Finding Our Roots Conferences Explores Anarchism and “Space”

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This past weekend, I traveled to Chicago to attend the Finding Our Roots Conference at Roosevelt University. This is the third year the anarchist conference on praxis and organizing has been held. The theme of the conference this year was space:

“Why and how is space important to the theory and practice of anarchism; what is ‘anarchist space’? How are anarchists involved in struggles around space, both within and beyond our community? How is space central to the struggles of oppressed and marginalized groups? How does space operate within the social landscape and machinations of capitalism, as well as within resistance to capitalism?”

Obviously, this is an extremely broad category, and therefore a variety of topics were covered over the weekend. A schedule, including descriptions of each workshop, can be found on the website linked above. There were typically about four workshops during each time slot, so I was only able to attend a fraction of the total workshops offered. What follows are brief overviews of some of what was covered.

Gentrification: Containment, Displacement, Yuppie Infestations, and the Resistance to Come

This workshop, facilitated by Fancy and Ezra, began with a brief history of gentrification, going back to the 1930s when racist government policy equated a nonwhite person living in a house to the same “damage” as a tree falling. The group agreed that the definition of gentrification involves displacement of a group of (nonwhite) people in cities. Fancy noted that many people falsely equate white flight to gentrification, and therefore it is viewed by the public as a natural result of the market, when in fact realtors and city officials tend to target certain neighborhoods.

The discussion turned toward resistance. One attendee brought up the importance of providing services for community members when the city cuts them off – access to food, health care, or whatever is needed. A DuPaul professor talked about his work in the Pilson neighborhood, where his students go and talk to the residents, helping those who do not speak English to develop well reasoned arguments against gentrification and its effects.

Chicago’s 2016 Olympic bid will result in gentrification of the Washington Park neighborhood. It was brought up that even if Chicago does not win the bid, the neighborhood will be still be gentrified due to Tax Increment Finance Money.

Mad Liberation and Safe Space

Facilitated by the Mad Tea Party group of Chicago, this workshop was about creating safe spaces where those who struggle with mental illness can have autonomy over their own recovery.

It was noted that “madness” cannot be separated from our culture. One person shared his experience in the mental health system, in which he worked a menial job six days a week that made him depressed and exacerbated his struggles. Upon seeking help, he found himself in an institution where the end goal was to get him back into a job – he recognized this as a form of oppression.

Several people expressed concern that the issue of mental health is one that gets pushed to the side in anarchist organizing. In response to this, groups have been formed in Chicago (and, I’m sure, in many other cities) to provide peer support, such as The Icarus Project).

Collective Living Spaces: A Roundtable Discussion

Much of this discussion was based around common problems and issues that arise in collective housing and how to deal with these, either preemptively or after the fact.

The goals for many who choose to live in collective houses are to find an alternative to patriarchy in their living space (as opposed to traditional family structures), and to live out a microcosm of what one wants to see in the world.

Security was the biggest issue for many. Several houses had protocol for how to deal with cops, took batteries out their cell phones during meetings, did not allow pictures of the space to appear on the internet, did not allow drugs or alcohol, and had a zero tolerance policy for any perpetrators of sexual and/or violent assault. People had differing opinions on the question of whether it is ever acceptable to call the police.

The Seizure of Space and the Public Sphere: Enduring Lessons from the Zapatistas

Facilitated by Richard Gilman-Opalsky, author of Unbounded Publics: Transgressive Public Spheres, Zapatismo, and Political Theory, we examined the example of the Zapatistas in Mexico, who, rather than seize the state, chose to live in an autonomous communities, taking public space and making visible an alternative way to live. Opalsky critiqued the recent actions in Greece, viewing the Zapatista model as a more effect tool for change.

The discussion turned to indigenous struggles in the U.S., such as the Lakota Indians in South Dakota, who continue to struggle in the Black Hills.

Creating Safe Space in an Unsafe World: Supporting Survivors Whilst Respecting Their Autonomy

The discussion in this workshop, facilitated by Bash Back Chicago, began with a talk about community, and learning to create a community where it becomes OK to call people out on inappropriate behavior, to create accountability for people’s actions – particularly for male bodied people to call out other male bodied people. There was extensive discussion of whether community needs can ever trump a survivor’s expressed desires – for example, if the survivor did not want the perpetrator to be dealt with, but community members feared for their safety.

People shared stories about their own experiences, as survivors, support givers, etc. The workshop concluded by talking about the importance of connecting dominant power structures to sexual violence, and reclamation of power.

