Heal from the roots – restorative justice for Sasha and Richard

In early November, an act of transphobic violence in Oakland set off a chain of public outcry, solidarity, and criminal prosecution. The victim, an 18-year-old high school student, was discharged from the hospital at the end of November, while their attacker has been charged with multiple felony counts and faces a long prison term if convicted. Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to think about the role not just of gender, but of race and the prison-industrial complex, as well as alternative responses to community violence.

On November 4th, Sasha Fleischman was sleeping on the AC Transit bus when Richard Thomas, a 16-year-old Oakland High School student, allegedly set their skirt on fire. Sasha, who identifies outside the gender binary and uses plural pronouns (they, them, their), spent most of November in the hospital, undergoing extensive skin grafts, and has a long recovery period ahead; an online fundraising page has already raised over $31,000 to help cover the costs.

For better and for worse, Sasha’s story has attracted some attention outside the Bay Area–even internationally. For better, because it’s important that people realize shit like this happens even in “progressive” enclaves like Oakland, and because people across the world (more than 700 of them so far) have shown support for Sasha on their fundraising page in the form of donations and kind comments. Sasha’s story has brought attention–some of it positive–to the experiences and struggles of folks who live outside the gender binary.

For worse, media coverage has been predictably abysmal. Most outlets have used the wrong pronouns for Sasha, repeated their legal name while casting their chosen name or pronoun in quotation marks, or referred to them as a “skirt-wearing teen,” as if their attire were the problem. Some reporters have just been lazy and obstinate, identifying Sasha as a gender, quoting their friends as saying Sasha uses plural pronouns–and then continuing to use male pronouns in the very next sentence. NBC Bay Area even went as far as to describe the pronoun they as “a purposely confusing word to show others what it feels like to be confused by gender,” casting all folks who use plural pronouns as conspiring to confound the cisgender public.

Even more frustratingly, the coverage doesn’t seem to be reaching those who need to know most: other high school students. I work as a sexual health counselor at a school not far from Sasha’s. I’m queer and out at work, and I often get to talk with queer, trans, and gender-variant students about their experiences, their challenges, and their relationships in this heteronormative, gender-enforcing world. Some students at the school know Sasha, or know Sasha’s friends, and I worry about how stories like Sasha’s affect their sense of safety in the community, on campus, and even at home.

But most students seem not to have heard about Sasha. When some of my queer coworkers and I teamed up with the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) last week to commemorate the national Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), an annual memorial for trans and gender-variant folks who have been lost over the past year (many of them murdered), few students stopped at our table, where Sasha’s picture was displayed prominently along with the names and photos of others who have been attacked or killed. Most staff and faculty passed by in silence, too.

Fortunately, those who did stop by long enough to see Sasha’s portrait and hear their story expressed sorrow and regret at what happened to Sasha. Some of them even signed the GSA’s trans ally pledge or wrote Sasha a “Get Well” card. For this lunch period at least, the mood was one of support, solidarity, and healing for Sasha. Joining them in solidarity were Sasha’s classmates, teachers, parents, and friends, who had worn skirts to school and marched through East Oakland a week previously.

Outside the schools, however, the response has been different: an all-too-familiar combination of vilifcation and state power. The suspect, who is black, has been charged with two felonies, aggravated mayhem and assault, each with multiple hate crime enhancements, because Richard allegedly admitted he is “homophobic.” The District Attorney, Nancy O’Malley, has decided to charge him as an adult, despite a public plea from Sasha and their family to try Richard as a juvenile in family court. If convicted of both, he could face 25 years to life in prison. This is the dark elephant in the room of Sasha’s story: a “progressive” community’s willingness to throw away another black sixteen year old’s life.

The media coverage on the Left has been complicit in this project, despite its good intentions. Documentarian Jason Cohen, for example, writing for the Huffington Post’s Gay Voices column, compares the attack on Sasha to that of a gay teenager, Matthew Boger, who was beaten by neo-Nazis in Hollywood in 1980 (How Hate Happens). Cohen tells us how one of Boger’s attackers, Tim Zaal, who was 17 at the time, later realized the harm he’d caused and went on to join Boger in giving presentations on tolerance, “embark[ing] on a difficult journey of reconciliation and forgiveness.” For Cohen, Zaal’s story shows how hate is learned, and can be unlearned, and encourages us to think about the “deep-rooted factors” that could have led Richard to set Sasha on fire, such as, Cohen speculates, the lack of LGBT adults in Richard’s life. And yet Cohen mentions the numerous charges against Richard without for even a moment questioning his presumably lengthy incarceration.

The coverage on the Left, then, seems to recite the DA’s proclamations about the horrific nature of the crime–and it was horrific indeed–but predictably fails to question the prison-industrial complex’s (PIC) role as protector and its monopoly on the allocation of “justice.” It fails to critique, in other words, how the effort to drum up public awareness and outrage about the attack coincides with the state violence of locking up another black teenager, at a time, according to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, when black youth are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white youth charged with the same crimes (And Justice for Some). At a time when, as litigator Michelle Alexander writes, more African-Americans are incarcerated than were enslaved before the Civil War (The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness). Yes, queer, trans, and gender-variant folks ought to be cautiously optimistic that the police and the community are taking gender-based violence seriously, rather than ignoring it, trivializing it, or blaming the victim. But this shouldn’t make us think that the cops are on our side (or that if they were, our work would be done) or prevent us from thinking critically about systemic racism. Such a complacent narrative will never explain, much less hold anyone accountable for, the death of Kayla Moore, a black transwoman who died while in Berkeley Police custody last February.

