Honest reflections on Riot Porn, Goals, Strategy, Hope and The Better World

From Ryan Harvey with RiotFolk 

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By: Ryan Harvey – September 24, 2009

Original Link Here

My decision to release this writing took me some time to consider, but I think it’s for the best. If you disagree with this, that’s good. It means you are thinking critically at least. I want this to be taken seriously, it’s something that has been brewing in me for a very long time, and this is the first real attempt, besides my DNC/RNC writing last year, to convey my thoughts on this subject…

The G20 is upon us, and though BBC world news featured some of “the troubles” in Pittsburgh, on the ground reports hardly match up with the media-inflation, police-inflation, and activist-inflation of the actual thing.

As is often the case, the media makes things look a whole lot crazier than they actually are, if it’s in the interests of higher ratings. And though most Americans if surveyed would be against rioting, they love to watch it on TV. So the media is hyping the G20 protests up enough to get some extra points, but not enough to anger their parent companies.

The police of course have to inflate the threats posed by relatively small numbers of protestors to justify the gigantic amount of city, state and federal tax-payer money used to buy new weapons, vehicles, chemical munitions, and armor. They get to keep all these goodies to use against whomever crosses their path in the future. So little pebbles getting tossed at robo-cops become boulders and little marches becoming security threats.

To match these two forces, the protest groups, especially my own comrades in the anarchist groups, inflate their stories, numbers, and actions to try to gain support and build momentum, and to make them feel better. So a dumpster getting rolled down a street into an intersection will be heroized in well-designed pamphlets to come and talked about for years the way my generation still talks about the fence-chasing incident at A16, (World Bank/IMF protests on April 16, 2000 in DC).

What is so crazy about all of this, this inflation, is that it doesn’t seem to help. As an organizer with a decade of experience in all types of work, from anarchist organizations to peace groups to labor organizing, I don’t think over-hyping our actions does anything for us. In fact, I think it works to our disadvantage. It adds to a culture of dishonesty, of not addressing our short-comings, of not reflecting and refining our work.

Now Pittsburgh had a crowd of 4,000-10,000 people according to different reports. While this is a big number in general, it’s not so big compared to public opinions on such issues at the bailout, corporate executive bonuses, or the global economic order in general. Most folks in the U.S. are pretty angry, from the far left to the independent right/libertarians. Instead of congratulating ourselves on a “large turnout”, we should be asking why it wasn’t nearly size of most anti-war demonstrations that have happened. Continue reading

Dumpster Diving, an Ethnography

Hello, below is an essay I wrote recently for my Ethnographic methods class. Its a craft analysis, analysing the craft of… dumpster diving, as part of the activist culture, focusing on Mountain Justice. Let me know what you think. Got anything to add?

The Dumpster Run, or, the Art of the Dumpster Fairy

“Hey man, you want to go visit the free box behind the grocery store?”, says the voice over the phone. “Uh…, tonight? now?”, I say “yeah”, he says, “like now-ish”. “Cool, I’ll call W, he wanted to come too”. Thus begins a dumpster run. A trip to glean from the trash a treasure. Within Mountain Justice and many other cultures, particularly those made up of individuals who, on one level or another, distrust contemporary, industrialized society, going dumpster diving is a weekly, or daily experience. On the surface and from the outside, dumpster diving is dirty, gritty, uncouth, and probably illegal, or at least should be illegal. But for some in MJ and other activist cultures beyond, dumpster diving is a reflection of values; it is civil disobedient direct action to confront the wasteful practices of Western society. It is enacting a whole system of beliefs about the world that are also reflected in the placement of a political advocacy sticker, in the cooking of a meal, in saving scrap lumber, in the handwritten sign over a lightbulb telling you to flip off the switch, in protesting on a street corner and writing letters to congressmen.  Dumpster diving has an ideal form, a cultivated art, and the instance of a dumpster run is a chance to connect the stories of a movement, to connect novices to veterans, to retell the stories of the culture and bind activists together.

