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Sexism, egos, and lies: Sometimes you wake up and it is not different

By Lisa Fithian / March 22, 2010

Originally posted on The Rag Blog.

Brandon. Darby. Still from a video / videochannels.com

On December 31, 2008, the Austin Informant Working Group released a statement titled: “Sometimes You Wake Up and It’s Different: Statement on Brandon Darby, the ‘Unnamed’ Informant/Provocateur in the ‘Texas 2.’” It’s been over a year since then and here is my long-overdue version of that story.

It was on December 18, 2008, that I learned unquestionably that Brandon Michael Darby, an Austin activist, was an FBI informant leading up to the 2008 Republican National Convention protests in St. Paul, MN. He was the key witness in the case of two young men from Midland, TX, Bradley Crowder (23) and David McKay (22) who, thanks to Brandon’s involvement, have been convicted of manufacturing Molotov cocktails.

They are now serving two and four years, respectively, in federal prison. In 2010, Brandon will be a key witness in another important case to the Government — the case of the RNC 8, Minneapolis organizers who are facing state conspiracy charges.

The case of the “Texas 2” gained national media attention as a result of Brandon’s unique blend of egomania, the media’s attraction to charismatic and controversial men, and the persistence of the U.S. government to criminalize and crush a growing anti-authoritarian movement. I found myself strangely entwined in the story — past, present and future.

I knew Brandon, and I was given a set of the FBI documents because, as it became apparent from reading them, I was one of the primary people he was reporting on to the FBI. (I, like many others engaged in political protest, am suspect because of my politics not my actions.) Now all of us who knew Brandon and worked closely with him, have been coming to terms with what he did, how he was able to do it, how we were used and abused in the process, and what we might do differently next time.

The Texas 2: David McKay and Bradley Crowder.

Waking up

Some of us were more surprised than others when Brandon revealed himself as an informant. My first reaction was deep sadness. I then went through a range of emotions: disbelief, shock, anger, outrage, and at times vindication. I am still hurt and angry, not just with Brandon, but with the whole system that supports and enables him.

I am still struggling with forgiveness for choices made in activist communities and by some of my friends. I understand how difficult it was; Brandon, at times, was also my friend. In the end we must examine the behavior we experienced, reflect on the array of choices we had, and explore what we could do differently to insure this does not happen again.

Brandon’s behavior was problematic long before 2008. Whether or not he was actually working for the state, he was doing their job for them by breeding discord within our politically active communities. I raised my concerns about Brandon’s behavior in New Orleans, in Austin, and also in Minneapolis. Read the rest of this entry »


Review also posted on The Rag Blog.

Review of Men’s Work: How to Stop the Violence That Tears Our Lives Apart

by Paul Kivel

Ballantine Books, 1992

Paul Kivel, cofounder of the Oakland Men’s Project, has given all men (and those concerned about them) a tremendous gift in the form of this inspirational book. This Valentine’s Day, let us accept this gift so that we might heal our relationships to the ones we love and to ourselves.

Men’s Work draws on Kivel’s decades of experience in the movement to end male violence, along with his life experiences as a father, son, partner, and friend, to speak about the trauma and feelings of powerlessness men experience to in our capitalist, patriarchal society. He describes how men reproduce this system by hurting women, trans folks, children, and themselves.

He explains that this is crisis cannot be solved by locking up male offenders, because this will only cause more violence and trauma. Instead, Kivel has devoted his life to helping men understand the roots of their behavior so that they might change, to become more caring and compassionate. One helpful way he approaches these roots is through the “Act Like a Man” box, which shows how patriarchal masculinity limits and hurts men:

men…………………………. men are…
yell at people………………. aggressive
have no emotions………… responsible
get good grades………….. mean
stand up for themselves… bullies
don’t cry……………………. tough
don’t make mistakes…….. angry
know about sex………….. successful
take care of people………. strong
don’t back down…………. in control
push people around…….. active
can take it………………… dominant over women

All men have received this male training, and know that when they step outside these boundaries they will face abuse, scorn, name-calling, accusations of homosexuality or femininity, or violence. The fear of this abuse is ultimately what keeps us inside the Box.

