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Anger as Fuel: A Conversation with Dani Burlison

By Janet Frishberg
The Rumpus
September 11th, 2019

All of Me: Stories of Love, Anger, and the Female Body, a new anthology edited by Dani Burlison, centers the body—the body in search for justice, the body in pursuit of freedom, the body that needs care and healing, the body that is finding new ways to love. Burlison, a writer and teacher based in Santa Rosa, put together the anthology after publishing her Lady Parts zine series over the last couple years, which explored similar territory. About to start work on a third zine, she instead sent the concept for All of Me to PM Press on the advice of a friend. Less than a week later, they told her they were interested in publishing it as an anthology.

The resulting collection, which includes essays from Lidia Yuknavitch, Nayomi Munaweera, Melissa Chadburn, and Starhawk, among many others, centers an intersectional, radical feminism with a decidedly (though not exclusively) Northern California bent. There are certainly throughlines to the essays but also a diversity in terms of what’s on offer: abortion rights, queering gender, demystifying sex work, living as an undocumented student in college today, alternative parenting structures, self-defense as taught by and to Native women, and practical strategies for countering burnout in activism. The questions driving the collection include: How is this living in my body today? What has happened to me that deserves attention, care, affirmation, and permission? What do I need to speak about and remember as I continue the work of trying to dismantle the oppressive structures I live within?

Dani and I spoke recently about what it means to write while centering the body, practices for de-commodifying self-care, and the ways anger can become fuel for change.


The Rumpus: Reading this collection felt a bit like going to a delicious feminist potluck in terms of what was on offer. And you were very mindful about how you curated the guest list.

Dani Burlison: Yes. I think one piece that was really important to me when I put this collection together was including voices of trans women, who have been so pushed out of a lot of feminist spaces. There’s a lot of—I don’t even want to say conflict, because I don’t think it’s the trans women that are necessarily doing this, but this oppression of trans women by “radical” feminists. I had a couple people who didn’t want to be included in the book because I had a sex worker, trans women, and a couple nonbinary people in the book. That made it even more important to me. Trans women are so underrepresented and under attack—they’re probably at the highest risk for experiencing violence, especially trans women of color. It’s important for those voices to be lifted up and celebrated and included in feminist spaces, and they’re not always, so I wanted to do that in this book. I also made sure to include more voices of women of color than of straight, cis, white women in the book. Because a lot of feminist spaces are just centered around a certain type of feminist woman. I wanted to make sure that this book reflects the type of feminist world that I’m in, that I want to be in and am happy to be in.

Rumpus: The collection holds a lot of difficult material, in some cases material that would put people in danger of being targeted by our legal system or the current administration’s policies. How did you work with this challenging or sensitive material? How did you decide what best to do as an editor in those situations?

Burlison: I teach memoir writing classes; I have been for almost six years now. The thing that comes up with my students over and over is: How do we express our vulnerability and be honest? Of course, it can be healing to write about and process some of the heavier incidents in our lives, but at the same time, not everybody has support around coming out, whether it’s as an assault survivor, with your sexuality, if you’ve had an abortion. There are so many people that don’t have a super liberal family or hometown that’s just going to embrace them with that information.

I was really conscious with that and discussed it with the contributors, especially with a couple people that I interviewed. I interviewed a sex worker and also an undocumented woman who’s a student here in California. We talked about the best way to protect their identities and I made it clear that they didn’t have to share identifying information. There are also two other writers in the book who use aliases because their stories could have put them at risk. My priority, even more so than getting these experiences and voices out there, was to protect them and make them feel safe sharing.

As a writer, I felt a bit anxious sharing my very personal story about having an abortion in a clinic that was firebombed within a day after I left. I don’t come from a liberal place or a necessarily liberal family; it’s exposing. This was in 1992 and I still have this piece of me that gets so anxious and triggered because of how violent and terrible the protesters were to me that day. I was eighteen years old; I’m forty-five now. But when I hear about people protesting clinics there’s still a piece of me that’s just really fucking angry.

Rumpus: I have a question about anger, specifically: while it isn’t the only topic in these essays, anger is a strong theme in the collection. I’m curious how your personal relationship or professional relationship with anger and rage evolved over the course of working on this anthology.

Burlison: I love that. I want a professional relationship with my anger!

This isn’t in the book but in one of the zines I wrote about having had a lot of early childhood trauma, and no emotion was necessarily safe for me to express, but definitely not anger. Then there was a time period in high school when I really started getting angry and lashing out. I had to go to this terrible anger management group for teenagers. In that particular group, I felt so shamed. They were like: Anger is bad, stuff it down, get rid of it! It was super dysfunctional and unhealthy. But I was sixteen or seventeen. After that, anytime I felt angry about anything I just thought, this is terrible, and I internalized it and felt guilty. And I felt angry at myself for feeling angry.

