Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Report from Occupy Sunset Park's Unity Day!

That's me in the middle with my OSP comrades making last minute preparations at Unity Day 2. Photo by Lisa Maya Knauer.

This blog entry is crossposted from the "Kasama Threads" blog feature on the new Kasama Project 2.0 website. Kasama has revamped its website to include a less bloggy section of main articles, an open section of contributed blog posts for discussion, and even a "Kasama Social" feature that aims to be something like a Red — as in Communist — Facebook, where you can make friends, engage in conversations, post statuses, and talk about issues facing revolutionaries. I decided to make this my first post in the Kasama threads feature, but wanted to share it here on my home blog too. Be sure to check out some of the other contributions on the Open Threads feature. 

On Monday, January 21, Occupy/Ocupemos Sunset Park hosted its second annual celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday. Attended by over a hundred people in the working class community of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, the event was held at St. Jacobi Church, the original home of Occupy Sandy.
This year’s event was smaller than our first Unity Day last year, but we managed to meet two important goals for this year’s event. Last year the overwhelming majority of the 300 participants were from the city-wide Occupy movement. This year we wanted to reach more people in the neighborhood, and by working with a number of co-sponsors, we managed to attract a more sizable percentage of neighborhood folks. We also wanted to present a “Spanish-language first” atmosphere in our event, since so many people we want to reach in the neighborhood are from colonized Puerto Rico or immigrants from Mexico and Central America, and in this we were successful: everything but some of the cultural performances was bilingual. I wound up MCing the event, testing the limits of my own Spanish, but it was really a rewarding experience.

The Welfare Poets perform;
photo by Dennis Flores.
We were a little ambitious in planning the event; and wound up having to jettison a series of small-group discussions and the candle light march we had planned for afterwards due to time, but we got great feedback in general for the program.
It opened with a procession of percussionists from an Afro-Caribbean drumming ensemble. This was followed by a blessing to MLK and the ancestors in Yoruba from the Lucumi Santeria tradition. People were invited to call out the names of people who had passed and soon names like Malcolm X, George Jackson, Pedro Albizu Campos, Lolita Lebron, Chief Bey and Fred Hampton were called out from the audience. The first speech was by Juan Carlos Ruiz of Occupy Sandy who urged us to put MLK in the context of current struggles. He roused the audience by asking the audience to stand up and tell each other “Tu lucha es mi lucha! Your struggle is my struggle!”

This was followed by a performance by the amazing Welfare Poets, a hip-hop/activist ensemble full of rappers, percussionists, drummers, dancers and singers. They were recently targeted by the NYPD, some of their members were arrested and accused of being associated with the Macheteros, underground Puerto Rican independence fighters. One of the Welfare Poets’ songs pointedly criticized President Obama and his drones. By the end of their performance people were dancing in the aisle.

The next speech was by Occupy Sunset Park and Occupy Sandy organizer Diego Ibañez. He talked about the the destruction Hurricane Sandy wreaked on poor communities in Brooklyn and Queens. Then he talked about the “slow hurricane” that effects neighborhoods like Sunset Park all the time: police violence, unemployment, physical neglect, the attacks on immigrants. He ended with a rousing chant of “Community is Unity and Unity is Power!”

The remainder of the program was short presentations by groups and individuals from the community, interspersed with poetry from the Peace Poets and Eric Aviles. First up was an organizer from the Workers Justice Project, a group which helps organize and protect immigrant day laborers. After she spoke one of the laborers spoke up, talking about how workers like himself were the unsung heroes of Hurricane Sandy, being among the first called in to do dangerous reconstruction work. He was moved to tears by the response of the audience. Next up were two of the rent-strikers of the 46th Street Tenants Association that Occupy Sunset Park has been helping. Sara, a forty-year resident of the buildings, originally from Honduras, told the story of living in a building neglected by a slumlord. She told how Occupy Sunset Park had helped them gain media access and the strength to force city agencies to step in. The other tenant, an elderly woman from Mexico, told the audience she didn’t care what people said about her being undocumented, she had the same rights as anyone else to a decent place to live. Next were two speakers from #YoSoy132NY. The first explained the rise of a new Mexican democracy movement organized in response to fraudulent elections, she said their struggle was the same as MLK’s struggle. The second told the story of being an indigenous native Mexican: how dare US immigration rules challenged her right to go anywhere on the continent she and her ancestors had always lived. The presentations were topped off by a rousing speech by a veteran of the Puerto Rican independence struggle, Alfredo Lopez, who echoed MLK’s last speech saying that he might not live to see the victory of our struggles but he was sure that that victory was on its way. Maritza Arrastia, an organizer with Occupy Sunset Park and a veteran of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party closed the speeches with a call for building real unity by building ongoing organizations that could challenge the difficult times that are coming.

