Pinko Postcards

in pursuit of liberty, equality and solidarity... from barcelona and beyond (and now back in nyc)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


>>> BARCELONA >>> NUEVA YORK >>>


Given the already obscene amount of time I spend chronically attached to a computer, I've been debating whether or not to ween myself off of occasional blogging. Put down the laptop, Lucas, and enjoy your surroundings. So this very post could mark the timely death of Pinko Postcards, which was after all intended to reflect on my days in voluntary exile. We shall see...

Nine glorious months in the Barcelona area came to an end last week. It wasn't an easy decision, but ultimately I opted to return to the hustle and bustle of NYC. Even with all the excitement of seeing old friends and hitting up my favorite spots in the City, I already miss comrades back in Spain. Despite some of the linguistic barriers that made it difficult at times to deepen my relationships with certain people, I've never had a better network of fun, generous and politically engaged friends than I did in Terrassa/Barcelona. It was an honor working with the gang at the Ateneu Candela. I hope that many of them can scrape some change together to come visit me in the States. That said, I do feel that Spain is now a second home of sorts, one I feel I could rather easily reinsert myself into later down the road. And having a Spanish/EU passport certainly makes that an attractive option.

A recap of the month: Clemens arrived in Barcelona on July 18th and we immediately headed to the coastal city of Alicante for the International Union of Socialist Youth 2006 World Festival. There we joined some 4000+ young activists from virtually every corner of the planet (though, as always, these events are entirely too Eurocentric). Got to see friends I'd met previously in Paris, Vienna and at Queer Easter in addition to meeting amazing activists from Colombia, New Zealand, Ireland, Argentina and the like for the first time. Spent the better part of the week camping out in tents, chatting up delegations, and snatching posters to give to folks at YDS events.

The IUSY Festival was especially important for me to get a reading on actually existing social-democracy and the state of left-wing youth organizing around the globe. As someone who has been conditioned to focus on the shortcomings of party-oriented, center-left politics, it was refreshing to hear folks on the left of their organizations grapple with these limitations in an honest and principled fashion.

Also dedicated much of my time to the LGBT Working Group activities, speaking on a panel about same-sex marriage, leading an meandering discussion on the relationship between socialism an queer politics, introducing an event with Louis-Georges Tin, President and founder of the International Day Against Homophobia (he's the super sweetie sitting next to me in photo at left) and speaking on a panel in another thematic area about the role of religion in society.

After the Festival was over, spent a lovely week with Clemens (and much of the Austrian crew) back in Barcelona. Following that, moved in with Mick, Mauro, Miriam, Juan Carlos and a certain Italian bloke for my last week in Spain. Mick, I must say, is one of my favorite people on the planet, and not just because we could kvetch, scheme and humor each other in English. Beautiful people all around, and it was nice to spend my final days with them (nudey beach alcove with friends = highlight / slogging around Barcelona with a broken sandal and Spaniards who always lie about "just one drink" = lowlight).

Back in NYC I'm living with Clemens and Bowie at their apartment in Harlem until I score a place of my own. Also shopping around for lefty jobs. Promising leads on both fronts. This past weekend I helped out with the YDS conference (at left) where we voted to focus much of our organizational efforts on immigrant rights.

All in all, if feels good to be back. Now to chip away at right-wing hegemony with home court advantage.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


NEWS FROM THE EURO CARAVAN FOR FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT


I've mentioned here before some of the groups I've been working with focusing on immigrant rights and challenging the current border policies of Spain/EU. This weekend several months of coalition efforts and strategic planning culminated in the 2nd European Caravan for Freedom of Movement. You can read a bit of the political rationale for the mobilization here (I did the English translation, though they botched the formatting a little).

I've been spending the past few days chatting with activists that came to Barcelona for this unique set of events from Slovenia, France, Italy, Germany, the UK, and several other cities throughout Spain. Friday was mostly focused around a conference/presentation style set of discussions taking place in a large artist/circus performer squat.

On Saturday a group of 100 Caravan participants gathered together at 9am in a radical social center to make final preparations for the morning's direct action targeting a massive immigrant detention facility that is currently under construction. I was in the "safe" group that was in front of the facility while the others crept around back. I won't go in to too much detail because you can read what went down below. The short end of it: 59 folks are in jail now, including a few friends of mine. We had a press conference and a solidarity rally out in front of the jail this evening, but things aren't looking good at the moment.

In addition to the morning action, there was also a sizable demo yesterday that snaked its way around Barcelona. You can see the banner I made with a few folks from the Ateneu Candela in the article below. That protest was followed by a free concert that I was just too exhausted to attend.

In the comments section in this post, I will later describe some of my reservations about what transpired (the police slander in the article is not entirely inaccurate), the demands of the Caravan and some of the positive outcomes as well. And now if you can read Spanish, the following is from one of the many papers that carried the story.

Arrestan a 59 personas por ocupar un centro de inmigrantes

La Caravana Europea por la Libertad de Movimiento se ha manifestado en Barcelona. (Foto: EFE)

La Caravana Europea por la Libertad de Movimiento se ha manifestado en Barcelona. (Foto: EFE)

BARCELONA
.- La Policía Nacional ha detenido a 59 personas que ocuparon de forma pacífica el nuevo Centro de Internamiento para inmigrantes de la Zona Franca de Barcelona, que se prevé abrir este verano.

Entre los detenidos figuraban dos reporteros gráficos, uno de TVE y otro de Europa Press, José Luis Asensio y Lago López, respectivamente, que ejercían sus tareas profesionales durante la 'okupación'. También un redactor del semanario 'La Directa', para el que el juez ha admitido el "habeas corpus" que había presentado.

