The shooting of Oscar Grant III, Pt. II: Protest strategy.

In my last post, I discussed how I’ve been disturbed by the valuation of Oscar’s life based on certain aspects of his lifestyle. How we need to avoid using the state’s (or any) value markers to assess the relative tragedy of someone’s murder while demanding the same from authorities. Now I’d like to talk about responses people have had to the property destruction during the protest last Wednesday.

Let me start by saying that I was not there and my opinions are based only on report-backs and others’ responses. So there may be details I’m missing and questions about the appropriateness of my voice here. Regardless, I think that any time a protest involves property damage or violence, it is important to follow it up with nuanced discussions about why people are so angry; why some people felt that the more peaceful tactics being employed were insufficient to either express their rage or get the attention of power; whether the destruction contributed to garnering a desired response from authorities; and how, in the event of future destructive outbursts, protesters can channel their rage in more appropriate directions.

I’m not hearing this sort of balanced evaluation much, if at all. Even on radio shows I usually consider pretty radical (Hard Knock Radio, for one), the responses have largely been blanket disapproval of any sort of destructive protesting, regardless of the situation and the success of other tactics being used. There is only dismay and disappointment, people talking as though the loss of a business is equatable to the loss of a life, and plenty of words like “unproductive”, “violent”, and “anarchist”. I have to take issue with these terms specifically.

“Anarchist”. The fact that something is out of control and destructive does not make it anarchist. Please learn something about anarchism before you use it as a label for all things chaotic! Not simply another word for lawlessness, anarchism is a very well thought-out set of ideological theories that, whether you agree with them or not, are far more complex than they are given credit for. Also, even if people doing the destroying consider themselves anarchists, that doesn’t make their actions “anarchist” any more than, say, a punch thrown by a capitalist is a capitalist action. Unless there is a specific anarchist agenda related to an action, it does not become “anarchist” simply by virtue of the (possible) political beliefs of the perpetrators.

“Violent”. While the destruction of property can be considered violent in certain situations, it isn’t violent in and of itself. It is completely situational. For example, would the destruction of an air force bomber to prevent it being used to kill thousands of people qualify as violent? I don’t think that could be considered anything but anti-violence, since it potentially prevents more suffering than it causes (if it causes any). However, destroying the property of someone who has very little to begin with – for example, throwing all the worldly possessions of a homeless person into a trash compactor – would qualify as violence in my book since it causes much suffering and ameliorates none. Most people apply the word “violent” indiscriminately to all property destruction, and this has the effect of making property seem as important as living beings. That’s an extremely harmful idea to foster, not to mention it’s also propagated by the state.

If the definitions above are applied to this particular protest, where the property destruction was unfocused, it can probably be said that both violent and non-violent destruction occurred. I wouldn’t call the smashing of an empty police vehicle or a McDonald’s window violent, for example, but smashing up the car of a man on crutches as he stands there pleading with you is definitely fuzzier for me. Violence or not, I have sympathy for the car owners and business owners whose lives were made more difficult. But it should always be remembered that windows can be replaced; is financial hardship a fate worse than death?

“Unproductive”. When people are not being heard no matter what they do and it’s a matter of survival, things are gonna get ugly. This is the fault of power that is deaf, dumb and blind to the needs of the people, not the fault of the people sweating it out in the corner they were backed into. While it’s helpful to look at ALL the events of Wednesday and ask ourselves how they could have been more effective, I don’t think a blanket condemnation of lashing out against property is an effective or particularly accurate review of events. An examination of traditional “non-violent” protest strategy would show the vast majority of it to be unproductive as far as effecting real change. Just as there exist effective and non-effective uses of various “non-violent” tactics, there also exist effective and non-effective uses of property destruction as a tactic.

Focused property destruction in a capitalist state can be extremely productive and can be incorporated into a wider strategy of other non-violent tactics. For example, property destruction could be used by “peaceful” community organizers as leverage with the state in the days following, insisting that the force of people’s anger is proof that they must waste no time in setting things right. Instead, the opportunity is wasted on lamenting protesters’ lack of self-control and strategy, admonishing people to use restraint next time. Standing behind the justifiable anger and the intent behind property destruction while presenting the powers with a choice – listen to our demands or face more unrest – might transform the destructive actions into constructive actions.

