Categories Archives: News » The Solution: Resistance » Noncooperation

Visit the global News » The Solution: Resistance » Noncooperation archives for posts from all DGR sites.

DIY Resistance: Post-Modern Robin Hoods

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

255px-Robin_shoots_with_sir_Guy_by_Louis_Rhead_1912For the last year, it goes like this: My phone rings precisely at 6:30 AM. I groan in bed and reach towards the shelf holding my phone. By the time I locate my phone, I’ve missed the call. It’s from an area code I don’t recognize. They’ve left a message, so I curse, roll over, cuddle a pillow to my chest, and fall back asleep. When I wake up there are three more calls from three different area codes with three more messages. I listen to the messages.

They are all the same. The prerecording plays, “Hello, this is Heather from Sallie Mae Department of Education Loan Services with a message for” and there’s a short pause, a hiss, and a mechanized voice saying “William Fawk.”

I chuckle to myself. The machines never know how to pronounce my last name. Falk, like talk with an F. And poor Heather-from-Sallie-Mae-Department-of-Education-Loan-Services will never track me down, though she has been getting rather sly lately. She calls from an area code where I have friends or family like 414 (Milwaukee) or 317 (Indianapolis) forcing me to check my messages just to make sure I do not miss a call from someone who matters.

***

My student loan debt hasn’t always been so much fun. I remember a couple years ago, the first time I logged into my Sallie Mae account from my desk in the Kenosha, WI State Public Defender Office. It was my first week on the job and I was swept up in a newfound sense of adult responsibility. I was determined to design a personal budget where I would make my monthly loan payments, set aside a little money for my retirement plan like my dad told me to, and have a bit left over to spend in relaxation to offset the stress as a trial attorney trying to keep people out of prison.

I listed out my numbers before I accounted for my loan payments. My gross monthly income was $2600. Rent for my one bedroom apartment in Bayview – an old working class Milwaukee neighborhood famous for labor rights and a labor massacre – was $700 a month. Blessed with my mother’s furnace of a metabolism, I allowed myself $150 for groceries a month. I would need a tank of gas a week to get to work and back and forth from the county jail to see clients. For the gas, I set aside $200 a month. This left me armed with $1550 to attack my student loan payments and have some spending money for the weekends.

Maybe you can imagine the brick Sallie Mae threw at my forehead through the computer screen when I read my monthly student loan payment coming in at over $1900 a month?

I iced the emotional bruise I took from Sallie Mae’s brick and resolved to figure my loans out. $1900 a month was just the standard ten-year plan. I started reading about my options. I learned that I could put my loans on a twenty or thirty year plan, reducing my monthly payments, but also paying more in interest in the long run. At 25 years old, ten years seemed (and still seems) like an eternity. Committing to something for twenty or thirty years was simply something I could not fathom because I lacked any experiential reference.

I reached out to the University of Wisconsin Law School Alumni Services. They explained to me that, as a public sector worker, the federal government offered a forgiveness program where if I made my minimum payments for ten years and remained in public sector work, the government would forgive the rest of my loans. I realized this was my best option, worked out a deal with Sallie Mae to pay $400 a month, enrolled in the forgiveness plan, and started breathing easier.

Then, the reality of life as a public defender set in. I began working 60 and 70-hour weeks. I sat with clients in jail explaining to them how much prison time they were likely to get. I struggled to meet their gaze when they asked if me if there wasn’t anything else I could do. My fists clenched under courtroom tables as judges yelled at my clients for stealing from Wal-Mart, for lying to racist cops, for driving to work without a driver’s license, and then condemning my clients to cages.

Depression set in. Many days I walked out of the county jail, sat in my car, and wept. Some nights I got home at 7:30 pm and went straight to bed without dinner. Other nights I hardly slept at all haunted by my failures from the day before. I knew I could not keep this up. I was not cut out for a life as a public defender. But, what could I do? I was enrolled in the best possible student loan repayment plan the government offered. If I left my job, I would lose the plan and be forced to face twenty or thirty years paying off over $200,000.

