2 – Book Review: Building the Population Bomb

Book Review: Building the Population Bomb, By Emily Merchant (Oxford University, 2021)

By Big Yew

The myth of “the population bomb,” or the belief that population in and of itself drives ecological destruction remains pervasive. Yet, there is little evidence that more people inherently generate more emissions, or that reducing the number of people on the planet would reduce emissions. 

In Building the Population Bomb (2021, Oxford University Press), Emily Merchant offers a well-researched history of the concept of the “population bomb,” showing how this concept was invented by eugenicists in the middle of the twentieth century, and then the concept was promoted by American businessmen as a means of forestalling environmental regulation. 

Likewise, as Merchant explores, the myth of overpopulation has been used to harm reproductive rights, especially for people of color. One example of how this has played out has been the genocide in the U.S. colony of Puerto Rico, where racist doctors used the myth of “overpopulation” as an excuse to justify sterilizing roughly 25% of Puerto Rico’s population from 1930-1980. The myth of overpopulation has largely been leveraged to rob people of color of their reproductive rights and cannot be untangled from its role as a white supremacist organizing tool. 

Ultimately, the idea that “reducing population” will solve climate change is nonsense invented by corporations to keep us at each other’s throats. The corporate imperative to make more money next quarter than they did last quarter guarantees that these corporate actors will continue to accelerate emissions even if the population goes down.

Reductive equations that link population and emissions distract us from publicly addressing the activities that directly fuel emissions, while obscuring tactics that actually need to happen to get us to a net-zero society.

Time to focus directly on the pragmatic changes that are needed to get to a fully net-zero emissions society. Attention needs to be directly on the corporations that are fighting every day to lock fossil fuel consumption in place.

Time to yeet the Nazi-derived rhetoric of “excess population” from the climate movement. Time to put an end to investor-ownership in the energy sector. We need to yeet the capitalists, not each other’s reproductive rights.

4 – Toward an Ecological Well-being Index

By Hanna Gill Scott

When ecological data is made accessible and modeled in ways that are accurate and easy to interpret, people are better able to take collective action in caring for and sustaining the ecological systems that keep our planet habitable. 

We currently have public access to a vast array of of ecological datasets and models including the C-MIP (climate futures), ECCO (ocean currents), GRACE-FO (aquifer compaction), HABMAP (deadly algal blooms), MDMAP (ocean debris), the NSIDC (arctic ice melt), and so many more. We even have the technology to allow every tree on the planet to be tracked from space! Why aren’t we using these data and tools technology to make collective decisions? 

What if all we got better at unflinchingly looking at ecological information, and made it a daily practice to keep track of these measurements? Kids easily learn hundreds of Pokémon — once things are organized into a logical model, it gets easier to track and understand the data. Could ecological data become the backing of game systems that are fun and get people motivated to direct attention towards ecological care and direct labor away from ecocide? 

What if we had an ecological well-being index (EWI)? What if scientists were on the radio each day (instead of economists), interpreting and making predictions using ecological data? Why don’t we talk about shifts in the ecology as readily as we talk about sports matches? Why don’t we have more types of festivals and rituals that center ecological care? How could planetary well-being become the center of culture? 

We need strategies that systemically center ecological care, not “fix it later” engineering stunts. There will never be some “magic” technology that makes up for a lack of ongoing ecological care. 

We need to re-design our entire system of value. This needs to happen in every sector, at every level. We need everyone’s help, from all professions and walks of life. We need makers, philosophers, educators, policy tinkerers, media crafters, hackers, and performers. We need to shift the center of our society, we need to re-root ourselves. This can only happen with a diversity of approaches, with all hands working towards a common goal: keeping our plant alive, lush, and habitable. 

Can we dismantle the toxic system of dumping our attention into finance capital and instead direct that attention into the urgent care our planet’s ecology needs? 

How can we draw our collective attention back down to Earth? How can we, as a culture, become more engaged in the ecological systems that sustain and nurture us? How can we rebuild our social relationships with ecological systems, and shift towards engaged, collective management of every aspect our of planet’s ecology? 

It is possible to change trajectory, but just like every other form of steering, it is going to be a matter of how we direct our attention. Is it possible to direct our collective attention towards caring for the planet before it is too late?

7 – Fight school closure

By Gerald

More than 300 people participated in a “Shut Down the Town” demonstration in East Oakland against school closures on March 5, 2022. There was a militant spirit among the the march that started at Roots, the site of a school that has been shut down. Oakland Unified School District (OUSD) has a history of closing down schools of majority Black and Latino students. The effects of chronic school closures and mergers have disrupted the education of many students and fed into the School to Prison Pipeline. This is widely understood by the teachers, students, parents, and the Oakland community at large.

The Good

2000 people logged into the meeting where the School Board announced they intended to shut down 15 schools. In response, all hell broke out. There have been numerous Town Hall meetings, demonstrations, rallies, and a Hunger Strike. Community Day, Parker, and Grass Valley elementary schools went on one day strikes with the cooperation of parents. The kids even walked out. All this in spite of the OUSD administration, Democratic Party politicians, and the California Teachers Association (CTA) constantly preaching that shutting down schools is a “management prerogative”. “Trust the experts”, they say. “They know what they’re doing”. Indeed, and we know what they’re doing. They are attacking us.