Maybe if folks organizing protests these days were less staunch about discussing exclusively pacifist tactics, people who do end up engaging in property destruction could be afforded the space to strategize and come up with more effective windows to smash than what just happens to be in front of them. I don’t expect that major organizers would actually come out and condone property destruction, I’m just saying they should allow people the space to talk about what to do (what sort of things to target, how to focus the destruction more effectively on the state) in the event that things turn in that direction.

Having said all that, the family of Oscar Grant have come out in the last couple days and said they don’t want any more destruction in his name, and people absolutely need to listen. While folks understandably want to use this latest police murder to demand justice for the wider POC community, this is also a singular personal tragedy for the people closest to Oscar and they should be heard and respected right now.

In the event of further destruction related to this incident, there needs to be a concerted effort on the part of organizers to distance those actions from this specific case and align them with a larger nation-wide movement to end police brutality and corruption.


January 10, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. 3 comments.

The shooting of Oscar Grant III, Pt. I: The value of a life.

The unjustifiable death of yet another black person by an officer of the law (who, if history tells us anything, will likely go unpunished) is deeply disturbing and maddening. This fact is being discussed everywhere and there’s not much else I can add to that aspect of the conversation. But there are a couple other things that have been eating at me this week regarding responses I’ve heard from protesters, radio talk show hosts, and people commenting online. I’m breaking this into two parts because it’s long.

First, a little background. For anyone who hasn’t heard, an unarmed 22 year old black man named Oscar Grant III was fatally shot by BART police on New Years in the Fruitvale BART station. Grant and his friends were pulled off the train because someone reported an altercation, though the officers didn’t know exactly who had been involved. At one point Grant, who was being cooperative with the police and encouraging his friends to do the same, was forced to lie his belly with his face on the platform and a few officers on top of him pinning him down. For no apparent reason, one of the officers stood up, drew his gun, and shot Grant in the back. He died a few hours later.

The whole incident was recorded on cell phones and cameras by multiple BART passengers, and though the police confiscated as many of these devices as they could before the train pulled away, there are still a couple videos that made it onto the web and into tv newscasts.

While on paid leave following the murder, the officer who shot Grant, Johannes Mehserle, resigned before the investigation began. He has not been questioned by anyone nor has he made any public statement about the murder. For a week following the shooting, there was nothing but a blanket of silence from BART officials and the city of Oakland.

Protesters took to the streets in Oakland this past Wednesday looking for some sort of response or explanation, and demanding that Mehserle be charged with murder. A smaller group broke away after the rally to march, their frustration and anger eventually leading to smashing windshields and storefronts, burning cars and dumpsters, and trashing a police car. No injuries were reported as a result of this low-level rioting.

So that’s the lowdown. Now here’s what’s bugging me about how people are framing the tragedy.

Everyone’s talking about the fact that Oscar had a 4 year old daughter, that he was “trying to do the right thing” by being a father to her, and that he had two jobs. And because he had been trying to get his friends to cooperate with the officers during the incident, the word “peacemaker” is now splashed all around the internet. What bothers me is that these statements reinforce the idea that some people’s lives are worth more than others – that we should be more outraged by the unjustified police shooting of a person with a child, a person with a job (or two), a person who is playing by the rules.

The lives of black and brown folks, gender variant folks, poor folks (especially the homeless), and people who commit non-white-collar crimes (no matter how petty) are valued substantially less by the state, and thus they are valued less by the general public as heavily influenced subjects of the state. That’s a big part of why this sort of outrageous police behavior can happen and go unpunished all the time in the first place. To play on these tendencies in order to garner wider public sympathy for this tragedy is to perpetuate what folks say they want to challenge – the devaluing of some lives by the state, in this case specifically the lives of people of color.