I began to feel horribly guilty for considering walking away from the work.

Public defenders are doing incredible work. The American so-called criminal justice system is the nation’s most racist institution. Michelle Alexander points out that there are more black men in prison today than were enslaved in 1850. How could I turn my back on my clients? How could I live a life after gaining full awareness of this problem, after being in a position to help, and after leaving all those people to their fate in prison?

I was exhausted by the work. I was exhausted by the guilt. I felt trapped. And, as I’ve written so much about, I tried to kill myself twice. Luckily, I do not know how much Ambien or Klonopin it actually takes to kill a 6’2 190 pound male. I survived. But, in the time since my suicide attempts, my guilt surrounding personal finances has not.

***

I am engaged in full-time activism. I live out of an 80-liter pack where I carry a cold-weather down sleeping bag my mother bought me, a tent, four t-shirts, two pairs of pants, a set of long underwear, five pairs of boxer briefs, four pairs of hiking socks, a toothbrush, toothpaste, several collections of poetry, and a red Wisconsin Badgers hoodie. I do not know where I will sleep in October. I have $79.60 (Canadian) to my name.

I could not be happier.

Everywhere I’ve been from Milwaukee, WI to San Diego, CA to Unist’ot’en territory to Victoria, BC, I see would-be resistors caught in the fear surrounding personal finances. It’s a basic truism. Our movements would be much stronger if people knew they could fully devote themselves to a cause and support themselves at the same time.

So far in this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series, I’ve focused on some of the emotional and intellectual hurdles resistors must deal with to engage in effective resistance, and now I want to address practical concerns. Money is an essential practical concern. On the one hand, serious resistors need money. Money grants you access to supply, gear, and materials. Money allows you to travel to where you will be most effective. Money buys the food you must eat to survive. On the other hand, the anxiety and shame that capitalism produces can neutralize would-be resistors because, after all, they “have to pay the rent.”

Before I go on, I want to be clear: I completely understand money worries. It is completely natural. It is completely rational. But, if we are going to mount a serious resistance movement, we must overcome the fear and guilt associated with a lack of financial security. I completely understand what that fear and guilt feels like. I have been there in the worst way. I write this in the hopes that people in a variety of financial situations will find ways to work through financial pressures to become effective resistors.

***

Because of the enormity of the problem facing us, resistance can take many forms. Resistance does not require living out of a pack, on a couple hundred dollars a month. It is simply the path that has opened up to me. We need it all. We need people with mainstream jobs making mainstream incomes who might not be able to occupy the frontlines to provide material support just as much as we need people willing to pick up and go wherever they’re needed.

The first step to overcoming money worries is realizing that this arrangement of power is not your fault.

You did not form this culture that long ago forgot who kept it alive. You did not ask to be born next to rivers that no longer flow to the sea, that have too many dams to support native fish populations, that hold too many poisons to drink from. You did not send blankets carrying small pox to intentionally wipe out the peoples who held the traditional knowledges necessary for living in the most humane ways on this land. You did not order the bison to be hunted damn near to extinction in an insane process that destroyed a relationship that provided humans with the protein needed to live in healthy balance with the natural world for millennia.

This nightmare of competition, selfishness, and shame that accompanies capitalism is not natural. You are alive. To live you need food, you need clean water, and you need shelter from the elements. Before civilization, humans gained what they needed directly from the land. Our present economic system forces us to pay for food, forces us to pay for clothing, and forces us to pay for shelter. In short, it forces us to pay for life. I use the verb “force” on purpose because this system is only maintained through violence.

The process began long ago with the dawn of agricultural civilization. Some cultures stripped their land bases clean of food, water, and soil, and then invaded the lands of more sustainable cultures. Soon, the Fertile Crescent was a desert. Then, Europe fell to the yoke of agriculture. Population boomed. European empires were forced to find their resources in other lands and European laborers unable to support themselves were pushed to the colonies. Indigenous peoples were murdered, driven off their lands, or pushed into tiny corners of the poorest sections of their traditional territories.

