How to Go Left (& not get left behind) in Wyoming

by Matt Stannard
May 7, 2019

The presumption that the right gets to call the shots is the Wyoming establishment’s greatest political weapon. It has allowed center-right, “moderate” oil and gas pawns to dominate policymaking by allowing the far right and the billionaire class to dominate policy and values rhetoric. Periodically, Wyomingites are reminded that resistance to this arrangement is futile, and besides, we’re all one big small town here, so we best not be getting uncivil about the way we do things (“uncivil” is when anyone besides Al Simpson or Dick Cheney cusses at somebody, or any time poor people, women, indigenous people, queer folks or people of color object to the cultural and material hierarchies of the state).

I’m here to tell you that’s all good old-fashioned Wyoming bullshit. There’s a growing, increasingly vocal, diverse left here, and you’re probably part of it — if you want to be. Here are five ways you can effectively engage the political landscape on this very colonized land.

1. Join (or form) politically independent or transpartisan left groups.

In addition to political parties, there are also independent political advocacy groups that can bring Democrats, Greens, socialists and independents together around common causes or issues. There’s already a Southeast Wyoming chapter of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA is not affiliated with any party but endorses candidates and organizes direct political action around issues of economic justice); maybe you’re reading this in Evanston or Lander and want to organize additional branches. There are progressive coalitions in cities across the state. There are publications and groups like WyoFile and Better Wyoming, there’s Wyoming Equality, and more [I’ll even edit this paragraph to add more groups if you suggest them]. Trans-partisan and multi-party activism gives us strength beyond our numbers and helps us articulate a general left direction for state politics.

2. Support ANY organizations and candidates that push Wyoming leftward — and use your dialogue and solidarity to shape their direction.

If a candidate is left of center but not left of center enough for you, support them and talk to them about why they should be more left of center. If an organization publishes stories about education funding, hate crimes, and LGBTQAA+ rights, support them and push them to cover labor rights and cooperative economics too. Aim to be invitational and not isolationist with anyone seeking to make things even somewhat better here.

In Wyoming, we don’t have the luxury of sectarianism. We can and should be clear about our beliefs and orientations, but we absolutely must find common points of convergence and action in order to push back against the Foster Friessian privatize-everything machine and the incipient fascists in cowboy boots.

3. Stand in solidarity with groups and individuals brave enough to push the boundaries — and proactively defend them when they’re attacked.

The last three years have seen unprecedented creation and growth of an unapologetic, self-identified collection of left, socialist, direct action, anti-ICE and anti-fascist and other groups in Wyoming, and they are out in the streets, on our campuses, in our living rooms, and showing up at the state legislature and other points of engagement. Even if you aren’t a member of any of those groups, those groups need you to be vocal and supportive allies and defenders when they face inevitable right-wing backlash.

Stand with and listen to indigenous people, and with the brave Latinx activists and others fighting against the construction of a private detention facility in Evanston and for freedom from ICE’s brutality across the state. Support Juntos and join their rapid response network. Stand up for the Southeast Wyoming DSA and for the Wyoming Red Star Coalition (remember that the Martin Niemöller poem actually begins “first they came for the socialists”).

There will be pressure from your moderate and conservative acquaintances to denounce “the far left.” Please don’t give in to that pressure.  Those groups are creating good space for all of us, and are taking a lot of personal risks in their endeavors. Be their allies, accomplices, and fellow travelers when you can. Prove to the doubters that an injury to one truly is an injury to all.

4. Speak, write, and share your politics.

A bunch of us here at Solidarity Collective in Laramie produce “Solidarity Wyoming,” a podcast about left politics in Wyoming. We also host public discussions and offer space for groups to have their meetings. We want to amplify those voices that often feel silenced here. We want to see spaces like that activated across the state. Everyone should be amplifying one another’s voices through social media, public discussions, blogs, podcasts, and any other media conduits we can access. If you have opinions, be part of the external political discussion and the internal debates and discussions that will help our ideas evolve and win.

5. Don’t let the right –or the center– define our political reality.

People make political reality when they join together and fight for it. And if every person in Wyoming who doesn’t feel represented by the old elites, who doesn’t want to be defined by underground carbon deposits and their planet-choking extraction and burning, who doesn’t currently vote or votes reluctantly, who’s thinking of leaving but can’t (or is looking for a reason to stay), if all of us got together, we could win local elections, create sizable public demonstrations, form networks of direct action and material solidarity, and support candidates and policies designed to break the hold of ranching and fossil fuels on Wyoming’s means of production–and to actualize Wyoming’s claim to be the Equality State.

Let’s do it. We have nothing to lose but our dusty, oil-and-cowshit-covered chains.

