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.

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Ship gets new captain, still sinks

July 16, 2015

I have studied the presidency carefully; I have seen that our best presidents were the do-nothing presidents: Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding. When you have a president who does things, we are all in serious trouble. If he does anything at all — if he gets up at night to go to the bathroom — somehow, mystically, trouble will ensue. I guarantee that if I am elected, I will take over the White House, hang out, shoot pool, scratch my ass, and not do a damn thing. Which is to say, if you want something done, don’t come to me to do it for you; you got to get together and figure out how to do it yourselves. Is that a deal? — Utah Phillips

I see and hear lots of liberals touting Bernie Sanders’ platform:

Bernie Sanders' platform

…and mine the fuck out of the arctic and continue breakign native treaties and killing unarmed black people and generally keep the destructive super-trawler that is US Society afloat a bit longer, delaying the inevitable and prolonging the damage, making it a bit better for a few others while we oppress the shit out of even more people and dismantle even more life support systems. We need to stop trying to save the ship. It belongs at the bottom of the ocean.

I agree, it’s better than Hillary Clinton’s.  Actually, I find it impressive.  And that concerns me.   I like Bernie Sanders.  I think he’s a nice guy and he’s make a great president of the US.  And that scares me.  Liberalism in general scares me, because it’s fundamentally dishonest.  <rant>Liberalism is really just conservative in disguise.  Liberals don’t want change.  They want things like stability (like conservatives), but they want everyone else to just be numb and happy and in denial (cue the Brave New World reference to soma), because that’s what they want, and that’s the only way they can get it (besides just killing themselves).  They want to keep Today’s Society pretty-much the way it is, with a few tweaks here and there.  Maybe add a bit more padding on those infamously hard, uncomfortable seats.  “Numb brains, not butts!” may be their rallying cry.  The most irritating thing I find while searching the sea of clenched boomer-age liberal assholes is the an entrenched, itchy and borderline-hemerrhoidal belief that, “Everything will be alright if just…”  The bitter red pill (of uncomfortable truths) may be nourishing but proves too tough to swallow, so they opt over and over again for the smooth blue pill (of convenient bullshit), even though it only comes in the form of a suppository.   No wonder why they want more padding on those seats…</rant>

what asshole thought a rowboat would accurately represent industrial commodity culture?

Notice the liberals at the Far Right.  What asshole thought a rowboat would accurately represent industrial commodity culture?

Now, I like that picture above.  I think it provides a useful analogy for thinking about social privilege and hierarchy.  And it’s sinking.  But a rowboat?  C’mon, cartoonists!  We live in a civilization.  Civilization does not pride itself on its rowboats!   Consider an even more accurate picture of Today’s Society, where the cute and innocent rowboat depicted above looks more like a hybrid of a USS Super Tanker carrying an ocean full of crude oil, or a USS Super Trawler picking and scraping the ocean clean of every last bit of life, all with the inevitable fate of the USS Titanic (The “USS” really stands for United Society of Sociopaths).  No matter who helms it, a Super Trawler will still dredge the ocean floor.  No matter who helms the Titanic, it will stay its charted course…and sink.  And liberals don’t want the ship to sink.  They think it’s a pretty OK ship.  Maybe it has a few holes to patch, or some seats to pad.

Regardless of what liberals think, even as the ship sinks, as long as it operates it will continue to subjugate and destroy its crew and its environment.  Given that, I can think of four questions more relevant for us to ask and discuss than “So, who’dja vote for?” (kang or kodos?  coke or pepsi?):

  • How soon will the ship sink?
  • How much damage will its sinking cause?
  • How much more damage will the ship do as long as it continues to operate?
  • What do you want to do about it?

Electing Sanders doesn’t help.  He doesn’t sink the ship or lessen its destruction.  He hires and fires a few people, polishes the brass, and adds some padding to those infamously uncomfortable seats (cue cheers from hemerrhoidal liberals everywhere).  And the ship continues to operate, business as usual, maybe even better than ever! (ref. Utah Phillips quote, above)

We’re asking Sanders to become captain of the societal equivalent of a sociopathic Super Trawler.  Then we’re asking him to save us from that sociopath in two conflicting ways:  to keep from it sinking on one hand, and keep it from operating as normal on the other.  Neither do liberals want to abandon ship, nor do they want to sink with it.  So they resort to magical thinking, supported by their steady diet of bullshit blue-pill suppositories…Bernie will save us.  He’ll make things right.  He’ll… I don’t expect any miracles from Bernie. I do expect things to continue getting worse regardless of who gets elected. (ref. Utah Phillips quote, above)

