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Refusing the Planetary Work Machine

by Kevin Van Meter
Perspectives Journal

A Review of Silvia Federici’s Revolution at Point Zero and George Caffentzis’s In Letters of Blood and Fire


In the immediate aftermath of the Seattle World Trade Organization protests in 1999, at the peak of the counter-globalization cycle of protest, I stumbled into an office at Long Island’s Hofstra University. Amongst piles of books and photocopied lefty fliers I found a copy of the Midnight Notes collection Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War, 1973-19921 and had a chance encounter with feminist activist-scholar Silvia Federici. Since then I – and the Team Colors Collective, in which I participate – have drawn on the work of Federici and the Wages for Housework Campaign of which she was part, philosopher George Caffentzis and historian Peter Linebaugh of the Midnight Notes Collective, and economist Harry Cleaver, who, along with Caffentzis and Linebaugh, wrote as part of the short-lived Zerowork Collective that predated Midnight Notes. I do not offer this personal introduction as a justification for celebrating the release of these two collections, as much as they should be celebrated; rather, I do so because revolutionary politics are “something, which in fact happens” in “human relationships,” as E.P. Thompson offered.

In what follows I explore the history that situates this work and review the concepts and ideas offered by Federici’s Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle and Caffentzis’s In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines, and the Crisis of Capitalism.2

A Short, Incomplete History of Autonomist Marxism in the United States

In the “Introduction” to Reading Capital Politically, Harry Cleaver proposes a “political- strategic reading” of Marx’s Capital that takes the perspective of working-class struggle. Cleaver argues, “[R]evolutionary strategy cannot be created from an ideological critique; it develops within the actual ongoing growth of working-class struggle.”3 He then locates this perspective in a series of heretical Marxist organizations that he broadly defines as purveyors of an “autonomist” politics. Beginning with the publication of the 1947 pamphlet The American Worker by autoworker Paul Romano and Ria Stone (pen name of Raya Dunayevskaya), Autonomist Marxism was forged in 1950s Detroit in the former- Trotskyist Johnson-Forest Tendency and subsequent organizations Correspondence Publishing Committee and Facing Reality. These organizations, each with their own publishing arm, included figures such as Trinidadian Marxist CLR James, Works Projects Administration Historian and documentarian of American slavery George Rawick, retired factory worker and Wayne State Professor Martin Glaberman, and Chinese-American Detroit luminary Grace Lee Boggs.

The connections between the Detroit-Torino auto industry and The American Worker resonated with Raniero Panzieri, Romano Alquati, Mario Tronti, and Antonio Negri in various journals-qua-organizations Quaderni Rossi (Red Notebooks) and Classe Operaia (Working Class). These projects drew on the Johnson-Forest Tendency, Socialisme ou Barbarie, and various ultra-left tendencies in the Italian Communist Party. Following the 1969 Hot Autumn in the Fiat factories and corresponding student struggles, a new phase of struggle in the social factory was launched with figures such as Paolo Virno, Sergio Bologna, and Franco "Bifo" Berardi, and similar journal- organization hybrids were launched including Lotta Continua (Continuous Struggle) and Potere Operaio (Workers Power). The Detroit-Torino proletariat attacked capital at its highest points of concentration in the auto industry. Subsequently, working class struggle in the auto industry pushed capital to seek new areas for accumulation. Hence capital moves the factory model beyond the factory gates to encompass all of society, in what Autonomist Marxists have termed the “social factory”.

The working class response to the development of the social factory was typified in Italy under the broad movement called Autonomia, which in turn traveled to Germany via the squat movement exemplified by the Autonomen, and was developing in the US and UK during the same period. Militants Paolo Carpignano and Ed Emery, the latter of Red Notes in the UK, served as conduits of this discourse, as did Federici, who was at the heart of the US-wing of the International Wages for Housework Campaign. Selma James and Mariarosa Dalla Costa initiated the Campaign, based in London and Pauda, Italy respectively, and circulated its call via Dalla Costa’s monumental The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community.4 With the advent of the feminist movement in Italy, the UK, and the US, Wages for Housework took Autonomist Marxism in a different direction then its initial focus on male autoworkers.

Herein the Campaign centered the housewife and the unpaid reproductive work they performed, thus furthering the discourse on the social factory.

As a result of the work of the Campaign in the US, and in New York City particularly, a men’s group came together to form Zerowork and launched a corresponding journal. The initial meetings in New York included members of Facing Reality, Wages for Housework, and featured Cleaver, Caffentzis, Linebaugh, and others. Zerowork released two journals in 1975 and 1977 respectively (and produced an unreleased third) before splitting, with Cleaver moving to Austin, TX and a number of remaining members launching Midnight Notes, along with Bostonian educator Monty Neill.

At this time New York City was in the midst of the Fiscal Crisis, mass firing of CUNY faculty, and repression of social movements that echoed the 1979 mass arrest of Italian militants. New York was entering ‘midnight’ with the endless imposition of work, while Cleaver continued to argue that capital was moving toward ‘zero’ work in Austin amidst the tech boom. The Midnight Notes collective, which continued until recently, along with Zerowork, was amongst the first to theorize the importance of the NYC Fiscal Crisis for future International Monetary Fund / World Bank structural adjustment programs. Furthermore, they contributed key analysis on the importance of hydrocarbons – wood, coal, oil, gas – and uranium for neoliberal capital, intervened in the antinuke movement, described the process of “new enclosures” (i.e. structural adjustment, privatization of land and forced urbanization / proletarization, increasing penetration of capital into everyday life), and furthered the Zapatista slogan “one no, many yesses.”

As the 1980's began Autonomist Marxism found its expression in the continuing work of the Midnight Notes collective and with the related project Processed World that was launched in San Francisco. Initiated by Chris Carlsson, who would later go on to found Critical Mass, and feminist Caitlin Manning, Processed World focused on the new forms of work, specifically temporary office work and precarious labor. Combining the aforementioned projects with influences such as the Situationist International, early punk rock, and a playful San Francisco counter culture, Processed World participated in various street actions and theatre in addition to an irregularly published journal.

Reviewing Revolution at Point Zero and In Letters of Blood and Fire

In Revolution at Point Zero Federici locates the beginnings of the Wages for Housework Campaign in the Welfare Rights Movements rather then the assumed burgeoning white, middle-class feminist movement. It is these various perspectives that Federici utilized in her organizing with the Campaign in New York, and appear in Revolution at Point Zero as well as her well-received 2004 volume Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation.5 Moreover, her “Counter-planning in the Kitchen” written with Nicole Cox, is an application of Bill Watson’s “Counter-planning on the Shop Floor” to unwaged work, and further illustrates her position within the Autonomist tradition. “Counter-planning in the Kitchen” offers a important remark – “[p]ower educates.”6 Specifically, against the liberal notion that racialized, gendered, and other oppressive behaviors change through education or changes in consciousness, Federici and Cox argue that the education process comes through refusal, struggle, and political recomposition. 7

Revolution at Point Zero
8 opens with Federici’s 1975 essay “Wages against Housework.” Challenging the notion that the wages for housework demand was simply about the figure of the housewife and wages due, she argues that “[w]ages for housework [...] is a revolutionary demand not because by itself it destroys capital, but because it forces capital to restructure social relations in terms more favorable to us and consequently more favorable to the unity of the class.”9 Put clearly, the demand is for the unwaged work of social reproduction – that is, the reproduction of a particularly important commodity for capital: the workers’ ability to work– to be recognized as such through its refusal. Hence the refusal of gendered, unwaged work is part of class struggle and a class project beyond capital’s imposition of such work. Earlier in the chapter she notes, “women have always found ways of fighting back, or getting back at them, but always in an isolated and privatized way. The problem, then, becomes, how to bring this struggle out of the kitchen and the bedroom and into the streets.”10 Here I see reflections of the women’s consciousness-raising movement of the time but with an added class struggle component. By the 1980s capital was in the process of restructuring its technical composition and attempting to decompose the power that various sectors of the working class obtained in the previous cycle of struggle. In “The Restructuring of Housework and Reproduction in the United States in the 1970s” she argues, “[t]he clearest evidence that women have used the power of the wage to reduce their unpaid labor in the home has been the explosion of the service sector in the ‘70s. Cooking, cleaning, taking care of children, even problem solving and companionship have been increasingly ‘taken out of the home’ and organized on a commercial basis.”11 The predictive quality of these comments should be obvious, as the new forms of labor that capital has developed in the advancing decades has simply created a sector of low waged ‘housework’ performed in others homes while maintaining, and even increasing the imposition of, unwaged housework. Federici argues in her later chapters that what is now called affective work (the “service industry”) is simply capital taking the demand of wages for housework to extreme levels by imposing a form of low waged housework upon the planetary working class, most specifically poor women of color. Finally, Federici calls attention to the need to center reproductive work in our movements: “We cannot build an alternative society and strong self-reproducing movements unless we redefine in more cooperative ways our reproduction and put an end to the separation between the personal and the political, political activism and the reproduction of everyday life.”12

In Letters of Blood and Fire commences with Caffentzis’ monumental “The Work/Energy Crisis and the Apocalypse”. Originally published in 1980s No Future Notes: the Work/Energy Crisis & The Anti-Nuclear Movement, listed as Midnight Notes number two, “Work/Energy Crisis” finds Caffentzis at the apex of his powers. Using multifarious language, he decodes the magic of the market and the energy crisis of the late 1970s. Amongst a wide range of concerns – the state of the antiwar movement, increased imposition of unwaged work on women, the shifting technological composition of capital, theory of machines – he offers two particular cogent insights, amongst many: first, capital transforms value from low sectors (unwaged, service, factory, and farm work) to high sectors (finance, energy); and second, not unrelated, capital seeks “low entropy” workers. “The less the entropy, the greater the ‘efficiency’ [and less resistance offered]: hence the greater the work/energy ratio, the greater the profit” he states.13

In Letters of Blood and Fire14 contains three sections, beginning with the imposition of work, continuing with the theory of machines (a rich discussion that counters the often dismissive analyses of technology that predominate among radicals today), and concludes in understanding capitalist crisis and its origins in class struggle. Taking each chapter in kind might abscond with the red thread that ties these pieces together, and Caffentzis’s writing, while stirring and written with a question / answer approach, could confuse those not familiar with these discourses. Thus, it’s worth describing two aspects of this thread: first, how “counterplanning from the shop floor to the kitchen”15 reveals class composition; and second, how centering class autonomy in the understanding of capitalist crisis illuminates various possibilities for class struggle and in turn critiques those who see crisis as a result of the internal contradictions of capital. On this second point, crisis in capitalism according to Marxian theorists such as David Harvey, Paul Sweezy of Monthy Review, and others, is caused by the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, a crisis of overaccumulation, or the internal contradictions of capitalism; herein the role of working class struggle in causing crisis in capitalism is secondary if it appears at all. Against these analyses, Caffentzis urges us to “read the struggles,” by assessing how struggles are politically composed, how the struggles are overthrowing “capitalist divisions,” how they are reaching their limits and directly confronting the technical composition of capital. By centering class struggle, and the autonomy of the working class from capital, the working class becomes a living, political project rather then a “structure” or “category.” Further contained within this insight is the notion that in refusing work (which encompasses “counterplanning”) in its waged and unwaged forms, the working class moves from a class ‘in itself’ (technically composed for capital) toward being ‘for itself’ (politically composed against and beyond capital), as revealed in struggles. Further, “[f]or much of the history of the working class, this power to be able to refuse work has been rooted in the existence of common property resources or commons that people could access independent of their status as waged workers.”16 Hence the struggle ‘for itself’ contains elements of the commons and practices of commoning. Autonomist Marxism, and this is clear in Caffentzis’s work, sees the seeds of the new society – counterplanning, self-reproducing movements, commoning – as material rather then ideological seeds in the shell of the old.

Revolution at Point Zero and In Letters of Blood and Fire are not collected works nor are they illustrative of the broad scope of these militants’ contributions. Rather, as much of their prior solo and collaborative work, these collections function as particular interventions: Federici’s into the continued gendered nature of social reproduction and the need for movements to center their own self-reproduction, Caffentzis’s into Marxian crisis and machine theory as well as the continued imposition of work. Radicals interested in this American legacy ought to supplement these collections with the work of Midnight Notes, including the aforementioned Midnight Oil, Auroras of the Zapatistas: Local and Global Struggles in the Fourth World War (2001), New Enclosures (1990), and the more recent Promissory Notes: From Crisis to Commons (2009) addressing the current fiscal crisis.17 Further, Federici’s recent collection serves as a complement to her ingenious Caliban and the Witch and various articles on witch-hunts. A collection of materials from Federici and Caffentzis’s years in Africa is yet to be compiled.

There are various resonances between the collections. Caffentzis includes “Mormons in Space” co-written with Federici, and while the Wages for Housework “Copernican Revolution” is omnipresent, his final chapter “On the Notion of a Crisis of Social Reproduction: A Theoretical Review” directly engages with the material in Revolution at Point Zero. Additionally, Federici draws on the larger literature of refusal of work, Marxian crisis theory, and Autonomist Marxism, while critiquing the search for a particular revolutionary subject and the latent Leninism of Negri, Hardt, and others; Caffentzis compliments this by arguing that “immaterial labor” does not in fact exist. These similarities are unsurprising for Federici and Caffentzis have been partners and political comrades for forty years.

