Pick yer Own: building community through DIY urban harvesting

This past summer, my housemates and I harvested and processed hundreds of pounds of apples, pears, olives and persimmons all from within a few blocks of our house. Urban harvesting has numerous overlapping positive aspects: it nurtures community and encourages talking to your neighbors, it promotes consumption of locally grown, non-fossil fuel tainted food, it is do-it-yourself (DIY) so you learn new skills, it gives you a valuable connection to the earth and its natural cycles which people in cities often lack, and it permits you to experiment with distribution outside of the market system.


It is hard to believe how much fruit one small tree can produce! The first step is identifying fruit trees near your house. In our neighborhood, there are many fruit trees that are not harvested because the people living in the house with the tree don’t do the work. You can walk around and make a map in your head or on paper when the fruit is ripe and note which trees seem to get harvested and which don’t.

Then comes the exciting, but perhaps uncomfortable part: you have to talk to your neighbors and ask if you can harvest their tree. We left a note with our phone number or visited if we already knew the neighbor. It seems that neighbors talk to each other less and less in the modern world, and that’s too bad. Perhaps it is the rise of internet and car culture — a culture of isolation and loneliness. When I was growing up, I knew people maybe within a block or two of my parent’s house. Since then, I’ve sometimes lived somewhere and not even known the person next door! Meeting neighbors moves the idea of “building community” from just a slogan to reality. Communities where people know each other can organize to resist hierarchical power structures and build voluntary, non-market based alternatives.

When our house asked to pick our neighbor’s trees, they always said yes — sometimes with great excitement. The neighbors were usually happy to have someone use the food and picking fruit trees avoids a rotting mess when the fruit falls to the ground.

Picking itself was exciting and a good house activity. We stood on garage roofs and used tall ladders and cloth bags over our shoulders. Once when I was picking alone, the ladder collapsed and I had to jump into the upper branches of a tree to avoid falling. Luckily, a friend biked by soon afterwards and re-set the ladder for me. Thus, I suggest picking with a friend in case something goes wrong.

The real fun begins once the fruit is picked. The first thing you learn is that fruit ripens all at once. So harvesting isn’t like going to a grocery store and only getting what you need at that time. When you harvest, you either have nothing, or way too much of a particular thing. Our ancestors knew what foods were in season at what times like the back of their hands, but in a world with fruit shipped around by airplane, we get fooled into eating like the seasons don’t exist.

Once you start to notice what is in season in your area, you may begin to adjust what you eat and seek out locally grown food in season. Eating like this drastically decreases the amount of fossil fuels required to keep you fed. Noticing these things adds richness and connection to your life experience just as living a mechanical life disconnected from the earth and its cycles can strip meaning away.

Preserving and distributing

When you harvest vastly more of a particular fruit than you can eat — which you will because trees make so much fruit — you can either preserve it or distribute the excess. At one point last summer, we had several hundred pounds of pears that all ripened within a week or two — it was a great test of our creativity.

Preserving foods opens lots of DIY opportunities. Last summer, we dried huge quantities of pears and apples. We used a store-bought fruit drier someone gave us — this summer I’m going to build a solar one.

My housemates also made some of the pears into juice which they are currently fermenting into hard cider. We hope that once they learn what they’re doing, our house can make lots of apple and pear cider and eventually (after the revolution) trade it for things we need like bike tires, etc.

My mother has always home-canned huge quantities of fruits and vegetables each summer so I hope to get her to teach me these skills so our house can add canning as an option for preserving fruit we harvest.

The other way to deal with a bountiful harvest is to give the food away. This raises another opportunity for building community and developing alternatives to the market-based distribution systems that exist under capitalism. Our house kept a basket of fruit near the front door so that all visitors took fruit home with them. And we brought fruit with us when we went calling elsewhere.

I also brought fruit with me to give away for free at critical mass bike rides. What if lots of folks brought stuff with them to critical mass, music shows, or other public events to give away? We could build informal, spontaneous “really free markets” every time we gathered for raw food, baked goods, home-manufactured items, and even services. Maybe someone would bring apples, another dumpstered bread, someone else bike tools to fix bikes, and someone else clippers to cut hair. One alternative to the mainstream economy is to build worker-run collectives, but another is to create a gift economy to allow us all to gradually drop out of the capitalist system.

We did all of the harvesting and moving of food either on foot or by bike so our food was not only organic, it was also as fossil fuel free as we could make it. Moving a 16 foot ladder on a bike cart is not only possible — it is fun and intense!

These days, you can get organic and fair trade food, but it is almost impossible to get fossil fuel free food! Figuring out how to grow, distribute and eat fossil fuel free food is the next frontier, because when it comes down to it, burning fossil fuels is killing us. Organic goes part of the way, of course, since a main ingredient in conventionally farmed food is chemical fertilizers, which cannot be made without fossil fuels. But eating organic avocados imported from Chile in January misses the point of “organic” — eating now shouldn’t destroy the environment’s ability to grow food for our grandchildren.

Part of harvesting food is dealing with “imperfect” fruit. In the grocery stores, they don’t sell fruit where part of it is rotting or where it has worm holes. Markets usually don’t even sell organic food with worms or rot — they throw out whatever isn’t “perfect”. However, when you harvest organic food, you quickly realize that some or maybe even most of the fruit has imperfections.

Our house would sort the fruit as soon as we harvested it. The more-perfect looking, large fruit was for eating plain or giving away. The smaller fruits or ones with rot or worms was for drying or juicing. It takes a little time to cut out the rotten or worm-eaten parts, but life isn’t a race. That time is for talking to friends or being present with yourself and the universe.


The reason we harvested other people’s trees was because we have a very small house lot — even after planting every square inch with gardens and trees, we wanted access to more home-grown food. The fact that you, personally, live in an apartment or in a rented house without fruit trees doesn’t mean you can’t be an urban harvester.

It would be easy for cities to plant many more urban fruit trees to supply local food needs, except, naturally, for the law. Most cities make it illegal to plant fruit trees on the parking strip — the little strip of useless grass between the sidewalk and the street on millions of miles of urban streets. The idea behind the law is that urban fruit trees would be messy — the assumption is that no one would pick the fruit and
that it would thus fall to the ground and rot.

These laws are stupid. Why are modern people so afraid of messy things? Life is messy from birth to death and decay — get used to it! A few of the trees we harvested were “illegal” fruit trees on the parking strip. This spring, we’re going to plant a few “illegal” fruit trees on our parking strip. We’re likely to “get away with it” since we’re planning to harvest them and keep the area clean. What if millions of people planted urban trees on parking strips and other unused land?

Or better yet, what if the silly laws were eliminated and cities planted fruit trees on all available parking strips, perhaps with the formation of neighborhood harvest committees or by hiring local youth over the summer to tend, harvest and distribute the fruit?

Happy harvesting!

Community fights to save trees from development

A showdown is happening around the last mature oak grove in the Berkeley foothills on the edge of the University of California, Berkeley campus. The University announced plans, as part of an extreme construction surge, to remove almost 50 trees in order to build a new high-tech training facility adjacent to Memorial Stadium. A strong outcry — including the occupation of trees — has sprung up from many segments of society. The blind acceptance of constant growth at the expense of our history, ecology and neighborhoods has met a strong chord of resistance against this troublesome plan. The sacredness of an oak grove and the pressing issues of global warming and environmental devastation are calling many to make a stand.

