What Next for the Black Radical Congress?

Building a United Front of the Black Left

“If you believe in the politics of Black Liberation join us in Chicago in 1998 at the Black Radical Congress. If you hate what capitalism has done to our community – widespread joblessness, drugs, violence and poverty – come to the Congress. If you are fed up with the corruption of the two party system and want to develop a plan for real political change, come to the Congress. If you want to struggle against class exploitation, racism, sexism, and homophobia, come to the Congress…”

And come they did. More than 2,000 participants from 40 states gathered at the founding conference of the Black Radical Congress (BRC) June 19 – 21 at the University of Illinois at Chicago Circle Center.

Proclaimed as an organizing center for developing a Black Liberation Agenda for the 21st Century, the event was planned for nearly two years. More than 600 people from the state of Illinois, over 200 from New York, and over 100 each from Pennsylvania, California, and Michigan attended. Over 140 presenters, including trade unionists, youth activists, prominent academics, and community organizers led workshops on issues such as: police brutality, political prisoners, reparations, fighting homophobia, and black workers and today’s labor movement, to name a few. There were 28 workshops in all.

History Professor Manning Marable set the tone for the conference during the opening plenary session when he said, “Brothers and sisters we have been dissed in the house we built.” A portion of the BRC discussed specific ways to build concrete projects, campaigns and struggles out of the convention as was the intention of the conveners of the BRC. As General Baker, Chair, of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America put it, “We had to figure out how to take our weekend movement and have a program for all seven days of the week.”


This paramount task of the BRC is yet to be resolved. In recognition of this a draft proposal has been issued by the conveners of the BRC entitled “The Continuation of the Black Radical Congress”. This document describes the BRC as a “network which represents a united front of the Black left” and calls for the establishment of a National Continuations Committee in October 1998. The document also states, “The BRC will have a national campaign from October 1998 to October 1999. The campaign will be a national petition drive to bring 1,000,000 signatures to the United Nations charging the United States with violating the rights of the African American people. The slogan for the national campaign will be “End Racism and Poverty Now! Fight the Power to Share the Wealth! Human Rights For All!”

Will the BRC succeed in carrying out its stated goals and become a significant political force in the US? The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, most important of which is what the participants do. There is no doubt that the BRC generated enormous enthusiasm among the participants. But enthusiasm and commitment, while necessary, are not sufficient to produce a successful movement, or capitalism would have been destroyed long ago.

A Program that is internally consistent and based on the logic of the class struggle; leadership that has been tested and won the confidence of the organization; a democratically organized process of decision making; disciplined cadre loyal to the organization as a whole; demonstrated support and participation of the people we claim to represent. These are also prerequisites for our success. We have some serious work ahead.

There is currently a severe crisis of leadership in the black community. In fact it may be more accurately described as a leadership vacuum, because recently those national organizations that claim to champion the interests of the black masses have been seriously discredited. The black mis-leadership is running out of fools. Does this require proof? Consider the following:

Mr. Jesse Jackson’s 1988 campaign for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination raised the hopes of million of blacks and working people (including white union workers in the rust belt). Jackson received 7 million votes. Most of those who supported Jackson did so as a protest against the injustices of this racist capitalist system. Jackson is not a leader against the capitalist – he is a Judas-goat for them. In the final analysis, “Jackson action” proved to be a fraud to deceive those for whom the so-called “American dream” is a cruel hoax into voting for the Democratic Party.

Michael Dukakis openly dissed Jackson by picking the Southern ‘gentleman’ Lloyd Bentsen as his running mate without the minimal courtesy of notifying Jackson (he found out from the media). Jackson’s initial reaction was bitter and suggested that he was prepared to part ways with Massa when he said: “It is too much to expect that I will go out in the field and be the champion vote picker and bale them up and bring them back to the big house and get a reward of thanks, while people who don’t pick nearly as much voters, who don’t carry the same amount of weight among the people, sit in the big house and make the decisions.” (New York Times, 15 July 1988)

But by convention time Jackson had rediscovered his role and decided that it was time for “the lion and the lamb to lie down together”. One problem: the only time the lion lies down with the lamb is at dinner time! Then in 1992, Crime Bill Clinton utilized the a Rainbow Coalition gathering to demonstrate his contempt for blacks and his “independence” from Jackson by deliberately and dishonestly misinterpreting a comment by Sister Soldier. From Judas-goat to punching bag, Jackson remains loyal to the Democrats to the point of supporting Clinton’s scandalous Africa Trade bill, which would impose the corporate agenda of starvation wages and union-busting on African workers. Even Jackson’s son, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., voted against this piece of legislation, calling it a new form of slavery. Jackson Senior is clearly incapable of learning or of changing.

In spite of the fact that over 6,000 black men and women have been elected to public office (mostly as Democrats), the reality that living conditions for black people have continued to worsen should “make it plain” that these black Democrats are not the representatives of the black masses, but front men, and women, for the capitalist system. What did these black elected official do to organize the black community to resist Crime Bill Clinton’s bi-partisan legislative onslaught against us? All toll. Nothing!

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) the oldest (and most conservative) civil rights group in the country has also proven itself completely incapable of leading the resistance to the blatant dismantling of the gains of the Civil Rights movement that has been going on recently. The NAACP has become so senile and feeble that they couldn’t even wage a serious opposition to Uncle Thomas’ appointment to the Supreme Court. It’s a damn shame! But why has the NAACP become so ineffective a weapon for the black community?

A good part of the reason that the NAACP has failed in its self-proclaimed duty to defend civil rights was revealed in the Benjamin Chavis affair. Chavis was brought in as Executive Director of the NAACP to “revitalize” the ailing organization. He tried to gather disillusioned youth into the civil rights struggle and regroup its leadership. To this effect he invited Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam to join the struggle. The corporate media, America’s Headfixing Industry, went crazy. They denounced Chavis for collaborating with a “racist”, i.e. Farrakhan.

Get this now. The bigoted corporate media that with numbing regularity depicts the black community in the vilest most blatantly racist stereotypes attacked a black leader for attempting to unite with another black leader. This was at once absurd and transparent. Chavis continu
ed to strive for unity. But he forgot the Golden Rule: he who provides the gold makes the rules. The corporate donations stopped flowing into the NAACP’s coffers. Donations from the black community don’t come close to paying the salaries of the NAACP bureaucrats. The bureaucrats screamed bloody murder. In August of 1994 Benjamin Chavis was fired by the NAACP’s board of directors, under the pretext of a sex drama. Crime Bill Clinton is still President in spite of his little drama.

