Category Archives: Social Change

Really the category for everything here, but used for posts where this is a particularly prominent issue or underlying concern

Digital Sweatshop: Web Content Editors

Craigslist has it all: shared apartments, casual hook-ups, a decent used (possibly stolen) bike, belay buddys for the local indoor climbing gym.  And jobs, maybe especially jobs.

But some of the jobs are almost as exploitative as some of the sex trade posts. Check out this one—text given in full:

Web Content Editors: “Web Content Editors (Telecommuting okay)

A personal PR firm is seeking skilled, detailed editors experienced in editing web copy. This is a remote contract position with flexible hours, but we do require that you edit a minimum of five pieces per week.

As an editor, you will work directly with the firm’s team of editors and writers on polishing professional biographies for executives and high-profile clients.

The ideal candidate will demonstrate the ability to catch minute grammatical errors as well as possess excellent editorial skills. As a an important gatekeeper of quality, candidates will edit content for organization, language and word choice, tone, quality of content, length, spelling, punctuation, and syntax. All candidates must have prior editing experience as well as possess a proficiency in The Chicago Manual of Style and MS Word. An undergraduate or graduate degree in English, or a certificate in editing, is preferred but not required. Experience editing finance, legal, or medical copy is a plus.

We manage and pay our team on the oDesk platform. Editors receive $5.00 per piece edited (this is the net amount to you after the 10% oDesk fee). Each piece is 250-350 words. Our editors average about three pieces per hour.

Please respond with a succinct cover letter and ensure that you have completed the Education and Employment History sections on the Resume tab of your oDesk contractor profile. Please apply online at If you do not have an oDesk contractor account, please create one first at Applicants must also take the U.S. English Chicago Style Editing Skills Test (#505) on oDesk prior to applying.

In other words, they want experienced copyeditors with college degrees to work for $15/hour – with no benefits, job security or guarantee of work… Okay, maybe not quite as bad as a sex trade ad, but still…

According to Payscale, the hourly salary for copyeditors with 1-4 years of experience ranges from $10-25. So the pay here would be within the range, albeit a bit low—but that range is based on a steady job with benefits.  And Payscale’s estimate seems low.

Robert Half International lists a salary range for proofreaders of $35,000 to $51,000—or around $17 to 25/hour, for a fulltime position with benefits—and for a copyeditor with 1-3 years experience the salary range is $36,750-49,750. In San Francisco, according to GlassDoor, the median salary for a copyeditor is $50,000 (around $25/hour – with benefits).

And remember, if you earn much from freelance work, you’ll have to pay taxes and social security, etc. on it, just like you would if you had a real job. That can come as a real stock on April 15th, even if you only earned a couple thousand dollars.

Want health insurance to go with your sweated labor? According to eHealthInsurance, “the average premium paid for individual health insurance coverage in the United States in 2011 was $2,196 per year ($183 per month).”

The future, or really the present, of work in the United States may be flexible—read, deeply uncertain and precarious—work such as this, but right now, the system is geared toward maximum exploitation, and is really only viable through forms of externalization.

In San Francisco, many people I know trying to make a living this way can only do so by relying on all sorts of help and support: from the free internet at cafés to the city’s low cost health plan—or even by using the free cost, high time and stress options available around town (public ER at SFGH or the awesome Haight Ashbury Free Medical Clinic). Along with occasional, free meals and food handouts from local charitable organizations. And dumpster diving.

When web content is being produced, edited, maintained by people using café’s wifi, eating out of soup kitchens, with no health protection or retirement savings… That’s called exploited labor, and is not sustainable even in the medium term. Some try to romanticize it by celebrating their dumpster diving for survival as living a freegan lifestyle (something I generally support, as a challenge to capitalism and consumerism) and going on about their freedom to work when and where they want.

But mostly what it is is the freedom to live in insecurity.

And only until they’re old. Because they’ll have no retirement savings. And this country will have no social security or medicare for the elderly. They will starve and die on the streets.

