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Archive for February, 2010

Relations of Class(rooms)

My daughter is in her last years of elementary school, moving on to high school next year, a transition which brings with it much excitement and anticipation, and also a good deal of trepidation. Is she ready? What will her teen years bring? How the hell do I parent a teenager? What will all that normal angst and frustration and teen resentment mean for her relationship with me and with Meg, who has only been in the always-tricky step-parent role for a year or so?

I’ve been reading books, chatting with other parents, trying to sort out as much of this as I can in my own head, talking to Meg about it all, and making some extra effort to maintain closeness and security and trust in my relationship with Mica before she hits the teens full-on. She’s still a little girl in many ways, less precocious than some of her friends, alternating between child and adolescent by the day, the hour, the minute.

Of late, though, it has been one particular transition/ decision point that has occupied most of our thoughts. Where to send Mica to high school? With whom? For what?

Not a simple question in this day and in this Canada. No longer is it the case that all kids everywhere simply walk down the block to the local school. No longer is it the case that there is a necessary correlation between neighbourhood and educational institution. No longer is it the case that the class divide in education is a simply matter of public versus private. Things are a whole lot more complicated for a whole lot more people – parents and children.

Here in BC, a number of years ago the province expanded what are called “district programs” in the public school system – specialized, targeted educational programs designed to give more choice and specialization in the public system, and to encourage in public schools some of what had previously only been offered in the private system. Not only French Immersion, which has a longer history, but also science and technology, other languages, sport and athletics, Montessori and and so on and so on. And the one that has shaped Mica so far – Fine Arts.

The year Mica began kindergarten, a new program was introduced for the first time – a Fine Arts program within the public school system, located in East Van. Some twenty-odd kids (going up 30 kids in later years) would be enrolled, and would move forward through school as a single class. They’d do all the basic curriculum, but a full 30% of class time would be devoted to the arts – dance, music, theatre and visual arts.

Well, that sounds promising, doesn’t it? After all the cuts to programs, something new, something local, within the public system, that offers some serious arts education. And a cohort model, too, in which they stay together as a unit year after year, so the kids form long-standing relationships and have a place of comfort and familiarity rather than the anonymous institution that the public school can so often be. We were sold, and had high hopes. But it didn’t take long for the cracks to emerge.

From the beginning, it became clear that while the school itself was diverse and reflected its community in terms of incomes, culture, ethnic backgrounds, family status, the Fine Arts program was something else altogether – virtually all-white, virtually all intact nuclear families, and a significantly higher income profile than the school at large. Surprise? No. All that was entirely to be expected. But I confess, I didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about that reality, or its implications.

Parents from the Arts program were vocal about resources for their children, were proficient at negotiating grants and contests to bring extra resources to the school, had strong fund-raising networks, and largely took the position that anything earned by their efforts should go exclusively to the Arts program. After all, they put in the time to support their own kids’ education,  and wouldn’t bother if the pay-off wasn’t there. This was the common refrain, and the school bought it, celebrating the profile and extras for the Arts program and doing little to address the schism that was emerging from the start.

On the kids’ side, similar tensions. Arts kids stuck together and a palpable snobbishness developed within a couple of years. The kids in the main school – drawn from the local neighbourhood – spoke openly about those Fine Arts ones who think they’re better than everyone else, and expressed significant resentment at the resources and public attention showered on the Arts program. Teachers, even, began to be split on the matter, those in the core school angered at the money flowing to Arts classrooms while they struggled to buy pencils and paper.

For a couple of years, I went to Parent Advisory Council meetings, I ranted about the inequities and the sense of entitlement, and with the few others who joined me I was encircled, isolated, shunned by a significant number of parents from the Arts program. But I never once seriously considered taking Mica out and putting her in a regular classroom at the local school. Why? Her friends, certainly – didn’t want to drag her from a place and people she loved for my politics. But also, some of what fed that exclusivity was still attractive to me. Kids together year after year. Classes in dance and music and theatre and art. Access to performances in-school and out. There was lots of value there, and I didn’t want to give it up. In short, because of my own place of privilege in the world, my kid had access to a kind of education most didn’t. And though I knew that also would imbue her and her friends with an ever-greater sense of entitlement and a skewed picture of her community, I didn’t want to give up on what was good.

