Miami Autonomy & Solidarity
After a five year plus process of engagement there is currently underway an effort to merge a number of the existing mostly regionally based class struggle Anarchist groups into a single national organization. Following up on the piece “Fighting for the Future: The Necessity and Possibility of National Political Organization for Our Time” which attempted to lay out both the arguments for as well as speak to the limitations that exist at the current political moment, one of the authors offers their thoughts on the current process as well as sentiments within the larger class struggle milieu that have came about since the publication of that piece.
By Adam Weaver
In the piece “Fighting for the Future: The Necessity and Possibility of National Political Organization for Our Time” that I co-authored with SN Nappalos we took up themes related to political organization in the current moment. The piece described political organization as meeting immediate and practical needs such as creating a ‘political home’, creating a space for the collective as opposed to isolated development of new political militants and served a role in building a common set of references and conversations among wider layers around theory, practices and methods of organization. In terms of broader political vision and strategy, we discussed organization as a method to develop a new base, cohere a clear libertarian voice within struggles, build a common set of reference points, and act as a pole of ideas and action.
These discussions are especially important though because coming out of several years of annual joint conferences, groups within the class struggle anarchist milieu have been undergoing a process of rapprochement which is close to reaching fruition of forming a common organization. In many ways the original article was designed to speak to that process as well as committed revolutionaries outside of the process. And in that same spirit I’d like to offer some follow up thoughts that have emerged since the writing of that article.
An organization for our time
One of the main points stressed in the piece was not just a blanket call for national organization, but that organization must reflect the needs and the political moment we exist in: “Political cohesiveness, development and praxis are not end goals declared that we can find ready made formulas to create, but rather a process that is built qualitatively over time.” What we are trying to do in the current effort of regroupment is not build the ideal organization rooted in the struggles of the working class and oppressed that we imagine, but rather we are creating an organizational project that can act as a vehicle to struggle towards that goal. In other words, we are not creating the organization we want to see today but clearing the path and building towards the organization we’d like to see tomorrow. There is a certain humility and honesty needed in recognizing that we don’t even know now what we are trying to work towards, we are building something that we’ve never seen or known in our lifetimes.
As to what this means on a practical level is that we cannot proceed with an attitude of rushing to merge and that the organization we strive for will materialize simply if we declare it. Politically we can’t rely either on the old lines in the sand. Terms such as anarchist-communism, libertarian socialism, anarcho-syndicalism, platformism, and especifismo may represent distinct traditions that each bring important things to the table (I’d also include even some parts of libertarian Marxism), but more and more these terms bleed into one another and we find those who use these labels taking the same positions and on the same sides in struggles even if they use different terms to express their ideas. Texts such as Black Flame have been a great service in helping us rethink the history of class struggle anarchism more along these lines. Organizationally we need to create the spaces that allow us to have the higher level discussions that we could not ordinarily have and sometimes this buts up against the tendency to spend inordinate amounts of time on the formalities of process rather than the sustenance of our ideas, our debates, and most importantly our concrete projects and organizing efforts.
You build it and then I will come
Having made several points about the effort to create an organization I’d like to move to discussing sets of problems and attitudes that exist within in our milieu and those in the orbit but whom are not part of the current process. And while these stances may seem pointed, they are aimed not to tear down but with the goal of challenging those whom I see as some of the best of comrades and highest quality militants that I’ve come to know.
The first I call “you build it and maybe I will come” and it is based on an individualistic approach to what are the collective political issues of organization that we face as a milieu. What I mean by this is that there are many quality comrades that are for one reason or another outside of the current process that is based on existing organizations. On one hand that is in large part structural but on the other hand there is a certain hedging of bets “Well, if everything works out and something good forms then I’ll consider joining or participating.” But going unstated is often a sentiment of “I’m not really sure if this going to work out so it’s better to sit on the sidelines and not put my energy into this just yet.”
In many ways this is a mirror of the same individualism that permeates the larger society and which asks “why struggle against the powers that be in my life? It’s more likely than not that I will loose, so it’s better to wait and see if such and such demand seems likely to win.” And given the influences of commercialism and media that permeates our society it’s easy to see why this is a common starting point of many working class people in the US. But to hear these sentiments from those who call themselves committed revolutionaries is troubling. Instead we need ask what we can do to build what we want to see and engage in the work of rolling up our sleeves and building rather than waiting for what we want to be built to arrive on our proverbial doorsteps. Too many revolutionaries are plowing the fields of every other political efforts- those of NGOs, of progressive reformism, those of business unions which act as the mobilization arm and institutional base of the Democratic Party- but the time is now for those who want to see Anarchism take root and become an actor within the struggles of the working class and oppressed to begin our own project and to begin the work of tilling our own field.