Continued Importance of Hydrocarbons, Reproductive Labor, and Refusal of Work

Federici and Caffentzis (as well as their comrades in Midnight Notes) have illustrated the continued importance of hydrocarbons (wood, coal, oil, gas) and uranium, reproductive labor (unwaged housework), and the refusal of work (struggles of waged and unwaged workers against and beyond the wage) for our present moment. To conclude I briefly review these concepts and then read them as tools and weapons for contemporary anarchist and radical currents.18

Hydrocarbons, along with labor-power, is a base commodity that in turn affect all other commodities in a capitalist society; the energy sector, as the intersection of both, thus holds a particularly important place for class struggle. Moreover, “energy” is in fact work, as value is transferred from low sectors (unwaged, service, factory, and farm work) to high sectors (in this case energy). The anti-nuke movement, of which Federici and Caffentzis were active participants and commentators, effectively prevented capital from using nuclear power as an option for accumulation. In a similar fashion, current climate change, anti-fracking, pipeline, and mountain top removal struggles have a role in defending the earthly commons in addition to resisting the ability of capital to plan.

Reproductive Labor serves to conceptualize the myriad of services and tasks, predominately performed by women and those outside of the gender binary, which reproduce labor-power. This encompasses both unwaged reproductive labor and a significant sector of female laborers “employed in the service sector and [as] domestic labor” [who have] migrat[ed] from the Global South to the North.”19 This underlying materiality of reproductive labor is suffering under an increasing imposition of work as welfare benefits are cut, state services are pawned off to the non-profit sector, and the continued precariousness of waged work leaves the working class seeking other avenues for reproduction. To this complex set of realities and struggles, Federici proposes the centering of reproduction in revolutionary movements, in what she calls “self- reproducing movements.” This strategic assemblage takes a few forms: “recognizing domestic work as work,”20 in both unwaged and waged forms; active solidarity with those refusing this work and wages’ struggles associated with this work; and “undoing the gendered architecture of our lives and reconstructing our homes and lives as commons.”21

Refusal of Work when read through a particularly American counter-cultural lens becomes the simple rejection of work and celebration of slack, as tends to happen in our contemporary radical movements. Rather, the rich tradition of Autonomist Marxism in Europe, America, and elsewhere views the refusal of work as a temporal reality at the core of capital – the class antagonism. Refusing forms of unwaged and waged work make this work visible. With the left abandoning struggles around wages and only giving tacit comment to debtor-creditor struggles, revolutionaries have the opportunity to organize against precaritization, divisions of labor, and the imposition of work.

Finding ourselves in the post-Occupy moment, or may I suggest malaise, anarchist and radical movements are apparently stuck in the search for a singular revolutionary subject, the simplistic attraction of moralistic arguments, and the pairing of the desire for immediate results with the rapid turnover of movement participants. Refusing the planetary work machine whilst constructing common resources and common practices can be scaled “all the way down” to everyday lives and “human relationships” – and address the current stuckness of radical movements by reading class conflict from the perspective of working class struggle. Herein mountain top removal is simultaneously about preventing ecological destruction and the capitalist use of energy, debt resistance is concerning debt and the lost wages and incomes that debt represents, and the refusal of unwaged reproductive labor resists the imposition of care-work as it seeks to create relationships based on care-giving. And in turn, refusing the endless imposition of work is about wages due and a world without such an imposition. This “political-strategic reading” begs the question: where do we see refusals against the planetary work machine and what is the political composition of these struggles? It is here – in reading working class struggle as it exists rather then as a “structure” or “category” – where we can begin to develop anarchist and radical movements that move.

Refusing the Planetary Work Machine


Caffentzis, never to miss an opportunity to address the pressing issues of the day, gave a retirement speech at the end of the Spring 2013 semester. As an active participant in Strike Debt and other campaigns, he titled the talk: “My Penance, Student Loan Debt.” Caffentzis’s, as well as Federici’s, recent interventions in the Occupy and Student Loan Debt movement – calling for jubilee – is just the most recent action in a long, illustrious career as militants, revolutionaries, and theorists. Refusing the planetary work machine concomitant with the practices of commoning has been the thrust of their solo and collaborative work. Revolution at Point Zero and In Letters of Blood and Fire thus serve as introductions to the thought of Federici and Caffentzis and as a node in a much larger undertaking.

Biography

Kevin Van Meter is a member of the Team Colors collective (www.warmachines.info) and recently relocated to Minneapolis to complete his doctorate in Geography. With Team Colors, Van Meter co-edited the collection Uses of a Whirlwind: Movement, Movements, and Contemporary Radical Politics in the United States (AK Press, 2010); and with Team Colors, co-authored Winds from below: Radical Community Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible (Team Colors, 2010). Van Meters’ work has appeared in various radical publications and his doctoral research documents American Autonomist Marxism.

1 Midnight Notes Collective (eds.) Midnight Oil: Work, Energy, War 1973-1992 (New York: Autonomedia, 1992); www.midnightnotes.org

2 Both collections are published under the Common Notions (www.commonnotions.org) imprint of PM Press (www.pmpress.org) and in association with Autonomedia (www.autonomedia.org). Silvia Federici. Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Oakland: PM Press, 2012); George Caffentzis’s In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines, and the Crisis of Capitalism (Oakland: PM Press, 2013).
3 Harry Cleaver. Reading Capital Politically (Leeds: Anti/Theses & San Francisco: AK Press, 2000), 57.
4 Mariarosa Dalla Costa. The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community (Bristol: Falling Walls Press, 1972).

5 Silvia Federici. Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2004).
6 Federici. “Revolution at Point Zero”, 37. Credit for insight goes to Craig Hughes of the Team Colors Collective.

7 “By political recomposition” the Zerowork collective states, “we mean the level of unity and homogeneity that the working class reaches during a cycle of struggle in the process of going form one composition to another. Essentially, it involves the overthrow of capitalist divisions, the creation of new unities between different sectors of the class, and an expansion of the boundaries of what the ‘working class’ comes to include.” Zerowork Collective. “Introduction to Zerowork 1” in Midnight, Midnight Notes Collective (eds.).
8 Federici’s collection is organized chronologically from 1975 to 2010, with the exception of one chapter; additionally, there is a gap between 1985 and 1998. One clear error in the collection is the absence of an index.

9 Federici. “Revolution at Point Zero”, 19.
10 Ibid, 18.

11 Ibid, 49.

12 Ibid, 147.

13 Caffentzis. In Letters of Blood and Fire, 55.

14 Rather then being organized chronologically as Federici’s collection, Caffentzis’s book is thematic in its construction. Chapters begin in 1980, eschewing his early work with Zerowork and Midnight Notes issue one titled “Strange Victories”, and conclude in 2010; the three undated chapters are from his more recent period.
15 Caffentzis. In Letters of Blood and Fire, 4.

16 Caffentzis. In Letters of Blood and Fire, 249.

17 Midnight Notes Collective (eds.). Auroras of the Zapatistas: Local and Global Struggles in the Fourth World War (Brooklyn: Autonomedia, 2001); Midnight Notes Collective (eds.). Midnight Notes, No. 10, New Enclosures (Boston: Midnight Notes, 1990), available online at: http://www.midnightnotes.org/newenclos.html; Midnight Notes Collective and Friends. Promissory Notes: From Crisis to Commons (Boston & New York: Midnight Notes, 2009), available online at: http://www.midnightnotes.org/Promissory%20Notes.pdf.

18 For our previous application of these concepts to the contemporary period see: Team Colors Collective. Winds from below: Radical Community Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible (Portland: Eberhardt Press & Team Colors, 2010); Kevin Van Meter. “To Care is to Struggle” in Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, Vol. 13, No. 2 (Fall 2012); and Team Colors Collective. Occupied Zuccotti, Social Struggle, and Planned Shrinkage (New York: Team Colors Collective, 2012).

19 Federici. Revolution at Point Zero, 71.

20 Ibid, 8; Caffentzis. In Letters of Blood and Fire, 269-270.

21 Federici. Revolution at Point Zero, 148.

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An Interview With Staughton Lynd About the Labor Movement

By Andy Piascik and Staughton Lynd
ZNet
April 1, 2014

For more than 50 years, Staughton Lynd has been a leading radical in the United States. He was an engaged supporter of the Black Liberation Movement in the Deep South in the early 1960’s, most notably as coordinator of the Freedom Schools during Mississippi Summer in 1964. He was an active opponent of US aggression in Indochina, including as chairperson of the first national demonstration against the war in Vietnam in April 1965.[1] In recent decades, Lynd has been an attorney representing prisoners, particularly at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, and has written a book, a play and numerous articles about the 1993 uprising at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville.[2]

Since the late 1960’s, Lynd has also been deeply involved in the labor movement as an activist, attorney and prolific writer.[3] Inspired by Marty Glaberman, Stan Weir and Ed Mann,[4] Lynd has been a passionate and prolific proponent of decentralized, rank-and-file driven unionism. In November 2014, Haymarket Books will publish a book by Lynd entitled Doing History from the Bottom Up: On E.P. Thompson, Howard Zinn, and Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below and a new edition of his book Solidarity Unionism: Rebuilding the Labor Movement from Below with an introduction by radical labor scholar and activist Immanuel Ness will be published by PM Press in Spring 2015.
 
Piascik: What is your general view of the state of organized labor in the United States today?

Lynd: My general view, like that of everyone else, is that the labor movement is in catastrophic decline. My particular view is that the reason for this decline is not the Supreme Court, or the McCarthy period, or anything that might be remedied by changing the top leadership of unions, but the model of trade union organizing that has existed in all CIO unions since 1935. The critical elements of this model are: 1) Exclusive representation of a bargaining unit by a single union; 2) The dues check-off, whereby the employer deducts dues for the union from the paycheck of every member of the bargaining unit; 3) A clause prohibiting strikes and slowdowns for the duration of the contract; 4) A “management prerogatives” clause giving the employer the right to make investment decisions unilaterally.

In combination these clauses in the typical CIO contract give the employer the right to close the plant and prevent the workers from doing anything about it. So long as collective bargaining agreements conform to this template, the election of a Miller, a Sadlowski, a Carey, a Sweeney, or a Trumka will not bring about fundamental change.
        
Piascik: You have written extensively about the working class upheaval of the 1930’s, both the early years of the decade and the formation of the CIO.[5] How and why was the CIO consolidated as a top-down organization?

Lynd: It tends to be forgotten that the CIO was created by John L. Lewis. There is now a significant body of scholarship to the effect that 1) Lewis centralized the administration of the UMW so as to minimize the traditional influence of local unions and ran the national union in an altogether high-handed manner; 2) Lewis went out of his way to assure the business community that if they bargained with the CIO such phenomena as wildcat strikes would become a thing of the past; 3) many liberals and radicals such as Roger Baldwin of the ACLU opposed the Wagner Act, believing correctly that the result would be exactly what has occurred and that alternatives such as the Progressive Miners in southern Illinois would be steamrollered; 4) contrary to popular belief, the revival of unionism among miners began from below before the passage of the National Recovery Act with its Section 7 during the Spring of 1933 and the long-lasting miners’ strike the following summer was created and persisted in by rank-and-file miners despite endless attempts by Lewis and his lieutenant Philip Murray to settle it from above.
 
Piascik: You consistently underscore the importance of local initiatives. What do such initiatives look like in practice and why might they be more fruitful than national reform campaigns?

Lynd: At first glance any imaginable agglomeration of local groups appears helpless in contrast to gigantic international corporations. Indeed, in my early struggles with this dilemma, I highlighted the absence in the steel industry in the 1930s of effective coordination between new local unions improvised by the rank and file in a variety of locations.

The same problem presents itself today as low-wage workers in a variety of communities are simultaneously assisted, but also managed by, existing national unions like the UFCW and SEIU. For the moment, the unions say they only want to help these workers win specific demands through direct action. Down the road, however, these same unions may seek to make local direct actions serve as stepping stones to their familiar objective: exclusive bargaining status, complete with dues check-off and no-strike clause.

I have come to feel that the sense of helplessness experienced by local groups may be exaggerated, even illusory. In a single workplace, workers in a particular strategic unit or department may be able to bring the entire enterprise to a halt. Vicki Starr a.k.a. Stella Nowicki describes how this was true when the “beef kill” stopped work in the Chicago stockyards in the 1930s.[6]

Something like that occurred at the giant Walmart warehouse in Elwood, Illinois, near Chicago, two years ago. That particular warehouse handled most of the products flowing into the multitudinous Walmart distribution points throughout the United States. So severe was the disruption caused when these particular workers walked out for a couple of weeks over local grievances that the company not only granted some of their demands but also welcomed them back to work and paid back pay for the time they were on strike! Thus even when confronted with the challenge of national coordination, inquiry circles back to the willingness of small groups of workers in particular critical segments of the production or distribution process to stop work.

Energy should go into building strong nuclei of self-activity on the workplace floor. Stan Weir called such entities “informal work groups.” He was convinced that such groupings come into being wherever human brings work together, and develop leadership of a sort from below, as needed. Energy should not go into electing new top officials.
 
Piascik: Would you elaborate on the drawbacks of the “exclusive representation” stipulation in the NLRA?

Lynd: There are at least three or four drawbacks to the idea of exclusive representation.
 1) The initial contact between a union organizer and a group of workers involves activities meaningless in themselves, such as collecting signatures on cards or petitions which are then forwarded to the NLRB. The obvious alternative is to build solidarity, what Stan Weir called creating a “family at work,” by means of small direct actions.

 2) Once a union is successful in winning a representation election pursuant to Section 9 of the NLRA (now LMRA), it becomes extremely difficult for a group of workers to “decertify,” that is, to choose another union to represent them. In contrast, in Nicaragua during the 1980s a union was selected only for the duration of a single contract, at the expiration of which there was a new election to choose a union to negotiate the next contract.

