Sunday, October 30, 2011


That's right, tomorrow is that national holiday which centers around the crazy freakiness that emerges at midnight, all the goblins and memories and characters of past and present that will come out of the closet to celebrate NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH!!!!!!!  At NaNoEve, I'll be with my fellow Wrimos in Java Break in Lawrence, where we'll be starting our novels, ready for the 50,000 word miracle that will follow.

I'm helping to lead our group in town in this brave month.  And I have to ask myself, is writing a novel that will probably be terrible, that will never get published, that will be read by maybe five people if it's very fortunate, a good use of time?  Is it useful to encourage other people to take time away from their families, jobs, volunteer opportunities, even from the Occupy movements, to do so? 

One of my major qualifications for good actions, for positive involvement in the world, is "Would I do this action if the revolution had already come, either because it was necessary or because I wanted to do it?"  If not, am I doing this action because it is necessary in a fallen world?  If neither of those questions can be answered in the affirmative, I have to stop and think about the worthwhileness of the activity.

For me (and for my brave fellow writers), I can attest that should the revolution happen tomorrow, we would gather around in a newly liberated space, with our newly liberated time and lives, and start writing like there was no yesterday.  We would want to tell stories, to shape worlds, to respond to the situations unfolding around us.

And even if we were so caught up in the moment (or, well, trying to get the counterrevolution started, as surely many writers would be) (or, also, trying to emphasize the illegitimate nature of the revolution that had just happened, and why we still needed to strive for the needed turn in the world and resist the quickly coalescing power structures, as many writers doubtless also would be) (or also just so smashed) that we no longer wanted to write novels, we would be using our honed communication skills to write broadsides and communiques and opinion pieces and deal with all the other emergency writing needs that would present themselves!

Beyond the fact that we the participants are seizing our own desires and making them happen in a way largely outside of consumer culture, NaNoWriMo is an inherently anarchist activity.  It relies on networks instead of dictums; it is self-policed; it involves voluntary associations organized within a centralized organization for the benefit of all; it celebrates individual possibility while simultaneously emphasizing the value of community; it is open to all, with those who are able asked to contribute to the financial side of it; and it is a lot cheaper than Prozac, with fewer side effects.  

NaNoWriMo helped me escape a moderately severe depression a couple of years ago, and allowed me to think of myself as a writer again.  Many other people have reported similar effects.  

So, I'm off to a life-enriching month of accomplishment and communal celebration!  My novel concerns a phrenologist, c. 2075, investigating some mysterious deaths.  Delia is my favorite character from my novel last year, so I'm going to revive her and give her more of a starring role.  Check back for updates, although I probably won't be writing here as much due to the event :-)  If you want to join me, please do look up the Lawrence, Kansas group on! I am the co-Municipal Liason.  Happy Writing!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

Moore, Michael.  Here Comes Trouble:  Stories from My Life.  Grand Central Publishing, 2011.

Michael Moore's new memoir scored off the charts on Angela's Revolutionary Memoir Do's and Don'ts.  He had me from the introduction, and I liked his book even more than his films (most of which I found very enjoyable).

My basic guidelines for revolutionary memoirs are as follows:
** The less sex, the better narrative.  
**Humor and hope are vital.  
**Be Proud but not self-important
** Let the audience rage at injustice with you.

And Moore succeeded admirably in all these ways.   Fortunately, he never, ever asks us to contemplate his sex life.  He jokes a lot about his lack thereof, but he gets zero of his cred from bragging of sexual prowess.  

His trademark hilarity comes through on the page perhaps more effectively than in films.  These short recollections use typically self-deprecating humor to get you laughing, then thinking. His stories about early political victories (giving a speech against racism in the Elks, running for schoolboard while still a student in the local high school) show some examples of concrete actions he took in his lifetime, not the actions of celebrity and fame but ordinary actions that any of us could take.  

