Monday, March 24, 2008

Sense of Solidarity

For socially conscious individuals, identifying with a movement's goals or an organization's objectives is an important part of protecting their personal sanity. Without that connection, thoughtful people will inevitably turn to self-destructive behavior.

The networks that comprise modern social movements, however, are not (as commonly thought) coalitions of non-profit corporate entities. Rather, they are comprised of indomitable individuals -- sometimes affiliated with formal organizations -- who more often than not are independent researchers, analysts and activists.

While these collegial networked relationships create a sense of ideological belonging, they do not sustain the movements with which affinity groups and individuals voluntarily identify. That, on the contrary, can only be accomplished through shared effort and mutual support: finding each other jobs, promoting each other's work, providing for each other's needs--the kind of solidarity one sees in tribal societies.

Applying this type of solidarity to citizenship within modern state constructs, requires conceptual tools and philosophical development generally unavailable in academia. As such, online hedge schools and the face-to-face discussions they hint at meet a social mental health need, but mostly receive no funding.

Given this undeveloped sense of solidarity, the intellectual services required to attain and maintain social sanity remain largely inaccessible. Turning this situation around necessitates freeing individual minds from the captivity of consumerism--especially eschewing the commodity of conventional activism.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Agents of Discord

Now that New College of California is closed and bandits are
busy looting the remains, the Gabel coterie is probably
getting nervous about having to return ill-gotten gains.
Should a class-action lawsuit materialize against them, that
is a real possibility.

So what better way to derail the alumni than to drive a wedge
between the alumni leadership? After all, the tactic of
divide and conquer was standard operating procedure for the
Gabel gang in preventing democratization of the school for
three decades. They've honed the technique of infiltrating,
rumor-mongering, and back-stabbing to an art. (There is now
evidence pointing to a recent undercover operation, by a
true-believer of the Gabel cult, to cozy up to some of the
alumni leadership in order to undermine the most vocal of
Gabel's critics.)

In social conflict, there are always those who intentionally
sow discord as part of psychological warfare.
There are also
those who unintentionally create disharmony due to their
ignorance or argumentative nature.

In order to prevail against enemies of social justice, both
intentional and unintentional subversion of authentic
activism must be dealt with. Whether those who disrupt
productive organizing do so as a result of being misguided or
malevolent will determine the manner in which they are dealt
with, but due to the limited energy available for these
distractions, needlessly indulging them is strategically

People get emotional under stress, and even civil discussions
can get heated. But better that discussions take place than
not. Otherwise, no learning. I could avoid criticism by
flattering the ignorant or cajoling the delinquent, but that
requires sacrificing the goals we've set.

Over the years I've discovered that teaching and mentoring
means that students and proteges sometimes turn on the
messenger. It's unfortunate, but it happens.

But with agents of discord, I find it's best to point out
their game straight off before they can do much damage. A
good policy is that everyone's welcome who participates in
good faith. Those who don't can suffer the consequences.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Learning from History

In the 1990s, when Indian tribes and environmentalists united in protecting the watersheds of Washington state, the Washington Association of Realtors (WAR) and the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) organized and funded vigilante groups throughout the state to corrupt elections, undermine responsible government, and threaten activists and public officials. Some construction union leaders aided and abetted them in this political violence. Unaware of this subversive political undercurrent, many areas of the state were thrown into turmoil from which it took them ten years to recover. During that decade, destruction of the greater Puget Sound environment accelerated.

Were it not for the applied investigative research of people like Paul de Armond, Tarso Luis Ramos, and Rudolph Ryser, the Anti-Indian, anti-environmentalist Wise Use Movement would have consolidated their gains in the region and very likely gotten human rights, indigenous, and environmental activists murdered. Instead, seven vigilantes went to prison.

Last month, the Coast Salish Gathering of indigenous leaders and environmental activists in this same region committed to action against further destruction of their watersheds. We only hope that this time they have the foresight, based on the experience of the 1990s, to prepare for the inevitable attack by the real estate development industry. Organizations like WAR and the BIAW, as well as the infamous Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise and One Nation United (a national Anti-Indian network), are likely already planning covert operations against the indigenous nations and their allies.

As the Mashantucket Pequot tribal chairman recently remarked, "When things work for Indian country, enemies coalesce. Those who don't learn from history are condemned to repeat it.'' The road ahead is fraught with risk, he said, but it also contains unprecedented opportunities for tribes ''to chase beautiful things together and even defend ourselves more effectively than we have in the past.''

Applied investigative research is vital to that defense.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Posing for Dollars

A recent Indian Country Today editorial on tribal self-determination observed that "dependency limits strategies." In calling for increased activism to counter predations of Congress and the corporations it represents, the editors of ICT reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a class of college seniors in San Francisco.

Speaking to them on the topic of applied investigative research, they repeatedly asked me to explain the meaning of the phrase "moral theatrics," a term I used in one of their assigned readings. The short answer I gave was "posing for dollars." I also went on to give examples of this activity, as well as to explain some of the reasons for its persistence, particularly in the Bay Area.

One of the reasons I noted was that activism as a career, rather than a civic duty, limited the strategies -- indeed worldview -- of those dependent on the largesse of philanthropic institutions. By constantly courting the favor of foundations, most of which are repositories of excess wealth amassed through tax evasion and dealing in stolen property, career activists could hardly be expected to rock the boat of the status quo. What they could be expected to do, I observed, is to pose for dollars without really addressing the system of inequality in which we live.