Sobriety Within The Struggle

Attended by people from a variety of viewpoints (straight edge, those who do drink, etc.), there was a lot of productive discussion in this workshop. Many who abstain from substances spoke about their concerns: that it was hard to organize when people attended meetings hung over and stoned, that it was alienating and detracted from community. There was expressed frustration at peoples’ interpretations of “sober spaces” – that people would just drink or do drugs beforehand, and show up intoxicated. Others were frustrated that self identified anarchists, who hate capitalism and avoid it in every other way, support huge alcohol and tobacco companies when they party.

There was also a discussion of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), which most everyone agreed was a destructive group, in which a certain set of morals was forced on its participants, who were told they would never be sober without belief in a higher power.

Overall, the conference was a great chance for discussion and to meet other like-minded folks living in the Midwest.

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Event Looks at the State of Radical Grassroots Social Movements in Michigan, Chicago

Solidarity & Defense Hosted an Event that Looked at Radical Grassroots Movements in Michigan and Chicago

On February 7, a group called Solidarity & Defense “a small but growing alliance of anti-authoritarian militants active in both the workplace and the community,” hosted an evening of speakers and discussion at the International Institute in Detroit. The theme was “Renewing the New Years Promise” and it featured regional organizers speaking on their organization’s vision of social change. A variety of topics were covered, from gentrification to police repression.

The night began with a panel of six organizers. The first panelist, Robert, is a member of the Railway Work Unit of the Industrial Workers of the World, the Chicago Four Star Anarchist Group, and was involved with the Republic Windows occupation in December. He talked about the importance of pre-figurative organizing – counter institutions, citizens councils, and Cop Watch — in order to put pressure on formal institutions. Robert spoke of the importance of focusing on specific issues at hand in communities, rather than broad ideas. One way to do this is through the IWW, pinpointing which industries are suffering (such as the auto industry) before people are laid off, and making decisions “horizontally,” then bringing them up “vertically” by workers placing pressure on executives.

Lacey, who is currently based in Detroit but organized in Lansing for several years and is involved with Solidarity & Defense, spoke of the importance of solidarity within communities and defending communities when they are attacked by legislation or policies. She noted that we are currently in a unique political situation of new found enthusiasm – the last election drew a lot of people into the idea of change and motivated them. According to Lacey, the job of community organizers is to find a place for people to plug in. She addressed the police repression at the RNC, emphasizing that “you have to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it,” and stressing direct action as a strategy for change.

Bill and Robert spoke on their involvement with Y.O.U.T.H. Inc (Youth Organizing to Uplift Tomorrow’s Humanity), which provides programs for youth, tutoring within schools, a gym space and food to emphasize health, and provide training for specific trades. They also talked about the need for goals, and the importance of connecting different projects and working together.

Carmen, who is involved in the Detroit public school system, spoke of the needs of the Latino community in Detroit: legal clinics, health and safety classes, and immigrant support. She spoke about groups organizing in Detroit for border support, posting bail for undocumented workers, and translating Spanish classes by ESL students.

Brie, who is from Chicago and involved with the Four Star Anarchist Group talked about the importance of art in the movement. In the past it has been used to pacify us through the entertainment industry, but art is a strategy activists can use to empower people. Brie also talked about veterans’ issues, saying that anarchist groups can be used a means for support, to combat the common feeling of always being on the defense. Activists can being to take a more pro-active stance on these issues, which Brie cited as a goal of the Solidarity & Defense group.

Melissa, the final panelist of the evening, is involved with NorthStar, the collective/infoshop based in Lansing. She spoke of the need for activists to build connections amongst ourselves, and the importance of being engaged in the community. Melissa also discussed facilitating empowerment – we can build a radical capacity for people who are generally disempowered, so they can take control of their own lives and situations.

Following the panel was a discussion with the audience. One critique is that some thought the discussion dominated by older white males, despite the fact the audience was made up of many women, Latino/as, and African Americans.

Regional Antiwar March in Chicago Draws Thousands, Raises Questions

Last Saturday, United for Peace and Justice’s regional antiwar mobilization in Chicago drew an estimated 5,000 people. However, aside from the fact that multiple marches were held around the country in lieu of in one central location, it largely repeated past marches with similar effects.

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Last Saturday, October 27th, roughly 5,000 people gathered in Chicago as part of a regional march against the Iraq War. This march was organized by a coalition of groups including United for Peace and Justice, ANSWER, and World Can’t Wait.

Different groups partaking in the main march formed their own feeder marches that met up with the main march for a rally at Union Park. This report follows the student feeder march organized by the Chicago chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and several other groups.

