OpOK Relief Rebuilds Oklahoma

A week and a half ago, when I first drove to Little Axe, Oklahoma, to take a look at post-tornado recovery efforts, the countryside was still in crisis mode. Mountains of rubble and garbage filled gravel roads and red dirt paths leading to the remains of homes. Neighborhoods that had been full of working-class houses were uprooted and dirty, unsafe tent camps were all that remained. Just 30 minutes away, the big NGOs and FEMA operated, bringing national attention to Moore – a badly struck area, to be sure. But not the only one affected. 

In Little Axe, Newalla, Carney, Luther, Shawnee, and other areas, humanitarian workers at the local nonprofits complained how little had been done, despite the hundreds of millions that the Red Cross said had been donated. It was only later that everyone’s thoughts were confirmed – money sent to the big players was ending up in Washington, DC. Certainly some of it would be spent on affected people here, but the vast majority would be sent to other areas or spent on overhead, administration costs. At last count, the Red Cross was still sitting on $110 million allocated for Superstorm Sandy. While the NGOs have done some fantastic work here, our communities know their needs best. There had to be a better way. OpOK Relief stepped in to fill the gaps as part of the People’s Response. As a convergence of Occupy groups, anarchists, libertarian socialists, Food Not Bombs folks, Rainbow Family, IWW organizers, teachers, social workers, and non-hierarchical, non-bureaucratic relief groups from out of state, our focus has been on direct action. Local and international initiatives have come together to address community specific needs. We’ve been able to assess damage on the ground, get people into emergency housing, help them secure their homes, and provide connections for outside volunteers to plug into affected communities, prioritizing the most impoverished and overlooked. 

The response to our work is overwhelming; we’re getting supplies and volunteers into areas that have either been under-served or neglected altogether by the major NGOs. Horizontal organizing, based off people’s needs on the ground, is making all of this possible. 

As a non-hierarchical solidarity effort, multiple people share the work load. I am grateful to play a part in this work, but this is a community effort. And the community will continue to respond. 

If you haven’t plugged into the People’s Response yet, please volunteer your services at OpOKRelief.net/volunteer. Get in the OpOK Relief group on Facebook and see how our teams come together. If your thing is food, consider feeding the displaced or those working to help them with Food Not Bombs – Norman, OK. Plug into our newOpOK Rideshare with your ability to transport supplies or request a ride to a worksite. Text @OKALERT to 23559 to be added to our cell loop for the latest.

Allowing residents and victims to shape the services they receive is an essential part of our disaster relief efforts. Find local organizers and community leaders on the ground in these locations, ask what they need, crowdsource and share information, and see what you can do to meet these needs. 

Cooperative decision-making, participatory democracy, and mutual aid are tenants of anarchist society. OpOK Relief isn’t an anarchist group, but anarchism motivates my work within it. Anarchism is movement for a society in which the violence of racism, sexism, homophobia, capitalism, and coercion are removed from our daily lives. Anarchism is the belief in a world without war and economic poverty. Anarchism is a philosophy and movement working to build cooperative, egalitarian human relationships and social structures that promote mutual aid, radical democratic control of political and economic decisions, and ecological sustainability.

I believe that our work here today can create the kind of world that I carry in my heart. I believe that this work brings the best out of everyone involved, from the people on the ground to the people directly impacted by these storms. I believe that everyone has a part to play here, that anyone is capable of making a difference in these struggling areas. 

I believe in solidarity. I believe in mutual aid. I believe in you. Join us. 

Solidarity is our strength.  #OpOK
_________________________________________________________
Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He is currently working with OpOK Relief to rebuild Oklahoma’s tornado stricken areas.

Seeing Red (Part 2): United Teachers vs. Bipartisan Opposition

It has been four years since the financial collapse of 2008 set off the greatest world economic crisis since the 1930s. “Reform” measures put into place to stop the hemorrhaging have succeeded only in exacerbating socio-economic inequalities around the country, with the poor, once again, bearing the highest costs. Nowhere is this more apparent than the right-wing attacks on public workers, unions, and pensions. It comes as no surprise to teachers that they find themselves on the front lines.

