Archive for May, 2009

Poem

Posted: May 31, 2009 in Uncategorized
This is a poem I wrote this morning in response to last nights police brutality at the Bash Back! convergence. 

Life is a journey 

that is for sure.
Each time I experience something new
I just want to experience more. 
As I age I am realizing how much I grow
when I put myself in situations I hadn't before known.

I often swear I'll never get jaded
but it seems that each day more and more childhood idealism is faded. 
Police beat my friends and get away with it,
our movements grow stagnant as we take the hits. 
Perhaps there is an upside to this tragic existence,
Maybe it's the destiny of the few to always be the resistance.

We clearly are not gonna get freedom right away
but as we fight day by day
we can embrace our friends and truly say
we lived our lives free and gay.
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Just hours ago, a bunch of radical queers took to the streets in Boystown Chicago, singing chants and dancing to music being blasted through a boombox. Minutes after we started marching, cops showed up. We proceeded to march and wait for them to tell us to get out of the street. But they didn't. Instead they ran a police car into the back of the march, running over one person. Then they proceeded to run out of the cop cars with their weapons raised high and chase down whomever they could. Randomly picking some people out of the crowd, they beat them continuously, dragging them through the streets, pushing people down, etc, yelling faggots as they hit them. 

As far as I could see 3 people were arrested, though it could have been four or five. The person who was run over by the police car was rushed to the hospital. Besides the fact that it is a clear case of police brutality, there are a few reasons why this was especially fucked up. 

First of all. there were NO warnings at all. No sirens, no requests to get off the street. Just plain beatings and arrests.

Secondly, no one resisted, yet those targeted were being beaten and pushed around like they were.

Thirdly, this all took place in a completly public area at a very busy time of night. There were bystanders everywhere. Half the people that were chased down by the police were just neighborhood folk that were walking to or from downtown. 

I don't know what to think or write about all this, but the Bash Back convergence starts back up tomorrow at 9am and I'm sure there will be plenty of good discussion. 

Solidarity and good night. 

I just got back from Mountain Justice Summer Camp, one of the biannual training and action planning gatherings of Mountain Justice, a grassroots movement committed to ending Mountain Top Removal. For those who haven't heard, which unfortunately is too many, MTR is a completely unsustainable and destructive way of extracting coal from mountains. Huge sections of mountains are deforested, then blown up using explosives, killing everything in site… animals, flowers, herbs, trees… everything. Then the coal is dug out of the mountains top surfaces and loaded into coal trucks to be sent to your home town, which will in turn power your lights and lifestyle. This process not only destroys mountains, but creates toxic sludge that runs into the water supplies of the surrounding communities, making the water unsafe to drink, and killing the life in the waterways. On top of that, the coal dust flies into the communities and nostrils of these victims who are forgotten by the rest of the country because they are 'just poor hillbillies.' I visited a community where there is an MTR site on Wednesday. I was there for about 15 minutes before I could taste the coal ash on my lips. As I was walking through the neighborhood to the site, I blew my nose only to find black dirt lining my tissue. As we arrived at the site, several people began to cry, unable to believe the devastation. 400 yards downstream of one of the MTR sites is Marsh Fork Elementary School. This is a crime, not only because these children's health is threatened, but because their lives are threatened too. The sludge that is created by the extraction process on MTR sites is held by dams, that have been deemed unstable by everyone from Mine Safety and Heath to the worker that build them. Several of these dams have broken and let the toxic sludge run down into the communities below. The conservative estimate of Mine Safety and Health is that this damn above Marsh Fork Elementary would kill 900 people if it broke. 