You can dress a sociopath up in a smart new suit and expect him to behave less sociopathic, but all you will do is help him hide in plain sight.   You can give a sociopath a tool like a hammer, and he will find a way to use it as a weapon of control and misery.  You can educate him, and he will use his knowledge to manipulate others and consolidate his power.  We live in a society that behaves like a rampaging sociopath.  There exists no magical “tweak” or “reform” or “policy” or “political platform” that will make it less destructive, let alone turn it into an emotionally healthy being capable of relating in deep and meaningful ways with others.  When we try to reform, we settle for symbolic change, empower the destruction and blind ourselves to its continuation.

Is it actually any better that Sanders gets elected instead of Clinton or their Republican counterpart?  In other words, what impact does who gets elected president have on the four questions I ask above?  I repeat those questions here for your convenience (you’re welcome), along with some thoughts on them from me (I’m sorry):

  • How soon will the ship sink?  Will it sink sooner or later?  I tend to think later.  Electing a liberal is really electing an expert conservative who stabilizes society without fixing any of its fundamental ills.  We delay the inevitable.  We prolong the misery.
  • How much damage will its sinking cause?  The society keeps growing, so I tend to think that the longer we wait, the bigger the crash.  The higher the fall.  The less prepared we are, the more harm the crash and fall will do to its peoples and environments.   So how does electing Bernie slow the destruction and growth and empower the people?
  • How much more damage will the ship do as long as it continues to operate?  Will electing someone like Bernie Sanders actually reign in the destruction, somehow?  How will Bernie change the classism, racism, sexism embedded into the fabric of our society?  Will Bernie slow down deforestation, help dismantle dams, protect our rivers from poisoning?  Will his policies thwart our industrial, commodity-based economy?   Or will his policies simply make a few people more comfortable existing within such a terrifying, destructive system…for a time?
  • What do you want to do about it?  Do you think voting is enough?

So go ahead and vote for Bernie.  Just go ahead and vote.  Or not.  I really don’t care who you vote for, or whether you vote.  Donald Rumsfeld, Donald Trump, or that other unsung ‘murrican fascist, Mickey Mouse.  But I do care about what you do with the rest of the hours in your day:  How are you helping to stop the destruction?   Study and practice permaculture? Join and support Black Lives Matter!?  Or do you want to do something more explicitly political?  Organize your community to adopt a Community Bill of Rights as we work to change the legal foundations of this country to something more fundamentally just. And men in particular, please, please join or support your local feminist organization, because the revolution really does start at home (but doesn’t end there).  And any number of other radical, transformative things, including those less constructive (rivers must flow free to support terrestrial ecosystems, super trawlers must sink to have sustainable fisheries, and those pretentious colonial marbled houses and engraved enscriptions of empire need to come down sometime…the sooner, the better!).


031114 opulent minority

September 25, 2014

031114

the rights inherent to real, natural persons
who form natural communities
as part of the nature existing underneath
around and inside you and me

vs

the rights implied in the profit
and property of corporate personhood
where, legally, persons become property
as potential profit for these
fictitious corporate entities
who exist exclusively to accumulate wealth

to benefit the “opulent minority”
as they once called themselves
while hiding behind an armed-guard
veil of secret, opulent exclusivity
of english common legal convention
to frame a document, counter revolutionary
to secure their interests (slavers, all)
against the interests of the many

tell me: who are the few, real people
to derive real benefit from slavery?
chattel, domestic “women’s work” and wage
all the same, to benefit or enslave
the people like you and me?

tell me, where do you see yourself existing:
as part of nature, with inherent rights
or as part of the Framer’s legal fictionality
where most rights are rights denied
whereas the rest apply in practice
as privileges, as if the right
to beg and scrape and grovel at the feet
of this “opulent minority” for something
i might hope to receive — when
it already exists deep inside of me,
inherent to my being — should seem a privilege,
given to and taken from us as they please?
while they demand we serve down on our knees

i demand dignity.  from this point on
i live and die free, on my feet, i fight
for the inherent rights of natural people
for the liberation of the many
for the self-determination of the meek
for the health, safety and welfare of my community
for nature, for democracy.   i will conspire to break
and abolish any law — just a mess of text on paper
from the foolish rule of the few — that seeks
to deny to anyone their life and liberty
toward the pursuit of happiness.

i stand ready. if you do, too
you can come find me, or i can find you.


