We Can All Be Arks

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“You, reading this essay: you are an ark.”

From Asa West

From a car window, California fuchsia might look like just another ornamental flower. A few bright spatters of red along the parkway, surrounded by the kinds of no-fuss shrubs installed by landlords and people who spend most of their time indoors. Compared to the exotic species like hibiscus or ficus, species that simulate lush tropical landscapes, California Fuchsia might even look rather scraggly and small. Is it the type of plant a driver will notice at all? Maybe people appreciate the showy little tube-shaped flowers, or maybe it’s not impressive enough to warrant a glance.

But you don’t get California fuchsia’s whole story from the window of a car.

Epilobium Canum ssp Canum, native to the California Floristic Province, is an integral member of foothill and coastal ecosystems from Oregon to Mexico. If you suspect that the size and shape of the flowers would be the perfect size for a hummingbird’s beak, then you’d be right: it’s a favored flower of several species of hummingbirds, along with the white-lined sphinx moth, the giant swallowtail butterfly, and the California dogface. What’s more, California fuschia also has a long and beneficial relationship to humans; it’s historically been used by the Chumash as a vulnerary herb, healing wounds in the same way that calendula has been used by Europeans.

Speaking of vulnerary herbs, did you know that yarrow is a California native plant? The feathery plant with the corymb inflorescences, a favorite of #WitchesOfInstagram, grows around the world and may have been propagated by ancient settlers and explorers. Gardeners savvy to its healing properties will eschew the brightly colored cultivars and look for Achillea Millefolium, with its plain white flowers that work well in salves and attract butterflies and bees. But, like California fuschia, yarrow can look pretty plain compared to all the exotics.

In fact, that supposed plainness is why so many native plant communities have been obliterated by developers fixated on turning California into a hybrid of England and Hawaii. You can buy a white sage smudge at Whole Foods to go with your essential oils and appropriated dream catchers, but when you pass real live white sage on the street, it looks like a vaguely pretty but rather uninteresting background shrub. The elder tree (ssp. cerulea) is summer deciduous in California and looks dead during the hottest months. The seedheads of sages and buckwheat turn brown after flowering. The authors of California Native Plants for the Garden are stark in their description of the colonization of California: “Compared to the rich greens, bright flowers, and bold textures of subtropical species,” they write, “the natives must have seemed dull and gray.”

How sad, that a shallow and limited idea of beauty can lead to the deaths of entire ecosystems.

#

Last spring, my husband and I scoured Los Angeles for a new place to live. Our options were limited, especially since we had one kid and another on the way, but I found a listing for a two bedroom condo in Koreatown from which the commute to our jobs on the west side wouldn’t be too catastrophic. (Nine miles, only an hour each way, not too shabby by L.A. standards). We went to look at the place and found it had a back door, and outside were two neglected alleyways and a cramped ficus tree. My daughter promptly tried to climb the tree while I wandered the alleys to look at the soil, which was compacted and rocky and covered in garbage. The land was hurting, its surface a raw abrasion, and I knew as I felt the quiet weight of a geis settle onto me that this was where we would live. The spirits of this place had been waiting goodness knows how long for someone, anyone, to come and stick up for them.

After we moved in, I set about getting permission to clean up the alleys, install a small container garden, and plant some drought-tolerant natives. The backlash was immediate. Two neighbors dismissed new plants as against the rules and thus self-evidently bad, citing decades-old regulations in the building’s covenant. Another got upset and tried to get the building manager to shut me down, calling plants a fire hazard (although it was unclear how plants were a fire hazard when a path littered with junk apparently wasn’t). The status quo bias was formidable: anything perceived as unruly or out of the ordinary was attacked like a virus. I couldn’t make sense of it. I still can’t. Is this the same bias that makes people resist renewable energy and doggedly support capitalism, even as it sucks away their resources and erodes their lives?

If only, I found myself thinking, my neighbors could have heard Lili Singer speak.

My husband and I had taken one of Lili’s gardening classes at the Theodore Payne Foundation, a nonprofit in the San Gabriel Valley that propagates native plants. He and I had sat with 30 other gardeners in a little classroom with no AC, taking notes as Lili described plant communities and design principles. For the most part I happily geeked out over wildflowers and sages and coast live oaks, but at one point, the class suddenly turned profound.

Gardeners and conservationists preserve these native species, Lili told us, not to keep them on life support for all of eternity, but in the hopes that someday they’ll be able to flourish on their own again. “California fauna evolved alongside these specific plants, and they need these plants to survive,” she said. “If you save the plants, you’re also saving the insects, and the birds that eat the insects, and the animals that eat the birds. You’re saving whole ecosystems. Your backyard can be an ark.”

She was referring to Noah’s ark, of course, but stories of devastating floods can be found in mythologies all over the world, a specter of annihilation that haunts our collective psyche, a warning whispered by the gods. In the Epic of Gilgamesh,* a group of gods decide to destroy the world, but Ea, “the cleverest of the gods,” warns Noah’s predecessor Utnapishtim:

Reed fence, reed fence, listen to my words.

[Utnapishtim,] King of Shuruppak, quickly, quickly

Tear down your house and build a giant ship,

Leave your possessions, save your life….

Then gather and take aboard the ship

Examples of every living creature.

In this version, the gods are not unanimous in their decision to destroy humanity; in fact, they quickly come to regret it, “cower[ing] by the palace wall, like dogs” to escape the rising water. To me, this version feels truer to our experience of climate change than the Noah myth, in which the instigator of the flood decides which humans are virtuous enough to survive. If climate change were a punishment, then the corporations, lobbyists, and politicians responsible, rather than the most vulnerable and innocent among us, would be hit the hardest. Indeed, we can almost see the 1% in Gilgamesh’s council of gods: foolishly believing themselves to be above destruction, deciding that the world is theirs to destroy and all its lives theirs to take, only too late realizing that they, too, are vulnerable.

I thought about just going ahead and planting the plants, even doing it in secret to avoid getting fined, but after I experimented with a little flower bed and someone kicked it to pieces, I realized my neighbors were not above simply tearing up anything mysterious they found. The sickness plaguing our land isn’t just physical. A dark and troubling thing happens to people’s minds when they live long enough under capitalism. They begin to hold life itself in contempt, seeing any other organisms not as partners and companions, but as competitors and threats. They view the new family down the hall with suspicion and anxiety, ready to attack if property values sag. They grow used to monocultures and conformity and balk at the sight of an unruly hedge. They forget how to be a community; one neighbor plays loud music at 3 a.m. and shrugs at the thought that it might bother people, while other neighbors call the police instead of knocking on his door. There are literal floods happening, yes–and droughts and famines and hurricanes and wildfires–but we’re drowning in something else, too.

We can be arks, I found myself thinking after the class. On the first full moon after we moved in, I brought my ritual supplies to the roof of the building to perform my first esbat in our new home. Not for the first time, I found a part of myself preparing to instruct my daughters in witchcraft when they come of age (if they want it, of course). This is how you’ll explain the compass, a little voice said as I conjured the quarter spirits. This is how you’ll teach scrying, it murmured as I closed my right eye and gazed at the moon in my bowl of water. Then I thought: I am an ark. My body, my mind, my knowledge, the traditions and wisdom I’ve stored up inside me. I carry them through the years so that I can pass them on, and so that their recipients can pass them on, and so forth until the calamity has passed.

You, reading this essay: you are an ark. The god Ea whispers to you through the reeds. What are you carrying that’s worth saving? What do you hold that must be protected and sheltered until conditions are right for it to fly free? Your devotions to the old gods and your knowledge of the Ways? Your friendship with the good folk? Your gateways through the hedge? The mass-produced books on Paganism, as lovely and important as some of them are, are not living knowledge. The written word kills the witchcraft. What’s alive lives in your body, and nowhere else.

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Happily, I eked out the majority board approval I needed to plant my natives. I bought my seedlings–some fuchsia and sagebrush and golden currant and blue-eyed grass and elder, plus some California poppy and baby blue eyes seeds, and a compact Cleveland sage that wouldn’t tolerate the clay but might do all right in a pot–and, after a good rain, put them all in. I was afraid the soil was just too bad for them to thrive, but as I dug, I noticed it was teaming with earthworms. The land was impatient to be healed.

Gardening might seem to some like a paltry, even indulgent form of activism when Nazis are killing people in the streets. But the nurturing of threatened species requires radical hope–which Jonathan Lear defines as hope that “is directed toward a future goodness that transcends the current ability to understand what it is,” and which Junot Diaz says “is not so much something you have but something you practice.” There’s a chance, and not a small one, that someone will kill all my native plants after I move away; after all, people all over Southern California are still hard at work tearing up natives to replace them with sod and concrete. But the act of planting keeps despair at bay. Perhaps one of my plants will release one seed that will fly somewhere safe and carry the species forward. Besides, liberation becomes easier to imagine when you get a tiny glimpse of what lies on the other side. Your body remembers a future with gardens, and that promise propels you to action.

After I put the plants in, I tamped the moist soil down and made the berms and offered each plant a little breastmilk to welcome it. I went inside and fed my children. My husband and I hope to move out of the city in a few years, to a place near a forest where I can tend a real garden instead of an alley, but my geis puts me firmly in this place until these plants are established and the birds and insects have learned of their presence. I hope that when I leave, the spirits will be able to protect these plants, or at least that status quo bias will work in their favor. I hope this patch of land will be a sturdy ark, sailing patiently towards a time when riotous, joyful life will thrive again.

*Translation by Stephen Mitchell


Asa West

Asa West is a sliding-scale tarot reader blending traditional witchcraft with earth-based Judaism. Her writing has appeared in Witches and Pagans Magazine, Luna Luna Magazine, and other outlets, and you can find her at tarotbyasa.com and instagram.com/tarotbyasa.

