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Hi, my name is Jim Macdonald, and I have an odd assortment of interests. In no particular order, I love Yellowstone, I am an anti-authoritarian activist and organizer, and I have a background in philosophy, having taught at the college level. My blog has a lot more links to my writing and my other Web sites. In Jim's Eclectic World, I try to give a holistic view of my many interests. Often, all three passions show themselves interweaving in the very same blog. Anyhow, I think it's a little different. But, that's me. I'm not so much out there, but taken together, I'm a little unusual.

(or other places to find my writings from the mundane to the supermundane)
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  • June 2005
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    Thursday, June 13, 2013

    Modern Dance

    Modern Dance

    I danced in a field
    of dandelions and thistles.
    Did any of us belong?
    Weeds, so to speak.
    Home can be ...
    elusive ...
    as wind scatters us.
    Finding ground
    ... to root and to belong ...
    can feel ...
    miraculous.
    But lacking that,
    what else is there to do
    except to ...
    dance some more?

    - jsm

    Wednesday, June 12, 2013

    Who Edward Snowden Is Matters

    The character assassination of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden is not surprising; the deflection of the issues he raises is not surprising, either. Yet, let's not take the wrong lesson from this. It does matter who Edward Snowden is, just not in the way we might typically think. Snowden, like all of us, is a complicated, no doubt flawed person. There is a real lesson in keeping to heart that reality while understanding it in terms of what he brought to light.

    What happens when you give a few complicated, flawed people unlimited power? Bad things happen.

    Rather than turn a flawed man just like us into a hero - though his action was heroic - let's recognize that he's wrong about something. It's not just that the American government was engaged in criminality; it's that this government - like all governments - are run by flawed people, people who have far too much power. It's not enough to hold them accountable and to put people in power who aren't criminals. We need to dismantle the power of a system that demands that we put trust in people who are inherently flawed and which is therefore incredibly dangerous because of the power it wields.

    If we all fall short in some ways of being able to earn full trust of each other, can't we at least be fully human without worrying whether our every decision might impact the lives of billions of people? Who Edward Snowden is matters; who each of us is matters. We'd matter a lot more if we didn't abdicate that responsibility to an economic and political system that currently dictates so many of the terms of our lives.

    I'd also urge that we not abstract the ideas of Edward Snowden from the man, flaws and all.

    Friday, May 10, 2013

    Initial Reflections on Grammatical Anarchy

    Language has no atoms - not the syllable, not the word, not the phrase, not the sentence, not the consonant, not the vowel ... which of these is really fundamentally prior, that which upon language is actually built? 

    The structure of language, therefore, shows no implicit hierarchy, though we can construct hierarchies depending on what the prism is through which we see language?  Is it through the prism of sound, through terms, through action, through coherence?  The prism we choose will select the property of language we deem to be the actual building block upon which all others depend.

    Language, however, does not have a prism through which all other prisms matter.  However, since we forget that truth about language, we often favor one way of teaching language over another.  Do we think that vocabulary is most important, or grammar, or learning letters?  Is it learning to speak well?  Is it being thoughtful?  When we then preference one way of teaching and therefore learning over another, we tend to enforce a control over not only the teaching of language but the usage of language.

    One thing I've learned in my recent studies is that written languages have developed mostly in cultures that have valued commerce and therefore needed a rigid language to protect contracts related to commerce.  A standard spelling, a rigid syntax and semantics, best serves cultures who wish to control the flow of trade.  Language, then, preferenced a certain way begins to exhibit the values of such a society.  Those values in turn affect the language.  English, which has very rich vocabulary but fairly rigid syntactical rules, has become the language of commerce across nations and languages. 

    These considerations have suggested to me that we have been conditioned to preference aspects of language that are not actually preferenced in nature and that this actually plays out in our social interactions.  The flow is restrictive and prejudiced - much as we move in society mostly by walking (not by running, jumping, hopping, skipping, or dancing).  We have reserved the flow of our language to specific forms of communication (not poetry or singing except in special occasions to special audiences).  We have forced an education system on our children that continues to serve the prejudice of larger societal values (values which are not in my mind healthy).

    I don't know how to get out of it; these are just some intitial thoughts on what I call grammatical anarchy - which isn't a grammar without rules; it's a grammar without rulers.  I'd argue that by missing that there are no atoms to language, we have prejudiced certain aspects of language and used those aspects to reflect the values of our rulers.  Figuring out how to have a healthy appreciation of all the prisms with which we may approach language actually can be radically transformative.

    Tuesday, April 30, 2013

    Semantics

    Semantics

    Syntax is garbled my;
    Oh my;
    Meaning lost in
    My-ssing Oh-rganization.
    Or was it found?


    - jsm

    Wednesday, March 20, 2013

    The Man in the Sculpture

    Twice recently while dancing the 5Rhythms I have had a peculiar vision come to me; tonight, the vision returned with a new wrinkle.  Let me share it with you.

    In a public art museum, a crowd of people are looking at sculptures.  The main attraction is Rodin's The Thinker, but behind it tucked - in a corner drawing fewer spectators - is a white sculpture of a naked man.  The features of the man are almost formless, as if his true nature is being hidden by the sculpted material with which he is made. 

    A small group is looking up at this rather unremarkable sculpture when one man hears a small thud coming from inside the sculpture.  He hears another and another.

    "There's something in the sculpture!" he shouts.  A group of people begin banging at the sculpture with hammers and chisels.  Sure enough, there is a naked man alive inside the sculpture.

    The man in the sculpture is me.

    I look around, and everyone has receded from view.  I am no longer in an art museum but in an empty and formless place.  I look down at my body, and what do I see?  As if my skin were transparent, I can see all the tendons in my body.  Yet, instead of actual tendons, I see small chain links where every tendon is supposed to be.  My muscles are muscles, but my tendons are chain links.  The only place where I do not see these chain links is around my heart.  My heart I can also see through my skin has a pulsating illuminating glow.  In the back of my right collarbone up close to my neck, I feel a very sharp pain.  I perceive that there is a deep knife in my back.

    I reach to pull the knife out, but another knife immediately takes its place.  I get the knife out over and over, and each time it is replaced.  Eventually, I get the message that the knife cannot be pulled out but will only come out gradually from within.

    Tonight, I have the very same vision, only this time there are some slight differences.  Where the knife is, the pain has greatly reduced, though the knife is clearly still there.  The tissue around the knife feels softer.  Where the chain link tendons are, on each tendon, there is one less chain.  At the end of each tendon is actually living organic tissue.  However, there was something else astonishing.  When I picked up my hands, they were heavy and made of solid gold.  I could not move them very easily at all, and I did not yet know whether there were living hands still stuck inside these now golden hands.

    I got the message to come home and write this story out immediately and share it with you all.

    What I think It Means


    At the most significant level, these are messages about my body.  For many years, though I hardly noticed it, I have had a very rigid and stiff body.  I have lived life with terrible posture - so much so that from recent body work and a recent doctor's visit, I discovered that I was a half inch taller than I had ever been since I had stopped growing.  My shoulders hunch over, my waste collapses, and I have trouble moving my neck.  I discovered during one dance workshop that I can't lie on the ground and stretch my hands on the ground behind my head.  I have never been terribly flexible, but I am further than ever from being able to touch the floor.

