Cancer or Cure? A disruptive hooligan’s solution to incarceration

This winter, a broad coalition of people disrupted the King County Council meeting where they voted to authorize funds to build the new Juvenile detention center.  In response, a judge and several media pundits accused the growing prison abolitionist movement of being a “cancer” in Seattle politics. They also called us “disruptive hooligans” and suggested we need to be repressed.  Here is an excellent response from our friend and comrade Bypolar the Toxic Cherub, an emcee and organizer who has experienced incarceration himself and who had dedicated his life to dismantling it.

Cancer or Cure? A disruptive hooligan’s solution to incarceration

As an abolitionist we here over and over again we need prisons, we need police, that there is no viable alternative, that its the nature of humanity. Which is a very kkkapitlist mindset, and extremely untrue, so, you ask what is the alternative? Well lets for this time focus on Seattle building a new $210 million Juvenile that incarcerates around 500 youth a year most of which are status offenses, not crimes. To break it down, that’s $420,000.00 a youth before any actual funding of meals, guards, schooling, lights, water, electricity, healthcare, etc. This to me seems like with an overall youth and adult detention budget of $128,000,000.00 yearly on top of that. We may be able to stop 90% of crime by economically reinforcing communities thus eliminating the need for incarceration. 

With the youth, for example, if we invested in the needs in the community like housing, self education, trauma support, drug dependency support, mentors, food, clothing, recreation and so on it would change our reality in an unrecognizable but very positive direction. Investing in transformative justice programs as they have been shown to be very successful. For example by opening community spaces based off filling the needs of the community not only does it drastically reduce crime by their very economics and socially supportive nature but if some one does for example sell drugs they can instead get paid to come in and do janitorial work 

at the center particularly around groups about chemical dependency, food programs that are frequented by ppl suffering from drug dependency, what this does is filling multiple needs of both the community and the individual, by doing so it makes some of the first steps to healing our community, creating connection on an intimate level with transparency to the rest of the community which dissuades destructive behavior but on the other hand alienation of things like juvie just served to traumatize youth thus creating a much greater likelihood of them manifesting there trauma more destructively then if we did nothing. Furthermore destroying community, removing there family members is not only destructive but economic terrorism. Making vulnerable communities even more vulnerable by removing their support networks. However supporting communities in building their own solution is imperative to ending crime and the prison industrial complex. Take Qilombo in Oakland(afrika town) for example. They feed, clothe, beautify, educate and treat the ills of their community. Which starts to change the nature of the area, without discarding the people who live, struggle and raise their children in Oakland. 

The only problem really is that the state does not want a solution they want a deterrent to dissent and community control. But mostly it wants profits, free/cheap labor that gets dedicated to moguls such as Bob Barker or institutions such as the U.S. military. If they abolished prisons would crime really shrink? The answer, is no, and its not because of their inherent nature of humanity but the nature of kkkapitalism. It will always chase profits, for example if we do abolish prisons as false concessions the state may try things like building boarding schools and halfway houses call it a viable alternative incarceration, where u function as prisoners and slaves visible to society as a act of social justice, perverse in its intent. Which will fallow models much like pioneer human services which is a “non profit” that not only provides housing but “career opportunities” which amounts to them employing you at the lowest price possible charge you the highest rate possible for rent so Ur left with just enough money just for food and transportation.

Now add a layer of, you cant leave the premises unless your working, they make the food and charge u for it then, pow not slavery or prison but community integration. Which is obviously the perversion of both housing and work with no actual community component. Not because it couldn’t exist but the reality is it was never about public safety or community and neither will any state controlled solution. Those will always be about profit. Because Amerikkka is kkkapitalist which inherently puts a price on all living things and commoditize them. You also become a resource that is used to best serve the empire as they see fit and so do Ur kids.

That form of thought and politics can never by its inherent nature prioritize human lives but is in necessity in oppression to most of life, human and non human, on the planet i.e. it would materially bankrupt the government to end prisons, or war. The people however would prosper abundantly from all these programs and the dismantling of these modern day dungeons, especially the ones for our children. We are not tied to this government, its interests or its success. If the government we live in is inventing the problems (inserting drugs in our communities, inventing crimes, controlling our food in conjunction with super corps etc.) the solution is to abolish the present system, to build the programs we need not the ones they want. Open spaces, instead of paying tax to the bad government use it on actual community needs, getting seed to grow food, learning co-ops where skill/knowledge shares are daily for youth and adults instead of the colonizers education system that prioritizes indoctrinated workers over educated independent thinkers. As well as things like community accountability, as well as learning our responsibility as a community member, be responsible to and for each other.

In conclusion the reason most ideas to abolish prisons seems unrealistic is because the system doesn’t allow for it considering its economic dependency on prison as a way of primitive accumulation originating from slavery. It takes us using resources to work for the benefit of people instead of seeing humans as a resource to be exploited, an ideological shift that say life matters that black poor lumpen lives matter. That safety is the importance not profits. That the youth we have so degraded and disregarded matters. That revolution and restoration is the only true answer. 

Please also check ou my new song about the juvie as well. #‎nonewjuvie‬

Bypolar the toxic ch

Posted in Guest Posts, Race, Strategy and Tactics, What's up in Seattle | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

On the origins of Anti-Asian racism and how we have fought back

Several years ago in 2007, some comrades and I started a publication called “Jalan: A journal of Asian Liberation.” We featured some writings about Asian and Asian American history and politics. The website has since been taken down and we are trying to save the articles. Found this one floating online.

This piece is relevant now as many of us are trying to examine the ways in which Black-Asian solidarity can be built in light of the jarring reality of white supremacy in the US. To do that effectively, many of us also need to confront the origins of anti-Asian racism in the US and how it has been tied to US military and imperialist endeavours abroad.

There are edits I would make to this piece, reading it 7 years later. The writings of Harsha Walia, Andrea Smith as well as decolonisation perspectives in the movements I have been involved in since then have shaped me in ways that have influenced by thinking. More updates later. Hope this is useful for now.

On the origins of anti-Asian racism and how we have fought back

by the Editors of JALAN Journal of Asian Liberation (2007)


In the United States, racist views of Asian-Americans are promiscuous and self-contradictory. On the one hand, we are told that we are model minorities, hard working citizens living out the classic American story of immigration and upward mobility. On the other hand, we are painted as perpetual foreigners, never quite American even after multiple generations of citizenship. On the one hand, we are supposed to be passive, docile, and submissive, while on the other hand, they fear we are the yellow peril, a rising, ruthless, and aggressive empire that will someday destroy the white race.

