Tag Archives: racism

Prison abolition meets food justice

In her article, “Radical Farmers Use Fresh Food to Fight Racial Injustice and the New Jim Crow,” Leah Penniman draws connections between the incarceration of black people, police violence, and the systematic use of hunger and malnutrition as a weapon wielded against black communities, pointing to the importance of food and land:

If we are to create a society that values black life, we cannot ignore the role of food and land. I believe that black people’s collective experience with slavery and sharecropping has created an aversion to the land and a sense that the land itself is an oppressor. The truth is that without good land and good food we cannot be truly free. The Freedom Food Alliance represents one important voice among many insisting that the senseless deaths of our black brothers and sisters by all forms of violence—police shooting, diet-related illness, economic marginalization—must end.

Penniman shows how these connections are being made by grassroots organizations that link the fight for food justice with the fight against the prison-industrial-complex and the new Jim Crow.  Penniman profiles folks like Jalal Sabur of the Freedom Food Alliance, a prison abolitionist who helped connect farmers, prisoners, and their families together in networks of self-reliance and resistance.

I won’t bother summarizing or excerpting more: read the article!  It’s short, accessible, and shows how these groups are drawing lessons and inspiration from past movements, and bringing together struggles and alternatives that often remain separate.

Summary of ‘Urbanizing Frontiers’ by Penelope Edmonds

Penelope Edmonds: Urbanizing Frontiers: Indigenous Peoples and Settlers in 19th Century Pacific Rim Cities

urbanizingfrontierspicThis is a summary of a new book by Penelope Edmonds, comparing two settler colonial cities—Victoria in Canada and Melbourne in Australia—to reveal the operations of British settler colonialism in the 19th century, and its implications for settler colonialism today. She focuses on the ways that both cities increasingly regulated bodies and spaces in attempts to create civilized, British subjects, and to dispossess and discipline indigenous people and control and police indigenous bodies.  I drew heavily on Edmonds’ work in a recent piece I wrote about the acknowledgement of territories by Victoria’s newly-elected mayor, Lisa Helps, her refusal to swear allegiance to the Queen, and the racist backlash that followed.  Edmonds wrote an article called “Unpacking Settler Colonialism’s Urban Strategies,” which unpacks a lot of the book, especially as it pertains to Victoria, specifically.  It’s available here.

Victoria vs. Melbourne

I live in Victoria, so in this summary I focus in particular on Edmonds’ work on this city, with less of a focus on Melbourne. Compared to Melbourne, the dispossession and violence perpetrated in Victoria against indigenous peoples was more subtle and less overt. In Melbourne, pastoralism meant that indigenous people were quickly targeted for removal and elimination, whereas in Victoria, the mercantilist economy of resource extraction (especially the fur trade) meant that indigenous people were necessary, and they were much more a part of the emerging colonial city:

During the fur trade, there was great violence, but land was largely under the control of Frist Nations, because mercantilism left Aboriginal peoples on their land. Settler colonialism, by contrast, sought to remove Indigenous peoples from their land and denied or extinguished Native title. In the Australian pastoral frontier, land, not labour, was the primary object. It was an object that was pursued with rapidity and violence. (33)

Colonial Frontiers

Edmonds suggests that the ‘colonial frontier’ has been conceptualized as “a distinctly non-urban geographical space that sits somewhere out in the country or borderlands” (5). She shows how frontiers exist within urban spaces (through the segregation and contestations around spaces) and in intimate/bodily relations (through attempts to maintain the racial purity of whiteness and concomitant attempts to police indigenous bodies). These frontiers are “mercurial, transactional, and, importantly, intimate and gendered” (6). This is a counterhistory of Empire, which challenges the amnesia of settler colonialism, which makes its own processes seem natural and normal (to settlers, at least). This historical amnesia is political, writing out the dispossession of indigenous people, and the political processes and struggles that attempted to make Victoria into a white, propertied, bourgeois space. In this context, Edmonds explains that she seeks to “indigenize historical understanding of the settler-colonial city by focusing on human stories and individual lives transformed in the context of British colonizing structures and urbanization in the Pacific Rim” (9).

Counter-history

Edmonds notes how dominant histories create a top-down view of power, privileging narratives of individual white males and military engagements in a supposedly linear process of colonialism (6). These condition the idea of Victoria as it’s marketed to tourists, as ‘more English than the English’ which erases the way that space in Victoria was transactional, heterogeneous, and contested. Furthermore, Edmonds argues that geography and urban planning has tended to understand colonialism in functionalistic ways, focusing on the circulation of products and goods, omitting “the important human and cultural aspects of empire’s urbanizing landscapes: the displacements and transformations of peoples and ideas” (50).

Crucial to this counter-history is a conception of space and race as a processes, and an attempt to reveal the lived realities of these cities. Whereas race and urban space tend to be understood as natural or given, Edmonds draws on Henri Lefebvre’s work to show how space “is a process of uneven power inscription that reproduces itself and creates oppressive spatial categories” (10). In this sense, spaces are always contested: “the unequal distribution of power in social space becomes naturalized and its operations forgotten. That is, spaces obscure the conditions of their own production” (10). To write counterhistory and reveal the production of spaces, then, requires tracking the “generative processes” that make spaces work in the ways they do (11). In the case of both settler-colonial cities, these crucial processes included the “regulation, partition, and sequestration of Aboriginal peoples and attempts to control so-called mixed-race relatiosnhips” (12). Indigenous peoples were systematically constructed as nuisances and prostitutes, and indigenous spaces in the city were represented as bedlam, chaos, disease and filth. Edmonds argues that these categories are key to understanding the production of space in Victoria, and to understanding the process of settler colonialism more broadly.

