In Paris, France last December, representatives from 197 countries gathered for their annual UN-sponsored meeting to agree that, for the 21st time, climate change is (1) an actual thing, and (2) something for which developed nations must take responsibility (spoiler alert: US Republicans boycotted the conference).
I had the opportunity to volunteer in the Civil Society zone of the conference, basically a gathering of the world’s eco-activists. It was refreshing to meet like-minded people from around the world who are actually creating solutions to address climate change issues, instead of just talking about the problems. I felt right at home.
However, whenever I spoke, my accent betrayed my nationality, and I felt awkwardly out of place. Rumor had it that the Republicans—in absentia—were acting as a road block to the agreement. The US delegates were hesitant to support a binding agreement, for fear that the Republicans back home would smash it to pieces.
Interestingly, there don’t seem to be any other countries with a substantial population of politically active people who are so opposed to addressing the causes of climate change. I’m not sure why. My best guess is that it’s related to an American obsession with money and associated feelings of entitlement.
There were delegations from resource-rich (and correspondingly high-emissions) countries, and the nations and tribes on the other end of the resource spectrum. The injustice is already visible: poor countries are the first victims of climate change, they lack the resources to respond, and are therefore dependent on the generosity of wealthier nations. Given this diversity of interests at the table, reaching an agreement on anything is a challenge.
Each participating country was required to submit an emissions goal that, taken together, should halt warming at 2.7 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial temperatures. This is much higher than the original target of “well below” 2.0 degrees Celsius. “What’s the big deal over a couple of degrees?” you ask? A few degrees difference won’t make much difference to the gluten-free, organic, free-range, low-fat, fair-trade granola roasting in your oven, but the Earth is much more sensitive. It’s been calculated that a 1-degree Celsius global temperature increase would eliminate about one-third of all the fresh water (i.e. drinking water) from the surface of the Earth by 2100—that’s only 84 years from now. (Sorry, kids. You’ll probably live to see it, but our planet won’t look the same.)
We humans are adept at adjusting to change, recalibrating our expectations, and developing new definitions of normalcy. This is easier for those of us in developed countries because we are slightly insulated from the first shocks of climate change: drought, rising ocean levels, and a decline in the populations of species, such as fish, that people all over the world depend on for food and livelihood. Like the proverbial frog on the stovetop, will we jump out of the pot before we are cooked?
The Paris Agreement is historic simply because of its near-total international support, not due to the ambitiousness of its goals. After two weeks of around-the-clock negotiations, the Paris Agreement was signed by almost every country on our planet, each of whom promises to take responsibility for the greenhouse gases it emits… someday, maybe. There is no structure in which nations can be held accountable for their actions: emissions reduction goals are voluntary, with no incentives to reach them except for peer pressure from other countries. While the Agreement is certainly a good starting point, it is non-binding and therefore mostly symbolic.
Perhaps the most egregious omission from the Paris Agreement is the subject of fossil fuel extraction. The attitude seems to be “Keep burning whatever you want, in exchange for compensating the poor countries that are suffering most.” Fracking, mining, and drilling for oil and natural gas pose both immediate and long-term human and environmental health threats, not to mention how they pollute our atmosphere when they are burned. Despite our campaign to “Keep it in the ground”, the fossil fuel companies have won this round, and extraction continues.
What can we do? Don’t put up with it! Throw a wrench (preferably literal, metaphorical only if you must) into fossil fuel development projects. And perhaps most importantly, though often neglected: talk about it. In many circles, climate change is an awkward and avoided subject. In the face of this global crisis, talking about climate change—and what we can do about it—is actually quite a radical thing to do. Next to religion and politics, it’s one of the subjects that I’ve learned not to bring up at the dinner table. Why? Let’s dive into that: ask people what they know about climate change, and how they feel it should be addressed by individuals and groups. Listen first, and then try to find common ground. (Believe it or not, we have a lot in common with Tea Party Republicans, including a distaste for the government meddling in our affairs.)
You’ve reached the final paragraph, and I bet you’re looking for the bottom line. Was the Paris Agreement successful, or not? Unfortunately, I can’t answer that—only your great-great-great-great-grandchildren can, if there are any humans around by then. The Greenpeace-style battle cry “Save the Earth!” sounds so benevolent, though I find it misleading: humans are the endangered species that we should be most worried about, and it is our own mortality that we are most afraid of when we contemplate Earth’s future. The planet is going to do just fine without us.
Four months after Nepal endured the deadliest quake in its history, Aneela Tasneem received another, tremulous, shock. Her family had been denied refugee status by the UNHCR in Kathmandu.
Back home in Pakistan, Aneela faced persecution her entire life as an Ahmadi Muslim. Following the passage of a 1974 constitutional amendment, Ahmadis have been barred from calling themselves Muslims or in any way “preaching or propagating” their faith in Pakistan. Considered heretics by the Sunni majority, Ahmadis face state-mandated fines, imprisonment, or even violence by other Pakistanis. Years of hate crimes and terrorism – including a bombing of two Ahmadi mosques in 2010, which claimed nearly a hundred lives – has forced many of them from their homeland, creating displacement hubs in Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia.
After Aneela’s brother was attacked, her family fled to Nepal in 2013 with the hopes of gaining refugee status through the UNHCR. Aneela’s life is one of constant uncertainty, and the question of her status as a refugee – combined with the surprise and havoc caused by last year’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake – leaves her struggling to secure some semblance of a future for her family. After the denial of her case on August 20th, 2015, Aneela immediately organized a weeklong sit-in outside the UNHCR gate in Kathmandu.
“As a community, we believe if one person has a problem, the whole community is there to support. We are also victims of the earthquake, but right now we’re here to try and get a positive response for refugee status for my family,” says Aneela.
The scene there is humbling. Small children build mud castles to pass the time, while women donning black burqas sit closely together, murmuring lightly in the dazed noon heat.
The UNHCR in Kathmandu and the government of Nepal are the two institutions capable of protecting South Asian asylum seekers like Aneela, but the limitations of this relationship are obvious. Aneela must constantly grasp for basic assistance and – as a result – mobilize within a political system that is battling to secure its own legitimacy and recognition in South Asia’s post-colonial space. Since the formal abolishment of its monarchy, Nepal has been unable to solidify a constitution that includes the grievances and needs of its minority, indigenous classes who have long expressed a feeling of inequality compared to the powerful Brahman caste. For even the simplest forms of assistance, urban refugees dependent on the UNHCR must constantly compromise, unequivocally caught in the center of the broiling political climate of this country’s 26 million.
Like Aneela, Irfan Cheema is another refugee who has been at the forefront of his community’s fight to secure protection and assistance from the government and the UNHCR in Nepal, as well as local efforts to rebuild after the earthquake. He works as an English tutor and translator in Kathmandu, and is a poetic, imaginative speaker: “With no way, we have to find a way. In the darkness we are searching. You can say we ran from the fire into the sea, where the crocodiles are waiting for us.”
He reveals that following the April 25th earthquake, the Ahmadi community was without assistance for fifteen days. Like most Nepalis, their homes were severely damaged. “After fifteen days, the UNHCR supported us [sic] 3,000 rupees, but that was nothing in the situation of the earthquake. For two months afterwards, there was nothing to earn. It is too difficult to make daily wages. First of all, if a Nepali is getting 600 rupees, then we are only getting 300, because we don’t have the right to work, so we have to work at the half-wage. But if you work for 300 rupees for 30 days, it is just 9,000 rupees. What is 9,000 rupees when the rent of the house is 15,000?” he asks.
Urban refugees like the Ahmadis may spend hours, days, even weeks waiting to secure a five-minute meeting, to file paperwork for their medical expenses, or to obtain an allowance to cover the high-costs of their children’s primary education. The process is often slow, and in many cases, prayers go unanswered or unheard. The UNHCR was chartered in 1992 by the government of Nepal in order to help harbor Bhutanese refugees, and nearly 80% of those refugees have already been resettled. While the UNHCR has been slowly phasing out its major activities in Nepal, a modern need amongst urban refugees has steadily grown.
“Nepal doesn’t have a national framework to look at refugees. There are the urban refugees, about five hundred in number, who’ve come from various conflict-hit areas – Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Pakistan, and Afghanistan – but they are not recognized as refugees by the government of Nepal. They are considered illegal migrants. When they come to Nepal, they approach UNHCR, and since the UNHCR mandate is to work in the protection of refugees, we recognize them as refugees after going through various assessments. But the government still considers them illegal migrants,” says Deepesh Shrestha, an External Relations Officer for the UNHCR in Kathmandu.
As of a civil meeting conducted on August 4th, 2015, the UNHCR will discontinue the aid it once provided to the majority of Ahmadis and other urban refugees, and will only be given to those with “special needs” – a margin so narrow, it does little to help most refugees living in Kathmandu. This austerity measure – perhaps a result of the bureaucratic nightmare and legislative standstill that has come to define the modern Nepali government – begs the urgent question of what should be done with urban refugees when they come to Nepal, while illustrating the specific ways these refugees have been denied a better quality of life from the institutions of global society specifically entrusted to help them.
