Uribe wins, Gaviria beats the Liberals

Interesting developments in Colombia. I was disappointed that Uribe won in the first round. I really thought the left had a chance, but it seems that even if there was fraud, Uribe would have won. Still, that Carlos Gaviria’s party won second place could mean that the two-party lock on politics in the county is loosening.

I will be returning to these matters in the coming weeks, but I am on the road for a little while.

In whose interests are the “residents” rallies in Caledonia?

On May 22, 2006 – after holding a blockade of the Highway 6 at Caldeonia, Ontario for since February – the indigenous of Six Nations unblocked the highway. The dismantling of the blockade – initially erected by the indigenous to enforce their claim to a piece of land called the Douglas Creek Estates – was a gesture of goodwill on the part of Six Nations after they made headway in their negotiations with the provincial government. (for background see my previous article on the topic: http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?ItemID=10152). The gesture was probably to help defuse the organized “angry residents”, who had been rallying at the blockade weekly to demand the road be opened.

But the “angry residents” responded by striking a blockade of their own, preventing native people from getting from the Six Nations reserve to the area they have reclaimed.

Six Nations responded by putting their own blockades back up, and on the afternoon of May 22, there was a tense standoff, with hundreds of “angry residents”, hundreds of indigenous people, and the Ontario police, all present. The standoff continued through May 23. With this action, the “angry residents” have become the most significant impediment to a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The angry resident rallies

Three weeks ago, when I went to Caledonia to see the “angry residents” protest against the Six Nations blockade, I admittedly had a preconceived notion about what the Caledonian rally would be like. I had feared the presence of open white supremacist organizations like the KKK. Not only were there no KKK costumes or signs, but indeed the angry residents were angry at the very implication that they would allow KKK among them. Indeed, the angry residents suggested that the rumors of KKK presence were Six Nations disinformation.

The demonstration of angry residents that took place on May 5, 2006, however, was interesting to me in a number of ways.

First, the protesters did not have an adversarial relationship with the police, which is the norm at most protests. There were a few moments when angry residents yelled at police officers – but these were quickly calmed down by other residents who reminded them that the police were on the residents’ side. And the police were on the residents’ side, quite literally – in addition to the police on the line, there were police interspersed with the residents, conversing and mingling. At one point, an angry resident tried to lead others straight to the police line and past it towards the Six Nations blockade and force open the road. But he was stopped, not by the police, but by another angry resident who argued that a violent incident with the police would not be in the interests of the protesters.

Second, I was struck by the lack of proportion demonstrated by the angry residents. It is true that the Six Nations blockade disrupted traffic. The detour, however, allowed everyone to get to their destinations, despite taking longer. The indigenous were not preventing anyone from reaching their homes, even if they lived within the blockaded areas. Even the angriest residents had to admit this, and qualified their angry claims accordingly, saying: “We can’t get to the hospital – quickly,” and “People can’t get to their homes – without being questioned first.”

I traveled in the Occupied Palestinian territories in 2002, and I saw the effects of real checkpoints, Israeli checkpoints, on Palestinians’ lives. At the time, Palestinians were dying in ambulances because they are not allowed through Israeli checkpoints. Checkpoints turned what would be a 15-minute drive into day-long ordeals of waiting and humiliation. Palestinians really did lose access to their homes, and their families.

Of course, there are few inconveniences that do not seem insignificant when compared to the sufferings of the Palestinians. But even by Ontario standards, I found it difficult to understand the rage behind the residents’ cries to open the road. Yes, any delays in getting to the hospital are potentially very dangerous. But is there as much rage at the increasing wait times at the hospitals themselves, traceable to both federal and provincial government funding cuts, used to fund tax cuts? These cuts have been responsible for many unnecessary deaths over the years, in Ontario and throughout Canada.

Third, I was struck by the contradictory nature of the demands and the tactics of the residents. At that rally three weeks ago, a resident – who refused to give his full name – told news cameras of a plan the angry residents had to block the native people in. This was contradictory. If all of the anger had to do with opening the road, surely besieging the indigenous would not help matters?

