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VIDEO: #FastFoodGlobal Rally in Austin, Texas

7:13 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Protester outside Popeyes Kitchen: Austin, TX On Strike For $15/hr & A Union, #FastFoodGlobal

Austin, Texas joined #FastFoodGlobal, an international day of action.

A handful of fast food workers walked off their jobs in Austin, Texas yesterday, the closest thing our city had to a true May Day celebration in the streets. It happened as part of a global one-day strike led by the Fight For 15 movement. Dozens of workers and allies gathered outside a Popeye’s Kitchen on the east side of town, along a strip of fast food restaurants that cluster near the intersection of Martin Luther King, JR Boulevard and Airport Boulevard. This strip of strip mall purgatory could be any arterial street in America, reeking of fry grease and automotive exhaust.

After a member of the local clergy led us in prayer, we heard from several workers. The star of the show was Alonzo Simms. If the press release I got handed hadn’t told me he was 47-years old, I’d never have known — he had more energy than me, despite being older by over a decade. He told us about working sometimes seven days a week at $8.25/hour, with no raises in sight. He’s raising two kids on that salary and struggling to make ends meet, while the CEOs of fast food chains make sometimes as much as thousands of dollars per hour.

After his story he led the crowd into one fast food restaurant after another. Neither the protesters nor the media (with multiple local TV stations putting in an appearance) were phased by the complaints of the store managers, who made obligatory declarations that we had to leave or shut off our cameras. In each restaurant we chanted before Simms spoke directly to the workers. Some were supportive, others indifferent or mildly hostile. In the middle of a school day, these were not the teenagers that supposedly make up the bulk of fast food workers, but people from a range of ages and races.

Other than the brave efforts of local anti-deportation activists, this was some of the boldest action I’ve seen in Austin since last summer’s pro-choice protests at the Capitol. We’re a long way from Seattle, where $15/hour may become reality. One construction worker objected that he handles specialized equipment and still doesn’t make that much — a sign that to many, these protests seem like fantasy, rather than a movement with the potential to elevate us all.

But these workers seem determined, and if the movement grows — if we strike for more than a day – it’ll be days like this that got us there.

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#BringBackOurGirls Brings Back the Blowback?

1:23 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Will a well-meaning social media campaign to rescue kidnapped girls result in military action and, as a result, more blowback against the United States? Could our intervention in Nigeria make Boko Haram stronger?

A man in a webcam photo holds a sign reading #BringBackOurGirls

Could a social media campaign inadvertently strengthen Boko Haram?

In recent days, Americans have become aware of the 276 kidnapped Muslim schoolgirls, taken at gunpoint from their classroom in Nigeria by the militant Boko Haram movement. Though there were several real world demonstrations, many more are taking part in online activism through the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag. Since the kidnapping, the United States and many other countries sent teams of experts or offered assistance to the Nigerian government — at their request.

But Boko Haram has also stepped up its violence, slaughtering over 300 in the town of Gamboru Ngala in northeastern Nigeria. From the New York Times:

The latest attack, on Monday, followed a classic Boko Haram pattern: Dozens of militants wearing fatigues and wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenade launchers descended on the town of Gamboru Ngala, chanting ‘Allahu akbar,’ firing indiscriminately and torching houses. When it was over, at least 336 people had been killed and hundreds of houses and cars had been set on fire, said Waziri Hassan, who lives there, and Senator Ahmed Zanna.

The missing schoolgirls have grabbed the world’s attention, and more offers of help poured in to the Nigerian government on Wednesday from Britain, China and France. But Boko Haram’s deadly attack on Gamboru Ngala was similar to many others in the past several years that drew little or no notice beyond Nigeria. Bodies still lay in the street on Wednesday night, said Mr. Hassan, a cement salesman.

Likewise, Amnesty International officials told RT that Nigerian officials had warning of the kidnapping and did not or could not act:

According to a number of sources interviewed by Amnesty local civilian patrols in Gagilam, a village neighboring Chibok where the girls were abducted, were the first to alert the authorities.The patrols are known as vigilantes and were set up by military and local authorities to counter Boko Haram.

