To All My Friends,
First, I just want to say thank you for all the support. Even a simple post card that says “Thinking of you” can brighten an inmates day. I look forward to making many more friends and also having much correspondence with all of you. I would love to promise a response to all of you. However , I’m only allowed 100 contacts and I am not able to respond to anyone residing outside of the United States. Luckily, I’ve been able to respond to all non-international letters so far and I want you all to know I will absolutely read every piece of mail that is sent and isn’t denied and I will try my hardest to respond. If I am ever unable to respond please don’t think I am ungrateful or ignoring you.
I was asked by Because We Must to write a bit about grand juries. As I’ve mentioned countless times in the past, I just want to reiterate the need to read up on the grand jury system. I know it may seem overwhelming and like a lot of information at first, but the best way to protect yourself is to learn. Knowledge is power. I think Crescenzo Vellucci said it best.
“To understand the threat and power of grand juries is to empower yourself. And if you can become empowered, you will not feel fear. And without fear, the state and the abusive grand jury system cannot do anything to you.”
I was recently reading about the anti-war group the “Lexington Six” who were jailed for their refusal to collaborate with a grand jury almost half a century ago, yet what they said still holds true today. “People must MOBILIZE AROUND THESE ISSUES. To do this, people must first become familiar with the grand jury and its abuses, PUBLICIZING THE FACTS AND EDUCATING OTHERS AS TO THEIR RIGHTS. Secondly it is important to engender in others a commitment to the resistance of these abuses including, but not limited to ones refusal to testify before the grand jury. Thirdly, it is necessary to keep in mind that while court battles can be fought and sometimes won, these abuses of the law are not abnormalities in a basically good system. They rather illustrate the true intentions of a BAD system more openly and graphically than other insidious practices (and) THIS SHOULD DOMINATE OUR THINKING AS WE ORGANIZE.
The grand jury systems goal aside from harassing and intimidating activists is to gather information on them, their friends, their family, and the community. So, as a community, we should have a similar goal to gather information on the grand jury process. So we will all be prepared to resist its abuse when an agent comes knocking. Another thing we should do is inform our “non-activist” friends, family, and co-workers. Help them learn their rights. Ask them not to cooperate and to let you know if they are ever approached or contacted. For in the end, they are just as much a part of the community as we are.
As was the case with some members in my own community, I was asked “What’s the harm of testifying if you know nothing?” An old lawyers joke use to say “a grand jury could indict a sandwich if it wanted.” Because in a grand jury there is no defense attorney and people can be indicted from mere rumors, innuendo and hearsay. And to choose to just testify and get it over with enables you to be put on a list of people they “know will talk” and your chances of being subpoenaed again and harassed in the future are increased significantly. But even more important is the fact that grand juries are a violation of our basic civil and political rights. And its abuse needs to be addressed and protested. Trust me, I had no desire to go to prison for refusing to testify about something of which I had no knowledge. But, some issues are more important than saving my own skin. And this is one of them.
For the Earth, For the Animals, For Ourselves,
“Fear of knowledge is natural: all of us experience it, and there is nothing we can do about it. But, no matter how frightening learning is, it is more terrible to think of a man without knowledge.”- Don Juan Matus
(Originally from Prison Culture.)
George Zimmerman does not exist in a vacuum. It seems important for me to restate this fact at this time.
As I predicted would happen, we have now entered the CSI or Law & Order phase of the Trayvon Martin killing. We are being subjected to a trial by media with reports by Nancy Grace about grand jury testimony, DNA evidence, and whether they will move the venue of any possible future trial. Unfortunately Law & Order Trayvon Martin won’t have a quick nor I predict satisfying ending for the public, the vast majority of whom will soon move on. After all, reality television can only hold the public’s attention (those who are even paying attention in the first place) for so long before people start to change the channel to watch something else.
Ultimately what will be lost in all of this is the memory of Trayvon Martin. However this episode will once again underscore the fact that most people do not actually care about antiblack violence in America. This is as it has always been; nothing new to see here. By virtue of our blackness, we are always perceived as disposable (even more so in the 21st century now that our labor is superfluous to the functioning of capitalism) and as “suspect.”