Victoria was constructed as a white (initially Anglo-Saxon) space. Edmonds suggests that whiteness needs to be understood not simply as a skin colour but “as a strategy of power or a set of political relations” which is associated with property and the segregation of bodies (17). She explains that “shoring up a white settler population became a priority in both sites, especially after the 1860s” (45). This involved engineered immigration schemes to encourage Anglo-Saxon migration and discourage Chinese immigration.

Dispossession

The supremacy of settler society and the backwardness of indigenous peoples was legitimated by stadial theory, in which four various modes of production (hunting, pastoralism, agriculture, and commerce) conceptualized as hierarchical and successive forms of human progress. Specific to stadial theory was not simply the concept of different modes of production, or their hierarchy, but the linear telos: “pastoralists were not merely superior to nomads; they were so because they had once been nomads but were no longer” (58). This meant that indigenous lands were conceptualized as ‘wastes’, waiting to be improved by European agriculture and industry, and “the precondition for the highest stage of progress and commerce was the absence of Indigenous peoples in the city” (61).

The Douglas treaties were modeled on the idea that Indigenoups people had “the right of occupancy but not property”—their claims “extended only to their cultivated fields and building sites or villages” (42). These cultivated fields had to be enclosed to be considered cultivated, so this did not extend to camas fields. Legally, indigenous people could ‘pre-empt’ land within the terms of colonial law, by clearing it, fencing it, and building a house. Edmonds doesn’t say this explicitly, but it’s striking that owning land requires clearing, fencing, and dwelling like settlers.

Edmonds only briefly discusses the cultivation of camas in and around Victoria (90-97) and notes that colonizers immediately saw camas meadows as future sites for agriculture (94). Edmonds traces early settler imaginings of land to show how they followed stadial accounts of “two modes of subsistence—the uncultivated inviting land and the land transformed by European agriculture” (96). The land that Douglas described as a ‘perfect Eden’ was most likely Meegan, or “Beacon Hill Park.” Settlers systematically appropriated these camas fields: wherever Europeans sought to settle on the islands of the Puget Sound, they looked for these open meadows… these fields that in fact had been cultivated by Coast Salish peoples” (96).

Edmonds suggests that the enclosure of these fields were closely linked to broader processes of dispossession and dominance:

the balance soon tipped in favour of the newcomers as the gradual encroachment of fields for cultivation, the grazing of livestock, and the allotment of lands pushed Lekwammen people off their lands and threatened the camas bulb fields on which they subsisted. A growing cadaster of European-style fields began to overcode Aboriginal land (98).

This encroachment was resisted by indigenous people, who “retaliated against the invasion by harvesting the settlers’ cattle” (98). When these tensions escalated, Lekwungen people threatened to attack the fort, and the HBC fired a cannon into the chief’s house (which was empty) as a demonstration of military strength. As Edmonds explains, this display of “sheer firepower” and outright violence “would be used repeatedly in Victoria and the surrounding area to elicit co-operation from local peoples” (98).

Settler-colonial cities

Edmonds points out that transnational colonialism made metropolitanism possible: the grand metropoles of Europe were produced through the exploitation of Europe’s colonies. The city was the epitome and consummation of colonialism as a complex assemblage, involving “specific styles of architectures, certain kinds of transport and communications, hygiene and the regulation of bodies” (61). This corresponded to the ideal subject of colonialism and universal history, Civis Britannicus: “Defined by and made through his global entitleemtns, civis Britannicus could make tranglobal journeys between British settler colonies, where he (not Indigenous peoples) would be configured as native” (64).

Abjection of indigenous spaces and bodies

A central focus of Edmonds work is the representations of indigenous peoples by colonial newspapers, authorities, and settler subjects. They were part of settler fears and anxieties about indigenous peoples. Crucially, they were connected to property values: indigenous peoples were represented as “nuisances” and their existence “render[s] property in their quarter useless” (191). The Native camps were inscribed with European medical ideas about racial hygiene, and posed “as the antithesis of the ordered, rational civil space of the gridded city” (197). This was part of a new set of regulations around contagious diseases in colonies, which “identified female prostitutes as the main source of contagion” (220). Indigenous womenThe medicalization and pathologization of indigenous people helped to erase the complicity of settlers in the theft of land and the policing of indigenous people, positioning settlers as virtuous, moral, and law-abiding (200). This went hand in hand with ongoing attempts to control space and increasing encroachments on the Lekwungen reserve, along with efforts to get control of it and remove indigenous people. Settlers fought about different strategies: missionaries and assimilation, expropriation, purchase, or ‘waiting until they became extinct’ were some of the options discussed. This finally happened in 1911, when a select number of families were paid ten thousand dollars each and forced to relocate (205).

The bridge between the reserve in Esquimalt and the fort in Victoria was a particularly prominent frontier, constructed as “a liminal space, a border between civilization and savagery” (202). Colonial authorities used surveillance and curfews in an attempt to enforce this partition, in an effort to keep indigenous peoples on the other side of the bridge: “they decreed that an Aboriginal person found on the wrong side of the bridge after 10pm could, at the discretion of the police, be searched and detained” (202). The reserve thus increasingly “became a space of confinement within the cityscape” (202). Edmonds also shows how vagrancy was largely a charge reserved for settlers who entered indigenous spaces: the partition was enforced on both sides, though settlers were always punished less severely (213).

