This documentary, about the anonymous street artist Banksy, is the best I’ve seen in ages. Banksy made world headlines last year when one of his paintings sold at a Sutherby’s auction for £1,420,000 and mysteriously self-shredded once the bidding finished.
The film is narrated by friends and artists who have worked with Banksy. The street artist grew up in Bristol, where he was heavily influenced by the 1980s grafitti/hiphop/rap/DJ culture. The Traveler* community (often associated with anarchism) has always had a strong presence in Bristol and the Glastonbury Festival that takes place annually in the area.
A local youth worker offered up the premises of Barton Hall youth club as a space for all Bristol youth to legally tag and post graffiti. As a teenager, Bansky spent most weekends there. He maintains he was first politicized by the 1990 poll tax riots under Margaret Thatcher. By the 1990s, Banksy (like the late New York street artist Jean Paul Basquiet) was moving away from the tagging towards conceptual art with a political message.
The film includes a video clip of Banksy (his face disguised by a bandana) a mural for the Zapatistas shortly after they occupied Chiapas in 1994. He has also painted stunning murals along the illegal wall the Israeli government erected between Israel and the West Bank, as well as installing a permanent exhibition in Gaza (in 2015) called The Walled Off Hotel: the Worst Hotel in the World.
Banksy first came to world prominence in 2003, when he infiltrated famous art museums all over the world to install politically provocative paintings. It was around this time he moved to London and began accepting commissions to paint murals and other art works. He still considers himself an outlaw, underground street artist, producing art for ordinary people who never buy paintings or visit art museums. His images are simultaneously ironic and iconoclastic, in a way that forces people to question the way society operates. One of my favorites is the image of a small girl in a pink dress frisking a soldier in riot gear.
When Jude Law, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie started buying his prints, their value skyrocketed. At present it’s not uncommon for prints Banksy sells for $150 to be resold at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. His prank last year at Sutherby’s was his response to the extreme commodification of a creative art form that was meant to be freely available to the poor and downtrodden.
Beyond Elections: Redefining Democracy in the Americas
Directed by Silvia Leindecker and Michael Fox
Beyond Elections is about the global participatory democracy (aka direct or deliberative democracy) movement – the grassroots effort to replace so-called representative democracy (aka polyarchy*) with a process in which citizens participate directly in policy decisions that affect their lives. Historically participatory democracy began in ancient Athens, where people governed directly through large public assemblies (unfortunately assemblies were limited to free born men, who comprised only one-fifth of the population).
According to the filmmakers, participatory democracy died out until 1989, when the Brazilian Workers Party resurrected it in Porto Allegre Brazil by creating participatory budget assemblies. In my view, this isn’t strictly correct, as the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, who the Marxists expelled from the First International** , advocated for a system of participatory democracy called “collective anarchism.” Workers used participatory democracy to run the 1871 Paris Commune, as did numerous Spanish cities during the Spanish Civil War.
The Spread of Participatory Democracy
The documentary explores how this new style of local government spread throughout Brazil and to other Latin American countries, as well as to Europe, Africa and even parts of Canada (Guelph Ontario and parts of Montreal). A few US activists are campaigning for more American communities to adopt participatory democracy (several are described in the 2012 book Slow Democracy), but most Americans have never heard of it. The only aspect of participatory democracy widely adopted in the US are workers cooperatives.
Beyond Elections presents numerous examples of participatory democracies in the various Latin American countries that have implemented it. Under representative democracy, local councils are nearly always controlled by local business interests, and elected officials typically enact budgets that benefit these interests. When ordinary people control the budgeting processes through popular assemblies, they spend the money on programs benefiting the entire community, eg on clean safe housing, health centers and basic sanitation.
The Venezuelan Example
Following Hugo Chavez’s election in 1998, the Venezuelan government called a constitutional assembly to write a new constitution. The latter enabled Venezuelans to directly govern their communities through communal councils, as well as water committees, workers committees (to set up and run workers cooperatives), health committees and land committees (to implement land reform and set up farmers cooperatives).
