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Misc

I’m still mad about Aaron

A bunch of us are reading David Graeber’s Debt. In the course of preparing for our upcoming discussion, I started re-reading that amazing resource: Crooked Timber.

That reminded me that Aaron Swartz wrote a couple guest posts on Crooked Timber. I reread one of his essays. Then another. Then more. You can guess what happened next. DANG. What an amazing writer. What a thinker.

There’s no one I’ve met in my life that I was so sure would change the course of history. No one I’ve met that was so obviously, even qualitatively, smarter than me. For a while, it felt like every big project I joined, or every cool thing I tried, he was there first, and happened to (sometimes co-)found it.

I think about Aaron all the time. Even now, years later.

For a long time, he was my role model: clear moral compass, brilliant, a tech genius but at the same time rooted in movement work and so much more than “the computer guy”.

It’s weird when your role model used to be your boss, is the brother of a friend, the ex of your boss. It’s weird to have this role model be a real person.

I was so angry when he died. I went on, well, a rampage, for the next few years. I never forgave Obama, Eric Holder, Carmen Ortiz, Steve Heymann, MIT, and the Democratic Party in general. I talked about it as part of my personal life story on dates, organizing 1-1’s, etc. I grew close to the angry wing of the radical left. I traveled the country. I took jobs based on what I felt he would have wanted me to do. When I played role-playing games, I would make a character named “Aharon Schahor” to try to process things.

I still get angry about his death. I still tell people about it. I still tell people about how important he was to me. Friends, acquaintances, even strangers who happen catch me in a particular mood.

Once, to my horror and embarrassment, I realized that one of those strangers was his brother. Oops! Sorry Noah. I seriously didn’t know.

Sidebar — Babbling about Aaron helped a friend introduce me to Mek, though, so overall the “talk about your feelings” seems to be working for me.

I’m still mad.

PS — And of course, Chris Dodd, that scumbag, the villain in the SOPA/PIPA fight that Aaron won for us; Chris Dodd, who flat out lied about his revolving door plans; Christopher J “Waitress Sandwich” Dodd — that’s the guy that Biden is tapping to lead his VP search.

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Misc

My Debt story

Our book club is reading Debt, The First 5000 Years. A prompt before starting has been: “What is your professional and personal experience with the concept of debt?”. This is lightly adapted from my response:

My last decade or so of life has been conducted just a little bit under the shadow of Debt, (the book). I remember reading the Crooked Timber symposium on it when it came out, reading the back and forth in Jacobin, etc. I think I’ve read more criticism and reviews of the book than there are pages in the book itself.

In that decade, I’ve felt a need to have read the book, in the same way I feel the need to read Keynes, Piketty, and Marx’s Capital. If I haven’t read those, how else could I show my face in public and dare to have opinions?

But I haven’t read the book. That is, until now. (And I’m not finished yet!)

I also have had a relationship with debt, the improper noun.

  • My father’s business has depended on debt. Loans, rotating credit cards, etc, in order to fund the expansion of a small real estate business. And he’s been remarkably successful!
  • I grew up feeling afraid of repeating his feat, and then failing. 
  • I went to my second (or fifth!) choice university to escape debt and high tuition. 
  • I arguably ruined my first startup / my relationship with my best friend, in part, because we both paid ourselves high enough salaries to pay our university debt. 
    • (This might a bit of a stretch. Maybe it’s more accurate to say I was so worried about paying off my university debt that it overhung my actions the entire time)

Debt has been a political topic I haven’t quite cracked. Post-Occupy, the group Strike Debt came out with the Debt Resistor’s Operations Manual. I remember poring over it. Feeling so excited. Part manual, part guide to “this is how the world works, you’re being screwed”. In my travels, I’d recommend it to strangers who were having debt problems. They often followed up to thank me. 

I dimly know that debt has been used to reinforce the post-WWII US-centered order. That it has to do with oil, Confessions of An Economic Hitman, and private equity. That leveraged buyouts are bad. And that there’s a weird thing where people feel obligated to pay their debts but corporations are assumed to be allowed to default on them all the time.

But I haven’t, yet, stitched that into a holistic idea of how the world works.

I’ve been excited to read this book for a long time. 

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Misc

Workers of the world, unite.

It’s May 1st. An international holiday commemorating an event that happened in the US, celebrated everywhere but in the US.

Except, slowly, over my lifetime, that’s changed. The big “day without an immigrant” strike of 2006 kicked it off. The slow buildup of left organizations starting to march and celebrate it over the years. Occupy gave it a kick in the pants, too.