dlf_largeThe end result of a good dumpster dive is a couple of organized boxes full of produce, fruit, bread, and maybe a bouquet of flowers sitting on the porch of a friend, or even better, on the porches of several friends. A well done dumpster run brings in a lot of food, but not so much that a house is going to be left with rotting vegetables everywhere. The ideal run is quick, quiet, nearly invisible. A well done run brings home really unique things, like children’s toys, or an 11 pack of Smirnoff. But in the doing of a dumpster run, a culture is enacted, a value system manifested. Ideals are expressed in action, and the culture is refreshed. Sometimes a dumpster run is a novice’s introduction to action in an activist culture, serving as an act of enculturation. In the process, stories and memories are shared, new shared experiences lived, and the web of affinity which holds a geographically dispersed movement together is thickened.

Artifactual

The right kind of gear is needed for a good dumpster run. Usually, and in the case of the dumpster run I observed for this analysis, it is a nighttime activity, and so flashlights are necessary. Instead of a two pound mag light, dumpster divers are usually going to be found with a fist sized headlamp in their hands (rarely actually on a head). Headlamps are small, versatile, and usually have LED’s instead of the less efficient bulbs found in traditional flashlights. The first question I asked when I met up with N to go on this dumpster run was if he had a headlamp.

Other important artifacts of the dumpster run cluster around clothing and physical preparedness for an activity that isn’t exactly sanctioned by your freeganinsurance company. Closed toed shoes, long pants, dark clothes, and gloves (if its cold or if you prefer not to have dumpster juice on your hands) are all common components of a run.

Dressed in their dumpster fairy costumes,the divers pile into a car, telling stories and jokes and catching up. Heading towards the grocery store, they casually turn the car to the back of the building, and cut the headlights, pulling the car to a nook near the big green “free box behind the grocery store”. As the divers climb up and into the dumpster, they start to harvest their finds. One or two inside, another waits out, as trash is flung aside and produce is picked out, and put in discarded cardboard boxes. The dumpster box is one of the most prolific artifacts in the making of a dumpster dive. The produce comes straight out of the store in these cardboard boxes, and is flung haphazardly into the receptacle. The divers duty is to find the least polluted vegetables, and put them back in their boxes. The box is filled, and handed over the lip of the thick green metal, and received by the diver on the outside.

Each find is shouted out as it appears beneath the pale light of the headlamp. “Peppers! Carrots! oh man, is that, yeah, ACACADOES!”. Another box filled, and over the top. Bread is its own artifactual category. As bagels, sliced loafs, french breads or croissants, bread is different from veggies, found in different dumpsters at the same store, the freshness of a 3 day old loaf different from that of a 3 day old squash.

One has to think though, about what this box, or half dozen boxes, will look like at home. There is usually more fresh-enough food in a single dumpster to feed 8-10 people for a couple of days. If a diver only lives with 4 others, she has to think about where this food will go. Boxes pile up. Food rots. Rotting food is a common artifact produced, though not universal nor ideal, in the art of dumpster diving. But one last, common artifact resolves and recycles the odious waste: the compost pile, and its eventual byproducts, compost and humus.

Nominal

Words that are heard in the context of a dumpster dive are mostly simple. “They’ve gone for a Dumpster dive, or on a dumpster run,”  or, “the dumpster fairies delivered us a free box”, or “that bag has 10 avocadoes in it, but it also has a half a leg of ham. Eww, not worth it.” or “Freegan” are all words and phrases that litter the vocabulary of a diver. Freegan is a term taken by many activists in this activity, a combination of ‘vegan’ and ‘free’.  Veganism is not just a diet choice, but a political choice, one meant to decrease your material support for the system of processed foods and industrial agriculture, and increase your support for more just sources. Veganism is voting with your dollars, and Freeganism is voting by abstaining from dollars, by denying demand. Dumpster fairies, light and quick, run to the free box and return with the spoils, but only those ‘worth it’, those that are unlikely to hurt the health of a fellow freegan.