Neighbors are alarmed at the degradation to their neighborhood. Environmentalists are concerned about the web of life that the oak grove supports. The California Native Plant Society has declared the importance of this stand of Coast Live Oaks, which has proved resistant to the mold that causes sudden oak death. Students are outraged at the University’s lack of wisdom in pursuing the development here and the Chancellor’s refusal to meet with their student organization. The City of Berkeley is upset that the University is ignoring the city law against cutting mature Live Oaks as well as state law baring construction over earthquake faults. Even student athletes are arguing that a training facility should be built at a more appropriate site. There are currently four separate lawsuits filed against the plan.

Unfortunately, there are foolish and powerful forces at play. The University claims exemption from Berkeley City law and is guided by a board of regents with extensive corporate connections that often pushes through plans detrimental to the local (and arguably greater) community. The $125 million (!?!) of funds for the construction of the gym are coming from “private donations” and the environmental impact report being used was written by the university itself.

There is big money in sports and Memorial Stadium is the home of Cal’s football team. The team was a winner this year with a coach whose contract commitment to Cal would be strengthened by the construction of the new facility. UC usually does what it wants and locals have few options to stop them.

This is not just an issue for Berkeley or California. All over this country development is systematically prioritized over the preservation of green spaces. Powerful money interests are rapidly and radically demolishing open space with little regard for how their actions affect the corresponding communities and environment. In this age of increasing climate change, such methods are no longer viable. Those of us who would seek to oppose these measures, however, often find ourselves hopelessly outmatched. We are David against Goliath. But remember; David beat Goliath in the end… with a slingshot!

On Dec 2, after numerous demonstrations, letter writing campaigns, lawsuit threats and attempted meetings, local activists including Native American activist Zachary Runningwolf, climbed the trees in an effort to protect them. The night before the “big game” between UC Berkeley and Stanford football teams, the tree climbers outwitted UC Police and managed to get three people up into the trees. The large police presence relented as 70,000 fans began showing up for the game. The next day, platforms for the tree sitters were built and a support camp established. A flurry of media coverage ensued. Three to five tree sitters have been living in the canopy for over a month since then. A dedicated ground crew has been supporting them. The UC police regularly check in on the treesit. They have issued trespass citations and stay-away orders to a few of the tree sitters, one whom was arrested when he refused to leave the area. On January 12 they even went so far as to confiscate the entire ground camp. including tents, bikes, blankets and cooking, art and medical supplies. The support crew returned immediately after the police departed.

The campaign to Save the Oaks has brought together a broad coalition of neighbors, students, Earth Firsters!, People’s Park activists, religious leaders, preservationists, botanists, university staff, children and elders. It is creating a natural gathering place for a community that may not have met otherwise.

There have been concerts with Country Joe McDonald and Wavy Gravy, a solstice celebration, visits by Julia Butterfly Hill, a Spiral Dance with Reclaiming collective members and many a good music jam. If you are in Berkeley, you can visit the urban treesit any hour of the day or night on Piedmont Ave. just north of Bancroft Street. Help with food and good cheer are always welcome. It is a lovely and accessible place to experience a little nature and meet some of the diverse community that has come out to support this special tree grove. If you are not in the East Bay, think about creative ways that you can protect the threatened green spaces that are important to you, your environment, and the communities that you are a part of.

For info: saveoaks.com, berkeleycitizen.org

Enlisting resistance – vets who know the war is bullshit

Hundreds of thousands of American soldiers have returned home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. What happens to people in the military and how can veterans participate in the anti-war movement? Kate Flanagan’s experiences during the Uprise tour provides valuable insight into these questions.

By Kate Flanagan

I spent October traveling the rustbelt — from DC to Chicago — with a caravan of activists, musicians, and veterans. We were in a different city almost every day. The veterans shared their personal stories, and we activists gave workshops on counter-military recruitment and the corporate connections in Iraq. In the evenings we screened films like “Sir, No Sir” and hosted shows featuring political hip-hop, punk, and folk artists.

Four veterans with Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) came on the tour and local IVAW members spoke at several events. IVAW is a rapidly growing group that is open to anyone who has served in the military since 9-11. Of the four that came on tour with us two — Nick and Mike — had been in Afghanistan and the other two — Steve, and Toby — had been in Iraq. These guys are part of the anti-authoritarian wing of the IVAW. While many in the group are focusing their energy on lobbying, these vets are reaching out to youth to tell them not to join the military, and to support soldiers who want to resist the war. The vets got an old school bus donated; it’s painted red, white, and blue with “Iraq Veterans Against the War” on the sides.

Let me tell you, these guys turn heads. When they talk people listen. You can tell they aren’t trained speakers. Often one will pause and stare off, lose his train of thought, or avoid talking about the war but it’s more powerful than any spin because you can see him reliving a story he can’t tell. Their stories make the war more real than anything else can.

The Cast

“We thought we were going there to help people and save people’s lives,” Mike says. “We thought that was what the army was about. We thought that was what this country is about.” Mike’s got long brown hair and soft blue eyes. He wears a bandanna around his head and the crew’s unofficial uniform: a black t-shirt and ripped jeans. He is from New Orleans and was trapped in the city during hurricane Katrina. Back then he still had faith in the government and expected help to come, but of course it didn’t. He harbors a slow, sad, anger. Ask him to sum his feelings in one word: betrayed.

All of these vets joined the army with the best of intentions but in war they saw that the government’s priority was controlling resources and funneling cash to corrupt leaders and military contractors. Mike served on a base in Qatar during the war in Afghanistan. He knew the war was wrong when he saw that his base was sending millions of dollars of new equipment to Iraq, thirteen months before the Iraq war started, while supplies were badly needed in Afghanistan.

At every stop, someone would ask about rebuilding. Steve and Toby would always say that they didn’t see any rebuilding in Iraq. “I drove through the streets of Baghdad for twelve months and it just got worse over there.” Toby said. Toby has a fair freckled face and a strawberry-blond mohawk. When it’s cold out — and it was often freezing — he dresses like an old fashioned spy in a fedora and trench coat. Toby is the ninth of eleven kids in his family. He’s quiet and thoughtful — much of what he doesn’t say he pours into poetry.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of putting money toward rebuilding, the military would give cash payments to warlords or tribal leaders, officially for ‘rebuilding.’ The spending wasn’t regulated and it was clear that the money wasn’t being spent on new schools and roads. “That money was going to buy bullets that were coming back at us,” said Mike.

In Iraq, Steve says, while soldiers were risking their lives on missions for a $22,000 salary, Halliburton employees stayed safely on the base, earning over $130,000 supervising four or five Iraqis who got $1.50 an hour.

