Author: cowboysonthecommons

A podcast and blog featuring Matt Stannard and several esteemed guest writers and producers, dedicated to theory and praxis of cooperative and anti-capitalist law, economics, policy, and culture, with occasional emphasis on (and a general orientation towards) rural and western U.S. socialist and cooperative history and organizing.

I was wrong to think the left could compromise on abortion

September 8, 2021

by Matt Stannard

I used to believe that when we overcame capitalism and scarcity, and liberated labor from exploitation, that a socialist society could then have a discussion about abortion, about extending the circle of moral consideration outward to include the unborn entity.

I was wrong and I am sorry for anyone who heard me say that and rightly felt that I was trivializing the autonomy of those who can become pregnant.

Abortion and access to abortion will always be not only necessary, but a positive good. It’s part of an ethic of life, not a culture of death.

It’s true that pro-choice doesn’t logically mean pro-abortion. It’s also true that it’s good to be pro-abortion. We should support, not just tolerate, medical procedures that improve (sometimes save) people’s lives. If you call abortion “regrettable,” “tragic,” “a necessary evil,” or whatnot, you’re agreeing with the metaphysics of the anti-choice argument: that a being with some kind of moral standing is being terminated. That’s not only false–it concedes just enough to the other side to empower their underlying (false) assumption.

At one time it seemed to some of us on the left that there was room for a left-feminist critique of abortion and shared speculation around the mysteries of life. In the 60s and 70s and even into the 80s there were whole-life movements that included rejecting abortion, war, nuclear weapons, and capital punishment.

But now we know that it’s impossible to compromise with anti-choice forces on anything. They’d rather women die. And, we must also remember –and never fail to articulate– that forcing someone to carry a pregnancy to term against their will is slavery. It seems to me that qualifying that by saying abortion is undesirable rhetorically chips away at the autonomy of those who can become pregnant.

Frankly I would love to see the slogan “against abortion? Don’t have one” become “against abortion? You’re wrong and your position threatens human autonomy.”

I was wrong and I’m sorry.

I’ll end this with a long quote from Democratic Socialist of America’s socialist-feminist statement on reproductive rights from 2017, keeping in mind that four years later we’re fighting for more than just overturning Hyde. Now the stakes are Roe itself, and the relationship between capitalist authoritarianism, patriarchy and white supremacy has never been more visible in our lifetimes.

. . . capitalism is built upon male supremacy and white supremacy. One of the most critical feminist issues is reproductive justice, including not just birth control and abortion but also childbearing and childrearing. DSA also understands that abortion access is an economic issue, that poor and working-class people and people of color in particular experience limited access to reproductive healthcare, from the very limited access to care for rural patients to mandatory waiting periods that force people to lose work and stay in a costly hotel, to the high cost of the care itself. As part of our support for reproductive justice, DSA believes that people should have the right to make decisions for their own bodies that shape their reproductive destiny. In terms of abortion, that means women, gender nonconforming people and trans men who may become pregnant should have the right to decide whether to terminate or continue a pregnancy, as well as the resources to support that choice. As part of our efforts to achieve reproductive justice, DSA has consistently called for Congress to overturn the 1976 Hyde Amendment that bans Medicaid funds being used for abortions.

Photo: Reproductive rights rally in Illinois, May 2019. By Charles Edward Miller

The Limits of Lived Experience: Doordashing and Dreaming

By Sudip Bhattacharya

August 20, 2021

My girlfriend’s knuckles were bright white as she gripped the steering wheel, weaving through traffic as the Doordash app kept informing us that we had about two more minutes left to make the delivery on time. 

“We’re only making 10 bucks an hour right now,” she muttered, “We need more or we won’t even break 50 for this run.”

“This is why we need to go to the more bourgeois places,” I exclaimed, as I held onto the pizza box with both hands. 

My girlfriend didn’t respond and instead, stared straight ahead, glaring. 

Rushing past gas stations and abandoned storefronts, and houses surrounded by tall grass, my brain was spilling out of my ears. The car started to rumble as we went over random ditches and road acne, as the pizza box grew colder at each passing moment. 

The past year under Covid-19 has been extremely challenging for both of us, as it has been for so many. The plan had been to find more time to relax, to spend time together doing things we enjoyed, like exploring Philadelphia (especially since we’re both vaccinated) and trying our best to recover before returning to teaching in-person in the fall. Having worked every summer since high school, my girlfriend needed a break, especially as a full-time teacher, taking care of students who are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic. 

Thus, my girlfriend left her usual tutoring job for the summer and in the first couple of weeks, busied herself with audiobooks and cleaning and cooking new types of dishes and visiting family and friends. I too was feeling freer, finally landing another teaching gig at Rutgers after months of not knowing where my next paycheck would come from. My hair was starting to grow back on my head, and I was able to focus on other things, such as exercising and eating well. 

But the positivity was slowly eroding as we dug deeper into our savings to pay for what we need, like new clothes (my wardrobe is mainly a collection of “free” union t-shirts and random shorts), like a new laptop so I can finally proceed with my research and writing without having to worry if the computer I’m working on will decide to shut down in the middle of an interview with someone. My girlfriend is in a tougher position than me, however, as she’s having to still pay for student loans and other expenses, and doesn’t have the same level of financial support from family as I do. 

In the last few weeks, we decided to deliver for Doordash to sustain ourselves. At the beginning, the experience has been useful in forcing us to learn more about the area we’re in, as we’ve delivered to consumers across various neighborhoods, segregated by class and race. Often, we’ve delivered to people living in places like Camden, where there aren’t as many restaurants or supermarkets nearby and to others living in communities where the streets are paved with cobblestone (for an odd “colonial era” vibe that “some people” love so much) and where there are stores lining the avenue and where the lampposts all flicker on at the same exact time. 

However, the experience has mostly been grueling and dizzying as we race from one order to the next, parking in random spots, covered in sweat. Now, after some of our delivery runs, as we’re catching our breaths at some random parking lot, I have this intense desire to do whatever it takes so we don’t have to do this. Sometimes, as we’re hurtling past gas stations and the random string of chain restaurants, with the pizza box burning my thighs and I’m about to vomit all over the windshield like a bug splattering, I want to stop somewhere and buy up a bunch of lottery tickets and write a book about racism in which I plead to rich white liberals to “do better” and to “hear me”. I want to be able to take all their donations and splurge on a nice house with a backyard and pool. 

In the meantime, I’ve argued that we should only deliver in areas that have restaurants clustered together, which is usually in places that are wealthier. As much as I enjoy delivering to places like Camden or to people where we live in Pennsauken, which is also a racially diverse working class community, we need to be able to earn more whenever we can and not spend most of our time driving long distances between restaurants and customers ordering from areas that don’t have as many options to eat from. 

“I hate this,” my girlfriend said, as we drove past another Thin Blue Line flag in a suburb where all the lawns are so green they look fake. She bit the bottom of her lip and slowed down. 

I too shrunk in my seat, but I also knew we needed to be around where all the major businesses were. We have bills to pay. Still, I was unable to muster up the words to comfort her, as we drifted past houses that looked identical to one another, past the shadows peeking between blinds. 

Marxists have recognized generations ago that one’s experiences as a working person pushes them to recognize more accurately what their interests are or what they need. 

“The essence of scientific Marxism consists, then, in the realisation that the real motor forces of history are independent of man’s (psychological) consciousness of them,” said Georg Lukacs, the famed Marxist philosopher. 

Obviously, based on my experiences working and navigating the unfolding and intertwined crises of Covid-19 and neoliberalism, I can see clearly that I need healthcare, cheaper housing, and more “autonomy” at the workplace, regardless of what someone else tells me about how “unrealistic” I am. My body needs such things to live, no matter what. It would be like someone telling me water is a hoax and filled with phantoms waiting to take over my soul and yet, dehydration kicks in, and all that “belief” will be thrown out the window because my body literally requires water to live. Same with housing, and other amenities. The physical pushes down on the mental, which includes the pro-capitalist propaganda that has shaped our thinking in the U.S. 

At the same time, as much as it’s true that our experiences as working people, as exploited people, can defend against “ideology” in the sense of bosses and others, including co-workers in some instances, trying to convince us that competition is somehow natural or that healthcare is a “privilege” or that most people are lazy and “entitled”, it is also true that such experiences do not inevitably lead one to becoming a revolutionary either. The irony is that as our experiences become more cruel and draining under capitalism, we can also start to feel much more desperate and feel more scattered and pulled apart in multiple directions. Therefore, as our working conditions worsen, as our living standards deplete, we are compelled to do whatever it takes to make it to the next day and thus, start losing sight of who we are and who we want to be.  