 3) Self-evidently, the Section 9 process made it seem impossible for a minority of workers to do anything meaningful until it became a majority. As everyone knows this need not be the case, in a workplace or any other setting. The idea of “minority” or “members only” unionism has accordingly been gaining ground. Its leading exponent is Professor Charles Morris, who argues that under the NLRA as originally conceived the employer had a legal obligation to bargain with any group of workers, even if was not a majority.[7] Thus a group in a particular department that was strategic in the enterprise could successfully bargain for better terms for itself. If successful, other workers would be drawn to join the union.

The main problem with Professor Morris’ perspective is that he makes it quite clear that bargaining status for a minority union is only a stepping stone to becoming an exclusive representative. It is my understanding that in many European countries there can be many minority unions, each aligned with a different national political tendency. Such unions may join together for bargaining purposes.

4) I think the Right has a point when it says that existing law and practice strips away the dimension of voluntariness from union membership.
 
Piascik: How about automatic dues check-off? It’s taken almost as gospel among progressives and radicals, not just bureaucrats, that it’s essential to the survival of unions.

Lynd: When Alice and I did interviews for what became Rank and File, roughly in 1970, we asked: What do you think is the main reason for the failure of CIO unionism to fulfill its promise? The answer that received more support than any other was, ‘The dues check-off.’
 Sylvia Woods said that in her UAW local at Bendix during World War II they deliberately did not seek the check-off, because what happens when you have it is: everybody sits on their duffs and nobody does anything.[8] The argument for dues check-off is inseparable from the argument for exclusive bargaining status. If you believe that a voluntary minority can accomplish more than an involuntary majority, the check-off recedes in importance.

Moreover, absent the check-off there is of necessity a greater tendency for activists to stay in the workplace rather than seeking a desk at “union headquarters” in a separate building.

Piascik: Given the severe constraints of no-strike and management prerogative clauses, why is there virtually no discussion even among rank-and-file oriented unionists of the need to get rid of or even modify them?

Lynd: I have asked myself this question over the years.

I believe that the Wagner Act is Exhibit 1 for many radicals and liberals looking back on the successes and failures of the New Deal and of their own lives. I think of my own father, Robert S. Lynd. As a member of the governing board of the 20th Century Fund in the 1930s, he critiqued the Wagner Act for mistakenly presuming that the Act would equalize the bargaining power of management and labor. Yet at a UAW educational conference after World War II, my dad delivered a speech that was well received by the delegates and, according to Victor Reuther, reprinted as a pamphlet by the UAW because of insistent rank-and-file demand. Therein my father said that organized labor was the only force big enough to counter big business, and that the country would move toward socialism or fascism depending on the outcome of this confrontation.

Roger Baldwin of the ACLU, on the other hand, opposed the Wagner Act because he saw how Lewis would use the mechanism of exclusive representation to squeeze the life out of the Progressive Miners in southern Illinois, the union actually preferred by the membership. See Cletus Daniels’ book on the ACLU in the 1930s.[9]

It is always easier to blame someone for the failure of a cherished remedy to deliver a solution than it is to critique the remedy itself. It is especially puzzling that folk on the Left have been so insensitive to the dictatorial heavy hand that John L. Lewis laid on dissidents within his own union, and on nay-sayers within nascent CIO unions. When an initial convention of the UAW voted not to support Roosevelt in 1936 and to look toward a new labor party, Lewis prevailed through UAW president Homer Martin and CIO staff man Adolph Germer to have that vote reversed.

In truth, we live through the cycle of over-adulation of a leader, followed by disillusion with his or her performance, over and over. Labor historians and union staffers sequentially idolize Lewis, Reuther and Murray, followed by Arnold Miller, Sadlowski, Sweeney, Carey, Trumka and others, only to recognize when the smoke clears that the structure of unionism in the United States has not changed . . . but to go looking for another maximum leader!
As we sang in the 1960s, When will they ever learn?

Piascik: What experiences did you have with unions that led you to your present conclusions?

Lynd:
Let me describe three experiences. 1) About 1969 or 1970, while still living in Chicago, I attended with some friends a Labor Against The War gathering at the hall of Harold Gibbons’ Teamsters local in St. Louis. The occasion was sponsored and steered by top national officers such as the Foners, Emil Mazey, Jerry Wurf, and as it turned out, Harry Bridges. The labor movement was five years late in opposing the Vietnam War, leaders like Walter Reuther having supported the war, but the occasion was promising. I found myself attending a rank-and-file caucus. We offered a motion from the floor that there be a single day on which workers all over the country would protest the war in whatever manner suited their circumstances (extended lunch hours, leafleting, local union resolution, press conference, etc.) His voice dripping with sarcasm, Mazey invited delegates to vote on this crazy idea. The resolution passed by about 3 to 1. So the apparatchiks canvassed over lunch and brought on Harry Bridges in the afternoon to ask the delegates to withdraw their approval. They did.

2. In Youngstown, the international Steelworkers refused to support a campaign against the steel mill shutdowns. Their advice was to be concerned about benefits: what Ed Mann and John Barbero derisively called “funeral arrangements.” The national union red-baited Gar Alperovitz and myself. We were defended by the Catholic bishop of the Youngstown diocese, Father James Malone. After our spirited campaign but courtroom defeat in district court, the Steelworkers refused to file even a friend of the court brief in support of our appeal to the federal Sixth Circuit. Now the national union makes happy talk about worker buyouts, more than thirty years too late.

3. Packard Electric, now known as Delphi Packard, had about 12,000 employees when we moved to Youngstown in 1976. Along with or next to GM Lordstown it was the largest employer in the Youngstown area. The local had originally been part of the UE and there was a clause in the local union constitution to the effect that any contract amendment had to be approved in a membership referendum. When the local violated this clause by agreeing to new language permitting 10 or 12 hour days without membership approval, we went to federal court and won. The company and union pushed through an approval process in a fog of misleading propaganda that we were unable to rebut. There are now less than 1,000 workers for Delphi in Youngstown and over 40,000 in Mexico.

The national leadership of these mainstream unions was simply endlessly behind the curve of membership sentiment.
 
Piascik: You mentioned the unsuccessful efforts by steelworkers to take over control of closed mills in Youngstown 35 years ago. In many places, perhaps most notably Argentina, as well as at Republic Windows and Doors in Chicago, such efforts have been quite successful. Is assuming control of shuttered workplaces something unions, together with communities and local officials, should be attempting to do more of and if so how might it most effectively be done?

Lynd: This is the problem that in Youngstown and Pittsburgh we called, “socialism in one steel mill.” Historically, most single distressed companies that have attempted worker or worker-community ownership have either failed or over time become capitalist enterprises again. One runs into a variety of problems.

In Youngstown, we felt it would be a cruel temporary solution simply to buy any of the closed mills without modernizing them. Mere purchase might have cost $20 million. Necessary modernization to replace antiquated open hearths would have cost an additional sum of about $200 million, ten times as much. This was at a time when the guaranteed loan fund, created by the U.S. government to assist the industry throughout the country, was only $100 million.
In arrangements for worker “ownership” as at Weirton Steel, the new start-up capital was often derived by cutting workers’ wages and substituting common stock of the company. Pension experts specifically warn against a pension portfolio overly emphasizing any one company.

Note, too, that Weirton was advised by Lazard Freres,[10] and that while workers held a majority of the common stock they were not permitted to fill a majority of the seats on the board of directors of the “worker-owned” company.

In a worker-owned meatpacking plant, the union president became a member of the board of directors. Only in retrospect did it become clear that the arrangement created a conflict of interest.

Note, too, that it is not clear to me that Republic Windows and Doors has been successful. I believe it has passed through a number of ownership arrangements.

I think there is no substitute for public ownership of the “commanding heights” of the economy. In the midst of our Youngstown struggle, representatives of Swedish metalworkers visited us. It was like a fairy story! In Sweden, when a plant was scheduled to close, printouts of available jobs were posted every day on the shop floor. Each worker received a year’s severance pay, and husband and wife were financed by the government to make a trip to a possible new job site. And public assistance went beyond “benefits.” Sweden had three separate steel mills: one in the far North, where iron was abundant; one inland, where the steel was poured; and one on the seacoast. Our visitors told us that the government insisted that they be combined into a single company.

I worked more than 15 years for a public enterprise, Legal Services, that provided legal assistance to persons who could not afford a private attorney. It was a highly decentralized operation, and it worked.

I remain, as I have been for the last 70 years, a socialist.
 
Piascik: You participated in Occupy Youngstown and have drawn parallels between the Occupy phenomenon and youth-led revolts in 1905 Russia and 1956 Hungary that were joined by workers and became general insurrections. How is this different from traditional views of revolutionary change and how might it apply to the United States specifically and the anti-austerity, anti-imperialist movements around the world in general?

Lynd:
There are different groups and sub-groups in any imaginable Rainbow Coalition for fundamental change. After a good deal of thought, I believe that neither soldiers or prisoners can be the basic force for such change. The reason is that neither group is permanent.

Prisoners are released one by one onto the street, and usually go back to the old neighborhood. They struggle to survive and not to be again imprisoned. Soldiers, too, hopefully come home.

Students are a distinct group but they, too, are temporary. At Oberlin College, students concerned about criminal justice kept that concern alive for two or three student generations, but then it lapsed.

Thus one comes back in the end to workers. Here also there are divisions and sub-groups. Stan Weir used to emphasize how disruptive it was for the informal shop floor networks formed during the 1930s when conscription for World War II picked them off, one by one, and broke up the sub-groups. Adjunct professors represent a potential for change that has not yet organized itself whereas tenured full professors are unlikely to be helpful, at least in significant numbers.
There is a potential for transformative change within the working class, and, I conclude, only there. Manny Ness says that most full-time workers are now in the Global South, and, as in India and South Africa, have been driven to open revolt, not only against employers but against do-nothing hierarchical unions.

Especially in an economy like that of the United States, stripped of manufacturing, “workers” need to be broadly defined. Moreover, it obviously will make a great deal of difference whether workers are encouraged to focus on individual material benefit, or, in solidarity, on common interests.

As women come into the work force more fully and into positions of leadership I believe that solidarity will be nurtured.
 
Piascik: You’ve written extensively about Accompaniment as well as about your decision in the 1970’s to “accompany” as an attorney, historian and writer rather than get a mill or factory job. Could you talk a bit about what Accompaniment means and what you would suggest to a recent college graduate or professional who wants to support the kind of working class movement we’ve been discussing?

Lynd: I continue to believe (see the Conclusion of my book Accompanying [11]) that persons with college degrees can make their best contribution not as manual workers, but as the kind of professional they have been trained to become, in daily contact with, and support of, other kinds of workers. Instead of pursuing a professional career in an academic or upper-middle-income setting, a person who acquires credentials to practice as a useful sort of professional — teacher, doctor or nurse, lawyer, etc. — should consider locating and putting down roots at an address that gives poor and working people easy access to him or her. Perhaps I can best explain what I mean by describing my own experience.

After I got graduate degrees in history, my first teaching job was at Spelman College, a school for African American young women (who included future Pulitzer Prize winning novelist, Alice Walker). We lived on campus, around the corner from Howard Zinn and his family. As a result I was able to hold an honors seminar in our living room. It would have been difficult, in the segregated Atlanta of the 1960s, to do so off-campus.

While I was in Mississippi as coordinator of the Freedom Schools in the summer of 1964, before starting to teach at Yale, Alice found an apartment for us in New Haven, in a moderate-income downtown neighborhood near a good public school. Members of the Yale faculty asked her, “Why would you want to live so close to the university that it will be easy for students to visit you?”

Of course Accompaniment is not just a question of where you live, but of whom you serve. I was fired by the main union-side law firm in Youngstown for assisting individual workers who were at odds with the unions who were the firm’s main clients. When Labor Law for the Rank and Filer was published, Alice and I debated whether to give a copy of the book to the boss. We decided to do so. I was fired at 10 a.m. the next morning.

Fortunately, I had already become a member of the board of directors of the local Legal Services office. I called the executive director, and within a week of my discharge I was practicing employment law as a Legal Services attorney. From time to time, local lawyers at private firms would ask me when I would be moving on to the “real” practice of law. I responded that I was happy as a pig in mud at Legal Services.

Since retirement, Alice and I have been volunteer attorneys for the ACLU of Ohio. From 1978 to the present moment, 36 years, I have been able to practice law for needy clients whom the Legal Services office or ACLU served without charge!
 
