I've been reading an amazing new book called "The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex." It's a pretty eye-opening and provocative read, and would probably be for almost any activist, to varying degrees depending on how involved with or how much you've thought about being involved with social change institutions (for some definition of "institution").
The subject is really important to think about. The book is an anthology of different writings by different people, and some of them are from the academy and speak academese, but here is a great summary quote from one particularly clear and to-the-point and down-to-earth piece, by Madonna Thunderhawk, called "Native Organizing Before the Non-Profit Industrial Complex":
When we first heard about non-profits in the late 1970s and early 80s, it seemed like a good thing. We did not necessarily see what might happen if we started pursuing our work through non-profits; instead non-profits seemed to be just another way to raise money. But over the years, it has changed the scope of activism so that non-profits are just part of the system. The focus turned to raising money to keep the organization going, while the actual work of activism became secondary and watered down. And when the money disappeared, the work did too. Before, we focused on how to organize to make change, but now most people will only work within funding parameters. People work for a salary rather than because they are passionate about an issue.
The fundamental question that just reading the title of the book brings up for me is: What is "revolution," and how many people really want it, even those who call themselves "activists"?" Even "radicals"? In other words how many really even want fundamental systemic change? (Because if you don't, maybe it's not a big deal to you that the non-profit world is so fucked up as described by this book. As long as you, if you work in the non-profit world, have a job and you come out with a new membership drive every year, so what, right?)
How many instead are just working for some superficial, minor change? If, say, their city painted bike lanes on every street and reduced speed limits to 15 everywhere and banned cars on weekends, but everything else stayed the same about the world, or even a more extreme (maybe?) example, if we sent home all the troops from Iraq tomorrow but everything else stayed the same - how many would go home and be happy and stop "being active"?
I wish it were easy to bring this up and talk about it with everyone. How many even think about this? What is "revolution" to you, exactly? Do you want it? If not, what is it exactly that you want? How much change is enough? Would you give up your nonprofit activist job, in exchange for the issue you ostensibly work on just going away and being solved? Really? Would you give up your non-activist, just-to-make money job? Your car/tv/computer/nightlife/ice cream/refrigerator? Anything? What if you didn't even HAVE to give up anything, for your issue to disappear immediately, right now. Would you push that button? Really? Then what would you do? What IS this "other world" you keep saying is possible?
I wish I could have a conference where every activist I've ever met, or lets even say every thoughtful person I know who's ever voiced a complaint about any social ill, gets up and answers all these questions, truthfully. Or at least tries - cuz it's not like I have all those questions answered for myself, either, but I want to talk about it.
A few things have come to my attention lately concerning... well, concerning "doing the right thing" as just an individual. In other words, what do us normal everypeople do about our part in the wrongs of the world?
A very interesting philosophy professor from Auburn U, Roderick Long, has written a very well-thought essay about this (sadly only in Microsoft Word format, I'm not sure why it's not just HTML). In it he writes about collective responsibility and whether one citizen, consumer, or whatnot is obligated to do something, anything, about big problems like global warming or war. I urge you to read your way through the whole carefully crafted argument, but he ends up with the conclusion that we don't all have to do everything, but it is all of our moral duty to do something about some things, and it's up to each of us to decided which things you will work on. In other words, you may disagree with me and choose to continue paying for war, and/or you may choose to continue driving a Hummer H2, but you have an obligation to be doing something about some collective ills that you're a part of. He also concludes that it is moral and right for governments to compel their citizens to do their part to right collective wrongs.
Just a few days after reading that my attention was drawn to a piece in the New York Times magazine along similar lines but with more specific conclusion by the well-known cooking and agriculture writer Michael Pollan entitled "Why Bother?", something that I understand was going around the blogosphere and forwarding circuit a lot yesterday, so maybe you've seen it already. If not, you should read it. A key side-point that he makes is, when did the idea of "virtue" become something to ridicule and look down on in our culture?
Also in the grey lady was a teaser for a little video conversation about morality and citizen responsibility, the complete version of which is at an interesting little site called Bloggingheads, in which experts and pundits face off against each other and we get to watch it in split-screen.
It's too early to say but could this be a new mini-fad? Maybe this is wishful thinking but what if, somehow, doing your own little part to save the world became some kind of fashionable? What am I thinking... I fear that only if there's a way to frame it in terms of self-interest and greed will selflessness and altruism ever become that "cool"...
In the wake of Tax Day, I just want to mention and give kudos to David Gross's excellent blog The Picket Line, which focuses on war tax resistance and related issues. We visited David and talked with him in our documentary about WTR, btw. His blog is extremely thorough and almost every day has numerous links to a variety of relevant news bits and items of interest, as well his own personal musings and reasoning. He mentioned yesterday a few actions that took place around the country on Tax Day and it made me a bit sad that we don't have in Tucson an active group of WTRs that organizes any symbolic protests on April 15, despite the fact that I know a small handful of people here who are WTRs and more could probably be gathered, as well as sympathetic folks who haven't taken the plunge but would show up to a post office demo or something. A local group is also great support and an information source for people engaged in this sort of struggle or thinking of starting.