Frantz Fanon, the anti-colonial scholar and psychologist, recognized how oppressive material conditions can lead people to develop strategies of survival, and thus, force some to still operate within the confines of the status quo. Fanon saw this in colonial Algeria, where the oppressive conditions created by French colonialism drove people to focus on what they needed to do in the short-term, which would contradict such things as “solidarity” with others like them. 

“In a context of oppression like that of Algeria, for the colonized, living does not mean embodying a set of values, does not mean integrating oneself into the coherent, constructive development of a world,” Fanon wrote in “Colonial War and Mental Disorders” adding, “To live simply means not to die. To exist means staying alive.”

Indeed, as the frustration and anger eats away at one’s insides, as the stress of survival overwhelms, one’s own political horizons are diminished. Instead of being able to embrace a clarity that a new society must be born from struggle, one wants to be the boss, the manager, or anyone who has the means to live some form of the “good life”. In Algeria, it meant an Algerian man (masculinity helps to obscure the liberatory path as well) simply wanting to replace the French colonist, as Fanon recognized. 

Over time, as this is also denied him (the ability to live the “good life” under French colonialism), as the daily humiliations persist to sediment on the body, like layers of wet cement, causing one to drag their feet across the avenue, to lower one’s head when passing a police station or some exclusive club, he begins to channel the rage and frustration at those around him, at those within striking distance. 

“Whereas the colonist or police officer can beat the colonized subject day in and day out, insult him and shove him to his knees, it is not uncommon to see the colonized subject draw his knife at the slightest hostile or aggressive look from another colonized subject,” Fanon expressed in what is considered to be his most engaging essay, “On Violence”. 

Of course, neither my girlfriend or I are in the same position as Algerians living under colonial rule, but still, I’ve become increasingly more desperate over the past few years, and jaded as well about my own future. The academic job market, especially for qualitative researchers, is brutal and competitive. As much as I enjoy the research I am currently doing, which focuses on the relationships between non-white peoples in the U.S., I also am acutely aware that others who are quantitative scholars and who simply download their survey datasets online, churning them through mathematical models on their new laptops that don’t break down or suddenly restart every few hours, are more in demand across the major universities. They can finish their research projects much quicker and their “results” which usually pertain to some supposedly new concept about peoples’ voting behaviors or testing the ignorance of masses of people will lend them an advantage over qualitative scholars like myself. Furthermore, those who do some intriguing work on politics (relatively when compared to others who avoid discussing class, gender and race substantively) and who may contend with issues of race/racism in the U.S. do so by not relating it to critical histories and issues, such as U.S. imperialism, capitalism, or anything that is more systemic, which helps them be taken more “seriously” by premier institutions looking to hire. Again, one can go far in academia if one is able to appeal to the white “liberal” (who is a conservative at heart) by avoiding a Leftist and more accurate critique of the U.S. political landscape on issues of race and gender. 

As we’re swerving through traffic, I think about all this and wonder if I could or should start to frame my work in ways that could help me attain more funding and of course, a higher-paying job. Often, I think about how I can outcompete others, what else I need to do to shine, to get the job interviews everyone craves for and needs.  No one, after all, can pay their bills through goodwill alone. 

Karl Marx recognized the contradiction inherent in one’s social position as a worker, in how it can generate opportunity for solidarity but also, reinforce a sense of rivalry as resources under capitalism dwindle, as conditions deteriorate and getting that promotion becomes ever more necessary, as the bills pile high on the table, as others are being laid off. 

“Competition separates individuals from one another, not only the bourgeois but still more the workers, in spite of the fact that it brings them together,” Marx stated in his “Theses on Feuerbach”, on how capitalism pits worker against worker, especially when desperation erodes one’s sense of comradery. 

What drastically altered the power dynamic in colonial Algeria, what helped channel peoples’ nerves into something constructive, dragging them away from the abyss, was the formation of a revolutionary party, the FLN. The FLN incorporated people into its direct actions, into confronting the colonists as well as fighting for a new version of rule and governance. The same has taken place across all major revolutions, from Russia to China to Cuba. In each instance, there was a party pulling together the oppressed,  connecting their frustrations and anger, forging a community of the disaffected. 

But we don’t have that at the moment, not at the level of intensity and prominence as we need, and such organizations take time and effort to emerge. Until then, what do we do? Between now and the revolution, between now and the dismantling of capitalism, how do we manage to hold onto our humanity in the face of constant pressures to work, work, work, to compete, to make choices that are above thinking about others?

Recently, we drove through one of the more “attractive” neighborhoods nearby, where all the streets are paved and historic churches loom over local cafes that are stocked with coffee beans from all areas of the world. Much of it is white, with some Asian families, and some Black families wandering, shopping, moving as a group from one end of the block to the next. As we start to make deliveries, our driving time is cut short and every time we deliver our meal, we simply turn back around to where we were a few minutes ago, where all of the cafes and restaurants are, bunched together, where a green drink filled with “healthy ingredients” will cost someone two coffees somewhere beyond the vale. 

After a while, my girlfriend turned quiet and so did I, as I held onto the green drinks arranged on a tray, and laid my head back, watching the people riding their bikes, jogging, laughing, unscathed. 

Back at the apartment, after we nap (the secret sauce to living less grumpy lives), we reassess, or rather, my girlfriend does after we spend an hour in front of the TV, watching people searching for homes internationally, with us taking mental notes on what we would like someday (so far, we are debating whether to have a koi pond or a pool someday for the home that exists in our heads). Eventually, after watching an episode of a couple buying a home in Mexico, embedded in a community full of “expats”, my girlfriend turned her head toward me, while leaning back on the couch, with crumbs on my shirt, and repeated how she wanted to take a break from Doordash. 

I eventually looked over, the sound of traffic seeping through the walls. 

“Don’t you feel weird doing it?” she said, her eyes trained on me, and after a while, I admit that it was odd to be around people like that, but also a part of me wanted to tell her we needed their money. If it’s not us, other Doordash drivers will do their deliveries, surrounded by the lore of meritocracy. 

Instead, she kept staring and I could feel her judgement. 

“We can do better,” she said. 

“We can,” I answered. 

Sudip Bhattacharya has been published at Current Affairs, Reappropriate, The Aerogram, and local newspapers across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. He is also an organizer with the Central Jersey DSA, and is pursuing a PhD in Political Science at Rutgers University.

Post-Covid

by Sudip Bhattacharya
July 18, 2021

Moments before Gauri collapsed, before the dizziness that had been hounding her all day finally overwhelmed her, causing her face to collide with the apartment floor, moments before Gauri’s sister cradled her head, as the ceiling turned into a starless black sky, all Gauri could mutter was “Useless…” and the last set of images that flashed across her mind was of her on a stage, gripping a bullhorn, and below her was a crowd, a composite of people she knew, like friends she no longer texted, and coworkers she barely knew but relied on, all of them biting their nails until blood trickled down their hands. She also saw someone who reminded her of the mailman from a year ago, someone she promised to get a holiday gift for but never did. He was glaring at her, dressed in his bright blue uniform, his arms crossed, plotting his revenge. Next to him was Ashima, her little sister, also glaring, and for some reason, also dressed like a mailman.

And that was that. Face meets ground. The traffic humming and people arguing over how much toilet paper they needed, suddenly gone, replaced with absolute silence and darkness, as if she had been launched into the heart of space. At first, it was intimidating, but Gauri did feel what some would call peace. Some sense of finality.

