Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Interview with G8 Activist Wu Ming

Wu Ming (无名) is an activist from the Seattle-Tacoma area who was at the 34th G8 Summit in Toyako, Japan, a rural resort area on the island of Hokkaido.

Read this year's summit statements for the states' perspective on what had been accomplished this year. Hundreds of NGOs and a greater number of individuals signed the "Challenge to the G8 Governments" which claimed that the states themselves were responsible for the climate crisis, and the debt crisis. Other groups who arrived in Japan made plans to hold their own Summit too, calling it a "People's Summit". Wu Ming tells us what it was like engaging in autonomous actions against the G8, and what the political atmosphere of the G8 was like for activists.

This video is my own brief introduction to the G8 from an activist's perspective, in which I use submitted videos from Spanish and German activists.

Joe La Sac: Have you noticed that the opposition to the G8 has grown over the past eight to ten years, and why do you think that is so?

Wu Ming: It's really hard for me to tell. There are a few reasons for saying that the opposition has grown, however. I can tell you that, from my experience, the vast majority of the protesters who I've met were not involved in any sort of organized resistance to the G8 eight years ago. I, for example, was not even aware of its existence until I became politicized against it around the time that I came to college. (Because I lived in Seattle in 1999 I knew about the WTO, but not the G8.) It seems like many of the people who now "summit hop" or even work on solidarity work at local level, even when they have been activists for ten years or more, haven't been protesting at G8 conferences for more than a couple years.
Of course there are a few exceptions to this, especially among the older activists. And I think one problem with jumping to the conclusion that opposition has grown based on the above observation is that many of the activists of eight or more years ago may have moved on to other things. This is reflected in the relatively young demographic that shows up to protest the G8.

Ultimately, though, it seems to me that there has been a general increase in opposition to the G8 over the past eight to ten years.

JL: Which opposition groups were the most active at the G8 Summit in Hokkaido and what sorts of things did they do?

WM: I spent most of my time working with the anarchist-leaning 'No! G8 Action' group, but a full representation of the range of opposition groups would include various the Japanese communist, socialist, and green parties, progressive NGOs, cultural groups, and local peoples' organizations that made it up to Hokkaido. While there are many ideological and political differences between these groups, they all seem to have a basic tactic in common -- that is, they all march. Truthfully, the anarchists didn't act much different than the Trotskyites and the Liberals when it came to action. I think this is because the police-state had everyone monitored closely and was willing to enforce any and every law, regardless of how arbitrary and constrictive. For example, every single overt political activity that a protest group may chose to do, be it walking three abreast down the street or whatever, must be registered with the police beforehand. This policy is obviously very stifling to autonomous actions and tactics. But not only do the police enforce compliance, it gets to the point that because of the force of the state opposition groups tend to police themselves, prohibiting and even intervening in any unplanned action!

I may suggest one small, but significant difference with the anarchist organizing against the G8: many of us realized very quickly that autonomous actions of 'protest' were going to be radically ineffective (there were 20,000 police and 3,000 protesters) -- both because we would risk a lot of jail-time and because we don't like asking people in power to do anything in particular for us (unlike the NGOs) -- and so were focused on what can be called 'prefigurative politics'. That is, we tried to build the new world in the shell of the old. The camps were the main venues for this. It happened when we planned actions, no matter how inane they may have seemed, and it happened when we did the dishes. From my point of view, experimenting with prefigurative politics was the real point of being in Hokkaido.
Besides that. like I said, I was not active in too many different groups, so besides the lowest-common-denominator protest march, I don't know what everyone 'did'.

JL: It seems to me that there are two basic kinds of protesting at the G8. One group of people says the G8 has noble goals and an admirable mission, like giving aid to Africa and partially writing off debt, but that the G8 needs to held to these promises and goaded to action. Another group is saying that the entire mission and purpose of the G8 is deplorable and that is function in global politics is harmful to democracy and economic development. How do these groups reconcile their differences at the summit, and which groups are more effective? How do you measure this?

WM: Um, I guess you could divide the basic outlooks among protesters into these two groups. However, since we were all so isolated from each other to begin with, we never really had to reconcile these two positions. I suppose I was so far into your second category that I lost sight of the G8 altogether and decided to construct something positive in spite of it. That's what the camps (mentioned above) were there for. As for effectiveness, I was satisfied with the performance of my network of new friends in creating an autonomous, free, and lively space for democratic, anti-fascist living.