Farrakhan stepped up to fill the void with his Million Man March, in his own words: “a holy day of atonement and reconciliation”. Despite the campaign of vilification heaped upon the event by the Headfixing Industry, the idea of the march caught on in the black community. But Farrakhan’s mixture of black capitalist economics with reactionary mysticism guaranteed that the march would not provide solutions for the hundreds of thousands who attended. Did Minister Farrakhan put forward a program that points the way out of this dead end we are currently in? Did he attack the system that is the root cause of suffering of the black community? Hell no! Instead we were given a lecture in – numerology. When the dust cleared, and the participants returned home, the Nation of Islam proved impotent in creating, leading and sustaining a democratically organized movement capable of addressing the needs of Black America. What Farrakhan thought was a new beginning for his bid to become the premier leader of blacks in America may have been his “Final Call”.

All this has happened in full view of the masses. They have had time to sober up and evaluate their experiences. These experiences show clearly that all of these organizations and leaders (Black Democrats, the NAACP, Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam), each in their own way, have demonstrated that they are unfit to organize the struggle to defend the living standards of the black masses, much less improve them. On what basis can we measure the potential of a movement to successfully lead the fight against the unremitting attacks we now face?

It is an axiom of scientific socialism that social and political movements must be judged by the quality of their leadership, program, trajectory, and class composition – not by the illusions of the base. These mis-leaders are not genuine opponents of the system. Their programs are pro-capitalist to the core. They are taking us no where – fast. Their self-contradictory rhetoric is the product of their schizophrenic petty bourgeois class composition – they were rejected by the system they love. These criticisms are not an exercise in “disrespect”. We need the bitter truth in regards to these organizations, not sugary falsehood.

For purposes of black liberation these pro-capitalist mis-leaders do not and cannot represent hope for a better future. They are political corpses. And as a great revolutionary once said: When it comes to fighting, corpses are worthless, but they do come in handy to keep the living from fighting.


While the leadership of the BRC is presently a mixed bag (academics, veteran activists, feminists) there is no doubt that if it takes root on the local level the BRC will become a predominately working class organization in its composition, because the black community in the US is overwhelmingly proletarian. Therefore, any serious attempt to organize it must reflect its class needs and aspirations. Thus a new generation of working class leaders can be developed and trained. But this can happen if and only if democratic structures are installed for a movement that is clear about its program and ready to break with the parties and program of capital.

Programmatically the BRC, in the “Freedom Agenda” and other documents, has denounced capitalist exploitation, but stopped short of calling for socialism; made demands upon the US government while calling for “self-determination”. In short, there are internal contradictions within the program of the BRC.

It remains necessary to give specific content, clear and uncompromising, to the algebraic formulations of the “Freedom Agenda”. We must translate our demands into political action that speaks to the needs of Black working people: decent housing, healthcare, education and secure jobs. We must strive to build a movement for fundamental change with the will to join all other workers in America in seeking the power to meet our collective needs, and that means socialism.

During the BRC convention a youth caucus was formed. These young people met for hours striving to hammer out some practical accomplishments that they could take home with them and start to work with. While they were only partially successful, their intensity and enthusiasm was both contagious and inspiring. Some “veterans” feared that the youth caucus meetings could lead to a spin off, or split from the BRC. In fact, the best way to insure such a rupture is to cultivate an atmosphere of distrust and oppression of the youth.

While it remains to be seen, the strength of the BRC could lie in its self-proclaimed desire to act as a united front organization. Without delay functional BRC local organizing committees need to make their presence felt in struggles in their communities. Meet, discuss the political landscape, and decide where you can make your contribution. But of primary importance is – to start.

Gerald Sanders is running for Congress in the 9th Congressional District of California on the Peace and Freedom Party Ticket. He can be reached by phone – (510) 655-5764 or E-mail – gsanders@jps.net

Principles of Unity

1. We recognize the diverse historical tendencies in the Black radical tradition including revolutionary nationalism, feminism and socialism.

2. The technological revolution and capitalist globalization have changed the economy, labor force and class formations that need to inform our analysis and strategies. The increased class polarization created by these developments demands that we, as Black radicals, ally ourselves with the most oppressed sectors of our communities and society.

3. Gender and sexuality can no longer be viewed solely as personal issues but must be a basic part of our analyses, politics and struggles.

4. We reject racial and biological determinism, Black patriarchy and Black capitalism as solutions to problems facing Black people.

5. We must see the struggle in global terms.

6. We need to meet people where they are, taking seriously identity politics and single issue reform groups, at the same time that we push for a larger vision that links these struggles.

7. We must be democratic and inclusive in our dealings with one another, making room for constructive criticism and honest dissent within our ranks. There must be open venues for civil and comradely debates to occur.

8. Our discussions should be informed not only by a critique of what now exists, but by serious efforts to forge a creative vision of a new society.

9. We cannot limit ourselves to electoral politics — we must identify multiple sites of struggles.

10. We must overcome divisions within the Black radical forces, such as those of generation, region, and occupation. We must forge a common language that is accessible and relevant.

11. Black radicals must build a national congress of radical forces in the Black community to strengthen radicalism as the legitimate voice of Black working and poor people, and to build organized resistance.

For more information or to register contact:
Black Radical Congress
P.O. Box 5766
Chicago, IL 60680-5766
(312) 706-7074

Defeat the Multilateral Agreement on Invesment

Proposed global trade treaty would threaten workers,
the enviorement and democracy

The Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) is a bill of internationally enforceable rights and freedoms for corporations against most types of government regulation. Although hardly anyone knows what the MAI says and what it would do, if passed, it has the potential to be the strongest weapon yet for huge multi- national corporations against the world’s workers, democracy and the environment. Because there are no internationally enforceable treaties to protect human, labor or environmental rights, MAI very literally gives corporations more legal rights than people or governments.

In April, international trade representatives at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris announced that they were shelving for six months negotiations on the MAI. This gives opponents of MAI a short period in which to rally to defeat the treaty. Because the MAI is so dangerous, it is essential that people quickly learn what the MAI is and build a global movement to smash it.