Then I got really far away from that town and that culture. It started with activism—I was angry about things outside of myself. Not even necessarily things that were happening to me or that I was experiencing on a personal level. But being angry about the issues I was working on at that time, in my early twenties, that helped. That became this entry point for me to start feeling okay with expressing my own anger. And that’s progressed over the last couple decades. There are so many things I had justifiable rage over, but I didn’t feel safe or okay with expressing it. I know that’s true for so many of us. Women aren’t supposed to be angry; we’re supposed to be polite and agreeable. If we’re too outspoken we’re shunned and stigmatized. I still get so pissed about it! That activism was the entry point into seeing that anger can actually be fuel for changing things in a positive way.

Rumpus: Going back to your essay, can you tell us more about the process of writing it? Topically, it felt super important and powerful; craft-wise, I’m interested in your decision to include the last section that’s in italics, which brings in that voice of you now and gives the historical context around the clinic being firebombed.

Burlison: First, a bit of context: That clinic is in Redding, California in the north Sacramento Valley. Just recently, after I’d already written the essay, I did some research. Because I was eighteen at the time, I didn’t know how that clinic compared to anywhere else; going there was my first gynecological exam. Like, I’d never been to a gynecologist before. And so I wondered sometimes if I had just been dramatic, and if it was really that bad. But I found this amazing article written several years after my abortion that was in the Chronicle, about how the place I went was one of the scariest clinics in California. It was protested more heavily than any other one. It was firebombed and burned down by the same guy twice. The reporter, through his interviewing, painted this picture that was so validating for me. Like, I was not overreacting. Those protestors were extreme, and terrifying.

It took me a long time to write about it. I was also nervous about my kids finding out. I have a twenty-three-year-old and an eighteen-year-old now so they were both teenagers at the time when I first started working on the essay. I just felt so nervous about how they were going to react to me. And they were just like, “Everybody has abortions.”

Revisiting that time was pretty intense but it was good for me to get it out, to get out that last little nugget of shame that had been put upon me. Through the research I did, I found out that this guy had burned like seven clinics down. I mean, talk about fucking rage. It’s terrorism.

That context was important though, because it wasn’t just a story about me being vulnerable and somebody yelling at me when I had an abortion. No. There are men, mostly, out there terrorizing women at clinics. This happens all the time—whether it’s shootings or protesters throwing stuff, or doctors getting murdered in their churches. That was a big part for me to include in that story. And to talk about that level of organized violence against women that happens in this particular way.

Rumpus: This collection centers the body, and it centers bodies that aren’t commonly represented, at least in a positive way, in popular media. Not everyone thinks about the body as an entryway into writing, but how did that become a part of your approach to both writing and editing?

That’s a really good question, I have to think about that. I have a hard time compartmentalizing a lot of the things I see that I’m writing about, especially with personal writing. Writing about something that’s happened to your body or just happened in your life, it sits in you, right? You can feel the emotion. So just on a personal level, aside from writing, I’m often asking: How is this affecting my health? Where am I feeling this in my body?

I recently got certified as a trauma-informed yoga instructor, too, which is one of the things that helped me through this process of working on this book. I’ve realized through yoga teacher training and the trauma-informed yoga therapy I’ve done for myself just how deeply these stories impact us on a physical and emotional level. It doesn’t feel separate for me. Especially with women, telling our stories about our bodies. The emotional stuff and the physical stuff is so intertwined it’s hard for me to separate it out.

Rumpus: There was one part in your conversation with Ariel Gore where you two talked about wanting to welcome in new activists that are feeling motivated after the 2016 election. And you two spoke about that balance of wanting people to feel welcome who are newer to activism but also wanting to hold people to high standards with their behavior. Is there more you’d like to say about that tension?

Burlison: I have this conversation a lot. I love my activist community but people can be so self-righteous and it’s alienating. None of us are perfect; we’ve all had to have mentors in whatever area of our life that we’re trying to improve in, whether it’s writing or teaching or activism. There’s usually been somebody there that’s helping show us the way. Maybe it’s someone we know personally or some famous person whose writing we’re reading or lectures we’re listening to.

But in my generation—I’m a Gen Xer—I feel like sometimes we can be assholes! We’re like, “Oh, we’re the coolest,” and everybody’s shit-talking millennials. But I believe having patience with people is so important. Not everybody is going to be perfect from the get go. Not everyone is going to have the perfect behavior or communication style.