A vigilante patrol in Gaiglam raised the alarm when a group of armed men entered the village on motorbikes and said they were on their way to Chibok. Locals immediately phoned a number of officials to warn them including the Borno State Governor and senior military commanders based in the regional capital Maiduguri.

[...]At about 11:45 the convoy of Boko Harem fighters which by this time consisted of about 200 men on motorbikes and in trucks entered Chibok and a gunfight broke out with the small garrison of 17 police and soldiers who were based in the town. Outnumbered and outgunned the small security force eventually fled the town in the small hours leaving the Boko Haram fighters free to proceed to the girl’s secondary school where they abducted 270 school girls.

Two senior officers in the Nigerian military confirmed to Amnesty that they were aware of the attack even before the phone calls from local officials but were unable to mobilize reinforcements. One officer told the rights group that his soldiers were fearful of engaging the militants who were often better equipped.

It seems, once again, Team America: World Police are preparing to intervene in a complex local situation which we’re ill-equipped to understand or handle. Indeed, while all agree the fate of the kidnapped women is utter tragedy, many of the more sober writers online are beginning to question the wisdom of American involvement. Writing for Medium, Turkish writer Zeynep Tufekci notes, “this is but one step in a story that started long before the hashtag, and will not end when the global attention ends.”

After describing how her grandmother narrowly escaped a fate similar to the kidnapped students, she asks “why am I wary of the urge to ‘do something’ about Boko Haram’s kidnapping of these girls? Do they not deserve my grandmother’s small miracle? They do, a hundred thousand times over.” But she warns that there is a crucial difference between internal versus external attention and intervention:

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A Conversation with Scott Crow, Part 2: Mutual Aid

7:05 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Previously: Part 1, Occupy & Activism

Banner on Occupy Sandy relief site: "Occupy Sandy, Mutual Aid Not Charity" with Circle A

Radical activist networks are powerful sources of mutual aid during disasters. But what comes after?

One reason I wanted to chat with Scott Crow was his experience with Common Ground Collective in New Orleans. In recent years, we’ve seen similar collectives spring out of the activist networks formed by Occupy Wall Street — projects like Occupy Sandy. Late last year, alongside key Common Ground Collective organizer Lisa Fithian and many others, I organized Austin Common Ground Relief to respond to a record-breaking flood on Halloween. As the group’s dispatcher, I relied on the networks and skills formed during Occupy Austin.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: You mentioned projects that appear during lulls. I see Occupy Sandy, or the Common Ground Relief work we did here recently and all that ties into what you were doing at Common Ground Collective. 

Scott Crow: Right.

FDL: Mutual aid is good for its own sake, but how do we connect that politically? We don’t want to turn anyone off. We don’t want to politicize our aid but our aid is political. How do we make that connection? What happens next after an Occupy Sandy?

SC: I think it only is what it is. You can only ‘politicize’ it as much as you can. I think what’s really important is the culture we create internally within our political movements and social movements and also the way we engage outwardly with other people — though it’s more permeable than that. We’re not trying to convert people to anarchy or to communism or whatever it is — although communists did try to convert people just like religious wingnuts. Really what we do is you just make it make sense to people.

FDL: Sure!

SC: When you go to help someone and you name it mutual aid, people see that in real life and real time. Unfortunately, that’s the only way to do it. There is no conversion.

“It’s the idea of attraction, not the idea of conversion.” That actually comes out of Alcoholics Anonymous, I didn’t make that up. The aid work is something which just emerges sort of by accident out of all these projects. Like at Common Ground Collective in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, we were able to pull from the alternative globalization movement: street medics, indy media, and Food Not Bombs and all these things which had been going on.

FDL: These were networks built through activism that then were pulled in for aid.

SC: We didn’t consciously say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this for aid!’ Now we’re starting to see that this has become a newer model, another point of intersection against the crisis of capitalism.

Make it as political as possible without drawing fake lines: like “we’re anarchist and you’re not.” Or, “this is radical and you’re not.” And also just being honest about who we are. I don’t want to convert anyone.

