We’re Moving to “Making Noise in the South”!

Content from this web site, formerly the blog host  for my own writing, and all my new writing will be moving to a new independent media collective called “Making Noise in the South” (MNIS). The new site will focus on issues our region faces from a fresh perspective. We realize there’s not just one homogeneous “Southern heritage,” but a rich and diverse blend of cultures and customs that make us who we are — and we plan to honor that heritage.anti-racism2

Topics will include many of the same issues I already cover, like labor history, racism and white supremacy, mental illness, harm reduction, anti-fascism, and gender issues and patriarchy, with a bold new twist.

We’ll also provide in-depth stories, a working-class analysis of gentrification and shifting demographics in the South, connecting struggles across the South, and provide cultural commentary, as well as film, television, and music coverage.

This is an exciting moment. I look forward to collaborating with new writers, media specialists, and regular folks from across the South.

Thanks so much to all my loyal readers and please keep up with what we’ve got going on at MNIS. Feel free to contact me at jeremy.k.galloway@gmail.com to keep in touch.

Peace, Love, and Solidarity,
–Jeremy G

Gainesville Times Picks Up the Ball Other Media Keeps Dropping

Over the last few months, maybe even years, the media has drowned us in stories about a “new” heroin epidemic. That epidemic lingered long before the media took note, but in light of a recent dramatic spike in overdose deaths, it’s definitely wort of attention now more than ever.

Unfortunately, many of these articles come with a nasty side-effect: they cast a dark shadow on efforts to reduce overdose deaths, like medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and harm reduction (a model that seeks to improve the health of active drug users, provide overdose reversal medications, and prevent transmission of diseases like HIV and Hep C). They also, almost always, further stigmatize some of our country’s most marginalized residents: drug users and those struggling to recover.

The Centers for Disease Control considers MAT the “gold standard” for keeping drug users off illicit opiates, but these and other facts about the benefits of methadone and suboxone treatment are often left out of local media coverage.


Drugs users and those living with mental health issues face stigma that often compounds our problems and cause us to relapse to using drugs or other harmful behaviors. We are more than a label — we are people, with hearts and feelings too.

Instead, they rely on politicians and patients who failed to comply with their methadone programs and claim methadone and suboxone patients are just “replacing one addiction for another” or branding methadone “chemical handcuffs” (as if heroin was somehow liberating?).

They often rely on controversial, and stereotypical, images of scrawny, unkempt “junkies” or users “cooking up” on screen to draw viewers in. In so doing, they further stigmatize at-risk people who are trying to get help — and might even trigger abstinent people in recovery with pictures of heroin, syringes, or other paraphernalia that recall their days of active addiction.

I say all that, to say this: With their Sunday August 9th story, the Gainesville Times has raised the bar. They relied on none of those dirty tricks and treated the subjects of the story with dignity. They spoke with medical professionals, clinic administrators, and people in the North Georgia community who are, despite the popular myth that no one ever escapes the grasp of heroin addiction, successfully recovering.

I had the great fortune to be interviewed for the story and can’t praise the staff enough for their professionalism. Josh Silavent has a genuine concern for this issue and for those of us facing the stigma of living in recovery that is impossible to miss.

In our era of the 24-hour news cycle, where most outlets rely on tawdry and salacious stories they’ve scraped out of the gutters, it’s refreshing to find journalists who still pride themselves on doing what the news should — sharing the stories of regular people and affording us all an opportunity to have our voices heard.

Special thanks to my harm reduction family at the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition, and Georgia Overdose Prevention, and especially to my wife Tori who helped me get on the path to recovery and into the always-exciting world of harm reduction and without whom I probably wouldn’t be here to write this.

If you’d like to take a moment to express your gratitude for this story and the long hours Josh and everyone else at the Gainesville Times put in to making it come together, please reach out to them.

Over the next week, I’ll be writing about my experiences with drugs, my long road to recovery, my adventures in harm reduction, and the work that remains to reduce stigma against those with substance use disorders and mental health issues — and what we can all do to keep saving lives.

Dudes Have Feelings Too. And That’s OK.

This is a response to an opinion piece by Matt Aiken, publisher of the Dahlonega Nugget in the August 5th, 2015 issue:

I don’t envy Matt Aiken’s job. Publishing a newspaper is, I imagine, no simple task. But as a publisher, he has an obligation to present us with information responsibly and sincerely. More than once, now, Matt has demonstrated a disturbing blind spot toward matters of race and gender.

A couple months ago, after the backlash against the now notorious UNG catalog, Matt failed to seek input from any people of color — in response to an issue that clearly affected them. He did graciously publish my critical letter, so I must credit him that.

In the Nugget’s most recent issue, Aiken recounts a trip to see Inside Out with his family. What a beautiful thing, especially considering how many parents neglect to spend quality time with their children anymore.

The problem comes from the absolute fear Aiken displays (so terrible he likens it to being at a horror film!) over being caught crying in public; something a “real” man would presumably never do.

That in itself is problematic enough, but after the incident, Aiken imagines hastening back home to wash away the stink of “emotional tenderness” by performing such “manly” tasks as mowing his lawn with his shirt off.

Gender roles aren't what they once were. In 2015, gender equity doesn't just mean women should make as much as men, but that feminine attributes shouldn't be viewed as weak and - yes, God forbid - a little boy can wear a pink dress and still be tough as nails!

Gender roles aren’t what they once were. In 2015, gender equity doesn’t just mean women should make as much as men, but that feminine attributes shouldn’t be viewed as weak and – yes, God forbid – a little boy can wear a pink dress and still be tough as nails!

While I’m sure this was all meant in jest, this episode reflects a persistent theme of hyper-masculinity that pervades our culture.

At a time when gender norms are being reconsidered, all of us — men especially — have an obligation to be more thoughtful.

Why are we so afraid for our neighbors to see us cry over a film that genuinely touches our hearts? Why must we tightly bottle our emotions, to the point they sometimes explode in a violent burst of anger?

After years of giving thought to these issues myself, I still fight back tears when I speak about close personal issues. If crying over painful memories or touching moments is worthy of shame, what are we doing wrong in this world?

In some quarters, feminism is considered a dirty word. But it’s feminism that poses the tough, sobering questions. Feminism means not only ensuring equal rights for women and demanding autonomy over our bodies, it means liberating all of us from those antiquated gender roles that tie us down.

If a boy wants to play with dolls and wear a pink dress, who are we to tell him that’s wrong? If a little girl wants to roll in the mud and drive a tractor, how is it our place to label her behavior “unladlylike.”

We’re all different, but there’s one thing we all share: feelings. Men have them. Women have them. Even people who don’t identify as either men or women have them. And that means sometimes we cry. Who cares?

Let’s ask ourselves: Who really demonstrates greater strength, the man who hides his tears behind faux-manly yard tools and bare-chested displays of machismo, or the man who cries along with his children and teaches them their feelings are nothing to be ashamed of?

Alabama “Reporter” Continues South’s Legacy of Trying to Silence Strong Black Voices

Special Note: As of August 25th, this site will be moving. Our new home will “Making News in the South,” an independent media collective covering regional issues from a working-class perspective. See you there!

Race relations in the United States, especially after the recent wave of police violence, the Charleston Church Shooting, and the Confederate flag debate that followed, are more strained now than at any point in recent memory. Far from living the “post-racial” utopia some imagine, we live a nation that continues to oppress, marginalize, and even murder people of color without recourse.

With that in mind, several articles from a news site, “The Henry County Report,” based out of Dothan, Alabama caught my attention. The site, operated by John Carroll, a white commentator and self-described investigative journalist, puts forth several articles targeting leaders and residents of the Dothan area. I live in North Georgia, and I’m no expert on community affairs in Southern Alabama, but Carroll’s attacks on Pastor Kenneth Glasgow struck a particular nerve.

Since the Black Lives Matter movement swept the country in 2014, there’s been quite a lot of white anger directed at black communities. With white Southerners defiantly flying the Confederate battle flag, churchgoers in Charleston being gunned down by a white supremacist, and black churches being burned to the ground, it’s impossible to ignore the South’s long history terror and intimidation of black Americans — and white America’s efforts to silence black voices.

With all the white anger directed at black Americans and the social movements against police violence, it’s clear that something must be done. Strong black voices are rising up in resistance, and Pastor Glasgow’s is one of them. It’s not enough for white Americans to stand on the sidelines and offer token support when our friends and neighbors of color are routinely attacked, murdered, and locked in cages. There’s certainly no room for white Americans like Carroll to attack the people of color leading these movements.

A group of protesters are gathered in front of the Justice Department. Pastor Glasgow's group, The Ordinary People Society (TOPS), and several other groups are gathering in Washington on July 30th in support of the

A group of protesters gathered in front of the Justice Department to speak out against police brutality. Pastor Glasgow’s group, The Ordinary People Society (TOPS), and several others are gathering in Washington on July 30th in support of the “Ban the Box” initiative and to protest police brutality and mass incarceration.

I first came to know Pastor Glasgow during a campaign to organize people incarcerated in Georgia prisons. Georgia is one of only two states that doesn’t pay inmates for their labor. Their work keeps the prison-industrial complex in our state moving along and without it, that system would likely fall apart. Pastor Glasgow’s group, The Ordinary People Society (TOPS), was one of the only organizations involved with this effort.

That campaign saw prisoners mount a peaceful work stoppage and hunger strike in several prisons across the state. The work stoppage was short-lived, but the state took the inmates’ demands for better living conditions, basic medical care, payment for their labor, and fair housing and parole as a serious threat. They retaliated against the supposed leaders of the strike, even beating one of the inmates with hammers (warning: graphic images). Several of these inmates continue to protest their conditions.

Carroll criticizes Pastor Glasgow’s attendance at “drug rallies,” which presumably refers to Pastor Glasgow’s involvement in harm reduction conferences and gatherings, at which he’s often a featured speaker. Harm reduction is the idea that, if people are going to keep using drugs or engaging in sex work, we should at least help to minimize their risk of transmitting diseases like HIV and hepatitis C and reduce the risk of overdose, until they’re ready to stop.

Harm reduction groups like the Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition provide basic medical care and testing and refer clients to counseling when they are ready to quit. They also distribute and educate communities on using naloxone, a life-saving drug that reverses opiate overdoses (from April 2014 to June 2015 at least 262 overdoses were reversed in Georgia alone). The movement has been incredibly effective at reducing disease and saving lives. Criticizing the involvement of those with the most experience in these efforts only serves to further stigmatize — and endanger — those struggling with substance use disorders or mental health issues.

TOPS and Pastor Glasgow have also been involved in the “Ban the Box” campaign, including an upcoming rally in Washington, DC. The campaign aims to stop discrimination, reduce stigma against formerly incarcerated people, and open job opportunities they would otherwise be denied.

The campaign has been successful at having some employers and state employers, including most government jobs in Georgia, remove questions about an applicant’s history of incarceration from job applications, affording them an opportunity to explain their past mistakes and how they’ve improved their lives before the door can be shut in their face. Considering that black Americans are unemployed at twice the rate of the general population, campaigns like this are critical.

Pastor Glasgow has been extremely forthcoming about his past history of incarceration. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, merely surviving those experiences and overcoming a dependence on drugs, is a testament to Pastor Glasgow’s strength and determination. If anyone is fit to speak to these issues, it’s someone who’s been there and made it out.

In a country where 1-in-3 black men and 1-in-18 black women can expect to serve time in prison — and where black Americans who use drugs are far more likely to be convicted and incarcerated for longer than white Americans — demonizing those who have been incarcerated only furthers the stigma and hardships mass incarceration and the “War on Drugs” have created in black communities. Such a perspective is not only misguided, it plays into racist attitudes that portray black men and women as a burden to “responsible” white Americans and echoes tired stereotypes about black Americans and drug use.


The “Ban the Box” campaign is geared toward removing questions about past incarceration from job applications so job applicants have a chance to explain their past, and how they’ve changed — before having the door shut in their face. The campaign has found success with many employers and government agencies.

Pastor Glasgow’s experience demonstrates he isn’t just another self-serving, self-appointed community leader. He’s the real deal, with the battle scars to prove it. The work he does is invaluable, not only to black communities, but to all Southerners who are stigmatized and marginalized by past mistakes. His story and his words have inspired those of us who haven’t had a voice and those who would otherwise turn a blind eye to be involved in work that improves the lives of our most at-risk communities and saves countless others.

Carroll takes issue with Pastor Glasgow’s involvement in legal investigations and advocacy for victims of the war on drugs and mass incarceration. Convicted felons are barred from becoming licensed attorneys. Mr. Glasgow makes no secret of this. He isn’t an attorney, nor does he (at least from what I’ve seen) attempt to act as one. In my experience with people who have served time in prison, they are often more informed about the law and the legal process than many lawyers.

He finds fault in Pastor Glasgow sometimes receiving payment for his efforts. It’s unclear, though, why this is inappropriate. Most of us expect to be paid for our work. Fighting our racist and ineffective legal system is difficult work. Attempts to deny a share of settlements from injustices perpetrated by this system — a share much less than most attorneys charge — demonstrates a lack of understanding and reflects the broader sentiment that people of color are less intelligent or poorly suited to challenge the disparate conditions they face.

Carroll also attempts to paint worship services led by Pastor Glasgow as witchcraft. The acts in question refer to church members speaking in tongues, something not uncommon in many religious denominations in our region. I’m Catholic, which is probably one of the most mainstream religions in the United States, and I’ve known priests who consider the ability to speak in tongues a mystical gift that echoes some of the most meaningful parts of the Bible. Portraying this as some dark, sinister ritual not only shows a lack of understanding, it hints at white America’s view of strange and dangerous black religious practices (a perspective that’s even been adopted by some black Americans looking for acceptance) that dates back to the slave era.


The Ordinary People Society (TOPS) has been active in fighting mass incarceration, advocating for the basic rights of incarcerated people in Georgia and Alabama, harm reduction for sex workers and people with substance use disorders, and the “Ban the Box” campaign.

Through all this, it’s clear that Carroll has a strong bias against Pastor Glasgow. That a white “investigative journalist” would go to such lengths to trash the reputation of a prominent figure in the black community, in a region that has a long history of silencing black voices, is troubling enough. But the fact that he’s dedicated funds that were (according to Carroll himself) granted by groups like the Highlander Center, which played a key role in building ties between rural whites and the black community in the South during the Civil Rights movement, to this cause is shameful. Hopefully the Highlander Center, and anyone else who has considered enabling Carroll’s work, will realize the damage it’s caused and withdraw their support, if they haven’t already.

My political views tend toward favoring the power of people using direct action to collectively improve our communities rather than relying on politicians to do things for us. That being said, if anyone is qualified to serve in any local political office, it’s someone like Pastor Glasgow.

I have no insight into Carroll’s agenda or his motivation to attack Pastor Glasgow, but I do know this: It’s not the place of white journalists and commentators to criticize black leaders who put themselves out there to serve their communities.

White Americans have dictated the appropriate terms of discourse in black communities for too long. It’s time we stop sowing division among black Americans and turn the mirror on ourselves and question the role we play in reproducing a racist, white supremacist society that’s silenced powerful black voices for generations.

As the Black Lives Matter movement has demonstrated, people of color are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves and organizing their own resistance to oppression. If we’re not willing to step back and let them take charge in their own communities, we’re merely one more link in America’s long legacy of violence and oppression against people of color.

Protect and Serve: White Supremacy and the Art of Self-Defense

Symbols and Solidarity: Ignoring What Matters Most

Controversy in nothing new to national discussions over the Confederate flag, but in the past month the debate has been particularly heated. Lines in the sand have been drawn and both camps have dug in their heels. Here in the South, especially in the wake of the Charleston Church Shooting and the wave of police violence in 2014 that brought the Black Lives Matter movement to national attention, it’s impossible not to choose a side. We’ve seen Confederate memorials across the region spraypainted with “Black Lives Matter” messages, our state officials (who had previously defended the flag with a disturbing consistency) have pushed to remove the flag from government facilities, and in many rural areas, white Southerners have taken to country roads and Wal-Mart parking lots to wave their flags in defiance in what they see as an attack on their “Southern heritage” (a heritage that conveniently ignores black and Native contributions to Southern culture).

Historical evidence linking the flag to slavery, white supremacy, support for racial segregation, and racist hate groups is difficult to dispute. There facts have already been covered elsewhere, including original documents from before and during the Civil War, so there’s no point repeating it. Despite this, many white (and occasionally non-white) Americans refuse to acknowledge the white supremacist legacy of the Confederacy and the Confederate battle flag. In other parts of the country — and even certain pockets of the South — flag supporters are subject to condescending insults and jokes about white trash rednecks and hillbillies.

In this climate, it’s almost understandable these folks would double down to defend themselves. Unfortunately, their efforts to defend themselves too often rely on racist symbols like the Confederate battle flag, Confederate leaders like Generals Robert E. Lee and Nathan Bedford Forrest, and the false claim that the Civil War was about “state’s rights” that had nothing to do with slavery. Without a doubt, racist sympathies are closely tied to their positions, but focusing attention on these misguided and ill-informed Southerners clouds the role that those of us who don’t support the flag and who don’t live in the South play in propagating white supremacy.

Activist Bree Newsome scaled a flagpole at the South Carolina state capitol and did something white politicians couldn't -- removed the Confederate flag that flew there for over 15 years.

Activist Bree Newsome scaled a flagpole at the South Carolina state capitol and did something white politicians couldn’t — removed the Confederate flag that flew there for over 15 years.

The Confederate battle flag has been used to terrorize and intimidate people of color for generations. In fact, it wasn’t until after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling and the start of the unsuccessful battle against desegregation that the flag was adopted by Southern segregationists and added to state flags across the South.

The flag is tarnished by that legacy to this day. The misguided claim that the flag is about “heritage not hate” and that it holds some sacred meaning doesn’t hold water when one considers the silence of the flag’s supporters in the face of hate groups like the KKK displaying it at rallies and cross burnings.

If defending the flag’s reputation was of such critical importance, perhaps we’d see them rise up to protest it being associated with white supremacists, and not only when Leftists suggest it might hide racist sympathies. After racist Confederate flag supporters in Douglasville, Georgia crashed a child’s birthday party, hurled racist insults, and threatened those in attendance with violence, there was a remarkable silence from the same folks who just weeks earlier threw a fit after learning they’d no longer be able to buy rebel flag underwear at their local Wal-Mart.

These symbols of Confederacy reflect some of the darkest periods in our nation’s history. Anti-racists have an absolute obligation to challenge state displays of the flag, advocate for the removal of monuments and memorials to racist leaders of the Confederacy, and to fight troubling images like the one carved into Stone Mountain (a bas-relief image that portrays Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and Robert E. Lee in a park that regularly played host to Klan rallies and cross burnings before it was bought by the state of Georgia).

When Bree Newsome climbed the flagpole at the South Carolina capitol and removed the flag flying there, it was a brave act of defiance that sent a powerful message. It meant something. But when white Americans burn the flag and post videos to YouTube, white politicians come out to condemn flag supporters, and white progressives poke fun at backwards, ignorant “rednecks” who still fly the flag in freaking 2015, what material purpose, other than easing our guilt and, once again, making ourselves the center of attention, does it serve?


The carving of Confederate figures at Stone Mountain in Stone Mountain, Georgia has been defended even by some “progressives” who go to the extreme of calling the park a museum and the carving a work of art that’s part of our state’s history (never mind that God didn’t create the mountain that way and the carving was completed by the same man who desecrated Mount Rushmore)

Trampling a flag is easy, but with these superficial actions we often overlook the more difficult, uncomfortable, and inconvenient work of confronting our role in reproducing white supremacy. Yes, we might be outspoken anti-racists, but as white Americans who benefit from a system that favors us at every turn, we have an obligation to do better, to put our comfort, our safety, even our bodies on the line. Relying on token symbols of resistance, while white supremacy runs along unchecked, is not enough.

Racism: It Ain’t Just a Southern Thing

White supremacy has been a crucial chuck of US history since before our nation was born. Slavery and the slave trade occurred mostly in the South, but that doesn’t mean the North didn’t reap some of its benefits. Over 40% of the slaves who entered the United States came through Charleston, SC and New Orleans was one of the largest human slave markets in North America, but Northern cities like New York, Boston, and Newport, Rhode Island also imported slaves and wealthy Northern merchants dominated the slave trade.

Many of the ships that carried slaves to America were owned by wealthy Northerners, who profited just as much — if not more — from the sale of black Africans. The North played a key role in the westward expansion that displaced and killed millions of indigenous Americans. Ignoring these uncomfortable bits of our history allows Northerners to lay the effects of slavery and white supremacy entirely at the feet of the South. The real picture, of an entire nation built on slave labor and genocide, is much more difficult to swallow.

Until the Civil War, the Southern economy relied on human slavery and a plantation system from which produces wealth enjoyed by only its most powerful residents. Even today, the South remains one of the most impoverished and least developed parts of the country, where rural whites suffer similar rates of economic hardship as residents of poor urban communities (85% of the counties with the highest poverty rate are in rural America). The dominant social class foments division between these communities that allows white middle-class Americans to ignore their role in our white supremacist society.

Most progressive politicians and organizers have given up on the stubborn South to conservative politicians and fundamentalist preachers. Heck, whenever our Southern neighbors get riled up over and go into Old Testament mode over gay marriage or trans people expecting at least a small measure of respect, Northern progressives gleefully imagine a country second Southern secession with would, presumably, leave behind a liberal, forward-thinking utopia free from racism, bigotry, and fundamentalist ignorance. Southerners indisputably have our share of problems, but this condescending attitude obscures the North’s own long — and ongoing — part in white supremacy and, especially, racial segregation.

Despite the popular image of a racially segregated South, eight of the top ten most racially segregated cities lie in other parts of the country. New York City, our bastion of progressive liberal enlightenment, is fourth. Chicago comes in seventh. Schools in the North are also more racially segregated than in other parts of the country. And, while the South incarcerates more of our residents than any other region, Northern states like Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania incarcerate more black and latino residents per capita than any Southern state.

Some of the notorious cases of police violence against American people of color — Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Ezell Ford, Rekia Boyd, Jonathan Crawford, Tanisha Anderson, and seven-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones — happened elsewhere. In fact, no Southern state is ranked in the top ten of per capita police killings (Louisiana checks in at number 12).

And while Americans imagine cross burnings and lynching being exclusive to the South, black people were also frequently lynched in the North and West and many of the most notorious white-led pro-slavery and race riots occurred in cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit. There are also, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, more hate groups in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania than any Southern state.

None of this is to say that racial tensions, discrimination, and bigotry don’t exist in the South; they unquestionably do, and have for a long time. But white supremacy is deeply rooted in every pocket of our country. Placing blame strictly on the South might appease the guilt of white Northern liberals, but it only compounds the tragic effects of white supremacy in some of the areas where it’s most dangerous.

When Allies Become Voices for White Supremacy

Progressive liberals and radical leftists are the most outspoken critics of white supremacist hate groups like the KKK and National Socialist Mmovement (NSM). We make a habit of poking fun at these groups, sometimes going so far as to dress up as clowns, with one man tailing the KKK and NSM a a recent Charleston rally with a sousaphone. This is intended to agitate or embarrass these groups into submission, but it’s rarely effective. These antics have symbolic meaning, but they only address outward signs of racism.

The liberal critique frequently relies on the old condescending stereotypes of poor, rural white Americans as “white trash rednecks” who idolize the Klan and live only in the South. Many white Southerners take this as an insult, flying rebel flags in defiance, even when they aren’t racist and don’t support the Confederacy (Georgia anarchist Don Jennings, aka Prole Cat, covers this in his essay “Anarchism and Confederate-Flag Culture“) . Right or wrong, this only results in a self-perpetuating cycle that isolates potential allies who might otherwise be receptive to our anti-racist message.

Southern whites don’t face anything like the marginalization suffered by American people of color. They can hardly be considered oppressed (although they frequently claim to be) and, no, “reverse” racism is not a thing. But poor, rural white Americans, especially in Appalachia, are subject to the same system of economic exploitation. Unfortunately, the dominant social classes has successfully shifted legitimate frustration away from themselves and toward our black and latino neighbors.

The “most racially-enlightened” among us are often the most ignorant to the privileges they enjoy in a society that favors their lives and voices. We rarely stop to ask ourselves how this system manifests itself in the own lives. And in so doing, we can’t help but sabotage any meaningful efforts at building cross-racial cooperation between poor rural whites and people of color in the South.

Blinded By Color-Blindness

A growing number of white Americans claim color blindness, seeing only “human beings” instead of different races. Everyone’s equal and, of course, there’s no way I could be racist! I treat everyone the same! However well-intended, this idea is well off the mark. By failing to see color, we blind ourselves to our own part in this racist society — whose benefits we enjoy without even noticing. It’s the ultimate demonstration of our white privilege, affording us the benefit of not seeing race, while those subject to white supremacy can’t escape it.

A recent poll revealed that 48% of white millennials believe they face as much discrimination as people of color — despite mountains of evidence to the contrary that should put their perceived oppression to rest. Our nation’s failure to seriously discuss racism for three decades has given birth to a generation that poorly understands and refuses to critically examine how they reproduce white privilege, racism, and white supremacy today.

Color-blindness has played out in some disturbing ways. Here in Georgia, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “progressive” champions of free speech rights, has taken up the cause of the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan to adopt a highway. A state controlled by conservative Republicans has repeatedly denied the Klan’s request, which would require placement of signage indicating the road is maintained by the Klan. The KKK and ACLU have taken the case all the way to the Georgia Court of Appeals, despite a recent Supreme Court ruling against a similar effort in Texas. There’s been little dissent from white Georgia liberals over the ACLU dedicating resources to fight such a ridiculous cause.

On a related note, the Georgia chapter of the ACLU refused to aid incarcerated Georgians whose ability to write and receive letters was severely restricted in county jails across the state. Most inmates in the state, like the rest of the US, are black or latino.

Many Americans refuse to see modern hate groups a threat to public safety. Some even place black or latino rights groups in the same category. These sentiments are repeated across the political spectrum. The prevailing view is that hate groups only want attention and simply ignoring will make them disappear. Not only is this misguided, but ignoring these groups has proved dangerous. Since 2008, the year our first black president was elected, the number of hate groups in the US has skyrocketed. Amid the steady stream of police violence against people of color, officers across the country have been been revealed as either extremely racist or as members of the KKK. The KKK has also rushed to the aid of white officers implicated in these incidents, even being allowed also been permitted to raise money on crowdfunding sites. Not only are we allowing racism to survive, we’re giving racists and fascists a platform to expand.

The Klan is nowhere near as prominent as it once was, but other hate groups are taking up the slack. They’ve learned from their mistakes and are rebranding themselves to appear more credible. While the prevailing image paints white supremacists as the stereotypical hillbillies and rednecks of old (and those who attend their public rallies only reinforce this image), modern white supremacists have formed crypto-fascist “European heritage” groups that push the same hateful message dressed up in business suits and academic language that’s just as dangerous. Many of these groups have connections to local and national politicians, granting them power and influence over political parties and social issues the Klan could only hope for.

It’s About So Much More Than White Supremacists

White supremacist hate groups are still a threat, but  they’re far from the only manifestation of modern white supremacy. Our news media and Facebook feeds are chock full of stories about racial oppression and the benefits white Americans enjoy thanks to our white skin (whether we want to or not). While it’s easy to attack obviously racist hate groups, it’s much more difficult to turn the mirror on ourselves.

White Americans are less likely to be killed by police (yes, of course unarmed whites are still killed in ridiculous numbers) and more likely to receive diversionary sentences like drug court or probation if they are arrested. Black and latino Americans are far more likely to be targets for suspected criminal activity, to be convicted, and receive disproportionately longer sentences for similar crimes (Native Americans also fall into this category). In our “post-racial” America, 1-in-3 black men and 1-in-18 black women will spend time in prison, compared to 1-in-17 and 1-in-111 white men and women (the figures are 1-in-6 and 1-in-17 for latino/latina men and women). Black women make up that fastest growing segment of the US prison population.

Our racially-biased justice system is only one, though perhaps the most extreme, example of white supremacy in modern America. It’s clear that black and brown lives are given less importance in a society that ignores their voices and cries for help.

When the “Black Lives Matter” movement swept across the country in 2014 in response to our long history of police violence against people of color, protesters were more likely to be met with contempt than support from the white community. Even progressives who outwardly oppose police violence criticized black protesters for blocking traffic, disrupting holiday shopping, and interrupting their sacred Sunday brunches.

Black Lives Matter activists recently interrupted a Netroots Nation event featuring Democratic presidential candidates Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders. They marched in singing “Which Side Are You On” and Tia Oso took the stage asking for concrete plan to fight white supremacy from both candidates. Sanders brought up his support of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s (as though that was somehow relevant to what’s happening now) and effectively ignored the protesters for the rest of the event as they read out the names of those killed by police. O’Malley brought out the crypto-racist “all lives matter” line (yes, we know all lives should matter, but it’s obvious they don’t. Come on O’Malley!), demonstrating how out of touch the Democratic party is with the needs of American people of color.

Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted the Netroots Nation conference to challenge Democratic presidential candidates on addressing police violence and white supremacy. Their responses were less than impressive.

Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted the Netroots Nation conference to challenge Democratic presidential candidates on addressing police violence and white supremacy. Their responses were less than impressive.

Sanders has since tweaked his campaign speeches, at least giving lip service to the protesters’ demands. The candidates’ reactions, however, aren’t even the most troubling aspect of the affair. It was Sanders’ white liberal supporters who questioned the motives of the protesters, scolding them for marginalizing themselves from the only candidate whose policies would help them.

Yes, Bernie Sanders is the “great white savior” who can save all the people of color by focusing on income inequality and thereby solving all the problems created by white supremacy. Rather than listen to what the protesters and their supporters had to say, they were lectured for showing poor manners. Apparently white progressives know better how to solve problems in the black community than people of color do.

This attitude follows a disturbing trend across the white American Left: race and gender issues are seen as secondary to class struggle. The protesters were warned to get in line or lose their voice in the progressive “political revolution.” Too often the Left’s support for anti-racism and communities of color is conditional on our own comfort and our credentials as allies are best left unquestioned.

This reaction demonstrates that even in supposedly friendly circles, black and brown voices are given less importance than those of white people. Our convenience and comfort is more important. Our support remains tentative. People of color can only challenge the system on our terms. We have to do better if we even hope to consider ourselves allies in the struggle against white supremacy.

White Supremacy Protects Itself — Are We’re Its Partners in Crime

In gentrified urban communities, where many of the progressive white Americans live, a troubling pattern of behavior has emerged, whereby residents rely on police and neighborhood watch groups to protect them. Threats to public safety are often wrapped up in crypto-racist language (thugs, the ghetto, etc.) and almost always focus on people of color, many who were residents long before white folks started moving in.

The KKK and other hate groups have recently targeted these areas for recruitment, placing propaganda and racist literature on parked cars. No one ever sees them placing these fliers, and those who would call the police on an “out of place” black person with sagging pants don’t bother to report them. Their right to enter our communities and terrorize our neighbors is never challenged. Meanwhile, neighborhood watch groups, security patrols, and police target people of color for most minor “offenses,” which might include something like walking past their homes twice in the course of thirty minutes or so. Police, of course, encourage this behavior and residents are eager to oblige.

Officers at an Atlanta KKK rally attacked a protester holding a

Officers at an Atlanta KKK rally attacked a protester holding a “Fuck Off Nazi Scum!” sign while protecting the KKK’s “free speech” rights. The Klan has also freely distributed propaganda in some Atlanta neighborhoods.

At a 2013 KKK rally in Atlanta, police from three different departments formed a solid wall of protection. They focused their attention on us (who outnumbered the Klan at least five times over), mocking, antagonizing, and threatening us if we even stepped off the curb and into the street. Halfway through, a white officer attacked one of the counter-protesters, a trans woman, for holding a sign that read “Fuck Off Nazi Scum!” The officer slammed her into the back of a squad car and nearby officers, both black and white, piled on top of her, eager to land a blow. The irony of these same officers protecting the Klan’s “free speech” was lost on no one.

A black police officer at the KKK Confederate flag rally in South Carolina received national praise for helping an overheated Nazi protester

A black police officer at the KKK Confederate flag rally in South Carolina received national praise for helping an overheated Nazi protester

At the July 2015 KKK and NSM Confederate flag rally in Columbia, South Carolina, another troubling scene emerged. Police, black and white, again protected racist protesters with their bodies (some anti-racists later broke through and landed some blows anyway). The most surreal image came from the photograph of a black officer helping an old white NSM member who became overheated. The officer was praised for his humanity. Meanwhile, the people of color who stood against the Klan were ignored or lumped in with the New Black Panthers, a black separatist group (not to be confused with the original Black Panther Party). The public reaction to the photograph plays into a troubling expectation that black Americans remain complacent in the face of white supremacy and oblige even the most disgusting white folks.

In contrast, protests that follow unarmed people of color being killed by police are met with swift and decisive force. Only when communities of color rise up to fight back are any of their demands considered. And if they step out of acceptable boundaries of resistance (usually peaceful, passive marches and demonstrations) the media and the white community ask “Why are they rioting?” when the question should be, “Why wouldn’t they?” and “Why the hell does this keep happening?”

The police have a long history of antagonizing leftist dissenters, especially when they’re people of color. The Civil Rights movement was met with police violence while the Klan was given free reign, and sometimes support from police and politicians, to terrorize black Americans. When more militant members of the Civil Rights movement split off and started Black Power groups to push things further, they were met with brutal systematic violence.

Armed resistance, even before the Black Panthers came along, was a key component of the Civil Rights movement. Black Americans in the South defended themselves from terror groups like the Klan with guns and even Martin Luther King, Jr was protected by the Deacons for Defense, a militant group that advocated armed self-defense for black Americans.

Armed resistance, even before the Black Panthers came along, was a key component of the Civil Rights movement. Black Americans in the South defended themselves from terror groups like the Klan with guns and even Martin Luther King, Jr was protected by the Deacons for Defense, a militant group that advocated armed self-defense for black Americans.

The militant black labor movement in the North and South, which often resorted to wildcat strikes against the wishes of white union leaders, was met with police violence. The Black Panther Party, which pushed for complete liberation, armed self-defense, and black self-sufficiency, was infiltrated by the FBI and saw its leaders assassinated by federal and local authorities.

While white Americans, especially Southerners, loudly proclaimed their right to keep and bear arms, when black Americans armed themselves, the story suddenly changed. Armed resistance was a critical aspect of the Civil Rights movement and that story is only now starting to be told. There are few things that frighten white America more than black folks with guns.
(Check out the writings of Akinyele Umoja on the Mississippi Freedom movement, Radio Free Dixie and Robert F. Williams, and the Deacons for Defense and Justice for more on armed resistance. Wildcat at Mead and Dixie Be Damned provide background on the the militant black labor movement in the South)

Any time the scattered elements of the American working class cooperate to challenge our white supremacist capitalist system, the state sends its foot soldiers to neutralize or recuperate the threat. These might be the police, national guard, or political and community leaders who push for “nonviolent” resistance. Such efforts are almost always successful, even when they have to afford some concessions to these social movements.

The dominant social class has relied on this strategy since before the country was founded. In the wake of Bacon’s rebellion, when white indentured servants and black slaves joined forces to challenge the existing social order (which also pitted them against the indigenous people, laying the foundation for the complicated social relations we still see today), the ruling classes established a racial caste system to divide poor white and black Americans. They continue to exploit these conditions just as successfully today.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice, made up mostly of World War II and Korean War veterans, were one of many militant armed self-defense groups in the South that preceded the Black Panthers. Here, Charles Sims holds hood and robes they confiscated from the KKK.

The Deacons for Defense and Justice, made up mostly of World War II and Korean War veterans, were one of many militant armed self-defense groups in the South that preceded the Black Panthers. Here, Charles Sims holds hood and robes they confiscated from the KKK.

Our modern American social system sometimes affords positions of power to people from oppressed groups willing to assimilate and conform to certain social and cultural expectations. This sows more division that the dominant social class has exploits to its benefit. This is how we have a black CEOs and a black president while Americans of color are still denied opportunities for work; access to food, shelter, and educational opportunities; are routinely subject to police violence without recourse; whose lives, voices, and experiences are given less importance; who continue to be arrested, tried, and convicted at disproportionately higher rates than white people who commit similar offenses; and whose places of worship continue to be vandalized and burned to the ground — while the white community remains silent.

Our military drops bombs and regularly kills people of color considered “collateral damage” in wars that advance the interests of the dominant class. Even if our president wanted to challenge this system, it’s apparent that even the “leader of the free world” doesn’t hold enough power to make that happen.

It’s not the place of white journalists and commentators to criticize President Obama’s handling of issues that affect the black community, but there’s an ample supply of writings from the black community, especially at the Black Agenda Report, offering their own poignant critiques, calling Obama a “traitor to the black race.”

The Privilege of Remaining Silent

It’s not the place of white American commentators to lead these discussions. We’ve seen the shortcomings of resistance to white supremacy that subjects itself to the expectations and comforts of white America, to the point that self-appointed spokesmen for the black community become nothing more than voices for the white ruling class. But we have an obligation to speak up. There’s a trouble absence of white voices condemning police violence or supporting the actions of black Americans who refuse to confine themselves to traditional (and mostly ineffective) peaceful protests and “nonviolent” resistance.

We should be mindful not to speak over the voices of black Americans leading those movements, but we must find a place to support them. To remain silent is to consent and reproduce a social order that oppresses — and murders — our friends and neighbors of color. Cursory insults toward hate groups isn’t enough. Unless we’re prepared to step out of our comfort zones, and risk our own safety, to do the hard work of dismantling white supremacy (what some call the white supremacist hetero-patriarchy that links all forms of oppression), we’re complicit in that system. There’s no neutral ground here.

If we’re not willing to support movements for black liberation on terms that we don’t get to dictate, if we fail to act, we’re just as guilty as those who vocally support racism. Ashanti Alston, known as the Anarchist (Black) Panther, summed up this point in his essay “Beyond Nationalism But Not Without It,” saying:


Until we recognize that this shit is not ours to decide, and until we forfeit our share of social privilege, control, and comfort, we will continue to reproduce and perpetuate a racist, white supremacist social order. As we push forward our class struggle, we fight not only for ourselves, but for all workers.

Overthrowing capitalism alone won’t eliminate racial inequality or erase the effects on centuries of violence against people of color. More importantly, focusing on capitalist exploitation does little to improve the lives of oppressed groups today.  We don’t need to apologize for having white skin, but we must acknowledge the benefits it grants us.

It’s the obligation of white supporters of this cause to shut the hell up; to not just hear but to listen to the voices of people of color; to step back and let go of control; and to walk beside, and never before, our friends and neighbors of color. We’re obligated, as beneficiaries of this system, to turn the spotlight from ourselves and recognize that the working class doesn’t just mean the white working class.

Our class struggle has too long been about overturning the exploitation of white workers (if you doubt it, just look at any old union cartoons, and the anti-immigrant language of modern labor unions, and the utter lack of solidarity with workers in other countries). In doing this, we reproduce the white supremacist social order that powers capitalism in our own movements. We consistently fail to critically consider our own role in white supremacy and conveniently avoid uncomfortable discussions about race and privilege. Worse, when we’re called out on our behavior we complain that it was done too publicly, or that criticism should be focused on us — we’re allies, why would you attack us?

If we’re not prepared to be uncomfortable, embarrassed, or have our motives and loyalties questioned, we don’t belong there. If we refuse to listen and fail to amplify oppressed voices, we only serve to silence them in favor of our own. When we avoid these discussions because they hurt our ego, we’ve already chosen sides — and we damn sure don’t deserve to be considered allies.

Someone’s Got a Persecution Complex

I was most directly inspired to write this by a letter in my local newspaper, but it easily applies to countless claims from politicians, talk show hosts, journalists, and next-door neighbors across the United States. It’s been submitted to the Dahlonega Nugget for print July 22, 2015. Please share freely:

Someone in this country has a persecution complex and, despite the tired rhetoric from those stuck in the 1950s, it’s not the Americans who still suffer from the real effects of persecution.

I’m a Christian. I have plenty of atheist and Muslim friends. They’ve never criticized me for my religious beliefs or tried to push their values on me. They accept me as I am. In fact, I’ve only ever been attacked for what I believe by other Christians (apparently I’m a Catholic Mary-worshipper).

Relax. No one’s feeding us to the lions. There’s no shortage of churches in our country, and certainly not in Dahlonega. Churches are being burned and vandalized, but those are more a result of terror attacks against black churches or, as we saw during the recent attack on our Unitarian church in Dahlonega, those that support LGBT rights. Christianity is at no risk of losing its hegemonic grip over American culture.

Just because gay can now get married doesn’t mean our LGBT neighbors are free from danger. It’s still legal to fire someone for being gay in most states. Many of our local LGBT neighbors can’t even live their lives openly for fear of retaliation.

Trans people in the US are TEN TIMES more likely to attempt suicide. Gay and lesbian people are four times more likely. By no measure are US Christians taking their lives because of a perceived persecution.

Trans people in the US are brutally beaten and sexually assaulted at tremendously higher rates. There’s an unbroken history of persecution of the LGBT community, which continues to this day. Their rights only started being recognized when they fought back.

Despite Jesus directing his followers to

Despite Jesus directing his followers to “Love your neighbor as yourself” and his radical acceptance of the most marginalized people of his time, some Christians in the US exclude and discriminate against LGBT people and other minorities. At the same time they claim persecution when their right to impose their values on everyone else is challenged.

It’s telling that while minority groups in this country continue to face discrimination and social marginalization, the Christian majority pushes a false narrative that claims they’re under attack because someone wished them “Happy Holidays.” The only thing under attack is the right of those people to dictate how the rest of us should conduct our lives. No churches have been forced by the state to close their doors. No one’s going to lock you up for discussing your faith. No one in our country is forcing Christians to renounce their faith. No one is stopping heterosexual Christians from getting married to the person they love — or getting a divorce, which they do with great frequency.

Claiming persecution because your right to exert control over others distracts from our collective complicity in the emotional trauma, physical abuse, and denial of rights against LGBT people. All Americans have a right to decide for themselves how to conduct our lives.

Lest we forget, Jesus himself challenged the Pharisees, who also sought to impose their arbitrary values on everyone but themselves. He also surrounded himself with the most marginalized people of his time. Anyone who claims to be Christian would do well to follow his example and, as he made abundantly clear: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Related: Bullying of LGBT Community Continues

Fighting Back Against Stigma: Methadone and Suboxone are Saving Lives

Compounding the Heroin Epidemic

I don’t follow the mainstream media, especially local news, much anymore. Occasionally, however, a story that catches my attention will show up in my Facebook feed. Recently I’ve noticed more than a few stories about the “heroin epidemic” and articles knocking alternatives to heroin addiction like methadone- or suboxone-assisted treatment. Almost every time these articles are filled with misinformation or biased opinions that not only add to the stigma drug users and those of us in recovery already face, they can be downright dangerous.

Heroin use only garners attention when it reaches the suburbs. When people of color in large cities or poor white folks use heroin and other street drugs there’s no public health scare. When Johnny-football-hero gets strung out, suddenly it’s an epidemic. Even then, stories about heroin and how heroin it’s used, who’s buying and selling it, and the effectiveness of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) programs are teeming with misinformation, propaganda, and outright lies.

I was on methadone-assisted treatment for 3 years. Without a doubt methadone saved my life. I transitioned from methadone to suboxone about 18 months ago and, for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m able to live a normal life. MAT has allowed me to finally seek psychiatric care for the mental health issues I was self-medicating with heroin.

It’s telling that all journalists and politicians looking for attention paint heroin as an epidemic out of one side of their mouths, but then knock proven treatment methods out of the other. Methadone treatment is considered the gold standard for treating opiate dependence according to the NIH, CDC, SAMHSA, and a majority of doctors who specialize in addiction and psychiatry. What, then, is the purpose of spreading misinformation about methadone and suboxone and adding to the tremendous stigma drug users already face? If those treatment options weren’t available, users would almost certainly continue taking heroin or other street drugs — which creates a much greater social burden and a substantially increased risk of lethal overdose. MAT is not trading one addiction for another. I was physically dependent and addicted to heroin. I’m now physically dependent on suboxone, but I’m also much more healthy than I was during the 11 years I used heroin.

Methadone treatment is considered the

Methadone treatment is considered the “gold standard” for treatment of heroin dependence. Methadone clinics have strict rules that include drug testing, counseling, and a system of rewards that encourage users to comply with their treatment.

Methadone and suboxone, when used correctly, are extremely safe and effective. They allow those of us dependent on opiates to lead normal, healthy lives, something that’s impossible while trying to support a $100-200 (or more) daily habit. It’s extremely unlikely someone will overdose on methadone if they’re in a daily treatment program and don’t mix it with other drugs, like benzodiazepenes (xanax, valium, ativan, etc.). Methadone clinics test for these and other drugs and almost universally have a strict policy against clients using these benzos, even when they’re prescribed by a doctor. It is almost impossible to overdose on suboxone, even in combination with other drugs. All this information is available from SAMHSA in their TIP 40 and TIP 43 guidelines.

Everyone’s brain chemistry is different. Suboxone has worked wonders for me, but it doesn’t work well for some people (98% of MAT patients take methadone, compared to 2% for suboxone). Some people can be in MAT for a year before stopping and some will need to be on medication the rest of their lives (I’m in the latter group, and that’s OK). Methadone has a history of proven success dating back to the 1960s. Now that the medical and substance abuse treatment communities have recognized that 12-step and abstinence-only approaches are rarely effective, we’re being hit with a deluge of anti-methadone propaganda from journalists, politicians, and those a financial stake in outdated treatment programs. This, despite the fact that 12-step and abstinence-only programs have an abysmal rate of success and a high risk-to-reward ratio (especially when users relapse and have lost their tolerance after leaving those programs).

The Gold Standard for Heroin Treatment

In their book The Sober Truth: Debunking the Bad Science Behind 12-Step Programs and the Rehab Industry, Zachary Dodes, MD and Lance Dodes cite peer-reviewed studies that place the success rates for Narcotics Anonymous at 5-10%. By contrast, the California Society of Addiction Medicine reports a 60-90% success rate for methadone treatment. The fact that myths about the ineffectiveness of methadone treatment persist likely result from a combination of anti-methadone propaganda and a handful of methadone patients who abuse their medication.

Methadone patients who comply with their treatment protocol garner much less attention from the media or general public than those who abuse the system and cause problems. During my methadone treatment I noticed 3 or 4 fellow patients consistently loitering in the lobby or outside the clinic. Their behavior reflected poorly on the rest of us, who moved in and out of the clinic practically unnoticed. We took our medicine and went about our business, causing fewer problems (if any) than we did while using illegal street drugs. Likewise, those causing problems at the clinic would likely continue causing problems while using street drugs. The problem in this situation isn’t methadone or methadone patients; these issues could be easily resolved if clinics took a harder stance on patients who loiter and cause trouble — which many do.

The stigma against patients in methadone and suboxone treatment and propaganda that claims people in MAT programs are simply “trading one drug for another,” that the withdrawals are worse (they usually aren’t), or that overdose deaths from methadone are in any way comparable to those from heroin or prescription drugs creates a barrier to treatment that prevents at-risk people from seeking help — and that undeniably results in greater health problems and a greater risk of death for drug users.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a government agency that researches drug abuse and addiction, patients in MAT programs are:

  • Less likely to use illicit street drugs like heroin
  • Less likely to commit crimes
  • Less likely to share needles and more likely to seek medical care for HIV or hepatitis C
  • At much lower risk for suicide or lethal overdose
  • More likely to maintain steady employment

Most of these benefits are ignored by those who wish to promote an abstinence-only agenda or seek to poke holes in methadone and suboxone treatments’ record of success. The 12-step and abstinence only approach not only have a lower rate of success (if success means any of the items listed above) they can, in some cases, prove dangerous or even lethal.

Suboxone is a more recent alternative to methadone treatment. It's proven to be nearly as effective and is especially useful for opiate users without serious habits, who haven't used opiates for very long, or are ready to switch from methadone. Because of the way it affects the brain it is nearly impossible to overdose on suboxone.

Suboxone is a more recent alternative to methadone treatment. It’s proven to be nearly as effective and is especially useful for opiate users without serious habits, who haven’t used opiates for very long, or are ready to switch from methadone. Because of the way it affects the brain it is nearly impossible to overdose on suboxone.

When someone who was dependent on opiates has been in a program long enough to lose their tolerance (usually a week or more), they’re at much greater risk of a fatal overdose if they relapse after leaving those programs. If they’ve been on methadone or suboxone and relapse, even though this might be considered a failure, they’ll still have a tolerance for opiates, placing them at a much lower risk of overdose.

Drug Courts and the Legal System Making Matters Worse

Support for methadone in the medical community is extremely strong and the drug treatment community is steadily becoming more open to methadone and suboxone treatment for opiate-dependent people. Unfortunately, the legal system seems stuck in the 1950s. In an effort to find alternatives to incarceration for drug users the US justice system has turned to drug courts.

These courts are designed to coerce active drug users into stopping drug use through a series of threats, including jail or prison. This method is effective for some people, especially those with more to lose. If a teenger or college student is caught with marijuana or unprescribed pain pills, their encounter with the legal system might be enough to scare them back into line. Drug courts and ill-suited, however, to handle people dependent on opiates or habitual users of other “hard” drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. Drug users who are homeless or are diagnosed with a mental health condition are rarely accepted.

Drug courts almost exclusively forbid participants to enter or continue methadone treatment. Most drug court judges and administrators view methadone, and even suboxone, as another illicit drug. This creates a dangerous situation whereby participants are at a substantial risk of lethal overdose if they do relapse. It also forces them to rely on 12-step programs that are not as effective and, by their own admission, aren’t designed to handle people who have been forced into attending.

Drugs courts also fail to encourage users to seek adequate mental health treatment. Considering a large segment of the opiate-dependent population is self-medicating mental health issues or emotional trauma, this poses a serious problem. Judges and prosecutors continue to rely on the archaic idea that 12-step programs, an abstinence-only approach, threatening drugs users, and pushing them back into work or school (whether they’re ready or not) is the best method for rehabilitation.

For those who are accepted into drug court, the looming threat of incarceration or further punishment if they fail creates an additional level of stress and anxiety, factors that are most likely to cause relapse. Not to rely too strongly on anecdotal evidence, but several friends I used to take drugs with have drug court horror stories. Several spent more time in jail, ended up with legal problems that marginalized them even further, and developed worse drug habits as a result. My closest friend Nick died while he was in drug court.* There’s no shortage of stories like his.

If anyone involved in this system had a solid understanding of the issues habitual drug users face there’s no way they’d operate the way they do. Unfortunately, those most impacted by drug courts and many rehab programs programs are rarely consulted on how they should function. The voices of those who know best about, and who are meant to be helped by, these programs are ignored. This is persistent attitude in the justice system and the rehab industry.