“One time I asked why the Iraqis were getting paid so little, and they told me it was because they didn’t want to flood the Iraqi economy with money,” said Steve. Steve noted that he and many other solders didn’t have time to think about the political implications of everything they were seeing. But since he’s been home, he’s been developing a solid anti-capitalist critique. Steve looks like a fox and has all the energy of one. He’s bold and raw and a comedic genius. He’s the smallest and the angriest of the four. He’s also got the most conspicuous case of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He’s jumpy and known to wander off, sometimes in the middle of a conversation.

While everyone else speaks, Nick sits in the front with a video camera. He’s a big teddy bear, with curly brown hair. He’s reserved and relatively organized. He’s also the driver of the bus and the holder of the money. He seems older than the rest of them, but he isn’t really – none of them are older than 25. Maybe it’s because he’s been doing this longer. He’s been in IVAW since it started in Summer 2004.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

All the vets told about coming back home from the war and being unable to function. They complained that the government didn’t give them support to deal with the fact that they had almost died — that they had seen their buddies die or had killed or tortured people themselves. They got through the war thinking that if they could just get home, everything would be right again. But at home they couldn’t find comfort in the things they once liked or the people they still loved. They shut themselves off from family and friends.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — PTSD — is a psychological response to life-threatening events. People can get PTSD from one experience — seeing someone die, or being in a serious car crash — so you can imagine how being in combat and in life threatening situations every day for a year or more can cause serious damage to a person’s mental stability. According to Wikipedia “People who suffer from PTSD often relive the experience through nightmares and intrusive memories. They have difficulty sleeping, and may feel detached or estranged from others, from their own experiences, and from the world around them. These symptoms can be severe enough and last long enough to significantly impair the person’s daily life.”

It’s estimated that a third of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from PTSD. But all of the war veterans I’ve met have had it to some degree and are dealing with the fact that their experiences will haunt them for the rest of their lives. A mother of a soldier came to an event and asked the vets, “how can we help you, emotionally?” She wanted to know how to reach her son who had returned from Iraq distant and depressed. “You can’t get him back,” Steve told her. “How do you tell your mother that your best friend died and his blood splattered on your face, or that you had to kill children? You can’t.”

When soldiers get off the plane to come home, they are asked a set of questions, one of which is ‘Do you need mental help?’ If they say “yes” they could be kept on the base for another 6 months and not permitted to see their family, which is all they want at that point. Once back home, it takes three months for soldiers to get an appointment through the Veterans Administration with someone who can diagnose them with PTSD. When soldiers try to get help for PTSD, the officials at the VA play on the hyper masculinity that soldiers learn in the army to talk them out of seeking help. “They make you feel like if you can’t take it, you shouldn’t ever have joined the army,” said Mike.

Soldiers officially receive free medical care for two years after they are discharged, but the VA uses all sorts of tricks to get out of providing for veterans. The VA’s policy
on PTSD is that they are not responsible for informing veterans of their right to file a claim, and if they don’t know about PTSD, it does not extend their time frame to file a claim. “Most of the people in my platoon don’t even know what PTSD is — and how could they? The VA doesn’t even tell them,” Steve said.

Property Of The State

“You were just following orders, just doing what you were told, but it still keeps you up at night,” said Toby. Toby tells the story of when his best friend was killed in an ambush and died in Iraq. “One week later, I was approached by a staff sergeant who gave me a box of 240 machine gun rounds that my friend had on him when he died. They were caked in his blood. The sergeant told me to go kill some Iraqis. And I did. I used them to the best of my ability.” The acts of violence perpetuated by soldiers are not isolated incidents. They are a result of systematic training that valorizes violence and preys upon soldiers’ emotions, especially their love for one another. The vets will be living with the memories of war for the rest of their lives. But the military bureaucrats in the Pentagon, the politicians and the war profiteers who create the system that manipulates soldiers and creates war — they don’t have to face the terrors of war or acknowledge the blood on their hands.

The goal of basic training is to break enlistees down and build them back up as killing machines. The military is constantly developing new technologies to manage the troops. The ‘brotherhood’ is one of the main tools that the military uses to get soldiers to fight. The government has learned that soldiers aren’t fighting for the government, or for freedom, but for their fellow soldiers. The military’s strategy is to foster soldiers’ sense of loyalty to each other. Basic training is structured around teaching soldiers that their failure, or their refusal to participate hurts their whole group. Soldiers are assigned to a ‘battle buddy.’ When one of them loses, his buddy loses, and vice versa.

While the military teaches soldiers to care for each other, it simultaneously dehumanizes local populations. Like in Vietnam, where the military called the Vietnamese ‘gooks,’ today, Iraqis are all called ‘Hadjis’ and soldiers are discouraged from associating with Iraqi people.

Tariq, one of the activists on the tour, served in the Air Force for four years making bombs on a base in Korea in the 90’s. The first night in basic training his unit was forced on their hands and knees, naked, with chains around their necks. He talks about how as a punishment, a friend of his was thrown into twelve foot deep water, hands and feet tied together and told to swim. They pulled him out right before he drowned. Another friend’s head was held under water until he passed out and was revived with an oxygen tank. The military uses these techniques to teach obedience. Through their military training soldiers learn how to be abusive.

Troops are trained to respond to fear and anger with violence and then thrown into situations where fear and anger abound. Walking Iraq city streets in a military uniform makes soldiers an obvious target, but it is often impossible for soldiers to identify who is trying to kill them. Steve said, “It’s like being in a dark room and someone keeps punching you, and you don’t know who. Sooner or later you’re going to punch back and not care who you hit.”

Women in the military have it the worst. Unlike male soldiers, they can’t go back to the base and feel safe. Sexual assault and rape are rampant within the military and the military bureaucracy does little to protect women or punish their assaulters.

Military training doesn’t stop when troops go home to the base — it carries over into their civilian lives where ex-military are far more likely than civilians to be abusive and violent. “You desensitize a person to killing, even children, and you can’t turn off that switch,” Steve said. “They’re cold.”

“They [the government] learned from Vietnam,” Steve says. “It’s better for the government to fuck one person up really, really bad, then five people just a little bit.” The enlistment contract is binding for the troops but not for the government. Instead of a draft, the government has been implementing the “Stop Loss Policy” which forces soldiers to stay in the military past the terms of their contracts. A quarter of soldiers are on their first tour in Iraq, half are on their second, and the rest are on their third or more. The government knows that every soldier is connected to hundreds of family and friends. Reusing the same soldiers allows the government to keep more Americans removed from the war.

Soldiers have no constitutional rights in the military. You literally become state property. The military can use its ownership over soldiers to control what information gets out about the war. Only one media team came to Toby’s base in Iraq the whole time he was there. Before they came, the soldiers were trained what to say. “They came to me. And I told them I didn’t have anything to say. Because I couldn’t tell the truth.”

De-Troop The Troops

A 2004 Pentagon statistic counted 40,000 soldiers AWOL (absent without leave) out of an army of 550,000. We ran into soldiers all along the tour route – some just in training, some AWOL, others back from the war – all opposed to the war. The veterans say most soldiers and even some officers talk openly about not knowing why they are there and what they are fighting for.

