Counterforce Blocks Microsoft Shuttle in Central District (Seattle)

reposted from PSA:

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This morning around 8AM, near the intersection of Madison and 23rd Ave, a small
Counterforce assembled to block another Microsoft shuttle bus in another heavily
gentrified Seattle neighborhood. For roughly 30 minutes, people holding banners
reading “GENTRIFICATION STOPS HERE” blocked the front and back ends of the bus.
Others attempted to distribute flyers to the Microsoft employees boarding the bus,
but they were grumpy and only two took them. During the delay in what is probably a boring and uneventful commute every other day, they sat in quiet misery, playing with their smart phones, not even really talking to each other.
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Act One

 

The gentrification of Seattle is an oft forgotten tale, buried underneath glossy advertisements for new houses and below the foundations of sleek apartment buildings. While the first dot-com boom of the late nineties was bringing gentrification to different Seattle neighborhoods, something evil was unfolding in the streets of the Central District, one of the historically black neighborhoods of the city. While multiple Microsoft employees colonized the neighborhood, a federal program called Weed and Seed forcefully removed entire multi-generational black families from their homes.

 

Weed and Seed was a program sponsored by the Department of Justice and implemented by the FBI, the ATF, the DEA, the Seattle Police Department, Seattle Parks Department, Seattle Housing Authority, land speculators, neighborhood groups, and individual gentrifiers. The federal government initially allocated 1.1 millions dollars for the Seattle program in 1991. Two thirds of this money was dedicated to law enforcement, the remaining third was used for social services.

 

While federal and local law enforcement began targeting young black men, locking them up and destroying their families in the Weed aspect of this operation, the Seed aspect began grooming neighborhood groups to internalize the hierarchy being imposed upon them. These groups were encouraged to snitch on their neighbors for every reason from trash in the yard to suspected drug deals. In this way, law enforcement outsourced its intelligence gathering to these neighborhood groups. In exchange for helping to lock up and evict their neighbors, these groups were awarded access to city resources, development projects, the passage of ordinances, bus routes, and grants.

 

Act Two

 

In 1996, Washington Governor Gary Locke arrived at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Madison Valley. A young black student from the neighborhood followed him around as his escort. The two of them walked down the hallways together, touring the building. At this elementary school, the young black student had been trained by Microsoft employees in the use of JavaScript on a computer running the Windows 95 operating system. In 1996, this elementary school was one of the best in the city in terms of discipline and achievement. While this school provided its abundant resources to the majority black student population, Microsoft employees and other gentrifiers began moving into Madison Valley so their own children could attend.

 

The young black student was raised a block away from the elementary school. He knew of a plum tree up the hill from his house and would quench his thirst with plum juices in the summer, a time when these plums were the most refreshing. One day in 1997, he arrived at the location of the plum tree to find a stump, hidden behind a new fence. A young white student lived in this house with his parents. The young black student captained the elementary school chess club in which this young white student played. Both of his parents were members of the local neighborhood groups. The father of this household worked for Microsoft.

 

This family was part of a broad movement of gentrifiers, ranging from gay couples to aspiring parents, all belonging to the same socio-economic class and perpetuating the same prefab aesthetic. From 1995 to 1997, the percentage of households in the Central District without children increased from 57% to 73%. Buried within this piece of data is the story of all the multi-generational black families that were incarcerated, evicted, ripped apart, and weeded out so that these new residents could begin seeding the area. In the same time period, the black population of the Central District decreased from more than half to less than one third, while the white population increased from 13% to 43%

 

In 1997, the young black student’s best friend had an uncle with a drug habit. His uncle did not live in the family house but used it as a mailing address for social services. It was a stable space where he knew his family could always receive the mail he needed. When the authorities arrested him for his habit, the City of Seattle used the mailing address as grounds to begin evicting the family using the variety of legal mechanisms provided by the Weed and Seed program. After the family was evicted and the house was seized, the young black student only saw his best friend once in the next fifteen years. His friend’s family moved south to Kent and disappeared from Central District life. This family was one of the many weeds removed by the federal gentrification program.