What we need is a new Processed World to attack these practices. What we need is what takes shape in Cory Doctorow’s amazing, insightful For the Win.

Refuse to produce content for free – like reviews on Amazon – and refuse to work for anything less than a living wage.

What we need is a WILDCAT STRIKE on teh interwebs.

Don’t those two kids look sweet? But they read “anarchist literature” so, you know, clearly evil. Honestly, shit like this is so unbelievable. How does the FBI get away with it? And with statements like “anarchists are criminals seeking an ideology to justify their actions,” which clearly refers to right-wing Republicans, not anarchists.

Sound + Noise

Just a few weeks ago, an FBI task force raided a home* in Portland, Oregon very early in the morning. They broke down the front door with a battering ram and threw in a stun grenade, which is non-lethal but produces a very loud and disorienting noise and a blinding bright light. The team locked down the building and secured the sleepy, compliant occupants. The operation was one of several which also occurred in Olympia, WA and Seattle, WA, involving some 60-80 officers.

Just who were these dangerous criminals, these domestic terrorists whose threat level is so high that an FBI team with stun grenades, battering rams, and assault rifles needed to burst into their homes in the wee hours of the morning?

Why, it’s these two young folks,

Leah-Lynn Plante:

and Matt Duran:

Reportedly, the FBI search warrant was for black clothing, paint, sticks, computers and cell…

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Additional thoughts on George Tiller, on the anniversary of his murder

What Would George Tiller Do?
Today is the third anniversary of Dr. George Tiller’s assassination. On May 31, 2009, Tiller was shot and killed by Scott Roeder while he served as an usher in his Wichita church. Tiller was one of the only abortion providers in the country to provide late-term abortions. He often wore a button that said “Trust Women.”

I wonder, if Dr. Tiller were alive today, what he would think about the unwavering attack against women’s reproductive freedom and bodily integrity—if he could ever of imagined that American women would still not just be fighting for the right to abortion but for birth control. Or that there would be a national debate on whether or not it’s appropriate to call a woman who wants contraception coverage a “prostitute.” I imagine that even for a man who had seen a lot of misogyny in his life, the current climate against women would be shocking.

Since Tiller’s murder, the legislative agenda against reproductive justice—and common-sense decency—has been staggering. (via The Nation.)

Here’s something I wrote about the murder of George Tiller, back at the time it happened:

Well, I will probably continue to think about the murder of Dr. Tiller and the issues it raises, but there’s only so much I want to say about it here. A friend of mine cautioned me against saying anything at all, pointing out that, the way things are, no one ever changes their mind on the topic of abortion anyway. But as I said in my first post, it had more to do with standing up and being counted, registering my anger, than with any notion of changing any anti-abortion fundamentalist’s point of view. That being said…

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Berlin ACTA Protest, February 25, 2012

Activists protest from inside the Neptune fountain at Alexanderplatz during a demonstration against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) on February 25, 2012 in Berlin, Germany.

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Upcoming Conference: From Rebellion to Revolution: Dynamics of Political Change

From Rebellion to Revolution: Dynamics of Political Change
16th Berlin Roundtables on Transnationality, October 17 – 20, 2012, WZB

The Irmgard Coninx Foundation, a non-profit-organization founded in Munich in 2001, organizes an annual Roundtable on Transnationality, held in Berlin. The Roundtables provide a forum for international young academics and journalists to discuss the political and social challenges facing a global civil society. This year’s Roundtable is “From Rebellion to Revolution: Dynamics of Political Change”

The recent waves of protests and demonstrations in many countries around the world have reintroduced the question of revolution and grass-roots system change to the political and scholarly agenda. Whether it is the fight against autocratic and corrupt regimes or protests against market-driven politics, in many of these cases revolution is in the air or already on the streets. Against this background, the 16th Berlin Roundtables on Transnationality want to examine the dynamics of political (and often violent) unrest that lead to, or at least aims at, fundamental structural transformations of political regimes and alterations in power relations between the masses and the elites. Our key questions are: Who makes revolutions and why? What influences the emergence and course of revolutionary situations? What the immediate and long term outcomes? And what are successful modes of transformations to more democracy? (via Irmgard Coninx Stiftung: Revolutions.)