Los cámaras quedaron en libertad a primera hora la noche de este sábado. López, que ha estado maniatado durante más de cuatro horas, ha destacado la ausencia de violencia. Deberá comparecer en el juicio que se celebrará por esta causa, aunque todavía desconoce si en calidad de acusado o de testigo.

La reivindicación realizada en la Zona Franca formaba parte de una serie de actos de la segunda Caravana Europea por la Libertad de Movimiento. Cuando los 'okupas' entraron en el centro, desplegaron pancartas de denuncia donde reclamaban el cierre de este tipo de centros y reivindicaban la libre circulación de las personas y su derecho de permanencia.

Poco después de ocupar las instalaciones, todavía en construcción, agentes de la Policía Nacional entraron de forma "agresiva", según denunció un portavoz del colectivo 'okupa'. En el interior del centro, ubicado en la calle D sector C, los policías rompieron el micro de la cámara del periodista de TVE y retuvieron al cámara de Europa Press.

Posteriormente, una treintena de agentes de los Mossos d'Esquadra acudieron para reforzar la actuación de la Policía.

"No utilizamos armas de fuego"

Según señaló la Policía en un comunicado, sobre las 11.50 horas los 'okupas' se introdujeron en dependencias policiales de la Zona Franca por diferentes vías de acceso. "Una vez dentro, han cortado los cables del circuito cerrado de televisión y han pretendido ocupar las obras del Centro de Internamiento de Extranjeros".

"El personal de seguridad que en esos momento se ocupaba del control de los accesos de las dependencias, al verse superado notablemente en número de ocupadores, prefirieron, a fin de evitar daños irreparables, no utilizar sus armas de fuego y esperar refuerzos", añade.

En menos de dos horas detuvieron a la mayoría de personas que habían accedido al recinto, según la Policía, "no se han producido daños reseñables en las instalaciones ni se han registrado lesiones, ya sea por parte del personal del CNP o entre los alborotadores".

Según los primeros datos facilitados, las 59 personas detenidas son de diferentes nacionalidades, la mayoría con "semejante estética 'okupa' y corte anarquista y radical, simpatizantes de algunos detenidos en operaciones policiales anteriores. Por su parte, los participantes de la Segunda Caravana Europea por la Libertad de Movimiento indicaron que el acto fue "totalmente pacífico y legítimo en defensa de todos los derechos para las personas migrantes". En este sentido, denunciaron la "desmesurada y agresiva acción policial" y sus abogados presentaron un Habeas Corpus por detención ilegal ante el juzgado de guardia.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


FAMILY, FRIENDS AND FAGGOTRY


My parents paid me a visit several weeks ago. They also fell in love with Barcelona (dinner with my folks and friends at the Ateneu Candela at right). We then went to visit family in Madrid for a few days (me being tortured by my cousin's son Lucas at left). All around a great time.

I've since moved to downtown Barcelona. I live in one of the most dynamic immigrant neighborhoods around. And my flat is smack-dab-in-the-middle of everything, just a few short blocks from the Ramblas and a historic, massive open-air market (shown below). A great place to find fruit, nuts, and all sorts of fresh dead things. And get this, I live on Jerusalem street with an Israeli guy, his Cuban partner (haven't confirmed 100% they are a couple) and a lovely young Italian single mother with her gorgeous 16 month old, Tito.

On my second day here at the new place I decided to walk to the beach. Fell asleep face down. My whole backside burnt. I ended up in the emergency room after a terrible reaction to the expensive lotion I bought. Just now the last of my skin is pealing off. Damn, I'm sexy.

Then my friend Pierre from MJS in France stopped by for several days. We meandered around the city, hung out at my neighborhood queer dive bar, and went on excursions to ancient monasteries and a certain coastal beach town.

Today my friend Brie is joining me here for a few days with a buddy of hers. I know Brie from joint work in the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition. She was a rep for the Student Farmworker Alliance. Their new staffer, Marc, will be arriving in Barcelona tomorrow as well.

Activism-wise, I've been busy as the lead organizer of an event at the Ateneu Candela. Roughly translated the gimmicky title is: Are You Going to Miss Out on the Sexual Revolution?: A Conference on Gender, Sex and Orientation. There's a photo/flyer exhibit, a roundtable discussion with speakers from the Gay Liberation Front and the Transsexual Collective of Catalunya. Following that I've put together a series of short video clips that range from abrasive, kitschy, educational and rage-inducing. Food and DJ accompanied faggotry to follow. I'm not entirely satisfied with the end product, but Aleix and I designed the flyer for the event (at right).

Next up is a European-wide mobilization for immigrant rights and freedom of movement. I translated the call-to-action last month and have been attending some of the weekly coordination meetings as well. More info here... and more reflections from me on immigration policy and activism to come as well.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


ETIQUETAS POLÍTICAS Y UNA CRÍTICA AL ATENEU CANDELA

(Y OTROS AMIGOS DE LA IZQUIERDA RADICAL)


What follows is a Spanish translation of a recent posting. A number of folks rightly complained that it was absurd of me to write about them... in a language they have trouble reading! Oops. So now thanks to the wonderful and gorgeous Marina, a loose translation is provided below. Stay tuned for promised denunciations in response... in Spanish!