That self-righteousness can be so alienating. And those perfect standards that people hold themselves to. We need younger generations with their energy and drive, and their hearts in the right place, to really be supported by old people like me. [Laughs]

I mean Ariel and I were cracking up at times talking about it in the interview, but it’s also serious. Ariel was like, “I can’t bounce back if I’m hit by the cops.” For me, I have physical limitations and chronic health issues. The idea of being out marching, being in a blockade for hours and hours, well it would take me a long time to bounce back from that. So physically, literally, we need people that have healthier bodies to help take it on. I’m also really fucking tired. It’s overwhelming. I just raised two kids by myself. I’m thinking about how I need to do my activism in a way that’s sustainable for me.

I don’t think there’s one perfect way to be an activist or only one avenue to get to the best result that we want. Understanding that, and embracing all the pieces, would do us a lot of good right now.

Rumpus: I was really moved by Bethany Ridendour’s essay, which is about cleaning as a practical tool for healing and self care. Lately, I’ve been seeing both a co-opting of self-care by corporations and the reaction against that, but there’s not as much conversation about what good care looks like. I’m curious if you have any favorite practices or tools for taking care these days, whether that’s taking care of others or yourself.

Burlison: I think caring for others can be as simple as spending time with people that you care about. Whether they’re just having a bad day or they have an illness, being physically present with someone is so important. That can also tie back into how we take care of ourselves, which is challenging for me but I try all the time to be really present with myself. That means being able to set limitations and say no, I’m not going to every social thing because I feel obligated to, I’m only doing things that I know are going to feed me. Or pay me, let’s be real.

Slowing down is hard right now but it’s so important. Like maybe over the course of the week I allow myself to take one nap, that could be my self-care. I spend a lot of time outside; that’s probably the best thing for me. Being present is such a basic thing. Sitting for ten minutes and checking in with ourselves is affordable and accessible. But like you said, we look at self-care in this way of being overindulgent, like, I need to go to the spa. Well, that’s not accessible for everybody.

I rarely go through a day without being angry about something that’s happening in the world. And, the other side of it is that I’ve had to make a huge effort to find laughter in the world. Having community is so important, spending time with people I love and making space for the ridiculous, too. These are all huge reliefs. But still, it’s tricky because we’re bombarded constantly. Trying to find ways to take care of ourselves and to be in community with other people, other women specifically for me, is important to balance it out a bit.

Rumpus: One practice I’m doing lately is imagining into the idea that there will be people who live through this time and are studying it in the future. It makes me feel better to imagine that some people will survive all of this and they will learn things from it and want our testimony of how it was. This book felt like an amazing slice of the present moment for those future people.

Burlison: I would love it if somewhere down the road people are looking back and being like, I can’t believe all of that used to happen to women! Part of me is hopeful about the future and there’s this other part of me that’s like, Handmaid’s Tale, it’s happening. We’re just so in it right now, it’s hard to see a way out.

I really hope men read the book; not that any of us need their validation but it’s important that people who haven’t had some of the experiences that are shared in the book read it. I hope that people will believe us, and that there’ll be more allyship around women’s issues. And that these voices encourage other people to share their stories.


Photograph of Dani Burlison by Ruby Casteel. Photograph of Lady Parts courtesy of Dani Burlison.


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We Aren't the World

 Colonialism in music & media.

By Ian Brennan
The Good Men Project
August 21st, 2019

In an era when citizens theoretically have the opportunity to listen to more voices than ever before, they are exposed to fewer.

And as a direct result, the music industry is not dying as many people misconceive but is actually growing—generating revenue to the tune of over 50-billion dollars a year.

Yes, we live in a world where Justin Bieber concerts gross 4-million dollars a night.

Despite over 100,000 music releases annually in the USA alone, the majority of countries will have none. But it is not for lack of product. It is based on the reality that most music on earth remains imprisoned within its own linguistic borders.

And, this disproportion in distribution is not a case of 100,000 to 1, which are already ridiculously unfair odds.

But 100,000 to ZERO.

Extrapolate that out over a decade and we have a million-to-one (or less) odds, an indefensible and unsustainable equation for democracy.

Meanwhile, as inventors of most one-way communication technologies, the English-speaking media has pervaded almost every corner of the globe for decades and re-colonizes the world daily with western imagery.

The song continues on long after the departed are gone.

English is the third most spoken, but debatably most hated language in the world since most people do not choose, but are forced to speak it for their own economic survival (e.g., unlike someone learning Finnish or Cherokee simply because of admiration for the way they sound). One Portuguese musician I know goes so far as referring to English as a “speech impediment.”

