Monday, September 9, 2013

Lone Screw-up?

The resolution on a blog isn't always the best. So let me explain just exactly what it is you are looking at. This is misogyny making money. A small decal printing and advertising company in Waco, Texas thought it should shake things up with the realistic quality their product conveys. They say they don't condone what they're product portrays, but that begs the question--what was it they were trying to convey in the first place with the image? It isn't exactly clipart, no this was an image created by a person, a designer, someone who took time, effort and energy, put their talents to work making-- misogyny.

Scrolling through trending articles late last night I catch a headline I can't resist reading, Company in Texas Fails Hard with Tailgate Decal of Bound Woman, my verbal response--aloud, to myself, "Texas you go to hell." Scroll, Share. The next morning I check my Facebook updates and find a few comments on the shared article from Jezebel. One from a woman I've respected and admired since the moment I was introduced. She pointed out that she was born and raised in Texas, and involved in the Fetish community and that while what the one company did was stupid, I shouldn't blame the whole state of Texas for this one lone screw-up.

Being Texan myself, I feel it is my right to tell my home state exactly where to get off.

Because the problem is, it isn't just this one company, or that one asshole- this disgusting decal is indicative of a system and society that does not value women's lives and further more sees female identifying people as weaker, controllable, and deserving of violence. And unfortunately my home state has made an infamous name for itself driving home the sexism of this society.

Just this last May, the NRA held its convention in Houston, Texas. Do we all remember the controversy over what happened there? This was being sold through a vendor's brochure:

This shooting target's name is "The Ex-Girlfriend." The more you shoot at her, the more she bleeds. Attendees at the convention came to the company's defense saying it was a "gag" and obviously just a zombie in need of killing. So tell me then, is knowing that every day at least three women are killed by a domestic partner in the U.S. alone, a funny gag to you too? Because conditioning violence against women has consequences- namely increased violence against women, and normalizing behavior to the point of it becoming a "gag" to a desensitized audience is as good as opening hunting season on the women who step out of line in these men's lives. Let me make it perfectly clear, I still do not lay the blame, in its entirety, at the feet of this second stupid misogynistic company. 

Back in June we learned of the killing of Lenora Evie Frago, by her client Ezekiel Gilbert. Gilbert was charged with murder, but at trial he advanced a defense based on a Texas law that allows people to “use deadly force to recover property during a nighttime theft.” Frago was an escort who Gilbert met through an ad on Craigslist. Gilbert said he thought sexual intercourse was included in Frago’s $150 fee. Frago tried to leave after taking the money and without having sex with Gilbert. Instead of letting her go, Gilbert shot and paralyzed Frago to get his $150 back. Frago later died of her injuries. Because Frago was just a “Craigslist escort,” the jury decided that her life just wasn’t worth $150 and Gilbert received an acquittal. 

We live in a society that never prioritizes women's lives, especially their healthcare in practice, that never allows women bodily autonomy or agency, and that consistently punishes women who report their abusers, or assaults. We live in a society that polices our bodies as soon as we step outside of our prescribed gender roles, and threatens us with violence, sometimes even silencing us forever. But more specifically I grew up and spent most of my adult life in a state that has a reputation of doing all of this. And to concretize my point, I submit my home state, which had been trying (now successfully) to take away my access to reproductive healthcare and abortion services.

This draconian legislation that passed in Texas, HB2/SB5, as a writer for Socialist Worker put it,

"not only bans abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but also requires clinics and doctors providing abortions to meet a range of unnecessary standards. These standards, including requiring clinics that provide abortions to become ambulatory surgical centers, will force all but five abortion-providing clinics to close. Because the five remaining clinics are located in the eastern third of the state, women from West Texas will have to travel up to 600 miles to have access to abortions." In reality, this anti-abortion bill is intended to continue rolling back the historic gains of the women's movement, including women's fundamental right to control their own bodies and lives.

The overwhelming majority of the representatives of the State of Texas, those elected based on gerry-mandering and crooked county deals, or just plain old bigoted politics, sealed the fate of 42 out of the 47 women's healthcare clinics with their votes. These are the bastards that run my home state. It's not like they're met with no resistance, it's there. It's strong and brave and takes many many shapes and I am so proud to know most of the people making it really really hard for those bastards. But the fact remains, I could pick just about any issue, anything at all, and Texas is the leading asshole.