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Different communities of freegan dumpster divers have a plethora of names for their art. Skip Diving, binning, skallywagging and urban foraging are spoken by other communities to describe saving a bit of trash from the landfill. Compactors and locked bins are names for obstacles and deterrents, cops are the folks that might tell you to get out and issue you a citation for trespassing. Score is the name of a particularly good find, as well as the act of acquiring a haul from your run, i.e. “what did you score?”. Dumpster juice is the byproduct of juices, water, grease and whatever other liquids seep to the bottom of a large dumpster.

Substantial

Dumpsters smell. They are a mash up of trash bags full of receipts and rotting meat. Bouquets of slightly browned flowers, and thawing frozen dinners. But, they are not all putrid, and the smell of a dumpster, and the haul that comes from it, are important indicators of a successful dive. A particularly smelly dumpster is ‘not worth it’, likely to be filled with polluted meat. A dumpster full of fresh-enough produce will probably smell fairly neutral. A dumpster full of everything bagels will smell invitingly of everything bagels.

A haul ought not to be too big. Taking a hatchback car and three people, hoping to score enough food for 8, only a couple of boxes should be needed, and too much will stink up somebodies kitchen. Whatever the haul, it is taken home, and after an ideal run, is sorted by type of food, then devided for various houses or apartments, and distributed via dumpster fairies. This giving and support between the community of activists or freegans or friends or the needy is also an important part of the whole craft, part of the value of mutual aid.

For days a house of divers can eat nothing but free food. Incorporated into meals, into canning projects, into feeding large gatherings or meetings of other activists, dumpstered food sustains other rituals and experiences which further bind a social movement network together.

The dumpster run, is just that, a run. In the doing of a dumpster dive, one must be fast, quiet, sneaky (or casually confident and quiet). Laws vary by municipality, the watchfullness of police and security depend on the location. Dumpstering is an act of civil disobedience, an idea and value which resonates throughout the Mountain Justice culture. Breaking an unjust law, like that which keeps waste food and reusable objects under lock and key, is what is moral in a culture unified by resistance to a system of unjust laws and practices that level mountains to extract coal. It is rebellion with a cause.

Dumpstering also resonates with the common sentiment of reducing waste, of treading lightly, and reusing as much as possible. Dumpsters represent mountains of waste being buried in landfills, and to reduce that burden, and whats more to reuse it, is a cultural imperative. What is left over after a dumpster run is, ideally, composted, reduced, and reused as soil fertilizer to grow more food.

A good dumpster run is one that exhilirates, that empowers, that feeds and that connects the divers and the broader community that they are a part of. Each run is unique, and can lead to stories that are told again and again. A good dumpster run brings in food for several, and an ideal run brings in a diversity of goods, from new shoes to tupperware. An otherwise sober, straightedge freegan might drink a beer from a dumpstered 11 pack of Smirnoff.  A good dumpster run both feeds a hungry activist and expresses through repeated action some of the same values and beliefs which motivate her to protest a coal company’s use of strip mining for coal. A dumpster run may be the first direct action a new activist takes, but it connects him with a tradition, and with a shared experience, that initiates that individual into a community.

Tredegar 12 Sentenced

On Tuesday I and nine others of the Tredegar 12 accepted a plea bargain from the Commonwealth, for 200 community service hours to be completed in the City of Richmond. It’s a lot of time, and a lot of time in a town none of us live in, but it gives us all a chance to network and connect with folks doing good positive work in Richmond. Below is a post by a friend, with excerpts from the Richmond Times Dispatch’s article about the decision. The one thing I want to add is my favorite comment from that article so far:

“this is indeed an outrage. civil disobedience must be punished harshly! if these agitators can’t participate in an exchange of ideas controlled and monitored by law enforcement then they should suffer the consequences. this is a sad day for our state and nation. these horrible people should be dealt with the same way the romans dealt with history’s all-time worst agitator – jesus. if green likes hanging from a harness so much, maybe he’d like to try a cross on for size!”

Jesus Christ, the all time worst Agitator (if by worst, they mean the most effective and badass community organizer ever seen in old Judea, then I agree!).