    This has been how I have projected myself to the world, though I hardly realized the messages I was sending.  I shyly moved from place to place, shoulders in, trying to stay out of the way.  Even in moments where I found my voice - and there have been many in life - there is no doubt that my message got through in spite of my physicality, not because of it.  I never realized that my hands are often held like a claw, that my arms have trouble swinging, that all the confidence I have as a writer is often lost in person because I have not been able to express myself in the same way.

    It was as if the man I am was lost inside a sculpture of sorts, the facade I sculpted to the world.  Yes, there were some bright spots.  I was physically fit, for instance.  However, ultimately, I looked as if I were made of stone.  Only moments shed light to people that there was a man alive inside the sculpture.

    This is about my body, but it's also about all of my being in this world.  There have been times where I have obviously not been a sculpture, where I have raised my voice loudly for things I believe in, where I have put my body on the line for those very things.  Yet, at other times, I have grown quiet for the wrong reasons, and it shows not just in my body but even in my writing voice.  Sometimes, I am all too diplomatic and hoping to please people.  Yet, geez.  I am an anarchist who wants to smash the state and capitalist society and every hierarchy under the sun.  There is no pleasing people when those are the things you want and believe in.

    I mean, we live in a society with a lot of things that are simply unacceptable.  Many women are afraid to walk the streets at night.  If a woman is raped, how common is it to hear, "She should have known better"?  Poor people are told its their fault if they can't make ends meet.  People of color are looked on with suspicion simply for the color of their skin.  If you are Arab or Black or Indian, you are made to feel aware of your differences in awful ways.  People with mental illnesses are made to feel ashamed of their conditions.  Children are regimented to conform to the most authoritarian instincts of our society at the youngest ages.  This isn't even a start of what's wrong.

    How can I stay silent and pretend that my place in this world isn't to rabble rouse, isn't with all my might to bash a hammer against the larger sculpture - which is the political and economic system that binds each one of us living beings? 

    You know, I can post pictures of my son River all day long - and I will - and they will get nice response.  If I get a new job or happen on something uncontroversial, I'll get a good response.  If I post something like this, what can I expect?  It doesn't matter really; I am finding my legs moving again.

    I projected a stiff and small hunched over man who seemed to have trouble connecting with people, but I am determined to live a life that is true to my nature, that isn't afraid to speak the truth as I am called to speak it, to move my body as it was fully intended to move, to be fully a man.  And who is this man?  I'm still a work in progress.  I have so far to go; I probably need all the help I can get from all of you - represented by the people breaking through my sculpture.  Yet, I will get there, and I will dance and write and move and speak and LIVE and LOVE.

    And, in the process, I hope we all break through and be free.

    Monday, March 11, 2013

    An Unsettling Buffalo Dance

    The Yellowstone River glistened as it flowed into Yankee Jim Canyon. Its banks were outlined by white patches of melting snow.  Yet, for me, its flow was not comforting; the flow was like an open wound in my body, agitating me to take action.  I glanced at the glistening river, looked out at the barren Cutler Meadows and up at the rocky trail before me. Why was I here standing on this ground? Why was I being called here?

    I stepped out of my car and up the Joe Brown trail, some 13 miles upstream from Yellowstone National Park’s North Entrance.  It was about 27 degrees, mostly sunny, and no one else was on my trail. It was me, some magpies, and a raven that kept flying high overhead circling the basin.  I tried to pay attention to my body, noticing the weight of my steps, the interesting rocks and geology I was seeing, the cold air I was feeling, but the truth was that I could not inhabit every step, every moment around me.

    There were simply too many memories and too much knowledge of where I was for that, and they were largely painful memories.  Why did I bring myself here of all places?

    Two years ago, I walked this trail with fellow volunteers from Buffalo Field Campaign. That day, there were buffalo in Cutler Meadows, which is at the far boundary of anything approaching tolerance for wild bison.  I had witnessed bison forcibly removed from near the trailhead.  They were hazed miles down the road one late Sunday afternoon.  Now, a cattle guard serves to deter buffalo from crossing the absolute zero tolerance line into Yankee Jim Canyon.  Any buffalo that crosses north of that boundary will be killed.

    That day, hundreds upon hundreds of buffalo were in captivity; I had seen so many that had been shot.  Wearying day after wearying day and night I spent in Gardiner watching buffalo be hazed, shot, captured, or run over by cars.  Much of that hike was spent in what felt like a fruitless discussion with my friend. We were trying in vain to figure out a more effective way to take direct action to protect these amazing animals.

    This Sunday morning was very different.  No one was around me; my purpose for being where I was happened to be quite unclear to me.  I just knew that for whatever reason I needed to be here at this very spot.  Was it about buffalo?  Was it about something else?  The only thing that was clear was that I was by myself. The hand that life dealt me and which I was playing had brought me to a moment where I was on this trail without human companionship.  Though, frankly, I had little desire to be on a field patrol at that moment and had burned a lot of bridges along the way.  I haven’t written anything substantial since my eight-year plus domestic partnership ended last June.  Life has become a relentless soap opera.  People in my life tend to be scarce these days, and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out where I am, what I am supposed to be doing, and who I am supposed to be.  Much of the discovery has actually been wonderful with moments that have been unforgettable and sublime, but I would be lying if I said that there weren’t more than a few twinges of melancholy dominating this particular moment. I did not really want to be alone; it’s just how things ended up.

    Seeing the river flow, the familiar Gardiner basin before me, the rocks, and the birds, I knew I was at some sense in my home.  Anyone who knows me knows I love the Yellowstone region intensely, that it is a very spiritual and magical place for me.  I feel comfortable there and most myself.  Yet, though Yellowstone is a vast land, I chose to be on a trail full of darker memories, full of what can be conflicting about home.  We may feel safest at home; it doesn’t mean we are always happiest.  There was too much wrong with the picture.

    For one thing, I knew what was around the bend.  Around the bend and below my trail was the Slip ‘n Slide Ranch, home over the last many years to quarantined buffalo.  Buffalo have been routinely removed from the herd and been subjected to one experiment after another.  Can a brucellosis-free herd be raised?  Can buffalo with brucellosis be sterilized?  What can be done with these “clean” buffalo?  Might they be given to Native American tribes?  Perhaps, they can go to the private lands of Ted Turner or perhaps alternatively to some other public land?  Yet, what thought is given to these poor buffalo in captivity, locked behind a fence?  They are wild and roaming by nature; what are they now?  Who are they?  And who cares about them except to fit someone’s dreams for their preferred policy objectives?  Of course, that is an exaggeration. I have seen field volunteers weep at the torture; I know there are many who care and who have been faithful year after year after year bearing witness.  And yet it continues, and it so often goes unnoticed.

    Being who I am, I could not help but think of what was around the bend.  The beautiful rock formations could barely catch my attention.  And while I could not help but look down on the glistening Yellowstone, there was little joy in its rushing waters.  I felt like something in it was bleeding me, taking me away from the moment, taking my body away from where it might have been.  In another world, maybe I could gaze at the magpies, pick up rocks and simply wonder, check out the bones I saw at one point below my trail, and pretend I was on some great outdoor quest in this thing people call nature, but I just knew better.  I knew that something was around that bend that would not let me go.

