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HoCoPoLitSo's writer-in-residence Derrick Weston Brown seeks to inspire the poet within us all

by L'Oreal Thompson
The Baltimore Sun
March 20th, 2013

“Attention, attention … the mic is now open.”

It is only fitting that Derrick Weston Brown begins his presentation at local high schools with an original poem beckoning “all poets and lovers of the word.”

“Poetry is for everybody,” Brown, 36, tells the students at Mt. Hebron High School in Ellicott City. “Everyone is born a poet, but society takes that away.”

As the writer-in-residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), Brown’s goal is to nurture young poets in the area. During his recent visit to Mt. Hebron, the Charlotte, N.C., native read some of his poetry, then encouraged students to interpret the work.

For example, there’s “Forgiveness Poem,” about a young girl who was bullied because of her dark skin; “Till’s Skin,” which was inspired by Brown’s own experience with an interracial relationship and derived its title from Emmett Till, a young black man who was murdered for allegedly flirting with a white woman in 1955; and “Hourglass Flow,” about breaking out of writer’s block. At the end, Brown asks the students if they’d like to share some of their own poetry.

“I want [the students] to go away with a different sense of what poetry is,” he says. “It’s contemporary. It’s reachable. It’s not exclusive to academics and old stuffy professors.”

Brown discovered poetry in middle school, but it wasn’t love at first sight as he compared it to an “old, decrepit building that you don’t want to go into.” Later, he was introduced to the works of Shel Silverstein, a famed American poet and author of children’s books, and the rest is literary history.

“Poetry gives us many ways in which to tell a story or to document particular moments,” he explains.

Brown, who has a Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing from American University and also is a graduate of Cave Canem, a summer workshop for black poets and writers, published his first poetry collection, “Wisdom Teeth,” in April 2011. His work has also appeared in literary journals such as “The Columbia Poetry Review,” “The Little Patuxent Review” and Howard University’s “Amistad.”

“I’ve always enjoyed reading. Both my aunts were librarians, and both of my grandmothers were elementary school teachers, so books were always available,” he says. “I’ve always had an active imagination, so writing naturally followed. I love a good story.”

Brown, who currently lives in Mount Rainier, Md., also is a creative writing instructor at Emerson College Preparatory School in Washington, D.C., and the publications advocate for Teaching for Change, a nonprofit organization for social justice based in D.C. As such, Brown works at Teaching for Change’s Busboys and Poets Bookstore, where he served as the store’s first poet-in-residence and founded the monthly poetry series, “The Nine on the Ninth.”

HoCoPoLitSo was founded in 1974 to bring the best writers in the country and the world to Howard County, according to Tara Hart, co-chair of the board of directors. Each year, the HoCoPoLitSo board of directors selects a writer-in-residence. The program is designed to expose local high school students to fine arts through poetry and literature.

“We’d had several women in a row, and we were hoping to find someone who would appeal to young men,” says Hart. “We also admire Busboys and Poets and admire them for sharing our mission, for celebrating poetry and really making a place for it.”

Previous writers-in-residence include Lucille Clifton, a former poet laureate of Maryland; Grace Cavalieri, an essayist, novelist and professor; and Truth Thomas, a poet, singer and songwriter.

“We are all, without exception, people who love literature, and some of us are teachers,” explains Hart. “We’re always keeping our eye on local writers who are of distinction. We want a rich and diverse mixture of writers so students see different ages, genders and backgrounds.”

For aspiring poets, Brown suggests they “read, read and then read some more.” He encourages them to read other poets, as well as a “little bit of everything,” such as books, newspapers, magazines and even comic books.

“If you enjoy reading, that will feed your poems,” he says. “It’s about what’s going on in your world.”

Read more: http://www.baltimoresun.com/explore/howard/publications/howard-magazine/bs-exho-hocopolitsos-writerinresidence-derrick-weston-brown-seeks-to-inspire-the-poet-within-us-all-20130320,0,2528130.story#ixzz2RP4rHCrW

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Towards Collective Liberation : A Review

by Stacy Kono
Asian American Movement Ezine
April 24th, 2013


Have you hugged an anarchist today?

After reading Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy, by Chris Crass, I’m inclined to seek out my anarchist friends to acknowledge them for their courage and principled commitment to, and the long history of their tradition’s, organizing for people’s power and freedom.

The book’s first essay, “A New World in Our Hearts: Anarchism and the Need for Dynamic and Visionary Left Politics” clarifies the core of anarchism – rooted in the “principles of mutual aid, grassroots democracy, and equality” (23); underscoring how the political tradition has been vilified by the ruling class which emphasizes the call for revolution as violent and destructive. The oversimplification of anarchism as “creating chaos” serves to erase the history of radical organizing and the deeper values of cooperation and peace.

Chris highlights leaders like Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman, who worked in the US in the 1880s for reproductive freedom, against the draft during WWI, and for worker organizing. Both were sent to prison and deported. During that same period, the International Workers of the World (IWW) were vocal opponents of the Chinese Exclusion Act – a sole voice within the left and labor movements.

Anarcho-pacifists of the 1940s and 1950s organized workers, spoke out against the incarceration of Japanese Americans families, like mine, the holocaust, and protested the atomic bombing of Japan.  

In the more recent history, the collection lifts up the important role anarchists have played in the environmental movement, WTO protests in Seattle and globally, and the Occupy movement. Chris shares his personal story of work with San Francisco Food Not Bombs and interviews with anti-racist, feminist organizers across the country, highlights the radical contributions of the Groundwork Collective, the Rural Organizing Project and Catalyst Project, of which Chris was a founding member.

Through the stories, interviews and history, Chris invites radical activists and organizers, to engage in liberation praxis. “We can be radical, relevant, strategic and visionary as we participate in the reality of everyday life to build the new world in the shell of the old.” (34-35) Whether we identify as anarchists or not, we need to be willing to be flexible and open given the complex and contradictory conditions we are organizing in. In reflecting on his own experiences as well as including interviews with other white anti-racist, feminist organizers he lifts up the ways radical organizing is changing our communities.

As a woman of color, who has experienced working with white activists who are struggling to figure out their role as an ally, I was struck by Chris’ sharing of his personal praxis, his willingness to describe the challenges he faced and continues to engage with in his own development as an organizer to be aware of and understand his privilege as a white man. This is something that many other white activists have a hard time acknowledging out of shame or fear – as if admitting the challenge will somehow delegitimize their commitment. Chris’ vulnerability and honesty models how our commitment to social justice movement building can and needs to be drawn from an “ethic of love.”

Towards Collective Liberation
is a thoughtful and generous invitation to organizers to build off the history of radical movement building with creativity, authenticity, and love.

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New Book Explores Organizing Strategies for Anarchists

by James Tracy
Left Eye Books
March 25th, 2013


Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis and Movement Building Strategy, may be the “Rules for Radicals” for a growing trend of anarcho-practicos who up until this point have had little literature to make their case with.

Chris Crass is an anarchist organizer. For those whose perception of anarchism begins and ends with broken windows, this may seem like an oxymoron. The tradition has a tortured relationship with organizing. Anarchism’s fingerprints can be found on many of the important social movements since the late 1980s; ranging from the AIDS activism of ACT-UP to the anti-nuclear and Global Justice Movements. Other currents within the anarchist tradition hold organizing leads to hierarchy, compromise and cooptation. The anti-organizing voice of anarchism is at its most articulate in recent tracts such as “The Coming Insurrection” and a wealth of books and manifestos from the Crimethinc collective.

Crass walks anarchism down a very different road. His anarchism, and that of the political organizations he helped build, isn’t afraid of community organizing. It also isn’t afraid to reach across the radical aisle and work with marxists, feminists, liberals and just about any other category that makes it to the meeting. His new book, Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy may be the “Rules for Radicals” for a growing trend of anarcho-practicos who up until this point have had little literature to make their case with. (In 1993, Tom Knoche formulated a case for anarchist participation in reform organizing, see Organizing Communities in the journal Social Anarchism.)

Towards Collective Liberation is an impressive contribution to radical thought. Crass outlines a vision of anarchism rooted deeply in the anti-racist tradition, and influenced by feminism.

He’s most at home when teasing out the lessons of his own politicization. The exploration of Food Not Bombs (FNB) is a delightful surprise—combining a sober assessment of the movement’s weaknesses with a nuanced description of their accomplishments under fire during San Francisco’s War For Space. Here, he carefully avoids demonizing FNB personalities who made destructive mistakes, but pulls no punches in the final analysis. He sets a high bar for constructive discourse without stooping to polemics.

His ability to grapple with the complexities of the Civil Rights Movement and draw implications for anti-authoritarians is unique. Instead of approaching social movements in terms of all-or-nothing reductionism Crass identifies ways for radical organizers to engage with them and think outside the Infoshop.

The book isn’t without some key weaknesses. In some essays, Crass’ over-reliance on jargon obscures his otherwise salient power of observation. He raises important points, “we need a revitalized, dynamic, and visionary Left politics that draws from many traditions, not just anarchism, but also Marxism, feminism, revolutionary nationalism and others;” then only scratches the surface of the mechanics of doing so.

Other themes left under-examined are the strengths and weaknesses of the interventions his organization, the Catalyst Project made in the name of racial justice in key moments such as the response to hurricane Katrina and the immigrant rights upsurge. I find it odd that the process of committed anarchists traveling to other cities in order to challenge “white supremacy” in the movement didn’t yield deeper reflection. What were the moments when this strategy bolstered local organizing? When was it unwelcome by locals? Did it ever feel a bit vanguardist, and if so, what was to be done?

Thankfully, Crass’ has a political vision of anti-racism, separated from individualistic notions of white guilt and “invisible back packs.” He recognizes white supremacy as a system and a historic roadblock to social transformation. While centering race and colonization, he also avoids reducing race to the only dilemma facing organizers today. In this sense, he snatches anti-racism from the jaws of the professional diversity trainers polluting today’s discourse.

