Thursday, October 08, 2009

The "I's" in Activism: A Chat with Nate C (Part 3)

Hola amigos.

For this latest episode of Insomnia we are revisiting our discussion about anarchism, activism, revolution, evolution and possible solutions with Nate C. Nate
was a great addition to Nashville's activist community before relocating to the West. Our discussion began as a dialog about the unrest in Greece following the police shooting of a young boy last December. It has since evolved into an ongoing, wide-ranging discussion. Catch up by clicking through the "nate c" label at the bottom of this post.

And now, back to it...

JN: We had been discussing ways in which to disengage from the political system, the economic system, the cultural system...It seems that resistance defines these obstacles even more clearly - and allows them to define us and our ideas! The notion we were working towards was that disengagement is preferable to opposition.

NC: First of all, don't vote. Do you remember that game where one person takes something from you and tosses it back and forth with another person over your head to watch you squirm? You try to run to each person to take your thing back, but as soon as you catch up to them, they throw it and you're sent scampering after the other person. The only way to win that game is to stop. You are over-matched. Now imagine the Republicans on one side of the playground, the Democrats on the other, and the American people in the middle. They have stolen our freedom, liberty, money, land, and time and have proceeded to toss them back and forth over our heads, watching us frantically bounce from one party to the other in hopes that one will be better than the other. Just stop playing. Every government we have put in place, especially during the last century, has been guilty of unmentionable atrocities. Every congressman has voted for something embarrassing and deplorable. We are also coming to a point where the accountability of our politicians is non-existent because we're left to choose between vomiting or diarrhea.

JN: Graphic, but apt! This is something many readers of this illuminated manuscript may be very tuned into, but it is also one of the central lies that spellbinds the society at large. I can turn on the TV or the radio at any point in the next 24 hours and I can hear people arguing for and against the virtues of the Democrats or the values of the Republicans, but the truth is that both parties are beholden to the same corporate "citizens" and both parties have an interest in maintaining their mutual control despite the corrosive effect it has on something that could resemble real democracy. Of course, we even PAY for this circus to continue.

NC: Paying as little tax as possible is another way not to play. I've yet to pay any income tax, because I have always made less than the limit. When the refund check comes, it goes into printing or buying new zines, printing posters, or the ABC bail fund. The government grows in proportion to our greed. You can choose vocations that provide "under the table" pay, such as work in carpentry, plumbing, drywall, electrical, selling handmade goods or produce, fixing junk and selling it, flipping cars or motorcycles, becoming highly skilled and bartering when possible, or other such endeavors.

JN: Now you are beginning to pick at the nerve. Of course, the whole wheel spins on production and consumption. This requires ever-expanding markets. Setting aside the fact of limited resources for the time being, your solutions fly in the face of the marketing and advertising industries who are in the business of producing desire where their is none, need in the midst of excess and a system of FASCIon that creates demand based on planned obsolescence. We also find that people who refuse to excessively buy and produce automatically find themselves at odds with the mainstream, if only because mainstream, bourgeois behavior almost always guarantees subservience. We've all seen our conscientious, if not radical friends, marry, have children, buy homes and suddenly have an abrupt change in values. Instead of becoming MORE cooperative, MORE communal and MORE determined to live outside the mainstream, there is renewed pressure for re-integration. This just adds to the cut-off, fearful, love-lost existence that has become de rigueur in the US: Call the cops when your neighbor's music is too loud and then worry if they know it was you.

NC: Don't call the police. Buy a pistol, permit it if you plan to carry it, and learn how to use it to defend yourself and those around you. Less calls make it harder to justify increasing the police force. Know your neighbors, and have enough of a rapport that you can go knock on their door when they're making too much noise. Be involved in your community enough to take a man aside who's abusing his wife and let him know it won't be tolerated. Grow some balls and fight your own battles.

JN: Ha. Amen. But it's easier said than done for most of us. Most of us are stuck in this false game. I just saw the 1963 omnibus film RO.GO.PA.G. The title is an acronym made from the director's last names: Rosellini, Godard, Pasolini, and Uga Gregoretti. Gregoretti's segment dealt specifically with consumerism and the way it shapes us from cradle to grave. It was both very funny and really sad.

