You are browsing the archive for occupy.

Exposing Breitbart’s Lies at ALEC 41

11:16 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Banner: ALEC Parasitic Corporate Mafia

CODEPINK Dallas confronted ALEC at their dinner party — and Breitbart.com lied about what happened.

DALLAS — In his recent article “Code Pink Stages Mini Protest at ALEC National Conference,” Breitbart.com’s California correspondent Jon Fleischman fabricates an encounter with an activist, erases a full day of anti-corporate protest, and makes a major source of corporate corruption in American state politics seem like a benign force for social good — all in just 250 words.

ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has helped corporations and rich private investors pass conservative legislation for over 40 years. The legislation is written by the corporations, then passed by conservative state legislators selected and groomed by the group. The group has faced increasing criticism and protest in recent years, especially since the 2011 publication of the Center for Media and Democracy’s ALECexposed.org, a site with hundreds of these model bills and a partial membership list of the organization. Several corporate members have dropped out of the group under this pressure.

Among other policies, ALEC lobbies for the privatization of education and police and undermines laws that encourage the use of renewable energy. It also crafted the Stand Your Ground legislation that may have contributed to the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of his killer, George Zimmerman.

Fleischman describes seeing a small group of protesters led by CODEPINK Dallas outside the cowboy-themed restaurant Eddie Deen’s Ranch, where ALEC held a kick-off dinner on the first night of its 41st national conference. Since the article features a photo of the group from inside the restaurant’s property, it’s clear that Fleischman was present on the night of July 30, 2014. But the rest departs significantly from reality.

“Big surprise!”

“This article is full of errors. Big surprise!” CODEPINK Dallas’ Danna Miller Pyke said when MintPress News first brought the article to her attention — a sentiment shared by many news consumers in reference to the accuracy of Breitbart’s many published works. Many people first became aware of the site’s late founder, Andrew Breitbart, from his distribution of the dishonestly edited undercover videos that destroyed the community advocacy network ACORN in 2009. Others may remember Breitbart’s infamous rape-themed Occupy rants from the days before his death in 2012. His site’s reputation for honesty hasn’t improved since then.

But digging deeper into how and why the site carries these lies can instruct us how the right-wing spin machine works to minimize those who oppose it. Though Fleischman once told the Los Angeles Times that reporting on his homepage, Flash Report, was “fair and biased,” his handling of the CODEPINK protesters has been both biased and unfair.

In his article on the ALEC protest at Eddie Deen’s Ranch, Fleischman recounts an encounter he allegedly had with an anonymous protester:

While elected officials dined on tri-tip and chicken, some taking photos on a cow brought in for the occasion, the protesters were screaming “corporate whores” and holding up signs that said, ‘Democracy not Corporatocracy’ and ‘Round Up Alec and Run ‘Em Out Of Town.’

When I approached one of the Code Pink members to see if they had a comment for Breitbart News Network, the response was screamed at me, ‘Breitbart is part of the corporate machine! You suck!’ She then went back to screaming at the top of her lungs towards the steady stream of conference attendees headed into the BBQ joint.

This encounter never happened. A MintPress reporter was present for the entire protest at Eddie Deen’s Ranch. Organized by CODEPINK Dallas, they called it “The Showdown at the Ranch.” Dressed in pink Western wear and carrying banners and toy handcuffs, the idea was to show ALEC members that they were a criminal influence corrupting American politics — and to show the people of Dallas, too. An airplane circled downtown that evening, trailing a banner warning residents against the presence of ALEC in their midst.

While MintPress remembers a man matching Fleischman’s description taking photographs of the group on a smartphone, at no point did he or any other individual approach the group and identify themselves as a representative of Breitbart.com or any other conservative news outlet. To verify our recollections, MintPress spoke with two additional members of CODEPINK Dallas — Kit Jones and Leslie Harris — as well as Roy “Train Wreck” Sudduth, an independent videographer who recorded the entire protest.

After checking his footage, Sudduth confirmed, “My review didn’t show a conversation. I remember the photos being taken.”

Pyke added, “I don’t believe that happened, either. We would have noticed.”