Aashif Aaqash, an Ahmadi refugee who currently works as a tutor, must travel over forty kilometers a day on public buses to attend classes. He starts early in the morning and returns late at night. He has sought help from the UNHCR in obtaining a motorcycle permit, which would allow him more freedom to move around the city; but in this pursuit, along with many others, he has been denied. “The UNHCR has told us again and again to seek jobs. I asked them, if they would not help us in these small matters, how do they expect us to manage for ourselves?” says Aashif.
At eighteen years old, Aashif was forced from Pakistan following a string of threats against his and his family’s life. After returning home from a high school exchange program in Pennsylvania, an anti-American mob threw stones at his home and called him a traitor and infidel. When Aashif’s family contacted local police, they refused to help upon realizing that Aashif was an Ahmadi. The next month, Aashif’s friend was shot dead outside of his home. Aashif’s father was later shot at while riding this motorbike, the bullets puncturing the bike’s front wheel but sparing his father’s life. Aashif reports living in fear to attend classes or go to mosque for the next year; but the final straw came when three strangers attempted to kidnap him and his cousin, who both only narrowly escaped.
In late April 2013, Aashif and his family left Pakistan and traveled to Nepal with the intention of seeking asylum through the UNHCR. After one year of processing, they were finally granted refugee status. As of January 2016, his family’s case has picked up sponsorship from an Ahmadi charity organization titled Humanity First, and they will be relocated to Calgary, Canada.
In recounting his story and other injustices the Ahmadis have faced, Aashif’s frustration is evident: like many refugee youth, he’s been transplanted in a foreign country that provides little opportunity for his future. As older members of the community with their own families to worry about, Irfan and Aneela also question what will happen to the young Ahmadis, who have nowhere to claim as their own, no clear paths to education beyond fifteen years old, and no protection from local authorities. “If we die here, then what was the point of leaving Pakistan?” asks Aneela.
Following the weeklong sit-in outside the UNHCR gate, officials agreed to re-open Aneela’s case, citing errors they conducted during the initial interview process. Starting on August 28th, 2015, they re-interviewed Aneela, her brother, and other members of her family. However, on October 2nd, Aneela learned she’d been denied her second appeal for refugee status by the UNHCR. Her family is now stuck paying their nearly $60,000 tourist visa fine, or face imprisonment. “It’s injustice,” she says. “The government can stop this.”
Aneela’s case reveals the politics of refugee representation in Nepal – a slim distinction between “illegal migrant” and “refugee” that means Aneela and each member of her family have been charged a $5 visa fine for every day they seek refugee status and protection in Nepal. This policy is one of the strictest for asylum seekers in Asia, with Nepal using the fine as a deterrent against refugee migration. For those who do receive refugee status from the UNHCR, they must appeal to have the visa fines waived by the government. The wait for this averages an additional one and a half years to be processed, with the end result all-the-while uncertain.
Aneela and her community members confide that while the earthquake was devastating to their morale, it’s the bitter winter and the current fuel blockade between the Nepali and Indian border that is making life almost unbearable. To stay afloat, the Ahmadis rely on the strength and resilience of their local community: every Friday is reserved for prayer, while Saturdays at their community center in Kathmandu offer religious education, sports, and women-run workshops.
On such a Saturday, Irfan sits in the center’s office, the wall to his left flanked by portraits of the Ahmadi Supreme Leaders. He possesses no consternation at these immovable men, no remorse over having sacrificed home and health for his faith. Irfan only touches his glasses and says, “Two years ago, our children were like the flowers. They were smiling. Today, they don’t have hope; sometimes they will ask, ‘Father, what will happen to us? What is our future?’ And we don’t have answers.”
Recently we had a screening at the Long Haul Infoshop of the 2005 film Commune, about California’s own Black Bear Ranch. Prominent in the film is our neighbor, Osha Neumann.
A tireless homeless advocate, artist and writer with a radical past chronicled in his memoirs, Up Against the Wall Motherf**ker, we invited him over to watch the film with us and followed up with a lively conversation. This is some of what ensued.
A. Iwasa (AI): Do you have anything you want to say to start the conversation?
Osha Neumann (ON): It’s really complicated for me seeing that film. I don’t know what to think. Part of it is it was a long time ago, a lot of those people are dead. You know when you have something that was wonderful, but also very complicated, it’s hard for me to know what to say about it, that it’s honest and true to that complexity. It was an incredibly important period of my life, I loved it. I loved being in nature and I loved living communally… and I loved all those things we can’t do here. To be together all the time and to not to have… people dividing up according to what their jobs are. And home life being separated from work life and having children being separated by having your work in the world, and having all those relations with people that are really intimate, and sexual sometimes… When you’re naked with each other, not simply in the fact that you’re not wearing clothes, when you’re emotionally naked with each other and things that are hidden aren’t hidden. We had a communal shitter, and you shit and peed publicly. It was nothing, you just did it.
Cooking together. Everybody cooking, everybody taking care of the children. And it’s so much closer to the way people live most places in the world. During the war in El Salvador I went up into one of the provinces where the guerrilla army was in control, and these little villages that had been run out of the country by the army and then had come back, and in those villages they lived so much more like back at Black Bear.
Just knowing the origin of things, the food you eat is the food you’ve grown, the bread you eat is made from the grain you ground in a hand grinder, and the milk you drink is the milk of the goats you milked in the morning, and the cheese and the yogurt come from the goat milk that you made. You get up in the morning and you heat the big old stove with the wood that you chopped that morning so it fit into the stove. You live in houses that you built yourself. All of that is really important, wonderful stuff. [Here we are] so separated from all that, living the way we should live in nature.
When I would drive down from Black Bear, the first thing was the air was different. I breathed at Black Bear differently. And there was night, you know there’s no night in The City. There’s night with stars and the moon.
We lived with the season, we weren’t protected from the seasons. With the snow you’re snowed in, then it thaws and it gets warm. You live with your body alive in a way, here your body just isn’t alive in the same way.
Your rituals are rituals of nature. We celebrated solstices and equinoxes because you could see the solstices and equinoxes. We’d stay up all night on the longest night of the year and drum and chant and sing songs, some that we made, some that we appropriated from other cultures.
We really lived without and we shared. What money there was we shared. There weren’t some people who were richer than other people… or some people were homeless and other people were housed, or some people had better houses and some people had Priuses. We all had the same stuff, and it was all sort of grungy.
If you had a car you needed to know how to fix it. I learned to weld there because it was needed and I wanted to and it was wonderful to learn how to work with metal. We made an irrigation system.
We didn’t have the Internet, and we didn’t have phones, and we didn’t have television, we didn’t have any of that. We didn’t have electricity, we didn’t have electrical lines coming in, we generated electricity with pelton wheels, so we didn’t need all that stuff.
So there was a way of being in the world, and being with one’s self, and with others and with nature that was… in some ways it tears me up just looking at it. Partly just that I was younger then, we had these wonderful, beautiful, muscular bodies. We relished them. I became strong there just by working. I worked there with my hands, and walking up and down the hills, building things. You had a body and it was wonderful. And with all of that, we did a whole lot of just trying to live rightly in terms of some of the issues in the film: how to be with children, how to deal with the bonds of children, how to spread those bonds beyond just the nuclear family, but not necessarily to break them. The tensions around that. How someone suggested in the film, to equalize the work between men and women, and processing the questions we don’t question here. Everything was up to question it seemed: how we organized our lives, how we did sex, children, family, relationships; all of those things were subject to conversation that we had. Long, long conversations.
We made music, we didn’t have canned music. All that was wonderful. And for me it was transformational, I was a city boy, I grew up in New York, and I came from the Lower East Side and the intensity of the Mother Fuckers which was urban, street fighting craziness, and I was totally armored from that. There was a transition when I lived in New Mexico, but I was armored, I was always looking out, but there, the armor just fell off of me. I was able to be feminine and masculine in ways that I couldn’t be there.
So all that was wonderful. But with all that, there were all kinds of stuff that was not resolved, and did not get talked about. There was a level that it was not surprising that for most of the folks I lived with up there, that sort of living didn’t last. We didn’t continue to live that way for all kinds of reasons.
For me it was just the level of isolation, from history, the lives of most people in this world, the United States and the struggles here, was something I didn’t want to continue. My ambitions intellectually, artistically, politically, in terms of engagement we had separated ourselves, and there was a problem with that separation. I didn’t want to do that.
And for all the sharing that we did, and the communal living, people kept their parachutes, that was still there when they wanted to get out of that. And once people got out of that, then all those divisions that had been not there, all of a sudden they reappeared.
When people left, all those class differences just woof! they were there like they had never not been there. And some of the people, like you see Richard Marley was working as a super and had no money and others have tons of money, gobs of money, some of which they inherited, some of which they made. All of those divisions re-emerged.
