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Apr 2013 23

by Brad Warner

Every once in a while I meet someone who says she became interested in Buddhism because Buddhists were never involved in religious persecution or holy wars. I always hate to break the news to them that this is, unfortunately, not entirely true.

It is true that Buddhism has been largely free of really large scale wars and persecutions based directly on religion such as the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the conflicts in Israel and Northern Ireland and so on. In fact, if you go to Wikipedia’s page on religious persecutions and religious wars, you find no major persecutions by Buddhists, and the only religious war listed involving Buddhists is an uprising of the Buddhist majority in Vietnam against the pro-Catholic policies of Ngo Dinh Diem in 1966. Not exactly a war in which one religion sought to conquer or convert another by force.

But that doesn’t mean that just because someone declares him or herself to be Buddhist that the person is free from ever behaving like a dick. Brian Victoria caused a lot of people to question their belief in perpetually peaceful Buddhists when he published Zen At War, a book that examined how Buddhist institutions in Japan were co-opted by the government to support the cause of nationalistic violence during World War II – much like the Catholic church was similarly co-opted by the Nazis. Even today similar stuff keeps happening.

The latest of those who would try to use Buddhism as a way of promoting intolerance and violence on a national level is U Wirathu, an ultra-nationalist Buddhist monk in Burma who has been accused of inciting violence against Muslims in his country as leader of the “969 movement.” He has become known as the “Buddhist bin Laden” for his activities. In Sri Lanka, Sinhalese Buddhists have formed what they call the “Buddhist Strength Force,” another group seeking to persecute Muslims in the name of Buddhism. Just last week three Bhutanese Buddhist monks were accused of raping a teenage girl in India. You can read about all of these incidents in detail here. I’m sure this won’t be the last we’ll see of violence and stupidity in the name of Buddhism.

The easiest response to all of this would be to say that those involved weren’t really Buddhists, even if they were legitimately ordained since they failed to understand the most basic teachings of Buddhism. Some people have argued that certain verses in the Qur’an or the Bible can be used to justify violence and religious intolerance. But it would take a lot of work to find anything similar among the Buddhist literature, although the Buddhist sutras far outnumber the canonical religious writings of Christianity or Islam, so I’m sure someone could dig something out of there if they tried hard enough. There’s nothing I’m aware of but there are mountains of sutras out there and you could probably find some little snippet that sounds nasty if you wanted to sift though a lot of stuff.

Even so, none of the reports I’ve seen have mentioned any of these Buddhist bully-boy organizations citing the scriptures and teachings of Buddhism as a justification for their actions the way other religions often do. The closest thing I’ve come across to that is that the Sri Lankan group apparently opposes the Muslim practice of halal butchering and meat preparation as being against the Buddhist teachings of non-violence toward animals. But this seems to me like a real reach for some kind of scriptural justification. And I don’t see how you can enforce non-violence against animals by engaging in violence against humans.

Some folks were getting upset over the fact that His Holiness the Dalai Lama was not speaking out more strongly against the Buddhist based violence in Burma and Sri Lanka. However, this is actually a smart move on his part. Most Buddhists in Burma and Sri Lanka don’t regard the Dalai Lama as their leader. Far from it. They regard him something like the way Irish Protestants view the Pope, as kind of an interloper who has no business telling them about their religion. It would only incite more violence if the Dalai Lama took a strong stand.

Generally we Americans and Europeans don’t know much about Buddhism, so we make a lot of incorrect assumptions. This is excusable because all we have to go on is what we get from our woefully ill-informed mass media and cartoonish references in pop culture.

But interestingly it’s we Westerners who seem to grasp the basics of Buddhism enough to see the innate absurdity of stuff like the Buddhist persecutions in Sri Lanka and Burma better than lots of the folks in those countries. While I’m sure there are plenty of Burmese and Sri Lankan Buddhists who know how ridiculous this is, this stuff wouldn’t be happening at all unless there were also plenty of people in those countries who consider themselves Buddhists but really have no clue at all what the whole point of Buddhism is.