Happy International Worker’s Day. Happy labor day. Happy socialist day. Happy strike day. (Like all good holidays, it contains several different meanings).

There’s a lot to say. About the importance of labor unions. Of worker militancy. How “solidarity” is a term with a ton of meaning and power, too-often cheapened by easy use. About the situation of capitalism, of the bosses and 1%, and so on.

Too much, to say. So let’s talk about the celebration itself.

Every May Day, I take the day off work and go marching. And, in the last few years, it’s been fantastic. So much energy. All the signs! All the different groups, showing themselves off, meeting each other, building energy.

A good May 1st march can give you enthusiasm and energy to last for months.

Here’s a sense of what it could be like. May 1, 2014.

Same march, different vantage point:

One one hand — so much energy! On the other hand — we could do better today. We’re growing.
It’s sad that I can’t go to a march and feel a little happier about the world. But we do have one of the largest strikes by non-unionized workers in memory. We have calls for a rent strike. That’s a pretty nice May 1st.

In my last year of college, our big musical extravaganza, Springfest, hit on May 1st. I spent the first half of the day stuck in my room, playing the Internationale at full blast, and doing my best to memorize the lyrics. Only after I could belt out La Marseillaise from memory (and the first few stanzas of the Internationale), did I go out into the sun and enjoy the beautiful day.

I think about it from time to time. I was a weird kid. But maybe, while we’re stuck here in our homes, memorizing a few classic labor songs doesn’t sound like a bad way to celebrate.

Here’s a new favorite:

This world looks like a chain of heavy broken hearts
It chains my brothers and sisters all apart
Link after link it clatters thru my land
This long heavy chain of broken hearts

Selfish pride is one link in this chain
And you better drive it out of your heart
Brother and sister when you do it’s then that you’ll get loose
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

It’s this long heavy chain of broken hearts
It’s this long heavy chain of broken hearts
You gotta find your union before you can get free
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

Fear is a link in this chain
Of sorrow and trouble and pain
Drive out your fear and you will break apart
This long heavy chain of broken hearts

Jealousy is a link of the worst
A worry, a blister and a curse
Join our union band and break with your hands
This long heavy chain of broken hearts

This long heavy chain of broken hearts
This long heavy chain of broken hearts
You gotta find your union before you can get free
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

It’s when you are free from this chain
Love will come and fill you up again
Show your friends and neighbors how to break away
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

Yes this long heavy chain of broken hearts
This long heavy chain of broken hearts
You gotta find your union before you can get free
From this long heavy chain of broken hearts

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Misc

History Time: The Book Club

A little while ago, on Facebook, I asked:

A lot is happening quickly. We are in big bold idea territory. History time.

What if we started a reading group that covered works by great thinkers on topics like: political economy, how power works, authoritarianism, crises, how business works from a sociological perspective, radical politics (pro and con)?

Would you be interested in something like that?

Turns out, a few people were interested. But there were a lot of questions for how one might structure a thing like this online. Would discussions be synchronous or asynchronous? What role would we have to writing? How much time and commitment would work for people?

So, I created a form to sign up. (Feel free to sign up yourself)! The responses, however, were split: there’s definitely a role for synchronous meetings / video, but disagreement on the role of text and async discussion. Some people wanted to use Slack. Others (like me) hate Slack.

So — how might we go deep, but also accommodate people’s desire for this not to turn into a chore? How might we stay off walled gardens (Facebook, Slack)? How could we end up with artifacts coming out of this, instead of just ephemeral conversation?

I had some long talks with some friends, especially Anne Gomez and Danny Spitzberg. Here’s our draft idea of how it will all work.

In short:

  • Meetings are conducted by video. They both kick off discussion of a book / article / work, and also serve as organizational meetings to choose the next work to discuss
  • Someone posts a recap of discussion, summary of the book, or general essay based on the reading.
  • The discussion continues via text, probably in response to that post.

It’s intentionally loose. Each book (or article, video, etc.) will have a different facilitator, who can structure discussion however they like.

Anyway, we are starting up soon. Wanna join?

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Misc

My Monthly Mixtape Ritual

As you know, I’m dating Sarah. Sarah is very good. When we started dating, however, I noticed that she had a small flaw: not only did she not like the same music as me, she didn’t even know that my favorite bands existed. When she listened to music, which wasn’t often, it was mainly show tunes from her favorite musicals.