I could start all the way back in 1836, with that whole pesky we should still be considered Mexican territory. That little thing. Our Independence now adding insult to injury with a highly militarized wall of death separating the Mexico border from the Lone Star State- which is patrolled using tax payer's dollars, and comes with automatic machine guns and military purchased helicopters, also purchased using tax dollars. That's okay though because those greedy public school teachers across the state would have gotten that money and then where would we be?

Well, we'd probably be learning about the dangers of natural gas drilling, while sitting in our fully funded school libraries, so that we'd know to pressure our local officials not to sign pro-fracking or pro-drilling measures that destroy, and degrade our soil, water and air. Or maybe if the schools and community based programs got more money we'd see less crime, have more invested in our youth and see fewer prisons pop-up as warehouses for a surplus population that this state and country as a whole don't give a shit about. Oh, unless it is about the annual prison rodeo! Texas does like a good rodeo. Or how about when our state contracts out prisoners for slave labor on nearby ranches? They do seem to care then. State sponsored wage-theft is really the only way Texas knows to show its love for us. Texas also displays its care and concern by killing in its citizens name's.

Texas cares so much that it even murders innocent people because they are poor, or Black, or have the IQ of a child, or even because they cursed during their incarceration and march to the death chamber. Because the way this state and its agents, namely Gov. Rick Perry put it, "I've never struggled with that at all [the implementation of the death penalty]. The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which -- when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that's required. But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you're involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed."

Tell that to the fighting soul that actually won his freedom with the help of committed activists on the ground struggling with him and against this murdering state--Anthony Graves. Or tell that to Kenny Foster who's sentence was commuted because as it turns out that whole "very clear process" that the state uses to convict people like Anthony and Kenny is really fucking smudged.

To see that state abstractly, and not see it as its agents, policies, and practices is to ignore the Texas that wrongs, maims, brutalizes, and murders, that so many people have come to know.

Texas is like this because beautiful people like my friend aren't in power, if they were people would have an idea of what healthy kinky consensual sex is! Hell, we might have comprehensive sex education in school! Look out! If beautiful people like my friend were in charge I bet we'd have better health care, sex workers might have unions, and our clinics would still be open. If beautiful people like my friend were calling the shots we'd have vibrant happy relationships built on trust and compassion with one another, where the courage to ask and the confidence to enthusiastically consent are know behaviors by all.

I'm getting carried away, but that's because I believe that we, not Rick Perry and those bigoted hordes, are the ones with good ideas fostered by need and knowledge. We are the ones that have no vested interest in sexism, misogyny or violence. We are the ones with solutions to the myriad of issues raised here, because when confronted by sexist ad, or blatant instance of rape culture, one right after the other, it stops feeling like a coincidence and more like symptoms of a sick system that profits from the abuses it perpetrates. We need to see all of these abuses and injustices as connected, not fractured isolated incidents propagated by assholes, although they are assholes, they're assholes living in a larger framework that often rewards how oppressive they can be, and at times celebrates it openly. There's a system in place that puts the few above the many, and it's about damn time we turned that on its head.

It was Texas people that raised me, and who imbued within me a sense of self-worth and grit that has made me mad as hell at what that state is doing to my brothers, sisters, and everyone in between back home. With every horror-policy a precedent is set that other states latch onto and run with, and no amount of breakfast tacos, barton springs, or burlesque can cover up just how dirty that state is. As my Nanny says, "Its soul needs a washin'," and I think we've got to be the ones fed-up enough to do it.

Friday, December 28, 2012

No Justice! No Peace!

Report from the December 19th Press Conference called by the Illinois Campaign to End the New Jim Crow.

Today members of the Illinois Campaign to End the New Jim Crow were joined by the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression, parents of those wrongfully convicted, police torture survivors, family members who have lost loved ones to police murder, and concerned community members and activists at their press conference early this afternoon in front of the mayor’s office at City Hall. The group’s message focused on demanding accountability from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez around their recent atrocious statements concerning wrongful convictions and denying the Chicago Police Department’s Code of Silence.

