Houston: A Message in a Bottle

August 31, 2017
The unfolding crisis in Houston—and the more much more enormous (but largely ignored in the US) human catastrophes in India and Bangladesh—is a message in a bottle from the future, a message the powerful are determined to ignore.
Here is a short excerpt from DEMAND the IMPOSSIBLE! on the climate chaos we’re facing. Language matters, so let’s agree this is Climate Chaos (“climate change” is too neutral, like calling a foreign invasion “unexpected guests”):
Two young steelheads are happily swimming downstream when they pass an old crab sitting on a rock in the cool mud beside the river. “How’s the water?” asks the crab. The young fish look at one another blankly. “What’s water?” they ask.
That’s an old and universal story, and its meaning is evident: the fish are the last to notice or to be able to describe the water, whose dimensions—texture and temperature, chemical code, resonance and resistance—nonetheless constitute their whole world. Because they live within the water, it’s entirely taken for granted; because they can’t quite imagine a non-watery world, they have a limited and distorted view of their own home.
The taken for granted, as always, exercises a powerful pull: it’s difficult for some city-dwellers in the West, for example, to comprehend drought—even severe drought—as long as water pours from the tap (as it always has in their experience) whenever the faucet is opened. They will have to step outside their increasingly non-watery world if they will ever develop a truer and more accurate picture of their own closing habitat.
Our own human steelheads today, however, are driven by more than innocence or naiveté—evidence of cataclysmic climate chaos and environmental collapse are all around us, easy to see and to understand wherever you look: the raging fires and the freakish storms, the droughts and the floods, the climbing rates of extinction, the stressed-out birds or the fading bees, the frazzled fish or the misshapen frogs, the temperature, the air, the water. It takes some bizarre combination of self-interest, privilege, cynicism, ideology, corruption, dogma, or chutzpah to keep one’s head buried in the sand, denying the facts in favor of cloud-cuckoo-land fantasies. But denial is not just a river in Egypt, no—magical thinking is the name of the game for the cataclysmic climate chaos deniers, our own backward steelheads…
What is to be done? Struggling with that question illuminates the strongest argument the steelheads have, even as it exposes their point of greatest vulnerability: seriously engaging the environmental catastrophe, and taking the necessary steps to solve it, will mean…overthrowing capitalism. [Infinite and unchecked expansion in a finite world is impossible.] This is the real choice in front of us: the end of capitalism or the end of the habitable earth, saving the system of corporate finance capital or saving the system that gives us life. Which will it be?
SEE: Demand the Impossible! (Haymarket)

Resist Imperial War

August 27, 2017

Half a century ago the US escalated its assault on Vietnam, invading and then occupying the country for a decade with all the attendant imperial trappings: free-fire zones, strategic hamlets, body counts. US terrorism and crimes against humanity were the order of the day, and anyone who claims now that the effort was well-intentioned or naive or somehow innocent is lying. Yes, many Americans suffered and the whole country was injured, but that changes nothing in terms of the cruel intentions and the real responsibility of the war-makers—beware the popular revisionist histories being rolled out to do the dirty work of white-washing the record and brain-washing us all. The anti-war movement spread and rose up—a hopeful and generous moment—but we did not end the war. It dragged on and on with no end in sight. Six thousand people a week were murdered. Six thousand. We marched, we organized, we made art, we made sacrifices, we resisted. Six thousand murders a week. Some of us even organized a campaign of sabotage against military and government targets. And the war went on and on, until the Vietnamese themselves defeated the most powerful armed force ever assembled in history. That imperial military force is still loose in the world, still invading and occupying country after country, spreading terror in all directions, even recklessly threatening a nuclear exchange. What is to be done? We need to mobilize and build an unstoppable anti-war movement now, linked with the ongoing fight to create a just and joyful beloved community. It’s coming.

Refuse to Comply!

August 26, 2017
Ursula Hegi, Stones from the River, 1994:
“. . . many thought that all this talk about Rassenreinheit – purity of the race – was ludicrous and impossible to enforce. Yet the long training in obedience to elders, government, and church made it difficult – even for those who considered the views of the Nazis dishonorable – to give voice to their misgivings. And so they kept hushed, yielding to each new indignity while they waited for the Nazis and their ideas to go away, but with every compliance they relinquished more of themselves, weakening the texture of the community while the power of the Nazis swelled.”

Race Raise Rays Raze

August 17, 2017

The tough bond of white supremacy over changing times and reorganized systems is the thick white glob of Elmer’s glue binding slavery to Jim Crow and then to prisons, bondage, and mass incarceration. The slave system and the mass incarceration system each violently subordinate subjugated persons to the will of their masters; each insists that subjects follow strict routines dictated by the rulers; each reduces subjects to dependency for everything including food and shelter; each isolates their subjects from normal human contact or intercourse; and each forces subjects to work for minimal compensation.