Matt Stannard is Operations Director at Solidarity House Cooperative in Laramie.

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Podcast & Watch Guide on Protecting Your Kids from Fascism

Today at Solidarity House Cooperative we posted this special podcast featuring Lindsey Hanlon, Brad Kramer and me talking about how to talk to kids, especially teenage kids, and particularly white and mostly male teenage kids, about the alt-right. In the wake of the latest and worst fascist massacre in New Zealand, we felt like it was important to address the toxicity and danger of youth hate radicalization.

Lindsey, who blogs at Into the Void, also compiled the following list of video resources for parents, kids, and anti-fascist activists.

Contrapoints:

The Darkness (a great take on edgy humor and how it is done well versus how it is done poorly)

 

Decrypting the Alt-Right: How to Recognize a F@scist (what it says on the tin)

 

Incels (a deep dive into the Incel community that manages to be sympathetic but also call out what is really messed up about it)

 

Innuendo Studios:

The Alt-Right Playbook: Mainstreaming (the whole Alt-Right Playbook series is great, but this one is most relevant to what we talked about)

 

Lindsay Ellis:

Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about N@zis (an excellent look at the irony/boundary pushing discussion, specifically centered around the representation of Nazis)

hbomberguy:

PewDiePie is a Nazi (A lot of hbomberguy’s stuff is great, but again this is the most relevant to the discussion that we had. It’s both an old video and sadly relevant again)

 

Peter Coffin:

Somewhere to Belong: Jordan Peterson and + Alienation (again, many great videos, but this one is super relevant to what we talked about)

 

Angie Speaks:

Jordan Peterson, Jungian Archetypes, and Masculinity (again, awesome in many ways, but this one is most relevant for today)

 

Kat Blaque:

Freedom of Speech + Social Media (again, many great videos, but this one is most relevant for today)

 

Philosophy Tube:

Steve Bannon (a really good look at someone who is helping to normalize radicalism)

Public Banking, State Capitalism and the Collapsing Bridge

January 7, 2018 updated January 8, 11:16 AM

by Matt Stannard

I’ll give away the ironic image-play here. One chief argument for public banks is low-or-no-interest public infrastructure funding, and the exemplar of that argument is the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge retrofit, which cost nearly twice as much as it should have because of interest rates on the money borrowed to complete it. Probably ten people total would get that connection to the title of this post.

The collapsing bridge here is the one between capitalism on the one side and public or democratic control of some financial institutions on the other.

The biggest challenge for the public banking movement is that it was originally conceived –at least in the wake of the Occupy movement of 2011– as a bridge between people who love capitalism and want to save it from the monopolies of the financial sector; and those who believe we need a full-scale transition into cooperative, non-capitalist economics. That bridge may no longer be stable. In a few years, it may not even exist at all, and the movement will have to answer the age-old question of the radical labor struggle: Which side are you on?

Over at Occupy, [EDIT: THE ARTICLE IS HERE] I’ll have an article up later this week (and will edit to add the link) on the ways in which the public banking movement has taken some punches to the gut, from Governor Phil Murphy’s deprioritization of a New Jersey state bank to the defeat of L.A.’s Measure B to the end-of-year news that the report commissioned by California’s Cannabis Banking Working Group strongly recommends against any public option in cannabis banking—bitter (but, as I explain in the article, unsurprising) news for those of us who pushed the public banking option and spoke before the Working Group at its public banking hearing in Los Angeles in 2017.

Deonna Anderson’s good new article on public banking in Yes! magazine doesn’t get into the movement’s recent defeats, but does mention my cautionary report about North Dakota’s use of its state-owned bank to entrench rather than break free from our life-killing dependence on fossil fuels—and the function of that public bank to emergency-fund state repression of protesters at Standing Rock.

Obviously there are different definitions of success, and the anti-scarcity narrative of public banking has tended to use a very generic definition, allowing advocates to tout the success of North Dakota’s extraction industry (made possible in part by the lending of the state-capitalist BND) while also taking some credit for the launch of Germany’s post-carbon transition. In a kind of marshmallow liberal sense, it makes sense that advocates of a type of public entity rather than an entire value system would present their case in value-neutral terms. But humanity is killing itself and major portions of the planet, public control of finance could help reverse course, and there are limits to who we want to spend time and resources winning over in that fight.

For years, the public banking movement has courted the smaller players in the banking industry—particularly community bankers, whom the movement has sometimes flatteringly portrayed as white knights of economic justice–with promises to do what BND does and support small business lending and regulatory compliance among community banks. North Dakota bankers like it and have been willing to say that. Painfully few other leaders in the small-scale end of the financial sector have followed the lead. There are occasionally internal debates in the public banking movement about the utility of continuing to court community bankers, and the “everyone at the table” approach generally wins, though not always by much.

