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
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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.

iSlaves: Presentation on Foxconn

Ralf Ruckus from the Gongchao Collective in China will be in the Bay Area this weekend doing the following public presentations (called iSlaves: Workers’ Struggles in Chinese Production):

San Francisco – Friday, May 17, 2013, 3pm, California Institute of Integral Studies, 1453 Mission, St. San Francisco, CA 94103

Oakland – Saturday, May 18, 2013, 8pm, Bay Area Public School, 2141 Broadway, Oakland CA 94612

San Francisco – Monday, May 20, 2013, 7:30pm, Eric Quezada Center, 518 Valencia, near 16th Street, San Francisco

from the Gongchao collective website:

The company Foxconn employs more than one million people in China alone. As the world’s biggest contract manufacturer it works for Apple and many other electronics brands. Foxconn’s workers are the iSlaves who face horrendous working conditions while producing communication tools like iPhones and iPads. In 2010 a series of worker suicides shook the Chinese Foxconn factories and drew world-wide attention. The management promised to improve conditions and pay higher wages, but the situation has not changed much since: Foxconn accelerated the relocation of factories to the Chinese hinterland, employs student interns as “cheap” labor, covers up work accidents, and still relies on its militaristic management regime. However, Foxconn-workers are far from being quiet victims. They have used every-day forms of resistance against the rhythm of the assembly line and have been able to stage strikes in various Foxconn-factories around China.

Statement from a Resister

Statement From A Resister – Leah-Lynn Plante from Because We Must on Vimeo.

On the morning of July 25th, 2012, my life was turned upside down in a matter of hours. FBI agents from around Washington and Oregon and Joint Terrorism Task Force agents from Washington busted down the front door of my house with a battering ram, handcuffed my house mates and me at gunpoint, and held us hostage in our backyard while they read us a search warrant and ransacked our home. They said it was in connection to May Day vandalism that occurred in Seattle, Washington earlier this year.

However, we suspected that this was not really about broken windows. As if they had taken pointers from Orwell’s 1984, they took books, artwork and other various literature as “evidence” as well as many other personal belongings even though they seemed to know that nobody there was even in Seattle on May Day. While we know that knowledge is powerful, we suspected that nobody used rolled up copies of the Stumptown Wobbly to commit property damage. We saw this for what it was. They are trying to investigate anarchists and persecute them for their beliefs. This is a fishing expedition. This is a witch hunt. Since then, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, we have learned that this Grand jury was convened on March 2nd, 2012, two months before the May Day vandalism even took place.

I was served a subpoena to testify before a Grand Jury on August 2nd, a week later. I hastily packed my life up into boxes, got rid of almost all of my personal belongings in preparation of incarceration. I was dismissed that day after refusing to testify and re-subpoenaed for August 30th, which was pushed back to September 13th. In that time I did a lot of self care, got my affairs in order and got advice from other people who have either resisted Grand Juries, gone to prison or both. I returned to the Grand Jury on September 13th where I was granted immunity. When you are granted immunity, you lose your right to remain silent and can be thrown into prison for civil contempt. Between consulting with my attorney and an hour long recess, I narrowly avoided a contempt hearing simply because they ran out of time. I was dismissed and was told I would receive my 4th subpoena. I walked out of the courthouse just in time to witness Matthew Kyle Duran, my fellow resister, being taken away to prison in a police van. It broke my heart to watch them kidnap an amazing and strong person and take him away from his friends and loved ones. Katherine “Kteeo” Olejnik has met a similar fate for refusing to testify on September 27th. Right now, Matt and Kteeo are both sitting in prison cells for doing nothing but remaining silent. I have nothing but love and admiration for them both and I know that thousands of others feel the same. On the drive home that night my brain felt like it was short circuiting. A few days later, I received notice that my next subpoena was for October 10th. They also notified my lawyer that they were preparing for a contempt hearing.

Court dates aside, my life has been a roller coaster. Thanks to unrelated events, I have suffered with severe depression and PTSD for many years. These are now much worse and new things trigger me. For a while after the raid, I was in a constant state of panic and I could barely eat. Every time someone knocked on the door, every time I heard any sort of loud sound in my house, my heart sank and I thought “they’ve come for me.” To the day of this writing, I haven’t slept a full night since that cold July morning thanks to nausea inducing anxiety that wakes me up between 4:00 and 7:00 every single morning. After a couple months, the initial panic has faded into grim acceptance. Despite my mental health issues, I never once considered co-operation and never would. It is against everything I believe in. On my right arm I have a tattoo reading “strive to survive causing least suffering possible.” This is something I live by every single day and will continue to live by whether I am in a cage or not.

I cannot express in words how grateful I am to all those who have shown us support and solidarity, especially our friends, partners and loved ones. We will all get through this together. I know I am a broken record with the following sentiment, but I feel like it’s worth repeating. They want us to feel isolated, alone and scared. I know that even though Kteeo has been held in what is essentially solitary confinement, she does not feel alone. I know that Matt does not feel alone. I know that I will not feel alone. When they try to mercilessly gut communities, we do not scatter, we grow stronger, we thrive. I view this State repression like this: The State thinks it is a black hole that can destroy whatever it wants. In reality, it is much more like a stellar nursery, wherein it unintentionally creates new, strong anarchist stars.

I do not look forward to what inevitably awaits me today, but I accept it. I ask that people continue to support us throughout this process by writing us letters, sending us books, donating and spreading awareness.

My convictions are unwavering and will not be shaken by their harassment. Today is October 10th, 2012 and I am ready to go to prison.

Love and solidarity to all those who resist,
Forever in silence.

Leah-Lynn Plante

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.
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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?

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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.