Sunday, October 30, 2011

No Ideology Is an Ideology

In a recent episode of Fresh Air, Ioan Grillo, author of El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency, made the following claim about Mexican drug cartels: "Now, the drug cartels don't have an ideology like al-Qaida or an ideology like communist insurgents or even a nationalist agenda. They're after controlling territory for their criminal business interests. We've seen, now, in the last four-and-a-half years, more than 3,000 police, soldiers and officials killed by these drug cartels."

Let's parse that quote. The drug cartels threaten, murder, and decapitate in defense of their right to make unregulated profits for their "business interests," yet they do not have an ideology. How can that be? Carving out a market through violence and intimidation sounds less like the nihilism of Turgenev's Bazarov than a perverse embodiment of a radically capitalist ideology.

How should we read this exclusion of a clearly Capitalist ideology from the ranks of ideology in light of recent critique that NPR is slowly "drift[ing] to the right"? Is Capitalism-as-no-ideology the "obscene supplement" that allows the totalization of the Capitalist ideology? As Slavoj Zizek writes of the perverse effects of excluded content: "these unintended perverse by-products, far from effectively threatening the system of symbolic domination, are its inherent transgression, its unacknowledged obscene support." In other words, the first rule of fight club: "You do not talk about fight club." Normalizing the Capitalist ideology as the dialectically synthesized end of history prevents critical discussion of the anti-human and anti-ecological effects of laissez-faire economics.

Occupy Wall Street has occupied the parks, the streets, and the bank lobbies. Soon we will occupy board rooms, universities, and stock exchanges. Long-term success, however, requires us also to occupy the discourse. Just as we shut down business as usual, we must also shut down corporate media discourse, commercial and non-commercial alike, that refuses to allow a critique of Capitalism's black magic.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Gaian Conversations

Some inimitable conversations I've had at Occupy Portland:

On my second day in the camp, I talked with a dirt hippie. He had mud-splattered cheeks and short hair chopped unevenly like a shy child in a Hooverville. He wore a girl's dress as a shirt and looked like an eighteen-year-old version of the kid who runs for cover whenever the authorities arrive at the compound. He had a plan to create the ultimate propaganda poster—out of cardboard and magic marker—that would reveal the incestuous interlocking relations of all the major corporations. The plan was to encourage fellow travelers to rid themselves of any corporate influence by showing the maddening concatenations that rule over our lives. He then suggested that at the next General Assembly, we should find consensus to the following course of action: We should infiltrate the Air Force, steal a squadron of planes, and drop food bombs onto starving countries.

One woman of the Flower generation feared that a sign along the camp's perimeter urging the easing of marijuana laws might muddy Occupy Portland's message. Her concern was both understandable and legitimate. It was also undercut by the man in a pink leotard dancing to the Thompson Twins and Madonna blaring from the pink ghetto blaster he pushed in a shopping cart festooned by streamers and glitter. And by the Ron Paul posters. And by the endless proclamations to "End the Fed." And by the people's garden newly planted in Lownsdale Square. And by the ravers pulsating to Dub Step. And by the dead bald eagle, murdered by pollution and greed, hanging of a tree branch. And by the single "Grandmother Against Torture." And by my personal, unstated demand not to let them immanentize the Eschaton.

I met another man, Antonio from Engineering, who had a plan to harness the energy from the rainwater draining off the tarps and tents. The details were murky, but he believed with the proper application of techne and a bit of magic, raindrops could provide for the camp's electricity needs. He also planned to collect the runoff to provide graywater to ease the job of Sanitation. Both ideas blazed with a Gaian boldness and resonated with Ernst Callenbach's Ecotopia and the imaginative uses for sustainable organic plastics in a stable-state society.