That’s pretty sad. But it’s no sadder than Christians murdering Muslims in their quest to spread Jesus’ philosophy of love or Muslims murdering Christians to spread Mohammed’s message of brotherhood. Religions divide people. And when Buddhism is viewed as a religion, it can be used almost effectively as any other as an excuse for viciousness and just plain human foolishness. You have to stretch things a bit, but it can be done. Human beings are good at that. We’ll find a way.

But the rest of us don’t have to accept it. We can and should point out how ridiculous this is. If we can shame the assholes persecuting others on the basis of Buddhism by knowing their religion better than they do, then we ought to do just that. Not in a malicious way, mind you. But it might be useful to subtly make some of the folks over there who are participating in this kind of nonsense aware that there are people far away who actually take “their” religion more seriously than they apparently do.

It’s disappointing to discover that even those proclaiming themselves to be Buddhists can still act like real jerks. But people are what they are. Acting like a jerk, however, is definitely not what the Buddha taught.

[..]

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Mar 2013 20

by Blogbot

This Thursday’s show may be our dirtiest yet. SG Radio hosts Nicole Powers and Moxi Suicide will be discussing the filthy business of oil with investigative journalist Greg Palast and activist Ramsey Sprague, a spokesperson for the Tar Sands Blockade. We’ll be finding out why the Keystone XL pipeline is a really bad idea, even if cheap gas and more jobs are top of your priority list, and discovering how the Koch Bros will be benefiting from the construction of this environmental disaster of a project. We’ll also be crossing streams for this sleazy oil-based show with our friends from Red List Radio, and will be joined in-studio by RLR hosts Luke Harder and Corey Kozlowski.

You can listen – and watch – the world’s leading naked radio show live on Thursday nights from 6 til 8 PM at our new state-of-the-art all digital home: TradioV.com/LA.

You’ll also be able to listen to our podcasts via Stitcherdownload the app now!

If you have questions for the SG Radio crew or our guests, you can call in during the live broadcast at: 1-855-TRV-inLA (1-855-878-4652)

For updates on all things SG Radio-related, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

[..]

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Mar 2013 02

by Asher Wolf

A while back I decided to interview @AnonyOps. We chat regularly. As a result, we quickly generated a huge stack of material.

We worked together in a consultative process to trim back the content. The result is true to the nature of the conversation we’ve held over a number of months.

This interview is the first time anyone has interviewed @AnonyOps about his decision to become Anonymous, his fear of persecution, the talent brain-drain and his decision to leave the U.S.

@AnonyOps: I don’t want talk about what country I’m in. Just that I’ve left. We can start the interview now if you want…

@Asher_Wolf: Can you tell me about your background, so people can image you behind the mask?

@AnonyOps: I sit in my mother’s basement and I write code all day. Well, all of that’s true — except the part about my mother’s basement.

I’m not going to hand over identifying information.

In my free time? I sit and stew about state powers and mass surveillance of innocent people, attempts at censorship and general tyranny. These things put gas in my tank.

@Asher_Wolf: Tell me about becoming Anonymous?

@AnonyOps: I had a set of common beliefs in line with others in Anonymous – which, looking back is a bit funny to think about, mostly because we’re not unanimous.

@Asher_Wolf: Did you know what you were getting into when you took up with the Guy Fawkes mask of Anonymous?

@AnonyOps: I was certainly filled with idealism and yes, I was naive.

But, yeah, remembering back to December 2010 – when I saw what happened to WikiLeaks (with the Mastercard, Visa and PayPal financial blockade) I was completely outraged. I wasn’t very optimistic at the start. I had a vision of what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know if I would have any impact at all. I thought – I would probably just be seen as yet another idiot on Twitter.

@Asher_Wolf: You thought you were powerless?

@AnonyOps: Yes. But I was naive. A day or two after I joined Twitter, I live-tweeted a forum, the Personal Democracy Forum 2010.

When I started watching it being streamed online, and seeing what topics they covered – I knew I wanted to participate. So I tweeted, and after about a minute of tweeting at them, they mentioned me in their video feed

That was an interesting moment for me. It’s when I realized that this thing – this mask of Anonymous – could have power.

@Asher_Wolf: How did the public respond?

@AnonyOps: There was lots of retweeting going on immediately. It felt as if a light switch had been flicked on. I felt I had a platform with which to speak, possibly for the first time in my life. I broke my first 100 followers on Twitter that day.

