2011/12/27

Celebration of Occupy's and Bradley Manning's Birthdays in San Francisco

On December 17th, 2011, Occupy SF and friends had a demonstration in support of the three-month anniversary of Occupy and the 24th birthday of Bradley Manning. It was also the second day of Bradley's long-delayed trial.

We marched from Bradley Manning Plaza (formerly Justin Herman Plaza) down Market, held a brief rally at the intersection of Montgomery and Post, and then marched in the street against traffic and between cars up Montgomery, circling back around to Sue Bierman Park just a block from Bradley Manning Plaza.

When we arrived, a couple people set up tents, there were some speakers, and then, cake!

Happy Birthday, Bradley Manning! birthday cake

2011/12/25

Movie Review: If a Tree Falls

This exceptional documentary discusses the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), a group that has been slandered by the US government as terrorists. They have used arson as a tool to fight back against activities and corporations that harm the environment, while being extremely careful to avoid killing or injuring anyone. In general, my attitude toward the ELF is similar to my analysis of the Weather Underground and other armed revolutionary groups of the West in the 1970s - their actions are legitimate and morally right, but strategically wrong.

But that's an aside. The movie brings, amazingly, nuance to its subject. Focusing on the upcoming trial of Daniel McGowan, it includes interviews with his fiancée, his family, former ELF comrades, law enforcement, and the federal prosecutor of his case. The movie does an impressive job of remaining neutral and letting all parties speak for themselves, allowing us to see the motivations and humanity of all involved.

The director spoke after the screening and pointed out that they have blurbs from both the ELF and the prosecutor saying that they think the movie is important and that people should watch it, a testament to its even-handedness.

I recommend anyone interested in environmentalism or radical movements watch this movie.

2011/12/24

Book Review: Debt: The First 5000 Years (in-progress)

David Graeber's Wikipedia entry starts with "David Rolfe Graeber is an American anthropologist and anarchist". Already you know things are going to be interesting.

I first heard of this book and Graeber in connection to the Occupy Wall Street protests. Apparently he played some part in starting them. He also was involved in the anti-corporate globalization protests of the late 1990s. Then I heard a reference to this book from none other than a Financial Times reporter. Okay, then. If the business press is interested in reading a book on money and debt by an anarchist anthropologist, I'll bite.

I loved the cover. It's a very effective illusion - I really thought that the cashier had placed my receipt on the book itself.

The book's size looks intimidating, but it shouldn't be. About a quarter to a third of the book is endnotes, and the main text is very straight-forwardedly written, which is a pleasure. Graeber covers a ridiculous amount of ground, but does so fairly thoroughly and entertainingly. Near the end, the quality craps out a little bit, and it seems a bit more hand-wavy. This, along with the rather large number of typos, leads me to suspect that the book was rushed out the door. The book is timely, to say the least, and so I can forgive it those flaws.

I'm marking this as in-progress because I read the book quickly, and I mean to re-read it more carefully and talk in more detail about the book's contents. Until then, I'll just say that the book talks about the following:

  • that the State and the Market were born together
  • that world systems have shifted between debt and coinage
  • that coinage and precious metals coincide with war and plunder
  • that debt is related to slavery
  • various non-monetary cultures, and
  • how daily life is a mixture of market relations, small non-monetary debts, and communism.

I highly recommend this book to anyone even remotely interested in the current economic crisis.

You can find it on isbn.nu.

If you are intrigued by this review, you can read Graeber's essay Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology, which has some of the ideas of _Debt_ in an embryonic form.

