From Brer Rabbit Redux:

By: Matthew Johnson

For those who have never been to the land of Palestine, whose name alone is heavily politicized, this is my attempt at a brief summary based on my two-week tour this past July with Interfaith Peacebuilders, a nonprofit organization based in D.C.

P is for people. The people of Palestine are far more diverse than what is commonly known. Palestine is home to Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others. I’ve met people from the east coast of the United States who are living there now. One lives on a settlement in Hebron and carries a Glock pistol.

A is for apartheid. Some say the situation in Palestine doesn’t fully compare to what was called ‘apartheid’ or ‘separateness’ in South Africa, but the use of the term ‘bantustans’ to describe isolated, dependent Palestinian enclaves is appropriate. It is also true that Palestinians are treated as second-class citizens within Israel proper and that the Palestinian population as a whole is treated as a demographic threat to the Israeli government. There are countless smaller examples of apartheid, such as separate license plates for Israelis and Palestinians. The most symbolic is the large concrete wall or ‘security barrier’ stretching across the West Bank. Although much of it actually separates Palestinians from other Palestinians, the part that does correspond to the Green Line, which demarcates Israel proper from the West Bank, was built to be more aesthetically pleasing on the Israeli side.

L is for liberation. This does not just mean liberation for the oppressed living under occupation. It also means liberation for those who oppress and for those whose humanity has been buried behind fear, misguided religion, and blind ideology. The liberation of one depends on the liberation of all.

E is for existential threat. This is how Palestinians are perceived by the Zionist government and its supporters. It’s quite ironic, given Israeli’s oft-stated need for recognition, that some go so far as to deny the existence of a Palestinian nation, insisting on referring to Palestinians as simply ‘Arabs,’ with the implication that they are no different from their neighbors in Jordan or Lebanon, and therefore, should join their brethren and leave the land of Abraham to the Jews.

S is for stone. It’s for stone buildings, which are ubiquitous in such an ancient place, and throwing stones that have come to symbolize Palestinian resistance to the Israeli Goliath.

T is for terrorist. This is what still comes to mind when many people, particularly in the United States and Israel, think of the Palestinians. While suicide bombings are the source of much of this stereotype, the biggest culprit is the mainstream press for failing to include moderate Palestinian voices and to place Palestinian violence in context. Moreover, the world has all-but ignored examples of Palestinian nonviolent resistance, such as the town of Beit Sahour’s attempt at self-reliance during the First Intifada and current campaigns against the ‘Apartheid wall’ in the villages of Budrus and Bil’in.

I is for independence. May 14, 1948, is Independence Day to the mainstream Israeli citizen, who does not question how an emerging nation could drive out 800,000 people, destroy 500 towns and villages, take over more than 80% of what was then British Mandate Palestine, and still claim to be the heroic victim. One also has to question whether a nation is really independent if it relies so heavily on aid from abroad to sustain itself. The United States supplies $3 billion a year in military aid to the Israel government.

N is for Nakba. Nakba means ‘great catastrophe.’ This is how Palestinians refer to 1948. Many living in exile in the region and around the world still hold the keys to the homes they were forced to abandon due to hostilities.  The refugee topic is a sensitive and divisive one — best ignored by those comfortable with the status quo. Nevertheless, multiple United Nations resolutions recognize the Palestinians’ Right of Return to their homes.

E is for equality. This is what most Palestinians are asking for: to be treated as equals in their own land. I don’t think this is too much to ask. Whether the eventual (and inevitable) solution comes in the form of one state, two states, or no states, this is the bedrock principle for peace.

Source: P-A-L-E-S-T-I-N-E

[Infographic] Music, Movies, Programs & Piracy

Music, Movies, Programs & Piracy


07 2012

The Race Categories on the U.S. Census: Representations of False Consciousness

The Race Categories on the U.S. Census: Representations of False Consciousness

By: Therese Beaudreault

In Part I of this paper, I will attempt to deconstruct the race categories on the U.S. Census. I begin by exploring the historical evolution of the race categories. The evolution of the categories reflects the historical moment, including the prevailing ideologies and beliefs of the time. The race categories reflect a history of slavery, racism, and xenophobia, but they also reflect an attempt by the people to make demands for political power, visibility, and equality.

I will then examine the function of the race categories. The race data collected from the race categories on the Census were used as a tool of discipline and oppression over people of color, but the civil rights era transformed the usage of the data from a mechanism of subjugation to a mechanism for power, equality, and liberation. With the passage of civil rights laws, discrimination on the basis of race became illegal. Tracking discrimination on the basis of race meant tracking race, and the Census race data became instrumental in this objective. The advent of the Multiracial Category Movement (MCM) shifted the debate about the usage of Census race data for civil rights enforcement purposes to the question of race categories as a forum for identity expression. The debate about the importance of identity expression versus civil rights compliance monitoring still rages.

