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"The Missed Insurrection"
We found each other with a conspiratorial wink - our alliance affirmed. We spilled our secrets deep into morning, sparking at the resin in a stranger’s bowl. Under a sprawling canopy, amidst the snoring corpses of this futile left, we whispered the names of our ancient heroes - Malatesta. Berkman. Goldman. De Cleyre. Parsons. We shared a cigarette you had expertly rolled. Everyone around us was asleep. Or dead. We found each other as neighbors, unzipping our tents together each morning. Inured to the sartorial zombies shuffling past us to their offices, we’d lament that first hateful light of the day. “Fuck work,” you’d grumble. Then go, anyway. Returning drunk from other worlds, we’d reconcile at camp - outside our homes, cursing the bongos together. Or loving them. Screaming maniacally into the night, either way. We found each other in line at the toilet. Unprepared for a wait, we both went barefoot and overexposed. We arrived as strangers, but became comrades huddling together against an Autumn chill. “This bathroom is occupied,” came the reply to our final, plaintive knock. That joke was old before the first person ever said it aloud. We found each other in a large circle. There were forty of us there; our arms interlocked, our hands clasped tightly in front of us as if in desperate prayer. You wondered aloud how the hell we had gotten there. “Who gets arrested on purpose?” Not us. We muttered our quiet regrets through vinegar-soaked bandanas, our woe lost to the whirling helicopters overhead. We’d seen them try take the park - to try to hold that little space - but they were too few. We joined them first just to stare down that phalanx of cops - because where the pigs don’t want us is where we want to be. Just like that, we were trapped. An aging hippie kept reciting overwrought poetry, so we belted out the chorus of ‘Solidarity Forever’ together to drown him out. The chorus was the only part all of us knew. The battle between our repetition and his recitation proved a bigger struggle than the one he put up when the pigs finally pried him away. He hardly resisted. We were almost glad to see him go. We were the last subdued. We found each other tangled together in a dog pile. The pigs were twisting your foot. I screamed every time they did. It felt like my own foot was being twisted. I think that’s what solidarity means. We found each other at a secret meeting for some secret action. Everyone there was so solemn and serious. The organizer welcomed us as “the best and brightest.” Then spoke of armbands. Security. A new camp, free of the freeloaders. Their discussion turned to the tickets they’d distribute to prove people had worked - tickets they’d need in order to get fed. They plotted their occupation like incidental fascists. Then you raised your finger. When it was your turn to speak, you denounced them all - excoriating everyone in a righteous rage. We found each other on the ListServ. You had written a rambling manifesto about the CIA, the FBI or some other, alphabet soup agency you were certain they both worked for. You wanted to meet me, but you needed to find a safe place first. When we finally got a chance to meet, you wrote everything out to me on a notepad, despite us being alone inside of your van. “Certain this car is bugged” was the first phrase you wrote. You wrote so hard, you nearly tore the paper with the pen. I half expected you to eat that first page after you had finished scrawling on it with that trembling hand. You didn’t. You wrote more paranoia, but some of it made perfect sense. The last note itself read: “they’re too pretty and too smart to be hanging out with the two of us and not be getting paid.” I’d eventually learn you’d normally have been right. We found each other that day it rained, trapped under a tarp together for hours, listening in on a conversation - like two NSA spies - as a libertarian and Sovereign began falling slowly in love. We found each other in a bedroom, in a crowded meeting you doubtless don’t remember. You and a partner were languishing beneath the sheets in an oversized bed that dominated that space like unchecked, white privilege. For the first hour, I didn’t even know you were there. Your name had, as yet, only been whispered to me with a reverence oft-reserved for the dead. When you emerged groggily from beneath the covers to finally speak, I felt - for the first time - a totalizing sadness at the impermanence of life. When I looked in your eyes, I saw painkiller prescriptions. But the joy you all share reminds me I’ve often been wrong. I hope I’m wrong. We found each other after meetings, through meandering conversations that always seemed to end too soon, no matter how late it was. We found each other trapped between a chainlink fence and a skirmish line, tear gas already hanging heavy in the air. You had been busily clipping away at it with snips before I arrived to try to tear it down. Our numbers grew fast when the acrid smoke thickened. Then, like a failing dam, the fence finally burst and we poured over it in a torrent toward