Building a movement for ourselves instead of for yourself
Another issue in the same vein is framed around those of needs. Either the building of political organization does not fit into ones political needs or the question that needs to be satisfied first is whether this meets one’s personal political needs. Since the fading of the 70’s party building Left that demanded that their members be “robots for the revolution” with no personal time and solely focused on the needs of the party, there has been a healthier turn in the left towards personal balance and the need to see involvement in activity as serving a role not just for the movement but for those who make up the movement. But perhaps now the pendulum now swings too far in the other direction.
When needs are raised as an objection I’m often taken aback. Speaking personally on my own involvement in political activity for most of my life and in efforts to build specifically anarchist political organization for a decade now, I do not see the vast majority of my political work as serving my own interests or development. Personally I could spend plenty of time talking with the usual suspects over the internet and feel like many of my own needs are being met. But that doesn’t build a movement. What I spent most of my political work doing (and by ‘political’ I mean efforts around my political ideology as opposed to mass level organizing work) is one-on-one meet ups and mentoring, organizing discussion circles around basic texts and videos and mundane but practical organizational tasks. But suffice it to say that almost none of that work serves my own immediate political needs. Rather I see that work as building largely other people and serving their political needs because that’s what I think helps to build a movement in the long term. Rather than seeing our work centering around our own needs in an individualistic fashion, we instead need to think collectively about how we work towards our goals, political organization being one aspect, and how personal needs can combine with movement building goals. Often what we think of as personal needs are usually shared by others and in reality collective issue.
We can’t build it because it doesn’t exist
Lastly I want to say that the only way to reach political organization is to build towards it. Again, what we build today is not what we seek but rather a project or vehicle to allow us to struggle towards what we want to create. But there is a naysaying voice that says our work can’t be done—the level of consciousness is not there, our milieu too small and scattered and politically undeveloped, we are destined to replicate the pitfalls of the past, and that the current downturn in struggles doesn’t favor our project. All these are true to varying degrees but none of them need to stay the same.
The best example that I can give of this is the current IWW in the US. In the early 2000’s the organization was largely a collection of radical left activists with little to offer. Membership was a revolving door and most often workplace organizing efforts were simply a smaller scale copy of business union campaigns, just run by radical activists volunteering their time instead of by paid staff. But slow transformation occurred as several generations came and stuck to the IWW, engaged in the trials and errors of organizing, and congealed those lessons into a systematic training program that developed more workplace militants who moved to higher levels of organizing efforts. While still remaining small and not without weaknesses that have persisted, the IWW is now a force of sorts that was difficult to imagine possible only so many years ago.
The lesson though that I’d like to draw out of this is to caution against drawing from momentary situations what is and is not possible in the future. We cannot stumble once on the road and conclude that every road in the future will cause us to stumble again. “Today I burnt my dinner in the oven and I heard my neighbor did last week, therefore we need to see the objective conditions of the oven as always being too hot and need to now only cook with the microwave” is easy to say. But when we commit over a period of time to a process and vision that we believe in then we will have more than great dinners coming out of our political oven.
* We are re-posting this argument from the Darth Nader blog against US intervention in Syria by a Syrian anarchist*
by Darth Nader
The Syrian revolution is a revolution that began as a struggle for self-determination. The Syrian people demanded to determine their own destiny. And, for more than two years, against all odds, and in the face of massive repression and destruction from the Assad regime, they persevered.
In the course of the revolutionary process, many other actors have also appeared on the scene to work against the struggle for self-determination. Iran and its militias, with the backing of Russia, came to the aid of the regime, to ensure the Syrian people would not be given this right. The jihadis of the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and others, under the guise of “fighting the Assad regime,” worked against this right as well. And I feel the same way about any Western intervention.
Some would argue that we have come a long way from that, that it isn’t even about self-determination anymore, but rather, simply stopping the killing. This is a position I cannot support. If it was simply about stopping the killing, then I would’ve supported the jihadis when they came in, because, no one can deny, they were the best armed and the best equipped to challenge the Assad regime. But I didn’t, and many others didn’t, because we knew that despite their ability to challenge the regime, that they did not share the goals of the Syrian people. They wanted to control the Syrian people, and stifle their ability to determine their own destiny. Because of this, they were counter-revolutionaries, even if they were fighting against the regime.
And now in the face of a possible Western intervention in Syria, I hold the same position. Many would say I’m being ideological, and that I should just focus on stopping the killing; but those people are ignoring that, even on pragmatic terms and within their own line of reasoning, their argument holds no sway, after repeated US insistence that “these will only be punitive strikes” and they “do not intend to topple the regime.” What indication is there that these strikes will do anything to stop the killing, or “solve” the Syrian crisis?
