my ongoing obsession with cooperatives

Between my many “extracurricular” (by which I just mean non-EFF work) activities last week, I met up with a group of people who shared my raging curiosity and interest in learning about cooperative businesses. We watched this BBC 1980 documentary on the Mondragon cooperative, which was only about 50 minutes long, but went into the history and structure of this one very large cooperative network in northern Spain in fairly good detail.

I’d already seen Shift Change, a solid movie that looks at various cooperative businesses around the United States (plus Mondragon as well). Despite me being already pretty convinced that cooperatives are a very viable model for enabling more sustainable enterprises that inherently concern itself with the well-being of its workers and communities in which they are based, I still felt like it portrayed too rosy a picture of cooperatives. When I was finished watching it, I had all kinds of lingering thoughts about their decision-making structure and the management process.

The 1980 BBC doc was pretty thorough about this aspect of Mondragon—how various teams elect a representative to the board, how human resources decisions are made, etc. It seems to work, but it seems like there’s a lot of room for experimentation depending on the size, the product, the location, and all kinds of other aspects of the enterprise.

I feel like I’m hearing more and more rumblings about cooperative, co-owned businesses, and that’s really exciting. The more people start to talk about coops, the more it begins to permeate expectations around new businesses, and at the very least, makes for-profit corporations seems less and less like a sustainable, worthy enterprise, and more like the extractive, parasitic institutions like they are.

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burning man: re-thinking privilege in a not-so-make-believe world

I wanted to experience it myself. No matter how many things I’d heard and read, I knew I wasn’t getting the whole picture. Wasn’t willing to listen to that little voice of judgment, and honestly, that cowardice that whispered:

“there’s no way you’ll survive out there.
the sun, the dust, the port-a-potties, and no showers for a week.
it’s gonna be seeped in privileged, extravagant, techie bro-ttitude …
it’ll be too much.
all of it will make you feel gross inside and out…”

for the last few years these murmurings stifled the pangs of curiosity I’ve been having about it.
But I didn’t want to care what other people said. I don’t hate on something until I understand what it is, and I only care or feel like I have the place to critique a thing until I do.

the day I was really convinced was when I was getting lunch with an old close friend of mine, Martina. I’m notoriously bad at keeping in touch with people so I didn’t even know that she’d gone. This person, one of my favorite people, was someone I didn’t really expect to go to a huge neo-hippie festival in the middle of the desert. It caught me off guard. As I listened to her talk about it, I kept prodding her with questions. She described things she experienced that seems so otherworldly, so unexpected, like a wacky sci-fi world. It suddenly sounded so fucking cool. If she was into it this much, the odds were I would be too.

When it started to become time to make the commitment, I started dating a guy who’d been going for the past several years. he sealed it for me. how could I not try at this point, when so many people, my people, were into it? I wanted to know if I could do it and survive. I wanted to know what the big deal was.

so, I decided to go to Burning Man.

It starts months and months before. At the time it seems like an ungodly amount of preparation, but looking back at it it’s really part of the experience. for your first time, the thing you need to focus on (and quite honestly, all you can really handle) is to figure out how to go and how to survive. Everyone warns you about the excruciating heat, the suffocating dust storms, and the unforgivingly cold, dark nights. I read almost every discussion board and took every random piece of advice I got from friends and strangers about what I needed for the trip. I hadn’t gone on a real camping trip in ages so I was pretty insecure about my outdoor survival skills.

Then there was the planning you need to do if you’re in a camp. I ended up joining Martina’s, which consisted of friends or friends-of-friends of the people who camped together the previous year. We were 60 people, from around the world, most of whom were complete strangers to one another. The process of organizing everything for this many people across 8+ time zones was a feat in itself. We had to plan our food, water, grey water disposal system, shade structure, seating area, signage, etc. etc. I wanted to do everything I could to contribute and be helpful…but I’ll be totally honest and say that I also did it too because I was worried things wouldn’t get done.

In the end, my camp came together remarkably well. It was satisfying to be able to rely on a bunch of total strangers. Everyone was expected to contribute and work collaboratively to build what became our home for that week. pretty much everyone pulled through where it mattered. I was proud that we all created a way that we could all live together on a square plot of dry hard dust, and that we managed to not be a total mess.

