Guys and Guns AMOK: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre

Guys and Guns AMOK by Douglas Kellner provides a well researched analysis of recent mass killings in the United States including the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber, and the shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech.

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Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre by Douglas Kellner provides a well researched analysis of recent mass killings in the United States including the Oklahoma City bombing, the Unabomber, and the shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. Through an at times exhaustive examination, Kellner deconstructs these violent rampages and applies his considerable expertise as a critical social theorist. The result is a book that may overwhelm the reader with its abundance of information, yet will keep the reader shuddering with the recognition of just how much violence we in the U.S. appear to be willing to accept.

Guys and Guns AMOK is presented in four chapters: Chapter 1 – Deconstructing the Spectacle: Race, Guns, and the Culture Wars; Chapter 2 – The Situation of Contemporary Youth; Chapter 3 – Constructing Male Identities and the Spectacle of Terror; and Chapter 4 – What Is to Be Done? The book also has an extensive introduction and notes sections. It is an academic book and may not be the best selection for readers new to the topic. For those newly interested in the topic, the film Tough Guise by Jackson Katz may be a better first choice.

Guys and Guns AMOK examines popular U.S. culture and its glorification of guns, violent masculinity, war, youth alienation, celebrity and media spectacle. Through deconstruction of the non-stop, 24/7, mainstream media coverage that violent episodes receive, Kellner exposes the agenda of anti-gun control advocates and individuals on issues of race, gender, white male identity politics, and gun laws. He also educates the reader on what issues don’t receive much media attention like that the vast majority of gun deaths in the U.S. are routine killings, fatal gun accidents, and suicides (which guns don’t cause, but make easier). Guys and Guns AMOK also places the right-wing extremist view on the second amendment and gun ownership in context with the rapid changes the U.S. is experiencing in regards to race, gender, politics, global economics and the restructuring of capital. Remember the offense taken to Obama’s comment in San Francisco last April regarding certain groups of people experiencing hard times and clinging to religion and guns? Guys and Guns AMOK will provide some historical context and perspective on that viewpoint.

The author Douglas Kellner is a professor at UCLA, he has written extensively on the subjects of media, culture, terrorism, war, democracy and (stolen) elections.

Douglas Kellner, Guys and Guns Amok: Domestic Terrorism and School Shootings from the Oklahoma City Bombing to the Virginia Tech Massacre, (Paradigm Publisher, 2008).

Speaker Addresses the Links between Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse

AsAs part of a new quarterly speakers series, the Kent County Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response Team hosted Rachel Newland today who spoke on the interrelationship between animal abuse and domestic violence. Newland urged greater awareness of the issue.

The Kent County Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response Team (DVCCRT) hosted a speaker today in Grand Rapids who addressed the link between animal abuse and human violence. Rachel Newland–a health education worker with the Kent County Health Department–was the first speaker that the organization hosted as part of a new series of quarterly talks.

Newland began with a quote from John Caruso of the Anti-Cruelty Society, “When we talk about the cycle of abuse, we’re not talking about a problem that’s just a people problem and it’s not just an animal problem, it’s a violence problem.” She emphasized the need for the public to see the links between violence and the importance familiarizing ourselves with what the law states in Michigan about animal and human abuse.

The state of Michigan defines animal neglect as “failing to provide sufficient food, clean water, clean and safe building/enclosure, veterinary care, ventilation and light.” Gross neglect is “failing to provide the above for extended period of time causing severe harm, dehydration, starvation, disease and/or death.” In Kent County, there are numerous acts of abuse that can result in a misdemeanor, such as beating, injury, confinement, abandonment, and even teasing. For things like malicious abuse, torture, neglect, providing animals and even attending animal fights, felony charges are a possible result. The laws that enforce such charges are a recent phenomenon in several states, including Michigan.

Some of these charges can result in up to four years for gross neglect and abuse, but the speaker said that people are rarely ever given a serious sentence. The fall back position of the system is always if there is a choice between locking up someone for human abuse or animal abuse, the human abuser will always get locked up first. The problem with this dynamic, according to the speaker, is that most often people who abuse spouses or children are also abusing animals. When looking at who is committing such crimes, the overwhelming amounts of animal abusers are men (over 90% of the cases). Quite often, the men who abuse animals abuse spouses and even use the threat of hurting pets as a way to control their partners. The Humane Society reports that 71% of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters report that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims.”

