Salem, the awkward middle child of urban Oregon

February 22, 2017

An alienated insider’s guide for those who have never been, those who will never be, and those who will never leave.

written 082915, dedicated to the memory of David Rakoff

Geographically, the desertifying lump of civil concrete we call Salem sits in between Portland and Eugene, the other two largest concrete lumps of capital accumulation in the once-lush Willamette River Valley of the Pacific Northwest. Neither the largest nor the smallest, Salem seems to disappear comfortably somewhere in the cozy middle of nowhere. People arrive in Salem for two main reasons: 1. They are passing through on their way north or south along the I-5 transportation corridor, and perhaps hope to find a serviceable gas station bathroom and sandwich shop that doesn’t serve as a front for a child sex trafficking operation or 2. They have economic or political business with the State or its minions.

We might call Portland the eldest of three siblings. While New Yorkers call Portland a “quaint little town,” Oregonians know it as the Big City of Oregon. Rose City, Rip City, P-town, Stumptown, PDX, Pornland, it has more nicknames than some of the most renowned narcissists in the annals of history, and wears them with ironic — if solid — pride. Eugene, the southernmost of the metropolitan siblings, serves well as the youngest of the three, right on down to its liberally-entrenched sense of baseless entitlement to everything Portland has and more.

Eugene is the seat of the University of Oregon, the second-largest of six state universities. Eugene finds much of its cultural and economic footing in the College Town trope. Hip, cool, perpetually young. Likewise, Portland houses the most-populous Portland State University, while Corvallis (a fourth, adopted child of Oregon we will not concern ourselves with in this essay) houses third-largest Oregon State University and as such will forever play second fiddle to Eugene.

In contrast, Salem itself has no large university. A malnourished Western Oregon University cools its heels rather quietly on the inconspicuous outskirts of the Salem Metropolitan area, in a suburb known as Monmouth. Instead, Salem houses Willamette University, a small private liberal arts college that every year attracts into the crystal clear waters of its cozy little pond a new school of well-funded (if deliberately under-dressed) “middle class” Big Fish who, as a general rule, throw four years’-worth of their parents’ ample money and misguided attitude at Salem before they inevitably migrate north to the cooler waters of Portland, whereupon they find that they fit in better with others who share their dialectical mix of disaffected optimism disguising a deep-seeded sense of personal discomfort (for all their feigned classlessness, Willamette graduates don’t dare stay in Salem, with its affordable rent, for as every trendy new Portlander surely knows, if you can afford to live there, it’s probably not worth it).

Who can blame them? Whatever the bottomless soul of the consumer-citizen desires, Portland claims to have it (as the kombucha capitol of the country, in some parts of the city you can spy small gentrifying neighborhood collectives cooperatively raising goats and chickens in lieu of children). Portland, in its manic-depressive attempt to be Everything to Everyone(1), sprouts coffee shops at densities approaching one per caffeine-addicted resident (this much-romanticized colonial drug commodity trade manages to avoid a clash with Portland’s self-styled counter-culture couture in large part through enthusiastically ubiquitous ejaculations of signage everywhere proclaiming, “local brew!” which, if we take in their sum totality at face value, apparently means that the coffee plant somehow now grows somewhere in the the Pacific Northwest! Why aren’t there more people talking about this revolutionary breakthrough in plant breeding and post-colonial economic practice?). This constant flood of caffeine mixes with tattoos and irony to provide ample chemical and social fuel for arm-chair politiking and micro-entrepreneurial efforts to further subdivide already severely-dissected market niches: If enough people continually throw themselves at bad ideas, then those of us outsiders who watch with an air of overwhelmed confusion will inevitably miss their stale crash and burn after a few months (normally) or years (for the relatively successful ones), buried somewhere amidst the endless incoming torrent of newly-minted bright-eyed, bushy-tailed micro-entrepreneurs fresh off the printing press. Collective failure starts looking like a grand success in the apparent-absence of unexamined attrition rates. Suddenly, someone’s childhood dream (from three weeks ago, fueled in equal parts by caffeine and disaffected desparation) of opening a Micronesian Tex-Mex “ethnic fusion” grocer catering specifically to smartphone app-wielding ride-thru bicyclists might not seem like such a bad idea after all…A specialty store focusing specifically on salts and chocolates? Sure! What the casual, outside observer might call a grab-bag collective of random mishmash specialty trends, the Portlander affectionately refers to as, “inspiration!”

Portland contains PDX, that is to say, the Portland International Airport (whose abbreviated name the city took for itself during a period of narcissistic identity acquisition). If you, Dear Oregonian, want to fly anywhere else of “significance,” you have to go through PDX first. The bus and train run through Salem, though. Economically, Salem is neither really rural agricultural nor mercantile nor based on the presence of a large education institution nor culturally hip. Not even Burgerville, a local staple of the northwest fast food landscape with the odd outpost in rural Monmouth(!) and Albany(!), will bother with Salem-proper. Instead, Salem possesses the unique political burden of housing the State capitol of Oregon, including many of its State administrative offices (the rest reside deferentially in Portland because…well, “it’s Portland”). That is to say, Salem’s economy depends almost entirely upon the State administrative class, that is to say, upon pedantic rules, their robotic followers, their eery enforcers and the bureaucratic hives they inhabit for the exact equivalent of eight hours five days a week minus vacation and sick days. Lobbyists of both well-funded private and unfunded public interests also play a vital role in the nested parasitism of the State political economy.