Solidarity and plurality of liberation movements and strategies

March 23, 2014

3/29/14 Update

Russ at Attempter blog posted his thoughts on Sarah and Michael’s piece: http://attempter.wordpress.com/2014/03/29/the-community-rights-anti-corporate-movement-and-its-liberal-pro-corporate-detractors/

3/28/14 Update

Kai Huschke, an organizer working for CELDF in the Pacific Northwest, has posted a Response to CELDF critique by IOPS.  Kai also posted as a comment at ZComm.  Here’s a small excerpt:

It is very clear that nothing will develop nor evolve in regards to securing rights for people, communities, and nature, and containing corporate and economic power, if the focus is put on IOPS or CELDF or any other organization.

The fight for rights has always been about each of us liberating ourselves first and then taking that liberation on the road. From there we each can make our own decisions on what or who to associate with, or building the necessary means to fight for rights.

Clarity of what we are up against is critical to formulating the direction we go. That means taking a look in the mirror as well as the evidence around us.

The entire piece is well-crafted, well-tempered and well-worth the read.

Background

This blog post is a response to some problematic structural dynamics I have encountered in Sarah Owens and Michael Livingston’s discussion focus and engagement process. I have witnessed problems in three ways: through a mutual friend (whose enthusiasm they dismissed hurtfully and patronizingly as “naive”), through Sarah’s engagement of me in the comments section of a post on the Integral Permaculture blog (which strangely claims “community rights” as somehow a more decentralized form of “states’ rights” — perhaps a marketing problem the community rights movement should address), and finally through their own independent “analysis” of the community rights movement, also cross-posted to ZComm.

That said, I want to say that I appreciate the open and public format of Sarah’s and Michael’s discussion of movement strategies. As many concerns as I have about process and structure, it would be much worse for these discussions to happen privately and behind backs vs publicly. I think public discussion allows us to enact and embody the shared values we purport to promote. I live in the same town and city as the authors of the blog. I became involved in our county’s newly-forming community rights chapter after hearing Thomas Linzey’s inspiring keynote address at the 2012 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene, Oregon. My experience with and understanding of community rights stands in stark contrast to the strange assertions and abstract critiques they and others have made.

Sarah and Michael are members of my natural community, and frankly I am at a loss to explain their behavior.   I apologize out of solidarity to my fellow Oregon Community Rights Network members and other activists nationally and internationally who bust their chops as grassroots volunteers to assert and elevate the inherent and inalienable rights of nature, natural communities and natural persons.  Your work for us all and for the earth deserves better than this!

This problem is much larger than IOPS or community rights or any individuals therein. I have witnessed and experienced the same frustrating “more radical than thou” liberal gatekeeping that a few individuals perpetrate in many liberation movements, and the problem is perhaps as old as the concept of liberation itself.  I see this issue regularly in racial, class and gender justice work, for example.  Monty Python’s Life of Brian provides hilarious commentary on this frustrating issue:

Inasmuch as Sarah and Michael serve as spokesepersons for IOPS, their misconduct strikes me as a giant red flag.

Response

I believe that public discussions are most beneficial when participants engage in good faith and with good will. Unfortunately, I have yet to see evidence of either from my interactions to-date with one of the article’s authors. Worse, I have encountered significant evidence to the contrary in my three encounters with them thus far, including name-calling, cherry-picking supporting evidence, ignoring conflicting evidence, and framing contradictory arguments on baseless assertions, stereotypes or generalizations, and complete lack of direct experience or engagement in the movement, to name a few. More recently, someone posted as “Ivan Illich” a very thoughtful comment disputing their blog post, and one author promptly accused that person of “trolling” (an accusation the commenter then engaged in an admirably gracious and good-faith manner).

Response focus:  Such unfortunate and frustrating circumstances lead me away from a focus on content and into the territory of discussion dynamics: honesty, constructive engagement, and the importance of collaboration, solidarity and plurality of movements and movement strategies.

The IOPS appears to have both strategy and goals that parallel “the (sic) community rights strategy,” noting that “the” community rights strategy does not actually exist since community rights movement is an organic grassroots revolution evolving out of fundamental and universally-shared principles valuing and asserting the inherent and inalienable rights of nature, natural communities and natural persons. The key differences seem to be that IOPS, as a two-year old experiment, appears less grounded and not yet as well-developed — which are not bad things at all. It just means that IOPS simply doesn’t have the history or experience, yet, that community rights has developed over the past 15 years. I recognize this might be splitting hairs, since with all the progress made via community rights, we all (including, but not limited to community rights) have a long road ahead of us.

