Towards a Family-Friendly Radical Movement: Intergenerational Liberation for All

“Making children is the most anti-revolutionary thing you can do. We should not subsidize other people’s lifestyles. If you breeders want childcare, then organize it amongst yourselves.” – Anonymous comment on Infoshop.org

________

There’s more where that came from.

While many revolutionary and radical communities embrace families, intolerance of parents and children is a stance that still has a foothold in many circles. Scorn towards mothers, children and families is hardly a revolutionary mentality. In fact, this position is a direct holdover from capitalist, authoritarian ideology. Unfortunately, instead of challenging this rhetoric as reactionary, anarchists and other radicals often accept it in our midst. 1

Mainstream culture generates a steady stream of contempt towards mamas and kids. Any parent can tell you how common it is to hear statements like, “Some people just shouldn’t be allowed to procreate,” or complaints about how the Worst Thing Ever is to sit down for a flight next to a young child, or a baby. How strollers are forever in the way. How breastfeeding is disgusting and offensive. How the unruly child in the checkout line or the coffee shop is obviously the product of a lazy mother whose incompetence is assumed after only a few moments’ familiarity. How mamas on welfare and teen mamas should, basically, eat shit and die (but have a Happy Mother’s Day!). This judgment, eye-rolling and hatred flows freely in our society. Interestingly, as it becomes less and less generally acceptable to express a blanket intolerance towards women, mothers–and by association, their children–are still a “safe” repository for cultural scorn. Any m/other can tell you–it’s always open season on her and her sisters. 2

To offer an illustration of this dynamic: a couple of years ago. there was an incident on an Air Tran flight. The crew ejected a mother with a screaming 3-year-old child from the flight before the plane took off. Similar occurrences are relatively common and women often organize around them–mothers kicked out of restaurants for breastfeeding (its legality notwithstanding), cafes declared kid-free zones, et cetera. There is often media coverage, complete with the peanut gallery, which usually weighs in on the mothers in question as if witch burnings might be an option. If online comments are any measure, plenty of people were in agreement with the Air Tran decision. Here’s one: “Good to see that at least some airlines throw out the inconsiderate parents with their brats. Seriously, that should happen more often. If your damn kid can’t shut up, stay off of airplanes. I don’t see why anyone else, be it crew or passengers, should have to put up with unruly brats. It’s about time that entitlement-ridden parents learn their lesson.” Here’s another comment from a different website: “Parents of small children should except [sic] the responsibilties[sic] of thier [sic] decision to have these mewling brats and let those of us who were smart enough not to make the assinine [sic] mistake of parenthood, have the peace we so richly deserve.” 3   The point should be made that this blanket intolerance of parents lands disproportionately, and squarely, on the backs of women.

This is a value system clearly dictated by capitalism. While giving lip service to the sanctity of motherhood and putting social pressure on women to procreate –alas, soldiers and workers do not come from thin air–in actuality, a capitalist framework places a very low value on child rearing and penalizes all women (some far more than others) economically and socially for becoming mothers. This is particularly true in the US version of capitalism. M/others on the low-end of this totem pole (whether single, of color, receiving government assistance, poor, young, or undocumented) are the recipients of increasingly complicated layers of discrimination, intolerance, and exploitation.

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Resistance

Resistance is the secret of joy.
-Alice Walker

When I was a kid, my mom would take us on long road trips. These were the days before carseats and airbags, cell phones, radar detectors, or even mandatory seatbelts. I’d lay in my raggedy ann sleeping bag across the backseat, my sister would stretch out next to me across the floorboard and we’d fall asleep hot and sweaty with headlights flashing by, bumping down the highway. Sometimes we’d stop at a motel but other times my mom would just drive through the night until we got where we were headed. She had a portable CB radio that she’d connect to the cigarette lighter, and she’d listen to that to get news about traffic, accidents, the whereabouts of cops, and I guess, for entertainment. She got it from my grandfather, who was a hotshot pilot and a union man. The truck drivers were almost always male and I got to hear lots of colorful talk between the “10-4 good buddy”s and “breaker 1-9″s. My mom would fall in with a convoy of trucks so we could hear the same folks conversating for hours, and she’d often join in. I think her handle was “Fly Girl”.