Now, musicals are great. I enjoy them, and have been known to go to a few on some occasion. It’s delightful that Sarah likes them — it gives her something with which to bond with my sister Shelly, who works in Broadway. But — what about The Mountain Goats? What about Wilco? What, not to put a fine point about it, about LCD Soundsystem?

So I made her a mixtape. A song each from some of my favorite bands. Bookended by two songs from a particularly good band. The format, and the habit, stuck. That was back in April 2018.

I’ve made a mixtape per month since then. It’s pretty fun! The challenge of making an aesthetically coherent album each month, always with new music, and all but the first and last song by a different artist, is real. I’ve explored arabic, hebrew, persian, afro-punk, chillwave, jug bands, and other forms of music I wasn’t normally listening to normally. I’ve started keeping an ear out for new things I haven’t heard before, and chatting up strangers to learn their tastes. It’s fun! Each month has a pretty different sound.

You can find them all on Spotify. March 2020 just dropped (with a lot of help from Disco). Take a listen.

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Misc

How to find good music — and more

There’s a cool little app that I’m increasingly a fan of. It’s also made by one of the more interesting people I’ve ever run across.

First off — the app. It’s for music. It’s called disco, and you can find it disco.grex.nyc. Here’s how it works:

  1. Go to disco.grex.nyc, and sign up through your Spotify account.
  2. Every week, on Spotify, you’ll get a playlist of someone’s favorite music.
  3. Every week, on Spotify, someone else will get a playlist of *your* favorite music.

That’s it.

Greg, the man who built it, has a fascinating story.

He was one of the 14 people working at Instagram when it was acquired by Facebook. He was the only person who quit rather than work at Facebook. Instead, he relocated to New York.

Since then, he’s been building computerish art projects. Disco is one example, but there are a ton more.

When we met, he was about to publish Breaking The News, which was a series of three different ways to explore the audio of 5-minute NPR news updates in a fun and strange fashion. My favorite, “Don’t Play With Your News”, allows you to “refrigerator magnet” different words said by NPR hosts, and construct a sentence you can hear out loud. The NPR “studio voice” is so flat and stylized that different newscasters, speaking in different decades, can still have their bits of words glommed together to create something new. It’s fascinating.

He’s worked on many projects since. My favorite has been The Questions Game, where couples are sent a new set of three questions every week to try to answer together and bond. Kind of an extension of the famous 36 questions that might have lead you to becoming a couple in the first place. My partner and I used that to great effect while dating long-distance.

Greg is cool. He’s a living example that you can break away from bigCorp and use computers for art instead of commerce. That you can step off the treadmill but still be technical. And he keeps giving us gifts along the way.

In conclusion — sign up for Disco. I can’t wait to expand my musical horizons through getting a taste of yours.

(Adapted from this Facebook post)

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Misc

What to expect when you’re expecting a crisis

Imagine a city, on a beach. Relatively bustling. Prosperous — more or less. At least, the parties are really fun (for those allowed in). And the art and food is really good (for those who can afford the best food and have the money for art). Sure, sometimes people disappear, never to be heard from again. Sometimes strange ritual chanting rings out at night. But the chanting never hurt anyone — at least, not one of our people. And the disappearances, well, they’re not of anyone important. Or at least, anyone disappeared is no longer important. The city endures. The city thrives.

Then, one day, a tsunami hits. Trees are uprooted. Sand and dirt are blasted away. The city comes together to save itself. Heroes reveal themselves.

But, so, too, does something horrible. In the midst of heartwarming cooperation, the citizens realize a truth. The entire city was built on the site of an old temple to the mad god Bel-Shamharoth. The mayor was a vampire the whole time. Those parties were also recruiting sites of the more refined cults.

There’s a crisis to deal with, sure. But, in the apocalypse, the veil has finally lifted. No one will quite look at each other the same way again.

What foundations have been exposed by the tsunami we are now facing? Now that the dirt and cobblestones of “normal times” are being ripped away, what truths stand stark, bold, and naked?

It might be too early to be certain. But I have some hunches. Keep an eye on these storylines in the times ahead:

I’m also watching some other things:

  • China. It’s authoritarian, it’s scary, and it’s exporting its model. We haven’t been taking it seriously enough.
  • Fights between the white-supremacy-curious faction of the conservative movement and the “let’s loot the country” faction of the movement.
  • We’re going to see a lot more strange bedfellows and left-right alliances between people of different parties.

What stories are you tracking and predicting?

