Crisis in Colombia

Drugs & Guns: US spikes military aid for Colombia war

The Clinton Administration’s $1.6 billion military aid package to Colombia, sought in the name of fighting the “war on drugs”, is a cynical and multi-layered policy initiative against Colombia’s poor and for global capitalist domination. With the package, Colombia will receive more US military aid than any other country, save Israel and Egypt, signaling that Colombia is the country to watch to prevent another Vietnam-like military disaster.

The aid package is cynical because fighting drugs is at best a convenient cover for a policy far more important to US interests: eliminating insurgencies in the hemisphere. US officials privately know destroying drug crops at the source doesn’t keep drugs off the streets. Nor do they care-the us government needs drugs to justify the prison industrial complex and to get the public to accept ever more government power in the name of “public safety” and the war on drugs. Tellingly, Congress rejected an amendment to the aid package that would have provided funding for drug abuse treatment in the US.

The package is multi-layered because the US sponsored hostilities are both cause and effect. The insurgencies in Colombia are in part a direct result of global forces which are moving peasants away from subsistence agriculture and towards urban industrial employment worldwide. Colombia’s governing elite, in league with the IMF and World Bank, needs to maintain these policies, known generally as structural adjustment, to maintain economic growth and their own power. Obtaining funding to suppress insurgency is a cost of doing business in a world economy intent on snuffing out peasant life. To complete the circle, drug suppression activities like aerial chemical spraying eliminates non-drug and drug peasant crops alike, accelerating the process of peasant removal required by global industrialization.

It is at best ironic that the same global economic forces which lead to the insurgency in Colombia force peasant farmers, unable to support themselves with “legal” crops, into coca production, which then is seen as the justification for US funding against the insurgency. US officials recognize it is a lot cheaper, and more consistent with the goals of globalization, to shoot and bomb Colombia’s poor into line than it would be to relieve the economic conditions causing the “problem” the US claims to be attempting to address: coca production.

Critics in Colombia fear the US aid package will bring an intensification of the war between Southern Colombia, stronghold of the FARC leftist rebels. The US aid, designed to arm and train the Colombian security forces, will further involve the US in the war.

The civil war pits two leftist guerrilla armies-the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces) and the ELN (Army of National Liberation)-against the Colombian military and right wing paramilitary forces, which are linked to the military and reportedly receive US training and funding. Trapped in the middle are millions of civilians suffering the brunt of the extortion, kidnappings and mass killings associated with the conflict.

FARC and ELN have a political agenda that calls for agrarian reform, democratization and protection of natural resources from multinational corporations. In exchange for allegiance, the FARC offers peasants the promise of eventual political power and protection from the government and the growing paramilitaries that are the guerrillas most brutal and most effective adversaries.

Sadly, there are no real “good guys” in this quagmire. The conflict comes down to who will have the power; control over the world’s most profitable drug trade, valuable natural resources including oil, and control of the nation’s government with the players including displaced peasants, the guerrillas, the drug traffickers, the army, and the paramilitary. Inevitably, the common people are the real ones to suffer, forgotten by the Clinton Administration and the Colombian government.

Colombian peasants are caught between global economic forces on one side, the war on another, with the US backed narco war adding its own special set of persecutions.

In December, the government agreed to a $2.7 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to combat the worst market economic conditions in more than 50 years. The loan, designed to protect the owning class, came with a price: the IMF made the loan conditional on austerity measures-principally cutting government subsidies and programs for the poor, including subsidies for “legal” alternatives to coca production.

Predictably, austerity measures only increase the number of peasants who turn to coca production as a means of supporting themselves and their families, especially when the market price for legal crops remains below subsistence levels.

As economic forces move Colombian peasants into drug production, the US government, which supports the IMF policies which in turn cause the increase in coca production, is expanding its drug eradication program.

The $1.6 billion aid package includes more money for helicopters to spray vast areas of Colombian farmland with potentially harmful herbicides intended to destroy coca crops, but which also destroys food crops and “legal” crops produced through government sponsored crops substitution programs. American financed aerial spraying campaigns have been the principal means by which the Colombian government has sought to reduce coca and opium poppy cultivation for nearly a decade. The eradication fleet has grown to include 65 airplanes and helicopters, which fly every day, weather permitting. Despite these efforts which have received more than $150 million in American aid over the last five years, cocaine and heroin production in Colombia has more than doubled since 1995.

These eradication methods threaten rural health: spraying reportedly takes place over schools, houses, grazing areas and sources of water. Spraying can’t accomplish the stated goal because spraying only exacerbates drug production by destabilizing the communities that are trying to get out of growing these crops by replacing them with “legal” alternatives.

How Colombian peasants are supposed to survive after the coca crops have been eradicated is a subject rarely discussed by the White House and State Department. In reality, given the dismantling of “legal” crop subsidies, there are only three options open: move deeper into the jungle and plant new coca crops, join guerrilla or paramilitary forces, or flee to the poverty ridden slums of the economically depressed cities, providing a larger surplus army of labor to keep labor prices down.

It is indisputable that additional US military aid will widen the war, disrupt the peace process and guarantee ongoing attacks on indigenous populations, destroying their culture and way of life.

The US and Colombian governments admit that expanding the war will displace more peasants, in a country already dealing with 1.9 million refugees. Meanwhile, the murder of labor organizers, peasant leaders, church workers, and expansion of paramilitary death squads in conjunction with the military will continue.

Military aid to Colombia should be cut, not expanded, and the war on drugs ought to be ended both for the harm it causes in Colombia and right here at home. Keep an eye on what the US is doing in Colombia.

For more information, contact Colombia Human Rights Network, Resources Center for the Americas

Party in the Streets Not Parties in Power

How and why to bring chaos in the streets to the Democratic and Republican National Conventions August 14-17 and July 31 – August 3

Massive militant protests at both the Democratic and Republican National conventions this summer are expected to raise a visible and fundamental challenge to the corrupt political system in the United States. Only a matter of months after the historic Battle of Seattle, which uncovered wide popular dissatisfaction over the increasing pace of corporate domination, global environmental devastation and gross income inequality, there is no discussion of the real issues in the Presidential race between the Democrats and the Republicans. Its up to direct action oriented youth, radical grannies, environmentalists, anarchists and militant labor to split the lie of the electoral system wide open for all to see.

Every presidential election year since the 1960s, the party conventions have been a gathering point for activists. In recent years, these protests have sometimes taken on a routine, predictable, formulaic feeling. They have been easily ignored by the media, who keep busy fitting protests into the comfortable mold of single issue politics, demanding reform or minor concessions-at cost, perhaps a third party alternative.

The summer of 2000 will be different because of our innovative, confrontational, disruptive tactics, increased willingness to take risks, focused and radical political critique and breathtaking daring. And, hopefully, a good measure of luck.

Shutting down or massively disrupting the Democratic and Republican conventions this summer and the successful shut down of the WTO last November are battles of a common struggle. The Democrats and Republicans represent corporate interests in the US government while the WTO represents corporate interests in trade rules that dominate all world governments. And its not just about voting for a third party that would claim to stand up for something different-the problem is about voting for one’s own rulers; about having rulers at all.