The troops are not sounding the battle cry. But most of them aren’t signing on to the anti-war movement either. This is partly because the military teaches soldiers that ‘protesters’ hate them. This is also because the anti-war movement often assumes that soldiers are naturally in support of the war. For soldiers, joining the anti-war movement means admitting that everything that happened to them and their friends in the war was for nothing. That’s a difficult barrier to cross. But it would be so much easier if there were a visible anti-war community that they knew would welcome them.

The history of the Vietnam War anti-war movement shows that we can only be successful if meaningful connections are created between activists and soldiers. GI resistance is the key to ending the war, and that can only happen if activists create decentralized networks to provide services like alternative healthcare, legal advice, and temporary homes for homeless and AWOL soldiers. Welcoming veterans into the anti-war movement will mean actively helping them assimilate to non-hierarchical organizing theory and practice, and helping them fight internalized sexism, racism, and heterosexism. Remember that militarism is built on a foundation of racism, sexism, and homophobia and that these ideas are pervasive in military culture and training. I do not mean to excuse prejudices but to recognize that folks who believe in equality at their core may still harbor problematic language and ideas. It is also hard for vets — or anyone — to get used to activist culture and lingo.

After Steve had a pretty serious PTSD attack, Ryan, another activist on the tour, made him a tea with stress-relieving herbs. Steve told Ryan, “I think that stuff is working, man, but I wouldn’t tell you cuz that’d be gay. Not gay in the cool homosexual way, you know what I mean.” And we do, because to understand these guys means we have to really listen beyond the language they are using. They’re open to confronting their -isms, and we can help them by keeping an open dialogue instead of being judgmental or dismissive.

We had a hell of a time just trying to get the vets to work in a consensus-style group with us. In the one meeting we managed to get everyone to come to, they were jittery and off topic. They are so used to the authoritarian structure of the military that they don’t understand that their input is important. Separate times I asked Steve and Toby, “What do you want?” They b
oth looked at me quizzically. They hadn’t even considered what they wanted, because they aren’t used to what they want being important. More than once, instead of saying they didn’t want to have a meeting, the vets just didn’t show up. Part of creating a supportive community for veterans is teaching them the tools to become empowered activists.

One of the biggest assets of the military is the instant community felt between all veterans. In joining the movement, they risk being alienated from fellow veterans. IVAW is an important tool because there is a deep level of understanding between anti-war veterans. Also, speaking out against the war allows them to begin the process of healing. “In some way it’s redemption,” Toby said. “I feel like if this works, I’ll have saved myself.”

The vets hate it when they meet people who ask them “How many people did you kill?” or say “Thank you for your service,” or “We’re proud of you.” Because they’re not proud of what they did, and don’t want to be seen as a symbol – the stoic soldier.

Next time you see a veteran, don’t assume he or she is pro-war and don’t try to talk politics immediately. Instead say “Welcome home,” or “How are you?” or “How many friends did you lose?” Instead of asking vets to authenticate our beliefs, we have to listen to them, to allow them to transform our understanding of what war is and how it operates. At the same time we can help them take back a little piece of their humanity.

The author is a member of UPRISE/UC Santa Cruz Students Against the War.

Slingshot introduction issue #93

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

Four nights ago while we were editing, we heard a loud crash and at first thought it was two cars hitting each other out on the street. When we ran out to see what had happened, we were horrified to see that the noise had been a car running over three pedestrians in the crosswalk only feet from where we were working. They were lying on the pavement seriously hurt — one going into convulsions — gasps and screams of on-lookers and the victims filling the air. None of us could concentrate after that — and none of us slept well that night. Since then, we’ve been extra aware of how violent cars are, and extra careful walking and biking the streets.

The incident underlined how the modern, fast, motorized world is opposed to life on all levels — from global warming exterminating coral reefs and polar bears, to stress and fast-food and chemicals hurting our health, to the internet isolating us and smothering local communities, culture and bookstores. In many ways, we’re struggling not just against capitalism, war and corporations, but against the culture and worship of speed in all aspects of our lives. Just as fast-food has perverted food, fast-life has perverted many of the best things about being human.

Our culture pushes people to pursue money, power and fame. In contrast, we find that the things that really make life worth living are our experiences — not the goals we’re “supposed” to be seeking. This issue, the best moments were the late-night good conversations and community we found as a collective. Very slow, human-speed moments of connection. These moments are free — they don’t require fossil fuels or money — but they do require the time to be present and to appreciate them.

Another thing about this issue was the funny weather while we were making it — the coldest days in decades here in the East Bay while in areas where it should be cold on the East Coast, we hear it has been warm. No doubt about it — global warming is the elephant in the room that no one knows how to confront. While we try to live as fossil fuel-free as we can day-to-day, publishing Slingshot and shipping it to all 50 states and 20 countries relies on a ton of oil. Maybe it would be better if folks everywhere would publish their own papers locally, or maybe we should be emphasizing a return to storytelling and face-to-face communication. At the same time, we read with concern about more and more radical print publications struggling to continue. A world where radicals only exist on-line is as problematic as one in which all the independent bookstores are replaced by Amazon.com.

And finally, to prove that life is complex and that it’s all about navigating the contradictions, Slingshot is desperate to find a really dedicated, stable, long-term computer / website consultant — even though we’re generally mistrustful of and down on computers and the internet. Our website hasn’t been adequately updated in two years — it is missing a lot of important stuff we would like to make available — basically it’s being held together with chewing gum. We would love to find someone with a lot of time on their hands and great skills who would emphasize sharing their knowledge with the collective so we could all participate in creating and maintaining our website. We want to avoid past mistakes that created a hierarchy of experts and disempowered technology consumers within the collective. Well, we can dream . . .

Slingshot is always looking for new writers, artists, editors, photographers, translators, distributors and independent thinkers to help us make this paper. If you send something written, please be open to working with the editorial collective.

Editorial decisions are made by the Slingshot collective, but not all the articles reflect the opinions of all collective members. We welcome debate, constructive criticism and discussion.

Thanks to all who worked on this: Alex, Asher, B (Catering), Cathy, Dean, Eggplant, Hefty Lefty, Julia, Justin, Micah, PB, Rachel and Terri.

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Volume 1, Number 93, Circulation 15,000

Printed January 17, 2007

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Letters to Slingshot

Dear Slingshot:

This is D here writing from the bowels of the modern American gulag system! I just finished issue #74. (Yeah a bit late as I’m relying on donations, but still timely as ever!) I couldn’t believe my luck when I read the article, “Doomed to die a Correctional Slave.” Not only is the subject obviously relative to my current position, but your newspaper is the first I’ve seen to emphasize the socio-economic principles of American prison industry, and to challenge it in a progressive and comprehensive manner. My accolades for that!

As for other news, Rod Blagojevich was just re-elected as “governor” here in Illinois which means that us prisoners will be subjected to another 4 years of broken promises, failed resolutions and the general (intentional!) decline of prison conditions. All of this while the national incarceration rate continues to grow. Yet federal and state budgets dwindle as more money is being diverted to support the Holy Crusade overseas. What’s new, right? Just another day in the land of “freedom and democracy”!