In some ways, I guess I should’ve expected this. Burning Man isn’t a place for people who just talk about doing things. It doesn’t matter what you say or plan to do, all that matters is that you did it. That goes for anything you bring to the Playa, to what you end up doing when you’re there. It’s an opportunity to flex cooperative abilities and your giving abilities. At the same time you’re challenged in your willingness to be creative and open to new opportunities, you need to be socially and environmentally aware.

It’s all held together by some basic, intuitively sensible rules. Leave no trace and pick up any Matter Out Of Place. Respect each other’s boundaries. Give and receive whatever you can. You respect these rules because they’re not arbitrary. They’re designed out of utility for the security and happiness of the people who choose to be there. In this way they’re freeing, not inhibiting. These basic rules reflect the event’s slow evolution. I was told that they were the result of lessons learned from tragic accidents and the inevitable necessity for more structure as the city grew and grew each year.

And as it grew, it seems that it became more and more like the world people came there to escape.

That ability to escape is really only something privileged people can do. You need to have the money to spend, and the ability to get time off to disconnect from your job and your other responsibilities. But even then, why Burning Man? Why not spend the time and the resources to go on a relaxing vacation? Why not go into the mountains, surround yourself with thick rustling trees or sprawl out next to some cool peaceful beach?

it’s because the challenge of it’s thrilling. It’s novel to be part of something so big and cooperative. There are few places in this world that invite you to participate and engage in the creation of a shared experience. It forces you to push your comfort zones in ways you never would’ve conceived.

but, as nothing really is, it’s not removed from the real world. Or what Burners call the “default world,” and the very real inequalities in power, influence, and money.

You see it all around. there’s the turnkey camps, where people pay others to set up a camp for them, sometimes coming as a package with expensive chefs, butlers, and the like. Apparently, some of them compose their camps so no one can walk through their whole set up. I saw small clans of segways zoom past me. Sometimes I noticed art cars or camps with older white men sitting at a throne or up high, higher than anyone else, flanked by what I can only imagine to be paid models and dancers in coordinated burner-esque outfits.

It’s gross, for sure, but I was also fascinated by how wealth was manifested there. I guess the point of being in one of those enclosed, turnkey camps is that you get to be all cushy and comfortable while experiencing the dense sensory barrage that unfolds in the desert.

but to me what that shows is two different things:
either, these people are just cowards who don’t think they could handle the harsh environment of the Playa like most do, or they’re just unable to be self-sufficient or work with others well enough to do it themselves. A huge part of being out there is what you do for survival, whether you do it by yourself or with a group. if you’re completely unprepared there are some ways for you to rely on others to get by. But the whole deal is that you think about the basic needs you have, and make sure you take them with you. in theory, the rest of it is about giving and sharing.

What those turnkey camps signify is how its inhabitants don’t know how to be self-reliant. If they do, it’s silly that they’re coming to an event in which that is one of its core principles, and instead, choose to be observers, non-participants. What’s gross about it isn’t that it seems unfair that they “get” to have those set ups, it’s that they’re exploiting the cooperative nature of the Burning Man experience and using it as a backdrop for the cushy vacation they could really have anywhere else.

In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

In the default world you can never ignore the existence and power that money quantifies and signifies.
one goal out there is to try to suspend its grip on our lives, for just a few days. thousands go to play this game of make believe.

people go to be extravagant in their own way. you can’t ignore the privilege, the wealth, because you can’t go unless the time, the resources, the ability, AND the desire for relentless, expressive, experimental energy that’s all been taken to its absurd extreme. everyone who goes is privileged in this way. the layers of pre-existing, institutionalized power inequities always give certain people access to more things, and out there, to more of those extremes. but to me, it seems like the people who choose to drag their privilege out there with them lose out from actually understanding the point of burning man. i’d imagine it’s hard to experience the raw, unpredictable intimacy of a place where respect and trust comes from being able to be happy to give as much as you are happy to receive. you can’t be as grateful for those surprise gifts if you isolate yourself and bring too much comfort out there with you.