1.On Lynd’s many years as an activist, see Living Inside Our Hope: A Steadfast Radical’s Thoughts on Rebuilding the Movement by Staughton Lynd (ILR Press, 1997); Alice and Staughton Lynd’s Stepping Stones: Memoir of a Life Together (Lexington Books, 2009); The Admirable Radical: Staughton Lynd and Cold War Dissent, 1945-1970 by Carl Mirra (Kent State University Press, 2010); and Side by Side: Alice and Staughton Lynd, the Ohio Years by Mark Weber and Stephen Paschen forthcoming from Kent State University Press in October 2014.
2.Lucasville: The Untold Story of a Prison Uprising (Temple University Press, 2004). Layers of Injustice, a booklet by Lynd summarizing the Lucasville story and bringing it up to date, is available from him for $5. Send an e-mail to: salynd@aol.com.
3. Lynd has written articles on labor for Radical America, Liberation, The Industrial Worker, Labor Notes and many other publications. Among his labor books, in addition to Solidarity Unionism and the forthcoming Doing History From Below, both mentioned above, are Rank and File: Personal Histories by Working-Class Organizers (Beacon Press, 1973) and The New Rank and File (ILR Press, 2000), both edited with his wife Alice, as well asa new, expanded edition of Rank and File (Haymarket Books, 2011) in which eight interviews from The New Rank and File are added to all the oral histories in the original edition; The Fight Against Shutdowns: Youngstown’s Steel Mill Closings (Singlejack Books, 1982); and Labor Law for the Rank & Filer (PM Press, 2008) with Daniel Gross.
4.Marty Glaberman (1918-2001) was an autoworker and labor historian who lived in Detroit, taught at Wayne State University and wrote extensively about the UAW. Lynd compiled a collection of his writings in Punching Out & Other Writings (Charles H. Kerr Publishing, 2002) for which he also wrote the Introduction. Stan Weir (1921-2001) was a rank and filer and writer, some of whose writings are collected in Singlejack Solidarity edited by George Lipsitz (University of Minnesota Press, 2004). Ed Mann (1928-1992) was a steelworker and long-time officer in the Youngstown local of the Steelworkers Union. Excerpts from Mann’s autobiographical booklet appear as an appendix to the first and forthcoming editions of Lynd’s Solidarity Unionism.
5.See, for example, We Are All Leaders: The Alternative Unionism of the Early 1930’s, Staughton Lynd, editor (University of Illinois Press, 1996).
6.Rank and File, pages 67-88.
7.See Charles K. Morris, The Blue Eagle at Work: Reclaiming Democratic Rights in the Workplace (ILR Press, 2005).
8.Rank and File, pages 111-129
9.Cletus Daniel, The ACLU and the Wagner Act: An Inquiry Into the Depression-Era Crisis of American Liberalism (ILR Press, 1980)
10.Lazard is a global financial and advisory firm headquartered in New York specializing in investment banking and asset management.
11. Accompanying: Pathways to Social Change by Staughton Lynd (PM Press, 2013)
Andy Piascik is a long-time activist and award-winning author who writes for Z, Counterpunch and many other publications and websites. He can be reached at andypiascik@yahoo.com.


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“Stop, Thief!” – Peter Linebaugh's New Collection of Essays

by David Bollier
David Bollier: news and perspectives on the commons
April 2nd, 2014

It is always refreshing to read Peter Linebaugh’s writings on the commons because he brings such rich historical perspectives to bear, revealing the commons as both strangely alien and utterly familiar. With the added kick that the commoning he describes actually happened, Linebaugh’s journeys into the commons leave readers outraged at enclosures of long ago and inspired to protect today's endangered commons.

This was my response, in any case, after reading Linebaugh’s latest book, Stop, Thief!  The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance (Spectre/PM Press), which is a collection of fifteen chapters on many different aspects of the commons, mostly from history.  The book starts out on a contemporary note by introducing “some principles of the commons” followed by “a primer on the commons and commoning” and a chapter on urban commoning.  For readers new to Linebaugh, he is an historian at the University of Toledo, in Ohio, and the author of such memorable books as The Magna Carta Manifesto and The London Hanged.

Stop, Thief! is organized around a series of thematic sections that collect previously published essays and writings by Linebaugh.  One section focuses on Karl Marx (“Charles Marks,” as he was recorded in British census records) and another on British enclosures and commoners (Luddites; William Morris; the Magna Carta; “enclosures from the bottom up”).  A third section focuses on American commons (Thomas Paine; communism and commons) before concluding with three chapters on First Nations and commons.

This sampler reflects Linebaugh’s eclectic passions as a historian.  They are united by the overarching themes of commoning, enclosure and resistance, as the subtitle puts it. This framework makes for some unanticipated historical excursions, such as the chapter on the theft of forest products and abolition of forest rights in 19th century Germany, which made quite an impression on Karl Marx.  Another chapter – Linebaugh’s foreword to E.P. Thompson’s book on William Morris – situates Morris as a communist, artist, prophet and revolutionary.

Some of the historical explorations journey into areas that are frankly obscure to me, so I don't always appreciate the fuller context and circumstances.  But this is part of the pleasure and fun -- to be introduced to new areas of commons history.  Linebaugh describes a host of historical commons that have receded into the mists of history:

“the Irish knowledge commons, the agrarian commons of the Nile, the open fields of England enclosed by Acts of Parliament, the Mississippi Delta commons, the Creek-Chickasaw-Cherokee commons, the llaneros and pardos of Venezeula, the Mexican communidades de los naturales, the eloquently expressed nut-and-berry commons of the Great Lakes, the customs of the sikep villagers of Java, the subsistence commons of Welsh gardeners, the commons of the street along the urban waterfront, the lascars crammed in dark spaces far from home, and the Guyanese slaves building commons and community….”

I only wish that some of these passing references had been elaborated upon; they conjure up exotic lost worlds unto themselves.

It is fitting that the concluding chapter explores the “invisibility of the commons” – our problem now, as then.  Linebaugh notes how such astute minds as George Orwell, William Wordsworth and C.L.R. James failed to see the commons as commons in their times.  Since then, scholarship has helped to illuminate the importance of customary rights, of grazing commons, and of indigenous commons, notes Linebaugh.  “What is gained from seeing them as commoning?” he asks.  “An answer arises in the universality of expropriation, and a remedy to these crimes must be found therefore in reparation for what has been lost and taken.”

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World War 3 Illustrated, An ‘Open Platform For Protest’ Celebrates 35 Years At MoCCA Fest

by Hannah Means Shannon
Bleeding Cool
April 8th, 2014


I’ve been told that a project based on volunteers, and particularly a project that creates comics, rarely has longevity. Attending the “History of World War 3 Illustrated” panel at MoCCA Fest in New York this past weekend taught me otherwise, and to some extent, my mind is still processing that a work of such integrity has been produced over a period of more than 30 years with such continuous momentum and relevance.

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Moderator Calvin Reid of Publishers Weekly introduced a small battalion of WW3 editors and contributors, and we later learned that a number of contributors were waiting quietly in the audience also, listening to what their colleagues had to say. One of the landmarks that dignified the panel event was the recent release of the Kickstarter-funded large hard back anthology collecting selected comics in a topic-based and chronological system of arrangement, essentially telling the history and the concerns of WW3 Illustrated over the years.

Reid described WW3 Illustrated as an “open platform for protest”, a venue for “setting the story straight” regarding political and social issues, featuring “small, powerfully local interests regularly fucked over and ignored by government interest”. He also noted the propensity of WW3 to document the “slow transformations of neighborhoods from real communities to wastelands”.

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Panelists included Sandy Jimenez, Seth Tobocman, Peter Kuper, Sabrina Jones, and Kevin Pyle, many of whom had worked as both editors and contributors in the anthology’s 30 year history.

For Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman, the history of WW3 goes back, way back to meeting in the 1st grade. At age 7, the two started reading comics and fell in deep, producing their first fanzine at age 11, attending comic cons in 1970, and even meeting Harvey Pekar when he working as a hospital worker in their native Cleveland.

Kuper discussed the history of cartoons and comics that deliver social critiques, and felt that comics possess this impulse in their very “DNA” since storytelling leads to talking about what’s “going on in the world at that time”.  He mentioned the magazines which were “shut down” during WWI in Germany, and the fact that many artists were “threatened with death for doing the kind of images they were doing” to critique society at the time. In the USA, during the Depression era, of course, the WPA, gave artists jobs doing art rather than expecting them to seek other types of employment, and on the heels of that serious treatment of comics, war comics in 50’s gave increasing momentum to socially relevant and hard-hitting themes in horror, sci-fi, and war comics genres.  The brick wall comics hit in the form of Frederic Wertham “sent comics back into its infancy”, Kuper said.

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Tobocman picked up the narrative thread with Zap! and other underground comix, which, contrary to false generalizations, contained “a lot of politics” rather than just sex and drugs. Things were “not just smiling” in 70’s, he clarified. The title “WW3” came from a book by British military leader in 1979 called WWIII, about how a third World War could be waged and how to “win it”, which closely reflected the thinking of the Pentagon and NATO at the time, though the average Joe found the book to be quite shocking in its attitudes. In particular the thing that prompted Tobocman to found the magazine with Kuper was the realization during the Iran hostage crisis that people were suddenly coming forward with strong opinions against Iran despite ignorance of the country and a tendency toward more staid attitudes.  “I have a right to opinion if they do”, he realized, and set to work using his skills from creating fanzines to start a magazine of “political opinion”.

Reid brought up the subject of the “volunteer” status of editors and contributors and asked how the financial dynamic of the magazine worked. Tobocman explained that the policy on the magazine is that if  people do work, they keep the rights to the work, meanwhile receiving distribution of 2-6 thousand copies. There is, however, an increase in influence over the magazine if people “do work beyond their own material”, such as becoming  members of the editorial board to determine what goes into magazine and what doesn’t. The motivation to participate in the magazine is simple, Tobocman said.  “People need a place” to express their views, even though the magazine itself has no “specific political line”.  It’s open to different points of view as long as “you express it with some integrity”, he explained.

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Kuper filled the audience in on the social context of WW3’s launch in the 70’s. There had been a distinct decline in the appreciation of the comics medium, with “head shops” that usually stocked Underground comix being shut down and the scaling back of venues where comics might be taught as an art form. There were plenty of people who “deeply believed in” comics being told they weren’t valuable and therefore they weren’t finding any venues for publishing their work. So, for Kuper and Tobocman, and for WW3, it was “either do it that way” as a volunteer magazine, or find no other venue for publication. Either way, they weren’t going to get paid, so they might as well do it and accomplish something, they felt.

Kevin Pyle confirmed that the idea of getting paid wasn’t something he thought about. Participating in WW3 was “more about having venues for expressing self”. Sabrina Jones agreed, “You do your art, then figure out how to get paid” rather than the other way around.

Kuper put a finer point on it by suggesting that the reason the magazine has been  around for 35 years is specifically because they didn’t  make money, therefore they weren’t constantly arguing about money. The ethos of WW3 has always been to start with “doing the thing” and creating the art out of personal desire to do so.

Sandy Jimenez discovered WW3 when he was just out of college and “discovered some issues at Forbidden Planet”. He was attracted to the subject matter of protest movements and class war. Going along to a meeting, he found that contributors “looked like a bunch of kids” rather than “withered old hippies” and he was sold.

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The fact that the magazine was not driven by profit also appealed to him. He thought of the volunteer aspect as a way of “buying their own freedom to do their comics the way they wanted to” and therefore being free of outside control, interests, or responsibilities.

Some aspects of WW3 that appealed to many of the panelists were its ability to provide a distinctive aesthetic as well as politics, the in-person discussions and meetings, and the development of a network that could reach all over the country and around the world to places “where people don’t know there’s anyone else who thinks like they do”.

Reid asked how the editors decide on acceptance and rejection of submissions to the magazine, commenting humorously that he once submitted a cartoon himself and that is was rejected. Kuper said that occasionally people want to contribute but the comic is not clearly understandable in the way it needs to be, or it takes “cheap shots at people”, which is never their agenda, such as one comic they received that made fun of a councilman for being gay rather than for his economic policies.

Kuper acknowledged that their decision-making isn’t perfect, but since asking people to make “changes” on comics they are doing for free is difficult, they haven’t always been exacting when it comes to art style, instead focusing on “reading for content”. The art might not be “spot on”, but the artist might need encouragement to go forward and improve.  Tobocman added that “if people have a place where they can interact with people their work gets better” and he’s often seen great improvements among contributors over time.

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Since the magazine has spanned many years, one question during Q &A broached the subject of how WW3 has met technological change. Using Facebook to arrange meetings or discussions hasn’t necessarily worked as well as they might have hoped since the kinds of discussions editors and contributors need to have on the magazine tend to work better face to face. For that reason, they’ve continued to prefer meet ups. Skype is a slightly better alternative, giving more human interaction. Kuper reflected on the changes in printing methods that have altered the way they produce the magazine, from its early days of print when they could oversee the actual printing-press production and make sure the details and ink were right to the current use of thumb-drives and sending the magazines away for publication, which can result in quality-control issues.

For the hardcover collection, however, they’ve used a trusted publisher who Kuper has worked with multiple times before. Talking to other publishers beforehand, they found skepticism and demands that they publish the collection “small, and black and white” as companies nervously attempted to assure themselves that they wouldn’t lose money producing the book.

PM Press “stepped up” to publish a full color book with a hard cover, and “no page ceiling”. The book “shows off” the work of WW3 “properly” versus being apologetic about it, Kuper said. For him, the book marks a step to “codify something”,  since WW3 has worn a “cloak of invisibility for many years now” in terms of permanency. Now, with a hard cover, it’s more likely to be seen in libraries and schools, contributing to posterity. The new collection covers the years from 1979-2014 and contains explanatory chronologies of social events and concerns to coincide with the selection of comics.

The most recent magazine, however, is also currently available:

ww3-45-allHannah Means-Shannon is EIC at Bleeding Cool and @hannahmenzies on Twitter



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Off the Cuff: Chris Crass, author, activist and anti-racist organizer

The Oberlin Review
March 14th, 2014

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’
 
What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.
 
How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.
 
I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?


We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

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Liberty, Equality, Geography: An Interview with John P. Clark on the Revolutionary Eco-Anarchism of Elisée Reclus

by Alyce Santoro
Truthout
March 4th, 2014

Social geography is the study of how landscape, climate, and other features of a place shape the livelihoods, values, and cultural traditions of its inhabitants (and vice versa). Frenchman Elisée Reclus (1830 – 1905), a progenitor of the discipline, believed strongly in the rights and abilities of people to manage themselves in relation to their local bioregion, free from rule by a remote, centralized government. His approach to anarchy was unique in its emphasis on the environment – Reclus understood that a mindset that encourages one person or people’s domination over another must, in the race to profit from natural “resources”, also foster domination over nature. Like the social ecologists who have succeeded him, Reclus believed that solutions to ecological crises must involve restoring balance, equality, and a sense of interrelationship between humans and other humans, and between humans and the biosphere.
 