Pyke reinforced the notion that while Fleischman spoke only with an ALEC member and not a member of CODEPINK Dallas, “He purports to know our complaints without talking with us about them.”

Further, the group was approachable — CODEPINK Dallas members held conversations of varying lengths with members of the ALEC delegation. Fleischman’s own photo shows a man in a dark suit conversing with the group — a man who identified himself as a Republican state lawmaker. He had a conversation lasting about 15 minutes with a member of CODEPINK before exchanging contact information with her.

Fleischman also erases a busy day of active free speech when he describes the Showdown group as “thus far … the only protester presence.” Protests had actually kicked off earlier that day when hundreds of activists, including many union members, rallied at the Hilton Anatole (ALEC’s home for the week) in an event called “Don’t Mess With Texas, ALEC.” After the rally, a similar sized group listened to the “Stand Up to ALEC” panel discussion at the nearby Community Brewery, featuring guests such as Jim Hightower, Connor Gibson of Greenpeace and Shahid Buttar from the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. Even though he’d missed these events, a social media search or some old-fashioned journalistic fact-checking would have set him straight.

More spinning than grousing

At Deen's Ranch, men in suits grin as they photograph CODEPINK with their smartphones.

Many ALEC members stopped to photograph the group, but few tried to communicate.

Worse than lying about his attempt to speak with activists is how Fleischman turns ALEC into a benign, even beneficial influence on American politics. The spin begins from the very first sentence:

This week the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a national organization made up of conservative state legislators from around the country, is holding its annual convention in Dallas, Texas.

To hear Fleischman describe it, ALEC is the same as any other political caucus where legislators meet to discuss the future of public policy. But a key difference is that ALEC’s legislators are picked by the organization’s other members — corporations and private investors — for their willingness to introduce ALEC’s selected legislation.

Some of these conferences have drawn massive protest crowds from the ideological left, grousing about ALEC’s pro-market bent, and objecting to active participation in the group by large corporate sponsors.

Now Fleischman tries to mention corporate involvement in passing, as if it were only peripheral. In fact, late last year the Guardian revealed that these legislators are expected to swear a loyalty oath to the organization, which includes the Koch brothers among its sponsors. ALEC’s lack of transparency has also been criticized; reporters like Truthout’s Candice Bernd are routinely refused access to the conferences despite meeting the group’s stated media guidelines. And far from “grousing” about a “pro-market bent,” diverse groups from constitutional rights pundits to the Alliance for Retired Americans have made specific and clear objections to the way its policy of profits-over-people is written into law nationwide.

State Senator Joel Anderson, who is Chairman for ALEC in California, reacted to the protesters by saying, ‘Hey, this is a free country. We’re here to discuss policies to foster economic prosperity for everyone in America, even those folks yelling at us.’

Kit Jones from CODEPINK Dallas calls Anderson’s statement “total bullshit.”

“They’re not working for us, they’re not working for economic prosperity for everyone. They’re working for economic prosperity for themselves: the corporations and their lackeys, their hired guns, which would be the legislators,” Jones explained.

As an example, Jones highlighted Missouri’s ALEC-inspired “Right to Farm” amendment that pits large-scale corporate agriculture against small farmers and the environment. As of this writing, the hotly contested bill passed by less than half a percent of voters and may be subject to recount.

A nonpartisan movement

Fleischman’s article attempts to place ALEC and the protests against it within the traditional partisan political narrative. He depicts sensible, logical conservatives enjoying a bit of R&R while a pocket of the activist left loudly and senselessly rails against them.

MintPress asked Shahid Buttar, executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, about whether fighting ALEC’s influence was about the right versus the left or a larger issue of democracy. Buttar stressed the threat to democracy was larger than that posed by ALEC alone, but went on to say, “My real interest is in building a voice for ‘We The People’ to force the institutions to respect our rights. And you’re absolutely right, anyone should care about these issues.”

On some issues, like surveillance, he said the Libertarian and Tea Party Republicans are “more activated.”

