Max Lerners Voluntaristic Social Change web blog

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Over this course, we have addressed means of changing the powers that be in the society around you. We have learned about many methods of social change and how effective they are and when they should be used. From this we learned how to help shape the society we imagine ourselves to exist in.

Initially on the first day of class, April 26th, we were asked to sketch our mental map of society. For this I sketched a picture of a puzzle piece to represent self and a scissors to represent society. In this I wanted to show that the individual in society is one component of the whole picture, and that over time people in a community are put together largely by the needs of the society as a whole. The individual is shaped to fit into society, which is made up of more individuals shaped to fit to society, etc.

From learning how to resist the influences of systems of power I now see that this visual map is inaccurate to some extent. I feel that originally, while this may be true for the majority of people who live in large community, it can vary by person. People educated in methods of resistance will not be so easily shaped by the powers that control the majority. Not only that but they can influence others that do not know how to resist and damage the power systems or destroy them.

A new interpretation of my map of the self and society is debris and the beach. On the beach the waves bring in many pieces of stone, shell, glass, trash and other material. All this material is subjected to the force of the waves and is pushed around and potentially damaged and broken down into finer and finer pieces. However at some point the material that washes up gets beached in society permanently as it finds it niche in the sand. At this point the object can be largely undamaged and apparent when one looks at the composition of sand, or turned into a fine grit and broken down into multiple fragments that blend into the substrate of the beach.

What this metaphorical literal process represents is that society is the beach consisting of the physical society as the sand and the control of society being the waves that bring in objects to society and break them down. The individual is the material brought in with he waves and tides. People who do not understand the system of power in the beach become pushed and broken down by the waves into smaller and smaller pieces till they fit what the society sees fit for them in the larger picture of the beach, where they blend in increase the size of he beach as a whole. However people who understand how the systems of power function and resist them do not get broken down as much, and when they do wash up they are still rather large, and can have the mass to stay stationary and be seen on the beach instead of being blended in. Additionally larger objects on the beach can shield smaller objects in the sand from being washed away if they adhere to each other and if massive enough, alter the waves and tides. In this sense people in society can be taught to resist and are not lost to the tides of power. This is how I now see my map of society, in that we are not powerless to resist its pull, but we have to be active in our pursuit for educational and results in order to do so.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

My entries for the previous week did not come out to the required 1500+ word goal. Because of this I am going to write a book review entry on the book "Burger Wuss" by M.T. Anderson, the author of "Feed". Originally I did not mean to choose this book for any reason besides recreation, or see the link it could have to humanities. However upon completing it and our weapons of the weak unit, I saw a direct connection between the actions of the main characters in the book and what we were learning.

I will attempt to briefly summarize the plot, it’s not horribly complex or the most admirable plot, but it was enjoyable. The main character Anthony attempts to get a job at McDonald’s esque restaurant with an ulterior motive of getting revenge on a boy named Trevor. Once he gets the job he meets an activist named shunt who joined the fast food chain in an attempt to destroy the corrupt system from inside. They team up with both of their motives in mind in an elaborate plan, and both accomplish their objectives to some degree.

From afar this book seems comical and truly definitive of the teen genre, as the book calls it. Much like Feed, this book has stereotypical charter models (a tough guy, a wuss, a rebel, a stuck up person, authority figures, etc), but upon examining the elements that were put into their plan to achieve their goals, although comical, were also clearly weapons of the weak. The system of power in this situation was O'Dermots, which employed the two charecters, Anthony and Shunt, who carried out the plan. Anthony was register and Shunt a Chef and both were under supervision of the manager for all their actions. They utilized their weapons of the weak to help themselves and used action research to uproot of the power structures that be, vis a vi their Burger king esque business rival.

By exploiting the position they were in and the systems of power's rivalry, they were able to make the system benefit them more without radically changing it, as you see in the end nothing truly changes. I will break down to you the story version of what happened in their performances of using weapons of the weak and then elaborate on them using a critical lens of what can be extrapolated from the events.