Moore demonstrates a modest satisfaction in his accomplishments, but the book really isn't about his career making movies.  It's about him being human and having human responses to the terrible injustices in the world.  He avoids self-importance by telling stories of friends and family members as well as those where he is the main character.  His story "Zoe," for example, about his friend who had an illegal abortion, started out humorously and focused on his affections for his friend; by the end of the story, it was tear-jearking, anger-inducing, and totally focused on Zoe's tragedy. 

This book took me right into the injustice alongside Michael Moore.  I ended the book hopeful and laughing through tears, but really really really angry at the terrible injustices that ruin lives and steal the few beautiful years God gives us on this earth. He brought me into his righteous fury at war, at lousy boyfriends, at short-sighted authority figures, and at bigotry and cruelty everywhere.  (Granted, it's not hard to bring me along into righteous fury).  I stayed up late finishing the book.  Simultaneously it left me wanting more stories from its author, and wanting to go into the fray righting wrong and rooting out injustice where it grows.  Michael Moore is a prophetic voice, and a hell of a writer.  Go find this book.  Read it.  You won't be disappointed.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The world really might be about to turn this time

It's been a big week for potential revolutionaries.  There's been this major international movement, you may have heard of it :-)  That's right, the Occupy Lawrence movement has been going strong for three weeks now (I think? Maybe a little longer), and occupiers have camped continuously in South Park for over a week.    It's incredibly exciting, and one part of me wants to be involved up to my ears, move into the camp, get arrested, go to every protest, every General Assembly, days of action, help cook, set up emergency Algebra I teach-ins (ha, ha, ha)...

My life does not allow me to do this right now.  I sat down and thought about it, and quite frankly, I am proud of most of what I do with my time.  During the day, that is--my nighttime internet browsing isn't exactly my best trait.  But my full time work with young people, trying to help them realize their dreams, and around the edges trying to make the world a better place for them (and for me, and for the rest of the kids, and for my future kids, and everyone else too), is probably the most effective thing I can do for any movement.  

This week, I have attended a couple of General Assemblies;  like most observers whose accounts I've read, I find them hopeful and inspiring, but also endless, and not necessarily the best possible use of my time.  Reaching consensus on everything takes time.  I understand that in a cosmic sense it is probably worth it, but in another, less cosmic sense, I have a lot of stuff to do, and a limited lifetime in which to do it.  

However, I've found some things to do that were worth my time.  Saturday night, the campers at Occupy Lawrence were harassed and physically assaulted by some passers-by (read:  drunk people going home from bars).  This is obviously shameful and ridiculous.  So we brought over some coffee for them; while we were at the occupation, a need to pick up a participant from the jail arose.  I found out where the county jail is.  If you couldn't get ahold of someone to come get you from there, it'd be a long walk back to Lawrence.  The jail itself is deceptively well-designed; it looks more like a school should look, plus creepily steampunk bolts on the doors.    

On suggestion from Alternet of other ways to help, I'm going to record here, publicly, how I am part of the 99%.

The most painful part, for me, of being part of the 99%, is that even as a professional full-time worker I cannot afford to have a baby.  The skyrocketing costs of health care force me to postpone childbearing.  I have many years yet to have a child, probably without huge problems, thankfully; however, that this decision has to be financial, and not emotional or relational, makes me very angry and frustrated.  Should we have a child, I have no paid maternity leave, no ability to take off from my job to take care of my child, and also no access to decent child care if I wanted or needed to keep working.  And, the most damning part, no way to provide health care for me and my child if I do quit work, not enough money for health care for my child even if I don't quit work.

My profession has been under continuous attack from the 1% under the dubious guise of "school reform," which generally seeks to shift all blame for student underachievement, drop-out, lack of engagement, etc., onto teachers.  Never mind the large body of research that indicates American schools without large populations of kids that live in poverty are among the best schools in the world, that poverty, not teachers, drags down kids.  The economic inequality that keeps all kids from achieving their full potentials is not teachers' fault.  Yet movements to limit our rights to collectively bargain, movements to reduce our salaries, to take away our benefits, to lengthen our hours, are rife and gaining speed. 