freedom. We were unstoppable - and in that moment - another world was possible. We found each other handcuffed to a pipe together in a police garage. Left alone - the two of us - strangers far behind enemy lines. We felt forgotten. Our conversation itself was an intricate dance, each of us hesitant to talk, neither of us knowing if the other was a cop. You’d ask me something and I’d only respond tersely. I’d ask you something and you’d barely nod. Wary of any topic that might possibly implicate us - the spell was only broken when we gushed about our cats. We found each other at Social Services. We were both applying to get food stamps for our first time. Each beset by our shame, we sat next to each other as they “taught” us how to write a resume. We hung our heads, too embarrassed to talk too much - speaking, at last, only when they asked us our names. It was hard for me to ever forget your subtle, Caribbean accent - harder still to forget your distinctive, whitening dreads. The day you first spoke before the assembly, you told everyone about those forty, proud years you’d worked as an electrician - and then bravely confessed the shame of that one day we’d only recently shared. I was so happy to see you there, with the rest of us, I quietly cried. It wasn’t until then that I knew I was finally in the right place. We found each other after the raid, huddled together in an abandoned intersection beneath blinking red traffic lights. The entire city was ours. Many among us knew each other by name, some of us - only as faces that we recognized and could trust. I’d never been so happy to see you - there with all of us. All around, a thousand strangers were shouting out their ill-conceived plans. “Let’s go back to the camp,” one voice roared. “Let’s take the freeway,” another. Hurriedly, we exchanged whatever intel each of us had. All rumors. Speculation. You got a call from someone who said they were kettled near the concert hall. “We have to get to them - to combine these marches.” I nodded eagerly. “We’ll draw the pigs away from the camp,” another comrade agreed. A hundred fingers twinkled; the quickest consensus I’d ever yet seen. I was sure this group could do it. I still thought we could do anything then. We found each other on a rooftop, chain-smoking cigarettes. She was yours and hers and his and his and I think his, too. I could never be sure. But what does it mean to be "someone’s," anyway? She was letting me sleep on her floor instead of being out in the cold. Whenever you came by, we’d sneak off to that resplendent rooftop - where the entire city itself flickered like fluttering little fireflies beneath us. What should’ve been a brief, smokers’ excursion often became a reticence to return. You would wax philosophical. Sometimes, I’d have to pretend to understand even half of what you had said. You were kind to never let on if you knew. We found each other long after the fire had already died. Back then, you hadn’t even been anywhere at all near its warmth. Somehow, we tell each other - we’re sure we’re related. Somehow, despite this, we’re sure we can fuck. There’s a lot going on now, maybe too much - in fact. To be honest, I’m unsure if I’ll come out intact. But I hope if I do - if that fire ever returns - you’ll be there beside me to watch as it burns. We found each other too soon - it turns out. In those heady days, after the raid, we had a lot of big ideas. Rolling actions would culminate in a General Strike. If we ever doubted it, we never said so. Everything had changed and we were determined to never go back. But time makes liars out of all of us, it seems. Slowly, our conversations lost their luster. After MayDay, the ordinary - always insistent - reasserted itself at last. All of our plans became less exciting. What was once talk of Chiapas, or training a militia, staying off the grid, eviscerating liberals, an upcoming action, doing shit - became complaints about work, mere survival, navigating friendships, and fights with your wife. We went through a lot of shit together, but you’re gonna have to go through this next shit alone. I love you, but her poison kills all that it touches. We found each other sitting in the last car. You were the driver. I was on “comms.” It wasn’t long before we had an escort - more pigs than I’d seen since the raid. I relayed this into the walkie-talkie. “Just so you know, uh… we have lots of pigs following.” A black militant chided me, “no shit,” crackling her response. Despite an inauspicious start, it felt like our plan was working. When the caravan stopped at 41st & Central, we were probably a half-mile back - so many cars ahead of us in the procession. By then we both had to pee so bad, we’d stopped talking - having to focus all our effort on not pissing ourselves in your car. We scrambled on solo missions to find a bathroom. When we returned, I confessed something I hadn’t yet told you. I’d actually met you long before all of this. In a club. Where you danced. When I told you, in my sheepish way, you laughed. You thought I was silly for not having told you long, long before. There’s a million stories like that between us