Of course this is a futile and symbolic gesture, but this is the letter I just mailed with my tax return:
April 14, 2008
Internal Revenue Service
cc: Congressman Raul Grijalva; Senator John McCain; Senator Jon Kyl; Senator Barrack Obama; Senator Hillary Clinton; (P)resident George W. Bush; Alan Gamble, Executive Director, Peace Tax Foundation
Dear Sir or Madam,
As calculated on the enclosed 1040 form, I am liable from tax year 2007 for 1,923 dollars in federal income taxes. This is quite a bit of money. In fact, it would be enough to pay for almost half a second of the wars that the U.S. is waging in various parts of the world. Yes, that's right, our country is spending about $4000, every second, to violently destroy other countries and murder the people in them. In fact, Joseph Stieglitz, former head of the World Bank, has calculated that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will, in the end, cost about 3 trillion dollars.
I cannot with good conscience be a part of this. Starting about 6 years ago, I realized this moral imperative that I had, and since then I can say that my tax money has not willingly gone toward this carnage or any other miliary ventures, and I'm proud to say that this is true once again for me this year. Sadly, 382 dollars of my taxes were already unwillingly seized from me last year via W-2 witholding. I can't do anything about that, and it fills me with despair that about 50% of those dollars (according to the War Resisters League federal budget calculations) are now paying for people to be killed. If I am to believe Ben Metcalf's excellent article, "Why I Pay My Taxes" in the April 2008 issue of Harper's magazine, a bullet for an M-16 machine gun costs about 30 cents. That means that I might have paid for about 600 bullets. I hope and pray that none of those bullets found their mark, and if they did, that they caused only a minor and temporary injury. Or perhaps my 191 military dollars only went to pay for 2% of a JDAM "smart bomb," (about $24,000, according to Metcalf) and that that particular bomb fell far from its intended target or any "collateral damage." I can only hope that the use of my taxes was a best-case scenario of some harmless waste such as these, but I fear far worse. I can only take comfort in knowing that I did not contribute even more to the carnage, and willingly never will; that the remaining $1541 that I owe will not go toward any further death, and that all the moneys I have withheld from this evil and unjust purpose in past years is also not paying for death.
Instead, these funds have been used by me to pay for peaceful and charitable causes in my community, both local, national, and global in scope. I do believe that a citizen of this country has the obligation to do his or her part, financially, to contribute to the common good. Hence, I do not just keep these withheld taxes for my own personal gain, but I donate them to socially beneficial purposes that the government should, in a just world, be taking care of.
I realize fully that this course I describe is not sanctioned by current law. I would gladly follow the law and pay my taxes if there were a way for me to also follow my conscience and do the right thing. One way this might happen is with the Peace Tax Fund legislation, which has been introduced to Congress repeatedly over the last few decades (currently H. R. 1921). I am encouraging my elected representatives in both the legislative and executive branches to work toward making this type of option available to the citizens of our nation so that they could decide to pay for good and peaceful works of the federal government without supporting killing. Until that time I will continue to refuse to fund war in the only way that I can.
In closing, I would like to note that there are more and more citizens (voters, consumers) who feel the same way as I do. More and more people are realizing that their government is committing horrible atrocities all over the world in their name and with their money. Furthermore, more and more of these people have had enough, and are deciding to do something about it by refusing to pay for this insane horror, for the violence that the U.S. government is committing on the rest of the world. You, whatever bureaucrat or policymaker who is reading this letter and the hundreds like it arriving in your in-boxes this year, you may be able to ignore it this year, or answer it with lip service and form letters, but someday this tide of resistance will be so great that there will be no way to ignore it without severe consequences. I urge you to do something: do the right thing, before that day of reckoning comes. Change not only the options for taxpayers, but change the homicidal, and indeed suicidal, course that this country is on, before it is too late.
About 18 months ago I wrote a novel in a month as part of NaNoWriMo, and then I heard about Script Frenzy, which is the same thing but people write screenplays. Last year it was in June and I missed it because I was travelling, but I'd been looking forward to this year's ever since, and then I found out this week that they moved it to April! So, that really took me by surprise. I had been stewing in my head some ideas for my screenplay but was not really ready, creatively or just in terms of time I have in my life right now, to do it this month.