[Note: @AnonyOps now has more than 200k followers]

It was amazing. Such a dinky number of Twitter followers in retrospect, but to have it happen so quickly was interesting.

Live-tweeting something being streamed live online is still my favorite Twitter experience. It’s a rush. It was a bigger rush than some of the hacking I did as a teenager.

And yes – I see it as hacking – hacking public dialog. Taking on the Anonymous character and costume was like hacking my way onto a panel discussion where I’d never have been invited to participate otherwise.

When they announced to the entire room and online conference forum: “Hey everyone! Anonymous is here!” and they were talking about me.

I thought “Now what? I have their attention! Shit, better think of something smart to say next.”

It drove home I really needed to have a message, a vision for what I wanted to do and say. I needed to hone and develop my purpose.

Within just over a year of becoming an Anon, I was invited to speak at Transmediale (a huge a Berlin-based festival exploring art, culture and technology) as a panelist via Skype – representing to some degree a face of Anonymous.

@Asher_Wolf: Did you worry about “not fitting in” with the rest of Anonymous, when you jumped in and became part of the “hive”?

@AnonyOps: Yes, I worried at first. I wasn’t sure I’d mesh well with the hive. I don’t consider myself a typical Anon. After time, I stopped caring about giving a shit about being “different”, and counted it a good trait.

@Asher_Wolf: Does it ever feel like you’re playing at being a superhero?

@AnonyOps: That’s exactly what it felt like – and it still does occasionally. I think Anonymous caught people’s eye. But I’m just a regular joe. Anyone can be an Anon. But doing it well… takes work.

@Asher_Wolf: Did you feel a sense of obligation, knowing the impact you can potentially have ?

@AnonyOps: Do I feel a sense of obligation: of course. But I’m not particularly involved as an activist in “meatspace.” I just care. I do pay attention to politics and I’m careful about what information I put out online, as I know it influences other activists. Giving a shit is half the battle, if not more.

@Asher_Wolf: Some political pundits have criticized Anonymous as anti-American at times?

@AnonyOps: I’m sure there are some anti-American elements. But sometimes it seems difficult to discern between those who are anti-American – and those who love America, but hate how the country is being run.

@Asher_Wolf: Do you still have hope for the U.S.?

@AnonyOps: Not necessarily hope for America as a concept, but hope – and perhaps faith – in the people. I don’t really consider myself nationalistic, but I care about my country, its constitution. I don’t hold the concept of country as more important than people or life itself. American exceptionalism is a curse upon the U.S.

@Asher_Wolf: How do you react to claims by media and government representatives hyping the potential of cyber terrorism, cyber war and Anonymous.

@AnonyOps: Cyber terrorism… it’s one of the things that made me think that perhaps the US wasn’t the place for me anymore. The US government is hungry for enemies, looking for any excuse to find that next danger to the public – “think of the children!!” I don’t want to be that enemy the US administration is looking for. For fuck’s sake – I was trying to fix America, not become public enemy Number One.

@Asher_Wolf: Did you fear the American government would prosecute you? That you would be jailed for hacking something or tweeting something?

@AnonyOps: Coupled with all the evidence about the FBI knowing about plots to kill leaders of Occupy and the violence inflicted by militarized police against peaceful war veterans protesting as part of the Occupy Movement? I didn’t think I’d be jailed for hacking anything, but for tweeting something, sure. I’ve seen it happen to friends. They were hit with amazingly flimsy “conspiracy” charges, or something they said triggered them to be raided – free speech, my ass.

@Asher_Wolf: Like Barrett Brown?

@AnonyOps: Yes, like Barrett. Granted, some of the things he said in video were pretty stupid, but I don’t believe he was planning on killing anyone. He’s looking at potentially landing in prison for 100 years for saying dumb things.

@Asher_Wolf: Anonymous has previously been described by a Fox News affiliate (as well as other commentators) as “domestic terrorists.” Did you ever, for a second, see yourself as a terrorist? And how did it feel to have media describe Anonymous, the movement you became one of many representatives by proxy, described as terrorists?

@AnonyOps: To be personally considered a terrorist was, for me, is the height of idiocy.