This narrative also shouldn’t prevent us from proposing radical alternatives to hate crimes laws and mass incarceration. Faced with this terrible act of violence, we ought to think restoratively. This means that we question the standard American criminal justice process, which Oakland-based restorative justice activist Fania Davis describes in Tikkun magazine as “retributive”:

“The only way to pay back the debt and re-balance the scales is to be given your just deserts…Pain, suffering, isolation, deprivation, even death are often viewed as the only way to make right the wrong, the only way to pay back the debt and the only way to re-balance the scales…Instead of the person harmed who retaliates, it is our justice system that strikes back on the victim’s behalf (What’s Love Got to Do with It?).

The retributive way of administering “justice” is so deeply engrained in American culture that even those like Jason Cohen, who want “reconciliation and forgiveness” for Richard and Sasha, cannot question it. Falling into the same trap, the editorial board of the SF Examiner declares that “we all need to focus on healing and learning,” while maintaining that “there is no doubt that there needs to be punishment for the sixteen year-old [Richard]” (Sasha Fleicshman Sets Example). Like Cohen, another way does not occur to them. But another way is possible: restorative justice holds that locking people in cages only increases the original wrong. Rather than focus on allocating individual blame and punishment, restorative justice seeks to repair harms for the victim, offender, and community alike, reconciling conflict instead of deepening it. It allows us to see how transphobic violence in the community and state violence behind bars share a common nexus. Restorative justice asks:

1) Who was harmed?
3) What are the needs and responsibilities of all affected?
5) How do all affected parties together address needs and repair harms?
With these guiding questions, restorative justice programs attempt to bring together victims, offenders, and volunteers from the affected community to find fair, non-Statist, mutually acceptable ways of repairing the harm. This can take many forms: victim-offender mediation, family group conferences, or peacemaking circles (What’s Love Got to Do with It?). In West Oakland middle schools, restorative justice programs have been hugely successful: in 2007, an initiative started by Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth eliminated expulsions and fights, and reduced suspension rates by 75%, enormous achievements that retributive justice could never have reached. The model has proven effective outside the schools as well, from juvenile sexual assault cases to robberies.

The tragic irony here is that the same queer/trans folks who are tacitly, if not enthusiastically, supporting the use of hate crimes laws in the name of justice for Sasha, have they themselves so often been the target of this same legislation, often for just trying to defend against repression. The fact that hate crimes laws disproptionately affect queers, trans/gender-variant folks, low-income folks, people of color, and especially those who inhabit many of these identities, has been so well documented that even liberal left groups like the ACLU now oppose hate crime sentencing enhancements.* And yet, instead of seeing common cause with Richard, those who reflexively seek retributive justice for Richard threaten to pit queers against people of color, letting the state play the role of mediator. Fortunately, the community has resisted this cynical move, and students of color at Richard’s school and beyond have written letters of condolence and support to Sasha.

By all means, yes, let’s call Sasha’s attack the tragic act of violence that it was, and hold Richard accountable. We can be angry and scared and sad about what happened–these are all valid feelings, and I’ve been feeling them, too. But let’s hold ourselves accountable as well, and in doing so, attempt to hold the state accountable too. Let’s not confront one axis of oppression only to join with the state in reinforcing another one. Transphobic violence and ubiquitous, racist incarceration are both problems, and a 25-year sentence for Richard does nothing to solve the former while exacerbating the latter. A restorative approach challenges the state’s monopoly on “justice,” while offering an opportunity for mutual understanding and healing for Sasha and Richard.

* Abolitionist group Black and Pink has compiled radical queer critiques of hate crimes laws into a succinct document that you can view on their website: blackandpink.org

Plaything of the Rich – a History of US Health Insurance

I am half–Canadian and half–American. I grew up mostly in Canada and thus have always had public–run health care in my life. I knew nothing about health insurance companies and all of their fine–print and evil until recently. Since coming to the US, I have not yet come into close contact with the American system since I have been mostly healthy aside from a baseball–related injury here and there.

However, my mother, who is my Canadian half, has had much more difficulty in recent years. This August she found out she has breast cancer for the third time and will be required to go through chemotherapy (something she is enduring right now with amazing resiliency), a double–mastectomy, and then radiation. As this process has advanced, she has found a few deficiencies of the Canadian system: certain medications are not 100% covered in Canada (although alternatives are), and she has been frustrated on occasion with some of the specialists who got caught up in surgery and could not attend to her right away. However, the bottom line is this: with all the other shit she has to deal with surrounding hospitals, and doctors and treatment and feeling good about herself, she has never once had to worry if she would be covered or if she would get a big bill at the end of it. In early 2014, when she is done with all of this, the total direct cost for having withstood all of this will be $0.

That is an amazing thing. Myself, on the other hand, living in the States now and not having a “real” job with a good income nor an employer than can supply me with health care, well . . . my plan is simply not to get sick. Even with the much–discussed Obamacare plan, I personally still have no other option.

Since January 1st, 2014, millions of people in the United States have had access to health care that they previously thought impossible. Nearly forty million people who previously did not have care, can get it. Many on the Right believe that this new health–care plan, colloquially known as Obamacare, is the death knell of private enterprise as it pertains to health. On the Left, the reaction has ranged from praise for the Democrats for getting something done, to outrage that the new plan has no publicly funded option and is still dominated by the insurance industry. This partisanship over an issue as seemingly basic as health is perhaps more striking than discussing the details of the plan itself. I thought the best way to tackle the issue would be to go back to the history of the US health–care system and then to briefly compare it to the system of our neighbors to the north in Canada.