now. I hope there are at least a million more. We found each other when you handed me a paper. You were always on the periphery, handing them out. I’m pretty sure I’m going to leave this city. I can’t figure out why you haven’t. If I don’t, if I stay here, I know I’d be lucky to end up like you. The truth is I’ve never had all that much luck. We found each other on the Playa. You took me aside and whispered, “you’re security culture is bad.” I laughed. I looked at the endless desert full of all of the fucked up dreamers tripping out on privilege and I was sure you were joking. You weren’t. We found each other after a heated argument. You said tersely, “I’ll be at the General Assembly.” I said, “I always am.” I lurked around the fringe that night, chain smoking cigarettes - staring hard into every unfamiliar face. Your emails always said, “sent from the heart of the revolution,” but we’d never met. Toward the end of it, a harmless-enough looking guy in glasses and a grin ambled up to me. Without a word, you gave me a hug. We found each other every night at camp. I’d steal you a tomato & mozzarella sandwich from work, because you don’t eat meat. We saw some shit together. It all seemed so fucking significant, didn’t it? I didn’t know anyone when it started. I don’t think you did, either. I always thought you were shy and aloof like me, but every time you had to step up, you did. Like there was nothing to it. Then, Covergirl. But you handled even that with a radical aplomb. If there’s one thing I miss about the camp, it’s you. We found each other splayed out on couches, our supine bodies intertwined, huddled behind velvet drapes deep within that cavernous, Queer bar - the one place where we all felt almost at ease. Buying each other round after round of watered-down shots, we raised our fists to every one of our comrades’ spirited toasts, sang our hearts out to all our rebel songs, and plotted the fucking revolution - the way it should be and hopefully will be again.
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“I believe in strategy. And so did many anarchists, including [Alexander] Berkman…”
- Chris Hedges, Our Invisible Revolution (Oct. 28, 2013)
While we weren’t startled to see Chris Hedges admit he’d “prefer the piecemeal and incremental reforms of a functioning democracy” to the anti-capitalist revolution many in “his” Occupy movement sought - there was still a ghostly specter haunting Hedges’ recent article that may spook anyone familiar with his odious oeuvre: Hedges’ ‘Cancerous,’ ‘Ⓐbsolutist Movement of Ⓐlways-and-Only-Black-Clad, Ⓐnarchist Bogey[persons]’ are apparently back! Eek!
Our Invisible Revolution, however, published just in time for Halloween, is more than merely another tired reprise of the endless demagoguing Hedges usually levies against his hallmark, hobgoblins of Occupy - “BLACK BLOC ANARCHISTS!” It’s also a case study in the hackneyed, historical cherry-picking that so often distinguishes his pretentious prose.
In his latest sermon, Hedges conspicuously manipulates history to exalt rather than impugn anarchists. The choice of Alexander Berkman for this first foray into anarchist hagiography, however, may ultimately serve only to exacerbate Hedges’ assuredly near-enfeebling dissonance. Berkman, after all, is probably best known to most as a failed assassin.
A quick bit of history for our old pal, Chris Hegemony:
In 1892, Berkman and Emma Goldman - actualizing the ‘propaganda of the deed’ strategy popularized by notorious firebrand Johann Most - traveled together to Homestead, PA. They went to avenge the 9 workers who had been martyred by strikebreaking Pinkertons on orders from Henry Clay Frick. Tragically, Berkman was unable to consummate the assassination plot and so the glorious revolution his strategy suggested a murder might ignite… regrettably never did.
Of course, Hedges doesn’t say a word about Frick in his anarchist-icon-appropriation yarn. He just says “strategy” is important to him. And that Berkman had a strategy. Isn’t that just like our slippery “Colonizer,” though?
[Thought Experiment: In a New Global Hedgemony, Chris Hedges - Imperial Eeyore, whines about absolute nonviolence then sighs, “I believe in mustaches. And so did many fascists, including Hitler.” Does this, then, mean that the Imperial Eeyore likes Hitler? Or even Hitler’s mustache? Does this mean anything at fucking all?]
Just as other self-styled “intellectuals” obscure the militancy in Tahrir, the bloodshed between Muslims and Hindus that ushered the Brits from Gandhi’s India or the crucial counterbalance black militancy gave to every liberals’ pacifist King - Hedges dignifies Berkman and Goldman’s strategy without revealing the details of their half-baked murder-plot topped with a heaping of their own, wild hope!
Could it be that if inconvenient facts can’t be made to fit into his narrative, Hedges just erases or ignores them? Or maybe he’d rather see assassinations than a broken window? Any other reason (aside from ‘recuperation’ or ‘shoddy research’) that I’m missing that’d compel a nonviolence-dogmatist like Hedges to pen a paean to a militant revolutionist?
