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#BurningMan, the Death of Paul Addis, and Radical Activism (UPDATED 11/3)

1:34 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Paul Addis, the man accused of arson at Burning Man, the massive fire arts festival, committed suicide on Saturday night.

From the Reno Gazette-Journal:

Remains of the burned Burning Man effigy.

The charred remains of the iconic Burning Man effigy after Paul Addis burned it early at the 2007 event.

Paul Addis, a longtime Burner and artist fed up with the way Burning Man was being organized, died after he jumped in front of a moving BART train at Embarcadero station on Saturday night, according to multiple Bay Area news reports. He was 42.

Addis was convicted of felony arson after setting fire to what festival-goers call “The Man” on that early Tuesday morning [in 2007].

Burning Man is an annual gathering in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada which attracts over 50,000 attendees and has spawned a worldwide subculture of smaller regional events and year-round communities. The event is based around ethics of a gift economy and radical participation, and has its roots in anarchic gatherings created by groups like the Cacophony Society and Crash Worship (whose descendants Flam Chen were profiled here last weekend).

Its central ritual is the end of week burning of a massive effigy of a human figure. Addis short-circuited this ritual in 2007 by setting fire to the icon on the event’s first night. Reports differ on the circumstances of this action, with Addis claiming warnings were given and attempts made to clear the area while other eyewitnesses tell stories of helping endangered, inebriated people away from the flames. Addis was arrested, convicted of destruction of property (a felony), and spent two years in jail.

Burning Man offers a place where some people (those who can afford it) come to explore the nature of identity, creativity and social interaction free from the constraints of mainstream capitalist culture. Yet as the event grew, this experiment in temporary community naturally adopted rules. Steven T. Jones, the San Francisco Bay Guardian reporter who has chronicled many Burning Man events, cites an accidental death in 1996 as the beginning of the end of the event’s true lawlessness.

Addis, a Cacophonist who participated in Burning Man’s early days, had infamously (but more harmlessly) pranked before by attaching a pair of testicles to the sculpture in the late ’90s. He grew bitter at the changes to his beloved community and styled himself a direct action hero who would reclaim the free spirit of the event by making good on an annually recurring rumor — that the Man would Burn early. Addis seemed to identify with larger-than-life figures like Hunter S. Thompson, who he played in a one-man show.

In his book Tribes of Burning Man, Jones describes Addis’ motivation for the costly prank:

Addis seems to believe that big gestures like torching the man can prompt people to rally for change. “In any situation, it only takes one person to make a difference. I firmly believe that.” Beyond just taking back Burning Man, Addis wanted to reclaim the country from the screwheads and war mongers, to end the Iraq War, and help “rehumanize” the returning soldiers.

As he announced grandly, “We’re taking it back, that hulking retard known as America.”

There’s no more divisive figure in the Burning Man subculture than Addis. A lengthy profile of Addis’ life and death by Whatsblem the Pro on the Burning Man commentary blog along with the heated comments that follow offers a glimpse into the kind of debate which erupts any time his name is mentioned:

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#D12 Gulf Port 7: Undercover Austin Narcotics Detective Enabled Houston Felonies

1:19 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A red tent is erected over a blockade.

The Houston Fire Department places an inflatable red tent over protesters using lockbox devices built by Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G. Dowell (Photo: December 12, 2011 at the Port of Houston by Kit O'Connell)


Update

Why did undercover Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G. Dowell provide material support for an activist protest that resulted in them being charged with a felony in Houston?

That’s the question I want answered after speaking with Ronnie Garza, a member of Occupy Austin who faces felony charges resulting from actions at the Port of Houston on December 12, 2011. On this day, the National Port Shutdown day of action, seven activists from Austin, Dallas, and Houston blocked the main entrance into the port by laying in the road and linking arms inside lockboxes (also known as sleeping dragons), which physically linked them together so that police cut them apart. The use of these instruments resulted in these seven being charged with Unlawful Use of a Criminal Instrument or Device, while others who merely linked arms and legs faced lesser misdemeanor charges. I was present at this day of ‘Gulf Port Action‘ and wrote about it on my blog, Approximately 8,000 Words.

But it turns out that a secret undercover agent with the police department had infiltrated the activist group, and he is the person who acquired the materials and built the “lockboxes” for this action. Further, apparently other members of the police department were also involved in enabling an action which, but for the undercover agent’s intervention, might never have been classified as a felony.

In addition to Garza, other members of the Gulf Port 7 include Iraq veteran Eric Marquez, who has been stuck in jail since December and Remington Alessi, a Green Party candidate for Houston sheriff. If convincted, they face up to two to ten years in state prison.

The cases were brought before Judge Joan Campbell of the 248th District Court who dismissed all charges due to lack of evidence. However, the felony charges were later reinstated by a Houston grand jury. Garza told me that the latest development of uncovering an infiltrator came to a head at a discovery hearing on Monday, August 27, but is the result of months of hard work by many including his attorney, National Lawyers Guild’s Greg Gladden. Photos of the officer at Occupy Austin have been obtained by Gladden.

