This is a repost of the CommuneLife blog. Lot of great pictures of communards getting out and being part of what many are describing as the largest protest in the history of the country. There is still lots to do, and we can celebrate that this event was a big gathering and an inspiring success.
Photos by Steve and GPaul of Compersia Folks from the DC and Virginia communes were very involved with the protests: Christian and Paxus of Twin Oaks appreciate PETA’s big fuzzy suits. Vegans GPaul of Compersia and Christian of Twin Oaks pose with PETA people. Paxus of Twin Oaks and GPaul of Compersia rest after the […]
Multi-colored “pussy hat” on Paxus was knit by Hawina, who was unable to attend, but wanted to be there in spirit.
It was not even 6:30 AM and I got handed a sign.
I was especially happy to see one of my core issues (nuclear power) on the stylishly designed placard.
We assembled in McPherson Square in downtown Washington DC. The plan was simple. There are six entrances to the Inauguration Celebration. Our goal was to block as many of them as possible to disrupt the flow of MAGAs (Make America Great Again hat people) and therefore the program.
Organizers told the group we were in that we had a number of undocumented immigrants in it. This meant we were going to do so-called “soft block” actions to reduce the risk of arrest. This included our “soft blockade.” Which really meant we were constricting traffic and slowing the progress of people trying to make it to the inauguration.
We were surprisingly effective. In part because the DC police were unwilling to suppress the protests. One of the gates was actually closed by locked down protesters, aided because the police were unwilling to hurt people to remove them. This stems from past protests where DC police roughed-up and arrested protesters prematurely and the city had to pay huge civil settlements.
It seemed as though the strategy was to arrest as few people as possible. Other gate blockers were dragged away by the police, and sometimes needed to be cut free.
We were with the peaceful non-violent protesters who were not breaking the law. These Movement for Black Lives activists who blocked the gate were using a known civil disobedience strategy; one in which they knowingly break the law (usually trespassing or obstructing traffic) with the intent of being arrested and standing trial for what they have done.
But there is another way.
There are those who would break the law, mostly destroying property, without any intention of cooperating with the police in their arrest and incarceration. While often identified as a group, the Black Bloc is really a tactic. It was originally developed in Germany for use in anti-nuclear and squatting actions in the late 1970s. Besides all the black clothed fashion, this tactic includes protecting yourself from police violence including scarves, sunglasses, ski masks, motorcycle helmets with padding, or other face-concealing and face-protecting items. This guise allows it difficult to distinguish between different participants and harder to prosecute.
Frankly, groups using Black Bloc tactics have been hugely head-achy for me. They often come to events that they do not organize and intentionally incite violence from with the police, demonstrating their predominantly white, male privilege. If you are trying to organize a non-violent civil disobedience action, a group using Black Bloc tactics can be one of your worst nightmares. It can destroy your action. It can ruin your relationship with the locals. It can incite police violence towards your peaceful protesters. And they can result in dangerous escalations of tensions.
The Black Bloc was different this time. First off, no single group could claim ownership over Trump’s coronation. More importantly, the group using these tactics was so big, that it did not really attach itself to any other action and acted autonomously (which is how they are supposed to work). People using these tactics broke some windows, burned an empty limousine outside the offices of the Washington Post, and were involved in the bulk of the 217 arrests from today’s actions.
Predictably, CNN would divide the protest world evenly between those destroying property and those who were not. In fact, there were so many actions and so few of them were destructive of property or violent, that almost all our large crew did not see any altercations with the police. Though there were some of us who sought out people a part of the Black Bloc to shadow the protests.
We were involved in several actions. Perhaps the most fun was the Festival of Resistance which started at the Union Square train station and marched back to McPherson Square. What you can’t see well enough from the above picture is that the parade stretches for blocks and blocks back to the station.
Shepard Fairey who created the famous Obama “Hope” image is back with “We the People” which had three lovely female images. As far as resistance art work goes, this was a great event.
If there is not enough time to have fun at these actions then you are definitely doing it wrong. At the end of the action we all relaxed a bit and found some folks with similar strange ideas as us. Cel has always identified with Wolves.
Protesters have all manner of advise. Much of it was directed angrily at Trump. Another big chunk of protest banners are oriented towards generalized critiques for general consumption. And finally, the smallest fraction of poster art is directed towards other protesters, like this image above. We are going to need a lot of bravery in the coming time.
You political experience is tremendously influenced by who surrounds you and how much you know them. I was lucky at this action. Most of the fine folks from Compersia in DC were at this action. Add to this various Point A activist from up the eastern seaboard and I had my very own basket of deplorables.
There were lots of good signs
More marching tomorrow.
Fortunately for me, my anger and confusion about the election results were quickly redirected. Within a day of president elect Dumpster Fire’s electoral college coup the requests started coming in. “Where can we stay in DC for the inauguration protests?” “Are you coordinating transportation to these events?” “Which action can I get arrested at?” “Which actions are permitted and family-friendly?”