This was part of a broad regime of surveillance and control in Victoria. Edmonds reveals the way that Douglas deployed the “civilizing power of the grid. The grid plan, with the help of police surveillance on every corner, he hoped, would both organize and discipline First Nations subjects and reshape their subjectivities (209). This was part of the shift to increasingly modern, disciplinary forms of power in settler colonial cities, relying less on overt and explicit violence, and more on policing and surveillance, including a formal pass system. At the same time, she notes that this disciplinary power was “backed by the exceptional violence of sovereign power” (209). If indigenous people didn’t conform to the grid and the regulated spaces of the city, there was always the possibility of execution, lashings, and other forms of violence.

In addition to its racialization, this violence was also gendered. Edmonds explains that “violence by European men against Aboriginal women was frequent and stunningly brutal” (215). In fact, her evidence is drawn primarily from police reports, which means she is documenting a high level of reported gendered violence, let alone that which was not reported, or ignored by police.

Edmonds sums up her argument about bodies and spaces:

As has been shown, in the early streeets of Victoria an dMelbourne, Indigenous peoples were routinely described as ‘inconvenient,’ ‘immoral,’ ‘nuisances,’ ‘vagrants,’ or ‘prostitutes,’ but to varying degrees. These categories, I propose, take us to the heart of the socio-spatial relations that are distinctive to settler colonialism and reveal how law and property served to racialize the streetscape. Racializations were not only amplified in these colonial contexts, they were also particular to the urbanizing settler landscape. In Malbourne and Victoria, Aboriginal peoples’s amps were not natural entities but spaces produced through colonial relations; likewise, colonized Indigenous bodies or subjects were materially produced as abject, unnautrual, and inconvenient entities. These productions, I argue, were directly related to the settlement phase, when the taking of First Nations land became a key objective (217).

Contact zones and resistance

Part of Edmonds’ counter-history entails revealing not just the dominant constructions of space, but also the ways that early settler colonial reality looked very different from the idealized, white, ordered spaces of the colonial imaginary. Edmonds seeks to “counter scholarship that posits colonialism as a unilnear projection from the metropole by denying the interactivity and subversions of the urbanizing frontier” (15). Settler colonial cities were (and are) “contact zones” which were contested and transactional. She also argues that indigenous women’s bodies were contact zones, and that “paying attention to indigenous womens’ bodies as particular sites of anxiety in the streetscape can tellus much about imagined colonial orders that were both imposed and defied” (16).

Indigenous people also resisted police authority. Among other incidents, in 1860, the newspaper reported that when police accused an indigenous man of stealing a watch and attempted to take him prisoner at an indigenous encampment, the police were “set upon by about one hundred men and women armed with pistols, knives, and clubs who demanded his release” (207).

What You Mean By #AllLivesMatter

From Black Millennial Musings:
“#AllLivesMatter is a capture of colorblindness that goes against the purpose of #BlackLivesMatter. As Black Americans in the racial justice struggle and promoters of the roots embedded in #BlackLivesMatter, we already know and agree that all lives matter. But we also know that injustices stemming from police brutality and the conglomerate criminal justice system, does not marginalize against all lives … but Black lives, almost exclusively.”

Black Millennials

Following the death of Trayvon Martin, three self-identified Black queer women created #BlackLivesMatter. Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi gave birth a social media call to action, where people from all demographics and walks of life hone in on the obvious truth that the criminalization of Blackness is entertained as just and acceptable.

Alicia Garza penned “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.” In it, she poignantly showcases how the labor of Black LGBTQ women has been shamelessly hijacked by others who promote various adaptations and recreations of the necessary hashtag. Garza details how a number of organizations curtailed the herstory behind #BlackLivesMatter, and instead used some form of the expression without giving credit.

“Straight men, unintentionally or intentionally, have taken the work of queer Black women and erased our contributions.  Perhaps if we were the charismatic Black men many are rallying around these days, it would have been a different…

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White Settlers and Indigenous Solidarity: Confronting White Supremacy, Answering Decolonial Alliances

“If white people who practice Indigenous solidarity miss, or never consider these nuances when invoking “settler” status, I am concerned that we then leave its whiteness normalized and unchallenged within our theories and activism.”

Decolonization

White settlers who seek solidarity with Indigenous challenges to settler colonialism must confront how white supremacy shapes settler colonialism, our solidarity, and our lives. As a white person working in Canada and the United States to challenge racism and colonialism (in queer / trans politics, and solidarity activism) I am concerned that white people might embrace Indigenous solidarity in ways that evade our responsibilities to people of color and to their calls upon us to challenge all forms of white supremacy. This essay presents my responsibilities to theories and practices of decolonization that connect Indigenous and racialized peoples. I highlight historical studies by Indigenous and critical race scholars — notably, those bridging black and Indigenous studies — as they illuminate deep interlockings of white supremacy and settler colonialism. I call white settlers to become responsible to these, and related projects, so as to challenge the authority we might claim, or…

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Summary: amory starr – Grumpywarriorcool

ignitingarevIn this accessible, perceptive short essay from Igniting a Revolution, amory starr criticizes what she calls “grumpywarriorcool:” ways of being in activist spaces that are unkind, unfeeling, and exclusive.  She unpacks the way that whiteness and patriarchy has been “smuggled in” to radical organizing spaces, despite solidarity work and explicit opposition to these forms of oppression.  This is a summary of her article, and because I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, some of my own experiences and reflections are in here too.  This relates closely to Jamie Heckert’s argument in “Anarchy without Opposition,” which I summarized last week here.

starr is arguing that grumpywarriorcool is a symptom of whiteness and patriarchy in spaces that are often explicitly anti-oppressive.  She discusses subtle forms of conduct at meetings and other organizing spaces that ‘smuggle in’ practices and behaviours that appear neutral or even liberatory, but may actually reflect and reproduce patriarchy, whiteness and classism, alienating communities of colour in particular.