I realized recently that my first idea of a culture of resistance, the idea that people outside the law could band together and fight back, came from these truck drivers sharing information with each other about the location of smokeys–police, of course. They’d be able to drive as fast as they wanted until someone would announce “bear at the 325″ and everyone would slow down and sail past the cop, then speed up a few miles later, neat and easy. It must have clicked with me as a kid, because I never bought into the idea that the rules made sense just because.

How did you first learn about resistance? Have any stories? Did you have a parent go on strike? Fight a battle at school? Tell your tale in the comments, and maybe we can share our stories of resistance with the next generation…

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Hot off the press is a new, free PDF by Vikki Law and China Martens called “Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind (Concrete Ways to Support Caretakers and Children in Your Scene)

Read it, print it, distro it!

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Don’t Say You Didn’t See It Coming

No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
-Frank Zappa

I can’t remember the day I became certain that our world will drastically alter during our lifetimes, that my daughter’s adulthood will take place in a possibly unrecognizable reality. I think it was about five years ago, when I began to understand the energy crisis–that there is not enough fuel on the planet to allow us to continue our way of life much longer (and even if there were, it’s not in our best interests to heat up our atmosphere any more).

Trouble is coming. Many folks would say it’s already here.

It is easy to think that things will keep on going as they have been–in fact, it seems practically impossible to alter the elements of our world that are not working. But the reality is, the world is on a radically new course, and each year will bring changes that we wouldn’t have been able to imagine just a short time ago.

I remember something a family member said, after 9/11, when they were finding envelopes filled with anthrax. “The people in authority will just fix things. They know what they’re doing. We can count on them to take care of us.” Then came the events of the last decade: endless war sold to the public under false pretenses, the failed response to Katrina, environmental devastation, the energy crisis, the reality of climate change, financial meltdown, mass unemployment and hunger. No matter how great your faith in the system, all signs are clear that something is wrong. The forces that hold “business as usual” together are unraveling.

It’s past time to wake up. Whether your politics are red, blue, or neither, it’s plain to see that the “people in authority” are, frankly, the blind leading the blind. Really, what more do they have to screw up that they haven’t already? We can no longer look up to the authorities for answers, solutions, hope. Their authority is not legitimate. They do not know how to fix the problems they’ve created. The only thing they seem to know how to do is to funnel more money into the pockets of the already rich. The important question is not, how can we get them to make things right, but: why do people continue to put their faith in authority, when those in power have squandered the people’s hope for so many years?

The simple truth is the people calling the shots full well understand how bad things have gotten, and the extraordinarily dire situation we are in, but it is not in their interest to alert the public, because if everyone collectively got the facts and compared notes, the economy would tank within days. True, a tanked economy would cause immediate hardship, which is a reality most of us are already experiencing. But there is an important point that the moneyed don’t seem to realize: the financial system is not too big to fail. Humanity can survive if Wall Street fails, but we absolutely can not survive without an intact planet. Our earth is the only thing that is “too big to fail”, and business as usual has pushed our planet to the brink.

Trouble is coming, and it’s overdue.

Our food systems, transportation systems, communication systems, our economy, and our lives are built up around a system that is falling apart. We have to wake up and realize that the old rules do not apply–we do not have the luxury of petitioning the powers that be to do our bidding and then wait while they fiddle as Rome burns. This is beyond right wing, left wing, progressive, libertarian, whatever–the situation is dire, and it is time to stop waiting for someone else to take care of our problems, or pointing the finger at other groups we think are to blame. Will it be too late when we understand that we can’t waste any more time focusing on getting the people in charge to do our bidding? We’ve played by those rules for too long.

Now, it’s our turn–it’s time to take matters into our own hands. This is beyond politics. If we want to avert disaster, we have no choice but to step up and build resilience, for our children, for our communities. Think I’m being alarmist? Understand: money in the bank is not going to save you. A 401K is not going to save you. A shotgun is not going to save you. Supporting the right candidate is not going to make everything okay. We are entering a new world where the old rules will not apply. Grab a shovel and pitch in. Working together just might save us.