Unknowingly privileged people from the West often protest that it is “difficult” to listen to music in a foreign-tongue. But this argument is highly selective. For if that same person was pressed to recite the lyrics to the majority of pop songs— including those that they have heard hundreds of times— they would prove completely unable. Even in the case of their favorite songs.

If then asked, at minimum to provide a synopsis of at least the gist of what a given song is about, many listeners would also be unable to do even that. And, in fact, instead they often falsely believe that the song is about the exact opposite of its literal meaning.

“Born in the USA” a patriotic jingle?


Yet, what an avalanche of outrage would result if for even a single morning every television set and radio station in New York City blared out nothing but Basque. Yet, this is the equivalent that has been and continues to be the case for almost every other place on the entire globe since at least WWII.

A solution?

I propose that artists past their prime should be issued anti-recording contracts— to be paid to stop releasing music and thereby to help unclog cultural circulation of excess and refuse, halting the collective aesthetic carnage.

I would happily donate $50 or more to any Kickstarter campaign urged the Rolling Stones to never again release another album. Ever!

Even better would be retroactive recording contracts— whereby legends would be justly rewarded for annulling and unreleasing their more lackluster material.

Does the world really need another Neil Young song? Did he really have more than one (or maybe two) to begin with?

Do we really benefit any longer from hearing yet another group of white, straight males whine to standardly-tuned guitars?

Not a hairsbreadth as much as we would profit from listening to an artist from the Central African Republic or Laos or anywhere but “here.”

For the price of the soy decaf cafe-latte and Coconut Water budget during the rendering of the latest corporate star-merger single, literally hundreds of albums from the least wealthy nations of the world could be made instead. But in their steed, we are offered up gilded turds, slathered as “comebacks”— a return to form hype. We are blue-balled ceaselessly by promo-machine fed false prophets, spitting out confectionary misdirections.

Try this test:

Can you hum one song by Bon Jovi from the past three decades? Or Paul McCartney? Sting or Roger Waters?

Yet, who here has not involuntarily been bombarded by “Living on a Prayer” at the mini-mall or “Comfortably Numb” while boarding an airplane or standing in line at the grocer— held hostage and force-fed piped tuneage.

How many artists are there really that you can get past your hands counting the number of great songs harvested from throughout their generations-long spanning career?

The music industry has a dirty, dark secret. There are millions upon millions of talented people around the world. And you will never hear any of them. They’ve been made disappeared, silenced by sound.

A truly democratic system would be music released with complete anonymity: no photos, no names, only music. Songs without faces nor bios.

Just sound standing on its own.

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On the Margins: On the Fly! A Review

By Rowan Cahill
Labour History Melbourne

An overview of the work of Iain McIntyre, and a review of his anthology, On the Fly! Hobo Literature and Songs, 1879-1941.

Melbourne-based left activist Iain McIntyre is many things, most recently a doctoral graduate with a thesis, and potential book, dealing with environmental direct action between 1979 and 1990 in Australia, Canada and the US. Which also adds membership of the academic precariat to his CV. Over the decades since the 1980s, McIntyre has variously worked, written, published, edited, and engaged in the hard yakka of face-to-face front line activism. He has also been a zine enthusiast, with a string of titles to his credit; musician, with a string of gigs and recordings behind him; community radio broadcaster; curator; historian; pamphleteer. Maybe my use of ‘been’ here is amiss, since at any time McIntrye can be/is, anyone of these, or combination thereof.

Amongst McIntyre’s publications are books with a transnational focus that establish his credentials as a specialist in subcultures, their modes of organisation and conduct, and their cultures: Wild About You!: The Sixties Beat Explosion in Australia and New Zealand (co-edited with Ian D Marks, 2010); Girl Gangs, Biker Boys, and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 to 1980 (co-edited with Andrew Nette, 2017), this with a Foreword by the Australian academic, musician, crime novelist Peter Doyle – as an aside, one of the best descriptions of the late-1960s Australian anti-war movement is found in Doyle’s crime novel The Big Whatever (2015), part of his Billy Glasheen series; Sticking it to the Man: Revolution and Counterculture in Pulp and Popular Fiction, 1950-1980 (co-edited with Andrew Nette, 2019).


