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Gregory Stuart Williamson

Greg Williamson, burning the candle at both ends... pretty typical of him!

Greg Williamson, burning the candle at both ends… pretty typical of him!

Gregory Stuart Williamson, an unsung hero and longtime collaborator, died suddenly last week, apparently of a blood clot and stroke, while standing at a supermarket. He was not even 60 yet.

I want to take a moment to remember and honor Greg. I spent 17 years in close collaboration with him, and I don’t think anyone I ever worked with was as reliable, as diligent, as uncompromising, and as generous as Greg Williamson. He was also legendarily stubborn, curmudgeonly, and had a temper that had to be experienced to be believed. And if you were his friend, as I am proud to say I was for many years, you definitely experienced it!

But if there was ever anyone with a prickly outside and big soft inside, it was Greg Williamson. He was smart, critical, often sarcastic, and frequently hilarious. We had one of those office art Xerox signs on the wall for many years that said “The beatings will continue until morale improves” with the addition of an ‘s’ to morale, since Greg’s name in Processed World was Primitivo Morales. We would roll our eyes when he would launch on one of his oft-repeated aphorisms, like “The People United, Will Never Split a Pizza!” But now we’ll never hear it again.

Passing the pipe, the cheshire grin emerging from the sweet cloud of smoke...

Passing the pipe, the cheshire grin emerging from the sweet cloud of smoke…

It is said about some people that they would give you the shirt off their back. Greg was such a person. He worked as a programmer for many years, usually getting a decent salary but he went through his money as fast as he got it, and partly it was because he was damned generous. He came across the Bay (bitching about BART nearly every day) at his own expense, entering with two six-packs, a couple of bags of chips, and a pipe that was soon being passed around with the best quality pot available. More »

Cracks, Openings, Uprisings

I had the pleasure of seeing John Holloway last week, and meeting his compañera Eloína, an equally impressive character. They were in San Francisco thanks to Andrej Grubacic at CIIS inviting him to be a visiting scholar to present his work over three nights of lectures. I could only make the last one, where he set out to show how we are the crisis of capital. The next day we had them over for lunch, so we had a fantastic leisurely afternoon over a good meal, spending about three hours talking and laughing and enjoying the sun streaming into our dining room on a beautiful afternoon. Eloína is a computer scientist who has become an ethnobotanist, and runs a nursery in Puebla, Mexico where they live. Her work dovetailed with some other folks who passed through a year ago, who have done a lot of work on the hydrological history and future of the Valley of Mexico, so we happily shared their books.

Sara Maria Acevedo caught me asking a question of John Holloway at his talk.

I read John’s Crack Capitalism during the week before he arrived and really liked it. There are many places in the book where I felt a very strong resonance with the analysis I made in Nowtopia, and I was honored to discover that he quoted me in his book. Like his earlier book Change the World Without Taking Power, he is taking a very deep and basic Marxian concept, in this case the dual nature of work, and expanding it in fresh language, reworking the concept to confront and unpack the despair we often find ourselves feeling in the face of global capitalism. Part of his mission, too, is to repudiate the cul-de-sac of traditional Marxism with its elision of the dual nature of work in favor of an emphasis on the struggle between capital and labor. Holloway emphasizes again and again throughout his books that capital and abstract labor are two parts of the same thing. If your radical politics starts from what you do as wage-labor, as abstract labor, you are already trapped in the logic of capital. The point is to fight against abstract labor, against the subordination of our “doing” (whatever we may choose to do) to the logic of money and markets.

The ambition of Crack Capitalism is impressive. He situates most of the divisions and schisms facing contemporary radicals in the subordination of subjectivity to abstract labor. It can seem a bit dense and complicated at moments, but overall I want to congratulate him on a well-done effort to bring these concepts out into the light of day and making them quite accessible and clear. Here is a quote where he summarizes his critique of identity politics:

Identification or reification is an enormously destructive force in everyday struggle. We give our protests a name, a label, a limit. Our struggle is the struggle of women, of gays, of workers, of the unemployed, it is the struggle for indigenous rights, for uncontaminated food, for peace. It may be that we are at least vaguely aware that our struggles are part of a wider whole, perhaps even that they are the product of the way in which human doing is organized in the world, but, precisely because that form of organization seems permanent (‘it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism’), we enclose our struggles within limits, within an identity. And so we have a world full of protest, a world of people aware in some way that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way society is organized, and yet so many walls separating these struggles, so many dykes preventing them from flowing into each other. And all these walls are identifications, the grand framework identification of the capitalism-that-is-and-always-will-be, and the lesser identifications of ‘we are gay, we are women, we are indigenous, we are Basque, we are Zapatistas, we are anarchists, we are communists’. And all these identities become so easily the basis for sectarianism, the perennial self-destruction of the left that makes life easy for the police. Far more effective than any system of secret police, identity is the reproduction of capital within anti-capitalist struggle. (p. 114)

Pioneer Monument gets a cleaning in SF...

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Amnesia and History

I just turned 56 on March 11, and find myself paying closer attention than ever to what kinds of things get remembered, forgotten, overlooked, and flushed from public consciousness.

My telltale posture at the top of the City on a beautiful sunny March 11, when I turned 56.

Very nice of Twin Peaks to provide me with a gorgeous display of wildflowers to celebrate!

Living through this period, with another jaw-dropping wave of evictions devastating my circle of friends and acquaintances throughout San Francisco, the displacement of long-time residents is one obvious example of historic phenomena that get systematically flushed from the public record. I went to a discussion about the recently passed Proposition C Housing Trust Fund at SPUR a couple of weeks ago and there was nary a mention about the eviction crisis. Other politicians are trying to throw gasoline on the fire by passing a special ordinance to allow 2,500 units of “tenancy in common” apartments gain immediate condominium status. If it passes without the multi-year moratorium on condo conversions demanded by tenant activists, the wave of evictions is sure to accelerate beyond its already frenzied pace.

I consider my own building’s fuse to have been lit with the commitment of our landlady to state conservatorship… it’s probably only a matter of time before we’re evicted too, but with luck, maybe we can last another 2 years, or even 10! And we’re going to make our best effort to set up a Community Land Trust option for this building, so that maybe, just maybe, we can figure out a way to stay in San Francisco.

It would be a pity to be evicted from the city after working on San Francisco history for nearly two decades. Back in the first Gulf War era I felt strongly the amnesiac culture when friends I’d marched alongside couldn’t remember that we’d been part of a large anti-war movement in 1990-91. Now we’re at the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War and the media is mostly still repeating the history-flushing lies they promulgated at the time—that no one knew that the government was deliberately lying to get us into war. Actually San Franciscans shut the city down because tens of thousands of us knew perfectly well the venal lies that were hurtling us down a barbaric path. A decade later we can say “we told you so,” but it’s an empty effort, gaining no traction or amplification, and thus practically invisible, probably forgotten even by many of us who were in the streets in March 2003.

Canessa Gallery on Montgomery.

I popped in to the charming Canessa Gallery on Montgomery Street (the site of the original Black Cat Café in the 1950s, home on the ground floor to Jose Sarria and the first open gay scene in the City) where the Living New Deal Project is hosting a modest exhibit of New Deal art, including these recently made posters about the Post Office. They’ve been campaigning to save the many post offices around California and the country that are getting privatized and closed, and losing their architectural and artist treasures in the process. They are also promoting the idea of a New Deal Museum in the Presidio, so if you’re someone who likes to comment on such proposals, it’s open at the Presidio to chime in with your support.

One of the posters created for the new campaign to oppose the attacks on the Post Office.

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