We have to ask: bro, do you even Alexander Berkman?
With the revolutionary, Russian émigré invoked reverently in his lede and lionized repeatedly throughout, Hedges’ latest Truthdig post appears to be an olive branch to all the hardworking, anarchist organizers he pilloried (“stupid”), dehumanized (“cancer,” “beast”), misgendered (“hypermasculine”), racially-erased (“most are white”), infantilized (“adolescentization”), victim-blamed (“justify draconian forms of control”), outsidered (“many are not from the city”) and began shovelling under the bus (“criminal”) in February, 2012. Yet the chimera Hedges created in his “Cancer of Occupy” libel - the so-called “Black Block anarchists” of his own, inchoate inquiry and analysis - remain his favorite, talkshow topic today. [edit: a comrade recently reminded us of the oft-overlooked but inherent ableism also manifest in equating disease w/ inclusion/exclusion. Thanks, comrade.]
If an anarchist rapprochement was actually behind this otherwise unreadable bilge, as far as we at OLAASM are concerned - it’s far too little, too late - for that smug, snitch-jacketing, ineffectual, fascifist fucking opportunist! There must be a better place for his quasi-religious-zealotry, preferably somewhere far, far away from revolutionaries - where he can “stand with the right wing” and get frothily apoplectic about the sex lives of others?
Should this denunciation seem severe to some of you, or even crass, perhaps you’re missing some important context (or maybe you’re just a tone-policing fuckstick?) In the frenzy that followed his “Cancer” screed - a wildly speculative hatchet job that employed almost all of the maddeningly-familiar arguments of the ruling class itself - Hedges couldn’t resist the coup de grâce. His next post baselessly smeared OLAASM, suggesting we “infiltrate(d) the movement to foster internal divisions and rivalries.” In the end, the debilitating paranoia Hedges normalized in his “Cancer” piece was just as responsible as any other single factor for the downfall of “Occupy.” And worse that all of this, of course - Hedges didn’t even have the common courtesy to link back to our blog itself when he did!
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submitted by members of SWOP-LA and featured in the October-December, 2013 (Vol. 26, No. 4) print edition of Turning The Tide
Back in 1997, a group of radical activist sex workers in India called the First National Sex Worker Congress, wrote a manifesto, and became some of the first to articulate the values of what has become known internationally as the “Sex Worker’s Rights Movement.” Their documents continue to inform a global struggle. They wrote that “this movement is for everyone who strives for an equal, just, equitable, oppression free and above all a happy social world.” They also acknowledged that “sexual inequality and control of sexuality engender and perpetuate many other inequalities and exploitation too.”
According to the First Congress, and most importantly, we are faced with a singular opportunity, a chance to get at the roots of multiple forms of injustice because the sex worker rights movement addresses racism, sexism, classism, and any and all other -isms that keep people oppressed. At the intersection of economic transaction and sexuality, one can find most of the darkest contradictions of the dominant industrialized, global capitalist paradigm we live under. Perhaps because of this, one can also access some of the most potent revolutionary potential.
We use the term “sex work” to refer to ourselves when we talk politics. Why should you use it too? First reason: sex workers came up with it for ourselves. We use it because it is gender neutral, and because it reminds us that the erotic industries are myriad, and our trajectories in the industries tend to be wildly unpredictable mixes of cultural/political/economic/personal factors with some very real commonalities among our varied experiences. We are sometimes doing legal work, sometimes extra-, para-, or straight up illegal, and saying “sex work” protects us from legal consequence while we try to find each other. When a person tells you s/he is a sex worker, your first question should not be “does that mean you’re a prostitute?” Your first question should be: “How can I be supportive to your struggle?”
Sex workers are operating in every neighborhood. We are working in every city, in every county, in every state, and, particularly in the United States of Amerikkka, we are subject to some of the most insidious divide-and-conquer tactics invented by the carceral state. A sex worker is the person most likely to be murdered, worldwide. Even those who work in “high-end” escorting have no recourse to community help or protection if they are in danger.
