Protest 3/50: Earth Strike Rolling Picket

Today’s protest was a rolling picket down Oxford street, targeting companies who create climate change. I got volunteered to give a speech on Boots, which I will attempt to reconstruct here:

My speech in front of Boots

Boots is a major distributor of palm oil. Palm oil suppliers to the many brands stocked at Boots, including Unilever, who makes Dove and Axe products; Netstlé; Colgate-Palmoilive and Modelez, have destroyed an area of rainforest almost twice the size of Singapore.

Did any of ask for this destruction? Do we want to damage rainforests, which are vital carbon sinks, places where people live and home to untold numbers plants and animals? This is not a choice that we have made, but a choice made by Boots, to keep costs down and profits up.

25 palm oil groups have cleared over 130,00 hectares of rain forest since the end of 2015. 40% of deforestation was in West Papua – one of the most biodiverse regions on earth and until recently untouched by the palm oil industry.

This was not a choice that you or I made. This is a choice made by Boots, Unilever and other multinational brands that see the rainforests as resources to be pillaged instead of a vital part of the health of our planet.

Boots also sells own-brand electrical products, which contain conflict minerals tantalum, tungsten, gold and tin. “Conflict minerals” means that people died in the making of these electronics. Boots chose to use these suppliers. It is possible to use materials not involved with conflicts, but this is more expensive, which would impact their profits. They sell us products for which people have died, something that we do not want, and did not ask for. Mining for these minerals also has a significant environmental impact.

More than 120 billion units of packaging is produced by the global cosmetics industry every year. This is plastic crap, things literally made to be thrown away. They sell us literal rubbish surrounding the things we want. We buy a pot of moisturiser and the packaging isn’t recyclable and the pot takes a thousand years to biodegrade. We buy a pot which is empty in six months, but the packaging lasts a millennia! Does anyone here want this kind of packaging? Do any of us hope that our empty, discarded moisturiser pots last for a thousand years? They are forcing rubbish on us! This is a decision that Boots has made.

What Boots sells must change! How they sell it must change!

The rolling picket

We started out in front of the tube station at Oxford Circus, tabling and handing out flyers.

Handing out leaflets

From there, we marched down Oxford Street.

Marching Down Oxford Street

We went to HSBC, and there was a speech about banking and the growing investments banks are making in fossil fuels. Then we marched to the next target and so on. We went to Zara, H&M, M&S, EE, Microsoft, the Brazilian Embassy, Boots, McDonalds and possibly a few more places.

Microsoft Picket

We wanted to make the point that climate change is driven by systemic issues, not individual choice. If Boots were to decide to market biodegradable packaging as a more expensive option, then it’s just a luxury good, not a solution.

Ultimately, solving the climate crisis is a transitional demand – which is to say that it’s fundamentally incompatible with the current imperialist system of capitalist exploitation. We need to build a more equitable future where green tech is shared globally and the countries producing the minerals get to reap the benefits not just the costs. Furthermore, those costs must be drastically reduced. Ultimately, we need to make less stuff. Less packaging, slower fashion. Again, this is a systemic change, not a shopping trend. All people need access to durable clothes, produced in a way that respects workers and the environment. Indeed, everything must change.

50 Protests in 2020

One of my New Years Resolutions is to be more politically active. I’m a citizen and things are, you know, bad, so I thought I’d get out more.

Election Protest

I started on this early by turning out the night after the general election. This was march of mostly young people. I felt like I was the oldest person in it. There were a few different groups in separate demonstrations who joined up by the time I found them.

Police Line

The police tried to keep these allied groups apart. They failed, but it was the first of many apparently legally unjustified acts I saw the police carry out that night. People have a right to protest and right to march and there is no justification for separating people.

The march moved very quickly. The police angrily raced through and around us, trying to prevent us from going down larger streets and pen us into a narrow secluded spot. The way they were running and shouting, seemed as if they were responding to some great emergency. I thought there’d been a stabbing, but no, it was us peacefully marching as is our constitutional right.

Marching towards Nelson's Column

I saw a line of police with batons raised, ready to rain them down on one single kid who was just trying to walk past them while the march went in a different direction. I talked to people who told me they’d been hit by police.

Eventually they did kettle us. On the way out of the kettle they photographed every participant, except for about 5 of us. Anyone wearing a scarf or mask was asked to remove it. Almost everyone complied. They did not have the right to ask for this, but they made those of us who refused wait until everyone else had gone before we could go.

Kettle

At the end, instead of telling us we could go, they were rude and taunting. The best I can say is that they were significantly less violent than they were at the student protests, however, their actions seem unjustifiable and it’s hard to see how they’re fit for purpose.

