In times crying out for a robust resistance, it seems that all we have are vacuous, me first, non-profit professionals and their corporate-foundation-funded, no-membership-voting-rights groups watering down (crushing, if they can – claiming credit, if they can’t) any grassroots efforts to effectively confront the slate of dire problems resulting from our fat cat-driven/earth-consuming/perma-war industrial society.
Elites claiming to be the “resistance vanguard” criss-cross the continent on tar sands oil-fueled jets holding confabs, attending board meetings in exotic locales, staging vanity protests, sloganeering, hanging banners, posting fund-raising letters on social media thrice daily and pimping corporate Democrats… all while cashing their foundation pay-offs… er, grants.
The People’s Front of Judea vs the Judean People’s Front
And, then there are the ludicrous, time-sapping internecine battles – two recent ones being perfect examples of self-marginalizing due to the scourge of “identity politics.”
Recently, a tiff broke out between “anarchist,” “radical” environmentalists from Derrick Jensen’s Deep Green Resistance group and environmental activist transsexuals. The sordid details are here to read . And here.
I truly like Jensen’s writings – his and the superb cartoonist/graphic artist Stephanie McMillans’s As the World Burns is excellent, as I wrote here. I was entertained, yet somewhat appalled the one time I saw him speak. And, now I am rather perplexed at the disconnect resulting in his and his close allies inability to walk their talk.
When I saw him speak that time, he kept inciting the young audience members to “pick up the gun” as, according to him, there was no other choice left to counteract Terracide. Jensen, in a university setting, even asked for a show of hands as to how many had an AR-15 tucked away at home – as if! One friend noted, “I know some young people who followed similar advice from (Earth First! Co-founder) Dave Foreman. They went to prison. Dave didn’t.”
The DGR basic argument is that born-male transsexuals are bullies using their “male privilege” – to do just what I cannot fathom –though, one DGR sympathizer bizarrely claims they become transgendered so that they can continue to rape women! I assume the objection has to do with what they see as how once-male females will instinctively act out of a position of dominance in all interactions with women-born-women – that having ever packed a penis marks one as a dreadful misogynist for life. The recipients of DGR’s hostility have labeled this misguided “feminism” Transphobia. Another Earth First! Co-founder Mike Roselle noted, “These writers make me think being a man is an incurable disease.”
Then again, transsexuals, who, baited by all this, went off on people at a recent eco-resistance conference, need to just calm the fuck down. But, consider the hypocrisy of DGR and Jensen and his top lieutenants’ autocratic takeover of DGR after some local chapters quickly faulted the anti-transsexual position – a top-down consolidation of power after long-standing pontificating on decentralized, democratic, communitarian principles. Just who has “male (class, really) privilege” issues here?
Instead of going after allies (and there have been transgendered people in Earth First! since 1979) and using trumped-up accusations of misogyny as a cudgel, maybe DGR should do some analysis of cults of personality. They should listen to the folks from their own chapters who disagreed, instead of pulling a raw power grab in response… and realize how all this undermines citizen-based movements. But, more importantly, it undermines any achieving of the changes necessary for Gaian survival, or at least lessen the impact on other innocent species, that such groups ostensibly are formed to achieve.
But the one squabble that has me most worked up is the one between CounterPunch and the International Social Organization (ISO).
Its origin is the actress Angelina Jolie’s recent New York Times op-ed in which she detailed her preemptive double mastectomy due to her finding out she carried a gene known as an indicator of susceptibility to getting breast/ovarian cancer.
CounterPunch published a piece by Ruth Fowler that I found vicious in its contempt for Jolie. I let the editors know I didn’t like it and found it very unfair and that I thought Jolie’s Choice should be used as a springboard to address all the issues of Cancer, Inc. Jolie clearly was trying to address in her op-ed. Last weekend, at a gathering of the Monkey Clan, my female friends were all talking about if they’d have their own tits removed and my guy friends responded by considering if they’d have their balls (uh, oh; did I just use some banned words?) cut off preemptively if they got a DNA readout indicating their susceptibility to testicular cancer. Jolie deserves credit for getting people talking about it.
