Michael Sam, Donald Sterling, and Politics in Sports

May 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

The Inevitable Politicization of Sports (Lompoc Record)

New column by me in today’s Lompoc Record, ends with a call for both local high school teams to change their crappy mascots.

In a week of headlines dominated by Michael Sam and Donald Sterling, one of the most frustrating responses has been from commentators and fans who wish we could “away from all the politics” and “just focus on sports.”

Not only is their wish for a politically neutral entertainment world impossible, it would ruin sports.

If openly gay NFL draft pick Michael Sam makes the NFL, it may not be a Jackie Robinson moment, but he will undoubtedly add a new thread to the tapestry of personalities that make up the landscape of sports. Similarly, when NBA forward Kevin Durant, in tears, thanked his mother while accepting his MVP trophy, it was an inspiring moment for me and thousands of other sons of single parents who grew up poor.

We watch sports not just for the times when our team wins, or the pure aesthetic marvel of top athletes doing things no one else can do. We watch to follow stories like those of Kevin Durant, Michael Sam and even Donald Sterling and the players working for him. And in cases of identity politics, like that of Michael Sam, the personality and the politics are inextricable.

Read more (from lompocrecord.com).


Occupy Hardwood pt. 3: What is the Score as the Final Buzzer Sounds?

December 11, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’m two weeks late to talk about the end of the lockout and the world wondering “what’s next” for occupy now that encampment after encampment gets evicted.

Two weeks later, we know what’s next: Fucking madness.

Thursday: On the day the Owners and the Players voted to ratify the new CBA, the small-market Hornets, a team the NBA had to purchase from its owner in a 300-million dollar bailout, were basically the shining example of the unsatisfactory economic model of the NBA and, in the owners’ perspective, why we needed a lockout in the first place. Their inability to keep Chris Paul, one of the 5 best players in the league, was a microcosm of everything this CBA was supposed to solve. Thursday, after hearing for months that Paul would not stay in New Orleans past this coming season no matter what, New Orleans decided to get what they could for him, leave themselves in a position to build for the future, and traded him. To the most successful and second-richest team in the league — the Lakers. Wuh oh.

NBA commissioner David Stern, given executive control over the Hornets by virtue of the fact that the league now owns the team, looked upon this and said, like the clucking benevolent patriarch he is, “no no no no no no no”. And he blocked it.

A few hours later in New York, the Spectacle devoured itself.

Law and Order SVU decided to do an OWS episode. Presumably because the producers have all been reading Occupy Patriarchy and decided to contribute to the discourse. To film this episode, Law and Order built an entire Occupy encampment set in Foley Square, complete with kitchen, library, and signs.

Then, the real occupiers showed up and made use of the fake encampment to stage a real protest.

I was going to quote Guy Debord here but it basically doesn’t matter. Mostly because saying you’re going to quote Guy Debord accomplishes everything you would have accomplished by actually quoting him.

Kind of like how Occupiers don’t actually have to bring more than 100 people or stay for more than an hour at the TV set to get their point across. All you really need to do is stay long enough to have your yuks over the human mic, be able to quote a police officer yelling “I NEED LAW & ORDER”, get a few dozen media hits, and call it a night.

It’s about the simulacrum superseding the original.

If you’re David Stern, this might manifest as blocking the trade that would signify the utter failure of a collective bargaining agreement for which you locked your employees out for 7 months — on the day it would be ratified — not because blocking the trade fixes the problem of a lack of competitive balance between large- and small-market franchises in your league, but simply to avoid a news story. To avoid the creeping realization that, no, this lockout was never for a moment about competitive balance, or creating a more financially successful, enjoyable league, or any of that other horseshit. The 2011 NBA lockout, like every lockout in every industry that has ever occurred before it, was about ownership looking to take money and control away from its employees.

Getting back to the original question: What comes next? For the NBA, more of the same, obvs. For occupy? Very much not.

The easy answer is, no, the movement has not gone away. Wait for springtime, when the weather warms up, when shit historically tends to happen.

And while that’s true, I don’t think it really captures the full answer. When non-organizers ask what’s next for a social movement, I get the feeling that what they really mean is, what’s this thing going to accomplish? How big is this thing getting? Are you going to win?

Leaving the UC Nuclear Free/Demil movement and through into my involvement with Think Outside the Bomb, I’ve had a preoccupation over the last few years in my organizing with winning. I’d had enough of doing activism to make me feel better about the world, or because “someone needs to do it”. If I was going to pour myself into a movement, I expected to see results. This made sense from a standpoint of prioritizing which cause to focus on, as well as a tool for self-accountability and self-challenge. In campaign-based groups, it was always easy to tell what winning was — you get the UC to end its management of the labs, or you don’t. You shut down the CMRR, or you don’t. Cut and dried. Bing bang boom.

