Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Reflections on a Crucifixion: the Arizona Immigrant Movement's Slow, Steady March to Oblivion

Or, "The Smartest Guy In The Movement Revealed"

As we approach the one year anniversary of the passage of SB1070, we naturally tend to look back. As I've pointed out in other articles, the year leading up and and since then hasn't been the easiest one, as we have fought off recuperators, reactionaries and straight up Nazis in the meetings, on the internet and in the streets. No one has yet written a comprehensive analysis of that period of heightened struggle, which for me stretches from the first Inglourious Basterds Bloc through the DO@ Bloc, on into the hot summer of 2010 with its student walkouts and the Border Patrol occupation, and then culminating with Inglourious Basterds II. I for one would welcome it if an anarchist would take on the job of documenting and analyzing that struggle, although I don't yet feel up to the task.

Although that larger project remains incomplete, in a recent discussion, we at PCWC decided that it might be worth tackling it in smaller, bite-sized portions -- reflections on the interesting moments, those lightbulb-going-off-in-your-head instances, and those things that weren't perhaps clear at first but became so over time. There were a lot, even for us veteran militants. The terrain of this struggle became so complicated over time that we were bound to come out of it wiser and, of course, surprised, as one always is when the working class is in motion.

In July of last year, we saw the last gasp of the mainstream migrant movement. It had marched us to death, sign-held us to death, and fund-raised us to death. Will it return? The prognosis is not good, as the political rump that remains clings to its dirty non-profit money and celebrity contacts like a Titanic refugee to a bit of driftwood.

No new or creative ideas emerge from that bottomless whirlpool, that navel-gazing vortex. All the interesting things happen outside the movement, and have for some time. The Border Patrol occupation. The resistance around the new freeway and Snowbowl desecration. Interestingly, all these actions operate within the analysis developed within the militant anti-state, anti-capitalist wing, with its assertion of "free movement for all" and "no to dislocation" as its main guideposts.

Meanwhile,"Boycott Arizona" remains the mantra of the defeated movement. This is a movement that celebrates year after year it's never-ending protest outside Sheriff Joe's office with cake, music and party favors. Another year of failure, another year of using the same bankrupt tactics to no avail. Failure, increasingly, is the goal of the movement. Implicit in the slogan is its desperate cry for outside help.

Because the movement leadership was at war with creativity and critical thought, in the end it was the Arizona Chamber of Commerce that answered that plea and stopped the march of anti-immigrant legislation. Capital re-evaluted its relationship with the reactionary white working and middle classes and blocked further regression, much as the Libertarian right had nearly scuttled SB1070 before that. The movement is a sham, and it wouldn't be so terrible if it hadn't had such terrible consequences for so many.

So it's in the spirit of reflection that I share with you the smartest man in the immigrant movement. This is a person who really understood what was going on, long before any of us did, with our flyers and our sweaty and tired participation in the mainstream miles-long marches. I mean, we came around eventually: at first we just started skipping the marches and showing up at the end to handout literature. Then we gradually returned more and more to doing our own things, playing with contradictions, fucking with the Libertarian right, provoking reactionaries and designing actions and events with ideas and composition that the mainstream leadership could not ignore. Our "fractures and fissures" theories developed in the midst of this phase of the struggle and we deployed them. And it was during this time that we organized the neighborhood assemblies, actions and marches in Tempe, for instance, a deviation that movement leaders and the sycophantic non-profiteers they surrounded themselves with found hard to countenance.

But at first, there was us, with years of showing up at these protests, supporting, holding signs, playing nice and watching movement leaders one after another peel off to the right, towards conservativism in action and thought, terrified of their own rank and file. Not that they ever had our allegiance, but one is polite at first, especially as white militants. One waits to see what develops and what can be supported, without compromising one's views, and one hands out a lot of flyers. One organizes her friends and breaks up Minuteman rallies in front of the Mexican Consulate. That's what one does.