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LIVE: Austin Peaceful Streets Police Accountability Summit

7:00 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Today, I am livestreaming from the Peaceful Streets Summit on Police Accountability. Created by Antonio Buehler, a victim of police corruption at New Years, the summit aims to create greater transparency in police behavior

More info: Peaceful Streets Project

Watercooler: Occupy Music

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Music can unite us, but also divide us. I don’t always enjoy the music at Occupy; I’d sometimes rather listen to Drastik IV, whose video here uses footage from Occupy Austin, than most of the twangy folksinger types — an attitude that might not be popular here on MyFDL. For every person who loves a dubstep-fueled street party, there’s another occupier who’d rather we had a drum circle or a sing-along.

When Tom Morello called for his original May Day Guitarmy march, he invited everyone, regardless of talent or whether they were using a handmade acoustic guitar or a plastic Walmart toy.

I watched as the 99 Mile March of the Guitarmy arrived in Liberty Square and celebrated with song, dance and music. While the voices were sometimes out of key, what mattered was the people are singing together — the real unifying effect of music. Police crack down on drumming (as seen in 2 of today’s arrests) not, in my opinion, because of the noise it makes but because of the way that sound and rhythm can empower the people and lead them to greater acts of civil disobedience. Music inspires.

Real music made by people, for people, rather than a recording company, is a powerful tool of the 99%.

That’s what’s on my mind tonight. How about you?

This is the latest MyFDL open thread.

Watercooler: Global Protest

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Been thinking about the state of things, like I often do, and inspired as usual by conversations with my friends.

Look at the example set recently by other countries, like Canada or Mexico, with their vibrant street protests. It’s painful to compare it to the United States sometimes. When our northern neighbors enact new laws against free speech and protest, the people take to the streets nationwide. Here, there hardly seems to be a reaction, or the reaction is one of fear.

At my optimistic moments though, I imagine that a wave of globally connected, technologically-enhanced protest reached our shores in fall of last year, and while it’s at low ebb here in the United States now, its washing over other places. We’re ready here — the channels of connection, communication, and key networks of radical activists — waiting for the return of the wave when the time comes. Will it be a tidal wave next time?

That’s what’s on my mind today. I’m off to the Austin Stonewall protest tonight, though it’ll be over by the time you read these words. I’ll let you know how it goes!

And this is today’s open thread — what’s on your mind? Any more thoughts on today’s healthcare decision (or anything else)?

Watercooler: Online Community

6:25 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

I’ve been on the Internet longer than most people (since a time when there were only two public Internet Service Providers), and before that used to dial in to bulletin board services.

Since we’ve been able to communicate electronically, the desire to build community and connection online has existed. It seems like there is a lot of speculation about how social media is changing human interactions, and I wonder why the speculative futurists penning those sorts of articles don’t spend more time studying Usenet newsgroups, just to name one example. Most of the behaviors we see today are not new; they just occur on a larger scale than ever before (which, admittedly, is new in its own way).

People connect, share, fall in love or create fast friendships with people they have never met and with whom they may never share the same physical space. Of course, just as often people fight and feud, often despite agreeing on many important fundamental issues. This passion is a lot of how we define our identity, but it can also find us in dispute with potential allies — and the Internet seems to exacerbate this tendency as we’ve all observed; I’m no stranger to the belief that I can’t go to bed yet because someone on the Internet is wrong.

When it comes to activism, of course, this behavior’s been around a long time — long enough to be spoofed by Monty Python in 1979.

Thanks for being part of the MyFDL community with me and for welcoming me here in the time I’ve been editing.

This is today’s open thread. What’s on your mind?

Amplify Your Message With Social Media & Blogging (#OccupySupply)

12:51 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Amplify Your Message

I’ve been part of Occupy Austin since November, and from the start I found myself drawn to social media as a major part of my contribution. I already had an established blog, and a Twitter account with a few followers. My Twitter following has exploded since I began livetweeting events and writing more about the global uprising. I’m also quickly bringing the main @OccupyAustin account towards a personal goal of 10,000 followers.

Hardware like digital cameras, laptops and smartphones paired with software like blogging and social media turn everyone into a potential citizen journalist. A Twitter account might only have a handful of followers, but with the right technique your message can reach hundreds of thousands of people.

I’m happy to answer social media questions in the comments here, or in any watercooler post I write. Happy occupying, citizen journalists!

#OccupyAustin Takes to the Streets

4:23 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Yesterday in Oakland, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to speak up for their rights and to participate in a general strike. Marches and actions took place all around the world in solidarity with the activists. I joined Occupy Austin again for their march, and then attended my first general assembly that night.

It is inspiring to watch this movement grow and spread around the world. As police (and the Department of Homeland Security, by some reports) try to shut us down, it seems like each police raid and wave of arrests only makes us bolder. The Port of Oakland, one of the top ports in the US, shut down for a full 24 hours along with major downtown Oakland branches of banks like Bank of America, Chase and Citibank.

My friend Gyesika joined me at this march, and it was immediately clear that something was different from Sunday — there was a spirit there, a sense that we could take on the world. The Spirit of Oakland was in us, undoubtedly. For the first half of the march, we were orderly and obedient protesters, staying to the sidewalks and mostly waiting for lights to change.

We marched again to the County Jail, to remind the government of our presence and because this is a place where all of our activists can gather. Despite reassurances from the city, all our arrested activists are still banned from City Hall, where our occupation is taking place. These political prisoners must gather on a traffic island across the street which has a curfew of 10pm because it is technically a park.

As we gathered at the jail, we heard from one of those prisoners who talked about what he’d realized while in prison: Read the rest of this entry →