Algunos de mis amigos activistas españoles que leen este blog se burlan de mí por nombrar los movimientos con los que elijo asociarme y mis creencias utilizando términos ideológicos como ‘izquierda’ o ‘socialista’. Para ellos, imagino, estos términos han sido usurpados y mancillados por fuerzas institucionales más centristas (como el PSOE) y por ello ya no sirven para demarcar con precisión aquello que ellos defienden. O quizás asocian el uso de estas etiquetas políticas con la ‘vieja izquierda’ (la variedad social-democrática o leninista), cuyos planes para manejar el poder del Estado y transformar la sociedad están operativamente muertos (de nuevo, en sus cabezas). Algunos quizás objeten el clasificar las creencias propias más allá de vagas referencias al ‘movimiento global’ y en cambio argumenten que necesitamos un vocabulario político ‘post-identitario’ inclusivo (junto con la ‘multitud’ mal definida como el agente político de hoy en día). Y quizás haya incluso quien se suscriba a una forma de movimientismo social (o ‘autonomismo’... ¡ack, etiquetas!) amorfo y anticapitalista cuyo voluntarismo y énfasis en un descentralismo prácticamente total es simplemente incompatible con la mayoría de modelos políticos socialistas.

En mis interacciones aquí casi siempre estoy dentro del armario respecto al marco ideológico desde el que funciono. Y sin embargo me aferro obstinadamente a las etiquetas políticas, aunque sea un bicho raro. He elegido a una serie de camaradas aquí que de manera consciente han optado por un estilo de compromiso político que encuentro fresco y excitante, pero algunas veces limitante al mismo tiempo. Mientras mis compañeros insistirán en que no comparten ninguna ideología global y han trabajado exitosamente para superar la división sectaria, hay algunas creencias generales que parecen informar sus ideas. Estoy de acuerdo con gran parte de sus análisis, visión y aproximación a la movilización, así que me centraré solamente en aquello que algunas veces nos separa.

Ofrezco estas críticas sabiendo que no son aplicables con justicia a todo el mundo o a toda situación. La mayoría de las veces me encuentro con que mis camaradas aquí tienen un grado notable de sofisticación y compromiso en ser prácticos a la vez que visionarios. El contexto desde el que han conformado individualmente sus filosofías políticas y métodos organizativos es obviamente distinto del mío y este hecho no se puede pasar por alto. Invito a los amigos del Ateneu Candela a compartir sus respuestas a las siguientes críticas:

Desuso prematuro de lo viejo:
Una tendencia a ver las tradiciones políticas de antaño como anquilosadas y un obstáculo para el cambio. Un énfasis en “nuevos” movimientos, “nuevos” paradigmas, “nuevas” estrategias puede significar descartar “viejas” percepciones que todavía son operativas. Una postura así puede conducir fácilmente a una segunda falta:

Desprecio por los logros reformistas: Ignorar o ridiculizar logros pasados y presentes que, si bien de manera no sistemática, han mejorado incuestionablemente la vida de la gente y el funcionamiento de la sociedad. Una especie de pureza de todo-o-nada puede acompañar esta postura, una postura que típicamente celebra sólo aquellas victorias que se han obtenido como resultado de la movilización de la protesta.

Falta de una estrategia dentro-fuera: Centrándose casi exclusivamente en la construcción de movimientos de base, ya sea dentro del contexto local o global. Un enfoque de este tipo puede significar tener poco impacto real sobre los resultados políticos que son negociados a través de instituciones grandes e imperfectas, a menudo a nivel nacional. Una mirada al resurgir de la izquierda en América Latina, por ejemplo, apunta a la eficacia de desarrollar una relación más fluida (aunque siempre conflictiva) entre la política electoral y la presión desde abajo.

Distorsión de la crisis de la democracia representativa: Un rechazo a las instituciones formales, que aunque débiles e incompletas, son todavía uno de los mejores (menos malos) sistemas para reconocer los deseos públicos. Esta postura puede dejar a los activistas independientes consigo mismos, sin mandato democrático, una poco concreta agenda política y virtualmente ninguna responsabilidad para con el más amplio proceso de toma de decisiones que la mayoría de la ciudadanía asocia con la democracia. Un enfoque de este tipo puede conducir a los radicales a denunciar a cargos progresistas, electos (en gobierno, sindicatos, asociaciones de estudiantes) como traidores cuando ocasionalmente contraen compromisos necesarios para mantener el apoyo del electorado, conservar coaliciones mayoritarias o presionar para lograr nuevas leyes.

Cada una de estas limitaciones relacionadas entre sí, tal como yo las veo, reflejan de manera inversa mis sensibilidades políticas, que también se han desarrollado y han cambiado a lo largo del tiempo (desde mis años como un pre-adolescente ambientalista, luego como un alumno de instituto trotskista y más tarde instalándome en la democrática familia socialista de pragmáticos idealistas). No hace falta decir que mis arriba expuestas críticas en modo alguno indican que sea blando con los defectos de la socialdemocracia. Cada día se me recuerda la incapacidad del centro-izquierda para ofrecer alternativas genuinas al desastre que conocemos como capitalismo global. La izquierda socialdemócrata convencional de hoy en día es pobre de visión y demasiado complaciente con el poder privado concentrado. Los partidos que representan esta tradición pueden encontrarse hoy a sí mismos formando parte de la clase política elitista contra la que una vez se movilizaron.

¿Estas descripciones son caricaturas? Desde luego, hasta cierto punto. Pero creo que empiezan a describir el bizarro mundo de la política en el que trato de negociar. Desde mi punto de vista, una estrategia política que no incorpore la política electoral y la reforma institucional al tiempo que la organización comunitaria local y la fractura de los movimientos sociales necesariamente estará incompleta. Tener en posiciones de poder (con transparencia democrática) a gente que simpatiza con nuestras ideas casi siempre será mejor que ignorar al gobierno como un ámbito de lucha. Y si hay políticos que no simpaticen terriblemente con nuestros objetivos pero que sean nuestra única opción para derrotar a un candidato todavía más a la derecha, deberíamos tener asimismo la suficiente madurez política como para apoyar al “menos malo”. Esto puede sonar amoral, pero es precisamente lo contrario. Votar es un acto estratégico y no moral. Socavar a la derecha y desplazar el poder económico y social para ponerlo en las manos de la gente corriente significa aprovecharnos de cualquier oportunidad que se nos brinde. Esto a mí me parece increíblemente obvio, así que me asombro cuando oigo argumentos (no infrecuentes entre los participantes del Ateneu Candela) en sentido contrario.