Occupy is a different monster, and not just because it doesn’t have demands. Occupy is, to me, a revolutionary movement that does not intend to overthrow (and barely acknowledges) state power. Revolutionary in the sense that Occupy purports and exemplifies a radical re-envisioning of how people interact with one another and live together. Occupy’s principals extoll a vision of the world which is likely incompatible with the current social and political order, and yet the main action of occupy — the occupations themselves — aren’t focused on the world outside of the encampment at all, much less overthrowing the government.

Instead, Occupy creates a replacement to the existing miasma of local, state, and national governments in consensus meetings and assent to the rules within the space as well as (most of) the laws outside it. The creation of these spaces is essentially all that occupy has done. And every person who has been arrested, beaten, teargassed, pepper sprayed, or shot with a rubber bullet at an eviction of an Occupy site has been attacked as such simply for trying to exist within a separate social structure in a public space. For acting free, even though we are not.

I first called myself a revolutionary when I was 15 years old, and first discovering radical politics through punk music. Recently, though, I’d begun to shy away from that label. Out of fear. The same fear I’d felt when Bush got reelected, when I thought there was no way it could happen. The fear that the people of this country are, for the most part, fascists. That jingo, blood lust, and a love for authority and punishment had swallowed America’s deep cultural passion for freedom and verdant multiculturalism and shat them out, replacing them with empty slogans and xenophobic paranoia.

I was afraid to want a revolution because I thought that any disruption of the current political order would bring us more fascism rather than more democracy. And while I believed and still believe that revolution does not necessarily involve overthrowing or even destabilizing state power, I don’t think I really understood it the way that I feel like do now that I’ve seen Occupy.

It doesn’t mean fascism is any less big or scary in America, but it helps frame the ways we can oppose it, and install cultural changes towards democracy instead. Changing culture — that’s how we win.

When thousands of people get experience with consensus, making decisions as if what they have to say matters, with freedom and the idea that we deserve it — this is us winning. When these little semi-TAZes pop up in hundreds of cities and towns across the country, this is us winning. When the kids at UC Davis turn away the police who brutalized them using only the power of their voices, and get their first taste of victory earned through civil disobedience, this is us winning. When Stephen Colbert does twinkle fingers and Martha Stewart pepper sprays her thanksgiving turkey, this is us winning. When our tiny little Occupy Lompoc has the most beautiful goddamn Really Really Free Market I’ve ever seen, and our members as well as passers-by in the community walk away with the feeling that something is going on here, this is us winning.

Thanks to Occupy, I feel comfortable calling myself a revolutionary again. And I don’t have to give up on winning, either.

Occupy Hardwood part 2: The unity of the NBPA must be a complex unity

November 15, 2011 § 1 Comment

Decertification of the NBA players association was Chekhov’s gun, and so was the Occupy Wall Street raid. Now they’re going off, very very slowly. Say you’re watching a movie. A scene early on plays out as such:

A: “I know you’re trying to sleep with my sister.”
B: “Believe me, I have absolutely no intention of sleeping with your sister.”
A: “You’ve been trying since day 1 to sleep with my sister, you’ve wanted nothing else. If you do, there will be hell to pay.”
B: “Here’s the thing, though, is that we’re trapped on an iceberg floating aimlessly through the arctic sea, just the three of us.”
A: “I’ve noticed that.”
B: “It’s not like this is a new situation. We’ve been on this thing for two years.”
A: “True.”
B: “Now, I’m really horny, and so is she. In fact, I’ve been avoiding her for months now because I honestly don’t think I can turn down another of her advances. Do you know how hard it is to avoid a person when you’re living on an iceberg only 6 feet across?
A: “Yes, I do. Do you know how hard it is to avoid two?”
B: “All I’m saying is, it’s been two years, freezing to death, waiting for someone to swing by and pick us up. A little shared body heat will either save our lives or make life a bit more bearable in the meantime.”
A: “Maybe, but then I’d kill you.”

If the rest of the movie failed to revisit the sexual tension between B and A’s sister (who is named N, just to make the allegory that much more Hawthornianly ‘Hester-Prynne-rhymes-with-sin’ blatant), it would be a terrible movie. NBA negotiations needed to go here, because if they didn’t, the players wouldn’t have used their leverage, and the negotiations wouldn’t have been complete. Decertification has been hanging on the wall since Act 1 — why is anyone surprised that it’s gone off now?

Part 2 of Occupy Hardwood is about the NBPA decertification, and the Oakland and New York Occupy evictions that have bookended it. It is about the way decertification and the threat thereof mirrors the hidden anarchist principles of Occupy which have allowed the social movement to escalate — peacefully and effectively.

