment and told my mom to buy a gun.

Brandy was six months pregnant, and let me feel her baby kicking while she explained to my mother: “You have to wait until he comes inside the house to shoot him. That way it’s burglary. If you shoot him on the porch, you’ll get murder, and that will put you in jail for a long time. But if you kill him in the house, then he’s a burglar, and you’re free to go.”
The man they were talking about was my father.

Mom thanked Brandy for her advice and a week later, we packed up all of our things and drove to a new state. The Witness Protection Program gave us some ridiculous new names.

According to family legend, my dad was part of the Symbionese Liberation Army, a group of radical insurrectionists who kidnapped and killed people in the early 70s. The group’s name comes from the word “symbiosis,” and their manifesto was all about how they considered themselves to be “a body of dissimilar bodies and organisms living deep and loving harmony and partnership in the best interest of all within the body.”

My dad wanted to change the world, to make it a better place. But he believed that change had to be obtained through a fight. Perhaps that was why he was so violent at home: unable to find place to vent this violence after the SLA collapsed, he inflicted it upon his family.

We think my dad is dead now.

According to his friends, he was living homeless for several years in a small city in Oregon. Two years ago, he crawled off into the woods and never emerged.

In this war, there are no victors.

In praise of demotivation or: why do something rather than nothing?

By Guillaume Paoli
Translated from French by Isaac Cronin
Ed. by Samara Hayley Steele

Motivated, Motivated
We must be motivated.
—Neo-Trotskyist refrain

If people need to be constantly motivated it is because they are constantly demotivated. In the employment sector, all the indicators (i.e., the statistics as well as the police reports) point to a decreased “investment” of workers in their jobs. This is not only the case among poorly paid workers, but also among middle management and top executives. Within the consumer sector, the major markets are seeing a growing dissatisfaction among shoppers, and this is connected to a saturation effect caused by decreased interest in making purchases, rather than the fabled decline in purchasing power.

The more the market needs motivation from the people, the more they seem to lack it.

At the very moment when global capital seems to have removed all external obstacles that formerly impeded its development, an internal factor threatens it: the growing dissatisfaction of its human resources without which the system is nothing. This is the soft underbelly of the colossus. Contrary to what Marx believed, in the end the limit to World Trade, Inc. might not be objective, but subjective—the increasing cost of motivation.

In this situation, it isn’t really accurate to say we are in a traffic jam; the bitter truth is that we are the traffic jam. 

Of all the factors that contribute to this state of affairs, the traffic jam plays a special role. The situation is known well. Each consumer buys a car that promises individual freedom, speed, and power only to find temself stuck in traffic with other motorists who, driven by the same motives, did the same thing. In this situation, it isn’t really accurate to say we are in a traffic jam; the bitter truth is that we are the traffic jam. As congestion spreads from one part of the market to the next, the life span of each so-called “reason to drive” decreases. The immediate tactic is to create new motives quickly, but the likely result is that they will end up simply creating a new motive-jam. And it is not just that people overwhelmed with offers don’t know where to turn, but also, as everyone gets caught in traffic, companies are unable to reach increasingly unavailable customers. Also, getting caught in traffic makes the workday longer, and results in lower pay per hour. It is logical: the more the markets become global, the less is the role of each person in creating wealth, the more e becomes an interchangeable unit. Everyone is now subject to a double bind: expect a lower salary and consume more. Be creative and admit that there is no alternative; be loyal and remember that you are replaceable; be a unique individual and submit to the needs of the team; be egotistical and be ashamed to defend your interests; orgasm and at the same time practice abstinence. If you obey one demand you will disobey the other.

Just try and be motivated, under such conditions!

Many people have pointed out the crisis of demotivation in order to condemn it. I believe, rather, that we should welcome this situation as an opportunity. If capitalism has as an essential precondition the motivation of its collaborators, it is logical for the opponents and victims of its development to treat demotivation as a necessary stage.

…capitalism has as an essential precondition the motivation of its collaborators…

When I told my circle that I planned to write this elegy, my friends either disapproved or didn’t understand what I was doing. I get it: as if we aren’t demotivated enough as it is! But isn’t the problem rather that the ideas, the general objectives, the dreams, the reasons to act that animated previous generations have disappeared from the surface of the social field? Today’s motives look more like a “cemetery of uniforms and tanks,” as Duchamp put it.

The difference between ancient society, modernism, and post-modernism is this: the ancients knew that they believed, the modernists believed that they knew, and the post-modernists believe that they don’t believe in anything. It is precisely this latter belief that we need to dismantle. The thing we need to criticize in the disabused pose of those who have walked away from everything without having been anywhere, is not their giving up of illusions. Rather, all of the illusions they weave about a world which they describe as “rational,” but which is in fact filled with spells, magical rituals and sacred cows. If the ancient idols have been thrown to the bonfire of vanities, it is in the name of this ever more voracious monotheism that mystification remains a social force. If this new brand of nihilism isn’t noticed, it is because it is everywhere, presenting itself as the only truth, naked and undeniable. Everything has been deconstructed, demystified, discredited, smashed, superseded, decomposed, dissected in slices, digested, defecated. Everything? No. Nobody touches the market. It’s taboo. It proliferates like an algae that takes over all the space around it eliminating other species. It is the religion of World Trade, Inc. Yet, just as Christianity did not completely eliminate the pagan gods, but instead integrated them into its universe, then the monotheism of the market has not completely destroyed real motives that populate this world. It simply monopolizes these motives, denaturing them. It reforms them so that they conform to its ends, to the point of making them unrecognizable. Assuming that motivation is lacking in this world is to misunderstand the mutant forms through which it expresses itself.

The objective of practicing demotivation—and this treaty is only a modest step in that direction—would be to divest oneself from the mechanisms that are used to lead all of us, and to methodically dismantle the mechanisms that ensure, despite everything, that the market continues.

Today the bureaucrats want nothing less than to make every employee a Situationist, imploring them to be spontaneous, creative, autonomous, freewheeling, unattached, and greeting the precariousness of their lives with open arms.

