Underground Press Archive

Making Theory Meaningful–Abolishing Theory

Reprinted from Freedom Toast (April 2003)

“There are no revolutionary thoughts, only revolutionary actions” (1, 2)

As university students, especially students in the humanities, much of our education consists of the study of various theories and theory has become one of the major topics of study at the university, transcending lines separating the disciplines to the point where it is not common to see Foucault’s discussions cited in anthropological studies, historical studies, in literary criticism, and in sociological studies. The use of theory in academic studies outside of the disciplines traditionally associated with theory has certainly contributed different perspectives and allowing for new insights; however, theory has simultaneously been reduced from its previous position as a catalyst for revolutionary change in society, instead becoming an easy way for intellectuals to satisfy their academic ego without affecting the world. Theory, which once enjoyed a close relationship with revolutionary movements, has become little more than an intellectual pursuit of what remains, for the majority of people, an abstract discourse with little bearing on the reality experienced by most people. Within this context, it is not unsurprising that students who have been exposed to various revolutionary theories have completely neglected the very essence of the theories they purport to study–the desire to transform society. In recent years, the reduction of theory has paralleled a decline in student activism, where students have become content to “study” conditions in society without doing anything to change society. They “study” growing poverty which comes during a time of unprecedented concentration of wealth in the hands of the few, the destruction of the natural environment, and the continued perfection of forms of domination and social control–all of which seem to exist on an abstract level for many. Increasingly, students are content to identify these problems and ignore solutions—the sociology major identifies the causes of poverty and does nothing to combat them, the psychology major examines the mental conditions in society which come as a result of the insanity of capitalism and hierarchy without trying to address the core problems, the history major identifies the historical origins of these problems and does nothing about them, the biology major does not work to alter the systemic causes of environmental degradation, and the political science major studies how to perfect forms of control rather than working towards genuine democracy. Just as academic study has become completely separated from society, casting aside any type of serious effort at affecting society, theory has experienced a similar decline–becoming something that is confined to academic books and discourse, rather than being a catalyst for social change.

Now that theory has largely become the province of academics and students, existing only within the context of the university, theory has become increasingly useless. Theory’s existence is meaningful only if it becomes a catalyst for change, if it is simply a subject of study, effectively breaking off any hope of “praxis,” theory must be abolished (3). In the late 19th century, revolutionary theory was closely linked with movements to transform society, including theories such as socialism and communism (4). The same was true of anarchism, in that the theory existed both in theoretical discourse and among a movement of people that sought to transform society, not simply writing about and discussing problems without attempting to change them. In the 1960s, after decades of revolutionary theory becoming increasingly separated from any attempt to change society, especially within the Marxist canon, the theorists of the Situationist International, based in France, made it their project to create a revolutionary theory which would not exist simply for academics, but rather to be a catalyst for action. For the situationists, theory was not just for academics, but rather it existed to “transform the world and change life” in a revolutionary manner (5). Situationist writings were a call to Marxists, anarchists, and other “revolutionaries” to be revolutionary–a challenge to rediscover what was truly revolutionary about those theories–the desire to change society. While it is beyond the scope of this essay to evaluate the extent to which the situationists call for a unity between theory and praxis was heeded by revolutionaries, the situationists were elaborating on a critique set forth by other marxists, who had become fed up with the absorption of Marxism by academia and parliamentary parties (6). However, in the post-May 1968 intellectual milieu, theory in France has once again reverted to inconsequential ramblings with little bearing on the world outside of academia.

Perhaps the most prominent example of the deterioration of theory is the whole “postmodern” project, a theoretical body that claims to be revolutionary, yet functions as little more than a testament to the present poverty of theory. Postmodernism makes no attempt to be accessible to the general population; instead, it is steeped in rhetorical blabbering and exists almost exclusively within the confines of academia. Where postmodernism has any influence beyond academia, it tends to be found within pseudo-intellectuals and nihilists who have little interest in any unity between theory and practice. Moreover, postmodernism is often described as a form of Marxist theory, citing its roots in Marxism, and it very well may–but in reality, it provides little more than cover for intellectuals who do not want to change society in any concrete manner, yet want to be associated with Marxism. This lack of enthusiasm for changing society is most certainly not a legitimate legacy of Marxism, and instead of cultivating a revolutionary theory derived from Marxism–which would entail working towards revolutionary change, postmodernism makes no effort to create a better world. Instead, postmodernism promotes a type of intellectual fatalism in which there is a fascination with the absolute power of television, consumerism, capitalism, and hierarchy, yet there is no genuine attempt to abolish the aforementioned forms of domination. This follows from the fact that postmodernism’s rejection of any type of “absolute truth” can be used as a convenient way to dismiss revolutionary movements, as revolutionary movements that proclaim a better way to live are really little more than false proclamations of truth. Postmodernism represents the most perfected form of a theory made entirely irrelevant to revolutionary struggles.

While postmodernism may be the heir of Marxism (7), Marxism still exists as a somewhat popular form of theory within academic and “activist” circles. In its present state, Marxism is a theory that has outlived its usefulness, as it has become so diluted that there is little point in dragging its dead corpse along. Marxism, once explicitly linked with class struggle and movements for a revolutionary reconstruction of society, has become a philosophy of inaction. Marxism has become “safe” for academics and “activists,” as it has been completely confined to books that do little more than gather dust on bookshelves, while to be a Marxist one need not make a serious effort to change society, as such an effort would certainly be seen as abnormal by one’s comrades. Moreover, Marxism has become a theory to which elitist intellectuals and “activists” can cling, as much of the twentieth century development of Marxism has centered around the idea of “vanguard” groups and the “dictatorship of the proletariat,” under the absurd claim that “professional” revolutionaries must lead the masses in the revolution and in any post-revolutionary period–assertions which are a complete bastardization of the democratic and libertarian tendencies within Marxism (8). Marxism has become a cult-like religion devoted to the study of Marxist texts, which have become akin to the dogma of the Christian church. This cult-like reading of Marxist texts and the ensuing arguments over minute details of theoretical writings nearly 150 years old, run contrary to Marx’s intentions. Marxists would do well to remember Marx’s rejection of “personality cults (9),” as well as his statement, “Je ne suis pas Marxiste” and instead of focusing on his words as dogma, they should focus on revolutionary movements (10). Indeed, it is also true that much of the problem with Marxism, especially in the United States, is that Marxists have allowed its legacy to be shaped by critics from the right and academics, both of whom have rendered Marxism a theory that exists only within a specific historical context. Moreover, the conditions that led to the development of Marxism, the intensified production and exploitation of the industrial revolution, has been removed as capitalism has become rationalized, which is of course not true, but such an interpretation have nonetheless become quite common (11). Marxism has lost its revolutionary potential–it has been reduced to a “theoretical lens” which can be applied to history or literature, in order to construct “Marxist Interpretations” of history and literature or a “badge” which one can wear–completely eliminating its previous relationship with class struggle and revolutionary movements (12).