Nothing About Us Without Us: Harm Reduction as a Tool for Rehabilitation

Journalists and who previously had no interest in heroin, methadone, suboxone, or harm reduction, suddenly fancy themselves experts on drug use now that it’s affecting people they find newsworthy. Politicians are suddenly experts now that they’re able to frighten white suburban voters, most of whom know nothing about addiction outside the state’s drug war propaganda, into voting for them. They cherry pick experts who support their position and ignore the majority who don’t. Those of us with years of firsthand experience using and trying to kick drugs, on the other hand, struggle to make our voices heard.

Harm reduction is a concept that aims to make drug use safer for those who we know will continue to use. It  meets drug users where they’re at. Rather than coerce them into programs that are likely to fail, harm reduction advocates make treatment options available to those who want to pursue them, provide health care and screening to active users, and provide things like condoms and clean syringes to make sex work and drug use less dangerous. These practices were born out of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and have proven effective at reducing HIV and Hepatitis C transmission in at-risk communities.

The first harm reduction conference I attended introduced me to the slogan: “Nothing about us without us.” The drug using community, and the loved ones who suffer along with us, is probably the group best-situated to offer advice and find solutions to these “epidemics.” Unfortunately, what we have to say continues to be lost in a society that places profits and political power over the lives of people it views as disposable.

Naloxone is a drug that reverses overdoses from heroin and other opiates. States are making access to naloxone easier. Harm reduction groups distribute and educate the public about naloxone and many police departments now equip officers with it. Naloxone has saved well over 10,000 lives since 1996 and has no potential for abuse.

Naloxone is a drug that reverses overdoses from heroin and other opiates. States are making access to naloxone easier. Harm reduction groups distribute and educate the public about naloxone and many police departments now equip officers with it. Naloxone has saved well over 10,000 lives since 1996 and has no potential for abuse.

Harm reduction groups also distribute naloxone, the drug that reverses opiate overdoses, and educate drug users, police, and community members on its use. Naloxone is reported to have saved at least 10,000 lives since 1996 (after which the CDC stopped recording data). In Georgia, the state where I live, naloxone kits distributed by local harm reduction groups have reversed over 260 overdoses since April 2014. I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with groups that pushed for laws making naloxone more readily accessible and advocating for medical amnesty laws that prevent people who call 911 to report an overdose from being arrested if the police show up and find drugs at the scene. We were able to craft one of the most comprehensive laws in the country.

Harm reduction advocates are generally grassroots organizations made up of volunteers, former drug users, people who have lost loved ones to overdose, active or retired police, and social workers. They support MAT, but don’t push treatment on drug users who aren’t ready to quit. To quote a friend from Georgia Overdose Prevention, “If they’re still alive, there’s hope.” If drug users die from an overdose, there’s no hope they’ll ever recover; if we can keep them alive and healthy, there’s a good chance they will. If we place any value on human life, we have an obligation to support harm reduction, MAT, and other programs that make life safer for drug users.

Preventable Overdose Deaths Continue to Rise

Without question, deaths from heroin overdose have increased substantially in recent years. With tightened restrictions on prescription pain medications and stronger heroin (which often includes fentanyl, a synthetic opiate that’s 40-100x stronger than morphine), heroin use is more dangerous than at any time in recent memory. When articles criticizing methadone and suboxone treatment use deaths from methadone to back up their claims, they rarely compare these numbers to deaths from street drugs. They also fail to take into account how many methadone-related deaths are a result of those in MAT (versus those who obtain the drug illegally) or whether those deaths resulted from a combination of drugs (which most do).

With all the data from the CDC, SAMHSA, NIDA, and other government agencies in mind, it would seem the media, politicians, and the rehab industry would promote treatment methods that are proven to be effective. Instead, they push the failed “tough love” and abstinence-only approach that we know don’t work. The “war on drugs” treats drug users, many of whom suffer from mental health issues or pain, as criminals. This stigma marginalizes users, compounding public health problems and preventing them from seeking help. Prohibition creates dangerous conditions for drug users, which leads to the transmission of diseases and more overdose deaths.

In many US states, drug paraphernalia like syringes are criminalized, forcing IV drug users to reuse or share needles (some cities even criminalize women carrying more than one condom, further demonstrating where their priorities lie). Street drugs are unregulated, which means users don’t know what they’re getting or how potent it is. One day they might have something that barely affects them and the next they might have something that will kill them. And that’s not even considering the crime created by those trying to get money for drugs or selling drugs. Criminalization has failed miserably and we all know it.

Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001. Drug addiction there is treated as a health problem rather than a crime. Instead of jail, drug users are usually given a fine and/or ordered community service. They’re also offered treatment. The result has been a reduction in drug use and the number of people dependent on drugs has fallen, there are fewer drug-related health problems, and drug-related crime has decreased. Meanwhile, in the US, we continue to pursue policies that increase crime, deter drug users from seeking help, and make drug use incredibly dangerous.

Some places, like Switzerland, Denmark, Germany, the UK, and some cities in Canada and Belgium even offer heroin-assisted treatment. That might sound ridiculous, but it provides a safe environment and a controlled dosage that provides many of the benefits of other forms of MAT. It’s a second-line treatment intended only for drug users for whom methadone or suboxone have failed and is proven to be effective.

Setting Our Priorities: Valuing Human Lives

It’s difficult to imagine drug decriminalization or heroin-assisted treatment finding acceptance in the US, where the rehab industry has political clout and drug users and MAT are still stigmatized. At some point, though, we’ll have to support MAT and harm reduction on a large scale if the lives and suffering of drug users matter to us. We know these programs are effective, that they save lives, and that they improve conditions for everyone, even those who don’t use drugs.

We can’t permit the media and politicians to scare us with outdated rhetoric, inaccurate stereotypes, and policies that have failed drug users for decades. If we sincerely want to reduce drug use, rather than exploiting drug users for political or financial gain, we have an obligation to educate ourselves and each other. If we continue to provide a platform for those who spread lies and misinformation about drug users, drug treatment, drug-related crime, transmission of deadly diseases, those problems and overdose deaths will continue to rise.

Many in the media have made it clear they’re only interested  another story they can use to sell ad space before they move on to the next story aimed at scaring us into paying attention to them. Politicians have a long history of placing their interests above those of drug users, their families, and our communities. The rehab industry is beginning to come around. More healthcare professionals and addiction specialists are accepting proven treatments like methadone and suboxone treatment and programs that use evidence-based approaches like SMART Recovery and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

If we care at all about those who are dependent on street drugs, if we sincerely wish to help them, then we are have a duty not only to educate ourselves about effective treatment options, but to listen to their experiences. No one knows better what drug users need than drug users themselves. Ultimately we have to decide which is more important: maintaining control over failed programs or policies that provide material benefit to a privileged few, or the lives of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones who are struggling to survive.

For more on this topic, check out these articles and essays:
Surviving Dangerous Drugs: Lessons From a Former Drug User
Naloxone and Medical Amnesty: Saving Lives and Offering Hope

Don’t Run, Call 911: Naloxone and Medical Amnesty in Georgia
The Surprising Failure of 12 Steps

*Nick’s story and mine: Nick was one of my closest friends and 3 years later it’s still difficult to accept that he’s gone. We met in prison, where he was nearing the end of a 4-year sentence. He’d been using heroin for over 10 years when we met and, after receiving no care for his addiction in the corrections system, picked it right back up when he was released. He was later caught breaking into a Coke machine and charged with a felony. He accepted 18 months in drug court and 5 years probation (in contrast, the person he was with at the time refused drug court and was released from jail after 1 year).

Within the first month Nick was tossed back into the county jail for losing his job. They mandated him to enter a religion-based rehab (despite him being an atheist) which was apparently designed to to make the operators wealthy at the expense of their clients. He left the program within two weeks, opting to spend his time in the county jail over being exploited and abused. Later that year the rehab was the subject of an FBI sting and several of the operators were convicted.

Eventually we were able to find a rehab in another part of the state that would accept him. He was doing well, working, and remained completely abstinent from drugs for almost a year. One night he had a few drinks and was booted from the program, even though alcohol was not his drug of choice. He ended up back in the county jail. After a few weeks we managed to get him accepted back into the program. He never made it.

Nick left the jail with all the money he’d earned working and was found dead from an overdose in his mother’s yard. He was obviously with someone, who preferred to dump him out somewhere rather than seek help and risk problems with the police. There was no money on him when he was found. Of course, the drug court can’t be held responsible, but their lack of understanding created a huge risk. If Nick had been on methadone or suboxone treatment he might not have relapsed; even if he did it’s unlikely he would have died.

Nick’s story is what motivated me to get involved with overdose prevention and harm reduction. I credit that work with helping me stay abstinent from street drugs. I continue my suboxone-assisted treatment and have accepted that I might have to remain on suboxone for the rest of my life. I don’t have a problem with that. My suboxone is prescribed by a psychiatrist who also treats my mental health issues. The suboxone not only manages by opiate dependence, it also treats my anxiety and stabilizes my mood. I’m much better on suboxone than I was off it and that would likely be the case even if I’d never used heroin.

Naloxone and Medical Amnesty: Saving Lives and Offering Hope

Erika Neldner, managing editor of the Cherokee Ledger-News in Cherokee County Georgia, recently published an editorial that was critical of Georgia’s medical amnesty (also known as 911 Good Samaritan) law and overdose prevention efforts. She relies on outdated and inaccurate myths that have been disproven and to which only the most reactionary politicians and pundits still cling.

Georgia’s overdose prevention laws passed in 2014 with broad bipartisan support and the backing of Gov. Deal and  police departments across the state. That the article comes from Cherokee County is important. The Holly Springs Police Department was the first in the state to equip officers with naloxone. In Holly Springs alone 9 overdoses have been reversed since April 2014. When Woodstock and Canton are added, Cherokee County has had at least 19 overdose reversals. I’m sure the loved ones of those whose of those who were saved are grateful that Police Chief Ken Ball didn’t adopt such a rigid “tough love” approach toward drug users.

Georgia Overdose Prevention volunteers. Between April 2014 and June 2014, naloxone distributed to at-risk communities in Georgia reversed at least 266 opiate overdoses.

Georgia Overdose Prevention volunteers. Between April 2014 and June 2014, naloxone distributed to at-risk communities in Georgia reversed at least 266 opiate overdoses.

I’ve had my share of experience with drugs and overdose deaths. I used heroin for 11 years. I didn’t fit the common stereotype of a teenager who start on some gateway drug and works their way up. I started using heroin — the first drug I ever tried — in my mid-20s. In fact, that’s when a lot of heroin users get started. The recent national spike in heroin use is a result of tighter restrictions on prescription pain medications like hydrocodone and oxycodone. When patients become dependent on these drugs and have their supply cut off, usually by doctors scared to write them another prescription, heroin and other potent opiates become a reasonable alternative.

The traditional “tough love” model, still pushed by many 12-step programs and inpatient rehab centers, calls for an abstinence-only approach to drug treatment. These programs have a reported 5-10% success rate and almost always result in users relapsing. They do work for some people, but today we have alternatives which have proven to be more successful.

Drug courts, 12-step programs, and some rehabs shun medication-assisted treatments like methadone and suboxone programs. Despite a proven record of success (studies show these programs have a 40-60% long-term success rate), those with a stake in the rehab industry or the judicial system view them as “substituting one drug for another.” Methadone and suboxone can be powerful drugs, but when used correctly (and regulations on both are strict) they do not cause euphoria and they allow patients to lead normal, productive lives — something many heroin users are unable to do. It is difficult to overdose on methadone to anyone who has a tolerance for opiates and nearly impossible to overdose on suboxone.

Neldner brings up the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, but fails to mention one of the most effective methods for stopping it: clean needle exchanges. The Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC) runs the only needle exchange program in Georgia. AHRC and its sister-group Georgia Overdose Prevention distribute naloxone kits to at-risk communities. As of June 1st, 2015 these kits have reversed at least 266 overdoses. If people like Neldner had their way, most of those people would be dead. Instead, they’ve been given a second chance, an opportunity to stop using street drugs and resume a normal life. It’s difficult to see how anyone with just a drop of compassion in their soul could oppose that.

I’ve been to rehab and 12-step programs and, like many drug users, found them ineffective. Eventually I found my way to SMART Recovery, a program that uses cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and evidence-based treatment. SMART accepts methadone and suboxone assisted treatment, preferring to leave medical decisions up to doctors and their patients. It changed my way of thinking about my drug use. Instead of viewing slips and relapses as a failure, after which I had to start all over at the beginning, carrying a fresh supply of guilt and shame along the way, it suddenly wasn’t a big deal as long as I keep working toward my goal of stopping illicit drugs. It saved my life.

An intranasal naloxone kit. Naloxone can be administered by injection, using a nasal spray, or using a machine that provides step-by-step instruction called EZVIO.

An intranasal naloxone kit. Naloxone can be administered by injection, using a nasal spray, or using a machine that provides step-by-step instruction called EZVIO.

Drug courts in Georgia still push an abstinence-from-all-drugs line on recovering drug users. I had a close friend who spent over a year in court-ordered rehab, got a job, and managed to save up money for an apartment and a car. He went out and had a drink one night which got him kicked out of the rehab. A drug court judge sent him back to jail while they figured out what to do with him. Eventually we managed to convince the rehab to take him back. He left jail but never made it to the rehab. Along the way he picked up some heroin and overdosed. Whoever he was with that night left him in his mom’s yard rather than find help. This was before the 911 medical amnesty law and before naloxone was widely available in Georgia. If either of those had been an option my friend might still be alive. If he’d been on methadone or suboxone he might still be alive. Instead, the “tough love” approach led to him dying. That’s why me, and all the people at Georgia Overdose Prevention who have lost loved ones, keep up the fight and put in so many hours to educating people and distributing naloxone. My friend won’t come back, but maybe we can spare someone else the pain of losing a friend, child, parent, or neighbor.

Neldner tries to convince us that naloxone access makes drug users carelessly take more drugs, relying on EMTs and first responders to “save them” from an overdose. In reality, drug users who are educated about drugs and practice harm reduction techniques like using clean needles and carrying naloxone use no more drugs than other drug users. In fact, harm reduction programs provide an entry for drug users to adopt a more healthy lifestyle, get much-needed medical care, and find their way into effective treatment. Like so much other Drug War propaganda, the facts don’t fit the hard-line narrative pushed by some politicians and pundits. Their attitudes are dangerous. While we could be saving lives, people like Neldner seem content destroying them.

Naloxone in the hands of first responders saves lives. Naloxone in the hands of drug users saves lives. The 911 medical amnesty law saves lives. It defies logic that anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge about modern drug use and addiction would oppose them. The point of these laws is to encourage people to report an overdose. Adding the threat of legal action or forcing users into rehab would unravel those efforts. People in our communities are needlessly dying and, if we place any value on human life, we should do all we can to stop it. If we let drug users die because we’re set on a failed “tough love” approach, we’ll never give them a chance to find effective treatment, to stop using, to lead healthy lives. We will never know their true potential. To quote one of the mom’s from Georgia Overdose Prevention, who lost a son to heroin overdose 3 years ago: “If they’re still alive, there’s hope.” If we truly care about people who use drugs, we have an obligation to offer them that hope. Naloxone and medical amnesty laws do just that. Opposing them or adding strings is not only ineffective, it’s a certain recipe for more overdose deaths.
More Information:

Confederate Monuments Across the South Hit With “Black Lives Matter” and Anti-Racist Messages

Since the massacre of 9 black women and men at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and the ensuing backlash against the Confederate flag, a number of Confederate monuments and memorials have been tagged with “Black Lives Matter” and other anti-racist messages across the United States.

The incidents have stretched across the South from Maryland to Texas and even reached a monument to Christopher Columbus in Boston. In Jacksonville, Florida a Native American mask was placed in the lap of an Andrew Jackson monument. Jackson was notorious for his support of the Indian Removal Act and the forced removal of Native Americans from their traditional homelands in the Southern United States.

In South Carolina, 30-year-old Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole at the state capitol and removed the notorious Confederate battle flag located there. That particular flag has been at the center of controversy since at least the 1990s. In the year 2000 the state legislature voted to remove the flag from atop the state capitol and place it in a less prominent area. In the wake of the Charleston massacre the flag has again become a point of conflict, with even conservative Republican politicians calling for its removal. After removing the flag, Miss Newsome proclaimed: “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today!” She was arrested immediately after climbing down from the pole.

People all across the country, including young men and women of color, have started a trend called the “No Flagging Challenge” (also known as the “Confederate Flag Challenge”) whereby they remove Confederate battle flags from homes and other areas where they might be displayed. This can obviously prove dangerous, especially in a culture that has demonstrated that people of colors’ lives are disposable. It’s not difficult to imagine a proud “rebel” flag flyer shooting someone and getting away with it.

While the spraypainted messages were quickly covered up or removed and flags replaced, the psychological impact of these acts has been profound, especially at a time when some Americans continue their efforts to whitewash symbols of the Confederacy — symbols used for decades by white supremacist groups and segregationists — as non-racist tributes to some mythical “Southern heritage” (a heritage in which people of color and their contributions are always left as an afterthought). The message is clear: The Black Lives Matter movement and resistance to violence against people of color in the United States are here to stay.

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Our Role in Modern White Supremacy After Charleston

Disturbing Trends
Racial tension in the United States is probably greater now, at least for those of us born after the 1960s, than at any point in our lives. The media, business leaders, and politicians push the notion that, because we have a black president, because a few people of color are in positions of power, and because we can turn on the television and see more than one black person in a sitcom, we’ve achieved some measure of post-racial harmony. We know better than that. Racism and white supremacy are flourishing in modern America.[A]

There are visible signs, like a dramatic increase in the number of hate groups, or that since 9/11 more Americans have been killed by white supremacists than any other terrorist group.[1],[2] Then there are the not-so-visible signs, those not apparent to most white Americans. Despite overwhelming evidence that the police, judicial, and correctional systems are racist, that the lives and experiences of people of color are given less than those of white Americans, and the uninterrupted series of attacks against people of color in other countries since 9/11, much of “White America” is content going about their business as if race weren’t a problem.

None of us are immune to the effects of growing up in a country founded on white supremacy. The enslavement and genocide of people of color and indigenous Americans dates back to the founding of the American colonies. Those of us who call ourselves anti-racist or allies to people of color, who draw attention to acts of racism and institutional oppression, cannot escape its effects.

The Black Lives Matter movement and the recent murder of nine black Americans by terrorist and admitted racist Dylann Storm Roof, and the public response, cast new light on issues that our society has failed to address for decades. The Civil Rights movement brought great improvements for people of color in the United States, but it’s increasingly apparent that, despite those gains, the work of that (and the subsequent Black Power) movement has fallen short of its goals. People of color do not receive equal treatment in modern America. Signs of their oppression still surround us. We can no longer avoid talking about the dark legacy of white supremacy that we’ve inherited.

Blinding Ourselves to White Supremacy
We claim to be color-blind, an act which blinds us to the racism right in front of our eyes. Ignoring racists has done little to improve material conditions for people of color over the last 40 years. Color-blindness results inhibits an examination of our own thoughts and actions, further complicating modern race relations. The election of a black president, Barack Obama, in 2008 gave us hope that we’d moved beyond the era of white supremacy, but it’s ever more obvious that we’ve taken several steps backward.

The response from right-wing politicians and media to the Charleston terrorist attacks has been disturbingly consistent. They’ve molded the popular narrative to place the blame anywhere but where it belongs. Roof’s actions have been blamed on mental illness, prescription drugs, or even an attack against Christianity.[3] Even elements of the “progressive” media and some leftists have chalked the killings up to mental illness, describing racism as a mental illness (as if those who live daily with mental illness didn’t face enough stigma). This despite the killer’s own admission that the attacks were racially-motivated, despite the fact that he planned the attack well in advance, and that he spent an hour “praying” with those he would later kill.[4] Anything to deny they white supremacy, and a culture that makes excuses for racist behavior, is to blame.

White supremacy is not exclusive to right-wing hate groups. It is the foundation on which the United States and modern capitalism were built. The Ku Klux Klan, National Socialist Movement (NSM), and Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) wear their beliefs on their sleeves, but white supremacy runs much deeper than that.

White supremacy is the idea that the lives, experiences, and culture of white people — especially heterosexual white men — hold greater value than those of other groups. It is the notion that people of color or immigrants to the United States should cast aside their own culture to slip into America’s ever-expanding “melting pot.” Effectively they’re expected to conform to the expectations and norms of white American culture. If they don’t, say by speaking a different language, wearing their clothes the “wrong” way, or preserving all but the most superficial elements of their own culture, they’re not “American” (a label used interchangeably with “white American”). Those who don’t conform are viewed as a problem, even dangerous. Our society conditions us to think this way, even when we don’t realize it. If we aren’t vigilant our own attitudes will eat us up.

Racism functions on an institutional and personal level. Racism is white supremacy in action. While not as open it once was, racism is woven into the fabric of every American state institution. The disparities in our criminal justice, judicial, and corrections systems are undeniable. At every level of interaction with these institutions, people of color are more likely to be targeted, convicted, imprisoned, or killed than their white counterparts. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 black men and 1 in 6 Latino men will spend time in prison, compared to 1 in 17 for white men. Young black women make up the fastest growing prison population.[5] And while black people make up less than 12% of the US population, they account for almost 40% of the prison population and almost 60% of those convicted of drug offenses.[6],[7]

Deflecting Attention
White supremacists who wear their racism on their sleeves have rushed to defend the Confederate flag, a symbol they’ve long claimed represents Southern heritage.[B] They’ve distanced themselves from the murders in Charleston, but right-wing groups like the CCC, from which Roof drew inspiration, express sympathy with his motives. Republican politicians, many of whom defend symbols of the South’s racist past, have shifted course, calling for the removal of the Confederate flag and monuments to Confederate leaders from state grounds and changes to state flags.[8],[9]

When a group of politicians change course so dramatically on a position to which they’ve held firm for decades, something is amiss. State officials didn’t change their position until the day after a Charleston monument dedicated to the “Defenders of Charleston” was spraypainted with “Black Lives Matter.”[10] That alone might not have been enough to cause a change in conscience, but the fact that the media began drawing connections between conservative politicians and white nationalist groups like the CCC likely sealed the deal.[D]

Rather than place the blame where it lies, at the feet of a 400+ year legacy of white supremacy, the media and shrewd politicians have redirected public attention toward visible signs of racism. Is the removal of Confederate imagery from South Carolina’s capital and the flags of Georgia, Mississippi, and other states overdue? Absolutely. Is that be a victory for anti-racists and people of color? Of course. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that removing these symbols or changing our language means the end of white supremacy. White Americans in the Northeast and big cities have mastered the art of dancing around racist language and imagery, while white supremacy simmers beneath the facade. Much of the racist police violence, and the backlash against protesters, has taken place in large Northern cities or in and around “progressive” cities like Atlanta (the “city too busy to hate”).

Most of us are guilty of diverting our frustration toward symbols of racism rather than confronting the institutions that make it possible. Facing the institution from which we benefit under scrutiny leads to uncomfortable discussions about race that are easier to ignore in a “color-blind” society. Radicals leftists and anti-racists have a history of fixating on symbols of white supremacy at the expense of dismantling the institutions they represent. White supremacist groups are dangerous and need to be confronted. Placing our focus on extremists does a grave disservice to people of color, the regular victims of racist state institutions and violence. Even if we could wipe away every hate group, we’re still left with a criminal justice system, a “War on Drugs,” and a system of cultural marginalization that disproportionately target people of color.

Dealing With Our Own Baggage
For white people who consider themselves anti-racists or allies, targeting racist symbols and isn’t enough. We must support people of color in our communities while we step back to let their voices be heard and let them lead their own struggles for liberation. We can join in those struggles, but we can’t know they endure. We can provide a platform to voice their grievances without drowning them out with white voices. We can join our neighbors of color in the streets without jumping to the front of the line, making sure everyone knows we were there. Are we more concerned with walking this path together, as they determine its course, or with proving we’re supportive, that we’re not like those other white folks? Everything doesn’t have to be about us. If we don’t inspect our attitudes to find those places where white supremacy has crept in we certainly can’t be called allies. We’re simply reproducing the hierarchies of racist institutions in our own social movements.

It’s difficult, admitting that we’ve been conditioned with racist attitudes. It’s more difficult to deal with being called out when we express those attitudes, intentional or not. We become defensive, complaining we shouldn’t have been called out in public, or that our feelings should be taken into account in the process. “We’re allies, we shouldn’t be attacked for ‘trying to help!’” It’s not up to people of color to coddle and comfort us as we deal with our own baggage. Does it hurt your feelings? Probably. Is that more important than putting an end to white supremacy? No. If we are allies, if our support is genuine, we’ll get over it. Our support for the struggles of people of color shouldn’t be conditional on how we’re treated. Oppressed groups deal with having their feelings hurt, their lives and freedom placed in jeopardy, their voices being silenced, on a daily basis. Surely we can deal with a little criticism.

When Forgiveness is Not Enough
When violence against unarmed people of color occurs, it’s become routine, even expected, that the families of the victims offer their forgiveness to the guilty party. Stacey Patton writes in the Washington Post:

“Forgiveness has become a requirement for those enduring the realities of black death in America. Black families are expected to grieve as a public spectacle, to offer comfort, redemption, and a pathway to a new day. The parents of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Mike Brown and the widow of Eric Garner were all asked in interviews if they’d forgive the white men who killed their loved one.” [11]

Why should these families be pressed to offer forgiveness to killers who refuse to express remorse, or even take responsibility, for their transgressions? The question that’s often unanswered is, were those victims still here would they offer their forgiveness? Unfortunately we’ll never know.

It’s understandable that family members would want to claim the moral high ground. Perhaps at one time there was a benefit to that. But given the unbroken chain of systematic violence people of color face in our society, forgiveness doesn’t seem like enough. Forgiving these killers, to the point it becomes obligatory, does nothing to address the system that creates monsters like Dylann Roof or excuses the actions of killers like Darren Wilson, George Zimmerman, or Michael Slager, the Charleston police officer who shot an unarmed black man in the back just weeks before the Charleston massacre a few miles away.[11]

White Americans, if we don’t act to dismantle white supremacy and confront institutional oppression of our neighbors, are complicit in every act of racist violence. Our collective silence translates to consent. Placing our feelings above those of victims, expecting oppressed groups to remain “peaceful” in their protests against oppression, and failing to act to so these things don’t continue to happen are a testament to our guilt. For us it’s a choice, but people of color aren’t given that luxury. They were born into a system that places them at a constant disadvantage, that put their lives and freedom in danger every day. The least we can do is back them up in their struggles for liberation — even (especially) when it makes us uncomfortable.

In a  system that make excuses and brushes aside each new act of violence as an isolated incident, or attributes the actions of those guilty to mental illness or drug abuse, we must do better. In a society that has been infected with white supremacy and the corresponding institutional oppression for over 400 years, racist attitudes are the norm, not the isolated actions of a few deranged extremists.

Until white supremacists no longer feel safe or comfortable holding on to that hate and until the institutions that oppress our neighbors are resigned to the past, there will be no shortage of work to do. This time, perhaps we’ll do do it right and instead of expecting our oppressed neighbors to conform to white expectations and white culture. Maybe their voices, and their lives, will begin to matter in our lives and not just on a sign. Perhaps we will trust our friends and neighbors of color to lead their own struggles for liberation and, for once, let us follow.

Sources and more information:

  1. The number of right-wing militia and “patriot” groups increased by about 800% between 2008-2012: http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-report/browse-all-issues/2012/spring/the-year-in-hate-and-extremism. There are currently 784 known hate groups active in the United States, which have grown steadily since the year 2000, with a dramatic increase after the election of Barack Obama in 2008. Despite popular perception, these groups are not just isolated to the South: http://www.splcenter.org/hate-map.
  2. A list of terrorist killing by white supremacists since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2015/06/18/white_extremist_murders_killed_at_least_60_in_u_s_since_1995.html. Almost 100 murders linked to members and users of Stormfront, a notorious white supremacists website: http://www.businessinsider.com/100-hate-crime-murders-linked-to-stormfrontorg-2014-4
  3. Some right-wing media sources have even gone as far as to blame the killer’s actions on Suboxone, a drug used to treat dependence on heroin and other opiates. The stories, many of which barely contain their slant toward sensationalism, claim that Suboxone can cause “violent outbursts” despite any evidence to support them. In fact, Suboxone is proven to be one of the most effective treatments for opiate dependence and addiction.
  4. The killer, Dylann Storm Roof, says he was radicalized after visiting the Council of Conservative Citizens web site. He wrote a racist manifesto and after the Charleston murders admitted the attacks were racially motivated. Despite this, some conservatives still refuse to concede that racism still exists in the United States.
  5. Report on growth of the black female prison population: http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2012/11/report-black-females-are-fastest-growing-segment-of-juvenile-justice-population/
  6. Black and Latina women have a 1 in 18 and 1 in 45 likelihood of going to prison, compared to 1 in 111 for white women:  http://www.sentencingproject.org/template/page.cfm?id=122. More white women shouldn’t be incarcerated, fewer women of color should.
  7. Incarceration statistics for black people and people of color: http://www.naacp.org/pages/criminal-justice-fact-sheet. The deeper one digs, especially regarding sentencing disparities between white offenders and offenders of color, the more disturbing the trends become. Again, the solution isn’t to incarcerate more white people, but to incarcerate fewer people of color. At 2.3 million inmates the corrections system is well beyond any reasonable capacity.
  8. The killer, Dylann Storm Roof, openly expressed white supremacist sentiments and admitted that his act of terrorism was racially motivated, even though some right-wing figures have tried to frame it as an attack on Christianity or, even worse, struggled to find Roof’s motives: http://www.businessinsider.com/2-people-think-they-have-found-dylann-roofs-website-2015-6, http://lastrhodesian.com/data/documents/rtf88.txt
  9. The Council of Conservative Citizens, the modern-day incarnation of the White Citizens Councils of the segregation area expressed support for Dylann Storm Roof: http://www.businessinsider.com/council-of-conservative-citizens-defends-dylann-roof-2015-6, http://conservative-headlines.com/2015/06/media-interviews-with-the-cofcc/
  10. Confederate monument was adjacent to the Confederate Battle Flag on the South Carolina state capital grounds was tagged with “Black Lives Matter” and other messages the day before Gov. Nikki Haley and other Republicans called for the flag’s removal: http://www.theroot.com/articles/news/2015/06/_black_lives_matter_spray_painted_on_confederate_monument_in_charleston.html. Other Confederate monuments in Charleston, Baltimore, and Austin were given a similar treatment the next day:
  11. http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/06/22/black-america-should-stop-forgiving-white-racists/
  12. More details on the killing of Walter Scott by Officer Michael Slager of the North Charleston Police Department: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/08/us/south-carolina-officer-is-charged-with-murder-in-black-mans-death.html?_r=0.
  • [A]: The meaning of terms like racism and white supremacy has grown somewhat nebulous in the past twenty years or so (maybe even before that). Here white supremacy is the institutional benefit of white people, especially white people in positions of power, over people of color. It developed in Europe and the Americas during the age of European imperialism. It was solidified in the colonial United States in an effort to create conflict between white workers or indentured servants and people of color, notably indigenous peoples and black slaves. The rift created by that division continues to this day. White supremacy, which places the lives and experiences of white people, especially heterosexual white men, above those of anyone else. It has been used to excuse the genocide of indigenous peoples and enslavement of black Africans and their descendants. More recently it has been used to excuse police harassment and violence against people of color, racial disparities in the corrections system, and xenophobia against immigrants, especially immigrants from Latin America. Racism is white supremacy in action. It is prejudice or hatred of oppressed racial groups by those who benefit from white supremacy. It is generally accepted that in order to be racist in the United States, one must be white, because while people of color might be prejudiced against white people, as a group they lack the power to enforce those attitudes on a large scale. It is generally accepted, as well, that reverse racism is a nonsense idea for that reason. White people might become victims of bigotry or hatred, but they are by no means an oppressed group. As workers or part of other oppressed groups (like the LGBTQ community or religious minorities) they might face marginalization, but they are generally in a privileged position in our society when compared to people of color in those same communities. See intersectionality or intersectional feminism for more information.
  • [B]: Many white Southerners claim the Confederate Battle Flag as part of their “Southern heritage.” Such a position ignores the fact that there is no one homogeneous Southern culture. It erases the cultural contributions and struggles of people of color in the South. There is also very little historical basis to support this argument. The flag was the symbol of only some state militias during the war and was never the official flag of the Confederate State of America and held no significant meaning until it was adopted by terror groups like the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920’s and added to several state flags during the fight against segregation in the 1940s and 50s.
    Support for secession was far from unanimous in many Southern states. In northern Alabama, East Tennessee and North Georgia, almost every county voted against secession. Lumpkin and Fannin counties in Georgia were well-known hideouts for for Confederate Army draft dodgers and deserters (see John Michael Alexander’s Appalachia: A History or An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz for more on the Civil War in Appalachia).
  • [C]: The Council of Conservative Citizens has links to many conservative politicians. In the wake of the Charleston massacre and the attention it brought to the CCC, these politicians tried to distance themselves from the group. The CCC has ties to David Duke, the Ku Klux Klan, and other right-wing extremists. The group’s website features an article titled “A Call to White Americans,” in which it is argued that “white Americans” should “look at the faces around you: Find the faces like yours, and see them as your brothers and sisters. Find the fair-skinned babies, and see them as your children.” There are several other essays in a similar vein at http://cofcc.org. (thanks to http://fair.org for bringing attention to this material)
  • [D]: Doctor Frances Cress Welsing on the Emanuel AME Church Massacre:
    “We have had 500 years of this. And it’s time that we begin to function with an analysis of why we are doing this over and over again. And insist that Racism/White Supremacy as a total System Structure be put on top of the table. Because there is no one being put before us on television talking about Racism/White Supremacy …And absolute insistence that we need to not be talking about anything else.”

Further reading on the Confederacy and the current state of race relations in the US:

Bullying of LGBT Community Continues

A letter to the editor in the June 17th issue of the Dahlonega Nugget complained of an alleged “LGBT agenda” and that LGBT-people are bullying straight Christians. Such claims are not only untrue, they border dangerously close to hate speech.

There is no single LGBT agenda, despite the right-wing rhetoric. There is a plurality of social and political views in the LGBT, as in any other, community. I’ve been a friend and ally to LGBT people for over two decades and not once have they tried to “convert” me or force any ideas on me.

To claim that LGBT people are bullying anyone erases the struggles of LGBT people to merely survive in our society. Until the 1960’s it was unsafe to be openly gay even in otherwise “progressive” cities. LGBT people in New York had to riot to gain the smallest measure of respect and many in the LGBT community still struggle for respect, acceptance, and safety.

Bullying is still a real threat to the LGBT community. Over 41% of trans and gender non-conforming people have attempted suicide – ten times the average. Lesbian, gay, or bisexual people attempt at four times the average. In rural and suburban areas of the country, especially the South, LGBT people continue to keep their sexual or gender orientation secret for fear of attacks. There are LGBT people here in Dahlonega who, from fear for their safety, are unable to live their lives openly. State legislatures across the country have tried to pass laws legalizing discrimination against LGBT people. Teachers across the country have been fired from their jobs for being gay or lesbian. And straight Christians are being bullied?

There’s a difference between being called out for hate speech or bigotry and bullying. No, you don’t have a right to endanger LGBT people, any marginalized groups, in our community. To allow that creates an unsafe climate for our neighbors that we cannot tolerate. We’re still living with the effects of racism, as the recent shooting in Charleston demonstrates. Hate speech provides openings for that sort of behavior. Allowing it to pass unchecked makes us complicit in those actions.

The letter gets one thing right: There are church communities that accept LGBT people. It’s not a matter of “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but of loving and supporting our neighbors unconditionally. While right-wing “Christians” push their reactionary ideals on the rest of us, one can only imagine how Jesus, who called on us to love our neighbors as ourselves, would receive LGBT people. For all we know, he did – after all, he surrounded himself with the most marginalized people of his time.

So let’s get real and stop the reactionary rhetoric. Christians aren’t being bullied and, if they don’t accept LGBT people for who they are, they can hardly call themselves Christian. We have a duty to love and protect our neighbors. Hate speech and bullying against anyone who’s different cannot, and will not, be tolerated in our community.

Unions and Working-Class Solidarity: An Introduction

A Brief History of Labor Unions

Workers have been organizing for better conditions and better pay in the workplace since at least the time of Ancient Egypt,[1] but the modern labor movement and the push toward organized labor unions was born around the same time capitalism and European imperialism began to spread across the globe. Some of the earliest rebellions against capitalism came from the American colonies, including the Polish Craftsmen Strike[2], the Virginia Indentured Servants Plot[3], and Bacon’s Rebellion[4] in Virginia.

Many of these early strikes and uprisings came from white indentured servants and African slaves. At the time there was little distinction between the two, with Irish and Scottish servants not even being considered “white” at the time, but after a constant stream of uprisings when both groups joined forces, colonial governments implemented a strict caste system that has left poor white Americans and people of color divided to this day.[5]haymarketriot

The modern labor movement in the United States was born around the mid-1800’s. This was a time of rapid industrialization in the Northeast and in Midwestern cities like Chicago and St. Louis. A detailed history of the labor movement is impossible in an introductory article, but throughout the mid-to-late 1800’s there were countless railroad, textile, and miner strikes.[6] The militant labor movement can trace its roots back to the Haymarket Affair, out of which a widespread demand for an 8-hour work day was born. Militant strikes swept the coal country of Appalachia and Northwest in the late-1800’s and early 1900’s, with the Battle of Matewan and the Battle of Blair Mountain[7] marking the height of militant labor fights. These events still live on in Appalachian folklore, even while support for unions has declined.

In the Northeast a wave of textile strikes swept through mills in the early 1900’s. Between 1929-1934 even the traditionally non-union South saw militant textile and cotton mill strikes. Mill workers in Western North Carolina, Upstate South Carolina, Eastern Tennessee, Northern Alabama, and North Georgia were the most violent areas of conflict during the 1934 Textile Strike.[8]

This steady wave or strikes placed capitalists and their profit margins at risk. The looming threat of an unstable work force discouraged investors from pumping money into the US economy. A number of particularly violent strikes swept the country during the Great Depression in 1934 (among them the Textile Strike, the West Coast Longshore Strike, and the Minneapolis Teamsters Strike)[9]. Many radical workers saw in this moment the imminent demise of capitalism. But capitalism is incredibly capable of adapting to new conditions.

In 1935 Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), which gave legal recognition to labor unions.[10] This move took much of the steam out of more radical elements of the labor movement. While union wages steadily increased in the post-World War II era, Congress and states passed laws that limited the effectiveness of unions and, as union leadership became notoriously corrupt, union bosses were increasingly more likely to side with management against the interests of workers.11406908_10100313817998569_3875359121590001590_n

Before the NLRA, and ever since, there have been legal protections for what are known as “minority unions.” Workers are legally protected as long as two or more workers in a workplace are working to improve conditions for all the workers. Some unions, like the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW, founded in 1905) have used this tactic to organize the food and retail industries, which have proven particularly difficult for even the largest unions to organize.

We’re still a long way from having any really substantial representation with solidarity unions, but some have already made important gains for workers at places like Starbucks, Whole Foods, Walmart, and various small coffee shops, bakeries, and grocery stores.[11],[12]

Defining Key Terms

Contract is a legal agreement between workers and management on terms like pay, grievance procedures, and how the workplace will operate. They are generally set for a certain number of years, during which workers promise not to strike. This can often result in workplace abuses or grievances not being addressed since workers have no recourse to their most powerful form of resistance. Most mainstream unions use contracts. Some minority union shops do not, preferring to make and maintain gains on their own terms.
Direct Action is any action that you or your co-workers take to improve conditions. Strikes, boycotts, and work slowdowns are good examples. Relying on politicians to change laws or getting people to sign a petition, while sometimes effective, rarely yield meaningful results. Direct action has a long history of success in the labor movement and other social movements.
Labor is the workers who produce everything of value. They build the products we use, grow and prepare our food, write software and operate computers, etc.. Some Marxists group workers into various categories, but anarchists and libertarian communists usually separate economic interests into two groups: the working class and the employing class, who are perpetually at odds. Anyone who relies on selling out their labor in order to survive can be considered working class, even if they’re well paid.
Mainstream or Business Unions are those that have gone through an election process where more than 50% of workers in a workplace have voted to join a union. It is incredibly difficult to gain representation like this in most workplaces because of intimidation from bosses and politicians or anti-union propaganda. Sometimes minority interests are lost in a “majority-rules” framework.
Means of Production or Capital is the tools and equipment that make the workplace operate. In the industrial era this would be machines or tool used in a workplace. Nowadays it might include software, computers, or information networks. While the bosses own these resources, they are created by workers, who invest their labor into the resources and rarely see the full value returned to them.solidarity_by_matzek1
Solidarity is the sense of a mutual interest between workers. For example, helping other workers at a company in your industry can result in a domino effect that might increase wages or improve conditions at other companies in that industry. It is the sense that we’re all in this together and that our bosses are committed to paying us as little as they can get by with and treating us as poorly as they’re legally allowed.
Solidarity Union is two or more workers in a workplace working to improve conditions for all workers. They are given legal protections under the NLRA, but this is not how most unions are organized. Solidarity unions have proven particularly effective in industries that are difficult to organize, like food and retail, but have also been used in the medical, education, transportation, and other industries.

Examples of Unions in Action

Why Contracts are Sometimes a Bad Idea
Example 1: Darius works at a shipping facility that’s represented by a major union. They recently signed a contract with a three-year term. The contract contains a clause saying that the union will not go on strike or boycott during the contract. Darius and several other workers of color feel that their bosses are discriminating against them. They talk to the shop steward, an older white man, and file grievances, but receive no response. Darius and the other workers of color, who make up a majority of the workplace, take their issue to the union leadership. The union bosses say their hands are tied because they can’t go on strike, but they’ll talk to management and see what can be done. After several months with no response Darius and several other workers leave and find work at other companies without a union.
Example 2: Javier, Emilee, and Cassie work at a sandwich shop. There are 15 employees and two managers. The workers have a standing agreement with management that none of the workers be required to work a “clopening” shift (a closing shift late at night followed by an early opening shift the next day). They get a new store manager who decides to do away with that policy and decrease their hours so the store will make more money. Javier, Emilee, and Cassie go together to talk with the manager and demand the policy be re-instated. They serve him a letter with a time limit and tell him they have the support of other workers (only two, but enough to make an impact). When the time limit passes the 5 workers go on strike. This leaves the shop short-handed and the managers actually have to do real work. The workers send a request to contacts in the food and retail industry across the country to call the shop all day. Since the shop relies on call-in to-go orders, business comes to a standstill. Within two days the boss gives in. The workers get back pay for the time they missed and are given complete control over the schedule-making process.

Improving Poor Conditions vs. Watching the Company’s Bottom-line
Example 1: Anna works in an auto parts factory. Her and other workers in her unit have been complaining they need air conditioning in their workplace in the summer. The company puts it off and the union tells the workers there’s nothing they can do but try to get it put in the next contract. Contract negotiations are coming up and the factory is about to sign a big deal with an automaker. Anna passes out from a heat stroke on the shop floor and later dies. The company attributes her death to a pre-existing condition. The union leadership is hesitant to make an issue about Anna’s death with contract negotiations looming, although they do promise to put safeguards in place, which the company agrees to. Unfortunately, Anna never gets to enjoy the new air-conditioned workplace.
Example 2: Philip and Sandra work at a bicycle shop. They’ve complained several times to their boss that their workplace (a small garage in the back and the showroom are always hot, despite having A/C) is excessively hot and they fear becoming dehydrated or having a heat stroke. One day Sandra buys two cooling fans and brings them into the shop. She places one in the showroom and one in the garage, both with stickers that say “Brought to you by the workers of Hill City Bikes.” Feeling embarrassed, the boss cranks up the A/C and, combined with the fan in the back, Philip and Sandra are satisfied and work more comfortably. They’ve also interested the other two workers at the shop in helping improve other problems they face on the job.

Supporting Social Movements Because Oppressed Minorities are Workers Too
Example 1: Anthony works at a major retail chain. He has connections with members of a solidarity union across the country and begins talking with workers at his workplace and at other stores in major cities. Many of them decide to stage a walkout on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year. The first year they do this they manage to gather a handful of workers from 200 (out of 2,700) stores to walkout for the whole day and picket outside the store. While the action didn’t win them better wages, it did get a lot of attention. The next year they staged a similar action and got 10-15% of the workers from over 700 stores to participate. This got a lot of public attention and started to impact investments in the company. The workers staged random walkouts throughout the year, usually at peak times. The third Black Friday they got workers from 2,000 stores to walkout and the strikes lasted the entire weekend, costing the company billions of dollars. Three months later the company agreed to raise wages for all workers (though not as much as they’d been asking for) and consider negotiations with the union.swu-logo
Example 2: The “Black Lives Matter” campaign swept the country toward the end of 2014 and into 2015. Many unions released statements of support and made efforts to help people of color who had become victims of police violence. Their reasoning was that most black people are part of the working class and therefore they share a common interest. During the Christmas shopping season, groups of protesters randomly entered shopping malls to disrupt shopping, with some workers joining in. Protesters also blocked roads, making retail shipments late and costing big retailers millions of dollars. Dock workers all along the West Coast shut down every single port for one day in solidarity with the workers. Black workers have been consistently under-represented in unions and are often marginalized. The show of solidarity helped them to feel more empowered and interested them in organizing unions in their own workplaces to fight for better conditions.

All of these examples are based on real world experiences of workers. Many are very recent. Workers in the US have become complacent and comfortable because most of us enjoy a fairly comfortable standard of living, and those who don’t are too busy to fight back. As austerity makes its way from Europe and Latin America across our borders, these struggles will become more important. We have a long history from which to draw inspiration and a brilliant class of young workers willing to try new tactics and put their freedom and their bodies on the line to build a better world for all workers.

About Worker-Owned Cooperatives
Worker-owned cooperatives have received a fair amount of attention on the Left in recent years. They present a viable option for workers to gain meaningful, democratic control of their workplaces. They teach workers that they don’t need bosses to manage things for them. Worker-owned cooperatives are more socially conscious and generally give back more to their communities than a large corporation or privately-owned business.
Worker cooperatives are a great stepping-stone toward a liberated society and a working class that controls the means of production, but they’re limited. In an economic landscape dominated by large corporations, small worker cooperatives are subject to market forces that force them to set wages or prices that might be oppressive to workers and customers. Even large-scale worker-cooperatives like the Mondragon Corporation in Spain, which is a multi-billion dollar corporation comprised of over 100 companies, rely on outsourcing wage labor to less-developed countries to remain competitive.[13],[14] And while their executives aren’t compensated nearly as well as those at Fortune 500 companies, they make several times what most workers receive.[15]

Worker cooperatives can be a useful tool as we try to leverage ourselves toward dismantling capitalism, but they’re by no means a final step on the path to working class liberation, even if all workplaces become worker cooperatives. In Spain, during the anarchist period from 1936-1939, we saw what were effectively worker cooperatives thrive, but also compete for resources and markets. The internal failings of this economic model led to the eventual defeat of the anarchists and the rule of a brutal fascist regime.[16]
Whether through worker cooperatives, educational workshops, or on the job experience, the more we convey the message that workers have the collective power to liberate themselves and stop making a handful of billionaires ever more rich, the better off we’ll be. Whether we agree with mainstream unions or not, they represent a tremendous number of workers who are our allies and who share a mutual interest. We should be careful not to isolate them. And we must always be conscious of workers who are marginalized or whose needs are left unconsidered in conversations about building stronger working-class organizations.

Why Solidarity Unions Don’t Rely on Labor Law and the State

In some unions, like the IWW, organizers refer to labor law (specifically the NLRA) as a defensive “shield” and direct action as our “sword” to go on offense.[17] The truth is, the NLRA and subsequent labor laws were designed to protect the interests of capitalism. They provide the bare minimum protection for workers to keep them from openly revolting, and it fails even at that on occasion.

Members of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which hears complaints from workers and unions, are appointed by presidents and subject to the whims of whatever political party happens to be in power at the time. Moreover, mainstream unions have displayed a consistent pattern of supporting and funding member of the Democrat (and occasionally Republican) Party, which is openly dedicated to protecting capitalism.

Our hopes for liberation and a democratic workplace that operates in our interests don’t like in politicians. Despite their rhetoric, they have repeatedly failed us. Elected union officials have a similarly poor record of fighting for rank-and-file workers.

The NRLA was created to take the steam out of direct action tactics like general strikes. The labor landscape has been dotted with occasional strikes since the 1930’s, but none have slowed the growth of capitalism. Only recently have we seen a re-emergence of more militant tactics. In recent years we’ve seen a crossover between mass social movements (e.g., Occupy and Black Lives Matter) with the labor unions that appears promising.[18],[19] Together they’ve already launched numerous road and shipping container blockades, random strikes and walkouts, boycott campaigns, and developed fresh new tactics the old labor movement never considered.141125090149-01-ferguson-oakland-1124-horizontal-gallery

If we’re going to build a society where everyone enjoys the wealth we create and everyone is respected as a person first, but also as a worker, mass social movements and the unions must join together and fight the oppressive forces of capitalism head on. As we advance and capital retreats, we build a new world in the carnage the bosses have left behind. One can only hope we’re not too late to save the planet and our environment from the cancerous spread of capitalism and corporate greed.

Sources and Additional Information
1. Strikes in Ancient Egypt: https://libcom.org/history/records-of-the-strike-in-egypt-under-ramses-iii
2. Jamestown Colony: A Political, Social, and Cultural History, Frank Grizzard, D. Boyd Smith
3. York County Conspiracy: http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/York_County_Conspiracy_1661
4. Bacon’s Rebellion: http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/bacon_s_rebellion_1676-1677
5. Slave rebellions and prison strikes in the US South: http://jeremykgalloway.com/2015/05/15/fighting-for-our-own-working-class-resistance-in-appalachia-and-the-south-part-2-of-3/
6. Birth of the US labor movement: http://www.history.com/topics/labor
7. Battles of Matewan and Blair Mountain: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2013/12/battle-matewan/
8. Background on 1934 Textile Strike: http://jeremykgalloway.com/2015/05/01/fighting-for-our-own-working-class-resistance-in-appalachia-and-the-south-part-1-of-3/
9. Background on 1934 Teamsters Strike: http://teamster.org/about/teamster-history/1934
10. Background on the NLRA: http://www.iww.org/organize/laborlaw/Lynd/Lynd3.shtml
11. Background on OUR Walmart campaign: http://forrespect.org/associates-get-a-raise/
12. Whole Foods IWW campaign victory: http://www.iww.org/content/whole-foods-concedes-iww-demands-increase-wages
13. Background on Mondragon Worker-owned Corporation: http://www.mondragon-corporation.com/eng/
14. Some problems with the Mondragon model: http://www.cooperativeconsult.com/blog/?p=405
15. Pay scale differences at Mondragon: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/07/mondragon-spains-giant-cooperative
16. Successes and failures in Anarchist Catalonia: http://anarchism.pageabode.com/afaq/secI8.html
17. Background on IWW organizing tactics: http://antipodefoundation.org/2012/03/07/labor-law-is-a-shield-but-direct-action-is-a-sword/
18. Union support of Black Lives Matter movement: http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2015/03/11/3632325/unions-black-lives-matter-activists-join-forces-scott-walker/
19. ILWU May Day strike in support of Black Lives Matter: http://socialistworker.org/2015/05/04/closing-the-port-for-black-lives

White Supremacy, Racism, and Privilege: An Introduction

When we hear the term “white supremacy” today our minds likely turn to images of the Ku Klux Klan or racial segregation in the Jim Crow South. But white supremacy, despite the accomplishments of the US Civil Rights movement, still exists and has become ingrained in almost every aspect of modern Western culture.