FDL: But you’re honest about where you’re coming from.

SC: Absolutely! I told people I was an anarchist from the beginning in New Orleans. And these are people, in some communities, who had hardly ever seen white people. I’m literally serious about that. They’d say “I’ve barely seen white people except on TV. You’re an anarchist, what is that? And why are you here?”

Now they’ll tell you, “The anarchists came. No one else showed up, but the anarchists came.” I’m sure your experience with Austin Common Ground was maybe not as extreme, but similar.

FDL: Sure, I had some people who took me aside who were like “I get what you guys are doing here.” We didn’t avoid talking about our politics, people knew we were organizers but it was never about that, obviously. It was about “here’s a meal.”

SC: Right.

FDL: During some of the later events in December, people told me, “We will remember you and what you did.”

SC: It’s also about connecting things. So when you’re gutting somebody’s house, you can come in like a service organization and say, “Yeah, we’re going to gut your house. Then we’re going to go on to do something else.” That’s the charity model. But if you come in with the solidarity model, it’s like, “We’re doing this because we want you to get back on your feet, because we want you to build your own community power the way you see fit.” It’s a different way to approach it.

FDL: We’ve been able to pass the work off to the new Onion Creek Park Neighborhood Alliance, which we helped them form. 

SC: That’s what I’m talking about! These things happen all the time, and I don’t care if we name them as anarchy or not. It’s not a brand. There’s no gain in it. It’s just a point of reference, at least to me.

FDL: I feel the same way about Occupy. Some people want to fly that banner and it’s really powerful to them, and other people don’t want anything to do with it. At the end of the day, I don’t care as long as they’re doing something.

SC: Right, right.

In Part 3: Technology and intersectionality.

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50 Years of Political Puppets

7:01 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Massive Bain Capital Monster in Zuccotti Park

Bread & Puppet’s Bain Capital supervillain, complete with MiB guard, was a stunning sight in Zuccotti Park.

The Bread & Puppet Theater turned 50 years old in 2013. Democracy Now! spoke with the founder, Peter Schumann:

This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of this country’s most beloved theater companies. Founded in New York City in 1963, the Bread and Puppet Theater’s first productions ranged from puppet shows for children to pieces opposing poor housing conditions. The group’s processions, involving monstrous puppets, some about 20 feet high, became a fixture of protests against the Vietnam War. ‘We don’t have playwrights in the theater. Our playwright is the daily news, is this — all this horror that happens,’ says theater founder Peter Schumann. ‘And it’s not so much that we want to do it, but we continuously get obliged to do it, because the goddamn media don’t say it. They are — they live by omission, rather than by reporting.’ In the early 1970s, Bread and Puppet moved to Glover, Vermont, where they transformed a former hay barn into a museum of puppets. Today, Bread and Puppet remains one of the longest-running nonprofit, self-supporting theater companies in the United States. We spend the hour with Schumann, asking him how the theater addresses the most urgent political issues of our time, from nuclear weapons to mass domestic surveillance. Soon to celebrate his 80th birthday, Schumann also discusses why he refuses to retire and the place of older people in our society.

NPR’s Jon Kalish also visited with Bread & Puppet at their Vermont home in August:

The theater is based on a farm in northern Vermont, about 25 miles from the Canadian border. There’s a pine forest on the property with small, colorful huts that memorialize puppeteers who have passed, and a huge barn jammed with the company’s puppets, some of them nearly 20 feet tall.

The barn is used as a rehearsal space on a rainy summer afternoon. Outside there are old bathtubs full of clay dug from a nearby river. Bread and Puppet’s founder Peter Schumann uses it to sculpt his puppets and masks, then covers them with paper mache made from discarded cardboard.

‘It’s the freedom that you get when you can do things because of America’s garbage and the freedom of doing gigantic things for almost nothing, with just collaboration, with just people power,’ he says.

Schumann brought people power to New York’s Lower East Side when he founded the theater in 1963. He grew up in Germany as a refugee of World War II. His company’s name comes from the peasant bread his mother baked to survive. Schumann’s low-tech, home-made puppetry became part of New York’s thriving avant garde art scene, and early on Bread and Puppet put on free shows with inner city kids, including one called Chicken Little in Harlem.

