Egypt Stands Up!

Wow! I’ve been brought nearly to tears over and over again during these past days. It’s so inspiring! It’s such a relief! Finally, the ossified world is cracking up, the old order is crumbling. It’s hard to believe the resilience and beauty of the Egyptian revolution. Everyone knows Mubarak is going to go, either on a plane within a few more days, or maybe he’ll be dragged out and hung in Tahrir Square like Mussolini was in Italy in 1945. The role of the “street” is particularly exciting. In this era of numb isolation, clicking and petitioning and online voting, the Egyptian “Internet generation” has turned that isolation on its head, provoking a mass uprising in the streets. By retaking public space and thereby opening a much larger public sphere, long suppressed by the Egyptian police state, they’ve made an incredible breakthrough for the whole world!

But the most inspiring reports are about the direct democracy that has emerged on the barricades all over Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt. When the government facilitated prison breaks and sent their police and secret service in to loot and terrorize people, they inadvertantly inspired an intense, block-by-block self-organization that was so natural that it took only a few hours or a day to spread throughout the city. In today’s New York Times an unusually clear report corroborated the incredible footage showing on Aljazeera in which people from all walks of life are fully engaged in defending their revolution from the attacks of the paid thugs and coerced employees of the Egyptian state. So moving!

In Tahrir Square, Sharif Abdel Kouddous on Democracy Now! has been providing fantastic on-the-spot reports. Today he showed how the self-organization of the people in the Square has even led to a massive garbage recycling system, something very unusual in Egypt (or many countries of the global South), but indicating a level of self-regard, a commitment to a new kind of self-care. We might scoff at recycling as a bourgeois distraction (sure, it’s probably quite inefficient in terms of energy usage), but as a symbol of a transformed public life, it’s pretty compelling. It points to a different way of life that has the potential to go much further than any prior revolution.

Could this be the beginning of the 21st century at last? Could it be the beginning of a truly new path out of the cul-de-sacs of bourgeois democracy, brutal dictatorship, and ossified state capitalism masquerading as socialism? Probably too much to hope for, since “socialism in one country” is as impossible now as it ever was. But that’s the beauty of Egypt’s location in the heart of the transnational Arab world. Imagine if this bottom-up grassroots revolution erects new democratic forms of networked power, based on self-management and rigorous respect for individual and social rights? They’ve practically put it in motion already! And from Tunisia to Yemen, Jordan to Saudi Arabia, the people are rising. How far can it go… on Fox News they’re freaking out that it could make it to the United States! Well, of course it could! It’s the new world struggling to emerge from the dying old world… Yeah, I’m excited! Let’s go!

Protest or Celebration? Or Something Deeper Still?

Had a nice ride out to the Sunset last weekend, in our typical weird week of summer weather in January. Standing at the edge of the Sunset reservoir looking eastward I took this shot through the fence, over the acres of solar panels sitting on the reservoir roof.

I’m posting a text I distributed at last night’s Critical Mass here in San Francisco, reflecting some of the discussions I’ve been part of during the past months. The ride last night was lovely, about 1000 riders, a good spontaneous route that took us winding through South of Market and into the Mission before heading back north and then west into Golden Gate Park. I bailed after about 2 hours at Fell and Masonic where I took these photos. There were at least five “circle-ups” last night, in lieu of stops at red lights, which I don’t much like, but it served the purpose of getting the ride regrouped, while also pointlessly blocking traffic in all directions at the intersections where it happened.

I like the way the guy in the foreground is a blur while the woman seems to be holding the peace/US flag (an oxymoron if I ever saw one!), but actually it was another guy behind her. Fun with digital photography...

A bike lift is starting at Fell and Masonic, January 28, 2011 Critical Mass.

Anyway, here’s the text I wrote and distributed as a flyer last night:

Protest or Celebration? Or Something Deeper Still?

As long as you have a bike to ride, you don’t have to buy anything to participate in Critical Mass, neither object nor service, nor an ideology beyond a desire to partake in public life on two wheels. When hundreds and thousands of cyclists seize the streets for a convivial and celebratory use of public space, many of the expectations and rules of modern capitalism are challenged. Individual behaviors escape the logic of buying and selling, if only for a few hours. Once in the street together, unexpected connections emerge, unplanned events occur, and serendipitous relationships begin. Unlike a trip to the mall or the market, the conversations are unburdened by the logic of transactions, of prices and measurements. It’s a free exchange among free people. The experience alters one’s sense of city life immediately, and more importantly, shifts our collective imaginations in ways we have only begun to learn about.