Taken as a whole, the book makes the case for an anarchist practice relevant to, and a part of, the lives of everyday people, and the larger Left. With humility and optimism, Crass offers critical insights hard won through a life on the frontlines. “Towards Collective Liberation” is an important read, not just for anarchists, but anyone pondering the road forward.

James Tracy is a native of Oakland, California and a long-time economic justice organizer. He is the co-author of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power: Community Organizing in Radical Times (Melville House).

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Towards Collective Liberation: Building Successful Social Movements

by Holly Roach
Emergent Voices
April 1st, 2013

It wasn’t until recently I realized that I had somehow lost a bunch of digital files off my computer. It was mainly photos and newspaper articles from my activist work when I lived in the San Francisco/Bay Area from the late 90′s to the mid 2000′s. That loss left me feeling sick with the thought that a deeply formative part of my life was gone. My experience with Occupy Movement organizing left me longing to reconstruct what was good, strategic and expansive about our activism back in the day and put those lessons back to work.

Sometimes the very thing that’s needed comes to being and luckily Chris Crass came along with his new book Towards Mutual Liberation: Anti Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis and Movement Building Strategy.

The book came across my Facebook feed at the most incredible time. I had been writing on intentional movement building and praxis in relationship to the Emergence Christianity Movement. As a relative newcomer encountering the Emergent movement as a non-evangelical with new age Buddhist leanings, I had a lot to learn in just getting to know the movement, its culture, language and friendships. Prior to this, I had almost literally no idea that there was a thing called Progressive Christianity in the United States. I had encountered faith-based groups in organizing, but never knew the theology behind it. It’s been incredibly life-giving for me and brought me back to the core of my spirituality. So when I say that I am engaged in critiquing the way we go about building our movement, please know that I am doing it from a deep level of love and investment in the Emergent Movement.


This book comes to us at such a lovely time, a time when we are asking ourselves what collective potential we have to build a better world together.We are asking ourselves if we are a conversation or a movement, a network of talkers or doers, and some of us are getting impatient to live out the call toward Justice that we feel compelled by our faith to enact.

Rather than re-create the social movement wheel we can look to the lessons and gains that movements who’ve come before us have struggled towards. Chris does a beautiful job contextualizing the movement culture that we activists inherited back in the 80′s and 90′s and weaves a narrative that is both engaging and informative about the things we learned. I first met Chris when I was organizing in the Art & Revolution Collective and Chris was a Food Not Bombs organizer in San Francisco. Our collectives worked together a lot, and we both ended up at a lot of the the same protests and the 15-week Challenging White Supremacy workshop with the brilliant Sharon Martinez in collaboration with the People’s Institute’s Betita Martinez. Betita had just written a provocative essay entitled “Where Was the Color In Seattle: Looking for Reasons the Great Battle Was So White” written in response to the mass protests in Seattle at the World Trade Organization Ministerial On November 30th, 1999. She starts the piece off with a quote:

“I was at the jail where a lot of protesters were being held and a big crowd of people was chanting ‘This Is What Democracy Looks Like!’
At first it sounded kind of nice. But then I thought: is this really what democracy looks like? Nobody here looks like me.”
—Jinee Kim, Bay Area youth organizer

This essay threw the progressive social profit sector up and down the west coast into an upheaval of challenging built-in white supremacist organizational structures and dynamics. We witnessed numerous NGOs fall apart, completely deconstructing their culture and process and starting over again. We saw a lot of progress and experienced the shift in how our organizing was called upon to evolve and become more focused around bridge building. So as I hang around Emergent Movement conferences and hear that same call again from people of color and white allies, I’m thinking, “Wait, we activists have done this work, and we learned a lot that we can share!” And this is where Toward Collective Liberation becomes an amazing tool for progressive Christians in the U.S. Chris Dixon says it better than anyone in his Introduction to the book:

“Transformative social movements are always much more dynamic and intelligent than individual organizers, no matter how reflective, tireless and courageous such individuals may be.  This is one of the amazing things about collective struggle for justice. At the same time there are always individuals who crystallize movement experiences, who distill and share hard won insights and help to catalyze much needed discussions. Chris Crass is one of these people. For two decades, he has consistently given expression to the ideas, questions, and lessons of a generational cohort of radical organizers and activists in the United States.”

In his first essay, Chris does an amazing job of illustrating how anarchist politics and organizing influenced our shared organizing culture. Consensus-based organizing was the norm, many of us working in collectives that practiced feminist,  transparent, non-hierarchical leadership structures but still manage to collaborate with more top-down structured NGOs. I want to challenge us here not to dismiss the strategic politics of anarchists organizing as the chaos and destruction that language and media have portrayed them to be. Much of what we saw in the Global Justice movement, the anti-war movement, and Occupy was based in liberatory anarchist politics, which is a testimony to the contributions of anarchist politics thought this century.

Chris also does a really beautiful job of narrating why anti-oppression work and challenging systemic racism is absolutely essential to movement building. Chris Crass went on to found the Heads Up Collective and anti-racism training collective called Catalyst Project. He has some serious chops around this work, and we’re lucky Chris has a passion for documenting our shared lessons and passing on the knowledge. He’s written countless resources and made them widely available to Occupy movements. Chris understands and rises to the responsibility of passing on the gains that we have achieved in building movement cultures that work.

Chris understands that social movements don’t only just win gains from institutions on behalf of communities, they also embody, live into and become those gains that better serve their community. Let’s briefly look at some of the components of transformative social movements:

Prefigurative Politics


One of the things I’d like us to look at is what Chris has to say about prefigurative politics. We talk about “living into” visions for what we like to see for our lives, we quote Gandhi, and we sloganize his call for us to “be the change you wish to see in the world.”

This concept may come from other sources, as truth has a way of cropping up in varied and multiple ways, but I think it’s good to unpack this further. Prefigurative politics is the strategy of incorporating the vision of the future society into the struggle to get there.

Chris writes:

“Social change is not replacing one ruling class for another, but transforming the social relationships of society away from domination toward democracy and equality … Prefigurative politics challenges us to create liberatory processes and practices in the here and now while we fight for the future. This means bringing feminist politics into our daily lives and organizations as much as we can, while recognizing that we need to engage in long-term collective struggle against patriarchy as a system of oppression. Similarly, we should work to understand anti-racism as not only a politics against systemic racism, but for anti-racist culture, strategy, and practice in our organizations and lives that transform the ways we work for liberation.”

Straight to the Point


This is the absolute crux of my critique of the Emergent Church Movement. I feel strongly that if we are not prefigurative in our approach to our collective movement work, we are simply acting out the dynamics that keep people oppressed. If we wish to be a transformative force in our work together, we must work together in a way that challenges all the -isms and systemic means of oppression while working for the world we wish to see some into being — the kingdom of God on Earth. Anything less would be lacking integrity.

Movement Strategy Center

If you don’t know the Movement Strategy Center, I highly recommend checking out their literature. I can write a whole other essay just on the work of their director Taj James. What I want to leave you with is a quote from him that I feel deeply compelled by, and I hope you do to:

“There is a deep cultural change underway in the progressive movement which is radically transforming how we organize and work together. Ask not what your sector of the movement can do for mine — realize that if we do not unite, all of our movements will face continual defeats in the face of a unified and ascendant right wing. The brave organizations and leaders who are driving this change need support from the broader movements. We are not asking for mere words of support but rather for concrete acts of solidarity that demonstrate an embodied wisdom of our independence.”

Steps Forward Toward Mutual and Collective Liberation


I am honored to be teaching on this material this weekend at the TransFORM Southwest Regional Gathering in Fort Worth, TX, a gathering of missional-minded practitioners. I would also like to invite you to take part in a series of Open Conversations that we are having online around the many facets of movement building. On May 7th at 8pm EST we will be hosting another conversation online with Chris Crass, Anthony Smith, Steve Knight  along with other social movement folks and a few other Emergent Movement folks, which will be able to be viewed on SOGO Media TV on YouTube. Viewers will be able to chat in questions and comments. The goal with these conversations is to move forward our collective understanding of liberatory and transformative social movement building in an open and transparent way.  I hope that you join us.
 
Holly Roach is an activist, communications and development director, and artist currently living life in Santa Fe, NM.

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Construyendo desde abajo. Acción anarquista en los Estados Unidos

by ALB
Alas Barricadas
September 9th, 2012

Entrevista con Scott Crow, activista del colectivo Common Ground Traducción de alasbarricadas.org

El colectivo Common Ground se formó para proporcionar ayuda básica [agua, comida, asistencia sanitaria,...] al barrio de Albiers de Nueva Orleans tras el huracan Katrina.

Posteriormente sus esfuerzos se vieron orientados a ayudar a los habitantes de la ciudad a volver a sus áreas de residencia. El proyecto involucró a miles de personas, lo que convierte a Common Ground en la mayor organización de inspiración anarquista de las últimas décadas en los EE. UU. Recientemente han reactivado el envío de ayuda a Nueva Orleans debido al huracán Isaac, formando el colectivo Occupy Isaac junto a Food Not Bombs, Occupy New Orleans y otras organizaciones locales.

Traducimos la entrevista que realizó Jonny Gordon-Farleigh para la revista Stir a Scott Crow, co-fundador del proyecto, con motivo de su libro Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy and the Common Ground Collective [Banderas Negras y Molinos de Viento: Esperanza, Anarquía y el Colectivo Common Ground]. En la conversación Scott reflexiona sobre su experiencia en Nueva Orleans, algunos problemas que surgieron y en qué medida el movimiento Occupy se enfrenta a desafíos similares.

STIR: Al comienzo de tu nuevo libro, Black Flags and Windmills, citas la más famosa frase de June Jordan: “Nosotros somos a quienes hemos estado esperando”. ¿Crees que cada vez más personas están empezando a verse a sí mismas como la palanca para el cambio social en lugar de esperar que éste les sea entregado por las élites políticas, evitando así las decepciones clásicas que acompañan, tal como recientemente escribió Cornel West, a la “elección” de expertos y políticos como salvadores?