1/ 50: Anti-war demonstration

Stop the War Coalition called an emergency rally by Downing Street in response to the tensions in Iran. A few hundred people turned up with very little notice, which was encouraging. There were several speakers, one of whom said that while the peace movements of 2003 failed to prevent the war in Iraq, they did prevent it from spreading into Iran.

Stop the war protest

It was nice to hear that we’d been successful in 2003 in anything.

After the speeches, it felt like there should have been a march but none was scheduled, so people gradually wandered off.

2/50: Australian Solidarity Protest

On Friday, Extinction Rebellion held a protest at the Australian High Commission in solidarity with demonstrations across Australia. This protest was showed great organisation and intense creativity. There were several striking art aspects of it, including the largest flag I’ve ever seen.

Enormous flag

And a group of performance artists, who did slow processions and posing like medieval French Catholics on a holy day.

Women in red

There was also a samba band that was one of the best I’ve heard in the UK. This combination of sight and sound and well-designed banners made the protest energetic and photogenic. There were also well-planned actions, including blocking traffic intermittently. There weren’t enough people to do an arrestable civil disobedience, so they just stood in the road until the police told them they had to move, so they did, waited several minutes and start again. The cops went along with this compromise.

Stopped bus

There was good gender parity of the speakers, many of whom were Australian, but all of whom seemed to be white. Most of the speakers were excellent. The formula they seemed to use was explaining the situation, personalising it, sharing their distress and then turning to an impassioned set of demands, sometimes engaging in call and response or getting the crowd to chant.

After the speeches ended, the samba band struck up again and many people had some of the free vegan food provided. This was served on paper plates with bamboo sporks. Many people used sidewalk chalk to writer their demands on the pavement.

It seemed like the protest probably numbered more than a thousand at it’s peak, which is a lot for a friday afternoon. I think many may have been people on their lunch breaks.

Protestors at the Australian High Commission

Policing Differences Between the Anarchist Kids and XR

The police treated the XR protest and the amarchist protest extremely differently and I’m going to make some guesses as to why.

The XR protest also had a lot of young people, but had far greater diversity of age, including a few pensioners and certain number of small children. The police seem to have contempt for teenagers and twenty somethings, but don’t want middle class, middle age people to witness this.

Both protests were pretty white, so I don’t know to what extent that played a role. The samba band seemed to be the only diverse section of the protest, although there were a few people of colour scattered in the crowd. It would look bad for the police to hassle a stationary samba band.

The anarchist march was extremely dynamic and unpredictable and openly adversarial to the police’s attempts to prevent them from protesting. XR’s protest was static. Not in terms fo the experience of being there, but the location and actions of the people involved were predictable. Note that the right to protest includes a right to be dynamic and unpredictable. What makes police officers slightly less angry is their problem.

And, indeed, a several of the police did seem incredibly angry and were unable to fully hide their contempt for democracy. It came out yesterday that the police consider XR to be an extremist organisation. The language in the report suggests that any group seeking more than the most cosmetic of reforms is extremist, so this should not be a surprise. The police representative contacted by the Guardian said the listing was a mistake and would be withdrawn.

How will XR react to this? The student protests and the battering of Climate Camp should make it clear that the police can’t be trusted, however, the student protests were mostly attended by students who mostly would have been in their 20s at the time. Those people remember the police actions, but older people don’t. Indeed, people who didn’t go to the climate camp won’t have reacted the same way to footage of police batons (or the actuality of police batons) the same as people who went to the camp. I had been there and I remember. Other people may have forgotten. Also, the police said they would change and they did somewhat.

I’ve just been inducted to XR – I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but I’m also not a complete outsider. In 2003, when I was at the war protests in San Francisco, we used to chant “out of the office and into the streets”. It seems like that is finally happening with XR. People have finally decided to act, which is great. However, the people coming out of the offices don’t have much experience with being over-policed at protests. I think some will accept the police’s explanations for now. This is a new and growing movement. Anything that mobilises people for their first time will have some naivety, which will, as a matter of course, be disabused. I feel hopeful about XR or I wouldn’t have joined.

Protesting Porogation in Brighton

As I was in Brighton on a short holiday, but it’s a constitutional crisis, I took some time out of loafing to go to the protest.

the Brighton protest against prorogation

I showed up and it was a few hundred people and the PA was broken. However, they repaired it and the protest continued to grow for it’s entire duration.

There was already a protest scheduled for this time and date, about Climate Change and it’s links with imperialism and colonialism. This had been organised by QueerAF, a Queer and Trans activist group that engages specifically with the rights of migrants and people of colour. They felt that the emergency of an anti-democratic (and possibly pre-fascist) PM was very strongly related to the event already planned and so the protests were combined.

These are the notes I took during the speeches:

The PA is fixed. The speaker is making the point that we are responding to an attack on democracy and not (just) Brexit. We are in solidarity with all who want to protect democracy.

