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March Against Monsanto 2015 – Richmond

Some media reports have forecasted hundreds of thousands will March against Monsanto corporation on May 23rd in over 400 cities around the world.  We went into Richmond to join the fun.

While this is a charming picture of a poster, it also has Oakers Sabrina, Sunya and Edmund int he background as well as Aster Acorn

A charming picture of a poster, it also has Oakers Sabrina, Sunya & Edmund in the background as well as Aster Acorn

The march began with background information about how it got started 3 years ago. The inspiration was the US congress passing the despicable Monsanto Protection Act, which was basically written by Monsanto to make things better for them. The most horrific parts of the 2013 Monsanto Protection Act are that even if it is found that GMOs have adverse health effects on consumers, companies using them 1) can not be sued, 2) can not be stopped from harvesting them and 3) cannot be blocked from planting more and selling more of them. Little could be more revealing of how sold out our elected leaders are.

MAM marchers in Richmond today

MAM marchers in Richmond today

The perhaps 100 marchers went through the fashionable Carytown portion of Richmond with a substantial police escort.  The response from the many people who saw us was pretty warm, especially the staff at the many restaurants on that trendy street. As for the tactics of the MAM i have strong split feelings (the technically correct definition of ambivalent).  I love the decentralized approach to the organization of these events.  People come, bring signs, and a megaphone.

There is a fairly informal rotation of speakers at most of these, anyone who is inspired can grab a megaphone and address the crowd.  While I did not speak this year, i did in 2013 in Washington DC.

Marchers with signs just before we head out (i am on the far right of this photo).

Marchers with signs just before we head out (i am on the far right of this photo).

This type of decentralize approach is important, because it is at its base populist.  Also it proves that the internet can be a highly effective organizing tool (not requiring strong–read authoritarian–leaders) with global reach and the capacity to facilitate multi-city/multi-country mass actions.

MAM 2015 official poster

March Wide propaganda image – this is one of the benefits of being in the franchise.

The problem with this lovely grass rootsie approach is that these decentralized groups do a third rate job with media.  There was some media at the Richmond event, and there might even be a bit of press coverage.  But overall, this movement is pretending that it is possible reach millions without a media budget, without media handlers and without carefully crafted messages sending. While i appreciated the considerable decentralized effort, i remember working with the experienced media folks at Rainforest Action Network (RAN) and Greenpeace US.  They speak at a high level about when a story has to be out by, what images make sense to broadcast, what are the talking points, what is the group demanding. With hundreds of protests around the world, there are but dozens of articles up (mostly in small papers or on local tv stations).  I can’t help but think if one of the better big green groups were to take on this cause, we would have much larger media echo.

Let's get right to that

Let’s get right to that

StrangeFolx: Infinite Pizza

Brittany ran to me as i was walking through the Ash Street gardens of the Baltimore Free Farm. She was clearly excited to see me.

“I am so glad there is an old person here now!” was the first thing she said to me

I cracked up laughing.  She explained that the party was full of 20 somethings and she thought my experience would be a grounding effect.  Most people don’t find me grounding, but i was still totally flattered.

Brittany dances with chicken at StrangeFolx 2015

Brittany dances with chicken at StrangeFolx 2015

Many folks say they are busy, but you make time for what is important to you.  I really wanted to go to StrangeFolx, the Baltimore Free Farms anniversary celebration.  I wanted to go because i had missed the protests that BFF had played an amazing supportive role in.  I wanted to go because i am regularly impressed with daring, tenacity and street smarts of these punks.  I wanted to go, because i wanted a big, political party that someone else had organized.

StrangeFolx Invitational Poster

StrangeFolx Invitational Poster

On the way to the event i stopped at a roadside stand and got a flat of strawberries.  I was handing them out to the perhaps 100 people who were already at this event by 1 PM.  I walked by Billy who was pumping out pizzas.

Over 100 oizzas came out of this oven that day

Over 100 pizzas came out of this oven that day

As i approached the oven, there was a metal stake sticking up in the middle of the steps which dozens of people would soon be walking.  “Fix that!” i barked at Billy pointing to the offending stake, in the way busy organizers sometimes dispense with pleasantries.  A nearby anarchist reminded me, “You could fix it.”  Billy soon put a purple cup over the stake and pronounced it fixed.  Safety isn’t first with this crowd, otherwise they would not be rioting with the police.

