Thursday, September 11, 2014
I recently self-published my 5th poetry chapbook, "9/11 was 2001: a decade of political poems". I'm pretty pleased with it; I think it's better than all but one of my previous attempts.
Many of the poems in it here been published in draft form on this blog. Here's the table of contents:
2003: The Hostage Crisis
2004: Red, White, and Blue
2005: The Salvador Option
2005: As You Know, Katrina
2007: After the Clash
2008: Larval Poets Manifesto
2009: For Obama's Inauguration
2010: The Ones Who
2011: Snow Storm
2014: Global warming activism / the dream
The rest of the poems are probably findable through Google, written in some comment box somewhere. If someone wants a physical copy, or even a PDF, of the whole chapbook, Email me at rpuchalsky followed by 1 followed by gmail dot com, or leave a message in comments below, and I'll try to get you one.
Each of the poems in the chapbook has an individual introduction, which I'm not going to quote here. But here's the introduction for the chapbook as a whole:
These poems were written from 2003 - 2014. It doesn't require close reading to see an obsessive concern with years, numbers, facts. It was a period dominated within the United States of America by myth, first and foremost the removal of the 9/11/2001 attack from history into the realm of timelessness, as the ever-enduring cause for a war everywhere against all enemies – not even against enemies, against terror itself. This all-encompassing war was used to justify a series of quite real wars, the invasion and occupation of Iraq from 2003-2011 being the most destructive in terms of the number of people killed. But there were other myths, too, such as the one that said that the natural world was as it was and that nothing people could do could change it.
My first training was as a scientist. Since then I've worked as a sort of librarian, making Web sites that provide environmental and financial information to the public. It's been tempting to believe that if somehow people could be informed, these myths would be exposed as unreal. Many of these poems struggle with that idea, which has proven as far as I can determine to be false. People want to believe, and when the belief fails, people want to forget.
Many poems are written with an aspiration towards aesthetic timelessness, to the idea that people could be reading them hundreds of years later and find the poem just as affecting as they do now. These poems can not do that. They are highly focussed in time and place, sites of memory. As such, they need context: I've written a brief introduction for each one.
This chapbook is dedicated to Carl Russo, a leader of the Florence Poets Society, and to Jameson Greeley Lavo, who I met through Occupy Northampton. They are missed.
Saturday, July 5, 2014
Translating Anarchy is a worthwhile book, well worth reading as an organizer's view of OWS. But a lot of it is concerned with arguing that important organizers of OWS were mostly either anarchists or held anarchistic ideas. I already believed this, so I'm not really going to engage with this major part of the text. I read the book primarily to find out whether Bray's view of OWS at the center was similar to the one I got from an Occupy group in a college town at the periphery. In the aspects that I'm interested in, I'd say that it was. The rest of the book has helpful sections that were new to me (the chapter on the media with how the movement was expected to follow the rules of "communication with the elite" and "mimicry of the elite") and sections that I found not so helpful (a brief history of anarchism may be necessary for some readers, but tends to become a definitional exercise favoring the writer's preferred kind of anarchism). This post isn't really a review, because I'm going to focus on one particular part of the book that I disagreed with.
An unfortunate coinage in the book is the phrase liberal libertarianism (sounding very similar to Bhaskar Sunkara's "the anarcho-liberal", but as a footnote explains, intending to describe people who are "less explicitly ideological and more interested in free expression and a lack of constraint"). First of all, there are already in the U.S. two contesting meanings of the word "libertarian", the usage "a right winger who believes in individual freedoms for rich people" driving out the original meaning of "an anarcho-socialist". Adding a third meaning does not seem likely to help. And, as with Sunkara's "anarcho-liberal", this is a descriptive term that the people purportedly described by it do not use. What does Mark Bray mean by the phrase? A quote from pg. 91 of Translating Anarchy: "Liberal libertarianism rejects anything that smacks of coercion even when directed toward those who are actively working against the interests of the group." Bray goes on to describe an example: the OWS spokescouncil is interrupted by notorious disrupters A and B,but they weren't the real problem. "The problem was the people who responded to [the facilitator's'] attempts to quiet him by shouting, 'Let him speak!' Without the enablers, disrupters wouldn't have had any leverage." According to the liberal libertarians, "Any attempt to silence anyone in any context was anathema. Doing so, in their eyes, would be replicating 'the system.'"
