[Update: Rolling Stone has issues a lame apology for it’s poor reporting. And people seem to think this changes much – it does not. There are lots of reasons why, and the best summary i have found so far is here. Thanks Abigail for the link.]
i tend to miss introverts who visit the community. And so it was with Charlotte. Acorn had a big visitor group and i had only heard her say a few words in the first couple weeks of her visitor period.
i had noticed that she was hovering around the edge of a number of the better conversations which pop up regularly at Acorn in the kitchen, or various living rooms or the smoke shack. And while she did not say anything, it was clear that she was listening.
Nine of us went to the anti-rape action at UVa which resulted in 4 communards getting arrested.
The way it is supposed to happen at an arrest action is the people who are risking arrest are trained. They do a non-violence direct action workshop in which they roll play getting arrested including how to deal with different levels of threatening and physically assertive police. You are given a lawyers number, often written in marker on your arm. You are insured there will be people waiting for you. If you end up stuck in jail, your plants will get watered and someone outside will be monitoring the system to make sure you don’t get forgotten. And the reason we do all this is so activists will be prepared for getting arrested, so they wont have to worry.
Charlotte skipped all that. No training, no prep, no reassurances, it was not actually even supposed to be an arrest action. Instead of these things she just showed up with the conviction that rape is wrong and injustice should not be tolerated. She also did not want her new friends to be arrested alone. She stepped out of her comfort zone and into the arms of the begrudging police who kept telling us the action did not matter.
Except that it did. I’ve never been in such a small remote arrest action which got so much press. The New York Times, the LA Times, The Washington Post, the International Business Times, Rolling Stone Magazine, Slate, NBC, The NY Daily News, Washington DC news, and a host of other media. And the University is feeling the pressure. They are talking zero tolerance, which of course means nothing if the system is broken badly enough. But if the current pressure persists, it will quite likely break the institutionalized rape culture which has flourished inside the fraternity system. And truth told, if there is anyway this broken system is going to get better, it is by people being willing to step way out of their comfort zones to express rage about it.
People are talking and protesting about rape on campus for the same reason they are talking and protesting about cops killing unarmed black kids. It is a huge on-going problem and the system in place was relatively comfortable ignoring it, until now.
Charlotte saw this was wrong and stepped up to do something. Now she has my attention.
Charlotte was recently accepted as a member at Acorn. i am happy she will be around more.
Over both of the last two nights Angelica and i have spent a couple of hours at Siesta Key Beach around midnight in Sarasota FL. Sarasota is a town of 60K which my guess brushes up closer to 100K over the Thanksgiving holiday, with kids and grand kids coming to visit their less mobile older relatives. Siesta Key is considered by many to be one of the most lovely beaches in the world, with fine white sands and good facilities. There are literally thousands of condo and housing units within a few hundred yards of the beach for a very long stretch. Unlike Virginia Beach, the water is warm enough to walk through it barefoot indefinitely during the night this time of year.
Both nights on the beach there was no one else there.
Sarasota does have an impressive array of shopping centers, malls and strip malls. These are busy when ever they are open. I find myself thankful i only visit here. At my big Thanksgiving meal today i sat across from someone who leads mountain climbing exhibitions around the world who said,
I like fracking, because it means I can take explosives through my airport security easily.
Apparently she uses explosives for avalanche control.
This holiday i am thankful for Ferguson. Not the murder of Michael Brown or witness DeAndre Joshua, of course, nor the clearly contestable Grand Jury verdict. What i am instead appreciating is the explosion of media attention on the homicides by the police of unarmed people of color in the US. Murder is the largest cause of death of black males between 15 and 34 at 40%. White males of the same age range died at a 3.8% rate. And in response to the Grand Jury verdict there have been mixed race protests in at least 37 locations across the nation. And i am thankful for my inspirational allies, including Jeff Winder, who very nearly got arrested with us at the UVa anti-rape protest. Jeff does what no one else seems to be able to do at the Wayside Center where he works, which is to do organizing both from the secular community and the spiritually based one, on the same issues. And Wayside is able to build resistance movements with people of color and whites working together on the same issues. I had hoped to spend my couple of hours in jail last week talking with him. But i am confident there will be another chance to talk, likely when both of us are getting arrested at the same action or at a court hearing. Jeff’s rant below is not your classic holiday fluff. But i appreciate the he puts it out and want to repost it.