Larvester Gaither (2000) writes that the “adjective ‘suspicious’ expresses the historical and fundamental status of Africans in American society and partly explains American ambivalence toward the question of black victimization (p.192).” In other words, as Kanye West might say: “America does not care about black people.” It certainly does not care about black pain.
There is something more too. Our citizenship as black people is never taken for granted. It is consistently under assault. Black people are ina perpetual struggle in America not to be disenfranchised. For example, currently the right is pushing new voter ID laws across the country which are specifically intended to suppress black votes. People have called Arizona’s SB1070 the “papers please” law. It’s an apt characterization. However it should be pointed out that black people in America (including our current President) have been and continue to be asked to produce “our papers” regularly and usually there is no “please” attached to the demand.
In the 18th century, slave patterollers were empowered to demand documentation from any black person they came across as proof that they were actually “free.” W. Marvin Dulaney writes about slave patrols in his book Black Police in America (1996):
The 3rd Annual Law and Disorder Conference will take place April 6-8th, 2012 at Portland State University.
This conference calls for people, movements, organizations and collectives to present alternative accounts to the political dimensions of civic engagement, mutual aid and revolution as they relate to economics, politics, invention, technology, work, artistic and cultural production, the body, pedagogy and social change. The conference promises to create a provocative space for comparative critical dialogue between activists, revolutionaries, educators, artists, musicians, scholars, dancers, actors and writers. The conference invites panels and workshop on all aspects of social change from the revolutionary to the academic.
Check out this video promo for the conference this year!
A topic I’ve seen come up frequently on Tumblr and other social media sites lately is about privilege and veganism, which actually encompasses a broad spectrum of issues. Some of these are more clear-cut than others. While I think it’s valid and useful to talk about economic privilege and the relative accessibility of vegan foods, I will not be focusing on that here. I think there is another very pressing issue that gets less visibility that should be constantly on our minds: appropriation of human oppression to describe exploitation of nonhumans.
You’ve seen it before. Pictures of dying animals used for food crammed into slaughterhouses juxtaposed with an image of mass graves in concentration camps, or a picture of a lynching victim next to a pig suspended in the air by rope to help drain blood after the throat is cut. These are common, visceral, and almost always used as graphics with little or no context or description.
People who use graphics or arguments like these as part of their advocacy frequently say that people won’t understand the exploitation and abuse of nonhumans unless it’s described in simple terms, or that we should “call it like it is”. Moreover, they say the only people who have problems with such comparisons are speciesist themselves; that is, if the person in question were vegan and a supporter of animal liberation, then they wouldn’t have a problem with such tactics.
To all that I usually say: “wow”. But I can be more specific about why these tactics are problematic, and why dismissal of arguments or anger against them is exactly the kind of privilege we should seek to expose and root out.
It is unethical to hijack narratives or tap into the pain of historical trauma for your “education” project, as seriously as you may take it; you cannot use a story or experience as a point of comparison when that very experience is not taken seriously on its own terms. People of color, and more specifically, Black people, see their current and historical traumas used by a variety of movements as selling points or as “helpful illustrations”. The pain of racism and the violence and damage it causes is objectified as a rhetorical tool, and not understood on its own terms or respected for its uniqueness.
And what we’re really saying, again, is the sources of comparison are really unimportant in the context of nonhuman suffering. It’s just used as a stepping stone to get to an item on our agenda, rather than a separate serious concern that we work on simultaneously with nonhuman liberation struggles. Lynching and the Holocaust become illustrative and figurative; this is continuing the violence and delegitimization the survivors have to continue to experience by our privileged oversight.
We only feel comfortable bringing up lynching and the Holocaust and epidemic gender and sexual violence because they are easy tools to appropriate. It’s easy to be against them, but not so easy to understand the specific conditions that support them, or the implicit attitudes that continue to inform them even in people with the best intentions. It’s not a fair comparison not because nonhumans don’t suffer, but because erasure of difference is not taken seriously and that does significant damage.