Scott Crow: Bueno, no creo que ésta sea la primera vez, pero sí la primera en mucho tiempo. Odio decirlo, porque no me gusta volver la mirada a esa época, pero es probablemente la primera vez desde los años 60 y 70 que la gente siente que la política falla desde hace tiempo y que eso les afecta. Hubo grandes movimientos por la autodeterminación/control de la comunidad en las luchas de liberación nacional de los años 60 e incluso en los movimientos antinucleares de los años 70.



Al comienzo del nuevo milenio, tuvo lugar la gran revuelta del movimiento altermundialista de los años 90 y principios de 2000, que organizó la primera red internacional de solidaridad, pero se calmó rápidamente debido a los acontecimientos del 11 de septiembre de 2001 —No es momento de desarrollar esto plenamente. Sin embargo, creo que lo que está sucediendo hoy en todo el mundo es resultado de estos movimientos. Creo que el fracaso de la guerra contra el terrorismo, las guerras contra los pobres, las guerras en todo el mundo, lo que sucedió en Nueva Orleans, y el colapso financiero mundial, todo representa un fracaso tras otro de los gobiernos, lo que ha erosionado la últimos vestigios de credibilidad a la idea de que el Estado o las corporaciones iban a ayudar a la gente común. Creo que históricamente hemos tenido corrientes de resistencia y que han surgido a la superficie en la crisis —también ha habido 20 años de creciente organización anarquista en los Estados Unidos, y globalmente, por todas partes se está desarrollando un montón de organización.



La cuestión es que creo que la gente se lo cree de verdad de nuevo —que somos los que hemos estado esperando, y yo añadiría que la historia es ahora. Lo mejor no ocurrió en el pasado. Están pasando ahora, a medida que lo hacemos. Creo que eso es un cambio fundamental en la actitud de la gente. Porque creo que la gente, en los Estados Unidos, todavía tenía cierta esperanza en Obama, porque [su elección] fue importante de cierta forma. A mí también me conmovió también, y personalmente no me preocupa la política electoral para nada —pero me emocioné por la idea de lo que estaba ocurriendo, a pesar de tener mi propio análisis al respecto. Pero creo que los habituales fracasos de gestión continuaron durante su administración, y ciertos aspectos han ido todavía a peor como la invasión de la privacidad y la guerra contra el terrorismo, ese es el motivo por el que ha surgido el “movimiento de movimientos” que supone el movimiento Occupy, en los Estados Unidos Estados Unidos y en todo el mundo.



También es algo cíclico donde las cosas van y vienen. Habiendo estado involucrado en movimientos políticos desde hace más de 20 años he visto que las cosas suben y bajan. Pero nunca había visto nada a la escala que estamos viviendo ahora —y eso es inspirador.



S: Una de las imágenes de las que más abusan las películas post-apocalípticas —donde el Estado y otros grandes organismos bien son incapaces, bien no están dispuestos a ayudar a la población— es la presentación de una comunidad indefensa que es incapaz de dotarse de los servicios esenciales. ¿Puedes decirme de qué manera las comunidades con las que trabajó el colectivo Common Ground tras el Katrina en Nueva Orleans son un contraejemplo inspirador de esta visión? 



SC: Preguntando primero: “¿Qué apoyo necesitan? Y ¿Cómo podemos ayudarle a construir su propio poder dentro de una comunidad? Bloque a bloque. Barrio por barrio. Comunidad tras comunidad.” Decir que la gente estaba indefensa no es cierto. Lo cierto es que no contaban con los recursos, pero tenían las habilidades, el conocimiento, tenían un análisis al respecto; sólo necesitaban apoyo para hacer que sucediera. Así Common Ground en Nueva Orleans, de distintas formas, fue capaz de proporcionar apoyo sin hacerse notar demasiado —pero apoyo que incluía análisis. Estábamos tratando de brindar apoyo para construir poder político y autodeterminación para estas comunidades, no para nuestro propio poder político.



El gobierno no lo vio venir porque es muy grande y burocrático. Tuvimos una organización horizontal y también redes en las que podíamos confiar. Allá donde fuimos pudimos ser realmente eficientes y flexibles porque no teníamos grandes jerarquías ni exceso administración. Si alguien veía una necesidad en una comunidad, se preguntaba a la necesidad si quería ayuda, en caso afirmativo se iniciaba el proyecto. O bien, cuando veíamos una necesidad, como el cuidado de la salud, la iniciábamos. No teníamos que esperar a una orden de una cadena de mando.



Encontramos una pequeña rendija por la que podíamos entrar en estos espacios. El sueño inicial era crear zonas autónomas, como las zapatistas, pero no fuimos capaces. Pero desligitimamos al estado en todo momento. No sólo a los gobiernos. También a la Cruz Roja, que tenía fallos fundamentales, y tenía que rendir muchas cuentas, especialmente durante las primeras semanas. El hecho de tratar a la gente de forma digna y respetuosamente, de ir allí donde estaban, fue muy importante. En lugar de verlos como víctimas, los vimos como gente que había perdido el sentido, simplemente los levantábamos y les decíamos: “Hey, vamos a ir hacia adelante”.



S: Vuestra máxima era “solidaridad, no caridad”. ¿Cómo se asegura un grupo externo que no se convierte en una vanguardia —por muy bienintencionada que sea— al pensar que sabe lo que es mejor para la comunidad que viene a apoyar? 



SC: Mentiría si dijera que no lo hicimos. Creo que es una mezcla —algunas cosas que hicimos eran pura solidaridad, y otras las típicas de una asociación caritativa. Cuando la gente se moría de hambre, no nos limitamos a decir: “Oye, os daremos de comer”. También preguntábamos: “¿Tienes hambre? ¿Es porque no hay educación equitativa por aquí? ¿Porque no hay puestos de trabajo decentes por aquí?” Eso es solidaridad: Decir que no hay comida en su zona no sólo a causa de la tormenta, sino también por una larga historia de desastres que venían sucediendo desde décadas —por la negligencia y el abandono que sufrían estas comunidades. Y por eso decíamos que les ayudaríamos a proveerse de su propia seguridad alimentaria local, vamos a proporcionar un acceso cercano a servicios básicos de salud, y vamos a proporcionar capacitación para el trabajo. Estas cosas son todas las medidas encaminadas a aliviar la pobreza. Pero ¿significa eso que es lo que hicimos con todos y cada uno de los programas que desarrollamos? No. Algunos eran simples tiritas, porque el Estado dejó de hacer lo que se supone que “debe hacer”. Así que hubo momentos en que simplemente proporcionábamos ayuda, ya que era necesaria —Recuerda que hubo situaciones de vida o muerte en las primeras semanas y meses, y que teníamos que hacer tanto lo que podíamos, porque de no hacerlo, nadie lo hubiera hecho.

Todo este trabajo se encontró con diferentes retos, éxitos e incluso fracasos. Debes entender que en todo lo que llevamos a cabo, incluso con las mejores intenciones, nosotros mismos éramos a menudo nuestros peores enemigos. Esto, inmersos en la crisis que nos rodeaba, y añadiendo las intimidaciones y amenazas abiertas del Estado.



Pusimos en pie una organización basada en los principios horizontales que yo diría es la organización de inspiración anarquista más grande en la historia moderna de EE.UU.. Empezamos con unas cuantas personas que se conocían entre sí, pero creció tan rápidamente que tuvimos que aprender en el camino. Quiero comentar un segundo algo muy importante. A pesar de que aspirábamos a ser anarquistas y horizontales de muchas formas, también hubo mucho de organización tradicional que incluyó estructuras jerárquicas. Fue una mezca de las dos, debido a las tendencias de las que provenía la gente, de los pensamientos de cada uno y de los niveles de habilidad que poseíamos.



En Estados Unidos tenemos una naturaleza política muy reaccionaria y con muy poca práctica, en términos de práctica anarquista. Las ideas anarquistas en realidad sólo han surgido de nuevo a la superficie hace 10 a 12 años —en los últimos 90 y en el cambio de milenio. Por lo tanto, no hay gran experiencia práctica en organizaciones a largo plazo y estas cosas jugaron en nuestra contra. Claro, teníamos un montón de fracasos en el camino, pero nos dimos cuenta de que si de manera consciente aprendíamos de ellos, era de esperar que pudiéramos prevenir a otros movimientos de repetir los mismos errores. Hubo algunos retos que no pudimos solventar, porque eran muy grandes y porque crecimos muy rápidamente. Sin embargo, había muchas cosas que podríamos decir, “Nosotros nunca vamos a hacer eso otra vez”. La cuestión es que no quiero mirar a través de gafas con cristales de color rosa, que nos digan que todo fue perfecto, pero tampoco fue horrible. Los movimientos siempre empiezan a verse mejor en retrospectiva, a través del espejo retrovisor mientras te alejas.




S: La toma de decisiones de forma horizontal ha adquirido una mayor relevancia debido al movimiento Ocuppy, pero como Marianne Maeckelbergh argumenta en el caso de Occupy Wall Street, debido a la “gran disparidad en términos de experiencias previas, puntos de partida, objetivos y estilos discursivos” de los participantes en las asambleas generales, rápidamente llegó a ser muy complicada. Esta descripción parece sintonizar con la experiencia de los voluntarios que llegasteis a Nueva Orleans. ¿Cómo asegurasteis que la organización mantuviera estos valores al mismo tiempo que animabais a aquellos que podían no estar acostumbrados al modelo de toma de decisiones horizontal para continuar con su participación? 



SC: Tuvimos un éxito desigual. Creo que se puede comparar con el movimiento Occupy, porque muchas de las personas involucradas provienen de ideas diferentes. Una diferencia respecto a nosotros, sin embargo, es que tuvimos una gran organización, pero también un colectivo cerrado, mientras que los campamentos Occupy sólo cuentan con grandes asambleas generales. También cambiaba de una semana a otra y de un mes a otro, incluso de reunión a reunión, lo bien que se moderaran y lo bien que se utilizaran en ella los principios de unidad, y cuánta experiencia tuvieran los participantes antes de llegar.