More to the point, these are not, to my knowledge, competing movements, inasmuch as they both seek to liberate people, places and planet from destructive systems of oppression.   I would like to invite collaboration between IOPS and community rights in the achievement of our mutual goals in the context of their similar vision for fundamental societal transformation toward the liberation of nature, natural communities and natural persons.  The community rights movement as a whole has learned some amazing lessons, as has CELDF through its support of the movement, and I have experienced nothing but a willingness to be openly self-critical for the sake of learning and growing better, more-effective strategies. Community rights depends on collaboration and accountability, which I think contributes to my experience of movement’s tendency toward inclusion instead of exclusion as we work our way up and against the “chain of command” of society’s existing hierarchy and molt our anti-democratic skin in favor of a more perfect union existing primarily for the purpose of protecting the inherent and inalienable rights of nature, natural communities and natural persons everywhere.  I hope that IOPS has members who embody this ethic.  I would love to collaborate with them.

To be fair, I also invite collaboration with members of the NRA, for example, and for the same fundamental reasons: specifically, in this case, to ensure the continued right of the people to bear arms.  And to access clean water. And breathe unpolluted air. And acheive food sovereignty. And have shelter. The list goes on. That’s one of the beautiful things about this process of recognizing, defining, asserting and defending — at the grassroots level — the inherent rights of nature, natural communities and natural persons into law. It cuts deep — real deep. When a natural community asserts the inherent and inalienable rights of nature, natural communities and natural persons in its own little corner of the universe, it necessarily does so in solidarity with nature, natural communities and natural persons everywhere.

I challenge the invariably patronizing and critical tone that the authors strike, and ask what they hope to accomplish. The authors seem to think that they can “educate” (even “warn”) people about community rights, and do so without any direct experience or engagement with the actual communities and individuals who drive the movement (or any movement) forward.  This strikes me as an alienating, isolating and self-marginalizing approach which may undercut the stated values and goals of their own movement. Is it too much to ask that the authors speak from their own experience?  Which then begs the question: what is their actual experience (with community rights, CELDF, movement building, and radical social change? In today’s urgent climate for fundamental societal transformation, we need effective allies and action, not self-important critics!

The authors seem more concerned with poking holes in existing movements than they are with developing actual, practical experience with those movements or even developing their own movement.  Their behavior reminds me of a classic piece from Incite Blog entitled, “Why Misogynists Make Great Informants.”  The essay describes how people who attempt to engage in radical movements while failing to do the necessary work to decolonize their own thoughts and behaviors serve primarily as agents of disruption at best, and sometimes much worse.

A group exists in the very same community that the authors live, and the movement has generally addressed pretty much all of the relevant concerns they raise in its inception (e.g., the need for grassroots strategizing and solidarity and transparent evaluation metrics) — something the authors would have known had they accepted but one of several invitations to participate and learn more instead of retreating prematurely and leveling baseless and inaccurate critiques from an abstract distance.  At the very least, the authors might take a more practical position in recognition of the need to focus their limited energies on building their own, similar movement rather than tearing down others.

When they have their own movement (with wonderful goals!) to build, why do they spend so much energy creating straw men and chasing red herrings in a movement with decidedly similar goals?  Community rights, IOPS and Move to Amend, for example, are all pieces of a larger strategic puzzle moving forward.  Should community rights activists feel somehow threatened by Move to Amend’s work inasmuch as there is overlap?  Likewise, should we feel threatened by someone’s decision to work within the regulatory framework to minimize or slow down the damage the system does?   No!  That’s like asking whether we should respond to or prevent men’s violence against women.  The answer is:  Yes.  Both.  We might disagree on strategy, but we have common goals, and overlap is opportunity for collaboration and cross-pollination!

Diverse strategies are always better than monological, hegemonic strategies. My partner reminded me that hegemonic strategies accomplish little more than to divide and conquer movements that — when allied — greatly threaten the existing power structures. No single strategy or movement has all the answers, and beware any movement or person who claims or implies otherwise, or who claims that a single movement or strategy may somehow even have the capacity to accommodate perfection (i.e., “if only everyone got involved in my movement”)!

So, how do we build solidarity and collaboration amongst diverse movements with diverse strategies who express shared, overlapping or complementary values and goals?   I’ll start:  I think it takes trust, humility, accountability and honesty.   I feel fortunate that my experience with community rights thus far has strengthened my faith in the people involved in the movement.