With no community bankers on board, earlier iterations of the movement were often energized by conspiracy theory types (who are sometimes right—I say “conspiracy theory types” more of a description of their political praxis than their particular beliefs) who’d recently read Ellen Brown and learned that, according to a widely supported theory of banking, banks create money by lending it.

But the dominant “banks create money” narrative is a kind of potential red herring to public banking as a political movement. It’s not what chiefly motivates the divestment-oriented eco-justice and new socialist proponents of municipally-owned banks. The language of the narrative, the kind of “look what we discovered about banking that Wall Street doesn’t want you to know,” probably does more harm than good. I get that it’s a compelling and sound argument. But even if banks do not “create money” they do facilitate the creation of value and liquidity, and have the power to erase the practical distinction between having and not having money. Even if “money creation” is more metaphorical than real (there are good reasons to think it’s both), it stands for the proposition that banks are extraordinarily powerful entities in financial infrastructure and for that reason, irrespective of any others, they should be publicly owned.

Mobilizing around that “secret” about banks has made for some strange bedfellows since the beginning, and so at least until the divestment and economic justice movements re-acquainted themselves with public banking, it has been too esoteric, evidenced by the handful of leading public banking exponents who are vocal Trump supporters (in the service of which they make or retweet embarrassingly stupid arguments which I will refrain from linking to here). Some of these people are carry-overs from the section of the movement informed by the anti-banking, anti-federal reserve positions associated with G. Edward Griffin, a Bircher whose 2009 conference on Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia helped build the white supremacist militia movement. Anti-Semites and authoritarian-fetishists saw public banks as a means to dismantle the imagined “Jewish hold” over private finance capital, or allow strong dictators to quickly fix the economy. Similarly, in many ways, the “free money” section of the public banking narrative is more a libertarian wish-dream than a democratic socialist template. If we’re careless, all of this becomes a way of bypassing democracy, not actualizing it.

But since Trumpism and vaguely antisemitic conspiracy theories are grounded in the same essential worldview as neoliberalism and finance capital, the right-wing public banking advocates can’t effectively defend the movement from attacks by the finance industry in the form of negative feasibility studies. There’s a fundamental disconnect in someone who believes banks should be run by municipalities in the public interest but also stands by Trump. Allies like that are distractions at best. At worst, they represent the desire for a fantasy-world of authoritarian state capitalism, where powerful demagogues or fascistic parties control giant “public” banks so they can control or quickly fix troubled sectors of the economy, eliminating material rivals rather than being subject to the kinds of deliberative and transparent community control characteristic of, say, democratic socialism.

Public banks may provide a means of sustainable growth. Unless engineered by oligarchs, they will not provide the kind of growth that pleases powerful investors or allows speculation and gambling with other people’s money. But those are precisely the things capitalism presently wants. Public banks won’t save capitalism as it manifests today, and there is no political or policy trajectory towards an “ethical” capitalism, a “green” capitalism, or any other kind of non-exploitative, non-extractive capitalism. The individuals and small groups associated with such visions have no political roadmap, even though they are often smart and nice people. There is no mass movement behind them, nor is there the ground to build such a movement. The occasional entrepreneur-with-the-innovative-solution-to-poverty isn’t enough. Elites can’t, and won’t, transform the material conditions that made them into elites.

What all this ultimately means is that we need democratic, public-centered, commons-centered control of our finance, period. It may not matter what that looks like. There are many great models, some transitionary, some that compromise too much in my opinion, and many that don’t.

Ultimately, economic and ecological justice can’t be about “bringing everyone to the table.” It has to be about bringing willing stakeholders to the table, and rendering the unwilling (and materially predatory) parties irrelevant. It’s been encouraging that movements across California, from Los Angeles to Oakland to San Francisco to Santa Rosa, have begun to adopt that more militant, egalitarian, justice-oriented praxis. I really hope the best for them in the face of yet another rebuke commissioned by conservative public officials and written by those for whom economic democracy is foundationally alien.

Matt Stannard is director of Solidarity House Cooperative and writes, researches, and teaches about cooperative law and economics. He served as policy director for Commonomics USA, and was communications director and later a board member for the Public Banking Institute.

County attorney Trent faces conflicts of interest in choosing whether to prosecute Derek Colling

Albany County (WY) for Proper Policing Founding Member, Karlee Provenza, submitted this piece to five major newspapers in Wyoming, including the Laramie Boomerang and WyoFile. All of the pursued outlets declined to run the op-ed.

by Karlee Provenza
December 20, 2018

Albany County officials have found themselves in tough situations since Sheriff’s Corporal Derek Colling shot and killed unarmed Robbie Ramirez on November. 4th.

Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley faced controversy for hiring Colling in 2011, given Colling’s history of violence. Colling had previously killed two people in the line of duty, he was fired from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department for another on-duty assault, and he cost the City of Las Vegas $100,000 in a civil lawsuit.

Now that Colling has killed a Laramie resident, people in Albany County are wondering whether O’Malley should shoulder some of the responsibility for Ramirez’s death.

Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent is also in hot water. She has refused multiple requests to publicly release the body and dash camera footage of Ramirez’s killing, even after she showed it to journalists and allowed television stations to cherry pick bits for rebroadcast. This leaves Trent awkwardly trying to explain why it was okay to release the video to some members of the public, but not others.

Meanwhile, Trent faces a separate dilemma as the county’s prosecutor.

As County Attorney, Trent represents the people of Albany County. But she also represents the Albany County Sheriff’s Department. How, then, is she supposed to decide whether to prosecute an employee of the Albany County Sheriff’s Department (her client) on behalf the people of Albany County (also her client)?

The short answer is: she shouldn’t decide. Trent faces a clear ethical conflict of interest, and she should recuse herself from this case.

Laws regarding prosecutorial conflicts of interest are not very clear in cases that involve police defendants. Police rarely face criminal charges in court, so there is simply little legal precedent in this arena to guide us.

But what is absolutely clear is that police and prosecutors have close, symbiotic relationships. Prosecutors rely heavily on police. Police literally bring them work by arresting suspected criminals. When prosecutors decide to pursue charges, they rely on police investigation and testimony to secure convictions. Since the public tends to evaluate prosecutors on their ability to convict criminals, prosecutors’ jobs literally depend on police.

Police-prosecutor relationships are especially tight in rural places like Albany County (and most of Wyoming). The same officers work with the same prosecutors day in and day out, forming valuable personal as well as professional bonds and cultivating a sense of trust. When you spend years working daily alongside police to protect the community, it is exceedingly difficult to switch roles and go after someone your professional life depends on.

Trent may or may not have legal ground to remain the prosecuting attorney on Colling’s case—Wyoming law is ambiguous. But if she chooses to remain, there is absolutely no guarantee she can put aside biases that would impact her decision-making. This would threaten the fairness of any trial, leaving open the possibility that a conviction could be overturned. It would also risk making a mockery of our legal system. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall cautioned: “… actual prejudice in such circumstances misses the point, for what is at stake is the public perception of the integrity of our criminal justice system.”

There would be several viable options for continuing to administer Colling’s case after Trent’s recusal. The case could be moved to another county, or another county’s attorney could be put in charge. Similarly, the Wyoming Attorney General’s office could take the case or appoint a special prosecutor.

Each option presents challenges. And these options may even decrease the likelihood that Colling faces charges—an outcome that would likely dismay many Albany County residents.

But people who are concerned about Robbie Ramirez’s death at the hands of police should also be concerned about a criminal justice system that allows conflicts of interest to go unchecked.

We cannot stand aside and allow for corruption because it is easy or convenient. Regardless of whether someone thinks Colling should face charges, it should be obvious that Trent’s situation is problematic.

As the U.S. Supreme Court has stated, a prosecutor’s obligation “…is not that it shall win a case, but that justice shall be done.”

A forum on police reform will take place from 6 – 8 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 4, at the Lincoln Community Center (365 W Grand Ave.) in Laramie. Snacks and child care will be available. More information is available on the ACOPP site.

I Propose a Rule

Matt Stannard

If you aren’t willing to share the country with those who seek its refuge, security, or economic opportunity, you shouldn’t be allowed to live here. That’s foundationally fair and just.

 
It’s not the people seeking to live here — not in any defensible view of economic and political systems — who are responsible for others’ lack of security or opportunity. It doesn’t work that way. All deprivation and inequity in this country is the fault of its irresponsible and indifferent economic elites.
 
The high-and-mighty argument that “a nation MUST have the right to determine who does and doesn’t come in; it’s the cornerstone of sovereignty and security blah blah blah” assumes what we call our nation has a right to be on this land in the first place, and that we are actually making just and rational decisions about the inevitable human migration that we experience–and which will soon accelerate in response to climate instability. Until we take money out of politics, create more just economic relationships, and come to terms with our settler colonialism, I trust the people in the caravan a thousand times more than I trust our policymakers, and a million times more than I trust the violent fascists at ICE and other police forces.

Want to make a just “movement” policy? Create a just and truly representative body representing all communities impacted by that policy, including migrating people themselves. 