We are accused of spreading disease, when we have some of the most sophisticated safe sex practices available and often act as sexual health educators for our clients and communities. We are arrested for carrying condoms in New York, Los Angeles, and many other places, even though those condoms can save lives. We are the butt of “dead hooker” jokes, we are blamed for other people’s sexual problems, we are assumed to be broken people, children of molest or broken homes and addicts, and when we do suffer from sexual trauma or drug dependence, we do not receive compassionate care. We have to stand before judges in the courtroom, but we also are judged the instant we “out” ourselves to almost anyone.
Please note: the “we” spoken here is an important problem: some sex workers are laboring indoors, in privileged contexts, while some are working outdoors and barely surviving. As one might expect, people of color are disproportionately represented in this country’s jails and prisons, even though white women make up the majority of the American sex worker population. While it may seem that all this stigma and repression spells disaster for us, we have increased in number at every epoch. This creates a potential for solidarity among us: a shared struggle against state repression is always a good place to start.
However, sex workers organizing ourselves is only part of the picture if we are to build a movement against oppression that is intersectional, inclusive, intercommunal, and powerful. We need our allies in radical communities to answer our call to stand with us as workers, as women, as men, as trans people, as straight-gay-queer-bi-pan-other. As the sex workers at the First Congress knew, many sex workers absorb the societal stigma of shame and unworthiness. We need allies to recognize that stigma is a commonality that links all of us, despite the enormous diversity in our realities at work and in our lives. Our allies are people who fight for an end to social injustice, but they don’t always recognize us as allies to them. The tacit exclusion of sex workers from radical groups necessarily means a loss to the revolutionary community, considering that we are everywhere. A political activist doesn’t need to agree with a sex worker’s choices to stand in solidarity with her, just as we don’t need to agree with every choice made by every comrade in prison in order to stand in solidarity with them, particularly when we all call for the abolition of prisons! But we often find that the radical left would prefer to rescue, rather than join hands, with us.
Kthi Win, the chairperson of the Asia Pacific Network of Sex Workers writes of her experience this way:
“The violence happens when feminist rescue organizations work with the police who break into our work places and beat us, rape us and kidnap our children in order to save us. As a movement, feminism is meant to believe in agency. Even oppressed women in sex work can make choices. But we cannot chose not to be saved when a policeman or police women has a gun pointed at our head.
What we need is for the mainstream women’s movement to not just silently support our struggle but to speak up and speak out against the extremists who have turned the important movement against real trafficking into a violent war against sex workers.”
Sex work is by definition consensual sex. Non consensual sex is rape, slavery, or trafficking. The Sex Worker’s Rights Movement has been instrumental in bringing trafficking cases to light; however, we are often regarded as trafficked persons against our own assertions of freedom and agency. We must, according to sexist capitalist logic, be either criminals or victims.
So ask yourself how you feel about sex work. Do you believe all people in the sex industries should be rescued from degradation? Are we disrespecting ourselves? Are we disrespecting decent, hard-working revolutionaries who know how to be good heterosexual monogamous partners? Are we disrespecting women’s liberation to assert that some of us prefer working with pimps than working independently, given our choices? Are we lost to the cause of destroying the capitalist state, because we are already slut-shamed and ostracized?
We imagine an autonomous sexuality in which all people have the right to say “yes” or “no,” in which there is no space for guilt or oppression, in which people are communicating respectfully about their desires and needs. We invite those on the radical left to: consider your own internalized shame about sex, demand of yourself a higher consciousness about your own prejudice against sex workers, and demonstrate a commitment fight alongside us, because we are already fighting alongside you.
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Remarks by our comrade, Craig, at the 2013 Ecosocialism Conference in Culver City, CA on September 21, 2013:
"To start: I’m bemused by my own inclusion on this panel. I don’t see myself as having any special access to information that isn’t available to all of us here today.
I don’t have a lot of personal experience in electoral politics. As you may have seen in my brief bio, the last time I voted was during the first season of American Idol and even then, I was phoning it in…
[pause for riotous laughter]
Being a non-voter isn’t much of a distinction, of course - only 12% of registered voters here in Los Angeles voted for our new mayor - Eric Garcetti.
I’d like you to join me in thinking about that for a moment:
We live in a city where 88% of those REGISTERED TO VOTE didn’t vote for the city’s leader. In fact, the overwhelming majority - including the undocumented, people with felony convictions and others denied participation - aren’t even included in that figure.
Reform-minded people believe this is an indication that we need better voter recruitment. But as I sit on this panel with three passionate advocates for social and ecological justice who have clearly devoted considerable time to that very project, I don’t see the tangible fruits of their labor. In fact, the level of environmental degradation during their lifetimes has worsened.