Maybe that was the wrong decision. Maybe not. But, whichever it was, it was to some extent a selfish decision, and to a great extent a decision rooted in my own privilege. No denying that.

So, now high school looms ahead and we faced all the same issues. Mica wanted to leave the Arts program, and we were ready for her to leave. But for what? Local East Van high school? Perhaps. But of course, among her cohort at school the question was not a specialized program or not, but which specialized program for the remainder of the school years. And for us, too, the same old questions and issues. A 2000 kid high school is so big and so anonymous. The cohort system in these targeted minischools provides such a safe place, such lasting friendships, such close relationships with teachers. We obviously don’t want to lose that.

So the conversation began – what programs are available and where? In our neighbourhood, all the local schools have district programs – one arts-based, one focused on leadership and civic engagement, one focused on philosophy and literature, one on accelerated learning, and on and on and on. We studied them all. We went to info meetings. We weighed the pros and cons.

But what was clear was the legacy of entitlement we had instilled in these kids by giving them access to specialized learning programs. Mica and her friends all spoke of the schools they would go to, the extra things they would get to do. Never did it cross their minds that they could be denied admission, that most kids didn’t even get these choices, that most who applied would get turned down, that what they expected as their right in schooling was a tremendous privilege that only further exacerbated social inequities.

We talked about it alot. Meg and I and Mica had many conversations about the issues involved, and we did our damndest to remind her that if she applied for these programs, she was one kid among many, that most don’t even get the choice, and that any local school would be a good, safe place to be. We talked alot with Mica’s mom, who had some of the same questions as us but was very worried about the big anonymous school as an option. And at the end of the day, we still had to battle the contradictions of our own feelings. The importance of local neighbourhood schooling. The importance of teaching Mica that her community is a much more diverse place than she’s seen in her own classroom. The value in learning to negotiate diversity. The horrible exclusivity and entitlement underlying every such program – whether french immersion, Montessori, or specialized district minischool. Versus the value of a small cohort, the chance to be less anonymous to parents, teachers, peers. The extra focus on her own educational needs that such a program provides. The ability to maybe start high school with a few of her current friends. Contradictions and tensions.

At the end of the day, we settled on a deal. Apply for two minischools, but both housed in schools in our own community. If those didn’t pan out, she’d go to a local school, and we’d consider issues like where her friends were going in determining specifics. And, of course, she got accepted into her first choice. And so did many of her friends. So next September, Mica and 8 or 10 kids she’s known for many years start high school together, their little group set to comprise a third of the incoming class in the minischool. She was super-excited. We were proud of her and the work she did on her application. We were pleased the school was local, and lots of kids from the neighbourhood would be going to the same place, even if not to the same program. And we took some solace in the fact that the isolation is not complete, a few classes each year being taken with the scho0l at large, and a complete integration in grades 11 and 12. We all felt OK with the choice. We all felt that there’d been some compromise, some good discusion, and a happy ending.

But still, when all is said and done, we decided for privilege. We decided to support the special access Mica has by virtue of her family’s educational and class position. We decided that the pros of entitlement outweighed the cons. We decided to alter the terms of exclusivity, not abandon them. Because immersion in the real world of public schooling does have its costs. It is more anonymous. There is more chance to fall through the cracks. There have been serious cuts. There are less extras. There is less attention from teachers who are overworked and stretched too thin. And it ain’t easy to choose between the real-world life lessons a child needs to learn and the special opportunities that are available to some select few. It ain’t easy to decide which course is best for the child. Oh, I know clearly what is best socially. I know clearly that these kinds of programs only further split the public system into an underfunded core and a semi-private top tier. But it’s hard to ignore the other side when it’s your own kid. It’s hard to walk away from the benefits of privilege. Real fucking hard.

Schooling. Child-rearing. Community-building. Lots to negotiate, lots to struggle with, and lots of compromise on all sides.

