Listen, Radical!

Chuck0's picture

by Errol Schweizer

Author's note: this is an abridged version of a longer essay. Contact the author for the full version.

“I believe that there will ultimately be a clash between the oppressed and those who do the oppressing. I believe that there will be a clash between those who want freedom, justice and equality for everyone and those who want to continue the system of exploitation. I believe that there will be that kind of clash but I don't think that it will be based on the color of the skin.”
--El Haj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X)

“What I am trying to say is simply this: The revolution is made by ordinary people, not by angels, made by people from all walks of life, and more particularly by the working class who are in the majority.”
-- Walter Rodney

“Give me the sense to wonder, to wonder if I am free. Give me a sense of wonder, to know I can be. Give me the strength to hold my head up high and spit back in their face. Don't need no keys to unlock this door, gotta break down the walls, break out of this mad place...”
-- Iron Maiden

Context

Welcome to hell. George Bush is president (again). Global warming is underway. Whole ecosystems are going extinct. The Pentagon is militarizing outer space. Eugenecists have unlocked the genetic code and are playing god with our DNA. Two million people are in prison, while the rest of us live under constant police and corporate surveillance. The global economy, swallowing up culture and nature, is creating a world of selfish, isolated consumers. Poverty, depression and substance abuse are everywhere. I should be writing about this stuff, especially with the growing wave of global resistance, but I will do that later. I write this because I think that the rebel forces need to get there shit together.

Awakening

I became an activist several years ago because I was fed up. I thought the establishment was full of shit, that I had been taught lies my whole life and now had to find out the truth myself. Life had been reduced to an economic process: you are born, you learn, you work, you die. Don't question it, don't think about it, or you will end up as a social pariah, in jail or dead. There was no balance in human interactions or in finding a connection with nature or some spirituality. I saw the whole system of material affluence as the deepest form of poverty because you had to steal to get ahead. The pressure to conform was always so immense because everything was based on our dependency to this system that we call capitalism. The emerging “global” economy that everyone talked about just seemed to be a logical outgrowth of the screwed-up way things have been going for the last 500 years.

I felt that it all began with the values of the conquerors of the new world, who were rich white men that had plundered and enslaved everything from people to the earth itself. In thinking about the ideas and values of conquest, I concluded that a rejection of the whole package was necessary. And although I wanted personal freedom, it seemed like that could only happen through collective social and political change.

During the last few years I have been trying to figure out if real change is actually possible or if I am just completely insane. The values of consumerism and materialism have become nearly absolute across boundaries of race and class in our society. The ultimate goal in this value system is to become middle class; to become respectable, settled and affluent. The core of the current protest movement are the angry and alienated young people, the scions of the middle class, who see this culture as empty and worthless and want to create something better. One of the biggest challenges facing social movements today is the white, middle class, suburban background of many of these activists.

If You Know Where You Are Coming From

Because I grew up in a working class neighborhood in the Bronx, I always assumed that most people grew up in similar diverse environments. There were many different ethnic groups in the neighborhood, including Blacks and Caribbean immigrants, recent Eastern European immigrants, Puerto Ricans and recent arrivals from Central America, and the old guard of Jews, Irish, Albanians and Italians who controlled the politics and commerce of the area. There was always some sort of ethnic strife, but me and my friends, who were all of various backgrounds, found ways to get beyond bigotry by relating to each other based on mutual respect and common interests. The most progressive and open minded people that I grew up with respected and recognized peoples' uniqueness and differences.

Racism seemed so stupid, whether it was practiced by teachers who flooded special ed. classes with black kids from the projects, by Jews who fled to the suburbs when someone with brown skin moved in next door, or by new immigrants whose first words they learned in English were “nigger” or “spic”.

That is why when I became radicalized, anti-racism seemed natural. If I had lived in the suburbs, things may have been different. Friends of mine who moved to the suburbs had become really racist and classist, refusing to come back to visit me and acting like they were now better than me. Their new neighborhoods were devoid of poor people and ethnic diversity. When I realized where a lot of activists came from, it made sense that racism and classism were both so common in activist scenes.

