a collection of readings on Ferguson+racism in the US

When St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, announced that the grand jury would not be indicting officer Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown, it was a glaring reminder, or rather, an affirmation, that the justice system is dysfunctional, subjective, and racist.

Map of Nationwide Ferguson Protests

Every time I heard someone whose first reaction is to condemn the rioting, the destruction, and the direct actions that were purposefully disruptive, I’ve made them confront the fact that they’re placing more value on the property that is destroyed over the loss of a human life. No, the loss of hundreds, thousands of lives—black and brown people killed by law enforcement, who get away with it with impunity over and over and over again. Even if rioting is counterproductive, even if it destroys the livelihood of local people, it doesn’t even compare to the atrocity of a system that enables its officials to shoot and kill people and children. It’s a system that discourages and rejects investigations into what happened, who is at fault, and to create a proper remedy that will let families and communities heal and to discourage these murders from happening again.

Our justice system is supposed to be able to resolve conflicts and hold everyone accountable to the same rules, so that people don’t feel the need to take matters into their own hands. When state actors disregard the rules that apply to everyone else, that violates public faith in legal institutions. Which is why cops need to be held accountable more than anyone else—they’re afforded the power to uphold and embody the law. If they don’t even abide by the law themselves, how can the public be expected to respect their authority?

Anyway. I was pretty sick again this week, so I didn’t have the energy to participate in commenting on any of this on Twitter. But I did have the energy to read…and in this past week there has been some of the most thoughtful, heart-wrenching writing and news commentary on racism in America in light of what’s gone down/going down in Ferguson. I’m sure this doesn’t cover it all but I thought I’d compile the ones that helped me, at least, make sense of this all.

Black Lives Matter — Jay Smooth’s New Illipses Video

If there’s one you should read or watch, it’s this one. This is for the people who think that mere destruction of property is remotely as horrifying as people regularly getting murdered by law enforcement. It’s powerfully articulate and gets to the root of the problem of systemic racism. [You can also read a transcript of it]

That unrest we saw Monday night was a byproduct of the injustice that preceded it.
This is not a choice, this is a cause-and-effect relationship. If you’re worried about the effects, you need to be thinking about the cause.
Riots are a thing that human beings do because human beings have limits.
We don’t all have the same limits. For some of us, our human limit is when our favorite team loses a game. For some of us, it’s when our favorite team wins a game.

The people of Ferguson had a different limit than that.

The Parable of the Unjust Judge or: Fear of a Nigger Nation

Black people desperately tried to defend Michael Brown, pointing out that he was a child, that he was gentle, that he never got into any trouble, that he was going to college. If we fail to name the battleground being fought upon, this fight over what narrative to impose on the details of Brown’s life might seem oddly tangential to the argument over the circumstances of his death. So let’s be clear about the stakes of this conflict: we are trying to decide whether or not Michael Brown was a nigger. A dead human being is a tragedy that needs to be investigated and accounted for. A dead nigger doesn’t even need to be mourned, much less its death justified.

NY Times: What Happened in Ferguson?

I still don’t know much about the rules and procedures of grand juries. But it seems that it’s incredibly rare for them to refuse to hand down an indictment. This chart compares a typical grand jury indictment process to the one applied to Darren Wilson’s case.


Burning Ferguson

Sarah Kendzior, in my opinion, is one of the best journalists out there right now. Her pieces are consistently excellent in teasing out and analyzing the power dynamics of various current events, and she does it again with Ferguson.

These phenomena—white flight, decaying poor neighborhoods, struggles over gentrification—are not unique to St. Louis, but understanding their history has made it especially tragic to watch the black neighborhoods of Ferguson be victimized all over again in recent weeks, losing in many cases, what businesses they did have.
When St. Louis burns, it does not rebuild. All around the region are ruins of what was: rotting homes, shattered windows, empty factories, broken communities. West Florissant’s destruction is not London in 2011 or Seattle in 1999: it is the destruction, possibly permanent, of the resources of the vulnerable.

Today in Tabs: I Will Only Bleed Here

A powerful intro to Bijan Stephens’ piece in This Week in Tabs, his collection of even more powerful commentary on Ferguson.

I am the only black person on the editorial floor at my place of employment. The other ones who look like me work as cleaners or in the mailroom. When we lock eyes I nod, and it is both the easiest and hardest thing in the world. I know nothing of their lives, and yet here we are the same. Today I will do this. We will share a look that encompasses last night’s indignities and acknowledges tomorrow’s. We will keep our heads down and our hearts guarded, and I will only bleed here, in words, on this page.

What white people need to know, and do, after Ferguson

Black communities are ultimately protesting systems of injustice and inequality that structurally help white people while systematically harming black people. Just because you’re white and therefore generally benefit from those systems doesn’t mean you inherently support those systems — or need to defend them. Benefiting from white privilege is automatic. Defending white privilege is a choice.

a spoonful of conference makes my anxieties go down!