We went downstairs for an delicious home-cooked Mexican meal. Surrounded by photos of struggles in the neighborhood and in Mexico, people ate their fill of rice and beans, tortillas and pork with spicy sauce, washed down with agua de lulo and agua de guanabana. I got a chance to talk to a number of attendees. Memorable was a guy and his girlfriend who were visiting from Argentina. When they got to the U.S., he said, he couldn’t believe how awful the political situation was. He was inspired to find something like the Asambleas Populares back home.

After dinner we were joined by the Cetiliztli Nahucampa Ensemble, a dance troupe that not only performs the dances of the indigenous Mexica (the so-called Aztecs), but performs them in the context of sacred ceremony. They lead a blessing to the four directions and to the earth in Spanish and Nahuatl before performing dances and then leading all the participants in a linked-hand serpent dance around the church basement as copal fumes drifted from the base of a carved log drum.

From my perspective the event was a great success. We hoped for a formal discussion in the event on what “unity” means and how to build it, and that didn’t happen, but we’re planning a follow-up event with a less ambitious agenda of dialogue and conversation. I thought it was really significant that none of our speakers talked about pressuring politicians or about reforming police departments or voting in more “responsible” figures into government. This was all about what the community could do for itself. In that regard I felt like it reflected what I feel is the continuing subversive message of the Occupy movement. This is about challenging capitalism in a creative way. The Occupy folks who came seemed a little less fresh-faced and more grizzled: many of them have spent months doing hurricane relief mutual @id.

In truth Occupy/Ocupemos Sunset Park has been struggling to maintain momentum; and for now anyway weekly General Assemblies have ceased. But it’s clear that something real is being built here. We now face the challenges of keeping the struggle sustainable and finding ways to keep people involved. It’s going to call for more creativity to keep building an anti-capitalist community-based movement that is both revolutionary in spirit and connected to peoples’ lives. But the roots we’ve been laying down and the connections we’ve made were really evident at this event. I remain a proud participant.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Occupy Sunset Park: Unity Day 2!

For the second year, my neighborhood Occupy group "Occupy/Ocupemos Sunset Park" will be holding a celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday.

Organized in coalition with Occupy Sandy and a number of community organizations mostly from neighborhood's large Latino-immigrant population, the event is meant to frame a discussion of Unity in the context of continuing struggle and resistance. In the aftermath of Hurricane Dandy, we're hoping to address the everyday "slow hurricane" that is life in working class communities like this one under an austerity capitalism that is less and less able to provide for its citizens.

The event will have speeches and small group conversations, framed by an Afro-Caribbean opening ceremony and an indigenous Mexicayotl closing ceremony, and a performance by the Puerto Rican independista hip-hop group Welfare Poets. It's gonna be a busy day!

Click on the posters to embiggen them and see all the details. I was lucky enough to design them...even though it's definitely way text heavy I'm proud of the design.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Former Colonial Masters Return to Mali

French colonialist ground troops in Mali...2013!
Once home to one of the mightiest independent empires in West Africa, the land of Mali fell under French colonial control in the late 19th century. Mali shook off colonial rule in 1959, and experienced decades of regime change and turmoil like many other newly independent African states, struggling to find footing in the cold-war world. While much of the country lies in the southern edge of the vast Sahara, the country has rich agricultural zones and vast mineral wealth. Its modern history is a textbook example of modern neocolonial exploitation: one of the states kept on the edge of poverty by the corruption and manipulations of former colonial masters and neocolonial world powers craving resources and influence.

Last year a coup in Mali resulted in the opportunistic seizure of power in the northern half of the country by Tuareg independence fighters who briefly established the State of Azawad. But before long the Tuareg separatists were displaced by "Jihadist militias" who established a conservative Islamist rule. Allegedly tied to Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb, these militias soon showed signs of extreme fundamentalism: harsh Islamic law and the destruction of ancient cultural relics deemed to be alien to their brand of Islam.

Tuareg independence fighters
The newly-elected avowedly socialist regime of France, the former colonial power, announced it would not tolerate a "terrorist" state in Mali, and has now sent ground troops and bombers to attempt to reunify the country under the rule of the former central government. Already there are reports of civilian casualties, and already the French military strategy is being questioned as the Islamist militias have continued to make territorial advances. It's important to remember what kind of "socialists" are running France: a party with a rapist in its leadership, a party deeply committed to preserving neocolonial dominance over former French colonies, a party that profits from the imperialist exploitation of Africa and its resources, a party that exists at the expense of millions of people in the global south, kept poor so that the citizens of France can live in entitled relative luxury.

