Daisy Chain Theory: a long leditor/manifesto for May Day by Martabel Wasserman
that honeyed syrup of possibility that pours through the body, loosening its tight grip on reality-as-is, clearing the way for new sensations and sites for connection, the sweet escape from ego and reliever of self-doubt, the nectar that makes you want to dance and pitch-in to clean up when the party is over. How do we get that feeling flowing?
Spring into revolt! sense the frozen terrain give way to the birth of fragile possibilities. blossom through barricades, borders and binaries. cross-pollinate, collaborate and celebrate. make believe and make do. link arms and link ideas. #ReclaimMayDay
Daisy Chain Theory
It is time to come together in celebration of spring and solidarity.
Not too long ago, we were struggling to find each other through a haze of reactionary politics and widespread apathy. When we were able to connect under the sinister shadow cast over the political landscape of post-9/11 United States, our angry screams seemed magically muted- losing our voices as if in a nightmare. But we kept at it. A recession and about a decade later, the storm clouds parted. Make no mistake, our voices are still being snatched away from us. When we come together in crowds, the police try to dissolve the collective into individuals to be targeted. But the fronts of our fight are now more clearly marked, our voices recognized as a threat to the status-quo, and the air is charged with an electrifying desire for change. This is a moment of multiplying crises. The future fades with each flick of a light switch, each drop of water from a faucet, each gush of gasoline into a car.
It is no longer a feasible option to divide our selves along lines of ideology or to debate hierarchies of important issues. We need to get over the idea that a brand new thought or individual will emerge to save the day; but this does not mean we cannot express personalized dissent. Enter Daisy-Chain-Theory. It allows for plucking shards of possibilities, strands of theory, and pieces of historical tactics to string together. Think of it as garland resting atop your head that crowns you an agent of change. Play, posture and perform. Dust off old iconography and slogans. The image of the daisy chain crown is embedded with multiple associations that can help bridge boring binaries that divide us and our strategies: hippies/hipsters, mythology/science, the baroque/the natural, lovers of the past/fierce furturists, identity/coalition politics, queer/straight, a politics of rage/ a politics of joy. We know these categories do not contain us or our investments, yet we continue to act as if they do. It is time to gleefully embrace contradictions. It is time to charge protest with pleasure. It is time to make our politics not only more personal, but more public than previously imagined possible.
Here’s a string of some buds and blossoms. Make your own. Share them.
Craftivism and Clicktivism
Make resistance quotidian. Handle information. Mix media. Practice virtual detournemént.
Resistance does not always take place on the front lines. It becomes embodied through habitual actions and how we perform our politics in the everyday. These practices are ephemeral but making (or remaking) something can make these actions tangible. Craft has been historically associated with the feminine, the domestic, the embodied and the emotional, while technology has been linked to the masculine, the public, the disembodied and the intellectual. These modes are often seen as mutually exclusive, continuing to uphold outdated binaries despite changing modes of production and ideas about gender. We need to bring these approaches together to rework the materiality of the everyday.
Craftivism names the affect, aesthetic and politics of the handmade, craft, and Do-It-Yourself expressions of dissent – think of stitching subversive text and anarchist knitting groups. It is often a very time consuming process. Ahistorically, craftivism references strategies in feminist art that emerged with the women’s liberation movement and have been reworked in subsequent “waves.” It has been successfully employed in other social movements to demonstrate the cumulative effect of small acts, for example the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, which reflected deeply personal experiences of loss. Craft offered a structure for those experiences to be translated for general consumption.On the other hand, clicktivism –which includes the virtual aspects of the phenomenon known as slacktivism — describes paying lip service to a cause in ways that require minimal involvement. Clicktivism includes actions like changing your profile picture on Facebook in support of same-sex marriage, signing a petition, or tweeting an opinion while watching a televised political event.
Clicking a mouse or the gluing a bead are each small acts. When amplified by repetition they can create a testament to an ideal. What can you make habitually and with ordinary materials to demonstrate commitment to your causes? How can you make this practice collective? Here are s
Camp and the Commons
Share promiscuously. Don’t underestimate camp. Steal this site.
In Susan Sontag’s 1964 essay “Notes on Camp,” she describes camp as an aesthetic sensibility in which everything is quoted: a lamp is a “lamp.” Camp is a decidedly gay approach to culture associated with the best parts of having bad taste: drag, autotune pop and B-list reality television. These camp-y associations seem a world away from hacker subculture, movements such as copyleft and information activism. But camp and other queer approaches to playing with culture create opportunities for tiny and titanic acts of subversion that parallel the agendas of information activists.