I don’t care about sovereignty. Syria has become a land for everyone but Syrians nowadays. The myth of Syrian sovereignty is not why I oppose Western intervention. Neither is the prospect of the destruction of Syria, for it has already been destroyed by this criminal regime. I oppose Western intervention because it will work against the struggle for self-determination, that is, against the Syrian revolution.
Assad used chemical weapons against his own people. I have no doubt about this. And this could have been prevented if the Syrian resistance was actually given weapons that could have tilted the balance against the regime. But foreign powers sat on their hands, not wanting Assad to win, but not wanting the resistance to win either. They couldn’t give weapons to the Syrian people to defend themselves, they said, who knows whose hands they might end up in? They might accidentally end up in, say, the hands of Syrians who wanted to determine their own destiny despite foreign interests!
So we’ve come full circle. No one armed the Syrian resistance, so they were killed by the regime, or forced to put up with jihadi infiltration. So Assad used chemical weapons against the Syrians, and the West wants to respond to teach Assad a lesson, a response that still guarantees that Syrians have no say in the matter of their future. And the regime will probably live through any “punitive” Western intervention, and the killing will probably not stop.
But despite all that, the Syrian revolution, and, at its heart, the Syrian people’s struggle for liberation and to determine their own destiny, will live on.
* We are re-posting an article from the blog of Andrea Smith, a long-time organizer, activist, intellectual and co-founder of Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. Her article provides a variety of important insights, critiques and possible ways forward in looking to improve our praxis in confronting, with the goal to end, systemic oppression.*
by Andrea Smith
For a much longer and detailed version, see my essay in the book Geographies of Privilege
In my experience working with a multitude of anti-racist organizing projects over the years, I frequently found myself participating in various workshops in which participants were asked to reflect on their gender/race/sexuality/class/etc. privilege. These workshops had a bit of a self-help orientation to them: “I am so and so, and I have x privilege.” It was never quite clear what the point of these confessions were. It was not as if other participants did not know the confessor in question had her/his proclaimed privilege. It did not appear that these individual confessions actually led to any political projects to dismantle the structures of domination that enabled their privilege. Rather, the confessions became the political project themselves. The benefits of these confessions seemed to be ephemeral. For the instant the confession took place, those who do not have that privilege in daily life would have a temporary position of power as the hearer of the confession who could grant absolution and forgiveness. The sayer of the confession could then be granted temporary forgiveness for her/his abuses of power and relief from white/male/heterosexual/etc guilt. Because of the perceived benefits of this ritual, there was generally little critique of the fact that in the end, it primarily served to reinstantiate the structures of domination it was supposed to resist. One of the reasons there was little critique of this practice is that it bestowed cultural capital to those who seemed to be the “most oppressed.” Those who had little privilege did not have to confess and were in the position to be the judge of those who did have privilege. Consequently, people aspired to be oppressed. Inevitably, those with more privilege would develop new heretofore unknown forms of oppression from which they suffered. “I may be white, but my best friend was a person of color, which caused me to be oppressed when we played together.” Consequently, the goal became not to actually end oppression but to be as oppressed as possible. These rituals often substituted confession for political movement-building. And despite the cultural capital that was, at least temporarily, bestowed to those who seemed to be the most oppressed, these rituals ultimately reinstantiated the white majority subject as the subject capable of self-reflexivity and the colonized/racialized subject as the occasion for self-reflexivity.
These rituals around self-reflexivity in the academy and in activist circles are not without merit. They are informed by key insights into how the logics of domination that structure the world also constitute who we are as subjects. Political projects of transformation necessarily involve a fundamental reconstitution of ourselves as well. However, for this process to work, individual transformation must occur concurrently with social and political transformation. That is, the undoing of privilege occurs not by individuals confessing their privileges or trying to think themselves into a new subject position, but through the creation of collective structures that dismantle the systems that enable these privileges. The activist genealogies that produced this response to racism and settler colonialism were not initially focused on racism as a problem of individual prejudice. Rather, the purpose was for individuals to recognize how they were shaped by structural forms of oppression. However, the response to structural racism became an individual one – individual confession at the expense of collective action. Thus the question becomes, how would one collectivize individual transformation? Many organizing projects attempt and have attempted to do precisely this, such Sisters in Action for Power, Sista II Sista, Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, and Communities Against Rape and Abuse, among many others. Rather than focus simply on one’s individual privilege, they address privilege on an organizational level. For instance, they might assess – is everyone who is invited to speak a college graduate? Are certain peoples always in the limelight? Based on this assessment, they develop structures to address how privilege is exercised collectively. For instance, anytime a person with a college degree is invited to speak, they bring with them a co-speaker who does not have that education level. They might develop mentoring and skills-sharing programs within the group. To quote one of my activist mentors, Judy Vaughn, “You don’t think your way into a different way of acting; you act your way into a different way of thinking.” Essentially, the current social structure conditions us to exercise what privileges we may have. If we want to undermine those privileges, we must change the structures within which we live so that we become different peoples in the process.