The Bad (Shane this part’s for you)

California is a “deep-blue” state, the Democratic Party has a super-majority in the state legislature and a Democrat occupies the Governor’s mansion. California is flush with a state budget surplus upwards of 30 billion dollars. Considering these facts, as workers we must draw the conclusion that the Democrats are for the public school closures the Oakland School Board recently voted for. This will come as no surprise to teacher union activists, who’ve for years seen hallways and classrooms and even whole campuses sacrificed to the private sector and their Charter School Industry or their Real Estate Developers. All completed through cushy legislation (Prop. 39 & AB 1840) passed by our “friends” in Sacramento, and/or the Democrats on the School Board. It’s Democratic Party machine politics!

And with this Democratic Party machine we see a patronage system within the structures of labor including: the Trade Union Bureaucracy, the elected School Board, and Employer’s Admin. Why has the leadership of Oakland Education Association union been hesitant to speak against school closures at both the rally/press conference organized by ILWU Local 10 (Longshore workers are facing similar attacks from private sector) and the East Oakland post-march rally? Then there is the bosses side. OUSD officials Kyla Johnson-Trammell, Shanthi Gonzalez, Gary Yee, and Clifford Thompson are all Democrats. What conclusions should we draw as workers? The result is class collaboration. The Democrats are the dirty bathwater of a labor movement still in its infancy. US workers need to usher in a new era of labor movement struggle For this to happen the bathwater has to be drained. 

To top it all off OUSD did zero community engagement before the decision was made. As Activists interested in reversing these closures we have to consider the roadblocks this deep-blue structure puts up to prevent a meaningful movement from emerging. Case in point, at the East Oakland march against school closures one didn’t see a large Democratic Socialists of America contingent with the big red banners, which was strange considering there was a rather large DSA contingent at a march at Oscar Grant Plaza a month earlier in February.

The Ugly

OUSD board president Gary Yee was seen with a developer at Community Day. Teachers took photos and placed them on Instagram. Our enemies are relentless. The OUSD Superintendent is a graduate of “Chiefs for Change” a Bush regime creation with Democrats (Bi-partisan effort w/ Ted Kennedy). 

Even though our pressure significantly decreased the number of schools that will be closing from the original threat of 15 to 3, schools are still on the chopping block. Three schools is still too many! Recall! No tested leadership!

7 – Defend People’s Park

Adapted from an article by Defend People’s Park

University of California Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ issued a statement “New Partnerships for a New People’s Park,” March 9 which detailed plans to address the “essential needs of those in the park” — by which she meant houseless people who have camped in the park over the last few years. The statement is part of the public relations campaign to promote destruction of the Park to build a gigantic dorm. Full of dramatic language but lacking details, the plan claims that UC is partnering with the city of Berkeley and local nonprofit organizations to provide food, services, and housing “navigators” for the unhoused with an 18-month lease for the 42 room Rodeway Inn and development of a new daytime drop-in center at a nearby Presbyterian church. 

Institutions like UC are extending their tentacles to seize land without caring about the repercussions of gentrifying and displacing communities. Despite claims from UC administrators that the plan was developed through conversations with the community at People’s Park, residents there understand the reality of the UC’s proposal and almost unanimously reject it. Rosey, an artist who has used the park for years, put it bluntly: “This whole university’s full of shit. I think they’re conning these people.” Eighteen months isn’t long enough for someone to get their life together and get housing, he says.

Nick, another park resident who currently lives in and supports the People’s Park Kitchen, agreed that leasing the Rodeway is only temporary relief from a cycle of displacement. Like many other park residents, he knows it can take years or even decades for unhoused people to escape the “pathway to housing” and get a permanent place to live.

Nick says that current Rodeway residents have no idea that they’ll have to leave the Rodeway and most of them will not be relocated to permanent housing, meaning that UC Berkeley is attempting to offset their displacement of unhoused people by displacing other unhoused people. 

Park residents expressed frustration and grief at the prospect of being displaced from the park. Denying the UC’s portrayal of the park as being dilapidated and obsolete, one resident, Maurice, says, “The park does still have life in it. Inside of it, outside of it, all around.” Maurice described the Park as a place where people can gather, relax, and develop projects to support the community. Jerome also emphasized the incredible power of the community to take care of and manage itself and echoed the sentiment of many other park residents.