It's hard to really remember now how before things exploded with the general strike, the rallies had only twenty, fifty, a hundred, maybe two hundred attendees. We were all opposing the early wave of reactionary laws, although we didn't know it for sure then -- it seemed apocalyptic even then. Now, with a tiny shadow of what had come before remaining, the movement leaders are surely more comfortable with a few dozen activists and non-profiteers than they ever were with several hundred thousand wildcatters waving Mexican flags, like in those early days. We know they are happier with a handful of dedicated student activists rather than the thousands and thousands of students who walked out a day earlier than their "responsible adult" leaders had prescribed, occupying the capitol lawn and finally rioting in an explosion of righteous anger when the law was signed despite their protests.

So, let me get back to this seer of the movement, the man who saw with total clarity before anyone else the purpose of those long -- many, many miles long -- hot, summer marches. Before I even figured it out, when I was just stoked at seeing so many people in the streets of Phoenix, even if we anarchists had to fight for them to be open to us. It's easy to forget the blistering heat of those marches, which repeated every so often, leaving from the same park and heading to the same, distant destination. People collapsing of heat stroke all around. The ritual of the march, the self-sacrifice of the struggle -- it all looks so obvious in hindsight, now that the excitement of the working class in motion has worn off and that same working class has been out-maneuvered, bored, exhausted and beaten down by movement leaders. But one man got it right from the get-go, from the minute we set foot to blacktop (or sidewalk, as the leadership tried so desperately -- and sometimes unsuccessfully -- to limit it).

I present to you this man.

This man showed up every time, along with others from time to time, dragging this ridiculous cross with him march after march, mile after mile. He understood that these marches were a punishment, a self-sacrifice, not intended to stop the raids, not intended to mobilize the people, but instead meant to tire them out, to discipline us like a teacher punishes a student. These marches were meant to kill the movement, literally. Where the heat couldn't do it, boredom would, as we literally took the same route month after month. It must have made filling out the permits easy as hell, as well as routinizing the police response, as the plan is put into action time after time, refined and redeployed again and again. This guy understood that he was a martyr and that, as a movement, we were marching up a hill to be crucified.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Making Money, Making Change (Impossible)

I want to draw everyone's attention to a very useful essay over at Chaparral Respects No Borders, an always interesting blog analyzing the border, the migrant struggle and various other related elements within that fight. The essay, "Beware the Funders of Immigrants’ Rights", tackles something that bedeviled many of us last year during the whole SB1070 buildup and aftermath: the funding of the mainstream movement and the way it changes the terrain of struggle in Arizona and limits outcomes. And as such, it is a good opportunity to look back at some of the troublesome dynamics that came into play that summer.

This research provided in the essay puts weapons in our hands as we continue to maintain our autonomous position apart from both left and right, i.e., against both recuperation and reaction, in the struggle surrounding migration and freedom of movement. While anarchists should not be surprised by the recuperative and disruptive motivations of large capitalist funding sources like the Ford Foundation, knowing about it (since it is often hidden from view) allows us to point out the way it is messing up the movements we participate in, especially with the rise of the profession non-profiteer activist, so often recruited from radical circles.

Many of us here will remember two of the interesting and at first baffling contradictions of last summer. The first was the failure of many radicals outside of Arizona to support radical initiatives against SB1070. In this I would also include radical bands (and a certain radical frontman), some of whom signed onto the Soundstrike pledge of artists dedicated to boycotting Arizona and that thus helped to further isolate Arizona radicals through denying us opportunities for gathering, fund-raising and sharing strategies at the same time that the mainstream money funnel was in full effect for movement liberals. Fund-raising even by anarchists was often targeted towards liberal groups that had de facto or openly professed anti-radical agendas, even to the point of having collaborated in police attacks on anarchists.

At the very least, those organizations to whom the money was sent were not proposing anarchist or even radical analysis or solutions to the problem. While, the essay at CRNB is clear that the "Revolution Will Not Be Funded", it is important to separate foundation funding from the solidarity that anarchists and radicals engage in. While foundation funding is obviously top down and with strings attached, solidarity is free, supportive and egalitarian. It is important not to confuse the two, which is part of why it was so frustrating to see so much of anarchist and radical support paralleling the general trend of foundation funding, traveling the same channels created by the flows of capital, in essence. I know several anarchist projects centered around the migrant and indigenous struggle that could have used some solidarity and instead that money and materiel went to liberal groups. That's too bad and worth reflecting on by everyone involved, including those of us who were not able to make that distinction and need clear enough.

