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Wednesday, September 5 2007

Brooklyn Arabic language charter school opens under threats

The Khalil Gibran International Academy, one of seventy bilingual charter schools in the New York City public school system, opened yesterday. Seventy-five community members held a demonstration in support of the school on opening day.

The school, which will teach students international affairs in addition to Arabic, has been subject to an attack campaign by right wing opponents of academic freedom for months. A media circus in our city forced principal Debbie Almontaser to resign under sharp criticism for explaining the meaning of the word "intifada" at a press conference. The word appeared on "Intifada NYC" t-shirts of the local organization AWAAM: Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media. You can hear from them, thanks to Democracy Now! Fellow educator Steve Quester opines:

Imagine a Latina principal being hounded out of her job because she defended a Latina empowerment group’s Che Guevara T-shirts. Imagine an African-American principal being hounded out of her job because she defended an African-American girls’ empowerment group’s Malcolm X T-shirts. Neither scenario is far-fetched. But in either of the above scenarios, we’d know it wasn’t about the T-shirts.

Friday, August 10 2007

Haditha watch: Marines investigate their own atrocities

The morning of November 19, 2005, one Marine and 24 Iraqis were killed in the town of Haditha, in occupied Iraq. Within hours, the marines had claimed that the improvised explosive device that killed Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas had also killed 15 civilians, while eight “insurgents" were killed in self-defense. This description was a lie. None of the Iraqis, 19 of whom died in their homes, were killed by the roadside bomb. Among the men, four were killed in a house, while 5 three students, a friend and their taxi driver were either ordered or dragged from their car before being shot on the street. A balanced investigation of the morning by the German magazine Der Spiegel is online, as is the collaborative Wikipedia article on the Haditha killings.

Largely because the bedrooms of the 15 women and children who were killed that morning were recorded on video, and because that video made it into the American press, the marines involved are now on trial. One of them has turned state's evidence, testifying that that only did he shoot civilians of the orders of a superior officer, but he then proceeded to desecrate their freshly killed bodies. Meanwhile, apartheid rules of evidence are governing both the trial and the American press coverage. Iraqi eyewitness testimony, the conclusions of the medical examiner are being essentially discounted as either pleas for compensation money, or subject to nationalist bias. The Marines are being held to a standard based on rules of engagement, rather than morality or law.

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Wednesday, August 1 2007

Obama threatens Pakistan invasion

I've been waiting to wade into presidential politics, because they're not the center of the universe, and because it's too easy to get caught up in them. However, one reason they're not the center of the universe is the overwhelming consensus on militarism and corporate rule between the United States' parties. As if to illustrate the point, we now have Barack Obama threatening to invade Pakistan, in a toughness match with Hillary Clinton.

The senator warned Pakistani President Gen Pervez Musharraf that, under an Obama presidency, he would have to do more to shut down terrorist operations in his country and evict foreign fighters or risk a US troop invasion and losing hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid.

In the Senator's foreign policy manifesto, "Renewing American Leadership" in Foreign Affairs, we find this as well...

But we must also become better prepared to put boots on the ground in order to take on foes that fight asymmetrical and highly adaptive campaigns on a global scale. We should expand our ground forces by adding 65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines.

Unfortunately, we have the reason to expect the unforgiveable, people in the peace movement campaigning again for this kind of militarist madness.

Thursday, July 19 2007

World Trade Organization: Time for an end

It's been nearly eight years since mass nonviolence, barricades and tear gas clouds filled the streets of Seattle during the Ministerial Meeting of the World Trade Organization. Designed to be a showcase of America's commitment to trade (co-sponsored literally by Microsoft and Boeing), it turned into a disaster for the powerful. The promised Millenium Round of trade negotiations never got be called the Seattle Round after a coalition of poor countries walked out.