 

Act Three

 

Starting in 1997, the housing prices in Seattle began to sharply increase month by month. The first tech bubble and the national housing bubble arrived simultaneously in Seattle. Thanks to Microsoft, Amazon, and the startups, more and more tech employees began invading the Central District. At the crescendo of the first tech bubble in 1999, Seattle property values had jumped over 18% since 1997. When the bubble burst in 2000, these housing prices continued to rise, in part because of the stability of Microsoft and the local housing market.

 

The young black student noticed that Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School had begun to decline. Due in part to the new childless professionals moving into the area, enrollment began to drop at the school. Funding was consistently cut to the school and by 2003 the idea of closing it was first proposed. In the Central District, the grandparents of children born in the 1980′s began to pass away, leaving the family houses to their children. An average single family house in the Central District was worth $190,000 in 2001. By 2003, that home would be worth $262,000.

 

Suddenly these children were being offered a quarter of a million dollars for the family house, a sum of money few had ever conceptualized or encountered. The incentive for these black families to leave their neighborhoods only increased, especially as the Weed and Seed continued to lock up young black men and women. By 2005, the average single family home was worth $355,000 and the black population continued to decline in the Central District.

 

In 2006, the doors of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary were closed, just as the Weed and Seed program released its final report. A woman named Betsy Harris, co-chair of the Weed and Seed Steering Committee, summed up the program as follows: “It’s the big picture, and as overwhelming as it seemed at first, we have all worked hard and our community is being revitalized, one block at a time!” By the time she said this, many gentrifiers had been living in the neighborhood for a decade.

 

Final Act

 

At the end of 2007, the national housing bubble burst, sending Seattle housing prices down for the first time since the beginning of the boom in 1997. But by this point, most of the original black residents had been weeded out of the Central District. In 2009, the traditionally black T.T. Minor school closed its doors after suffering the same fate as Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary. Microsoft went mostly unaffected by the recession, so much so that it began running the Connector Shuttle into all of the neighborhoods its employees had gentrified.

 

Microsoft employees continued to move into the Central District throughout the deepening recession, exacerbating the problem that had led to the closure of the elementary schools. While these schools were boarded up, Bill Gates continued to push his ideology of charter schools and standardized testing. It is difficult to see these two processes as separate. On the one hand, the majority of the Central District black population had been removed and deprived of its traditional schools. At the same time, the proliferation standardized testing allowed for schools to be deprived of their funding if they did not perform according to a rigid criteria. This allowed people like Bill Gates to point at the boarded-up schools and low test scores as objective proof that his ideology of charter schools was superior to public education.

 

Beyond this, the high capitalists of Seattle like Bill Gates, Bill Gates, Sr., Jeff Bezos, and Paul Allen, diverted some of their money into an organization that reflected their capitalist ethics: Rainier Scholars. This philanthropic organization selected poor elementary students of color and enabled them to become good capitalists. The very white and very protestant work ethic was spread like a religion amongst these young students of color. Rainier Scholars tracked and monitored specific students throughout their academic careers and encouraged them to enroll in private schools at the first opportunity.

 

By the time these students reached college age, Rainier Scholars helped place these students in the same white hierarchy that had destroyed their neighborhoods and limited their opportunities. This pipeline to higher education, facilitated by the closure of neighborhood schools, insulated these select students from their own communities and culture and championed the dominant culture of corporate loyalty, self-denial, and consumerism. If they worked hard enough, these students might one day work for Microsoft and be able to take the Connector Shuttle with the other gentrifiers.

 

The gentrification of the Central District is all but complete. The white population is now over 60%, the highest it has ever been. The young black student mentioned in this text is now a service worker, still living in Madison Valley at his family home. The young white student whose family cut down the plum tree is now employed by one the tech giants in Silicon Valley. Today there are gentrifiers in the Central District who can claim to have been in the neighborhood for almost twenty years. These people can reassure other gentrifiers that it is okay to move into the Central District. They say we are all uprooted anyway and that community can be whatever you want to be. But the community of gentrifiers that exists today in the Central District has almost no conception of the brutality that allowed them to move into houses that once belonged to multi-generational black families.