These and other conversations sparkled with the sheen of an expanded field of legitimate debate. The 99% are a varied collective of dreamers.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Veterans for Peace March: October 15, 2011


On Satuday, October 15th, I was in the occupied library when I heard a drum line pounding out a primal rhythm. I went to the corner of SW 4th and Salmon to see an epic mass of people marching down the street. Drum line, chanting, singing, sign-holding. I even saw the Supreme Court marching with their corporate sponsors worn NASCAR-style across their chests. The march continued across the whole of my vision. It went on for at least six, seven blocks of people walking shoulder to shoulder, heel to toe.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Everything

Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Portland

Occupy Chicago

Occupy Boston

Occupy DC

Occupy Philly

Occupy Atlanta

Occupy SF

Occupy LA

Occupy Seattle

Occupy Charleston

Occupy Minneapolis

Occupy Orlando

Occupy Morgantown

Occupy Eugene

Occupy Wasilla

Occupy St. Paul

Occupy Fargo

Occupy Miami

Occupy Dallas

Occupy Austin

Occupy Orange County

Occupy Olympia

Occupy Kansas City

Occupy St. Louis

Occupy Pittsburgh

Occupy Erie

Occupy Birmingham

Occupy Columbus

Occupy Cleveland

Occupy Cedar Rapids

Occupy Kalamazoo

Occupy Tokyo

Occupy London

Occupy Paris

Occupy Lagos

Occupy Osaka

Occupy Riyadh

Occupy Seoul

Occupy Chiapas

Occupy Mexico City

Occupy Lima

Occupy Cusco

Occupy Rio de Janeiro

Occupy Sao Paolo

Occupy Santiago

Occupy Bogota

Occupy Ottawa

Occupy Toronto

Occupy Vancouver

Occupy Sidney

Occupy Perth

Occupy Christchurch

Occupy Wellington

Occupy Beijing

Occupy Shanghai

Occupy Guangzhou

Occupy Tibet

Occupy Mumbai

Occupy Calcutta

Occupy Taipei

Occupy Nairobi

Occupy Berlin

Occupy Ljubljana

Occupy Reykjavik

Occupy Stockholm

Occupy Oslo

Occupy Helsinki

Occupy Timbuktu

Occupy Tripoli

Occupy Tunis

Occupy Cairo

Occupy Bucharest

Occupy Madrid

Occupy Barcelona

Occupy Bern

Occupy Vienna

Occupy Pretoria

Occupy Johannesburg

Occupy Your Mind

Occupy the Land

Occupy Your City

Occupy Everything

Occupy Everywhere

The Poor Sleep Among Us

Occupy Portland has rightly been receiving criticism. If Chapman and Lownsdale Squares were filled with homeless people instead of with the privileged creative class, the city would not bend to their demands. In fact, the city would run them out of the parks. The police would enforce the anti-camping ordinances. The city council would use the encampment as an excuse to write rules more draconian than the controversial sit-lie laws. But the bongo-slapping hippies and anonymous types in Guy Fawkes masks can stay, the argument goes, because they are mostly middle class and mostly white. The conflict has been summed up by a sign hanging outside Occupy Portland that disparaged the camp as PRIVILEGED DIGNITY VILLAGE.

To heighten the contradiction, another illegal homeless camp has sprung up on West Burnside. As this camp exists solely to help the homeless, and as it appears on a block of land owned by a man who has been in near constant conflict with the city over the land's use (Anybody remember "Randy Leonard's Hit Squad"?), the outlook for this second encampment is far less rosy. It has already received warnings from the Bureau of Development Services. Nobody expects this second encampment to last very long. The Portland Mercury's Denis C. Theriault points to the injustice: "[I]n Portland, apparently, not all occupations are created equal."

While accurate, this criticism misses the point. First, Occupy Portland is a political and cultural movement the likes of which have not been seen in the US since Richard Milhous Nixon prowled the Oval Office, rubbing together his blood-stained hands, and shouting obscenities into hidden microphones. City governments can no more easily channel the tidal anger represented by the occupations than officials in coastal Japan could hold back a tsunami. The wrong reaction  could result in a Fukushima of toxic public sentiment. Police actions against other occupations, most notably Occupy Wall Street, have increased public sympathy while drawing attention to the issues of economic and political inequality that motivate this movement. Those in charge realize we might have a Tiananmen moment on our hands. In an era of the democratic panopticon, where cameras are as ubiquitous as Starbucks, they want to avoid any iconic images like this, this, or this. Thus they choose to bide their time and accommodate the occupation.