The next speaker calls for unity. “We are in a pre-fascist situation.” Everyone concerned about this must work together.

Queer AF speaking about the importance of being inclusive to trans people and BAME. Johnson is a threat to all marginalised people. A hard Brexit is a threat to the LGBTQ community. Parliament cannot raise these issues of its suspended. The queer comity is dependent on European civil rights laws and courts.
#QueerAF is asking for allies. The crowd is enthusiastic.

Caroline Lucas is enormously popular. She calls the current government “No deal, Trump-first.”
She pledges that parliament will meet in the house of commons or elsewhere. “This viscous form of brexit was never on the ballot. Johnson has no mandate for it.”
She pledges solidarity with EU migrants.
“We will use every peaceful easy we can to oppose that culture capitalism.” Of US companies asset stripping post-Brexit. (The PA dropped out on “peaceful”)

Lucas calls further for a written constitution and a people’s vote

A union organiser says this is no longer about leave or remain, but about democracy and the rights of workers. Unions must strike to protect workers. We must be on the streets. This cannot be soon from above, but from the grassroots. We must say to our colleagues and neighbours, “I don’t care how you voted in the referendum.” I want to protect us from neoliberalism. Unions have power to act.

Feminists Against Fascism says the government is white upper class men who don’t represent us and don’t care about democracy. It is fine now for us to stand up and be counted. England has been a great democracy and is at risk of losing that. We must take to the streets.

Extinction Rebellion says this is an attack on our last chance to act on climate change. We are at risk of fascism, which will cause climate chaos, floods, does and droughts. Our freedom will enable us to defend the planet. We need to act now. We need to defend democracy and the climate. Extinction Rebellion shows that protest works. They can help train people in effective protest. Rebel Rising is a set of upcoming training events.

On The 20th, they’re will be a big event. Protecting democracy and protecting the planet are the same fight. We are together.
A child next to me has become alarmed and is crying.

A small child is speaking from the stage. Boris Johnson is very annoying and must be stopped. Parliament has not actually been porogued yet. There’s still time

A council member says the EU had prevented war for 75 years.
An unelected PM has used royal prerogative to undermine democracy and attack the post war consensus.
He calls upon MPs to occupy parliament. They must injunction the PM.
A general strike is called for. The ruling government loves history, so let’s telling them of Charles I.

QueerAF is also doing a demo right now about climate change and the Amazon. Climate change is happening everywhere. Capitalism is harming people everywhere. We colonised the world and trashed things for everyone. Democracy is needed everywhere.
They’ve got bust cards. This card tells you what to do when cops try to interact with you or arrest you.

Now somebody is saying cops are great.

A representative of the elderly is saying that Brexit is sexist. She says she thought this was going to be settled when she marched in the 70s.
This is a nationwide demonstration and a national issue. Our democracy is under threat. Donald Trump loves Johnson. England is not for sale.
The new MP this area is a remainder.

An Irish person says we are Europe. This is an infrastructure to create peace, to bring people together. Brexit will trash the Good Friday Agreement. We worked for peace in Northern Ireland and we cannot allow it to be trashed.

We are all EU nationals! The next speaker is an EU migrant. She represents CASE, which helps EU migrants with their legal rights. They aid people getting settled status, but old, retired migrants have failed in their applications. They have no where to go. Even settled migrants are having their rights reduced.
EU laws defend the rights of British workers. All of us are at risk.

An Amazon protestor from QueerAF is also from Paraguay. The Brazilian fires have reached Paraguay. The leader of Brazil has not been fighting fires and is on record of wanting to genocide indigenous people. Colonisation is ongoing. Indigenous people are at the forefront of fighting climate change. They are fighting for their lives. We must stand with them. Europe is profiting from South American deforestation. We must become sustainable.


We must fight for democracy everywhere. Let’s not forget that the Amazon is not just an ecosystem or a source of oxygen, but also people’s homes.
Standing for our own democracy must also mean standing against colonialism. 900k people’s lives are at risk in the Amazon.

A queer tabs sex workers co-op is showing quietly about colonialism and borders. We don’t know or history. There were hundreds of slave owners in Sussex. 70 million people are refugees in the world. We are safe to demonstrate here, but most refugees cannot. We must be on solidarity.
Brexit is racist against people of colour. The Windrush scandal is not confidence. We must stand in solidarity.

Goths against Bojo says the upcoming shortage of medicine will kill her. 75 © of medicines cone from the EU. The government has been stocking up on body bags because they know sick prior will die.

The march is starting and the MC fucking loves the police

But first, a poem!
It is about the need for solidarity. It is urgent and good.
People fought for democracy. We must carry on.

https://mastodon.social/@celesteh/102711325103566468

We then lined up in a march which was big enough that it took quite a while to get out of the park.