I also heard residents complain about the ‘lawlessness’ of the indigenous. But the legal struggle was, and is, ongoing, and the law is favourable to the indigenous claim. The problem for the indigenous has been the ‘facts on the ground’, and the willingness of settlers (in the 19th century) and governments and corporations (today) to take a piece of indigenous land illegally, and have the laws changed in their favor later. That is the problem that forces indigenous people to blockades and direct action to protect their interests even though the law is often on their side. Now, here were the residents, threatening siege and extralegal action themselves, in the name of protesting native ‘lawlessness’. This, too, is contradictory.

A factor in negotiations?

The ‘angry residents’ have made themselves a factor in the negotiations between the various levels of government and the indigenous over the Douglas Creek Estates, the piece of land being reclaimed by Six Nations. Provincial negotiator David Peterson has talked numerous times to the press about how important it is to reduce “tensions in the community,” and the need to open the road to accomplish this. “All of us were praying and working hard to ensure that something ugly didn’t develop out of this,” he said to the CBC. The “angry residents” help Peterson’s negotiating posture by moving the “middle of the road” away from the indigenous and towards the government’s position.

While “praying and working”, Peterson was also able to present the very useful idea of “two warring sides” and “tensions in the community” to the public, equating two sides that are not at all equal. Indigenous peoples are not represented by Canadian governments. They have their own ideas and structures. The “angry residents”, by contrast, are represented by the governments they voted for and participate in. They are represented by the police who mingled with them at their rallies. To give them a seat at the negotiating table would be to give them double representation.

Despite this, the provincial government does have an interest in a peaceful resolution. It is headed by Liberals who want to distance themselves from the previous Conservative government of Mike Harris, which was responsible for “something ugly” in 1995 – the murder of indigenous man Dudley George by a police sniper at Ipperwash. The real estate developers have an interest in a resolution as well. The developers of the Douglas Creek Estates, Henco Industries, have repeatedly and publicly stated their desire to be bought out by the government. This points to a very simple potential resolution to this particular conflict: the government can compensate Henco and turn the land over to Six Nations. Progress towards such a resolution was expressed in a document called “Compendium of Commitments, Ontario and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Six Nations Council, May 10, 2006”.

With some success in the negotiations, the indigenous opened the road on May 22, removing the greatest grievance of the ‘angry residents’. But the ‘angry residents’ responded by creating a blockade of their own, preventing native people from crossing. Six Nations spokesperson Janie Jamieson described it to the CBC as “colonialism at its finest.”

If the provincial government and the developers both have an interest in a peaceful resolution, why did the “angry residents” act so irresponsibly to try to scuttle it? It cannot be because they want to see more suburban homes built – they have no reason to be more keen on home-building than the developers’ own corporation. Nor can they claim any longer to want freedom for the road – the minute they had it, they ruined it, for every resident, angry or otherwise.

So, in whose interests are these “angry residents” really acting? Perhaps the Conservative federal government. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s party is full of people who are contemptuous of indigenous rights and indigenous people. The same sorts were responsible for what happened at Ipperwash. Though Six Nations has expressed desire to talk to the federal government from the beginning, on a nation-to-nation basis, the federal government has said nothing publicly. Perhaps the “angry residents” really do represent the federal government? It is easy to speculate and difficult to prove. But Canadians who want to express that neither Harper’s people nor the “angry residents” represent them should speak, and move, now, before “something ugly” happens.

Justin Podur writes frequently for ZNet and can be reached at justin@killingtrain.com

The May 15 Mobilizations in Colombia

Colombia’s peasant, indigenous, and union organizations called for a major mobilization on May 15, 2006. With elections on May 28, 2006, the organizations sought to demonstrate their opposition to the Colombian regime’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States, its civil war, its relationship with the paramilitaries, and its proposed constitutional changes. The election is very quickly coming down to a contest between the current President, Alvaro Uribe Velez, and the political left candidate Carlos Gaviria.

Continue reading “The May 15 Mobilizations in Colombia”

Colombia is on the move – May 15, May 28

On May 28, Colombia will elect a new President.

The current favorite is the current President, Alvaro Uribe Velez.