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Well, That Was Unexpected…

Well, first off – holy shit. This little blog has only ever been a place for me to knock of whatever is on my mind and to keep a few far-flung friends apprised of the goings-on in my life. And that means I generally expect that somewhere between ten and thirty people check in, very rarely going up to fifty or so if I write something that Megan comments on, driving traffic from her far-more-established presence on the interwebs. And a few pieces – mostly the stuff on wrestlers and unions – get a few hits a day from folks across the globe who stumble upon them by accident.

But this? Holy shit.

A couple days ago I decided to try blogging again after a long hiatus, and wrote a little stream of consciousness on diversity of tactics and the anti-Olympics shit. Meg referenced it on Red-Cedar, and that link spun off into something crazy.

A reader of Meg’s blog posted my piece on Facebook. It did the rounds in the activist and Left communities here. That led to contact with anarchist collectives in Toronto and elsewhere, who picked it up and linked themselves. Next thing I know, my personal musings for me and few friends are out there being passed around and debated like an actual piece of writing. Some 800 hits in three days, plus all the readers who found the piece elsewhere and read it without actually tracking down this site. It’s awesome. But also totally overwhelming and a little intimidating.

My secret place on the web is no longer secret. Everyone in my community and wider knows now that this is where I muse on shit. And that’s totally cool, but for one thing. This space has never been about polished writing, and only occassionally about writing of any substance. Mostly it’s just bullshit reflections and updates on daily happenings. Now, however, I feel a certain amount of pressure, some expectation to regularly weigh in on larger debates and to do so in a way folks want to read.

Well, I ain’t promising anything.

I’m really glad that my little stream of consciousness has made some small contribution to wider discussions about activism and resistance and relationships of struggle. I’m really glad that something I wrote resonated with so many others. I’m really glad to have connected with such a wide network of people in this way, and connected in new ways with folks from my own community as a result. And I just feel good. Like somehow I write something worthwhile, even if by accident. That’s pretty fucking awesome.

But intimidating, too, the reading of it creating its own set of expectations and pressures. And so, all I can do at this point is say; thanks, all, for the blog-love. Thanks for the kudos, and thanks for the respectful disagreements that keep this super-important conversation happening. And thanks, too, for the reminders that even my stream-of-consciousness can be a little too academic-boring for some. Thanks, everyone, for turning my little time-waster into something more. Maybe one day I’ll write something else worth reading and talking about.

Mostly, though, I’m just gonna keep doing what I do, writing bits and pieces of whatever’s on my mind. Next up is likely to be about the politics of mini-schools, as I get ready to send my daughter off to high school this year.

That’ll be later today or tomorrow, I expect.  Not so exciting, I know. But it’ll have to do.

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Indulging

Off to the island for a visit with Meg’s family this weekend, so no more posting for me til next week, and no time for much of anything substantial right now. But that’s just as well. Been thinking so much about political debates these last few days that I am happy for a weekend away and an excuse to leave it all behind for a bit.

Siding all up on the new building in the yard – a little studio in place of the old falling-down garage. Roof still needs to be dropped on, and then we have to get the interior done, but it makes a hell of a difference and we are at the point now that we can envison what the whole yard will look like when complete.

Inside the studio – a storage shed at the back, accessed by the lane. From the patio in the yard, french doors into a space that will hold a sauna, many bookshelves for our ever-growing library, and a sofabed for guests. We’ve found some bamboo flooring for a decent price, which is exciting. A ladder will lead up to a loft area under vaulted ceilings at the back, another sleeping space for those times we have more people around.

Outside the studio is our brick patio, which we’ll extend to hold a hot-tub (softub) and more gathering, socializing space. Planter boxes and an outdoor kitchen around it, with a hand-painted sink I brought from Mexico a few years back and – if I can get it built – a brick or cob oven so we can bake our bread fresh out there. Then the existing odds and ends – our little outdoor fireplace, our garden bar, and the outdoor living area will be complete.

On the other side of the yard are garden boxes for many growing things – fruits and vegetables and flowers growing together, good to feed us and many friends throughout the summer and fall. Megan has planned and detailed and started seeds inside, and I am super-excited to see how it all unfolds.