The second frustration was the constant tendency of out of state radicals who parachuted into Arizona to marginalize and ignore radical voices and actions, especially those of longtime in-state militants. Professional radicals flocked to Arizona by the hundreds, with their plans and pre-fabricated analysis. The worst of these organizers were the non-profiteer white "allies" who, dropping all pretense of sticking to their supposed radical politics, steadfastly defended liberal groups over anarchist ones, even though their information was limited in the extreme, having just dropped into a fight that had been ongoing for several years. Rather than turning to anarchist and radical comrades for analysis and advice on where to plug in and who needed support so that anarchist and other anti-authoritarian radical voices and projects could be heard and advanced, these organizers instantly tried to turn the tables on us, lecturing us in their own naive way about the conditions of our own struggle and informing us in often patronizing ways that our analysis of the groups composing the landscape of struggle was incorrect, despite our long experience.

In retrospect, these particular liberal-radicals served a very important function for movement leaders in terms of hemming in militants and inoculating the broader movement from potential infection by anarchist ideas. At times, when movement leaders were forced to make certain concessions in terms of the form of organization (for instance, when leaders reluctantly permitted mini-assemblies to be set up at one rally so that people could discuss face to face about their problems and solutions) or actions (when it became inevitable that direct action of some sort, in this case civil disobedience, would have to take place on the day SB1070 went into effect), these out of state white liberal-radical "allies" served important spoiler and management roles, sanitizing actions and debate. In the case of the assemblies, for example, white liberal-radical "allies" joined other mainstream leftist reformers in deliberately injecting themselves into discussions among those composing the base of the movement, making sure the conversation was limited and redirected in the movement leadership's overall electoral strategy.

That created quite a few problems for anarchist organizing when the out of state tendency combined with a liberal protest establishment that elevated the maintenance of respectability in its donors' eyes and the lens of the capitalist media above all else, was mired in an ethic of sacrifice and moral suasion, and remained determined to keep an iron grip on a movement that had threatened (and had indeed managed) to get out of its control on several occasions, from the huelga general to the student walkouts. Rather than viewing such outbreaks as promising new avenues of struggle and sources of energy for a movement in bad need of it, instead such explosions were treated by movement heavies as threats to be controlled.

When considering these supposed white "allies", it's worth pointing out that since they brought with them resources badly needed in the fight, they were actually serving as the choosers of winners and losers among the various groups and individuals of color that would get support or be rejected. They were the deciders. In many ways, this white "ally" relationship, in its liberal form, looks a lot like the white patriarchalism one sees in many white activists in general, especially when it serves to discipline those militants and radicals who stand against the liberal movement leadership that these "allies" have anointed with their blessed non-profit dinero. Indeed, if we can psychoanalyze for a moment, there appears to be something in the mindset of this kind of white "ally" that seems to believe that their ally-ship is a necessary component of successful struggle when it comes to people of color. It's an interesting kind of alliance that retains the white "ally"'s central and privileged role in struggle at the same time chastising those militants who do not toe the mainstream line.

But somehow we all managed to make it through those long months, emerging a little beaten up physically and mentally, but still determined to move forward. Eventually, most of those out of state struggle touristas made their way home after the spotlight faded and the glory diminished, leaving us locals to deal with the aftermath, naturally. So it was with more than a little cynicism that we laughed our asses off when we at PCWC were tipped off that one of the groups behind the money pipeline, previously unknown to us, was an organization called (and you can't make this up) "Making Money Making Change". No, seriously. Say it out loud and try not to laugh.

