Get to Know: Jeriah BowserEcology & Sustainability
Tell us about yourself. What got you into politics and how would you define yourself politically (if at all)?
I came to my political awareness through a long and very odd journey that I am still trying to figure out and make sense of, actually. I have always been interested in the dynamics of oppression and resistance, although I wasn't aware of that for most of my life. As a child, I had a very difficult time in school and at home as I was raised in an extremely religious, conservative, and authoritarian family and was placed in several very strict Christian private and charter schools as a child. I always resisted the narratives that were presented to me at home and at school; of course, I didn't have the language or awareness for this at the time, so my resistance looked like fighting, vandalism, drugs, arson, theft, and general hooliganism.
Due to my continued and blatant 'anti-social' behavior, I racked up an impressive arrest record for a middle class suburban white kid. When I was 15 my luck ran out I was sent to a private detention center in Jamaica that was extremely oppressive, violent, and completely unregulated, thus they could get away with incredible human rights abuses regularly. I spent a year and a half there, and this greatly influenced my view of the world, as for the first time in my life I saw clearly the naked dynamics of the oppression and power. I also became friends with many other inmates in the prison, and thus it was an incredible "social awakening" for me, to hear stories of young black boys growing up in the Compton projects, young Mexican boys growing up in the throes of poverty and violence amongst the Mexican drug cartels, and young white boys growing up in the poverty-stricken South, whose families were riddled with methamphetamines and surviving on food stamps and beer. My insulated worldview that my parents had crafted so well for me was violently ripped open, and I was forced to see the ugliness of our world in all its brutality and inhumanity.
I dealt with this horror the only way I knew how - by turning to spirituality. Although I hated the religious teachings and dogma that my parents had raised me with, I sensed a deeper truth in the teachings of Yeshua (the rabbi whom the religion of Christianity is loosely based off of) and dedicated myself to making sense out of the world through the lens of Christianity. I succeeded to a large extent, and pursued this after my release from that facility as I reintegrated back into American society, as I joined a militant Christian bible school that promised years of world-traveling adventure and a deeper connection with God.
Several years later, I received by Bachelor's degree in Christian Leadership from the school and was a poster-child of Evangelical Christianity, and thus proceeded to pursue a career in the ministry. My young partner and I tried to follow this path for several months, and through a series of unfortunate events became disenchanted and frustrated with the world of church politics. Several doubts and questions about Christianity and God which had been festering in the back of my head broke open at this time, as I saw the old dynamics of power and oppression playing themselves out again in our church and in our own relationship.
Shortly after that experience, we ended up getting involved with a radical Christian community, in that they followed the teachings of Yeshua in a way which spoke to current political and social dynamics. In that community, I was introduced to the writings of Shane Claiborne, Greg Boyd, Jacques Ellul, Vernard Eller, Dorothy Day, and Leo Tolstoy, which in turn led me to the world of Christian Anarchism. I had never heard of a philosophy which both validated my spirituality and was politically aware and socially sensitive. My interest in helping people and fighting injustice, which had initially drawn me to Christianity, now drew me towards political awareness and activism.
My studies into Christian Anarchism eventually led me to the world of radical politics, as I was introduced to Peter Kropotkin, Mikhail Bakunin, Emma Goldman, Noam Chomsky, Karl Marx, Angela Davis, and a host of others. I began auditing classes at a local university, and quickly became integrated into the community of radicals there, which further deepened my studies and awareness of the world. As my career is as a wilderness guide, I had a special interest in the world of Green Anarchism and Deep Ecology, as I began reading John Zerzan, Derrick Jensen, Fredy Perlman, Kevin Tucker, Ted Kaczynski, Daniel Quinn, Wendell Berry, and Arne Naess. It is incredible to me that I have arrived at where I am today, knowing where I have come from, yet the driving force behind my pusuit has never strayed - to discover why it is that sadness, evil, and suffering exists in the world. Pursuing that question has led me through some very interesting beliefs, conclusions, communities, and jobs, and I have no doubt that it will continue to lead me to odd and fascinating places and experiences.
I am not a huge fan of labels, as they tend to isolate and exclude rather than invite and include, but the ideological worlds I tend to find myself in most often include Deep Ecology, Anarcho-primitivism, Anarcho-communism, Taoism, Pantheism, Anti-psychiatry, and Christian Agnosticism.