On September 10th, educators began a citywide strike in Chicago, home of the third-largest school district in the country. Despite arrogant threats from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, the former chief of staff for President Obama, the Chicago Teachers Union and community leaders have fought back against measures that have been described as “educational apartheid” by concerned parents. Under Emanuel’s hand-picked school board – largely devoid of actual teachers and mostly stacked with millionaire CEOs, privatization wonks, and real-estate developers – corporate operators have worked to seize public schools, enact longer school days and school years, and force blanket metrics for evaluating teachers and students. Teachers will be expected to do more work for less pay.

The Chicago establishment is known for this sort of thing. Milton Friedman, the spiritual forefather of deregulation and economist of the Chicago School of Economics infamously said:

“Only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change. When the crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function … until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.”

Emanuel has fully embraced Friedman’s ideas, taking advantage of the economic crisis to eliminate liberal arts classes, displace hundreds of teachers, weaken teacher health benefits and tenure, and privatize essential services. He’s also demanded teacher evaluations be tied to standardized tests results of students, an idea that hurts poor students as teachers in crowded inner-city schools are forced to narrow curriculum. Instead of planning lessons that teach students to inquire, students will be force-fed facts to be demonstrated on exams. Students will no longer learn, they will memorize.

As CTU President Karen Lewis proclaimed to thousands of teachers and parents at a Labor Day rally in Daley Plaza, “This fight is for the very soul of public education, not only in Chicago but everywhere.”

This is no exaggeration; Arne Duncan, former CEO of Chicago Public Schools and architect of the privatization scheme he called “Renaissance 2010,” was appointed by President Obama to be secretary of education. His policies have been embedded in Obama’s “Race to the Top” initiative, a union-opposed program that requires states to make reforms to get federal education funds. The anti-teacher Democrats in Chicago have another tie to the White House; Arne Duncan headed the CPS under Mayor Richard Daley, the brother of William Daley, who replaced Emanuel as Obama’s chief of staff in 2011.

We are beginning to have as little choice between the two major parties at the national level in educational policy as we currently have on civil liberties and war-and-peace issues.

We are beginning to have as little choice between the two major parties at the national level in educational policy as we currently have on civil liberties and war-and-peace issues. Even Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, has been explicit in his support for Emanuel. “Rahm and I have not agreed on every issue or on a lot of issues,” he declared, “but Mayor Emanuel is right today in saying that this teachers’ union strike is unnecessary and wrong.” He added that “education reform is a bipartisan issue.”

Unfortunately, Paul Ryan is correct. But if bipartisan efforts continue to pander to the hedge-fund bigwigs behind the charter school movement and ignore efforts at improving our public schools, our hopes for a better educated generation will be suspended, permanently.
_________________________________________________________

Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

 

Seeing Red (Part 1): The High Cost of Higher Education

In the face of mounting tuition hikes, layoffs and budget cuts, thousands of students and educators have hit the streets in university towns across the Americas. The demonstrations have cut across race, gender, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds, bringing disparate groups together to make the education system more transparent and democratic.

In Québec, a series of ongoing student demonstrations has emerged to address sweeping austerity measures, including hundreds of layoffs, cuts to campus services, consolidation of academic departments, and a shift of the financial burden from the state onto students; despite reactionary laws passed by the Québec Cabinet to outlaw the protests, between 100,000 and 400,000 people marched on downtown Montreal in what has been described as the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history. The red square that symbolizes the movement there has since become ubiquitous.

In the United States, the occupation of the New School in New York City in 2008 gave a glance at the possibilities of a nascent student movement unseen in this country since the student boycotts of the Kent State era. Faculty members joined students in issuing a statement of solidarity after they seized the cafeteria, the last public space for students at the school.

We have come together to prevent our study spaces from being flattened by corporate bulldozers, to have a say in who runs this school, to demand that the money we spend on this institution be used to facilitate the creation of a better society, not to build bigger buildings or invest in companies that make war. We have come here not only to make demands, but also to live them. Our presence makes it clear that this school is ours, and yours, if you are with us.”

The resurgence of a radical student movement is much more than a cry for the comfort of the old status quo. To be blunt: the promise of a financially secure life at the end of a university education is evaporating. The old gods are dead. A new model must be found.