You could say this is not enough. That you have to give people a reason to fight, motivate them to seek a better world, offer them visions of well-being, beauty, of justice. Not really. I do not hold the view that this is the role of critical theory. If one opposes how our energies are channeled by the market, it is not in order to suggest instead behaviors and goals deemed “more radical.” One has already seen plenty of these utopias that ridicule the current norms in order to replace them with even more tyrannical ones. In the end, the history of the 20th century has abundantly demonstrated that the attempts to oppose World Trade, Inc. with radical models of subversion have provided our enemy with its best weapons. Today the bureaucrats want nothing less than to make every employee a Situationist, imploring them to be spontaneous, creative, autonomous, freewheeling, unattached, and greeting the precariousness of their lives with open arms. Our approach, in which we limit the critique to the domain of the negative without a specific goal, demonstrates our optimism stemming from this hypothesis (obviously unproven) that most people have within them all the energy necessary for their own autonomy, without which they would simply be add-ons to the power of others.

Lichtenberg once wrote, “Nothing is more unfathomable than the system of motivation behind our actions.” One can hope that the unfathomable recaptures its rights.

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This text was originally published in French in 2009 as part of the first chapter of the book Eloge De La Demotivation.  UPDATE: In  Autumn of 2013, a full translation of this text has been released by Little Black Cart under the name Demotivational Training (full PDF)(buy the book).

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In this edit, gender neutral Spivak pronouns (e, es, eself and tey, tem, ter, temself) have been used to replace the gendered pronouns of the original text. A 1980 study by Donald G. MacKay showed that readers were less likely to misinterpret the Spivak pronouns, whereas the use of one pronoun mislead some readers into believing that only one gender was being referred to (American Psychologist, vol 35).

Against the environment – towards a decolonial bioregionalism

Even within the city, we are made of the land and context. Our bodies are about 60% water by mass, and every drop tells a story. For us in the Bay Area, this water probably evaporated from the Pacific Ocean, near the Gulf of Alaska. It crossed the rocky coast of Northern California, the rolling mountain redwood forests of the Coast Range, and the golden Central Valley. It rose over the chaparral and scrub oak foothills of the Sierra Nevada, and higher over bristling pine forests. Above the tree line, it froze into tiny crystals and softly blanketed high granite peaks and passes. In the spring, it flowed in creeks full of trout across wildflower fields populated by deer and black bears. It entered torrential streams, roaring into whiteness and crushing boulders before settling down into slower, meandering rivers. Our bodies are tiny rivulets in the water’s cycle back to the sea. This story is knitted into us intimately; it is the story of our region and place.

To think of ourselves as separate from this tumult of life around and within us is to amputate ourselves from our own bodies, and our larger body — community, region, and biosphere. This amputation has always been the taproot of institutional power, from the moment a million tiny deities climbed up from the rivers and mountains into heaven to form a human male God, to the moment the common lands of Europe were enclosed and rural populations were herded into the first industrial metropolises, to the reflection of this genesis in their colonies, where indigenous peoples were locked into slave plantations to extract the raw materials those metropolises would process. This uprooting decontextualizes human labor and identity from the fabric of ecology and place and redirects it for the production of surplus value. Likewise, the labor of the land itself is exploited for surplus, as tilled soil struggles to create life and dammed rivers struggle to flow toward the sea, condemned to create profit along the way.

The result has been a more complicated story of our water: After its journey in mountains and meandering rivers, the water inside us was stopped up behind dams that interrupt migrating fish, forming reservoirs that inundate valleys once inhabited by indigenous peoples and grizzly bears and wolves and countless other species. The water within us was then pumped in concrete channels across lands smothered by industrial agriculture and into underground pipes, and filtered and sterilized in massive treatment plants before hissing out of the kitchen sink, without a murmur to inform us of its journey.

Acknowledging this whole story is to acknowledge that our bodies are made not only of ice crystals, alpine meadows, and muddy life, but also of industry, fences, and sterility. We are made of the system that oppresses us, along with the vitality that remains to oppose it. The imagined separation between self and other protects us from acknowledging the presence of this wasteland within us, while keeping us from recognizing the meadows and wildflowers that live there, too.

It is this same dichotomization between self and other that undergirds the insidious invention of the “Environment.” In the Environment, ecology — a web of mutually constitutive relationships between organic and inorganic phenomena, both human and non-human — becomes safely ghettoized. The Environment, by definition, is outside of us, devoid of humanness, an inanimate surrounding object that presupposes the existence of a homogenous human subject that acts on it. This subject is the binary opposite to “Environment” and is called “Humanity.” In Humanity, all human communities are framed as having more in common with an abstract human totality than with the non-humans and land with which they may have lived for countless generations — separate from the plants and animals that grant them food and from the landscapes that structure history, identity, and systems of logic. In this way, the concept of indigeneity is erased from comprehension.

Framed as a static landscape, the Environment can be fragmented without being negated. In this way, certain lands can be defined as legitimately “natural,” while others are deemed violable; parklands are fenced off and made into museums, while just beyond the fence other lands are torn open in search of minerals or plowed under for industrial agriculture. Like Environment, Humanity — framed as a unified subject — can uproot cultures without negating them. Like parklands, a select few human cultures are designated as legitimate, while others are suppressed. Removed from context in living communities and the land, dominant cultures are sterilized and taught in state schools and media, while just outside their borders, a war is constantly raging against organic cultures that are vivified by the land and human communities themselves. These cultures are feared because they are living, because they are ungovernable from outside, because they demand, by their very existence, a certain kind of anarchy and ecology that is incompatible with the state and monoculture. Organic cultures are deemed illegitimate by the architects of manufactured state culture and are violently broken.