Marco Roc, a graduate student and professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who also organizes with the Illinois Campaign to End the New Jim Crow (ILCENJC), opened the press conference indicting the Mayor and State’s Attorney for their continued support of the Chicago Police Department’s Code of Silence, and active denial of the mounting problem of wrongful convictions. Roc had this to say,

“We are here to show that there’s a strong contingent of people that oppose the actions of Anita Alvarez and Rahm Emanuel. Further violence and silence of the CPD will not be tolerated. We demand that these public officials be held accountable for their actions, and we are inviting all concerned residents of all Chicago communities to stand up and fight against the racism, sexism, and overall violence of the Chicago Police Department. Let us stand up together and empower our communities. All power to the people!”

Ted Pearson, activist organizer with the Chicago Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression (CAARPR), enumerated a list of demands including the resignation of Alvarez, and the immediate removal of all CPD officers who have any allegations or records of misconduct and abuse from active duty street patrol- this list was delivered to a mayoral representative along with a demand for a sit-down meeting with the mayor to include family members who have lost loved ones at the hands of CPD officers, the organizers were denied entrance to the mayor’s office to directly present their demands.

Emmett Farmer, father of Flint Farmer who was killed by Chicago Police in June of 2011, spoke about the difficulty of losing a loved one so wrongfully at the hands of the police and shamed Emanuel for remaining silent, and supporting the police in their quest for more “justifiable” claims of murder.

Mark Clements, a Jon Burge torture survivor and member of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, urged people to become involved at the grassroots level and hold crooked politicians, like Emanuel and Alvarez’s feet to the fire. Citing his own experiences with forced tortured confession and subsequent wrongful conviction, Clements remarked that Alvarez’s statements made to 60 Minutes were obscene, and showed how committed she was to imprisoning Black men, regardless of physical or DNA evidence of an alleged crime.

Barbara Lyons, an activist working on Gregory Koger’s case, also spoke out about wrongful convictions. She cited that evidence that exposed the lies of State witnesses was barred from the jury along with video evidence shown in open court several times being barred from appellate court shows clearly how this legal system exists to incarcerate those who speak out against it. Koger, a well-known peace activist and radical, has done nothing to violate the terms of his bail for the past three years and still may face more time in jail.

Annabelle Perez, mother of Jaime Hauad, spoke on behalf of parents supporting the Unfair Juvenile Sentencing legislation, explaining that the trend in harsh sentencing steals children and young adults away from where they rightfully belong, with their families and communities.

Jesse Carver, a hospital worker at Rush University Medical Center, was the final speaker for the press conference. He recounted his experience with what he called, “walking while Black.” He was stopped by UIC police while walking to work one day; he was questioned, searched, his identification was confiscated and he was detained and arrested based on the accusation of a white woman from the UIC campus stating a Black man committed some offense and was near her building, and he looked like the accused. Carver was held for two days, without a lineup, or rights read to him, or an allowance to contact the hospital where he worked to explain why he was absent. In Carver’s retelling of this story it was clear he wasn’t saying anything unnatural to the status quo- this is the everyday lived experience of Black and Brown people in the city of Chicago.

Between speakers supporters chanted, “Racist Police have got to go! We must stop the New Jim Crow!” as well as,  “Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Anita and Rahm have got to go!” “Accountability, not Impunity!” and finally “No Justice! No Peace! No Racist Police!” The energy of the crowd was palpable, these were people who were fed up with racist business as usual in Chicago and who have said “enough is enough,” and are calling on the whole of Chicago to fight back against police terror, demand Alvarez resign, and see killer cops off the streets.

One attendee, John Snowden had this to say reflecting on the stories he heard during the press conference, “It's so important to hear these experiences.  They give agency to the victims sharing their stories, taking back the humanity the cops stole from them.  They remind us why we fight, who we fight, and who we fight for. “

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Labor Fought Back in Lansing

The following is a transcription of my notes about our skirmishes with the police at the Save Michigan Anti-Right to Work rallies in Lansing. 

Matthew, Ashley and I arrived at the capital building around one o'clock in the afternoon, upon arrival we noticed a swelling of people and a lot commotion happening around the George W. Romney State Building. Around one hundred workers and demonstrators had begun gathering in the open-air foyer of the building outside of the entrances in what was a supportive action for the dozen or so union workers sitting-in and blocking the entrances to the building where Gov. Snyder has an office.