My next task will be to unpack the complexity of identity as it relates to race. I will attempt to explore several questions such as, what is identity? How does race factor into identity? What effect do the race categories have on the national consciousness? Should we care if the state sanctions our identities? I will try to make sense of the process by which identities are created, as well as asserted, vis-à-vis the state.

In Part II, I will argue that the race categories are inherently and symbolically dangerous because they come from a racist history and orientation. They can never fully liberate people of color from oppression because they represent a web of oppression themselves.

I will propose an elimination of the categories from the Census and explore the ramifications of such a proposition. I will distinguish my argument from that of proponents of colorblindness. I will attempt to address questions such as whether it is naïve to think that taking away the “means of critical discourse,” the statistical proof, will be a step toward eliminating the problem of race and racism? Will doing this actually “foreclose the very recognition of racial disparity”? Is it possible to continue the fight against racism without recognizing race on the Census? I will also address some suggestions for reform within the legal system to accompany an elimination of race categories on the Census, as well as some ideas for cultural and identity transformation.

While this paper will cohere around the race categories on the Census, the discussion really represents broader, more general inquiries: how do we shift our perceptions about race in America? What are the best ways to do that? How do we eliminate racism? This paper will touch on some of these questions, but I certainly do not want to suggest that there is an easy answer to the intensely complex, systemic, institutional, cultural-legal-political-social-historical problem of racism. I want to merely dare to question our assumptions about the efficacy of our current approach to the problem of racism and suggest that perhaps there is another way.

Download the full paper: The Race Categories On The U.S. Census: Representations of False Consciousness

To download a Powerpoint presentation of the paper: Race & The Law


05 2012

An Anarchist Theory of Criminal Justice

This is a paper written for a seminar class called “Criminal Justice, Social Justice, and Community Justice” given at the University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law.

This paper is a critique of how the state, the legal system, and the criminal justice system function in American society, and calls for an anarchist approach to our social structure that will remove the oppressive frameworks we currently live under.

To support my arguments, I will first provide an overview of how the criminal justice system works. From there I will offer an analysis on why the criminal justice system is flawed, and the racially discriminatory effect it has had on society. I will then discuss why the disproportionate number of minorities found in prison and impoverished in this country is directly tied to the contemporary ruling interests that were preserved by the U.S. Constitution. Showing that the system is inherently discriminatory, I propose an alternative method for viewing society through anarchism. I will spend time debunking myths regarding anarchism and explaining why it is a viable ideology. In the end, I will propose a restorative justice approach to criminal justice that requires neither the state nor the legal system.

To read/comment: An Anarchist Theory of Criminal Justice

*You can add a comment by selecting text, then going to “insert” and then “comment.”

*If you’d like to download the paper, go to “file” then “download as.”

Please note that the paper is a “living document,” and may change over time due to suggested edits.

Occupy Earth Day: An Expose of the Corporate Propaganda Systems that Undermine Systemic Change Activism


This Earth Day, like so many others, we’ll be invited to pick up litter, plant trees, be reminded to recycle, and countless other personal habits we can adopt to save the earth. Corporations pitching “green” products will bust out their “Lorax-approved” logos and encourage our “green” consumption.

This will be the first Earth Day since the Occupy Wall Street movement took form. How can we Occupy Earth Day – or as our Indigenous colleagues have urged us all to rename Occupy… how can we Decolonize Earth Day? To get to the root of this (in other words, take a “radical” approach), we need to look deeper into how Earth Day, and our broader culture, got colonized.

Part of this story starts with Keep America Beautiful (KAB). Formed shortly after the first Earth Day in 1970, KAB seems on the surface to be an innocuous litter-cleanup group. However, according to the Greenpeace Guide to Anti-Environmental Organizations, KAB is actually a sophisticated greenwashing operation that is funded and governed by the waste and packaging industries as well as the corporations most responsible for selling the disposables that become litter – companies like McDonald’s, Altria (formerly Philip Morris), Nestle, Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola. KAB supports trash incineration (the dirtiest way to deal with waste) and opposes bottle deposit bills, which would increase recycling.