So. I’m glad I got to go and see what it’s like when people are free to question all previous spoken and unspoken rules….how you’re supposed to dress, speak, act, relax, connect, feel, and express to others, it’s all thrown out the window and we’re all dared to rebuild it from scratch. I truly believe it could do more to challenge our default norms, especially our socio-political ones. Since no one in particular is in charge of that, I’m thinking of doing it myself somehow.

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burning man: a pilgrimage to transience

I’m back.
I survived.

months and months of anticipation, frustration, and “goddammit this better be fucking worth it”

first morning,
waking up to the melody of Cake.
I crawl out of my yurt into the blinding heat

out there, on the Playa, the Sun is the Star. The main character of that stage, where both its presence and absence is the most blatant fact.

at night,
the neon lights
pulsating geometric jewels cut across the blackest black horizon

clusters of pulsating bodies released bodies releasing the raw sexual carnal energies that we’re trained to ball up collect suppress hold in default life

the young eager successful warm friendly helpful uptight,
letting go…

seeing the restraints of gender norms and expectations of “norms” dissolve in this environment
a land of shakers makers risk takers
in a suspended reality, everything can be called into question.

flavors, temperatures, feelings
anything but the heat and dryness feeling like a complete sensory miracle.

at night,
crescent moon floating by
scrap octopus spewing flames from its eight

the sweet grapefruit hazy sunrise
a naive response

it’s a constant shiver down your spine.
it’s a vacuum of spirituality but full of new cohesive meaning

it’s just as much about the building, as it is about the destruction.

leaving, your blood is thickened into mud.
by the sun, the inhaled dust.

here, we get to define our fun, our pleasure, and create it if we don’t see it.
the only rules that exist exist because existence of this world relies on it.

/ streamofconsciousness

I have a way longer, more essay-like piece comin’…

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state of mind, aug 2014 (stream of consciousness)

A stream of consciousness:

The word I’d use to describe how I’ve been feeling is “overflowing”
in the sense that I’m being affected by so much right now often I can hardly contain the enormity of it all.

First off, shit is hitting the fan. I know that’s been this way, for god knows how long, and whether it’s worst now than before is arguable…but it’s now manifested in such a violent, visible way that it’s become fucking hard to ignore it. Gaza. Ferguson. Obama’s shit show of a “Liberal” presidency and his crackdown on truth and justice. The whole god damn institutional economic societal mess. It’s just too much sometimes. I’ve been following the Ferguson situation, and before that, what was happening in Gaza. It’s all terrifying, it’s incomprehensibly horrible and I hate that I feel like it’s too much to fix.

Maybe the worst part about it is that now we KNOW that things are broken. At least more and more people do. And we’re better at talking about it, sharing stories taking photos and videos of it. But what are we supposed to do? Where do we go from here? It’s almost like the ~powers that be~ aren’t even ashamed or sheepish about the fact that the current whack composition of power in our world, in this country, in our states, and down to our cities are leading to people getting murdered, left to die, and even being oppressed for talking about it.

We’re being targeted for telling the truth. For exposing the lies, money-laundering, murders, torturing, that is done in our name, paid for by us, justified for the ineffectual self-serving purpose of “national security” — which is of course completely undermined by these acts of violence and corruption. These things are what breed insecurity.

Security comes from making people feel healthy and stable in their lives. Trust. Sustainability. Awareness. The right to know what is happening when they trust others with the power to make decisions over their society. The right to have laws that reflect common interests. The right to have access to knowledge and resources that create both autonomy and stable co-dependence…


“You never change things by fighting the existing reality.
To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
― R. Buckminster Fuller


“The movement of change is much the builder as the destroyer.”
– Alan Watts

These quotes to me represent what I imagine a revolution to be. Not a violent overthrow, but a slow, coordinated construction that enables and builds security in its very edifice. I have some vague ideas about what this would mean in practice but I’m still gathering information and experience to figure out what and how this could be done in practice. A significant part is the cooperative model. As I’ve said before, I feel that a well-run cooperative is a building block for a better democracy. Cooperatives enables both autonomy and co-dependence from its members/owners/workers (which can all be one in the same).

