Posts from May 2007

Bentham Quote for the Day

By and large, I am not a fan of Jeremy Bentham. I think that his politics were middling at best, and his philosophical ethics are philosophically mistaken and both morally and politically corrosive. But I have been impressed by the early essay I’m currently in the middle of reading, in which Bentham argues against State control of the financial markets, which he provocatively if unfortunately entitled a Defence of Usury. Letter IV, on the Protection of Indigence, includes this wonderful response to the argument State command-and-control can or should be enlisted to protect the poor from their own decisions to seek credit from predatory lenders. As perfectly disgusting as I find most of the sharks who target poor people in money trouble, the problem has to do with laws that regulate and restrict formal-sector credit so as to make too little credit in too few forms available from too narrow a class of people. The proposed statist remedies — more bans and more restrictions — are worse than the disease. Here’s Bentham:

A man [sic] is in one of these situations, suppose, in which it would be for his advantage to borrow. But his circumstances are such, that it would not be worth any body’s while to lend him, at the highest rate which it is proposed the law should allow; in short, he cannot get it at that rate. If he thought he could get it at that rate, most surely he would not give a higher: he may he trusted for that: for by the supposition he has nothing defective in his understanding. But the fact is, he cannot get it at that lower rate. At a higher rate, however he could get it: and at that rate, though higher, it would be worth his while to get it: so he judges, who has nothing to hinder him from judging right; who has every motive and every means for forming a right judgment; who has every motive and every means for informing himself of the circumstances, upon which rectitude of judgment, in the case in question, depends. The legislator, who knows nothing, nor can know any thing, of any one of all these circumstances, who knows nothing at all about the matter, comes and says to him — It signifies nothing; you shall not have the money: for it would be doing you a mischief to let you borrow it upon such terms. — And this out of prudence and loving-kindness! — There may be worse cruelty, but can there be greater folly?

The folly of those who persist, as is supposed, without reason, in not taking advice, has been much expatiated upon. But the folly of those who persist, without reason, in forcing their advice upon others, has been but little dwelt upon, though it is, perhaps, the more frequent, and the more flagrant of the two. It is not often that one man [sic] is a better judge for another, than that other is for himself, even in Cases where the adviser will take the trouble to make himself master of as many of the materials for judging, as are within the reach of the person to be advised. But the legislator is not, can not be, in the possession of any one of these materials. — What private, can be equal to such public folly?

— Jeremy Bentham, Defence of Usury (1787), Letter IV.

I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to apply the same principles to parallel arguments against government-imposed wage floors, or against bans on so-called price gouging on essential commodities.

Just people: Over My Shoulder #35, Nikolai’s story about work at Chernobyl, from Poor People by William T. Vollman

Here’s the rules:

  1. Pick a quote of one or more paragraphs from something you’ve read, in print, over the course of the past week. (It should be something you’ve actually read, and not something that you’ve read a page of just in order to be able to post your favorite quote.)

  2. Avoid commentary above and beyond a couple sentences, more as context-setting or a sort of caption for the text than as a discussion.

  3. Quoting a passage doesn’t entail endorsement of what’s said in it. You may agree or you may not. Whether you do isn’t really the point of the exercise anyway.

Here’s the quote. This is from chapter 3 of William T. Vollman’s new book, Poor People. It’s a sometimes compelling and sometimes tiresome book; Vollman went around cities in the U.S. and all over the rest of the world, interviewing (urban) poor people in several different countries, bringing back their stories and their answers to questions like Why are you poor? and Why are some people poor and other people rich? The compelling part are the actual stories; the tiresome part, which appears only a little in this passage but a lot more elsewhere, is Vollman’s insistent, neurotic handwringing about his own position as a rich American and his own authorial presence in the tale. (There’s nothing wrong with being upfront about these things; but there’s also nothing interesting in spending 2, 5, or 8 pages musing about your trouble in writing about poor people’s stories, which you could have spent actually letting them talk about their own stories.) Anyway, this passage comes from Vollman’s visit to Russia in 2005, when he met an eighty year old woman in front of a church, who was begging to help support herself and a family of four — her daughter Nina, her son-in-law Nikolai, and two grown grandchildren, Marina and Elena.