Critical Mass cyclists are among the most visible practitioners of a new kind of social conflict. The “assertive desertion” embodied in bicycling erodes the system of social exploitation organized through private car ownership and the oil industry. And by cycling in urban centers in the Empire, we join a growing movement around the world that is repudiating the social and economic models controlled by multinational capital and imposed on us without any form of democratic consent. This mass seizure of the streets by a swarming mob of bicyclists “without leaders” is precisely the kind of self-directing, networking logic that is transforming our economic lives and threatening the structure of government, business, and (as more imaginative military strategists are coming to understand) policing and war-making too.

Critical Mass has a new cousin in town: the San Francisco Bike Party (SFBP). The party-like qualities of Critical Mass have always been present, but the Bike Party model as developed in San Jose and other cities first involves an organizing (and monitoring) crew of volunteers who direct the fun. The first official SFBP happened a few weeks ago on January 7 and drew around 1000 riders on a bitterly cold night. It was a lot like Critical Mass in some ways—I enjoyed dozens of conversations with people I found myself next to in the ride, there were music machines, and friendly vibes from riders and passersby alike. We were dozens and hundreds of bicyclists filling the streets and displacing cars, just as we’d dreamed back in the first months of Critical Mass in 1992.

Continue reading Protest or Celebration? Or Something Deeper Still?

Anatomy of Decomposition

It’s been a while since I had the inspiration to blog. I’ve been home through the holidays, and since I was in Mexico at the beginning of December, I’ve been reading a ton. In particular I wanted to ruminate in this entry on three books that, taken together, are a fantastic primer on the current state of working class politics. Why think about that, you might wonder?

We’re living through the most excessive, blatant, overwhelming mass looting of public wealth by the plutocracy that has ever happened in this House of Mirrors that calls itself the United States. Obama, a guy I never felt any enthusiasm for, has lived down to my expectations again and again, or really, he’s plunged many fathoms lower than I could even imagine him going. The casual abandonment of rule-of-law promises (forget about Guantanamo, forget about habeas corpus—Executive Power is increasingly monarchical and the Dems are pushing it as much as the Bushies ever did) is bad enough. And handing the keys to the public treasury to the banks during the bailout, and to the defense industry the rest of the time, all pretty bad too… In the past week Obama has appointed old-style fixer Bill Daley (direct from his job at JPMorganChase) and Gene Sperling from Goldman Sachs to run his economic policy. Can it be any more blatant? There is a tiny cabal of self-serving plutocrats who are determined to take every last granule of public wealth for themselves before it all collapses in a pile of debt and empty malls, rusting ports and abandoned skyscrapers. Obama is just their smiling front man, and he’s not even trying to hide it anymore!

So where are the angry citizens? The demonstrations, pickets, strikes? (Oh yeah, they’re all signing up for Facebook groups and clicking “angry” petitions and “urgent” appeals online! Maybe they’re reading—or writing—blogs!) Where are the workers who are getting screwed in this Great Theft? What about a collective response to the destruction of the economy, the nearly one in five who are unemployed? There’s not a simple explanation, but at this point we have to wonder who exactly are we expecting to “take action”? There is not a shared sense of class among the vast majority of the population that exchanges their daily lives for wages. There is more confusion, cynical bitterness, and racial animosity than any common idea of a class enemy. The very concept of “class” is largely rejected by most people, or grossly misinterpreted to mean a wide range of strata that include such bizarre convolutions as “lower-upper-middle-class.” Most people think they’re middle class, whether they’re making $88,000 a year or $17,000. The fact that nearly all of us have to sell ourselves to an employer in exchange for money (some much better paid than others, obviously) is the real key to the picture. Nearly everyone in modern America is some kind of a wage-slave, regardless of the fantasies they harbor about their status based on their temporary ability to engage in debt spending.
Continue reading Anatomy of Decomposition