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Misc

TrumpLiedAboutCoronavirus.com

We saw it, for weeks, with our eyes. Trump, Republicans, Fox News, the conservative movement — all lying about Corovirus. Calling it a hoax, downplaying the threat, saying that the left was hyping it as “second impeachment.”

We saw the absolute, morally criminal lack of preparedness. The the hospitals not prepared, the population not distanced, the mocking of anyone who took this seriously.

We saw the clownish press conferences, claiming that “it’s only a flu”, that everything was under control, etc. The sort of obsequiousness to Trump that would be laughable if it wasn’t so scary. We saw Fox News hosts downplay the threat. Even in the last we saw Trump shaking hands during a press conference about the virus.

The propaganda onslaught from the right is coming. They’re going to try to pretend it never happened.

I bought the rights to TrumpLiedAboutCoronavirus.com and RepublicansLiedAboutCoronavirus.com. What should we do with them?

Right now I’m pointing them both to this post by James Fallows: 2020 Time Capsule #4: Trump Is Lying, Blatantly.

Instead we could point them to this video timeline of trump downplaying everything by The Recount. Or maybe this video tracking Fox New’s lies and sudden reversals about coronavirus created by the Washington Post.

Or a microsite! Or something else entirely. If you have a great idea for these domains, or even a bad one, let me know!

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Misc

How I make friends

How does adult friendship work? Imagine you meet someone great. You ask them to hang out sometime — maybe for drinks? You convince them that you’re not just being polite: you really want to be friends. They accept, and you go out for drinks, and have a great time. Then maybe you plan dinner. Hooray! You do that. Now what? More dinner dates for the rest of your life? Assuming you meet once a month, that means at most you can have 30 friends in town. No thanks.

That also sounds exhausting. I hate bars. And, while staring at someone over a table can be nice sometimes, there are whole vistas of human friendship interaction lost in this model. Playing games! Building things together. Arts and crafts. Projects. Music. Events. Cafehopping. Parallel play. Founding neighborhood associations.

There’s an alternate approach that works for me, and maybe you’ll find it useful.

I have a friendship card. I hand it to people liberally. And I invite them to hang out with me at an event. That’s it.

You’ll notice it’s a villain mustache being defeated

Here’s how an exchange typically goes:

Me: hands them a card, looks them in the eye “Let’s be friends!”
Them: Smile, put card away. Stop. Look at it again. “Wait, this card literally says let’s be friends on it.”
Me: “Yes, this isn’t my business card, it’s a friendship card. Let’s hang out.”
Them: suddenly taking this offer of friendship more seriously. “Cute! Let’s be friends. I like it. Write code, defeat evil, okay”
Me: “You’ll notice that it’s a villain mustache being *defeated*”.
Them: “Haha, love it. Okay, let’s be do this.” We exchange numbers, FB info, whatever
Me: “Listen, I’m throwing an event in a couple weeks. A big all-day outdoor picnic with a bunch of new and old people. The idea is that it’s long enough that you can show up on your schedule. Wanna come?”
Them: maybe/yes/no/etc…

Stories

This can be really fun! I’ve had the same basic design for almost eight years now, and it’s become part of my personality. These things happened to me:

  • Once, I handed a new-to-me one of these. He paused, and said something like: “wait, I’ve had one of these in my wallet for two years”, and then we realized that we had actually met before. Oops! Now we hang out all the time.
  • I was instantly offered a job based on my “demonstrated passion for community”
  • So many friendships have been solidified this way.
  • More than one romance has been kicked off this way. (i.e. “I know this card says let’s be friends, but what if we were at least friends?”)
  • I threw a birthday party for a dear friend based on this giant picnic friendship model. Over 100 people came. To this day I’m meeting people, then we realize they were at that birthday, and then we instantly connect.
  • Jobs, romances, fellowships, people even made a band together because they met at one of these giant-friendship-picnic-parties I do.
  • I’m pretty sure I sealed the deal on my current partner because I invited her to one of these picnics and she could see how happy I was surrounded by friends.

So, to repeat:

  1. Be clear about your desire for friendship. Cards (not business cards!) work great.
  2. Always have an event queued up to invite people to
  3. Cross-pollinate new friendships at these events to build sustainable community.

The component parts:

First, be clear about your relationship intentions. I’m not here to be LinkedIn acquaintances, and I’m not here to flirt.

Second, always have a previously-scheduled upcoming event so that you can invite people to it. Make it a big one with lots of friends, new and old.

