Thanksgiving: What’s to Celebrate?

November 24, 2011

NTNG!

It’s difficult to find the right words for a day like today. This is especially true when you’re surrounded by drunk and overfed relatives who, quite frankly, don’t want you spoiling their day off with another tirade on whales or Bosnians or whatever the hell it is today. But, god bless ‘em, you’re going to do it anyway. Years from now, your younger cousins will thank you for showing them that critical engagement with social issues is a far more effective ways to piss off adults than the entire Slipknot back catalogue. Congratulations, you’re a role model.

Having a day off work is great, but it’s important to be aware of what today represents to the indigenous people of the Americas. Many have called for a National Day of Mourning to commemorate the victims of a genocide that is yet ongoing. The systematic extermination of the original inhabitants of this continent defies comprehension in its scale and brutality. According to whose figures you accept, the native human population of the Americas was reduced by between 80 and 99 percent in the 400 years between Columbus’ arrival and the massacre at Wounded Knee. We’re talking about up to one hundred million people. More people than you could have met in ten lifetimes. More people than the top eight most populated cities in the world combined. A little more than one out of every one hundred people currently alive today. Behind every “self made” millionaire is this history of primitive accumulation.

Humans were not the only victims of these policies of extermination and the violent conversion of the common fruits of the Earth into discretely bound units of private property. In just a hundred years, the North American bison population dropped from about 60 million to one or two million. [1] During the mid nineteenth century, passenger pigeons thrived to such a degree that “there would be days and days when the air was alive with them, hardly a break occurring in the flocks for half a day at a time. Flocks stretched as far as a person could see, one tier above another.” [2] Today, they are completely extinct.

Area of primary forests in the United States (lower 48)
Deforestation Leads to Exinction

The ecosystems of North America were once burgeoning with an integrated diversity of species: salmon, wolves, mink, ermine, badgers, beavers, otters, bears, cougars, bobcats, cranes, eagles, turkeys and so on. Yet one by one, these creatures were displaced and nearly or completely eradicated because of the same philosophy that legitimized the genocide of American Indians, the same philosophy that legitimized the exploitation of European peasants and the same philosophy that legitimizes global capitalism today: manifest destiny. That what is is good because god wills it; because it is “natural.” The genocidal imperative.

Ward Churchill has made the argument that we ought not be surprised when the United States government engages in wars of aggression overseas or domestic repression at home. After all, it was the genocidal imperative that founded this country and, from near the outset, wealth began to be centralized among those who were willing to commit the most heinous atrocities. We have arrived at a point now where our society rests on a foundation of normalized violence. Our economy depends on war all the time to function. The bodies of the body politic literally run on the product of extreme systemic violence: 50 billion nonhuman animals killed every year for a nutritional need that does not exist. The aforementioned staggering death tolls pale in numerical comparison to this figure, yet it occurs annually and with little fanfare.

We are not listing these examples to try to present some sort of equivalency between the suffering endured by humans and the suffering endured by nonhumans. Quantifying and comparing one person’s suffering or oppression to another’s is absurd and incoherent. The purpose is to identify common modes of oppression and the cultural logics which justify them. The purpose is to honor and mourn those who are gone and to fight with those who still remain. The purpose is to understand the history of how we got came to live in arguably the most violent society in all history and to ask why that seems normal to so many of us.

If we are aware of the histories that precede us, then we can begin to construct functional and peaceful alternatives to the cultural logic of genocide. Confronting manifest destiny is a necessary part of this process even if (and maybe especially if) it makes your relatives uncomfortable.

Notes:

“As an indigenous person, the fur trade represents so much more to me than just animal abuse. It represents cultural genocide. They were the footsoldiers of an invasion and conquest of the new world. They were ones who introduced disease and alcoholism. They were the ones who introduced gunpowder and many many things that lead to our decimation.”–Rod Coronado

If you plan on eating turkey this thanskgiving, this is required viewing. Please don’t fool yourself into thinking that “humanely raised” or “free range” turkeys live and die in appreciably different conditions. Raising animals for food means rape, castration and murder 100% of the time.

1. The Eternal Frontier, Tim Flannery, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2001, pg 321-322

2. A Green History of the World, Clive Ponting, Penguin Books, 1992, pg 168-170


Being Peaceful ≠ Passive (Or: The Occupy Wall Street Post)

October 10, 2011

We still owe you a follow-up to our post on strategies for effective vegan activism beyond the boycott. Don’t worry, we haven’t forgotten and we’ll be getting it to you soon. That said, there’s no way we can sleep on the Occupy Wall Street story which, owing to the pleasantly surprising tenacity of its participants, has clawed its way from blowing up Facebook feeds to achieving “no longer ignorable” status with the mainstream media outlets.

Occupy Wall Street is a phenomenon that is at once incredibly complicated and incredibly clear cut. While its persistence has forced the aforementioned major news networks (owned one and all by “One Percenters”) to finally begin covering it, you will notice a common dismissive tone in their stories. “These demonstrators,” they assure you, “have no clear idea of what they want or why they are here.” Of course, this is completely inaccurate. It would be more accurate to state that the participants in Occupy Wall Street (and the hundreds of solidarity occupations and protests around the country) are refusing to reduce their diverse grievances with capitalism to a single, one-size-fits-all message.