But I thought I'd try it. I have about 7 pages written but I'm finding that I don't know what I'm writing about. I have no story, just a few vague desires of subject matter to address. I'm just not ready. Also I'm finding that I feel shackled by 2 things: the screenplay format is just weird and feels very rigid, and the fact that I'm a filmmaker makes me constantly edit myself as I write, because I want to MAKE whatever I write into a film that I myself shoot. So I keep thinking, oh how would that work, I would need millions to shoot that, who would play that character, that would be too expensive, or I can't do that, or whatever.
I need to just let go and write and not worry about if it ever gets made or how. But I'm also really busy with other projects this month. Maybe on the other hand I should just pretend like scriptfrenzy is still in June and wait to do it then.
Last weekend at Dry River we had the honor of hosting Miguel, a Brazilian Indymedia videographer, and his new film, "Brad, One More Night At the Barricades," which tells the story of Brad Will, his (activist) life, and the "movement of movements" that he was a part of.
The film was really well-made, and really thought-provoking. It was told in a personal style, with the narration of Miguel tying it together with his own personal take on his murdered friend, along with the interviews with other friends of Brad, and it did a great job of depicting that feeling, which I have felt, of wondering, in a dangerous situation, when you should stop filming and take action to protect your own self. True, there was a lot of "riot porn," but overall it was a very thoughtful and powerful addition to the library of Indymedia films that try to tell the story of this struggle we're all in... Furthermore, it had the effect of softening some of my objections to the whole Oaxaca/Brad martyr/hero phenomenon.
I was going to call this post "Rich White People With Cameras Protecting Poor Brown People From Even Richer White People With Guns." But I thought that seeing that headline before reading some of the context of my thoughts would be a little too inflammatory.
It's complicated, but basically, Brad Will was one of a type of indie-journalists, a group that I'm a sometime member of too: privileged, globe-travelling white media activists, touching down in "oppression hot spots," nominally to try to document injustice and the fight against it, and get that documentation out to people who need to see it. I do that, I've done that, along with hundreds of others. And with each person, each member of this privileged group, their story is different, and the extent to which they pursue that mission with integrity is different, and varies over time, too.
Brad was no hero, and neither am I. Did I fly to Guatemala 3 years ago to go to school and improve my spanish so that I could interview the mothers of murdered girls in Juarez without an interpreter? Yes. Did I also go to Guatemala to escape winter and the boredom of everyday existence? Yes. Are there many young rich white kids with camcorders that travel to activist mobilizations with sometimes more ulterior motives than virtuous objectives? Yes.
There were similar, shall we say, complications in Brad's life, even personal imperfections I've heard about that I will discretely refrain from detailing here. However, overall, after seeing Miguel's film, I feel like Brad had a level of dedication and integrity that puts him at least at some level above the average in this group I'm talking about. He truly put his body on the line many times over the years in many places, from the Lower East Side to the Pacific Northwest to Northeast Brazil, before that day in Oaxaca where he filmed his own death. I believe now that his heart was in the right place, and though he made some mistakes, he made them for the right reasons. (Still, though the desire to not make a hero of Brad was mentioned in the film, its biggest shortcoming, I feel, is not following up on this desire quite enough.)
Greta and I talked about this with our friend Kai, a freelance photographer from Germany who has spent years in hotspots like Palestine, Iraq, and Kosovo. Do you ever think, as I do, I asked him, that it might be more effective to send or bring cameras to the oppressed peoples whose struggles you document, something like the Chiapas Media Project, and enable them to tell their own stories, instead of making trip after trip to these far-off places to tell their stories for them?
No, he said with confidence. Because white internationals won't be killed, at least not as often, and by their very presence they protect the people they're with. In fact, he said, "When in a place like that I always go with at least one other white person, so that if they kill me, at least he will witness it. 500 Palestinians claiming that I was murdered doesn't count, but one fellow white journalist does."
So what we came up with is this: Yes, we're privileged. But the mission before us is to use that privilege with integrity and purpose, as tools - tools that are a shield and a magnifying glass to protect from and reveal injustice. There are, for each of us, flaws and contradictions and failings in the day to day living of this mission, and there are people, frankly, that try harder than others. I now think Brad was probably one of those that tried at least somewhat harder than most.
Still, he shouldn't be made into a martyr, or an icon. I still flinch whenever I see his photo on the banners of indymedia sites. Honoring his memory is one thing, but making him into some sort of permanent patron saint of the Independent Media Center, turned into a logo next to a red star, is not appropriate. We do Brad an injustice by iconifying him, turning him into a symbol, just as my previous disapproval with him was really a disapproval of a stereotype that he came to symbolize for me, before Miguel's film taught me enough about him to de-symbolize him, make him real - a real person, with real dreams, commitments, desires and shortcomings, and real beliefs that he voiced in real words that had real pauses and "umms" and "uhs" in between them.
Thanks Miguel. Great job.