White supremacy means that black or Hispanic Americans are expected to conform to certain cultural norms defined by the white majority, or the ruling class. It also means that people of color are more likely to be harassed by police, incarcerated, or find themselves living in poverty. Of course, all these things can happen to white people as well, so it’s important that we have a structured analysis of how all these differences intersect with one another.

We study these differences not to emphasize one over the other or create division between social groups, but to find more effective ways to act as allies and become better neighbors as we work together toward our mutual goal of liberating the working class from capitalist exploitation.jVD0EoV

Defining Key Terms

Bigotry or Prejudice are distinct from racism in that they do not require the ability to oppress. Members of an oppressed racial group might dislike members of a privileged group, but lacking the power to oppress or marginalize that group, they would be said be be bigoted or prejudiced.

Intersectionalism is an idea conceived by a group of black lesbian women to describe how they were excluded from the mainstream feminist movement by their blackness and sexual orientation. It is founded on the idea that social groups can be oppressed in different ways. For example, a white women is oppressed as a woman, but privileged by her whiteness. A black man is oppressed as a black person, but privileged in some ways as a man. Members of the working class are all oppressed (or exploited) by capitalism. Intersectionalism is not intended to create a hierarchy of oppressions or suggest one group is “more oppressed” than another, but to determine how we can be more conscious and inclusive in our collective struggles against oppression.

Privilege is an institutional benefit enjoyed by those who belong to certain social groups. For example, white people in the US are privileged because they are more likely to see people like them in the media or advertisements, they are less likely to be harassed by police, and generally have an easier time scaling the economic ladder. That’s not to say white people can not be oppressed. Poor white people are at a distinct disadvantage in relation to wealthy capitalists, even those of otherwise oppressed groups. Privilege is a way to analyze and become aware of our own position in the social order to become better allies to our neighbors.FdrsPWk

Race is a social construct that developed in the modern era. It was primarily born in Western Europe, where colonial powers sought to impose domination over certain groups and as a way to foster conflict between members of the working class. For example, in early colonial America there was little distinction between black slaves and white indentured servants. When these two groups rose up to combat their oppression, a racial caste system was put in place that put white indentured servants in a privileged position in relation to black slaves.[1]

Racism is a combination of racial hatred or discrimination combined with the institutional power to oppress. Therefore, a white man can be racist against a black man in the US, but the black man could not be racist against a white man. As such, there is no such thing as “reverse racism,” even though a black person, for example, can be prejudiced against or dislike white people, because he lacks the power to oppress them as a group.

White Supremacy is an institutional form of oppression that places a higher value on the culture, experiences, and lives of “white” people. Who exactly qualifies as “white” has shifted over time, with Irish Catholics, Italians, and Eastern Europeans, now considered white, all being excluded at some point in modern history. White supremacy is used to impose the values of the dominant culture and capitalism on oppressed groups.

White Supremacy in Action: Some Examples

How Police Treat Us Differently
Example 1: Drew, a young white man, is pulled over for speeding. When the officers approaches the car drew asserts that he did nothing wrong and that he knows his rights. This makes the officer upset, but he returns to his car to write Drew a ticket. John hurls several insults at the officer and sarcastically asks “Aren’t there any real criminals for you to bother?” The officer warns Drew to watch his tone and abruptly hands him the citation. As the officer walks away, John mutters, “I’ll see you in court!” The officer returns to his car and speeds away.serrano130527_2_560

Example 2: Marcus, a young black man, is walking down the street with two friends. Two officers approach them and order them to stand against the wall for a stop-and-frisk search. This is a technique used by police in many cities. The men comply, but Marcus complains about the harassment, saying they did nothing wrong. One officer shoves Marcus into the wall hard enough to split his lip. “Shut up boy, you’ll do what we tell you!” he says. Marcus, clearly in pain, tries to free himself from the officer’s grip. Immediately the officer shouts “Stop resisting! Stop resisting!” and slams Marcus to the ground, pushed his knee into Marcus’ throat. “You should’ve just kept your mouth shut boy. Now you’re going to jail.” Marcus is taken to jail and booked on a charge of resisting arrest. The charges are later dropped, but while Marcus was in jail waiting to go to court he lost his job. He now has trouble finding work with an arrest on his record.

How Traditional Feminism Benefits Only Some Women
Example 1: Melissa, a white woman, is an active and outspoken feminist. She’s dedicated to fighting for equal pay in the workplace. She went to an elite women’s college with financial assistance from her parents and started work at a software company (a field traditionally dominated by men). She quickly worked her way up to an executive position. Some of the men claim she only got where she is because she’s a woman, even though Melissa had to work harder than most of the men, often for less pay. She considers herself a success story in the fight for women’s rights in the workplace and uses her experience to advocate for other working women.

Example 2: Anita, a black woman, dropped out of college because she couldn’t afford tuition and had no family to support her. She lives in Los Angeles, where rent is extremely expensive, and works two jobs just to make ends meet. She applied for financial assistance to finish school but nobody would give her a loan because of the money she owes to her old college. Anita enters a relationship with a man, finding some stability, and has a daughter. The man becomes abusive toward Anita, but she decides she to stay with him because even with two jobs she’d be unable to afford daycare for her daughter and rent for an apartment.

Race Relations in the Workplace
Example 1: Pablo, a young man whose parents legally immigrated from El Salvador before he was born, is shopping at a department store. While Pablo looks for a quinceañera present for his niece a woman comes up to him and asks where she can find the toddler clothes. Pablo, confused by the woman’s question, looks around and shrugs his shoulders. The woman, clearly frustrated, screams at Pablo: “Well what use are you? If you’re going to come to our country you can at least learn the language!” The woman assumed Pablo worked at the store because he is Hispanic.Factory-workers

Example 2: Hank, a white man, has worked at an auto factory for fifteen years. Monica, a black trans woman who has worked alongside Hank at the factory for five years, is elected shop steward by the other workers in their department. Hank, thinking he deserved the position because of his seniority, complains to his fellow workers that he’s a victim of reverse racism and that Monica was only elected because she’s a minority. When Monica confronts Hank about these accusations he becomes angry and uses racial and transphobic epithets to insult her. Hank is suspended from work for one week because of his tirade but continues to work in the same department as Monica. She avoids Hank now, fearing another outburst could turn violent.

Example 3: Chandler and Darius are college buddies who belonged to the same fraternity, both majored in marketing, and left school with similar GPA’s (Darius got a 3.9, Chandler a 3.8). They both apply for a position as sales rep with a major advertising firm in Chicago. Chandler receives a callback immediately and, after two interviews, is hired by the company. Darius never receives a reply. He submits his resume to companies in several other cities and gets only two callbacks. Despite his good performance during the initial interviews, Darius is not hired by either company. He moves back in with his parents and now works nights at a local warehouse to save enough money for a place of his own.

All of these examples are based on situations that occur every day in our society. While some of the examples might seem extreme, they reflect the experiences of many women, people of color, and LGBTQ people. Racism and white supremacy not only place people in these groups at an economic disadvantage, they can very likely threaten their mental, emotional, and physical safety.

Some Troubling Statistics2fc14c5a-2802-41a5-8856-d9b9dcb24470-620x372
Police across the US are notorious for mistreating people of color and LGBTQ people. People in the black and Latino communities have been complaining about police brutality long before the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Black Americans and American Indians are three times more likely, and Hispanic Americans are almost twice as likely, to be killed during an encounter with police than white Americans.[2] People of color are targeted for harassment, are more likely to be convicted, and receive harsher penalties in the US justice system. Stop-and-frisk policies, like that in New York City, are notorious for targeting communities of color. In 2012 the NYPD conducted 532,911 stop-and-frisk searches. Of those, 89% were innocent of any crime. While black and Latino New Yorkers make up 25% and 28% of the population, they constituted 55% and 32% of stop-and-frisk searches. Whites, who make up 44% of the population, were only targeted 10% of the time.[3],[4]

These are not an isolated incidents. The US has the largest prison population in the world. According to 2010 US census data, white people make up 64% of the US population and 39% of the prison population. Black and Hispanic Americans make up 16% and 13% of the general population but 19% and 40% of the prison population, respectively.[5] This means that 380 of every 100,000 white Americans versus 2,207 of every 100,000 black Americans is serving time in prison.[6] And while white and black Americans use drugs at roughly the same rate, black people make up 30% of US drug arrests and 40% of those incarcerated for drug law violations.[7] As this last statistic and much further data, suggest, people of color face disproportionate levels of discrimination at every level of the justice system.blacks_jobs_2

Black children in the US are 3 times more likely than white children to live in poverty, with Hispanic children faring only slightly better.[8] Black and Hispanic women are marginalized not only as people of color, but also as women. Black girls are more likely than white girls (and even black boys) to be suspended from school, even for similar offenses, and placed into the juvenile justice system. Young black women are the fastest growing segment of the juvenile justice and prison population.[9]

The election of Barack Obama as US president in 2008 was seen as proof by many that the country had finally overcome its long legacy of racism. However, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups, the number of extreme right-wing militia and white supremacist groups has grown 813% since Barack Obama was elected.[10] Even with a black president, conditions for most black Americans have, if anything, become worse. The unemployment rate for black workers is more than twice that of white workers (11.5% vs 5.4% as of May 2015) and black homeowners are twice as likely to face foreclosure.[11],[12]

Dismantling White Supremacy

Dismantling white supremacy and racism isn’t as simple as placing black people into positions of power. Those who find themselves in these positions are more likely to identify with the ruling class, those who own most of the capital and make most of the decisions, than any other social group to which they might belong.

The battle against those who are openly racist, like the Ku Klux Klan, National Socialist Movement, or
your racist uncle, is a start, but it won’t undo the institutional racism and oppression faced by millions of our neighbors and fellow workers for generations. If we hope to succeed, we must respect our differences and use them to our advantage. The ruling class has exploited our differences to place us at odds with each other for generations. To overcome white supremacy we must respect our differences and work together, in whatever ways we are able, to overcome the oppression we all face as members of the working class.

More than that, members of privileged groups must acknowledge our privilege when dealing with members of marginalized groups. Sometimes we might need to step back and let the voices of women or people of color be heard. We might need to advocate for them, without drowning out their pleas for liberation. Part of being a good ally is not only standing beside our oppressed neighbors, but listening to them and looking at how white supremacy affects each of us. As people living in a society that imposes white values on everyone, we have all internalized certain attitudes about race. We must consciously work to deconstruct those attitudes and build new values based on unity and mutual respect for each other.

A Note on Safe Spaces
Sometimes even in groups dedicated to fighting white supremacy, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, members of oppressed groups might find it necessary to work through specific issues with other members they identify with. For example, in many socialist or working-class-oriented organizations, women might feel like their voices aren’t being heard or that they’re being harassed or intimidated by male members of the group. In these situations it might be appropriate for women to come together in a “safe space” that doesn’t include men to discuss the issues they face together and form a strategy to address the problem within the larger group.

These safe spaces aren’t meant to isolate or divide members of the group, but to address issues that affect members of oppressed groups within the larger community. Don’t be offended or feel like you’re being excluded if you’re not asked to participate; these safe spaces are sometimes critical to the long-term health and stability of the group.


Sources and Additional Information

  1. Background on Bacon’s Rebellion: http://www.nps.gov/jame/learn/historyculture/bacons-rebellion.htm
  2. Police killings by racial group: http://mic.com/articles/109894/the-police-are-killing-one-group-at-a-staggering-rate-and-nobody-is-talking-about-it
  3. New York City stop-and-frisk data: http://www.nyclu.org/content/stop-and-frisk-data
  4. New York City demographics: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/36/3651000.html
  5. Incarceration rates by Ethnicity: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/reports/rates.html
  6. Incarceration by ethnicity per 100,000: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/graphs/raceinc.html
  7. Drug use and rates of incarceration: http://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DPA_Fact_Sheet_Drug_War_Mass_Incarceration_and_Race_Jan2015.pdf
  8. Child poverty rates: http://www.npc.umich.edu/poverty/
  9. Black girls and women in the prison system: http://www.opensocietyfoundations.org/voices/expand-school-prison-pipeline-conversation-include-black-girls
  10. Growth of US hate groups: http://www.splcenter.org/what-we-do/hate-and-extremism
  11. Employment statistics, May 2015: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm
  12. Home foreclosures, white vs. black: http://newpol.org/content/race-and-obama-era

Election 2016: Vote for Nobody!

The 2016 elections are a year-and-a-half away, but it’s already clear the likely Democrat and Republican candidates are committed to business as usual in Washington. It’s doubtful there will be any meaningful changes in Congress, none, at least, that will translate into gains for working people, those who can’t find jobs, or those struggling to survive on low-paying jobs.

With that in mind, I’d like to suggest an alternative candidate for 2016: Vote for Nobody! Nobody will keep election promises. Nobody will listen to your concerns. Nobody will help the poor and unemployed. Nobody tells the truth. If Nobody gets elected, conditions will improve for everyone!

Of course that’s all in jest, but it raises an important point. Working people are increasingly disconnected from politicians in Washington and the state capitol. The laws they pass are more likely to benefit a handful of wealthy donors or transnational corporation than any of us.

With that in mind, it’s time we explore solutions that actually work for regular people: working folks, students, the unemployed, the disabled, retired people, etc. We can’t rely on the government or politicians to solve our problems for us.

So much time and so many resources are spent getting politicians elected. Those resources might be better spent working in our communities to find solutions that don’t rely on the broken machinery of the state. We know best how to fix the problems in our communities. So why do we keep electing representatives who we know are out of touch, who represent the interests of an elite group? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results has gotten us nowhere.

Nobody will look out for you after the 2016 election -- that's a promise!

Nobody will look out for you after the 2016 election — that’s a promise!

We’ve been conditioned to rely on politicians to handle our problems and that social change is impossible without asking permission from the state, to the point we feel powerless to do anything about it.  Collectively, as a community, we do have power. When we work together we can build stronger communities, the kind that work in the interest of everyone. The government, with its mountains of paperwork, automated “customer service” systems, and hours of waiting in line just to get a permit or approval for some new project, only hinders our ability to get things done. We can rely only on ourselves, and our neighbors, to improve conditions and build a better tomorrow.

I’m voting for Nobody in the next election. I won’t discourage anyone else from voting, but I do encourage folks to give these issues serious consideration. Will voting for politicians one day every two or four years, then complaining that nothing ever changes when we get home, really get us anywhere? And if not, what can we do about it? Let’s start in our communities and coordinate with similar groups in other communities to address our problems today. We have the power to make the change we want to see in this world. November 2016 is still a long way off and the clock is ticking.

Note: This statement was submitted as a letter to the editor for the May 27th edition of the Dahlonega Nugget

Fighting for Our Own: Working Class Resistance in Appalachia and the South (Part 2 of 3)

Part 2 of 3: Slave Revolts, Convict Leasing, and Prison Uprisings (part 1 available here)

Dividing the Working Class: The Racial Caste System
The United States, and the South in particular, have a long and painful history of holding people captive and forcing them to work against their will or for very little pay. The roots of white supremacy, and the very concepts of race and “whiteness,” are inextricably tied to the expansion of European colonialism. During the transition from feudalism to a capitalist society, white supremacy helped cement the economic and social dominance of the ruling class over working people of European, African, and indigenous descent.

The state’s effort to divide poor and working-class white settler-colonialists (or those forced into exile and indentured servitude, as was the case for many in Georgia) against people of color pre-dates the founding of the United States as a nation by at least a century. Many early settlers in the South were Protestants, who had earned a notorious reputation for slaughtering Irish Catholics in Ulster, at the behest of the Crown.[1] They refined those skills and carried them over to the new British colonies. There they slaughtered the indigenous population in the very same manner, and continued to do so for the next two centuries. The practice of “scalping,” generally associated with American Indians, actually originated with the Scots-Irish in Ireland and was brought across the Atlantic, where local colonial governments awarded bounties for Indian scalps or other proof they’d been killed.

Black and white settlers in Virginia fighting in Bacon's Rebellion

Black and white settlers in Virginia fighting in Bacon’s Rebellion. Settlers fought against the ruling class, but also against indigenous Americans, proving social relations even at that time were extremely complicated.

As wealthy English planters gathered more land and resources along the coast they pushed the Scots-Irish and German settlers farther west. These settlers constantly found themselves on the front lines of American expansion, where they served as the state’s foot soldiers in clashes with the indigenous population (white settler-colonialists very often joined indigenous tribes out of either desperation or disgust at their fellow settlers). While many of the original slaveholders (and the “Founding Fathers”) in the colonial and post-revolution eras were wealthy Englishmen, after the 1800s, non-English white settlers and their descendants came to own slaves, accumulate large parcels of land, and gain political power.[1]

Slave revolts and anti-Indian propaganda kept white settlers in a state of constant fear. The ruling class exploited this tension to drive a wedge between social groups, placing them at odds with one another to serve their own interests. Bacon’s Rebellion (1676, Virginia), during which white former indentured servants and black slaves joined forces against the colonial ruling class, was a major turning point in class relations in the colonies. Subsequent uprisings in nearby states led to a hardening of the nebulous racial caste system in the English colonies (Bacon’s rebellion was also directed toward indigenous Americans, demonstrating analyses of class struggles are always difficult and subject to a variety of social factors). These divisions have persisted into the modern era and the state still exploits them to divide the white working class from working people of color.[2]

Slave Revolts in the South
US history is replete with slave revolts that remain mostly unmentioned in school history lessons. It’s not uncommon to hear students question: “Why didn’t the slaves just rebel if things were so bad?” or apologists for slavery pose similar questions. Those questions are difficult to answer given the dominant historical narrative; one that focuses on “great (mostly-white) men” rather than working people and material conditions on the ground.

The largest slave revolt in what is now the United States occurred in Florida. Twenty slaves, under the leadership of a man named Jemmy, gathered at the Stono River and raided a warehouse in 1739. They executed the white owners, placed their heads on display, burned homes and warehouses, and killed European settlers on their march toward St. Augustine, where they hoped to find freedom. About 100 rebel slaves joined the force, which very quickly found itself embroiled in armed struggle with the English. Many of the rebel slaves were executed, but some are thought to have escaped to freedom. The following year, 50 slaves were executed in the aftermath of a similar uprising in South Carolina.[3]

The largest slave revolt on US-controlled soil occurred in southern Louisiana in 1811. Charles Deslondes, a mulatto slave driver who drew inspiration from the Haitian Revolution (a massive slave revolt that liberated the colony from French domination), led a group of 25 slaves to revolt on a sugar plantation. They attacked the owner (who escaped) and his family, seized guns, ammunition, and supplies from a nearby militia warehouse, and marched toward New Orleans. Eventually the small army numbered between 120-300 rebel slaves and faced armed resistance from US Army and militia forces 20 miles short of New Orleans. Twenty rebel slaves were killed in combat, 50 were imprisoned, and the rest escaped by fleeing deep into the swamps. Fifty more were captured later. In all, about 100 survivors of the battle were summarily executed.[3]

The slave revolt led by Nat Turner and the surrounding propaganda was used to strike fear into the white working class and justify harsher living conditions for black slaves. It also served as a catalyst for the Civil War and the end to chattel slavery in the South.

The slave revolt led by Nat Turner and the surrounding propaganda was used to strike fear into the white working class and justify harsher living conditions for black slaves. It also served as a catalyst for the Civil War and the end to chattel slavery in the South.

The most infamous slave revolt in the United States was led by Nat Turner in Virginia during the summer of 1831. Turner gathered a small army of fellow slaves, killed the plantation owner, and raided nearby homes for money and supplies. They indiscriminately killed many of the white residents, who they saw as enemy combatants, along the way. Their force eventually numbered between 50-60 rebel slaves, including 5 free black men. The rebellion was put down by the state militia, but Turner escaped capture for over 2 months. Turner and his rebel force slaughtered 55 whites in the rebellion. Turner and 55 accomplices were executed shortly after. Following the uprising, angry white settlers murdered 200 more black locals (who had no involvement in the slave revolt) without consequence.[4]

The US Civil War in Appalachia
The immediate aftermath of Nat Turner’s slave revolt was a heightened sense of fear among white settlers and harsher conditions for black slaves in the South (at the time there were also still slaves in the North, although trading or “buying” new slaves was prohibited). The uprising is seen as a precipitating event of the US Civil War, which led to the formal end of chattel slavery. John Brown’s 1859 raid on the the federal armory and arsenal at Harpers Ferry is viewed as one of the primary and immediate catalysts for the US Civil War.

John Brown, a devout Christian and outspoken abolitionist, with a handful of accomplices, planned to establish a base of operations in the Blue Ridge Mountains of what was then Virginia (West Virginia would split from Virginia just two years later over the issue of secession from the Union[5]). From there they hoped to assist escaped slaves, attack slaveholders, and push forward the abolitionist cause to end slavery through armed insurrection.

On the night of October 16, 1859, John Brown and 21 men (some of them former slaves), swept into Harpers Ferry and seized the federal armory, arsenal, and a nearby weapons supply facility. They held several prominent citizens hostage in the armory. Brown’s plan was centered around the idea that, with their masters now captured, local slaves would join his ranks and take up arms against slaveholders. His plan failed to come to fruition. The local militia surrounded the armory and trapped Brown’s small group inside. Just a few days later federal troops, under the command of General Robert E. Lee, swept into Harpers Ferry and put and end to the short-lived insurrection.[6]

Ten of Brown’s men (including both his sons) were killed in the battle, seven were captured, and five escaped. Those who were captured were quickly tried in Charlestown and executed. John Brown’s final words would prove grimly prophetic: “I, John Brown, am now quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land can never be purged away but with blood.”[7] The US Civil War began less than 18 months later. Many would argue that those sins have yet to be washed away, and even that many more have since been accumulated.

While much of the armed conflict during the Civil War stayed away from Southern Appalachia (with notable exceptions, such as battles in Chattanooga and Northwest Georgia toward the end of the war), war time was far from peaceful for residents of the mountains. More than in other parts of the South, residents of Appalachia were sharply divided on the issue of secession and being forced to fight in a war to protect the economic interests of the ruling planter class, who held most of the slaves in the South. Residents of Eastern Tennessee and parts of Western North Carolina were particularly supportive of the Union, sometimes constituting a majority and travelling north to join the Union Army. Some pockets of North Georgia, especially in Lumpkin and Fannin Counties, supported the Union and served as refuge for those looking to avoid being drafted into the Confederate army.

There were notable armed skirmishes between residents in the region. The Shelton Laurel Massacre, made famous in the Ron Rash novel The World Made Straight, saw a North Carolina military regiment execute thirteen unarmed Union sympathizers, including a 64-year-old man and a twelve-year-old boy. Such atrocities seem to have been much more common than regular (or “traditional”) military encounters in the area. Governor Zebulon Vance wrote in his journal at the time: “The warfare between scattering bodies of irregular troops is conducted on both sides without any regard whatever to the rules of civilized war or the dictates of humanity.”[8] (We’ll leave the question of how a member of the local ruling class might consider any form of war “civilized” for another time)

John Brown has been dismissed as a

John Brown has been dismissed as a “lunatic” for his positions and the actions he took to end slavery by violent insurrection, but considering the planning he and other put into planning the raid on Hapers Ferry, he was obviously well aware of what the consequences his actions (regardless of the result) would have in Virginia and across the nation. His last words, 18 months prior to the Civil War, would prove frighteningly prophetic.

Similar scenes were recorded in West Virginia, southwestern Virginia, and East Tennessee. In Lumpkin County, Georgia, a local merchant summarily executed a group of draft dodgers and deserters. The names and number of those killed is not recorded.[8] Records of these and other incidents are either difficult to locate or contain little useful information. Many of these brutal events are only just now making their way into the historical narrative of the US Civil War.

When current residents of Southern Appalachia boldly fly the Confederate Battle Flag, claiming it as a part of their “Southern” heritage, they are likely uninformed or misinformed about actual history in the area. Their arguments in support of the flag as a symbol of local pride are dubious at best, considering strong support for the Union and contempt of the Confederate government by their ancestors.

Slavery in the mountain region was much less popular than in the Deep South. When slaves were used it was mostly after the farming season had ended when slaves were leased out in Georgia or North Carolina to extract gold and precious gems from local mines. Slaves were sometimes sold on the courthouse steps of mountain towns like Dahlonega.[9] Opposition to secession and support for the Union in the region weren’t strictly based on a moral opposition to slavery. They were more likely due to a difference in material conditions between family-owned farms in the mountains and sprawling plantations owned by wealthy planters further south. Residents of the mountains also didn’t take kindly to being taxed to support a war in which they had no personal interest. The mountains did serve as a hideaway for escaped slaves during the war and West Virginia carved itself from the Confederate state of Virginia due, at least in part, to local opposition to slavery.[10]

New Forms of Slavery Emerge from the Old
The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution formally ended chattel slavery and indentured servitude in the country, but made an important exception for another form of slavery. The amendment reads, in part:

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States…”[34]

This exception would prove crucial in the re-emergence of slavery in other forms after emancipation.

In the wake of the Civil War, the planter class was left without the steady pool of free labor on which they relied. There was also a large population of recently freed slaves who owned no land and could find no employment to feed themselves or support their families. Following his infamous “March to the Sea,” which left a line of indiscriminate destruction the Georgia (ruining conditions for both poor/working-class and wealthy residents), General William T. Sherman was pressured into ordering large parcels of land in Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida be redistributed. His plan would provide 40 acres of property to each former slave. This order was met with fierce resistance by the planter class (the “old” ruling class) and was quickly rescinded by Andrew Johnson, president Abraham Lincoln’s successor and a sympathizer of the South. Most of the land was quickly returned to the previous owners, while the struggle for economic and social dominance by the planter class and the Northern ruling class (imposed by federal troops during Reconstruction) continued.[11]

During the war many slaves had already freed themselves on their own terms, long before the Emancipation Proclamation (which, interestingly enough, freed no slaves, since Lincoln had no political authority in the South and the Proclamation did not cover the few remaining slaves in the North). Land transfers between the planter class and freed slave were less than peaceful. In 1868-69, with rice field workers in the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia striking for better conditions, former slaves in the Ogeechee Neck (12 miles south of Savannah) mounted an insurrection and seized land for themselves. They expropriated the same land their ancestors had been forced to transform into rice fields, took up arms, and distributed manifestos in an effort to spread the insurrection. The Ogeechee rebels had a clear goal of overthrowing the ruling planter class and distributing the land among workers. They formed into regular military companies with muskets and bayonets seized from Savannah. The rebellion was put down only after civil and federal military authorities intervened. Of the rebel forces, 143 were arrested, 116 were tried, and five were convicted of “insurrection, robbery by intimidation, and armed assault with intent to murder.” They were sentenced to 5 years hard labor, but later pardoned by Republican Governor Rufus Bullock.[33]


Disobedient prisoners in the chain gang system were often tied to posts in awkward and uncomfortable positions for the entire work day. They were left to suffer, without food or drink, in the heat and humidity of the Deep South.

During Reconstruction black residents of the South made modest gains, many starting small farms of their own and even getting elected to local and national political office. Still, it was obvious that a white ruling class, either dictated by the federal government or local plantation owners, still maintained control over the region. Many former slaves went back to work on the same plantations where they’d been enslaved for meager wages.

After the period of Reconstruction ended and federal troops left, control of the South returned to the old ruling class. Most states quickly passed laws that essentially criminalized having black skin. Black southerners would be arrested and detained for vagrancy, mischief, making insulting gestures, and other vague or arbitrary offenses known as “Black Codes.” Those convicted were sentenced to jail and prison terms and hit with fines they could never pay. To work off those fines the state leased prisoners out to local plantation owners, effectively creating a new form of institutional, and completely legal, slavery. Disobedient prisoners were sometimes tied to posts in awkward and uncomfortable positions all day, roasting in the Southern heat and without food or water. Laws like these laid the foundation for the “Jim Crow” caste system in the South. The “convict leasing” system has had a lasting impact on the US justice system and modern mass incarceration.[12]


A chain gang in the US South (undated). “Black Codes” were used across the South to criminalize freed slaves and force them back into work for their former slaveholders. Chain gangs consisted of mostly black, and a few poor white, prison workers. Georgia was the last state to do away with chain gangs in 1955.

Southern states eventually moved away from convict leasing and developed convict labor camps. Two of the most notorious prison farms were at the Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola) and the Mississippi State Penitentiary (Parchman Farm). This period gave rise to the infamous “chain gangs,” where prisoners were forced at gunpoint to perform physically demanding labor, either for the benefit of the state (building roads, clearing brush, etc.) or the amusement of prison staff. Georgia was the last state to do away with chain gangs in 1955. Inmates in the state penal system still refer to prison as the “chain gang.”

While the disappearance of chain gangs made grueling prison labor and the horrible living conditions less visible to the public, state and federal prisoners in the US are still coerced into work for fear of having basic privileges like visitation, commissary, or phone calls revoked. In most states and in the federal system prison workers are paid a nominal wage (always well below the federal minimum wage). In Georgia and Texas inmate workers receive no pay for their labor. Although prison workers aren’t generally considered part of the “working class,” some unions and prison abolition groups are pressing for union recognition and better living conditions for prison workers. Efforts to organize from the inside are almost always met with brutal repression from prison administration.

Prison Organizing and Uprisings in the South
Most of the well-known prison uprisings occurred at men’s prisons, where names like Folsom, Attica, and Lucasville still strike fear into the hearts of corrections officers and state officials across the country. Women, however — even in Appalachia and the South — have their own history of agitation and rebellion behind bars.

In 1974, Carol Crooks, a woman prisoner at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility in New York won a legal battle against the state department of corrections. She was beaten by five male guards in retaliation. The beating led her fellow inmates to take some of the guards hostage in an effort to take control of the prison.[13] While not in the South or Appalachia, per se, this incident serves as a reminder for those who minimize the role of women in resisting incarceration or living conditions in US prisons.

A year later, in 1975, women at the North Carolina Correctional Institute for Women (NCCIW) protested their miserable conditions by staging a work stoppage and sit-down protest in the prison laundry. They demanded adequate medical care, better counseling services, and a shutdown of the prison laundry facility. Prison guards responded by attempting to corral the women, who had remained peaceful, into the prison gymnasium where they were beaten. The women fought back with whatever means were at their disposal, using volleyball equipment, chunks of concrete, and wooden poles to defend themselves. The state eventually sent in over 100 guards from other prisons to end the uprising. The prison resumed normal operations four days later, but the prison laundry was closed shortly after the incident.[14]

Male prisoners in Appalachia and the South have a long history of rebellion. On New Years day 1986, twenty male prisoners at the state penitentiary in Moundsville, West Virginia took guards hostage in the dining hall. This led to a standoff that lasted more than two days. They took 16 prison guards hostage and killed three inmates thought to be informants. Like participants of other prison rebellions across the country, the incident was sparked by a demand for clean and humane living conditions, adequate food, and basic medical care.[15]

In December 2010, inmates in several Georgia prisons coordinated a peaceful work stoppage and hunger strike. At least six major prisons were affected (there are over 100 correctional facilities, not including county jails, in the state). Workers refused meals and failed to report for work details. Since most of the work the makes Georgia prisons operate is made possible by unpaid inmate labor, the work stoppage had an immediate impact. The inmates were demanding, as usual, clean living conditions, educational opportunities, adequate and nutritional food, pay for work, and basic medical care.[16] Their demands were met with force by prison officials. The heating and air system, electricity, and all water to the prisoners’ living quarters were shut off. Most of the prisoners quickly gave in and went back to work within a few days. Those who did not were isolated from the general population and punished.

Women are the fastest-growing prison population in the United States. Groups like the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and the Incarcerated Workers of the World, are trying to gain union recognition for prison workers. Georgia and Texas force many state prisoners to work with no pay.

Women are the fastest-growing prison population in the United States. Groups like the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee and the Incarcerated Workers of the World, are trying to gain union recognition for prison workers. Georgia and Texas force many state prisoners to work with no pay.

The strikes were coordinated with help from outside supporters and mobile phone contact between prisoners at different facilities. The Georgia Department of Corrections singled out 37 alleged organizers of the strike and placed them in close confinement. Guards retaliated against the prisoners with physical brutality and extreme isolation. An incident during which one of the prisoners, Kelvin Stevenson, was strapped down and beaten with a hammer was captured on film.[17] Georgia prison officials have a long-standing practice of beating unruly inmates and placing them in confinement — where outsiders can’t view the damage — until they heal up or become docile and obedient.

Many of those singled out as organizers of the 2010 strike were denied visits when family members spoke to the media. Several were transferred to the state’s new “supermax” facility in Jackson, Georgia. Some of the prisoners staged additional hunger strikes in 2011 and 2012, with help from outside groups like The Ordinary People Society, Occupy Atlanta, and the IWW General Defense Committee. Four of the original strikers, now under close security at Georgia State Prison in Reidsville, staged another hunger strike in 2015. Their only demand was that their security level be reconsidered, per state policy.[18]

These strikes have never been acknowledged by state officials. The Georgia Department of Corrections has frequently provided false or misleading information about the strikes to local media. Outside groups like the Atlanta Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee (IWOC) continue to work with prisoners for union recognition, pay for the work they do, and improved living conditions for all Georgia prisoners. A wave of prison hunger strikes and work stoppages, one that included 30,000 California prisoners, swept across the country between 2011 and 2014.

The Georgia prison strikes inspired the creation of a group called the Free Alabama Movement (FAM), made up of community members, family members of incarcerated people, and inmates at Alabama prisons in 2014. FAM went public with a planned strike at multiple prisons and their effort to form a union for prison workers (called the Incarcerated Workers of the World).[20] They coordinated with the Atlanta IWW and the IWOC for several months leading up to the planned work stoppage. While there was some unrest at the St. Clair Correctional Facility in Springville, a widespread strike failed to come to fruition. The organizing campaign included woman prisoners, something the 2010 Georgia strikes lacked.[21] Organizers of the Alabama strike were singled out and faced retaliation (although apparently not as brutal — or obvious — as what happened to Kelvin Stevenson in Georgia). They organized for another strike in early 2015, which was broken up by prison administration and the looming presence of the state’s prison riot squad (Correctional Emergency Response Team [CERT]). In April of 2015 a corrections officer was allegedly attacked by an inmate during breakfast. The result was a brutal crackdown by the CERT team and continued repression of inmates at the facility. The CERT team and prison officials had antagonized prisoners for weeks leading up to the incident.

Alabama and Georgia prisoners continue their efforts to gain better living conditions and union recognition. While their strike campaigns have gained some public attention, without pressure from supporters on the outside their options are limited. Most long-term improvements in the modern prison system have been achieved through full-scale, bloody uprisings like those at Attica and Lucasville. The Free Mississippi Movement is organizing prisoners in Mississippi while the IWOC is currently focused on prisons in Missouri and the Midwest. An Alabama branch of the IWW was born out of the organizing efforts in support of St. Clair prison workers in 2015.

Private Prisons, Immigration Detention, and Mass Incarceration in the South
Since the dawn of the “war on drugs” movement in the early 1980s, through the “tough on crime” rhetoric of the 1990s, and the introduction of “three strikes” laws and mandatory minimum sentences, the US prison population has grown exponentially. There are approximately 2.3 million people behind bars in the United States on any given day. The US has the highest prison population and the highest rate of incarceration in the world. The South has the highest rate of incarceration in the US. Six of the top 10 states with the highest incarceration rate are in the South, the top 3 being Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama (Texas is 5th, Georgia 7th, Florida 8th).[22] Georgia is also noted for having the highest number of people under correctional supervision (that is, in jail/prison, on parole, or serving probation) at 1 in 13 residents.[23] This has made finding jobs or staying out of the corrections system difficult for a large minority of Southern workers.

Inmates aren’t leased out as they once were, but prison labor in places like Georgia is the means by which the entire correctional infrastructure functions. Inmates grow crops, milk cows, and slaughter meat for consumption by the prison population. They also make the clothing, cleaning supplies, build beds and lockers, perform routine maintenance at existing prisons, and even help construct new prisons. States also loan out state prison inmates to counties, where they are housed to build roads, clean storm damage, sort trash, and so on; jobs that would otherwise employ members of those communities. Some states, like Colorado, have come under fire for producing designer goods like artisanal cheeses, using prison labor. The products are sold in private-sector markets like Whole Foods, while prison workers receive as little at sixty cents a day for their labor and eat food that meets the minimum requirement for survival.[24]

While the prison population seems to have leveled out in recent years, the private prison industry, which commodifies prisoners, is a fast-growing and highly profitable segment of the economy. Companies like Correction Corporation of America (CCA) and GEO Group are literally making money from keeping jail beds filled. CCA was awarded its first contract at a prison in Hamilton County, Tennessee, near Chattanooga in 1985.[25] Since then private prisons have grown to cover 6% of state prison populations and 16% of the federal prison and immigration detention population.[26]

The fastest growing incarcerated populations are now women and immigration detainees. Many federal immigration detention centers are operated by private prison companies like CCA. At one time, undocumented immigrants were simply returned to their country of origin with only a short stay, if any, at a detention facility near the US-Mexico border. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States there has been a growing tendency to detain undocumented immigrants for longer periods of time. The profit motive for private prison companies has only increased demand to keep beds in prisons and immigration detention facilities filled. Now undocumented immigrants crossing the border from Mexico are shipped to detention facilities in far-away states like Georgia and North Carolina, where they sit for anywhere from several weeks to two years while their cases are resolved. Undocumented immigrants, lacking US citizenship, have limited legal rights under the Constitution and generally receive no professional legal counsel, due process, or the opportunity to appeal decisions.

From 2001-2011 over 3 million people were held in immigration detention facilities at some point. Despite rhetoric from the Right about president Obama being “soft” on immigration, an average of over 30,000 undocumented immigrants are detained at these facilities on any given day and the number continues to rise.[27]


Protesters march to a vigil at the gates of Stewart Detention Center (2015). Stewart is one of many privately-owned immigration detention facilities in the South. It is located in Lumpkin, Georgia, the county seat of Georgia’s most impoverished county.

The child immigration crisis of 2014, during which children and adults from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador fled their homes in fear for their lives or the lives of their children, was caused by US foreign policy. The US government, under Hillary Clinton’s State Department and President Obama, backed a 2009 coup in Honduras that replaced a democratically-elected leftist government with a reactionary (and pro-corporate) right-wing dictator.

The US has a long history of similar interventions in Latin America, including support for right-wing military forces during El Salvador’s civil war in the 1980s, attempts to overthrow the democratically-elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua during the 1970s and 80s, and multiple attempts to overthrow the leftist government of Hugo Chavez, and now Nicolas Maduro, in Venezuela. In effect, the US is creating a constant supply of undocumented immigrants to fill beds in private prisons through its own failed policies.[28]

Stewart Detention Center, operated by CCA, is one of the more well-established immigration detention facilities in the South. It houses undocumented immigrants from all over the world, but primarily Mexico and Central America. The facility has also been used to house asylum seekers fleeing brutal regimes in Somalia and other war-torn countries (again, where the US has intervened). The facility is located in the most impoverished county in Georgia and houses over 1,700 detainees at a cost of about $55/day — each. Conditions at the facility, even though most detainees have only committed a civil offense, are indistinguishable from most US prisons. In fact, Stewart has been singled out as having some of the worst living conditions of any correctional institution in the state, with poor-quality food and some of the most brutal treatment of detainees by staff (detainees are often unable to communicate needs to staff because of language barriers).[29]

Facilities like Stewart have become targets for immigrant advocacy groups. Volunteers from the metro Atlanta area (about 2-½ hours from Stewart) purchased a house that now serves as a refuge for family members visiting loved ones (often from out-of-state) at Stewart. They are able to spend the night on weekends and see their loved ones, sometimes maybe even for the last time, on Saturdays and Sundays. This is especially important as there are no hotels or motels near the facility. The hospitality house, El Refugio, also serves free meals to visiting family members and volunteers visit detainees at Stewart who otherwise wouldn’t receive visitors because they have no family in the area.[30] In the visitation area it is not uncommon to see children bawling and screaming out of fear that it might be the last time they see a parent.


Students at a rally in Florida (2015) set fire to a Confederate Battle Flag. Many Southerners point to a flag as a part of their heritage, but Civil War-era social relations were extremely complicated. Many residents of North Georgia, Western North Carolina, and East Tennessee sided with the Union, provided refuge for escaped slaves, or housed and employed Confederate draft dodgers.

When poor conditions at these detention facilities persist for long enough, family, immigrant rights advocates, and the detainees themselves often fight back. Each year a group of volunteers from El Refugio, the Georgia Latino-American Human Rights (GLAHR) organization, and other groups from across the country conduct a march through the small town of Lumpkin to a vigil outside the gates of Stewart Detention Center. The march draws hundreds of supporters who sing and chant spiritual songs along the way. The vigil ceremony at the gates often involves some act of civil disobedience, such as crossing an invisible guard line, which inevitably results in some supporters being arrested.[31]

In February 2015, detainees at the Willacy County Correctional Center, 40 miles from the US-Mexico border in Texas, led an uprising. Willacy is an immigration detention facility privately-operated by Management and Training Corporation. Detainees made (by now) familiar complaints about inadequate medical care, cruel treatment by staff, and sexual abuse. Inmates refused to go to breakfast or report to work details and subsequently broke free from their housing units. They converged on the recreation yard and set fire to the facility, leaving it uninhabitable. The rebellion reportedly involved 2,00 inmates and as many as 2,800 detainees were relocated to other facilities.[32] It’s too soon to say whether this uprising will result in any material improvements for detainees, but it did bring national attention to a problem that has received little coverage in the mainstream media.

Rebel Resistance in the South — Looking Forward
Many Southerners, especially conservatives, states’ rights advocates, and white supremacists, boast about the South’s “rebel” heritage, pointing to the US Civil War for inspiration. They likely don’t realize, or refuse to admit, the flag gained no symbolic meaning until it was adopted by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920’s and Southern segregationists in the 1950’s and 60’s (when it was added to many state flags in Southern states).

The South does, indeed, have a long rebel heritage, but the imagery invoked by those who support the Confederate Battle Flag is far from central to that history. Southern workers have fought, and continue to fight against indentured servitude, slavery, forced drafts into the Confederate army, convict leasing, chain gangs, mass incarceration, and for-profit prison and immigration facilities. The South has a long history of working-class rebellion against the ruling class and white supremacy that crosses artificially-imposed racial and cultural barriers. There is also a distinct, but undeniable, working-class consciousness among workers in the region. In that regard, Southerners have every reason to boast of their true “rebel” spirit as they continue to challenge the institutions of oppression and domination in the region.

Sources and More Information:

  1. An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
  2. A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn
  3. The Five Greatest Slave Rebellions in the United States, Henry Louis Gates: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/african-americans-many-rivers-to-cross/history/did-african-american-slaves-rebel/
  4. Nat Turner’s Rebellion, http://afroamhistory.about.com/od/slavery/a/Nat-Turners-Rebellion.htm
  5. Creation of West Virginia: http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/west-virginia-created-secession-southern-confederate-state
  6. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part4/4p2940.html
  7. John Brown’s last words: http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/johnbrown.html
  8. Appalachia: A History, John Alexander Williams
  9. Slavery in the American Mountain South, Wilma A. Dunway
  10. Southern Unionism in the Civil War: http://www.csuchico.edu/inside/current-issue/bigpicture-1.shtml
  11. The story behind “40 Acres and a Mule”: http://www.theroot.com/articles/history/2013/01/40_acres_and_a_mule_promise_to_slaves_the_real_story.3.html
  12. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, Michelle Alexander
  13. Bedford Hills women’s uprising, 1974: http://www.alternet.org/story/141474/beyond_attica%3A_the_untold_story_of_women%27s_resistance_behind_bars
  14. NCCIW women’s uprising, 1975: http://newpol.org/content/nor-meekly-serve-her-time-riots-and-resistance-womens-prisons
  15. Background in 1986 WV Prison Uprising: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/12/have-a-safe-riot/354671/
  16. Georgia Inmates Stage Historic Strike: http://www.georgiagreenparty.com/blogs/bdixon/GA_InmatesStageHistoricOneDayPrisonStrikeToday
  17. Georgia Inmates Beaten with Hammers: https://libcom.org/news/georgia-inmates-beaten-hammers-during-2010-prisoners-strike-new-video-released-30082013
  18. Resistance in Georgia Prisons Continues: http://anarchistnews.org/content/anarchist-resistance-georgia-prisons-continues
  19. Alabama prison strikes 2014: http://inthesetimes.com/prison-complex/entry/16607/alabama_prisoners
  20. St. Clair prison strike 2015: http://www.alabamaprisonwatch.org/2015/02/support-strike-at-st-clair-correctional.html
  21. St. Clair prisoners attacked by riot team 2015: http://www.al.com/news/birmingham/index.ssf/2015/04/15_inmates_treated_after_riot.html
  22. Incarceration rates by state: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/28/states-prison-rates_n_3667046.html
  23. Georgians under correctional supervision: http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2009/PSPP1in31factsheetGApdf.pdf
  24. Prison Labor’s New Frontier: http://fortune.com/2014/06/02/prison-labor-artisanal/
  25. Private Prisons: Pros and Cons: Cons and Pros, Charles H. Logan
  26. ACLU Report on Private Prisons: https://www.aclu.org/issues/mass-incarceration/privatization-criminal-justice/private-prisons
  27. PBS Report on Immigration Detention: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/race-multicultural/lost-in-detention/map-the-u-s-immigration-detention-boom/
  28. Details on US interventions in Latin America, which are extremely numerous and almost exclusively supportive of right-wing dictators or US puppet regimes, available at the SOA Watch web site: http://soaw.org/
  29. Stewart Detention Center info: http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/sites/detentionwatchnetwork.org/files/ExposeClose/Expose-Stewart11-15.pdf
  30. Information about El Refugio: http://elrefugiostewart.org/about-el-refugio/
  31. Details of 2014 Stewart Detention Center protest: http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/2014/11/22/3429000/5-soa-watch-protesters-arrested.html
  32. Willacy County facility taken over by inmates: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/21/willacy-county-prison-tak_n_6727930.html
  33. Dixie Be Damned: 300 Years of Insurrection in the American South, Neal Shirley & Saralee Stafford
  34. Thirteenth Amendment of the US Constitution: http://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=40

Wildcat at Mead – May Day Report Back

While there were massive protests and direct actions in other parts of the country and around the world, May Day 2015 was a mostly quiet affair in Atlanta. There was a march in support of Freddie Gray and Black Lives Matter organized by the Atlanta Trayvon Martin Organizing Committee, but the only other organized event was an Atlanta IWW screening of the documentary film “Wildcat at Mead.”

The film chronicles the struggles of black workers at the Atlanta Mead Packaging facility during the 1970s. A group of mostly black workers at the plant, which was then represented by International Printing Pressmen and Assistants of North America Local #527, led a wildcat strike after conflicts with both union leadership and management. The local union was notorious for under-representing workers and for its open support of white supremacy. While black workers outnumbered whites 2-to-1 in the workplace, nearly all shop stewards and all elected union officials were white. Several leaders of the local union were openly involved with or members of the Ku Klux Klan. In response, workers at the Mead plant formed the Mead Caucus of Rank and File Workers to fight for their own interests.

Gary Washington, one of the original Mead strikers, spoke after the screening and connected the struggles of the 70s to labor and social movements today.

Gary Washington, one of the original Mead strikers, spoke after the screening and connected the struggles of the 70s to labor and social movements today.

In August of 1972, 250 members of the caucus walked off the job without approval from the union. The strike was led by Sherman Miller, a member of the communist October League, at a time when communist organizations were active across the urban and rural South. One of the earliest supporters of the strike, Gary Washington, a Black Panther from New York who was 21 at the time, spoke at the May Day screening about his experiences. The striking workers received widespread support from the community and local civil rights groups. They were, however, constantly antagonized by union leadership, management, and Atlanta police, leading to the arrest of Miller and several other organizers.

During the strike, 75% of workers held firm and the stayed out of work. The strike ended after eight weeks when all parties reached an agreement that satisfied many of the workers’ demands. The local union agreed to represent all workers, committees were established inside the plant to hear and address grievances about racial discrimination and poor treatment of black workers, and the company promised not to retaliate against strike leaders. Regardless, 36 workers were suspended during or after the strike and many lost their jobs. Some workers, including Mr. Washington, were reinstated after a lengthy arbitration process by the National Labor Relations Board.

Gary Washington still works at Mead and has been elected several times as a shop stewardwith the new union, Teamsters Local #728. He was joined on the post-screening discussion panel by Dianne Mathiowetz, an Atlanta activist who worked on GM assembly lines for 30 years with UAW #10, serves on the national committee of Workers World Party, and has hosted the Labor Forum on Atlanta progressive radio station WRFG for several years (a role previously filled by Mr. Washington).

The post-screening discussion raised some interesting points about Atlanta labor history that have, in many ways, been lost or forgotten. The Atlanta Church’s Chicken strikes of the 1970’s, which fostered a strong sense of solidarity and working-class consciousness within the local black community, along with the Mead wildcat strike, have made a lasting impact on Atlanta’s labor movement. In 1972, Church’s Chicken workers shut down a majority of locations around the city in a protest against discriminatory hiring and promotion practices and poor working conditions. The immediate impact of that strike gained workers some concessions and caused the company to make minor contributions to civil rights organizations and civic groups in black communities. When their demands remained unmet, Church’s workers went on strike and launched boycotts again in 1977 and 1979. While they gained few concessions as a result of the strike (which was hijacked by civil rights leaders) and any wins were quickly lost without a union to protect them, Church’s became much more conscious of how it treated its mostly-black customer base and made substantial contributions to civil rights groups like the SCLC, NAACP, and Operation PUSH during the 1980s. This had the unfortunate effect of neutralizing the strike campaign and taking attention away from worker struggles.

Mead wildcar strike leader Sherman Miller and supporters (Atlanta, 1973)

Sherman Miller, one of the leaders of the Mead Caucus of Rank and File Workers before being arrested by Atlanta police (August 1973)

Both Mr. Washington and Dianne Mathiowetz stressed the connection between the strikes of the 1970s and current social movements like Black Lives Matter and the Fight for $15 campaign. Washington said that workers today face the same oppressive forces they did during the Mead strike and that: “All workers share a solidarity with Ferguson and Baltimore Black Lives Matter movements because when police are called in they don’t come to serve and protect the workers, they come to hurt, maim, or kill working people and protect the interests of the ruling class and the state.”