 

We tell this story as a warning. The techniques of gentrification practiced in Seattle over the past twenty years are now being exported south. Our comrades in San Francisco and Oakland should know that if they do not fight with all of their hearts, what happened in the Central District can happen again in another neighborhood. We wish everyone luck in their struggles against gentrification.

 

For the love of the Central District

For the end of Microsoft

For the end of gentrification

 

-The Counterforce

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On the Seattle Metropolitan Project and its Consequences

Yesterday, I spent 20 minutes watching a crew tear down a brick wall, and I thought of the workers, long since dead, who first built that wall. As much as I love the new, I remain haunted by the old. Just like you. Just like this neighborhood.

 -Sherman Alexie, South Lake Union, 2012

 Energy

This story starts, simply enough, with some power lines.  Puget Sound Energy (PSE) has begun advertising its new plan: Energize Eastside.  They propose to build 18 miles of additional electrical transmission lines between Renton and Redmond.  The new lines will be able to handle 230 kilovolts as opposed to the current 115 kilovolt lines.  In the process of building this new infrastructure, PSE will seize land from private owners, tear down more trees, and in certain cases bulldoze entire houses.

PSE is promoting Energize Eastside as a necessary expansion that will decrease the chance of blackouts during future storms.  However, it is no secret that the Microsoft campus is in Redmond where the proposed power lines begin and that a Boeing factory is in Renton where the proposed power lines end.  Scattered around these new lines are the Costco headquarters in Issaquah, T-Mobile US headquarters in Bellevue, and Google’s expanding Kirkland campus.  Energize Eastside is built for these companies and the project reflects their needs.

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For example, Microsoft has a nearly secret data center in Tukwila that barely shows up in any search algorithm.  Located at 3333 S. 120th Place, just down the hill from the Seattle Department of Homeland Security headquarters, the T5 data center houses an unknown amount of Microsoft servers.  This data center uses a massive amount of electricity and represents only a fraction of Microsoft’s local energy needs.

On March 19th, PSE will host their first neighborhood meetings on the proposed route of the Energize Eastside power lines.  Redmond, Bellevue, and Renton will each host several of these meetings until May.  It will most prudent to attend these events and make them difficult for the architects of this new corporate project. Continue reading

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Cause or Effect?

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March 10, 2014 · 4:08 pm

The Hood Ain’t The Same

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A Short Film on Capitol Hill

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Train blockaded at Amazon HQ

(submitted via email)

 

On Tuesday, February 11th, 2014, a group of people blocked the train line that leads into the Amazon HQ in South Lake Union.  They blocked the tracks with a banner that read CIAmazon, a reference to the corporation’s recent decision to provide cloud services for the CIA.  Two smoke signal flares were lit in order to attract the attention of the workers inside the Day 1 South building of the campus.  The contents of a flier were read over a megaphone and hundreds of fliers were distributed  The action lasted around half an hour and group dispersed before the police arrived.

The following is an explanation for the action:

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Death Squads, Fascism, and More!

In case you didn’t know, Amazon Web Services is building the digital brain of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), those famous proponents of death squads, fascism, and armed drones.  This new data cloud will help the CIA coordinate their massacres, assassinations, and terrorism across the planet.  Since 1949, the CIA has had a free hand to install fascist dictatorships in Chile, train death squads in Uruguay, oversee the massacre of students in Greece, and incinerate wedding parties with its Predator drones in Yemen.  This horrific history, often obscured by duplicitous journalists and federal propagandists, should never be forgotten.

Amazon Web Services and the CIA are growing to resemble each other in many troubling ways.  But before we can explain any further, we must tell a simple story, long buried but extremely pertinent.  It takes place in the nation of Bolivia in 1964.  A fascist general named René Barrientos, long-time solider and aspiring politician, staged a bloody coup against the established government and seized power.  This coup was organized and facilitated by the CIA, who retained Barrientos as an asset.