Although the agreement is hundreds of pages long and complex, the core of the treaty makes the right to invest and move money a legally enforceable private property right. MAI would for the first time in history give transnational corporations standing equal to governments to sue other national, state or local governments in either local or international courts. Suits could be brought seeking hundreds of millions of dollars of damages if any national, state or local government made any rule which restricted corporate actions in a way considered to be tantamount to expropriation. This definition would not require that a government actually take property from a corporation. Regulations, including those preventing an investment which was merely planned, would be enough.

For example, under rules similar to the MAI contained in NAFTA, Ethyl Corp., a US transnational, has sued Canada for $250 million in damages because Canada banned MMT, a fuel additive and dangerous neurotoxin. Although the Canadian ban was based on environmental grounds, Ethyl has argued that the ban constitutes an illegal expropriation of its assets, since it would have made money on MMT had it not been banned.

The expropriation rules could prevent governments from saving forests, limiting mining, or slowing urban sprawl. Under MAI, governments around the world could be prevented from passing any environmental regulations to avoid being sued.

MAI also sets international standards for environmental and labor regulations and prevents governments from passing any law which would help workers or the environment more than permitted under these standards. These rules are called standstill. The MAI also contains rollback rules which would require governments to gradually get rid of rules that provide more protection than the international standards.

The MAI would be binding on state and local governments and laws (in addition to national governments and laws), although only the Federal governments would agree to MAI. Therefore, cities like Berkeley and San Francisco would be prohibited from passing laws providing stricter labor and environmental protections than international standards. In addition, any local government trade sanctions, like bans against buying South African or Burmese goods, would be banned. Under MAI, San Francisco’s domestic partners law and Berkeley’s gasoline boycotts would be prohibited.

The MAI is designed to quicken the pace of economic globalization. MAI will make it easier for multinational corporations to ship investment capital and jobs anywhere in the world. This allows transnationals to shop for the country with the lowest wages, worst working conditions, and most lax environmental standards, while simultaneously punishing any government or people who try to protect living standards and the environment. The final result is to centralize ever more wealth and power in unaccountable corporations while people lose the ability to pass laws to protect themselves from the corporations.

Because MAI threatens the lives and health of the majority of the worlds peoples, the transnational corporations that back MAI and their government lackeys tried to keep MAI a secret for as long as possible. Its text was secret until a draft was leaked and put on the internet in January 1997. The MAI has gotten little media coverage and the Clinton Administration has kept its participation quiet.

World leaders choose to negotiate MAI through the OECD as part of a clever attempt to exclude most of the world’s governments from the process. The OECD is made up of the 29 richest industrialized nations. Once MAI is approved by the OECD countries, the OECD plans to present MAI to the rest of the world’s nations for approval with no changes permitted. Any country wanting access to the world’s capital markets will have no choice but to sign on. Resist the MAI

People around the world have begun to rise up against the process of economic globalization which, like colonialism before it, concentrates the world’s wealth in a few western hands. From India to Mexico to Indonesia to Brazil, millions in non-OECD countries now oppose the World Trade Organization and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and are ready to fight MAI.

And in many OECD countries opposition is gathering. Since the United States is one of the main countries pushing passage of the MAI, activists in the US have a pivotal role to play in defeating MAI.

The Clinton Administration, in an attempt to avoid organized opposition to MAI, is trying to pass fast track trade legislation that will strip Congress of the ability to amend MAI, forcing it to either approve or reject MAI if Clinton treats MAI as an agreement rather than a treaty. Fast track will also allow approval by a simple majority, rather than the two-thirds majority required under the Constitution for a treaty.

Aside from opposing and defeating fast track authority, the most important way to oppose MAI is to make sure everyone in the US knows what it would mean for their lives. The mainstream press, controlled by global corporations set to reap billions if MAI is finished, have kept news about MAI out of the news. Activists need to break the silence.

To get involved in the struggle against MAI, contact the International Forum on Globalization, 1555 Pacific Ave, San Francisco, CA 94109, 415-771-3394, www.igc.apc.org/ifg.

Bay Area Tenants

Phase-in of Costa-Hawkins act will bring higher rents,
evictions, displacement and misery

Starting January 1st, 1999, there will be no limits on the rents that Bay Area landlords can charge new tenants. All Bay Area rent control which previously existed will be crippled due to the full phase-in of the Costa- Hawkins Act, a law passed by the California legislature in 1996. Many poor, long-term tenants will be vulnerable to evictions without cause, and entire communities may be forced out of the Bay Area.

Anyone who has been trying to find a place to live in the Bay Area in the past few months has probably noticed how bad the situation has become. A representative of Berkeley Connections, a rental referral service which profits from people’s difficulties in finding housing, reported that this is the "craziest" year that the rental market has ever seen, with up to 200 people sometimes attending the showing of a single apartment.

The booming economies of Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, and San Francisco’s reputation as a livable city, has created a massive demand for housing. This allows realtors and landlords to set prices as high as they want. In San Francisco the market price of rents rose an average of 40% from 1996 to 1997, Ted Gullickson of the S.F. Tenants Union reported. Between 1997 and 1998 they rose another 25%. The situation is so serious that a study released recently by a Washington-D.C. think tank reported that in the San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area, 73% of low-income renters spend more than half of their income on housing.

At this point in Berkeley, and to a much lesser extent in Oakland, the profiteering of landlords is still at least partially checked by rent control laws and rent stabilization boards. But the full phase-in of Costa-Hawkins will end many of the existing checks on landlord power.

Costa-Hawkins’ main clause disallows all "vacancy control" stipulations in pre-existing California rent control laws. Having "vacancy control" means that when a person moves out of a rent controlled unit, the landlord cannot increase the rent that the next occupant will have to pay. Berkeley had vacancy control for 18 years prior to the introduction of Costa-Hawkins. San Francisco has never had it, but getting vacancy control has been the main push of the S.F. Tenants Union. The original Oakland rent control law of 1980 included a vacancy control clause, but this was amended in 1986 through the intervention of various landlord groups.