Billy suggested that i change my thinking about pizza.  Moving away from the idea that it would be a point in time in which one might have pizza, to more of a continuum or infinite span of pizza.  And he made quite good on his promise to deliver unending pizza.  Recently toughened up by the tremendous cooking effort done to support protesters of police violence in Baltimore, the Free Farm kids prepped for this 8 hour long anniversary party of a few hundred people.  GPaul asked for a vegan pizza, and in moments it was there.  The advantage of these real pizza ovens is they can cook a full pizza in just a couple of minutes.

A protester throws a tear gas canister back toward riot police after a 10 p.m. curfew went into effect in the wake of Monday's riots following the funeral for Freddie Gray,  in Baltimore. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

A protester throws a tear gas canister back toward riot police after a 10 p.m. curfew went into effect in the wake of Monday’s riots following the funeral for Freddie Gray, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

When Billy finally took a break he greeted me warmly and gave me an illegal piece of riot swag.  I was touched and i looked at him curiously.  “We could not have done it without your cooks. It was amazing to have all this help and we desperately needed it.”  When Baltimore exploded, Billy called me.  He asked me to put out the call to Action: Baltimore needs cooks.  So i blogged about it, copied it to few facebook pages and crossed my fingers.   I got great reaction, with cooks responding to the blog post wanting to help.  Many had minor logistical problems (like little money and no car).  I cobbled together ride shares and other minor logistics, but folk were resourceful and wanted to get to Baltimore.  In the end about a dozen cooks ended up volunteering at BFF.  And i felt some pride around networking effectively.

But as though my ego were on some type of zen roller coaster, shortly after this i got schooled by Brittany on how unworkable my clever plans were to try to build coalitions with people of color (POC) activists.  She was clear and firm in telling me that the internship scheme i was proposing would not fly culturally.

Instead Brittany and Billy agreed that the best thing for white allies to do these days is be consistent in providing the type of food services for protesters that BFF and Food Not Bombs have been providing.  And be patient.

Perfect Private Public Moment

It was Prague in 1991.  The debate about the Soviet designed and partially built Temelin reactors being completed by Western firms was in full debate in the Czech Republic.

The reactor was across the street from a graveyard

The reactor was across the street from a graveyard

The representatives from the power utility were debating my young boss, Honza Beranek.  It was a table full of true believers.  The technocrats were convinced they were right and Honza knew better.

There were over 200 people in the room including half a dozen English speakers.  The government thought this was sufficiently important to pay for simultaneous translation into English for the event.  And the translator was good.  Very good.

As the debate went on, the moderator lost control of the speakers (this happens surprisingly often in the East) and our translator tried valiantly to keep up.  He donned different voices for the different speakers so he did not have to keep telling you which one he was becoming and losing time by identifying the transition.

Then on stage, all hell broke out.  Honza was arguing with the PR guy from the reactor, and they were both really going at it.  Increasingly they did not let the other finish their comment and interrupted them.  In response the translator spoke faster and switched voices more.

Finally, the moderator stopped the discussion.  At this point the half dozen people who had listened to this amazing translator broke out in applause.  It was one of the most amazing linguistic fetes any of us had ever experienced.  Of course the rest of the audience was completely baffled, for they thought they had experienced everything and we were just getting poor translations.

Barefoot, One Eye and Too Dim

NYC has changed me.

Two years ago, if i had walked out of the Richmond train station and seen three “traveler kids”, i would have headed the other way.  But having spent time doing support work for travelers in Tompkins Square Park has shifted my perception of this fringe group that i had not been connected to before.

Too Dim, Barefoot, and One Eye - or folks who could be them

Too Dim, Barefoot, and One Eye – or folks who could be them

I walked out of the train from Baltimore and saw these three, i had a bit of time to wait and decided that this could be fun.  I got a cheap pizza and approached my new friends.  They were welcoming.  I sat with them where they had found an open wall socket to charge their phones with.