I need to learn more and experiment more to identify better possible solutions.
It’s too heavy for me to pay too close of attention to what happens sometimes, in the areas outside the bullshit that I’m fighting in my realm. I force myself to it every morning, every day following activists on the ground on twitter and listening to alternative news. I want to feel like I’m doing something. Talking about how awful it is and reporting about it can’t be my role because I’m not fit for it. It’s too exhausting for me.

The people who do do it deserve all the respect in the world. Brave investigative journalists have one of the hardest jobs imaginable: looking for and staring hard at the ugliest side of humanity. People need to know about the ugly because we’ve become so good at hiding it and ignoring it. Their job is to make us see it and know it.

The question is, for those of us who are willing to acknowledge the brokenness, what we are going to do about it. Being angry, ashamed, and depressed about it won’t get us anywhere.

What the fuck are we gonna do about it.

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social justice teachings, part 1

I’ve been spending the last week doing a lot of thinking about activism, social justice, and the need for a fundamental socioeconomic “revolution” given a world that’s become increasingly insecure and violent. Mostly it’s been an exercise in re-evaluating this work: how it can be done more effectively and what I can be doing to improve my approach in the long run.

There are a couple things that I’ve seen and read this week that I’m digesting: two films and an article. I still haven’t come to any conclusions for what they might mean but I wanted to jot down some of my thoughts.

The two movies I watched this week,The Internet’s Own Boy and American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, are documentaries about two very different people from very different eras and backgrounds who both committed their lives to social justice. For the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to try to briefly describe their varying approaches to addressing social injustice.


Aaron Swartz (whom I’ve written about before) was a renaissance man. Incredibly smart and brilliantly driven, he was able to find groundbreaking solutions to old problems and articulate these issues in a way that drove people to take action in an astoundingly effective way. For lack of a better word, I’d call him a “thought leader” of my tech/Internet-seeped generation. As someone who was boundlessly curious and passionate, the Internet gave him the access, the platform, and the opportunities to express this energy. But it also had some major limitations for him.

I can’t say for certain because I didn’t know him personally, but from what I’ve read and heard he was fundamentally disappointed in how people around him spent their energy. Specifically, those who were more interested in making money than work to improve the world. By the end of him life, I think his disappointment in society in general—in our institutions and the rule of law—was what broke him. Again, I don’t know if we can simply attribute his suicide to depression, but we can’t ignore the fact that the broken, shoddy system that he was attempting to fix was exactly what crushed him, deliberately and systematically.


Grace Lee Boggs is a 99 year old Chinese woman who was heavily involved in the Black Power Movement with her late husband, James Boggs. As an organizer of racial/economic struggle throughout the 20th Century, she seemed to have committed much of her energy into sparking conversation. She wrote several books with/without her husband about how and why we must bring about a revolution that would fundamentally change the nature and role of labor, work, and community. At least now (maybe she didn’t before), she doesn’t believe it can be violent whatsoever, and instead must be grounded in a revolution of ideas and values. This is likely why she tried to do everything she could to poke at society’s seemingly rigid, capitalist-grounded institutions and ideologies.

I wrote about her before
after I saw her speak with Angela Davis in Berkeley. Her discussion with Angela shook me to the core. Questions about the overarching ideologies of my society, of US society, has begun to creep into me. This talk made me re-think things that I took for granted in a way I never had. I somehow forgot since I wrote that blog post two years ago that they dropped some incredible wisdom that day that I really ought to regularly revisit. There were many parts of their conversation that struck me, but one does a good job of summarizing her approach to social changes:

We can’t think anymore that all we have to do is to act, we have to do a lot of thinking. We have to do a lot of imagining. We have to do a lot of visionary organizing. We have to see every crisis as a both a danger and an opportunity. Its a danger because it does so much danger to our lives, to our institutions, to all that we have expected, but it’s also an opportunity for us to become creative. For us to become the new kind of people that are needed at such a huge period of transition.


The third thing that affected me was the transcript of a lecture I read by George Monbiot. It’s pretty long and there’s a lot to unpack (and besides…it’s starting to get a bit late so I can’t go into it too much in this first draft of this blog post), but the jist of it is him critiquing the environmental+sustainability movement for caving to capitalist ideology and adopting its rhetoric to describe the value of our environment. By doing so he says, they are conceding to losing the debate, and therefore, the fight over all.