The speaker then addressed why people abuse animals. As with the abuse of spouses or children, animal abuse is primarily about power and control. Abusing animals can be a form of coercion and punishment. Batterers regularly employ these methods to control or terrorize their spouse/partner by saying things like, “she loves the dog more than me, so I’ll get rid of the dog.” The presenter did say that spouse/partner abuse does not necessarily lead to animal abuse, but it is a good indicator when looking for patterns of abuse. Rachel then gave examples of high profile people who have abused humans and animals, such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert DeSalvo (The Boston Strangler), and numerous cases where high school boys shot fellow students. In all of these cases, the perpetrators abused animals and in many cases bragged about it.

Finally, the speaker addressed the issue of what can be done to deal with the cycle of violence with domestic abuse and animal abuse. She suggests that animal treatment should be included in the screening done with those entering domestic violence shelters and that law enforcement agencies should be doing the same. Understanding these links needs to be incorporated into the training material for those who work in the domestic violence field. The speaker also stated that there needs to be more resources and emphasis put on providing education around this issue, with both victims and batterers who are in treatment programs. Rachel said the legal system must stop viewing human abuse and animal abuse in a hierarchy of violence; therefore sentencing must reflect the cycle of violence and not minimize or overlook animal abuse when human abuse is committed. Lastly, she said that there is a general need for more public education on this issue so that a greater number of the public will see the links between domestic and animal abuse.

ACORN Hosts “Save Our Youth” Town Hall Forum

On Tuesday, around 100 people attended a forum at Grand Rapids’ Eastern Avenue CRC Church to hear from youth about the lack of youth programs in the city. The forum was held in relation to concerns about violence in the community.

Just over 100 people came out to Eastern Avenue Church to a forum organized by two Grand Rapids chapters of the group ACORN. The forum was designed to give youth an opportunity to tell the community what they want. ACORN organizers facilitated the forum and provided a brief description of their work before youth were invited to speak.

Roughly two-dozen youth got up to address the crowd with ideas and concerns. Some of the ideas were: more after school programs, preventing gun sales to minors, the need for more positive male remodels, a fun place for kids to go to, prevent bullying in the schools, job opportunities, safer schools, and that youth have to make the decisions to not participate in the problem. Those who spoke also addressed some concerns about what they saw as some of the problems in the community. Some of the problems addressed were: single parent homes, the media blaming violence on African-Americans, gang affiliation, revenge, violence in the home, no follow through from adults on solutions, and that the Grand Rapids Police Department (GRPD) engages in harassment.

ACORN had invited various city officials to the meeting and the only one to show up was Mayor George Heartwell. The Chief of Police sent one of his officers to represent the department. Mayor Heartwell addressed the crowd by saying how important it was for community leaders to hear from the youth. He then spoke about a forum the week before that featured members from a group called Pioneers of Peace based out of Detroit. He said they were all former gang members who had been victims of gun violence. However, 30 minutes after that forum took place another young African American male was shot not far from where the forum was held. The Mayor did say that there is a coalition for after school programs in 23 elementary schools, there is the 21st Century program, but was is lacking are programs for high school age youth. The mayor also made the statement that “there are too many guns out there and we have to change that.”

At this point the Mayor responded to just a few questions, since he had another event to go to that night. The first question was “how are the guns getting in our community? The Mayor asked the GRPD spokesperson to address that. The officer responded by saying that most of the guns used in violent acts are stolen guns and being sold in the city illegally. The next questioner asked what happened to the $1 million that was designated for youth jobs 14 years ago. Heartwell responded by say that when John Engler was governor he took the money and gave it to the John Ball Zoo for programming and exhibits. The Mayor did follow up this question with some information about a new youth jobs program in the 3rd Ward through Brown-Hutchinson Ministries called Project Cool. The program will pay students 5 days a week, 4 days of work and one day of job training.

At this point one of the ACORN organizers asks the Mayor if he would be willing to meet with the ACORN Youth Platform committee on a regular basis “to discuss issues and to create future leaders.” The Mayor made a verbal commitment to meet with the committee on a regular basis.

