Category Archives: The Occupy movement

The case for anarchism

Anarchists imagine and are attempting to create a society based on three principles: freedom, equality, and solidarity. They believe that freedom in a society based on voluntary association rather than coercion is essential for the full flowering of human intelligence, creativity, and dignity.

If freedom is essential for the fullest development of individuality, equality is necessary for genuine freedom to exist. There can be no real freedom in a class-stratified, hierarchical society riddled with gross inequalities of power, wealth, and privilege. In such a society, only a few – those at the top of the hierarchy – are relatively free; the rest are semi-slaves. “Equality of opportunity” under capitalism is meaningless, since there can be no real equality of opportunity for the children of a millionaire and those of a minimum-wage worker.

The final essential is solidarity, which for anarchists means mutual aid: working voluntarily and cooperatively with others who share the same goals and interests. Solidarity and cooperation means treating each other as equals, refusing to treat others as means to an end, and creating relationships that support freedom for all. To practice solidarity means that we recognize, as in the slogan of the Industrial Workers of the World, that “an injury to one is an injury to all.” We sink or swim together, and by standing together, we can increase our strength and attain our goals.

For anarchists, freedom is individuals pursuing their own good in their own way, making decisions for and about themselves and their lives, and being responsible for those decisions. As Rudolf Rocker wrote, freedom doesn’t exist because of something “granted” or “set down on a piece of paper, but only when it’s become the ingrown habit of a people, and when any attempt to impair it will meet with the violent resistance of the populace.” Anarchists support the tactic of “direct action,” for, as Emma Goldman argued, we have “as much liberty as we are willing to take.”

An anarchist society will be non-coercive – violence or the threat of violence won’t be used to “convince” individuals to do anything. It will be non-hierarchical. And it will be self-governed by confederations of decentralized, grassroots organizations operated by direct democracy rather than the delegation of power to “representatives.”

Contrary to popular belief, anarchists aren’t opposed to structure or organization; they simply want to abolish hierarchical structure and avoid situations in which “leaders” or “representatives” have more power than others. Anarchist organizations build in accountability, diffusion of power among the maximum number of persons, task rotation, skill-sharing, the spread of accurate information and the sharing of resources. For most of human existence, people have engaged in self-directed organization – cooperative forms of economic activity involving mutual aid, free access to productive resources, and a sharing of the products of communal labor according to need. Anarchists don’t advocate going “back to the Stone Age;” they just note that since the hierarchical-authoritarian mode of organization is a relatively recent development in the course of human social evolution, there’s no reason to suppose that it’s somehow fated to be permanent. Similarly, anarchists don’t think human beings are genetically programmed for authoritarian, competitive, and aggressive behavior. On the contrary, such behavior is socially conditioned, or learned, and as such, can be unlearned.

Anarchist organization is based on direct democracy (self-management) and federalism (confederation). These forms of organization ensure that decisions flow from the bottom up rather than being imposed from the top down. We can start to create an anarchist society by the way we act here and now, building alternative institutions and relationships. When there’s a need to put someone in charge of a project, the group can tell him or her how they want it done, so that nothings gets done without everyone’s decision. Delegates acting against their mandate or starting to make policy decisions on their own would be instantly recalled. Thus, in a confederation of communities, the community assemblies’ decisions would determine policy at local, regional, national, and international conferences. Any compromises made by a delegate during negotiations would go back to his or her general assembly for ratification. Assemblies would also be able to call confederal conferences to discuss new developments and inform action committees about changing wishes and instructions. Finally, the basic community assemblies could overturn any decisions reached by the conferences and withdraw from any confederation.

Only this form of organization can replace government (the initiative and empowerment of the few) with anarchy (leaderlessness: the initiative and empowerment of all). Free agreement, confederation and the power of recall, fixed mandates, and limited tenure are mechanisms by which power is removed from the hands of governments and placed in the hands of those directly affected by decisions taken. That this kind of organization can work was demonstrated during the 1930s by the Spanish anarchist movement.