A detailed background paper on the conference and its themes is available.

They are looking for participants who are younger academics (max. up to 5 years after PhD) or activists/practitioners (eg workers in governmental or urban services, NGOs, journalists). I’m not sure if it is exactly what they had in mind, but I would think they’d be interested in people in Black Bloc groups or actively involve in significant Occupy movements.

Those interested in participating are invented to submit a paper (max. 3500 words max), an abstract (max. 300 words), a narrative biography and a CV. Submission deadline is June 30, 2012. Co-authored and already published papers will not be accepted. There is an online submission process.

Based on a review of submissions, approximately 45 applicants will be invited to participate in the conference with peers and prominent scholars in Berlin. The Irmgard Coninx Foundation will cover travel to and accommodation in Berlin.

Nancy Fraser will be giving evening lectures as part of the conference. Fraser is the Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Political and Social Science and professor of philosophy at The New School in New York City. She has written extensively on social theory, gender, Foucault, etc., with a focus on issues of justice. (I would love to hear her talks.)

Stunning Poster Art from Indonesia – #Occupy Jakarta

Earlier today, @OccupyWallStNYC tweeted: “Corporations are organized across borders. It’s time for the 99% to get organized GLOBALLY.” But in fact the Occupy movement went global pretty much as soon as it began.

One of the more powerful expressions of the internationalized Occupy movement has been coming out of Indonesia, where Nobodycorp. Internationale Unlimited is producing an amazing range of political poster art. One of the most striking things about these posters is their intensity. The Occupy movement in Jakarta is grappling not just with underwater mortgages and layoffs, but with military violence and murder, with the problems of Muslim terrorism and with breakaway movements in places like Aceh.

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For more…

Rebel Cities by David Harvey

Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution
by David Harvey

Manifesto on the urban commons from the acclaimed theorist.

Long before the Occupy movement, modern cities had already become the central sites of revolutionary politics, where the deeper currents of social and political change rise to the surface. Consequently, cities have been the subject of much utopian thinking. But at the same time they are also the centers of capital accumulation and the frontline for struggles over who controls access to urban resources and who dictates the quality and organization of daily life. Is it the financiers and developers, or the people?

Rebel Cities places the city at the heart of both capital and class struggles, looking at locations ranging from Johannesburg to Mumbai, and from New York City to São Paulo. Drawing on the Paris Commune as well as Occupy Wall Street and the London Riots, Harvey asks how cities might be reorganized in more socially just and ecologically sane ways—and how they can become the focus for anti-capitalist resistance. (via

Spring has Sprung, May Day is Coming #M1GS

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I participate in Occupy DC, but I’ve watched New York’s occupation only in the media, so I’ve seen them the way the media sees all of us. They mass and they march, menacingly unified, and clearly “anti” everything, or a lot of things. But who are they? And what exactly are they doing? News reports about the occupy movement answer these questions badly, making protesters incomprehensible even to sympathizers.

Colin Moynihan writing for The New York Times City Room Blog about Saturday’s Occupy Wall Street march and the subsequent arrests and violence is a perfect example. The details reported could hardly make the protesters seem more victimized. Occupiers are shoved, beaten, and arrested, with no better justification given than the need to keep things orderly.

Still, there’s disbelief that police could dish out violence without any cause. We hear from occupiers mostly after they’ve been victimized, but who can trust…

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Reel Girl’s got it going on as usual: one of the canniest writers on gender and popular culture in the blogosphere.

Reel Girl

So after I posted about sexualizing M & M’s, (I cannot even believe I have to write that, but alas, I do) I got some comments about Ms. Brown being a feminist. She’s wearing glasses, is a business executive, and Tweets empowering messages about women.