Several of the events:
-Removal of untraceable sums of money from the register
-Working slowly
-Not working when no authority figure is present
-Creating unworkable situations
-Un-persuading the customers from purchasing
-Theft of company property
-Befriending workers from different areas to benefit oneself

These are all small weapons of the weak, as they make the life of the workers easier and they are hard to be caught for or traced back to the workers. However larger ideas are within the book. The main idea in the text was that they would steal a corporate mascot of the rival chain and blame it on their chain. This would cause an escalade of competition and anger between the two chains, damaging both their reputation and business. This was done in an effort to sabotage a commercial shoot at the location they worked at where the metaphorical representative of the chain was going to show up. They tried to expose the company for what it was and what it bred, and they were successful to a point until they got kicked out. This action was more of an action research and a resistance against where they worked rather than a weapon of the weak, because it was organized and researched and done with hopes of creating change in the system.

In this book, the techniques chosen showed creativity and ingenuity, as well as variety of forms of resistance. Although both people had different motives in their actions, and although neither succeeded, the project as a whole was a success. I feel that the activist Shunt was happier with the result, as he took it as action research, and from the result he revised his overall plan to overthrow the company by going deeper in to gain more power to affect it. The book ends with Shunt being an executive for the business, which may unfortunately be an effect of a trade union consciousness, but I feel that his strong opinions on the food the company produces, the labor used, and its effect on society would still stay strong in this position of power.

Overall I would rate this book moreso as a pleasurable book than a book to advocate for revolutionary change, but it was still interesting to apply what I have learned in class and see how it comes full circle in unrelated text directed towards our genre. I would guess that with literature, a moral is intended to be taken form the book, but perhaps I am not analyzing the book as it was meant to be because if I was then the morals of resistance are quite weak. However this may be saying something about the system, in that it’s hard to overthrow a system of power on your own, but it’s always a start and given the opportunity change can eventually arise in some form. A cloud with silver lining so to speak would have to be the general moral I see in the book, using this frame of mind or not.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Today we learned about the concept of systematic resistance, as compared to weapons of the weak. Weapons of the weak are not geared towards change of the system, while resistances are geared to do such.

Resistances can be divided up by how many people are participating in the resistance and how often they occur. Also we learned a component of resistances known as cells, more specifically revolutionary cells and sleeper cells. Cells are a loosely connected web of small groups of people created to minimize damage if people get caught in a resistance and slow down the disengagement process. There are two types of resistances, a revolution which would be successful and a rebellion which would largely fail.

One of the largest enemies of resistances is the concept of trade union consciousness, which is when a union becomes absorbed in the system of power its fighting so that it advocates for change that is based on the system it is fighting. A example of this is a workers union fighting against a capitalistic system hurting the workers and arguing for higher wages.

From this new info we are supposed to analyze a system in which we are oppressed and show how we would resist it and how this compares to other techniques like weapon of the weak, action research, and unfocused action. A system I would like to investigate is the school, and specifically the implication of vending machines in the school and how to overthrow them using resistance techniques.

The vending machines are used by the majority of the students as means of getting refreshments in school due to the sub standard water fountains. They don’t have the best water because the kids get their drinks from the vending machines anyway. The machines function to allow corporations to sell fattening and unhealthy high fructose corn syrup saturated beverages and junk food to children with disposable income, and is readily accepted by the students as a method of obtaining sub par nourishment. If the system of the vending machines was rendered ineffective, then the school having them would result in a loss as the companies who own them (Coca Cola to my knowledge) would not profit an the school would have to pay for the difference, causing them to soon be removed from the school. If the drinks were not being purchased form the machines then more kids would be faced with the need to use the water fountain or face dehydration, and they would have to increase the quality of the water system in place once it is in heavy use by the school or face children complaining about the school having nothing to drink or low standard water emissions which we tested in previous years in the school finding several unbeneficial properties of the water.

From this problem and solution, the question is the method which could be implied to eliminate the vending machine system. There are several ways I can thinking of, ranging form the obscure to the outlandish that could all be effective, secretive and done on a relatively small scale, or cell. The vending machines are largely unmonitored, any method of full scale resistance would be fairly simple. Networks of students could be formed to use pesos in bulk in vending machine in the school, which function just as quarters but are worth a fraction of then (52 to the dollar so about 2 cents or about 8% of a quarter). If the company was to note this being done in excess, they may remove the machines for loss of profits. Similarly the machines could be tampered with so that they do not work by means of messing with he coin slot, removing the plugs to the machines excessively or damaging the plugs. Besides physically damaging the monetary intake or machine, they machine could be made to look less attractive to the consumers by several means. By application of order signs, graffiti, wax ,oils, or other substances on the machines people would be less likely to want to use the machines. An extremist method would be to put mice or insects in the lower tray where the purchased items fall so that people attempting to buy would be forced into a surprised situation or to be minor injured if bitten, causing a large smear in both the reputation and appeal of the machines in school. If this techniques resource of live stimuli in the machines was replenished often, then people would become too afraid to use the machines and they would fail to profit, and have to be pulled.