The night before her body crashed, Gauri’s mind had already been weighed down, like a paper bag with grease dripping down the bottom, by images of aunties crossing their arms and shaking their heads at her, of fat-bellied uncles, burping between samosas and Darjeeling tea (the pride of Bengal!), informing her between each burp that the “sensible” thing was to start working straight after high school. What was the need in going to college? What was the need for seeking work beyond what her and her parents had been part of for decades now? Stocking shelves. Listening to customers whine about not finding the right type of chai they needed. Clearing up the storage space of cobwebs and mud. It wasn’t glamorous, no. But it paid the bills. Their parents, of course, supported Gauri or at the very least, never stood in her way. But maybe they should’ve? What if her parents were also naive, somehow, or worse, indifferent and confused and…? The questions piled high, as she staggered down the block, her mask dangling at her chin, to her favorite liquor shop. Favorite meaning it was the closest one to her and was open every day and everybody was scared of her, and kept their fucking distance. However, on the way back, all of the anxiety, the unbearable gloom, the pizza chunks still stewing in her stomach acid, the microwavable samosas filled with cheese, suddenly rushed out of her esophagus, gushing over some bushes, as god intended. She chuckled at this, as she wiped off the slime with the back of her arm, before noticing the bus stop a few feet from her, filled with women leaning on mops, wearing magic school bus yellow gloves, and glancing at her, some of them looking like…she heaved and ran and fell and scrambled to her feet and finally made it, slamming the door shut behind her, gasping.

Thin strips of chicken were waiting in the microwave, limp. Netflix trailers of couples arguing over how serious the other one really was in the relationship and cooking shows in which people cry because they failed in cooking the pho at the exact right temperature echoed from the laptop. Feet stomped across the ceiling, like there was a parade. Sweat trickled down her face as Gauri ripped out another can, popped it open, and threw her head back, letting the warm liquid cleanse.

. . .

Ashima, the hope their parents mention at the temple, even while the priests babbling in dead languages sprinkle water across bowed heads, woke up every day since the pandemic thinking she was still taking classes at Rutgers, that she would be back to campus in a few hours, the one place where she could talk and not have people raise their eyebrows at her, or experience people nod at her as they’d kept watching Desi sitcoms they uncovered over YouTube, where everybody’s eyes bulge whenever they do something “funny”, like mistake their wife for a coatrack. Ma and Baba often spent their time after work in front of the TV or messaging people family in Kolkata, or dissolving into the couch, cigarettes hanging from their mouths, sleeping pills swimming in their bloodstream.

Every morning, of course, the illusion would recede, giving way to reality’s blunt force, causing her to open a window for some air, even when it was too humid, her brushing her teeth eventually, the toothpaste splattering on her shirt, doing the minimal to touch off her face as she’d mentally prepare to serve boomers at a diner named after the road it was built on. She’d sometimes practice her smile and remember what it was like to be in a classroom, to be able to read and discuss topics and themes that she always wanted to explore, to debate Fanon against other students whose parents bought them laptops that could bend all the way back for some reason, students whose egos she could bruise finally, who had nothing to protect them from her exploiting their weakness, raising points that were obvious to her and yet missing in their “analysis”, who would glare at her, while she smirked, her shadow looming.

Now, she served their parents and versions of them, and would have to do so in the extreme blood boiling cheese curdling heat since Mr. and Mrs. Salvatore allowed for “loyal” customers to dine outside, letting them place their masks to the side, letting them sport fake smiles to one another and to her, as her heart raced, as she held back the panic brewing.

“What are you doing?”

“Reading.”

“I know. But why?”

It was a couple of weeks into the new semester and Gauri decided to drive Ashima to the local bowling alley, one of the last ones amongst the shopping malls and gas stations surrounding central Jersey, the land of neon lights burning holes into the night sky, the land of traffic and constant humming in one’s ears. The land of tinnitus and vertigo.

The bowling alley also included a large arcade and a whole section dedicated to laser-tag, which was something Ashima had done once before, as a kid when she was hanging out with Gauri and her friends, who would eventually leave her in the mostly dark room, competing against older couples on her own, promising they’d be right back. She kept playing for almost a half-hour, committed to completing the game, and having succeeded in scoring the most points out of everyone, although most other teams were too busy coughing from laughing so hard to notice. Eventually, she would exit and find Gauri and her friends in their oversized shirts with punk band names across them, bowling at one the lanes, and also trying to grab their breaths as they laughed. Once she got closer, she could smell it on them, their source of courage and humor, as they passed under the chairs, something in a brown bag. Gauri’s friends ruffled Ashima’s hair as she sat down beside them and stared up at the scoreboard and looked around at all of them, like a spectator.

But that was eons ago, right? That was what she told herself when her parents approached her after a long day, after they all took turns taking showers, as Bollywood music seeped through the walls from their neighbors, and she could hear an older man weeping, informing her that Gauri had agreed to take her out for a sister’s night out. Ashima was reading in the kitchen since the man’s weeping could be heard mainly in her room, and closed her eyes, took in a deep breath, pictured the jersey shore minus all the white people tanning, the waves crashing. She knew it was her parents’ idea for Gauri to spend time with her. She knew it was her parents always worried that she was always buried in some book or essay or preoccupied with pouring her insights and being onto a page, or rather, typing away on the laptop they all shared, and that she used the most, typing away like it was a piano. To them, she was odd, strange. Different. Not unique. Not talented. The laptop was some machinery, something that only one should use to Google a recipe, not to organize one’s thoughts.

But what was the point anyway of even trying to defy them? It would only lead to a needless argument over something trivial. In the grand scheme of life, her relationship to her sister was indeed trivial, having been set on a trajectory of failure and the superficial.

The most important thing was to work, save, finish school. Escape the neighborhood she was forced to call “home” when in fact, all it has been and will always be are blocks of one-floor houses, decaying front porches, and brown grass, with people inside them who’d spend weekdays on their feet and to come home either worn down and silent or rearing for an argument, and on the weekends, funnel what was left of themselves into their mosques and temples and into random gatherings called “parties” which would always devolve into some of the men grappling one another by the collar while slurring their words, their words slamming into each other, and most of the women pretending nothing was happening, blowing puffs of smoke into each other’s faces, until the smoke alarm shrieked.

If she wanted to start building a real life for herself, she needed to remain focused and ignore all the other indignities.

But Gauri was now hovering over her, Gauri’s shadow covering the page, the same page Ashima had been re-reading, amidst all the bowling pins clattering and arcade machines, for the past half-hour, and Ashima’s chest was starting to feel heavy. She took in a deep breath and looked up at Gauri, with a tray of fries greasy and glistening under the lights and smoothies, already dripping.

A lump had formed in Ashima’s throat. She wanted to say, “thank you”, and take the drink and sip and smile too, but instead, Gauri was beaming at her, and the lump metastasized into a boulder. She stared at the drink now, as if it had done something obscene.

“What the hell? What’s wrong with you?” Gauri exclaimed, the smile melting.

The stench returned, blowing in through Gauri’s teeth, and Ashima, as dramatically as one could, slammed shut her book, and rushed out of the bowling alley, back onto the asphalt sizzling under the sun, Gauri yelling after her.  

That was the last time they “hung out”. That would be the last time they pretended to have a good time, before Ashima would be the one cradling her Didi in her arms, a thin string of saliva sliding onto the floor. As the buses outside continued to groan. As Ashima would fight off the urge, with every fiber of her being, to run and to never look back ever again.

. . .

Their body began to shake and suddenly, tears were flowing down their face. They quickly hid their face in their hands.  

Gauri did not know what exactly to do when the man in front of her started to combust. His face contorted, the internal scream finally being released, twisting flesh and bone, as she held her breath, her own body feeling being weighed down by steel chains clasped around her arms and legs.   

With their face hidden, the man continued to make guttural noises, like a sea lion lost at sea, calling out for help. The noises upset her. Made her angry and annoyed. Her first instinct was to grab him by the shoulders and make him wipe the snot from his large bushy beard, and get himself in order.

Her mom would often cry when Gauri was growing up, sometimes while cutting vegetables and stripping tendon from lamb and chicken, sometimes while watching Hindi soaps. But the one time that stuck to Gauri, of her mom crying, was the time when they were visiting family in her mom’s ancestral village, and her mom was weeping and apologizing to Gauri for slapping her, causing Gauri’s cheek to sting for the first time.

Admittedly, Gauri’s mom would slap her again, and again, and again, but that moment was the one that Gauri would be dragged back to every time Gauri’s mom, or anyone in fact, would furrow their brow at her, or raise their voice, or inch closer toward Gauri without saying a word and while maintaining eye contact. Her heart would pound against her chest, as if someone was trying to burst through and run. Her cheek would start to feel warm.