A number of recent campaigns, like a student-organized fight to gain union recognition and a living wage for food-service workers at Emory University, and solidarity networks in Atlanta and the North Georgia mountains have exploited some cracks in the ruling class infrastructure to build working class consciousness and effective social movements. Still, it is especially important to remember that while many younger activists dismiss veteran organizers of the 60s and 70s, who might not seem as radical or don’t jump to the front-line of conflicts, we have a great deal to learn from their experiences and how we can apply them to our current campaigns.

In addition, Washington and Mathiowetz each spoke to the critical need to connect issues like racism, patriarchy, worker exploitation, immigrant rights, and other social divisions together, arguing that all of us, as workers, are fighting against the same oppressive ruling class and we can only win when we stand together. Washington made a point to stress the importance of including women, LGBT, and gender-non-conforming workers in our struggles. He said that without financial backing from an anonymous pair of Atlanta lesbians and solidarity from local white workers, the Mead strikers couldn’t have stayed out as long as they did.

While labor organizing and the radical Left in Atlanta (and much of the South) have been mostly dormant in the last few years, with a few notable exceptions, we hope that conversations like these and events like the #RestInPower memorial service, which honored victims of police violence in Georgia the following day, will serve to unite working people from across the city, our state, and across the South as we continue to fight for justice and build solidarity among workers from all backgrounds and political traditions.

Rest In Power: Memorial Service Honors Georgia Victims of Police Violence

The death of Freddie Gray and the uprising in Baltimore have dominated news coverage for the past week. Incidents of police violence around the country have gained massive attention since, and even before, the uprisings in Ferguson last year. With all the attention paid to these national cases, we sometimes ignore the police killings of unarmed civilians in our own backyard.

On Saturday, May 2, concerned citizens from different races, gender identities, and economic backgrounds came together at Oakhurst Baptist Church in Decatur to remember the lives of Georgians who were killed or maimed by police, or whose investigations were hampered by police interference. These people have names, and so do the people who killed them.


Pictures of Georgia victims of police violence at a memorial service, Oakhurst Baptist Church, Decatur.

Kathryn Johnston was a 92-year old grandmother killed in her own home by Atlanta police serving a no-knock warrant based on false information. Mrs. Johnston attempted to defend herself from what she thought was an attack by intruders. She was viewed as a threat by officers who shot and killed her. Some of the officers involved were sentenced to prison terms for covering up details of the raid, but not for the killing of Mrs. Johnston.

Kevin Davis, a 44-year-old black man with no criminal history, was killed by Dekalb County police officer Joseph Pitts in December 2014. Davis had dialed 911 to get help for his wife, who had been stabbed by a guest. Police showed up, entered Kevin Davis’ home, shot his dog and then fired on Mr. Davis. Dekalb police then transported Mr. Davis to the hospital in handcuffs and refused to allow his family to visit. Kevin Davis died alone in the hospital three days later. He had previously taken part in Black Lives Matter marches and protests.

Kathryn Johnston, 92, was killed in her own home by Atlanta police serving a no-knock warrant based on false information.

Kathryn Johnston, 92, was killed in her own home by Atlanta police serving a no-knock warrant based on false information.

Anthony Hill, a 27-year-old US Air Force combat veteran and musician, was killed by Dekalb police officer Robert Olsen in March during a manic episode. Mr. Hill was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which can cause delusions and hallucinations. He was completely naked and obviously unarmed when Officer Olsen shot him. No charges have been filed in the case. Hill’s partner said of him at the #RestInPower memorial service, “If he wasn’t walking around smiling, he was walking around singing.” Matthew Ajibade, a 22-year-old Savannah College of Art & Design student from Lagos, Nigeria, who also suffered from mental illness, died under unexplained circumstances at the Chatham County Jail in January of this year. No charges have been filed in that case either.

Nick Thomas, 23, was killed in Smyrna just last month while six (yes, six) police officers attempted to serve a warrant at his workplace. Mr. Thomas fled, likely fearing for his safety, and was shot to death in a barrage of gunfire by police. Officers claim Mr. Thomas was driving toward them, but almost all bullet holes were fired into the side of the vehicle and witnesses report Mr. Thomas was driving away from officers at the time. Thomas’ mother is attempting to organize what she calls “strong women” from all 50 states to raise awareness and combat police violence.

Kendrick Johnson’s body was found rolled up in a wrestling mat at his school in Valdosta last year. School officials and investigators claim Johnson, age 17, crawled into the gym mat himself and died from asphyxiation. A subsequent independent autopsy revealed Johnson died from blunt force trauma and when his body was exhumed most of the internal organs were missing. The clothes Kendrick wore to school that day were never found and local police have been notoriously uncooperative in dealing with the family.

Kendrick Johnson, 17 of Valdosta, died under mysterious circumstances. Local police have refused to cooperate with the family.

Kendrick Johnson, 17 of Valdosta, died under mysterious circumstances. Local police have refused to cooperate with the family.

Just last week Atlanta police shot and killed Alexia Christian, 25. Ms. Christian had been patted down, handcuffed, and placed in the back of a squad car when officers claim she opened fire on them from inside the vehicle. This is not the first case, even in Georgia, of police killing a handcuffed victim. In September of last year, Savannah police shot and killed 29-year-old Charles Smith, whose hands were cuffed behind his back.

Here in the North Georgia mountains last year, Bounkham Phonesavanh (“Baby Bou Bou”) was maimed when Habersham County deputies served a no-knock warrant and tossed a flash-bang grenade into the crib where Baby Bou Bou was asleep. The Habersham Sheriff’s Department has refused to take responsibility for the incident and sheriff Joseph Terrell laughed through an interview with WSB-TV when questioned how he felt about the matter. The family recently reached a $1 million settlement with the county (which will likely come out of taxpayers’ pockets, not from the sheriff’s departments budget). The settlement amount doesn’t even cover the family’s medical costs. Baby Bou Bou has suffered permanent facial damage and scarring and will likely suffer emotional trauma the rest of his life. The family and their supporters continue to push for charges against the officers involved.

While the focus of recent victims of police violence has been centered on young black males, it’s important to note that women, Latinos, American Indians, LGBT people, and even poor whites are also frequent victims of these incidents. This is an issue that crosses racial boundaries and affects almost all Americans who don’t belong to the ruling class. The Freddie Gray and Baby Bou Bou cases demonstrate we need not even break any laws to become victims of the police.

We should see more than just people of color out in the streets protesting and chanting that Black Lives Matter. While protests are a great catalyst for sparking conversations about race and police violence, charges against officers in the Freddie Gray case would never have been filed without the Baltimore Uprising. We need to find more long-term solutions to resolve these problems.

A flash-bang grenade thrown by Habersham County Sheriff's deputies landed in the crib of Baby Bou Bou, leaving the child permanently disfigured. Sheriff Joseph Terrell has been uncooperative, even dismissive, and no officers have been held responsible for the incident.

A flash-bang grenade thrown by Habersham County Sheriff’s deputies landed in the crib of Baby Bou Bou, leaving the child permanently disfigured. Sheriff Joseph Terrell has been uncooperative, even dismissive, and no officers have been held responsible for the incident.

In cities like New York and Oakland, residents are aggressively filming almost every police interaction to the point that police are no longer comfortable entering some neighborhoods. Residents host block parties and declare their neighborhoods “cop-free zones.” The flip side of this is that these neighborhoods are building community self-defense groups and select local residents, rather than outside police, to keep their neighborhoods safe. It’s important to note that, like many urban police forces, 70% of Baltimore City police reside outside city limits and 10% live outside the state. Community self-defense ensures community defenders are accountable to and come from within their own neighborhoods. This approach has proven highly successful in Latin American countries, where state police are corrupt or non-existent, and these ideas are slowly making their way into the consciousness of Georgia residents and those across the United States.

We recognize that many police officers mean well and are truly dedicated to protecting our communities. Unfortunately, the system in which they’re required to work doesn’t allow them to protect us in the ways we need and very often makes our communities more dangerous. Modern police forces were created to enforce the will of the ruling class on working people and have proven highly effective in that regard.

In Lumpkin County and most of North Georgia, we’re fortunate to have a low violent crime rate and mostly responsible police forces. However, we believe that ourselves and our neighbors are best equipped to decide how our public safety can most effectively be administered. The Baby Bou Bou incident in Habersham County proves that even rural mountain communities are not immune from the effects of police violence and a lack of accountability.

Tiffany Smith and Nelini speaking at the memorial service. Women of color have been instrumental in organizing recent protests against police violence.

Tiffany Smith and Nelini speaking at the memorial service. Women of color have been instrumental in organizing recent protests against police violence.

If we are made uncomfortable by the uprisings in Ferguson and Baltimore, perhaps that tells us something about the role we all play in these incidents. Spokesperson for the families of Kendrick Johnson and Baby Bou Bou, Marcus Coleman, said at the Decatur memorial service: “The time is now to make those uncomfortable in the places they feel most comfortable.” If we can feel content and safe while our neighbors suffer the structural violence of poverty, mass incarceration, and gentrification and the immediate violence of crime in their neighborhoods and police violence, perhaps it’s time to step out of our comfort zone and support our neighbors who are fighting for their lives.

If one of us suffers, we all suffer and none of us is free until we are all free.

Participating groups included: Oakhurst Baptist Church, Oakhurst Presbyterian Church, WeCycle Atlanta, Active Voice, Raise Up ATL, Rise Up Atlanta, #ItsBiggerThanYou, Gen Y Project, Decatur Black Lives Matter, Davis Bozeman Law Firm, Save Our Selves (SOS), Atlanta Q&T POC, Atlanta Friends Service Committee, Willie Watkins Funeral Home, Henry & June, and Jewosh Voice for Peace

More on community self-defense and the origins of modern policing:

Click here for an update on the Matthew Ajibade case.

More information on Georgia victims of police violence:
Kathryn Johnston: http://www.cnn.com/2009/CRIME/02/24/atlanta.police/
Kevin Davis: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/dekalb-police-respond-to-critics-of-officer-who-sh/nj55t/
Kendrick Johnson: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/local/parents-of-star-recruit-sue-kendrick-johnson-faceb/nj5c2/
Charles Smith: http://legalinsurrection.com/2014/09/georgia-police-officer-shoots-kills-handcuffed-black-suspect/
Alexia Christian: http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2015/05/04/activists-apd-should-immediately-release-camera-footage-in-alexia-christian-police-shooting
Nick Thomas: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/family-of-man-killed-by-smyrna-police-call-for-fbi/nkd64/
Anthony Hill: https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/anthony-hill-unarmed-georgia-man-murdered-by-police/
Matthew Ajibade: http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2015/01/how-did-matthew-ajibade-die-in-custody/
Baby Bou Bou: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/report-family-of-baby-bou-bou-county-reach-964k-se/nkzmb/

Fighting For Our Own: Working-Class Resistance in Appalachia and the South (Part 1 of 3)

Part 1 of 3: Labor History and Militant Unions in the South

Birth of the US Labor Movement
International Workers Day (May Day) is a celebration of worker contributions to our society and the struggles of past workers who fought, and sacrificed their lives, for many of the benefits we enjoy today. May Day is a national holiday in many countries and is especially associated with Communist states like the Soviet Union and Cuba. Many US workers, however, don’t realize the holiday’s origins are firmly rooted in the labor struggles of our own country.

The history of the US labor movement, which won the eight-hour day, an end to child labor, the right to organize, weekends, overtime pay, and much more (note: some workers today still don’t have enjoy many of these benefits), is often associated with factory workers in urban areas like Boston, New York, Detroit, and Chicago. Occasionally rural coal miners are lumped in, but the struggles and contributions of workers in the South, especially the rural South, are often ignored. The South, even in conservative regions like northern Alabama, North Georgia, and Upstate South Carolina, have their own history of militant labor activity and resistance.

This is the first in a three-part series on radical labor struggles and the fight for liberation in the South and  Southern Appalachia. Obviously it can’t cover every issue in detail, but we will look at a broad range of important events that transcend racial, gender, and cultural boundaries. The first part covers the legacy of May Day and radical labor history in the South.


Many workers sacrificed their lives in the fight for an 8-hour day. The first May Day in 1886 launched that struggle.

A Brief History of May Day
May Day began with the fight by workers for an eight-hour work day. Its origins date back to 1886, when the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions (FOTLU) issued a proclamation that “eight hours shall constitute a legal day’s labor from and after May 1, 1886.” At the time most workers, especially those involved in manufacturing and heavy industry, were expected to put in at least 10 and as many as 16 hours. Child labor was frequently used for some of the more dangerous jobs.

The FOTLU’s demand for an eight-hour day was supported by the Knights of Labor a year later, and eventually drew wide support from workers in the Trades and Labor Assembly, the Socialist Labor Party, and many anarchists and socialist groups.

On the first May Day, between 200,000 to 300,000 workers from over 13,000 businesses walked off their jobs. It remains one of the largest and most widespread strikes in US history. The labor movement, and the anarchist approach of direct action and a general strike, gained popular support from the public. The strikes remained peaceful until May 3rd, when police and strikers clashed outside the McCormick Reaper Works factory in Chicago.

May Day draws much of its significance from the Haymarket Massacre (May 4th, 1886), which occurred at the height of the 1886 strikes. As a massive labor rally was dispersing an unidentified person threw a bomb into a crowd of policemen, killing four of them. Despite the fact that, to this day, nobody knows who threw the bomb, eight anarchists singled out, tried, and executed for their supposed role in helping to create the bomb. The repercussions of the bombing and the execution of the Haymarket Martyrs, still resonate in today’s labor movement, especially in organized anarchist and communist circles. The treatment of modern workers and labor groups by police and the state are a testament to the lasting effects of the Haymarket incident and participants in the first May Day strikes.[1]

Radical labor struggles have a long history in Georgia and across the South. From the violent battles of miners in Southern and Central Appalachia to the national textile mill strikes during the Great Depression to the black workers struggles of the 1960’s and 70’s to the recent Fight for 15, OUR Walmart, and immigrant rights movements, workers in the region can boast of an unbroken record of demanding better conditions and a bigger share of the wealth they create.

Coal Miners and the Roots of Radical Labor in Appalachia
The coal industry has long been a dominant force in the economy and cultural history of the Appalachian region, especially in places like West Virginia, Kentucky, southwestern Virginia, and eastern Tennessee. People have been extracting coal from the Appalachian mountains since the 1880s, and gold and precious gems long before that. We’ll focus on the origins of organized labor in coal communities and two instances of militant resistance by coal miners: Matewan and the Battle of Blair Mountain.


Coal miners fighting at the Battle of Blair Mountain (West Virginia, 1921)

In the early days of coal country the population swelled. Regions that had previously had almost no black residents saw a steady increase (McDowell County, VA went from 0.1% in 1880 to 30.7% in 1910).[2] From the start, coal miners and their families were dependent on the big coal companies that dominated the region. They were forced to lease land that the wealthy coal tycoons owned, and relied on the coal companies for jobs and food. The coal companies swept in and bought up most of the land and mineral rights in coal country. When some small farmers refused to sell their family farms they were either tricked into selling by the coal companies or forced off their land by the state for the “common good.” This confluence of ownership and control of the labor market led to a situation where most workers, even those not employed by the coal companies, found themselves at the mercy of coal operators for survival.

Miners spent all day in the coal mines, with many losing their lives or becoming crippled, then spent their money at company stores on overpriced food and goods, then went home to land owned by those same coal companies. Most of the money coal operators paid their workers eventually made its way back into their pockets. Every small town in coal country was a company town by default and workers were left with little option but to bow to the interests of their bosses.[3]

From the 1870s to the 1890s, while workers in urban areas mounted fierce resistance and made substantial gains against factory owners, the Knights of Labor and the National Federation of Miners and Mine Laborers struggled over influence with miners.  This struggle eventually led to the creation of the United Mine Workers (UMWA), who won a significant victory during an 1894 strike and eventually helped mine workers win an 8-hour day and safer working conditions in 1898. It took many more years for these improvements to make their way across Appalachian coal country and the coal operators fought the miners every step of the way.

Conflicts between coal miners and operators in Appalachia were notoriously brutal. In 1920 private security agents for the coal operators  (the Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency) swept into Matewan, West Virginia and began evicting residents from their homes in the Stone Mountain Coal Camp. The UMWA had been working to organize miners in the area at a time when labor unions didn’t have legal protections from government. Workers could be fired or blacklisted for even talking about joining a union and the coal operators did everything within their power to break union organizing efforts. Residents of Matewan, with assistance from local police chief Sid Hatfield (a rare case of law enforcement siding with unions) surrounded the agents, resulting in a bloody fight that killed seven of the agents, two miners, and left several other wounded. [2]

Perhaps the most notorious case of militant resistance in Appalachia was the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain. While most of West Virginia was organized into the UMWA, southern West Virginia was still controlled by coal operators and company towns. In August 1921 armed miners sought to install their right to a union by force in Logan and Mingo counties. In all, 10,000 coal miners battled about 3,000 lawmen and strikebreakers (who were fighting in the interest of the mine owners) fired over 100,000 rounds at each other in the bloodiest armed battle since the Civil War. Five days later President Warren Harding sent in the US Army to break the conflict. Many of the miners involved in the battle were tried on charges ranging from murder to conspiracy to treason. Almost 1,000 were convicted, but many were acquitted by sympathetic juries or pardoned a few years later.[2]

The immediate aftermath of Blair Mountain was a dramatic decrease in UMWA membership and substantial gains for the coal operators. The union was set back significantly by the Blair Mountain incident and didn’t recover until after the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was passed in 1935. Despite this, the legacy of the Battle of Blair Mountain lives on in Appalachian folklore and remains a point of pride among working people in the region to this day.

Unions have lost the prestige they once held in coal country while new less labor-intensive methods of extracting coal have left many residents unemployed and dependent on government assistance for survival. This has led to tension among residents, with the remaining miners finding themselves at odds with residents concerned about the environmental destruction caused by strip mining, mountaintop removal, and hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The coal operators, like their predecessors, have proven themselves masters at diving residents, successfully pitting struggling miners against residents worried about clean drinking water and the irreparable destruction of the surrounding landscape.

The 1934 Textile Workers Strike
In the 1880’s, textile mills began to migrate from their traditional base in New England and the mid-Atlantic states to southern states in search of cheap labor and an escape from organized unions. By the 1930s, more than 70% of the textile industry had relocated to the South.[4] When the market for cotton and textiles declined in the 1920’s and into the Great Depression, conditions in the mills deteriorated and mill operators cut workers’ hours with no corresponding wage increase to help them survive. In 1929 Southern workers launched hundreds of walkouts that spread across the region, from South Carolina to Alabama and throughout Southern Appalachia. Most of the strikes were spontaneous and organized by the workers themselvses, with little or no organized union influence. These actions fostered an even greater tension between workers and factory operators and led to a rapid decline in labor relations.

The Textile Workers Strike of 1934, which involved 400,000 US workers, touched nearly every corner of the eastern United States. Unlike previous strikes, much of the militant resistance between 1929 and 1934 originated from textile mills in the South. In Gastonia, North Carolina and Elizabethton, Tennessee, striking mill workers were met with violent suppression. They responded with militant action, staging wildcat strikes and walkouts under communist-led unions like the National Textile Workers Union (NTWU). These actions often conflicted with the wishes of more mainstream unions like the United Textile Workers (UTW). Conditions were so awful that workers in Greenville, South Carolina staged numerous strikes, knowing they could easily be replaced by the countless unemployed workers who couldn’t find work at the time.

Striking textile workers face armed security in Alabama (1934)

Striking textile workers face armed security forces in Alabama (1934)

In July 1934, UTW members in northern Alabama launched strikes that spread from Huntsville to Florence, Anniston, Gadsden, and Birmingham. These eventually spilled into Chattanooga, Tennessee and Dalton, Georgia. While not as widespread or as militant, mill and textile workers in Columbus, LaGrange, and at the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mill in the Cabbagetown neighborhood of Atlanta (an area populated mostly by emigrants from the mountains) went on strike and mounted resistance that led to the deaths of several workers.

While largely unsuccessful at its stated goals, the 1934 Textile Workers Strike was instrumental in the passage of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA, also called the Wagner Act) which finally granted workers legal protection to form unions and protect them from retaliation by bosses for collective organizing activity. The NRLA (coupled with the 1947 Taft-Hartley act), which had been presented as a major success for workers, ultimately undermined their interests by creating an opening for union bureaucracy and promoting a tendency for union leadership to collaborate with management against the interests of the workers. It also left unions and their leadership dependent on politicians (mostly Democrats) to protect their influence and financial interests.

While unions were extremely effective at improving wages and conditions for certain workers in the post-WWII era, much of the financial and political corruption that gives modern workers a bad impression and prevents them from joining unions can be directly traced to the Wagner Act and Taft-Hartley and union leaders who place their personal interests ahead of the workers.

Militant Labor in Southern Mills and Communist Collaboration
Many mill towns in the pre-WWII South operated as company towns, in a fashion very similar to coal towns of Appalachia. Workers in these areas found themselves at the mercy of mill operators. With the onset of the Great Depression, and more desperate circumstances for mill workers, relations in local mills grew more tense. Workers in the Dalton textile industry were organized under UTW Local 1893, which initially operated in secret and regularly found itself at odds with management. By 1934 the union grew so influential the local press considered Dalton an important player in upcoming state elections.

As the 1934 textile strikes were taking off, a wave of strikes, walkouts, and militant activity swept across northern Alabama and made its way into Chattanooga, TN, western Georgia, and the textile-centered city of Dalton, Georgia. They began as wildcat strikes, with many turning violent, but by September the UTW called for a general strike. In Dalton, 1,200 millhands took place in the walkout and showed their support in a Labor Day rally, the largest of its type in the city’s history. The local press reported that 1,500 workers “representing every trade organization” took part in a parade in support of the strike.

Union organizers promised the strikers would remain peaceful, which they did, until gunfire erupted between picketers and “armed deputies” (comprised primarily of non-union workers and strikebreakers). Two men were killed and 20 more injured in the skirmish.[5]

While the 1934 strike was mostly ineffective at achieving the textile workers’ demands, it shifted the perspective of workers in the area from a narrow localism to a broader regional and national working class consciousness. They had become part of the national labor movement.

In 1939, Dalton workers at Crown Mill went on strike after contract negotiations with management failed. They managed to shut down all three plants during their three month struggle. They eventually gave in after the company brought in scabs to break the strike. Workers eventually signed a contract that granted considerable concessions to management, but the union survived and was instrumental in improving conditions for workers and helping to sustain a strong textile industry in the area, even after other textile mills throughout the South shut down in the 1980s and 90s.[5]

Union activity and resistance in Georgia weren’t limited to the textile industry. During the Great Depression workers in major Georgia cities took part in mass actions to protest unmet needs and demand a government response to their horrible economic situation. Meanwhile, sharecroppers in rural Georgia joined forces to fight back against exploitation by planters.

In both situations, workers collaborated with organizers from the North, including the Communist Party and other organized socialist and communist groups. While the focus of communist organizing in the South was centered in Alabama, by 1932 it made its way into rural Georgia and had an impact on the labor movement across the state. While factory and farm owners tried to label organizers from the North “outside agitators” (a common tactic used by capitalists and the ruling class in strikes, protests, and urban uprisings even today), the focus of these efforts was strongly centered on local initiatives and issues and their course was determined by local workers and residents.[6]

Black Workers in Georgia During the 1970s
Despite efforts by earlier unions like the Knights of Labor, the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (the CIO, before they merged with the American Federation of Labor) to develop unions that crossed racial barriers and include workers of all skill levels, most US labor unions — especially in the South — were dominated by skilled white male workers. In factories in both the North and South, when black workers were employed at all, they were often given less-desirable and lower-paying jobs as janitors, porters, or foundry workers. Black auto workers in the North, especially in Detroit, were politically radicalized during the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 60s and used what they had learned to organize for better conditions. Black workers in the urban South grew more radical in the South toward the end of the 60s and into the early 70s in the wake of the Black Power movement.[7]

Workers at the Mead Packaging Corp. facility in Atlanta found themselves at odds with union leadership and management in 1972 and created the Mead Caucus of Rank and File Workers, made up mostly of black workers. In August 250 workers organized a wildcat strike without authorization from their union, the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants Union of North America (IPPAU-NA) Local 527. The union leadership was notorious for under-representing workers and for its open support of white supremacy.[8]

Mead wildcar strike leader Sherman Miller and supporters (Atlanta, 1973)

Mead wildcat strike leader Sherman Miller and supporters (Atlanta, 1972)

Striking workers received no support from their union and were met with police violence, but the strike enjoyed strong support from the community and civil rights organizations and 75% of the workers remained out during the strike. Many strike participants and their supporters were members of the October League, a revolutionary communist organization that played a significant role in the strike, the Black Panther Party, or other radical political groups.

The Mead wildcat strike lasted seven weeks, after which the union and management gave in to many of the workers’ demands. All sides reached an agreement whereby the local union agreed to represent worker demands, committees were established inside the plant to hear and address grievances about racial discrimination, and the company promised not to retaliate against strike leaders. Regardless, 36 workers were suspended during the strike and some were fired. Many were able to get reinstated after going through the lengthy National Labor Relations Board arbitration process to get their job back and some continue to work there today under the Teamsters Local 728 union.

The 1970s also saw resistance from workers at Church’s Chicken location in the Atlanta area. The company was notorious in the black community for its disregard and poor treatment of its mostly black workforce. In 1972 Church’s workers staged a city-wide strike and boycott campaign that shut down the majority of locations in the city. This strike forced the company to agree to speed up its integration of black workers into management and promote more black workers to management positions. In 1973 the company elected its first black board member and launched an ad campaign touting itself as an ideal environment for black workers to “learn the necessary skills in operating a fast food outlet.” It also launched a campaign to rebrand itself in the black community, making small contributions to civil rights organizations and sponsoring a number of local little league baseball teams.

None of these actions addressed the exploitation of Church’s workers in a meaningful way. While a  small fraction of black workers made it into management, most remained stuck in low-paying and less-desirable positions as cooks or cashiers. The 1972 strike did succeed at increasing working-class consciousness and confidence in the collective power of workers to force improved conditions. This sense of solidarity, combined with the failure of management to address conditions, led to further strikes and boycott campaigns in 1977 and 1979.

The looming threat of a strike and boycott campaign in 1977, which drew support from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), forced the management to grant several concessions to workers. However, without a union or organized infrastructure to enforce the agreement, the company backed out on its promises and left conditions for workers largely unchanged.

Workers continued complaining about racism, poor treatment by management (even black members of management), and demotions or firings without justification and no recourse. This led to a 1979 strike by 35 Church’s workers, which eventually grew to over 100 workers from multiple locations. The strike lasted several months, gaining support from civil rights leaders, black business owners, and even some Church’s store managers (who joined in the strike). The striking managers eventually became the center of attention, detracting from the workers demands and changing the campaign’s focus.

Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, who was struggling with his own set of problems from striking city sanitation workers, helped foster an extremely hostile environment for the city’s labor movement. Church’s management launched a smear campaign against Hosea Williams, a civil rights icon and key figure in the strike, while police antagonized the striking workers. They eventually arrested Hosea and one of the protesters for “using a bullhorn” shortly after the strike began. A week later, police arrested civil rights leader Tyrone Brooks and another protester on similar charges.

The 1979 strike eventually devolved into a legal battle between Hosea and the company, during which the strike lost steam and the workers’ demands went unmet. In the 1980s Church’s made a public effort to improve its reputation, making what it called a “stronger investment” in the black community. The company made large donations to civil rights organizations, which eventually helped it gain support from the SCLC, NAACP, and Operation PUSH. Unfortunately, black Church’s workers didn’t receive the same sort of attention from the company and conditions remained poor.[10]

The Mead and Church’s strikes, while forgotten by much of the Atlanta population, made a lasting impact on the local labor movement. The Fight for $15 campaign has gained steady support in recent years and a flurry of organized union activity in the food and retail industry has popped up across the area. In 2013, Sodexho food service workers at Emory University won the right to form a union and forced management to grant them a contract with better wages and working conditions with the support of the Students and Workers in Solidarity group. Several students and workers were arrested while protesting in support of workers on campus and gained broad publicity and support through a media and direct action campaign. More recently, fast food workers in Atlanta have led several strikes, walkouts and protests, which have steadily gained support from the local community and the broader labor movement. They’re part of a larger nationwide movement by thousands fast food workers to win a living wage and union recognition.[17]

Manufacturing, Solidarity Networks, Hope for a Brighter Future
While labor unions have steadily lost influence in the United States over the past several decades, union membership is the South continues to rise. The five states with the fastest growth in union membership are all located in the South (all five, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and Virginia are also home to portions of the Southern Appalachia region).

In the 1990s the auto industry, in search of cheaper labor and less union support, shifted production facilities to the Southeast. While this helped them escape the influence of organized labor for several years, workplace organizing in the region has seen a recent upsurge. Much of this activity has been centered around central and eastern Tennessee, Upstate South Carolina, and West Georgia. In 2013, the United Auto Workers (UAW) added 1,800 workers at a General Motors facility in Spring Hill, Tennessee, with corresponding gains for unionized workers in the construction trades. Workers at Kia facilities in Georgia and BMW facilities in South Carolina have also launched efforts for union recognition.[12]

Volkswagen, which recently opened facilities in the Southeast, has a reputation as a labor-friendly company. In 2013, with vocal support from the company, workers were set to vote in support of a union at a the Chattanooga VW facility. After overwhelming pressure from state politicians, the workers narrowly lost a vote for union recognition in their workplace. It was later revealed that, in addition to threats from lawmakers trying to halt the spread of unions in the state, Tennessee governor Bill Haslan attached strings to to $300 million incentive package to VW on the condition that labor talks be concluded “to the satisfaction of the state.” The loss robbed organized labor of momentum in the region, but union activity continues its slow, steady rise in the South.[13]

In 2013, a 42-year old worker, Teresa Weaver Pickard, died from heat exhaustion at the Sewon America auto parts facility in Lagrange, Georgia (a Korean company that makes parts for Kia automobiles). Workers had complained for years about poor conditions and broken A/C units at the plant and reported physical altercations with management.[14]

The UAW had been trying to organize workers at the plant for several years with little success. The company, like many other automakers who set up shop in Southern states, spent a considerable amount of time and resources pushing anti-union propaganda and (often with the complicity of local politicians) busting any efforts by workers to organize to protect themselves and fight for better wages. As a result, workers at Sewon America and other factories in the South and the Appalachia region are still underpaid and mistreated.

Following Teresa’s death, local groups like Jobs for Justice, the Atlanta branch of the IWW, and several other social justice and civil rights organizations collaborated with Sewon workers to bring attention to the workers’ situation and push for union recognition. The campaign was short-lived after many workers at the plant declined to participate for fear of retaliation by management and the risk of losing their jobs in an area that suffered from extremely high unemployment and poverty.

In the past several years more radical working class organizers have developed the idea of grassroots solidarity networks. These networks are strongly influenced by the idea of cross-industry (and cross-cultural) working-class solidarity and the long legacy of direct action. Direct action is the idea that workers can gain meaningful changes by exerting their collective power rather than waiting on union leadership or politicians to do things for us.

Atlanta Solidarity Network (ASOL) is one of many solidarity networks that bring together workers to fight in their mutual interest. Action in Dahlonega in a solidarity network in the North Georgia mountains.

Atlanta Solidarity Network (ASOL) is one of many solidarity networks that bring together workers to fight in their mutual interest. Action in Dahlonega is a solidarity network in the North Georgia mountains.

The Atlanta Solidarity Network (ASOL) is a loosely-organized group of workers from different workplaces with a number of wins under their belt. Much of their success comes from helping workers who haven’t been paid or who have been fired from jobs without cause either get paid or get their jobs back. By placing public pressure on bosses, and getting local workers and allies from across the country to launch phone-zaps and negative publicity campaigns that interrupt their cash flow, ASOL and other solidarity networks have helped exploited workers win some sort of justice without waiting on the broken machinery of government agencies.

Recently Action in Dahlonega (AID), a solidarity network in the North Georgia mountains, has helped workers get justice and get paid. Their first major success came after a Dahlonega restaurant owner closed two restaurants in Dahlonega, leaving workers without jobs, and opened three new restaurants in a nearby town. Their boss had a long history of underpaying workers and he refused to give at least 10 of the workers their final paychecks after closing. The workers and AID launched a public campaign to put pressure on the boss. After a strong show of support from the local community, the boss gave handed over the workers’ paychecks within 4 days.[15] AID also works on local community issues, like trying to remove local signs that Cherokee residents find offensive and building a free store open to anyone in the community regardless of need, to build a strong network between workers who share common class interests, even when they don’t come from similar political backgrounds.[16]

Breaking Down Boundaries

While union membership is slowly rising in the South, there’s no doubt mainstream unions have lost much of the influence they once had and union members often see no value in being members and paying due. Much of the influence mainstream unions retain is inextricably tied with the Democratic party, making their appeal to large segments of the working class extremely limited.

Fast food workers and community supporters demonstrating for a living wage and the right to union representation (Atlanta, 2015)

Fast food workers and community supporters demonstrating for a living wage and the right to union representation (Atlanta, 2015)

Our nation’s working-class history isn’t restricted to one political group. People from all political backgrounds, or none at all, share a common goal of working to make someone else wealthy, struggling to pay bills, and working harder to survive with fewer resources. At one time even socially conservative rural Americans collaborated with communists and socialists to work toward their shared interests in the workplace.

Even our neighbors in the mostly-conservative South and Appalachia realize they’re being exploited by wealthy business owners and politicians. They face many of the same problems and share many of the same concerns as those on the radical left wing of the political spectrum. While we might not agree on many issues, we can often find solidarity and common ground in the workplace. The long history of radical and militant labor in the South and Appalachia have much to teach us, not just about relationships between bosses and workers, but also about the relationship between different segments of the working class. In the end, either we’ll all enjoy a greater share of the wealth we produce, or none of us will.

Sources and More Information

  1. A Brief History of May Day: http://www.iww.org/history/library/misc/origins_of_mayday
  2. West Virginia’s Mine Wars: http://www.wvculture.org/history/minewars.html
  3. Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley, John Gaventa
  4. Southern Workers Spark Massive Textile Strike: http://apwumembers.apwu.org/laborhistory/13-5_1934textilestrike/1934textilestrike.htm
  5. Creating the Modern South: Millhands and Managers in Dalton, Georgia 1884-1984
  6. The Unemployed People’s Movement: Leftists, Liberals, and Labor in Georgia, 1929-1941
  7. Militant black labor organizations: http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/rbwstudy.html
  8. “Wildcat at Mead” film, http://wearemany.org/v/wildcat-at-mead
  9. Mead Wildcat strike aftermath: https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/ncm-1/atlanta-wildcat.htm
  10. Atlanta Church’s Chicken Strike: https://redatlanta.wordpress.com/category/atlantas-untold-fast-food-strike-history/
  11. Chattanooga’s Radical History: http://www.chattanoogan.com/2013/3/25/247459/Chattanooga-s-Radical-History.aspx
  12. Chattanooga Times-Free Press: http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/business/aroundregion/story/2014/feb/02/unions-gain-in-southunions-find-new-southern/130487/
  13. Yahoo News: http://news.yahoo.com/uaw-reports-55-percent-membership-vw-plant-tennessee-125453121.html
  14. Teresa Weaver Pickard Story: https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/06/06/sewo-j06.html
  15. Action in Dahlonega story on Workers’ Victory: https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/04/25/dahlonega-workers-win-wages-theyre-owed/
  16. Action in Dahlonega story on racist local signage: https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/confronting-dahlonegas-history-a-brief-statement-about-forgetting-our-brutal-past/
  17. Students and Workers in Solidarity – Emory University: http://sws-emory.webs.com/ 

No Platform for Fascists: Limits of Free Speech

While hate groups hold nowhere near the strength they once possessed in the US South, recruitment into right-wing extremist groups, psudeo-fascist “European heritage” groups, and openly fascist groups like the KKK and National Socialist Movement has been on the rise for several years. Coupled with recent gains by neo-fascists in Europe, this reflects a troubling and dangerous trend.

With that in mind, we should all be concerned with what the rapid growth of fascist groups means for our society as a whole, and especially for minority groups who are most often the targets of these groups. Whose rights are more important and how do we decide? Is it the right of fascist groups to spread their message of hate and intolerance? Do oppressed minorities have a right to feel safe in a hostile society still dominated by white supremacy? And, ultimately, who grants and defends these rights?

Who Has the Right to “Free” Speech?

I won’t venture into a long theoretical analysis of how we come to have certain rights or who grants them. Suffice it to say, most of the rights we now enjoy were earned through generations of struggle against the ruling classes. We weren’t born with them. The powers-that-be didn’t benevolently bestow them upon us. They aren’t guaranteed by a centuries old piece of paper. Millions of people who came before us shed blood and sacrificed their lives fighting to achieve them.

Even today the state regularly infringes on certain rights at its whim. The right to organize unions in our workplaces was only recently granted, and can be taken away, or severely restricted, at any time by the state or the police. Those of us on the radical left are well aware that our right to assemble and our right to free speech are routinely trampled by the state. The right to freely criticize the ruling class’ constant hunger for war and disregard for workers was only achieved in any meaningful way well into the 20th century.

A sad looking group of KKK and NSM members on their way to the Georgia state capitol on 2013

A sad looking group of KKK and NSM members on their way to the Georgia state capitol on 2013

In April 2013, a group of KKK and National Socialist Movement members held a rally on the steps of the Georgia state capitol. They were visibly protected the entire time by a wall of police from several local departments. We outnumbered the racists by at least 5-to-1, and it was clear who the police were there to protect. The entire afternoon, the cops antagonized members of our group, even assaulting and arresting one of our comrades for holding a sign that read “Fuck Off Nazi Scum.” The irony of such an incident occurring while police ferociously defended the KKK and NSM’s right to “free speech” wasn’t lost on us. It’s clear that the state capriciously defends the right to free speech and assembly, with a clear bias against those on the radical Left.

As a white American male who grew up poor, but still socially privileged, I came to believe that freedom of speech and freedom of expression were sacramentally enshrined into the fabric of our nation, granted to us by our wise and all-knowing founding fathers. Even after I was politically radicalized and realized it was mostly wealthy slave owners and Indian killers who were guaranteed those rights, I held onto the sentiment that free speech was a special right. More than most, I should have known better. I grew up in a mixed-race household and had a front row seat to racism and white supremacy.

Eventually I grew beyond the naive belief that everyone has a right to say whatever they want, regardless of the consequences, but only after I endured my own share of hardships, homelessness, mental illness, and drug addiction. I came to realize, through my exposure to people who were fighting for survival, that one of the worst things I could imagine someone doing to me was trample on my right to free speech was a reflection of my own comfort and social privilege. Who was time to worry about free speech battles (like the ACLU defending the KKK’s right to adopt a road in Georgia) when you’re living on the street, when you can’t pay your rent, when you’re worried the cops will murder you because of the color of your skin, when every day is a battle to find work, stay out of prison, or just survive? Sure, free speech means something, but lets not fool ourselves into believing words and images can’t injure. Racist propaganda and hate speech can cause lasting psychological distress and emotional trauma. Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can sometimes hurt even more.

Many European countries have laws against hate speech. I’m not going to extol government restrictions on free speech because such laws ultimately fail to address the white supremacy and structural racism that make people comfortable expressing hateful ideas. It is ultimately our responsibility — not the state’s — to put an end to hate speech, white supremacy, and the institutional oppression of our neighbors. That being said, it’s not my place to determine how victims of hate speech should be protected from its effects. If such laws can save or materially improve the lives of people of color and other oppressed groups or advance our cause of liberating the working class, we would be foolish to oppose them. Nonetheless, based on hundreds of years of history, it’s even more foolish to imagine that the state will protect the lives and voices of oppressed groups.

Openings for Extremism and Protecting White Supremacy

Allowing racists and fascists to spread their hate, and going to the extreme of fighting to protect it, fosters a toxic atmosphere that creates uncomfortable and unsafe conditions for minority groups. In a society that already devalues their lives and their voices, this is particularly dangerous. One person’s right to feel safe, and not see images of people who look like them hanging from trees or having people who belong to privileged classes call for their removal or extermination, should absolutely trump anyone else’s right to produce and distribute such garbage. Unfortunately, people who identify themselves as leftist crusaders for civil liberties (who often belong to privileged classes themselves) are usually the first to defend hate speech rights.

While it’s clear that hate speech creates a toxic environment and places certain people in our society at grave risk, there are also secondary effects. The most obvious is the atmosphere of comfort and protection it provides to fascists to continue recruiting into their hate groups. Likewise, it makes casual racists, who might not otherwise be committed to the cause and might not even realize they’re racist, feel more at ease sharing racist jokes and propogating racial stereotypes or feeding into the attitude that they’re somehow being discriminated against (“reverse racism”) on the rare occasion that an oppressed minority is protected from their actions. Hate speech feeds and nourishes the seeds of white supremacy that live within all of us.

One of the most dangerous secondary effects of hate speech is the sway it holds over the mainstream political climate. By staking out a position on the extreme endpoint of the right-wing, hate groups create an opening that less extreme right-wing politicians can exploit. When hate groups call for the extermination of certain races or the removal of all non-white people from the country, calls by mainstream politicians to build a fence along the border and deport undocumented immigrants and their children don’t seem quite as severe. This creates a ripple effect, pulling other politicians, even progressives and liberals, further to the right. (It should be noted that socialists, communists, and anarchists on the left have a similar effect on progressive politicians, whether we intend it or not. In fact, this reaction very frequently results in the political sabotage of our democratic, grassroots efforts toward socialist solutions free from state interference).

In our time it’s clear that our society place little value on the lives of our black, Hispanic, Native American neighbors. It’s not uncommon to see an unarmed black person murdered by the police followed by a flurry of white voices defending the officer in question or, lacking that, the police as an institution. The very fact that the first instinct is not to question what caused that situation to occur in the first place or attempt to understand the very real fear of police that many people have, speaks volumes about our society and our priorities. Even when these people are called out for ignorant and racist comments, their right to spread them and create an even more toxic atmosphere is always protected and defended.

Opposing Fascism by Any Means Necessary

The danger of allowing racists and fascists to promote their cause, even when they’re small in number, is not negligible. White power bands draw hundreds of people to their concerts and gatherings of pseudo-fascist “European heritage groups” take place regularly across the country. How we combat their efforts in not always so clear cut. Calls to ignore them so as not to draw attention to their cause have proven remarkably ineffective. If we ignore them they won’t go away. In fact, they’ll very likely grow stronger with a lack of pressure. The media has shown a consistent determination to cover even the smallest actions carried out by these groups.


One of many militant anti-fascist groups in the United States

We can’t rely on the state to remove them. The state is more likely to go after those on the left than fascists. The state is designed to protect white supremacy at all costs and perpetuate the class system that systematically disadvantages certain groups and positions working people of different social group against each other. Militant action has proven effective at disrupting fascist organizing efforts, removing their presence from certain areas and discouraging working people from joining their ranks (or at least hiding where their sentiments lie out of fear).

We’ve seen the speed with which fascist movements can spread. Fascists took complete control of Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Germany in a matter of years and dominated most of Europe during World War II. In recent years, neo-fascist groups have gained positions in many European parliaments, even in relatively progressive countries like France and Sweden. The United States has a long and colorful history of racism, patriarchy, xenophobia, and homophobia, and intolerance. Despite dismissals from establishment leftists and moderates, its not far-fetched to imagine fascist movements taking root in the United States. In fact, pseudo-fascist language and ideas run rampant on the Internet and in right-wing groups like the Tea Party, certain elements of the Libertarian Party, and ultra-conservative factions of the Republican Party (although we do sometimes find allies on what is considered the libertarian “right”). Such spaces are ripe for infiltration by an organized group of determined neo-fascists. And while they might not seem well-organized or many in number right now, the infrastructure for rapid growth already exists. Past experience in protests and social movements teaches us that the police are far more likely to resort to violence and state suppression of communists and anarchists than against right-wing extremists. We might very well find ourselves washed under a wave of fascism with very little resistance from the privileged classes.

With that in mind, and knowing the state and the establishment have left a wide berth for fascism, we have a responsibility to militantly oppose white supremacy and fascism with whatever means are at our disposal. For some of us that might mean putting our bodies in danger and risk losing our freedom. We cannot allow them to run our streets, demonstrate in our neighborhoods, and terrorize our neighbors at will. More importantly, we must not allow them to take root in areas where they might find less resistance, or even acceptance, like suburban towns and rural areas. It is a matter of life and death, not only for oppressed minority groups, but for all of us who seek the liberation of the working class.

The police have shown not only a willingness to protect racists and fascists, but have proved they very often belong to those same groups. As an institution, the police have demonstrated that they will protect white supremacy at any cost. As such, they should not be permitted to escape the focus of our anti-fascist organizing. Oppressed groups are most often the victims of police violence and it is our duty to put an end to that. In the process we might place ourselves in harm’s way, but whatever harm we face pales in comparison to the structural violence and unrelenting danger faced by our oppressed friends and neighbors.

Destroying the sacred symbols of racists and fascists, like burning the confederate battle flag, or protesting against their cause with signs and demonstrations might make us feel good about ourselves and provide motivation for our allies, It might even cause some minor aggravation or embarrassment for fascists with a thin skin. It won’t do much to dampen their cause, though. It is our obligation, if not for our own good for the well-being and safety of our neighbors who are not protected or privileged, to defeat the racists and fascists and create an environment where they feel unsafe spreading their hate or attempting to recruit working people into their ranks. Accomplishing all that would be a wonderful beginning, but even once the fascists are eliminated, plenty of work remains.

Defeating White Supremacy

Defeating fascists and creating an environment where they must constantly watch over their shoulders in public is not enough to push forward the liberation of oppressed classes. It barely puts a dent in the armor of institutional racism. White supremacy is a cancer that infects us all, even to the point of being internalized by many of its victims (how many times have we seen black cops defend the killing of an unarmed black person?). It is our responsibility, as dedicated anti-fascists, to confront the institutional privilege that routinely places less importance on the lives, voices, and experiences of oppressed minority groups than those of white people, and especially straight white males.

Students burning a confederate battle flag in Florida

Students burning a confederate battle flag in Florida

Opposing white supremacy as an institution is still not enough. For white anti-fascists, we must look within ourselves and question our own attitudes and perceptions about race. Even committed white anti-fascists benefit from the social privilege of having white skin, whether we want it or not. We can’t help but be affected by that. Very often we don’t even realize we’ve developed or internalized these attitudes and often neglect to study how we ourselves are socially conditioned by white supremacy.

We must face racists and fascists head on, but our work will never be done until everyone is liberated. As anti-racists and anti-fascists, it’s wonderful that we’re willing to bravely battle hate groups in the streets. The people who belong to those groups, however, often find their way into them because of frustration with the same instruments of class oppression as us. They are very often poor white people who end up placing anger about their own hardships and social conditions on other exploited and oppressed groups, like black people and immigrants. It’s a con-game the ruling class has played on working people for centuries. They’re masters at directing elements of the working class against each other, rather than toward the state and capitalism.

With that in mind, and knowing that dedicated racists and fascists often turn to our side later on, we should be mindful to not isolate those who otherwise might be receptive to our cause when framed in the proper perspective. We should work to bring rural and suburban whites to our cause while militantly opposing those who select the side of fascism. We should always be careful to not isolate potential allies or make the mistake of presuming that all people in the rural South harbor openly racist attitudes. Fascists are just as likely to live in and recruit in major cities as rural areas.

Attacking Fascism and White Supremacy on Multiple Fronts

Whether we choose a militant or a peaceful approach toward anti-fascism, our best path forward is to present a united front against racists, fascists, and white supremacy and not judge others for tactics that actually challenge them. Victory will likely come only through a convergence of different channels and it could mean we have to ally with those we might not like or work with otherwise.

Placing social pressure on hate groups, limiting their recruitment efforts, and targeting major corporations, like Amazon, who profit from the sale of racist propaganda are absolutely necessary to our cause. We must never provide a platform for fascists. But those actions alone won’t eliminate hate groups and they don’t even begin to touch on the process of dismantling white supremacy in our society.

To do that, we must look to each other and within ourselves, to unlearn everything our society has taught us about race and privilege and challenge the institutions that support them at every turn. The rights we enjoy today weren’t simply given to us, nor will be the rights of those who follow us.

More on anti-fascism in the US South:

Action in Dahlonega: Piazza Owner Opens New Restaurants, Refuses to Pay Workers at Restaurants He Closed — Update

From some friends at Action in Dahlonega:

Update 4/23/2015:
We have reports through our contacts that, after last week’s pressure, they have received paychecks and they  DID clear. A full update on the situation is available here. Thanks to the Dahlonega community for their overwhelming support and to the workers for sticking with it to make this happen. Solidarity! 

Update 4/16/2015:
Action in Dahlonega has received word that, since our original story went viral and thanks to a tremendous outpouring of support and pressure from the Lumpkin County community, Meyer sent a text message to several of the affected workers that their final paychecks are being processed and mailed out today. We’ll continue to keep up the pressure until our fellow workers have the money they earned in their hands, but this seems like a promising development. We’ll post a follow-up article once we have more information.

Update 4/15/2015:
Meyer publicly stated on Facebook and in text messages sent to some former workers that they would get paid “when Piazza is sold.” He has thus far refused to commit anything in writing or tell workers what they are owed. He has also stated he is not the owner of the new restaurants despite the Smoke Signals article, in which he’s quoted, suggesting otherwise. On Tuesday, his LinkedIn profile indicated he was the owner of Piazza, Main Street Burger, and Forks (it’s since been changed). 

We reiterate our demand that Meyer pay the workers what they’re owed to avoid further public action by Action in Dahlonega or legal action by exploited workers.

It appears Piazza, an Italian restaurant near the Dahlonega square, and Main Street Burger have (at least temporarily) closed up shop, but their owner keeps cooking up something rotten. He’s left some workers  out of a job and without the wages they’re owed.

Action in Dahlonega members have spoken with former Piazza and Main Street workers over the course of several months and this appears to be nothing new. According to them, it was not unusual for paychecks to arrive late, if at all, or for the owner and managers to offer alternative methods of payment (such as beer).

A logo for Ed & Lucy's Bistro, established 2015

A logo for Ed & Lucy’s Bistro, established 2015

The owner of Piazza is/was David Meyer, an Art Institute of Atlanta Culinary graduate and Dahlonega resident who has been in the restaurant business for over 15 years. He has since opened several restaurants near Big Canoe and Marble Hill, including Forks, Ed & Lucy’s Bistro, and Revered Billy’s BBQ. Whether Piazza, Main Street Burger, or any of the other restaurants operated by Meyer are struggling financially, the fact remains that workers, many of whom are University of North Georgia students, worked to keep the doors open as long as they could. There’s no reason to think Meyer won’t treat workers at these new restaurants with the same disregard.

Despite the closing and his continued refusal to pay workers what they’re owed. it doesn’t appear Meyer is any worse for the wear. Meyer continues  to operate and pour their efforts into new business ventures (the new restaurants opened in late 2015/early 2015) and line his pockets with money earned by our fellow workers in Dahlonega.