This process is ongoing wherever the dominant culture finds resources it decides it needs. In thoroughly colonized regions, the violence is harder to see. But, as the events in Ferguson, MO and the militarization of domestic police forces demonstrates, the system is willing to do great violence here, too. Another way to see the violence is simply to ask yourself what would happen if you ran out of money, were hungry, realized the supermarket has loads of food, decided to take some, and were caught?

Of course, perpetually overt violence may not be necessary once a culture’s ability to produce its own food is destroyed. This is why capitalism always works to make people dependent on the capitalist system for their needs. Once a society’s food security is destroyed it becomes both impractical and inefficient to constantly use open violence. Instead of employing brute force, it makes more sense to convince would-be resistors to police themselves. Capitalist logic encourages the notion that poverty is a sin, that happiness is most likely to be attained through financial success, and even to build shame around the smallest things like asking family for money.

It becomes easier to create and propagate narratives that extol the virtues of America’s opportunistic, rugged individuals than it is to massacre villages. So, once traditional cultures are undermined, the dominant culture focuses on creating institutions and stories to convince the civilized that they live in the best possible world. And the phrase “Kill your television” gains its relevancy.

***

Some are already making great financial sacrifices. I know a woman who saved up her vacation days for a year, cashed them in, and donated the proceeds to the Unist’ot’en Camp. I know others who have pledged to give a day’s wages every month to their favorite cause. I know others, still, who contribute by maintaining an open, welcoming home for full-time activists to stay in. The point is not so much how many dollars you can give. Rather, the point is to give up some of the anxiety and guilt surrounding finances. The point is to retake your dignity from a system determined to scare you into submission.

It took me a long time to relinquish the anxieties I felt around student loans and I still struggle with asking for help. Sometimes, it takes me too many skipped meals and too many skipped dosages of my anti-depressant to gather the courage to ask for help. I am lucky to have so much support from friends and family. I could not do what I do without them. But, the fact is we all need help, and we all are going to need a lot more help as the fires burning the world get hotter and hotter.

Part of my recovery from suicidal depression involves me recognizing poisoned thought patterns. Guilt over debt is poison. I have decided I will not pay my student loans back. I refuse to pay an illegitimate, occupying, imperial government engaged in genocide around the world for an education that should rightfully be free anyway. Now, when Heather-from-Sallie-Mae-Department-of-Education-Loan-Services leaves me a message, I am empowered to laugh.

Lately, for smiles, I’ve called myself a post-modern Robin Hood. Not paying my student loans is like stealing my education from the government. Just like Robin Hood of old, I stole my education, my intellectual experiences, and my degrees from the rich, and am using that education, those experiences, and the letters behind my name to fight for the poor. Come join me in a refusal to let money stop us from action. We can form a merry band and save the world while we’re at it.

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog

Deep Green Resistance – Liberal vs Radical Part 3 of 3

Don’t miss Liberal vs Radical part one and part two.

(Video captions available in English, Russian, Portuguese.  Contact us if you would like to translate this or other Deep Green Resistance videos to another language.)

Video Transcript:

Once people realize that bad things are happening most of us are called to action. I would say these are the four main categories of response.

Response Categories

The take home point here, if you remember nothing else from this, is that all four of these categories can be either liberal or radical.

None of them are inherently liberal or radical. It depends how we use them. They all have strategic strengths, they all have strategic failings. So it depends what we want to do with them.

This is the realization to which radicalism brings you. My two favorite people again.

Liberal vs Radical quotes

Social change requires force. Why? Because it’s not a mistake out of which the powerful can be educated. Don’t misunderstand me that when I say “force”, that does not have to equal violence. Whether or not to wage your struggle using violence or nonviolence is a decision that comes way later, way down the pike.