Podíamos tener dos semanas completas de reuniones muy buenas y luego tener dos semanas de reuniones terribles que eran atroces. Siempre hubo diversas tendencias en torno a cómo organizarse y en la organización siempre había una tensión que iba y venía, pero yo diría que, en última instancia, si le preguntas a los 20.000 voluntarios que formaron parte de Common Ground en los primeros tres años y medio cuan horizontal era, o lo bien que funcionó, la respuesta dependerá de cuándo esa persona entró y salió.



Ahora, en cuanto a tu pregunta acerca de permitir voces de quienes no están habituados en la toma de decisiones horizontal, no lo hicimos. Tuvimos que marginarlos principalmente debido a la crisis y también por el tamaño de la organización. Hay que entender que en una semana tendríamos 5.000 personas dentro de la organización. Podría haber 200 a 300 personas en cada reunión, 100 coordinadores en el núcleo del colectivo, y 150 proyectos en marcha. Algunos proyectos actuaron como grupos de afinidad y los hubo que funcionaron muy bien porque había un montón de práctica y confianza entre los participantes. Otros grupos fueron completamente disfuncionales.



Una de las cosas que intentamos hacer era crear un conjunto de valores y cultura común. No siempre funciona bien y el conjunto explotaba continuamente, así que teníamos que rearmarlo de nuevo juntos. También tuvimos que reinventar estos valores y principios fundamentales según iban cambiando los voluntarios y pasaba el tiempo. Una cosa que me llevé de ahí, y que concierne en algo al movimiento Occupy, es que tenemos que cambiar la forma en que funcionan las asambleas generales. Mientras que las asambleas generales son buenos para compartir experiencias no lo son tanto como una reunión de valores comunes. Tenemos que dividirla en grupos más pequeños y averiguar qué afinidades tienen unas personas con otras. Un ejemplo, aquí en Occupy Austin, Texas, es que algunos de los participantes todavía quieren votar a Ron Paul, otros sólo se preocupan por las deudas de los estudiantes, y algunos de los participantes sólo se preocupan por poner fin a la Reserva Federal. Si bien, pueden tener valores comunes, como que todo el mundo debería tener aire y agua limpios, esto no es suficiente para reunirse conjuntamente. Así que, ¿Qué pasaría si estas personas se dividieran en grupos de afinidad, donde tendrían una voz, y entonces podríamos empezar a trabajar conjuntamente con un modelos de comités de vocales para encontrar cómo queremos resistir a los sistemas actuales y el modo en que queremos crear nuevos sistemas.



Es un problema continuo en grupos abiertos, siempre tenemos que reinventar la rueda para estas cosas.



S: Me sugiere la idea de diferencia entre democracia formal y democracia sustantiva. Marianne Maeckelbergh habla críticamente en su artículo más reciente sobre Ocuppy Wall Street, de los supuestos básicos que muchos de los participantes mantienen [por ejemplo, la escasez]. Por lo tanto, estamos partiendo de un gran legado de la lógica capitalista y llevándolo a una organización formalmente democrática [asamblea general]. Mientras, el movimiento altermundista se ha centrado en el “cómo” de la toma de decisiones, pero ha restado importancia de alguna forma en el “qué” de esas decisiones — Sobre lo que estamos decidiendo en la práctica.



SC: Estoy totalmente de acuerdo. Lo que pasa es que la gente confunde el proceso con la “democracia” y piensan que si se procede de forma excelente y la voz de todo el mundo se ha escuchado, entonces es necesariamente democrática. Bueno, esto no es cierto. Por otro lado, todo esto requiere práctica —en nuestra vida cotidiana todos tenemos jefes, caseros, cargos electos y empresas que tratan de vendernos mierda o nos dicen qué hacer. Por lo tanto, la cuestión es que la toma de decisiones democrática y participativa requiere práctica.



He estado en más de 22 campos de Occupy y es un tema común que depende de la respectiva comunidad y el nivel de participación, interés y tiempo de trabajo conjunto que todos ellos han tenido. Así nos pasó en Nueva Orleans, también hemos tenido esa crisis, así que realmente tuvimos múltiples crisis. A veces teníamos que forzar las decisiones para conseguir que sucediera algo y fue la experiencia más horrible, porque era antidemocrático. A veces, sin embargo, estábamos hablando de situaciones de vida o muerte en la vida real que importaban más que las voces de todos. Pero una vez más que era difícil tomar decisiones en las asambleas generales con gente que acaba de llegar de la calle y cuya opinión tiene el mismo valor que los que llevaban allí día tras día durante meses. Dar importancia a todas esas voces no es necesariamente más horizontal, más funcional o democrático.


S: ¿Te encontraste con que los activistas experimentados aceptaban estas presiones en el proceso de toma de decisiones? 



SC: No. ¡Algunos ideólogos dijeron que éramos la organización menos anarquista que había existido! [Risas] Si te fijas en mis escritos de la época, escribí varios comunicados para responder a preguntas y cuestiones. Hablas de puntos de partida y muchos anarquistas y antiautoritarios trajeron una enorme cantidad de prejuicios sobre el anarquismo a Common Ground, y me encontré que eran tan problemáticos, si no más, que los que no tenían ninguna experiencia. Era un problema, ya que decían: “No lo estáis haciendo bien”, a lo que yo respondía, “¿En cuántas organizaciones has estado y cuántas situaciones como ésta has vivido?” La respuesta era: “Nunca”, y yo decía:“Entonces, ¿Cómo saber si es correcto o no?” Y terminamos cortando con gente por cosas de estas. Un ejemplo de esto es cuando un grupo de chicos quería servir solamente comida vegana. Era noble y hermoso, pero la gente que vivía en Algiers no era vegana y era en su comunidad en la que estábamos. Así que estos chicos se pusieron en huelga en nuestra contra porque nos consideraban autoritarios. Debo decir, que no les impedimos servir comida vegana, pero sí servir únicamente comida vegana. Y no tenían porqué estar en la cocina, ¡había un montón de otros proyectos que necesitaban atención!



S: En Black Flags and Windmills [Banderas Negras y Molinos de Viento] te refieres a la “revolución cotidiana” zapatista como una fuente de inspiración y experiencia. Tu propio enfoque refleja esta política de “día a día”. ¿Crees que esta “nueva impaciencia” para una mejor hoy en día está empezando a sustituir a las promesas abstractas de un mañana mejor? 



SC: Por supuesto. Un par de ejemplos de esto es el hecho de que hay más trabajadores en cooperativas que nunca; hay más grupos indígenas intentando recuperar sus tierras desde la creación del moderno estado-nación. Hay grupos de consumo locales y de monedas locales. Los bancos, corporaciones, gobiernos unilaterales mundiales como la OMC son demasiado grandes para caer, pero sin embargo todavía caen gobiernos constantemente, son indicios de que algo está empezando a suceder.



El hecho de que el anarquismo como tendencia, como idea, como filosofía, ha ganado terreno en Estados Unidos, y yo también diría en Europa, más de la que ha tenido en mucho tiempo, muestra que la gente está abierta y deseosa de que se habran puertas como esta.



No estoy seguro de cómo os habéis organizado políticamente en Europa, pero aquí, incluso cuando empecé a identificarme como anarquista en los años 90, y especialmente en Texas, de donde soy, ser anarquista no molaba. Era muy extraño y muy difícil de explicar a la gente —y estoy hablando de gente de izquierda. El comunismo y el socialismo era muy fáciles de explicar, pero explicar el anarquismo era muy difícil, y declararse anarquista era casi una palabrota. Si nos fijamos ahora, ya no ocurre —hay artículos en la prensa convencional sobre el tema. Hay debates acerca del anarquismo e incluso se ha convertido en una mercancía en las tiendas. Estas cosas demuestran que la gente quiere depender de sí misma en cooperación, sin ser consumidora o votante. Creo que es muy importante e indica que estamos avanzando hacia proyectos prefigurativos.



¿Hace esto todo perfecto hoy o mañana? No, porque todavía tenemos la cultura y la política reaccionarias [como he mencionado antes]. Hasta que empezamos a soñar con futuros más grandes y comencemos a plantear estrategias para avanzar hacia esos futuros, estaremos atrapados en una trampa reaccionaria o construyendo únicamente en lugares muy pequeños.



Creo que una de las cosas que ha pasado en nuestros movimientos es la extensión de las ideas anarquistas, y esto es anarquismo “de pequeña a” —No estoy hablando de todas las tendencias del anarquismo, donde no estamos construyendo movimientos de masas, sino más bien de movimientos de movimientos. Esto es muy parecido a lo que hicimos en el movimiento altermundialista, pero mucho más claro ahora. Los grupos Occupy de los EE.UU. [y posiblemente en todo el mundo] reflejan lo siguiente: que se unifican en algunos aspectos, pero son en realidad un movimiento de movimientos. Este es un proceso que nunca hemos tenido en este país antes y ahora el siguiente paso es que nos preguntemos: “¿A qué queremos que se parezca ese mundo justo y sostenible?”. La cuestión a la que siempre hago referencia es que mientras siempre podemos oponernos al capitalismo hasta que realmente no nos centremos en la construcción de mundos mejores para todos nosotros, siempre vamos a estar luchando contra las cosas que están socavando nuestras vidas. Si queremos que la gente abandone el capitalismo, entonces tenemos que crear algo mejor y mostrárselo. No creo que las cooperativas de trabajadores sean la respuesta, pero son un paso en la dirección correcto. No tengo las respuestas, pero tenemos que empezar a hacer estas preguntas. A continuación, todos podemos pensar en nuestros futuros y comenzar a hacerlos realidad.



S: Esto me recuerda el dicho, “se hace camino al andar”.

SC: Por supuesto. Lo repito constantemente. Para mí la belleza de un movimiento como el de los zapatistas reside en el hecho de que no tienes porqué tener la respuesta. Sólo tienes que saber que hay algo mejor y luchar por ello —incluso si es diferente de lo que se pensó originalmente.