It is folly to think, however, that the student strike methods used in Québec and Chile are a simple, transferable template to our own failing higher education system. In both countries, there is a long-term history of student associations that are vibrant, meaningful, and offer material aid to students all year long. The first steps to changing the system in this country must include the institution of strong, non-hierarchical student unions and self-governance at US universities.

The first steps to changing the system in this country must include the institution of strong, non-hierarchical student unions and self-governance at US universities.

These student groups have to demand a paradigm shift toward direct and participatory democracy. Education planning and policy-making must be wrested away from corporate think tanks and the imposition of standardized metrics. Students must be engaged in decisions that affect learning. And, for democracy’s sake, students and the general populace alike must fight political and administrative efforts to turn essential public services into private commodities to be bought and sold. Only by ensuring equal access to education – free access – can we set the foundations of self-determination. Over a dozen countries already offer free university-level education. Why not us?

_________________________________________________________

Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Bailing Ourselves Out: Leveraging Against Banking Barons in America’s Heartland

Bank of America — via the gravelly voice of Kiefer Sutherland (best known as the torture-happy government agent Jack Bauer on afternoon television) — has referred to itself for the last few years as the “Bank of Opportunity.” But in the midst of an economic civil war, they’ve dropped their advertising company – the propagandists that had shifted BoA’s previous slogan from the laughable “Higher Standards” – and find themselves scrambling for a new market-friendly façade. Regardless of whatever branding the new spin-doctors come up with, Bank of America is proving itself to have zero standards – and the opportunity a snowball faces in hell.

When Julian Assange announced that Wikileaks was planning to release records of “unethical practices” prevalent in an “ecosystem of corruption” surrounding a major US financial institution, Bank of America was one of the first to respond – by refusing to service any donation made to the whistleblower organization. And their master plan for preparing for this massive leak of corporate wrongdoing? Buying up more than 450 internet domain names that might prove to be embarrassing to the bank or its CEO. Sad to say, friends, but BrianMoynihanSucks.com is taken. Their attempts to conceal the truth, however, only reveal the gravity of their situation – and ours.

The attorney general of Arizona, a state not known recently as a bastion of legislative tolerance, has criticized Bank of America’s attempts to obstruct investigation of their practices, noting that the bank has “repeatedly deceived” customers looking to lower their loan amounts. They’ve promised to fix the situation by negotiating settlements with borrowers who must agree to keep them secret and not criticize the bank in exchange for cash payments and loan relief.” Court documents show desperate demands from BoA that borrowers “remove and delete any online statements regarding this dispute, including, without limitation, postings on Facebook, Twitter and similar websites.”

Bank of America, by demanding their customers keep their mouths shut in exchange for ‘fixing the problem,’ seems to be taking a page out the mafia’s protection-racket handbook.

This isn’t the first time that Bank of America has refused to cooperate with investigations into their mortgage practices either. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s inspector general said in a 2011 lawsuit that “Our review was significantly hindered by Bank of America’s reluctance to allow us to interview employees or provide data and information in a timely manner.” That lawsuit was part of a damning HUD investigation that found all 5 of the nation’s largest mortgage companies defrauding taxpayers.

These multinational casino-capitalist banks aren’t content with exorbitant usury, with destroying entire neighborhoods of foreclosed homes, harassing the families of deceased customers – they’re trying to foreclose on people who never even had a mortgage, sucking funds out of needy schools and cities, and using your money to pay legislators to advance their agenda. Those employees who reveal the severity of the situation are hunted down like witches in 17th century Massachusetts. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone had it right when wrote on Bank of America’s excess, calling them an institution “too crooked to fail.” He joined a recent Occupy Wall Street day-of-action to remind occupiers how shady Bank of America really is.

“This bank has systematically defrauded almost everyone with whom it has a significant business relationship, cheating investors, insurers, homeowners, shareholders, depositors, and the state. It is a giant, raging hurricane of theft and fraud, spinning its way through America and leaving a massive trail of wiped-out retirees and foreclosed-upon families in its wake.”