The digital commons advocates free access to online archives, academic articles, software and other intellectual resources. The 2013 suicide of twenty-six year old Internet activist Aaron Swartz has drawn attention to the stakes in being outspoken about our collective right to these resources. At the time of his death, he was being persecuted for sharing downloaded articles from the online database JSTOR, facing a thirty-five year prison sentence and over a million dollars in fines. In his 2008 “Guerilla Open Access Manifesto,” he wrote, “It’s called stealing or piracy, as if sharing a wealth of knowledge were the moral equivalent of plundering a ship and murdering its crew. But sharing isn’t immoral — it’s a moral imperative.” Swartz lost his life fighting for the freedom to share information as a human right.
“Misused” copyrighted material composes much of the Internet’s landscape. It is taken for granted that you can pull a jpeg from anywhere and turn it into a meme, or that you can transform any clip into a gif. These actions assume culture should be something malleable, not constantly policed for copyright infringement. Reworking bad pop culture into a little gem is camping it up. Camp uses comedy and crassness to make gestures that can subtly undermine the government surveillance, corporate control and commercialization of the Internet. Camp makes these actions feel less threatening than being overtly outspoken. Given that we know camp has this potential, how can it help us chip away at the terms and conditions of cultural production and knowledge production that Swartz advocated for?
Information activism also encompasses calls for government transparency and accountability. This field has many queer facets, in both the practices and communities that compose it. Take for instance the hacker group Anonymous and their use of the plastic Guy Fawkes mask. The mask is a cartoonish representation of Fawkes, a historical figure involved in a 1605 failed attempt to assonate King James I and destroy the House of Lords. The mask is merchandise from V for Vendetta, a 2005 film adaptation of Alan Moore’s 1985 graphic novel that features a masked revolutionary protagonist. When this mask is worn by members of Anonymous and by Occupy Wall Street activists it not only makes everyone androgynous but also ascribes radical politics into a camp object. However, despite this and other queer examples, information activism in general is still tightly bound to ideals of heterosexual masculinity. Looking at representations of Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, the two most significant individuals in the field, illustrates this claim and demonstrates how queerness get erased in ways that disservice the cause.
Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, is a straight man who became an international cause célèbre. He is currently housed in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London where he is avoiding extradition for sexual assault charges. Whether or not the charges are true is secondary to his aura of bad-boy outlaw. He welcomes visitors like Lady Gaga, while celebrities like Bianca Jagger attend his trials. Bradley Manning is an army whistler blower who provided Wikileaks with cables about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. Manning served in the military before the repeal of Don’t’ Ask, Don’t Tell in 2011. He was openly gay. He was beginning to go by the name Breanne and cross-dressing at the time of his arrest for the leak. Manning was a detained without trial for over 1000 days in inhumane conditions deemed by human rights activists and legal scholars. While there have been significant actions in his defense – and he has been publically supported by figures such as Michael Moore and Rosanne Barr — it is nevertheless important to consider how Manning’s sexual and gender identity has been erased in efforts to mobilize public support.
During his deployment, Manning had many online conversations with hacktivist Adrian Lamo, whom he believed to be a confidante but ultimately turned him into the FBI. In one such conversation he wrote, “it was a massive data spillage… facilitated my numerous factors… both physically, technically and culturally / perfect example of how not to do INFOSEC [information security] / listened and lip-synced to Lady Gaga’s Telephone while exfiltrating possibly the largest data spillage in american history.” Manning deliberately used a camp icon, transferring leaks on a disc labeled “Lady Gaga.” The content of his leaks – particularly “Collateral Murder,” a video filmed from a US helicopter opening fire on civilians, journalists and children – have inspired resistance around the world. Yet the narrative of the superhero that breaks the law for the greater good is almost always as a straight white man, warding off queer, effeminate and ethnic villains. We need to think of ways to put camp and queerness back in Manning’s narrative by mobilizing rather than erasing them in actions of solidarity and support.
Manning’s prosecution by Lamo illustrates the fragility of the construction of the Internet as a sanctuary for queers. Manning wrote “im in the desert, with a bunch of hyper-masculine trigger happy ignorant rednecks as neighbors… and the only place i seem to have is this satellite internet connection… and i already got myself in minor trouble, revealing my uncertainty over my gender identity…which is causing me to loose this job.” For Manning, like many other young queers, the Internet was a way to escape homophobic surroundings. That the freedom of expression he thought he was afforded was in fact used against him is a familiar story for gays and other victims of bullying. Radical transparency and privacy are not mutually exclusive categories, but the ways in which personal information is stored and used in the existing form of the Internet makes the connection seem inevitable. Profiles are our primary portal to virtual community. How can we make new forums that aren’t linked to our identity in this way? To make the Internet a truly public space would also allow for some anonymity, the ability to cruise without being traced.
Queers and Coalitions
Question equality. Be out. Get out. Consider a more fantastical landscape of possibilities.