The authors of Toxic Sludge is Good for You! – Lies, Damned Lies and the Public Relations Industry also warn that Keep America Beautiful is a slick PR effort to get consumers to think that they are responsible for the trash that KAB’s funders created. You get to pick up their trash, put it in disposable plastic bags, then have it sent to a landfill or incinerator that is probably owned by one of KAB’s founders. In fact, the trash decomposes more quickly on the side of a road than in a landfill. If brought to an incinerator, the trash is turned into highly toxic air pollution and toxic ash. While none of us want to see litter, there are better approaches to helping the environment than picking up after the corporations who make disposables – such as challenging the use of disposables in the first place.

Denis Hayes, a national student coordinator for the first Earth Day in 1970, spoke passionately at the Washington, D.C. rally, shouting, “political and business leaders once hoped that they could turn the environmental movement into a massive anti-litter campaign.” He stated that “we’re tired of being told we are to blame for corporate depredations… institutions have no conscience. If we want them to do what is right, we must make them do what is right.” These words still ring true today, yet corporations have been a little too successful at shifting the message and getting people to focus on picking up after corporate messes.


Older than Earth Day, Deeper than Litter

I once saw a pickup truck with two bumper stickers on it. One was some sort of pro-logging sticker, like “have you hugged a logger today?” The other said simply “Smokey Needs You.” I was blown away – not only by how these two stickers could be on the same truck – but by the fact that the “Smokey Needs You” sticker didn’t even have to tell me the message. The message was already in my head! The sticker was just there to trigger it. The advertising was so pervasive and effective that they no longer even need to say the message. Most anyone growing up in the U.S. knows who Smokey is and what he wants from us. Who is Smokey and what does he want? Of course, he’s Smokey the Bear… and he wants us to prevent forest fires. Very good, boys and girls.

Obviously, it took a lot of money to put Smokey’s message in everyone’s heads. So, who funds Smokey the Bear? Who sponsors all of these ads? Here’s a hint. The same organization that funds Smokey the Bear also funds messages that say “don’t drink and drive,” “buckle your seatbelt,” “pick up litter,” “wear a condom,” “tutor kids after school,” “feed the hungry” and many similar messages. They’re the same ones who did such popular campaigns as “a mind is a terrible thing to waste,” “take a bite out of crime,” “friends don’t let friends drive drunk,” and “just say no” to drugs. You’ve seen and heard these ads in newspapers and magazines, on TV, radio, billboards, buses and bus stops.

These are all campaigns brought to you by the Ad Council. Most of us absorb the message without even noticing the sponsor. It’s almost subliminal.

Around $2 billion a year in Ad Council public service announcements reach people in the United States with 123.4 billion media impressions in 2010 alone. That amounts to 400 ads per person for the year – more than one a day on average.

Who is the Ad Council and what are they trying to tell us? There is a common thread between all of their ads, and you can find it in Smokey the Bear’s exact message: “Only YOU can prevent forest fires.” The most important word in that message is the one they themselves capitalize: you. The common theme between all of these seemingly different messages is that individuals are the cause of social problems and that individual change in the solution. In case this isn’t obvious enough, it’s one of their five stated criteria for topics they’ll take on: “the issue must offer a solution through an individual action.”

The Ad Council and its funders are a Who’s Who of major corporations in the United States, including at least half of the nation’s 100 largest corporations. The idea for an Ad Council was conceived in 1941 to counter criticism of corporate advertising by showing that ads could also be in the public interest. Advertisers feared that legislation might tax corporate ads or regulate their content. Several weeks later, in 1942, with U.S. entry into World War II, it was founded as the War Advertising Council, to build U.S. support for involvement in the war, with “Rosie the Riveter,” “Buy War Bonds” and “Loose Lips Sink Ships” campaigns. The Ad Council has persisted in supporting corporate and government / military objectives, even with anti-communist ads in the 1950s, a post-9/11 “Campaign for Freedom” and military recruitment ads in more recent years. Aside from these military ad campaigns, most of the Ad Council’s history has been to use corporate funding to promote campaigns that distract from the corporate causes of social problems.


Only You…

The Ad Council strategy is a blame-shifting public relations tactic. These are the dominant institutions of our time saying that they are not the cause of social problems – you are… that they don’t need to change to solve the problems – you do. The Ad Council and Keep American Beautiful exist to prevent such things as the McToxics Campaign, where high schoolers teamed up with community anti-landfill activists in the late 1980s to mail back the Styrofoam clamshells to McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois to get McDonald’s to stop using Styrofoam. This is a group activity getting an institution to change the packaging they use so that it doesn’t end up as litter and in landfills and incinerators.


The Ad Council strategy is the scientific perfection of this divide and conquer strategy. Instead of dividing people into groups, it divides us into individuals, so that we don’t even see problems and solutions in terms of group identities.