Many middle class white radicals have trouble dealing with issues of race and class because they did not have to deal with those issues throughout their lives. Middle class whites can be relatively more confident that they will not be victims of racial profiling, bank redlining or police brutality. They most likely did not come from a neighborhood where traveling to and from school was the biggest challenge of the day, nor come from a family with many people on drugs or in jail. They most likely had parks near their homes and did not suffer from epidemic asthma or lead poisoning. They may have had their own rooms and even their own cars while they still lived at home. They probably did a lot of drugs, had a lot of unprotected sex and did other stupid things during their adolescence that because of their demographics, did not get them killed or sent to jail. And of course, they not only graduated high school, but they managed to get into, afford or get enough aid for a nice liberal university where they were politicized.

The College Trap

The privilege of a college education is beyond our comprehension as Americans. Only 1% of the world has been to college. When we become politicized in college, we swallow the language and values that come with becoming radical there. The biggest problem is that much of it (except of course for struggles over tuition) is separated from our basic material well-being, so there is room to see things in the abstract academic sense, which is something that poor people cannot do when they are struggling for their bread. Most of issues that college activists become familiar with in school are understood much better by the janitors than by Prof. Knowitall. That's because when the shit is day-to-day, and right up there in your face, you don't need a dozen big words to describe it.

Activists forget that that having an education and being employable is a privilege. Most, but not all, activists have not dealt with the misery of poverty ( which is different than the self-imposed asceticism that many practice) and do not understand its psychological effects and the amount of courage and persistence that is displayed when low-income people throw off their chains. The whole language of protest begins with someone's race and class: the issues themselves, the way they are framed, the solutions that are presented, and the way that you go about solving the problems says so much about who you are and where you came from. The way radicals say and do things pushes them away from the people they are acting on behalf of. Although I became politically active in school, my ideas became more coherent when I was no longer in an academic setting.

Abstract, Absolute and In A Big Hurry

There are a number of behaviors that I have noticed among white radicals that are very authoritarian and seem like alternative versions of the indoctrination that society performs. The first is that many get stuck in symbolic protests or boycotts that are just reactions to the latest crisis. While these have the potential to build movements, many people, including myself, get tired of reactive resistance that does not leave time for community building, personal development and critical analysis.

The ideas of radicals often seem to be absolutes, like they are desperate for purity. I think the reason for this is that many activists coming from middle class backgrounds are used to absolutes, whether it is religion or the belief in upward mobility, and they react ferociously, but with a similar pattern of thought. It is a classic case of Jihad vs. McWorld: having been brought up in the plastic, corporate, suburban cavity of McWorld, you react so much to the values that have been imposed all your life that you swing to the opposite corner, which is equally absent of free thinking: the holy war. One example is lifestyle activism, such as veganism. For two years I considered going vegan but refused because some skinny white kids called me a murderer for eating burgers. Then, when I quit being vegan after three years, I was told point blank that I was “selling out the Jihad.”

Another problem is attempting to overcompensate by being extra-extra radical and distrusting all institutions and people working within them, without any sort of analysis. This is actually kind of silly because we are choosing the degree to which we participate in the system to the extent that we are both effective and ideologically comfortable. We all should find a balance and not isolate ourselves so far out on the fringe that we are obsolete. If we are buying food from the corner store and using electricity from the grid, then we can also work with people whom we may mistakenly view as “reformist”-such as progressive lawyers, tenant activists, and union members that have a lot of dedication and integrity.

On a related note, activists have gotten so insular that meetings tend to wind up as ideological wars. I went to an anarchist meeting with about 60 people up in Boston, about 95% of whom were white. To sum it up, it pretty much degenerated into a debate between social ecologists, deep ecologists, anarcho-syndicalists and some other arcane subgroups. I would not want to bring my younger brother to one of these events, even though he is alienated by school and society, because these gatherings have little bearing on his situation in life.