It is with love for life and nature, that community activists, students, and our houseless neighbors, come together to defend the land and fight off the greed of capitalist institutions like the UC. Defend People’s Park, a collective of students and community members who are occupying the land, has worked to build networks of mutual aid within the park and community. Some of this work includes distributing clothes, tents, and other necessities, feeding residents savory and seasoned food, and providing harm reduction. These collective efforts to save the park have gotten electricity and water running for residents to use, and soon a shower will be completed. Like many encampments around the country, People’s Park is a welcoming space for healing, defense, and mutual aid. There is space to grow through gardening, nourishment, political education, and fun! Thus, now is the most urgent time to take direct action in our communities to defend People’s Park and encampments all over, from the UC’s colonial entitlement and hunger for profit. Share knowledge, share resources, and let’s fight for a rematriation of the land to indigenous stewardship, putting a halt to UC landlordship in Berkeley and everywhere. Come to our 53rd Annual Anniversary this April 23rd at People’s Park! Text “SAVETHEPARK” to 74121 and get notifications on the park. Stay updated by following the Instagram @peoplesparkberkeley Support by donating to the Venmo @pparkberk

6 – Resource distribution in disputed territory

By R Smith

	On providing objects in public places, advice for an emphasis on mutual benefit. Unconscious charity ignores externalities (especially ecologically) can cause harm in/to the commons, creating both conflict and trash. Seeking understanding of political/power dynamics of a space allows for deeper care and reduced risks for all involved. Whenever possible coordinate with organizations that already provide goods or services, keeping centered that the most important thing is that care is provided consistently not who is getting credit.. The easiest/safest practice is to show up in numbers — the risk of an individual being focused on and subsequently targeted later are lessened 

	While a student at UC Berkeley I heard People’s Park had a free lunch — this is where I got my first taste of mutual aid. Confusing it for charity initially, I asked the servers if I should leave it for the less fortunate. The organization Food Not Bombs was serving a multi course vegetarian meal every week day, run by volunteers and salvaging food that might otherwise go to waste. Years later at the Santa Cruz FNB I was surprised to find out, that in addition to having chapters across the country, there was an emphasis on literature and they held workshops on gardening and sustainability including a yearly retreat in Taos New Mexico. While this approach is in line with the greater project of food abundance/ sovereignty, some cook houses prefer simply to focus on the direct aid/charity of serving food, and leave the networking aspect out, or up to social media.

	My deeper immersion into mutual aid organizing has come through rainbow gatherings; which are multicultural interfaith assemblies that take place in the wilderness. The event is meant as prayer for world peace, and offers excellent training/practice. All group decisions are made through open counsel process. Through having numbers that make law enforcement difficult the forest service and police are forced into this modality, joining our circle(s) to tell us the event is illegal, then eventually working with us to create guidelines to protect the natural resources. Volunteers stay after the masses leave to remove all trash and re-naturalize. Donations are used to buy infrastructure and food in bulk increasing purchasing power drastically. Skill shares and workshops are common, and often provide mutual benefit, as the teacher(s) now have more people to help with the project/task. Over the years of attending I have learned how to: build gravity fed water systems, outdoor kitchens, organize food for equitable distribution, facilitate effective talking circles. I experience a sense of security unlike anywhere else because there is a meme “Shanti Scena” which one yells if they feel unsafe, which causes others to come help. If the assembled group still requires assistance they too yell “Shanti Scena” and more people arrive to deescalate/seek resolution, find a lost person, etc. 

	“First They Came for the Homeless” or “Here/There” is a mostly sober, formerly protest based, encampment near Alcatraz and Adeline. Regular meetings a requirement of membership. Advocates from/for various; projects, associations, organizations, also sometimes attend thus interacting with the group rather than risk the skewed perspective of one individual. They often have food, clothing, camping supplies for those in need. This level of community engagement and stewardship of a space is uncommon, and in stark contrast to the territorial hoarding that abounds in the surrounding area.

	What happens when an overabundance of resources lacks the physical and social infrastructure for sensible distribution? Overwhelming piles, items dragged and dumped, contribute to the persistence of a population, in turn attracting additional objects and even more collectors. Often when a group houseless people set up camp in an area, housed hoarders and those who sell (substances with high abuse potential) set up storage tent(s). However unlike local and residents of the surrounding area, they don't have the incentive to care about the externalities of a deal, because their sleep, safety, sanity isn't at stake. Over the years some of these predatory individuals have caused enough harm that even activists/social service providers have reported them to the police, leading some to believe they are confidential informants, or being used as a tool to continually cause dissent and bad optics.

	Harm reduction via capitalism is likely impossible. Being highly critical of any purchases is necessary for any hope of long term care, sustainably. Divest from culture that helps your local area short term, at great expense to distant ecologies. Less abstractly limit plastic, sugar/candy, processed foods; put health over providing momentary comfort; single use water bottles are easy to hand out, but ultimately discourage an individual from taking account of their water intake, and when bought from the wrong company increase their power to drain distant aquifers, and encourage water as a commodity. Once you've come to understand a scene it will be easier to discern who might not drink water otherwise, from those you are only saving a short walk. If interested in direct aid, going around to each tent/stuff pile/camp is a strategy that allows assessment of needs and avoids competition. The most common contention usually being the number of items an individual should take before others have a had a chance. If setting up free items careful curation is necessary to lessen the most able (often with the least need) from wielding their power over the supplies. 