So this sounds bad right? You might wonder why this would be allowed if it is so destructive and dangerous. Are we at Mountain Justice just a bunch of tree huggers that are exaggerating the facts? We are a bunch of tree huggers, but the facts are clear… the problem is that the coal companies have TONS of money and TONS of power and TONS and TONS of control over the political system. The EPA and DEP have passed regulations about MTR that are ignored by the coal companies, and are simply not enforced. Also, people don't give a damn about the people of Appalachia, because of all the unfair stereotypes that have been spread by everyone from Jeff Foxworthy to the Beverly Hillbillies. But what I learned by hanging out for the week with these hillbillies, is that they are a force not to be reckoned with. The movements to stop MTR are fierce. The history of coal miners and families of miners rising up in Appalachia is extensive, from the Battle at Blair Mountain, which was the largest civil uprising in U.S. history second to the civil war. The fighting miners wore red handkerchiefs around their necks to mark their people. This is where the term redneck came from, a term that was intentionally coined by the press as a racial slur to discredit and ostracize these unlearned, backwoods hillbillies. Today, the people of Appalachia are rising up again, ready to fight this devastation. Mountain Justice is an group that works in solidarity with the folks of Appalachia, doing things like water and air quality testing, working to create alternative economic options, and most importantly doing direct actions and civil disobedience to stop MTR once and for all. 

The following is a report from a series of actions that took place the day after camp in W. Virginia…


SOLIDARITY FOREVER!!!


17 arrested in anti-mountaintop removal civil disobedience

Seventeen courageous Mountain Justice volunteers were arrested Saturday, May 23 in a three-part civil disobedience action in our continuing movement to end mountaintop removal. Six are still in jail with bogus, unprecedented, $2,000 cash-only bail amounts, slowing their release. Many of them were arrested for the first time with clean records, and all they did was cross a line onto coal company property. We are raising $18,000 to get them out of jail as we move closer to defeating King Coal. Fundraising has bailed out three others since this morning. Thank you all!

The Kayford Eight were charged with trespass and conspiracy for walking onto the 12,000-acre-plus Kayford Mountain mine and locking themselves to a giant dump truck. Placing U-locks around their necks, they attached themselves to guardrails and the driveshaft of the truck after hanging a banner on the truck's grill that read "Never Again!" Here is a statement from the Kayford Eight:

We locked down at the Kayford mountaintop removal site with mud from the Mingo County flood on our boots and now, with the dusty remains of Kayford Mountain on our boots, we stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers jailed for their actions to oppose mountaintop removal coal mining.
Also before dawn, two brave women, donning hazmat suits and respirators, boated onto the eight-billion-gallon Brushy Fork toxic coal slurry lake and launched a 60-foot floating banner that read "No more toxic sludge!" They were charged with trespass and littering. How can you litter on a giant toxic waste dump? Massey Energy has a permit to blast within 100 feet of this impoundment, which sits atop a honeycomb of abandoned deep mines. In 2000, more than 300 million gallons of coal slurry broke through the bottom of Massey's Martin Co., Ky., impoundment, and into the deep mines beneath, then exploding into two watersheds, smothering aquatic life over 100 miles of streams. A Brushy Fork failure would be over 23 times larger than Martin County.

Saturday's two backcountry actions were followed by a picket at the mouth of Massey Energy's Marfork mining complex, which includes the Brushy Fork dam, where more than 75 Coal River Valley residents and supporters emphasized the deadly danger of that impoundment: the 72-foot peak depth of the sludge at the Head Start facility there should the dam break. Seven people crossed the line onto Marfork's property and were arrested for trespass.

While the Kayford Eight were released the same day, the other nine fared differently. The two Brushy Paddlers and four of the Pettus Seven are being held for $2,000 each, cash only. We know you love and care about the people of Appalachia! Now is the time to demonstrate your support through a donation to help bail out these committed and passionate activists. We really need your support more than ever at this crucial juncture in the movement to end mountaintop removal mining!

If donating by mail, make out a check or money order to Mountain Justice at: P.O. Box 86, Naoma, WV, 25140.

For donations that have a much-needed immediate impact, call 304-854-1937. Thank you!

For the last month and a half I have been living in the Lawndale neighborhood of Chicago. My immediate neighborhood is primarily made up of people of African decent. About a block south is Little VIllage and a mile east is Pilsen, both latino communities. I am white, male, straight, and come from a middle/upper class background (though I can't say I am in that class anymore). I live in a collective living space with 8 other white people. As far as I know, we are the only white people in the neighborhood, except for an anarchist and artist collective a few doors down. The collective that I live at has been around for almost 4 years. Moving into this community was intentional. The original members wanted to live in a less wealthy neighborhood that was made up of people who were of different backgrounds than themselves. This was not so that they could "help poor people," or anything, but just to personally experience a way of life that was foreign to them. I suppose the truth is that in the beginning, there were several mixed ideas of what this house would do and look like, but this was the idea that won out, and is the way we view ourselves today. Yet inevitably when a bunch of white kids move in a black neighborhood, it looks like one thing… the beginnings of gentrification.