    When I got there, the view was every bit the disappointment I expected.  Mostly grouped together in a muddy corner of the small squared captive pens that they occupied, about 20 buffalo breathed in the same sulfur-scented air of melancholia that I was.  While I was at some distance, I have seen captive buffalo up close – seen their wounds, their branding tags, their tendency to congregate near the boundaries of their cages.  Two years ago, the powers that be in the Interagency Bison Management Plan followed through on their crazy idea of allowing 25 brucellosis-free bison to graze in Cutler Meadows across the river.  What was crazy, they expected the bison to stay there all winter.  Bison being bison, they saw their captive kin across the river, and most of them crossed over.  Within 10 days, the entire plan had collapsed because bison don’t want to stand still forever.  They want to move, and they are going to roam whenever they feel like roaming.  Seeing buffalo unable to move – even after seeing this sight for so many years – is still a terrible shock to my system.  They had been reduced to breathing pawns without any sense of home.  Beautiful vistas were all around, but the powers that be could not make them more beautiful by letting buffalo be buffalo within them.

    Instead, I was trailing a land of fences.  I could not help but notice the trail regularly moving through barbed wire fences, presumably used as a public right of way through private lands.  I could not help but see the civilization of the Gardiner Basin below me and these poor miserable bison.  Only camera tricks could make one believe that I was on some Discovery Channel or National Geographic Channel trek. For, wasn’t this land significantly more natural, wilder than the urban jungles, and much more intact than the Bozeman apartment where I came from – a place that I cannot even pretend is a home for me? 

    Then, a different thought entered my mind.  This place was still calling me.  Out in the distance, I could see what I think is called Red Mountain.  It was gorgeous.  Looking up were snow-capped peaks in every direction.  Behind me, I could see that siren Electric Peak kissing the sky at almost 11,000 feet.  “Those magpies are sure resourceful birds,” I thought.  I thought much the same of the ravens.  There was something alive and pulsating in the ground beneath my feet.  And, that ground, sometimes frozen, sometimes soggy was something, too.  As I felt for gravity, I took special notice of the way my feet would sometimes press and sometimes slip into the surface which was sometimes hard dirt, sometimes mud, and sometimes packed snow.  I noticed how hard it was to work on my posture that I’ve been trying to improve because the surface was so unsettled in places that I had to constantly look downward.  When my body does that, it tends to crumple up.  It being cold and without gloves, my arms weren’t swinging because they were in my pockets. 

    Yet, it was wondrous to spend some moments aware of where I was and seeing where I was in a light I wouldn’t have seen it prior to this past year.  I used to be barely aware of how I pressed into the earth; I thought mostly of whether I was tired or whether my feet hurt.  Yet, now, in these moments of moving, there was a remarkable symbiosis of me, the earth, and some very positive thoughts about my surroundings.  Yes, I was home, and there is a magical something I cannot quite express, as though I had been pulled in by a magnet of sorts.

    And even the buffalo now receding for awhile from my view gave me a sense of inspiration.  This connection I have felt with them, this calling I felt from this place and from these buffalo must be leading me somewhere.  Life cannot simply be about what isn’t right, what has gone horribly wrong, about being resigned to an open wound.  I felt moments of joy in being defiant, in returning home, in seeking answers, in trying to figure out the puzzle of why I was here.

    The trail turned completely to snow, and the warming temperatures made walking on that snow gradually trickier.  I was in no rush, though.

    About 250 feet in elevation above me, I saw a beautiful herd of cow elk.  Most of them stopped and turned around when they realized I was near.  They scouted me out and looked down on me.  They then turned around and continued on out of sight.  I have had so many moments like that; it felt good to be having another one.

    I continued on for a little while, but I reached a point where I knew that I was heading the wrong direction.  My trail was moving away from the Gardiner Basin and into the snowy mountainous regions ahead.  How I’d love to keep going another time, but this was not the right day for it.  I turned around and walked back down, down, down the trail.  It was increasingly slippery, and I took some delight in working on my balance – to bounce onto the other foot before the lack of friction sent me tumbling, to be light on my feet.  If I can figure out when to be light, when to be heavy, when to step this way or step that way, it would be wonderful. These things feel really significant to me right now. 

    I was trying to listen and take in all that I was feeling.  What were these experiences adding up to?  Maybe, it was too early to consider that.  So, I walked with a sense of rapid stillness.  What do I mean by that?  I didn’t try to put my thoughts into an order yet.  If I were to do that, I would have cut my hike short and headed home in an instant to put it all down.  Yet, something hadn’t happened yet.  The reason I was there had not been made clear.  It was slippery to be thinking all these thoughts; I needed to let my thoughts dance as quickly as they were coming to me.  If at that moment I put too much into it, I would have missed what was to happen when I left the trail.  So, instead of trying to put them somewhere, I needed to be still and let them happen.  It was just that letting them happen required something like nimble feet.  My brain was moving quickly; I had to be aware of that so that it could move quickly while I held the stationary position of my mental balance.

    One thing was for sure, however.  I needed to head in the direction of wild buffalo.  As I went by the quarantined buffalo again, I stopped.  In this moment, I prayed and passed along a message to them.  The message I got back in return was that there was more to discover, that the trail I was called to be on was only preparation.

    Whether it was my own fancy or something more, who knows?  It doesn’t matter, really.  Whatever that variable was that was inclining me to keep going did so.  It is remarkable, really, that I ever ended up in the Yellowstone area given that I was raised so far away and grew up with such different interests.  I grew up paying attention to sports, history, and politics.  Nothing more than liking short walks in the woods could have foreshadowed half a lifetime now mesmerized by this place.  What did it?  What still pulls me?  I am sure I can muse on that and give some sort of specific answer.  I also know that just because I am attracted to Yellowstone and buffalo does not  mean that you will be similarly attracted.  You may find yourself engrossed with any number of meaningful things; do you ever stop and wonder how miraculous it is that you find yourself right here, right now where you are in life?  What were the odds?  What were the odds that any of us would actually come to life from so many possible outcomes?  Your great-great-great-great grandmother goes left instead of right just at the moment a turtle decides to go right instead of left on some other continent, and you would not have been born.  Yet, here we are being pulled and moved.

    Buffalo are like that.  In some ways, movement is predictable; we generally understand the migration patterns of park bison and the reasons for it.  Yet, in any given moment, we have no idea.  Something moves the herd, moves the individual buffalo.  In all this apparent order is also a kind of chaos we cannot hope to understand.  And, yet, the buffalo before me were contained, and all buffalo in this region are trapped by policies that act as if nature requires more boundaries and controls, as though the outcome of our heart’s desire can be determined.  I do not understand that.  I think it’s outrageous, in fact.  Our very existence is almost astronomically impossible – this very moment of our lives – and instead of allowing the wonder that we are alive and moving take us, we try to bottle up.  It becomes so precious to us that we ruin the spontaneity of its essence.  We live in our little boxed houses, in our little square streets, in our little cages.  Many of us insist this of our children, our loved ones.  I sure know I have been guilty.  We also do this to bison.

    Anyhow, I made it to my car and headed on U.S. 89 toward the park.  I felt large pangs of pain for the quarantined buffalo.  Again, the sense of power I felt in being connected with these animals transformed into the futility of realizing that I could not actually reach them with my voice, with my compassion, and maybe not with my action.  They remain behind those fences tonight sleeping with no idea how they have been made pawns.

