For what cause, O man, chargest thou me thy daily complaint? - Boethius
May 1991; pages 16-17, 19; Volume 2, No. 6
Dear Polemicist: (2/4/91)
One of the things that I've missed most since leaving the University is this publication, so I'm writing to tell you that. When I was still part of UT, I was grateful for the work of this journal's editors, writers, researchers, and reporters (yes, I know that at the beginning only two people functioned in all four categories), but hadn't realized how very special this thing is until I began to compare it to progressive/alternative student publications in other places.
More than any other I've read, Polemicist has been consistent in its leftist analyses and its critiques of the problematics and contradictions of power, privilege, and political misbehaviors across the terrain net only of the university and various components therein, but of the connections between that university, those components, and the larger world to which any university is linked.
You an have done what any alternative press focusing on a university is supposed to do: you remind us an of the stakes involved in resisting and opposing what George Lipsitz calls the "enormous industry of meaning making" - an industry whose purpose it is to help manufacture consent for the State and whose success depends on making people believe a lie: that the university and the "real world" are separate.
No one struggles without an analysis, and analysis is neither self-generating nor static. The more students make of themselves agents in a political world by demystifying what goes on within the protected space of the university, the more they need to engage in constant self-critique and the more they need not just information but arguments. And one of the advantages that the alternative press has over the corporate (or, euphemistically named "mainstream") press - within or outside the university - is that you all don't have to sit on your criticisms.
If a journal needs polemic to struggle, then any struggle needs information, the analyses, the reminders of the complications, contradictions, sloppiness, and sometimes just plain silliness of the opposition and the allies - in short, what a journal with polemic can help supply. A struggle makes and remakes itself on a day-to-day basis. An effective alternative press organ helps keep track of history, remembers the successes and the failures, and simply never stops belly-aching about the problems. None of them.
I've shared my copies of your rag with new friends and colleagues here. They're impressed. So am I.
As two of the "confused Yammies" referred to in Kathy and Purnima's biography of the ACPME, we feel a need to respond to some of what was written, both about the Campaign and Youth Against Militarism/Anti-Militarist Action (YAM/AMA).
The authors seem to believe that a secret power elite did not form in the Campaign until sometime in January. This is not a realistic portrayal of the events which led to the formalization of the "shadow government" by the Campaign's self-defined leaders, hereafter referred to as the Oberfuerers-O-Peace, or "Oopsies," and their followers. The Oopsies made their presence known from the very beginning of the Campaign and had divided the group into friend-or-foe camps within the first month of the Campaign's existence.
The article briefly mentioned the scantily attended press conference the Campaign held at the Austin American-Statesman, but does not mention the anti-war rally held earlier that month at the Federal Building. It was from the Oopsies' handling of this event that a debate began in the Campaign about the decision-making process, and not at the Town Meeting, which was held almost two months later.
Rob missed the first planning meeting for the October 20th rally, however, at the second meeting learned that in the time between the first and second meetings, the time and location of the rally had been changed. The original plan was to hold the rally at a highly visible location, Camp Mabry, a military base right here in Austin, sitting right alongside a well-traveled highway.
Instead, the invisible hand of the Oopsies had moved the rally to a side road in the heart of downtown, at noon on a weekend, where the chance of reaching people and letting them see that there were people actively opposed to this war-thing that Bush wanted was very slender. The redirection of the group's planning into the largely ineffective hidden rally was so discreet and complete, one "confused" member of the Campaign later stated that the FBI could not have done a better job of sabotaging it. This was only a sample of what was to come.
After both the Fed Building rally and press conference were seen by the Campaign as ineffective, the Campaign began to examine its decision making process to rectify problem areas so that future actions would be more successful. In fact, for the remainder of the year, much of the time in Campaign meetings was devoted to stifling debate regarding the establishment of new process. Not that any of the discussion mattered anyway, as is evident by the Oopsies absolute control over the definition and establishment of the new order.
In the "pre-deadline" days as the US was still escalating troop movements to the Middle East and propaganda drives at home, YAM decided to organize direct action in opposition to the impending war separate from the Campaign hierarchy and control. At a planning meeting for a December action, one Campaign member came and told us that she had been asked by some Oopsies to attend the meeting and report her "findings" back to them. This was not an official Campaign "outreach" to other arms of the "movement," since a number of "Yammies" were actively involved in the Campaign. Rather those Oopsies had sent this woman to infiltrate the meeting, collecting information for solely their benefit.
