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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.

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    Tuesday, September 19, 2023

    UFPJ (in DC)...That Horrible Sinking Feeling (originally published August 30, 2005)

    This piece was published in DC Indymedia on August 30, 2005. Here you see me maturing in my anarchism and deep in a fight against national organizations like UFPJ stepping on local grassroots organizing. By this point, I am fed up with the national anti-war movement. Ever since this experience, I have been an anarchist not only against the state and capital but also against the governance and hierarchies that develop to co-opt social movements. UFPJ was a prime example of a national organization that was a state within the anti-war movement, supported in part because they were better than the Stalinists down the street and certainly better than American imperial government. But it gave me a hard lesson as to why anarchists only run into trouble when they build coalitions with statists. - jsm September 19, 2023 P.S. And, you should read the internet archive of the comments - quite the freaking discussion! - DC Indymedia Archived Article


    Have you ever been in a place where everyone seemed happy and engaged, and the happier and more engaged they seemed, the more you felt like oozing into the center of the earth never to be seen from again? That's the way I felt last night at the UFPJ DC organizing meeting.

    On the face of things, it was a great meeting. Over 70 people came to organize and listen to Ray McGovern and Tia Steele. I can't say that Ray or Tia were disappointing speakers at all, and they not only meant well, they spoke well. But, you see, by that point, I was already feeling way off.

    The meeting was in the Communication Workers of America building. The room was set up in a large square with seats at a square table with another row of seats outlining three corners of the square around the perimeter. Besides being cold, the room felt something like a board room. It was pretty clear where the front of the room was and where the hotshots would be sitting.

    In my own strange characteristic defiance, I came straight from work wearing shirt and tie. Usually, I stick out like a sore thumb, which often amuses me, since in the activist setting I’m accustomed to, there’s an air of rebellion in wearing the tie. I don’t always wear the tie, and it’s not my costume of choice, but I resent the thought that I should have to change after I leave work and that I can’t feel comfortable in any skin I find myself. Well, last night, while no one else was wearing a tie, I somehow felt a lot more like my clothes fit the occasion. That’s not really so bad. And, that’s not the point. Yes, the demographic was different, a little wealthier, but so what? If people are themselves, let them be themselves. What I think it was really was the context of it all in terms of UFPJ. Over and over, those of us who have been working on opening up UFPJ’s process and making it more democratic have been criticized relentlessly for not being diverse enough as a group, lacking a significant number of people of color, especially, and the veiled suggestion that UFPJ needs its hierarchical structure in order to make sure that voices that have been traditionally silenced have a chance to step up to the plate. If you open up the process, the assumption is that you only open up the process for people who have been traditionally empowered. Yet, looking around, I didn’t see a lot of diversity except that at the front of the room, you had two people of color leading the meeting. While by some definition, that’s diversity and re-balancing the power equation, I think many would simply call that tokenism. And, looking in this room, knowing the criticisms that have been levied against efforts that I and others have been a part of, I no longer felt comfortable in my own clothes.

    If numbers are any indication, UFPJ’s organizing should be a success, but at the cost of movement empowerment. The meeting after the presentations, which I will reiterate were pretty good, consisted of a series of report backs, a call for volunteers, and a pitch for donations. At a few moments, people edged in with clarifying questions. However, there was nothing to decide, no way to plug in creatively, and no sense of ownership. The people who spoke in some ways owned the event, and even some of them were less owners than others.

    People seemed genuinely energized by this, perhaps sensing the numbers, sensing that Cindy Sheehan’s vigil had given people a sense that a turning point was near, but I continued to feel a real sense of distress. Here a local movement had been co-opted effectively by the promise of bigger numbers, by the celebrities, by the name recognition. It promised little slices of pie to people, often in the name of an endless series of tents, if only we can come together to stop the war, which now seemingly must come to an end. The big problem with this big tent was that voices were lost in the process. There is a horrible contradiction in working toward lifting up the voices who haven’t been heard when there is no process in place that guarantees that those voices will be heard. So, what you end up having are the dominant patriarchal (patriotic) sections of society wreaking a kind of unwitting havoc on anyone who dares to be different.

    What do I mean by that last sentence? Let’s look at some concrete examples. UFPJ, through a long and arduous process, had promised legal support for nonviolent direct action planned for the weekend of September 23-26, even if it wasn’t part of the action that UFPJ was organizing. That was all fiction last night. When the question of legal came up, it was clear that UFPJ was providing for legal support only for actions on September 26. Those who had rebelled had been quietly pushed aside when the sham process reached a sham decision (much like many of the decisions of UFPJ’s national assembly in St. Louis). What about a convergence center as a means of supporting and showing solidarity with those actions? UFPJ’s stock answer was that it was likely that the tents would serve as a convergence center. Under whose control? UFPJ’s. Would housing be allowed there? Absolutely not. Would UFPJ then help provide money? Probably not. Talk with Leslie Cagan. Okay, what about Operation Ceasefire, that great event that is being put together to support UFPJ and DAWN. Well, don’t look now but DAWN isn’t mentioned much anymore in Operation Ceasefire. I guess money talks. And, capitalism is alive and well in the peace movement, where return for investment must correlate to amount of investment a group can offer, and any attempt to rectify the power dynamics to something more equitable and more in line with grassroots organizing is out the door whenever it is convenient. Expect the peace groups with resources to have even more, and those who don’t to have the nothing but human volunteer power that they started with. But, damn it, after all of this, volunteer! Give money from deep inside your pockets! Stop the war (in Iraq)! Put the Palestinians off in Farragut Square…sounds like a winner! In other words, daring to stand up against the hierarchies of decision-making leads you to be pushed aside, ignored, dropped away, tokenized, or highlighted somewhere else. Who can stop this (anti-)war machine?

    I’m really glad I went last night, but I won’t be coming back. I’m angry. I’m mad. I’m mad because I find myself having to work for the movement, and right now working for that movement means supporting all the options possible, and that means helping bring people to this event. Since people coming don’t give a damn about UFPJ, ANSWER, MGJ, DAWN, or anyone else, and are (to use Ray McGovern’s talk last night “unreasonably patient” with the voices in the movement) looking for a voice, I’m going to have to work like mad to give them that opportunity. I have to help them find housing, help getting around, the best information on actions, the best anti-war and global justice literature that I can find. But, I’m mad as hell because the big lie is that all this is not even close to what it should be, and we are propping up hierarchical, disempowering processes in order to fight them. The contradiction is maddening.

    The evening finished with breakouts into working groups. Many of us harassed our friend Jose about the issue of a convergence space. It was comedy of the absurd. Jose has no power over the issue and no influence on it. But, we let our poor friend have it because there was nothing else to be done. To get stuff done you have to schmooze the right person, and I think all of us going there knew that in advance. But, we don’t have endless hours of the day to play political games. These meetings are billed as organizing meetings, and that’s when we can come. We can’t go to New York, can’t be on the phone all day, and many of us are increasingly disgusted with dealing with the feudal lords who are in power.

    This is not sustainable.

    This weekend I will go to New York, and we will be talking about the weekend and working on the alternatives, not just in terms of action, but in terms of organizing and empowerment. I hope we consider this seriously, and consider not allowing ourselves to be co-opted ever again.




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