To love one’s country and to want to see it live up to the things it says it holds dear – just to be called a terrorist….it’s disheartening, eye-opening and really frustrating.

Sometimes I wonder if news organizations are following in the steps of “shock-jocks” – in that, I mean they’re simply stating things to get a rise out of people. Or that they’re just trolling us. Can they really be that stupid? It’s hard to tell sometimes…

@Asher_Wolf: How did you react to knowing you were being portrayed that way?

@AnonyOps: I just had to continue to fight on, knowing this sentiment isn’t in the majority. Or at least hope it isn’t. We have to fight harder against this stuff. Silence gives consent. You have to yell loudly at that kind of stupidity and not let journalists get away with it. Name and shame.

@Asher_Wolf: Did you feel a need to take special action to keep yourself and your family out of harm’s way since you began to publicly identify as Anonymous?

@AnonyOps: You hide, hope your online anonymity efforts have worked or you get the hell out of the country – which is what I did. I got the hell out.

I’ve known for quite some time that this is where things would end up. Anonymous has left the building, as it were. The idea of leaving occupied my life for about a year.

And being a refugee of sorts, it’s not all roses. I gave up so much; my home, family and friends.

But I’ve seen what my government does to outspoken people, to people who are “too effective” in their criticism.

Just look at Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Thomas Drake, John Kiriakou, Andrew Alan Escher Auernheimer, Jeremy Hammond, Barrett Brown… people *are* being persecuted for trying to speak out against the regime.

I had to leave.

@Asher_Wolf: Did concern that you’d be charged with a crime relating to your involvement with Anonymous play into your decision to leave the U.S.?

@AnonyOps: Yes – mostly I feared they’d fake my involvement in something or try to entrap me, or hit me with some bullshit conspiracy charge.

I left for some of the same reasons Aaron Swartz “left.” I’m sick to death of where the US is going, about the impact it has on people’s lives. But exile was my choice of escape instead. I don’t have suicide in me and I didn’t want to end up in a jail cell.

But I’m so sick of dealing with the bullshit American “justice” system. Sick of seeing prosecutors throw the kitchen sink at people, hoping they’ll plead out so as to avoid, you know, actually going to trial and proving someone guilty. That’s not justice, it’s railroading. Kitchen sink justice is why I left.

I mean… they could still trap me, I’m sure, if they were so inclined, and I’m sure they would if i ever got *so good* at liberating information from their death grips. Perhaps then they might see fit to draw a box and put me in it. So I chose exile, instead

@Asher_Wolf: So this is essentially a form of political exile of sorts?

@AnonyOps: Political exile is better than being a political prisoner. I see how that’s worked out for others. Years in detention like Bradley Manning, Jeremy Hammond or holed up somewhere in Canada like Commander X.

@Asher_Wolf: Where did you decide to go ?

@AnonyOps: Just… away. Probably better not to name where I went. Just, somewhere safer. I think the idea was planted when I saw others leaving. Glen Greenwald left, and other talent has quietly slipped away from the U.S. for quite some time now.

There’s a brain drain, of political dissidents – America’s punishment for screwing with civil liberties.

With the NSA building massive domestic spying programs, I can’t blame anyone for wanting to leave: America – land of the surveilled, home of the logged.

@Asher_Wolf: What do you miss most since you left the US?

@AnonyOps: I miss… being able to hang out with friends and family. And I miss the really expensive health care! (Just kidding!)

@Asher_Wolf: Do you think you’ll ever return to the US?

@AnonyOps: Yes, I’m sure I’ll be coming back to the States. I just won’t be coming back with any electronic equipment.

But yeah, I’ve no illusions that I’m “in hiding” or out of view of the US government. However now if they want me, they have to expend quite a bit more resources to come get me, and have to deal with another government to do so.

@Asher_Wolf: Did you feel regret over leaving?

@AnonyOps: My only regret is leaving has become the choice that seems sanest right now. I regret… I regret that leaving seems like the best option right now. But it seems safer in some ways.

Of course… if the US government deems me an “enemy” or “enemy combatant”, they can easily drone-kill me now. I guess that’s a new danger that didn’t exist before. That’s harder for them to do in the states, but they’ve done it abroad

@Asher_Wolf: But you’re still an American citizen…?