Others, led by the – yes, they still exist – Trotskyites at the ISO, also did not like Fowler’s piece. ISO is ineffective (except at shaking down college kids), cultish and dogmatic like DGR – everyone speaks the same kind of language/idioms and they likewise claim to be the “vanguard of the forthcoming revolution.” Sharon Smith of ISO wrote a response and numerous follow-ups exchanges that accused CP of being a misogynistic teenage boys’ club and demanded “Counterpunch owes women an apology” because they would not force a woman writer to change one certain word in her sub-head.
Smith, like me, decried that “Jolie has been singled out for such scorn” since she “neither created nor can resolve the health care crisis.” The entire first half of her response focuses on CP’s “Boob Jokes” and “sexualizing cancer.” It’s only after she gets that off her chest that she addresses just what Jolie has done. That first half of Smith’s rant is all about condemnation over the use of one word – that word was “tits.” That word, rather than Cancer, Inc., just as quickly became the leitmotif of the entire spat; and, as with DGR, a large dollop of demonizing male sexuality, consecrating female sexuality and self-hatred thrown in.
In a piece that read like he was channeling his good buddy, the late, great Alexander Cockburn – himself no stranger to left infighting buffoonery (and yet another cancer loss) – CounterPunch co-editor Jeffery St. Clair wrote a brilliant, funny rebuttal and take-down of identity politics and the vast distraction and harm it has done to popular movements – a piece that stands on its own regardless of tit-gate. It’s as if these groups are completely infiltrated and allowed to exist just to keep these distractions going.
St. Clair, like Cockburn before him, can certainly hold his own in this arena (another recent piece of his on the sorry state of the “left” has also provoked an overdue discussion.) And, he has a legion of like-minded supporters. The Internet is abuzz with comments from both sides on Tits and Trannies. As St. Clair noted, it’s become a Facebook War.
Again, I found Jeff unfair to Jolie – I don’t like that, but I can accept it – we just disagree. Also again, Jeff doesn’t address cancer itself much (though the on-going personal impacts revealed bear notice). But, also again, that slight of the underlying medical issue here is a main reason why I see this identity politics stuff as being so distracting, at best; and a dishonest, self-serving truncheon wielded on anyone one disagrees with, at worst. St. Clair had to address the “tits” and apology demand controversy and I want to see Cancer, Inc. and the idea/efficacy of preemptive surgery take center stage (my buddy Mark Ottenad sees it as “submitting to the knife before the knife is called for”). CP has published many pieces on Big Cancer in the past; even this one by Sharon Smith, herself.
My grandmother, my mother, four aunts and a sister-in-law have all died of the same cancers that took Jolie’s mom Marcheline Bertrand – by all accounts a remarkable, good-hearted woman – the inspiration for Jolie’s many attempts (admittedly misguided at times) to do good in the world. Jolie’s concern is not something to do with her “privileged lifestyle.” It has to do with personal experience in losing people close to you to this insidious industrial disease. Marcheline’s sister, Angelina’s aunt Debbie Martin, died of breast cancer less than two weeks after Jolie revealed her medical choice.
Sure, Jolie was born to two actors. Sure, Jolie was going to auditions since she was a baby. Sure, she is a highly-paid celebrity in our celebrity-obsessed culture and couldn’t live a “normal” life no matter how hard she’d try. Sure, she can use her celebrity to get space on the restrictive, elitist NYT Op-ed page. But, it has little to do with that – it’s about losing your mom, ferchrissakes, andhaving children yourself and wanting to be there for them. While I’m completely suspicious about the efficacy of what she’s done medically, I find Angelina’s intent admirable.
And, just so you, DGR and ISO know, it was Marcheline’s dear male friends Jackson Browne, John Trudell, Quiltman and the incomparable American hero Willie Nelson who held a series of benefits for the Women’s Cancer Research Center in her memory/honor.
MICHAEL DONNELLY is angered by the industrial toxin-caused cancer epidemic that has cost him so many relatives and friends and the lack of corporate accountability – a lack only worsened by diversions like identity politics oneupsmanship. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org