Nonviolence is a very elegant political technique if it is understood and used properly. I don’t think that it is being used properly on the left right now but this is not a division between violence and nonviolence. It is only to recognize that power is not a mistake, I mean, not unless you’re a liberal.

Again, if you want to be a liberal, great, if that’s the framework that works for you, it’s your decision. I mean really, some of my best friends, right?

[Lierre Keith and audience laugh]

Back to our categories.

The first one is legal, for obvious reasons. A lot of activist groups really focus on making legal changes to the social power. And, to quote Catharine MacKinnon, “Law organizes power”, so it makes sense that a lot of us will sort of gravitate to that. The trick is we got to do that as radicals and not as liberals.

Basic question: Does this initiative, whatever it is, does it redefine power? Not just who’s at the top of the pyramid, but does it actually redefine power? Does it take power away from the powerful and redistribute it such that we all have some control over the material conditions? That would make it a radical action. But a lot of people, they give up on the legal stuff, or it doesn’t appeal for whatever reason.

Direct action, also tried and true. You can totally bypass the legislative arena and get a lot done. Usually that’s some kind of civil disobedience. It can be letter writing, petitioning, some kind of pressure but it really kicks into gear when you hit them economically.

Great example is the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was not a legal campaign, it was “we’re going to hit them economically”, and they did. They brought the bus company to their knees and made them stop segregating the buses. So it can be very effective.

Your basic insurrection would be another good example of direct action. That covers a lot of ground from very liberal things to very successful movements on up to really profound change.

Number three is withdrawal. Now this is a tricky one. The main difference between withdrawal as a successful strategy and withdrawal as a failed strategy is whether that withdrawal is seen as adequate in itself or whether it’s seen as necessary, connected to a larger political struggle. And that distinction hinges exactly on the difference between liberal and radical. Because issues of identification and loyalty are crucial to resistance movements but they’re not enough because your emotional state is not actually what’s going to create political change.

The withdrawal has to go beyond the intellectual, beyond the emotional, beyond the psychological. It’s got to include a goal, actually winning justice by withdrawing.

Withdrawal may give solace but ultimately it will change nothing. Living in a rarefied bubble-world of the already converted is a very poor substitute for freedom and it will not save our planet.

This is Gene Sharp, who I think is marvelous, and you should go to the library, get every book he’s ever written, keep you busy for a year. He makes a very similar point. The people who he calls “utopians” I would call “withdrawalists”.

Utopians Gene Sharp

They’re often especially sensitive to the evils of the world, they crave certainty and purity, they reject the evil as firmly as possible, they don’t want to have any compromise, and they await this new world, which will come into being by either an act of God, a change in human spirit, autonomous changes in conditions, some kind of spontaneous upheaval… but all of these are beyond deliberate human control.

The most serious weakness of this response to the problem of this world is not the broad vision or the commitment of the people who believe in it. The weakness is that these believers have no effective way to reach the society of their dreams. That about sums up my youth.

[L.K. and audience laugh]

I’ve heard the phrase “secular millennialism” and that’s exactly what he’s getting at.

So the left has these vague notions that our actions will inspire others, that even more vaguely these will accumulate into some kind of meaningful social change, or kick off a spontaneous insurrection.

There’s a nonviolent version which is usually lifestyle stuff like diet. There’s the more militant actions like the Weather Underground. Those are the two poles of secular millenialism. Change will happen because it MUST or because the Great Turning narrative says it will, or because the fires of our righteous rage will make it be so.

Given that revolution is not actually inevitable, I think we would be wise to understand the basic principle of resistance. “Dislodging injustice requires”, in the words of Andrea Dworkin, “organized political resistance”.

This brings us to the next category which is spirituality.

Withdrawalists’ stance is usually based on despair but it’s an answer that relies on faith, not on strategy. Which is to say, it’s an emotional response, an emotional solution, and it’s not a material solution. This merges right into Millenarianism.

