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Findings from around the Internet.


“they resisted for 70 days and we are still going on for a year and a half.”

May 17, 2016


During the course of the revolution against Assad that began in Syria in 2011, land was liberated to the extent that by 2013 the regime had lost control over some four-fifths of the country. As the state began to disintegrate, communities needed to build alternative structures to keep life functioning in the newly created autonomous zones.

The model which emerged was based on the vision of Syrian anarchist Omar Aziz, who produced a paper in November 2011, in the eighth month of the revolution, advocating the establishment of local councils.

He argued that it is inconsistent for revolutionaries to participate in protests by day and then return to living within the hierarchical and authoritarian structures imposed by the state. Aziz believed that revolutionary activity should permeate all aspects of life and advocated for radical changes to social relationships and organization.

He called for autonomous, non-hierarchical organization and self-governance, based on principles of cooperation, solidarity and mutual aid. He envisaged the councils as being horizontally organized grassroots forums through which people could work together to achieve three primary goals: to manage their lives independently of the state; collaborate collectively; and initiate a social revolution, locally, regionally and nationally.

Together with comrades, Aziz helped establish the first local council in Zabadani, followed by others in the Syrian cities of Barzeh, Daraya and Douma.

Tragically, Aziz was arrested in November 2012 by Assad regime intelligence agents and held in the infamous Adra prison where he died three months later. Shortly before his death he declared, “We are no less than the Paris Commune workers—they resisted for 70 days and we are still going on for a year and a half.”

Hundreds of local councils have spread throughout Syria, bringing power down to the community level. These are civil administrative structures, and most have selected their members through democratic elections or popular consensus—something unheard of under Assad totalitarianism. Some hold elections every 3-6 months to recall representatives who are not performing well and decisions on issues are taken by majority vote.

They comprise revolutionary activists, professionals and representatives of large families or tribes. In most cases, they retain their independence from political and military factions, and in mixed communities such as in Yabroud, Selemmiyeh and Manbij, local councils included representatives of different ethnic and religious groups.

In the absence of the state, it’s the local councils which continue to provide water, education and healthcare to local communities. They’ve set up alternative sources of energy, such as solar power, and grow food to fight off starvation in communities under siege.

Read more | “Challenging the Nation State in Syria” | Leila Al Shami | Fifth Estate


“prison is the glue that holds this whole crooked house of cards together”

May 9, 2016


Racism is different in prison. There are at least three kinds of racism in the US. First is the kind most of us are familiar with on the outside: color blind people who would never use the N-word and who might even thoroughly examine their prejudices and micro-aggressions against others, but would never put their body or their time on the line to have the back of someone who’s getting beaten or killed. The second kind is the overt nazis, the tattooed aryan gang members who have bizarre and reprehensible ideas about who is responsible for their class position and personal hardships. Prison is full of these folks, but I have heard many stories of them jumping in when a guard is kicking the shit out of a black guy, or starving them in a torture cell. Under certain circumstances, they are ironically, better allies than the most conscientious of liberals. The third kind of racism is the systemic racism that continues these institutions of white supremacy that we have inherited from our history of slavery and genocide. Prisoners of color often seem to be able to understand how to leverage an uncomfortable cooperation with the second kind of racism to take on the third, and we try to join them in that.

Coordination across racialized gang lines has been a feature of most recent major prisoner’s movements. It was in the list of demands coming out of Georgia, the Agreement to End Hostilities from gang-identified leaders in the California hunger strikes, and in the background of other activities. It isn’t accurate to use broad brush words like solidarity, or unity to describe these things, though in some instances, prisoners do use that language, like in the 1993 Lucasville Uprising where prisoners spray painted “convict unity”, “black and white together” and even “convict race” on the walls of the occupied cell block. Strategic coordination against common enemies seems more likely. There have also been prisoners who reject that strategy and condemn outside supporters who adopt it. But IWOC hasn’t had a terrible lot of conflict about this, as of yet.

Read more | “Organizing the Prisoner Class: An Interview with IWOC” | Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee | It’s Going Down


“Utopian demands are for some the last and only hope.”

May 3, 2016

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Alice Walker told me that the right to be a self-builder and a space-maker, to create spaces outside of the colonial gaze from which to view myself and others like me, is a Utopian demand that I must live out through my art/perform thoroughly, in a way that has blood and bone-marrow. I am not the first person to feel this way, the current only one, and I will not be the last. I look up to the work of artists like Adrian Piper, Lorraine O’Grady, Lorna Simpson, Kara Walker, Ebony G. Patterson, Hannah Black, Sondra Perry, and of many others.

I feel that we are entering an age where many Utopian demands should and will be met (in and outside of the field of art) soon or demanded with such vigor that the plates of certain foundations may shift. The future will be different from the present, because for some the present reality is simply too brutal and too overwhelming to be accepted/endured. This is a time where Utopian demands are for some the last and only hope. My art is for these people and the communities of other artists who are also making for us.