Nina, who had been the family’s agent of verification twice in my case (first she telephoned the interpreter to inquire about our motives and resources, and then when I had invited myself into their home she had been the one who emerged from the doorway graffiti’d KISS MY ASS to inspect me), who calmed her husband whenever he got overly worked up against the government, and who seemed to be closest to the two daughters, had originally seemed to me, even taking into consideration Oksana, who in spite of being the breadwinner was after all eighty-one years old and who so frequently wept, the most capable physically, mentally, and emotionally. Nina was a handsome, careful woman who was aging well.

I had no idea that things would turn out this badly, she said. They promised us an apartment in Petersburg. We had no idea; we were actually lied to. We were told that my husband was sent there for construction, not to clean up. We heard about it on the radio, but they told him that he would be at a safe distance from the contamination. He was away for three months. He wrote letters. He was forbidden to let us know that anything was wrong. So I took him at face value; I thought that my husband would never deceive me. His health problems began immediately. He could no longer complete an eight-hour workday, so they proposed to fire him.

And what did you do?

I sat with the children a lot and also taught grade school.

When did you know that something was wrong? I asked.

I knew exactly when they measured me, the man replied. My exposure was nine point four.

And what did you know before they sent you to Chernobyl?

I didn’t know, he said. On my official military ticket they put down that I would only build houses, nothing else.

I had always thought that the USSR was fair to the workers, I said.

That is absolutely not true, he insisted, raising his voice. Fairness to workers is only what they scream about in the newspapers. I have written a letter to Putin. They reply told me to contact the regional authorities who have already ignored me.

The man had lost some of his hair. He was very lanky in his old blue suit, and sported a strangely pale and bony face.

He showed us his card which bore the date 1986, an incorrect year, which meant that he couldn’t prove that he had been at Chernobyl and therefore remained ineligible for compensation. (Here something must have been lost in translation or else Nikolai Sokolov was confused, for the date of explosion was in fact April 1986. Perhaps his part of the cleanup took place in 1987, for he later said: From ‘88 to ‘94 we lived in Volgograd trying to get housing.)

Have you stayed in touch with the other workers?

No, he said.

His wife thought the date to be merely an error. But he was sure that the government wanted all personnel in the cleanup crews to die.

I think that Moscow is responsible, he said. The whole point was to change the situation so that no one is responsible for what they have done to the people.

How are you today?

Unwell, he replied.

His wife said: When he was in the hospital, he got treatment. Then, when he had no more housing, that meant no more treatment…

I produced more radiation than the X-ray machine used to measure my lungs! he cried in proud horror. It was a four and I was a ten, so the X-ray was unsuccessful.

Was your presence dangerous to your family?

The lady who works the machine has to wear a lead apron against level four and I am a level ten, so absolutely. The situation was caused intentionally…

How was your life before Chernobyl?

He stood there folding his arms, thought, then said: My life was stable and very simple. I put in ten hours at the factory. Now I get the shakes and my joints ache. I am a house builder. I build from the bottom up. That is how I was trained, but I branched out into different types of work. Work is work everywhere. I started branching out into factory work and office work but then I started being discriminated against. I wasn’t making the same rate as others—

As I said, there were no more chairs in the Sokolovs’ flat, so he stood. I, the guest, observer and rich man, sat. By now he’d begun to exert a weird effect upon me with his lank hair and bald forehead, his heavy greying eyebrows.

When you went to Chernobyl what did it look like?

Very regulated. We would get on a particular bus, travel to an intermediate area, put on our suits, then go to the main reactor compartment. We would carry armatures and concrete, and pour the concrete. Japan sent robots inside the reactor, but the radiation was so high that those new, shiny robots became useless. They just stood there.

What did it look like inside?

The reactor was already capped with concrete when we got there. But there was a machine tunnel next to it, the mechanical chamber. What had blown out of the reactor in the explosion landed there: walls, pencils, whatever. In the beginning we had to run, not walk, because the radiation was so high. We were in there with shovels wearing masks. We were only there for several seconds at a time. Five seconds per day was what we worked. We would run in, shovel one load into a trench, then run out. The trench was six to eight meters deep. Once the tunnel had been cleared out we were told that it was all right to walk. When the trench had been filled, we pumped concrete over it. Downstairs where we worked, we wore fabric suits. On the roof they wore lead suits. They were better protected.

How many workers did you see?

There were several busloads of people every day, just for our shift.

Why didn’t they just fly over it in an airplane and drop sheets of lead?