Although the United States is supposedly not 100% comfortable with the French strategy, American and British imperialism have rushed to back France, offering logistical and technical support, presumably like the logistical and technical support offered during the NATO terror-bombing campaign of Libya. It's clear much of the situation in Mali is massive blowback from Libya's NATO-hijacked revolution. While supporters of French military intervention rail against "barbarian fanatics" in northern Mali, the real barbarian fanatics are the French colonialists themselves, with a century of bloody colonial exploitation under their belt they're apparently back for more.

While it's clear the militia regime in northern Mali is anything but progressive, it should also be clear to anyone who considers themselves a revolutionary who the real enemy in this situation is, and that enemy is above all the meddling force of imperialism. There can be no support offered to French, British or US intervention: any leftist who supports such a thing should hang their head in shame. Leftists who support this intervention are once again expressing their utter lack of faith in the ability of people to organize themselves to win a better world, and revealing in their touching faith in imperialism to be somehow socially progressive an allegiance to a racism-tinged privilege that corrupts their professed socialism just as much as the rapism of the French Socialist Party of DSK. A socialist who does not have a visceral horror at the thought of modern war machines (in this case French jets) filling the skies over an African nation has redefined the notion of socialism to be something unrecognizable to those of us who think socialism is a step toward human self-emancipation.

As in many conflicts in Africa, there are complications to this situation: Mali is an ethnically diverse state with odd, arbitrary borders. But these conflicts are legacies of colonialism and neocolonialism, and the answer to these problems is to return to the ideals of African revolutionaries who dreamed of a rich continent standing free, organized collectively for the benefit of its population. Some of the Tuareg independence fighters of northern Mali have now conditionally offered to back French intervention (despite the apparent disinterest of France in an independent Tuareg state), which strikes me as a singularly terrible development for the just cause of Tuareg self-determination.

Displacing the Islamic fundamentalist militias is within the power of the Malian peoples themselves, for whom, it should be noted, such an intolerant vision of Islam is culturally alien. It is not an accident that Africa is recently or currently the scene of something like a dozen brush fires involving American and European armies. These armies are small right now, but this war in Mali is another dangerous step in the imperialist quest for mastery of that continent's resources. Opposing the intervention of French imperialism, and preventing the further involvement of U.S. imperialism, should be the natural and immediate response of those of us on these shores who believe another world is possible.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

And Syria?

Two years ago the so-called "Arab Spring" burst onto the headlines. Incredibly, authoritarian regimes across the Middle East were dramatically and fundamentally challenged by massive demonstrations and uprisings. From Tunisia to Bahrain to Yemen to Egypt to Libya it looked like the decades-long rule of dictators, mostly propped up by the U.S. and western powers, was coming to an end. Connected to a wave of mass protests across Europe, especially in Greece and Spain, the demonstrations were part of a seemingly unstoppable phenomenon of popular action that even inspired the Occupy movement here in the United States.

But nothing in the real world is simple. Although the dictators in Tunisia and Egypt were overthrown, conservative Islamist movements have stepped into the vacuum of power. The rebellion in Bahrain was crushed with the silent acquiesence of the U.S. A quick rearrangement of the chessboard stalled the struggle in Yemen, and in Libya, the uprising turned into a civil war and the lethal intervention of American and European imperialism via NATO bombing changed everything. Lower levels of civil unrest have spread to Jordan, the Palestine Authority, Iraq and even Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Morocco. If there is a sense of something new still happening in the world, there is no longer certainty that a victory for "the people" is inevitable. Which brings us to Syria.

Shortly after the demonstrations moved to Syria, the authoritarian government of Bashar al-Assad showed it had little tolerance for dissent, and moved to brutally stifle any opposition. Like in Libya, protests and uprisings quickly turned into civil war. Some have recently estimated that civil war has cost 60,000 lives. The regime has been undeniably brutal, killing civilians, punishing towns and cities with destruction for showing opposition, all the while denying the existence of a civil war and blaming everything on "gangs of terrorists." The opposition, much of it seemingly organized on sectarian lines and whole wings of it deeply influenced by militant Islamists, has given the Assad regime a serious military run for its money, holding on to towns and territory and border crossings with rebel-friendly Turkey. But the opposition has been accused, truthfully as near as I can tell, of itself committing anti-civilian massacres and acts of wanton destruction. 

