Why Bail Out Those Using Stupid Tactics?

(Note: When I first wrote the following, I was unsure if I should post it as-is; at first I thought it was too extreme and blunt. But a friend said "No, I think you should, it's how most grown-ups think." So, here it is.)

Last week there was a big protest in Florida against a natural gas facility being built that was conveniently located near the site of a big Earth First! semiannual meeting. After each of these meetings, which move around the country every time, organizers pick an environmentally-bad thing to go do a protest against when the meeting concludes - a coal mine, a factory, whatever is handy.

This time it was Palm Beach County's under-construction West County Energy Center. Ten or twelve activists locked down in a circle to prevent trucks carrying rock from getting out. Police came, riot gear, yada yada, hundreds moved aside but 27 were arrested. What did it accomplish? The construction was halted for 6 hours, traffic was blocked, and a couple local papers ran short articles.

Now we, the general, caring activist public around the world, are being asked to finance the bail bond for these brave folks.

Maybe I sound a little curmudgeonly, but frankly I think the whole action was ineffective, ill-advised, and wasteful of time and energy. It didn't have any real effect, it pissed off motorists and workers in the area, and it didn't even have much of a symbolic effect since national media didn't pick up on it. It's also just boring and old and tired, except to the couple dozen young traveller-kid adrenaline junkies that sat out there and got high from the excitement of "sticking it to the man".

And now I'm being asked to waste my money on its aftermath? On an action I never approved or even knew would happen (well, actually, of course I did, in general, because like i said, it happens every 6 months like clockwork).

Think of what else the money could have gone for.
The bond, to bail out 27 white gringos (at least from the photos they all looked pretty gabacho) from jail, was $13,500. That could feed about 22 Bolivian families for a year. Just as one example. Or another example closer to home - that's almost exactly the entire (minus in-kind donations) budget of the documentary about war tax resistance that I'm working on.

Agreed, we could debate about what is more or most effective. But that's not my point. I'm just asking you to think about it. Tactics and strategy matter, and the reasons, and aftereffects, and costs, behind their execution matter.

Another example of this kind of vain and foolish "action" is the upcoming "un-welcoming" of the RNC and DNC in Minneapolis and Denver. More useless mobilising, activists flying or bussing or driving or hoppin' freights in from all over the nation for a week, running around in the streets taunting cops, tipping over dumpsters and shouting at limos that might have delegates (and let's not even address for now that the candidates are already decided by then - the Conventions are just elaborate theater put on for show) in them, all so the kids can later retire to the convergence center each night and sing songs and smoke weed with their cool hipster activist friends and maybe get laid (direct action really gets the hormones pumping, y'know). What does it really accomplish outside of those exciting, social, "coming of age" goals for these youths?

What's effective and what's not? Should one engage in a tactic just because that's what's been done every year for years? Should one support something and bear the consequences just because someone else made a foolish decision? Should one be involved with foolish decisions just to satisfy some desperate and frustrated youthful need for adventure and catharsis?

This does seem harsh, but at this point I think it's extremely important to start honestly critiqueing tactics and strategies. Social change isn't just an empty gesture for bored suburbans youngsters to inject excitement back into their middleclass lives for a few years. A lot of people are in it for the long haul, and they're in it to win. So let's honestly and carefully figure out what works, what doesn't, and why and why not.


Some friends of mine have created a great site called Toonlet, where you can make your own cartoons really easily. here's one i just made:

Ghost Fleet

Our WTR shoot yesterday ended on the shore of Suisun Bay looking out at a bunch of old warships parked in the water and rotting for the last 50 years or so.
It was a fitting spot to reflect on war and its various pricetags. And just a weird site.

View Larger Map
more background on the ghost fleet.

Bizarro World

Did I wake up in an alternative Universe? I see this morning in my inbox a message to 20-some indymedia lists from one Elijah Gatewood, supposedly a "contributing journalist at IMC affiliates for five years." This Mr. Gatewood is proposing that the Independent Media Center endorse Michael Bloomberg for president.

What?! How could Elijah Gatewood have any familiarity with Indymedia and somehow think it would be conceivable that we would want to endorse Bloomberg, or for that matter ANYONE for the office of President? This guy is a clueless moron, or else I have rolled over in bed through a rift in space-time and woken up in Bizarro World.

It never ceases to amaze me how many crazy wingnuts are out there....