Elena, sitting in her chair, brushed her pale hands together and said something bitter in Russian. Meanwhile the man grew more and more loud, leaning forward ever closer. —I’ve asked myself that many times. The reason is that they were too cheap to spend the money and chose instead to expend people.

Elena echoed bitterly: Just people.

It’s war, but people basically end up dead. Our veins are clogged, so they just tell us to drink more vodka, which makes it worse.

How many people have died?

I don’t know. I don’t listen to the radio. I’m tired of listening to fables.

If you hadn’t gone to Chernobyl, what would your life be like today?

I would continue building houses, he shrugged. I would be able to have a decent job, and enough money.

— William T. Vollman, Poor People, pp. 70–73.

Relief and the Command Post: an update on Greensburg and Kansas Mutual Aid

In Thursday’s post, I promised an update on Kansas Mutual Aid and the situation in Greensburg. Since then, I’ve gotten two updates in my e-mail: one of them was helpful; the other was outrageous. Let’s start with the outrage: a whole town was completely wiped out. People’s lives and homes and farms have been destroyed by terrible tornadoes. And the government’s idea of relief apparently consists in locking down the city, forcing volunteer relief workers to register at their self-declared Command Post, and using the threat of arrest—and disappearing—to throw volunteers out of town if they intend to help free people clean debris from their own ruined homes while holding the wrong political views. Here is the story of their visit to Greensburg this weekend:

Tornado Ravaged Greensburg, Kansas: Kansas Mutual Aid Relief Workers forced out of city by police

Saturday May 19, 2007
by Dave Strano

On Saturday May 19, five members and volunteers affiliated with Kansas Mutual Aid, a Lawrence based anarchist collective, made the trek back to Greensburg to again help in relief efforts in the tornado ravaged city. A week earlier, four KMA members had traveled to Greensburg on a fact finding mission to assess the situation there. What KMA members found was a militarized, entirely destroyed city where relief efforts were moving tragically slow.

Today’s trip back to Greensburg by KMA members and volunteers was intended to solidify the bonds we had created in the first trip, and establish a base of operations for future relief efforts. KMA spent the morning working on a house with members of AmeriCorps, and then proceeded to meet with contacts with the Mennonite Disaster Services.

We then headed out of town to a church just outside of city limits that we were told would be a place we could probably set up a base camp for our work. The church had been converted into a fire station by the state, so we continued down the road and met a farmer who was willing to work with us and let us use his land.

Soon after meeting the farmer, we were approached by officers with the Dickinson County Sheriff’s Department. After a brief exchange, the officers left, and we were told to report to the Kiowa County Emergency Response Command Post to receive official permission to set up our base of operations. We were notified that if we did not do so, we would risk having our operation ceased by the state.

Two of our delegation went to the Command Post, while the other three of us went to the County Courthouse to pick up some water and provisions being offered by the Red Cross. While we were picking up water and food, I was approached by an Olathe Police Officer named Ty Moeder who knew my face and identity. I was ordered to take my hands out of my pockets and follow the officer to a side street to avoid making a scene.

I and the other people with me followed the officer, and were repeatedly ordered to keep our hands out of our pockets, where they could be seen by the officer. Soon more officers approached, as well as at least one member of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, and some people from FEMA. Surrounded by agents of the state, we were ordered to produce our identification.

When I asked the police why we were being detained, Officer Moeder responded We need to check to see if you are affiliated with the anarchists. At this moment, our remaining two comrades approached to see what was happening. They were detained as well, and made to produce their identification.

Officer Moeder asked how we had gotten in to the city. We drove in, someone replied.

They weren’t supposed to let you in at the road block, responded Moeder, seemingly frustrated and perplexed by that answer.

They even gave us a day pass to drive in and out, we shot back.

A waiting game ensued for the next several minutes, with more officers approaching, now numbering almost fifteen. A Lawrence police officer approached, and was ordered to take photos of the car we had driven that was parked down the street. Officer McNemee from the Lawrence Police Department took extensive photos of the car, even of the inside contents of the vehicle.

Officer Moeder ordered me to step away from the rest of the relief workers and speak with him. You’re being ordered to leave and not return. This is not negotiable, not appealable. You can’t change it. If you return you’ll be arrested on site. And believe me, you don’t want to push that right now. This system is pretty messed up, and you wouldn’t be issued bail. You’d disappear in the system.