As these relationships that constitute human beings, human communities, and ecological systems are fragmented, languages and cosmologies are lost, along with species of life and entire ecosystems. This loss of specificity constitutes a loss of memory and cognition. Human and ecological communities process and store information in tendencies and physical forms. These patterns are the result and expression of a playful process of evolution — dabbling in chaos and experimenting with possibilities for life, then keeping what works within a changing context; learning and remembering. When these relationships of cognition and memory are broken, chaos presides and behavior becomes increasingly erratic, entropic, and unpredictable — mega-hurricanes stumble through the Gulf and up the eastern coast of the United States, while lonely youth quietly sneak assault rifles into movie theaters and elementary schools. This psychosis is the final ‘enclosure of the commons.’ As social, ecological, and climactic systems experience breakdown, psycho-pharmaceuticals, virtual reality, GMOs, and geo-engineering begin truly making themselves the only means of further delaying their own catastrophic repercussions. Yet we need new directions. To find them, we must first re-orient ourselves.

Overcoming disorientation and psychosis means rebuilding unmediated relationships between us as humans, and between our human communities and the land, breaking the binary of Environment and Humanity. It means seeing human and non-human struggles for autonomy as parallel and interlinked and working together to assert our collective ambition for self-determination locally. Eventually, it means disabling capital’s urge for simplification and control and allowing the complexity and autonomy of ecology to flourish once again, both in our human communities and in our broader communities of land and place.

A critical step in this direction is the process of sharing local histories told from a diversity of perspectives. Voices of the descendants of this land’s indigenous peoples must be given special heed in this conversation, but the appropriation of indigenous cultures must be understood as counter-productive. The goal, I think, ought to be the creation of something new, beginning here and now. Learning ecological history is necessary, too, and while the phrase “listening to the land” probably seems quaint or metaphorical to most of us, the land does speak its own history. Hiking through the forests of Santa Cruz or Marin, one might notice the ancient redwood stumps that make the tall trees of today look like toothpicks. They are the remnants of the forest that grew there before European conquest, and trees that had been thousands of years old when they were felled. Stories like this are audible everywhere — if we listen for them.

For Bay Area anarchists, this conversation is especially challenging. It seems to me that we have a tendency to locate our movement’s identity in our status as internationally allied cultural outcasts, rather than working to re-constitute our movements as inclusive and situated. When standing against a system of exploitation that is global in scale, opposition ought to be global. However, I believe that only by creating strong local alternatives to capitalism and capitalist culture will we have the strength and resilience to challenge the monoculture of Empire.

As part of this process, I think that radical organization in the Bay needs to expand from its urban focus and build networks with rural communities regionally. Just outside the city, suburbs devour the land, small farmers are foreclosed on, species vanish, and the radical right rises. Counteracting this means posing new visions and praxis in this region that include avenues of participation for people outside our milieu.

Coming together to articulate our own locally situated histories amongst deeply differing experiences and complex relationships with power will be, and already is, a long and difficult road with no distinct endpoint. This conversation also necessarily includes material shifts in structures of power. This means collectively fighting to reclaim space and relationships — physically, cognitively, culturally, discursively, and economically — then inhabiting and defending them. It means cultivating and preserving collective particularities and keeping the capitalist market out. It means seeing the land’s struggle for autonomy as interlinked with and, ultimately, inseparable from the struggles of human communities for self-determination.

Moments of ecological rebellion are everywhere, even in the city. Weeds vivaciously fill Oakland’s vacant lots while bats and swallows roost under freeway overpasses and defiantly raise their children there. By night, raccoons and coyotes wander deep into the city, battling house cats and burglarizing homes. This rebellion flows through our own human experiences: in the spontaneous commons that ignite when we occupy plazas or squat houses, in the way we support our friends and raise children even in grimy and cramped apartments, or on the streets. It is embodied in the nighttime wanderings of graffiti artists and dumpster divers.

Maintaining the order of generality and monoculture is a constant policing effort against the spontaneous anarchic desire of ecology. Yet every breach of the dominant order of the metropolis, every solidarity and organic specificity of place we assert signifies a possibility for some world that evades this matrix of control. The conversation of these moments together begins to articulate a common particularity to our place and lives from which we might write our own stories and create our own praxis together, against monoculture, and for our collective — but particular — socio-ecological and bioregional liberation.

Fat bodies – rejecting procrustean body politics

For a long time, while I was growing up, being fat was something that I could not think about without getting depressed. I was encouraged to believe that fat kids were unhealthy, unattractive, and unable to accomplish things. I had a nagging fear that my weight was the most notable thing about me, that it trumped any other aspect of my identity in the eyes of my peers and severely limited the kinds of stories I could tell about myself. I resented it when other people brought up my size as a problem or encouraged me to lose weight but I also had a lot of shame about my body. I remember wishing desperately to be thin when I grew up, thinking that it would make me happier, healthier, more confident and more attractive than fat people were allowed to be.

I don’t actually spend very much time thinking about my weight these days and I do feel healthy, happy, and confident about my body most of the time. I am able to feel sexy and connect to myself and others physically in ways that would not have seemed possible to my younger self. I am still fat. Recently, some interactions with friends and family prompted me to think more explicitly about the way a fear of fat shapes many of the assumptions people make about each other and ultimately restricts everyone’s ability to comfortably and confidently be ourselves.
Health: Fat as Disease

One of the excuses that people often use to justify fat phobia is to claim that being fat isn’t healthy. Health can be measured in a whole lot of ways. Often, however, holistic assessments of heath that take the individual mind and body into account are ignored in favor of scrutinizing numbers on a scale and making broad assumptions about them.

The code for fat in medical language is BMI [Body Mass Index], the simple ratio of someone’s weight to their height. This number is often used as a key metric in assessing the health of large populations and individual people but it does not indicate anything about blood pressure, cholesterol levels, body type, the activity of one’s lifestyle, or whether or not someone has a history of chronic pain or illness. Studies linking BMI to chronic illness and increased mortality often fail to take these other factors into account. People who have low BMI’s can still suffer from ‘obesity related’ illnesses and those who have high ones may not. According to my BMI, for example, I am clinically obese but I have always tested well for blood pressure and cholesterol and am fairly active and healthy. I am not saying there is never a measurable connection between weight and chronic illness, but that healthy bodies are not uniform and statistical inferences are not particularly useful when compared to paying attention to the needs of a real, individual body in question.