A photo of Meyer from his Facebook page.

A photo of Meyer from his Facebook page.

As friends, neighbors, and comrades of those exploited by Meyer and company, we stand in solidarity with the workers of Piazza, Main Street Burger, and Meyer’s new restaurants. We will work with those who have dedicated, and continue to dedicate, their time and labor to serve Dahlonega’s residents and visitors.

If Pizza and Main Street do re-open, we will take the fight to Meyer to make sure the workers’ voices are heard. In the meantime, we intend to make clear that exploitation of workers in our community will not, and must not, be tolerated. Meyer must do right by our fellow workers on whose backs they’ve built their business.
More information on Meyer’s new ventures: http://bigcanoenews.com/news/news-col1/big-canoe/6514-three-restaurants-to-open-at-north-gate-station

Contact Info for Meyer’s new restaurants:
Forks: 60 Northgate Station, Jasper, Georgia 30143 / phone: (706) 429.8530
Ed & Lucy’s Bistro: 60 Northgate Station, Jasper, Georgia 30143 / phone: (706) 608.8000
Reverend Billy’s BBQ: 60 Northgate Station, Jasper, Georgia 30143 / phone: (678) 787.2427

Surviving Heroin and Other Dangerous Drugs: Notes from a Former User


Nearly sixty years ago, William S. Burroughs penned a “Letter from a Master Addict to Dangerous Drugs” for the British Journal of Addiction, which has since been included as an appendix to his magnum opus Naked Lunch. While I found some of the notes still relevant and useful while in the throes of my own addiction, quite a lot has changed about drugs and drug culture since the 1950’s. While the means of procuring and ingesting drugs remain mostly unchanged, we know quite a bit more about why people become physically and psychologically addicted to certain drugs and there are dozens of new methods and medications directed at helping people to stop using drugs, or at least make it safer for them if they’re going to do it anyway.

With that in mind, and in the spirit of harm reduction, having gathered a wealth of information about modern drugs and methods to stop using them over a course of many years, I present my own collection of notes on using and quitting certain drugs, especially heroin and other opiates. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list and what worked for me might not work for others. Notes on the safety of certain methods are indicated, but everyone is different and some of these methods may prove harmful for some people. Regardless, this sort of comprehensive information difficult to find, especially all in one place. When it is available it often contains inaccuracies or perpetuates social myths around drugs and drug users. It is my hope that with this sort of information modern drug users might avoid some of the mistakes and pitfalls that ensnared my friends and I during our countless efforts at survival and recovery. At the very least I hope it might help some habitual drug users survive until they’re able to finally make the break and pursue a life that doesn’t place them at the mercy of dangerous drugs. Lacking that, perhaps something in here will make using safer for those who aren’t ready or don’t want to stop.

Table of Contents:

Heroin and Opiates in General
Since my first taste, heroin has been my drug of choice. It completely satisfied the purposes for which I chose to consume it. Contrary to popular (and not entirely accurate) stereotypes, heroin was the first illegal drug I ingested. I began sniffing it, but within a few short weeks I was mainlining it nearly every day to maximize the effects. Figures suggest that less than 1 in 4 people who try heroin will ever become addicted. I don’t have any reason to doubt those numbers, but this was not the case for me. I was facing an insurmountable mountain of accumulated stress, anxiety, and mental instability built over two decades when I began using. I was hooked from the start, grateful for some relief and thinking I could stop whenever I decided. If I’d chosen any drug but heroin, perhaps that would have been the case; but I doubt anything but a potent narcotic would have filled that void that heroin seemed to fill so completely. The physical dependence, even when I sincerely desired to stop using, proved too large an obstacle to overcome.

Heroin withdrawal is extremely uncomfortable. Whoever has compared to having a bad case of the flu has obviously never had to endure the seemingly unending array of days and nights where the entire body aches and the brain cries out for any sort of relief, no matter the cost

Heroin withdrawal is extremely uncomfortable. Whoever has compared to having a bad case of the flu has obviously never had to endure the seemingly unending array of days and nights where the entire body aches and the brain cries out for any sort of relief, no matter the cost

Withdrawal from heroin (commonly called dope sickness) and other opiates is an experience so insufferably painful, mere words would fail to capture its horror. It is very likely the most awful experience most users of these drugs will ever endure. Nonetheless, it is not uncommon to find a user in one of the various stages of sickness, either self-imposed or involuntarily, during the course of their dependence. The sickness caused by withdrawal is so dreadful not due to the severity of the individual symptoms, which can often be extreme in their own right, but because of the combination of symptoms and their unending attack on the user’s mind and body. The body and muscles ache uncontrollably. The hair on the arms and head, which I’d previously imagined to be incapable of registering pain, scream out in agony. The sensation extends to the core of the bones, reaching even the teeth and fingernails. Even a soothing touch is unendurable. Neurons in the brain have short-circuited and fire rapidly in all directions. The mind races interminably, unable to settle on a single thought aside from the need for immediate relief. It is not uncommon for users find themselves unable to muster the mental and physical energy to find ways to obtain more drugs that could immediately improve their condition.

I have suffered this sickness on more occasions than I care to remember. In some instances the withdrawal was self-imposed, an ill-conceived effort to stop using of my own volition. More often it was involuntary, due to incarceration or institutionalization. Correctional facilities in the European Union and a handful of jails and prisons in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Rhode Island provide methadone treatment, a medically-accepted standard, for opioid-dependent inmates. Many jails and hospitals provide either no treatment or the least care necessary for a patient to withstand the ordeal. They sometimes refuse to provide even over-the-counter pain relief like ibuprofen or diarrhea pills, and on their own arbitrary schedule.11156126_646273108839916_6515454832644953674_n

The experience has been likened to the flu, but I fail to see any but the faintest correlation. In Trainspotting, the heroin high is likened to taking “the best orgasm you’ve ever had… multiply it by a thousand, and you’re still nowhere near it.” The reverse, unfortunately, is true for withdrawal from heroin. It is nothing at all like the flu; at least none I’ve ever experienced, or even imagined. It is, without a doubt in my mind, the sort of pain to which one must to have any sort of comprehension as to its nature — and that is a fate I would wish on no one.

In Atlanta and the surrounding area, where most of my drug using took place, the Bluff is a world-famous open drug area, and one of the few places to easily obtain heroin (and just about any other drug you can imagine). Most long-time users avoid the Bluff in favor of connections they’ve met along the way or through other people, both because the quality of drugs tends to be higher and the risk of police interference and harassment is lower. It is also generally safer, if you are going to continue using, to purchase from a consistent seller you know. This will help ensure a more (though not always) consistent quality and help reduce the likelihood of overdose.  If you use heroin and plan to continue, I’d strongly encourage stocking up on naloxone (click here to get a kit in Georgia) and always use with someone who can call for help and administer first-aid in case of an overdose. Naloxone can almost always reverse any opiate overdose if given in time. In many states it is now legal to carry and distribute (click here for a recent map of naloxone and 911 Good Samaritan laws).

The Chemistry of Opiate Dependence
Heroin and other opiates are unique among most drugs in that they cause physical as well as psychological dependence. Only a few other drugs, notably alcohol, benzodiazapenes, and barbiturates, also cause physical dependence, although not in the same manner as the opiates. One of the most common pursuits of the habitual heroin user, other than finding drugs, is trying to short circuit the brain’s chemistry to find a painless method of withdrawal from opiates. This is something I researched in great detail right after I started using, scouring the Internet for advice and even checking books on addiction and physiology. As such, I learned a great deal about why we become dependent on opiates, but I never succeeded at finding a miracle cure. Needless to say, I’m not a doctor or a chemist, but I have acquired a fairly decent understanding of how opiates work in the brain and why we become sick when we don’t have them.

The brain (and other parts of the body) contain several different types of opiate receptors. The most important for heroin users is the mu-opioid receptor, but other receptors like the kappa-opiod receptors and the delta-opioid receptors also play a role (these are all broken down further into subtypes which play varying roles). These receptors are primarily located in the brain, some are also located in the intestinal tract and the spinal cord. Our body produces chemicals called endorphins, enkephalins, dynorphins, endomorphins, and nociceptin that bind to and activate these receptors. When the receptors are activated they help relieve pain, reduce anxiety, and generally make us feel good.

Morphine and other opiates closely mimic the natural endorphins in our body and bind to the opioid receptors in much the same way. Some bind more strongly than others (binding affinity) and some can either activate (agonist), bind but not activate (antagonist), or partially activate (agonist-antagonist) the brain’s opioid receptors. This is why we feel such an intense pleasure from heroin or morphine, but only feel “not sick” or get a very slight euphoria from suboxone. Naloxone has a very strong binding affinity — so strong it can rip most other opiates off the receptors — but doesn’t activate them, which is why it can reverse heroin overdoses and cause instant withdrawal.

Over time, if we continue putting opiates like morphine and heroin into our bodies, we develop a tolerance (scientists still aren’t exactly sure how this happens) and our body stops making its own opiates, like endorphins. So when we stop using opiates, our brain isn’t producing as many of its own opioids as it normally would, while still expecting plenty of the opiates we’ve been using to be around. As such, withdrawal is essentially the opposite of the effects we receive from using opiates. It can take several days, or even weeks, for our brains to adjust and restore some sense of balance to the internal opioid system.

These is also some recent evidence that opiates have an effect on the brain’s dopamine receptors (for more information on this, check out this article from The Fix). Drugs like nicotine, cocaine and methamphetamine have long been known to work on the dopamine receptors. They generally act as dopamine-reuptake inhibitors, which means they cause an overabundance of dopamine by preventing the brain from removing it. The result is vasodilation, and increased heartbeat, numbness, and sometimes euphoria. When the effects of these drugs wear off our brain have reduced its production of dopamine (downregulation), causing severe depression and agitation. Over time, users of these drugs become psychologically dependent on the drugs because they have essentially “re-wired” the brains reward system. The brain’s desire for these drugs can easily become stronger than our desire to eat, drink, or motivate ourselves to work, or even get out of bed in the morning. Recent studies suggest that heroin can increase dopamine levels in the body more than nicotine and marijuana, and nearly as much as methamphetamine. This effect is most likely the reason, in addition to the fear of withdrawal symptoms, that habitual heroin users (and frequent users of stimulants) essentially go into “survival mode,” risking their personal safety or going to jail, and even forgoing food and drink when they run out of drugs. It is also a likely reason why opiate users, even after they’ve endured physical withdrawal, still strongly crave their drug of choice for months, or even years, after they’ve stopped using.

Substituting Other Opiates for Heroin
In general, most of the opiates and opioids (synthetic opiates — I’ll use “opiates” for simplicity) are interchangeable, in different degrees and doses, with other opiates. This includes drugs like hydrocodone (lortab, vicodin, etc.), oxycodone (percocet, oxycontin, etc.), dilaudid (hydromorphone, K4s, K8s, etc.), morphine, codeine, opium, fentanyl, and methadone, many of which are available by prescription. In recent years many of the prescription opiates have become more difficult to obtain in the United States, due mostly to tightened restrictions by the federal government on doctors who prescribe them (whether the patients require them or not). Many people who suffer from chronic pain become physically dependent on prescription opiates, even when using them at prescribed doses. Their inability to find relief for their pain has resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of people using (and overdosing from) illegal opiates like heroin.

Drug users jumping from prescription painkillers to heroin has been an issue for some time, but it was more common to see users taking prescription pain medications to stop using heroin when I was using. I’ve tried to alter my habit using all the drugs listed above with only marginal success. While most control withdrawal symptoms to some degree, their vary greatly in duration and intensity. Many control withdrawal for only a short time or barely at all.

In my experience, oxycodone and hydromorphone, while effective, have an extremely short half-life. Trying to kick a heroin habit with oxycodone is a recipe for disaster. I once tried to wean myself off opiates using Oxycontin and gradually reducing the dose. This yielded more severe withdrawal symptoms when I ran out of pills. I crapped my pants and barfed into a McDonald’s cup all the way back to the dope man’s house for relief.

Hydrocodone lasts somewhat longer, and I’ve known people who claim they kicked a habit using it, but I doubt their sobriety lasted for long. Hydrocodone causes a euphoria similar to heroin and this is the route many users end up taking to get to heroin. Most hydrocodone preparations contain acetaminophen, which can cause liver damage in high doses.

Ultram (tramadol) can relieve withdrawal in sufficiently high doses. I can’t confirm the safety of this method and have only used it once, but a handful of pills helped me sleep through the night and feel mostly normal the next morning. Ultram was originally marketed as a non-addictive pain reliever, but that claim seems to have been disproven given the numerous accounts of patients becoming dependent.

Codeine seems to relieve symptoms and lasts an incredibly long time. I once took a couple codeine pills, not expecting them to do much. I ended up sleeping for nearly twenty-four hours and still felt the effects after I woke up. I’ve never tried codeine to kick a habit, but if I had to do it again and was able to get my hands one some, I imagine it would make a fairly safe and effective option.

Fentanyl and its analog 3-methylfentanyl (sometimes called “China white“) are extremely potent synthetic opioids. Fentanyl is used in the medical field as a general anesthesia or as pain relief for cancer patients, etc. It is estimated to be 80-100 times stronger than morphine and 15-20 times strong than heroin. 3-methylfentanyl is estimated to be 400 to 6000 times stronger than morphine. For reference, heroin is about 10 times stronger than morphine. It’s sometimes used by sellers to cut heroin and make it stronger. This often results in unsuspecting drug dealers (who often don’t know what they’re selling) delivering lethal products to unsuspecting drug users.

Fentanyl is an extremely strong synthetic opiate. Heroin is often laced with fentanyl to create a stronger product. Sometimes fentanyl is sold as heroin. In both cases it can yield deadly results.

Fentanyl is an extremely strong synthetic opiate. Heroin is often laced with fentanyl to create a stronger product. Sometimes fentanyl is sold as heroin. In both cases it can yield deadly results.

My primary supplier ran into a stash of fentanyl that lasted for three wonderful months. My using partner and I fortunately never overdosed on it, but the experience was clearly different and more potent than we got from heroin. It was generally white and had a clear-to-yellowish tint when mixed with water (whereas heroin almost always mixed up some shade of brown). We could always tell that it was something different and we both came to prefer the fentanyl over regular dope. Immediately after injecting, a distinctive chemical taste wafts from the back of the throat and enters the mouth, almost like breathing out chemically-laced cigarette smoke. A heroin high almost always starts in the gut and slowly creeps up the spine and into the brain, sometimes causing a burning sensation in the limbs. A fentanyl high immediately starts in the brain and quickly makes its way to the extremities, causing a warm, numb sensation all over the body. A fentanyl high is more intense, but doesn’t last as long as heroin (generally 4 to 6 hours versus 6 to 8). Fentanyl seemed to yield almost no withdrawal symptoms, which was one of the reasons we preferred it. Of course, this could be because we never went more than a day or two without it.

We would seek out and wait hours to get our hands on fentanyl, even at the expense of getting heroin much more quickly and easily from somewhere else. I once waited three hours outside the dope man’s spot as he slowly and deliberately strung me along, promising he’d be pulling up any minute. Finally, he had me drive an hour to his house, to which he couldn’t even supply accurate directions. When I finally made it there he left me waiting another thirty minutes. He casually apologized for the inconvenience in his big, goofy voice. With the drugs in hand, all was forgotten and forgiven. He was so lovably mindless and clumsy it was difficult to hold a grudge. I sometimes think I kept using just because I enjoyed his antics and he felt like one of my only friends. Not much has changed since the Velvet Underground’s ode to waiting for the drug dealer I’m Waiting for the Man. The heroin user quickly becomes an expert at waiting, or drives themselves mad in the process. Eventually my guy’s connection was busted and we lost our access to fentanyl. Disappointed, we went back to using heroin and the next time we went to visit, he asked me where to locate a new supplier. That was the last we saw of him for a while.

I can not emphasize enough the dangers of fentanyl. Many overdose deaths during the past several years are the result of heroin laced with fentanyl. Several people I’ve known and used with have died from overdose because of this. If you use heroin, especially if you inject, always use with someone else, and always carry naloxone. These harm reduction methods have saved tens of thousands of lives that would have been otherwise lost.

In general, using a lesser opiate to quit using heroin (or another strong opiate) ends in failure and frequently results in the user having a worse habit in the end. In my experience, this is one of the least effective methods for quitting heroin and can sometimes be dangerous or deadly. I do not advise this method if you’re trying to quit using or reduce how much you’re using.

Long-term Effectiveness: 3/10
Relief from withdrawal: 7-10/10
Danger: 5/10

Dose Reduction/Tapering
Dose reduction was once the standard medical approach to quitting opiates. Doctors and the recovery industry have since moved away from this method, sometimes preferring complete abstinence or requiring user to detox at facilities that use non-narcotic drugs, before treating patients. Such a rigid approach can cause drug users to feel pressured into relapse or die from a drug overdose when their tolerance for opiates diminishes.

The general idea behind a dose reduction cure is essentially the reverse of building up a tolerance for opiates. The user gradually reduces their tolerance by slowly decreasing the amount of drugs used. For example. 1 gram the first and second day, 1/2 gram the third and fourth day, 1/4 gram the fifth and sixth day, and after a week to 10 days, the dose is small enough that stopping won’t be nearly as difficult (although the user will likely still experience some level of withdrawal). This method can be especially difficult for heroin users, not only because it requires a nearly inachievable level of self-control, but because the potency of street drugs varies so greatly. One might cut down the dosage and receive a fresh supply of drugs that is much stronger than the last, which even at a reduced dose could result in a stronger effect and a corresponding increase in tolerance. One might avoid this situation by purchasing a large amount of drugs all at once to ensure a consistent potency, but it’s unlikely many habitual users can muster the level of discipline requires to adhere to the protocol with such a ready supply on hand.

I have attempted a reduction cure both by using smaller and smaller quantities of heroin and by switching and using lower and lower doses of prescription painkillers. This method has almost always resulted in disaster. On the few occasions when it did seem to work, I was quickly back to using heroin, convinced that if I managed to control my intake I might avoid dependence and full relapse. This had predictably awful results.

Long-term Effectiveness: 3/10
Relief from withdrawal: 2-3/10
Danger: 7/10 (increased risk of overdose when using after a period of abstinence)

Methadone Assisted Treatment
Methadone is a synthetic opiate developed by the Germans during World War II amid a morphine shortage. It’s been used since at least the 1960’s to replace heroin addiction with legally-administered medication and has consistently proven to be one of the most effective methods of getting heroin users to stop using illegal drugs for an extended period. During methadone-assisted treatment (MAT, formerly known as methadone maintenance treatment or MMT), patients are often able to go to school, get jobs, seek medical and mental health treatment, and lead normal lives in ways they were unable to do while using. With proper medical attention and counseling, many methadone users are able to stop using completely.

Methadone completely satisfies the desire for opiates and prevents withdrawal for 24 to 36 hours in most people, depending of how quickly they metabolize the drug. Some people have to dose twice a day, while most methadone patients can miss a day with few ill effects. Access to methadone is not always easy and sometimes the cost to enter treatment can prove prohibitive. I once attempted to enter a methadone program but found the initial costs would equal to 3 or 4 days worth of heroin use, during which I would have to be sick for at least 2 days before I could get into the program. I decided to stick with the heroin until I had more money which, of course, never happened.

Despite its record of success, methadone still suffers from a latent stigma that leads many user to avoid it. Many methadone clinics are located in impoverished communities where illegal drugs are readily available. They are frequently areas of conflict when these neighborhoods are swept aside in the latest wave of gentrification and redevelopment. Rare cases of overdose from methadone (usually in combination with other drugs) result in an inordinate amount of negative media attention. It is also not accepted as a valid treatment option by most twelve step (NA/AA) groups or inpatient recovery programs, which usually promote an “abstinence only” approach to addiction recovery.


A dose of methadone liquid

My exposure to methadone and entry into a structured program marked a definitive turning point in my drug use. While it didn’t result in my immediate abstinence from heroin, it did lead to an immediate and dramatic reduction in the number of times I used illegal drugs. I went from injecting heroin 3-4 times a day to using only 3-4 times a month. The added incentive of having to adjust my using to certain times of the month to pass a drug test and receive additional take-home doses, along with my now receiving drugs in a clinical setting, rather than copping from the dope man, changed my thinking about how I used. It transformed the process into a medical procedure rather than a familiar ritual I found both dangerous and intriguing. This is not the case for everyone. Some people have awful experience with methadone treatment, which could be due to the variation in quality and care between methadone clinics. It is my feeling that most methadone patients find some success, even if not complete abstinence from illegal drugs, and that much of the negative attention these clinics receive is from a handful of problem patients. I advise methadone treatment for longtime heroin users, especially when other methods have failed, and for those addicted to prescription pain pills wishing to quickly taper their addiction using methadone rather than suboxone or another method.

Methadone softens the intensity of a heroin high, but doesn’t completely eliminate it. At one time I was using with a friend who was in a methadone program (she’s since suffered a fatal overdosed). She insisted on a trip to the clinic immediately before we went to buy our drugs. I wasn’t pleased about having to wait, but she insisted if she didn’t make to the clinic in time they would kick her out of the program. So I waited for her to dose, which felt like an eternity. When she returned to the car she immediately swallowed four Xanax bars (2mg each) and offered me one. We then made the short trip to the dope man and fixed up. She couldn’t grasp why she felt nothing and I was comfortably nodding and bragging about how great I felt. “It must be bad dope,” she insisted, but considering she’d been using twice as long as me I expected her to know that methadone would put the diminish her high. I’ve been able to feel heroin within a few hours of taking methadone. I never tried using immediately after a dose, although I managed to sneak a hit in before the methadone took effect (generally 45 to 60 minutes, with varying results.

Coming off methadone was a long and difficult process. Even reducing my dose by 5mg every two weeks proved too grueling to tolerate. I paused the taper at the halfway point and and stayed at 40mg for a year. Picking back up was still difficult, but I was determined and reduced by 5mg every 3 weeks the second time around. Near the end I turned to kratom (discussed later) to ease my symptoms. This yielded disastrous consequences and completely ruined all the pain and work I’d invested in my methadone taper. Without the kratom I feel like I would have been uncomfortable for the last month or two, but would have survived it and likely not reverted to using other opiates.

Many countries, including Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom, and parts of Canada and Belgium, also use heroin-assisted treatment. The general idea is the same as methadone-assisted treatment, only heroin is used instead. This approach has proven successful at helping those for whom other methods, like methadone, have failed to lead healthy and productive lives. It provides an affordable (or even government-subsidized) and consistent dose of heroin in a clean, safe environment, making drug use much less dangerous for the community and drug users. It also reduces the need for users to resort to property crime or robbery to obtain drugs and diverts users from the correctional system, which can dump users into an endless cycle of unemployment, further drug use, and repeated incarceration. Given the current  environment and the rehtoric surrounding the “War on Drugs” in the United States, it is unlikely heroin-assisted treatment will be available here in the foreseeable future.

Long-term Effectiveness: 8/10
Relief from withdrawal: 9-10/10
Danger: 2/10 (danger increases when mixed with other drug, esp. benzos)

Suboxone/Buprenorphine Assisted Treatment
Suboxone is a synthetic opiate that partially activates the brain’s receptors (called an opioid agonist-antagonist) that cause an intense high and severe withdrawal from heroin and the other natural and synthetic opiates. It can be substituted for any opioid and is almost always completely effective at removing and preventing withdrawal symptoms at the correct dosage. Some users indicate it is also effective at controlling cravings for opiates. It is an extremely potent blocker of most opiates.

One problem many opiate users have with suboxone is that they must be in withdrawal prior to taking it. This might sound like an easy task, but for a heroin user with a crippling fear at even the slightest sniffle that the sickness is looming, this is easier said than done. Because of the way suboxone works in the brain, and that it only partially activates the receptors that were fully activated moments before, taking the first dose of suboxone too soon can cause precipitated withdrawal, resulting in immediate and severe dope sickness.


8mg suboxone film

The first time I tried suboxone was from a friend, and former heroin user, who had stopped using it and still had a large supply on hand. Me and my using partner at the time intended to use the suboxone to get off drugs completely. Within an hour of taking them, however, we decided we’d rather not stop just yet. An hour later I injected a sizeable amount of heroin and felt not the slightest twinge of euphoria. My partner, who had secretly failed to take her dose of suboxone, (one of many times we each sabotaged the other’s plans to stop using) was slithering and sliding down in the seat next to me in a fit of pleasure. She later explained to me that suboxone is a powerful opiate blocker, something I re-learned when I was in a suboxone program myself. Every time I promised myself the risk of getting drugs was worth the reward I’d get from using them, and every time I failed to feel much, if anything, at all. Generally it can take 1 to 3 days, depending on one’s metabolism, after taking suboxone before it’s possible to notice any substantial pleasure from heroin.

Suboxone is a medication that contains both buprenorphine and naloxone (subutex contains only buprenorphine). Naloxone is a drug used to reverse the effect of opiates. The thinking goes that if a user tries to inject the suboxone, the naloxone will prevent the user high and can result in immediate and uncomfortable withdrawal. I’ve never tried this, so I can’t confirm that theory, but I’ve heard mixed accounts. Many users believe it’s the naloxone that prevents them from getting high on heroin or other opiates after taking suboxone, but the naloxone isn’t absorbed by the body if the medication is taken correctly. Buprenorphine, the active ingredient, is a binds strongly to the opiate receptors on its own, which leaves other opiates with nowhere to go, rendering them effectively useless until the buprenorphine goes away. Buprenorhine has a ceiling effect which means that once a user goes over 24-32mg they get no further effect. This also means that respiratory depression, the cause of most opiate overdoses, is not as pronounced. It is nearly impossible to overdose on buprenorphine, with only one death ever reported in adults.

One common criticism of suboxone-assisted treatment is that it is “just replacing one drug with another.” This claim is easily refuted by statistics that show the success of suboxone programs.  Patients in a suboxone program don’t get a high or euphoria from their medication — not that it should matter, but of course the abstinence-only crowd frowns on medication that might induce any sort of pleasure.

One of the main reasons users don’t enter into suboxone programs is that the cost poses an enormous barrier to entry. Patients generally have to visit a doctor who is licensed to prescribe suboxone, which can be extremely expensive without insurance (usually $200-300 per visit). The suboxone itself is also expensive, although now that generic versions of suboxone tablets are available the medication itself is now within reach for many patients. Many methadone clinics now also operate suboxone programs. One thing to keep in mind, and this can be difficult for active opiate users, is that the cost of entering a methadone or suboxone program is likely much lower than maintaining a daily heroin habit. It also removes many of the health and legal risks associated with illegal drug use.

Suboxone is an excellent choice for those dependent on low doses of prescription pain pills, to those who have been using heroin only a short time, or to those looking to jump off methadone at an appropriate dose (usually 30-35mg/day). It should be noted that, very often, less is more with suboxone. I was started on a standard dose of 8mg/day, which I found too strong, resulting in some undesirable side effects. I cut my dose to 4mg/day and eventually tapered down, under a doctor’s guidance, to .25mg (an extremely low dose). I was using the sublingual suboxone film, which is much easier to cut into small doses using a razor blade or X-acto knife. After a few days at .25mg I stopped taking suboxone entirely. I still had to endure the usual withdrawal symptoms, though not as severe, and I had trouble sleeping for over three weeks. If given the option, I likely would have stayed on suboxone indefinitely, enduring its minor side effects in favor of never have to suffer such a painful withdrawal and the eventual risk ofa slip or relapse.

For anyone curious, and some folks might find this important, here’s how my suboxone taper progressed: I was sick when I started on 8mg, coming off a methadone taper and bad experience with kratom and some dabbling again in heroin. I took two percocet the night before to help me through the worst of it, and that mostly held off the withdrawal. By the time I got my prescription at a methadone clinic (which took much less time than I expected) and filled it at the local CVS (the one near the clinic didn’t have it, for some reason) I was amazed that it completely wiped the sickness within 30 minutes. The first few days I felt a little bit of euphoria, but nothing compared to heroin or methadone. It was more a sense of  warm, fuzzy comfort than anything. Within a few days that effect wore off and I only felt “normal” when I took my suboxone. It did give me trouble sleeping for several weeks. I used melatonin to combat that, which helped somewhat but left me feeling groggy and empty-headed during the day.

After a while I realized it was the suboxone that made my head feel like it was stuck in a cloud, leaving me lethargic and groggy most days. I decided to cut down my dose to 4mg without consulting the doctor (which also extended the time before I had to go back for a refill). It was much easier than I imagined. In fact, I actually felt better on a lower dose. This may not be the case for everyone, but this is one of the reasons I say less is more with suboxone. During this time I moved from Atlanta to the very rural North Georgia mountains. Rather than drive 90-minutes to the clinic each time I needed a refill, I found a doctor in a nearby town (after an exhaustive search) who treated pain and could prescribe suboxone (note: many of the doctors who are best qualified, like psychiatrists and addiction specialists can’t prescribe suboxone because they haven’t obtained a license, which makes getting quality treatment for long-time drug users difficult). The doctor was great and spent plenty of time with me each visit. He was a little more optimistic about me coming off the suboxone than I was. Up o that point I was comfortable with the idea of staying on suboxone as long as I needed, maybe forever. I reluctantly followed his plan, thinking maybe it was for the best since I hadn’t been on the suboxone for even a year. The first month I cut down to 2mg, which was a breeze. In fact, it was the most functional I’d felt, mentally and physically, is as long as I could remember. The 2mg/day dose felt ideal. It controlled my psychological issues almost completely without making me feel too awful.

Suboxone sublingual pills are generally less expensive than the film, but is much more difficult to cut into smaller doses, even with a pill cutter.

Suboxone sublingual pills are generally less expensive than the film, but is much more difficult to cut into smaller doses, even with a pill cutter.

A month later I cut down to 1mg. It wasn’t as easy as my previous dose reductions, but it wasn’t particularly uncomfortable. A few weeks later I cut down to .75mg. I imagined it would be easy since it was only a minor decrease, but I was miserable for the next several days. I stabilized on that dose after a week, but wasn’t feeling anywhere near as well as I did at 2mg. Two weeks later I dropped to .5mg. It was essentially the same experience as the previous decrease, but I survived it without too much trouble. I was dealing with some especially stressful issues at this time, and it was near Christmas time. This caused me a good amount of anxiety and led to sleep problems. A couple of nights I took an extra .5mg to help me sleep and soothe my nerves. I never felt an urge to use heroin or other opiates, but I probably didn’t do myself any favors taking an extra dose because it likely increased my tolerance at at time I was trying to decrease it.

Two weeks later I cut down to .25mg. This was my jump-off dose. I had a backup appointment with the doctor, but committed to breaking the hold opiates had on me. I stayed at .25mg/day for several days and then stopped taking it altogether. I felt awful, from waking up that morning and even after I took the final dose. I told myself it would be alright and that I’d feel better in a matter of days, just like I’d done countless times with heroin. That’s not how it worked out. The sickness wasn’t severe, but it was anything but pleasant, especially after not having dealt with it in nearly a year. The awfulness lasted for about three weeks, during which I tried to ease some of the symptoms with moderate doses of loperamide and NyQuil. Once my symptoms had mostly disappeared I sought psychiatric care from a doctor who was open to alternative treatments (e.g., not stuck on the archaic twelve-step method) and specialized in addiction issues. They started me on Seroquel (an anti-psychotic), which caused a terrible manic reaction that left me unable to sleep (just when I’d regained my talent for it) and sent me into a horrible week-long manic episode. Within a few weeks they had me on medications I was able to tolerate (Lamictal, a mood stabilizer, and Remeron, a noradernergic and specific seretonergic antidepressant (vs. SSRI’s), along with a steady stream of supplements) and which helped me to feel stable for the first time in over a decade.

If I had it to do over again, I would started taking my dose at the 1mg point and continue reducing the dose from there by half every two weeks until I no longer needed it. Unfortunately, even after all I’d been through, I couldn’t muster the self-restraint to do something of that magnitude. I tried dosing every 36 hours during my taper, but that became confusing and caused me to accidentally dose more frequently. Regardless, I highly recommend suboxone as an extremely safe and solid choice for coming off opiates, especially for those looking to break their dependence completely or stabilize their opioid dependence.

Long-term Effectiveness: 9/10
Relief from withdrawal: 8-10/10 (danger of precipitated withdrawal when taken too soon)
Danger: 0/10

Kratom (Mitragyna speciosa)
Kratom is one of the most vile and useless drugs I’ve ever encountered. It comes from the leaves of a tree that grows in southeast Asia and shares some similarities to drugs derived from opium, like heroin and morphine. It partially binds to some of the same receptors as other opiates, but doesn’t activate them as strongly. As such, it’s usually marketed as a legal (though not in all areas) and “non-addictive” form of heroin. My experience is that it can be addicted, especially for those who have ever built up a tolerance for strong opiates.

I first encountered kratom during my second taper from methadone. I bought into the hype surrounding this legal, herbal drug, with some reservations, that it could truly be “non-addictive.” Several opiate users claim to have kicked their habit entirely by using kratom. While their accounts might have been true, that was not my experience and it doesn’t seem worth the risk of finding out for yourself.

Kratom generally comes as a finely ground ready for oral consumption, although it sometimes comes as a weak, horrible tasting liquid, pills, or a concentrated liquid extract. To feel any effect one must consume a very large quantity of the powder, which is difficult to cram into the body. It remains one of the most stomach-churning concoctions I’ve ever had the displeasure of consuming. At first I tried it as a hot tea, which provided a mild buzz that mostly got rid of my anxiety (which had disappeared entirely on heroin and slowly crept back when the methadone wore off). After a few days, the warm, putrid green tea became too much to handle. I next tried mixing the powder with water or juice and gulping it  all down at once, which didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. The powder didn’t dissolve in liquid and still tasted awful.


Kratom powder tastes awful

On one week-long trip to Washington, DC, I stumbled on some gelatin capsules at a natural foods store. This seemed like the perfect route of ingestion for something that tastes so awful. When we got back to our temporary apartment I meticulously poured my stash of kratom into capsule after capsule until I had what looked to be several days worth of pre-packaged kratom on hand. It took 14 or 15 capsules each time to get the job done. This seemed to work well for a while. Several days later, however, I found myself constipated and finally having to go to the bathroom. By this time I was acclimated to frequent constipation from heroin and, especially, methadone. It wasn’t unusual to have only one bowel movement (or less) per week. This was a different sort of constipation, though. Not long after the urge hit me, it felt like a little human was inside my guts, trying to push and kick their way out. I went to the toilet, but nothing happened. Everything was ready, but the package just couldn’t be delivered. It felt like trying to push a basketball through a drinking straw. After several trips back and forth to the toilet the gravity of my situation started to set in. There was no way this thing was coming out of its own accord. Between repeated fits of crashing onto the floor, curling into a ball and writhing around in pain, with several frantic searches for laxatives or enemas and more trips to the bathroom, I persuaded my wife to walk to the drugstore to get me an enema — or some sort of relief. Such an experience might have been tolerable on heroin, or even methadone, but the kratom provided no pain relief for such a condition.

The trip took longer than I expected. Of course, even if she’d returned in two minutes if would have been too long. After waiting a few minutes I got the brilliant idea to force the blockage out by whatever means I could manage. The most promising tool I could locate was a wooden #2 pencil. In retrospect I realize how dangerous this was and I absolutely do not recommend it for anyone who finds themselves in this situation. I jammed the pencil in there and dug it around, hoping perhaps I might chop the behemoth down into more manageable chunks. That was a total failure — the pencil wouldn’t even penetrate the surface. Eventually I tossed all dignity aside and dug in with my fingers to pull the little fellow out. I’d heard of this being done before, most famously in William S. Burroughs’ telling of his own drug experiences in Junkie, but I had no idea how effective it could be. Within moments the blockage was cleared and I found some relief, despite now having my fingers covered in shit. I must have lost 20 pounds in a matter of seconds. After that experience I settled on shoveling a large spoonful of kratom into my mouth and washing it down with a glass of juice. That seemed to get the job done as well, and as safely, as anything else I’d attempted.

Kratom alone might not cause constipation, but combination with gelatin capsules is a recipe for disaster

Kratom alone might not cause constipation, but combination with gelatin capsules is a recipe for disaster

My methadone taper had seemed like a breeze using the kratom method. When I made it down to 5mg I simply quit taking the methadone because I felt fine and it wasn’t doing anything for me. It all seemed too good to be true and, alas, turns out it was. I was now strung out on this useless powder that I could barely stomach. Within a matter of days I was back onto heroin just to ease myself off the kratom. My thinking, and this probably indicates I wasn’t all the way ready to make a break yet, was that I’d be able to quickly taper off the heroin if only I could control my use to every other day. You can probably guess how that turned out. I entered a suboxone program at another methadone clinic within a few weeks and had a much better experience with that.

Stay away from kratom if you can. Kratom is awful stuff.

Long-term Effectiveness: 2/10
Relief from withdrawal: 4-5/10
Danger: 4/10

Cocaine & Crack
A solid cocaine high is pure, unadulterated bliss. It might just be the greatest feeling you’ll ever experience if you try it — better even than heroin. The rush from intravenous cocaine is better than that of any drug I’ve ever tried (and I’ve tried most of them). The downside is that it doesn’t last long (maybe 5 or 10 minutes) and when the ride is over, boy is it over. The most severe sort of depression sets in and not even more cocaine can push it aside. Heavy doses of heroin or benzos can make it more tolerable, but time is really the only effective cure coming down from cocaine

My first dabble into the world of cocaine was by injection. That likely ruined any other route of administration for me. I found snorting cocaine to be a colossal waste of good drugs and money that did nothing for me. Smoking cocaine (crack) provides a “dirtier” version of intravenous cocaine that I generally tried to avoid because of the even nastier compulsion for more and an even worse post-binge comedown. When I was with fellow users who bought a batch of crack, more often than not, I would stop at a fish fry joint to pick up a packet of lemon juice or malt vinegar to break it down into something I could stick in my arm (I would not recommend this, as the safety of injecting lemon juice or malt vinegar is dubious at best).

I once used cocaine to successfully kick a heroin habit. This was only months after I’d first started using, so that probably helped.  The fact that dope sickness never lasted more than 3 to 5 days for me certainly contributed. One afternoon I purchased a handful of eight-balls (actually, the dope man delivered them to me in a white paper bag) and consumed the whole thing over the course of three days. Looking back, and having had several unpleasant experiences with cocaine, I’m not sure how I managed to survive the whole ordeal. Much of that time period is a blur, but I do remember that I managed to sleep at some point during my 3-day mega-binge. The cocaine completely removed my withdrawal symptoms, even for hours after I’d used it. To this day I feel like it was some sort of magical cocaine powder that didn’t carry the heavy downside of regular cocaine. I suffered a very mild depression when it was all gone, which eventually led me back to heroin in an attempt to lift myself back up. As was usually the case in these situations, I convinced myself that if I used 2 days on, 1 day off, I could hold off a return of the dope sickness. Of course, as I’m sure you know, that’s not how it worked out.

The depression caused by a coke binge, as I mentioned, can be extremely debilitating. I’m diagnosed with bipolar disorder, so perhaps I’m predisposed to this sort of thing, but I’ve heard similar accounts from many other people. On one occasion, my partner and I purchased 2 eight balls (7 grams), with which our dealer at the time threw in a free supply of heroin. We were delighted and quickly went home to indulge in our goodies. We consumed the small mountain of cocaine within a few hours, each of us nearly giving ourselves a heart attack in the process, after which we turned to the free heroin for relief. After taking a couple shots and feeling nothing, we discovered why the heroin had been free. It likely wasn’t heroin. Whatever it was had no effect. We settled in for an excruciating night of depression and the first signs of acute heroin withdrawal. We called our supplier’s phone from 6 in the morning until he finally picked up around 10 and gladly handed over what money we had left for some real drugs.

Cocaine is generally a bad idea. Even if it starts out feeling enjoyable, one quickly finds themselves in a painful cycle of needing more just to achieve a fraction of its previous effects, until it finally wears off and leaves everyone involved that much the worse for wear.

Long-term Effectiveness: 0/10
Relief from withdrawal: 7/10 (withdrawal effects compounded by cocaine withdrawal)
Danger: 8/10

Methamphetamine is cocaine’s dirty little step-brother that just doesn’t know how to let go. Injecting methamphetamine results in a mild quick rush of euphoria, similar to a cocaine high, after which it’s off to the races. Your heard will be exploding out of your chest and you won’t sleep the first night after, and probably not the second or third night either. When sleep does take hold, it is both overwhelming and unavoidable. The sleep after a methamphetamine binge can sometimes last for several days.

I generally avoided methamphetamine because I really enjoy sleeping. Meth is extremely easy to find, especially in rural areas, and is currently one of the most popular dangerous drugs. The few times I indulged I would almost immediately regret it and try everything imaginable to come down. Nothing ever seemed to work. With cocaine, I could take a couple shots of heroin or a few milligrams of xanax (I don’t recommend either of these as they can result in a deadly combination of drugs in the body) and find a good night’s sleep shortly after. Not so with methamphetamine. I have tried every combination of downers to combat the tweak of a speed high and the most I could manage was to cut the length of its effects by a few hours. Some users take Seroquel, an anti-psychotic that can cause a deep sleep. I’ve had extremely negative reactions to Seroqeul (it induced mania and had the opposite effect on my sleep).

I once tried using methamphetamine to kick a heroin habit. This led to a dangerous cycle of using heroin to recover when I came down from the methamphetamine and then using methamphetamine to pick myself back up when I needed to go to work and couldn’t gather the energy. I’ve heard similar accounts from others who thought this might be an effective method for stopping heroin. It’s not uncommon for users of both to take meth to get through the week and enjoy some heroin over the weekend, repeating the cycle over and over. I’ve never heard any stories of success this way.

Snorting methamphetamine is both wasteful and unnecessarily painful, causing a burning sensation unequalled by anything I’ve encountered. It can also result in a deviated septum after extended use. Many people have burned holes in their noses and sinus cavities snorting meth (and cocaine).  Injection is more rewarding, but incredibly dangerous and not without its own risks. Overdoses from meth are rare, but it can be especially dangerous for people with heart conditions or who are in poor health. In general, methamphetamine is one of the few drugs I suggest avoiding at all costs.

Long-term Effectiveness: 0/10
Relief from withdrawal: 8/10
Danger: 7/10

Marijuana is a drug people seem to either love or hate. I find myself in the second group. That many people don’t even consider marijuana a “real” drug should give some indication as to its potential benefits for recreational use. I’ve never enjoyed marijuana. Perhaps that’s because I’d already tried most of the harder drugs before smoking it (the “gateway drug” theory is pure propaganda by the way), but I never found marijuana pleasurable or particularly useful for much of anything. Every time it caused me to feel slow and think everything was hilarious, even when it obviously wasn’t. Perhaps this is why some people favor it. On the few occasions I have used marijuana, it’s almost always resulted in me doing something senseless and regrettable.

In one instance, after using heroin and then smoking a marijuana cigarette, me and a friend who knew a dealer in exotic pets, developed a plan to go into a pet shop, slip some birds and snakes into our jackets, and trade them to his contact for a large pile of cash. Our attempt to execute this plan, especially under the influence of the marijuana, had predictably disastrous results. We were chased out of the store and were lucky not to have ended up in jail. After coming back to our senses several hours later, we settled on one of our usual scams to obtain cash (boosting baby formula in this case). That plan was significantly more successful.

I’ve never understood the fixation many people have with marijuana, but if they enjoy it I suppose it’s not my place to discourage anyone using it or judge their taste in recreational drugs. Besides that, if you use heroin or other opiates regularly, you’ve most likely been exposed to marijuana and have already formed your own opinion. I would advise against using marijuana to help with heroin withdrawal. It can increase paranoia and intensify the feeling of general discomfort. It also seems to have no beneficial effect on withdrawal symptoms.

Long-term Effectiveness: 0/10
Relief from withdrawal: 0/10
Danger: 1/10

Alcohol is useless when trying to stop opiates. I enjoyed drinking, even the partaking the occasional all-night binge, before being introduced to heroin. After being exposed to heroin I lost my taste for alcohol completely.

Trying to get drunk to fight heroin withdrawal will not be a pretty sight. likely make you puke your guts out well before it numbs any discomfort from the sickness. In fact, it will likely make you feel even worse. In one of my more desperate moments, I had no access to heroin or other opiates, but I did have a fifth of vodka nearby. I drew a few cc’s into a syringe, fancying myself some sort of modern-day GG Allin. As soon as the needle punctured my skin, well before I pressed on the plunger, a burning sensation shot all the way up my arm. I didn’t even manage to push all of it in. I was screaming and writhing in a fit of pain, all alone in a dank, dark basement. It was one of my worst moments. I felt no rush from the alcohol, but did sense a drunk feeling almost immediately (after which I throughly barfed my guts out into a mop bucket).

It is my firm belief that alcohol and heroin do not mix, either when using or in withdrawal. Some people enjoy mixing the two, but I cannot understand why. I have been able to use alcohol on occasion after stopping heroin, and have even brewed batches of beer and mead at home, without becoming dependent. I doubt everyone can sbe successful at this, but I’ve never had a particular fondness for feeling drunk. It is my opinion that a predisposition to alcoholism and opiate addiction are not necessarily linked, although some users definitely experience both. The old Narcotics Anonymous adage that “a drug is a drug is a drug” seems incredibly naive. Just because a person is dependent on one drug doesn’t mean they’ll magically become dependent on another. Obviously care should be taken when those in recovery drink alcohol or smoke marijuana, etc., but the dangers (as opposed to use by those who have never been dependent on other drugs) seem highly exaggerated.

Long-term Effectiveness: 0/10
Relief from withdrawal: 0/10
Danger: 7/10 (effects of opiates after returning to use are compounded by alcohol)


Librium won’t do much on its own, but combined with clonidine it can work wonders for opiate withdrawal

Benzodiazepenes: Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Ativan, Librium
I’ve tried almost all the benzodiazepines available in the US to combat heroin withdrawal. While all of them yield different results, they are usually effective at easing the anxiety and psychological symptoms of dope sickness. That’s not to say they’re perfect or that you’ll feel wonderful on them while experiencing withdrawal, but they can help.

When taking Xanax (alprazolam) for withdrawal, I felt more at ease, but grew extremely irritable, to the point that I cursed out one of my co-workers for some insignificant transgression and was sent home from work. I was lucky not to have been fired. While I was generally irritable during regular bouts of dope sickness, I could always control my temper.

Klonopin (clonazepam) will help with sleep during opiate withdrawal, or at least make you wish you could sleep. It is moderately effective at relieving other symptoms in higher doses. Ativan (lorazepam) is extremely effective for withdrawal if you can get your hands on it. It’s probably the best of the benzodiazepines, for anxiety, sleep, and general withdrawal symptoms. One time, when I went to the hospital for help with detox (which I didn’t know was an option until well into my heroin use), I become extremely uncooperative when nurses and security personnel refused to let me leave. They offered me an injection of Ativan, which immediately relieved all of my symptoms. After two more injections I was out like a light. During that time they had me transported to a detox facility. I was there for a week and received Ativan (pill form) and clonidine several times a day. Most of that week is a blur. Weeks later I bumped into someone I’d met at the detox facility and had no recollection of he she was or how I knew here until she told me (I still had no memory of anything I spoke with her about). Upon leaving the detox I met with a doctor who diagnosed me with “drug-induced depression” and gave me a prescription for Prozac, which ended up being useless.

While Librium (chlordiazepoxide) has almost no noticeable effects on its own, aside from drowsiness, when coupled with clonidine it is one of the most effective combinations I’ve found for alleviating the symptoms of dope sickness. This is the preferred method in many jails and detox facilities, which generally don’t use methadone or suboxone, and if you can use this method to get off opiates, I strongly encourage it (more on this method below).

Benzodiazepines are one of the most lethal prescription drugs and are a frequent cause of overdose deaths. They are especially lethal when mixed with opiates. I’ve known many people to die by a combination of heroin and Xanax who would very likely still be alive if they’d never mixed the two. The only times I’ve blacked out or “browned” out when using drugs (and come close to overdose myself) was while using Xanax or Klonipin with heroin. On one occasion I consumed about 2mg of Xanax (a small dose) prior to fixing up and then blacked out for a half hour. I woke up in a smily puddle of drool not knowing what happened or where I was (fortunately I hadn’t been driving). When I came to, I had a syringe poking from my neck, which I promptly removed and used to mix up another dose. I asked my using partners, who had used only heroin, what happened. They informed me that they were on the way to another dealer because the stuff we got was garbage. Not from where I was sitting it wasn’t! Many users take benzos to make their heroin last longer or get by with less. They have an extremely strong potentiating effect (perhaps 2 to 1, or greater) on opiates, which is particularly noticeable with intravenous heroin. Keep this in mind when using benzos for withdrawal. If you think you might revert to using opiates, abstain from them at all costs. The consequences of mixing benzos and opiates with a reduced tolerance can be grave.

Long-term Effectiveness: 4/10
Relief from withdrawal: 5-8/10
Danger: 6/10 (overdose danger is increased after returning to use with benzos in your system)

Clonidine is available as a patch or pill. The patch provides a more steady dose and can reduce possible problems caused by low blood pressure

Clonidine is available as a patch or pill. The patch provides a more steady dose and can reduce possible problems caused by low blood pressure

Clonidine and Librium
Clonidine is a blood pressure medication, but it’s frequently used to treat heroin withdrawal. It is frequently used in correctional facilities or detox facilities that don’t provide access to (medically-accepted) controlled substances, like methadone or Ativan (lorazepam), for relief from withdrawal. I’ve been forced to endure this treatment on multiple occasions during my many trips to jail. I’ve found it surprisingly effective at relieving dope sickness. While not painless, a combination of clonidine and librium can make the withdrawal experience much more bearable. It was especially effective at controlling anxiety, helping me to sleep, and allowing me to eat more than I would have otherwise.

Be advised when taking clonidine without medical supervision that it can cause a dangerous decrease in blood pressure. I once fainted in the bathroom stall of the Atlanta city jail under the effects of clonidine. It was as disgusting as one might expect, and potentially dangerous (although I was fortunate to have some friendly fellow inmates help me out in that situation).

Long-term Effectiveness: 5/10 (usually applied during involuntary abstinence in jail, so long-term effects vary)
Relief from withdrawal: 7/10
Danger: 2/10 (clonidine can drastically reduce blood pressure)

Barbiturates and Sleeping Pills
Barbiturate can help with sleep during withdrawal, but they likely won’t relieve symptoms aside from that. Taking barbiturates during withdrawal might extend the sickness and make the ordeal feel much more interminable, especially if you find yourself still unable to sleep after taking them. On their own they cause excessive sleep and are mostly useless if you want any meaningful sort of pleasure from your drugs. I once slept for about 16 hours straight in jail (not during withdrawal) after a guy gave me 3mg of the phenobarbitol he was on to prevent seizures. I could see some benefit from using it in jail or prison to pass the time, but that idea is accompanied by its own set of risks.