NC: Drop out of the consumerist game. Fix stuff, pick stuff out of the trash, give things away, share your work and teach your skills, share your tools and borrow others'. Pay cash, use money orders, and avoid banks. Buying used or directly from producers, you avoid sales tax and support a local economy, rather than multi-national corporate economies. Can and dry your own food and buy in bulk. Split a large house with people you get along with. Rather that going to bars, invite people over and share your new batch of home-brewed beer or wine. Rather than restaurants, have a potluck and someone's house a few nights a week. Host movie Netflix nights, rather than going to the movies. Ride your bike or walk instead of putting wear on publicly-funded roads with your car or buying gas to make it run. Maybe open a community space, but only if you like headaches.

JN: Ha. Amen, again. These suggestions remind me of Hakim Bey's notions that even a simple dinner party can have revolutionary consequences when we are willing to leave behind mediated entertainment and consumption - along with our social masks - in favor of real, human fellowship. It may sound corny, but we need to make room in our lives to love one another. How can there be real change where there is no love? And in the face of a wild, irrational love, what guard can stand its ground?

NC: Through these strategies, we can create a separate, parallel society that pushes our values, rather than supporting the status quo. We don't fight capitalism on its own turf. When it comes to riot gear, cities, asphalt, tazers, tear gas, and clubs they're the home team, and all their fans are there to cheer them on. Our home court advantage comes into play when we are in situations to be resourceful, loving, open, and persistent. When governments try to be resourceful, they take our tax dollars and fund a study to determine what kind of bureaucracy is required to solve their problem. When they try to be open, our FOIA requests are denied half the time, and the other half, they're full of black marker. I'm still waiting to see the government show love.

JN: Again, this kind of talk brings me back to Guevara's Guerilla Warfare, or even accounts I have read of America's Revolutionary War.

NC: From another perspective, take Carlos Marghiella's The Mini-Manual of the Urban Guerrilla, in which he mentions the basics of guerrilla warfare. He suggests never to attack an enemy at their strongest point. Hang back and wait for your opportunity. You'll see the same thing in the Art of War. At protests, like this September's G20, the government is at its very strongest. Why would you wage an attack then? We waste bail money, show our asses, smash up a lot of windows of well-meaning small businesses, shut traffic down, and allow the entire Anarchist movement to be associated with juvenile, crimethinc-style violence by the media. How do you actually win that battle? Would victory be the G20 moving to a different location or happening in private, or on an island and leaving Pittsburgh in ruins (again)?

JN: Amen...


Use this player to listen to my new CD. Purchase a song or two at your favorite digital outlet and help us stay awake here at Insomnia!

Find the archives to my Sleepless Film Festival, and more at my You Tube channel: Imagicon

Listen to my earlier releases, and enjoy free downloads here!

Please consider supporting this site by making a PayPal donation and check out our friends using the links on the right.

Joe Nolan

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

The "I's" in Activism: A Chat with Nate C (Part 2)

Ca vas, Comrades

I have been in touch with Nate again after a lull in our conversation due to his being preoccupied with a recent move to a City in the Sky.

A few how-you-dos and a couple restaurant recommendations later and we are back up to speed with our ongoing discussion. For the uninitiated, Nate is a friend of mine who recently left Nashville. More accurately, Nate was a guy I met one time at a party who I promptly had an hour of engaging conversation with concerning his upcoming wedding, his impending move and - most importantly for our purposes - his upcoming trip to Greece to make a film about the civil unrest that had erupted in Athens following the police shooting of a teenage boy that occurred last December.

To catch up on our earlier installment, simply click the "Nate C" label at the bottom of this post.

I got the last word in our last post, addressing the idea that people in America are to prosperous to revolt in the way we've recently seen in Iran. Nate touches on this idea and then we get back to our talk about Greece.

And now, back to our conversation...

The "I's" in Activism: A Chat with Nate C (Part 2)

NC: The Iranian people seem to have a pretty miserable daily existence. I'm poor in this country and I can still manage to eat out some, have a couple of drinks, and pay for an education. Iranians also believe in a god, and that leads them to believe in justice and absolutes. Religion makes people militant.

In Greece, the Greek Orthodox church runs the show. They own real estate that they rent out to the Greek Government. To believe in the State is to believe in the Church. Inversely, to not believe in the Church is to not believe in the State. Kids in school there are reading the existentialists. They read classical philosophy in middle school. They were wearing black, riding scooters, smoking cigarettes, and drinking red wine before it was cool. The educated youth are godless and stateless, unbound by any sense of dominance or other assortments of damnation.