Following the comments from the youth in attendance and the Mayor’s response, adults in the audience were asked to address the crowd with ideas and concerns as it related to youth. Several people got up to speak, with a majority of those speaking talking from a church-based perspective and some even telling the youth “they needed the Lord.” Several people quoted the bible during their comments and some made the suggestion that they need to pray in the streets to stop youth violence. There were some who said that ministers needed to get out from behind the pulpit and into the streets, while one man made the observation “what is wrong with the fact that most of the shootings are happening in an area with all these churches?” Some who spoke provided information on specific programs that already exist such as an African American History class, a martial arts and community service project called the Strong Program, and several church based projects. Some in the audience had suggestions such putting information on billboards in the center city about all the various programs that existed, encouraging parents to spend time in the schools, and the importance of the various youth service providers to work together and stop fighting over the same funding sources. A few other speakers also addressed funding issues. One person mentioned the importance of challenging the City of Grand Rapids, which has proposed to cut funding to two youth-based programs and Kent County Commissioner Paul Mayhue said that people need to confront state lawmakers who supported an end to the Single Business Tax.

A police officer with the Grand Rapids Police Department then addressed the crowd. He said that the GRPD youth initiative consisted of Camp O’Malley, working with the boys and girls club, a cadet program, and a youth police academy. The officer then responded to the issue of police harassment by saying “we will continue to knock doors down if we have to and we don’t harass people. The problems are gangs, drugs and guns.” He was dismissive of concerns about “harassment” and outlined a plan this summer where officers are going to aggressively pull people over near “drug houses” under any pretext that they can (he cited “missing taillights” as a reason) with the goal of using the stops to search cars. When people asked him about whether or not they, as older African-American community members would be subject to this treatment, he indicated that it would be those “near drug houses” and that if they are not near the “drug houses” they will not need to worry. The officer’s comments sounded more like a plan for profiling and harassment rather than a more comprehensive approach. Several people in the audience took issue with the officer and challenged him on several of his points. One woman asked, “Where are the drugs coming from? I know that Black people do not have planes and other vehicles that are bringing the drugs into our community.” The officer did say that drugs were a problem in the suburbs as well, but he never really answered her question about where the drugs are coming from.

Finally, an ACORN organizer reminded the audience that there will be a bus to take people to the Grand Rapids City Commission meeting on May 15 to continue to address city leaders with their concerns.

March Calls for End to Street Killings in Grand Rapids

On Saturday, 75 people participated in a march organized by M.A.S.K. (Mothers Against Street Killings). The march went from Garfield Park to Joe Taylor Park in Grand Rapids, moving through many of the areas in which there have been street killings over the past several years.

On Saturday, approximately 75 people marched through Grand Rapids calling for and end to street killings as part of a community march organized by the group M.A.S.K. (Mothers Against Street Killings). M.A.S.K. was formed in 2005 largely at the behest of Darnella Powell whose son was shot to death on the streets of Grand Rapids during the summer of 2005. Powell has committed to using the tragic death of her son as vehicle for preventing further deaths.

As the march wound its way through Grand Rapids, moving from Garfield Park to Joe Taylor Park near the intersection of Diamond and Baxter, it garnered supportive reactions from the neighborhoods that it went through. Drivers honked in support, people came out on their porches, and people joined the march as it progressed. The march went on Burton to Eastern and then onto Baxter, taking it through many neighborhoods that have seen street killings over the past several years. The march was led by a banner reading M.A.S.K. while organizers kept the crowd together and moderated the pace to ensure that the march remained cohesive. For much of the march, Kent County Commissioner Paul Mayhue led chants on a megaphone and kept the energy of the crowd up. The chants included “We’re Fired Up, Don’t Want No Dope” and “The People United Will Never Be Defeated.” Many participants in the march also wore shirts with the faces of friends and family members that had been killed on the streets.

Before and after the march, a variety of speakers with M.A.S.K. and other community groups, as well as various community leaders, talked briefly about the problem of street killings and violence in Grand Rapids and called on the community to prevent black youth from becoming “another statistic.” One of the most powerful moments of the event was at the concluding rally, when organizers had the mothers and family members in the crowd come forward if they had lost children and relatives to street violence. Unlike much of the corporate media reporting that sensationalizes the violence and blames the problem on “out of control” youth, the speakers placed the blame for the problem on the entire city of Grand Rapids, arguing that the education system, the police system, the religious system, and the political system were all responsible in some way for the ongoing violence. While identifying institutional failings that contribute to the violence, the speakers asserted that the community can and should take responsibility for the problem, with one speaker reminding the crowd of the importance of talking to the youth that gather on street corners as a means of getting to them before the police do. The speakers emphasized the need to be proactive in addressing the problem, arguing that it is important to take actions such as this march to raise awareness, highlight the problem, and undertake preventative measures before more deaths occur. The speakers and organizers emphasized that this was only one part of an ongoing organizing effort around this issue.