All these techniques could be done fairly easily by small groups of people, and are largely doable since pesos wouldn’t even be noticeable, live animals could be put in by hand as you purchased something, and the other techniques could be implied in the large gaps of time the machines are unmonitored. Compared to weapons of the weak these techniques involve both the consumers and beneficiaries of the machine, and are geared to their removal, so these techniques are stronger than those which could be implied on a small sale of weapons of the weak in terms of effectiveness. As for action research, perhaps recording reactions to these techniques could lead to better ones to be thought up, and leading to a more effective resistance. And as for blind action, something such as a protest or obviously perpetrated resistance would be punishable and largely ineffective for stopping their use, as they are quite popular and profit the school.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

One of the more subtle, silent protest I actively participate in whenever possible is refusing to take excess fast food packaging, especially straws, when presented them. At most fast food outlets and convenience stores they give you a straw with your drink, but I either don’t take it or give it back/away. The reasoning behind this was that in 7th grade our class did a beach cleanup and there were thousands of straws on the beach. Apparently the majority of straws that are thrown out end up in the ocean because they are so light and blow away and end up in water. Because of this and their exceptional ability to contribute to polluting the water they are potentially a very damaging thorn to the global environment.

In an effort to reduce the amount of straws used I just don’t use them, as they aren’t necessary to begin with. Its a small effort but It scared me to see and hear the reality of the situation in the 7th grade so it gives a good feeling to do what you can to help minimize that problem.

This act on the whole is very small, so the limitations to it is it does not create a great impact on the problem. However the benefit is its relatively easy to do and if more people did it then it would have a very significant impact on the problem. One way to popularize this would be to take photos of the different trash that washes up on beaches and see how much of it is material you handle and throw away everyday. This would give people a sense of the cradle to grave system that their own trash takes on, and hopefully push them towards limiting this effect.

The only radical situation presented that might affect this situation is if corporations wanted to protect their profits in an increasingly desperate economic context. In one way I would see corporations getting greater amounts of funds form plastic and paper processors that make their straws and various wrappings, which would give them incentive to make us use them which they attempt to now by including them with your purchase. But I would assume that if we less readily consumed these unnecessary luxuries then they wouldn’t have to be produced in bulk and this would save the company money instead of having to produce so many unnecessary additional components to their products. Because of this I think my previous method would be successful in an extremist situation.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Through my action, the overall result was that I was not able to solve the problem I tried to address. Although my work did not move the consumer, in doing the work I became more educated on the subject so that I will retain information to advocate to others in the future so there is a potential to move closer to the goal in the future. Now the situation remains similar, although my target may change to an even less satisfactory food distributor. I learned through my activities some background info and rival companies, as well as the power holders in the situation. As I stated previously, besides researching a possible change in chains as this one shows some environmental awareness (although minimal on the whole), I would attempt the T-shirt campaign I described in my last post:

Revised action plan:
A t-shirt campaign where we played the roles of false shoppers to spread information.
A method where I could spread information effectively and persuade customers of Whole Foods against the produce in an effective location is by getting a large group of people together and position them in Whole Foods in busy areas to pretend to shop. They would wear vivid, visually attracting clothes with messages that would help the cause printed or attached to them to spread information passively. Due tot he passive nature of this method, I don’t think Whole Foods could kick us out of the store for doing it, because we aren’t really doing anything and any resulting solicitation would be voluntary by the customer, so the store couldn’t advocate we were soliciting to them.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Today was the culmination of our action research efforts, and here’s a record of what was done and what was found out as of now.

In class before I got a chance to act out my actions I thought up several new tactics that were a bit more creative, such as:

1)Giving out free samples of GM and non GM foods, to see their reaction while I discuss both options.
2)Get a large group of pretend shoppers with carts to block off all GM products they sell on the produce island, only give room to get to non GM foods.
3)Re-label produce prices with facts for the consumer, making the consumer unintentionally direct their attention to the cause.

