Resistance Rewritten

The Resistance Rewritten tour has been under attack since its inception simply due to the fact that we are radical feminists. Despite the entire idea of the program and the content of the presentation not having anything to do with gender or feminism, there was a surge by postmodernists, manarchists, and MRA’s to shut us down. This is a very clear example of silencing women, and sadly it is not an isolated example.

We have been physically attacked and intimidated before because of our radical feminist views.  We have been threatened with rape, death, and being beaten.  We did nothing to provoke others except for critique gender as a caste system, and suggest that it be dismantled.

When the venues originally booked became aware of these threats, many sided with those doing the threatening.  Some venues caved in to the pressure of abusers, and other events were rescheduled at other venues. Some of the venues that canceled sent us emails saying that our talk would be “divisive” and that our views “weren’t welcome” in certain spaces, that they had to maintain a “safe space” for the “most targeted, marginalized and brutalized members of society.” This apparently does not include women. Some spaces have feared that hosting radical feminists would “alter the community’s perception” of them, and told us that they wished to “avoid the controversy, showing that this stance is cowardly as well as illogical.  We have seen this over and over with the kneejerk blacklisting that is occuring to radical feminists across the US and Europe. Our questions: who is contributing to the unsafe space? Who are the people promoting hate? And whose speech is dangerous, who is threatening to rape, beat and burn women?

Nobody will be free until the hierarchy of gender is dismantled.
Bend it til it breaks.

photo

Below is the entire text of the Resistance Rewritten presentation:

This quote by Spanish writer and philosopher George Santayana was posted on the wall in my high school history classroom. We’ve probably all heard this one before – “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” So the idea as my history teacher explained it is that learning about history is vitally important because by knowing and understanding past events, we can actively shape the future.  According to my teacher’s view, at least the view he shared with his students, the history in our textbooks is objective, time tested truth, nothing more nothing less.

Some time after that class ended, I read another George Santayana quote which is somewhat less often quoted, “history is a pack of lies about things that never happened told by people who weren’t there.”

Taken at face value, this statement goes to the other extreme and completely writes off the history we’re taught as lies, as intentionally untrue.  I think that both these views let us off too easy, because the stories we call history,and the process by which some stories become the dominant stories, the ones we teach to our children, that’s more complex than the dichotomy of truth vs. lie.

Another often repeated idea about history is that it’s “written by the victors.” (churchill) This gets closer to a nuanced look at what history means and what it does.

So for instance, in 1890 the US army massacred 300 Lakota men, women and children at Wounded Knee, burying them in a mass grave.  Twenty US soldiers were awarded the medal of honor for this atrocity, just one of the many perpetrated by European colonizers who called genocide their manifest destiny.  The vast majority of “historical” accounts throughout the decades don’t call wounded knee a massacre, they lend it a false legitimacy by calling it a battle. The same goes for the Washita massacre carried out by Custer in 1868.  So-called historical accounts refer to this event as the Battle of the Washita.  As it’s been said, “When a white army battles Indians and wins, it is called a great victory, but if they lose it is called a massacre.”

These and countless other examples show us that what we call history is certainly not objective truth. The voices of the colonized and the conquered do not get included in the version of the past we call history. That’s what it means to be colonized – genocide means the mass killing and eradication of entire peoples, but it also means the eradication of their culture, their stories, and the power to pass those stories on to future generations.

Howard Zinn wrote,

“I knew that a historian (or a journalist, or anyone telling a story) was forced to choose, out of an infinite number of facts, what to present, what to omit. And that decision inevitably would reflect, whether consciously or not, the interests of the historian.”

― Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present

So this is the question we want to keep in mind today– What interests are represented by the dominant story?  Whose interests does the dominant story serve, and who does it erase?

But before we get to that, there’s another question– Why does any of this matter? Why does it matter where our popular history comes from, and why does it matter what gets omitted?

It matters because our understanding of history informs our strategy in the present.  Our ability to imagine what is possible is shaped by our understanding of the past. Therefore, our actions in the present are shaped by our understanding of the past.  And right now, our actions in the present could not be more crucial.