In this sense, she explains, “it’s not what we work on that makes our politics racist, it’s how we do it that matters… What I have finally begun to realize is that the how is deep and subtle” (377).

She identifies and unpacks a few behaviours, assumptions, and practices in particular, which come together to create grumpywarriorcool:

1) Blanket ‘diversity’ or ‘equality’ can mask internalized oppression or exclusivity: starr argues that invoking ‘culture’ to defend individualistic behaviour “claims a socio-moral status beyond reprove and a horizontality which obviates critique.  It is this framework of cultural diversity which makes it difficult to identify and address internalized oppression within radical and revolutionary countercultures” (378).  starr gives a polemical/sarcastic example: “i’m going to stink, i’m going in there even though i’m contagious, i’m going to bring my barking dog, i have the right to do whatever the fuck i want and people just have to deal with it and i’m going to call this ‘cultural diversity’… meanwhile other folks around are feeling like another white guy is doing whatever the fuck he wants” (379).  This also connects to the idea of ‘taking up too much space’ at meetings.  A familiar concept to radicals, the idea of sharing space says that we should all pay attention to how much space each of us is taking up, and we should make sure there’s space for everyone to speak and share ideas.  It has emerged in response to real problems: white dudes like me are often louder, and they talk forever, silencing others.  starr quotes her friend Jane here, who argues that the resulting ethic of ‘not taking up too much space’ can be part of the problem: “Get over it.  You better figure out how to be democratic and still be full of life” (384).  How can we figure out how to avoid dominating spaces while also bringing our passion and excitement?  Are there ways of being that actually open up or create space?  starr isn’t pretending there’s a perfect solution here: “while no culture can be universally welcoming landing pad, that doesn’t mean that organizers are absolved of any responsibility for culture” (378).

2) Norms of fearlessness, self-sacrifice, and bravery: starr argues that these norms can obfuscate the value of fear, hesitations, doubts, and silences.  “Those voices of intimate reflection are an enormous archive of knowledge, but remain hidden behind behind profound doubt and fear” (378).  Norms of fearlessness make it difficult to share (and work through) fears, anxieties, and doubts.

3) Individualism and the dream of shedding the past to find community in the future: “a hallmark of white countercultures is the vision of individualistic self-creation in which oppressive childhood values and institutions are cast off, and political compassion embraces what might best be theorized as ‘imagined community‘” (380).  This describes my process of radicalization to a tee: i came to see my middle-class, white, suburban upbringing as the thing I had to unlearn, and (parts of) anarchist subculture became the community i belonged to.  This isn’t a problem in itself (well, there were lots of problems with this anarchist community, but that’s different).  The problem is that this experience gets universalized, and “many find it hard to imagine parents participating in radical political action” (380) because my reality (and the one I impose on everyone else) is that people have an ‘awakening’ sometime in their 20s, and they organize in ways that work for other, twenty-somethings.  In contrast, starr argues, many activists of colour “envision social movements in intimate terms; fighting racism is protecting their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children.  Struggle and survival are principles learned at home, from family and elders, at church” (380).  Indeed, I’m just starting to recognize in concrete terms that it tends to be white, middle-class people (NOT all people) who lack community.  I’m just starting to learn about and prioritize care, vulnerability, trust, and generosity, while recognizing that these values and practices are second-nature to folks with different backgrounds than my own.

4) This individualism has important implications beyond misunderstandings and false universalisms.  It means that intellectual and formal aspects of politics are often privileged over everyday life and the nitty-gritty face-to-face interactions that happen in organizing.  This one hit a chord with me: “when activists focus energy on clever communications and/or disruptions which even the mainstream media will cover, they imagine that the cleverness and surprising courage of these actions will excite people to participate in various capacities” (380).  This is the classic anarchist fantasy of ‘propaganda by the deed’.  Disruption leads to inspiration leads to politicization and recruitment leads to creating a community of resistance: “joining a movement is understood as an individual intellectual act, not a social one” (381).  To admit that this is a fantasy connected to whiteness and masculinity doesn’t mean that it’s totally ineffective, but it’s likely to attract more people like me: people who’ve felt alone, and get attracted to politics for intellectual reasons, or because it seems exciting and daring.

5) Similarly, starr points to ‘smart radicalism’ as a fundamental premise of white organizing: a commitment to radical principles and theories, a ‘correct’ interpretation of these principles and theories, and the assumption that this correct radicalism will avoid fetishism or mistakes (382-3).  I’ve participated in this one, too: being part of spaces where people are hungry to correct each other and ‘get it right.’  starr suggests that this is often connected to an attack on ‘reformism’ within radical groups, where the militancy of members is judged by their willingness to engage in high-risk direct action.  She contrasts this to the priorities of anti-rarcism: “while ideological and tactical radicalism exist in antiracist organizing, they are not the standard by which organizations and organizers relate with participants.  Instead, friendliness, comfort, safety, generosity, and reliable personal connection are the necessary elements of ‘good’ political work (383).

