On Property and Protest

From T. Thorn Coyle

Disclosure: property destruction is not a tactic I personally use, so that colors what I’m about to say. Take or leave my opinion as you will.


I want to talk about property destruction.

The first thing that needs to be said:

In looking at property destruction, we must always first look at the major destroyers of communities, land, water, and sky. Monsanto. Wells Fargo. The US Federal government. White Supremacy. The police. Imperialism. Plutocracy…we can add to this list for days. Any critique of, or support for, property destruction must be grounded in the awareness of who the most destructive culprits actually are.

They are not masked people in the streets.

Second, I want to distinguish between property destruction as spontaneous uprising –an emotional response to direct brutal oppression and disenfranchisement– and planned action. A few instances of spontaneous uprising are: the rebellions in Watts, Ferguson, or at Stonewall. These are all examples of people with little recourse, who’ve been pushed too far, for too long, and finally snap. “A riot is the language of the unheard,” as Dr. King said.

Now I want to speak of property damage as a form of planned protest:

My support for and critique of property damage both come from asking the same questions: “Is it strategic action?” and “What is the aim?”

One example of effective and strategic property damage comes from French radical farmer José Bové. He’s done many strategic actions of destruction. My favorite is when he gathered a group to dismantle a McDonalds being built in their village. The McDonalds threatened their small village industries, their commerce, and also signified the encroachment of global capitalism that was a threat to their way of life.

This sort of strategic property destruction is a very effective tactic, with a clear aim.

For me, smashing windows of small, upscale businesses once a year is not good strategic action. Does it drive out gentrifiers and displacers? It doesn’t seem to. In most cases, they sweep up, collect insurance money, and move on.

Smashing smaller local businesses also serves to alienate the community, pushing them further from solidarity and action. For example: I’ve heard directly from Black community members upset that a local clothing design shop and store –that was Black owned and contributed to various community projects– was targeted during protests because it was seen by white activists as part of Black neighborhood gentrification. The action pushed community members away from any possible engagement or solidarity.

Targeting large banks or major corporations on a regular basis as part of an ongoing series of actions? I would feel differently about that, and many community members might also feel differently, especially if there was an educational arm releasing propaganda to explain that this large bank chain was targeted because of predatory lending or foreclosures.

A side question that crops up in this discussion is: Am I directly putting others in danger right now?”

Here’s one example of what I mean by the second question: people who stand way behind a crowd and throw projectiles at police from relative safety while putting folks in the front in direct danger. I’m not OK with that at all. That is reckless cowardice.

A second example happens often when white activists refuse to take leadership from or pay attention to more marginalized groups. At post-election 2016 actions in Oakland, militant African leadership encouraged white activists to not engage in property damage. They called for “revolutionary discipline” for a variety of reasons. Things were still smashed. That happens. Often.

The next day, when members of the African-led group went to set up for another action, they were targeted by police, threatened, and almost had their sound equipment impounded and truck towed. Police accused them of inciting a riot.

So another thing to keep in mind, besides “is it strategic and what is our aim?” is this: Who might we be putting at risk? Are there people of color in the group, or in leadership? Are trans people present? People with disabilities? Undocumented immigrants? Children?

If the answer to any of those is “yes” it is best to not use a large action as cover and protection for property destruction. There are other times to do strategic action if that is your choice of tactic.

We can’t let the wish to destroy undermine efforts to build solidarity. Being run by high emotion or inflated ego is not strategic or effective action.

In summation:

While I don’t engage in property destruction myself, over many years I’ve been friends with those who do (Catholic Plowshares activists, I’m looking at you). These were always in critique of the larger destructive systems. To not engage that larger critique is to miss the point entirely, and only pits us against one another and plays directly into the hands of those who most directly oppress our comrades and the most vulnerable members of our interlocking communities.

I would like to see people working toward solid aims. On occasion, it feels like some people are just acting out. Also, not having strategic aim makes it much easier for infiltrators/agitators/provocateurs to enter our ranks and incite people to non-strategic action or putting others in danger.