It was a last minute choice, but after reading the two Rolling Stones articles about rape at UVa, i knew i had to go to the protest. Because of the hasty preparations and the large group going, i grabbed a dozen black gloves from commie clothes.
On the way into the protest, much of the conversation was about the choice to protest at the fraternity. In our minivan there seemed to be agreement that the university’s complicity in these sexual assaults was what really needed action and change. The university’s internal policies tend to punish survivors and set free perpetrators and thus fosters ongoing sexual assault. The first Rolling Stones article points out that 86 schools are being investigated by the Dept. of Education because they are suspected of denying students their equal right to education by inadequately handling sexual-violence complaints. UVa is one of only 12 under the harsher “compliance review”. Which are “… targeted efforts to go after very serious concerns,” says Office of Civil Rights assistant secretary Catherine Lhamon. “We don’t open compliance reviews unless we have something that we think merits it.” This is likely because not a single student has been expelled for sexual assault at UVa for the last 7 years.
We arrived a bit late for the protest, and it had already broken up into discussion groups. There was a policy group, an alumni group, a women’s group, a group discussing fraternity reform, and some others. Some local activists looking for a more confrontational action complained that we were not going to simply talk the university or the fraternities into changing their ways. There was also a critique of “Facebook activism” in which students thought that by hitting like and posting some protest pictures these well entrenched cultures would shift.
i joined the policy discussion group for a while, but because i was late, what ever groundrules there were about who could talk and who was facilitating eluded me. And there were lots of participants who had quite charged feelings on the topic, including a couple of UVa rape survivors who were speaking powerfully and critically about how the university failed in handling their personal cases. It did not feel like the right place to share my ideas.
i do have lots of thoughts about policy changes the university could make to reduce sexual assault based on many conversations with Abigail who is doing this work at University of Oregon, but this will be the subject of another post.
The fraternity at the center of the controversy, Phi Kappa Psi, has not had an easy time of it since the Rolling Stone article came out. There have been several attacks on the building itself. The members have moved out of the building to a hotel. And the fraternity voluntarily surrendered its “Fraternal Organizing Agreement”, which means for the moment it technically does not exist. UVa has suspended all Fraternity activities until Jan 2015, in response to the allegations.
Having brought in law enforcement to investigate the Rolling Stone gang-rape allegations (more than a year-and-a-half after the university was first made aware of them) the state fumbled its very first task. State Attorney General Mark Herring originally announced Mark Filip would be the University’s independent counsel to address its handling of sexual violence. Turns out Filip was a member of the fraternity at the center of the controversy. The appointment was reversed after this embarrassing mistake was made public.
There have been a handful of protests at UVa over the Rolling Stone article. A couple days before this one, more than 700 people came out to express their concern, frustration, and rage over the long history of sexual assault on campus and the university’s near total failure to reduce it.
UVa does not protest much. It is quite a quiet campus when it comes to activism, especially around gender issues. Rolling Stone characterized it this way:
From reading headlines today, one might think colleges have suddenly become hotbeds of protest by celebrated anti-rape activists. But like most colleges across America, genteel University of Virginia has no radical feminist culture seeking to upend the patriarchy. There are no red-tape-wearing protests like at Harvard, no “sex-positive” clubs promoting the female orgasm like at Yale, no mattress-hauling performance artists like at Columbia, and certainly no SlutWalks. UVA isn’t an edgy or progressive campus by any stretch. The pinnacle of its polite activism is its annual Take Back the Night vigil, which on this campus of 21,000 students attracts an audience of less than 500 souls. But the dearth of attention isn’t because rape doesn’t happen in Charlottesville. It’s because at UVA, rapes are kept quiet, both by students – who brush off sexual assaults as regrettable but inevitable casualties of their cherished party culture – and by an administration that critics say is less concerned with protecting students than it is with protecting its own reputation from scandal.