 -200 species are pushed to extinction every single day. [1]

-A Cornell research survey that found that water, air, and soil pollution account for 40% of human deaths worldwide [2]

 -The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change states unequivocally that for the climate to remain stable and in their words “manageable,” the average temperature rise cannot exceed 2 degrees celsius.  Yet virtually nothing decisive has been done to try and meet that 2 degrees celsius limit. [3]

-According to the International Energy Agency’s November 2010 assessment, which does not include the self-reinforcing feedback loops that many experts anticipate, the global average temperature rise of Earth will hit the 3.5 degrees celsius mark in 2035, and some climate models have predicted a rise of 11 degrees by the end of the century.  [4]

In the short term, we’re already seeing the beginnings of the floods, fires, droughts, and superstorms. Plankton populations are collapsing, amphibian populations are collapsing, 90% of large fish in the ocean are gone [5]. The fabric of life on Earth is collapsing and humans are not exempt, though the effects aren’t obvious from here behind the military barricade of the US empire.

The Global Humanitarian Forum recently put out a prediction that, by 2030, 100 million people could be dying annually as a direct result of climate change, based on how many are currently being killed due to climate change, which is around 300,000 per year [6].

We, not only the human we, but the global we of life on Earth are facing a crisis on a scale the planet has never seen, and the reality is that we are losing this fight right now.

With all the world at stake, we need to form and implement a strategy that can work.  The latest Climate Commission report has warned that 80 per cent of global fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground if the planet is to avoid dangerous climate change.  Our governments and the corporations that run them plan to burn every last drop of oil, every last speck of coal, and every last whiff of gas, and right now, the strategy of the mainstream environmental movement has no hope of stopping them, or even of substantially slowing them down.

Humans are storytelling creatures, and our current strategy as a movement is a story, with a beginning, middle, and end.  We need to ask whether that story matches up with reality, and with the way social change has happened throughout history.

So here’s the story as it stands:

By raising awareness about the issues, we will create a shift in consciousness.

A shift in consciousness will then spark a mass movement.

And finally, a mass movement can successfully end the murder of the planet by using exclusively pacifist tactics.

We all know this narrative, we hear it referenced all the time, and it resonates with a lot of people, but we need to examine it with a critical eye, along with the historical narratives that are used to back it up. There are truths behind these ideas, but there is also the omission of truth, and we can decipher the interests of the historian by reading between the lines. Let’s take each piece of this narrative in turn to try and find out what’s been omitted and those interests that omission may be concealing.

So let’s start with the idea of “a shift in consciousness.”  The idea that we can educate society into a new and different state of consciousness has been popularized most recently by writers like David Korten, who bases his analysis on the idea saying:

“The term The Great Turning has come into widespread use to describe the awakening of a higher level of human consciousness and a human turn from an era of violence against people and nature to a new era of peace, justice and environmental restoration.” – David Korten

Another way that I’ve often heard this idea mentioned is in the form of the Hundredth Monkey myth. A primatologist named     Lyall Watson wrote about a supposed phenomenon where monkeys on one island began teaching each other to wash sweet potatoes in the ocean before eating them. Myth has it that once the hundredth monkey learned to do it, monkeys on other islands who had no contact with the original potato washing monkeys spontaneously began washing potatoes, exhibiting a kind of tipping point or collective jump in consciousness. The existence of this phenomenon has been thoroughly debunked, and     even Watson himself has admitted that he fabricated the myth using “very slim evidence and a great deal of hearsay.” This hasn’t     stopped optimistic environmentalists from invoking the hundredth monkey phenomenon to defend the idea that through raising our collective consciousness, by getting through to that hundredth monkey, we’ll spark a great turning of humankind away from the behaviors that are killing the planet.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking doesn’t pan out historically. Let’s take the example of resistance     against the Nazi regime and the genocide it committed. And let’s look at some omitted historical information. In 1952, after the     Nuremburg Trials, after all of the information about the atrocities of the holocaust had become common knowledge, still only 20% of German     citizens thought that resistance was justifiable during wartime which, under the Nazis or any other empire, is all the time. And     mind you, the question was not whether they personally would participate in the resistance, it was whether they thought any     resistance by anyone was justifiable.