Earlier than these, with an Australian focus, and my favourite, is How to Make Trouble and Influence People: Pranks, Protests, Graffiti & Political Mischief-Making from across Australia. It has variously appeared in three editions since 1996 and is a profusely illustrated collection of some 500 anecdotes, stories, snippets, interviews, stories, about creative resistance in Australia from colonial times to the present – blockades, graffiti, rebellions, banner drops, street theatre, revolts and so on. It is mix of coffee table tome and smorgasbord catalogue of ‘how to rebel’ informed by the premise ‘it is right to rebel’, cheekily patched together with humour. It is a book designed to be browsed, sampled, dipped into, enjoyed. The use of ‘mischief’ in the title is carefully chosen, to convey trouble and a cheeky disregard for orthodoxy and authority. All too often radical political tomes, as this is, are deadly serious. McIntyre’s book however brings humour to the fore, an often overlooked and effective political dimension and weapon. When I pick up Mischief-Making  the words of novelist Rafael Sabatini, about his lawyer/actor hero Scaramouche in the 1921 novel of that name set in the French Revolution, come to mind: ‘He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad’.

Entering McIntyre’s literary world I am reminded of the strange and wonderful novel by Umberto Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (2005). In this Eco explored the ways in which popular culture, magazines, comics, pulp novels, and the like, what is traditionally regarded as ephemera, are significant historical markers, cultural expressions of their times, and the powerful and subtle ways they can operate as personal building blocks, contributors to the formation and making of human identities and understandings of the world, even in minds regarded as being sophisticated.

on-the-fly-Which brings me to On the Fly! Hobo Literature & Songs: 1879-1941 (2018) edited by McIntyre. This is an anthology of songs, poems, stories, reportage from the world of Hobohemia, a world of dispossession, homelessness, marginality that became an iconic feature of American life between the 1870s and 1940s, as millions of men, women and children, generically referred to as Hoboes,  crisscrossed the United States for various economic, personal and political reasons, illegally using the freight rail system to do so. The hobo colloquialism ‘on the fly’ refers to the act of boarding a moving train.

This was a world that developed its own codes of ethics and morality; its own vocabulary, culture, and social divisions; and where, on the margins of respectable society, out of police reach, near fresh water and close to where trains could be illegally boarded, substantial hobo communities, known as ‘Jungles’, developed. As this anthology demonstrates, this was a creative world, its literary manifestations carried in a range of ephemera few have bothered to substantially collect, hence what McIntyre describes as ‘the years’ it took for him track the material down in archives and libraries in the US and the UK.

There have been academic studies of the hobo world, but McIntyre’s book is the first anthology, all up some eighty pieces. Coming as it does with a significant scholarly Introduction by McIntyre, it is, as the distinguished American radical historian Paul Buhle has commented, ‘a brilliant introduction to the subject’. Some of the authors collected by McIntyre are well known, people like Jack London, W.H. Davies, Jim Tully, Joe Hill, and there are Blues singers and musicians too, the illegal use of freight trains often the means to move between gigs. But the majority are unknowns, and part of McIntyre’s research has been devoted to biographically resurrecting his selected authors. Even so, attribution remains for a large number of the pieces, ‘Unknown’, as time has erased authorship, or there was no attribution originally, which is understandable in a subculture and world where members were often just one step ahead of the law.

Where possible McIntyre provides a photograph of the creator to go with a biography, and some of these are police mugshots, which adds to the atmosphere of the book and our understandings of the world he is helping the reader explore. Each anthologised piece also comes with a significant note explaining its context and source. Overall, this is a heartening and robust collection, filled with satire, protest, pathos, anger, love, humour, incisive reportage, sensitivity, and an overwhelming sense of hope, that amongst the grimness, desperation, homelessness, persecution and marginality of the world of Hobohemia, the creative spirit flickered, if not flamed.

McIntyre’s US publisher, the small and robust PM Press, has packaged the book attractively, delivered it affordably, and done justice to his research. Coming in at over 500 pages, fully indexed and with a Bibliography and a Glossary of hobo terms and colloquialisms, the book is profusely illustrated. Each anthologised piece is separated by illustrations and photographs related, and relating, to the hobo world, amongst these the poignant work of social documentary photographer Dorothea Lange (1895–1965) whose photographs personalised the masses of transients of the Great Depression era.

Rich in humanity, On the Fly!  is an enjoyable, moving, and instructive scholarly work of social history and of literature. It took years to research and put together, a fine example of passionate, methodical, time consuming, ‘slow’ research.  Sadly, this is the sort of research and publication the modern neoliberal university, with its emphasis on metrics and the quick-fix treadmill production of publications, variously works to frustrate and prevent.