Anarchism, historically the “alternative” to Marxism, although few ever saw it as such due both to the misunderstanding of those on the “left” as well as outright distortions by mainstream society and history, has experienced a decline similar to Marxism. Anarchism no longer has any ties to revolutionary struggles, beyond the participation of anarchists within larger movements. The lasting legacy of anarchism is bomb throwing and violence–the involvement of anarchists in the struggle for the 8-hour day, the involvement of anarchists such as Emma Goldman and Voltairine De Cleyre in the development of feminism in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the development of militant trade unions in Europe during the same period, and the struggle of anarchists in Spain against the fascism of Franco and the collectivization and organization of Spanish industry along libertarian lines in the 1930s, have all been ignored by history books. Anarchism, unlike Marxism, has been almost completely neglected by academics and instead it has been made irrelevant to the majority of people by the actions of people on the “left” who have dismissed anarchism as being an absurd quest for utopia, by historians and governments who have dismissed it as violence, and by anarchists themselves who have made little more than token attempts at outreach outside traditional “left” circles. Indeed, if people have any knowledge of contemporary anarchist activity, it is only in relationship to the use of the black bloc tactic at protests, which effectively replaces the legacy of bomb throwing with that of window smashing. There have been few serious attempts to make anarchism revolutionary; instead, most anarchists have remained within the ghettos of the punk scene, the middle-class, and the so-called “dropout” culture (13). While there have been interesting projects coming out of the anarchist milieu in the past ten years, including the development of infoshops to share information across the world, the development of the Independent Media Centers on the internet, the non-hierarchical forms of organization that have been used in the movement against capitalist globalization, and numerous theoretical journals–anarchism, like Marxism, is not currently a revolutionary movement.

Both Marxism and anarchism, as they currently exist, are not revolutionary–just as there is no theory that is innately revolutionary. Theory is kept within the small ghettos of academia, published in journals nobody reads, and dominated by people who are not serious about bringing about the revolutionary changes that must be at the core of all theory. As university students, we play a key role in the system that reproduces theory as a means of intellectual masturbation while removing its revolutionary potential. If we recognize this role, we can confront and abolish theory as theory, instead making theory something revolutionary—by making it a catalyst and component of action. Theory can no longer afford to be an irrelevant academic sideshow to reality; instead, it must intertwined with genuine and serious efforts aimed at the revolutionary transformation of society. Let us take theory out of the books and reclaim it from the intellectuals, let us bring theory into our hearts and minds as inspiration for revolutionary action–let us abolish theory!

Notes

(1) By theory I mean the revolutionary theories found on the “left”, the most common of which is Marxism.

(2) Graffiti painted on the walls of Nanterre University during the events leading up to the revolt/insurrection during May and June of

1968 in France—cited in Angelo Quattrocchi and Tom Narin, The Beginning of the End, (Verso, 1998), 49.

(2) “Praxis” is a word that seems to have been forgotten by the majority of people who consider themselves theorists or proponents of theory, an increasingly fatalistic tone taken by many “theorists” who argue that any attempts to radically change the world are destined to fail because of complete and total domination of power. Many theorists have, rather than confronting power, been increasingly interested in simply observing the complexity of power without making any substantive effort at challenging it.

(4) This was of course before they were bastardized by the authoritarians, and later, by a dogmatic adherence to the writings of Marx, along with an almost cult-like fascination with everything Marx ever did, where once directly linked to mass movements designed to transform society.

(5) “On the Poverty of Student Life” in Situationist International Anthology, ed. and trans. Ken Knabb, (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1995), 337.

(6) I am thinking specifically of the critiques of Stalinism and the calls for a more democratic marxism in journals such as Socialisme ou Barbarie, journals that had much wider circulations than the writings of the situationists. These journals were more interested in the spread of revolutionary Marxism than inconsequential academic debates. Furthermore, the use of “marxist” with a lowercase “m” is to show that these theorists were more interested in marxism as a way of transforming society than the cult-like worship of Marx that is common among “Marxists.”

(7) According to some academics postmodernism is the heir to Marxism, although postmodernism really has little in common with Marx. See Arthur Marwick, The New Nature of History: Knowledge, Evidence, Language, (Lyceum, 2001), 241. This association of postmodernism with Marxism is quite common among critics of postmodernism coming from a “right-wing” perspective while many on the “left-wing” find that postmodernism offers a convenient tie to Marxism without requiring one to actually do anything to change the world.

(8) See: V.I. Lenin, State and Revolution, (International Publishers, 1943) for a development of the idea that revolutions can be led by the few and that “dictatorships” can be instituted in the post-revolutionary period. Also see, Friedrich Engels, “On Authority,” in The Marx-Engels Reader 2nd Edition, ed. Robert C. Tucker (W.W. Norton, 1978), 730-733, for an early defense of consolidating power in the hands of the few.

(9) Karl Marx, “Against Personality Cults,” in The Marx-Engels Reader 2nd Edition, ed. Robert C. Tucker (W.W. Norton, 1978), 521.

(10) “Engels to Eduard Bernstein in Zurich,” 1882, http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1882/letters/82_11_02.htm

(11) Of course, anyone who opens their eyes can see that such assertions are absolute rubbish. Exploitation is still, and will always be, an essential component of capitalist production. Moreover, the absurd notion that we live in a “classless” society, therefore rendering Marx’s class analysis useless, is ridiculous.