In essence, the Democrats, the Republicans, the US government, the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, Wall Street, the arms industry, factory farming, the mainstream media, etc. are all institutional expressions of a vast system of corporate domination in which powerful economic forces dominate the earth and its people. Decisions affecting everyone and everything are monopolized in a few private hands, and are made not in the interest of human happiness, beauty, sustainability or health, but in pursuit of short term accumulation of money for its own sake, divorced from any consideration of the real world effects of “economic progress”.

Somewhere in New York or London or Tokyo, a few men are deciding which species will survive, which children will starve, which will toil in factories, who will lose their land to cattle ranching or hydroelectric dams, whether the air will be clean, and what you will do, buy, and know. They meet in secret. Its not a conspiracy-its called private industry.

The US government is a focal point for global corporate domination. The US government has been one of the main proponents of the WTO. As the last remaining super-power, the US government and its military provide the might to back up the economic power of the WTO. Attacks on the Democrats and Republicans strike at the core, where corporations buy control of the US government for mere pennies.

Even a cursory examination of the Democrats and Republicans demonstrates that they are the same-one party with two names representing the interests of corporations. On any policy important to corporate expansion and control, they share one position and act in concert to promote “growth” and “jobs”. The tiny number of issues on which they differ only put in more stark relief the extent to which they share a single platform on the really important issues of economic power.

Neither ever takes any position hostile to ultimate corporate control, although many mainstream “labor” organizations foolishly fund their oppressors, the Democrats, with lavish campaign contributions. What has mainstream labor obtained for their largess? Nothing. Democrats have supported every move towards “free” (corporate dominated) trade and would never dare to take action seriously threatening corporate control.

The campaign money game makes it clear that corporations own both the Democrats and Republicans. The following corporations’ donations simultaneously put them in the top 20 contributors to the Democrats and the Republicans: Philip Morris, Atlantic Richfield (Arco), AT&T/TCI, MCI WorldCom and the Seagram Co. MCI gave almost precisely the same amount to each party $1,459,029 to the Democrats and $1,423,298 to the Republicans. Corporations give money to both parties simultaneously because they’re buying the same thing from both. Funding for both parties is a who’s who of corporate America. Walt Disney Co., Goldman Sachs, Mattell, Viacom, Citigroup, and BellSouth have provided major funding for the Democrats and Al Gore. Nabisco, Archer Daniels Midland, UST, Bell Atlantic/NYNEX, Pfizer, Enron, Chevron, and Merrill Lynch are major Republican contributors.

What Is To Be Done

Disrupting the conventions isn’t about “protesting” the Republicrats-it’s about creating a crisis where it can’t be ignored-creating a visual inspiration towards an alternative to politics, corporations and government at all. During Seattle, the media didn’t accurately report the anti-globalization critique of the thousands in the streets, but it didn’t matter. Millions of people around the world intuitively understood the message conveyed by the chaos in the streets: the veneer of “satisfaction” with business as usual sold daily by the media is a lie. That simple realization, which rarely breaks through the sitcoms and talk shows and daily commute, was a wake-up call more powerful than a million flyers. The conventions represent another opportunity to expand the sense that something is very wrong, and you don’t have to just take it. Action towards a new world is possible-it’s happening right now.

Given the frustrating experience in DC, it may take an extra measure of creativity, bravery and spontaneous militancy to split the system wide open. You can bet there will be thousands of police trying to keep the streets cleared. Tame marches and scripted civil disobedience actions won’t be enough. Drumming and too many puppets, but not enough disruption, won’t cut it. Our advantage lies in being unpredictable, refusing to operate on their terms, speaking the truth in the face of corporate obfuscation, and having fun while doing all of it. Have you ever seen a cop smile?

A wide variety of marches, rallies, alternative conventions and conferences are scheduled to coincide with the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles 14-17 and the Republican Convention in Philadelphia July 31 – August 3. (See end of article for contact info.)

In Los Angeles, plans are underway for the North American Anarchist Conference from August 11-17 which will proceed and coincide with the Democratic Convention. Direct action is planned against the convention. (See separate article.) Leftists and Progressives are calling for a People’s Convention from August 10-17, including nominations for an independent national shadow cabinet to provide progressive political analysis throughout the next president’s administration, as well as a forum for third-party candidates.

In Philadelphia, marches or actions are planned for July 29, 30, 31 and August 1 and 2. The Philadelphia Direct Action Group is planning a series of direct actions against the US electoral system and for participatory democracy. PDAG is calling for a convergence July 24-30, followed by a March for Economic Human Rights July 31, and actions targeting the Convention August 2 and the Prison
Industrial Complex August 1. Leftists are sponsoring a march and rally entitled “Unity 2000” on July 30: gather at JFK Blvd near the 30th St. train station for march to the rally.

Shutting down the Republicrats is about far more than promoting a third party alternative, or putting pressure on the parties or government. Ultimately, its up to people everywhere to build a new way of life apart from corporations, apart from governments and parties, and apart from coercion. Decisions should be made locally by all the people effected by the decision, not by distant rulers, either corporate or governmental.

More Information

Following is a far from extensive list of contacts organizing for the summer’s festivities (not including the cops, of course). Contact ‘em and see how you can get involved:

The August Collective (coordinating the North American Anarchist Conference in LA August 11-17)

PO Box 6188

Fullarton, CA 92834

LA People’s Convention

Philadelphia Direct Action Group

(215) 387-5624

General Info:

Long UNAM Student Strike Ends

It was 4 am and some friends and I were sitting around talking, doing the late night watch at UNAM, the National Autonomous University of Mexico in Mexico City. It was November 1999, and the entire university was on strike. All campuses, including UNAM’s 10 or so public high schools had been occupied for over 7 months. I was just visiting, and I hadn’t quite gotten used to the new schedule. I’d been eyeing the pile of blankets and thinking about finding a good spot on the auditorium floor, hoping I wouldn’t trip over any sleeping bodies on my way in.

All of a sudden, Beto and Conejo came bursting in, laughing uproariously and slapping their thighs. “We really got her this time!” They were truly crying with glee. What’s so funny, everyone wanted to know. The two pranksters had gone to Jani’s private sleeping quarters, previously a small storage space on the roof, banged loudly on the door and pretended to be cops, gone in to “arrest” her. “She almost peed her pants she was so scared.” “What the fuck!” I was pissed. “Why do you have to go mess with her like that. Everyone is already stressed out enough to begin with. If you guys like that kind of abuse then do it to each other but don’t go around giving innocent people heart attacks.” The two young men quieted down for a minute, but to my surprise, no one else in the room agreed with me. Even the older and mellower students nodded in support of the trick. Mariana explained, “We can’t let anyone get too comfortable here. It’s important that people be ready to react at any moment, and that means when you hear them coming, get up and get ready to deal. Jani should have been up and out the back door by the time they went in there. In the beginning we had a lot more of this kind of exercise, but after 7 months we’re getting soft. We don’t know when the police are going to invade, but they probably will.”

In fact, UNAM campuses were taken by force by federal police on February 6th, 2000, approximately 9 months after the strike began. Nearly 1,000 students were jailed, and given a long list of charges, some including terrorism, which carries a forty year minimum sentence.