How did you come to be involved with the Hampton Institute?
I was a member of a Christian Anarchist facebook group, where I would regularly contribute to discussions and debates, and my opinions and comments attracted the attention of the HI's former chair of Religion and Spirituality, Revan Filiaexdeus, and he invited me to be a contributor to his department. I had written several articles for the Religion and Spirituality dept. when I had a conversation with Colin Jenkins, the Director of the HI, and he invited me to chair the Ecology and Sustainability dept. I was very hesitant at first, as I am completely self-educated and don't feel educated enough to be the 'chair' of anything, but the HI team was incredibly welcoming and encouraging, and I am very glad I ended up taking the position.
What do you think some of the goals of the Institute should be? What does the term "a working-class think tank" mean to you?
I think the Hampton Institute should (and is) provide a very unique and important service to the working class, in that it is a think-tank by the people, of the people, and for the people. A casual glance at our team will reveal an incredibly diverse assortment of working-class organic intellectuals who are researching and writing for the purposes of empowering the common (wo)man to formulate a more complete understanding of the world around them and the dynamics of power that influence them every day. Access to independent journalism and radical political thought and theory is becoming increasingly difficult to access, due to the State media empire that completely dominates the public discourse, and independent working-class oriented sites like ours are incredibly necessary and important.
What led you to being in your particular department? What makes you so passionate about that area?
I have spent the past six years working on and off as a wilderness therapy guide, which means that I take socially maladjusted adults and adolescents into areas of the Earth that are (mostly) untouched by civilization and help them connect with themselves and the world around them in a healthy way through various challenges, initiatives, and simply letting them get in touch with the human animal inside of them. I also have taught and facilitated ancestral skills workshops, survival courses, and vision quests with the Wildbridge Institute in Durango, CO, and volunteered as a senior naturalist at Durango Nature Studies also in Durango, CO. Simply put, I find most meaning for my life in connecting with the natural world and facilitating the same experience for others. The challenge for me accepting the role of chair of the Ecology and Sustainability dept. was the academic/ theoretical side of the work. I am great at teaching people tracking, friction fire, or how to use local plants, but I was very limited in my academic knowledge of the history and practice of Ecology. I audited several classes and read dozens of books to prepare myself for the position, and I still feel that I am in way over my head! There is such an incredible host of philosophers, poets, authors, and activists in the world of Ecology that I am learning from, and I feel that it will be years before I even know how to accurately define Ecology, yet the challenge of being the head of the Ecology and Sustainability dept. has pushed me to study and learn at a pace that I never would have had I not accepted the position, so I am grateful for that.
What are some of your political goals? What does "the revolution" look like to you?
My personal political goals are to continue educating myself and others through my research and writing, as well as continuing to resist oppressive people, policies, and social dynamics through daily engaging in direct-action and structuring my lifestyle in a way that effectively divests myself from our culture. I am currently working on accomplishing this by purchasing land and building a homestead that will allow me to free myself from the wage economy, free me from paying taxes to a government that I do not support or recognize, allow me to connect with a section of the Earth that will hopefully enrich both parties, and provide an opportunity to teach and empower others to do the same.
I am not at all sure I can answer what I think the revolution looks like. Ultimately, I think it is different for every person. For me, it looks like building a homestead where I can farm and teach, for someone else it might be community organizing, for another industrial sabotage, for another creating conscious and subversive art, for another armed insurrection. I believe everyone needs to find what they love, what makes them come alive, what they feel most connected to the world, and fight to defend that. If everyone did that one thing, the world would turn upside down overnight.
What books and/or authors would you suggest to others?
Oh wow, that's a huge question! I don't want to bore anyone with a ridiculous list of authors, so I think I will answer by mentioning the books that have been most impactful and formational to my growth and understanding of the world. First and foremost, I recommend the "Tao Te Ching" (particularly Stephen Mitchell's translation). The Tao has been instrumental in how I view the world and how I view my role in this universe. Another excellent book is that has provided constant wisdom and guidance to me is "The Prophet" by Kahlil Gibran.
For those odd few who are also coming to the world of radicalism through Christianity, I recommend Shane Claiborne's "Irresistible Revolution" and "Jesus for President," as well as Mark Van Steenwyk's, "That Holy Anarchist."