 
I’d rather live next to indigenous people and immigrants from anywhere and everywhere than near settled citizens who would close our borders. We would be better off if we could just replace the former with the latter in some systemic fashion, 1:1, but I’m trying not to be too techno-utopian about this. That would make a great short story though. 
 
In any case, whenever someone asserts that some migrating person(s) don’t have a right to be here, I just counter-assert that person not having a right to be here. 

Can Racists Be Good Citizens? Should They Be Citizens At All?

by Matt Stannard
October 31, 2018

The title question is derived from “Can Atheists Be Good Citizens?” a dreadful essay published way back in 1991 by Richard John Neuhaus, a leading voice on the religious right, who was as responsible as anyone for conservative Christianity’s turn to militant, and often ruthless, political activism. That activism, and the political structures it built, punched down rather than up and was never about liberating the oppressed. The essay appeared long before “atheism” came to designate the bigotry of Richard Dawkins, et al. It simply denoted proactive nonbelief, which Neuhaus found incompatible with good citizenship, because one could not truly be a good citizen unless one acknowledged the Common Source of Good. That was pretty much it, a “gotcha” argument right up there with “you oppose capitalism but you’re using a computer.”

How incredibly, disturbingly ironic to reread Neuhaus’s article now, at a time when far-right groups are back in the public square calling for the extermination and subordination of nonwhites and non-Christians people, and performing that call with bullets. The idea that atheists are a danger to public order because they don’t share a very particular foundational metaphysics is just fucking quaint.

Tolerance and co-existence get a lot of crap from both the right and left. I get the left critique of liberalism, but I’d like to revisit the necessity of tolerance at least long enough to assert that, at a time when the current presidential administration is enabling and encouraging fascism, along with threats to strip citizenship rights away from some, and deny asylum and freedom of movement to others, while all the while white supremacists are harassing, beating, and killing people and not fearing for their own status or citizenship in the least, it’s time for us to contemplate the legal subordination of racists.

In the abstract, it may be that a willingness to welcome and engage others who are different from us is supererogatory at most–morally desirable but not morally required. If we stop there, we can easily conclude that a racist can never be a good citizen in a society nominally premised upon welcoming difference. This seems noncontroversial to anyone to the left of Donald Trump or Stephen Miller. So the answer to the first question is easy for us, and I suppose we could debate it out with those in the “center” who believe that we need to tolerate intolerance, although those debates tend to go in circles.

But because we are not in the abstract, and because white supremacists in America are doing more than just thinking shitty thoughts, and because there is no abstract, and wherever there is white supremacy there is violence and murder and the closure of public space and incursion of secure private space, I want to move beyond the question of whether a racist can be a good citizen and ask whether racists ought to be stripped of
their citizenship altogether. There is a solid case to be made.

By the way, it’s equally obvious to me that to propose an ethno-state as some counter-antecedent to the “good citizenship” question is to beg that question. To advocate the ethnostate is to advocate racism per se, and that is the battle-cry of contemporary American fascists, although, as I’ll explain a bit below, they often propose such things half-ironically as a rhetorical trick.

It is reasonable and, in the current context of racist violence, desirable, to demand as a condition of citizenship the acceptance of the citizenship, dignity, and autonomy of others in one’s community; and where dignity and autonomy are concerned, such an obligation extend to respect respect for non-citizens as well.

The idea of revoking citizenship is provocative, of course, but it’s far from absurd. Rainer Baubock and Vesco Paskalev’s 2016 article in the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal discusses various grounds for revocation of citizenship, mostly in the context of the European Union, but with much to consider when contemplating a more cooperative and egalitarian iteration of the United States. There are a number of weak reasons why states revoke citizenship, such as service to a foreign state; but there are stronger reasons too, such as the discovery that an applicant had deceived authorities in order to acquire citizenship (although we can ask whether that is an adequate reason). Then, of course, there are those who threaten public security in such an extreme way as to expose as false one’s commitment to the society in which they live. “No right is absolute,” Baubock and Paskalev write, “and in the Hamdi case the U.S. Supreme Court found that grave threats to public security can justify significant limitations of the right to due process. It would not be inconsistent for the Court to sustain abridgment of their right to citizenship on the same grounds too.”