Then began the frustrating and confusing task of figuring out what actions were in fact happening around the inauguration. Unsurprisingly, part of why this is confusing is Trump’s partisan Inauguration Committee is working hard to ban protests from happening anywhere near the event. They will fail.
Fortunately, my friend and world-class organizer Mike Ewall of the Energy Justice Network did much of the information gathering for me. Mike compiled a list of most of the known actions around the inauguration, which I turned into a Google document and started adding information to about how many people are attending and whether these are likely arrest actions.
DC area intentional communities are planning on hosting known out-of-town protesters (or perhaps we should take a page from the Dakota pipeline activists book and call them “Democracy Protectors”). If you are planning on coming to these events and need housing, let me know.
In order to build the kind of power that creates change you need a direct action campaign that harnesses a series of actions into an escalating sequence. Millions of Americans have participated in the past half-century in such campaigns: bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins, the Fight for $15, farmworkers, campus divestment campaigns on South African apartheid and fossil fuels, strikes against corporations, impeding mountaintop removal coal mining, blocking the U.S. plan to invade Nicaragua, preventing the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline. Despite this, most Americans don’t understand the difference between a protest and a campaign.
I think it is a good idea to go to these protests to help prevent them from being just one-off events and turn them into an on-going campaign and movement. This means that countering “he who shall not be named” and his plunder monkeys is going to take a lot more than freezing our butts for one weekend in late January in DC.
Chaos has engulfed the commune! Well, not quite, but perhaps technically so. The by-laws and policy of Twin Oaks are tremendously elaborate. Over the near half century of history of the commune we have designed contingencies for many unexpected circumstances. What do we do if someone disappears? What do we do if someone wins the lottery? What if 24 members accept a visitor and 6 reject them? What do you do if you are topless in the garden and the UPS person shows up? What do we do if there is only one planner?
It is the last of these examples that delivered us to the current non-crisis. Twin Oaks government was inspired by the book Walden 2, a behaviorist fiction story. Described in Walden 2 book is the planner manager system of governance we use. Managers control area budgets (both labor and money) and planners operate across multiple areas or full community wide as executives.
I have long joked that the Twin Oaks plannership is a self perpetuating autocracy with a democratic cap. At any time there are supposed to be at least three planners (up to five if there are stand in planners, who are in training). When their is a vacancy the planners look at a membership list and seek out a member who they would like to work with. They approach this member and ask them if they want the job and if they do, then the community is consulted. The planners have an interview with anyone who is interested. A veto box is put up, and a minority of the membership (20%) can block a planner, but this is pretty rare. [Note: this is actually a streamlined description of the process which is actually more complex.]
The plannership is a crazy difficult job. My personal estimate is about half of the planners drop out early. There is a rule that you can not run for two consecutive planner terms, but no one has wanted to in the nearly 20 years i have been here. So what happens if there is only one planner? If there are no acceptable candidates to join or no one is willing to?
We have elections. This surprises people who know the community well. We don’t have elections for individual for any position really, it is not part of our culture. Managers serve until they tire of a position, they are mostly replaced by people who they train to replace them. Sometimes a council will choose between a couple of candidates, but this is rarely by voting, instead typically it is done in a meeting.
On October 1st of this year we had no planners. One term ended and the other resigned. If there are no planners or just one, then we go to elections. This has only happened one other time in the last 19 years.
What has the effect been on the community? Almost nothing. A decision about a feedback is pending the new planners. Some managers probably did some things without consulting the planners, but they might have done them anyway. The internals of the community are both resilient and decentralized. We don’t need an executive for much of what we do.
And tomorrow the election results will come out. And i am running. There are 8 candidates. Some of the candidates are unexcited about the job, but are open to doing it. Others, like myself, are excited about the position (which i have done twice before) but are at least somewhat controversial. Still others are well liked and respected and at least one of those will certainly get the job.
Anarchy was fun while it lasted.
[Update Nov 2016 – I was completely wrong. Despite the strong case for the cancellation of this terrible project. Elizabeth May decided to go forward with it. Threats of Chinese trade retaliation and the British need for new civil nuclear technology to maintain nuclear sub capacity are two often cited reasons for why the UK government made this expensive, stupid and dangerous choice.]
What does it mean when the largest nuclear construction company, backed by the most pro-nuclear state, funded by the world’s largest economy, can’t build a reactor in one of the most pro-nuclear countries in the west? It means the end of the nuclear age is in sight.
I make predictions. I get that on some level this is quite arrogant. But i really want this to be true, and it has an unusually good chance. So I am going to call September 2016, “Hinkley dies”. I’ve made the case why this ill conceived reactor complex in the UK should be scrapped. So I won’t go over it all again.
The important thing here is that the new British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she will review the project this month, and almost everyone who has done a review thinks the project should be killed. But with nuclear power, this is frequently not enough. I have watched thousands to top flight reports pointing out the flaws of nuclear power, in specific and general cases, and typically these reactors get built.
And while Hinkley has its own special problems (including that none of the four attempts to build this design reactor has been successfully completed and some are nearly a decade late now and billions over budget), all of new nuclear power construction is looking down the barrel of low cost solutions using renewables .
