My Revolutionary Fantasy
My fantasies of revolution have been a constant in my development. I read John Pilger’s Hidden Agendas as a teenager and learned about the clandestine ethics and operating practices of imperial powers. Reading his accounts of Kissinger’s complicity in Pol Pot’s massacres infuriated me and gave me a healthy distrust of official news stories and the behavior of highly developed states. I came to understand the wars of America and Britain, my nations, in the Middle East and never considered that the argument that they were done for the liberation of the citizens of those nations contained any truth. I had always considered my disregard of this propaganda to be something that differentiated me from the crowd, as a well-informed teenager. I wasn’t. I was still an idiot, I just happened to be right about that. However, as a teenager with an anti-imperialist chip on his shoulders I entertained the thought that I was special. That I could lead a revolution. That I was a Che1 of sorts.
My first fantasy involved a backwoods type of environment where hundreds-of-thousands of people had come to form a revolutionary force in America. I stood with my fellow revolutionary leaders and we, somehow, addressed the crowd, calling for an end to the self-interest of the oligarchs and the international disparities of poverty. Calling for a full-fledged violent revolution… remember that I was an idiot… to buck the Imperial powers off of the backs of the people and create a world of shared-good. I don’t point out here that I was an idiot because of the violent ideology. I actually still find it hard to believe that a real revolution, that would create a world in which resources were distributed in a way that allowed for everyone’s developmental needs to be surpassed, could be accomplished without the tactical use2 and a credible threat of violence against the oligarchical class. I say that I was stupid because, even though I didn’t know about militarized drones at the time, the State was still fully-equipped and probably excited by the notion of dealing with a large force of untrained citizen-soldiers. Also guiding that violent energy toward positive means would be very difficult.
Then my fantasy became more focused around creating a paradigm shift through words. This fantasy was inspired by the political maneuvering of Valentine and Peter Wiggin in Ender’s Game. I thought that I could write a revolution. The facts were there. I was writing. I would rile up the public and cause people to take to the streets for justice. I got to write in my local newspaper as a high school student and wrote about charging George Bush and Dick Cheney as war criminals before they left office. I wrote about the radical changes we would need to undertake to save society from industrial destruction, the kind of stuff my writing always leans toward. And I received a lot of positive feedback from a very liberal city but not middle-aged, white professionals burning down the police station. Then I learned about CrimethInc., a publisher of anarchist literature. They had art and posters you could wheatpaste around town to ‘wake people up’ and they had books about strategies for causing some nice chaos such as banner drops, culture jamming, and lock-downs. I enjoyed their materials and built a small radical-ass collection. I started attending more protests and despite being a big-government-pinko, I started to identify more with the anarchist strategies than the ballot-box revolutionaries who I was doing environmental organizing with.
So then I started to focus on the culture jamming and nonviolent direct actions put forward by CrimethInc. I graffitied and wheatpasted. I attended a few Food Not Bombs meetings, and, upon hearing of a plan to start a tent city in front of the Capitol Building in DC, I quit my job, packed up my tent and some clothing, bought a train ticket with my meager savings and came here to join the fun. I didn’t find any fun, or any people. I slept that night in front of the Natural History Museum, spent the next night in the apartment of a college-friend’s older sister, and asked for money from my parents to get back on the train the next day3. This happened midway through my college career. The next summer I got heavily into organizing to make the environment an issue in Barack Obama’s first Presidential campaign. I gained a lot of skills as an organizer and I abandoned a lot of my more radical roots. I accepted two-party politics and took up the blue banner of the Democracts. I’m not proud of this affiliation but I learned a lot, met cool people, and had fun.
Several years after college I decided to try my hand with web development. I signed up for online courses, learned the basics, practiced the basics, and kept studying. My motivations were to get paid better than I was being paid in a grocery store, and to make digital tools that could connect people with the information and connections they needed to change the world. I came at the issue from many sides. I thought that if only people were more informed about their politicians they could affect them better. So I made a blog focused on the local, state, and national politicians for my small city. I proved to be more of a dedicated alcoholic than a blogger and didn’t get much done. I was suffering from mental health issues at the time and they got in the way. So after two failed starts I gave up and decided to move to Washington D.C. where I could be closer to Congress for pie-throwing purposes.