Start of the March Setting off towards the march

We marched down to the Brighton Pier and then turned left. The MC was keen that people play instruments if they had them. There was one very nice trio who did have instruments.

Boris Johnson's Got to Go

I would estimate that there were a couple of thousand people marching? I was very near the back and could not see the front.

anti-porogation march

Shortly after we reached the pier, I peeled off to go join my friends and to get some of the holiday I’d come down for.

Vigils and Protests

Hate crimes against trans* people now outnumber hate crimes against LGB people. Because of the increasing globalisation of our struggle, it’s appropriate and important to hold vigils for those killed, whether they were local or half a world away. Let’s be clear, these vigils are protests

Some issues arise. If vigils were not protests, it would be right and appropriate that the family have complete control of the speakers and what happens. This is the case at all funerals and memorial services. However, hate crimes are not isolated incidents. A hate crime is an act meant to target and terrorise an entire community. A vigil is a more public event that must therefore address the larger context in which the person was killed. These events therefore, should have input from the family, but also belong to the community effected.

Anyone can plan a protest or a vigil in regards to hate crimes. Alas, there are many opportunities. Yesterday, I went to a protest/vigil outside the Jamaican High Commission in London in response to the murder of Dwayne Jones. The planners of this event see hate crimes as a global problem and plan many such protests. This is unquestionably a good thing to do. They are fantastic. I’m glad they exist and they take these things on.

However, groups working to call for justice do need to have a bit of training, as was illustrated recently in New York. This is some of what you need to know:

If the person killed was trans, it’s appropriate to have signs and chants that mention homophobia, but you must prominently mention transphobia. These two things are linked, but if somebody was murdered for being trans, it’s confusing and incorrect to make signs that they were murdered for being gay. ‘Trans’ is not a type of ‘gay’. Certainly homophobia is also a problem in places where trans people are murdered, but the issue at hand is transphobia. Again, its ok to link these things. A vigil for a victim of a hate crime is always about the larger climate, but it’s important not to accidentally erase what happened to the individual in question.

Use the correct pronouns. If the pronouns are unclear, go for ‘they’ or something gender neutral. Do not assume that somebody’s birth assignment is the correct way to refer to them.

If you have a trans group in your area, reach out to them or their leaders as soon as you decide to start planning and invite them to the meetings.

At least one of the speakers you have must be trans. If you are in the UK, the Camden LGBT forum may be able to help you find somebody, or the Peter Tatchell Foundation may also be able to help. Also, some of the trans people involved in the planning may be able to speak or know somebody who can.

If the person is a member of a racial or ethnic minority, this should be reflected in who speaks. If they were located overseas, a person from that country or their diaspora should speak.

Remember to invite trans people and trans groups to the protest. If you’re in the UK, send a message to Protest Transphobia.

Reach out to potential allies. If you were planning to protest against hate crimes in Greece, you could reach out to other groups recently targeted there, such as migrants and sex workers. Or a protest about Russia could also include drug addicts, as they also suffer brutal repression under Putin.

What if you can’t do all of these things? Don’t worry. As long as you use the right pronouns and mention transphobia, you’re ok. If you’ve made mistakes about this in the past, don’t worry about them. Now you know.

Edit to add: solidarity

The important key here is solidarity. LGBT-phobia is a problem not unique to any religion or culture. Speakers at the event must not place blame on a either. They can call for social change a change in government policy, but they should not compare any other country negatively to their own. For those based in the UK, remember that homophobia and transphobia in most commonwealth countries came from the colonial law imposed by Britain. If you are in the US, full equality is still lagging. If you’re in Australia, you’ve got major issues with asylum seekers. Etc. There is no country I know of that’s completely safe from hate crimes, so focus on what you want to see change, not on how anybody else should be more like privileged countries or classes. If you are feeling at all smug about your country, just don’t get up to speak. We’re there in solidarity, not judgement.