Work done today towards action research:
First, I scanned the farmers market for locations that sold produce. In total the farmers market had 24 different outlets for produce. Then I investigated the key players in the farmers market. I learned about the Greenmarket, a group organized towards the preservation of the environment and promotion of healthy organic foods. All food distributors in the farmers market are part of this group, which means they all farm their own produce within 150 miles of the market, to cut down on the impact of their transportations consumption. Of the 24 produce outlets I saw, 4 certified organic growers and 7 who practiced environmentally concerned farming tactics, the others had unstated growing methods yet were represented by the greenmarket as forgetting their cards, so I assume their process’s are sound.

After talking with the representatives for the greenmarket they introduced me to a local grower who I interviewed. I talked to her about the greenmarket and Whole Foods and got her contact info. Here are some quotes from the interview:

Interview with Trina Pilonero:
"The Farmers Market was here first"
"Whole Foods chose that location to leech off the farmers market"
"They project a healthy image but they have no interest in health, only revenues"
"They get all their produce from California"
"They buy from manufacturers and buy for as little as possible from growers"
"They tell consumers about their practices, but they don’t tell them everything"
(At this point her stand became too busy and I had to cut the interview short)

After scouting the Greenmarkets field I decided to go to Whole Foods to see the other side of the story. I learned that Whole Foods has several policies against photography and solicitation in the store and violators will be told to leave. However I needed info and felt in an emergency I could plead ambivalence since this info was obscurely placed. I got a small amount of photos of the interior of the store related to environmentally friendly goals, confirmation of buying their produce form California, and their mission statement. I also got some pamphlets they had available. However in less than 5 minutes I was confronted by an employee and told I could not photograph inside the store, and I would have to leave. I practiced de-escalation tactics by putting on a false, high pitched voice to make it appear that I was younger and I told the employee that "I was doing it for a school, project". At this point he volunteered to help me, and called over a manager to get me some info. The manager scolded me and the employee and said I needed a warrant form the corporate offices to be permitted to take photos, and that I could get info online instead. I was kicked out and the employee apologized while he took me out of the store.

Result Of work:
-Collected data
-Made contacts
-Got photos
-Got an interview
-Learned new key players

New Info learned / Must be learned:
-Due to Whole foods policy on soliciting, informing, loitering, vandalism, and photography, my original plan as well as plans 1, 2, and 3 would not be effective. Even if I was to act out these tactics there are far too many employees and the project would be cut short. I thought about arguing that we are customers or potential customers, but I’m not sure if I could both validate that argument and then continue my activism techniques.

-I must re- analyze Whole Foods, is this the greatest evil or is there a better target.

-Must analyze pamphlets I picked up.

Revised action plan:
A t-shirt campaign where we played the roles of false shoppers to spread information.
A method where I could spread information effectively and persuade customers of Whole Foods against the produce in an effective location is by getting a large group of people together and position them in Whole Foods in busy areas to pretend to shop. They would wear vivid, visually attracting clothes with messages that would help the cause printed or attached to them to spread information passively. Due tot he passive nature of this method, I don’t think Whole Foods could kick us out of the store for doing it, because we aren’t really doing anything and any resulting solicitation would be voluntary by the customer, so the store couldn’t advocate we were soliciting to them.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

(GM=Genetically Modified)

I feel that my issue can be consolidated to trying to de-popularize GM foods in chain supermarkets in NYC. I think it’s a rather strong topic given the nutritional, cost, health, and mentality of natural foods in comparison to GM foods. In many instances, I don’t think people are aware that they are eating genetically modified foods. Whole foods has taken a step in that direction, but its more so a miss step in labeling their products as GM and non GM, but with this most of their food is GM. This completely rivals their healthy and natural stance on food that they market with, and with a simple information campaign I think I can persuade people form shopping there and shop at better alternatives such as the farmers market.

The players in this plan are:
Large grocery chains (Whole Foods)
Agricultural Conglomerates
Genetic Engineers

The process I will undergo: Handing out flyers and interviewing/discussing the issue with people who readily consume the products.

My SWOT will be more or less something like this:

I’m a kid
I’m enthusiastic about the topic
Experienced it
Educated about it

No one besides me
I lack credibility alone
Easy alternatives to what I say

Lots of supermarkets
Many alternatives to eating GM foods
It’s a healthy city somewhat

There could be a lack of interest
I face an overwhelming majority

To strengthen my odds, I am going to compile research and attempt to get more people to work with me. With that done I think I will stand a chance ad dispersuading GM food purchases.