Years later, she’d find out, from her Baba, that her mom on that same day had been yelled at by an older brother in front of the rest of the family earlier in the morning for something innocuous, and yet, when Gauri learned this, her first reaction was to excuse herself and to retreat into the bathroom, her chest pounding, tears forming, the urge to slap and kick her uncle until he begged for mercy. When she returned to sharing some chai with her father, she shifted the topic to her work as a labor organizer at Rutgers, and talked and talked and talked about her new job, about all the rallies she planned, the events she’d organize to bring people together, all the while her organs were shifting, her hands started to shake, beads of sweat formed on her forehead.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” the man repeated, as Gauri retrieved some paper towels from the kitchen behind them, and shared them, and waited as the man, a part-time instructor she’d recruited for their union campaign, dabbed the snot underneath his mask, which was also soaked.

What shocked and annoyed Gauri the most was that the man in front of her, who was now crumbling under some invisible weight, had become one of the leaders of the campaign for faculty, including grad workers, to demand and receive the promised increase in funding and wages that the Rutgers administration had promised a year ago when they finalized their new union-administration contract. He had been on the frontlines, raising his voice above the din of crowds of people.

Since the pandemic, the university administration reneged on such promises, as capitalists are wont to do, having discovered loopholes above the dotted lines with an army of corporate lawyers, paving a pathway toward not only holding onto bonuses, but also in the ability to let go of countless employees, tossing them over the mast of the ship and into the ocean. And on cue, this man, along with others who she had spent so many countless hours with responding to their questions and mounting worries, was refusing to listen, instead losing himself to his anxieties and the crippling hopelessness. Gauri knew this job would be difficult but after years of hopping from one NGO to the next, and bagging groceries, cleaning toilets during the day, at least this time, she was in control of cultivating a vision of where people should be. At first, the other staffers supported her and some of the leading faculty but it was clear that many were conservative about what they could or should fight for. Some believed that negotiating over wages was the only thing a union should do, even when the world burns.

“What am I going to do now?” the man said, one of the few who believed in the vision, who attended almost all the meetings, who even did the one thing that all organizers do, which is start Google docs during meetings and take notes, all of which were on top of his duties at the lab. But he looked up now, his eyes staring right into hers. What the fuck? Instead of being courageous, cowardice had overtaken him. She wanted to grab him. Punch him. Send him flying across the room. She wanted to —

Gauri shifted into platitudes, doing what she thought was necessary to calm him down, reminding him he wasn’t alone. But as she spoke, the man’s expression gradually transformed, from a face sagging and into him glaring at her.

“I should’ve stepped away from the campaign like my wife said,” he suddenly stated, talking past what Gauri had been saying to him, “I should’ve…” he tried to repeat but his voice shook, and the glare disintegrated as quickly as it emerged. His face was buried in his hands again, and Gauri knew she had to extend her own hand and perhaps, place it on his shoulder, but all she could now think about was the glare.

Eventually, returning to her union office on the main campus, she popped open her company laptop at her desk, and stared at it, picturing another version of her slamming it across the room, banging it against the floor, until it was dust.

“Betaa, you don’t understand,” her Baba had said after he returned home at the break of down from cleaning some offices. Ma was still sleeping, her shift starting in the next few hours, so for a brief sliver of time, it was just her and Baba at the dining room table, a piece of furniture they found on the side of the street that they spent all day cleaning.

“You have to talk to other people who work with you about what happened,” Gauri implored, but her Baba refused, instead sipping on his chai, the steam fogging up his glasses.

After a while, Gauri wanted to scream, and so, she retreated to her own room, and listened to music as she finished some of her college homework and returned to the living room/dining room/kitchen when she heard the TV blaring. It was Baba watching old Bengali movies, the static crackling. He was leaning back on the couch, his cheeks glistening, and Gauri decided to sit next to him, as he muttered, “Useless, we’re all so useless…” when the movie was almost over and the main character, dressed in rags, was raising his fist against the heavens, demanding answers. Without saying anything else, her Baba searched for another film online and clicked and Gauri waited until her Baba fell asleep to slip outside, with the images flashing across him and the wall. The air smelled like something was burning. She sipped on her flask, and watched as others dragged out their garbage bags and others were perched on their front steps. They all looked like they were slouching, eyelids flickering. She gazed at them before heading down the block toward the hum of traffic, to watch the cars drifting through smog.

“Hi Amiri, how are you doing? I was hoping to talk to you about…Oh, yea, no. I understand. I’ll call back then at another—”

“Amanda! Hi! How are you doing today? Hello? Amanda? Are you there?

“Hey Sahar! It’s me, Gauri. I wanted to let you know about an upcoming town hall online. Yea, it’s meant for members like you to ask questions and to learn about updates and. I understand. So, would another day work for you?”

The lampposts outside the office flickered awake and with the campus having been mostly deserted, all that was heard was the sound of traffic, always sounding a few miles away. Gauri clicked off her phone, her laptop, and descended. The drive back was rather short and she picked up some snacks and some courage from the supermarket along the way. She microwaved some chicken tenders once back inside her studio and after trying to watch a show on Netflix about pasty looking people in a baking competition, baking snacks she never would eat, she clicked her phone back on, snapped open her laptop and went through the membership list, as people stomped on the ceiling, as others yelled at one another, even when asking basic questions about where the spoons and forks were, the music booming, shaking the walls. A few hours later, Gauri would also be on the floor, on her back, the laughter reverberating through her, her cell phone dead. Pieces of her laptop scattered across the floor.

. . .

She had arisen! Her Didi was reborn! After sprinkling some water on Gauri’s face, Ashima watched in awe as Gauri blinked open her eyes and the moment she looked up and she saw Ashima, Gauri threw her arms around her, tears running down her face.

She apologized profusely, promising she would be the kind of sister Ashima had always deserved, someone who finally understood that it was them against the world and all else are distractions.  

“Stop looking at me like that,” Gauri exclaimed, glowering as they sat on opposite sides of the room, Gauri on the sofa covered in crumbs and wrappers, and Ashima perched on a lawn chair, melting.

Gauri’s phone kept pinging, as Ashima didn’t utter a word, as she scrolled on her phone, reading messages from coworkers who were begging for her to take their early shifts the following morning since they were now feeling a cough lodged in the back of their throats, and wanted to see a doctor as soon as possible.

“I’m going to order some Pizza Hut cause it’s buffet time I think,” Gauri announced, causing Ashima to look up, although she felt scattered and stretched, as if existing in multiple situations at once.

“Why? I’m not hungry.”

“Why not? It’s the dirty Desi thing we used to do. It was fun.”

“I never liked Pizza Hut.”

“No one likes Pizza Hut. It’s cheap though and it does the job, you know.”

“I never liked it. I never liked going there.”

“Really? I used to think it was fun.”

Ashima turned silent and returned to staring at her phone, causing Gauri to glower and to grab her phone off the cushion, and pour over menus on a delivery app she barely used, given her diet was mainly chicken tenders, cut up fruit, and occasionally, some water, although even then, she preferred sparkling.

However, she had bookmarked some Indian restaurants, some Mexican that she had a sense Ashima would’ve liked to try, and so, she suggested a Mexican place that was a few blocks away, that had just re-opened, and had really incredible nachos, topped with cilantro and jalapeno, and once she suggested this place, and described some of the cuisine, Ashima slowly raised her head, beaming.

Suddenly, an uncle barged through the front door, his stomach protruding like an orb, chewing on paan relentlessly, and once looking at Gauri, her face sunken, her skin creased, her hair sticking to the side of her face, he bellowed and so did, Ashima, who laughed and laughed until she coughed, but even then, slapped her hands on her knees.

. . .

“I don’t want nachos. They fuck up my stomach.”

“How? Cause of the cream. We can ask for no cream.”

“I don’t want anything. You need to go to the hospital.”

“What about some bubble tea? There’s a place that can deliver in less than thirty minutes.”

Gauri paused and looked over at Ashima, clenching her fists over her knees, trying to take in deep breaths as she stared at the floor. Her mask was back over her face, and Gauri hesitated on what next to say, the words now lodged in her throat, like debris.

“Are you sure you don’t want to grab something at an IHOP or something?” Gauri asked, as she slowed down the car in front of the home they once shared, which now felt empty inside, as if there were no furniture, no stains on the dining room table. The rest of the block was vacant too, with the houses sinking into the earth, with the windows glowing now, but no shadows behind them.

Ashima, who had kept her gaze focused outside the entire ride home, exhaled and popped open the passenger door.

“I’m sorry, for whatever I did,” Gauri said, “Let’s just go and grab something to eat. Or, do you want to just drive around maybe? Or we could watch—”

“You don’t care. You care more about the losers at work.”

Gauri stared. “The teachers I work with? That’s my job.”