The fact that these stereotypes are so contradictory show their ludicrousness. Racists project their own fears, anxieties, desires, and aspirations onto us in order to suppress our self-government and make us into who they want us to be, even if what they want us to be makes no sense. But racist fears, anxieties, desires and aspirations are not simply the product of individual ill will; they are shaped by powerful institutions. For example the U.S. military reproduces stereotypes of Asians as an aggressive, brainwashed Mongolian horde in order to raise support for their base expansion projects aimed at containing Chinese military power. Without U.S. military interests in Asia, this stereotype could have died out but instead it is growing.

That’s why liberal strategies of “anti-racism” will not liberate us. Liberals encourage white people to question their stereotypes as part of confronting their “privilege.” They do not attempt to abolish the institutions like military bases that produce and reproduce these stereotypes to keep us subordinated. This editorial will examine the historic political, economic, and social origins of anti-Asian racism. Our goal is not to enlighten anyone’s consciousness but rather to expose the institutions that oppress us so we know who our enemies are and what we need to smash.

The big picture: Facing the double-barreled shotgun of colonialism and empire

In general, we can say that our enemies are the forces of white supremacy; any institutions and practices that have the effect of elevating white people over people of color (including Asians) by subordinating and suppressing our attempts to be self-governing.

In particular, there are two interlocking systems of white supremacy that shape the terrain of Asian American life and struggle. The first consists of the social relations formed by the colonial settlement of North America and the founding of the United States out of colonial settler states. It is the result of land stolen from American Indians and Chicano/as, the enslavement of Blacks, and the extreme exploitation of “free” Black, Indigenous, European, and Asian migrant labor. As a shorthand, we will call all of this “settlerism”.[1]

Settlerism has created a legacy of terror, violence, and racial hierarchy which Asian Americans have had to navigate. From the moment we arrived as workers in the Wild Wild West we found ourselves facing down the barrels of guns originally pointed at Blacks and American Indians. Later, we found ourselves victims of a Jim-Crow-style legal system. It is only more recently that we have been championed as the “model minority”, a supposed solution to the “problem” of militant Black resistance to 500 years of settler terror. The racist rationale that created such an identification for Asian Americans is further explored below, as well as in other articles.

The second system of white supremacy is related to settlerism but is more global. It consists of the social relations formed through the expansion of U.S. imperialism in Asia through military conquest (the colonization of the Philippines, the partition of Korea, the Vietnam War, etc.) and the domination of American multinational corporations, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Bank over Asian economies. U.S. Empire built off of earlier forms of European imperialism in Asia even as it modified them. Like them, it enforced the fiction of a white Western civilization reforming Asian barbarism.

The experience of Asian Americans has been shaped by the fact that those who rule over us here in the U.S. also subjugated the countries we or our families came from. The architects of U.S. Empire in Asia created a whole string of lies about Asians being backwards, ignorant, weak, and undemocratic in order to justify this subjugation. These lies have been applied to us as well, preventing us from assimilating and becoming white like the formerly non-white immigrant groups from Europe did.

In response many Asian Americans have chosen to be consistent and principled internationalists – we have known that our situation here will not improve unless people of color abroad defeat U.S. Empire. Others have bought into U.S. empire, claiming they are the “good” Asians, unlike those “bad” Asians over there who are prone to terrorism, fanaticism, Communism, or Islam. And of course US Empire has exported aspects of North American settlerist ideology to Asia, which is why so many of our aunties and uncles over there are scared of Black Americans even though they have never met any.

In order to understand Asian American struggles we need to keep both of these systems of white supremacy in our headlights. We can’t adopt the all-too-common view that race in America is a simple binary of white over Black. Social relations in the U.S. are deeply shaped by U.S. imperialism in Asia, our peoples’ resistance to it, and our own struggles here in North America. But at the same time, we can’t pretend we’re in a national liberation struggle somewhere in Asia where we are the “majority,” we are in the Western Hemisphere where our lives are forged in the Black-indigenous-white crucible and we need to seek our allies and define our enemies within this context.

To do so, we will consider the origins and contemporary manifestations of four forms of anti-Asian racism: the backwards worker myth, the perpetual foreigner myth, the model minority myth, and the myth of the yellow peril.

The Docile Worker Myth: Frustrated American Dreams turned deadly

The fundamental forms of anti-Asian racism emerged because of labor competition between Asian workers and white workers who viewed Asians as backwards and submissive.

To understand why this happened we need to look at a key moment in the formation of both settlerism and imperialism: the late 1800s and early 1900s, when Asian Americans first began to arrive in large numbers as miners, farmers, workers, and rebels. At this time the U.S. was going through the industrial revolution, unleashing forces of capitalist accumulation with a voracious appetite for land, resources, and labor. To fulfill this appetite, soldiers and settlers were moving westward looting and plundering American Indian and Chicano lands at a breakneck pace. The wealth they wrenched from their genocidal drive to the Pacific was delivered, dripping in blood, as the down-payment for the new factories, plants, and shipyards that formed the bedrock of emerging U.S. imperial power in Latin America and Asia.

All of this involved mobilizing and exploiting human labor at an unprecedented scale. American settlerist mythology describes the conquest of the West as a something led by individualistic small property owners, “farmers, cowboys, merchants, prospectors, etc.,“ who supposedly represent the soul of American democracy. But digging goldmines, boring through mountains to build transcontinental railroads, and similar enterprises required a level of organization that rugged individualists alone could not accomplish and capital that only large corporations and the federal government could provide. Soon enough big companies shunted aside the pioneers and hired mass gangs of workers at the lowest wages they could possibly impose. This was the birth day of the America we know today, where our dreams are of cowboy glory and our day jobs are full of monotonous toil under the watch of bureaucrats.

The corporations were looking for workers who could be compelled to accept slave-like wages and conditions without revolt. They turned to two sources. The first consisted of European immigrant workers from the east coast who had found themselves thrown into unemployment and poverty through economic crisis. The second consisted of former Asian farmers dislocated by the European and U.S. imperialism that was ravaging their homes (e.g. the Opium War and the genocidal Philippine-American war). But neither of these groups proved to be a well-disciplined or docile workforce, and it turned out that the only way to neutralize them was to pit the former against the latter.

The European immigrants were lured west with dreams of becoming self-made men- owning property and eventually becoming capitalists. Their dream was a mirage; they were sorely disappointed and were seething with anger. Those who had established small businesses were getting out-competed by the big corporations. And new unskilled workers who arrived from east coast slums found dangerous, low paying jobs their only option.

White supremacist politicians, craft union bureaucrats, businessmen, and many white skilled workers joined together to make Asian workers scapegoats for these frustrations; the Chinese community, which was the largest Asian ethnic group at the time, became their primary victim. They deflected the anger of small proprietors away from the big corporations and against their Chinese workers, arguing that the corporations’ reliance on cheap Chinese labor gave them an unfair advantage over smaller businesses. They also claimed that “civilized” white Americans should not have to compete in a labor market with “backwards” and “weak” “Orientals.” This allowed the skilled white workers and their craft unions to deflect the demands of unskilled European laborers for training and entry into the trades. The unskilled workers were told Chinese immigrants, not the corrupt and elitist craft unions and bosses were to blame for their plight. All of this allowed expanding US capitalism to solidify control over the workforce, neutralizing potential trouble from the unskilled white workers by co-opting them into white supremacy and neutralizing the Chinese workers by subjecting them to vigilante terror.

