(or other places to find my writings from the mundane to the supermundane)
The Magic of Yellowstone
A sample of Jim's writings
Buffalo Allies of Bozeman
- Name: Jim Macdonald
- Location: Bozeman, MT, United States
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.
View my complete profile
This past weekend, my friends in the DC Anti-War Network protested against the American Renaissance Conference at the Dulles Hyatt in Herndon. We also went out to the Herndon Day Laborer Center to protect day laborers from the Minuteman Project. Below is my report. However, following the report, I have been engaged in a philosophical discussion with one detractor who argues that we should also be protesting the NAACP, which is absurd. The discussion is ongoing. Here are some of the relevant links to the discussion: http://dc.indymedia.org/mod/comments/display/137233/index.php
and for my most recent response, http://dc.indymedia.org/mod/comments/display/137278/index.php
Here is my report. The link on the title of this blog gives a more full report from my friend in DAWN. It is helpful to read that first
Some more thoughts on this as a participant in the actions:
I continue to be dismayed that liberals do not come out and take a stand against racism. They speak against it on their blogs, highlight the articles, give "kudos" to the activists, but they don't come out. If you can't be against the Hyatt subsidizing a racist conference, what can you be against? If that doesn't get you out trying to stop it, what will? This is very clear.
Some have said that this is a "freedom of speech" issue. It's not a freedom of speech issue. Anyone should be allowed to say whatever stupid thing comes to their head no matter what. The question here is amplification of speech, whether the Hyatt should be subsidizing that speech...not whether they can, but whether they should and whether those who stay at the Hyatt should.
The issue is not speech; the issue is power in the aid of speech, in this particular case corporate power in the aid of speech. Speech is not equal in a society that is both hierarchical and run on money and capital, and one questions the extent then to which speech is free. When that is coupled with the point that the white power groups use their speech to speak for a society where some will speak more freely than others, then the "free speech" claim is exposed even more clearly as false.
What this also turned into was an issue over property rights. It is clear that the state will when faced with a conflict between community interest (namely that racism be repudiated by society) and private property rights that the state always stands on the side of private property protection. So, no matter what society says the laws are in regards to racism, they hold no say when coming face-to-face with property rights. We have seen that over and over again, and the power of the state will be used to enforce the boundaries of property over and above any community need (unless that need happens to be eminent domain, which often is used by larger corporate interests rather than anything that resembles a true public interest).
The police protected the private property rights of the Hyatt to exclude protest even though there is an indubitable community interest to prevent power in the support of racism. Even before the incident that was written about above, the police stood with the racists. Just as pernicious, they stood for private property rights even when there is an obvious conflict with public interest.
So, who does the law stand with? It stands with the rich, those with capital, those with property, the corporations, and white racists. It always has.
Another interesting thing that happened was at the day laborer facility. Some of us were sitting on the side of the road before the center opened. A man with a truck came by and said, "trabajos?", meaning "workers." We simply said that the center didn't open until 7 AM. He got indignant and said, "I don't care about them; I need workers now!"
What happens is that contractors will try to hustle for workers desperate for a job without going through the center. Some who need work will take these job offers from these contracting pimps, but we have reports that many don't pay. So, in essence, they pimp sometimes for slave labor. It's easy to divide people who are hungry and need work.
I found being asked that question disempowering, and I also realized my own sense of privilege...the thought that I would be asked on the side of the road if I needed work for the day. There were values I had exposed, and I felt embarrassed by it, though glad that it was exposed.
I was also very happy the minutemen didn't show up. From information we have, it seems they tend to come more on weekday mornings. One worry that I had was the fear that the workers might mistake us for minutemen. Thankfully, we were able to get the message out that we were there in solidarity, and they were very receptive to our presence. Even so, it was good to leave knowing that we weren't needed that day.
I can hear people talking about the above report given by our friend and talk about the dangers of not using a turn signal. I don't recall too many people on that extremely isolated road using their turn signals. Given the extreme response, this was not about enforcing traffic laws. How one chooses to enforce laws, to whom those laws apply, is itself an issue. And, just as enforcing traffic laws was not the issue neither is the law the issue on immigration (even though those laws also protect the same privileged system that we saw protected at the Hyatt), but that's pretty obvious.
(as of February 23, 2006)
To stop this madness, please consider supporting Buffalo Field Campaign
This Saturday, all the groups working on or interested in working on
spring actions surrounding the 3rd year marking date of the war in Iraq
will be meeting 1:30 - 3:30 PM at the Mount Pleasant Public Library at
Lamont and 16th Street NW (accessible by Columbia Heights Metro, 4 blocks,
also easily accessible from the 42 bus, the S2 or the S4 buses, as well as
the H2, H4, and H8 buses).
One event that groups have been working on is a March 18 scenario that
involves a march, a teach-in, and a community service component. I bring
this up because DAWN's weekly action working group is actively taking up
the community service action, but we want to invite all groups to
Let me explain.
On March 18, the plan was to service the homeless with food. However, as
we talked about it, we realized that it would be wrong simply to show up
and then leave as though we had done some great deed. What DC's homeless
population needs is respect and interaction with others in the community,
as well as all the material needs and resources that we are able to help
with (whether that be food, or warm clothing, or know-your-rights
trainings, or what have you).
So, we decided we needed to show up in the weeks leading up to March 18 as
well as the weeks following are action, and hopefully make this a
To be sustainable, we need help. We in DAWN can no doubt keep this up for
the next 7 to 8 weeks on our own, but we likely wouldn't be able to
sustain such an action longer, and so we invite people who want to make
the connections between the war abroad and the war at home to join us and
help us make this happen.
We have access to food, to pots and pans, and a kitchen - and most of the
time, even a vehicle to transport. Over time (though, not this weekend),
we'll need help with cooking. We'll need people to show up.