    I drove south, and then I saw something I hadn’t seen in two years.  I saw wild buffalo on the other side of the Yellowstone River, north of Corwin Springs, meaning outside the park boundaries.  My heart, however, did not leap at the sight.  I did not think immediately to stop and simply watch them, to ponder about their nature like I do from the quiet environs of my apartment.  Immediately, I worried for them and felt the danger of their situation.  At least a couple dozen bison were on the other side of the Yellowstone, and not terribly far from these buffalo I could see several vehicles congregating.

    Instantly, I felt almost as if I were on a field patrol; however, again, I was in my own car and alone.  I had no video camera, no partner in the car with me, no sense of what I should be doing in the moment.  Yet, I felt a compulsion to go nearer, to see what was happening.  To be honest, I felt like I was stumbling a bit.  There were no rules, no music to which I was dancing.  I didn’t know what my next step would be, why I would be taking it, or what the outcome would be.  I was just following the lead of some vague notion in my heart.  Yet, at the same time, I knew what might be happening.  I had seen the script play out too many times before.  There was likely a hunting party on the other side of the river, and they either had hunted buffalo, or were hoping to hunt this particular group.  I might have been stumbling, but I wasn’t ignorant. 

    Now, most people driving by the same scene not knowing what locals or volunteers with Buffalo Field Campaign probably know might have simply marveled at the buffalo grazing in fields not far from the Yellowstone River, which was still glistening.  They might have hopped out to take pictures, or having just seen so many buffalo in the park, remarked, “Oh, there’s more buffalo.  Imagine that.”  A camera crew might have been bored with no wolves stalking the herd.  Yet, how wonderful it would be simply to be able to live in the moment of that scene – of wild buffalo in Montana outside of Yellowstone National Park.  How peaceful and serene, to take in the mountain ranges in all directions beyond, highlighted by Electric Peak.  Perhaps, one would argue it brings better energy to block out all the negativity and focus on the positive moment – that buffalo almost to the point of extinction are alive and breathing in lands outside of a national park.

    Yet, how can I of all people do this?  I know the truth.  I know that those buffalo were probably being tracked by a hunting party; that if they managed to stay outside the park that the Park Service has recently expressed the desire to capture more than 60 bison for more experiments; that if they avoid that, that if they go too far North, they will be shot; that if they manage to stick around too long into the spring, that the federal and state governments will forcibly haze them all well inside the park – often right at the time these same herds will be giving birth to their newborn calves.  How can I out of some phony sense of good energy and positivity pretend when there is so much injustice going on with these animals?  When I know that the plight of buffalo are but one of millions and millions of injustices being perpetrated by humanity right now, right this instant, how can I just block that out?  Get real!  This is real, that though there was something quite beautiful in that moment, something truly special, that there was real ugliness all around.  And I can’t stand by!

    I couldn’t stand by and just do as so many do watching their favorite cable news show taking sides as if things like the death of Hugo Chavez, drones, sequestration, and the election of a new pope are merely like sports competitions to be watched.  What side am I on?  Did our guy win?  How does this look for our team in the next election?  All these things matter greatly.  Many, many, many are affected by acts big and small around the globe; didn’t I just say that the decision of a turtle somewhere else might determine who lives and who is never born?  What I couldn’t do in that moment – however lacking intention I had – was pretend that the moment didn’t matter, that I was merely a spectator or a witness.  Always, that same edge, which got me wondering about direct action on a hike with fellow volunteers, must drive me, must be the truly real sense of positive energy that I take with me – the one that acknowledges that bad things are bad things and that it is intolerable. 

    And, when it comes to buffalo, what does it matter who is in power and what side wins?  Current buffalo policy dates to the Clinton Administration, continued under Bush, and continues unabated under Obama.  Montana was governed by Republicans who waged war on buffalo, and then reached new heights of slaughter under current Democratic administrations.  Right now, Democrats control executive power at both the federal and state levels, and bison get the shaft.  When power has been shared or exclusively under Republican control, bison get the shaft.  And in a world much bigger than buffalo, it is really impossible to feel good about settling for this game and simply accepting the few things done better by one side versus another.  I saw a homeless man on my way home in a parking lot; I can’t speak for him, but I wonder if his fate matters much in the outcome of which side wins.  What matters is that we cannot possibly sit completely and passively still.  We have to move; that it’s our very natures to move!  We can’t look on things and simply sit still and pretend.  Even in our stillness, there can be every need to move rapidly lest we slip in the muck.

    So, I drove across the bridge at Corwin Springs.  There, I noticed the vehicles that had been parked somewhat south of the buffalo.  They were retreating.  I saw several vehicles with Idaho plates packed with native people heading away from the buffalo.  This looked every bit to me like a Nez Perce hunting party; I had seen it so many times before.  Nez Perce and Umatilla are hunting right now because they have treaty rights in the area to hunt game, though they pretty much exclusively come to hunt buffalo.  I am not going to get into the whole treaty rights issue here; it is a really complicated and delicate subject.  Yet, I will admit relief for a moment when I saw the hunting party retreating.

    These buffalo were for the moment safe because they were on private property, property that happens to belong to a controversial religious group called the Church Universal and Triumphant.  They hold land called the Royal Teton Ranch, and their role in the buffalo story is convoluted to say the least.  Talking about this issue would also take me far afield, and yet that was exactly what I already felt the entire time.  The world and America and Yellowstone and buffalo had become so convoluted and complicated by people that I could not simply see buffalo grazing near a big river.  Instead, I saw an overly complicated human web tied together in a vast history – significant parts of it involving genocide and religious persecution – all converging before my eyes.  My brain danced from the scene to the knowledge occupying it.  Imposed on this land was my own internal political grid.  What lies we learn from the nature shows on television, of a delicate balance of predator and prey relationships in some vanishing land known as “the wild.”  Do we dare take on the myth for a second so that some day we might actually be able to appreciate what is really before our eyes?  When will I be able to see that pregnant mama and not have to think of the distinction of private and public land, treaty rights, and what the hell I am doing there in that moment driving my Subaru around?

    In all these words, I am covering up something terrible I did see, though.  When I reached the point where the cars had been converged, I saw in the field before me so many buffalo gut piles that I didn’t even attempt to count them all.  It was a gruesome sight that instantly took me into flashbacks from two years prior of finding so many gut piles, often finding them after skiing over a trail of blood – often bloody tissue matter hanging from sagebrush along the path.  Across the road from this very field, I had once watched a buffalo get gunned down.  Seeing these gut piles took me to that and so many other moments all in an instant.  I indeed was in a killing fields, a small patch of public land that buffalo must pass in order to reach the point those still living had reached.

    I should have known because ravens were all over the place having a relative feast on the leftover carcasses.