	. Please don’t take this warning lightly. It is unfortunately common for dominant/territorial individuals to harass, threaten, run out, the vulnerable, leaving you to choose between condoning with silence or confrontation, becoming a target yourself. Some people so deep in psychosis/trauma/trigger that weeks or  months later, they will confront, threaten, attack; over something they observed overheard. Escalation of disagreements can sometimes be avoided by having a clear policy or asking recipients/crowd to respect the values/procedure of the group.

9 – Zero means zero – Carbon offsets are a scam – People power can demand real change

By Jesse D. Palmer

Sometimes when it seems impossible — just in the nick of time — broad-based cultural and political movements can get traction. We’ve reached a breaking point with few options — ruin or zero emissions and a just transition away from fossil fuels and eco-destroying activities. The social and ecological disruption resulting from climate change poses the gravest threat to humans and other species. All movements for civil and economic justice are threatened if drought, crop failures, ocean acidification and sea level rise displace billions of people, which is our future unless dramatic change happens soon. 

Given the overwhelming global scale of the crisis, it is easy to feel discouraged, resigned, doomed or to just to slip into denial. These psychological reactions are understandable, but what we need instead is engagement, mass organizing, and a focus on what can be done to reduce emissions on all levels simultaneously — technologically, globally, individually and in our local community. 

The world’s economic and political systems have their own internal logic and are controlled by tiny minorities whose wealth and power rely on fossil fuels and maintaining current consumption and engineering. These systems have not, will not and cannot reduce emissions. 

Because there are viable technological alternatives to fossil fuels, there’s no reason for us to be on a path to extinction except greed, shortsightedness and our collective inability to force the system to serve the interests of the majority of the world’s people and live within the limits of Earth’s life support systems.

Business as usual will surely destroy us. There are hints of hope — students protesting, divestment campaigns, a few more bikes and windmills. But progress is painfully slow and it feels like it’s always easier to focus on the crisis of the moment — the pandemic, war, right wing nut jobs — and avoid thinking about a problem so big, long-term and scary that it can feel like an invisible background to everything. 

Reducing and ending emissions is different from a lot of mainstream discussion of climate change, which emphasizes achieving “net zero” emissions using “carbon offsets” — concepts that would be laughable greenwashing bullshit it they weren’t catching on so widely in a way that distracts from the urgent need to cut emissions in the first place.

A carbon offset is the idea that a company or country can keep emitting carbon if they pay someone else to either reduce their emissions (think replacing a coal plant with a windmill), or invest money in a project to remove carbon from the atmosphere (think planing trees.) If a company buys offsets, they can claim they are carbon neutral or net zero even while they continue to emit the same amount of carbon. If you hear net zero, carbon offsets or carbon neutral, what you are hearing is that someone is not reducing their own emissions. 

Offsets may work on paper, but they are unlikely to work in real life for numerous reasons. This is particularly when the offset pays to pull CO2 out of the air by planting trees etc. Are these trees just replacing something humans deforested? Will the trees even survive after the company planting them sells the offsets? A lot of tree planting projects are planting the wrong trees in the wrong places — reducing biodiversity, speeding extinction and making ecosystems less resilient. (See NYT 3/14/22.)  Projects in the global south to offset emissions from the north can reinforce colonialism taking land from poor people. Trees are at best a temporary solution, since burning fossil fuels moves carbon that has been buried underground for millions of years to the surface and into the air. When the new trees die and decompose, the added carbon stays in the biosphere.

If someone else is taking fossil fuels off-line that is good, but it would be even better if the offset purchaser took their emissions off-line as well. Offsets suffer from fraud, the profit motive, and ultimately their main purpose is to justify continued emissions whereas what we desperately need is zero emissions. 

Movements for climate justice need to get beyond just being against stuff — blocking pipelines and demanding divestment — and start supporting tangible, specific alternatives to the status quo like community-controlled wind, solar and green alternatives to emissions. When we’re stuck in opposition mode, we’re letting the system set the agenda and define the battles to be fought, which puts us in a weak position. It is much better for us to propose and support a world we want to live in, and let the oil companies try to stop us.

Many climate activists risk falling into outdated rituals of NIMBY thinking that oppose all development and change without thoughtfully weighing what is being proposed against what it aims to replace. This can end up supporting the suicidal status quo by stopping or slowing down the broad-based technological change that is urgently necessary to get to zero emissions. It is naive to argue that we’ll get there through some sort of abstinence — that we can all just stop burning fossil fuels by giving up electricity, motorized transportation, mass production, etc. To me this is another form of psychological denial — one particularly popular with radicals and alternative types — that avoids dealing with the climate crisis while pretending to take it seriously. 

To the contrary, there is no realistic way to convince or force everyone to go cold turkey. Focusing on theory-based utopias that don’t translate to reality wastes what time we have left. The last 35 years have seen no emissions reduction between corporate greenwashing on one side, and activists engaging in magical thinking on the other. More than half of all human CO2 emissions have happened since 1988 when it became clear that global warming was a problem. Emissions keep going up when they could have been going down for the last few decades if practical measures had been taken.