But Bank of America isn’t the only player in this high-stakes game of Monopoly; a culture of greed and corruption has permeated – even driven – each of the financial institutions that the government emphatically calls “too big to fail.”

Since greedy financiers at the major banks initiated an economic race to the bottom in 2008, they’ve been rewarded with massive bailouts, lucrative tax breaks, and golden parachutes for fatcat executives, while workers lose jobs, retirement, and homes. The toxic mix of political, economic, and corporate interests has been the equivalent of financial terrorism upon communities nationwide. Even before the crash, market fundamentalists have allowed unchecked economic warfare to be waged, ravaging neighborhoods across wide swaths of the country. But the people – real people, not ‘corporate persons’ – are fighting back.

November 5th, 2011 was Bank Transfer Day, an Occupy-inspired day-of-action in which thousands of people around the country moved their money from the banking behemoths and into consumer-owned credit unions. While it is difficult to pin numbers down to grassroots initiatives like this, the month found credit unions adding 650,000 new members (normally around 80,000 in a regular month), resulting in more than $4.5 billion in new deposits. The reaction from the corporate banking establishment was shocking, even to those who hadn’t been paying attention: customers fed up with bad business were locked inside banks and faced arrest when trying to close their accounts.

Individual actions are a necessary component of any meaningful change in a broken financial system. But even more heartening is when entire communities have come together to pull their money out of corporate clutches. The city of Norman, Oklahoma, has done just that.

Not surprisingly, mainstream media outlets gave almost no coverage of the move; the local papers only made the briefest of obligatory mentions. But for members of Occupy Norman and concerned community leaders, the change is a real difference in the third-largest city in Oklahoma. 

“Banks that are ‘too big to fail’ are too big to exist!” says Mary Francis, a fiery 60-something activist from Norman. “Local banks and credit unions make more loans to local businesses than big Wall Street banks and they reinvest in the community. The obscene profits of huge corporations such as Bank of America or Wal-Mart do not get circulated in the local community. It’s only the local banks who have had a history of participating and donating to community events and charities.”

What started as an investigation of how the City used funds entrusted to it became a months-long campaign to get Norman to divest its money from Wall Street and bring it home. Occupiers first approached the City Council in December of 2011 with concerns about illegal and risky gambling with community funds; by April, the Occupy Norman Direct Action Committee’s “Move Our Money” campaign reached its apex after in-depth editorials, research into local banks and credit unions, and discussion with community leaders.

In a unanimous vote, the Norman City Council voted to terminate its contract with Bank of America and move all financial services to Bank of Oklahoma, a Tulsa-based institution. Grant DeLozier, a member of the Norman group, reminded Bank of Oklahoma – and the Council – that although the bank has thus far been free from the kinds of controversy and malfeasance that have plagued the larger institutions, they would not be getting a free pass. He pledged the group’s effort in keeping them honest. More banks need that reminder.

Norman City Council member Tom Kovach posted to Occupy Norman’s Facebook page after the vote, thanking local activists for using community pressure and proactive research to get accomplished what couldn’t be done through normal legislative channels.

“I first mentioned the Bank of America problem to the City in 2009 after the financial meltdown and BoA was on the brink of insolvency. No one wanted to make the move. It took the efforts of a dedicated group to make the change happen. Last night alone, several Occupy members waited five and a half hours to support this move. But it is the continuous efforts and the professional and respectful manner the whole group conveys that creates the impact necessary to make this advancement. Great thanks to all of you.”

Occupy Norman’s actions are part of a groundswell of public outrage with the big multinational banksters over their role in the country’s financial and foreclosure crises. And although the approximately $250 million-dollar move represents only a small bite out of Bank of America’s bottom line, it hits them in the only way that capitalists understand. The withdrawals, like the May Day demonstrations, are a visible sign of the seething anger in the working class; they bring communities together, uniting disparate groups in common cause.  Councilman Kovach reminds:

“We can bridge gaps and must to achieve positive change. Preaching to the converted only keeps things alive; to grow and make change, we must go beyond our comfort zones and listen to and work with unusual allies.”

The movement to divest from seemingly-monolithic banking institutions continues to progress as cities join individuals, unions, and churches in demanding accountability from Wall Street.