Third, at the event, introduce people to each other. That way, you start creating the building blocks of a community. There’s no way you can spend as much 1-1 time with people as you’d like. So get them to spend 1-1 time with each other, and bask in the communal good vibes and long-term connections all around you.

What else?

For more on friendship, check out StartingBloc — one of the best collections of good people in my life.

Also see: Camp Grounded and its descendants: Camp Wonderful and Camp Anywhere

How do you form friendships as an adult? I just sketched out my weird way of doing it. I’m not really sure how anyone else does. I’d love to hear what this part of your life looks like.

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Misc

People-Powered Rochester

Back in 2013, for a little while, there existed a site with a lot of passion: PeoplePoweredRochester.com.

It was going to be a hub for left-wing organizing in Rochester and rebirth of the blogging scene (vs that dastardly enemy, Facebook). I missed writing for RochesterTurning, and wanted to also prove to my new radical friends that electoral, institutional, and radical leftist politics could play nice together. So I founded this project.

It lasted for about two months before I left town. Oops!

Thanks to the Wayback Machine, I just recovered every post, and archived them on this site.

I’m most proud of this one:

The kickoff post (and also the about page) give a sense of my ambitions at the time:

There’s a flourishing ecosystem of different grassroots groups in our neighborhoods. Dedicated and smart people are experimenting with new tactics and organizing models every day. However, these groups often aren’t aware of each other, can’t learn from each other, and don’t work together. There’s a real lack of movement communication and movement consciousness. We’ll need much more of both if we want to succeed.

We’re going to build a community online that consists of the broad left in Monroe County. Organizers and onlookers, center-left and radical left, electoral and direct action. As the community grows in numbers and coherence, so will our power. Specifically, as the community grows, we’ll draw more people to get involved in “meatspace”, connect disparate parts of the movement together, and push existing organizations towards excellence and accountability.

You can see them all at: sahar.io/tag/rochester

Enjoy!

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Misc

Life in a time of Coronavirus, March 17, 2020

Has anyone else noticed this? Taking a walk yesterday, neighbours were actually pretty bad at keeping a full 6 feet away, but they were very intent on not making eye contact.

It’s as if, I don’t know, people can’t look each other in the eye without coming close? Or their instincts are muddled and they do the wrong kind of social distancing.

It’s strange.

Sarah is working hard. Maybe today she will finally finish her draft. We’re running low on vegetables. 54 eggs left.

We took a walk around town yesterday. Restaurants closed and hurting, but still putting a brave face on it. A local tenants union has been trying to form for a while, it seems. (Go go Boston DSA!)

There’s a new group in town: MAMAS: Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville, Massachusetts. They have google groups, google docs, etc. They have a website with overlays of “neighborhood pods” where a pod captain is meant to coordinate everyone in a roughly 3-block radius.

Like this:

I hope it works.

Meanwhile, there’s a battle between the democracy/civil rights orgs who say: “absolutely never delay elections, this could set precedent for very bad things”, and others who say “are you insane? Crowding election places run by elderly poll workers is a recipe for needless death”. Maybe both are right.

In Illinois, it seems like the workers took charge: they just didn’t show up to the election places. Polling locations are closed all over chicago, I hear.
There is weird stuff happening in national politics. Trump is saying one thing “checks for everyone!” while his negotiators are trying to get the opposite. Some D senators have good plans, some R senators have good plans. But R senators are also trying to make things worse. Seems like a mess of confusion.

I begin to hate group phone calls or video calls even more. An event I’m helping plan is transitioning to becoming a long conference call that is also a passover seder.

Will it work?

Friends are beginning to host social events online. Live concerts. Trivia times. Webinars. The concerts are fun to listen to. Everything else takes more participation energy than I want to give. I can’t stand staring into a webcam any more.

Last night, I got into a long talk with my dad about social insurance, pandemics, and taking things seriously. Thankfully, it seems like he’s isolating correctly. I’m not too worried about them: my whole life, there’s been a stockpile of food in my parent’s basement. My mom reminds me that she stayed home before, during the 1979 Iranian Revolution. Instead of leaving home and getting sick, the danger was leaving home and getting shot. Ah.

Except for that one cold walk, I haven’t left the home in days.

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Misc

It’s History Time

We are now in a special kind of time. “Revolution time”. “History time”. “Disruption time”. Whatever you want to call it.