LBGT people have been beaten up and bloodied, arrested and institutionalized, dissed and dismissed for centuries. Fertilized by centuries of spilled bodily fluids, the ground is now fertile for solidarity from straight allies to bloom. The two Supreme Court cases about marriage equality have made clicktivist support for LBGT people a requirement in many social networks. The pop cultural pulse is also pro-equality. Beyoncé tweeted and ‘grammed “If you like it, you should be able to put a ring on it.” Her fans agree, but the comments section reveal many believe she is going to hell for even saying it. Haters still be hating, but the times are a changin’. While the changing tide of LBGT visibility and acceptance is cause for a collective sigh of relief and celebration, it also raises a number of questions for our communities to address: included but not limited to the issue of assimiliation, the problem of using “equality” as a rallying cry, and the precarious relationship between queer people and non- LBGT specific politics.
The acronym LBGT contains within it the limits of an identity-based politics. Binding practice, preference and the performance of gender and sexual expression to a limited demographic, it privileges the rights of an individual or a couple over the common good. On the other hand, the success of marriage equality as a cause demonstrates its potential for achieving previously denied rights and material benefits to countless people. Queerness as a term allows us to look past this discourse, to consider more wildly what a liberationist politics can create. By posing queerness as a questioning of normativity, we can imagine what a more nuanced cultural consensus about kinship, self-expression, and pleasure could lead to.
The banner of equality is a dangerous one. It is seductive because it implies a shared responsibility to protect everyone’s human dignity. “Equality” disguises that ideal as a reality. Equal rights for one group, such as gays, can be used to mask the oppression of another. This phenomenon has been dubbed “pink-washing.” Activist and writer Sarah Schulman has extensively documented how this operates in the case of Israel and Palestine. Israel self-consciously rebranded itself, and uses its progressive stance on gay rights to counter claims of oppression and apartheid. Pink-washing has become more and more of a phenomenon in the United States. Excitement over President Obama’s support of same-sex marriage easily distracts from his support of Israel, the widespread use of drones, the persecution of Bradley Manning, the on-going hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, etc, etc. We cannot take rights granted to gays, if they are granted, to be a sign of an equal society. Rather it should raise, shall we say, a pink flag asking us to identify which groups are being oppressed at the expense of another’s freedom.
Lastly– but this is by no means a comprehensive list– the parameters of the acceptance of queer people can be challenged by looking at their role in other social justice movements. Rights do not equate with fair and adequate representation. Homophobia — akin, but unique from racism, classism and sexism — operates on subtle and unconscious levels. Occupy Wall Street, a movement largely geared towards economic justice, professes to be aware of these conditions in a big picture sense, but specific interactions suggest otherwise. While OWS may have a non-hierarchical structure, unofficial leaders emerge. This vanguard must reflect the diversity of the movement, requiring many uncomfortable conversations in the process. We need to insist on queerness as being part of other social justice movements. Reflect on the unique conditions of undocu-queers and stand as or with them depending on who you are. Make a sign that says “Mother Earth is a Lesbian” and bring it to a rally protesting the Keystone XL pipeline. Don’t just be out, get out.
Militancy and Flower Power
Subvert the semiotics of violence. Let rage and joy exist together. Perform on and off the frontlines.
These two terms are anchored in “the long 60s,” a phenomenon associated with shifts within the decade, but is not temporally bound to its start and finish. Militancy and flower power represent different aesthetic and tactical manifestations, but similar ideological splits in social movements that came before and after. In this example, militancy refers to a confrontational, aggressive, disciplined and targeted approach to the frontline, such as strategies used by the Black Panther Party and factions of Students for a Democratic Society. Flower power refers to resistance that is rooted in the evolution of individual consciousness and targets centers of institutional power though the transformative influence of culture, cultivating communities and alternative spaces. Flower power is the Beatles, Allen Ginsberg, and People’s Park. Militancy is the Occupy Wall Street activists who would rather confront the cops than participate in a drum circle with their neo-flower power counterparts.
These strategies need not be seen as mutually exclusive. They share much in common and can enhance each other. To make them into a dichotomy reinforces binaries such as: political/cultural, theoretical/aesthetic, seriousness/frivolity, rage/joy. Such divides limit the possibilities for coalition building. In the period of the long sixties these two camps shared people, tactics and an opposition to war. Each performed their politics to the mainstream media, promoting their aesthetics and ideas of change, while understanding the power of graphic design to convey a message. Performance and visual cues, be it a beret or bell bottoms, created cohesion for both.