As a general category, “noncompliance with citizenship duties” can go beyond just obeying laws, though. Baubock and Paskalev cite Shai Levi’s speculative argument that citizenship could be revoked for serious violations of the “duty of civic allegiance.” Although Lavi’s argument is in the context of terrorism, which violates a citizen’s “commitment to self-government,” it isn’t a stretch, and may even be more reasonable, to extend that duty to respect for the rights of others to exist (period), and to participate in public life. This doesn’t strike me as a free speech concern, either, since the act of renouncing one’s state is also a speech act–one which denotes an explicit rejection of the foundation of one’s citizenship. I do understand the danger giving the state the power to throw around “duty of civic allegiance” and think such a concept could be replaced with some kind of minimal duty of acceptance of others, a literal duty of non-racism or nondiscrimination applied to those identity categories we currently define as protected classes (plus a couple more that we should so define).

So a simple statement of my hypothetical proposal would be something like “Those advocating discrimination or subordination of other humans on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression, religion, ethnicity, nationality, age, or socioeconomic class are subject to revocation of citizenship.” Not unproblematic, but a good starting point for discussion, I think.

The liberal argument against this kind of hard line is most often the marketplace of ideas metaphor, that the solution to racist speech is anti-racist speech. We have to ask: solution for whom? Although we don’t realize this when we’re making the argument, it’s made from the privileged position of those least likely to be killed as a result of bigoted incitement. History demonstrates that allowing racist discourse in public dialogue does not result in the sorting of good and bad ideas through the filter of public choice. Instead, because racists explicitly reject such argumentative ethics to begin with (embracing them only in cruel irony to justify making inroads into such incitement), racism becomes a perennially unsettled, re-presented issue that we re-litigate again and again and again, each time accompanied by spiraling levels of extra-discursive and fatal violence.

And in any event, I’m not arguing for censorship of racist speech or criminal punishment of the racist. My argument is that, in being racist, one fails to meet one’s citizenship obligation threshold. I should be entitled only to such status which I am willing to categorically and sincerely extend to others, with only non-arbitrary exceptions. I should affirm, or at least not actively oppose, the inherent worth and dignity of all people and their right to co-exist in the state and civil society so long as they also affirm the same. If I refuse to do that, then I am refusing to join with others in upholding a basic ethical obligation to those with whom I exist, the violation of which directly threatens others’ security and participation in the state and civil society.

But what about those of us with radically critical views of the state and civil society? Well, I may be “against the state” or large parts of it (e.g. I may be an anarchist or a revolutionary communist), but this doesn’t have to undermine the social obligation to affirm, or at least not actively oppose, the inherent worth and dignity of all people and their right to co-exist in the state and civil society. In fact, this is an important difference between anarchism or communism on one side, and fascism on the other. The former are critiques of the state that do not arbitrarily exclude people from participation and moral status (and actually attempt to propose social orders where all people are truly free to so participate), while the latter is premised upon those exclusions and mandates them in praxis.

Drawing such a line in order to retain one’s status as a citizen is also desirable because the classical liberal line of protecting racist speech while outlawing violent action is a line that fascists have learned to blur through an elaborate system of ironic practices such as the use of outrageous statements that the speakers deny being serious about when called on them. This quite often appears as “We should kill all of you. Stop, stop, I’m joking. Maybe.” “We need a white ethno-state. Perhaps I am only being ironic.” Fascists can and will make endless versions of these statements, mixing them with conspiracy theories and non-actionable discourse advocating racial hierarchies and appeals to the desirability of ethnic cleansing and eradication. As long as they aren’t calling for specific acts of violence against specific people, there are no real consequences for such speech acts even when they inspire actual violence. My hypothetical proposal recognizes this limitation and suggests that the requirements for citizenship in a just democratic society ought to be heavier than simply being able to claim one was only joking about the desirability of slavery and genocide.

Similarly, racist conspiracy theories about marginalized people serve as a subsidy to those with a political agenda served by marginalizing potential opposition. Fox News can assert, with no legal consequences, that powerful Jews are responsible for people of color being mad at police. The ability to do such things is similar to the ability of corporations to create (and avoid paying for) negative externalities like pollution. A social cost is extracted and paid by others for the profits of the polluters. My hypothetical proposal says that the polluters should pay the costs of those externalities. Rejecting my proposal wouldn’t make those externalities go away; it just ensures that innocent people, and the state, will continue to pay for them. Those rejecting the proposal ought to provide a counterproposal for how those costs will be paid, one that solves for the fact that they are externalized on innocent victims now.

The last two years of public life in the United States, filled with spiking numbers of racist violence, open fascist activity, and the occupation of the White House by white nationalists devoted to turning the United States into an ethno-state (or perhaps more accurately, preserving it as such) makes Richard John Neuhaus’s 1991 piece on atheism and citizenship even more disgusting in retrospect than it was originally, as if nonbelief in God threatened the safety of vulnerable people and the body politic in any way comparable to white supremacy, an ideology very compatible with conservative theism and which, in totality, carries no possible consequences other than to subordinate, hurt, or kill other people.