In my opinion, if we are going to build long-term, sustainable, society-changing activist communities, we must also always ask “What purpose/whom does this action serve?” And “What is our plan?”

I hope that anyone engaging in, critiquing, or supporting planned property destruction considers these sorts of questions.

In solidarity. Toward love, equity, and justice.


Here is an excellent article that I didn’t see until I’d already written my essay above. It makes similar points to mine, but brings up other very important points as well, including speaking directly to the racism of some white activists and how that impacts communities of color. I encourage you to read it:

More on José Bové:

http://abcnews.go.com/International/story?id=82649

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/José_Bové


T. Thorn Coyle

harder_coylehires-cropT. Thorn Coyle is a magic worker and Pagan committed to love, liberation, and justice. Thorn is the author of the novel Like Water and the collection of magical tales Alighting on His Shoulders. Her spiritual writing includes: Sigil Magic for Writers, Artists & Other Creatives; Make Magic of Your Life; Kissing the Limitless; Evolutionary Witch-craft; and Crafting a Daily Practice. Thorn works to build a society based on love, equity, justice, and beauty.

 


Gods&Radicals is a non-profit Pagan Anti-Capitalist publisher, and we’d love help to start paying our writers. Thank you!

The World Will Not End But We May Change

 

Awaken to the sounds of apocalypse:
Quiet house. Distant traffic.
Water boiling once the kettle is switched on.
The striking of a match.
The hiss of candle lighting.
And my prayers…

I am sure in other places
Apocalypse sounds different.

Children petulant from lack of food.
Fighting over money
or who gets to use the car,
Who takes the bus.
The concussion of a bomb
From silent skies.

Apocalypses don’t come sudden.
They can sound like day to day.

We run after each other
Arms upraised to catch a falling world.
They keep telling us the sky
Is firm above,
But it is slippery as their lies,
That tell us nothing we don’t know.
This world is ending.
Every sound announces so.

Some day we will waken to the sounds
Of a new world.
What will that sound like?
A woman rolling over to make love.
A kettle hissing.
A match striking.
And a child eating his breakfast.

Beginning or ending,
The ordinary things are what we have.


(This poem was originally published in A Beautiful Resistance: Everything We Already Are)


T. Thorn Coyle

harder_coylehires-cropT. Thorn Coyle is a magic worker and Pagan committed to love, liberation, and justice. Thorn is the author of the novel Like Water and the collection of magical tales Alighting on His Shoulders. Her spiritual writing includes: Sigil Magic for Writers, Artists & Other Creatives; Make Magic of Your Life; Kissing the Limitless; Evolutionary Witch-craft; and Crafting a Daily Practice. Thorn works to build a society based on love, equity, justice, and beauty.

Book Review: Like Water

by James Lindenschmidt

I love the idea: souls travel in packs. It works on several levels, and can describe the peculiar bonds souls form with one another, in countless different ways and contexts. Everyone has the experience of meeting someone for the first time, with immediate rapport, a feeling of connection, where the souls effortlessly fit together like long-lost pack-companions. Packs mean that you depend on one another, you protect one another, and you look out for one another. T. Thorn Coyle’s Like Water is a story of such a pack of souls.

Like Water is set in “in-between Oakland.” I don’t have much personal connection to Oakland, but the setting of the novel is nonetheless quite familiar to me, being situated in the post-Occupy radical community, in academia, in paganism, & in the polyamory community. These are my people. So the story’s context got my attention right away.

As did the event that drives the course of the novel. This event occurs before the novel begins, so I don’t need spoilers to say that Alex, one of the main characters in the story, is killed when a police officer hits him with a taser and it disrupts his heart. Much of the story revolves around people coming to terms with Alex’s death, moving on from it, and using it as fuel for their own inner fires. Jonah, Alex’s best friend, in particular has difficulty adapting to the world without Alex, and much of the story revolves around his particular struggle doing so. And of course, we hear quite a bit about Alex’s struggle adapting to death.