The cities of Philadelphia and Cleveland have already instituted a Community Reinvestment Act and dedicated activists have stormed the New York City Banking Commission to demand one. Other major metropolitan areas like Boston and Los Angeles have considered or passed laws known as “responsible banking ordinances” that require banks who want to do business submit detailed plans that outline how they’ll reach the needs of low-income and working-class residents.

These are all important steps to take to safeguard against poverty pimps seeking to bankrupt American dreamers. But isolated efforts at reform like this are not enough; when contemporary political realities reveal supranational financial institutions lording over governments – the banker-technocrat coup d’état in Greece and Italy, the austerity measures demanded in Spain and England, and so forth – only a revolution of values will create any meaningful change.

The global uprising has to be more than just a demand on a worldwide Ponzi scheme; we must demand an end to an entire system of oppression and coercion.

Why do we allow an economic minority – those who fatten themselves on capitalism’s largesse – to own the collective efforts of billions? Why do we accept a media stranglehold by nine megacorporations, genetically-bastardized pseudo-food from Monsanto and ConAgra, a stripping of worker’s rights won over the last century? Why do we allow politicians from both the Republican and Democratic wings of the corporate party to turn womens’ bodies into political battlefields? A continuous state of emergency, eradication of fundamental principles of democracy, privatization of the commons?

What to think – the questions we ask – isn’t nearly as important as how we think. Capitalism is a pervasive ideology; to deny its recuperative mechanisms requires interrupting the spectacle of the status quo – and acting in those liberated spaces, both physical and mental. The answer to some of these questions may already be well-known; getting to the substance of the question and actualizing the answer requires more. It requires a leap of faith.

Philosopher Simon Critchley writes in Adbusters that a “perfect storm” is brewing amongst disaffected youth, something “at once exciting and frightening.”

“What is so inspiring about the various social movements that we all too glibly call the Arab Spring, is their courageous determination to reclaim autonomy and political self-determination. The demands of the protesters in Tahrir Square and elsewhere are actually very classical: they refuse to live in authoritarian dictatorships propped up to serve interests of Western capital, megacorporations and corrupt local elites. […] The various movements in North Africa and the Middle East aim at one thing, one ancient Greek concept: autonomy.”

It is up to us to determine if this storm will rage enough to sweep away the accumulated dross of cancer-stage capitalism … or if our actions remain a tempest in a teapot.

_________________________________________________________

Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Find more about the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA) at www.facebook.com/COBRACollective

May Day: A Radical Strike into the Belly of the Beast

May 1st is recognized worldwide as International Workers’ Day, a holiday originating in response to the Haymarket Massacre of 1886 in Chicago, where workers fought for the establishment of worker protection measures, namely the eight hour workday. However, while the rest of the world marks May Day as a celebration of the working class, the United States is left with Labor Day—a banker’s holiday hurriedly passed through Congress by Grover Cleveland in an attempt to appease the outrage generated by the murder of railway workers at the hands of United States Army troops during the Pullman Strike.

May Day, along with notions of radical worker action, has largely been ignored in the United States in recent years. But the time for complacency has passed. While a worker walk-out may have been born from the secessio plebis of Ancient Rome, English Chartist and radical preacher William Benbow brought to modern times the idea of general strike as a “sacred month” in the first mass working-class labor movement. In 1877, the Great Railroad Strike began the first major labor action in the United States; centered in East Saint Louis, the strike shut down all industrial railway traffic through the National Stockyards, letting only passenger and mail trains through. In 1936, early in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, a series of strikes spread; half a million textile workers united in states across the country, dock workers and their associates in San Francisco, and radical Teamsters in Minneapolis all fought against the violence of police and armed strikebreakers. These strikes, and the unemployment councils that cropped up to encourage progressive change, pushed Roosevelt to enact bold reforms to the American system.

Over the course of two days in December of 1946, radical action brought City of Oakland to a standstill. The general strike there inspired the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act that President Truman called a “conflict with important principles of our democratic society,” even as he used it twelve times over the course of his presidency. The act essentially killed the general strike as a tactic for the labor movement.