Further presence on the streets of Geneva (2000), Cancun (2003) and Hong Kong (2005) have lent strength to poorer countries demanding a fairer deal, which runs against the grain of the corporate interests that launched the WTO in the first place. Result: no deal. A last ditch attempt to revive the round collapsed in four party talks among U.S., European Union, Brazil and India in June. Now citizen groups from 35 countries are calling for an end to the negotiating round as a whole, noting that "Doha is dead," and demanding a two year moratorium on new negotiations (see also their letter).

Meanwhile, in the U.S., so-called Fast Track trading authority has expired for the Bush administration, but four NAFTA style agreements are pending before Congress with Peru, Panama, Colombia and South Korea. See more on the resistance to them. And the U.S., Canada and Mexico are deepening NAFTA through channels that bypass the legislature in the so-called Security and Prosperity Partnership, to be pushed forward at a summit in Quebec August 19-21, and pushed back by a mass mobilization at the same time.

Friday, July 13 2007

Escalating the Antiwar

Even as recent weeks reveal an growing pile-on of political centrists to the pro-withdrawal position on Iraq, notably the New York Times and some Republicans, the administration is digging in its heels. Of course, if our democracy was functional in the sense of representing us, we wouldn't be there in the first place, and would certainly have left in the wake of November's election results. But... aside from these truly important limitations to our ability to control our own country, there are ways that the U.S. government systematically prolongs disastrous wars. (Daniel Ellsberg, who later leaked the Pentagon Papers, had as his entire job studying just these flaws at the RAND Corporation way back in the 1960s -- check out his memoir Secrets for details, or read his affinity group partner Noam Chomsky's For Reasons of State.)

Anyhow, we are in the generational position of having to show a great deal of creative outrage and self organizaton in order to get our government to do even what is sane on their part and stop occupying Iraq.

Some folks are meaningfully working on this of late. Notably, Iraq Veterans Against the War, who made a pointed call for escalating the antiwar movement at the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta, a call that made it into the Mexican press.:

Dicen que su nueva misión es acabar con "esa enfermedad de guerra" que padece su país desde los tiempos del primer genocidio contra los indígenas, las batallas de colonización y los casos de Vietnam e Irak. "Los tiempos de las manifestaciones pacíficas y las súplicas al Congreso para detener los conflictos bélicos se acabaron. Es hora de la acción directa", afirmó otro veterano.

They said their new mission is to bring to an end "this sickness of war" from which their country has suffered since the times of the first genocide against the indigenous, in the battles of colonization and the cases of Vietnam and Iraq. "The time for peaceful demonstrations and supplications to Congress to stop the armed conflicts is over. This is the time for direct action," affirmed another veteran.

Of course if we want to look at the larger trend of U.S. warmaking as opposed to war-losing, we have to ask the kind of systemic questions raised by the long history of the sickness of war. An interesting debate about the matter is going on around an article "Opposing a GI & Veteran-Focused Anti-War Movement."

In my opinion, it's one thing to remind ourselves that looking out for soldiers' safety could end a Vietnam-style war, but never the carnage in Laos or Cambodia (the later was curtailed by massive resistance at home in the spring and summer of 1970). But a whole other thing to put aside the knowledge and radicalism that can come from being put on the frontlines. The point is to merge our most radical awareness of the horrible realities of war with strategies for ending it. And those have got to include bringing people off of the frontlines. Way positive things are afoot in this direction: see soldier-turned-resister Camilo Mejia's memoir, . And also veterans are coming forward with details of the harsher side of our war on the Iraqis.

Meanwhile, Cindy Sheehan has come out of activist retirement and is leading a caravan across the eastern U.S. And supposing the time for peaceful demonstrations and supplications to Congress is not over, there's a fresh calendar from United for Peace and Justice's Assembly.

Thursday, July 5 2007

The First Amendment is So Eighteenth Century...

Once again the U.S.'s now right-shifted Supreme Court has reaffirmed the concept that limiting spending on political ads is limiting speech. In a way the ruling is no surprise, as the legal equation of money with speech is long standing in the U.S., and corporations have maintained the status of "people" with legal rights (except the right to die after a reasonable period, it would seem) since the 1880s. More importantly, the U.S. view of what exactly is free speech is stuck in the eighteenth century.