JL: Why do they meet some place physically at all, why not just pick up the phone? If the G8 were to stop meeting annually do you think this will help at all?

WM: Sure it would be nice for the G8 to stop meeting. But it's not like any real problems would be solved if the G8 simply stopped having physical meetings. There would still be neoliberal economic policies containing people within police-states economies and there would still be undemocratic political orchestrations at the highest level of government of the world's most powerful nations. You see, the problem is not that the G8 have a tea party every year; the problem is that they are a group of callous technocrat statists who enforce their will on people all over the world.

One can even say that the problems go even deeper: our present world, in many ways, works on a precondition of obedience to illegitimate authority. Once (and only after) we start challenging authority in our daily lives as well as at the world-political level, I believe, we will have some positive change, regardless of who meets in a hotel room with whom.

JL: What was the most important thing you learned by actually being at the G8 Summit in Hokkaido?

WM: I learned that it is important to speak multiple languages if you want to work internationally.

The 35th G8 Summit next July will be held at another tourist center on the island of Sardinia, off the Italian mainland coast. The g8 Summit will not make it to the United States again until 2012.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Take Back What is Ours

Another a public service announcement brought to you by Pepperspray Productions. Do it in Denver! See you in St. Paul!

The New G.I. Coffeehouse

A social movement doesn't have a specific place or a location. It lives in the actions, the minds, and the relationships between people. But there are places where the ideas of a movement develop, places where the movement's ideas go more mainstream.

A group of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) are planning to start up a G.I. coffeehouse near the entrance of the Fort Lewis military base in Washington State. Though the project is still in its planning stages, the idea is that it will be a center for supporting GI rights and war resistance in the region, as well as a place for G.I.s to get coffee right off the base.

On a street littered with barber shops and abandoned dry cleaning businesses in Tillicum, WA, the veterans have found several possible locations for this project. Seth Manzel served in Iraq with a Stryker Combat Team before joining his local chapter of IVAW, and is shown in the video talking about these locations. Most of the places he and the other vets have been checking out are abandoned dry cleaners, oddly enough, because with fewer Army requirements for cleaning their attire these places have virtually disappeared from the communities around military bases.

A coffeehouse like this would not be the first of its kind in the nation since the 1970s. One known as the Different Drummer Cafe has begun operating since 2006 in Watertown, NY near Fort Drum, and near Fort Hood, TX a coffeehouse known as Under The Hood will begin operating soon. During the Vietnam-era dozens of coffeehouses popped around the nation. Near Fort Hood, TX one was called the Oleo Strut, which was named after a part that made sure helicopters landed smoothly. In October of 1968 coffeehouse known as the Shelter Half was established Tacoma not far from Fort Lewis. It took its name from a makeshift military tent structure. Aside from continual harassment from the police force, however, the Shelter Half's shortfall was that its location was still a twenty minute drive from the base. Still, it was in its later years deemed "off-limits" by the U.S. Army. Jane Fonda, the popular anti-war actress, was also banned from Fort Lewis around this time. IVAW believes that one of the closer, newer locations will be more effective.

When the Shelter Half opened its doors, the same month saw the first issue of Counterpoint, a G.I. resistance publication, followed by the Lewis-McChord Free Press, B Troop News, and Fed Up!, which were all published off-base near Fort Lewis. This all happened within a short period of time. The Seattle Chapter of IVAW last year started publishing the G.I. Voice, a publication that makes its way onto Fort Lewis, and has also begun a G.I. Radio project, available on GIRadio.org. Though G.I.Radio currently broadcasts from Seth's garage, playing re-runs of Winter Soldier—IVAW's testimonies about Iraq and war crimes recorded in Washington D.C.—the vets plan to move the show to the coffeehouse once its setup.

"We're promoting GI resistance," Seth says, "something that hasn't been done a whole lot." Civilians are realizing they can actually do something about this war, he tells me, whereas active-duty G.I.s are not so much in that position. A number of individuals and groups have already started donating equipment to the coffeehouse, such as a cash register. IVAW says the next step in organizing is to raise enough money to pay for the lease they need to start operating and selling coffee. They are several thousand dollars short at this point.

