I haven’t posted for a while, but I wanted to make my annual “here’s where I’m donating money this year.” Though I am an anti-capitalist, I have long believed that our lack of understanding of and engagement with money on the Left has and continues to hurt our organizing. Of course it’s complicated, but it comes down to the question: What can we do within the current economic system to best work for systemic change?
This means we need to:
1. Examine our own consumption and participation in capitalism. How much money do I personally need to survive? What does survival mean? Can I act generously with “my” money in a way that directly contradicts the behaviors taught by capitalism? Once my (minimum) needs are met, what should I do with the other money I have? How do we find creative ways to work together so that we need less money to exist?
2. Generously support people and projects who are doing good work, so that they can struggle less and work more. While this support can come in many forms, direct or indirect financial support needs to happen until we all having housing and enough to eat and adequate medical care, because whether we like it or not, right now those things require money. How do we find creative ways to work together so that we can “earn” money when it is needed?
Early on May Day, the FBI announced it had foiled a terrorist plot to blow up a bridge in Cleveland, Ohio – my hometown. Then days later, another “terrorist plot” was disrupted at the NATO protests in Chicago. (Arun Gupta has done some excellent on-the-ground reporting from both cities).
In the last few weeks, A lot of my emotional space has been taken up by these things. In both cases, an infiltrator or informant basically pushed people into doing (or talking about) something they in all likelihood would never have done, in the service of fear-mongering and justifying increased surveillance and targeting of protesters.
Will Potter, author of Green is the New Red: An Insider’s Account of a Social Movement Under Siege, has an excellent post on this topic summarizing the situation and reflecting on the overall shift it tactics by the state: “It’s nothing new to see widespread police misconduct and abuse in the days leading up to high-profile demonstrations… In the last several years, though, that decades-old model has been transforming. All the old tactics are still there. But now the message is being sent not just through arrests or police violence, but through the FBI working with local cops to infiltrate and disrupt protest groups, provoke and coordinate illegal activity, and then charge some activists with ‘terrorism.’”
We talked for a while and she explained it all to me. I recognize that she is essentially a salesperson and her job is to make it sound like a good deal. She succeeded. You can read all about it on Groupon’s site for selling their service to businesses, Groupon Works.
Despite the sales pitch, I was skeptical. I started talking to a bunch of people about their experiences and thoughts about it and eventually decided not to do it.
Why I said No
Let me be a bit conceptual here for a moment.
Like most small business owners, I consider what I do a craft. Each cupcake order I make is custom made in a small batch, usually by me with the occasional help of an assistant. What I charge for my work is that (sometime elusive) sweet spot between what it actually costs me to produce the order and what people think it’s OK to pay for cupcakes (aka “what the market will bear”). There’s not really a lot of wiggle room there.
Capitalism is really good at instilling in us the desire to pay as little for things as possible, despite what the things cost to produce. This doesn’t make sense. When we look at the “slow food” and artisan food movements, where things like organic vegetables and fancy cheese and nice bread cost a lot, the producers say it’s because that’s what it actually costs to make the food. While I’m sure we can all think of fancy food and artisan things that are over-priced, for the most part, while we live in a system where we pay for food (which is kind of absurd, but that’s another story), I think that charging what it actually costs to make something is right.
Offering a coupon (Groupon says it needs to be at least 50% off) encourages that kind of behavior – of thinking not of what something is worth, but a more self-focused “what kind of deal can I get this for” attitude that I don’t want to encourage. At all. It’s not the way to value things that are produced ethically, by people who care about what they are making and their customers.
Not offering a coupon feels like I’m saying “this is what my product is worth.” Good. Let’s go with that.
Isn’t it worth it for the marketing / getting my name out there?
As someone who works on publicity and marketing, I think about how to get the word out about projects all the time. Unlike other people, I think spending money on marketing and promo efforts is important and can be effective when done right.
When people say “I lost a lot of money using Groupon,” Part of me thinks of that dollar figure not as lost money but as the cost of a marketing effort. Then the discussion is, is that dollar amount something I am willing to pay as an investment in marketing? and did I gain customers as a result? For most people, the answer is no.
For example, when I look at my Groupon/coupon buying behavior and that of my friends, which I can guess is not that different from most of the Groupon-buying public, I pretty much only buy coupons for places I already go or have no intention of going to again after I’ve spent the coupon.