A true anarchist society would be based on free experimentation, with different individuals and groups picking the way of life that best suits them. Those who seek less technological ways of living will be free to do so as will those who want to apply the benefits of technologies they see as appropriate. Similarly, those who want to live in a money-less society in which resources are shared according to need can do so, while those who want to exchange goods market-style can live that way. (Truly free markets don’t exist under the government-supported system of capitalism.)

Our current governments support nation-states and wars, failing completely to include citizens in most life-and-death decision-making and forbidding them from coming together to create needed global policies.

On the question of violence, most anarchists support it only in defense of life and freedom. Although the violent acts of individuals and terrorist groups receive the most publicity, states and governments are by far the major perpetrators of mass terrorism and violence.

For more, see “Anarchism” under the Possibilities heading.

(Note: Some of the above was taken from the website.)




Forgot to post this: some month-old thoughts

Here’s a post I wrote over a month ago, on June 11th, and then forgot to put up:

Hi, everybody! It’s been so long since I’ve written a blog post, I almost feel like I have to reintroduce myself and become reacquainted with you all over again.

Why the long hiatus? I just haven’t been inspired to “talk with” you about this crazy world we live in for a while. Maybe I needed a rest. I’m writing again today, because I still think it could all change, perhaps rather quickly, if enough of us wake up and start doing things differently. At the same time, possibly because some of us get discouraged about that ever happening, the current insanity can seem pretty intractable.

This week we have another wonderfully idealistic and principled, honest, and clear-eyed young man – Edward Snowden – joining Bradley Manning (currently on trial) in blowing the whistle on the American “security” system, part of the totalitarian “military-industrial complex” Eisenhower warned us about.

That was in “Ike”‘s final televised address from the Oval Office on January 17, 1961. In a farewell speech, Eisenhower described what he saw as unjustified government spending proposals and warned, “we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military–industrial complex.” He said that though “we recognize the imperative need for this development,” because of the “ruthless” and “insidious” enemy, the Soviet Union, “the potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Of course, Eisenhower was already part of that machine and that misplaced power, and, leaving public office, he may have felt guilty about it. Whatever he sincerely believed, the Soviet Union didn’t threaten the American people; it threatened the capitalist system and capitalist interests – the big banks, corporations, and financial interests that began running the show and starting wars at least as early as the 19th century, and that still runs it today, supposedly fighting “terrorism.” There’s always a bogeyman to frighten us into accepting these lies.

But did the system defend us against the Boston Marathon massacre? Has it prevented the killing of little children at school? Does it care about the unnecessary deaths of poor and middle-class people who can’t afford medical care, the veterans of its unnecessary wars, or those wars’ Iraqi, Afghan, and other “foreign” victims? No. And we shouldn’t be surprised at that, or waste our energy protesting it. The state will always exert power in the interests of the ruling class against other states and classes. And a “democratic” state will always lie. Everything our so-called leaders say isn’t bullshit, just 95% of it, which is why, as I’ve written in this blog, I think it’s a waste of time and energy to get invested in what they’re saying or doing, vote for them, at least on a national level, or expect the current national or global system to, ultimately, bring you and others much good.

I know that’s a hard pill to swallow, if you haven’t already done so. But do you want to operate in the real world or in a fairytale that will never come true? I don’t have an “answer,” if by that you mean a detailed program on how to make it all better. All I can say is that, like you, I believe in democracy, and I don’t think it’s possible in a state or capitalist system.