This Saturday, following our meeting, a group of us will be preparing to
go to the Canadian Embassy at 501 Pennsylvania Ave., NW. Outside this
embassy, very large numbers of homeless live in a plaza and in the alley
ways nearby. We plan on going at 5:30 PM (and, if the homeless who live
there tell us that that's an ideal time for them), we will continue this
every Saturday through March 18 and beyond. We as a group have committed
We believe that this would be a great opportunity for people simply to
show up and talk and get to know DC's homeless population, as we get to
know this particular group (assuming they want to get to know us). It
will also be a chance to eat, as there's liable to be extra food. For
this action in March to work, we have to connect these tragedies abroad
back to the local community. This is one way to do this. DC officially
has over 8,000 homeless people. Many estimate the number to be double
that. They live often right outside the doors of places of power, whether
it be the White House, the World Bank, or outside of places like the
Canadian Embassy (there's no symbolism of choosing the embassy; it's just
we know so many live there). Money that could be used for social services
go instead to fund baseball stadiums and wars. The price of rent drives
people to the streets, and even though many homeless people work, they
still can't make it. What's even more important is the serious lack of
respect that people living as homeless receive in society and the cruel
and demeaning stereotypes that they receive. This perpetuates itself over
and over again. Homelessness isn't simply a social problem of material
need, it's a problem of societal mindset. What I'm getting at is
paternalism, and we often take a paternalistic and patronizing attitude
toward the homeless, just as we do in places like Iraq. That attitude
connects and explains many of the actions we take.
Anyhow, we'd love for people to start joining us, starting this Saturday
after our important meeting.
DC Indymedia is a progressive media outlet that encourages us all to be the media. It has become a haunting ground for rightwing activists of all types, usually criticizing posts by progressives in the DC community. Recently, the minuteman project and people who support it have been out in force over dc indymedia. I've been arguing with them. Feel free to jump in. Here is a bit of the back and forth (a few posts directed at me with personal insults have been deleted by the editors, but thankfully you get a taste even of that). The parent article at http://dc.indymedia.org/newswire/display/132504/index.php tells of a counter-protest against the minutemen rally in Washington, DC.
Are the Minutemen against immigration, or just illegal immigration? I'm fine with immigration, but I think that if someone would like to move to this country and take advantage of all that it provides, they should be a resident on the same terms that I am: pay taxes, be licenced to drive or for their work, etc. Is that really too much to ask?
1. Do you not think the current immigration laws are racist?
2. Even if you think that they aren't racist, what do you think the best remedy for illegal immigration is? Is it simply to deal with the illegal immigrants as criminals, or is it to deal with the causes that lead people to such desperate and dangerous acts?
I don't think #1 is easily answered at all; what are the basis of immigration laws? On what authority do they rest, especially from a nation of immigrants that took most of the land it has from indigenous peoples? How are those laws applied? I can tell you that they aren't applied evenly; there are quotas and regulations in place that give preference to some types of people from some countries over other countries.
But, even if you could satisfy all those questions, one still wonders why the object of scorn is the illegal immigrant and not the multi-national corporation that in its attempt to drive the wages of labor so low both in the US and across the world that they both destroy the living conditions for many people in these countries and therefore driving people to fulfill jobs that virtually no American citizen or legal immigrant would want to do. Why isn't the scorn directed at the free trade agreements that Bush, Clinton, and Bush again have pushed on us that have created this situation? Why do the minutemen insist on dividing one class of working people against another class of working people when both classes share their suffering from the same root cause?
Even if you could convince us that immigration laws are not racist, you cannot convince us that its anything short of racist to turn your scorn against people who often face no other better choice. Perhaps, it would be helpful for people to share some essays that show how people are driven from their homes, unable to feed themselves. I mean, one would have to be crazy to want to come to the United States as an illegal immigrant with all the dangers that are involved with that under normal circumstances. Do you think these people are living high and large?
What's really behind this? You want to enforce laws. Yet, why these laws? Why of all the laws that aren't getting forced do these ones matter so much to you? Billions get blown away on war, the military, the Department of Energy, so much more than any immigrant could possibly receive, and yet this is your fight?
Please answer these questions and please go beyond the same answers you always give. Your answers have been challenged.
My response Jim, you are an idiot.
Probably so, but I do what I can do
"You answers have been challenged" is just about the dumbest thing you can say. You didn't challenge anything, you made your points, facts as you see them.
The standard answer that we have been reading on these comments by minutemen apologists is the tautology that illegal immigrants are illegal and therefore are a problem. Some have gone on to argue that they are not being racist or bigoted because they aren't determining their opposition based on color or on nationality but based simply on the law.
That was the impetus for saying that the answers have been challenged. Is the law racist? Even if it is not racist, is the solution being proposed racist and thoroughly ineffective at dealing with the problem. So, I fail to see how dumb I was to claim that the standard answers have been challenged. Let's see how good a job you've done in taking the conversation forward.
It is obvious you have no real view of the world. You are too focused on righting preceived wrongs than looking at the world as it exists today.
I fail to see how that's so. What is a "real" view of the world? Aren't you just begging the question with a criticism and answer like this?
1) The laws are not racist. There are plenty of people from all over the world who come into this country legally. (That is what you guys always seem to miss, LEGALLY)
That does not prove your point. In fact, what I argued were that the laws give preference to some countries and some types of people in some countries over other types of countries. Even if we can justify national boundaries (which you simply assume), your argument does not prove that immigration laws are not currently racist. All it proves is that some people, perhaps, of all nationalities have been able to come to this nation legally. Yet, it pays no attention to the quotas by country, to the economic circumstances of people who can come versus those who cannot, it in no way proves that all are equally able to emigrate to this country.
So, please do a better job of proving your point and spare me the fallacies.