The power of the working class, however, is not tied to mainstream organized labor; concessions by the AFL-CIO to the government’s National Labor Relations Board have made the organization little more than a special interest group for the Democrats, even as they pass anti-labor and anti-free speech legislation. While the working class needs the strength of militant unionization—the IWW Food and Retail Workers United union in the Pacific Northwest being a good example—the policies of the National Labor Relations Board are decidedly anti-worker. Capitulation of reactionary unions to NLRB demands, and to the Democratic Party, constitutes abandonment of the working class.

Knowing that union leadership would be refused the blessing of their Democratic Party masters, rank-and-file members of labor joined with the Occupy Movement to speak for themselves; in October 2011, the General Assembly of Occupy Oakland voted overwhelmingly to shut down the city on November 2nd in response to the military-style crackdown on demonstrators by eighteen different police agencies, including the critical wounding of Scott Olsen and Kayvan Sabehgi, two veterans of the war in Iraq. The convergence of radical labor and Occupy Oakland made it possible to shut down the Port of Oakland, the fifth-largest container port in the nation, disrupting millions of dollars of capitalist income. This is only the beginning.

“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking!”

-William Butler Yeats

In December of 2011, Occupy Los Angeles called for a general strike on May Day, to “recognize housing, education, and healthcare as human rights.” This revival of May Day has been echoed by Occupations from wealthy Wall Street to poverty-stricken Oklahoma. Already, nationwide strikes have rocked other countries hit hard by the capitalist crisis, including Spain, Iceland, Portugal, and Greece. Austerity measures in these countries have been enacted solely to appease unelected European Union technocrats, protecting the interests of wealthy investors and multinational banking cartels. The civil war that capitalism calls “peace” is intensifying universally; the May Day General Strike will be our response to their crisis.

On May 1st, 2012, we will revive the May Day the ruling class has tried to erase; we will celebrate International Workers’ Day in the United States as a political manifestation of class consciousness and international solidarity.

However, our demonstrations on May Day cannot be an exercise in paying homage to the past days of the global justice movement; instead, they must embody concrete preparation for the future. The anarchist concept of prefigurative politics demands that we lay the foundations of future society solidly in the present. By retaking May Day, we stand in solidarity with a legacy of international struggle against neoliberal capitalism and authoritarian control. Values such as classlessness, autonomy, self-management, diversity, and mutual aid preclude borders; the internationalism of May Day is only one step in a long march towards an international solidarity.

The atmosphere across the globe seems pregnant with a revolutionary fervor unseen in recent years. The occupation at New York City’s New School in 2008 provided a glimpse into the possibilities of occupation when students seized their school building as a show of solidarity against the policies of a broken administration. The nascent student movement later reclaimed campuses across California, inspiring actions nationwide with the release of an influential text called “Communiqué from an Absent Future.” At the same time, organizers linked themselves to demonstrations in Greece over the police murder of a 15-year old anarchist in the neighborhood of Exarcheia.

With the European crisis beginning in late 2010 and Arab Spring blossoming in early 2011, international resistance to gutter government became not only widespread, but populist in nature. In Greece, the “I Won’t Pay” movement took shape as normal citizens ignored tolls, transit ticket costs, and bills for healthcare. Governor Scott Walker’s anti-labor actions designed to eliminate collective bargaining were met with thousands of people descending on the Madison, Wisconsin State Capitol. Later that spring, the May 15th movement known as los Indignados took over public squares in Spain and Greece and demanded a radical change to the political milieu.

Millions of people around the world are waking up to the realization that capitalism is a pyramid scheme.

Our unity with the workers of the world extends beyond May Day. Radical movements must seek more than an end to illegitimate and authoritarian governments; we demand the recognition of universal rights, respect of individual autonomy and local decision-making, and an end to coercive and subordinate relationships in all areas of our lives. As Bob Black writes inThe Abolition of Work:

“To demonize state authoritarianism while ignoring identical, albeit contract-consecrated, subservient arrangements in the large-scale corporations which control the world economy is fetishism at its worst … Your supervisor gives you more or-else orders in a week than the police do in a decade.”

