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"BroadSnark" - 5 new articles

  1. What Do You Mean By Leader? Why Don’t You Just Say That Then?
  2. That Time the State Got a Little Date Rapey
  3. Things You Might Have Missed
  4. Why I Am Ambivalent About the Education Debt Jubilee
  5. Book Review – Philadelphia Fire
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What Do You Mean By Leader? Why Don’t You Just Say That Then?

There Can Be Only One - Image from Highlander movieHow is it that so many people are stuck in The Highlander method of getting things done?

Let’s just strike the word leader from our vocabulary. No more Oprah comments about leaderlessness in social movements. No more hand-wringing about the lack of replacements for non-profit leaders. And no more confusing leaderlessness with structurelessness.

Groups need vision, inspiration, decision-making, facilitation, public representation, resource procurement, planning, expertise, conflict management, and accountability mechanisms.

But it does not have to be that, the minute a group gets together, the biggest narcissist takes over. It is possible to find more equitable and long-lasting means of providing those things than picking a “decider.” Lots of people have successfully managed commons, navigated consensus decision-making, and still found ways to mitigate power imbalances. Not easy, but certainly not impossible.

Sadly, my experiences have been that – even in supposedly left nonprofits that explicitly support things like worker cooperatives – there is an automatic default to The Highlander Model. And in the non-professional groups that I have been involved with, people don’t take the time to carefully think through all the various responsibilities usually taken by the “leader” in order to make sure that we don’t end up with either a mess or an informal/hidden power structure.

So lets just get rid of the word leader and focus on what needs to get done and how.

K?

Great. Thanks.

    

That Time the State Got a Little Date Rapey

On Monday, the Guardian posted a piece about how Keith Bristow, director general of the National Crime Agency, thinks that citizens in the UK must give up more of their freedom for safety. Bristow says; however, that consent is important and that “consent is expressed through legislation.”

Back on the home front. New York officials allowed a company to put beacons in hundreds of phone booths around the city. New Yorkers were not told that these tracking/ad devices were being placed all over and had no opportunity to object.

If that isn’t infuriating enough. How about this.

Cops downloaded photos from a woman’s phone and then used them to set up a fake Facebook account without her knowledge. The account was used to communicate with suspected drug dealers that knew her. The pictures included one of her in her bra and underwear. They also included pictures of two small children – her son and niece. The government thinks it was totally entitled to do this, saying:

Defendants admit that Plaintiff did not give express permission for the use of photographs contained on her phone on an undercover Facebook page, but state the Plaintiff implicitly consented by granting access to the information stored in her cell phone and by consenting to the use of that information to aid in an ongoing criminal investigations [sic].

You see, the woman in question had been prosecuted for playing a minor role in some drug dealing (allowing her friends to keep things at her house). She cooperated in exchange for a light sentence. Much like the scum that thinks if you say yes to a date then you are saying yes to everything, the cops did what they wanted.

As I was talking about all this with @bcduggan, I started thinking about that affirmative consent law that they passed in California. And I started thinking about what that Bristow character said about consent. He is right. In the totally non-functioning “representative democracy” that we have, we are told that consent is expressed through legislation. If you want to change something, spend 10 or 20 years trying to get legislation passed.

In the meantime, whatever inconceivable violations people can think of that you have not managed to specifically legislate against will continue. Just don’t think about how, by the time you get that legislation passed, they will find more ways to abuse you. And if there is a power imbalance that puts the consent equation in the abusers favor – say the power of a cop or prosecutor or maybe a little roofie?

Well, she didn’t say no.

    

Things You Might Have Missed

Man removing graffiti. Graffiti of man removing graffiti.What do you do when somebody removes your street art? You take a picture of him and then put him up on the very same wall. So meta. So hilarious.

DC PD will soon be experimenting with body cameras, but are police body cameras really such a good idea?

LAPD killed almost 600 people between 2000 and 2014.

A Texas cop thinks Copwatch and Peaceful Streets are domestic terrorist organizations. He also thinks they are starting a revolution. Let’s hope so.

