Of Whirlwinds: Metaphor, Purpose, Intersections, Acknowledgments, Background & Dedication

By Team Colors Collective
(get the PDF)

    This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen, and for which neither I nor time nor history will ever forgive them, that they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it. One can be, indeed one must strive to become, tough and philosophical concerning destruction and death, for this is what most of mankind has been best at since we have heard of man. (But remember: most of mankind is not all of mankind.) But it is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.

    James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time (1963).

Purpose: “Whirlwinds” as Metaphor, Whirlwinds as Project

To understand the cycles of struggle and the more recent cycles of protest over the past thirty years, we propose the metaphor of ‘whirlwinds.’ Before ‘whirlwinds’ there was the fire that James Baldwin spoke about in 1963 with the publication of his work The Fire Next Time. This fire came to cycle through the United States and across the planet, but would become mere embers by the late 1970s.

Since the 1970s, within the United States, there has been a series of salient whirlwinds: anti-nuclear; anti-apartheid and divestment; ecological; migrant rights; anti-racist; solidarity; worker organizing; the movement of movements in the counter-globalization struggles; anti-poverty; do-it-yourself (DIY) punk, hip hop, riot grrrl; feminist and queer struggles, amongst others. Looking genealogically, the above struggles have all contributed to the current crisis in capital and the state-apparatus, as well as to the forms of organization that populate the social field.

The whirlwinds that blow throughout the social field face consistent attempts by both capital and the state-apparatus to co-opt and infuse their efforts into strategies for maintaining social systems based in exploitation and oppression. When movements struggling to fulfill their needs and desires cannot be successfully co-opted or infused, they’re often targeted for dismantlement. Much of the time social movements face all of the above tactics of capture simultaneously.

Particular power relations—work (paid and unpaid; affective & material; productive & reproductive), racism, gendered forms domination and exploitation (including, but by no means limited to male-domination, heteronormativity, and the gender binary) as well as others—have been continually re-imposed in new ways, through new tactics, in response to struggles waged by those seeking to fulfill their needs and desires. In recent historic context the “new enclosures” and “the society of control” function as processes for the re-imposition of oppressive and exploitive relations.

Even considering the intensity of efforts waged against social movements, resistances to oppression and exploitation—as well as the construction of new ways of being— are found throughout society within the United States. We see the whirlwinds mentioned above, both those currently blowing and those in recent history, as weapons against defeatism. We also see such whirlwinds as spaces for potential explosions. We want tornados.

Our goal with this project is to inquire into and map some the current winds. Accordingly, we begin and end with one question: “Will you join us in the middle of a whirlwind?”

A meaningful and substantial answer to the above question is not to be found within these pages, nor is it found in rhetoric or posturing. The answer to this question is found on the barricades, and in the streets, fields, forests, gardens, homes, farms, community centers, workplaces and neighborhoods where we struggle everyday to create new worlds and new lives, together. Our small whirlwinds become tornados only in and through activity.

Whirlwinds is intended as an “intervention,” accomplished in form and content through an “inquiry” into contemporary movement; this project is not intended to be a comprehensive map of “the movement” or a ‘snapshot’ of movements. We don’t feel that it is possible to create a comprehensive inquiry into social struggles in the United States. However, many small inquiries are necessary and possible, and in summation such efforts help us all to understand the terrain on which we can build and intensify our collective resistance.

Our major strategic aim is for Whirlwinds to serve as a point of discussion of movement strengths and weaknesses, as well as movement purposes, tactics and theories. We hope that this project assists those who read it to better understand current struggles for liberation, and that this understanding helps build strategies for building movements capable of “winning.”

Intersection: Analytic Lineage

In ourpolitical organizing and our efforts at analyzing contemporary power dynamics, we have found the work of various radical research collectives to be both useful and inspiring. Of particular import to us has been the work of Zerowork (1970s), Midnight Notes Collective (late 1970s through today), Processed World (early 1980’s through to the 1990s), and Turbulence: Ideas in Movement (2000s). The work of these groups has been helpful in opening new paths for the strategic use of power analysis and militant reflection.

We have also found the theories and organizational activities surrounding the Wages for Housework movement to be indispensable in helping us to articulate useful questions for understanding the dynamics of contemporary capitalism. The importance of the analysis and arguments put forward by thinkers and organizers like Silvia Federici, Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James-in their attention to the particular role of reproductive labor that is imposed upon women, and the forms of labor kept “hidden” through the lack of a wage-cannot be overstated.

Finally, the organizing and theories of the Zapatista’s have, with no overstatement, reshaped politics and social movements. The Zapatista’s lived-process of asking and listening as a way to build movement and better lives has taught crucial lessons to many, including us. This journal is one of countless projects that have resulted from the process and auroras that exploded in southern Mexico almost 15 years ago.

Intersection: Intervening for Tornadoes

While there is a long history of intervention, movement research and radical journal projects at and around direct actions and large protests, our friends at Turbulence: Ideas in Movement have directly inspired us to pursue this project. The June, 2007 publication of their newspaper for the G8 Summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, entitled What Would it Mean to Win?, evinced the importance of a direct intervention at strategic moments. Turbulence’s attempt to open political dialog and create flows of ideas, activities, and forms of organization through that project was brilliantly conceived and carried out; we see Whirlwinds as a part of that same dialog.

However, while we feel that the Turbulence project was appropriate for the European context, it could not (and should not) be traced onto the American / North American scene. We found that we could not comfortably ask the question “What would it mean to win?” in context of movements in the United States. How could winning be the subject of our inquiry unless we first knew the current geography, activity, and function of contemporary movements and struggles? We needed to ask a different question first: Where are we?