— Derek Walsh #R13880

PO Box 1700, Galesburg, IL 61401

Letter – nuts

Dear Slingshot:

Hi, I am a user of your Slingshot organizer, second year in a row now, and I just wanted to remark about something I saw in my 2007 organizer. I did read on your website that you welcome comments, so I hope they are taken most graciously. Towards the back I found the page on check your nuts and your breasts, which of course is quite helpful. Here is where I found it interesting that there is a picture of breasts next to the “and your breasts” but not a picture of testicles next to “check your nuts”. Just a thought, not trying to be too critical, but consider that we do live in a patriarchal system that we are trying to unravel by way of our political expressions, such as what one can find from Slingshot. I just wanted to see a pair of nuts there too…oh well… 😉

I love what you are all doing…the history and creativeness flows out of the organizer… So thanks! — Becca


Dear Slingshot,

Congratulations on the publication of the 2007 Organizer! It looks great. The essay on “Tips for Modern Simplicity” really made me think. The first tip “Work as little as you can” seems like a more realistic goal for privileged people with access to resources to start the collective businesses to which you refer. It seems to me like there are a lot of unemployed people who would want to work in order to improve a substandard level of living. I suppose it depends on how you define “work”, but “working” can be necessary sometimes. In a utopian world we would all grow our own food and wouldn’t need to work to buy food, but then growing the food in the first place would involve working. But I guess you’re talking about “Work as little as you can at places like McDonalds”?

Also, the point about getting rid of lights might not be realistic for many people, while I agree that they should definitely be turned off when not in use. I think that when we are trying to make lifestyle changes our attitude toward the changes are as important as the changes themselves. Its important to do what we can, but also not to feel guilty if we are unable to make changes that we know would benefit the environment or humanity. Being as radical and hardcore as possible is a great goal, but don’t be TOO hard on yourself!

Call me mainstream, but for me I’ve found that there has to be a balance between making sacrifices for the greater good and preserving my sanity with some comforts like electric appliances that I finance by working. But then I use the Slingshot Organizer to try to hide this from people. They would never suspect that I am a closet blender-user. –Love, Kimiko Kobayashi

War is Over (If You Want It)

As Slingshot goes to press, president Bush has announced that he will order a “surge” of 21,500 additional US troops to Iraq on top of the 140,000 troops already there — despite the fact that everyone from his own generals and troops to any casual observer on the street can see that Iraq has descended into civil war as a result of Bush’s unprovoked invasion and bungled occupation. Bush’s surge won’t help the situation in Iraq — it will only prolong the nightmare and sacrifice more Iraqis and US troops for nothing. Meanwhile, the recently elected democratic Congress is unlikely to block the continuation of the war by cutting off funding — they’re talking about holding some hearings but are too afraid of being blamed for “losing” the war to take the one real action available to force a pullout of US troops. Earth to Democrats: the US lost the war a long time ago — people voted for you because they wanted US troops out now.

The world needs a surge, but not of more US troops to Iraq. Its time for a surge of protest and outrage against the hopeless US occupation of Iraq — from ordinary people everywhere, from the rest of the world, from anti-war activists, and from YOU. The war has dragged on for almost four years — longer than US involvement in World War II — with up to 650,000 Iraqis and over 3,000 Americans dead as a result of the war, and $400 billion spent and counting.

Many of us hit the streets in protest before the war and right after it started — but we’ve grown tired and discouraged as the occupation has dragged on . . . and on . . . and on. Depression, resignation, exhaustion and inaction won’t stop the war — Bush won’t stop the war — the Democratic party won’t stop the war — really the only alternative is for millions of folks in the USA to somehow throw off our slumber and stop the damn war. At this point, inaction is complicity.

Sadly, the institutional US anti-war movement has been ineffective in stopping the war. There are protests scheduled for the end of January and March 17-18 — hopefully a lot of people will go. But polite protests isolated to one day are no longer enough. Stopping the war is going to require much broader action on a day to day basis, ranging from banners lining the streets across the country; to a million discussions; to action aimed at raising the domestic cost of the war to the US ruling class.

Bush talks about accomplishing the mission in Iraq, but just because he broke it doesn’t mean he — or anyone with any plan — can fix it. When US troops pull out, the ferocity and bloodiness of the civil war is likely to increase — but that doesn’t mean US troops should stay indefinitely baby-sitting a civil war to try to keep it within “acceptable” levels of slaughter. The only positive thing the United States can do at this point is get the hell out of Iraq and let folks there resolve their own destiny.

US troops lost any possibility of bringing peace and reconciliation to Iraq through a million small and large Bush fuckups — the torture at Abu Ghraib; the failure to restore electricity, jobs and other services; the $20 billion “reconstruction” that only enriched corporate interests; the right-wing use of Iraq as a guinea pig plaything to test their theories about privatization while Baghdad went up in flames around them. That’s to say nothing of collapse of all of Bush’s reasons to fight the war in the first place. The war was started and has been fought, very literally, for nothing.

The failed Iraq war and occupation are a metaphor for the dying American empire — a huge bloated beast thrashing about spreading death and misery pointlessly, and in the process, destroying itself. It may take decades for America’s rulers to repair the economic, military and political disaster they have created in Iraq. Global scorn and distrust of the US are at an all time high, with good reason.

Even the US military has lost heart for the war. An Army Times poll conducted Nov. 13 through Dec. 22 found that only 35 percent of the military members polled said they approve of the way President Bush is handling the war, and only 50 percent said they thought success was likely in Iraq. These numbers may have dipped lower since Bush’s speech. It is astonishing to see how isolated Bush has become with more than 70 percent of the public now against the war.

The US media focuses on the pain of the families of 3,000 dead American solders — missing the point that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lie dead, and the world’s oldest civilization has been reduced to ruins.

But despite all of this, the mainstream political system is incapable of pulling out US troops. It is much easier for Bush and the Democrats to stay the course than to have to admit the scale of their defeat in Iraq. The thousands more Iraqis and Americans likely to die are pawns to them. You can bet that none of Bush’s or Pelosi’s friends or family are living in Baghdad or serving in the US military.

As Mario Savio pointed out in a different context “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

If the rulers won’t pull out troops, regular folks need to do everything we can to make the United States ungovernable — shutting down whatever economic or social functions are within our grasp that permit the US to continue the occupation. Bush’s troop surge is just more of the same — stay the course only worse. If the regular people don’t stand up and prevent the occupation from continuing, we’re going to be right back at this point in a year, with the bodies piled higher.

March 17 – 18 Global Days of Action

Creepy sectarian ANSWER coalition has called for coordinated protests against the war in Washington, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, and other cities. (In the Bay Area, the Sunday protest naturally conflicts with the annual Anarchist conference.) As gross as ANSWER is, big marches can provide useful gathering points for break-away actions. But we don’t have to wait for groups like ANSWER to call protests — anyone and everyone can organize actions to oppose the war. Hopefully they’ll be lots of other anti-war actions as the spring goes on.

Visit scenic Germany and shutdown the G8

Massive protests against the 2007 G8 summit meeting of neoliberal globalizers and warmongers at the Baltic Sea resort Heiligendamm near Rostock in Germany are scheduled before and during the June 6-8 meeting. The G8 is the annual meeting of the leaders of the 8 richest nations in the world. Every summer, these people meet behind closed doors, with no published agenda, and no publicly available meeting minutes. For some reason, they invariably meet near a big ass golf course. Many people in Germany, Europe and the world are sick of the empty promises of the G8 — saying they will help the environment or help fight African poverty and then doing nothing, or worse. The G8 meeting is the best chance to show a big fat middle finger to leaders who dominate the world and to show that another world is definitely possible.