Most people who buy online coupons are coupon shoppers. If they want more cupcakes, they’re not going to buy from me, they’re going to wait for the coupon for the next cupcake place (because we all know that cupcake places are everywhere right now).
Now that I’ve had the opportunity to think about this in an in-depth way, I’m not doing that any more. It basically financially penalizes the small businesses and restaurants that I am patronizing and want to support. They’re not gaining me as a customer since I already go there (or don’t intend to go again), they’re just losing money on the transaction. If I don’t want people to do that to me, why am I going to do that to others?
One of the caveats I can imagine is that if I were offering, say, a yoga class where my costs stayed the same even if the number of participants increased, then it might make sense. But, obviously, cupcakes are different than yoga. And if I offered a class, I would probably just offer an introductory package (like half off your first month or something), bypass Groupon, and spend my time and money on social media.
It’s been a totally fun project but also really challenging in a lot of ways. To start with, there’s the sheer volume of music that I love and listen to – I don’t think she realized what an absurdly small number 12 is. So, I ended up making two CDs with a total of 24 songs, dividing them into punk/hardcore, and well, everything else.
I did my best to narrow it down by picking bands that have been important to me and then choosing one song from that band – which sometimes given five (or more) albums worth of material to choose from, was daunting. Literally every song I chose comes from an album that is on my list of all time favorite records. There are so many great bands that aren’t included here that pressing “publish” pains me a bit. Maybe that means there needs to be a part two (and three and four….).
I spent a lot of time thinking about what bands have been truly influential in my life. And though the second CD includes some really important ones (like Billy Bragg, Casey Neill, The Mountain Goats, and the Avett Brothers), it’s the punk/hardcore CD that I spent the most time on. All the songs I chose have been particularly meaningful because they define a certain formative period of my life, including where I developed many of my most important and lasting friendships and where from a young age I developed my politics and belief systems – that the capitalist system doesn’t work for everyone, that it can change, that we can make that change happen (as opposed to waiting for someone else to make improvements), and that there are better alternatives. Each song has a story (or many stories) associated with it, so you’ll have to forgive me a bit with the authobiographical stuff. So much of this is truly the story of my growing up.
I have a few more comments at the end, but here are the songs. Keep in mind that much of this commentary was written for someone outside of the punk scene. If you want me to make you a copy of this CD, just email me with your address and I’ll send it right out, or I’ll send you a download link. The CD mostly is album versions, and links here are also mostly to album versions, the video clips are just for fun.
These three bands represent a particular type of melodic hardcore that centers around Richmond, VA. There are loads of examples of the Richmond sound, but these three are the most important to me. Inquisition and Strike Anywhere in particular (those two bands have the same singer, Thomas), exemplify the kind of politically charged lyrics that I really go for. The Inquisition album is called “Revolution, I think it’s called inspiration” says it all – that we want/need change, that we can make a better life, and that we just need to be inspired to get there. Overwhelmingly I find their lyrics political yet very positive, which I love. I love that the music is really energetic and upbeat and makes me want to move.
It is a great regret for me that I never got to see Inquisition live, though I have seen Strike Anywhere a couple of times. I’ve always been inspired by Thomas’s dedication and humility, qualities I’ve come to recognize as essential in people I most admire. One of the first issues of Clamor had a quote from this Strike Anywhere song on the back (“I will do everything to kill the sleeping cop in me.”).
I remember being instantly attracted to Avail’s sound when I first heard them, and this is one of their early songs. I first saw them live at a YMCA on the west side (I’m thinking Brecksville but I could be wrong on that) and just fell in love with their sound and their energy, particularly live. One of their first recordings is the “Live At King’s Head Inn” 10″ that I really loved. I’ve probably seen them live more than another band aside from Hot Water Music. The singer, Tim Barry, does solo stuff now and one of their roadies I met during that era, AC Thompson, is an amazing investigative journalist now, and another is part of 1984 Printing. I just love it that people I met a long time ago have grown up to do really amazing things (and so many of them have – there’s something to think about there, probably.).
