Taking Up New Tactics: I Grow Tired, But Dare Not Fall Asleep
J. Ellis #opinion #organizing strategies #reflection
The saying “print is dead” has been hanging over my head for the entire duration of my time with the Insurgent. I walk around campus and town trying to offload our thousands of printed copies, stocking the newsstands, and asking passerby “hi, would you like a free copy of The Student Insurgent?” Nine times out of ten I’m met with a stern no, untouched stacks on racks, or worse yet, vandalized ones. Sometimes I try a simpler approach, “hi, do you like to read?” Once I was met with a chorus of “no’s” so demoralizing I began to wonder why bother at all. I’m kept awake at night imagining our hard work lining the enclosure of some townie’s pet guinea pig.
We are facing a crisis of apathy on the University of Oregon campus. Its origins are innumerable, and beyond the scope of this article. Besides, it would just come off like a list of complaints anyway. I signed up for this, no? I’m locked into this institution, whether I like it or not. In the last four years I’ve come to the defeated realization that perhaps the university is not the setting for real change. The ephemerality of the student body, the legacy of capitalistic white supremacy inherent to these institutions, and the bureaucratic red tape such an institution depends upon, all make meaningful organizing/resistance unsustainable in such a setting. Its policies and practices are at the mercy of whoever’s in charge, and the direction of the university has never been in the hands of the people, its students. No, no. Instead, the direction of higher ed in this country is left in the hands of bureaucrats more versed in economics than education. Such a model robs education of its potential for empowerment, as the University is fundamentally a system designed to reproduce the next generation of the ruling class. It often feels like the Insurgent’s fight against this has been fruitless at its best, self-destructive at its worst.
That’s not to say what we’re trying to do is insignificant or meaningless. There’s a Castro quote that goes “the weapon of today is not guns but consciousness,” and for this reason alternative media is a fundamental part of any movement. Look to the Black Panther newspaper, or the tabloid-toting Trotskyists that troll campus, to your beloved local distro, or the Rojava meme-makers. In a media saturated society, the use of media is an ideological survival strategy. But our activism can only go as far as our attention spans. Where do we turn when we tire of writing, are exhausted by reading? Can there be destruction without creation?
Despite the frequent bouts of despair I’ve encountered in this endeavor, my belief in the importance of radical media has never wavered. I’ve never questioned the importance of our intentions, only the efficacy of our impact. After all, as we continue to engage with such blatant corruption as enrolled members of the university system, is it not our responsibility to critique it? As students, and as activists, we have the responsibility to turn our education against itself by observing and CALLING OUT the structures of oppression we learn about in class at play in our own educational system. Publications like The Insurgent are necessary for this reason.
As Dr. Bones writes in “The Rise of the Radical Reporter,” writing, reporting, and journalism are “literal weapons we need to employ to ensure the field of affinity expands.” We need people willing to take up aliases and create a platform that rejects absolute power.
The former editor in chief for the Insurgent on my first assignment ever all those years ago, a punk benefit-show review/interview, handed me (already stoned as fuck) two beers and said some words I’ll never forget: “Go Gonzo, kid.” And so I stumbled up to the band and took fifteen minutes of their time to slur out questions about the intersection of environmental justice and punk music. In the spirit of that moment that started it all, allow me to invoke a Hunter S. Thompson quote:
“There are a lot of ways to practice the art of journalism, and one of them is to use your art like a hammer to destroy the right people — who are almost always your enemies, for one reason or another, and who usually deserve to be crippled, because they are wrong. This is a dangerous notion, and very few professional journalists will endorse it — calling it ‘vengeful’ and ‘primitive’ and ‘perverse’ regardless of how often they might do the same thing themselves. ‘That kind of stuff is opinion,’ they say, ‘and the reader is cheated if it’s not labelled as opinion.’ Well, maybe so. Maybe Tom Paine cheated his readers and Mark Twain was a devious fraud with no morals at all who used journalism for his own foul ends….In my case, using what politely might be called ‘advocacy journalism,’ I’ve used reporting as a weapon to affect political situations that bear down on my environment.”
I think I’ve clung to the Insurgent so closely because I’ve always seen this potential power within it. Its very existence is a form of protest on this campus.
Contrary to the university’s best efforts against it, I’ve learned a lot in my time here. That is probably more a product of aging and experience more than the number of credits I’ve completed. As I prepare to move on from my invested involvement at the Insurgent and ROAR, I have just a few words of wisdom.
- Don’t ever be fooled: the administration is not on your side. “Viewpoint neutrality” is a joke. We threaten their interests, and they threaten ours.
- Bare minimum: keep the prison project going at all costs. This is the audience we have the largest reach in, and is probably the most tangible impact we have as an organization. Never neglect our allies and accomplices inside.
- Stay punk: don’t give into myths of professionalism. EmbrAce typoss & reject formality !
- Keep your fingers on the pulse: maintain a global and local scope to issues. Pay special attention to the things mainstream media isn’t talking about. Stop trying to form new hot takes on electoral politics. There is nothing to say about Donald Trump that hasn’t already been said. For the love of Gods, talk about Yemen, Palestine, Peru, Iran, or anything else instead. The more priority we give to the happenings in the imperial core the more power we grant it. That said, never lose sight of what’s directly around you. The press is valuable for its function as a watchdog. Watch for corruption and authoritarianism on a local scale.
- Consensus: The Insurgent was once too autocratic for its own good. Whatever capacity may be, ensure the distribution of labor becomes even more equitable over time. It may seem easier to have the bulk of responsibility fall under one person, but believe me, it’s not.
For months, I’ve struggled to find the words to articulate my feelings about finally moving on from the Insurgent. What could I possibly say to close such an intense chapter of my life? How do you say goodbye to passions that no longer serve you? Fuck, what if all the effort I put in to keep this sinking ship afloat is all in vain? Hah, it’s not like my friends ever read any of the shit I wrote anyway. Alas, woe is me. Just do your best, that’s all I’ve been doing. If this thing is meant to be, it will. For what feels like the first time in a long time, I have hope in the Insurgent beyond my time with it. As for me, I’ll see you on the streets instead, comrades.