Can we create small-scale democratic communities without delegating power (that will be abused) to any one person or group? Yes; it’s called anarchism, though that word doesn’t have to be used, if you think it’ll scare people away. Read up on it, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Can we defend those communities against old-style undemocratic groups or still-existing states prepared to use force? That part could be tough. But if a critical mass wants this kind of democracy, equality, non-violence, and sharing of resources more than they want anything else, it could happen, at least for a time (long or short) in some places. When “enemies” threaten, the community can open itself to them, offering each individual a place at the table, as in Starhawk’s utopian novel, The Fifth Sacred Thing. Will that work? I don’t know; I just know that fighting so-called enemies in other ways can easily destroy the community by betraying its principles. Maybe you give hostile folks the chance to communicate, share, and join, and then, if they don’t take it, you defend yourself and your friends and family. Nothing is pre-set – you have to react to whatever comes up as best you can, based on what you believe in.

That’s it for today. Read my other posts and look into the resources on this website – they’re all created to help you deal with the “Help!” feeling you get when you see the craziness for what it is – the first time or whenever it gets you down. The people creating it and the people who believe in and support it aren’t evil enemies – they’re you and me at other stages of realization: ignorant, fearful, grasping at straws, thinking their choices are more limited than they are. That describes all of us, really.

We need to help each other whenever we can. You’re helping me by considering my thoughts, and I’m hoping to help you by sharing them. I’m not over here creating a brave new world while you live an ordinary life. I live an ordinary life, too. I don’t overwhelm myself with too much exposure to the “news,” I enjoy life as much as possible in spite of it all, and I neither expect nor rule out big changes (for good or ill) going forward.

I have a suspicion that if we go back and look at what was good/truly revolutionary in the Occupy movement and try to live it, we’ll be on the right track. Just a parting thought.

It’s the capitalism, stupid!

I’ve just read two books that make the case for a view I’ve long held: that capitalism is to blame for just about everything that’s wrong with our world.

The first, Days of Destruction, Days of Rage by Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco describes four “sacrifice zones”: the Pine Ridge Indian reservation in southwestern South Dakota; Camden, NJ, a former port and manufacturing town turned third world city; southern West Virginia, devastated by mountaintop-removal coal mining; and Immolakee, Florida, where poor migrants from Mexico and Central America break their backs and are subjected to toxic chemicals picking tomatoes for a pittance. Hedges’ eloquent words and Sacco’s black and white ‘cartoon journalism’ images assault your mind, soul, and senses — you want to turn away, and you can (just like you can stick your head in the sand) — but the people who live in these places can’t. And, Hedges, warns, this is what the capitalist system has in store for the great majority of us, unless we say, “Hell, no!” How? Hedges thinks the Occupy movement provides a good model of living another way, in harmony with nature and each other — valuing each life and respecting life in general, as our current economic system, a cruel juggernaut that turns life into death or ugliness (waste) in the blink of an eye, does not.

The second book, Ecology and Socialism by Chris Williams, focuses on climate change, and demonstrates that nothing meaningful will be done about this problem — or the general problem of environmental destruction — under capitalism. Capitalism, which must continuously expand production to cope with the interest-bearing debt on which it’s based, cares only about short-term profit — it can’t support any other value. Williams believes that only renewable energy like solar, wind, and geothermal is sustainable, and suggests ways that it can be stored to be consistent. Continuing to burn fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas will make severe global warming inevitable, causing 50-75% of species to go extinct, and dooming the few remaining humans to a miserable existence.

Williams also shows how hunger and poverty are caused by capitalism, not overpopulation. His conclusion: Only by holding land and the instruments of production in common and producing to meet social need rather than profit will the simultaneous exploitation of nature and humanity end [italics mine].

You can read my synopses of these books on this website, if you wish. Just go to the Resources section at the top of the page, and click on the title under “Non-fiction books.”

Occupy enthusiasm overshadowed by new worries

As the Occupy movement shifts into a new stage, its effectiveness yet to be determined, I find myself losing a bit of my “Occupy high,” and succumbing to some of the same negative emotions about the current system that I’ve had in the past. I believe current nation-states and their governments are irrelevant to what needs to happen, and that in the long run they won’t withstand the tides of mass protest and economic stagnation caused by energy descent. But they can cause a lot of unnecessary damage and suffering in the short run.