While Salem may lack the “higher” (than thou) educational institutions of its younger and bigger siblings, it does not generally lack in the presence of state-run educational institutions per se. Salem serves as the bed and breakfast for nearly half of Oregon’s euphemistically-labeled “correctional” facilities (Mill Creek Correctional [sic] Facility, Oregon State Correctional [sic] Institution, Oregon State Penitentiary, Santiam Correctional [sic] Institution, Hillcrest Youth Correctional [sic] Facility, and Oak Creek Correctional [sic] Facility) as well as the Oregon State (psychiatric) Hospital, housing well over a quarter (27%) of Oregon’s total inmate population.(3) When the convicts and mental patients get released, they find their way into Salem first and foremost, alongside its similarly-disproportionate slice of the growing homeless and discarded veteran populations. Strategic on their part as social outcasts, for in the shadow of the government, they will forever remain the lesser of two evils in the eyes of the general populace.

The anglicized word “Salem” comes from Hebrew/Arabic “Shalom”/”Salaam,” meaning “peace.” So we might accurately (and redundantly) call Salem the “City of Peace.” While I don’t dispute this label, I will probably quibble with the exact vision of “peace” that Salem supposedly pursues.

On the one hand, the municipal corporation of Salem itself exists in the shadow of the State capitol, creating a perennial “mini-me” Napolean Complex for those who, if we wish to believe the bumper stickers, “give a shit about Salem,” and want to “Make Salem Awesome.” If we see the cities as siblings, and the State as their parents, then Salem and her inhabitants become the pitiful Offspring Who Never Left The Nest, remaining intimately mired in all the familiar baggage that drives the other siblings to keep their distance. In return, Salem residents receive the dubiously over-funded services of eerily-reliable, empowered Meter Maids and enthusiastically-zealous Code Compliance Officers who role out of bed every morning with a smile on their face as they start another day of diligent and rewarding work to make the City of Peace the “most compliant place on earth.” The host City, after all, must remain friendly to the State parasite.

On the other hand, when the State collapses, so will Salem’s economy. Call it a co-dependent, love-hate relationship, and you might be right. Nevermind its independent history before the rise of the state — Salem now exists, in large part, as an empty shell, a host for the bureaucratic parasite, although sometimes I question exactly who parasitizes whom.

Both Portland and Eugene have well-established and well-hyped reputations and identities. They have branded themselves: hip(ster), young, trendy, green(washed). “Sustainable.” “Progressive.” Tattoo’d. Spectacled. Unwashed. Gentrifying. Bereft of Adult Supervision. This branding has infected the minds of their youngest, whitest, trendiest inhabitants, many of whom brought the infection with them in the first place. Both cities have proudly developed proprietary rebrands of pseudo-radical politics, something they seem to pull off quite effectively given the glows of admiration and glares of derision they receive from the political left and right, respectively. The ruralites tend to stay away from these places, except to do reluctant business with them, giving only occasional pause to wonder where the money of their more cosmopolitan counterparts actually comes from (nevermind legality or inflation — is it hip and trendy enough for Portlanders to print their own?).

Many people in Salem reject these trends in conflicting fits of ironic jealousy. “We want those things…we just don’t want to work for it.” In all fairness, trendiness entails an awful lot of work — more weekly work than most of us want to do, already exhausted from six days’ worth of oiling creaky gears and hinges and servicing the stiff pistons of the State apparatus all the while feeding its busy (if not necessarily productive) worker bots and bees. The willful self-exploitation of micro-enterprise is sexy right now, and Salem is simply not hot enough to pass muster after a hard day’s work. Instead, Salem’s philosophy of “peace” may rest more in a spiritually-cynical faith than raw, material sex appeal. Those trends that Salem finds unavoidable, thanks to an endemic “Me, too!” chorus of Napoleonic Mini-Me’s, receive a particularly half-assed implementation of the “too little, too late” variety. Food carts? Sure, we’ll do those. Days late and dollars short, Salem and the suckling State will milk a few food carts for all they are worth (or maybe it’s vice-versa) before the trend (and perhaps the economy itself) collapses completely.

A peculiar pathology of a more mundane sort infects the minds of Salem residents, encapsulated in the Krishnamurti quote, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” Many of us exist mired in and subservient to myriad State bureaucracies and their municipal minions and Mini-Me’s. Others want to (sort-of) do the awkward “me too’s” of trendy Portland and Eugene. And a well-trained semi-professional militia of yawning mouths stands ever-ready to meet, patronize and sabotage any earnest effort (no matter how small or slight) toward optimistic change, even those of the “too little, too late” sort. Mental patients and convicts take note: the inmates run the asylum. It seems salient that I found some solace in a famous sociology study entitled, “On being sane in insane places,”(2) upon moving to Salem so many sleepy years ago.

Cities entice us through a Mumfordian Magnificent Bribe. As centers of accumulation (in Portland’s case, specifically the accumulation of trends), they offer us the potential of access to copious resources (people and stuff), but only if we accept the myriad shitty downsides as well. The City looks down at us, folds its arms and says, “All or nothing.” When we see cities as bodies of sorts, then we might recognize the Religion of Urbanism as a particularly repressive form of Catholicism treating “that icky stuff coming out the other end” with fear, shame, loathing and disgust. Yes, everybody poops. Cities like Portland and Eugene ignore, minimize and externalize their shit (City of Roses, you say?). Deep Green Navel Gazing and other so-called “sustainability” practices help as cities pimp themselves into positions of ever-greater accumulation in their willing pursuit of All. Show me a city that offers you All the benefits yet None of the drawbacks, and I will show you a perfect marketing lie immersed in the inverse magic of low expectations (How’s your marriage? Is it “sustainable,” as well?). This strategy works for a time but, as every good Catholic knows, it catches up with us eventually. Things seem great, then suddenly you find yourself neck-deep in the mountains of shit (yours and others’) that you can no longer ignore and should have dealt with years ago. While Portland and Eugene make vain-but-valiant Johnny-come-lately efforts to hold their nose and compost their new-found (and growing) backlog of excremental output, Salem takes a different approach to this same problem: As realistics, we take the All or Nothing resolution for granted, and err on the side of Nothing. We don’t want to deal with the shit, so we just won’t eat. Less accumulation, less opportunity, but also, in the long run, less icky stuff comes out the other end for us to deal with down the road. Nutrient cycling be-damned.