As a follow-up event, members of the local chapter of ACORN and organizers with M.A.S.K. promoted an April 17 “Save Our Youth” Town Hall Forum that will take place at 6:30pm at the Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church located at 514 Eastern Ave. SE. According to the flyer, a variety of city leaders including Mayor George Heartwell, City Commissioner Elias Lumpkins Jr., City Commissioner James White Sr., City Manager Kurt Kimball, Grand Rapids Parks and Recreation Director Jay Steffen, and Chief of Police Harry Dolan have been invited to hear residents talk about more Southside youth programs as a potential solution to violence.

Community Forum takes a look at State Budget Crisis

On Tuesday, several community groups held a forum titled “Tax Policy, Michigan’s Budget & the Future of Michigan’s Economy” to hear two speakers and to brainstorm strategies for cutting costs at the state level.

On Tuesday several local groups (Kent County RICC, Disability Advocates of Kent County & GRACE/West Michigan Call to Renewal) hosted a forum entitled “Tax Policy, Michigan’s Budget & The Future of Michigan’s Economy.” About 50 people were in attendance to hear two speakers and to come up with ideas on ways to cut costs at the state level. The forum comes on the heels of Governor Granholm’s announcement of her proposed budget plan.

Tom Clay with the Citizen’s Research Council addressed the crowd first. The CRC is a non-profit, non-partisan group, which publishes reports on a variety of social indicators in the state, with an emphasis on the economy. Clay gave a Power Point presentation on the current status of Michigan’s economy. He said that Michigan is in its 7th year of spending cuts and that this year’s budget with the budget is smaller than it was 11 years ago. Clay said that Michigan has a structural deficit and that the state will not grow out of the current economic depression. Michigan’s economy is 50th in personal growth income, 50th in unemployment rate, 50th in employment growth, and 50th in Index of economic momentum.

Clay talked a bit about the factors for the budget problems such as the flight of both the auto industry and office furniture manufacturing jobs, the incremental decline of a business tax, and the growing costs of the prison system in the state. The declining business tax seems to be a major contributing factor, since there has been a decline in the percentage of business’ share of state and local taxes, which has dropped from 43% in 1990 to 37.9% in 2005. Even before the elimination of the Single Business Tax, Michigan ranked number 36 in states with high business taxes. If the Governor allows the SBT to go away without a replacement, Michigan would be the lowest state for business tax in the nation.

I asked Tom Clay to what degree trade policies have impacted not only job loss but also state revenues. He said, “the CRC has not looked at this issues, but without question NAFTA caused jobs to go to other places and has had a major effect on the Big 3 automakers.”

This writer was not able to stay for the afternoon session, which featured Louis Glazer, Michigan Future, Inc., presented the findings and recommendations of A New Agenda for A New Michigan, an agenda aimed at attracting “smart people with talent” who are the key to our state’s future economic success. This agenda promotes an “investment in higher education, build regions that attractive places for people to live, attract export business investment, align K-12 education with a knowledge-driven economy, and new leadership, particularly at the metropolitan level.” The report offered no critique of how the private sector and corporations have contributed to the state’s economic decline and in many ways, the only information presented that suggested that the business community is in any way responsible for the economic decline was the mention of the SBT. There was also no coverage of this forum by the major local news outlets.

Michigan Religious Right Organization Leads Boycott against Victoria's Secret

A local religious right entity known as the American Decency Association (ADA) is in the midst of a campaign targeting Victoria’s Secret for “moral indecency” according to research conducted by Media Mouse for our Far Right in West Michigan database.