The strike began April 20th, 1999 as a reaction to the University head, Rector Barnes’ announcement that he was going to significantly raise tuition costs. Education has always been supported by taxes in Mexico, taking a mere 2.6% of the country’s gross national product. But due to pressure from the World Bank and the IMF, the Mexican government agreed to begin the process of privatizing education in 1999. The educational system should pay for itself, they wrote, ad as for the poor who can’t afford it, we’d rather have them working in a factory anyway.

Mexico has a long history of powerful student movements, so Barnes, hoping to soften the blow, announced the fee hikes would not affect any students currently attending the University. Only entering students would be subjected to the new pay-to-play system. But the bribe fell flat on the face. Not only did UNAM’s 26,000 students stand up and say “Hell No!” to the fees, but once they got organized, they started noticing other things that were wrong with their education system, and added the following 5 additional demands.

2. Democratize the University Council. UNAM is currently governed by the University Council, a body made up of the principals of each of the schools, who are appointed by the Rector. These principals, in turn, hand pick two students at each school to run against each other in elections to produce student representatives for the council. The strikers demanded real qualitative representation, as well as the inclusion of both workers and faculty in a Congress to resolve other issues affecting the University.

3. Dissolve all links to the CENEVAL. The National Center for Evaluation, otherwise known at the CENEVAL, is a private organization that has been responsible for “evaluating” student performance using standardized exams since 1994. A private, for-profit company, CENEVAL gives everybody who wants to continue their education beyond junior high school a single test, and based on your scores on that test they decide where you go and what you study, which may be something very different from what you had originally envisioned. They actually have ads on TV of people who got into a major diverging completely from what they wanted. For example, they asked for engineering but got social work, who unconvincingly explain how it’s not really that bad.

4. Allow the school year interrupted by the conflict to be completed. Many students who participated in the strike have not had their 1999 classes recognized.

5. Repeal the imposed 1997 amendments, which eliminated the “automatic pass” from public high schools to universities, and imposed limits on the amount of time students can study at the University. For students who work full time in addition to going to school, it is next to impossible to complete their studies within the current time restrictions (6 years for a 4 year major).

6. Remove the police apparatus on the University and eliminate all types of threats and sanctions against students, professors, and university workers for their participation in the strike. During the strike’s occupation of University land, the administration maintained a professional “security force” complete with on-campus cameras and paid provocateurs. Professors and workers were threatened and fired. Students were followed, kidnapped for days at a tie and beaten, raped and sometimes killed.

While the repression against the strike was at times very intense, the students also received support from a large segment of the population. Unions, community organizations, students and professors from other universities and lots of young people participated continuously over the past year. Many students’ parents and families have also been very active, taking part in building occupations, fundraising and sitting through 32 hour meetings. And they got a good turn out for their marches: a couple were clocked at more than half a million people.

But the most inspiring thing for me about the strike was how people organized themselves. Each school (there were 36 altogether) had weekly assemblies and sent 5 delegates to the CGH, the Strike’s General Council. Proposals were made and discussed at the individual assemblies, and then discussed and voted on at the CGH sessions (often lasting more than 24 hours). A facilitating body chosen randomly at the end of each session presided over the following meeting and the delegates rotated every time. This structure was adopted because the CGH consciously wanted to avoid creating “leaders”. Even when the CGH was in dialogue with the administration and the administration demanded fixed representatives in order to continue negotiations, the CGH refused, and prevailed. A decentralized structure without a figurehead to co-opt or assassinate is much harder to crush effectively. It’s also more democratic (in the best sense of the word).

The CGH managed to survive and continued to function despite being ousted from the UNAM campuses, and having to deal with the arrest of nearly a thousand members. The University Administration is trying to pretend that everything has returned to normalcy even while they are involved in formal negotiations with the CGH. Administration buildings are still not safe from spontaneous takeover. There are permanent encampments on campus and in front of the jail, calling for the release of their comrades and the fulfillment of the six demands. And in April 2000, the CGH held an International Student Conference to celebrate the year anniversary of the strike, which drew participants from all over Latin America, and Europe. There they discussed strategies for combating privatization and neoliberalism, education as a means of ideological repression, and the uses and abuses of science, technology, culture and the media.

When I was in Mexico City last November, some people told me this is the strongest student move
ment in Mexico’s history. Whether or not this is true, the strike continues to be heard, lending itself to the river of organized dissent/ As I write, on June 5th, the remaining 6 student prisoners have been approved for release on bail, after demanding to be let go as a group. (There are currently 200 students who have charges pending). Public school teachers are currently conducting their own strike on a national scale. The EZLN is having an official gathering in Mexico City on June 9th, in the midst of threats to “resolve the problem” before the new president is elected in July. Even AeroMexico workers have joined the picket line.

And so the struggle continues in the spirit of El Mexe, a Normal School in the state of Hidalgo, where on February 19, 2000, 68 police officers were taken hostage, stripped naked, and hog tied by townspeople, in retaliation for the brutal repression of another student strike. (The officers were later traded for 376 prisoners of the State). As one officer commented afterward, “We always win, but by God, this time we lost.” Amen brother.


Greetings from Uncle Dale

RE: Current educational project targeting mainstream tourists in Seattle. Including, but not limited to Alaska bound cruise ship buffet feeder to Microsoft and Boeing induced corporate smega.

WHAT: Self-guided map of N30 gas zone, highlighting “retailers of death, terror and ecological madness”. Scheduled guided tours leaving Westlake or IndyMedia are a thought. Tour Guides will be B(lack) B(loc) in appearance(ish)…?

Seeking: 15-25 word explanations around retail targets during police riots of N30. Explanations of why these retailers deserve boycotts and other profit diversion or limitation.

This is a personal invitation to BB folks. We are growing a program to export to cities across the world. Bring N30 to the same retailers targeted by my family here during convergence. We hope to customize a corporate map applicable to every mall and every city hall.

Slingshot you rock!


Uncle Dale

Post-WTO Legal


I’m bummed about your WTO Legal update. Why, you ask? Well it should (have said) “by DAN legal” since what you printed was a blatant propaganda piece for DAN.

The article claims that the DAN legal team claimed victory for the 570 people arrested on December 1. But what about the people arrested with felony charges on November 30th? Those people are anarchists and you would think Slingshot would support them.

Not one mention of the felons or the Mutual Aid legal Fund was in the last issue. A friend of mine told me she submitted the information about MALF yet somehow it didn’t get in.

What’s the deal? Is this even an anarchist zine anyway? Tons of shit on microradio but nothing on people facing up to a year (in jail) on trumped up charges.

I agree with John Zerzan’s letter last issue, you really seem stuck in a sluggish leftist critique. I wish you all would write more critical pieces and stop all the fluff pieces.

Sorry if that is too harsh but it’s been bugging me for a while.


What can we say? We tried very hard to get the most up to date and accurate information on the post WTO legal situation but despite making repeated calls to our sources, we failed to deliver the goods by press time. Of course we support all of those that were arrested and will continue to. It was our intention to present a well rounded account. Please send donations to:

Mutual Aid Legal Fund

P.O. Box 95616

Seattle, WA 98145-2816

We Know Who You Are

Dear Slingshot,

I just wanted to tell you how great issue #68 is. I’ve never read Slingshot before so I don’t know how all the other issues have been but this issue really rocks. The article about trannies is something that I’ve been needing to read for quite some time, thanks. The rest is also damn good reading. Sorry that I’m not sending money or anything cool.