Afirmar las etiquetas y afiliaciones políticas propias es útil no solamente en determinados contextos. Generalmente me refiero a mí mismo como un ‘demócrata socialista’, y no solamente para que se me asocie con una organización particular. Prefiero esta etiqueta a ‘socialdemócrata’ por razones que están más o menos explicadas aquí: Wikipedia, Hacia la Libertad, pero también en el último párrafo de la entrada referente a este asunto del blog de Geoff. Puesto que el vocabulario político de los EEUU está bastante empobrecido y que el espectro de debate “aceptable” es todavía más estrecho y torcido a la derecha, creo que es imperativo hablar clara y convincentemente sobre ideología y sus (no dogmáticas) implicaciones prácticas. También invoco regularmente la categoría más amplia de ‘la izquierda’ cuando discuto sobre política, dado que esto me permite argumentar mis ideas en el seno de una comunidad más amplia y diversa.

Una Izquierda del SXXI capaz de guiarnos lejos del colapso ecológico, superar desigualdades construidas sobre la clase, la raza y la opresión de género, desmilitarizar gran parte del planeta y, simultáneamente, ofrecer una alternativa apremiante que maximice la libertad, la solidaridad y la satisfacción personal debe incluir una fuerte dosis de prescripciones éticas y políticas socialistas. Dudo de que en el corto plazo (o alguna vez) seamos una mayoría en este proyecto en marcha de transformación económica y social, pero sin más compañeros ondeando orgullosamente la bandera democrática socialista, me temo que nos quedaremos cortos en la visión y el programa necesarios para sacarnos de este lío.

Monday, May 08, 2006


FAILURES, SELL-OUTS AND THE UTOPIAN IMAGINATION


I've had the pleasure to be surrounded by a marvelous collection of books on political theory and social movements that Tomas (who I live with) has picked up over the years as a scholar, professor and activist. Going into his cramped study is like entering a candy shop where everything on the shelves is both tempting and within reach.

Should I delve into his stack of paperbacks exploring the relationship between political economy and cycles of protest? Should I dust off some old Marx? Perhaps some Harvey, Hobsbawm or Negri (Tomas is a T.N. fanatic)? Hundreds of titles to choose from, all of them deserving a look.

And yet this is where my problem begins. I have failed rather miserably to take advantage of these tremendous intellectual resources free for me to peruse at any time. Over 5 months have passed and I've barely skimmed through a handful of them. It's a shame, really.

That said, I have been going through a book I picked up a few years ago used for 50 cents. It's become one of my favorites to date: Commitment and Community: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective by Rosabeth Moss Kanter. Written during the resurgence of communal living brought on by 60-70's radicalism and the hippy movement, Kanter's book analyzes a wide range of utopian intentional communities that have sprung up in Europe and the U.S. over the past few hundred years. The designers of such communes sought a more perfect set of social arrangements between human beings and their natural surroundings--where a harmony between cooperation and shared principles would overcome the alienation and exploitation of the dominant culture. These utopian experiments were motivated by faith-based rejections of societal ills (common of first generations of setters in the U.S.), a desire for an alternative to an exploitative economic order (created often by utopian socialists in response to the industrial revolution) and/or a desire for a psycho-social environment that better enabled self-realization (a dominant characteristic of post-WWII/hippy enclaves).

Commitment and Community details the specific institutions, social arrangements and cultural values that underpinned each of these utopian (mostly rural) spaces. Each individual commune allows us to explore alternative practices, some of which are praise worthy and others that were certainly a bit nutty. Rather than merely theorizing what a better world might look like, these past attempts to perfect society offer tangible evidence of what does and does not work (well) within the confines of small scale (although some grew to be rather large) communities.

While wholly rejecting their escapist attitudes and the shortcomings of collectivism, I suspect there are a great many lessons we can draw from these experiences. Looking at really-existing utopian models (past and present) is a healthy exercise that encourages us to rethink the foundations of what we normally take for granted while unleashing our solution-oriented, creative potential. How might we better organize society with relation to child-rearing, education and skill-sharing, workplace democracy, local decision-making, personal and community space/belongings, leisure time, rational planning and allocation, inter-personal relationships, order and incentives, sustainability, personal fulfillment, economies of scale, etc.?

The movement to create social centers/ateneus approaches many of these same questions though in a less all-encompassing fashion. These contemporary experiments promote more egalitarian and cooperative social relations, but unlike most communes, they seek to intervene in the greater society rather than run away from it. At their best, these social centers/ateneus rekindle the utopian imagination while staying firmly rooted in practical political realities and committed to a cosmopolitan sensibility.

So I was thinking of looking up Kanter to see what she's been involved with these past 30-odd years since first publishing Commitment and Community. Her work seemed to embody the kind of participatory action research (she conducting interviews/lived in dozens of then present-day communes) and scholarly approach that I'm considering taking up. I admire her critiques of and sympathy for those putting their ideals into practice. But get this: she is now a famous guru for the business community! WTF?

I guess this shouldn't surprise me. After all, it's pretty trendy for people to recant their past idealism and "mature" into adult professionals, right?