Procrustes was an ancient Greek bandit who famously hacked and stretched kidnap victims so they would fit into his uniform beds. The adjective procrustean refers to the tendency to violently force people into a mold. The BMI and all of the assumptions that shape its use are procrustean tools because they convince people that health and happiness will be achieved by cramming ourselves into a pair of jeans that didn’t used to fit rather than by paying attention to our bodies and refusing to resent them.

Some of the ways modern society affects our bodies and makes them sicker are framed in the alarmist rhetoric of the “obesity epidemic”. It is true that aspects of consumer capitalism in rich countries have led to increasingly sedentary people with abundant access to crappy processed calories. Many of us, whether we are fat or not, have at times used increased screen time and so called comfort foods to numb ourselves to the poverty of everyday life. Framing the effect as an epidemic of obesity, however, encourages people to react to fat bodies as if they are diseased rather than emphasizing all the ways in which activity and nutrition are related to mental and physical health. It sends the message that the worst thing about a sedentary life and poor nutrition is that you may get (or stay) fat and shifts focus away from any larger conversation about the health effects of capitalism on our bodies.

A result of all this is that many people confuse ‘being healthier’ with ‘being thinner’ and are backed up by a medical establishment which overvalues the hazards of being fat and undervalues the hazards of feeling shitty about your body. By overestimating the relevance of weight to overall health, doctors and other well meaning medical professionals often fail to correctly diagnose ailments or recommend effective treatment. I have a friend who is fairly healthy and was told by her doctor to consider radical weight loss surgery before even being asked about her diet and lifestyle or having her blood work done. In an age of increasing healthcare costs, telling someone to lose 10 pounds and hoping the situation will resolve once they do is no substitute for actual preventative medicine.

Eating well and being active are definitely important things to do but they do not always make people smaller. Focusing on weight loss as the reason to be mindful about what we eat and how we move can turn eating and moving our bodies — two things that should feel good and be a joy — into shame filled activities; chores that we must attend to for the sake of a thinner future. My own resentment for the way that diet and exercise were pushed on me as a kid meant that it took a long time for me to realize I could think about eating and moving in healthy ways without attendant shame. I am not always the healthiest eater today, but when it comes to avoiding processed foods and eating leafy greens, I do at least as well as most of my thinner friends. I am not always as active as I want to be, but I walk and bike a lot and dance my ass off until two in the morning occasionally if I want to. I do feel better and healthier when I am eating and moving in healthier ways, but those periods do not neatly correspond to a dip in my BMI and generally have an inverse relationship to the times when I am more self conscious about being fat.

There is also a way in which the visibility of fat people means that when we do have health problems, we get judged for them in absurd ways. A fat person can be healthy for years, but if we ever do develop high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, joint pain, or any of the other ten thousand ailments that have been connected to obesity (it seems like most have), it will be said that we could have prevented all of it by controlling our appetites. The effect is that fat sick people are often seen as responsible for their illnesses in ways that thinner people rarely are. This is despite quite a bit of medical evidence suggesting that fat people who lose weight usually gain it back and that repeated cycles of dieting and weight gain are far more detrimental to long term health than maintaining a stable ‘obese’ weight. It has even been shown by some studies that fatter than average people who develop heart disease and some other chronic illnesses later in life actually live longer than thinner counterparts*.
Beauty: Fat is Ugly

Often when people equate being fat with being unhealthy, though, they are not actually talking about health at all, they are talking about beauty or attractiveness.

I was on an internet dating site the other day and I saw a profile that said something to the effect of: “I’m not into meeting overweight people. I have worked too hard to be hot for that.” I don’t begrudge anyone for having romantic preferences, we all have patterns and preferences in the kind of people we gravitate towards or find ourselves attracted to. What bothers me about statements like the one above, besides the rude tone, is the way that they defend individual preferences by asserting that beauty (often encoded as health) is objective and implying that we are all clearly ranked in attractiveness relative to one another. This allows people to feel justified in devaluing bodies they are not attracted to without taking any responsibility for those judgments.

These sentiments are not uncommon; many ideas of beauty rest on a bed of unexamined assumptions about attraction that make expressing repulsion for certain types of bodies, including fat bodies, socially acceptable. This is clearly obnoxious for people who have bodies that are deemed ugly, but it is also disempowering for anyone who is compelled to compare themselves to an ideal they don’t match. It robs the person making the assessment of being able to recognize that they have the power to explore, negotiate, and be surprised by their attractions; that all of us are, in fact, idiosyncratic bundles of desire that have been shaped by a combination of proclivity, circumstance, and choice.

Any hierarchy of beauty that places thin or athletic bodies at the top inherently relegates fat bodies to ugliness. The problem is not who is at the top, but that the hierarchy exists at all. Standards of beauty are not natural; they are constructed and change over time. They are not necessarily linked to what is actually healthy or what individual people may or may not find attractive. For a long time chubby people were considered more attractive because chubbiness was connected to wealth, fertility, and not having to do hard physical labor or worry about going hungry. There have also been more recent periods where ultra thin bodies have been seen as ideally beautiful even though many people would be malnourished if they tried to force their bodies to conform to that standard. It is interesting to think about how these things change and what forces shape them, but it is dangerous to assume that our own bodies should conform to a fetishized style of the moment. Beauty is a useful concept only insofar as it maps onto our actual bodies and allows us to be open about our desires; to recognize that the world is impoverished when people are not able to see themselves as beautiful.
Personality: Fat and Lazy

The perceived relevance of body size in assessing health and beauty is often mirrored in assessments of personality. Fat people as a group are commonly assumed to be less intelligent, less hard working, and less likely to control their impulses than people who are not fat. Media representations of fat people often reinforce these stories; we are all familiar with fat characters that are either stupidly cheerful or slovenly and pathetic.

