Solidarity with the People of Tunisia

A statement written by friends and endorsed by people in Tunisia.

street art tunisia

Editor’s note:

Below is a letter written by freedom of information activists which aims to broaden our network of resistance against class oppression and State violence. Tunisia has been seen by the West as an Arab Spring success-story, after the 2011 revolution that brought an end to the country’s dictatorial regime. Since then, the country has been on a road towards ‘Democracy’ that has exposed a whole new breed of brutality, one which lies beneath this so-called new-found ‘freedom’. Unemployment, sky-rocketing price of food, police brutality, concentrated wealth and power are some examples of the obstacles Tunisian people have faced in the past 7 years. [TW: violence] Poverty has literally lead people in Tunisia to set themselves on fire. All of this after even winning a Nobel Peace Prize for Democracy-building efforts. What kind of “peace” is this? Perhaps a Western capitalist neoliberal perspective of it. The systems of oppression that cause these atrocities engulf all of us, all over the world. Far reaching solidarity is crucial, and this is why we want to share this with you. Alerta!

Friends from all over the world stand in solidarity with the People of Tunisia. We demand that the Tunisian security services immediately release any remaining political prisoners and drop all criminal charges against demonstrators. The Government of Tunisia must respect the People’s right to free expression. The Government of Tunisia must immediately reverse all austerity measures. We, friends from all over the world, will accept nothing less.

Due to pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Government of Tunisia has passed tax increases and austerity measures on January 1, 2018. The People of Tunisia have taken to the streets to demand their dignity and to protest this oppression. In response, the Tunisian security services have beaten and tear-gassed the people wishing to exercise their right to free expression. The Tunisian security services have arrested and brought criminal charges against more than 700 people.

On December 17, 2010, Mohamed Bouazizi doused himself in petrol and lit a match. Bouazizi later died from his injuries. Earlier in the morning, a local government official harassed Bouazizi for a bribe. The local government official claimed that selling fruit and vegetables required a permit, which was a lie. Unable to pay the bribe, the local government official had Bouazizi assaulted and had his produce cart confiscated. The people took to the streets to protest the corrupt government and to demand their dignity. On January 14, 2011, the dictator of Tunisia, Ben Ali, fled to the country. In Tunisia, this is known as the Dignity Revolution.

The People of Tunisia continue their struggle for dignity, and it is our duty to stand with them in solidarity!

We pledge love, mutual aid, and solidarity with the People of Tunisia. More people are needed to translate statements and videos from Tunisian Arabic into other languages used around the world. Please share and republish this statement of solidarity.

The People will have bread and freedom!

فاش_نستناو #

#Fech_Nestannew

Don’t Protest

Hey! Gods&Radicals is running our yearly fundraiser right now. More information is at the end of this essay. Thanks!


Most US leftists make sign-waving demonstrations a core tactic. They shouldn’t. Protests create the feeling of power, but not the reality.

From Sophia Burns

1920px-women27s_march_2017_washington2c_d-c-2c_united_states_marchers_on_penn_ave
National Women’s March in DC, 2017. Source: Wikimedia Commons

In high school, I went to my first protest. Someone passed me a sign – “ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY” – as we marched to the governor’s mansion. The organizers read our demand: that the governor commute the sentence of a Death Row prisoner nearing his execution date. After twenty minutes of chanting slogans, we withdrew to the courtyard in front of City Hall, where a folk-punk singer performed and activist groups tabled.

The governor didn’t listen. He didn’t even hear us, strictly speaking – after a fire a few weeks earlier, the governor’s mansion was closed for repairs. He wasn’t physically there.

A few days later, the man on Death Row was executed.


Source: Refuse Fascism (via YouTube)

Conspiracy theories notwithstanding, on November 4th, “it” did not begin.

Refuse Fascism, a front group for a strange political sect called the Revolutionary Communist Party, spent months calling for “thousands becoming hundreds of thousands, and then millions” of protesters to “drive out the Trump/Pence regime” (an echo of its old “drive out the Bush regime” slogan). Although Refuse Fascism couldn’t deliver, anti-Trump protests have happened on that scale: April’s March for Science turned out more than a million, and nearly five times that many joined the Women’s March in January.

However, millions in the street didn’t bring the Trump Administration down. And while he’s had a hard time enacting his program, that’s not because of liberal or leftist opposition – his biggest obstacle has been the ongoing faction fight in his own party.

So even if “it” had begun, why would Refuse Fascism’s protests have worked any better than their precursors? The US government does not cease to function simply because people oppose it. Sure, the plan’s political incoherence didn’t help (were Trump and Pence supposed to resign in succession? Was the goal to install President Paul Ryan?). But goals aside, Refuse Fascism never explained how, exactly, demonstrations were going to bring Trump down. Signs with slogans do not possess that kind of power, even if there are millions of them.

Most anti-Trump protesters, though, likely don’t share Refuse Fascism’s belief that their activities will literally end Trump’s presidency before he finishes his term. If they did, November 4th would probably have been much less anticlimactic. Rather, they’re less ambitious: they want to express disapproval of the Trump Administration, to make their voices heard.

That’s what we were after in front of the governor’s mansion. We knew he wasn’t going to commute anyone’s sentence. We protested because the death penalty was wrong, not because we expected to win.

But is the Left served by self-expression for its own sake? It exists to help the working class, rather than the ruling class, exercise political power. Most US leftists make sign-waving demonstrations a core tactic. They shouldn’t. Protests create the feeling of power, but not the reality. Shouldn’t revolutionaries instead dedicate their limited resources to institution-building, which does tangibly increase working-class power? Orienting towards the protest scene keeps radicals safely within liberalism’s orbit. After all, the activist subculture is dominated by the Democratic Party and its extensive network of front groups. Why did November 4th fail? It hinged on the subculture’s support. But Democrats have that base, so Democrats set its agenda.

The Futility of “Expressive Protests”

To be clear, “protest” is an imprecise term. It elides activities that shouldn’t necessarily be equated. So, this critique doesn’t extend to concrete confrontation: that is, physically preventing something from happening. Striking workers holding a picket line and people at Standing Rock blocking the pipeline differ from most protests – they involve literally stopping the things they oppose. Rather, this criticism targets expressive protests: demonstrations that demand something, but don’t do it. That includes not just permitted marches with police escorts, but also many ostensibly militant activities. Blocking streets for gay marriage, marching through city centers against trade agreements, and getting arrested in “direct actions” against policies being carried out thousands of miles away all fall within the spectrum of expressive protest. It resembles concrete confrontation in form, but they’re like red wine and grape soda. The superficial similarity hides a qualitative difference.

Expressive protest means actions like those of February 2003. Millions of people around the world turned out against George Bush’s immanent invasion of Iraq, forming “the largest protest event in human history.” The New York Times was impressed enough to write that “there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.” Bush, however, simply ignored the demonstrations and proceeded to launch the war. The “second superpower,” it turned out, couldn’t compete with state power.

Expressive protest is ubiquitous and meaningless. A protest might be numerically “successful,” but by its nature, it doesn’t change any aspect of collective life. That’s why liberals love it. Because the 2000s anti-war movement structured itself around a powerless tactic, what option did it have besides falling into place behind John Kerry’s pro-war presidential run? Since it couldn’t escape the Democratic Party’s hegemony, is it any surprise that it dissipated under Obama, even though he escalated Bush’s wars? Expressive protests don’t lead to actual power. What option did the anti-war movement have besides narrow electoral opposition to Bush, the individual politician, on the Democratic Party’s terms?