This is a case in which Bray and I see the same thing, but put very divergent interpretations on it. It's quite true that in every Occupy group that I heard of, people were "driven away in droves by disrupters" (pg. 92). But note where Bray locates the problem: with the liberal libertarian who "fails to recognize that there are times when the way to end coercion is to coerce. After all, a revolution is the most coercive thing there is, but to most anarchists it's silly to decry militant action against the state and capital as 'coercive' given the context of exploitation." That's an interesting way of describing facilitators repeatedly failing to facilitate meetings due to an unworkable meeting structure. Why do the liberal libertarians have this power to enable disrupters? Because what they are guilty of is taking OWS ideology seriously, and trying to follow ostensible OWS structure. When people joined Occupy, they were told (informally, of course) that they were now in a group in which every opinion was important, that anyone in the 99% was part of our movement, and that we operated by consensus with decisions made by a General Assembly in which anyone could speak. If the word "organizer" means anything, that's a problem of the organizers, not the organized.
I think that Bray is approaching this problem from an entirely wrong direction. Rather than getting into an argument about how "the way to end coercion is to coerce", I'd say that there's much wider agreement that freedom of association implies freedom of disassociation. People gathering to effect political and social change are doing work. Anarchism does not mean that you are stuck with the co-worker from hell. There has to be an easy way for the collective to say "Sorry, we can't work with you because you're being disruptive, goodbye." There's no need to get into a difficult and quite contested argument about revolution vs evolution, and in general start an unconvincing explanation about how coercion is necessary and coercive means can lead to good ends. Bray does write about the right of disassociation, but it's a kitchen-sink justification when it should be a sufficient one.
I got the distinct impression, reading the book, that Bray himself doesn't really agree with OWS ideology or structure. Although OWS ideology insisted that consensus decision-making needed to be used, Bray says that he worked with breakout groups of various kinds or simply decided what he thought was best to tell the press without reference to any group-agreed-on line. From pg. 194: "Yet, although many actions were planned through the Direct Action WG [Working Group], a number of the largest and most significant actions were planned in private by affinity groups before being presented to DA or the GA for a rubber stamp." If I may generalize in order to shorten this already lengthy post, I don't think that many OWS organizers really believed in OWS' ostensible structure, and routinely circumvented it.
Whose problem was that? Bray has written about a book about how OWS was animated by anarchist ideas, and I agree with him. People on the left tend to attach the word "liberal" to anything they don't like, and Bray blames this problem on the liberal libertarians. On the contrary, I see the unworkability of OWS structure as being a direct outgrowth of anarchist ideas. Bray spends some time explaining how some people used "horizontalism", "direct democracy", or "direct action" as code words for anarchism. People took these phrases seriously. Should they have?
Anarchist organizers have to make some serious choices at this point. When the next movement springs up, are anarchists going to say that consensus flatly doesn't work for a mass movement? They should. Bray is quite aware of this problem, and writes about how Bakunin's anarchists worked by majority vote, or 2/3 for major decisions. But I'm impatient with hero worship of anarchists who have been gone for a century, and I think it's much more convincing to say that based on our recent experience of a few years ago, consensus decision-making should be rejected. And, to take aim at a few other Occupy sacred cows, that not everyone below the 1% income level is magically part of "the 99%" without regard to their beliefs, that working people may have goals and interests quite different than those that we wish to assign to them based on anti-capitalist theory and we can't really speak for them as a whole, and that not everyone who walks in off the street should have equal control of a movement in which different people do different amounts of work.
How would that avoid a return to charismatic leadership? One person in Occupy told me that what we really needed was another MLK Jr. or Cesar Chavez. This strikes me as being similar to saying that what America really needed was for Obama to be elected, although of course MLK Jr accomplished quite a lot more. People of color who I met in Occupy had often had their formative experiences and expectations set in these American mass movements, and were often very impatient with the Occupy style, preferring something more disciplined and less subject to the whim of whoever happened to show up at GA.
It's an unsolved problem, and anarchists would be better off confronting it squarely. Even the solutions that were attempted in the latter half of OWS do not seem to me to be solutions. The spokescouncils had "delegates", not "representatives". To me this appears to be a distinction without a difference. Yes, the delegates were supposed to merely bring the decisions of their groups to the council rather than making their own, and could be recalled at any time. But if these councils had ever actually made decisions, would the delegates really have gone back to their groups to get their new input on each new suggested change or compromise? No, they would have become representatives soon enough, or if they were often recalled and the decisions they were making were actually important, it would have led to confusion as the people who were familiar with the work were often replaced.
People on the left who disparage the liberal libertarian, or the anarcho-liberal or any other of what I consider to be variations of the same basic idea, always disparage the impulse towards localism. But perhaps -- rather than setting up a system that does not work and whose organizers routinely circumvent it -- it would be better to accept that horizontalism implies working within small groups. For instance, one of the staples of latter Occupy was the debate about Oakland, cast as an abstract dispute between "violence" and "nonviolence". Why was it important for those of us on the East Coast to say anything about Oakland as if our opinions were important? I trusted the people in Oakland to make their own decisions about what was right for their community. Bray writes about how OWS adopted the phrase "diversity of tactics" to cover both those who wanted to form black blocs and those who didn't, but of course this was merely a cover for necessity. There was no way in which the convinced advocates of "violence" (e.g. breaking windows) or "nonviolence" (e.g. not breaking windows) could ever really come to a consensus, not unless they were in locations where they actually had to live with what the others had done.