We are not serving our purpose by emphasizing state-sanctioned markers of human value. It is reprehensible for agents of the state to get away with murder when they are supposedly employed for our safety; and that is true whether the person they kill is unemployed, homeless, a car thief, a sex worker, a priest, or a soccer mom. We shouldn’t be coming up with reasons why this particular man was less deserving of being randomly executed than someone else, because nobody ever deserves that.

January 8, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Bad product ideas

Beware, fellow dry-skin-havers, of those amazing sugar scrubs that simultaneously exfoliate and oil-ify your skin. They also leave you with a sugar-coated shower:

mmm we likes sugar

mmm we likes sugar

I have a crappy camera. If you can’t tell, that’s a trail of ants – a species with a sweet tooth rivaled only by my own.

January 4, 2009. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

clearly i don’t know what’s going on, but it’s something important

This is some of why I haven’t been blogging lately… I don’t really like the way i started out. It felt like “HERE ARE MY VERY IMPORTANT OPINIONS & I’M PROBABLY RIGHT”. I used to interact like that more and have tried for years with some success to tone it down, but it seems to come out again when i write. also, i’ve been writing as though all these people I don’t know are reading my blog. yeah, it’s on the net so there may be a few… but c’mon, it’s not like i’m hot shit. i’m mostly addressing people I know here, and I don’t feel like my writing has reflected that.

so I got tripped up on feeling egotistical/self-important, and couldn’t figure out how to change my approach but still write about things that felt worthwhile.

this is some of why I haven’t been blogging lately… all I wanna do is complain about shit and freak out about how i don’t know what to do about anything anymore. y’all know what I’m talkin about, i’ve written about it already. i may sound depressed, but really I’m just constantly baffled. fine line, y’know. after all, it’s depressing to be baffled in a world where so much needs to be done.

to be honest though (this is tangential and i’m running with it), I kinda wish we would all stop talking about how depressed we are. maybe that seems like a really horrible thing to say… btw, i’m not addressing people who are struggling with chemical imbalances here. I’m talking about the rest of us, and there are a lot of us. i know, we’re unhappy & tortured… so why shouldn’t we talk about/think about/spend time worrying about what’s wrong with us?

well, dig: we live in a fucked world that we experience little or no power in, excluding the small percentage of people possessing real financial/social/political power. but they’re probably not depressed by the havoc they wreak so I ain’t talkin’ to them. Whether the rest of us actually have power (regardless of how we feel) is debatable and i won’t go there right now. anyway, within our group of powerless-feeling folks are many subgroups, membership in which can further blight your experiences. y’know, being differently-abled in an able-bodied world, being gender-variant in a binary world, living in palestine – you get the idea. natch, many people inhabit multiple you’re-fucked-now subgroups.

and… shockingly… this is probably why we’re all “depressed”. you’re a normal person with emotions and a brain and this kind of living is bullshit. even if you inhabit no unhappy subgroups, as long as your brains & feelings are working you will feel bad for everyone else’s groups, and for feeling powerless to help.

i sometimes forget this, blaming the way I’m built for making me this crazy instead of the external forces acting so violently on my perfectly functioning mass of nerve endings, synapses, what have you. the language we often use to discuss our feelings frames the situation as though there’s something unusual about feeling this way, and something we should be doing to get back to “normal”. as debbie’s post about her dad reminded me a while back, many of us suffer entire lifetimes without ever realizing the frame is wrong.

that’s not an accident, in case you were wondering. it’s rather integral to the smooth functioning of the machine, which is why i’d like us to reconsider buying into the depression epidemic.

crap, see. there i go getting all preachy-teachy again.

This is some of why i haven’t been blogging lately… i wanna write about certain things, but they take me to places where i’d rather be talking to someone in person. mostly b/c if i follow these thoughts to the logical big question – “what can we do about all this?” – I feel like i shouldn’t be exploring possible answers to that question on the internet. i get paranoid. and fuck those in power for making my world a place where that is a serious consideration rather than some imaginary sci-fi bullshit. democracy my ASS!

i’d rather not continue in this vein right now. in the future, what can I blog about in lieu of all this embittered navel-gazing? music or books? i’m not usually up on the newest music/reading – but I can bandy about opinions on old shit you’ve probably already made up your own mind about. Or I could discuss what i ate earlier or the fact that there’s a mouse in my office or how many times i’ve picked my nose today (a lot)? what i like? what i think is silly? wtf this adorable creature is?

bunny? mouse? piglet?

bunny? mouse? piglet?