Following are some comments directly address a few of the first assertions within the blog post-in-question.

Baseless assertion: “That changed when CELDF started promoting “community rights” here in Oregon.” (emphasis mine)

On what evidence do the authors base this assertion? The Oregon network, for example, consists of county chapters and local communities, a volunteer force. CELDF does not promote, nor has it ever promoted community rights in Oregon. I am not aware of it promoting community rights anywhere except on its website. The movement started because communities approached CELDF for support. I don’t know or understand why or how Sarah or Michael came to the opposite conclusion. The movement continues to grow via word of mouth and grassroots organizing efforts, some of which includes new communities approaching CELDF or other independent community rights activists to help get the ball rolling.  Members of communities promote community rights, and ask outsiders for technical and logistical assistance as they wish. Communities ask CELDF to teach Democracy Schools, for example, because the communities want it.  In contrast, the author paints CELDF as a bully attempting to impose itself on communities and ram something down our throats (ironically painting us as passive, helpless people who lack any agency of our own), when nothing could be further from the truth.  CELDF is just one collaborative player among many others, such as the Environmental Law Center.

Promotion of fictional “corporate rights”: “The third (Democracy School Online Part VII at ~17:00 to 23:00) was to assist communities to enact ordinances that purported to strip corporations of their constitutional rights (sic).” (emphasis mine)

1. Corporations, like states, do not have constitutional rights, let alone rights at all. We can’t strip corporations (or states) of something that they don’t possess! They have some ill-conceived and painfully contorted court decisions that attempt to claim that they have rights.

In Pennsylvania in 2013, Supreme Court Judge O’Dell-Seneca declared that “in the absence of state law, business entities are nothing.” Corporations do not and never will exist autonomously from law, and so will never have inherent, inalienable rights of natural persons. “It is axiomatic,” she asserted, “that corporations, companies, and partnerships have no ‘spiritual nature,’ ‘feelings,’ ‘intellect,’ ‘beliefs,’ ‘thoughts,’ ’emotions,’ or ‘sensations,’ because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists…They cannot be ‘let alone’ by government, because businesses are but grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tend, and prune at their pleasure and need.” (emphasis mine)

2. Power is inherent in nature, natural communities and natural persons. Therefore people, communities and nature itself must define and assert that power as the basis for legitimate structures of democratic law and governance. In contrast, a structure of human law and governance that undermines the actual basis of its power is, by-definition, illegitimate and non-viable. Unfortunately, we live under the thumb of such a structure today.

3. Michael and Sarah’s lawyerly and apologetic focus on “enforceability” is neither helpful nor surprising. The fact that an oppressive hierarchy will act punitively against those who attempt to liberate themselves from its grasp (e.g., through legal action) is not surprising. As “Ivan” pointed out, the abolition and women’s suffragist movements were also illegal at the time they existed, and faced legal sanctions for the work they did. We refuse to wait for the structure of human law and governance to catch up to the needs of nature, natural communities and natural persons, and will act accordingly, the same as the abolitionists, suffragists and other activists throughout history, in the interests of universal human rights, as well as the inherent rights of nature and natural communities.

Community rights (perhaps along the lines of IOPS) is a broader and more inclusive movement to rip all the cancer of oppression out of existing structure of human law and governance. Imagine a democratic union based centrally on the universal recognition and protection of the inherent and inalienable rights of all nature, natural communities and natural persons. No exceptions. No loopholes. Compare that to our current Constitution that puts commerce before the rights of persons, and had an incomplete and half-hearted Bill of Rights laundry list tacked onto it after-the-fact, and still leaves entire groups of people, communities, places and the earth in general high and dry.

There are so many more distortions in Sarah and Michael’s analysis that, had I not had direct experience with many different community rights groups, I would hesitate to associate with the movement.  Time will prove analyses such as these wrong.  In the mean time, I wanted to focus on some more fundamental dynamics of structure and process that I see and problematic and needing improvement.  Perhaps this is an opportunity for us…

Conclusion

This is an issue a much more inclusive “we” need to address.  To start, I hereby declare the need for plurality of movements and strategies to move forward in solidarity and constructive collaboration toward the liberation of natural persons, natural communities and nature itself. Honk if you do, too :) and let’s GET MOVING!  There’s no shortage of work to do, inside the regulatory system to slow the destruction, and outside of it to stop the destruction at its source.  Pick your path!

ethan