The whole debate of “violence vs. non-violence” is an extension of these ideological turf wars. It's a bizarre debate that is an result of the class backgrounds of activists, i.e., how they frame and shape their politics. You can practice non-violent civil disobedience if it is tactically effective, while also understanding the need for armed self defense, such as many Puerto Ricans who are involved in stopping the bombing of Vieques. The big division between lockdown-obsessed Ruckus blockaders and window breaking Black Bloc'rs is silly and people need to get over it. On one level, self-defense is a human instinct that goes beyond any ideological debates. On the other hand, the problem comes down to tactical considerations. A lot of the tension is caused by the funding and political connections of non-profits who are involved in organizing protests, and on the other hand, black-clad activists who will only tolerate ultra-radical tactics and spectacles of confrontation with the cops. The world will not change through the exclusive use of one set of tactics, but the movement may get a lot stronger if people respect each other's differences, allow their tactics to complement each other and protect each other when doing illegal activities in the face of state repression. That, and people should re-read Sun-Tzu before they go the next big protest.

Finally, I am realizing after being an activist for several years that you need to take care of yourself before you can change the world. Take it from me, really. As a lifelong workaholic with an old world Jewish work ethic, I always put my passions before my health and it made me a lot less effective. Changing this meant being patient, giving myself time to grow and learn and spending time with my family and friends. I learned this from some of the best activists I know, because it is the only way that they have kept sane.

The Road To Hell Was Paved By Non-Profit Corporations

While radicals make things difficult for themselves, their issues pale (pun intended) compared to the problems in non-profits. There are a whole host of problems that the activist and academic liberal-left has in dealing with issues of race and class. Many stem from the problems that philanthropic foundations create. Wealthy liberal elites cater to low-income communities through foundation grants and training in "non-profit" management. Training low-income people to work within the foundation grant system selects many pseudo-progressive careerists and creates more space for the middle class to fit in; you cannot alienate the kindly white folks with the blinding rage that daily misery produces. Hence, hoodlums, head-bangers, militia members, graffiti artists, free-thinkers and other non-PC types tend to be historically underrepresented in the non-profit sector.

This system rarely allows people to educate and empower themselves to determine their own destiny because they have to follow certain guidelines which are a product of the grant-maker's class and race background. So make sure that you are non-violent, keep a tight budget, have all your grant reports in on time, grab a token woman or person of color for your Board of Directors, and keep your organization in a pyramidal power structure with a strict division of labor, just like the rich white folks do on Wall Street!

Meanwhile, where did the money come from to give these grants? They came from some multinational corporation who extracted the surplus value of their workers' labor and then established a non-taxable charitable foundation to keep their image clean. The docile workforce was probably guaranteed by some U.S. sponsored military intervention and helped along by a slew of free trade agreements that allowed the company to cross the border.

This does not mean that some people are not slick enough to get a hold of some funds and do some good work with it, nor does it mean that all foundations and people working for them have skewed intentions. Much of the good work that is being done today is a result of big money set aside by well-intentioned rich people who still want to see a better world, even if the way they got their money screwed it up irreparably.

One of the most racist practices in liberal/left groups is tokenizing. One example is a social service non-profit for which my friend was on the Board of Directors. He was always telling me how every meeting all these middle class white men and women would spend a good chunk of the meeting wondering how they could attract more people of color. There was one black woman on the board, who they treated with the utmost respect. When he told me who she was, I laughed because she is a corporate sellout and this organization treats her like she speaks for all black people. The status quo could not be maintained without the Colin Powells, Jesse Jacksons and other token people of color in positions of power. They give the illusion of diversity, despite their loyalty to a system which enslaves, exploits and kills the people they claim to respresent.