With their puppet in power, the CIA hoped to create a Bolivian bulwark against anti-capitalism.  However, their plans were eventually threatened by a miners strike at the Siglo XX tin mine in San Juan.  Barrientos had reduced the miner’s pay to starvation wages, forbade unionizing, and ordered the assassination and imprisonment of any outspoken labor leaders.  When a strike broke out at the Siglo XX mine and the workers demanded better pay and conditions, the CIA ordered Barrientos to crush them immediately.

On the morning of June 24th, 1967, the Bolivian military, trained by CIA advisors, surrounded the Siglo XX mine and proceeded to fire indiscriminately into the miner’s camp.  Twenty were killed and seventy wounded in the initial massacre.  An untold and unknown number of people were disappeared, executed, and imprisoned in the days that followed.  All of this was done to prevent the poorly paid workers from organizing a better life for themselves and their families.  To this day, the CIA has never been held accountable for this particular crime, let alone all of the others it has committed over the past 60 years.  The fact that Amazon can openly build a data cloud for the CIA without any meaningful domestic opposition is proof of this simple fact.

One Click Union Busting!

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Every attempt at unionization within Amazon has usually met with failure.  The company absolutely forbids employees from organizing and will immediately fire anyone even suspected of communicating with unions.  However, there have been notable exceptions and some unions have succeeded in organizing different groups of workers.

Outside of the US, Germany is Amazon’s largest consumer market.  The company has nine fulfillment centers (where orders are packaged and shipped) in the country that employ nearly 9,000 workers.  By classifying them as logistics workers rather than retail workers, Amazon can legally pay them €4 less for their labor.  To combat this loophole, the Ver.di trade union has helped organize almost 2,000 workers, demanding better pay from Amazon.

In December, 2013, the union staged a strike against the company, hoping to disrupt the holiday shipping season.  Five fulfillment centers were picketed and the strike lasted five days at some workplaces.  A delegation of Ver.di unionists flew to Seattle in the middle of the strike, holding a press conference near the site of today’s protest.  The press conference received scant attention and little outside support.  Back in Germany, Amazon hired 14,000 temporary employees in the days leading up to Christmas and the shipping schedules were unaffected.  These temps were let go once the holiday season ended and Amazon declared the Ver.di strike to be a failure.

In the days that followed, union members learned that Amazon had managed to organize a scab union to combat the growing influence of Ver.di.  This “loyalty union,” about 1,000 strong, does not want higher wages and maintains that everything is fine within Amazon’s facilities.  Combined with their insistence on the strike’s failure, this scab union represents a desperate move on the part Amazon.  They are clearly frightened and doing everything in their power to stop the unionization from spreading.

 

The Ver.di union is part of the larger Confederation of German Trade Unions (DGB).  The DGB was formed in the 1890’s and existed until the Nazis dissolved it in 1933.  Once the Nazis were destroyed, the DGB was allowed to reform itself in the newly partitioned West Germany.  Fearing communist infiltration, the DGB suffered heavy repression from the supposedly democratic government throughout the 1950’s.  Numerous ex-Nazis were given positions in the new West German government and continued their practices of union busting against the DGB.

Many of the children who grew up in this time period understood the new German democracy to be a sham and proceeded to attack it over the following decades. Unfortunately, the rebellions in Germany that lasted from the 1960’s to the 1970’s prompted the government to create a repressive surveillance apparatus that plagues Germany to this day.  Critics have argued that this computerized surveillance apparatus, initially designed to fight the German rebels, has now engulfed the entire planet.

The Future at Your Doorstep!

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On May 1st, 2012, Amazon purchased Kiva Systems, a robotics company specializing in the automation of warehouses.  Amazon has no desire to retain its tens of thousands of human fulfillment center employees.  Quite the opposite.  It hopes to make them redundant.  Robots cannot unionize, nor can they complain, nor can they walk out.  Robots are the perfect workers and will replace humans as soon as the capitalists have the ability to do so.

Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, recently showed off his new robotics scheme.  After cheating the United States Postal Service out of money that was due them, Bezos now wishes to introduce autonomous drones into the skies that will deliver packages to consumers doorsteps.  His new octocopters are a statement to his entire workforce that they have no future in his robotic utopia.