6) Direct democracy can end up substituting formal equality for genuine relationships and exchange.  In direct democracy, leadership often exists in the form of ‘facilitation’ and tends to be temporary, rotating, and random “affirming that all participants have equal (and equally limited) authority (381).  starr isn’t dismissing this tradition, explaining that they’re “similar to anti-racist practices in that they are local (unlike mass actions and international campaigns), building community, and empower marginalized people” (381).  But, she says, these meetings themselves aren’t often comfortable or empowering, and this isn’t a priority because “white organizing assumes that activists arrive at meetings having decided already to be committed and to do inconvenient, uncomfortable things in the service of their commitments” (382).  This was another place where starr’s diagnosis hit home for me.  I’ve been to lots of meetings where people aren’t welcomed, ideas aren’t affirmed, and people aren’t friendly to each other.  When people are hesitant to commit to things, or complain that meetings suck, or stop showing up, I’ve often told myself it’s because they lack commitment.

7) This is one of the problems starr is pointing to: an everyday activist culture emerges lacking kindness, trust, generosity and vulnerability.  She calls this cool: “the reification of self-indulgent insecurity” (384).  It’s a problem because “it gets us into a place where we then feel undignified and vulnerable smiling, approaching someone, talking to strangers, or being unilaterally friendly” (384).  I don’t think this means making everything fun or easy; this mixes up ease with openness.  Nor is it about telling oppressed people to be more cheerful in their struggle: starr’s criticism is aimed clearly at privileged folks like me.  This really resonates: recognizing the reality of structural oppression and my privileged place within it not only made me feel guilty, it made me terrified of messing up.  And the best way to avoid humiliation is to humiliate others: never let your guard down, be relentlessly critical, and display your anti-oppression for the world to see.  As I cultivated this way of being, I found others who shared similar tendencies.  The result was an activist culture that was terrifying for newcomers and often cold even to insiders.

It’s not just that we have to be ‘critical’ of culture; we have to be open and able to having a range of conversations about subtle cultural behaviours and norms, in different ways.  The trap is to assume spaces or actions are culturally neutral and therefore inclusive, which starr argues amounts to “an act of indifference or disregard for other people” (which is often reflective of white and male privilege) (379).  starr frames this analysis as a way to “discuss together the kinds of power we believe in, how power manifests, and then what is the face, the gesture, the relationship with strangers, and the greeting?”

All of these elements intersect and reinforce each other to create what starr is calling grumpywarriorcool.

Grumpywarrior cool is the intersection of blanket ‘diversity’ that masks whiteness and patriarchy, norms of fearlessness and self-sacrifice, individualism and struggle-against-our-upbringing narratives, the fetishization of disruptive direct action and publicity, intellectual radicalism and correctness, and cool unwelcoming judgmental activist spaces.

So what are the implications of this critique?  These aren’t just failures of analysis, but deeply ingrained ways of being: just because I read this article and find it convincing doesn’t mean I’m going to start being vulnerable, open, and kind.  If starr’s analysis is correct, then grumpywarriorcool is something white activists are steeped in, and it will take a lots of work, dedication, and experimentation to create different ways of being.  These are the limits of critique: it’s one thing to unsettle and critique ways of being that have come to be natural or normal.  It’s another thing to displace them with an alternative; that’s a much bigger challenge. And if part of the problem is relentless critique that fetishes the ‘correct’ analysis, then this criticism of white activist culture is always in danger of participating in this dynamic.  The critique of grumpywarriorcool and end up being just another trump card to display radical/intellectual superiority.  As starr laments, it’s a strange challenge to talk to people about subtle behaviours, assumptions, and the looks on their faces–is this about telling people how to behave?

What’s the alternative?  starr suggests an ethic of discovery: “not only getting to know each other, but also interrogating the structural contents of political concepts and space we take for granted which, as it turns out, have a huge impact on the shape of our political work” (379).  I am just starting to see grumpywarriorcool as a problem in my own community, and I’ve been lucky enough to stumble on alternatives that are more convivial, kind, and vulnerable.  In some ways, they’ve always been there, and I’ve dismissed them as wishy-washy, too hippy-ish, or they just freaked me out because I had to be vulnerable to share in those spaces.  In general, the spaces I’ve encountered are no less radical or militant, but there’s space for people to be silly, kind, joyful, sad, scared, supportive, vulnerable and angry.  It’s messier and more dangerous: when we open up to each other, there really is more danger of humiliation, getting hurt, and hurting others.  But this isn’t about yet another duty that tells white men like me that we need to do this or that: it’s about being really present and feeling alive.  For me, this has always been scarier than sneaky direct action.  starr ends the article with an updated exhortation from Black Panthers to white allies: “Let us see as central to our politics the replacement of indifference with discovery” (385).