You cannot shop your way to a better world

Shopping is not activism.
Let me state that again: a targeted, organised, specific boycott, like the United Farm Workers No Grapes boycott of the 1980’s is activism. Because it has specific goals and is part of a larger protest movement. But buying only locally produced, organic produce from your local co-op is not activism. Because shopping is not activism.
Now, it could be very good for you and beneficial for your community to buy organic produce from your co-op, but that doesn’t make it activism. Similarly, you can use voting as a way of mitigating negative political change in your area, but voting isn’t activism either.
There are images going around facebook that suggest the “real” way to occupy Wall Street is by shopping at the right stores. I want to pick apart some of the problems with that.
Many of Walmart’s shoppers are poor. they shop there because they can afford the produce there. It might not be great produce or an altruistic retailer, but they’re eating better than they would be if they shopped someplace else. While it’s true that their communities would be better off if there were more independent retailers, in the mean times, you’re asking them to sacrifice feeding fresh fruits and vegetables to their kids. This is not reasonable. Also, by implication, the people who shop at Walmart become responsible of the bad effects of that retailer, when, in fact, they tend to suffer more keenly from those same effects.
Let’s say you go to an independent shop to buy clothes. Good for you. What are you going to buy? You decide to avoid the cardigan made by sweatshop labour. Good for you. You decide to avoid the one made with polluting synthetic yarn. You decide to get one made from only ethically treated animals. And decide to mitigate pollution by only going for organically fed animals. So you buy a llama hair cardigan made by a local hippie who grew his own llamas locally, feeding them only locally grown organic feed. You have successfully avoided Wall Street, kept your carbon footprint low, bought a sustainable cardigan that will last for several years and keep you warm even when you get soaked by the rain. Good for you! That cardigan probably cost $200, every penny of which stayed local and was invested back into your community. This was a good choice of how to spend your disposable income.
However, buying your hypothetical cardigan was not activism. First of all, although it was a wise investment in your own clothes and the community, this was really not affordable to most people. Walmart shoppers cannot afford to buy your clothes. Buying that cardigan is certainly an ethical act, but it’s not an accessible act. If you want to protest income inequality and economic injustice, this protest could not possibly come in the form of expensive personal purchases.
It’s disappointing that voting and shopping are not actually enough to change the world in a meaningful, positive way. These things are, quite literally, the least we should do. And we should do them. Those of us who can vote should take that responsibility seriously and if you have enough money to be ethical with your purchases, then certainly do it, but don’t make these things out to be bigger than they are. If you want to occupy Wall Street, then you’re going to have to vote with your body, not with your money and not with a check mark in a box, but by physically participating.
Our consumer culture of predatory capitalism has gotten seriously out of control and fixing it requires people of different social classes working together. If your activism is not accessible to the poor, it’s not in common cause with them. Anybody can stand in a mass demonstration. And we need to stand together.
I know we’ve been told our whole lives that consuming stuff is voting with our money, that we have choices that empower us through buying stuff and that we can build our identity (including our moral sense of self) by what we buy, but all of these ideas came from advertisers who want to sell us stuff. It’s been drummed into our heads since birth, but it’s not true. It’s propaganda to keep us buying stuff and docile. The purpose is to prevent protest, not empower an easy for of it.
Activism is a group activity. If it’s done at the mall, it comes with a risk of being escorted out by security. It is visible. It is disruptive. It is what we need.

Occupying Oakland

I was on the West Coast of the US for a few days recently. On my last day there, I spent some time at Occupy Oakland, one of the occupation protests to spin off from Occupy Wall Street. The Oakland protest was an encampment in front of City Hall. I arrived on Tuesday afternoon to find a bunch of tents set up and people milling about. There were signs posted, renaming the plaza to “Oscar Grant Plaza.” Oscar Grant was, of course, the man shot by BART police a year or two ago. Other signs invited the 99% to “hella” occupy Oakland. Another large banner was against corporate oligarchy
Some of the people were working on stuff, so I asked a guy there if I could help. He sent me to the food tent, where there was another guy dishing up soup to passers by. I helped him out for a while and then he went off, leaving me in the tent.
Several people came up for soup, bread, grapes os something to drink. The soup was made in a large pot which was over a camp stove that was keeping it warm. It seemed like about half the people who came asking for food where people who had come specifically for the protest and the other half were people who might have been hungry anyway. I worked a shift in a soup kitchen once many years ago and this was not like that. In the soup kitchen, you have a stark dividing line between who is feeding and who is being fed. Some people bring food and others eat it. In this case, there were people coming constantly with donations, but everybody was eating together.
As long as people just wanted soup, I was fine and I could tell them where to put material donations, but anything more than that and I had no idea. I was alone in the tent for a while, unable to answer questions. Finally the women who knew stuff came back and told me to take a break.
I wandered through the tents to where I could hear music. There were native Americans playing a large drum and singing. A reporter from the local TV news recorded herself talking with them in the background. A circle of lesbians were sitting nearby with a MacBook, planning something. A woman from Revolution Books sold me a newspaper about how Bob Avakian is the second coming of Mao. I sat in the sun until the shade progressed over the entire plaza and then I moved towards more music.
I found a guy with an American flag T-shirt and a rockabilly haircut playing a guitar and singing something about a “rich man” through a PA system, when there seemed to be the sound of drumming getting gradually closer. There was a samba band marching up the street, to the occupation. As they arrived, the guitar player wrapped up his set and the drums played for at least an hour. They had a dance troop with them. Both the drummers and the dancers were amazing. After a long routine, they said they’d brought extra instruments and everybody should join them by playing or dancing. Many people did.
Meanwhile, the kitchen crew had gotten a BBQ going and were cooking something that might have been pork. A woman came by with a bag of apples and handed them out to all and sundry, so some people stood eating ribs or apples, watching people dance. This was Oakland, so the dancers were all races, all ages. Some of them were middle class, some were poor. Some were white, some were black, some were asian. There were LGB people, trans people, straight people, cis people, in what felt like a giant festival. A middle schooler lept into the middle of the dancers and started break dancing to wild cheering. Then a pair of guys in maybe their mid 20s started doing a sort of martial arts dance while the samba dancers danced in a circle around them. One of the martial arts guys was hopping up and down on his hands while the other one did some move I could never hope to replicate.
The joy, the diversity, the food, the music, the use of the word “hella” – it was pure Oakland. It’s why I love the East Bay. It’s why that protest gave me hope. With the wide swath of people participating, with the toilets donated by the unions (and by a local BBQ joint), it felt like real coalitions are happening. And while the demands of the protest aren’t entirely clear, they’re building something that seems like a movement. Real change might come out of this and it is change we desperately need.