The stated goal of Occupy Oakland’s day of action on Saturday January 28 was to take over an abandoned building and repurpose it for the good of the people. I participated in the action for part of the day and feel like I have spent the last two days defending the action to friends over breakfast, on Facebook, and on the phone. If you aren’t aware of what happened, this blog post does a good job of summarizing what I witnessed in person, and for moments I was not apart of, that I verified with multiple individuals I trust.
I know this post is long, but I can summarize it in one sentence: Regardless of how you feel about the chosen tactics from Saturday’s demonstrations, OPD is out of control, and the ability to gather, demonstrate, and protest is sacred and needs to be defended.
OK, here it is in much longer than one sentence:
- Taking over unused buildings and doing something useful with them is a good idea. Although I may disagree with the specific tactical decisions that were made, this is a good step forward for Occupy and the large number of people who turned out to this event (by any estimate, at least 1,000) is evidence that a lot of other people think so too. I have long supported squatter’s movements and will continue to do so. Property and who has access to it or not is a huge issue that cannot be ignored.
- I did not participate in the meetings leading up to this occupation and all of the people who have been criticizing the action that I have been arguing with didn’t either. It’s unfair to make judgments and say “they should have done X” when we were unwilling to participate in the (open) decision-making process. We also don’t know all the factors that went into any specific tactical decisions, and I am willing to make a good faith guess that the people who were making decisions were doing the best they could with what they could.
- The group that organized this action did an excellent job of putting out why they wanted a building and what they wanted to do with it. You can read some here. This was smart.
- When there is a crowd of 1,000+ people involved, no one can (or should) control everything. OK, some people burned a flag. Fine. Next.
- This photo of the crowd by Len Tsou gives you an idea of what the march was like. When we approached the building (the Henry J Kaiser auditorium in Oakland), it was surrounded by riot cops. It was around 3 p.m. I was happily walking along talking with a friend and hanging out next to the Brass Liberation Orchestra. It was a gorgeous day. There were kids and families and old people and young people and yes, there were “black bloc” people there (how I hate that moniker).
When the march reached the Lake Merritt side of the building, the police announced a dispersal order (aka leave now or you will be arrested), despite the fact that there was a large ditch and construction fences between the building and the march. This seemed a bit premature. The marchers were not being threatening in any way, other than by our mere presence. Despite this, the police repeated the dispersal order and then began to use smoke/flash canisters to disperse the crowd. Did you look at that photo? Does that look like a crowd that needs to be dispersed by smoke bombs? It can not be overstated that the Oakland Police Department’s actions were heavy handed, escalated the situation, and set the tone for the rest of the day.
The march moved on and there was a confrontation with the police around the side of the building. Yes, there were protesters there with shields and gas masks. Despite that, I feel strongly that the use of tear gas on a largely unprepared crowd was an excessive use of unnecessary force by the OPD. I was a half a block away from the confrontation and felt the gas.
- It was clear from that point on that the OPD was intent on escalation with the ultimate goal of arresting as many individuals as possible. This video shows what happened when a second large march later in the evening was surrounded and “kettled” by OPD. All of my friends who have participated in anti-war or any other kind of demonstration should be f-ing outraged that the OPD thinks that it is OK to surround an entire march and arrest everyone! Instead, many are criticizing the action and all of those of people who were expressing themselves just as we have countless times. Just because you disagree with the goal of the day, does not mean that the OPD’s actions are OK. Kettling IS NEVER OKAY. Maybe you didn’t notice the part about them using tear gas on people who they had trapped and couldn’t go anywhere? The “vandalism” in this video, of people pushing down a fence, is not vandalism but a (successful) attempt to escape a messed up situation and imminent, unjustified arrest. If I had stayed around a little longer, that would have been me.
This year, as people are becoming more and more aware of how much collective choices about money can impact people and things (think Occupy Wall Street and the Move Your Money project), it’s important to understand that giving money to awesome organizations is as important as withholding our money from bad corporations.
Every December I give away donations that equal just 1% of my annual income. It sounds like a pittance, but if we all did it… well, it wouldn’t be a pittance then. And it would make a difference.
Here are my 2011 choices:
- The National Lawyers Guild – They have been working overtime this year helping out all those thousands of people who got arrested at Occupy protests around the U.S., as well as all of their normal cool stuff. They help us out, and we should help them out too. Here’s a link to their donate page.