    I cannot describe really what this did to me, but let me try.  Volunteering an entire season at Buffalo Field Campaign was an emotionally traumatic experience in terms of the suffering I saw.  Some volunteers return year after year and have had the fortitude to be a witness to this so many times more than I have.  Yet, I still feel an open gaping wound from the experience.  I still cannot fully process the sheer volume of things that I saw and experienced.  What’s more, it is impossible to find the right sort of environment to talk with anyone about it.  Everyone processes grief in their own way, and I didn’t have people by and large who grieved the way I grieved when I volunteered.  Where many around me kept it inside – which was their own way, I suppose – I wanted to emote.  I never felt I adequately did that.  What’s more, the whole experience no doubt exposed serious problems in my long-term romantic relationship.  I left that experience thoroughly depressed – having not fully processed my grief and struggling to figure out what I was doing in my relationship.  Life kept rolling, things broke open last June, and then life changed dramatically.  Yet, the open wound of grief for the buffalo was still there.  I had not figured out what to do about my emotions, about the horror I witnessed.

    Now, at this moment, it was before me again, like an avalanche.  Living buffalo in the distance, but death was all around me.  Now, I was by myself, though I always felt in some ways alone.  I was in my home land, but so much was wrong.  The experience was exerting a kind of magic on me, and yet it was at that moment pressing in all around me.  What was happening?  Why was the same scene for the buffalo still happening with or without my presence?  I didn’t know, but I felt an urgency to keep going.

    I headed along the Old Yellowstone Trail road in the direction of the park.  I could see buffalo chips in the fields everywhere.  Eventually, I saw another herd of buffalo on Royal Teton Ranch land still outside the park.  Near the park boundary at Beatty Gulch (this is still miles north of the North Entrance), I could see even more gut piles.  I had read about buffalo being killed at the boundary, about some having survived the initial shots and then scampering back across the boundary only to die there from their wounds.  The tribal shooters were not allowed to collect the buffalo due to where they died; the buffalo were now simply food for ravens and eagles.  Now in the park, in the direction of the massive Stephens Creek Capture Facility, I saw buffalo I presume by the hundreds in scattered groups all over the grounds near the capture facility.  Currently, I could see and have heard of no buffalo in the facility, but there would be a huge number that could be captured if the Park Service saw fit to capture them.  And yes, I have witnessed buffalo many times that never left the park that were captured.  While hunters cannot gather dead buffalo inside the park, the Park Service can capture and ship buffalo to slaughter almost on a whim.  The management plan allows for very wide latitude.  Only politics spared a mass slaughter in 2011 when the governor, citing the spurious concern of brucellosis being spread by buffalo being shipped to slaughter, forbade bison that year to be shipped to slaughter.  Yet, many hundreds languished for months in captivity.

    I continued south worried about these buffalo, realizing that they could be captured or could just as easily move a mile north to meet their doom one way or another.  I thought I’d drive through the town of Gardiner and then north on U.S. 89; however, I came upon a herd of bison in the road heading in my direction.  I simply turned around and gave them the road. 

    Yet, it was at that moment that I realized why I was there.

    It was definitely the buffalo that were calling me to reconnect with them, that they are in need of something that I’m supposed to provide.  At that moment and at this one, all I can think of to do is to share their story and my place in their story.  Tonight, buffalo are moving and sleeping.  They are powerless to share their story.  For most people, the story of buffalo is one of the past – of mass slaughter by 19th century hunters.  Or it is the somewhat legendary story of the recovery of the species; the species has not recovered, but that’s another issue altogether.  Or it is the story of a leaner type of meat that is healthier than cow beef.  Or it is the story of how they blocked the road on that trip to Old Faithful.  Or perhaps it is the story of Indian peoples.  All of these stories are certainly part of the fuller story, but they are not the essence of the story I need to share.  I need to share that under the same sky we sleep under tonight, buffalo that I saw are sleeping, too.  They are in peril.  They are in a beautiful land that is being hurt by human beings.  They are affecting me and are playing some role in helping me put my own life together.  They are calling me, and I am calling you.

    There are a lot of strands running through this.  Being called, finding my sense of space, looking for where I am, thinking about buffalo, witnessing brutality in the midst of beauty, dancing, being alone, affirming life, being real, taking action, and a lot more besides.  Normally, I try to bring the strands together, but that somehow feels wrong and even contrived.  I know that the glistening Yellowstone was unsettling to me; that still seems to be the image I take with me even though it was the buffalo that were calling me.  Somewhere, I need to sit and reflect on next steps to get this story out there, to raise my voice, to do something for this place and these animals that have done so much for me.  If in the process, I can unsettle you to the point of inspiration, I think that would be a larger goal.  Our world is so beautiful; how can we stand it?  How can we stand by and watch what gives us life suffer under our hands?

    Life is beautiful; my world; my home is beautiful.  I am blessed by regularly seeing the most beautiful people and places and animals anyone could ever hope for.  Yet, part of that beauty is its life, its dynamism, its ability to move.  We can learn a lot from watching buffalo move; we could learn a lot more if we’d let them and ourselves do the same.

    Tuesday, November 06, 2012

    An Analogy to Consider: Don't Vote

    Here’s a story. Arguments from analogy are dangerous things without thinking about whether the context applies. I’ll throw this out and suggest that the story is a fair analogy and let you all let me know where it went wrong.

    A prison guard comes to you and offers you a choice for dinner. Would you like a half-rotten hamburger or a garden salad for dinner? He offers you a choice; one is clear

    ly better than the other. The garden salad not only won’t make you sick, it’s likely to have some good vitamins and things that may promote your health in your cell. Of course, you saw that some of the inmates who faced the same choice didn’t always get the salad they asked for. In fact a minority of them even starved to death. Sometimes, they were served the rotten hamburger instead. Yet, a fair number also got the salad they ordered, even if sometimes the greens weren’t as fresh as one would like, or there was some of that hamburger mixed in.

    The choice seems clear, then. I might not get salad, but it’s surely healthier than a rotten hamburger, and so I should choose the salad the prison guard is offering me. What’s more, it seems that if people order the salad this year, they may get also to decide whether the cell gets some toilet paper, which has been in short supply. There is a referendum on that in your cell block; you may not care about salad or hamburger, but you definitely could use more toilet paper.

    Yet, strange as it may seem, in your cell, there is a door that you have been told not to open. You know only that it leads outside the prison. Yet, you have been warned that you will be killed if you open the door, or chased down. There are dangerous things, you are told, outside this door, and most of your cellmates have said very plainly that they will never follow you.

    It seems that the only real choice isn’t the salad or the half-rotten hamburger but whether you are going to go through that door or not. It isn’t even the consequences. You may or may not get salad if you stay; it may or may not be good. However, you may not survive leaving the prison. The question is whether life is worth living within the apparent range of choices given to us if we remain confined essentially to a prison. Voting represents those choices that have been selected for us – some better, some worse; none coming with any guarantees. Yet, staying and eating that prison dinner when there’s a door waiting to be opened that leads out of the prison strikes me as foolish. When you vote, you don’t walk through that door; you make sure that the prison remains until the next vote, and those arguments repeat themselves over and over again. Your voting choice will always be real; it will always have real consequences – even in a prison environment – but why allow ourselves to stay and hope for the best from our rulers when we can all break out?

    My vote is in the power of each of us to take action. How sad that we have to depend upon nine people to determine what “rights” people have or are going to lose. How sad that people will kill and die going to wars no matter who gets chosen because one man essentially has that power to do so. We could stop this; their power rests in us. But we don’t; we abdicate. We neuter our action and our voice by accepting that these choices have any vitality. We postpone action and repeat the charade every election. Yet, they don’t really have the power to keep us imprisoned; we simply give it to them. How novel that they restrict voting from certain groups and make it harder; this must be some prize. Wow, some people don’t get to choose rotten hamburger or salad. Not all prisoners are equal; let’s make them all equal and assimilate them to prison life. Let’s make soldiers out of gay people and let them marry. Let’s not restrict early voting; let’s not make people have ids. Yet, all these things are meant to give more vitality to a choice that is still essentially a prisoner’s choice.

