Wyoming

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.

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.

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.

“They Don’t View Us as Being Human” — the ongoing killing of Andy Antelope in Wyoming

by Matt Stannard

October 8, 2020

Last year, Solidarity Wyoming co-host Yana Ludwig interviewed Riverton, Wyoming organizer Chesie Lee and activist Ron Howard concerning the complex and often hostile relations between indigenous people and white residents (called settler colonials by some theorists) in Lander, Riverton, and the Wind River Reservation. The police killing of Andy Antelope was still fresh in everyone’s minds then. It hasn’t diminished since then, and the reason for that is largely the actions and inactions of public officials there. 

Earlier this week Wyoming Public Media published a detailed story of the unrest and mistrust in Riverton, and on the Wind River Reservation, surrounding the police killing of Mr. Antelope, a 58 year-old member of the Northern Arapaho Nation. What began as an arrest for public intoxication outside of a Walmart on September 21, 2019 ended with a fatal shot by a still-unknown cop to Andy Antelope’s head (in an act of disturbing opacity not present in higher-profile killings by police, the name of the officer hasn’t been released to the public). 

The cops’ and Fremont County’s narrative is that Mr. Antelope charged the unknown officer with a knife, earning him a shot to the head. “Antelope’s family members and others who knew him well have doubts about whether he could have posed a real physical threat,” reports WPM’s Savannah Maher. “He was 58-years old and in bad health, largely because of his addiction. He had poor balance and struggled to get around without help.” But the numerous questions raised by both native and non-native community members have not only gone unanswered, but have been treated with demoralizing contempt. The state DCI seemingly did little more than rubber-stamp the killing by re-telling the narrative exclusively from the anonymous officer’s point of view (a technique DCI also deployed when sugarcoating Albany County deputy Derek Colling’s killing of the unarmed Robbie Ramirez in November of 2018). And Fremont County has not allowed a public inquest into the killing. 

The reason for the lack of a public inquest appears to swing somewhere between local political disagreements and a genuine fear on the part of Fremont County that an inquest might reveal that the officer they are shielding from scrutiny acted inappropriately. But it seems unfathomable that such an investigation would be denied to a white victim of a police shooting. Mr. Antelope was dead within seven minutes of his encounter with Officer Anonymous (who allegedly was wearing body armor more than sufficient to protect him against serious injury from a knife attack even if Mr. Antelope hadn’t been disabled and physically weak). 

Mr. Antelope’s family and friends are furious that there was no public inquest. The police and public officials have been behaving exactly as police and public officials typically behave, revealing — and thus reconciling and restoring — as little as they are allowed to get away with. The settler paradigm demands maximum deference to law enforcement and zero to a vulnerable human displaying instability in an act that was probably minimally dangerous. For us to debate proportionality, we’d have to acknowledge precisely how much Native lives matter to non-natives.  

Although the heartbreaking story has not received the kind of media attention it warrants, it illustrates the way colonialism and capitalism do violence to indigenous people, and people of color, on rural stolen land. It’s a particularly sad illustration of how the system brutalizes its most vulnerable victims gratuitously, meaning unnecessarily but also as a kind of surplus, a piled-on kind of violence. 

Unnecessary because there seems to be no rational policy-based reason, and no ethical reason, and no public safety-based reason, and no medical or clinical reason, why that cop had to kill Mr. Antelope. There are countless examples readily obtainable of police disarming white hostile suspects, so even if Mr. Antelope was hostile, (we’ll never actually know), he likely could have been peacefully pacified and put to bed (and in a truly rational society, provided thereupon with the human and institutional resources to get him through whatever he was going through). 

According to Chesie Lee, at least one retired police officer, Ed Fowler, agrees with Lee and the Antelope family and friends that the killing was unwarranted, and I’m certain that if this were investigated by others outside of DCI, even more questions would emerge. 

But as is so often the case (and here egregiously so) with police shootings, official inquiries only ask if the officers’ actions are justified and very rarely if they are necessary–and never, if so, what makes them structurally necessary. What sets the conditions of necessity? Such structural discussions don’t ever happen because the protection of (particularly indigenous) life is not a policy priority in American policing–not explicitly, not implicitly in the dusty soul of white government. 

Uncertainty over how much Native lives matter inspired Ms. Lee to host a forum on September 26 asking that very question. A few days earlier, on the one-year anniversary of the shooting, 50 residents had marched in protest of the death and cover-up. I was present at the September 26 event, and the speakers all expressed outrage and sadness at the way every responsible party seems to have treated the incident as a regrettable inconvenience. 