Paul relates, “It is not an irrational fear. This fear in me was built by getting beaten up after school by some older kid in the neighborhood who didn’t like me, by being teased and called names because sometimes I cried after I got beaten up. This fear was built by all the times my dad put me down because I wasn’t good enough in sports., at school, or whatever he decided was the standard that day.” Hearing a man brave enough to tell these kinds of stories was empowering and validated my own experiences.

The book also includes a wealth of activities that the Oakland Men’s Project developed to help men think about violence, masculinity, abuse and privilege, so that they might change their behavior. Read the rest of this entry »


This is an incredibly simple, but useful way to gauge how systematically our pop culture is dominated by men. Women are often only represented as either objects or auxiliaries whose lives revolve around men. Take a look at this short video from Anita Sarkeesian. [alex]

Reposted from Feminist Frequency, Dec. 7, 2009

The Bechdel Test is a simple way to gauge the active presence of female characters in Hollywood films and just how well rounded and complete those roles are. It was created by Allison Bechdel in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in 1985. It is astonishing the number of popular movies that can’t pass this simple test. It demonstrates how little women’s complex and interesting lives are underrepresented or non existent in the film industry. We have jobs, creative projects, friendships and struggles among many other things that are actually interesting in our lives… so Hollywood, start writing about it!

Check out other great blogs and commentary about the Bechdel Test:

  1. The Bechdel Test Movie List: here you can find a long, long list of movies and where they rate on the Bechdel Test.
  2. Why Film Schools Teach Screenwriters Not to Pass the Bechdel Test’s by Jennifer Kesler. This is a must read – exposing the systemic problems of the film industry starting with film school.
  3. See the original comic strip “The Rule” here.
  4. You can visit Allison Bechdel’s site here and I highly recommend her graphic novel Fun Home
  5. Over at the Blog “The Angry Black Woman” she adapted the Bechdel Test to apply to race. Take a look: The Bechdel Test and Race in Popular Fiction

Child soldiers in the Congo Civil War

A civil war has been raging in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since.. well.. pretty much since the Belgians conquered the area, committed genocide, and called it a colony, as told in the excellent book King Leopold’s Ghost. But in the past 13 years, warfare has escalated and killed over 6 million Congolese, while rape has become an absolute epidemic and one of the main weapons of war. The UN’s top humanitarian official described the sexual violence against Congolese women as “almost unimaginable” for its frequency and ferocity.

This is a conflict that concerns us all, as it sheds crucial light on the functioning of global capitalism. At the center of the war is a mineral called coltan, short for Columbite-tantalite, which is used in capacitors, a necessary piece of electronics found in virtually every electronic device of modern capitalist society, from laptops to cell phones to cameras and jet engines. See Coltan: Learning the Basics. Coltan is just one of several expensive and rare minerals abundant in this remote region of central Africa, but coltan is ONLY available in this part of the world, which makes it extremely valuable.

Millions of children are exploited to mine coltan and other valuable minerals in the Congo

The DRC government, Uganda, Rwanda, and various militias and guerrilla forces are fighting over control of the land where these minerals are mined. The local residents, whose traditional lifestyles have been disrupted by decades of civil war, are forced to dig tiny amounts of these “conflict minerals” from the soil in inhuman conditions, often with their bare hands. An estimated 2 million of the miners are children, and often they are literal or virtual slaves who are on the brink of starvation. It is a situation which can only be described as hell on earth.

When you hear about such extreme exploitation, you can be pretty sure that some folks are making a hell of a lot of money. In this case, it’s western corporations like Nokia, Motorola, Compaq, Dell, IBM, Sony and many more who rely on extremely cheap capacitors in their electronics to make their profits from our Christmas presents. These companies have thus far avoided scrutiny by outsourcing the more direct business of extracting the minerals to smaller companies.

If there is any hope in this terrible situation, it is that capitalism is reaching the end of its ability to exploit the people of the world the way it has for the last centuries, and through the increased awareness of what is happening in places like the Congo, we as a people will say “Never again.” It is primarily the responsibility of those of us in the wealthy countries to put a stop to this paradigm of rape, slavery, and capitalist profit. Only we have the power to end the madness.

Below is a wonderful article that outlines specific solutions to the Congo civil war. [alex]


Conflict Minerals: A Cover For US Allies and Western Mining Interests?