What became alarmingly clear when reading into the past was that the health of the American people has always been the plaything of the rich and powerful. No matter the era, health care policy has always been more about garnering votes and placating the masses than it has been about a genuine concern for having a healthy population in the US.

the early days (pre–1920)

It would be safe to say that in the early part of the twentieth century the United States was already lagging well behind its European counterparts in healthcare accessibility. Until the 1920s there was no organized coverage afforded to American citizens. Unsurprisingly, the first calls for coverage came not from governmental circles, but rather from the labor movement, which was gaining great strength in this period.

By contrast, male German workers were partially covered in 1883; Swedish workers in 1891; Danish in 1892; and the Austro–Hungarian Empire, Norway, Switzerland, Britain, Russia and the Netherlands followed suit in 1912. Ironically, almost all of these initiatives were enacted not from leftist governments, but rather by conservative administrations fearing the rise of the working person and potential revolution. This pattern was followed in the US, albeit at a much slower pace.

In 1906, the American Association of Labor Legislation (AALL) proposed a solution which would cover local workers in much the same way that plans had elsewhere (any male making under $1200 per year would be eligible). It took nine years, but in 1915 the bill was finally introduced into congress. It was crushed, and was never really seriously considered as an option by any of the major parties who retained seats. The core reason for the bill’s defeat is one that is still well–understood today: red–baiting. Much of the debate in the house during that year centered not on health but rather on “Bolshevism” and the concern that giving people publicly funded health care would inevitably lead to a communist takeover. In addition, the bill–writers made a grave error by including the concept of death insurance in the act, thus taking on not only apathetic politicians, but also the already–massive and powerful insurance industry. Health insurance did not exist at that time per se, but life insurance certainly did, and those corporations were not ready to give up their stranglehold on the industry.

One interesting note during this period is that this would be the first (and last) era where the American Medical Association (AMA) actually supported health care reform; from this moment forward doctors would be at the forefront of the anti–public health care crusade, concerning themselves more with their wallets than anything else.

the labor rights era (1920–40)

Health care coverage began in the 1920s in perhaps the last place you would expect it today: Dallas, Texas. It was there that Baylor University Hospital (later taking on the more famous moniker of Blue Cross) first conceived the idea of providing health coverage. However, the insurance was not initially intended to benefit the poor nor the sick, but rather was devised as a way for doctors to have limited liability should anything go wrong. Local teachers were given coverage for the low monthly fee of 50 cents per month, but it covered so little that there was little risk for the hospital. Doctors were then able to use the extra money as a pool against any future “mistakes.”

Nonetheless, people liked the idea of feeling protected even if the plans were full of holes (for instance, baby care was covered but not coverage for pregnant women), so by 1938 about 3 million people were insured by Blue Cross. It should be made clear that the coverage was not available to the general population, but was rather offered piecemeal to certain organizations (professional groups, clubs etc.) who were deemed “respectable” enough to be offered the plan. Doctors were now firmly entrenched in their position, having basically created a system designed to further enrich them at the expense of their clients.

the civil rights movement (1940–1970)

The first major shift in health policy occurred during World War II, as a labor shortage forced US companies to re–analyze their relationship with employees. Just as the women’s rights movement grew from labor shortages caused by massive amounts of men being shipped off to fight a foreign war, changing American demographics affected corporation–employee relationships. Many companies, hoping to lure potential employees away from competitors, offered corporation–paid health care for the first time from 1941–5. However, further paralleling women’s labor participation during these years, plans were eliminated at the end of the war just as women were fired en masse in 1945.

Initially these plans actually benefitted the workers a great deal as access was equal (despite still being run by profit–driven private businesses). However, many loopholes were quickly closed with the introduction of the premium system, which allowed the insurers to charge more or less based on age, gender, and previously existing health problems. Soon, it was only cheap for young, healthy, white men to get coverage. Everyone else was left with escalating premiums.

In the midst of all this, in 1943, a bill for true public health care was introduced for the first time. Known as the Wagner–Murray–Dingell Bill, it was debated for a short time and soundly defeated as the AALL Bill had been before it. This time, lack of funds was cited as the main reason for its downfall.

In the 60s and 70s, as poor and minority communities were increasingly seen as a source of votes, both parties shifted towards offering limited health care plans. This resulted in a system that offered government credits to companies that provided health care. However, the health insurance racket was simply too big at this point for any mainstream elected official to oppose it without risking their political future. As usual, the Congressional wranglings of the day did not represent popular sentiment: a poll in 1964 showed that 60% of Americans favored a full public system . . . a number that has held steady or increased over the past fifty years. Of course, none of this mattered. After all, when was the last time there was a referendum in the United States?

In 1965, the modern (this term should be used very loosely) US health care system was founded with the formation of both Medicare and Medicaid. The former was designed to provide coverage for US citizens over the age of 65, while the latter was created to help subsidize coverage for those with low income and resources. This was done with a mostly–privately controlled system in mind — not coincidentally because the insurance companies themselves were often writing the revisions.

the modern era (1970–present)

The major shift in health care over the last forty years or so has nothing to do with the coverage itself, but rather with the expansion of the corporate–health alliance into new areas. Today, not only are doctors’ associations and insurance companies spending millions to oppose real public coverage, but technological and pharmaceutical companies have been added to the mix. These various lobby groups literally derive ALL of their income from people’s ill–health. Any health system run by people who want people to be sick, hmm . . . that’s like running a prison system that wants lots of criminals.

Any small gains made during the 60s were virtually eliminated by the Nixon–Reagan–Bush–Clinton–Bush administrations of the coming years as, once again, federally funded health care was aligned with such shiver–inducing words as “Communism,” “Socialism,” and “anti–Americanism.” People who could not afford coverage were simply left by the wayside. (In 2013, that amounted to 46,000,000+ people or about 16% of the entire “legal” population.) The end–result is that the US now leads the so–called developed world in preventable deaths. What people may not realize is that this system is also ridiculously expensive for taxpayers even as it gives most of that federal money to corporations rather than actual human beings.

is obamacare different?