This essay will explore the structuring logics of the politics of privilege. In particular, the logics of privilege rest on an individualized self that relies on the raw material of other beings to constitute itself. Although the confessing of privilege is understood to be an anti-racist practice, it is ultimately a project premised on white supremacy. Thus, organizing and intellectual projects that are questioning these politics of privilege are shifting the question from what privileges does a particular subject have to what is the nature of the subject that claims to have privilege in the first place.
The Confessing Subject
My analysis is informed the work of Denise DaSilva. She argues in Toward a Global Idea of Race that the western subject understands itself as self-determining through its ability to self-reflect, analyze and exercise power over others. The western subject knows that it is self-determining because it compares itself to ‘others” who are not. In other words, I know who I am because I am not you. These “others” of course are racialized. The western subject is a universal subject who determines itself without being determined by others; the racialized subject is particular, but is supposed to aspire to be universal and self-determining.
Silva’s analysis thus critiques the presumption that the problem facing racialized and colonized peoples is that they have been “dehumanized.” Anti-racist intellectual and political projects are often premised on the notion that if people knew us better, we too would be granted humanity. But, according to Silva, the fundamental issue that does not get addressed, is that “the human” is already a racial project. It is a project that aspires to universality, a project that can only exist over and against the particularity of “the other.”
Consequently, two problems result. First, those who are put in the position of racialized and colonized others presume that liberation will ensue if they can become self-determining subjects – in other words, if they can become fully “human.” However, the humanity to which we aspire still depends on the continued oppression of other racialized/colonized others. Thus, a liberation struggle that does not question the terms by which humanity is understood becomes a liberation struggle that depends on the oppression of others.
Silva’s analysis implies that “liberation” would require different selves that understand themselves in radical relationality with all other peoples and things. The goal then becomes not the mastery of anti-racist/anti-colonialist lingo but a different self-understanding that sees one’s being as fundamentally constituted through other beings. An example of the political enactment of this critique of the western subject could be glimpsed at the 2008 World Social Forum that I attended. The indigenous peoples made a collective statement calling into question the issue of the nation-state. In addition to challenging capitalism, they called on participants to imagine new forms of governance not based on a nation-state model. They contended that the nation-state has not worked in the last 500 years, so they suspected that it was not going to start working now. Instead, they called for new forms of collectivities that were based on principles of interrelatedness, mutuality and global responsibility. These new collectivities (nations, if you will, for lack of a better world) would not be based on insular or exclusivist claims to a land base; indeed they would reject the contention that land is a commodity that any one group of people should be able to buy, control or own. Rather, these collectivities would be based on responsibility for and relationship with land.
But they suggested that these collectivities could not be formed without a radical change in what we perceived ourselves to be. That is, if we understand ourselves to be transparent, self-determining subjects, defining ourselves in opposition to who we are not, then the nations that will emerge from this sense of self will be exclusivist and insular. However, if we understand ourselves as being fundamentally constituted through our relations with other beings and the land, then the nations that emerge will also be inclusive and interconnected with each other.
Second, the assumption that we have about liberation is that we will be granted humanity if we can prove their worthiness. If people understood us better, they would see we are “human” just like they are, and would grant us the status of humanity. As a result, anti-racist activist and scholarly projects often become trapped in ethnographic multiculturalism. Ironically, in order to prove our worthiness, we put ourselves in the position of being ethnographic objects so that the white subject to judge our claims for humanity.
Rey Chow notes that within this position of ethnographic entrapment, the only rhetorical position offered to the Native is that of the “protesting ethnic.” The posture to be assumed under the politics of recognition is the posture of complaint. If we complain eloquently, the system will give us something. Building on Chow’s work, this essay will explore how another posture that is created within this economy is the self-reflexive settler/white subject. This self-reflexive subject is frequently on display at various anti-racist venues in which the privileged subject explains how much s/he learned about her complicity in settler colonialism and/or white supremacy because of her exposure to Native peoples. A typical instance of this will involve non-Native peoples who make presentations based on what they “learned” while doing solidarity work with Native peoples in their field research/solidarity work, etc. Complete with videos and slide shows, the presenters will express the privilege with which they struggled. We will learn how they tried to address the power imbalances between them and the peoples with which they studied or worked. We will learn how they struggled to gain their trust. Invariably, the narrative begins with the presenters initially facing the distrust of the Natives because of their settler/white privilege. But through perseverance and good intentions, the researchers overcome this distrust and earn the friendship of their ethnographic objects. In these stories of course, to evoke Gayatri Spivak, the subaltern does not speak. We do not hear what their theoretical analysis of their relationship is. We do not hear about how they were organizing on their own before they were saved/studied by these presenters.