From Beth Wellington, a good friend over at The Writing Corner

Eco-Terrorism, Not

The photo, uncredited, was posted at GaMoonbat and shows the Blue Ridge Earth First! (BREF!) protest at Dominion Resources headquarters on June 30, the day Dominion started construction of its proposed new coal-fired plant in Wise County, Virginia.

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I wouldn’t have suspected the folks, pictured above, were considered eco-terrorists, had not Don Thieme at GaMoonbat linked to my June 30 blog post on their sit-in. Thieme, a self-described geologist, archaeologist, and college science teacher in Valdosta, Georgia, tagged his entry “eco-terrorism.”

As I noted in my post, opponents argue that the Wise plant would serve to accelerate mountaintop removal. Before undertaking the sit-in, BREF! activists joined many of us throughout Virginia in signing petitions, testifying in state hearings, sending letters to the editor and to Governor Kaine to oppose the plant. In fact, the last time I heard from Marley Green, one of those arrested, was July 5, when he emailed all his contacts to ask that we sign another petition–this one in support of the wind power initiative started by folks in WV’s Coal River Mountain Watch. Coal River. (Coal River Mountain is another area being destroyed by MTR. Marley, Holly Garrett–another arrestee–and I were all among the first 16 signatures. This petition is so-mainstream that I received a second request to sign it last night from an anthropology research scholar.)

So what is mountaintop removal (MTR)? What is ecoterroism? And should the term apply to these folks?

MTR, as practiced in Appalachia has been called, as I wrote for LLRX.com, “Strip Mining on Steroids.” Coal companies denude mountains of their trees and topsoil, drill holes to insert AMFO (ammonium nitrate fertilizer and fuel oil–a combintion similar to that used in car bombs), and after detonation tear down the mountains, removing the coal and dumping the refuse to bury headwater streams. In the process, drinking water is poisoned, communities destroyed. And when folks who have lived in these mountains for years question the process, they receive threats to themselves and their families. For several examples of the latter, consider this description from the Washington Post about Larry Gibson and this piece from the Bristol Herald about Larry Bush. And many people tell me that complaining to the sheriff in rural counties does no good, and that in some cases deputies even serve as enforcers of the coal companies’ will.

Eco-terrorism occurring within the U.S. is a subset of domestic terrorism. Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act (Pub. L. No. 107-52), according to the American Civil Liberties Union, [my emphasis added]

expanded the definition of terrorism to cover “domestic,” as opposed to international, terrorism. A person engages in domestic terrorism if they do an act “dangerous to human life” that is a violation of the criminal laws of a state or the United States, if the act appears to be intended to: (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping. Additionally, the acts have to occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States…

In testimony before Congress, the FBI defined ecoterrorism as [my emphasis added]

the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against innocent victims or property by an environmentally-oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.

Sourcewatch reports in an article I’d recommend reading, that Ron Arnold, the Executive Director of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise has been instrumental in conflating civic protest and terrorism. [my emphasis added]

In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the word ‘terrorism’ has become a potent political weapon. Since the 1980s, Arnold has blurred the boundaries between nonviolent civil disobedience and more contentious tactics such as vandalism and sabotage – which have on the whole been rejected by mainstream environmentalists – and elevated property damage to equal terrorism as a societal threat. More recently, he has been joined by other prominent anti-environmentalists including self-styled “eco-terrorism expert” Barry Clausen and Nick Nichols, the now retired chair of PR firm Nichols-Dezenhall. (After Nichols retirement the company was renamed Dezenhall Resources).

The deliberate conflation of civil disobedience with terrorism by Arnold, Clausen and Nichols has paved the way for the introduction of draconian legislation, such as the so-called Ecoterrorism Prevention Act of 2004 , to ban or increase penalties for civil disobedience protests.

Apparently Arnold et. al’s efforts are succeeding. Take the definition of eco-terrorism promoted by the National Forum for State Legislatures, which has the slogan “The Forum for America’s Ideas.” NCSL’s annual legislative summit, which finished up last week in New Orleans is

an opportunity for state lawmakers from around the country to exchange ideas and debate issues being considered in Washington that will affect state public policies. The resolutions enacted will guide NCSL’s lobbying activity in Washington over the next several years.