In a word, no (with some caveats). Essentially, the new system is an extension of all the schemes that came before it: it is based in classism, wholly supports the insurance industry, sees doctors as entrepreneurs rather than as public servants, and will not dramatically change things going forward. It is indeed a major accomplishment that millions of people now have access to health care and that people with pre–existing conditions can no longer be denied care. However, Medicare is still not a true public option, as it is still firmly entrenched in the private system. The other major alteration is the creation of the exchange system. This will allow all Americans to go to government–run exchanges where they can get an even–handed picture of which private company will provide the best services for their needs. So far, this system has shown to be woefully inadequate and too complicated for most people. Obamacare’s other glaring flaw, a uniquely American problem, is that states can choose to opt–out of the plan. Fortunately, a federal exchange system can replace the state–run facilities in this case much to the dismay of States’ rights advocates across the country. This has meant that many aspects of the plan have only been approved in Democrat–run states, while the Republican–run states have attempted to opt out. Whether or not this has affected coverage opportunities, it has had the sad result of making health, once again, a partisan issue. Now, as always, party politics and the wealthy decide health–care policy, and the people are left out in the cold.


1. Bauman, Harold, “Verging on National Health Insurance since 1910” in Changing to National Health Care: Ethical and Policy Issues (Vol. 4, Ethics in a Changing World) edited by Heufner, Robert P. and Margaret # P. Battin, University of Utah Press, 1992.

2. Navarro, Vicente. “Why Some Countries Have National Health Insurance, Others Have National Health Service, and the United States has Neither”, International Journal of Health Services, Vol. 19, No. 3, pp. 383–404, 1989.

3. Reid, T.R. The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care.

4. Starr, Paul. The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The rise of a sovereign profession and the making of a vast industry. Basic Books, 1982.

5. Staysmartstayhealthy.com’s Health Care History in the US.

6. Wikipedia’s “Provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

7. Kboo.fm’s “Obamacare from ar adical universal healthcare perspective.”

8. Dailykos.com’s “Equip yourself to deflect Obamacare attacks,” August 29th, 2013.

9. Billmoyers.com’s “The rights Obamacare rhetoric is completely unhinged from reality,” October 13th, 2013.

10. Wikipedia’s “Comparison of the health care systems in Canada and the United States.”

11. http://hnn.us/article/146911

12. i2.cdn.turner.com’s May 28th, 2013 Health Care Poll.

13. Economix.blogs.nytimes.com’s “How much do doctors in other countries make.”

canada and the us (all stats 2010–13)

the US Canada

money spent per person on health $6714 $3678

% of health care that is run by the gov’t 46% 71%

% of seniors’ health care run by gov’t 53% 97%

number of uninsured citizens as a percentage 16.4% 0%

average doctor salary, in ‘purchasing power parities’ $230,000 $161,000

% of citizens with access to health care at work 59.1% N/A

% of personal bankruptcies relating to health care 49% 0%

money spent on drugs per capita per year 728 $509

World Health Organization Ranking (191 countries) 72nd 35th

Beyond Fatalism – Reframing Climate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction to Issue #115

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

People often claim that the Bay Area exists in a bubble. This is a little unfair when considering the United States behaves as if the rest of the world doesn’t exist. Many maps even erroneously depict the land as an island. Many aspects of the Bay actually take into account dynamic world issues and how to make impactful changes locally. A gradual change has been making a peaceful transition of the Bay intolerable. The war being waged on poor people is most noticeably in San Francisco — but spreading into Oakland and Berkeley as well. A population preoccupied with material wealth is unlikely to get involved in grassroots social justice organizing.

Our offices here in Berkeley recently received complaints from neighbors of noise performance artists. This compelled the city to require us to get a business license after operating the Info Shop for 25 years, and another 15 as the Long Haul before that. Prior to 2014, we were zoned as a massage parlor.

It is in spaces operating off of main street outside of permits that our organization flourished in as well as countless other spaces nationally and internationally. Info shops, squats, street parties have broken free from the demands of money and government to provide direct experience and action.

When compared with the affluence and pressures of the business world it appears as “A town of fucking fantasy”. The idea with this style of rabid and organic journalism is to make being conscientious rewarding.

Every issue the painful topics of the world gets ingested by collective members. Sometimes trying to solve them or other issues of working on a paper the pain gets directed inward. Internal strife plagues every project and often seems an antidote to reaching a goal. A cool quote surfaced around while the fray of hurt feelings and bitterness of this issue was being practiced, “Tyrants don’t mind if you hate them– Just as long as you don’t love each other.” It is one thing to forget to go after the people and organizations actively killing people and nature by giving energy to so much drama. But to forget to marvel and appreciate the people in our lives is a failed opportunity. Have patience with your allies..

The mistakes people make are often the strongest teachers they have in making a new world.

This time of year we have quite a few organizers lying around that we could use help in finding people who want them. If there is events you want to table for, a cool bookstore that doesn’t have it or even if you know a homeless youth organization that we should donate copies to let us know.

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, Eggplant, Emily, Enola, Finn, Glenn, Jesse, Joey, J–tron, Judy, Soren, Stephski, Terri, Vanessa, Zander and all the authors and artists.

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved with Slingshot can come to the new volunteer meeting on February 23 at 4 pm at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below.)

Article Deadline & Next Issue Date

Submit your articles for issue 116 on March 29 2014 at 3 p.m.

Volume 1, Number 115, Circulation 20,000

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. (8 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.