It was obviously really not diverse in terms of race. It was a white scene. Aside from one or two folks it was almost racially homogeneous. But even within that homogeneity there were differences, in background. We all looked the same, but there were people who came from educated, middle class, intellectual backgrounds like I did. Jews and non-Jews, there were those differences. People from more working class backgrounds there, those different experiences didn’t disappear there.
In terms of the political agenda… there’s not this intense political engagement continuing for a lot of the people there. Everybody was on the progressive, counter-cultural side of things, pretty much, but the radicalism of it did not continue. Black people who looked at hippies and said, “Oh, that’s just a phase, we’re going to stay Black while you’ve gone and taken up all of your white privilege.” All of that is true about Black Bear.
It’s complicated, when you talk about men and women, not all the women had such a good experience. When you take all of that sexual freedom, it looks more attractive to men. Not all of them, we all loved it, it was just harder for some of the women, I think.
It was complicated for the children. Some of the children had a really great experience and some of them didn’t have a great experience.
Many people like me came back down to The City. There were people who stayed up there. Some people like Creek, in the film, they moved down to the Salmon River, where most people in that area live. There are little pieces of land, mostly it’s national forest, they have remained there and now they are the old timers. You had the old timers in the film talking, now they are the old timers! They have really created community around there and they have gotten very involved in protecting the river. They have done an amazing job fighting the Forest Service to preserve the river, to prevent them from using pesticides to get rid of the invasive species, pulling the weeds by hand. Fighting the clear cutting, fighting the damming of the rivers.
They also connected more than most of us did to the Native populations. There were a few people at Black Bear who connected with the Karuk and the Yurok who were the Native populations, there was a Hoopa Reservation just down the road, so some of the people who stayed up there made those connections which is all good, they’ve done really good stuff. Those are some of my thoughts.
AI: I thought it was really interesting, among other things, this is the second time I’ve seen it, that Peter Coyote didn’t talk about the Diggers. You talked about being in the Mother Fuckers, the one woman talked about knowing people who were in the Weather Underground Organization and supporting the Black Panthers, but I didn’t know he was a Digger when I saw this the first time, but I’m reading his Sleeping Where I Fall, so I thought that was kind of strange.
ON: I don’t know why he did that. Peter’s relation to Black Bear was less central than you would think from the film. I mean he’s in the film partly because he’ll sell the film, and having Peter Coyote in it is a plus for the film maker, but his amount of time up there was not long.
Jesse Palmer (JP): What is interesting to me is that people are increasingly fascinated by going Back to the Land, but everything I learn about the 1970s projects makes me feel skeptical.
ON: Well, you’re right to be skeptical. When I talked about how I was moved thinking about it doesn’t mean you don’t have every right to be skeptical about it. I would be. That’s why it was initially difficult for me to figure out how to talk about it because I have all those mixed feelings. I moved on. I had to move on from there. And if I stayed there, it wouldn’t have worked for me.
There’s a real division among the Black Bear kids, between the ones who went as far away, Aaron is the one in the movie, but there were others also, and there are ones that are still very connected to the place.
The problem with Black Bear is that because it is so isolated, for example if you have children, and want to have them go to school, you can’t stay up there. There’s no way unless you want to home school them, and so on. But if you want them to have any experience of being socialized in school it’s not going to happen.
Black Bear is still around. I don’t know what it’s like, I don’t think it’s anything like when we lived there, but it’s still up there.
You can read more about Osha and check out some of his artwork at www.oshaneumann.com.
It seems infighting has become a staple of radical urban organizing. Through constant internal criticism and shaming we have effectively disarmed parts of the movement. Although we should, as an activist community, be motivated to support and teach each other, we instead have bred communities who demonize and scrutinize each other.. Potential revolutionaries are discouraged back into the safety of the status quo and we continue to lose more and more meaningful projects and people to “drama.” All the while the police are policing and the capitalists capitalizing unabated. Why? A theory:
Though often ignored, subconsciously we understand that the cities in which we live would collapse very quickly without the global exploitation that sustains them. To live in a city is to vitally depend on the very thing we say we want to destroy. And this destruction would mean no more food in the stores (or dumpsters), no more electricity, which in most cities means no water, no gas. So we ‘half-ass it,” preferring drama to revolution, or intellectual critique over action.
Thus, without an alternate infrastructure (or at least a plan) to provide food and resources during a revolutionary moment, even the most radical city dweller would hesitate, knowing such an immediate halt to oppression would be suicide. This is not to say the only way to be revolutionary is to move to the country; but investment in systems of self-sufficiency is an essential part of making change possible. It is truly ignorant for urban movements to think clean soil, water and food are not crucial aspects of what we’re fighting for. No one will smash the platform they are standing on without a safety net.
Rural towns are in a unique position to reject the status quo, self-manage themselves, and create an example, hopefully something worth defending. They are often already geared toward self-sustainability, autonomy and are, at times, blatantly anti-state (though usually still pro-private property). With economies driven by agriculture and ranching food production is localized and when not industrialized relatively sustainable. This food independence is further supplemented by a culture strong with gardening, hunting and interacting with nature.
Compared to the near anonymity of the city, in a small town one can very quickly build a personal connection with nearly everyone in the area. This continuous contact with the same people builds an affinity based on who you live near and who you interact with. Of course this means you can say goodbye to local mass demos (the Utah Tar Sand Resistance is a possible exception) and house shows for that matter, but more rare to see, a few people CAN have a big effect when they act on a smaller stage. In short, smaller community systems are better scaled to efforts for social change, thus utilizing “people energy” efficiently, and building autonomous structures for the future.
A couple years ago Appropriate Cycles was formed by a few people who decided to put some of this theory into practice. We each had many different experiences that led us here. One influential experience was a month spent with an indigenous community in Central America, blocking the construction of a mega dam. Another was a bike trip to a rural anarchist collective near the Bay Area, organized as a cultural rehab and retreat from the stresses of urban radical life. Reading Bolo’bolo was a radicalizing influence for one of our collective members that pointed to the country.
For years we poured our hearts into urban squats only to find as they were quashed, that many allies were more forthcoming with critique then solidarity. With this in mind we decided to try legally occupied land as a long term approach to building a culture of resistance capable of defending (not just critiquing) liberated spaces.
We worked, saved, borrowed, and found an acre in a small, predominantly working class, town on the west slope of the Rocky Mountains with pay-as-we-go terms we could afford, thus avoiding a bank loan. We are very aware of the role our white privilege has lent us in acquiring this space. Only revolution is truly capable of ridding us of our privilege, so instead of focusing on minimizing it we decided to use the privilege we have to work toward long term radical infrastructure that supports revolutionary potential. There is no one correct way to do this. Below are some of our current projects and ideas, but we could easily end up with some of yours.
Healthy, sustainable, and accessible food production is a central focus. One goal is to produce enough food to help sustain not only ourselves but other regional endeavors, for example the Utah Tar Sands resistance. We want to educate and empower others to be more autonomous from oppressive and unsustainable food systems.
With only a few people working the land we have started with a few modest gardens. Irrigation is provided by a pedal pump which lifts water from a hand dug micro-well up to an elevated tank. We have built two green houses, one with a fire heated bathtub inside; the other well insulated and with a loft, making it winter habitable for plants and possibly an adventurous human. Many plums, apricots, apples, and currants have been planted as well as various other perennials. We also built an elevated two chamber composting toilet with a wonderful view.
We care for a few goats, many chickens, two dogs and two cats. They provide us with milk, eggs, cuddles, and camaraderie. We love them and would defend them from oppression as we would a close friend.
On the land is a small warehouse divided into storage units. Some of the space is used as a community workshop with a variety of tools for bikes, welding, carpentry and hacking. Community access to these resources creates an alternative to consumerism and provides a social environment of cooperation and skill sharing. Building bicycle machines, helping people fix their bikes and creating a basic mesh network with old routers are just a few things we have been working on, but we need more people with a diversity of skills to support the project and expand its scope.
Another unit, partially set up as a community audio recording studio, has stalled since its bottom-liner moved out a while back; but with a little bit of gumption it could be just that, or anything else. Ideas for other units are a free store, meeting space or free school but most likely it will be whatever the next person to show up is excited about. We are also excited to build more habitation with possibilities for tree houses and cabins.
Outside of our property, we helped create a local food co-op in town that prioritizes supporting small scale farmers and bringing affordable, regionally produced food to our community. The co-op plans to offer eduction around self sufficiency, permaculture and food systems working to connect our most basic needs to larger structures of oppression and environmental degradation. One long term plan is a cooperative farm for the town. We actively support the community garden and an arts and theater group which have a big influence on people and the way they view community. Implying again that within community organizing bonds and connection are vital to create a lasting impact.