Past protests at G8 summits, EU conferences or WTO meetings have played a central role in the deepening and broadening of the movement against the centralization of wealth and power in a few hands, and in favor of economic justice for workers, environmental sustainability, peace and alternatives to corporate control. Activists are mobilizing throughout Europe for protests and counter-summit activities.

The Dissent! Infotour will be traveling across the West Coast of the USA from February 18 to March 30, 2007, and in New England the first week of April 2007, to invite people in the USA to come to Germany for the G8.

Not long ago in the city of Rostock, Germany — population 200,000, about 15 miles east of G8 host town Heiligendamm — over 500 local people formed a “flash mob” and stormed the Rostock City Hall to protest city cuts in social services while the city and regional government were spending millions to pay for the locally controversial G8 Summit. In Bad Doberan — population 12,000, about 5 rural miles south of Heiligendamm — this past summer, activists moved beyond stereotypical activist communication methods and passed out 3,000 flyers and leaflets to locals in a mass door-knocking action that was hailed by locals as the most successful singular political action since the wall came down in 1989.

The anti-G8 activists also spoke to every business in the central district to explain their concerns, as well as to talk to locals about why there might be 100,000 protesters visiting their small town area in 2007 to protest the G8. In Kuehlungsborn, — population 4,800, about 4 miles west of Heiligendamm — the Dissent! Infotour has already made two presentations, including one at the 4-star Morada Resort, which will be host to 3,000-4,000 international journalists at the official 2007 G8 Press Center. Locals are not impressed by the fact that the G8 is coming to their region, and they are getting more and more pissed off that their regional government is spending 68 million euros of their tax money to support a closed meeting of the leaders of the eight richest countries at a time when 18% of locals are unemployed.

The largest European left radical mobilization in years is taking place in Germany right now. The German military has announced that they will cooperate on training manoeuvers with police and provide medical and communications infrastructure. The military will also take responsibility for air protection with AWACS and sea protection with warships.Special top G8 cop Knut Abramowski looked nervous when he told a crowd of local business people and politicians that he expects 100,000 activists to protest, and that he hopes disruptions will be kept to a minimum during the G8 summit June 6-8.

Why is Knut so nervous? The truth is that he, just like any of the many full time anti-G8 activists in Germany these days, have absolutely no idea what to expect from protests during the G8. He knows that the first mass protests will take place June 2, when there will be a mass liberal demonstration in Rostock (www.g8-germany.info), and radical antifascist activists will be on the streets to block a planned neo-nazi march. Both could get out of control, even though up to 40 water cannon trucks plan to be on call.

Things are actually more likely to move radically outside police management capabilities by the 5th of June, when Bush and friends arrive at the Laage airport on their way to the G8 summit, and the anti-G8 bike rides and anti-war campaigners will be en masse in the region. Actually, even though there are call-outs by over 100 German NGO’s and various groups to participate in protests in the region, many groups have already said they support decentralized actions and plan to organize major blockades and actions across Germany, from North to South, East to West.

So, has your appetite been whetted? It has not been since Seattle that large protests have shook the consciousness of the global north. However, anti-G8 organizers from Italy (G8 2001), France (G8 2003), and UK (G8 2005) all seem to be in agreement — the German mobilization for 2007 is much larger than anyone has ever seen against the G8.

We hope to see you on tour, or even better, on the German barricades in June 2007!

For more info or to find or schedule tour dates near you, email goodniteg8@riseup.net or check www.dissentnetwork.org or www.g7.utoronto.ca.

Los Pasos de la Otra Campana: seguimos existiendo aqui!

Por Libe Lula

Este año, 2007 la Otra Campaña (internacionalmente conocida como la Zezta) prepara el siguiente Encuentro de los Pueblos Zapatistas con los Pueblos del Mundo para julio, donde ademas de difundir la lucha zapatista se afinarán los detalles y acuerdos sobre fecha, lugar y dinamica del próximo Encuentro Intergalactico (encuentro de las comunidades Indígenas de las Americas), son muchos los retos y mucho el trabajo que toca a los adherentes de la Sexta Declaración de la Selva Lacandona para fortalecer los trabajos conjuntos.

El Congreso Nacional Indìgena, el EZLN , y el pueblo Kumiai le mandaron a Marcos anunciar el encuentro, que esta programado para el 12 de octubre de 2007 en el noroeste de México. Dijo Marcos: “Invitemos a la gente indìgena del continente Americano a este lugar, para decir que estamos aquÌ, y contemos nuestra historia. Y no importa si nos hacen caso o no, porque nos haremos caso a nosotros mismos.”

El 12 de octubre, festejado por algunos como “el dÌa de Cristóbal Colón”, fue elegido para que indìgenas de todo América “llegaran aquÌ para decir que, después de 515 años, ni nos conquistaron ni nos descubrieron. Seguimos existiendo aquÌ”.

El pasado 30 y 31 de diciembre del 2006 y el 1 y 2 de enero del 2007 se celebró el Encuentro entre los Pueblos Zapatistas y los Pueblos del Mundo, encuentro previo al 3er Encuentro Intergalactico, con fecha por definir.

Se reunieron en Oventik, caracol zapatista, miles de bases de apoyo de los pueblos del Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional y más de 2,000 hombres y mujeres provenientes de 40 paÌses del mundo trabajando en 6 mesas de trabajo: La Otra Educación, La Otra Salud, Mujeres, La Otra Comunicación, El Otro Arte, y La Otra Cultura, Otro Comercio y La Lucha por la Tierra y el territorio, culminando con la plenaria para discutir la fecha, lugar y dinamica del próximo Encuentro Intergalactico, además de dar el informe de la consulta cibernética sobre las definiciones basicas de la Otra Campaña.

México es un hervidero de sangre caliente. 2006 comenzó con el lanzamiento de la Otra Campaña en San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas. El plan, el recorrido del Delegado Zero por todo el territorio mexicano para escuchar y entrelazar las luchas y resistencias comunes. El recorrido ha sido apoyado de cerca por la cobertura de los medios independientes, la misión es no solo difundir la Otra Campaña, sino acompañar un proceso de capacitación entre las comunidades para utilizar la tecnologÌa y comunicación como herramientas de resistencia entre las comunidades. Los medios masivos de comunicación TV Azteca y Televisa han persistido en su intento por desvirtuar la Otra Campaña y la lucha zapatista. Solo los medios independientes han logrado decir la verdad sobre las violaciones a los derechos humanos que ha cometido el estado, violando mujeres y hombres, arrestando, hiriendo, matando y desapareciendo a los compañeros que han defendido sus luchas.