“You have happy hours with them. You organize events with them.”

“We are literally fighting for paychecks.”

“They don’t care about you. They’re useless. What you are doing is useless.”

Gauri tightened her grip on the steering wheel until the muscles in her shoulders ached. An ex-boyfriend sauntered by, blowing her a kiss and grinning, before turning back around and heading toward the distant hum of traffic.

The car door was slammed shut. Ashima rocked back and forth, her hands balled into fists, the sun bursting through the window, causing their skin to hiss.

Gauri’s heart stopped beating, as Ashima sucked in air between her teeth, eyes wide.

“What’s going on?” Gauri asked. Her ex and her boss at the last supermarket she suffered through getting drunk on some apartment rooftop somewhere, singing songs like they were French Libertines. Gauri shut her eyes, sticky, opened them, saw Ashima still rocking back and forth, still gritting her teeth. She saw Ashima slamming laptops, watching shows in the family living room, sleeping pills dissolving into her blood.

“What’s going on?” she repeated, but Ashima hopped to her feet, muttered something about being tired, and before Gauri could add a phrase to the mix, Ashima slammed the door shut behind her, causing cracks to form on the ceiling. The sun engulfed the sky.

. . .

Gauri called Ashima. Her head felt light, so she drank water, stumbling through beer cans and wrappers, and plates with ketchup dried into them.

It went straight to voicemail. Ashima kept rocking back and forth in front of her. She kept rocking back and forth, biting into her nails. An auntie loomed, twenty foot tall, but Gauri called, again and again, each time hanging up when the beep echoed, waiting a few moments before dialing once more, which she persisted in doing until the room started to spin and her stomach was screaming at her.

Ashima was rocking back and forth. Ashima was slamming laptops into the floor, and throwing her head back as she downed more false courage and stretched time.

Gauri knocked on the front door as the sun glowered. Her skin sparked, but finally, a window was cracked open where the living room/dining room/TV room was, and the voice asked what she was doing there, and Gauri responded that she wanted to see if they wanted to go to an event Gauri and some of the other staff were organizing for some of the membership.

“I hate happy hours…”

“It’s not that. It’s like a discussion, sorta? For what we’re gonna do next.”

“You don’t know?”

“Do you want to come?”

“Maybe another time.”

“I’ll come back then.”

“Sure.”

The window was shut and curtains fluttered, the patterns of gold and blue reflecting against the glass. People piled into cars, their uniforms creased but bright and clean. Someone waved at Gauri, as she was about to head into her car and drive off. She waved back at them, and soon, they were out of sight.

Her hands started to shake, so she headed to someplace nearby to get some pakoras and some laashi or maybe. Dust covered the floor. Computer parts. Her hands started to shake. Mango laashi on a hot day. Mango laashi on a  hot day. Mango laashi on a hot day. Ashima and Gauri drinking mango laashi and eating pakoras. Gauri’s side was burning.

Sudip Bhattacharya has been published at Current Affairs, Reappropriate, The Aerogram, and local newspapers across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. He is also an organizer with the Central Jersey DSA, and is pursuing a PhD in Political Science at Rutgers University.

Art: “Court for King Cholera,” cartoon for Punch by John Leech, 1852

Cultivating Visions for Solidarity Collective

Surviving 2020 to 2021 and figuring out what we are.

by Matt Stannard on May 23, 2021

Exactly a year ago, we thought there was a pretty good chance Solidarity Collective would fold. I even wrote this diagnostic piece. It reads in part:

We can always re-prioritize our labor but we have no room to reprioritize our financial commitments. They have been massaged and scrutinized over and over again, and we’re at the part of that slide show which shows that we will not survive long-term.

Another important factor is that it’s hard to do what we’re doing. Material and cultural cooperation isn’t just learning the skills needed to share. It also proceeds from the same general principle as socialism: that a wide scaling of shared resources can serve everyone’s needs. “From each according to ability, to each according to need” can only really meet the diverse needs of a group of people if the gives-and-takes are sustainable. Our financial, physical, and emotional resources are stretched and often broken, week after week, month after month. There is no more “from each according to” to take.

Things actually got a little worse later in the year, but not materially. As our financial and labor situation improved, a rift occurred in a combination of new and old relationships that ended up changing the face of the group in some important ways. But after that, with a skeleton crew of people still here and a healthy number of people scheduled to move in (we should be at between 12 and 14 adults by the end of the year), things began to look up, even with the amicable departure of one of our founders (people are not expected to live here forever, although that’s an option).

In the midst of some of those personal battles, I wrote the following 7-point vision for the Collective. It’s not official, but it has become a set of aspirations that we’ve used to communicate our values to people checking us out:

1. Provide anti-capitalist, anti-oppression, and pro-cooperative education.

2. Provide collaborative organizing and creative space for members and values-aligned organizations and people.

3. Operate democratically, cooperatively, and intimately, as comrades.

4. Provide guest space for traveling activists and those in need of shelter on a case-by-case basis.

5. Operate as a repository for leftist knowledge through our library, media projects, and other materials.

6. Be able to meet our monthly expenses through a combination of enterprises, outside support and patronage, and member contributions.

7. Build, maintain and improve permaculture, sustainable and regenerative systems for farming and living, commensurate with the physical and mental well-being of our members and active supporters.

Reader’s thoughts are welcome. We’re still here, still putting out podcasts, selling eggs, hosting political forums, providing short-term and long-term living space for activists and artists, and growing an impressive library. We have a large greenhouse now. We get inquiries several times a month, and feel as if we could be bursting at the seams with members before too long–or that we may continue to fluctuate up and down stopping just short of enough. I look forward to revisiting that description in a year.

And we still need your support. The easiest way to do that is through our Patreon platform.

No One Is Illegal on Wyoming’s Stolen Land

Barrasso and Gordon lied about Wyomingites’ immigration concerns. That covered up an even bigger lie about the U.S. settler state.

by Derek Jolley on May 17, 2021

Amid the numerous and varied political issues faced by Wyomingites in 2021, much of which we try to dissect and analyze through an anti-capitalist lens in our media here at Solidarity Collective, two of the most influential figureheads in Wyoming politics have recently used their platforms to “fan the flames of discontent,” as it were, specifically at what the media often refers to as the “immigration issue” or “border crisis”.  Both Governor Mark Gordon and U.S. Senator John Barrasso have, as of late, made incendiary and dehumanizing statements regarding Wyoming’s role in prolonging the hardship of those who have already been subjected to unimaginable trauma, often a very traceable result of U.S. imperialism and economic warfare.

On March 31, Senator Barrasso spoke to students and faculty at Laramie’s Slade Elementary School.  After congratulating the school for a recent achievement, Barrasso recounted his recent experience of traveling to the Donna Soft-Sided Processing Facility, a detention center near the Texas-Mexico border, with 17 other Republican senators.  He spoke of how the border patrol agents’ jobs became much more difficult as the number of detained immigrants skyrocketed after the commencement of the Biden presidency, how, while on a midnight patrol, he witnessed “traffickers and smugglers” on the Mexican side of the Rio Grande shouting and taunting the U.S. agents, saying “You can’t stop us now!” (implying the glee that these dangerous criminals feel regarding the new lax immigration policies), and how the thousands more detainees who now occupy this detention center are in these squalid conditions due to Biden’s compassionate rhetoric.

Barrasso further amplified this story on the Senate floor on April 12, elaborating that he does indeed see the overcrowded detention centers as a humanitarian crisis, while also referring to the trafficking and smuggling issue as a “national security crisis.”  While voicing the need for immigration reform, Barrasso fundamentally views the entire issue as an aberration completely manufactured and owned by the Democratic Party, and uses this framework as a means to score legitimacy points for his own particular brand of right-wing populism.

Governor Gordon’s notorious series of tweets from April 16 read in full:

“I share the concerns of many Wyoming residents about illegal immigration issues currently facing the country and how they may be impacting Wyoming.

“I want to state clearly and unequivocally that the State of Wyoming will not participate in relocation or housing efforts of illegal immigrants or unaccompanied minors, and I have made our position clear to Federal officials.

“The Wyoming Office of Homeland Security has advised our office that they are not aware of any Federal immigration plans that include Wyoming. Along with other Republican governors, I will continue to actively monitor the situation and will respond as forcefully as needed.”