The West Michigan religious right organization known as the American Decency Association (ADA) has launched a campaign targeting Michigan malls–including RiverTown Crossings in Grandville–according to research conducted by Media Mouse. The Fremont, Michigan-based ADA has undertaken a campaign targeting Victoria’s Secret for what it terms “indecency at the local mall” arguing that the retail chain’s window displays, in-store advertisements, and television advertisements are a “threat” to “public decency.” While the campaign does mention that Victoria’s Secret contributes to “the sexual objectification of women,” the organization is not interested in presenting a critique of Victoria’s Secret that explains how, under a system of patriarchy, the store promotes the objectification of women and contributes to the promotion of unrealistic body standards. Instead, the organization–which defines itself as deeply grounded in Christianity–targets the store for selling lingerie in “an inappropriate and immoral manner” and argues that it consequently contributes to “the desensitization of moral sensibilities.” In focusing on a “morality” critique, the American Decency Association whose mission describes its goal as educating the public about “matters of decency” and coordinating activities designed to “advance public morality consistent with biblical Christianity” is presenting a common argument on the religious right that all things sexual are “dirty.” Organizations at the national level conduct similar activities and even in West Michigan the ADA is not unique, sharing similar goals with the Dove Foundation and the Michigan Decency Action Council, two Christian organizations working to “safeguard” “morality” by campaigning against media that does not reflect what they believe is the proper Christian worldview. Like many religious right organizations, the ADA has received funding from the Holland-based Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation.

However, far from being focused only at the local level, the American Decency Association has mobilized religious right supporters around the United States and has conducted several high profile campaigns. Some of these campaigns, including those targeting Howard Stern and Abercrombie & Fitch, have received widespread media attention at the national level. The group’s primary tactic is organizing boycotts and urging members and supporters to contact specific entities or decision-makers with power in a specific campaign. As such, the group organizes letter-writing campaigns targeting the Federal Communications Commission, corporations, advertisers, and other such entity depending on the specifics of a campaign. The group holds a firm belief in the strength of boycotting by religious right Christians, and as of December 2006 has ongoing boycotts against Abercrombie & Fitch, Victoria’s Secret, Movie Gallery, Family Video, Walt Disney (for “allowing homosexual celebrations in its theme parks” and producing shows such as Desperate Housewives), and Yum Brands. While promoting Christian activism, the ADA also promotes a narrow biblical view, reflected by its prominently advertised partner service called American Family Online (afo.net). According to marketing materials afo.net provides “a Christian Internet filter” to protect Christians while online, the filter blocks a considerable amount of content beyond spam and spyware, including information on same-sex relationships, “antigovernment groups,” “anarchy,” “criminal skills,” “gothic/cult” lifestyles, gambling, alcohol, and drug use.

The organization is clearly positioned on the religious right, listing a number of religious right organizations including the American Family Association, the Family Research Council, and Concerned Women for America, as “ministry friends,” all of which in varying capacities promote the anti-gay and patriarchal views prominent within the religious right. Additionally, the American Decency Association frequently works with other religious right media monitoring entities including Morality in Media and the Parents Television Council. The organization’s founder–Bill Johnson–has been recognized by prominent religious right evangelical D. James Kennedy for his role in religious activism, winning an award from Kennedy’s Center for Reclaiming America for the ADA’s work in fighting indecency on the radio. Like many on the religious right, the ADA promotes the idea that Christian values are under attack from secularism, declaring in a November 2005 edition of American Decency Update that “our culture has become increasingly secular. The gospel is trampled under foot” while “people turned our [their] backs on god.” The organization uses churches as a base from which to organize and build campaigns, with the group publishing a special “bulletin insert” called American Decency Update to be inserted in church bulletins in order to encourage “Christian activism.” In addition to promoting the group’s campaigns, it also has run articles opposing abortion, bemoaning the alleged “de-gendering” of the word god, and describing the fight to preserve Christian values as “mortal combat.” Bill Johnson has described the fight for public morality as “Jesus vs. Satan.”

Endgame

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Derrick Jensen’s Endgame is a substantial, two volume, 891 page book focusing on the “problem of civilization” and resistance to civilization. While the idea that civilization is a problem and that we need to organize to “bring it down” as Jensen would say will be new to many readers, the book offers a strikingly poignant analysis of our current situation and the realities of civilization. Throughout the book Jensen weaves together convincing arguments urging a reevaluation of our current strategies for resistance on a variety of issues from the environment to domestic violence to convince readers that the problems we are facing are inherent characteristics of civilization. Central to his analysis is the idea that the environment and the realization that no species can survive if the earth is killed—and that the urgency of this realization warrants an immediate shift in tactics and organization.