To close out, I saw an excellent Spanish/Catalan film in the theaters last week that addresses many of these same themes. Check out Remake, if you get the chance.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


POLITICAL LABELS & A CRITIQUE OF THE ATENEU CANDELA

(AND OTHER FRIENDS ON THE RADICAL LEFT)


Daraka at hoverbike asked fellow members of “our little democratic left corner” of the blogosphere to write responses to this question:
In our post-post-modern era, in which we are told by pundits and social scientists that ideology is dead, what is the importance of political labels? How do you label yourself? Is there a unique discussion around labels in your own national or regional political culture?
Here’s my belated response, somewhat awkwardly tacked onto a critique I’d been previously drafting of the political practices and attitudes I’m surrounded by here in Spain:

Some of my activist Spanish friends who read this blog poke fun at me for labeling the movements I choose to associate with and the beliefs I hold with ideological terms like 'left' or 'socialist'. For them, I imagine, such terms have been usurped and sullied by more centrist institutional forces (like the PSOE) and thus can no longer accurately demarcate what they personally stand for. Or perhaps they associate usage of such political labels with the 'old left' (or the social-democratic or Leninist variety) whose plans for wielding state power and transforming society are operationally dead (again, in their minds). Some may object to classifying one's beliefs beyond vague references to the 'global movement' and instead argue that we need a 'post-identitarian' inclusive political vocabulary (along with an ill-defined 'multitude' as today’s political agents). And there may even be those who subscribe to a form of amorphous, anti-capitalist, social movementism (or 'autonomism'… ack, labels!) whose volunteerism and emphasis on near total decentralism is simply incompatible with most models of socialist politics.

In my personal interactions here I’m mostly in the closet about the ideological framework I work from. And yet I stubbornly cling to political labels even if I’m the odd one out. I’ve chosen a set of comrades here who have consciously opted for a style of political engagement that I find fresh and exciting, but also limiting at times. While my cohorts will insist that they share no overarching ideology and have successfully worked to breach the sectarian divide, there are some general beliefs that seem to inform their ideas. I agree with a large part of their analysis, vision and mobilizing approach, so I will only focus on what occasionally sets us apart.

I offer these critiques knowing that they don’t fairly apply to everyone or to every situation. Much of the time I find that my comrades here possess a remarkable degree of sophistication and commitment to being both practical and visionary. The context from which they have individually formed their political philosophies and organizational methods is obviously distinct from my own and this fact can’t be overstated. Friends from the Ateneu Candela are invited to share their responses to the following criticisms:

Premature casting off of the old: A tendency to regard political traditions of yesteryear as ossified and an obstacle to change. An emphasis on “new” movements, “new” paradigms, “new” strategies can mean discounting “old” insights that still remain operational. Such a posture can lead easily to a second fault:

Disdain for reformist gains: Ignoring or deriding past and present achievements, that while piecemeal, have unquestionably improved people’s lives and the functioning of society. A kind of all-or-nothing purity can accompany this posture, one that typically celebrates only those victories that have come out of protest mobilization.

Lack of an inside-outside strategy: Focusing almost exclusively on grassroots movement building within either a local or global context. Such an approach can mean having little real impact on policy outcomes that are negotiated through large, imperfect institutions often at the national level. A look to the left-wing resurgence in Latin America, for example, points to the efficacy of developing a more fluid (although always contentious) relationship between electoral politics and pressure from below.

Distorting the crisis in representational democracy: A rejection of formal institutions, that while weak and incomplete, are still some of the best (least bad) systems for gauging public desires. This posture can leave independent activists to themselves, with no democratic mandate, little concrete policy agenda, and with virtually no accountability to the larger decision-making process that most citizens associate with democracy. Such an approach can lead radicals to denounce progressive, elected officials (in government, unions, student associations) as traitors when they make occasionally necessary compromises needed to sustain voter support, to maintain majoritarian coalitions, or to push for new legislation.


Each of these related limitations, as I see them, inversely reflect my own political sensibilities that too have developed and changed over time (from my years as a pre-teen environmentalist, a high school-aged Trotskyist and later settling into the democratic socialist family of pragmatic idealists). It goes without saying that my above criticisms in no way indicate that I am soft on the shortcomings of social democracy. I’m daily reminded of the center-left’s inability to offer genuine alternatives to the disaster we know as global capitalism. The conventional social democratic left of today is low on vision and far too accommodating to concentrated private power. The parties that typify this tradition may now find themselves as part of the elite political class they once mobilized against.

Are these descriptions caricatures? Certainly, to a degree. But I think they begin to describe the bizarre world of politics I try to negotiate between. From my point of view, a political strategy that doesn’t both incorporate electoral politics and institutional reform along with local community organizing and social movement disruption will necessarily be incomplete.

Having people sympathetic to our politics in positions of power (with democratic transparency) will almost always be better than ignoring government as an arena of struggle. And if there are politicians that aren't terribly sympathetic to our goals but they are our only shot at defeating a more right-wing candidate, we should still have the political maturity to advocate for the "least bad". This may sound unprincipled, but it is precisely the opposite. Voting is a strategic and not a moral act. Undermining the right-wing and shifting social and economic power into the hands of ordinary people means taking advantage of every opening available to us. This seems incredibly obvious to me, so I'm astonished when I hear arguments (not uncommon from Ateneu Candela participants) to the contrary.

Asserting one's political labels and affiliations is useful but only in certain contexts. I generally call myself a 'democratic socialist' and not just to associate myself with a particular organization. I prefer this label to 'social democrat' for reasons that are more or less spelled out here: Wikipedia, Towards Freedom, but also in the last paragraph in Geoff’s related blog entry. Since the political vocabulary in the U.S. is so impoverished and the spectrum of “acceptable” debate is narrower and skewed to the right, I think it’s imperative to speak clearly and convincingly about ideology and its practical (non-dogmatic) implications. I also regularly invoke the much broader category of 'the left' when discussing politics, since this allows me to argue my ideas within a larger and more diverse community.