Under Costa-Hawkins all existing rent control laws in California must be changed to include "vacancy de- control." This means that after a tenant voluntarily moves out of a rent-controlled unit (though technically not after they are evicted) a landlord can legally raise the rent to whatever they want. But Costa-Hawkins doesn’t just introduce this rather clear, if deadly, change to rent control. It is a confusing piece of work which also manages to outlaw rent control on all single family units with leases beginning after 1996, and it introduces complicated, ambiguous restrictions on subletting. It even contains language which some S.F. landlords have interpreted to mean that they can suddenly change a renter’s terms of tenancy (such as rules dealing with pets or subletting) without consultation with the renter or even warning. These unilateral changes to a renter’s terms of tenancy are usually aimed at driving out long-term inhabitants in rent-controlled units in order to raise the rent to much higher market rates.

Though Costa-Hawkins was passed in 1996, its provisions dealing with single family residences and vacancy de-control have been slowly phased-in over the last 2 years. So far people who leased single family units after the bill was passed have only had to pay rents at the level legally allowed by local rent control laws. At the same time vacancy de-control has been limited to a maximum of two 15% increases due to voluntary vacancies during the 1996-1998 period.

What can we expect in the coming year, as the phase-in period for Costa-Hawkins ends and its full implications become more clear? For starters, the number of S.F. residents fleeing to the East Bay to find more affordable housing will swell. In S.F. the first of the year will mean an end to rent control on between 10 to 12 thousand single family homes and condos. This will mean rent increases of between 50-75% on these units, in order to bring them up to market rates.

Besides those families unable to pay these higher new rents, many tenants will be driven out of the city by landlords stepping up their efforts to drive long-term tenants out of rent-controlled units and thereby raise the rent. Though the S.F. Tenants Union reports moderate success in fighting landlords’ attempts to drive old tenants out with sudden unilateral changes to terms of tenancy, such tactics will certainly be stepped up as they become increasingly profitable for landlords. Though evictions based on illegal subletting and breach of rental agreement are still at the low level of 50 or so a year, they have increased in frequency by 100% since Costa-Hawkins was passed.

A more common dirty tactic of landlords in S.F. are so-called "owner move-in" evictions, where a landlord claims that they or a relative is going to move in to a rental unit. This tactic is almost never contested by the rent board, and its use has increased by 300% — from 300 to 1200 a year — since Costa-Hawkins passed. Many of those fleeing from San Francisco in the coming year will first look to relocate to quiet and relatively cheap Berkeley. This increased demand for housing, combined with the damage done by Costa-Hawkins to Berkeley’s formerly strong rent control laws, will mean a rapid inflation in Berkeley rents. As in S.F., landlords will begin using any dirty tactics they can in order to drive out long-term tenants and make way for richer renters. Poorer minority tenants, who are less likely to be aware of their legal rights and recourses, will be the most vulnerable to these attacks. As Berkeley fills up with rich professionals and becomes even more of an elitist lifestyle-enclave than it already is, the effects will ripple into Oakland. Because Oakland’s rent control board and ordinance are incredibly weak when compared to Berkeley, it will be even easier for the landlords of Oakland to drive out the poor and minorities. Oakland has no just-cause eviction clause in its rent laws, which means that tenants can be evicted for no reason — only increases in a tenants’ rent warrant a hearing with the rent board. And the Oakland rent board has a hard enough time getting a full quorum of appointed members in order to have an actual meeting, let alone actually dealing with renters’ problem and complaints. The efforts being waged against Costa-Hawkins in the Bay Area are paltry at best. The Oakland Tenants Union is putting their bets on a legalistically convoluted plan. At its base is public testimony made by the writers of the Costa-Hawkins act to the effect that Oakland would be exempt from the Act because it already had vacancy de-control. If Oakland can therefore be shown to be exempt from Costa-Hawkins, the Tenants Union believes that it might then be possible to campaign to have vacancy control introduced in the city. The legal headaches of such a scheme are obvious and infinite.

In San Francisco and Berkeley, the Tenants Unions’ are for now just concerned with nibbling at the edges of the problem, fighting unfair evictions caused by rampant rent profiteering whenever they can.

SB 1730 Burton is a bill coming before the California state legislature soon, aimed at restricting further landlord profiteering in California. Its main focus is to keep greedy landlords from being able to cancel the Section 8 contracts of poor, elderly, disabled people in order to evict them and raise the rent as a form of "vacancy de- control." Though the Burton bill would do several good things to help ten
ant organizing and low income renters in general, it is only the smallest beginning of a struggle for justice in housing. When it comes to using legal channels to struggle for justice in housing, Costa-Hawkins basically leaves everyone’s hands tied.

But that does not mean that Bay Area residents should simply pay up the increased rents or shuffle off into a hole and die. The masses of renters, who stand to lose so much at the hands of a minority of greedy landlords, need to take a stand against the injustice of escalating rents now. Tenants unions throughout the Bay Area need to unite with other activist organizations and community groups to organize a massive rent strike. This will demonstrate to landlords that using courts, police and rent boards to enforce their greed will no longer be tolerated. Long term tenants should not be displaced and established communities must not be destroyed in order to make way for further yuppie gentrification in the Bay Area. Costa-Hawkins must be repealed and Bay Area rents must return to an affordable level. And who knows, maybe if renters can be organized to stand up for those things, they can even come to realize en masse that landlords are really nothing but parasites and that the idea of having to pay for necessities like housing is utterly ridiculous. When people get together anything is possible…

Try contacting the Eviction Defense Network (415-431-0931), the San Francisco Tenant’s Union (415-282- 6622) or, the Oakland Tenant’s Union (510-704-5276).

Slingshot Box

Slingshot is a quarterly, independent, radical newspaper published in the East Bay since 1988.

Last month we held a Graphics Extravaganza and, through a strange combination of party and assembly line, managed to organize a mountain of our graphics into a tidy filing system. We had categories which ranged from Police, Riots and Violence to Animal Liberation, Environment, and as the night progressed, Religion.

We’ve been talking about it for years, but we finally found ourselves a local union shop printer! We didn’t think one existed, but found Alternative Web Printing right in Oakland.

In other news, we’re hoping to release the 1999 Slingshot Organizer by mid-September. Don’t miss it! Your purchases keep Slingshot going, and keep you well informed and, hopefully, on-time to your appointments.

We actually managed to cut enough articles to get down to 16 pages this issue. We’ve got a mix of local and global issues covered which we hope will inspire all you readers to write us substantive letters so we can keep up the debate.

We’re always looking for writers, artists, photographers, editors, distributors and foundries to make the paper even better. Slingshot accepts unsolicited articles. Please send a disk if you can. We also accept letters, art and photographs. We do not print poetry.