Native peoples are not positioned as those who can engage in self-reflection; they can only judge the worth of the confession. Consequently, the presenters of these narratives often present very nervously. Did they speak to all their privileges? Did they properly confess? Or will someone in the audience notice a mistake and question whether they have in fact become a fully-developed anti-racist subject? In that case, the subject would have to then engage in further acts of self-reflection that require new confessions in the future.
Thus, borrowing from the work of Scott Morgensen and Hiram Perez, the confession of privilege, while claiming to be anti-racist and anti-colonial, is actually a strategy that helps constitute the settler/white subject. In Morgensen’s analysis, the settler subject constitutes itself through incorporation. Through this logic of settlement, settlers become the rightful inheritors of all that was indigenous – land, resources, indigenous spirituality, or culture. Thus, indigeneity is not necessarily framed as antagonistic to the settler subject; rather the Native is supposed to disappear into the project of settlement. The settler becomes the “new and improved” version of the Native, thus legitimizing and naturalizing the settler’s claims to this land.
Hiram Perez similarly analyzes how the white subject positions itself intellectually as a cosmopolitan subject capable of abstract theorizing through the use of the “raw material” provided by fixed, brown bodies. The white subject is capable of being “anti-“ or “post-identity,” but understands their post-identity only in relationship to brown subjects which are hopelessly fixed within identity. Brown peoples provide the “raw material” that enables the intellectual production of the white subject.
Thus, self-reflexivity enables the constitution of the white/settler subject. Anti-racist/colonial struggles have created a colonial dis-ease that the settler/white subject may not in fact be self-determining. As a result, the white/settler subject reasserts their power through self-reflection. In particular, indigenous peoples and people of color become the occasion by which the white subject can self-reflect on her/his privilege. If this person self-reflects effectively, s/he may be bestowed the title “ally” and build a career of her/his self-reflection. As many on the blogosphere have been commenting recently (see for instance @prisonculture and @ChiefElk), an entire ally industrial complex has developed around the professional confession of privilege
Of course, this essay itself does not escape the logics of self-reflexivity either. Rhetorically, it simply sets me up as yet another judge of the inadequacies of the confessions of others. Thus, what is important in this discussion is not so much how particular individuals confess their privileges. If Native peoples are represented problematically even by peoples who espouse anti-racist or anti-settler politics, it is not an indication that the work of those peoples is particularly flawed or that their scholarship has less value. Similarly, those privileged “confessing” subjects in anti-racism workshops do so with a commitment to fighting settler colonialism or white supremacy and their solidarity work is critically needed. Furthermore, as women of color scholars and activists have noted, there is no sharp divide between those who are “oppressed” and those who are “oppressors.” Individuals may find themselves variously in the position of being the confessor or the judge of the confession depending on the context. Rather, the point of this analysis is to illustrate the larger dynamics by which racialized and colonized peoples are even seen and understood in the first place.
The presupposition is that Indigenous peoples are oppressed because they are not sufficiently known or understood. In fact, however, this desire to “know” the Native is itself part of the settler-colonial project to apprehend, contain and domesticate the potential power of indigenous peoples to subvert the settler state. As Mark Rifkin has argued, colonial logics attempt to transform Native peoples who are producers of intellectual theory and political insight into populations to be known and hence managed. Native struggles then simply become a project of Native peoples making their demands known so that their claims can be recognized the by the settler state. Once these demands are known, they can they be more easily managed, co-opted and disciplined. Thus, the project of decolonization requires a practice of what Audra Simpson calls “ethnographic refusal” – the refusal to be known and the refusal to be infinitely knowable. The politics of decolonization requires the proliferation of theories, knowledge, ideas, and analyses that speak to a beyond settler colonialism and are hence unknowable.
Alternatives to Self-Reflection
Based on this analysis then, our project becomes less of one based on self-improvement or even collective self-improvement, and more about the creation of new worlds and futurities for which we currently have no language.
There is no simple anti-oppression formula that we can follow; we are in a constant state of trial and error and radical experimentation. In that spirit then, I offer some possibilities that might speak to new ways of undoing privilege, not in the sense of offering the “correct” process for moving forward, but in the spirit of adding to our collective imagining of a “beyond.” These projects of decolonization can be contrasted with that of the projects of anti-racist or anti-colonialist self-reflexivity in that they are not based on the goal of “knowing” more about our privilege, but on creating that which we cannot now know.