These anti-Chinese campaigns were a key moment in the construction of that bloody line between white and nonwhite in America. Part of the logic of settlerism was the deputization of rank and file white workers into a vigilante force that could aid the state in dispossessing and murdering American Indians and Chicanos. This logic was extended against Asians as bands of armed vigilantes attacked Chinese folks and drove them out of gold mines, orchards, and small towns across the West. Between 1850 and 1906, Chinatowns burned to the ground and thousands of Chinese were killed, forced into prostitution, or marched to railroad cars and driven out, sometimes along the very tracks they and built. It was a campaign of wholesale ethnic cleansing.

Eventually, this vigilante force was legalized in the form of a whole complex of Jim-crow-style legislation that forbade Asians from owning land, testifying against white men in court and attending public schools, etc. It all culminated in the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act which attempted to prevent any further Chinese immigration.

Early Filipino-Americans faced similar conditions. For example, there were anti-Filipino riots against Filipinos in Yakima and Wenatchee valleys in Washington, and Filipinos were driven out of Yakima in 1928. Japanese Americans also faced segregation from public schools and were attacked by racist mobs in San Francisco in 1907.

The ideologues leading these campaigns justified them by describing Asian workers as docile, dirty, backwards, and undemocratic. They were painted as conformist, traditional people unfit for a world of hearty American pioneer individualism. Many of these stereotypes remain today. (Of course, in cases where they had managed to set up their own businesses or farms, the script was flipped and Asians were portrayed as uppity, cunning devils who must have some trick up their sleeve).

In reality, the white workers were just as dirty, poor and miserable as Asian American workers, but they were bamboozled into hugging the chains of their own wretchedness rather than fighting back against their real enemies. They were the ones who succumbed to the manipulations of anti-democratic ideologues and if anyone was swept mindlessly into mob conformity it was them. They were tricked into siding with their bosses and decadent, conservative craft unions rather than joining with Asian workers who could have been their natural allies in building a more democratic America.

Of course, this is not to say that all classes of Asian Americans were automatically democratic. Emerging elites in Asian American communities also exploited our peoples ruthlessly. For example, Chinese workers were oppressed by powerful businessmen and labor brokers such as the Chinese Six Companies on the West Coast. These cartels collaborated with white supremacists to deliver coolie workers under slave-like conditions to American corporations. They worked with other Chinese elites that controlled political dissent in Chinese communities and maintained highly patriarchal and semi-feudal patronage networks backed up by thugs.

But despite these restraints, Asian American workers proved themselves to be anything but backwards and naturally slavish. They lived the classic American experience of being thrown into a rootless, violent new context and improvising strategies of survival and resistance. During the anti-Chinese pogroms, Chinese Americans organized boycotts, lawsuits, popular militias for armed self-defense, appeals to China for arms, and mass civil disobedience against attempts to get them to wear photo ID cards.

At times, Asian American workers found solidarity with Euro-American, Chicano, Black, and Native American workers in the IWW, a radical union that fought the bosses and the racist and corrupt American Federation of Labor. Japanese workers organized alongside Mexican workers in Oxnard CA, and Japanese-led labor organizing and strikes on Hawaiian sugar plantations attempted to break down the divide-and conquer management system that allocated wages based on ethnicity to create resentment between different Asian groups. Pioneering Filippino activists such as Philip Vera Cruz and Carlos Bulosan also organized alongside Arab and Latino farm workers to create the strong United Farmworkers Union in the 1960s. Enduring much physical and economic duress, the farmworkers managed to go on strike and organized a four-year long grape boycott to push for higher wages and better working conditions.

These moments of resistance are often overlooked chapters in the struggle for democracy and anti-racism in the U.S. They offer important lessons for us today where the American dream is once again dissolving into unemployment, economic crisis, dislocation, and faceless bureaucracy. Once again, right-wing populist/ white supremacist politicians and militias are emerging to blame all of this on immigrant workers. Latinos are the primary targets for now, and for reasons we explain below Asian Americans could also be targeted in the future. We can look to this early Asian American resistance for insight into how we can fight back today.

The Perpetual Foreigner Myth

Despite these heroic struggles, Asian American workers and principled multiracial labor organizations were numerically outnumbered. Eventually, Asian Americans were barred from many industries and forced to live in ghettoes (Chinatowns, Manillatowns, little Tokoyos etc). Although Asian Americans used these communities to build networks of mutual aid and protection from white supremacy, this ghettoization limited their ability to impact broader American politics through multiracial labor struggles and cultural production.

This is partly the material basis for the myth that Asian Americans are perpetual foreigners. Having ethnically cleansed and concentrated Asian American populations, white supremacists turned around and argued that Asians liked to keep to themselves, that we are just visitors or squatters here who are loyal to our homelands and not to America. They see our cultures as strange and exotic, fundamentally incompatible with American democracy.

This perpetual foreigner myth was reinforced by the machinery of U.S. Empire, which was expanding into Asia. To justify its conquests, the imperialists argued that Asians had an exotic, decadent, and outdated civilization that needed to be supplanted by Western modernity. Rudyard Kipling’s notorious poem the “White Man’s Burden” was about this conquest, and it described Filipinos as ungrateful heathens, “half devil, half child.” He is only one of many examples. These views of Asians as an exotic and backwards civilization were applied to Asian Americans as well, and our ongoing segregation has been justified over and over again with the excuse that we will never be able to participate fully in American civic life.

The perpetual foreigner myth reached a crescendo during World War II when the U.S. government portrayed the entire Japanese-American community as a ticking suicide bomb ready to go off in support of Japan. They rounded up thousands of Japanese families and put them in concentration camps. The perpetual foreigner myth is still alive today as neoconservative pundits portray South and Southeast Asian- American Muslims as a fifth column ready to pollute America with Jihadi terror, vampirish patriarchy, and religious fanaticism. Of course, some Asian Americans buy into this malicious propaganda by arguing that those other Asians, not us good suck ups, are the real, perpetual enemy aliens. The notorious Michelle Malkin who wrote the book, “In Defense of Internment: The case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror” is one such example.

This perpetual foreigner myth is gendered: white supremacist efforts to define Asians as strange and exotic are often fought over the bodies of Asian women. Before the Western colonists arrived, Asian societies had a wide diversity of gendered institutions from the rigid patriarchy of imperial Chinese Confucianism to the relatively matriarchal norms of Southeast Asia and southern India. Yet everywhere they went, these colonists set out to create reflections of their own patriarchal societies. In Burma, British colonialists found themselves interacting with powerful women leaders. They argued that the equality or even dominance women enjoyed there was a mark of Burmese society’s barbarism. They eagerly tried to “civilize” these “exotic” women by training Burmese men to dominate them.