The main thing that I got out of it was the idea that we need to carve out an alternative language to describe the necessity and value of protecting the environment. By adopting the ideological framework for what is important, advocates fail at addressing the fundamental institutional, and yes, the ideological underpinnings of societal beliefs that lead to us to continue to poison and destroy the planet that we inhabit.

And I think that’s true for all social movements. Despite the enormous problems we still have in enabling women to have secure, sexual and physical autonomy over themselves, I do think the seeds of the movement have already been planted. Namely, the idea that women have the right to control what happens to them and what they can do to it themselves, and that this freedom must be enabled by the law. The other is we must value reproduction above all else, and that human life is (most) sacred even when it is in the womb. Clearly, the debate is between two very different perspectives on how we should live and what must be valued.


I don’t yet know how to properly make of these thoughts but I’m still chewing on ‘em…

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finally gone camping

Donner Pass Panorama

It’s been on my list of New Year’s Resolutions for the past two years and I’ve finally gone done it. YAY. I went and spent the weekend at a campsite near Donner Pass in the Sierras last weekend.

I can’t wait to do moar outdoor adventuring~

Song of the week: Evenings – Friend (Lover) :: soundcloud

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notes on reading The Subterraneans

I feel the most inspired to write a blogpost when I disagree with someone, and I get a raging itch to make my argument into the void.

Don’t remember where I was or how it came up, but we were talking about long sentences. I was making the argument that shorter ones are generally better, but sometimes there can be some beautiful ones mixed in if the writer knows that they’re doing. Like Jack Kerouac, I said, who completely overuses run-ons but is still a good writer despite it. The person in the conversation said, “Yeah well Jack Kerouac is a super overrated author anyway.”

So here’s me now briefly explaining why I like the current book I’m reading, The Subterraneans, by Kerouac because I feel like I need to make the case to no one in particular.

The book takes place in 1950’s Post-WWII San Francisco, around a group of hipster writers. It’s about Leo, a taller slightly buff writer who’s new to town and sorta peripherally a Subterranean, and his summer love with an intellectual, sensitive, gorgeous and petite black+Native American woman, Mardou Fox.

So the way he describes the setting in this early era of San Francisco is really full and lovely without beating your head with it. The fog shrouding the city most nights, or the gusty oceany winds during the day, with the rare appearance of a creepily warm still summer night. Most of these weathers play with the character’s complicated relationships. I love that I recognize those San Francisco nights.

He sets moods really well. Across moments he remembers in flashback, he describes spaces perfectly. Mostly he captures the energy and style of the characters, and most of all the relationships and tensions between them. His writing might be sprawly (as Beat writing usually is) but he does have this down.

I love the quiet thoughts, rants, and day dreams he chooses to narrate. In the protagonist’s inner guilt over some of his misogynist and racist tendencies, especially when it came to Mardou, the honest confessions give you an intimate look into the awkward maturing of mid-20th Century society around race, sex, and gender (which I will say, is still far from over). And Mardou’s rants and stories about her life contrasted with the seeming carefree hipster vibe of the other white, male Subterraneans who don’t seem to come from as much poverty as she.

Anyway, I’m not done reading it yet but I really enjoy it so far. Sometimes I resent fiction books for not explaining moods and emotional geography of the characters involved. And while Beat writing can be a tad exhaustive to read, it’s worth it for how it transports you to the lifestyle, psyche, and societal anxieties of the time.


Side note:

I was curious to see if there was a film adaption of the book so I looked it up. To my absolute horror: They did make one in 1960, but instead of casting a black actress for Mardou, they just made it with a white female. WTF.

But at least the 1960 adaptation looks pretty godawful…? =_=

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The Evil, Boring Trade Triad

John Oliver did a terrific number on the net neutrality debate to expose the fuckery involved in making shitty public policy, but the best line in his whole bit was this:

“If you want to do something evil, put it inside something boring.”

begin rant/

That’s pretty much the strategy behind the triad of massive, corporate-driven trade agreements which are currently being negotiated: TPP, TTIP, and the recently discovered* TISA (*recently discovered by activists like me, that is).