As I have discussed elsewhere, many of these models are based on “taking power by making power” models particularly prevalent in Latin America. These models, which are deeply informed by indigenous peoples’ movements, have informed the landless movement, the factory movements, and other peoples’ struggles. Many of these models are also being used by a variety of social justice organization throughout the United States and elsewhere. The principle undergirding these models is to challenge capital and state power by actually creating the world we want to live in now. These groups develop alternative governance systems based on principles of horizontality, mutuality, and interrelatedness rather than hierarchy, domination, and control. In beginning to create this new world, subjects are transformed. These “autonomous zones” can be differentiated from the projects of many groups in the U.S. that create separatist communities based on egalitarian ideals in that people in these “making power” movements do not just create autonomous zones, but they proliferate them. These movements developed in reaction to the revolutionary vanguard model of organizing in Latin America that became criticized as “machismo-leninismo” models. These models were so hierarchical that in the effort to combat systems of oppression, they inadvertently re-created the same systems they were trying to replace. In addition, this model of organizing was inherently exclusivist because not everyone can take up guns and go the mountains to become revolutionaries. Women, who have to care for families, could particularly be excluded from such revolutionary movements. So, movements began to develop organizing models that are based on integrating the organizing into one’s everyday life so that all people can participate. For instance, a group might organize through communal cooking, but during the cooking process, which everyone needs to do anyway in order to eat, they might educate themselves on the nature of agribusiness.
At the 2005 World Social Forum in Brazil, activists from Chiapas reported that this movement began to realize that one cannot combat militarism with more militarism because the state always has more guns. However, if movements began to build their own autonomous zones and proliferated them until they reached a mass scale, eventually there would be nothing the state’s military could do. If mass-based peoples’ movements begin to live life using alternative governance structures and stop relying on the state, then what can the state do? Of course, during the process, there may be skirmishes with the state, but conflict is not the primary work of these movements. And as we see these movements literally take over entire countries in Latin America, it is clear that it is possible to do revolutionary work on a mass-scale in a manner based on radical participatory rather than representational democracy or through a revolutionary vanguard model.
Many leftists will argue that nation-states are necessary to check the power of multi-national corporations or will argue that nation-states are no longer important units of analysis. These groups, by contrast, recognize the importance of creating alternative forms of governance outside of a nation-state model based on principles of horizontalism. In addition, these groups are taking on multinational corporations directly. An example would be the factory movement in Argentina where workers have appropriated factories and seized the means of production themselves. They have also developed cooperative relationships with other appropriated factories. In addition, in many factories all of the work is collectivized. For instance, a participant from a group I work with who recently had a child and was breastfeeding went to visit a factory. She tried to sign up for one of the collectively-organized tasks of the factory, and was told that breastfeeding was her task. The factory recognized breastfeeding as work on par with all the other work going on in the factory.
This kind of politics then challenges the notions of “safe space” often prevalent in many activist circles in the United States. The concept of safe space flows naturally from the logics of privilege. That is, once we have confessed our gender/race/settler/class privileges, we can then create a safe space where others will not be negatively impacted by these privileges. Of course because we have not dismantled heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, settler colonialism or capitalism, these confessed privileges never actually disappear in “safe spaces.” Consequently, when a person is found guilty of his/her privilege in these spaces, s/he is accused of making the space “unsafe.” This rhetorical strategy presumes that only certain privileged subjects can make the space “unsafe” as if everyone isn’t implicated in heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, settler colonialism and capitalism. Our focus is shifted from the larger systems that make the entire world unsafe, to interpersonal conduct. In addition, the accusation of “unsafe” is also levied against people of color who express anger about racism, only to find themselves accused of making the space “unsafe” because of their raised voices. The problem with safe space is the presumption that a safe space is even possible.
By contrast, instead of thinking of safe spaces as a refuge from colonialism, patriarchy, and white supremacy, Ruthie Gilmore suggests that safe space is not an escape from the real, but a place to practice the real we want to bring into being. “Making power” models follow this suggestion in that they do not purport to be free of oppression, only that they are trying to create the world they would like to live in now. To give one smaller example, when Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, organized, we questioned the assumption that “women of color” space is a safe space. In fact, participants began to articulate that women of color space may in fact be a very dangerous space. We realized that we could not assume alliances with each other, but we would actually have to create these alliances. One strategy that was helpful was rather than presume that we were acting “non-oppressively,” we built a structure that would presume that we were complicit in the structures of white supremacy/settler colonialism/heteropatriarchy etc. We then structured this presumption into our organizing by creating spaces where we would educate ourselves on issues in which our politics and praxis were particularly problematic. The issues we have covered include: disability, anti-Black racism, settler colonialism, Zionism and anti-Arab racism, transphobia, and many others. However, in this space, while we did not ignore our individual complicity in oppression, we developed action plans for how we would collectively try to transform our politics and praxis. Thus, this space did not create the dynamic of the confessor and the hearer of the confession. Instead, we presumed we are all implicated in these structures of oppression and that we would need to work together to undo them. Consequently, in my experience, this kind of space facilitated our ability to integrate personal and social transformation because no one had to anxiously worry about whether they were going to be targeted as a bad person with undue privilege who would need to publicly confess. The space became one that was based on principles of loving rather than punitive accountability.