PS: I also think it’s rad that you print letters that criticize you because it makes people think ‘n stuff.


Going, Going, Gone

To: Renske

We are indeed out of Organizers. However, if you email back with a good story about losing the Organizer in some valiant radical act at the IMF, we might be able to dig up a copy from our “special circumstances” file that we keep for emergencies, like when the cops steal them or they get covered with pepper spray, etc. Let us know.

From Renske:

Hmmmmm, well, OK, here goes….

I’m a fairly new “convert” to radical, direct action, but after Seattle and Boston, I knew I was ready for something “more” in DC. Once I arrived with my affinity group (The Terribles) and we got hooked up with the New York cluster we determined ourselves to be a flying squad to support those locking down, etc. I started asking questions about communication-and since I apparently asked the right questions, I ended up at a communications meeting with a FRS radio in my hand, ready for action (with a half hour of sleep on a hard ass floor) communicating what was happening at various intersections where we were located – and assisting with getting medics, legal support, etc. to places where cops were doing their repression thing… we hung with it all day ’til the last blockade came down-and then we were up and at ’em again the very next day-in the pouring rain. “We’re Here, We’re Wet – So Sump the Debt!” I was so worried about keeping my communications equipment dry, I didn’t even stop to think about my Slingshot that was getting soaked in my backpack’s front pocket. Keeping a tight march was the plan – since this was an entirely unsanctioned reclaiming of DC streets during rush hour. Huge gaps would have really confused things. Communication was tough that day-pouring rain made visibility harder. Supporting the blockade was our number one priority… and we did the best we could.

OK, so that’s the short version. The longer one is only done in person, sorry. Don’t trust e-mail too much these days. My Slingshot org is totally bust – all the ink drained and I can’t read anything (it did dry up, but it warped and twisted and I can’t open the pages…)

If there is a random extra one for me, I’d be thrilled.

Tired in Minneapolis–Renske

Slingshot Box

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

This issue almost didn’t come out. We went into our layout weekend-hell with fewer articles than usual and weaker ones (we still cut over half the stuff we received) and with the number of collective members at an all time low due to bad luck and lots of valued people who’ve drifted away.

Then, at the most stressful point, a horrific, bitter argument about politics, philosophy and process stopped the critical meeting cold. Almost half of us walked out. At one point we wondered if the issue would ever come out much less if the Collective would survive.

Well, we’re not dead yet. We have a lot of processing to do but enough people came back that we finished this issue.

It’s ironic that the collective is this weak when the Organizer project is so popular these days (we’re working on the 2001 edition.) More than ever before, we need some new members and some new energy if we’re going to go on.

Earlier in our process, we had lots of great dreams about how we could expand and improve the paper: regular columns, more articles about what we want, not just what we’re against, better writing and more vision. It’s up to you.

Slingshot accepts unsolicited articles, art, photos and letters. No poetry! Please send a disk if you can. Also, this is expensive, send $20 now!

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

Slingshot Volunteer Meeting

Volunteers interested in getting involved in Slingshot can meet with us on September 10, 2000 at 4:00 p.m. at the Long Haul in Berkeley (see below).

Article Deadline & Next Issue Date

The projected deadline for article submission for issue #70 is October 5, 2000. Issue #70 is expected to be out on October 20, 2000.

Printed June 22, 2000

Volume 1

Number 69

Circulation: 10,000

Slingshot Newspaper

Sponsored by Long Haul

3124 Shattuck Ave

Berkeley, CA 94705

Phone: (510) 540-0751


The Infoshop Awaits You

3124 Shattuck


510 540-0751

People pass by 3124 Shattuck Avenue in South Berkeley all the time wonder, “What can be going on in that weird space with all the political flyers and colorful yet non-corporate storefront?” Yes, yes. It is a cannabis club during the day, but even more the Infoshop is one of the only radical community centers on the West Coast. Lovingly described in the April 17, 2000 issue of theNew Yorker as that “cafe/bookshop/community center run by an Anarchist Collective (we were, remember, in Berkeley).” In addition to exciting and inspiring weekly events brought to you by an all volunteer collective, the Infoshop also houses an astounding zine archive and lending library.

Our weekly schedule is jam packed with events you can’t miss. We frequently host the post-East Bay Critical Mass dinner dance on the second Friday of the month, the only monthly Food Not Bombs Goth Party Benefit in North America, and radical planning potluck brunches.

Mondays 6-9 pm

Women only night. Come hang in a space that’s been dedicated to women for 7 years and enjoy insightful political discussion, videos, and an occasional book group. Women’s night is always looking for people to come down and make it a happening event.

Tuesdays 6-9 pm

The night of the ever popular Anarchist Study Class (8-10 pm) running strong and going on 3 years. Join the enlightening discussion and don’t miss out on Infoshop superstar Margaret’s last summer as a staffer. Humane Services for the Mentally Crisesed meets from 6-8 pm.

Wednesdays 6-9 pm

Come on down for the Anarchist Sewing Circle. Sew up some holes in your clothes or make a beautiful patch quilt while listening to critiques of the prison industrial complex and occasional fantastic tales.

Food Not Bombs meets around 8:30 pm.

Thursdays 6-9 pm

Berkeley Liberation Radio meets every other week around 8 pm. Alternate weeks infoshop staffers engage guests in a rousing game of Spin the Bottle. This night needs a serious infusion of energy. Make it happen.

Sundays 6-9 pm

Don’t believe the unfounded rumors; Cafe Night is still going strong! Cheap, vegan, carbohydrate filled dinners ($3 suggested donation). Still the most unique community building event in Berkeley. Donations go to the organization sponsoring the meal. Come hang out with the radicals and listen to James Brown all over again.

Note: We need groups to host cafe nights. There are many openings in the next couple of months. Contact an infoshop staffer for more details.

Now Recruiting

We could really use a Cafe Night Coordinator to ensure there are fabulous meals happening on a consistent basis, as well as willing helpers to cook and chop. We’d also love more people to help us do some outreach.

Housing Box

Don’t pay outrageous fees tot he corporate housing listing monopolies like e-housing, Berkeley Connections, or Homefinders. Come find a room or post your opening in our wonderful but compact housing box. Let’s start a permanent and free spot to find housing in the East Bay.

Ride Board

looking for a ride to next big action or just to visit a pal on the East Coast? Need a companion for your bike ride down from Seattle? Post your intentions on the ride board located in the back of the Long Haul and get travellin’

Anarchist Federation Forming

NEFAC Founding Raises Questions

The Northeastern Federation of Anarchist Communists (NEFAC) was founded in April 2000. The organizers, based in Boston and Quebec, are still in the process of developing the federation, which will bring to the northeastern region an organization modeled on such groups as the Anarchist Federation and Class War of the UK and the Workers Solidarity Movement of Ireland.

The political perspective of NEFAC is based on three pillars: anarchist-communism, federalism, and platformism.