- Riseup – A perpetual choice. This small collective that provides free, secure email, list, and hosting services to the radical community. Just the email accounts alone they provide allow the global justice community to survive, and they are keeping us out of the Google empire. Go directly to their donate page here.
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation - Still the coolest. In addition to awesome posts like this “Know Your Rights” summary from this summer, they work on things like legislation and lawsuits that directly impact us all. Their donate page is here.
The video above is of the University of California police spraying pepper spray on students at UC Davis this week. I can’t even watch the video all the way through. This follows last week’s clubbing of UC Berkeley students, not to mention the scenes of police violence from Oakland, New York, Portland and other cities. There have been thousands more photos and videos of police brutalizing protesters who are just standing or sitting there, who aren’t threatening police in any way. After the UC Berkeley incident, the Chancellor’s letter basically said that the police were “forced” to use their batons and that linking arms is “not non-violent civil disobedience.” Huh?
If you think those are isolated, check out Joshua Holland’s “Caught on Camera: 10 Shockingly Violent Police Assaults on Occupy Protesters” in Alternet yesterday. I couldn’t watch them.
I can’t believe that anyone thinks that raiding camps in the middle of the night, or using batons, tear gas, and rubber bullets is acceptable. I literally just can’t believe that someone somewhere gave the go ahead to any of it. And the rest of us can’t pretend it’s not happening. Regardless of how you feel about the Occupy movement, this is not OK.
Here are some links to other police-related stories that I’ve been following
- Paramilitary Policing From Seattle to Occupy Wall Street – The Nation
- Occupy Movement’s “Day Of Action” in Pictures – The Guardian (check out #2 and 4 in particular)
- Retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis Arrested at OWS, Calls NYPD Rationale ‘a Farce’ – Death and Taxes
- The cop group coordinating the Occupy crackdowns – SF Bay Guardian
- Police Response to Occupy Wall Street is Absurd – Forbes
The caveats being, of course, that there are communities that are brutalized by police every day and no one pays attention. Plus, similar tactics were used to suppress the civil rights movement, except then it was water cannons and attack dogs.
I’ve been absolutely thrilled with the amount of talking that has been going on about the Occupy Wall Street actions. When is the last time that so many people were talking so much about class and capitalism?
So many people are saying so many smart and interesting things, I wanted to share some of my favorites – and I hope you will too. I don’t agree with everything everyone has said here but I’ve refrained from editorializing, and although I’ve highlighted some of my favorite quotes here, most of the pieces are really just excellent through and through. As I was reading over them to pick quotes, I just kept thinking, “Fucking brilliant!” It’s been a long time since people have been so inspired.
- Crimthinc: “Dear Occupiers: A Letter from Anarchists”: “The problem isn’t just a few “bad apples.” The crisis is not the result of the selfishness of a few investment bankers; it is the inevitable consequence of an economic system that rewards cutthroat competition at every level of society. Capitalism is not a static way of life but a dynamic process that consumes everything, transforming the world into profit and wreckage. Now that everything has been fed into the fire, the system is collapsing, leaving even its former beneficiaries out in the cold. The answer is not to revert to some earlier stage of capitalism—to go back to the gold standard, for example; not only is that impossible, those earlier stages didn’t benefit the “99%” either. To get out of this mess, we’ll have to rediscover other ways of relating to each other and the world around us.” And then: “Police can’t be trusted. They may be “ordinary workers,” but their job is to protect the interests of the ruling class.”
- Isabell Moore, “Why I Support the 99%: An Open Letter to My Family”: “I believe this financial crisis is not our faults. But I do I believe actual people, banks and corporations, the 1%, made it happen because of their obsession with a “thing-oriented society,” as said by Dr. King. They have gotten richer during this whole thing while most of the rest of us have gotten poorer. This is the way capitalism works and I don’t like it one bit. We will all benefit from a shift to a “person-oriented society.”