The candidate of the left is a jurist named Carlos Gaviria. Carlos Gaviria is a supporter of the Indigenous and Popular Mandate. I do not know him, but I know people who do, and what I have heard is very good. If he were to win, there would be new breathing space for Colombia’s incredible and diverse popular movements and the country would have a decent chance of turning around. There would still be the problems of the US, the paramilitaries, and the military itself, threats of coup and assassination much more direct than in any other country in the hemisphere (and that is saying a lot). But if the elected government and the movements could navigate these, the consequences would be enormous: for Colombia, it would mean a chance at peace and a possible end to the civil war. For Latin America, it would mean the loss of the strongest ally of the strongest enemy of the independence and integration of the continent. And indeed, there would be global consequences as well – also, I think, very good.

For this reason, the US – and its first line of defense, Uribe, the military, the paramilitaries, the media in Colombia – will stop at nothing to prevent it. The presidential campaign is already truly filthy. Uribe has implied Carlos Gaviria’s campaign is communism in disguise that will turn the country over to the guerrillas. The paramilitaries have threatened the opposition to Uribe with death – despite the fact that they aren’t supposed to even exist any more, having ‘demobilized’. One of Carlos Gaviria’s advisors has been assassinated. An advisor to another prominent opposition member (from a different party) has also been assasinated.

There have been massacres in the countryside, threats against all of the social organizations. Having created this context with violence, the Colombian establishment is hinting at a ‘national emergency’ to deal with the violence. Those sorts of ordinances could be used against the opposition’s campaigns and demonstrations.

The indigenous movements have called a national mobilization for May 15 on the central issues of the elections: ‘free trade’ with the US, Uribe’s proposed constitutional changes, Uribe’s approach to war.

Much is at stake in this mobilization. The government will try to crush it and demonize it. If the government succeeds, Colombians will continue to mobilize under horrible violence and threat for a better country, though their short-term hopes will be dashed and the war prolonged. If the government fails, the mobilization will open breathing space over the next two weeks for the challenge to Uribe and beyond.

Below is a translation of a call written by a member of ACIN, the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, on the mobilization.

*The Time Has Come to Walk the Word*

All this is difficult to see, understand, resist, and change. It demands unity, creativity, intelligence, solidarity, commitment, sacrifice and much work, but also much joy and much desire for life. — The Indigenous and Popular Mandate

The mobilization has begun. The demand for the right to another country, one of liberty, solidarity, justice, and dignity, is being made. An uprising of conscience that reaches from the smallest to the highest level has began.

Colombia is not the country we have dreamed of. Today more than ever, we stand by what we stated in the Indigenous and Popular Mandate: “The state that should protect us persecutes us.” The recent events confirm this. Under the banner of the mobilization, the Black, Mestizo, and Indigenous communities of Suarez and Morales have marched to the city of Cali to demand the fulfilment of the agreements that have gone unfulfilled for 20 years. In Cali they were met by ESMAD (public forces). There are wounded and detained. In recent days advisors of Piedad Cordoba and Carlos Gaviria have been assassinated. So have 10 campesinos in Meta. One group of social organizations has been threatened with death by ‘demobilized’ paramilitaries.

These events are accompanied by a series of declarations by the establishment. President Uribe has said that the elections offer a choice “between [Uribe’s policy of] Democratic Security and communism in disguise that will hand the country over to the FARC.” His ex- minister Fernando Londoño reinforces his words, and one of his most loyal followers, also one of the worst enemies of the indigenous movement, Cauca’s governor Juan José Chaux Mosquera, has said that he sees dangers of terrorist infiltration in the social mobilization. At the same time the paramilitaries have threatened the Colectivo de Abogados Jose Alvear Restrepo, ONIC, CUT, and other social organizations. Already terrorized communities such as those of San Jose de Apartadó and Arauca, as well as the indigenous Kankuamo people, have been under attack.

The project that threatens life has no respect for borders. That’s why it is called “globalization.” It has reached into our communities and homes in every part of Colombia and the world. It inflicts war, propaganda, and all of the power that war and money can bring down on us. The persecution is for a very specific reason. It is a direct response to the strengthening of peacful, democratic political processes in Colombia under the Indigenous and Popular Mandate, which includes peasant, indigenous, unions, women’s movements, and all popular sectors. These sectors have found a political expression in the candidacy of Carlos Gaviria, which has gained momentum and become an electoral threat to the regime.