We do not see these projects as revolutionary in and of themselves but necessary infrastructure to support more revolutionary models of resistance such as a town general assembly or anti-fascist militia. We also don’t want to imply organizing is easy here and that we don’t run into similar issues of apathy that we see in urban zones. But we have experienced the ability to influence our soundings at a faster speed, making actual models for resistance more tangible. Furthermore the isolation, intense climate, and smaller population create a stronger culture of self-sufficiency and a community more willing to share skills, trade and teach.
We know there are all kinds of aspects, contradictions and dreams that did not make it into this article. If you made it this far and want to continue the conversation or visit the land email us:
* We, a collective of three, co-produced this article.An anarchist perspective on leaving the city
It hurts our eyes to constantly resort to computers to find an alternative voice that reflect the events of our time. Looks like it’s a good time to seek out the latest in printed thought. Yeah it’s sad that we are squandering precious resources like trees, water and oil to keep the cycle of consumer goods and “self expression” devouring the foundation of consensual reality. That’s why you should send your collection of books and zines that you no longer use to one of the info shops we list each month. Or better yet—start your own local and autonomous info shop/zine library. Your first holdings could be these titles:
Dispatches From Rojava by Paul Z. Simons
Originally published as seven dispatches from the Rojava region of northern Syria and posted online. The first six were attributed to an anarchist from the United States, El Errante, with the seventh revealing Simons’ identity and chronicling his journey home.
Having just heard Simons talk before reading this, I was a bit disappointed. But it’s still a great place to start for those looking to learn more about the social revolution taking place in Rojava, and/or for literature to distribute on the subject.
As pundits continue to try to pretend we only have Western Imperialism and Islamic Fundamentalism to choose between, this shows that argument to be less than a straw man. (A. Iwasa)
As You Were: a punk commix anthology volume four $10.00
1057 Valencia St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
When I found out that this volume of As You Were was going to be about living situations, I couldn’t have been more excited. The first few volumes of this ‘zine are both some of the best comics and documents of Punk that I’ve ever read.
This volume is a bit different, with far more artists, and in turn, much less space per artist for the most part. It was still rad, just a bit scattered to me, since I was expecting something more like the first few issues.
Liz Prince, Ben Snakepit, and Rick V are among the 32 other artists all worth looking into. Some of the stories are really far out, and other don’t so much deal with Punk directly, but never loose the edge that makes real Punk something you can Love and live all your life. (A. Iwasa)
The Rusty Razor $6 +$2 Shipping
Fishspit 1304 175th Pl NE Bellevue WA 98008 or RD Hontiveros P-34034
PO Box 290066 Represa CA 95671
A Split zine by RD who is a prisoner & Fish Spit who is an “Escapee.” You might recognize Fish’s rambling style from Wiseblood zine. You will find that his work in the Razor has similar sloppy verse that aims to be funny and tragic — but comes across slightly bigoted. He could spend more time revising his writing, and energy in considering the kind of audiences that read zines (most don’t like even a hint of racism or sexism). This time around he takes us on a trip to a mental ward and social security offices. It reads like an excited 8th grader.
RD aka “Big Joker,” has work that is hand written and is bent on revolution. He is an ex gangbanger who aims to promote unity and survival in a never-ending living hell. Other prisoners also write about their life outside the law and behind bars. There’s advice about drugs, info on prison conditions and as a whole it’s bursting with personality. They hope to make this publication free to other prisoners across the country so that a prairie fire of resistance can overtake this bleak reality. Any rich people reading are invited to donate to help in this endeavor. (eggplant)
Cyborg Legs $5
The first third of this story is slow paced – so much so it might confuse you of your own journal entries. There’s listless soul crushing descriptions of life and work in modern day San Francisco. The by-product of doing service industry is examined. Witness the author washing his mouth out with booze to be able to say, “May I help you??” for the 1,000th time. The break in the monotony comes with the author writing poetry — then more drinking. The writing style has the brute defeatism with this stale reality yet still maintains engagement and a lust for life that one sees in the works of Bukowski, minus the misogyny. The last act takes a surprise turn into fantasy. (eggplant)
FLUKE #11 $3
PO Box 1547 Phoenix AZ 85001
A handsome production in the classic punk zine format. Interviews that cover a broad interest range, from train graffiti to old punks and bands. Its not printed on a shitty copy machine. And the way it’s put together the pages emote a great care for the subjects. Next issue make the type font bigger will ya! (eggplant)
$4ppd, $3 in person – 1454 San Joaquin St Richmond CA 94804 or paypal email@example.com
Interviews and insights into obscure art noise acts like the Inflatable Boy Clams, Ornette Coleman and Mark E. Miller. The care brought into examining the work of these maligned people is refreshing. There’s an essay on pain that reveals the physical destruction that comes when doing a radical performance — and it doubles as a travel log of sorts. You’ll find reviews of some recent releases by groups that you probably will never hear. New & different sounds are treated with serious enthusiasm, the likes of which I have not seen since spying the early copies of Crawdady, when itself was essentially a zine (at a time when Rock n’ Roll as it fushioned with all of music.) The small type font, obtuse band names and messy layout make it sort of hard to read at times. But in some ways the anti-art scene that this covers is a self-induced headache. (eggplant)
East Bay Punk Zine #2
A ratty looking assembly of paper that highlights music. A lengthy article on the influence that 60’s garage bands has on today’s punk music. Show reviews, photos and a band interview fill out the remaining space. Sadly it seems to cover the acts that play larger clubs. I would like to see more of what’s happening at the underground spaces. At least I found my copy on top of a garbage can on Telegraph Ave — where any self-described punk should be found. (eggplant)
by Jules Bentley
Twisted shit. Three prose pieces. The first entry seems to be setting out to offend those with delicate senses. Lots of sex dripping all over the streets and living rooms of New Orleans. Anything that moves it would seem. The 2nd piece about a beloved cat goes the populist route – who doesn’t like cats? The 3rd piece dwells on a psychotic thought. The writer is pretty intelligent and has deft control over the language. There’s a lot of phrases peppered throughout the stories that you would find in a highly regarded novel. This particular zine is a benefit to keep a squat in the hands of the community. The silk screened cover looks cool as it exudes the kind of perfected skills to make it that the writing also embodies. (eggplant)
Baba Yaga Burns Paris To The Ground
by Wren Awry
Baba Yaga is a witch that appears in folk stories where a young woman who is endangered learns the skills to survive. This zine loiters at the intersection of history, fairy tales, feminism and radical critique. Blending factoids about the Paris Commune, women wielding fire, illustrators who worked for oppressive regimes by publishing in reactionary newspapers as well as for fairy tale books, and insights into how the hysteria of witch hunts echoed across time. A smart bit of writing here. It could be printed in the New Yorker but here it is, likely to be on display by some Pirate distro outside some gathering. It isn’t as obtuse and vague as other anarchist pamphlets. It has a bunch of academic leanings (even has a bibliography) but it reads like a conversation. (eggplant)
Punk In NYC’s Lower East Side 1981-1991 $5 Microcosmpublishing.com
This is the first issue in series of scene histories published by Microcosm Publishing. This historical tale is told through the lens of the late, Dave Insurgent of Reagan Youth. It documents in great detail beginnings of the anarchist punk movement in Manhattan’s Lower East Side from 1981-1991. The tragic life of Insurgent is followed as he navigates from growing up in Queens with two parents who were Holocaust survivors, to his involvement in the anarchist punk movement in NYC to his drug addiction followed by lobotomy, to his tragic death following the murder of his girlfriend by serial killer, Joel Rifkin. This zine paints an incredible time in history where benches were set on fire by tent communities on the Lower East Side to keep warm and an inside look at the Tompkins Square Park riots. A must read. (Rory)
Ker-Bloom! #117 $3
2480 5th Street Berkeley, Ca 94710
It can be ordered online at: etsy.com/shop/artnoose
Ker-bloom! Issue 117 is a lot more light hearted then some of the previous issues I was lent in the past. It contains a short story about while having lived in many collective houses over the years finally (gasp!) contracting scabies from a partner. It’s a quick read and will make anyone who’s ever had to deal with infestations feel a little less alone. This issue is a great zine for the collection and her attention to detail is always great. This issue was printed on a Vandercook Model 4. The cover was made from wood and metal type. The interior used polymer plates and metal type. (Rory)
Boy Zine #2 $5
BoyZine is an Oakland based zine put together by Cole Becker and friends and focuses on feminism through the lens of teenage boys who do not identify through the traditional understanding of masculinity. The second issue tackles the topic of sex: inter-sectional feminist dialogue pertaining to sexuality, virginity, conversations on how sex should be inherently pleasurable for both parties even a step to step guide on oral sex, and other often taboo topics for teenage boys to openly discuss. This zine is by teens for teens however completely non alienating for any outside reader. (Rory)
Dispatches from Rojava
By Paul Z Simons AKA El Errante
