(Note: When I first wrote the following, I was unsure if I should post it as-is; at first I thought it was too extreme and blunt. But a friend said "No, I think you should, it's how most grown-ups think." So, here it is.)
Last week there was a big protest in Florida against a natural gas facility being built that was conveniently located near the site of a big Earth First! semiannual meeting. After each of these meetings, which move around the country every time, organizers pick an environmentally-bad thing to go do a protest against when the meeting concludes - a coal mine, a factory, whatever is handy.
This time it was Palm Beach County's under-construction West County Energy Center. Ten or twelve activists locked down in a circle to prevent trucks carrying rock from getting out. Police came, riot gear, yada yada, hundreds moved aside but 27 were arrested. What did it accomplish? The construction was halted for 6 hours, traffic was blocked, and a couple local papers ran short articles.
Now we, the general, caring activist public around the world, are being asked to finance the bail bond for these brave folks.
Maybe I sound a little curmudgeonly, but frankly I think the whole action was ineffective, ill-advised, and wasteful of time and energy. It didn't have any real effect, it pissed off motorists and workers in the area, and it didn't even have much of a symbolic effect since national media didn't pick up on it. It's also just boring and old and tired, except to the couple dozen young traveller-kid adrenaline junkies that sat out there and got high from the excitement of "sticking it to the man".
And now I'm being asked to waste my money on its aftermath? On an action I never approved or even knew would happen (well, actually, of course I did, in general, because like i said, it happens every 6 months like clockwork).
Think of what else the money could have gone for.
The bond, to bail out 27 white gringos (at least from the photos they all looked pretty gabacho) from jail, was $13,500. That could feed about 22 Bolivian families for a year. Just as one example. Or another example closer to home - that's almost exactly the entire (minus in-kind donations) budget of the documentary about war tax resistance that I'm working on.
Agreed, we could debate about what is more or most effective. But that's not my point. I'm just asking you to think about it. Tactics and strategy matter, and the reasons, and aftereffects, and costs, behind their execution matter.
Another example of this kind of vain and foolish "action" is the upcoming "un-welcoming" of the RNC and DNC in Minneapolis and Denver. More useless mobilising, activists flying or bussing or driving or hoppin' freights in from all over the nation for a week, running around in the streets taunting cops, tipping over dumpsters and shouting at limos that might have delegates (and let's not even address for now that the candidates are already decided by then - the Conventions are just elaborate theater put on for show) in them, all so the kids can later retire to the convergence center each night and sing songs and smoke weed with their cool hipster activist friends and maybe get laid (direct action really gets the hormones pumping, y'know). What does it really accomplish outside of those exciting, social, "coming of age" goals for these youths?
What's effective and what's not? Should one engage in a tactic just because that's what's been done every year for years? Should one support something and bear the consequences just because someone else made a foolish decision? Should one be involved with foolish decisions just to satisfy some desperate and frustrated youthful need for adventure and catharsis?
This does seem harsh, but at this point I think it's extremely important to start honestly critiqueing tactics and strategies. Social change isn't just an empty gesture for bored suburbans youngsters to inject excitement back into their middleclass lives for a few years. A lot of people are in it for the long haul, and they're in it to win. So let's honestly and carefully figure out what works, what doesn't, and why and why not.
There's still interesting struggle going on in South Texas regarding the border wall. In yesterday's issue of The Monitor, the main newspaper down there, there was a big article about the newest levee-wall proposal and how the enviro concerns are the same or worse than the original fence plan.
The interesting thing about that article is that they have Fish & Wildlife officials coming right out and publicly talking about concerns, which is pretty new. DHS was making sure nobody in any federal agency said anything that wasn't thoroughly sanitized, and when I visited the USFW refuge there I was told that if I just wanted shots of scenery, fine, but if I wanted an interview about agency concerns, that would probably take forever to get through red tape and then never happen.
Meanwhile, I just found out that the sites of all 3 Indymedia centers in Texas (Austin, Houston, and North Texas) are down. Austin's perhaps permanently. Yikes. Poor Texas.
Some friends of mine have created a great site called Toonlet, where you can make your own cartoons really easily. here's one i just made:
UPDATE: see toonlet.com
Our WTR shoot yesterday ended on the shore of Suisun Bay looking out at a bunch of old warships parked in the water and rotting for the last 50 years or so.
It was a fitting spot to reflect on war and its various pricetags. And just a weird site.
View Larger Map
more background on the ghost fleet.
I'm up in Berkeley at the moment working on a film about war tax resistance. (I posted a rough first trailer on the Pan Left site the day before I left to come here.) The shooting is going pretty well, given that I have a very minimal crew. I tried to recruit some volunteer skilled help from the ranks of bay area indymedia-connected videoactivists. A few people responded with interest but with questions about schedule, and then begged off. I'm frankly kind of surprised and disappointed. I thought there would be enough activist videographers in the area that I could find sufficient help - why is it so hard? Is it that all those people around here are moving on into trying to do it professionally and so can't be bothered to do something for lunch and a good cause?