Video: Reverse racism DOES exist

It’s often said by lefties and radicals (especially folks of colour) that ‘reverse racism’ misunderstands racism as individual prejudice; it’s actually a historical structure, so people of colour aren’t being racist (they aren’t reinforcing the structure of white supremacy) when they mock white people.  Aamer Rahman explains that there IS such as a thing as reverse racism, it just requires a time machine…

Hoping Against Hope: The Struggle Against Colonialism in Canada

Created by Praxis Media Productions & the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group, this audio documentary covers Canada’s genocidal (past and present) colonial project, and the continuing resistance of indigenous peoples.  This is a great resource for introducing the history of colonialism in Canada.  Among other things, contributors discuss “historicide:” erasure of colonialism from history and the ongoing denial of Canada’s colonial past and present.  Like many other settlers, I was taught in school that indigenous peoples (or “Indians”) were noble savages that eventually died out in the face of a superior European civilization.  This documentary dispells this myth, forcing settlers like me to grapple with the fact that we’re part of an ongoing occupation.  It’s narrated by Ardath Whynacht and includes interviews with Ward Churchill, Andrea Bear Nicholas, Roland Chrisjohn, Michael Parenti, Patricia Monture-Angus, Jeanette Armstrong, Tove Skutnabb Kangas, and Arnie Jack.

Part 1 – Colonization and the Killing of History
The first episode examines the origins of European colonialism, its growth in Canada, and the importance of treaties winding up with a look at why the absence of the truth about this history can best be described by a newly-coined word, historicide.

Part 2 – Racism, Assimilation and Genocide
The second installment looks at the issue of racism as a product of colonization, and within the context of the current era of neocolonialism in Canada, discuses assimilation and residential schooling as part of the ongoing genocide against Indigenous people.

Part 3 – Education, Language and Resistance
The third piece brings our attention to Indigenous languages, and education both as a tool of oppression and resistance. We wrap up the series with a brief exploration of resistance to colonialism in Canada.

In Case my links above don’t work, check it out at A-infos radio project or at the G7 Welcoming Committee Records

Co-opting the Coop

Kirby, Marianne – Co-opting the Coop –  What’s the real cost of homesteading’s new hipness?

This article makes a distinction between ongoing homesteading for survival among poor and marginalized communities, and hipster homesteading that has now become cool.  Kirby argues that hipster homesteading not only ignores and erases these histories; “The mainstream appropriation of poor skills might sell books, but it might also be detrimental to the people who do depend on these skills for survival. Simply put, the appropriation of poor skills by the mainstream can end up further marginalizing already marginalized populations who still rely on those skills.”  There are some sharp critiques of hipster homesteaders in this article, but it’s not clear what the implications are, other than the idea that we should “examine our practices” and acknowledge “the idea that poor and immigrant populations might be directly involved in the broader homesteading movement, to the benefit of everyone involved”

In contrast to previous homesteading practiced by poor people, Kirby explains that contemporary urban homesteading is often “practiced by single [privileged] people and single families.”  Kirby documents an extreme case of co-optation, in which the Urban Homestead Project has copyrighted ‘urban homesteading.’  She also points to destruction of ecosystems by wildcrafters and foragers, and the appropriation and commodification of homesteading skills.

Another problem Kirby cites is that “Rising costs from the commodification of poor skills can also leave poor people who still rely on these skills further marginalized,” such as designer chicken coops.  More broadly, she argues that increased demand will lead to skyrocketing prices, placing essentials out of reach of poor people who have been relying on them.

In terms of policy, she points to government attempts to regulate the ‘wrong’ kind of homesteading, policing forms of subsistence that don’t look pretty or gentrified.  She contrasts Denise Morrison, who relied on her garden for subsistence and medicine, to hipster homesteaders.  Morrison’s garden was destroyed for looking untidy, while “the cool kids are lauded for their revolutionary interest in a gentrified version of subsistence farming.”

Growing Food and Justice: Dismantling Racism through Sustainable Food Systems

Morales, Alfonso. “Growing Food and Justice: Dismantling Racism Through Sustainable Food Systems.” In Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability, 149–176. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2011.

This article explores food justice in communities of colour, focusing on the emergence Growing Food and Justice Initiative (GFJI), a coalition of groups working on antiracist food justice.  In addition the article begins by placing food justice in historical context of industrial food, racialized suburbanization (white flight) and its implications for food deserts, the medicalization/individualization of food, and the emergence of community food security–which gave rise to the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) in 1995.  He situates food justice as an antiracist response to community food security, driven by people of colour.  He sees this as building on the work of community food security and its ‘systems-focused thinking’ that addresses roots of food insecurity.  By the same token, he suggests that the antiracist GFJI–spearheaded by communities of colour–complemented the CFSC.

The CFSC is “the dominant private, nonprofit organization in the field of CFS” (community food security), (152) and he suggests that it has had important impacts on federal policy (153).  It exists in “dynamic tension” with the GFJI, which works “to promote individual and organizational empowerment through training, networking, and creating a supportive community” (156).  In terms of both farmers and eaters, people of colour are some of the most marginalized (158).  By taking an explicitly racialized approach, then, the food justice movement helps avoid the colorblindness of the food movement (158).

He discusses a conference held by the GFJI which linked the problems faced by poor households (hunger, lack of access to good food, obesity) with the problems of farmers (low farm-gage prices, consolidation, overseas competition).  He reads presenters as engaging in three types of work, broadly: identifying/combating racism, advocacy for immigrant farmers and other communities of colour, and “reimagining the participation of immigrants, indigenous peoples and other communities of colour within the food system” (160).

He presents three detailed case studies of organizations that presented their work in the conference: 1: organization working with disadvantaged Hmong farmers to coordinate training, improve access to markets, and securing land and other resources (160-1). 2: An Indigenous organization working to reintroduce traditional farming and food prep.  Morales reads the presenter as extending a critique of institutional racism and the democratization of the food system (163). 3: A rural organization working with Latino immigrants to help train and support new and economically viable farming operations (165-6).  Through this process, the new farmers “trade their identity as labour for an entrepreneurial identity” (166).