 


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Manifesto for a Simple Life


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“I want to live a savage life,
Of bared teeth and beauty and love.”

From Twm Gwynne

I want a life of simple wants;
Simplicity isn’t much to ask.
I’m not big on lofty goals
(other than changing the world).

I want room to stretch –
To stretch out my
Cloistered
Hunched
Aching shoulders.
I want room to stretch my arms and shoulders
Wide enough to hold the sun.

I want lungs full of air that tastes like air,
Like trees and streams and stones,
Like fighting and sweating and fucking,
Like seeing and hearing and touching.
Like life and death.

I want hands rougher than they are;
Black with dirt, thick with vital heat.
Skilled hands, wise hands,
Marked with signs and scars
Of a life fully lived.

I want knees that stoop to touch the soil
To plant a seed,
And never know the bend of deference.
I want feet that track out lost paths through venerated groves,
Through eternal grandeur,
And never demand a neck upon which to rest.

I want to walk through giants;
Ancient,
Full of secrets.
To touch their bark and know their life,
Their runes, their place.
To whisper among mountains
And chant with gods by firelight.

I want a hall, a house, a hearth,
Gathered friends that grin and laugh;
Those close to my heart,
With them I’ll share some dear-bought mead,
And gentler drinks.
My folk is all folk,
And I’ll skin the one who says a skin can tell you anything;
I’ll stretch his hide over my shield,
In our hall,
Where the only meat is pig
(the kind that drives in squad cars),
Where rapists are eunuchs before they’re dead.

I want to be a walking fire
That burns and so is burned.
Full of courage and of action,
Whose words are proved by deeds.

I want to live a savage life,
Of bared teeth and beauty and love.
I want to live a filling life,
Of building and growing and laughing.
I want to live this life,
With all the pain thus far,
I’ll defend it, and live it,
Until, at the last,
I find a place where I can pass
With no regrets.


Twm Gwynne

Eater of wild things, denier of stricture, communiser, poet, gardener, casual rambler – in essence, an anarchist in pursuit of the freest life he can grip. More of his writing can be found at his blog, Among Thorns, and at the radical poetry project he contributes to, Night Forest Cell of Radical Poets.


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Four Obscure Historical Figures

On public opinion manipulation tactics used by governmental institutions that make Imperialism and war feasible.

From Steve Varalyay

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Ask someone with a BA in history about any of the four figures below and they would likely draw a blank. High school grads? Forget it. Who are they? Edward Bernays, Ivy Lee, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and Hill & Knowlton. All have ties to the public relations (PR) industry and all have figured in some important events over the past century. The latter two are still operating today.

EDWARD BERNAYS. He is the most influential person in the field of PR. While his resume is long and impressive, two accomplishments are especially germane for this article.

Bernays began his career working on the Committee on Public Information/CPI, formed by President Woodrow Wilson shortly after his reelection. The CPI’s purpose was to convince a war-leery public to accept the US’ entrance into World War I. It used the most advanced technology of the day plus the “Four Minute Men”, an army of trained public speakers, to bombard the public about the atrocities committed by German soldiers. It worked. Six months later public opinion shifted and US troops were headed for France.

In 1954 United Fruit hired Bernays to essentially do what he did with the CPI decades earlier: shift public opinion in the US, a yeoman task considering UF had a worldwide reputation as a colonizer and exploiter.

Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz began fulfilling his campaign promise of land reform. He did this by using an eminent domain-like procedure to take UF’s fallow land and distribute among the nation’s many peasants. The company went to the Eisenhower Administration and complained, adding that Guatemala could also go Communist.

Bernays arranged for a series of all-expense paid cruises for influential journalists and editors, especially ones from the East and Midwest; the drinks were strong, the food was four-star and the weather was balmy. Once in Guatemala City the press contingent was taken on a tightly-conscripted tour, speaking to no one and seeing only UF-approved sites.

Success again! Upon return home all wrote that Guatemala was, indeed, in danger of going Communist. President Eisenhower greenlighted the CIA’s second coup in two years. And by early summer the Arbenz Administration was deposed.

IVY LEE. Lee became the founder of PR as we know it today when he bailed out the world’s first billionaire, John D. Rockefeller. In 1914 Colorado militiamen fired into the tents of striking miners, causing a fire that eventually claimed the lives of 20 women and children at Rockefeller’s Ludlow coal mine. His already sullied reputation sank even deeper with each new photo of the charred bodies. Desperate, he hired Lee to perform what is now referred to as “crisis management”.

Lee broke with conventional wisdom by cooperating with reporters rather than fighting with them. He allowed them access to certain parts of the mine. He granted them interviews with certain members of management. He provided them with “fact sheets”, though failing to disclose they were written by Rockefeller-owned dailies. And during the holiday season Lee took him into downtown Denver to dispense dimes to orphans—in the presence of many photographers.

In his waning years Rockefeller could travel about the state in relative safety. He would not have been able to do this without Lee’s efforts. Lee continued to work in PR for the next 20 years until it was discovered he was on IG Farben’s (Hitler’s) payroll and discredited.

NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MANUFACTURERS/NAM. The Great Depression caught corporations off-guard. The NAM was the first to start fighting back after the passage of the Wagner Act (requiring management to bargain with unions) in 1935. It funded research on how to break strikes without reverting to violence, including the Remmington-Rand’s wildly successful Mohawk Valley Formula on how to demonize union leaders and radicals.

During WWII NAM operated beneath the radar screen, parlaying its profits into still more such research and cranking out unprecedented quantities of anti-union literature. After the war the public elected a Republican-controlled Congress which soon passed the Taft-Hartley Act, by far the most anti-union bill in US history.

HILL & KNOWLTON. This PR firm was founded during the Great Depression but came into its own in the early 1950s. The tobacco industry was reeling after scientific reports surfaced linking smoking and cancer. Hill-Knowlton’s first move was to blanket the nation with newspaper ads and a pamphlet entitled “Smoking without Fear”. Later it organized the Council for Tobacco Research, now known as a “front group”, an organization that purports to support a given cause while actually being controlled by some other interest. While the tobacco industry may have lost some of the many lawsuits filed against it, in the end it emerged from the crisis a lot better than it would have without HK.

In early 1991 the US was on the verge of invading Iraq. Shortly before Congress was to vote on giving President George HW Bush authorization a woman claiming to be a Kuwaiti nurse appeared. She tearfully testified that she had seen Iraqi soldiers take infants from their incubators and throw them on the cold floor to die. The next day Congress voted one short of unanimous to grant authorization of the invasion.

Reporters later uncovered evidence that the young woman was not a Kuwaiti nurse, rather the daughter of a Kuwaiti ambassador. Hill & Knowlton professionally coached her on how to give her testimony before Congress.

The public should know about these things as well as some of the basic methods of PR and news maniulation. The question is how to do it. Getting these four into high school history texts is out. Texas has banned Rosa Parks from its history textbooks. Banning or limiting the use of PR would result in a hopeless free speech fight.

The only possibility is for activists to become educators, speaking to adults at PTA, homeowners’ and renters’ meetings. Pulling a page out of Saul Allinsky’s playbook and make those in attendance part of the team. Some would help with the teaching. Others would host meetings or get involved with voter registration. Kids could play various roles.

Going to war. Invading other countries. Overthrowing democratically-elected governments. Union busting. We’re not talking trifles here. Doing nothing would be akin to giving up on democracy.


Steve Varalyay

Scanned from a Xerox Multifunction Printeronce covered labor and healthcare issues for Random Lengths, a progressive biweekly serving communities in the Los Angeles Harbor area. More recently he has written short historical fiction. His “Prohibition in the Harbor” won the grand prize in Easy Reader’s 2011 Writing Competition. He has a BA in Spanish and Minor in Labor Studies from California State University Dominguez Hills and lives in Torrance.


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Note on Violations of Prisoners’ Rights

Fighting “against the genocide of black people, and its derivations, such as the prison enterprise which drives forward the process of African enslavement; outstanding in memory, history and in the bodies of black people in Brazil.”

From the political organization React or Die

English Translation Here

penitenciaria_almiro

Nota da ASFAP/BA sobre as recentes violações aos direitos dos presos.

Governo e agentes penitenciários devem resolver suas questões sem penalizar prisioneiras, prisioneiros e seus familiares.

“Art. 10. A assistência ao preso e ao internado é dever do Estado, objetivando prevenir o crime e orientar o retorno à convivência em sociedade.”

“Art. 12. A assistência material ao preso e ao internado consistirá no fornecimento de alimentação, vestuário e instalações higiênicas.”

“Art. 13. O estabelecimento disporá de instalações e serviços que atendam aos presos nas suas necessidades pessoais, além de locais destinados à venda de produtos e objetos permitidos e não fornecidos pela Administração.”

(Lei de Execução Penal, Lei 7.210/1984)

A Associação de Familiares e Amigos de Presos e Presas do Estado da Bahia (ASFAP/BA) atua desde 2006 no interior do sistema prisional baiano, amparando e apoiando prisioneiros, egressos e seus familiares. A ASFAP/BA é um núcleo avançado de lutas da Reaja Organização política e tem como objetivo lutar contra o genocídio do povo negro e suas derivações, a exemplo do empreendimento carcerário que tem como grande impulsionador o processo de escravização africana, marcante na memória, história e nos corpos de negros e negras no Brasil.

Este documento tem o objetivo de chamar a atenção de militantes do movimento negro e pan-africanistas, ativistas de direitos humanos, instituições de defesa de direitos humanos e demais cidadãos e cidadãs para o grave quadro de violação aos direitos das pessoas privadas de liberdade que vem ocorrendo no estado da Bahia.

Passado o Fórum Social Mundial com toda pirotecnia de intermináveis debates e até reprodução em 3D de uma cela de cadeia, apresentamos o drama real que precisa de uma ação prática para que os prisioneiros e as prisioneiras e os seus familiares não sofram violências e violações atualmente tão criticadas por instituições e mentes democráticas diante da prisão de uma personalidade muito conhecida no Brasil.