One speaker, Karen Returns to War, charged that white people in Lander and Riverton do not understand their Arapahoe neighbors, nor how white material practices perpetuate disparities including addiction. Returns to War quoted John Trudell on how American platitudes of freedom and dignity are never extended to indigenous people. “They don’t view us as being human,” she said. Wyoming ACLU’s Antonio Serrano also spoke at the event, in his usual engaging and heartfelt fashion, invoking the commonality of struggle between all people of color in Wyoming and in the country, promising that “Someday we will get to a better place but it’s gonna take all of us to get there.” 

A letter sent to Chesie Lee from former Riverton mayor Ron Warpness illustrates Return to War’s point concerning white residents’ and leaders’ view of the Native community. In the letter, Mr. Warpness berates Ms. Lee her for holding the forum and for comparing Mr. Antelope’s martyrdom to Jesus (Ms. Lee’s work includes a strong religious component and such comparisons are common and appropriate theological positions, given the gospels’ citation of Jesus’s attitude towards people society views as flawed). The letter is mean spirited in the extreme, ridiculing Ms. Lee for being “an apologist for all things tribal” and asserting that Mr. Antelope had lived an “unproductive, destructive and criminal life” (it’s especially important that reactionaries like Warpness call indigenous people “unproductive,” since being indifferent to capitalism is part of what led settlers to condemn indigenous people in the first place). For good measure, the former mayor urges Ms. Lee to read Blackout by Turning Point USA spokesperson Candace Owens, and asserts a parallel between Black Lives Matter and the conditions of indigenous people. It would be hard to make up a fictional minor public official making such toxic and frankly laughable arguments. 

Similarly, when Wyoming State Rep. Andi Clifford (D. Riverton), on behalf of her fellow Arapaho Wyomingites, called for transparency in the investigation during a legislative hearing, her Republican colleagues chastised her for her lack of decorum. Their response reminds me, once again, of rhetorical scholars Donald Smith and Robert Scott’s well-known critique that “civility and decorum serve as masks for the preservation of injustice” and, echoing what Karen Returns to War said, “that they condemn the dispossessed to non-being.” 

Mr. Antelope’s son, who spoke at the event via telephone, called from jail, where he had been for some time, unable to make bond for a minor charge. Nobody in power is asking what connection there might be between the father’s unnecessary and carelessly addressed murder and the son’s subsequent actions. A diagnosis of trauma is only available for the privileged. For white settlers, asking such questions on behalf of the indigenous are as inconvenient as the demands made by the families of victims of police shootings. We can do whatever we want, kill whomever we want, and resolve ambiguities completely in our favor. 

One powerful conclusion for me is that, apart from Wyoming ACLU’s limited resources, there is little-to-no legal aid infrastructure for victims of police violence here. Maybe a benevolent advocate will read this and get in touch with the Antelope family. They’re hurting, and Wyoming is unsurprisingly indifferent. If a rich white university student in Laramie had been ticketed for MIP on a Saturday night, they’d have more resources at hand than any indigenous person killed by a cop in Riverton.

Photo by Angela Burgess, USFWS

Solidarity Collective Fights to Survive in 2020

We aren’t going down yet, but we haven’t achieved long-term viability

by Matt Stannard
May 22, 2020

Solidarity Collective’s landing at this space, with its large 1878 main house, and 3-acre estate full of other structures, pasture, and abandoned junkpiles, has always been a work in progress. It wasn’t some comfortable and ready-made space, although it has striking wonderfulness all over it. Making it work was going to take time and money. Making it work as an anti-capitalist commune was going to be even more challenging, because that meant we would not exploit each other or anyone else in the restorative process. At our approaching two-year mark, we’re running out of the resources–all the resources–to make it work.

We are still fulfilling our mission: we host (now virtually) political and social events and open our resources and spaces up for a wide range of socialist, left-wing, intentional community, anti-capitalist, anti-oppression and progressive causes. We give away and sell food. We produce podcasts with hundreds of downloads per month. In some instances, resource and labor shortages, and now the pandemic, have slowed our pace, and at our last annual retreat we lamented our failure to get more projects off the ground, particularly work in anti-racist education. But we are productive and values-aligned enough that our service and output is not the reason we’ve recently come so close to calling it quits.