Who’s Streets?

I found a call for recordings for a politically themed musical thing, which always makes me happy because this sort of thing motivates me a lot. It’s got an item for consideration, “How do we view the fact that our instruments for organising sounds are linked to instruments designed to control? Is there a relationship between organising and controlling?” (the whole thing is at http://www.sonoscop.net/pop-up/convzepp09ENG.html)

So I was thinking I could use some recordings I made of people chanting at the G20 protests in London and then juxtapose that with recordings of military chants that I could steal from YouTube.

And I am astounded, perplexed and unnerved that pretty much, crowds watching troop drills sound exactly like crowds at protests with chanting. I would not be able to listen to a recording and know if I’m watching an implicitly normative crowd cheering for marching at a football game or a bunch of leftists out to reclaim the streets. (I mean, the words are different, but playing recordings for a non-english speaking audience looses that signifier.)

This is kind of worrying because it suggests that there’s not so much difference between how these positions are articulated or perhaps even between the positions themselves as they manifest in a public space.
Which manifestations are empowering and which are alarming would only seem to have to do with whether your own advantage is the one being promoted. Of course, I think there’s more to it than that. Are we supporting the rights of people who already have power or people who do not? But this suggests that both positions might fill the same needs for observers and participants. And somehow that’s disturbing me. Maybe people are more empowered by being reactionary. How can we reach out to them in that case?
Speaking of protests, there’s one today about biofuels and I don’t know whether or not I want to go. Burning acres of rainforest to grow soybeans for fuel has a worse carbon footprint than burning a whole lot of petrol. Is there a role for non-waste oil biodiesel in a green, sustainable model for fuel? I don’t know. I really believed in biodiesel.

Hexing

I went to a hexing this afternoon. In the past few months, I’ve made it a point to say yes when somebody asks me to do something that I wouldn’t normally do. So when an old friend forwarded me an email about a hexing ritual, open to “both women and men,” once I found out the targets were hate crime committing rapists, I said ok.

We went to Ceasar Chavez park in Berkeley, which is also an off-leash dog area, so I’d been there loads of times before. We were in a stone circle, built to be a solar calendar, with the waters of the San Francisco Bay on three sides of us. Nearby, there were a million happy dogs, kids flying kites, a guy with a remote controlled glider. The grass was green from the recent rains and there was a cool breeze blowing from the West. It was all rather lovely.

As it happened, I was the only guy to go. All but around two of the women were Baby Boomers. Most of us were white, also. I went to Mills – a woman’s college, so I’d dabbled in wiccan stuff and been to a few rituals, but didn’t go on to do it after that. So I’d been to do pagan stuff a few times before and had mostly found it empowering, but not enough to overcome my atheism.

Despite this atheism, I was raised in a superstitious household and come from a superstitious country, so I couldn’t help but think that going to a hexing might be marinating myself in some bad energy. What goes around, comes around. If I wish ill on others, it’s going to come back to me, I guess I believe. I wonder if this sort of thinking is to keep women from being angry or from stewing in it. In any case, I was taking the negative energy seriously, as were the women there.

However, once things were under way, my mood changed from trepidation. The organizer had a bunch of 8.5×11 sized printouts of the Virgin of Guadalupe. She had cut eye holes in them to sort of function as masks and she passed them around with string. So I tied a sheet of paper with a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary to my head. And they set up some banners of her also.

I spend all day yesterday with a member of the Catholic clergy, so the sacrilege was actually getting to me, as much as feel goofy wearing such an odd non-mask. But also, the Virgin of Guadalupe is a symbol which belongs to the Hispanic populations of California, of which, as far as I was aware, nobody was present. My biggest negative issue with wiccans is not that it violates my unbelief, but that it appropriates the beliefs of others. And borrowing this symbol is cultural appropriation. So I felt kind of goofy and awkward and the only guy there and guilty for violating a heritage that both belongs to my people and belongs to others.