(12) This is not to say that there are not many “activists” and groups around the world that call themselves Marxist. However, the majority of these “activists” and groups make no serious attempt to make Marxism a theory for revolutionary change. There is more to being a Marxist than being able to provide citations for his famous quotes or using his writings to simply interpret the world or works of literature. Most “Marxists” would do well to remember the following: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it,” something which most “Marxists” are all to eager to forget. Karl Marx, “Theses on Feuerbach” in The Marx-Engels Reader 2nd Edition, ed. Robert C. Tucker (W.W. Norton, 1978), 145.

(13) This is not to say that anarchism has not been growing in popularity in the past few years, and indeed it has, but there has not been a large-scale movement to appeal to people outside of circles traditionally sympathetic to anarchism.

From Classroom Radicals to Transforming Society: An Imperative Shift

Reprinted from Freedom Toast (April 2003)

“Our dreams are their nightmares” (1)

As we contemplate our futures after the university, it is important that those of us who have an interest in changing society do not completely ignore what it was learned during our time at the university. The lessons learned in our classes—the systemic problems that need to be changed, the techniques for changing these problems learned in our activism, and our idealism all must be retained if we are to have any effect on the world around us (2). For the majority of students, graduate school or a “nine-to-five” career are the two choices offered by society, both of which integrate the student into the very system that they spent much of their college years fighting against. For many “radicals,” graduate school is the more attractive alternative, and for good reason. It gives the student the chance to study what they want and provides them with the university environment in which radical ideas are traditionally encouraged and supported. While some good may come out of graduate school, to a large extent graduate school is a way of pacifying “radicals”–isolating them in the university environment during the years in which they are most energetic and preparing them for university teaching jobs in which they will be further removed from the everyday experience of the majority in society, jobs in which they will play the role of the “token radical professor”–a professor talking about the changes that need to be made but unable to put forth the time needed to bring these changes. Anyone making a serious attempt at being “radical” will no doubt reject the notion of a career as a means of instigating revolutionary change, but some “radicals” are seduced by the prospect of “working within the system.” We must not fall into the common trap of “radical student,” radical only until we can get a high paying job in order to afford a luxury car, or even worse, until we can become integrated into the system under the inane notion of “working within the system” a phrase that is nothing more than a euphemism for selling out everything that we have worked towards (3). The system is setup to handle challenges from within and thrives off the labor of those who have been convinced that they can change things by working from within–there is no way one can change anything by having a career, no matter how much one tries to justify their decision (4). Our post-university experience cannot simply be integration into the capitalist system, a system responsible for the conditions we fought against during our university activism, post-university action must involve a concerted effort to break from and abolish the system of ruthless competition and dehumanization brought forth by capitalism (5).

The most radical thing we can undertake is to change the world–a change that will entail the complete destruction of existing forms of power and oppression. As Bakunin said, “the passion for destruction is also a creative passion,” and we must destroy the existing forms of power and oppression, existing both within ourselves and within society, in order to unleash the creativity necessary to build the world of our dreams (6). How do we go from the nightmarish reality of contemporary society into a world that will allow for the shift from existence into the realm of life? It is impossible to say, and indeed anyone that tries to “sell” you the proper way to bring about change, whether in a book or a pompous newspaper articles, should be ignore. Any movement to bring about changes of this magnitude must be instigated by the people seeking a better life. However, one thing is certain—such changes will never come about by working within the system. It is essential that we oppose the system by refusing to participate in the activities that reproduce its power–consumerism, careers, and politics. It would of course doom “radicals” to complete irrelevancy if they abandoned the current system entirely, as nothing is more marginal than a small number of “radicals” engaged in a futile project to destroy capitalism, but at the same time, one must never be seduced by the prospect of “working within the system.” Instead, the system should be approached only in terms of how its products and its existence can be used to undermine its control. To this end, the idea of “dual power” or “building a new society within the shell of the old” is essential–the system must be milked for whatever can be obtained from it, but we must never forget that our ultimate goal is its destruction. In practical terms, this means accepting the fact that we cannot be “anti-capitalist” if we reinforce the system daily by purchasing worthless products, we cannot be “against sexism” if we continue to operate under sexist assumptions, or worse, advocate a sexist “division of labor” in our activities, just as we cannot not be “revolutionaries” if we simply read books about past revolutions without doing anything about the current society.

So, where do we go from here? Wherever we want! We must live in pursuit of dreams—and actually pursue them–not holding on to this idea of “pursuing our dreams” in the same sense that it is conveyed on Hallmark cards or promised by Nike if you buy their new shoes. We all know that a new sports car cannot truly bring about freedom and to this end we must look at the values used to sell you their products, in this case freedom, and work towards true freedom. After all it is true freedom that we want, the freedom to control our own lives and act in pursuit of our dreams–not the false freedom offered by a new car. To achieve this, we need to shift from the idea of “what is possible” or “what is realistic” (two great phrases used by activists to render themselves useless) to the question of “what we want.” The “possible” and the “realistic” assumes that there are only certain things which can be achieved within this system—and indeed there are–but it is no way to effectively attack the systems to which we desire to change as the “possible” and “realistic” leaves out all possibility of change that comes from outside the system. If we begin our activism from the position of what is “possible” or “realistic” we have already set ourselves up for a certain level of defeat, as the system only allows the change that it wants. Imagine the best possible world that could be created within the confines of the system compared with the world that could be created by people committed to making it so that everyone was free to pursue their dreams and desires–the later is infinitely more beautiful and more than worth the work it will take to create.

But this is not possible “the liberals” argue–one must work within the system, it is our only way of “changing” society. Oh how mistaken they are–by working within the system, we support the system, the system will never allow anything else. In the aforementioned paragraphs, it was explained that one should not ignore the system entirely, but to put all of our hopes for change into the system will only guarantee our failure. The only way things can be challenged is by working towards the world we want to see. While this may sound like irrelevant and idealistic rambling, it really is true. When we make our dreams our goals, we unleash the only force capable of improving society. The “liberals” will argue that this is nonsense and that the only way to achieve our goals is through “reform,” but after all, they have been too integrated into the system to realize that there are chances for actually changing the society and we have seen what they have done–social programs that are decimated by budget cuts a few years after they are passed. But how does this, or can it, actually work for activist groups? Surprisingly, it is possible to pursue activist goals on the premise of “what we want” without becoming bogged down in self-important rhetoric without actually changing things. In Canada, a country similar to the United States in terms of its capitalist development, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) has been operating since 1990 with the goal of “eliminating poverty,” a goal that bypasses liberal “reforms” and attacks the system that creates poverty. OCAP seeks to mobilize poor and homeless people to fight back, through militant and direct action, against the system responsible for the creation of poverty. Through a variety of tactics, OCAP has pursued its mission to “fight to win” against those that hold economic and political power, and as a result, they have won numerous victories—victories that have not been achieved by asking what the system allows (7). OCAP is just one example of the successes that can be won when activists actually get serious. The numerous squatted social centres in Europe provide another example–rather than waiting for low-cost housing, people have taken over abandoned buildings and made them community spaces. Furthermore, the 1999 shutdown of the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle was certainly not considered “realistic” or “possible,” but that did not stop people from using direct action to achieve what they wanted. We can win (and indeed we may only be able to win) if we start from the position of what we want, not from what is possible.