I’m open to suggestions. maybe i’ll try blogging about nothing in particular and see how that goes. Sometimes i’ll prolly have to lay down an oh-so-important opinion on a controversial topic and contemplate the fucked-ness of everything, just to remind myself that i’m still not buyin’ any of it.

and hell, if i still don’t blog after this, then maybe it just ain’t my thing right now.

December 31, 2008. Tags: , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. 3 comments.

File under: Are you f*cking serious???

Um. If anyone needed more proof that our consumption patterns are deadly:

Wal-Mart Employee Trampled to Death by Customers

November 28, 2008. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

“Lawful Excuse”

Root Force is a really interesting campaign that promotes blocking infrastructure expansion to fight the further spread of colonial capitalist systems. I get a feed from their blog into my iGoogle, where I found a link to this news tidbit a few days ago. I’ve never heard of the “lawful excuse” defense before (probably because I don’t live in Britain), but it’s amazing that it’s actually successful sometimes! Below is the blog post:

On September 11, a British jury concluded that Greenpeace activists were justified in vandalizing a coal chimney at the Kingsnorth Power Plant in October 2007, because far greater property damage will be caused if global warming is not halted. The court acquitted the activists of any criminal responsibility under the doctrine of “lawful excuse,” which says that damage may be done to another’s property in order to prevent another, greater damage.

Six Greenpeace activists had painted Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s name on the chimney, and the power company spent £35,000 to remove the paint.

The “lawful excuse” defense has previously been successfully used by Greenpeace activists who ripped up genetically modified crops and by East Timor solidarity activists who damaged military jets bound for Indonesia.

Kingsnorth Power Plant was also the site of a number large at the recent UK Climate Camp. Plans to build a new coal-powered plant at the site have drawn widespread opposition.

The Independent has a full article on the action.

September 23, 2008. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Politico-personal Crisis of Faith

If I were an activist, maybe I would know the answer to this question, but… what, exactly, makes someone an activist? I’ve been pondering this question in various forms a lot lately.

It’s mostly this recent lingering depression. Or maybe that’s not the right term for what I’ve been feeling – it’s not caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain so much as the colossal disparity between what my brains think should be happening in the world and what actually happens in the world, has happened in the world always, and arguably will always happen as long as there are people in the world. I’m world-weary. Yeah, yeah, I know – it’s an old story. What person possessing even a modicum of intelligence doesn’t think the world of humans is generally fucked, right?

Poor, poor me; sad, whiny, white, middle class-ish, can’t-handle-the-reality-of-massive-oppression, wanna-be do-gooder me. Yeah, that’s right – I’m not even a do-gooder. I’m more of a think-gooder. I just think of all the helpful things I could be doing, then psych myself out of action by thoroughly analyzing and critiquing the possible impact (or lack thereof) of my endeavors.

See, it seems ridiculous for me to be depressed and defeated, because I’m not DOING anything about anything, right? I don’t work for a non-profit, I volunteer/donate only minimally, and I haven’t attended or helped organize any direct actions since the late 90’s. My current contributions, if you can call them that, read like a check-list for armchair intellectual progressivism: I read a lot and attend discussions/talks in an attempt to lessen my obliviousness as a person with relative privilege living in the most destructive, colonizing nation on the globe; I forward e-mails & re-post bulletins on myspace about things other people are doing; I eat mostly organic vegan food; I buy almost exclusively used clothing/shoes/gadgets/appliances; I attempt to reduce/re-use/recycle in that order; whenever possible I avoid supporting multi-national corporations and evil non-profits; I run my 1980 Mercedes on recycled biodiesel from a local woman-owned collective.

