Tag Archives: activism

Has the Tea Party changed US politics for the better?

Political scientists in the US have a sort of conventional wisdom that the informalization of politics—meaning protests and politics in the street instead of in the legislature–is always a bad thing. Mostly because it is usually accompanied by instability of democracy, of the economy, of the whole working system that makes a political entity like a nation-state.  And I agree, this kind of instability can be really risky. The conventional wisdom argues that it’s precisely this context that can open doors to military dictatorships, violent coups, and especially the rise of the Third Reich. They argue that you don’t actually want things to change too fast.

But this firstworlder is a staunch believer that the informalization of politics is the only politics that can be of any use to the poor. A formal political apparatus is really never going to be in the best interest of the poor, though obviously some governments will be better or worse. But the poor are not meaningful constituents of a formal politics, and thus legislative or electoral politics are only ever going to be minimally responsive to the poor, at least without an accompanying informal politics–the threat of roadblocks, strikes, and so on.

And because of that, in the midst of all the excitement (at least on the internet) about the Occupy Wall Street protests, I have started to ponder whether the left shouldn’t be thanking the Tea Party.

Bear with me, because this idea is not fully baked, but my theory goes like this: a lot of the conventional wisdom on the left, at least the mainstream part of it, argues that we must stick with the Democratic Party. We need a broad-based movement, and sticking with the (supposedly) centrist left is our only chance for real change, they say. The unions and the anarchists and the environmentalists need to join hands, like in Seattle 1999, and pull the party with us to the left if we want real social justice, goes the argument. The Tea Party, with their wack-o radical ideas and supposed disdain for the establishment Republican Party, has been doing just the opposite. They have been dreaming of the country they want to see and then demanding it [I’m not sure that’s true, since I don’t believe the Tea Party is actually a grassroots movement, but we’ll overlook that for the moment]. In other words, the Tea Party has provided a counter-narrative, showing that one way to get the party to follow you is not to coddle and cajole it, but rather to spit in its face until you have it begging for your votes.

The Tea Party has yanked the country far to the right, forcing us all into a situation of high stakes politics instead of the constant call to compromise. Could it be that we can thank the Tea Party for showing the US left that if we want to make another world possible, we can’t just hide behind the Democratic Party waiting for them to make it for us?

It’s a half-baked theory, and as a social scientist I’m a little scared to throw it out there without having researched the important empirical facts, but it’s an idea I’m tossing around…

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Thoughts on Spain

I will be the first to admit that I haven’t been engaged with the protests/encampment/revolution in Spain the way that I should have been. This is partly because of events going on in my personal life, and partly in an attempt to keep me grounded in the here and now instead of wishing I had been somewhere else at just the right moment, which at least for me is the danger of watching such inspiring things happen from afar.

"we don't represent any political party or labor union, we are outraged citizens"

Happily, Counter Cartographies Collective has done some nice blogging about what’s going on so I don’t have to go too far out of my way to catch up. There are also some good materials at the Edu-factory site, and the website for the Acampada Sol itself is pretty amazing.

In her autobiography, Emma Goldman often labeled as anarchist folks who themselves thought they subscribed to other forms of political thought like liberalism or socialism. For her, anarchism was a way of approaching the world, the spirit of treating everyone with respect (ok, except for those who were part of the state’s apparatus of repression) and fighting for a world where everyone could be free in every sense of the word. More than any one specific political theory or Marxist strain, this has always seemed to me a pretty reasonable way to think about anarchism, not to mention an appropriately anarchic one.

From what I have read about the Acampada Sol, it resembles very closely my idea of an anarchist space. It has assembly-based decision-making, an egalitarian ethos that constitutes a constant struggle, and at least some effort to recognize and valorize the subaltern (and maybe more than that). Is it perfectly nonhierarchical? I’m sure it isn’t. But that isn’t the point of an anarchist space. The point is to create alternatives to capitalism and liberal democracy in such a way that the possibilities for radical freedom are expanded rather than foreclosed.