Every day, huge events are happening. Things that seemed impossible now are a matter of course. Right now I’m watching a speech from the president of Serbia attacking the EU and throwing himself onto the arms of China. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Fox news) is proposing a much stronger (and equitable) response to the crisis than Nancy Pelosi. The Fed just took most of the 2009 playbook and deployed it in one big go yesterday.

In History Time, the rules are different. Opportunities arise. And the knives come out. For example: Right now the US airline history is asking for a $50 billion bailout because they “have no cash”. They just spent the last decade spending their cash on stock buybacks. Stock buybacks used to be illegal.

We have to be aware of the disaster profiteers. Not the small time chumps selling Purell at markup from their garages. I mean the titans of industry that will grab as much free money as they can.

In History Time, ideas that used to be laughable are now on the table. After 9/11, the FBI took out their wishlist from a filing cabinet, bound it up on one bundle, called it the Patriot Act, and dared congress not to pass it. After the 08 crash, banks started even more mergers and paid their executives even more money, and dared congress to stop them.

Now it’s History Time again. Will we cede the field to the white collar criminals? Or will we step up with our suddenly reasonable demands? Remember, right now Tom Cotton is to the left of Nancy Pelosi on the crisis response. Anything is possible.

(How do we do it? As a first step: Start organizing your literal neighborhood. As a second step: join a local political group that has dues-paying membership and democratic control by its members. As a third: let me think about it and get back to you)

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Misc

How to be a citizen in a time of Coronavirus

What can we do in the present crisis? More interestingly, what can we do with it?

I’m not talking about purchasing a bidet and stockpiling pasta sauce and medicine. Instead: as citizens, how can we rise to the occasion? As organizers, how can we seize the moment to put in place some needed social change?

When life starts looking like a movie, the extraordinary becomes inevitable. Either for good, or for ill. Back in 2008, we on the left were a bit overconfident. The basic analysis was there: we cited Naomi Klein and talked about how we needed a “Reverse Shock Doctrine”. Even Rahm Emanuel was on TV saying “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste”

It didn’t go to waste — for the bad guys. The crisis helped the Tea Party rebrand the conservative coalition after Bush, it funneled trillions of dollars of free money into banks, and it raised the concentration of industry even higher.

So let’s not let the crisis go to waste, before the enemy does.

That’s the challenge. These next few days and weeks will be qualitatively different than normal. We have an opening to try things (and get people to sign on) that would be strange and hard to pull off before. That’s the challenge: What opportunities can we seize now, that might have important effects in the future?

1. Make a neighborhood group

This is an excellent time to make a Facebook group for your block. Maybe just the 40 or so homes in your street. In a few weeks, you might need to start babysitting each other’s kids, or sharing advil, or pooling risk to send exactly one person to the store to buy supplies. In a few weeks, you might be grateful that you dug this well before you drew from in. You might be saving lives by performing errands for your elderly neighbor.

And, in the months and perhaps years to come, you’ll reap the benefits of a tighter neighborhood network. You’ll be happier, more communal. And maybe when you’re trying to convince your neighbors to go to a meeting, to vote, or to consider your perspective, they’ll listen.

Tomorrow, I’ll put this in practice. I’ll knock on doors nearby, and leave a flier. I likely won’t use the term “mutual aid”, or “solidarity network”. Why bother using words that confuse people? But hopefully we will get the rudiments of a community network set up to start being generous, helpful, and kind to each other.

2. Be decisive

In times of crisis, the flailing defer to the decisive. Be decisive.

Delta flight attendants have gotten a huge boost to their union drive in the last few days:

“I have not seen interest this high. Not even after the merger with [Northwest] who was already represented by AFA at the time, or during the recession or the Ebola scare of 2014,” says Cheryl, who has worked at the airline for more than a decade. “The threat of involuntary furloughs and layoffs has been a big motivator. We are scared and freaking out because we don’t have any language in our policies for this.”

The Coronavirus Is Jump-Starting Union Organizing at Delta (by Mike Elk)

If months happen in days, then start grabbing that bounty of time and confusion to push your agenda.

You can start by small things. Advocate for this your neighbors to buy gift cards from local restaurants and cafes they’d normally go to every day. It’s a short term loan to businesses and a way to help them stay afloat. Can you do it through a Facebook page or Action Network petition? After the crisis, you can use that organization and credibility to start talking about other ways to help local businesses, like localist economics or raising the minimum wage or unionizing.

If you can, use the crisis as an excuse to cut out middlemen: can you pay service workers (instead of service businesses) directly? Can you convince your neighbors to do so as well? In the cloak of solidarity you can start laying the groundwork of a worker-owned business.