Mais uma vez, o Governo do estado da Bahia através de sua Secretaria de Administração Penitenciária, a SEAP, em desacordo trabalhista com o sindicato dos agentes penitenciários impõem uma série de limitações as pessoas presas e seus familiares. Vemos nitidamente , que além da pena estabelecida a cada uma das pessoas que se encontram presas, pratica-se a dupla punição e desvio de pena quando da negação de direitos garantidos pela Lei de Execução Penal, a LEP. Para além das restrições do que os parentes podem ou não levar para os detentos, permanecem e se agravam violações aos direitos dos apenados, incluindo-se aí abusos cometidos durante as visitas.

A Associação de Familiares e Amigos de Prisioneiros e Prisioneiras do Estado da Bahia, analisando a situação das unidades prisionais da Bahia, tem forte convicção que os poderes de Estado não cumprem suas responsabilidades previstas na LEP e ignoram também o documento da Organização das Nações Unidas (ONU) que trata das prisões e estabelece as Regras Mínimas para o Tratamento de Reclusos, da qual o Brasil é signatário. No item 20 do documento está expresso que a “administração deve fornecer a cada recluso, em horas determinadas, alimentação de valor nutritivo adequado à saúde e à robustez física, de qualidade e bem preparada e servida”. E ressalta que “todos os reclusos devem ter a possibilidade de se prover com água potável sempre que necessário”.

A qualidade da alimentação – constata-se inclusive comida em decomposição, além de carnes servidas cruas – é uma reclamação comum e permanente nas manifestações de parentes, tanto de unidades prisionais da capital, como do interior.

A possibilidade dos familiares prepararem e levarem refeições para seus entes queridos durante os dias de visita deve ser encarado como uma concessão estatal que ajuda a ressocialização do apenado, já que essa ressocialização como preconizado por lei é dever do Estado e da sociedade, sendo a família parte fundamental desse vínculo, além de levar em conta os hábitos culturais, das quais a alimentação é parte.

A restrição da entrada de alimentos associada as várias queixas quanto a qualidade das refeições fornecidas pelas unidades prisionais, o não fornecimento de água potável, a restrição a saída para atendimentos médico, odontológico, realização de exames e procedimentos, a opressão praticada por agentes penitenciários contra os familiares, articulado pelo sindicato que de forma justa busca do governo a ampliação de seus quadros e condições adequadas de trabalho, torna presas e presos o lado mais fraco da corda nesta luta por direitos. Isto não deveria ser feito retirando os direitos das pessoas presas e apostando no sofrimento de prisioneiros e na humilhação de familiares, mas numa mesa de negociação trabalhista com o próprio governador. Tudo isso, juntando-se as péssimas condições das prisões – celas superlotadas, unidades com limitações estruturais, falta de fornecimento regular de material de higiene e farda, falta de dentista e outros profissionais, falta de medicações, entrada de guarnição militar fortemente armada com brucutus e cachorros treinados para a abertura e fechamento de unidades prisionais, disparando balas de borracha contra os internos, além de spray de pimenta em celas já fechadas, entre outros – gera um ambiente explosivo fundamental para um projeto em curso de militarização ou privatização do sistema. O governo anuncia agora a militarização da educação em todo Estado, essa militarização já existe no sistema prisional sob o silêncio das instituições que deveriam zelar pelas instituições democráticas. Se ninguém se manifesta, nós falaremos e chamaremos a atenção para ver se a luta dos oprimidos terá tantos recursos como a prisão de quem dispõem de milhões em recursos para advogados defenderem seus interesses.

Em audiência pública organizada pela ASFAP-BA no mês de maio de 2016 familiares já pontuavam problemas com alimentação que agora se repetem. Diziam:

“Se antes essa situação era amenizada com mantimentos levados pela família em dias de visita, agora nem isso. A gente podia levar arroz, óleo, outras coisas que matavam a fome de nossos maridos e filhos. Desde o final de março, só deixam entrar três pacotes de biscoito por semana, uma garrafa de suco, ou refrigerante, uma carteira de cigarros por dia de visita, dois rolos de papel higiênico a cada duas semanas, lençol estampado (não há explicação do motivo de não aceitação de roupas de cama lisas), sabonete (desde que não sejam branco e amarelo – restrição igualmente sem explicação plausível) e duas garrafas de água”.

É importante frisar que esse quadro veio se agravando de 2016 para cá. O que agrava o quadro de violação a direitos básicos de prisioneiros.

Repete-se em 2018 as mesmas denúncias formuladas em 2016, com agravos de desrespeito, violência psicológica contra familiares, uso desproporcional da força policial e uma tática violenta dos agentes penitenciários de criar uma suposta operação de legalidade para disfarçar uma ação calculada de pressão contra prisioneiros e seus familiares, chamando a atenção do governo para seus interesses trabalhistas.

“Na revista, jogam fora nossa comida, ou nos obrigam a colocar num saco plástico, tudo misturado. Nos tratam como bichos e mesmo o que entra, não é suficiente para o almoço com nossos maridos e filhos”.

“Como eu vou comer e deixar ele (preso) com fome, ainda mais sabendo de toda a situação lá dentro?”

A preocupação dos familiares e de defensores de direitos humanos é com a saúde dos detentos, que recebem uma refeição contaminada.

Igualmente preocupante é o armazenamento de água da torneira em baldes – usada para banho e consumo. Como faltam água e luz com frequência nas unidades, os presos guardam água em recipientes abertos, favorecendo, inclusive a proliferação de mosquitos do Aedes Aegypti. Interessante ressaltar que dos 417 municípios da Bahia, apenas um (Mucugê) ainda não tinha registrado casos de dengue, chikungunya ou zika em 2016. Além disso, mais da metade das prisões baianas (no total 22) são antigas, têm mais de 10 anos de construção. A estrutura precária, a infestação de ratos e baratas, como relatado por familiares e a falta de higienização de caixas d’água só aumentam o risco de epidemias.

A saúde dos detentos é motivo de grave preocupação. Detentos com tuberculose e outras doenças infecciosas dividem cela com outros, ampliando o risco de contaminação. Demoram para receber atendimento adequado e quando são atendidos nem sempre tem as medicações que são prescritas. Os familiares tem que se desdobrar para comprar os remédios que garantam o tratamento dos presos. Muitos quando chegam ao atendimento tem que ser internados em hospitais em estado grave.

“O atendimento é precário. Antes, a gente podia levar remédio. Agora, até paracetamol tem que ter receita. Se alguém passar mal na sexta-feira, não levam para atendimento porque é dia de visita. Já vi presos vomitando sangue, outros urinando sangue, agentes carregando um detento que estava passando mal num carrinho de mão e também um outro morrer após uma convulsão no pátio”, relatou outra mulher.

Segundo ela, pelo menos dois cadeirantes estavam nesse presídio e dependiam dos companheiros de cela para tudo, como sair da cama e tomar banho, pegar as refeições. As direções das unidades, sem nenhuma base legal, também proibiram a entrada de adoçantes e outros alimentos para pessoas com diabetes e enfermidades similares. Para dificultar o ingresso desses produtos importantes para os portadores de doenças crônicas, só com receita médica, embora não exista nenhuma determinação no Brasil que exija receituário para venda de adoçantes em farmácias ou supermercados, por exemplo.

Um familiar de cadeirante relata que tem sido proibido de levar remédios e dietas, mesmo tendo relatório médico dispondo o contrário.

Há muito tempo a ASFAP/BA vem denunciando a precariedade no atendimento a saúde e nada muda, não existe uma base razoável de atendimento a saúde dentro dos princípios do SUS ou das diretrizes e protocolos do Plano Nacional de Saúde do Sistema Penitenciário.

Assim, estamos iniciando uma jornada de lutas por justiça e pelos direitos básicos de nossos familiares encarcerados e nossos próprios direitos violados uma vez que não somos criminosas e nem sentenciadas. As penas de nossos cônjuges e familiares não podem nos alcançar, estamos exercendo um direito de lutar pelos interesses de sujeitos cuja voz não tem sido ouvida e que vem enfrentando toda sorte de violações aos seus direitos.

Exigimos das instâncias do governo que tratam dos direitos humanos e da administração prisional que mais uma vez nos receba para tratarmos de assunto de nosso total interesse.

Solicitamos a Secretaria Estadual de Administração Penitenciária e Ressocialização, a Excelentíssima Juíza da Vara de Execução Penal, a Defensoria Pública, a Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil e a Superintendência de Direitos Humanos uma reunião conosco, familiares de presas e presos, para abrir este processo de escuta e participação que é princípio do governo do Estado da Bahia e estabeleçamos um diálogo.

Solicitamos aos movimentos sociais, acadêmicos, personalidades das redes sociais e organizações de direitos humanos solidariedade a uma luta justa que travamos.

Salvador, Abril de 2018.


ASFAP- BA/ Reaja Organização Política

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ENGLISH TRANSLATION

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Note from ASFAP-Bahia on recent violations of prisoners’ rights.

Government and penitentiary agents should resolve their issues without penalizing prisoners and their families.

“Article 10. Assistance to the inmate and the internee is the duty of the State, with the purpose of preventing crime and guiding the return to coexistence in society.”

“Article 12. Physical assistance to the inmate and the internee shall consist of the provision of food, clothing and hygienic facilities.”

“Article 13. The establishment shall have facilities and services that meet the prisoners in their personal needs, as well as places destined to the sale of products and objects permitted and not provided by the Administration.”