You only want to enforce the laws you think should be enforced. Wiretaps - Bad (I agree) Illegal immigrants - Good (I disagree)
Actually, being an anarchist, I don't think we should be enforcing any laws as a nation. But, given the sad state of affairs where big government and big business are the two choices, what's most important is standing on the side of people working to stand up to both. But, that's neither here nor there and is irrelevant to the discussion we've been having. It's merely a guess of my position and not a useful exposition of the rationale behind the minutemen position (it merely sets you up to make more ad hominem attacks against me).
2) The best remedy for illegal imigration is to first close the boarders. This will allow us to get the situation under control.
What situation are you trying to get under control? Illegal immigration? You've still failed to argue why illegal immigration is inherently a problem or why you think it is a problem.
Second, find all illegal immigrants and run back ground checks on them to find out if they are running from something in their own country. Murderers, rapists, anyone with a felony type of criminal past, should not be allowed to stay.
Why? I think this discussion could take us much further in a direction neither of us wants to go right now, but I am curious.
Give those that want it a chance to become US citizens, this includes speaking English at a level that allows them to function in society.
Why the emphasis on English? Hasn't society functioned well enough with multiple languages? Aren't there enough translators? Doesn't this prejudice English-speaking countries in immigration? How is that not a kind of bigotry? Maybe, you think it's justified bigotry, but it does favor one class of people against everyone else. It seems that many in this country get by well speaking Spanish; there are even a number of places where an English-speaker does not function well, and there are multiple Spanish-language television stations. With so many millions of Latinos in this country, it seems language isn't much of a barrier. And, for those that it is, why should it be a barrier for us to enforce on immigrants, since their lack of linguistic skills adversely effects them enough as it is.
Those that do not wish to become US citizens are given work visas that allow them to travel freely back and forth while their visa is active. Once the time is up on the visa, they need to reapply or stay out of the country. After the illegals in the US are taken care of, we need to allow people to come in and work, if they want. But by woking they are also going to be expected to pay taxes, contriubute to society in a manner that benefits everyone, not just them and their families back in their country.
Why is the highest value here benefiting "our country"? Shouldn't the highest value be benefitting each other? There's a broad value gap here between you and me, so this discussion could take a long while to deconstruct, but it's worth it so that we can be rid of you minutemen and your racism once and for all. Let's give it a try, and if you convince me that I should be a nationalist bigot, then you'll have scored a great victory for the American cause.
Free trade isn't the problem. A government run by Corporations and not the people is the problem. Free trade has the potential to give those in less developed contries the chance to improve their lives and that of their children.
The problem with that point of view is that it treats nations as aggregates and assumes that nations have as much to offer in return. Look at what trade relationships did to Native tribes in North America. It ruined them. Since the richer countries have more market control and more resources, they can leverage prices and set wages. These leverages ultimately ruin many people and set up a greater social class stratification in society. This stratification produces greater despair, and before you know it, people are running to the borders for jobs to take care of their families. They don't care about Mexico or the United States; they care about suviving. And, why shouldn't they? And, why should we continue setting barriers in their way? Native tribes that were once robust are now starving inside the United States and have been almost since the dawn of trade agreements written into many of the treaties. Similar processes keep happening all over the world.
The agreements need to be rewritten to allow for environmental inspections and investigations of the paper trails of money. The US hasn't had a relationship with Cuba for decades, no reason it wouldn't work on another country. Free trade isn't the problem, those in charge are the problem, because they are in Corporate America's back pocket.
I think your analysis is too narrow and doesn't get at the larger picture, but I'll leave it at that for now.
I agree we are wasting money on war, the military is necessary but only when our boarders are threatened. The military is not a tool the president can use to seek revenge. The Department of Energy is nothing but an arm of oil companies.
It's more precisely a tool of the nuclear power industry. Most of the Department of Energy budget goes toward nuclearization.
We could be independent of oil in less time than most people think, if we did it now and did it smartly. Nuclear energy is not a bad thing, wind power, solar power, ethanol, there are so many choices but we have the wrong people making decisions.
No matter what, at some point overconsumption is not sustainable. But, we are drifting away from the point.
Your solution is to open the boarders and let everyone do as they please. Have you been to South Texas lately? I do not want to live in that kind of area, and I doubt you would too.
My solution is far more radical than that, but let's not get too far away too fast, or we are going to lose the thread of the discussion.
You are probably a really smart guy, but your statements tend to lean the other way. Put your energy into fixing things the way they should be fixed and stop grabbing onto a single issue and taking the most out of bounds solution as the truth.
I guess you don't know me very well. I've never been accused of being a single issue person without a worldview before. Leibniz would be ashamed of me if that were true!
Let's please continue this. Show me you have something more to say than this! Please!
This is the biggest load of horse dung I ever read. I saw what happened. First of all the 5 masked anti-minutemen protestors stood at the back of the crowd and attampted to disrupt things. They were noticed but did not disrupt the Minutmen. The Nazis came and looked like something from a bad acting troop and there were only two. If I remember correctly it was the Minutemen who told the Nazis to go to hell as reported by Lou Dobbs on CNN if you need proof you can get a transcript. Also this claim that the Minutmen are KKK is totally ridiculous, if you look at the website under NEWS MEDIA you can see that the group accepts anyone or any race, creed, color, gender ect. There was more then one hispanic person with them, several african Americans, Several immigrants, several people who are married to immigrants and whats this NO WHITE SUPREMECISTS! Try researching a subject before you write about it. It's strange I didn't find anything the minutemen said offensive or racist and I myself am an immigrant. I checked out their website when I got home. These men and women are trying to stop these migrants from being exploited and treated as slaves, trying to help is not what a nazi or KKK would do. They also make it clear that they do no oppose LEGAL immigration.