Our struggle has to be more than mere conflict with a rigged economic system. Economics do not exist in a vacuum, but at the convergence of complex political, financial, and military interests. Historical, social, and legal dimensions come into play with the understanding that markets perpetrate inequities by favoring those with more power, wealth, and privilege. To avoid essentialism, we must strike hard at the intersections that prop up systemic inequality, even as we focus on unbridled market fundamentalism itself.

One of the most dangerous institutions that undergird capitalist economic structure is the military-industrial complex.

On May 20-21st, tens of thousands will gather in Chicago to demonstrate against the NATO military bloc. Serving as the armed will of the U.S. and Western Europe, NATO accounts for a staggering 70% of the world’s military spending, money that is used to control strategic resources of the Global South on behalf of a Western capitalist economic minority. While the majority of the planet lives on less than $2 per day, NATO swallows $2 billion per week on a war that nobody seems to want. The reasons are simple: poverty and wealth are functions of politico-economic entanglement; when resources abroad like oil or precious metals are determined to be matters of national security, the politics of who deserveswhat comes into play.

Contrast the billions spent by countries on weapons and war technology and the amount of money spent on help for the poverty-stricken children, women and men of the Global South. A stark picture is soon painted.

As spokesman for the Coalition Against NATO/G-8 War & Poverty Agenda, Andy Thayer reminds us that Richard Nixon, President of the US in ’68, was no friend of the working class. However, even despite being “ideologically… far to the right of any previous post-WW II president, and a notorious racist and anti-Semite to boot,” Nixon enacted a series of measures “that marked him as by far the most “progressive” president since the Great Depression—far to the left of, yes, President Obama.” Despite his conservative principles, a mass movement of citizen agitation forced Nixon to enact Affirmative Action, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), expand food stamps, nominate a Supreme Court that gave us Roe v. Wade, and finally, a wind-down of the Vietnam War.

Young men and women who join the military, many for an education or a job opportunity, are being slaughtered around the world as the American Empire advances, using poor countries as proxy in many cases. As many soldiers refuse to reenlist, the temptation of tactical nuclear strike grows for the Pentagon. Without an immediate demand for disarmament, a global nuclear war is almost certainly on the horizon; already, we see the case built for attacks on Iran and North Korea. Thayer’s call for continuous and forceful action against warmongering is an urgent one; the opportunity to act against imperial militarism must be seized in Chicago as Obama takes the stage in his effort make the NATO summit the centerpiece of his reelection campaign.

Chicago 1968 marked the beginning of the end for the Vietnam War. Exposing NATO’s military expansionist policies in Chicago 2012 may provide a valuable victory for Occupy Wall Street and for the global justice movement as a whole. War must be understood as a critical underpinning of the capitalist agenda.

The call for a general strike and the mobilization of opposition to NATO’s military stranglehold, however, must only be the beginning of a growing and sustained process of radical organization: of fellow citizens in the workplace, in our neighborhoods, and in our schools. Our movement must include the homeless, the working poor, the uneducated, the societal marginalized—those most disadvantaged by capitalist exploitation. Radical mo(ve)ments such as these serve as a wake-up call, not only to socio-political elites faced with a critical mass demanding change, but to the entirety of the working class who have realized the power they seek lies in their own direct action. Profound social transformation must be at the root of any economic recovery.

We live in a time when half-hearted notions of “reform” are served only as a recuperative mechanism for capitalist greed, where governments pledge that the only escape from financial crisis must come through workers surrendering their rights, where the commons is privatized and the rights of all are turned into a bargaining chip that benefits only a few. Women’s bodies are turned into battlegrounds as politicians fight for office. Social services, education, and jobs are being slashed in a scorched-earth campaign to preserve power.

Historically, government has failed in its responsibilities, unless forced by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war. Today, we can be sure we will not see any change from the status quo … unless popular upsurge demands it. The best way to make our demands known? Hit capitalism in its pocketbook.

I’ll meet you at the barricades.

 


 

Dr. Zakk Flash is an anarchist political writer, radical community activist, and editor of the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA). He lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

Find more about the Central Oklahoma Black/Red Alliance (COBRA) at http://www.facebook.com/COBRACollective.