Ironically, in the 20th century the imperialists flipped their script. Now they like to portray Asian societies as strange and backwards because of their supposedly more “traditional” patriarchy. We are constantly exposed to images of veiled Pakistani or Afghani women and the neoconservatives would have us believe that the war on terror is being fought to liberate these women from the grips of Islamic repression. What they never mention is that the U.S. has often supported the most patriarchal despots in Asia from Park Chung Hee in Korea to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan.

While the US military is busy “liberating” Asian women, its soldiers and sailors stationed at the military bases in Asia sometimes rape local women and get away with it under Status of Forces agreements reminiscent of colonial concessions. Prostitution, sex tourism, and human trafficking rings from Thailand to the Philippines have sprung up to provide “rest and relaxation” to US soldiers and tropical getaways for US businessmen. Associated advertising and pornography outfits turn this material reality into the myth of the hyper-sexual exotic Asian woman.

While some white supremacists claim they are coming to Asia to liberate its women, others appeal to the patriarchy of American capitalism and attempt to pimp out Asian women as supposedly traditional, docile, unliberated peasants who will make good sweatshop workers, mail order brides, and prostitutes. This logic has helped build an Asian underclass inside the U.S. When these women resist and sabotage their bosses’ efforts they are subjected to assault or are detained and deported.

The model minority myth

Today this underclass is rendered invisible and this history of Asian American working class resistance is suppressed. Both inside and outside our communities, Asian Americans are now portrayed as middle class, upwardly mobile, hard working techies. Our classmates assume we are naturally smart and politicians assume we are naturally conservative.

These new stereotypes also have a dark history behind them. In 1965, the US was facing pressures from the civil rights movement at home and the cold war abroad. In an attempt to improve its poor image as the world’s greatest racist, the U.S. government relaxed some of it’s explicitly race-based immigration laws and began to allow more Asian immigrants to come over.

Unlike at the turn of the century when they needed cheap workers, in the 60s the U.S. capitalists faced a crisis of overproduction and unemployment due to massive automation of U.S. factories. However they did have a large demand for trained technicians, scientists, and engineers who could help run and update this automated machinery, and they were competing with the USSR for scientific talent to promote military supremacy. Given this context, the 1965 immigration act only allowed in the educated, skilled Asians and continued to bar unskilled Asian workers. This also contributed to a brain drain in Asian countries that now lost the skilled doctors and scientists who had received state subsidized training for their capabilities.

This arrangement proved useful to the ideologues of white supremacy. They began to argue that Asians were a “model minority” because they had supposedly pulled themselves up by their bootstraps through education and hard work. The disproportionate number of Asian technicians and professionals who had arrived at the US through the state’s capitalist immigration policies, was ahistorically attributed to Asian values of hard work and family. The implication here is that other minorities are problem minorities; that Latinos and especially Blacks remain poor because of their supposedly inferior culture, laziness, or lack of intelligence, and not 500 years of settlerism, slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination. At a time when the Black Power movement was shaking up American society and galvanizing young working class Asian Americans to side with Blacks in the struggle against white supremacy, this emerging model minority myth was deployed to divide Asians from Blacks and delegitimize the Black revolt.

The model minority myth is destructive not only because it sets us against other people of color but also because it erases our own legacies of working class struggle. By presenting Asian Americans as inherently middle class it obscures the key histories outlined above, denying us democratic and anti-racist sheroes and organizational precedents from our own communities. It also renders invisible the significant and growing Asian American working class today. From undocumented Chinese and Filipino workers to Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Laotian refugees from the terror of the US war in their homelands, this myth leaves out some of the most important and dynamic Asian American communities- the very folks who are a waging key struggles today against police brutality, homeland security raids, and deportation orders.

The model minority myth could not have lasted if it were simply a white racist fantasy propagated by media portrayals of Asians. It was solidified because upwardly mobile middle class leaders in some of our own communities have bought into it. As soon as possible they moved out of the ghetto and into the suburbs and they tried to train their kids to fear and pity other people of color. Many of our parents continue to buy into this myth because in their eyes it jives with some of their own chauvinistic thinking about essential “Asian” values of hard work and family discipline (expressed through very American and very capitalist reinterpretation of Confucianism, Hinduism, etc.). For them being the model minority also means maintaining patriarchy, regulating their kids’ sexuality, and keeping them away from the more dynamic (and less white!) aspects of American culture such as hip hop. It is the task of our generation to break this middle-class stronghold that has dominated Asian Americans today.

In this sense, our struggles against the model minority myth today are not just struggles against the white supremacist media and immigration systems; they are also struggles for women’s’ liberation, workers’ self management, sexual and gender freedom, and antiracism in our own communities. As more Asian workers begin to immigrate and as our generation of young Asian Americans begin to identify more with other people of color, the model minority myth could be shaken up.

The international dimensions of the model minority myth follow the same pattern, and exacerbates its harm. U.S. Empire has propped up the Asian Tigers (South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan) as models for other people of color nations to follow. And yet these supposed capitalist success stories have faced restless working classes and democratic challenges to their authoritarian governments. South Korean workers and farmers militantly confronting the cops at anti-globalization demonstrations should be enough to shatter the myth of Asian docility and conservativism.

The Myth of the Yellow Peril

All of the myths discussed so far are built on the assumption that Asian countries will remain subordinated to U.S. Empire. Even the Asian tigers are junior partners. But the prospect of a growing Chinese empire emerging as a direct rival to U.S. imperialism could significantly shake up the relationship between Asian Americans and other Americans.

The rise of the Japanese Empire in the early 20th century gives us a precedent for understanding what might happen. At first the American ruling class saw the Japanese Empire as a benign, progressive force that could help modernize the rest of Asia and Japanese Americans were thus seen in a positive light. But eventually, Japan began to approach parity with the U.S. and the two empires began to compete for territory and resources. At that point, the script was flipped and the Japanese were portrayed as ruthless, cunning, diabolical aliens threatening to swarm across the world and exterminate the white race. The propaganda of both the Japanese and the U.S. armies turned the Pacific front into a race war. In the U.S., this gave rise to the stereotypes of the “yellow peril” literature and films.

Today, while most American elites are content to cash in on cooperation with China’s dynamic capitalists, some factions of the U.S. ruling class are beginning to promote a vision of China as the new yellow peril. They recognize that China holds trillions of U.S. dollars in its state bank and are startled by Chinese government efforts to wean its economy off of production for the U.S. consumer market. They describe the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony as a strange pageant of Asian conformism, as an unleashing of the collective power of docile Asian workers who will bow to a rising new Emperor, a new Oriental Despot. There is renewed talk about the threat that Chinese people supposedly pose to Western values.