A small-but-committed group of Salem residents seem to see opportunity and resilience within this self-imposed austerity. This phenomenon manifests as a mutual refusal to feel well-adjusted to the profoundly sick urbanizing rat race. Many of these people seem to have strong spiritual foundations grounded in the material realities of everyday life. And therein lies the realist promise of Salem: less shit than Portland and Eugene. Salem’s promise lies not in its race toward utopia, but toward the potential it has to avoid dystopia (inasmuch as we can find any meaningful difference between the two). Salem lives not with a longing gaze toward the Heavens of Unlimited Possibility akin to ambitious sister cities Portland and Eugene, but in an abject aversion to Hell, perhaps because those who live here feel like we’re already there. Whether Salem will live up (or down, as it were) to this potential remains to be seen…but if cities must exist, I like the apathetic odds of Salem better than the even fates of Portland and Eugene, cities that thrive in denial even as they drown in the shit they produce while trying to keep their heads above the rising tide of shit (that they produce).

“Salem” may mean “less awesome” when projected through the insecure eyes of her more ambitious siblings, but it also means, “less shitty.” I propose a new bumper sticker for Salem, more suitable to the city’s tendencies: Keep Salem Sleepy. To Hell with Municipal Ambition. I say, abandon the rat race, coddle the state parasite if we must, embrace the awkward self-conscious confusion and get rid of the self-imposed Napolean Complex confining Salem to the lumpy whims of Portland, Eugene and the predictable grind of the State machinery. Salem will survive in some manner and find its salvation in a special form of sloth representing its strategically-cynical resistance to the shitty pathology of Urban Optimism. When cities the world over finally fall apart in the coming years of the apocalyptic collapse of pretense that eventually consumes every civilization, Salem will yawn, pull the covers up and promptly return to the pleasant dream it was enjoying before something so rudely disturbed its peaceful slumber. Salem will not fall into the abyss and break, because it’s already at the bottom. Salem, like The Dude(3), abides.

The author resides in an unremarkable place approximately 45 miles south of Portland, where they enjoy spending time outdoors burning large stacks of Portland Monthly magazines in effigy as part of their small effort to make the world slightly less disgusting.

FOOTNOTES
(1) Except black people, homeless people, or especially, homeless black people, of course
(2) Rosenhan, “On Being Sane in Insane Places,” Science, 1973
(3) data from Wikipedia
(4) (of the Cohen Brothers’ eponymous Big Lebowski)


a homecoming (of sorts)

November 23, 2016

112316

i see powdery lines of people
trapped inside the white lies of their inherited insanity
gazing through the looking glass on the wrong side of a mirror
glazed in fear
with every reflection inflecting infections of corrupted correction
like entitled sardines packed in between stacked rows of covetous tin can houses
jostling with futility for optimal “as good as” or “better than” position
by the sea: a homecoming.

the tide laps gently at my feet and rises with calm confidence
teasing and teething, while one of them says to me
“this, once a day, makes it all okay”
as if saying it out loud could make it more real than a surreal pipe dream
prompting the OC anarchist arising within me…


Community Liberation and Defense

November 15, 2016

aka, a strategic context for community rights in anti-militia planning
aka, the militia movement as a public health crisis of male-pattern violence

OUTLINE

  1. Militia overview
  2. Public Health Overview: Trauma and Crisis
  3. The role of the government
  4. Crisis Intervention
  5. Risk Reduction
  6. Primary Prevention

This essay looks at the militia movement as a public health rather than legal crisis, and similarly adopts the public health model of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention (also called prevention, risk reduction and crisis intervention, respectively) to help understand and prioritize intervention strategies for application in the appropriate context.  Community Rights work is an important component of long-term, primary prevention efforts, but must occur alongside secondary and tertiary efforts or else it will tend to falter needlessly.  The purpose of anti-militia planning is to identify both the core problems contributing to militia movements’ targeting of communities, as well as comprehensive short-, medium- and long-range remedies.  Lastly, the planning process will explore and pursue strategies for implementation of such remedies in solidarity with those most negatively impacted by the militia movement and federal interventionism.

Militia overview

Despite the well-meaning intentions of many of the rank and file among them, militia movements consist of armed groups of primarily-white men with roots in white supremacy and ties to corporate interests who use fear, intimidation and force (including the threat of force) to infiltrate and co-opt communities as part of an aggressive doomsday settler-homesteader mentality.  The aggressive approach leverages the “bystander effect” to create a sense of isolation among people who do not necessarily agree with their ideology to maintain silence and passive compliance.  Over time, the community begins to accept and identify with the militia, in a process mirroring Stockholm Syndrome.  Militias combine these negative tactics alongside aid tactics, such as emergency preparedness training, that address real material needs of the community.  In this sense, militias exploit longstanding community vulnerabilities stemming from intersecting class, race and gender oppression in order to impose themselves on said communities.  The combination of aid framed by brutality has a longstanding history of use by right-wing groups throughout world history in order to gain a foothold within a population (including, more recently, by Islamic extremists, but also Christians and other world religions, political movements and, perhaps most notably, nation-states including the US).

Public Health Overview:  Trauma and Crisis

Many communities remain mired in crisis.  In these frequent and common cases, people trying to offer long-term solutions targeting the corporate basis of exploitation meet considerable resistance.  Militia invasion of communities can resemble a large-scale domestic violence situation in its complexity, intractability and trauma.  Effective, longstanding and resilient results and evaluation and triage of liberation strategies requires a coordinated responses among all tertiary (crisis response), secondary (risk management) and primary (proactive) prevention strategies in order to acheive .