For this to work, we are going to need to start by reevaluating the basic assumptions that structure our lives. For starters, we do not need to choose a career after college; we can chose not to work in a traditional job. We can achieve, and indeed deserve, much more than integration into a work force designed to support ritualistic consumption. Getting a long without a “career” may seem difficult at first, but in the end, it is the only option that will allow us to take control of our lives. Imagine the revolutionary potential of a whole generation of people learning to love and live without the constraints of the 9 to 5 job. We will have the capability to change the world, not only through collective action and mutual aid, but also by being able to relate to people as people. Freed from the cycle of work and consumption, which pits neighbors against neighbors and forces relationships to be evaluated in terms of “cost benefit analysis,” we will actually be able to appreciate and cultivate what is truly beautiful about humanity. The critics will no doubt argue that if everyone withdrew from the system of work and consumption that the entire capitalist system would break down–but such a break is exactly what we should be seeking, as this destruction will be the final step that allows for the creation of a new world.

So how are we going to do it? We need to start by actually being serious and not just talking all the time about what we want to do–we need to actually do something. Moreover, it is naïve to think that this will not require a large amount of work, indeed it will, but at least it will not be the “work” that we are forced to do to get by under capitalism. We need to reorganize our lives on the principles of mutual aid–helping others in anyway we can. We can trade labor, trading or donating our skills in bike repair, while the people that know plumbing help us, volunteering to do childcare, or whatever else. We can live lives without careers if we shift our emphasis in life from competition to cooperation, no longer will we be stuck in a stage of existence, separated from authentic life. We can plant gardens and share the fruits of our labor with those around us. We can get along without needing to fear those around us. We can truly love our friends and neighbors without constantly measuring our status against theirs. We can create new institutions that will provide alternatives to capitalism, while also working to improve the existing institutions, as long as we remain aware of the fact that the old institutions are merely temporary improvements and that our ultimate goal is to create a new world with new institutions. So let’s work towards what we want, not what is possible–we have a new society to create.

Notes

(1) Graffiti from the walls of occupied Nanterre University, May 1968.

(2) However, I do think a good argument could be made that we should forget much of what we learned in school, especially as it relates to writing in a manner that alienates the majority of the population. Moreover, the opposition to the current system on a theoretical basis, which is fostered in a variety of departments, must be abolished. We can only change the system by action, never by theoretical babbling. Even this paper is a pointless exercise unless it motivates its readers and authors to put it down and actually do something about the conditions we hate.

(3) If you see your post-university “activism” involving a job “working within the system” you might as well drop out of radical politics now, because you will not do shit.

(4) We should pursue a strategy of “dual power” to destroy the system–working within it to gain temporary improvements while also creating institutions which will replace it and eventually render it useless.

(5) This is not to say that I am naïve enough to think that my post-college activities will bring about the end of capitalism–that would be absurd. But at least I am willing to try.

(6) Bakunin, http://www.kat.gr/kat/history/Mod/Leaders/Bakunin.htm

(7) For more information on the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, visit their website at http://www.ocap.ca

The Environmental Ramifications of Meat and Dairy

Reprinted from The Rant (October 2002)

When vegan diets are discussed, the environmental impacts of meat and dairy production are often overlooked. Environmental concerns are generally at the periphery of an argument crafted on the basis of animal rights. While the argument for animal rights fits nicely within a critique of a capitalist system that reduces both human and non-human life to commodities that can be bought and sold in the market, it is often difficult for people to understand the somewhat abstract concept of animal rights. Few people see anything inherently wrong with raising animals for food or using them as research subjects, and thus many arguments in favor of vegan diets on the basis of animal rights are presented in a rather elitist manner where activists criticize those that are complicit with the mechanized slaughter millions of animals each year.

As the world population grows, food production and distribution is going to be an issue that affects everyone. Both governmental institutions and mainstream non-governmental organizations have recognized that one of the defining issues in this century is going to be the Earth’s ability to sustain a rapidly growing population. Population growth is going to put an unprecedented demand on the food resources and current production will not meet demand. Moreover, the growing world population is not content with mere survival, rather through the cultural influence of American-style capitalism, many people want to increase their consumption to the levels of the United States. Clearly, a planet with finite resources cannot sustain consumption of resources on the level of Americans and it is estimated that an additional two Earths would be need to sustain consumption at such a level. Multinational corporations have claimed that their technology, especially genetically modified food, will be able to overcome these issues of demand by dramatically increasing production. However the major bio-technology corporations have been resistant to giving their genetically modified seeds away for the benefit of humanity, rather they continue to charge exorbitant royalties and seek stringent copyright protections in global trade agreements. As a result, poor nations will be forced further into debt, if they are even able to purchase the technology. There are also legitimate concerns about the environmental and health consequences of genetically modified food with many nations having banned it for these reasons.

While a massive reorientation of industry from profit-based to need-based production is needed to reverse some of these patterns, changes in diet would have a major impact. The production of meat and diary is ecologically devastating. Fifty-six percent of agricultural land is used to produce beef and 260 million acres of forest have been clear-cut to support America’s meat consumption. Clear-cutting of rain forests is largely undertaken for the purpose of raising cattle, with much of the meat going to the United States. While urban sprawl is often cited as a major factor in the destruction of forested areas, for every acre of land clear-cut for this purpose seven are clear-cut for raising livestock. The industrial farming practices that now dominate the dairy and meat industries generate massive amounts of pollution in the form of animal waste with the average dairy cow producing one-hundred-and-twenty pounds of wet manure per day. In addition to the problem of disposal, manure contaminates water supplies around the world.