I asked repeatedly what we had done and why we were being ordered to leave the city. You’re part of a dangerous anarchist group that will only drain our security resources, he responded. We’ve been monitoring your website and e-mails, we know what kind of agenda you have.

So this is about our political beliefs? I asked.

No, he responded. This is about you being federal security threats. Kansas Mutual Aid is not welcome in this city, end of story. I know you are going through legitimate means to work in the city, and you’re story seems picture perfect, but we know who you are, and you’re not allowed here.

We were ordered back into our car and escorted out of the city by several police vehicles with their lights flashing, and left just outside the city.

We returned to Lawrence just moments ago, unhindered in our resolve to provide support to the people in the disaster area. We will continue to work in whatever capacity we can in the areas around the city that we may still be allowed into, and provide support to those entering the city.

The area is a police state, to be certain. Police and Law Enforcement from across Kansas and the country are making the rules about everything. Relief workers were banned from Greensburg today because of their political beliefs and work against oppression and tyrannical state control.

We will still be doing our presentation on Monday at the Solidarity Center, 1109 Mass Street in downtown, and at this point, are still planning on doing some sort of relief work on Memorial Day Weekend, even if that limits us to the farms in the surrounding area.

A longer, more in depth update with an announcement for future action will come soon. Please spread this story far and wide.

In love and solidarity,
Dave Strano, on behalf of KMA

Kansas Mutual Aid is facing down a gang of self-appointed armed relievers who have taken it upon themselves to tell local farmers whom they may, and whom they may not, invite to help them clean out their homes or get food and clean water. In the midst of a humanitarian catastrophe, they have decided that shoring up their own command-and-control structure against even the most ill-defined menace from people politically oppose their claims to authority is more important than whether or not the victims of the Greensburg tornadoes can get help in putting their lives back together.

I mentioned that I had e-mailed Kansas Mutual Aid to ask where out-of-staters could send money or supplies to support their efforts in Greensburg. They replied that they don’t have a PayPal account yet, but that money to support their relief work can be sent to their P.O. Box. Checks can be made out to Kansas Mutual Aid.

Kansas Mutual Aid
PO Box 442438
Lawrence KS 66044

The situation is developing rapidly, so I’ll post any new information that I get. Whatever happens, KMA will be doing what they can to provide desperately-needed help in a really ghastly situation. Keep them in your thoughts.

Solidarity, Mutual Aid, and Government Relief in Greensburg, Kansas


Last weekend, a small group of anarchist mutual aid workers from Lawrence, Kansas traveled to Greensburg, which had been almost entirely destroyed the weekend before that by a powerful tornado. What they found was a town completely devastated by a natural disaster, which is now being hurt, not helped, by official government relief efforts. Just as happened with Katrina in New Orleans, they faced the sickening sight of government agencies forcing residents to desert their own homes, turning away independent relief volunteers at bayonet-point, and devoting most or all of their own resources to security and maintaining the continuity of government over a paramilitary-occupied ghost-town. Here’s what Dave Strano of Kansas Mutual Aid had to say about the situation:

Somewhere over the Rainbow: A report from a Kansas Mutual Aid member from tornado devastated Greensburg, Kansas

by Dave Strano

On Saturday May 12, four members of Kansas Mutual Aid, a Lawrence based class struggle anarchist collective traveled to the small South Central Kansas town of Greensburg. Our intention was to go as a fact-finding delegation, to report back to the social justice movement in Lawrence on what exactly was happening in the city.

On Friday May 4, 2007 Greensburg was almost completely destroyed by a F5 tornado. 97% of the buildings in the town of 1500 were destroyed or damaged beyond repair. Nearly every single resident was left homeless, jobless, and devastated. At least eleven people died in the storm, and hundreds of companion animals, livestock, and wild animals were killed as well.

According to the 2000 census, 97% of the population of Greensburg was white, and the median income of the population was a meager $28,000. The city was and still is comprised of overwhelmingly poor, white working people.

Shortly after the tornado, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took control of the recovery efforts in Greensburg. The United Way became the coordinating organization for relief volunteers but, after orders came from FEMA, halted the flow of volunteers into Greensburg. FEMA demanded that Greensburg needed to be secured before the area could be opened to real recovery efforts.

So, as hundreds of recovery volunteers were told to not come to Greensburg by the United Way, hundreds of police from dozens of Kansas jurisdictions were mobilized to enter the city and establish control.