To ground the discussion further, prematurely proactive discussions of corporatocracy often create an unappealing abstract sort of disconnect for many communities mired in crisis of a current militia invasion (especially one involving a federal response) or do not yet feel (or acknowledge) the public health threats and trace the ultimate agents pulling strings to extract profit from them at their expense.  Such communities tend to exist and self-locate on a day-to-day, sometimes even hour-to-hour basis of survival, and cannot begin to fathom let alone pursue a fifteen or twenty year campaign to seize democratic control of their health, safety and welfare and that of the natural communities within their jurisdiction.  Nevertheless, it remains a goal for more fundamental work to move communities toward a level of readiness where they can consider, plan and sustain such a campaign, if they so choose.

The work begins with tertiary prevention, consisting of crisis intervention and abatement.  This is tricky work, as it requires supporting a community and its ability to survive through and respond to a crisis without enabling, escalating or prolonging the crisis itself.  Once a crisis can be abated to give a community some space, or in communities not currently experiencing crisis, it makes sense to move toward secondary prevention to build the community’s “immune system,” decreasing its vulnerability to corporatocratic or militia targeting and attack in the first place.  This work involves empowering communities to effectively identify and respond to such threats, and is equally tricky in that much internalized oppression creates a bait-and-switch where community members misidentify and blame symptoms of the problem for the problem itself.  In such cases, classism, racism (including anti-immigration) and sexism (including homophobia) rear their ugly heads.  Militias and corporations jump on these as opportunities to “divide and conquer,” even deliberately confusing the promotion of internal conflict with “community self-defense,” whereas actual effective community self-defense involves developing the capacity for and then building solidarity with and between the marginal populations that such invaders so often exploit for political and economic gain.  When solidarity proliferates, such populations “disappear into” the community and no longer become marginal, which eliminates some of the most significant community vulnerabilities and also helps identify the actual threats among the people and institutions who seek to break solidarity (or who do so as a matter of course as they seek to extract value).  Solidarity also helps identify and address outstanding economic and ecological vulnerabilities by eliminating the complication of socially-constructed internal weaknesses, allowing focus on external and imposed threatening forces, institutions and processes.

Only when crisis abates and solidarity proliferates within a community can a community begin to consider primary prevention, which includes proactive campaigns to claim democratic control over the health, safety and welfare of both human and non-human communities within a given jurisdiction, and place decision-making power in the hands of those ultimately affected the most (esp. in material as well as economic terms) by such decisions.  It involves giving everyone — including non-human entities — a political and legal voice, especially with equal say to “not in my back yard,” (NIMBY).  Once everyone has equal access to NIMBY, then only fair decisions can occur, focusing the remaining concern on effective implementation.  Such proactivity often occurs only when communities bump up against external, imposed political and legal institutions and processes that either directly threaten their health, safety and welfare or limit their ability to defend themselves or pursue their best interests.  Many communities mired in crisis have yet to get to this point where they “meet” and acknowledge and confront the powerful interests at the root of many of the crises they face.  Crisis abatement and risk reduction can help communities shift focus to longer-term risk management and prevention work, but so can crisis escalation.  As a result, some heavily-exploited communities may make some of the longer-term work a higher priority.  It is important to support that work with decolonization and other capacity building work in order to maximize its sustainability and chance for success.

The role of the government

Thus far, communities have depended heavily on the federal government for support in fighting militia infiltration.  This can be problematic on many levels.  First, it makes communities a continuous battleground between militia and federal law enforcement, which plays into the militia strategy to provoke and escalate conflict, intensify anti-federal sentiment and create martyrs of federal violence to recruit more people into the militia movements.  In addition to strategic folly, the siting of this conflict within communities has a disempowering and traumatic effect on the community that long outlasts the end of the conflict itself, as any inhabitant of a warzone can attest.  Third, dependence on federal intervention does nothing to resolve the underlying problems that militias target for exploitation, such as poverty, food insecurity, housing costs, infrastructure, and other material needs; class oppression (esp. few living wage jobs) and longstanding racism and sexism.

Resolving these long-term issues is far outside the scope of the intervening federal agencies, barring some sort of coordinated interagency homeland security plan that includes long-term community economic development and empowerment work, but more likely would manifest as temporary or permanent philanthropic dependency or corporate trojan horse.  At best, government intervention is like playing a game of whack-a-mole.  More often, it’s like spraying poisons over a land to control a pest problem:  as long as the niche the pest exploits remains open, and the pest has no predators or competitors, it will continue to proliferate, requiring more spraying and resulting in toxification of the landscape.  We can say the same for frequent and prolonged federal intervention.  The authoritarian remedy can negatively impact communities far beyond ground zero.

Fourth, authoritarian interventionism supports the continuing militarization of domestic police forces — the increasing technical capacity for excessive use of force against peaceful populations, nonviolent civil disobedience activists, and activists targeting property and infrastructure of the elite and their exploitative institutions.  Likewise, it lays the foundation for justifying the actual use of such excessive force by leveraging the “climate of instability” that militias create or intensify as a need for excessive authoritarian measures, and by equating nonviolent movements who challenge the federal regime with militias, even though the former do not use the latter’s tactics of intimidation and fear to terrorize populations into isolated passivity.  Militias and government repression feed off each-other.

Crisis Intervention

Many of the tactics of brutality fit well within familiar parameters of male-pattern violence:  domination, bullying, stalking, harassment, threats, sexual violence, coercion, appeals to authority.  Militias recruit from the ranks of white working men frustrated with the economic climate and the erosion of gender and racial privilege, who feel their place in the world is threatened, tend to overcompensate and as such are ready, willing and able to lash out in order to reassert white male privilege in the social hierarchy to make up for intensifying class oppression.  They often target and “make examples of” women and gender and other minorities as a “defense” tactic, especially those seen as leaders of an opposition.  This has a circular logic to it, as the opposition includes anyone who resists or stands up to their bullying and coercion, including countering sacred myths of white male supremacy, e.g., that “white men built the modern world.”

