The need to do things differently – a growing consensus

The need to do things differently – a growing consensus

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John Ahni Schertow
June 29, 2007
 

A couple months ago I promised to post some articles that challenge conventional activism and point to the obvious need for us to do things a bit differently…. I’ve been waiting for the right moment to put them up, and thought now would be a good time.

One thing I would like to contribute (which stixzz reminded me of, on Red Jenny’s blog) is that we have to be careful not to entrap ourselves within absolutes here — insisting that “everyone has to do this”, and that “if we don’t so this exactly as I say, we will fall” — or even worse to exclude and isolate ourselves because of difference in opinion.

As these articles point out, diversity of Action is as necessary as abandoning the old, now-institutionalized way of doing things — and so too that we have an inclusive, dynamic, long-term strategy…. We are in no need blueprints and static algorithms. We are not bureaucrats, architects, and computer geeks. We are People, and we need solutions appropriate for our needs that we can actually attain.

Activist Practice and Revolutionary Struggle

By the Insurrectionary Anarchists of the Coast Salish Territories

June 29, 2003 – It’s out of fashion to be a revolutionary. A lot of people have grown up over the past few years and moved on to more mature projects. Direct action against the class of exploiters and their institutions is dismissed, ignored, rejected or denounced.

The class conflict between the rich and the poor, the exploiter and the exploited, is obvious to everyone, but the orientation of those who claim to specialize in class struggle has changed. It’s now unfashionable to claim a revolutionary perspective. Specialization has deepened, and various individuals and groups increasingly define themselves as social activists, and in many cases, the radical sector of the social democratic movement. Activists keep themselves busy by organizing endless meetings, educational forums that resemble the worst type of university lectures, distribution of literature that is not informative to anyone, and pointless protest marches that could be mistaken for funeral processions.

Activist practice is the natural consequence of activist theory, and it rejects revolutionary struggle and the autonomous organization of attacks on the structures of capitalism. Activist groups tend to organize under the model of the political party. They draft a rigid political program and work to recruit a membership that will adopt it. Activist organizations, both those structured with authoritarian leadership and those that make decisions democratically, demand that the individuals who make up their membership flatten their opinions and come to a lowest common denominator consensus. Activist organizations and political parties see their primary task as building their membership and mobilizing masses of people, as this directly relates to the amount of political power an organization can gain by appearing to represent the interests of the masses. Quantity overtakes quality, while organizations struggle for legitimacy in the arena of middle-class politics and corporate media presentations. The direct material struggle of the oppressed becomes a bargaining piece in negotiations with the class enemy. (read the full article)

Horizontalidad: Where Everyone Leads

by Marina Sitrin, Yes magazine
After the Argentine economy collapsed in 2001, the workers of the closed Zanon ceramic tile factory in the province of Neuquén, Patagonia, organized themselves and restarted the factory. What was once a business of 262 workers, today has more than 400. And no bosses. From the start, the factory has nurtured its relationship with the surrounding community. In 2005, FaSinPat voted to build a community health clinic. The community had been demanding such a clinic from the provincial government for two decades; FaSinPat built it in three months.

The autonomous social movements in Argentina are part of a global phenomenon. From Latin America to South Africa to Eastern Europe and even in the United States and Canada, people are creating the future in the present. These new movements are built on direct democracy and consensus, and they make space for all to be leaders.

Within Argentina, they are also a “movement of movements.” They are working class people taking over factories and running them collectively. They are the urban middle class, or those who have recently lost that status, working to meet their needs in solidarity with those around them. They are the unemployed, like so many unemployed around the globe, facing the prospect of never finding regular work, yet collectively finding ways to survive and become self-sufficient, using mutual aid and love. They are autonomous indigenous communities struggling to liberate stolen land.

Horizontalidad is the word that has come to embody these new social arrangements and principles of organization in Argentina. Horizontalidad implies democratic communication on a level plane and involves—or at least strives towards—non-hierarchical and anti-authoritarian creation rather than reaction. It is a break with vertical ways of organizing and relating.

The social movements in Argentina describe themselves as autonomous to distinguish themselves from the state and other hierarchical institutions. Autonomy also describes a politics of self-organization called autogestion, and direct, democratic participation.