Morales admits that different places and contexts are unique, but insists that “food security and food justice are woven together by individuals and organizations who recognize a problem, reconstruct it as an opportunity, and organize around it while at the same time empowering communities in agricultural production, healthier consumption, local politics, and economic self-determination.  A vision of self-sustaining, independent, yet interdependent community and local economic activity etches itself in different ways in distinct communities, not so much as resistance to industrial agriculture, but more toward establishing resilient and sustainable communities” (169).

In his conclusion, he suggests directions for future research.  First, three kinds of work: immigrant farmer/processor, food distribution systems, and small grocery/corner stores.

He also calls for applied research to “discover and advance policy objectives related to the antiracist and economic objectives espoused by GFJI and its participant organizations” (170).

He is interested in unerstanding “the organizational and institutional elements of the GFJI” as well: knowledge diffusion, growth and change, how members pursue antiracism.  He also asks how the antiracist framework of the GFJI articulates itself in relation to other frameworks of food-systems thinking: “industrial food, urban agriculture, sustainable and local food, community gardens–each has its history, ideas, and particular practices.  Each is also associated with values we often think of as incommensurate, I would argue for research that uncovers comparability in these practices and fosters dialogue among the practitioners” (171).  He also calls for research on “community formation, political activism, and approaches to leveraging food-based economic development in marginazlied communities” and the need to “understand the variety of activities taking place to shape policy to enhance the chances for economic political, and social success”(171).

Commentary/Questions

Morales is clearly more than an academic–he’s in conversation with organizations and people working on food justice, and he sees his research as a way to continue the conversations going on.  The brief contexutalization of the GFJI not only within food justice, but within the institutional racism of the industrial food system.

Like most other articles in this book, it only goes back to the early 20th century.  More specifically, it says nothing about colonialism and the emergence of property relations, despite (brief) descriptions of a indigenous food sovereignty project.  More generally, there’s no discussion of the political economy of land, except for food deserts: land prices and property vanishes as an important way to think about farming and access to land, for example.

Finally, Morales repeatedly emphasizes policy as a major focus for research, action, and a way to assess the impacts and success of food justice movement.  No doubt policy is important, but he seems to neglect other, more grassroots impacts.  Furthermore, there’s no mention of actual tensions between policy objectives and horizontal, grassroots community-building.  Although he points to tensions between the CFSC and GFJI, this seems like a missed opportunity to consider broader (or other) tensions between non-profits and more grassroots coalitions (especially in terms of antiracism).  What are the unintended (and often regressive, racist, and destructive) impacts of policies–even policies that have been fought for by food advocates (such as those discussed by Guthman)?  How might new regulations, incentives, or grant programs create new problems–such as competition and professionalization–that have led to critiques of the NGO-industial-complex?  Are there places and people who are self-consciously side-stepping these problems by doing horizontal grassroots modes of intervention in the food system?

Forgotten Place and the Seeds of Grassroots Planning – Ruth Wilson Gilmore

This is a great article, for several reasons.  It’s from a book called Engaging Contradictions: Theory, Politics, and Methods of Activist Scholarship, available free online.  Gilmore weaves together theory and practical examples in a unique way: her whole array of concepts seems to flow from on-the-ground problems and questions that come out of anti-prison activism.  It has implications for the role of researchers and their relationships to communities and activism.  She manages to avoid constituting geography or other academic domains as her primary audience, while still clearly making a contribution to theoretical debates.

This isn’t a very good summary and this article is worth re-reading.  It could be useful for all sorts of reasons.   For one thing, she is explicitly concerned with struggles of land use involving activists, municipalities, etc.  More broadly, she makes explicit the conceptual and practical problems of engaged research, bringing diverse communities together in struggle, formulating problems effectively, constituting venues and audiences for politics, engaging critically with the NGO-industrial-complex (while acknowledging it as an irreducible site of struggle), among other things.  Her concepts of stretch, resilience, and resonance are particularly interesting (and important for a more coherent summary, as the whole chapter is really organized around these concepts and the problems they get at).

Questions: Given ‘organized abandonment,’ “how can people who inhabit forgotten places scale up their activism from intensely localized struggles to something less atomized and therefore possessed o f a significant capacity for self-determination” (31)?  Here ‘scaling up’ isn’t a fetishism of ‘large-scale’ over ‘local’ change; instead she wants to describe the ways in which people create and develop the capacity to formulate problems collectively and act to shape their communities (Harvey might call this ‘the right to the city’).  She is interested in the conditions under which regional coalitions are formed, “partly because their growing understanding of their sameness trumps their previously developed beliefs in their irreconcilable differences” (38).

What capacities might such [marginalized people] animate, and what scales, to make the future better than the present?  What does better mean?  How do people make broadly contested sensibilities—indeed feelings—the basis for political struggle, especially when their social identities are not fixed by characteristics that point toward certain proven patterns (or theories) for action?” (32)

Forgotten places: Gilmore is concerned with “forgotten places:” “marginal people on marginal lands.”  These are obviously not the same everywhere, but Gilmore maps out some compelling continuities.  Not just lack: abandoned places are also “planned concentrations or sinks:” hazardous materials, destructive practices (35).  They’re characterized by layering rounds of dispossession/domination/development – crisis becomes a way of life (36).