Our communities need to be asking: what do we need to survive? Food, clean water, heat, shelter, friends we can count on, ingenuity, a few bikes, work we love doing, family, creativity, seeds, safe streets, love? Chances are, our ipods and Kindles are going to be much less useful than they are now. The solutions that will make a difference are going to be a lot simpler. An example: where I live in the mountains of North Carolina, we have hundreds of farms. Still, we import 95% of our food from outside the region. Soon we will not be able to cheaply import this food that we now count upon. If we want to avert mass hunger, we have to grow a lot more food locally. Many regions are even worse off than we are. That’s what we have to look at, whether we like it or not. It is going to get real, folks. Don’t be caught saying you didn’t see it coming.

The good news is, there are already thousands of people that have long realized these realities and are working on reclaiming their communities. There are answers, but they don’t depend on whether you vote Democrat or Republican, or how skillfully you can pin the blame on another group. The answers depend on how willing you and and the folks around you are to look reality in the eye and work together to build solutions.

Summer garden on Prince Edward Island http://3c2y.goldnet.ca/content/page/sustainable

Practical, community-based direct action, not magical solutions granted from on high, will get us closer to where we need to be. And as difficult as this transition will be, it may surprise us at times to feel relieved. All of us, by necessity, will be engaged in meaningful work. We will finally be able to unplug, say goodbye to centuries of destruction, and hopefully, to witness rebirth. We’re going to get a lot closer to where our food comes from. We’ll have the opportunity to rebuild the tight-knit communities that many of our elders enjoyed.

If you’re not sure where to start: grow something this year. Start a simple garden or just plant a few seeds. Get to know more of your neighbors. Read some of the articles posted below. Build community where you’re at–not just online, but on your street. Stop depending on others to fix problems that have gotten far too out of hand. Empower yourself to take action! Together, we have the power to create change.

Further reading:

Is the World’s Oil Running Out Fast? http://www.countercurrents.org/porter090110.htm
Why Transition? http://www.transitionus.org/why-transition
Designing Energy Descent Pathways http://www.permacultureactivist.net/articles/EnergyDescent.htm
Urban Farming Revolution http://www.realitysandwich.com/urban_farming_revolution
Life Reclaimed: An Interview with Jared Manos http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/sustainable-happiness/life-reclaimed

Seed oil production in Haiti

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Why I Broke Up with the Anarchist Community

About 5 years ago, I stopped hanging out and doing work in the anarchist community because it wasn’t meeting my needs. The community wasn’t doing the kind of work I’m most interested in, it was completely white-centric, and it tended to silence me when I got the most passionate. In short, the anarchist community in the city I was living in failed me.

But I never stopped considering myself an anarchist.

During my hardcore anarchist years, the same tiresome things kept happening. I’d attend meetings or events and realize folks were glaring at my child. There was often a palpable feeling in the air “Who is this breeder? Doesn’t she know her kid isn’t welcome?” This always made me feel like saying, “Listen, you stinky motherfucker, your impressively righteous punk patches and by-the-book taste in music notwithstanding, you don’t get to decide whose party this is, and just because you’re uncomfortable with your own parents and class privilege doesn’t mean all parents, or all kids suck. It might mean that you suck, though. Now go throw a rock at a window and call it revolution.” But I never did, probably because I didn’t feel like inviting the backlash such a comment would bring.

As time went on and I became more vocal in the community, even more tiresome things kept happening: people continued to insinuate that my mama comrades and I were expecting a handout when we suggested they offer free childcare at events, somehow white men always dominated the discussion and organizing efforts and succeeded in drowning out the voices of those they did not agree with, and in one surreal instance, I was publicly compared to Andrea Dworkin, of all people, for standing up in defense of a fellow woman organizer. Too often I felt misunderstood and marginalized. All the evidence started to add up that, as much as I loved my community, it was not the right spot for me to do my work.

Realizing that I was perpetually on the verge of a giant rant, I decided that if my anarchist community refused to grow up, it didn’t mean that I had to do the same. So I dropped out, and started many humbling years as a just-scraping-by community organizer, trying to create human-scale neighborhood solutions aimed at solving some of the problems in places I lived.

But I never stopped considering myself an anarchist, even though that affiliation would make as much sense to many of my current friends and neighbors as “card-carrying Martian”.