Two things in the news have evoked the old anger and worry in me: provocative US and Israeli policies toward Iran and the legislation just signed by President Obama that allows the military to detain US citizens indefinitely for aiding the country’s “enemies.” The aggressive posture of the former and the totalitarian nature of the latter should be mind-boggling (parallels with Nazi Germany anyone?), but, for now anyway, it seems that people are just accepting both and going on with business as usual.

I hesitate to even mention the word “Israel,” because, supported by the US, it does so many awful things (particularly against the Palestinians) that I could go on all day. But for now, I’ll just address its apparent efforts to provoke a war with Iran. The good news, according to an Inter Press article by Gareth Porter and Jim Lobe posted on the Asia Times website yesterday, is that a “massive joint United States-Israeli military exercise” that looked like preparation for war with Iran has been postponed. Apparently, Israel’s actions and possible actions in the future on this score are or would be so egregious that, for once, the US feels the need to disassociate itself from them. “The exercise, called Austere Challenge 12, originally scheduled for April, was to have been a simulation of a joint US-Israeli effort to identify, track, and intercept incoming missiles by integrating sophisticated US radar systems with Israeli anti-missile defense systems. US participation in such an exercise, obviously geared to a scenario involving Iranian retaliation against an Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities, would have made the US Israel’s partner in any war following an Israeli attack on Iran. Obama and US military leaders apparently decided that the US couldn’t participate in such an exercise unless Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured the administration that he wouldn’t attack Iran without prior approval from Washington.”

The article shows that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey pulled Obama back from all this after the president whined to him that he had “no say” in Israel’s policy.”  In November and December, US neo-conservatives aligned with Netanyahu’s Likud Party and what is sometimes called the Israel lobby engineered legislation that forced [??] on the Obama administration a unilateral sanctions law aimed at dramatically reducing Iranian crude oil exports and ‘collapsing’ its economy. The administration’s reluctant embrace of sanctions against the oil sector and Iran’s central bank led to an Iranian threat to retaliate by closing off the Strait of Hormuz, and the risk of a naval incident exploding into actual military conflict loomed large. Netanyahu and his defense minister, Ehud Barak are widely believed to have hoped to provoke such conflict with a combination of aggressive sanctions, sabotaging Iranian missile and nuclear facilities, and assassinations against Iranian scientists associated with the nuclear program. Amid tensions already reaching dangerous heights, Iranian nuclear scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was assassinated in Tehran in a bombing on January 11th. Both Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor immediately condemned the assassination and vehemently denied any US involvement in that or any other violence inside Iran.”

Israel’s Mossad (the equivalent of our CIA) has apparently assassinated other Iranian nuclear scientists prior to this, often just as negotiations on Iran’s alleged nuclear program look like they might bear peaceful fruit. The latest assassination was apparently inspired by the fact that there have been diplomatic efforts to lay the groundwork for another meeting between the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany and Iran.

What else is Israel doing to provoke war? “A major investigative story published on Friday on the website quoted former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials as saying that Mossad operatives had been impersonating CIA personnel for several years in recruiting for and providing support to the Sunni terrorist organization Jundallah, which operated inside Iran.” That Israeli policy,” Porter and Lobe say, “also suggests a desire to provoke Iranian retaliation against the United States.”

In his signing of the Defense Authorization bill that includes the further elimination of our civil rights, Obama also appears to be weak and spineless, saying in his signing statements that he didn’t really wanna do it. In a recent article on Common Dreams political columnist and author Chris Hedges says he’s suing the administration over the legislation, which authorizes the military to carry out domestic policing for the first time in 200 years. Under this bill, Hedges says, “once a group is deemed to be a terrorist organization, whether it’s a Palestinian charity or an element of the Uighur independence movement, the military can pick up a U.S. citizen who supported charities associated with the group or unwittingly sent money or medical supplies to front groups” and either send them to Guantanamo or have them ‘extraordinarily renditioned’ to a country that tortures political prisoners.