The Pilsen neighborhood, which is about a mile east of us, has become the new big gentrified area of Chicago. Gentrification is a sneaky and scary thing, because it often creeps up undetected and is sometimes, yet not all the time, unintentional. In Pilsen, starving artists and anarchists moved into the area because it was cheap, began building their collectives, having parties, opening galleries, etc. Then the word got out that Pilsen is a hip, cheap place to live and boom… gentrification. This short history of Pilsen is wrought with speculation, as I was not here during the boom, but this is sort of the impression that I am gathering from hanging around there a lot. 

It scares me that this sort of thing could happen to my neighborhood, and it scares me even more that our house could be a culprit in the scandal. We have such a low profile as a community that no one is moving here because of us, but we do have some (white, privileged) friends that have heard about this area from us and moved here. Nontheless, it's an issue that needs to be dealt with. 

Gentrification makes property prices rise, pushes white culture into already cultured areas, and pushes poorer people out, but it also does something else that often goes unnoticed by those doing the gentrification. It increases police presence and security culture. As poor minority neighborhoods are filled with middle/upper class folk, the police shift their focus to protect the rich from the poor. If you look at it like this, gentrification bears a striking resemblance to a forced occupation, pushing poor people out of their houses to let more wealthy people move in and increasing the security and protection of the new class. This is blatant, yet as so much in our society, it is disguised because it is an indirect result of capital. Our economic system allows and promotes such occupation and class war. 

I don't know what to think as a white male living in a black neighborhood. Obviously I identify more with my black and latino neighbors, and at this point in our economy, have a sense of their economic struggles, but I do often worry about gentrification. It happens way to much in Chicago and it's got to stop.

Lie: 

Technology helps people stay more and more connected.

Reality: 

In the American Journal of Sociology, a recent 19 year study of people in the U.S. shows that the number of friends people have has dropped on average from 3 to 2 in the last 19 years and the number of people who have no friends has tripled. Of course all of this as the number of myspace and facebook friends people have has gone on average from 0 to 75 in the last 19 years. I often think about how many casual acquaintances I have. I can often say hello to people that I "know" dozens of times before I actually have a conversation with them, and of course there are quite a few that I never get to that point with. I suppose this could reflect my shy nature and relatively poor friend-making abilities more that it relfects a problem with technology and hyper-connectedness, but the point remains that technology has not increased the amount of real friends and real relationships that people have. It has only forwarded that illusion. There are many nights when going on facebook and chatting with distant friends really gets me down. I think of those who are out at friends houses having real conversations and hanging out, and it re-assures me that my virtual friends are just not the same.

I worked for Greenpeace for a few weeks, only to become quite disillusioned with the organization that I has previously, but perhaps blindly, had alot of respect for. My job was to stand on a busy street corner of Chicago and try to solicit money for the giant 'grassroots' organization. Out of the 500 plus people that I would try to talk to throughout the day (at the risk of being smirked at, yelled at, or laughed at), it was expected that I get at least two of them to become monthly donors to Greenpeace. Previous to this job, I held qualms with their ideas of "green" and their idea of "peace," but I had no idea how much reservation I would have with their money-making techniques. 

On my last day of the job, before I was fired for not being an aggressive enough salesman, I was canvassing in an area of Chicago that has a large lesbian population. Of course I felt right at home, and decided to walk around after I was released from my 6 hours of soliciting. I quickly found myself in a feminist bookstore browsing through the new titles, when one caught  my eye- The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex. 

Little did I know, there are quite a few people engaged in the conversation of how to make activism work within the context of capitalist society without being sucked into it's logic. Being that a distant goal of mine is to start a not-for-profit alternative health care group, I am intrigued and excited by this conversation. I came across a website that has an extensive list of groups and resources about overcoming the non-profit model. I've put the book on hold at the library and hope to read it soon. Yay for a free and feral revolution!