The projects carried out by the communal councils and various committee were funded by grants from the central government. Despite endemic corruption in the Venezuelan bureaucracy, these new grassroots-run structures succeeded in bringing health care, decent housing and basic sanitation to Venezuelan slums for the very first time.
The film also examines the adoption of participatory democracy in Bolivia, Ecuador and parts of Mexico controlled by the Zapatistas.
The film is in 16 parts of roughly 5 minutes. Each successive segment starts automatically as the preceding segment finishes.
*In a polyarchy, power is closely guarded by a wealthy elite and the population remains passive except for periodic “free elections” in which they vote for the elites of their choice. When a tiny minority controls nearly all the wealth, “free elections” are only possible if the majority is systematically controlled with psychological propaganda. See Emancipate Yourself from Mental Slavery
**The First International Working Man’s Association was an international organization which aimed at uniting a variety of different left-wing socialist, communist and anarchist political groups and trade union organizations that were based on the working class and class struggle.
While the front pages and TV news reports in Mexico are full of accounts of ghastly levels of corruption and violence that would have boggled the imagination of the most jaded pulp fiction writer, in every corner of the country there are spaces where “you breathe a different air,” as the saying is here.
On the outskirts of San Cristobal de las Casas, famed colonial center of the southern state of Chiapas, on the wooded campus of the Indigenous Center for Comprehensive Training (Spanish acronym: CIDECI – follow the link to learn more about this remarkable alternative university) over a thousand people from all over Mexico and beyond are attending a weeklong seminar “Critical Thinking Confronting the Capitalist Hydra.” It was conceived and organized by the Zapatistas, the Chiapas-based armed insurgency that has converted itself into one of the most extraordinary experiments in regional autonomy and self-sufficiency in the history of social movements in Latin America. Along with masked members of the Zapatista army, rural peasant farmers, high school and college students, activists, teachers, artists’ collectives, members of various social and political formations like the National Indigenous Congress (Spanish acronym: CNI) are spending the week listening to a wide-ranging number of presenters from Mexico and abroad with expertise in key areas where the “hydra” now dominates: finance, government, agriculture, social welfare, communications, race and gender relations, science and technology.
And, true to the comprehensive vision of human discourse that is modern day zapatismo, they are also hearing from poets, artists, writers, historians, philosophers. The attendees pack the seats of the large auditorium and spill into the corridors and outside into the shaded walkways that surround it, using all the various ways we now have of capturing information, with an avidness and level of impassioned curiosity that would warm the heart of any college professor used to declaiming to a bored and distracted student body.
The analysis so far has been relatively concordant and not surprising: a litany of the human and ecological disaster that capitalism has wrought (not just in Mexico, but of course that is the primary focus here). The Spanish word “despojo,” which has only a much weaker equivalent in English, “dispossession,” recurs in so many presentations that it is clearly seen as one of the most fundamental characteristics of the system. “To be stripped violently of everything that sustains you” would be closer to the real meaning of this word. That is the key experience of capitalism’s innumerable losers: the mass of humans without power or privilege, and the living world.
2014 marks the fifteenth anniversary of the Battle of Seattle, the week of protests in November-December 1999 that shut down the World Trade Organization (WTO) Third Ministerial Round. Also known as the Doha Round, the intention of these negotiations was to significantly expand the power of multinational corporations to challenge democratically enacted labor, environmental and health and safety laws.
Opening ceremonies had to be canceled on November 30, when seventy to one hundred thousand global protestors stormed downtown Seattle and hundreds of activists chained themselves to cement pipes to block delegates’ access to the Paramount Theater. The police riot which ensued was our first encounter with the police militarization that would characterize the new millennium. Rather than simply arresting them, Seattle police beat, tear gassed and shot rubber bullets at peaceful protestors, journalists and passersby alike.*
Organizing Began in January 1999
I still lived in Seattle in 1999 and participated in the local organizing. We began in January 1999 when Mike Dolan, Public Citizen’s national field organizer, called the first planning meeting at the Seattle Labor Temple. Dolan continued to visit Seattle for monthly meetings, as well as coordinating organizing efforts in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington DC and other major US cities.