Achieving zero emissions requires very difficult compromises — building massive amounts of new stuff that is less harmful than the stuff people use to meet their needs now. The new stuff is not going to be harm-free or perfect but it can be less harmful than doing nothing. Rather than demand zero technology and zero development, we’re going to have to strive for zero emissions. Every mine or factory involves ecological harm but they aren’t all the same. It isn’t romantic or popular, but I’m not against all mines or factories — I’m against the ones moving us towards our doom. 

Which is why it is discouraging to see climate activists opposing wind farms, transmission lines, lithium mines and solar projects for parochial reasons when much greater overall harm is presented by the decentralized world-wide emissions of our current technology.  You can’t compare a new facility with an open field— you have to compare it to the on-going specific ecological harms it can reduce or avoid.  It is hard to know, but I wonder if in a few years we find out that a lot of criticism of green technology is being secretly supported by the oil industry to cynically slow down change.

Getting to zero emissions is more than a slogan or public relations campaign. It cannot be achieved through any single shift or technology. There are only shades of gray and no simple magic answer — except that climate change only gets worse without sustained social pressure for change. And regular people like ourselves are the only hope we have.

9 – For a new political ecology

By Teresa 

The words “economy” and “ecology” come from the same Greek root word, oikos, which means household or home. Over the last 500 years, the economy has gotten quite far from home, and today’s economic system is nothing more than a series of death rituals for destroying our true home, the ecology. What would an economy look like that better fits the needs and budgets of our planet’s limited ecology? What would an economics look like that centers ecological and social care at the global scale? 

Social care and ecological care are deeply intertwined. This is something that has been revealed in the work of countless historians. Our present ecocidal regime is rooted in the trauma created by systematized forms of anti-humanism. 

As each new form of systemic oppression arises, we are all retraumatized and rendered numb to the ecocide happening all around us. The crypto-aristocrats of capitalism are always inventing new ways to trick us into oppressing each other — transphobia, homophobia, ableism, Sinophobia, racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, classism (especially against the un-housed), settler colonialism, anti-Indigeneity — the list goes on and on. 

Our economic oppressors trick us into fearing the beautiful diversity of the robust human ecology. They constantly seek to invent new ways for us to traumatize each other, to discount each other’s experiences. When we become numb to each other, we become numb to ourselves, and when we lose touch with ourselves, ecocide becomes easy. What level of self-other care would be needed to make ecocide hard again?

Our differences are taproots that bind us to the planet, that weave us into the social ecology in ways as mysterious as life itself. Life is a deeply anarchist impulse that has propelled us all from a lightning strike in a mud puddle five billion years ago, a lightning strike that organized matter into life, that same spark still pulsing through every living thing on this planet.

Ecological care takes bright eyes and a light spirit, it takes emotional space to be able to be present for the blooming buds, to notice the thirst of taproots, to luxuriate in the smell of luscious, healthy soil rich with microbes. Ecological care takes the ability to be fully present for the living world that cradles us, so that we can hear it when it cries out. When this year’s salmon run is lower than the last, the ecology is crying out. When once damp forests become as dry as tinder, the ecology is crying out. When the swarms of insects that once emerged certain times of year vanish and the birds start falling from the sky, the ecology is crying out.

When we are traumatized, we cannot respond to these cries, even though we feel them in our bodies, bones and cells. Our body-minds know our planet is being killed, that a mass ecocide is underway, that our fates are tied to the fate of all life on Earth.

What level of healing is needed to overcome the trauma that numbs us to the death of our own planet? How do we gain the clarity to perceive the dying animals as our siblings in struggle? How do we re-center the voices of Indigenous people who have deep relationships with the creatures of their ancestral lands? How do we elevate the voices of those who are systemically oppressed so that their beautiful differences can’t be used to make people afraid and cause more trauma?

The ecology is our home. It is time to cast the pretenders from the throne. It is only through deep systemic trauma that a demiurge as feckless as the stock market and other ledger-based death games have been able to stand in for the oikos. It is time to reunite the economy with the ecology, and to rid our societies of the horrific systemic oppressions that make ecocide possible.

Further Reading/Viewing:

  • The Salmon People by Children of the Setting Sun Productions thesalmonpeople.com
  • Racism as Zoological Witchcraft: A Guide to Getting Out by Aph Ko
  • The Routledge Handbook of Political Ecology; especially the chapter “Jahát Jatítotòdom*: Toward an Indigenous Political Ecology” by Beth Rose Middleton
  • The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet by Leah Thomas
  • Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation by Silvia Federici
  • Racial Capital by Cedric Robinson

5 – How 2 love unproductively -a little essay on crushes and anarchy and feeling better

By Lola Leuterio

From my journal, 4/17/21

“…But I also feel like this badly wrapped bundle of all of the most beautiful things in the universe… and it’s all out there and it’s all in here and I’m so excited to like, let the bundle unwrap? You know? Talking to Dakota felt like unwrapping it and so did looking at Casey and listening to Bertha with Max and laughing with Matt and Asha about Woobs and… I don’t know. I’m addicted to unwrapping it. I like being loved because it feels like proof that my guess was right — about all of the good stuff inside of me…”