Most modern sleeping pills, such as Lunesta, Rozerem, etc., are mostly useless for anything but the mildest withdrawal. It is not unusual for them to cause or aggravate the cramping and muscle aches that give rise to the term “kicking” heroin. If they do help a user to fall asleep, it will likely be for a matter of minutes, after which the withdrawal will feel even more intense. This might result in an endless cycle of sleeping and waking to feel even worse over the course of the night.

Taking too much barbiturate or any other sleeping pill can result in extreme intoxication and sluggishness if you can manage to stay awake. Staying awake for hours after taking Lunesta one night caused me to have some strange and decidedly unenjoyable hallucinations. Most sleeping pills can also cause death from overdose at higher doses.  .

Long-term Effectiveness: 3/10
Relief from withdrawal: 4/10
Danger: 6/10

Immodium (loperamide)
Loperamide, the active ingredient in Immodium, is derived from opium, the same plant that gives us morphine (and thus heroin) and other opiates. It is chemically altered in such a way that it can not cross from our bloodstream into our brains (the blood-brain barrier). As such, its only general use is as an anti-diarrheal medicine, since it can reach the opioid receptors in our intestinal tracts (which can cause severe constipation when activated) .

I once tried loperamide to ease my 3-week long withdrawal from suboxone. I found that in high doses it was unexpectedly useful for treating the sickness. There are countless resources that attempt to explain this effect and go into great detail as to the different different methods available to “hack” the brain’s natural defenses so that some of the drug can make its way through. I won’t go into any of those here, since there are plenty of places to find that information on the Internet, but there is some medical evidence that some of the loperamide can make its way into the brain, even without these hacks.


Be sure to use Immodium (or generics) that contain only loperamide hcl

In sufficient quantity, loperamide eased most of my withdrawal symptoms. It calmed my body, but didn’t make me feel high or cause any noticeable euphoria. I have a strong suspicion that it extended my withdrawal from suboxone by several days, if not more, and have since read more than one account of people becoming addicted to loperamide and suffering months of withdrawal from it. Not only is such a situation unfortunate, becoming addicted to diarrhea medication is probably very embarrassing. No one wants to be that person who plops five boxes of Immodium down at the drugstore checkout (or worse, gets busted shoplifting them).

I advise using loperamide only as directed to control stomach symptoms, or as a last line of defense against withdrawal symptoms if you get desperate. If you intend to take large quantities of loperamide to control other symptoms of sickness, be sure to get the tablets that contain only loperamide hydrochloride. Other ingredients may cause undesirable side effects.

Long-term Effectiveness: 2/10 (increases when combined with other treatments)
Relief from withdrawal: 5/10
Danger: 3/10 (can increase constipation, also potential for dependence)

Over-the-counter Pain Relief Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, Naproxen
For an over-the-counter medication, I found ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to be remarkably useful at controlling muscle aches and pain during withdrawal. It won’t touch most of the other symptoms, but it will most likely make the process more bearable. Huge doses are not required. Ibuprofen reaches peak concentration in the body around 800-1000mg, so any more than that will likely be wasted and may cause harm to other parts of the body. The effects of ibuprofen last for several hours.

Acetaminophen is practically useless as a pain-killer except perhaps for the mildest headache. I’ve found it useless during withdrawal. It leaves an awful taste in the mouth, which is only exacerbated by dope sickness, and can cause stomach problems in some people.

Naproxen (Aleve) is generally effective, but the dose required can often result in discomfort or stomach problems. On one occasion, I consumed a massive amount of naproxen during withdrawal, which resulted in severe stomach cramping, vomiting up the little food I could manage to get down (a bowl of chili, no less), and an endless night of wretching and squirming around the bed in pain.

Long-term Effectiveness: 2/10 (increases when combined with other treatments)
Relief from withdrawal: 3-4/10
Danger: 1/10 (potential liver damage from acetaminophen)

Anti-histamines (Benadryl, etc.)
It’s impossible to forget the faint glimmer of hope I experienced upon reading Burroughs’ description of anti-histamines as a possibly effective cure for opiate addiction. The thinking at his time was that opiates somehow affected histamine levels in the body or caused some sort of allergy and that anti-histamines drugs might bring the body and mind back into balance. This idea was further confirmed, at the time, by the apparent fact that rabbits, who have high histamine levels in their blood, are immune to the effects of opiates.

Modern medical research has disproved this theory, but anti-histamines can be somewhat effective at treating withdrawal in sufficient doses. This is likely due more to the effect they have on histamine receptors in the brain, which can cause a deep sleep, than anything else. Still, the theory is intriguing and, given that most medicines affect various types of receptors in the body, this might prove a good method for getting over a light habit. It is seriously doubtful that anti-histamines alone, while relatively safe, could treat a strong habit in any quantity.

Long-term Effectiveness: 2/10
Relief from withdrawal: 2/10 (mostly ability to sleep, relieve watery eyes and sneezing)
Danger: 1/10

Nyquil and Dextromethorphan
Nyquil generally contains acetaminophen. dextromethorphan (DXM), and a decongestant or anti-histamine. While the acetaminophen and anti-histamines may provide marginal relief, the greatest benefit comes from DXM. DXM is distantly related to opiates like heroin and morphine and binds to the opioid receptors in the brain. As such, it can provide some minor relief from withdrawal. It can also cause a false-positive on drug screens for opiates, which I discovered the hard way when taking it for a head cold during methadone maintenance.

DXM is abused as a recreational drug by some people for its dissociative and and hallucinogenic properties at high doses. I have never experienced this effect, even in quantities well above the recommended dose. I would recommend using Nyquil with caution when using it for withdrawal or recreational enjoyment.

Long-term Effectiveness: 2/10 (increased when combined with other treatments)
Relief from withdrawal: 3-4/10
Danger: 3/10 (DMX carries risks of dependence, can cause positive drug screen results for opiates)


Sudafed PE, which contains only pseudoephedrine HCl

Sudafed and Ephedrine
Sudafed (pseudoephedrine) and ephedrine are both surprisingly effective at controlling or minimizing withdrawal symptoms. I wouldn’t believe something over the counter could be so effective (both are more difficult to obtain than when I used them) had I not experience these effects myself. Pseudoephedrine is a precursor, and the primary ingredient, of methamphetamine. I suspect its effects on withdrawal are similar, though markedly reduced, to those created by methamphetamine and other stimulants.

Sudafed and ephedrine provide relief only at very high doses, which can cause serious problems for people with heart issues or other health conditions. As such, I would not recommend this method, even if you can get your hands on them, and if you do use only the tablets containing pseudoephedrine hydrochloride. Other varieties contain acetaminophen or other medications that can be harmful in high doses.

Long-term Effectiveness: 1-2/10
Relief from withdrawal: 5-6/10
Danger: 2/10

Naltrexone and Rapid Detox
Some doctors who specialize in addiction and drug detox offer an extremely expensive and not-entirely trusted method of rapid detoxification using naltrexone. Naltrexone is a powerful opiate blocker that causes immediate and severe withdrawal. During a rapid detox using naltrexone the patient is put to sleep under general anesthesia, as the symptoms would be too severe for  even the most hardened junkie to endure.

There are numerous accounts of people attempting this sort of rapid detox on their own at home using a combination of naltrexone and sleeping pills, tranquilizers, benzodiazepenes, and so on. Mixing these drugs it not only extremely dangerous, but will also cause an incredible amount of discomfort and  regret. This is one of the most painful methods for stopping opiates I could imagine. It is good only as an effective method of torture or masochism.

There are mixed accounts as to the long-term success of rapid naltrexone detox and questions as to whether it truly is painless or if some of the pain isn’t “remembered” by the subconscious. There are also concerns in the medical community as to the overall safety of the procedure. I have no strong opinion against or in favor of rapid-detox with naltrexone, although I can say I would unequivocally never consider this approach for myself.

Naltrexone is most frequently used after an opiate user has detoxed to help prevent them from using opiates and, ostensibly, to control cravings. It is available either by daily pill, an injection that lasts up to 30 days, or by a pump implanted under the skin that administers a regular dose. Some opiate users are coerced into having these implants or injections by drug courts or other authorities. I have been voluntarily offered this method but refused, insisting that if I wish to abstain it should be of my own volition, not because a pill or injection prevents me from deciding. There are also doubts as to the long-term safety of such a high dose of naltrexone and how one might respond to general anesthesia or pain medication when they are needed for legitimate purposes.

Long-term Effectiveness: inconclusive/10
Relief from withdrawal: inconclusive/10
Danger: unkown/10

Ibogaine Cure
Ibogaine is another controversial treatment for the treatment of opioid dependence (it’s also used to treat dependence on alcohol, cocaine, methampehtamine, and other drugs). Its administration is illegal in the United States and many other countries. As such, doctors generally take patients into international waters or they must travel to Mexico or Europe, where ibogaine is not as tightly controlled, to administer the treatment. This should be a red flag that it might not be entirely safe. While it’s estimates that 1 in 300 patients die from ibogaine treatment, there remains a mystical belief that ibogaine can provide a painless opiate detoxification method.

Ibogaine is a powerful hallucinogen. One can’t help but be reminded of Burroughs’ long-time obsession with ibogayage/ayahuasca, a South American hallucinogenic vine that was at one time, and still occasionally is, thought to be a heroin cure. The drug reportedly helps patients resolve the mental and emotional issues that caused them to begin using drugs in the first place. Some patients have reported having no desire to use again after an ibogaine cure, but there aren’t enough statistics enough statistics to prove any conclusive benefit.

Due to the difficulty of obtaining ibogaine and that it must be administered over several days by a dedicated medical professional, this method is out of reach to all but the wealthiest addicts. Even if one has the money, this route should only be pursued as a last resort and after much independent investigation.

Long-term Effectiveness: inconclusive/10
Relief from withdrawal: inconclusive/10
Danger: 9/10 (reported to carry 1 in 300 chance of death, often administered by quack doctors)

Exercise — No, Really!
Believe it or not, exercise is actually one of the best cures for opiate withdrawals. Putting this into action, though, is easier said than done. During withdrawal, users generally don’t have much reserve energy, if any at all. It seems counter-intuitive, but taking just 10 or 15 minutes to do some moderate anaerobic exercise (like running, jumping rope, push-ups, etc.) can result in a substantial improvement.It’s thought that exercise either releases endorphins or helps the body to regenerate them more quickly (endorphins are chemicals inside our bodies that act much like heroin, and an acute lack of them during withdrawal is the reason we suffer dope sickness).

Exercise is perhaps one of the best, and certainly the safest, cures for dope sickness. It might be impossible during the first several days of acute withdrawal, when even moving out of the bed seems too monumental a task to complete, but during the following weeks and months of post-acute withdrawal it can result in dramatic improvements in mood and energy levels. Exercise is also one of the best defenses against relapse. Keep all that in mind when you’re feeling awful and don’t think you can bring yourself to make that first step. You won’t regret it.

Long-term Effectiveness: 8/10
Relief from withdrawal: 5/10
Danger: 0/10 (aside from physical injury)

Recovery Programs: Twelve Step vs. SMART Recovery
For many decades twelve step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have been the gold standard for long-term recovery from addiction. I find their reputation for success misplaced, especially when one considers the success rate of these programs is consistently around 5-10%. Nonetheless, with no alternative, most rehab facilities and addiction specialists have preferred this method, thinking that former drug users are the people most able to help active drug users address the “spiritual defects” that led them to use in the first place.

The belief that defects of the spirit or character have caused people to turn to drugs is both misplaced and dangerous. Recent research has shown that people start using drugs for a variety of reasons. Defects in their personalities are rarely to blame. Habitual drug users often suffer from mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc., or emotional trauma, or they find themselves victims of life circumstances, like poverty, homelessness, and stress, that lead them to seek some relief in drugs.

Anyone can become physically dependent on drugs like heroin or benzodiazepenes and alcohol. The fact that most illegal drugs are extremely effective in treating the situations users are initially attempting to escape causes a psychological dependence that many find impossible to break. They’re no more spiritually defective than the next person. In fact, many drug users have a strong sense of morality and have had to build up a number of survival skills they find useful even after their addictions.

This is not to say users don’t need help recovering from dangerous drugs; however, research suggests that most users of dangerous drugs who quit generally do so of their own accord, only after having failed to find success through twelve step programs and rehabs that insist on an abstinence-only approach. Having been exposed to these sorts of programs, as well as medication assisted treatments like as methadone or suboxone maintenance, I tend to agree with the research that suggests the effectiveness of methadone and suboxone at helping users avoid long-term continued use of heroin and eventually become abstinent.

One of the most effective recovery programs I have found, and which marked a dramatic shift in how I looked at drugs and recovery, is SMART Recovery. SMART is based on scientifically proven cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) that teaches users to change their thinking around drugs rather than blame their addiction on their own shortcomings. It is most often led my a medical expert in addition or a trained facilitator and accepts medication assisted recovery under the care of a qualified doctor, which most twelve step programs do not. In fact, most twelve step programs insist on complete abstinence, which for heroin and opiate users can prove dangerous and deadly. Many heroin users leave twelve step rehab programs only to return to using and, having lost their tolerance, die from overdose. I have seen several friends and former using partners die this way and I hold the negligence and intolerance of the twelve step approach, and their fundamentalist insistence on complete abstinence at all costs, at least partially responsible for their deaths.

For me, the most important aspect of the SMART and CBT approach was that I wasn’t made to feel that if I did slip up and use once or twice that I’d be a complete failure who must start over from scratch. In fact, SMART distinguishes between different types of using in such a way that it entirely shifts the thinking about using and recovery. If a SMART patient uses once or twice, it’s considered a slip, and it’s not a big deal provided they get themselves back on track. A short period of regular use is called a lapse, which is more serious, but not cause for alarm, provided the user still applies the tools they’ve learned to stop using again. A prolonged period of regular use is known as a relapse, which is cause for concern and which places the user at considerable risk. Even after a relapse, a user in the SMART program is accepted back without shame or being forced to start over at the beginning. There is a belief that even after falling off the wagon, users with a desire to recover can make progress and learn from their mistakes. Contrast this with the twelve step approach that requires users who slip up even once to start over, accept a white chip of surrender, and become the subject of gossip and rumours within their recovery community and social circle. I’ve seen many twelve step members slip once, even when taking a substance other than their preferred drug of choice, and use this supposed failure as an excuse to descend into a full relapse, since they have to start over at the beginning (or that they haven’t yet “hit bottom”) and think they have nothing to lose.

I continued to dabble in heroin on occasion during my time in SMART Recovery, even when taking methadone. Knowing these were merely slips or lapses and that I could bring myself back toward long-term recovery helped prevent me from veering toward daily heroin use and full relapse. I credit a combination of SMART Recovery, methadone maintenance, suboxone treatment, and a strong and caring support network with helping me achieve long-term recovery. Likewise, I have seen several friends die or revert to long-term addiction during twelve step programs. There is a growing acceptance of SMART Recovery, suboxone treatment, and cognitive behavioral therapy in the medical community. Recovery programs with a financial stake in the twelve step model have been dangerously slow to adapt.

Long-term Effectiveness: Twelve Step – 2/10, SMART – 5/10
Relief from withdrawal: Twelve Step – 0/10, SMART – depends on treatment
Danger: Twelve Step – 5/10, SMART – 1/10 (some AA/NA concepts often result in relapse or overdose)

Overdose Stories and Losing Friends
(coming soon)

Naloxone and Harm Reduction
At some point during my drug use I was exposed to hepatitis C, which can be a debilitating and life threatening disease. I was fortunate to receive wonderful medical treatment that eliminated the disease and was equally lucky not to have been exposed to something more dangerous. Many intravenous drug users share needles because they are often difficult or inconvenient to obtain. Some buy needles on the street that might have been previously used.

In many states it is illegal to possess or distribute needles without a license. Fortunately, there are underground harm reduction programs, many born during the AIDS crisis of the 1980’s, that operate needles exchanges using extralegal methods. While otherwise hard on drug users and sellers, police often turn a blind eye to such programs due to the extraordinary benefit to the community, or at the very least the fact that they themselves are thus less likely to be exposed to hepatitis C or HIV.

In recent years, harm reduction programs have also focused on teaching drug users to use drugs more safely and provide naloxone, a drug that can almost always reverse opiate overdoses, to users. Such methods have resulted in the saving of countless lives that would otherwise have been lost to addiction and overdose. I was exposed to a harm reduction coalition in my city following the overdose death of a close friend. Within a period of less than two years, a small group of harm reduction advocates, former users, and people who lost loved ones to overdose, were able to pass one of the most comprehensive laws providing naloxone access to the public and protecting those who call for emergency assistance from arrest when calling for help with an overdose. Such protections and access to life-saving naloxone saved (at least) over 200 lives in the first years alone. Similar measure have been adopted in many other states.

If you must use heroin or other opiates, I strongly encourage you to get a supply of naloxone and get yourself and your using partners trained in its administration and other overdose prevention methods. While it might not always be possible, using with another person can greatly recude the chance of an overdose death. If one person overdoses, the other can administer naloxone or call for help. It’s nothing short of a miracle that such laws are being passed, given the harsh language around drugs and addiction from politicians, and it’s equally amazing that harm reduction methods are being accepted in the medical community. Such developments give one hope that more effective treatments for drug use and recovery will gain broad acceptance and save more lives in the future.

Mental Illness and Emotional Trauma
Many longtime users of hard drugs suffer from some form of mental illness. These conditions are generally present before the user starts drugs, but are frequently exacerbated by the drugs and withdrawal. It is extremely common for drug users to self-medicate these mental illnesses or pain, or a combination of both. I suffered from bipolar disorder, general anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and other conditions, which certainly existed before I started using drugs. It’s unclear whether this was made worse by the drugs, but it certainly made the acute withdrawal, and especially the extended post-acute withdrawal, more difficult, and probably contributed to many relapses. After tapering off suboxone I finally sought professional medical treatment from a psychiatrist (not a therapist, which I feel only increased anxiety issues and a tendency to relapse). This treatment and the medication have helped me to maintain abstinence from opiates. While I don’t feel “normal,” I feel more functional than I did before or during my drug use.

Even if you don’t wish to stop using drugs right now, if you have the resources you would be well-advised to seek a mental health evaluation from a medical professional. It should go without saying, but a blood test for hepatitis C and HIV would be a wonderful idea also.

National/International Resources:
Harm Reduction Coalition: http://harmreduction.org/
SMART Recovery: http://smartrecovery.org/
Students for Sensible Drug Policy: http://ssdp.org/
Methadone Clinic Locator: http://www.methadonecliniclocator.org/
Suboxone Doctors Locator: http://www.suboxone.com/treatment-plan/find-a-doctor
National Alliance on Mental Health: https://www.nami.org/
Heroin Helper (helped me many times): http://heroinhelper.com/
Drug User Activism and Unions: http://druguseractivism.org/

Resources in the Southeastern US:
Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition: http://www.atlantaharmreduction.org/
Georgia Overdose Prevention: http://www.georgiaoverdoseprevention.org/
Nashville Harm Reduction: http://street-works.org/
New Orleans Harm Reduction: http://nolaharmreduction.tumblr.com/
North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition: http://www.nchrc.org/
Southern Harm Reduction and Drug Policy Network: https://www.facebook.com/Southern.Harm.Reduction.Network

Confronting Dahlonega’s History: A Brief Statement About Forgetting Our Brutal Past

For several months now, Action in Dahlonega has been quietly trying to bring attention to troubling accounts of history in Lumpkin County and North Georgia, especially pertaining to the downplay of the Trail of Tears and human slavery. We have worked with local people of Cherokee descent to bring attention to some of the troubling signs around Dahlonega, we have approached the Lumpkin County Historical Society for help modifying of removing these signs (which they effectively have refused to do), and done some of our own research on these matters. Here’s a brief statement on why we find this problematic. We will have a much more in-depth look at the handling of local history and corresponding public actions soon.   

Dahlonega is filled with warm, generous, friendly people, but we’re not without our problems. Like anyplace else, Dahlonega has its own version of local history that often discounts the worst points of what actually happened.


The sign on the Dahlonega Square, placed by the Lumpkin County Historical Society and the City of Dahlonega

A prominent sign on the square reads: “The Gold Rush Days Festival each October recalls the Georgia Gold Rush of 1829 with the bittersweet echo of the forced removal of the Cherokee in 1838 along the Trail of Tears.“ This sign was placed by the Lumpkin County Historical Society and is one of few local mentions of the Trail of Tears. It represents a disturbing trend of attempts by local officials and the LCHS to reframe our history.

Local historical accounts, including the sign in question and the Maibaum History Tree in Hancock Park, frame the Gold Rush as the precipitating event leading to the Cherokee removal and seek to absolve local governments of responsibility; but the actual history reveals a much different story. The Cherokee and Creek people’s fate was sealed from the moment the first white settler colonialists landed in Georgia. From the colony’s founding, James Edward Oglethorpe had his eyes set on the area, relenting only after natives put up fierce resistance.

There was nothing “bittersweet” about the Trail of Tears. It was nothing less than an act of genocide in a long and concerted effort to exterminate this country’s native people. The Cherokee were illegally removed from their homeland, a sovereign nation, and forced to relocate to a foreign land. Approximately 17,000 died on the journey. Some remained in the area, either as second-class citizens married to white settlers or by fleeing deeper into the mountains.

Maibaum History Tree, Hancock Park, Dahlonega. It suggests a steady progress from wild animals to apparently “primitive” indigenous people to a modern civilization dominated by white settlers.

Maibaum History Tree, Hancock Park, Dahlonega. It suggests a steady progress from wild animals to apparently “primitive” indigenous people to a modern civilization dominated by white settlers.

That the brutal struggles the Cherokee and Creek people endured is framed as anything other than what it was is something we all must confront. Replacing signs like those mentioned above, while absolutely necessary, is only a first step. We need to face the awful truth about what happened to the original residents of our area and work with them toward making it right. A good start might be working to create a monument acknowledging the loss experienced by victims of the Trail of Tears. At the very least, we should ensure local historical accounts boasting about the area’s connection to gold accurately reflect the darker side of that legacy.

As descendants of people who colonized this nation and brutally forced its original inhabitants out, we bear a responsibility to correct those acts — not just to ease our collective conscience, but because the descendants of  those original inhabitants are our neighbors and deserve our acceptance and to have their pain recognized.

Dahlonega is a beautiful community and we should preserve our distinct culture and the sense of connectedness we share with our neighbors, but we also bear a heavy burden to those who paid the ultimate price so we can be here and have an obligation to accept people from all backgrounds into our community.

To get involved or to learn more about Action in Dahlonega’s efforts to remove the sign email us at action.in.dahlonega@gmail.com or check us out on Facebook

For more on local responses to the sign and the Trail of Tears:

World Bipolar Day: Mentally Ill Deserve Justice, Not Jails and Death

Click here for an update on the Matthew Ajibade case.

Today, March 30th, is World Bipolar day. While the causes of and treatment for bipolar disorder still aren’t well understood, one thing is abundantly clear: bipolar disorder and mental illness  carry a tremendous amount of stigma and social baggage. Nowhere is this more evident than in dealings of mentally ill persons with the police. As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder and who has had several encounters with law enforcement, the legal system, and jails and prisons, I can attest to the inhumane treatment the mentally ill regularly face in dealing with the state and its various institutions. Having been diagnosed recently, after over a decade of substance abuse issues and mental breakdowns, I can also say that treatment options for those with mental health disorders are abysmal. Only now, after receiving psychiatric treatment and medication, am I beginning to feel like what I would consider a functional adult. While I’ve had numerous confrontations with police and prison guards, none of them turned deadly and I don’t recall ever fearing for my life. Perhaps that was due to my skin color or appearance, or maybe it was simply good fortune. Many aren’t so fortunate, however. It’s estimated that more than half of those killed by police violence each year suffer from some sort of mental health disorder. Many of these, of course, are people of color.


Matthew Ajibade, died in police custody at Chatham County Jail

At least two black men diagnosed with bipolar disorder have been killed in Georgia at the hands of the police already this year. Matthew Ajibade, a 22 year-old Savannah College of Art & Design student from Lagos, Nigeria, died in police custody at the Chatham County jail in January. Ajibade’s girlfriend had called 911 seeking help in dealing with a manic episode. During a manic episode, people with bipolar disorder can become agitated, violent, or delusional. Medical professional are trained to deal with these sorts of incidents. In Ajibade’s case, police, rather than an EMTs, responded to the call. Police sometimes receive conflict resolution training, but are rarely equipped to deal with mentally illness without resorting to violence. Ajibade died in police custody after being restrained by at least three officers. An investigation is still pending, but given the lack of justice for people of color killed by police, it’s not difficult to imagine the outcome. Earlier this month, Anthony Hill, a 27 year-old Air Force combat veteran, was killed by a Dekalb County police officer. Neighbors had called to report a “deranged” man knocking on people’s doors. Hill was completely naked and unarmed when we was shot. While the state is conducting an investigation into the incident, Hill’s family has started their own. His mother, Carolyn Baylor-Guimmo questioned the treatment of her son and the officer involved, asking, “If he didn’t have that badge, what would happen to the person who killed my son? A lot of black men are

Anthony Hill

Anthony Hill, killed by Dekalb County police

being shot by Caucasian officers. It’s a deep problem.” Family members believe Hill may have stopped taking some of the medication he was prescribed for his condition. The mood-stabilizers, anti-psychotics, and anti-depressants used to treat bipolar disorder frequently have serious and debilitating side effects and it’s not unusual for patients to stop taking them against medical advice. There has recently been a groundswell of protest and direct action against police killings of unarmed people of color. Unfortunately, only the most extreme cases, or those that yield the most fierce resistance, are remembered or receive media attention. When the victim suffers from a mental health disorder, the actions of the police are often excused by the state and the general public. Those diagnosed with mental health disorders, especially bipolar and schizophrenia, still face a tremendous stigma and a certain level of social paranoia. There are also racial disparities in how these conditions are diagnosed and treated. Many of us are automatically presumed to be violent when, in reality, we’re much more likely to pose a danger to ourselves than anyone around us. If we’re going to end the horrible cycle of police violence against our neighbors, we have to confront our attitudes about people from certain social classes and those with mental and physical impairments. To put an end to police violence against these groups and work toward meaningful social justice, we must demand that police be disarmed, that they be held accountable to the communities they patrol, that people suffering from mental illness receive medial assistance when their families seek help, and that we provide adequate healthcare resources for people who suffer from mental illness. Until that happens, people with mental illness and those in marginalized communities will continue to be oppressed, and killed, by institutions that routinely place less value on their lives and their voices. Body cameras and “independent” investigations by outside law enforcement officials are not enough. Politicians and state officials have consistently shown their willingness to protect officers involved in these sorts of cases. We must continue asserting our right to defend ourselves, to govern ourselves, and work toward building a revolutionary new world with social freedom and justice for more than just the privileged social classes. We have an obligation to protect and defend our friends, family, and neighbors against the violence of the state. More on police killings of people with mental illness: http://www.salon.com/2012/12/10/half_of_people_shot_by_police_are_mentally_ill_investigation_finds/ More on Anthony Hill and Matthew Ajibade: https://actionindahlonega.wordpress.com/2015/03/10/anthony-hill-unarmed-georgia-man-murdered-by-police/ http://heavy.com/news/2015/03/anthony-hill-police-shooting-shot-killed-mental-illness-bipolar-dekalb-atlanta-georgia-officer-unarmed/ http://savannahnow.com/news/2015-01-06/family-wants-answers-after-savannah-artist-dies-jail http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2015/01/how-did-matthew-ajibade-die-in-custody/ More information on bipolar disorder: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/index.shtml

Statement from Action in Dahlonega: Dahlonega Nugget Cover Story Reinforces Oppressive Attitudes

Here’s a statement from the local Action in Dahlonega collective about the ongoing controversy around the University of North Georgia’s continuing education catalog and its implicit racist and sexist attitudes:

The cover story of the March 25th edition of the Dahlonega Nugget features the now infamous University of North Georgia catalog cover (more details here) that has made national news for reflecting racist and sexist stereotypes and isolating women and minority students.

The article seems to reflect a clear bias in favor of the photograph, or at least goes out of its way to excuse it. The only people directly quoted in the article are school administrator Kate Maine and journalism student Hunter Leger. Maine condemns the photograph but insists it was a stock photo, implying at least part of the blame lies elsewhere. Leger, explains that other students took issue with the school’s use of the photograph, but dismisses those who found it problematic trying to “[pacify] the crowd that would seek to deem anything they’re uncomfortable with as racist.”

It should be noted that Leger, the only UNG student quoted in the article, and the article’s writer are both white men. The fact that this happened on an issue directly relating to people of color and women only reinforces our argument that white supremacy and patriarchy are deeply woven into the fabric of our culture. Academic institutions and the media consistently place more value on the voices of white men than those of marginalized groups. The writer failed to mention why certain people found the catalog cover racist and sexist, instead referring to urban media sources like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and New York Magazine, or second-hand accounts from Maine and Leger.

The fact that the Nugget didn’t interview any black or non-male students for the article is not merely lazy, it reflects a troubling attitude that pervades our modern media. In an era when black men and women are murdered by police and news outlets scramble to dig up criminal records or inflammatory Facebook photographs of the victims, we can’t rely on the media to provide objective coverage or give voice to these victims.

Even if UNG and the Nugget learn from this experience, the changes will most likely be superficial. Many schools and newspapers know how to properly handle the language and imagery around race and gender, but the structural problems that form the foundation of white supremacy and patriarchy in our society remain. Even when the voices and experiences of marginalized groups are included, they’re lost or ignored in a culture that has been conditioned to give them less value.

The unfortunate truth is, the photograph an entirely accurate depiction of social relations in modern America. Even when we’ve learned how to not sound racist or sexist, racism and sexism still thrive. We must continue to fight not only oppressive words and images, but the structural conditions that oppress and exclude people of color and women and place more value on the opinions of white men than those of any other group.

Racist/Sexist UNG Catalog Cover ReflectsBroader Attitudes

This week the University of North Georgia apologized for publishing a continuing education catalog that features two white men in business suits beating a more casually-dressed black man and a woman in high heels in a race. The image was quickly called out for its racist and sexist overtones. The school has called the incident an “isolated case of poor judgment” and claimed that any offense was “unintentional.” They went on to express their commitment to diversity and made vague promises to do better in the future.

Now that the school has apologized, those who took offense are presumably expected to (as the media no doubt will) sweep these events under the rug, along with the countless other racist and sexist incidents that have dotted our academic and cultural landscapes. But the very fact that this image was produced and made it to the front page of a catalog and the web site of a major university speaks volumes to the ongoing pervasiveness of white supremacist and sexist attitudes in our community and at the University of North Georgia.

The state of Georgia has one of the highest percentages of people of color in the country, but the UNG student body and faculty are both over 80% white. This fact alone is troubling. The continuing marginalization of minorities and women at the school and in our community is unacceptable. The fact that there aren’t more claims of racism against minority students at UNG speaks more to the homogeneity of the community, and the attitude that minority students are expected to conform to white campus culture, than any lack of racism among the student body or faculty.

Nor is UNG the only school guilty of this sort of behavior. Colleges and universities across the country are constantly forced to make apologies like this. The racist chants of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, which has a chapter at UNG, are still fresh in most of our minds and minority students at the University of Georgia rallied against racism and homophobia on their campus in 2013.

The racist and sexist attitudes that infect our academic institutions only reflect the ongoing white supremacy and patriarchy of our broader culture. They are symptoms of a larger institutional problem. We can, and certainly should, continue to call them out, but we must recognize that these problems are a core feature of American culture.

Apologies may serve to ease our collective guilt, but they do nothing to put an end to the damage wreaked by white supremacy and patriarchy in our society. In an age where college age men of color are more than 5 times more likely than their white counterparts to die from police violence and women, even when they earn college degrees, are expected to have careers and still fulfill their traditional role of unpaid domestic labor, we must demand more. Racism and sexism in our school and communities will end only when we stand up to put an end to it ourselves.

More on the UNG situation:

Further reading on sexism and racism in academia :

Police killings of young black men in the US:

Defining Anarchism: An Anarchist Dictionary for Today

Ableism: A form of workplace oppression and social stigmatization that affects people who suffer from physical and/or mental disabilities. Many physically disabled people face issues being able to work or become disabled by working under physically demanding conditions and face economic and social marginalization as a result. People who suffer from mental disorders, including addiction, often become unable to work or carry out certain functions of daily living and become marginalized as a result. Both types of disability can be debilitating and victims often end up being locked out of the workforce, are denied medical care, or end up homeless or living in poverty. Many anarchists, and even medical professionals, see the culture created by modern capitalism as a contributing factor to both mental and physical disabilities.

Bourgeoisie: The bourgeoisie, also known as the ruling or employing class, is a distinct historical social group that grew out of social relations in Europe during the fall of the previous feudal aristocratic society and the rise of capitalism. Anarchists sometimes shy away from the term as outdated and instead use ruling class or employing class to distinguish the group’s unique social position of power and privilege in the modern era. Generally, anyone who owns capital and can employ or fire workers can be said to be a member of this group, although definitions vary. Some anarchists and other socialists (especially Marxists) define an intermediary other class groups, such as a managerial or bureaucratic class that doesn’t share the interests of workers and represents and protects the interests of the employing class.

Capitalism: For most anarchists, and almost all socialists, capitalism is a specific social arrangement that historically emerged, at different times, from, and in oppositions to, feudal social relations. Karl Marx’s critique of capitalism as an instrument of social and economic oppression of workers by a bourgeois class is almost universally accepted by socialists of every school of thought. Capitalism, since the time of Marx, has grown into a new, complex system of social and cultural relations that has embedded itself into every aspect of modern life. Capitalist interests are closely tied to those of modern states (especially Western states) in such a way that military or economic force is often used to protect those interests, placing workers in some states in a privileged position over those in other states. This has the effect of dividing the working class and complicating any hope of a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by workers. As such, many anarchist and socialist groups are re-evaluating their theories to combat this new form, called neoliberal capitalism, and broadening their perspectives to include international social, political, and economic issues in their theories. Right libertarians and anarcho-capitalists sometimes use the term “capitalism” in a more abstract sense to mean the exchange of goods and services in a free market without intervention from the state. Left libertarians generally see all markets as oppressive and open for exploitation, although some left anarchists (notably mutualists) do support certain types of markets.

Communism: Communism with a small ‘c’ (sometimes called “full communism”) is generally accepted by most socialists as a society free from classes (and hence, oppression and exploitation of one class by another) and the absence of a state to enforce private property. Many anarchists consider themselves communists. Communism with a capital ‘C’ represents a particular school of Marxism that calls for the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement with a workers State (a “dictatorship of the proletariat”) during the transition to full communism. This transitional period is referred to as socialism. Anarchists have argued as early as the mid-1800’s that such a transitional state will necessarily devolve into the rule of one class over another. In the Soviet Union this was seen as the rule of a vanguard party over the masses of workers. Many Marxists have, since the failure of the Soviet Union to achieve full communism, attempted to refine their theories, in much the same way anarchists attempted to refine theirs after the failures of the Spanish Civil war, to address the problem of transition from capitalism to full communism.

Consensus: Consensus is a form of direct democratic decision-making that seeks to reconcile everyone in a community’s concerns and make a decision that works in the interests of everyone involved. This usually means that on any given issue everyone agrees to the final decision, although there are modified forms of consensus that only require a certain majority (say 90%) to approve or allow a veto if anyone will be immediately harmed by the proposed decision. The consensus process can take longer to reach a final decision, but one of the fundamental ideas is that once the decision is made everyone will go along with and implement it more readily, having already agreed to it. The process is designed to take concerns that might negatively affect minority groups into account. Everyone might not agree with all aspects of the final decision, but they should agree that it best reflects the will of the entire community. Many worker-owned cooperatives use a consensus process to make decisions that affect business decision in the workplace.

Direct Action: Any action a person or group of people takes to directly improve their conditions, at work or in their community. The idea of direct action comes from the workers movement, especially radical unionism, where workers took matters into their own hands to win things like an 8-hour day, an end to child labor, and the right to form unions. Direct action is intended to exert the collective power of oppressed groups to negotiate better conditions for themselves and/or others. Traditional forms of non-violent direct action include strikes, boycotts, industrial sabotage, work slowdowns, and workplace occupations. In contrast, indirect action would consist of things such as petitions, reliance on electoral politics for change, diplomacy, negotiations, or most types of protests. Non-violent direct action was crucial to the US Civil Rights movement (as was armed self-defense) and continues to be used by workers, unions, students, and political activists for a variety of purposes. Some newer activists confuse the tactics of indirect and direct action (notably around mass demonstrations, protests, and performance art).

Direct Democracy: Direct democracy is a form of government where people vote directly on issues that concern them rather than electing representatives to do it for them, often in a face-to-face setting. While slaves, women, resident aliens, etc. didn’t have a vote, ancient Greece is often provided as an example of how direct democracy might function. An important aspect of direct democracy is that everyone’s vote counts equally and everyone’s concerns are taken into consideration in the voting process. Direct democracy does not necessarily mean a system in which the majority rules; sometimes decisions in a directly-democratic group are are made by consensus or supermajority. Directly-democratic groups do not elect representatives, although they may elect delegates, who are immediately recallable and bound to make decisions in the interest of the group, at meetings between federations or confederations of groups.

Ecology and Social Ecology: A framework for building a sustainable, healthy relationship between humans and the rest of the world. It is dedicated to finding ways to satisfy human social needs, such as food, shelter, water, and community infrastructure, in a healthy balance with nature. Ecology is built around the idea of biocentrism, which sees natural resources as more than mere commodities for extraction in the pursuit of profit and seeks to build a healthy relationship between humanity and nature. Social ecology is the science of building communities that function in harmony with the natural world. It was spearheaded by Murray Bookchin, who identified as an anarchist for many years, but formally broke with anarchism toward the end of his life to pursue his own ideology of Communalism. Proponents of social ecology, and especially eco-anarchism, argue that capitalism, with its unquenchable thirst for ever-increasing profits, is incompatible with maintaining a healthy environment or a continued human existence on the planet.

Fascism: Fascism is a distinct form of capitalism that emerged as a political ideology in the 1920’s-30’s across Europe, especially in Germany, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. Fascists used socialist and syndicalist language and imagery to appeal to workers, but their ideas were distinctly separate from traditional anarchism, communism, and socialism. In fact, anarchists and communists were (and still are) some of the most adamant fighters against fascism. In Spain, the CNT and anarchists fought against the fascist forces of General Franco, who had the backing of the Hitler and Mussolini. Soviet troops fought passionately against fascism, killing 8 of every 10 Nazis who died during World War II. In modern times, fascism has emerged as a means for right-wing workers and populist capitalist politicians to combat social progress (especially of minorities) in many parts of the world. Anarchists and communists are generally united in their battle against these reactionary forces, often to the point of vocal confrontation or physical violence.

Federalism/Confederalism: Federalism, or democratic confederalism, is the idea that groups or communities in different areas maintain local autonomy and work together on a regional, national, or international level to coordinate relations between groups or to decide matters that affect all groups. The way this plays out can vary, but it is generally agreed that autonomous local groups elect one or more delegates to represent the group at meetings of regional groups. These delegates are immediately recallable and are bound by the group to vote a certain way, usually determined in advance. Organizing in this way provides local groups collective resources they might not have on their own and allows groups to coordinate actions collectively in advance of revolution and to manage social relations after the state has been dissolved. It is also intended to alleviate conflicts between different local groups over resources or concentrations of power.

Gentrification: A social, and some would argue political, trend whereby residents and businesses in impoverished urban areas are displaced by wealthier people, usually from suburban areas. Gentrification generally happens with some collusion from state or local governments and businesses under the premise of “urban renewal” programs. This process, while often sold as a way to improve life in disadvantaged communities, has the effect of pricing long-time residents out of their homes or businesses due to increasing rent or property values (and taxes) or removing people from their homes by force. This displacement also destabilizes community support structures like churches, schools, locally-owned businesses, and community groups. Resident are often scattered to other impoverished urban communities or suburbs, where they lack social support networks, easy access to jobs, and have poor access, if any, to public transportation.

Government: Government, in contrast to the state, is any organization used to manage social interactions. In this way, a union, a community organization, or even a charity, could be considered a government body. A government could also be used to manage social, political, and economic relations in the absence of a state. Government need not necessarily be oppressive. In fact, if it is organized horizontally (non-hierarchically) in such a way that everyone has equal say and everyone’s concerns are taken into consideration, it can be consistent with many schools of libertarianism or anarchism. The terms “government” and the “state” are often conflated, either intentionally or unintentionally, by many anarchists.

Imperialism: A system where the state and the ruling class of certain countries collude to use their superior economic, political, and military advantages to dominate and exploit people and resources in other countries or regions. The rise of European imperialism is closely tied to the rise of capitalism. Today there exists a powerful new network of global imperial powers that use not only resource extraction and exploitation of foreign labor, but the insurmountable accumulation of debt, the threat of austerity and credit defaults, and the threat of military intervention (the US is especially guilty of this in Latin America and the Middle East) to advance their interests. This system of global power relations that mingle state and corporate interests is commonly called neoliberalism. There was a notable increase in interest around neoliberalism after NAFTA (1994) and the 1999 rebellion in Seattle against the World Trade Organization. It’s not uncommon to find right libertarians and anarcho-capitalists just as opposed to this new form of capitalism as leftists. Many people, not just anarchists, see neoliberalism as an imminent threat to society as we know it. Resistance to modern imperialism is sometimes called anti-globalization or alter-globalization.

Insurrectionary anarchism: A revolutionary tendency within anarchism that often focuses on spontaneous or mass insurrection, usually at least in part by means of violence or force. Insurrectionists focus on loosely-connected, informal groups to carry out attacks on class enemies and/or property and are critical of formal organizations like labor unions and federations of anarchists. Propoganda-of-the-deed, the idea that vandalism, illegalism, or acts of violence against certain targets will lead the masses to spontaneously revolt, is a central concept to insurrectionism (although not exclusive to it). While many insurrectionists identify with the communist tradition, social anarchists are generally critical of insurrectionists as short-sighted and their tactics as counter-productive to working class interests and solidarity.

Intersectional Feminism: The idea, born out of the radical black feminist movement, that oppressed groups, especially minority groups, are oppressed in different ways. For example, a black lesbian woman faces different types of oppression in her daily life than a heterosexual white woman or a heterosexual black man might. This isn’t meant to create a hierarchy of oppressions or insist that one group is more oppressed than another, but rather to provide a more precise method of analyzing institutional oppression. The concept of intersectionality is central to anarchist feminism, (which is not a separate school of anarchism, but rather an anarchist method of approaching feminism). Some Marxists and other socialists dismiss a need for feminism, arguing that all workers are oppressed and the removal of capitalism will eliminate oppression of women or that there is a difference between oppression of women and exploitation of workers. Some anarchists, notably post-left anarchists, dismiss intersectionalism and the focus on sex/gender/race/etc. issues as identity politics that needlessly isolate certain people (usually heterosexual white men).

Left anarchism: Generally anarchist communism (sometimes called libertarian communism or libertarian socialism), the idea that workers should own the means of production in a meaningful way, without the need for a state or central authority to manage political, economic, or social resources. There are several branches within left anarchism, some with seemingly opposing interests. For example, anarcho-syndicalists, platformists, and especifists often have more in common with certain schools of Marxism than they might with individualist or post-left anarchists, especially regarding tactics. Still, almost all left anarchists seek a world where current social relations are transformed to be explicitly non-authoritarian and egalitarian and where economic resources and the means of production (if they exist at all) are collectively owned by workers and/or the community with the presence of a state to enforce social and economic hierarchy.

Individualist anarchism: The idea that the authority of the individual takes precedence over the authority of the community. This idea is strongly rooted in the Enlightenment and early thinkers of anarchism. It is still influential in many anarchist circles today and is strongly associated with the ideas of refusal to work, squatting, militant veganism, and social protest. Individualist anarchism is sometimes seen as incompatible with social anarchism. Some anarchists make no distinction between individualist or social anarchism while other anarchists dismiss individualists as lifestyleists who don’t pose a serious threat to capitalism and refuse to consider their claim to be anarchists as legitimate. Some anarcho-capitalists and right libertarians consider themselves ideological successors to the original school of individual anarchist thinkers (like Max Stirner), while many individualists are adamantly anti-capitalist.

Means of Production: The means of production are anything used by workers to create products for sale that result in a profit for employers. Traditionally this was seen as, for example, machinery in a factory or tools to extract raw materials, but in an increasingly service-oriented society where workers are isolated from these machines, the means of production might also include computer or telecommunication networks, software code, equipment used to make or serve coffee and food, scientific equipment, etc. The conflict between workers and employers centers on ownership of the means of production and the exploitation created when employers benefit from the profit created by workers’ labor. The main idea behind most socialist theories argues that workers can overcome their oppression and exploitation by expropriating the means of production for themselves as a class. Worker control of the means of production exists within modern capitalism in the form of worker-owned cooperatives, although some would argue they are still subject to oppressive capitalist market forces and even exploit secondary workers in other areas.

Mutual Aid: An organizational theory and practice based on the reciprocal exchange of goods and services for mutual benefit. This concept was revolutionized by Russian anarchist and zoologist Peter Kropotkin, who noticed a tendency between animals of the same species to work cooperatively toward mutual survival goals. This idea has been further strengthened by anthropological studies of early humans and primates that show a tendency toward cooperation in hunter-gatherer and early agricultural societies. Mutual aid directly challenges the capitalist idea of advancement through competition, which most anarchists argue benefits only a small minority at the great expense of everyone else. Mutual aid organizations are distinct from charity organizations and are generally organized in a democratic, horizontal, participatory fashion where decisions are made cooperatively. Common examples include Food Not Bombs, harm reduction programs for sex workers and drug users, and various community groups, especially in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, where government services are nearly or completely absent.

Paris Commune: The Paris Commune was a society established during a 2-month period of 1871 where workers took control of Paris and the National Guard, sent to quell the rebellion, sided with the workers. The members of the Commune (called Communards) created a socialist government and managed social relations within the city from March until May. The Commune was eventually crushed by the French Army, with support from Prussia, but its legacy continues to make a lasting impression on socialist thought around the world. It notably led to a change in the political thoughts of Karl Marx and the social anarchists, which eventually led to a split between Marxist and libertarian communists that had lasting ramifications. Many of the participants in the Paris Commune were killed or imprisoned and the Commune’s legacy serves as a lasting inspiration to modern communists and socialists of all schools.

Patriarchy: A system of male domination, heteronormativity, and gender oppression. It is based on the idea that people oppressed in this way face special issues that affect them in unique ways. The fight against patriarchy is rooted in the idea that women occupy a special place in capitalism and that domestic labor, which often goes unremunerated, is a particularly problematic form of exploitation. The fight for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights, queer liberation, and the struggle against gender norms are deeply tied to most schools of modern anarchism. These issues are sometimes grouped together under the name heteropatriarchy or in conjunction with race and gender issues as white-male-heteropatriarchy.

Platformism: Not so much a type of anarchism as an attempt to inform anarchist practices to influence and help anarchists in organizing workers and peasants, especially influential in anarcho-syndicalism. The name is drawn from the Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists, an attempt to address the shortcomings of anarchism during the Russian Revolution and the ultimate defeat of regional anarchist groups at the hands of the Bolshevik Soviet State. It is especially associated with Ukranian anarchist Nestor MakhnoThe Platform places emphasis on a need for tightly-organized anarchist groups organized into federations, tactical unity between anarchist groups, and an emphasis on appealing to the masses (especially workers), rather than dedicated revolutionaries, to achieve wide support for mass social movements and revolution. Some anarchists regard platformism as a move toward anarchist vanguardism (the sort advocated by Leninists). One glaring absence from the original Platform is any mention of women’s liberation issues, traditionally an important aspect of anarchist practice, which isolated platformists from some groups within the wider anarchist movement. Especifismo is an updated form of platformism that orignizated in Brazil and has been particularly influential in Latin America. It stresses a need for social insertion to ground anarchists and their theories in grassroots workers’ movements and to expose mainstream workers to more radical ideas.

Praxis: The process by which theory is carried out. Brazilian educator and philosopher Paulo Freire defines praxis as “reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed.” Praxis is an essential component of anarchism; it is literally the real world implementation of anarchist theory. Historically, anarchist theory has not been as well-developed as most schools of Marxist theory. Indeed, many early anarchists relied heavily on spontaneous organization of workers during and after revolution. Historically this has had very poor results. While some anarchists still rely on this idea, modern social anarchists place a stronger focus on theory, using lessons learned from real-world successes and failures to inform their practices. Especifismo especially focuses on developing a “living praxis” that serves as a strategic program based on analysis to guide the actions of revolutionaries. Many groups, including Occupy Wall Street, the Zapatistas, and grassroots social movements in Latin America, use anarchist praxis such as horizontal organization, directly democratic decision-making, and confederalism, without necessarily being anarchist.

Proletariat: The proletariat, often called the working class, is a distinct social group whose interests are generally considered in direct conflict with those of the employing class (bourgeoisie). The term “working class” has different connotations to different groups, but most anarchists consider anyone who must work for someone else to earn a living to be part of the working class. Some exceptions to this, in varying degrees, might be managers, bureaucrats, police, and sometimes members of the military, who more often represent the interests (and generally carry out the orders of) the employing/ruling class. The working class has a meaningful place in anarchist and socialist history as they are seen as having the collective power to challenge, and even defeat, the ruling class through concerted actions like strikes, walkouts, work slowdowns, boycotts, and industrial sabotage. The proletariat was once central to the idea of revolutionary anarchism (and especially syndicalism), but as workplace relations grow ever more complicated, many socialists are looking for additional routes to confront global capitalism in communities, schools, and peasant populations.

Reformism: The idea that social change, especially for working people, can be achieved through incremental reforms of existing institutions or by representatives in state or local governments. Most anarchists, especially revolutionary anarchists, oppose a reliance on reformism. American anarchist and labor activist Lucy Parsons said, “Never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth.” Most anarchists, and revolutionary socialists and communists, believe the state is a bourgeois institution that represents the interests of capitalists and the employing class. As such, they place little faith in the idea that meaningful change for working people can be achieved through electoral means. However, some anarchists are not opposed to reforms when they represent material gains for workers and communities or if they represent strategic gains on the road to a revolutionary change in social relations.

Revolution: Many schools of anarchism are revolutionary, but what they mean by “revolution” can be very different. Revolution can be violent or nonviolent and can consist of workers taking control of the means of production through a general strike, a social revolution that alters power relations between the working class and the ruling class, armed struggle between revolutionaries and the state, riots, or a combination of these and other tactics. Some anarchists advocate different levels of violence during revolution, but even those who don’t advocate forcible removal of the state or capitalism acknowledge that neither will allow themselves to be replaced peacefully. Therefore, armed self-defense is a critical component of revolutionary theory. The revolutionary period will bring about a drastic change in social relations, but even with a successful transition to full communism, society will continue to evolve. In his Manifesto of Libertarian Communism, Georges Fontenis argues “the act of Revolution brings an immediate transformation in the sense that the foundations of society are radically changed, but a progressive transformation in the sense that communism is a constant development.” Social relations and distribution of property will be more equitable under communism, and after the period of revolution, but that doesn’t mean social problems will cease to exist.