We formed a circle and she set up two very small cauldrons. We started by smudging everybody with incense. The woman who did the smudging sang a song while she did it. I didn’t know what to think when she singingly called me her sister. I don’t think she did it in response to me not passing, but because I did pass. Because if a guy was going to come into this space, he could deal with being left out of the language like women have to deal with it too, more often and in more places. Or maybe as she sang that I belonged, she sang the opposite also.

After we were all smudged, we hummed and then the leader invoked the four “grandmothers” of the four cardinal directions. Some coals were put into the cauldrons. She put frankincense on one of them. She had some yarn which represented the four rapist gay bashers who we were hexing. And their younger brother who knew about their crimes and was going to rat them out. I think she had a psychic vision of the brother. She cut the yarns and put them into the empty cauldron. And then she put in extremely foul incense. And we chanted about how they were bad people who were going to get caught and have bad things happen to them, while holding out our arms towards it.

Some of the dog walkers stopped to watch this, but only for a few moments. And also, one of the women had a movie camera with which she was documenting us. It’s Berkeley, so I don’t know if people thought we were making a fictional film or if a bunch of middle aged women dancing in a circle around the BVM, hexing rapists in the dog park is just entirely unremarkable.

The yarn she used was bright red. I don’t know what it was made of, but it was clearly treated with some sort of flame-retardant chemical and wasn’t burning as quickly as expected. So this required dumping on additional incense and some flammable stuff while we clapped and walked in circles around the altar thing.

At the end, when it finally, burned, we were to go around the circle and give blessings. Because calling for justice is positive. So even though it was a hexing, it was a positive thing to do. Thus neatly sidestepping the problems of calling up negative energy or other unseemliness. The first women to give a blessing was the smudger and she went on at length about womyn, and the womyn of the circle, etc. The next was my friend, who made a point of saying “people.” Then it was my turn, so I said “queers.” We all said something and afterwards, people said “blessed be” and then, thank goodness, it was time to remove the Virgin Mary from my head.

My friend and I took off right about then, without helping to tear down, as my friend could tell I wanted to escape. She said, “I swear they said ‘all genders.'” I wondered if I felt more uncomfortable about being in a women’s space or wearing such a goofy mask.

I think the most striking thing about the whole proceedings was that it was not symbolic for the women involved. It was not a protest. It was taking action. They believe that they’ve done something concrete in response to a terrible hate crime.

When I got home, I washed my face and hands, to get the smell of incense off of me, but it also felt like a kind of ritual, getting the previous ritual off of me. And it felt concrete too.

Fortunately, there is more concrete action that can be taken. There’s a fund set up to help the victim. Unfortunately, this kind of hate crime is way more common here than you might guess. What’s unusual is how much attention this one is getting. Gay and lesbian people are especially politicized since the election. Hopefully this energy continues. And as people take away our rights and and say we’re like deforestation and literally assault us, hopefully, our protests and our actions create change, so hate crimes become uncommon, our rights are restored and people are ashamed that homophobia was once so apparent.

Berkeley Politics

My home town, the city of Berkeley, California is in the public eye for objecting to a US Marine Corps recruiting station downtown, near both the university and the high school. The right wing blogosphere went kind of nuts at this and you can read more about it here, at the Berkeley Daily Planet.

I went today to see the protests. Code Pink in Berkeley The anti-war group, Code Pink was set up in front of the City Hall. They had camped over night. This is a women’s group and most, but not all, of the women seemed to be retirement age. There were also a lot of very energetic young people running around, most ly on the other side of the street. Activists in Berkeley
Also across the street were a bunch of right wing pro-war types. Even in Berkeley, alas. Pro-war vs Youth They had a very loud sound system set up playing Sousa marches and country songs. While I was mingling with the Code Pink types, somebody I knew from Mills came up to me. She said that when the pro-war folks showed up at 5AM, they started chanting “Burn! Burn! Burn!” at Code Pink. “They just seemed very angry.” She said.
Parked behind all the action were a bunch of news vans. Code Pink in Berkeley Whenever the police started herding people around, something they were fairly aggressive about, the news cameras sprung into action.
I didn’t stay at the demo long. I was enlisted to help distribute water to the Berkeley High students. Many of them had cut class to go protest. I heard one girl telling her friends that her “mommy” had given her permission to skip school and protest. The kids involved seemed to be very diverse – girls and boys, many races, many teen sub groups. Skaters, goths, and jocks were all out there, all having a good time.
I quit distributing water when the kids started throwing it on each other. I’m not going to carry several liters of water around on my shoulder so they can play with it. As I got on my bike to leave, I went very near one of the news vans. Inside, I heard the anchor ranting about how this sort of thing has been going on for 40 years. The unbiased media was full of scorn for the peace movement. Isn’t it tired to spend the last 40 years advocating for social justice and non-violent conflict resolution?
Even if some individuals have been advocating the same thing in the same way for almost half a century, that doesn’t make their cause less right. Peaceful Hippie in Berkeley