Racism, particularly manifest in fascism, serves another nefarious role: It’s invoked to preserve the existing socioeconomic order through violence and intimidation. I believe the existing socioeconomic order threatens to destroy all life on earth, but even if it didn’t, racism prevents public deliberation rather than facilitating it. White supremacists, racists, and fascists produce metaphysical justifications for murder, arbitrary hierarchies, and structural violence, and in doing so, not only pose direct threats to people’s safety, but also long-term threats to democratic participation in public life. That they are allowed to do so is a political anomaly caused not by America’s unwavering commitment to free speech, but America’s antecedents in material hierarchy and ideological bigotry. Because we want to put such antecedents behind us, racists ought not feel safe, let alone affirmed, in the United States. They ought to fear for their citizenship and social status. One could even reasonably argue for the social utility of them fearing for their personal security and safety, since they knowingly create climates where others fear for theirs. But at the very least, they should not feel at ease about their relationship with the state and civil society. Racists should be afraid to be racists.

Matt Stannard is operations director at Solidarity House Cooperative. His latest article at Occupy.com is “After Rahm, Can Chicago Create a Cooperative Economy?” The opinions expressed in this essay are solely Matt’s. 

The Classism of “You Get Out of It What You Put into It” and other reflexives

by Matt
September 17, 2018

Assuming people have a nanny for their kids; assuming people can just get something taken care of “professionally;” assuming people can just pick up another of whatever they break, lose, or run out of; assuming “go to the doctor” is situationally good advice; these are all manifestations of classism that I’ve overheard one time or another.

Here’s an insidious kind of classism: “You get out of this [church/group/political org] what you put into it.” How often do we hear that and not think, wait, that kind of morale booster falls very differently on someone whose material situation leaves them with neither time nor money to give, but who nevertheless really needs the services, networking, or support that church or group gives them?

Hopefully, the more aware we are of how life’s inevitabilities land in very different places for different people, the more transitive our own material comforts will seem, and the less we will feel our desserts outweigh the fact that nothing is really ours.

The Launching of Solidarity House Cooperative, and Our Communal Space

by Matt
September 14, 2018

In July of this year, the Solidarity Collective acquired, through a personal loan and the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time, the property known as Holliday Mansion, consisting of the large house shown in the picture (11-12 rooms in the main house depending on how you count them, a tower room, and a 3-bedroom basement apartment), a large Quonset hut, four additional apartments (one adjoining and three adjacent) and some small storage sheds. The house was built in 1878 and was a neglected (and over time, abused) historical treasure. Beyond the significance of its acquisition for our mission, its restoration will be a service to Laramie and Wyoming.

Those who have been following our progress in the last two years via our Facebook page and my earlier post here know that the purpose of getting this property was to create an egalitarian intentional community–a commune for shared living space and cooperative work space, food production, and a place where people could ground their activism and creativity in promotion of a better world.

It is significant that we’re doing this in Wyoming. As far as we know and as far as the Fellowship for Intentional Community reads, we are the only egalitarian/left community in the state. Two other intentional communities in early stages of formation, one in Cheyenne and one in Casper, are non-egalitarian; still, it’s interesting to see them cropping up at a time when Wyoming’s fossil fuel economy is in near-freefall and the political culture of the state is becoming more heterogeneous. We think there is a place for our radical cooperative model in Wyoming, but recognize that it needs to be materialized and lived so that people may see its possibility.

Although we’re pluralist about this cooperative economics and culture thing, we bring some basic agreements into Solidarity Collective:

  • we’re committed to cooperation and resource sharing, are practicing partial income-sharing now with a commitment to full income-sharing when all the elements are in place for it
  • we’re feminist, queer- and trans-positive, supportive of everyone’s gender and sexual identities
  • we’re committed to anti-racism and anti-fascism and we also incorporate our own reading of the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism (and the proposed 8th Principle on anti-oppression), although only some of our members are UUs.

There are about twelve people working high-gear on restoration and the financial maintenance of the property–these include core members, family of core members, active supporters who intend to become core members, and active supporters who are just really happy to know we’ve materially actualized a commune here.

That work is formidable and will be a long-term project. The large house has been through many cycles of ups and downs over the past 130 years, and to put it diplomatically, the previous owners and residents left us much work to do. The entire property needs to be re-painted, there is a long list of carpentry work to be done, individual rooms need detail work, parts of the plumbing system need replacement, and even the dirt on the grounds (there is a large pasture are in back) needs to be cleaned of years of being treated like a waste disposal facility.

Until we can do some soil remediation, our food growing systems will have to be independent of the pasture. Planning for vegetable operations and a greenhouse is underway. We have six laying hens now, and hope to raise as many as 40 more next spring, with other animals joining the farm as opportunity grows.