Other 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. We also have surplus copies of the 2012 Organizer available free to a good home. Email or call us: slingshot@tao.ca / Box 3051 Berkeley, 94703.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dick Week Controversy

If you look at September 8 – 14 in the pocket Slingshot Organizer this year, you’ll see little drawings of penises shooting cum, bubbles, lightning bolts and what looks like cursive (but we’re not sure). When the collective saw these drawings while we were making the organizer this summer, some members of the collective questioned whether we should publish them because the drawings could be triggering for people who have been hurt by people with penises. Other collective members defended publishing the drawings on various grounds: one member suggested that they could help folks who had suffered from heterosexism, by “challeng[ing] people’s attitudes toward sexuality and nudity.” Another collective member voiced that it’s important to show penises in a non–normative way, while in a similar vein the artist argued that “insofar as we project onto them violence because of our experiences with heteropatriarchy and gender–based oppression and violence, dicks can also be queer and radical.” After a week of discussion, it seemed like most of the collective was for publishing the drawings, so they went in the organizer. Some folks had suggested running a trigger warning, but that idea ultimately died before it went to press.

Soon after we began mailing out organizers, we got a few emails questioning inclusion of the drawings, including an angry email from Grenoble, France: “Are you fucking morons? Don’t you know that dicks are drawn everywhere already as a . . . symbol in the patriarchal society? . . . I can’t believe nobody pointed out to you that there is no week decorated with pussy drawings. You reinforce patriarchy by making dicks funny, visible, legitimate and pussies mysterious and plain invisible . . I accept dicks in my calendar only surrounded by pairs of scissors, with a big SCUM above.”

These emails sparked more discussion on our internal email list. Each individual is going to understand the penis drawings differently and there is no doubt that the social meaning of penis drawings — as well as sexual repression and patriarchy — are complex and warrant a lot more discussion. We invite you to write in with your ideas.

When we decided to publish the images, a number of people believed that it was okay to be controversial and that having an organizer that pushes buttons and makes people argue would be good, even though we knew that some people might be mad at us and refuse to buy the organizer because of the drawings. Many people liked the idea of honoring the artist’s contribution. Others liked the art itself.

The Dick Week artist is a queer cis man who works as a sex educator and counselor. He wrote a long response to the emails in which he stated that he was not trying to reinforce patriarchy with his drawings. He wrote: “Dicks can be oppressive. They can also be fun, silly and even libratory. At a certain level, they’re just awkward lumps of flesh.” Some people in the collective proposed creating alternative art for September 8–14 for folks who didn’t want to see penis art. Some felt that it was important to defend the penis art as penis–demystifying and sex–positive expression, while one member argued that the specific act (ejaculation, whether of lightning bolts or cum) is hard to depict without evoking the misogynistic trope of the cum–shot in mainstream porn. Others voiced that when a marginalized group of people has something to say about their marginal status, the collective should fucking listen.

Slingshot collective tries to involve as many different artists, authors and editors as possible in the process that creates the annual Slingshot organizer. We give 26 four–week sections to 26 different artists for the pocket and spiral organizers. Doing so gives the organizer the chaotic Slingshot look and seeks to include lots of different perspectives, politics, and styles. So one four–week period might be full of pot leaves and butterflies, and the next might be vegan straight edge with skulls and barbed wire. This reflects the diverse reality of the counter–culture.

When we give an artist a section of the organizer, we don’t tell them what to draw. We give them a list of 10–20 historical dates for each day, and ask them to pick 1–4 to include on each day of the organizer. At the end of the messy process, we spread all the pages out on big tables and a group of whoever happens to be around looks at all the pages to make sure they look okay. Sometimes we decide to fix a few things and other times we have long philosophical/political debates about the pages, such as we did about Dick Week.

The fracas over Dick Week has led to some positive discussions within the collective. The current political context makes clear how the sexual repression that goes hand–in–hand with patriarchy seeks to restrict and control images of genitalia and sex. San Francisco just passed a law cracking down on nudity in public, and you tend not to see images of penises or vaginas in media other than porn, where they’re usually objectified. We think normalizing our body parts and sex acts can attack sexual repression and patriarchy.

And yet, we recognize that publishing drawings of penises or any other genitalia is still controversial and, like all cultural production, is subject to interpretation and may not be viewed as the artist intends. If you feel strongly about Dick Week, we’d love to hear from you. And if you have a knack for drawing any kind of genitals, come lend a hand at an organizer meeting.

I'm not bored with the NSA

“Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA’s hands.” — Edward Snowden

“One does not have to be a seer to know that there is no position so good that it cannot be outflanked by much superior forces… But in certain cases it is good to be indifferent to this sort of knowledge.” –Guy Debord

Recent developments in technology have changed the way we organize political movements and that has had far–reaching effects. The new technologies have seemingly enabled a wider audience for trending movements. In the US, Occupy was one of those materializations. As much as it was a time of communion, Occupy was also a moment for recognizing the forces that dominate our lives. If it was previously unclear, there is no question now that the methods of surveillance are becoming as complex, if not more so , than the methods for transmitting information – for networking, passing fliers, organizing neighborhoods, etc. In fact, they are functionally the same. . Movements that find some form online should be seen as experiments in the strengthening of Empire, . We should question the role such movements play in a larger time–line and how those will be viewed and subsequently be absorbed by networks of power.