I am 20 years old and I have spent approximately one quarter of my life — almost 5 years total — in two separate monogamous relationships with two different white, cis men. That’s a lot of time to spend in absolute devotion to another human being — loving, intelligent, and understanding as they might be, there are certain limitations that come with an abundance of privilege. Namely, I have noticed that white cis men tend to view romantic love in strangely narrow, hyper-specific terms. There’s a strictly linear nature to the kind of relationship that mainstream society teaches us to seek (one’s romantic partner should be the most important person in their life; one’s body, flirtations, and deepest displays of love must be reserved for the one partner alone). While all of us fall victim to the hype, it is certainly easier for the people that protocol was written for to subscribe to it. If you don’t feel like following the slew of rules that come with monogamy? No problem: then you can be “single” and have meaningless sex with as many people as you like. 

Recently, it has occurred to me that I have been existing within the single/taken binary — which was not created by me, but undoubtedly created for me — for as long as I can remember. The thing is, I don’t like it very much. I want to be deeply in love and care for someone, or many people, profoundly, romantically; and yet I don’t want to belong to anyone. I don’t want to close my eyes to obvious manifestations of love in the world around me, yet being single so that I can have detached sex with people to whom I owe no emotional responsibility sounds equally unappealing. 

There’s a certain level of trauma attached to this, but I’d rather start with the good part — the reason it matters to me at all. 

It matters to me because a couple of Saturdays ago, I was in the back-back seat of my little sister’s old Toyota Van, driving fast down Topanga Canyon. The whole valley below was bathed in a deceivingly-warm light, but in the van it was hot from the overworked engine and the combined body heat of the seven people inside of it. I sat on his left and when I looked out the window to my right, he caught my eye and held it. And his eyes were dark dark dark with eyelashes long long long and he smelled like the Japanese ginger candies he kept unwrapping. And it had never happened to me before — not quite like that — but I fell in love instantaneously. 

It matters to me because around a year ago, my roommate and I were waiting outside of BevMo while our friend bought up for a party we were having later that night. I was wearing one of her tank tops — blue and ruffly — and had smeared glitter all over my face. And I was complaining about the midterms I had been putting off and she got this look on her face, and considered me for a moment, and then said, “sometimes I think I am in love with you.” I laughed, quickly grabbed and released her hand. And she picked up the conversation where we had left it and we never talked about it again. 

It matters to me because of the dog walker on my street who I’ve hardly spoken two words to in my life, but who I think about often.

It matters to me because of a red-haired girl in my “Grassroots Organizing” class who is brilliant and beautiful and always wears a different bright green sweater to lecture.

It matters to me because of the boy I drove with all the way to Arkansas and back; listening to country music, eating fast food, pretending that we were characters in Smokey and the Bandit. The same boy who made sure I didn’t fail Calculus AB when things were hard my senior year of high school and who takes care of my cat when I am out of town. 

From my journal, 4/20/21

“Love must be so much more complicated than we give it credit for. I feel many layers of love in this moment. That is allowed. If no one else will tell me that it is, I’ll tell it to myself.” 

The anonymously authored anarchist essay “Kill the Couple in Your Head” argues that today’s standard “relationship” is nothing more than a container, where hot, unrefined, and free-flowing emotions cool to a freezing point. In this container — or maybe, it’s a cave — we box ourselves in as a means of protection from the fear of our own irrelevancy that we inevitably feel in a capitalist society. The “couple” is the state’s infiltration of our desire for intimacy — the place where “our desire for companionship and commitment is sucked into the institution of the couple and the family [and] our erotic energies are captured by the institution of sex.” Instead of storing our extensive need to love and to be loved into the static container of coupledom, “Kill the Couple in Your Head” argues that we should attempt to see each other beyond “the economy of exchange value in which the couple and the family are productive units.” To do this, we must instead conceptualize romantic (and non-romantic, why do we always create such a distinction between the two?) love as a spider web of relations. This is not to say that we should all embrace polyamory, which comes with its own set of problematic hierarchies and regulations, but rather that loving another person never warrants separation from the whole — that creation of a distinct, atomized pod, impenetrable by the outside world. In essence, if we want to banish the couple, we must nurture the network. 

If I’m being honest, though? I’ve been texting my boyfriend consistently throughout my writing of this essay, covering a range of topics from “good morning baby <3” to “I’m having SO many revelations about monogamy RN!!” 

The love between us isn’t illegitimate just because it is practiced within an illegitimate framework. It wouldn’t necessarily make anything better if I called him up right now and asked to make our relationship “open.” The couple, similar to the police, is far more pervasive than the forms we see walking hand-in-hand on the sidewalk, or the black-and-blue clad officers patrolling the streets. Both act also as institutions, as ideologies, as methods of social control powerful precisely due to their ability to reside within us, no matter how radical we presume ourselves to be. So, even if I were to practice polyamory, and even if I were to break up with my boyfriend entirely, the couple — that urge to belong to someone, and to be controlled by them — would live inside of me. It’s not all that different from the urge to be a citizen within this society, to work and save money and own property and pay taxes. The urge to be productive.