Topsoil loss also results from the meat-based agriculture with 85% of US topsoil lost directly as a result of livestock farming. Already 75% of the topsoil has been lost in the US and meat consumption perpetuates a system that causes more topsoil loss.

Furthermore, meat production is wasteful and is neither sustainable nor intelligent use of land. Ninety percent of the protein in grain is wasted by cycling it through livestock while one hundred percent of dietary fiber is wasted. Even the production of the least efficient plants is ten times more energy efficient than the most efficient animal-based foods. With the amount of land needed to feed one person eating a meat-based diet, twenty people eating a vegan diet could be fed. Eighty percent of the corn and ninety-five percent grown in the United States is eaten by livestock, food that could sustain many more humans. Much of the food that could go to feed other people is used feeding animals that require five to ten times more plant food than humans do. Land would be more effectively utilized if production were directed towards plant-based diets, with one acre of land producing one-hundred-and-sixty-five pounds of beef while that same acre could grow twenty thousand pounds of potatoes.

In a society where large corporations have a disproportionate influence on policy compared to individuals in politics, it is the responsibility of individuals concerned with the environment to act individually and collectively to improve the current situation. Corporations are not going to change existing food production policies on their own and indeed the only way they will ever change is if are citizens’ movements to hold them accountable. People need to realize that individual dietary choices are responsible for environmental destruction from meat and dairy product, just as choosing to drive a car contributes to wars for oil. While this article has focused on veganism, it is certainly hard for many people to maintain a vegan diet, especially in this area and within the financial constraints of a typical college student. For those who are unable to go vegan, vegetarian diets have ecological and health benefits. If US citizens collectively reduced their consumption of meat by ten percent, sixty million people could be fed with the grain that would be saved. The decision to eat meat involves more than personal preference, it is not about whether or not you like hamburgers—it is ultimately about the sustainability of life on the planet.

Critical Mass Takes the Streets of Grand Rapids

Reprinted from The Rant (October 2002)

On September 27th, a boisterous crowd of forty cyclists took to the streets of downtown Grand Rapids. As they rode through town they enthusiastically shouted slogans such as “no blood for oil,” “we want bike lanes,” and “consider the earth, ride a bike.” The monthly bike ride celebrates pollution-free transportation, advocates cycle awareness, and draws attention to the fact that bicycles are viable modes of transportation in the city. Critical Mass rides have been organized in Grand Rapids on the last Friday of each month for the past three years, as part of a decentralized movement in which simultaneous rides occur in over three hundred cities worldwide.

September’s ride was particularly noteworthy as it was the tenth anniversary of the first Critical Mass in San Francisco. In celebration of the ten-year anniversary, a book titled Critical Mass: Bicycling’s Defiant Celebration was released featuring articles, essays, fliers, and photos from dozens of contributors from around the world documenting the movement’s history. Critical Mass was born out of a multiplicity of issues, among them concern for the environment, the need for bicycle lanes, the orientation of American society toward an impersonal “car culture,” and for simple celebration. Many Critical Mass participants ride bicycles as their primary mode of transportation and view the monthly mass bike rides as a way of showing that they exist and promoting driver awareness of bicycles. In major US cities such as San Francisco and Chicago, it is not unusual for Critical Mass rides to have over a thousand participants.

Realizing that mass bike rides are not going to bring about change, a coordinated effort has emerged out of the Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass to make the city’s transportation policy more inclusive of cyclists’ needs. In the summer of 2001, work began on a bicycle advocacy video designed to share cyclists’ experiences biking in the Grand Rapids area. The video features voices from dozens of cyclists explaining the need for bike lanes and bicycle friendly transportation policies. Recently local activists attended a city council meeting and spoke about the need for bike lanes in Grand Rapids. They cited the fact that many cities of comparable size have bike lanes and that bike lanes increase the number of cyclists thereby reducing traffic congestion in the city.

In a continuation of this campaign there will be a public screening of the bicycle advocacy video on Tuesday November 12th. The screening will be held at 6pm at 207 E. Fulton St. After the video screening cyclists will be attending the City Commissioners meeting to advocate for bike lanes and other cycling issues.

The next Critical Mass ride will be on October 25th at 5:30pm. Cyclists will meet at Veteran’s Park at the corner of Fulton and Sheldon in downtown Grand Rapids. In response to the increasingly likely war in Iraq this ride will be based around the theme “No Blood for Oil!,” highlighting the role oil plays in current US foreign policy and the how individual transportation decisions create demand for oil. It is also the annual Halloween ride and participants are encouraged to wear costumes. If you would like more information about Grand Rapids’ Critical Mass, you can email aaron@grcmc.org to be added to the mailing list.

Challenging the War on Terror and Stopping the Invasion of Iraq

Reprinted from The Rant (September 2002)

Despite the generally hostile climate towards people opposing the Bush administration’s war on terror immediately after September eleventh, and indeed the media’s continued hostility towards and failure to report dissenting views, there is growing evidence that a successful opposition movement can be built. Shortly after the attacks, many activists felt they were in an extreme minority, a feeling largely shaped by the media that has not reported on dissenting views.

In the months since September eleventh, the media has not adequately covered the growing movement against the war. If you get most of your news from one of the major US news outlets, you would see little coverage of a movement which has staged two major demonstrations in Washington DC and countless smaller actions across the country. On September 29th, 2001, just two weeks after the attacks, there was a demonstration with several thousand people on the National Mall, showing that mass dissent was possible and would not result in immediate arrest, public ridicule, or any number of other concerns raised by people who argued it was too soon to begin organizing against the poorly defined war on terror. While media coverage was limited, the rally was televised nationally on CSPAN and was not subject to police repression. A larger demonstration, involving a diverse coalitions of groups and participants numbers in the tens of thousands was held on April 20th, 2002, with thousands of demonstrators staging a simultaneous demonstration in San Francisco. In the year since the attacks, there have been a number of teach-ins on campuses, video screenings, marches, and other actions. Recently there have been an increasing number of protests against administration policy, gearing up for an October 26th national day of action against the potential invasion of Iraq. The most dramatic of these recent protests was on August 22nd in Portland, where 3,000 non-violent protestors were assaulted by police with pepper spray and rubber bullets for voicing their dissent, while the police department has come under scrutiny for their handling of the protests.