She uses the term ‘syncretic’ to describe these places (she prefers this over ‘hybrid’ because hybrid implies originally-pure origins).  The term is also important for research/method: it enables scholarly research as political experimentation (37). Because syncretic compels us to think about problems in terms of their stretch, resonance, and resilience.  She is interested in how “the practice of engaged scholarship necessarily and ethically change[s] the ideological and material field of struggle (55).  Engaged scholarship (and activism) entails constituting audiences at every step, “both within and as an effect of observation, discovery, analysis, and presentation” (55).

–       Stretch: enables a question to reach further than the immediate object without bypassing particularity (e.g. ‘what is development?’ > ‘why do you want this development?’)

–       Resonance: enables a question to support/model non-hierarchical collective action “by producing a hum that, by inviting strong attention, elicits responses that do not necessarily adhere to already existing architectures of sense-making” (38)

–       Resilience: enables a question to be flexible rather than brittle – create questions where surprise can strengthen, rather than ruin them.

She’s interested in how research “combines with the actions of everyday people to shift the field of struggle and thus reorganize both their own consciousness and the concentration and uses of social wealth in ‘forgotten places’” (38).

Desakota – how do mainalized ppl become effective political actor: connect rural/urban in non-schematic way: comparison as a way of bringing together what seems irreconcilable – compare different political/economic/territorial/ideological valences that distinguish (and might unite) places shaped by external control or locaed outside particular dev pathways 33-5

–       rural/urban in relational/linked context: dwellers in more urban areas combine deep rurual roots w/ participation in formal/informal econ

–       she discusses an anti-prison conference and the consciousness of marginalized ppl involved: “their conciousness is a product of vulnerability in space coupled with unavoidable and constant movement through space (43)

–       the desakota region is all about the movement of resources—wether transfers of social wealth from public sectors (welfare to domestic warfare) or migration (voluntary or not) or across supraregional spaces to amass remittances that, once sent, counter the apparently unidirectional concentration of wealth (43)

–       This “respatialization of the social” (rather than automatic recognition based in racial or ethnic categories) “forms the basis for syncretizing previously separate political movements (44)

  • So this reformulation of structure/agency, racialization, space, etc is a way of creating stretch: shared problems w/out bypassing particularity
  • She discusses how this also happened at the anti-prison conference, where activists talked about “how they had come to encounter, identify, understand, and solve the problems where they lived” (41)
    • The final segment involved brainstorming outcomes to life-harming situations of prisons etc
    • This all led to the recognition that “they and their places shared a family resemblance that needed further investigation” 42

–       Prisons and development: she describes the way in which prisons have been created Desakota rural/urban in-between became important for understanding prison proliferation: prisons can reconfigure political jurisdictions, along with other economic/social/cultural effects (44-5).

  • People organized to counter boosterism in the elected leadership, but they had a hard time constituting audiences to make their argument (46).  They engaged with social science methods to rebut data in the environmental review, which represented a narrow technocratic vision substuted for civic engagement (48)
  • This ‘unfunded devolution’ of state powers (the function of the ‘anti-state state’) entails an unfunded devolution of social welfare

–       Desakota (and the precarity, divisions, and movements they entails) aren’t a simple weakness or lack: “people get past certain barriers because they have an already developed sense of the perils and promise of movement, that the practice of circulating within regions underlies potential interpretations of possibility and alliance,a nd finally that multiply rooted people have a sense of the ways that “elsewhere” is simultaneously ‘here’ (another way of saying that ‘I is an Other’) (50).

Complicating identity politics and structure/agency: she critiques the simplistic dismissals of identity politics, while developing a more complicated idea of identity, pointing to: “the contradictory ways in which idnetities fracture and reform in the curcibles of state and society, public and private, home and work, violence and consent (39).  She also refuses a simple division between structure/agency: she’s not saying that agency is an unimportant concept, but thinks it’s too often designated as an attribute of oppressed people against something called ‘structure’ (40).  Structures are both the residue of agency and animated by agents… and the modes through which people organize to resist are (or become) structural.  She points back to ‘stretch’ here: in terms of generalization (thinking about structure/agency) and “in terms of what we must think about to think at all well” 40).

Critique of NGOs – turns out she was a contributor to The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, and she covers some of the same ground here: organizations become competitive and professionalized, stifling potential alliances w/ other orgs.  She distinguishes between becoming legal (under IRS) and using the legal as a tool (43).  This, along with capitalism’s 20th C counter-rev, and waves of criminalization, help explain the brittleness of the present moment.

–       This professionalization has also created the need to generate ‘products’ and and instrumental approach to problems that look for easy (often technocratic) and limited solutions (50)

  • This is a double-edged problem: there’s the assumptions that marginalized communities need roaming specialists (on the one hand) and there’s a flip where marginalized people are assumed to have a latent revolutionary subjectivity waiting to be unleashed (51) (this is a concrete repetition of the structure/agency dichotomy)

–       These result in the loss of stretch and resonance

–       However, this doesn’t entail an abandonment of NGOs: Gilmore discusses the ways in which activists were able to find a ‘provisionally syncretic identity’ through shared problems/struggles, and then these had to be reformed in the context of mission statements, funding streams, and other boundaries: NGOs are both enabling and disabling (42)

–       Against technocratic solutions (or fetishism of marginalized ‘agency’) she suggests that self-determination is created under conditions of “a real engagement of people’s creative thinking mixed with locally or externally available understandings of political and economic possibilities and constrains” (51)

  • The resilience of this question “depends on people’s immediate and longer-range engagement—their own resilience—to realize any outcome (51)