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Friday, June 22 2007

Migration: people want to be free

A catchphrase of the cultural/scientific exploration that marked everything from the Whole Earth Catalog to hacktivism to techno-capitalist Kevin Kelly was "information wants to be free." That is, ideas are naturally oriented towards escaping both governmental control and attempts to sell them for a profit. This incredibly persistent idea animates a great deal of clever technical and political work. Revelling in the elusiveness of technologically mediated information has its own celebrated trajectory that continues to proliferate.

Meanwhile, the same creativity has been employed in making governmental controls on the movement of human bodies is also in play, but seems to lack the same cultural cache that is so easily given to the computer hacker or the creators of free software and ungoverned or ungovernable virtual spaces. Remember this phrase then: People want to be free.

In my heritage, there is a precedent for this kind of valorized escape artist: the Underground Railroad and the Great Migration, for instance. Escaping unacceptable lives and unthinkable oppression is to be celebrated, and welcomed. Certainly, the illegalization of escape is no more honorable now than it was under the Fugitive Slave Act, and the deterrence of migrants with military force is just as dispicable now as when African Americans were kept off trains bound for the North in the early 1900s. And yet, people who look the other way at fake IDs for their own kids buying alcohol are quite quick to defend the concept of legality for people volunteering to file their taxes under a social security number whose earnings they will never see. Twelve million creative people have made their way in. Are there any of us who can't identify this kind of fearlessness in arrival in our own past?

From this perspective of course, the U.S. immigration debate these days is, of course, a nightmare. While the massive appearance of migrants on the streets in spring 2006 was a heroic display of numbers, the debate inside Congres and the media ranges between "appropriate" penalties and deportation (which, of course, could never practically happen). Meanwhile, major raids of workplaces by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are sending hundreds upon hundreds through unccountable and frequently harsh detention facilities.

Borderless activism: Noborder network (Europe) deleteTheBorder (North America) May Day 2007

Monday, June 18 2007


...means shared pain. Without it soldiarity is impossible, and support is optional. With it, we on the trigger side of empire have a chance of uniting with the rest of humanity.

After several years of various activist stints on Guantanamo, I found that the group Outlandish had a song about it. Which led me to their moving piece "Try Not Cry." Have a listen if you can, perhaps by checking out a home made video here. Some of the lyrics:

Hmm, a little boy shot in the head Just another kid sent out to get some bread Not the first murder nor the last Again and again a repetition of the past Since the very first day same story Young ones, old ones, some glory How can it be, has the whole world turned blind? Or is it just ’cause it’s only affecting my kind?!

I grew up with a kind of visceral attention for kids throwing stones at tanks and riot police. South Africa first of all. When an a form of oppression cuts you in two, it gets obvious. But Palestine too, where the first Intifada brought out those Mahmoud Darwish would call "the children of the stones," shaming their elders with their refusal to accept their fate. No matter how clearly I know that empire isn't new, it still breaks my heart for my neighbors to be the ones driving the tanks now.

Tuesday, June 12 2007

Iraq "Oil Theft" Law under seige by workers, protesters

The opening of Iraq's oil industry, which was nationalized during the global anti-colonial wave of the mid-20th century, to Western corporations has been a continuing goal of the U.S. war. But despite bipartisan support for it in the United States, the American antiwar majority, Iraqi politicians, and Iraq's oil workers are continuing to gum up the works on the a new hydrocarbon bill, known in the U.S. as the Iraq Oil Law, and known to activists as the Oil Theft Law.

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Monday, June 11 2007

about this blog

Welcome to the flipside of false ignorance.

Camera leftFive years ago, a little burned out (temporarily, I knew even at the time) from NGO human rights work and laid up in pain from carpal tunnel, I started an occasional design project called It came from an intense, desperately driven need to say something more articulate and complicated about the realities of empire and the possibilities of resistance.