    The door is waiting for us to go through. Don’t vote.

    Monday, October 22, 2012

    Suggestion for Consensus Organizing

    Tuesday, December 13, 2011
    Jim
     
    This arises out of a discussion of the organizing challenges in Occupy Bozeman.  It deals with the question of why numbers dwindle in organizing meetings.  How is it that numbers that can produce meetings often over 30 can dwindle in a relatively short period of time to a group of 15 or less.  The loss of energy can be disheartening and devastating for a group.

    This small essay raises the discussion of a different organizing model, where instead of having a large group of 20 or more get together and reach consensus on every issue, groups start from a model where smaller groups within the larger group have more power and autonomy and can still coordinate together in a larger "general assembly." 

    Groups can diminish for many reasons - infighting, lack of consistency, etc.  However, I think there is another reason that often gets overlooked.

    This is a dynamic I have seen so many times as an organizer. Groups sometimes produce great energy. Then, they have these spectacular meetings, sometimes with large numbers. As the process is consensus or near consensus (I was in a group once that used 80 percent supermajorities), this allows everyone a voice (as it should be.) However, when you have 1 or 2 hours, so many voices, and often many new people unfamiliar with the often complicated meeting process (sometimes coupled with poor facilitation), people get quickly frustrated and disenchanted. They either feel they haven't been heard, or they get frustrated because some people are heard all too much. Consensus in any group can be messy; as numbers grow, the process becomes much more unwieldy. Rather than producing something where everyone is empowered, it actually can produce the opposite. Quieter voices lose out. Less experienced voices lose out. Even more experienced voices can lose out. The decisions made often leave out a frustrated segment that simply grows silent. They don't show up again.

    I once learned in a college sociology class that the maximum number of people that can form a cohesive social group before it inevitably divides is 15 (and often smaller than that.) I don't know if that number is right, but it seems borne out by experience. When the group grows much larger, it becomes disenchanted, or people find different means besides meetings for their empowerment.

    I have never seen a meeting of 30 or more people that was sustainable over time. Individual meetings have worked, but it always seems to come down to a natural social group number.

    This is a huge problem for a movement that wants to empower every voice, needs it to be a mass movement of the 99 percent. It's a huge problem for anyone who believes in consensus.

    The Occupy Movement has often given the most power to its local General Assemblies. That might be a mistaken model because of the reasons I mentioned. When General Assemblies participation grows to more than 15, I'd suggest that it immediately must divide into 2 or more working groups that have their own functional autonomy. When General Assemblies get together then, they should have some kind of spokescouncil function, where each working group empowers someone to speak for the group. Members of the group would still participate and can still block or request a caucus, but it reduces the number of speakers and puts the work at the natural numbers where consensus functions best. It leaves the General Assembly to bascially serve as a coordinating meeting between autonomous groups and for giving its blessing to new groups that might form. It would solve disputes that arise over actions of a working group. It should do nothing more; the real power should be in the consensus of the working groups.

    If we ever find ourselves fortunate to build our meetings up, I'd suggest we ask newcomers to join one of several working groups - of which they'd be free to join or leave. It might be even the job of the internal communications working group to help new people feel at home and help them find a working group. Then, the last part of the meeting - the general assembly - would essentially be a spokescouncil, where the people who can speak for the working group would be empowered to speak (and be reigned in by members of their group.) It would leave time for caucusing that might need to arise.

    This model gives each person a much richer say over consensus and decentralizes the structure so that each voice matters. It also allows for the potential for growth. Each group would be its own functioning collective of sorts that would do its own thing and can use each person's energy to reach out.

    Hopefully, it would make for much happier newcomers so that meetings could be much, much larger and still be okay. If a working group is suddenly more than 15, it should as quickly as possible figure out how to divide into two groups. If groups get too small (no group should be smaller than three), then they should stop working, and people should join the active groups. If necessary movement needs - like outreach - aren't being met, then the existing groups need to pick up the slack.

    I want to put it out there for discussion. I've just seen this too many times over the years, where groups struggle with this, missing the obvious that groups that grow too large alienate people. It's a principle of physics, really. You can't have voice if your voice is too divided over too many people and limited time.
    I'll leave it out there for discussion.

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    Comments

    Sounds great Jim.  Hopefully our numbers will pick back up & we can try to divide!  Glad to have people who have more experience in this sort of thing to help us recognize some of this!  Even in a smaller group, I may not be big on talking.  This movement for me, is helping me find my courage, maybe it will help me find my voice & creativity as well.  :) 

    Looking forward to Wednesday night & seeing everyone!

    Well, that's another thing that movements struggle with ... meetings are not for everyone; a lot more thought has to be given to ways of including the energy of people who simply cannot stomach sitting in meetings or do not best find their voices in them ... that's a hard challenge.  One nice thing about the outdoor meetings was the opportunity for some to spend it talking with the public.  It was an outlet ... coming up with these kinds of useful outlets are great; they are really difficult to implement (I lack a lot of creativity - as I'm someone who functions well in meetings).  In one group, we set aside space for people to draw or doodle or move around during meetings.  It was announced that it was a creative space for people who had trouble sitting still, and so it was a little less distracting.  That had mixed success.

    Anyhow ... a lot to think about ... my only real insight is to say that we need to think hard about how we deal with larger groups of people (and I suspect this has been a problem everywhere to greater and lesser degrees ... some of the methods I suggest arise out of experience in larger cities - where groups sometimes still dwindled to below 15 and would fracture - often bitterly (despite there being a much larger pool of interested people).

    Occupy Bozeman Notes Success in First Action of Wells Fargo Divestment Campaign


    Thursday, March 1, 2012
    Jim Macdonald
    Yesterday, in solidarity with a national day of action called against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Occupy Bozeman held the sidewalk in front of Wells Fargo in its first action of a divestment campaign against the bank. More than two dozen people joined also by a couple media outlets took part in a festive hour of protest, featuring a giant sign tied to the bank edifice which read "Foreclosed."

    Perhaps more importantly, the group heard reports of customers taking their money out of Wells Fargo, in large part inspired by the campaign. Billy McWilliams shared this a day prior to the event over an Occupy Bozeman email list: "I was just at Wells Fargo (I'm a 22-year customer), and they were cranky. They mentioned it [the protest]. 'We just found out that we're going to be occupied.' The teller said that she thought that Occupied was misfocused. I told her that that can cut both ways. I'm going to divest. While I have great sympathy to the folks who work at that branch, Wells Fargo has broken the social contract. Thanks for your fine work!" There were reports of at least one other person divesting as the protest was ongoing.

    Thus, Wells Fargo stayed open throughout the action, giving opportunity for people to remove their money.

    Wells Fargo was targeted for the February 29 - "Shut Down the Corporations" - day of action against ALEC occurring in over 70 cities.  ALEC is a group of many of the largest corporations who work together to draft model legislation to serve the interests of the richest people in the country.  Because Wells Fargo owns a $120 million stake in two private prison corporations who are members of ALEC, one of whom was directly responsible for the anti-immigrant law in Arizona - SB 1070 - and since that coincided with the new divestment campaign against Wells Fargo, Occupy Bozeman chose to combine purposes.