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Folk Singers Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore Show That a Working Class Hero Was Something to Be: PopMatters

By Steve Horowitz
July 11th, 2019

Folkies Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore present a collection of pre-World War II songs about the struggle for economic justice with Working-Class Heroes: A History of Struggle in Song.

Presumably, there is no one reading this review who is old enough to remember the original versions of these pre-World War II working-class songs, and probably very few who can remember them being recovered during the folk revival of the early 1960s when Alan Lomax, Pete Seeger, and Woody Guthrie compiled many of them in a book called Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People. Therefore, it makes sense to revive this material. Times may have changed greatly since the Great Depression and the American Camelot in terms of technology, but the struggle for a living wage for the poor and disenfranchised remains. These songs call for solidarity and provide solace for those battling for a better future for all.

The 20 songs on Working-Class Heroes: A History of Struggle in Song range from well-known classics such as “Joe Hill” and “Goin’ Down the Road Feeling Bad” that have been redone by popular artists to more obscure tunes including “Dreadful Memories” and “The Murder of Harry Simms. Kentucky coal mining singer/activist Sarah Ogan Gunning penned six of the tracks, and her sister and brother Aunt Molly Jackson and brother Jim Garland are represented as well. There are two songs by union organizer Ella Mae Wiggins, one by Woody Guthrie (“Mamma Don’t ‘Low No Bush-Wahs Hanging Around”) and even one credited to “an unknown proletarian”. This is rich material that covers a wide spectrum of concerns, attitudes, and behaviors.

Anthologizers Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore offer the songs in a plain and simple manner so that one can understand all of the lyrics and sing along. That makes sense as a way of resuscitating these cuts. However, it frequently takes away the passion from the lyrics. For example, John Handcox’s barbed reflections on “There’s a Mean Things Happening in This Land” come off more as supplicative inventory than a hymn of righteous wrath. When Callahan and Moore’s voices combine and shout “We Have Fed You All for a Thousand Years”, the impact is more suggestive of a hootenanny than its lyrical concerns about the human cost of capitalism. To be fair, these songs were meant to be sung at hootenannies, union meetings, and the like. But that was then; this is now.

And so the very purpose of this endeavor is problematic. If the point is to show the relevance of these songs in the world today, one needs to interpret them for a contemporary audience. That doesn’t mean one has to change the words or the melody reductively but to consider the context. The music’s original intent was to inspire. This disc has more of a documentary feel to it. One can appreciate the spirit and power of the originals that Callahan and Moore present and yet also be aware of the dust left by age; hence, the 20 cuts come off as dusty relics of an earlier time.

As the title suggests, the album provides evidence about Working-Class Heroes: A History of Struggle in Song. It’s good to remember history and where we came from to illuminate the path forward. Lord knows many in this country could use their spirits lifted in the battle for a better life. Chances are they won’t find it here. It’s a worthy effort, but that’s all it is. Recommended for historians and labor activists only. Rating:

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Working-Class Heroes Finds Striking Relevance in Songs of Past Struggles

By Jonathan Kissam
UE Union
July 26th, 2019

The one time I met legendary UAW militant Jerry Tucker, he was holding forth at the bar about how boring he found the old labor songs, all in the folk music idiom. We need new, modern labor music, he said — hip-hop and heavy-metal labor songs — and I think of this every time someone pulls out an acoustic guitar to sing at a labor event.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached the new CD Working-Class Heroes: A History of Struggle in Song, by Mat Callahan and Yvonne Moore (PM Press, 2019). A collection of pre-WWII labor songs, it is unabashedly acoustic music. However, the vocal arrangements and guitar playing have a welcome contemporary-country feel to them; many of these songs would not sound out of place on a Sugarland album.

Indeed, the lively arrangements are a reminder that these songs were written to bring the union message to other workers in the popular styles of the day. They were part of the organizing process — many of the songwriters featured on this album, like textile worker Ella May Wiggins and tenant farmer John Handcox, were active leaders in their union, and numerous choruses simply urge the listener to join the union or a picket line.

Many of the songs are a reminder of the horrific conditions faced by working people in America’s mines, mills and fields in the first part of the 20th century, and the violence faced by the working-class heroes who organized to change those conditions. As the liner notes to the accompanying songbook point out, “their striking relevance to current affairs invites us to explore the historical conditions that inspired their creation: deep, systemic crisis, advancing fascism, and the threat of world war. In the face of violent terror, these working-class songwriters bravely stood up to fight oppression.”