Clearly, those opposing the war administration policy are not alone and while the media may help the Bush administration by minimizing dissent and espousing their belief that it is the patriotic duty of Americans not to question administration policy, they are increasingly unable to hide the fact that public approval for the war on terror is not nearly as unanimous as was once believed. While statistics are not the best way to gauge public opinion, it is worth noting that a recent survey of Michigan voters indicated that 47% of people believe Bush has not made a convincing case for invading Iraq with 44% of people said that they opposed an invasion of Iraq. While approximately 60% of people support military action against Iraq on the national scale, at the current time there is no poll indicating how people feel about military action now that Iraq has agreed to allow inspectors to return. Ironically, as the Bush administration seeks to expand their war they are simultaneously strengthening the opposition.

It is of utmost importance that those who are opposed to the war take advantage of the current climate and begin organizing against the potential invasion of Iraq. We need to continue making coalitions, doing outreach, and most importantly engaging in highly visible actions designed to influence the United States government. At the present, the public is divided, which can be used to the advantage of dissenting groups who should experience a more positive response to their actions and resulting in more participation. Not only will there be more participation, but it should be more diverse as more groups being to oppose military action in Iraq. A successful movement could be effective in pushing public opinion against an invasion of Iraq and if that opinion threatens the politicians’ reelection prospects, they will listen. Aside from the increase in numbers, we know the Bush administration has not made a case that justifies the invasion, that 5,000 Iraqi children die each month as a result of the sanctions, and that an attack will serve to motivate future terrorism. Organize!

Corporate Control of Grand Valley State

Reprinted from The Rant (September 2002)

Recently the Lanthorn ran an article on our university’s exclusive contract with Pepsi. The article was very positive, openly praising the funding for the university, while failing to consider the negative aspects of such a contract. Indeed, for many people, there seems to be few negative points to the deal, unless of course one prefers to purchase Coca-Cola products instead of Pepsi products. While many people may not think of the negative aspects of the deal, it is part of a trend towards the commercialization of the university environment, where a plethora of products are marketed to what is a largely captive and much coveted audience of college students by corporations who are beginning to control many university services.

The desire for a piece of this lucrative market has led Pepsi and other soft drink companies to aggressively seek contracts with universities. They realize that the college-age students are a key demographic for their success. Television ads may be successful in generating sales, but obtaining exclusive rights to sell products on campus is a way to guarantee sales. Exclusive contracts allow companies to set prices and avoid competition, a clear violation of free market principles. In addition to their targeting of universities, soft drink companies pursue exclusive contracts in public schools. The public school market has been particularly lucrative as they can often obtain contracts with schools desperate for money in ailing urban areas. Many administrators regret the way their schools are beholden to these contracts, but in areas where funding is minimal they have little choice. This has also raised concerns over the inherently unhealthy nature of soft drinks with high sugar and caffeine content. These beverages are aggressively marketed to students who, according to most research, should be eating more healthy foods. Some researchers have linked the increased consumption of soft drinks with the high obesity rates among both students and the larger society.

Ultimately the concern should not be about whether or not soft drinks are healthy, we can all make our own decisions as to what we wish to drink. More importantly, exclusive contracts with soft drink companies are illustrative of a greater trend toward the privatization and commercialization of the university. Increasingly large numbers of university services are being privatized. Previously independent college bookstores are now operated by large corporations, such as industry leader Follet Higher Education Group, who operates bookstores on 600 campuses including Grand Rapids Community College and Michigan State. Barnes and Noble College Bookstores, sister-company to the largest retail bookstore in America, operates bookstores on over 400 campuses. Aramark, a contracting company, provides food service on 325 campuses. Fast-food chains such as McDonalds have become as omnipresent on campuses as they are in the suburbs. There has also been a proliferation of advertising on campus from credit card companies and other sources.

The process of commercialization ushered in by exclusive contracts with corporations has been the subject of criticism in recent years. One of the main concerns is that decisions are being made for financial reasons, excluding considerations about how the corporate presence will reflect on the institution. There is also a threat that the presence of these corporations will result in a loss of autonomy by universities as they become dependent on corporate sources for funding. It is conceivable that corporations will use their financial power to influence university policies as similar concerns have been shown to be valid as some universities refuse to act on certain issues in order to appease their donors. Even a minor issue, such as a corporate bookstore refusing to carry a particular title, can threaten the autonomy of the university. There are additional concerns about whether corporate influence affects scholarship by potentially restricting research on issues that are at odds with corporate donors. Other critics have argued that the presence of advertising on campuses is just plain distracting, even if they do not believe that it affects the educational process. This raises the question of whether the university should be a refuge from advertising or just another place where we are subject to the never-ending onslaught of advertising. Moreover, there is the criticism that increased commercialization results in a university run on a corporate model, where the attainment of a degree is promoted as a requisite for a successful corporate career, rather than emphasizing process of education. In this view, university education is downgraded as just another consumer product to be sold on the market and students are simply consumers seeking to buy an education just as they would buy a new car.

Aside from the commercialization of our campuses, we must also consider how the presence of corporations affects the community’s perception of the university. The business and manufacturing practices used by the corporations that sell products on our campuses reflects on the university. Starbucks, whose coffee is sold at GVSU, makes use of prison labor in the United States through a contracting company, Signature Packaging Solutions. Taco Bell, who has been criticized for offering inauthentic Americanized versions of Mexican food, is currently the subject of a boycott on college campuses across the country for their labor practices. Tomato pickers contracted through Six L’s Packaging Company pay their workers only $7,500 per year while failing to provide health insurance, sick leave, and vacation time. During the mid-1990s Pepsi, with whom the university has an exclusive contract, was the target of an international boycott for their support of the brutal SLORC regime in Burma.

The commercialization of college campuses raises many concerns and presents many challenges. As corporations become increasingly prevalent on campuses, the university must be responsible for assuring the integrity of these corporations. Companies with abusive labor practices or poor environmental records reflect poorly on the university. There are also questions of democracy, should students and faculty be allowed to take part in the decision-making process or should the university administrators be given exclusive authority to decide which corporations are allowed on campus. Most importantly, these contracts must involve more than pecuniary concerns.