The top 1% stays in power by keeping us divided. They divide us with racism, sexism, heterosexism, immigration status and wedge issues like guns and abortion. They’ll divide us along every line except for class, for which they must keep the middle class fighting the poor. If the middle class and poor see past the manufactured culture wars and unite to fight the wealthy, the 1% is in trouble, because we outnumber them. Throughout the history of this country, racism has played an important role. In a book called A Different Mirror – A Multicultural History of the United States, the author spells out this history, showing how plantation owners, when their workers started to organize for better working conditions, would bring in other workers in order to racially divide their workforces, such as having Native Americans work along-side African Americans and paying one group less than the other so that they resent each other and fight each other instead of their bosses. In Hawaii, the sugar plantation owners did the same, paying the Portuguese more than the Japanese workers, and – once that differential wage system was abolished in response to Japanese labor protests – plantation owners brought in more Filipino workers and preferred a specific ratio of Japanese to Filipino workers. The expression “the shit rolls downhill” came from there, where the managers’ houses would be on top of the hill, with sewage systems flowing down past the Japanese and Portuguese laborers housing to the Filipino workers’ shanty houses at the base of the hill, reflecting the labor hierarchy. This history was very intentional and many sorts of division tactics continue to this day.

The Ad Council strategy is the scientific perfection of this divide and conquer strategy. Instead of dividing people into groups, it divides us into individuals, so that we don’t even see problems and solutions in terms of group identities. It’s designed to prevent organizing into groups to make change, which is why so many environmentalists start off seeing their options as doing litter cleanups, voluntary recycling, tree planting, adopting acres / cows / whales, etc. – tactics that don’t challenge the power structure and which focus on individual changes, not institutional change.

Organizing for institutional change runs contrary to the American ideal of individuality, but social change is usually made by movements, not individuals working alone. Our culture hides this from us when our history books portray the “Rosa Parks effect” – where we learn about social change in the context of individuals who made it possible, not the organizations and entire movements of which these individuals were a part.


“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – The Lorax

There is a paradox in the fact that we need to find bigger (institutional) ways to reach large numbers of individuals to get them thinking that individual changes aren’t enough to solve social problems, and that their participation in movements to make change is vital (and not just voting for “change” every four years).

We need to wake people up to the public relations distractions around them and decolonize our minds. However, we don’t have the reach to counter hundreds of billions of media impressions a year by trying to wake up one person at a time. This is the very weakness of individual change. So, how can we institutionalize systemic thinking, or the dismantling of PR distractions? Is fighting for media democracy enough, when Ad Council ads now appear on websites, without a counterbalance to encourage institutional change thinking?

Occupy has been incredibly successful at changing the narrative on group identity – putting class inequality into the mass consciousness, with the mass media helping perpetuate the simple “99% vs. 1%” framing. Can we come up with a similar meme that tackles the pervasive wave of you-are-the-problem-and-solution advertising and get people thinking in terms of group action to change institutions?


Mike Ewall is founder and director of Energy Justice Network (

The Truth About Technology

Time banking: New Economic Model For Those Tired With Capitalism

From PolicyMic:

The capitalist economic system America operates under is not only unsustainable, but it distorts how Americans value their relationships with each other and the environment. Moreover, it simply is not working.

As a result, a new economic model is needed — one that fully honors our humanity, acknowledges our interdependence, respects Mother Earth, and is completely inclusive. One such model has informally existed since the beginning of our existence, and 25 years ago was formally reintroduced to the U.S.: time banking, a non-monetary system based on the amount of time people contribute to helping others. This helps rebuild the ties that keep communities together and allows everybody to participate in the community’s upkeep and improvement.

Our current economic model requires the continuous acquisition of increasing amounts of money. This system is deeply flawed and has been since its inception. In the past, it supported the violent acquisition of land belonging to well-established indigenous communities, as well as the abduction of millions of Africans from their native lands, whose labor was exploited and lives were utterly disregarded. This is similar to the plight of immigrants, undocumented workers, women, children, and uncounted victims of U.S. wars. Thus, the current statistics on the inequality in the distribution of wealth and disproportionate rates of poverty, unemployment, and homelessness should come as no surprise. In order to transcend these longstanding issues, an analysis of the system that contributed to them is required.

The emphasis capitalism places on money is a significant reason why it is so problematic. The U.S. paper fiat money is created out of thin air by the Federal Reserve and retains value only because we acknowledge it to have it. Additionally, since the fiat money is charged interest, which is drawn from taxpayer dollars and siphoned into private hands, inflation has become a permanent feature of our lives.