The first, anarchist-communism, holds that the social transformation of work is fundamental to achieving freedom in any meaningful way. Moreover, anarchist-communism recognizes that economic, state and social systems of oppression are structured in such a way as to create disparate classes. These classes are naturally in conflict with each other-the exploited and the exploiter-but without organization and a genuine understanding of social freedom, this conflict will continue to sap the strength of the exploited class without leading closer to liberation. Only with organization and a genuine understanding of social freedom will the bleak conflict turn into a true struggle for the life of freedom.

NEFAC declares that the anarchist movement today has a need for an energetic and strong element taking this direction, and I agree. However, anarchist-communism is not all that NEFAC stands for.

NEFAC’s members believe that anarchists — or at least anarchist-communists — need a unified and comprehensive political platform. In their first conference, NEFAC discussed a proposed platform. The conference ended without having a final draft of the platform; the draft will be discussed again at the second conference. There are some small problems with the draft. For example, the points tend to emphasize things-we’re-against (capitalism, statism, patriarchy, racism, nationalism, ecological stupidity, and so on) which leaves the whole susceptible to leftism. For greater effectiveness, the platform would need to provide a cogent summation of what-we’re-for.

However, even if the platform is redrafted in more confident and effective terms, anarchism and platformism may be mutually incompatible. Political platforms repeat the old hierarchical structure of political control. As anarchists, we easily enough detect the bullshit when the state forms think-tanks to transmit official ideologies via the press to the “masses.” That’s a one-way transmission of ideas and a monopoly on political action. It’s statism. The role of state propaganda is to maintain systems of oppression by turning people in their own perceptions into the objects of another’s thought. But anarchism, in contrast, holds that every person is and should be self-determining, and the subject of his or her own thought.

The strongest defense against statism, and the strongest basis on which to nurture freedom, is to transform the objectified “masses” into critical-thinking and socially-conscious individuals. Anarchism must not only achieve this, but it must lead the way in fostering a new kind of politics in which one-way communication can no longer exist.

NEFAC goals include both self-directed “study and theoretical development” and other-oriented “agitation and propaganda.” Until these goals are merged — until study and theoretical development are the basis of a two-way — dialog their liberatory aim cannot be realized. Political platforms and propaganda are structurally authoritarian; even the development of a perfect idea cannot make it less so, once enshrined as The Answer. But this is not cause for despair – it is the seed for transformation. Class struggle begins with genuine dialog, with the return of men and women to their authentic self-knowledge.

NEFAC also holds that the federation is a model of how society as a whole should be organized.

Federalism is a political system in which semi-autonomous collectivities (in this case affinity groups) unite for certain specified political purposes. At the moment NEFAC’s purpose is somewhat sketchy. Their documents state, “The activity of the federation is organized around three poles: study and theoretical development; anarchist agitation and propaganda; and intervention in the struggle of our class, be it autonomously or by way of direct involvement in social movements.”

Theoretical and tactical unity are major goals of NEFAC. Study groups and agitprop are intended to create theoretical unity, while the federation hopes (by providing a general framework) to attain a degree of consistency in the actions of its members. But what sort of action is intended? How is consistency possible, when the tactics are never defined? What are the implications or the limitations of intervention? At the present time, NEFAC’s Aims & Principles and Constitution are too ambiguous to serve as guidelines for unified theory or action.

Talking to NEFAC members, however, a simpler but more cogent picture of NEFAC emerges. Intervention may mean, as Mark Laskey says, “pushing for [a] more radical direction in the way of tactics and perspectives, [and] popularizing anarchist and anti-hierarchical organizing principles (such as decentralization, self-management and direct democracy).”

The idea that unity or even consistency are always liberatory is mistaken. Sometimes inconsistency and a bit of discord is exactly what’s needed to accomplish the work of liberation.

The problems which crop up with Federalism are very real ones. Rather than focus on NEFAC and Federalism, though, I would like to suggest some of the critical problems which concern any anarchist organization. These are my personal point of view, as indeed is the whole article; I do not pretend to speak for “anarchists in general” or “the editorial collective.” I, to the best of my current understanding, believe that any organization which is liberatory in structure and intent must include these basic elements:

First, it must allow and perhaps even foster dissent; the individual should not be supressed by any false need for unity.

Second, it must allow and foster on-going self-criticism. This does not mean a sort of self-flagellation, but merely an honest questioning consciousness. Social freedom in practice doesn’t look like a religion; there can be no “higher answers” or “ultimate truths” — and that can indeed be very scary to face. But there are higher questions — and seeing that relieves the fear; because higher questions are based on understanding; and understanding (in my personal experience) alleviates fear.

Third, the structure of membership and decision-making must be somewhat fluid. Whoever wants to do the work should be welcome to do the work. But what is “the work”? Whether it is organizing class struggle or putting out a newspaper, there is a certain degree of agreement necessary as to what the purpose of the group is. Beyond that modest basis of unity, however, suppressing diversity merely undermines the group’s growth — or the growth of its individual members.

Fourth, groups should understand and acknowledge that direct democracy, consensus and collective responsibility are simply methods of imposing a social order. They can all be used to suppress dissent. If they are enshrined as Sacred Principles of Anarchist Method, they become invisible structures of authority. This is not healthy in anti-authoritarian organizations.

In thought and action, the means are the ends. The means to freedom must be consonant with freedom itself.

The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Trannies on Drugs

An ongoing series of diaries by transsexuals taking pharmaceutical hormones


When it was first brought up that I should do an article about my experiences as a transsexual. I was not sure where to start. Lots of the time, my transsexuality is a non-issue for me (hell, I’ve been dealing with my gender my whole life… I would hope I would have gotten through some of it by now.) So I let it sit. Life went on and I kind of thought on it for a while, and eventually hit what I pretty much always hit with this sort of thing: there are really two issues here. One is estrogen itself, and what it does to me. The other is the fact that, as someone who by nature is a question to our culture’s gender constructs I go against it no matter what, and what do I do with that implicit potential for creating change?

First off: the estrogens (yay boobs??!!). This one is difficult. I am always rehashing the conflict. I have got no issues with changing myself to the world or whatever the fuck any god intended me to have. I trust myself enough to respect my understanding of who and what I a, as a transsexual and I know that that analyzation of myself is always changing. But I have a whole lot of trouble justifying taking those lovely little pills sometimes, anyway. On one hand, it makes sense to me to have a “girl’s” body. It would match my brain. And since I started taking chemical estrogens on January 14th, I have had some exciting developments. My skin has gotten a little softer, my belly is taking a different shape, and my fat’s starting to move to my hips as my body fat changes orienattion. My knees are looking a little less bony. I think my hair grows a little bit faster, I’m growing fangs (wait, maybe that’s not the estrogen?!?!), and, of course, my breasts are getting a little larger and changing in their manner of sensitivity (now I can get racked up in so many places and positions!!!). Now somedays maybe I just don’t give enough weight to my internal drives, but as I put these poisonous chemicals in my body, I have to wonder. Not all of theses changes are things I can see as positive.