So I got peeved this afternoon when after I posted to a social list I'm on a last-minute announcement about an event concerning Prisoner Support and Solidarity, at Dry River tonight, this person wrote back:
On Apr 5, 2008, at 12:32 PM, [email protected] wrote:
Wait a muinute...don't forget that tonight is the special showing of the
film "Taxi to the Dark Side" at the Loft. 7:00.
Please come and have your potluck and films another time.
Night life, or activism for that matter, in Tucson isn't, or shouldn't be, IMHO, a competition, and my announcement didnt say to skip your screening at the Loft, so I quite resent that you seem to think that your event is more important than anything else and that you seem to think that it's okay to actively discourage people from doing something else. The event at Dry River has been planned for months and is at least as worthy of people's attention and attendance. A tunnel-vision, zero-sum, cuthroat jockeying for the time and interest of your fellow community members is not the way to treat other community groups that are or should be allies.
I've been asked for suggestions about fundraising for Denver IMC's coverage of the DNC this summer. They need twelve thousand dollars, apparently.
Not that I know anything special about fundraising. However, I actually think covering the DNC and RNC protests should be deemphasized, as should be the protests itself - the more media coverage of these things there are, the more sexy they seem and the more protesters will come to them and future iterations - But these mass mobilizations are a dead and tired and wasteful tactic, IMHO, and especially the party conventions, because, for one reason, for the last several elections the nominees are already chosen beforehand, and the conventions are just theater...
As far as funding goes, if possible the people that are still committed to the tactic should pay for it, but here's an idea: maybe there are some folks who could be persuaded to NOT come to Denver, and could send money instead that they would have spent on travel, that could fund local activist organizing and local indymedia coverage. If 24 people who would have spent $500 flying to denver just stayed home (or 50 that would have spent 250, or whatever, you get the idea), they'd not only have enough to cover the $12K, but they'd save literally tons of greenhouse gases...
Well, I'd heard some rumors, but today it became true. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff is going to use the waiver power given to him under little-known section 102 of the RealID Act to ignore all laws on the entire U.S.-Mexico border, so that the department can go ahead and build the border wall and not have to deal with any more legal challenges.
As of March 17, there were 309 miles of fencing in place, leaving 361 to be completed by the end of the year to meet the department's goal. Of those, 267 miles are being held up by federal, state and local laws and regulations, the officials said... building in some areas requires assessments and studies that — if conducted — could not be completed in time to finish the fence by the end of the year.
Basically, it's a big "fuck you" to Mexico and to all the U.S. citizens who live in the borderlands and elsewhere and who have repeatedly voiced opposition to this insane, racist, fascist, wasteful, useless plan.
Now's the time folks. If you give a damn about freedom, liberty, the rule of law, and/or separation of powers, let everyone know, including your congresspeople and senators. And make sure you use the word "Laws" not just "Rules," like the weasely AP article put it. We're talking about U.S. Federal LAWS, like the Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Act, and dozens of others designed to protect the American people and that have been protecting them for decades - not just some miscellaneous "rules."
Stand up and be counted because if we let this happen, next time it might be martial law that they declare.
There's precedent, by the way, for stopping this sort of thing. The FCC has repeatedly done unilateral dumbass moves and then been slapped back down by Congress after a groundswell of constituent sentiment made it impossible to ignore. That's the kind of thing we need now.
I've been using Good Reads a lot to review books and get tips from friends of good stuff they're reading.
Last week I read a book called "Unmarketable." It has a detailed and workable plan for resisting and totally destroying all commercial marketing everywhere and then in fact eradicating corporate consumer culture completely! It's a great book!
No, actually, the book was kind of underwhelming.
A lot of it is old hat to me, the copyright stuff, etc, but it documents some very recent developments in marketing that are extremely disturbing.
If you've already read books like Conquest of Cool, No Logo, Captains of Conciousness, or been reading zines like Stay Free!, this is not going to be a really useful or revelatory book.
Overall, i was disappointed because the book doesn't really provide many solutions. there's a chapter at the end called "taking dissent off the market", but it only provides one example, and a pretty tepid one, of people trying to fight and answer these latest trends in marketing. it also didn't address a fundamental question: why do some people not "get it"? Why do people, even people involved with "underground" or DIY expression, not "get" that it's a political act, and that you're helping to dilute and destroy integrity every time you go over to the other side? I guess it's just like every other political issue - some see the problem, others are just living blissfully stupid and happy. And I suppose some might say that about me (like maybe some think i'm a blissfully stupid idiot for not agreeing that fighting for impeachment of Bush is vitally important and worthy of my time).
Anyway, the book mostly just created a sense of hopelessness, and a depressed feeling that the only way to really prevail over corporate hegemony is some sort of a Fight Club style destruction of our entire civilization. sigh.