The story about fat people as lazy likely stems from the reductive idea that body size is directly related to appetites that are supposed to be controlled by force of will. Appetite, then, becomes a metaphor for the way that people deal with their intellectual or emotional lives. Thinness in the context of abundant food is seen as a symbol of self-control while fatness becomes a mark of laziness and a lack of control. Since it is also assumed that no one wants to be fat, becoming fat implies discontent or apathy and a lack of commitment on the part of the fat person to either get, or stay thin.

These default assumptions are not definitive, but they do shape first impressions and can form low-level expectations in the back of people’s minds that are easily confirmed. When people gain weight it is often seen as a sign that their lives are falling apart and when people lose weight, they usually get positive attention and are perceived as having their life in order regardless of their physical health or mental state. Often this means that fat people have to prove that they are in fact intelligent, active, or reliable despite their size. As with physical health, fat people that do feel tired, run down or less energetic on any given day are liable to have those things attributed to their weight.

Thinking about these things can lead one to question the whole concept of laziness as a vice and industriousness as a virtue. It reminds me of the way that the demands of industrial capitalism have shaped our ideas about which personal qualities are valuable and prepare us to be compliant workers. Hard working industriousness and periods of high productivity are seen as hallmarks of personal success worthy of admiration, while slow and deliberate minds that engage in extended periods of idle reflection — unless they exist in very specialized contexts — are seen as lazy and stupid. These are convenient values for power structures that see reflective time as time lost and frenetic time as time well spent. Learning to distrust the values we have been encouraged to embrace doesn’t mean we should simply invert them, but perhaps dismantling our assumptions about the morality of personal qualities can allow us space to be idle and productive without guilt and in ways that are less predictable to the bosses or the ad executives.
Why this matters to everyone

It’s true that fat people have to ignore strong societal messages in order to develop a healthy self image but people who are fat are not the only ones damaged by these stories; the fear of fat affects the way that many of us think about ourselves and others.

All of us have bodies and often our relationships to those bodies are not particularly empowering ones. I still go through periods where I feel less attractive and less connected to my body and I probably always will. Body size is also just one of the many axes along which we are judged and encouraged to judge. Gender, race, ethnicity, wellness, and ability are only some of the more obvious and prominent categories that have similarly rigid standards into which people find their bodies squeezed. But being fat has also made me who I am in ways that I do not regret, and coming to appreciate my body for what it is instead of resenting it for what it isn’t has had a powerful effect on my ability to connect with people and engage more fully with the world.

For all of us, learning how to be confident and comfortable with ourselves means figuring out what we need to be the people we want to be. This can include changing how we act and what we eat, but it also means revamping or abandoning concepts and stories that take power away from us and recognizing that shame, anxiety, and insecurity are not particularly useful tools for self assessment.
*The Fat Acceptance Movement, Health at Every Size (HAES), and Fat!So? by Marilyn Wann are good places to start looking for deeper treatments of this topic.

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.

Introduction to Slingshot issue #113

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

This issue we tried a lot experiments with how we make the paper. We added an extra weekend to the editing process to try to allow more time for article revisions and better communication with authors. This also gave us more time to focus on the detail work of putting together this beast, which we normally cram into a short span of time. This was supposed to make for more of a clear-headed and rested layout. . . although it is after midnight as this is getting typed. Also to try to make the articles easier to read, we discussed changing the type font for all the text, but ended up deciding to print some pages in our regular font, and other pages in a serif font (Garamond). Let us know which one you prefer, or if you have any other suggestions and perhaps by next issue we’ll pick one or the other. Most daring of all we tried to have the articles online and available for proofreading a week before we went to print as opposed to the night before. This good idea took several hours to implement and was summarily ignored — like a lot of “improvements” that radicals put forth.

Real life disrupted all the fancy processes when several people who were halfway done with pages had to leave so they could do jail support for friends who got arrested after an Occupy the Farm encampment was raided at 4 am. This is our favorite problem to have when we make an issue.

While our collective has conflicting opinions about social media, and typically the internet just confuses us, we compromised and one of us registered a tumblr account for the collective. You can see pictures of us making the paper and more at slingshotnews.tumblr.com.

Transition is the only constant. As we stumble forward with the project and our process, a few long-time members of the collective are leaving, just as a new wave of people are joining.

Slingshot lost another alumni in March when Harlan Cross passed away. We originally met Harlan listening to his pirate radio show while we were doing layout. He had contests on his show and offered a free prize to winners, which he would drop off at Long Haul the day after the show — things like a potato or a rock in a paper bag labeled “free prize.” Harlan was wickedly funny and creative, a righteous union organizer, fearless radical, and a loyal friend. He had a brilliant appreciation for the absurd and the counter-culture. Harlan was a punk in the 70s who appreciated a wide range of music throughout his life. Hell — he was also a Deadhead. Like a lot of people on the margins, Harlan spent time in prison on drug charges, was homeless sometimes, and battled substance abuse. We’ll miss him.

While we were making this issue, climate scientists announced that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere had exceeded 400 parts per million for the first time in 2 million years. This was on top of the super strange weather no one can help but notice: late snow storms, early heat waves, no rain when its supposed to rain, or else intense flooding. Such climate chaos is exactly what scientists have been telling us would happen as global warming puts more energy into the climate systems, making them more unstable and energetic. You’d expect we’d be able to list a few climate related protests or actions in our calendar, but we couldn’t find much. As a matter of fact, protests of any kind against anything were hard to find, which is reflected in this issue. There are lots of articles about ideas — less so on putting theory into practice. We sense the system is fragile and vulnerable, but it may not topple on its own without some help from you.

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

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

Thanks to the people who made this: Aaron, Becca, Bill, Cris, Darin, Eggplant, Enola!, Hanora, Hayley, Jesse, Joey, J-tronn, Kermit, Kris, Lew, Moh, Stephski, Tessa, Xander. and all the authors and artists who contributed work.