I will not pretend to be any kind of expert on the Syrian situation, and I have refrained from posting here on Syria because the situation is so complicated and so full of murky facts. It looks chaotic and dangerous to me: I find the viewpoint and reporting of leftist blogger As'ad AbuKhalil of The Angry Arab News Service to be the most perceptive, sympathetic and useful: he ruthlessly critiques the brutality and excesses of both the Syrian government and its "Free Syrian Army" opposition. He has raked over the coals the uncritical western supporters of both sides in this conflict, and offers a profoundly humanistic empathy with the suffering multisectarian civilian population. A reading of As'ad AbuKhalil suggests a conflict far more complicated and tragic than a mere rebellion against a dictator is underway, full of forces who want a society that many people in Syria would be right to fear.

The "Arab Spring" has been a huge challenge for the left. Some, with some misguided notion that opponents of imperialism must embrace authoritarians politically when imperialism comes knocking, rushed first to the defense of the late Colonel Gaddafi and now to the defense of President Assad. While I do agree that opposing the intervention of U.S. imperialism in the region must come first for revolutionary and internationalist minded people here, I cannot set aside my disdain for dictators and authoritarian regimes to somehow embrace the same monsters who have been repressing their own societies for decades. The leftists who support Assad are, frankly, creepy. That is most assuredly not any kind of "solidarity" with the Syrian people. 

On the other hand some social democrats have rushed to support the NATO bombing of Libya and urge the Western arming of Syrian rebels in the name of "bourgeois democracy." In the tradition of the so-called "state department socialists" of old, these leftists forget the cardinal rule of the epoch of imperialism: that "The main enemy of every people is in their own country! ... The main enemy is at home." These leftists forget the global nature of the imperialist war against the peoples of the world; and somehow they never get around to actually arguing for the real social change of class revolution and the overthrow of capitalism in the post-Arab Spring nations. It seems to me poignantly obvious that no good will come from the meddling of the biggest imperialist power in the world — the USA — combined with the former colonial lords of Syria — Turkey and France — in that country no matter how egregious the rule of Assad. The humanitarian pretensions of the West are illusions and lies, and should be called out as such.  

It's true that the presence of Israel at Syria's door makes Syria a much more complicated situation for NATO and the U.S.; and Obama's government has already denounced a wing of the Syrian opposition as Al-Qaeda-tainted terrorists. But once again I don't think it's actual solidarity with the Syrian people not to tell the truth about Western intentions for the Syrian people. They want a docile Syria, back in the arms and markets of the West, even less of a threat to Israel than the tough-talking Ba'ath regime of Syria has actually been. They don't want popular power in Syria anymore than they want it in Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen...or the United States. The social democrats are attempting to paint their opponents on the left as supporters of Assad, and while this is a convenient lie for their own arguments, it seems to me quite far from the truth. Which brings me finally here, below, to a point of view that resonates with me.

The lengthy piece below that I am re-posting in full first appeared in Peacenotes, but I first read it when an anarchist comrade called attention to the anarchist blog Tahrir-ICN. Pseudonymously credited to a Syrian anarchist named "Mohammed," this piece has done what the American left has failed to do: offered empathy with the trials of the Syrian people but suggested that social transformation, called here a "libertarian alternative," is absolutely the only real solution. Bravo to the anarchists, for daring to remind us leftists to not be afraid of our own supposed ideals. 

You know what? If you want another world free of oppression and class misery, you have to fight for it now. No more waiting. No more silence about what is possible. About what is necessary.


SYRIA: An anarchist among jihadists

December 2012

A view from the grassroots of the Syrian revolution.

As an anarchist it wasn’t easy for me to be among Jihadists, but for some reason, it wasn’t the same treating them as a doctor.

From the first moment I entered the hospital where I was working I was clear that I would treat anyone who needed my help, be they civilians, or fighters from any group, religion or sect. I was determined that no one would be mistreated inside that hospital, even if they were from Assad’s army.

It is true that not all the free army militants are devoted jihadists, although most of them think — or say — that what they are practising is ‘Jihad’. But the truth is that there are a lot of ordinary people among them, as in any armed struggle.

Yes, I helped some jihadists to survive and others to go back to fight. But my real intention was to help the masses I belong to, firstly as a physician, and secondly as an anarchist.

My real problem, and that of the oppressed in general I think, is not with god himself, but with human beings who act as gods and are so sick with authority that they think and act like gods, be they secular dictators like Assad or Islamic imams.

God himself is never as deadly dangerous as those who ‘speak’ for him.

My first and lasting impression about the current situation in Syria is that there is no longer a popular revolution going on there. What is taking place is an armed revolution that could now simply degenerate into a civil conflict.