This is related to another phenomenon I have noticed. If an organization is being run by a person of color who is a greedy capitalist with a questionable agenda, and who has total authority over the other employees, it seems that many white people are at a loss on how to react. If they stand up to the boss, they run the risk of being labeled racist; if they just go along with the program, like many do, they are doing the community and movement a disservice by supporting a demagogue. I was fired and called racist by an employer at a community organization when I questioned the agenda, only to have another white person tell me that I needed to learn my place in the movement. Meanwhile, the group had no base in the community, had plans to gentrify the area and was getting hundreds of thousands of grant dollars because of their political connections.

I have also noticed how community organizations in the inner city that are run by white liberals tend to look for “legitimate” leaders of the community. I was at a demonstration after the Diallo Verdict and I saw some folks that I used to organize with. While they were rightfully critical of all of the loud white radicals who were not from the area, they ignored many of the local youth who were also showing their outrage. Instead of encouraging the frustrated and alienated young people who, thirty years ago, would have been the backbone of the Young Lords or the Black Panthers, they reached out to many of the older, respectable citizens, such as pastors and business owners, who were either on the police's side of the barricades or holding a candlelight vigil calling for a peaceful end to the night's protest. I have also seen these groups, at the behest of respectable residents and the local cops, criminalizing graffiti artists or street organizations like the Latin Kings that they do not consider to be “legitimate” members of the community. These types of actions have all increased the gaps between radical protest, community involvement and real social change.

The Wacky White Left

For me, activism has just gotten weirder as time goes on. Hero-worship is one bizarre behavior, and is definitely not exclusive to white activists. For instance, Mumia Abu-Jamal is an amazing person, a brilliant journalist and we all need to work to get him free. But the way his image is elevated to such a god-like status, that "“Mumia is all of us”, etc., is insulting to the thousands of black people out there who are struggling just as hard, but without the spotlight. It's strange to raise certain personalities to such a high level of admiration. It gives the movement the appearance of a cult. It's even weirder when white people fetishize black revolutionaries, especially when they have so little contact with people of color. By focusing on a dozen or so personalities, activists exhaust support for these people, leave themselves and their heroes open to ridicule, and distort the magnitude of the real problems in the public eye. And despite condemnation of capitalist individualism, leftists contradict themselves by calling for equality and collective action while glorifying certain individuals. Hero worship is something that our society ingrained in us and if we are going to reject traditional models of leadership and organizing, then radicals need to focus on the issues, not the personalities.

Another wacky phenomenon is what I call “distance radicalism.” It seems that the further away a struggle is, the more support there is for armed self-defense from white American lefties. Rarely will they look across the tracks to see struggles on the other side of town, but how they empty their pockets when the action is far away. The perfect example to illustrate this is Global Exchange. This organization gives tours and does support for Chiapas and Cuba. The director of Global Exchange was so appalled by anarchists breaking windows in Seattle during N30 that she called for their arrest by the storm-trooper clad police. Meanwhile, does Global Exchange realize that the Zapatistas actually killed Mexican police and soldiers during their brief armed uprising? Do they understand that the Cuban Revolution was not a peaceful transfer of power, and that Cuba has violently persecuted dissidents and homosexuals? It seems pretty bizarre to support armed struggle in other areas of the world, yet not support such stirrings here in the belly of the empire, especially if it would interfere with the “business as usual” of the white American left. How could Well-Intentioned Nonprofit, Inc. hold their annual retreat in the Rockies if there was heavy fighting between separatist militias and federal agents? Oh that damned Earth Liberation Front, always burning down those ski resorts and ruining everyone's vacations!

Finally, I want to touch on the subject of trust funds, since quite a few full-time activists have them. I would get so much more done if I had one and didn't have to worry how I was going to make the rent. Hell, that's why I didn't go to N30 in Seattle! But as for the lucky few who have sugar daddies: good for you, but be honest about it and don't be stingy. Its really funny when I see some unwashed white kid wearing filthy cargo pants despite the fact that he or she has some nice big nest egg at Goldman Sachs. I don't think it is cool to feign poverty. If you want to live simply, that's one thing, but it is insulting to poor people and working people when you pretend. If you have that kind of money and privilege then use it wisely without trying to be something that you aren't, and don't make it any harder for those of us who don't have that privilege.