At the time that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, 80% of Southern whites still disapproved of giving legal rights to black people. So, raised awareness of the atrocities of the holocaust and of American slavery did not translate into an increased willingness to support resistance.  It was not a shift in consciousness that got the civil rights act passed – it was the hard and dangerous work of organizing, protesting, and putting pressure on the government not by changing its mind but by forcing its hand. [7]

This same unfortunate trend is true about current efforts to educate about climate change. A recent     Yale study found that raised awareness about the facts of climate change is not the most powerful influence on someone’s attitude     about the issue. Far more powerful on an individual’s attitude are the attitudes of their culture and their community. Right now, the     culture we live in here in the US is dedicated to downplaying the risks and tamping down any kind of resistance. Our way of life depends on the very technologies that are causing climate change, and it’s unlikely to make someone understand something if their salary, much less their entire way of life, depends on not understanding it.  [8]

Pointing these things out is not intended to devalue education efforts. If we didn’t think education     was important, we wouldn’t be here, and every social justice movement that’s had a serious impact has been very intentional about education. But it’s important to put education in perspective as just one tactic in our toolbox. If we’re looking to education and awareness raising as a strategy unto themselves as many seem to be, history tells us that we’re bound to be disappointed.

So who is served by the dominance of this narrative?  Those who are profiting from the destruction of the planet are the ones whose interests are served by this because the longer we wait for the mythical great turning, or the hundredth monkey, or the next level of consciousness, the more time we give this system to poison the air and water, gut the land, and chew up what little biodiversity we have left.

Ideas can be powerful, but only if they get people to act.  History tells us that more awareness often does not translate into more action.  Let’s take the focus off trying to change people’s ideas about the world, and start focusing on changing material circumstances.

So part and parcel with the idea of a consciousness shift is the hope that such a shift will lead to a mass movement, and this idea is extremely prevalent among many environmentalists.

We have Bill McKibben saying things like:

“I can’t think of anything we can do except keep trying to build a big movement. There’s nothing else that’s ever going to do it.” – Bill McKibben

This is a very absolute statement, and it shows that folks like McKibben who have the most clout in the mainstream environmentalist crowd are telling us in no uncertain terms that building a mass movement is the only hope that we have to halt the destruction of the planet. I would hope that if he’s so sure about that, he has history and some evidence on his side to back it up.

And to be certain, there are examples throughout history of times when numbers mattered. Strikes, the montgomery bus boycott, the key factor in some victories has been numbers.  But the omitted history here is that a mass movement is not the only thing that has ever worked.

One of the most successful movements against oil extraction to date has been MEND, which stands for Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta.  The area was being ravaged by Shell, and just a few hundred people took on both the Nigerian military and Shell’s private military.  They’ve won popular support among the Niger Delta community, and more importantly, those few hundred people have managed to make a significant reductions in the oil output from the region, which is something that mainstream environmental movement can’t boast by any stretch of the imagination.

The french resistance to German occupation during WWII played a significant role in facilitating the Allies rapid advance through france, and Active resisters to the Nazi occupation of france was composed of about one percent of the population.  Supporters, judging by how many people were reading the underground newspaper, were as much as ten percent of the population, but the active resistance – those who were organizing strikes, gathering intelligence on the German military, sabotaging arms factories, attacks on the electrical grid, telecommunications, attacking german forces and also producing underground media about these activities – these folks were a very small segment of the population, about one percent, hardly a mass movement.

The Irish Republican Army, which fought the British occupation of Ireland, is a similar case with regard to the numbers.  At the peak of the IRA’s resistance, when they were the most active, they had 100,000 just over 2% of the population, only 15000 of which were guerilla fighters.  And they had 700 years of resistance culture to draw on! While our modern environmental movement has been losing ground steadily in the fifty years since its birth.

This is not to say that broad popular support isn’t something we should hope for or something we should value, but we do need to call into question the idea, an idea that people like Bill McKibben seem to completely buy, that a mass movement is the only scenario we can hope for.  The history of resistance tells us otherwise, tells us that small groups of committed people can be and have been successful in resisting empire.

Who is served by the dominant mass movement narrative?  The people who are murdering the planet are served by this narrative.  They are the victors, and they will continue to be the victors until we stop buying their version of history and their vision of the future.  While we wait for a mass movement, they are capitalizing on our paralysis and our inaction.  And another 200 species went extinct today.

Recently we’ve seen the rise of the term ecoterrorist to define groups or individuals who use tactics involving force.  We’ve even seen recent legislation, like House Bills 2595 and 96 in Oregon, used to redefine treesits and other forest defense tactics as terrorism.  The FBI defines ecoterrorism as “”the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against people or property by an environmentally oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.”