Since January, I have been working that much harder at destroying my liver. Lowering my blood pressure. Changing my metabolism. Raising my risk of breast cancer. Losing a little muscle mass. Filling myself with chemicals built and tested by your friend and mine, the commercial pharmaceutical industry. Great plan? (sometimes I skip antibiotics because I’m a little weirded out by them, but taking Premarin seems dandy?) Some days it’s really hard to balance. My body isn’t me, so why should it matter? I need to communicate through my body, so it has to matter. Every problem in life is all about how you go about ingesting and understanding it, and am I understanding what my problems are well enough to be causing detriment to my body while I change it? On these bright days when everything but this little discrepancy between what I know I need to look like and what my body has a tendency to do is the only thing about me that isn’t moving at the speed of light and loving it, maybe it really does make sense (I mean, tits can rock). After lots of mulling it all over, I end up somewhere around this: when the rest of everything I do is either working well or something I can make work, then my gender presentation is no exception. It’s what I’ve got. I don’t want to be a girl any more than I want to be a boy. It’s not about that. It’s about making my body fit my mind. It’s about me functioning in a way that works best for me. Everything that results from how I present myself is only what I make of it. And if I’m anything to this world, I need to make something that changes it.

I have always been of the opinion that the shape of my body doesn’t matter; it’s only flesh. I have also long known that what I feel gets shown through my body (and it should). It’s that synthesis of seeming oppositions that makes “transsexuality” and the estrogens that I take such an amazing and interesting experience.

On another end of things, I simply hate the label “transsexual.” I hate all the constructs and limitations that come along with it. My transsexuality, to most people, makes me inhuman; it separates me.

In many arenas, TS is defined as a defect or an illness, but the label is where my disorder really lies. I’m just me. I am not a gender. I am a gooey amalgam of the experiences, choices, and instances of my life until now. I am a human. That is enough. That is all that affects anything I do or create until people start labeling me.

Labels hurt because they are not me. They destroy because they are not anyone.

Without labels, I am just a girl who happens to have a penis. A different shape to the bag of meat that is the human body. Depending on how I handle myself, that different shape can put me in a position to be a catalyst and a teacher. This excites me, and if I’m lucky, I’ll pull it off.

As humans we read symbols. It’s our nature. It’s what makes us human. We see a hoof print in the dirt, and we connect it to the past and the future and to events around it. A deer was here. It’s headed that way. It came from there, etc. We read the images that surround us and we tell stories as a means for survival. And despite what may seem our detached status in relation to our roots in “nature”, we still use those sorts of visual languages to manage our lives. Unfortunately, as with so many parts of our contrived and unnatural contemporary culture, we have come up with some pretty illogical rules around these languages, and that is where my disorder enters the picture. The way we portray ourselves physically is one of our oldest and most natural uses of visual language. Translations about the way something looks and moves can tell you myriad things about a being (What are it’s intents? What does it want?…) We all speak the language regularly. But we have also added to our vocabulary since the beginning of humanity, and not all of our new word and phrases are a positive advance. We’ve created meanings (mostly on little more than various governments; and cultures’ need to classify and divide) about all sorts of absurd notions like race and sex and what people of certain mindsets and entire walks of life look like, and transsexuality (and “race” and “sex”) is a problem because our definitions are skewed on several levels. “Society” is not out to get me, it’s just that I, as a full and intelligent person, don’t fit into our cultural definition of a full and intelligent person, yet I exist. That says to me that something’s not quite right with our system of meanings. This skewing is part of the roots of many problems, and it is why “transsexual” is far more than just a person bearing a different definition of self than the rest of the world perceives. Persona becomes not a choice or an evolution, but a physical aspect to be defined by everyone but the person themselves. This pattern of labeling and assumption affects everyone. A “man” looks a certain way. A “gay” looks another. A “child” acts like this. An “adult” would never do that. We are all both limited and taught to limit ourselves and others. It is part of why people are beaten down, raped, or harassed as they walk down the street. Its why Jews and gypsies were something to be wiped off the face of the earth in Germany sixty or so years ago. It is why the Civil Rights movement took place (the uncomfortable nature of it is why we want to believe it’s over.) It is also why we must remember to question everything we think we know — because we make the definitions that limit and destroy all of us. Who hasn’t, at some point in life, been stopped from doing something because it would be too girlie, boyish, gay, straight, black, white, rich, poor, or whatever? Who hasn’t done this constraining themselves? This matter of reassessing definitions is one of the many convergence points between my politics and my emotions. When I became a disorder, or a transsexual, or just a boy to people, it negates my existence because those things a
re not me. This is why it becomes so easy for me to end up on such a diatribe when addressing something like estrogen supplements as well. It’s all linked (we are all linked).

The system of living that kills us and this earth is the one that does this dividing and destruction and it is made of people, not just ideas or rulers. The “system” is us. When we do not support it, it cannot survive. It hurts us and we are brought up in a world that is told by its mother culture to ask for more of this abuse. We are saturated with the notion that it is not only the best, but the only way there si to live. But if we want to stop it (save ourselves, we need to start asking “why?”, instead (All we have to do is walk away). I hope that I can use my “disorder” to help people ask another “why”.


The needle went into my left butt cheek and I became a new man. At least – that’s what I thought might happen. Gender is not black and white; in the two months since I began injecting testosterone into my “female” body, my position relative to our bi-polar gendered society has not gotten any less vague. Nonetheless, I’m excited and intrigued by the results of the testosterone. The changes themselves are hot, and the fact that I’m taking definite steps changing my body help me retain sanity.

As I biked home after getting my first shot, I felt twice as strong. My legs felt like pistons; my burst of energy was no doubt due partly to the excitement of the first shot, but it also felt chemically induced. Although my testosterone does was small, my muscle mass increased dramatically in the first few days following the injection. I felt a greater drive to do things, and increased physical stamina. The odor of my sweat changed. My brain was definitely a bit out of whack those first few days; I found myself taking action without clearly thinking about the situation first, occasionally with unfortunate results. (Fortunately all of my fuck-ups were on the same order of magnitude as my relatively small T dose.)

I was quite excited by my burgeoning arm muscles, but somewhat perplexed by my growing clitoris. The head quickly became more sensitive, and started to poke out more from the hood, resulting in much more frequent, intense stimulation. This made riding my bike extremely enjoyable, but made masturbation a bit tricky, rubbing my clit the wrong way resulted in a rather uncomfortable amount of overstimulation. I have since adjusted remarkably well to the heightened sensitivity.

My eager clit is well served by my intensified sex drive. Although hormone-induced, my new sexual energy feels natural and satisfying. With queer men I feel at home. With women however, my increased sexual energy feels out of proportion and overly aggressive. Although I write the above statements based on my experience, I shudder to define “men’s” and “women’s” sexual energy. Sexual energy is a personal factor that cannot be generalized, or so I would like to think; it disturbs me to realize the extent to which my energy is influenced by hormones. But I relish the energy itself.

Since going on hormones I’ve grown less passive and more reactive with my anger. I recently had a dream where I reacted more violently to somebody than ever before, literally beating them into the ground. Although the situation was within a dream, the sensation of pure, red-blooded violence shadowed me for days. Intellectually, I cannot accept this violent urge towards a random human. But something in my brain/blood drives me to desire the violence, or, more accurately, the adrenaline associated with the impact of a fist against a body. The desire is chemical.