Philadelphia Demonstration Report

Reprinted from Get Up (September 2000)

After marching for two hours in the hot Philadelphia sun, we collapsed in the shade. We had gotten as close to the Republican Convention as the police would let us. On the other side of the fence, the police kept a close eye on us, and behind them was the convention hall itself, the famous First Union Center, commonly abbreviated as, well, you know.

The man beside me offered some of his water, which I greedily accepted. “Where are you from?” he asked.

“Michigan,” I answered.

He gave a short laugh. “Really? What militia are you part of?”

I gently reminded him that Michigan was the home to John Sinclair, Michael Moore, the Port Huron Statement, the founding meeting of the Weathermen, and the Michigan State beer riots. (Okay, I left out the part about the beer riots.) He quickly apologized and introduced himself. He said he was a medic and was here to treat people in case of injury by the police. He indicated the officers with his hand. “They’ve been very good boys so far. We’ll see how they react tomorrow though. They’re trying to be on their best behavior because of all the media attention, but they’ve been trained to act aggressively, and if they get nervous tomorrow, that’s what they’ll do.”

It had been an interesting week so far. I had traveled down to Philadelphia with my girlfriend to protest the two party system and corporate control of American politics. We had spent close to twenty-four hours on a Greyhound bus, which was an experience in itself. We met some interesting people on that bus, including another couple heading to protest the convention. I asked them why they were coming to the protest, and one of them answered, “well, I was at a Pink Floyd Laser light show, and I was tripping on mushrooms, and when I left the show a tree told me that it was my job to fight for justice everywhere.” Not exactly the same reason I was going, but a strong movement draws people with different causes together.

We slept on the gym floor of the YWCA, and used our book bags for pillows. Because we had to carry everything with us at all times, we traveled as light as we could. The only clothes I took were the ones I had on me. (My girlfriend began to question the wisdom of this choice as the week went on.) We saw ourselves as a contrast to the Republican delegates, most of whom flew into the city of Philadelphia, stayed in nice hotels, and some of whom we saw traveling around n limousines. The GOP chose not to advertise that one fifth of their delegates were millionaires.

For a few days we marched through the streets of Philadelphia and rubbed elbows with the superstars of the left. Monica Moorehead, Ralph Nader, Patricia Ireland, and David McReynolds all were a visible presence. It was the largest crowd ever assembled to protest the republican Convention and the crowds outside the First Union Center dwarfed the crowd inside.

Tuesday was planned as a day of direct action. The protest was organized in true democratic fashion, which was meant to stand as an alternative to the mockery of democratic process that was taking place outside the convention hall. The broad plans for events were decided in a large meeting hall by spokespeople for different groups. However, since it was generally acknowledged that the larger meetings were almost certainly infiltrated by the police, the smaller groups decided the specifics. This kept the police on their toes a little bit. Since I had arrived without a group, it was slightly more difficult to get involved.

Although there were ample opportunities to join up with groups, I waited till Monday night before trying to get involved. Ideally, I wanted to join a group that would let me be part of the action on the streets, and yet at the end of the day not end up in a jail cell somewhere. I tried to find a group that met these specifications. Somehow, I managed to get myself into a group with three undercover cops in it.

Most of our group was arrested before the direct actions even began. Those of us lucky enough not to be in the building at the time of the raid were cut loose, wandering the streets looking for something to join up with. It was a disheartening experience, and police presence on the street was certainly much greater than the protesters. The police quickly wiped out the barricades we took part in.

So, I was overjoyed when I saw thousands of people marching through the streets in numbers too big for the police to overwhelm. I quickly joined in, but once I was part of the march I had second thoughts. The march was unorganized and out of hand, and some people will tell you that smashing police car windshields isn’t covered under some of the more narrow definitions of non-violence. However, since the police were arresting anyone who strayed from the main part of the march, that was motivation enough for me to make sure I was always in the center of things.

The march eventually ended up at the legal rally, and we all dispersed into the legal crowd. The police decided not to try and pursue everyone who had taken part in the march, however they did block us all in so we couldn’t leave the rally. From our position, all we could do was watch as the police, frustrated from the destructive protestors that ran away, took out their anger on the peaceful protestors who didn’t. As we saw the police club people who were non-violently sitting in the street, we chanted, “the whole world is watching,” to try to shame them into stopping.

As it turned out though, the whole world wasn’t watching. The protests, which were front-page news in Philadelphia, were barely covered in the national news, and not at all in some newspapers. It made me wonder how often things like this happen, and I don’t even hear about it.

I guess I’m not sure why I’m writing this story. Part of me wants to rant and rage about a police department that acted brutally towards non-violent protestors, and whose officers were praised rather than punished. But that’s a story that’s as old as protesting itself, from the labor movements to the peace movements to Seattle or DC. Anyone who’s remotely involved in protesting will not be surprised by this. I am also upset by the way the corporate media distorted our message, and implied that we didn’t have a cause. However, again this is no surprise to anyone. Did anyone really expect the corporate media to treat seriously the issue of corporate control of politics? The very fact that we forced them to pay attention to us at all is a victory. And as the movement grows, maybe next time they’ll take us a little more seriously.

Letter from the Editor

Reprinted from Get Up (September 2000)

Hi everyone, well this is the 5th month, 4th issue, of Get Up. I didn’t prepare any big articles so I thought I’d just write a letter of what’s on my mind type thing. First of all, thank you to everyone who has contributed so far. Everything you’ve written, drawn, etc, has really been great and I have received lots of comments of praise for your contributions. I have been distributing between 50 and 100 zines per month. Please, keep giving me things. I want to do a special issue on squatting, squatters rights, history, etc, in either October or November. So if you know anything about that or feel like researching it, please please please help me out.

So, everyone has been asking me, “are you voting for Nader?” And the answer is yes. Although I am not a big advocate of electoral politics and I don’t believe justice can be “voted” into a system as corrupt as ours, why not? Bush is a devil for sure and the politrix of Gore can’t fool me into thinking he’s much better. We might as well push for a liberal-heavy Congress to balance Bush’s right-wing ways in case we are worried our votes for Nader will put too much power to the conservatives. Nader and LaDuke have been campaigning right along with the other candidates. Speeches by them can be heard on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now at webactive.com (take your walkman headphones to the library or CMC).