Using this paper fiat money as the tool responsible for meeting our everyday needs is “nonsense upon stilts” (a borrowed phrase from English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham). Moreover, in pursuit of money, the capitalist system pressures students to study subjects they have little interest in, employees to work exorbitant hours at jobs they get little satisfaction from, and for us all to adopt a competitive mindset that promotes competition over collaboration.

Simply put, we must change course.

Time banking is a money-less alternative with a straightforward concept: one hour of help providing a good or service for another earns onetime credit, which is exchangeable for an hour’s worth of help in return. For example, if I need my lawn mowed, instead of paying someone $50, the person who mows my lawn will receive one time dollar for every hour spent completing the service. The individual can then use the time dollar(s) to obtain other services or goods at an equivalent value. The transactions are recorded through an online website that uses an open-source code that will soon be available to smart phones and tablets as well.

A locally established time bank serves as the hub for all exchanges. Individuals are asked to enter information about themselves including their address, availability, what they can offer, what they would like to receive, etc. Once complete, transactions can begin. The time banking software has recently upgraded its software making it easier to log, track, and share hours, as well as document engagement, reliability, punctuality, and trustworthiness.

While individual time banking transactions help people meet needs and share skills, the system as a whole fundamentally changes the way of life for the participating community. Time banking requires community members to rely on one another, creating a culture of cooperation and trust. Since we all have something to contribute, time banking allows everyone to participate and pursue their curiosities, improving happiness, and stimulating creativity.

The time banking movement has been 25 years in the making and continues to be a work in progress. Time banks have been used in a variety of contexts, for example: the Time Dollar Youth Court (a juvenile diversion program), the National Homecomers Academy (challenging recidivism and improving reintegration into society for ex-cons), and CareBanks (a way of assuring health care for seniors).

There are 300 registered time banks in the U.S. with a total of 30,000 members. There are an additional 30,000 members in the UK and another 100,000 members throughout 34 other countries. In Washington, D.C., the founder of Time Banks USA, Edgar Cahn, has addressed both the Occupy DC camp and the Freedom Plaza group, and both encampments have started time banks of their own.

The time for an alternative economic model is long overdue. With this new wave of focused energy created by the Occupy movements, it is time to think outside of the box and discuss what we all want out of life and what it is that makes life truly worth living. As more people join the time banking movement, the scalability and range of services available for exchange will grow, along with our opportunity to live in a truly free and cooperative society.

To join a time bank near you, visit the Timebanks Community Directory

Source: Timebanking: New Economic Model For Those Tired With Capitalism


01 2012

Mountain Justice Spring Break In Appalachia, Virginia


We are excited to announce that for the second year in a row the RReNEW Collective and SAMS will be hosting Virginia Mountain Justice Spring Break from March 2-11, 2012 in the town of Appalachia, VA. During this week long event we will hear the stories of the Death cycle of coal, we will meet and support the folks working to build a better future for Appalachia, we will build our own skills as organizers and change agents, and along the way we’ll have fun, go hiking and put a little elbow grease into local service projects!

Register for Spring break and/or become part of the planning collective at

If you would like to know more the RReNEW Collective, check out:, and SAMS:

For Mountain Justice, visit

If your Spring Break lines up with these dates (even if you’re not from Virginia) please pencil us in and look for more information coming your way soon. If you know folks who might be interested, send this along.  Also, if you would like to help make this event a successful reality please fill our the planning collective interest form on the Spring Break website.


12 2011

The Immediate Need For Emotional Justice

By: Yolo Akili

Oppression is trauma. Every form of inequity has a traumatic impact on the psychology, emotionality and spirituality of the oppressed. The impact of oppressive trauma creates cultural and individual wounding. This wounding produces what many have called a “pain body”, a psychic energy that is not tangible but can be sensed, that becomes an impediment to the individual and collective’s ability to transform and negotiate their conditions.

Emotional justice is about working with this wounding. It is about inviting us into our feelings and our bodies, and finding ways to transform our collective and individual pains into power. Emotional justice requires that we find the feeling behind the theories. It calls on us to not just speak to why something is problematic, but to speak to the emotional texture of how it impact us; how it hurts, or how it brings us joy or nourishment. Emotional Justice is very difficult for many activists, because historically most activist spaces have privileged the intellect and logic over feeling and intuition. This is directly connected to sexism and misogyny, because feeling and intuition are culturally and psychologically linked to the construct of “woman”, a construct that we have all been taught to invalidate and silence. So by extension we invalidate and silence the parts that we link to “woman” in ourselves: our feelings, our intuition, and our irrationality.