So i was unsurprised by some of the debate that was going on at this protest. One of the protest organizers with a bullhorn ended the working groups session and made a short speech on what is often called “diversity of tactics“. She said basically that many people have strong feelings about the issue of sexual assault on campus and there will be lots of different approaches to organizing based on these feelings. Some will want to engage the university in dialog and will stage peaceful protests and avoid confrontation with the police. Others will choose to confront the police and risk arrest. She called on the crowd to respect the different choices that different activist make and keep the focus on the university and frats which need to change most.
She did not talk specifically about property destruction and she certainly did not talk about violence against people [Sadly, there were lots of people in the crowd who thought property destruction was a form of violence.] These are the places where diversity of tactics gets tricky.
During the chanting which took place at the fraternity house after the discussion groups had ended, some protesters were chanting that the building should be burnt down. Several other protesters were quite upset with this chant and said so clearly. It stopped quickly.
There was an especially peculiar moment as people were risking arrest in which another protester upset about the gravity towards the arrest yelled at the protesters “Hello Gandhi, Hello Martin Luther King”. This simultaneously struck me is distressing and funny. How exactly did this person think Gandhi and MLK succeeded? It certainly was not by avoiding arrest (and much worse) at the hands of the authorities.
Four of us got arrested at the very end of the protest for trespassing: myself, Sapphyre, Edmund, and Caroline intern from Acorn. Going to the protest, it had not been any of our intentions to get arrested. And all through the protests the police and campus security had been basically invisible.
The overwhelming response to our arrests were positive. It also got a surprising amount of press, including the International Business Times, US network news, a mention in the LA Times, in Washington DC, the feminist press, local media and of course campus media.
On Dec 4th we have our trial. Feel encouraged to come and join us at the Cville court on market street.
One of the best parts about the Point A project is the lovely people who are in fairly close orbit to it. The DC Point A group includes Connor who i barely knew before the project but i have grown a deep affection for. This last evenings meeting was at his group house in Death City which he shares with his sister and several other charming housemates.
There was a lovely, chaotically structured pot luck dinner type thing which happened just before the Point A meeting. Part of which was the creation of homemade donuts. They were in a word, epic donuts.
The Akashic Record is a quasi mythical place in which all history of all things is being recorded in real time, using a complex combination of high speed digital technology, ancient hand scribing arts and indecipherable magic. This is not some giant flat bureaucracy. The Akashic record has a number of different divisions to help users figure out which the most important events are and how it is they are best represented.
One of the special forces groups of the Akashic Record is the Sonnets Division. For powerful historical events, when they need something really compelling and rich to capture the importance of an event, they call in the Sonnets Division.
Tonight, for these donuts, the Sonnets Division is working overtime.
i realize that central to my evaluation of someone is what it is that i think motivates them. Sadly, the affluent parts of the world seems crowded with people who have fallen into some type of personal profit maximization motivation. A “S/he who dies with the most toys wins” kind of mindset.
Another way of looking at things
Trying to avoid this kind of motivation has landed me in hippie communes and scruffy activist circles. A choice and trajectory i am quite pleased with.
For about 20 years i have a running joke with activists, organizers and communards who have gone out of their way to make the right things happen, often at some personal expense or hassle. What i tell them is that they will receive one of the highly coveted cardboard “Hero of the Revolution” buttons. Today i finally made the first one.
Made of 100% durable cardboard
i made it for Michael Mariotte who is having a lifetime achievement award ceremony on Monday in Death City (DC). MM (as everyone in the movement abbreviates his name) and i met in Kiev in 1996. I was running the Chernobyl tenth anniversary campaign, which included a huge anti-nuclear conference in the Ukrainian capital. Having spent the preceding 7 years mostly in eastern Europe i was unaware of the US anti-nuclear movement, where MM was a bit of a superstar.