The Student March

The student feeder march began assembling at 525 State Street in front of an Armed Forces Career Center. About two-dozen police on bikes were stationed at the Career Center well before people began to assemble. Around 1:30 the organizers of the march allowed some people to address the crowd of about 60 people. Members of SDS, World Can’t Wait, as well as a passerby who free-styled into the mega phone, addressed the crowd in order to build energy. The march then left the Career Center and marched on the sidewalk though various shopping districts of Chicago chanting things such as “while you’re shopping bombs are dropping”, “The people of Iraq are under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back”, and “stop the war yes we can, SDS is back again.” The group attempted to take the streets as they neared Union Park.

The Arrests

The police who had followed the group in the road responded by shoving protesters onto the sidewalk with their bikes. Most of the group responded by moving to the sidewalk and trying to take the streets again when the police moved back. During this police grabbed the flag of one member of the march that resulted in some pushing and pulling. The police eventually let the person go and the march continued on its way. During the next attempt to take the street the police targeted the same person with the flag and pulled them into the road and arrested him using three officers. During this time the group responded verbally to the force used by the police. The police responded by pulling out their batons and using their bikes aggressively to control protestors. The police reported that protestors damaged a bike in this scuffle, however, police threw down their bikes and stepped on them themselves during this scuffle. The group continued on its way after the first arrest, but the police then made two more arrests while the group crossed the street on the sidewalk. This again contradicts reports claiming that all three protestors were arrested while running into the street. Several police hit one of the arrestees with their batons and tackled them while they screamed in pain. The arrestee then had to be carried off from the scene, as they appeared to be unable to walk at the time. After the attack by the police, the march continued on to Union Park much less energetic than it started. As the group approached the park to meet with the rest of the main march they chanted, “war and occupation can never bring liberation, that’s bullshit, get off it, this war is for profit.”

The attack by the police caused the student feeder march to arrive late for the rally at Union Park, resulting us missing the majority of the rally. After a music performance by a local hip-hop artist, the gathering began to march through the streets of Chicago. The group that made up the main march consisted of dozens of smaller groups that brought people to the march.

Ron Paul

Oddly, one of the largest and most visible groups in the main march was the Ron Paul campaign. This group had various slick looking signs and even hired a plane to fly over the main march with a large banner calling for people to elect Ron Paul in 2008. This support of a politician is troubling for numerous reasons. In 2004, the anti-war movement adopted an “anybody but Bush” stance and threw their support behind John Kerry, a candidate that did not represent the interests of most of the anti-war movement, or even the interests of most Americans. Because of this the anti-war movement redirected much of its energies into Kerry’s campaign causing it to lose much needed energy.

Even more troubling than the potential to repeat the mistakes of 04 is the stance of Ron Paul. Running on a Republican ticket using libertarian values, Ron Paul is attempting to appeal to a variety of interests by claiming to want to end the war as well as implement a system that would benefit mainly the rich by doing away with many social programs. Aside from supporting free market economics which have all but destroyed many nations in South and Central America, Ron Paul takes an extremely conservative approach to immigration policy claiming that we need to end birthright citizenship and physically secure our borders and coastlines.

Paul’s immigration policy is not the only questionable position he holds. On gay marriage Paul claimed, “If I were a member of [a state] legislature, I would do all I could to oppose any attempt by rogue judges to impose a new definition of marriage on the people of my state” as well as “We do know what marriage is about. We don’t need a new definition or argue over a definition and have an amendment to the Constitution.” Ron Paul also has stated in 1981 that “Abortion on demand is the ultimate State tyranny; the State simply declares that certain classes of human beings are not persons, and therefore not entitled to the protection of the law.” Ron Paul’s anti-immigration, anti-gay marriage, and anti-women positions should speak for themselves, however, yet many members of the left continue to endorse Paul simply because he is against the Iraq war. Such narrow criteria for support will undoubtedly result in troubles for many Americans should the Ron Paul “revolution” come to be. Again, members of the left need to take off their blinders with regards to Ron Paul and recognize that he is not a friend of the left.

The Rest of the March

The student group attempted to stay close together during this march, but it became difficult in a group of 5,000. Police presence though out the early part of the march was minimum. As the group came into the business districts police presence continually increased. Riot police wielding thick wooden clubs and facemasks guarded various corporate stores such as the Gap, McDonalds, and Starbucks. It appears this was done in order to prevent members of the march to partake in property damage. The fear of this may have been heightened by the recent events at the World Bank and IMF protests in Georgetown where a march broke several corporate store windows before being dispersed. The police did not interfere with the main march and it reached its destination for the second rally at the Federal Plaza.