There has been a lot of celebration around the release of social worker and activist Lori Berenson from the Peruvian prison she has been in for almost 5 years. She is still in state custody but her military trial has been nullified. She will now be tried in a civil court. She was charged with treason for being the supposed leader of the guerrilla group MRST. Her trial was unjust by UN and US standards. She was read her life sentence by masked judge, with a gun to her head. Over half of the US congress, and many “important” folk in the US and Peru have been calling for her release.

It is common for people in the US to get excited over political situations abroad when “one of our own” is affected. Lori Berenson is incredible in the way she uses her situation to promote social justice for people in Peru. I heard her statements to the public (for the first time in 5 years). She rarely mentioned herself. She denounced the conditions in prison and advocated for common people. I hope we can follow Berenson’s example by not tokenizing her as the only legitimate victim of Peru’s messed up mock-democracy.

Report on the May 22 Actions in Grand Rapids Against the IMF, WB, and WTO

Reprinted from Get Up (June 2000)

On May 22, Dr. John Paige, economist from the World Bank, came to Grand Rapids to educate us about the World Bank system and the consequences of those wayward demonstrators for democratic justice. So, we (Media Mouse with the support of local labor activists and others) organized a warm welcome for Dr. Paige.

Carrying on with their special interpretation of what’s appropriate, the University Club (Old Kent Bank Building), circulated pictures of the 5 April 17 arrestees and did a complete bomb search of the building (source of the info. works in the building). They too had their warm welcome for Dr. Paige.

Present at the Demonstration were clowns (“The IMF is a joke” and “The World Bank is clowning around”), Radical Cheerleaders (N-I-K-E what does that mean to me? Slave labor is no favor we’ve got to help our global neighbors), some theater (which corporation will give me the lowest bid for the day?), drummers, musicians, puppets, signs, banners, and a carnival game. A high school class came by to check out the activities as suggested by their teacher (yeah for teacher!) and about 25 friendly police officers (yes really).

Police had been bugging activists for over a week before the event, wanting an agenda or a promise of good behavior, or something like that. They went so far as to cornering a few of us in the Heartside Ministries parking lot for a good ol’ informal questioning the morning of May 22. Regardless, it was a festive atmosphere. Folks came from as far away as Detroit and Kalamazoo to take part. No civil disobedience was planned since the objective was education and awareness, not disrupting the meeting or gaining big time media attention. Finally I encourage you all to watch Dr. Paige’s lecture when it airs on GRTV so you too can be enlightened by his wisdom (for a few laughs).

On May 22, Dr. John Paige, economist from the World Bank, came to Grand Rapids to educate us about the World Bank system and the consequences of those wayward demonstrators for democratic justice. So, we (Media Mouse with the support of local labor activists and others) organized a warm welcome for Dr. Paige.

Carrying on with their special interpretation of what’s appropriate, the University Club (Old Kent Bank Building), circulated pictures of the 5 April 17 arrestees and did a complete bomb search of the building (source of the info. works in the building). They too had their warm welcome for Dr. Paige.

Present at the Demonstration were clowns (“The IMF is a joke” and “The World Bank is clowning around”), Radical Cheerleaders (N-I-K-E what does that mean to me? Slave labor is no favor we’ve got to help our global neighbors), some theater (which corporation will give me the lowest bid for the day?), drummers, musicians, puppets, signs, banners, and a carnival game. A high school class came by to check out the activities as suggested by their teacher (yeah for teacher!) and about 25 friendly police officers (yes really).

Police had been bugging activists for over a week before the event, wanting an agenda or a promise of good behavior, or something like that. They went so far as to cornering a few of us in the Heartside Ministries parking lot for a good ol’ informal questioning the morning of May 22. Regardless, it was a festive atmosphere. Folks came from as far away as Detroit and Kalamazoo to take part. No civil disobedience was planned since the objective was education and awareness, not disrupting the meeting or gaining big time media attention. Finally I encourage you all to watch Dr. Paige’s lecture when it airs on GRTV so you too can be enlightened by his wisdom (for a few laughs).

Ladies Sewing Circle and Terrorist Society Rides Again

Reprinted from Get Up (June 2000)

Sadly, we ripped off the name from some unsuspecting group who I know very little about, but assume is an amazing and active bunch. But, as they say, Americans are not endlessly creative, rather endlessly re-creative…

On a Sunday, about twelve gals got together for a “bitch stitch” of sorts. We kicked out about 25 homemade menstrual pads, some of us crocheted, some repaired and altered clothing, and some made menstrual calendars to keep track of mental and physical patterns. We felt it necessary to gather together and do our thing for a number of reasons-for one: a few of us love to sew, and a few of us have mad information and experience on women’s health issues, so w wanted to get together and share our knowledge with one another. Now, I am certainly not going to pretend to be one who knows much about health, but I do know that tampons and pads are not only harmful to our bodies, but also to our earth.

We shared information on natural sponges (Jade and Pearl, Inc., PO Box 1106, Hawthorne, FL, 32640 906-684-3217), reusable cloth pads (available at various local health stores, but are terribly easy and fun to make yourself), and the keeper (The Keeper, Box 20023 Cincinnati, OH 45220) which are wonderful replacements for tampoons as we like to call them back in Ohio. They lack the toxicity of tampons and pads (no warning label is required, and do not carry residues of toxic chemicals and perfumes), are incredibly reusable (I read of one woman who used her keeper for fifteen years!), are much more cost efficient in the long run, and make me feel a heck of a lot better than buying, BUYING, BUYING, wasting and polluting. Blood can also be saved from any of these babies, and acts as a wonderful fertilizer for your garden and plants. It is quite an incredible feeling to make things that care for the body, instead of relying on taking things to “cope” with our natural ebbs and flows.

Though we have yet to establish our own name for both ourselves and our gladrags, we resolved to do two things: (1) meet monthly and (2) make more pads and sell them.

The idea is to start off with local markets, shops, and festivals, and sell them for as little as possible. Rockstar, Jennifer Perry suggested that we make a pattern and include it in each pack-o-pads so that people will be encouraged to make their own. We are in need of old towels and flannel shirts to fully utilize resources and keep costs down, as well. Next month we will meet on the last Sunday, around noon-ish, to continue rags and start on reusable shopping bags.