1920px-day_16_occupy_wall_street_october_2_2011_shankbone_3
Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, NYC. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Limitations of “Mass Upsurges”

Isn’t this argument one-sided, though? Sure, a peace vigil in front of a state capitol isn’t going to influence foreign policy. But aren’t some protests more effective than that? Periodically, millions of people more-or-less spontaneously join a protest movement, forming a mass upsurge. When that many people are developing political consciousness and acting on it, often for the first time, it can’t be dismissed. Aren’t institution-building and participating in mass upsurges complementary, not opposed?

Radicals absolutely should take mass upsurges seriously, in part because their participant base does differ from standard-fare “activist networking.” However, upsurges typically share two traits that shape their relationship with expressive protest:

  1. They aren’t premeditated. The feminist writer Jo Freeman describes two ingredients for protest movements: a pre-existing communications network through which the movement’s ideas can spread, and a crisis to act as the “spark.” She gives the example of 1960s radical feminism: women participants in the New Left formed a communications network, and a series of public displays of misogyny from male leaders served as the galvanizing crisis. While Freeman emphasizes the role of organizers in developing networks, “sparks” are inherently unpredictable. Attempting to simply will one into being virtually always fails, as Refuse Fascism discovered on November 4th.
  2. Their participants consistently conclude that protest doesn’t get the goods. Occupy’s encampments lasted for weeks, occasionally months. However, even the longest-lived encampments found themselves unable to win any of their goals. The financial system wasn’t slowed; it simply ignored the people in Zuccotti Park, just like George Bush had ignored the anti-war movement. Unfortunately, the Occupiers saw no practical alternative to the protest cycle. So, some joined the activist-networking scene, but most dropped out of politics entirely. Their expressive protests were massive, disruptive, and sustained. They still failed.

So, for radicals, the question of protest attendance during an upsurge is less important than it looks. The most helpful kind of engagement isn’t protesting louder, more often, and with more radical slogans. It’s offering the kind of alternative that the activist subculture won’t.

Disillusioned Occupiers wanted something more meaningful than the protest circuit. What kind of power could they have wielded through a network of mutual aid projects, worker-owned co-ops, community self-defense initiatives, and workplace-organizing resources? What might the institution-building strategy have offered them?

Most radicals, though, couldn’t provide anything better than sign-waving. That approach enjoys hegemony within the activist subculture for a reason: the Democratic Party and its front groups dominate the scene, and as the anti-war movement showed, it’s uniquely suited to their aims. They want to be benevolent technocrats with a passive base of support. Of course Democrats promote powerless tactics. They oppose mass participation in the exercise of power.

Now, the Left has the opposite goal. But, its expressive-protest orientation keeps it subordinate to the Democratic Party in practice.

When Protests Are Actually Effective

ice_axe
Source: Wikipedia

But don’t protests sometimes actually work? For instance, counter-demonstrations against alt-right events materially interfere with their movement by hindering their ability to recruit. Besides, no tactic is useful for everything. Doesn’t protest still have a place in the activist’s toolkit?

Well, in that example, there’s a specific goal that the protest tactic addresses: to demoralize fascists in order to slow their recruitment, facing them with large numbers of people is effective. But how often is the target of an expressive protest not only physically present, but also doing something that gets disrupted by the mere proximity of protesters? For movements on the fringe of public acceptability, losing a community’s goodwill means losing the ability to replenish its membership. Protesting works against fascist events because they’re uniquely susceptible to social stigma – but what about governments and corporations? Bad PR may irritate them, but it doesn’t stop them from doing what they want.

Protesting is like a mountain climber’s axe. Under very specific circumstances, it’s the right tool. Otherwise, it might look impressive, but you can’t build anything with it. All else being equal, it’s probably better to have it in your toolkit than not. But for most jobs, it simply won’t work.

Wielding Real Power

When liberals insist that the point of protest is to “have your voice be heard,” they are actually describing the fascist mode of political participation. To be satisfied with “feeling heard” in and of itself, as the goal of political activity, without pointing that expression toward building real material power, is to be a contented fascist subject.

Vicky Osterweil

What is politics?

It’s not the expression of ideas. That’s the fascist bait-and-switch: promising the reality of power, but only delivering the feeling of it, the catharsis of “making your voice heard” and “finally being listened to” by a leader. But liberalism operates no differently, pushing expressive protest as a stand-in for the actual power it restricts to business leaders and state officials.

That’s politics, properly defined – collectively exercising real social power. Revolutionary institution-building is politics; each institution is an instrument through which a working-class community can shape some part of its shared life. Expressive protest is not. Emotionally, it resembles the feeling of politics, but the substance isn’t there. It’s closer to a letter to the editor, asserting a belief without enacting it. Even if it’s impressive enough to make the front page, it doesn’t build mass power.

That’s what the Democratic Party prefers. If the Left wants something better, how much longer can it afford to squander itself on expressive protests?


Sophia Burns

is a communist and devotional polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her here on Patreon.


Gods&Radicals is a not-for-profit publisher that relies on reader’s support to pay our amazing writers. If you can support us (either one-time or recurring), you’ll be helping us bring you more writing like this. The link to our fundraiser is here.

Politics and Witchcraft, Practical Intersections: Protest

Magic has been variously described over the years. For our purposes, let’s say it is the raising of energy and directing it toward a goal, to create change in accordance with will. And if that’s not an accurate description of political demonstrations, I’m not sure what is.

Ritual-Political Theory, from Vera Northe

Image: May Day 2017, Paris (see original and many more at Taranis News.)

May 1st, 2017. A may-pole and drums and people from many different local groups dressed for the occasion. Under a hot sun, framed by trees with new leaves, we were reminded why we had gathered, although we all already knew. We raised power, and after a time (and, as will often happen with large groups, a little disorder), we released it. As happens with any such public gathering of people overtly proclaiming their beliefs, there had been a few people trying to start trouble with us, but they didn’t really succeed. Then there was food, and we came back into the everyday, but we remained talking together for several hours.

I’m not describing a Beltane ritual; the may-pole was hung with red and black streamers and the local groups all carried political signs. I’m describing a May Day rally and march in New York City. May 1st is a day doubly sacred to many leftist pagans, a day of political and religious significance. The meaning gets all intertwined like the ribbons around the may-pole: liberation, creativity, work, and magic, the energy of everything coming alive after a long dark winter.

The question of whether witchcraft should be political is a tired one. People frequently bring up the perhaps legendary account of New Forest covens repelling Hitler, or the works Starhawk has written on political organizing and magic, or the actions of the W.I.T.C.H. organization, or even the recent much-publicized Trump hex. But to me, one of the strongest arguments that witchcraft and politics go together is structural and practical. Because the very act of public political demonstration follows a form familiar to all of us.

With the growing visibility of large-scale movements thanks to social media, we’ve all heard someone say, “What good is protest?” This is said not in a good-faith disagreement about tactics, but by people who think, I’ve got mine so what’s everyone else whining about? “What good is protest?” said by a commuter whose route to work was blocked. “What good is protest?” followed by, “they already have their rights.” Or, as one man (an ivy league graduate) once growled to me, “They should all be shot.”

“What good is protest?” they ask, and if we are tired of explaining history, we might simply reply, “It’s magic.”

Lady Liberty/Lady Death (May Day NYC 2017)

Protest As Ritual

Magic has been variously described over the years. For our purposes, let’s say it is the raising of energy and directing it toward a goal, to create change in accordance with will. And if that’s not an accurate description of political demonstrations, I’m not sure what is.