Simply put, they reject the very idea of anyone having power over someone else. Instead, they work toward the goal of creating “power with” one another. They organize themselves in every aspect of their lives, both independently and in solidarity with others. It is a process of continuous creation, constant growth and the development of new relations, with ideas flowing from these changing practices. (read the full article)

De-nationalizing Trans-border Grassroots Organizing

by Sirena Pellarolo – Tempe, Arizona\
“We want that border to disappear, so that once again the O’odham, Navajo and Cherokee nations exist, as well as our peoples, because they [the bad governments] already demonstrated that they cannot conduct this world and take it to a good end. We have to do it, not just for Indian peoples, but for all humanity. Therefore, we say that our struggle is for humanity and against neoliberalism.”
— Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos

These words were addressed to the Tohono O’odham, Navajo and Cherokee peoples in Magdalena de Kino on October 21, 2006 by Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesperson of the EZLN (the Zapatista Army of National Liberation) during his visit to the border states of Northern Mexico. The Zapatistas–a group of Mayan rebels from Chiapas who have been working towards indigenous autonomy and self-determination for the past two decades — initiated a parallel political campaign in Mexico to the one staged by the electoral circus, that they named “La Otra Campaña” (the other campaign), referencing its alternative way of doing politics.

Following extensive consultation with Zapatista communities and a series of preliminary talks that included not only the Congreso Nacional Indígena (the Indigenous National Congress), but many other organizations, collectives and individuals that subscribed to the mission stated in the “Sixth Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle,” –the document that called for this anti-capitalist, grassroots and networked way of doing politics– the Other Campaign was launched on January 1st 2006 in the Southern state of Chiapas. Since then, the Sixth Commission of the EZLN and its spokesperson, Subcomandante Marcos or Delegate Zero, have been crisscrossing the Mexican territory North-bound in order to listen to the plight of so many grassroots organizations, both indigenous and other, to network the struggles from below and to the left, create a plan of struggle and eventually write a new Constitution for a just and dignified Mexico.

The Other Campaign is an example of the spirit that is sweeping the Americas where very active indigenous movements are blazing new trails in the construction of an alternative world where participatory democracy, justice and dignity prevail. I would like to give an overview of some of these movements, their call to American Indian nations to join and participate and the need to de-nationalize trans-border grassroots organizing in an era of transnational anti-globalization politics. (read the full article)

The Role of Settlers in Indigenous Struggles

by Zainab Amadahy

By mid-March, 2006, when activist communities discovered the land reclamation at Six Nations of the Grand River, carloads of non-Aboriginal supporters from Toronto, Montreal and beyond made almost daily trips to the site loaded with supplies and youthful activists eager to staff the cookhouse, help out in the first-aid tent, or do a security shift. At night gaggles of underdressed youth would huddle at the fire, soaking up community gossip directly from “the real grassroots” (as one white activist described members of the Grand River community).

In the three months following the April 28, 2006 OPP raid on the Six Nations land reclamation, it wasn’t unusual to find times when there were more white settlers camped out on the reclaimed territory than members of the Grand River community. Some activists were there for the early morning raid and have described the experience of nearly being arrested in everything from public events to on-line downloadable videos. It’s worth noting that all the people charged by the OPP that day or since were Native; no non-Natives are facing charges, even though many were on the site before, during and after the raid.
Hoping for Trouble?

At the risk of generalizing, these were the same activists who monitored the goings on at Akwesasne, Kahnawake and Kanehsatake in January and February, 2006, when there were rumors of an impending RCMP raid on the Mohawk tobacco industry. Toronto activists formed contingency plans on the best ways to bypass possible police blockades to get (mostly white) bodies and supplies into Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in the event of a raid. They were the same activists on the edge of their seats, sending out e-mail notices and forwarding updates on the Tyendinaga land dispute. As one Native activist noted, “It’s as if they’re hoping for trouble so they’ll have something to do with themselves.”

It’s not as if white settler support to various struggles isn’t needed and appreciated. Indeed, one cannot help feel respectful at seeing them put their very bodies on the line beside our own people on some occasions. But questions continually arise as to the role of non-Aboriginal supporters in Indigenous struggles. (read the full article)

Factionalism Destroys Our Land Claims

© by Doug George-Kanentiio
Ever since I was asked to serve the Mohawk Nation as a land claims negotiator in 1984 I was apprehensive about entering this area without the active support of our Iroquois relatives. I argued repeatedly that the manner, content and outcome of our negotiations with the US federal government and New York State officials would set a precedent for the other nations.

By going into these sessions alone and agreeing to the State’s secrecy conditions we were making grave concessions which weakened our position since we could not inform our people of what we were discussing which meant we were vulnerable to all sorts of unfounded accusations. Further, we could not secure the support of the non-Natives in the effected areas. Since they were the voters and taxpayers I thought we should move aggressively to get their support.