Meanwhile, 20% of kids in the USA live in poverty; another 20% are near it.  My students often mention that they can't get medical treatment; they can't attend the school play because of the $5 admission; they can't participate in school activities because the budget cuts forced us to institute an activity fee.

Indeed, even as a worker in a position of privilege (relatively stable work, relatively good benefits, acceptable salary, all resulting from my high level of education and being born into the middle class), I am still a worker.  I stand in solidarity with all workers whose rights are dissolving in a pool of cowardly political pandering to the wealthy.  

I encourage you also:  share how you are part of the 99%.  Share what changes you would like to see.  And if you are so inclined, stop by your local occupation and see what you can do to help.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupation, Immigration, and One Big Union

Potential signs I was thinking about making for the Occupy Lawrence Rally on Saturday:

    I just want the revolution already so I can have a baby and crochet and garden.

    The act of resistance can be an act of love. (Adapted from Paolo Freire)

     The hungry poor will weep no more for the food they can never earn/
         There are Tables Spread; every mouth be fed/
         For the world is about to turn. (From Canticle of the Turning)

Sign I actually made:
     We are the 99% we've been waiting for.

We have the power, we have to change the world and wrest power from the sadists that hold it currently, replace the corrupted old order with a new, kind order, rooted in our collective desires for well-being and social justice.  

Our rally here in Lawrence was somewhat dispiriting, with just a few of us holding signs.  But nationally yesterday was a big day--lots of wonderful, spirited protests all over the country.  Several people have occupied South Park and have committed to camping there until the resolution comes.  As one of my friends said, this might not become anything, but it looks like the closest thing our generation will have to a revolutionary moment, and I'm going to seize it.

I thought the New Yorker actually offered some of the more cogent analysis of the movement:  "Occupy Wall Street is a political project, but it is equally a cri de couer, an exercise in constructive group dynamics, a release from isolation, resignation, and futility.  The process, not the platform, is the point."  

This is helping connect lots of activists in our community; that part is exciting.  My ties to local anarchists are strengthening, and I get so much succor from my interactions with them.  

But, alas, I'm not sure that the Occupy Together movement is going to accomplish much (although I of course hope otherwise, that at least we can bring about massive reforms if not the needed revolution).  So, in the spirit of participating in another large, historical movement, I'm joining the International Workers of the World (aka the IWW or the Wobblies), an anarcho-syndicate which has been around since 1905.  I'm not going to blog about this much, but if you have any questions about it, feel free to e-mail me or call me.

I have been listening to their wonderful "Little Red Box of Protest Songs," which compiles several decades of delightful resistance music.  I've also been listening to IWW member Anne Feeney's music, which anyone who likes rousing political music should certainly check out.  So much spirit!

So the IWW seems like a source of life and light, and I'm proud to be part of it.  

Friday, October 7, 2011

Odds and Ends

Some addendums that didn't fit into my previous ramble:

Topeka has decided to decriminalize domestic violence.  Yes, you read that right.

Shawnee County not prosecuting domestic batteries  (this is probably the least inflammatory article on the web, on this topic.  Feel free to supply your own outrage.  this will earn its own post in the near future.  Of all the possibilities for decriminalizing....fuck.)

As much as I am in sympathy with and support the Occupy Wall Street movement, as much as it's great to see people in the streets protesting for our rights, going against the bankers (stand-ins for everyone who has lived for profit at the expense of the rest of us), we have to remember that all social movements in America bear the scars of our racist past and present.  Rebel Diaz, a hip-hop collective whose work I admire, wrote a very thought provoking response which you can read here about their experience of casual racism on the ground in New York, and their observations on the lack of participants from the Bronx and other more severely impoverished communities.

Yesterday I participated in the zombie walk in Lawrence.  It was crazy.  Look for anarcho-zombie musings in the future!

~Love, peace, and newborns to all.