While both Barrasso and Gordon have received pushback for their unsubstantiated claims that immigration ranks among the most pressing of issues in the opinion of their constituents, the discourse often lacks discussion of the right’s propensity to use sensationalized anecdotes and half-truths to maintain institutional hegemony.  It isn’t my intention to deny the existence of the international drug trade and the violence that surrounds it, nor the likely link between Biden’s “back to normal” rhetoric and a surge of desperate migrants believing that the new administration is dismantling barriers to entry.

I think it would be a meaningful exercise to take a step back and examine the tenets of the geopolitical narrative that dominates right-wing discussions of what is commonly called the “border crisis”.  Subsequently, I will present the leftist framework for understanding why so many people feel the need to leave their homelands in the first place.

The Right’s Immigration Narrative

  • The United States was founded on the principles of equality and universal rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” and therefore the right to private property.
  • Minimal government interference in the markets allows for the greatest amount of prosperity among the citizens.
  • The pro-capitalist government of the U.S. has fostered the country into becoming the richest and freest in the world.
  • The destitution of other nations is primarily the result of government intervention in those nations’ markets; many people of these countries would rather come to the U.S. and reap the benefits of a wealthy, free nation that accrued its wealth honestly than stay and use these principles to make their own countries prosperous.

Obviously, a great diversity of opinion exists among people who identify with “the right” or are otherwise subservient to U.S. imperialism.  Many incorporate this narrative with a reactionary variant of Christianity, believing the rise of the United States to not only be God’s will but God’s personal project to prepare for a fuller expression of Christian rule.  Many others will acknowledge the evils behind the founding of the United States, but contend that the reformations that have been made have already brought justice to the descendants of those who were wronged.

Thus, I will juxtapose this narrative with a leftist interpretation of American history.  Again, leftists are no strangers to disagreeing with each other about the details and what the best course of remediatory action is.  Volumes of books have been written on the subject, but in the best way I can summarize my interpretation:

An Anti-Imperialist Leftist Framework

  • The United States is a settler-colonialist power that was founded on the assumption that indigenous land claims are inherently invalid.
  • Through the continued theft of indigenous land, forced labor by enslaved Africans, and rampant exploitation of the working class, the United States emerged as a powerful player in world politics.
  • Voluntary participation in these systems of oppression is cultivated by the propagandistic image of the American system of government being one of maximum personal liberty, as well as materially rewarding those who contribute to the growth of U.S. imperialism.
  • The United States continues to engage in corporate imperialism as a means of channeling the wealth of other countries into its own economy, and militantly undermines and overthrows foreign governments that do not bow down to its will.
  • People from destabilized nations seeking to immigrate to the United States are by no means looking for free handouts, but rather hoping to reclaim some of the wealth that was looted from their homelands.  They do not owe anything to the U.S. government or economy.

To all who may say that this framework is hyperbolic or essentializing, I highly recommend diving into the history of the United States’ conquest of North America from scores of indigenous nations, as well as the more modern and ongoing history of maligning other nations’ rights to self-determination.  While listing every regime change the U.S. has been involved in would be a Herculean task, some of the most notable examples include:

  • the CIA-supported overthrow of Allende’s socialist republic in Chile and installation of the brutal Pinochet regime in 1973
  • the Guatemalan coup of 1954, wherein the United States, in an effort to protect the banana profits of the United Fruit Company from the social democratic Árbenz government, instigated the Guatemalan Civil War which resulted in a genocide against indigenous Maya people
  • the US-backed 1964 Brazilian coup, where a social-democratic government was overthrown, causing Brazil to be ruled by a series of authoritarian dictatorships with favorable policies toward the U.S. for decades to follow.

The simple maxim “Actions speak louder than words” demonstrates that the United States does not value democracy as it claims to, as our nation, regardless of whether a Democrat or Republic sits in the Oval Office, will readily align itself with any dictatorship that is willing to support U.S. corporate interests.  As destabilized nations are far easier to exploit than nations that have the power to work toward their own interests, the words of Michael Parenti ring clear and true: “These countries aren’t poor.  These countries are rich!  Only the people are poor!  They’re not underdeveloped, they’re overexploited!”

My hope is that the people of Wyoming and elsewhere throughout the exploitative nations of the world will be able to see past the fear mongering and institutionalized colonialist racism being pushed on us by those in the halls of power, and recognize the role they play in global imperialism.  Only when the “workers of the world unite” can we hope to save humanity from impending climate disaster and the system causing it.

Derek Jolley is a member of Solidarity Collective and a co-producer on the Solidarity House Cooperative media team.

Tell Us Stories

by Sudip Bhattacharya

Posted April 28, 2021

I will begin with the story of Rosa rushing from one aisle to the next for the exact type of chicken tenders the consumer ordered, sweat stinging their eyes,
their Instacart app not updating,
all the while a cough is crawling up her throat,
an internal scream.
Karl, a few miles away seeking out the perfect pack of celery and updating that into the app as fast he could, trembling hands rattling within, nights spent scrolling through YouTube for cats that could distract, and yet,
Rosa would reach out, ideas zooming, red blood flowing, muttering, murmuring, stitching rants into discussions,
concluding they needed to talk to more of their coworkers,
albeit the process would take time,
it would require time,
time they may not have, Rosa would say,
we can’t rush this, Karl would respond,
Rosa agreed, to a limit, though there were days when she too would pace, would feel her sweat burning down her face, would throw open her soul and down drink after drink,
until all that made sense was falling asleep on the couch she pulled in from the street months ago, a show tracing silhouette over her eyes and cheeks,
she insisted, however,
fighting the internal scream.

I will begin with the story of Ida conveying the street battle between law enforcement and
young men and women pushing against the barricades,
a part of Ida understands that what she will try and express will be looked over and neutralized
her editor will seek to create a “level playing field” between men with shields and guns and people gasping.
a part knows that to keep going one needs to pay their bills or otherwise the Four Horsemen are just around the corner,
plotting and cloying,
and she takes a few snaps, finds a few to talk to, tells them she is there for a purpose,
she knows,
she knows very well,
about the rot
about the reality
the stench,
gritting one’s teeth, smearing on a smile,
she knows,
they know,
enough people know,
yes.
Ida takes in a deep breath as she washes out her eyes over the sink,
Ida takes in a deep gulp of air,
yes.
Fingers typing like on a piano,
the final form emerging like a silhouette through the fog,
still,
yes,
people know.

I will begin with the story of Hosea, the imagination sparking, lurching too,
Hosea spends time thinking through whether to take the Advil now or later,
as boxes line the floor, as packages filled to the brim with computer parts, new pieces of a sofa, whatever else people need when the world is a 1/4th of what we knew.
his nerves are stretched, to their brink, his arms shaking, the muscles in his back ready to pop from their sockets, to spring back like puddy,
Hosea glances at his coworkers stacking boxes on the conveyor belt,
he dropped his, and yet, he sees clearly,
and, he melts and reemerges in the center of the room,
thinking about friends who he’d never see, cause they’re so far away now,
up in the sky,
especially his buddy who held his hand while collapsed on the floor, choking back coughs,
heart pounding,
pleading for Hosea to take him to the hospital, while everyone watched,
trying to keep their distance of course.
technically, the man wasn’t a friend. he was someone he worked with and knew some things about, like he had a wife and some kids, not sure how many, and that he also grew up in the suburbs right outside the city, where you could have a view of the Manhattan skyline and yet, be living in a tiny box home, where the grass is brown, where the weeds look green at least.
still, days after, Hosea’s heart would race and he’d flinch in the middle of dreams,
one day, he heard word that his friend/acquaintance/fellow working person who had no choice but to spend days in a crowded warehouse was in recovery but still having to drag in air, and,
Hosea woke up when it was still pitch black
and, he wandered over to the window, and look across and see someone’s silhouette in a window across the street, looking back at him, like some spectral figure, like somebody in a portal,
but they weren’t someone special,
they were him, also, up, wondering and wandering and searching,
yearning and flinching,
and then, there is a fear and frustration and fear that grips him, that mounts an attack,
he has the urge to vomit on the floor, he is dizzy and has the urge to vomit on the floor,
like he knew he would if he pushed himself so hard,
he needed to call on someone he could trust but his friend is in the hospital,
and he’s in his apartment on his knees dragging in air,
he feels the need to vomit, but he doesn’t want to and grips the carpet and moans,

I will begin with the story of
I will begin with the story of
I will begin with the story of
I will begin
I will begin
I will

Sudip Bhattacharya has been published at Current Affairs, Reappropriate, The Aerogram, and local newspapers across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. He is also an organizer with the Central Jersey DSA, and is pursuing a PhD in Political Science at Rutgers University.