2011/12/14

An Open Letter to Oakland Mayor Jean Quan

Dear Jean Quan,

I hear you will be a panelist at a forum tomorrow on the future of Occupy. I find that remarkable - almost as if Karl Rove were invited to a friendly discussion on the future of the Democratic Party. You claim to "share the concerns of the Occupy Movement" but so far you've been responsible for some of the harshest repression seen in the US, including the use of tear gas, not-always-lethal projectiles, and flash-bang grenades in the streets of Oakland. To prevent another encampment, you've flooded Oscar Grant Plaza, threatening the iconic oak tree, a symbolic reminder of how the 1% so often destroy nature in pursuit of power and profit. In addition, you've done all that you could to minimize Occupy Oakland's effectiveness, discouraging people from joining the West Coast Port Shutdown and calling it "economic violence". I have yet to hear you use the label "economic violence" to describe evictions, foreclosures, massive fraud by the banks, or the day-to-day suffering of unemployment, job insecurity, and lack of worker control under capitalism.

muddy area on Oscar Grant Plaza with a small sign that says Lake Quan

2011/12/12

Police Violence is a Tactic

A queer group entertained us at the West Coast Port Shutdown in Oakland this morning. They had a life-sized cutout of the infamous Lt. Pike. They handed out these leaflets:


2011/12/09

Chris Jones and the Criminal Neglect of the SFPD

On Tuesday night, December 6th, the SFPD raided and destroyed the Occupy SF encampment. As a side note, related to the main story, there were 3 or so firefighters there - there was some piece of SFFD equipment holding up lights to further illuminate the already well-lit plaza. I talked briefly with a couple of the firefighters, and told them that their participation was shameful. One of them replied sarcastically, "Oh, I feel bad now". My opinion of SFFD dropped significantly. But events the next night would raise my opinion again.

#OccupySF Walked into a crazy situation. 70+ riot cops marching into the GA.
6:29 PM, Dec 7th


On Wednesday evening, December 7th, people came back to Bradley Manning Plaza/Justin Herman Plaza to have a GA (General Assembly meeting). I came by a little bit late, and arrived to see 7 columns of 10 riot cops each positioned in the walkway (and more cops elsewhere) while people were gathered in the plaza. I came to be focused on a small aspect of that evening's events, which I think is rather telling of our current situation. I tweeted from time to time, and include some of those tweets here to illustrate the events and mark them precisely in time.

The cops marched into the plaza and circled a small portion of it - about a third or a quarter. It seems that there was a little bit of time for people to decide whether to stay or not. One of my friends decided to stay in the plaza, willing to risk arrest for the sake of upholding our basic First Amendment rights to assembly and free speech. About 40 or so people and one tent were within police lines for over 2 hours during the ensuing standoff. It should be noted that lots of other people, including myself from time to time, were in the plaza, but outside of police lines - the police did not have enough numbers to surround the entire plaza.

At the edges there was quite a bit of verbal confrontation. Apparently Chris Jones was sitting on the raised embankment - for the most part cops were on or in front of that embankment. However, where he was, as Chris Jones points out in this video of the police attack, the police were standing inside the embankment. Nevertheless they had a problem with his position. He had a sign that said "Bill 1867 = George Orwell's 1984". Bill 1867 is also called the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which, in the words of the ACLU, "would authorize the president to send the military literally anywhere in the world to imprison civilians without charge or trial.... No corner of the world, not even your own home, would be off-limits to the military." That's rather important to be protesting, and it adds a certain tang to the following events.

#OccupySF Two roughly arrested. One's name is Christopher Jones. People are yelling for a medic or 911. REMEMBER: 415-285-1011
6:50 PM, Dec 7th


I was right in front of the police lines, keeping as close a distance to the cops as I could, and doing my part as one of the white people regularly yelling at police officers. To the right of me was a sudden scuffle, and two people were pulled over the embankment, dragged through the grass, and each jumped on by several cops. It looked pretty damn rough given the number of cops, the distance from the crowd, and the lack of urgency. I have to admit that I didn't pay a lot of attention right away, but many of the people nearby were yelling about one of the arrestees. He was still lying prone on the ground a couple minutes after being zip-tied, even though the other arrestee seemed in reasonably good shape and had shifted to sitting up.

People started yelling for medical attention, for a medic, for 911. The cops stood around impervious. Eg:

SFPD cops stand around impassively as Chris Jones is lying on the ground shaking