“The anti-ALEC crowd was all Democrats,” he said, “but quite frankly, that crowd can’t get anything done. It never has. The best they can do is get into office elected officials that then betray them at every opportunity.”

“Without a movement to ensure the accountability of the electoral gains, without a movement to force the conversation about the needs of ‘We The People’ beyond what the policy sphere is currently addressing, without the movement to force change, there won’t be any,” Buttar concluded.

Originally posted on MintPress News

A Conversation with Scott Crow, Part 3: Intersectionality & Technology

8:03 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Previously: Part 1, Occupy & Activism and Part 2, Mutual Aid

A black & white portrait of Scott Crow

Firedoglake’s Kit O’Connell concludes his interview with anarchist author and organizer Scott Crow.

One important tool which defines modern activism is the use of social media for organizing and building solidarity. While social media does little unless paired with “meatspace” direct action, it can be a powerful tool for motivating people, reporting on live events, and building intersectionality. When arrests first occurred at Occupy Austin, we heard from activists in Egypt who had staged an impromptu protest at the US Embassy.

Between times of “rupture,” social media becomes even more crucial for strengthening solidarity and relating about core issues. This can be seen in recent, vital discussions on Twitter over race, feminism, and the meaning and origins of Occupy. Likewise, more people are using social media and the Internet to educate themselves about politics and current events. To close our conversation, I asked Scott Crow how he thought social media was changing our political conversations.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: The word ‘anarchy’ or ‘socialism’ used to be these hot button words that could be used to turn people off. You used those words and people’s minds closed down. The mainstream media and the politicians use this constantly. “Obama’s a socialist!” But it doesn’t seem to be working anymore. People are less likely to believe you. Why do you think that’s happening?

Scott Crow: Because people are smart. And they can see that it’s propaganda. Even if they don’t have a ‘political analysis’ they can see that it’s total bullshit. And — can I say bullshit?

FDL: Yeah. You’re not going on the radio!

SC: I think you’re totally right. The thing is — with words like that — I can’t speak to socialism because it did get such a bad rap. But anarchy was always assumed to be chaos and bombthrowing. Because anarchy is the largest set of ideas in ascension in social justice movements — nationally, in the US, Canada, Mexico, even Europe — more than Communism (big C Communism). The New York Times and CNN, they can’t ignore it anymore. Sure, anarchists are out in the streets in black bloc throwing tear gas canisters back when they get shot at them, but they are also at the front lines of disaster relief, they’re at the front lines of occupying and reclaiming spaces that should be the commons — you can’t deny that. You can’t knock it off to a fringe element and people can see that clearly. We’re in an anarchist renaissance — there’s more anarchist literature produced in the last 14 years than there had been in the previous 50 or 60 years in the United States and even internationally.

Anarchy went underground. People stopped talking about it. They started to hide in other organizations. It reemerged in the 60′s but still at the fringes. But now there’s a huge body of work — more books have come out, more articles are written now. And the Interwebs help with that because it is an open platform to talk about things, because if you’re in Idaho or you’re in Texas or you’re in New York, you can be connected and hear people share ideas.

FDL: That leads into the intersectionality that’s happening. That’s not a new concept obviously but the Internet seems to promote it. In my view, when Occupy worked was when it was its most intersectional. That’s also when there was the most pushback against it from the media, from people who just wanted it to be the Democratic answer to the Tea Party.

SC: But that tension’s always there. There’s always groups trying to pilfer off of you, trying to suck like vampires. The labor unions, the Democrats, they’re always trying to do that. There’s a long history of that. Used to be Communists who’d try to control it.

FDL: But intersectionality seems like a key to growing any kind of movement right now.

SC: Absolutely. That’s the thing that attracted me to anarchy originally. I came to it late in my life. I came to it in my late twenties … but anarchy was one of the only political philosophies that seemed to embrace intersectionality and connecting the struggles. That it was important what was happening in prisons, in the environment, with animals, rape culture, what happened outwardly but also inwardly — how do we treat each other? While a lot of movements are about converting people to their party, their line, their nonprofit.