Effective counters to militia infiltration must disrupt their use of the bystander effect by connecting and activating bystanders in the short term to create a strong voice of accountability and moral contrast.  A small part of this short-term approach may include defensive countermeasures, which in turn include armed self-defense as a backup to nonviolent self-defense tactics, such as de-escalation or redirection, among others.  Physical self-defense remains an important last resort tactic when attempts to de-escalate aggression fail to stop an attack.

Outside support can be critical to jumpstart this process in a given community subject to militia pressure and control, so long as the “outsiders” don’t mimic militial co-optation of communities as an ideological battleground for their own agendas.  Many left-wing responses to right-wing presence often provide a “kinder, gentler” form of coercion rather than a fundamental contrast.  Survivors of domestic or intimate partner violence have encountered a similar situation when they meet an advocate who thinks they “know better” than (and thus try to make decisions for and impose upon) the survivor.  While the decisions may appear different and “more progressive” in substance, the power dynamic of domination and control remain eerily familiar.  Instead, it is important to embrace an empowerment model for community liberation from militia control, which may also mean supporting communities in making their own decisions that the outsiders don’t necessarily agree with in order to build a more fundamental relationship of trust and solidarity.  In this way, radicalized left-wing outsiders often provide solidarity and support for conservative members of communities under siege by militias, even through they may vote very differently.

Risk Reduction

In the medium term, communities need additional options for enhancing their material welfare and meeting basic needs that have no transactional conditions attached to them (e.g., “we’ll help feed you, but in return you need to attend religious service or read our pamphlet, or otherwise join or aid our cause”), as such conditions replicate the militia behavior in question.  Alternatives for material welfare may range from substantive similarity to radically-different in form from militial aid, especially where militia aid depends upon or is mediated by corporate profit or consumer activity (e.g., expensive and often ineffective consumerist “turnkey” solutions).  Appropriate technologies factor largely into counter-aid strategies, as do mutual-aid networks within and between communities.  Included in this medium-term approach is a strategic need to disrupt the corporate funding and support that militias receive, to disrupt their capacity to leverage aid as a compliance and coercion tactic, e.g., providing effective aid options without the attached burden of coercion.

In the long term, anti-militia efforts must address the intersecting race, class and gender oppressions that create the conditions that make communities vulnerable to militia/corporate infiltration and exploitation in the first place.  Ideally, the short-term strategies of bystander activation, empowerment toward trust and solidarity, and alternative aid provision will build a foundational capacity that better allows communities and their members to address difficult questions about their place and role in the existing economic order of society that leaves them both dependent on and vulnerable to division and exploitation.  Only through an intact social fabric — network of strong, mutually-supportive and empowering relationships — can a community begin to address such fundamental issues and increase its resilience.  This means decolonization work, identifying and eliminating internalized oppressions that leave a community divided, and also enhance social capacity to rebuild the social fabric of horizontal relationships.

Such relationships themselves remain possible only with immense human development work to increase the social capacity of community members.  In the context of patriarchy, men remain particularly vulnerable to stunted development of social “soft skills” whereas patriarchies tend to target women for stunted development of technical “hard skills,” creating an artificial bifurcation of capacities and gendered co-dependence on a centralized authority figure to connect and mediate.  In the history of urbanization, the rural survival need for horizontal interdependence has provided a buffer effect for rural communities (simply put, men learn how to “get along” with others out of necessity, and women learn to use hammers out of necessity, etc), whereas urban populations historically consist of ex-rural populations ironically moving out of survival necessity to the city after elements of urban economic and political institutions (e.g., bankers, corporations, etc) have laid waste to the rural land and community, rendering them increasingly susceptible to social atrophy, gendered bifurcation and dependence on centralized institutions.  As elements of urbanization and centralized institutions infiltrate rural communities and interject themselves amongst horizontal social ties, or as rural communities grow in scale and complexity, they begin exhibiting this gender bifurcation again.  Men remain particularly susceptible to antisocial behavior as a byproduct of how patriarchies define the narrow range of masculinity and “masculine behavior.”

Making balanced human development a goal will ultimately lay the foundation for solidarity between diverse autonomous liberatory struggles against centralized authorities and other arbitrary, persistent and imposed social hierarchies.  Men in particular who refuse to do “soft skills” social capacity work (however it manifests) quickly become liabilities rather than assets to liberatory struggle and form the core population that militias target to join their ranks.  Men may dismiss the importance of such work without seeing how it impacts race and (especially, for white men) class struggles.  Even if they do acknowledge it, most won’t engage in the difficult (and often painful and embarassing) personal work until strong peer networks and social norms are already in place. This requires organizers to identify and activate “organic leaders” within the community to break the status quo and build critical mass toward that end.  As the oldest and perhaps most deeply-internalized and ubiquitous oppression, people often dismiss, minimize, marginalize or abandon gender justice.  Rather than fight this tendency, it may be easier to “connect the dots” inevitably back to gender justice, for example, by using more accessible and acceptable economic and racial justice struggles as an entrypoint.  “So we agree we need to do the class work, but we can’t do that without the race work, and here’s why.  And we can’t do either of those without the gender work, and here’s why…”

Primary Prevention

This last strategy focuses on the external threats to community security, such as economic exploitation, political manipulation, legal impositions, environmental destruction, outsider intervention whose interests do not align in solidarity with the welfare of the community or land (e.g., absentee landlords and speculators).