Whereas we rarely question the idea of civilization because so many facets of it are subconsciously inserted into our thinking through debate over issues such as how we can “grow” the economy or how sustainable development will save the Earth—thereby not raising the question of should we expand the economy or whether development can ever be sustainable—Jensen begins Endgame by laying out his premises at the beginning of the book. This list of twenty premises begins with the premise that “civilization is not and can never be sustainable” and ends with the idea that “social decisions are determined primarily on the basis of how well those decisions serve the ends of controlling or destroying wild nature.” Jensen also has a number of other insightful premises including that “those in power rule by force,” that “the culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life,” that “the needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system,” and that civilization is “based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.” These premises provide the basis of much of the book. Jensen explains and expands on them throughout the course of the text.

The context of Jensen’s book is what he terms the “thrashing endgame of civilization” or the realization that our system of life is inherently unsustainable and that nothing currently being done—whether that be the mainstream environmental movement, the radical environmental movement, the sustainable business movement, or any of the left movements in this country—is doing enough to confront this fundamental reality. Throughout the book Jensen provides a number of specific examples of how civilization is destroying the planet including such issues as the ecological impact of dams, the destruction of a variety of species, industrial farming and fishing practices, the reliance on oil, and carrying capacity. While none of these ecological issues will be particularly “new” to most activists, Jensen’s argument that the problem is civilization itself will likely be controversial both among “mainstream” and some radical activists. Jensen’s analysis is such that the our current problems did not originate with a particular economic system, leader, failure for key issues to be covered in the media, or any other such tangential issue, but that they are inherent to civilization itself. To this end, Jensen makes compelling arguments that the movement for social change must be a movement against both the ideology and reality of civilization itself and argues that because our culture is a “culture of occupation” (the land was stolen from American Indians) permeated by inherent violence in civilization and our culture, we must set our sights on dismantling it by any means necessary. Jensen describes how people are individually and collectively brought up to hate life, to hate the natural world, to hate the wild, to hate women, to hate their bodies, to hate their feelings, and even to hate themselves. In turn, Jensen argues persuasively that this hatred is an essential form of acculturation if we are to live within a system built upon systematic violence. Jensen describes this violence as being hierarchical, arguing that violence is always done to those perceived as “lower.” Humans destroy the earth, the rich exploit the poor, and the military occupies other countries while the entire system is organized by leaders who rule by force. Jensen’s analysis is also useful in that he makes several important distinctions about who is responsible for the destruction of the planet and who is benefiting from it, and in forgoing the usual line that “we are destroying the planet,” Jensen is able to avoid the rhetoric of individual responsibility through recycling, riding bikes, or composting that is common in the environmental movement. Instead, he articulates a much more useful analysis of responsibility whereby we have a collective and individual responsibility to the earth that provides for us and an analysis in which there are clear targets that can—and must—be the focuses of our opposition.

So how does one organize against civilization? Unfortunately, this is one of the book’s weaknesses in that many already possessing a radical analysis of the world (and the Earth) will likely agree with Jensen’s analysis but will have questions about how one goes about organizing against civilization. Jensen’s most common answer throughout the book is to “listen to the land,” and while there is certainly a degree of truth in that answer, it is simultaneously frustrating as it offers no specifics. Indeed, Jensen goes to great lengths to explain that he does not have all of the answers and that they can only be arrived at through a process of individual and collective considerations of the risks, possibilities for success, and the efficacy of any individual action. When it comes to protecting the Earth, Jensen argues that all options—including force—are on the table and argues that the immediacy of the situation coupled with the fact that the entire society is based on violence allows for an incredible diversity of tactics. Throughout the book Jensen raises the prospect of blowing up dams, Earth Liberation Front sabotage, destroying cell phone towers, and other such approaches to combating the destruction of the earth, although he provides ample critiques of such tactics in explaining that they do not go “high enough up the infrastructure.” Jensen talks about the need for actions that will hasten the fall of civilization and makes detours into discussions about computer hackers and the possibility that they might be able to bring large sections of civilization to a standstill, dismantling power grids, and the number of people that it will take to give civilization the final push that it needs to crash. While these discussions are somewhat interesting hypothetical situations, they tend to distract from his very convincing and necessary analysis of civilization. Discussions of what we will do once the ultimate “crash” of civilization takes place are also fairly weak and questions about the “population reduction” that will come with this crash are glossed over, with Jensen essentially saying that the longer civilization continues the “messier” the crash will be. To assist in making sure that the maximum number of people are able to survive this crash, Jensen suggests that people begin thinking realistically about it and planning for its inevitable occurrence.