S: Para finalizar, en su reciente gira So We Stand [así resistimos], Justice Aviation [colectivo que alerta sobre los peligros de la aviación] dijeron: “Una comunidad saludable es algo radical”. Como activista experimentado, ¿Cómo describirías una comunidad saludable? 



SC: A nivel individual es la capacidad de cuidarse a sí mismo y reconocer que los caminos revolucionarios llevan mucho tiempo. Es el mantenimiento de buenas relaciones con los demás, el acceso a atención médica y comida sana. Es también el reconocimiento de que no siempre tenemos que resistir. A nivel comunitario se vería como pequeñas comunidades autónomas asociadas en red por beneficio mutuo. Comunidades que tienen su propia seguridad alimentaria, sus propias fuentes de energía, acceso a agua potable, y la posibilidad de que la gente se organice de manera que prefiera porque no hay un modelo que sirva para todos. De otra forma, también podría ser volver a hacer salvaje un lugar y el espacio para que aquellos que quieran cazar y recolectar y vivir salvajemente, puedan hacerlo sin entrar en conflicto con el mundo natural.



Básicamente, sería comunidades construidas en cooperación —no en perfecta armonía, pero con cooperación. La idea de que estamos criando a los niños en el mérito de la cooperación, no en sus méritos personales, que nos encargamos de las personas de edad avanzada, que nos encargamos del trabajo sucio, de la basura que generamos, de las cosas que creamos, y de mantener el planeta con prácticas realmente sostenibles más allá del petróleo barato. Todo esto se hace a pequeña escala e implica el cuestionamiento de todo lo que creemos que sabemos acerca de la civilización. También significa que el duro trabajo de «vigilancia» entre nosotros mismos, donde conocemos a nuestros vecinos y seguimos directrices en lugar de leyes, porque queremos y es de beneficio mutuo, y no porque algo o alguien nos obligue.



Estas son algunas de mis ideas de un futuro justo. Se necesita de todos nosotros para hacer esto. Nadie va a sacarnos de aquí. Vamos a tener que hacerlo nosotros mismos.

______

Scott Crow es un organizador comunitario, escritor, estratega y conferenciante que aboga por la filosofía y las prácticas del anarquismo para fines sociales, ambientales y económicos.

Hijo único de una madre de clase trabajadora, comenzó su trayectoria política en los movimientos anti-apartheid, pro-presos políticos y animalistas en la época de Reagan. Al final de los años 80 lideró dos grupos políticos de música industrial y electrónica y en los años 90 participó en un exitosa empresa cooperativa de antiguedades y arte.

Desde hace más de dos décadas no ha dejado de usar su experiencia y sus ideas en la co-fundación y co-organización de numerosos proyectos radicales de base en Texas, incluyendo Treasure City Thrift, Radical Encuentro Camp, UPROAR [United People Resisting Oppression and Racism], Dirty South Earth First! y el colectivo Common Ground, la mayor organización de influencia anarquista en la historia moderna los EE.UU. hasta la fecha.

También es autor del libro Blag Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective [Banderas negras y molinos de viento: esperanza, anarquía, y el colectivo Common Ground]


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Austin Film Fest '12: Sparks Fly At Premiere of "Informant" About Controversial Ex-Activist Brandoon Darby

by Stephen Saito
The Moveable Fest
October 23rd, 2012

“Let me say that we had nothing to do with making the film except that we were interviewed for it,” said Austin-based activist Scott Crow in one of the more unusual introductions to ever begin a Q & A session at a film festival.

Proudly identifying himself as an anarchist, but quickly adding that “the world I actually want to live in is an egalitarian world,” Crow ushered a touch of chaos into the typically staid practice of a post-screening chat when he took center stage at the Austin Film Festival’s premiere screening of “Informant,” which had won the festival’s prize for Best Documentary earlier in the day. Crow was accompanied by David McKay, a fellow Austinite who couldn’t attend the premiere of the last film that featured him as a subject – the 2011 doc “Better This World” – because he was incarcerated at the time.

Besides McKay’s presence, what made the evening so incredible was that after a film in which Crow and McKay can be seen being wronged by Brandon Darby, an anti-establishment radical who was involved in activist efforts to restore the Lower Ninth Ward following Hurricane Katrina before becoming an informant who reported back to the FBI on activist activities, each had the opportunity to give their own version of the story without either Darby or the film’s director Jamie Meltzer onhand to field questions.

If they’re to be believed, the portrait of Darby painted by Crow and McKay was far different than the one presented in the film. Crow insisted Meltzer “did a good job for what he was doing,” creating a well-crafted, evenhanded look at Darby by inviting him to sit and tell his own story in which he became disenchanted with the politics of his activist efforts and found his way to being a hero for blowing the whistle on a trio of young protesters, including McKay, at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul who were discovered with a crate of Molotov cocktails – makeshift bombs Darby appears to have had a hand in influencing being made - who has since gone on to become a successful speaker on the Tea Party circuit.

However, McKay and Crow would argue that Darby was a misogynist always out to prove his machismo who attempted to coax both of them and other activists towards violence long before he started participating with the FBI, growing frustrated with his inability to lead in a community of activists where equality was prized, and ultimately is a pawn in a much larger plot in the U.S. to profit off an ever-growing police state.

“This is a pattern by the U.S. government on activist and Muslim communities,” Crow said. “There’s been 500 cases since 2001, so they’re creating terrorism subjects in this country so they can justify this war on terror. It’s all about building military capacity for the police.

Corporations are making money on it. It just happens that this jerk [Darby] will talk about it a lot.”

Sunday evening gave victims of Darby’s testimony a chance to respond, both onstage and from the crowd. McKay, who spent three years in prison after Darby gave him up to the FBI, told the audience: “I feel immense feelings for Brandon, one of them is pity because experiencing those exact experiences with him, as far as I can know as truth and seeing where he has progressed with his own life, I don’t think his story is over in playing itself out, but I know it cannot be easy being Brandon Darby. And I think a lot of people who know him a lot better than I do, do have a little bit of remorse and pity for him.”

“No pity” was shouted from the right corner of the auditorium where some of Darby’s fellow activists from Common Ground, the collective that gave aid to Hurricane Katrina victims, were assembled. Most vocal was Lisa Fithian, another fiery Austin-based activist who stood up to seize the final word on the evening.  

“Brandon Darby has been a problem in this community for many years, back to 2002 and many of us raised issues about Brandon for years,” said Fithian. “But did people listen to the women that raised issues about Brandon Darby? No. Because everybody’s always so fascinated by him. He’s so interesting, isn’t he? Fuck that shit. He’s fucking destructive, he’s hurt people, he’s sent people to jail … If we don’t learn the lessons about how we let bullies and misogynists into our community and continue to be disruptive because we think they’re interesting or we don’t want to stand up to them, we get kids in federal prison.”

Well, it was almost the final word. While Crow seemed pleased that Darby’s story was getting this kind of platform since he believes it’s films like this that “bring some of these stories to the surface,” he couldn’t help but slip in at the end, “He would love it that we’re sitting here talking about him.”

“Informant” plays at the Austin Film Festival once more on October 24th at 3 p.m. at the Hideout Theater. It will next play at the Starz Denver Film Festival on November 9th and 10th at the Pavillions Theater and DOCNYC at the IFC Center in New York on November 11th and 13th .


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Repression against grassroots hurricane relief lingers in New Orleans

by Jake Olzen
Waging NonViolence
November 9th, 2012


The aftermath of Hurricane Sandy has raised the question once again of whether post-disaster relief can help build organizations and networks that will create more resilient communities for the future. In trying to do so, East Coast activists and grassroots organizations — including the Occupy movement’s Occupy Sandy campaign — have been following in the footsteps of Common Ground Collective’s relief efforts in post-Katrina New Orleans. Even now, especially in the wake of Hurricane Isaac, the effects of organizing after Katrina are still being felt along the Gulf Coast.

Since Hurricane Katrina landed over seven years ago, residents of New Orleans and the surrounding communities have faced one environmental and humanitarian crisis after another. The BP Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 severely damaged the Gulf ecosystem, leaving the public to bear the costs. Epidemics of poverty, homelessness, violence and incarceration continue to plague New Orleans. When Hurricane Isaac recently pounded the Gulf Coast with heavy rains that led to extensive flooding in August, it left in its wake another environmental disaster.

In nearby Braithwaite, La., the Stolthaven Chemical Facility has reported that as many as 191,000 gallons of chemicals — including toxics such as octene — may have leaked into surrounding waterways and communities. The Times-Picayune has documented the troubling inconsistencies in Stolthaven’s own reports to those of the Coast Guard and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality regarding the contents of the spill. Residents were allowed to return to their homes — which have been severely damaged — for a few hours a day. With little support coming from government agencies, the continued experience of being forgotten and left to fend for themselves is par for the course for many New Orleans residents.

As people assess the damage and rebuild their lives and homes, the Common Ground Collective is one of the groups trying to help them do it. Common Ground was first established in the days following Hurricane Katrina as a community-organized response to the disaster when enough help did not seem to be coming from government agencies. One of the Common Ground Collective’s original co-founders, New Orleans resident and former Black Panther Malik Rahim, wants to bring it back.

“There has never been a collective like Common Ground Collective in the history of this nation,” wrote Rahim in an email to me. “No other organization can say [it has] provided the multitude of services that we have provided while at the same time exposing the blatant acts that transformed Hurricane Katrina from a disaster into a national tragedy.”

In the aftermath of Katrina, residents of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward were abandoned by nearly every institution meant to help in case of an emergency. Local, state and federal governments turned a blind eye to the most vulnerable communities, leaving the area’s residents — mostly black — to fend for themselves against armed vigilantes and rogue law enforcement as they searched for food, shelter, clean water and medical care. The Department of Homeland Security hired Blackwater mercenaries to protect property. Detention camps — like the notorious “Camp Greyhound” — and an overwhelmed criminal justice system disrupted citizens’ lives for years to come as they sorted out case after case of mistaken identities and wrongful accusations. Rebecca Solnit, in her book about the communities that arise in the wake of disaster, A Paradise Built in Hell, called Katrina a “sociopolitical catastrophe.” This has been the general consensus.