If you need proof read it from the horses mouth not the mouth of an amature.www.minutemanhq.com/project/LEO.html
Look man, very few people actually say that they are racists. Did William Rehnquist, back in the early 1960s, when he was the head of Operation Eagle Eye, down in Arizona, challenging the voting qualifications of African Americans at the polls who were going to vote, claim that he was a racist? No, what they simply said was that he and his Republican friends were defending the law. In effect, though, what they did was racist, since the laws at that time were enacted to discourage disadvantaged African American people from voting, and their challenges were almost exclusively against African American people.
There have been questions raised about whether the immigration law itself is racist and whether the best remedy (if you could clear that huge hurdle) is to harrass and confront illegal immigrants. Both tactics, however "nonviolent", and however they've been applied, are inherently racist, and if not that, then bigoted (favoring Americanism over anything and anyone else).
And, just because you might be an immigrant doesn't make it less so. I had people who were at one time close to me who were Greek immigrants, who should have known about the problems they had getting into this country. And, none of them would have claimed to be racist. But, they wouldn't support black families coming into their suburban working class neighborhood because it would drive down property values, and they wouldn't support Haitian refugees for no reason that I can figure out to this day. They had many good qualities and didn't think of themselves as racist and anti-immigrant, but they were racist and anti-immigrant, though they were themselves immigrants.
There have been issues raised above in my posts above; I'd suggest you answer them. Stop rehashing the same stuff. Just because someone says they aren't a racist doesn't make it so.
In fact, it's a lot like the KKK because the minutemen try to disguise their racist intentions behind a mask of respectability (just as few people know who really is in the KKK). At least those idiot Nazi's that showed up understood the implications of what the Minutemen project was about and had the nerve to be open about their racism. You all live in denial, cloaked behind the white sheet of a law that protects and gives advantages to white male citizens (including me, and it sickens me that the law has set me against all my sisters and brothers). And, you do more than burn crosses in someone's lawn; you actually go out and confront the poorest of the poor - day laborers. You may not shoot them dead, but you make it that much harder for them to live.
(Full Report) State of the Union from a street perspective: The "I'm Proud to Be An American" Mix
January 31, 2006 (written February 1-2, 2006)
Let's start with some political background so that you know what this action was, and perhaps what it was not.
First off, this street action I am talking about in protest of the State of the Union was not a DC Anti-War Network (DAWN) action. Let me get that straight. DAWN endorsed the World Can't Wait protest out in front of the Capitol. I facilitated the meeting where we voted with more than 80% of the vote not only to endorse the World Can't Wait action but also to help with volunteer tasks, a vote I should add that I lost in opposition. During the course of planning, DAWN did not do much to help with volunteering in part because of the insistence of that working group that DAWN and other groups be treated as equal partners in planning, in part because of the lack of good information from World Can't Wait, and in part because some in DAWN like me had serious trust issues about working with a Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP)-initiated group, knowing that the RCP has a poor reputation working with other activist groups and that a fight over working on what was supposed to be a mass action (February 4 being the mass action) was the last thing DAWN needed after the infighting over September 24. So, while some in DAWN continued to support the WCW action until the end, and others seemed to be trying to undermine DAWN's involvement (including one proposal in open meeting to revoke endorsement that was ultimately tabled and never reconsidered), most simply drifted along waiting for details.
While I tried to stay out of things, I realize that my openly announcing that I was not going to participate in the WCW action but would help get announcements out probably had a negative effect on group solidarity. I don't regret that stance - it was not as if I did not do some work on behalf of an action I didn't believe in - but at the same time, it perhaps rubbed some people the wrong way or otherwise confused people. This suggests some internal issues, but what fun is a group without some factions and disagreements over tactics, strategies, and working relationships?
Some of us who have been doing a lot of actions together decided that we as an affinity group would meet up at Judiciary Square at 7:15 PM, would head down to World Can't Wait rally in the hopes that a person who was bringing noisemakers might let us use some of them as we pursued our action, then would head over to Independence Avenue to try and make our point to Bush on his motorcade. After that, we'd play it by ear as the group on the street decided. I was under the impression that DAWN was meeting at a COSI on 14th Street to march down as a contingent, but when I invited people in DAWN to join us at Judiciary Square, it seemed that many active DAWN participants chose to go there. That has lead people to call this a DAWN contingent, which in some ways it might have been. Yet, DAWN as a group was committed to going to World Can't Wait, and the group I was with was only going incidentally and for a very short time.
This admittedly sounds arcane and a little dull, like dirty laundry is being aired out, but I hope what it does is clarify that the process of decision-making in a group like DAWN is quite serious. I cannot simply call a DAWN action. Others in DAWN cannot, either. We respect the decision-making structure and the community of voices, but we don't bind anyone to it. And, the sheer freedom of such a group creates problems, creates divisions, creates personal tension, creates arguments, and creates strife. At times, it creates a perfect mess of paralysis. It is filthy sometimes, and it isn't efficient, and we rarely if ever maximize our potential. That in fact is democracy. Democracy is not efficient, does not make everyone bedfellows, is almost distopian in its analysis of the world. There is nothing idyllic about everyone from every conceivable background, from every conceivable experience, from every conceivable skill set all having an equal part in a group's decision-making structure. It opens itself up to regular abuse, for betrayal, for heartache, and strife. This democracy that we take as so precious is so thoroughly unpolished that it's no wonder that people try to pretty it up and control its wild nature, its seemingly carniverous spirit.