Sometimes, the pieces of a political demonstration are discrete and orderly, a clearly planned ritual. Scheduled speakers from various organizations remind the crowd why they have gathered, sometimes bringing visibility to a little-known cause, sometimes reading demands, sometimes speaking generally but keeping the energy rising, leading chants, or singing songs. Then, there may be a march to another location (or in some cases, when the march itself is the main event, there may only be speeches at the destination). The march itself is usually peppered with chants, keeping the energy high. The destination is usually a point of significance, often a capitol building, a city hall, a bank, a police station, or similar seat of power. It is there that the energy usually is released, often with more chanting and drumming, and perhaps a reading of demands.

This was the sort of thing which I attended on May Day. Shortly after I arrived at Union Square, the official program began, with speakers from immigrant groups, unions, and Palestine solidarity groups. Most of the speeches were pro immigrant, pro worker, and against capitalism and US imperialism (and against Trump’s policies specifically).

As a side note on the flow of energy within a political context: Susan Sarandon made an appearance and I found her speech quite weird, along the lines of many liberal speakers I’ve seen at other rallies (most notably the Moral Monday demonstrations in North Carolina). Liberalism doesn’t work along the same magical lines as radicalism: Sarandon looked at the energy of the crowd and urged us to take that energy and…vote in the next local elections. To be clear, when I say “liberal,” I’m not commenting on her own personal politics, which I’m not acquainted with, but rather the category her call to action falls into. Radicals and magic-workers alike know that raised energy cannot be saved up for over a year and then released. It must be given somewhere to go right away.

While everyone was queuing up to leave Union Square for the larger rally occurring at Foley Square (which is located just a block from city hall), I asked my friends who had been participating in other marches and demonstration all day across the city how this May Day compared to others they had seen in New York. Their immediate response was, “the energy is definitely different.” They aren’t occultists, but people who are well experienced in radical political movements, labor strikes, and other actions on the left often talk of energy just as proficiently as occultists do. They went on to speculate that much of the difference in energy came from the fact that anti-Trump sentiment has drawn new people to what would usually have been a largely labor-focused rally. Additionally, they noted a much larger presence of the masked Black Bloc, probably partly in response to the threats which neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups had been posting on social media to disrupt May Day actions in New York.

Union Square emptied very slowly, each group of people with their cluster of banners and signs filing out toward 14th street. We’d barely gone a block before everyone stopped and the police began broadcasting their sterile declaration that walking in the street and blocking the sidewalk is illegal. The energy of the march was fractured; we had no voice telling us what to do, only the police blocking us. We turned around and made our way back to the square, and after regrouping, started off down the sidewalk on Broadway which is where we were initially supposed to go anyway. While everyone was regrouping, my friends checked twitter and realized Mayor deBlasio was set to speak at Foley Square. They began to discuss how the tactics of policing had changed around protest for a few months after deBlasio entered office, taking a hands-off approach, only to crack down again once deBlasio walked back his rhetoric around policing.

This is another point to remember when discussing the magic of political demonstration. The power difference between institutions (such as the police) and the people in the streets is astronomical. A show of disapproval from the NYPD had more weight with the mayor than years of demonstrations by the residents of the city. The energy of having police present at every protest is something that must be taken into consideration as well. It’s as if inquisitors were required to be present at and control the flow of every witches’ sabbat. If you’ve experienced brutality even once when demonstrating (and many of my friends went through a lot of police harassment during Occupy Wall Street), you know that even if the police aren’t messing with you this time, they could do so with impunity if they decided to. And the audio disruption they frequently employ in the form of giving directions over the PA has an instant dampening effect on the general energy of any demonstration.

After the false start, the march marshals worked hard to get everyone going in the right direction, hanging together so we wouldn’t be separated and stopped by the cops, trying to restart chants which had died down. The march continued to Foley Square, where the news reported about 5,000 people total gathered. The Mayor and other elected officials addressed the crowd, but the crowd also addressed them by being there, directing the raised energy toward them and toward city hall. And my friends and I went for food and drinks, following through with the entire form of ritual although we didn’t mean to, we simply felt a need for food, water, and conversation.

Protest As Magic

Anyone who is practiced in demonstration or in magic knows that you don’t always have to do the full ritual. Sometimes it’s best to arrive directly at the heart of the matter. One cold January Saturday on break at work, I checked Twitter and saw that Trump had signed a Muslim travel ban, and that several refugees were being detained at JFK airport. I checked my phone again after my shift to find a text from my partner: “Do you want to go down to JFK?” I hadn’t seen yet the extent of what was going on but I immediately said yes. When we arrived, we followed the sound of drumming to an enormous mass of people, shouting and chanting and drumming non-stop. Although this action had been planned, a “pull in case of emergency” demonstration organized by immigrant and refugee activists, it was no orderly ritual. The demonstrators released the energy as they raised it, in desperation and yet in confidence that by sheer force of will, we would win. The volume of energy by the demonstrators was met by a stiff show of force from the police. An hour or so after I arrived, the entrance to the terminal was surrounded by cops in riot gear, and they had been announcing nearly the entire time that we were all subject to arrest if we stayed. But the mass of energy-raising people remained undeterred, meeting the threat of physical violence with drumming and chanting, and by the time my friends and I left, we heard that the first detainee had been released.

That wasn’t the only magical act that night. Word got back to the main protest that other protestors were attempting to join us, only to be barred by police from entering the train to the airport. My friends and I left while this was still going on, and arrived at the train terminal to find it packed with people being blocked from accessing the turnstiles by NYPD officers. So we stayed put and began demanding that they be let through. The governor had already ordered that protestors should be allowed to access the train to the airport, but the cops on the ground didn’t know that until we’d been sitting in for some time. We found out on twitter and made it known to the entire crowd, forcing the police officers to call their superiors for orders, and, once they did, they had to let everyone through (as we left we passed a cop pacing through the now-empty lobby yelling into his phone, “All of them?? You mean to tell me we’re just letting all of them through??”).

Demonstrations, like magic, rarely work that quickly, and, like magic, require mundane action. While the protestors outside the airport made known their will for change, putting their collective thumbs on the scales of probability (to borrow another explanation of how magic works), lawyers inside worked on behalf of the refugees while television cameras broadcast the events of that evening nationwide. While we sat in at the train station, we showed the police officers the reports on twitter that the governor had ordered them to stand down, and then told them over and over that they were disobeying orders, a combination of mundane action (giving support for our demand) and magical action (speaking into existence what we wanted to happen).

Protests, rallies, and marches raise power which releases to upset business as usual among politicians and the media. But its greatest effect may be on the practitioners, the demonstrators themselves. It spurs the participants into further action, the kind of sustained action in the mundane world which will create lasting change. It may inspire people already involved in organizations; mass show of support for a cause revitalizes weary activists. People often join movements and organizations because of awareness brought by a mass demonstration. And, like the inception of Occupy Wall Street, what was meant to be just a demonstration may turn into more; people may be inspired to simply not leave.

Like flashy public rituals, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that goes into large political demonstrations. And that work, too, is work which witches and pagans are well prepared to enter into. This is where demonstrations come from, and this is where much of the energy raised goes. But that’s a discussion for another time.

Until then, see you in the streets!


Vera Northe

Vera Northe was raised as a Puritan and grew up to be a witch. She currently lives in New York.


 

Of Mead And Molotov

It is the first of May.

For Pagans, witches, and druids, this is Beltane, a celebration of the beginning of summer observed almost continuously in much of the European world for centuries.

For Marxists, Anarchists, and revolutionaries of all sorts, it is international workers’ day, a commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago which birthed a modern uprising against Capitalism and the police state.