This 20-page travel log is a firsthand account of the Rojava insurrection, through the eyes of an American journalist. The zine offers a glimpse of communities such as Kobane and Serekaniye continuing to function amid violence or aggression by ISIS, Assad, and the Turkish and American states. The dispatches foreground the experience of Simons as a (white) foreigner for whom much of this is new, which creates room for some fresh anarchist insights, though sadly at the expense of local voices. Spending time with soldiers, Simons was privy to information regarding logistics, organization, and other institutional knowledge. Most importantly, perhaps, his dispatches confirm older reports regarding the influences of Abdullah Ocalan, Murray Bookchin, and other anarchist or far-left thinkers on the way Rojava’s organizing has unfolded. Ironically, critical analysis of institutions and ideologies at play in the uprising is notably absent, as time and safety constraints probably hampered deeper investigative work. At times, the author’s writing style (e.g. random flair and a hetero love scene at the end) brings the zine dangerously close to the genre of older Orientalist adventure writing. Thankfully, though, these dispatches are refreshingly free from the kind of Orientalist tropes, racist caricatures, shallow analysis, and reckless speculation that one may find in mainstream media. The zine assumes little previous knowledge, and is accessible to the general reader. (khanosaur)
Malevolent Europe: Regarding Refugee Oppression and Resistance at the Borders
By anonymous ill-will-editions.tumblr.com firstname.lastname@example.org
This 16-page zine includes a little bit of everything. Historical background, personal observations, social analysis, numerous photos, and quotes from survivors all support the author’s calls for direct action to help the large group of Syrian refugees finding their way through Central Europe. Written in late September of 2015, the zine lacks up-to-date information regarding reactionary policy or violent reaction from skinheads against the refugee camps and their residents. Written for a European audience, it also omits suggestions for Stateside activists who are not connected to the camps by land. However, it illustrates well the disparity, even early on, between European humanitarian discourse and the reality of refugee experiences. Witnessing police brutality, barely livable conditions, and inadequate provisions, the author cites these and other indignities faced by people navigating Europe as “refugees” as opposed to tourists or citizens. By reading the camps as prisons rather than waystations, the author effectively exposes the oppressive logic of borders, and the contradictions of “aid.” By applying a radical critique of a liberal intervention, this zine may help the reader develop frames for resistance and revolt against borders in general. (khanosaur)
Rice Harvester #14
$2 PO BOX 40786, San Francisco, CA 94140
This is the last issue of a twenty year zine that documents the life of Greg Harvester, a punk from Alabama who has lived, traveled, and played music all over the US. Greg now resides in SF and is still making music and heavily involved in the DIY punk scene. In this issue, Greg talks about trauma and the anxiety of living in a tech filled city. Those new to Rice Harvester will learn that Greg was shot in the face several years ago while living in New Orleans and is still reeling from the trauma of that event. There’s a first hand account of the shooting written by his friend Sarah who wrote the essay three years after it happened. Sarah rushed Greg to the hospital that night and her story had me sobbing, it was very unexpected and a perfect example of why sharing our trauma with others can be powerful and healing for both the author and reader. There’s a fun interview with 510-BAD-SMUT that documents the Bay Area hotline’s origins. The interview reads like a time capsule of how the Bay Area underground has changed over the years but still remains a cultural hot spot for DIY shows, movies, plays, protests, parties, and why an underground hotline can be useful for those looking to connect with others offline. Greg lists all the issues of Rice Harvester that he’s ever made, equipped with a brief summary of each and there are short and funny show reviews towards the end. Issue 14 is a nice farewell to a zine that has traveled and been born in so many places. Get this issue while you still can and read Greg’s writing in Maximum Rock N Roll and on his tape blog, Remote Outposts. (Vanessa)
No Gods No Mattress #25
$3 – Enola D. PO BOX 3936, Berkeley, CA 94703
Every time I get a new issue of No Gods No Mattress, I have to make sure I’m in a quiet place, usually my bed, and that no one is there to distract me because NGNM is my favorite personal zine ever! I love to read each issue as if my friend is telling me really juicy secrets because that’s what reading this zine is like. I love Enola’s writing and haphazard layout style, it’s as if each issue is made in a hole in the wall with whatever scraps that happen to be lying around. In issue 25, Enola talks about all the people they’ve ever loved, hooked-up with, or had crushes on. It made me want to write something similar because it was so personal and engaging and I couldn’t stop reading. There are also continental breakfast reviews where Enola and their friends hit up hotel and motel breakfasts and try to pass as hotel guests but end up disappointed with stale pastries and having to be surrounded by business people. I could relate to Enola’s struggle with trying to find time to write while living on the fringes and also trying to prioritize their self-care regimen. I always feel comforted by this zine and Enola’s writing makes me feel so many different emotions. A must read! (Vanessa)
Octavia’s Brood, edited by adrienne marie brown and Walidah Imarisha, is a collection of science-fiction and fantasy short stories published last year, by people involved in social justice movements. The title is a play on Lilith’s Brood by Octavia Butler, the pioneering Black female sci-fi author, suggesting that these new writers, mostly of Color, are following in her footsteps.
I learned about Octavia’s Brood at a presentation at the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair. Co-Editor adrienne maree brown described their idea of “Visionary Fiction.” Like existing forms of speculative fiction, sci-fi and fantasy, Visionary Fiction involves imagining possibilities outside the realm of everyday life, but in an expressly political way, visualizing the fulfillment of our unmet needs and dreams that are stymied by the system we live in. From the introduction by Walidah Imarisha:
All organizing is science fiction. Organizers and activists dedicate their lives to creating and envisioning another world, or many other worlds—so what better venue for organizers to explore their work than science fiction stories?
Of course I got myself a copy and dug in. But to my surprise, only one of the stories had a utopian element. More common themes are last-ditch, often tragic resistance in dystopian futures, or someone fighting the system with magical powers. Interviewed in “Yes” magazine, co-editor Walidah Marisha explains:
In our collection, Octavia’s Brood, my co-editor adrienne maree Brown’s story, “The River” explores this idea [alternatives to dominant narratives of justice]. What does justice look like? What does holding people accountable look like for crimes that this system does not consider crimes—like gentrification, economic displacement, the violence of poverty?
Except “The River” is about an anti-gentrification sea monster! Again, not the blueprint for a just society I expected from visionary fiction.
At the presentation, adrienne maree brown described their outreach to collect the stories in this anthology. Outstanding activists in social justice movements with little or no experience writing fiction were encouraged to just go for it, putting their passion into words.
Looking at the author bios, not only are there a few experienced fiction writers, but many have backgrounds in performance art, music, theater and poetry, rather than being organizers and rabble-rousers new to expressing themselves. For me, this belied the “anyone can do it” spirit of the promotional workshop.
The good news is that once I put all these expectations aside, the stories in this anthology are wonderful. Especially from those new to the craft, the stories are refreshing, and despite (or because of) the politics, unpretentious. Part of the joy is that the heroes have more similar values to me than in mainstream science fiction. But besides that, I think they’re just more likable, more admirable people.
Back to the introduction, Marisha explains:
“Visionary fiction” is a term we developed to distinguish science fiction that has relevance to building new, freer worlds from the mainstream of science fiction, which most often reinforces dominant narratives of power.
That’s too simple for me; I see a variety of political biases in science fiction. Many of the most famous writers, while not radicals by our standards, are creative in their approaches to society’s problems. Authority and tradition are constantly questioned, even if from a tacky intellectual libertarianism. And some of my favorite famous authors are from the psychedelic era, writing as weird as possible for weirdness’ sake—as Imarisha says, “there are as many ways to exist as we can imagine.”
But reading Octavia’s Brood had me realize that despite this, something is really wrong and toxic about modern sci-fi. A pervasive snarkiness, a fear by author’s that they’ll be perceived as naïve. Whether I agree with the author’s politics or not, there’s a cowardice is today’s sci-fi, striving to be “nuanced” about anything smacking of politics, thus embracing a quasi-neutrality that defaults to literary liberalism. There’s also this negativity; regardless of genre everything reads more like horror, a combination of shock value and a perverse delight in a meaningless universe.
Octavia’s brood is the opposite and the antidote.
I wanted to describe my favorite stories in the book, but I can’t put my finger on it. I’ll try:
“Black Angel” by Walidah Imarisha: An angel cast out from heaven (not a demon) fights injustice on Earth. This surprised me with how much a enjoyed it, as I usually hate the angel/demon sort of urban fantasy. The inner life of the angel moved me.
“Evidence” by Alexis Pauline Gumbs: In an idyllic future, someone sends messages of hope back to her ancestor struggling in our era. A lot of the technology for this was over my head; I didn’t know whether this was on the edge of 21st century hard science, or quantum terms strung together. But when the focus was on the social message, dang that was powerful.
“Sanford and Sun” by Dawolu Jahari Anderson: In screenplay form, Sanford’s primetime TV reality is interrupted by visions from Sun Ra about the spirituality and nobility of Black history. As wacky and original as it sounds.