We also made the mistake of failing to speak to our Mohawk kin in the other communities. They had, I believed, a right to know what their national
government was doing in their name and on their behalf. We caved in to the US and state officials when we agreed to exclude representatives from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, an omission which would have doomed any ultimate settlement since we had to have the approval of the Grand Council; or so I thought.

Since I was not prepared to concede to the US in such areas as jurisdiction, land concessions and land useage my removal as a negotiator was sought by the State and agreed to by our “team” in 1991.

Over the years I, along with many others, watched with alarm as the other Iroquois nations and entities fell into the same self serving trap. We were under the illusion that our opponents were prepared to agree to recognize our status as independent entities while supporting the expansion of our existing territories.

Our thinking was defensive, exclusionary and plain dumb. There was no way either the US or New York would ever acknowledge us as nations nor would they unconditionally return the lands they stole from us back to our jurisdiction. We found out through bitter experience that far from being honest, dependable and sincere our opponents were just that-opposed to our every attempt to recover from decades of colonialism. They would use every dirty tactic to abrogate our land claims. They would promote factionalism, offer bribes, use commercial gambling as bait and bring to bear the State’s fiscal stranglehold over our economic survival.

In 1985 the Oneidas, then acting as one entity, won an historic victory in the US Supreme Court which held that they did have a tangible claim to their ancestral homelands. But that victory was qualified when the justices cited New York for failing to bring up the defense of laches, a position which means that if a plaintiff waits too long to bring suit they lose their claim. The Court practically rubbed the State’s nose into this escape clause and, 20 years later, would award it an all encompassing win when it turned back the Oneidas in 2005.

But the Oneidas also dealt their case mortal harm when the New York faction broke from the other Oneidas and went into the Court alone. Any fool could have predicted the outcome. But, sad to state, the loss of the Oneida Nation of New York two years ago has caused major harm to all other Iroquois people and has hurt the cause of aboriginal sovereignty across the US.

It was no mere chance that shortly after the Oneida’s 1985 win they entered into a time of anarchy and violence. When they should have affirmed their unity they allowed commercial gambling to enter their community and rip them into shreds. Beset by violence and accusations of corruption the New York Oneidas ceded power to a single person who took them out of the Confederacy and began a series of ill advised lawsuits which alienated the non-Natives and crystallized opposition to the Iroquois as a whole.

Skennenrahowi bundle of arrows was unraveled by Arthur Raymond Halbritter of the Oneida Nation of New York. This meant the Oneida people were alone before the combined power of the US and New York State. They did not have a chance. Officials in Albany and Washington allowed the Oneidas to operate a casino and to think they were somehow excluded from US jurisdiction but this was giving them just enough rope to hang themselves. But make no mistake, we at Akwesasne did our part in the unravelling when we elected to pursue a land claims deal without any regard to the other nations.

On May 21 a US federal judge began jerking the rope around the neck of the Oneidas, almost completing the job begun by the US Supreme Court in 2005. The Oneidas will not regain lost lands, Judge Lawrence Kuhn ruled, but may apply for money restitution only. That is it as far as the Oneida “Nation” of New York goes. They may seek to place their recent land purchases in US federal trust but will never be able to live outside of their small 32 acre plot without having to abide by alien laws.

Governor Spitzer will now move to force the Oneidas to agree to a new gambling compact in which they will pay 33% of their gross revenues to Albany and will have to agree to an annual audit which may well mean huge problems for the current leadership. To date, the Oneida people have never received a forensic audit of the Turning Stone Casino and there may be many surprises when they do.

For Akwesasne, as for all other Iroquois entities, the Oneida defeats should be seen as doom and gloom. Our leaders failed to intervene in the Oneida cases, we did not make statements condemning their selfish tactics, we refused to use our collective powers to persuade them to abandon litigation which was certain to fail. We did not look out for the best interests of those yet unborn.

What this means for our small community astride the great river is that we will continue to be small. Our land base will not increase even though our population is exploding. We will be compelled to find ways to pay for our own public services as taxation is gradually introduced. Our refusal to move together in the face of a common danger will allow tribal officials to continue to whittle away what little aboriginal rights we have left.

In the spring of 1984 we though otherwise. But we did not act on those principles which formed the basis of the Confederacy and gave us our national identity. Instead, we stumbled along, ignoring the lessons of our history, blindly falling into one State trap after another.

It is time for the Mohawk Nation to abandon any formal land claims litigation or negotiation. Direct action may well be the only way we can get backwhat is rightfully ours but should we go in this direction we must have unity in mind and spirit. This does not mean we have to resort to violence but must be prepared to use our traditional values and beliefs as we prepare for the next assault on the Nation.

Factionalism has been our bane but does not have to be our demise.

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