Denver staff member L. Cheryl Runyon (email) wrote a piece posted at the group’s site entitled “Eco-terrorism-A New Kind of Sabotage”which ranks towards the top of a Google search on the word “eco-terrorism.” Her second sentence is:

Eco-terrorists commit arson and burglary, trespass, issue death threats, and engage in malicious destruction of property and vandalism-usually against farmers, ranchers, miners, loggers, researchers, manufacturers or home builders.

I find conflating trespass and death threats alarming, especially in an official paper by a group that lobbies Congress. How are a misdemeanor involving civil disobedience and death threats in the same category? And, if Runyon prevails, how will that affect legislation and thus our civil liberties?

In re-defining terrorism so broadly, we risk losing the First Amendment rights so important for a democracy.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In the most recenet legislative iteration concerning eco-terorrism, Jane Harman’s (D-CA) H.R. 1955: Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 passed the House by a vote of 204 to 6, on October 23, 2007. The measure would have amended the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to

add a new section concerning the prevention of violent radicalization (an extremist belief system for facilitating ideologically based violence to advance political, religious, or social change) and homegrown terrorism (violence by a group or individual within the United States to coerce the U.S. government, the civilian population, or a segment thereof in furtherance of political or social objectives).

One wonders, just exactly violent radicalization might be identified and what measures will be allowed to prevent it. The only six voting against the measure were: Abercrombie, Costello, Duncan, Flake, Kucinich and Rohrabacher. The Senate has not acted on the measure to date.
<!– –>There was no violence in Richmond, nor even property damage, in any of the other activities by BREF!, who have done things like sing Christmas carols w. new lyrics protesting coal investments by the Bank of America. This time, seven had been standing with a sign “No New Coal Plant in Wise County” or a banner “It’s Up to Us Virginia. No Nukes. No New Coal. Renewables Now! No Dominion Over Our Democracy.” The seven were arrested despite disbanding upon request. The prosecutor told their attorneys that if all of them did not accept the plea bargain, she would withdraw it for everyone. Five accepted the plea, to allow the blockaders to avoid trial. But, when two women refused, the prosecutor allowed them go to trial separately on September 18, while accepting the other pleas, despite her threats to do otherwise.

The sign holders and the blockaders who accepted the plea bargain are willing to work in Richmond, VA for 200 hours with no pay. That’s five weeks, if they can find a full-time assignment, which will require a temporary move across state. Marley, who was hanging from the bridge, was originally to have been required to work an additional 50 hours with the option to go to jail for the weekend and reduce his hours to 200. Without a guilty plea, that seemed legally problematic and thus the prosecutor changed her offer to 25 extra hours. I find it exceptional that the community service would be required to take place in Richmond, entailing an extended period of work without pay, necessitating travel expenses and/or housing costs for a second location.

I ran a community service order program for 17 years in Virginia, supervising both misdemeanants and felons–including one man transfered to my caseload after being found guilty of major drug possession in another area. The current sentences, based on my experience, appear to be more severe than for many felonies and thus may have been invoked against expressive speech based on the viewpoint of the speakers.

Some of those who hold BREF! in contempt have commented at the Richmond Times Dispatch coverage yesterday with vitriol. One said that allowing community service would somehow lead to riots. I ask that they remember that the founders of our nation embodied in the spirit of our Constitution the notion that “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. ” They designed a government based on free speech, a free press and access to the courts. There are so many communities besides ours here in Appalachia who have had to fight for the health and welfare of their families and their neighborhoods. Whether at Love Canal or or in Times Beach, Missouri, they would not have been able to do so, without free speech and access to the courts.

Yet, in both of those cases, the affected area was relatively small, the remedy evacuation. Here we face almost 1,000,000 acres of mountains leveled, half of them in West Virginia, alone. In a single 2001 case, 1,500 homes were lost in a flood and the courts have held the coal, landholding, and timber companies liable.