For the oppressors and the exploiting class there’s a ready rationale in every age: from the start white supremacy was promoted to justify aggression, theft, occupation, kidnapping, and murder—it was never based on inferiority, real or imagined. Racism has been aggressively employed in the service of cheap labor and in the suppression of wages and the precariousness of workers’ status, and racism justified colonial plunder from the start. As the US Empire began its long and dangerous decline and the industrial heartland collapsed in the middle of the Twentieth Century, excess labor became a fearsome predicament for the rulers. The Black Freedom Movement pushed forward at the same time, demanding access, recognition, and equality. But the counterrevolution pushed back—the gains of African Americans were nominally accepted as an accomplished fact, but in reality they were challenged, halted, and reversed wherever possible. When overt bigotry became socially unacceptable to many (remember those days!) coded markers—crime, drugs, violence—took its place. With African Americans on the march and revolution in the air, with unemployment soaring and jobs disappearing, prison became a central strategy to address multiple crises.

All of this is racism in operation, and it’s worth noting here that the word “racism” has multiple meanings: in popular usage it means bigotry, often manifest in ignorant comments, stereotyped views, and backward language. For example, Cliven Bundy, the cattle rancher from Nevada, is a racist—just listen to him and you know he’s an offensive bigot. And since you and I aren’t bigots, we can glibly claim the high moral ground. But there’s a problem: “racism” is also the structures of white supremacy and the institutional practices of oppression based on race. The examples above are instances of the execution of institutional racism. And so the question for antiracists isn’t, Are you a bigot?, but What are you doing to attack the institutional expressions of white supremacy? The mayor of Chicago shuttered more than fifty public schools in predominantly Black communities and never used the N-word; a slick, sophisticated, and “charming” president pushed harsh legislation that resulted in mass incarceration and the overrepresentation of Black people in prisons. This is white supremacy and racist practice on the ground and in the world. Call its name.

Racist Terror again and again

August 15, 2017

James Fields’ murderous outburst in Charlottesville can be located in the long history of organized violence against African Americans to accomplish a straight-forward political goal: the maintenance of white supremacy. He follows in the footsteps of Dylann Roof, the terrorist who massacred nine African Americans in the Charleston Emanuel AME church on June 17, 2015. Fields’ victim was a white woman, Heather Heyer, standing against the white supremacist tide that has it’s most vital roots in the White House and the ruling class.

Trump hesitates; Trump equivocates; and the message is resoundingly clear to its intended reactionary audience: the president has your back.

Then-FBI director James Comey, usually quick on the draw when it comes to labeling acts of violence “terrorism”—after all, he ran an annual $3.3 billion dollar budget to counter terror—hesitated in the case of Dylann Roof. Why? It was “horrific,” he acknowledged, but “terrorism” is “more of a political act and . . . I don’t see it as a political act.” Really? Roof said it was political.

Trump had his own uniquely Trumpian obfuscation: there were terrible acts on “many sides, many sides,” he said, and in the face of a firestorm of rage about his lukewarm response, went before the microphones two days later, and after reading a script placed in front of him by his enablers, returned to authentic Trump, Donald, au natural: They weren’t all Nazis, he explained the next day, and some were just protesting the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee, a great American (actually a traitor who led the military effort to secede in order to maintain the institution of slavery and the terrorist subjugation of Black slaves) and what’s next, taking down George Washington, and also, what about the “alt-left?”


James Fields and Dylann  Roof saw themselves as political actors, and their actions were calculated and willful. Roof’s “manifesto” is a thoroughly articulated political document, one as filled with apocalyptic fantasies and white supremacist daydreams as you’re likely to find. And Fields has a long history of white supremacist political activity.

The farce of Trump’s and Comey’s ambiguity is telling: it reveals the selective and hypocritical deployment of “terrorist/terrorism” as propaganda by the paid agents of the ruling class. Comey’s FBI and Trump himself have labeled acts of vandalism “terrorism,” including breaking windows, hammering on nuclear silos, disabling tractors in ancient forests or airplanes set to bomb civilians, freeing caged animals, and more. As a founding member of the Weather Underground in 1970 I know from close experience just how sweeping—and sticky—that label can become.