What effect all of this will have on Asian Americans is yet to be seen. Many of us, regardless of ethnicity, are mistaken for Chinese by white folks who can’t tell the difference between us. If the U.S. and China begin a protracted inter-imperialist rivalry over energy, military, or financial supremacy, this could re-awaken some of the old anti-Asian elements of U.S. nationalism. The model minority myth could dissolve and more direct and vicious forms of white supremacy could re-emerge. Faced with angry American workers who have lost their jobs due to corporate looting, politicians may try to divert this anger against Chinese workers abroad and Asian American workers here, claiming we are “stealing” American jobs. This could lead to new attacks against Asian Americans reminiscent of the killing of Vincent Chin who was beaten to death in 1982 by Detroit auto workers angry at Japanese competition. Although unlikely in the near future, outright war with China could lead to social chaos in both countries and the possibility of new internment camps. We shouldn’t be alarmist but it is crucial that Asian Americans begin organizing now to prevent these potential catastrophes. We are in a good position to make links between American workers and Asian workers abroad, articulating our common interests and challenging the claims of both Chinese and American elites to speak for our peoples.


As we have seen, anti-Asian racism is not simply the product of individual ill will. The docile worker myth, the perpetual foreigner myth, the model minority myth, and the myth of the yellow peril all have to do with deep-rooted contradictions in American society. If we want to break free of these oppressive myths then we need to confront these contradictions head on, in solidarity with other people in America and with folks struggling against U.S. empire abroad.

[1] The Asian American activist, J. Sakai, has used the concept of “settlerism” to explain the structure of white supremacy and capitalism in the U.S. Sakai argues that most white “workers” have been bought off by the privileges they received from white supremacy and therefore are not part of the working class. While we agree that the U.S. is a product of a colonial settlement process, we recognize that in history some white workers have rejected these privileges and sided with workers of color against white supremacy and capitalism. We believe that such breakthroughs are happening in lower frequencies today and can take form in larger scales.

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What is Christmas for Mike Brown’s Family?

10604516_10100592643359761_8992361461554679495_oThe past few weeks, friends and I have been in the streets of Seattle, participating in the #Black Lives Matter/ Ferguson solidarity protests.  I wrote a reflection on the Black Friday actions that disrupted commerce in downtown Seattle, shutting down the Westlake Mall Christmas tree lighting ceremony.  My aim is to amplify the question we all chanted together: “What is Christmas for Mike Brown’s Family?”

The piece is posted on the Aroma of the World blog, which I started this summer.  That blog is a forum for revolutionary spirituality, poetry, and analyses of religion in society; it’s a reflection of the organizing some of us have been doing to open up space for  spirituality, collective care, and healing within Seattle’s growing radical movements.  As I testify in the peice,  “It is that kind of love that protestors of various backgrounds showed toward each other when folks de-arrested people and cared for each other after being pepper sprayed by the cops. One friend even called those moments a ‘baptism’. This is how strangers become accomplices in the struggle for freedom. It is an ancient and dangerous alchemy, an ancestral knowledge that is drowned out by the spectacle of American civil religion.”

Although the Black Orchid Collective is no longer an organization, I know folks still read this site, so I’m cross-posting the piece here to help spread it around.  The mayor, the cops, and the corporate media are spreading propaganda about the Black Friday action, falsely claiming it was done by white outside agitators, and that we attacked kids in order to ruin Christmas.  They are using these lies to justify brutal repression of demonstrations, such as the 7 arrests at this Saturday’s dynamic snake march through downtown.   If you find this piece to be helpful, please spread it widely; help us push back against the corporate media narrative and the pigs who use it as an excuse to attack this growing freedom movement.

See you all in the streets!

– Mamos

What is Christmas for Mike Brown’s Family? 

Black Friday in downtown Seattle was like a scene out of the Hunger Games.

The urban landscape glistened with spectacles of holiday cheer, corny Christmas music, and advertisements. Like the Capitol in the movies, the city core is designed to pacify people, to entertain us so we can forget about the suffering and rebellion happening all over the world.

Downtown Seattle is one of several real life Capitols, controlling nodes in the network of global capitalism. It is the heart of the Empire, a glittering, hyper-surveiled metropolis designed by and for the world’s wealthiest people – the owners and executives of Microsoft, Amazon, Nordstroms’, Starbucks, and other corporations headquartered here. This is the spot where these capitalists make their plans to turn entire regions of the world into mining districts, factory districts, and deindustrialized zones of unemployment and mass incarceration such as Ferguson and Detroit. These various zones are color-coded by race and are controlled by police.

Every year, the Seattle ruling classes put on a spectacle at Westlake Park, allowing the masses to congregate on Black Friday to vicariously inhale the aroma of wealth and splendor, spending our money at the mall while we’re at it.

This is a ritual, part of America’s civil religion. Money is God, and this is how we are supposed to worship it.

Like opiates, these rituals bury our anxieties about global warming, racism, and our declining living standards. Bands play, children sing, fireworks cascade down the side of Nordstroms, credit cards swipe, and a giant Christmas tree lights up.

Only this year, the tree was surrounded by Seattle cops, posing grim- faced like little toy soldiers.

They were there because Ferguson, Missouri is in flames, and Seattle is starting to get restless too. After the grand jury refused to indict white officer Darren Wilson for the murder of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown, riots and protests erupted across the country, including here.

On Black Friday, people of various cultures and nationalities travelled from their color-coded zones across King County, converging on Westlake Mall.

Young Black folks from the zones of oppression were on the megaphones, bringing people together and advancing strategies of disruption. This rowdy crowd occupied two malls. Several workers, whose labor keeps the Holiday spectacle running, walked off their jobs to join the crowd, with their uniforms still on.

The crowd stormed the transit tunnel, which police proceeded to shut down. We also picketed nearby Capitol Hill businesses that support racial profiling of East African youth.

Police made several brutal arrests and deployed pepper spray and flash bang grenades, attempting to stop the crowd from returning to Westlake mall for the evening tree lighting ceremony.

After hours of marching and evading police violence, a remnant of the crowd got back to the mall, occupying the space between the tree and the balcony where the ceremony was being held.

With fists in the air pointing up at the bourgeois spectacle on the balcony above, we chanted “Black Lives Matter” and “What is Christmas for Mike Brown’s family?” Eventually protestors stormed the balcony stage, causing the high priest of the ceremony to give up and end it early.

To read the rest of the article, click here.

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Alienation and Death: The poetry and brief life of Foxconn worker Xu Lizhi

This was the weekend of Dia De Los Muertos and of All Souls Day. I missed the events at the Northwest Detention Center commemorating the deaths of millions of displaced immigrants who risk, and sometimes lose their lives crossing the US-Mexico border. I was stuck at work, where as a nurse, I try to care (within the limitations of this role) for patients encountering death and illness. “Trauma season” is over, we say at work, and it is the period for different kinds of mishaps to be dominant — Tuberculosis, pneumonia, flu and the like. Even illnesses claim their monopolies.

