The leading myth is that the only possibilities for neighborhoods are gentrification or urban decay. Well-meaning liberals sometimes think cities face a choice between the bad days of the past and a gentrified future. Urban theorists invoke this same theme with the idea of the city as a ceaselessly changing organism that can either gentrify or stagnate. But these are all deeply misleading arguments, because they offer a false choice. No serious critic of gentrification wants to maintain the status quo. Instead of either gentrification or decay, cities could push for more equal distribution of resources and more democratic decision-making.
You can bury your head in old books, but the world will find its way to you somehow. Ferguson is one of those things that found it’s way in. In the past two weeks it’s gone from a story about white fear to one about the militarization of the police to one about the countless ways America has failed black people.
Of course, we keep having this conversation again and again and not much seems to change. Ta-Nehisi Coates is worth reading on this, as is his epic “The Case for Reparations,” which chronicles the long history of this country using and abusing black people. And it’s not just the U.S. having this conversation again and again, as Laurie Penny makes clear in her piece comparing the shooting of Michael Brown to that of Mark Duggan, which set of the riots in London in 2011. Yet, for some reason I have a strange sense of optimism that things are gonna change this time.
Meanwhile, where are presidential hopefuls on this? Rand Paul, to his credit, wrote an editorial for Time about the militarization of the police and even decried racial inequality in the justice system, but as far as I know hasn’t yet visited Ferguson. But where the Democrats? Matthew Yglesias ‘splains that Hillary Clinton refuses to comment on the issue because she doesn’t have a good primary challenger. But I think the bigger problem is that it’s not really advantageous for any Democratic primary candidate to rock this particular boat. A primary challenger might be able to use Ferguson to score some points in the primary, but then in the general they run the risk of being branded a radical anti-white crusader and lose critical independent votes in critical swing states. I mean, it’s not exactly as if Clinton, or whoever gets the nomination, is really in danger of losing many votes to a guy who employed and co-authored a book with a neo-confederate. It’s part of the good cop/bad cop routine that the two major parties play. (And of course it works both ways — if you’re conservative, then the Republicans, generally, are the good cops and the Democrats are the bad cops.)
The arrests in Ferguson and the death of James Foley have left me, as a journalist, feeling bad that I’m doing such safe work. But Ryan Schuessler left Ferguson because too many journos were being assholes. There’s a lot to unpack there that ties into other thoughts and feelings I have about the professional of journalism, but that will have to wait.
I haven’t been listening to much music lately, but when I have it’s usually been Coil. Stuff from throughout their career, but one that particular caught my ear recently is Black Antlers, which I hadn’t listened to much before.
For the transgender community, the web is an important resource for finding trans-friendly doctors, housing, jobs and public restrooms–many things the rest of us take for granted. But web filtering software designed to prevent access to pornography often stops people from accessing websites that with information on a host of other topics, such as breast feeding, safe sex and, yes, transgender issues. It’s a subtle–and possibly unintentional–form of discrimination, one that can have a big impact. Web filters are more than a temporary inconvenience for many transgender people who rely on public libraries and internet cafes to access the internet. The problem is even worse in the UK, where all new internet connections are filtered by default at the ISP level.
“Because homelessness and poverty are such a big issues in the trans community, many don’t have access to unfiltered, uncensored internet,” says Lauren Voswinkel, a transgender software developer based Pittsburgh. These hurdles to accessing information can make it even harder for transgender people to escape poverty.
That’s why she’s building Transgress, a tool that lets people bypass web filters to access sites about transgender issues and only transgender issues.
It was 1983 and Davis was playing country western music in an (informally) all-white lounge. He was the only black musician in the place and when his set was over, a man approached him. “He came up to me and said he liked my piano playing,” says Davis, “then he told me this was the first time he heard a black man play as well as Jerry Lee Lewis.” Davis, somewhat amused, explained to the man: “Jerry Lee learned to play from black blues and boogie woogie piano players and he’s a friend of mine. He told me himself where he learned to play.” At first, Davis says, the man was skeptical that Jerry Lee Lewis had been schooled by black musicians, but Davis went on to explain in more detail. “He was fascinated,” says Davis, “but he didn’t believe me. Then, he told me he was a Klansman.”
Most people in this day and age probably would have turned and ran right out of that good ol’ boy’s bar, but not Davis. He stayed and talked with the Klansman for a long time. “At first, I thought ‘why the hell am I sitting with him?’ but we struck up a friendship and it was music that brought us together,” he says.
That friendship would lead Davis on a path almost unimaginable to most folks. Today, Davis is not only a musician, he is a person who befriends KKK members and, as a result, collects the robes and hoods of Klansmen who choose to leave the organization because of their friendship with him.
What many people fail to realize is that Change.org isn’t a non-profit organization. Though anyone can set up a petition for free, the company makes an awful lot of money from all the data it collects about its online petitions and the people who sign them. It’s not just a path to The People. It’s a Google-like Big Data play.
In amassing data from its 45 million users and the 660,000 petitions they’ve created and signed, the company has unprecedented insight into the habits of online activists. If you sign one animal rights petition, the company says, you’re 2.29 times more likely to sign a criminal justice petition. And if you sign a criminal justice petition, you’re 6.3 times more likely to sign an economic justice petition. And 4.4 times more likely to sign an immigrant rights petition. And four times more likely to sign an education petition. And so on.