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting on August 18, 2013 at 4 p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below.)
Article Deadline & Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 114 by September 14, 2013 at 3 p.m.

Volume 1, Number 113, Circulation 20,000
Printed May 16, 2013

Slingshot Newspaper
A publication of Long Haul
Office: 3124 Shattuck Avenue
Mailing: PO Box 3051, Berkeley, CA 94703
Phone (510) 540-0751 • slingshot@tao.ca slingshot.tao.ca • fucking twitter @slingshotnews

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

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

Transblister scream – to cis or not to cis

I am a trans person who is newer to the term cis. I don’t use the term and I don’t really like it, because I find the term confusing (what the hell does it mean? I did study and understand the Latin roots blah blah, which to me only adds to the confusion) and insulting (I know it’s about trans people not feeling othered, but do we have to call our friends who don’t identify as trans “cis” which sounds like they are cysts?) I do want to support my younger radical trans friends in developing new language that takes the burden of otherness off of our shoulders, but then again I feel othered often within activist communities, with their strict language and code rules that are supposed to be challenging mainstream hierarchies but end up creating hierarchies within its PC activist scenes (yes, activism does act and react just like all those “shallow” rocker and hipster scenes, the same popularity contests ensue because I haven’t picked up on the new PC term of the moment.) Personally I find “cis” ageist and classist, if we are gonna keep going down these roads of political critique, ageist because most older trans folks don’t know the term, and classist because the whole analysis and linguistics around it smacks of college privilege.

I actually read Enola D’s apology for Slingshot running Robert Eggplant’s article before I read his critique of the term cis, and I have to say the righteous PC shame feel of that apology made me feel more offended and isolated than his article (although I realize she was venting for many people), which I rushed out to read. I have critiques of Eggplant’s writing too, his defensiveness about being labeled cis and white comes off as silly when one puts into context how trans people and people of color are almost always having to be labeled, while non trans and white people have been considered the norm and thus haven’t had to feel how gross it can be to be labeled as “other”. Labeling has a way of feeling negative, boxed in, even when it is meant to be clinical or empowering. So the shoe is being put on the other foot, but the problem is that we aren’t transcending the bullshit, we are just shoving it around. Ok we all have shit on our shoes, maybe that is a good starting place. I don’t think Eggplant should get to decide what language is acceptable within activist or trans communities, but that he is daring to share his feelings and thoughts should be appreciated even if you disagree. We all need to be talking about this shit.

In the late nineties and early two thousands other trans friends and I used the term Tranny, which is out of favor and considered offensive now in many circles, but to us we were re-defining the term; we were showing our pride and fearlessness to be ourselves, that to be different and unique was a plus. We also used the term “Genny” to describe non trans folks, which was playfully jabbing. Genny meaning both genetic and generic gendered. I don’t use those terms anymore, because like the current terms of trans and cis, the problem of either/or continues. To me one of the most beautiful aspects of the trans experience, for trans and non trans folks alike, is that it shows that life isn’t just either/or. My non trans friends don’t claim to fully understand my experience, but they don’t want to be a cyst, they’d probably be fine with being a sis, but if we are gonna really have to study Latin to understand this debate, then I’d say cis is even worse, because no one is a rock forever embedded on the far or near side of some arbitrary line. In the late nineties there were debates within the trans community between those who identified as transsexual and transgendered. At the time, after a couple years of hormones and electrolyis, and legally changing my gender, I identified as transsexual, and understood my transsexual friends critique of transgender as being too broad, anyone who wore clothes usually assigned the opposite gender suddenly could claim transgendered when us who were changing ourselves completely in a path that is long and painful were suddenly out-dated. But as time went on and I discovered I was a transgendered transsexual, becoming re-empowered with my gender-queer self, I came to feel that this desperation to claim a term, to decide who is trans and who isn’t, is repeating the same either/or bullshit that oppresses so many trans folks of all types. As a trans person coming from punk rock I’ve found it easier than some trans people to live as my own gender version, although that doesn’t slow homophobic or transphobic attacks, or change the fact that I still have to constantly remind people that I prefer the she pronoun, but I had a subculture when many don’t. Really there is no one trans experience, there are unlimited trans experiences: some trans folks are empowered by calling themselves trans, who fall all over and beyond the gender spectrum, while others don’t want that label, who identity as a man or woman and so rightly expect to be respected as such.

This debate reminds me of another debate raging around the use of the word “queer”, and who should or shouldn’t identity as queer, queer as an inclusive or exclusive term. As one who has been massively shaped by queer culture in many forms, yet doesn’t identify with LGBT as an institution, being part of the thrown-on tail end B and T of that lineage, I’m tired of L and G people deciding who should or should not be queer, as if they are the “pure” queers, and us others just don’t count as much. These days trans-ness is a lot more visible, and accepted, than in the nineties when I was coming out, when radical feminism often still thought of transwomen as co-opting women’s bodies, and transmen as traitors to womanhood. We’ve moved beyond that reactionary and simplistic outlook just like we are now more supportive, at least in activist political speak, of people of color and sex workers. Of course, the reality isn’t so clean cut, the same shit goes on and on, and those who are labeled as other, be it trans, of color, queer, or sex worker, still get the brunt. So I can see the reasoning of cis as a term, and white privilege is something all white people should learn to de-construct, but what I’d say is missing from more recent political analysis is class. Of course everyone thinks they’re poor since we’re all from the 99 percent, but class is more than how much money you currently make. Class is culture, and who can argue that the Bay Area has been getting richer and richer, and side effects of this are that the punk scenes and activists scenes also are getting richer, but none of these college kids want to think of themselves that way, so they own poorness as they marginalize poor people all around them. I find Eggplant’s piece, problematic as it comes across as coming from working and poor cultural perspectives, old school saying-it-like-it-is style, and I’d say we need more of that, and less confusing college speak that only those ‘in the know’ understand. This piece is written with love and respect for Slingshot, Enola, Eggplant, Kermit, and all those trying to be trans allies, let’s keep talking!