@AnonyOps: The US government doesn’t seem to care about that pesky requirement. 16 year old Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was also a U.S. citizen when he was killed by U.S. drone bomb in Yemen.

We need to stop thinking that there is one rule of law for some and another for us. Extrajudicial killing – the US government is literally murdering people. There is no “due process.”

The US has lost the concept of due process. In the US intellectuals, technologists and activists are targeted for harassment at borders: their property is taken, they’re put in “holding” for a long time. There are countless examples of Occupy protesters being singled out because of their involvement in the movement.

But there are countries that have shown that bankers can, in fact, be put in jail and that presidents aren’t immune to the scrutiny of the people, and will be held accountable. I want to live in places where justice isn’t just lip-service.

@Asher_Wolf: Do you worry about the message your decision to leave gives to other activists in the U.S.

@AnonyOps: No, not at all. I mean…. it may give them the message to leave as well – but that doesn’t bother me. Maybe it’s a message activists need to hear and consider carefully at this point in U.S. history: from my perspective, it’s time to either leave or hide.

***

Journalist, information-activist, and commentator, Asher Wolf has been described as a “twitter journalist” by the Sydney Morning Herald, and “one of the key activists across the world in coordinating news and information relating to breaking the old information hegemony”, by Swedish Pirate Party founder Rick Falkvinge.

A prolific user of Twitter, Asher is a contributor to the New Matilda and a member of the Australian MEAA journalist’s union. She’s also the founder of the CryptoParty movement, with events promoting personal privacy and cryptography in over 60 locations around the world.

Boho feral, feminist and fascinated by the implications of all things machine and geek, Asher Wolf is tinkering at the crossroads of government transparency, personal privacy, journalism, social media, technology and activism.

For more from Ahser read her blog and follow her on Twitter.

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Jan 2013 09

by Steven Whitney

Last week, the House of Representatives voted on Bill HR-41, finally funding disaster relief for all the towns, cities, and states that Sandy devastated just over ten weeks ago.

Why it took so long for the bill to reach the floor and why it approves only 16% of the total Senate disaster package has still to be credibly explained.

Led by the inimitable Paul Ryan, 67 Republicans voted against the bill, stern in the belief that the millions of Americans who were ravaged by the storm of the century could pull themselves up by their soaked bootstraps and rebuild without the government’s meddlesome intervention. Or perhaps they hope that concerts by McCartney, Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Clapton and the rest of the rock community can eventually pay for all the damage, one concert at a time – over the next 50 or 150 years.

Actually, Republicans have been very clear about how relief from catastrophic calamities that befall others should be administered.

First, they don’t want to spend one dollar on assistance unless it is taken (or stolen) by equal cuts from so-called “entitlement” programs like Medicare, Social Security, Title X, and anything else that benefits underprivileged Americans. To get $10 billion in relief, how about a $10 billion in spending cuts on breast and uterine exams? You want $10 billion more? All right, let’s cut food stamps and starve the poorest among us. You want another $40 billion? Okay, we’ll just confiscate everyone’s social security accounts and let the old geezers fend for themselves.

The idea here is to pick the pocket of poor Americans to provide aid to other devastated Americans. Just as long as anyone who actually has money – maybe even a nest egg – doesn’t have to pay an extra penny.

Secondly, Republicans have long wanted to completely privatize disaster relief so corporations can make a 20% (or more) profit on providing aid to the needy. Really, you can’t make this stuff up. And I’d bet a dime to a dollar that, following the Dick Cheney playbook, Halliburton has already done an internal study on how to reap maximum profits from the misfortune of others.

The Marine Corps, perhaps the proudest of all our institutions, lives by the maxim that no one is left behind. No one. Ever. It not only defines their extraordinary code of honor, it is the foundation of ethics and morality by which most Americans live.

I say “most” because these 67 Republicans apparently want nothing to do with ethics, morality, or a code of honor.

