Bert on Bernie (once again)

September 19, 2015

I have a few more thoughts on “Left Organizing within the Sanders Campaign.” There is motion. There are crowds. The crowd, of course, is made up of individuals with different motives, resources, understandings and many other unique attributes. The Brownian trope applies. Individuals are moving, bumping into people and into ideas. Sanders supplies his talking points. As I said earlier, I am glad that he is inserting these social democratic (not socialist as he himself admits ) ideas into the crowd. Except for the experienced Democratic Party (left liberal) adherents and adherents of other political trends, members of the crowd are people less invested in politics, certainly less invested year round. We know something about this crowd from a recent Guardian YOUGOV poll.

Potential Bernie Sanders voters break down this way by age:   69% are from 18-44,  35%are from  45-60+. So his potential voters are clumped in the younger population. In the same poll, likely Sanders voters broke this way ideologically: 36% liberal, 18% moderate, 17 % conservative. So, a lot of pretty young people, clearly w/o social democratic politics.

What does a left organizer do? By left in this arena, I mean anyone from social democrat out. As I tried to get at in my earlier thoughts on the Sanders campaign for us, we must join in. To stand aside is to say we have enough people  with us on our side. We are ready to take over. The great mass of Americans understands and is organized into a mighty movement. A dream. A fantasy. For now. Where there are crowds in motion, whether at a rally or at a small house party or a District meeting, we must be there. Or give up this motion to the centrists who, you can be sure will be there.

We go. We join or join in. We work putting up lawn signs or peopling a lit table at a supermarket. We talk about what we believe. If Sanders doesn’t understand Chavez, we explain. If Sanders wants to tax the hell out of the rich we cheer. If Sanders ‘campaign people send down dicta(talking points) we send  back up, our corrections and/or additions that we will use to produce local lit. It’s a day by day experiment. When to go along to get along. When to challenge. When to just go out for a beer. When to bring around a list of community run projects and try actively to get folks to sign us. Every day is new. Every conglomerate of people is different waiting for our input. Can you find people farther along and form a grouplet within the crowd? Maybe, maybe it is a good idea. Maybe it might not be. On this level-tactics, practice/thoughtful experiment has to be in the lead. Strategy is clear. Add to the leftness of the crowd by active organizing from within. And this strategy is valid whether or not Sanders wins, loses and turns asks his people to go with Hillary or he runs as an independent. We are where we need to be doing the organizing that always needs doing. Bert Garskof

Yale University, Monday, 9/21/2015

September 18, 2015

The PUBLIC ENEMY (a nod to my last memoir) tour and road show rolls on:
Yale University, New Haven CT.
Monday, September 21, 7:30 pm
Linsly-Chittenden Hall, room 102
The Yale Political Union Debate
RESOLVED: “Reject market-based school reform.”
I’m taking the affirmative, and I’ll kick it off with a 25 minute speech.
COME if you can!

Black Lives Matter! (again)

September 17, 2015

Pay attention white people!
When I say—as I did in a talk yesterday at the university—that Black Lives Matter, I’m saying something positive and generous and restorative. Don’t be silly or stupid or defensive or reactionary: I’m not—and no one else is—saying ONLY Black Lives Matter. I’m following the lead of the brilliant young African American activists who are pointing to an obvious fact and putting it on the front page: in these United States Black lives have historically been devalued and exploited through law and policy and politics and practice. That fact is an attack on all humanity, and that fact is what all of us must confront and destroy if we hope to be whole and free.
Black Lives Matter!

My Friend Bert Garskoff feels the Bern

September 3, 2015

Each presidential campaign raises the same questions. Do we ignore? Burn our ballots? Join in the hope of being for once politically relevant? Support Ralph? Sit on our hands?

I think that if we think of ourselves as organizers rather than activists we can see a way for us to approach the issue of 2015, to Bern or anti-Bern.

I know of course that the US is not a true democracy. Even within the limits on true democracy built into its framework, it is not a democracy. I know it was never intended to be. I know political parties, campaigns, voting are all shams designed well to keep people from thinking about real democracy.

And again, of course, the Sanders campaign has all of the above limitations and illusions.

I know that a realer, if not perfect democracy is theorized and practiced in innumerable anarchist and other local community organizations and projects. But, I also know that we (anarchists) need to talk to people other than ourselves if we are to grow, if we are to become a significant movement.

Sanders promulgates democratic socialist (not socialist, I think) ideas and programs. It is a good thing that these progressive ideas are injected by Sanders as inoculation for  the otherwise neoliberal dogma of Hilary’s campaign

. Certainly among the Sanders supporters there are many who will flock like liberal sheep to Hilary once the Bern burns out. However, I believe that among the Sanders supporters there are thousands who are dissatisfied, who are disgruntled, but who do not have a coherent left analysis, who therefore are open to our ideas as they weren’t before they got involved in the Sanders surge. These seekers will be open (certainly many of them) to ideas from the Left of Sanders

We must think as organizers. Yes, demonstrate, fight in the streets but spend some time and energy going to places where the Sanders campaign has gathered a crowd or a meeting but go not to disrupt, disrupting there would show how true we are to our knowledge, to our anger, to our need to show “them” us. But, what does this do? Doesn’t it drive away people, many of them young people who don’t (yet) have our understandings?