Second, Occupy Portland has not created a space for privilege while excluding the poorest among us. In fact, those experiencing homelessness, including families, have been arriving at the occupation to find a safe place to sleep. At the occupation, they can live with dignity without being awakened each morning by a swift kick in the ribs, and without their economic condition being criminalized.

Finally, the occupation has opened up a space for discussion and action around a community of issues, including homelessness. The Pew Research Center points out that the economy is now the most important media topic, "largely driven by dramatically increasing media attention to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations." Not only has the tone and content of the American conversation shifted, but solidarity actions across the country have sprouted like mushrooms after the rain. Occupy LA, for example, has joined forces with Rose Gudiel and ReFund California to save her family's home from foreclosure. With each success, the people become more emboldened. The occupations have shifted the balance of power away from the pro-corporate propaganda of the colonized media and toward an occupied consciousness.

The issues raised by the occupations have yet to be hashed out and clarified. While the battle lines have largely been drawn, the major clashes have not yet occurred. The city of Portland has not yet decisively responded to the new homeless encampment on West Burnside. More importantly, we have yet to see what sort of solidarity action Occupy Portland will engage in when the city moves against the West Burnside encampment. This much is certain: the future is untweeted, and in a networked world, information travels with seismic velocity. We won't know what hit us till we are dusting ourselves off.

Change You Can Believe In

"Matt," an older man says, looking at my nametag. "I'm from Portland State. Can you guide me to the movement's leaders?"

I look at him and make no effort toward answering.

"Right, right. No leaders. What about a spokesman?"

My jaw slackens. He presumes that since I wear a speckled armband to identify myself as an occupied librarian and a name tag to make myself more accessible to the scores of newly conscious walk-ins looking to drop off or pick up revolutionary information, that I must have a ganglial link to the movement's frontal lobe.

"How do you hope to achieve change if you have no leaders and no spokesmen?"

"Look around you," I say with a sweep of the hand. We stand near a makeshift canteen that serves three squares a day to hundreds of campers ranging from the homeless to the trustafarian. A xylophone trio is laying down an anti-gravitational groove. A statue of a pioneer family stands wrapped in the Cascadian flag and holds a cardboard sign reading WE ARE THE 99%. Above our heads flutters a kaleidoscope of tarps. "Let me ask you a question. Have you ever seen anything like this before?"

He shoots me a look as if to say Yeah, I rode this wave in 1968 until it crashed on the bloody streets of King Daley's Chicago.

"In every major city of the United States?"

"Not in every city," he says.

"All around the world?"

Index finger on his chin, he nods.

"How can we hope to create change? Let me ask you that question. If what we are witnessing is radically new, have we not already succeeded?"

Monday, October 10, 2011

"I, Anonymous"

Known primarily for its snark and for the willingness of its reporters to kill stories in exchange for jobs on the public dole (see also: Amy Ruiz, Sam Adams, and Beau Breedlove), the Portland Mercury provides one vital public service, the "I, Anonymous" column. "I, Anonymous" publishes the anonymous rantings of pissed-off citizens. It's usually good for a chuckle and often lets the reader in on the psychic pulse of Portland. This week, they published this piece that puts the Portland Marathon/Occupy Portland kerfuffle in perspective.

"Congratulations, you have run roughshod over peoples' right to assembly, interrupting the most important political movement in this country since the protests of the Iraq war, all so that you can revel in your own vanity. . ." READ MORE

This anonymous writer infuriates many commenters. If you have to explain a joke. . .