In fact, despite their tremendous efforts, for the first time since the Pliocine (2.6-5 million years ago), CO2 levels have now reached 400 ppm. I’m pretty sure this might be significant.
So what am I doing here? Why am I on this panel and what can I contribute to the dialogue we’re having today?
My original plan today was to demonstrate precisely how futile I think the electoral process is.
So, when I first accepted this token, anarchist position up here, I began scheming with my comrades about how to use this conference - and my privileged position on this very panel - to draw an elaborate analogy to the electoral process itself. The point would be to emphasize how the urgency of the issues today prove electoral politics are insufficient.
You see - right now - I am functioning as a representative - much the same way representative government allegedly functions in the United States today.
So as your representative on this panel - I now clearly wield a certain amount of power.
I can say whatever I want right now.
See? I just screamed “elephants,” apropos of nothing. That’s the kind of power I’m talking about. I’m controlling the dialogue.
And now I could talk about elephants for the rest of my time if I want in much the same way our elected representatives use feints and sleight-of-hand to distract us with topics like “debt ceilings” or “chemical weapons in Syria” and whatnot.
And let’s be honest: if this were a government post and not just a panel at a conference in Culver City, much like our elected representatives, the things I say and do would far more likely reflect the interests of the people the 12% who elected me and those who fill my coffers and ensure my re-election than those of the fine people we have assembled here today.
That being the case, in the performance I planned with my comrades to present to you today , I was just going to sit here in complete silence for my allotted fifteen minutes.
Yes - I was thinking of going full Andy Kaufman.
And I’d just sit here. I wouldn’t say anything to you. At all. We’d just wallow in an uncomfortable silence together. That was my plan, anyway.
I guess now I should confess something: this is my first panel. In fact, at this rate, it seems like it very well be my last. Knowing that - I have a lot of courage to shake up things up.
I also have no understanding of how this kind of thing works. One of my comrades - who actually has participated in this panel-type of thing before - was pessimistic about my ability to hold this space for a full fifteen minutes without speaking. She relayed her concerns to me:
“The emcee or moderator will interject pretty quickly if you sit silently and you’ll just end up forfeiting your time,” she warned me.
I still wasn’t discouraged. I figured I could then use that as part of the act - to say, “look, the moderator is the person with the real power. That’s the person with the money! Just like our politicians!” Or to echo the oversimplification of “occupy,” that 1 person represents the so-called 1% actually running things.
I could incorporate that into my presentation to great effect, I thought.
“Well, what if people in the audience leave?” She then asked.
“That’d be great, too,” I laughed. “I could shout out that leaving a panel, much like divesting from a sham election that gives power to wholly-owned, silver-spoon-fed neoliberal shill like Garcetti - that finding a better way to spend our time - is exactly what we SHOULD be doing!”
My comrade relented. It seemed I wasn’t going to be dissuaded by her reasonable points. So she instead joined in helping me plan this subversion.
As most of my comrades are sex workers and other academics, the rest seemed enthusiastic about my inclination to shake it up.
I thought such a performance here would aptly demonstrate just how wasteful electoral politics - especially in this time of crisis and environmental catastrophe - has proven itself over the years.
Sure, maybe some of you would think I was a clown - but some of you might agree we have to DO something besides pull a lever and wait for power to concede to our pipsqueak-sized, electoral ‘demand’ of incremental, ecological reform. Because even when we do win in that venue, we are rewarded with such pyrrhic victories as the Kyoto Protocol, which was never even ratified by the largest polluter on the planet - the United States. Domestically, we get the EPA, an agency that has been systematically defanged since its very inception in 1970.
Some of us call ourselves “revolutionaries,” my question is - what is revolutionary about waiting forty more years and engaging in an electoral war of attrition just to maintain the modest safeguards we achieved in 1970? The motto of this very conference is “System change, not climate change,” right?
I hold in my hands a book very few of you may recognize. I myself stumbled upon it in the vault above the Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles.
The book is called “Beyond Repair: The Ecology of Capitalism” by a Marxist-Leninist named Barry Weisberg.
It was published in 1971.
I’d like to read a few passages from Weisberg:
"The present environmental destruction is increasingly the product of a structure of economic and political power that consolidates and sustains itself through the systematic destruction of the human species and the physical world."
"We completely fail to grasp the magnitude of death perpetrated by the American colossus."