Illustration: “Capitalist Culture,” November 1930, Cover of Bezbozhnik, 1920s-1930s Soviet magazine

Laramie’s Cautious Police Reform Moves Forward

April 9, 2021
by Matt Stannard

On Wednesday night the Laramie City Council and those city residents able and interested to attend spent several hours debating and working through a proposal for some kind of police oversight entity. The thing they came up with was a 23-member ad hoc committee to study and develop recs and specs for that entity.

Two things I want to say at the outset–first, I live some number of yards outside of city limits, although my mailing address says Laramie and I’ve lived all over the city over the past 20-ish years. Our intentional community is, however, county not city. So I don’t presently get to vote for city electoral candidates or engage in their deliberations.

Second, I’m happy and think we all should be happy that the Council, with its increasingly progressive leadership and among some members a genuine feel for the events of the past three years here, is going through this process. Yes, we should be as impatient as hell, but we should take this process as a signal that local politics really matter, with lives in the balance.

Those things said, what about the meeting and its outcome? Public debate was contentious, as Derek says in our conversation on the upcoming episode of Solidarity Wyoming (I’ll link it here). During the past couple of years, the fierce backlash against police accountability in the City of Laramie and Albany County has fueled everything from threats–and some individual acts–of violence against Black Lives Matter demonstrators, arbitrary and selective arrests of demonstrators, public officials and candidates taking the stage with fascists at an extremist rally, and lots of shit talk at City Council meetings. It remains to be seen how much difference it will make in the outcome of this process.

The more serious danger is that well-meaning liberal and moderate members of the council and ambivalent ad hoc committee members will allow themselves to be walked away from meaningful police oversight. Democrats in the city and county are an often uneasy coalition of affluent liberals and less privileged militants (and students), and political outcomes, particularly on police reform, have reflected this.

The ad hoc committee established Wednesday consists of 23 voting members, including community residents, 2 of whom must be “engaged in social services,” and institutional members with positions like criminology professor, mental health worker, and significantly a member of UW student government. Mental health workers are included, along with 2 city council members and the (always disproportionately powerful) city manager. And the committee includes 3 police officers, including Chief Dale Stalder, who is a case study in police chiefs who think they’re apolitical but are political as f*** (one Laramie Human Rights Network leader talks about Stalder’s misleading budgetary orations in front of the City Council on this episode of our podcast).

Heavy with professionals, the committee will have to proactively commit not only to race and gender diversity, but also to working class representation and an understanding of disability. The presence of the chief of police and two other officers on an ad hoc committee might seem more reasonable than having cops end up on the actual oversight entity (although watch police apologists demand that very thing), but I will be pleasantly surprised if they contribute anything resembling ideas for increased accountability. I’ll come clean on that if I turn out to be wrong.

Which brings us back around to the real danger that this endeavor won’t bring meaningful change. The source of that danger is not understanding the ideology and aims of police and policing. The deliberative process that comes out of this will be a lot of things, but one thing it won’t be is apolitical.

Any approach that doesn’t at least acknowledge that the pro-cop position is partisan, that it is conservative, and that it hides its political agenda behind a badge, the fear of crime, and its very claim to be apolitical, will yield a flawed outcome that won’t prevent police abuse. And police abuse is what this is about, it’s why we’re here, why the Council was given this mandate through whatever combination of public pressure and good conscience convinced them to start this process.

The far right, in fact, understands that this is a political fight. For them, police being allowed to crack the heads, shoot first and ask questions later, make marginalized people afraid of cops, these are policy choices. Police brutality is hardwired into their desired outcomes, a point repeatedly made by their leader, ex-president Trump.

Pretending cops aren’t political allows them to claim a disproportionate share of our budgets, and avoid legal accountability when they do things like kill unarmed people or hit protesters with their cars. Police chiefs and cop unions get their own public pulpit, speaking on politics and policy behind a veneer of authority and objectivity when they’re often completely wrong about their own effectiveness and what works and doesn’t work in the criminal justice system.

And if instances of police abuse aren’t enough to compel people to fight for reform, I would add that what we are really fighting for is what our commons, our public spaces, our communities look like. Public violence, almost all of which is institutional, crowds out and discourages collective action and cooperative engagement. We surrender our own agency, and our shared resources, to paramilitary and reactionary bad actors. We gradually lose the ability to take care of one another. Cooperative politics moves in the opposite direction of that, and so must demand a completely different paradigm of public safety. I hope that vision exists in some form among the members of this committee, whose inclusion of 3 police may be 3 too many.

Matt Stannard is a member of the Solidarity House Cooperative media team and is co-chair of Southeast Wyoming Democratic Socialists of America. You can support his work at the Solidarity House Patreon page.

Photo: Laramie protesters confront police after the arrest of a demonstrator, June 2020. From video by Matt Stannard.

And Now A Brief Moment on Christian Eroticism

by Matt on April 5, 2021

I don’t have a lot of time to devote to this today but would love to collaborate with anyone interested and willing to do more research. We could make it an article (although many have been written–we could do so with a socialist feminist lens, perhaps?) or a podcast episode.

Anyway, there’s a ton of scholarship and general cultural examples for the thesis that Jesus is a sexualized superhero. This doesn’t bear on Jesus’s historical authenticity. I agree with Reza Aslan that a Judaean nationalist, mystic, and orator called Jesus existed–and had a brother named James who was later made the Bishop of Jerusalem. A google search on erotic Jesus bears much fruit, from “deification through corporeal perfection, artistic vogue, as well as humanization through sexualization” to “Mary [Magdalene]’s passionate and erotic love for Christ . . . an immensely popular topos . . .”

And on and on–there are countless analyses of this, and there’s even a Voxplanation.

Also check out (and then google) God’s Vagina.

I find all these arguments cohere with my own aesthetic, spiritual and theoretical engagement with Christ as a figure. Also Christian pop is extremely erotic.

I’ve had this discussion with lots of friends over the years and I expect to keep having it. If anyone wants to devote something longer that would be a nice project to engage.

Meanwhile, you can support the media and education work of our commune, which also supports research and analysis like this, designed to democratize religion and all other aspects of life.

Wyoming Rep. Gray Exposes GOP Fossil Fuel Gullibility

by Derek Jolley and Matt Stannard, on March 1, 2021

On the February 26 Solidarity Wyoming podcast, the writers of this post discuss the North American winter storm and the widespread political misinformation covered here. We also discuss the sweetheart deal that failed coal mine owners struck with the Department of Interior to the detriment of people and communities in Wyoming.

From February 13-17 of this year, Winter Storm Uri covered Texas with snow and ice. The underdevelopment and maldevelopment of Texas energy infrastructure resulted in widespread power outages in that state.

On February 16, Wyoming State Representative and former talk show host Chuck Gray of District 57 asserted on his Facebook page:

“Just as Wyoming conservatives predicted, the Texas grid is failing because of their reliance on renewables. I’m bringing a bill in the upcoming legislative session to assert that utility decisions must be made with consideration to reliability. We must save our coal-fired power plants.”

Congressman Gray’s effort to conform to one of the most lucrative tenets of the GOP party line shows how little he respects the intelligence of his constituents, as his statement on Facebook makes one of the most easily refutable yet oft-repeated claims by his particular brand of punditry.  In the continuing wake of ‘Winter Storm Uri’, this claim has seen a renewal in mainstream political discussion.  These unfounded attacks on the supposed unreliability of renewable energy sources are long past due for retirement.

Casper’s own Oil City News provided the most basic numerical refutation of the claim that the continual rolling blackouts experienced in Texas are the fault of “their reliance on renewables.”  In the first place, wind-generated power accounts for only 25% of Texas’s total electricity supply.  Offline power from renewable sources amounted to 16,000 megawatts, compared to 30,000 megawatts offline from gas, coal, and nuclear sources.  Wind power in particular proved to be, on average, more reliable than nonrenewable sources during the February outages.