The biggest challenge in organizing the anti-WTO protest was that hardly any Americans had heard of the WTO in 1999, much less recognized the immense power Clinton was handing to private corporations with the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) and the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the treaty that created the WTO in 1994.
With 100,000 activists descending on Seattle, it became necessary to set up a home stay network to provide them with accommodation. I hosted seven activists in my home, two each from Los Angeles and Alaska, and three from the Mendocino County Rainforest Action Network.
The IFG Teach-In
The week started Friday night November 26, when 3,000+ of us packed into Seattle’s Symphony Hall for a two day teach-in organized by the International Forum on Globalization. World famous anti-globalization activists (including Indian anti-GMO activist Vendana Shiva, Malaysian economist and journalist Martin Khor, Canadian water activist Maude Barlow, Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki, French farmer activist Jose Bove, Ghanaian farmer activist Tete Hormeku, anti-sweatshop organizer Kevin Danaher and Owens Wiwa, brother of executed Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa) each gave twenty minute presentations, followed by questions and small group discussion at the Seattle Art Museum across the street.
Maria Galaradin recorded all the presentations and has many of them archived at TUC Radio
On November 27-29, there were a series of small non-confrontational protest actions organized by specific interest groups. On November 28, I participated in a protest march to the Cargill grain elevator at the port to protest the corporate takeover of global food production by large companies such as Cargill and Monsanto. It was led by representatives of the Zapatistas, Via Campesino and the US National Family Farm Coalition.
Protest organizers had scheduled the main protest, involving fifty thousands global trade unionists and tens of thousands of farm and environmental activists for November 30, the day WTO negotiations were meant to start. We had planned three days of workshops and small localized protests for December 1-3.
Mayor Paul Schell Declares Martial Law
All this changed when Mayor Paul Schell declared martial law and made it illegal to carry anti-WTO signs, wear anti-WTO buttons, chant anti-WTO slogans or carry anti-WTO leaflets into downtown Seattle. Angered by the unprovoked police violence and suspension of our first amendment rights, organizers cancelled all previously scheduled events. Instead we held daily spontaneously organized marches into downtown Seattle – in direct defiance of Schell’s suspension of the Constitution.
Both of the videos below were produced in 2000. The first, Trade Off, by documentary filmmaker Shaya Mercer, focuses mainly on Dolan, his organizing strategy and the wide range of international organizers and groups who helped make the protest possible.
The second video This is What Democracy Looks like was produced by Seattle Independent Media Center, which would spawn the birth of the global IndyMedia network. This film focuses more on the militarized police violence against peaceful protestors and the role of the week long protests in convincing third world WTO delegates to reject the draconian demands of the US and its first world allies.
Obama Resorts to Secret Treaties
Despite numerous attempts by the Bush and Obama administrations, the Doha Round of negotiations was never revived – thanks to the staunch stance of third world delegates.
Obama’s solution has been to try to introduce the same draconian corporate protections through two secret treaties, the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Negotiations for both treaties are being held in total secret. Although 600 corporations have been allowed to see (and write) the both of them, members of Congress and national parliaments are forbidden to see either treaty until they’re signed. Several sections of the TPPA draft have been leaked by Wikileaks. See New Zealand Kicks Off Global Protest Against TPPA
Obama is lobbying for fast track authority on TPPA. Under fast track, the Senate would be forced to vote the treaty up or down without debating its provisions. Congressional Democrats defeated Obama’s efforts to win fast track on TPPA earlier this year. Recently, however, the President expressed confidence a new pro-business Republican Congress will grant him this authority in 2015.
*Seattle Chief of Police Norm Stamper resigned one week after the WTO protests. He subsequently apologized, in 2009, for excessive and inappropriate use of force by Seattle police. In 2007, a federal jury ruled the city of Seattle was liable for arresting protesters without probable cause, a violation of their constitutional rights. As a result the city awarded a $1 million settlement to the 600+ activists arrested during the 1999 protests.
**The Zapatistas are a Mexican international liberation army founded in 1994 in reaction to the North American Free Trade Act (1994). They control several autonomous areas in rural Chiapas.
***Via Campesina is an international movement which coordinates peasant organizations of small and middle-scale producers, agricultural workers, rural women, and indigenous communities.