Read more | PennMFA 2016 Thesis Statement | E. Jane


“Free the land!”

April 27, 2016


Cooperatives have a long history in black American life. There were co-ops for sharecroppers seeking better markets for their produce, co-ops for townspeople who wanted better prices for basic commodities, and cooperative communes that tried to create a new world apart from white supremacy.

Twenty years ago, Jessica Gordon Nembhard, a political economist at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, began to notice a hidden economy at work in African American life. Again and again, people were organizing themselves in creative forms of cooperative enterprise, democratically owned and managed by those who took part. Starting with the co-ops listed in W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1907 book Economic Cooperation Among Negro Americans, she began reconstructing a history, eventually published in her 2014 book Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice, that, before, had only been told in bits and pieces, passed down through families but rarely seen as significant. There were co-ops for sharecroppers seeking better markets for their produce, co-ops for townspeople who wanted better prices for basic commodities, and cooperative communes that tried to create a new world apart from white supremacy. Where white banks wouldn’t lend money, credit unions arose. These efforts faced sabotage and repression. But they were always around. “There’s really no time in US history when African Americans were not doing cooperative projects,” Nembhard told me.

Read more | “The Revolutionary Life and Strange Death of a Radical Black Mayor” | Nathan Schneider | VICE magazine


“At its white heart trans is a regime of gender legibility”

April 20, 2016


Internal and external to the digital trans community, there exist two general tendencies for defining trans, both of which reify different performances of legibility: a medicalization orientation and an identitarian orientation. Both paradigms agree that the psychological pathologization of trans is harmful to our community. Briefly: the removal of homosexuality from the DSM co-occured with the introduction of gender dysphoria to its pages. By presenting dysphoria as purely psychological, the DSM entry allows for the argument that trans people don’t need any more medical access than therapy. Thus, in spite of the split among the trans community, both paradigms agree on two things: that trans people, however defined, require medical access, and that trans is not a psychological disorder.

What is it, then? For the medicalization group, trans is a neurological condition. This group privileges medical evidence about brain structure above all else. Because there is no medical evidence of nonbinary brains, medicalizationists may often consider nonbinary, genderfluid, and genderqueer trans people, as well as trans people who don’t experience dysphoria, “not really trans.” The identitarians, on the other hand, see trans as an inherently political position with respect to categories of difference within capitalism, and privileges personal accounts about oppression above all else. The argument is that trans as political identity challenges capitalism’s regime of binary gender assignment, its relegation of reproductive labor to the unwaged “feminine” sphere. Instead, as we’ve known since John Money’s controversial work and his creation of the term “gender identity,” there are more than two sexes, potentially infinite actual genders, and a multitude of invasive cross-cultural procedures for making people fit capitalism’s two “genders.”

As a Dominican nonbinary trans person of color not currently interested in transitioning, I don’t see any particular advantage to either position. Medicalizationists have no room for me, since, as Toby Beauchamp puts it, medical “surveillance focuses first on individuals’ legibility as transgender, and then, following medical interventions, on their ability to conceal any trans status or gender deviance.” (Beauchamp 2009: 357). On the other hand, identitarians overdetermine my life circumstances, particularly my gender, as inherently political. Further, the politicization of dysphoria, “coming-out” narratives and queer-nationalist oppression olympics draw their pathological power from the subsumption of trans of color narratives: just as white “Men’s Rights activists” leech off statistics about men of color to give import to their cause, the mainstream, whitewashed image of the suffering trans person gains much of its traction from sociological statistics about trans of color circumstances. However, from the vantage point of my dysphoria, I do find myself more drawn to the identitarian position. Medicalizationists are sometimes called “truscum” for advocating that you need dysphoria to be trans. Conversely, the term “transtrender” often denotes someone who identifies as trans and does not (ever or often) experience dysphoria.

An identitarian understanding of trans is more agnostic and fluid about dysphoria, and I’m drawn to this because I don’t think hatred, disgust, fear, and other negative feelings about one’s genitalia and gender role are trans-specific. Neither do I think that all trans people “should” feel these feelings and others characteristic of dysphoria. It would be bad science to argue that whatever neurological conditions result in trans also deterministically result in dysphoric feelings. However, I also find the identitarian focus on anticapitalist, “binary-smashing” performativity to be a metaphysical limit on what trans can be, as though our value as living people is entirely reducible to the metaphorical value of our circumstances in the struggle against capitalism. As such, both sides of the ideological divide are regimes of legibility originating in race, whether it’s the reification of medical evidence and trans-exclusivity of dysphoria of one faction, or the emphasis on performativity, “identity-exploration,” and “coming-out” stories of the other faction.

Read more | “Transtrender: a meditation on gender as a racial construct” | Manuel Arturo Abreu | NewHive Blog