In examining the lie that Congressman Gray is parroting, a simplistic narrative emerges: the winter storm coated wind turbines with ice and otherwise induced malfunction, in contrast to fuel-burning energy sources, which are impervious to such problems due to the high-temperature nature of their operation.  Yes, there were cases of storm-produced wind turbine shutdowns (due to a lack of proper weatherization).  In the big picture, the extreme freeze largely disrupted off-source electrical equipment regardless of what that source was, again, thanks to the lack of sufficient weatherization.  Severe winter storms in the region are not unprecedented – they occur rather regularly every eight to ten years, thus the excuse that proper equipment weatherization is not worth the cost is invalid.

An interesting case study in the propagation of this lie takes the form of a meme primarily transmitted on Facebook in the wake of the power crisis.  Originating with Texas fossil fuels pundit and consultant Luke Legate, the meme consists of a 2015 photograph of a helicopter deploying a fluid de-icing agent to a wind turbine in Sweden with a caption that reads: “A helicopter running on fossil fuel spraying a chemical made from fossil fuels during an ice storm is awesome.”  Another variant comprised the same image superimposed with the text “Only two things are infinite; the universe and human stupidity. – Albert Einstein”.  It seems clear that the meme was spread with the intention of making the viewer think that this aerial maneuver was photographed in Texas, and more insidiously, that “helicopter turbine rescues” widespread practice in Texas.  The photo was in fact taken during a research and development exercise for improving turbine weatherization technology, not an attempt to put a turbine back online “during an ice storm”.  Weatherization technology has made wind a viable source of power from Canada to Antarctica.

The February winter storm has brought to widespread public attention the infrastructural anomaly that is the Texas Interconnection, the power grid that covers most of the state; this provides critical context for understanding the significance of the previously mentioned numbers.  At no point crossing the state line, the Texas Interconnection’s manager, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is spared the trouble of having to comply with FERC regulations.  This geographic confinement also nixes the state’s ability to take in power from outside sources, at least in a reasonable amount of time. In short, Texas’s intentional separation from outside electrical grids is the reason for the deadly power outages, not a reliance on renewable energy. The profit incentive so foundational to a capitalist economy has, as it always does, superseded the value of human life.  The motivation for a separate Texas Interconnection was based on fossil fuel moguls’ unwillingness to sacrifice revenue to federal regulation; scores of otherwise preventable deaths are attributable to the Texas power outages alone.

One might question how such disasters are the fault of capitalism.  To illustrate one aspect of this declaration, let’s look at the alliance between dozens of key players in the fossil fuel industry and the politicians who ensure their continued survival.  Three members of Congress who represent Texas, Senator John Cornyn, Senator Ted Cruz, and Congressman Dan Crenshaw, are widely known as being some of the most outspoken proponents – and reliable voters – for the interests of the fossil fuel industry.  In the 2020 election cycle alone, these three politicians together were the recipients of over $1.1 million in donations from fossil fuel donors.  These donors took the form of political action committees organized by dozens of corporations, including giants like Chevron and Exxon and smaller regional players like Wildhorse Energy and Chief Oil & Gas, as well as thousands of individuals employed in these companies.  Interestingly, Senator Cruz received tens of thousands of dollars in donations apparently just as personal spending money, since he wasn’t up for reelection this cycle and not running a campaign.  

Hundreds of thousands more are donated to Texas state-level politicians every year, like Governor Greg Abbott, who in a recent appearance on The Sean Hannity Show claimed that the blackouts “shows how the Green New Deal would be a deadly deal for the United States of America…” and Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who is preparing a bill that would blacklist Texas companies that “don’t love fossil fuels”.  Fossil fuel corporations use this method of legislative electioneering as a form of insurance.  Every dollar that they give to their political allies is a frantic attempt to protect themselves from legislation that would otherwise gut their profits or ultimately work toward replacing them.

A few days after Rep. Gray’s ridiculous comments, according to the Powder River Basin Resource Council,

“the Department of Interior, Eagle Specialty Materials (ESM), and the attorneys in Blackjewel’s bankruptcy case released a settlement agreement for unpaid royalties on federal coal leases mined by Blackjewel, and its predecessor, Contura, at the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. According to the legal filing, over $32 million in royalties are unpaid at the Belle Ayr Mine and $27.8 million in royalties are unpaid at the Eagle Butte Mine, with hundreds of thousands owed in interest.”

Be sure and read the whole story. Belly-up mine owners are regularly taking millions of dollars away from mine workers and residents of Wyoming, often while getting away with their own golden parachutes. That makes it even more disturbing to far right politicians making such earnest efforts to lie for the industry. Who are their stakeholders?

The exorbitant amount of political power wielded by industrialists demonstrates a mortal flaw in a government system heavily influenced by liberalism (in this case referring to the political philosophy that props up free markets and private property rights).  Democratic ideals are ineffectual when the capitalist elite have such an enormous influence on the information we have access to and the way we interact with each other.  If you “vote with your dollar” under capitalism, in what way is the system where a few people have billions of times more votes than you democratic?  Americans, and all who live under capitalist hegemony, live their lives with the unspoken understanding that, in the end, it is the rich and powerful who have the final say in how decisions are made.  

Fossil fuel barons and their political allies are not our friends.  Just as tobacco executives promised that their products were not addictive, fossil fuel executives are aware their products have been environmentally poisonous and are not economically viable.  This is why companies that fund climate denialism and economic scare-mongering in the media are at the same time insuring their facilities against the effects of climate disruption. 

It takes a great deal of moral fortitude to admit we’ve been duped, and we hope you’ll join us in the struggle for a healthier world and a more democratic society.

Derek Jolley and Matt Stannard are members of the Solidarity House Cooperative media team in Laramie. You can hear their discussion of this article on the February 26 episode of the Solidarity Wyoming podcast. You can support their work here.

Democratize Love

by Matt Stannard

October 11, 2020

” . . . the extent to which, therefore, the other person as a person has become for him [sic] a need.” ~Karl Marx, Private Property and Communism

Maybe the shaping of our love-needs is a micro-instantiation of our entire regime of private property and colonialism, our personal primitive accumulations as our sources of traumatic seizures and losses, violent encounters, making some of us need multiple others to love us, and others need the exclusivity of one partner to call (to name, claim surety of) one’s own. In any case, none of it is clean. Polyamory even with the “ethical” designation still risks all kinds of power assertions and unspoken rewards and deprivations, while monogamy can go from liberating to coercive as easily as a gust of wind can slam a door.

In other words, if there is a disagreement between poly and mono advocates, I don’t think one side or the other can ever have moral high ground. Our needs may be met by multiple partners or one; the point is to abolish hierarchy. That doesn’t mean one shouldn’t advocate–and particularly that critics of monogamy shouldn’t speak out on how monogamy carries the concept of property and “mirrors capitalism’s deficiencies.”

We know that, in the broadest senses, the fulfillment of human needs is a collective project. People express their emotional and sexual needs in different ways, and the necessity of a collective response can be expressed by those able to express. Gracie Brett describes the thought process, and the desire process, in the form of a question grounded in socialist theory and a kind of ethical curiosity: “I questioned why we are socially limited to one partner, when we could probably fulfill each other’s sexual, emotional, and other desires more comprehensively as a collective project.”

Gracie argues that since we have been “conditioned to not share in other facets of life” monogamy becomes an extension of this hegemony–an enclosure, like the enclosure of the Commons. I get it and I feel a strong attraction to that metaphor, but it’s not quite on point, or at least there’s a lot of work to be done in re-describing the construction of the partner-subject in order to envision the socialization of intimate relationships. Again, and regardless of whether it reproduces capitalism, monogamy may also fulfill a deep yearning not to have one’s intimate bits scattered or subject to a working group vote.

As Zoe Belinsky writes in an essay that anyone interested in these questions should read, “our relationships with each other are a part of our means of producing the world” which makes them “valid objects of communist political critique, ones that ought to be acted on, clarified, critically assessed, and mobilized as a resource for material practice.” Socialism is the movement toward elimination of material hierarchy in every sphere of life. If relationship exclusivity deprives one of a need that would better be fulfilled under a paradigm of collectivism, then exclusivity reinforces a hierarchy, even if it’s a microhierarchy (and it is not just that anyway). So the call to “abolish” monogamy doesn’t mean to forbid it, but only to say that the choice of one partner should not be seen as a default–and to emphasize how collectivizing and democratizing relationships can happen. The question is what can non-exploitatively meet our needs.

If you want to support my work, you can become a supporter of Solidarity House Cooperative, where you’ll be supporting lots of other people’s work too.

Art: Untitled First Abstract Watercolor (1913) by Wassily Kandinsky, at the Art History Project