When official responses proved to have failed, a small group of volunteers — activists, DIYers, organizers — came together to do the work of rebuilding a community. The Common Ground Collective thus became the “largest anarchist-inspired organization in modern U.S. History,” according to co-founder scott crow in Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy, and the Common Ground Collective. However, beginning in late 2006, alleged federal intervention played a role in tearing the collective apart.

Solidarity not charity

As many observers were openly criticizing the failure of the Bush administration and Mayor Ray Nagin to meet the needs of the Ninth Ward, it was an added shame that a rag-tag group of ordinary people were doing the relief that the government couldn’t. Contrary to media images and often-held assumptions that disasters create a vacuum for riot, rape and murder, the emergence of Common Ground after Katrina offered a glimpse of a better society than what the people of the Ninth Ward had before the storm. Young people flocked by the thousands to rebuild homes, cook food, clean up debris and repair homes. Health clinics, kitchens, work crews, cooperative housing and shared decision-making represented a viable alternative to the failed social order.

There were also hard lessons that are still being learned by those who tried to embody Common Ground’s mission of “solidarity not charity.” Cooperative and grassroots efforts like this are never supported by everyone, of course. Health department officials seized supplies and tried to shut down clinics and kitchens. Police harassed and arrested volunteers. In spite of all the fear and repression, millions of dollars of aid was raised and untold hours of time, talent and energy was given. But it didn’t last.

Naomi Klein, in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, details the ways in which advocates of neoliberal economic policies often take advantage of times of crisis and disaster, usually against the popular will. The period after Hurricane Katrina was a case in point; privatization was the response of the political class to every problem that arose.

The competing visions for a future New Orleans clashed most openly in Common Ground’s efforts to revitalize the Woodlands Apartment Complex in the neighborhood of Algiers. After Katrina, rent skyrocketed and homelessness was at an all-time high. The Woodlands had all but been abandoned by its landlord when Common Ground stepped in to rehabilitate the complex, implement rent control at pre-Katrina levels, organize a tenants’ association and develop a workers’ cooperative to create jobs. According to Malik Rahim, however, the Woodlands project came to a grinding halt when the Woodlands’ owner (and famous New Orleans restaurateur) Anthony Reginelli illegally raided Common Ground’s Woodlands office.

On October 31, 2006, Reginelli, accompanied by New Orleans police officers, seized — without warrant — leases, contracts, computers and other things that were crucial to the ongoing operations of the Woodlands, as well as the paperwork pertaining to Common Ground’s upcoming purchase of the 13.5-acre campus from Reginelli.

Common Ground had a verbal agreement with Reginelli to buy the former public housing complex, for which Reginelli was receiving federal aid subsidies even after Common Ground took over management. Rahim later admitted that it was a mistake on Common Ground’s part to enter into a “gentleman’s agreement” with Reginelli.

“There was a conspiracy to shut the collective down — literally destroy us,” believes Rahim.

Hundreds of residents were eventually evicted from the Woodlands, dealing a serious blow to the Common Ground Collective, which subsequently spun off into an array of sometimes-feuding organizations, including Common Ground Relief and the Common Ground Health Clinic, formed by anarchist street medics.

“They didn’t want us with this much property and 350 units of coop housing — all done under the direction of a black man,” said Rahim, who finally left left Common Ground Relief in 2010 because, in his words, “of turnover in organizational structure.”

Rahim maintains that Brandon Darby — the controversial Common Ground co-founder who later confessed to being an FBI informant — played a role in sabotaging the Woodlands project.

“Brandon was the only one who knew where [those files] were,” said Rahim.

Rahim’s 2009 Freedom of Information Act request for FBI files detailing Darby’s involvement with Common Ground were denied. The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Rahim seeking the release of the documents. Bill Quigley, one of Rahim’s lawyers and former legal director for the center, called the government’s refusal to turn over anything having to do with Brandon Darby “stonewalling.” The case will be heard in federal court early next year.

With an eye toward preventing this kind of infiltration from happening again in the future, Lisa Fithian, another key organizer from Common Ground, has written an exhaustive account — from personal experience — of Darby’s activities. Darby’s own account of his involvement with Common Ground and his work with state and federal authorities, inevitably, is more complicated. Nonetheless, Darby’s presence — coupled with state and corporate pressure bearing down on Common Ground — prevented the collective from realizing its vision as an alternative to neoliberal capitalism and its oppressive consequences.

Another hurricane, another crisis

As Hurricane Isaac neared the Gulf Coast this past August, Rahim reached out to Gary Roland — who had been one of the early organizers at Occupy Wall Street and then spent time at Occupy NOLA in New Orleans — to help coordinate post-hurricane relief. Roland, along with organizers from the InterOccupy network and other Gulf Coast activist groups, started Occupy Isaac Relief Distribution Network as a way to raise disaster relief funds and coordinate aid projects.

But as soon as Occupy Isaac had set up its community kitchen in the badly flooded city of Phoenix — 20 miles downriver from Braithwaite in Plaquemines Parish — word came that the whole area was contaminated due to the Stolthaven spill. The kitchen closed and Occupy Isaac folded, directing what little support it had raised to Common Ground Collective relief efforts such as resurrecting a tool-lending library for home repair and mold remediation. But Roland and Rahim still have a vision for doing more.

“In the aftermath of Isaac, our focus is on building sanitary housing and on re-kindling efforts to build a ‘solidarity hospital,’” said Rahim. What he envisions would be a replacement for the now-defunct Charity Hospital that used to serve New Orleans’ African-American community.

Rahim — who has suffered health and financial difficulties in recent years — says that the effects of state repression continue to linger, making it difficult to realize these ambitions. But he thinks it may be possible to try now. “I’ve made numerous attempts at re-organizing the collective, but due to the spirits of distrust, caused by Darby and others, the first few years were never right.”

Roland has a background in urban development, and he is drawn to reviving the original vision of the Woodlands — “a sustainable workers’ cooperative in the community,” as he puts it, one that could cultivate farmland to provide organic food and where people could direct a portion of their rent to community projects.

Progress is slow, but Rahim just started receiving his veterans’ pension, which he plans to use for helping the collective establish a legal clinic to protect itself with litigation. A few sizable donations have been made to the tool library, and the Solidarity Hospital and the Common Ground Collective are in the process of being established as formal nonprofit organizations for fundraising purposes. These are small steps, but Rahim and his comrades are continuing to build the resilience to weather the storms to come — from nature, repression and poverty alike — and not give up on their communities.

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As the crow flies

by Vic Cantu
newsreview.com
December 13th, 2012

Anarchist spreads his message to Chico


“I am a revolutionary.” Thus began Scott Crow’s rousing speech about making the world a better place. Speaking in Ayres 106 on the Chico State campus on Dec. 6, Crow, an Austin, Texas-based activist and author and self-described anarchist, advocated fighting for what is morally correct, even breaking the law if need be. And Crow should know—10 of his friends, including his father and uncle, have been jailed for protesting, mostly for vandalism.

Crow spoke of his belief in helping the world whenever and wherever it is most needed, using what he called an “emergency heart,” which is the natural compassionate urge to help others who are in dire straits.

“I always wanted to do what was right,” he said. “I’ve slain giants, but at other times I’ve been a jackass.”

Such efforts, he said, do carry a risk.

Crow directed his listeners to use self-determination to improve the world. “Don’t wait for the government or others to act,” he said.

His proudest achievement, he said, was traveling to New Orleans in 2005 in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. There, he helped as many people as possible by creating several Common Ground Collective relief clinics for medical, legal and social aid. More than one of these clinics violated local codes and regulations to get up and running, and Crow said he was proud to do so in fighting to help Katrina’s desperate victims.

Crow described himself as an anarchist at heart, but spoke of his dislike for many of the so-called anarchists popularized in the news, like the ’80s punks whom he described as “self-absorbed egotists.” He values anarchism as a path to liberation and direct action in creating good for society. His beliefs are detailed in his book
Black Flags and Windmills: Hope, Anarchy and the Common Ground Collective.

“Scott was great,” said Sue Hilderbrand, a Butte College instructor and former director of the Chico Peace & Justice Center at the conclusion of the talk. Hilderbrand had introduced Crow, whose visit was her idea and sponsored by the local chapter of the ACLU, of which she is a board member.

“He is a good friend of mine I met in New Orleans during the founding of the Common Ground relief effort,” she explained. “I also agree with the value Scott places in focused vandalism.” Crow lauded the anarchist vandals at the 1999 Seattle World Trade Organization protests. Tens of thousands at the “Battle of Seattle” displayed dissatisfaction with the world’s financial rulers by marching, chanting and vandalizing local businesses.

Crow explained how vandalism can be useful in certain situations.

“Nobody cared about those protests until an anarchist put a rock through the window of a Starbucks,” Crow said. “[Seattle] was like a coming-out party for anarchy in the U.S.”
Countering the notion that vandalism is always wrong, he offered the analogy of a black slave breaking his chains to gain freedom.

Crow got his feet wet in the field of advocacy back in 1985 by protesting apartheid in South Africa. He explained that, prior to becoming an activist, he voted on many issues he was passionate about, but he never saw the world he envisioned come about. He said he flirted with socialism and communism until he traveled to East Germany and saw the nightmarish reality of what was practiced there.

“It was misery,” he said. “People hated it.”

One of his biggest inspirations, he said, was the Black Panther Party.

“Their nonviolent drive to help the downtrodden by providing free food, education and legal assistance was a huge inspiration to me,” Crow said.

He also recounted being inspired by the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas, Mexico, who he said rose up against what they believed was an extremely oppressive government and collectively cried, “¡Ya basta!” which is Spanish for “That’s enough!”

Crow has come to the attention of the authorities on more than one occasion as a suspected domestic terrorist. He said that for years he was on the government’s no-fly list and that his phone and Internet activities were tapped.

“If I could tell the FBI one thing about me, it would be, ‘Google my name,’” Crow said to laughter from the approximately 100 in attendance. “They saw I was a paper tiger—a puppet with no substance.”