JN: I would assume that this plays into the appeal of Anarchistic ideas among the young. There is universal yearning among all young people everywhere, you can see the literary echoes of the idea of this kind of Children's Paradise in Burrough's Wild Boys or among Peter Pan's Lost Boys. However, the Greek youth obviously have their own particular circumstances in regards to the way the State and the Church affect their lives. In America, these forces also wield tremendous power, but not officially. It's far more subtle, and ultimately, can't really be compared. Apples to Oranges. Of course, they are living within a historic shadow that is so vast and ancient that it literally stretches across the ideals, values and foundations of our own country. Contemporary Americans have a hard time comprehending the weight of that kind of history.

NC: The word paradigm starts to address the question, but it's even broader than that. The paradigms of Athens are influenced by the cultural heritage and history, and vice versa. The Athenian lifestyle would be a good starting place toward understanding.

From what I was able to gather, my perception of Athenian culture is that it's very leisurely. Wait staff in restaurants there are paid a healthy hourly wage, so rushing around to earn the highest amount of gratuity possible within a shift is alien to them. Friends stop by to visit waiters in the cafe, and they sit and have coffee together while on the clock. At cafes in the U.S., I've seen owners disable electrical outlets to keep people from "camping" with their laptops. It's not that way at all in Athens.

They take vacations regularly--little weekend excursions to an island or the countryside. That sort of thing isn't cordoned off and reserved for a week each year like in U.S. working culture.

Television is very new in Greece. The teens didn't grow up in front of it, and the mid-thirties is the beginning of the main TV-watching demographic. The difference between the TV watchers and the others is shocking; early teens are taking up the styles and lifestyles they see on MTV-- a fairly new development in Greece. When people are not watching television, they are engaged in active forms of entertainment, rather than passively watching pictures of other people being active. I would argue that this creates a predisposition toward action, such as what culminated in political action.

JN: This is an important point. As we began to address in our last conversation, revolt is rarely the result of cause and effect. There has to be an underlying predisposition that will allow for people to activate for change. There may be a demand, but a willingness to answer that call cannot be assumed. Clearly many factors go into such decisions, but the passivity of American media culture can undermine activism on many levels including physical health, education, political awareness etc.

NC: We can't make the mistake of putting too much stock in the types of entertainment available there though. Education in Greece is free. Even college is free, and without limits on the amount of time they can continue their studies if in good standing. Many young people are very well read and educated. Most speak a few languages, and know their history and government. Their "classics" are not puritanical popular novels and poems but philosophical tracts thousands of years old about free thought, democracy, and the nature of man's existence. They have a better shot from the beginning reading Plato than Edgar Allen Poe.

JN: Although I have read and enjoyed much of the Am. Lit. canon, your point is well taken. Another continuing irony is that our culture shares the same common roots, but I don't think I would've read Plato until late in high school - if not college - if it hadn't been for the library of books my father had collected. It's become such a cliche - especially in the last 8 years - but people who don't know their past are truly doomed to create wrong-headed tomorrows or at least let them be created in their name.

NC: In a town where there's a sense of a past, there's also a clearer idea of the future perhaps. Athenians want their mark on the world to be minimal, and the mark they do leave to be positive, like all healthy humans. When they see their government threatening that with their actions, they take it very seriously. An awareness of what effected change in the past makes "true believers" that believe in future reforms.

JN: There is a sense of empowerment in this kind of recollection. Successful civil actions build on themselves. I find it so odd that America is still trying to decide whether is was right for the radicals in the '60's to protest the Vietnam War.
This gets very Chomskyan. There is a constant battle over which version of history we will honor. Members of the Labor Movement literally fought and died in the streets of this country so that children were no longer employed in factories and so workers could work only 40 hours with a weekend. Today, many Americans will ignorantly talk down unions, but you can bet they'd never give up their weekends. There is a lack of understanding/knowledge about events that aren't even 100 years old.

The unrest in Greece began with the police shooting of a teenager in Athens. America isn't immune to such brutality. What is the relationship between the average Athenian and the police?