Colombia is awake and aware that we are in a moment that will define our history. Slowly but surely, people, communities, and organizations have joined the project of conscience to defend life. From all over the continent we hear words of action and practice in the construction of a new history. The continent rose up against the FTAA. Bolivia has gifted us with the nationalization of its own resources. Immigrants have challenged the empire and lift their voices for their rights in other lands even as they are forced to flee their own due to systematic impoverishment of their home economies. The Zapatistas in Mexico have gifted us with their Other Campaign.

The struggles throughout the continent and the reasons for the uprising are the same ones that move us. And they move us because the future of Latin America is being decided here, in Colombia. The US ignores the mobilizations and actions of our countries because it counts on its most durable program, Plan Colombia, and its unconditional ally, Uribe, to implement its corporate project. That is why they say: “Either Democratic Security or you are all communists . . . either you fall in line or go to Bolivia, Venezuela, or Brazil.”

We make this call to those who know how to listen to the words of Mother Earth. Our call comes from the mother that cannot be owned, the mother of all. It is time to get together, see each other’s faces, hear each other’s voices, open the way to the word, and continue to build the country that we all dream of. On May 15 it will not be Colombia mobilizing, but the Popular Movement in the Continent mobilizing from Colombia.

Yesterday Elvia Escue brought a small bag to the commission that is collecting food in Santander de Quilichao in preparation for the mobilization.“This is my support for the mobilization,” she told the commission. A bag of rice, a bag of potatoes, an onion. Where did it come from? From a humble home–one household among the 32 million poor people in our country. Out of a history of more than 500 years of viewing liberty, justice, and solidarity on the horizon and choosing these principles in everyday acts, the mobilization has begun.

Race, Culture, and Leftists

What follows is a paper for presentation at the Z Sessions on Vision and Strategy, to be held in June 2006. It is fairly schematic. I have fleshed out the ideas with examples in other online work (see this essay and this interview). The aim here was to present the main ideas to a leftist, activist audience, advance the ideas somewhat, and seek feedback. I’m hoping for feedback from those who attend the sesions. But I hope to get more feedback in the ZNet wiki, in the discussion pages…

My presentation is motivated by what I believe is a weakness across the political spectrum: handling the interaction of different cultures and identities in accordance with principles of equality, solidarity, and liberty. My optimistic belief is that if we – leftists – can get this right, in our own communities and organizations such as they are, then we can solve some of the debilitating problems within our organizations and communities. If we can do that, we will be more attractive, bigger, stronger, and better able to face the battles we will need to fight in future.


I am obliged to start with some definitions. I am going to define a few very commonly used terms. In my definitions I am going to stick fairly closely to what I think people mean when they use these terms, but I am going to select meanings in order to make it easier for me to make my points.

I define a community as a group of people who share something in common. Who is in or out of the community is determined by the community and by those outside it. The Black community, for example, is not one based solely on self-identification. Who is Black has been defined, historically, by whites, not blacks. The journalistic or scientific ‘community’, a very different kind of community, is not defined from the outside – or is defined from the outside to a much lesser extent.

Identity is most simply membership in a community or group. Like the boundaries of community, identification happens in two ways. One’s own consciousness is important. But so too is that of the group – in many cases, membership in a group is contingent upon the group’s acceptance. And also, identity can be imposed from the outside – by states who confer ‘status’ or ‘non-status’ identity on their subjects.

I am going to define culture differently from anthropologists. To anthropologists culture is everything that is not defined by biology. But I will define culture as the shared language – not only language, but nonverbal cues, assumptions, norms, customs – that enable members of a group to communicate internally and to strengthen the identification of individuals with the community. But the capacity to communicate is moderated through cultural institutions – media, educational, religious… indeed every institution has a cultural element, which is the reason for phrases like ‘working class culture’.

Race is just a particular kind of group identity, correlated with continent of origin and physical features like skin colour. In North America ‘racial’ identifications are basically: Asian (sometimes divided into East, West, South), Indigenous, Latin@, Black, and white. Ethnicity is a more nuanced understanding of the concept, relying on country or language of origin.

Next is racism. Leftists used to have some control over the definition of this word, but I believe we have lost it, and this has led to some of our problems. Common usage of the word racism is that racism is bigotry, prejudice, resort to stereotypes. In this common usage, Blacks can be just as ‘racist’ as whites. Another idea is that racism is simply the irrational hatred of Black people. In this usage, ‘racism’ is reserved for anti-Black prejudice, and differentiated from anti-semitism, Islamophobia, and hatred against other groups. This usage leads to the idea of ‘reverse racism’, which in common usage is discrimination against whites and is usually suggested as an argument against affirmative action programs.