The violence and oppression described in the songs was not an abstract concept to the women and men who wrote them — Wiggins was murdered by an anti-union mob after a union meeting in Gaston County, NC and mineworker organizer Aunt Molly Jackson (“I Am A Union Woman”) was first jailed at age 10 for her family’s union activities. Sarah Ogan Gunning, who wrote five of the songs on the album, lost two of her four children due to the poor conditions in the mining communities of eastern Kentucky and her first husband, a miner, to tuberculosis in 1938.

The album is not all dark, though. Alongside the songs of starving children (Wiggins’ “The Mill Mother’s Song”) and martyred union leaders (Jim Garland’s “The Murder of Harry Simms”), there are also humorous take-downs of the wealthy (Woody Guthrie’s “Mama Don’t ’Low No Bush-Wahs Hangin’ Round”) and inspiring visions of what the world will be like “when the earth is owned by labor” (“The Commonwealth of Toil,” composed by Ralph Chaplin, who wrote the words to “Solidarity Forever”).

The common thread running through all of the songs, whether they are laments or celebrations, is the necessity for working people to join together to fight for justice. After listing the oppressions suffered by miners and their families, Gunning’s song “Dreadful Memories” (a rewrite of the hymn “Precious Memories”) concludes:

We will have to join the union,
They will help you find a way
How to get a better living
And for your work get better pay.
Really, friends, it doesn’t matter
Whether you are black or white.
The only way you’ll ever change things
Is to fight and fight and fight.

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Marron Comix in Transformative Justice Journal

By Mechthild Nagel
Transformative Justice Journal
June 2019

Author: Mechthild Nagel
Institute: Philosophy Department, SUNY Cortland
Address: POB 2000, SUNY Cortland, Cortland, New York, USA 13045


Maroon Comix is a sensational work of art and prose, which honors the legacy of political prisoner Russell Maroon Shoatz.

A finely stenciled portrait of Shoatz by Todd Hyung-Rae Tarselli opens the book. Quincy Saul has co-edited the writings of Shoatz in an earlier book, Maroon the Implacable: The Collected Writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz (2013). In fact, this book is a homage to Shoatz, an imprisoned intellectual, because the illustrators and writers draw on his work. Saul closes the comic book with a fabulous “Maroon Library,” thematically organized into the following rich and diverse sections: Maroon History and the Revolt of the Enslaved; Maroon Philosophy; Whiteness and Maroons of European Descent; Marooning in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries; Maroons in the East; Maroon Literature; Maroon Articles; Maroon Music; Maroon Recipes. Moreover, the illustrations are a revolutionary aesthetic feat. With the evocative book cover illustration of Nanny Granny, a Jamaican maroon leader breaking free from her chain with a raised fist and raised sword, the curious reader is already drawn into the political message of liberation that permeates this outstanding maroon book and work of art.

The first chapter titled “Initiation” and illustrated by Songe Riddle opens us up to the illusions of maps and invites us to sojourn off the map. Citations from Gone to Croatan (1994) about the Great Dismal maroons’ legends provide a narrative insurgent history, told from the perspective of colonized Indian nations and enslaved African peoples. Right away, we learn about maroon agency, resistance and the urgency of altering and destroying the white supremacist, colonial script that is so prevalent in US school textbooks. In six chapters, this collective of writers and illustrators takes apart the following corrosive master narratives: enslaved peoples were content about their life-long subjugation; obedient to their masters; fearful of freedom; lazy and cunning. Maroonage, the practices of running away, liberating others, poisoning slavers, is never foregrounded in the “standard” history accounts “on” slavery. It is always a (white) victors’ perspective that twists the record to suggest that maroonage was a futile exercise because the slave catchers were omnipresent and omnipotent. In reality, as the chapter on “Slavery and Liberation,” illustrated by Songe Riddle, emphasizes white and Black indentured servants and enslaved people resisted successfully and ran to the swamps, mountains, forests and other inaccessible places, often joining sovereign Indigenous nations, famously, the Seminole Maroons (p. 12). When the refugees were eventually discovered, these maroon communities fought back, often keeping the colonizers’ armies at bay for years and even centuries from the center of maroon societies, the Palmares to the Carolinas. “The efforts of these men, women and children cannot be matched in world history” (p. 2, citing Shoatz, 2013, pp. 32-34). Because of the success of these guerrilla resistance armies, the colonial powers attempted strategies of appeasement. This worked, in part, with the “treaty maroons,” who remained sovereign under the condition that they returned run-away slaves to the plantations. By contrast, the “fighting maroons” never surrendered and fought to death (p. 13). Throughout the book, maroon societies get named (e.g., the Accompong of Jamaica, the Garifuna of Central America, the Palenqueros of Colombia) as well as famous leaders in the chapter “I am Maroon!,” illustrated by Mac McGill. Here we find Granny Nanny of Jamaica, whose biography is brief (pp. 16-17) but her formidable power is showcased in the last chapter (p. 29).