Change.org uses this data to serve you petitions you’re more likely to be interested in. And, in many cases, it also uses the stuff as a way of pairing you with paying sponsors you’re more likely to give money to.
It’s an intriguing business, and as it turns out, a rather lucrative one. But for some, it also toes an ethical line. “We’ve sort of created an email industrial complex where we’ll do anything to get people’s email address,” says Clay Johnson, a Presidential Innovation Fellow who, in 2004, co-founded Blue State Digital, a for-profit consulting company that helped develop the Obama campaign’s finely targeted fundraising system.
A good take on certain types of political violence:
It is usually exciting to see reports on insurrectionary attacks on capitalist structures in the news; for example, the recent torching of a fancy-pants car dealership in Melbourne, Australia. An unidentified anarchist cell (unidentified by the corporate media, anyway) has claimed responsibility, although the police are expressing their skepticism that the fire wasn’t an accident.
There is an argument to be made that such actions can inspire and educate the general population, and drive them to take up revolutionary struggle. This notion is encompassed in the idea of the “propaganda of the deed“, a philosophy that emphasizes actions over words, and is usually cited as justification for assassinations, bombings, arson, street battles, and other acts of sabotage and violence.
I’m not going to deny that I am not emotionally roused by such actions, especially when they take place in the West. The dearth of radical political action in the United States makes it very easy to want to cheerlead violent actions by clandestine groups. However, we must keep a cool and logical head when it comes to theorizing and practicing radical politics, and analyze specific tactics from an empirical and historical standpoint is crucial. History shows that the propaganda of the deed has typically failed to drive any kind of real emancipatory struggle. From the Weather Underground in the US to the MEK in Iran, insurrectionary actions devoid of any mass organizational politics has always failed to rouse the general population to revolution.
(I’ll henceforth refer to this phenomena of militancy without the masses as “adventurism”, a somewhat pejorative term that was popularized by Lenin to distinguish individual acts of violence from actions taken by a popular organization or community).
This may well be the defining motto of our times. No one is to be trusted; it’s a dangerous world out there and if you can’t be bothered to take basic steps…
Well, everyone gets what’s coming sooner or later.
The watchword is self-reliance. They’re coming to take what’s yours, so you’d better be ready. Federate your email, buy a generator, make sure you’ve got good locks, and for God’s sake, carry a handgun. There are monsters in the streets and some idiot is arming them.
But how to defend against the errors of the masses unwilling to take care of themselves? Every message in my outbox is in some fool’s inbox; plain as day, as if I’d sent it straight to PRISM myself. NSA-proof? Not without a massive shift of collective action undertaken by a society of people who’ve spent the past decade or so dumping as many photos, feelings, and fantasies online as time and bandwidth would allow. Why not? I certainly did. It’s nice to have friends.
Why have Western security agencies developed such an unprecedented capacity to spy on their own domestic populations? Since the 2008 economic crash, security agencies have increasingly spied on political activists, especially environmental groups, on behalf of corporate interests. This activity is linked to the last decade of US defence planning, which has been increasingly concerned by the risk of civil unrest at home triggered by catastrophic events linked to climate change, energy shocks or economic crisis – or all three.
Guernica interviews Ai-jen Poo, founder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance:
The project grew out of work within CAAAV, where many of the Filipina domestic workers who were organizing had worked in Hong Kong as domestic workers before coming to NYC. In Hong Kong, there are domestic workers from all over Asia, there are Indonesian workers, Filipina workers… It’s a multinational situation, and everyone works under a standard contract. There are set hours, guidelines, wages, and standards that are enforced. When the Filipina domestic workers came to the U.S., many were surprised to find so little protection and that in fact, domestic workers are excluded from a lot of labor law protections.
It was obvious to them that they couldn’t win better conditions alone, that they would have to develop a project with all domestic workers in the field. I had experience with multiracial coalition building and our organization already had that ethic, but the workers themselves also felt it was a natural next step to figure out a way to organize together as an entire workforce, which became Domestic Workers United.
Out of this herculean research effort, Weldon and Htun conclude that the “mobilization of feminist movements is more important for change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties, or the number of women politicians” in a country, according to the APSR press release.
The authors found that these vibrant and autonomous feminist movements were the first to articulate the issue of violence against women, mobilize political will against it, and catalyze government action. Other organizations, even those with progressive leanings, tended to sideline issues perceived as being only relevant to women. […]
This is heartening news. There’s a tendency to feel hopeless in the face of the Big Trends and the analyses of the violence and degradation against women as collateral damage of what feel like almost insurmountable “larger problems” and social pathology. For example we sometimes think of violence against women as mostly a by-product of economic development and educational opportunities, or lack thereof.
Conversely, there’s a consoling tendency to think that once these economic conditions improve, violence against women will diminish naturally, as a happy consequence of other social changes.
This research concludes that the work of individuals in civil society not only makes a difference, but makes the difference in comparison to other potential but more indirect levers of social change, such as having left-leaning parties or more national wealth. Write Weldon and Htun, the “effects of autonomous organizing are more important in our analysis than women’s…representation inside the legislature or the impact of political parties. Nor do economic factors such as national wealth trump the societal causes of policy making. Although these intra-legislative and economic factors have received a great deal of attention…they are inadequate to explain the significant changes in policies on violence against women. Civil society holds the key here.”