I didn’t end up using my proximity to Congress too much until I heard of a group planning to start an occupy-style movement to get the influence of big money out of politics, the issue that I feel really stands at the heart of our corrupt system of governance. That group was 99Rise and that movement was Democracy Spring. When I first heard about Democracy Spring I thought the plan was to set up some kind of permanent protest outside of the Capitol Building, hold protest marches, and generally be radical and get arrested until the whole country joined us and we won. As we got closer to the week of action I found out, day of, that the plan was to have a mass of people sit down on the steps of the Capitol facing toward the Supreme Court and get arrested as part of a symbolic sit-in (nobody uses those steps except cops on shift). We were encouraged to comply with the orders of police to move, and we expected to receive a post-and-forfeit fine for our crime, signifying no charges, no trial. Everything was very civil and nothing was very disruptive. It was infantilizing to have the cops congratulate us for our compliance. After the record-breaking first day of arrests the Captiol Police stopped taking protesters to a holding cell, they processed us on site and told us not to come back until their police-line disbanded.
Well, some of us weren’t having any of that and wanted to escalate the action. So we got into the Capitol Building’s Rotunda on a tour, zip-tied ourselves to the scaffolding (during construction), announced our wishes for a government of the people, sang, got arrested, spent a day being held, and then received the same post-and-forfeit fine as the rest of the family. It felt great while it was happening, we got headlines and a hashtag as the #Dome15, and I felt righteous getting arrested. But we received the same infantilizing coddling from the police. A senior officer told us to comply so that we could get that, “nice fine”. One of our number responded that we were willing to go to jail. Another officer asked me when the rest of them were coming as they expected more from us inside the Capitol Building. Our supposed ‘escalation’ hadn’t riled the crowd up and caused everyone to risk more. We didn’t even get charged with more than everybody outside. The week of protest was almost over and we hadn’t won. People heard about us but they didn’t come. We weren’t even taken seriously.
Nonviolent, civil dissidence is the way to win a struggle for justice, the numbers show it. I read Erica Chenoweth’s Why Civil Resistance Works and the arguments are fact-based and solid. Peaceful campaigns take a long time to win, but they don’t alienate people who aren’t willing to risk death or extended imprisonment. I can’t argue with the facts. I just wish I could. I still have the narrative of that dumb teenager who wants to fight for justice and the liberation of the human soul. Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables is still my favorite book. I still believe that the credible threat of violence is necessary to get oligarchs to negotiate with the rest of us in earnestness. And, honestly, I think that this belief might disqualify me from ever achieving my revolutionary status with Ernesto Guevara, Maximilien Robespierre, Toussaint Louverture, or Mahatma Gandhi. But I surely want to try. I just don’t know what the best course of action is from here.
So anyway, I want to stir you, the reader, into a revolutionary fervor. I want to use you and your potentialities as a vessel. I want you to use me as an ally and a vessel for social change. I want to live in a world in which nobody suffers malnourishment or drinks dirty water. I want a world where everybody can get all of the education they want. I’ve heard that happiness from wealth is based on your wealth being relative to your community. Fuck that. We should all have everything we need and you shouldn’t be deprived of your needs because it makes somebody with more than you happy.
I believe that it’s time for us all to decide whether we should fight for a better world, even if our near-term near-extinction is practically inevitable due to climate change run-amuck. I want our last decades to be of shared joy. I know that I want to fight, and I don’t want to take half-measures. The injustice put on the billions living in poverty because they were born in the wrong country has to end. America needs justice, but so does Haiti. So do the Congoes. So does the Phillipines, and so do Russia and China. Our revolution needs to be international, as I think the Nuit Debout organizers want. So… let’s build a common language of radical change. Let’s build an encyclopedia of wisdom from our predecessors. Let’s learn our enemy, strengths and weaknesses. And let’s plan for a lightning strike that will have changed the world for the better, for everyone, before anybody even hears the thunder.
1 I, as an Anti-Imperialist, will defend my appreciation for Che and his revolutions. Overthrowing a puppet-dictator responsible for tens-of-thousands of Cuban deaths and selling-out his nation stands on its merits.
2 The tactical use of violence in my opinion is to gather information on the top targets (billionaires, information specialists, politicians, power brokers) with power to redistribute resources and then show up at their houses by surprise with an overwhelming force one day with a guillotine and a contract and not leave until it’s signed or they’re headless.
3 Several years later I would be living in Mexico, teaching English, when the Occupy encampments sprung up. I was very disappointed to miss them.