You don’t have to have a liberal bias to confirm the facts. Every single Democrat voted to help their fellow citizens in a time of dire need. And these 67 Republicans – with their state and district numbers – voted for leaving millions of their fellow Americans behind:

Justin Amash R MI-3
Andy Barr R KY-6
Dan Benishek R MI-1
Kerry Bentivolio R MI-11
Marsha Blackburn R TN-7
Jim Bridenstine R OK-1
Mo Brooks R AL-5
Paul Broun R GA-10
Steven J. Chabot R OH-1
Doug Collins R GA-9
K. Michael Conaway R TX-11
Tom Cotton R AR-4
Steve Daines R MT-1
Ron DeSantis R FL-6
Scott DesJarlais R TN-4
Sean Duffy R WI-7
Jeffrey Duncan R SC-3
John J. Duncan Jr. R TN-2
Stephen Fincher R TN-8
John Fleming R LA-4
Bill Flores R TX-17
Virginia Foxx R NC-5
Trent Franks R AZ-8
Louie Gohmert R TX-1
Robert W. Goodlatte R VA-6
Paul Gosar R AZ-4
Trey Gowdy R SC-4
Sam Graves R MO-6
Tom Graves R GA-14
Andy Harris R MD-1
George Holding R NC-13
Richard Hudson R NC-8
Tim Huelskamp R KS-1
Randy Hultgren R IL-14
Lynn Jenkins R KS-2
Jim Jordan R OH-4
Doug Lamborn R CO-5
Kenny Marchant R TX-24
Thomas Massie R KY-4
Tom McClintock R CA-4
Mark Meadows R NC-11
Markwayne Mullin R OK-2
Mick Mulvaney R SC-5
Randy Neugebauer R TX-19
Steven Palazzo R MS-4
Steve Pearce R NM-2
Scott Perry R PA-4
Tom Petri R WI-6
Mike Pompeo R KS-4
Tom Price R GA-6
Phil Roe R TN-1
Todd Rokita R IN-4
Keith Rothfus R PA-12
Ed Royce R CA-39
Paul D. Ryan R WI-1
Matt Salmon R AZ-5
David Schweikert R AZ-6
F. James Sensenbrenner R WI-5
Marlin Stutzman R IN-3
William M. Thornberry R TX-13
Randy Weber R TX-14
Brad Wenstrup R OH-2
Roger Williams R TX-25
Joe Wilson R SC-2
Rob Woodall R GA-7
Kevin Yoder R KS-3
Ted Yoho R FL-3

Those who criticize Republicans have a misguided belief that they can listen and change if the right argument is put to them. But that assumes reasonable people and these fools are anything but reasonable – they don’t listen to common sense or possess any human morality and have no concept of the common good of a nation and its people. So let’s all stop criticizing these court jesters and just ridicule them.

And no more trying to convince them to “do the right thing.” These Republicans need to be punished. So take action! If you see on this list any Representative from your state, immediately start a Petition of Impeachment and get the signatures of every person of voting age in your state. And join with those from disaster areas like New York and New Jersey and March on Washington – let’s say 30 million strong. Then surround the Capitol Building until these 67 jerks surrender en masse to the mercy of those they would leave behind.

May a swarm of locusts invade their houses…and frogs inhabit their borders…and lice crawl on the endless boils of their skin…and their sightless eyes see the darkness of their ways…and a pox settle on all their houses.

That is less admonishment than they deserve.

It’s time to punish the 67!

[..]

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Jan 2013 06

by Rachel Allshiny

“What are you doing for New Year’s?” The question, posed by friends and family members this past week, seemed innocent enough. When I cheerfully answered, “Protesting the prison industrial complex,” however, most people were taken aback.

My sister-in-law tried to convince me that a prison protest on New Year’s Eve would accomplish nothing beyond annoying the guards. A friend said I should take the day off of political activism and do something fun. My parents have given up making sense of my extracurricular activities altogether.

But to me, a prison noise demonstration was the only place I wanted to be. I have been very active in supporting political prisoners this past year, primarily the NATO 5 and Jeremy Hammond. Through my interactions with them and the system that has taken them hostage, I have come to recognize how many lives are ruined when we lock people in cages. I no longer trust the “justice” system to determine guilt or innocence, and I know that the prisons have done far more harm to individuals and our society as a whole than can ever be justified.