Aside from the critique of civilization, a large portion of Jensen’s book is dedicated to going through and systematically reexamining the various tactics, strategies, and approaches that movements for social change in this country have accepted as “truth” in order to come to some important conclusions about the efficacy of organizing on the left. While Jensen’s roots are in the environmental movement and his analysis is no doubt shaped by the immediate reality that the Earth is being killed, his analysis is useful to a variety movements. The honesty at which he explores the efficacy of various campaigns—such as petitioning corporations destroying the Earth in order to “nicely” ask them to stop (and thereby go against their rationale for existing)—is helpful in that it will remind organizers of the bigger picture as well as the questions that we all must face even as we all work on a variety of defuse campaigns and projects. As part of this, Jensen includes a lengthy discussion of pacifism and explains his conclusion that “love does not imply pacifism” while analyzing the rhetoric of pacifists, a rhetoric that has unfortunately come to exert a considerable amount of influence on movements for social change. Jensen confronts many of the “truths” of pacifism, including the idea that violence begets violence, that “we must become the change that we want to see” if we are to change the world, and that by using violence we become like our exploiters, and a host of other pacifist myths that serve to muddle our analysis and limit our responses. Along with this critique of pacifism, Jensen also explores the ways in which responses such as using the courts, petitioning, and voting—while all are important tactics if evaluated on an individual level—cannot be long-term strategies as they are ultimately setup to protect the interests of those who created them. Of course, the realization that much of what we do are temporary “band-aid fixes” can be somewhat daunting and very uncomfortable. But similar to the self-discovery process through which white activists must learn about their white privilege or when males must learn of the privilege afforded them through the system of patriarchy, this realization process is needed in order to move forward. Jensen also reminds us that due to the awful state in which we are in, there is ample room for people to get involved where they can and contribute in the ways in which they are most effective as long as they have an understanding that people can and will respond to this situation using a variety of tactics and that one tactic or strategy only will not bring down civilization.

Endgame is an important book for those interested in social change, and specifically for those seeking a radical or revolutionary change in the way in which the world is structured. It offers an incredibly insightful analysis of our current situation and where we need to go from here. It is a simultaneously rewarding and challenging book, as its arguments will provoke thoughtful consideration and discussion that will ultimately result in an expanded analysis, and ideally, a more focused approach to changing the world.

Derrick Jensen, Endgame, (Seven Stories Press, 2006).

Grand Rapids Residents Rally for Fair Media Coverage

Local “video blogger” Josh Leo has produced a short video from a rally held earlier this week in response to local Grand Rapids television station WOOD TV 8’s special three part series on “Violence in Grand Rapids.” The rally resulted in a dialog with two WOOD TV 8 executives and the reporter that did the series, all of whom had to listen to residents of the Southeast side of Grand Rapids explain to them how WOOD TV 8’s coverage was offensive and misrepresented their neighborhood. Leo’s video does an excellent job of interspersing footage from the original WOOD TV story with interviews from rally participants and clips of the dialog between community members and the station.

Repression, Rights, and Resistance—Fighting Brutality, Violence, and Racial Oppression in our Communities: Midwest Social Forum

At the final plenary session of the Midwest Social Forum, three youth organizing discussed how their work fighting brutality, violence, and racial oppression in their communities and shared strategies that could be used elsewhere.

The final plenary session of the 2006 Midwest Social Forum was held last Saturday in Milwaukee and was titled “Repression, Rights, and Resistance: Fighting Brutality, Violence, and Racial Oppression” in our communities. In a wide-ranging discussion moderated by Adrienne Maree Brown of the Ruckus Society, Brown encouraged the panelists—Camille Griffin of the American Friends Service Committee, Biko Baker of Campaign against Violence, and David Crowley of Urban Underground–to discuss the success of their organizing against military recruiting, community violence, and police brutality. While focusing on the successes, Brown did admit that there are several challenges to combating violence especially with regard to a lack of resources in communities as a cause of violence, a lack of alternatives to violence for economic sustainability, organizers getting stuck in tunnel vision and focusing just on one issue and consequently missing opportunities for collaboration with other organizations, and the importance of resisting organizers’ instinct to always be in “critical mode” and simply reacting instead of offering alternatives.