NC: Law in general in Greece is not taken very seriously. In the U.S. we have the most skilled guns in the world pointed at us every time we step out of line. The cops in Athens are twenty-something college drop outs. They lounge in the shade on street corners flirting with the one or two female soldiers stationed with the group, hassle immigrants, smoke cigarettes, drink frappes and play with the many stray dogs in the city. They don't write speeding tickets. Public intoxication, assault, etc. are par for the course. People drink beer walking down the streets and the police won't even bother to put down their cigarettes.

JN: How does the economic situation compare to America or to Guevara's Argentina and Cuba as per our last discussion?

NC: In the Cuban struggle, and the ones in Argentina where Guevara spent his formative years, people were poor, desperate, hungry, bored, and informed. That's similar to how things are in Greece.

To have a perfect storm for radical social change, we need a few factors:
1. An accessible geography. The United States is too damn big.
2. Dominant modes of transit that are communal.
3. A culture where death is a part of life, not something alien to be feared.
4. A leisurely pace that allows people to catch their breath and look around.
5. Graffiti and wheat pasting as street media forms, or access to other media.
6. Civil unrest due to unemployment--especially among the educated.
7. A widespread awareness of exactly how fucked up the system is.
8. Enough anonymity to organize effectively in underground resistance movements.
9. An awareness of, and an environment dominated by, the history of one's civilization.
10. Interaction with people from other parts of the world.

Now, what of these factors above can we change in the States? Which factor are changing on their own? Who controls the factors that seem here to stay? A good beginning would be to:
1. Turn off the television.
2. Start organizing community social events that are available at little or no cost.
3. Make education free and open to all, both practical skills and the traditional fields of study.
4. Make politics fun and interesting.
5. Liberate stigmatized words from the conventional lexicon.
6. Eat less, drink less, and ride bikes more.
7. Never pay for another permit of any sort.
8. Write letters and send books to prisoners.
9. Just like when you were fighting with your little sister, ignoring her is the best way to fight back. The government is insecure and craves your attention. "You're a terrorist!" "I know you are, but what am I?" "Stop it!!!!!" Works every time.
10. Drink, fuck, smoke, eat good food, and dance.


More to come...


Use this player to listen to my new CD. Purchase a song or two at your favorite digital outlet and help us stay awake here at Insomnia!

Find the archives to my Sleepless Film Festival, and more at my You Tube channel: Imagicon

Listen to my earlier releases, and enjoy free downloads here!

Please consider supporting this site by making a PayPal donation and check out our friends using the links on the right.

Joe Nolan

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The "I's" in Activism: A Chat with Nate C (Part 1)

Hello my people,

Welcome back.

Haven't had a chance to catch up here in awhile, so I thought it would be a good time to do something special.

In the early spring I found myself at a birthday party for a friend of mine at Nashville's Little Hamilton space. "Little Hamilton" is the name most of us use for the Firebrand Anarchist Collective located on Little Hamilton street in a warehouse/small industry district in Nashville.

The group has worked - in various forms - for years to make the space a reality and over the last year they finally did. They have become a lighthouse of sorts for Nashville's activist community, attracting punks, hippies, bike kids, Greens, anti-war and Food-Not-Bombs groups with their resources and activities.

At the party, I met a guy named Nate C just a few days before he was to be married on the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Cumberland River downtown. He was also a few weeks away from a trip to Athens, Greece where he intended to document the civil unrest that stemmed from the shooting of a young Anarchist in December of 2008 by filming footage for a short documentary.

Nate and I had a chance to touch base when he got back to The South, but he has recently departed for The Western Lands. His story, his insights and his commitment have fueled an ongoing discussion that we are continuing online and sharing via this illuminated document.

This discussion will be presented in a series of posts as our discussion continues. Please click on the "Anarchism" label at the end of this post to access the entire series.


The "I's" in Activism: A Chat with Nate C (Part 1)

Joe Nolan: Hey, Nate! Why don't you start by filling us in on your story and lead us up to your trip to Athens and the situation in Greece.

Nate Cougill: I'm an activist in my mid-20's. I've been active in establishing Little Hamilton Collective and the Firebrand Infoshop in Nashville for the past two years. I think there are better ways to organize a society than a representative democracy, and I see my work as a manifestation of that belief. Rather than engaging the government and seeking to change it, I disregard the government whenever possible and work at creating a parallel society by building self-directed community projects. I believe in everyone's right to live as the please, harming noone. This is the greatest degree of freedom is the kind where nobody's exercise of freedom infringes on the freedom of others. With LHC, I've been lucky enough to find other people in this backwards Southern town that think about things in a similar way, and try to make a physical space that expresses these beliefs.