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Revolutionary Libary

On Saturday, October 8, 2011, I was sitting on a bench beside three gutter punks. One wore pomo muttonchops and a satanic ├╝bermullet. He hacked at an acoustic guitar, spitting out Minor Threat–era songs. I was writing in my journal these words—"in the Spirit of the October Occupations"—when three people stopped in front of me.

"Mic check!"

"Mic check!"

"If you are interested"

"If you are interested"

"in volunteering in the library,"

"in volunteering in the library,"

"please gather"

"please gather"

"in the library"

"in the library"

"in a few minutes."

"in a few minutes."

At West Virginia University I worked in the Wise Library and the Law Library. I'd not yet had the opportunity to take part in a revolutionary library. Such a chance was not likely to come again.

After Leah showed the new volunteers about the space and gave us a rundown of what the library had done so far, we sat in a circle to discuss our ideas for a library in the Occupy Portland camp. We agreed that a library has the responsibility to archive and disseminate information. As all who stepped foot into Chapman Square could sense they were entering a vortex of transformation, we felt that the library had a responsibility to make sense of that tipping point. We agreed that a library should help to clarify and further this revolutionary moment. We would compile information, host classes, have an art space, create a chronicle of the occupation, . . .

About a half hour after the conversation, two men showed up and asked if we would like a yurt. They had built it earlier that afternoon in their backyard and thought the library could use a dry spot in which to offer classes. Minutes later, six of us were standing around what appeared to be a stack of wooden posts. Soon we unbound the posts accordion-like until they cut off a circle fourteen feet in diameter and seven feet off the ground. We raised the roof like a blue-tarp umbrella and settled it on the posts. Instant yurt.

In the space of a few hours, I'd gone from occupying a park bench wondering what it means to raise one's consciousness to sitting beneath a yurt with fellow peaceful radicals plotting a democratic and caring pathway out of the cul-de-sac of a barren capitalist culture.

In the distance I heard chanting: "This is what democracy looks like."

A Brief History of Fossil Fuels

The Post Carbon Institute has been providing top-notch media to raise awareness of our dire ecological situation. In "300 Years of Fossil Fuels in 300 Seconds," they provide a quick and insightful overview of our troubled relationship with fossil fuels.

In the Spirit of the October Occupations

On October 6, 2011, I got home from work, pumped up my perpetually low back tire, and biked downtown to see if I could catch up with the Occupy Portland movement. I missed the march from the waterfront to Pioneer Square, said to be up to 10,000 strong, but I caught up with a critical core of hundreds who had occupied Chapman Square and Lownsdale Square at SW 3rd and Main. Around a monument to Oregon's war dead gathered a line of speakers waiting for their turn at the bull horn. Each spoke for a minute or so, starting their speech with the words "Mic check," and then rapping with a cadence of clipped lines echoed by the crowd for the benefit of those out of earshot. (This is called the "human microphone" by Naomi Klein.) Each speaker's words were carried by the lips and into the hearts and minds of every other member of the crowd. By speaking in unison, we ceased to be individuals, but became cells in the body of a rapidly evolving organism. Later that evening, I sat on the damp concrete and took part in my first General Assembly, as Occcupy Portland democratically worked out our responses to the difficulties inherent in occupying our city.

In just a couple days, the occupation has transformed from a march of disenchanted citizens to a living experiment in direct democracy. We have set up a Temporary Autonomous Zone that is evolving to meet the needs not only of its residents but of the continuing Occupation.

Occupy Portland is a flame in the prairie fire that has been lit by sparks flying off the Occupy Wall Street movement in NYC. A raging inferno, Occupy Wall Street was itself lit by embers floating across the Atlantic from Tahrir Square. The Arab Spring caught fire when Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, torched himself rather than continue to submit to corrupt officials. In honor of Bouazizi's courage, I write this blog.

These Occupations represent a spiritual, cultural, and political awakening. Follow The Hemlock Report for a first-hand account of Occupy Portland as well as a philosophic, pragmatic, and poetic exploration of responses to our current crises.

Finally, thank you to the 99% who have awoken in 2011 of their slumber.