Forget angels and devils — there’s this good girl living on my shoulder, and while some part of me knows she was methodically placed there by those institutions that control us — gender, race, capital, Euro-rationalism — sometimes, still, I mistake her for myself. 

So: I don’t have a solution in terms of getting out of this strict, rule-bound existence. For now, all I plan on doing is ceasing to blame myself for my frequent inability to produce the way I am told to produce, to love the way I am told to love. I am no longer feeling guilt for my ubiquitous, deep infatuation with the world around me and the people inside of it. In high school, my ex-boyfriend would threaten to break up with me for wearing a low-cut tank top to school, or skinny dipping with my best friends at a fourth of July pool party. I began to associate his intense jealousy with his love for me and ultimately blamed myself when he realized he couldn’t own me. My current boyfriend has helped me to unlearn some of that toxicity — but I have to admit, while the execution is different, the structure of the relationship is generally the same. And I see it all around me, too — with both of my sisters and their boyfriends, three of my best friends and their boyfriends, and undoubtedly countless other women and queer people who are in love, and who are happy, but who, nonetheless, in some small corner of their minds and to various degrees, know that they sometimes must flatten their spirit to become more digestible to the men in their lives. 

Aren’t we a little bigger than that? Isn’t the world a little bigger than that?

Words spoken by the anonymous friend of an anonymous anarchist: 

“…Intimacy is a bandit. I know I need reciprocal forms of care to keep fighting. These days I’ll take it wherever I can find it. Clutching at these fugitive intimacies even as they slip through my fingers, learning to live in these spaces of imperfection…You don’t need to heal yourself to heal the world. You just need to keep yourself going enough to keep burning things down. Who knows what kind of strange and wonderful relationship forms might emerge from this mess?”

The patriarchal structures of productive coupledom, of the nuclear family unit, and of working for the sake of capital growth are necessarily narrow: if they weren’t, this complicated love I am speaking of — what Audre Lorde has called “the erotic” — would drown them out entirely. In Lorde’s words, “There is, for me, no difference between writing a good poem and moving into sunlight against the body of a woman I love.” The erotic power of women and queer people has been confined to The Bedroom (not just any bedroom, but the bedroom of The One) due to the fear it garners. 

And so we live in a state of regulation, slip-sliding between boundaries, tirelessly searching for an outlet for the love we can not stop ourselves from exuding. 

Maybe it’s just me, with my self-diagnosed Oppositional Defiant Disorder, but the idea of spending the rest of my life listening to anyone’s random set of rules — even if that person happens to be one of the loves of my life — makes me feel squirmy, claustrophobic. In this life, we have already been subjected to job interviews and oil changes and rent payments and plenty of things much worse — global warming, cancer, heartbreak. Why, then, would we decide to dismiss life when it gives us the best, the most beautiful that it’s got to offer? Falling in love can be the moment that your high school sweetheart proposes with 100 dozen roses, but it can also be a split second of eye contact with a stranger on the bus, a new friend handing you a cold beer with an all-knowing smile, Parliament-kitchen-dance-parties with your sisters, or a serendipitous coffee date with your next-door neighbor. It can be all of those things happening in the same week. 

Falling in love is just code for the moments when you remember you are alive. Sometimes, you can only get there with a little bit of flirtation, or alcohol, or attention. Other times you simply need to take in a deep breath of fresh morning air and look at the pale moon floating next to the Isla Vista oil rig. It doesn’t matter how you fall in love; it matters that you don’t — under any circumstances — let anyone make you believe that it is wrong.

From my journal, 11/6/21

“Life is about big yummy breaths and fat perfect suns and feeling good. It’s about really hilarious jokes and really deep feelings and helping your friends when their car keys are lost and they are too hungover to try to find them. It’s not about those crazy rules they always told us it was about. So if I think I want to be in love with you on a particular foggy Friday night in Isla Vista, and if we lock eyes on the roof of 6867, and if that’s not hurting anybody, I think that that’s okay. Actually, I think it’s kind of perfect.” 

3 – Forests not lumber – Stop Washington State’s clearcuts on public land

By Little Yew and Big Yew

Walking through Bessie Forest and Upper Rutsatz Forest in Washington State in the springtime, you are held by a thick carpet of ferns and moss. You may spot a rare trillium flower on the forest floor, while the abundant patches of licorice ferns offer their roots as a tasty snack. These forests are among Washington State’s “legacy forests”: they haven’t been logged in over 120 years, and many of their trees date back to the original old growth. While not yet old enough to be classified as old growth, legacy forests contain mature trees which are invaluable carbon sinks, and likewise, if they are left alone for just a few more decades, they will soon be old growth again.

Unfortunately, Bessie Forest, Upper Rutsatz, and fifteen other publicly-owned legacy forests in Washington State have been slated to be logged as early as this year. The forests under threat include the Dashingly Quirky Forest and the Sauerkraut Forest in the Chehalis River basin — which contain many original old growth trees, including giant fir trees with diameters wider than five feet. 