(Criminal Enforcement Law, Law 7,210 / 1984)

The Association of Relatives and Friends of Prisoners of the State of Bahia (ASFAP-Bahia) has been working inside the Bahia State prison system since 2006, protecting and supporting prisoners, detainees and their families. The ASFAP-Bahia is an advanced nucleus of the Political Organization Reaja ou Será Morta (React or Die) and aims to fight against the genocide of black people, and its derivations, such as the prison enterprise which drives forward the process of African enslavement; outstanding in memory, history and in the bodies of black people in Brazil.

This document aims to bring to the attention of black and pan-Africanist activists, human rights activists, human rights institutions and other citizens, the serious violation of the rights of persons deprived of their liberty in the state of Bahia [1].

After the Fórum Social Mundial (World Social Forum) with all the pyrotechnics of endless debates and even a 3D reproduction of a jail cell, we present the real drama that requires practical action so that prisoners and their families do not suffer from the violence and violations currently criticized by institutions and democratic minds in sight of the arrest of a very well-known personality in Brazil [2].

Once again, the Government of the State of Bahia, through its Secretariat of Penitentiary Administration, SEAP, in a labor dispute with the union of prison agents, impose a series of limitations on prisoners and their families. We clearly see that in addition to the punishment established for each one of the people who are imprisoned, the double punishment and deviation of sentence is practiced when denying the rights guaranteed by the Penal Execution Law, the LEP. In addition to the restrictions of what relatives may or may not bring to the detainees, violations of the rights of the prisoners remain, including abuses committed during visits.

The Association of Relatives and Friends of Prisoners of the State of Bahia, in analyzing the situation of the prison units in Bahia, is strongly convinced that State powers do not fulfill their responsibilities under the LEP and also ignore the United Nations document (UN) which deals with prisons and establishes the Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, to which Brazil is a signatory. Section 20 of the document states that “management shall provide each prisoner, at specified times, with nutritional value adequate to health and physical strength, of quality, and well prepared and served”. It emphasizes that “all prisoners should be able to provide themselves with clean water whenever necessary.”

The quality of food – including rotten food, as well as raw meat served – is a common and permanent complaint in the demonstrations of relatives at prison units in the capital and in the inland of the State.

The possibility for family members to prepare and take meals to their loved ones during the visiting days should be considered a state concession that helps the re-socialization of the confined person, since this re-socialization is put forward by law as a duty of the State and of society, the family being a fundamental part of this bond, in addition to taking into account the cultural habits which food is a part of.

The restriction of food intake associated with the various complaints regarding the quality of meals provided by the prison units; the non-provision of drinking water; the restriction of exits for medical and dental examinations and procedures; the oppression practiced by penitentiary agents against the family members, as articulated by the union that in a fair search for the government to expand their cadres and ensure adequate working conditions; makes prisoners the weaker side of the fight in this struggle for rights. This should not be done by withdrawing the rights of prisoners, betting on the suffering of prisoners, and the humiliation of family members, but instead at a negotiating table with the governor himself.

All this, together with the poor conditions of the prisons – overcrowded cells; units with structural limitations; lack of regular supply of hygiene materials and uniforms; lack of dentists and other professionals; lack of medications; entrance of heavily armed military force with brutality and trained dogs for the opening and closing of prison units; firing rubber bullets at inmates, and pepper spray in closed cells; among others things – create a fundamentally explosive environment as an ongoing project of militarization or privatization of the system. The government now announces the militarization of education in every state, this militarization already exists in the prison system under the silence of the institutions that should care for democratic institutions. If nobody speaks up, we will speak and call attention to see if the struggle of the oppressed will have as many resources as the arrest of those who have millions in resources for lawyers to defend their interests.

In a public hearing organized by ASFAP-Bahia in May 2016, family members already reported problems with food that are now repeating themselves. They said:

“If before this situation was mitigated with food brought by the family on visiting days, now we don’t even have that. We could carry rice, oil, other things that would satisfy the hunger of our husbands and children. Since the end of March, only three packets of biscuits per week, a bottle of juice, or soda, a pack of cigarettes per day of visit, two rolls of toilet paper every two weeks, printed sheets (there is no explanation for why not accept plain bed linen), soap (provided they are not white and yellow – a restriction also without plausible explanation) and two bottles of water.”

It is important to emphasize that this situation has worsened from 2016 to now, which aggravates the framework of violation of basic prisoners’ rights.

The same denunciations made in 2016 are repeated in 2018, about disrespect, psychological violence against family members, disproportionate use of the police force and violent tactics by prison agents to create a supposed legality operation to disguise a calculated action of pressure against prisoners and their families, drawing government attention to their labor interests.

“In the search, they throw away our food, or we are forced to put it in a plastic bag, everything mixed together. They treat us like animals and even what comes in is not enough for lunch with our husbands and children.”

“How am I going to eat and leave him (stuck) hungry, especially knowing of the whole situation in there?”

The concern of family members and human rights defenders is with the health of detainees who receive a contaminated meal.

Equally troubling is the storage of tap water in buckets – used for bathing and drinking. As water and light are often lacking in the units, prisoners store water in open containers, favoring the proliferation of Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes. It’s interesting to note that of the 417 municipalities in Bahia, only one (Mucugê) had not yet registered cases of dengue, chikungunya or zika in 2016. In addition, more than half of prisons in Bahia (22 in all) are old: built more than 10 years ago. The precarious structure, infestation of rats and cockroaches, as reported by relatives, and the lack of sanitation of water boxes only increase the risk of epidemics.

The health of detainees is a matter of grave concern. Detainees with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases share cells with others, increasing the risk of contamination. They receive delayed adequate care and when they are attended to they do not always have the medications that must be prescribed. Relatives have to work together to buy the medicines that will guarantee the treatment of prisoners. Many people who arrive at the hospital are admitted in serious condition.

“The service is precarious. Before, we could take medicine. Even paracetamol (aspirin) has to have a prescription. If someone gets sick on Friday, they do not take them to customer service because it is visiting day. I have seen prisoners vomiting blood, others urinating blood, officers carrying a detainee who was completely sick in a wheelbarrow and also another dying after a seizure in the yard.”

(As reports another woman.)

According to her, at least two wheelchair users were in this prison and depended on their cellmates for everything, such as getting out of bed and taking a shower, to eat their meals. The directions of the units, without any legal basis, also prohibited the entry of sweeteners and other foods for people with diabetes and similar diseases. Making things even more difficult, the entry of these important products for those with chronic diseases requires a prescription, although there is no requirement in Brazil for prescription for the sale of sweeteners in pharmacies or supermarkets, for example.

A family member of a wheelchair user reports that he has been banned from taking medicines and diets, even though he has a medical report stating otherwise.

The ASFAP-Bahia has long denounced the precariousness of health care and nothing changes, there is no reasonable basis for health care within the principles of SUS (Medicare) or the guidelines and protocols of the National Health Plan of the Penitentiary System.

Thus, we are starting a journey of justice struggles and the basic rights of our incarcerated family members, and our own violated rights since we are neither criminals nor sentenced. The sentences of our spouses and relatives can not reach us, we are exercising a right to fight for the interests of subjects whose voice has not been heard and who have been facing all kinds of violations of their rights.

We demand from the government action that deals with human rights and the prison administration to once again receive us to deal with matters of our complete interest.

We request the State Secretariat for Penitentiary Administration and Re-socialization, the Honorable Judge of the Criminal Execution Court, the Public Defender’s Office, the Brazilian Bar Association, and the Human Rights Superintendency a meeting with us, relatives of prisoners, to open this process of listening and participation that is the principle of the government of the State of Bahia and to establish a dialogue.

We call on social movements, academics, social network personalities and human rights organizations to stand up for a fair fight.

Salvador, Brazil – April 2018.


[1] Bahia:

was the first point of contact the Portuguese had with what became the Brazilian colony. Its capital, Salvador, was Brazil’s first capital. It’s now the city with the most African descendants outside of Africa (an estimated 80% of the population). Though difficult to cite precisely, Salvador’s port was one to receive the most enslaved Africans (Rio de Janeiro being second). Only in the second half of the 1700’s, almost one million Africans came to Brazil, half of which came to Salvador (the others to Rio and other parts of the coast). Of the almost 5 million total enslaved Africans that came to Brazil during the nearly 500 years of Colonialism, Salvador is undoubtedly the city most affected by this horrific event in history, a legacy and a reality that is still very much alive today.

The Northeast region in Brazil and the rural areas of Bahia are also known for severe droughts that lead to crippling poverty in the agricultural community and mass migration. Because of this, people from there suffer classist discrimination in the Southeast region of Brazil (Rio/São Paulo) when they go south looking for new opportunities. This drought is believed to be a result of an ecosystem destabilization caused by the deforestation of the Amazon forest (in the North of the country).

Bahia is incredibly culturally relevant to Brazil, as the birthplace of much of the cultural and spiritual practices that defines Brazilian identity today. It represents a large portion of the Brazilian population although it’s overshadowed by the Southeast due to their western influence and appeal (which is a blatant example of Imperialistic forces in the country).

[2] Lula:

A presidential candidate, Lula, that is certain to win if he runs for office this year, is to be arrested just before he gets a chance to be on the ballot. To many Brazilians this is representative of the failure of the Democratic system and evidence of a coup. To make matters worse, right-wing politicians and generals are publicly stating that if Lula somehow runs from behind bars there will be no choice but to issue military intervention.


ASFAP-Bahia / Reaja Organização Política (React or Die)

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Strategize, Don’t Moralize

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Shortly after Trump’s election, I’m in a mass meeting. Several hundred people have gathered to establish a new organization meant to channel outrage into sustainable direct action, mutual aid, and radical municipalist politics. People are talking – expressing not only their fears about ICE and healthcare, but also their hope that our work can create something better. Several of them say it’s important to acknowledge “the people who’ve been doing this good and important work all along” (that is, established activists and nonprofit staffers).

No one asks why, if their work is so good, it didn’t keep Donald Trump out of office. No one asks what, exactly, that work is meant to accomplish – or, if its goals are worth supporting, how it envisions achieving them.