This little house is becoming quite a special place for us, a place to retreat from the battles of everyday, the tensions and stresses of work, the demands of unions. A place to rejuvenate, a place to gather with friends. A little oasis for east van radicals, we hope, with plans to share keys to the spa with a number of folks who might use such a space.

The garden and studio feel to me like the physical manifestation of so much more – our emphasis these days on our local community, on trading dinners with friends, on building networks of folks in these few blocks to increase public space and develop economies of barter, to keep bees, brew beer, bake bread and can our own food, to find bikeways and walkways across the city.

Live well. Grow food. Plant flowers. Drink wine. Share meals. Read books. Sing songs. Discuss, rant, laugh long into the night.

Indulgent? Hell, yes. And no apologies for that.

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For as long as I can remember, I have been surrounded by activism. My folks were radical catholics, tied close to social movements in Latin America and the Philippines that based their anti-capitalist ethos in Christian ideals of equality, service, love. Christian, yes. But radical, no doubt. Indeed, though here in the North American context we tend to associate the Churches with conservatism if anything, in much of the world a whole lot of Church people organized, struggled, took up arms, built alternative communities. And radical Christians – Catholics mostly – were often a greater threat to the state, and therefore even more fiercely targeted than their Marxist allies. Anyway. There were some fucking radical activists around that scene, and often a little scraping of the surface of your local church solidarity group would reveal long-standing and close solidarities with people and groups our governments called terrorists.

As a kid, that was all pretty normal to me. Activism was everywhere and everything, and I recognized early on the spectrum of the movement from letter-writing to silent vigils to sabotage to full-blown war. It was all part of one struggle. It all arose from what I saw as one community. Some of it was spoken, much of it was left unsaid, but damn those links were close and strong. They were rooted in some deep friendships and deep loves. And they endured, and in many cases still endure.

So it felt pretty natural for me to seek my own activist place once I hit about 15 years old, and I sought it out in various communities and various struggles. From my time in southern Africa, I connected with South African resistance movements like the Pan-Africanist Congress, folks who articulated a more radical anti-apartheid struggle than we saw in the ANC at that time, who connected anti-capitalism to powerful anti-racism and anti-colonialism in a way that quite frankly scared much of the anti-apartheid movement. I raised some money, I wrote some articles for the Industrial Worker and other such radical publications, I spoke at events and did educationals for youth groups.  I maintained my close ties to the local Central America refugee community, and the Guatemalans in particular, who had been so much of my upbringing. We organized rallies and vigils, we spoke to Churches and unions, we found ways to get money and supplies into the hands of folks on the front-lines who needed them most. Then came my union work, first with the Farm Workers in south central LA, then back here with a few different unions, as rank and file organizer and as elected executive, and for many of those years also with the IWW, my radical home. By the mid to late 1990s, with the anti-globalization movement was in full swing,  I spent all day every day engaging labour to step up and take notice, to ally with rather than isolate and marginalize the movement that was growing – fiercer, less heirarchical, more democractic, more celebratory, more willing to engage in direct action. And through all this, and up to the early 2000s, it was Cuba solidarity and organizing networks to confront and break the blockade, and working with a large, cross-sectoral and multi-generational group to identify paths toward a new left alternative to break from the piss-ass social democracy that had taken hold after the fall of the socialist bloc and the great lie of  ‘There is no alternative’.

And then, all of a sudden, I was done. I stopped. I was working as a professional union staffer, so had that to pay the bills and make me feel I was still somewhat connected. I remained around the discussions and debates on the Left, but mostly on the margins. I stopped organizing. I stopped going to protests and actions. I simply couldn’t keep up the interest or engagement.