For some, flower power is the only way to be militant. Think of the photograph of a teenage boy putting a daisy in the barrel of National Guardsman’s gun during a 1967 march on Washington. It is the icon of the decade. The teenager was a boy named George Harris, who later named himself Hibiscus. He went on to form the radical, anarchic, theater group the Cockettes . Images of his work infiltrated the mainstream media and his performance inspired the blossoming avant-garde in the United States. Gender-fuck, sexual expression and glitter were all central to a critique of militarism and the United State’s government. He died of GRIDS (gay-related immune defiency syndrome) in 1982, right before the virus was renamed AIDS that same year. He left a legacy of free love and fierceness, savvy critiques and theatrics. These strategies lived on in the theatrical protests of ACT UP and Queer Nation.
Though militancy and flower power need not be mutually exclusive, the irreconcialability of violence and non-violence emerges as a conceptual problem. The inclusion of the Black Panther Party and not the Weather Underground in this theorization intends to speak to the difference between violence as a strategy and self-defense. The epidemic of gun related deaths in the United States makes it harder than ever to justify armed resistance. However, the simultaneous epidemic of racialized police brutality suggests that this may still be a viable tactic. This linking of militancy and flower power is committed to non-violence but invested in the reclaiming of violent imagery as a strategy to subvert it. In fact, this aesthetic operation is already ingrained in the lexicons of militancy and flower power. The appropriation of gun imagery, army fatigues, often juxtaposed with symbols of peace and love, effectively highlights the abuse of power by armed officials. Additionally, there is an embodied link in the process of acquiring self-defense skills. This process can mime the performance of violence and those of dance, theater and martial arts. Embodying these contradictions through a practice can prepare one for the realities of police brutality and offer new expressive possibilities.
Dicks and Dictatorships
Make the personal public. Question what you are willing to risk. Seek power in change, not change through power.
The late Margaret Thatcher once said, “The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.” Getting women into positions of power does not necessarily reflect the project of feminism. Implementing feminist social change without relying on gaining power through existing ranks seems impossibly difficult (or at the very least not possible on a national or international scale). However, there are several examples of what might be possible. A new “wave” of feminists have created and cultivated a space pried open by the Arab Spring and its aftermath around the world. They are reworking the terms of public space, structures of power, and the relationship between the individual and collective body on a global scale.
Get it grrrrrrl.
A week before the 2011 uprisings in Tahrir Square — an event that lead to the ousting of authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak — twenty-six year-old Asmaa Mahfouz posted a video to Facebook. Mahfouz speaks with fury about the lack of protest after the self-immolation attempts of four Egyptians. They were attempting to recreate the effect that street-vendor Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation had a month prior in Tunisia. Mafouz, palpably frustrated and saddened by the lack of response from the Egyptian people, calls her people out for being too afraid of Mubarak’s potential response to take action. She says, “I, a girl, am going down to Tahrir Square and I will stand alone on January 25th.” Later adding, “If you have honor and dignity as a man, come protect me and other girls in the protest.” She subverts existing gender politics to ask for protection, while simultaneously critiquing the relationship of nationalism to ideals of masculinity. By filming herself, alone in her anger, she was able to articulate a desire for change that had been discursively and violently muted. Speaking from a raw place of emotional honesty and personal experience, she helped ignite a revolution.
We can’t talk about transnational feminism without talking about Pussy Riot. Pussy Riot was formed in Moscow in August of 2011 by a group of approximately eleven artists and musicians who had anonymous public personas and only performed with balaclava masks until three of their members were arrested. They self-consciously pushed the punk ethos of the Riot Grrl movement to its extremity. Insisting that public space is public and that protest should not require a permit, Pussy Riot performed exclusively in unsanctioned venues. In February of 2012, five members did a guerilla performance at the Cathedral of Christ the Savoir. Dancing, kicking and screaming they chanted “Shit, shit, the Lord’s shit!” while reciting grievances about the relationship between the church, state, and LBGT rights. The prayer of their refrain was a plea, “Virgin Mary, Mother of God, become a feminist, become a feminist, become a feminist.” They were promptly arrested, but the video went viral. Their arrest, trial and the ultimate jail sentence of two of the members drew international attention to conditions in Putin’s Russia, the limits and consequences of free speech and the power and possibilities of punk and pussy.
The Internet amplifies such voices of dissent. Fifteen year-old Malala Yousufazi is another example of how relaying personal experiences can come at a tremendous cost but also change the terms of international discussions. At age eleven Yousufazi began to write about her experience under Taliban rule in the Pakistani town of Mingora for the BBC. She continued to actively blog about the conditions she and her family lived under and her experience of a girl trying to get an education. On a bus ride home from school in October 2012, a member of the Taliban shot her in the head. When her condition stabilized she was granted refugee status in the United Kingdom where she is now able to attend school. Mahfouz, Pussy Riot and Yousufazi are but a handful of examples of feminists speaking up and, in the most tangible sense of the expression, changing the world.