The first noise demonstration began mid-afternoon at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago, a federal prison. Like many protest actions I have attended, there was a festive spirit to the gathering. Many protesters wore brightly colored masks and used a variety of New Year’s party noisemakers to add to the general ruckus. The plaza was still cordoned off with yellow CRIME SCENE tape from a recent prison break, in which two bank robbers successfully wove a rope out of bed sheets and lowered themselves down 15 stories. One of the men remains at large. We asked people to bring their old bed sheets and knotted them into a rope of our own right there in the plaza. It was a symbol of liberation for all who are incarcerated as well as an embarrassing reminder of the facility’s recent security breach.

We chanted and sang, shouted and danced. A few people swung the bed sheets like a jump rope. We marched around the building, followed closely by Chicago Police Department and Department of Homeland Security vehicles. The building goes straight up and has only the narrowest of windows, but we were soon able to see prisoners waving at us from every floor. Some turned their lights off and on repeatedly to get our attention. We cheered. The guards just stood their ground and glared at us.

The first noise demo ended at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building. A woman spoke about travesty of workplace raids, as well as whole families rounded up in home raids, all resulting in record numbers of deportations. These immigration detention centers are like a shadow prison system – “detention” is not considered “incarceration” and a different set of rules apply to the undocumented.

***

After a short break to allow people to warm up, we met at Cook County Jail for a second noise demo. This time we armed ourselves with glow sticks and were joined by a ragtag anarchist marching band. Also joining us was a veritable fleet of CPD and Cook County Sheriff cars, and two bike cops who must have drawn the short end of the stick. By this point it was very cold, and getting colder by the minute.

The plan was to circle the perimeter of the jail, which is close to a 2-mile walk. (Cook County is not only one of the most notorious jails in the country, but also the largest, and houses 10,000 inmates at any given time.) But first we veered off course and crossed the street to stop by Division 11, the newest section of the jail, built outside of the main compound. The other divisions are set back behind rolls of razor wire or overlap with other buildings, blocking our view of the windows. But Division 11 has windows facing directly onto an open plaza, and we were able to easily see and be seen by those inside.

The reaction of the inmates to our presence was incredible. We saw rows of silhouettes waving, clapping, dancing, jumping with joy. They banged on the windows and flickered their lights at us. One inmate took off his uniform shirt and swung it around his head. It was the most electric, uplifting feeling imaginable. The band played louder, we danced and clapped and made some noise. We ignored the guards yelling at us and the lights flashing atop squad cars and gave it everything we had. When we finally turned back to circle the main compound, a young woman stopped banging on a pot lid long enough to exchange a high five and irrepressible grin with me.

The jubilant spirit did not last long. Within a few minutes, we were having a tense confrontation with our law enforcement escorts, which result in a violent and entirely unnecessary arrest. The protester would later be charged with felony aggravated battery, but the only violence I saw that night was perpetrated by officers of the law on unarmed, peaceful activists.

Still, we made a complete circuit around the jail. On the last leg of the journey we spent some time blocking a side street with the bed sheet rope snaked between us, dancing and singing. It was a glorious moment, in no way diminished by the police officers watching us dubiously from every direction.

As a society, we try to hide our problems, to lock them away instead of working proactively on solutions. When our problems inevitably worsen and multiply we lock those away, too – and find a way to make the whole system profitable for well-connected individuals and corporations. We do everything possible to make prisoners –– most of whom are serving time for non-violent offenses, most of whom have dark skin –– invisible.

Noise demos such as these, in solidarity with others held on New Year’s Eve across the globe, refuse to buy in to that mentality. We stand up and say: They have hidden you away, but we see you. They have told us to forget, but we remember you. They have demanded that jail be miserable and dehumanizing –– but we brought you a marching band.

In a call from Cook County Jail on the morning of December 31st, one of the NATO 5 explained to me: “It’s hard to be in here this time of year. Even if you aren’t big on celebrating the holidays, other people are feeling it. Everybody is missing someone.”

I feel good about how we spent New Year’s Eve. It was exciting to see prisoners expressing joy, which they get to do so rarely. It was cathartic to unleash my own pent up frustration at the jail’s unforgiving walls in the form of a primal, wordless scream. Most of all, it was inspiring to see so many others committed to supporting prisoners in 2013 and beyond.

This is what solidarity looks like.

Photos courtesy of Lee Klawans and Chicago Indymedia.

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