Right anarchism: Generally anarchist capitalism (sometimes called libertarian capitalism or, in the US, simply libertarianism). The idea that people should be free to exchange goods and services in an open market without government interference. Many take this to mean there should be no state or government, as its primary function would be to interfere with these markets and disrupt free interaction between consenting people. Many anarchists don’t see this as a valid form of anarchism because such markets would inevitably lead to an accumulation of wealth, property, and resources that would necessarily be oppressive or detrimental to workers, communities, animals, and the environment. Some anarchists, notably mutualists, advocate markets within a system where the means of production are owned collectively.

Social anarchism: Generally, but not exclusively, anarchists who focus on organizing socially around more than just the idea of individual freedom. This includes organizing in labor unions, community organizations, issue-specific organizations (environmentalism, for example), and working with members of other groups, including non-anarchists, in concert on social issues. They generally believe that only the collective power of workers and community members can successfully overthrow oppressive social relations. They might be known as anarcho-communists, libertarian communists, libertarian socialists, or anarcho-syndicalists. Mutualists are often grouped into this category. The term social anarchism gained popular usage when Murray Bookchin attempted to isolate certain groups of self-proclaimed anarchists, called lifestylists, whose tactics and goals he saw as counterproductive to the wider anarchist and socialist movements.

Many anarchists consider socialism to simply mean worker ownership of the means of production. This is sometimes synonymous with communism or full communism, though full communism would also require abolition of the state and the capitalist class. In Marxist theory, socialism is a distinct period of transition between capitalism and full communism where the workers control the means of production but the state has not been eliminated. They argue that the workers’ state will eventually transition into communism, but anarchists argue this has never happened, nor could it feasibly happen (the Russian Revolution and Soviet Union are a common example). Some right libertarians, conservatives, and reactionaries might label anything done by the government to benefit the collective community (especially the less advantaged) as “socialism.” This is probably because of social democrat parties in Europe or American leftists who are influenced by some Marxist ideas, but represent a distinctly different ideology and a significant departure from orthodox Marxism.

Solidarity Unionism: A type of workers union that depends on direct action of workers and/or members of a community to fight for better conditions in the interest of workers. It generally relies on the legal definition of a union (under the Wagner Act of 1935) as two or more workers in a workplace working in concert to improve material conditions in their workplace (although was recently been found that even one worker working in the interest of other workers can legally qualify as a “union”). This means workers can operate as a union without having to rely on the lengthy and tedious government-managed election process to establish an officially-recognized union. Many unions of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) are solidarity unions that don’t see any value in using the government process to establish legal recognition. They operate only under the legal protection that they can’t be fired for working to obtain better conditions. While the goal of workplace syndicalism is generally expropriation of the means of production from the capitalists, solidarity unionism is usually much more focused on immediate goals. Solidarity unionism is also the basis for solidarity networks, which use syndicalist tactics to address workplace and community issues.

The State: Most anarchists generally accept the state as, at a minimum, the institutionalized oppression of one group by another through government. The primary role of the State, then, is to enforce private property and the social privilege of one group over another. In the modern era this is generally viewed as a ruling class (the bourgeoisie) oppressing the working class (the proletariat) socially and (especially) economically, although the present global situation seems much more complicated, with different groups being oppressed in different ways. Early anarchist thinker Mikhail Bakunin described the State as a minority group oppressing the masses, which could apply equally to nominally-democratic capitalist states like the US or Britain and Communist states like the Soviet Union or China. All anarchists call for abolition of the State. Bakunin called for the liquidation of the state, but different anarchists disagree on what should replace the State. Bakunin, for example, argued that workers and communities would spontaneously form new social relations to replace the State but, historically, a reliance on these spontaneous relationships has created an opening for the ruling class to re-emerge. How to replace the state, and with what, remains a topic of debate in anarchist circles. Many revolutionary anarchists advocate a dual-power approach, where democratic organizational structures are created as a means of both challenging the State during revolution and replacing its social functions after. Such an approach would remove the need for a “workers’ State” that has led to authoritarian rule by a vanguard party in the wake of many Communist revolutions. French anarchist George Fontenis describes the transition from the State to a stateless society as requiring the removal of all the instruments and institutions of the old capitalist system, not merely a transfer of ownership.

Syndicalism: While closely associated with anarchism, syndicalists are not necessarily anarchists. Syndicalists traditionally believe in worker control of the means of production and see democratic, worker-led labor unions as the means to that end. Two of the most well-known syndicalist groups are the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), founded in the US in 1905, and the Spanish Confederacion Nacional de Trabajadores (CNT). The CNT is noted for their role in the Spanish Civil War and the installation of an anarchist society in Catalonia from 1936-37. The IWW was influential in the militant labor movements of the early 1900’s and have recently re-emerged to become influential in the food and retail industries. Syndicalists, while still active in the anarchist movement, lost much of their momentum when the Spanish anarchists ultimately failed, through a series of strategic mistakes, to defend Catalonia against the re-emergence of the bourgeois class and the fascists in the lead up to World War II.

White Supremacy: An institutional form of oppression that is deeply intertwined with the historical development of capitalism and slavery. Often reduced to simple racism, white supremacy is much more complicated and existed before the popular existence of racism. The idea developed, almost simultaneously, in Spain, as a part of the effort to rid the Spanish kingdom of Jews, and in England, as a justification for the colonization of Ireland and oppression of Irish Catholics (who weren’t considered “white” at the time). This idea was taken to the Americas and used as justification for the superiority of European culture and the subjugation and extermination of the indigenous peoples. It was later used as a tool of oppression to justify slavery and divide the working class, especially rebellious white and black workers, servants, and slaves, and to create a social caste system based on skin tone in South America. White supremacy continues into the present in a variety of forms, most notably as racism and the idea of white cultural superiority to other races, marginalization of immigrant groups, and the continued economic and cultural isolation of indigenous peoples. White supremacy is closely-related to the rise of neo-fascism.

Working Class: A somewhat nebulous term that has been expropriated by other groups to appeal to the masses. Most anarchists and communists consider the working class to be anyone who has to sell their labor to someone who owns the means of production. Usually those who are dependent on someone else, another worker or the government, for survival are considered part of the working class. This might include students, unemployed workers, disable people, and unpaid domestic workers (especially women). The idea of a conflict between workers and the capitalists (the employing class) is central to traditional anarchism and Marxism. For meaningful social change that ensures the benefit of all people, the means of production and natural resources must be expropriated from the capitalists and distributed among the working class (to which the capitalists would presumably belong after a successful revolution). How this might be achieved is a point of conflict between different socialist tendencies.

Zapatistas: The Zapatistas represent a specific movement in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas that has been strongly influenced by indigenous Mayan culture. The Zapatistas and their army, the EZLN, began as Maoist communists but quickly emerged as a much more complicated political tendency. While many anarchists call the Zapatistas anarchists, the Zapatistas themselves deny the label. Still, their practice and theory are largely consistent with anarchism and they have been extremely influential in the modern worldwide anarchist movement. They operate a network of autonomous, horizontally-organized towns and villages where community resources and land are collectively owned and managed. They have resisted constant attempts by the Mexican state to reclaim territorial authority for over 20 years. The Zapatistas inspired an indigenous feminist movement across Latin America and are part of a larger grassroots social movement that has posed a considerable threat to left and right-wing governments and neoliberal capitalism. These movements, while not strictly anarchist, are informed by anarchist practices and theory and, likewise, inform global anarchist thought in the modern era.

Common Acronyms and American Anarchist-Related Organizations

AID: Action In Dahlonega, a collective dedicate to working on community issues in the North Georgia mountains through mutual aid, community syndicalism, and direct action
ABCF: Anarchist Black Cross Federation, a network of prisoner rights advocates and supporters
APOC: Anarchist People of Color, a loose collective of anarchists dedicated to addressing racial issues and creating safe spaces within the movement for people of color
AK Press: a worker-managed publisher of radical left and anarchist literature
Anarkismo.net: international network of platformist/especifista groups, anarchist news website
ARA: Anti-Racist Action, an international network of militant opponents of racism and fascism
Black Autonomy Federation: a network of black anarchists in the US
BRRNBlack Rose/Rosa Negra, a libertarian socialist federation of US anarchist groups
CNTConfederacion Nacional de Trabajadores, Spanish confederation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions
Common Struggle: a US platformist/especifist group founded in 2011
Copwatch: a collective dedicated to filming police encounters and training people in dealing with police
CrimethInc: a decentralized collective of autonomous anarchist groups well-known for their flashy literature
Critical Resistance: a prison abolition group dedicated to dismantling the prison-industrial complex
DAN: Direct Action Network, confederation of anti-capitalist groups integral to the creation of the alter-globalization movement
EZLN: Ejercito Zapatisa de Liberation Nacional, the Zapatista National Liberation Army (Chiapas, Mexico)
Food Not Bombs: a mutual aid organization that serves vegetarian/vegan food in protest of war
Heat Index: an Atlanta-based revolutionary anarchist collective
IAS: Institute for Anarchist Studies, a non-profit group dedicated to studying developing anarchist thought
IMC: Independent Media Center, a global network of independent leftist journalists and media
IWA: International Workers’ Association, an international federation of anarcho-syndicalist labor unions
IWW: Industrial Workers of the World, an international syndicalist labor union founded in Chicago in 1905
Popular Resistance: a group dedicated to resisting neoliberal capitalism and imperialism
WSA: Workers’ Solidarity Alliance, a US anarcho-syndicalist group

Community Self-Defense: Libertarian Approaches to Crime & Justice

Recent events clearly reveal that not only are police forces better equipped than they’ve ever been, with tanks and tactical gear and new crowd control devices, but that they’re increasingly more aggressive and deadly. From the police killings of unarmed people of color in the United States, to the incarceration of anarchist activists and implementation of repressive laws against public demonstrations in Spain, to the forced removal of indigenous communities in Brazil during the leadup to the World Cup, to the heavy-handed response to the water charges protests in Ireland, police around the globe are as violently protective of the ruling class as they’ve ever been.

Anarchists frequently tend to fall into the trap of presuming (or are expected by other to presume) how every aspect of a post-revolutionary society might function. Not only is this irrational, it’s counter-productive and often results in a rigorous application of ideological purity that seeks to discredit actual libertarian revolutions that have found some level of success. Lacking a revolutionary framework in our own culture, we neglect to apply our theories to the present situation and look for solutions in some hypothetical fantasy world free from the oppressive constraints of our own. Regardless, we do have real-world examples from which to draw guidance, many of them working beneath the surface of our own states.


Groups like Copwatch film police encounters and train people to know their rights when dealing with the police

One of the first questions I get from non-anarchists when they learn my political leanings is: “Well, what about crime? What will we do with all the criminals? It will be chaos! Who will protect us?” These question are loaded with presumptions about life in an anarchist society, as well as our own. They presume that crime would become unmanageable under a non-authoritarian system and the rules need to be enforced by strict rulers for the good of everyone. One only need look at modern states, where there’s an abundance of state control and armed police forces, yet crime continues to persist. The United States manages to incarcerate more of its people than anywhere in the world (with well over 2 million people behind bars on any given day), but crime is still prevalent and the “war on drugs” has been nowhere near successful at achieving its stated goals. Recidivism rates for US prisoners (the rate at which incarcerated people return to jail or prison) consistently register at around 66%.This is hardly a recipe for a functional criminal justice system.

It’s comforting to imagine that the problems of crime, drug addiction, and violence will simply disappear once the state and capitalism wither away. No doubt, social inequality is a major contributor to modern crime; but not all crime is borne out of scarcity or oppressive social conditions. It’s difficult to imagine certain forms of violence, like domestic disputes, certain forms of sexual violence, petty theft, or crimes committed by people dependent on drugs or who suffer from mental illness, will simply disappear in a post-revolutionary society. We know that most of these problems existed long before capitalism and they will very likely persist long after.

So the question becomes: how do we manage these issues in the most humane and effective way possible, not just in the interest of victims, but also in the interest of offenders, without resorting a violent state police force. Very often, the nature of these crimes themselves, and the way in which we respond to them, serve as a mirror of our own social relations and cultural values, and how we deal with them speaks volumes about our culture and our social system. If we’re not able to control problems like crime without resorting to the same brutal methods used by the capitalist ruling class, our post-revolutionary world will serve as nothing more than a framework for those oppressive social conditions to reemerge.

The Justice System Isn’t Broken

The idea that the police exist to protect the general public has become so pervasive in modern society that, until recently, only the most radical elements have question its premise. Even now, allegedly progressive voices consistently defend the police, if not as individuals, as an institution. They’re often the first to call on those taking to the streets to maintain their composure and refrain from violence, while giving tacit approval to the violence used against protesters and the structural violence that makes police killings of certain minority groups possible.

Despite popular misconceptions, the police as they exist today have not always existed and they are not here to protect the working class. In fact, they’re often the first line of attack against the working class by the capitalists. State police are no doubt here to maintain order, but whose order they are here to maintain is very much a question of concern. David Whitehouse does an excellent job chronicling the historical conditions that led to the creation of modern policing and the history of the police as an instrument of the ruling class in his essay “Origins of the Police.”

Blackout Collective taking Direct Action in front of the Oakland Police Department Headquarters

Blackout Collective taking Direct Action in front of the Oakland Police Department Headquarters

Even a cursory examination of modern prison populations reveals who the police, judges, and other institutions of the ruling class are here to protect. In the US, black people make up just 12% of the general population, but constitute 40% of the nation’s prison population.[1] In France, Muslims also make up just 12% of the population, but they constitute 60-70% of the national prison population.[2] That’s a frightening coincidence for two strikingly different cultures, both of which presume to have moved beyond traditional forms of racism and discrimination. When broken out by social class, education level, and age, the numbers reveal a clear pattern: the police are here to protect the privileged classes.[3]

It’s not uncommon to hear critics of this system, who nonetheless have an interest in its continued existence in some form, to frequently complain that the justice system is “broken.” The justice system isn’t broken; it’s working precisely as it was constructed to. When police are caught committing crimes or kill unarmed civilians and get off with a slap on the wrist (if they’re punished at all) and wealthy criminals are only convicted when they make the mistake steal from other capitalists, while millions of poor people waste away in cages for even the most minor infringements, the nature of modern criminal justice is indisputably clear.

Add to this the fact that private prisons, especially immigration detention centers, now create a profit incentive for incarcerating the least privileged in North America and Europe, and it’s little wonder we have more police patrolling our streets and imprisoning more of our neighbors than ever before. There’s an expectation that police ticket and lock up as many of us as possible, even when they don’t want to.

Building Strong Communities: Defending Against Police and Criminals

The social isolation created by modern capitalism not only discourages and prevents us from knowing our neighbors, the institutions of the ruling class encourage us to fear and distrust them. In areas of high crime or gentrification especially, police encourage residents to report “suspicious activity or people” (which is often simply a person of the wrong skin color walking down the street) and police respond to the slightest of reasons. They’re frequently sent to deal with calls by family members to help people suffering from mental illness, often yielding violent and deadly results. It’s estimated more than half of those killed by police each year suffer from some sort of mental illness.[4] Add to that the toxic atmosphere created by the “War on Drugs,” a police force that’s accountable only to itself, and an emphasis on gun control in areas where illegal guns and police violence are rampant, and it’s little wonder many communities are suffering an epidemic of violence at the hands of police..

“But if the police aren’t here to protect us, who will?” There’s a good deal of fear in many communities, much of it legitimate given present social conditions. But if anything, the police, and the justice system especially, create more problems than they eliminate. People who are incarcerated often return to those same communities when they’re released, only now they face more oppressive restrictions (parole, probation, fines, community service) and the stigma of having a criminal record, which eliminates them from consideration for many jobs and schools. With limited options, they’re left few alternatives than to return either to a life of crime or prison.

Police killings of unarmed black Americans has recently gained a media spotlight, but these sort of killings are nothing new. The killings aren’t in the news because the media sees value in covering them, but because of the public response. People are fighting back, sometimes violently, and that’s certainly newsworthy.

Groups like Copwatch have been filming police in an attempt to create some sort of accountability for years, but in the process of fighting back, many communities are forming groups, like Blackout Collective and Disarm NYPD, are focusing on community-driven solutions to the problem of police violence. Many protesters and grassroots organizations are directly confronting the police in the streets, and even at police stations. Disarm NYPD, a grassroots group in New York, is pushing the idea of police-free zones, where they’ve made it known police are not welcome. In their place, they’re creating community-based conflict-resolution bodies that reduce the need to resort to violence or jail and simultaneously seek to make the police obsolete.[5]

The Black Panthers forged a new model from which groups like this are still learning today. They not only fought against racist institutions like the police and schools, they built their own community organizations to replace them. The Panthers’ leadership was highly authoritarian, which made the group an easy target for police and the FBI, but much of their social organizing was autonomous and libertarian. They created social programs, like free breakfast for school children and armed self-defense groups, in urban areas that were historically underserved or abused by the state.

Community self-defense group in Aquila, Mexico

Community self-defense group in Aquila, Mexico

Communities in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Colombia, and other Latin American countries have been antagonized or neglected by police for decades. In these countries, groups have formed their own community police forces that are governed from below to fill the void. [6][7] In the Mexican state of Guerrero (where the 43 students of Ayotzinapa were disappeared in late 2014), armed community police forces are directly fighting the drug cartels and succeeding where state police have failed (or more often sided with the cartels). [8]

We can learn from and adapt these models to our present situation. Rather than begging lawmakers and judges to hold police accountable, which we know they’ll never do, we can hold them accountable ourselves. Not only that, we need to create structures within our own communities that can replace the legitimate functions (public safety, for example) those institutions are meant to fulfill and ultimately replace them. If people see they can protect their communities themselves, without the need to resort to violence as the first option, they’re less likely to rely on police and a bureaucratic justice system to solve their problems.

Modern state police often patrol one neighborhood and live elsewhere, sometimes even another city, county, or state. They’re almost never accountable to people in those neighborhoods. Community defense volunteers would not only be residents of the communities they serve, they would be directly accountable to the people they serve. If they they overstep their duties or violate their neighbors’ trust, they could be immediately recalled by the community and help responsible. Their terms of service would likely be limited, limiting any concentration of power they gain given their limited authority.

Community Self-Defense as Dual Power: Eliminating the Need for Police

The idea of building functional organizations to replace the dysfunctional machinery of the state draws heavily on the anarchist idea of dual power. As it stands now, we can’t defeat the police head on in armed combat, nor would that be advisable in any modern industrialized state. They’re much more well-armed, well-organized, and too ready to resort to violence, which would invariably result in countless dead workers and tighter social control. By organizing democratic community self-defense groups, refusing to use and actively discouraging our neighbors from relying on state police, and pushing for police disarmament and removal from our neighborhoods, the state will necessarily be less involved our affairs as we position ourselves to better argue why they’re no longer needed. That doesn’t mean there won’t be conflict, but at least we’ll be in a position to defend ourselves when it arrives.

Organizing community self-defense groups in this way has the added benefit of forcing us to get to know our neighbors. In doing so, we might also move to create community-based alternatives to social welfare programs and other government functions, on which we’re now dependent (such as emergency services, education, or transportation). If these organizations are based on mutual aid and community solidarity, we can eliminate the social conditions that lead to crime, drug addiction, and poverty, in the first place and become less dependent on capitalists and the state to care for us.

All working people have an interest in building stronger communities. Voting every few years won’t advance our interests. Protesting outside government offices will only yield the slightest reforms the state can get by with. Filing lawsuits, while sometimes effective, ultimately won’t topple a system rooted in injustice. Community self-defense groups won’t resolve all our problems, but it’s a solid step in the right direction. Coupled with parallel campaigns to fight our bosses in the workplace, to fight prisons in our communities, and forging new social support and mutual aid organizations that don’t rely on the state, we will build a new system of social relations that replaces and will ultimately supplant the oppressive conditions that exist today. It will require a good amount of work, and none of it will be easy, but when it’s done, we’ll find our lives more manageable, more rewarding, and more just world than the violent capitalist dictatorship under which we now toil and suffer.

Sources and more information:

  1. http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=pbdetail&iid=2200
  2. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/04/28/AR2008042802560.html
  3. http://www.hamiltonproject.org/files/downloads_and_links/v8_THP_10CrimeFacts.pdf
  4. http://www.salon.com/2012/12/10/half_of_people_shot_by_police_are_mentally_ill_investigation_finds/
  5. http://wagingnonviolence.org/2015/03/meet-new-group-wants-disarm-displace-nypd/?pf=true
  6. http://www.law.yale.edu/documents/pdf/sela/SELA12_Prado_Eng_CV_20120402.pdf
  7. https://www.princeton.edu/~piirs/projects/Democracy&Development/papers/Panel%20III%20Ungar.pdf
  8. http://libcom.org/library/popular-justice-community-policing-guerrero-mexico-26032009

Liberation Theology in the Bible


This is a collection of Bible verses, with additional commentary from early Church doctors and even recent papal encyclicals, that presents a consistent argument, from the earliest days of our religion, against the accumulation of wealth and disregard for poor people and workers.

For a more detailed analysis, I cannot recommend highly enough Father Jose Miranda’s books “Marx and the Bible” and “Communism in the Bible.” While I don’t necessarily identify with Marxist political theory and certainly not with authoritarian communism, Father Miranda provides an excellent analysis of social inequities created by capitalism and private property and he makes a strong case of a scriptural and traditional basis for liberation theology, an idea that continues to grow and unfold.

Moreover, as follower of Christ, and as these following passages make abundantly clear, we are called to challenge capitalism, greed, and the pursuit of profit in all its forms — from the neoliberal capitalism of today to the state capitalism that invariably grows from authoritarian communist states to the laissez faire capitalism that seeks to substitute profit and the “free market” for the knowing guidance of the God of justice.

Notes: This is a living document. More source materials will be added as they become available. Please contact me with any additions, corrections, or suggestions. Any comments that show a clear bias toward or attempt to apologize for capitalism will be removed. This is not the the place for argument. All Bible verses are taken from the “New American Bible, Revised Edition 2010”


Exodus 16:16-18
Now this is what the Lord has commanded. Gather as much of it as each needs to eat, an omer for each person for as many of you as there are, each of you providing for those in your own tent. The Israelites did so. Some gathered a large and some a small amount. But when they measured it out by the omer, the one who had gathered a large amount did not have too much, and the one who had gathered a small amount did not have too little.

Exodus 22:20
You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt. You shall not wrong any widow or orphan. If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely listen to their cry.

Exodus 22:24
If you lend money to my people, the poor among you, you must not be like a money lender; you must not demand interest from them. If you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you shall return it to him before sunset; for this is his only covering; it is the cloak for his body. What will he sleep in? If he cries out to me, I will listen; for I am compassionate.

Leviticus 19:13
You shall not exploit your neighbor. You shall not commit robbery. You shall not withhold overnight the wages of your laborer.

Leviticus 23:22
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not be so thorough that you reap the field to its very edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. These things you shall leave for the poor and the alien. I, the Lord, am your God.

Leviticus 25:8-22 (The Jubilee Year)
You shall count seven weeks of years–seven times seven years–such that seven weeks of years amount to forty-nine years. Then, on the tenth day of the seventh month let the ram’s horn resound; on this, the Day of Atonement, the ram;s horn blast shall resound throughout your land. You shall treat this fiftieth year as sacred. You shall proclaim liberty in the land for all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to your own property, each to your own family. This fiftieth year is your year of jubilee: you shall not sow, nor shall you reap the aftergrowth or pick the untrimmed vines, since this is the jubilee. It shall be sacred for you. You may only eat what the field yields of itself.

In this year of jubilee, then, each of you shall return to your own property. Therefore, when you sell any land to your neighbor or buy any from your neighbor, do not deal unfairly with one another. On the basis of the number of years since the last jubilee you shall purchase the land from your neighbor, and so also, on the basis of the number of years of harvest, that person shall sell it to you. When the years are many, the price shall be so much the more; when th; when the years are few, the price shall be so much the less. For it is really the number of harvests that the person sells you. Do not deal unfairly with one another, then; but stand in fear of your God. I, the Lord, and your God.

Observe my statutes and be careful to keep my ordinances, so that you will dwell securely in the land. The land will yield its fruit and you will eat your fill and live there securely. And if you say, “What shall we eat in the seventh year, if we do not sow or reap our crop?” I will command such a blessing for you in the sixth year that there will be crop enough for three years, and when you sow the eighth year, you will still be eating from the old crop; even into the ninth year, until the crop comes in, you will still be eating from the old crop.

Leviticus 25:23-28 (Redemption of property)
The land shall not be sold irrevocably; for the land is mine, and you are but resident aliens and under my authority. Therefore, in every part of the country that you occupy, you must allow the land to be redeemed. When one of your kindred is reduced to poverty and has to sell some property, that person’s closest relative, who has the duty to redeem it, shall come and redeem what the relative has sold. If, however, the person has no relative to redeem it, but later on acquires sufficient means to redeem it, the person shall calculate the years since the sale, return the balance to the one to whom it was sold, and thus regain the property. But if the person does not acquire sufficient means to buy back the land, what was sold shall remain in the possession of the purchaser until the year of the jubilee, when it must be released and returned to the original owner.

Leviticus 25:35-38 (Support of those in poverty)
When one of your kindred is reduced to poverty and becomes indebted to you, you shall support that person like a resident alien; let your kindred live with you. Do not exact interest in advance of accrued interest, but out of fear of God let your kindred live with you. Do not give your money at interest or your food at a profit. I, the Lord, am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan and to be your God.

Leviticus 25:53-55
The tenant alien shall treat those who sold themselves as laborers hired on an annual basis, and the alien shall not lord it over them harshly before your very eyes. And it they are not redeemed by these means, they shall nevertheless be released, together with any children, in the jubilee year. For the Israelites belong to me as servants; they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt, I, the Lord, your God.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19
For the Lord, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes, who executes justice for the orphan and the window, and loves the resident alien, giving them food and clothing. So you too should love the resident alien, for that is what you were in the land of Egypt.

Deuteronomy 14:28-29
And the end of every third year you shall bring out all the tithes of your produce for that year and deposit them within your own communities, that the Levite who has no hereditary portion with you, and also the resident alien, the orphan and the widow within your gates, may come and eat and be satisfied; so that the Lord, your God, may bless you in all that you undertake.

Deuteronomy 23:20
You shall not demand interest from your kindred on a loan of money or of food or of anything else which is loaned.

Deuteronomy 23:25-26
When you go through your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat as many grapes as you wish, until you are satisfied, but do not put them in your basket. When you go through your neighbor’s grainfield, you may pluck some of the ears with your hand, but do not put a sickle to your neighbor’s grain.

Deuteronomy 24:17-18
You shall not deprive the resident alien (stranger) or the orphan of justice, nor take the clothing of a widow as pledge. For, remember, you were slaves in Egypt, and the Lord, your God, redeemed you from there; that is why I command you to do this.

Deuteronomy 24:19-22
When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; let it be for the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the Lord, your God, may bless you in all your undertakings. When you knock down the fruit of your olive trees, you shall not go over the branches a second time; let what remains be for the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow. When you pick your grapes, you shall not go over the vineyard a second time; let what remains be for the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow. For remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt; that is why I command you to do this.


Psalms 34:11
“The rich grow poor and go hungry, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”

Psalms 72:2-4
Oh God, give your judgment to the king; your justice to the king’s son; That hey may govern your people with justice, your oppressed with right judgment, That the mountains may yield their bounty for the people, and the hills great abundance, That he may defend the oppressed among the people, save the children of the poor and crush the oppressor.

Psalms 82:3-4
“Defend the lowly and fatherless; render justice to the afflicted and needy. Rescue the lowly and the poor; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

Psalms 112:3-9
Wealth and riches shall be in his house; his righteousness shall endure forever. Light shines through the darkness for the upright; gracious, compassionate, and righteous. It is good for the man gracious in lending, who conducts his affairs with justice. For he shall never be shaken; the righteous shall be remembered forever. He shall not fear an ill report; his heart is steadfast, trusting the Lord. His heart is tranquil, without fear, til at last he looks down on his foes. Lavishly he gives to the poor; his righteousness shall endure forever; his horn shall be exalted in honor.

Psalms 146:7-10
[Blessed the one who] secures justice for the oppressed, who gives bread to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free; the Lord gives sight to the blind. The Lord raises up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord protects the resident alien, comes to the aid of the orphan and the widow, but thwarts the way of the wicked. The Lord shall reign forever, your God, Zion, through all generations!

Proverbs 10:2
Ill-gotten treasures profit nothing, but justice saves from death.

Tobit 4:10
For almsgiving (sedakah, which signifies justice) delivers from death and keeps one from entering into Darkness.

Tobit 12:8-10
Prayer with fasting is good. Almsgiving (sedakah, which signifies justice) with righteousness is better than wealth with wickedness. It is better to give alms than to store up gold, for almsgiving (sedakah) saves from death, and purges all sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, but those who commit sin and do evil are their own worst enemies.

Tobit 14:11
So, my children, see what almsgiving (sedakah, which signifies justice) does, and also what wickedness does — it kills! But now my spirit is about to leave me.

Sirach 5:8
Do not rely on deceitful wealth, for it will be no help on the day of wrath.

Sirach 3:30-4:6
As water quenches a flaming fire, so almsgiving (sedakah, which signifies justice) atones for sins. The kindness people have done crosses their paths later on; should they stumble, they will find support. My child, do not mock the life of the poor; do not keep needy eyes waiting. Do not grieve the hungry, nor anger the needy. Do not aggravate a heart already angry, nor delay giving to the needy. A beggars request do not reject; do not turn your face away from the poor. From the needy do not turn your eyes; do not give them reason to curse you. If in their pain they cry out bitterly, their Rock will hear the sound of their cry.

Sirach 7:10-11
Do not be impatient in prayer or neglect almsgiving (sedakah, which signifies justice). Do not ridicule the embittered; Remember: there is One who exalts and humbles.

Sirach 12:1-5
If you do good, know for whom you are doing it, and your kindness will have its effect. Do good to the righteous and reward will be yours, if not from them, from the Lord. No good comes to those who give comfort to the wicked, nor is it an act of mercy that they do. Give to the good but refuse the sinner; refresh the downtrodden but give nothing to the proud.

Sirach 27:1-2
For the sake of profit many sin, and the struggle for their wealth blinds the eyes. A stake will be driven between fitted stones–sin will be wedged in between buying and selling.

Ecclesiastes 3:13
I recognized that there is nothing better than to rejoice and to do well during life. Moreover, that all can eat and drink and enjoy the good of their toil–this is a gift from God.


Isaiah 2:4 (Swords into plowshares)
He shall judge between the nations, and set terms for many peoples. The shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.

Isaiah 32:15-17
Until the spirit from on high is poured out on us. And the wilderness becomes a garden land and the garden land seems as common as forest. Then judgment will dwell in the wilderness and justice abide in the garden land. The work of justice will be peace; the effect of justice, calm and security forever.

Isaiah 55:1-2
All you who are thirsty, come to the water. You who have no money, come, buy grain and eat; Come, buy grain without money, wine and milk without cost! Why spend money for what is not bread; your wages for what does not satisfy? Only listen to me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare.

Isaiah 61:1
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; He has sent me to bring good news to the afflicted, to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, release the prisoners.

Jeremiah 5:26-29
For criminals lurk among my people; live fowlers they set traps, but it is human beings they catch. Their houses are full of treachery as a bird-cage is of birds; Therefore they grow powerful and rich, fat and sleek. They pass over wicked deeds; justice they do not defend, By advancing the claim of the orphan or judging the cause of the poor. Shall I not punish these things?–oracle of the Lord; on a nation such as this shall I not take vengeance?

Jeremiah 22:1-3
Thus says the Lord: Go down to the palace of the king of Judah and there deliver this word: You shall say: Listen to the word of the Lord, king of Judah, who sit on the throne of David, you, your ministers, and your people who enter by these gates! Thus says the Lord: Do what is right and just. Rescue the victims from the hand of their oppressors. Do not wrong or oppress the resident alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.

Jeremiah 22:13-17
Woe to him who builds his house on wrongdoing, his roof-chambers on injustice; Who works his neighbors without pay, and gives them no wages. Who says, “I will build myself a spacious house, with airy rooms, Who cuts windows for it, panels it with cedar, and paints it with vermilion. Must you prove your rank among kings, by competing with them in cedar? Did not your father eat and drink, And act justly a righteously? Then he prospered. Because he dispensed justice to the weak and the poor, he prospered. Is this not to know me?–oracle of the Lord. But your eyes and heart are set on nothing except your own gain (profit), On shedding innocent blood and practicing oppression and extortion.

Daniel 4:24
Therefore, O king, may my advice be acceptable to you; atone for your sins by good deeds, and for your misdeeds by kindness to the poor; then your contentment will be long lasting.

Hosea 10:13
But you have plowed wickedness, reaped perversity, and eaten the fruit of falsehood. Because you have trusted in your own power, and in your many warriors, the clamor of war shall break out among your people and all your fortresses shall be ravaged…

Amos 3:9-10
Proclaim this in the strongholds of Assyria, in the strongholds of the land of Egypt: “Gather on the mount of Samaria, and see the great disorders within it, the oppressions within the midst.” They do not know how to do what is right–oracle of the Lord–Storing up in their strongholds violence and destruction. Therefore, thus says the Lord God: An enemy shall surround the land, tear down your fortresses, and pillage your strongholds.

Amos 4:1-3
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who live on the mount of Samaria: Who oppress the destitute and abuse the needy; Who say to your husbands, “Bring us a drink!” The Lord God has sword by his holiness: Truly days are coming upon you when they shall drag you away with ropes, your children with fishhooks; You shall go out through breached walls one in front of the other, And you shall be exiled to Harmon–oracle of the Lord.

Amos 5:11-12
Therefore, because you tax the destitute and exact from them levies of grain, Though you have built houses of hewn stone, you shall not live in them; Though you have planted choice vineyards, you shall not drink their wine. Yes, I know how many are your crimes, how grievous your sins: Oppressing the just, accepting bribes, turning away the needy at the gate.

Amos 8:4-7
Hear this, you who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land: “When will the moon be over,” you ask, “that we may sell our grain, And the sabbath, that we may open the grain-bins? We will diminish the ephah, add to the shekel, and fix our scales for cheating! We will buy the destitute for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals; even the worthless grain we will sell!” The Lord has sworn by the price of Jacob: Never will I forget a thing they have done!

Micah 2:1-2
Ah! you plotters of iniquity, who work out evil on your beds! In the morning light you carry it out for it lies within your power. You covet fields, and sieze them; houses, and take them; You cheat owners of their houses, people of their inheritance.

Micah 3:9-12
Hear this, you leaders of the house of Jacob, you rulers of the house of Israel! You who abhor justice, and pervert all that is right: Who build up Zion with bloodshed and Jerusalem with wickedness! Its leaders render judgment for a bribe, the priests teach for pay, the prophets divine for money, While they rely on the Lord, saying, “Is not the Lord in the midst of us? No evil can come upon us!” Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed like a field, and Jerusalem reduced to rubble, And the mount of the temple to a forest ridge.

Micah 4:3 (Swords into plowshares)
He shall judge between many peoples and set terms for strong and distant nations; They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; One nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again.

Habbakuk 1:3-4
Why do you let me see iniquity? why do you simply gaze at evil? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and discord. This is why the law is numb and justice never comes, For the wicked surround the just, this is why justice comes forth perverted.

Habbakuk 2:6b-11
Ah! you who store up what is not yours–how long can it last!–you who load yourself down with collateral. Will your debtors not rise suddenly? Will they not awake, those who make you tremble? You will become their spoil! Because you plundered many nations, the remaining peoples shall plunder you; Because of the shedding of human blood, and violence done to the land, to the city and to all who live in it. Ah! you who pursue evil gain for your household, cutting off many peoples, forfeiting your own life; For the stone in the wall shall cry out, and the beam in the frame shall answer it! Ah! you who build a city by bloodshed, and who establish a town with injustice.

Zechariah 7:9-11
Thus says the Lord of hosts: Judge with true justice, and show kindness and compassion toward each other. Do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the resident alien or the poor; do not plot evil against one another in your hearts.


Matthew 5:3
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 6:1-4
“But take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms (sedakah, which signifies justice), do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that almsgiving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

Matthew 6:24
“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Matthew 7:12
“Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law of the prophets.”

Matthew 10:7-10 (Commissioning of the Twelve)
“As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep.”

Matthew 11:4-6
Jesus said to him in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.

Matthew 19:20-25
The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Amen I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Matthew 21:12-14
Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And he said to them, “It is written: ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you are making a den of thieves.” The blind and the lame approached him in the temple area, and he cured them.

Matthew 22:34-40
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them [a scholar of the law] tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Matthew 25:31-46
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you have me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you? And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you have me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me. Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs? He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for the least ones, you did not do for me. And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Mark 10:17-22
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and mother.'” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Mark 10:23-25
Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at his words. So Jesus said in reply, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Mark 11:15
They came to Jerusalem, and on entering the temple area he began to drive out those buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves.

Mark 12:28-31
One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Luke 1:46-53 (Canticle of Mary; Magnificat)
And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty…”

Luke 3:11
He said to them in reply, “Whoever has two tunics should share with the person who has non. And whoever has food should do likewise.”

Luke 6:20
And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours.”

Luke 6:24-25
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. But woe to you who are filled now, for you will grieve and weep.”

Luke 7:22-23
And he said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.

Luke 10:25-37
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”

But because he wished to justify himself, he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wine over his wounds and bandaged them. Then he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper with the instruction, ‘Take care of him. If you spend more than what I have given you, I shall repay you on my way back.’ Which of these three, in your opinion, was neighbor to the robbers’ victim?” He answered, “The one who treat him with mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 14:11
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

Luke 14:12-14
Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Luke 16:9-13
“I tell you, make friends for yourselves with dishonest wealth (“money of injustice”), so that when it fails, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones. If, therefore, you are not trustworthy with dishonest wealth, who will trust you with true wealth? If you are not trustworthy with what belongs to another, who will give you what is yours? No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”

Luke 16:19-25
“There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich an also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.'”

Luke 18:24-25
Jesus looked at him [now sad] and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

Luke 19:5-10
When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” And he came down quickly and received him with joy. When they all saw this they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” But Zaccheus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.”

John 2:14-16
He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep, and doves, as well as the money-changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father’s house a marketplace.”

John 13:14-15
If I, therefor, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.

John 13:34-35 (The New Commandment)
“I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 14:12
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father.


Acts 2:42-47
They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts 4:32-35
The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need. Thus Joseph, also named by the apostles Barnabas (which is translated “son of encouragement”), a Levite, a Cypriot by birth, sold a piece of property that he owned, then brought the money and put it at the feet of the apostles.

Acts 5:1-10 (Ananias and Sapphira)
A man named Ananias, however, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. He retained for himself, with his wife’s knowledge, some of the purchase price, took the remainder, and put it at the feet of the apostles. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart so that you lied to the holy Spirit and retained part of the price of your land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain yours? And when it was sold, was it not still under your control? Why did you contrive this deed? You have lied not to human beings, but to God.” When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last, and great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in, unaware of what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me, did you sell the land for this amount?” She answered, “Yes, for that amount.” Then Peter said to her, “Why did you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen, the footsteps of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” At once, she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men entered they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

Acts 20:35 (Paul’s farewell speech)
So be vigilant and remember that for three years, night and day, I unceasingly admonished each of you with tears. And now I commend you to God and to that gracious word of his that can build you up and give you the inheritance among all who are consecrated. I have never wanted anyone’s gold or silver or clothing. You know well that these very hands have served my needs and my companions. In every way I have shown you that by hard word of that sort we must help the weak, and keep in mind the words of the Lord Jesus who said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’


Romans 2:28-29
One is not a Jew outwardly. True circumcision is not outward, in the flesh. Rather, one is a Jew inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart, in the spirit, not the letter; his praise is not from human beings but from God.

1 Corinthians 4:10-13
We are fools on Christ’s account, but you are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. We ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world’s rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment.

2 Corinthians 8:8-9
I say this not by way of command, but to test the genuineness of your love by your concern for others. For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that for your sake he became poor although he was rich, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8:12-15
For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have; not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality. As it is written, “Whoever had much did not have more, and whoever had little did not have less.

Galatians 3:28
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 5:6
For in Christ Jesus, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Galatians 5:22
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is now law.

Galatians 5:13-14
For you were called for freedom, brothers. But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh; rather, serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 6:2
Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ. (lit. “serve one another through love”)

Ephesians 4:28
The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with one in need.

Colossians 3:9-15
Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed, for knowledge, in the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all. Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful.

2 Thessalonians 3:10
In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.

1 John 3:17-18
If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth.

1 John 4:7-8
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.

1 John 4:12
No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.

1 John 4:16
We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. In this is love brought to perfection among us, that we have confidence on the day of judgment because as he is, so are we in this world.

1 John 4:20-21
If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from him: whoever love God must also love his brother.

James 5:1-6
Come now you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will he a  testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on earct in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance.


St. Basil of Caesarea (c. 330-379)
“Who is the covetous man? One for whom plenty is not enough. Who is the defrauder? One who takes away what belongs to everyone. And are not you covetous, are you not a defrauder, when you keep for private use what you were given for distribution? When someone strips a man of his clothes we call him a thief. And one who might clothe the naked and does not–should not he be given the same name? The bread in your hoard belongs to the hungry; the cloak in your wardrobe belongs to the naked; the shoes you let rot belong to the barefoot; the money in your vaults belongs to the destitute. All you might help and do not–to all these you are doing wrong.”

St. John Chrysostom (c. 349-407)
“I am often reproached for continually attacking the rich. Yes, because the rich are continually attacking the poor. But those I attack are not the rich as such, only those who misuse their wealth. I point out constantly that those I accuse are not the rich, but the rapacious; wealth is one thing, covetousness another. Learn to distinguish.”

“Tell me, how is it that you are rich? From whom did you receive your wealth? And he, whom did he receive it from? From his grandfather, you say, from his father. By climbing this genealogical tree are you able to show the justice of this possession? Of course you cannot; rather its beginning and root have necessarily come out of injustice.”

“Do not say ‘I am spending what is mine; I am enjoying what is mine.’ In reality it is not yours but another’s.”

St. Jerome (on Jesus in Luke 16:9)
“And he very rightly said, “money of injustice,” for all the riches come from injustice. Unless one person has lost, another cannot find. Therefore I believe that the popular proverb is very true: “The rich person is either an unjust person or the heir of one.”

St. Ambrose
“You are not making a gift of your possessions to the poor person. You are handing over to him what is his.”

“God willed that this earth should be the common possession of all and he offered its fruits to all. But avarice distributed the rights of possession.”

St. Augustine
“Assisting the needy is justice.”


Rerum novarum (Leo XIII)
“In any case we clearly see, and on this there is general agreement, that some opportune remedy must be found quickly for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class: for the ancient workingmen’s guilds were abolished in the last century, and no other protective organization too their place.

Public institutions and the laws set aside the ancient religion. Hence, by degrees it has come to pass that working men have been surrendered, isolated and helpless, to the hardheartedness of employers and the greed of unchecked competition. The mischief has been increased by rapacious usury, which, although more than once condemned by the Church, is nevertheless, under a different guise, but with like injustice, still practiced by covetous and grasping men. To this must be added that the hiring of labor and the conduct of trade are concentrated in the hands of comparatively few; so that a small number of very rich men have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor a yoke little better than that of slavery itself.” (no. 3)

“Let it be granted, then, that, as a rule, workman and employer should make free agreements, and in particular should freely agree as to wages; nevertheless, there is a dictate of nature more imperious and more ancient than any bargain between man and man…If through necessity of fear of a worse evil, the workman accepts harder conditions because an employer or contractor will give him no better, he is the victim of force and injustice.” (no. 34)

(It should be noted, as well, that Rerum novarum also defends private property and makes a harsh, and just, criticism of authoritarian socialism; but the Church did, and still does, misinterpret what genuine socialism [worker ownership of the means of production in a meaningful way] and communism [the condition of a classless, stateless society] actually are.)

Quadrogesimo Anno (Pius XI)
“As We have already indicated, following in the footsteps of Our Predecessor, it will be impossible to put these principles into practice unless the non-owning workers through industry and thrift advance to the state of possessing some little property. But except from pay for work, from what source can a man who has nothing else but work from which to obtain food and the necessaries of life set anything aside for himself through practicing frugality? Let us, therefore, explaining and developing wherever necessary Leo XIII’s teachings and precepts, take up this question of wages and salaries which he called one ‘of very great importance.’” (no. 63)

“We consider it more advisable, however, in the present condition of human society that, so far as is possible, the work-contract be somewhat modified by a partnership-contract, as is already being done in various ways and with no small advantage to workers and owners. Workers and other employees thus become sharers in ownership or management or participate in some fashion in the profits received.” (no. 65)

“The just amount of pay, however, must be calculated not on a single basis but on several, as Leo XIII already wisely declared in these words: ‘To establish a rule of pay in accord with justice, many factors must be taken into account.’” (no. 66)

“It is obvious that, as in the case of ownership, so in the case of work, especially work hired out to others, there is a social aspect also to be considered in addition to the personal or individual aspect. For man’s productive effort cannot yield its fruits unless a truly social and organic body exists, unless a social and juridical order watches over the exercise of work, unless the various occupations, being interdependent, cooperate with and mutually complete one another, and, what is still more important, unless mind, material things, and work combine and form as it were a single whole. Therefore, where the social and individual nature of work is neglected, it will be impossible to evaluate work justly and pay it according to justice.” (no. 69)

“In the first place, the worker must be paid a wage sufficient to support him and his family. That the rest of the family should also contribute to the common support, according to the capacity of each, is certainly right, as can be observed especially in the families of farmers, but also in the families of many craftsmen and small shopkeepers. But to abuse the years of childhood and the limited strength of women is grossly wrong. Mothers, concentrating on household duties, should work primarily in the home or in its immediate vicinity. It is an intolerable abuse, and to be abolished at all cost, for mothers on account of the father’s low wage to be forced to engage in gainful occupations outside the home to the neglect of their proper cares and duties, especially the training of children…” (no. 71)

“Lastly, the amount of the pay must be adjusted to the public economic good. We have shown above how much it helps the common good for workers and other employees, by setting aside some part of their income which remains after necessary expenditures, to attain gradually to the possession of a moderate amount of wealth. But another point, scarcely less important, and especially vital in our times, must not be overlooked: namely, that the opportunity to work be provided to those who are able and willing to work…” (no. 74)

“Important indeed have the changes been which both the economic system and Socialism have undergone since Leo XIII’s time.” (no. 99)
[Here it is quite obvious the Church is taking a more open position toward socialism]

“The ultimate consequences of the individualist spirit in economic life are those which you yourselves, Venerable Brethren and Beloved Children, see and deplore: Free competition has destroyed itself; economic dictatorship has supplanted the free market; unbridled ambition for power has likewise succeeded greed for gain; all economic life has become tragically hard, inexorable, and cruel.” (no. 109)

Populorum progressio (Pope Paul VI)
“If certain landed estates impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardship to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country, the common good sometimes demands their expropriation.” (no. 24)

“However, certain concepts have somehow arisen out of these new conditions and insinuated themselves into the fabric of human society. These concepts present profit as the chief spur to economic progress, free competition as the guiding norm of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right, having no limits nor concomitant social obligations

This unbridled liberalism paves the way for a particular type of tyranny, rightly condemned by Our predecessor Pius XI, for it results in the ‘international imperialism of money.’
Such improper manipulations of economic forces can never be condemned enough; let it be said once again that economics is supposed to be in the service of man.

But if it is true that a type of capitalism, as it is commonly called, has given rise to hardships, unjust practices, and fratricidal conflicts that persist to this day, it would be a mistake to attribute these evils to the rise of industrialization itself, for they really derive from the pernicious economic concepts that grew up along with it. We must in all fairness acknowledge the vital role played by labor systemization and industrial organization in the task of development.” (no. 26)

Evangelii gaudium (Pope Francis)
“Just as the commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say ‘thou shalt not’ to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills… A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which has taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits.”

A Beginners Guide to Checking Your Privilege: 7 Steps to Being an Ally in the Fight for Racial Justice


Not long ago, before I settled down and started writing for the Internet, I had more than a few encounters with the police. They chased after me. They set out on manhunts searching for me. They threatened me. They knocked me around a bit. And more than once, they hauled me off to a jail cell to be locked away. Through all that, I never once worried they would shoot me dead. I was unarmed, after all. To me, and maybe even to them, it was more a playful game of cat and mouse than anything life-threatening. They would even joke with me afterward about it (almost every time). That, in a nutshell, is white privilege.

That I can take comfort in knowing the police won’t shoot me when I’m running from them while black parents warn their children of unprovoked police attacks and shootings before something as innocent as a trip to the store, speaks volumes about social relations in America. The contrast becomes obvious to those of us with white skin only under the darkest of circumstances, if we choose to see it at all.

Despite years of branding myself as anti-racist, it wasn’t until I landed in prison that the grisly nature of racism and white privilege smacked me in the face. It seems ridiculous now that I could overlook such glaring disparities for so long. Growing up in a mixed-race household, I imagined myself holding a firm grasp on racial issues. I was around black family members all the time, spent holidays with them, visited them in prison, watched their television shows, listened to their music, and ate their food. I was even mocked and taunted by my peers for it. I must have know what it’s like to be black in America, right? I wasn’t even close.

The death of unarmed 18-year old Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri earlier this year sparked a powder keg of protests and conflict across the country. In its wake, we’re left with some very troubling realities and the undeniable truth that life in this country for white and black Americans is an entirely different experience. For many white Americans (those who didn’t instinctively rush to the officer’s defense), the shooting of an unarmed black teenager came as a shock. For most black Americans, it was another in a long line of injustices at the hands of authority. What happened in Ferguson is nothing new. Racial justice advocates have been screaming about this sort of thing for decades to no avail. The media buzz around Ferguson has died down and the reporters have moved on in search of new situations to exploit. Now it’s up to us to keep the conversation moving and address the issues that make something like this possible in our supposedly altruistic, advanced, civilized society.

If you’re a white American, rich or poor, you occupy a position of privilege. This is not an easy concept to grasp and it’s uncomfortable to admit. But it’s not something to feel guilty about. After all, it’s not your fault you were born with white skin and benefit from a system that rewards you for it. It is your responsibility to do something about it. If you don’t make that effort, in the end, you’re no better than the racists and hatemongers who wear bigotry on their sleeves like a badge of honor. If you don’t know where to begin, now is the time to figure it out.

“The irony of American history is the tendency of good white Americans to presume racial innocence. Ignorance of how we are shaped racially is the first sign of privilege. In other words. It is a privilege to ignore the consequences of race in America.”
-Tim Wise


Before we get started, let’s define a few basic terms:
White Privilege is the idea that, especially in predominantly white or “Western” societies, white people experience a disproportionate, usually unearned, level of benefit than the rest of the population. This naturally puts non-white people of similar social, political, or economic status at a disadvantage. This white privilege grants people with lighter skin a greater social status and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak or express themselves freely. They also enjoy greater material benefits, such as preference in school and job placement. White privilege also allows white people to perceive themselves as “normal” and assume a universality of experience that is denied to non-white people.