You bring up a point that needs to be reiterated. I think the Interwebs is very conducive to that. It’s almost like a cacophony —  where you can see something about animal liberation and then something about prisons right below it in your news feed. And you say, ‘Oh yeah, those are both important.’

FDL: And on the ground, doing the work it can seem really obvious. How is Palestine linked to Capitalism? Because Capitalism props that occupation up. But then it becomes time to regurgitate that into a sound bite and that’s where it starts to break down.

Read the rest of this entry →

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.

Read the rest of this entry →

A Conversation with Scott Crow, Part 1: Occupy & Activism

8:15 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Scott Crow in jeans and a button shirt sits in a chair at the left of a long table, against an alley wall.

Scott Crow talks with Firedoglake’s Kit O’Connell about activism and anarchy.

Scott Crow is a co-founder of the Common Ground Collective which provided grassroots solidarity and mutual aid after Hurricane Katrina. An anarchist activist, author and public speaker, he travels regularly to share his views. The second edition of his book about Common Ground, Black Flags and Windmills is due out soon. It’s one of multiple book-length projects in the works.

Both Scott & I call Austin home, so I invited him out for coffee and conversation on a recent break from an unusually chilly Central Texas winter.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: There’s always been activism happening but the last few years it seems there’s been more activity, more people in the streets, more stuff happening. Do you agree?

Scott Crow: Yeah, but what happens is there are times of rupture, where things kind of jump off. And then times of lulls, in-between times. Look at it like a sine wave where it rises and falls. So the twenty plus years I’ve been doing activism, I’ve been engaged with community organizing, I’ve been engaged in national struggles, international struggles, I’ve seen a lot of ruptures and falls. When I came back in really seriously was in the alternative globalization movement, the post-Seattle stuff. When that kicked off it was huge huge huge. We could get 10,000 people to a demonstration internationally with the summit hopping that was going on.

After September 11 it sort of died down. But then the wars kicked off. And I don’t mean the War On the Poor or the War On Women, but the international wars. And in that you saw another rupture where thousands of people were in the streets.

And then it kind of leveled off and then we were struck with some pretty serious disasters. One was the man made and natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina. That actually drew a lot of people to it, which was another form of a rupture. Because then people came to the Gulf Coast by the hundreds of thousands, literally,

Then there was a lull, but then we come to the next disaster which was the economic collapse of 2008. All of these things have been brewing since the millennium as capitalism’s been in crisis and then finally Occupy comes. And it’s just a natural progression of all this. So that was just the latest rupture to happen.

It’s always interesting to watch — the way I actually look at it is like an ocean, like waves coming to the shore. Is this too long?

FDL: No, No! Go on!

SC: So like the waves are out here and there’s the lulls and highs and then they just finally crash into the shore. All the waves aren’t coming at the same time but they are definitely crashing on that shore. Then they kind of recede back.

Then what I like to see is what happen in the lulls, in between the ruptures right — what comes out of it? So when the rupture happens there’s thousands — I just want to be clear I’m not saying ‘the Rapture!’

FDL: *Laughter*

SC: The tensions are the highest and when the people are the most. We saw in the Occupy movements, it was incredibly beautiful, internationally but definitely in the states, all across the country. But then it starts to recede and we see who’s left and what projects come out of it. Because that helps build for the next level.

I think that what came out of Occupy and the Occupy movements was a really beautiful rupture because you’d already seen the largest influence of anarchy and anarchist ideas in the modern times since the time of Emma Goldman and the IWW and people back then. We’re in an anarchist renaissance. So when people came into Occupy, they came in with these horizontal organizing ideas, the ideas of participatory democracy, the ideas of direct action, without even thinking about it.

And that’s forty years of organizing for a lot of people in the United States but for me that’s twenty years of organizing — not that I was a part of all of it, but seeing it come to fruition –

FDL: You and all your allies.

SC: Absolutely. I’m not taking credit for it in any way!

In Part 2: Disaster relief and the meaning of mutual aid.
Read the rest of this entry →

SOTU Antidote: Actual News (UPDATE)

5:32 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Yes, our fearless leader spoke yesterday. Wasn’t that exciting?