In fact, I am a die-hard anarchist. (This, even, from a person who refuses even to describe herself as “feminist” because she has too many disagreements with what most people consider feminism.) The one label, other than mother, that I use with comfort is “anarchist”. I fucking love the ideology of anarchism. Even if I find it hard to connect with the theory of crusty old Russians–possibly more relevant to male industrial revolution-era workers than to poor mothers of the 21st century–I will always be passionately convinced that each person deserves access to all the necessary tools to make her life what she wants it to be. That we don’t have to go knocking on some rich, educated person’s door, or tug on our congressman’s coat, to ask politely for some solutions. That everyone on earth deserves justice, and to experience the richness of human life, now, not later, and that people should be held accountable for the messes we’ve created. That is my anarchism.

I just didn’t want to spend my life arguing with the people I thought should have my back.

Let me ask a question. What percentage of anarchist events, without being asked, provides childcare? Are there any anarchist communities in the US that provide elder care? There are uncountable ways we could address these simple issues, but for some reason we’d rather read about how they did things in 1930’s Spain than develop a nuanced and sustainable plan for a truly new society in the shell of the old. Hey, I love reading about the Spanish Civil War, too, but something is off when we’d rather talk at each other about times long past until we’re blue in the face because it is so much less risky to talk than to do the hard work of making things better.

Often, we ghettoize ourselves in our comfort zones, to a point that anyone that doesn’t fit the anarchist “description” feels as out of place as a fat woman in a fashion magazine. Hell, almost every anarchist meeting or event I went to with my kid, I was given the side eye. It gets old. One guy at the infoshop refused to pass off the keys to me because he didn’t “trust” me. Well, I guess he was right, I didn’t fit into his version of anarchism: a white boys club that holds endless geekout sessions about whether the police qualify as “workers”. Count me and my kid out, thanks.

Often, our concept of what is revolutionary is not really a mature concept of true revolution. If you’ve ever thrown a rock through a window, you know what I’m talking about. It feels good, but ultimately, someone just comes and fixes that window. It would be nice to really dismantle something, or really create something lasting. We need comprehensive solutions-based thinking, because these are some big-ass problems we’re dealing with, and when the going gets tough, daddy is not going to drive up in his SUV and solve them by throwing some money around. Neither is the government, which is being eaten alive by a corporate cancer and outsourcing more and more of its most basic functions, going to be able to deal with the reality of the situation in a few years. Will we be ready the day that no water comes out of the tap, that the light switch does not make the electricity come on? Katrina was just a dry run for some of the awfulness that could happen. And not enough people see it coming.

It’s time to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Another question: how much does a white-centric infoshop in a poor neighborhood of color really accomplish? What is the average lifespan of an anarchist infoshop anyway? I apologize for my bluntness, but please, don’t have the self-important illusion that you are really fomenting the revolution or helping anyone. Get your ass to community meetings, town hall meetings, listen, talk to people outside your comfort zone. Organize. Get yourself out of the anarchist ghetto.

Only the hard work of making things better will dismantle the current society by making it outdated and obsolete. Current “solutions” have already been obsolete for many of us: I haven’t had health insurance for 13 years. My food stamps were canceled this month. Folks, we need whole systems thinking and entire structures of mutual aid that are accessible to people who may not have social networks or anarchist caché. Where is the anarchist federation of time banks that organize community health care? Where are our anarchist restaurants with free food for poor single parents, disabled veterans and the homeless, locatable to all in the yellow pages? When the landlord raises the rent, again, where are our anarchist sanctuaries with safe, clean and cheap roomshares that are child-friendly?

We’re not doing good enough. We are too complacent.

But I never stopped considering myself an anarchist (and I can’t deny that I will always have a huge soft spot for even the most closed-minded black-flag scenesters who may not grow out of calling me a breeder). I believe, now more than ever, that anarchist principles are the answer. Every single anarchist needs to be a kick-ass community organizer–-we need to spread decentralized solutions-based thinking before it’s not too late, and fascist corporate capitalist “restructuring” solutions take over when disaster hits (like New Orleans, where I hear all of the public schools have been privatized, housing projects shuttered, and neighborhoods left to rot). We need to proactively empower our communities and brace for the coming disasters. The tidal wave will come, and we can carry on with our infoshops and punk shows, which are really comfortable, after all, or we can create accessible solutions that provide resilience for our families and our communities.