 

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

If you start nailing boards together without a plan, will that get you a house?

When you build a house, there’s a very specific goal: the physical structure needs to match the architect’s blueprint. The design’s details, in turn, depend on the concrete conditions, both current (e.g. available land and budget) and future (e.g. the number of people meant to live there). Then, the construction process itself is structured by clearly-defined intermediate goals and benchmarks. You first lay a foundation, then erect a frame, then install plumbing and wiring, and so on.

That’s strategy. You don’t begin with the notion that you want some vague, indeterminate kind of house. You have a concrete ultimate goal in the blueprint, with definite intermediate goals along the way. Now, unexpected disruptions might make you change your plan; what if you lose half your budget, say, or find an archeological site? But, that doesn’t mean you throw the blueprint away.  It means you revise it in response to changing conditions, because without the plan you can’t carry out the work. Strategizing means figuring out not only where you want to go, but how, precisely, you intend to get there.

The US far left loves to debate tactics (Is it OK to punch Nazis? Is the Black Bloc counter-productive? Is mutual aid just charity?). But how does it approach strategy?


 

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

Tactics follows strategy.

First, you set your ultimate goal, whether it’s building a house or social revolution. Once you’ve analyzed your conditions and resources, you put together a series of intermediate goals. You don’t pick them haphazardly – each of them has to set you up to advance to the next while, simultaneously, making you more capable of eventually reaching the end goal. Particular tactical decisions work the same way, but on a smaller scale. Is a tactic good? Well, is it the best way to achieve your next intermediate goal (while building up your overall capacity)?

To build a house’s frame, you first have to lay a foundation. To install the wiring and plumbing, you first have to build the frame. You might be excited about the carpentry and unhappy about mixing concrete and waiting for it to set, but if you skip the foundation the frame won’t survive. Does that make carpentry ineffective? Of course not – as long as you use it in the right context.

What makes Nazi-punching, Black Blocs, or mutual aid any different? Is your immediate goal to disrupt an alt-right event? If so, a Black Bloc might be a sensible tactic, but showing up with bags of groceries probably isn’t. But if you’re trying to establish a positive presence in a neighborhood with high food insecurity, groceries are going to work a lot better than hanging out on the sidewalk waiting for Richard Spencer to walk by.

When the Left debates tactics in the abstract, it sacrifices evaluating them strategically. You might decide that having plenty of outlets is what you want most in a house. Does that mean you can go ahead and install them before you’ve built the walls? When radicals draw lines of demarcation based on individual tactics, then supporting mutual aid (or antifa, or union work, etc) effectively stands in for a more holistic strategic analysis.

But what tactic is effective outside the right strategic context? Mutual aid without a larger political project is charity; it doesn’t build power. Antifa separated from mass work is self-isolating catharsis politics. Outlets only work when they’re wired into a wall.


 

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Tintoretto, “Allegory of the morality of earthly things,” 1585. Via Wikimedia Commons

US leftists tend to think in moralistic, rather than strategic, terms. To be clear, “moralistic” doesn’t mean wanting to be ethical. Rather, it’s the impulse to reduce every political question to an abstract, absolute, and non-contextual value judgment. Is it Good or is it Problematic to smash a Starbucks window or change people’s brake lights for free?

But when you isolate a tactic from its strategic context, it loses its meaning. No tactic is good or bad in itself. What counts is its ability to accomplish a particular goal in a particular situation.

Counter-strategic moralizing generally comes in three flavors:

  1. Inherent good. Every group has a limited number of person-hours and a finite amount of money. How should it choose what to do with them? “Inherent good” moralizers don’t ask what is most likely to bring a social revolution closer – instead, they look at whatever idea is in front of them and try to evaluate it in a vacuum. If it seems good in the short term, they’ll do it, whether or not it builds towards a long-term goal. Often, they’re “pragmatic” reformers, social democrats/Berniecrats, or Alinsky-style “community organizers” (for whom organizing is itself the point, never mind towards what end!).
  2. Representation. This means asking not “how does this fit into our strategy,” but “who is getting credit for it?” Whether in the form of identity liberalism or straightforward sectarianism, it reflects the career aspirations of media figures, academics, and professional-activist NGO staffers who need political credibility to enhance their personal brands.
  3. Catharsis. “Catharsis moralizers” chase the feeling of mass politics (whether it’s real or not). They’re drawn to emotionally-intense peak experiences, street demonstrations above all. Often, they’re “alphabet soup” sect-Marxists, riot-porn anarchists, or the protest scene’s radical fringe in general.

 

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Source: Wikimedia Commons

 

Communist theory discusses objective conditions and subjective conditions. A political group can’t control the objective conditions – is the economy in a boom or a bust? What’s the relative strength of other social forces? Objective conditions are the environment within which a political actor moves.

Subjective conditions, though, are under the group’s control – how good is its strategy? How effective are its tactics? Is it correctly analyzing the objective conditions and acting accordingly?

When both objective and subjective conditions are good, a movement can succeed. Otherwise, it fails.

US leftists have no mass base inherited from their precursors. However, for the first time in decades, the overall objective conditions are favorable: most Millennials would rather live in a socialist or communist society. They overwhelmingly support and/or participate in the labor movement. Liberalism and conservatism are both struggling to break out of a sustained crisis of legitimacy. If there ever was a ripe time to revive mass socialism in the United States, it’s now.

But, the subjective conditions are caught in a negative feedback loop. Because of counter-strategic moralizing, revolutionaries aren’t able to strategize how to make their movement a meaningful presence in working-class life. That, in turn, keeps socialists disconnected from the working class at large – and without that living connection, there’s nothing to force revolutionaries away from moralizing. It’s like having the supplies and equipment to build a house, but never having learned how to use the tools.


 

If capitalist realism is so seamless, and if current forms of resistance are so hopeless and impotent, where can an effective challenge come from? A moral critique of capitalism, emphasizing the ways in which it leads to suffering, only reinforces capitalist realism. Poverty, famine and war can be presented as an inevitable part of reality, while the hope that these forms of suffering could be eliminated easily painted as naive utopianism. Capitalist realism can only be threatened if it is shown to be in some way inconsistent or untenable; if, that is to say, capitalism’s ostensible ‘realism’ turns out to be nothing of the sort.

Mark Fisher

 

… it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.

Fredric Jameson

Do you believe revolution is possible?

Mark Fisher talks about “capitalist realism” – the sneaking sense that even if socialism would be a better system than capitalism, it’s never actually going to happen. Not here. Not really. Capitalism seems like it’s built into the real world, as natural as the rhythm of the seasons, not like something contingent, fragile, and temporary. Mass socialism (rather than hobbyist socialism, fringe socialism) does not currently exist in the US. So, the prospect of a revolution – a literal, overthrow-the-government working-class uprising – holds a place in the radical psyche similar to that of the Second Coming for mainline Protestants. It may be an article of faith, but it’s comfortably hypothetical. It isn’t actually meant to leave the indeterminate but distant future (and “after the revolution…” is how you start a joke).

So, why strategize for revolution? Capitalism is not, of course, a law of nature. It’s loose and limited in ways that “capitalist realism” can’t admit. Socialist revolution is possible; it’s happened before and it will happen again. But, contemporary leftists haven’t gotten to learn through practice that the working class can organize towards a revolutionary goal, creating institutions, parties, and a culture of solidarity and struggle. And without that, socialism is just an idea in their heads, not a living reality straining to come into being.

Before 2008, socialism was marginal because the objective conditions prevented a revival of the mass revolutionary movement. That was true for decades – and from that context, there emerged the subjective conditions that still define the Left. Why is organized leftism so disproportionately academic and middle-class? Well, academics manipulate ideas for a living, but don’t have to translate them into social realities. Of course they and their students gravitated towards Marxism. Before 2008, who else would have? Since then, though, the objective conditions have changed. Mass socialism is possible again.

So, how can the Left break out of its self-isolating feedback loop? It begins with dropping conventional activism and finding ways to build institutions that can weave into working and unemployed people’s daily lives. It begins with taking on small projects that win credibility and expand capacity (then using that expanded credibility and capacity to take on larger and more daring projects, repeating the cycle and growing a base). It begins with strategy.


 

Sophia Burns is a communist and polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/marxism_lesbianism

Ode to America

On the delusions of American exceptionalism.

From William Hawes

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My own little world
Is what I deserve
‘Cause I am the only child there is.
A king of it all
The belle of the ball
I promise I’ve always been like this.
Forever the first
My bubble can’t burst
It’s almost like only I exist.
Where everything’s mine
If I can keep my mouth shut tight, tight, tight.

-Guster, “Center of Attention”

So much for the city on the hill. Narcissism has changed to nihilism and solipsism: “climate change isn’t real”, and the ravages of history continue down the rabbit hole of memory.

Take another look. Genocide and chattel slavery. The war against Mexico, the quite uncivil war, the Spanish-American war, the massacres in the Philippines, the two World Wars. Dust off a book and check out the post-WWII carnage. Three million dead in Korea, three to five million dead in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. A million or more in Indonesia where our CIA handed out kill lists to Suharto’s regime. Untold atrocities in Nicaragua. Juntas and death squads covering South and Central America, trained at Fort Benning, Georgia. Hundreds of thousands dead in Afghanistan, a million or more in Iraq. Refugees numbered 65 million last year, with 20 million worldwide at risk of starvation.

Welcome to America, where minorities are killed for loose cigarettes or burned-out taillights. Where kids are shot up in school after warning of the madman dozens of times. Where we are chided to “support our troops” as they massacre, where we’re told “blue lives matter” as black men are murdered in cold blood.

The only solution is to abolish the military and the police. There is no reforming to be done. Likewise the nation-state and the corporation must be banned as well. Banish capitalism to the dustbin of history. The neoliberal globalizers (yes, Trump, that means you too) have got to go.