I point out that we’re still living our values and fulfilling our mission because the consensus of the comrades, at least now, is firmly that deciding not to live that mission and those values would mean that the work we are putting into maintaining the space of the collective wasn’t really worth it. We’re not yet ready to concede we need some kind of Cuban “special period” of capitalism, and i suspect none of us could be capitalists even if we wanted to (capitalism means exploiting the labor of wage workers for profit; on the relationship of worker-owned cooperatives to anti-capitalist politics, see the work of Richard Wolf, among others). We also recognize the limits of the cooperative model.

Finding a way to make it work means finding a way to make all of it work: the finances, the values, our sustainable and nurturing treatment of each other. Our radical egalitarianism is non-negotiable. If we were to fold, it would be cooperatively, with the expectation that everyone will do everything they could to make sure each comrade finds a stable transition and destination.

We have some good things going for us: we’re bringing in 3 new members in the next three months, we’ve gotten additional inquiries beyond those, socialist and alternative economics are surging in popularity, including in Wyoming, and we are still full of energy and ideas to push forward.

But we have some bad things going against us too: Solidarity Collective isn’t presently financially viable in the long term. None of us are remotely well-off financially, and collective ownership was the only option for owning this space. Paying our mortgage, keeping the power and heat on, feeding ourselves and others, maintaining our main work and living spaces are our top priorities, and the lights aren’t going out, nobody’s hungry, we’re warm and safe, and won’t default on the mortgage. But repairs, taxes, and project financing have put us in a slowly growing hole, such that our long-term projections are not viable without increasing our prospective membership by around 50%. In the best case scenario, climbing out of the red won’t take as long as it took us to get there, but it’s not going to be easy or quick, and our current configuration doesn’t have the resources to do it.

We have viable, if modest, business models for the enterprises we run (again, if the point was to make huge profits, we would not be operating communally or within our values), and we are exploring ways to increase our Patreon support, produce more podcasts and grow our listenership, and expand our farming operations. But these take human labor and we’re all stretched very thin.

Partnerships may work for some of them. We’re meeting twice a week, painstakingly (and emotionally) considering possibilities and propositions. 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.

We’ve also just had some bad luck. Some of us have lost work due to Covid-19; two comrades’ jobs have been eliminated. Another has had a string of tough health issues. Expected move-ins have been delayed by the pandemic and roadbumps in people’s lives. A guest who was temporarily staying with us seriously damaged an apartment and we don’t expect them to be in any position to fund the repairs we need. At the same time, we’re aware that some unexpected good luck could turn up, as it has before. In any event, we aren’t viable if we depend on good luck and dread the bad knowing we can’t absorb it. Viability under capitalism is nothing if not highly dependent on the ability to absorb bad luck.

I write this even though what sticks out in my reflection over the last two years has been the number of times each person here (and some who have left) have risen above and beyond what might be normally expected of people. Communal heroism has been on alternating display here, from those that live at the commune and those who actively support it from the outside (whose visits and constant help has been the stuff of legend). In other words, I say this feeling strongly that each person involved with this project has at one time or another been vital to our functioning.

That’s outstanding. It confirms, for me, a lot of my beliefs about the viability of solidarity–when people’s care for others is sustained by socialized, restorative systems. We don’t presently have enough people to create or sustain all the systems we need, but we’re trying to find a way.

Why am I telling you this?

Because we’ve always been transparent about our intentions and our resources.

Because if a strong part of you or someone you know tells you that you have been wanting to join an anti-capitalist commune and you like fighting good fights with long odds, this is your opportunity to do it–get in touch and help us soberly and objectively make our decision about the future.

Because if you are fascinated by processes and challenges like these, you are welcome to follow our saga through to whatever conclusion it reaches.

Because regardless of the outcome, we have hard work ahead (dissolving or rebuilding will both take tremendous amounts of work) and we need to maintain our connections to supportive and well-wishing friends: we need the love and connection of those who care about us and what we’re doing.

Because we have accomplished a whole lot here, and that won’t change even if we end this phase of our work, and you can help us celebrate that. We need celebration too.

You can support Solidarity Collective in many ways (contact members for more information) but one easy way is to subscribe to their Patreon at this link.

Why Poor People Don’t Run for Federal Office

by Yana Ludwig
July 1, 2019

I’m running for US Senate as someone who regularly experiences economic insecurity. Here’s a little of how that has been so far.

A few months ago, one of my housemates said to me, “You do the Millennial hustle better than any Millennial I know.” What she was referring to is my multiple part-time jobs and freelancing gigs that comprise my part of keeping the mortgage paid and the lights on.

It was funny and kinda flattering (I’m too old to actually be a Millennial, but I often find that they are the folks I most easily connect with). But her teaching me that phrase brought part of her generation’s struggle into sharper focus: the painful reality I experience around not having work and economic stability is so common for her age mates that they’ve coined a term for it. Ufdah.