Now, you might be wondering where Greece falls into all this. Last December, a teenager was shot in cold blood by a police officer. The kid was being harrassed by two officers abusing their authority, and he didn't back down. News of what happened spread like wildfire. The kid was a professed Anarchist and was involved in organizing around Athens. Rather than considering the cost of expressing dissent, then holding signs in front of state buildings until their permits expired, Athenians took to the streets and set everything in sight on fire, including police officers and squad cars. The movement spread to other cities on the European continent. Absolut Vodka put out an ad with a picture of an Absolut bottle with a burning rag stuffed into it bearing the phrase, "Absolut Athens." There were solidarity demonstrations in the United States, but the wildfires were extinguished in the Atlantic. Aside from those who watch fringe political news on the internet, the story was a passing headline on CNN presented without an appropriate amount context.

As things stand currently in this country, police brutality is nothing out of the ordinary. We imprison a larger portion of our population than any other country in the world. The constitution has become a punchline at political fundraisers. What makes Greeks take to the streets over a single injustice, and why are people in the U.S. still sitting on their hands as they watch their country being destroyed and their birthright stolen by madmen? I went to Greece to seek out some answers and bring them back to share with anti-authoritarians in the States.

JN: Lets get a little more into Greece and the conversation we had at Little Hamilton. Tell me about your original plans to document your visit.

NC: When I was headed to Greece originally, I had planned to make a documentary about Athenian politics. There's been enough said already about the rioting last December, but nobody was talking about why there were riots in Athens over one teen's unjust death, and here in the States such an act is usually met with apathy. More important than studying the events in Greece is the study of why they happened in Greece.

Despite my best efforts, fine video camera was pretty far out of my reach, and I ended up arriving in Athens during a lull in the commotion. This was before the kidnappings and bombings started and about a month before police began shooting immigrants in Platia Omonia-- a block away from where I was staying. I thought it best to write an article about my findings.

It's still in progress, but it goes into the tactical advantages of staging political events in a place like Athens, versus a U.S. city.

JN: One thing that I find interesting is the way that this kind of unrest occurs in places like Greece, but we see it less here. There were a lot of under-covered protests leading up to the Iraq war and many large protests during the first four years of Bush, but the recent months call to mind the perfect example: Iran.

You don't see this point of view represented in our media, and - of course - the cultural context is very different, but the people of Iran are essentially risking their lives because they believe an election was stolen, just like many people in the U.S. believed after the 2000 election. However, things never reached that fever pitch here in the states.

In Che Guevara's book "Guerilla Warfare", he spends a lot of time talking about the pre-conditions for revolution. Suffice to say that its easier to revolt when you are hungry. The logic follows that Americans - even most low income Americans - don't miss enough meals to take real chances and demand fundamental changes.

Tell me more about the differences that exist between a place like Athens and a place like New York or Chicago regarding civil disobedience and revolutionary consciousness. Are the differences primarily economic or is it more complicated than that in your opinion?

(To be continued)

Check out this Wikipedia entry to brush up on the history of Anarchism in Greece.

Here is the entry's blurb regarding the riots that occurred last December:

December 2008

On December 6, 2008, a 15-year old youth was shot dead by a policeman after a verbal exchange in the libertarian stronghold of Exarchia, Athens. Within an hour, anarchists, leftists and sympathisers rioted and attacked banks, police vehicles and government offices in the area.The police refusal to apologise brought thousands to the streets for daily clashes and demonstrations. The parliament building was besieged for weeks by angry crowds. Major violence erupted during one of the marches, with rioters attacking and setting on fire many public buildings, banks and shops. Thousands of young people staged angry protests across Greece, attacking police stations in every town. Almost in every neighbourhood of Athens and Pireus police stations, banks and big businesses were firebombed. The "December Unrest", as it became known, gave a new impetus to the Anarchists, who were in the forefront of the movement.


Use this player to listen to my new CD. Purchase a song or two at your favorite digital outlet and help us stay awake here at Insomnia!

Find the archives to my Sleepless Film Festival, and more at my You Tube channel: Imagicon

Listen to my earlier releases, and enjoy free downloads here!

Please consider supporting this site by making a PayPal donation and check out our friends using the links on the right.

Joe Nolan

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