Interview with 99: Claire Bernish

Claire Bernish originally hails from North Carolina; and, though she spent her formative years growing up in the ‘burbs of Cincinnati, Ohio, she’s traveled around the continental U.S. so much, she has yet to find a location to permanently designate “home.”

Claire’s parents were journalists during the Watergate scandal, and her father laterworked as a D.C. politician in Commerce under Pres. Carter — so dinner debate always centered on current political events, where critical thought was profoundly encouraged. In fact, she cannot recall many conversations that didn’t somehow center around politics, current events, and/or world affairs — thankfully, since it laid a foundation of curiosity that would never diminish over time.

At 12 years of age — long before the age of the internet — Claire stumbled upon a Greenpeace ad in an older issue of National Geographic that asked readers to plead with a national fast food chain to cease sourcing their meat from cattle raised on land in the Amazon. This one ad introduced her to slash-and- burn clearing of vital rainforest, sparking awareness she knew would change her life. So she wrote a letter to the chain restaurant. When they actually replied, explaining they had phased out that source, she realized the committed few who actually wrote had affected change — and she was hooked.

12961372_558302077662703_6578143779143964990_oClaire attended the University of Cincinnati and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where she realized her interests encompassed too broad a range to choose an actual major. Beginning in the graphic design program at UC’s Design, Art, Architecture & Planning (DAAP) school, she then branched out to political science, creative writing, geology, U.S. history, French, photography, fine art, sociology,abnormal and other psychology, philosophy, journalism, physical and social anthropology, Spanish, and still other subjects — which is precisely why she never earned a degree.

In the years following school, Claire found ways to pursue activism — at times more involved than others — but always maintained journals of poetry that reflected her shifting interests. She took an active interest in the dangers of genetically-modified food and the chemicals those varieties rely on — and thus became a strict vegan for 12 years, until that choice became too expensive to maintain. When Mike Brown was shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri, Claire knew immediately she had to go and protest, particularly as it hearkened back to the LAPD beating of Rodney King, which happened when she was in high school. She has also attended various marches and participated in a number of other movements, including Occupy.

 

 

1. When did you first get into activism?

 

1. Though I believe activism was likely the subtle underpinning of my upbringing,
my most actively engaged participation began when I was 12 years old and sent
a letter to Burger King, of all places, after seeing a Greenpeace ad in an old
NatGeo. That ad claimed BK was funding slash and burn policy in the Amazon
rainforest for cattle grazing, and beseeched readers to write — so I did. The
amazing part was, I actually received a non-canned response detailing how
(ostensibly, at least) they had decided to source their beef from another country
since they’d been besieged with letters from that very ad campaign. I realized
then people speaking out can, occasionally, make a real difference.

 

2. What is your vision of a just society in terms of criminal justice? In terms of labor? In
terms of environmental restitution? In terms of mass healthcare?

 

2. In general, a just society would police itself, on a community level. This would be
the same whether discussing criminal justice, labor, environmental protection,
healthcare, or any issue, whatsoever. I’m an anarchist, without any qualifying
hyphenated caveats, so I’d surmise the only stricture for creating a just society
would be size. Once an area extends in size past that of a smaller city,
self-policing in all forms becomes more difficult and, from my estimation, that’s
when greed and avarice take precedence over the wellbeing of the community
as a whole.
My views on anarchism, as personal philosophy rather than political (non)
ideology, also imagine such communities choosing their own forms of
governance or lack thereof, so long as force does not play any role in the
formation or continuance of those societies. Should someone find themselves,
say, living in a community hellbent on becoming a communist utopia they don’t
agree with, no border should restrict that person from movement to any other
community whose philosophies fall in line with their own.
War, I feel, could ultimately be avoided in this way as well. Without unjust laws
restricting freedom of trade and commerce, plundering would be a non-issue
insofar as resources could be bartered or traded for. There is no need of
empire-states, as have manifested today, when each society operates on a basis
of non-restriction.

 

3. How do we prevent ear term human extinction?

3. Near-term or even long-term human extinction might be a foregone conclusion
thanks to corporations’ greed, but also the impetus for the flourishing of such
greed at the hands of corrupted empire. Perhaps the implementation of new
technological breakthroughs, new medicines, and other scientific advancements
only after careful and thorough evaluation of potential circumstances would be a
start.
I bring that up in specific reference to the haste with which nuclear energy
followed nuclear arms — neither of which should ever have come to fruition. Yet,
here we stand, the entire world paying now and well into the future as fallout
from arms tests and nuclear plant disasters continue. Around the world, and
particularly inside the U.S., nuclear infrastructure dinosaurs dot the landscape,
crumbling in old age or overburdened with demand they were never meant to
handle. Indian Point, Turkey Point, and countless others stand as testament to
hastily applied science without sufficient forethought — and are not only
currently leaking evidence of this into heavily populated and
ecologically-sensitive areas, but are disasters 100 times greater than Fukushima
waiting to be unleashed.
Still, instead of justifiably entombing their cores and moving toward sustainable
options, politicians are actively seeking decades-long renewals for these plants’
licenses — testament to, again, the avarice of Big Energy. Even then, with such
insistence, those plants could perhaps be made safe with sufficient funding, but
that’s clearly been allocated for undeclared and unjust wars benefiting Big
Pharma and the military machine. You see why small communities simply
make more sense? We’re in an absurd gordian knot fueled by corruption and
greed and hegemony — and I don’t see that faltering in time to somehow make
even a concerted effort at preventing any such human extinction.