And in the cold, bland Foxconn factories in Shenzhen, China, suicide claims its territory over this subcontractor of Apple products. In 2010 alone, 18 workers — migrant and youthful — attempted suicide. 14 people died. In subsequent years, Foxconn’s attempt to reduce these shameful statistics was to install nets on the dormitory buildings, literally thwarting suicides mid stream.

24 year old Xu Lizhi is only the latest casualty of Foxconn’s working conditions. It is clear through his writings and the obituary that his death was caused by the alienation, drudgery and meaninglessness of factory life. Time structured by pay slips, overtime, exhaustion erase meaning and passion from a much desired youthfulness. His death is timed with the new release of the iPhone 6. We can only speculate on the coincidence.

These translations of Xu Lizhi’s poetry are a commemoration to the lives, struggles and resistance of Foxconn workers.  Those of us who have translated his poems are honored to have this opportunity, as tragic as the circumstances are.

Thanks to Nao project for initially putting up our translations here


The Poetry and Brief Life of Xu Lizhi




Translators’ note: Below are translations by friends of the Nao project, starting with Xu’s departing poem and an obituary, followed by other poems from 2011 to 2014. By translating these poems, we aim to memorialize Xu, share some of his excellent literary work, and spread awareness that the harsh conditions, struggles and aspirations of Chinese migrant workers (including but not limited to Foxconn) have not diminished since the more widely-publicized spate of 18 attempted Foxconn suicides in 2010, resulting in 14 deaths. Insiders report that thereafter, although the frequency of suicides decreased (mainly due to Foxconn’s installation of nets making it more difficult for workers to jump from their dormitories, along with the development of workers’ collective resistance), such suicides have continued to the present. Including Xu Lizhi, at least 8 cases have been reported in the media since 2010, but insiders say that many other cases go unreported. We hope that in the future, workers in Foxconn and elsewhere manage to find ways around such companies’ military-style discipline and surveillance, come together, and forge collective paths out of this capitalist world of death, into a world worth living in. Don’t give up!

Feel free to repost these translations on not-for-profit websites, but please acknowledge that these were first translated and published here on the Nao blog.

Several of these poems were included in the Shenzhen Evening News article linked and translated below; the others are widely available on the web, such as this post on Douban.

Obituary + “On My Deathbed” (2014)
“Conflict” (2013)
“I Fall Asleep, Just Standing Like That” (2011)
“A Screw Fell to the Ground (2014)
“A Kind of Prophecy” (2013)
“The Last Graveyard” (2011)
“My Life’s Journey is Far From Complete” (2014)
“I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron” (2013)
“Rented Room” (2013)
“Upon Hearing the News of Xu Lizhi’s Suicide” by Zhou Qizao, a fellow worker at Foxconn (2014)

Obituary from Shenzhen Evening News, including Xu’s departing poem
by Li Fei and Zhang Xiaoqi
10 October, 2014

“On My Deathbed”

I want to take another look at the ocean, behold the vastness of tears from half a lifetime

I want to climb another mountain, try to call back the soul that I’ve lost

I want to touch the sky, feel that blueness so light

But I can’t do any of this, so I’m leaving this world

Everyone who’s heard of me

Shouldn’t be surprised at my leaving

Even less should you sigh or grieve

I was fine when I came, and fine when I left.

— Xu Lizhi, 30 September 2014

Shy, quiet, introverted, solitary

In 2010, Xu Lizhi went [from his home in rural Jieyang, Guangdong] to work at [a] Foxconn [electronics factory in Shenzhen], beginning life on the assembly line. From 2012 until February of this year [2014], over 30 of his writings were published in Foxconn’s internal newspaper Foxconn People (富士康人), including poems, essays, film reviews, and news commentaries {…} Xu posted the titles of these writings on his blog in a post called “The Maturation Given to Me by a Newspaper,” indicating his gratitude for this platform for his literary aspirations. The first time his friend Zheng (pseudonym) read Xu’s poetry, he was astonished to discover that this young man could be so talented. Henceforth, Zheng always looked for Xu’s writings in the newspaper.

Zheng’s impression was that Xu was a shy boy, “of few words, but not silent.” “Xu asserted his convictions, but he seemed quite solitary – very much the air of a poet.” When Zheng heard of Xu’s suicide, his entire [week-long] break for [China’s] National Day was shrouded in grief. He could not go outside for days.

Turning feelings into poems; fearing they be read by family

Most of Xu’s early poems were descriptions of life on the assembly line. In “Workshop, My Youth Was Stranded Here,” he described his conditions at the time: “Beside the assembly line, tens of thousands of workers [dagongzhe]1 line up like words on a page/ ‘Faster, hurry up!’/ Standing among them, I hear the supervisor bark.” He felt that “Once you’ve entered the workshop/ The only choice is submission,” and that his youth was coldly slipping away, so he could only “Watch it being ground away day and night/ Pressed, polished, molded/ Into a few measly bills, so-called wages.”

At first Xu Lizhi found it difficult to adapt to the constant switching between dayshifts and nightshifts. In another poem, he described himself by the assembly line “standing straight like iron, hands like flight,” “How many days, how many nights/ Did I – just like that – standing, fall asleep?” He described his working life as exhausting, “Flowing through my veins, finally reaching the tip of my pen/ Taking root in the paper/ These words can be read only by the hearts of migrant workers.”

Xu once said that he never showed his poetry to his parents or other relatives, “because it’s something painful; I don’t want them to see that.”

Failed efforts to get a job related to books

Although Xu lived in Shenzhen for only a few years, he identified deeply with the city. “Everyone wishes they could put down roots in the city,” he explained, but most migrant-worker [dagong] poets write for a few years and then return to the countryside, get married and have children; Xu hoped to avoid that fate. He tried setting up a street stall with a friend, but failed. He also tried transferring from the assembly line to a logistics position, where he would have more freedom. He understood that very few such poets could get out [走出来]: “[we] have to constantly fight for our lives [为生活奔波]; it’s hard to go any further than that.”

In February of this year, Xu quit his job at Foxconn and moved to Suzhou, Jiangsu. His friend explained that Xu’s girlfriend worked there, but apparently things did not go well for Xu in Jiangsu. He told Zheng that he had trouble finding a job, but he did not go into detail about what happened there.

Half a year later, he moved back to Shenzhen. In an earlier interview, Xu had said that he loved this city, that he derived great pleasure from its Central Book Mall and public libraries. If he were to return home [to rural Jieyang], there were only a few small bookstores, and “even if I tried to order books online, they couldn’t be delivered” [to his remote address].