I’ve loved Bread & Puppet Theater since Siun introduced them to me as a child. It was a real treat to see their Bain Capital monster cavorting in Zuccotti Park during the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, adding to the almost mythic atmosphere of the entire proceedings. The creature came with its own handler, a Man In Black. Do you have any Bread & Puppet stories to share?

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Free Speech, Capitalist Dynasties

7:27 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Did you hear? Some rich filth on TV said he believes God hates fags.

V for Vendetta-style caped Guy Fawkes & a police photographer

The beginning of a new movement or the last gasp of unmediated free speech?

Now, TV personalities can spend even more days analyzing other TV personalities. Do they hate gays, black people, you? What color is Santa? All the usual, powerful swine are out for the right of other swine to say whatever they want on a profitable television program.

Conservatives like to believe that “freedom of speech” means “freedom from consequences” for intolerance. Meanwhile, actual violations of freedom of speech — like climate change activists being charged with a “terrorism hoax” – go unanswered by either the right or the left.

While this spectacle involves the right-wing puppets, both parties — the whole political spectrum, as far as Mainstream America is concerned — are intimately invested in this redefinition of free speech.

Free speech isn’t what happens in the streets, it’s corporate money at elections and pretty pictures on commercial television.

When Occupy drew thousands nationwide, it was Democratic mayors — and Obama’s Feds — that came down hardest on the movement. When thousands gathered at the Texas Capitol this past summer but before Wendy Davis’ much-lauded filibuster, Democratic party officials put the loudest, most influential grassroots organizers on a list of dangerous agitators that they passed around to rally organizers from multiple groups. One of them told me I shouldn’t lead crowds in chanting or disruptive behavior because it would “look crazy.” Not to worry, she told me, we’d vote them out in 2014.

Street posters of Snowden (labelled Patriot) & Rick Perry (labelled Dog Shit)

Speech without permits is terrorism.

On the night of the final vote while a hundred Texas State Troopers beat and dragged us for sitting in front of the Senate doors, the Texas Democrats led a march away from the Capitol so they could have a fund raiser in a park before their permit ran out. Whatever happens next November, the legislature won’t even meet till 2015 and at least 20,000 women won’t have access to safe abortion next year.

Free speech isn’t what happens on the Internet. We jail our whistle blowers and hacktivist heroes while the NSA stalks and catalogs us.

Free speech is freedom to create commercially profitable spectacle. The media disappearing yet again up its own asshole.

Homeless people — perhaps as many as half of whom are queer — are freezing to death in the richest part of the country. LGBTQ folk are being jailed and tortured in Greece and Russia but we applaud a few gay athletes.

Free speech is voting for a turkey while prisoners languish in solitary, poor people starve and our atmosphere burns.

But don’t look away for a minute. You might miss a heartfelt apology, before we all comb our folksy beards and shoot a few more ducks through the magic of mirror neurons.

The Mexicans and the Million Mask March had the right of it by surrounding the mainstream media bullshit factories and demanding to be heard by so-called journalists. They just didn’t go far enough.

Give it time. The disenfranchisement is there, we’re just waiting on enough anger.

People of America, put on your masks. Lift up your voices. And pick up your paintbrush, your smart phone, your chalk and your wheat paste and use them to smash the state.

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3 Ways Movements Spread Nonviolent Civil Disobedience

6:26 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More: Kit’s social media & blogging slideshow.

Civil Disobedience Misconceptions

We have entered an age of protest. Social media tools allow new ways to mobilize activists into public and private spaces and also provide new avenues for amplifying their actions. The Internet, when used properly, can drive activists to an action — or a worldwide coalition of actions — and then make sure thousands more people see and hear about them afterwards. Using simple tools like hashtags, we can monitor the response to actions in real time in a way never possible before.

A large street march with an Idle No More banner

An #IdleNoMore street march in Victoria, British Columbia. Successful movements use modern social media tools while empowering everyday people to take the streets.