A 21st century Left capable of steering us away from ecological collapse, overcoming inequalities built on class, race and gender oppression, demilitarizing much of the planet and simultaneously offering a compelling alternative that maximizes liberty, solidarity and personal fulfillment must include a strong dose of socialist ethics and policy prescriptions. I doubt we'll be a majority within this ongoing project of social and economic transformation any time soon (or ever), but without more folks proudly waving the democratic socialist flag, I fear we'll fall short on the vision and program needed to get us out of this mess.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


THE RED SIDE OF THE LGBT MOVEMENT:
A REPORT FROM QUEER EASTER


The seventh annual Queer Easter (QE) occurred in the outskirts of Berlin, Germany this past Aptil 11-17th. The week-long seminar--hosted in cooperation between the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY), ECOSY and the IFM-SEI--brought together around 100 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied activists from over a dozen European countries along with a sizable delegation of Arab and Jewish comrades from Israel.

I arrived in Berlin a few days before QE hoping to explore the city and its rich leftist history. I first met up with Andi from the Falcons (aka the Socialist Youth of Germany) for a rooftop bar-b-que at the his squat-like high rise flat in the city's eastern quarters, later heading to some neighborhood bars frequented by the younger radical set. The following day Andi took me on a bike tour of Red Berlin... visiting the sites where Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were murdered, where Liebknecht declared Germany a "free socialist republic" in 1918, the cemetery for leaders of the worker's movement, and a host of Communist statues commemorated Soviet participation in WWII and German participation in the International Brigades against fascism in Spain (obvious disclaimer: I'm no fan of the drab authoritarianism that was the GDR).

The next day I met with my friend Pierre (at right) from the French Movement of Young Socialists (MJS). After a morning stroll through Berlin the two of us headed to the the impressive Falcon retreat and education center in the country-side town of Werftpfuhl.

Although currently living in Spain, I was essentially a YDS delegate to the seminar. The daily program centered around a set of workshops, trainings and media working groups... with smoking, drinking and general gay frolicking around the edges.

I was drawn to one discussion early on that focused on the following questions: "How have the radical left and LGBT movements intersected and clashed since they emerged from 19th century Europe? How is socialism beneficial to queers & why should queer people be interested in leftish politics? What are the inequalities that might complicate this alliance?" A review of the economic reductionism and social conservatism that has pervaded strains of the socialist movement illustrated that such bonds between class politics and sexual liberation must be consciously forged as they are not automatically connected. A good historical overview of such tensions and possibilities can be found here.

I later attended a workshop that dealt with how activists in "the West" can best offer practical solidarity to sexual minorities (not "gay" men and women since some semi-convincingly argue that this is a term referring to a "Western" lifestyle construct) facing persecution in more repressive and less developed countries. This conversation predictably boiled down to a clash between cultural relativist arguments and a universalist human rights paradigm (I'm a defender of the latter, naturally). I put forward, in summary, that "our" best approach is to:

1) Clean house in our own societies and thus undermine arguments that we are hypocritical. This means not just fretting about Islam, but also the intense homophobia of the Catholic church, for instance. This can also entail creating a LGBT movement that isn't so heavily biased toward gay white men and shallow consumerism.

2) Identify civil society actors (in this case
LGBT organizations and activists) within "the other" country and listen to what they are demanding and what support they ask for. Instructive counter example: the case of the how the U.S. pressuring the Egyptian regime for its mass arrest of homosexual men only increased the repression (guilt by association with "imperialism").

3) Offer resources, space, trainings, etc. for activists within target countries... and by extension, celebrate their immense courage. Queer Easter is a good example of this as many of our
LGBT comrades from Eastern Europe face a rather harsh social climate and political barriers to equality.

4) Uphold a multilateral human rights framework. Such a rules-based set of international agreements should have the power to sanction even those bigoted practices that are defended on cultural or religious grounds. One important advance in the field is the EU directive that member countries must include persecution based on sexual orientation as potential grounds for asylum status.


Moving on... (you can see a summary of other workshops and trainings here)

Apart from the important political discussions, QE primarily offers a social space for LGBT activists. For many attendees the seminar is the first occasion where their sexuality is normalized (you basically have to "come out" if you one of the few straight participants). This social function is important in itself, even if an emphasis on politics waned in relation.

As part of my formal contribution to QE's political agenda, I was asked to draft a statement "For Action Against Homophobia / The Right to Assembly" that we hope to pass through IUSY. I also worked on the preparations for the Queer Tent at the IUSY World Festival (July 18-23, Alicante, Spain).

There are many more stories I could tell (some of them rather scandalous!) but in closing I'd say that aside from seeing amazing friends and making news ones, I most enjoyed talking with participants about their organizing experiences, about the political realities in their countries, and about the shared principles of liberty, solidarity and equality that inform our day-to-day commitments. I would also like to point people to the incredibly impressive organizations that QE participants work with that focus on building a culture and movement that embody these emancipatory goals. You can see links to all the participating organizations here, but I want to highlight those that start working with children as young as 6. The Falcons are one fine example... and so is the Federation of Young Students and Workers - Israel's largest youth organization. Can you imagine how cool it would be in we had our own socialist Boy and Girl Scouts in the U.S.?

Postscript: Immediately after coming back to Spain, I started to prepare for an international conference we organized at my social center on migration, citizenship and globalization. The event was fantastic (covering what I think is one of the 3 most critical arenas of struggle for the Left in the EU)... but it means I've been in exhaustive conference mode for a few weeks straight. Spent this past Sunday selling books on the Ramblas in downtown Barcelona with friends from the Gay Liberation Front as part of St. Jordi Day, where millions of people flock to the streets to buy books and roses for their loved ones. Great tradition.