After the war had started in earnest, when Bush ordered the bombing of Kuwait and Iraq, some Oopsies used the media to denounce YAM and other resisters' actions as "hostile" and "discouraging" in the promotion of the Campaign as the "real" movement against the war.
The Oopsies' repertoire of control tactics included not only the discrediting of groups autonomous of their and the Campaign's "leadership" as undercover agents and informers in collusion with the government. These reckless allegations, having no evidentiary factual basis, served as a means of alienating many members of the Campaign from each other and the Campaign and the movement itself. Ultimately, these infiltration rumors led to the establishment by the Oopsies of an exclusionary rule in the Campaign's official policy guidelines whereby the 12 members of the Steering Committee have the absolute authority to tick people out of the Campaign.
This leads back to how the Oopsies officially structured the Campaign as a rigid, centrally-controlled organization. The Steering Committee had been given the task of submitting proposals (in the plural) for structural change that would accommodate the growing numbers of members in the decision making process.
Instead of submitting these proposals for discussion, the Oopsies entered the next meeting with a newly established centrally-controlled process, effective immediately, no discussion. Few people were pleased with this and the membership requested more proposals and scheduled another discussion, only to be dismissed yet again due the difficulties the Oopsies had in presenting more than one option to the membership, despite the fact that two other proposals had indeed been submitted.
The Oopsies proposed that their structure be "temporarily" adopted since the Campaign was suspending meetings for the upcoming winter student vacation anyway. Alas, the large scale debate over various processes never occurred. When the Campaign started up again amid the flurry of the beginning of the war, the Oopsies' structure and process were already well established tradition: Oopsies "facilitate" all discussion and the elite limited member steering committee has exclusive decision making power in the "facilitation" of meeting campaign goals.
Kathy and Purnima's article attempts to separate this "facilitation" from the more negative connotations of "power" through the formal acknowledgement of the decision makers of the Campaign so that members would have greater understanding of exactly who is responsible for the decisions made. The major problem with this proposal is the very "accountability" that it attempts to address - while those few people in positions of power to direct the Campaign would be singled out as answerable to the general body, the general membership itself is completely disempowered of access to the decision-making process thus elevating the Oopsies to positions of absolute authority.
Probably best illustrating this is a quote from the article itself: "(The Yammies and others) confused dialogue with "decision-making." These members never saw the actual decision process that developed outside of the impossible and cumbersome meetings, and eventually superseded them." In other words, any discussion arising outside of the officially authorized, or at that time "tacitly permitted," oligarchy-o-process-n-position is useless and as such repudiated as an avenue of effecting campaign strategy.
The self-imposed impotence expected of Campaign members in the unquestioning acceptance of Oopsie "leadership" is similar to the vegetative state of the populace necessary for acceptance of George Bush's unilateral decision to engage in a war in the Middle East. Those people opposed to the status quo and its war and determined enough to resist despite this lifelong conditioning of abnegation only encountered the same warped "you ignorant masses must be led by we educated and competent leaders" ideology of oppression in the "peace and justice" community. We, the community of resistance, don't need to replace the old shit with new shit, even if it's mollified by "oops. We had too much unrestricted "control." The quest for control, of either the world or the resistance movement, is always too restrictive.
Rob Los Ricos
Bose and Mitchell respond: We just wish to note that this letter was actually written by Jessica Selinkoff and Robert Thaxton. Despite years of imprisonment as a Slavic revolutionary, when Bakunin lashed Marx for authoritarianism, he had the courage to do so under his own name. The use of a pseudonym for personal security, in our context, reflects no more than an inflated sense of self-importance.
Although we could take these criticisms point by point - particularly with regard to Selinkoff's and Thaxton's role in the Action Committee - we would 1ike to briefly talk about the issue of democracy instead.
For our efforts to analyze the implementation of democratic process, Thaxton and Selinkoff label us fascist dictators. Nonetheless we insist that any social justice movement must operate democratically. According to Selinkoff and Thaxton, any effort to limit individuals from monopolizing debate indicates the presence of a "rigid, centrally controlled organization."