This is the fourth world war, as Subcomandante Marcos explained brilliantly. Billions of people now are no longer needed in the global economy and form the reserve army of temporary, part-time, and seasonal laborers. This is the new precariat, which along with the ever exploited proles constructs and maintains the property of the oligarchs in our new gilded age.

The risks from global warming, nuclear war, industrial pollulants, new pandemics, and food and water shortages from drought, floods, and extreme weather all should remind us that we are constructing our very own abattoir as well. Seven and a half billion of us fighting and scrambling over the scraps and dregs of our fossil fuel age doesn’t paint a pretty picture when you step back and look at things with a global perspective.

There is an absolute nothing at the heart of Western life. This gets touched up in media and the arts, when terms like “Spaceship Earth”, “The Big Empty”, and “Lonely Planet” are used in a playful way, masking our sorrow. Projecting our own isolation and alienation onto the world, we anthropomorphize features and creatures around us and thus imagine that everyone and everything else must be feeling as helpless, bleak, and disturbed as we are.

Yet, it is just not so. Just because the universe is kind of a lonely and scary place does not give us the right to destroy the planet out of fear of our own mortality, our own sense of meaninglessness.

While our foreign wars mutate and mushroom out of control, domestically, America today is increasingly provincial and insular. Like many subcultures, the political realm is dominated by nostalgia, a return to a so-called Golden Age. From “Make America Great Again” to Bernie Sanders’ New Deal/Keynesian/Social Democratic promises, they are all based on delusions. These are delusions of isolationism, delusions that we can use a Scandinavian blueprint onto a population of 320 million, delusions of American exceptionalism, being the indispensable nation.

There is also a delusion regarding the “living wage”. There can only be a living wage coinciding with a radical restructuring of the economy towards sustainability and ecological living. Without this, what would happen? A wage hike to $15/hour would encourage everyone to spend more, consume more, go on more trips and use more fossil fuels. This would not help any single living thing on the planet, as our economy is built to destroy and degrade the Earth’s natural resources and ecosystems.

Comments on US Left Radicals, with Respect

I also sense a split between two strains of Leftist radical thought in the US: the activist/socialist Left and what one might call the counter-culture/spiritual Left. Turns out, each has much to offer the other.

The activists/Marxists will be instrumental in breaking the passivity, new-age hedonism, and tendency to harp on conspiracy theory of the spiritualists. Organization and discipline on the strategic and tactical levels are in short supply, and here socialists have a lot to contribute to the conversation.

As for the counter-culture/spiritual types, they have much to teach the social justice activists and socialist/communist organizers and academics as well. In a very practical sense, those in the counterculture who have “dropped out” are doing a great service by not contributing tax money to our war machine. Those who squat and occupy public land responsibly should also be applauded, not ignored, by the academic Left. The growing movement in permaculture and homesteading also is uniquely absent even in alternative media (is too much patchouli and yoga a repellant for otherwise intrepid journalists?).

There is also an idea as old as time, summed up by the saying “Man does not live by bread alone”. The constant focus of some on the socialist Left on only materialistic problems and solutions (exemplified by some Marxist and lefty economists, among others) and inequality does not give enough weight to questions of inner life in modern society.

Many of the activist/socialists cannot even be counted on to support full drug legalization. Additionally, many ignore the issue of, or are scared at speaking out in favor of, the responsible use of cannabis and psychedelics, even though study after study confirms their beneficial effects. Of course I’m not trying to inflate the heads of the credentialed experts, as any hippie on Haight-Ashbury or Rasta in Kingston could have confirmed this 50 years ago.

Speaking of the 60s, 50 years ago the French managed to scare De Gaulle out of the country, with an alliance of students, workers, feminists, artists, Leftists, and citizen protestors. Union workers in the US should be supporting high school students’ calls increased legislation to halt gun violence, as well as college students’ call to end student debt, creating free higher education for universities and community colleges, etc.

Then there are people who fit neither category, including environmentalists, peace activists, anti-nuke and GMO protestors, dissidents, anarchists, etc. For many here, the Greens are simply not anti-capitalist enough, and the socialists do not put enough emphasis on environmental concerns and ecology.

I have offered a respectful critique of one of the main Left parties, Socialist Alternative, in a previous piece, especially their call to “democratize the Fortune 500 companies”, instead of breaking them down to human-scale anarchic cooperatives and inherently questioning the nature of the consumer goods and production model, which contribute to pollution, misery, disease, alienation, and global warming. Also, their call for a living wage without structural transformation of the industrial system falls flat, for reasons mentioned above.

Last year, Alan Jones wrote a pretty epic essay dismantling the faulty thinking going on in the leadership of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in an essay here.

What is needed among radicals is more guts, and more imagination. We need more people like SPUSA 2016 presidential candidate Mimi Soltysik who called for the military and the police to be disbanded in the LA Times.

What is necessary is to become more grounded in speech and action. Technological utopianism has to be replaced by scale-appropriate bioregional and eco-centric Earth-based production techniques. To accomplish this, we will need to reorient our culture and pay respects to the main keepers of this wisdom, the First Nations of Turtle Island, the land we know as North America.

Visioning

What anyone with a heart wants is a rainbow nation, not in terms of a country or nation-state with borders, but groups of interdependent communities, aka intercommunalism as the Black Panthers called it, where our brown, black, white, yellow, and red sisters and brothers can live and thrive in a veritable kaleidoscope, a mosaic of multicultural and intergenerational cooperation and beauty. To live in cooperation with each other and live close to the Earth, we will have to learn from and adopt the rejuvenating and conflict-avoidant cultural practices of indigenous communities.

Land and property reform are at the center of this agenda, as is instituting a universal basic income. We must utilize the burgeoning fields of communal farming, permaculture, and agroforestry to feed ourselves. We must decentralize…Small Is Beautiful, as Schumacher explained.

Over the course of human history, the village was the central unit of society, where bioregional production, markets, and trading dominated. This is how unique culture is formed, where syncretism and blending is encouraged, not denigrated by xenophobic bigots.

The modern city is completely unsustainable as well as uniquely alienating as it divides citizens by class, race, as well as in the more subtle realms of social and cultural capital, as Bourdieu foresaw.

Holistic, ethical science can be used in tandem with decentralizing farming practices and renewable energy infrastructure. The dream of the primitivist, anti-civ, and “green anarchists” (funny how some have tried to appropriate this term, which can apply to a wide spectrum of theory) to go without any modern technology is ridiculous. Sustainably made labor-saving devises should be encouraged, not denigrated, and applied science based on the precautionary principle must be upheld.

Also necessary will be deliberative councils based on merit, publicly broadcast to stimulate citizen input and education, where scientists can openly debate and plan for strategies to mitigate global warming, industrial pollution, medical and psychological epidemics of suffering (drug abuse is rampant in this country and largely attributable to loneliness and alienation, as the Rat Park study showed), etc. Imagine how much more enlightening and interesting watching the top researchers in their fields resolve crises would be, compared to the absolute shit on CNN, CSPAN, FOX, or MSNBC.

Meritocracies are not utopian, and flourish in scientific research, in spontaneous social situations, as well as for open-source coders, engineers, and technologists. Arthur Koestler sketched this idea out a bit in his book Janus, dubbing it “holarchy”.

Global warming continues to be the number one threat to the planet. By opting out of the Paris Accords (a pitiful excuse for a climate agreement, but better than nothing), the US government has very clearly shown itself to be very clearly at war with the world.

Yet “America” does not exist. Borders do not exist. We must become ungovernable, semi-nomadic if need be, like many of our multicultural, cosmopolitan ancestors were. We should re-wild and reinvigorate our natural surroundings through sustainable communal-based agriculture.

This does not mean consigning every family to peasant-level subsistence farming, as likely only 10-15% of the population would need to work in a food-production based capacity and would be compensated for their hard work and dedication compared to our mass society, compared to the 1-3% in our mechanized agro-business model where laborers and seasonal workers are ruthlessly exploited. There must be a mind-shift from a culture based on scarcity to a culture based on natural abundance.

More and more people are waking up to the ever-increasing dangers of runaway climate change and nuclear war. If the Left does not unify and form a cohesive, coherent strategy that speaks to ordinary people, the proto-fascists in Washington as well as the alt-right will continue to scapegoat minorities for capitalisms’ failures in pursuit of their goal of a tyrannical white-supremacist state.

Possibly the most feasible solution to our interlocking crises is to address the elephant in the room: overpopulation. Instituting a global program promoting woman’s education, safe sex, and birth control, and redistribution of wealth to the Global South could help tremendously.

The fragmentation of the Western Left continues because ultimately it is rooted in Eurocentrism, in a Baconian/Cartesian/Newtonian view of science and the universe. The advent of capitalism as well as the cementing of the Westphalian ideology of the nation-state ultimately leads to oligarchy, fascism, and the destruction of the biosphere and natural resources. Revolutionizing the system of global capital and abolishing the nation-state cannot be delayed for reforms that seem more realistic. Our time is running out.


William Hawes

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is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. He is author of the ebook Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. His articles have appeared online at CounterPunch, Global Research, Countercurrents(.org), Gods & Radicals, Dissident Voice, The Ecologist, and many more outlets. You can email him at wilhawes@gmail.com. Visit his website williamhawes.wordpress.com.


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Werewolves Against Cyborgs and Alex Jones

Alex Jones is making headlines this week- here is our take on it:

From Julian Langer

Alex Jones is a journalist.

Alex Jones is a Human.

Alex Jones is a conspiracy theorist.

Alex Jones is a pioneer.

Alex Jones is offensive.

Alex Jones is an explorer.

Alex Jones is fake news.

Alex Jones is animated.

Alex Jones probably has high blood pressure, which is why his heart is big.

He likes to fight (apparently).

He is Here (but not here).

He likes to eat children (he doesn’t really, but he does).