And, yet, this ugliness is in a very different respect beautiful at an entirely different level. If we can see this for what it is, a world founded on a basic respect for the inherent worth of every being, a world founded on embracing tension, difference, disappointment, and heartache, then something new flowers before us. Would we rather have our every need met except our say in the matter? Would we rather have our bodily life secured? Would we rather have food on our plates? Or, would we rather believe that there is something inherently worthwhile about being free? How we answer this question annunciates one way in which we are divided. And, yet, in many ways, it's a false dichotomy; in fact, it's a totally false choice, and somewhere along the way, however you answer the question, one realizes one cannot have one without the other. But, no matter what, you get strife, you have pain, you have struggle, you have dialogue between those who are different and want different things. In a free and secure world, the appreciation of struggle, of the ugliness of our particular interactions is the key to this higher beauty.
So, I highlight this difference within DAWN to suggest that disagreement and confusion over the action is the background of a free people's action however one decides to label it. I do not consider this a DAWN action; others might. Whatever it was, it was a free action.
And, more than being a free action, it was an action in resistance against those who do not value freedom except as a word to be thrown around, a justification for anything and everything, e.g. George W. Bush's claim that we are spreading freedom to the Iraqi people, as though it were some disease that we can simply pass on. (Oh, Agathon, if only we could become wise by touching the clothes of the wise.)
At about 7:30 PM, 15 of us left from Judiciary Square. One of our group asked people one-by-one if she or he felt comfortable taking to the street, and people made an honest attempt to suggest to people that if they did not feel comfortable to speak up, and lacking that, that it was perfectly acceptable to walk along the sidewalk. We took to the street on a non-permitted march from the Courthouse side of Judiciary Square toward the Capitol Reflecting pool not that many blocks away. Our numbers were not large enough to block traffic, exactly, and that did not seem to be our purpose. Our purpose in taking the streets is one of expression and empowerment. Society generally deems the roads for cars and the sidewalks for pedestrians. Although - thanks to those who have come before us - a niche for street use has been carved by those engaging in political protest, I think that attitude still generally holds for most people. Going in the street challenges that ethos and all that it represents, namely the belief that political speech should be kept tucked away in convenient niches. Yet, political speech is always inconvenient by its very nature, and a free society values that inconvenience, that inefficiency as its lifeblood. We may not like what is said, but there it is. Unfortunately, I don't think too many even on the left take that far enough to its logical extreme. When we hear something ugly, something we don't like, we want to shut it away and drown it out. And, yet we must be careful about how and when we drown out something with our noise. What is the reason for resistance? What is the reason for going to the absurd extreme of being so loud that speech can no longer be heard? Where is that point? If you ask me, I believe that point is when speech has become farcical, when the megaphone, of say the Presidency, becomes so loud that no one else matters, when dialogue ceases to exist. That point has also been reached on our very streets that are being ruled by automobiles, by a society "addicted to oil." And, yet, sometimes we step over that line; we use the megaphone against groups who support the power structures we work against and yet have no megaphone of their own. They are just people expressing themselves (for example, our friends with Free Republic, who fail to realize that their leaders don't give a shit about them and therefore should not be identified with the power structures and should generally be left to say the stupid things they say - the same could be said about the Progressive Democrats of America, whose leaders also don't give a shit; these people just happen to say better things).
It did not take long for us to run into trouble. Near 3rd and Constitution NW, Capitol police with batons quickly came after us. Within a few seconds, they yelled to get off the road. Before anyone could react, they began grabbing some of the protesters, throwing them to the sidewalks. I saw one activist near me grabbed and thrown (by "thrown" I mean physically taken, grabbed, and then pushed hard to the sidewalk). This officer, who had not been engaged in any way by the activist, said as he was doing this, "Get on the sidewalk, you fucking asshole!" I went immediately to make sure the activist was not hurt, and she reported that she was okay. Others carrying a banner that said to Bush, "Your Wars Shame Us" had a similar experience. We had been separated onto both sides of the sidewalk. This encounter lasted all of about 20 seconds, but it was violent.
We had been deterred from going back in the streets by the police, but we remained undeterred to our mission. It was yet another instance of the same old tiresome thing. In fact, talking to people at work today, I couldn't help but notice that they assumed that people who spoke out faced risk from the police. People who do not make a life of protesting still have a cynical view about the tolerance of protest in society. Perhaps, that's especially true here in Washington, DC, where we see this firsthand all the time. We do not need to protest to witness protest; we witness so much that you outside of the city never see on your televisions and in your newspapers. We see both the ways that protest is empowered and disempowered. We know that there are things the authorities will generally allow and things that they won't. In fact, in many ways, I suspect that a lot of people believe that protest is even more repressed than it is while others believe we have some dreamworld where we are all simply as free as can be to express our displeasure with the government. In fact, the truth is far more complicated. We are both more free in some respects than people imagine and less free in some respects than people imagine. Yet, in almost every case, the degree to which we are free depends upon our abilities to organize and form affinity groups that can work together. A poor person of color, or a homeless person on the streets who has not organized stands to be abused far worse than most of us have ever experienced. I have seen police beat people of color on the streets of DC in broad daylight; I've witnessed police harrassment of the homeless; I've sat in the courts as one poor person after another faces a petty drug charge that so disproportionately gets levied on people of color. What we as activists face on the streets is nothing, really, and that's in large part because we organize and share our experiences and have processes that protect each other. It also doesn't hurt people like me that I'm white, and that's a sad reality. It's sad also from the standpoint of justice because I know that whatever evils I suffer are frankly nothing compared to what others go through. And, that quantitative difference produces divisions, and tensions, and strife, but these differences are not the differences of democracy but the differences imposed on us to keep us who believe in justice from solidarity. These class and racial and gender divisions are not only ugly because of the ways they complicate our relationships with each other, the way they manifest themselves in our society only produce a deeper ugliness - the ugliness of war and stratified power.