MM was the executive director of Nuclear Information and Resource Service (he is now president). He asked me to be on the NIRS board and when i asked him to tell me what the organization had done, he rattled off a number of successful achievements in slowing the spread of nuclear reactors in the US and blocking numerous dangerous waste dump proposals and reprocessing facilities. I was impressed, i joined the NIRS board, a position i held for a dozen years.
The ED has rhythm – MM on drums with Tru Fax and the Insaniacs
I thought i was getting into a David and Goliath situation, it was more like David and Godzilla. In eastern Europe we fought corrupt utilities and deluded development banks, this i was used to. In the US, where more money was on the line, there are all manner of professional liars and propagandists who were actively attacking us as well as a captured regulator which did an outstanding job of appearing to be fair and caring about civilian safety and concerns, when what they really did was protect nuclear industry profits.
MM at recent NYC Climate March
Nobody fights nukes for the money. The executive direct salary for NIRS is in the bottom 20% for full time non-profit EDs, paid to someone who is living in one of the countries most expensive cities. And because of the fickle nature of philanthropic foundations (driven both by their dynamic priorities and swings in the market influencing their endowment) there was often not enough money to pay the staff, and MM was proud that the staff always got paid, often times electing not to pay himself on time.
Intelligent people can disagree about the best way to fight nuclear power. There are two classical splits: Reactors versus Weapons and Nuclear versus Renewables. The nuclear weapons complex is directly tied to the nuclear power complex. They need each other to survive. And they have repeatedly served each other as a crutch. MM looked around at the many groups in the US fighting against nuclear weapons and believed reactors deserved focused attention. Similarly with renewables, NIRS avoid putting campaign energy into clean energy, because many groups were doing it well. NIRS is the only internationally operating pure play anti-nuclear power organization in the world.
But don’t confuse MM’s sharp focus on reactors as less than a full understanding of the clean energy and military issues at play. Currently, reliably the best information about renewable energies disruptive effects comes from the SafeEnergy.org blog, which MM continues to write for prolifically. Including recently:
- Deutsche Banks says rooftop solar will be cheaper than the grid across the US inside 2 years.
- Nuclear industries Earth Week assault on Renewbles.
- CitiCorp says renewables to displace coal and nuclear.
MM demonstrates a kind of scrappy intelligence critical to low budget non-profits. I was arrested at the new Exelon Headquarters in something like 2004. MM called me after the trial to find out how it went. “I got 80 hours of community service.” i told him. “You should do them at NIRS.” he replied without a pause. Not stumbling over the idea that i should do community service at the organization which created the event i got arrested for in the first place.
MM was also a visionary with respect to Eastern Europe, which is how we met. He was one of the few people in the US who saw what was completely apparent in Czechoslovakia, that without orders for new reactors in the 1990s in the west, the newly liberated former communist countries were the place nuclear engineering infrastructure could be maintained. And just as Westinghouse and GE’s focus moved to eastern Europe. MM designed (with me) and implemented the east European small grant program, he got money from Ted Turner and others, recognizing that relatively small contributions from the west could have tremendous impact in the east. We gave out 40 grants in perhaps 1998 of $2000 or less funding everything from bike tours, to direct action camps, micro anti-nuclear university and east/west internships.
mm, Tanya and kid 3 and kid 4
Some of the most important reactors in the world in this fight were the pair of units affectionately called K2R4, which were in Khmelnitsky and Rivne in the Ukraine. One of the most important interns to come to the micro anti-nuclear university was Tanya Murza also from Rivne. We stopped the western funding for the reactors at K2R4 and basically knocked the east European development bank (the EBRD) out of the business of paying western companies to complete 25 unfinished Russian reactors. And Tanya stayed and she an MM had two charming kids.
MM has been a hero and inspiration to a whole bunch of people including me. He deserves his cardboard hero button.