"As always, America has made out of a social crisis yet another commodity."
"The restoration of natural balance depends today upon the destruction of that social order and the birth of a new poetry of human relations."
Remember: these sage words were written in 1971. That’s eight years BC, or “before Craig” as I like to call it. And yet they seem just as applicable in 2013 as they should have been then.
Now let me be clear: I’m not against voting. If you want to vote, I’m certainly not going to stop you.
For me, however, electoral politics are merely an arrow in the environmentalist’s quiver. But I hope I’ve made it clear that I personally consider that arrow to be one of the least effective, low-impact weapons available in our arsenal. And while the empire reinforces its armored tanks and extends its array of fortified pipelines that no arrow yet has pierced, we’re still talking about how to sharpen those arrows.
If my good friends here want to vote, I’m not going to try to stop them. I’m not going to tell them or any of you how to spend your time. I can only tell you how I’m going to spend my time. And it isn’t in a voting booth, or going door-to-door on a GOTV campaign, or trying to find the representative who finally won’t succumb to the Siren-song of finance capital.
Going back for a moment to the 12% who voted for Mayor Garcetti, I want to remind you all that only 3% of the colonial population here fought in the so-called Revolutionary War. Only 10% actively supported the uprising against the British Empire.
So the question I wish to pose is this: would you rather spend your limited time on this limited planet while it hurtles toward mass displacements and widespread famine trying to get to maybe 13% of registered, Los Angeles voters to elect a representative who might instead talk only about elephants or would you rather spend that time trying to convince a mere 3% of the population that there is no other choice but to smash capitalism altogether?
To reappropriate the language of the capitalists, in a cost-benefit analysis, for me, the answer seems obvious.
Don’t change the source.
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It would be a lie to say I didn’t have any exposure to sex work or even have access to the candid lives of sex workers themselves before I met my current comrades. In truth, I spent considerable time (and not an insignificant sum of money) unashamedly consuming the products of such work as a client - and have also counted sex workers as my personal friends in the past. Those relationships, however, rarely explored the explicit politics of the work itself - and were typically relegated to the kinds of casual acquaintances so common among the kind of people who, without wincing, regurgitate neoliberal mantras like “it is what it is” to elide otherwise troubling conversations. I was one of those people myself for far too long.
You see, I was once a poker playing libertine who made easy money and spent it just as easily. As a consequence, I usually kept odd hours, worked in isolation from womyn of what many consider more normative employment and was often flush with cash and an inclination to celebrate. I also have a writer’s fascination with people and their stories - particularly people who operate in worlds I find that I don’t understand easily. Those factors, in addition to an abiding attraction to the female body, lead me to dimly-lit clubs on occasions too numerous to count.
Of course, in my privileged unconsciousness, I was sometimes admittedly tortured by the kinds of patriarchal and decidedly liberal conceits that I have more recently disavowed. Politicization and awareness are amazing things, I guess. While I never embodied the "but you’re too good for this kind of work” or "this work is degrading to women" tropes so common among white male saviors (and sadly many self-professed “feminists” as well), thoughts like that did flit about in my head more often and linger longer when they did than they do now.
I’m not free of them, by any means. We are culturally awash in patriarchy, misogyny and other systems of oppression and to suggest I have completely conquered my environment would be a narcissism not even I possess. However, my revolutionary project itself now specifically involves identifying, confronting and unlearning those cultural indoctrinations as soon as they reveal themselves.
With some shame, I have also grappled with my own egoism and entitlement regarding sex. Ideas of monogamous, romantic love borne of too many years spent reading too many similarly-situated, lovelorn poets populated my head at times. They still do. While I have always battled them and have often successfully warded off jealousy and other pitfalls of latent, male chauvinism so pervasive in this capitalist miasma - I didn’t always win.
What helped me win these internal battles - when I did win them - was a particular circumstance that defined my childhood: I was raised almost exclusively by women. My sisters and female cousins, in particular, were foundational to my understanding of the world.
Observing the deleterious role jealousy, for example, plays in healthy, heteronormative coupling as an infiltrator within otherwise-exclusive, female-bodied spaces - I quickly came to understand that the surest way to drive women (and the bodies that I coveted as sexual partners) away would be to evince jealousy, dominance, coercion and control. Being a baby brother had its advantages. My sisters, cousins and their friends constantly confided in each other about their experiences in near-constant sleepovers and I absorbed all of this insight with a distinct intention to be a better boyfriend, lover or partner to some romanticized caricature of a woman in the future.