Thirty two people have lost their jobs at Florida Dept of Corrections for prison deaths, including the guy who had his skin burned off in a shower. But some say the ones truly responsible were promoted while little people were scapegoated.

Don’t get too excited about prison reform or the end of mass incarceration. Evidence for change is slim.

There is a whole dirt bike and ATV culture in DC. It isn’t legal. Police run over riders. Riders run over pedestrians. Like one woman said in that first article, “If the city can build skate parks and traffic lanes for bicyclists, why can’t it find a solution for these riders?” I mean you wouldn’t believe the bike lanes and million dollar dog parks around here.

According to CDC “Between 2006 and 2010, condom use decreased by 4% overall; among teens, the drop was nearly 50%.” Holy shit, kids. I hope to hell this isn’t true for DC also. Our rates of HIV/Aids are epidemic. Like officially epidemic.

Speaking of epidemics. What would you say to 1.4 million cases of ebola by January?

At first I thought that people rifling through your garbage and then fining you for throwing away too many banana peels was going to be the most invasive thing I read about this month. Then I thought, no, it is the kids who have to get fingerprinted and their biometric data collected to get their school lunch. But then I watched this video of cops forcibly taking blood from drivers who refused breathalyzer tests.

Conservative Republican Kentucky town opens public gas station…and loves it.

A long but fascinating report from GRAIN on the rise of supermarkets in Asia and the effect on small farmers and open markets.

Quite happy that I haven’t had to put up with much abuse on the internets. I like my tiny corner and thoughtful commenters. But I have seen what goes on in other spaces though. And it surprises me not at all that trolls are sadists and psychopaths in the rest of their lives too.

Another good piece against the “sharing” businesses in Jacobin.

Hitting kids is a bad idea. Adults on the other hand…. (I’m a little cranky this week.)

In Hong Kong, students are protesting elite colonization of their city.

In Chile, three people who are “accused of being members of an anarchist cell” will be charged in the recent bombing.

Also in Chile, three ex army officials will be charged for Victor Jara’s murder.

 

    

Why I Am Ambivalent About the Education Debt Jubilee

Students at Oxford UniversityJust about every Monday for a little over four years I have been going to the library and meeting D to read (mostly) books about black history. D is a lovely man with a couple of decades on me who didn’t have the opportunity to finish school and who made it to adulthood without knowing how to read. D is not alone. A 2007 report found that 36% of DC adults are functionally illiterate.

Every year the organization I volunteer with has a recognition ceremony. Many learners stand up and tell their stories during the event. The room is filled with people who have been failed completely by our society and, especially, our school system. After all, while more than a third of adults in this town are functionally illiterate, only 60,000 of them do not have a high school diploma. One gentleman in particular I have never been able to forget.

The man was in his fifties or sixties. He stood up and described what it was like to grow up not knowing how to read. He told us how ashamed he was to tell anybody. How he was able to graduate from a DC high school without being able to read. After graduation, not even having the ability to fill out an application, he couldn’t get a straight job. So he sold drugs. Then he did drugs. Then he became addicted to drugs. He ended up in prison. Lost his family, his freedom, and decades of his life. And there was this “hardened criminal” crying as he laid it all out for us.

DC may have some of the lowest literacy rates in the country, but according to the National Adult Literacy Survey, millions of people in the US demonstrate the lowest literacy skill levels. Some of them are immigrants learning a new language. Many have disabilities. Many are from older generations who had even less access to schooling. Some are just poor and ignored. All of their options are limited because of their literacy barriers.

Now, if you know me at all, you know that I do not put much stock in the education certification system. The system is not the answer to poverty. Going to a university is about continuing to be one of the privileged few. Promoting education allows us to ignore race and class and other accidents of birth. It is pretending like we live in a meritocracy and that a meritocracy is a good thing. It is about believing that the uneducated deserve their terrible fate so that some of us can enjoy our good lives guilt free.

They must just suck, right? Can’t read. Can’t eat. Not my problem. Should have been “smarter.” Should have worked harder. (As though we don’t all know lazy asses who have had everything handed to them on a silver platter and tireless sacrificers who have never caught a break.)