Off to "gay Paris" tomorrow for to see friends and attend May Day demonstrations!

Monday, April 24, 2006


LA CONSTRUCCIÓ D'UN SOMNI PER FER-NE REALITAT D'ALTRES


As May transitioned into April, 8 months of hard manual labor and a little dreaming paid off with the amazingly successful inauguration of the Ateneu Candela in its huge new location. I and many others were doubtful we’d be able to pull it all off in the exhaustive days leading up the opening. There was still major structural work to be completed and huge piles of debris littering the converted factory space up until the last minute.

But everything came together in the end. The concert/conference space looked immense and gorgeous, the bar and eating area was equally attractive and the library/free internet station, the ecological cooperative, the community radio/recording studio, and the two upstairs meeting rooms were decorated with photo and lit. presentations from the various collectives working out of the Ateneu (gender, precarity, intercultural, solidarity groups with communities in Guatemala and Nicaragua, etc.). I spent my final available hours meticulously selecting, mounting and hanging a beautiful collection of political posters representing left politics and social movements from about a dozen countries. We officially opened our doors to the public shortly after I finished teaching my Friday afternoon English classes.

By night’s end the place was packed so densely with hundreds of visitors from around Terrassa and other parts of Spain that it was hard to move, much less take all the drink orders in between the cabaret, poetry, folk, and rock performances (side note: although terrible at it, I found my first bartending experience almost addictive. I’ve scheduled a weekly volunteer shift to keep at it).

The Ateneu Candela is now one of the largest and most important movement-oriented social centers in all of Spain. Our space will serve as a reference point for those working to strengthen the social fabric of the region and promote political reflection and mobilization. From here on we’re charged with programming daily activities and special events with the aim of involving a much wider audience. The inauguration proved that we have the capacity to break out of the “activist ghetto” by attracting a crowd that reflects the surrounding community: teenagers, the retired, families with children, immigrants, and the more typical 20’s-30’s set. The diversity of inauguration activitities, ranging from kids theater, a communal paella lunch, fire juggling and the screening of a 30 min. documentary of interviews with Ateneu Candela participants (with a few embarrassing cameos from yours truly) helped ensure as much.

Without visiting the space it may be difficult to get a sense of its actual potency and what sets the Ateneu Candela apart from the more traditional civic centers and the more alienating ‘okupa’ squats. (Side note: “ateneus” were first developed at the turn of the 20th century by the worker’s movements. They were social spaces that helped sustain a vibrant culture of resistance and solidarity. These spaces were also some of the only institutions where one could receive a secular, democratic education at the time). Creating physical spaces that us folks on the left can call our own should be a more central component of our transformative strategies. Such spaces can provide a stable home for our community-based projects (conferences, campaigns, film screenings, collectives, concerts, etc.), promote a welcoming politicized cultural milieu, and allow us to intervene and create social bonds within a given territory.

With that said, I once again extend an invitation for you to visit us here in Terrassa. And once I’m back in the States in August (most likely), perhaps you would like to join me (and Jan!) in promoting the development of such spaces within the U.S.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


HELLO ROME... BYE, BYE BERLUSCONI!


A quick, belated review of a trip that Jan, Marta and I took to Rome a few weeks ago.

After arriving in Rome and dropping our stuff off at the apartment of a friend four times removed, the three of us headed to the center to join a rather large anti-war protest on the anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Most of the folks assembled seemed to be members of Rifundazione Comunista, some of the more radical trade unions (like Cobas), student collectives and other organized groups on the left. It was thrilling to be able to walk through the city passing all the major building, plazas, and ancient ruins surrounded by hoards of red and rainbow peace flags. And you can probably imagine how giddy I was to sing classics like Bandiera Rossa with everyone from rowdy teenage girls to aging movement veterans.

That night we went to a massive social center (probably one of the biggest in the world) for an annual festival that brings together ecological cooperatives from around Italy to sell wine, cheese, crafts and the like. The sprawling occupied former military fort is home to dozens of rooms, several concert areas, a radical bookshop, a record store, cafes, bar areas, theater spaces, and more. In total, there were well over 1000 people mingling, drinking and stuffing their faces with yummy fresh food (with the highest percentage of attractive guys, I must admit, that I’ve ever seen). Even if the political focus appears to have declined in relation to the party element, this social center is as close to an activist Mecca that I can possibly imagine (unless folks that seem somewhat content to stay on the radical margins bothers you excessively).

After being severely molested on a bus (crazy story!) and some sacrilegious posing outside the Vatican, we bid Jan farewell at the train station as she headed for Croatia to reunite with her boyfriend. Marta and I continued our journey, visiting museums, a very stylish social center similar to the Ateneu Candela, and walking through parks outside the main tourist areas.

The now concluded national electoral campaigns were in full blast during our stay. It was amusing to track the frenzied efforts to blanket the city with political posters from competing parties (Italy has dozens of them… with various factions from the often fratricidal left to neo-fascists like Il Duce’s granddaughter running for office). The post-script is obviously a happy one. The EU’s most despicable head of state has since been deposed in the hotly contested race. None of the folks we met in Rome expected any dramatic progressive changes to come out of a Prodi-led center-left government, but kicking Berlusconi out should at least give them some breathing room and new strategies to explore.

Let’s see what happens next.

MONTHLY REVIEW... MINUS THE CRYPTO MAOISM


Maybe it’s the Jewish quilt I seem to suffer from, or perhaps just the somewhat narcissistic urge to share my life with a phantom audience, but I do regret not updating this page over the past month.