A Middle Class Occupation?

The significant presence of middle class participants in Occupy Wall Street entices both media coverage and media derision for, of all things, privilege on the part of the participants. (One wonders where these network experts on oppression and identity politics were when Troy Davis was murdered.) It is important to recognize the middle class influence on Occupy Wall Street without doing the corporate journalists’ work for them and undermining solidarity.

If a significant portion of the United States’ middle class is beginning to realize that capitalism is not a stable system of human organization, then that is a very good thing. It is also relevant to point out that the involvement of many people has been spurred by the fact that capitalism has finally begun to imperil their privilege. Some of us are surprised that they’re surprised. After all, the far majority of the world’s human population has been living in abject poverty for generations as a direct result of these very same policies that shore up the One Percent.

The past 500 years of history display an ever-accelerating rate of resource extraction and wealth centralization. First the colonial empires pillaged the new world, then the dueling capitalist and communist power blocs robbed free trades zones and annexed bloc territories, then the corporatist middle and upper classes plundered the working class de-industrialized zones, and finally the top one percent is poised to take the very last drop from what remains of the middle class. So are we justifiably a little frustrated with someone only showing up last month to a five hundred year fight for the survival of all life on Earth? Sure. But I’m still glad to see them.

Maximizing Potential: From Protest to Resistance

At this stage, Occupy Wall Street is two things: a symbolic protest and a public conversation on systemic inequality. It continues to gain momentum by drawing disparate groups together who recognize the indignity of living under capitalism. By refusing to issue demands or craft political platforms, the participants have in effect created a “big tent” under which any party aggrieved by the economic order can share space, ideas and resources. Basic solidarity and mutual aid on this level have long been in short supply in the United States. We can hope that these become most enduring legacies of Occupy Wall Street.

What Occupy Wall Street is not, however, is an occupation. Allow me to repeat that. Occupy Wall Street is not an occupation unless by that you are referring to its part in the ongoing occupation of Lenape tribal lands. The participants have set up a permitted encampment that is surrounded on all sides uniformed cops and heavily infiltrated by undercover cops. They are subject to selective enforcement of noise and assembly ordinances as well as arbitrary and violent arrests. As Malcolm Harris pointed out in his sympathetic critique of the demonstration, “this is what’s behind every picture you’ve seen of Zucotti Park.”

It was a momentous step for tens thousands of us to get out from in front of our TVs and computers and into the streets, and for us to force this conversation into the mainstream. However, let no one delude themselves into believing that being surrounded by heavily armed riot cops is negotiating from a position of power. It is a dangerous misconception that following directions from police (who are apparently not the enemy, they just accept money to protect the enemy from accountability) will keep us safe from harm. It is a dangerous misconception to believe that we can effect lasting systemic change by simply speaking truth to power. Those in power–be it corporate, government, military or police–are very aware of the economic conditions that allow them disproportionate control over politics and daily life. They will not concede their positions voluntarily, most especially not because someone convinces them that it’s unfair.

Every major social justice movement in the history of this country, from labor organizing to the women’s suffrage to the Civil Rights movement, depended on direct action to achieve lasting gains. This is the process of moving beyond a petition for the redress of grievances and moving toward a community oriented address of grievances without the consent of the politicians, CEOs, generals or cops. Being peaceful is not the same thing as being passive.

Occupy Together as Radicals

There is always more to say and even more to do. For whatever it’s worth, we support Occupy Wall Street completely. We also know that it will be dead in the water by New Year’s unless it continues to evolve. Radicals can seize this moment and be a driving force in that evolution. We can do this by continuing to take part in honest discussions with others and, more importantly, demonstrating the effectiveness of our tactics. This doesn’t have to involve the participation of everyone at an “occupation” and, in fact, it probably shouldn’t. A series of coordinated, well-planned affinity group actions specifically designed to avoid a violent police crackdown (inasmuch as this is possible and acknowledging also that police are responsible for police violence) would be a tremendous boon to Occupy Wall Street.

Here are just a few examples of things people could try:

•Using radio scanners to monitor police communications and liveblogging that information.

•Researching specific One Percenters, making public their nefarious deeds, and then organizing SHAC-style demonstrations at their homes and offices.

•Offering trainings on elementary street tactics (which could have potentially helped hundreds evade arrest last week on the Brooklyn bridge).

•Staging real occupations, lockdowns and disruptions of corporate offices.

•Organizing bank runs.

•And many more that we cannot legally advocate!

In Short…

Occupy Wall Street could be the start of real revolutionary change or it could just be the death throes of the middle class. Which one depends entirely on how disciplined we can be in the pursuit of a post-capitalist society. We do not need a share in their plundered wealth. We do not need to be another complacent generation, standing by as the world burns and knowing that things will be worse for our children. It is time to stop asking. It is time to start making and taking.


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