In other words, if you believe, as I do, that ideally all people should be able to determine the right course for themselves, then working to create or support a system of representative democracy, even on the small scale in an encampment, is to immediately give up the possibility of ever living in a free world. Experimenting with other forms of relating and governing spaces, on the other hand, even if they are difficult, faulty, or even unsustainable, leaves open other possibilities.

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the anarchist next door

A few days ago, the New York Times published an article about a self-identified anarchist in Austin, TX, who has succeeded in obtaining the FBI records of his own surveillance.

First of all: what? Is it that easy to just obtain your own FBI file, that perennial joke of leftist circles? Apparently it might be. The ACLU has directions for this exact purpose here, and also has a really interesting collection of information on domestic spying here, if you want to read more.

OK, so now that we’ve covered this minor revelation, I can move on to the article’s actual content. Given the media’s need to demonize anarchists (see Graeber 2009), the article is surprisingly flattering in its portrayal of Crow as a peaceful if somewhat unconventional guy who believes in something. This is a stark difference from the vision of anarchist as an outlaw ready to throw buckets of piss at cops in a moment’s notice. And the Times can’t deny that the FBI surveillance—based on the FBI’s own records—is unjust and not a little ridiculous. However, while the article suggests that this is clearly a widespread phenomena:

Other targets of bureau surveillance, which has been criticized by civil liberties groups and mildly faulted by the Justice Department’s inspector general, have included antiwar activists in Pittsburgh, animal rights advocates in Virginia and liberal Roman Catholics in Nebraska. When such investigations produce no criminal charges, their methods rarely come to light publicly,

it stops far short of examining how chilling and harmful these practices can be. Mr. Crow’s case is far from an anomaly. Look, for example, at the affidavits presented against the 8 members of the RNC Welcoming Committee during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul. In one case, the most incriminating piece of evidence in the affidavit is the fact that the defendant was present at a meeting where another person made an inflammatory statement. I would say I hope we can all agree that such an act is hardly grounds for imprisonment, except that the person in question was in fact nabbed off the street and thrown in jail for several days on the basis of said affidavit.

The evidence presented against Scott Demuth, the evidence which is supposed to justify his six month prison sentence, is that he was in possession of (easily available) Google maps and (easily available) press releases from the Animal Liberation Front. That’s it.

And these are just recent examples from the Green Scare. Look a little further and we easily find hundreds of examples–not only from previous decades like Cointelpro, as mentioned in the Times–but much more recent observations of law officers going undercover at protests and often behaving violently or otherwise “inciting a riot.”

The Times article isn’t news to those of us who care, nor is it an exposé for those unaware of the level of political surveillance in the U.S. It’s more like a human interest story that at least makes the goat-owning punk next door (and me) seem a bit less paranoid and a bit more on the money.

P.S. “Anarchism was the catchword for an international terrorist movement at the turn of the 20th century.” Really, NYT? This totally ignorant and laughable definition is the best you can do, as if Bakunin, Goldman, the Haymarket Martyrs, and even Noam Chomsky never existed? At least read the Wikipedia page for crying out loud.

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on the interwebs today: activist work for pay

It definitely doesn't look like this.

I followed the trail from this post at Feministing today to Jessica Valenti’s post about pay for activist work. Pretty interesting stuff to think about. Certainly I’m often infuriated at the way that social service work is generally done by young women who are expected to do incredibly draining care work for an income that almost qualifies them for food stamps (no exaggeration there, really). This shows so little respect for the work, for the women who do it, and especially guarantees that the low income communities of color that constitute the client base will continue to receive inconsistent and inexperienced assistance at every agency where they are supposed to be supported. [Mind you, this is an insider critique; I’m not saying young women are incapable, just that a balance of age and experience would generate better service provision as well as less burnt out, more effective social service workers.]

On the other hand, I find myself stopping short of wholeheartedly endorsing Valenti’s points because I’m wary of the entire system of activist superstars. I wonder if it might not be better to work toward eliminating the uppercrust of nationally known activists in favor of building activist capacity more broadly. It seems that Nonnie Ouch is already a kick-ass activist in her own right–why does she need Dan Choi to come inspire her peers?

And someday soon there will have to be a post on money and Marxist alienation.

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