Hedges says he suspects “the real purpose of the bill is to thwart internal, domestic movements [like Occupy] that threaten the corporate state. Dissent is increasingly equated with treason in this country.

The threat and reach of al-Qaeda are marginal, despite the attacks of 9/11. The terrorist group has been so disrupted and broken that it can barely function. So why, a decade after the start of the so-called war on terror, do these draconian measures need to be implemented? Why do U.S. citizens now need to be specifically singled out for military detention and denial of due process when under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force the president can apparently find the legal cover to serve as judge, jury and executioner to assassinate U.S. citizens, as he did in the killing of the cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen? This law is a a huge leap forward for the corporate oligarchs who plan to continue to plunder the nation and use state and military security to cow the population into submission.”

According to Hedges, “the FBI, the CIA, the director of national intelligence, the Pentagon, and the attorney general didn’t support it. FBI Director Robert Mueller said he feared the bill would impede the bureau’s ability to investigate terrorism by making it harder to win cooperation from detainees. But it passed anyway, because the corporations, seeing the unrest in the streets, knowing that things are about to get much worse, worrying that the Occupy movement will expand, don’t trust the police to protect them. They want to be able to call in the army. And now they can.”

Solidarity beats prayers

In “Fuck Your Prayer, Show Me Solidarity,” posted 12-15 on, Kristin Rawls tells her “coming-out story in an age of predatory credit…the story of a good girl from a quiet town who prayed, studied hard, said no to drugs, and otherwise did everything she was told,” then found herself – where she remains – living in a modern debtors’ prison.

“I grew up in an evangelical home, and was an earnest “liberal-evangelical” into my early twenties,” Rawls says. “Now I think that my former religious faith – not unlike my faith in the U.S. higher education system – gave me a warped sense of optimism about the way the world works.”

Issues of debt and default, Rawls notes, are so “cloaked in shame and humiliation that many of us stay silent…Financial struggle is associated with sloth in this country.” Because of her “low credit score,” Rawls has “trouble finding stable employment,” and has to work low-paying temporary jobs and spend all her free time writing “as many freelance articles as I can convince anyone to pay me for…I am thirty-one years old. I am not a drug user. I am not an alcoholic. My crime is that I went to school, and then I got sick…

I’m among America’s brightest and best educated. If you came across me in a social setting, you might mistake me for a middle- or upper-middle-class person. This is because I ‘pass’ pretty well. However, I’m not able to get jobs that match my skills, because employers assume based on my credit score that I’m lazy and incompetent. I’ve never done anything irresponsible except having gone to school. I’m the new face of financial ruin in this country…

I’m not telling you these things to facilitate a bonding experience or to bare my soul. I’m coming to believe that refusing to be silenced by shame is the first step in fighting predatory student lenders, that the only way to decouple financial struggle from shame is to normalize it, one person at a time.”

Rawls says that, growing up, her parents and mentors all encouraged her to “follow her dreams, no matter what they cost. So I took out loans,” and went to college and graduate school in international relations. “I decided I wanted to be a professor. I loved the academy, and I was good at asking tough, big-picture questions that got to the heart of things. I was at the top of my class, and I was physically healthy. I’ve never been a big spender, and I saw no reason why I couldn’t live on the stipend of $14,000 per year I’d be receiving from the Penn State PhD program that admitted me. I knew it was risky, but I saw it as a bet on myself. My intellect had never let me down before. I don’t come from a wealthy family, and there would be no cushion if I didn’t fast-track my way to tenure, but I thought I could make it…

Not long after I began my PhD program, I was diagnosed with lupus, a life-threatening autoimmune disease. I soon found that my health insurance was designed for young, healthy people, not people who develop serious diseases in their late twenties…For over a year, I suffered through a major lupus flare, unable to lift my arms for more than a couple of seconds without excruciating pain. I had trouble getting around, and often arrived late at the morning classes I taught. I had to borrow large amounts of money from Sallie Mae and Citibank, because my insurance didn’t cover all my healthcare expenses. When your doctors say you could have ‘vital organ involvement leading to premature death,’ do you worry about the cost, or about your vital organs? I didn’t want to die, so I took out as many loans as I had to, and before long, I had to drop out of school. Now I understand why so many people who are mired in this sort of debt contemplate suicide. I’m not suicidal, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to run on rage indefinitely.”