Millenarianism is any religious movement that predicts the collapse of the world order as we know it, to be replaced by this wonderful time of justice and whatnot. There are lots of examples across history of desperate people taking this up. I highly recommend reading up on this.

Much of the left has been infected by this kind of thinking. We’re going to meditate to stop global warming, we’re going to orgasm our way to peace…

If all else fails, which it will, December 2012 is coming up, right? How many of these have we lived through? I’m 46, I think I’ve lived through 4? Every 10 years there’s another one, right? It’s not going to happen.

The worst examples in history that we know of: the Xhosa Cattle Killing Cult. The Xhosa are cattle-herding people in eastern South Africa. In the 1700s there’s various colonial invasions, displacement, genocide, war, all these horrors. By 1854 there’s this terrible lung disease and a whole bunch of the cattle die so the people are just incredibly vulnerable at this point, and somebody has a vision.

A teenage girl has a vision, and the vision is, if we kill all the cattle, destroy all our food stocks, even our cooking pots, everything, then this great thing will happen. The dead are going to return, the food supplies will just spring up overnight, there’s going to be gigantic cattle that you’ve never even seen before, they’re so big, and the spirit warriors will drive the British out and we will have our land again.

This vision starts to spread, everybody starts having visions, it’s just like this mass visioning is happening everywhere.

People believe it, more people believe it, they start killing the cattle. At some point so many cattle are killed that the carrion birds can’t even keep up with it. There’s so many corpses rotting in the sun. 400,000 beasts are slaughtered by the end of this.

The first deadline comes, does anything happen? One guess… no.

And of course the unbelievers are blamed. This is always where it ends with this kind of millenialism. It’s YOUR fault ’cause you didn’t believe it. So the very last cattle have to be killed.

A few people are hanging on, “nah, I’m just going to keep this one cow for some milk”. You can’t do it. So every last cattle has to be killed.

So, what happens? Mass starvation ensues. All its attendant atrocities and horrors, people ate corpses, people ate grass, people ate their children. I mean it’s just absolute hell. The population at one point was 105,000 and it collapses to 26,000 people, a lot whom had to escape into cities ’cause they were just starving in the countryside.

150 years of imperialism could not defeat the Xhosa but 2 years of millennial fever almost did.

So, bad example.

The Boxer Rebellion is another one, just as horrible. They called themselves the Righteous Harmony Society. This was a religious society in northern China that was absolutely a response to the Opium Wars and British Imperialism. You get why people are desperate.

They did martial arts, diet and prayer and they believed they’d be given the power to fly if they did this. And absolutely, they had special garments, protection against bullets and swords. You find that theme a lot. You’re going to wear this special garment and they won’t be able to kill you.

There was going to be an army of spirit soldiers that was going to arrive to save the day and drive out the British. They never appeared. The entire thing ends in complete disaster for China. Very evil stuff. How the British responded was just appalling.

Anyway, two examples and it is really worth, I think, knowing more about this because I just see these tendencies all the time and it’s not going to end well for us either.

Divine intervention has never yet stopped a system of unjust power across the entire sweep of human history. As a political strategy it is a complete failure and we really need to get over this one.

This is not in any way to dismiss the role of spirituality in a resistance movement. Spirituality is so often the core of any culture, and it is often the cradle of the resistance movement.

A lot of people talk about the black churches as the beginning of the Civil Right Movement, the Anti-Apartheid Movement also, the churches play this huge role. All across the world you can find how the Tibetans and the Buddhism, how this all comes together. It gives people incredible dignity and strength, you can get yourself respect through your spiritual practice. It absolutely helps communities stay together under really brutal conditions, helps set community norms.

All that is incredibly important. My point, really, is that faith is not a political strategy.

The only miracle we’re going to get is us.

Don’t miss Liberal vs Radical part two.

Watch more DGR videos:  http://youtube.com/user/DeepGreenResistance.