The first half of the recently-published Anarchy, Geography, Modernity: Selected Writings of Elisée Reclus, edited and translated by John Clark and Camille Martin, forms a comprehensive critical survey of Reclus’ philosophy and political theory,including biographical information and historical context. The “modern” manifestations of oppression (including the concentration of wealth and power, surveillance, racism, sexism, and ecological degradation) that concerned Reclus in late-1800s Europe, the United States, and Central and South America are indeed still strikingly – infuriatingly – present. The second half of the book consists of translations of several pieces from Reclus’ extensive oeuvre, some of which have never before appeared in English translation.
 
AS: Can you describe how anarchy – specifically the kind based in mutual aid and environmental responsibility in service to a greater good illuminated here by Reclus, and by you in your book The Impossible Community, differs from other conceptions (or misconceptions) of anarchy, and how it might (as contrasted with other ideologies) be useful to us now?
 
John P. Clark: The world is rife with misconceptions about anarchism.
 
The most historically and theoretically grounded definition – the one that goes back to classical figures like Elisée Reclus – is quite simple: anarchy consists of the critique of all systems of domination and the struggle to abolish those systems, in concert with the practice of free, non-dominating community, which is the real alternative to these systems. Anarchy is the entire sphere of human life that takes place outside the boundaries of arche, or domination, in all its forms – statism, nationalism, capitalism, patriarchy, racial oppression, heterosexism, technological domination, the domination of nature, etc. It rejects the hegemony of the centralized state, the capitalist market, and any hybrid of the two, and seeks to create a society free of all systematic forms of domination of humanity and nature. It envisions a society in which power remains decentralized at the base, decision-making is carried out through voluntary association and participatory democracy, and larger social purposes are pursued through the free federation of communities, affinity groups, and associations.
 
Anarchism is not merely about a transformation of social institutional structures, however. As further discussed in my book The Impossible Community, it also encompasses a fundamental transformation of the social imaginary, the social ideology, and the social ethos. Communitarian anarchism assumes that social transformation, to be successful, must encompass all major spheres of social determination. It recognizes that there are ontological, ethical, aesthetic, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of anarchy or non-domination. According to Reclus and other communitarian anarchists, these are not just vague ideals to be achieved in some future utopia; rather, such a transformation is immediately realized here and nowwherever love and solidarity are embodied in existing human relationships and social practice. Anarchism is strongly committed to “prefigurative” forms of association, and to the idea of “creating the new society within the shell of the old.” In fact, the communities of liberation that we create here and now do more than “prefigure” the ultimate goal; they are actual “figurations” of our ideals, actually giving a form, or a face, to them in the present.
 
By demonstrating that the most deeply rooted social order arises not out of coercion, oppression, and domination, but out of mutual aid and cooperation, communitarian anarchism is a truly revolutionary project. In working to regenerate community at the most fundamental level, it seeks to reverse the course of thousands of years of history in which relations of solidarity have been progressively replaced by market relations, commodity relations, bureaucratic relations, technical relations, instrumental relations, and relations of coercion and domination. The ecocidal and genocidal effects of such relations compel us to consider whether we will remain on history’s present catastrophic course, or seize the opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the flourishing of both humanity and the whole of life in the biospheric community. In the work of Reclus we find universally accessible, immediately implementable alternatives.
 
Reclus cites some of the anarchic forms of human community that have made up much of world history, and remarks that “the names of the Spanish comuñeros, of the French communes, of the English yeomen, of the free cities in Germany, of the Republic of Novgorod and of the marvelous communities of Italy must be, with us Anarchists, household words: never was civilized humanity nearer to real Anarchy than it was in certain phases of the communal history of Florence and Nürnberg.” Today we can add the names of many movements that span the century since Reclus: the collectives in the Spanish Revolution; the Gandhian Sarvodaya Movement; the global cooperative movement; the rich history of libertarian intentional communities; the Zapatista Movement; radical indigenous movements throughout the world; the global justice movement; and recently, the “horizontalist” practice of the Occupy Movement.
 
AS: In his 1898 essay “Evolution, Revolution, and the Anarchist Ideal” Reclus reflects on “the spirit of the strike” and various kinds of cooperative associations (such as bartering of goods and services, collaborative communities, and consumers’ associations) as effective ways to build solidarity. He claims that it is “in struggling for a common cause” together that we form the bonds necessary for the ongoing project of social revolution. In an 1895 letter to Clara Koettlitz he advises the aspiring anarchist to “work to free himself personally from all preconceived or imposed ideas, and gradually gather around himself friends who live and act in the same way. It is step by step, through small, loving, and intelligent associations that the great fraternal society will be formed.” Can you speak on the transformative power of the process itself? Can you recommend some constructive immediate steps for today’s revolutionaries?
 
JPC: The spirit of the strike, which means essentially the spirit of active and creative resistance, has enormous significance in the everyday life of any person who is committed to liberatory social transformation. In our present epoch of looming ecocidal and genocidal catastrophe, each person must make a basic decision. It is a “living, forced, momentous option,” to use William James's famous terms. Each must answer the question, “Am I a resister or am I collaborator?” This is as true for us today as it was for anyone living in Vichy France in the early 40s. We must decide either for solidarity with humanity and nature or for betrayal of both in the struggle against domination. For this reason we might say that authentic anarchists are not merely an-archists but anti-archists. To be an “an-archist,” one who is “not an archist,” might imply something like “domination just isn’t my thing,” or “I’m not comfortable with domination.”  But the true spirit of anarchism, that is, anti-archism, implies that “domination is an intolerable thing,” that “when I see domination in any form I become indignant.”
 
I agree with Reclus’ contention that “small, loving and intelligent associations” are thekey to breaking out of the cycle of social determination and regenerating free community on the larger social level. Such micro-communities are “small” in the sense that they are the locus of primary, intimate, face-to-face relationships, they are “loving” in that they are founded on the practice of solidarity, mutual aid, compassion, and cooperation, and they are “intelligent” in that they are self-consciously transformative, awakened to their own meaning and purpose, the primary social space in which theory and practice converge. As primary communities of solidarity they are the only basis on which a solidarity economy and a larger solidarity society can be created. Reclus believed that these “small, loving and intelligent associations” should not isolate themselves, but on the contrary should develop their lives together in close relationship to their larger communities, always considering their role in the evolution of the whole society toward “the great fraternal society” of the future.
 
While ambivalent towards, and even skeptical of, the role of small cooperatives and intentional "communes" or "colonies" separate from the local community, Reclus believed that an indispensable part of the process of social transformation is the creation of institutions that embody a growing spirit and practice of solidarity at the most basic levels of society.He stressed the importance of the development of a “spirit of full association” in which local communities collectively take on many cooperative projects. He looked to already-existing practices of mutual aid and cooperation as a kind of material basis on which further developments could be grounded.The Reclus family’s life, which was pervaded by love and cooperation, was described by Elisée’s nephew and biographer Paul Reclus as “putting communism into practice.” Thus, Reclus’ own family was in effect a libertarian communist or communitarian anarchist affinity group, his most immediate evidence of what is possible in a future society.
 
In The Impossible Community, I refer to “communities of liberation and solidarity,” but these have gone under many names, notably, the “affinity group” in the anarchist movement, the “base community” in Latin American social justice movements, and the “ashram” in the Gandhian Sarvodaya Movement. In all of these cases, the fact that they have been integral parts of transformative social movements has helped protect them from the pitfalls of self-obsession and self-marginalization that Reclus saw in some intentional communities. Rather than one-sidedly turning inward, they turn both inward and outward simultaneously, and act as the foundation for larger federative activity. We might call them the material and spiritual base for social evolution and social revolution.
 
Reclus’ insights into the “spirit of full association” are desperately needed by today’s anarchists, anti-authoritarians, and all those who are concerned with liberatory social transformation.  On the one hand, many of those who have the most far-reaching visions of social change remain trapped in marginal projects and relatively isolated subcultures. On the other hand, almost all those who are most actively engaged with local communities are in the end co-opted into single-issue politics and innocuous reformism. Reclus urges activists, (who must be, he says, at once “evolutionists” and “revolutionists”) to become deeply engaged in the struggles of actually-existing communities, focusing on the needs and aspirations of ordinary people, while at the same time helping to create new expressions of communal solidarity that are a revolutionary challenge to the existing system of domination.
 
AS: The caption to an illustration of the globe being held up by two hands that appears in the preface to Reclus’ 3,500-page masterwork L’Homme et la Terre (reproduced in this edition of Anarchy, Geography, Modernity) contains one of his best-known maxims: “L’homme est la nature prenant conscience d’elle-même” – translated here as “humanity is nature becoming self-conscious.” Do you think (or might Reclus have thought) that humans are the only biological creature that is an artifact of nature becoming conscious of itself?
 
JPC: Human beings are certainly not the only form of nature’s consciousness. Of course, all consciousness is nature’s consciousness, and since the objects of this consciousness are also nature, there is a sense in which all consciousness is nature’s self-consciousness, as I’m sure Reclus would agree. But the idea that humans are self-conscious nature in a strong sense means that not only do we possess consciousness,we are capable of knowing that we have this quality and guiding our actions accordingly. There is a degree of self-consciousness that makes possible a sense of wonder at the natural world and a sense of responsibility concerning it. It is this self-consciousness that makes possible a narrative understanding of our place in the natural world.
 
We are only now beginning to see the way in which Reclus’ thought made a major contribution to the dawning awareness of humanity’s place within a larger story of the earth. His conviction that “humanity is nature becoming self-conscious” belongs to certain wide-ranging tendencies in Nineteenth Century thought. On the one hand, German idealist philosophy (Hegel, Schelling) and Romantic literature (Wordsworth, the transcendentalists) reinterpreted all of reality as aspects of a Universal Spirit that encompasses humanity and nature, and was becoming conscious of itself in history. But these insights stayed largely on an idealist and aesthetic level, and Spirit remained largely divorced from scientific and material realities. Marx’s historical materialism contributed much of what was lacking in such idealist accounts, in that it interpreted history as the story of the alienation of humanity from its own life activity and productive processes, and of the overcoming of this split and the ideologies that mystify it. This account was in many ways a great advance, in that it was grounded in material reality and took seriously the insights of modern science. Yet it tended toward a reductionism that ignored many of the dimensions of nature and spirit that idealism and Romanticism uncovered. Reclus’ thought was the first attempt at a real synthesis and transcendence of these two perspectives. In his work, Hegel’s story of “Spirit” and Marx’s story of “Man” are raised up (aufgehoben) to the level of the “Earth Story”, a narrative in which humanity is seen as developing in dialectical relation to nature, and in which the opposition between spirit and matter is overcome...or, minimally, that the project of overcoming it is posed seriously.
 
Prior to the late twentieth century,broad, encompassing, synthesizing conceptions of the global and of “globalization” had not pervaded the general consciousness. Yet, well before the end of the Nineteenth Century, Reclus had already begun developing a theoretically sophisticated historical and geographical conception of globalization, one that encompasses the geological, geographical, ecological, political, economic, and cultural spheres. Reclus is thus a crucial figure in the emergence of a conception of globalization that remains more advanced than the ones that predominate even today. He urged us, long before this language even existed, to overcome the “centrisms” that have doomed us. He attacked the egocentrism that raises one individual above others and the anthropocentrism that subordinates the natural world to humanity. But not least of all he challenged his age to overcome Eurocentrism and adopt a truly global perspective. He asks, “Hasn’t it become obvious to members of the great human family that the center of civilization is already everywhere?” [AGM, p.  222]. In the end, Reclus is a visionary and prophet of earth-consciousness and world-consciousness in their deepest senses, senses that are still only beginning to dawn on humanity.
 
Reclus summarizes his project in his two great works, The New Universal Geography and Humanity and the Earth (which together run to nearly 20,000 pages) as “the attempt to follow the evolution of humanity in relation to forms of life on earth, and the evolution of forms of life on earth in relation to humanity.” [Élisée Reclus, Leçon d’ouverture du cours de Géographie comparée dans l’espace et dans le temps. Extrait de la REVUE UNIVERSITAIRE, Bruxelles, 1894, p. 5, my translation]. It is for this reason that he deserves recognition as a founder not only of social geography but also of social ecology. In fact, his rich, detailed development of social ecological analysis makes most of what has gone under that rubric since his time seem amateurish in comparison. We need to reinvigorate social ecology today with the kind of scientific and historical grounding found in Reclus but with a theoretical rigor that goes far beyond his efforts.
 
Reclus’ announcement that “humanity is nature becoming self-conscious” is a quite momentous one, and is certain to become even more fateful as global climate catastrophe accelerates and as we move more deeply into the Sixth Mass Extinction of life on Earth.We need to ponder what is at stake today in the question of whether humanity can actively assume its role as self-conscious nature. Reclus was confident that it would succeed in doing so, and in the process demonstrate that another world is possible beyond the limits of domination. Today, in our much less optimistic age, it is much more difficult for many to believe that such an “other world” is at all possible, despite the fact there are ever stronger indications that the present one is becoming less possible day by day. This world’s ultimate impossibility, even if it is inevitable, remains implausible. For its productive powers, imaginary powers and ideological powers are all seeming testimony to its insuperable reality, and these powerscontinue to expand.  In reality, we have good reason to ask whether, if another world does not rapidly become possible, any world at all will remain actual. The impossible community, the Reclusian community of love and solidarity, is a practical and dialectical answer to this more than theoretical, more than rhetorical question. In the midst of a world-destroying epoch, the impossible community presents itself as a world-making and world-preserving community. In the midst of egocentric cynicism and moral paralysis, it is a charismatic community of gifts and of the gift. It is an ethos that inspires and reawakens the person, sweeping him or her into a new realm of deeper reality and more compelling truth. It is our ultimate hope for the world.
 