These days, Crow said, he is not out to convert anyone.

“You all have to find the strongest causes in your own Chico community,” he said. As a possible solution to a question from an audience member about Chico’s homelessness problem, he suggested taking over and occupying foreclosed homes.

Crow remains optimistic. He said his speaking engagements are a way to let others know his cause. “Telling people why we do this creates power,” he said.


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Speaker preaches anarchy with a lowercase 'a'

by Kathryn Herron
The Sounds
November 12, 2012

“Do not be afraid.” This advice acted as the climax of a presentation about activism and anarchy by Scott Crow, one of the founders of Common Ground, an organization formed after Hurricane Katrina.

This event was organized by BRICK and occurred at South Puget Sound Community College on Oct. 25. BRICK (Building Revolution by Increasing Community Knowledge), is a club at SPSCC dedicated to supporting community members in their attempts to combat social injustice.

BRICK member Kayla Perez said that the club wanted to bring Crow to SPSCC because his “alternate perspective” supported their overall goal.

Crow’s alternative views include not capitalizing his own name.

“A small letter is a big way to undercut the power and prestige often imposed on an author in the public light,” said Perez.

His “little ‘a’ anarchism is about empowering people,” she said. This message contradicts the government’s ideas of terrorism which, according to Perez, “is about making them [people] cower.”

“[BRICK] is built on a premise that ideas are powerful creatures,” said Perez. Because of this foundation, Crow’s ideas about truth and anarchism really align with the organization’s goals.
Crow describes himself as a revolutionary, rather than a reformer. His strategy is based on four ideas: dream the future, know your history, organize your people, and fight to win.

To Crow, anarchy is based on common sense. Though not satisfied with his first experiences with anarchism, his second introduction brought a greater understanding. Through relief work after Hurricane Katrina and other various projects, Crow determined that activism can only be successful if you are resisting and creating.

“It’s easy if somebody’s hungry to feed them. It’s much harder to find out why they were hungry in the first place,” Crow said, illuminating this issue of connecting different struggles.

“Communism had failed, Socialism had failed and Capitalism is constantly failing. Anarchism provided another way to look at politics, especially on the radical left,” he said, explaining that with anarchy, specific community issues can be connected, rather than only focusing on national concerns.

Crow said he supports the autonomy of a community separate from the government, and the necessity of participatory democracy.

“This is not representative democracy where we are voting it away. I want to hear your voice,” he said.

This autonomy also includes defense and the ability of a community to protect itself, though not always with violence, and the power of a narrative and a vision of the future.

After Hurricane Katrina, Crow helped to found Common Ground, an organization based on the idea of “solidarity, not charity.”

Crow traveled to New Orleans after the storm to look for a friend. When he arrived, two days after levees failed, he witnessed government failure.

“It wasn’t the storm that caused the damage, it was government neglect…It wasn’t an accident, it was criminal neglect,” he said.

According to Crow, various agencies insisted on fighting over who would regulate search and rescue parties while thousands of people remained trapped by the flooding.

For outsiders, the destruction was unimaginable, said Crow.

“Everything that you think you know about the First World is gone,” he said.

Crow’s team decided to combat the pressing issues using civil disobedience to “break the law for higher moral law.”

These actions included not evicting people, helping people that were being forced to leave, and restoring a school without the school boards’ permission.

“We dared the police to arrest everybody,” Crow said.

Crow helped provide those affected by the storm with important resources. Common Ground offered free legal advising, women’s shelters, community defense, food and water distribution, cop watch, prisoner support and the development of community gardens, among others.

When the frenzy of Hurricane Katrina began to subside, Common Ground became traditional nonprofit organization and began working on lower scale projects such as wetland restoration, house building and technical training.

In the midst of this chaos, Crow was labeled as a domestic terrorist, though not officially accused of a specific crime.

“I realized that the War on Terror had started to target us, the general population” he said. “If you are going to have a War on Terror, you have to have terrorists. If we don’t really have terrorists in this country, you have got to manufacture a few.”

According to him, the most popular candidates for terrorists are Muslim people and people of Middle Eastern descent, environmentalists and anarchists. The jobs created and the money made from the War on Terror are the driving forces in its maintenance.

“Government doesn’t want to give up their maintained monopoly of civil society,” he said.
According to Crow, the government targets anarchists because they are easy to find. The only weapon they have against us, is fear, he said.

“If we give into fear, they have already won,” he said. His message urges activists not to stop their work because “the bonds of humanity” are “more powerful than any fear they can instill in us.”

Crow’s final advice encompassed the ideals of determining exactly what you, as an activist, are for.

“Our role as activists is to move radical ideas from the margins to the mainstream,” he said. These radical concepts prompt reform. Activists need to reach out of their comfort zones to present ideas and construct common goals.

Crow concluded his presentation by explaining that the most successful method of spreading ideas is “to build the road by walking” and not being restricted by the pressure to have all the answers now.


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Community Organizer scott crow Talks Shifting Culture Without Government

by DJ Pangburn
Medium.com
Death and Taxes Magazine
February 22, 2013


I recently spoke to noted community organizer scott crow about how average people—people with dreams, vision, grit and motivation—can effect change in a very real and quantifiable way after the vote. This isn't a playbook for smashing some McDonald's or Starbucks windows, but for taking the fight to communities.

A tired cycle exists in American electoral culture. Every two years we vote for federal representatives and senators, and every four years we vote in the presidential election. Each election cycle builds to a critical mass of ideological recriminations, crescendoing on election day.



Americans then rather sadly wash their hands of the mess, and resolve to do very little or nothing to actively make democracy work. There is a relinquishing of the responsibility of democracy to representatives. And as we've seen in the last twelve years of bitter partisan divide, it has produced paralysis instead of results. It has popularized politicians who behave more like actors or programmed holograms than actual problem solvers. 



Mr. crow has had a roughly two decade-long resume of working in community organizing circles, most notably as one of the founders of the Common Ground Collective, one of the largest and most-organized volunteer forces in the post-Katrina wasteland. When W's buddy “Brownie” (Michael Brown) was botching the FEMA response, and the National Guard was enforcing marshall law on New Orleans streets, CGC was busy cleaning out destroyed homes, mobilizing free healthcare, clothing and food, and otherwise delivering mutual aid to a grateful New Orleans population. 



Much of crow's current work involves helping communities build worker cooperatives and local economies horizontally, which is explained in more detail below.



Author’s Note: This is a long-form interview. I am testing the boundaries of what the Internet generation can handle. There will be no cats here. Are you with me?!


We Are More Than Just Voters & Consumers


The voter, says crow, must pass into oblivion. In his or her place must arise the doer, the creator—that person who sees all potential and jumps into action.

Ancient Rome suffered a political paralysis similar to contemporary America. In Rome voters were mostly irrelevant. Into this political void came the Roman emperors who, while bringing some domestic stability, only hastened Rome's fall. Whereas the great American political paralysis might be a melancholic moment for this country's patriots, scott crow on the other hand sees vast opportunities to do great things.

“There are a set of paths in the middle that we haven't even explored to a great extent in this country,” says crow. “The dominant paradigm tells us that we are just voters and consumers with a void of other alternatives. Life—politics, culture and economies—[involves] more complicated social relationships in this country.”

The trick, says crow, is to be a creator: someone who sees new paths and pursues them energetically. “The [new paths] aren't always going to be easy,” says crow. “But we will be doing them together; block by block and community by community, as needed.”

Asked if voting has any real redeeming value, crow is mostly pessimistic. “Voting is a lot like recycling: if you're so damned lazy that you can't do anything else, then at least do that,” says crow. “It’s the least you can do. Pulling the lever or throwing something in the correct bin; neither require great effort or thinking, but neither have real impact either.”

Community organizers like crow have no time for political saviors. They are individuals who eschew antiquated democratic politics. Dreamers and doers who depart the political reservation for more unknown trajectories.

“We've had this mythology of the Great White Hope, that some great leader who will take us from our chains into the future,” notes crow, a little astonished that so many still buy into the collective democratic hallucination. “When ‘he’ fails—as they always do—we blame the person and not the systems that got us there. We need to look anew at our world and think of the different ways we can engage with the world, our city, our neighborhoods, and ourselves.”

“We have other choices,” adds Crow. “Why is that we demand choices in MP3 players, sodas or schools for example but not in our economic, cultural or political systems that affect everything about us and our world?”

Work Outside Your Social Realm


Rare is the occasion when Republicans and Democrats reach across the aisle these days, but the potential for ideological opposites to do so in community organizing is promising. Crow reveals that lately he's been working more with social libertarians (and radicals of all stripes).

“It's been really interesting because they are people who came out of the Right libertarian movement in Texas,” says crow. “These were people who had voted for Ron Paul at different times, and they started to move beyond electoral politics and into this social revolution. They're much more diverse than the typical analysis would lead you to believe. There are rural people, city people, age and intergenerational differences, as well as class, race and economic differences.”

Crow believes there are untold numbers of social libertarians out there ready to get to work.
“If everything fell down today, if everything collapsed, I believe there are more of those people than there are radicals or anarchists in this country who would rally and do things,” says crow. “They might vote but they're also working on community issues like getting clinics started or launching cop watch programs. I've found them to be really engaging and the experience has been quite eye-opening and refreshing.”

Issues Do Not Exist in Isolation

Americans have the tendency to engage issues in isolation. For the extreme (and even the mainstream) conservatives, “socialism,” “immigrants” or “gays” are the viruses corrupting the system—other domestic and international considerations be damned. A matrix of interrelated issues work at one another like a neural network. One cause may have several effects. And that cause may itself be the byproduct of other variables.

“If you want to stop hunger, you can't just go, Well, I'll just feed somebody and it's over,” says crow. “You start with that and then ask, Why are they hungry? Did they not have access to good schooling? So then we need to fix the schools or create new ones. Did they not have good access to jobs? Then we need to create good jobs with a living wage, dignity and respect. Or did they have healthcare issues that aren't being addressed, even just basic stuff? Well then we need to get community clinics in every community so that people can have their basic needs looked at before they become major issues like cancer or diabetes.”

