Friday, February 18, 2005

From a friend in Nepal

I thought this might be of interest. I received this today from a friend who has been travelling and teaching in Nepal, India and Thailand for the last 5 months. -R


After 4 days of train travel in India, I flew from Varanasi to Kathmandu. I wanted to travel overland b/c its considerably cheaper...but the Maoists closed off all land borders for entry and exit to locals and foreigners.

Kathmandu is quiet, but very stressed. The energy is quite different from 2 months ago. The people are scared. Thus far there haven't been any bombs in the central Kathmandu area. But, the situation is escalating. I am glad to be leaving Nepal in 20 days. It doesn't feel safe here. Traffic is sporadic, and phones and internet are now only available on the black market. Right now, I'm sitting in a family's living room using their computer.

There has been quite a few food shortages due to new import bans. So. many restaurants have closed and the price of food, even Dal Bhat is enormous. There are protests in the park, and demonstrations in the steets. The military is everywhere. There's even a curfew that begins at 8pm. with the military patrolling the streets. They bang their sticks on the ground to announce themselves. All night long I could hear them outside my window.

Aside from all these things I was glad to leave India. My experience with Indian men has been more than disappointing. Sadly, women travelling alone are easy targets.

I booked my plane tickets in Mumbai. I have 20 more days in Nepal, about the same in Thailand, and then I fly into _____ 3/31 and then back to __ sometime in early April. Not so far away. I can't say I'm ready to return, but I'm running out of money. What to do? At least I'll have missed winter before I return to the valley.

How are all of you?

I send my love,


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

On Creating Resistance Memes

"It was too dangerous to openly state ones opposition, with the possible penalty of being sentenced to time in a concentration camp.

"You had to keep everything secret," remembers Wittenstein. "You could not even trust your friends. I was in a movie theatre once and during a news reel, when Hitler was speaking, someone must have made a remark. He was removed by the Gestapo. When we talked anything about politics at home, we would put a tea cozy over the phone so no one at home would hear. It was a great risk, of course. It would be weeks and months before you knew someone well enough that you could talk to them.

- from Holocaust Biographies: Hans and Sophie Scholl - German Resisters of the White Rose by Toby Axelrod

We clearly haven't gotten quite to this point, (although people like Sherman Austin might disagree), but what happens when they do? We feel protected by our vast communications networks, which seems rather naive, considering who controls the corporations and satellites that comprise those networks.

It might be a good idea to come up with a bunch of resistance-oriented memes or ways of identifying like-minded thinkers. There are obvious ones like "team colors" as one of the presenters described Anarchists black & red. The myth of the "Underground Railroad Quilts" has been busted, but the fact that it captured so many people's attention and credibility is interesting. If the meme spread so quickly in just 3 or 4 years, perhaps something similar would be viable?

Friday, December 03, 2004

On the Evils of Public Education

A few months ago I was engaged in a discussion with a friend about education in the US. Her concern was whether or not she would be doing a disservice to the public school system by not putting her child into it, when by being in the school system she could work to prevent its failure for others not as privileged, educated, etc.

The first question to answer is, "What is wrong with public schools?" The biggest problem with both public schools, and most of the "good" private schools in the US is that they are either state-run or state-sanctioned. Another way to look at this problem is through this question: "How does the state define success?"

The State doesn't want children (or adult Americans) to be great thinkers and producers of new and innovative technologies. It doesn't want them to think for themselves or do great things. Rather, all of the goals of Standardized Testing, NCLB legislature and other developments in "education reform" have been designed to churn out high "achievers" - children who score well, who fit into their slots, who will someday seamlessly transition into the state-sanctioned world of go-to-cubefarm, make-money-pay-mortgage, make-babies-pay-tuition, retire-ontime-accept-shitty-pension, die. The State does NOT want people who will actually make a difference, who will change that status quo. Anyone or any groups of people who try are violently put down. They are sent to the principal's office, they are put in detention, they are expelled. Outside of school they are teargassed, jailed, and killed.

Occasionally someone appears who is so remarkable, so charismatic, so successful in gettting others to sympathize with their cause, the states has no choice but to acknowledge them. When this happens, the state tends to put its own special spin in it, simplifying, cleaning up, whitewashing. Instead of members of a larger movement, they are singled out and made into unrealistic "heroes." James W. Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me says of heroification, "Through this process, our educational media turn flesh-and-blood individuals into pious, perfect creatures without conflicts, pain, credibility or human interest." Loewen describes in detail what happened to Hellen Keller in the hands of the mainstream education system. Everyone knows about the deaf and blind little beast who is tamed and taught by the well-educated Anne Sullivan. Then what? "The truth is that Hellen Keller was a radical socialist...Keller hung a red flag over the desk in her study. Gradually she moved to the left of the Socialist party and became a Wobbly, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), the syndicalist union persecuted by Woodrow Wilson." (Loewen, p. 20-21) Teaching those things about Keller would require an honest look at what Socialism is, what the IWW was, what "syndicalism" means, and why someone as wholesome and inspiring an American hero as Hellen Keller would want to have anything to do with them.