 
Alyce Santoro’s interview with John P. Clark on his book The Impossible Community: Realizing Communitarian Anarchism published in Truthout on June 9, 2013 can be found here.

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Notes from the Underground

text by Jesse Drew
reprinted by Tank Magazine
March 2014

As a teenage runaway in the 1970s, media artist and writer Jesse Drew hid out in communes across the US. He describes what they were like

Text by Jesse Drew

In March 1971, I boarded a Greyhound bus headed for a city in northern New England with three other boys and one girl. All five of us were 15 years old and all of us had just run away from home. We had a pocketful of change between us and a phone number to call when we arrived at our destination. The number was given to us by one of our entourage’s siblings, who had connections to an underground political organisation that was then on the FBI’s top ten most wanted list. The bus pulled into town just after midnight and we were dropped off into a howling blizzard. Stamping the snow from our shoes and blinking in the flickering fluorescent light of the dingy bus station, we made our phone call. Miraculously, someone answered, and within minutes we were greeted by a bearded young man, who whisked us off to our first commune, into a network that would be my home, school and refuge for many years to come.



The next day, the five of us were moved from an attic hideaway to a commune in the countryside inhabited primarily by children, with adult collective members as teachers and guardians. We enjoyed roughhousing and playing games like the kids, but as teenagers we were also interested in pot, wine and sex:

we called ourselves the “Middle Earth” people. We were in the “kid’s collective” for about a month before it became obvious that the police and FBI were edging closer to us. We became aware of a strange clicking on the telephone, neighbours being questioned by strangers, the feeling of being observed – the warning signs that would eventually become routine for us. One morning, we were all packed up in a vehicle and moved to a remote communal farm in the mountains. Here, we dug out firewood from snowdrifts, milked goats and tried to find dried herbs to take the place of our cigarettes, which we had run out of. The long dark nights led me to their communal library of Beat and American bohemian literature and poetry, which I read ravenously, starting with Trout Fishing in America.

We could not stay too long in any one place and for the greater part of the year, we were moved from commune to commune, one step ahead of law enforcement, which persisted in taking a great interest in our whereabouts. The collective wisdom was that a blundering group of teenage runaways would surely lead the law to the wanted band of political outlaws that had been able to avoid entrapment thus far. We remained always packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice, sometimes getting a phone call from a neighbouring commune who had just been visited by police, or spotting an unmarked car coming up the driveway. On our travels we experienced first-hand many of the communes and collectives throughout northern New England. To avoid being too much of a liability and a burden, we milked cows, made candles, ploughed the fields, rolled logs in saw mills, raised bees, planted crops, cooked, cleaned, took care of babies and children, and helped out in any way we could. We also discussed racism, imperialism and guerrilla warfare with revolutionaries, sexism and lesbianism with radical feminists, working-class organising with inner-city activists, prison conditions with radical lawyers, essential medical practice with “barefoot doctors”, existentialism and Marxism with avant-garde film-makers. It was quite an experience for a teenage runaway with a ninth-grade education. The communal movement enabled us to move from coast to coast as part of an underground railroad, offering a truly utopian alternative to the usual fate of teenage runaways: drugs, theft and exploitation. In all those years, no one ever turned us away or denied us food and shelter, despite the burden we placed on food-strapped communes and the danger from law enforcement.



The popular perception of a “commune” is as the habitat of the rural “hippie”, a peaceful, longhaired vegetarian who longed to go back to the land and be removed from modern social ills. According to this myth, in the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of such hippie communes dotted the US, eking out an existence of subsistence agriculture, with no television, little outside contact and infrequent bathing. While such stereotypes are fun, they obscure the real legacy and character of these communal and collective projects. In all my travels through the communal network, I couldn’t say I ever actually came across a “hippie” commune. The people I met were not escaping from the world or cutting themselves off from society: they were attempting to build a working model of a different life; they wanted to influence radical change in mainstream culture. Many communards were engaged in resistance to the social order, fighting logging companies, defending family farms, building food co-ops, organising demonstrations, assisting military resisters or simply offering refuge to other activists. We were not a meditation retreat: our communes at various times gave respite to Black Panthers, Young Lords, the radical theatre group the Living Theatre and Lincoln Detox Centre medical personnel from the Bronx.



What exactly constitutes a commune is somewhat subjective. I would differentiate between four types of group living. A commune is a group of people who live with shared property, goals and lives in common. It is a conscious, intentional community whose daily lives are coordinated in general consensus. A collective is a group of people working on a single project, who may or not live together. Then there is co-op living, really just based on shared costs and household chores, with no other goal than convenience and saving money. And a group of friends may live together, but that does not make a commune.



Communes had many different philosophies, structures and sizes. My experience consisted primarily of communes geared toward political activism, but I did encounter others that were more spiritual in nature, progenitors of what would eventually be known as “new age”. These tended to revolve more around “leaders” than our more consensual process. Communards all took a great interest in how things worked in other communes, and there was a great deal of visiting and exchanging notes and resources – about how chores were divided up, how much or how little privacy could be expected, whether monogamous relationships were encouraged or discouraged. Some of these questions led to particularly infamous experiments, such as collectivising all the clothes, or having a roulette wheel to determine who slept with whom that night. Everything was up for grabs, and there were heated disagreements over a whole range of issues – spirituality, vegetarianism versus hunting, violent versus nonviolent resistance.



Communal life had all sorts of benefits for non-members too. Small farmers left to the ravages of bad weather or other misfortune could appeal to the commune for help, picking up hay before a rainstorm, perhaps, or pulling a tractor out of a ditch. Far from promoting an alien idea, we saw ourselves as reviving a very American tradition of collective work, the barnraising. Bringing communards to help a local farmer pull the roof joists up for a new barn renewed a custom that had been dying, as family farm culture had been slowly strangled by corporate agriculture and suburban encroachment.
 


Eventually, life in New England became too intense, with frequent visits from police and undercover spies. It was decided that our group of runaways should be split up and moved out of the area. I would be sent to a remote northern California commune called Black Bear Ranch. After two days by myself in a small cabin on a dirt road, a car pulled up and we drove non-stop to California. I was greeted at the door by two members of The Cockettes, a female-impersonator theatre group. Clearly, I had arrived in San Francisco.



The next day, a local group of Hell’s Angels prepared to drive me out into the wilderness, to Black Bear Ranch. We left late because the bikers, with tears in their eyes, were glued to the TV, watching the funeral of the revolutionary prison activist George Jackson. Seven of us went along for the ride, in an old Ford Econoline van with no passenger seats, hunkered down in the empty back end drinking Red Mountain wine, stopping along the way to take fruit from orchards – grapes, peaches, apricots, plums. In the mountains, we came across a crew of orange jumpsuited men clearing the desolate highway. Our barrel-chested, ponytailed driver took out a few joints from the glove compartment and surreptitiously handed one to each of the guys in the prison work gang. The hand-rolled gifts elicited restrained glee and a secret nod of thanks from each.



At last our van began climbing the long, winding, dusty route up treacherously steep, single-lane dirt roads that led into the remote virgin timberlands. After many hours, we edged past the cabins, teepees, goats, gardens and domes of Black Bear and stopped in front of the main house, a ramshackle bleached white structure with porches. Several people were milling about and came up to welcome us. I was immediately invited down to the creek by a young woman, so that we could cool off in the freezing mountain water and she could show me the new tattoo on her upper thigh.



Black Bear Ranch incorporated many of the most intriguing aspects of the communal movement, and it’s worth describing in detail. Unfortunately, in those days I travelled extremely light, living out of a backpack, with only a packet of phony IDs, a knife and my toothbrush. I had no camera, no journal, no pens to capture my surroundings. Fortunately, though, there are some very good notes and photos on Black Bear Ranch, taken over a period of years by outside observers – and paid for by US taxpayers. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act, I can rely on the FBI’s record of observations collected by external spies and infiltrators, and by aerial photography.



One of the striking things about the Ranch was the sheer remoteness of it, located in an old mining town deep in the Trinity Alps, surrounded by forest. This observation recurs many times in the FBI report:



Captioned commune is located in an extremely mountainous area in southwestern Siskiyou County, California, which is immediately adjacent to the State of Oregon... The property is surrounded on all sides by US Forest Service land in the Kiamath National Forest. Commune located approximately 50 miles from Oregon border and is accessible only after considerable travel on a logging road.



This made it an ideal hideaway for dissidents and political activists on the run. It had no electricity, no phone, no running water. Once the snows came, the land was locked in until spring. There was a public telephone booth in the closest town that the commune used in emergencies – it took an hour to get to it. The booth was bugged by the FBI, who meticulously logged the numbers of outgoing and incoming calls. The primary tone of the FBI file is frustration at the agency’s inability to discern who is actually spending time at the commune. Their traditional spy techniques – telescopes and nightvision from neighbouring buildings, wiretapping phone lines, tampering with the mail – were mostly worthless in the wilderness. Unfortunately for the FBI, to get to know the residents and visitors in Black Bear, you had to physically be there, a daunting task for outsiders. The file notes that it was a hospitable place: “(DELETE) indicated that the individuals located at the Black Bear Ranch were not particularly New Left oriented, but had never been known to refuse food and shelter to individuals in a fugitive status.” However, this generosity evidently did not extend to government agents: “NOTE: ALL OFFICES SHOULD BE AWARE NO INTERVIEWS CAN BE CONDUCTED INSIDE BLACK BEAR DUE TO HOSTILITY OF RESIDENTS.”



Of course, the FBI considered all communes a menace to society. An anonymous FBI supervisor offers this advice: “Experience has shown communes are a haven for revolutionary violence-prone individuals. Any indication that individuals are living in a communal existence should be given immediate investigative attention to establish their identities and determine their propensity to violence.”



For the rest of us, the commune’s remoteness encouraged a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. It was the evidence that the hope many of us had for a new way of living could actually work. The inaccessible place was a perfect laboratory environment to explore and develop alternatives to the status quo, from social governance to technology to food production. In the main house, there was an excellent research lab and library for medical remedies derived from herbs, roots and plants. Many babies were born on the commune, creating a training ground for midwives, doulas and women’s health practitioners and advocates. Food was gathered, fished, hunted and cultivated. Despite harbouring over a hundred people, the group worked together without coercion and outside any capitalist logic: from each according to their ability, to each according to their need. Even the FBI was impressed with our productivity. In the report, some handwritten notes accompany aerial photographs of the land:



Cultivation in fields growing well (more cult. under trees) 25 people in fields (count aprx) * Note: Considering the number of tents and the extent of cultivation, the total population is estimated at approximately 125. More could possibly be supported by present facilities.



Notes from the FBI’s aerial investigation also count two teepees, six “circular tents” (otherwise known as domes), a main building, a barn and several shacks, checkpoints and observation posts. The FBI also took a great interest in the commune’s technological accoutrements, as evidenced by the Cuban Missile Crisis-style photos it took of the land from low-flying planes. An early report convinced the agency that a radio transmitter and antenna had been installed at the perimeter of the main house. It later turned out to be the washing machine and a clothesline: “The writer, with the assistance of (DELETE) flew over the captioned commune at an air speed of approximately 85 miles per hour and approximately 50 feet off the ground on two occasions. Particular attention was given to the area in question, no such towers were observed, and the area in question was identified as a laundry area.

”

I left Black Bear Ranch that winter and headed to an urban collective in San Francisco for six months, where I sold underground newspapers on the street, developed a radical film screening series, became involved in the Food Conspiracy and got to know other urban communes. I then returned to a New England collective farm for several more years. In the mid-1970s, I left the commune I was living in, as interest waned and people drifted away, and moved to a small city where I earned the first pay cheque that was mine alone. I worked as a palletiser in a syrup factory, stacking boxes for forklifts to take away. I confess, I felt a guilty pleasure at having my first wad of bills in my pocket that I could spend any way I wanted, regardless of the needs of the collective. The first thing I bought was a six-pack of beer, which I drank on my friend’s front stoop, hard hat in my lap. I felt no remorse about the commune’s dissolution, no sense of loss.



The communes had played a catalytic role in developing an abundance of ideas that are now seen as givens: alternative fuels and energy, sustainable agricultural processes, sexual freedoms, new forms of participatory culture and grassroots democracy. All sorts of institutions built by communes still remain vital: food co-ops, free health clinics, alternative schools and political organisations. They were also a proving ground for new forms of technology, and the fusion of the new with traditional craft methods had an important, often unrecognised impact on rural America. The communal experience proved to many that you could maintain an alternative life without coercion or threats. There are still thousands of them functioning today, but also thousands of people who have been schooled in such collectivity. I see many of them in leading roles as trade unionists, environmentalists, political activists, media producers and musicians. The communes were a badlands, a refuge, but also an autonomous zone, a place to test out a new way of doing things. That idea has lasted me a lifetime.



A version of this piece first appeared in West of Eden, edited by Iain Boal, Janferie Stone, Michael Watts and Cal Winslow, from PM Press.

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Professor Falcón’s Lessons

Solidarity and Camaraderie in a Puerto Rican Context

by Matt Meyer

On Monday, March 10, Puerto Rico’s leading intellectual — sociologist, educator, lawyer, author, organizer, and Independentista — passed away at age 84. A world renowned authority on colonialism, repression, and Puerto Rican history, Dr. Nieves Falcón was founder/director of the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, founder of the Committee on Human Rights, president of the International PEN Club, and a member of the International Advisory Board of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. He was also this author’s mentor, godfather to my son, and a great friend; it was an honor to be the only non-Puerto Rican to deliver a eulogy at his March 12th funeral. This essay is based on my remarks that afternoon.