Pagans and witches dance, light bonfires and drink mead today, or those of them who don’t have to go to work.

Anarchists and rebels march, throw bricks and molotovs today in hopes of making a world where no one must ever go to work.

For decades, the leaders and philosophers of both groups have eyed the other with suspicion, derision, and even hatred. Wiccan and Dianic elders cautioned their followers never to pursue much more than an esoteric path towards making the world they wished to see. Likewise, Communist and Anarchist theorists have belittled those in their groups who read Tarot or refused to believe that the natural world was little more than raw material substance exploited by the market.

Sure, there were always the heretics in each camp, the self-taught witches who burned incense at shrines the night before joining an anti-war march; the Latino Black Bloc members who’d give offerings to Santa Meuerta before masking up to stand against police oppression. Little could be spoken of these acts without facing ridicule or worse, but witches and anarchists aren’t know for caring much what others think.

Certainly, both sides had their reasons for suspicion. Many of the theorists who first iterated the political framework for anarchism and communism hailed from European countries, where the struggle against capitalism and authority was often slowed and even stopped by established Protestant and Catholic leaders deeply in the pockets of rulers, merchants, and landlords. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, spent much of his time writing primers and giving sermons to indoctrinate the poor into submission to their bosses in the name of submission to God. Martin Luther and John Calvin both ordered the massacre of rebellious peasants, and in the Americas, slavery and colonial subjugation derived its moral justification from opportunistic priests and ministers eager to partake in the spoils of Empire.

Such virulent opposition to religious thought obviously ran counter to the spiritual projects of modern Pagan thinkers. While some (including many of the founders of modern Druidry) where themselves leftists and sought to fight industrial capitalism through a return to nature veneration, they were not taken seriously by their non-Pagan leftist comrades. To make things more complicated, however, many of the founders of modern Pagan traditions (Gerald Gardner, for instance) were themselves deeply invested in the systems of exploitation which anarchists sought to end.

Another reason for Pagans to fear political engagement through their spirituality came from within. Germanic reconstructionist movements such as Heathenry and Asatru began as overtly political–and deeply racist–movements: as they became more and more popular within the military and with young white males, many elders likely saw that taking a leftist, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist position in public could cost them the apparent unity they needed to convince governments and non-Pagans to take them seriously.

While each side had their reasons for opposing the other, they each also ignored their own contradictions. Pagans of any sort who claim to venerate nature have no easy way to square these proclaimed beliefs with acceptance of capitalist and industrialist destruction of the planet. Druids who claim to worship forests yet do not fight the systems of profit which are destroying forests all over the world become hypocrites at best. Likewise, the anarchist or communist who claims to be anti-imperialist whilst insisting belief in spirits or gods is ‘primitive’ is merely replicating the same colonial subjugation of indigenous beliefs which European empires perfected.

Despite these obvious contradictions, few efforts were ever made to embody both realities, let alone plant seeds of conversation at the crossroads where Paganism and Anti-Capitalism intersect for a future forest in which both could thrive.

That is, until now.

Of Land and People, Tree and Fist

 

On the first of May, 2015, Gods&Radicals began, bearing a banner of tree and fist. We are not the first to hold aloft the standard of the land and the people against the soldiers of Profit and Oppression, only another front in the struggle enjoined everywhere on the earth. Holding in our hands the threads of anarchist, Marxist, anti-colonialist, druidic, feminist, occult, environmentalist, and esoteric thought, we began a dance around a center constantly plaiting, constantly weaving in fierce celebration of all that makes the world beautiful and all that we refuse to let be taken from us.

The forests are dying, but we join those who refuse to let them be killed. Water and air are being poisoned, but we hold in our own hands poison which can stop those who have done so. The poor and dispossessed of the world are ground in the works of Empire’s machines, but like the saboteurs of old we know how simple it can be to stop those gears from turning forever.

We know the power of mead and molotov, the beauty of ancient forest and shattered window, the sacred celebration of spiral dance and protest march. We speak in the quiet whispers of conspiracy and graveyard, swim in the currents of tumultuous ocean and political dissent, read the future in the bones of animals and the pale faces of politicians.

We know our human and non-human comrades die daily on the bloody altars of finance and war, and we also know we are no comrades to them at all if we do not rise up with sharpened blades and whetted minds against the priest and police who preside over such foul sacrifice.

It is the first of May. Beltane to some, a day a resistance to others, and both to us.

May the scent of hawthorne blossom and tear gas be the incense we offer to the earth, the laughter of children around maypoles and the chants against police be the melodies which wake the summer, may the light from burning bonfires and barricades greet the strengthening sun, and may this be the Beltane upon which we look back and smile, remembering what new world we woke with our endless dance.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch, and shirtless selfies occasionally seen on his FB. and also his Instagram

NO MORE PRESIDENTS

In the dark of the night, we gather in the center of Salem Square, a green that has existed in the middle of Old Salem since the district’s construction in 1766. The cold light of the Moon Hirself pierces through the old pines and bare-armed oaks to illuminate our faces and signs with an eerie glow not unlike our phones’ flashlight apps. Three people become four when I walk through the dark to join them. Four become a dozen when together we walk back to the fence surrounding the green.

A dozen becomes thirty-something by the time we’ve circled up back in the center, and more will keep joining us. The organizers open the space for folks to share their feelings about the election. A lone FUCK TRUMP breaks the silence of our paused circle and the nearly sleeping city around us, and the rest of us laugh.

After a few moments more, we start off marching. A journalist for the local paper has joined us and is struggling to interview participants, record our answers, and snap photos while keeping up with the hike. He seems sympathetic, yet guarded, neutral, or even muted. A friend of mine agrees to answer some of the journalist’s questions, and intrigues the man by explaining he neither supports Clinton nor Trump.

Some of the organizers are not-yet-defeated liberals and Clinton supporters. Commenters and critics of the journalist’s article will later assume that most of us voted for Clinton. Of course, the article left out that some of us are involved in the International Socialist Organization, and that all of our fliers were distributed to eager and searching protesters by the end of the night.

Our march carries us up through Old Salem towards the cement white phallic Wells Fargo tower, and our chants of BLACK LIVES MATTER and DUMP TRUMP ricochet up the cobblestone walks and stone buildings all around us. Forty voices are magnified to a booming hundred.

Hearing my friend and the journalist discuss the historical toxicity of the U.S. presidency, from Washington to present, and later recounting his participation in protests of the Bush II installation, I am reminded that it is the office of the presidency and it is the state that I am opposed to, not simply the face that humanizes the system of power.

I remember that I have consciously rejected nearly every President I have lived through. I was too young to hate Bush I while he was in office, but I recall Clinton, I recall DOMA and DADT and NAFTA and the crime bill. I remember Bush II. I remember learning that calling him just Bush instead of President Bush made my father furious. The reign of Bush II was the first time I uttered the phrase NOT MY PRESIDENT. His administration and supporters brought me out of church and into the streets.

And I remember that Obama has never been my president either. I remember his refusal to support same-sex marriage equality. I remember the militarization of police that happened under his administration, the renewal of the Patriot Act, and I remember that “hate crimes” legislation, then DADT repeal, were pushed ahead of comprehensive civil rights legislation for LGBT+ people.

I remember watching the trans community be thrown to the side time and time again under all of these presidents (and the advocacy orgs that grew to power with them). I remember the conversion manual presented to my parents when I came out in family therapy. I remember the steadiest steps I ever took, walking out of their church in front of a mortified congregation. I am numb, as we sit here on the verge of a vice-presidency that constituency was sold, backed in the state only by a spineless and toothless minority party that just spent the last year demanding entitlement to our votes for two candidates who built their careers campaigning against our rights and emboldening the Right’s assault at the state level with “states’ right” talk Clinton is yet to express any deviation from.