From that confrontation, 20 seconds in the street to minutes on paper to perhaps forever in my memory, we moved toward the World Can't Wait protest at the Capitol Reflecting Pool. There, a small crowd had gathered for this action to symbolically drown out the lies of the Bush Administration in what World Can't Wait says is the start of a new social movement to drive out the Bush regime. I am tempted to skip over my criticisms of this event in part out of fatigue and in part out of the excitement of remembering my other experiences. Yet, since this report in some ways is also a defense and articulation of a healthy kind of factionalism in a truly democratic society, I should not shy away from being controversial for fear of creating divisions in the movement. World Can't Wait has on paper a revolutionary agenda; their aim is to drive out the Bush regime. Their founding parent organization, the Revolutionary Communist Party, takes something of a Maoist revolutionary stance toward society, one calling for armed conflict to overthrow capitalist society. As a pacifist, I find such talk not all that revolutionary and simply an exchange of power from one self-selecting group of rulers to another self-selecting group of rulers. I don't particularly think such language is compatible with anarchism, either, though I know that view may not be popular in many circles. Yet, not quibbling over the language, I take it at face value the group believes in revolution rather than reform. Then, what is it doing using the government's permit system to fight this revolution? Is it, to borrow from my interpretation of the RCP website, an attempt to co-opt the middle class liberal masses in order to use them for the final stage of revolution? If so, then, the group is being disingenuous about its aims. If not, then the group is being self-contradictory in working for revolution by legitimizing a process used by the government to maintain and control the status quo. At the Reflecting Pool, we were herded into a space, accessible only from a couple points, at all times within feet of Capitol Police. While such a confinement of space may be of use to protesters who simply wanted a safe space with which to express themselves, who feel more power with larger numbers of people, or who enjoy listening to speeches - all I might add are legitimate forms of empowerment and expression - it is hard to imagine how a revolutionary group can deal with the inherent contradiction of giving greater legitimacy to a process used to suppress dissent and freedom of expression. If the RCP were basically non-sectarian and believed that revolution is a process catering to a diverse set of groups and tactics, that might be one thing, but when a group is explicitly sectarian in its aims, with a very specific goal in mind, it is farcical to imagine that the group is serious about its central claim, namely that the "world can't wait to drive out the Bush regime." That is precisely why I suggested that "World Can't Wait" was waiting in my preview to this essay; it was in some ways a charitable interpretation of what strikes me as incoherent. Nevertheless, being the only space for a group of people who find enpowerment in larger groups, in that type of action, I congratulate those who joined the action rather than doing nothing on a Tuesday night in January. One hopes that people found the event empowering. Even so, I hope people strongly consider the larger context of the action and consider ways we can do similar actions better without all the pseudo-revolutionary overtones.
After a few minutes and failing to find the person with the noisemakers, we headed out the other side of the pool toward Independence Avenue. I think our affinity group defied some, though not all, of the stereotypes. We were not a male-dominant group; we were not a young group. We had and have had a very good diversity of ages, from high school-aged to senior citizens to many in between. What's more, our group had good gender balance. This was not a group dominated by street egocentric machismo but took time to stop and make decisions. I think we can improve the process of street decisions and strongly encourage dissenting voices to be more vocal, but the fact that we are considering this problem at all suggests to me a group on the right track that isn't intentionally going to drag people into situations they are not prepared for. That doesn't mean that everyone agrees with everything everyone chooses to chant or that even in a small affinity group that there aren't real differences, but it means that there is trust and respect and an appreciation for the commitment to the group. Frankly, if we had more numbers, I wonder what we would have done about it. Factions necessarily split off at some point as people become too small a fraction of the decision-making process. What I would love to see are for factions to form that would split off but would remain in a spirit of solidarity with each other, sometimes joining, sometimes splitting away. Particular groups should stay small, but why not see group growth as cluster growth, as developing more autonomous and small groups? De-centralized groups are much more free and much better able to resist overt repression than centralized groups. The big challenge of such groups is maintaining the networking webs necessary for coming together. Such a challenge is not impossible, but it begins first by recognizing the pitfalls of too much internal growth in the smallest unit. What would we have done in this action with 30 people and no real plan for how to move forward? How would we have made decisions? Who would have made the decisions? I strongly challenge the idea that the best actions are the actions with the most people; I think the pitfalls in that thinking ignore the reason for demonstrating in the first place. We demonstrate first and foremost as an expression of who we are, as a free act. Whatever we are protesting, whether it be war, economic injustice, or the environment, we must value freedom first in order to make those connections. Yet, if we abdicate that freedom, abdicate the responsibility of freedom, abdicate the presence of our voice, who are we? We can build a high number action on the basis of free people, but we do not do so easily. When we cannot, one wonders the degree to which such actions are worthwhile. Those who have hundreds of thousands in the streets and claim to speak for a movement, or worse, the entire people of a country or world, are just as abusive to me as the Lord Bush who spoke from Capitol Hill on Tuesday night.
We walked along Independence Avenue, noticing buses blocking the route and Capitol Police re-directing traffic. While past experience had taught me that the President travels to and from the State of the Union via that street, some in our group began having doubts. Being on bicycle, I offered to bike over to Constitution Avenue to see if it looked like the motorcade might travel that route. A moment or two after that decision, a couple of the activists with us stepped onto the road with their banner in response to a fair number of vehicles going by. I believe they thought that perhaps the President was about to make his way, and they simply wanted to make sure that he saw their banner.
Immediately, a number of Capitol Police drove them back on the sidewalk. Fair enough, if you believe in some kind of minimal security...a fight I am not prepared to get into in this essay. What then happened, though, was stunning. A huge number of Capitol Police approached us and surrounded the sidewalk where we stood facing off with all of us.