As always, your generous donations are needed to keep us going. About $20 per person is great.

Editorial decisions about Slingshot are made by the Slingshot collective. Articles do not necessarily represent the opinions of everyone involved with Slingshot. We welcome debate, discussion and criticism.

Slingshot New Volunteer Meeting

New volunteers interested in getting involved in Slingshot can meet with us on September 20th at 5 p.m. at the Long Haul. Address is printed below.

Article Deadline & Next Issue date

The projected deadline for Issue #63 is November 3rd.. Issue #63 is expected to be out on November 19th.

Printed August 5, 1998
Volume 1, Number 62 ¥ Circulation: 8,000

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Donate to Slingshot

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Letters to Slingshot

Dear Slingshot,

Wow! Someone must really like me, since mail call produced your “fine” newspaper.

I’m a P.O.W./victim of the “War On Drugs.” Another statistic whose crime was “furnishing” the “killer weed,” marijuana to sick and terminally ill patients who belonged to my cannabis co-op.

I was charged with four (4) counts of sales, but was convicted of two (2) counts. A total of 3/4 of an ounce to a 73 year old terminally ill cancer patient who has since passed away.

I noted in P.B. Floyd’s article “Marijuana Updates” (summer ’98 Slingshot) that the son of Tony Blair’s home secretary was busted for sales, but released with a warning. Gee! What do they know in Europe that we don’t know here? One thing is for certain however, and that is I will join a half a million of my brothers and sisters that are arrested annually for marijuana offenses alone.

As a member of this movement from it’s conception, (compassionate use) I have made it my goal to keep updated on “marijuana facts and figures.” Some that you and your readers may or may not be aware of are: There has been a 700% increase in drug related arrests since 1980. That 70% of all state prisoners are in for non-violent offenses, (majority drug possession), that over 100,000 people die per year from overdosing on legal prescription medicine, and one million are hospitalized annually. “No one” has ever overdosed on marijuana, no one, nada, nein, nyet. Marijuana is safer than aspirin. The fastest growing business in California is corrections. (1. Chicago Tribune, 2. Calif. Dept. of corrections 1997 annual report, 3. same as number 2, 4. U.S. news and world report March ’98, 5. New England journal of medicine editorial Jan. 1997, 6. same as 2 and 3) and by the year 2003 there will be a 73% increase in the states prison population from 183,000 to 234,000 plus. (Calif. Dept. of corrections.)

On November 5, 1996, 56% of the registered voters in California who bothered to vote passed Prop. 215, the compassionate use act, now HS11362.5.

As of this date, no state governmental agency has implemented any way of distributing safe, mold and pesticide “free” cannabis to those who have doctor’s recommendations to use it. The Federal government, along with state Attorney General Dan Lungren, have succeeded in prosecuting and closing down the San Francisco Buyer’s Club, San Jose, San Diego, Marin, Hayward, Sacramento, San Luis Obispo, Oakland, and Flower Therapy. Peter Baer, Scott Imler, Dennis Peron, Marvin Chaver, Jeff and Scott (San Diego), Todd McCormick, and Lynette Shaw are all awaiting trial for furnishing, sales, distribution, etc. This is not what the voters intended and it is not what we were about. Having to “buy” our supply, we asked for a donation of $20 per quarter (7 grams) limit of one ounce per week. If you could not afford to donate it was given to you for free!! No questions asked. Simple as that. We only wanted to cover cost! Now I face six years in prison for “sales” of 3/4 of an ounce or 21 grams.

Not pounds, not kilos, but grams, and less than 28.5 on top of it. Oh well!! Not as bad as some of my fellow P.O.W.’s but still a little stiff.

I was denied Prop. 215 as a defense as well as “medical necessity,” so I have no effective defense. My public defender is appealing, but it will take at least two years to get into the appellate. All of our volunteers are die-hard activists, and we knew what was involved when we got in to this. Still, I feel my time is nothing compared to “Move” and Geronimo Pratt, and Aim, and some of the others, but we are still not free! Even after it was voted in to law. So our fight and struggle goes on too!

Thank you for putting me on your mailing list, and one day I will gladly repay you through a donation. Till then, yours in the cause!! David Herrick

P.S. I’d love to get letters:
David Herrick #1750882
550 N. Flower St. J-4-4
Santa Ana, CA 92703

P.S.S. I have a written recommendation to use cannabis from a bonafide Calif. Physician, but that was not the issue. Caregiving and sales was!!

A Salute to Tim Yohannon

Tim was such a control freak, he even planned his own death. No memorial service, he said. No tributes. Not even a mention in his own magazine, Maximum Rock-N-Roll.

Jo said it to his face. “You can’t tell us what to do about it,” she said. “You’ll be dead.” But Tim just laughed.

Now we laugh too, talking about the Tim Yohannon statue we should build, part in tribute and part in spite. At as many tributes and memorials as possible, we get sappy and sentimental. He would have hated all the nostalgia and reverence. Why mourn the past when there’s work to do? Because, Tim, it helps us see where to go from here. For someone who made so many enemies, he sure had a lot of friends. I wonder who will miss him more.

Those who respected Tim for his stubbornness, his morality, his demands for responsibility and accountability; or those who hated him for it, and used his fanaticism as a defense for their own lack of character and hard work.

Of course it wasn’t that simple, because Tim was a pain in the ass to deal with, and often wrong. But he carried on, and that’s what really matters to me. Through personal attacks, physical threats, and years and years of hard work, he carried on without bitterness or a crippling sense of nostalgia. Working his day job of loading crates at the Lawrence hall of Science, spending all his free time working on the Maximum Rock-N-Roll radio show and MRR magazine, then turning all profits back into the community.

These profits and Tim’s knack for organization launched the Gilman Street Project club, Blacklist Mailorder, and the Epicenter record store and community center. In short, his hard work provided the radio show we could all listen to while doing the dishes, the magazine we could be bored by, the club we could stand outside, the place to mailorder our shitty fanzines, the record label to put out our shitty local bands, and the record store where we could play free pool and use the bathroom. Even taken at its lowest level, and taken for granted, it was the scenery and soundtrack for our community and the framework for keeping that community alive and self- sufficient. It’s easy to be critical of institutions, including Tim Yohannon, who was himself sort of an institution. But who has the passion and patience to create and uphold those institutions for everyone else to be critical of, take for granted, to measure themselves against?