They introduced themselves to me as: Barefoot – who claimed she did not own a pair of shoes.  One Eye – who had a fine line tattoo pattern on the check of side of his face where he had lost an eye to a fight or an accident.  Tex – who said he was from Texas. After i had been there for half an hour and they decided that i was at least interesting and perhaps okay, Tex told me “You should call me ‘Too Dim‘.  My friends call me Too Dim, not Tex.”

The conversation rambled.  They offered me beer and cigarettes.  They played an animated guitar and sang in a raspy voices.  They were generous, friendly and welcoming.  All the traveler kids i have run across have been.

The part about

The part about “angry” is a myth, in my experiences.

They train hopped from Jacksonville FL to Washington DC and discovered what many of us had experienced there.  Washington is tough for outsiders with no friends in the town.  They tried to talk to people, but no one had time for them.  They played guitar and sang, but no one was generous.  They tried lots of different types of places and nothing improved things.  So they left.

traveler and train

Move swiftly between trains before they leave to avoid the yard security. A good train hopper can sense  when a car will start moving, and how long before they have to jump.

They were hoping Richmond is better.  I don’t know, but something makes me think it will be.

At one point Barefoot complimented my shirt.  I asked her if she would wear it.  She said she certainly would, then i offered to give it to her, but she would not take it as a straight gift, she wanted to trade – which is how i got the stylish skull tank top i am donning in the picture below.

it is a bit tight

It is a bit tight.

After an hour or so of hanging out, i decided i need to be moving on.  They were lovely folks, dressed in tattered clothes.  I am thankful my previous prejudices are subsiding and i can connect with a greater array of people.

When i left, with no request on their part, i left a few bucks behind.  One Eye called out after me, “You have restored my faith in humanity”.  And strangely, i felt the same way.

Drone Graffiti

i hate drones.

Part of the reason is that they erode constitutional protections – everything from killing US citizens, to unreasonable searches, to declarations of war without congressional authority.  Part of the reason is they represent a horrifying new lethal technology which can be deployed without the risk of loss of life on the part of the aggressor, thus encouraging their use in all manner of situations, often where no lethal force was needed.  Part of the reason is that progressive or just reasonable political forces in the US have been unable to stop almost any aspect of their use by the government and military, including armed drones being deployed in the US to kill citizens.

clumsy first generation drones with spray cans

clumsy first generation drones with spray cans

There is a new wrinkle in the expanding, but largely ignored drone discussion: drone graffiti.  Wired Magazine reports with some glee the dawn of the age of drone vandalism.  [Why “glee” you ask?  Perhaps because the article title refers to this first know drone tag as “epic”].

Perhaps now that corporation as suffering something will be done to stop drones?

Perhaps now that corporations are suffering something will be done to limit drones?

It was completely forecastable that this would happen, but no one happened to.  On one level this might be because it makes absolutely no real difference in the world, despite Wired’s hype.  There was graffiti before, it does not matter much how it gets there.

“This is a hard letter for me to write”

The way i see it is, when it comes to the written word, there are basically two kinds of people in the world.  The most common kind of person is an editor.  You give them a page with a bunch of words on it and they read the words, tweak the words, tighten the meaning and the page gets better.

floating typewritersI am the other kind.  I am a blank page kind of a guy.  I depend on editors, not just because of my horrific spelling and grammar, but because i am sloppy and often other people need to make sure i am not making errors of fact or telling stories too far removed from reality.  And while i also do a fair amount of editing, the place i excel is when someone is starting with nothing and needs a document to get somewhere.

Thus i do a lot of ghost writing for other people, especially in the context of the community.  Twin Oaks requires written communication from visitors, long term guests and people who have run afoul of our occasionally labyrinth policies.  Many people i talk with don’t even know how to start these letters.  This is where i come in.

ghostwriter.pngTypically, i can get someone to explain their situation to me at a meal, ask a handful of questions and craft a draft response to the community which they are very relieved to have as a starting point.  Perhaps 25% of the time they can use my letter with only trivial modifications (like the above mentioned problematic grammar and spelling).   Universally, people are appreciative for the help.