Join us to create the 2014 Slingshot Organizer

Slingshot collective will make the 2014 organizer this summer. Drop by or contact us to help. We are a tiny collective — even smaller in the summer with members traveling — so we’re relying on the Slingshot miracle to make the organizer. That’s when a variety of folks we’ve never met before show up during the two weekends we make the organizer to sit in our loft making art, listening to music, eating food and making decisions at meetings. Sound like fun? Join us.

In May and June, we’ll edit, correct and improve the list of historical dates. Deadline for finishing: June 22. 
If you want to design a section of the calendar, let us know or send us random art by June 22. Deadline to finish calendar pages or give us suggestions for 2014 is July 27. We need all new radical contact listings and cover art submissions by July 27. 

If you have ideas for the short features we publish in the back, let us know by July 27. We try to print different features every year. 
If you’re in the Bay Area July 27/28 or August 3/4, we’ll put it all together by hand.

Grand Slam – what you need to know about Grand Juries

Though there are a number of wonderful radical essays and pamphlets about the U.S. Grand Jury system floating around online, most of them are (justifiably) lengthy, full of inaccessible legal jargon, or buried in larger guides on fighting state repression. As a result, even as anarchists celebrate the exciting release of the Pacific Northwest Grand Jury Resisters, widespread confusion about what a grand jury actually is persists. What I’m presenting here is intended only as a cursory introduction to Grand Juries for anarchists who, like me, want to spend as little time as possible talking about the legal system.

The Basics:

The kind of jury that most people are familiar with is merely one of many varieties that a prosecutor (a lawyer responsible for presenting a case against people accused of crimes, or ‘defendants’) can choose to assemble, called a ‘petit jury’ or ‘trial jury’ – think To Kill a Mockingbird. The purpose is a familiar one: to decide whether or not someone who has been indicted (formally accused of a crime) is actually guilty, and if so, to determine the punishment. Scenarios in which a trial jury is assembled typically include a defendant who has been charged with a crime, a defense lawyer who represents them, the eponymous jury of twelve or fewer people who lawyers from both legal teams deem representative of the general population (naturally, they rarely represent much more than the lawyers’ worldview), and a judge who presides over the case, supposedly to make it fair to all parties or whatever. A federal grand jury court, however, does not include any of these people: it only includes a prosecutor, their hand-picked assemblage of sixteen to twenty-three jurors, and a few witnesses who have been given a subpoena (an order to appear before the jury).

Since the ‘witnesses’ hauled before a grand jury haven’t been charged with a crime, prosecutors are able to elude the constitutional provisions that apply in criminal court. Whereas the sixth amendment of the constitution gives a defendant in a criminal trial the right to the presence of their lawyer not only during their trial, but also during police interrogation, a Grand Jury victim is prohibited from having a lawyer present during the prosecutor’s interrogation. The 5th Amendment specifically ensures that nobody shall be compelled to be “a witness against himself”… except in front of a grand jury. The ‘exclusionary rule’ in the fourth amendment holds that evidence collected in a manner that violates the constitution – by conducting an illegal search, for example – doesn’t apply to grand juries. While trial jurors are expected to be screened for bias, grand jurors are not. Since grand juries last for eighteen months at a time, and can easily be extended for another six months, assembling one more or less amounts to an extended suspension of constitutional law in a region.

The original intention of this practice, which dates as far back as a 1166 promulgation from King Henry II of England, was allegedly to curb state power: the American Bar Association (an organization that sets academic standards for lawyers) states that it, “act[ed] as a buffer between the king (and his prosecutors) and the citizens,” so a community jury could pre-screen people before a prosecutor charged any of them with a crime and brought them to trial. Even in colonial American courts, citizens could still submit allegations against other people that a grand jury would consider before deciding to prosecute. In practice, this often gave citizens some sway over powerful politicians: in one famous case, a grand jury refused to charge the anti-royalist newspaper publisher John Peter Zenger with a crime three times in a row, rebuffing the Royal Governor of New York’s attempts to try him for libel, which I guess is kind of cool. Nowadays, however, only a prosecutor can bring a case to a grand jury.

The Reality:

Of course, anyone who has been arrested and charged with a crime knows that prosecutors and cops rarely care about jury bias or the constitutional rights that defendants are given (not even in goddamn To Kill A Mockingbird!), and any anarchist who has read the constitution knows that public juries and constitutional rights are a lousy substitute for smashing capitalism anyway. But it’s easy to see how the ease with which grand juries avoid constitutional encumbrances would make them especially attractive tools for federal lawyers intent on making your life miserable.

Recently, federal grand juries have been established in the Pacific Northwest, Minnesota, and Santa Cruz, and given the Department of Justice’s recent obsession with beleaguering anarchists, it’s extremely likely that this legal tactic will continue to spring up in other famously radical regions such as the SF Bay Area or New Orleans. Law enforcement agencies and federal prosecutors use grand juries to intimidate radicals, threatening to force them to testify against their allies and loved ones to destroy bonds of trust and community, especially in urban areas rich with anarchist activity. Well-organized resistances to the tactic have emerged, however, and if efforts are successful the new popularity of using grand juries to harass radicals will wane.

Your Options:

I’m not your lawyer, so none of this should be interpreted as professional legal advice. If a cop, federal agent, or any other kind of jerk approaches you with a subpoena, you may treat them how you would in any other situation: don’t give them any information beyond what is legally required in your state (this usually just means giving your name, but you should check your local laws to be sure). You are not legally required to let them search you or your home, or even to open the door for them (if they have a warrant, the situation may be a little more complicated). You are required to accept their paperwork and nothing else. If you don’t want to open the door for them, they are allowed to leave it near you (e.g. on your doorstep or next to you) to pick up later.