Speciesism did not kill Emmett Till, racism did. To deny that root cause by a simplistic graphic you whipped up on publisher in 5 minutes is why we still don’t take racism seriously as a deadly and oppressive force with a history and contemporary record of killing Black people with impunity.
Solidarity does not require us all to be the same. By definition, it implies there is some piece that is inviolable, unique, and worth appreciating from a perspective that will never fully understand its effects or implications. We have the vision of building better coalitions when we rely on true solidarity, rather than doing what’s been done by the very oppressive structures we criticize.
Oppression of nonhumans has a history and quality that is all its own. We do a disservice to the nonhumans we advocate for when we erase their specific experiences in order to hang them on the scaffolding of human experience. We imply that the only meaningful way to talk about pain and suffering is through human terms, and then only those human terms we feel okay with constantly appropriating and co-opting. This is not a good framework for the non-speciesist society we wish to envision.
This really demonstrates, in action, what Breeze Harper describes as the whitewashing of the vegan movement. Whiteness that is by nature, reductionist, consuming, and gains power by co-opting and appropriation is why advocacy tools like these are so popular. Not only does this misrepresent our larger goals of total liberation, it silences PoC vegans and animal liberation advocates who are alienated by such rhetoric and aren’t taken seriously when they promote their own tactics and work.
I’m not saying comparisons or analogies are 100% never helpful. I am saying that they are frequently used without care, without self-reflection, and with the assumption that being anti-speciesist automatically comes with a pass freeing you from checking relevant racial, economic, and gender privilege. I am saying that more often than not, most examples alienate the people you are appropriating for your cause and that does damage to all of our goals. Nuanced examples require research and thoughtfulness that seems impossible to do in a simple graphic or a tweet. So their use following these guidelines would be well researched, vetted for accuracy, come from non-privileged folk, and be used sparingly.
It is not speciesist to ask that your historical and contemporary trauma be respected. It is not speciesist to ask that “abolitionist” not be used to describe anything other than as relevant to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (especially when the people appropriating the term frequently know next to nothing about actual abolitionists or racial struggles).
The atrocities that non-humans experience are bad enough (and we have the pictures and the language to capture this horror) without constantly appropriating the pain of others, especially when explicitly asked not to.
We have creative methods that are non-exploitive that deliver our message. Pushing ourselves to do more, rather than relying what’s been done before, seems to be the most effective route to take.
By Joel Olson
Occupy Wall Street and the hundreds of occupations it has sparked nationwide are among the most inspiring events in the U.S. in the 21st century. The occupations have brought together people to talk, occupy, and organize in new and exciting ways. The convergence of so many people with so many concerns has naturally created tensions within the occupation movement. One of the most significant tensions has been over race. This is not unusual, given the racial history of the United States. But this tension is particularly dangerous, for unless it is confronted, we cannot build the 99%. The key obstacle to building the 99% is left colorblindness, and the key to overcoming it is to put the struggles of communities of color at the center of this movement. It is the difference between a free world and the continued dominance of the 1%.
Left colorblindess is the enemy
Left colorblindness is the belief that race is a “divisive” issue among the 99%, so we should instead focus on problems that “everyone” shares. According to this argument, the movement is for everyone, and people of color should join it rather than attack it.
Left colorblindness claims to be inclusive, but it is actually just another way to keep whites’ interests at the forefront. It tells people of color to join “our” struggle (who makes up this “our,” anyway?) but warns them not to bring their “special” concerns into it. It enables white people to decide which issues are for the 99% and which ones are “too narrow.” It’s another way for whites to expect and insist on favored treatment, even in a democratic movement.
As long as left colorblindness dominates our movement, there will be no 99%. There will instead be a handful of whites claiming to speak for everyone. When people of color have to enter a movement on white people’s terms rather than their own, that’s not the 99%. That’s white democracy.
The white democracy
Biologically speaking, there’s no such thing as race. As hard as they’ve tried, scientists have never been able to define it. That’s because race is a human creation, not a fact of nature. Like money, it only exists because people accept it as “real.” Races exist because humans invented them.