There was a heavy presence of union organizers, students and workers chanting, and singing labor songs. Police began filing in around the perimeters, and a line splitting down the center of our crowd. An electrical worker in the IBEW shouted out, “They got a hard hat! They’re beating a hard hat!” And those of us tall enough to see could see the police wrestling a worker in a hard hat to the ground. Another voice shouted out, “Everyone sit down!” The majority of the crowd began sitting-in and chanted, “Sit!” and “Shame!” at the police and continued shouting at the police to stop interfering with our right to assemble.

The police immediately escalated the situation coming with more force into the crowd- stepping on people (Matthew’s thigh was stomped on by a Michigan State Police officer, who wasn’t wearing a name badge or badge number), and pushing people over. It was clear though that they didn’t have specific orders, and also didn’t know how to handle to crowd because they just stood there in the midst of the crowd for a long while, immobile, without a working plan for dispersal.

Finally the crowd stood back up, began more chants, “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?” and the police began picking us off one by one and escorting us away from the crowd with force. At first it wasn’t clear what was happening- arrests, being detained, just clearing the area etc. Of our group Matthew was grabbed first and the officers pulling him away wouldn’t respond affirming or denying arrest. The crowd shouted back at the police, demanding to know what was happening with those being escorted away.

An older man, a worker with an Occupy Detroit patch on his jacket, sat back down and told the police they would have to drag him away- that he was staying to exercise his right to assemble and protest. They roughly picked him up by his wrists and ankles and dragged him away. Ashley and I were grabbed next shouting over and over, “We are exercising our first amendment rights!” We were pushed out of the foyer and found Matthew, comrades and the other removed protestors there.

Then they brought out the older worker who was carried and in front of our crowd dropped him on his back onto the concrete, Matthew knelt down by him to check and make sure he didn’t hit his head, and a state police officer kneed Matthew in the back, kicking him over, causing him to fall. At this point another rally where we had all been escorted to was forming with chanting and singing- then a woman union carpenter took the bullhorn from an organizer and started shouting, “The Cops are bullies! They’ve always been bullies. They’re traitors!”

It was at this point that we saw the lines of horsed police officers forming, and moving into the street. Several lines of union workers formed, and they literally chased off the horsed officers causing them to retreat. People looking on chanted, “Get that animal off that horse!” The police tried to reform lines and move the horses onto the sidewalk flanking the crowd, but were pushed back again.

A riot line of police then began to form near the street blockade, and they approached those of us milling around in the street with immediate aggression. The police chanted, “Move Back!” were horizontally pumping their batons in our direction. Linked-arm lines of protestors formed in response to this and I was hit in the clavicle and breasts (by an officer not wearing a name or badge number), Ashley hit in the cheek and neck repeatedly (by an officer named Milner), Matthew kicked and chest checked, and Trish hit in the breast-bone. 

We buttressed ourselves and held the street for around 10-15min before the police converged on a protestor, and police from the capital started filing in elongating the riot line. By this point we had the police surrounded on all sides- the crowd had filled in behind the riot line in the absence of the mounted police. People were chanting a range of mixed consciousness type messages at the police, “They’re gonna come for you next, and we won’t be here to back you up!” “Pigs!” “Cowards!” “Class Traitors!” “You should be on our side!” “Our kids go to the same schools!” “Why are you protecting Snyder?” and even a “Fuck off, you boss bitches!” As the police line began to move it side-stepped in a single file retreat pushing along with them another man they had arrested, and conceded the street to the demonstrators. There was a final chant of “Whose streets? Our streets!” before people began breaking off and milling around giving fist pumps and high-fives for standing their ground.

Photo credit: Neil Blake

Also, if you were wondering where the photo of Ashley being hit in the face with a riot baton went, the "owner" of that photograph called me posting it (and also notedly attributing it to him) illegal. So I removed it to stop a fuss. Something that should be said though to this guy: you don't own a moment in history. You also don't own an image of a women fighting for what she believes in. You do not own art. If you continue treating "your" captured images that way, you won't get far with the people you're documenting. 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Grand Jury Resisters

The following is the original collaborative piece written for Socialist Worker with co-author Benjamin Silverman. The final piece can be found here, with further contributions by Johnny Mao, under the title An anti-anarchist witch-hunt.