What is MMMC? According to its website (emphasis mine),
Making Money Make Change (MMMC) is Resource Generation's annual 100-person gathering for young people with wealth (ages 18-35) who believe in social change. MMMC is a confidential space to explore issues related to wealth, privilege, philanthropy, and participation in grassroots movements for justice and equality. Through workshops, discussions, and community-building activities, participants support, challenge, and inspire each other to align their resources with their values and work for personal and societal transformation. While participants are young people with wealth, social movement leaders and nonprofit practitioners from other class backgrounds are invited to speak, facilitate sessions, and attend the entire retreat.
PCWC has learned that this group came to town some months ago and met with those local leaders who met the group's seal of approval, scouted out as they were by some of the liberal-radicals who had parachuted into town last summer. These local projects and leaders then had the "just and equal" opportunity to go hat in hand to the rich people begging for money. Sounds like a real reversal of the typical relationship under capitalism, doesn't it? I tell you, in my just and equal society I'm not forced to go begging to any rich person for money.

MMMC would have you, and maybe their donors, believe that they are merely facilitating the benevolent hand of the class traitor who seeks to help us out in our quest for that ever-vaguely worded "more just and equitable society" (note, not "a just and equitable society", just moreso) -- secretly and anonymously behind the scenes, of course. In reality, as we've seen from the sorts of projects they support, in fact they are the hand of the state and capital reaching into our movements, supporting projects that they are comfortable with, and that do not upset their class privilege. Which is not to say that anarchist groups ought to demand access to the money either. It's that the groups with the money, and the donors themselves, serve as goalkeepers, saying this far and no further. After all, a revolutionary movement that expropriated the rich would deny the sons and daughters of the rich (because, who earns that kind of money by the age of 35 and has a revolutionary perspective?) the very money they intend to help us with, not to mention eliminate all those non-profiteering jobs to boot!

I believe that Jon Riley is planning on going into this particular group a lot more in a future essay, so I won't say too much about it. But I wanted to point it out because it doesn't appear in the essay at Chaparral Respects No Borders but still represents yet another facet of the attack on anarchist and radical movements in Arizona. In many ways, the lesson we ought to take from this is that we should be even less compromising with our defiance of the left in the future. The gut feeling we all had last summer was right. It felt like a two front war and it was.

For instance, when we organized that summer's neighborhood actions, it often seemed like we had to beat off the attempts of the out of staters to impose themselves on our actions, scared as they were of autonomous activity, even as they were allying themselves with groups that they knew had attacked, subverted and vilified anarchists in the past. The leadership wanted us out of the movement, and that was facilitated by the liberal-radicals. And then when we turned to our own autonomous projects, along came those same professional managers of struggle to keep an eye on us, and to attempt to disrupt our organizing. The professional activist sees everything as part of her domain and expertise: everyone needs his help.

So, moving forward, a hefty refresher of the friends/enemies fanatical analysis probably wouldn't hurt. While we fought hard for a politics separate and autonomous from the mainstream movement, calling out movement leaders and their strategies several times, we ought to have taken the fight to the liberal-radical white "allies" harder, putting them on the spot, making them choose sides. We did a good job driving the Revolutionary Communist Party out of Phoenix using similar tactics. The liberal-radical identity, and the funding it brings with it, is the mechanism for recuperation and marginalization and needs to be recognized as such the next time it shows its ugly head around here. What side are you on? An old mantra that never loses its power.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hazy Shade of Criminal: Antisec, Police and the Media, or, "'Fuck the Police' Means 'Fuck the Police'"

This most recent, third (and, I hope not final) attack on DPS by Antisec has revealed that Arizona cops share racist jokes, endorse torture, cover up stalking in their upper ranks, worship American militarism, make light of lethal violence against migrants and regularly massage their public image through the development of PR campaigns with cutesy names like "Cops, Kids, and Christmas".

In addition, the leaked emails serve as a testament to their pathetically crippled senses of humor. In the errant communications, the traditionally far right police organizations find themselves dumbstruck by the fact that their steadfast and reliable support for the Republicans has been paid back in budget cuts and layoffs. And, though cops are not known for their highly developed sense of irony, at least some of those cops then boasting about securing their emails after the first attack must be appreciating a little bit of it now that their electronic boasts of infallibility are public record thanks to these persevering anarchist hackers. Pride before the fall, as they say.