When I say that TRUMP IS NOT MY PRESIDENT, I do not mean that Clinton is. I mean that there is no one who is my president. I mean that I reject the notion of this office and I reject the authority of the system behind it. I mean that I am ungovernable and that I am sovereign. I mean that I do not consent to the authority invested in this political structure. I mean that I have no gods and I have no presidents.

When I say that TRUMP IS NOT MY PRESIDENT, I am saying that I reject the idea that 26% of the country electing someone to govern the rest of us constitutes “democracy.” I am asserting that 46% of this country is also tired of this shit and too tired of morally bankrupt parties vomiting candidates on us, rather than “too lazy,” to vote when everyone knows the stakes are so high. I am affirming that neither my liberty nor my security come from this state which has systematically denied me and threatened me with both. I am affirming that we have power, and that our minds and hands and voices shape movements that don’t require elections.

When I say that TRUMP IS NOT MY PRESIDENT, I am opening the next chapter of our story, not just concluding a paragraph we have read and re-read for generations. I am daring to dream Queerer futures. I am placing my hope and faith and patriotism in comrades who join me on the streets, and all our friends who haven’t made it out there yet.

As our march carries us back to Salem from downtown, Aradia whispers a chant in my ear. I share it with those around me, but its radical notes fall flat to the left of the crowd. Still, I won’t give in to worry. I won’t give in to isolation. The Moon peeks through the pines and around a chimney, reminding me of persistence, patience, slow education, and long visions.

The next chapter remains unwritten, but so many spirits are assembled. The revolution will be spelled out. Not long now. Not long.


Pat Mosley

biophotoPat is a writer living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. His interests include post-capitalist economics, psychogeography, alternative religions, and contemporary life in the U.S. South. Pat presently serves as secretary for Mountain CUUPs in Boone, and is an organizer of Hoof + Horn Collective in W-S. Connect with him through https://patmosley.wordpress.com/

 


We’d like to pay our writers for articles like this. Can you help? We’ll give you cool stuff in return!

Raising the Power of the People: Protest as Magickal Ritual

“When I marched in Selma, my feet were praying.”

– Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Standing in a circle, we start to chant. Full-throated, rhythmic, and loud, we invoke the honored dead and name our intent. As our bodies move, I feel the energy rise and flow. Hundreds of people are here, focusing all our wills on a single point, sensing the nature of the physical space change around us and hearing an egregore form itself out of us. We process through downtown and find the laws of the ordinary world negated, transcended, pushed aside by our raised fists and the beat of our legs as we shout, “Whose Lives Matter? Black Lives Matter!” Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, the hundreds of other Black women and men and nonbinary people that the police have murdered this year – we know the dead are with us, demanding justice. We know that white supremacy will fall because it will be made to fall; we will see this working through.

 


liftarn_a_raised_fist
A well-known magickal hand gesture

Mass protest is magick. That’s literal. It’s not just the accouterments of ritual – although, of course, chanting and processing and invoking the dead often feature prominently. When hundreds or thousands of people gather and focus their collective intent to effect a change in the world, that’s magick. And, indeed, anyone who’s been to a truly powerful demonstration can testify that energy gets raised there, and it’s strong. The surrounding space becomes something different. It’s no longer a shopping mall or an intersection, any more than a consecrated altar is just a few knickknacks on a coffee table. It’s where the protest egregore – “The People,” let’s call it – redefines the marketplace or the thoroughfare as the agora or the Nordic Thing, the self-aware Commons, where the powerful become weak and everything becomes possible.

And, indeed, the ordinary rules do collapse. The People can occupy busy intersections, shut down the infrastructure of commerce and government, and block interstate highways. Under normal circumstances, no one could do anything like that, and very few would want to try. We have to raise the egregore and sanctify the urban space first. Protests happen between the worlds as surely as any devotional ritual or coven working.

 


“My initiations and elevations changed my perception of reality, and they eventually brought me closer to the things that matter.”

Jason Mankey

If an initiation’s done right, you come away transformed. The world doesn’t look the same afterwards, and eventually, you start forgetting how you ever could’ve seen things like you used to. Once you receive the Mysteries, you don’t simply lose them again; once you realize how racist-patriarchal-imperial capitalism dictates the social world, you no longer can’t notice it all around you. Sure, that awareness can come through study or conversation or – rarely – individual perception sharp enough to push past the hegemony of the ruling class. In real life, that’s rarely enough. It usually takes initiatory ritual to break through a lifetime of ideological conditioning. Most of us get there through the direct, firsthand experience of the power of the People. March in protests and participate in that egregore, and you won’t be the same. It’s no coincidence that both ritual theory and Marxist philosophy use the language of inducing a shift in consciousness. Once you’ve encountered the Mystery, your old worldview is no longer sufficient. There’s a change in you, and you find the world changed in turn.

Sometimes, Pagans bemoan our relative lack of developed theology. Our self-definitions are less likely to dwell on systematized belief than on experiences 0f ecstasy. By and large, “Paganism” is a heterogeneous mix of initiatory esoteric currents and orthopraxic public polytheisms. What links us is partly just a shared subculture, but also a broadly held sense that religion needs to be rooted in relationship and practice, rather than textual authority or assent to particular articles of faith. Pagan theology certainly exists (and, considering how young our traditions are, it’s probably better developed than the odds would have suggested). However, it mainly tends to explicate ritual practice and ecstatic subjectivity. Our exegesis isn’t of holy books or infallible prophets’ words; rather, we create theory to account for what we do.

Of course, revolutionary political theory does the same thing with regard to the practice of participatory social change. This website, in large part, involves individuals who find themselves in both streams, identifying and expanding the points of resonance between them. Most of us here have gone through the initiation of protest. We’ve helped raise the egregore of the People, and that necessarily informs our worldviews. We can (and do) theorize at great length about those experiences – but, at the same time, reading isn’t enough. No one should confuse a Book of Shadows with a practical tool like an athame; no one should confuse political theory with practical tools like the People’s Mic, the banner, and the megaphone.

You can encounter it yourself. Don’t take this on faith. Confirm it. Go protest. Raise power. Evoke the People. Shift your consciousness. Transform the world.

 


IMAG0432

Sophia Burns

Sophia Burns is a communist and polytheist in the Pacific Northwest. They’re a writer and editor for The North Star and an officer in RATPAC and the Communist Labor Party.

Sophia Burns is one of the authors appearing in A Beautiful Resistance: The Fire is Here.

 

 

Revolutionary Spirits and Occult Strategies of Resistance

By Brian Johnson

The sit-in. The march. The occupation of public space. The power of many forms of protest lies not in the immediate effects of its tactics; the purpose of the act is not the disruption of business or traffic at a particular facility or city street – these are merely means to an end. The purpose to which these material disruptions are performed is rather to effect a disruption of social discourse, and in so doing make an agenda impossible to ignore. Grievances and their redress, oppression and redemption, the nature of the status quo and the possibility that it might be otherwise – all of these are made salient in the consciousness of protesters, agents of the institutions they address, and the entire psycho-social context in which they act. A détournement, a discontinuity in the dominant narrative, in the hegemonic discourse, is physically forced into being, and in that newly opened space, alternative story-lines can begin to be written.