Selinkoff, who so vociferously now objects to "facilitation," once asked to be trained as a facilitator and acted in this capacity on more than one occasion. She discovered, much to her chagrin, that the facilitator is not a "leader" and does not even get to participate fully in the discussion. Unable to take control of the meetings in any other way, she pontificated at great length on democratic process to the exclusion of other voices. Needless to say, these sessions obstructed urgent anti-war work.
Despite the complaints against Selinkoff, no one ever voted to expel her from the Campaign. No such authority existed at any level, nor did anyone want to create this kind of structure. Steering committee representatives were never empowered to do more than report decisions made at the committee level to the larger group. Steering committee meetings were always open, had Selinkoff or Thaxton chosen to hear the actual debates.
Nonetheless, we appreciate any effort to expand the debate on democratic process. Organizations rarely take the time to evaluate themselves, and we invite Youth Against Militarism to join us in this effort at public self-criticism.
Debates within the First International suggest the following questions which we might seriously consider. Is a mass-based organization going to achieve its goals best through mass participation at every level? Through some form of administrative bureaucracy (as both Lenin and now George Kozmetsky advocate)? Through representational leadership? Does mass participation at every level really lead to mass empowerment, or only the unrestrained participation of the loudest and rudest?
To the Readers of Polemicist:
An anti-war protester was arrested by University of Texas police in front of the undergraduate library on February 27, and now seeks legal assistance and letters of support from students. Letters of protest can be sent to: Dean Sharon Justice, Dean of Students Office, Dorothy Gebauer Student Services Building, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Tx., 78713-7849 and Judge Russell, County Court at Law #2, P.O. Box 1748. Austin, Texas 78767.
Robert Ovetz was one of six people who had demonstrated against the presence of FBI and CIA recruiters by scattering recruitment literature from their tables in the Flawn Academic Center.
The arrest carne twenty minutes after the demonstration, as Ovetz was voting in the Student's Association election. He was approached by an officer and told he was suspected of disruption and asked to follow him inside. After refusing Ovetz' request for time to finish voting, the officer pushed up against him after he stood up. According to witnesses' accounts, an undercover officer who never identified himself, approached Ovetz from the left, grabbed his upper arm and kneed him between the legs, knocking him to the ground. Ovetz was held down by three other officers, including the FBI recruiter, and choked with a baton.
After spending two days in the city jail, Ovetz was charged with assaulting a police officer, evading arrest, resisting arrest and failure to identify as a witness. If convicted he faces up to two and one half years in jail and a fine of a $5000. No criminal charges were filed dealing with the protest. In addition, the Dean of Students has offered him suspension from the University through December 31, 1991. Ovetz has rejected the suspension and is preparing for a disciplinary hearing before a law professor chosen by the Dean's office.
According to Ovetz, he has since been harassed by the UTPD on two occasions: cited a warning for "criminal trespassing" while coming out the Economics building on normal business, and warned again while in Jester East dormitory slipping small SAW fliers under doors. The warning stated that no "soliciting" was allowed, and that visitors were not allowed after hours.
To date, Ovetz has not been able to find any legal assistance. He has been turned down by six National Lawyers Guild lawyers and Jim Harrington of the Civil Rights Project. He requests that any further witnesses of his arrest step forward. There will be a fundraiser at 3105 Breeze Terrace on May 4th to raise money for his defense. For more information please contact Robert Ovetz. P.O. Box 49814. Austin. Texas 78765, 320-8596.
Editor's note: Although Polemicist has no particular love for the UTPD, which has arrested its editors during past demonstrations, the isolated position in which Robert Ovetz find himself has little to do with the police.
A self-aggrandizing young man, Ovetz constantly embarrasses and dismays his political acquaintances by his overblown rhetorical statements and actions that serve no agenda but his own. If this were the first altercation between Ovetz and the UTPD, we might agree that he was a victim, but there have been other such incidents. During a previous non-violent demonstration against CIA recruiting, for example, Ovetz assaulted a recruiter although no such activity had been planned.
No movement needs to divert its energies towards the tedious and expensive defense of individuals who refuse to work within the guidelines laid out by their organizations. Staged confrontations do not substitute for a concrete and long term political agenda. Getting arrested is not a badge of honor. Don't we take enough shit from the cops and authorities already, without unnecessarily provoking conflict?