Social media buzz during and immediately after a direct action is an interesting measure of its success. Actions which capture the imagination of their viewers, or which take place in very visible ways can quickly multiply beyond their numbers. Less than a dozen people took part in planning and executing Austin’s Free Santa chalk action, but perfect timing and smart use of social media drew international attention.

Of course, the critics will flood onto social media too. In some ways, they are also a measure of success — a tiny action with little impact is unlikely to attract trolls. The more of your opponents (and their sock puppets) who respond, the more you are getting noticed. Successful movements also find themselves under fire from mainstream media propaganda, like the NYPD and New York Post after recent arrests unrelated to Occupy Wall St. Unfortunately, this propaganda quickly becomes accepted truth — I’d wager that more people can repeat police & media-spun myths about widespread public defecation and destruction at Occupy camps than can speak to the movement’s actual demands, however clearly members have articulated them.

When I glanced at the #IdleNoMore hashtag recently, I was disheartened to see someone suggesting that the movement should cease civil disobedience and instead organize around cleaning up trash on the roadways and beaches of Canada and the United States. Obviously, some statements like this come from a position of racism (or at least privilege) — there’s a long tradition of telling the oppressed to just settle down rather than engage in troublesome free speech. Even taken charitably, such statements are ridiculous — the Adopt-A-Highway campaign is hardly a hotbed of revolutionary change.

Yet some of these statements come from genuine ignorance about the effectiveness of direct action as part of a movement. The same mainstream media that happily spreads anti-activist propaganda is loathe to share stories of the effectiveness of mass movements; when they do show up at a protest they are notorious for highlighting the “weirdest” looking, least articulate protester they can find in their sound bytes. Before last year’s #NoNATO protests, police deliberately kindled fear of widespread disruption among the city’s people and business owners. Chicago peace activist Sue Basko told me that because she was a public organizer of the protests with her name on march permits, she fielded many calls and emails complaining about public transportation delays and disruption, even though most or all of this disruption was caused by the NATO conference and its security apparatus.

Some people will always be “inconvenienced” by civil disobedience, mass protest, and other forms of nonviolent direct action. It’s the job of the activist to educate the public about the necessity of free speech in all its forms, even when it makes some people late for work. What follows should not be taken as another white guy telling Idle No More or other new activist movements what to do, but rather highlighting some of what I think they are doing right.

Create Your Own Conversation

It is important to court the mainstream media and major alternatives by sending out press releases and cultivating relationships with sympathetic journalists. Yet even the most understanding of reporters can’t tell your story as well as you can tell it yourself. Make smart, consistent use of whatever tools you have available to start your own conversation. The true effectiveness of street movements is how they break through the mass media’s messages and make real people have real conversations. Don’t waste your time fighting with trolls, but instead look for opportunities to cultivate dialogue.

In my opinion, it’s better to master a few social networks rather than to push to be on them all. Idle No More has spread effectively onto Facebook, Twitter and beyond by playing to the strengths of each site. Pinterest may be the hottest new thing, but if all you’re going to do is cross-post links to your Facebook page then you might want to wait. Don’t overlook old fashioned methods like flyering or street art. Devote your resources to the areas where you can focus and then see if you can build coalitions with existing activist networks elsewhere that can spread your message along with their own.

Teach People To Take The Streets

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#BurningMan and Paul Addis: The KDVS Interview (Part 2)

3:32 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on this topic: Burning Man, the Death of Paul Addis and Radical Activism, Part 1 of the KDVS Interview

On November 16, Richard Estes interviewed me on his KDVS program Speaking In Tongues about Burning Man and the recent suicide of Paul Addis. This is part 2 of the interview, in which we talk more about the effects of police and pranksters on countercultures and activist movements.

A cluster of NYPD arrests an activist on a night march

Arrests at Occupy Wall Street. The question of when and how to involve police in activist or countercultural movements is often a controversial one.