I wish to examine here the class of phenomena broadly defined as ‘possession’ – the manifestation of the activity of a god, spirit, ancestor, or other non-human force in the body of a human person – in terms of its power to rhetorically disrupt dominant narratives. Possession, and the interventions into social life of occult entities and forces more generally, bear an inherent anti-hegemonic potential. In both form and content, they demand that the cycles of quotidian life be brought to a halt. Indeed it is rare that their manifestation does not portend a reordering, a rectification – if not a revolution – in human relations. I do not mean to suggest that the appearance of possession or sorcerous phenomena necessarily correlate with conditions of marginalization or oppression. That is demonstrably false; they do not express any one paradigm of power relations in every instance[i]. However, it seems apparent that when the powers of the invisible world are appropriated by the disenfranchised, the exploitative powers of the visible world should take heed.

Suspicion of possession as a weapon of the oppressed has a long and geographically broad history in the consciousness of repressive regimes. Judicial authorities and slaveholders in nineteenth-century Brazil feared both Candomblé devotion and sorcery more as loci of subversive organization than as spiritual threats[ii].Lesley A. Sharp observes that “Europeans had long recognized possession activities in Madagascar as politically-charged and thus potentially revolutionary events…”, ultimately outlawing their practice following a failed insurrection in 1947[iii]. Agents of the white administration of then-Rhodesia attempted, with little success, to counter the revolutionary influence of mhondoro spirit-mediums, going so far as to make recordings of co-opted mediums, allegedly in trance-states, repudiating rebel guerrillas, and broadcast them from airplanes[iv].

Yvonne Maggie describes how a belief system incorporating spiritualism and efficacious witchcraft “…was shared by the police, magistrates and lawyers, and those they accused or defended” in early twentieth-century Brazil[v]. Antagonistic actors who share a cultural context – even if they are otherwise asymmetric in power and status – can come to share certain assumptions about the means of engagement. Ultimately these mutual assumptions maintain the status quo by channeling aggression in ways that never challenge the premises of the social structure itself. Hence, an oppressor’s hegemony may be facilitated through sharing with the subaltern a set of cosmological beliefs and their ritual-forensic implications[vi]. Conversely, however, a shared frame of reference makes the dominant party susceptible to the subordinate’s strategies for negotiating agency. As I.M. Lewis suggests of the gods invoked by cults of the marginalized, “…it is obviously essential that both superior and subordinate should share a common faith in the existence and efficacy of these mutinous powers…. since otherwise clearly the voice of protest loses its authority.”[vii]

Spirit-possession, as an idiom of occult forces, is not only a medium for discourse about social relations; rather, it comprises the content of a discourse with real social implications. As Maggie suggests, Afro-Brazilian Candomblé “…does not engender resistance. It is in its very existence the antithesis to the rational bureaucratic order that the Brazilian state outwardly proclaims.”[viii] Scholars have long theorized spirit-possession in just such terms as a means of resistance to culturally-entrenched power disparities, or the deprivations, oppressions, and dislocations of modernity[ix]. Maya Deren points to the Petro loa cult as a driving force and organizing principle behind the Haitian revolution[x].Indeed, the Petro seem to express fundamentally anti-social values consistent with the exigencies of systemic discontinuity, rupture, and escape imposed by the condition of slavery. While this explanatory frame may rationalize the place of occult beliefs and practices within a context of political action, precisely what those beliefs and practices accomplish in that domain remains to be fully understood. Likewise, as Frederick M. Smith notes, the psychologizing turn of modern scholarship has tended to understand possession as a culturally-mediated, unconscious reaction to social and political oppression[xi]. Yet this point of view overlooks the possibility of its intentional appropriation as a means of indirect action.

When Somali women give voice to the demands of their possessing sar spirits, they speak with an authority denied to them in everyday life[xii]. Speaking through the authority of supernatural agents can be an oblique strategy of negotiating autonomy by appropriating a privileged discursive space, outside of which one’s demands are literally unspeakable – a metanegotiation. Thus, as Mary E. Hancock argues, bhakti devotion and possession among Brahman women “…may be an agency for change in domestic life, whether the bhakta is perceived as succeeding or failing in her efforts.”[xiii] In this context, as with the other forms of embodied protest, it is not the direct result of one’s actions which effects change in one’s status or circumstances, but rather the implications of the means by which one has acted.

As Lewis observes, the powers involved in the shaman’s vocation “…are often, either directly or indirectly, both the cause of misfortune and the means of its cure.”[xiv] The possessing spirits of the materially dispossessed frequently assume qualities of the class by whom the possessed is victimized – women are possessed by masculine spirits, Nigerien Hauka cultists by gods who appear in a ludicrous parody of European colonials[xv]. The whips brandished by former slaves in the possession rites of the Somali numbi cult “…enable them to present themselves not as slaves, but as masters of slaves”[xvi]. “Possession… is a state of tension, of lived irony, in which dilemmas are resolved (for better or worse) because the volition of the dominant, socially hegemonic voice is reduced to the point of disappearance and another authority is expressed through the body”[xvii]. If mimesis is one means of comprehending the power of an Other[xviii], so much more so is a mimesis realized in the very agentive body of the subject. Indeed, the French commandant who most brutally suppressed the early Hauka movement was among the first colonial personae to manifest within the ranks of its pantheon[xix]. Satirical performance, properly understood, is a controlled environment in which group identity distinctions can be rehearsed on the subaltern’s own terms. In their warped dramatization of the European, Paul Stoller suggests that the dancers of the Hauka possession rite “…have resisted culturally the way of the European and have expressed metaphorically their preference for the traditions of their ancestors.”[xx] Originally arising in a context of anticolonial agitation in the early twentieth century[xxi], the cultural distancing effected by the Hauka remains relevant amidst the homogenizing pressures of the globally-connected post-colony[xxii].

Deren argues that psychosomatic illness is in early twentieth-century Haiti sometimes interpreted as the result of witchcraft or the intervention of loa. It serves as a form of psychological defense against hopeless circumstances, maintaining the status quo for better or worse. Nonetheless, she notes that, “…Voudoun is most often opposed and suppressed by the government as a threat to the status quo.”[xxiii] This is because the occult interpretation of misfortune is not simply a superstitious expression of acquiescence to impotence. Deren elaborates: “Instead of the hopeless finality of absolute, abstract despair, the man is immediately involved in the idea of promising action…. Thus psychosomatic projection serves not as an evasion but as a means of making the moral problem accessible on a level of real action”[xxiv]. As Catherine Bell explains, this kind of ‘misrecognition’, intrinsic to ritual practice, shifts the entire context of means, ends, and meanings to one defined by the ritual actor.[xxv] In other words, faced with a destructive system from which one cannot escape, the psychotherapeutically strategic response may be to constructively misrecognize the nature of the problem one is facing. Thus one’s options for effective retaliation are transposed into a space where one can take practical action. A new context is created, in which the constraints and rules of the oppressing system do not apply, and where once-unspeakable ideas of liberation may be spoken. Subjects demonstrate to themselves the vulnerability of the socially-inscribed hierarchy[xxvi], a demonstration which may be sufficient impetus for material change. Whether the sar of Somalia or the tarantism of southern Italy, the manifestation of invisible forces in the bodies of oppressed classes implicitly protests and draws public attention to their intolerable circumstances[xxvii].

Spirit-possession, and the popular hermeneutics of the phenomenon, can assert indigenous historical power against histories of colonial power, critically responding to the concerted dislocation of indigenous identity through colonial desecration and depopulation of territory[xxviii]. The expressive modalities of spirits during possession rituals can recapitulate history by embodying historical identities, categories, or peoples. Thus, participants claim for themselves a sense of historical agency which the dominant culture may deny that they possess., It also provides them with a medium through which to experience that history[xxix].