Rawls then relates her some of her experiences with evangelical Christians – and evangelical Christian groups – professing to care about economic and social justice, while ignoring issues of class. Many of them, she says, claim to be “sympathetic” with the Occupy movement, but concerned about the 1%, because “God loves them, too.” Here’s where we get to the part I struggle with, because spiritual beliefs back up what I say and do as well, and I strive for inclusiveness, nonviolence, love, etc.

Rawls again: “Occupy Wall Street isn’t perfect, but it’s the first sustained critique of class injustice in this country in my lifetime.” The problem of poverty is structural, systemic – not just a matter of creating more jobs. There are also billions of people around the world who’ve been struggling with poverty for generations, often because of first and second world vs. third world privilege. Donating to charities isn’t going to change that either. Rawls insists that only concrete action, real societal changes, will correct unjust balances of power – justice can’t be achieved just through love, prayer, and meditation, as many spiritual people seem to believe. As she says: “Notwithstanding the fact that ‘love’ is perhaps the vaguest, most unhelpful political prescription of all time, this kind of thinking removes any analysis of power from the conversation. It falsely presumes that we all enter the conversation on equal footing. Everyone is so busy preaching ‘unity’ and ‘loving one another’ that there’s never any interrogation of privilege or power.” The message Rawls feels she’s getting is “Love your oppressors. ‘Love’ rhetoric is less pronounced in secular society, but we’re accustomed to being silenced because we have a ‘mean tone.’ We’re asked to speak more respectfully so that we can earn a hearing. We’re taught to submit to our oppressors. We’re being angry and irrational, and it’s our job to make everyone comfortable.

Rawls refuses to be pitied or objectified, saying, “I’m unlucky…not ‘downtrodden.’ I’m pissed off. I don’t want your prayers or an invitation to your church, and I’m not interested in discussing ‘the poor’ as if they’re some kind of abstract concept…If it makes you feel better, go ahead and dismiss me as ‘bitter,’ but I’m not. I’m outraged. I want ‘fellowship’ with people who are outraged with me, and who practice solidarity by showing up when it matters and advocating for real economic justice – shutting down predatory lenders like Sallie Mae and Citibank…I want to turn the shame machine back on you, and I want to invite others like me to come out and stand up against your paternalism. You’re not helping me. You don’t speak for me. I’m the new poor. I did all the right things, but now I’m part of the systematic erosion of the bourgeoisie in America that started with home foreclosures and went on to student debt. Occupy Student Debt just released a video suggesting that one in five new graduates will default. We have no bankruptcy protection, usually meaning that our credit is ruined for life. And credit is tied to everything in this country. In some states, you can actually lose your driver’s – or professional – license for student loan default. We’re talking about a large segment of my generation losing its future.

And we’re being blamed. We had so many opportunities. How could we squander them, and then turn around and blame our lenders? Without them, we never could have gone to school! And we shouldn’t have, in any case, if we couldn’t afford it. We’re thieves! We’re irresponsible! I think these kinds of insults reaffirm our certainty that these awful things could never happen to us. One of my goals here is to show you that they can. If you feel that this is solely my fault, that I should have known better, and that the predatory lenders in question bear no responsibility, I invite you to stop calling yourself my ‘friend.’ Real friendship doesn’t come in the form of paternalistic charity from the powerful to the weak. I don’t want crumbs from your share of the non-profit industrial charity complex – I want you to fight with me for a world in which I don’t need charity. So, stand up and join the class war, please, or get out of my way. Don’t expect me to be grateful for your prayers. I have survival to worry about, literally.”