Here’s the problem: Besides the glasses and gloves, all Ms. Brown is wearing is her pumps. The main difference between male M & Ms and female M & Ms appears to be shoes. Many kids who are looking at these pictures can’t read. Put Ms. Brown in sneakers so she can walk and run like the others, and then we can talk about her backstory.

But, because I am 43 years old and can read and use a computer, I went to M & Ms FB page today to read up on Ms. Brown. Here is the first things I saw:

The boys tell…

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“The people who truly deface our neighborhoods are the companies that scrawl giant slogans across buildings and buses trying to make us feel inadequate unless we buy their stuff….” – Bansky (via  reddit: Anarchism: Unremorsefully anti-capitalism and anti-state.)

People For the American Way soliciting for donations

Okay, I don’t want to seem like I am picking on relatively decent progressive organizations, but I’ve gotten so many emails requesting donations and contributions lately that I think I finally snapped….

Renew your PFAW membership and help us get a head start on the 2012 elections

We cannot afford the far-right Tea Party Republicans to take control of our federal government and judiciary…there is so much at stake this election year.

People For the American Way plans on fighting back hard, but we need your help to win. (via People For the American Way.)

And they want that help in the form of a contribution of $35-250 dollars, or more, perhaps monthly.  Well, I don’t want to contribute.

For one thing, groups like PFAW are not at the top of my list for charitable donations. I tend to favor direct service providers in my area, groups working on homelessness, hunger and health care (such as the Berkeley Free Clinic), and bigger NGOs like Doctors without Borders over DC think tanks and lobbying groups, though the latter certainly have their place.

I was also a bit off put by their Board of Directors. The organization was founded in 1981 by Norman Lear, the television writer and producer responsible for such shows as All in the Family and Sanford and Son (both of which are great) and the board is stacked with friends and associates, such as Lara Bergthold, the Board Chair, a Hollywood political consultant who was deputy director of John Kerry’s presidential campaign and  is also on the board of Lear’s foundation, and the actor Alec Baldwin, a friend and protege of Lear. Another member of the Board is Seth Macfarlane, the guy behind Family GuyAmerican Dad! and The Cleveland Show. Lear has a personal net worth of $700 million. Baldwin is worth $65 million and makes $300,000 an episode for 30 Rock. Macfarlane recently paid $13.5 million for a Beverly Hills Mansion.

Now, they may be entitled to their money, and I don’t want to suggest that they should bankroll PFAW single-handed.  But before they send me another letter asking for money, I’d like to know what these board members contribute in terms of real dollars to charity, as a percentage of their income, and with any tax benefits they accrue taken into account. (I’d love to have enough to donate for it to give me a tax benefit!)  Since this organization is Norman Lear’s baby, I want to know that he and his friends and colleagues/employees are really putting their money where their mouth is before they ask for my hard-earned shekels.

Many of the other Board members are really right on: Dolores Huerta, Julian Bond, Mary Frances Berry.  It’s not a bogus organization at all.  It does good work.  But it’s got friends with deep – really deep  –  pockets.  I’ll put my limited sums to use elsewhere.

For more…

Hollywood’s Dirty Cash?

Demand Progress is a reasonably right on organization that this time, in its attack on “Hollywood’s Dirty Cash,” is way off.

Demand Progress is an online activist organization that “works to win progressive policy changes for ordinary people through organizing, lobbying, and elections in the United States.”  They focus on issues of civil liberties, civil rights, and government reform—the first two of which, at least, are issues close to my heart.

Government reform… meh.  It’s usually not enough for me, and I feel that many of the aspects of our contemporary society that need “reform” lie outside what is normally thought of as the government.  And the “re…” that I really want is not “re-form.” In one sense, each election re-forms the government, and it always comes out looking suspiciously like the old form. No matter who you vote for, you always elect a politician. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

But all that aside, Demand Progress’ current call to arms on “Hollywood’s Dirty Cash” just seems to me… kinda dumb:

Tell Congress: Return Hollywood’s Dirty Cash | Demand Progress:
Motion Picture Association of America President Chris Dodd just threatened to cut off Hollywood campaign contributions to any member of Congress who doesn’t pass his Internet-censorship legislation.