All-in-all, we counted about 200 Capitol police officers either in vehicles or standing on the road or on horses. We moved to the corner of Third and Independence NW, and they followed right along with us. One asked me abruptly whether I planned to stay on the sidewalk, a question I frankly hadn't given much thought to. I thought for a second, he cut off my thinking by ordering, "Stay on the curb!" I shrugged my shoulders and stayed on the curb. We kept beating the pots and pans we had brought with us, pans that can pierce the ears of people standing right next to the sound and which carry for blocks. Others began chanting. Some of us in a spirit of revelry started singing a round of "Tony the Rat!" in honor of DC Mayor Anthony Williams. These were not DC Police; there was no context for the song. Yet, absurdity was the point; we 11 were in the face of overwhelming force. Apparently, we were this evening's terrorist threat. 200 police watched our every move. Soon, we even attracted a few press cameras, and of course, some of the officers began filming us.
So, there we were, outnumbered 20 to 1 by the police, somewhat bemused that we seemed to be considered a bigger threat to Bush than the couple hundred people at the World Can't Wait event. Of course, at this point, we were pretty damn sure that Bush was coming down Independence Avenue. I suppose that some might argue that this was appropriate security; what didn't seem appropriate by any standard were efforts by the police to stand as close as possible to any protest signs so that we would not be visible to the motorcade that passed by. As the banner moved so did the police; this was true then, it was even more true later when the DC Metro Police watched us.
Soon, we also receieved word that Cindy Sheehan was inside the Capitol, and this raised our morale. Later, Cindy reports that she ended up at the Capitol almost by accident as a guest of Lynn Woolsey and did not intentionally break the dress code or disrupt the meeting. That, of course, is upsetting in itself for many of the similar kinds of things I have been reporting in this and other reports, though on the other hand, of course, many of us were hoping that Cindy in fact did have hopes of disrupting the so-called speech of the biggest megaphone the world has to offer, the President of the United States of America, the man whose speech trumps everyone else's, who matters more than all of us combined. All the same, outside in the cold wind, I felt kindred toward Cindy and felt knowing that she was in the Capitol breaking script and that we were out on the streets breaking script, that we had a friend in solidarity with us. Many in the movement complain about Cindy, about those around her, about her celebrity status, and I think many of those complaints have some merit; yet, it was her small-numbered action taken on the initiative of her and her friends in Goldstar Families that spoke loudly to many Americans. Ironically, the larger her action became, the less it spoke, especially as other groups of activists were excluded, as others tried to take advantage of the situation, as it became merely a media action. Yet, despite all of that, she still speaks out just as we were speaking out facing off with the front lines of imperial hegemony.
And, I don't know if the police were our enemies or simply victims - I think both are melodramatic and overly stereotypical - the choices we all make are choices we must live with. At some point, we all need to face up to the gravity of our moral choices or become part of the problem, but I can't tell you where that point is. From my point of view, I have trouble appreciating or having much sympathy for people who do not step outside the box and question whether what they are doing is right, and police rarely admit that they struggle with such questions in the confrontations on the street. I hope that they do, just as I do, just as I wonder every day who I am and where I am going and whether my choices might have been better. To me, what is plainly absurd, not just the police but the intentionally absurd way we respond to the police, seems oblivious to the police. "Stay on the sidewalk." "Stay inside the lines." "Listen to me when I'm talking to you." All of that caging feels and looks ridiculous. We are all just people, right? Yet, what happens to make one set of people so mechanical and so rigid and another so baffled by it all? Some get upset; some get amused; some get indignant; some get sincere. Some of us want to convert the police; some want them to all suffer horribly for the way they treat and look at us; some simply want to laugh. Yet, it's all a perfectly logical reaction to an absurdity. In logic, when the antecedent is false, anything validly follows. Where we found ourselves on Independence Avenue waiting for Bush, the antecedent is so obviously false, but from one protester to another, the reactions can be so different. The only thing I can think of that's appropriate is to recognize the situation as absurd and to point it out so that we all resist so that these situations aren't so obviously false and that we have a real place for sincerity and purpose again. After all, where people are really suffering, really dying, really hurting from this fucking crap, it's not a laughing matter, and the longer we stand around facing 200 police officers not only protecting a madman and a criminal in Bush but also preventing any negative speech from reaching him, the longer we all collectively end up fools, caged in our stupidity, and a terror to each other and the rest of the world.
Just before 9PM, Bush's motorcade whizzed by us at about 45 mph. We were very loud, and though he moved by quickly, it's impossible for me to imagine that the sound and vision of the protest did not penetrate him. I doubt he saw the banner, though those who held it stood on a sidewalk barricade, but the message of dissent was there for him. We hope he got it.
At that point, we didn't know what to do or where to go. We held a meeting, and at least one person decided to go elsewhere, which was fine for us and for him. We changed our minds more than once, but ultimately we thought it might be interesting to quiet down and see what might happen if we headed around the security perimeter toward the House of Representatives. I doubt any of us had any illusions that we could actually get very close, but what else did we have to do? As much as anything, we were curious what would happen to us just for walking around, having been labeled as protesters and therefore troublemakers (which was fine by us).