Holy shit, I sound annoying, don’t I?! Like one of those “I buy/don’t buy all the right things, therefore I am making a difference” types. Except I don’t really believe these things make enough of a difference to brag about – I only do them because I couldn’t stomach myself if I didn’t.

I see making conscious lifestyle choices and educating oneself as the least possible amount of involvement anyone calling herself “radical” could have. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around those people who ARE activist—like, real down-in-the-mud, blood-and-guts activists—yet they happily give money to the very corporations creating this mess because they don’t believe in pocketbook activism. Spending money conscientiously isn’t going to bring about revolution, but in a capitalist system, where you spend your money is important. It equals funding whatever the companies/people you buy stuff from have their filthy little hands in. And it’s something you can change with minimal effort (even if you’re not middle-class, contrary to popular opinion).

It is not elitist to withdraw support from those perpetuating the worst elitism in the first place – that’s just common sense. I don’t think the communities most grossly affected by corporate greed are applauding anyone’s continued support of Pepsi and Monsanto as a righteous refusal to be aligned with the bourgie “green” consumers who shop at farmers markets and buy organic cotton sheets. Of course, I’m sure they’re not applauding any of us for our patterns of consumption, but hopefully you get my point. I’d like capitalism to fall and/or morph into something more just and palatable as much as the next anarchist, but while we’re stuck with it we can’t ignore the impact we have on it.

Anyhow, slight tangent there. I’ll stop now, but there’s an awesome blog post about all that here, if you want more.

So, as I was droning, the low-effort aspect of living a more conscious lifestyle is why it’s the main thing I manage to always do. Like, if I can’t even do that, I really can’t justify my own existence.

Yes, what I do right now is minimal, but it is all I can do right now. I’m talking psychologically. I simply don’t have the strength to engage more intensely with the babbling insanity of all the animal torturing, women hating, people of color terrorizing, poor people steamrolling, queer and gender non-conformative bashing, resource hoarding, earth killing devils of western imperialism. I just. Can’t. Do it. Right. Now.

Partly because all these injustices feel extremely urgent to address and I don’t know how to choose just one or two to give more energy to.

Partly because in the past when I have chosen something to focus on, I have found that systemic oppression runs so deep, even those of us trying to buck it rarely disentangle all at once—I’ve encountered transphobic queers, misogynistic environmentalists, classist feminists, animal torturing anti-racists, racist anarchists… combine the descriptors as you may, they’re all out there. How the hell is one supposed to stay committed when working alongside folks who create oppression while claiming to fight it?

And lastly, my apathy stems in part from knowing more about the world than I did when I was 21 and Food Not Bombs-ing my lil’ heart out. When I take a wide view of what I now (think I) know about global history, damn but I can’t find anything that has ever changed the course of things on a massive enough scale to claim success for even one community in a lasting way. So I feel colossally defeated.

Should I engage in actions I feel are mostly futile out of some sense of obligation to my activist status? Attend anti-war or environmental protests even though another war or environmental catastrophe will be right around the corner unless the fundamental principles of world leaders have shifted from “profit & power before anyone/anything deemed expendable”, to “no person, place, culture or species is expendable ever”? Rally against internal state violence like police brutality & the prison system even though I secretly think nothing short of massive revolution will affect the way the state operates unless, perhaps, your time line is in the thousands of years? Ugh, I know, my negativity can be crushing. Apologies.

I have heard it said that the tendency to disregard any action that doesn’t seem likely to fix everything (activist perfectionism) stems from being in a position of privilege. I can’t say I disagree. It’s not that I don’t want to engage in any action unless it will cure all ills on the globe, though – it’s that I’m not convinced any action I might undertake will help anything at all.

I’m sure that is partly because nearly everything I read and listen to tends to focus on tragedies and defeats of peoples everywhere, rather than highlighting what folks are doing to resist and how some of them have succeeded. That’s a major problem, even in alternative media.

