Featuring “Voices for Nature & Peace,” an interview podcast and “Kollibri’s Weekly Column” in which I read my essays out loud, plus “Farmer K’s Diary” an irregular video series. [ more… ]
Content also available at my YouTube channel
2020, with its pandemic and its protests, was many things to many people: a hardship for those who lost homes, livelihoods and people they loved to COVID and insufficient government support; an inspiration for activists who have been working for years to call attention to police brutality; and an imposition to those who resent anything that makes them take other people into account (like demands for racial justice or requests to follow public health protocol).
What 2020 should have been for everyone was a wake-up call that the system is not as solid as it might have seemed, and further, that that isn’t all bad.
Asian countries have been far more successful than the US in responding to the COVID pandemic, but you’d never know that from the US media. Even most alternative media has been largely US- & Euro-centric. While our domestic issues here are important, we have been missing out on important lessons from other places.
A partial remedy to this dearth of information is provided by the just released, “Capitalism on a Ventilator: The Impact of COVID-19 in China & the U.S.” The book is an anthology of writing by over fifty activists and independent journalists, edited by Sara Flounders & Lee Siu Hin. (I interviewed Sara about this book for my podcast here.)
What most surprised me about 2020 was the eruption of partisan warfare over wearing masks to prevent the spread of COVID. Metaphorically, it was like making a political issue of covering your mouth when you cough. WTF?
Was this inevitable? It’s not like this particular topic has been a hot button issue for decades like feminism or fluoride or gays. Surgical masks have been absent from the last half century of culture wars, unmentioned by Phyllis Schlafly, Ronald Reagan or Alex Jones.
So, having been off the table this whole time, the mask “issue” was up for grabs and I venture to suggest that it could have gone the other way. In an alternate universe, Republicans would now be die-hard mask-wearers and Democrats… well, I’m not so sure.
I don’t see Republicans and Democrats… I see European civilization killing everything. ~Conrad Justice Kiczenski
Here we are again, in the post-Convention frenzy of a presidential election year in the USA. All sense, reason and proportion go out the window as both sides hurl their invective and sling their spin. Passions rise and all composure is sidelined. Each team makes dire predictions—but selectively, so as not to draw attention to the real issues, which neither one wants to acknowledge.
Partisanship is an affliction that threatens our survival. Both parties fully support ecocide and imperialism (regardless of what their respective supporters might hope). Vicious environmental destruction and brutal war-making will continue unabated in 2021 under either administration.
Of course there are differences in execution, but that’s like contrasting a firing squad and an electric chair. You end up dead either way.
In mid-July, Counterpunch published, “Minneapolis Ballot Measure to Dismantle the Police Will Test the Strength of Our Movement,” authored by Robin Wonsley & Ty Moore. Intrigued by this article, I contacted Robin, and less than a month later, I interviewed her for my podcast. But already the proposal—which had attracted so much national attention—was dead, killed by the city’s undemocratic and bureaucratic process. Robin and I talked in depth about how this happened, including how the activist community sabotaged itself by giving away its power to the City Council.
The movement against racist policing in Minneapolis is certainly not over, but a battle was lost, and Robin’s analysis will be helpful for that movement, not just in Minneapolis, but around the whole nation. What follows is a transcript of the first portion of our conversation, edited for clarity. The full interview can be heard here.
Robin is a labor organizer with Education Minnesota, a Black socialist, and plays a leading role in Twin Cities DSA. She was previously a staff organizer with 15 Now Minnesota and helped organize the fight to make Minneapolis the first midwest city to win a $15/hour minimum wage.
Kollibri: I noticed that there’s been some changes in what’s been happening there in Minneapolis. The article that you wrote in Counterpunch was talking about how the City Council had prepared something to go in front of the votes, but then I guess that something called the Minneapolis Charter Commission has now prevented that from happening?
Robin: Yep. So, basically, the proposal that City Council members agreed to pursue, basically dismantling the Minneapolis Police Department, was not able to move forward without having approval from the Charter Commission because it required changing the city’s constitutional amendment process. Based off our current charter, it requires a police department to exist, and to have a certain percentage of police officers there.