And if federations of local groups have to be made, barring some kind of wholly new Internet-based direct democratic structure, it would be best to accept in advance that these are pretty much going to end up as having majority voting, representatives who are called delegates, and charismatic leaders. Hey, it was good enough for Bakunin! (There, I did it.)
Saturday, June 28, 2014
(This poem is meant to be read as two simultaneous voices.)
|Global warming activism||(the dream)|
|Michael Stipe didn't quite get it|
|With the lead and feathers|
|They only fall the same in vacuum|
|Air makes them fall differently|
|Air is always falling on you|
|Light, air, all needs to fall just right|
|For you to keep on going|
|There's a problem|
|Bouncing light, re-radiation|
|Infrared hits ground again|
|Before it leaves the air||(Cue R.E.M.)|
|They said it's not real at all||Buy the sky and|
|And it's really better for us all||sell the sky and|
|And we can't fix it at all||tell the sky and|
|And fixing it would cost it all||tell the sky|
|I thought the denialists would fall|
|The brand new "Web" site|
|Got a scientist|
|In with Congressional staff|
|I didn't think they could last|
|There's the progress|
|We have found a way||We have found a way|
|To talk about the problem||to talk around the problem|
|The call from Munich Re|
|They insure insurance|
|They were helpful|
|Got numbers from them about|
|Costs of great weather disasters|
|We ran ads we ran lots of ads|
|It turned out not to matter|
|Munich didn't help|
|Foresight isn't worth anything at all||Foresight isn't anything at all|
|Well I would keep it above but then it|
|Bodies floating by in New Orleans||wouldn't be sky any more|
|Can we agree on cap and trade?||Buy the sky and|
|We can make a scheme for trade||sell the sky and|
|They say they believe in trade||lift your arms|
|They don't believe in trade||up to the sky|
|They built on trading in racism|
|Millions will be killed|
|They'll say they didn't know|
|What people want is what they buy|
|American Electric Power is #1|
|They want AEP, they don't want power|
|Can't buy public goods|
|What do people actually want to do?|
|I heard on the radio, you're happy|
|"if you feel like a room without a roof"|
|Well yeah! finally a plan we can do|
|Hurricanes and floods will do it|
|Everyone can have a room without a roof|
|We can be happy and not down||And ask the sky|
|CO2 high won't bring me down||and ask the sky|
|Our system's wrong and will fall down||Fall on me|
|Ask the sky to pour it down||Fall on me|
|And fall, fall on me|
Lyrics quoted from R.E.M. "Fall on me" 1986, Pharrell Williams "Happy" 2013
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
I should note that for most, if not all, of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, the now acting general counsel was a lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center—the unit within which the CIA managed and carried out this program. From mid-2004 until the official termination of the detention and interrogation program in January 2009, he was the unit’s chief lawyer. He is mentioned by name more than 1,600 times in our study.
And now this individual is sending a crimes report to the Department of Justice on the actions of congressional staff—the same congressional staff who researched and drafted a report that details how CIA officers—including the acting general counsel himself—provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice about the program.
So Feinstein is finding out that being a Senator doesn't protect her from having her documents read and seized and her people threatened with media leaks and trumped up legal action, just like anyone else.
Does this matter to anyone not in the elite? I don't see how it does. Feinstein herself is horrible on these issues and has voted repeatedly to inflict this kind of regime on everyone else. If she wins, she wins protection for herself and for her cronies only. It's important to her, and it's important to the legal advisor for torture at the CIA, but there's no real public policy as such involved in this presumptive Constitutional crisis, only a question of whether one set of elites is going to guard their privilege against another.
It's a perfect illustration of the pointlessness of formal American politics at this time. No important problems can be addressed -- even now some other Senators are concluding a climate change talkathon and being congratulated for bravely bringing up the issue. But they couldn't propose actual legislation to do anything about it, because everyone knows that a U.S. Senator is as helpless to do anything involving legislation as anyone else.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Pink age, blue
Twisted limbs fight
Perched on plastic
Who are you?
That first light
Trajectories in air
Always land somewhere
Green age, brown
Until the hoped-for second
Drive out of town
School clocks redeemed
Coin clicks reckoned
Moment of panic
Machines are organic
Red age, gray
Heart pounding still
Potential gone kinetic
Accumulate the day
Do what you will
Just three days more
This is what you're for
Age of gleaming white
One fourth less
Starting to stammer
Was that right?
Waiting for a hammer
Goes fast and slow
Hard to let go
Wednesday, December 12, 2012
I plan on writing a sixth part, about ideology and organization, at some point.
Much later, this sixth part was added here.