Leftist usage of the word racism is different from common usage. In leftist usage, racism is either a system of power that one group (whites) holds over others, or any individual or institutional behaviour or pattern that reinforces this system of power. I believe this is a useful definition – indeed the most useful – but because of its limitations, it has been mostly rejected in favor of the common usage. I will discuss these limitations in a minute – first I will dispense with the definitions.

Multiculturalism is a proposed solution to racism. In a multicultural framework, all cultures are respected and indeed, all cultures are equal. Groups are free to express their cultural preferences and dominant groups are to have special respect for minority groups. Tolerance and diversity are the order of the day. Cross-cultural understandings are sought. Multiculturalism posed as the counter to the common-usage form of racism.

Multiculturalism is not, however, a solution to racism as leftists refer to it. Indeed, if a system of power is still in place, multicultural ideals of respect, tolerance, and diversity can then be used as arguments against mobilization aimed at identifying or redressing power imbalances (as divisive or intolerant). Ideas of fairness and equality developed as an antidote to bigotry become arguments against affirmative action. It is official policy in Canada, and it plays out in perverse ways: it is a table built on dispossession at which the gatekeepers of the different communities compete for resources based on their ability to convince the others that they ‘represent’ their communities. The result is that the dominant group, presumed to have no ‘culture’ (having to settle for wealth and power instead) gets to wield strict fairness and equality arguments against these ‘cultures’, who sound like they want ‘special rights’.

At the same time, leftists helped develop multicultural analysis and the multicultural ideal. That it has become mainstream speaks to its basis in good values (fairness, equality, diversity). That it is used as a weapon against oppressed constituencies speaks to its limitations.

Limitations of Multiculturalism by Leftists

The limitations of the leftist definition of racism are related to the limitations of multiculturalism. Both are highlighted by the proposed solutions to the problem. If we are against power differentials between groups, do we eliminate the differentials but preserve the groups? Or do we eliminate the groups?

If we want to preserve the groups neatly and separately, we have a separatist solution.

If we want to eliminate the groups, we are after assimilation.

But both such solutions – and in its crudest form multiculturalism is a separatist solution, albeit with an injunction to ‘tolerance’ between the separate groups – are solutions based on cultural homogeneity. They are based on a flawed idea that people live their lives as members of a single group or a single identity.

The flaw and its application in multiculturalism is described by Vijay Prashad in his book ‘Everybody was Kung Fu Fighting’:

“Are cultures discrete and bounded? Do cultures have a history or are they static? Who defines the boundaries of culture or allows for change? Do cultures leak into each other? … To respect the fetish of culture assumes that one wants to enshrine it in the museum of humankind rather than find within it the potential for liberation or for change. We’d have to accept homophobia and sexism, class cruelty and racism, all in the service of being respectful to someone’s perverse definition of culture.”

Adding to Vijay’s list of rhetorical questions are two posed by Michael Rabinder James’s book ‘Deliberative Democracy and the Plural Polity’: Do individuals choose their cultural identities, do they inherit them, or are they imposed from without? A group’s claim on resources or restitution may depend on this question. When we are talking about resources, we are talking about the economy, and class, and perhaps of conflict between classes. Why should a group based on self-definition have any special claim on resources? The truth is, Rabinder James argues, that in fact, choice and inheritance, internal group acceptance and external imposition, all play a role in identity formation, in virtually all cases.

Most of our views about culture and multiculturalism underestimate diversity within groups. They overlook how group boundaries can shift over time.

Amartya Sen’s recent book, Identity and Violence, also makes this argument. He makes two main points. First, that individuals have multiple identities that overlap and can change. Second, that there is always some role for choice in how identity plays out in any given situation.

This is not a matter that requires great imagination. It merely requires recognition of daily reality. It is in front of all of us. But it has some important consequences.


Robin Kelley, 1999 ColorLines, describes this recognition as ‘polyculturalism’, which he counterposes with ‘multiculturalism’.