We did not want to wait until the site of the protests against the Republican and Democratic National Convention’s to have these conversations. Rather, we sought to utilize the attention and political interest surrounding the elections, and the convention protests, to discuss an “other politics.” Here, we are hoping to affect not only the organizing leading up to and during the conventions, but also the discussions and flows taking place locally and circulating throughout the country.

With the inspiration of the aforementioned political collectives in mind, we feel that one way to find out ‘where we are’ is to inquire into the current political composition of the working class—of movements and struggles—visa vi capital and the state-apparatus.

Acknowledgments: The Process of Whirlwinds

In early January, 2008 we found ourselves sitting next to Marc Herbst of The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest (JOAAP) in the dark corner of a bar in the Lower East side of New York City. At this chance meeting we discussed our projects and the initial ideas behind an effort of inquiry into current movements and political composition. After each of our collectives discussed the project, a partnership was formed to produce Whirlwinds. We could not have expected the level of support and respect that we received from The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest. Without the work of Marc, Robert Herbst and Christina Ulke this journal would not be as substantive or as useful; in fact, it might not even exist.

We put our contributors under considerable pressure by asking them to produce an article in just over one-month’s time. Those included in Whirlwinds are engaged in substantive organizing and intellectual projects, and they very often took time away from important work to participate in this project. Many of those included amongst Whirlwinds’ pages are in the midst of organizational and personal crises as well—from de-funding by foundations, to dental emergencies or emotional hardships— and worked diligently with us to make this project happen. Accordingly, the articles within Whirlwinds represent an incredible intellectual, affective, and corporeal project; they are made up of sweat, emotions and moments stolen between direct actions, meetings, personal lives and jobs.

As a collective of three, even with substantial support from our publisher, we never could have completed Whirlwinds without the active engagement and participation of a close circle of friends. Paul Cash deserves a special acknowledgement for the incredible amount of work he has put into this project, which has been, at times, as much as that put in by those of us in the collective. Paul has transcribed many of the interviews, as well as the presentation by Silvia Federici, and he constructed much of the database we used to plan our promotional efforts; we at Team Colors are all indebt to him for this work. Benjamin Holtzman, our constant editor, friend and comrade provided us with an exciting and thoughtful interview with Robin D.G. Kelley, even as he struggled through serious illness. He also provided countless expressions of solidarity and encouragement that made a major difference in our ability to complete Whirlwinds. We can only give an utterly inadequate thank you. Through countless conversations with Team Colors, Kristine Virsis of the Just Seeds art collective created a breathtaking and engaging image that serves as our cover artwork and appears on all our posters and postcards. The central visual element of Whirlwinds—the face of the journal that so many will see first— stems from our suggestion that Kristine use Deleuze and Guattari’s metaphor of the “wasp and the orchid.” The brilliant imagery, however, is a product of her mind and hand. Brett Bloom of Temporary Services created a phenomenal tour poster for “Of Friends and Whirlwinds” — the name we’ve given to allthe Whirlwinds events— and we hope his contribution will hang on many walls, lampposts, and bulletin boards across the United States.

Additionally, George Caffentzis (of Midnight Notes Collective and contributor), Kristyn Leach (participant in “Do It All Day” and “Of Friends and Whirlwinds” events), Malav Kanuga (of Bluestockings Books and contributor), Stevie Peace (of Restorative Justice Community Action and contributor), Stevphen Shukaitis (of Autonomedia), RJ Macanni , and Ryan Only (of the Brian MacKenzie Infoshop) contacted friends and colleagues on our behalf; Amanda Plumb edited one of Whirlwinds more difficult pieces; Brendan Van Meter laid out the postcard and created the incredible Team Colors website (warmachines.info); and Frank Richards spent much of his vacation to Arizona editing articles in his always insightful way.”

Background:Team Colors Collective and Whirlwinds

The political and organizational antecedents of Team Colors and In the Middle of a Whirlwind (Whirlwinds) stem primarily from our activities in the alter-globalization movement, and from our local organizing efforts on Long Island, New York during the late 1990s and early 2000s. It was through those experiences that we collectively crafted the bonds that have equated to over a decade of close friendship between the three of us. Through these experiences we discovered, with vivid clarity, the accuracy behind the old argument that solidarity and comradeship are created in mutual struggle, not before it. We’ve also learned, painfully at times, that the weakest forms of comradeship are mere statements and declarations.

Our most salient experiences in motion during the past decade taught us substantial “political” and “personal” lessons. Throughout the late 1990s early 2000s we experienced first hand the feeling of being part of a movement, the joys and dilemmas of local organizing, the terror of state repression, and the hell of unexpectedly losing a cherished friend and comrade. Through this same process we came to truly understand the personal and political impacts of movement decomposition, the Non-profit Industrial Complex, the teeth of the State, the trauma of loss, as well as the beauty, necessity and possibility of creating worlds beyond this one. This project is, first and foremost, the product of movement; it develops from activity, and it is our hope that it serves to increase the potential for success of current organizing efforts.

Dedicating Whirlwinds

Whirlwinds is dedicated to Jodi Tilton: friend, partner, colleague, and fellow collective member, whose immeasurable personality and conversational abilities no longer flow through our lives and cycle around our community. After suffering from a serious illness for months, Jodi passed into the unknown in late July 2007 as we collected at her side to say goodbye. This collection, as with our struggles themselves, is for those lives that flow through ours, and for those flows that we must create with the weapons found in our memories

For a more in depth introduction to Whirlwinds, its concepts and a summary of its contents read Will you join us in the middle of a whirlwind?: An Introductionby Team Colors.

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