Protesting protesting

I attended a rally and march Wednesday night (01/14) in downtown Oakland demanding:

  • A BART community oversight committee
  • a murder conviction for officer Mehserle
  • the release of names and an investigation of all other officers present at the time of shooting
  • the creation of healing centers in communities most affected by police violence
  • the resignation/recall of Alameda county’s DA Tom Orloff

First of all I should say thank you to folks who organized this protest. I appreciate the time and energy that was put into it, and the obviously good intentions behind it. I know I haven’t contributed nearly as much as they have, and don’t mean to diminish their contributions. I do want to raise some critical questions & observations though, in the spirit of movement self-evaluation. The first one is specifically about this rally, but the rest of it is about this type of protest in general.

After the opening rally at Oakland city hall, the march kicked off with a prayer to “God the father” and “Christ our Lord”. We were asked to hold hands and pray along with the reverend. I can sort of appreciate the desire to bring a spiritual element in when you’re asking people to remain peaceful. But the invocation of a Christian god, in whose name bloody oppression and conquest have been carried out for millennia, was very disturbing to me. While leaders from other faiths were included as speakers (a Muslim leader whose name I don’t recall spoke eloquently about all the $ poured into the CA penal system while our state goes deeper into debt and our poor communities remain underserved), the only actual prayer I heard while I was there was this one. Personally I’d prefer no praying at all, but if it’s included, shouldn’t it be a little more… er… inclusive? While I don’t subscribe to any theistic belief system and my objections tend to be more political, I wonder if those of other faiths might have been offended to have to march under the “blessing” of a Christian god. I don’t understand why organizers felt this was a good call.

The organizers’ intent to keep the protest peaceful was abundantly clear. Speakers repeated it over and over, and as with any legally permitted march, “dissident” volunteers worked alongside police to monitor the crowd and keep the peace. Yet during the march, unsurprisingly, this well-used protest slogan was repeatedly invoked for us to chant: “No justice, no peace!”. Does anyone else find this maddening? Nothing like watering down the intent of what should be revolutionary words by using them completely out of context where they become meaningless. Okay yeah, “We are peaceful now, but if you don’t meet our demands we might reevaluate our strategy and bring the noise” isn’t exactly a catchy slogan. But can’t we at least refrain from using language that lulls us into believing we are acting in a threatening manner towards the state when in fact we are clearly working with the state to ensure that our peaceful protest doesn’t get out of hand? Maybe I’m just being a nitpicky vocabulary geek, but I do believe in the power of words and I believe it’s a problem that we kill our own power phrases.

This is the main reason I stopped going to marches and rallies many years ago. They just make me feel incredibly stupid, to be honest. There’s surprisingly little critical evaluation of tactics and I feel the opposite of powerful when I’m following a crowd that’s adhering to state-sanctioned forms of expression. Like a little sheep, marching where I’m supposed to march and yelling what everyone else is yelling, and going home at the end of it to resume normal life. None of it really makes sense to me. I don’t think the powers we are supposedly yelling at during these protests simply don’t know that we wish the cops would stop shooting people for no reason. That they don’t realize people want justice and aren’t getting it. That if they only realized how unhappy we are with the way they run things, they’d stop making policies based on greed and power and start making policies that reflect the desires of the people. I think they know exactly what they are doing and they choose to do it anyway, either because they have a twisted belief that it is necessary for people to have no rights in order to save us from ourselves, or because they really couldn’t give a shit whether or not people are happy. If they were sitting up there scratching their pus-filled heads, waiting only for an indication that folks were dissatisfied with their leadership to mend their ways, we would’ve launched blissfully into utopia ages ago. Ages.

I believe that peaceful marches and rallies¬† serve two purposes only – to educate others about what’s going on and increase community ties between dissenters.¬† IMO, these tactics are a means but they tend to be used as an end, which creates a feeling of accomplishment amongst participants that I don’t feel is realistic.