What happened? Well, a couple of things I think. For one, I had just separated, and threw everything I had into being a single dad, and being the best possible dad I could be. That, it seemed to me, was not only far more worthwhile, it was far more satisfying, too. Also, I was just fucking tired. After a childhood in and out of war, and ten years of my own activism, I was really fucking tired. Tired of fighting with Zionists among the Left. Tired of fighting with union people about the value and importance of direct action. Tired of fighting with anti-oppression activists about the need to remember capitalism. Tired of fighting with communists about the need to recognize oppressions beyond class. Tired of fighting with Leninists about democracy. Tired of fighting with anarchists about the need to respect and connect with church people, union people, NGO people. I was really tired. And I couldn’t understand why I knew so many good folks in so many different movements, from so many different places, and yet they couldn’t seem to come together for anything beyond a single rally.  Lots of protests, lots of organizing, lots of educationals, lots of friends, and still I felt profoundly alone in it all. Baking cookies, dancing with five and six year olds, making up silly songs – it all was so much much life-affirming, so much more nourishing, so much more strenghtening to me.

Thinking about this today because Megan has for the last while being going through the same kind of process – feeling demoralized, tired, looking more to the community-building that sustains rather than the resistance than can be so draining and so fraught with conflict – not the conflict of the struggle, but conflict internally among allies and those who should be allies. It’s a hard fucking place to be, but, I think, something most of us go through a few times in such lives. And keeps bringing me back to the question, why is it so fucking difficult? Why is it so hard to find a place to organize, to fight back, that is both radical and life-affirming?

Union, NGOs and the like are hard for radicals to stay in for long, because there is so much compromise, so much that is tentative, so much replication of shitty liberal processes. And yet in the communities that do resonate with us, there is a never-ending cycle of internal antagonism and accusation and aggression that just kills our enthusiasm to engage. Feels sometimes like there is nowhere we belong. Feels sometimes like all we can do is retreat into the small communities of family and friends and gardens and potlucks and music-making. Life is so much better, so much more joyous and hopeful when we do that. And yet we know there is something missing, because we are activists, and we miss that activism.

Me, after a ten-year retreat into parenting and work and academic musings, I have over the last couple of years felt ready to get back to some more concrete political work. I’ve tried out a few organizations, started tentatively playing at the margins of a few different issues-based networks. But I’m gun-shy about jumping back in until I find something that satisfies the radical in me while providing some sense of community-building and some real human decency.  Meg’s feeling ready to give up and retreat for a while. I’m trying to keep my eyes open for the place that works, but so far not seeing it.

You can be active with the activists or sleeping with the sleepers, Billy Bragg sang to us. If only it were that easy.

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Tactical Considerations

The apoc-olympics have hit Vancouver, and many good folks have been organizing protest and resistance for a long time leading up to this.  Late last week the real action began, with several opportunities to express our collective rage at this spectacle of capitalism in our communities and the legacy of stolen land, repression, heightened security and debt that the big show leaves in its wake.

We had some awesome actions, my personal fave being the relatively spontaneous gathering on Commercial Drive to prevent the torch relay from parading through the streets in one of Vancouver’s centres of resistance, immediately after another and equally successful action in the downtown eastside. We were a couple of hundred on the Drive, ranging from folks in full-on black-bloc gear to street performers to union folks to high school kids to moms with strollers. And it was awesome.

Then more protest, much discussion, many plans, and a crowd of thousands on the streets of downtown Vancouver on Friday night, our own gathering of resistance to contest the opening ceremonies of capital’s great circus. So good to be back in a throng, so good to see the diversity and scope of this movement, so good to see some fight on that kind of scale once again.

But now it is Saturday morning that is getting all the attention. A protest quite explicitly intended to provide an opportunity for those who wanted more direct action, more direct confrontation, to take to the streets. This was to be a space  for what we call diversity of tactics. Me? I was all for it, and though I stayed home with the family, having previously made the decision together that we weren’t up for that kind of action this time round, I was certainly hoping it would be a success. Whatever that means.

Now, we’ve all seen the news, mainstream and alternative. Some folks in the streets, blocking traffic. Some windows of the corporate sponsors smashed. Lines of cops, arrests, and a few people charged with pretty minor offenses – mischief mostly, and one guy with brandishing a weapon cause he had a bike chain. Whatever.