I guess when I put the shoe on the other foot and imagine some random activist filmmaker visiting Tucson to do a shoot, I don't think I'd help out for free unless it was a subject I was really really personally interested in - I'm just too busy. So I shouldn't be surprised. But it's a shame, because the concept and logistics of this film make it important to have a crew, and a skilled crew.
Anyway, it was an interesting day yesterday. We went to a workshop in the city about WTR put together by Northern California War Tax Resisters, and then back to the east bay to visit famous activist and war tax resister Julia Butterfly Hill, who happened to be back in town, resting and refusing most interview requests but who had said yes to us since it was about war tax resistance. Then we went across the bay again to talk to David Gross, a WTR who has a blog about the subject and is very knowledgable.
We "wrapped" for the day and the evening led to thai food and drinks in the Mission with an old friend. Being back there, my old hood, made me feel a little wistful - San Francisco is so cool and beautiful. It's changed a lot though, and those memories that bring up that well of emotion are just memories, flowing on.
Today we head up to Sonoma county to meet some WTRs there. Lots of driving but I'm hoping for some beautiful scenery as backdrops.
The Rio Grande Guardian is a great little web-only newspaper in the Lower Rio Grande Valley that covers Texas-Mexico border news. It unfortunately, for some reason, doesn't show up on Google News, but they do an excellent job, with some excellent writing, despite the fact that, as I understand it, it's really basically a one-man labor of love.
In other news (har har), The Monitor is one of the main old-style papers in the area. In many matters it appears to be fairly middle-of-the-road to conservative, but on the border wall it is openly critical. Yesterday's opinion section front page featured a scathing editorial about the supposed "compromise" announced Friday by Chertoff and the Hidalgo County officials who thought it up. "It looks pretty much like the fight is essentially over and there will be a sort of kind of structure at the border that maybe kind of might stop - or at least slow down - some illegal crossers," was their conclusion.
It's unfortunate that they conclude that the fight is over, since I was just at a meeting of a group called No Border Wall that is still plotting and scheming to keep the fight raging. The thing that makes it look more dismal is that the levee-wall compromise satisfies the homeowners in Granjejo, who were, in the words of one activist "the rock stars" of this battle. They were the ones that provided the human interest drama and juice to the story - poor Americans getting forced out of their homes by big bad Homeland Security. Now, their immediate needs looking like they might be satisified, they're apparently dropping out and selling out, along with the County.
Of course the other thing that the media seems to mostly be missing is that the levee-wall "solution" is only for about 23 miles of the Rio Grande. The rest of the area has no levee or need of one, and the rest of the area is still getting the same old steel wall. But it's really a clever move for DHS, since it's harder to fight a levee. What heartless bastard would be against protecting poor Texans from flooding?
Anyway, that amazing editorial is not showing up in google news or in the Monitor's own search engine. When I google it, I get 3 stories about Israel/Palestine. Which is chilling, no?
I'm writing from the Lower Rio Grande Valley - the name for the string of communities along the last 200 miles or so of the Rio Grande before it dumps out into the Gulf of Mexico. This includes Brownsville, and McAllen, and smaller cities like Harlingen and Roma and Weslaco, and it's my third morning here.
I flew out here because it is current ground zero in the struggle against the border wall. I've been hired by the Sierra Club to make a short video about the environmental impact of the wall, and so I'm here trying to get interviews with local enviros and beautiful nature footage of the stretches of habitat along the river where DHS is planning to come in with bulldozers and piledrivers and whatever else and put in their big steel boondoggle, ruining this habitat and cutting off access to big parcels of public and private land that are extremely important to the wildlife and culture and economy down here.
And speaking of culture and economy, wow. Texas sure is different. In a way it's really America in a nutshell, an America I sometimes forget is out there... but I've said that about LA too. However, LA is just the bleach-blonde, boob-job America in a nutshell, whereas Texas is like, another level of America, the trailer park, cowboy, monster truck, baptist church America in a nutshell.
And yet this borderlands ribbon of South Texas is fascinating, as all the borderlands are. There's a unique culture as well as a unique ecological treasure (tons of amazing birds, ocelots, rare sabal palm trees, etc). There's an amazing mix of "Winter Texans" - mostly elderly folks who come down here to escape the winter, mostly in RVs - good 'ol boys, Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, vacationing college kids (south padre island is right off the coast here)... it's pretty interesting.
And into this mix wades the fascist police-state right wing, come to put up their little toy fence. This devastation is all so that Chertoff and Bush and all their political buddies can say they did something to stop the HUGE wave of terrorists sneaking in from Mexico (hah!), and so the racists and anti-immigrationists can feel a moment of satisfaction, at least until, sitting in their armchairs in Dallas and Denver and Boise and Sioux City and Boondocks, Ohio and wherever the hell else, they realize, finally looking closely at the map of the new construction, that we're talking about little 2 or 4 or 10 mile chunks of wall with huge 2 or 5 or 20 or 500 mile spaces in between, and that even the sections that have wall will only slow down migrants for about 3-10 seconds as they climb over, dig under, cut through, go around, or even just buy a fake visa instead.