Speaking in Tongues: It might be useful for me to clarify or to be more specific about my intention with this question. One of the issues which emerged in relation to Occupy, and it occurred in Oakland, and I think Occupy Wall Street and Sacramento as well, was this question about assaultive behavior within the occupations, particularly as directed toward women. And so the issue of whether or not to report such crimes to the police — essentially whether to engage the police at all — was at times a controversial one. Was there a similar type of response initially in terms of seeking police assistance at Burning Man?

Kit O’Connell: I think the police have been involved when something like that happened. At the very beginning, there are stories of people taking it into their own hands and telling people to leave or things like that. But police have been called out for specific incidents. It’s something where the Organization does make that call from time to time.

But I also think the police to some extent arrived on their own, just suddenly becoming aware that there was this huge gathering happening in their midst every year and it was an opportunity — obviously there were safety issues but of course also an opportunity for revenue generation as far as giving out things like speeding tickets to people driving around in the desert. So I think there was a need for order at some point but also there was this sort of encroachment of the police into this separate space much like in Occupy where they weren’t always invited but they appeared anyway and had to be negotiated with one way or another.

SIT:  One of the impressions I’m getting from hearing you describe what transpired with Addis in Burning Man, it draws my attention to what has been sort of a — I don’t know if conflict is the right word, but competing social perspectives within anti-authoritarian movements whether you want to call them anarchist or whatever — between those who see such movements as an opportunity for individualization and celebrating the individual with the least amount of social constraints possible, and those who see autonomous communities within the tradition of someone like Colin Ward, who celebrated communal forms of social organization within the United Kingdom that often took extremely mundane forms like house squatting or organizing a sports league where people were acting nonhierarchically and were working autonomously outside of a capitalist relationship. That’s the type of tension that I perceive when I hear about this situation with Addis within Burning Man.

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Saturday Art: 999 Eyes Modern Freak Show (#ArtOutside)

1:08 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

What is normal? What does it mean to be a freak, by choice or by birth?

FREAK, n., A human oddity that has chosen to share, celebrate, and exploit his/her own genetic anomaly through performance. -999 Eyes

999 Eyes really caught my eye this year. I also attended Art Outside in 2011 and this modern freak show performed both years, but this time I looked at them in new ways. During the last 12 months, I’ve gotten increasingly involved with activism, sometimes around disability issues. Although I have a physical disability (fibromyalgia), it is what is called an ‘invisible disability‘ — unless I am using a cane that particular day, you probably can’t look at me and tell there’s anything different about me. As a person in my mid-thirties with a stylish cane, many even assume I am using the device for fashion rather than necessity. During the last year, my work in Occupy — and with our allies in ADAPT — has made me more acutely aware of the challenges people with all kinds of disabilities face in our society.

A colorfully dressed freak performs in front of a band.

Black Scorpion performs a stand-up routine set to music.

Much of modern disability activism is about giving the disabled not just the ability to survive, but the ability to live with dignity — to be respected, employable, able to live independently in their own homes and treated like human beings. The conventional image of the historic freak show does not necessarily fit with this ideal, suggesting that the people in these shows were exploited and objectified. Our cultural approach to the visibly different is often two-faced; look at Tod Browning’s infamous 1932 film Freaks, which on the one hand goes to lengths to show the humanity of its subjects while simultaneously turning them into objects of horror, especially during the film’s rainy finale.

A performer with neurofibromatosis

Peg-o the Leg-o, a performer with neurofibromatosis, educates the audience about his condition.

Yet what is exploitation when it comes to entertainment? A musician who is especially beautiful by conventional standards could be said to exploiting appearance in his career. 999 Eyes performer Vlad Vendetta and founder and musician Samantha X both made the argument to me that all performance is inherently exploitative – as indeed one can make the argument that all work is exploitative under capitalism. 999 Eyes was founded by its freaks, when musicians Dylan Blackthorn and Samantha X met future 999 Eyes costars like Jackie of All Trades (a.k.a. ‘the Human Tripod’) and Peg-o the Leg-o, the ‘Modern Elephant Man.’

A preserved two-headed calf

This two-headed calf is part of the 999 Eyes collection of oddities.