3. Be Local

Nationally, the Dems are gonna Dem. I’m sure they’ll disappoint us. But there’s a lot of ground you can seize locally.

Organize your neighbors around demands for your town or state. Ones that will save lives. Things like: Stop evicting people during a pandemic! Or “Free Broadband for everyone!”. Or “don’t cut off people’s access to utilities!” Or “give the prisoners free soap and water, for God’s sake

“Jails and prisons are often dirty and have really very little in the way of infection control,” said Homer Venters, former chief medical officer at New York City’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex. “There are lots of people using a small number of bathrooms. Many of the sinks are broken or not in use. You may have access to water, but nothing to wipe your hands off with, or no access to soap.”

When Purell is Contraband, How Do You Contain Coronavirus? by The Marshall Project

You might very well save lives.

Also, I expect that when you start asking your friends to call their city councilmember, or to sign a petition, about these things, you’ll get a different response than you normally get. People who normally tune out politics will be suddenly paying attention to this large shock in their lives. Get them hooked on advocacy. Get them comfortable with the democratic process. This will yield dividends later.

4. Don’t wait for Republican Party to collapse on its own

The conservative movement survived stealing a presidency, lying us into Iraq, failing into Katrina, looting the public after the 2008 crash, gutting the voting rights act, lying to the Supreme court about gerrymandering, and nominating a sexual assaulter to the presidency. It can survive this.

For the last two months, Trump, Fox News, etc have been downplaying the crisis at best, actively sabotaging efforts to handle it at worst. Starting in about a day or so, they’ll try to pretend that never happened. Don’t let them get away with it.

(I wrote a whole thing about it here)

5. Further reading and examples

Mutual Aid Medford and Somerville

COVID-19 Full List of Actions You Can Take Right Now

How To Start A Social Street

BRANDEIS mutual aid for first-generation and low-income students affected by COVID-19 updates

Categories
Misc

Don’t wait for the Republican Party to collapse on its own

The Republican Party didn’t collapse after Katrina. It didn’t curl up and die in shame after lying about the Iraq War. The conservative movement wasn’t saddled with the shame of Bush for a generation. Instead, they rebranded as “The Tea Party” in two short years and went on as they always have, only more so.

Lovingly, patiently, try to convince your parents and older friends to take this seriously, to stay safe, to change their habits. You’ll do this already, of course. You love them and care about them.

At the same time as you do this: make sure to point out again and again that the republicans and right wing media (not just Trump) are lying to them and getting them in danger of death. We can’t rely on them to figure it out on their own.

It’s inevitable that at some point the R’s are going to try to turn this crisis into an opportunity to do ugly ugly stuff. Will it be camps? Border shutdowns? Sweeping surveillance powers? Bailouts for crony industries? It’s going to get dark.

If (if! Not when. IF!) the faction of the country that accepted lies, corruption, venality, more lies, racism, incompetence, illegality, and lies from Trump finally leaves the death cult cocoon — it won’t be over.

The conservative media movement will turn on Trump just like they turned on Bush. They’ll pretend that he never was the beloved head of their movement. It might take them an election or two, but they’ll create some new brand name (just like the Tea Party), and start over again.

Don’t let them get away with it. Mark down, out loud, what the Fox News position is right now. What it was last week. The horrific blithe comments from their local generic Republican elected official. The warnings of death and absolute incompetence from experts. The timeline of responses by the White House. The callousness of it all.

And it’ll get worse. They’ll actively interfere with normal ways of helping people as a cover for them to cut taxes / deregulate / hand over cash to their favorite corrupt industries.

Examples: Trump administration blocks states from using Medicaid to respond to coronavirus crisis and The Trump Administration Will Move Ahead With Its Plan To Kick People Off Of Food Stamps Despite The Coronavirus Outbreak

Already, as I write this, the right wing is changing its position. It’s going to pretend that it didn’t spend months claiming this was a hoax. It’s going to hope you forget that Fox News claimed that the hysteria was the real problem.It’s going to hope your parents forget everything that happened, because they weren’t really paying attention in January and February, were they?

Make sure your parents remember. Make sure everyone remembers.

Categories
Misc

Letter to a young leftist re:failure

Failure.

The thing you have to understand is simple: I’m used to failure. Failure, and, I suppose, betrayal.

Howard Dean didn’t win. In the end, he didn’t come close. He had a growing, internet-fueled movement of people (young and old but mostly young) doing crazy new innovative things for his campaign. He called out the cowardice, the infuriating (or was it chillingly) dystopian way that the democratic party was rubber stamping surveillance, the police state, the war. He lost.