In fact, of the family I happened into in my original, formative years - most were female-bodied. Two fiercely-independent grandmothers, my own mother, an aunt, two older sisters and three female-bodied cousins had a considerable influence on me while my father, the only constant male presence in my life, instead spent a lot of time away at work. Aloof and emotionally unavailable, even my father’s physical presence - when it manifested - was hardly enough to countervail the matriarchal environment I found myself in.
As a result, my own gender-identity was hardly normative. At a young age, I proudly proclaimed I wanted to “be a girl when I grew up.” While this memory would trouble me in my awkward adolescence, and while I have never had a sexual interest in male bodies, it makes perfect sense to me now. Women were a dominant influence in my young life. The understanding that the world operated quite differently - and that my place in it as one who presents as male was actually privileged - would take years of insidious, capitalist socialization not usually necessary.
Today, I consider myself part of a formation of female-bodied sex workers. I am confronted daily with challenges I never even imagined before. In addition, I am also exploring the particular destabilizations that accompany being a sex worker’s lover. Luckily, through my own political radicalization, I have truly come to cherish that destabilization itself. Every time I feel troubled, I know now there is an opportunity to learn or unlearn something - and my comrades are insistent upon confronting those moments head-on and without fear. The intermingling of a new, political consciousness, immersion in a culture of confrontational and abject honesty and being immersed in sex work together has had a profound influence on me. My understandings of gender, labor, race, class and all the other intersections under the Matrix of Domination• are upended almost daily.
I am trying to embody allyship in the best sense I know: to understand what I am capable of understanding about their work, to empathize with what I am capable of empathizing and to defer to the experiential knowledge I will never - and have no right - to claim as my own. In short, I am committed to developing solidarity with sex workers. To me, that means seeing their struggle for liberation as integral to my own. Finally, I’m also trying to demonstrate to myself that the observational knowledge I acquired from my childhood - for the admitted self-interest of being a better ‘suitor’ in my more traditional past - can now be more broadly applied in a political context. My experiences, I think, testify to this.
As but one example, one thing that often strikes me about my comrades’ interactions with each other - the shop-talk, gossip and typical, water-cooler conversations they share as workers - is how entirely familiar they are to me. Listening in, as they encourage me to do as well as participating when I can, it is rare for me to discern much difference between their conversations and those my sisters and cousins had about their own lovers. Excluding the unvarnished, openly-transactional nature of my comrades’ work, it’d often be impossible for me to tell the difference between the two.
In fact, even the transactions themselves are difficult to distinguish. A vacation here, a car or extravagant gift there, even lump sums of cash - these are all things I have seen exchanged for female companionship for most of my life, and mostly by men to women who don’t consider women’s bodies as their workplace*. If watching my own parents’ acrimonious divorce didn’t demonstrate that even the most sacralized, contractual partnerships can be quantified by the cold calculus of capitalism - the awareness I have now surely has.
In the first month that I lived with a sex worker, I stumbled upon a book, Sex and Sensibility, and grabbed it on my way to take a shit. Flipping through the pages, one line left me so slack-jawed and agog I had to jot it down. I refer to it often whenever I have my doubts.
As an anarchist who has previously identified with the struggle of workers, Marcia Pally laid bare the absurdity of stigmatizing sex work in one sentence: "Those who righteously wish to shut down the sex industries are telling performers not to eschew exploitation but to eschew it in the nude." I have yet to hear an argument, at least one devoid of the anachronistic moralizing of our nation’s Puritan past, that stands up in the face of this simple truth.
For now - and hopefully for a lifetime - I am reveling in the tension my comrades’ defiant existence alone exacerbates in a world fraught with so much bullshit. The honesty of the sex workers I know should be a lesson for us all.
In solidarity and struggle…
• From Patricia Hill Collins’, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment
* "The body has been for women in capitalist society what the factory has been for male waged workers: the primary ground of their exploitation and resistance, as the female body has been appropriated by the state and men and forced to function as a means for the reproduction and accumulation of labor." - Silvia Federici, Caliban and the Witch
Part 2 of mini-doc about the “Smash White Supremacy Fun Run” on July 18th in Los Angeles.
Part 1 of a mini-doc about July 18th’s “Smash White Supremacy Fun Run” in Los Angeles.
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