Like I keep saying, Nothing will sway these people from coming except fixing the economic catastrophe that is destroying their countries and ruining their livelihoods - NAFTA and CAFTA and other trade policy foisted on them by the U.S. - because they're starving, and they don't care if you arrest them or hold them in a detention cell, because the alternative is to stay home and starve to death with their kids.
Ok, sorry, I went into rant mode. It's first thing in the morning and I just had my morning coffee and the caffeine is coursing through my veins. hah.
I'm working on 3 different major (to me), funded video projects right now. Pretty exciting, but all 3 of them are in pre-production, though for one of them I have already shot some preliminary material. This means that I've been spending hours and hours every day for weeks just planning shoots and associated travel and logistics. Calling, emailing, asking for location permissions, poring over maps, looking at calendars, buying plane tickets, renting cars, etc etc etc.
I'm sick of it. This is why, I now viscerally understand, there are producers, as a role separate from directors. I need one, or 2 or 3. I'm exhausted and I haven't even shot anything. Dammit.
Did I wake up in an alternative Universe? I see this morning in my inbox a message to 20-some indymedia lists from one Elijah Gatewood, supposedly a "contributing journalist at IMC affiliates for five years." This Mr. Gatewood is proposing that the Independent Media Center endorse Michael Bloomberg for president.
What?! How could Elijah Gatewood have any familiarity with Indymedia and somehow think it would be conceivable that we would want to endorse Bloomberg, or for that matter ANYONE for the office of President? This guy is a clueless moron, or else I have rolled over in bed through a rift in space-time and woken up in Bizarro World.
It never ceases to amaze me how many crazy wingnuts are out there....
I'm way behind on my book reviews - I wanted to blog about the last few books I've read, and the list keeps growing.
I'll start with a quite large book that is itself the abridged version of a 7-volume set authored by William T. Vollman. It's called "Rising Up and Rising Down", a project Vollman worked on for 23 years, and it's all about violence, and when it's okay or not okay to use it.
Vollman is one of my favorite fiction writers, having a gritty style similar to Pynchon, Burroughs, Vonnegut, that sort of thing, with a focus usually on the dark underbelly of society, such as prostitutes, guerillas, drug addicts, war zones, and the like. But Vollman is also a journalist, and he's been to some of the most dangerous places on earth, like Kosovo, Colombia, Somalia, etc. All these experiences have been research opportunities for "Rising Up and Rising Down".
His task was to figure out every category of violent act and then explain whether the actor was justified doing it, and why. The centerpiece of the book is what he calls the Moral Calculus, a long, exacting outline-format explication of all the different reasons and excuses people might have for using force: everything from defense of class to defense of land to defense of the earth. It's pretty complete, and it would be worthwhile to make a small booklet out of just this part, which takes up about 60 pages.
On either side of this section is basically case studies - first, historical ones, based on research, like the case of Trotsky and the Russian Revolution, or Lincoln and the Civil War. At the end of the book is more personal, anecdotal case studies, from Vollman's own experience.
As I read this I realized, and not for the first time, that I'm someone that spends a lot of time thinking about what is right and what is wrong. What is the ethical and moral way to behave? Can one defend how one behaves? And I think it's important for people to think about this. I spend quite a bit of time, in turn, marvelling at how many humans don't seem to think much about it. They don't give a fuck about doing the right thing.
For instance, just today I brought up, very seriously, some of my objections to using MySpace (not to argue that one absolutely shouldn't, but just that one should be aware that using it is a compromise, and you should only use it in a limited way, and in the most subversive manner possible), to a certain local organization I'm part of that is all about media democracy and media literacy and providing the tools of media production to those who wouldn't normally have them. After a couple responsible replies from a couple others, one person just made a joke about how yes, she did use myspace and she also sometimes forgot to cut up plastic 6-pack holders, and a list of other "bad" things she did. Very flippant, very cocky. Well, fuck you.
Doing the right thing and being serious about how you behave in the world DOES matter, and if you're going to live like every other American fuckwad and yet talk like you don't, then you're even worse than those clueless dipshits. Put your money where your mouth is or get the fuck out of my way.
So, I'm going off on a tangent a little but I mention it because that's why books like Vollman's are important - there's so much cognitive dissonance out there, so many people who aren't squarely looking at what they do and what they object to and why, that anything that can help make it clearer is a great service to the world.
It's very easy for someone to rationalise doing something that they really know deep down is not good, but not all rationalizations are created equal.
Oh and speaking of books, I'm really getting into GoodReads, lately.
Coming up next, another book about another journalist who visits horrible places...