After Congress shelved the controversial PIPA and SOPA bills, Dodd told Fox News:

“Those who count on quote ‘Hollywood’ for support need to understand that this industry is watching very carefully who’s going to stand up for them when their job is at stake. Don’t ask me to write a check for you when you think your job is at risk and then don’t pay any attention to me when my job is at stake.”

This is what corruption looks like in Washington. It’s outrageous that Dodd — himself a former senator — is leveling these threats. Our elected officials must send a signal back to Dodd and the rest of K Street that our nation’s laws can’t be bought.

It’s time that Congress showed that its votes are no longer for sale. Congress must give back the MPAA’s dirty money or give it to charity. Congress must make it clear to the world that it won’t be bullied into supporting censorship.

Sure, Dodd’s statement was a bit outrageous, but compared to the bizarre pronouncements, threats and promises coming out of the Republican primary silly season, it seems a bit paltry.  I mean, Newt is promising to ignore the Supreme Court. Audiences are cheering the notion of letting people die. Dobb’s comments are small beer.

And sending back Hollywood’s donations seems to me a pretty stupid idea on the one hand, and also pathetic and misguided on the other. Stupid because the majority of Hollywood’s money seems to go to Democrats and more sensible Republicans—and they are going to need that money to counteract the Koch Brother’s war chest  (see here, here or here).

Pathetic and misguided because… Hollywood? Really? THAT’S the industry/lobbying group you want to go after? What about the oil industry, lobbying to overturn industry regulations aimed at preventing massive oil spills? The polluting industries that have been lobbying against improving air quality legislation?  The NRA and arms manufacturers? Despotic mideast regimes?  Fucking hell, Hollywood has to be one of the least offensive industries with a major lobbying presence in Washington.  Cute puppies don’t have lobbyists.

The truth is, Hollywood is just a soft target, low hanging fruit. In the wake of the startling mobilization of opinion against SOPA/PIPA, an email/online petition against the MPAA, one of the main instigators of that legislation, must have seemed to Demand Progress like a no brainer, an easy win.

But it’s not a win worth winning.  Demand that Congress return ALL lobbying money, or Demand Progress in genuine reform of lobbying and campaign financing.  But Demanding Congress return Hollywood’s money? Bleech.

And while we’re at it… if you want to Demand Progress around some ugly, awful legislation what about NDAA? Or if it’s political spending, what about the outrageous Super PACs?  Demand Progress is mostly right on. Mostly.  This time, though, they’re way off. There are bigger and better battles to be fought.

For more…

Don’t Mourn, Occupy

Nuff said.

A brilliant bit of BUGAUP-style culture jamming – you have to get up real close to see that the brown bands are separate pieces of paper, very cleverly inserted and positioned in this bus shelter wall ad, which is located outside San Francisco General Hospital – “as real as it gets,” and the main health care provider for many of the City’s 100,o00 adults who don’t have any health coverage.

Of course, while “Occupy the Banks” has a visceral appeal, squatting is really the way to go: direct action to address homelessness and inadequate housing, to preserve and maintain homes that have been rendered unoccupied by foreclosure, and to begin the process of reshaping our economic lives.

For more…

What should we Occupy next? Or should we stop occupying and start abandoning?

The San Francisco Bay Guardian‘s cover story this week is “Occupy America!” — a call to “take back the country.” It concludes:

the important thing is to let this genie out of the bottle, to move Occupy into the next level of politics, to use a convention, rally, and national event to reassert the power of the people to control our political and economic institutions — and to change or abolish them as we see fit.