Kambale Musavuli and Bodia Macharia

Originally published by Huffington Post, Dec. 14, 2009.


As global awareness grows around the Congo and the silence is finally being broken on the current and historic exploitation of Black people in the heart of Africa, myriad Western based “prescriptions” are being proffered. Most of these prescriptions are devoid of social, political, economic and historical context and are marked by remarkable omissions. The conflict mineral approach or efforts emanating from the United States and Europe are no exception to this symptomatic approach which serves more to perpetuate the root causes of Congo’s challenges than to resolve them.

The conflict mineral approach has an obsessive focus on the FDLR and other rebel groups while scant attention is paid to Uganda (which has an International Court of Justice ruling against it for looting and crimes against humanity in the Congo) and Rwanda (whose role in the perpetuation of the conflict and looting of Congo is well documented by UN reports and international arrest warrants for its top officials). Rwanda is the main transit point for illicit minerals coming from the Congo irrespective of the rebel group (FDLR, CNDP or others) transporting the minerals. According to Dow Jones, Rwanda’s mining sector output grew 20% in 2008 from the year earlier due to increased export volumes of tungsten, cassiterite and coltan, the country’s three leading minerals with which Rwanda is not well endowed. In fact, should Rwanda continue to pilfer Congo’s minerals, its annual mineral export revenues are expected to reach $200 million by 2010. Former Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen says it best when he notes “having controlled the Kivu provinces for 12 years, Rwanda will not relinquish access to resources that constitute a significant percentage of its gross national product.” As long as the West continues to give the Kagame regime carte blanche, the conflict and instability will endure. Read the rest of this entry »


Review by Dana Barnett
Originally published by Toward Freedom.
Nov. 25, 2009.
Reviewed: Arm the Spirit: A Woman’s Journey Underground and Back, by Diana Block. Published by AK Press, 2009.

“We had gone underground in the early eighties, not a high-tide period for revolutionary activity in the US. Unlike the people who had formed the Weather Underground Organization in the sixties, we were not swept into clandestinity as a response to the Vietnam War or the militancy of the Black Panthers…As we saw it, armed struggle was still a necessary component of every revolutionary movement, and the movement within the US was no exception.” – Diana Block

How do we decide where to put our political energy? For many of us on the left our politicization began with critiques of the dominant ideology. Our critiques may have been a result of formal education, though for many our critiques were lifeboats we clung to keep from drowning in the chasm between what we were told and what we experienced. Upon confronting contradictions we look for explanations. We attempt to deconstruct the world and then reconstruct it to make sense of it and find our place in it. We make our underlying ideologies conscious. We develop our analysis and principles and then attempt to act in a way that is aligned with their logical conclusions.

As leftist revolutionaries we ask ourselves the same questions at different times in our history. What is to be done? What does revolutionary work look like in our time and what is my role within it?

Diana Block’s memoir, Arm the Spirit: A Woman’s Journey Underground and Back, is an example of a leftist making sense of the world around her, attempting to act with integrity, and searching for political strategy and home. The memoir moves easily back and forth between two aspects of her story. The book begins with Block’s partner, Claude Marks, finding a bug in their car in 1985 after several years of organizing and living clandestinely, and only two months after she gave birth to their first child. This main narrative details her life underground and her re-emergence and re-engagement with organizing from 1995 to the present. It is interspersed with the back story of Block’s experiences, politics, and the context that led to her decision to form a clandestine revolutionary collective to support Third World anti-colonialist armed struggles. Block’s book is her answer to the question of what it means to be a revolutionary in one’s own time. In particular, Block analyzes her role as a white person in the US with feminist, lesbian/queer, anti-imperialist, and anti-racist politics.

I do not feel compelled to use this book, or this review, as a site to evaluate the usefulness of clandestine work, or the question of armed struggle. Read the rest of this entry »


Also published by The Rag Blog and OpEdNews.
We stand at a critical moment in Earth’s history, a time when humanity must choose its future. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent and fragile, the future at once holds great peril and great promise. To move forward we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny. We must join together to bring forth a sustainable global society founded on respect for nature, universal human rights, economic justice, and a culture of peace. Towards this end, it is imperative that we, the peoples of Earth, declare our responsibility to one another, to the greater community of life, and to future generations. – The Earth Charter” (pg. 1).