The politics of privilege have made the important contribution of signaling how the structures of oppression constitute who we are as persons. However, as the rituals of confessing privilege have evolved, they have shifted our focus from building social movements for global transformation to individual self-improvement. Furthermore, they rest on a white supremacist/colonialist notion of a subject that can constitute itself over and against others through self-reflexivity. While trying to keep the key insight made in activist/academic circles that personal and social transformation are interconnected, alternative projects have developed that focus less on privilege and more the structures that create privilege. These new models do not hold the “answer,” because the genealogy of the politics of privilege also demonstrates that our activist/intellectual projects of liberation must be constantly changing. Our imaginations are limited by white supremacy, settler colonialism, etc., so all ideas we have will not be “perfect.” The ideas we develop today also do not have to be based on the complete disavowal of what we did yesterday because what we did yesterday teaches what we might do tomorrow. Thus, as we think not only beyond privilege, but beyond the sense of self that claims privilege, we open ourselves to new possibilities that we cannot imagine now for the future.
The events of the past couple of days are the latest step in a sequence of events by which the military can consolidate its hold on power, aim towards the death of the revolution and a return to a military/police state.
The authoritarian regime of the Muslim Brotherhood had to go. But what has replaced it is the true face of the military in Egypt – no less authoritarian, no less fascist and for sure more difficult to depose.
The massacre carried out by the army against pro-Morsi supporters in Nadha Square and Raba’a has left around 500 killed and up to 3000 injured (Ministry of Health figures- the reality is likely much higher). It was a pre-orchestrated act of state terrorism. It’s aim is to divide the people and push the Muslim Brotherhood to create more militia’s to revenge and protect themselves. This in turn will enable the army to label all Islamists as terrorists and produce an “internal enemy” in the country which will allow the army to keep the military regime in an ongoing state of emergency.
They go after the Muslim Brotherhood today, but they will come after anyone who dares to criticize them tomorrow. Already the army has declared a state of emergency for one month, giving the police and military exceptional powers, and a curfew has been declared in many provinces for the same amount of time from 7pm to 6am. This gives the army a free hand to crack down on dissent. It is a return to the days before the revolution, where emergency law had been in place since 1967 and it provided the framework for wide-spread repression and denial of freedoms.
The character of the new regime is clear. Just a few days ago 18 new governors were appointed, the majority of which hail from the ranks of the army/police or even remnants of the Mubarak regime. There has also been an ongoing attack on workers who continue to strike for their rights (such as the recent army attack and arrest of steel workers on strike in Suez). The military regime is also hunting for revolutionary activists, journalists have been beaten and arrested, foreigners have been threatened against being witness to events. Both local and global media has told half truths and built narratives supportive of a political agenda. The counter-revolution is in full flow and it knows how to break the unity of the people in its effort to divide and conquer.
In the past two days there has been a rise in sectarian reprisals, with up to 50 churches and christian institutions attacked. The army and police were not seen protecting these buildings of the Christian community. It is in the interest of both army and the Muslim Brotherhood to stoke tensions and create fear and hatred in the people. They will fight for their control of the State as people’s blood fills the streets.
We condemn the massacres at Raba’a and Nadha Square, the attacks on workers, activists and journalists, the manipulation of the people by those who vie to power, and sectarian attacks. For the revolution to continue the people must remain united in their opposition to the abuses and tyranny of power, against whoever it is directed.
Down with the military and Al-Sissi!
Down with the remnants of the Mubarak regime and business elite!
Down with the State and all power to autonomous communities!
Long live the Egyptian revolution!
******* Will the cop who killed Reefa be allowed to stand his ground too?
By Subhash Kateel
This past week another young man from Miami with a promising life was cut down needlessly. Another mother is left to mourn her son while spending the next several holidays staring at an empty chair. Another group of friends will reflect in the past tense about a friend that is no longer with them. And yet again, another killer will likely walk the street, spend holidays with his family and hang out with his friends. This time the killer will probably even get his job back…as a Miami Beach Police Officer.