I’m reluctant to use the word at all—it flows so automatically into the rushing propaganda stream unleashed by the so-called war on terror, screaming insistently for a permanent state of war, more US aggression, more assassinations and torture, more ethnically based surveillance and repression, more suspicion and fear, more targeting of Arabs and Muslims. But I’ll make an exception here: James Fields and Dylann Roof are white supremacists, Christians, and  terrorists, their actions part of a long legacy of terrorism carried out against captured Africans and later their descendants. The history of organized terror against African Americans begins with the kidnapping of Africans, tortured and transported to the Americas as chattel, none of them willing volunteers on the Middle Passage. This massive crime against humanity was state-sanctioned, legal terror.

Enslaved people ran away and resisted in a thousand ways, and after hundreds of years legal slavery was abolished. A decades-long campaign of terror against free Black people began immediately—pogroms, arson, displacement, false arrests and imprisonment, night riders, and thousands of public-spectacle lynchings. White gangs rampaged on a whim through African American communities in Chicago, St. Louis, Tulsa, Rosewood, and hundreds of other places, and the message was clear: white supremacy would police the racial boundaries and punish all transgressions.

So here we are, and  the afterlife of slavery is with us still: housing segregation, unequal schools, a criminal justice system built on the unjust targeting and caging of Black and poor people, the state-sanctioned serial killing of Black youth, dramatic discrepancies in health outcomes, and on and on.

What is to be done?

Build the resistance, go deep, and keep rising up!

Some Thoughts on Public Memory

August 14, 2017


Heather Heyer

August 14, 2017

Heather Heyer, murdered on an American street by a white supremacist while she linked arms with others to resist the rising fascist tide. Rest in Peace, Heather Heyer, Rest in Power.  PRESENTE!

Building a Revolutionary Movement

August 13, 2017
OK, this will take more than a minute to read, and I apologize. Some of you will move on quickly, but I urge you not to. This is an important and smart piece with real consequences for movement making—it’s about building a socialist movement centered in anti-racism and anti-imperialism, based in an authentic embrace of intersectionality and the fight for Indigenous, Black, LBGTQ, and women’s freedom. It’s a critique of those who disdain and diminish these struggles as “identity politics” and an obstacle to class unity. My brother Rick Ayers has been writing and posting about this for a long time, and I hear echoes of Rick’s analysis here, but this is as succinct and coherent an argument as I’ve seen.

The Low Road

August 10, 2017

What can they do to you?
Whatever they want..

They can set you up, bust you,
they can break your fingers,
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can’t walk, can’t remember.
they can take away your children,
wall up your lover;
they can do anything you can’t stop them doing.

How can you stop them?
Alone you can fight, you can refuse.
You can take whatever revenge you can
But they roll right over you.
But two people fighting back to back
can cut through a mob
a snake-dancing fire
can break a cordon,
termites can bring down a mansion

Two people can keep each other sane
can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.

Three people are a delegation
a cell, a wedge.
With four you can play games
and start a collective.
With six you can rent a whole house
have pie for dinner with no seconds
and make your own music.

Thirteen makes a circle,
a hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity
and your own newsletter;
ten thousand community
and your own papers;
a hundred thousand,
a network of communities;
a million our own world.

It goes one at a time.
It starts when you care to act.
It starts when you do it again
after they say no.
It starts when you say we
and know who you mean;
and each day you mean
one more.

– Marge Piercy

“We Come in Peace”

August 10, 2017
The United States spends more than a trillion dollars a year on war and preparation for war, more than the rest of the world combined. The war culture accepts that as a desire for peace. The United States has military bases stretching across the globe, including a base in the Italian Alps, and yet there are no Italian air bases in the Catskills, for example. The war culture sees that as sensible and necessary. The war culture is everywhere, simply taken for granted, always lurking in the shadows and occasionally bursting forth and on full display.
I remember a trailer for a film I saw in a theater several years ago—it looked dreadful, so I never saw the film, but it could well have been Mars Attack or The Day the Earth Stood Still—in which the repeating trope was an alien confronting a group of startled earthlings, saying in an eerily mechanical voice, “We come in peace”—just before blasting them into small pieces. It takes a minute for reality to catch up to these hapless earthlings, but eventually they get it. Like the challenge of the wandering spouse caught in the arms of a lover, the aliens hold to the classic defense, “Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?”
“We come in peace,” but wherever the United States puts down the boot, it brings more war, wider war, and a deeper commitment to war as the way. Marine Corps Major General Butler, two-time winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor, said in 1935 that, “War is a racket.” That was the title of a popular pamphlet he wrote, and a theme he elaborated in speeches through- out the country over many years: “It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. . . . It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.”3 Butler consistently urged citizens to demand the impossible and support three radical proposals: strictly limit all military forces to a defensive posture; hold a referendum of those who would be on the front lines before any military action is undertaken; and take the profit out of war by, among other measures, conscripting the captains of industry and finance as the foot soldiers in any impending fight.