The Question of (White) Power

The worst problem in the liberal/left is the control that white people tend to exert in movements and organizations. Maybe middle class white people feel that their privileges allow them to be in positions of decision making power, repeating familiar colonial behaviors. When they get together in numbers they feel safe, like they can say what they want and act without questioning their effect on others. They feel that since they are challenging the system and doing good work that they are not tainted by racism. Even if their intentions are good, white people being in control means that it is white power. Why should new social movements reflect the same power dynamics as mainstream society?

A person's class and racial background comes out in their actions and activists have to be really conscious of this. They have to realize that they are not always right and that poor people may have very different points of view. Middle class white people, as well as middle class people of color, have to help create the ideological and physical space for this to be expressed, especially when working with low-income people or people of color who do not have their level of education. One way is to let people organize themselves on their own terms, without attempting to manipulate them or convert them. Another way is to respect other people's tactics and strategy; if a group made up of poor people or people of color is not yet ready for civil disobedience then activists need to respect that. And if they are, then there should be solidarity and mutual aid. People also need to be very sensitive to gender dynamics, because men of all colors can be sexist, especially when they get together.

This is all important for when radicals pop into some city to protest some cause and expect the locals to jump right in the fight. I can't think of many community activists who are people of color that would have been very comfortable with the way many radicals organized protests in DC, LA and Seattle. Flying into a community to organize a demo and expecting the locals to just jump into the spectacle without involving them in the planning and consulting them on their demands is problematic, especially since the locals will have to clean up the mess once everyone else gallops off. But this is a double edged sword: radicals still need to be aware of groups that have been bought off by the system. There are many groups out there who will use the race card to advance a hidden agenda that has only the pretense of community support, especially groups that have a large contingent of middle class people of color or connections to the Democrats.

In order to overcome racism, activists must first have an understanding of power. Racism and classism are just manifestations of power. People in power use race and class (as well as gender, sexuality, age, etc.) to stay in control; this happens on both systemic and interpersonal levels and is the present day legacy of colonialism. It is not enough to just turn the existing power relations in society on their head, as some politically correct leftists would do. I think that the goal of a radical, whether white or a person of color, is to not just redistribute power equally, but to disperse and destroy power so that freedom, equality and liberty can exist in society. This will not come about through the leadership of any personality or group, but through individual and collective struggle. The ultimate end product should be a society where people can live their lives to the fullest and just let each other and the planet be, without all of the social and ecological imbalances that our society has created.

I guess I can illustrate what I mean by power dynamics in anti-racist organizing by talking about community organizing. I consider community organizing to be applying radical ideas by working on the issues that are important to people who have been put into a defensive position by the political system. Community means a geographical space that is determined by the people in that area, although their race and class can either clarify or distort this. I do not see the relevance of being an anarchist or leftist if your actions are not based in the grassroots and day to day needs of the community.

I have done a lot of door to door organizing on various issues in The Bronx and the most important thing I learned was that listening was the key. If I would tell people about a certain issue, I would let them talk about how they felt about it as much as they wanted. Some people slammed their doors in my face, others invited me in for tea and crackers and talked my ear off in Spanish for an hour. Some people asked me a ton of questions, quite a few didn't give a shit. But I was always more successful in pulling hesitant people out for a meeting or a rally if they saw that I was concerned with what they had to say, which I was. As a bilingual white person doing this work mostly in Latino and South Asian neighborhoods, people were always curious about who I was and what I was doing. Having grown up in the area and having a personal stake in the issues, I had an easy response, and that was very important because people don't like missionaries. They wanted to know what I was getting out of it. I think that is an important point that activists have to consider, especially white middle class folk who want to save the world. What are you getting out of it? What would your place be in the world that you want to create?

When you organize, how does it relate to you and your life? Do you see these issues in the abstract or are they deeply personal? How will being anti-racist benefit you as a white person? I think we need to ask ourselves this because we all function on some degree of self-interest, no matter how altruistic we think we are. Self-preservation is an instinct and if all our ideas are correct, then being an anti-racist white person must inevitably lead to our own well-being, right?