Back from France

I’m back and I want to share all. I wasn’t sure where to start, especially since the trip ended much as it began: biking across Paris, towing a dog, trying to make a train connection. The second trip was a bit more hectic than the first because it involved a much farther away train station, a shorter time and a case of wine. Some Parisian yelled «Bravo!» as I struggled uphill across and intersection, trying to pick up speed to make the train on time. We had an hour and 5 minutes, two foldy bikes, a foldy trailer, dirty clothes, camping gear and the aforementioned dog and case of wine. And a medieval-style bugle that I bought in Orléans. 20 minutes to unfold everything. 20 minutes to bike from Montparnasse to Gare du Nord, 20 minutes to refold. I highly recommend sprinting across Paris with so many things, especially down the hill from the Sorbonne to the Seine.

We arrived in Paris the day of the election. The streets were crawling with Gendarmes, prepared for possible unrest following the results.
First stop, was the bakery near where my apartment used to be. God, they make the best bread in the world. First thing off my bike and I step in dog shit. Yay Paris. Some older French ladies approached me and spoke to me about my dog trailer. Maybe it was the nice weather. Maybe it was the expectant air around the election, but probably it was the dog. I almost never had conversations like that when I lived there.
The streets were full of flics and first-time roller bladers. At every corner, there were grim-looking cops in riot gear and young people on wheels desperately clinging to phone poles. Xena was trying desperately to escape her trailer as we slowly crossed the city. Nicole rode behind me, repeating “good dog!” over and over again. She said the scowling gendarmes broke into amused smiles as they spotted the dog.
We arrived in Orléans later that evening and went to the tourist office, which was closed. They also had cops everywhere. I tried to call the campground listed in the guidebook, but they didn’t answer their phone. Rather than ride the 5km to the campground with the risk of having to ride another 5 km back, we went to the Ibiss, a 2 star hotel chain in Europe, roughly equivalent to the Motel 6 in the US.
And everywhere I went that day, I head over and over «C’est un chien!» It’s a dog! but I felt very proud of myself when a kid added, «C’est genial!» That’s brilliant! indeed. My goal was to take my dog with me and avoid the hassle of trying to find a sitter, but I don’t mind amusing the French also.
Over dinner, I learned that Sarko had won. I hate that guy. He said several months ago that the (poor, immigrant) suburbs should be cleaned out with a pressure hose, a comment that contributed greatly to the riots that followed shortly thereafter, leaving many cars burned. His parents were immigrants! He’s like the Ward Connerly or Clarence Thomas of France. In the time leading to the run off, he actively courted supporters of Le Pen, the ultra-right nationalist who adores Joan of Arc. Not because she was an awesome cross dresser who could place a cannon, but because she drove France’s foreign enemies out of France – you know, like um, immigrants. Because immigrants are totally against the country they want to live in (yeah, I hate France and want to destroy it). And Joan of Arc was not accompanied by a huge bunch of Scots who were also foreign and there to help her.
As I was walking back to the hotel, I heard whistling and shouts. A huge crowd of youths came up behind me on the Rue de Jeanne d’Arc. They had a bedsheet banner that had an anti-sarko slogan on it. Other folks were joining them as they marched. The joiners had their cell phones in hand and busily SMSed and called their friends to let them know to join in. (I heard one guy saying something about “le podcast.”)
as they marched down the largest street in town, towards the cathedral, under the huge patriotic banners and flags the town hung for it’s yearly festival, the older, whiter, richer Orléanaise leaned out their apartment windows and looked worriedly on the crowd below. In the expensive apartment, old white folks worried. In the street, a young, diverse crowd marched, whistled and gave speeches.
WhenI heard Sarko won, I was disappointed, but not surprised. The poll numbers were in favor of him. He was running against a woman. Her “yay I won” speech after the first round was wooden and boring in a manner unsurpassed by even John Kerry or Al Gore (although maybe Bob Dole could give her a run). But still, I hoped somehow she would win and I was angry that she hadn’t. But then, I saw these other angry kids and marched with them for a while. They were unhappy, but engaged. Their actions demonstrated hope. They weren’t in the street just because they were angry. They were in the street in their smallish town because they knew it mattered. Their participation in this semi-spontaneous march meant something, not just to them and the worried old folks, but to their whole nation.
I felt tears in my eyes. How can such a great country be so stupid? I went back to the hotel to sleep.