January 15, 2009. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

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.

Happy 4th… or, Where Did I Put the Freedoms You Gave Me?

Freedom… has there ever been a more mis-interpereted, used & abused, waxed-poetic-upon term? On my way to work a little over a week ago (June 24th, to be precise), I caught the last 15 minutes of an interview with George Lakoff, author of the recently published The Political Mind: Why You Can’t Understand 21st-Century American Politics with an 18th-Century Brain on NPR’s Forum. Lakoff was responding to a caller’s question re: wiretapping and the war on privacy, and part of his response was, “It’s not just a war on privacy, it’s also a war on freedom. It’s an attempt to take away the freedoms given to us in our constution.” Emphasis added.

This sentence struck me as ironic, given that Lakoff’s work as a linguist & unofficial Democracy Party advisor (obviously) stresses the importance of language in progressive strategy. He argues that progressives need to re-think their language & approach in order to break out of patterns that the conservative right has embedded in our society’s way of thinking/reasoning. He says that conservatives understand how to manipulate human emotional neuro-pathways better than progressives because they are more familiar with marketing strategies, which have been directly influenced by psychology at least since Edward Bernays (for more on this, check out the BBC documentary The Century of the Self). Despite my aversion to the label “progressive”, I can’t say I disagree with any of this – you could apply similar thinking to the problem of advancing radical politics. Avancing any idea counter to the dominant capitalist agenda requires something beyond merely appealing to people’s “common” sense, because there’s no such thing.

I’m not at all familiar with Lakoff’s work (disclaimer!), though from what I’ve read/heard superficially, I think I’d find a good amount of his ideas compelling. But I was surprised to hear him parrot this conservative system-serving phrase, “the freedoms given to us in our constitution”, apparently oblivious to it’s implications. During a talk show about the need to change that very behavior, no less.

I’m sure a lot of readers (okay, a lot of the few of you reading this) are wondering what the big deal is – isn’t it true that the constitution bestows freedoms upon the U.S. American public? I would argue that not only is this false, but that the very idea that freedom can be granted inherently implies the loss or suspension of freedom. The implication behind freedoms being “given” is that freedom doesn’t exist without (white wealthy male) humanity conceptualizing it and subsequently bequeathing it upon those deemed worthy. Freedom is something that every life form on this planet is born unconsciously anticipating. Freedom is inherent in our very existence – thus, freedoms cannot be given, only taken away. And the truth is that the very pretense of bequeathing freedoms implies that, A) freedoms not specifically mentioned are not possessed by anyone, and B) that no freedoms at all are possessed by those beings not given mention in the supposed freedom-granting document. Therefore, the use of such language as “freedoms given” or “freedoms granted”, etc. is in direct opposition to the inherent autonomy that is the birthright of all forms of life. It also presupposes a level of authority posessed by “freedom granters” – historically white, wealthy, male lawmakers – on par with a god or creator.

The damage this assumed authority over freedom has caused, historically as well as currently, can be observed in multiple places globally: abused communities (even entire countries) of people of color, damaged ecosystems, disappearing species, oppressed women, “illegalized” immigrants, persecuted folks with alternative sexualities and gender identities, and a working class run ragged. That list is by no means exhaustive.

So I propose that today, on this holiday that has become the ultimate symbol of freedom for (unquestioning) proud U.S. Americans, we rethink the language we use to conceptualize freedom. Let’s stop pretending that we weren’t born free and then stripped of much of our innate freedom – the remaining level of freedom being determined by our race, class, gender, species, country of origin, sexuality and able-bodied-ness. Let’s stop telling ourselves and each other that someone, somewhere, has handed our freedom to us. Even if we can’t take back our autonomy today, and the autonomy of those unable to speak for themselves (such as caged animals), let’s at least start by recognizing that nobody should have assumed the power of distributing/denying freedom to any of us in the first place.

July 4, 2008. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 4 comments.