I remember one show at Gilman, a young cute boy up at the microphone giving an impassioned speech against Tim and Maximum Rock-N-Roll. At the end of the speech a young beautiful girl came up and gave the boy a rose. The crowd cheered, the boy and girl congratulated themselves, and in a house across the bay Tim Yohannon continued typing and typing and typing. Where had the boy and girl been years earlier when Tim was breaking up fights at shows, confronting the skinheads, doing more than anyone to further the political agenda of punk? Where were they two years later? Naturally, they had moved on with their lives. The boy quit doing his fanzine and moved to Santa Cruz, the girl grew out her hair and got a job as secretary for a slumlord. They still stopped by Gilman occasionally, but they had their own lives to think about now. Meanwhile, Tim kept on typing and typing, and that year donated the MRR profits to fifty fanzines and small newspapers, including Slingshot. What the moral of the story is, I don’t know, except that life is cruel, Tim deserved the rose, and being right once is not as admirable as being wrong ten times and right ninety.

For someone so serious and hardworking, he sure laughed a lot. He had a way of laughing not just at your jokes, but also your troubles and criticisms and almost everything. Laughing with you, not at you, even though he started laughing first. I don’t know how he did that, but it was a good trick. It got you laughing at your troubles, and life itself, and at Tim for having such a weird, annoying laugh. It was contagious and really comforting.

It’s to sappy to say that when they made Tim they broke the mold, but also funny, because if they hadn’t, two or three Tim Yohannons would be running around working everyone to the bone and laughing that annoying laugh, and we would have lost our fucking minds. But though there’s no more mold and no more Tim, you can still see his imprint on a lot of lives.

Energy Deregulation: Business as Usual

Since the first murmurs about energy deregulation, I’ve been asking everyone I know “So what are you going to do?” By and large, the answer is the same. From radicals to conservatives, people answer, “Um, we don’t know, so nothing. We’ll stick with PGE until we figure it all out.” It’s hopelessly complicated, but even if you manage to make sense of it all, there really isn’t much choice. Energy deregulation does not discourage energy use, and moves us father from a system that would give people control over energy generation: public ownership of utilities. Deregulation is a fraud because it appears to offer choice in the market, but no matter who you choose, nothing is likely to change.

California was the first state to offer all electric customers a “choice” of power companies. The way you’ve purchased electricity in the past was through the highly regulated privately held monopoly of Pacific Gas and Electric. It is exactly because they were a monopoly that they were so highly regulated. Prices were somewhat controlled, safety issues were somewhat considered, and the government had some say in the way power was generated. At PGE profits (and there were and still are high profits) went to shareholders.

Despite well-packaged claims to the contrary, deregulation was explicitly designed to benefit business. At least in the short term, the average rate payer won’t be benefiting much from it. Just for starters, the Public Utilities Commission has allowed an $80 million add-on to rates so utilities can “educate” rate payers about the restructuring! This came in the form of ads, billboards, and colorful refrigerator magnets with witty slogans. They said things like “knowledge is power” but neglected to provide you with any information.

And that heralded 10% rate reduction? It is really a hidden tax since utilities will borrow money to make up for the lower rates and then make citizens pay the loan off over 10 years, adding about $7 a month to your bill. What it has meant for my house’s bill — a $20 savings for our 10% rate reduction, and a $28 charge (called the Competition Transition Charge or CTC) to subsidize the 10% mandated savings — thereby increasing our monthly bill by $8. Yes, a rate cut that is smaller than the charges added to pay for it. The added CTC charge will continue until at least March 2002. After that all bets are off. It could continue to “cover the ongoing costs associated with opening the electric utility industry to competition,” or it could disappear entirely.

The electric utility industry is divided into three parts — generation, transmission, and distribution. The only part being opened to competition is generation, which currently accounts for only 20-25% of your monthly bill. PGE will still hold a regulated monopoly over the transmission and distribution.

What is Green-E?

Traditional PGE power is generated by a mix of coal, nuclear, large hydro, and natural gas. Under deregulation, renewable, “Green-E” power, with its own cheerful Green-E logo, is available for a higher rate. Renewable energy is defined to include biomass, geothermal, small-scale hydroelectric, wind power and solar. Biomass refers to plants and organic matter which are burned or converted into fuel, then used to produce electricity. Geothermal power uses huge wells which pipe steam and hot water trapped underground to the surface to make electricity. If you stay with PGE while trying to figure out who the best company to switch to is, you are still getting their same old non-renewable mix, and you’re still adding to the pockets of PGE shareholders.

Will Choosing Green-E Make a Difference?

No one can filter which electrons will be delivered directly to your home: all the power gets mixed together. The propaganda of the clean producers tries to imply that more, better, cleaner power plants will be built if only you choose the higher rate and switch to them. Unfortunately, there is no reason to believe this will happen. A few socially conscious people may be willing to pay higher rates, but industry, the largest user of power, will mostly continue to use the cheapest, and least environmentally sensitive, power production.

Converting a regulated, privately-held company to multiple privately-held companies all competing with each other does not change the amount of power people use or the ways in which it is produced.

Under deregulation, the same electrical needs of Californians will be met by many competing companies, each with their own marketing budgets, bureaucracy and overhead. This competition is unlikely to drive costs down since it creates lots of new costs. A 1970 Federal Power Commission report indicated that publicly owned power is 40% cheaper than privately run. The Green-E’s sing of the salvation that deregulation is for them (I’m sure they mean to say the environment). They say it is their only chance to compete, that the marketplace will eventually work itself out so that they are the winners. Rather than hold out for that day, we should demand municipal 100% green power now.

Capitalism forces people, and corporations, to become brutal in order to survive. It takes our brightest thinkers and co-ops their skills to helping capital accumulate more capital, not necessarily cleaning up the environment or coming up with new ideas on energy generation and use. What can sell gets developed. What can’t sell gets repressed. Deregulation places its hopes in the power of the market rather than the power of the people. The prevailing attitude seems to be that society works efficiently only when personal profit is involved. But certain things (like health care, mass transit, clean water) should not be required to make a profit in the marketplace. “Why should rich corporations have the right to deprive families of electricity, of gas to cook with, or fuel to heat their homes. These are life’s necessities, like food, air, water. They should not be the private property of corporations, which use them to hold us hostage to the dark, to the cold, until we pay their price,” (Zinn, 1975). Electricity, in a modern industrial society, is a basic need, not a product you either buy or don’t buy at the market. Such basic needs should be publicly controlled.