    Wells Fargo, the nation's fourth largest bank and largest mortgage provider, has been the target of a divestment campaign by Occupy Bozeman because of the bank's role in economic injustice in our society. They were and are a huge player in the housing crisis, they continue to hurt consumers through exorbitant fees, engage in all sorts of other nefarious practices over which people have little control, and they are not nearly as good an alternative as many local institutions, particularly credit unions.

    The action on the street was festive. A group of people could be seen much of the action crafting signs. A donated sound system allowed people to speak. Others had the opportunity to have voice in mainstream media interviews being conducted by KBZK (CBS) and NBC Montana. Most public response during the lunchtime action was positive, though one man predictably yelled out the old standby, "Get a job!"

    Occupy Bozeman will return to Wells Fargo at Noon on Wednesday, March 14. The action, still being planned, may involve a march between U.S. Bank - where Montana State University has its accounts - and Wells Fargo. Some sort of street theater is also being planned. Stay tuned, and get involved - see http://occupybozeman.org.







     
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    Senator Baucus Put on Notice by Occupy Bozeman

    Jim Macdonald
    Wednesday, November 16, 2011
     
    Video: 

    baucus.AVI

    An Occupy Bozeman activist talks about why she is holding a sign outside of U.S. Sentaor Max Baucus's Bozeman office as well as what she would like to see done by Congress's supercommittee.

    Today, more than a dozen activists from Occupy Bozeman held what they called a vigil outside Senator Max Baucus's Bozeman office at 220 W. Lamme St during the Noon lunch hour.

    As occupy movements across the country focus on corporations, activists in Bozeman are also keeping an eye on the government officials they believe might act on behalf of Wall Street interests. Activists in Bozeman, who staged a small protest outside of Wells Fargo Bank this past Saturday, are watching Baucus's and the Congress's so-called supercommittee's next move closely.
    Baucus, the Senate Finance Committee chairman, and longtime senator from this state, is one of 12 members of Congress on the supercommittee tasked by Congress with proposing $1.5 trillion in deficit reductions over the next 10 years. The committee's proposal then would face an up or down vote in the Congress. If it fails, $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts will be triggered.
    Activists at Baucus's office feared that Baucus, a Democrat, might sell out popular social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, while leaving levels of war spending untouched. They also feared that the rich, particularly those on Wall Street, would not be adequately taxed.

    The reasons for concern stem from Baucus's role in pushing through a version of the Affordable Care Act, also known to some as Obamacare, that many argued was actually friendly to the insurance company interests. It left off the table the "public option", which would have given the uninsured the option to take the same health insurance offered to federal employees. In 2001, Baucus also voted for the Bush tax cuts, and in 2008, he voted for permanently repealing the estate tax.

    Perhaps, a bigger source of concern comes when looking at his funding sources. According to OpenSecrets.org, Baucus's leading funder is Aetna - an insurance company. Among his leading contributors include Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and Verizon. He has raised, in just this cycle alone (2007-2012) millions of dollars from the health sector, but he's also raised $750,669 from Securities and Investment Firms, $438,230 from the Real Estate industry, and another $218,100 from other finance industry interests. In 2005, Baucus returned $18,892 in contributions connected to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff, including Baucus's use of a sky box at a Washington, DC sports arena.
    Occupy Bozeman activists held signs and received a fair number of approving honks from traffic. A young staffer from Baucus's office came out and took the statements of activists for a computer database that apparently is seen by the senator. It remains to be seen whether the voices of his constituents, or rather the dollars from his funders, will have more influence on his actions. Either way, Baucus has been put on notice that his work on the supercommittee is fair game for Occupy Bozeman.

    Occupy Bozeman will be having their general assembly meeting tonight at 7 PM at the Bozeman Yoga Center, 1716 W. Main, Suite 8a1, just east of 19th Ave. All are welcome to attend and participate.

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    At long last intelligent reporting on Senator Baucus' louche connections to moneyed interests.  Thank YOU, Occupy Bozeman, from Virginia.  Thank YOU!!  Please hang tough!

    Max Baucus has been a very unreliable Democrat so I share their concerns about what he would do in the committee.  There are several other Democrats in the Senate who would not help the country for the best result.  President Obama never had the cooperation of Baucus, Ben Nelson and quite often not from Mary Landrieu or the wishy-washy Lieberman. That is why it was very hard to get the Health Care Reform that did include the public option.  Many of the Senate Democrats need to be replaced with Democrats who will do what is important for the middle class and the working poor.  I am tired of the corporate republicans and the few corporate Democrats standing against success for this country in any way. 

    I give these folks participating in Occupy Bozeman a big thumbs up for standing up for the middle class and working poor in this country.

    Wells Fargo and the Loss of Our Voices: One Anarchist's View

    Friday, March 9, 2012
    Jim Macdonald
     
    In weeks past, I have – in my capacity as a member of Occupy Bozeman – written about many of the reasons why you should get your money out of big banks – particularly Wells Fargo – as part of a divestment campaign we are waging against the bank.  That campaign continues with an action next week, and I have been a good foot soldier for the campaign.

    Today, I write entirely for myself and my analysis of what really drives me to take on this campaign.  In the past, I found myself appealing to the most selfish motives you might have for making a switch.  I have mentioned high fees, high interest rates, and low rates of return.  I have mentioned bailouts and subprime mortgages, investments in private prison companies, in the coal industry, and in fracking.  I mentioned unfair practices toward people with disabilities and African Americans.  I talked about fines and court settlements for wrongful practices.  While all those things are and remain true, the appeal was mostly to address reasons why I think that you the reader might find Wells Fargo objectionable.  I have spoken little of my own motivation.

    I intend to do that in this essay.  However, note that I do not think you need to accept the arguments I am about to give in order to come to the conclusion that getting your money out of Wells Fargo is a good idea.  Nevertheless, I think there are reasons that may be overlooked that need to be brought to light.  We may not always bring them out for fear of hurting the harmony in our organizing environment, realizing that we do not come to the same conclusions for action based on the same reasons.  However, I would be dishonest not to point out my reasons and point us to these aspects of the discussion.

    It is tempting to go into a diatribe against capitalism because at root this is what this is about and in defense of what I am, which is an anarchist.  That is a necessary discussion to have, but it may take us too far adrift for the purposes of this essay.  I want to hone in on an aspect of what big banks represent that I think is critical to talk about while fully well understanding that the issues I raise are really part of a much bigger discussion about the nature of governance, wealth, and our reaction to that world.

    You should get your money out of Wells Fargo and other big banks because the very act of doing so is a direct affirmation of what has been silenced by them – your voice.  The most pernicious thing about banks is not that they make record profits or are deceitful or take care of their investors while hanging you out to dry.  What is most pernicious is that the whole process by which this happens fortifies a system that leaves you out of it, which limits your options to register and act on your disapproval.