Next is Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States," for anybody interested in US history, as it provides an excellent introduction to the concept of narratives throughout history and covers so many important historical events and issues. Follow that up with Eduardo Galeano's " Memory of Fire" trilogy for some excellent Latin American history.
For a great introduction to radical theory, I highly recommend Alexander Berkman's "The ABC of Anarchism." A great follow-up to that is Emma Goldman's "Anarchism and other Essays," Peter Kropotkin's "Anarchism: A collection of revolutionary Writings," as well as Mikhail Bakunin's "Statism and Anarchy."
For those unfamiliar with the premises and theory of Deep Ecology and Green Anarchism, I highly recommend Derrick Jensen's works, start with "A Language Older Than Words" and then read the follow-up "The Culture of Make Believe." Daniel Quinn's "Ishmael" and "The Story of B" are very easy, incredibly brilliant reads, as well as John Zerzan's works, especially "Future Primitive" and " Against Civilization.'"
If you get tired of political books and want to settle back into some good fiction, John Steinbeck's "East of Eden," Ann Patchett's "Bel Canto," Mark Twain's "Tom Sawyer," Phillip K. Dick's "VALIS" trilogy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez's " One Hundred Years of Solitude", and Arundhati Roy's "The God of the Small Things" are among my favorites.
And once you get through all that, shoot me an email and we'll start a book club ;)
What media sources do you use to keep up on current events?
Truthout, Alternet, Al-Jazeera, CounterPunch, Democracy Now, Electronic Intifada, Dissent, RT, Znet, Industrial Worker, etc.
I also have a smattering of podcasts that I try to keep up to date with when I can, including Derrick Jensen's "Resistance Radio," John Zerzans, " Anarchy Radio," the CrimeThink Ex-Worker Podcast, Citizen Radio, Black Autonomy Federation, etc.
What kind of music do you listen to? What are some of your favorite foods?
My musical tastes fluctuate sporadically based on my mood, what day of the week it is, what I'm doing, atmospheric pressure, etc. When I'm writing, I listen solely to Evergreen Refuge, a mesmerizing ambient nature-based black metal project that my friend created. I highly recommend it, you can listen to and buy his stuff on bandcamp.
When I'm not writing, I listen to a lot of folk Americana, like Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Buffalo Springfield, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, etc. I also like a lot of the new wave of folk music coming out, what I call, 'Hipster Folk' - Mumford and Sons, The Head and the Heart, Iron and Wine, Gregory Alan Isakov, the Oh Hello's, etc.
I really love world music, especially world fusion like Thievery Corporation and Afro-Celt Sound System. I always like to relive my youth with some good punk bands like Propagandhi, Strike anywhere, and Minor threat and some good hardcore bands like Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, Racetraitor, and The Chariot. And in the past year I've gotten really into hip-hop, listening to Immortal Technique, Atmosphere, Common, Jedi Mind Tricks, Brother Ali, and Mos Def.
As far as food goes, I love anything fresh and home-cooked. Right now I'm craving some of my mom's incredible broccoli cheese cornbread.
What (apolitical thing) makes you happy? What are your hobbies or interests?
Hanging out at home with my partner, Angie, and our cats is definitely my favorite activity. Cats are great therapy! I love having great discussions late at night with friends over a good beer. I love getting lost in a good book on a warm afternoon while sitting in a hammock. I love writing! I'd say that when I'm not at my job, writing is one of my main coping skills. I love rock-climbing, it's really the only sport that I love and am good at. I love being immersed in the wilderness: keeping time by the arc of the sun and the phases of the moon, sleeping in the dirt, backpacking through the desert, having philosophical conversations with chipmunks and lizards, getting lost while tracking coyotes, all of it. I really come alive when I'm out there.
My hobbies are numerous and seem to change every few months! I've been learning screenprinting lately and that's been super fun to learn. I love woodworking; making spoons, cups, and jewelry out of wood I find in the wilderness and making furniture out of shipping pallets. I'm constantly learning new ancestral skills, from friction fire to primitive pottery to cordage making to atlatl making. I study Aikido and pursue a regular meditation practice. I love making instruments and learning to play them (didgeridoo, flute, etc.) I love learning! I'd say learning about myself and the world around me is my main hobby, as I am constantly researching, reading, auditing college courses, or corresponding with authors, activists, and academics I admire.