“I do not look forward to what inevitably awaits me today, but I accept it ... My convictions are unwavering and will not be shaken by their harassment. Today is October 10th, 2012, and I’m ready to go to prison.” Thus said 24-year old Leah-Lynn Plante, the third anarchist in the Pacific Northwest, after Matthew Kyle Duran and Katherine “KteeO” Olejnik, to be sent to jail for refusing to testify in front of a federal grand jury. She faces as much as 18 months in prison.

Plante and the others were victims of a series of raids on July 25th conducted by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force--supposedly in response to instances of vandalism during this year’s Seattle May Day protests. The warrant granted to the task force allowed them to raid the homes of activists in three cities. The FBI was then able to make residents hand over any “anti-government or anarchist literature” along with flags, black clothing, cell phones, hard-drives and address books. “As if they had taken pointers from Orwell’s 1984, they took books, artwork and other various literature as ‘evidence’ as well as many other personal belongings even though they seemed to know that nobody there was even in Seattle on May Day,” said Plante. This is a clear case of political leanings, instead of any substantive action, being used as proof of criminality. As Plante said earlier last week, “They are trying to investigate anarchists and persecute them for their beliefs. This is a fishing expedition. This is a witch hunt.”

The activists were brought before a federal grand jury where they were asked questions in regards to their political opinions and the political circles and individuals they associate with. The significance of grand juries is that when you enter one you lose your 1st and 5th amendment rights to remain silent. Prosecutors can ask you any question, some such infamous questions being, “Have you, or anyone you know, ever been a member of the Communist Party?” and refusal to answer will land you in contempt of court. This is why grand juries have the power to intimidate and harass activists, and simultaneously force them to disclose their political activity and snitch on their comrades.

This is not the first time the government has persecuted radicals. With door-busting tactics that span generations, the U.S. government has made a habit of black bagging “supposed threats” to national security. It appears we haven’t come far since the Palmer Raids of 1919 and 1920. A. Mitchell Palmer was appointed by Woodrow Wilson in 1919 as Attorney General and charged with investigating left-wing organizations and communists/anarchists. Palmer quickly recruited Hoover as a special assistant- and together they used the Espionage Act of 1917 and Sedition Act of 1918 in order to justify launching a witch-hunt against anti-capitalists.

The methods of targeting radicals have seen numerous political manifestations for example targeting individuals and groups in not only the “Red Scare” periods but during the  FBI's COINTELPRO program from the 1950s to 1970s; and the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001. The Patriot Act contains provisions criminalizing "material support" for "terrorism;" convenient language that is being used to target activists.

With recent raids occurring with frequency in specifically the Muslim American and anti-war activist communities. In late September of 2010, the FBI raided eight homes and offices of antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis. The granted search warrants indicate FBI agents were looking for connections between antiwar activists and groups in Colombia and the Middle East. The warrants authorized agents to seize items such as electronics, videos, photographs, address books and mail. Despite a Justice Department probe finding that the FBI improperly monitored activist groups and individuals from 2001 to 2006 these raids continued. Eight people were issued subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago.

The American Civil Liberties Union has stated, “In the wake of 9/11, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security initiated sweeping programs that amount to racial profiling on a federal scale — ranging from suspicionless searches and arbitrary detentions of Arabs and Muslim Americans to counterterrorism financing and material support laws that unfairly target Muslim organizations and charities. No area of American Muslim civil society has been left untouched by discriminatory and illegitimate government action.” This sort of racist targeting is also felt within the activist community.

When Muslim Americans speak out about Islamophobia and the US’s role in political repression they face a doubly motivated persecution based on their ethnicity and politics. The case of Tarek Mehanna is such as case. For several years Tarek has been victim to FBI surveillance and harassment. He was targeted for being a politically conscious, outspoken Muslim leader. The FBI approached Tarek to become an informant. When Tarek refused to inform against his community, the FBI continued to harass him with threats of criminal charges if he would not comply. After his 2009 arrest, Tarek was denied bail twice and spent over 2 years imprisoned at the Plymouth County Correctional Facility in 23-hour solitary confinement awaiting trial. Tarek’s trial began on October 27th, 2011 and lasted only 2 months. He was convicted on all 7 counts on December 20th, 2011.
This is not a system designed to deal out ‘justice’ of any sort. This is a system designed to only control and terrorize a population, to keep dissenters in line and paranoid.