Reports coming from the recovery effort in Greensburg had been woefully short of information. We made multiple phone calls to the United Way and other aid agencies, and were told repeatedly not to come, that We don’t need volunteers at this time. We were told that if we wanted to help, we should just make a financial donation to the Salvation Army or United Way.

With the experiences of Katrina and other major disasters fresh in our collective conscious, we decided to go anyway, to assess the situation and be able to present a better picture to those people in Lawrence that were rightfully concerned about the effectiveness of the relief efforts.

On the night of Friday May 11, in the spirit of offering solidarity to the working class population of Greensburg, members of KMA traveled two hours to Wichita and spent the night there. A mandatory curfew had been imposed on Greensburg, with no one being able to be in the city between 8pm and 8am. So after a nearly sleepless night, we piled into our vegetable oil burning car and made the final two hour drive to Greensburg, careful to not arrive before 8.

Multiple news agencies had reported that because of FEMA, all volunteers were being denied entry at the checkpoints set up outside the city. As we approached the checkpoint, we became really nervous, and tried to make sure we had our story straight.

We were stopped by an armed contingent of Kansas Highway Patrol Officers. We explained that we had come to help with the relief efforts, and after a quick stare and glance into our car, the officer in charge directed us to a red and white tent about half a mile into the town.

It turned out that on Friday the 11th, a week after the tornado destroyed Greensburg, the Americorps organization was finally given permission to establish and coordinate volunteer recovery efforts. Americorps members from St. Louis had set up their base of operations in a large red and white canopy tent that was also being used a meeting place for the residents of the city.

Americorps volunteers proved to be pretty reliable for information, and good contacts to have made while we were down there. Despite the hierarchical and contradictory aims of the national organization, the Americorps people on the ground were the only people really offering any physical recovery aid to the residents of Greensburg.

The four of us from KMA, signed in to the volunteer tent and were given red wristbands that were supposed to identify us as aid workers. We decided not to wait to be assigned a location to work, and instead to travel around the city on foot and meet as many local people as we could.

Our primary goals were numerous. We intended to analyze the situation and assess how our organization could help from Lawrence. If long term physical aid was needed from us, we had to make contacts within the local populace that could offer a place to set up a base camp. We also intended to find out what happened to the prisoners in the county jail during and after the storm, and what the current procedure for those being arrested was. In a highly militarized city, the police and military were the biggest threat to personal safety.

As we traveled further into the ravaged town, it became clear that the photographs I had seen had not done justice to what truly had happened here. All that could be seen was endless devastation in every direction. There wasn’t a single building in this area of the town that had been left standing. The devastation was near complete. Every single house we came across in the first moments we entered the town had completely collapsed. Every single tree was mangled and branchless. Memories of watching post-nuclear warfare movies filled my head as we walked around the city.

This was a post-apocalyptic world. The city was eerily empty for the most part. National Guard troops patrolled in Hummers and trucks. Occasionally, a Red Cross or Salvation Army truck would drive by. Very few residents were there working on their homes.

After a short while, we met with several people evacuating belongings from their home. They told us that FEMA had been there for a week, and that all FEMA could offer them was a packet of information. The packet, however, had to be mailed to the recipients, and they had no mailing address! Their entire house had been destroyed. Their mailbox was probably in the next county. All they were left to do was evacuate what few belongings could be saved from their house, and then pull the non-salvageable belongings and scraps of their house to the curb for the National Guard trash crews to haul away.

No agency in the city besides Americorps was offering to help with the removal of this debris, or the recovery of people’s homes. FEMA’s mission was to safeguard the property of businesses in the area and offer low interest loans to property owners affected. The National Guard was on hand along with the local police, to act as the enforcement mechanism for FEMA, while occasionally hauling debris and garbage out of the city.

The only building in the city that FEMA and others were working in or around was the County Courthouse. When we approached this area, we quickly took notice of the giant air-conditioned FEMA tour buses, along with dozens of trailers that were now housing the City Hall, police dispatch centers, and emergency crews.

The media had reported that residents of the city would be receiving FEMA trailers similar to the ones in New Orleans. The only FEMA trailer I saw was being occupied by police.

At this location, we tried to formulate some answers as to what had happened to any prisoners being housed in the county jail during the storm, as well as the fate of the at least seven people that had been arrested since the storm.