I started writing this post when I found out that this week is Adult Education and Family Literacy Week in DC. But shortly after I started, articles started coming out about the education debt jubilee. And I found myself feeling incredibly ambivalent. I’m happy for those people who are free of their education debt. It would be great if millions of students insisted that they no longer be shackled by debt before their life even really begins.

But I cannot get excited about a campaign that focuses on college debt when I spend every week focused on people who will be incredibly lucky if they get a GED and a stable job that pays more than minimum wage. Education debt campaigns are about less than 7% of the world population. As bad as education debt may be, we are not the “wretched of the earth” by any stretch of the imagination.

Astra Taylor and Hannah Appel recently wrote an important article about the scam of for profit colleges. A business that charges people tens of thousands of dollars for a product that is virtually worthless and markets itself to the people who can least afford it is repugnant. Sucking resources from those who can least afford it is how our system works - mortgages, payday loans, legal fines – and we should be taking down the institutions that do it.

But focusing on for profit educational institutions while accepting the stratification that higher education was meant to enforce is not helpful. It is like getting your drawers in a bunch about private prisons, but being fine with the rest of the racialized caste system of social control that relies on mass incarceration. We need to get much more basic than that.

In their article, Taylor and Appel wonder if it is “time to ask whether education alone can really move people up the class ladder.”  With all due respect, that is the wrong question. It is time to ask whether or not there should be a ladder. And the answer is no.

In the end, we all have to ask ourselves some questions. Can there be justice in a society that has ladders? Should we be fighting for affordable higher education or should we be battling against the social hierarchy that considers those with education “higher”? Do we put our energies into fights where the immediate benefits would be felt by the most privileged third or tenth? Or should we focus on those people who are struggling the hardest for mere survival?

I don’t know what all the answers are, but I feel fairly certain that fixing “higher” education is not one of them.

____

A note about literacy: Literacy is hard to measure. What skills you need depend on your community and culture. The literacy survey sets the following framework – “Using printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” The lowest levels of literacy that I refer to above would include people who may be able to do routine tasks (make out a check, sign their name, identify a meeting time on a sheet) and some that don’t even know the alphabet.

 

    

Book Review – Philadelphia Fire

Philadelphia FirePhiladelphia Fire by John Edgar Wideman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book so much. It was ostensibly about a hideous and important piece of history that too few people know about, which is why I wanted to read it. And it has beautiful, poetic (if sometimes unnecessarily pretentious) writing. If I had read certain bits of it as separate short stories or poems, I would have loved those bits. But all together it just doesn’t work. It was all over the place.

There is very little about the actual Move bombing or group in the book. So if you are looking for that you will be disappointed. It is more about the history and social problems in Philadelphia. Which might have been fine. Except that it is written in a very stream of consciousness style, which I despise. The characters are impossible to give a shit about; most of them are barely fleshed out anyway. And the one you spend most time with is an asshole. He is, like the book, incredibly self-absorbed.

Except for a few moments when I was able to get lost in the prose, I spent most of the book thinking that I wish he would get to the point. A point. Any point. Are you throwing up your personal anguish just to do it? Or are you using your personal anguish to understand deeper things about yourself, the people around you, society? Too often it felt like throwing up thought. Like a first draft with potential. Like he said, “Screw it. I’ll let the reader edit.”

And how do you write a book about government murdering people and the society that allows that, but spend more time on the main character’s creepy voyeurism than on the actual people killed?

I get the symbolism. I get that it is up to individuals to do something and that those individuals need to somehow find a way out of their traps and issues. I get that this giant mess of a web was pulling in important bits in unique ways. Sometimes it even kind of worked a little. But isn’t there something more important?

One of the lines in the book is “Better to light one little candle than to sit on one’s ass and write clever, irresponsible, fanciful accounts of what never happened, never will. Lend a hand. Set down your bucket.” And that line comes in a fanciful book that was ruined by cleverness.

View all my reviews

    

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