Corporate profiteers use militias and the individual men therein as pawns in furthering the agenda of the merger of state and corporate interests to further accumulate and secure wealth and power into the hands of a ruling elite.  Militias are in one respect unofficial corporate armies who exploit oppressions and their attached identities to ensure people remain divided, in fear of and in conflict with one-another rather than united in their mutual interests.  Neutralizing militias also strengthens the community against corporate control and exploitation.  The final strategy of a counter-militia campaign will target the corporate roots of the US political and legal system — such as the US Commerce Clause, corporate personhood, Dylan’s rule, and pre-emption — that enable corporate rule through a top-down legal hierarchy and effectively neutralize or eliminate the legal capacities of people to protect themselves and their inherent rights from harms incurred in the unaccountable pursuit of corporate profit.  Such harms leave communities further susceptible to militia infiltration and subsequent corporate exploitation and control, producing a positive feedback loop.  This long-range work must occur alongside the short and moderate-term work, otherwise it will struggle unnecessarily not only against internalized oppressions but also the people’s own priorities and interests.

Additionally, if specific threats can be identified, work may target that threat (e.g., a corporate bottling facility or a pipeline).  The community rights framework provides an organizing context with room for both direct action against specific threats as well as a larger vision of freedom from harm and exploitation, and democratic control over community health, safety and welfare, and even combines these two sometimes-conflicting activities.  It can be a useful tool for organizing communities toward a constructive vision of collective liberation and solidarity that does not include scapegoating and other forms of horizontal violence that so often occur in oppressive “remedies” (e.g., “deport the Mexicans”), in part because the fundamental remedy includes recognizing the inherent worth and autonomy of everyone — including the non-human landscape.  But this can be very difficult for people to grasp unless they are in dire need of a remedy and have tried everything else to no avail (CELDF works with many of these communities), or they have gone through many of the crisis intervention and risk reduction activities mentioned above.

The militia movements are highly coordinated and organized and often well-funded, with some wealthy, powerful and influential sponsors. While effective resistance needn’t mimic or match the organizing tactics and strategies or structures of militia groups and movements, it does need to coordinate across various time and spatial scales.  In other words, resistance to militias needs to provide a means for ongoing coordination between communities and allow for both proactive and reactive measures across short, medium and long time frames.

To learn more about the militia movement in Oregon, visit http://www.rop.org/up-in-arms
To learn more about community rights, visit http://celdf.org

In our society, statistically-speaking, guns don’t kill people.  Men kill people.  #malepatternviolence

I am not in any way affiliated with CELDF or ROP.  I appreciate the work they do.


Civilization or “human nature?”

November 13, 2016

View story at Medium.com

This article contains interesting political analysis that I don’t disagree with. The way this article is framed, however, makes it complete bullshit, and it’s a shame that it’s getting shared widely like an expert opinion. Social darwinism and aside, it’s also a great example of the narcissistic chauvinism inherent in the historiography of civil society:

“So zooming out, we humans have a habit of going into phases of mass destruction, generally self imposed to some extent or another. This handy list shows all the wars over time.”

Nope, it only goes back to 1200 BC, well within the scope of colonizing, bloody, brutal exploitative civil society, which is the same failed model of human culture that modern civil societies use. This article says nothing about human nature, but chauvinistically projects one specific, bloody human culture that tends toward exploitation, belligerence and ecological collapse upon all humanity and human cultures. Civil society says very little about humanity as a “species” through time and space (and very little of that is anything good).

Let’s go back 6,000 or 10,000 or 15,000 years (still a blink of the eye), or look at contemporary cultures who do not base themselves on the insane model of annual agriculture and patriarchy, and compare notes. Anthropologists also describe this divide as “desert” and “forest” cultures. Toby Hemenway makes this point in his summary analysis “How Permaculture Can Save Humanity and the Earth but not Civilization” (lecture given at Duke University Nicholas School of Environment): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nLKHYHmPbo.  The Alice Walker poem “Democratic Womanism” makes the same point: we have been mired in patriarchy and civilization for thousands of years, and have been working as long to evolve past it, with increasing sophistication and effectiveness (even as civilization spreads its tendrils to threaten every corner of the planet).

In general, Toby Hemenway’s work on the problem of civilization provide a much better “birds’ eye” zoomed out perspective on the problem than the article that prompted this post, which talks about civilization as if it’s the only form of human social structure that has ever existed or will ever exist. In addition to the above lecture, you can listen to Toby’s talk on Liberation Permaculture (http://www.permaculturevoices.com/liberation-permaculture-with-toby-hemenway-pvp100) for a bit more of a constructive, actionable (vs critical and disempowering) analysis.

Maybe a Trump presidency isn’t that bad.  If it took a Trump presidency to slap all these comfortably numb white and/or male and/or middle class folks awake, activate them and leave them without much of an excuse to fall asleep again, then maybe some net good can come out of all of this compared to a Sanders or Clinton presidency.  It won’t be pretty.  Already kids are getting attacked at their school simply for having Spanish-sounding names and darker skin, and male supremacists are calling for death squads and concentration camps.  If you aren’t satisfied with Trump, then the best way to protest his presidency is to get active and involved with the working class, gender and race struggles within your community, in solidarity with those who have struggled long before Trump ever got elected.  And start building a different system.  Starting with you and your relationships.