He has no life force, he’s not a real person and he doesn’t (Really) exist.

“I’m like a chimpanzee, in a tree, jumping up and down, warning other chimpanzees when I see a big cat coming through the woods… I’m the weirdo? Because I’m sitting in a tree going OOH OOH AAH AAH AAH OOH AAH AAH OOH OOH OOH AAH AAH AAH AAH AAH!?”

-Alex Jones

Comparing Alex Jones to a chimpanzee would involve insulting the entire global population of chimpanzees – all 170,000-300,000 of them [1]. And it seems to me more the case that he isn’t actually an animal, human or other, and that despite all of his protestations of being alive, an animal, a human, and of not being a machine or of being against cyborgs, he is a cyborg, feasting upon the flesh of those who adore him, upon those who hate him and upon the world whose collapse he denies.

Maybe he isn’t a cyborg. Maybe he is nothing.

According to his Wikipedia page, Alex Jones was born and raised in Texas; he claims to be part Irish, part German, part Welsh, mostly English and part indigenous American; he was a lineman in his high school football team; and his journalism career started in community college.

His career has gone from Austin Public Access TV, to Austin’s KJFK-FM radio station, to his now world famous Infowars Youtube channel and website [3]. His rise has been fuel mainly by his shouting and distinctly macho bravado – “The more he screams, the more they listen.” Manuel Roig-Franzia – in lieu of him actually having anything to say that warrants being listened to.

Last year, as his notoriety grew due to his relationship with Donald Trump and the rising right wing tendency, the question of whether or not Jones is a journalist/talk show host or if he is a performance artist became part of public discourse [4]. Jone’s current status is entirely the product of his relationship with Trump and his “historic” campaign [5]. And like how Trump is simultaneously both a politician and a performance artist, while also being absolutely nothing, Jones is simultaneously both a journalist and a performance artist, while also being absolutely nothing.

I don’t mean that these men aren’t occupying the bodies of actual living human-animals, nor that they don’t occupy roles within the narrative of History, making them Humans. But equally (and more so) they are nothing, they don’t Really exist and aren’t alive.

They are cybernetic organisms in cyberspace. Alex Jones is a cyborg.

Cyborgs are fictional or hypothetical people whose bodies are in some way mechanical [6]. Examples such as the Terminator (from Terminator) and the Borg (from Star Trek) spring to mind, as well know cyborg examples.

But Jones (and Trump) seems like a different type of cyborg to these.

Rather than the collectivist-type assimilation of the Borg and the Terminators mindless violence, Jones’s cyborgism is more like that of Adam (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

Adam is a bio-mechanical demonoid, created to be part of a super soldier army for the American government. Adam is part human, part demon and part machine.

Why is Jones (and Trump) like Adam?

The classical narrative of civilisation’s myths has been Man(/God) against the wild-animal(/demonic). Now, as the technosphere/History becomes more and more self-aware, the narrative is becoming one of Man(/cyborg/God) against Cyborg(/demonic), with the wild-animal being caught between the two, which are one, ripped apart.

Jones presents himself, through cyberspace, as something Human and living-animal, while being, in many ways, Dead. And as such, within this mythology-history he embraces, he is part Human, part cyborg and part demon.

“I am the end of all life, of all magic. I’m the war between man and demon, the war that no one can win”

-Adam

Within the myths of this civilisation that has brought us to ecological collapse, both demons and cyborgs are defeated by Humans/Man/God and civilisation continues, in some form or another. This seems little more than the pathway to later ruination.

If we are going to perform any stories now, I propose that, rather than the classical narrative, our narrative be one of humans becoming-animal(/demon) against the Adamist cyborg; of Life-as-No-thingness against the Machine-as-nothingness.

“What had to remain in the collective unconscious as a monstrous hybrid of human and animal, divided between the forest and the city – the werewolf – is, therefore, in its origin the figure of the man who has been banned from the city. That such a man is defined as a wolf-man and not simply as a wolf (the expression caput lupinum has the form of a juridical statute) is decisive here. The life of the bandit, like that of the sacred man, is not a piece of animal nature without any relation to law and the city. It is, rather, a threshold of indistinction and of passage be-tween animal and man, physis and nomos, exclusion and inclusion: the life of the bandit is the life of the loup garou, the werewolf, who is precisely neither man nor beast, and who dwells paradoxically within both while belonging to neither.”

-Agamben

Alongside the becoming-feral de-Humanising of this embrace of the werewolf against the cyborg, identifying Jones’s cyborgism as a nothingness is central to this process.

That Jones is nothing is becoming increasingly obvious as his platform on Youtube becomes less and less stable [7] and as he freaks out over being mocked by a teenage liberal [8]. To maintain the appearance of Being something, you have to maintain the appearance of stability and Jones is looking unstable.

This werewolf practice is one of guerrilla ontology directed towards undermining the stability of the cyborgs, rather than attempting to defeat them head on. They will collapse upon themselves, as civilisation collapses, but we can help speed this process up. The death of the cyborgs and Human-Man will see the rise of the wild-animal-human-demon (within the myths of civilisation) of the werewolf, not as something moral or immoral, but as something full of Life and living, primal and anarchic.

Alex Jones is a cyborg.

Alex Jones is nothing.

Alex Jones deserves nothing more than our laughter.

Alex Jones doesn’t deserve your fear, because there is nothing to fear about in nothingness.


Notes

[1] About Chimps!

[2] Alex Jone’s WikiPage

[3] Alex Jones Bio

[4] CNN on Alex Jones

[5] The Invisible Empire of Alex Jones

[6] Definition of cyborg

[7] One Strike Away From a Youtube Ban

[8] Alex jones gets dunked on


Editor’s Notes:

The header image is by Sean P. Anderson from Dallas, TX, USA. He does not in any way endorse us or our work. (“This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.”)


Julian Langer

Writer of Feral Consciousness: Deconstruction of the Modern Myth and Return to the Woods, blogger at Eco-Revolt, and has been published on a number of other sites. Eco-anarchist and guerilla ontologist philosopher. Lover of woods, deer, badgers and other wild Beings. Musician and activist.


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The Identity Politics Glitch

“When neoliberals ask for “diversity”, or more opportunities for the disenfranchised to franchise themselves, what they want is to hand out “white masks” to people of colour as if it’s charity.”

From Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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“The colonial world is a world divided into compartments. It is probably unnecessary to recall the existence of native quarters and European quarters, of schools for natives and schools for Europeans; in the same way we need not recall apartheid in South Africa. Yet, if we examine closely this system of compartments, we will at least be able to reveal the lines of force it implies. This approach to the colonial world, its ordering and its geographical layout will allow us to mark out the lines on which a decolonized society will be reorganized.”

Frantz Fanon [1]

Identity Politics is the concept that puts “Black” in Black Panther, “Gay” in Gay Pride, “Gender” in Gender Performativity, “Jewish” in Jewish Diaspora, “Women” in Women’s Rights, and, dare I say it for the Marxists out there, “Working” in Working-Class. If there is hierarchy, there is hegemony; and those who are not identified as members of the leading social group are subject to harsh authoritarian treatment. For the oppressed, an identity is a constant imposition, not something someone puts on when they feel like it, or perform occasionally. Black people can’t detach from their skin, being inside or outside of the closet is a struggle, the gender dichotomy is omnipresent, we live the Christian calendar and traditions everyday, toxic masculinity creeps at every corner, and back-breaking work barely makes ends meet (if there is work).

Organising under a shared identity can be liberating. Not feeling alone in the struggle, knowing that the problem is not you being a freak, and that together we can really make a difference for everyone. Not to mention the self-esteem boost of shared cultural practices, physical and emotional self-expression.

Recognising a shared identity means also recognising differences with others. Recognising differences isn’t necessarily separatist, it’s a unifying practice because we bond based on shared experience (as opposed to being-the-same), and we support each other in the intersections between different struggles. According to Frantz Fanon, these different categories have been put in place by colonial forces. Carefully observing them, analysing why they were put in place, by whom, and in what ways these categories manifest themselves now is quite essential for building a decolonized world.

Sounds beautiful, but of course nothing is that perfect. Some interpret this organisational style as “tribalism”, which is something that can be used to weaken a wider movement of resistance against capitalism by inciting conflict between so-called “tribes”. Colonisers exploited already existing tribal disputes, and today’s hegemony has inherited this practice towards social justice movements. However, to argue that tribalism is the problem in this case is a perpetuation of the colonial attitude that imposes Western values on non-Western people. The problem is not how indigenous people were organising themselves, but instead how they were exploited.

Today, being “officially” recognised as Native American requires a DNA test that proves the opposite of the “one-drop-rule”. Meaning, instead of the claim that one drop of “black blood” makes you black, one drop of “non-indigenous blood” makes Native Americans not Native. This is a type of racial violence that distorts and restricts indigenous heritage and existence. Furthermore, it reduces the acknowledgment of identity to the extent to which it’s convenient to the Government to acknowledge it, rather than actually respecting what indigenous identity means to indigenous people. DNA is not all that matters, and it doesn’t even distinguish between different tribes. Much of Native identity is about participation in a particular tribe and practices. It should be up to that tribe to grant nationhood to a member [2].

Governmental restrictions of people’s affirmation and expression of identity is what leads to the extinction of tribes, and a complete erasure of heritage. This contemporary practice is very much related to the colonial practice of forced Christian conversions and marriages in Brazil. Fanon would call that white masks, but I’ll bring that up again later in the article. For now we can call it a bloodless genocide, where numerous peoples were forced into extinction through Western assimilation.