“The Long Memory” by Morrigan Phillips: In a fantasy archipelago, people with magical memory keep tradition alive, and an evil up-and-coming emperor hunts them down. Yes, this is familiar, but for all the reasons I mentioned above, this version of speculative fiction is more human, and the politics are courageous instead of bland.
West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California edited by Iain Boal, Janferie Stone, Michael Watts and Cal Winslow. PM Press.
Reviewed by A. Iwasa
Coming out of what started as the Communes Project, a collaborative effort between the Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and the Mendocino Institute in 2003, this book is a striking example of the radical potential to utilize the resources of academia when people make a point of making them accessible to the general public.
Communes are placed historically both in the broader sense of general Utopian history, and the more particular focus of the book revolving around the 1968 social upheavals.
Fantastic chapters on the Native American occupation of Alcatraz and communalism in the black Panther Party work to dispel the myth of communal living as a white people thing.
Prominent also are back to the land projects such as the Morning Star and Black Bear Ranches. First hand accounts abound, and sources are extremely well cited for those interested in following up. The ongoing legacies of the communes and the people involved are also addressed from the pot economy to high tech industry.
This book is a must read for anyone interested in communal living, especially those now who think our much smaller and tamer communal living movement, or lack there of, is The Revolution. We’ve got a long way to go to rebuild what was, and the lessons we can learn from past efforts should be studied in works like this.
I think virtually every commune dweller past and present could fill a book this size alone with great stories fun and sad, economic and historical. All these sorts of details are very important, and the editors were great about never getting stuck on any of the specifics.
On a personal level, I was able to make it in the Bay Area from Slingshot 119 to 120’s editing largely because of a communal living situation I was able to get into on my credentials as a member of the Slingshot Collective doing research on the topic. Almost every place I’ve lived since I moved out of my mother’s house For The Last Time back in 2003 has been some sort of collective, so the topic is very dear to my heart.
I made a specific point of getting our review copy at the Howard Zinn Book Fair from PM Press because of this, and even though it’s a little old, Ramsey didn’t hesitate to donate it to us. It would be great to see more work like this, both about the 1960s and ’70s, and the time since then which has been fascinating in its own ways.
Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000 by Kris Hermes. PM Press.
Reviewed by A. Iwasa
Starting off with a strong Foreword then Introduction placing the 2000 Republican National Convention (R2K) squarely in the pre-9/11 National Security State trajectory showing again and again how the United States government had been steadily ratcheting up its monitoring and disruption of political dissidents long before 9/11.
Philly itself, host of the R2K and future host of the 2016 Democratic National Convention (DNC) is similarly contextualized in its bloody history of police brutality and heavy-handed injustice system when it comes to civilians, and total lack of accountability when it comes to the police.
Also the R2K Legal Collective and the defense of the R2K arrestees is outlined as part of the re-emergence of activist-led legal collectives and radicals leading their own defense in political trials.
Then with the beginning of the first chapter enters the infamous John Timoney. Sworn in as Philly’s police commissioner in 1998, I first became familiar with him after he led the oppression of the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protests. The police brutality was so bad and systematic, it became known as the Miami Model. It turns out Timoney had been heading such affairs since the August 1988 Tompkins Square Park Riot in New York City. Here again, a systemic series of oppressive acts, regardless of which of the capitalist class political parties are calling the shots is outlines. He even policed the DNC in 1992!
Then Hermes moves on to the initial threats of political repression from the state and the beginning of street action. Similar to his own form of counter-protest hopping, Timoney had Philly police go to Seattle six months before the R2K to observe the actions against the World Trade Organization (WTO). This shows how we must also be vigilant, constantly studying the state, and not simply trying to use old tactics that may have worked in another time and/or place.
Along the same lines, February 2000 the FBI Academy in Virginia hosted a conference for police commanders around the country to study the WTO protests, and to prepare for future actions. Philly police attended other events in preparation such as the April 2000 International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank protests in Washington, DC, where they even conducted surveillance. And all this before the protests even started!
There are many reasons to read this book: history, strategy both in the streets and in the courts, and for those of us thinking of attending the upcoming protests against the DNC in Philly, and/or the RNC in Cleveland, Ohio. We should all be doing this sort of homework before we hit the streets, since we know the ruling class is doing theirs.
All out for Philly! All out for Clevo! All Power to the People!
Dark Tales from the Dungeons: Horrors from the ‘Hood for Youth to Beware
The Men for Honor Writing Group;
Edited by Dortell Williams
Reviewed by d’ eggplant
A totally unique DIY project that seeks to expand the voices of incarcerated people. That alone gets my attention and motivates me to turn pages. Sadly this book is so filtered through and through by the institution that’s killing these people I don’t end up lingering on the pages very long. While reading this I got the sense that every word of this work is scrutinized by some malevolent guard. The stories and poems here are laden down with a cautionary tone intent on converting youngsters off of a destructive path.
If you can get past that part then you’ll find some captivating storytellers. The people in prisons are immensely creative and quick witted. They tend to master the mind and exceed in social skills that most people stop flexing after college. They can master most fields given a chance as is evident here with regards to these half dozen writers. Their techniques using allusions, similes, puns and allegory are very effective in this book. They are people who have witnessed amazing things the least of which is seeing the human spirit soar while in toxic environments.
I wonder what if this book didn’t have to get approval from some bigoted prison guard. Having the writers coerced into using a confessional tone is another example of emasculating people who resisted the lingering effects of slavery and capitalism. In my utopian dream similar warning tracts would be crafted and delivered to the future police, bankers, politicians, developers, lawyers etc — the people in power who are educated and should know better, but continue to go on fucking everything up.
Hello Slingshot! I’d like to take up the next 10 minutes of your life talking about the chemical glyphosate. (You can also follow along with the above video!)
Here is Glyphosate’s chemical structure. Its IUPAC name is (N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine)
Glyphosate is by far the most heavily used herbicide in the United States, with over 200 million pounds used annually(i). So what’s all this chemical for? Well, it kills weeds.
Glyphosate is an enzyme inhibitor. Glyphosate stops the enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase from doing its job, which is to help synthesize the amino acids tyrosine, tryptophan, and phenylalanine.(ii) There are twenty two amino acids that all creatures need to stay alive. Not having three means death.
So, if we don’t have any copies of this enzyme, then glyphosate shouldn’t do us any damage, right? Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complex than that.
But, it’s important to remember that humans, and most other animals, don’t actually make 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase themselves. We’ve got mouths instead. We eat creatures (plants) that make fancy molecules like this, so that we don’t have to make them ourselves.
So, if we don’t have any copies of this enzyme, then glyphosate shouldn’t do us any damage, right? Unfortunately, it’s a bit more complex than that.
Glyphosate was developed by the Monsanto corporation in 1970. For the last 46 years it’s been marketed under the name of Roundup®.(iii) But, Roundup® didn’t reach absurdly high levels of use until genetically modified foods became widespread.
Monsanto developed Roundup Ready® soybeans in 1994 and Roundup Ready® corn in 1996. These crops contain an alternative version of 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase, a version derived from bacteria and which is not inhibited by glyphosate. Today, Roundup Ready® genes are found in about ninety percent of the soybeans and seventy percent of the corn and grown in the United States.(iv)
Are you with me so far? Let’s pause here for a second, because it’s about to get pretty complicated.
There are four hot-button issues all tangled up together which make it extremely difficult to talk about this chemical without someone getting angry at you. And they should get angry, because a lot of this is pretty messed up.
So here’s the deal: Some people are upset about the use of genetic modification technology. Some are also upset about the ecological damage caused by monocultures. Others worry about the toxicity of herbicides and pesticides, and still others don’t like the way our food system has fallen under the sway of international corporations like Monsanto.
Here are those four issues in a list:
1. Corporate Oligarchy
3. Agricultural Chemicals
4. Genetic Modification
These problems are all intertwined, but they have very distinct solutions. Unfortunately, the public debate surrounding these issues tends to look like this:
It’s possible that propaganda like this might be true, but I think we owe it to ourselves to try to figure out why…
It’s possible that propaganda like this might be true, but I think we owe it to ourselves to try to figure out why, OK? So, let’s look at each of the four issues I raised above individually.
Issue #1: Is Monsanto bad?
Absolutely, unequivocally, yes. They are terrible.
Most of their terribleness comes from their legally recognized monopoly. In 2009, Monsanto was investigated for violations of anti-trust laws. (v) This investigation went nowhere, perhaps because Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas (along with several EPA and FDA officials) is a former Monsanto employee (vi). It should come as no surprise then that Thomas wrote the majority opinion in the 2001 court decision which found that “newly developed plant breeds are patentable under the general utility patent laws of the United States.”(vii)
Monsanto has begun to research Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURT), also known as terminator seeds—seeds genetically engineered to produce sterile offspring, so seed saving is impossible.