El año 2006 el Delegado Zero recorrió todo México para visitar comunidades en resistencia, para poder establecer las redes de solidaridad en otras comunidades fuera de Chiapas. Esta primera etapa consistió en establecer estas redes y en el compartir la experiencia rumbo a la autonomÌa de los pueblos indìgenas en Chiapas, sin embargo ante los hechos ocurridos en San Salvador Atenco, los medios de comunicación una vez mas desvirtuaron la Otra Campaña con calificativos como “movimientos aislados” a las luchas de los floricultores en Atenco, y que hay mas alla de Atenco? El proyecto de la construcción del aeropuerto internacional y de proyectos carreteros que se conjuntan con otros mas, como represas, vìas de acceso para el intercambio de mercancìas entre los Estados Unidos, México y Centroamérica a través del Plan Puebla Panama (PPP) que no benefician a las comunidades por las que transitan. En el paso de la Otra Campaña por Guerrero, en La Parota, el Delegado Zero menciono que las luchas entre la resistencia contra la construcción de la represa de la Parota y la comunidad de agricultores de Atenco estan vinculadas y son parte de la Otra Campaña, este es un elemento clave para notar que de ninguna forma se trata de “movimientos o insurrecciones aisladas” estas luchas tienen algo en comun, son parte de la resistencia contra la culminación del PPP.

El gobierno de México conoce perfectamente cuales son los puntos de resistencia de estas luchas, el zapatismo ha contribuido a estrechar los lazos de solidaridad entre estas comunidades y sus luchas, es por esto que el gobierno quiere desarticular estas redes de solidaridad y resistencia despareciendo a la gente que resiste, llevando a prisión a los jóvenes que somos parte de esta lucha, llamandonos terroristas.

En 2006 el gobierno de Vicente Fox fue el puente de transición para el gobierno de la extrema derecha en México, el gobierno de Felipe Calderón del Partido Acción Nacional para trabajar mas de la mano con los proyectos neoliberales que trazan estas rutas de comercio entre Estados Unidos y América. Y no es un secreto que Felipe Calderón trabaja bajo las influencias directas de la extrema derecha en México a través del Yunque, organización secreta de perfil ultraderechista.

El movimiento activista está trabajando de la mano con la Otra Campaña es la iniciativa para trabajar entre diferentes localidades para unir resistencias contra estos proyectos neoliberales en México. Durante estos años el movimiento activista se ha fortalecido, con las cosmovisiones de los indÌgenas hemos llenado nuestro movimiento con el espÌritu de nuestras tierras, nos hemos vestido con los tejidos que hacen las manos indìgenas, no es solo por el hecho de trabajar con indìgenas, el movimiento ha aprendido de las formas autónomas de las comunidades indìgenas, y esta idea del dialogo y de la voz para los sin voz.

“Contar con los propios medios de comunicación, es muy diferente cuando solo tiene los ricos y su gobierno, pero cuando lo tenemos nosotros, transmitimos y publicamos lo que fortalece nuestros pueblos, lo que fortalece la resistencia y la autonomÌa de los pueblos indìgenas, porque con los medios autónomos que tenemos en las regiones y municipios autónomos, ha servido para orientar, educar, informar y animar a los pueblos”, Oventik 2007.

Los retos para la Otra Campaña, para nosotros difundir y conseguir los recursos para que el próximo encuentro entre todos los indìgenas desde Alaska hasta la Patagonia se reinan el 12 de Octubre, fecha en que nuestras comunidades indÌgenas cayeron bajo el yugo de los invasores, ese es el siguiente paso para la Otra Campaña, y es el propósito de nuestra resistencia porque seguimos oponiéndonos a la culminación del Plan Puebla Panama que quiere comer los recursos en estas tierras indÌgenas, asÌ que buscamos la solidaridad para poder llevar a los representantes de los pueblos indÌgenas a este encuentro, la Otra Campaña. Va!!!!

En cuanto a los medios de comunicación, la llamada Otra Comunicación la que construimos los medios de comunicación independientes en México fueron un punto vital para la resistencia en Oaxaca con la APPO, la gente debe liberar su voz y los que construimos estos medios tenemos la tarea de propagar y compartir estas técnicas y herramientas para que las comunidades construyan su propios medios de comunicación.

enlace zapatista, enlacezapatista.ezln.org.mx/. Zezta internacional, www.zeztainternazional.org, Centro de Medios Libres, http://vientos.info/cml

EZLN encuentro: listening and seeing from the heart

Past midnight in the first hours of the new year, the Zapatistas outlined a triple focus for the coming year: to have another Intergalactic Encuentro in July; to have an Encuentro for indigenous people from Alaska to Patagonia in October; and to continue building La Otra Campaña (the Other campaign) in Mexico. The announcement came to an alcohol free crowd of about 4,000 people in Oventik, a small village in the highlands of Chiapas. People from over 40 countries gathered for four days “to listen and see from the heart,” as subcommandante Marcos suggested. The themes for the four days included — in this order: (1) the struggle for autonomy; (2) the other education; (3) the other health; (4) women; (5) the other media; (6) the other economy; and (7) land.

On January 2, the last of the four days, the Zapatistas listened to hours of proposals from the participants. Listening — giving empathy — is an impressive Zapatista quality. It is the prerequisite to their politics of dialogue. Every session started with about 90 minutes of reports from each different Zapatista federation, then the masked men and women on stage proceeded to field questions from the audience. Zapatistas ended every session with at least a half hour of suggestions and stories from the audience. The Zapatistas’ attentiveness rubs off. The whole Encuentro was a classroom, teaching the participants the practice of listening.

Participants in the discussion about the meaning and scope of autonomy were curious about what the Zapatista governments do when there is a conflict with non-Zapatista communities. The answer came naturally: we listen to the facts, have a dialogue with all involved, and fix the problem. As Marshall Rosenberg teaches in Non-Violent Communication, conflicts dissolve in dialogue that contains empathy. As Vipassana Buddhism teaches, tensions arise and pass away with pure observation. The Zapatistas practice this in their revolutionary politics of listening, observing, and dialogue.

There was a romantic side to the Encuentro — the visuals that any reporter on the Zapatistas is somehow obliged to include. We were on Zapatista time, one hour ahead of the local time zone. The fog was thick, really thick. There are many smoky fires to add to it. Many men and women walk around in black masks. Awaiting a speaker, you would see masked men playing with their digital recorders, and masked women laughing at jokes in the local dialect.

The Encuentro largely took place on a drizzling, foggy, muddy slope. Tents and tarps barely kept people dry. At the bottom of the slope a large stage with a characteristically Mexican trumpet recording played at the oddest moments: late night, early morning, after a speaker. There was a festival atmosphere with the music, food, and camping — a dijorido and aboriginal dreamtime storytelling — all mixed with a revolutionary spirit and occasional military tone.

New Year’s Eve featured cultural events — songs, dance, and theater performances — before a sudden call for all Zapatistas to go to the front, and outside participants to move to the back. The maneuver took about a half hour. The moon, almost full, peaked through a hole in the clouds. As the speaker started speaking the local dialect, none of the participants knew what was going on. Rows of Zapatistas moved swiftly to their positions. Eventually, we welcomed the new year with a salute to the Mexican and Zapatista flags and a dramatic introduction of subcommandante Marcos. He delivered a 30 minute speech in dialect.