I am aware that my skin color, geographical location, and relative class privilege (meaning I get by with minimal financial stress & that’s better than so many) afford me the choice to not fight certain fights. I don’t have to worry about getting pesticide poisoning from working in the fields, being arrested/beaten/shot because of my skin color, I don’t have to work three jobs to get by, etc. Some would argue that it’s easier for me to say I don’t have the strength to actively fight these fights because they aren’t “mine”; that I’m holing up in my little privilege bubble and ignoring the suffering of others because I can. Maybe, but I don’t know – it’s not like I’m putting myself out there for gender equality, queer rights, or economic and environmental issues that affect me more directly, either.

There are multitudes of people globally who are directly oppressed by things that they don’t fight, for reasons not including privilege, such as fear of retribution/alienation/losing what little they do have. Maybe I’m one of those, y’know? Because it’s not for lack of caring, or outrage, or horror that I currently stay out of the fray – it’s for lack of energy, stemming from a lack of faith. And perhaps also a shortage of courage. Maybe.

And if I may be so bold as to point out, it is untrue that all these other struggles aren’t “mine” – as a person who is vehemently opposed to all types of oppression, subjugation, and violence, the fact of my unwilling complicity in all these things simply because I buy things/am white/am a citizen of the US is a serious detriment to my psychological and emotional health. Oppressive systems don’t only oppress the obvious victims – they oppress and fuck with every single person living under them. Even those who benefit from them are simultaneously limited by and subjugated by them in ways that are sometimes less obvious, but not always less damaging.

Anyhow, back to my question – what makes an activist? Recently I was discussing feeling depressed with someone in my book club, who referred me to the Bay Area Radical Mental Health Collective. I checked out their website, and it turns out they are a mental health group for activists experiencing burnout. Ahh. Well thank goodness they exist, really. That’s fantastic. But I was trying to imagine myself at a meeting, explaining how I’m not an activist per se, I just think a whole bunch about stuff. Does armchair activism count? Shit. I doubt it.

Well, I found on their site a really great article about something similar to what I’m struggling with. It’s about how activists sometimes need to take mental health breaks (and some more often than others, depending on certain character traits), but feel guilted or judged for doing so because there’s this culture of all-or-nothing 24/7 commitment in most activist circles. It’s well-written and I think anyone who identifies as an activist should read it. And it made me start to feel like maybe I could consider myself an activist after all, because I’m doing what I feel capable of doing right now. And is that possibly all we can fairly ask of each other, if a sincere effort is being made?

I really hope I don’t sound too oblivious – but more than that, I hope that if I do, anyone spotting it will (kindly) let me know. I’m not just saying that – I’m open to being called out. I call myself out all the time. Just be gentle with me, because this was a difficult post to share – it’s kinda personal.

Thanks for reading.

September 19, 2008. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. 4 comments.

Only YOU Can Help Save Bitch!

Independent publishing is sailing rougher seas than ever these days, what with more folks getting their reads online. So many amazing magazines have folded in the past couple of years, it makes my heart hurt. Bitch magazine is one of my absolute favorites, as most of you know, and as a non-profit they depend largely on donations and subscription sales to stay afloat. Now they’re in urgent need of some fast financial help, and while their need is great, the goal is not unattainable! Even a little bit helps! Please check out the video they made and give a little or a lot! And don’t forget to spread the word. xoxo

UPDATE 09/19

Wow, that was fast! We did it, yay us!

September 15, 2008. Tags: , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Fat Phobia

Since I still don’t fancy writing much, here’s a great video about fat acceptance I found at Plucky Punk’s Happy Land…Grr…Spit…

and the sequel:

August 18, 2008. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

Getting back into it… soon!

I recently went back East for 10 days to visit friends & family and attend my sister’s wedding. I just got back to Oakland about a week ago. For some reason, since I’ve been back I’ve been strongly disinclined to think about anything at all – which isn’t very conducive to writing blog posts.

Before I left I’d been working on what was shaping up to be a gargantuan post about trans exclusion, having stumbled across another infuriating instance of “women born women only” policy. I’m still planning on finishing that post, but it looks like I’m in need of some intellectual down-time and I want to honor that.

So this is just to say, don’t give up on me yet!

August 12, 2008. Uncategorized. 1 comment.

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