This disdain leads to many things: a dismissal or minimization of our own and other’s feelings, a fear of revealing oneself as “emotional” (instead of as sternly logical) and a culture of “just suck up your feelings” or shrug them off. All of these responses to our emotions have consequences that contribute to a range of emotional and spiritual stressors which impact our lives. In this article I am going to focus exclusively on the reasons I believe activist communities struggle with emotional justice and why the integration of our emotional selves into our activist work can’t wait.

Reasons I believe activist communities struggle with emotional justice

1. Activist Organizations Are Often Over-capacity

Many grass roots organizations and non-profits operate with a small staff that is expected to complete herculean tasks. This expectation leads to fatigue, stress and emotional imbalance. Asking to add emotional justice discourse(s) to the workplace/organizing is seen as a waste of time when organizations are trying to survive and fulfill grant/monetary obligations with limited resources. Yet it is an emotional discourse that could offer many movements opportunities for self-evaluation, especially as it relates to perpetuating models of capitalist productivity that they are often seeking to end. Regular guided dialogues and retreats must become a priority and should be led by outside consult. They can help build connections, clarify the mission(s) and re-invigorate the collective.

2. Emotional Justice Has No Succinct Time Line

There simply is no timeline that can be put on someone else’s healing. Within an emotional justice framework, someone is able to bring up their pain as they feel the need. Our patriarchal emotional discourses will push back against this, however, and will instead encourage us to deny, dismiss, and move on as quickly as possible from difficult emotions. Engaging emotional justice requires us to check this attitude within ourselves and develop ongoing strategies that allow us to express our concerns and feelings.

3. Emotions are Used as a Tool for those with Privilege to Avoid, Minimize or Escape Accountability

In an experience working with a group of queers on a racism project, a white identified cis gendered woman in the group would constantly break into tears whenever someone challenged her on the choices she was making that perpetuated racist themes. Her crying, which happened in several sessions, led to the entire group, especially the women of color, to comfort and assure her that she wasn’t a “bad person.”

Yet in the midst of attending to her emotional expressions, she continued to evade accountability and perpetuated the same dynamics. When she was challenged on her use of crying, she was able to come to an understanding that as a child crying had been a tactic she had used within her family to avoid being held responsible. This awareness led to her participate in the space in a much more accountable manner.

Stories like these happen all the time. Unfortunately in most spaces there are not always individuals with the skills to compassionately address these kind of emotional dynamics. This lack of skill prevents many from engaging emotional justice for fear they will get lost in these issues. This another reason seeking the support of healing justice/emotional justice educators is necessary.

4. Very Little Knowledge of the Emotional Body or Emotional Language

What is a feeling? What are the lessons they offer us? How can they invite us into ourselves? These are the questions that emotional justice guides us toward. Emotional justice can help many begin to work with their feelings in constructive ways that can help the movement as a whole. An example: If someone asks many activists, what do you feel? The response may be something like, “I feel like we just need to hurry up and make this thing happen because they keep on trying. yaddda yadda.”
But that was not a feeling. That was a thought. A feeling is one word. The feeling for this statement could be: “I am anxious, or I am frustrated”. Aiming directly for the feeling, as opposed to the thought around it, can help save time and address deeper issues. If feelings are continually confused as thoughts, then the intellectual debate process kicks in, and before you know it, we are battling for philosophical dominance instead of saying that we are hurt.

5. Lack of Self-Awareness into how our own unique Psychological Frameworks, Trauma and Social locations inform our Interpretation of Reality

Journeying into our own narratives and seeing how they inform our current understandings of others around us can be invaluable in times of challenge. There are many tools for this; one in which I find very effective is Psychological Astrology; as it invites us to explore, whether we believe in Astrology or not, what our motivations are, what we need to feel emotionally satisfied, the root of our personality conflicts with others, and how we express our aggression. This exploration can help us recognize an area of difference that is predicated on the ways in which we psychologically experience the world around us, a recognition that can help us understand and hear each other better in conflict situations.

6. Ideological Violence

“We were often poised and ready for attack, and not always in the most effective places. When we disagreed with one another, we were far more vicious to each other than the common originators of our problem. ” -Audre Lorde

It is apparent from Audre Lorde’s words that ideological violence was a big problem for her generation. Many years later it continues to be, as unproductive ego wars rage amidst our movement spaces.

These ego wars (or as many of my friends say, “intellectual dick fights”) are for many apart of the academic environmental training that encourages us to battle for philosophical dominance. While debate in itself is healthy and can be empowering, the challenge here is that this “training” is colored with patriarchy and a “power over others” construct. Tactics such as Interrupting, yelling, belittling each other, and personal attacks, are dynamics of patriarchal communication and must be seen as the acts of emotional violence that they are.* As this is acknowledged, steps must be taken to train and understand assertive communication and the myriad of cultural communication styles that allow us to express our hurt, rage and frustration in ways that minimize harm.