So, because of that constitutional bylaw, in order to move things forward, there’s this bureaucratic process to get these things changed; you have to go through the Charter Commission… All of these folks are appointed, they’re not elected and basically they get to decide whether or not amendments that should go to a public democratic vote can even make it to the public. In my experience in organizing in Minneapolis, they seem to be a city process designed to actually block transformative amendments or initiatives that are trying to get moved through the city process, especially from external groups, [such as] workers who are looking to address this city’s deep inequities. And time and time again, without fail, they constantly block those efforts be it through a charter amendment, or through a ballot petition.
So I was quite unsurprised that they basically “delayed” it. They didn’t vote down the proposal but delayed it so it wouldn’t be able to be voted on in this coming election. So that’s where we’re at right now. They delayed it for another 90 days to review. It’s likely that the city is going to move forward with their own diluted process, having a year-long study and having community conversations around what alternatives to policing or reforms to policing can look like, as a means of creating what they think is a democratic ordinance versus actually adhering to the more than 60% of Minneapolis residents who actually support a policy change. Or not even necessarily a policy change, but to vote on making policy changes around policing in our city. So they’re just bypassing the whole public vote and democratic process at this current moment.
“Compromise” is nothing more than a means of preserving the status quo, which inevitably elevates greed over need. Agreeing to compromise is presented as mature, but it’s really just compliant. In this Orwellian perspective, rolling over is standing up.
When I look around at what amounts to “the left” in the US, I find it to be full of compromises, with nearly nothing be excited about.
Yes I’ll support a campaign for a $15 minimum wage. But what I really want is a world where the necessities of life are no longer monetized. Money creates artificial scarcity, and is a tool of control.
Yes, I’ll support non-discrimination in employment. But what I really want is an end to the employer-employee relationship, whether the employer is a mom-and-pop or a multinational corporation. That relationship is exploitative at its core.
Yes, I’ll support immigrants. But what I really want is a planet without borders. The nation-state is recent invention, and it’s no coincidence that its rise has tracked with industrialism and capitalism. As a means of organization, it is fundamentally inequitable.
Yes, I’ll support women going into politics and business. But what I really want is to smash patriarchy, and all the political and business institutions that go with it.
Yes, I’ll support tenant rights. But what I really want is to end to the landlord-tenant relationship, whether the owner is an individual or a bank, and whether the arrangement is a lease or a mortgage. Nobody should have to pay for a roof over their head.
Yes, I’ll support voting rights. But what I really want is a legitimate, participatory democracy, driven by people, not money or power, in which leadership is a role that is filled only as needed, not a club to bludgeon people with. Our current system excludes by default, when inclusivity is the only approach that will work for making a just society.
Yes, I’ll support Medicare-for-all. But what I really want is an approach to health that is holistic, based on plants not pharmies, and that draws on all the world’s effective traditions, not just Victorian-era European premises.
Yes, I’ll support “science.” But what I really want is a worldview that also embraces the value of the ineffable. The dismal reductionism of our day that masquerades as “reason” strips life of essential intrinsic qualities, and encourages us to act without sensitivity to that which we cannot measure or weigh.
Yes, I’ll support funding for education. But what I really want is for the restitution of lifeways where coercion is not a method for helping children learn how to live in the world. Schools are far more about obedience and than they are about education.
Yes, I’ll support cuts to “defense” spending (as if anybody even talks about that anymore). But what I really want is an absolute end to US imperialism, including the closing of all overseas military bases and the dismantling of the entire nuclear arsenal.
Yes, I’ll support a “Green New Deal.” But what I really want is to drastically curtail our consumption. No energy-producing technology is truly “renewable.” Solar, wind and water all harm the environment through their production and operation.
Yes, I’ll support socialism over capitalism. But what I really want is for the means of production to be dismantled, not merely seized by another set of hands. Industrialism rapes the environment no matter who owns it.
Yes, I’ll support fairer laws. But what I really want is the abolition of prisons and the so-called justice system. Furthermore, the punitive urge itself must be excised as a cultural fixture.