This is crazy important. Even if you don’t care about climate disruption, even if radioactive waste does not bother you, even if you are just a black-hearted capitalist trying to make a buck, unless the market is fixed as it is in Virginia, you would have to be a bit crazy not to shift to renewables over nuclear, because they are just cheaper. Even when you consider the cost of storage of renewable power.
Let’s hope the new British PM takes seriously her own call for reviewing Hinkley Point C. If she does, she will likely stop this project and, if she does that, the entire future of new reactors in the west is thrown into question. And this is a question I have wanted to hear for half my life.
I did support work for a recent arrest action in which folks from the communes (and other activists) blocked traffic on an Interstate highway to bring attention to police violence in the US towards people of color. The action was organized by Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURG) which organizes principally white allies doing civil disobedience in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
When one communard was being processed an angry cop accused them of being paid to protest. “How much are they giving you to get arrested?” the police officer angrily demanded. “You don’t care about this issue, you are just in it for the money.” the cop went on.
You need to know that these arrests happened just the day after 3 police officers were killed in Baton Rouge and just over a week after a dozen police were shot in Dallas. To this cop in Richmond, it could easily have appeared we were in the beginning of a full fledged race war in which white police were uncharacteristically targets. I can understand his fear and anger.
None of the communards got money for going to this protest. And while crowd funding will likely cover fines and bail and the National Lawyers Guild is providing free legal counsel, everyone of these commune based protesters will end up having to pay financially for this choice to get arrested and none of them has very much money. They will also likely end up doing community service in lieu of jail time, which will cost them again. And the cop was dead wrong about the protesters not caring about the issue. I know everyone of them, they are all true believes. Many were choosing to get arrests for the first time in their lives, and highway blockade actions are especially scary. This choice took guts, they are heroes all.
But in a way, the officer was right. In a way that they would not understand unless they were willing to listen to a long description of how these communes work. These protesters did get labor credits from other members of their communities to do this “work”. In that sense they were “paid”.
The title of this post is intentionally misleading. No one who lives at any of the FEC communities can be a full time activist. No one exclusively makes their living get arrested. Before i lived at Twin Oaks I did full time anti-nuclear organizing, i was arrested far more frequently. But the title of this post is still in essence true. PART of what these activists do is get arrested for a living. It is part of their work.
I am proud of these mostly white protesters who got arrested because the other avenues for change have been exhausted. With an unarmed person of color getting gunned down by the police in the US regularly, we can’t just write upset letters to our congress creatures or the local paper. It is worth noting that no other democracy in the world has even 1/10 this rate of police homicides. Our system is broken and these actions bring attention which just might fix it.
The rest of this post is a repost of an article by one of the arrested communards which recently appear in the CommuneLife.org blog.
By (redacted) Something very interesting happened the other day: Several of us got arrested, and it was very, very okay. The short version of this story is that several Twin Oakers decided to participate in a protest, which ended in arrest. When we refused to leave the scene, a number of us and some non-oaker comrades […]
In hours, the UK will hold a binding national referendum on leaving the European Union. At this writing, the polls are too close to call.
If you listen to the mainstream media the voices are nearly united in favor of leaving the EU intact. You will hear endless commentary on how leaving the EU will be bad for the UK’s economy. You will hear that the move represents xenophobia at its worst, how far right sentiments are driving the referendum’s popularity, and how UK ex-pats will suffer. Even the progressive and thoughtful UK newspaper the Guardian says the UK cannot take on issues like Globalization and Climate Disruption from outside the EU.
I want the UK to leave.
Many of the arguments for remaining in the Union that are being advanced are likely valid. Economically, Brexit will induce uncertainty and both currencies and markets will drop. A separate UK will likely do less for immigrants than it would inside the Union. Ex-patriots may have a tougher time and cross-border traffic will be harder.
But even though the tendencies of the European Union are towards tolerance and inclusion, what the big government has really done at the European level is made the continent safe for multinational corporations to do their most foul work.
The EU “provides the most hospitable ecosystem in the developed world for rentier monopoly corporations, tax-dodging elites and organized crime,” writes British journalist Paul Mason.
What I really want is for a host of these independence-seeking regions to break free from their larger political entities. Alaska and Texas out of the US. Quebec from Canada. Basques from Spain. Tibet from China. Palestine from Israel. Kurdistan from Iraq. Oh and Northern Ireland from the UK.
I spent a summer some years back fighting reactors in Slovenia, a tiny country that is part of former Yugoslavia. We saw the president mowing his own lawn. We saw a high standard of living and low crime. The national population is 2 million and functioned fine without a standing army. Not every region will find the advantages Slovenia was able to capture when it broke from Yugoslavia. But the worst offenses of the current times are at the hands of the giant players who love big government, big business, big institutions. These corporations and politicians love it because typically it gives them more power, often with less oversight.
We have tried big, it did not work so well. Perhaps Brexit will lead us to more small.