“…we were and are `polycultural.’ By `we,’ I’m not simply talking about my own family or even my `hood, but all peoples in the Western world. It is not our skin or hair or walk or talk that renders black people so incredibly diverse. Rather, it is the fact that most black people in the Americas are products of a variety of different `cultures’ — living cultures, not dead ones. These cultures live in and through us everyday, with almost no self-consciousness about hierarchy or meaning. In this respect, I think the term `polycultural’ works a lot better than `multicultural,’ since the latter often implies that cultures are fixed, discrete entities that exist side by side — a kind of zoological approach to culture. Such a view of multiculturalism not only obscures power relations, but often reifies race and gender differences..

“…While this may seem obvious, for some people it’s a dangerous concept. Too many Europeans don’t want to acknowledge that Africans helped create so-called Western Civilization, that they are both indebted to and descendants of the very folk they enslaved. They don’t want to see the world as One — a tiny little globe where people and cultures are always on the move, where nothing stays still no matter how many times we name it. To acknowledge our polycultural heritage and cultural dynamism is not to give up our black identity or our love and concern for black people. It does mean expanding our definition of blackness, taking our history more seriously, and looking at the rich diversity within us with new eyes.” (http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=30&ItemID=3865)

Consequences for the Future

First of all, I still do want to eliminate power and class differentials between groups. So restitution – programs that pay attention to history with a view to eliminating equality and fairness in the present – is important, for example in North America for Blacks and Indigenous peoples in particular. I cannot see justifying inequalities on the basis of tolerating diversity, nor do I see any reason to view a reparations programme that decreases inequality as ‘special treatment’. But there is a flip side. First, the programs have to be carefully designed so that they actually do decrease inequality. And second, wanting to eliminate inequalities between groups does not mean tolerating inequalities within groups.

This is where a possible tension emerges between cultural autonomy and solidarity. This is not a plea for cross-cultural tolerance, because we do not live in a single identity. We can have solidarity with others on the basis of shared identity, even if we have only our shared humanity as a basis for solidarity. But if we don’t want to use cultural relativism as an excuse to tolerate injustice within groups, we also don’t want to allow powerful groups to violate the autonomy of weaker or smaller groups based on their own values or norms.

But what does it mean in the real world of institutions and groups and populations to say we cannot ‘allow powerful groups’ to do something? What kind of protection is there for a minority within a country, or for a small independent national community in the family of nations? There are legal, political, and media protections that could help a society deal with this problem.

Formal, legal protections in constitutions and international law, protections that require consensus or huge majorities to change. But these can be violated by powerful groups.

Voting systems can be arranged to provide incentives to politicians and campaigners to reach out across obvious community divisions. But these, too, could be ridden with conflict.

Major media institutions could be encouraged to operate based on fairness criteria. These criteria include:

  1. Representing all subgroups in the wider community
  2. Presenting all different positions in the wider community
  3. Being accessible to anyone
  4. Facilitating communication or translation between groups
  5. Developing the ‘common culture’ of the wider community

Smaller, community media institutions might have a more specialist role. These might not be held up to the same standards of fairness. Nor would they have the same levels of public support or access to public space. They would just be independent media, available to anyone and protected by free speech laws.

What I’m sketching out here, for media institutions, is an important principle for a polycultural framework. The wider society has a responsibility to make its institutions representative of the diversity of the communities within it. But it should also encourage and help the creation of autonomous institutions for those communities: institutions that are not held to the same strict criteria of fairness, because, unlike society-at-large, people are free to exit them.

Michael Rabinder James, in his “Deliberative Democracy and the Plural Polity”, suggests fairness criteria for judging democratic processes: aggregative equality (each person has roughly the same voting power), deliberative equality (each different position is represented regardless of its popularity), aggregative autonomy (choice between different candidates and positions), deliberative autonomy (a chance to develop positions free of coercion and with full information), aggregative reciprocity (equal coalition-building opportunities), and deliberative reciprocity (a tendency to view others as partners and understand their positions). He also suggests voting systems that would encourage people to seek votes across identity groups.

Legal, political, and media protections can all facilitate a polycultural framework. But in spite of them, powerful groups could wield control over resources to shut out or misrepresent alternative views or consign them to the margins.

I believe, however, that beyond institutionalized protections, the ultimate protection is the development of a ‘common culture’ in which people do not ‘vote’, or even think, reliably or consistently as a member of their ‘community’ only as opposed to the larger society. This is the best protection against communalism and, in India, it has been the main brake on communalism. People do not vote, or live, in a single identity. A sound society would not ask them to.