Edward Snowden’s leaks affirmed what many were already suspicious of: The National Security Agency is involved in extensive data collection on Americans, while it purports to operate solely under the guise of foreign intelligence objectives. The way that this organization inserts itself into disparate networks is through the collection of communications, from cell phones, email social media, etc. Mainstream media portrayals often try to ameliorate worries by repeating that what the NSA is concerned with is “metadata.” . It can include names, phone numbers, times of calls, email subjects, IP addresses, online searches, and more. Often this sort of data is embedded in the communication processes that we are engaged in every day. Put simply, metadata is data about data In metadata, our complex social networks are put in an understandable form. That the government attempts to write off NSA collection of metadata as somehow not an intrusion into American privacy is laughable. The data collected by the NSA is stored long term. allowing the agency to construct intimate portraits of everyone engaging in the targeted technologies. One of the larger projects undertaken by the agency is a mapping of “social networks” of Americans – this is how the data collected and saved is being utilized.

The NSA is engaged in a war on the American people. The NSA operates under the Department of Defense with the goal of the perpetuation of neoliberal capitalist democracy. The US Military has already said that it “[intends] to treat cyberspace as a military battleground” (New York Times). The free flow of information that was fostered in with the digital age is seen as a threat – both to commerce and accompanying US interests, foreign and domestic. The paradox of the Internet is that the prospects of total control are even greater as the American public grows more dependent on the Internet (due to the relatively free communication it makes available and also due to the necessity for most to use such technology in their work lives, at least.)The US is strengthening its ability to exploit this dependency, making subjects engaged in this seemingly free flow decidedly less free.

Our postmodern lives are full of contradictory urges, which ensnare us as they open up new realms of possibility. In some ways, this is an all–too–familiar set–up. Radical struggles must remain conscious of this asymmetrical positioning that appears to dominate our lives. Openings in power are not always apparent. There is the pull between needing to communicate through accessible means and knowing that such communications are not secure. We desire privacy and autonomy, while our private lives are being saved in massive databases. Sometimes, you have to send an email, make a phone call, find a friend. It is unclear whether we are standing on quicksand or cement. We may still have to find a nearby branch to pull ourselves out.

US government builds its case through lies, adding to the uncertainty of our position. Despite all of the leaks that prove otherwise, the agency insists that “All of the NSA’s work has a foreign intelligence purpose… Our activities are centered on counterterrorism, counterproliferation and cybersecurity” (New York Times via Gawker). The spectacle is reinforced in the media portrayals of, or lack of portrayals of, such violations of privacy. Liberal apologists point to values of transparency, while the more bumbling conservative elements bring up the old “if you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide.” But the fact is that the subtleties of our lives are being opened to deeper exploitation than we may know. The watchers are concerned with patterns and these patterns open themselves up to new conclusions about governing the populace.

History has shown that private companies play a large role in enabling the surveillance of US citizens. The NSA would find it harder to do its work if there were not obliging communications companies like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, etc. to provide backdoors into their networks. . The History of the NSA proves this. Robert McChesney writes in his latest book, Digital Disconnect, that “‘The domination of the Internet by a handful of monopolists, as well as the emerging cloud structure of the Internet, is perfect for the government. It need deal with only a handful of giants to effectively control the Internet'” (the Institute for Public Accuracy). Private companies generally hide behind the law. The state is there as an authority to point to when the outcomes aren’t favorable. Similarly, the state will hide behind private companies when it proves convenient. Each relies on the other. In so many ways, the government is shaping the world in a way that will make it more conducive to big business. Whenever fitting, business will support this project.

Google recently mapped the once impenetrable canals of Venice, sending a man with a backpack–mounted camera to map the canals. Google cheerily responded that no one made a fuss. With the sheer volume and speed of such projects, it is never clear what is a problem and how to deal with it. In the age of hyper–surveillance, maybe our goal is to promote mystery, obscuring the truth. Certainly the institutions with power have no qualms doing the same for themselves, while exploiting our vulnerability.

With advanced tracking technologies, our positions are knowable. We do not always know what is in store for us. We know that practically anyone is accessible. But there is also the power of obscurity, which has been proved by the whistleblowers, like Edward Snowden, who have chosen to work for the American public. Snowden’s leaks have been instrumental in the understanding of how the NSA collects information. The act of whistleblowing is itself an act of defiant communication – using a position only accessible by a select few to bring relevant information to the foreground. When a leak happens, the world can quickly have access to documents in question. The mountain of evidence shows the efforts of the US government to monitor the populace. The situation is difficult to pin down, for we are left guessing about what sort of position we might be in the future, while the boundaries of the board are in flux. There is some reason to worry about the possibilities for autonomy in the future. We might not ever find our way.

New Ad Campaign Explains Drones to Skeptical Public

The California Department of Corrections (CDC) has unveiled a new series of advertisements to defend Obama’s drone policy from mounting public criticism. On November 5, 2013 the CDC successfully apprehended, rehabilitated and discharged over a dozen bus shelter advertisements in San Francisco.

Set against a black background, the ads feature a smartphone which has photographed a Predator drone strike in progress. On the smartphone screen a missile streaks away from the drone and crosses a cloudless blue sky. Just above the image, a new logo *Pakistan* imitates the original brand name, and a headline for the ad reads, THE NEXT BIG WAR IS ALREADY HERE.

The corrected ads came directly on the heels of several major reports from the UN, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, which criticized Obama’s drone wars. Federal officials have stubbornly refused to acknowledge controversial aspects of the program, such as criteria for its kill lists or the mounting death toll among civilians. As these operations are shrouded in secrecy, the CDC released the rehabilitated smartphone ads to assist our colleagues in the federal government and explain the benefits of drones to war–weary Americans. Such benefits include cost savings from limited personnel serving overseas, streamlined executions unimpeded by judicial oversight and reduced environmental impacts due to the short commute of drone pilots operating close to home.