There are many things to like about Coyle’s first novel. First of all, I dig the writing style. I’ve read a fair amount of her stuff over the years, but this is the first time I’ve read her fiction (and I believe this is her first published novel). It can be a challenge for a nonfiction writer to enter the realm of fiction, but Coyle does so seamlessly. We do hear a lot of the character’s inner thoughts, almost nonfiction contained within the fiction, with some nice philosophizing in the “thought bubbles” each character has. For instance, in one passage, Alex is reminiscing about when he was alive, thinking about his lover, Amber:

Nothing wrong with sex. Most art required it. The best art grabbed us kicking and screaming and wrestled us down to look something in the face. To feel something, once and for all. That impulse was the power of life. The power of life was sex. People mistook this all the time. Even the gentlest art — the paintings of sunrise over water, the love songs that were filled with sweetness — if it was good, it tapped that primal life connection. Picasso? Tupac? Zora? ‘Yonce? They ripped your guts out. Great art requires us to confront life. To confront ourselves. That’s why it’s so painful sometimes (71).

I also liked the metaphysics of the book. The fact that Alex is the speaker in several chapters (each chapter has its own speaker) despite being dead is a nice touch, as are Coyle’s insights of the dead. They have no sense of smell, for instance, and that’s the biggest jolt of novelty they must grow accustomed to. In addition to the dead themselves, Calliah, Jonah’s partner, has the ability sometimes to see the dead:

I don’t see ghosts all the time, thank goodness. I seem to see them only when there is some trauma, or a message to be passed along. Mostly my ghostly encounters are just about having a sense of something “other” hanging around. It’s not like suddenly there are figures with gold teeth floating around me… It’s gone. Although I hadn’t really seen Alex yet, I knew when he was around. And not just when I was picking up on the sense of him (81).

By focusing on several consciousnesses, alive and dead, having their experiences, Coyle weaves fertile ground to tell a good story. And tell a good story she does.

I loved “the Moms,” or Alex and Jonah’s Marxist & Anarchist mothers. These matriarchs raised their children together in radical, intentional communities, still working together even after their children are grown. I got a chuckle out of Kate, the token polyamorous witch; it seemed like Coyle had fun with her character and the insights she provides. I liked the rapping in the novel, which is strange because reading rap lyrics is a vastly different experience than listening to music. Coyle credits MC Do D.A.T for “lending Alex his rhymes,” and they are good. I’m not sure how Coyle managed to convey the energy of a live performance with music into text, but she did.

Despite the 3000 miles between me and Oakland, I feel that Like Water is a story about my tribe, my comrades. The reality of police brutality, violence, and murder of civilians on the streets is foregrounded in the story, but the novel never comes across as preachy or even judgmental. The fact is, these characters must endure, each in their own way, in the aftermath of state-sanctioned murder. This is the story of Like Water.

Because this is a story about my tribe, I really wanted to like the novel. I am happy to say I didn’t have to work very hard to do so. I recommend this novel, and I can’t wait to read more fiction from T. Thorn Coyle.

Review of Mandragora: Further Explorations in Esoteric Poesis

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Mandragora: Further Explorations in Esoteric Poesis

Edited by Ruby Sara

When Gods & Radicals first asked for volunteers to review this book, I offered to do so with some reservations. I tend to be cranky about poetry. I like it so much that I don’t like most of it, but I do love the idea of “esoteric poesis.” Having read the book, and before I get into any specific comments, I’ll say this right at the start: if you find the idea of esoteric poesis at all intriguing, you won’t regret taking the time to read this book. Most of the poets and authors here seem to be more interested in the occult tradition than in pagan religion, but obviously there is no sharp dividing line between the two, and there is much here that a pagan or polytheist would find intriguing.

I can’t say I liked all the poetry in it equally. Still, you could easily hate the pieces I loved and love the pieces I didn’t love, so there’s not much point in talking about what didn’t work for me. Instead I want to talk about what did, because the sum total of what worked for me is certainly enough for me to recommend the book.