What about across societies? What about if cases of oppression or violence are occurring within a community or a nation? When does the wider society – or the family of nations, or an external agent of any kind – have the right to intervene?

In the most extreme cases, this can be resolved with a simple rule proposed by Arthur Waskow in the 1960s in a small book called ‘Keeping the World Disarmed’. The basic rule is simply this: intervention is allowed, but more force requires more consensus. So any country could send a single unarmed observer or investigator to investigate claims that a country was arming or committing rights violations against its people. To send more would require more consensus, and full armed intervention would require some super majority.

Consequences Today

I said earlier that people do not vote, or live, in a single identity. A sound society would not ask them to. I should also add that a sound political movement would not ask them to. I should also add that I believe that leftists do ask people to, and that is a mistake.

There is no such thing as a homogeneous group or movement. The idea of representativeness in common spaces and the creation of autonomous spaces can almost always be applied. Criteria of deliberative and aggregative autonomy, reciprocity, and equality can always be applied. I believe that we can, and should, evaluate our own institutions and processes according to these criteria. I believe that we can improve our work as antiracists by recognizing the multiple, overlapping identities and the element of choice in them. We can also avoid the error of asking people to live or think in a single identity.

This framework has led me to a skepticism about the label ‘people of colour’ used by leftists. ‘People of colour’ is a flimsy identity, externally imposed. It lacks the elements of shared history, language, experience, or territory that make for coherent communities. It obscures power differentals and oppression within its too-wide boundaries. Antiracists do better to rely on stronger bonds of solidarity, whether based in coherent communities or in shared principles and practice. I do not believe that the benefits of excluding whites are so great that they make up for what is lost. For racial identity, I am in favor of more precise labels: Black, Indigenous, East, West, or South Asian, Latin@, and white – these, too, however, are subject to fluid and shifting boundaries and internal (class, power, gender) diversity.

I also believe that leftists analysis of ‘privilege’ is either too often used or too selectively used. Especially in the absence of positive aims and political strategy, it is common leftist practice to attack individuals on grounds of identity and consequent privilege. Without positive aims or objective criteria, critiques on the basis of identity have the potential to destroy any group and any organizing effort that is not completely homogeneous or atomized. While this is not an argument for denial, silence, or complicity in the face of inequalities or hypocrisy, I will say that such attacks need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, on the basis of their strategic value and on the basis of the likelihood that they will advance positive antiracist aims of decreasing power differentials, strengthening solidarity, or expanding freedom. Many are made instead for the sake of self-expression or because they are easy to make. The attackers are too often unreflective of their own privilege. I suspect that this is the experience of many leftists trying to function in activist circles. Indeed, Michael Rabinder James suggests criteria for when a minority group would be justified in political struggle against the majority. As you may have guessed, the idea is that the majority has to have failed the tests of deliberative and aggregative equality, reciprocity, and autonomy. It is worth keeping this in mind, too, when we are deciding whether or not to struggle against one another.

The Last Nomadic Indigenous in the Hemisphere

This comes from the Colombia Support Network…



S.O.S.On behalf of the Indigenous Peoples: Nukak Makú, Guayabero, Sikuani, and Tucano
( Translated by Nolen Johnson a CSN translator)

The National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC, is sending an S.O.S. because of the grave and repeated human rights violations against the Nukak Makú, Guayabero, Sikuani, and Tucano indigenous peoples. In a visit made to the state of Guaviare we witnessed first hand the critical human rights situation in which these indigenous people are living.

Continue reading “The Last Nomadic Indigenous in the Hemisphere”

Medieval Siege in Gaza

With the settlements gone, all eyes are off of Gaza and the genocidal policy unfolding there. I just got this off of a mailing list. It comes from the Gaza Community Mental Health Program.

A little off-topic

One of the things that has kept me from blogging as often over the past months has been an increasing involvement in behind-the-curtain work at ZNet. One of the more interesting aspects of this work has been the project exploring the possibility of converting ZNet to free software (some of you will note the hedging-of-bets character of the previous sentence). To that end, I’ve just published an article on that project, is prospects, and some thoughts on the motivating philosophies of ZNet and of the free software movement.