David Korten, long-time global justice activist, co-founder of Yes! Magazine, and author of such books as When Corporations Rule the World, lays out the fundamental crossroads facing the world in his 2006 book The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community. In response to global climate change, war, oil scarcity, persistent racism and sexism and many other mounting crises, Korten argues we must recognize these as symptoms of a larger system of Empire, so that we might move in a radically different direction of equality, ecological sustainability, and cooperation, which he terms Earth Community. This is a powerful and important book, which excels in overviewing the big picture of threats facing our ecosphere and our communities at the hands of global capitalism1, and translating this into the simplest and most accessible language so we might all do something about it. It’s pretty much anti-capitalism for the masses. And it has the power to inspire many of us to transform our lives and work towards the transformation of society.

Capitalism and Empire

Of course, Korten has made the strategic decision to avoid pointing the finger at “capitalism” as such in order to speak to an American public which largely still confuses the term as equivalent to “freedom” or “democracy.” In fact the “C” word is rarely mentioned in the book, almost never without some sort of modifier as in “corporate capitalism” or “predatory capitalism”, as if those weren’t already features of the system as a whole. Instead, Korten names “Empire” as the culprit responsible for our global economic and ecological predicament, which is defined as a value-system that promotes the views that “Humans are flawed and dangerous”, “Order by dominator hierarchy”, “Compete or die”, “Masculine dominant”, etc. (32).

Korten explains that Empire, “has been a defining feature of the most powerful and influential human societies for some five thousand years, [and] appropriates much of the productive surplus of society to maintain a system of dominator power and elite competition. Racism, sexism, and classism are endemic features” (25). In this way the anarchist concept of the State is repackaged as a transcendent human tendency, which has more to do with conscious decision-making and maturity level than it does with political power. While this compromise does limit the book’s effectiveness in offering solutions later on, it does speak in a language more familiar to the vast non-politicized majority of Americans, and may have the potential to unify a larger movement for change.

Whatever you want to call the system, the danger it presents to the planet is now clear. Korten spells out the grim statistics: “Fossil fuel use is five times what it was [in 1950], and global use of freshwater has tripled… the [Arctic] polar ice cap has thinned by 46 percent over twenty years… [while we’ve seen] a steady increase over the past five decades in severe weather events such as major hurricanes, floods, and droughts. Globally there were only thirteen severe events in the 1950s. By comparison, seventy-two such events occurred during the first nine years of the 1990s” (59-60). If this destruction continues, it’s uncertain if the Earth will survive.

This ecological damage is considered alongside the social damage of billions living without clean water or adequate food, as well as the immense costs of war and genocide. But Korten understands that the danger is relative to where you stand in the social hierarchy – the system creates extreme poverty for many, and an extreme wealth for a few others. He explains how the system is based on a deep inequality that is growing ever worse, “In the 1990s, per capita income fell in fifty-four of the world’s poorest countries… At the other end of the scale, the number of billionaires worldwide swelled from 274 in 1991 to 691 in 2005” (67). The critical point that these few wealthy elites wield excessive power and influence within the system to stop or slow necessary reform could be made more clearly, but at least the book exposes the existence of this upper class, who are usually quite effective at hiding from public scrutiny and outrage over the suffering they are causing.2

Earth Community – Growing a Revolution

Standing at odds with the bastions of Empire is what David Korten calls “Earth Community,” a “higher-order” value-system promoting the views of, “Cooperate and live,” “Love life”, “Defend the rights of all”, “Gender balanced”, etc. (32). Read the rest of this entry »


HEALING SEX is…

  1. Honest, mutually consensual and based on clear communication
  2. Essential, meets physical, emotional, psychological needs and doesn’t feed addiction
  3. Arousing, mutually orgasmic and/or pleasureful
  4. Liberatory, builds sexual confidence and agency in fulfilling desires
  5. Intimate, explores depths of human openness and connection
  6. Nurturing, an expression of love and care within a sustainable relationship
  7. Gorgeous, celebrates human body and all 5 senses
  8. Spiritual, supports whole people and their growth, does not reduce to sex-objects
  9. Equal, does not reinforce structures of oppression or unequal power dynamics
  10. Xciting, engages imagination and challenges boundaries

This definition of healthy sexuality is meant to be used to evaluate possible and actual sexual interactions. I’ve created it as an acronym so that it can be memorized and recalled as different kinds of sexual situations develop. Specifically, this was created for the Men’s Support Group of which I am a part, so that we can be mindful of how we express our sexualities and how they affect ourselves and our partners.