My doctor warned me about intense feeling of anger. Anger fueled not by testosterone, but by the realization, as I begin to “pass” as male, of what I’ve been missing in a male-privileged culture. At this point, when I do pass it is as a weird adolescent boy, not as a suit-clad middle class man. Nonetheless, as I mutter “hi” to the man I pass on the street, extended from the other man towards me is a sense of recognition and, importantly, a lack of sexual objectification. As someone who was once sexually harassed as a woman and who is now perceived as male, I am acutely aware of the energy a woman can consume fighting sexual harassment. Men are in a poor position to comment on the extent of sexual harassment directed towards women.

What is men’s energy, vs. women’s energy? What is chemical and what is cultural?

To be continued…

Micro Power Radio Under Attack

The struggle to create a national micro powered FM community radio system in the United States is still too close to call, with corporate efforts underway in Congress to cancel the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) recent “legalization” of micro radio even while the FCC accepts the first applications for new micro powered stations. Urgent action is needed to fight this latest challenge to micro radio and save the FCC’s new legalization rules, even though evidence is mounting that the FCC’s new rules are seriously flawed because they don’t permit as many new stations as are technically possible.

In January, after years of radio civil disobedience by hundreds of micropowered “pirate” free radio stations nationwide, the FCC announced it would accept applications for legal Low Power FM radio stations (LPFM) operating at 100 watts or less with a range of 5 miles. The new LPFM stations are designed to provide an alternative to the largely corporate dominated radio dial. LPFM stations can be set up for as little as $1,000 and under FCC rules only non-profit associations will be able to apply for the stations. LPFM, if it goes forward, could serve as a significant “voice for the voiceless”-allowing local communities, activists, non-corporate musicians and regular people access to the airwaves.

The corporate radio industry, organized as the National Broadcasters Association (NAB), has always opposed cheap, community access to the radio dial. Given the corporate monoculture on the radio dial, with just a few “formats” replicated endlessly across the country, and with ever increasing corporate concentration of stations, the NAB has a lot to fear. Community radio, which would be relevant to local communities, innovative, and able to operate outside of narrow “formats”, is likely to draw listeners away from commercial broadcasts.

The NAB fiercely opposed the pioneering free radio stations that forced the FCC to legalize micro radio, pressuring the FCC to shut stations down by force. When the FCC proposed legalizing micro radio, the NAB spent thousands on biased technical studies to show that any new stations would cause interference. And now that the FCC has approved rules “legalizing” micro radio, which were passed after a year of study and after the FCC solicited and received thousands of comments from interested citizens, the NAB is again trying to kill micro radio, this time using big money and political influence.

On April 13, the House of Representatives passed the so-called “Oxley” Bill, which is designed to prevent the FCC from going ahead with its “legalization” of micro radio. The legislation, essentially written by the NAB, is a corporate attempt to go around the democratic process that, astonishingly, caused the FCC to “legalize” micro radio against all odds. There is no evidence that there was any public outcry demanding passage of the Oxley Bill-its of interest to corporate lobbyists, plain and simple. The NAB has a powerful lobbying apparatus on Capitol Hill, and corporate radio gives millions of dollars to Congressional candidates to ensure influence. Passage of the Oxley Bill is a textbook example of politics as usual-even where citizen organizations get reforms, their efforts can easily be vetoed by wealthy corporate interests.

According to the NAB, the Oxley Bill was intended to protect the radio dial from “interference” the NAB claims micro radio will cause. Their claims, disproved by the FCC’s own careful technical studies, were even further discredited when the NAB presented a falsified recording of “how the radio might sound if LPFM went ahead” before a Congressional hearing on LPFM. The tape was merely two voices mixed together. Interference is characterized by scratchiness and one signal being unintelligible, since FM receivers only accept one signal at a time. In response to the falsified tape, the FCC laboratories produced their own tape, which showed that under FCC rules, there would be no perceptible difference.

A Senate version of the Oxley Bill, SB 2068, is currently pending in the Senate. As Slingshot goes to press, it isn’t looking very good for the FCC’s legalization of micro radio. Only 11 Senators have gone on record opposing SB 2068, and micro radio advocates are strongly encouraging folks to write their Senators and urge them to vote no on SB 2068. (See end of article.)

It is ironic that the NAB is so intent on killing the new FCC licensing rules, because the FCC rules offer so little potential to micro broadcasters. When the FCC announced that California was in the first group of states where people could apply for LPFM licenses, activists commissioned an engineering study to determine where people could locate an LPFM station in the East Bay and San Francisco. The report came back with bad news: under the FCC rules, there was no license available in either area. The closest opportunity for a station was in Santa Cruz 90 miles to the south, Santa Rosa 60 miles to the north, and Stockton 80 miles east.

The FCC, hoping to head off exactly the type of NAB challenge now underway, enacted extremely conservative technical standards for LPFM. Under the rules, LPFM stations don’t have to protect other radio stations on the “3rd adjacent” channel, contrary to FCC rules for higher power stations, but they still have to protect other stations on the “2nd adjacent” channel. Or example, if there is a full powered station on 104.5 FM, the first adjacent channel is 104.3, the second adjacent channel is 104.1 and the third adjacent channel is 103.9.

The FCC decision to prohibit stations on the 2nd adjacent channel flies in the face of their own technical studies, as well as reality-there are hundreds of stations which were “grandfathered” in and are operating on 2nd adjacent channels with no noticeable interference. This restriction was clearly an FCC attempt to appease the NAB by prohibiting opportunities for “too many” micro stations, especially I urban areas. The real world result of the restriction is now obvious: there are no potential stations in the inner Bay Area. If micro radio advocates are able to save the FCC rules from NAB/Congressional extermination, the next step will be to pressure the FCC to expand the LPFM rules to permit stations to operate on the 2nd adjacent channel. The first task is saving the embattled, flawed rules.

What You Can Do

In response to the NAB attacks on micro radio, activists at the May 27 “War Council” adopted a five point program of action against the National Association of Broadcasters. Activists hope to shut down the NAB national convention which will take place in San Francisco September 20-23. Micro radio activists plan to target major advertisers on pro-NAB stations in communities across the country. In the Bay Area, KOIT, and the chairman of its parent company, Bruce Reese, are main targets. KOIT’s largest advertiser, Albertsons, is being asked to withdraw its advertising on KOIT. The War Council also called for the establishment of more micro radio stations as well as outreach and public education campaigns about potential LPFM.

People in the 40 states yet to have a chance to apply for LPFM license are strongly encouraged to immediately contact the National Lawyers Guild Committee on Democratic Communications, who can provide assistance in applying for a station. Based on experience gained in California and other states, it is evident that organizing an application has to begin early in order to be successful. Contact them at 448 Capp Street, San Francisco, CA 94110, 415 522-9814,

Finally, as distasteful as it can be, now is the time to write your Senator and request that they oppose SB 2068.

Let a thousand transmitters bloom!

Book Review: Car Free Cities

Car Free Cities $29.95

By J.H. Crawford

International Books, 2000


Imagine you live in a city free of the noise, stench and danger of cars, trucks and buses. Imagine all of your needs, from groceries to child care, are within a five-minute walk of your home. Imagine that the longest commute within your city takes 35 minutes door to door, by way of a cheap, safe and efficient public transportation system.

