Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Who hates (Occupy) Wall Street?

With any movement for change, you can depend on there being a counter-movement. No agitation comes without detraction, no matter how benign the goal is.

We all see how Barack Obama still gets ragged on for being a secret Muslim Kenyan socialist, even though he's the goshdamn president of the United States. And the change he advocated was pretty much more of the same, but with a black man instead.

So expectedly, the Occupy initiatives - which actually do demand real societal restructuring - are attracting some fullblown opposition from the usual suspects: conservatives, moderates, liberals, and everyone in between.

One view posted on the Harvard Crimson's website asserts that the Occupy movement is "politically ambiguous," and that the activists should "collaborate with people you don’t like [like the Democratic Party's elected officials] against an even greater evil," in this case, the Repulicans.

Subsequent comments on the post accuse the Occupations as being anti-political, anarchist, and "like a Phish concert." These suspicions are all a bit misinformed.

Firstly, framing the movement in terms of "America vs. an alternative" is truly reactionary.  What the Occupy movement seeks is an examination of this "America" and what/whom it represents. It is not enough to say that Republicans have it wrong and Democrats have it right, or vice versa.  It is still deeply and inherently political to say that this system is not working for many, many people, and has in fact served to hurt many, many people in its construction and existence.  The struggle for economic justice and social equality is what the Occupy participants are engaging.

As far as the radicalism of the movement is concerned, it is true that some Occupy participants subscribe to anarchism as the appropriate ideology through which to design an ideal society. Others believe in socialist cooperativism, and still others hold out hope for American democracy.  But it is more useful to see the Occupations as not a rejection of America's successes, but rather an awareness-building of America's failures: specifically in the realms of poverty, militarism, and systemic violence against women, racial minorities (including native peoples), undocumented immigrants, and others.

And if you go by and see the Occupy kids dancing and drumming, know that they are rejoicing in a newfound community of like-minded concerned people joining hands - and not fists, it should be said - in hope for a better society.

Friday, October 21, 2011

The "human mic" - a necessary evil?

Unlike many other #Occupation sites, in New Orleans we are allowed to use amplified devices, including speakers.  We've been using the "human mic" technique, through which the speaker delivers a few words or phrases to an audience who repeats in unison these words and phrases so everybody in the crowd can hear.

As you can imagine, this method can be very inefficient, nearly doubling the amount of time it takes to communicate an announcement, speech, proposal, or pep talk.  It would stand to reason that the use of a microphone and speakers would enhance the communication potential of such a gathering.

However, there has been a schism among #OccupyNOLA participants related to this issue, with many (sometimes up to half) of the people walking out of General Assemblies and other meetings where the speakers are being used.

The objection is mainly to what's perceived as the co-opting of the medium, which is definitely being done by a small group of white men who literally speak over other people during these meetings.

[These same men decided to disc-jockey the Day of Solidarity march this past Saturday, playing the classic NWA tune "Fuck tha Police" on a particularly desolate stretch of Canal Street when it was just us protestors and the police officers escorting us.  Not the strategic move for free speech I would have made, but hey, everyone occupies in their own way.  Chloe says: "Eliminate the root of oppression and the apparatus will disappear."]

So for now, I'm pro-human mic, despite its shortcomings. In a movement with at times disparate interests and messages, it's important that people think about what they're going to say and not take too much time to say it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Kris Kiefer may make a competent judge but he will never be a competent speller

As a newly registered voter in Orleans Parish, Louisiana (which maybe means New York County will stop calling me for jury duty?), I have been the ungrateful recipient of a barrage of campaign mail in the past few weeks.

It seems everybody and their mother is running for some sort of political office, using dubious rhetoric to sell their "fairness," "family values," and in one case, "love for Jesus" to the local populace.

Yesterday I received a postcard and a booklet from Kris Kiefer, who, if he is to be believed, "learned the importance of public service at a very early age from his father, former State Senator Nat Kiefer."

Now, I've learned a lot of things from my father, but spelling was not one of them.  And here it appears that Kris Kiefer and I have a lot in common.

Indeed, Mr. Kiefer may very well make a competent judge - or as he puts it, "JUDGE OF CIVIL DISTRICT COURT DIVISION E" (whatever that is) - but if his campaign materials are a reliable indicator, he will never be a competent speller.

As pictured above, Mr. Kiefer has committed the unspeakable gaffe of confusing "whose" for "who's."  One is a possessive pronoun, the other a contraction (contextually) representing the phrase "who has."  This sort of indecent misuse of our language underlines the need for education quality reform in Orleans Parish, which hopefully is not under the jurisdiction of CIVIL DISTRICT COURT DIVISION E.

Indeed, Mr. Kiefer's so-called "impeccable credentials" certainly do not seem to extend to literacy skills, or even critical thinking:  As I'm sure good old Kris did not singlehandedly write, edit, and publish, this pamphlet, it stands to reason that he could have hired a competent writer, editor, or publisher at any point during the pamphlet-creation process, if only for the sole purpose of compensating for his own poor spelling ability.  You know, have someone look over the postcard for typos and grammatical mistakes before mailing it out to the city of New Orleans and the one shitbag who might write a blogpost about it.