We were driving, late at night, in the middle of Manhattan — Alejandro Molina of Chicago-based National Boricua Human Rights Network and me in the back seat. In the front seat was Puerto Rico’s legendary Luis Nieves Falcón, our boss. In the driver’s seat was Dr. Manny Rosenberg, beloved upper west side activist and dentist who daughter Susan was doing hard time for her involvement with the anti-war and anti-imperialist movements of the 1970s and early ’80s. We were brought together by the plans for the 1990 International Tribunal on Political Prisoners/POWs in the USA, but we were held together and pushed forward by the dynamic vision and steel hand of Nieves Falcón. It was the first major public symposium of the current generation which made the issue of political imprisonment in the USA a widespread, central focus throughout left and progressive circles, beyond the movements whose leaders were the ones behind bars. Close to one thousand people attended that momentous event, but the ragtag coalition of individuals and groups who were responsible for it would never have survived without the leadership of Nieves Falcón.

The joke of that story is this: Alejandro and I almost got kicked out of the car and left by the side of the road, for giggling out of control at the conversation between Nieves and Manny. Theirs was a friendship and collaborative connection which expressed and defined the very essence of solidarity: two peoples working together out of mutual respect, love, friendship, and unity for the freedom of all oppressed people and the liberation of all humankind. But to Alejandro and me at the moment, all we could hear was the word “comrade” and the way it was being pronounced — not with a Puerto Rican accent or a New York one, but in the clipped British intonation of a graduate of the London School of Economics (where Nieves Falcon got his PhD)! Here this descendant of African warriors and indigenous Taino peacemakers was saying “comrade” this and “comrade” that like a member of some bizarre communist royal family — and Alejandro and I were rolling on the floor with laughter! Nieves Falcón might have fumed a little at our gentle teasing, but the truth is that I learned a lot that evening about the true meaning of the word.

When one reflects on the legacy of Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón from the context of solidarity and camaraderie, there are five phrases which are important to keep in mind. These attributes should be taken as sign-posts of how to develop effective leaders of the future.

Coalition-builder: Nieves understood like few others in modern times that all great united fronts must be broad enough to reach large and diverse sectors, masses and masses of people, while still being controlled and coordinated by a clear and principled center. This concept is different than old-fashioned democratic centralism and more complicated than social democracy; grassroots initiatives must be allowed to spring up, take a shape of their own, and develop organically in ways appropriate to different communities. In this way, Nieves Falcon took a page from the book of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who noted that “true leadership is not the search for consensus, but the molding of consensus.” Nieves Falcon taught us how to provide strong leadership while allowing large coalitions to flourish.

Internationalist: Without for one moment giving up an inch of his proud Puerto Rican identity — his passion for his homeland and the beauty of its people — Nieves Falcón was a true man of the world. He could and did converse with leaders from every continent, earning respect for the cause of Puerto Rican freedom and for the full recognition of the great Puerto Rican socio-cultural contributions to world history. He did this with great knowledge and appreciation of global dynamics past and present, centering Puerto Rico in an internationalist perspective which holds no place anywhere for empire, militarism, capitalism, or greed.

Master strategist: Few could argue that, as the architect of so many successful campaigns — bringing home the prisoners, working against the Navy in Vieques, working for expanded higher education and legal rights — Nieves Falcón was one of our greatest experts at sizing up situations and figuring out how best to achieve victories. That success might take more years or more money than we could ever imagine was no excuse or deterrent; that we would have to work harder than we ever imagined was a given — but together and focused we would find a way to win. Reforms were understood in calculated fashion as part of the larger efforts for more radical and revolutionary social change. And Nieves Falcón’s eyes, and all of the campaigns he led, were always set on the goal of full freedom and liberation for the Puerto Rican people, and for all people.

Master teacher: The way in which Luis told stories, with his whole body and with every nuance of every language he so expertly crafted, one was bound to listen and learn. Whether talking to a group of young women and men with little consciousness, or to experienced professionals, Nieves made you want not just to comprehend, but to act. His teaching was always in the service of social justice and action, with an aim to move forward in new ways which would enable each of us to fulfill the best of our potential. Education, for Professor Falcón, was based on the need for collective understanding to lead to lasting change.

Defender of the people: In San Juan, it is the stuff of legend that noted scholar Luis Nieves Falcón — at a time when all of his colleagues were preparing to retire – decided to leave his comfortable position at the University of Puerto Rico and work to obtain a law degree. He did this for the sole purpose of defending the imprisoned Puerto Rican independence activists who were languishing in US jails with lengthy sentences served under torturous conditions typical of the treatment of political prisoners; over a dozen had been found guilty of the “thought crime” of seditious conspiracy: planning a world where basic Puerto Rican rights, culture, and policy wouldn’t be under foreign control. As legal counsel, Nieves Falcón knew he had a new key to get into the jails and converse with his fellow patriots. More importantly, however, he also understood that he had only earned a one-way key: he could get in, but his legal skills alone could not get his compatriots out. Nieves Falcón was the type of lawyer who always comprehended that, in working for freedom, legal struggle must be coordinated with political struggle; no courtroom or negotiated maneuver could substitute for the door-to-door, grassroots campaigns which would mobilize a nation to call for the freedom of its prisoners, to call now for the immediate release of Oscar López Rivera. Nieves Falcón was much more than just a lawyer; he was a true defender of the people.

We love Luis Nieves Falcón, and the true, loving comrade that he was to so many of us. We understand that, like all people, he had faults and shortcomings, and could be a master pain in our sides! But as we mourn the loss of Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón, we understand that today’s message — Nieves Falcón’s message — is, more than ever: Don’t mourn, organize!

Matt Meyer is a New York City-based educator, author, and activist who serves as War Resisters International Africa Support Network Coordinator and as a UN/ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. His recent books include Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan-African Insights on Nonviolence, Armed Struggle and Liberation (Africa World Press, 2000), the two-volume collection Seeds of New Hope: Pan African Peace Studies for the 21st Century (Africa World Press, 2008, 2010), and Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U. S. Political Prisoners (PM Press, 2008). Meyer is a contributing member of the Editorial Advisory Board for New Clear Vision.

- See more at: http://www.newclearvision.com/2014/03/14/professor-falcons-lessons/#sthash.ybkPsbky.dpuf

Solidarity and Camaraderie in a Puerto Rican Context

by Matt Meyer

On Monday, March 10, Puerto Rico’s leading intellectual — sociologist, educator, lawyer, author, organizer, and Independentista — passed away at age 84. A world renowned authority on colonialism, repression, and Puerto Rican history, Dr. Nieves Falcón was founder/director of the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, founder of the Committee on Human Rights, president of the International PEN Club, and a member of the International Advisory Board of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. He was also this author’s mentor, godfather to my son, and a great friend; it was an honor to be the only non-Puerto Rican to deliver a eulogy at his March 12th funeral. This essay is based on my remarks that afternoon.

We were driving, late at night, in the middle of Manhattan — Alejandro Molina of Chicago-based National Boricua Human Rights Network and me in the back seat. In the front seat was Puerto Rico’s legendary Luis Nieves Falcón, our boss. In the driver’s seat was Dr. Manny Rosenberg, beloved upper west side activist and dentist who daughter Susan was doing hard time for her involvement with the anti-war and anti-imperialist movements of the 1970s and early ’80s. We were brought together by the plans for the 1990 International Tribunal on Political Prisoners/POWs in the USA, but we were held together and pushed forward by the dynamic vision and steel hand of Nieves Falcón. It was the first major public symposium of the current generation which made the issue of political imprisonment in the USA a widespread, central focus throughout left and progressive circles, beyond the movements whose leaders were the ones behind bars. Close to one thousand people attended that momentous event, but the ragtag coalition of individuals and groups who were responsible for it would never have survived without the leadership of Nieves Falcón.

The joke of that story is this: Alejandro and I almost got kicked out of the car and left by the side of the road, for giggling out of control at the conversation between Nieves and Manny. Theirs was a friendship and collaborative connection which expressed and defined the very essence of solidarity: two peoples working together out of mutual respect, love, friendship, and unity for the freedom of all oppressed people and the liberation of all humankind. But to Alejandro and me at the moment, all we could hear was the word “comrade” and the way it was being pronounced — not with a Puerto Rican accent or a New York one, but in the clipped British intonation of a graduate of the London School of Economics (where Nieves Falcon got his PhD)! Here this descendant of African warriors and indigenous Taino peacemakers was saying “comrade” this and “comrade” that like a member of some bizarre communist royal family — and Alejandro and I were rolling on the floor with laughter! Nieves Falcón might have fumed a little at our gentle teasing, but the truth is that I learned a lot that evening about the true meaning of the word.

When one reflects on the legacy of Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón from the context of solidarity and camaraderie, there are five phrases which are important to keep in mind. These attributes should be taken as sign-posts of how to develop effective leaders of the future.

Coalition-builder: Nieves understood like few others in modern times that all great united fronts must be broad enough to reach large and diverse sectors, masses and masses of people, while still being controlled and coordinated by a clear and principled center. This concept is different than old-fashioned democratic centralism and more complicated than social democracy; grassroots initiatives must be allowed to spring up, take a shape of their own, and develop organically in ways appropriate to different communities. In this way, Nieves Falcon took a page from the book of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who noted that “true leadership is not the search for consensus, but the molding of consensus.” Nieves Falcon taught us how to provide strong leadership while allowing large coalitions to flourish.

Internationalist: Without for one moment giving up an inch of his proud Puerto Rican identity — his passion for his homeland and the beauty of its people — Nieves Falcón was a true man of the world. He could and did converse with leaders from every continent, earning respect for the cause of Puerto Rican freedom and for the full recognition of the great Puerto Rican socio-cultural contributions to world history. He did this with great knowledge and appreciation of global dynamics past and present, centering Puerto Rico in an internationalist perspective which holds no place anywhere for empire, militarism, capitalism, or greed.

Master strategist: Few could argue that, as the architect of so many successful campaigns — bringing home the prisoners, working against the Navy in Vieques, working for expanded higher education and legal rights — Nieves Falcón was one of our greatest experts at sizing up situations and figuring out how best to achieve victories. That success might take more years or more money than we could ever imagine was no excuse or deterrent; that we would have to work harder than we ever imagined was a given — but together and focused we would find a way to win. Reforms were understood in calculated fashion as part of the larger efforts for more radical and revolutionary social change. And Nieves Falcón’s eyes, and all of the campaigns he led, were always set on the goal of full freedom and liberation for the Puerto Rican people, and for all people.

Master teacher: The way in which Luis told stories, with his whole body and with every nuance of every language he so expertly crafted, one was bound to listen and learn. Whether talking to a group of young women and men with little consciousness, or to experienced professionals, Nieves made you want not just to comprehend, but to act. His teaching was always in the service of social justice and action, with an aim to move forward in new ways which would enable each of us to fulfill the best of our potential. Education, for Professor Falcón, was based on the need for collective understanding to lead to lasting change.

Defender of the people: In San Juan, it is the stuff of legend that noted scholar Luis Nieves Falcón — at a time when all of his colleagues were preparing to retire – decided to leave his comfortable position at the University of Puerto Rico and work to obtain a law degree. He did this for the sole purpose of defending the imprisoned Puerto Rican independence activists who were languishing in US jails with lengthy sentences served under torturous conditions typical of the treatment of political prisoners; over a dozen had been found guilty of the “thought crime” of seditious conspiracy: planning a world where basic Puerto Rican rights, culture, and policy wouldn’t be under foreign control. As legal counsel, Nieves Falcón knew he had a new key to get into the jails and converse with his fellow patriots. More importantly, however, he also understood that he had only earned a one-way key: he could get in, but his legal skills alone could not get his compatriots out. Nieves Falcón was the type of lawyer who always comprehended that, in working for freedom, legal struggle must be coordinated with political struggle; no courtroom or negotiated maneuver could substitute for the door-to-door, grassroots campaigns which would mobilize a nation to call for the freedom of its prisoners, to call now for the immediate release of Oscar López Rivera. Nieves Falcón was much more than just a lawyer; he was a true defender of the people.

We love Luis Nieves Falcón, and the true, loving comrade that he was to so many of us. We understand that, like all people, he had faults and shortcomings, and could be a master pain in our sides! But as we mourn the loss of Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón, we understand that today’s message — Nieves Falcón’s message — is, more than ever: Don’t mourn, organize!

Matt Meyer is a New York City-based educator, author, and activist who serves as War Resisters International Africa Support Network Coordinator and as a UN/ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. His recent books include Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan-African Insights on Nonviolence, Armed Struggle and Liberation (Africa World Press, 2000), the two-volume collection Seeds of New Hope: Pan African Peace Studies for the 21st Century (Africa World Press, 2008, 2010), and Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U. S. Political Prisoners (PM Press, 2008). Meyer is a contributing member of the Editorial Advisory Board for New Clear Vision.

- See more at: http://www.newclearvision.com/2014/03/14/professor-falcons-lessons/#sthash.ybkPsbky.dpuf

Solidarity and Camaraderie in a Puerto Rican Context

by Matt Meyer
New Clear Vision

On Monday, March 10, Puerto Rico’s leading intellectual — sociologist, educator, lawyer, author, organizer, and Independentista — passed away at age 84. A world renowned authority on colonialism, repression, and Puerto Rican history, Dr. Nieves Falcón was founder/director of the University of Puerto Rico’s Department of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, founder of the Committee on Human Rights, president of the International PEN Club, and a member of the International Advisory Board of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. He was also this author’s mentor, godfather to my son, and a great friend; it was an honor to be the only non-Puerto Rican to deliver a eulogy at his March 12th funeral. This essay is based on my remarks that afternoon.