What’s particularly shocking is that all of these forests are on publicly owned land. Shouldn’t public ownership of forests protect them? Apparently not in Washington State. The state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has made it a regular practice to clearcut publicly owned forests with little-to-no public consent, gifting our oldest trees to the logger’s axe.

According to the USDA, a mature tree absorbs at least 48 pounds of carbon dioxide each year, helping draw down this greenhouse gas and cool the climate. Why are we chopping these trees in these times of pending climate chaos? We need all the carbon sinks we can get! Likewise, mature trees provide invaluable flood protection, habitat for wildlife, and are a cultural treasure. 

Sometimes activists will put our attention into the long battle of saving one or two forests; however, while we are putting all our energy into defending those forests, the state will often log a dozen more. We have to get smarter in how we oppose these logging sales. We have to get better at understanding the systems that are allowing these logging sales to happen — and change these systems.

Washington State DNR claims that these forests must be logged to fund schools. However, in a Seattle Times interview from March 2021, a school superintendent revealed that the logging barely covers 5% of the school building budget, which is a subcategory of the overall school budget. 

Sometimes people also make false claims that “we need to log forests to stop wildfires.” This is dangerously false. The reality is that clearcuts make forests more prone to catastrophic fire. If the goal actually was to make the forests less prone to fire, the state would be consulting Indigenous groups, who have used practices like cultural burns to reduce fire hazards since time immemorial. 

You can get involved in the effort to keep Washington State’s legacy forests intact by going to c4rf.org. Or, if you live outside of WA, you might try joining efforts in your region to preserve ecosystems

For a list of all 17 public forests currently under threat of logging in Washington State, go to: c4rf.org and click “Timber Sales.”

6 – Mutual Aid as a Practice in Love

Two of my comrades posing next to and on a blue pickup truck full of stacked brown boxes of food

By Kat Ackerman

The writer and organizer Dean Spade defines Mutual Aid as “…collective coordination to meet each other’s needs, usually from an awareness that the systems we have in place are not going to meet them” (Mutual Aid). The second part of this is really important. Mutual aid arises with the shared understanding that needs are not being met because of highly intentional and specific political and systemic decisions. Poverty is not an accident, and the nonprofit industrial complex will not set us free. Mutual Aid strives to do something different; it meets those needs directly and is always a mutually beneficial relationship. It’s about taking care of each other, and this can come in many different forms. 

The photo I’ve included is one of my two comrades, Molly and Juna. In the photo you can see we have a truckload of food we are getting ready to distribute. This was a food drive that our mutual aid group (Abell Mutual Aid located in Baltimore) was co-organizing with a public housing community in West Baltimore. This is an example of organized mutual aid where we have an established organization that works to build relationships, share resources, and hold regular meetings with like-minded neighbors. There are many different mutual aid organizations that already exist, looking into finding one in your area is a great way to get involved. If there are none, start your own! An important aspect of mutual aid is that it starts on a personal level. It starts with getting to know your neighbors, what resources you or they can share, and letting them know that you have their back. This shared camaraderie meets more than just material needs, it can transform feelings of safety, care, community, and organized resistance. I believe tending to these relationships and experiencing what it feels like to be loved by your community has radical revolutionary potential.

I was recently asked why I got involved in mutual aid. My answers were the same as they have always been, it’s the end of the world and we need to take care of each other, it is a part of my politics, and a natural (human) response to crises. All of these things are very much true, and they all center me and my orientation in this moment of time. However, there is a piece of mutual aid that I’ve failed to name, but one that I feel deeply through the most sacred parts of my body.

I first learned about love, or a version of it, from my parents. Then I learned about it through my childhood friends, and then when I was sixteen, bell hooks taught me about love in ways that shattered and comforted me all at once. bell hooks defines love as, “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. ‘ Love is as love does. Love is an act of will–namely, both an intention and an action” (All About Love). This definition felt truer to me than anything I had ever read or heard before. At that moment I started to understand where love was lacking or lying in my life, and I was able to affirm and follow the parts of myself that had a deep longing to love and be loved. Feeling actual, active, and intentional love and recognizing it as such changed my life.

Mutual aid is A LOT of things, but a part of it is love. Love for yourself, your comrades, your neighbors, and the earth that we live upon. This idea of “mutual”, mutual care, mutual love, mutual respect. That isn’t the love I was always taught about, but it is the love that I needed. We take care of each other. We are deeply invested in each other’s health, safety, fulfillment, and growth. We know that by teaching each other to love we are creating, together, the world we are trying to build. I’ve learned so much from my time sharing resources, ideas, conversation and building together with my neighbors in our mutual aid. Whether it be organizing actions, a food drive, or coming together to help a friend and comrade move, I will be forever grateful for the lesson in love I am continuously being taught. It is sacred, transformative, and life-giving. It is the closest thing to embodied politics (embodied liberation) that I can imagine.

By participating in groups in new ways and practicing new ways of being together, we are both building the world we want and becoming the kind of people who could live in such a world together

Mutual Aid by Dean Spade