But I have been thinking about this scene a lot lately, because my reaction is at odds with many others in my community. Because not only can I not see it as any kind of success, but I have also found myself entirely unsympathetic to the calls for support that followed the arrests. Rather, I watched the Saturday action shaking my head, thinking this was a pointless exercise and wondering why spraying-painting cars and smashing a few windows would pass as political action in this context, let alone be in any way helpful. Then, after the cops moved in, I found it really difficult to be responsive to the outrage and calls for solidarity, instead thinking, “OK, there were arrests – what the fuck did you expect?” and “Hmm,  arrests, yes, some take-downs, yes. But nothing like what cops are capable of. They looked menacing with their automatic weapons, to be sure, but actually seem to have had a pretty controlled strategy. The cops are learning about playing to the media. Maybe use a provocateur or two, but generally just wait til one or two people do something stupid and use that as a legitimate excuse to shut them down and haul them off. Smart on the cops. Looks like they won this one.”

So I’m thinking about diversity of tactics. I’m thinking about struggle and what it means to resist across sectors, across actions, across the wide range of engagement we can imagine. And I’m thinking that I am not satisfied with either of the responses I’ve most often heard in the wake of Saturday. I’m thinking that most folks who have commented – whether critical of the action or supportive of it – are missing the crucial point: that tactics flow from strategy.

Voices from the boardrooms of the union and NGO community – Outrageous, criminal behaviour, these hoodlums have no place in our movement and should be ashamed of themselves. We’ll have nothing to do with direct action. This is an embarassment and we’ll be first to condemn it.

Voices from many in my community – Outrageous, the cops are brutal, this was legitimate protest and how dare anyone criticize the brave young women and men who put something fierce behind their words, who made our rage apparent for all to see.  How dare the state criminalize them, how dare the cops arrest them, how dare those others on the left condemn them for their fight.

And y’know what? I don’t care for either response.

I’m no pacifist. I have no objection to actions designed to confront, designed to provoke a reaction. I have no moral judgment against property damage, or even violence for that matter, if the context is right. But that doesn’t mean anything goes in any circumstance. Rather, it means that everything from letter-writing to peaceful protest to blockades to armed resistance may have its place, and how and when we engage depends on who we are, where are, and what we’re trying to achieve. But mostly it means that all of us, no matter where we fall on the action spectrum, recognize that our resistance is part of something broader and seek to respect alternate ways of organizing and struggling.  But all of us, too, need to act with some clarity of intention, and whatever tactics we engage in need to flow from an understanding of the movement overall and a strategy for moving toward our objectives.

Does that mean rules? No. Does that mean proscribed agreement? No. But something that we can actually comprehend as resistance would be nice, wouldn’t it?  I’m missing what was accomplished here, or what anyone even hoped to accomplish. And if I’m missing it, I figure there’s no way in hell the general public is getting it, and no way in hell most of our allies are, either. No, I’m not complaining that breaking some windows discredits the movement as a whole. There is a time for pushing boundaries to shift the political terrain. And I’m not surprised that some people wanted to break windows. There is a time for the unleashing of rage, pure and simple. However, I am finding it really hard to see where the strategy was here, and that is leading me to look at it all and think, “Huh. A couple of people spoiling for a fight, apparently, and nothing more. I can’t see the link to the struggle. And so I can’t muster a hell of alot of support for you now. Sorry.”

I wonder: is this just a ‘grow up and act responsible’ response I am having, indicative of some increasing conservatism? I don’t think it’s that simple. But it is true that to some extent I am less willing to accept the complaining now and more inclined to say, “buck up and take some fucking responsibility’. Not responsibility as in ‘don’t engage in such tactics’. But responsibility to do so when and how it makes sense, with a reasonable notion of one’s overall goals and one’s target and some work to make sure that there’s a point to the action – that it resonates as politics rather than random flailing about for attention. And responsibility, too, for the consequences.