After a bathroom break, we took a circuitous route, ultimately going to First Street and Independence Avenue SE. Several blocks before reaching that point, one Capitol Police officer approached us, one I think I had seen earlier. He asked the group whether he could speak to us for a moment. About 5 or 6 people said in unison without even thinking, "No." Speak to us? How grand speaking truly is; too bad to "speak" with someone comes always with suspicion as to why, or with a clear knowledge of power dynamics. Who does not get nervous when pulled over by a police officer? Is not the fear of authority one of the principle deterrents used by our criminal justice system? Yet, what kind of good speaking is speaking that begins from a relationship of fear. To speak "NO," to speak against, sometimes is the only constructive speech. That is, protest, being against, being anti-, it's not so bad and necessarily lacking in constructive impulse. What was there to say there? The officer continued, "Are you all done for the evening?" We also decided not to answer that question; it's not clear exactly what we had done. So, we kept walking, and he stopped pursuing. We had a couple other adventures likes this, including a humorous "Abbott and Costello"-like exchange with Capitol Police at First and Independence. They would not let us walk on the sidewalk on Independence closer to the Capitol along the side of Independence by the House office buildings. The officer said, "You can't go that way." "Why not? That person over there is walking on the sidewalk." "He's going away." "Well, we're going away from here, too." "No, you can't go this way." "What way?" "Down this street." "You need to go that way." "But, that way is not the way we need to go?" "But, you can't go that way." While there felt like something of a disingenuousness about the conversation, I think all the smart aleck questions and responses pointed toward challenging the rationale. If it were security, then why was that person passing through? If it were security, why not say so and explain? If it's not security, say why. Just don't tell us what's clearly obvious, that you aren't letting us pass through by way of the sidewalk. Again, absurdity...again, absurd responses, and undoubtedly different people react to these things differently. Most probably shrug it off and keep moving, but what's illegitimate about any other approach?
We walked along First Street on the sidewalk instead. Soon, 10 Capitol Police motorcycles followed our every move. We didn't bang pots and pans, but I guess we were the troublemakers, those without the permit, those who dared to do things a little off the script. So, they escorted us all the way around the gigantic block we took, to Constitution, back to Third Street, and across to Independence. At times, we'd stop, or reverse direction, or run to see what would happen. Always, they would make it clear that we were their reason for following. On Third Street, at places, we had motorcycles on the sidewalk in front of us and behind us.
Ultimately, we ended up back on Independence Avenue, this time on the Mall side of the road, near the God awful Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, which is for too many reasons to go into another slap in the face to America's indigenous population. On this side, between Third and Fourth, the DC Metropolitan Police took over. They acted much like the Capitol Police, though numbers ranged in the dozens rather than the hundreds. There were spaces between police officers, though officers continued to move along to try and block view of the banner. We knew that Bush's speech was over, and soon some of the crowd that had been at World Can't Wait began filtering in our direction. The Rhythm Workers Union, a locally-based activist percussion ensemble, came with more noise, though more beautiful than our obnoxious pots and pans. Also, the man with all the noisemakers came by, and we finally got our extra noisemakers. Ultimately, about 40-50 people found themselves trapped at the 4th Street intersection where the sidewalk on the other side of the street was closed. Police at this point were not letting people cross the street, so even if people did not want to wait for Bush, they had little choice unless they wanted to walk back against the direction they needed to go. Soon, Bush's ensemble came by, this time going a tad slower, inundated with more noise than before.
During several moments during this time along the aptly named Independence Avenue, we noticed the hordes of police, the line between us who spoke against and those who enforced what one man is for, and we sang, "I'm Proud to Be An American" (where at least I know I'm free).
From there, my evening ended with a long bike ride home. I came home too exhausted to write but energized by my evening.
These are less report backs than they are interpretive essays of experience. Yet, words do not give us anything but fuel for more discussion. We hope that some words are more provocative than others. Some produce controversy, some speak to harmony, but very few of them are clear cut and reducible. Good and evil, true and false, just and unjust, are all real concepts, are all meaningful concepts, but they are not easily reducible concepts. We all tend to become melodramatic about the things we care about, but reality is much more wild. We humans want to control, to capture, to clarify, to tighten, to make efficient, to produce bigger and more effective means of containing our world. And, yet, many of those concepts are antithetical to the dirty and wild world of democracy. In our quest to make sense of the wild, we cannot help but take sides, and we shouldn't try to be otherwise. There are truly sides to be taken just as 1 and 2 are different numbers. Nevertheless, these sides all breathe and live in an infinitely complex world, and that world is beautiful and is most beautiful when it allows the dirt to raise a cloud. We fight wars to control, to restrain, to tighten; we resist war and power to open up new spaces to practice our messy art of talking.
In simple and small street actions, complex realities reveal themselves to us. From the street during the 2006 State of the Union, these perceptions played in my mind just as they played in the streets, just as they play in our discussions and our fights about what really happened and what we really should be doing.
In the beautiful mess of that discussion and in the face of a world where discussion has lost its meaning, I can only think of one word that rings true: resist. But, what that means, and where we should go with it, oh love, that's the naked beauty of tomorrow.
Preview: State of the Union protests from a street perspective : "The I'm Proud to Be An American" Mix
Later today, possibly tonight, I'll be sharing a report from the streets outside the Capitol from activists who weren't inside the Capitol like Cindy Sheehan and who weren't waiting around with the World Can't Wait.
To preview, let me give you a recap of a few of the highlights. At about 7:30 PM, a group of 15 activists launched into the streets from Judiciary Square. At 3rd before we reached Constitution, Capitol police rushed us with batons, throwing some activists to the sidewalk, cursing at them.
Most of us proceeded to Independence Avenue. When people walking with a banner edged into the street, a group of 11 people found itself facing off with 200 Capitol Police.
That tipped us off that was indeed Bush's route, and so we inundated Bush's motorcade with sound as it rushed by at high speeds.
During the speech, we ultimately decided to walk toward the back side of the Capitol where we had several other exchanges with Capitol Police. They ultimately chose to follow us with no less than 10 motorcycles along the streets of DC.
We made it back to Independence Avenue via Third Street by the end, this time on the Metro Police side of 3rd. There we were greeted by dozens of DC police, who moved along with us and made a point of attempting to block signs, sending officers to stand directly in front of signs and to move as the signs or people moved.
At the end, with a lot of noisemakers and the chance appearance of the Rhythm Workers Union, we saw Bush pass by again and inundated the motorcade with protest noise.
The situation on the street belied whatever it was that Bush said he was fighting for inside. What was going on went beyond needed security; it was a visible attempt to stifle dissent.
More hopefully later, but I wanted to get this much now.