Along with Google, Amazon is one of the main forces pushing for the total automation of capitalism.  We see only one outcome if these corporations are successful: the complete redundancy of the traditional working class, the creation of a massive service class, and ever greater levels of resource extraction across the planet.  The upper class of programmers and engineers will be served by the impoverished lower classes while the slave class extracts the gold, platinum, and other precious metals that allow this new technology to exist.  Commercial drones will deliver commodities to consumers while military drones incinerate rebels in the periphery.  Both commodities and death can be delivered with the click of a button.  Something like this is often referred to as a dystopia, as mere science fiction, but to people like Bezos it is simply called The Future.

This action is taken in solidarity with everyone fighting the reign of Amazon and its policies of exploitation, greed, and domination.  The only way to stop their obvious and undeniable plans is to gather our forces together internationally and begin formulating an exit strategy from the global dictatorship of capitalism.  The struggle must be expanded and hopefully this text will serve to ignite the imaginations of antagonists worldwide.

Down with Amazon!

Down with the CIA!

 

Up with Freedom!

Up with the Spring!

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Capitol Hill: Microsoft Connector Bus Blocked For 45 Minutes

(submitted via internent)

On Monday, February 10th, a small group of people blocked a Microsoft Connector shuttle in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle.

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One bus was initially blocked as people unfurled two banners and began handing out fliers.

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In the shadow of a new luxury apartment building, Microsoft employees stood in the rain waiting for another bus.  However, when another bus arrived, the group blocked it in.

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With fifteen minutes, another three buses had arrived, completely throwing off the Microsoft commute schedule.

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In total, five buses were blocked for 45 minutes before the authorities arrived, at which point the group dispersed.

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What follows below is an explanation of the action.

The Dark Lords of Microsoft

A long time ago, Microsoft was the evil empire, the dark colossus that every free-thinking engineer and programmer gravitated away from.  Their hierarchical and competitive corporate culture was a nightmare to be avoided at all costs.  Apple and Google frantically developed in directions that would take them away from the monopolized markets controlled by the Redmond based corporation.  These competitors succeeded in breaking Microsoft’s grip on the marketplace, only to become precisely what they had been rebelling against.  Google now circles Redmond like a vulture, with offices in Bothell, Kirkland, and Seattle, waiting to devour Microsoft’s corpse should it collapse.

As it stands, Microsoft is alive and well within the city of Seattle.  For decades, Microsoft has spread its wealth throughout the metropolis, often under the guise of philanthropy and benevolence, but always with the aim of making itself essential for the functioning of the local economy.  Youth centers, grants, interest-free loans, scholarships, and other civic projects constitute the philanthropic arsenal of Microsoft.  Beyond this, the Gates family is embedded within the structure of the University of Washington (UW), with Bill Senior serving on the Board of Regents and Microsoft products on every campus computer.

Through this graciousness, the corporation hopes to insulate itself from potential attacks and prove to the world that Microsoft cares about the region it calls home.  However, it has been quite clear for some time that Microsoft will do whatever is necessary to protect its image and trick the public into thinking it is something other than what it is: a greedy corporation with growth and profit as its ultimate objectives.  Like every corporation, Microsoft will use its power and influence to maintain this illusion through manipulation, deceit, and trickery.

Get Off The Bus!

At the time of this writing, there is currently a job opening at Microsoft for an individual who is able to begin “managing facilities operations and space allocation utilization for Microsoft Research.”  This person will organize existing office space and help acquire more as it becomes necessary.  Microsoft Research is the branch of the corporation developing the new technology that is meant to give it a lead over Google and Apple.  Whoever ends up with this job will have the privilege of taking the free Connector Shuttle from the Redmond campus to wherever they choose to live.

With their $100,000-plus salary, this employee will find it easy to afford any of the new apartments available on Capitol Hill.  Unfortunately for them, certain housing developments on the Hill have no vacancy.  The Brix Condominiums, developed by Schnitzer West, has been entirely purchased and filled with residents.  Condo construction has stopped, with developers now erecting giant apartment buildings across the neighborhood in the hopes of making higher profits.