Cops are the armed force of the state. We know this. They are an institution of state violence. That is what they do. So if you choose to confront the cops, and they react with violence, it seems a bit disingenuous to react with surprise and outrage. How did you expect them to respond? They’re cops! I mean, if you confront the state, the state comes in and arrests you and uses some force to do it – that is only to be expected. So, when that happens, you can respond in a different ways. One is what I’m seeing in this instance – “Outrageous, how dare they, we have done nothing wrong and the cops are brutes and nothing more! Demand our freedom, demand that we be recognized as victims of the security state!” Or, alternatively: “Yes, we broke the law. Yes, we engaged in X action. We did so for the following reasons, and we will continue to do so because we believe that confrontation achieves X and we are prepared to face the consequences. We are not victims. We engage with full understanding of what we are doing, with a clear purpose, and we are accountable to our communities and our allies.” That’s a very different response. That’s a response I can weigh, consider, and respect. But I haven’t heard much of it.

Now, to be fair, a statement has been released to try to articulate motivation and strategy for the action on Saturday. And some of the points made line up 100% with my own thoughts on this. Yes, the emphasis on a few broken windows downplays the daily violence – economic and otherwise – experienced by thousands in this city every day. Yes, attacks on property and attacks on human life are very different things, and we need to recognize that. Yes, the security apparatus in this city has indeed made it a city under siege in many respects, and there is a value to confronting that apparatus for this reason alone. But as much as I appreciate this, my questions on the strategic value of it all linger. Perhaps the purpose was indeed to prove that the community will not be cowed by state violence, and that no amount of security can stop resistance. OK. Valid point. But I don’t think that message was sent at all. And in the larger context of the anti-Olympics organizing – i.e  the organization of protest to draw attention to the very real issues in this city and the hugely negative impacts of the Games – did the actions accomplish anything? I’m doubtful. They didn’t draw any more attention to the issues at hand, but instead gave the media a spectacle of criminality rather than helping to highlight and build support for the motivations of resistance. The action didn’t successfully communicate a point of connection with community resistance more generally, the way the Drive gathering did on Friday morning – which included a significant black bloc contingent, by the way. And if what occurred was in whole or in part a response to concrete police provocation – which is critical to make some headway in the media war that follows such actions – then that has not come out even in the participant’s own statements so far as I can see.

So, I’m left wondering what was achieved, really? Did it really prove anything about the community fightback? Or did it simply appear – whatever the motivation of the individuals themselves – that a few people smashed windows just cause they wanted to smash windows? Methinks the latter. And so, while I’m fine with property damage as a tactic in struggle, I’m not really all that convinced that what went down here was anything more than a few people playing at being radical. I may well be wrong in some objective sense. And I am almost certainly wrong in the minds of many of those who were there. But whatever their motivations were, an action needs to build the momentum of struggle, to resist in ways that engender more and greater resistance in future. And individual acts of vandalism just don’t do that. Period. And – giving folks the benefit of the doubt –  actions that intend to be meaningful but only appear as individual acts of vandalism to others? They don’t do it either. They fail as political actions.

I was thinking about all this today as I came up to work on the bus. I was thinking about direct action in the context of Canada, and whether I would react differently in other circumstances or whether I’m just going soft. And the best example I can come up with of direct action that works in this province today is the Encana bomber.

Over the last couple of years someone or some group of someones has been targeting the Encana natural gas pipeline in northern BC, setting off a series of explosions to challenge the corporation’s intrusion in the area. That’s some serious direct action. That’s some serious confrontation with the state and capital. And  I am hugely sympathetic, and I have a hell of a lot of respect for the anti-Encana actions, though I have no idea who’s behind them or what the specific moral or philosophical drivers are for those actions. But the Encana bombings have the following going for them: they are targeted; they are strategic actions that take place in the context of a larger goal and are always directly connected to that goal; each action communicates clearly what it seeks to achieve, why it is directed where it is, who it intends to confront, etc etc etc. That is, the Encana actions are more violent than rock-throwers and spray-painters on any scale. But they also have an identified purpose, a clear target, and take place within a well-articulated strategy. Those bombings succeed as political actions. And for me, that’s all the difference in the world. In other words, it ain’t direct action that’s the problem. It’s the context in which that action takes place, its place within a larger strategy and the accountability taken by the actors.