Since we live in a patriarchal society, sex is far too often destructive and self-destructive, reinforcing male dominance and the objectification of female bodies. At the same time, so many of us have been and are victims of sexual violence and trauma, which has scarred us deeply and made sex a difficult and often triggering activity. But if we are intentional and sensitive about overcoming these obstacles, sex can become a sustaining, healing, and even revolutionary act.

I hope this 10-point rubric can help in some way to navigate the sexual landscape as we work to create positive and healthy sexualities.

alex


This essay, written following a listening tour across the US, asks some of the most important questions facing social movements today, including “How Do We Build Intergenerational Movements?”, “What About Multiracial Movement Building?” and “How Do We Develop Strategy?”

I read this when it first came out in the summer of 2006 and it pretty much rocked my socks off and made me excited to get involved in the new SDS, so I figured I’d repost it for folks who never got to read it. [alex]

Ten Questions for Movement Building
by Dan Berger and Andy Cornell

Originally published by Monthly Review Zine.

For five weeks in the late spring of 2006, we toured the eastern half of the United States to promote two books — Letters From Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out (Nation Books, 2005) and Outlaws of America: The Weather Underground and the Politics of Solidarity (AK Press, 2006) — and to get at least a cursory impression of sectors of the movement in this country.  We viewed the twenty-eight events not only as book readings but as conscious political conversations about the state of the country, the world, and the movement.

Of course, such quick visits to different parts of the country can only yield so much information.  Because this was May and June, we did not speak on any school campuses and were unable to gather a strong sense of the state of campus-based activism.  Further, much of the tour came together through personal connections we’ve developed in anarchist, queer, punk, and white anti-racist communities, and, as with any organizing, the audience generally reflected who organized the event and how they went about it rather than the full array of organizing projects transpiring in each town.  Yet several crucial questions were raised routinely in big cities and small towns alike (or, alternately, were elided but lay just beneath the surface of the sometimes tense conversations we were party to).  Such commonality of concerns and difficulties demonstrates the need for ongoing discussion of these issues within and between local activist communities.  Thus, while we don’t pretend to have an authoritative analysis of the movement, we offer this report as part of a broader dialogue about building and strengthening modern revolutionary movements — an attempt to index some common debates and to offer challenges in the interests of pushing the struggle forward.

Challenges and Debates:

The audiences we spoke with tended to be predominantly white and comprised of people self-identified as being on the left, many of whom are active in one or more organizations locally or nationally.  We traveled through the Northeast (including a brief visit to Montreal), the rust belt, the Midwest, parts of the South, and the Mid-Atlantic.  Some events tended to draw mostly 60s-generation activists, others primarily people in their 20s, and more than a few were genuinely intergenerational.  Not surprisingly, events at community centers and libraries afforded more room for conversation than those at bookstores.  Crowds ranged anywhere from 10 to 100 people, although the average event had about 25 people.  Even where events were small gatherings of friends, they proved to be useful dialogues about pragmatic work.  Our goals for the tour were: establishing a sense of different organizing projects; pushing white people in an anti-racist and anti-imperialist direction while highlighting the interrelationship of issues; and grappling with the difficult issues of organizing, leadership, and intergenerational movement building.  The following ten questions emerge from our analysis of the political situation based on our travels and meetings with activists of a variety of ages and range of experiences.

1. What Is Organizing?

Every event we did focused on the need for organizing.  This call often fell upon sympathetic ears, but was frequently met with questions about how to actually organize and build lasting radical organizations, particularly in terms of maintaining radical politics while reaching beyond insular communities.  There are too few institutions training young or new activists in the praxis of organizing and anti-authoritarian leadership development. Read the rest of this entry »

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