When I think of domestic terrorism, the Oklahoma City Bombing comes to mind, or the Ku Klux Klan or the Army of God. For eco-terrorism, maybe the Earth Liberation Front, although its targets have not been as widespread and have involved serious property damage rather than human lives.

But Blue Ridge Earth First! activists as eco-terrorists? Five folks who blockaded Dominion Resources for a couple of hours on June 30 after that company had succeeded in convincing the State to let it build a new coal fired electric plant, which will serve to accelerate the blowing off of mountains? Another five who held signs and banners and disbanded upon request and still got arrested and have agreed to performing 200 hours each of unpaid labor for the City of Richmond hundreds of miles from their homes? Another two, who did who held the signs and disbanded, but are asking for a trial?

Just who are the eco-terrorists here? Those who engage in civil disobedience and are willing to take their punishment or those who perpetrate the destruction of our mountains and our way of life?

Eric MCdavid

Eric is just one of many folks effected by the GREEN SCARE an FBI opperation to stop this pesky little green movement going on. Obviously we have these folks scared so lets keep up the fight! any way i have been reading up a lot on erics case, and the more i read the more i feel like any one of my friends could soon be put in the same situation. he did absolutely nothing other than think a certain way. and they call him the “leader” of his elf cell b.c he facilitated a meeting, does that mean that im the leader of any group b,c i have facilitated a meeting? please check out his website : supporteric.org

i think it would be very worth while for some folks to write letters in support, and to maybe have a fundraiser, he needs money for a new lawyer. also send him books and pictures that you have drawn or poems that you’ve written, flood him with positivity to keep him on the positive mind set. put your self in his shoes and do what ever you think would make some one feel better.

THe Sounds of PLanet Earth

                                                9-30-07 – Grab the podcast here

If you have ideas for what we should play or talk about next time, send me or Annie an email – green.marley@gmail.com or cantreac@jmu.edu . Some of the Artists you heard on the show include:

Tandava (British Columbians playing Hindi Music), Sonic Liberation Front, Eric Lindell, Toots and the Maytals, Fred Buscaglione, Gondwana, Freakbass, Stephen Kent, Grupo Naidy, CLara Moreno, Oliver Mtukudzi, Corey Harris, Trees on Fire.

:One Zine Scene:

This has got some Zines in the front and a good example of DIY band publication at the end. woo

We discussed Do It Yourself culture tonight. We found it was far too broad of a topic, and that we might have to revisit it in the future. Here are some Wikipedia pages for you to get a brief feel for what the broad idea of DIY is all about:

DIY Ethic 

DIY Culture

WE also spent a good deal of time talking bout DIY Zines. Annie is way into the cool world of Zines check it out:

www.iprc.org which is a portland based free resource center and library for independent publications

www.northwestzineworks.com is a good place to just search for zines and read reviews

SOME ZINES I LIKE

www.venuszine.com a feminist/music/ type zine for women with a large emphasis on DIY culture and women. lots of reviews of cool stuff women are doing themselves. Has reviews for other zines too! Their website leads to other cool DIY type sites.

www.foundmagazine.com its relies on readers for its material. readers send in interesting photos, notes, or other odd things they find.

www.therelayproject.com  a really cool audio zine.

www.smellingtrees.com has lots of zine reviews for zines that don’t have websites….check out “community bike cart design” “plug” basically the how-to section is cool and the fiction section. hell they all are cool.

***this list could go on and on. just search around this is a good base though.

ZINE LIBRARIES-these are good resources if you want to find out  more about different types of zines and their culture

Seattle Zine Archive & Publishing Project
www.hugohouse.org

Aboveground Zine Library in New Orleans www.abovegroundzinelibrary.com

Barnard Zine Library
www.barnard.edu/library/zines

Chicago Underground Library
www.underground-library.org

Denver Zine Library
www.denverzinelibrary.org

Papercut Zine Library in Cambridge, Massachusetts www.baamboston.org/papercut

Zine World
www.undergroundpress.org

***ALSO the Rocktown Info Shop on Elizabeth Street in Harrisonburg (and other infoshops or freespaces) has a section of zines in their library that you can borrow that range in topics.***