This is not to say white people are not oppressed in other ways. There are poor white people, white people who struggle in school or have trouble finding jobs, and white people who end up in jail and prison or experience bias and discrimination in other ways. White privilege does not exempt white people from having to “work hard” to receive material benefits and it doesn’t mean they won’t be screwed over by people in positions of power. It also doesn’t mean non-white people won’t sometimes be successful or find themselves in positions of power and privilege. We have a black president, after all. Just because there are people of color in positions of power doesn’t mean the whole group benefits (in fact, under President Obama, many people of color find themselves in a worse position). Many factors that come together to oppress us (sometimes even me as a privileged white male) in different ways.

Intersectionality is the idea that there are different forms of oppression or discrimination that interact to affect sub-groups of the general population differently. For example, a black female may experience discrimination based on both her race and gender. Her life experience will differ significantly from that of a white female, and certainly a white male (whiteness and maleness both being privileged traits in our culture). Intersectionalism seeks to analyze how different factors like race, gender, social class, ableness, sexual orientation or identity, age, level of education, criminal history, etc. interact to create structural injustices and social inequality. Getting rid of one of these factors, like racism, won’t be enough to end social oppression because so many other factors contribute to inequality of oppressed groups. The black woman from earlier would still face sexism. Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to eliminate racism. It just means we need to recognize that getting rid of one aspect of social injustice won’t resolve all those other issues.

Racism can be a tricky subject to precisely define and efforts to do so can lead to heated arguments. Different social groups see and feel the consequences of racism in different ways. Sometimes racism is out in the open and easy to spot. Other times it’s more structural and subversive, and not as easy to nail down. The dictionary definition of racism (discrimination or hatred based on race or skin color) is dreadfully inadequate. If we really want to confront racism or analyze it from a historical perspective, reducing it to simple prejudice by people of one race against those of another, is disingenuous and dangerous.

In American culture, racism has a very specific meaning that is closely tied to white supremacy and the legacy of slavery. The idea that whites are socially, culturally, or biologically superior to other groups is so pervasive in our culture that we often don’t even recognize it. Again, some might point to the fact that there are certain successful black people in our society as proof that racism in America is a thing of the past. Others would argue that those people of color are successful because they’ve adapted their lives and their character to the expectations of white culture.

Statistics show that people of color are stopped by police, arrested, and incarcerated at a much higher rate than whites. They are also denied jobs or educational opportunities over less qualified whites all the time. And that’s just scratching the surface. These are facts, and they’re not a coincidence. We live in a society that systematically puts people of color at a disadvantage and then tells them it’s their fault they’re at a disadvantage. That is the ultimate manifestation of white privilege. If none of this sounds believable to you, maybe you’re reading the wrong article. You may want to start with one of these: Dear White America, Unpacking the Invisible Backpack, or one of these essays on the African-American Experience and Issues of Race and Racism page, then come back and spend some time reading the rest of this article. You may also want to start talking with and listening to the opinions of people who don’t look like you or live in the same kind of neighborhood as you.


Here are 7 steps to becoming a stronger, more effective ally in the fight against racial injustice. These are targeted at white people interested in helping to construct a more just society, but these concepts can easily be applied to anyone concerned with confronting other manifestations of privilege (as Americans, most of us are privileged in some way in relation to other parts of the world). This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I think it’s a solid starting point. If you have more ideas, let’s hear them in the comments. Constructive ideas and conversation are welcomed. Racist or bigoted comments and off-topic discussions will not be tolerated.

1. Don’t Say You’re “Color Blind” or That You Don’t “See” Race
“I don’t see black, or brown, or white people, I just see the human race.” How many times have we heard someone say that? I’ve said it myself before, thinking myself enlightened for having transcended the concept of race. On the surface this seems innocent enough. Maybe we should live in a society were no one sees race and skin color doesn’t matter. But the reality is that for millions of people in this country, race and skin color very much do matter.

There’s a very strong and specific history of racism in Western culture that cuts deeper than the segregation and discrimination of the Jim Crow South. Racism didn’t die, or even go into hiding, after the civil rights victories of the 1960’s. People of color in the US are discriminated against, judged, and harassed because of their race all the time. As a white person, you’re not forced to think about your race most of the time because our culture and our institutions are designed to accommodate people who look like us. Saying that you’re color blind effectively translates to you saying these issues don’t matter and that you’re not interested in having a serious, critical discussion about the effect race plays in everything we do. People who have to deal with the consequences of racial issues on a daily basis, and are coerced into conforming to white standards of social acceptance, are well aware of race. Maybe you think race shouldn’t matter, but the fact is, it does matter.  So, if you don’t see race, you’re going to have a difficult time being an ally and fighting racism and oppression.

2. Acknowledge White Privilege and Racism Are a Problem
I grew up thinking that racism was a thing of the past. I had no tangible concept for racism until my mother married a black man when I was 9 years old. After that, the rest of my family suddenly started treating us differently. Even then, it still seemed like racism was only limited to the extremes — a few crackpots or some sticky social situations like interracial relationships. When I saw my stepdad brutally beaten by two white cops and dragged, handcuffed, down the sidewalk in only his underwear, over of a noise complaint, I started to realize that maybe racism was more pervasive than I’d been taught.

As allies fighting against racism, one of the most important things we can do is admit that, while its not always apparent to us, racism is everywhere. Sometimes it’s unavoidably obvious. Since President Obama was elected in 2008, the number of hate groups in the US has ballooned by about 800%. That’s easy to see and to criticize. The rise of far right political groups and the relentless stream of “dog-whistle” rhetoric from American conservatives is pretty hard to miss, too. Then there’s structural racism, the sort of oppression that apparently not even the election of a black president can dismantle. Even if he made a concerted effort, which I’m not sure he would, the president couldn’t do much to change our system because our institutions were designed to benefit a certain group of people who will violently resist any attempts to alter the status quo.

Six years after President Obama was elected, millions of black men, women, and children still face poverty. They still find themselves unemployed at twice the national rate. They still face police harassment and find friends and family members behind bars, if they don’t end up there themselves. Social programs meant to address these inequalities have been gutted and their recipients mocked and demonized as lazy and unworthy. Black men are killed by the police or neighborhood vigilantes every 28 hours while the perpetrators are rarely held accountable and almost never end up in jail.

The Hispanic community hasn’t fared much better. Despite promises of compassion and cooperation, more undocumented immigrants have been deported under President Obama than any other president. That doesn’t just impact the people who are sent back, it breaks up families and communities, leaving those who remain here struggling to survive with no social safety net. When political and economic instability in Latin America, a direct result of US foreign policy, cause the lives of children in those countries to be put in danger, and those children flee to the US seeking asylum, they’re not welcomed as helpless refugees. They’re ridiculed, characterized as dangerous social parasites and criminals, and sent back to those countries where they’re murdered by street gangs and drug cartels.

These are problems the average white person, the standard for measurement in our society, almost never needs to worry about. That’s the ugly face of white privilege. These attitudes of privilege often come to be internalized so that people of color, rather than expressing concern and solidarity for refugee children and undocumented immigrants, often join in the call for them to be sent home. White supremacy frames them as a threat to the social order, as “others” who aren’t worthy of the privileges we enjoy in this country.

3. Educate Yourself & Listen to People of Color
As a white person, you’ll never understand what it feels like to be a person of color. You just won’t. You may face discrimination, you might even be oppressed in some ways, but that doesn’t mean you share the same experiences, or feel that discrimination and oppression in the same way as black or brown people. That’s why it’s important to listen to what our non-white neighbors have to say. You may not be able to relate to their experience, but educating yourself will put you in a better position to appreciate their struggle and help effectively confront white supremacy.

It’s not the responsibility of people of color to engage white people, especially those who haven’t taken the effort to educate themselves or think critically about their privilege, and explain how they’re affected by racism and white supremacy. It can be exhausting and frustrating, or even upsetting. They may not feel like talking about it or dealing with it, and that’s fine. There are thousands and thousands of resources on the history of racial oppression and white supremacy on the Internet. Use them. Educate yourself. You don’t have any excuse for being uninformed these days. Don’t expect someone else to do the work for you. Likewise, when someone is talking about how these issues impact their lives or what it’s like to be a person of color in a white-dominated culture, listen to them. Don’t interrupt, especially to disagree. Be polite and respectful.

4. Be a Vocal & Supportive Ally
It’s important to acknowledge that you benefit from an unearned level of power and privilege simply by being white. Again, this is not your fault, but it is your responsibility to make an effort to do something about it. There are a number of ways you can do this:

  • Ask yourself how you benefit from white privilege, especially in situations where you see people of color at a disadvantage
  • Look at ways white privilege and racism manifest themselves in your world. Who is occupying positions of power and privilege? How does that affect other people?
  • Speak up when you see people of color being oppressed, but not at the expense of silencing their voices or opinions.
  • If a white friend makes a racist comment or tells a racist joke, correct them and tell them why it’s inappropriate. If you know what’s coming and can interrupt them before they get it out, even better. It’s not pleasant, but being on the receiving end of such comments is much worse.
  •  In group discussions, if you see a person of color being silenced, overrun, or intimidated into not speaking, step in and give them a chance to share their views. Don’t make a big deal about it or overshadow what they have to say, and don’t look for thanks and praise just because you did something decent. It’s not about you.
  • When discussing issues of oppression, solicit the opinions of people of color, women, those who are poor or less educated, and other members of marginalized groups to get a wider picture of how all these issues interact to create multiple levels of oppression. Foster a culture of inclusion and acceptance in your social circle and institutions where you have influence.
  • Articulate to other people who look like you how their actions might be reinforcing white privilege or racist attitudes and own up to it when you do these things yourself.

Being a supportive ally doesn’t end at expressing your support for racial justice and admitting that racism is bad. Show up to events, demonstrations, and protests in support of racial justice. Confront racism and racist attitudes when you see them. Respect the opinions of people of color, even when you disagree. If you’re part of a group, ask for their input or guidance on issues. Don’t dictate to people of color how they should resist their oppression (e.g., telling them to not be confrontational, saying they shouldn’t use violence when attacked by the police or racist groups, saying certain topics or groups are out of bounds or above criticism). And perhaps most importantly, LISTEN! Many people of color are accustomed to not being taken seriously or not being heard at all. Listening and sincerely acknowledging their thoughts and concerns is one of the most important actions you can take as an ally.

5. Step Back & Respect the Opinions and Abilities of People of Color
As white Americans, we’re accustomed to having our opinions valued and appreciated. We expect people to respect what we have to say and hear us out, even when they think we’re wrong. That’s not the case for many people of color. As allies, it’s important that we not only listen to the opinions of non-white people, but also that we make room for them to feel safe to speak openly and express their opinions.

As an ally working with people of color to fight racism, you’re very likely going to hear some unflattering, maybe even offensive, comments about white people. It’s important that you not take this as a personal attack against you. It’s not up to them to sugar coat what they say to make you feel comfortable. Many of the negative statements you’ll hear are justified. Even if they’re not, they’re likely born out of a genuine sense of frustration. In that case, it might be better to ask yourself why a person feels that way than to question the legitimacy of their feelings. Calling someone out for “reverse racism” (which isn’t actually a thing, by the way) or expressing outrage at comment you find racially insensitive against white people not only risks you marginalizing yourself, its counterproductive and steals focus from the real issues. Don’t expect to be coddled and comforted. If someone says something that offends you, get over it. If you can’t do that, you might be in the wrong place.

Sometimes oppressed groups want a place where they can talk and share ideas among themselves without fear of criticism or social pressure to conform to the dominant group’s expectations. These are called safe spaces. As a white ally, you may feel excluded when your friends meet in one of these safe spaces and don’t invite you. Get over it. Again, this is not “reverse racism.” Safe spaces give underprivileged groups a chance to express themselves openly without fear of being overrun or intimidated. As a white ally, you can help protect these safe spaces from intrusion by outsiders, but you shouldn’t expect to be granted access.

It’s also important to step back and let people of color take the lead on issues that affect them. As an ally you’re probably eager to take the lead in fighting for justice, but taking the lead risks shutting out the voices of those who are victims of injustice. Don’t make it about you. This doesn’t mean you can’t contribute. Letting go of your white privilege means ceding control and making room for those who might not usually have a chance to take the lead or make decisions in other situations. Allowing social movements intended to confront white privilege to be dominated by white voices only reinforces and replicates the problems created by white supremacy in the first place. It’s important that everyone’s voice be heard and appreciated, not just yours.

One of my fondest social justice memories comes from a regional harm reduction conference I attended a few years back. A ragtag group of former drug users and sex workers, two of the most marginalized groups in our society, we marched through the streets of Atlanta to the state capitol shouting “Nothing about us without us! Nothing about us without us!” I doubt the people on the other side of the dome paid us any mind, if they heard us at all, but it was an incredibly powerful moment for us. It made us feel like we have some sort of control in issues that matter to us and, if nothing else, that we refuse to let our voices be silenced.

6. Be Conscious of Your Privilege
Being white and benefiting from white privilege doesn’t mean your life as a white person is going to be easy. I’m white and I’ve struggled plenty. I’ve jumped over — and crashed into — plenty of hurdles, without much to show for it. That’s part of life. After spending two years in prison and now hauling around a felony conviction, it hasn’t gotten any easier. It’s telling though, that it’s still not that difficult for me to find a job if I want it or, if I dress the part, to be taken seriously and feel like my opinion matters. Statistics indicate that a young black man with no criminal record has less chance of getting a job as a similarly-qualified white applicant with a felony record. That’s not to say a felony conviction is a valid reason to discriminate against a job candidate, but in our culture it’s a strong deterrent to getting a decent job. Apparently the wrong skin color is an even stronger deterrent.

As white people who enjoy the benefits of white privilege, it’s important to be conscious of, and reject, those unearned benefits when they present themselves. Analyze where white privilege is at work in your life and ask yourself how that impacts you and people in your community who don’t look like you. It’s not an easy thing to do. We’ve spent a lifetime learning how to live in a society dominated by a white values. It’s going to take a lot of work to “unlearn” those attitudes and beliefs.

Being an ally means admitting that your daily life experiences don’t match up to the life experiences of non-white people. As a white person in America, you’ll probably never have to worry that:

  • You won’t be taken seriously because you don’t look like someone who would be well-educated or knowledgeable.
  • You’ll be followed or harassed by store owners and police because you look like someone who might steal or rob someplace.
  • Your unarmed children will be shot by a police officer for walking in the middle of the street and that the police officer will get a paid vacation and not face charges.
  • That when you do take to the streets to protest the way people who look like you are treated, you’ll be harassed, threatened, and tear gassed and then mocked in the media as looters and thugs.
  • There’s a 1 in 3 chance you’ll end up in prison at some point in your life.
  • In history class you’ll hear and read stories about the great accomplishments or people who displaced, massacred, or enslaved people who look like you. When people who do look like you are mentioned, it’s as a footnote or an exception to their defined role in the culture.
  • Being labelled as a terrorist, even when you belong to an armed militia, openly carry an assault rifle in public, or murder dozens of people in a movie theater or school.
  • Being told to “just get over” the historical mistreatment and abuse of people who look and act like you when that abuse and mistreatment continues to this day.
  • Spending much time thinking about your skin color and how it impacts nearly every aspect of your daily life and limits the opportunities you have in life in ways people with a different skin color rarely need to consider

7. Call Others Out on their Privilege and Ignorance
No one likes being called out for doing something offensive. It’s even less pleasant, at least for me, to call someone out for doing something wrong. None of us is above criticism or immune from the attitudes and effects of white privilege. At some point it’s very likely we’ll all say something that others find offensive, insensitive, or even racist. If someone calls you out on something you’ve said, your first reaction may be to respond defensively. “I didn’t mean it that way!” or “You’re misinterpreting what I said!” Don’t do it! If someone goes to the trouble of calling you out on your words or actions, they’re probably not doing it for their own pleasure. Stop and think about what you said or did and think about why someone might find it inappropriate. Responding gracefully to criticism is crucial to ensure not only that we’re accepted as allies by non-white people, but to understanding and confronting white privilege in our own lives.

I’ve been called out before and it wasn’t at all comfortable. But I survived, and even learned from it. At the time I was a little pissed off, but later on, when I pushed my feelings out of the way, I was grateful and even thanked the person for calling me out. It was much more rewarding than throwing a temper tantrum or running off and never talking to that person, or that group of people, again. Being called out is awkward and stressful, but imagine how your non-white friends must feel having to hear and be on the receiving end of comments like that on a daily basis. Kind of puts your feelings in perspective. Positions of privilege makes us feel special, like our feelings and opinions matter more than those of other people. It’s important to develop a culture of checking each other on our attitudes and behavior so we can effectively analyze how they reinforce white supremacy and structural forms of oppression.

The etiquette of calling someone out can be a sticky subject. I’ve called people out and, having a more introverted personality, my preference is to take people to the side and talk to them about how they’re being offensive or insensitive. That’s not always possible or appropriate. The important thing is confronting racist and dangerous attitudes, not sparing someone’s feelings. Of course, if it’s handled poorly, calling someone out risks isolating a potential ally. Don’t make it into a personal attack. That doesn’t do anything to improve the conversation and it certainly won’t help the person being called out to broaden their horizons. Explain why what they said was offensive and how it reinforces a system that oppresses non-white or underprivileged people and leave it at that.


A few final words of advice:
Keep in mind, the person writing this is a white guy, not a person of color. Being white has a strong influence on the way I see the world, no matter how hard I try to conscious of my privilege. I can’t speak of behalf of people of color, but I can speak from direct experience as an ally. Hopefully that will help you dodge some of the obstacles (most of them self-imposed) I’ve encountered.

If you find yourself in a situations where you’re confused or unsure, my best piece of advice is: keep your mouth shut. LISTEN! As white Americans, we’re conditioned to feel that we need to offer our input on every issue, even when we have no idea what we’re talking about. We don’t always need to make our opinions heard. Maybe what we have to say seems important. But the the voices and views of non-white people are just as important and, many times, more insightful. . When it comes to confronting and dismantling the attitudes, beliefs, and structures that oppress them, their voices are priceless. As allies in the fight against injustice, it’s more important that we make room for everyone’s voice to be heard and respected, not just those we agree with.

We can’t lead the fight to liberate non-white people, but we can be strong allies who work diligently to confront white privilege. That privilege gives us a platform we can use to address destructive attitudes and dismantle white supremacy from the inside. More than anything, we need to be supportive. Rather than dictate how we think oppressed groups should resist their oppression, we need to respect and support their decisions about how to liberate themselves. The most important step we can take toward dismantling white privilege is to begin valuing the opinions of oppressed groups as much as our own. The test of whether we’re actually on the right track is whether we can agree to support those opinions, even when we don’t agree with them.

A Fog-Filled Frolic Over Mount Yonah

When I first moved to Atlanta more than 20 years ago, it seemed to me like it rained nearly every afternoon. After a few weeks living in north Georgia, I realize that was just a drop in the bucket. It rains here. A lot. For an avid hiker, that can be a bit of a bother. So far, every one of my solo or overnight hikes up here has been peppered with, and often overwhelmed by, rain. A recent trip up Mount Yonah was no exception. After three days of heavy downpours, on what the weatherman promised I set out to conquer the modest trail to the top of Mount Yonah.
Note to future self: NEVER trust the weather forecast in these mountains!

Rising to 3,200 feet and towering far above the surrounding farmland, it’s a surprise that Yonah technically isn’t part of the Blue Ridge mountains. According to experts on these matters, it’s actually the highest point in Georgia’s Piedmont region. Wherever you want to place it, there’s no denying this is a one-of-a-kind place that serves up one of the most interesting hikes in the state. It’s also a top destination for rock climbing and rappelling. One look at its gray, weather beaten old face and there’s no wonder why.

From the parking area, the trail sets out slow and easy, gently carving its way through stands of loblolly pine, hemlock, oak, and other trees typical of the region. It’s obvious this area was heavily logged in the past, but the forest has recovered nicely,the trees growing thicker and more mature the deeper you venture in.

There’s not much action for the first half mile. It feels surprisingly like a woodland stroll much further south, where hikers aren’t subjected to steep climbs and switchbacks. After crossing a small wooden footbridge about about .3 miles, the trail turns sharply to the right and starts its sharp, narrow climb up the western slope. The forest changes here from a lush,rolling woodland to a battered, boulder-filled wilderness with rocks and rubble sprinkled at random in every direction. While most of the larger rocks are

One of several enormous boulders lining the bottom portion of Mount Yohan

One of several enormous boulders lining the bottom portion of Mount Yohan

restricted to the surrounding area, it’s not uncommon to find rocks jutting into the path, completely consuming it at times, or positioned as steps to ease the ascent. There are several spots that require some careful climbing or crouching to avoid banged-up body parts.

Around this section several side trails start to fork off from the main path, sometimes in as many as four different directions. The trail is sparingly blazed (so much so that it doesn’t seem blazed at all much of the time), but it’s not hard to stay on the main trail if you pay attention. That being said, I’ve read varying accounts of the distance to the top (2.5 miles one way, 5 miles round-trip seems right), these side trails no doubt accounting for much of that.

When I reached a section that required a tricky climb over a pair of boulders wedged tightly together in the middle of the path, I decided to wander and explore some of these side paths. Several more side trails forked off from these and one of them took me to a secluded camping area. Had I followed it all the way, I have a strong hunch it might have taken me to the foot of one of the main rock walls. Instead of doing that, I mounted one of the larger boulders, careful not to scrape off the black moss peeling from the surface, and did my best “King of the World” impression. Lucky for me there were no other hikers around to witness that.

The only good view of the bottom that day

The only good view of the bottom that day

At about a mile and some change, the trail opens into a clearing. In the spring, a place like this is likely loaded with wildflowers, maybe even wild berries in the summer. In the damp, steamy late summer though, it was just a flat, muddy grassland with a fire circle in the center. There’s a good view to the west from here and, on a clear day, you can probably see Dahlonega and Blood Mountain. Instead of that, a light blanket of fog rolled in and I was treated to a view of not-much-at-all, giving me a little taste of what to expect at the top.

Thinking the trail passed straight through the meadow, I struggled to find my way back (would a few blazes have been too much to ask?). When I did, I discovered why this is not considered a beginner, or even intermediate, trail. The next 1/3 mile was easily the steepest part of the trail, rivaling many of the more difficult climbs on my Duncan Ridge Trail (Georgia’s “toughest” trail) hike in intensity, though certainly not distance. Here the trail follows what looks to be a washed out old roadbed. How any car, truck, or even ATV, could ever scale it is beyond me, though. The path is wide open, but it’s completely eroded in the middle and littered with rocks and debris. Add a recent three day downpour to the mix and it was anything but smooth sailing.

The steep, rocky climb to the top

The steep, rocky climb to the top

At the top of the climb, the trail intersects a road I imagined may take me all the way to the top. It didn’t. It took me to the camp the US Army Rangers use for the rappelling and mountain portion of their training. Late summer stands of sunflowers and goldenrod, just beginning to burst into bloom, swept across the outer edges of the camp. Bumblebees floated from one to the next, occasionally wandering into a lonely cluster of purple phlox or pale pennyroyal. This is the point where the fog reached critical mass and the skies poured out over it all. I was able to find shelter under the towering loblolly pines and managed to avoid most of it. I was not able to avoid the impossibly thick layer of fog that settled over the whole mountain. It’s mildly embarrassing to admit this, but thankfully I had a cell signal and was able to consult an online trail guide to find my way back onto the path.

The trail winds sharply back from the camp and rises steeply, its soft red clay now replaced by solid sheets of granite. The trail presents some re are some intriguing geological features here, with some spots reminiscent of Panola and Arabia mountains, both located well to the south, near Atlanta. Of course, those are measly molehills compared to Mount Yonah. After dodging several more side trails and sliding over the slick terrain, I reached the summit, surprised to find an open meadow that looked something like the mountaintop balds of North Carolina and Virginia in miniature. A dense layer of fog blanketed the peak, making it a struggle to see just a few yards ahead. It was eerie and surreal and, not seeing any other trails, I wasn’t sure if I’d missed the cliffs above the rocky face or where it might be. I grabbed a few pictures and traced the outer edge of the meadow until I found an opening that seemed promising.

Cluster of sunflowers on a not-so-sunny day, near Army Ranger camp

Cluster of sunflowers on a not-so-sunny day, near Army Ranger camp

After a tackling a few tricky footings, some slanted sharply downhill, and grabbing hold to some stray branches to secure myself, I was rewarded with a wide, sweeping view of…fog! Clouds as far as the eye could see, like a solid wall of fluffy, white nothingness. A wandering void, like I could vault from the edge and float away into the silent, silky softness. No grand views of the rolling north Georgia countryside or the towering skyscrapers of Atlanta today. But I was not disappointed. I imagine not many people have the chance to enjoy a view like this, the harsh, stark surface of the cliffs juxtaposed against the sweeping expanse of cozy cloud cover. Moss, trees, and clusters of wildflowers clung to the side, perched dangerously close to the rim.

Fog covering the summit of Mount Yonah

Fog covering the summit of Mount Yonah

One of several “Lover’s Leaps” scattered across Appalachia, legend has it this is the spot where the Cherokee saga of Sautee and Nacoochee reaches its climax. A young Chickasaw warrior named Sautee, condemned to death for a forbidden romance with a Cherokee woman, is tossed from these very cliffs. Nacoochee, his distraught Cherokee lover, leaps over the edge, cradling him at the bottom in broken arms before they die. Overcome with remorse, Nacoochee’s father, Cheif Wahoo, has their bodies buried along the banks of the Chattahoochee in a burial mound that supposedly still stands just just north of here.

Trees clinging to the side of Yonah's steep rocky face

Trees clinging to the side of Yonah’s steep rocky face

Rain or shine, there’s no denying Mount Yonah has character and history to spare. It’s well worth a trip up from Atlanta and it beats many of the crowded, unimpressive tourist spots in nearby Helen. If you’re lucky enough to live just a few miles away, like me, it’s a great place to go for a quiet stroll (side trails or Pink Mountain), a challenging day hike (to the top), a secluded overnight camp (anywhere on the mountain), or a long day of climbing up, over, and around the countless boulders or the rocky face. Mount Yonah is a rugged, well-weathered gem in north Georgia’s backyard. I can’t wait to get back out there to explore each of those side trails and bask in the endless adventure they offer.

What I Took Along:
Boreas 65L Backpack (not necessary, used for training)
Water (at least 1 liter for the trip up and back down)
Keen waterproof hiking boots
Raw coconut puree
No hiking poles, but they probably would have helped

Distance one-way: ~2.5 miles
Round-trip distance: ~5 miles
Blaze: Green, but used very sparingly

More pictures from the trip:


IMG_20140808_140032_739  IMG_20140808_140003_091 IMG_20140808_135824_436 IMG_20140808_135818_008 IMG_20140808_135457_844 IMG_20140808_135245_678  IMG_20140808_132738_598 (1) IMG_20140808_131203_590 IMG_20140808_131139_333

Tenalach in the North Georgia Mountains – Duncan Ridge Trail (Section 2)

This is an account of my recent three-day trek on Section 2 of Georgia’s Duncan Ridge Trail. This trail forms a loop with the 300-mile Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) and the 2100-mile Appalachian Trail (AT). I’ll be completing the rest of the AT-BMT-DRT loop this year. When I do, you can read about it right here.

If you’ve ever found yourself longing for an escape from the unending noise, pressure, and fast pace of modern American life, and if you’re anywhere near North Georgia, boy do I have some exciting news for you. Last week I set out on what I was promised is Georgia’s toughest trail. The Duncan Ridge Trail (DRT) did not fall short of my expectations. There are no sweeping vistas, not a single tumbling waterfalls, or any notable landmarks along the way, but what the DRT lacks in glamour, it more than makes up for in a mystical solitude, lush, abundant flora, and a challenging landscape that will test the most experienced hiker’s personal limits — and patience.

The DRT is a strenuous course and I don’t recommend anyone who hasn’t been on several overnight backpacking trips or who isn’t in moderately good health attempt even a day hike out there. Even if you’re in peak physical condition, this trail will push your endurance to its limits. Whoever designed the DRT wasn’t about dawdling or leisurely strolls in the woods — this is a straight-to-the-point kind of trail. It’s a direct route that, for the most part, follows Duncan Ridge from the western crest to the eastern crest of the Blue Ridge mountains. There are few switchbacks (what few there are take the hiker straight uphill, doing nothing to ease the burden aside from making travel on two feet possible) and even fewer resting places as the trail wanders directly over the summit of almost every mountain in or near its path.

Sign for the Swinging Bridge to the South

Sign for the Swinging Bridge to the South

My wife dropped me off Tuesday morning where the trail crosses GA60 at Tooni Gap, 20 minutes north of Suches and a stones throw from the Toccoa River Swinging Bridge (the first part of the trail crosses the bridge). At its start, the trail looks deceptively tranquil and uncomplicated. A small wooden bridge crosses Little Skeenah Creek, the only major stream you’ll pass over during the entire length of Section 2. From there it’s a gentle climb up the first ridge . Looking around, I thought to myself maybe this wouldn’t be so tough after all, maybe I was in for a relaxing three days, the trail guides are sometimes overly generous in handing out ‘Difficult’ ratings after all. The DRT parallels the Benton MacKaye Trail (named after one of the architects of the AT) for the first 4 miles and my previous hikes on the BMT taught me that, while it’s a challenging trail, it’s only really strenuous in choice sections. This segment reminded me of those previous trips and I grinned to myself and pictured smooth sailing ahead.

Obviously, I was wrong. As I plodded up Wallalah Mountain, the first of many lengthy climbs ahead, a soft smattering of rain pellets echoed through the forest canopy. The forecast had called for rain the first afternoon but, for the most part, it held off. Just enough rain fell to cool things down for the rest of the afternoon, a welcome relief as I was already feeling the strain of my 40+ lb. backpack and the increasing slope of the trail.

At the top of Wallalah Mountain I came upon a rock outcrop that quickly opened up into a pleasant view of the knobs and valleys below, all nestled inside a tight frame of lush green leaves on either side. This is the only time the trail opens enough to offer what might pass for a scenic view until it meets up with the AT on Blood Mountain.

View from Wallalah Mountain

View from Wallalah Mountain

I allowed myself a brief respite to enjoy the view before moving on. From there the trail flattened out for a bit, but quickly resumed its uphill trajectory directly up the main ridge of Licklog Mountain. This was the first strenuous section and it rivaled any climb elsewhere on the BMT. The trail was still blazed with the white diamond of the BMT, with no sign that this was actually the Duncan Ridge Trail in sight. I began to wonder if maybe I’d already missed the turnoff. I glanced at my map to be sure and discovered I’d traveled less than 3 miles and already I felt like I’d put in a full day of work. It was still well over a mile before the two trails parted ways. My insides knotted up and I found myself dreading the rest of the hike. Little did I know, it would only grow more difficult, the climbs more ridiculous, the trail barely passable, once the BMT split off and left me to grapple with the Duncan Ridge alone.

From Licklog Mountain, the trail dipped down again, quickly moving back uphill toward the summit of Rhodes Mountain. Somewhere near the summit I reached a clearing with a small camping spot and a narrow trail wandering into the trees on the right. I peered through the heavy cover and wondered if this the exit for the DRT proper. I didn’t see any blazes, but I’d read that the DRT wasn’t well-blazed and that, just like this thing that barely passed for a trail, it was narrow and overgrown. Could this be it? Surely no trail, least of all a National Recreation Trail (how it earned that designation, I haven’t a clue), could be so rough, unkempt, and impassable. Finally I decided to continue on the main path to the left. If for some reason that godforsaken path was my trail, I could always turn back.

The BMT continued downhill and shortly after passing a (much more well-maintained) side trail marked with a blue “W” for water, I finally stumbled across a sign for the Duncan Ridge Trail. I looked to my left and seriously pondered changing my plans to a long-distance hike on the BMT. Its gentle slope and wide drift around the steep hill the DRT appeared to be heading straight up looked so tempting. Instead I trudged up that hill with a grimace on my face like a crotchety old man. Halfway up, at what appeared to be the summit of Rhodes Mountain, I found myself already struggling to breathe and dreading the next twenty-two miles. I considered whether stopping for the day, just 4 miles in and only now at the actual DRT, wouldn’t be an entirely unreasonable proposition. Knowing that if I stopped here I’d have to make up that lost time over the next two days, a horrifying prospect, was the only thing that kept me moving.

Hand-carved Duncan Ridge Trail Sign

Hand-carved Duncan Ridge Trail Sign

In contrast to the trail I’d just left, the new path was rough, rocky, rugged, and steep, with downed trees and all sorts of vegetation threatening to swallow it up from either side. It was like taking an exit off a major highway straight onto a washed out dirt road. My pace slowed to a crawl and I was all but certain I’d never reach the end in time. At least it can’t get any worse, I thought.

The trail now moved steadily to the east. It was obvious from the downward slope on either side that it followed Duncan Ridge, almost exactly. Around Rhodes Mountain Gap, the trail began winding side-to-side with some fairly easy ups-and-downs. It was a welcome relief, but I was dragging and my pace slowed considerably. Eventually, I stumbled across 4 huge jugs of water and a deck of playing cards tucked inside a ziploc bag. They were enveloped by bright orange markers labeled “GTRA.” See, there’s a 50K/30K trail race in November where people somehow manage to run almost the whole length of the Duncan Ridge Trail. How, or why, anyone might do something like that exceeds my ability to comprehend. Of course, I’m sure there are folks who feel the same way about me hiking the entire thing and spending two nights alone out there. Different strokes. Anyway, I presume the water is for folks practicing for the trail run and probably marks the turn-around point of the course. I scratched my head and moved on.

From here, the trail heads up and over Gregory Knob and Payne Knob, both fairly moderate climbs and descents, into Sarvis Gap at about mile 7. At Sarvis Gap there is a clearly marked side trail to a water source. If I haven’t successfully warned you away from it and you decide to accept the DRT challenge, I strongly encourage you to fill up on water here. My trail guide promised water sources at “regular intervals,” but I didn’t see another one for about 10 miles. Presuming there would be abundant opportunities for water ahead, I did not fill up and found myself regretting such poor planning the next day.

Sarvis Gap seemed like a promising spot to stop and set up camp for the evening, but I opted to keep at it a while longer. Parke Knob is the first (and maybe only) summit the trail actually doesn’t go out of its way to scale. The path continues along its northern slope and finally crosses its first dirt road at Fish Gap. There was a wide clearing with a fire circle that, at 8 miles into the trail, looked like a cozy spot to set up camp.

As soon as I got my camping hammock set up and allowed myself to relax, thinking I might even start a campfire, the skies darkened and rain started trickling down. I rushed to set up my tarp. Now, I got a great deal on the thing, and it’s likely excellent for whatever its intended purpose is, but it’s entirely inadequate as a rain cover for my hammock. I had a miserable experience getting soaked in my sleep one night on the BMT one night, this tarp utterly failing to put up any resistance to a heavy downpour, but I stuck with it. As long as it doesn’t rain too hard or too long, it does a decent job keeping me and my gear dry (and doubles as an emergency blanket). Fortunately, the rain held off and only a few drops made it through the tree cover. After a delicious freeze-dried Curry Cashew Chicken dinner, I slung my pack from a tree for safe-keeping and curled up with my Ron Rash book, happy to finally take the load off my weary feet.

That first night was peaceful, but it was anything but quiet. A chorus of crickets chirped back-and-forth, back-and-forth, thundering through the woods like an aural tennis match inside my head. There must have been millions of the creatures nestled throughout the forest and, while incredibly noisy, their song was deeply hypnotizing and I soon found myself in a deep slumber, barely stirring in the night.

In the morning I found myself well rested and surprisingly eager to get back on the trail. After a quick breakfast of 7 grain cereal and homemade granola mix, I packed my things and was on my way.

This is where the trail truly starts to building character. Just out of Fish Gap the path is flat, but the footing is rugged and uneven with a steady flow of flowers, weeds, and briars nipping away at ankles. This section is anything but the leisurely stroll it would otherwise appear. What could have been a chance to make up lost time was missed by an utter inability to move at a reasonable pace for fear of tearing the flesh clear off my legs.

Deceptively serene flowers poking into the trail

Deceptively serene flower poking into the trail

After about a mile of that, each legs now bloody and scratched from ankle to knee, the path swerves sharply to the right. This is the start of an ascent up Clements Mountain. It climbs steadily uphill to a point I where thought the path may offer me a small reprieve, passing below the summit. Instead, the path turns sharply back to the left and aims straight for the top. This would be awful enough in the early spring or late fall/winter, but at this time of year the brush threatened to swallow me whole (this is barely an exaggeration). Late summer is perhaps the worst time to attempt this hike, and here I was. For every foot I marched toward the top, it seemed the weeds grew an inch. Finally, I reached a small rock outcrop near what I thought to be the top that offered a break from the brush. It wasn’t the top, but there was a nice, if restricted, view of the skyline to the south. Continuing on, I found the weeds now above my shoulders. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, guess what — a downed tree blocked my path. This was no ordinary downed tree, either. Most times it’s a breeze to climb over or pass around one of these things when they block your path. Not so this time. Going around simply wasn’t an option. There was nowhere to go. With no other choice, I had to climb over. Between trying to balance my backpack and manage my hiking poles, this proved quite a challenge, even for a climbing enthusiast, and I very nearly took a nasty tumble.

Tree blocking the way up Clements Mtn

Tree blocking the way up Clements Mtn

When I finally reached the summit, I found a log to plop down on and took a well-earned rest. I would have stayed there all day if not for a pesky (and very aggressive) fly, one of those that looks like a miserably angry imitation of a yellow jacket, hadn’t run me off. I was pretty sure they didn’t sting, but not sure enough to risk being certain. I was reluctantly off again, inching toward the top of Akin Mountain. The path felt seemed similar to the previous ascent, and was just as badly in need of a trimming, but this time it seemed more easily. Looking back, Clements Mountain was probably the most challenging section of the entire trail. Not because the climb up was particularly steep, but the constant, steady rise and the impossible jungle along the way made it almost impossibly strenuous.

Akin mountain descends steeply into Mulky Gap Road by a series of winding switchbacks. On the way down it’s easy to miss some of the turns. Fortunately my trail guide mentioned this, but I still briefly lost my way. Reaching a point with no discernible trail, I looked around to realize the tree holding a crucial blaze had fallen beside the trail. I quickly regained my footing and hoped the next hiker didn’t have the same problem.

A fitting tribute to the DRT

A fitting tribute to the DRT

Mulky Gap is the halfway point of the trail. Just before getting there, I passed a sign aimed at travelers heading west (most likely the elusive Duncan Ridge trail runners) that read “You Are Not Almost There.” I couldn’t imagine a more fitting tribute to the DRT. I descended into Mulky Gap and crossed the vacant dirt road for a painfully steep climb up West Wildcat Knob. Here the trail gains over 700 feet in a short distance. It’s probably one of the steepest segments of a trail with a plethora of steep segments. It’s a strenuous, but not difficult climb. The notable lack of vegetation and trees covering the path no doubt makes it seem more reasonable. At the top of the knob, the trail turns into a roller coaster of quick, easy ups and downs, passing over Buck Knob, and skirting Duncan Ridge Road for the first time near Bryant Gap.

From here the trail changes dramatically, but remains just as challenging. Duncan Ridge Road generally follows the ridge line, leaving the trail to follow a narrow path cut into a steep slope to the north. Several trees leaned precariously over and alongside the trail here. I dreaded stumbling across one that had fallen in such a way that it took the whole trail with it. There were several good candidates, but they behaved that afternoon and I was able to stay on the trail. That didn’t make this section any easier, though — one misstep and the valley below threatened to pull me in.

It was here that my water started running low. While the guide book promised several water sources just across Duncan Ridge Road, I couldn’t find one. I passed through several gaps and near or over a few hills, occasionally crossing the road where it seemed a tattered path might lead somewhere promising. None of them did. I started to grow nervous and prayed I’d find water soon. Coosa Bald was approaching frighteningly fast and I knew there would be no water once I started the long climb to the top.

Finally, there was a gap at about mile 17, Whiteoak Stomp, marked with a blue “W.” It let down a steep hill to a tiny trickle of a spring at the bottom. I struggled for maybe ten minutes, fighting my way through a laurel thicket, to find a spot that made filling my water bottle up possible, never mind quick. After an hour I had collected and purified three liters of water. A sense of relief washed over me as those first gulps of cool, fresh mountain spring water washed over my insides, and I was back on my way.

As I made my way back up toward the gap, I realized the added water had substantially increased the weight of my pack. Not only was it a tough climb back up, the steep trek up Coosa Bald still beckoned. In just under a mile the trail gains over 1000 feet. It’s steep and unpleasant, with no break in the sharp upward grade. I was able to make it with a few but with a few brief, wobbly breaks, deeply thankful for no weeds or brush along the way.

Bark peels from a yellow birch tree on Coosa Bald

Bark peels from a yellow birch tree on Coosa Bald

On top of Coosa Bald, a grove of yellow birch trees greeted me, pale bark peeling deliberately from their trunks. My legs and feet felt much the same, the skin, muscles, and tendons swollen and ready to peel away from the bone at any moment. I passed a makeshift campsite, but decided to keep moving a while longer. Where the trail intersects the 12.9-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail I veered off the DRT a short way in hope of a good camping spot. The Coosa Trail did not disappoint.

A few narrow rock outcrops opened to the east, offering tantalizingly brief glimpses of Sosebee Cove below. A wide open site with a fire circle and plenty of perfectly-spaced trees waited for me here. It was barely 6pm and I was amazed that I was somehow running ahead of my self-imposed schedule. I slung up my hammock and tried to start a fire with the damp kindling someone had generously laid out, but no luck. Lacking the energy to give it much of an effort I gave up without much of a try.

The wind was howling and a steady breeze blew up there at 4271 feet and I worried it may be much colder overnight. Again, I didn’t have the energy to do much about that, so I fixed up a freeze-dried meal of red beans & rice and tossed back some homemade granola and instant mate (yes, it’s a thing) . As the sun crept below the western ridge, the breeze died down and I was able to get warm despite a lingering dampness that clung to everything. I cracked open my Ron Rash book but was asleep before I could make it past the first few pages.

I learned that night why they call it a “Super Moon.” Around 2 in the morning, the moon was high in the night sky, brightly beaming through the trees, directly into my hammock. I can’t recall ever sleeping under a moon so bright it roused me from my sleep. As I peeked over the edge of my hammock I was struck by the deafening silence. No insects chirping, no frogs croaking, no wind howling, not a sound, save the occasional rustle of a bird and the even less frequent “who cooks for you, who cooks for you” of a barred owl in the distance.

The next morning I hurried to fix a breakfast, same as I had the day before, and headed out. With a couple 4000+ foot mountains yet ahead of me, I wasn’t sure how long the remaining 6 or 7 miles might take. I set off and met back up with the Duncan Ridge. Almost immediately it sloped steeply downhill on what seemed to be a precarious old roadbed, straight into a lush bloom of late-summer wildflowers.

Wildflowers near the base of Coosa Bald

Wildflowers near the base of Coosa Bald

The path leveled out and slowly narrows, beginning a long, winding journey into Sosebee Cove. This are is renowned for its rare beauty and it completely lived up to the hype. The forest, the earth, the trees, the flowers, everything sang to my soul. I quickly fell into a magical space where I lost all track of time or sense of worry. This, I thought to myself, is what the Irish mean when they use the word tenalach — a mystical relationship one has with the land, air, or water, a deep connection that allows one to literally hear the earth sing. The earth played a symphony through that cove and I wished I could linger the rest of the day.

After was felt like hours, maybe days, but was really less than a mile, I reached Highway 180 at Wolfpen Gap, the AT still a glimmer in the distance. I faced one more challenging climb up Slaugther Mountain. The trail shot straight up, sandwiched between piles of boulders of all sizes, some as large as small cabins. Another 1000 foot climb and the only thing that kept me moving up was knowing this was likely the last one. Several large boulders sat quietly perched at the top. One had a tree growing straight through the top. A symbol of perseverance and sheer determination, it struck me as a fitting finale to my trip across Duncan Ridge.

That's one persistent tree

That’s one persistent tree

Working my way down Slaughter Mountain and into Slaughter Gap, the Coosa Trail split back off and I was met with a trail that split four ways, but a sign that only directed me in three. I took my best guess and quickly found a blue rectangular blaze, one of a dwindling few, confirming I was still on the DRT. Our journey together was coming to a close and I felt a tangible sense of loss and longing before I even set foot off the trail. It had been just 3 short days, but somehow the trail was already a part of me. I’m sure what I felt pales in comparison to what thru-hikers on the Appalachian or Pacific Crest Trails experience, but this is a lonely, poorly-loved trail that rivals any footpath in the American South. It is unique and it shines quietly in the center of Georgia’s Blue Ridge.

The end of the DRT was unassuming and modest, betraying the wild, hulking trail that lay beyond. I hurried up the winding path to the top of Blood Mountain, eager to be someplace familiar. Nearing the shelter at the summit I heard my first human voices in 3 days. I was confounded that I could walk 20+ miles anywhere in Georgia and not stumble into one other person the whole time. The DRT gave solitude and isolation a whole new meaning for me and I don’t imagine there are many places in the south that offer such an experience. This is, without a doubt, something worth preserving and protecting no matter how little use it sees — or precisely because of that.

The best  views of the whole trip were, of course, from the top of Blood Mountain. It’s one of the most popular day-hike spots on the southern portion of the AT and its reputation is well-deserved. The sweeping, wide-open vistas abound, and they’re all are breathtaking. It’s well worth a trip to the top, regardless which side you climb.

One of many fabulous views on Blood Mountain

One of many fabulous views on Blood Mountain

My feet, my legs, my everything were exhausted, but surprisingly I was not that sore. The rocky trip down Blood Mountain changed all that. With a heavy pack strapped to my back and a wife I hadn’t seen in several days at the bottom, it was difficult not to hop from one wobbling rock to the next, nearly running down the eastern slope. Near the base lies a humongous rock (most folks who take the Byron Herbert Reece Trail to the parking area miss is) that’s impossible to miss. It’s easily the size of a house and, while I haven’t scaled it yet, it’s on my short list.

Before the highway at Neel Gap, I happened upon a sprawling colony of young chanterelle mushrooms. If you don’t know what chanterelles are, firstly shame on you, but second, you must taste some now. Finding them wild is probably your best be, as they easily go for an arm and a couple of legs at most select produce stores ($22/oz at Whole Foods last I checked). Needless to say, I’ll be back to this spot several times before winter sets in. Another excuse to visit the DRT when the leaves turn, perhaps. (The number and variety of mushrooms along the trail left me breathless — I’ve provided a generous supply of pictures at the end of this post)

Finally, I made my way down the last hill and past the roaring traffic on US19. I collapsed into the waiting arms of a happy and almost certainly relieved wife and devoured an ice-cold box of Coco Cafe (coconut water + espresso, yes it’s as awesome as it sounds) and we headed for our favorite burger spot in Dahlonega. Despite the pain, the hassles, the isolation, and downright frustration I faced on the DRT, I can’t help but plan for a return trip already. It may not look like much, and most folks will think folks who love this trail are masochists or simply not-all-there, but the Duncan Ridge Trail is a magical place and few places provide such a challenge and sense of accomplishment. As long as trails like this exist, I hope I’m able to keep my feet moving and devour every inch they have to offer.

Wildflowers in bloom on Blood Mountain

Wildflowers in bloom on Blood Mountain

Things I took along for the trail (the bare necessities):
65L Boreas Backpack — hiking with this thing is a breeze!
Flashlight and headlamp
Several packs of Raw Coconut Butter (great energy boost), granola bars, homemade granola mix and trail bars, three freeze-dried meals for dinner (one for each night +1 extra)
Three liters of water (in retrospect I should have carried at least 4)
Camelbak UV Water Purifier (I got water from a spring, but it’s always best to purify)
Camping Hammock with Bug Net
Regular Coleman Sleeping Bag (temps got down to 55 at night, I was plenty warm)

Wildflower near Slaughter Gap

Wildflower near Slaughter Gap

Tarp in case of rain, double as emergency blanket
Cell phone with two backup batteries
Ron Rash book
Map of the area (Natl Geo map #777 – Spring & Cohutta Mountains)
First Aid Kit

This is an account of my three-day journey on Section 2 of Georgia’s Duncan Ridge Trail. The trail forms a sort of triangle with the 300-mile Benton MacKaye Trail (BMT) and the 2100-mile Appalachian Trail (AT). I plan to complete the rest of the AT-BMT-DRT triangle later this year and, of course, you’ll be able to read about that right here.

As promised, pictures of mushrooms…

IMG_20140812_160225_154 IMG_20140813_101150_870 (1)  IMG_20140812_130606_544 IMG_20140812_131736_508 (1) IMG_20140813_100852_233IMG_20140813_120810_840 IMG_20140813_101210_304IMG_20140812_114703_175 (1)  IMG_20140813_100629_085

NCADA “All American Girl” PSA Reaction

with Facts

My response to NCADA’s Executive Director, Howard Weissman’s post about critics of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse based out of St. Louis, MO.  This post is regarding NCADA’s PSA with the #heroin which premiered locally during Super Bowl 50, yet was accessible nationally via the Internet and social media.

HERE IS THE PSA: Please watch first if you haven’t already:

Dear Howard Weissman,

Forgive my trespasses, but I stand by them. The 2016 Super Bowl marked 50 years of watching “cheerleaders” cheer on machoism and misogyny, 50 years of sexist commercials, and the fact that young girls are not encouraged to play football but instead do their hair, makeup, and cheer on the guys from junior high until the pros. I’m in Cleveland, not St. Louis, but despite that the Internet brought St. Louis’s NCADA and the “All American Girl” PSA for Heroin into my home.


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Racist, Far-Right Propaganda and Threats Against Leftists at Georgia State University: What Does It Mean, Who Is Responsible?

No platform for fascists in Georgia…

Atlanta Antifascists

This September and October a large number of far-Right propaganda stickers were plastered around the Georgia State University (GSU) campus in downtown Atlanta in order to claim political territory (see seventy-six photos here). This propaganda spree was meant not only to encourage racist students and those with far-Right sympathies, but also to intimidate students of color–who make up the majority of the student body–as well as leftists. The purpose of this article is to provide context about some of the far-Right propaganda littered throughout campus, and also to discuss who is responsible for the white nationalist campaign at GSU. The final section provides evidence that GSU economics major Patrick Sharp is responsible for the racist campaign.

The Stickers: How to Interpret Common Images and Slogans of the Extreme, Racist Right

  • White Lives Matter

whitelivesmatter-sticker“White Lives Matter” is not only a response to the Black Lives Matter movement. The…

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Racist, Far-Right Propaganda and Threats Against Leftists at Georgia State University: What Does It Mean, Who Is Responsible?

Source: Racist, Far-Right Propaganda and Threats Against Leftists at Georgia State University: What Does It Mean, Who Is Responsible?