Pictoral and Poetic Perspective on US Politics

November 10, 2016

Perspective of Picture:

reality_check

Perspective of Poetry

“Democratic Womanism” by Alice Walker, from http://www.democracynow.org/2012/9/28/democratic_womanism_poet_and_activist_alice

You ask me why I smile
when you tell me you intend
in the coming national elections
to hold your nose
and vote for the lesser of two evils.
There are more than two evils out there,
is one reason I smile.
Another is that our old buddy Nostradamus
comes to mind, with his fearful
400 year old prophecy: that our world
and theirs too
(our “enemies” – lots of kids included there)
will end (by nuclear nakba or holocaust)
in our lifetime. Which makes the idea of elections
and the billions of dollars wasted on them
somewhat fatuous.
A Southerner of Color,
my people held the vote
very dear
while others, for centuries,
merely appeared to play
with it.
One thing I can assure
you of is this:
I will never betray such pure hearts
by voting for evil
even if it were microscopic
which, as you can see in any newscast
no matter the slant,
it is not.
I want something else;
a different system
entirely.
One not seen
on this earth
for thousands of years. If ever.
Democratic Womanism.
Notice how this word has “man” right in the middle of it?
That’s one reason I like it. He is right there, front and center. But he is surrounded.
I want to vote and work for a way of life
that honors the feminine;
a way that acknowledges
the theft of the wisdom
female and dark Mother leadership
might have provided our spaceship
all along.
I am not thinking
of a talking head
kind of gal:
happy to be mixing
it up
with the baddest
bad boys
on the planet
her eyes a slit
her mouth a zipper.
No, I am speaking of true
regime change.
Where women rise
to take their place
en masse
at the helm
of earth’s frail and failing ship;
where each thousand years
of our silence
is examined
with regret,
and the cruel manner in which our values
of compassion and kindness
have been ridiculed
and suppressed
brought to bear on the disaster
of the present time.
The past must be examined closely, I believe, before we can leave
it there.
I am thinking of Democratic, and, perhaps
Socialist, Womanism.
For who else knows so deeply
how to share but Mothers
and Grandmothers? Big sisters
and Aunts?
To love
and adore
both female and male?
Not to mention those in between.
To work at keeping
the entire community
fed, educated
and safe?
Democratic womanism,
Democratic Socialist
Womanism,
would have as its icons
such fierce warriors
for good as
Vandana Shiva
Aung San Suu Kyi,
Wangari Maathai
Harriet Tubman
Yoko Ono
Frida Kahlo
Angela Davis
& Barbara Lee:
With new ones always rising, wherever you look.

You are also on this list, but it is so long (Isis would appear midway) that I must stop or be unable to finish the poem! So just know I’ve stood you in a circle that includes Marian Wright Edelman, Amy Goodman, Sojourner Truth, Gloria Steinem and Mary McLeod Bethune. John Brown, Frederick Douglass, John Lennon and Howard Zinn are there. Happy to be surrounded!

There is no system
There is no system
now in place
that can change
the disastrous course
the Earth is on.
Who can doubt this?
The male leaders
of Earth
appear to have abandoned
their very senses
though most appear
to live now
entirely
in their heads.
They murder humans and other
animals
forests and rivers and mountains
every day
they are in office
and never seem
to notice it.
They eat and drink devastation.
Women of the world,
Women of the world,
Is this devastation Us?
Would we kill whole continents for oil
(or anything else)
rather than limit
the number of consumer offspring we produce
and learn how to make our own fire?
Democratic Womanism.
Democratic Socialist Womanism.
A system of governance
we can dream and imagine and build together. One that recognizes
at least six thousand years
of brutally enforced complicity
in the assassination
of Mother Earth, but foresees six thousand years
ahead of us when we will not submit.
What will we need? A hundred years
at least to plan: (five hundred will be handed us
gladly
when the planet is scared enough)
in which circles of women meet,
organize ourselves, and,
allied with men
brave enough to stand with women,
men brave enough to stand with women,
nurture our planet to a degree of health.
And without apology —-
(impossible to make
a bigger mess than has been made already) -—
devote ourselves, heedless of opposition,
to tirelessly serving and resuscitating Our Mother ship
and with gratitude
for Her care of us
worshipfully commit
to
rehabilitating it.

Final Thoughts

Alice Walker wrote Democratic Womanism about the 2012 election.  But considering its large-scale, long-term scope on the Six Thousand Year (and maybe longer) Struggle against the patriarchal basis of civilization, that’s really just a blink in time.  Trump, Clinton and Bernie don’t change things much, for a lot of reasons — not in the least that change has to come from us, the people.  We have to manifest it in the way we think, act and relate to the rest of the world.  Electing figureheads into an inherently corrupt system won’t do much, one way or the other.  The advent of civilization saw a sudden and drastic move far to the right, to the patriarchal roots of corporatocratic society.  We have been moving little bits and pieces left back toward real democracy since then, slow and steady.

Democracy:  rule of the people by the people for the people with the people.  “People” includes but not limited to all humans.  Without an inclusive definition of “people” it’s not democracy.  Democracy requires an intact social fabric.  If we don’t have the capacity to listen, empathize, understand, talk to, love and support one another, to the entirety of the world around us, then we can’t have democracy.  If we have horizontal violence, we can’t have democracy.  As long as property exists, we will have horizontal violence.  As long as we have objectification, we will have property (and horizontal violence).  If we can’t relate to one-another of mutual trust, love, respect and solidarity, then we can’t have democracy.  Democracy requires of humans an animistic, process-based worldview.

Regardless of how they voted, how many people voted out of fear, anger or hatred as their driving motivation?  How many people vote(d) out of love, solidarity and courage as their driving motivation?   That matters more to me than any electoral result.  Likewise, what we do and how we act before or after the election matters more to me than how we vote.  So, let’s get to the root of it, and get back to the work that needs to happen regardless of who gets elected — the long Thousand Years’ Struggle for Liberation.