I’ve been fighting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for over two years now for EFF, over copyright provisions that would, in a few words, restrict free speech online, limit how we can all create and remix culture, and in several oppressive ways, control how we are allowed to understand and modify the technology that we use every day. It would massively expand and export already broken copyright laws to countries that don’t have them, and elevate them as new “international standards” for others to emulate and to which they would become pressured to conform.

In the beginning of last year, another new trade agreement was announced during Obama’s State of the Union Address—one that would encompass all the European Union countries and the United States. It’s called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (or T-TIP, for short). Based upon news reports, it seems like it’s riddled with so much controversy that the EU and US still can’t even decide which policies to include in it. We haven’t covered it much at EFF since we don’t yet even know if it’s going to include copyright or digital privacy-regulating provisions, but it’s very, very likely that it will.

Alright so we have TPP, TTIP…and now TISA, the Trade in Services Agreement. Just as with net neutrality (although Tim Wu is the one that should be to blame for coining that term…but whatever), policymakers have adopted the most boring names for the most EVIL things they’re trying to pass into law. In the case of the Evil Trade Triad—it’s corporate interests pushing for the laws of their choosing into international law.

I often get asked, “Who even cares about international law though? Isn’t it mostly ignored?”

Totally fair question.

The thing is that when it does get enforced, it’s done selectively and almost always for geopolitical, economic reasons. The danger with these agreements, and the many that came before it, is that they’re increasingly being used to undermine publically-beneficial policies.

So your government wants to pass a law banning mining in that protected rainforest? Good luck. You’re violating a corporation’s right to make profit and it can totally sue your government for a billion dollars for trying to stop them.

You think it might be good public policy to limit the kinds of patents big pharma companies can file so they can’t just jack up the price on medicines on patients? Nope! Pharmaceutical corporations can sue for hundreds of millions of dollars for even daring to challenge their bottom line.

And that’s just talkin’ about investor-state dispute resolu…..ZZZzzzzzz~

Yup, boring as hell. And fucking evil.

Okay okay so what’s the deal with TISA? I need to do more digging to figure out exactly what the deal is with this TISA agreement, but so far it looks and smells fucking wretched. The fact that the agreement will be kept secret five years after it enters into force is enough to make me want to smash all the fingers off the Invisible Hand. But this week, Wikileaks revealed only part of the agreement—and it showed that it would undermine nations’ ability to regulate financial services.

Remember that financial crash a few years ago? Where millions of people lost their jobs, their homes, and the people who were and continue to be disproportionately affected are those who were already poor and struggling? Well there were many reasons why it happened by lack of regulation was NOT one of them. One of the major reasons it happened was because previously enacted regulations that we had enough foresight to pass the last time we had a devastating economic crash were struck down in the previous decade. Then banks went full DGAF and invested in shady assets and went off the deep end with wacky loan packages and debt trading. Pretty much everyone who was behind it got off scot-free, while society, and especially the poor, suffered most of all.

Policies that could help us avoid disasters like that might become “inconsistent” with our trade obligations under TISA. But that’s only one piece of it.

From the little we know about TISA, it looks to be in the business of undermining existing or future public services, and force such programs to become open to private contracts so that multinational corporations can take over. Public Services International had this to say about it:

The “disciplines,” or treaty rules, would provide all foreign providers access to domestic markets at “no less favorable” conditions as domestic suppliers and would restrict governments’ ability to regulate, purchase and provide services. This would essentially change the regulation of many public and privatized or commercial services from serving the public interest to serving the profit interests of private, foreign corporations.

What would that mean for public transportation? National parks? Public education? Even public utilities like water and power? Will TISA impact these? Or will it impact only some? Who knows! And it’ll be secret for FIVE YEARS after it goes into effect. Just imagine—we’ll start seeing all of our public services privatized into useless oblivion and we won’t even know why or how it’s being legitimized.

This is why the Evil Trade Triad must be stopped.

We need to stop them for the sake of ourselves,
for the sake of a society that is built on rules that are rational, pragmatic, and designed for the common good,
for the sake of those who will never read or hear about these agreements but will be the most adversely affected,
for the sake of defending any remaining shred of democratic principle that’s left in our world.

/end rant

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