Simply put, anti-racism means having a higher consciousness of who you are, where you came from and how your actions affect people around you. Actually, these are also pretty general ideas on how to be a decent person overall. You know, do unto others…

What To Do With Whitey?

What should the role of middle class white people be in social movements? For one thing, they should organize their own kind first. Subcomandante Marcos says that the best way to help the Zapatistas is by organizing in your own communities; this can be applied to most social movements. I dare you all to go back to the stuccoed, split level, suburban palaces from whence you came and organize all those Limp Bizkit listening freaks that inhabit middle America. Who else is going to do it?

So onto the suburbs, that vast expanse of sprawl that so utterly represents the failure of the American Dream. The suburbs produced you and your alienation and will continually keep churning out more alcoholic corporate executives, millionaire crack addicts, crusty punk straight edge vegans and suicidal overweight housewives. Sounds impossible, eh? Well, one of my good friends from college got sick of the whole college activist scene after he graduated and went home to work in his neighborhood and hang out with all of his old buddies who saw the world in a simpler and more lucid way than all of the academics at school ever could. And he hasn't sounded so happy in years.

I bring up this problem because of what I have seen white activists do in the cities. With all fairness, there are quite a few people who do amazing work . They are revitalizing communities by protecting gardens, fighting police brutality, working for well-intentioned service organizations, doing popular education, etc. Activists also create semi-autonomous spaces that help radical ideas flourish and give some alienated young people an escape from the bullshit they had to grow up with. But the gentrification of neighborhoods always starts with the artists, activists and squatters who are the first wave white folk that re-inhabit “frontier” neighborhoods ravaged by drugs and arson. It happened to the Lower East Side and Williamsburg, Brooklyn and now it is starting to happen to the South Bronx. When this first wave comes, it sends a signal to landlords that they can raise the rents because more wealthy people are on the way. Landlords know that once some white people come, more will follow (isn't that the history of the settlement of all frontiers?). Who would landlords rather be renting to, some single Latino mother of four on workfare, or some starry eyed college educated activist?

But the best way that activists may start to understand their racial and class issues may be through direct contact with low-income people. Reading about other people's culture, history and struggle is important but it doesn't have much impact without interactions. It is good if you read Gloria Anzaldua or Bell Hooks when you are in college, but that is just a start. Because our society separates us all based on race and class, we need to communicate and interact with each other to overcome these divisions. One project, the Victory Gardens, does this by bringing both urban people and white activists to work cooperatively on their farm in Maine. They then give the food out for free to their own community, as well as to inner city community groups. My friends at the Victory Gardens say that they get letters from people who never thought about class privilege before they worked there. This shows how important communication is, but also how important it is for low-income people to work together to support each other and provide an adequate learning space for ambitious activists.

The issue of class is really important here because I think that there is a lot less racism between poor whites and people of color than between middle class whites and people of color. College-educated activists get offended when they see poor people who don't act in a politically correct way, like making cracks at each other's ethnicity, eating unhealthy fast food or cursing a lot. The typical stereotype of a poor white person is an ignorant, racist, redneck. But I have seen more mixed race couples on the “bad” side of town than I did in college. At the beach I would see Puerto Ricans, Blacks and crusty white guys all sitting on the pier fishing, smoking and chilling out. On Greyhound buses I have heard working stiffs of various races talking for hours about the common shit they go through on a daily basis. I have heard from activists in Newark that during the heyday of Amiri Baraka's organizing in the 60's and 70's, some of his strongest yet quietist support came from white working class people in the community, particularly the taxi drivers. Jack Henry Abbott, in the autobiographical “In The Belly of The Beast,” says that black prisoners related to him because they said he was “class conscious,” which meant that he understood their oppression because of empathy and similar experiences.