What this means in practice is that Monsanto has an unfair amount of control over how farmers grow and distribute their crops. Their patents prevent farmers from hybridizing Monsanto seeds with heirloom varieties.(viii) It’s also illegal to save seeds from Monsanto crops to use for the following year, forcing farmers to annually buy new seed from Monsanto. (ix)
For developing countries outside of the US without such strict patent protection, Monsanto has begun to research Genetic Use Restriction Technology (GURT), also known as terminator seeds—seeds genetically engineered to produce sterile offspring, so seed saving is impossible.
Thankfully, the international response to GURT was strong, and Monsanto halted research in 2006, (x) but the fact that this technology was even considered shows the ethical plane that Monsanto is operating on. Their policies make it harder for small farmers to make a living, and exclusively incentivize large industrial monocultures.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that Monsanto, as a corporation, is distinct from the idea of monoculture, or chemical use, or even genetic modification. Monsanto is terrible for political reasons, (the revolving door and unfair IP laws) and it might be possible for some version of the other ideas associated with the company to be applied sustainably in a different context.
For example, imagine a permaculture school which operates a lab, and uses open source methods to adapt the genomes of its crops to the local microclimate. Or, imagine a worker owned fungicide manufacturer, whose products are designed for targeted, ecologically sensitive use. There is no fundamental reason organizations like this couldn’t exist, but our current ideological landscape makes them difficult to conceive. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here. As it stands, the agricultural chemicals and GM crops that Monsanto produces are inextricably tied to monocultures.
Let’s take a look at why that’s a problem.
Issue #2: Is monoculture bad?
The problem with monoculture is that it optimizes land use for machines, at the expense of biodiversity, human accessibility, and even yield. That’s right, even yield. Yields could be much higher if different species were planted amongst each other, to take advantage of different seasons and growth patterns and such (this is permaculture 101). But, we don’t often grow food like this anymore because it’s difficult to make a machine that can harvest one kind plant while leaving another kind intact. And so instead, we have thousands of acres occupied by loose grids of one kind of creature. This keeps prices low. But, this also keeps pest populations unusually high, so fields like this require a lot of pesticides. Like, a lot.
So, does that mean that agricultural chemicals are terrible too?
Issue #3: Are agricultural chemicals bad?
Well, it depends.
The vast majority of agricultural chemicals used in the US are used on monocultures. Thousands of acres are fumigated all at once, creating ecosystems of literally one species.Such “ecosystems” are unstable. It’s very easy for other organisms (“pests”) to enter and fill unoccupied niches.This forces the monocultural farmer to spray even more chemicals, creating vicious cycle. Here’s a stunning quote:
“[D]espite the more than 10- fold increase in insecticide use in the United States from 1945 to 2000, total crop losses from insect damage have nearly doubled from 7 to 13%”(xi)
Each season of monocultural production sees an increase of both pests and pesticide use in an evolutionary arms race. Clearly this use of agricultural chemicals is destructive. But, a monoculture is not the only place these chemicals can be used.
Let’s go back to glyphosate. A lot of the criticisms of Roundup® aren’t about the direct toxicity of glyphosate itself (although the surfactants it is mixed with are often toxic (xii)), but rather, its unexpected ecological effects. For example, glyphosate runoff has been shown to be particularly destructive to aquatic ecosystems. (xiii). But the only way that Roundup® could ever reach those aquatic ecosystems, when it’s supposed to be applied to just crops, is when it’s applied massively and repeatedly, over a huge area – monoculture applications.
Applying Roundup® to individual weeds with tenacious roots in your backyard garden likely isn’t going to do that much harm. If we chose to use these chemicals infrequently, for a specific pest in a localized area, we could protect our crops without bulldozing the surrounding environment. The goal is to use chemicals that are ecologically specific.
And, oddly enough, this is the promise of genetic modification.
Issue #4: Is genetic modification bad?
Let’s think about what’s been done to Roundup Ready® plants. They’ve been given an alternative copy of 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase, a copy that’s not inhibited by glyphosate. (xiv) Glyphosate can then be applied to these crops, and it will leave them alone, while eliminating the more harmful weeds nearby. This style of modification could allow for incredibly specific chemical control, if used properly.
Or, take another GM crop, BT corn. BT corn has been modified to produce a bacteria toxin which is deadly to caterpillars.(xv) It is not however deadly to other insects like beetles or grasshoppers, nor is it harmful to humans. The toxin is produced in the tissues of the plant, so there is no risk of it leaching into the environment, like what would happen if the pesticide were sprayed willy-nilly all over the place.
Basically, genetic modification has the potential of providing highly specific, ecologically sensitive ways of controlling pests and improving fertility. Unfortunately, the way we’ve been using it has increased, not decreased our ecological footprint.
Basically, genetic modification has the potential of providing highly specific, ecologically sensitive ways of controlling pests and improving fertility. Unfortunately, the way we’ve been using it has increased, not decreased our ecological footprint. But that has more to do with the politics of Monsanto and the economics of monoculture than it has to do with genetic modification itself, or even the nature of agrichemicals. Instead of designing crops to resist the application of a broad spectrum herbicide, we could design them such that our chemical use could be precisely targeted, or even unneeded. Instead of adding artificial fertilizers, what if we modified our cereal crops to form nitrogen fixing symbioses like beans? Could our vegetables form mycorrhizal relationships with edible fungi?
Instead of designing crops to resist the application of a broad spectrum herbicide, we could design them such that our chemical use could be precisely targeted, or even unneeded.
This is why I get so frustrated with the GMO debate. The fact of the matter is that GMOs are not inherently evil. They’re certainly not going to give you cancer, although there are plenty of articles which will tell you otherwise.(xvi) The same goes for many pesticides (although not all). The problem with these technologies is not inherent, but that their development and use is controlled by terrible corporations like Monsanto, which use their power to expand a destructive monocultural food system.
For the last century or two, various voices (mostly corporate) have promised us that each new technology on the horizon is going to dramatically improve our lives. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. Often, it feels like these technologies cause more problems than they solve. After so many high-tech innovations gone awry, we are right to be skeptical of the scientific establishment and their monopoly on facts. Research on potential toxins funded by the industries that make them should be received extremely critically, or flat out rejected. But (and this is a big but) just because these technologies pose a risk of harm does not mean that they will unconditionally cause harm in all contexts. Harm to a human body is different from harm to an ecosystem (those GM corn flakes won’t give you cancer, but they’re terrible for biodiversity). And technologies that harm ecosystems can also be used to heal them.
The enemy here is not science, and it’s not technology. It’s not GM, and it’s not agrichemicals. The enemy is the political and economic conditions which allow small groups of people to control the sustenance of billions.
The enemy here is not science, and it’s not technology. It’s not GM, and it’s not agrichemicals. The enemy is the political and economic conditions which allow small groups of people to control the sustenance of billions. Were our food system local, diverse, and horizontally managed, the specter of these technologies would not look nearly so terrifying.
Here are some additions and corrections to the 2016 Slingshot Organizer radical contact list. Let us know if you find errors or run across other spots we should include. We also post periodic updates at slingshot.tao.ca.
Arcus Center for Social Justice – Kalamazoo, MI
A space at Kalamazoo College that hosts a radical book exchange and events with availability to non-students. 205 Monroe St, Kalamazoo, MI 49006 (mail: 1200 Academy St, Kalamazoo, MI 49006.) 269-337-7398 reason.kzoo.edu/csjl
The Plant – Tallahassee, Fl
A DIY community workshop/art studio that offers anarchist free skool-style classes, film screenings, shows, display art, and hosts activist meetings and reading groups. All events are free/suggested donation and all ages. 517 W. Gaines Street, Tallahassee, FL 32304. theplanet.tally at gmail.com
El Hormiguero – Medellín, Colombia
An infoshop that hosts events. Cra. 44 No. 41A-24 (second floor) Niquitao, Medellín, Colombia casaelhormiguero.blogspot.com.co
Infoladen Magazin – Basel, Switzerland
An infoshop with a small anarchist library (books + zines), a free-access computer and printer. They host meetings, movies, discussions and workshops on topics including anti-repression, anti-racist, anti-gentrification, etc. Open Wed, Sat and Sunday afternoon. Inselstrasse 79, 4057 Basel, Switzerland
A radical collective / commune with an infoshop, community center, arts venue and student center. They have room for up to 7 volunteers / visitors / troublemakers if you’re in the area. Colonia Miguel Bonilla #129, Del Bar Esquina Fiel 3 Cuadras al Sur, Media Cuadra Arriba, Managua, Nicaragua. (on Facebook at La Rizoma Nicaragua.)
Changes to the 2016 Slingshot organizer
• Guide to Kulchur has moved. They are not at 5900 Detroit, Cleveland, OH 44102
• Yin Yang Fandango in Corpus Christi, TX closed.
• Last issue we published an address for Bombs Away in Athens, GA, but that address didn’t work out. They hope to have a new location in August.
• BRYCC house in Louisville, KY has closed.
• Soap Box in Cincinnati, OH has changed their name and moved. They are now McMicken Freespace at 527 W. McMicken, Cincinnati OH 45214.