The panel began with Camille Griffin of the American Friends Service Committee talking about her work countering military recruiters with youth of color. Griffin began by explaining the reality that in communities of color there is a lack of resources and as such the military—with its money for colleges, housing, jobs, travel, and even fancy cars such as Hummers driven by recruiters—seems like one of the more attractive options despite the existence of other alternatives. Griffin explained how her group has done presentations in schools across Chicago, has gone to places where youth congregate, and has also encouraged the audience to make use of the internet and MySpace as a means of reaching youth. The importance of reaching youth and getting them involved in counter-recruiting work should be obvious, but as Griffin pointed out, it is primarily older folks leading the movement and doing the work. She explained how youth need to be brought into the movement by explaining to them the realities of military service, helping them find alternatives to military service, and providing them with the organizing skills to do the work. Among the alternatives she cited were Pell Grants and other scholarships for education (while admitting that the process of obtaining loans and scholarships is not as easy as the “all-in-one” package that the military gives, cooperatives in Chicago that offer housing, neighborhood organizations that teach job skills that are actually useful (compared to training in the military on how to repair tank engines), and alternatives to travel through programs such as the Peace Corps.

The next panelist to speak was David Crowley, a youth organizer with the group Urban Underground in Milwaukee. Crowley explained his work in a cop watch program where youth follow police with video cameras in “cop watch cars” and inform people having interactions with the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) of their rights and responsibility. Crowley said that this work is “giving freedom back to people” by both informing them of their rights and educating them that the police—setting aside structural issues—work just as much for them as anyone else. He asserted that police will not beat people if everyone knows their rights and if the police know they are being watched and explained how even something as simple as asserting your right to know a police officer’s badge number can change the power dynamic in an interaction with the police. Among the successes of his group’s work was the defeat of a draconian law that would have criminalized groups of police standing in a crowd of more than three people as a “gang” and the fact that Urban Underground has done some training for the MPD on how to improve relations with youth in the inner city. Crowley encouraged people to expand communication across generations and races as a means of addressing violence in cities.

The final panelist was Biko Baker of the Campaign against Violence who talked about his work “serving the community” and addressing violence in the community as a human issue and not simple a “youth issue.” Baker explained that his work was motivated by the fact that he always thought he would be killed on the streets of Milwaukee and explained the positive role that spoken word and hip-hop had on his life. While structural issues such as poverty and a poor educational system have roles in perpetuating violence, Baker explained that these issues can only be addressed once people acknowledge them and come together to as a group to address the issue. For Baker, much of the problem with violence stems from the failures of the educational system and Baker expressed the importance of challenging the privatization of schools and the need to get rid of the No Child Left Behind Act. Within the schools, Baker said that hip-hop curriculum and culturally sensitive curriculum can help reach people who are identified as “unreachable” by the school system and aid them in making positive improvements in their lives. He explained that the message that kids are worthless—a message perpetuated by all forms of media—needs to be countered and kids need to be empowered with the sense that their lives matter if there is to be an end to violence.

Residents of Grand Rapids’ South East Side to Rally for Fair Media Coverage

A protest is planned outside of the headquarters of Grand Rapids media outlet WOOD TV 8 in response to their highly sensationalized and negative story about residents of Grand Rapids southeast side.

A gathering of concerned citizens will take place in front of the Channel 8 News studio on College Avenue SE (120 College Ave. SE) to request balanced and fair media coverage of their neighborhoods. The rally is in response to the news story series run by News 8 on South East side violence, which to many residents falsely showcases the neighborhoods of this area as dangerous places to live, disregarding the breadth of positive work being done by area neighbors, and the many assets available in these communities.

There is also deep concern for the negative impact that the news series has and will have on property values in South East side neighborhoods, the image of this area of the city, the morale of the citizens who are actively engaged in positive community development work, and perhaps most importantly, the negative image of African-American males in urban communities.

While community members have long sought to attract media attention for events that exemplify the beauty and strong sense of community in South East side neighborhoods, the media has instead chosen to focus centrally on crimes and violence, giving the many positive efforts and successes in the area very little air time.

The citizens will be rallying to demand that Channel 8 do a four-part series highlighting the positive elements of the South East side neighborhoods, and that in the future Channel 8 devote at least as much air time to positive community events as is given to reports of violence and crimes.

The three WOOD TV 8 stories are available online (1, 2, 3) as is additional research on crime coverage in the local media.