I’ve been rambling here. And no doubt some who read this are just gonna scream sell-out at me. But so be it. Because diversity of tactics, it seems to me, doesn’t mean anyone anywhere can behave however they want and get my support. It means that I am open to supporting people engaging in a wide range of different ways to further our struggles, and I understand that there is a value to resistance of many forms, organized and spontaneous, peaceful and not. But I don’t see a value to spraypainting peoples’s cars or kicking shit down or getting themselves beat up by cops just because it makes them feel revolutionary. I’ve got no time for it.

Final point: there’s nothing I hate more than the conservative leftism that demands order and regulation and discipline in the movement. That kind of shit did nothing to build freedom. And sadly, that’s what we see from alot of the traditional left after moments like this. But it’s not the point of what I’m saying here, and I have just as much criticism – and perhaps even more – for those who use something like this to isolate radicals generally. But just because we want to respect a diversity of tactics, that doesn’t mean that anything goes. That doesn’t mean there is no responsibility for our actions. That doesn’t mean I have to support everyone who undertakes any action and claims a political motivation for it. I remain convinced that it is indeed possible to respect diversity of tactics while looking for some recognizable strategic logic. But I need to see that the action was in some meaningful way a politics; I need to see more community than  individualism in the way the action unfolds; I need to see acting up rather than acting out. And right now, I’m not finding it.

Oh, and there’s lots of debate on this going round, now, obviously. One such piece, out of an anarcho-communist network in Ontario, can be found here: http://linchpin.ca/English/We-need-mass-movement-not-black-bloc

And from rabbletv, video of comments by David Eby and Chris Shaw.

http://rabble.ca/rabbletv/program-guide/2010/02/features/bc-cilvil-liberties-eby-defends-his-criticism-protesters

http://rabble.ca/rabbletv/program-guide/2010/02/features/chris-shaw-comments-diversity-tactics-analysis-saturday-acti

I’ll try to remember to post more related links in the next little bit.

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Back to It

OK, I’ve neglected this damn thing for months, and I’ve promised to kickstart it a couple of times, to the point that those few people who used to get on my case about blogging have given up and found other ways to waste their time at work. But I want to write, and I have a few things in particular I’d like to post about, so I am trying one more time.

Before the real shit, a brief news update for this first post in many months.

After nine years, I’m switching jobs. Moving on to the same position at a different university, still representing faculty in their employment matters with the institution. A smaller campus, the one at which I did my undergrad and masters degrees. A smaller office, a more relaxed pace, and a working environment that seems to be more in tune with my own preferences. It’s a welcome change, a needed change, but there’s some trepidation, too, and some sadness.

Nine years is a long time to work in a small office, to commit to an organization. And in that time you form some close relationships – relationships whose value and impact you don’t necessarily realize til you confront a change such as this. So I’ve been feeling some grief and loss as I think about moving on. In addition, there’s a sadness to the fact that I feel I need to move in the first place. There’s alot I love about my work and my workplace. But the last couple of years have been marked by a good deal of tension, some real changes in the organizational culture, and a number of occasions in which I’ve felt let down or betrayed or not valued by the employer. That’s never good. But in an organization like a union, in which you work so closely and so personally, often times those who play the employer role actually feel like friends, too. So when things get tough, and the reality of the class system in the workplace comes into the light, it can really hurt for a long time.

That’s been the reality for me the last little while, so it’s time to move, it’s time to try something new. And I am privileged I have an opportunity to do the same job – something I feel confident about, capable at, comfortable with – in the same kind of institution with the same kind of culture, with people I know and like. A new start, a new place, but without the steep learning curve than normally accompanies a career shift like this. So, that ain’t bad.

It’s a strange mix of loss and excitement. Much to look forward to, a sense of relief and anticipation. And yet a sadness to leave co-workers I’ve worked closely with for a long time, and a place I really thought I would stay forever.

March 1st. Not far away, so there is much to do to prepare for the transition, both personally and organizationally. I’ve cried alot already. I’ve also cheered and  celebrated. More of all to come, I know.

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