Crow had to look toward more revolutionary movements for this sort of education.

“I had to look at what the Black Panthers and the Zapatistas did for their communities,” says crow. “I had to look at what the Spanish anarchists did when fascism was taking over. They were inspiring in that they helped their people and rebuilt their world. Those are just political references. In every subculture, whether it's religious groups, charities, or hip-hop communities, there are examples of people doing things themselves without waiting for government or other people to do it.”

“In what I like to call 'anarchism with a little 'a',' we need to explore ideas of direct action so that we're not waiting on others to fix the problems,” adds crow. “We will it ourselves. Mutual aid, cooperation, collective liberation—the idea that we're all in this together. But there also needs to be an awareness that you are in this yourself.”

Crow points out the unvarnished political reality: no leader, party or group is going to do this for Americans. But there is a more salient point. Even if a single leader or political party had this sort of desire, the country is far too big and complex for such national policymaking. They are mere band-aids on gushing wounds.

“We need to de-centralize and localize to solve the problems around us, while looking to support other communities doing the similar things and connect on larger issues,” says crow. “And to do this we have to first look at history.”

Create Localized Economies

“It's absolutely cliché to say we need to think globally and act locally,” says crow. “But that's exactly what we need to do while we are creating localized economies (gift, barter or local currencies), opening the common spaces from the holds of corporate private property (like shopping malls) and becoming neighbors again.”

“We need to know what is happening around the world and share the information, successes and challenges that we face in our communities to help each other,” adds crow. “What happens to a rice farmer in India or a landless peasant in Brazil or a family in Appalchia is of utmost importance to me in thinking of supporting each other.” The internet and social media in particular will help in this flow of information.

Perhaps the most important lesson in the recent trend of localization is that scaling down just might be what saves us. It doesn't require a singular savior but hundreds of millions, indeed billions of them. Centralized government and corporations haven't worked for humanity, argues crow. And who would disagree in this second decade of the 21st century?

“Centralizing corporations—these giant pyramids with elites at the top—aren't working out for the rest of us,” adds crow. “And it's not just the 99%—it's not working out for any of us, not even some of the elites.”

Government and industry aren't the only institutions ripe for a downsizing, according to crow—the world's social movements could use it as well. “Instead of having one big movement, what if we have thousands of decentralized movements that are working toward common ideals?” suggests crow. “We need to value difference.”

In crow's practical wisdom this means not one ideological boat but many boats full of a multitude of dreams and ideas. “We start to move at our own pace,” foresees crow. “And we help each other along but maintain our autonomy and differences as individuals, neighborhoods, communities, etc., at the same time cooperating when necessary to reach the goals.”

Organizers like crow have noticed that even corporations are starting to see things this way. “Instead of trying to centralize, they're breaking it down,” says crow. “They see networks having advantages over their traditional hierarchies. Advertising is doing this in the corporate world in what they call micro-marketing.”

Crow also wants people to stop confusing convenience and choices with democracy. This is a difficult proposition in America, a country that has trained its citizens from an early age to expect convenience. And what is voting if not the culmination of convenience culture and democracy?

“A choice of 50 different soft drinks doesn't make us any more democratic than any other country,” says crow. “Especially when those 50 soft drinks are made by five or ten companies. The same could be extrapolated to political parties. There's a perception of choice, but its not meaningful or real and definitely not democratic.”

Build Horizontally

The worker cooperative has certainly entered the popular American lexicon, but it wasn't always so. Intrigued early on by the co-op's possibilities, crow says resources and literature on the subject were sparse. So he and other Austin organizers educated themselves and just started building their own. Eventually it led to horizontalization: the process of co-ops and other services overlapping in communities. Crow has spent the last several years building horizontal worker cooperatives and consulting when he can.

“There's no boss and everyone involved makes the same wage and has the same amount of say in their futures,” says crow. “I'm interested in creating localized jobs for people with dignity, respect and a living wage. These businesses have the potential to be small scale economic engines for localized economies, where we start to close the loop in taking care of our own transportation, healthcare, cultural and educational centers in neighborhoods or communities.”

Crow envisions a community in which these services would be offered to anybody who needs them. “These services would be offered in various neighborhoods and they would start to overlap,” says crow, with enthusiasm that is contagious. “Imagine instead of big box stores taking up acres of land, there were farm stands, free health clinics or small functioning schools on every corner. Community members of all stripes could actually benefit instead of corporations and governments sucking the resources away.”

Empower the Disempowered

A certain percentage of the US population believes that the poor and disempowered can only be lifted up through tax breaks and the good auspices of job creators. While job creation has its economic and political benefits (cynically, employed populations are much more passive than its opposite), it often doesn't empower any individuals in the labor force. There is the perception of power: a wage pays the rent and all of life's necessities. Beyond that, is there any substantial and meaningful empowerment?

“At Ecology Action [a recycling co-op] we often supported the homeless people that surrounded us,” says crow. “First by not criminalizing them but treating them with dignity and respect, then by allowing other service organizations to provide services live HIV information and testing, a needle exchange (which is illegal in Austin). Third we also provided a downtown space where people could sleep after hours as long as they followed guidelines we set up with them.”

Ecology Action, as crow notes, also held meetings with the transient population and made them reinforce the guidelines amongst themselves. “We never called the cops unless severe violence was taking place,” says crow.

Crow remembers one man's empowerment in particular.

“There was this one guy who just had a streak of bad luck, who didn't have a drug or alcohol problem, and he lived on our lot for a year and volunteered,” remembers crow. “We ended up hiring him in and he worked for Ecology Action for almost 3 ½ years. His experience as a 55 year old black man, who had never heard of horizontal organizing but worked at a job where his voice counted was an eye-opening, transformational experience for all of us. When he left he said it was the best job he had ever had.

“It didn’t make us saints or saviors,” says crow. “But it was a small piece of what we could do. And it's not the only example.”

Crow points to the Occupy movement when speak of power sharing. “It was the first grassroots movement of movements in this country, very decentralized,” says crow. “I went to 24 different Occupy camps across the country last year and all of them looked very different. “But there were very similar elements to them: the ideas of participatory democracy, power sharing amongst the people, the use of affinity groups, mic checks, general assemblies and spokes council models, etc. All of those things came out of at least 20 years of anarchism and decentralized organizing in this country.”

Community organizers like crow also see small businesses as integral to real empowerment. “The real engines of this country are small business,” says crow. “Corporations have more concentrated wealth, but there are still more small businesses employing more people everywhere. Some small businesses are starting to make themselves more egalitarian.”

Crow sees a trend of sharing power and resources because it makes sense. But he's quick to point out that this is not just his myopic view. “It's happening all over the world,” says crow, thrilled by this subtle cultural revolution. “And it's happening not because of one voice but many voices.

“There's more worker cooperatives, more intentional communities, consumer cooperatives, agricultural cooperatives than ever before. They're on the rise. And what's beautiful about it is that nothing is driving it but need and necessity.”

Shift Culture, Be An Innovator


Boring, informational leaflets aren't just going to cut it any longer, says crow. Not when corporate media can tailor its advertising message to individual subcultures in communities.

“If we don't create our own counter-advertising, we're just shooting ourselves in the foot,” says crow. “Living in this present political and economic system, we must use its tools. Creating beautiful posters, books, social/web media and videos.”

There is no better advertising than creating something better, says crow. People often need “to be shown by example what it can look like,” says crow. “Make it appeal it to people. Traditional advertising is part of that. Crimethinc has been doing it for 10 years. Just Seeds Artist Cooperative and Little Black Cart press are some other groups that have developed aesthetics with knowledge.”

“Our roles as radicals of all kinds, activists and organizers is to move ideas from the margin to the mainstream—that's really what we do,” says crow, who reminds us that slavery was at one point culturally and economically embedded in America's DNA. “We would not have built this country the way we did without slavery,” says crow. “Working to abolish slavery was an act of sedition—a crazy, radical idea.” This type of cultural shift, says crow, is what is needed in America.

“We need to stop protesting and think of other ways of doing things like creative interventions and valuing aesthetics along the way,” says crow.

No Government Required

It's almost a cliché to say that it only takes a small group of people to make change in this world. But it is a cliché that crow believes in wholeheartedly.

“After Hurricane Katrina, Common Ground Collective (CGC) was one organization of many that was doing things. At the most, we had 28,000 people involved from 2005 to 2008,” says crow. “In that time we served over 150,000 families. It had a huge political, social and cultural impact not only on New Orleans but on grassroots organizations around the United States.” The life-transforming experiences of so many CGC volunteers reverberated.

“Many Occupy participants and organizers came through it,” says crow. “CGC volunteers also went to Haiti as first responders. On the East Coast, Occupy Sandy and other decentralized grassroots efforts have taken CGC's models in new directions. Occupy Sandy organizers reached out directly to some of the core CGC organizers who either went and put boots on the ground or consulted.”

Crow believes that people have more power than they can imagine.

“Change is scaleable,” says crow. “It doesn't take much for ideas to spread. Look at all the bad ideas governments and corporations have spread over the decades. Remember Crystal Pepsi or the War on Iraq?”

Experience More & Be Content Not Knowing the Answers


Not knowing all of the answers doesn't bother crow at all. He believes a community organizer or cultural innovator should be prepared to learn. Lack of answers can function as the seeds for new ideas.

“I learned from the Zapatista Revolution that as revolutionaries you don’t have to have the answers just be willing to look at and be open to possibilities,” says crow, who believes the old days of “1-2-3- steps to revolution” failed and are now dead.

“My other role as an organizer—and part time futurist—is to be an innovator to challenge our own radical assumptions and ways of engaging as well as envisioning and spreading new ideas or ways to engage,” adds crow.

“I do this because I love people and have seen for decades that we have the creativity—once we add the determination and willingness to make substantial and powerful changes, we do,” concludes crow, ever hopeful against the prospect of the unknown.

“We are always standing on the edge of potential—so how is it going to look?”


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