By now you probably know that young man’s name is not Trayvon Martin, it is Israel Henandez-Llach. His friends and Twitter call him Reefa. He was killed Tuesday after police caught him spray-painting an “R” on the wall of a vacant MacDonald’s in North Beach (where most people are familiar with the building’s abandoned-ness and ugliness). Several police chased the 18 year-old for ten minutes before catching up to him and tasing him to death, reportedly to avoid “physically restraining him.”
There are plenty of differences between Reefa and the also-needlessly dead Travyon Martin. Reefa was originally from Colombia, Trayvon was born and raised in Miami. Reefa was 18 when he died, Trayvon was 17. Trayvon’s killer was a neighborhood watchman while Reefa’s killer is Miami Beach Police veteran Jorge Mercado. Trayvon was never accused of a crime when Zimmerman started following him, Reefa was tagging a vacant building when cops started chasing him, a crime many consider an art form. But the similarities are just as important to note. Like Trayvon, legions of Miamians loved Reefa. In both cases, there is plenty in the law to charge and convict the killers of both teenagers, but the system is stacked against either ever seeing a day in prison. Finally, the way the public responds to both teenagers’ deaths has the potential to change the system so that no young person will ever again meet their fate.
As I have said a million times before, Florida law, however flawed it may be, does not allow a person who provokes a conflict to categorically claim self defense as George Zimmerman did. He should have never been able to claim he stood his ground. But the system (the police, prosecutors, judge and jury) never followed the law as it is written. The law In Israel’s case even more clear, yet the system is not used to treating law enforcement officers as if the laws they enforce should ever apply to them. In other words, officers who act above the law have almost always been allowed to do what Zimmerman did, claim they are standing their ground even when they aren’t.
Florida State law, (the same set of statutes that contain Stand Your Ground) clearly says that an officer is justified in using force in three circumstances:
1. [In] which he or she reasonably believes [it] to be necessary to defend himself or herself or another from bodily harm while making the arrest;
2. When necessarily committed in retaking felons who have escaped; or
3. When necessarily committed in arresting felons fleeing from justice…
The Miami Beach Police Department’s own guidelines say that the first five factors an officer is suppose to consider when using force are:
1. Seriousness of the crime committed;
2. Size, age and weight;
3. Apparent physical ability;
4. Weapons possessed by or available;
5. Known history of violence
Additionally, their guidelines for when an “Electronic Control Device” (X26 Taser) is to be used on humans (as opposed to animals) is limited to when:
a. The subject is not in the physical control of the officer yet posses a threat; (misspelling is theirs, I assume it is meant to read “poses”)
b. The officer, based on objective reasonableness, perceives an imminent threat of physical force against himself, other persons, property or self-inflicted injury; “
Reefa’s detractors declare that he was a criminal who tagged a privately owned building, however objectively ugly and abandoned it may be, and therefore was asking for it. But the likely crime he was being chased down for was a misdemeanor (punishable by few months in jail and a fine) not a felony as the law kind of indicates it should be if police are going to use force. Furthermore, by all accounts, Reefa stood about 5 foot 6,weighed 150 pounds and “hardly posed a threat to anyone.” He had no weapons and no criminal history. Under no objective measure can it be said that he was a threat to several well-armed police officers who allegedly high-fived each other as his tased body laid dying in the street.
Those are the facts based on the law and on the Miami Beach Police Department’s own policies. With those facts there is enough evidence for the Miami Dade State Attorney (prosecutor) Katherine Fernandez Rundle to file criminal charges against Officer Jorge Mercado immediately. There is enough evidence for the US Attorney in Miami (a federal prosecutor)Wilfredo Ferrer to file Federal criminal charges against Mercado immediately. There is also enough evidence for the Miami Beach Police Chief, Raymond Martinez, to fire Mercado immediately. Every minute that goes by that none of these things happen is a minute in which the agencies that are tasked with upholding the law are failing at their jobs.
In the coming weeks there is bound to be a plethora of spin, excuses and justification for why the man who murdered Reefa is not a really murderer, why Reefa is not really a victim and why his killing was not really illegal. People will talk about how safe Tasers are as opposed to real guns, even though over 500 people have been killed by them since 2001, more than have been killed in mass shootings in the same period. The officers will likely claim that they felt threatened by Reefa, even though their alleged actions seem to indicate the opposite. Prosecutors will likely say that the law prevents them from charging Mercado, even though the letter of the law disagrees. Lastly, there is bound to be tons of Internet trolls that cast Reefa as a thug and the Cop who killed him as a hero. The loved ones, friends and supporters of Reefa should acknowledge all of these things for what they are, excuses for murder, and prepare themselves for the long fight for justice.