The end goal is a thriving collective, likely through conversion to a trust, but in any case the house and structures and land will exist to provide low- and no-cost, ecologically sustainable living and work space for as many people as it makes sense to live here.

We’ve also launched Solidarity House Cooperative, a worker-democratically-owned and operated production company. Support for our work through this production cooperative is one of the foundational structures of the communal system we are building.

The purpose of Solidarity House Cooperative is to create content, and help others create content, for the promotion of cooperative economics, law, policy and culture. We have initially created three separate podcasts, between which we will produce 8-10 new episodes every month.

Solidarity House: Besides interviewing advocates and activists from all over, we also let the audience into the house to hear about our restoration, governance, and commune-building efforts, our day to day life in an intentional community, and our music! Pilot episode is here and on Podbean.

Cowboys on the Commons: In-depth interviews on cooperative law, economics, policy, and culture. Pilot episode will be released in four days and will be updated here.

Solidarity Wyoming: News and interviews about Wyoming politics and culture. This isn’t your parents’ Wyoming. Pilot episode is here and on Podbean.

We emphasize cooperative economics, law, policy, and culture, through research- and interview-based content. We produce and record original music, and have the capacity to produce podcasts for other organizations and individuals (I have been doing this on contract for three different organizations over the past three years), and seek collaborative relationships with other cooperative content producers and organizations.

There are many ways to support Solidarity Collective, but the easiest and most mutually beneficial way is to subscribe to Solidarity House on Patreon for $5.00 or more per month. Subscriptions directly support the restoration of the house and land and its conversion into an egalitarian ecovillage whose facilities will be available to all cooperative activists regardless of what personal resources people have.

For those wanting to take a deeper dive into support for our group, mission, and principles, Yana Ludwig offers courses and workshops on many of the principles that guide us: conflict resolution, guerrilla consensus, cooperative economics and culture (I lend a hand with the classism stuff), and starting an intentional community. Both in-person and, in some form, remote options exist for these workshops, so if you’re interested, contact Yana, who’s been doing this stuff for a long time. Her book Together Resilient: Building Community in the Age of Climate Disruption was the Communal Studies Association’s 2017 Book of the Year and is available here.

Please consider this my personal ask. Producing, and helping others produce, content promoting cooperative policy and culture is my life work. When I’m not doing it, I don’t feel right. When I am doing it, I can work all day with a smile on my face. My job is to help show that humans can share their stuff, take care of one another, and take care of the earth. After several years of doing this work for other organizations, I think I’ve found a way to turn it into a democratically-owned enterprise, and support many people’s work. I would love your help!

This post is also a call for interested people to send us inquiries about membership in Solidarity Collective and residency on our communal land. The easiest way to connect with us to that end is to join our Facebook group, but if you don’t Facebook, we are still pretty easy to find.

Beyond all that, this post heralds the news that we are landed, active, and unstoppable. It’s time to create an alternative system in the middle of a place that desperately needs one. We’re here and we’re doing it.

Don’t Make Demands on Wage Workers

by Matt
July 27, 2018

So the other day I was having lunch at a restaurant and the service wasn’t good. Non-attentive, took a long time, never asked how I was doing or whether I needed anything. So do you know what I did?

. . . Nothing.

I didn’t stiff the tip. We shouldn’t even have tipping. It encourages harassment and dehumanizes service workers. But as long as it’s a thing, I’ll tip what I can afford regardless of the service.

I didn’t complain to management. That could have gotten a young person in trouble or fired and who knows what effect that might have on their safety or security? Reporting a wage worker to their boss is pretty much like calling the cops on your noisy neighbors. Don’t do it.

Confront the server? Why? If they were occupied with other parts of their job because it was busy there, how would that do anything but make them feel bad? If they were just resting or daydreaming, well good. Wage work is terrible. I have no problem buying them 5 minutes of freedom.

In this world of hierarchy and exploitation, sermons about the “value of hard work” or the “decline of good service workers” are not sensitive to the political and economic realities of our time. My only regret is that I didn’t leave my server a pamphlet about organizing their workplace. Next time.

Don’t discipline wage workers, folks.

Rhetoric, Materiality, and Pants

May 25, 2018

When you point out to orthodox Marxists that they engage in analyzable rhetorical strategies, they act like you’ve just peeped into their living rooms where they’re walking around without pants.

When you point out to non-materialist rhetorical scholars that the artifacts and situations they analyze are grounded in materiality, they act like you’ve just suggested they remove their pants and walk down a crowded street in broad daylight.

(Just an observation by Matt.)