The concept of esoteric poesis is obviously going to mean different things to different people, but a number of the writers and poets in Mandragora seem to think of poetry itself as a magical practice.

For instance, Michael Routery’s essay “The Head of Orpheus” expresses the unorthodox view that the poet’s professional task is not to comment on the minutiae of daily life through finely-chiseled turns of phrase but to bring back the gnosis of the otherworld from the land of the dead.

I’ll take a wild guess and say that very few of those who get published in Poetry magazine every year would agree with this assertion, but their poetry would probably be more interesting to me if they did (and Routery’s own “Lava Flowers” on page 52 bears that out).

Erynn Rowan Laurie’s “Burying the Poet” is an essay about the Cauldron of Poesy text, the bard Amergin and the practice of Incubation among the Irish bards. Incubation is the activity of sequestering yourself in darkness and silence to induce a dream oracle from the gods or the otherworld. I’m the author of a book on these exact same topics, which is partly a response to Laurie’s own previous work on the same text. That makes it a bit odd for me to review the essay, but no matter.

The Incubation of visionary poetry in total darkness bears an obvious resemblance to Routery’s ideas about Orpheus and the otherworld. In both cases, the poet descends into darkness, learns something by occult means and brings it back to our world. The magic can be described in terms of Greek tradition or Irish tradition, but the method isn’t restricted to Greek or Irish themes. Laurie’s Lost Text” on page 50 is a poem on Egyptian rather than Celtic mythology, but it could still be seen as an illustration of the method in action. The poem reads like ancient liturgy, almost as if it was channeled from the distant past.

In contrast, T. Thorn Coyle’s poem “After Amergin” on page 20 is inspired by the same mythic bard Laurie discusses in “Burying the Poet,” but Coyle takes Amergin’s “Song of Power” and updates it to the 21st century. Instead of “I am a wind on the sea, I am a wave on the ocean,” we have “I am the shine of neon on black leather./ I am the life that courses under concrete.” Coyle’s poem is an invocation of the magic inherent in our world rather than a trance journey to the underworld.

The Poet As God-Seducer” by P. Sufenas Virius Lupus examines the role of the poet as a seer and mediator with the otherworld in different European traditions. PSVL suggests that the ecstatic furor of poetic trance has an erotic element, and presents quotes from the Greek Magical Papyri and other sources to support the assertion. The idea of writing erotically-charged poetry to deities is likely to seem strange to many people, including many pagans. However, the bhakti poets of India have been writing this sort of poetry to Vishnu and Shiva for a number of centuries now. The poem “Hadrianus Exclusus” by the same author (page 84) reminds me strongly of bhakti poetry. It’s not an imitation of the bhakti style, but it has a similar sense of immediacy, presence and highly personal yearning. That’s exactly what makes bhakti poetry so fresh and intense. No matter how long some poets have been doing it, sexuality remains a revolutionary way to approach the divine.

A brief word on the poems that worked less well for me. I feel there’s been a tendency in recent poetry to create long trains of images disconnected from any narrative known to anyone other than the poet. This approach seems to produce poems that leave no impression on the reader, and some of the poems in Mandragora have this flaw.

However, I wrote down the page numbers of the poems that interested me the most as I was reading the book, and it turned out to be far too many to mention more than a few of them here. So much for my crankiness. In any case, many of the poems that moved me in some way were written as magical workings rather than poems about magic, carrying on with the theme of the essays.

For example, “The Knot and the Bottle” by Craig Fraser is actually a knot charm. “To Take On Bestial Form” by Peter Dubé is a charm to take on bestial form. These poems have both powerful imagery and focused purpose.

There are more gods than radicals in Mandragora, but Peter Grey argues in “A Spell to Awaken England” that writing poetry-as-magic is a revolutionary act:

Our culture is hostile to the numinous, disenchanting nature that it might be destroyed, splitting man and woman into consumer slaves selling us the grave goods of industry. It is time that we make our spells potent in song and deed, make terror our ally.

That’s what many of the writers here at Gods & Radicals have been trying to do. Perhaps it’s an idea whose time has come!