It continues as a freak-driven show. In addition to classic sideshow performances like sword swallowing, the freaks talk about their conditions, cracking jokes and opening minds. Ken “Peg-o” Pittman tells audiences how he is treated during his day to day life. Born with neurofibromatosis, he has been kicked out of pools and other public places for fear that the growths the condition causes are caused by contagious illness. When speaking to him and observing his interactions with fellow performers as well as spectators, it’s easy to speculate that his life at this sideshow, where people are encouraged to learn rather than fear, is far-more dignified. Are these freaks exploited when they run the show and use it to illuminate the uneducated?

A dictionary in the side show

A tongue-in-cheek entry in the sideshow tent. "It is called a dictionary, and it is used to dissect words in order to discover their spelling, meaning, usage, etc. It is closely related to the thesaurus and the dinosaurus."

Samantha X told the Winona Daily News:

She hopes the show changes people’s perceptions while it entertains. “I think it’s absolutely fascinating all the different ways people come out genetically.” Samantha said. “A freak is somebody blessed with nature’s art.”

Making this short film about 999 Eyes certainly challenged my preconceived ideas and brought to light some internalized ableism. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Find more from 999 Eyes at www.999eyes.com

Photos by Kit O’Connell, all rights reserved.

#BurningMan & Paul Addis: The KDVS Interview (Part 1)

2:41 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on this topic: Burning Man, the Death of Paul Addis and Radical Activism

Remains of the burned Burning Man effigy.

The iconic Burning Man effigy after Paul Addis burned it in 2007.

On November 16, Richard Estes interviewed me on his KDVS program Speaking In Tongues about Burning Man and the recent suicide of Paul Addis. Burning Man centers around an annual festival in a temporary desert city that surrounds a human effigy. This effigy is ritually burned on Saturday night of the week-long event, but Addis was jailed for setting fire to it on the Monday before its scheduled destruction.

Here is a part one of the transcript of our conversation.

Speaking In Tongues: We are fortunate enough to have Kit O’Connell from Austin, Texas. I invited him on the air today to speak about an article he wrote which appeared on his website as well as Firedoglake about Paul Addis.

Paul Addis was someone who was involved with Burning Man and I believe he may have been involved with Occupy as well — I’ll be asking Kit about that momentarily — but his life I believe is one that raises a lot of significant questions about radical activism, the people involved with it and how it can be effectively pursued. Kit, welcome to Speaking In Tongues.

Kit O’Connell: Hi, thanks, it’s good to be here.

SIT: Let’s just start with — as you noted in your article Paul Addis committed suicide I believe on Saturday, October 27th.

KO: Right.

SIT: And he did so by jumping in front of BART train, certainly very evocative for a lot of people here because we ride BART and we’re very familiar with it. Who was he and why do you consider his death to be noteworthy?

KO: He was an artist and I think an activist, certainly in his own mind and very involved in the Bay Area in various ways especially in the art scene. He had also been part of Burning Man since even before it began as a member of the Cacophony Society, which is one of the groups that their culture and activities created an origin point for Burning Man. So he was with Burning Man before there was even a Burning Man and he stayed with it through its earliest years when it was a temporary frontier city and he became disillusioned with it as it became more and more organized, especially in the late 90s after some more rules were put in place due to some tragic accidental deaths on the playa.

So they started putting more rules in place, so he wanted– You know, it’s a classic frontier story of someone watching the city they helped create become more orderly than they want. Of not being a frontier anymore but instead being a metropolis.

SIT: Kit, can I just interject a moment.

KO: Sure.

Movie poster for The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

SIT: Oddly enough, it sounds vaguely reminiscent of the John Ford film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

KO: I actually haven’t had a chance to see that, to my discredit, so I’ll have to take your word on that. But it’s the sort of story echoed in Westerns and literature as well.

SIT: Lee Marvin is Liberty Valance and Liberty Valance is the man who really created the city. … And then [James Stewart] plays the man who ends up being elected senator. In any event, Liberty Valance, despite his importance to the creation he becomes a sort of drag on the city going forward and eventually he is expelled.