Civil war isn’t coming

November 5, 2016

Cracked posted an article about the “coming” civil war:  http://www.cracked.com/personal-experiences-2403-6-reasons-why-new-civil-war-possible-terrifying.html

#6. The Beginning Looks A Lot Like Where We Are Right Now

#5. The Violence Could Start With Farms Choking The Cities

#4. The Revolution Will Plagiarize ISIS’s Tactics

#3. There Will Be Hundreds of Sides

#2. Decades of Military Spending Will Bite Us In The Ass

#1. The Internet Will Make It Even Bloodier

All good points, and yet completely missing the point staring us all in the face:  how many of the pictures show women?  How many of our public terror incidents have involved women?  Clearly, this is an issue specifically affecting men and masculinity.  It’s not the only cause, but it’s definitely a bottleneck.

We are talking male-pattern violence, a product of patriarchy and masculinity.  Men are not inherently loose cannon hyper-violent control freaks.  I can’t take much more of this ignoring the obvious.  We need to get to cut to the main points, and one of them is masculinity and patriarchy.  Another huge one is control. If we crack down on institutions and norms that control others’ thoughts and behavior, much of this goes away.  Because it levels the playing field:  without the power dynamic of control, you have to engage and negotiate on equal footing.  That requires social skills.  And if you use controlling physical violence, manipulation, coercion, etc instead, and get punished, then it’s a form of meta control that forces you to adopt pro-social behavior, like emotional maturity and self-care practices.

This is eerily reminescent of how we ignore domestic and sexual violence as early-warning signs of more public acts of terror to come.  The public terrorists (whether independent or state-sanctioned paramilitary) commonly draw from a pool of people who terrorize others in their private lives. (http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/07/mass-killers-terrorism-domestic-violence.html; http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/16/world/americas/control-and-fear-what-mass-killings-and-domestic-violence-have-in-common.html)

Men shoot people.  Men plant bombs.  Men make public terror threats.  Men kick the shit out of people.  Men exert control.  Men rape. 99.9% of these things occur because men do them, most of the time.  Sometimes women do them (and often because they “toughen up” and start “acting like men”).

I don’t blame men.  I blame the system of behavioral control and masculine identity into which men are indoctrinated.  Men are even more often the victims of non-sexualized forms of male-pattern violence than women.  And we need to start engaging with the boys and men in our lives to change this.  Stop holding signs and shouting at random strangers.  Start having difficult conversations with the people you already know.

Because you know perpetrators of controlling violence.  And you also know victims and survivors.  You.  All of you.  All of us.  No one here does not know a survivor of male pattern violence.  I guarantee it.

I walked passed a church parking lot yesterday and was surprised to see several armored vehicles and few dozen cops (no women) prepping assault gear for something.  No “training exercise” signs, no lights.  Just quiet prep work.  A few of the guys looked downright blissful.  How you can get to the state of bliss prepping for murder is beyond me.  Except for the “Salem Police” labels I could not tell them apart from our imperial military forces.

When we bring masculinity in the discussion, we end up modifying the discussion:  the civil war isn’t possible.  It isn’t coming.  It’s already  here.  It’s unfolding right now.  In our midst.  At the most intimate of levels.

Packs of militarized, heavily-armed men roaming our cities (cops and gangs) and countrysides (militias and military) is only the most recent outgrowth, the cherry on top of the patriarchal sundae, peppered with little sprinkles of public bombings and shootings.  Whether we can stop or even reverse it depends on our ability to confront painful, difficult and terrifying truths about the most intimate aspects of our lives and relationships.


So You Wanna Be a Harp Player?

October 22, 2016

BACKGROUND

From that classic intro lick to the now-iconic and cliched followup, “So you wanna be a harp player?” Scott “Harpo” McCloskey’s “Harpin’ It Easy” taught many of us to suck and blow our way to some semblance of musicality on the harp.  I remember asking the Guy Behind the Counter at my LMS about learning the harp as a preteen.  Without hesitation, he took out the package, ripped it open, threw down the cassette tape and booklet, held up the included plastic “toy” harmonica, and said, “this is crap” then threw it in the waste basket with a clang.  Then he pushed the tape and booklet over to me with a C Marine Band and continued, “But I wish I had this little instruction course when I was learning to play.”  He charged me for the harmonica, which was the more expensive of the two items.  So he basically gave me the tape and booklet for free.

PURPOSE

This package has disappeared from the face of the earth.  But it’s a good tutorial for a beginner or even intermediate harp player to brush up on.  So in the interest of historic preservation, I am providing:

  1. The original booklet, scanned and processed for both print and computer display
  2. Both sides A and B of the cassette, conveniently broken into short subject-oriented tracks

PROCESS

Equipment: I recorded in stereo mp3 at 192kpbs on a small handheld Sony ICD-PX312, played through an old but fantastic handheld Panasonic Stereo Radio Cassette Player RQ-V164, with EQ set to middle on treble, mid and bass, and XBS set to “off” and volume on full.  No additional processing, except renaming the files on the recorder after splitting them into tracks, which is honestly where I sank most of my time and work in this project.

The tape broke on my first attempt to record.  I had to take the cassette apart and reattach the magnetic tape to the mylar tape with tiny little strips of scotch tape. Fortunately, it held up through recording both sides.

I did the scan work on ElementaryOS Luna (based on Ubuntu 14.04) using open source software Simple Scan at 600dpi from lossless copies using GIMP and LibreOffice Draw.

Get it here: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/0BwEbnp8jewZdbm5LczRwQ1I0bTg?usp=sharing

C harp not included.

MORE

If you want your mind blown with the potential of the “diatonic” harmonica, look up Howard Levy (“Bela Fleck and the Flecktones”).  He plays the diatonic harp like a chromatic instrument for all musical styles and idioms.  For great blues and extra instruction, look up Adam Gussow (“Kick and Stomp,” Satan and Adam, and his Youtube channel “Modern Blues Harmonica,” full of helpful information for beginner and intermediate players).  Adam Gussow pays homage to his mentors, such as the great early black players his personal mentor, amazing street musician Nat Riddles.