Emotional Justice is not anything new to our movements. It is already being enacted in many spaces and in organizations all across the country. My hope in writing this is that this work is expanded, illuminated and raised to a level of importance on par with our intellectual critiques. It is my hope that we realize that just as we must construct new systems and institutions, we must also develop new ways of relating with each other and to our emotional selves. These models of relating will call on us to develope skills and to work with our feelings, our trauma and our pain. It calls on us to recognize that emotional justice is an immediate need, not only for our movements, but for the world at large.

Yolo Akili is an Emotions Educator, Performance Artist, Practicing Astrologer, Yoga Teacher and long time activist. He can be reached at

Source: The Immediate Need For Emotional Justice


12 2011

Whiteness and the 99%

Whiteness and the 99%
By Joel Olson

Occupy Wall Street and the hundreds of occupations it has sparked nationwide are among the most inspiring events in the U.S. in the 21st century. The occupations have brought together people to talk, occupy, and organize in new and exciting ways. The convergence of so many people with so many concerns has naturally created tensions within the occupation movement. One of the most significant tensions has been over race. This is not unusual, given the racial history of the United States. But this tension is particularly dangerous, for unless it is confronted, we cannot build the 99%. The key obstacle to building the 99% is left colorblindness, and the key to overcoming it is to put the struggles of communities of color at the center of this movement. It is the difference between a free world and the continued dominance of the 1%.

Left colorblindess is the enemy

Left colorblindness is the belief that race is a “divisive” issue among the 99%, so we should instead focus on problems that “everyone” shares. According to this argument, the movement is for everyone, and people of color should join it rather than attack it.

Left colorblindness claims to be inclusive, but it is actually just another way to keep whites’ interests at the forefront. It tells people of color to join “our” struggle (who makes up this “our,” anyway?) but warns them not to bring their “special” concerns into it. It enables white people to decide which issues are for the 99% and which ones are “too narrow.” It’s another way for whites to expect and insist on favored treatment, even in a democratic movement.

As long as left colorblindness dominates our movement, there will be no 99%. There will instead be a handful of whites claiming to speak for everyone. When people of color have to enter a movement on white people’s terms rather than their own, that’s not the 99%. That’s white democracy.

The white democracy

Biologically speaking, there’s no such thing as race. As hard as they’ve tried, scientists have never been able to define it. That’s because race is a human creation, not a fact of nature. Like money, it only exists because people accept it as “real.” Races exist because humans invented them.

Why would people invent race? Race was created in America in the late 1600s in order to preserve the land and power of the wealthy. Rich planters in Virginia feared what might happen if indigenous tribes, slaves, and indentured servants united and overthrew them. So, they cut a deal with the poor English colonists. The planters gave the English poor certain rights and privileges denied to all persons of African and Native American descent: the right to never be enslaved, to free speech and assembly, to move about without a pass, to marry without upper-class permission, to change jobs, to acquire property, and to bear arms. In exchange, the English poor agreed to respect the property of the rich, help them seize indigenous lands, and enforce slavery.

This cross-class alliance between the rich and the English poor came to be known as the “white race.” By accepting preferential treatment in an economic system that exploited their labor, too, the white working class tied their wagon to the elite rather than the rest of humanity. This devil’s bargain has undermined freedom and democracy in the U.S. ever since.

The cross-class alliance that makes up the white race.

As this white race expanded to include other European ethnicities, the result was a very curious political system: the white democracy. The white democracy has two contradictory aspects to it. On the one hand, all whites are considered equal (even as the poor are subordinated to the rich and women are subordinated to men). On the other, every white person is considered superior to every person of color. It’s democracy for white folks, but tyranny for everyone else.

In this system, whites praised freedom, equal opportunity, and hard work, while at the same time insisting on higher wages, access to the best jobs, to be the first hired and the last fired at the workplace, full enjoyment of civil rights, the right to send their kids to the best schools, to live in the nicest neighborhoods, and to enjoy decent treatment by the police. In exchange for these “public and psychological wages,” as W.E.B. Du Bois called them, whites agreed to enforce slavery, segregation, reservation, genocide, and other forms of discrimination. The tragedy of the white democracy is that it oppressed working class whites as well as people of color, because with the working class bitterly divided, the elites could rule easily.