KO: Burning Man always balances a frontier and sort of punk attitude mixed with a sort of loving chilled out hippie atmosphere and Burning Man is often a balancing act between those two personality types to a large extent. And he certainly fell more on that punk frontier aspect of it. As as watched the city become more orderly and more rules-driven he became disillusioned. Of course it’s a running joke that people go to Burning Man and say ‘well it was better last year,’ but he took that seriously.

And he took seriously the joke that people have told for years of let’s shake things up by burning the Man early and he went ahead and did that. He actually did burn the man early in 2007 on Monday night, the first night into Tuesday early morning I believe during a lunar eclipse so much of the city was watching that. All of a sudden they knew the Man was on fire. Paul Addis did it, he was actually charged with destruction of property for lighting the Man early and he served as a felon in jail as a result of that.

SIT: It seems to me that an implication of your article is that this is a serious foundational event in the transformation of Burning Man.

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Austin Overpass Light Brigade Faces Police Repression (#OATX)

3:04 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Austin Police insist that Occupy Austin is breaking the law when it holds lighted signs on highway overpasses.

I spoke with two occupiers, Corey Williams and Joe Cooper, about their experiences.

The Overpass Light Brigade began in Wisconsin during the “uprising” of 2011, and has since spread to at least 10 other locations. In this simple, nonviolent action, protesters hold lighted signs on the sidewalk of a freeway overpass while night time traffic passes underneath. One of the newest divisions is in Austin, Texas; it formed in early October during Occupy Austin birthday week. Though police drove by the first display, which proclaimed UNFRACK THE WORLD, occupiers successfully held signs for about an hour at an overpass on the south end of the city.

Lighted protest sign: LOVE > $$$

The new Occupy Austin Overpass Light Brigade at Tent City Rising, October 6 2012.

But police shut down a second attempt that week, and another more recent mobilization.  At the second Austin OLB the message began as LOVE > $$$. Police arrived as the group began to rearrange letters to make a repeat of the UNFRACK message. The officers refused to cite what laws were being broken, but expressed concern that signs could be dropped from the overpass railing on which the activists were holding the display. While regrouping, the Light Brigade consulted with long-time Austin activist Debbie Russell who referred to a previous consultation with Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo:

[Y]ou can’t have signs that when holding, are “over” the roadway–you have to hold them inside the railings such that if it was dropped, it falls on the sidewalk and not below on the freeway. Some officers know this, some don’t, but Acevedo has very specifically said this is the case and a few years ago … he gave this mandate to his officers so they’d know. They’re out of practice tho.

Another data point: one afternoon a month at 4:20pm, the Texas Hemp Campaign displays a cannabis legalization banner held on the sidewalk of a busy overpass. Though sometimes monitored closely by police, they allow the display to continue.

If the issue was the danger posed by signs, activists decided to try yet another approach. The third attempt occurred on Saturday, October 27. It was the closest Saturday to Halloween, a night when police are typically busy downtown patrolling the club district for drunken costumed revelers. It was on a similar busy weekend closest to Halloween in 2011 that police made dozens of arrests at Occupy Austin’s standing encampment. In keeping with the symbolism of this anniversary, approximately a half dozen squad cars were waiting.

The message on that night was to be LOVE > FEAR, a response to recent hate crimes against queer people and people of color. This time, the Overpass Light Brigade used an overpass at St. Johns on Interstate Highway 35. This location is across the street from the abandoned Home Depot we attempted to encamp during the occupation’s birthday. Most importantly, this overpass is completely fenced in. It would be impossible to drop signs onto traffic.

Immediately, officers arrived and attempted to shut them down but the display continued for about twenty minutes. While part of the group held the signs, others demanded police cite a specific law that was violated. As the perceived threat of arrest grew more immediate, the OLB took down their signs and waited as police returned to squad cars to look up the law. Eventually, with the help of a Texas Department of Transportation employee summoned to the scene, they cited a portion of the Texas Transportation Code which applies to SIGNS ON STATE HIGHWAY RIGHT-OF-WAY. This law, a class C misdemeanor when broken, says:

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