The Syrian people — who showed unprecedented courage and determination in the first few months of the revolution, defying Assad’s regime despite its brutality — are now exhausted. Nineteen long months of fierce repression, hunger, widespread scarcity and continuous bombardment by the regime’s army have weakened their spirit. And the beneficiary of all this hasn’t been the regime, but the opposition, especially the Islamists.

Drawing on its international relationships — especially those with the rich Gulf despotisms — the latter can now feed and support the hungry population in the areas controlled by its forces. Without such support, a grave humanitarian situation would be taking place.

But this support is not provided for free, either by the Gulf rulers or the opposition leaders. They, like any other authoritarian force, are asking the masses for submission and obedience, and this can only mean the real death of the Syrian revolution as a courageous popular act of the Syrian masses.

The problem with what is happening now in Syria is not only the difficult and bloody process of changing a ruthless dictatorship, but that we may be substituting it with another dictatorship, which could be worse and bloodier.

Early in the revolution, a small number of people — mainly devoted Islamists — claimed to represent the revolting masses and appointed themselves the true representative of the revolution. This went unchallenged by the mainstream of the revolutionary masses and intellectuals. We [anarchists] opposed these claims, but we were — and still are — too few to make any real difference.

These people claimed that what was taking place was a religious war, not just a revolution of oppressed masses against their oppressor, and they aggressively used the fact that the oppressor [Assad] was from a different sect of Islam than the majority of the people he was exploiting — a sect that Sunni scholars have judged to be against the teachings of true Islam.

We were shocked by the fact that the majority of Alawis (the sect of the current dictator), who are poorer and more marginalised than the Sunni majority, supported the regime; and participated in his brutal suppression of the revolution. And this was used as ‘evidence’ of the ‘actual religious war’ taking place between Sunnis and Alawis.

Then came the material support from the Gulf rulers.

Now the potential for any real popular struggle is decreasing rapidly. Syria today is governed by weapons, and only those who have them can have a say about its present and future.

And this is not just true for Assad’s regime and its Islamic opposition. Everywhere in the Middle East the great hopes are disappearing rapidly. The Islamists seem to be getting all of the benefits of the people’s courageous struggles and could easily initiate the process of establishing their fanatical rule without strong opposition from the masses.

The other issue that I think is important for us — Arab anarchists and the Arab masses — is how to build the libertarian alternative. That is, how to initiate effective anarchist or libertarian propaganda and build libertarian organisations.

To tell the truth, I have never tried to convince anyone to be an anarchist and have always thought that trying to affect others is another way of practicing authority upon them.

But now I see this issue from another perspective. It is all about making anarchism ‘available’ or known to those who want to fight any oppressing authority, be they workers, the unemployed, students, feminists, the youth, or ethnic and religious minorities.

It is about trying to build an example — or sample — of the new free life, not only as a living manifestation of its potential presence, but also as a means to achieve that society.

Our Stalin or Bonaparte is not yet in power, and the Syrian masses still have the opportunity to get a better outcome than that of the Russian revolution. It is true that this is difficult and is becoming more so every minute, but the revolution itself was a miracle, and on this earth the oppressed can create their miracles from time to time.

We, Syrian anarchists, are putting all our cards and all our efforts with the masses. It could be no other way, or we would not deserve our libertarian name.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year 2013!

Self-organize - conflict - revolution from

I don't know anything about the Italian website behind this beautiful poster but it seems like an auspicious way to start the new year. "Self-organization" check. "Conflict" check. "Revolution" check. And that's Lenin, who despite all the valid critiques that might be made, still led the world's first successful overthrow of capitalism.

As I wrote to friends, "I am grateful for a life-changing year, especially for rediscovering the hope of a better world, and for the joy in meeting comrades along the way. I've certainly felt challenges, limitations, and bumps in the road — not to mention my old-man knees — and I expect plenty of these in the future as well. If I have worries for my own future — the usual necessary distractions of money, employment and health — I enter the new year with profound optimism for the struggle for that new world. Not because our enemies are weak, they are most assuredly anything but that, but because we are finding our collective strength. The world might look like it's going all to hell, but that is still reversible. I know much about 2013 will be difficult, but I intend to spend more time organizing than mourning. How about you?

Oh and because some things really need to be said: fuck capitalism. fuck the republicans. fuck the democrats. fuck barack obama. fuck mayor bloomberg. fuck hilary clinton. fuck christine quinn. fuck the nypd. fuck the state. fuck bigotry. fuck racism. fuck rape. fuck every lying, murdering oppressive government in the whole world. fuck drones. fuck the entire machinery of state repression. and not in a good way. #revolution."

Happy new year! Hasta la victoria siempre!