As far as a name goes for the coffeehouse, the vets are tossing around "Ogive Plunger" which is the name for a part on a Mk19, a gun that can be mounted to a Stryker vehicle. Seth told me he thinks that's a silly name though. IVAW and volunteers will vote on a name as the project unfolds.

See Also:

Different Drummer Cafe, Fort Drum, NY.

Under the Hood, Fort Hood, TX.

"Sir! No Sir!" - a documentary about the Vietnam GI movement.

This video uses images from sirnosir.com, as well as footage from Seattle "Oct. 27", 2007, Olympia Port Militarization Resistance, 2007, and the Lt. Ehren Watada court martial rally, 2006.

Monday, July 21, 2008

You Are All Shit

I wanted to repost something a fluxus artist, Nicolas Carras, wrote onto the Fluxus email community. I'm constantly finding extracts, several a day, on this group which amuse and provoke me. Fluxus in general enjoys being this way, and I have been inspired by it. These artists have a life outside the email community, of course, but the email community is largely a place to vent, and express whatever it is that needs expressing. There is something about words too, just words, that fascinate this Fluxus community. One artist, John Bennett, is constantly posting nonsensical mixtures of words that seem to make sense, but I have long since stopped searching for their meaning and now just listen to the hypothesized sounds they would make if you actually said them. At any rate, this one is about shit, so immediately it grabbed my attention. It's called You Are All Shit.

(If you don't understand, don't call me, please, never call me)

You are nothing but shit

You are leaving for shit

All your life is shit

You are nothing but shit

You are eating shit

You are reading shit

You shiting shit

Your child study shit

You are responsable of this shit

You drink shit

Your brain is full of shit

You sleep in shit

All your body is a big shit

You smell like a shit

You think like a shit

But you will think all this is not serious, you! maybe gonna laugh

But I do think what I'm writing actually? I do think it in the abyss of myself



Sunday, July 20, 2008

Kill Your TV

A public service announcement:

Friday, July 18, 2008

A Brief History of the G8

This video is only a prelude to the 34th G8 Summit. More promises had been made this year regarding Africa, Global Warming, TRIPS, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Iran, etc. Very few people expect anything concrete or extensive to be decided at the summits, especially since the countries already have prior commitments which were decided upon at previous summits and have yet to be met. OXFAM and other NGOs are trying to hold the G8 member countries accountable to these promises.

But a stronger position, I believe, argues that the goals of the summit are not even noble, that the foundations of the summits are grounded in undemocratic and faulty methods. There may be no legitimate reason as to why these heads of state should meet in this way, and make decisions that affect all of us, especially without oversight. It is the subtle creation of 'world governance' says the Spanish activist in their video. Though the international press cover the summits extensively, for "smile summitry" as some say, there are few records of what happens in the course of just three or four days. The only evidence we have as citizens under their jurisdictions, are a few public but pithy statements of concern for debt-ridden countries and rogue dictators.

One bit of irony I would like to point out is that Japan's security spending at the summit was dwarfed by the overall spending on hosting the summit. The overall costs turned out to be somewhere around $1.2 billion, including $93 million for an eco-friendly, solar-powered media center for the press to wait. Since the summit is now over, however, "the building will be demolished," says Japan Times. The overall cost of the 2008 summit is nearly equal to the amount given to Africa ($2 billion) after the 2007 Summit in Rostok, though $25 billion was promised by 2010. So in one year, the same amount of money all eight countries can give to Africa was the same amount just one country spent on this year's summit. It is easy to see where their priorities lie.

This was posted onto YouTube somewhat late. It is part of an episode I created for Indymedia Presents about the history of the G8 Summits and its opposition. Anticapitalistas, a group from Spain, sent me a video which they made in Sapporo about the G8, which is included in the video. I added a brief history of the G8 (skip to 5m, 25s to find that) and an advertisement I found for the G8 Summit in Japan on the German IMC. After last year's summit in Rostok, the Germans seem very excited about opposing the G8. You can find German sources and videos about the G8 all over the internet. For the last part of the video, I added a few words about the indymedia channel which has arisen around the G8 summits themselves. G8-TV.org is the indymedia website devoted entirely to independent and protest coverage of the summits.