Not a single person could offer us a real answer. As of the writing of this article, we are still working to find the answer to that question. We have ascertained that any prisoners that were in Greensburg during the storm were sent to Pratt County Jail immediately after the storm had subsided. However, we still don’t know how many people that accounts for, nor do we know the fate of any arrestees in the week since.

Several of the arrestees after the storm were soldiers from Fort Riley that were sent in to secure the town. They have been accused of looting alcohol and cigarettes from a grocery store. The residents I talked to said that they had been told that the soldiers had just returned from Iraq. Is it a wonder that they would want to get drunk the first chance they could? The social reality of this situation was beginning to really set in. The city was in chaos, not because of the storm, but because of FEMA and the police.

In the immediate recovery after the storm, FEMA and local police not only worked to find survivors and the dead, but also any firearms in the city. As you pass by houses in Greensburg, you notice that some are spraypainted with how many weapons were recovered from the home. This is central Kansas, a region with extremely high legal gun ownership. Of the over 350 firearms confiscated by police immediately after the storm, only a third have been returned to their owners. FEMA and the police have systematically disarmed the local population, leaving the firepower squarely in control of the state.

Later in the day we traveled with an Americorps volunteer that turned out to be the sister of one of the members of the Lawrence anti-capitalist movement. She gave us a small driving tour of the rest of the devastation that we hadn’t seen yet, and then deposited us in front of a house of a family that was busy trying to clear out their flooded basement.

Two days of rain had followed the tornado, and with most houses without roofs, anything left inside the house that may have survived the initial storm, was destroyed or at risk of being destroyed. The casualties of the storm weren’t just structures and cars… they were memories and loved ones, in the forms of photographs, highschool yearbooks, family memorabilia and momentos. People’s entire lives had been swept away by the storm.

We joined in the effort to help clear the basement, and listened to the stories of the storm that the family told us. They explained that they had just spent their life savings remodeling the basement, and now it was gone. It had survived just long enough to save them and some neighbors from the storm.

We removed whatever belongings were left in the basement, and sorted the belongings into five piles. The smallest of the piles by far, as the pile of things that were salvageable and worth keeping. The other piles included one for wood debris, one for metal, one for hazardous waste, and another pile for anything else that needed to be removed. From under one of the piles, a scent of rotting flesh wafted through the air. The family was afraid to look and see what may be hidden under the metal.

As we were preparing to leave the work site after clearing the entire basement, we were thanked heartily by the family and their friends. Next time, one of them said, bring fifty more with you.

Next time we will. It should be obvious to most by now, that the federal, state, and local governments that deal with disasters of this magnitude are not interested in helping the poor or working people that are really impacted. Only through class solidarity from other working people and working together with neighbors and community members will the people of Greensburg be able to survive and rebuild.

Kansas Mutual Aid is in the midst of organizing a more permanent and structured relief effort. We are continuing to make contacts to secure a base camp for our work. We hope to have things organized and solidified by Memorial Day Weekend when we plan to travel back with as many people, tools, and supplies we can take.

Our goals are three fold:

  1. To provide direct physical relief support to the residents of Greensburg by being on hand to help salvage their homes, and provide any other physical support they ask of us.

  2. To offer solidarity and aid in any future organizing or agitating efforts that will be needed to retain possession of their homes, or to acquire any other physical aid they demand from the government or other agencies.

  3. To provide support and protection of human rights during the police and military occupation of the city. We will work to document arrests and ensure that human rights of arrestees are protected.

If you live in Eastern Kansas, or are willing to travel, we need your help and experience. We also need a laundry list of supplies including:

  • Money for fuel for our vehicles
  • Respirators and filtered face masks
  • Headlamps and flashlights (none of the city has power, and there are a lot of basements that will need to be worked in)
  • Shovels, pickaxes, prybars, crowbars, sledgehammers, and heavy duty rakes
  • Gloves, boots, goggles, construction helmets and other protective clothing
  • First Aid supplies
  • Water and Food (non-perishable) for volunteers heading down
  • Chainsaws and Gasoline
  • Portable generators
  • You and your experience

Please, if you have anything you can offer, or want to help in the relief, e-mail us at kansasmutualaid@hotmail.com.

We will be hosting a presentation on Monday May 21st at the Solidarity Center in downtown Lawrence (1109 Mass Street) at 7pm on our experiences in Greensburg, and on our plans to offer relief in the form of solidarity and mutual aid, and not as charity. Please join us if you can.