Condos, unlike apartments, have a single purchase price.  Apartment rents, on the other hand, fluctuate with the market, allowing speculators and developers to make more money over time when demand is high.  Most of the condos on the Hill were built during the recession when developers wanted a sure bet for their investment.  But now that the money is flowing again, the condos have been forgotten and new apartment buildings are rising across the Hill.  Thus, for $1500 per month, a new Microsoft employee can now select from an ever-expanding array of bland one-bedroom apartments.

Whereas a Microsoft employee would have been turned off by the prospect of working in Redmond and living in sprawling suburban Issaquah, that employee now has a free ride to and from work to any Seattle neighborhood they choose.  Starting in 2007, when the glut of condos had begun to appear in Capitol Hill and Ballard, Microsoft launched the Connector Shuttle.  These shuttles are equipped with WiFi, turning the once torturous commute into productive work hours for the company.  Over the past seven years, the Connector has helped fill the vacancies within these new buildings, built largely for high-paid tech workers and their peers.

Without the Connector Shuttle bringing these employees to Capitol Hill, Ballard, South Seattle, and the North End, the hyper-gentrification we now see would not have happened.  Microsoft currently employs more people in the Seattle area than Amazon, Google, and Adobe combined.  So it is not unreasonable to place the blame for the drastic restructuring of our neighborhoods largely on Microsoft and the developers who built according to their needs.

Whenever a tech worker pays the inflated rents the developer charges, they embolden those same developers and encourage them to build more exorbitantly priced apartment buildings.  This cycle only leads upwards, and the baseline of $1,500 a month will only increase as more buildings are added to the landscape. The city considers paying $1,000 a month for a one bedroom to be “affordable.”  Those of us who cannot afford to rent some of these “affordable” units must leave the neighborhoods where our friends and family live. The Connector Shuttle only facilitates this process and for this reason deserves to be disrupted and dismantled.

Join the rebellion!

The only way to effectively counter their plans is to first become fluent in their development schemes, technological aspirations, and guiding philosophies.  From this pool of information, we can constitute a counterforce against them.  Their plans have long been materializing all around us, restructuring our interior and exterior worlds.  Just as our neighborhoods are becoming alien, so too is the territory of social relationships.  Everywhere you look: more and more boxes.

Since its inception, the corporation started by Bill Gates and Paul Allen has pushed for the privatization of education, helped recruit young men and women into the military through the X-Box, collaborated with Monsanto in creating GMO crops, and helped the FBI and NSA monitor the internet for any signs of subversion.  These simple facts, carrying the full weight of their own particular horror, cannot be denied by either Microsoft or its defenders.  Any curious party can easily determine the validity of our claims.

The situation in Capitol Hill and Ballard, two neighborhoods selected by the city government for high-density housing, is a situation that can inspire depression and dread.  However, we are tired of falling prey to these emotions and instead make the first steps to address this very specific aspect of the Microsoft leviathan.  The Connector Shuttle has directly impacted our lives and the lives of those around us.  It is simultaneously a symbol of and a concrete component in the process of hyper-gentrification.

We have been inspired by actions against Google in the Bay Area and choose to propagate the Counterforce.  We view it as a concept borrowed from Thomas Pynchon’s novel Gravity’s Rainbow.  The title itself refers to the shape a rocket traces when shot into the air.  There is the initial thrust of the rocket that delivers the technological evil into the sky, followed by the fuel cut-off, followed by the descent.  The counterforce kicks in once the rocket has reached the apex of its ascent.  It is the force that brings evil crashing back down to Earth.  The counterforce is as natural as gravity.

We will fight every evil empire wherever it emerges.  Feel free to organize your own actions.  We are taking the simplest actions for now, but imagination and initiative are all that is necessary to expand the rebellion.  Feel free to bring the struggle wherever you see fit and communicate your intentions clearly.  Fight their future!  Join the Counterforce!

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