The Future According to the Green-E’s

“Each time you buy an eco-product or service, you send a message to businesses about the kinds of goods and services you prefer. You create a demand for cleaner energy. That’s the power of the marketplace.”” The above reflects Green-E, eco-capitalist propaganda. Regardless of the product, it’s impossible to improve the environment through consumption. Ultimately, the best way to save the environment is to reduce human resource use: to consume less, not more. Using Green-E power can play a part because it means fewer non-renewable resources are used to meet people’s power needs. But when Green-E has to exist in a market, its providers are motivated to get you to use more power, not less.

The new power companies believe there will be lots of fabulous new clean power-generating technologies developed. It is true that green technology development has been stifled — except for a brief period during the Carter administration’s oil crisis — in favor of nuclear and fossil fuel power sources. But by depending on the market, and thus a tiny number of “green” consumers who can afford to pay more for their electricity, investment in green power-generating technology will continue to be starved. The best way to promote green power technology is simply to require it. A system which depends on the market serves another goal: enriching shareholders and taking the political pressure to go green off of the majority of the electrical industry.

Who will choose Green-E Anyhow?

In 1993, a power utilities company in Colorado surveyed residents about the potential demand for Green-E. 75% responded that they were interested in renewable energy, but of these people, only 10% actually signed a contract with a Green-E pro
vider because it would increase their bill by $2 a month. How many are going to switch when the increase for choosing renewable power in CA is at least $10/month?

If we were to ever take the real costs into consideration, green energy would win. But because we don’t consider the environmental and human damages in the cost of producing power, the historical investment in conventional power sources makes it cheaper to produce. Deregulation moves us further away from considering these hidden costs, because short-term profits are now the only reasons for energy providers to continue conducting business. Employee and environmental safety in the current deregulation scheme don’t enter the picture unless they increase profits. No one is quite sure what the added danger will be if plants sacrifice safety for profit. And there is no reason to believe that they won’t do so now that regulation has loosened.

Green power is good for capitalism. In an effort to get new “power brokers,” one web site advertises to potential green energy providers: “large users will get better prices while individuals make up the difference.” No surprise there — volume discounts for people and companies who use lots and lots of power. The only thing encouraged is more power use, and therefore more profits.

A Historical Perspective

Prior to deregulation, long-distance telephone calls were so expensive that people timed their calls, limited themselves to only a few minutes, and called only on special occasions. Fax machines and wireless phones were virtually non-existent. With a competitive market, people are buying more than ever just to stay in touch. And all the while they think they have a choice between one global mega-corporation and another. You can buy whatever brand of laundry detergent you want, but pretty much they are all owned by the same company. With increasing globalization, rather than one regulated monopoly, we lean towards a system with a few large companies and a competition that only serves to increase demand and drive up shareholder profits. Our long-term global goal should be to consume less, but capitalism doesn’t work that way. And it won’t work that way by opening up energy to competition either. Already some new power companies are demanding you purchase a new, fancy meter. Stay tuned — their hopes are to become mega-corporations that provide you with your power, internet connection, cable television, and probably anything else they could sell you.

Who’s winning in the Open Market

“With deregulation, the opportunity to make money is outstanding” hails a re-seller. The electric utility industry is a $215 billion market. The information about new power generating companies on the web indicates a pyramid scheme. Some companies are acting as middlemen — buying power on the wholesale market, then turning around and selling it on the retail market to business and residential customers for a large profit. Some purchase energy from a variety of local generation facilities while others are out-of-state electric utilities nudging in on the California market.

But buyer beware: although there are over 200 newly registered electric service providers approved by the CA Public Utilities Commission, many are already listed as “suspended” or “revoked”. For only $150, anyone can register with the Public Utilities Commission as a provider/reseller and reap the benefits of privately owned power, but it requires huge amounts of start-up capital to maintain overhead and build infrastructure while waiting for new customers to sign up .

The independent Utility Reform Network (TURN) in San Francisco (415-929-8876) publishes an excellent newspaper on energy deregulation. They have a brochure which answers commonly-asked questions and which alerts citizens of their rights. They are also drafting a ballot initiative to make restructuring more fair to individual customers. According to a Utility Consumers Action Network (UCAN) report, only 23 of 132 companies they surveyed offered competitively-priced electric services to small businesses and residential customers. 20% of these companies registered with CPUC are not providing service at all, simply are part of a multi-level marketing scheme. 34% were “difficult to contact and did not return phone calls.” You can see how UCAN rated the companies at http://www.ucan.org.

And the winners are…

When I spoke with the UCAN survey providers in mid-July, I asked about the 23 companies that they claimed were offering competitive services. By that point there were even fewer choices. They recommend the following companies:

Non-renewable power

Commonwealth Energy Corp., Tustin, CA 92780, 1-800-225-4367 (can save you an addition 2-5%)

Friendly Power, 1-888-5POWER5

Renewable Green-E power

Clean ‘n Green, San Jose, CA, 1-888-425-3361 (locally-produced wind power)

Green Mountain, S. Burlington, VT, 1-888-246-6730 (excellent customer service and bonus gifts)

Earth Source 100, 1-888-334-7664

PG&E 100 if you are not easy with change but wanting Green-E.>

With reservation, our house is opting for the local Clean n’ Green. We are sucking up the extra cost of renewable energy and offsetting this by lowering our energy consumption.

Bike Messengers Show Signs of Life

>In the past year and a half, San Francisco bicycle messengers have taken significant steps toward organizing for collective action against their bosses — the courier company owners — and by extension, corporate downtown. This is a struggle that should be of interest to all pro-labor people, and, specifically, those who see the radical possibilities latent in a transient, counter-cultural workforce centered in the heart of San Francisco’s financial district.

The San Francisco Bicycle Messenger Association (SFBMA) was established in 1990 as an in-yer-face assertion that since the courier company bosses have a club (AMCS — translation unknown), so should their slaves. The reality, however, was that the SFBMA existed for years as little more than a mythic formation emblazoned on visors and t-shirts.