There seems like there is much more to say, but with the experience fresh in my mind, it’s hard to keep typing. Action and organization is needed more than a longer essay at this moment. In love and solidarity,

Dave Strano
Kansas Mutual Aid member
Lawrence, Kansas

Those of you in the vicinity of Lawrence, Kansas may be interested in attending the information/organizing meeting this Monday at 7:00pm. For those of you who are out of the area, I’ve contacted Kansas Mutual Aid to ask what the best way for us to send money and/or supplies is. I’ll post an update once I get an answer back.

Further reading:

Cocaine sí ¿cómo no?

A couple months ago, Drug War Chronicle ran an interesting story on developments for the Bolivian coca farmers since Evo Morales, a former cocalero union leader, took political office. Things are much better than they were in the days of U.S.-backed forced eradication. But times are still hard in the Chapare:

For more than two decades beginning in the early 1980s, various Bolivian governments working at the behest of the United States government embarked on a policy of forced eradication of coca crops in Bolivia’s Chapare, a lowland region in the state of Cochabamba. It was a time of strife and conflict, human rights violations and peasant mobilizations as tens of thousands of families dependent on the coca crop fought with police and soldiers, blocked highways, and, eventually, coalesced into a powerful political force that helped topple governments. Now, with a Chapare coca growers’ union leader, Evo Morales, sitting in the presidential residence in La Paz, times have changed and the days of a US-imposed zero coca policy are history.

Under US-imposed legislation adopted in 1988, Law 1008, only peasants in the traditional coca growing region of the Yungas were allowed to grow coca, and total coca production was limited to 30,000 acres. But that did not stop peasants from growing coca in the Chapare, where, in the early 1980s, production had boomed during the cocaine coup years of Gen. Luis Garcia Mesa. The development of coca production in this non-traditional, non-allowed area was the most significant target of US-backed forced eradication efforts throughout the 1990s and the beginning of this decade.

… The change actually began in 2004, before Morales was elected president, when then-President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada signed an accord with coca growers (or cocaleros) aligned with the Six Federations of the Coca Growers of the Tropics of Cochabamba allowing each family to grow one cato (1,600 square meters — about the size of one third of a football field) of coca.

But as part of a broader policy of coca, si; cocaine, no adopted by Morales since he took office just over a year ago, the Bolivian government has in effect turned its back on the 30,000-acre legal production limit, now formally allowing an additional 20,000 acres in the Chapare to be cultivated with coca. But while such measures have brought peace to the region, it remains mired in poverty and desperation, as Drug War Chronicle saw during a visit there this week.

On a small plot of land near Villa Tunari in the Chapare, peasant farmer Vitalia Merida grows coca, along with oranges and bananas, in an effort to feed and clothe her seven children. Times are tough, she said. My kids don’t want to go to school for economic reasons, she told the Chronicle. They want to go and make money. Her oranges and bananas bring only a pittance, she said, while her cato of coca allows her to pocket about $75 month, gaining her about $900 a year — close to the average income in Bolivia, one of South America’s poorest countries.

Despite the constant struggle to earn an income, said Merida, a former Six Federations leader (and still a member), life is better than in the days of forced eradication. We are still poor, but we are free now, she said. It is peaceful now. Before, we waited for the soldiers to come like bandits. They killed us, they took us prisoners.

… While campesinos like Vitalia Merida are struggling, the Morales government is attempting to ease their plight. Part of that effort revolves around helping them get their crop to market. In a coca warehouse just outside nearby Shinahota, cocaleros are drying and weighing the crop in preparation for transport to legal markets in Bolivian cities.

This is our local crop, said Six Federations member Felix Cuba at the warehouse. Under this new program, we are able to sell direct to the cities without middlemen. This means a little more money for us, he told the Chronicle. And it keeps the coca out of the hands of the narcos.

— Drug War Chronicle 2007-03-01: Chronicle on the Scene Feature: In the Bolivian Chapare, Evo Morales’ “Coca, Si; Cocaine No” Policy Brings Peace, If Not Prosperity

With all due respect to Sr Morales and Sr Cuba, that seems like an awful lot of trouble for a set of government programs that are doing only a little to help out poor cocaleros. Perhaps there may be simpler solutions to the difficult problem of how to lift rural coca farmers out of grinding, and sometimes desperate poverty.

For example, why not just back the hell off and let them sell cocaine?

I hear you can make some money at that.

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