This intervention into consensual space of a discourse utterly orthogonal to hegemonic norms is characteristic of possession as the ingress of the otherworldly. Smith observes that possession is effectively “…a structure of resistance, a rift in the psychological, social, and political fabric of society.”[xxx] His argument, however, that its counter-hegemonic potential is constrained by its very embodiment and segregation from consensual consciousness and communication[xxxi], must be contrasted with Stoller’s framing of the Hauka movement/ritual-complex as a ‘comedy of paradox’[xxxii], a form of social protest whose message can only be conveyed inexplicitly because there is no extant social space in which its complaint can be communicated in its own terms. Likewise, the ritual prohibitions of the mhondoro spirit-mediums of revolutionary Rhodesia (modern Zimbabwe) acted to clearly segregate “…the world of the ancestors… and the world of industrial production and exchange…” in which their followers were being exploited[xxxiii].

The position of invisible powers in relation to processes of claiming agency is not always a positive one. If, as Basile Ndjio observes, the popular discourse on occult forces which arises in response to inexplicable social disruption is frequently one of enslavement to those forces[xxxiv], perhaps this represents an inversion of the empowering self-alienation of spirit-possession. The invisible here becomes object of, rather than medium for, retaliatory action. Indeed, it is precisely the restoration of communal self-determination for which the Cameroonian anti-witchcraft gru ordeal is conducted[xxxv].

Whether occult practices are employed toward defusing the tension of systemic contradictions or exacerbating them to a crisis point may depend upon the foreseeable prospects of remaining within the system itself. Often, the sheer spatial extent and ideological monopoly of oppressing institutions are such that extricating oneself from their grasp is simply untenable. Hence, one may practice insubordination, “…but usually not to the point where it is desired to immediately rupture the relationship concerned or to subvert it completely”[xxxvi]. When female Malay factory workers are attacked on the shop floor by spirits of violation and pollution, a protest against the capitalist alienation of human beings is made manifest, albeit tacitly[xxxvii]. Until one is prepared to openly repudiate the structural bases of one’s mistreatment, and denounce the agents of that structure, the person who “…exerts pressure on his superior without radically questioning his superiority”[xxxviii] is certainly safer; the rebellion, such as it is, is allowed to continue. But this kind of complicity, subversive as it may be, can only accomplish so much. Frantz Fanon insists upon a ‘radical overthrow’ of the colonial system[xxxix], and possession, with its embodiment of an implicit political agenda, realizes that coup as a fait accompli, if a highly circumscribed one. As João José Reis describes the situation in nineteenth-century Brazil, “[u]nder paternalist cultural and ideological pressure, slaves often worked hard to create bonds of affection with masters through witchcraft or other means… but having failed this… they struggled to untie their lives from those of their masters…”[xl].

“The colonial world is a compartmentalized world”[xli], Fanon says. Not a truly hegemonic one, then, in the strictly Gramscian sense, it remains unreconciled, the colonized living in a different epistemic world from the colonizer. As David M. Gordon points out, “…not all agents of the invisible world are compatible.”[xlii] The break effected in decolonization is with a structure that was always still ‘other’. As Lewis suggests, the acute pressures which may prompt a shamanic response at the communal level “…may result from external encapsulating forces when a whole society is marginal or marginalized, and becomes itself peripheral in relation to a wider, over-arching political system.”[xliii] The Zimbabwean liberation war saw the spirits of ancestral rulers, speaking through their mediums, authorize armed resistance to the colonial regime[xliv]. The space for negotiating autonomy is a breach forced inside the discursive field of the colonial ‘other’, inside the capitalist world-system. That breach is made using the language of the colonized, whether that be the words of gods and spirits, or the rhetoric of arms and insurgency. If spirit-possession is one source of authoritative voice with which to negotiate discursive space for autonomy, so too is violence the counterpart act which unmistakably voices the same provisional demand.

As Homi K. Bhabha argues in his foreword to The Wretched of the Earth, “Fanonian violence… is part of a struggle for psycho-affective survival and a search for human agency in the midst of the agony of oppression”[xlv]. Possession and violence each effect the search for agency; they are processes of creating space for its eventual realization. Smith has argued that South-Asian forms of possession often correspond to a somaticization of intense emotional and psychological states[xlvi]. These grahas, ‘graspers’, lay hold of persons who indulge in the very transgressive behaviors they themselves incite[xlvii]. Perhaps sometimes, in seeking out a space to negotiate self-determination, the oppressed in fact become possessed by the visceral experience, as much as the ideological imperative, of violence.

His undisputed insights notwithstanding, Fanon betrays a myopic psychologism in asserting that things like myth, possession, and supernatural beliefs only distract from the reality of colonial conflict[xlviii]. He fails to recognize that such concepts can operate in support of, and parallel to, “…the practical tasks the people are asked to undertake in the liberation struggle”. David Lan, for instance, relates how many veterans of the Zimbabwean liberation war “…tell similar stories of how long-dead members of their families had assisted them and led them to sources of food or other supplies”, as well as furnishing practical advice[xlix]. Nor did their adherence to ritual proscriptions imposed by cooperative spirit-mediums preclude their participation “…in the programme of peasant mobilisation or of political education that their political party put into action”[l], revolutionary methods of which Fanon explicitly approved. Indeed, the mediums of royal ancestor-spirits helped to legitimize and socially assimilate the guerrillas and their revolutionary agenda in the eyes of the rural populations among whom they operated, in part through the guerrillas’ participation in local ritual cycles[li]. The ancestors’ uncontested, atemporal legitimacy, grounded in their provision of the land’s fertility and cutting across communal divisions by means of ascribed genealogies, provided a common point of reference for revolutionary consciousness[lii].

Why should gods, spirits, or ancestors be approached, adapted, and recognized as authoritative, legitimate arbiters of the very this-worldly political maneuvers among husbands and wives, laborers and managers, the colonized and the colonialist? Why should they particularly care? Perhaps because, as Lewis observes, “…the moral code over which these spirits so resolutely stand guard concerns the relations between man and man.”[liii] Thus they respond, obliquely or aggressively, to disparities and abuses in human society, to “…changes which are felt to impose limitations on traditional freedoms and rights, or to benefit one social group or category (e.g. men) at the expense of another (e.g. women)”[liv]. Whether held to be motivated by personalized moral concern or impelled by abstract nature, these entities will come to intervene in matters of what can be called social justice.


Brian JohnsonAn archaeologist by profession, Brian Johnson also pursues his interests in the cultural construction and practical mechanics of human interaction with the supernatural through independent scholarship. With the cultural-relativist lessons of his anthropological background always in mind, his practice is self-consciously omnivorous and syncretic.


Bibliography

Bell, C. 2009 (1992). Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. Oxford University Press.

Bhabha, H.K. 2004. Foreword: Framing Fanon. In Philcox, R. (trans), Fanon, F., The Wretched of the Earth. Grove. pp. vii-xli.

Colleyn, J.-P. 1999. Horse, Hunter & Messenger. In Behrend, H. and Luid, U. (eds), Spirit Possession, Modernity and Power in Africa. University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 68-78.

Deren, M. 2004 (1953). Divine Horsemen. Documentext.

Fanon, F. 2004 (1961). Philcox, R. (trans), The Wretched of the Earth. Grove.

Gordon, D.M. 2012. Invisible Agents. Ohio University Press.

Hancock, M. 1995. Dilemmas of Domesticity. In Courtright, P. and Harlan, L. (eds) From the Margins of Hindu Marriage. Oxford University Press. pp. 60-91.