Carfree Cities us a landmark new text by J.H. Crawford which is sure to become a classic and a cornerstone of the movement to rollback the global cataclysm and tyranny of the automobile-starting at your front door. The book compares and contrasts Venice, Italy-the world’s premiere car free city-with Los Angeles, California-the world’s most automobile-addicted city.

Packed with design details and a sequence of summaries providing the argument for car free cities, the book may seem a bit dry and matter of fact at times, despite its exciting importance. Perhaps this is a result of writing the book in hopes of reaching not just those who are inspired to create a world free of automobiles, but for the audience which arguably needs it-the already infinitely dry and unsympathetic city planners and traffic engineers who will ultimately either embrace or reject this concept. Without winning that crowd over, expect a lot of problems when you try to see your dreams realized. As many bicycle advocates say, “never argue with an engineer”. Nevertheless, the book reads well and the ideas flow smoothly, and its wealth of information will more likely empower you should you ever have to argue city planning with an engineer or anyone else-let alone try to understand some of the gibberish they’re capable of spewing. After a rousing forward by the illustrious James Howard Kunstler (author of Geography of Nowhere, etc.), Crawford’s ideas begin with the premise that oil reserves are dwindling, that the automobile (whether or not it uses petroleum) is destroying not only our cities but our entire planet, and that cities are important human centers which are not going away and must become sustainable, livable cities. Crawford brings us textbook-style through a discussion of cities including sections on “Yardsticks for Cities”, loads about the potential for good public transport, and even the chapter, “Wicked Cars”.

Next he delves into the nuts and bolts of carfree design, including sections on design parameters, topology, districts, city blocks, buildings, passenger transport, and the ever tricky, freight delivery. These sections are graced with mandala-like diagrams of his reference design. From the sky, this dream city looks like a bead necklace allowed to fall into a supple shape. The beads are centers of human activity-dense, multiuse development surrounding a central transit stop, where many of one’s everyday needs are met. Most of these circles of development are residential, some are more commercial, and a few are reserved for “not in my backyard” activities like industry. For a small city, the necklace is folded once like a figure eight. For a very large city, the necklace looks more like a snowflake, with inner loops and outer loops organically unfolding like a flower. Everything else is green and open space.

Zooming in on the circles, we find a delightfully crinkly chaos of adjacent buildings, jaggedly patched together as if formed like crystals, similar to what one finds in many older European cities. Some streets are so narrow you can touch the building faces on either side at the same time. Others widen into major town squares and open space. Each block can have it’s own internal open space, which can be shared with the public, or closed to the street and either shared by all who live on the block, or parceled into yards like in everytown USA. I find the publicly accessible shared yard concept vastly more humane and inspiring than the chopped up little private lot model. Other blocks (especially closer to the circle’s center) may have as little as no open space.

Next, and perhaps most importantly, Crawford discusses the problem of actually implementing carfree cities in the real world. Three models emerge: one, to build a city from scratch; two, rebuild a city in decline (e.g., Cleveland or Detroit), making use of the infrastructure wasting away; and finally, three, phasing in carfree sections of existing cities. This last concept is most important from an ecological standpoint. We must stop covering the land with new cities, and instead make better use of what we have. “The greatest challenge in the development of carfree cities is the conversion of vast autocentric cities in the USA” writes Crawford. His plan calls for mapping the future development, increasing density near improved transit lines, and slowly demolishing buildings outside the carfree area. This concept is remarkably similar to Richard Register of Ecocity Builder’s plan for green Ecocities. Both Register and Crawford, while recognizing the value of the bicycle, design primarily for walking and transit, although Crawford includes a rough sketch of a “bicycle city”, saying that while such a city is more resource-efficient, he believes “that the reference design offers a better quality of life than this design”.

Facing up to the difficulty of convincing existing cities to change is the first and biggest step. Once there is political will-whether due to an ecological crisis, public demand, or developer’s incentives-everything can follow. Redeveloping cities is a dicey proposition-not only are developers generally swine, but every carfree area (after visionary activists have poured a pint or two of lifeblood into winning a project) will become potentially lucrative for private exploitation, defeating many of the benefits of carfree cities. Major real estate polls show the number one concern of new home buyers is to live on a street with little motorcar traffic. In places like the San Francisco Bay Area, where cities surrounding the booming Silicon Valley are being rapidly and heartlessly gentrified, maintaining affordable housing and diversity is at an all-time crisis.

But wait, there’s hope! Perhaps the most promising and exciting concept in the carfree cities proposal is that streets can be decommissioned for housing. The average urban street in the USA is capable of supporting a nice dense housing development down the middle, with room to widen the sidewalks for every need including emergency access. Because in general, municipalities own the streets (in Berkeley, almost 30% of the land is streets), the city can choose to license the land to non-profit developers, thereby achieving numerous goals at once: attractive, pleasant, livable areas of the city; affordable housing; increased density near transit (resulting in better working transit to meet increased demand); increased revenue base for cities; decreased cost of maintaining streets and private automobile use; and a potentially effective pressure on the corporate-ladder-climbing yuppie scum to actually stop consuming and be poor enough to be allowed to live in a stylin’ hip-ass urban epicenter carfree development! Why it makes my seat rattle just thinkin’ about it!

Without the incredible burden o supporting private automobile use, cities would have much more resources on hand for actual human needs (e.g., housing, healthcare, education). Environmental racism could be greatly reduced (e.g., freeways crisscrossing through poor/minority neighborhoods) because neighborhoods would be integrated. Poor families would be able to take public transportation to find jobs and to get services. Those that struggle with owning a car taking up to 50% or more of their income would suddenly be greatly relieved of that need. The “brain drain” of urban flight to the suburbs caused by the automobile, which decimated and ghettoized many minority neighborhoods, would be reversed, and people would learn to live together and solve basic human needs more equitably, for everyon
e’s benefit. Crime would be reduced not only by improving everyone’s quality of life but because in a carfree city, there are no “getaway cars”. Public spaces would begin to function in a healthy way and reverse the current trend of locking down the commons, rousting the “undesirables”, hiring more and more police forces, putting anti-sleeping devices on benches, etc. As people began to interact with one another again, the sense of value of human beings would begin to return to societies suffering from automobile-induced decline, and so social policies would become more humane.

Coalitions have been building more and more around related issues that carfree cities can help solve. Health workers, environmentalists, social justice advocates, opponents of globalization and more all have common ground here. Many groups work in relative isolation in hopes of reducing the many health, environmental and other harms of automobile use (whether they target sprawl and its destruction of farmland and habitat; asthma/lung disease; deaths and disabilities from crashes; cultural/aesthetic objections; social justice including opposing environmental racism/classism and increasing affordable housing and access to job and services locally, opposing ruthless genocide for oil globally; increasing affordable housing and access to jobs and services locally, opposing ruthless genocide for oil globally; increasing bicycling, walking and mass transit modeshares; and saving lives by getting people to exercise). Despite all this, the public has been disempowered by the extent of the monopoly over our everyday lives. But the potential for a powerful change is enormous. It’s time to organize hard, show that carfree cities can work, and begin to implement them around the world before the Los Angeles model (already being exported to China) takes their lands as well.

Ask your library and locally owned booksellers to carry Carfree Cities. Crawford has been touring around the world-invite him to speak! Check out