We can grow up and do more of the work that makes things better: creating community-based health care, organizing child and elder care systems of mutual support, opening intergenerational democratic free schools, turning unused properties into peoples’ art museums, planting permaculture gardens and food forests, organizing free transportation, sustainable community housing, public safety programs, anarchist conflict resolution and mediation centers, taking part in rituals that bind our community together. The possibilities are endless, and we’ve all imagined them.

Perhaps the best first step is to look for folks that have been doing this work in our communities for ages. Maybe that’s the person standing next to you at the punk show. And maybe it’s not.

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On the Often Childish Nature of Direct Action


April 2003

Anyone who doesn’t understand the concept of direct action should look at a two- year-old throwing a tantrum. This occurred to me last week after I witnessed the fury of my child’s first full-on kicking and screaming tantrum. There is a kernel of human genius in every pissed off child. What’s the easiest way to get what you want? Make a huge fuss about it– immediately. That is a concept familiar to any three year old, yet it is lost on most of us old folks. You don’t see toddlers going around signing e-mail petitions to get more Popsicles and less turnip greens for dinner. You don’t see toddlers registering to vote so they can choose between two morally bankrupt, intellectually bereft candidates. When small children want something, they do everything within their power to get it—-right now! And so it is with direct action.

A direct action might inadvertently inconvenience someone, but like a tantrum, those inconvenienced kind of have to admire the effort the whole event takes. You think, “My God, at least there’s someone out there still speaking her mind.” And somewhere, secretly, you’re wishing you could do the same thing. You remember the outrage you felt as a child when you began to figure out that the world is set up to prevent you from having any fun. Mom said everyone was nice but it turns out people are bastards. I feel like throwing a tantrum every time I read a newspaper. Call me immature.

Sometimes I think that’s why direct action doesn’t make sense to Americans. It goes against the Protestant work ethic: “Fun? Not when there is work to be done!” It goes against our heavily ingrained notion that authority makes the most sense—one should do what they’re told, speak when they’re spoken to. We’re almost happy when Mr.Red Tape show us more hoops to jump through: “The HMO needs documentation of my great-grandmother’s gallstone operation before they can authorize my first appointment with the optometrist? With pleasure! Anything else I can do for you while I’m at it?”

So it’s interesting, conversely, that our revolutionary American spirit, one of the things that makes us who we are, is the impetus to direct action. Don’t like it–do something about it! Don’t like the British overtaxing on their already overpriced tea? Throw it in the harbor and call it the Boston Tea Party! There’s always coffee, after all! Walk into a saloon and see a smooth character sidling up to your sweetie—-go and break a bottle over his head! Or two! We’ve always been that way. It’s one of those things you’ve got to love about America. Get a load of this event, described by Abigail Adams in 1777:

“One eminent, stingy merchant (who is a bachelor) had a hogshead of coffee in his store, which he refused to sell the committee under six shillings per pound. A number of females, some say a hundred, some say more, assembled with a cart and trucks, marched down to the warehouse, and demanded the keys, which he refused to deliver, Upon which one of them seized him by his neck and tossed him in the cart. Upon his finding no quarter, he delivered the keys when they tipped up the cart and discharged him; then opened the warehouse, hoisted out the coffee themselves, put it into the trunks and drove off…A large concourse of men stood amazed, silent spectators of the whole transaction.”

My question is: where are all the angry Americans now? Has the government managed to squelch every last voice of outrage? Where are our outlaws, our national conscience, our surly characters who are willing to do what it takes, even if it be outside the bounds of what polite society deems proper?

They’re out there, getting shot with rubber bullets by the Oakland Police Department. Or didn’t you hear about that?

They’re out there, getting arrested en masse by NYPD, for standing outside the headquarters of one of the vilest companies ever to slither its way onto the investment scene. Or didn’t you hear about the Carlyle Group?

They’re out there—or they’re in prison. Or didn’t you hear about the Patriot Act?

Everyone else is safe at home, so to speak, trying not to think about what might come next. Who is going to break a bottle over the heads of the limey bastards now? What would our revolutionary forefathers and foremothers say?