Bottle-feeding a kitten from a syringe.

A necessary inoculation against political pablum.

But here’s some news you might have missed.

Protesters Arrested Outside Monsanto Shareholders’ Meeting

The video above, via St. Louis’ KSDK, claims 10 arrests. But both Democracy Now! and RT put the total number of Occupy Monsanto arrests at 11:

At least 11 protesters were arrested outside of Monsanto’s headquarters on Tuesday as they rallied in favor of shareholder resolutions that would require the company to alter its approach to genetically-modified organisms.

More than two-dozen protesters, one of which was a Monsanto shareholder himself, endured cold temperatures in Creve Coeur, Missouri as they pushed the biotech company to work with the federal government towards efforts to label food featuring genetically-modified organisms (GMO). Another resolution, meanwhile, would have required Monsanto to provide a contamination report on non-GMO crops.

Both measures failed with less than 10 percent support after Monsanto’s board recommended shooting down the proposals. When the results came in, the atmosphere surrounding the rally became much more aggressive, with protesters using five cars to block the entrance to Monsanto’s building. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, some locked and chained themselves to cars, while police spent about an hour clearing the area and making arrests.

UPDATE: KSDK reporter Farrah Fazal tweeted me to clarify the number of arrests:

War On Women Everywhere

As the House demonstrated to their constituents how much they hate women by passing an anti-abortion bill with no hope of becoming law, the war on women’s rights continued to spread to other states. Andrea Grimes at RH Reality Check was one of just a few media sources sounding the alarm on secretive new regulations restricting abortion in Louisiana. A sudden burst of social media sunshine forced officials to back down:

Monday night, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals told RH Reality Check that it will ‘be rescinding the language regarding the 30-day period for blood tests,’ and that it intends to ‘clarify’ the building requirements for abortion facilities, saying that ‘the intent of the language on square footage in the rule is to cover prospective facilities or facilities undergoing renovations.’ Despite the department’s passage of the rules without input from providers and without a previous public hearing, DHH says it ‘has already received several public comments regarding the rule.’ A public hearing on the new rules has been moved to February 4 at DHH in Baton Rouge at 1 p.m.

But the attempt proves how determined the conservative right has become to roll-back abortion rights nationwide, and how unscientific and ill-intentioned these policies have become in the name of “protecting” women and children:

Read the rest of this entry →

#OpValentine: Show A Prisoner Revolutionary Love

4:28 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Valentine’s Day: some people love the romance, others decry it as an obligatory expression of love or lament the misery of being single on a day devoted to coupledom. If being single on February 14 seems unbearable, imagine if you were not just alone but locked away from everything — your family, your friends, the outside world.

Vintage Valentine Card: Do you cat-ch on? I want you for my Valentine.

This Valentine's Day, tell a prisoner: "I choo-choo-choose you!"

Such is the plight of our nation’s political prisoners. Some, like Leonard Peltier, have spent decades behind bars. Others, like the NATO 5 are victims of a new wave of political repression. To bring comfort to these victims of the system, Anonymous, occupiers, Anarchist Black Cross groups and other activists have come together to create Operation Valentine (#OpValentine):

Where will we be on Valentine’s day? With whom? One thing is certain, most of us will have the freedom to tell whom we care ‘I love you’ and shower them with hugs. Separated from their friends, their family, all of their love ones, many of our brothers and sisters will be deprived of this most basic human right. They have sacrificed their freedom to expose corruption and human rights violations. And as would say Che: ‘At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.’

It’s easy to participate in #OpValentine. Just pick a prisoner (or more than one), write or make a note or postcard, and send it in the mail. Valentine’s Day is less than a week away as of this writing and our postal service is being gutted, but I guarantee you’ll brighten someone’s dreary day no matter when you send your mail.

When you’re writing to a political prisoner, it’s best to share your love and daily life. These are regular people who need our support, not heroes to worship. It’s also important not to discuss a case with pre-trial prisoners or to write anything you wouldn’t want read by police, the government, or the media. The New York Anarchist Black Cross has a great guide to writing political prisoners:

For the first letter, it’s best to offer an introduction, how you heard about the prisoner, a little about yourself. Tell stories, write about anything you are passionate about–movement work and community work are great topics until you have a sense of the prisoner’s interests outside of political organizing.