When it comes to bloody genocide there is no stronger voice than that of Africans in the diaspora. Black identity isn’t alienating in the way white identity is, so let’s be careful to not tell people of colour that they “misunderstand the nature of race”. The Identitarian movement [3], which is lead by an Austrian man who wants to preserve white identity and fortress Europe, is in no way comparable with the Pan-Africanist movement [4], which aims to restore nationhood to Africans in the continent and in the diaspora. There is nothing racist about Pan-Africanists saying they don’t want white people directly involved in their organisations, it’s a fair strategy to combat white supremacy that should be respected and supported.

None of these identity based political movements have to interfere with the wider movement of resistance against capitalism. Saying that organising under a shared identity distracts from organising against the capitalist ruling class is like saying beehives and honey-making distract from pollination. It doesn’t, they complement each other, especially if we have an intersectional approach. What interferes is white people feeling entitled to show up at other people’s “hives” and start telling them what they are doing wrong and what they should be doing instead.

Another thing that interferes is awesome movements getting cooped by capitalist forces (like politicians and corporations). That’s why nowadays it’s apparently hard for people to separate Identity politics from Hilary Clinton, since she took this side of the debate against Bernie, who claimed the let’s-all-unite-against-capitalism argument [5]. But Hilary is no more representative of Identity Politics than Ivanka Trump is representative of Toni Morrison’s descriptions of female slave labor [6]. Just because one (mis)quotes the other doesn’t mean they are representative of each other, just as Urban Dictionary isn’t all there is to a term’s definition.

Identity politics doesn’t only mean practicing reverse social exclusion [7] and creating safe(er) spaces based on race, culture and gender [8], or a hypocritical reproduction of the discrimination we claim to be fighting against.

In a previous article [9] I discussed how colourblindness is not anti-racist, it’s in fact a careless exercise of (white) privilege, and how categorising others while remaining neutral is an essential strategy for the persistence of White Patriarchy. White people do what they want, when they want [10], and I object when white men tell people of colour and queers that their identity based communities makes them feel discriminated against. Masculinity and whiteness are also socially performed identities, but they are imposed on most of the world as an objective, neutral, and superior state of being. Listening to so-called-others helps one understand why these identity based communities are so important in facing such an incredibly hostile world.

Even Anzaldua [15], who rejected oppositional identity politics and idealized a post-racial world, acknowledged that she would “stop using labels. That’s what [she] want[s] to work towards. But until we come to that time, if you lay your body down and don’t declare certain facets of yourself, they get stepped on.”

That is not to say identity politics can’t be problematic. Some approach it superficially and end up throwing empty statements around that focus more on personal image than on genuine social change: when causes become trends. An example of this is how in the last 10 years, Zwarte Piet [11] has been more widely condemned in the Netherlands. While that in itself is positive, it can be a problem when Dutch people think that taking a stance against this tradition is an opportunity to earn a not-racist badge. It’s important to avoid interpreting certain things as the problem, but instead as symptoms of a much bigger problem. This way we ensure that Dutch Racism doesn’t manifest itself in other ways.

Another issue that rises from Identity Politics is the expectation of homogeneity. Kimberle Crenshaw thought us over 20 years ago [12] that when feminist circles attempt to homogenise womanhood and the experience of sexism, they erase the different forms of oppression women of colour experience, and consequently erasing black womanhood itself. Today we can say the same for TERF’s [13] and the erasure of the trans experience. This is why identity politics must be perceived as intrinsically connected to intersectionality.

Identity politics is not what brings those compartments Fanon speaks of into existence. We choose to look at them, take them, dismantle them, and from there we can build a new world. Non-Westerners mustn’t be the same as Westerners. In a white supremacist world, assimilation means whitification. The colonised has oppressor and oppressed within, a neurotic inferiority complex, and a survival instinct that leads to a horrible desire to adjust. This is fed and exploited. When neo-liberals ask for “diversity”, or more opportunities for the disenfranchised to franchise themselves, what they want is to hand out “white masks” [14] to people of colour as if it’s charity. What we should have is a world where we can exist without them.

So, what does this debate mean for the woke generation? A complete inability to get over ourselves and just get shit done.


  1. Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon (1965, p.36)
  2. Genetic “Markers”- Not a Valid Test of Native Identity. Blood quantum laws. And a video on the subject can be found here.
  3. The new-right hipsters.
  4. A Britannica definition of Pan-Africanism. Check also the Brazilian political organisation Reaja.
  5. Bernie Sanders still says class is more important than race. He is still wrong.
  6. Ivanka Criticised for quoting Toni Morrison.
  7. For instance calling people out, and banning public displays of cultural appropriation in specific spaces.
  8. For example organizing events, meetings and parties for Queers and PoC only.
  9. White Privilege in Dutch Anarchism.
  10. Joyce Galvão’s private commentary on Mallu Magalhães and cultural appropriation in Brazilian music.
  11. Zwarte Piet
  12. Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color, by Kimberle Crenshaw (Stanford Law Review, 1991).
  13. Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist.
  14. Black Skins White masks by Frantz Fanon.
  15. Gloria E. Anzaldúa was a scholar of Latina feminist phenomenology.

Mirna Wabi-Sabi

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is co-editor of Gods&Radicals, and writes about decoloniality and anti-capitalism.


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The Jewish Brazilian Thing

Stories of the Jewish Diaspora, on being young and out of place within the Christian status quo.

From Adassa Kapolnai

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Identity is:
Noun
The fact of being who or what a person or thing is. (Oxford online dictionary)

As a broader political term, it seems to me that Identity is a tad harder to define than that definition may lead one to believe, and even harder to talk about, since by its own nature it is a term prone to individual interpretations. So, if I can’t write on identity itself, I guess I can write on the subject of my identity, which is one I know far better. But even far better is not completely better, because, even on my own identity there are things that are still quite muddy. How would I define my identity, you might be wondering. Jewish Brazilian? Jewish bisexual Brazilian? (Maybe it is noteworthy that somehow I seem to put “Brazilian” last every time, but then again I live in Brazil and that’s a perk of not being a minority label: you don’t actually have to emphasize it as much).

My grandparents where Jewish European, from Italy and Hungary, and they both came to Brazil during the Second World War. For my grandmother specially, that meant trying to became as Brazilian as possible, to the extent that she, to this day, refuses to speak Italian. So they brought my mom and aunt up to blend as well as they could into the gentile culture of the country that had welcomed them. That meant that, even though I always knew we were Jewish, we never did celebrate the holidays or made any big fuss about it. But the thing is: identity is not something one can erase like that. So we ate matzah bread on Pesach, not because it was Pesach but because that’s the time of the year that stores sell it and my mom supposedly loves it’s taste (if you never had any matzah, it’s hardly something one would call delicious, so I have a hard time believing that particular bit of my family’s folklore).

The word Midrash means, in Hebrew, to extract knowledge. It refers to a literature genre that seeks to elucidate passages of the Torah and Talmud. This is done, among other ways, through retelling traditional stories that relate a greater meaning than what one may expect at first glance. Maybe because of this tradition, Jews tend to tell stories in order to convey a point. So let me tell you a couple stories to illustrate further what is like being Jewish Brazilian in my particular case, and maybe they can serve to shed some light on the difficult subject that is identity.

When I was in my early twenties I got in a car accident. It was an ugly one and the car was totally wrecked. But somehow I was ok, and so was everyone else in the vehicle. A thing like that can mess with one’s head. So the next week I decided that, since G’d seemed to have protected me, I would try and learn a bit more about Him. I bought a couple of books for the task: “Christianity for dummies”, “Islam for dummies”, “Buddhism for dummies” and “Judaism for dummies”. After reading them all, what I discovered was that all my beliefs, everything I held dear to my heart and thought of as moral and generally good where in fact Jewish principles. Because you see, even if you don’t celebrate Rosh Ha Shana, or don’t have a mezuzah at the entrance of the house you grew up in, that doesn’t mean you stop “thinking Jewish”, or that you don’t teach your children to do just that. So I bought a Star of David necklace and went on with my life. Now the flip side of being Jewish, especially diaspora Jewish, is the war. My grandmother’s reaction to my big Jewish discovery was that she bought me a new star of David, made of gold (which at the time I couldn’t have afforded on my own), and a photography book full of images of the holocaust. Not bloody images, but strong powerful images that depicted piles of children’s shoes, of eyeglasses, of violins, that used to belong to Jews murdered during the war. She told me that if I wanted to own my identity she would support me, but that I should be prepared for whatever was to come.

I met my husband when I was 11 years old. I came home and told my mom we would be married someday because I had fallen for him right then and there (she laughed it off as just one more crazy thing children sometimes say. Nevertheless, we did become great friends first, then boyfriend and girlfriend, then husband and wife). He is an intelligent and sweet man, who loves me wholeheartedly and has always treated me with kindness and respect. He is also not Jewish. We were 25 at the wedding, so by that time he had already met all my family years ago. My grandmother, specially, was always fond of him, because he reminds her of my late grandfather: they are both distracted brilliant intellectual types. But when I told her that we were to get married her first response was to ask me: “If they start persecuting us again, are you sure he will protect you? Are you sure he won’t turn his back on you?”. She didn’t ask because of mistrusting him in particular. She asked because she lost count of how many Jewish wives were delivered to the Nazis by their gentile husbands.

Three years ago I went to New York, to visit a close friend who lives there. One day he decided to introduce me to his American friends, so we went out for a beer. When I got there, one of them asked me “So, John tells me you are Brazilian and Jewish. Is that a thing?” I answered that we make up about 0,06% of Brazilian population and about 3% of Rio de Janeiro’s population (in case you are wondering, that means 120 000 Jews in Brazil, 22 000 in Rio. Quite a lot of people), so it must be a thing. But what I guess he meant is that the mental image of a neurotic Woody Allen doesn’t really go together with the hot Latin image of say, Jennifer Lopez. And, even though I look nothing like Jennifer, I understand his bafflement as identities become more complex and nuanced. Because I am not only Jewish, just as much as I am not only Brazilian. So yes, Jewish Brazilian is a thing.


Adassa Kapolnai


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