So I think that we should jump in the water. After all, the anti-war multitudes of the 60s and 70s were only disgruntled, dissatisfied people and without a coherent left analysis, yet we jumped in. Why? Because a movement can only be built on motion. Motion is people open, people leaving their normal placid acceptance if only a little, if only briefly. So, things swirled. Liberal anti-war marches. My collective would go, stand alongside the marchers with paper Viet Cong flags and pins, encouraging people to wear the flags. We gave maybe a thousand away. A good left action. We also had leaflets with our analysis of the war on Vietnam. Many people took those. Good. Better than if we had stayed home.

So, why don’t  we joined a Sanders local campaign or go to a mass rally? If it seems right, we could have leaflets about participatory democracy compared to the top down structure of the campaign. We could have lists of places and projects where anarchists and others are working with people in projects that are using anarchist and community participatory ideas and vision. Places where Bernie supporters might get involved once they knew about them.

We might talk after the meeting with anyone who will sit down with us.

We can’t only act on our own readiness. (Burn the Ballot for example)  We have to be organizers, which means we have to work with where people are at both geographically and intellectually/emotionally. To play this role, that of an organizer, we have to be honest about where we are at personally. We have to be ready to explain why we are there. And we especially have to be the first there to do the necessary work and among the last to leave. That is we have to be a real part of the campaign. I for one can do that honestly, even as I might talk with people about something better because I am truly happy that the Sanders campaign exists to open up the social democratic program. People should expect these things to be there for them and they are not. Hearing Sanders say they should expect these programs as their right can only make at least some of not many open to other strategies we can provide our ideas only if we are there.


August 31, 2015

Hannah Arendt describes a freedom involving “participation in public affairs, or admission to the public realm” (Arendt, H. 1963. On Revolution, New York: Penguin, p. 32). The hunger strikers at Dyett HS—fighting for public education in Chicago—are creating the public space right now, tonight. She acknowledges that freedom involves the establishment of certain rights within a domain of privacy, spaces where people are neither coerced nor obstructed, but she argues that this in itself is a rather narrow and negative approach to freedom, that the domain of the personal and the private is not the “actual content of freedom.”  The content of freedom is found, rather, in “a body politic”, that is in those public spaces where people come together freely as authentic beings to name the obstacles to their own humanity: “a body politic which is the result of covenant and ‘combination’ becomes the very source of power for each individual person who outside the constitutional political realm remains impotent” (p. 171).

Arendt describes the American revolution as an event “made by men in common deliberation and on the strength of mutual pledges.  The principle which came to light during those fateful years…was the interconnected principle of mutual promise and common deliberation” (pp. 213-214).  And this “principle which came to light” also drove the French and the Haitian revolutions, the German, the Russian, and the Chinese revolutions, the movements in Hungary in 1956 and Poland in 1979.  In each case, in a time of crisis and change, citizens came together spontaneously—whether in town meetings, communes, workers’ councils and soldiers’ committees, or soviets—in order to create a public space for the expression of their dreams and their demands.  It was in these public spaces that, according to Arendt, freedom came to life, and she referred to them as “treasures”, for they embodied the “hope for transformation of the state, for a new form of government that would permit every member of the modern egalitarian society to become a ‘participator’ in public affairs…”  It was this treasure “that was buried in the disasters of twentieth-century revolutions” (pp. 264-65), destroyed and murdered by foreign invasions and occupations, and by elites and vanguards from all sides.  It remains, for Arendt and for others, the “lost treasure” central to the modern predicament.

Freedom is linked for Arendt to a space for human interaction.  She argues that authentic political action requires this free space, created and sustained by people coming together.  This is distinct from a personal, private, or inner feeling of freedom, something that can be achieved through escape or retreat or isolation—through drugs to take one obvious example. 

Schools are an obvious venue for the creation of a public space, a site of freedom.  People are coming together, searching for something better, deciding what we value, what we hope to pass on, who we want to be. Schools are seldom constructed as sites of freedom nor places for the practice of freedom. Dyett High School can be the exception.


Brother Rick Ayers on Police Violence

August 22, 2015

Black Lives Matter and The Exception and the Rule

August 11, 2015

The Exception and the Rule is one of Bertolt Brecht’s “teaching plays” written around 1930. These short political plays were performed in schools and factories in order to educate people about the contradictions and conflicts in capitalist societies.

The play tells the story of a rich merchant who must journey across the desert in order to complete an oil deal. The merchant is accompanied on his trip by a porter (the “coolie”) and a guide. The merchant is increasingly brutal with the “coolie,” and also frightened without the police nearby to protect him. When he fires the guide, the merchant and the “coolie” get lost in the desert and their water supplies run low. The “coolie” comes to the merchant at night to share his remaining water, but the merchant misinterprets his action, and shoots and kills the “coolie.”

In court evidence of the murder is presented. The judge concludes that the merchant had every right to fear the “coolie,” and that he was justified in shooting in self-defense regardless of whether there was an actual threat, or whether the merchant merely felt threatened. The merchant was acquitted.

The “coolie” is a victim of the rule of capitalism. The merchant is a proven murderer, but walks away free—the exception and the rule.



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