• AK Press is moving. Their new address is 370 Ryan Ave #100 Chico, CA 95973.
• The Centro Social y Cultural Libertario in Medellin, Colombia no longer exists.
• The Red and Black Umbreall Social Centre in Wales (UK) has closed.
• The Valija de Fuego Bookstore in Bogotá moved and their new address is Cr 7 No 46-68. Chapinero, Bogotá, Colombia
• Biblioteca Social Reconstruir has moved. Their new address is Godard 20, Guadalupe Victoria II, 07790 Ciudad de México, D.F.
Radical communities, despite their best intentions to lessen systematic isolation, can be at risk for falling into the toxic interpersonal patterns that they purport to fight against. The following is an excerpt I read to a small radical community I am currently connected with. I share it in hopes that it will help other folks struggling with interpersonal tension in their communities that prevents productivity and action.
Shortly after the New Year, when I was at a local punk house/DIY venue, I noticed a man because he was impossible to not notice. He was loud, opinionated, and good at commanding attention. He appeared to like drinking beer, as many of us do. He also appeared to me, to be a white straight able-bodied cis male who had been socialized to fill up the space around him with his words. When he loudly gave unsolicited negative feedback to a friend, I told him he was being an alpha and that it was coming across a little funny to me. He responded, “Well, at least you had the balls to call me out.” I walked away and wrote him off, despite the better-than-I-expected response.
Hours later, I noticed he was sitting alone. It looked like there was a lot on his mind, and I decided to ask him about it. I am so beyond happy that I let my guard down to talk to him. I think the conversation that ensued will change me forever.
He told me that he is 20 years old and since he could remember, his family primed and trained him to become a fighter. His Christian military family saw a future for him of being a warrior for the federal United States government and did not encourage development in any direction more strongly than this one. In a recent training, his drill sergeant told him that he is “240 pounds of American kick ass”.
The problem is that he doesn’t want to do this with his life. While he has not been deployed, he has signed documents determining that if he backs out, he gets time in prison and comes out with a felony, along with serious conflicts with his family. These consequences would lead to being totally dependent on strangers to forgive his felony when he looks for jobs and housing. To say this man has been raised to be the strongest and most independent person in a room could be an understatement, so I can imagine why he does not feel like he has any choices. As he clutched my hand, and I clutched his back, I wanted so desperately to save him from his coerced servitude. But I know I can only save myself.
How many young people are terrified as they remained trapped into these circumstances? How many times have they been judged for joining the service on one side while being forced into it by the other?
Not everyone is necessarily oppressed, but everyone suffers under this system. Lost in the understandable defenses I developed toward men, I forgot that there is usually a very good reason for people being how they are. If there’s anything I’ve learned in life, it’s that. We are traumatized, some more than others. There are reasons why I am on my guard around loud white men, and many times I’ve deeply regretted trusting them. I regret trusting men who command power and authority in radical movements and all other aspects of my life who assault me or belittle my experiences of oppression, thus perpetuating the painful cycles. I regret trusting women who claim to love women but tear me down as soon as I show them my vulnerable side.
These instances are products of our environment and people have not yet always turned the mirror on themselves, and I was caught in that crossfire, as other people have been caught in mine. Understanding is not the same as justification. We all make mistakes. But I don’t regret trusting this man that I met. Being able to be vulnerable with one another in this world is a radical action and not a mistake. What a wonderful gift he has given me! And in that place of mutual vulnerability, I was able to share the ways in which I had felt he was unaware of his privilege, and he was open to listening.
I would like to see us all work together to create a culture in which we are vulnerable with each other, in which we do not cast immediate verbal judgments and offer unsolicited advice. I want people to listen to each other’s stories, thoughtfully and quietly, and not invalidate them. I want people to be aware of how much verbal and emotional space they are taking up in their interactions with others. We all have something to teach each other, but we all have something to learn from each other, too. I am sharing what I’ve learned in hopes that it can encourage us to make changes to how we are all conducting ourselves in this space and in this movement. I believe that cultures of gossip need to become cultures of direct and respectful communication. I have contributed to gossip cultures, and I imagine most, if not all have as well. Communities seem to work better together when oppressive and toxic behaviors are recognized and discussed face to face. It can be helpful to define differences between healthy processing and dishonest, passive aggressive gossip and other maladaptive, ego driven behaviors. To me, building solidarity means being directly honest with ourselves and others. Our oppression is built on lies and secrets. It is built upon a system that tells us to shove connection and humanity somewhere behind closed doors. I seek to tear down those doors.
To quote an excerpt from a zine called “Friends Make the Best Medicine” by The Icarus Project:
“There are so many of us out here who feel the world with thin skin and heavy hearts, who get called crazy because we’re too full of fire and pain, who know that other worlds exist and aren’t comfortable in this version of reality. We’ve been busting up out of sidewalks and blooming all kind of misfit flowers for as long as people have been walking on this Earth.”
“…We feel things stronger than the other people around us, a lot of us have visions about how things could be different, why they need to be different, and it’s painful to keep them silent.”
“…We need to start talking and networking- finding common ground and common language with the other people around us. We need to get together in groups and find language for our stories that make sense to us and leave us feeling good about ourselves. We need to summon up everything we’ve got to create social webs and lasting support networks for ourselves and the people who will follow us.”
For example, consent language could be a norm that is set to maintain solidarity within the group subculture. Consent language isn’t just about sexuality. It’s about saying, “hey, I want to have a discussion about solidarity but we’ve been meeting for 2 hours already. Let’s do a check in on who would like to shelve this until next week.” It’s about listening when someone says no the first time. There have been a couple of times I observed someone saying repeatedly that they wanted to engage in the activity or discussion that the rest of the group didn’t seem really excited about right in that moment. It seemed more about that one person’s agenda than what the group wanted.
Norms acknowledge that there are basic limits to the human body and psyche that must be taken into account. Emotional states change when we are overriding the messages our bodies are telling us, and some of us are more capable of these overrides than others. People often become grumpy when talking too and feel stuck in a meeting. The productivity of the meeting decreases. Then people snap at each other. This will not build the solidarity we seek.
Building solidarity requires not that we build a safe space, as no space is safe from the poison that we each have been steeped in as members of this giant machine. It requires, however, that we are aware of our poison, that we take ownership of it. We do not wake up one day perfectly attuned to everyone’s oppression and we just never participate in it again. Maybe we’ve tried to become as conscious as possible and stopped intentionally doing it, but that does not clear us of responsibility when someone calls us out, even if we had no idea we were doing it. I have been actively studying intersectional feminism over half of my life and have been a woman my whole life, yet I still have sexist thoughts. So when a man who has studied little of it tells me that he did not just do a sexist thing to me, or someone else belittles it when I recount that experience, I am not going to feel in solidarity with this person. And that does not make me reactionary or oversensitive. It makes me a non-robotic human who feels as though their valid experiences have been discounted.
I’ve noticed that in radical spaces I’ve frequented, many people have well-informed political and philosophical discussions about the problems with this society and our world, but do not always turn the mirror on themselves. Particularly for those with power and responsibility in these spaces, it is important to ask questions such as: How are the past romantic and sexual relationships between people in this collective impacting the way these meetings and groups are run? What about roommates and old friendships? Are people of color and older radicals feeling heard and welcomed here? Do homeless women even feel safe coming here, or are the men who are terrorizing them on the streets taking too much of the emotional and physical space without having boundaries set around those behaviors? Problematic behaviors could be something as seemingly simple as eye rolling or being frequently interrupted.
Is it possible that these factors are dragging us away from our goals of truly connecting with each other and being productive because we are trying to ignore it all, put it behind the door that I referred to at the beginning of this speech? Are we desperately avoiding uncomfortably direct and honest conversations, only to create a build up of even more painful discomfort? Are we trying to reinvent the wheel rather than actively looking for literature and advice from other radical spaces who have been through these same things?
As a counselor, a seeker of peace and social justice, woman, a queer person, a childhood victim of emotional, sexual, verbal, and physical abuse, a sufferer of severe depression and anxiety, and a person with white, cis, class, able bodied, thin privilege, I want to proclaim that it is time for us to wake up and start looking at how we unintentionally hinder others’ healing processes. We need to work to heal our collectives and heal ourselves, or how will we be able to heal anything else? We don’t need a restrictive 10 commandments to run a radical space. But, as the Icarus project says, we do need a common ground and a common language that leaves us feeling good about ourselves and our interactions, and that common ground and language should actively challenge privilege and support those who call out abuse of power, no matter how small of a micro aggression it might seem to someone who has never had to be at the receiving end of that micro aggression. We need a common language that helps people feel heard and empathized with even if they are not agreed with. We can reform the way we communicate with each other. But some will have to give up more power than they may be comfortable with. We can choose to do this by continually reminding ourselves that many struggles are invisible, or easy for someone from a privileged group to overlook. To bridge that gap, we can keep listening, stay open, and be willing to take accountability when our mistakes in doing this are brought to our attention.