- Malcolm Harris, Jacobin, “Occupied Wall Street: Some Tactical Thoughts”: “This is a marathon, not a sprint or a hamster wheel. “
- The New York Times Op Ed from Sunday 10/9, “Protesters Against Wall Street“: ” It is not the job of the protesters to draft legislation. That’s the job of the nation’s leaders, and if they had been doing it all along there might not be a need for these marches and rallies. Because they have not, the public airing of grievances is a legitimate and important end in itself. It is also the first line of defense against a return to the Wall Street ways that plunged the nation into an economic crisis from which it has yet to emerge. “
- Manissa McCleave Maharawal, guest post on Racialicious, “SO REAL IT HURTS: Notes on Occupy Wall Street“: “For some people this is the first time they have thought about how the world needs to be recreated. But some of us have been thinking about this for a while now. Does this mean that those of us who have been thinking about it for a while now should discredit this movement? No. It just means that there is a lot of learning going on down there and that there is a lot of teaching to be done.” Read the rest of this entry »
I have several quick thoughts about this.
1. Steve Jobs should not be held accountable for the faults of capitalism. Many of my friends are posting on Twitter and Facebook that iPhones are made in factories which have deplorable conditions, and they aren’t recyclable.
I don’t have the statistics on this, but I will bet you that most of the other electronics we use (as well as our cars, gasoline, and a lot of clothes and other things) are made in similar ways. Could Steve Jobs probably have done more to change it? Yes. Did he profit from it? Yes. Is this Steve Jobs’ fault? No.
I guess I am having a visceral reaction to some of my activist friends condemning Steve Jobs while at same time clutching laptops and cell phones. It is our entire global economic system that makes it possible for people to be poisoned in factories in Asia while Americans pretend it isn’t happening. Consumer demand – our own personal consumption, my consumption – drives this system and creates the need for poisonous factories.
Regardless of what you think about capitalism, Jobs (and the legions of people who work at Apple or influenced and helped him along the way) changed the way we interact with technology and each other, for for the better.
That is important. And good.
I’ve thought about this a lot – how to appreciate the good parts of a person while recognizing the bad parts exist? Very few people are saints. When I look at the people I know in my own life, which include well known punk rock scenesters or activist rockstars, very few of them are without fault. Some of them have big faults, like abusing their girlfriends or stealing money or otherwise being total shitheads – does this mean we should ignore their contributions that make the world a better place? I think we can accept the good and the bad. Acknowledging the good and the bad doesn’t mean that you’re erasing or ignoring the bad. I don’t think it’s asking too much for people to have a complex understanding of the way the world works, where things aren’t just “good” or “bad.”
2. Too bad that Steve Jobs died today because then the Occupy Wall Street protests wouldn’t get the coverage they deserved.
Sigh. First of all, the protests will never get the coverage they deserve.
Second, I would like to remind everyone of Manjula Martin’s excellent opinion piece last week on this very thing – the confluence of many things happening at the same time, especially on social media, and how it *is* actually possible to experience and understand and *feel* all of them. She was talking about how social media has turned into a space where we judge each other’s emotions.
In “The Week Social Media Broke My Heart,” she was talking about Troy Davis, the release of the hikers, and R.E.M. breaking up all happening at the same moment, but she could totally be talking about Steve Jobs dying and Occupy Wall Street.
I just re-read the piece looking for a part to quote, but the whole thing is just so good, I want you to read it for yourself. Here is just one small part:
Critics want it both ways: we want something to be pure and essential, but we also tend to retrospectively see events based solely on their context/reaction. Particularly in social media, context develops at an increasing pace: we condense the critical cycle into a series of quick “sharing” actions and move straight from “something happens” into criticizing ourselves and each other for liking things. In our rushed effort to provide the “essential” opinion, we forget the part about why we’re being critical in the first place: because the “something” happened made us feel something, and that made us want to contribute.
I totally want to quote the whole rest of the piece, but you should just read it yourself.
On September 17, Slow Food USA held a national day of action where they challenged people in the US to make meals for less than $5 per person, saying, “The $5 Challenge is a response to the First Lady’s challenge to the nation to end the childhood obesity epidemic in a generation. In addition to Michelle Obama, a handful of other influencers such as celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and author Michael Pollan have increased public concern about the impact the industrial food system has on our health and the environment. The campaign is a way for everyday people to build and to share their own solutions.” The challenge: “I pledge to share a fresh, healthy meal that costs less than $5 — because slow food shouldn’t have to cost more than fast food.”
OK. Now, I am a huge proponent of “slow food” (not the organization), and of eating fresh and local, with friends, and not at chain restaurants, but when I heard about this campaign, I thought to myself, “Are you serious?”