The whole Encuentro showed an understanding of how important it is to be understood. If the EZLN are truly understood, it will be hard to oppose them. Nevertheless, this deep understanding remains a struggle even among the outside participants in the Encuentro. The Zapatistas are farther along the path of autonomy than most (if not all) communities enmeshed in Capitalism. Most immediately, the Zapatista communities aspire towards a better quality of life. Better education, appropriate technologies, agro-ecology, better health treatment and prevention, fair compensation for their work, and better land for farming. They are actively pursuing these goals by building more schools; training more volunteer teachers and agro-ecology promoters; envisioning a Zapatista University; forming buying, baking, weaving and coffee cooperatives; and recuperating idle land.

Yet they are far from ending what Marcos called the common problem: Capitalism. They are no model of perfection nor do they claim to be. They will not bring the revolution to anyone´s doorstep, but they invite you to be revolutionaries in your struggle for autonomy. They are not a vanguard. They drink Coca-Cola. And they are struggling to banish Coca-Cola just like we are struggling to banish Philip-Morris from our communities.

What the Zapatistas are doing is impressive. They have changed the lives of thousands of Mexican villagers. It is hard to ignore their growing momentum. This year the Otra Campaña helped rock the Mexican political boat. 2007 will see the Otra Campaña continue, intergalactic connections widen, and indigenous connections develop. The Zapatistas seemed excited by these possibilities. In July, there will be the second Intergalactic Encuentro in Chiapas. This Encuentro in July will last two weeks and tour several communities. If you are interested in the revolutionary activity in Mexico, I suggest getting in touch with the Chiapas Support Committee in the East Bay, and I highly recommend saving money now for that summer trip to the next Encuentro.

Leaving the Encuentro, my sense of hope was nourished — making revolution seemed possible. I wondered, how can I move my community at Aprovecho in Cottage Grove, Oregon towards autonomy? How can you move your community towards autonomy?

Footsteps of the Other Campaign

There are many challenges ahead for la Otra Campaña (the Other Campaign — internationally known as the Zezta) in Mexico in 2007. In addition to planning gatherings in July and October, the EZLN and those working on la Otra seek to strengthen relationships of those who work together, as well as define and refine the Zapatistas’ struggle against Plan Puebla Panamá (PPP). PPP is a huge development plan to link the nine southern states of Mexico (Puebla and points south) with all of Central America into a colossal free trade zone. PPP includes building new energy and transportation infrastructure and easing travel restrictions between countries to promote trade. The scheme will destroy rain forests and displace indigenous peoples — all against the will of local people.

One of the most important projects of the la Otra in 2007 is a global meeting of indigenous people scheduled for October 12 in northwest Mexico. Subcommandante Marcos stated: “We invite the indigenous people of Canada and the United States and we invite the indigenous people of South America and Central America, and we will go to every part of the continent in this indigenous region in the northwest to say: We are here! and We recount our history! It does not matter whether we are recognized or not, because we recognize ourselves.”

October 12 is celebrated by some as “Christopher Columbus day.” It was chosen for the meeting so that indigenous people of all the Americas “will come to say that, after 515 years, they did not conquer us, nor did they discover us. We still continue to exist here.”

Mexico is boiling with hot blood. 2006 started with the launch of the Otra Campaña in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas. The planned route for Delegate Zero (Subcommandante Marcos), was throughout all of Mexico, to listen and to connect the struggles and acts of resistance that are common in communities throughout Mexico. He sought to establish networks of solidarity in communities beyond Chiapas. The first stage of establishing these networks was for the Zapatistas to share the experiences and challenges they faced on their path to autonomy.

The Otra Campaña tour has only been honestly covered by independent media. However, the independent media mission has not just been to report on the Otra Campaña, but to accompany a process of teaching and sharing the use of technology as a tool of communication between communities, and therefore a tool of resistance. Mass media, like TV Azteca and Televisa, have persisted in the misrepresenting and attacking of the Otra Campaña and the Zapatista struggle. Only independent media has told the truth about the rape, arrest, injury, murder, and disappearance of comrades who have defended their struggles.

In response to the government repression in San Salvador Atenco, the Mexican media tried to weaken the Otra Campaña by describing the violence with qualifiers like “isolated incidents” in reference to the flower vendors in Atenco. But what else is happening in Atenco? The international airport construction project, the freeway construction project, and other projects such as dams are underway. This is happening to create an infrastructure for commercial development throughout the United States, Mexico, and Central America, via Plan Puebla Panama.

PPP does not benefit the communities that it crosses through. In the Otra Campaña’s travel through Guerrero in La Parota, Delegate Zero mentioned that the conflict between those against the dam and the communities of farmers of Atenco are connected, and are part of the Otra Campaña. This is a key point to understand — in no way are these “isolated insurrectionary movements”. Rather, these struggles have something in common, they are parts of the resistance against the realization of the PPP.

The Mexican government knows perfectly well which places are going to be points of resistance to PPP. Zapatismo has stretched the ties of solidarity between these communities and their struggle. Because of this, the government wants to dismantle these networks and all resistance — disappearing the people who resist, taking to prison the youth that are part of the struggle and calling them terrorists.

In 2006 the government of Vicente Fox was part of the transition to the extreme right in Mexico. The new PAN government of Felipe Calderon will work directly for the neoliberal projects that integrate commerce between the United States and the Americas. And it is no secret that Felipe Calderon will work under the direct influence of the extreme right in Mexico: the Yunque, which is a secret organization with a right-wing profile.

The activist movement works hand in hand with the Otra Campaña to work in different locations to unify resistance between different locations against neoliberal projects in Mexico. During these years, the activist movement has fortified itself with the indigenous cosmovision (i.e. understanding of heaven and earth); we have filled our movement with the spirit of the land; we have dressed ourselves with the weavings made by indigenous hands. This is not just to work closely with indigenous people — the movement has learned the autonomous form of indigenous communities, the idea of dialogue and the “voice for those that have no voice”.

“With regard to modes of communication, it is very different when one only has the rich and the government, but when we have it ourselves, we transmit and publish that which strengthens indigenous communities, that which fortifies the resistance and autonomy of the indigenous community, because with those independent media that we have in autonomous regions and municipalities, has served to orient, educate, inform and animate the people.” Oventik, 2007.

The challenge faced by the Otra Campaña is acquiring and distributing resources for the next meeting between all indigenous people between Alaska and Patagonia who will meet on October 12. October 12th is a day in which our indigenous communities fell under the yoke of the invaders. This is the next phase of the Otra Campaña, and it is the purpose of our resistance because we seek to oppose ourselves to the culmination of Plan Puebla Panama, which wants to consume all resources on indigenous territories. We seek solidarity, so we can have representation for all indigenous communities at this meeting, and so that the Otra Campaña goes forward!

With regard to communication modes, “Otra” communication forms — independent modes of communication — were critical to the APPO’s resistance in Oaxaca. The people should liberate their voices, and those who make this independent media have the responsibility to propagate and share these techniques and tools so that communities can make their own free media.

For more information, check: enlace zapatista enlacezapatista.ezln.org., Zezta internacional, www.zeztainternazional.org, Centro de Medios Libres vientos.info