There’s pain in this reality. The constant hustle takes its toll, some months there isn’t enough and we have to do that horrible juggling act (pay insurance or get car fixed? delay the dentist for another couple months or skip getting new groceries and eat pantry dregs?). If it wasn’t for the Affordable Care Act, I’d be one of the millions of people who live in fear of waking up in the morning will illness rising and nowhere to go; as is, the co-pay and deductible still discourages “good” choices sometimes.

I’m running for office because of that economic insecurity, and because climate disruption is a real and rising reality for all of us, but especially people of color and poor people everywhere. I’m running now because there is urgency to both, and because the rise of fascism needs people to stand in its way as powerfully as possible. And for some reason I woke up in February with the notion in my head that maybe I could stand up more formally and actually run for office.

So I’m doing this thing, and I’m committed to seeing it through, whether that means it is over in 14 months, 17 months or 8 years. And I was in no way “financially ready” for this.

In fact, I almost didn’t run because of money. One of the first things I learned when I started talking to folks who know more than I do about elections is that candidates can’t pull any kind of salary from their campaign coffers until after the primary filing date closes: in my case, because I’m in a state with a late primary, that means June 6 of 2020. So running means adding to my hustle a nearly full time additional job. That pays nothing. For a year. When I’m already struggling.

But it gets worse. Once you can pull a salary, you are limited to either what you made last year, or what the office you are running for pays, whichever is less. Think that through for a second. That means that someone who makes the big bucks can pull a salary equivalent to $174K (current US Senator salary), and I can pull a salary equivalent of less than $25K, for the same work. It’s blatantly classist and it is hard to believe there wasn’t intentional favoring of rich people to be able to run for office.

My next inquiry was, “Can I crowdfund to help keep my bills paid while I run?” And the answer was, “Nope. Any help people give you because you are running counts as a campaign contribution and is subject to these restrictions.” So that modern desperation go-to isn’t even available. (I can’t even publish this article on my own blog because it is on patreon and will be interpreted as an “ask”.)

My response to learning these things was first despair (CAN I do this? How does anyone do this?!?) then analysis (THIS is why we are so under-represented! I’m seeing the mechanism laid bare!) to deeper commitment (Godammit, someone has to do this. Let’s go!)

But I’m dragging other people along. The financial stress in my life was already there and it is shared stress with my family and community-mates. I’m going through waves of feeling anxious and guilty for this choice, which was, after all, my choice first and foremost. And the more I show up as a candidate, the less I’m available to help get that mortgage paid. 

I’m also harboring deep fears that this is going to compromise my health. I have chronic Lyme disease, which is held in check by daily doses of herbs and being the party pooper who heads for bet at 8:30 most nights. It’s a precarious balance, and falling off that cliff can mean weeks or even months of increased pain and exhaustion. Plus not being able to work for a while, which just leads to more stress and anxiety as the bills pile up and my partner has to double down on his own already exhausting work life.

Then there is the “birds of a feather” phenomenon: I don’t hang out with millionaires, which makes fundraising for anything a challenge. And I don’t have millions of my own money to throw in to my own campaign. An independent candidate in the last Wyoming US Senate race joked in an interview that his wife had agreed to let him spend $1M on his campaign… but he’d do more if she wasn’t paying attention. Isn’t that sexist and cute? And casually unaware of his own privilege?

Reading that article left me feeling the old shame of being a capitalist system failure. I comfort myself with the story that I’ve always been more oriented toward service than a big paycheck, but the reality is that even if I had tried to play that game in earnest, only a handful of people ever “make it” if they don’t start out in a family with a lot of wealth.

So the crux of the “why” is that the deck is stacked against us, both in general and within the minutiae of campaign finance law. My family is going to go through the squeezebox of economic stress over the next year and a half in the hope that I can win a seat at the table and be part of changing the mess that is our electoral system, and win or lose, being a role model for not accepting the hand we’ve been dealt. 

I want public financing. I want Citizens United dead and gone. I want corporate power blunted so that people with a real commitment to the working class and poor can actually stand a chance in our electoral system. And the deeper I get into the stressful, anything-but-justice-based process of running for a federal office, the more fierce that commitment gets. 

Yana Ludwig is the author of Together Resilient: Building Community in the Age of Climate Disruption, and is a candidate for United States Senate. She is a founder of Solidarity Collective in Laramie, Wyoming. 

Photo credit: https://www.yana4wyo.com/platform

 

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.