We were driving, late at night, in the middle of Manhattan — Alejandro Molina of Chicago-based National Boricua Human Rights Network and me in the back seat. In the front seat was Puerto Rico’s legendary Luis Nieves Falcón, our boss. In the driver’s seat was Dr. Manny Rosenberg, beloved upper west side activist and dentist who daughter Susan was doing hard time for her involvement with the anti-war and anti-imperialist movements of the 1970s and early ’80s. We were brought together by the plans for the 1990 International Tribunal on Political Prisoners/POWs in the USA, but we were held together and pushed forward by the dynamic vision and steel hand of Nieves Falcón. It was the first major public symposium of the current generation which made the issue of political imprisonment in the USA a widespread, central focus throughout left and progressive circles, beyond the movements whose leaders were the ones behind bars. Close to one thousand people attended that momentous event, but the ragtag coalition of individuals and groups who were responsible for it would never have survived without the leadership of Nieves Falcón.

The joke of that story is this: Alejandro and I almost got kicked out of the car and left by the side of the road, for giggling out of control at the conversation between Nieves and Manny. Theirs was a friendship and collaborative connection which expressed and defined the very essence of solidarity: two peoples working together out of mutual respect, love, friendship, and unity for the freedom of all oppressed people and the liberation of all humankind. But to Alejandro and me at the moment, all we could hear was the word “comrade” and the way it was being pronounced — not with a Puerto Rican accent or a New York one, but in the clipped British intonation of a graduate of the London School of Economics (where Nieves Falcon got his PhD)! Here this descendant of African warriors and indigenous Taino peacemakers was saying “comrade” this and “comrade” that like a member of some bizarre communist royal family — and Alejandro and I were rolling on the floor with laughter! Nieves Falcón might have fumed a little at our gentle teasing, but the truth is that I learned a lot that evening about the true meaning of the word.

When one reflects on the legacy of Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón from the context of solidarity and camaraderie, there are five phrases which are important to keep in mind. These attributes should be taken as sign-posts of how to develop effective leaders of the future.

Coalition-builder: Nieves understood like few others in modern times that all great united fronts must be broad enough to reach large and diverse sectors, masses and masses of people, while still being controlled and coordinated by a clear and principled center. This concept is different than old-fashioned democratic centralism and more complicated than social democracy; grassroots initiatives must be allowed to spring up, take a shape of their own, and develop organically in ways appropriate to different communities. In this way, Nieves Falcon took a page from the book of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who noted that “true leadership is not the search for consensus, but the molding of consensus.” Nieves Falcon taught us how to provide strong leadership while allowing large coalitions to flourish.

Internationalist: Without for one moment giving up an inch of his proud Puerto Rican identity — his passion for his homeland and the beauty of its people — Nieves Falcón was a true man of the world. He could and did converse with leaders from every continent, earning respect for the cause of Puerto Rican freedom and for the full recognition of the great Puerto Rican socio-cultural contributions to world history. He did this with great knowledge and appreciation of global dynamics past and present, centering Puerto Rico in an internationalist perspective which holds no place anywhere for empire, militarism, capitalism, or greed.

Master strategist: Few could argue that, as the architect of so many successful campaigns — bringing home the prisoners, working against the Navy in Vieques, working for expanded higher education and legal rights — Nieves Falcón was one of our greatest experts at sizing up situations and figuring out how best to achieve victories. That success might take more years or more money than we could ever imagine was no excuse or deterrent; that we would have to work harder than we ever imagined was a given — but together and focused we would find a way to win. Reforms were understood in calculated fashion as part of the larger efforts for more radical and revolutionary social change. And Nieves Falcón’s eyes, and all of the campaigns he led, were always set on the goal of full freedom and liberation for the Puerto Rican people, and for all people.

Master teacher: The way in which Luis told stories, with his whole body and with every nuance of every language he so expertly crafted, one was bound to listen and learn. Whether talking to a group of young women and men with little consciousness, or to experienced professionals, Nieves made you want not just to comprehend, but to act. His teaching was always in the service of social justice and action, with an aim to move forward in new ways which would enable each of us to fulfill the best of our potential. Education, for Professor Falcón, was based on the need for collective understanding to lead to lasting change.

Defender of the people: In San Juan, it is the stuff of legend that noted scholar Luis Nieves Falcón — at a time when all of his colleagues were preparing to retire – decided to leave his comfortable position at the University of Puerto Rico and work to obtain a law degree. He did this for the sole purpose of defending the imprisoned Puerto Rican independence activists who were languishing in US jails with lengthy sentences served under torturous conditions typical of the treatment of political prisoners; over a dozen had been found guilty of the “thought crime” of seditious conspiracy: planning a world where basic Puerto Rican rights, culture, and policy wouldn’t be under foreign control. As legal counsel, Nieves Falcón knew he had a new key to get into the jails and converse with his fellow patriots. More importantly, however, he also understood that he had only earned a one-way key: he could get in, but his legal skills alone could not get his compatriots out. Nieves Falcón was the type of lawyer who always comprehended that, in working for freedom, legal struggle must be coordinated with political struggle; no courtroom or negotiated maneuver could substitute for the door-to-door, grassroots campaigns which would mobilize a nation to call for the freedom of its prisoners, to call now for the immediate release of Oscar López Rivera. Nieves Falcón was much more than just a lawyer; he was a true defender of the people.

We love Luis Nieves Falcón, and the true, loving comrade that he was to so many of us. We understand that, like all people, he had faults and shortcomings, and could be a master pain in our sides! But as we mourn the loss of Dr. Luis Nieves Falcón, we understand that today’s message — Nieves Falcón’s message — is, more than ever: Don’t mourn, organize!

Matt Meyer is a New York City-based educator, author, and activist who serves as War Resisters International Africa Support Network Coordinator and as a UN/ECOSOC representative of the International Peace Research Association. His recent books include Guns and Gandhi in Africa: Pan-African Insights on Nonviolence, Armed Struggle and Liberation (Africa World Press, 2000), the two-volume collection Seeds of New Hope: Pan African Peace Studies for the 21st Century (Africa World Press, 2008, 2010), and Let Freedom Ring: A Collection of Documents from the Movements to Free U. S. Political Prisoners (PM Press, 2008). Meyer is a contributing member of the Editorial Advisory Board for New Clear Vision.

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West Virginia miners’ struggles still relevant today

by Phreddy Wischusen
Michigan Citizen
February 27th, 2014

"Gun Thugs, Rednecks and Radicals" compiles first-hand accounts of 1912-1921 mine wars

GeorgeSantayana famously said, “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.” Although the privatization of Detroit’s school system and public assets, growing wealthy inequality and the rapacious extraction of resources wreaking havoc on the environment and public health may seem like new problems for our times, David Alan Corbin’s 2011 book, “Gun Thugs, Rednecks and Radicals,” proves our current crisis is a historical re-run.

The book is a collection of first-hand documents captured during the West Virginia Mine Wars of 1912-1921.

At the time, privately-held coal companies owned not only vast tracts of land but the houses, stores and churches on that land. The coal companies paid the police and the ministers. If the networks of spies and informers discovered a miner had joined a labor union, that miner and his family would be immediately evicted and left homeless.

Meanwhile private guards “secured” the companies’ interests. “…(P)inkertons … were used for such work by the coal companies. Since the Homestead strike in the steel mill, years ago when the Pinkertons fired into the strik­ers and killed a number of them, this class of business has gradually drifted away from the Pinkertons and much of it has been acquired by the Baldwin-Felts Agency,” wrote Harold West in the Baltimore Sun on April 5, 1913.

The Pinkerton company is still in business today and is owned by Securitas, the agency contracted by former EM Robert Bobb to provide security for Detroit Public Schools.
West continues: “In explanation of the employment of these guards, the operators say that their property must be guarded, that the state does not give them sufficient protection. Men who do service as mine guards cannot be expected to be ‘lady-like.’

They deal with desperate characters and are constantly in peril. The guards act on the principle that they must strike first if they are to strike at all, and evidence shows that they have not the slightest hesitancy about striking first.”

The commitment to “strike first” was evident in a recently released video of a security guard repeatedly slamming 12-year-old Stephon Clark at Marquette Middle School, and in the death of McKenzie Cochran at Northland Mall.

One does not have to draw parallels to 2014 Detroit to enjoy “Gun Thugs…” The tome brings together a diverse array of source material — interviews with famous activist Mother Jones, various testimony before Congress and newspaper articles that give the reader more than the facts of history, but rare glimpses into the real lives of the miners themselves.

Corbin has marshaled these important documents into a truly humanizing examination of the times, from the Cabin Creek Strike of 1912 to the 1920 Matewan Massacre and subsequent 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, and all points in between.

The Battle of Blair Mountain was the largest civil uprising in America after the Civil war, pitting 10,000 coal miners attempting to unionize against 3,000 lawmen and strikebreakers. The companies dropped bombs and gas on the workers. After five days of fighting and approximately one million rounds or ammunition discharged, President Harding sent in the U.S. Army to end the fighting.

Samuel Gompers wrote in 1913 (his article “Russianized West Virginia,” appears in “Gun Thugs…): “For the public — or more correctly, the other workers and employ­ers — there are more serious and more complex problems of justice. All the constituted forces of government were exerted in behalf of property, material things…

“Mine operators were permitted to station armed guards upon their property. Wherever disturbances or bloodshed occurred, it was always the miners who were arrested and not the mine owners, their brutal minions, and guards. Yet miners were killed, too—are not their lives as valuable as those of the guards? Are not men struggling for personal rights, economic independence, ideals for a better life, en­titled to protection, safety, and liberty under our social arrangements?

Wealth, indeed, is necessary and valuable; but wealth should serve the needs of men, not enslave them. Freedom cannot ex­ist where human beings are subordinated to things.”

George Echols, an African American miner, told Congress in 1921 of his condition as a worker living in a house and even a town owned by the company, “I was raised a slave. My master and my mistress called me and I answered, and I know the time when I was a slave, and I felt just like we feel now.”

In a city under an un-elected emergency manager, represented by the same law firm that represents the city’s adversaries — the banks — one particular sentence from “Gun Thugs…” sticks out. “It is this exercise of public power under private pay, which is one of the fundamental causes and is the most lively occasion of the bad blood between owners and workers.”

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Guest: What's behind the hunger strike at Northwest Detention Center

By Dan Berger and Angélica Cházaro
The Seattle Times
March 20th, 2014


MORE than 700 people detained at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma began a hunger strike on March 7 in protest of their conditions. Those still reported to be on hunger strike are on medical watch and have been threatened with force-feeding if they continue to refuse food. According to their attorneys, participants have experienced other reprisals for the strike, including solitary confinement and threats to their asylum efforts.

In a public statement, the hunger strikers demanded an end to deportations and the separation of families. They also demanded better food, medical care and wages for work inside the facility (they currently receive just $1 a day for their labor), and an end to exorbitant commissary prices. Detainees pay $8.95 for a bottle of shampoo and $1 for a single plastic plate.

These problems are not limited to federal detention centers. Along with people being held in local jails and state and federal prisons, the detainees have launched what may be the most urgent human-rights movement in our country today. Just this week, a New York inmate died on Rikers Island when his jail cell overheated.

The U.S. prison system is the largest in the world. With 5 percent of the world’s population, we have 25 percent of the world’s prison population. Sentences are longer and conditions harsher than at many prisons throughout the world.

The use of long-term solitary confinement — where some 80,000 Americans now spend 23 or 24 hours a day without human contact and are often denied adequate nutrition, reading material or visits with loved ones — has sparked a growing series of lawsuits, legislative hearings and demonstrations.

In California, prisoners have staged a series of hunger strikes since 2011. At its height in the summer of 2013, 30,000 people in prisons around the state refused food.

Similar to the Tacoma detainees’ demands, the California prisoners call for an end to group punishment and for prison officials to follow United Nations protocols on the use of solitary confinement as well as adequate food. Similar smaller hunger strikes have occurred in prisons in Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois and Virginia since 2011.

Deportations have expanded dramatically in recent years. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of deportations has increased from approximately 165,000 people a year in 2002 to almost 400,000 people annually for the last five years.

Soon, the Obama administration will have deported 2 million people, who are processed through a network of detention centers. By congressional order, these detention centers must hold 34,000 people on any given day. Many of those facilities are privately run. The Northwest Detention Center, one of the biggest in the country, is managed by The Geo Group, a company that describes itself as the “world’s leading provider” of private prisons and detention centers.
Such investment in detention and deportation has sparked a series of efforts among undocumented workers and youth around the country. The hunger strike in Tacoma follows a two-week hunger strike that activists, many of them undocumented, staged outside a Phoenix detention center starting Feb. 24. This week, citing Tacoma as inspiration, migrants in the Conroe, Texas, detention center launched a hunger strike.

Nonviolent civil-disobedience actions have prevented deportations in 16 cities around the country, including at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma days before the hunger strike began.

Such activism has prompted a series of legislative hearings, judicial rulings and conversations about long-term isolation, mass incarceration and the force-feeding of detainees. Still, there is much work to be done. While the United States may like to be a world leader in human rights, its routine practices of confinement violate both international standards and human decency.
We do not often look to prisons and detention centers to understand the social and political needs of our generation. But we should. Some of the most passionate advocates for fairness, justice and human rights are incarcerated.

Dan Berger, a historian of activism, teaches ethnic studies at the University of Washington Bothell. Angélica Cházaro, an immigrant-rights attorney, teaches at the University of Washington School of Law.

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