The three defendants, Plante, Duran and Olejnik, have done nothing wrong. They were subpoenaed in the hopes that they would be intimidated into giving information on others, and in protest of this injustice, they have refused to cooperate with the grand jury. As Plante said after her second appearance and refusal to answer questions before the federal grand jury, “No, I will not answer their questions. I believe that these hearings are politically motivated. The government wants to use them to collect information that it can use in a campaign of repression. I refuse to have any part of it, I will never answer their questions, I will never speak.”

Understanding that this is a witch-hunt, and what cooperating with it would mean for other activists is what motivated Katherine “KteeO” Olejnik to make her statement upon entering prison in late September, “For me choosing to resist a grand jury is about humanity – I cannot and will not say something that could greatly harm a person’s life, and providing information that could lead to long term incarceration would be doing that. For me choosing to resist a grand jury is about freedom of speech and association – I cannot and will not be a party to a McCarthyist policy that is asking individuals to condemn each other based on political beliefs.” For their stand against this security state, the three were found in contempt of court and sentenced to over 18 months in prison. Matthew Kyle Duran has spent some of which in solitary confinement but was recently released into the general population.

The mainstream media has covered the case of Pussy Riot in their stand against censorship and repression in Putin’s Russia, as they should have. But so far the same media has refused to adequately cover the same sort of bravery occurring right here in the Pacific Northwest. The three grand jury resistors, and all other political prisoners caught in America’s criminal injustice system, are our Pussy Rioters, our heros. They have been resilient before police repression, stood by their principals and have refused to collaborate in any way with this witch-hunt. Their defiance, courage and the example they give are worthy of our admiration.

In Matthew Kyle Duran’s statement, before beginning his prison sentence in early September he said, “Do not stop the struggle, keep organizing and fighting or they will have won. When the Haymarket massacre took place all those years ago and the martyrs were hung for their desire for a better life, the State attempted to crush all radicals. Clearly, this did not work then and it won’t work now. If this was their desire, they have failed in every aspect of it as I have not seen anything other than flagrant disregard for them across the globe.”

We encourage all to write letters of support to Leah, Matthew and Katherine in prison to show them solidarity, that they are not forgotten and lend them strength during these difficult times.

Leah-Lynn Plante #42611-086
FDC SeaTac
PO Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198

Katherine Olejnik #42592-086
FDC SeaTac,
P.O. Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198

Matthew Kyle Duran #42565-086
FDC SeaTac,
P.O. Box 13900
Seattle, WA 98198

You can donate to the grand jury resistors legal fund at:

Monday, August 6, 2012

Batman: What has risen?

No art can escape the epoch in which it was created, and the best art is that which attempts to undermine the social mores of the period that produced it. The Dark Knight Rises seems destined to go down in history as the first film of the post-Occupy world. Each frame of the 164 minute blockbuster burns with anxieties of social crisis and class-conflict that cannot help but evoke allusions to the Arab Spring, the square occupations that spread across Europe and most poignantly the Occupy movement that gripped public imagination in the United States last fall (This is not the intention of the film maker. The Dark Knight Rises was written before Occupy set up camp in Zucotti Park and was filmed deliberately away from the park, but this is nevertheless the lens through which the film is viewed).  Doubly confounded by its social content and dual figure archetype Bruce Wayne/Batman, however, The Dark Knight Rises is not only unable rise above its contemporary milieu but it is ultimately bound to reinforce the status-quo rather than contest it.  

To continue reading this article, visit Red Wedge Magazine

Monday, June 4, 2012

The Origin of the Family, Private Property,& Zombies

You know you live in a messed up world when your first thoughts about all of this zombie business are:
1. Is this a ploy to get me to buy more bottled water?
2. I bet the government is experimenting on
   poor people again.
3. I f ’ing knew this was going to happen.

Recently two gruesome incidents have sparked a tongue-in-cheek debate about the outbreak of a zombie apocalypse.  In Miami, Florida, Rudy Eugene was shot and killed by a police officer while chewing the face of 65-year-old Ronald Puppo, a homeless man who survived the attack, although he sustained severe injuries. According to Miami Police, Eugene is suspected to have been under the influence of bath salts, a strong hallucinogenic when used as a narcotic.