Esteban Caliente interviews Steev Hise

It's been over a week since I uploaded this to the Pan Left video blog, but I forgot to mention it here. It's an interview between my alter ego and me, another humorous Esteban Caliente piece that I started at the G8 in Germany back in June and never finished editing. So I decided to complete it on the last couple days of 2007. It's a bit of retrospection and introspection, a look back at a week of marches and rallies and yelling and chanting, and questioning of progressive activist tactics and strategies as well as my own place in them.

Your browser is not able to display this multimedia content.

it's downloadable too.

Hedges on WTR

Chris Hedges plugs war tax resistance in a comment in The Nation, December 10 issue.

A country that exists in a state of permanent war cannot exist as a democracy. Our long row of candles is being snuffed out. We may soon be in darkness. Any resistance, however symbolic, is essential. There are ways to resist without being jailed. If you owe money on your federal tax return, refuse to pay some or all of it...

For him, a war with Iran is the breaking point that will push him into that tactic. Unfortunately he fails to mention that others have been doing it since Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Vietnam... or World War 2.

Acts of Omission and Commission and "Mission Accomplished"

What are the ethics of doing versus not-doing? Of quitting versus "staying the course"? If you got a group of people into something, or helped get them into it, and they may or may not be worse off because of it, but you want out, are you justified in counting yourself out? Or do you have an obligation to finish what you started, no matter what? And what if others are telling you to quit? What is the moral calculus for deciding when, for each individual, they say, "I will not be a party to this," as opposed to, "I will try to help salvage this mess," or somewhere in-between?

What's the Oil of the 21st Century?

There's a project called Oil 21, "Perspectives on Intellectual Property," started by the cool folks at Bootlab in Berlin. The name come from a quote by some bigshot at Getty Images in which he claimed that IP is the oil of the 21st century.

This is perhaps an unsurprising statement (the Getty family made their money from oil, afterall), but it's a really stupid metaphor, and I'll tell you why: Oil is the Oil of the 21st century. I'm positive that at least until 2040 or so petroleum will continue to be something that shapes the world, informs geopolitics, and causes conflict around the globe more than any other resource, with the possible exception of water.

I guess I'm glad someone still cares a lot about fighting the good fight over in IP land, that virtual world where songs and books and images are drops of vital water in some virtual desert.

But I've really moved on. Most of the masses in the rich world don't care and it's irrelevant - youth steal music and movies and no one can ever stop them. Most of the rest of the world is too busy fighting for water and a place to live and food to eat. Occasionally in that world someone earns enough to buy that food by stacking some pirated DVDs on a blanket in the street and selling them for 50 cents a pop. That will never be stopped.

So, it's a niche issue for rich academics and artists. I'm done. I'm more interested in, for instance, the drops of water that might sustain the real thirst of people in other, more visceral deserts.

Violence vs. Imagination

A largely excellent essay by David Graeber appeared on Infoshop.org the other day. It's called "REVOLUTION IN REVERSE (OR, ON THE CONFLICT BETWEEN POLITICAL ONTOLOGIES OF VIOLENCE AND POLITICAL ONTOLOGIES OF THE IMAGINATION)" It's really worth reading, if you can pick through the typos and missing words and other copy-editing gaffs (or maybe it was never copy-edited past the rough draft? It's really quite astounding how such an academic piece of writing could have so many such errors. hmm).

The piece is mostly about the difference between those who use force and those who use imagination, to get what they want from other people. Imagination, in this case, includes communicating with other people and trying to understand them, which violence never requires, except to some extent, as Graeber points out, when the sides are relatively evenly matched.

He uses this comparison to look at how recent developments in progressive activism have proceeded. One point he makes during this is what an influence feminist thought has had on the 'movement'. Feminism is more than just demanding that women are "equal" in some abstract way, but is also about learning things from how women and other opressed groups look at things.

For much of human history, what has been taken as politics has consisted essentially of a series of dramatic performances carried out upon theatrical stages. One of the great gifts of feminism to political thought has been to continually remind us of the people is in fact making and preparing and cleaning those stages, and even more, maintaining the invisible structures that make them possible

The Truth About 9/11 "Truth" Theories

Douglas Rushkoff writes for the new issue of Arthur an excellent, pointed, yet concise piece about what's wrong with 9/11 conspiracy theories and theorists. Here's the main nugget of wisdom, though there are many others:

By looking under the rug for what isn't even there, we neglect the horror show that is in plain view. In the process, we make it even easier for the criminals running our government to perpetuate their illegal, unethical and un-American activities.

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