 

 

4. Is revolution inevitable? Is it necessarily going to be violent?

4. Revolution is unequivocally not inevitable, no matter how fundamentally
necessary it may be. No, there isn’t a need for violence at all. Any past revolution
makes apparent violence ultimately leads to worse problems than before — more
power-hungry rulers, greater restrictions on natural, human rights, generally
increased stratification between the ultra-powerful and the bulk of society. So,
absolutely revolution should not be violent, though at this point it may be
unavoidable.
We’re in the interregnum, the dying of American imperialist empire — its death
throes couldn’t be clearer. As politicians effect increasingly authoritarian and
totalitarian policies and the masses lap it up in a misguided longing for a
glorious but wholly nonexistent past, polarization and disillusionment reigns
above all. Even those traditionally enamored of authority figures see the empire
dying out, whether they realize it or not — as in the support for Trump and his
‘Make America Great Again’ campaign slogan. That past never was. This empire

was built on slaughter and slavery of other humans, and that can’t be erased —
and this dying out is arguably the logical karmic conclusion of such a
foundation.
Yes, revolution is necessary; but it should be one of subversion of the state,
economically, agriculturally, culturally — in thought, word, and deed. But the
chances it will culminate that way are slim. Ultimately, we’ll see the same
bloody battles as every other historical revolution. In my opinion, people simply
aren’t in the right frame of mind to carry out the mental shift necessary to stage
a quiet and effective mass undoing. This is precisely why I’ve been saying
history doesn’t repeat itself — we repeat history. At this point, looking back —
even through the victor’s lens of historical narrative — no excuse exists for
falling into the same failed patterns. But it’s inevitable nonetheless. Revolution
is stirring. Of course, there’s always the chance neither will occur — at least until
much later. Perhaps the people aren’t yet fully through being pummeled into
nonexistence by the so-called powerful.

 

5. How do we combat secterianism and still allow for autonomy?

5. Perhaps saying ‘allowing’ for autonomy is a bit misleading? Referring to some of
my previous answers, if society were distributed in smaller communities, the
autonomy would follow naturally. Yes, that’s idealistic, but contrary to detracting
arguments, nor is it unrealistic.

 

 

6. What is some of your favorite radical art?

6. Is this a trick question? Kidding aside, radical art to me could take any form —
visual, musical, etc. — and I cannot fathom picking one favorite over any others.
In illustration of my lack of ability to do so, I’m currently reading no less than 11
books and learning or reteaching myself five languages. So, to say I’m scattered
and my tastes are fluid and transitional would be a serious understatement.
When it comes to the arts, anything radical and counter-narrative, even if not my
personal taste, is my favorite.

 

 

7. Any projects you are currently promoting?

7. Ninety-nine has really taken off lately, and the prodigious amount of work by
ReAnna and the team has produced astonishing results. I’m truly dumbfounded
what has been accomplished in such a short time. So, the website, the radio, and
managing social media presence — all of it — and the fantabulous artists and
musicians we’ve included are what we’re all promoting right now.

 

 

8. What advice to you have for people hoping to get into activism?

8. Everyone should be an activist. In fact, if you care about your own future, the
kids’ future, the planet’s future — you already are an activist. Activism doesn’t
and shouldn’t wholly comprise yelling in the streets, though it’s a perfectly valid
and longstanding method to be heard, but advocating for change or for any issue
can be undertaken in countless ways. So, for anyone interested in being more
active in their community or for an issue, I’d say knowledge is power. Educate
yourself and those around you, but also be careful to vet sites you run into online
— just because the Internet says something, doesn’t make it so. Learn how to
discern credible information from the bullshit — and if you’re unsure, ask. Hell,
often you can even ask google, which will at least give you an idea if you’re on

the right track or not. But the best advice is to become a sponge — absorb as
much as possible so you can speak intelligently on an issue and back up what
you’re saying with facts when trolls or doubters dispute what you tell them —
and they will do just that. It’s a guarantee. And that’s another piece of advice —
don’t succumb to the hatred tossed your way — psychologically, or more
imperatively, don’t stoop to that level. You can discredit an entire valid
movement in your behavior and speech. Never censor yourself, but don’t toss
around bad information or ad hominem attacks — that does no good for anyone.

 

9. What advice to you have for avoiding burnout?

9. To avoid burnout, go to the desert with a shovel. Procure a large rock. Dig a
comfortable hole, crawl inside, and pull the rock over the top.
Burnout is virtually inevitable; but you will recover. Be gentle with yourself and
others. Don’t take things personally. Take breaks. Most of all, guard your sense of
humor like your life depends on it — because, in a way, it does.

 

10. Any final words or shout outs?
10. Alternative media and activism is an enormous field. We’re all in this together.
I’ll probably miss someone if I give shoutouts, but here goes: The Ninety-Nine;
Anti-Media; The Free Thought Project; The Conscious Resistance Network; We
Are Change; Police The Police; and so, so, so many more — of course including
The Fifth Column.