When I hear the term ecoterrorism, I’m reminded of a bumpersticker that my friend has on her car, which says “they only call it class warfare when we fight back.”  In this case, they only call it terrorism when people fight back.  US Imperialism, police violence, and the eradication of 200 entire species every single day – to the FBI, these things don’t count as terrorism.  But the destruction of property, even if it harms no humans at all, gets condemned not only by the FBI, but by mainstream environmental organizations as well.

“The Sierra Club strongly condemns all acts of violence in the name of the environment,” said Bruce Hamilton, Sierra Club conservation director. “That type of criminal behavior does nothing to further the cause of promoting safe and livable communities.”

So here he’s not only condemning acts he calls violent, but he’s condemning criminal behavior in the name of the environment.  The problem with that is that the government, and the corporations that run it, THEY decide what is criminal and what isn’t, and they are increasingly criminalizing any action that has a chance of challenging their power or profits.

As activist Tim DeChristopher found out, something as nonviolent as bidding on land against oil companies is criminal.

As occupy protesters found out, occupying public space is criminal.

If activists accept the line between legality and criminality as a line that cannot be crossed, they accept the idea that activists should only take actions sanctioned by the very people whose power we should be challenging.  The state tends to criminalize, or classify as “violent,” any type of action that might work to challenge the status quo.

Let’s keep that in mind as we look at the historical examples that are often used to back up this emphasis on the exclusive use of nonviolent tactics:

The fight against British occupation lead by Gandhi is often the first and most prominent example used to promote exclusive nonviolence. Gandhi gained notoriety by leading large nonviolent protests like marches, pickets, strikes, and hunger strikes. He eventually was allowed to engage in negotiations with the occupying British who agreed to free imprisoned protesters from prison if Gandhi called off the protests.  Gandhi is sometimes portrayed as single handedly leading a nonviolent uprising and forcing the British to make concessions, but we have to ask – what is the omitted history here?

The truth is that the success of the movement against the british occupation was not solely the result of pacifist tactics, it was the result of a diversity of tactics.  While Gandhi was organizing, a socialist named Bhagat Singh became disillusioned with what he saw as the ineffectiveness and hypocrisy of Gandhi’s tactics.  Singh went on to lead strikes and encourage militancy against the british occupation, and is considered one of the most influential revolutionary leaders in India, more revered by some in India than Gandhi.  The combination of economic tactics, peaceful and symbolic actions, cultural revival, and yes, militancy, had an effect together.  Most in the West, the activists that I’ve met that look to nonviolence as the primary guiding principle for their tactics, have never heard of Bhagat Singh.

Another prominent proponent of nonviolence was Martin Luther King Jr.,  For a people terrorized by the violence of poverty, police violence, white supremacist terrorism, and other horrors, the power of King’s words and the importance of his work, his significance to the civil rights movement, cannot be overstated.  Other nonviolent groups and action like the freedom riders were very effective in demonstrating the reality of racist brutality.  However, the gains made by the movement during that time were not solely the result of nonviolent tactics.

The Black Panther party and other groups were advocating for self defense tactics and militancy, and they were widely censured for it by more mainstream elements within the movement, much like militant environmental defense is being censured by the mainstream today.  Again, in the case of the civil rights movement, it was not nonviolent tactics alone that produced the gains of that era, it was a diversity of tactics.

The same is true of the movement for women’s suffrage, another movement often misremembered in the popular imagination as being won solely by nonviolent means.  In Britain, women started out with pickets, and lobbying, and letters to the editor. But when these tactics failed, some suffragists moved on to direct action, such as chaining themselves to the railings outside the prime ministers home, and to actually going and casting ballots illegally, which got them arrested.  After a protest in 1910 turned into a near riot due to brutal police beatings of protesting women, the movement began to wage guerilla warfare, orchestrating systematic window smashing campaigns and arson attacks.  The slogan of this movement was “deeds, not words.”  They were imprisoned and tortured for their efforts, but in 1918, they won the right to vote.  Again, this fight was won by a diversity of tactics.

So there’s a pattern here to which parts of history become mainstream, and which parts become marginalized and even forgotten.

Whose interests are served by omitting militancy from the historical record?

George Orwell perhaps put this better than I ever could, saying: ““Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If others imagine that one can somehow ‘overcome’ the German army by lying on one’s back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen. As an ex-Indian civil servant, it always makes me shout with laughter to hear, for instance, Gandhi named as an example of the success of non-violence. As long as twenty years ago it was cynically admitted in Anglo-Indian circles that Gandhi was very useful to the British government. Despotic governments can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force.”