If you’re anything like me, you’ve begun to think that upsetting somebody’s old- fashioned sense of decorum if it gets something done makes more sense than waiting in a sinking boat, smiling inanely as the water closes over your ankles.

Don’t drown, waiting for the Coast Guard to bail you out. There’s a cup right there–bail yourself out. Or at least go down kicking and screaming. And if you’re lucky enough to escape, go throw a tantrum, because the boat that got sold to you was screwed up long before it came your way.

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Revolution

(Written in 2003 in the first week of the US invasion of Iraq.)

At many of the anti-war events I have been to in the last short while, the overwhelming sentiment is that something called “peace” should happen as soon as possible. Many of the events themselves are billed as being “for peace” and many of the participants carry signs and banner that speak about peace. Logical, right? Well, I’m gonna come clean. I’m wary of this “peace” idea. I can’t quite put my finger on why — but when I try to, I come up with more questions than answers.

For one thing, when I see people of color at marches and rallies, I rarely see them holding signs or banners that talk about peace. I notice that their signs, instead, often talk about “justice.” Why?

Aren’t justice and peace the same thing? Are they? Is justice peaceful? Is peace just? What is peace? Is it just peace and no fighting? Is it no bombs? For example, if peace happens, is the U.S. still allowed to engage in covert activities in Colombia? Can the CIA topple Chavez in Venezuela? Is that peaceful or not? What about other army projects — can our forces still occupy Afghanistan or parts of the Philippines and have troops just about everywhere else under peace? Can there be a military under peace?

Does it mean that if the U.S. stops dropping bombs on Somalia . . . I mean, the Sudan . . . er, no, I forgot, Afghanistan . . . oops, what I meant to say was Iraq . . . then there is peace? Or does it mean that if we stop the sanctions, then there is peace? Does it mean if we pay the Iraqi people $5 for every child lost since we first dropped bombs on them however many years ago, that there would be peace? Do we pay taxes that go toward building stealth bombers and not our own health under peace? Will some of our children still be hungry in peaceful times? Is peace ours? Or does it belong to everybody else on earth, too? And does it belong to the earth itself?

All these questions and no answers. Meanwhile, I’m still hearing this thunderous white cry for Peace! Peace! Peace!

I think I’ve got it figured out, after all. In peacetime, we don’t have marches and rallies for the young women that work in maquiladoras for worse than shitty pay making all the shit we use to clothe our own well-fed young women. In peacetime, we don’t have much of a problem ignoring the plight of sweatshop workers in our own cities. In peacetime, we don’t need to discuss the fact that our most favored nation is China.

In peacetime, we don’t have to listen to what our best trade buddy China does to Tibet, or to its own people. In peacetime, it seems to be easier to ignore that our good friend Israel is the recipient of the hugest percentage of U.S. foreign aid, and to be unaware of the fact that Israel is not so quietly or covertly going about their own campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians.

I wonder if the Palestinians thought the U.S. was at “peace” a few years ago when they began the latest intifada. In times of peace we don’t hear the ground we walk over every day screaming up at us, “What have you done!?” Most of the time, I’d venture that us white folks feel peaceful enough not to be bothered to look at the blood of the slaughtered indigenous peoples on our ancestors’ hands.

Maybe “peace” means that white people don’t have to hear about what our government does to other countries or what we’ve done inside our own borders. Maybe peace should otherwise be known as “free to go about our business without guilt nipping at our heels.” Maybe white people want peace because they hope it will keep death and danger at bay. When I see signs that say “Peace Now,” I often think to myself that it should read underneath, “(I am scared; I am guilty. I don’t want bad things to happen to me and my family.)”

My movement is the anti-imperialism, anti-oppression movement. I refuse to fight “for peace.” Does that sound angry? Does that sound uppity? Is that upsetting? I’m sorry if sounds that way, and let me be straight: I do not want war or killing, certainly not. But to ask another question, don’t we need justice more than we need a comfortable, air-conditioned, sound-tracked, airbrushed, leather-upholstered SUV-driving, sweatshop-clothes buying, racial profiling, meat-eating, bourgeois, mother-fucking peace?

If peace means that we go right back to the nightmare that we were living before we started dropping bombs this past week, then I don’t want peace, I want a revolution.

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