If a movement does not change the lives of poor and working people, and if it is primarily composed of the middle class, then it will inevitably be reformist or reactionary. Middle class radicals will end up forming a bureaucratic class like they did in the USSR , becoming career revolutionaries that created a cruel new status quo once they were in charge. It is already happening in this country to a certain extent, through the growth of the non-profit left, as well as within the bureaucracy of the AFL-CIO, who has hired thousands of college graduates to be union organizers for working people. Hell, ACORN would not exist if not for the naïve college graduates who get sucked into their authoritarian organizing model that feigns community accountability. And leftists get stuck in this bureaucratic mindset when they only think in organizational terms: you are not a legitimate activist unless you are affiliated with so-and-so. This makes it harder to recruit and retain new people in movements, especially those who have not been “re-educated” in the ways of left-wing activism.

Class divisions are inevitable in bureaucracies; in fact, I believe that poor and working people would end up with less freedom than they have now if the politically correct, middle class, liberal/left took charge. Fuck it, let me say that I hope we don't have a revolution for a while because if the current crop of activists ever took charge things would get so bad, that I'd just move to the woods, buy an arsenal and a big ‘ol Blazer and if anyone fucked with me they'd eat a 7.62 mm sandwich.

Once poor and working people get a hold of radical ideas and begin acting on them, like they have done in dozens of places throughout the world in this century, only then will real changes happen. It will be from the bottom up, without the middle class attempting to guide or stem the chaotic energy that a revolution will unleash. If there are stirrings of discontent out there, then it is our responsibility as free human beings to struggle alongside anyone who is waking up inside the Matrix.

Our Time Is Now

Everywhere you look, people are feeling a greater sense of isolation and alienation than ever. People seem to be completely lost. Everyone is on anti-depressants, mood stabilizers, sexual enhancers, crystal meth, smack or crack. Everyone is completely fucked up and they are getting worse. Corporate globalization isn't just putting everyone in jail or at a dead-end job. It is making everyone so completely loony that they can't take care of their material, emotional and spiritual needs anymore.

I have been alienated from this society for as long as I can remember. A lot of it stems from where I came from, that I was low-income, white and angry. Any two of those three and I would have been okay. People of color never understood why I was so angry, wealthier white folks never understood the income gap and other angry people wondered why I wasn't covered in the conventional decorations of alienation, like piercings and tattoos. It comes down to the fact that there is not enough of a culture of resistance for pissed off working class white kids. Leftist activism and punk rock are the usual outlets for this, but there is too much elitist posturing, not enough adventure and no rites of passage to adulthood. They offer an occasional escape, not a long-term answer and if I had known of something better, I would have avoided them. Cultural identity politics are no solution because they translate too easily into white supremacy; it should be no surprise that white kids turn to the Nazis, because they offer an instant community and sense of belonging that is absent in activism. Radicals are missing the boat on a generation of metalheads and white baggy-pants homies who are plenty angry at everything, but unfocused and caught up in consumerism or fascism.

What is needed is a culture of resistance that is not exclusively white or black or Latino. It must allow personal expression and development, and provide role models of anti-racist whites: reading “Anti-Racism in U.S. History” by Herbert Aptheker or “The Biography of John Brown” by WEB DuBois are good starts. This cultural project needs to show an understanding of the struggles of other people and what we all have in common, as well as what makes us all unique. It needs to allow communication and interaction between people who would have never met, as well as foster respect and mutual aid. We need something that Norman Mailer hinted at in his introduction to “In The Belly Of The Beast”: an Outward Bound with a radical spirit. That way some thin-lipped trailer park headbanger could see what she has in common with some dread-head rhymer from Newark while working and living together.

The roots of this resistance can be found all around, it is just a matter of putting the pieces together. Take music, for instance. We all need to understand the glow in Louis Armstrong's cheeks, why Bob Marley was a working class hero and why Tito Puente twirled his drumsticks over his head. We need to see what Muddy Waters and Woody Guthrie had in common; that Public Enemy has more in common with Aus Rotten than Jay-Z. We need to understand that in suburban parking lots from Bangor to Bozeman, white kids have been rockin' to Rage Against the Machine for over eight years. White people, as well as people of color, have been hearing ideas of struggle and resistance all their lives. These expressions are not necessarily overtly political because they are a part of everyone's daily experiences.