    Banks like Wells Fargo have largely become what we so affectionately term “too big to fail.”  While that term has become quaint, I do not think we understand the full import of it.  An institution that has become so large that it cannot be allowed to collapse for fear that it will send us into a depression essentially has become an unofficial arm of our government.  If we cannot do without something for fear of collapse, then it is who and what we are.  That these banks continue to engage in practices that keep the entire system teetering on the edge of collapse, we have much to fear in them because collapse does indeed bring greater economic hardship to those who can least afford more hardship.  It is an untenable situation.  Those held hostage are the people.  As one example, we can easily see how the looming Greek default is being held at bay on the backs of the Greek people.

    Wells Fargo, then, is a non-governmental financial institution that wields enormous leverage and power on the American government.  No matter who you elect into office, the situation does not change.  From George W. Bush to Barack Obama, the Wall Street interests and the financial institutions have held the country hostage.  No one dares to let them collapse for fear of the political implications that arise from an economic superpower suddenly with more starving and jobless people than it already maliciously tolerates.

    Thus, the one manna that most Americans believe is their power, their voice – the vote – is for nothing when it comes to this state of affairs.  Voting, whatever else it might be, is not power to make any change when it comes to a bank like Wells Fargo.  Even if you somehow managed to elect someone who would go after these banks, all you would be doing is setting up the conditions that will hurt the people who least can afford to be hurt.  You will at once be propping up a political and economic system that allows for renegade banks to assert so much leverage, or you will be wiping them out and starting us surely into the storm of depression.  Doing the latter might have some opportunities for the radicals among us to foment our lofty ideals of revolution, but only people with privilege can dare assert that they want the hungriest to become hungrier and the jobless to suffer even more.  It is playing God to the extreme to think that we should manufacture economic crisis for a chance at a systemic change that is not likely to happen from those means.  Look at the Arab Spring where dramatic increases in the price of basic goods drove people into the streets, toppled their governments, and found themselves ruled in most cases by the same ruling classes.  Revolution is a beautiful idea, but it is not as easily attained as some imagine.

    One might argue that maybe you could elect – in some strange world that does not seem to exist in America except in the racist pretenses of the Tea Party in their views of Obama – some socialist who will nationalize the banks and therefore rob them of their pernicious incentive to ruin us and the country.  Thus, instead of a state that tries to keep banks in line through a Central Bank, we simply have another bank of the United States as the sole chartered national bank in the country.  One has to ask, though, even if such a thing were to happen, what would fundamentally change in practice.  Who would still have the most influence on government?  The poor?  In what sense would such a bank then be accountable to the people?  While some of the pernicious incentives might be erased by such a move, it might mean less than what some might imagine.  Wells Fargo and other big banks already are essentially arms of government; they are already institutionalized into the fabric of the country; they already have complete influence over governing.  All you would be changing is the C.E.O.  It would be little less than a nominal change in practice.  Wells Fargo, whether in the private or the public sector, already is welded to the state.  The rich will exert their leverage either way.

    Thus, voting is not synonymous with your voice.  It is not an action that you can take that does anything to restore what is lost in this system.

    As a result, we are left with people in our country who have little say in the governance of their own lives.  We are at the mercy of economic factors out of our control and political factors that keep us muted.  While I can give an anarchist diatribe like this, it’s only because I have been deemed powerless.  We are far from the days when Emma Goldman could be thrown in jail simply for passing out mere information about contraception, when a speech on any subject could get you thrown in jail for years.  Everything is essentially entertainment.  We can choose “taste’s great” or “less filling”; we can pay exorbitant rates to go to sporting matches, buy our cable and our internet where we can be free to watch or say a million things.  Yet, all of that is because we are thoroughly defeated.  When push comes to shove, if the food trucks stop coming, if the jobs go away, if your home is foreclosed – those are the things that really matter to the functioning of life – you really have no say whatsoever.  It is a game ruled by a very small plutocracy.  We have been left helpless and foolish like babbling idiots.  It is no wonder that people care nothing for politics.  Why should they?  People also don’t care about essays like this; what does it matter?  We need our fix; we are junkies in so many ways.  We know the results of American Idol, or The Voice, but very few of us really know our neighbors or each other or believe or even think about whether anything is wrong.  Those who do must because something is very wrong.  They are sleeping homeless in our streets, dying too young on the reservation, and wasting away in prisons (perhaps for succumbing to the socially unacceptable drugs).  They are often too weakened to take action, and most of us go on ignoring the truth we must all know – that we are not really free or secure.

    What action can we take in such a system?  Anything we can do which not only takes power from the system but also puts it in or closer to our hands is an action that not only hurts the system but also empowers us if and when such a system collapses.  Thus, it is not enough to let big banks fail; we have to have means in place to take care of others when those banks fail.  Moving money from one of the banks that are too big to fail into something like a credit union is not some revolutionary move in itself.  Credit unions in the way they function in practice are not some idyllic solution; they are not all as democratic as they seem.  Nevertheless, they represent the right kind of transition.  Moving your money to a place that gives you a greater degree of control over it is a step toward restoring your voice.  It begins the process of transferring the power that banks hold over you back to where it should be – within your community.  Right now, your money goes to fund who knows what – anything and everything.  Shouldn’t it be closer to the space where you live and breathe, where people still hear what your voice sounds like?  Shouldn’t your voice be sounds and melodies coming from your vocal chords, and not an abstract balance sheet in a New York or San Francisco office, or a number on a voting tabulation?

    The decentralization of capital from institutions that are too big to fail to those closer to where we breathe has the effect of wrestling control of the system from giant banks all while avoiding depression.  Developing the means to exert real popular power at the local level gives the means for the community to take care of each other when federal systems begin to fail.

    It is an act that tends to restore voice; of course, it is not enough.  The banks do not represent the be all and end all of political and economic justice.  There are many other things besides.  We have touched on issues like food and shelter.  Exerting greater control over the wealth within the community should offer some leverage to better deal with the problems we all face when the national and global economy collapses (either in part as is often in American history or in whole as it did during the Great Depression).  If we are not completely at the mercy of the whims of policy makers and corporate executives somewhere else, we can actually take steps to do something about the things that matter to us.

    Thus, it seems the first act is simple enough.  Get your money out of a big bank, and move it somewhere else – preferably somewhere like a credit union.  However, the second act, which can happen concurrently with the first, is to organize in your community and take actions together which deal with the needs in your community.  The more we do that now, the more we find our voice, and ironically the more dangerous we become.  Essays like this will no longer simply be for your reading entertainment.  They will be seen as revolutionary calls to arms, the way that disseminating information on contraception was seen in this country only a century ago.  That may be when things get interesting, but let’s get that far.  We need to go that far, or one day – as they are discovering in places like Greece – things will not really be in our control.  The rich will stay rich, somehow, but we will be starving and struggling to survive, much like so many already are – as the system does not ultimately care who thrives so long as those on top stay on top.

    Please take action.  Please get your money out of big banks, and please take action in your community.  I don’t want this essay merely to be an exercise in vanity, which right now is all that it is.

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    Comments

    "Greece, the birthplace of democracy, is now becoming the deathbed of democracy." Did you notice that there was supposed to be a referendum  on whether to bail out the big bankers in Greece, then the dudes in government changed their minds and said WE will decide?
    On one hand there are the power people, those who wish to control us. But on the other hand, there are the slackers, those that don't study issues and refuse to choose. The ignorant ignore and the archdeceivers get tricky... a poor formula for REAL CHANGE...