Antisec replaced the front page of several police organizations with its press release and a video for the Public Enemy song "Hazy Shade of Criminal"

Past releases over the last couple weeks via Antisec and its predecessor, Lulzsec, have revealed similar content, including that state cops and Border Patrol were aware of armed US Marines patrolling the border on private contract for ranchers and that the Minutemen had contemplated shutting down a freeway as part of their anti-immigrant crusade. Likewise, captured internal anti-terrorism newsletters highlighted copwatch events and other clearly not terrorism related organizations and actions in their "upcoming events" section, reflecting the mission creep of policing in Arizona and the US by and large under the logic of the war on terrorism. At her always interesting website Censored News, Brenda Norrell has continued to provide excellent coverage of some of the highlights that have emerged. Because of that, I feel no need to go over the specifics of the emails. My interest in the Antisec attacks goes beyond just the details of piggy internet messaging.

Because, as is obvious from the data revealed, cops are pretty much cops. Despite the slack-jawed and gape-mouthed looks of shock and awe on the faces of the plastic TV news anchors, is anyone really surprised that cops are racist? Or that cops are a miltaristic bunch? That they cover up their crimes? Let's hope not. Least of all us at PCWC. In two past articles, "Officer Down: The Phoenix Media and Cop-Killings", and the follow-up piece, "Exhuming the State's Avenging Angels: Revisiting 'Officer Down' in Light of Recent Revelations About the Phoenix PD", I have previously written about the police as an institution and the way it is portrayed in the media.

The role of the police and the kinds of people that are recruited to do police work are so obvious to almost everyone in society that the entire propaganda apparatus of the state and capital gets enlisted in the hasty cover up work whenever the thin veneer of respectability threatens to wear off in the slightest. "Fuck the cops" remains one of the truly universal sentiments in American society that at the same time is completely unspeakable within mainstream "responsible" dialogue. The Mesa Fraternal Order of Police, its website a target for Antisec, has a facebook page with only 314 friends in a city with 440,000 residents. Surely an institution with deep support within the community could do much better than that! Hell, there are over 750 sworn officers in the department alone! Perhaps people remember the Mesa Fraternal Order of Police's staunch defense of its officers in the police murder of 15 year-old Mario Madrigal.

The lonely Mesa FOP has no internet friends!

It is common to hear the refrain, "People become cops because they were picked on in school", but we know that's not true. Cops become cops because they are bullies. Occasionally a well-meaning one may slip through, but they don't last long, and their road is an extremely difficult one marked by job stagnation and lack of promotion. Policing, like any other job but even moreso because of its relationship with power and its own criminality, demands fealty to the thin blue line. Loyalty over all else.

Now, in expressing what may seem like cynicism about the content released through Antisec's attacks on the cop computers, that is not to say that I oppose them. Quite the opposite. Unlike some in the alternative media, who question whether the right target was chosen, preferring an attack on Sheriff Joe and MCSO instead of DPS, or a hit on the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association over the Fraternal Order of Police, I'm quite content with the idea of hackers targeting the police generally, whatever organization. Though some may find it lacking, an attack on DPS has its own merits beyond their particular flaws as a law enforcement institution, and to understand that you neither have to forget that DPS will be enforcing SB1070 along with all other police in the state nor ignore that DPS was the subject not that long ago of a blistering report by the ACLU which pointed out deep and systematic racial disparities in vehicle stops and searches.

These welcome emails reveal among other things internal rivalries and things said behind others' backs. Careers could very well be in jeopardy. And, yes, as Antisec itself points out, the hacks turn the tables on the cops, making them feel the vulnerability we all suffer daily under their constant watch and often violent enforcement regime. Perhaps some cops will stop being cops. And police computers off line, with information and investigations compromised, means more freedom for those of us that suffer police oppression. Some will wring their hands if "criminals" escape prosecution because of these attacks, but not me, and not anyone who has experienced justice as delivered by the cops. We know the real villains, the ones who do the most damage, are the bosses, politicians, generals and cops of this world. Those interested in justice must first oppose the justice system.

It is precisely in the queries from the media and the responsive demands of DPS for increased spending on militarized information systems that we see the failure to understand the fundamental relationship of policed to police. Beefing up cyber-protections for the cops only makes their attacks on us, on the rest of society, more lethal! Note the rise in deaths at the hands of police that has followed the deployment of "less lethal" technologies as a point of comparison. When governments give the police more power, they do not use it less.