The ads are currently at liberty and seem to have successfully readjusted to public life. However, these advertisements will remain under surveillance by department staff to prevent recidivism and any potential lapse into prior criminal behavior. Founded in 1994, the CDC is a private correctional facility that protects the public through the secure management, discipline, and rehabilitation of California’s advertising. For more information, visit CorrectionsDepartment.org

Move Marie Mason – Eco Warrior serves draconian sentence in Texas Hellhole

Marie Mason is an earth and animal liberation prisoner serving a 22–year sentence in a Fort Worth, Texas federal prison. Marie pleaded guilty in 2009 to 13 counts of property destruction, with targets such as GMO research labs, boats owned by a mink farmer, logging equipment and environmentally destructive housing developments among others. No one was injured in any of the actions.

Marie also has many years of above ground activism under her belt. She is well known for her work as an Earth First! and IWW organizer, and as a musician, writer, and artist.

Marie is recognized as a Green Scare prisoner due to the application of a federal terrorism enhancement provision to ensure a long prison term, and for the FBI to boast of another successful “terrorism” prosecution. She is, unfortunately, not alone in this fact, however the lengthy sentence does make her case particularly startling.

“It is obvious the government is trying to send a message,” Marie told London’s Guardian newspaper, “to have a chilling effect, not only on my action, which, of course, transgressed the laws, but also on 30 years of above–ground actions in the environmental rights spheres.”

Due to the length of the sentence imposed on Marie, her case is well known world–wide within the environmental, anarchist, and animal rights movements from which she receives broad support. Indian environmental and anti–globalization activist, Vandana Shiva, says of Marie in a widely viewed on–line video, “I think it is criminal that she is being treated like a criminal. That is why we need a movement; both for the rights of nature, and the rights of the defenders of nature so that they can get along with their work to protect this beautiful planet and our common freedoms.”

After serving two and a half years in a Minnesota minimum–security prison close to family and friends with no rule violations, Marie was suddenly transferred to the Carswell Federal Medical Center prison in Fort Worth. There she is housed in a special restrictive unit known as the Administration Unit. She never received any explanation for why she was moved. The gymnasium–sized unit houses up to 20 prisoners, but this space has been cut in half due to a recently constructed new wall; a restricted unit inside a restricted unit.

Many of the women in Marie’s unit suffer from untreated, debilitating mental health issues which are manifested in violent behavior, self–mutilation, screams and sobs throughout the night, and unpredictable actions. The constant barrage of cries and pleas from people in emotional pain constitutes psychological torture. There is no rest or calm in her unit.

Marie and the other prisoners are only allowed to exercise for one hour a day in a small, fenced–in, concrete, outdoor area topped by double–coiled razor wire. There is no room to run or engage in physical activity. Her unit is frequently under lock down, where prisoners are confined to their cells. Friends who have visited Marie report that she and the other women in her unit physically look like they are severely lacking in access to sunlight. Most prisoners know why they have been transferred to this unit — mostly for excessive rule violations — and what they need to do to get out of it. But Marie has been given no indication of why she is there or what she can do to be moved back into the general prison population.

When singer/songwriter David Rovics recently visited her and asked why she thought she had been moved, Marie simply stated: “They’re scared of me.” David says, “Marie is a humble person, not one to brag, but what she says is clearly a statement of the obvious. There is no other explanation.”

In the face of this ongoing unjust treatment, Marie’s support network has instigated a campaign to have her moved out of the restrictive unit and back into general population in a prison closer to her family and friends. The “Move Marie” campaign is working to place public pressure on the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). The long–term goal of the campaigners is to overturn or reduce her unjust sentence.

October 21 was a national call–in day with supporters across the U.S. phoning the BOP headquarters in Washington asking for Marie to be moved. Just a few days later, on October 25, supporters all over the world held “Move Marie” events for an international day of solidarity. Community gatherings were held across the US, Australia, and Europe where people learned about Marie’s situation, wrote letters and signed postcards which were sent to the BOP. Supporters are still being encouraged to write letters asking for her transfer. They can be sent to: Charles E. Samuels, Jr., Director, Federal Bureau of Prisons, 320 First St., NW, Washington, DC 20534.

The “Move Marie” campaign has been receiving increased attention with media outlets like Huffington Post publishing a feature on it. One of Marie’s lawyers, Susan Tipograph, was interviewed on the HuffPost Live online TV channel. Tipograph has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the FBI seeking documents relating to Marie’s move, but to date has only received newspaper clippings relating to Marie’s above ground actions.

We need a huge amount of public pressure to get the BOP to listen to our concerns about the inhumane conditions in which Marie and her fellow prisoners are being held. Please add your name to the swelling number of supporters who are asking for Marie and her cell block mates to be moved out of Carswell. As Tipograph stated in her HuffPost Live interview, “I think by any standard, the conditions under which she is being held are unconscionable, and are a violation not only of human rights, but of the rights of prisoners in this country to be held in decent and humane conditions.”

Go to SupportMarieMason.org for more information, updated information about Marie, current updates on her legal status, join her listserv, find out how you and your community can help bring justice to Marie and the other Carswell prisoners.

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

The arrival of Janet Napolitano as the president of the University of California adds to the gradual liberal façade of oppressive state policy in our lives. Her first appearance locally here in Berkeley was met with protests but not nearly enough to throw to light this dubious appointment that lacks any citizen input. I mean, were you asked who is to run the schools?

Janet Napolitano’s first move as the new president was to freeze tuition — a gesture called for way back in that distant 20th century. But regardless of its tardiness this will look good on her resume when the media touts her next move. Conversely Janet’s pedigree as viewed by the left is short but hiss–able. As Democratic Governor of Arizona she shamelessly aided the right–wing agenda of bashing brown skin people, administrating policies that made alliances with such blatantly malevolent characters as Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Later as head of Homeland Security she continued in this manner with the deportations of immigrants at wholesale numbers. The fact that this was done AFTER the nefarious Bush Jr. presidency stokes the skepticism that there is any difference between Democrat and Republicans. The deportations actually increased after 2008! But the whole organization of Homeland Security is suspect. That is unless their definition of security is to prolong and expand harsh laws in the handling of so–called immigrants, while real threats to life and infrastructure come in the form of climate and environmental chaos, weapon proliferation and a meltdown of civil society. Good job assholes!