The netroots didn’t win in 2008. Obama did. He grabbed the loyalty of the members of “the bloggers movement” away from the bloggers themselves. And even before he got elected, he reversed himself on FISA, on spying, and on the banks. His ads were about “tax cuts to corporations who ship jobs overseas”. He never really explained what that was about. His presidency, at least at first, was a weird disaster. All the organizations that clearly called out Bush-era corruption just stopped doing it when Obama ran the show. Directors told me in confidence that their funders threatened to quit if they even mildly opposed Obama. The federal government had an explicit policy of allowing millions of people to get their houses foreclosed on, as long as the banks were okay. After a bailout overseen on insanely generous terms, the Federal Reserve pumped money into any bank, hedge fund, holding company, even McDonalds it could find.

And the “normies” around me, the people who admirably opposed Bush and his excess, were silent.

And the NSA grew.

Nancy Pelosi wants to jail Edward Snowden. MIT and Eric Holder threw Aaron Swartz to the wolves. Zephyr Teachout lost to Andrew Cuomo. SEIU backed Andrew Cuomo. Tish James backed Andrew Cuomo.

And still the surveillance state grows.

Google and Facebook were meant to be foils to the corrupt venality of the Verizons and Comcasts of the world. VoteVets ended up endorsing Pete Buttigieg. Pete, who Mark Zuckerberg tried to steer engineering talent to. Pete, who vied with Kamala Harris to be America’s first red diaper baby president.

And Amazon shares Ring data with cops. And license plate readers are everywhere. And Facebook will comply with “all local laws and regulations”. And the surveillance state grows.

I remember Chris Dodd’s campaign in 2008. I remember Tim Tagaris, an early internet politics hotshot, running an honorable campaign about “restoring the constitution” post-Bush. Chris Dodd was the man behind the SOPA push that tried to shut down free speech on the internet to protect the MAFIAA.

Meanwhile, our man Howard Dean quietly became a corporate lobbyist. (And, weirdly, a shill for literal terrorists.)

Bernie didn’t win. Shahid didn’t win. Most Brand New Congress candidates didn’t win. Tom Geohegan didn’t win. Carl Sciortino didn’t win. Paul Wellstone died. Tom Periello didn’t win. Zephyr Teachout didn’t win over and over again. Eric Massa won, then … got weird. Russ Feingold lost twice.

And today Nancy Pelosi is trying to reauthorize the Patriot Act.

So, you see, Bernie (and Warren) losing now feels bad, but not a gut punch. I expected it.

Sam Adler Bell, darling human that he is, knows that feeling is dangerous. The feeling of “I expected this to happen, we always lose”, can easily turn into “let’s not try to win” or “we lost because we are good”. Let’s remember instead that we lost because we are weak.

There is comfort in this sense of fated doom. We lost not because we did something wrong, but because we did something right in a world that’s wrong. When we acknowledge the awesome might and baleful intentions of our enemies, when we point our fingers at the traitors in our midst, what we seek is not a clear-eyed reckoning of the battlefield, but freedom from guilt for failing to win. Lurking behind our dour pessimism is, at times, a desire to evade accountability for our own mistakes.

Let’s talk about mistakes. But let’s not do it from the perspective of a candidate in a race, because we are not candidates and we are not bound to only think about specific contests for power via a presidential primary system. If we do it right, candidates (politicians) are pawns on our chessboard, not the other way around.

I love your passion, and your energy, and your way of seeing how the world is just so disconcertingly bad. I love it, and sometimes I worry that I’m smothering it with my world-weariness, with my “hey, actually this thing you’re mad at is fine and normal”, or my “you’re mad at the wrong institution”. I wanted you to know why.

There’s a particular feeling you get when you start politics. Little respect for everyone in the field already: after all, they’re part of a failed system. A sense of camaraderie with other people who start at the same time as you: after all, you’re all fighting the same enemies! And then as time goes on, you see your heroes fail you. You lose respect for people you started out with (both institutions and elected officials). And you celebrate the victories you have, because if you don’t, you burn out.

So when we talk about how bad it was, and how far we’ve gone, and how certain people you don’t like are Actually Good, and have street cred, that’s why.

We thought we found One Weird Trick to fixing politics, and we were wrong.

I hope the same doesn’t happen to you.

(And one more thing — read Sam’s full piece: Beautiful Losers)