It is important — vital even, I would say — to continue the discussion and movement that #occupy has begun, but I think that the time has come also for reflection on where that movement is going and where we want it to go. The Occupy movement has always been a big tent, with lots of different groups with differing agendas operating within it, but there have been some clear tendencies. And I don’t agree with all of them by any means.

Occupy Wall Street?  It was a great idea, a great slogan and it really got things going, but do we really want to occupy Wall Street? Do we want to retake or reclaim Wall Street – that whole sick and perverse congeries of gamblers, shills and greed-heads that passes itself off as an “industry” – for something, for ourselves?  Or do we want to abolish and/or abandon it? I think some of the activities that emerged around banking had the right idea: don’t “occupy” the bad banks and financial institutions with your money; abandon them, taking your money to more positive institutions, local credit unions and the like.

But couldn’t we push that logic further? What about a wholesale abandonment of the whole crappy, corrupt and dehumanizing system.  Don’t occupy it, leave it.  Leave the banks and stock markets, leave the malls and Wal-Marts, and as much as possible shift your money, your energy, your time, your production and consumption to spaces that embody values of human freedom and social and economic justice, of happiness.  Find all the worker-owned collectives in your area and support them. Start your own collective.  Start a co-housing community, a squat, a shared multi-generational living situation. If your family sucks, abandon them, too, and create a new family based on freedom, love and justice.

I could go on in this vein, and hopefully will, in greater detail, but for now let me leave you with some thoughts on another aspect of the Occupy movement…

on the Port Blockades

I was really pleased to see the Occupy movement expanding out from the Wall Street locus to address issues of globalization, and root itself or rhizomatically connect itself with the ongoing alter globalization movement.

But the port blockades were a bad idea.

Sure, the ports are a logistical choke point in globalization’s long supply chain, where a bit of work can cause a lot of disruption and economic losses for the entities involved.

But it’s a distraction and it hurts people we don’t — or shouldn’t — want to hurt.

Occupy Wall Street worked because it was such a powerful symbolic statement. Blocking the doors of local bank branches would not have been as effective, and would have brought a much more immediate police response.  Now that the Occupy movement has captured a lot of attention, taking the struggle to the headquarters of offending Wall Street entities will work fine, but going after local branches still seems to me to be offer a small payout for a lot of stress, and to inconvenience average people in a way likely to turn potential allies into probable opponents.  (Just as some of the stupider acts of vandalism around Occupy Oakland have done with downtown Oakland residents and merchants.)

“Occupying” the ports pissed off some members of trade unions that have historically been important supporters of progressive struggles — against US imperialism in Central America, for instance, on in the general strikes of the 1930s.  Port workers, longshoremen and their ilk were some of the most radical activists in the Bay Area in the first half of the Twentieth Century.  It’s stupid to piss them off, or to get into their turf, without working with them. (One of the reasons the events of May 1968 in France were so threatening and effective was the alliance forged between traditional, blue collar workers and student activists.) And the port “occupations” hurt local economies that were already hurting, probably more than they hurt the big nasty corporate entities we’d like to see suffer.

More than that, though, the ports are simply not where it’s at in any real sense.  If you want to “Occupy” globalization, you need to go after the headquarters, the  brain and heart of it; the ports are like the feet or the fingers, or maybe the lower intestine, pipes that things pass through that are not making any real choices.

And there are plenty of big, fat, juicy targets in the Bay Area. Lots of corporate headquarters for companies that are big players in globalization.  Levi Strauss no longer makes jeans in the United States. They moved all that overseas.  Apple doesn’t make any of its cool, fancy gadgets, so popular with hipsters and radicals alike around here.  And both have been implicated in some really bad shit with their workers overseas.  What about Chevron, right down there on Market St.?

If you want to move on globalization — and you should — don’t get distracted. Go for the commanding heights.  And that isn’t the ports.  It’s public perception, media support — and corporate hqs. All of which the port blockades miss.

You say you want a revolution? Well, we need to be smart about it.