Perhaps appointing someone like Janet Napolitano, who has no experience in managing education, is a continuation of the entertainment and business industries having sway in the popular political arena. With an army of handlers helping such a figurehead make the easiest of decisions all that is needed is a competent voice to make the decree. People should have gotten the point by now with leaders being synonymous with Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger and George Bush Jr. that the alien–like policy doesn’t need a visible mastermind much less your consent. These are people with no job experience besides fulfilling a character type. Janet’s station as a liberal woman (a member of a “minority class”) makes her job to practice having a smile while kicking those trying to rise above abject poverty.

This abhorrence in American culture to give a look at how capitalist policies makes for blowback is a real embarrassment to anyone living with a conscience. Very few news sources besides whiny lefties will ever draw attention to the spike in the number of border–crossers with the arrival of NAFTA jobs in the global South twenty years ago. That is, they are essentially state sanctioned sweat–shops — the kind that normalizes garment factories burning down and hundreds of low wage souls perishing in a lame ass attempt to protect business from labor laws and unions. Slave labor is the new policy without saying as much, a practice not all that new by the way. But the skitzo mainstream media is in denial of its sleight–of–hand function in misdirection when facing issues. Or to sound like an old lefty paper — Prime Time endeavors to have the poor betray its own class when processing the anger of the present day situation. It’s far easier to hate the day laborers standing a block from Walmart than it is to go after the overseers running shop of the world’s largest chain.

A glance at a nearby Palmist’s crystal ball could predict Napolitano’s contribution to come. The 9 UC campuses will expand the partnership with developers in land grabs and new construction. The solidification of corporate giants such as oil companies and pharma industries in guiding research will more deeply infect the curriculum and make sick the developing minds. Doors will be opened to bring more out–of–state students, which will generate high revenues to take home for the administrative class. Meanwhile the people living next door to the colleges — often in slums — will never dream of attending a UC as they see their Jr. Colleges fight eviction as in City College of San Francisco. The few menial jobs that people can access on a college campus will be increasingly unpleasant and with a shrinking revenue. These are all policies consistent with cutthroat business ethics. Colleges seeking high credit ratings for loans have gotten into the practice of IMF–type operations.

Hell, Janet may even bring in the heinous Arizona policy, which outlaws ethnic studies in classrooms. This seems especially apt in a Koch brothers’ type agenda since California’s population is headed for a white minority. By Arizona legally denying the teaching of the world’s culture it ultimately enforces a white European malaise across communities just when people of color could stop pretending to fawn over a colonial lie and start to know and respect their past. Ethnic Studies is a direct result of people of color revolting and demanding change from the academy to the streets.

Perhaps this is the treatment we get for not committing either way. By neither fully rolling on our bellies nor jumping at our aggressor and biting back, that we are given this luke–warm– fascism. The kind of boiling that will make the increase of temperature seem “tolerable” for most while those complaining can be muffled off camera. The last marker of collective backbone demonstrated by university students was in the late 1990s when people of conscience (and intelligence!) fought to expand affirmative action — not erase it. Affirmative action functions to counter the work of white supremacy of the last 400 years against brown skinned people. The irony of descendants of (European) immigrants pointing fingers and shaming brown skin people (with indigenous blood) is the joke that should clear the room.

But by the early 2000s the momentum of protests across UC campuses to save Affirmative Action also helped to mobilize a challenge to the insane tuition increases. Protests against deportations even spread to California’s K–12 as was seen with the inspired “Day without an Immigrant” rallies that happened in May of each year. Whole communities created festivals of convergence and open resistance while mainstream America marveled at Bush Jr. This prairie fire spark is what is needed across this flaccid country to make a more fair and involved community.

People wishing to see similar examples in history can look at the Columbia University takeover in 1968 that within months helped to create a national movement of radicals not only in colleges but also in high schools. Imagine the fear it inspired in law & order types who watched kids go from teenyboppers to protest organizers. Our coming together to bring muscle in fighting the policies like tuition hikes, racism, corrupt corporation influence, and war had gained momentum on college campuses. Protests 45 years later (essentially on the same core issues) helped fuel the national movement that eventually was articulated as the Occupy movement.

So to appoint Janet Napolitano, a well likeable liberal minority (though women are 51% of the population) is a diversion tactic so that people don’t keep pressuring for real change. Change like destruction of the grading system, community control of who is in power (Democratize the Regents), better pay and representation for the lower tier workers, and an eradication of corporate and military influence on campus….more demands on the way. I’ve always felt that as dour and hopeless every day seems to be the actual potentials of change is matched by the enormous sum of conscious beings alive on the planet. Imagine if more people were involved… That’s actually inevitable.

As we trod on in this unsustainable modern way of life and rest our very survival on some capitalist dice game…one wonders if any other future awaits us. The gradual changes that can be made by progressive leaders seem to have little effect on the course of these days. No longer is working within the system a convincing detriment to the diet slavery and death offered as a replacement for us owning our own lives. Perhaps the leadership necessary to free us resides away from the high thrones and the media spotlights. The time wasted following celebrities is better spent other places. More protests directed at fucked up policies are called for. There are a thousand websites you will be referred to fulfill your desire to participate and revolt. Rather I suggest you just follow the latest struggles at the local K–12 schools and colleges, then show up when asked to.