The opposite is true as well. In the same chapter Loewen talks about Woodrow Wilson, who is seen as a "great president" who is perhaps most famous for "giving" women the vote. The horrible things he did are often completely omitted or at best mentioned but written in such a way that this "hero" is blameless. (Loewen, p. 25)

Is there a small group of individuals in power? If the answer is yes, you're not living in any sort of democracy. The Powerful will create a school system that keeps Themselves and their friends on top of that power structure. No one who has power ever wants it taken away, just as those with no power want it. The only chance of success is a system where everyone is truly equal.

Are you doing a disservice to others who can't pull their children out of public schools? Perhaps you can be that revolutionary reformer from within. But the chances are slim. You are doing more of a disservice to your child by keeping them there. As another friend pointed out, by putting your child in school, you are preventing your child from growing up to be one of the radicals, revolutionaries, people that will help others break free.

Monday, November 29, 2004

On Using Violence in Activism

I was reading this article and came across this sentence: "I was part of that history -- it doesn’t matter on what side; that was a pure accident."

Goff's basic premise is that there will always be war and conflict and fighting and taking up of weapons - which certainly seems to be true, part of the human condition thus far, anyway. but the "accident" part is odd - we (the "left") think that we (the imperialists) have the choice to be a part of the violence or not. we can join the armed forces or not. If you do, the left says you are a meathead. if you don't, the left congratulates you and we all sit around wringing our hands, in the quiet comfort of our bloodsoakedoil-heated houses or SUVs, wearing clothes from The Gap and wondering why "They" hate us. He states this more clearly further down the page: "... if you so much as breathe in the United States of America, you are as much a part of the body of actually-existing imperialism as any nervous, trigger-happy Marine killing a family at a Baghdad roadblock."

I will not join the armed forces, haven't even uttered a word of deliberate (racism is insidious) anti-arab sentiment but I am equally complicit in representing the people that I was born to. If there really will always be war, if conflict is human, then arguing to stop the war is futile and pointless. We should be arguing on behalf of the war, urging it to its logical conclusion. But if the colonizers are ejected, their empire crushed, who next to take our place? Goff addresses the reader as "soldier," which includes anyone who lives on this side of the Imperial fence. Here he shares a worldview with Dubya. "If you aren't fighting against X you are with Y." And perhaps in a sense he is right.

But, what if? What if we don't see the human condition as static? What if we see a gradual shift taking place over tens of thousands of years that holds the promise of enlightened peaceful human social conditions? What of us idealists who think there can be another way? Sure, we may be on a side by birth, but if birth is an accident, why does it have to stay that way? Can a nation of colonists help but create more colonies? Can we create sovereignty on all levels from the personal to the national?

Goff also says:

"You will not win with non-profits. You will not win with non-violence. You will not win with non-committal. To win you must become effective, and when you do, you will be attacked. Then you will fight or you will be exterminated. You may even fight and still be exterminated. No guarantees. We are responsible.

You will never make a revolution behind the bourgeoisie’s back, because the bourgeoisie has eyes in the back of its panopticon head. You will never make a revolution while the ruling class sleeps, because it never sleeps. You will not sneak up on necessity, and no one can evade it.

I agree. Humans don't like change. Those who hoarde and wield great power don't give it up willingly. So how do we create a third side? A second front? A side for those who don't want to "protect our way of life," but to tear it down, and not put anything at all back in its place?

Goff concludes, "It’s a system, an expression of an immensely complex and dynamic web of relationships and realities, and it will default to its basic program -- capital accumulation -- again and again and again, until it is destroyed." "It" being the United States? If we are all soldiers, what must our weapons be? Are guns the only option? When the time comes to actually take up arms, what will the sides actually be? He says to "abandon yourself to unity," but what will that unity look like? What will it be based on?

Perhaps this is a question we can't answer right now. But maybe this is why so much of the "left" is not prepared for violence. The war machine hasn't come for us yet, so we still have the luxury of looking at ideals and alternative solutions. We still have time for denial.

So if Goff is right, and we will need to use violence, should we wait for them to come after us? Ward Churchill said, "You can gauge the effectiveness—real or potential at least—of any line of activity by the degree of severity of repression visited upon it by the state." The implication being we need to pick a fight with oppression. That's very difficult to organize.

Sooner or later the Imperialists will go too far, will push even the least radicalized of us to realize that we're no longer free and that if we want to be we're going to have to fight for it.