And what we hear from prisoners time and time again is to include detail. Prison is so total that the details of life on the outside become distant memories. Smells, textures, sounds of the street all get grayed out behind bars. That’s not to say that you should pen a stream-of-consciousness novel.

Remember, even the simplest of notes is a potentially life- or sanity-saving connection to the outside world.

I’m going to include the complete #OpValentine document below, but an updated list can be found in this pastebin.

[Editor's Note: See the comments for more political prisoners who need our love. -MyFDL Editor]

#OpValentine

Read the rest of this entry →

#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.

Read the rest of this entry →

#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.

Read the rest of this entry →

#Occupy Votes (Updated 2:25pm PST)

1:13 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Tuned Out Hippies?

Since the Occupy movement began, many have attempted to position the group in opposition to electoral politics. Occupy in its purest form is nonpartisan, and since the beginning of the movement this has been a source of criticism.

If we want to really make a difference, we were told time and again, we should organize similarly to the Tea Party and begin to field candidates for office. When occupiers protested Mitt Romney or other hyper-conservative politicians, they’d be accused of being in bed with Barack Obama. If the movement protested neo-liberals like Obama, we were accused of being traitors to all that was good in the world because we obviously wanted Romney to win (Carnacing is not limited to blogs). Most of all, occupiers got accused of being disconnected from what their critics perceive to be real politics — we were lazy hippies who didn’t understand how the world works and worst of all we don’t vote.

Spelled out in lights: DO MORE THAN VOTE

Austin Overpass Light Brigade on November 5, 2012

Occupy and many allied activist groups stand in opposition to the idea that electoral politics should be the focus of American political engagement. It is especially opposed to the idea that just voting out one plutocrat and replacing him with a new one will fix our problems — even if that new plutocrat is a woman, from a racial minority, or practices an alternative religion or sexuality. Its ranks are full of activists who supported Obama with hours of hard work in the run-up to the 2008 election, only to “wake the eff up” over the succeeding years and realize real change doesn’t come from far-away leaders.

It’s my experience that occupiers are far more engaged with mainstream politics than mainstream America, which for the most part unthinkingly abstains from participating at all. While the average American simply does not vote, the question of whether to vote and how was an important concern to OWS. Members of Occupy Chicago spent hours in a heated debate over whether it was ethical to burn voter registration cards as a form of protest. Occupiers created street theater around the election: Occupy Chicago members took coffins to the Obama headquarters and launched Revs4Romney. On election day, Occupy the Stage in New Orleans protested the fact that Louisiana is one of eight states which disallow write-in candidates for President by performing a puppet show about the 2-party system at a polling place then accepting symbolic write-in votes (I voted via Twitter for Vermin Supreme). Occupiers held public debate-watching parties, helped Anonymous trend the hashtag #StopNDAA and livetweeted the elections.

Occupy groups also became closely involved in local issues at multiple elections since last September. Here in Austin, one Occupier made an unsuccessful bid for city council, while others became involved in the successful bid to make the city council itself more accountable. Austin will change from one of the country’s only completely at-large city councils to one where each council member represents part of the city.  The Occupy AISD working group fought new in-district charter schools by, in part, helping to unseat charter-supporter Sam Guzman. His replacement, Dr. Rev. Jayme Mathias, will be the first openly gay member of Austin’s school board. One of the Gulf Port 7, Ronnie Garza, is featured in the video at the top of this post. Another, Remington Alessi, ran for sheriff as a Green Party candidate. San Antonio’s Meghan Owen took 1.5% of the vote for the Greens in a bid to unseat NDAA-supporting Democrat Representative Lloyd Doggett.

Of course, many see Elizabeth Warren as a massive win for the goals of Occupy Wall Street.

An Ethical Dilemma At the Voting Booth

Read the rest of this entry →

#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:

Read the rest of this entry →