Someone might be upset by this, feeling it is somehow cheating and people should write their own letters.  Nonsense i say.  The power of community is that we help each other by sharing our diverse skill sets.  I can’t cook worth a damn and will go nuts if i have to garden.   But i need these things to survive.   And while survival is not on the line with my ghost writing, i see it as part of our great skill share.

I’ll take care of you, you take care of me.

Extended FAQs – Twin Oaks Decision Making

This is the second in a series of extensions to the FAQs found on the TwinOaks.Org website.  Members, ex-members and other informed folks are encouraged to send corrections or alternative interpretations of my extensions as well as of the official FAQs themselves.

Here is what the website says about our decision making system:

Our decision-making model is based on the Walden Two Planner-Manager system combined with our egalitarian values. Managers are responsible for the day-to-day decisions for their area. For community-wide decisions and larger issues, the Planners (3 rotating members) make decisions by looking at our bylaws and policies, and by soliciting community input by posting papers for comment, holding community meetings, putting out surveys, talking with members (especially members that are closely involved in the issue or have strong feelings), etc. They don’t make decisions based on their personal preference, but rather by gathering information and determining the larger will of the community on a given issue. Any member can appeal a Planner decision they feel is unfair, although this rarely happens as Planners generally do a pretty good job at considering all the aspects of a given issue.

The community as a whole does not use consensus for making decisions, but some decision-making bodies within the community use consensus to make their decisions (e.g. the Membership Team). In keeping with our egalitarian values, we all have a voice in making the decisions about how to spend our collective money and labor during each year’s economic planning. The Managers and Planners put out their proposed economic plan, and each member can alter the plan according to their values and preferences (e.g. I can cut the office budget, and shift that money/labor to the garden budget instead, if I want). Once every member who wants to has done this, the Planners synthesize everyone’s changes to create the final budget.

decision-making-processes sign post Decision making at Twin Oaks is complex and the origin of this complexity (in my opinion) is the noble notion that we can do better than have a simple majority win.

The founders of the community thought they could improve on voting.  They wanted a system which revised proposals, even if they would win a simple vote, so that they could take care of minority voices in the community.  But because there were not (in 1967) good secular models of consensus process, they decided to roll their own and create a whole new group decision making structure. Key to this structure is our own unusual internal communication system.

Every community has an internal communication system, and almost all of them are verbal.  The group gets together some number of times each week and discusses what needs to happen and who is going to do it.

Twin Oaks was founded by writers.  We have a written communication culture. I don’t know of any other community that does it this way.  It has several advantages and some disadvantages as well.

The principal advantage is we avoid the “sloppy majority effect”.  If you are making a proposal and you have general support for it, but there are people with concerns about it, you cannot just force it through as a simple vote would.  If there are reasonable ways you can take care of the minority by modifying your proposal, the expectation is you will try to find these and amend your proposal.

This is why the O&I board is more powerful than a meeting format for proposal reworking. The O&I board is a collection of 24 clipboards on which people post proposals for changes in our policy and decisions.  These clipboards are stocked with extra blank paper at the ends so that there is room for people to add their thoughts (and so they feel like the authors of the proposal are inviting them to do so).  Ideally, critics voice their concerns, make constructive suggestions, and these amendments get reviewed and integrated in part or in totality to the new version of the proposal. The problem comes when the comments are not constructive or not easily folded into the existing proposal.  This is especially problematic when a vocal minority wants the proposal not to go forward at all or has a significantly different alternative they would like to advance.

How are we getting there?

How are we getting there?

These contentious proposals test our decision making system and demonstrate both its flexibility and its hazards.  The person who posts the proposal has several different options when they get complex or contradictory feedback on what they have submitted.  The first and easiest option is they can simply drop the idea.  This happens with some regularity.  Many folks proposing things, however, have a vested interest in the improvements they have suggested, so they will typically go one of several routes:

  • re-write the proposal to include new suggestions
  • call a community meeting to discuss the proposal (this is rare)
  • do a survey of member’s attitudes on this topic (also rare)
  • consult with other area managers or the planners

It’s a complex process and can proceed at a glacial pace, but some proposals do pass and it works well enough at Twin Oaks.

[ edited by MoonRaven ]

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