Any demand for security must first appreciate that the security of the cops comes at the expense of the security of the rest of us. Remember, more protections for police computers means we know less about what they are really thinking and doing. It means those racist emails don't come out. Consider for example the fact that the Tempe police had and perhaps still has kept tabs on individual anarchists, making notes about political affiliations on police reports drawn off police databases. This is what police security really means, and arguments for increased police powers to protect their information means at the same time power to protect this particular kind of information. Make no mistake about it, we at PCWC, like Antisoc, are anti-police. Their demand for "a world free from police, prisons and politicians altogether" rings true with us.

DPS: Cut backs in the mustache department.

Indeed, this lack of discrimination between police agencies hearkens back to the analysis issued by the Diné, O'odham, anarchist/anti-authoritarian bloc in January 2010. And the discussion around the Antisec attacks mirrors precisely that dynamic, of good cops and bad cops, which surrounded the events of that time. The Phoenix PD, even though their arrests result in more deportations than Sheriff Joe's MCSO, were held up as the good guys by leaders in the pro-migrant movement, even to the point of permitting police liasons in organizing meetings for the main liberal event, as they had been at marches before that. Taking this line let the sheriffs off the hook, allowing the PPD to do the day's dirty work, and thus the mainstream organizers were able to push for the further isolation of anti-capitalist and anti-state militants when the police attack came down. In framing their opposition to the MCSO in those terms, the leaders of the movement had become the racist PPD's biggest defenders.

As I pointed out before, this flawed view of police and policing echoes in the writings of movement sympathetic journalists who half-heartedly denounce Antisec's choice of targets. Consider Stephen Lemons' recent post on the subject in his New Times Blog, "The Feathered Bastard", practically lamenting what he sees as the so far squandered opportunity to hit what he considers legit targets, while at the same time offering up his own modified target list. Consider his comments on his most recent article: "[T]here are far worse police organizations in state to pick on than AZ DPS or the FOP. I mean, the FOP is no PLEA (Phoenix Law Enforcement Association), for instance. Everyone in this state knows that PLEA is an outright nativist, anti-Hispanic police union. By contrast, the FOP has a pretty good reputation. Similarly, DPS is no Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, with Hispanic-hunter Joe Arpaio as the jefe."

Offering up his correction, however, Lemons is quick to back off. He provides us this weak-kneed, wink and a nod disclaimer: "Of course, I'm not suggesting anyone hack anyone. Nor can I or would I condone such outrageous criminal activity." But will he read the emails? "Natch." He asks us, finally, "What's the point of going after cops who may just be doing their jobs?" Well, it turns out, that is precisely the point. It is the every day functioning of the police that is the problem, not the aberrations. And individual police do not escape this logic. Indeed, to the rare extent that they are not the state and capital's willing accomplices, they remain prisoners of this logic. They cannot be the "good cop". It is impossible.

But, perhaps, as Lemons suggests, Antisec is not familiar with Arizona politics enough to know the slight differences between our various racist police forces. Not knowing who they are, we naturally have little to go on. However, it's entirely possible that, as they say clearly in their own press release, they don't care. Maybe they are not interested in making distinctions between various kinds of racists and degrees of racism in Arizona police departments and organizations. After all, it took only the release of a handful of emails from just a few FOP members and DPS officers to reveal that laundry list I opened the article with, begging the question of what remains to be found. Does anyone really think that's all there is? If that sort of racism and worship of state and vigilante violence is acceptable enough to share via email with one's cop comrades, in broad daylight so to speak, what is too dangerous for it? What is said only behind the safety of the thin blue line?

Antisec is right not to split hairs when it comes to Arizona's myriad racist police. All of them, together and individually, are enemies of freedom, worshipers of authority and an obstacle to the demands of people for dignity and the ability to organize their own lives as they see fit. As we have seen in the past, the elevation of one cop gang over another does not protect from repression and police attack. So that means opposition to those institutions of repression must necessarily be anti-security, just as it is anti-police.