Due to his love of books, the first job application he submitted upon his return to Shenzhen in early September was to the Central Book Mall. Zheng recalled that Xu had told him, while working at Foxconn, that his dream was to become a librarian. Unfortunately, he did not get the job, and Zheng thinks this was a major disappointment. Two years earlier, Xu had applied for a position as librarian at Foxconn’s internal library for employees, in response to a call for applications, and Xu had been turned down then as well. {…}

Returning to the workshop for one day prior to the incident

Xu was running out of money, so after these disappointments, he returned to Foxconn, beginning work on September 29, in the same workshop where he had worked before. This should have been a new beginning, but it was not. That evening he mentioned to Zheng via online chat that someone had found him another job, so he might leave Foxconn again, but Zheng did not consider this anything special, figuring that Xu would not leave very soon, having just resumed work at Foxconn.

The next Zheng heard of Xu was two days later, when people forwarded the news of Xu’s suicide on WeChat. Zheng could not believe it: “Hadn’t we just chatted two nights ago?” Later Zheng learned that Xu had committed suicide only the morning after they had chatted, not two days later as the media had reported.

Refuting online rumors that Xu was an orphan

[Although it has been 10 days since Xu’s death,] when it is mentioned, Zheng still cannot bear the grief. He thinks that Xu’s suicide resulted from both internal and external factors: not only the disappointments he had undergone, but even more so the solitary poetic spirit in his bones.2

After Xu’s passing, some online obituaries claimed that as a young child he had been orphaned, neglected and insulted until a poor old women adopted and raised him, and that this foster-grandmother had died a few years ago, leaving Xu alone in the world.

Zheng [refuted these rumors, pointing out that] Xu’s writings often mentioned his mother and homesickness. His second poem published in Foxconn People [for example], was called “Summertime Homesickness.”

Xu’s poetry is cold and pensive, directly facing a life of misery. His poems trace a trajectory in which the scent of death becomes more and more pronounced. He had already rehearsed death hundreds of times in his writing, so the final act was merely a small step over the edge.

Selected Poems by Xu Lizhi


They all say

I’m a child of few words

This I don’t deny

But actually

Whether I speak or not

With this society I’ll still


— 7 June 2013

“I Fall Asleep, Just Standing Like That”

The paper before my eyes fades yellow

With a steel pen I chisel on it uneven black

Full of working words

Workshop, assembly line, machine, work card, overtime, wages…

They’ve trained me to become docile

Don’t know how to shout or rebel

How to complain or denounce

Only how to silently suffer exhaustion

When I first set foot in this place

I hoped only for that grey pay slip on the tenth of each month

To grant me some belated solace

For this I had to grind away my corners, grind away my words

Refuse to skip work, refuse sick leave, refuse leave for private reasons

Refuse to be late, refuse to leave early

By the assembly line I stood straight like iron, hands like flight,

How many days, how many nights

Did I – just like that – standing fall asleep?

— 20 August 2011

“A Screw Fell to the Ground”

A screw fell to the ground

In this dark night of overtime

Plunging vertically, lightly clinking

It won’t attract anyone’s attention

Just like last time

On a night like this

When someone plunged to the ground

— 9 January 2014

“A Kind of Prophecy”

Village elders say

I resemble my grandfather in his youth

I didn’t recognize it

But listening to them time and again

Won me over

My grandfather and I share

Facial expressions

Temperaments, hobbies

Almost as if we came from the same womb

They nicknamed him “bamboo pole”

And me, “clothes hanger”

He often swallowed his feelings

I’m often obsequious

He liked guessing riddles

I like premonitions

In the autumn of 1943, the Japanese devils invaded

and burned my grandfather alive

at the age of 23.

This year i turn 23.

— 18 June 2013

“The Last Graveyard”

Even the machine is nodding off

Sealed workshops store diseased iron

Wages concealed behind curtains

Like the love that young workers bury at the bottom of their hearts

With no time for expression, emotion crumbles into dust

They have stomachs forged of iron

Full of thick acid, sulfuric and nitric

Industry captures their tears before they have the chance to fall

Time flows by, their heads lost in fog

Output weighs down their age, pain works overtime day and night

In their lives, dizziness before their time is latent

The jig forces the skin to peel

And while it’s at it, plates on a layer of aluminum alloy

Some still endure, while others are taken by illness

I am dozing between them, guarding

The last graveyard of our youth.

— 21 December 2011

“My Life’s Journey is Still Far from Complete”

This is something no one expected

My life’s journey

Is far from over

But now it’s stalled at the halfway mark

It’s not as if similar difficulties

Didn’t exist before

But they didn’t come

As suddenly

As ferociously

Repeatedly struggle

But all is futile

I want to stand up more than anyone else

But my legs won’t cooperate

My stomach won’t cooperate

All the bones of my body won’t cooperate

I can only lie flat

In this darkness, sending out

A silent distress signal, again and again

Only to hear, again and again

The echo of desperation.

— 13 July 2014

“I Swallowed a Moon Made of Iron”

I swallowed a moon made of iron

They refer to it as a nail

I swallowed this industrial sewage, these unemployment documents

Youth stooped at machines die before their time

I swallowed the hustle and the destitution

Swallowed pedestrian bridges, life covered in rust

I can’t swallow any more

All that I’ve swallowed is now gushing out of my throat

Unfurling on the land of my ancestors

Into a disgraceful poem.

— 19 December 2013

“Rented Room”

A space of ten square meters

Cramped and damp, no sunlight all year

Here I eat, sleep, shit, and think

Cough, get headaches, grow old, get sick but still fail to die

Under the dull yellow light again I stare blankly, chuckling like an idiot

I pace back and forth, singing softly, reading, writing poems

Every time I open the window or the wicker gate

I seem like a dead man

Slowly pushing open the lid of a coffin.

— 2 December 2013

Translators’ notes:

1. From the 1990s through the 2000s, dagongzhe referred mainly to migrant wage-laborers from rural areas, often working in precarious employment positions, as opposed to urbanites working in stable positions (usually in state-owned enterprises), who were called gongren, the socialist-era term for urban “workers” with permanent positions in state-owned and collective enterprises. In the past few years, however, these two terms have become somewhat interchangeable (perhaps reflecting the convergence of conditions among different types of workers), so here we translate dagongzhe simply as “workers.” (Below we add “migrant” in a few cases where it seems necessary for clarification; in general, the term reflects the ambiguity of migrant workers’ status in China today – as workers differentiated from other workers, as neither urbanites nor peasants – somewhat like the ambiguous status of international migrant workers in other countries, such as people from rural Mexico working in the US.) For discussions of these two terms as used in the 2000s, see “China’s Migrant Workers” by Prol-position, and the introduction to Made in China by Pun Ngai (Duke University Press, 2005).