Despite drawing in 5,000 participants, it is unlikely that this march will have any real effect on the Iraq war. As many Saturday shoppers lined the sidewalks and took pictures, the main march felt more like a parade than an expression of dissent. Participation in the march came from groups who are already involved in anti-war organizing. The entire event was well-scripted and did not interfere pose any real threat to those who hold the power to make war. The march vaguely demanded, “troops out now” but possessed no real power to influence those who can make that decision to do so. Like many events that failed to do much stop the war before and after it started, this event focused on mass numbers, bringing people together, and making vague demands to an elite that clearly is not listening.

CIW Protests at McDonalds Headquarters

Protestors gathered on the street in front of McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois today while shareholders met inside. The protest was part of a national campaign by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to compel McDonald’s to acknowledge its ability and responsibility to improve the lives of farmworkers in its supply chain. The CIW’s “Fair Food” campaign is a continuation of a four-year long Taco Bell boycott which ended in March of 2005 when Taco Bell finally committed to work toward improving the working conditions and wages of farmworkers in Immokalee, Florida. Protestors demanded that McDonald’s follow the precendent set by Taco Bell and support “real rights” for farmworkers, which include safe working conditions, fair wages and freedom from harassment and discrimination. So far, McDonald’s has launched a public relations campaign to counteract the work of the CIW but has not addressed the human rights abuses that still occur in the fields of Florida.

Photos from the protest:

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Media Mouse was also at a protest at the “rock and roll” McDonald’s earlier this year.

Farm Workers March on Rock and Roll McDonalds in Chicago

On Saturday in Chicago, farm workers and allies with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) held a 5-mile march and rally outside of a prominent McDonalds as part of the group’s campaign to encourage McDonald’s to use its leverage in the fast food industry to improve conditions for farm workers supplying its tomatoes. The campaign against McDonalds is a follow-up to the CIW’s successful campaign against Taco Bell.

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On Saturday in Chicago, 300 to 400 members of the Coalition for Immokalee Workers (CIW) and their allies participated in a five-mile march to demand that McDonalds improve the working condition and pay for farm workers supplying tomatoes to the restaurant. Marchers chanted “Down, Down with McSploitation, Up, Up with the Fair Food Nation,” “Exploitation makes me Grimace, we won’t stop until it’s Finished,” “Si Se Puede, and “Hey Mickey, you won’t last, you won’t last, we’ll kick your ass” (sung to the tune of the song “Hey Mickey”) as they marched from Plaza Tenochtitlan in Pilsen to the “Rock and Roll” McDonalds in downtown Chicago. Along the way the march stopped and briefly rallied at McDonalds restaurants, culminating with a large rally at the Rock and Roll McDonalds.

At the rally, the CIW announced that it is expanding its campaign to target Chipotle Mexican Grill, a “Mexican-style” restaurant that McDonalds retains 70% ownership of after a public stock offering in January of this year. Chipotle, who touts their corporate philosophy in the manifesto “Food with Integrity,” describes how they want to “revolutionize the way America grows and gathers food” by “working back along the food chain” beyond distributors to encourage healthy production of vegetables and humane living conditions for animals used by Chipotle. While calling for improved production of vegetables and animals used by the company, Chipotle says nothing about the conditions under which farm workers supplying the company work. Consequently, the CIW is calling on Chipotle to expand their mission to include “work with dignity” and is demanding that the company act to improve the labor conditions of farm workers supplying the restaurant by increasing the amount they pay farm workers by a penny per pound of tomatoes picked.

The CIW’s campaign against McDonalds, launched in December of 2005, is a follow-up to their successful boycott of Taco Bell that ended last year with Taco Bell’s parent company, Yum! Brands, agreeing to increase the amount that Taco Bell pays for its tomatoes and to take a role in improving the conditions for farm workers in the tomato industry. McDonalds, who is one of the largest corporations in the fast-food industry, has refused to work with the CIW to expand on the precedent set by Taco Bell, and instead has ignored calls to improve the conditions for workers supplying its tomatoes. While the company has undertaken some steps towards “social responsibility” in the past few years with the decision to purchase fair-trade coffee for 650 of its restaurants and the establishment of a code of conduct that guarantees labor rights for workers supplying the company with toys, it has failed to do so with farm workers in the United States. As part of this effort, the CIW has engaged in a number of tactics that they fine-tuned during the Taco Bell boycott, including pray-ins, connections with student groups, and the development of an extensive coalition to pressure McDonalds. Additionally, as they did during the campaign against Taco Bell, the CIW conducted a “Truth Tour” where they visited 16 cities across the country educating and organizing allies and potential constituents while protesting at McDonalds restaurants along the way. The tour ended in Chicago with a meeting with representatives of McDonalds at their corporate headquarters outside Chicago.

Photos from the Chicago March and Rally

Send an email to McDonalds urging them to improve conditions for farm workers