Lan, D. 1985. Guns and Rain. University of California Press.

Lewis, H.S. 2005. The Globalization of Spirit Possession. In Al-Haj, M. et al. (eds) Social Critique and Commitment. University Press of America. pp. 169-191.

Lewis, I.M. 2003 (1971). Ecstatic Religion. Routledge.

Maggie, Y. 2011. The Logic of Sorcery and Democracy in Contemporary Brazil. In Parés, L.N. and Sansi, R. (eds), Sorcery in the Black Atlantic. University of Chicago Press. pp. 145-163.

Makris, G.P. 1996. Slavery, Possession and History: The Construction of the Self Among Slave Descendants in the Sudan. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute 66: 159-182.

Ndjio, B. 2011. Naming the Evil: Democracy and Sorcery in Contemporary Cameroon and South Africa. In Parés, L.N. and Sansi, R. (eds), Sorcery in the Black Atlantic. University of Chicago Press. pp. 165-186.

Ong, A. 1987. Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline. S.U.N.Y. Press.

Reis, J.J. 2011. Candomble and Slave Resistance in Nineteenth-Century Bahia. In Parés, L.N. and Sansi, R. (eds), Sorcery in the Black Atlantic. University of Chicago Press. pp. 55-74.

Sharp, L.A. 1999. The Power of Possession in Northwest Madagascar. In Behrend, H. and Luid, U. (eds), Spirit Possession, Modernity and Power in Africa. University of Wisconsin Press. pp. 3-19.

Smith, F.M. 2006. The Self Possessed. Columbia University Press.

Stoller, P. 1995. Embodying Colonial Memories. Routledge.

Endnotes

[i]               Sharp 1999: 5-6; Colleyn 1999: 73
[ii]              Reis 2011: 60, 68
[iii]             Sharp 1999: 8
[iv]             Lan 1985: 7
[v]              Maggie 2011: 149-50
[vi]             Reis 2011: 57-8
[vii]            Lewis 2003: 101
[viii]           Maggie 2011: 147
[ix]             Lewis 2005: 186-7
[x]              Deren 2004: 62
[xi]             Smith 2006: 46
[xii]            Lewis 2003: 67
[xiii]           Hancock 1995: 63
[xiv]           Lewis 2003: 62
[xv]            Lewis 2003: 78; Stoller 2002
[xvi]           Lewis 2003: 92
[xvii]          Smith 2006: 587
[xviii]         Stoller 1995: 37-40
[xix]           Stoller 2002: 266
[xx]            Stoller 2002: 259
[xxi]           Stoller 1995: 117-8
[xxii]          Stoller 2002: 272
[xxiii]         Deren 2004: 170
[xxiv]          Deren 2004: 17
[xxv]           Bell 2009: 82 ff.
[xxvi]          Smith 2006: 71-2
[xxvii]         Lewis 2003: 83
[xxviii]        Sharp 1999: 7-8
[xxix]          Makris 1996: 170-1
[xxx]           Smith 2006: 58
[xxxi]          Smith 2006: 59
[xxxii]         Stoller 2002: 260
[xxxiii]        Lan 1985: 143
[xxxiv]        Ndjio 2011: 172
[xxxv]         Ndjio 2011: 173
[xxxvi]        Lewis 2003: 108
[xxxvii]       Ong 1987: 207 ff.
[xxxviii]      Lewis 2003: 28
[xxxix]        Fanon 2004: 22
[xl]             Reis 2011: 71
[xli]            Fanon 2004: 3
[xlii]           Gordon 2012: 1
[xliii]          Lewis 2003: 182
[xliv]          Lan 1985: 145-
[xlv]           Bhabha 2004: xxxvi
[xlvi]          Smith 2006: 506-7
[xlvii]         Smith 2006: 512 ff.
[xlviii]        Fanon 2004: 19
[xlix]          Lan 1985: xv
[l]               Lan 1985: xvii
[li]              Lan 1985: 113-5
[lii]             Lan 1985: 218-9
[liii]            Lewis 2003: 146
[liv]            Lewis 2003: 157

Lancashire Says FRACK OFF!

Mr Frackhead
“I’m going to frack here! I’m going to frack there! I’m going to frack every-fracking-where!” – Mr Frackhead

It has been a fraught five days in Lancashire. On Tuesday 23rd of June decisions amongst fifteen members of Lancashire County Council’s Development Control Committee began on Cuadrilla’s applications to drill and hydraulically fracture (frack) four wells at Roseacre and Little Plumpton on Preston New Road. Beforehand Mr Perigo (the Senior Planning Officer for LCC) had suggested Roseacre be refused and Little Plumpton should go ahead.

On the Tuesday I was part of a crowd of protestors who gathered outside Preston’s County Hall. Preston New Road Action Group, Roseacre Awareness Group, Frack Free Lancashire and Friends of the Earth came together with numerous other anti-fracking and environmental groups and local individuals to stand against Cuadrilla’s application.

I had to leave on Tuesday afternoon because I had taken temporary admin work that demanded I stay away at an international conference in Liverpool. Throughout my time there, feeling torn and far from home, the fate of the sites and the efforts of the protestors were in my prayers.

Tuesday and Wednesday were allocated to the decision on Little Plumpton. On Wednesday legal advice was given to the councillors by Mr. Manley (a QC) suggesting they had no legal reasons for rejecting the proposal. The councillors voted 7-7. Councillor Green abstained. Councillor Dad (the Chair) made the casting vote in favour.

In response to this, Councillor Hayhurst said that as the public would be dismayed by the result he wanted the legal advice which had forced the vote and tied their hands made known. He also asked for extra time so that local residents could receive their own legal advice. The council agreed to reconvene on this decision on Monday.

On Thursday the councillors voted against fracking at Roseacre 15-0.

After returning on Friday evening, I caught up with this news (which I’d heard by text message) and read the document containing the legal advice. This said rejecting the proposal on grounds of ‘landscape / visual and amenity impact’ was ‘unreasonable’ but not ‘unlawful’. ‘It is highly likely the applicant will appeal’ and ‘there is a high risk that a costs penalty will be imposed upon the council.’ This gave me some insight into how the vote had been forced and the pressure the councillors were under.

I attended the rally yesterday, which was extremely tense. After speeches from Friends of the Earth, Lancaster Council, Trade Unions and other groups we waited around loud speakers as the proceedings were broadcast outside.

I heard Councillor Green explain why he abstained. He said that on Wednesday the legal advice given vocally was that it was ‘illegal’ to reject the proposal rather than ‘unreasonable’. He argued that although Cuadrilla had agreed to reduce the visual impact from high to moderate this was still sufficient ground to turn the proposal down. Green said after considering the evidence and additional legal advice he had decided to vote against it.

Other councillors (I didn’t catch their names) spoke for and against during the debate. One pro-fracking councillor warned that those who rejected the proposal would have to give evidence at a future appeal. Another countered by saying that after they had been threatened on Wednesday they would not be threatened again. He also questioned who would provide the pubic liability insurance after Cuadrilla had left and the site started leaking, suggesting the people of Lancashire would end up paying for the damage.

Following this a vote was made on Little Plumpton. 9 voted against fracking, 4 for, and 2 abstained. Following the horrendous and unfair pressure the councillors had been put under this was a huge victory for democracy. The majority of LCC refused to be bullied and stood by their land and their people.

That fracking has been stopped in Lancashire (for now) brings hope it can be stopped in other counties, throughout the UK and across the world.

Hail democracy!
Hail dissent!
Hail the nine courageous members of LCC!