[At least that's what I would have done, only I'm an excellent speller. Just ask Lara Weissman, who, in what amounted to a brutal and cutthroat battle at Dorchester Elementary in 1997, lost the 4th grade spelling bee to me.]

But back to the matter at hand.  Mr. Kiefer's lack of foresight, attention to detail, and blatant misuse of my voter registration information - What party is he anyway? How does he feel about the issues/patriarchy? - have truly lost my vote for him. Plus he used my middle name on the address sticker, and nobody but my mom is allowed to do that. Oh, you could probably ask her about the spelling bee too. She was very proud.

UPDATE: He also forgot the apostrophe between "16 years" and "experience."  Even the preposition "of" would have sufficed.  Jesus, Mr. Kiefer, you're really losing it.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

An open letter to #OccupyNOLA

I have had a complicated time with the #OccupyWallStreet solidarity movement in New Orleans.  Engaged in ideological battles on Twitter and plain old personality clashes at the campsite, I've found it best to keep a healthy distance from the organizers, who I fear are subverting - however unwittingly - the purpose and potential of the event in favor of dogmatic methodology and politics of exclusion.

I posted the following on the public form at It isn't a comprehensive list of my suggestions, but I'll add to it as I figure out how to articulate them better.
 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

An open letter to #OccupyNOLA:

Congratulations on your successes thus far. It is wonderful to know that such engaged, earnest people live in this city and are motivated to change things for the better.

However, a few issues continue to nag me, and I would like to share them here, where I hope they are received in the positive and supportive spirit from which they come.

Over the past week, I have been trying to tell the #OccupyNOLA organizers that they should not get so defensive in response to detractors.  Those who might criticize are likely doing so constructively, and are working simultaneously towards the movement's productive ends. It is frustrating to see such miscommunication and anxiety amount to catty infighting in virtual reality as well as on the campsite itself.

To the facilitators and organizers, I would like to say that your hard work is acknowledged. You are working for a better system and a better world. That is beautiful and important. However, you are valuing process over progress.

This is especially evident at the General Assemblies, during which whole hours are devoted to technical debate concerning the "need" to reach consensus. I hate to break it to you, but sometimes consensus is inefficient and not at all worthwhile. Somebody is always going to feel duped, compromised, or disappointed. Better to arrive at collectivist-as-possible conclusions and implement them directly and quickly, instead of harping on a method that may not be appropriate here. More bluntly, just because you are hoarse from talking does not mean you have actually said anything.

Relatedly, I am seeing the same people facilitate assemblies, "run" working groups, and produce proposals. This means that most other people are being ostracized by either the individuals or the mechanisms of operation. That is, the process is not serving the majority's communications needs.  Not everybody feels comfortable being human miked in front of 50-100 people. Not everybody wants to raise points of information, fearing condescension or marginalization from the responders.

Please accept this feedback as hopeful and sincere. I am excited that New Orleans is present in the national movement these "occupations" have produced. However, further examination of our methods and messages is urgent and necessary. For example, is the language of occupation something that we really want to endorse as revolutionary or progressive? When participants clamor for "more diversity" at the assemblies and workshops, isn't the onus on them to listen to community members and make sure the goals of #OccupyNOLA are relevant to all those exploited by our current system?

Keep moving forward, and be aware that while not everybody will want to fit in in our movement, they should still be welcome to it.

In solidarity,
Arielle Schecter

"Colored Only" Sale at Jo-Ann's Fabric & Crafts

From time to time in a woman's life, she finds herself in a crafting store.

Normally these emporia scare the bojangles out of me, what with their seemingly endless aisles of useless shit to crochet, macrame, applique, and etouffer.

But today, needing to replace the red sequin trim on my Muffalotta costume, I held my breath and hoped for the best.

And what did I find among the knick-knacks and bric-a-brac at my local Jo-Ann's Fabric & Crafts? This suspicious sale notice:

Now ordinarily, something like this would not catch my eye. I've already insinuated that I don't give a flying fuck about "Home Inspirations," beyond my interest in hanging curtains so my creepy neighbor, Dennis the Menace, can't look in on me between episodes of dumping macaroni and cheese on my car or stealing his elderly mother's painkillers.

But the stipulation that this sale was exclusive to "colored only" gave me pause, especially because the "Pottery & Containers" in question were all painted white.

Such suspect advertising reveals a certain nefarious element at work within the Jo-Ann's Fabric & Crafts corporate empire, leading to any one of the following conclusions:
  • The Jo-Ann's staff are unscrupulous in advertising a sale on products that do not exist, leading customers to believe they are getting a deal when in fact they are not only not getting a deal but are (along with all future generations of their descendents) being undermined by ecologically unsound paper and ink use at their local crafts store;
  • The Jo-Ann's staff are actually very progressive - if a little daft in their use of the term "colored" - in that they are hosting a sale just for non-Caucasians, who inarguably have suffered plenty in the consumer and home economics spheres; 
  • The staff at Jo-Ann's are actually conniving racists scheming to sell products that do not exist to non-Caucasians who might be attracted to the sale while simultaneously getting kicked in the gut and wallet by a racial slur on a false advertisement; or
  • Jo-Ann's is just awkward. 
In any event, I forwent the "sale" and hightailed it out of that confusing and bedazzled den of iniquity, sequins in tow, determined never to return again.  Unless, that is, I'm inspired and there's another sale.