The first thing I laid out, testing my brand new voice dictation machine and working with pageMaker until my fingers burned, was a little pamphlet called "Do you think about torture?" I do. Think about it. I witnessed it quite up close and personal once, in a jail in Cincinnati, where someone was slammed to the ground and repeatedly tasered in front of me. And it has becoming an ever more overt policy. So I wanted to let other people know that there's a mass of us, thinking, and (this is the point of "false ignorance"), a perhaps larger mass knowing but doing their best not to think, but actually not-thinking. That is pouring energy into a tangible denial of what they know is being done in their name, or with their money, or with the need of their acceptance. So one face of the project was to break the silence about open secrets.

Another was to find human ways to relate to realities of empire. And yet a third was to remind everyone that resistance is not only possible, but brilliantly possible, vibrant, and always boiling beneath the surface when it isn't shattering what we believe (or is it, fear?) is inevitable.

Five years on, I no longer think denial is so much of the problem. Though I do think that reminders of how some truly scary efforts are deliberately planned are essential. And of course neither the media nor the grapevine tell us everything. Well documented truths are essential for outrage, for activism, for change.

Why I'm starting to blog...

Everyone I meet is more in the turmoil between hope and despair than struggling to move from ignorance to knowledge. Two nights ago at a beautiful warehouse party full of fire and creativity, a 46-year-old metal sculptor came up to me. And said he had seen me around the activist spaces and events of the Bay. And thanked me for being out there. And said what I've heard too many times, that he is living out a sense of despair about the situation of the world. That the U.S. now is something like his long term nightmare.

Fair enough. My nightmare is the return of colonialism ("Something old and awful" is making a return to public consciousness, and the risk of public acceptance, I wrote in my Ransom Note for action to resist the Iraq War). It's now our neighbors and nieces and nephews, and lovers and high school friends who are driving the tanks down the middle of occupied streets, seeing kids throw stones at them, raiding houses and shooting up families. We're doing it. "And we don't even scream. Are we dead?" (I hear the lines from Jean Genet's _The Maids_)

My Iranian-American boss at my old Bay Area job asked last night where is the anger. I've heard that a lot too. You can see in the last paragraph, I think it sometimes. But I have a different relationship to that question than most. I don't think it's a matter of things affecting us more directly, or of the gradualness or the slowness of the change. I don't think Americans are just mesmerized by the media, or that some analogy about raising the temperature of a lobster pot can explain a so-called acquiescence. I think people know what is done in their name, and I think a hundred million regrets and sadnesses are felt about it every night.

I think the swing point is the capacity for hope, for planning, and envisioning change. For seeing how to impact and transform the world, to bring an end to the disaster-dream that is global empire. We need to get good at hope, which means we need to get good at resisting.

Fortunately, humanity is fairly well quaking with both right now.

People in their numbers, in their violence-defying brilliance, in their relentless persistence in finding ways to survive and thrive in ways that are worthy of us, are doing many fascinating things. I've made it my day job to witness and describe how that happens. I've been back in school for 10 months now, getting a PhD as a means to study social movements, autonomy and the capacity for disrupting power and empire.

Last night, and the night before, I was asked the same sincere questions by people with open hearts. Questions I feel sure I know how to answer for myself. Why should we have hope? What are our options for getting out of this imperial madness? Are the rest of the folks out there asking the same things? Answering these is about claiming the offensive, about apprenticing ourselves to the portions of humanity that inspire us, about learning how to make ourselves into collectives with the capacity of writing our own futures. Understanding empire, and understanding oppressive power is the defensive work. What you don't understand you can't change. What you don't see, don't perceive as part of the problem can make sure the disaster comes back. Yet this defensive knowledge must be balanced with the offensive knowledge of hope if it is to be something other than an way of intimidating ourselves into inaction and despair.

You'll hear some of both sides here, because, well, our sibling humans are being wounded and killed, because our planet is under seige at the moment. But if this becomes a space you dread to read, let me know, because that means I'm doing something wrong.