Contemporary anarchism, having “embraced post-modernism better than any other social movement”1, has informed and influenced the shape, culture, and organizing model of the Occupy movement in beautiful ways that, sadly, it probably won’t receive the credit for (we just get the blame when people break shit). Most obviously in the idea that the Occupy movement has no leaders, but it goes much deeper than that. Anyone who has studied social movements can see that Occupy has borrowed some of their most essential characteristics — consensus decision making, honoring a “diversity of tactics”, and prioritizing community building and the creation of alternative and radical space over submitting a list of demands2 — from the largely anarchist-inspired social movements such as the anti-nuclear movement of the 70’s and 80’s, the counter-globalization movement popularize by the Battle in Seattle, and infoshops and anarchist collectives nationwide, rather than older progressive, liberal, and socialist social movements which retained hierarchical decision making and strategic models, and focused more on “institutional” channels of reform.

By using and popularizing consensus decision making, we create a space in which people who often feel shut out of political action, both on the electoral and grassroots level, are given a space in which they feel like their voice matters3. By eschewing formal leadership, we bridge the Alinskyan split between organizers and partisans, and instead enable and encourage everyone involved to assume decision making power within the group, and in turn entrust them with the responsibility to do work for the group. As Spider-Man’s uncle Ben famously said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Uncle Ben would have been a fucking great anarchist.

Boil all this together and you have a space in which it’s possible to create what Angela Davis has been calling a “complex unity”4 — a group of people who have enormous differences, ideologically, culturally, in terms of privilege, etc — and work together not just in spite of them, but through their differences draw strength from one another.

In the NBAPA, you see a unity much less complex (they all roughly want the same thing), yet still pretty chewy. Spencer Hawes is a die-hard conservative teabagger who has, according to his twiter, suddenly learned the beauty of solidarity. Kobe Bryant is reportedly giving money to less financially stable players to help them survive the lockout. Would-be rookie Kemba Walker, who hasn’t even gotten his first NBA paycheck yet, tweeted “No money. Ok. I grew up with no money. There’s nothin new!”. Having the Paul Pierce decertification-crazy contingent coexisting peacefully under a blanket next to the Derek Fisher bargaining committee, though, was a beautiful use of a diversity of tactics. Allowing a radical, contradictory tactic to develop peacefully next to well-dressed D-Fish at the table for 16 hour sessions allowed the players to use what leverage they had effectively, and seamlessly prepare for the next step if they felt pushed to do so. Kind of like holding Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland until the police raid and brutalize you, then gathering the next night and deciding to hold a general strike. Or bouncing back to push through a legal decision protecting tents as free speech only hours after police raid Zuccotti Square.

The truth is, I have no idea what is going to happen to the NBA post decertification, and I have no idea what is going to happen in Occupy Oakland and OWS after the raids. But in each case, those on the bottom have done everything right up until this point, to put themselves in a situation to respond.

Here is the entire post illustrated by video: 1,

PS: Etan be reading my mind.

PPS: Tweet of the day — @adrian_parsons: #OWS protester: “the cops have occupied Zucotti Park, we’re just trying to figure out what their demands are.”

(1) Quote is from my rooommate. And before you ask, actually yes, he is an authority on the subject (of anti-authoritarianism?).

(2) A note on the utility of having no demands: By submitting a list of demands to an elected official (or the unpaid intern of a hired spokesperson of an appointed representative of an elected official), you give them the opportunity to ignore the demands as they see fit, or shape the implementation of those they adopt such that, in the end, they barely resemble the initial demand. This is the old “sausage-making” legislative model of social change, and it is incomplete. Us community organizers understand that social change comes about as a building and leveraging of power against power — “political jiu-jutsu” as the nonviolence writer and scholar Gene Sharp calls it.

(3) http://www.theawl.com/2011/10/the-livestream-ended-how-i-got-off-my-computer-and-into-the-streets-at-occupy-oakland — a beautiful article, and here’s the takeaway quote:

Never in my life did I imagine I’d be sitting with a group of adults seriously debating policy as if our decision made a difference.

(4) My roommate (who, seriously, knows these sorts of things) says that academia has been using the term “multiplicity” to mean the same thing since forever. I hear “multiplicity” and think of the Michael Keaton movie from the ’90s, even though I never actually saw that movie. Complex unity is a stronger phrase anyway. Let’s all use that from now on, ok?

Occupy Hardwood part 1: An ACL tear to one is an ACL tear to all

November 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

First, my apologies to this blog.

I haven’t been writing, mostly because the time I would be spending doing that has been taken up with Occupy. This is not an acceptable compromise for me. I have to do both.