This began to change in the beginning of 1997 after a wild-cat strike nearly broke out in response to yet another indignity at the hands of Doc Holbrook, notorious owner of Ultra Ex, one of the largest courier firms in the city. Only a week or so before Christmas of 1996, Ultra Ex called an early morning, mandatory meeting to announce that riders would receive an across-the-board commission decrease as that year’s Christmas bonus. A petition threatening a walk-out was quickly circulated and signed by virtually every messenger as well as some of the office staff. Management’s response — a combination of minor concessions and threats to farm the work out to other courier firms, thus diluting the effect of an isolated job action — was successful in deterring a strike. However, it galvanized interest in, and underlined the need for, collective, industry-wide organization.

In fits and starts since that time, the SFBMA has developed into an organization that meets regularly, has clear demands, puts out a newsletter, and is in the process of formulating tactics and strategies. In the past several months, messengers at three different courier companies — Advanced, DMS and Professional — have banded together and made modest demands which their employers have ceded. A small fissure in the edifice of cynicism so prevalent amongst wage-salves can be seen. In other words, it’s a dynamic, open situation.

Late last March, the SFBMA voted to accept an offer by the ILWU (International Longshore and Warehouse Union) to affiliate. A "working agreement" was signed in which the SFBMA retains its organizational autonomy and is afforded office space and use of the Union Hall at 255 9th Street, tactical support, and full legal defense. In exchange, the SFBMA pays the ILWU $137.50 a month (equivalent to 25 members paying $5.50) and is expected to fulfill an agreement to work to organize the entire courier industry.

Unions, Radicals and Where to Go From Here

What excites me about the prospect of messengers organizing is the power that messengers could wield if they were to constitute themselves as a collective force. San Francisco’s retail-financial-corporate center, a base to many of the world’s biggest and most powerful businesses, could not function without hundreds and hundreds of messengers (not only on bikes: also by foot, moped, motorcycle and auto) servicing its same-day-delivery needs. This leverage is the basis for real social power that is far more inspiring, in my view, than simply securing a contract with our employers.

This raises many questions about the role of unions in the radical project which many leftists and progressives seem unwilling to entertain. In their chief role as labor merchandisers, unions seek to create a closed labor market within which they can sell their "wares". Is this radical? Is it inspiring? Why does it seem to fail so often even on its own limited terms? My guess is that the answer to the third question, at least in part, is because the answer to the first two is a resounding NO.

From the standpoint of traditional unionism, the transience which characterizes the courier industry is a major impediment to organizing because it doesn’t accommodate the designedly slow pace of the official recognition process. Isn’t this a reason to look beyond the legal, state-sanctioned mechanisms? After all, doesn’t worker fluidity and instability pervade the American economy in 1998? In fact, it seems itinerant/temp/transient workers, often the most oppressed, are apt to be mighty disloyal, and thus, potentially the most insurgent. If so, acting quickly seems in order!

Stay tuned.

Those interested in donating to the SFBMA strike fund and/or receiving the SFBMA newsletter, Cognition, should contact: SFBMA, PO Box 640251, San Francisco, CA 94164-0251. Ronnie R. has been a SF bike messenger for the better part of the past 4 years.

Proposed boxes he wants printed with the article:

Wanted: Insolent Radicals!

Get a job as a messenger and help the class war this Fall. Advanced, Ultra Ex, Professional, Aero and many others will be hiring like mad come September, just in time for the SFBMA’s intensified organizing campaign!

SFBMA Demands

1. Commissioned messengers should receive no less than $3 for a regular downtown delivery, regardless of what the client is charged.

2. Commissioned messengers should receive no less than 55% of the actual price to the client.

3. Commissioned messengers should make $80 minimum daily.

4. All messengers should receive: Paid sick days, vacation days and lunch.

5. Full health coverage or equivalent amount in cash monthly.

6. Direct comp for bike provision and maintenance.

7. Rainy day bonus.

8. Hourly messengers – whether on foot, bike, motorcycle or car: Minimum $11/hour with regulated work loads.

ick days, vacation days and lunch.

5. Full health coverage or equivalent amount in cash monthly.

6. Direct comp for bike provision and maintenance.

7. Rainy day bonus.

8. Hourly messengers – whether on foot, bike, motorcycle or car: Minimum $11/hour with regulated work loads.

Defending United Nations Plaza

When the fences went up around the grassy area at United Nations Plaza in San Francisco last November, Food Not Bombs (FNB) volunteers had apretty good idea of what they were for. When a volunteer from Food Not Bombs called the Department of Public Works (DPW), those suspicions were confirmed. The fences, he was told, were put up to keep homeless people off of the grass.   FNB confronts these attacks on public access to public space with direct-action – by serving free vegetarian food and distributing literature in and around these spaces, and by speaking out and holding demonstrations. This is just what they did on July 14th when a demonstration took the fences down.

The fences were barricades of the type used by the police for crowd control, held together with plastic handcuffs and hose clamps. ” What we really need from the community,” said Ronnie Eagles, from the Coalition On Homelessness, “… is some solutions. Solutions, not more fucking persecution ! “At the end of the day, some thirty folks had been arrested and charged with refusing to leave the scene of a riot and resisting arrest.

The post script to this event is that one week later, on July 22nd, the fences around the grassy areas at UN Plaza were taken down. “The green areas are for the people to look at, not necessarily to lay on,” said Jorge Alfaro of the DPW. “But we’re going to see how people use the space.

” When asked if there was any connections between the FNB demonstration and the fences coming down, Alfaro repsonded, “Of course there was a connection. The demonstrators brought it to everyone’s attention.” Remember … direct-action gets the goods!

Love and Rage Dissolves

Revolutionary Anarchist Newspaper

The Love and Rage newspaper and Revolutionary Anarchist Federation voted to dissolve itself during a brief conference in New York on May 23. The break-up occurred as a result of a philosophical/political split preceded by a two-year-long debate within the organization around a number of issues that proved irreconcilable. Neither side in the split will continue using the Love and Rage name.

One side is forming a new organization calling itself the Fire By Night Organizing Committee and will, at least initially, not be publishing a paper. This faction which springs largely from the New York chapter of Love and Rage wants an organization that is less explicitly anarchist and that will require greater adherence to the organization by its members than was the case with Love and Rage.

The other faction which is more Mid-west based has put out a call to form a new revolutionary anarchist group and will put out a theoretical anarchist journal, but neither of these projects have names yet. This faction wants to do a significant amount of work with Anti-Racist Action.