Tomorrow, I’m going home to San Francisco. I’ve spent the last four days here in Warsaw, Poland and I came to attend CopyCamp, an internationalconference that brought together advocates, academics, lawyers, and collecting societies to have a multi-sided debate about the state of copyright and its impact on creators and access to knowledge and culture. I gave a talk on Friday about building a transnational peer-to-peer user rights movement, describing my work with the organizations I partner and coordinate with on campaigns on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and others. People really seemed to like it, and it even got voted as one of the top three best talks of the conference out of the more than 70 presentations. 😀

Every time I come to an event like this, where I meet new people working on similar issues, I come away feeling fuzzy, bubbly, and inspired. Cuz the thing is, doing activism can be really disheartening. You’re up against big politically influential entities, and you often can’t see or measure the impact of your daily or even weekly projects. All the time, I question if I’m doing things the right way or the most effectively. I wonder If I’m spending too much time on Twitter, or too little to share current news or conversations. Should I be spending more time studying and learning every legal nuance of copyright policy, or is that counterproductive because it makes me lose sight of the larger discussions, making it harder for me to talk about this stuff in a way that I can get the every day person to understand and to get ’em riled up?

When I meet others in the copyright activism world, it calms me down about my anxieties. Having even a casual conversation with someone can get me inspired to have more faith in my methods, or to even become curious to challenge them. When I hear a story or find out about some other copyright wackiness that I didn’t know about, it makes me determined to read up about it until I’ve properly filled that gap in my knowledge.

But what I’ve also come to realize in the past few years is that I’m not built to be a lawyer, nor an academic. I’m never going to be sufficiently detailed in my policy knowledge, and I’m actually okay with that. I get excited and energized by looking at the policies, how they affect people’s lives, and to examine the powers as play that have led to them. From there, I can construct the overarching narrative, and share that story with people to get them to care about it as much as I do.

I guess I should’ve known this all along, or maybe I did but forgot for some reason along the way. For some reason, it was during this past week that I’ve come to understand my job and the things I can bring to it. On top of the things I’ve learned, the wonderful/cool/awesome people I’ve met, I feel like this one the best things to come out from this trip. So yeah, that’s pretty cool.

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.

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…? =_=

I've Been a Busy-Ass Woman

After returning from my Japan/So. Korea trip on Wednesday, I was horribly jetlagged and in a deep psychological rut. I was productive during my trip—keynoting a Japanese digital rights conference for the organization MIAU, speaking at the Korean National Assembly to Members’ staff about digital rights and TPP, and throughout the trip, meeting with activists and reporters covering EFF issues.

But that trip took a lot out of me. It wasn’t just the work part, but just having to be “on” all the time. Talking to people. Figuring out where you are, how to get to that somewhere when you’re not too familiar with the place. Making sure you don’t get shafted or messed with while traveling alone. Fun, yes. But fucking exhausting. I managed to get to the office the day after I got back. But the day after that, I slept for 18 hours. I woke up a few times to make myself weird meals consisting of a carbohydrate, fat, and something sweet (i.e. toast with butter and jam, frozen hashbrown with olive oil and ketchup) for the sole purpose of ridding of my hunger so I could sleep moar. I had shit to do, TONS of shit to do, and I guess the realization of that made my brain want to crawl into fetal position and become completely useless.

I was able to temporarily stave off the anxious knots in my head, and was convinced not to ditch out on a trip to Lake Tahoe this weekend. I struggled to fight the creeping dread away, hoping it wouldn’t manifest itself in curt snippiness. It did anyway, a couple times. I made sure not to hurt any feelings.

The weather was awful on Saturday morning, but it snowed all afternoon and evening and today was a glorious perfect snowy sunny day. I managed to figure out how to go down some of the easiest runs on skiis without falling. A satisfying accomplishment.

I feel great now, besides the fact that it’s 2:15am and I need to go the fuck to sleep. I really mean to write something more substantive this coming week. Really.

yay for queer anime.

I’m going to Japan on Wednesday to keynote at a digital rights conference in Tokyo. It’s the 6th anniversary of the digital rights organization, the Movements for the Internet Active Users (or MIAU, pronounced “meow”) and they invited me to speak about the most pressing issues facing Internet freedom.

I’m fluent, but this is the first time I’ve given a talk in Japanese since high school. It’s not the grammar I’m worried about, but rather that I may sound a bit awkward or utter weird sayings since I pretty much only speak to my mom in Japanese nowadays. So to get myself a bit more relaxed about the whole thing and to get my brain switched over, I’ve been watching Japanese films and programming.

A couple weeks ago, I had lunch with one of my old friends from Japanese school who’s now a translator for a major video game company. She recommended that I watch Ouran High School Host Club. I remembered that she said it was on Netflix (and it may or may not be available by other means…) so I checked it out.


It’s aMAzInG. I’ve only watched 5 episodes so I can’t speak for the later ones (and maybe I speak too quickly), but from what I’ve seen it’s a wacky, happy, totally queer story about high school boys. It all takes place at a private school, where they spend their off-time entertaining girls and drinking tea with them, like a G-rated Japanese host club.

The main character is this girl who happens to dress, talk, and act like a boy, and the supposedly most popular host boy is obsessed with her. There are identical twins who are totally in an incestuous love affair that makes all the other female students go crazy. And there’s a tiny fem boy who is constantly climbing all over/being snuggled by this tall serious guy and I guess you’re just supposed to assume they’re a couple.

Anyway, that’s all I’m gonna say about it. Even as someone who has watched Japanese TV her whole life, the wonderful, open queerness of this show was definitely surprising and it made me so damn happy to watch.

Are there more anime series that’s as queer as this? I must know of them if there are. >_<