2. We at Nao would like to point out that this explanation neglects the profound hatred of life on the assembly line reflected so clearly in many of Xu’s poems quoted above and translated below, coupled with his desperation after repeatedly failing to find a more satisfactory way out of that life, including the possibility of returning home to the empty, poor village where he would be cut off from access to books – his main source of pleasure and meaning in life (along with – presumably – the possibility of being together with his girlfriend or getting married, which would require more money than Xu would have been able to make in the countryside). This account also fails to explain why so many other workers – at Foxconn and elsewhere – have chosen to commit suicide – even those who were not poets.



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走在同一條爭取自由解放的路上 西雅圖戰友寫給香港戰友的信

多謝凱雄, JZ, Catta 與 Phyllis 幫忙翻譯。(英文版)




我們是幾名「佔領華爾街(Occupy Wall Street)」和「反殖/佔領西雅圖(Decolonize/Occupy Seattle)」運動的參與者。我們之所以寫這封信,是想要表達我們強烈支持對你們的反壓迫運動。你們的勇敢激勵了我們。我們想告訴你們的是,這裡的人十分關注你們的運動。





*今年8月在美國密蘇里州的佛格森(Ferguson)案(也有人譯成「費格森」),至今仍然在美國造成相當大的爭議和動盪。事件發生的過程是這樣的:當地一個黑人大學生Michael Brown在沒有攜帶武器的情況下,被白人警員開槍射殺。由於案件疑點重重(警方表示懷疑Brown涉及某宗劫案,但當時警員與手無寸鐵的Brown接觸不到三分鐘,就使用武力;目擊證人證供顯示Brown當時不可能有機會搶奪警員的武器),警方反應遲緩又引起欲蓋彌彰的非議(Brown身中六槍,其中兩槍打中頭顱;然而他曝屍數小時,警方依然沒有通知其家人),引起當地黑人群體極度不滿。











(一) 阻斷資本主義的生產及產銷網絡,以直接行動来反制警方的暴力行為


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A letter from Seattle to Hong Kong Protestors/ 从西雅图给香港战友写信


Fighting For Our Common Freedoms:

A letter from Seattle to Hong Kong Protesters


Dear Hong Kong protesters,

We write to you as people who participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement and Decolonize/Occupy Seattle. We are writing to express our solidarity with your struggle against repression. We are inspired by your courage and we want to let you know that people here are paying attention to your struggle.

On Oct 1st, 400-500 Chinese people from Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and the broader Chinese diaspora came to a rally in Seattle in solidarity with your struggle .

We see ourselves as part of a global movement where everyday people are trying to create forms of democracy that challenge the rule of the capitalist class and the political system that serves them – that frees us from their domination everywhere from the voting polls to the workplace.

We see that you are fighting for democracy, for the right to nominate your own leaders. In the US, this is something the government claims to practice, but doesn’t. In a true democracy, the richest 1% would not hold more wealth than the bottom 90% combined, and banks would not be able to evict families from their homes when the vacancy rate is five times the homelessness rate. A truly democratic government wouldn’t be pointing rifles from the top of tanks at protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, and or imprisoning children fleeing from violence in Latin America. Our capitalist “democracy” has dismantled the old U.S. industrial base, leaving cities full of foreclosed homes and toxic land, while generating new forms of resource extraction such as fracking that have left us struggling against pollution and environmental degradation.

We see that you are also fighting against repression by a government that calls itself Communist. But we believe that in a true communist society, the Foxconn workers producing our smart phones would not be despaired to the point of suicide: workers would have hope for the future and not have to waste away ten to twelve hours each day of their young lives making their bosses rich. Workers would not be counting their pennies before their next pay day while their bosses—whether they be mainlanders like Ma Yun or Hong Kongers like Li Kashing—roll in money enough to spread their investments over the world.

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Zine version of Reading For Revolution

Reading for Revolution is a three-part series of short articles that I wrote on collective learning and the struggle for a new society. 

The first article, “Steal the the Ability to Read this Book,” makes a case for seizing the reading skills that slave-masters and capitalist bosses have systematically denied oppressed communities. 

The second article, “Clowns to the left of me, Leninists to the right, here I am – Chillin and reading with you…,” argues for developing a learning praxis (reflective practice) that can break from the alienated and oppressive dynamics of capitalist classrooms.

The third article, “DIY Study Strategies,” is more practical, offering suggestions for how to start your own revolutionary study group.  I argue that how we read to make a revolution is different from how we are taught to read in school. I attempt to outline some of the more revolutionary reading strategies that we’ve learned and co-created in the hope that others will build upon these and share their own. I emphasize how to integrate literacy skills into discussion so that study groups will be more accessible to folks who did not learn these skills ins school. 

A group called Radical Ideas For a Moribund Society Distro turned these articles into a zine format that can be printed easily.  It is available here at their site.   I’ve also uploaded it here:  Reading For Revolution Zine Version.   Thanks to the folks who put in the work to format this.

Here are their suggestions for printing:

TO PRINT: Download the PDF and print onto 8.5×11 paper, flip on short-edge.

TO COPY: To make multiple copies from the original print, configure the copier settings to print both sides by selecting 2>2 SIDED or something similar if the option is available and STACK after each printed batch (if you select sort, you will have to compile each copy afterward – which is tedious.)

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Reading for Revolution Part 3: DIY Strategies for Study Groups

Assata on educationI recently published an article in the journal Perspectives on Anarchist Theory, sharing some suggestions for how to form revolutionary study groups.  It is available for free download here:  DIY study strategies.  Feel free to distribute it if you find it useful.  This is the third part of a series on revolution, education, and reading; the first two parts can be found here.

The full issue of the Perspectives journal focuses on anarchist strategizing, and can be purchased here, from the Institute for Anarchist Studies and AK Press.

In the article, I lay out some methods for learning from each other instead of treating the text or the facilitator as an authority.  I also wrestle with how to navigate differences in literacy skills among study group participants, and suggest some practical and creative ways to make texts and discussions more accessible to folks who have varying degrees of access to formal education.

The article includes reflections on a study group the Black Orchid Collective did together last year, and the appendix includes step-by-step outlines of a particular group session, writing prompts, and graphic organizers for note taking that we’ve developed.

My hope is that other affinity groups, collectives, and learning commons projects will engage with this and provide critical feedback based on your own experiences learning together.  I also hope you all will write up your own reflections on collective study so that we can share practical tips with each other for how to learn outside of the capitalist education system.  Our enemies have their think tanks, schools, and universities.  We have processes of freestyle thinking and learning that cannot be enclosed, and that can grow rhizomatically if we put in the effort to make it happen.

If folks are interested in continuing these conversations, I write semi-regularly for the blog Creativity Not Control.  It’s a collaborative project I’ve been working on with several public school parents; we are also involved in organizing against the school to prison pipeline and other forms of inequality in the schools.  We want learning for life, not for labor.  If this resonates with you, we welcome guest posts and collaboration in Seattle and beyond.

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