The Myth of the Job Creators

A venture capitalist gave an unusually frank interview to NPR that made me think about how business operates.  He gave honest answers to the interviewer's questions, which I found rare and unusual and made me appreciate him even though I loathe everything he stands for.  Anyway, he argued against seeing businesses as "job creators," explaining that every business wants to avoid hiring people since that interferes with their basic objective of making money.  He backed off from saying that we shouldn't give businesses perks to be "job creators"--he's not totally honest here--and said that we should still see business as the engine of growth and job creation in the long run, just reminding us that government can't force corporations to hire people since providing people with a livelihood and benefits is far from the interest of business.  Business exists only to make a profit, dammit.  How dare anyone ask anything else of them?

His comments dovetailed with my frequent and frustrating conversations with my father, about the necessity of the profit motive. He reiterates over and over again that without the goal of making money, no one would ever do anything.  Everything good happens because someone wants to make a profit.  

I have my differences with my father, to be sure; but if he ever in his life did anything to make a profit, he hid it well from me. Dad worked some jobs he didn't like to pay for college, sure, but then became a pastor and was one 24-7.  He is a living refutation of people's "need" for profit.  No one really requires him to go visit anyone who asks for it, any time of the day or night; when I was a child, we'd often hear him getting up at midnight or one to go to the hospital to comfort a grieving family, or to be with one of his hospice patients.  When I hear of other pastors who have up-front prices for presiding a weddings or funerals or baptisms, I shudder a bit in horror; while he usually did get some sort of honorarium at such events, Dad would die of shame before charging anyone for church work.

What I am trying to say is that while he says he believes in profit, he has never, ever acted on that belief. This is the spirit in which my parents raised me--try to find something you can do that is good for the world, and someone can pay you for so you can live.  I have struggled with much of my upbringing, but this I can embrace and thank my father for: he gave me an example of someone who does things because they are right, not because they are profitable, and encouraged me to do the same.

I agree with the aforementioned venture capitalist that business exists (right now, in our cultural climate) to make money.  I disagree that this is right, or acceptable, or necessary.  A healthy society cannot survive having organisms whose sole goal is to extract resources from their environment. 

Now, as an anarchist, I am not actually against good business practices--if we redefine good business.  No organization should be permitted to have profit as its only goal, and none of us should patronize or have to patronize such groups.  This is totally different than encouraging innovation in the provision of goods and services. We should be free to pursue interesting ways of making a living that enrich society. The goals of providing tasty food and coffee to people and a nice place to sit and talk with peers, for example--those are fine goals.  Growing food because people need it and you enjoy the process--good goal. Developing new medicine--good goal. Prompt service, quality products, medical care--providing all of these things are fine goals, and if people can make a good living doing those things, more power to them!  But any time that people's lives are reduced to labor whose only purpose is to earn money, they are forced into prostitution.  When profit is the motive, all else suffers--the employees, the customers/clients, those who are forced out of work and can no longer be employees OR customers.  

This is why we need the Occupy Wall Street movement.  We need to have spaces in which we consider how profit has seriously messed up our society, how our economy is not a process for providing goods and services and livelihoods to all, but a process for squeezing the lifeblood from all of us for the "benefit" of a few.  Even for those few, what have they gained if they steal the whole world but lose their souls?  Jesus warns of the evil in the love of money, and we must resist this love.  At the risk of repetition--people are not for money!  Money is for people!

If you are in Lawrence, join us at Occupy Lawrence on Saturday--12:00-3:00 in front of US Bank.  (I will not be at this event, as we are visiting our newborn niece--the reason for trying to make a better world).  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Changing plans

So, I was planning to blog here about the most recent travesties of justice in this fair land of ours.  Naturally, I'm developing a morning ritual with NPR when I change the channel every time the phrase 'narrowly averted government shutdown" occurs.  If I listed to NPR in my living room, it would be a drinking game...but...I don't much care about government or shutdowns or NPR right now because...

My niece was born today.

Ten fingers, ten toes, perfect baby.

We've gotta make sure her world is beautiful and just.  Welcome to the world, little one.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Vocabulary, vocabulary.

One of my friends just posted on facebook how "occupation affects wardrobe..."

and all I thought about was Occupy New York and what was appropriate attire for occupying public space potentially for long periods of time, through various temperature and weather conditions!