Yes, I’ll support marriage equality. But what I really want is to end the institution of marriage itself, it being a property-based relic of the Bronze Age.
Yes, I’ll support environmental regulations. But what I really want is a world in which we put the Earth First!
Yes, I’ll support setting aside public land for “preservation.” But what I really want is to return it to the Native Americans.
Yes, I’ll support organic farming. (In fact, I made my living as an organic farmer for a decade.) But what I really want is an end to the agricultural mindset, which is based on the domination of nature. We must return to a cooperative relationship with the planet and all life on it, through practices like wildtending.
Yes, I’ll support veganism because animal agriculture is so gross. But what I really want is to stop the division of living things into categories that are not okay to kill (animals) and the ones that are (everything else apparently). Only by recognizing the legitimacy of all forms of life can we eliminate cruelty.
Yes, I’ll support the arts. But what I really want is a culture where music doesn’t belong to musicians, singing to singers, dancing to dancers, painting to painters, sculpture to sculptors, and poetry to poets. By elevating the “artist” we have stolen creative expression from everyday people and everyday life, and have manufactured something individual and rarefied from what should be common and communal.
Yes, I’ll support individual freedom. But what I really want is to focus primarily on collective responsibility. How our choices affect others should be the first consideration of any decision-making process, with those “others” being not just other humans.
So yes, I’ll support all these things, in part because I respect that the people working for them are driven by compassion. But what I really want is much more, although in another way of considering it, much less: This project we call “civilization” is too much. Our task now must be to scale back, power down, and simplify. Each additional day of compromise is another assault on a liveable environment.
And this is the key point that is nearly always forgotten: All the non-humans creatures on this planet are subjected to our “compromises” but they are not parties to negotiating them. In that way, nothing at all—nothing!—that we civilized humans do is ever truly a compromise, but is always an imposition.
Social media algorithms serve us up with what we like to see because the more we scroll, the more data they can harvest, and selling that data is their business model. Lately, it’s been popular to refer to the increasingly narrow worldview that we receive this way as an “echo chamber.” Commentators have been warning that both ignorance and polarization are the result, and that we need to take deliberate steps to avoid being boxed in and judgmental. Agreed.
One suggested remedy I saw recently is to keep people with “completely opposite political views” on your newsfeed, in part because this will remind you that people who believe those things are human too. That’s fine as far it goes, but let’s go further. I propose that the key word is not “opposite” but “outside.”
Something remarkable is happening in the US in 2020 in terms of public awareness of race.
The George Floyd uprising, two months in duration so far, has brought formerly fringe ideas into the mainstream, shifting the entire frame of discourse to the left. The breakthroughs we are experiencing this summer might feel sudden, but they follow decades of activism, with all its labor, learning and dedication. People have been pushing for awhile. The murder of George Floyd was a “last straw” event.
One notable change is that the street actions in Minneapolis and other cities have been made up of diverse crowds that are led by people of color, with whites taking the backseat. This change in centering has been very welcome.
In the last couple weeks, a new element was added to the mix when Trump sent federal law enforcement officers to Portland, Oregon, to attack protesters. Nightly demonstrations in that city, which—though continuous since May—had dwindled to a hundred or so participants, then exploded into the thousands when these officers began nabbing people off the street and packing them into unmarked vehicles. This is the stuff the fascist regimes are made of, and people have been rightly alarmed.
It’s time to normalize the word, “collapse,” to describe the ongoing conditions in the US.
Some would counter it’s well past time—and I won’t argue with that—but I’d say we can no longer credibly claim that it’s too early to make this call.
“Decline” has been happening for decades at this point, as manifested in trends such as increasing class inequality, decreasing wages (as relative to inflation), higher infant mortality, lower life expectancy, a disintegrating social safety net, explosive growth of the prison-industrial complex, deteriorating educational system, etc. More and more people have been feeling the squeeze in their efforts to get by, even if establishment voices make claims to the contrary about “recovery.”
But “collapse” is more than “decline.” It’s when the system has lost enough integrity that it’s gone beyond the point of no return. With the multiple levels of disruption that have accompanied the COVID pandemic, we have passed that point.