In Hackensack, New Jersey, 43-year-old Wayne Carter allegedly disemboweled himself in front of police and then cut, ate, and threw pieces of his flesh and entrails at the officers. The police were responding to a call from a witness saying Carter had threatened to harm himself. Carter, who has a history of mental illness was subdued and hospitalized.

Still other stories have been fueling the zombie hysteria. A mysterious disease has been affecting children in Northern Uganda since the 1960s. Dubbed the Nodding Disease, some 3,000 children are suffering under a strange affliction that leaves them ‘zombified,’ unresponsive and prone to extreme acts of violence such as arson. Treatment of the Nodding Disease is non-existent. Desperate parents are binding their children by their hands and feet in an effort to keep them under control.  According to the World Health Organization, specialists are baffled as to what causes the sickness, though some experts speculate a microscopic worm carried by the Tutsi fly causes the disease.

More thoughtful commentators have pointed out that these incidents are not connected to a zombie out break at all, but are endemic examples of deep seated sociological problems where people turn to drugs as a means of escapism, access to mental health is a social privilege, and the imperialist rape of the African continent has left millions without access to sanitation and clean water. But in a larger sense, these events are indicative of a zombie outbreak indeed. They are the characteristics of a vampyric economic system, refusing to die, remaining undead to plague the barely living. This is capitalism in no uncertain terms.

The relationship between zombies and capitalism is not new. The most formidable films of the zombie-horror genre have exhibited strong allegories to capitalism and social crises. Director George Romero filmed three seminal zombie classics Night of the Living Dead (1968), Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Land of the Dead (2005) that are expositions on racism, consumerism and classism respectively.  28 Days Later (2002), a more contemporary rendition of the zombie meme by director Danny Boyle, profiled militarism, pharmaceutical giants run amuck, and genetic modification. Still another, Dead Snow (2009), a cult hit by Norwegian director Tommy Wirkola featured Nazi zombies rising from under the snow of Scandinavia in a clear nod to the disquieted ghosts of fascism in Europe. 

Perhaps the most relevant theme was driven home in the 2004 film Shaun of the Dead in which the protagonist spends the first hours of the zombie apocalypse stumbling through his daily routine, oblivious to the catastrophe around him until it confronts him directly. The film begs the question whether the audience is aware of its own social setting, and what it may take for them to react to it.

So who then are the real undead? Those gnawing away at the productive living in new and terrifying ways. The ruling class of the world spreads greed, alienation, and terror much like a disease; infecting the world with their profit wars, and draining the planet of its vitals. If pop culture teaches us anything- it’s how to deal with a zombie.

The recent zombie incidents raise the issue of life imitating art, but also drive home the absurdity of the system we live under. The tragic case of Rudy Eugene not only underscores the insanity of abusing bath salts as an escapism, but also the unqualified failure of the drug war that proffers bath salts as a easily obtainable alternative to illegal narcotics. Eugene, who according to those who knew him was mild mannered, could have been subdued using non-deadly force to interrupt his attack, but instead he was shot in the head, another victim of lethal police force.

Wayne Carter is a victim of a social safety net left threadbare by decades of neoliberalism in the United States. Carter, clearly suffering from mental illness, remained unnoticed until his act of desperation brought him to the headlines. Shouting at police officers “I’m going to die today… I’m sorry but I’m going to heaven.” Carter stabbed himself as many as forty times during a two-hour standoff before a SWAT team subdued him. In Carter’s case, violent self-harm is only the mirrored response to the systematic and equally violent treatment that the poor and working class are subjected to daily by an economic system prone to crisis.

Likewise in Uganda, where the bloodied rags around the hands of children reflect the bloodied flags around those who kill for profit, an inhuman system has plundered a continent and left swaths of humanity without healthcare, jobs, basic resources or amenities.

The reality is that despite the hype behind these events, they are not unique. They are the alarm bells that sound daily in a world lashed by wars and austerity. A world crying out for an alternative, where the needs of all are met, and the abilities of all are fulfilled.

Aimless wandering children, adults inflicting harm on themselves and others without regard- personifying the system that created them. The hands of the dispossessed, reaching out and clawing for meaning in world that wasn’t built with them in mind. Mindless, rag-filled, starved, infected, untreatable, without diagnosis, madness. These themes might make good fodder for this year’s Halloween blockbuster, but are in fact the hallmarks of the capitalist system.
Capitalism breeds zombies.

Welcome to the Apocalypse.