I’ve been a busy boy helping destroy the planet with atmosphere-altering plane trips to Madrid, Rome and Berlin. Then there was the inauguration of our social center. And at the moment of writing this, I’m sitting in the middle of an international conference we organized at the Ateneu Candela on migration, citizenship and globalization.

My recollection of past events over the past 4 or 5 weeks may not be terribly fresh, but I’ll try my best to jot down some notes in the coming days.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


CONFLICT RESOLUTION: ETA CEASEFIRE & THE IRAQ WAR


Yesterday, the Basque separatist terror group, ETA, held a press conference where they announced a permanent ceasefire and a turn toward the democratic political process. Such a move should be welcomed by everyone who wishes to rid Spain on the pointless carnage, the poisoning of its political culture and the intimidation and violence that have scarred targeted individuals and entire communities for decades.

With this new development, Spain’s center-left government has scored a diplomatic victory. While ETA’s declaration is certainly related to the group’s diminishing support and the arrest of key figures in its clandestine hierarchy, the Zapatero administration’s invitation to dialogue in exchange for a repudiation of violence was also a critical factor.

The ensuing process of negotiations over disarmament, the status of ETA prisoners, the currently banned Batasuna party and that of the Basque region itself are still far from clear. But it seems likely that Spain has entered a new phase--one where other pressing issues will hopefully get more attention now that ETA's heinous and pathetic crimes should no longer dominate headlines or frame policy debates.

As predicted, some of the cretins in the right-wing Partido Popular, seem to be doing their utmost to undermine this achievement. The PP has long relied on tough-guy posturing and the manipulation of public fears to secure electoral successes. The ETA bogeyman has been one of the party's most reliable assets. This knee-jerk strategy backfired when the Peperas were caught lying about the true culprits of the March 11th terror bombings 2 years ago. But even after having lost the last election amidst popular outrage, the PP continue many of the same dirty rhetorical tricks.

Considering obvious and major contexual differences, there are significant parallels between this scenario and the political climate that has dominated the U.S. since 9/11. What the Spanish electorate came to understand and that the U.S. public may slowly be waking up to, is that bellicose and politically-driven "war on terror" policies tend to exacerbate our vulnerability to attacks and close off space for genuine conflict resolution.

Now if only the Democrats could drive home this message (we're less safe now) and maybe even provide a coherent alternative to Bush's "stay the course" policies in Iraq, then we might actually cease to have a one-party state after next fall's midterm elections. Until then, the GOP will shamelessly play the terror-card to no end.

That said, I can't see the Democratic leadership or the American public accepting an arrangement similar to what may be worked out between the Spanish state and the Basque terrorists. There are legitimate concerns about how to negotiate with various armed actors in a way that strengthens democratic institutions and not those who resort to violence. But at this point, the U.S. might have to set accords with elements of Iraq's insurgent forces if it wants a political solution to the chaos and bloodshed we are contributing to daily. Smart-thinking and political leadership are in short supply these days stateside. And this is precisely what's needed given the complex interplay between garnering electoral support to undermine the GOP domestically and working against Iraq's descent into civil war on the international stage. Of course, ending the disastrous military occupation of Iraq is central to these efforts.

It will be interesting to see how the political theater plays out here after ETA's surprise announcement. Perhaps there will be further lessons about effective anti-terror policies that could be exported back home and elsewhere.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


THE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY THAT WASN’T


Every year, all around the world, March 8th is a day to commemorate the historical and contemporary struggles of women in the fight for equality. It is widely celebrated in most countries, that is, other than where it was first initiated. Chock up this sad fact next to the non-observance of May Day (May 1st, International Worker’s Day) in the U.S. and we can begin to see just how thoroughly the best of America’s radical past has been systematically erased from the public consciousness. Despite their indigenous roots in U.S. trade union organizing and socialist internationalism, few in the States are aware of the enduring legacies of March 8th and May 1st that continue to inspire generations of men and women across the globe.

To show just how far this historical amnesia goes, let’s compare mainstream print coverage of International Women’s Day this year both in the U.S. and in Spain. Over here, March 8th commemorations were front-page headlines across the spectrum, from small local papers to the major national press. In the States, in stark contrast, there was only 1 reference to International Women’s Day in our paper of record, the New York Times. Oh, and that article referred to women from a left-wing movement of farmers occupying land in Brazil to mark March 8th, not any activities actually occurring within the U.S. itself.

Around Spain (and again, much of the world), there were women's rights demonstrations organized both by the government, labor unions, and a broad range of activist groups. I went to the Union General de Trabajadores HQ on Thursday to meet with some of their youth reps and to check out an amazing exhibit chronicling the feminist movement from its earliest manifestations to today.

In a similar vein, at the public high school where I teach English classes, March 8th celebrations were in full effect. A large student-made banner still adorns the main wall celebrating the Day of the Woman Worker--true to the event's class-conscious roots. Next to this colorful banner stands a floor-to-ceiling time line of important dates in the struggle for gender equality. I was particularly struck by its inclusion of the publication dates of both August Bebel's Women and Socialism and Engels' instructive--though theoretically flawed--Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State. As with many other things here, I can't imagine such a scenario in the United States. My students were very surprised to learn that we Americans don’t officially celebrate International Women’s Day. And many of them even knew the story of the March 8th, 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that the day commemorates.

It's ironic that of all places it feels somehow less than authentic to celebrate March 8th or May 1st in the U.S. It might appear as if we were merely seeking comfort from past glory in an era of defeat. Is there any way to revive these traditions in their place of birth without simply relying on leftist nostalgia? I wonder.
 
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