So, here’s some words about the two things that, as an anarcho-roundball fanatic, I think about all the freaking time: the Occupy movement and the NBA lockout.

Most of the people who read my blog probably don’t even know this, but for those of you who missed it, the NBA locked out the players’ union (referred to hereafter as NBAPA), stopping all basketball-related activities until the union agrees to concessions that the league says will help it become profitable and keep individual, small-market teams from losing money.

Of course, there being billions of dollars at stake, there’s a lot more to it than that. Lots of writers on the internet have had fantastic coverage and analysis on the lockout, talking quite a bit about how this money should be split, about what’s fair and who’s right, and what the true stakes of the lockout are for the game of basketball. I’m not going to duplicate that work. I implore you to read Ziller and Truehoop for that.

And while I’m interested in following the lockout because I love watching basketball played at the highest level and I can’t wait for it to start again, I am also dreading the end result of this beast. Because the NBA lockout has very real consequences for me, my family, and the rest of the 99%.

What seems to be lost in the shuffle in all the discussion over the lockout is that, even though this is a struggle between millionaires and billionaires over how to divide an obscene sum of money, the NBAPA is still a labor union, and this is still, fundamentally, a conflict between workers and business owners. Not only that, but the NBAPA is on average the highest paid union in the world. NBA owners love to trot out this factoid, as if when labor is paid more than other labor, all of a sudden a disparity in wealth is unfair. But it is significant if for no other reason that most of these NBA team owners have multi-billion dollar interests owning just about anything and everything else. Forcing the players’ union to take a collective 22% paycut, as the owners have been fighting for all along, sends a strong message to the employees of their other businesses.

The message is this: “Listen, I don’t like cuting your wages by almost a quarter any more than you do, but times are tough right now. Even the NBA players had to tighten their belts, and now it’s time for everyone to do the same. (Me? Oh god no. I’m eating filet-de-unicorn tonight).”

Unions are precarious right now — just ask state employees in Wisconsin, or Ohio, etc. –and the current recession(1) is being used as an excuse to cut benefits and roll-back wages for employees of all businesses, whether the business itself is going underwater or taking in money hand over fist (see the Verizon strike). As the old slogan goes, an injury to one is an injary to all.

On the other hand, the protests in Wisconsin earlier this year were the most effective public labor mobilization in this country in over a decade, and through Occupy Oakland we just had the first (“)general(“) strike in the US since 1946.

Occupy has begun to look at labor, too, though I’m not sure if Occupy knows why or how other than that’s what you’re supposed to do if you’re trying to build a people’s movement against entrenched and inflexible corporate/capital power. Union mobilization saved the Wall St. encampment on Cleaning Day a few weeks ago, and the aforementioned general strike is, to date, the most significant action that’s come from the Occupy movement.

While the solidarity of purpose is present between labor unions and young ne’er-do-wells, for the optimist looking like an echo of France in ’68, this association could very easily fall apart for the same fundamental reason: Labor is a strategic means by which people organize, not a visionary means as Occupy is. Labor, while it certainly has the visionary goal of improving the lives and situations of working people, is by definition strategic: it must at some point focus on the next contract, the one after that, and so on.

This is not a critique of labor, though — in fact, it’s the opposite. From labor, I think the Occupy movement can and must learn strategic, campaign-based organizing. Not because the Occupy movement needs a strategy, but (as I’ll get to in part 2), by positioning itself as leaderless, Occupy is creating many leaders, and has the potential to empower many people to enact many strategies, simultaneously. While Occupy has power and legitimacy from the fact that it doesn’t focus around one campiaign, this doesn’t mean that campaigns are bad. It means that it has the size and the organizational freedom to wage, essentially, infinity campaigns.

Now, in my opinion, the most important successes of the Occupy movement have already been accomplished, and they have nothing to do with strategy (as I’ll discuss in part 3, the finale of this missive). But developing campaigns and strategically assessing how to accomplish them is a necessary part of leveraging power and turning the types of cultural shifts Occupy is creating into tangible and empowering social change.

First, though, we’re going to need all of our numberless leaders to learn how to do campaigns. And to do that, I’m going to pull out one of my favorite organizing tools in the whole wide world: the Midwest Academy strategy chart. And I’m going to fill out selected sections of it here after the jump, using the NBAPA’s campaign to achieve a more favorable contract from the NBA as our blueprint model. Note that this is from the NBAPA’s point of view. Yes I realize that this whole exercise is more than a bit silly.

Hopefully, though, I can both demonstrate to Occupistas how to plan a strategic campaign in order to accomplish specific goals, as well as maybe explain to NBAniks from outside the world of community organizing what the NBAPA has been, could be, or should be doing during the labor struggle. (continued after the jump).

(1) Or as I like to call it, “The Really Good Depression”.

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