The white democracy exists today. Take any social indicator—rates for college graduation, homeownership, median family wealth, incarceration, life expectancy, infant mortality, cancer, unemployment, median family debt, etc.—and you’ll find the same thing: whites as a group are significantly better off than any other racial group. Of course there are individual exceptions, but as a group whites enjoy more wealth, less debt, more education, less imprisonment, more health care, less illness, more safety, less crime, better treatment by the police, and less police brutality than any other group. Some whisper that this is because whites have a better work ethic. But history tells us that the white democracy, born in the 1600s, lives on.

The distorted white mindset

No one is opposed to good schools, safe neighborhoods, healthy communities, and economic security for whites. The problem is that in the white democracy, whites often enjoy these at the expense of communities of color. This creates a distorted mindset among many whites: they praise freedom yet support a system that clearly favors the rich, even at the expense of poor whites. (Tea Party, I’m talking to you.)

The roots of left colorblindness lie in the white democracy and the distorted mindset it creates. It encourages whites to think that their issues are “universal” while those of people of color are “specific.” But that is exactly backwards. The struggles of people of color are the problems that everyone shares. Anyone in the occupy movement who has been treated brutally by the police has to know that Black communities are terrorized by cops every day. Anyone who is unemployed has to know that Black unemployment rates are always at least double that of whites, and Native American unemployment rates are far higher. Anyone who is sick and lacks healthcare has to know that people of color are the least likely to be insured (regardless of their income) and have the highest infant mortality and cancer rates and the lowest life expectancy rates. Anyone who is drowning in debt should know that the median net wealth of Black households is twenty times less than that of white households. Only left colorblindness can lead us to ignore these facts.

This is the sinister impact of white democracy on our movements. It encourages a mindset that insists that racial issues are “divisive” when they are at the absolute center of everything we are fighting for.

To defeat left colorblindness and the distorted white mindset, we must come to see any form of favoritism toward whites (whether explicit or implicit) as an evil attempt to perpetuate the cross-class alliance rather than build the 99%.

The only thing that can stop us is us

Throughout American history, attacking the white democracy has always opened up radical possibilities for all people. The abolitionist movement not only overthrew slavery, it kicked off the women’s rights and labor movements. The civil rights struggle not only overthrew legal segregation, it kicked off the women’s rights, free speech, student, queer, Chicano, Puerto Rican, and American Indian movements. When the pillars of the white democracy tremble, everything is possible.

The only thing that can stop us is us. What prevents the 99% from organizing the world as we see fit is not the 1%. The 1% cannot hold on to power if we decide they shouldn’t. What keeps us from building the new world in our hearts are the divisions among us.

Our diversity is our strength. But left colorblindness is a rejection of diversity. It is an effort to keep white interests at the center of the movement even as the movement claims to be open to all. Urging us to “get over” so-called “divisive” issues like race sound inclusive, but they are really efforts to maintain the white democracy. It’s like Wall Street executives telling us to “get beyond” “divisive” issues like their unfair profits because if you work hard enough, you too can get a job on Wall Street someday!

Creating a 99% requires putting the struggles of people of color at the center of our conversations and demands rather than relegating them to the margins. To fight against school segregation, colonization, redlining, and anti-immigrant attacks is to fight against everything Wall Street stands for, everything the Tea Party stands for, everything this government stands for. It is to fight against the white democracy, which stands at the path to a free society like a troll at the bridge.

Occupy everything, attack the white democracy

While no pamphlet can capture everything a nationwide movement can or should do to undermine the white democracy and left colorblindness, below is a short list of questions people might consider asking in movement debates. These questions were developed from actual debates in occupations throughout the U.S.

  1. Do speakers urge us “get beyond” race? Are they defensive and dismissive of demands for racial justice?
  2. If speakers urge developing “close working relationships with the police,” do they consider how police terrorize Black, Latino, Native, and undocumented communities? Do they consider how police have attacked occupation encampments?
  3. If speakers urge us to hold banks accountable, do they encourage us to focus on redlining, predatory lending, and subprime mortgages, which have decimated Black and Latino neighborhoods?
  4. If speakers urge the cancellation of debts, do they mean for things like electric and heating bills as well as home mortgages and college loans?
  5. If speakers urge the halting of foreclosures, do they acknowledge that they take place primarily in segregated neighborhoods, and do they propose to start there?
  6. If speakers urge the creation of more jobs, do they acknowledge that many communities of color have already been in chronic “recessions” for decades, and do they propose to start from there?


Attack capitalist power—attack the white democracy.
Build the 99%!
People of color at the center!
No more left colorblindness!


Joel Olson is a member of Bring the Ruckus.

Source: Whiteness and the 99%