Afterward, you should contact a lawyer immediately, and assume that everything the cops tell you about grand juries is a lie until you confirm it with your new legal buddy. Warn your friends and family that a grand jury is in town: it is very possible that they will receive similar harassment soon. If you simply don’t show up in court, you will likely be charged with contempt of court (disobeying court orders), appear before a trial jury, and possibly even serve some jail time, though it’s possible that your court date will be postponed indefinitely. Either way, make sure to ask your lawyer about the possibility of requesting your judge to quash (nullify) your subpoena,.

If you do show up for your court date, you still have an important decision to make: will you cooperate with the prosecutor? You’ll be hard pressed to find many American anarchists who think it’s a good idea to do so under any circumstances and it’s not hard to understand why: it puts everyone you know (and many people who you don’t) at risk. You should expect that any answers that you give to a prosecutor’s questions, even the seemingly benign or trivial ones (“Do you know Jackie? Do you live alone? Have you ever gone downtown before?”), will be twisted beyond anything you could have foreseen, instantly turning you into an unwitting snitch, even if you didn’t intend to screw anyone over. You will have no idea what questions they will be asking you ahead of time, but many of the questions may be traps set up to catch you in the act of perjury (lying as a witness), so even seemingly innocuous answers like “I don’t know” can get you thrown in prison down the line. The prosecutor will try and convince you that grand jury cooperation is your get-out-of-trouble-free card, but you have absolutely no reason to believe anything they say; you may still be charged with a felony when a new lawyer takes over their job, or you may be summoned for additional interrogation in the future because prosecutors have you pegged as a talker. Ultimately, it’s entirely possible for a prosecutor to simply lie, locking up cooperators despite any prior promises.
Not everyone cooperates. Last November, one grand jury witness dealt with their summons by only giving the prosecutor their name and birth date. When given any other question, they simply responded with “I am exercising my state and federal constitutional rights including the 1st, 4th and 5th amendments,” until the exasperated prosecutor gave up. They were held in solitary confinement in federal prison for several months before their release, but it’s difficult to tell how many people (including themselves) they saved from long prison sentences.

Resisters may also be considering the irreparable social alienation their testimony would cause. It can’t be emphasized enough: cooperating with the prosecution team puts their friends, their neighbors, their family, and even complete strangers at risk of being thrown in jail, whether or not they have done anything illegal. So even if you think a grand jury resister believes that they’ve somehow cooked up a foolproof plan to spill the beans and get out of trouble, they can’t necessarily expect the people they love to be waiting for them when they get home, because whether or not they’ve “done the right thing” or behaved like “a good anarchist,” they are likely to be considered untrustworthy and dangerous for the rest of their lives. Some cooperators have left town altogether because they no longer felt welcome there. This pattern of social ostracization of cooperators doesn’t always end in tragedy, however: a judge recently released two Pacific Northwest grand jury resisters in part because he considered it unreasonable to imprison non-cooperators indefinitely when they would face serious social consequences for testifying.

It’s clear, then, that there are major downsides to snitching beyond the obvious moral or political issues that are more commonly raised. But people considering noncooperation with Grand Juries shouldn’t need to rely on super secret-agent anti-snitching stamina to be a member in a radical network: there are countless radical allies (and even a few liberal ones), including dedicated friends and strangers (and lawyers!) who will guide and support you through grand jury resistance if you choose to challenge the legitimacy of the twisted grand jury system. These are the people who deserve your trust, not the federal lawyers hunting for an easy snitch.

In the meantime, take the advice of some folks from the Oakland Commune in the article “Stay Calm: Tips to Keeping Safe in Times of State Repression”: nurture healthy relationships in your personal community and deescalate whatever personal conflicts you have, as people are more likely to break down and snitch if they feel isolated, afraid, or contemptuous of their comrades. It will be easier to keep your wits about you in a time of crisis if you think of this an opportunity to build solidarity and strong social bonds in radical scenes often famous for fractious interpersonal drama and political infighting. You can start by reading some of the resources listed below and asking your friends / housemates / family / neighbors / coworkers / partners / etc how they feel about them. If we manage to get everyone on the same page, then when the Grand Slam comes, we’ll be ready.

Resources and Further Reading
“If An Agent Knocks…” is a classic and accessible guide to dealing with grand juries and assholes from the FBI. ccrjustice.org/ifanagentknocks

For true legal wonks, Susan Brenner and Lori Shaw of the University of Dayton created a bulky website dedicated to grand jury info. campus.udayton.edu/~grandjur/

The absolutely wonderful Bay of Rage article mentioned above is available at bayofrage.com/featured-articles/stay-calm-some-tips-for-keeping-safe-in-times-of-state-repression/

Squat life – some words and picutres from fava bean haus

When I first moved to Oakland a few years back, I picked up a Slingshot and read an article about the (now evicted) Hellarity House that piqued my interest in squatting, and started me down the road to becoming a squatter myself. So when I ran into a Slingshot photographer snapping squat pictures in West Oakland last month, I invited her and fellow photographer Brooke to The Fava Bean House. Part of me wanted wanted to show off the chaotic, living canvas that the walls of our house have become. But I’m also motivated by defiance: the suits and ties want to kick us onto the curb, board up our windows, and paint over our walls. After years of harassment, they’re still trying. These photos, then, are a testament to our refusal: we’re still here, the walls are still our canvas, and the garden is still hooking us up with fresh greens.

Like most squats, there’s been a lot of turnover here. The Cops and The Suits turn the pressure up, and a lot of people make the choice to leave. Some days I reach a point of exhaustion, feeling unsupported. The bucket overflows on the kitchen floor, and I think, “Well, should I even clean it up if we’re getting evicted tomorrow?” But when new people come, they bring fresh energy with them. I show people around for the first time and they’re excited when they see the garden and the art, and take an interest in the history of the space. People start taking initiative, fixing things up, improving our infrastructure and those are the days that make all the uncertainty worth it.

Solidarity and complicity with all of the squats around the world facing repression right now. Lets keep it creative and uncontrollable.

The capitalists leave space empty and call it an asset… We’ll call it an opportunity!