All of Us Giants

September 15, 2010

This summer, my friend Molly and I participated in the Shed Residency at the Roberts Street Social Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia. For a couple of weeks we went around town interviewing people about what works for them in their lives and “communities,” (whatever that meant to them). Really we wanted to ask people what they’d want to stay the same if they could change everything. We stayed up late, drew some pictures, wrote some stuff, silkscreened some covers (though this cover is a different one that can be more easily printed and copied), and came up with this zine, All Of Us Giants. This version is for printing, and this one is for reading on-screen.

s40cover
After too many months and emails and all-night editing sessions, Public Living Room: An Incomplete History of Station 40, 2003-2008 is finally done. Finally! In short, it is a history (just one of the many possible histories) and analysis of Station 40, a collective events space where the three authors lived for a few years. You can read it on screen or download it to print (it’s designed to print on legal-sized paper). Enjoy.

Tyranny

In 1971 Jo Freeman, aka Joreen, wrote an essay directed towards the Women’s Liberation Movement called “The Tyranny of Structurelessness.” The essay was meant to challenge the unquestioning adoption of “structurelessness” by groups who did not want to replicate the structures of society they were trying to escape and change. “Any group of people of whatever nature that comes together for any length of time for any purpose will inevitably structure itself in some fashion,” she wrote. “The structure may be flexible; it may vary over time; it may evenly or unevenly distribute tasks, power and resources over the members of the group. But it will be formed regardless of the abilities, personalities, or intentions of the people involved. The very fact that we are individuals, with different talents, predispositions, and backgrounds makes this inevitable.”

“The Tyranny of Structurelessness” accurately describes pretty much every collective I have been a part of. The language has changed since the 70s – now we say we’re “non-hierarchical” and that we operate by consensus. Yet consensus, as a tool for making decisions, is an ideal as much as a process. Rarely, if ever, have I seen a group in which all people honestly have an equal say and comparable degrees of empowerment. And rarely, if ever, do we acknowledge it. “The idea of ‘structurelessness’ does not prevent the formation of informal structures, only formal ones,” Freeman says. “Thus structurelessness becomes a way of masking power.”

Because her essay was directed towards the Women’s Liberation Movement, it doesn’t go into gender relations, nor does it talk about how race, class, and sexuality affect the formation of these informal structures. In my experience, all these social dynamics fuel the sort of power imbalances Freeman describes. Saying we make decisions by consensus does not make them disappear. Rather than just decide that we’ve moved beyond them it’s very necessary that we be careful, thoughtful, and intentional about how we handle them.

While it is not perfect, “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” describes and makes suggestions for how to correct some of the problematic, hidden dynamics that are still around 35 years after it was written. It is a useful starting point for anyone who believes in the possibility of a truly anti-authoritarian approach to living, working, and doing.

Read the full text or download a pdf of a zine to print here (a much more pleasant read).

More articles can be found on Jo Freeman’s website.

My friend Elliott Liu in NYC just finished a zine, Everybody Wants A New Old Left, that critiques two new socialist pamphlets currenlty circulating in the US  from a horizontalist, anti-authoritarian perspective. He makes clear that some of the fatal flaws that come from focusing on party politics and state power continue to plague socialist groups, though he also points out some of the positive changes they have undergone in response to critiques over the last century. While some of the long-standing conflicts with anti-authoritarians are still very present in these pamphlets, Elliott sees their inclusion of a more flexible and exploratory approach to movement building as at least a little promising. Download a printable version from the original post on his website here.

Everybody Wants A New Old Left

With the election of Obama and a widening economic crisis, it seems immense changes are sweeping national and global politics every week or so. Radicals, along with everybody else, are struggling to comprehend the nature of the changes around us, and the directions we can head in the future. The good news: pretty much everybody thinks the next few years are going to offer the greatest opportunity to remake our world in decades. The bad news: there are as many opinions about how to do it as there are letters in this paragraph.

Amid the flurry of forums, panel discussions, listserv back-and-forths and spirited bar talk animating lefty circles right now, socialist groups are putting forth proposals for new directions in the capital-L Left. Two notable proposals appeared recently in pamphlets distributed online and in bookstores. The first, Which Way Is Left, was produced by the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, a nationwide post-Maoist group formed in 1985. The second, Manifesto For A Left Turn, was put together by a collection of professors from the east coast including Stanley Aronowitz and Rick Wolff. Both pamphlets call for cohesion and organization-building in the U.S. left, and both fill me with mixed emotions. Read the rest of this entry »

Ya Van Muchos Hermanos Muertos

Before I spent much time on the US/Mexico border, I thought of it as the closest war zone. But war in the military sense, with guns and helicopters and high-tech surveillance, is just one aspect of the conflict. All things political, economic, social, and historical intersect there. They crash into each other, they try to overpower one another. It is where the global economy and everything that supports it is stripped of its rhetoric and shields, of its disguises and glossy advertisements and decontextualized economic statistics. It is a complicated war in which individual people struggle against an entire system that wants to make them disappear. Men, women, and children trying to pay their bills and see their families are left standing alone, burning up in the desert’s harsh heat and light.

Over the last two summers I volunteered with No More Deaths, an organization based in Tucson that runs resource centers for deportees, documents Border Patrol abuses, and advocates for a more just immigration policy. They are best known, however, for providing food, water, and medical aid to migrants along one of the deadliest stretches of the border. The majority of the time I spent volunteering was at the desert camp and going on daily patrols on the migrant trails.

This zine is not meant to be an investigation of the process of migration or the policies that relate to it; rather, it is an evocation of the border as a place, a stretch of rugged desert straddling a line on the map that is populated by Border Patrol agents, migrants, humanitarian aid workers, ranchers, bandits, and drug traffickers. It is a mixture of stories from the desert and of people I met there and reflections on the situation in the Borderlands. Walking those trails out in the desert made the border very real to me; this is my attempt to make it real to others too.

This file is set up to print in a zine format–page two prints on the back of page two, page four on the back of page three, and so on. Click here to dowload a pdf to print.

If you prefer to read it on a computer screen, download this low resolution readable version.