But what stops people from taking the chance of being subversive is the inertia of earning the daily bread and a lifetime of hearing reactionary politics in school, from parents and on TV. There are white people out there who could and would turn radical, but right now it would be like jumping off a cliff. There needs to be a common space that people can turn to when they get fed up with society's bullshit, one that does not have the elitism, hierarchies and thought control that left-wing and anarchist movements exhibit.

Think about this if you are an activist-of any background- and ask yourself what you were looking for when you stumbled into the “movement”? Have you found it? Has it fulfilled your personal desires as well as your political visions? If not, are you still looking or fighting for it? Are activists creating something that is worth escaping to, or are we just recreating the bullshit of mainstream society?

Hundreds of years ago, when white settlers and black slaves first made contact with native people, thousands of them fled settler society to live together, white and black and red, in the vast wilderness. They joined cultures who offered so much more freedom and fulfillment than they were used to. Can we, as radicals, offer something like that to the alienated and isolated people in our society? I'll leave that one for all of us to figure out together, or die trying.

Wait, I want to end this on an upbeat note. A radical from the 40's named Dwight Macdonald once said that the only thing that gave him hope was this country's tradition of lawlessness and rebellion. The subversive history of this country stretches across race and class boundaries. It includes pirates, metalheads, B-Boys and breakers, revolting prisoners, Indian guerillas, runaway slaves, runaway white servants, bikers, shop-floor sabotuers, general strikers, free-thinkers, graffiti bombers, micro-power radio stations, beach bums, freight-hoppers, skate-punks, tax-cheats, squatters, militant housewives, computer hackers, animal liberators, home-schoolers, bank-robbers, organic farmers, moonshiners, vegetarians, pacifists, rural gun-nuts, surfers, as well as the usual assortment of riotous radicals. As bad as things get, we should never underestimate the unstoppable and utterly bizarre quest for human freedom.

Reading List:

Revolutionary politics and organizing: Almanac of The Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko, Vida by Marge Piercy, Subversion of Politics by George Katsiaficas, A Life In The Struggle: Ivory Perry and the Culture of Resistance by George Lipsitz, Assata by Assata Shakur, A Nation Within A Nation by Komozi Woodard, The Groundings With My Brothers by Walter Rodney, This Side of Glory by David Hilliard and Lewis Cole, Unequal Protection edited by Robert Bullard, Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, The Root Is Man by Dwight Macdonald, I Write What I Like by Steve Biko, Strike! by Jeremy Brecher.

Class, race and power: Harvest of Rage by Joel Dyer, Cold New World by Bill Finnegan, Red Dirt by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Snow Man by Carolyn Chute, The Memory of Fire Trilogy by Eduardo Galeano, Anti-Racism In U.S. History by Herbert Aptheker, In The Belly of The Beast by Jack Abbott, Drylongso by John Langston Gwaltney, The Redneck Manifesto by Jim Goad, Off the Map by Chellis Glenddinning, Rogue State by William Blum, Reading Capital Politically by Harry Cleaver, and anything by James Petras and Sylvia Federici.

Technology and class: The Pentagon of Power by Lewis Mumford, Progress Without People by David Noble, The Unabomber Manifesto, Tools for Conviviality by Ivan Illich, The Development Dictionary edited by Wolfgang Sachs, the Tao Te Ching and materials from the Turning Point Project. Soundtrack provided by Iron Maiden, Motorhead, In Flames, Catharsis, Slayer, Shadow's Fall, Neurosis, Yuppicide, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Curtis Mayfield, the Last Poets, Peter Tosh, John Trudell and Burning Spear. This article was not a solo effort. Thanks to conversations with Tim, Sonja, F. Reals, Herman Bell, Punk Rick, John Zerzan, CharlieBee and Carol & Michael.

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