The truth of the last sentence of Orwell’s quote is clear from the examples we’ve talked about tonight.  It is in the interest of governments and corporations that we never seize the physical force to actually stop them.

However, plenty of people around the world ARE seizing that physical force, and they have been throughout history.

Instead of haggling with Monsanto over ineffective regulations of GMO crops, and the labeling of GMO products, Hungary decided to burn all of Monsanto’s GMO corn fields within their borders to protect the integrity of their other crops.  Instead of accepting the Brazilian government ignoring their voices and sentencing their way of life to be destroyed, hundreds of indigenous demonstrators occupied and began to manually dismantle Belo Monte Dam construction.  These are the kinds of direct, uncompromising resistance that we should be looking to.

So let’s look again at the narrative we began with:

By raising awareness about the issues, we will create a shift in consciousness.

A shift in consciousness will spark a mass movement.

A mass movement can successfully end the murder of the planet by using exclusively pacifist tactics.

I hope that we’ve been able to demonstrate that while there are underlying truths here, this narrative leaves out a lot of important information, and as a result, a strategy based on this narrative is not working.

Here’s a version of those ideas that incorporates some of the omitted information that we talk about today.

Education is vitally important, but we can’t expect raising awareness to galvanize most people into action, especially when action would threaten their privilege and entitlement.

Popular support is valuable, but resistance has often been carried out by small groups of determined people, not by mass movements.

Nonviolence can be a powerful tactic, but winning strategies are marked by a diversity of both peaceful and militant tactics.

 What does this mean for our actions?  How can we incorporate this information into our strategy?

-Vocally challenge these narratives

-Support extra-legal resistance

-Support political prisoners

We tried really hard as we were writing this to not sugarcoat any of this.  When I’ve spoken frankly in the past about biodiversity collapse, catastrophic climate change, and the horror I feel in response to them, I’ve had some people say “tone it down.  Don’t be so doom and gloom, you’ve got to give the people hope.”  Let me say now for the record – fuck hope.  We don’t need it.  As one author put it, “hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency.”  In other words, you only need hope in situations where you have no control, no power.  Those who do have power, who are using that power to murder the planet, have written a narrative that masks the power we could wield, that lies in order to make sure we never claim the tools to challenge their profits.

Every day that we abide by their rules and accept the narrative that serves their power is a day we waste.  But every day is also a new chance to rewrite that narrative, to change the story.  With a truer understanding of the past we can form a more effective strategy for the present.  With a more effective strategy in the present, we can reject a future on the dying planet they have us headed toward.

With everything, literally, at stake, it’s time to do what we can with what we have, and it’s time to claim the legacy of resistance that these and other examples of silenced history could teach us.
[END]

[Sources]

[1] (UN Environment Programme, Ahmed Djoghlaf, http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/16/nature-economic-security)

[2][http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2007/08/pollution-causes-40-percent-deaths-worldwide-study-finds] (direct link to report: http://www.springerlink.com/content/101592/).

[3] UN Framework Convention on Climate Change**

[4] International Energy Agency’s November 2010 assessment**

[5] http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/science/05/14/coolsc.disappearingfish/

[6] (http://www.ghf-ge.org/human-impact-report.pdf)

[7] http://books.google.com/books?id=kKv8PXwIiFkC&pg=PA237&lpg=PA237&dq=civil+rights+gallup+polling+1960&source=bl&ots=-TTg7n7EbO&sig=odTF9mCzMqJkuPH2xZoRYCDPYaI&hl=en&ei=HkLgS-WcFpKwNtWsmKsH&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CCAQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

[8] http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1981907

[9]

Advertisements

3 thoughts on “Resistance Rewritten

  1. paulineschneider4p

    This is the smartest thing I’ve read in a long time. Brilliant.

    As Kurt Vonnegut commented on our illegal invasion of Iraq, and I paraphrase: “Millions of people around the world protesting against this war had about as much effect as a banana creme pie.”
    As Dr. Guy McPherson realized, walking away from Empire isn’t as easy as it seems, and only it’s complete collapse will offer any of us, but most importantly OTHER species, any shred of hope to survive the next decade without NTE…
    I’m shovel ready for that task, women. 🙂

    “People living deeply have no fear of death.”
    ― Anaïs Nin

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s