When stomping Nazis, no room for neutral

When I was growing up I could have been considered a thug. The short of it, I was a teenage punk rocker, I was smart, and I hated authority. And the only thing I hated more than authority were Nazis.

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 11.12.34 AM
Pretty simple

It wasn’t just me, it was the scene. In the 90’s Nazi skinheads were growing in organizational power and form. There was a story that passed around my high school. Once, a New York City hardcore band was playing a show in town. A bunch of Nazi skinheads flooded into the venue with baseball bats, cue balls in socks, and rolls of quarters in their fists, some real medieval stuff. And what did the punk and hardcore kids do? They fought them.

For me, and a bunch of my punk friends, it was a simple politic: Nazis are racist, racists are bad, if we allow racists at our shows then our shows are racist, we all loose (historical supported fact). Therefore you couldn’t sit out, there was one choice: we stomped Nazis.

Then things get complicated
Sometimes I long for those days when it was easy to just point to a skinhead and say, “See that bonehead right there? Let’s stomp ‘em” and know that I was fighting the good fight.

Of course, those days were only easy because my understanding of racism was simple. For my teenage punk rock self, racism was racial prejudice expressed physically or verbally.

But, as Michelle Alexander writes in The New Jim Crow, there is a “…widespread and mistaken belief that racial animus is necessary for the creation and maintenance of racialized systems of social control. The unfortunate reality we must face is that racism manifests itself not only in individual attitudes and stereotypes, but also in the basic structure of society.”

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Warning: Click Bait – Racism in your Machine

kitty trap
Told you so.

OMG! We live in exciting times!

Technology is evolving and innovating all the time. We are integrating hardware and software into our lives more and more everyday. And opportunities for digital intervention, organizing, and activism are multiplying with each new iteration of tech.

Some of the technology will be born from the nexus of social justice organizing and technology development along the lines of the tools developed by the early pioneers of digital campaigning, MoveOn.

Yet, if new technology is not developed by those who are leading the charge for racial and gender justice, then we are missing the real chance to innovate our society.

The foundation
Today’s paradigm of digital campaigning, emerged in 1998, from an email group and petition started by Wes Boyd and Joan Blades, a married couple, who were interested in getting Congress to censure Clinton (over the Monica Lewinsky scandal) and “move on.” They succeeded in getting over half a million signatures, but not winning the censure.

The founders of MoveOn should be applauded for innovating and finding a new way to campaign, a way that has come to be the dominant form of digital campaigning (regardless of my earlier criticism).

moveon kitty

And yet…

MoveOn was started by rich white people (their software company Berkeley Systems was making $30 million in annual revenue until they sold it for $13 million a year before starting MoveOn – according to Wikipedia).

(@JTPspeaks #BFD –  masses of well meaning white technologists are tweeting)

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The right question?

“As more data becomes available and as the economy [world] continues to change, the ability to ask the right questions will become even more vital.”

– Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew MacAfee, The Second Machine Age

 

data
The data black hole will take you to galaxies of possibility.

Those in the business of winning elections have been using all sorts of data (consumer being a big one – what does your magazine subscriptions say about your political leanings?) to build voter models. Combine these models with polling information and you can develop a blueprint for winning messages.  Of course this all happens in the limited field and timeframe of elections where the question is clear: How do we win this election?

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Online organizing is a myth

Early online actions relied on the ability of organizations like MoveOn to jam up the means of communications for politicians and their offices. They did this by  flooding email inboxes with countless emails. This was the online equivalent of locking yourself to the office door; slowing down and stopping the actual function of bureaucracy. It was digital direct action utilizing political power.

direct action gets the goods

This strategy made sense for the times, it was late enough in email’s development as a common means of communications that people in government and corporations were using Blackberries to stay connected to their inboxes, and it was early enough in email that no one was ready for what it would mean to receive thousands of emails all at once. It was a time when center/left activists were leveraging technology faster than corporations and electeds.

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Sweet Sweet Greed

Thirteen days after a manager at a Pennsylvania sugar plant –  fearing slowed production – removed a safety-device from a massive sugar hopper,  Janio Salinas – a temp-worker from New Jersey – climbed in. He and fellow workers needed to continue bagging sugar for companies such as Snapple, and clumps were clogging the funnel hole at the bottom of the hopper. When his co-workers returned from lunch no one could find Janio. He had been buried alive and suffocated in the hopper.

Photo: Andrew Burton/ Getty Images
Photo: Andrew Burton/ Getty Images

This story was reported by ProPublica and Univision earlier this week. It is the result of a several-months long investigation by Univision, in which they sent producers undercover into temp agencies in immigrant neighborhoods in NJ.

After seeing the closing day of the #KaraWalkerDomino exhibit  A Subtlety (read more about it herehere and here) I am struck by gruesome realism of Janio’s death, and the symbolic significance of it.

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Solidarity is Dead

workers-solidarity

“Think about workers’ struggles. As long as they happened in the industrial factory, the acceleration in workers communication and action placed the owner in a defensive position and was able to defeat structures of control. Slogans circulated rapidly among workers in their factories and neighborhoods, allowing these struggles to become generalized….Microelectronic technologies have completely reversed this situation: capital conquers the capacity for rapid deterritorialization, transferring production all over the globe, while the timing of workers’ organizations remains localized and slows as compared to the one of capitalist globalization.”

Franco Berardi, The Soul At Work , p. 153

I’ve been thinking a lot about organizing, the power it does/doesn’t manifest, and the glue that holds it together: solidarity.

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