Furthermore, there are Harriet Tubman, Osceola and John Horse of the Seminole, and the Haitian revolutionaries. “In 1791, in Bois Caïman, Haiti, the warrior love goddess and ‘Mother of Haiti’ Ezili Dantor possessed the Haitian high priestess, mambo Cécile Fatiman. She then crowned the African revolutionary maroon and houngan Dutty Boukman with her scepter, invoking and convoking the Haitian revolution” (p. 23). Drawing on Shoatz’s analyis (2013), Saul makes clear that maroon societies drew on spiritual and religious leadership to sustain their diasporic communities against the constant onslaught of imperial armies that threatened their way of life. Haiti, of course, emerges as “the only country in world history established by formerly enslaved workers” (p. 23, citing Shoatz, 2013, p. 119). Thanks to the power of maroons’ resilience, Haiti is the only nation state emerging free from colonialism and enslavement, and it has had to pay a high prize for such audacity—and the hope it brought to millions of enslaved people in the Americas, as well as the shockwaves of terror, the republic sent to slavers. One maroon of Venezuela, José Leonardo Chirino, witnessed the Haitian Revolution and led an insurrection of Indigenous and African maroons, basing his demands on the Haitian and French Revolutions. Saul also pays tribute to Afro-Indigenous-Venezuelan spiritual leader María Lionza who became immortalized as goddess of nature, unifying the African, Indigenous, and European maroon cultures (p. 24). The split between treaty maroons and fighting maroons is exemplified in the conflict between Ganga Zumba and Zumbi. Ganga Zumba, king of Palmares, negotiated with the Portuguese, leading a community of tens of thousands of citizens. After the pact with the colonial power in 1678, Zumbi led a revolt against Ganga Zumba (p. 27). Again, it would have been helpful to add more detail to these very short biographies, especially for readers who know very little about the complexities of maroon philosophies. To the editor’s credit, he foregrounds women’s roles as spiritual leaders, community workers and resistance fighters. Queen Mother Moore is mentioned, born as free woman in 1898 in Louisiana, and early supporter of Marcus Garvey’s movement and received the honorific title Queen Mother by the Ashanti people of Ghana. Moore was an internationalist and called for reparations for descendants of U.S. slaves. The Black Liberation Army and its imprisoned fighters are mentioned, along with Russell Marron Shoatz, who earned his honorific title, “Maroon,” when he escaped from a state prison in Pennsylvania (pp. 31-33). The book shows that “the prison of slavery” morphs into “slavery of prisons,” in the famous words of maroon fighter Frederick Douglass and Angela Y. Davis.

The chapter “The Dragon or the Hydra?,” written and illustrated by Seth Tobocman, also brings an intersectional dimension to the conversation. Tobocman addresses contemporary tactics of struggle against oppression in all its forms, including the struggles of LGBTQ people globally.

Drawing on Shoatz’s tropes of dragon and hydra, Tobocman points to the age-old controversy of effective guerrilla warfare—is it diffuse leadership or hierarchical leadership that proves to be most successful? Using the example of Haitian history, we are lead to believe that thy hydra has the upper hand when fighting oppressive powers. When one charismatic leader is killed, others will rise. In addition, if some leaders get coopted such as treaty maroons, others will continue their work of resistance autonomously.

A future Comix books on maroon life and philosophies might want to focus on prominent contemporary maroon communities and how they differentiate themselves from utopian or religious communities or ecovillages, for that matter. This is briefly addressed in the last chapter “Modern Maroons,” illustrated by Hannah Allen, Emmy Kepler, and Songe Riddle. They give us examples of the Zapatistas in Mexico, Julius Nyere’s vision of Ujamaa in Tanzania, the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement of Sri Lanka, and the maroons of Rojava in the greater Kurdistan region. What is common of them are a basis democratic philosophy of reclaiming of the commons by oppressed peoples; promoting women’s leadership and educational opportunities for women; and advocating anticapitalist principles as espoused by the people of Cuba and Venezuela. The simple question of how does one commit oneself to maroonage receives a surprisingly simple answer: start community gardens (p. 56)!

In this book, political prisoners Mumia Abu-Jamal and the Move 9 are mentioned, somewhat inaccurately under the heading of Black Liberation Army (p. 31). It would be good to write a separate Comix Book about their epic struggles with the City of Philadelphia, the Fraternal Order of Police and the FBI. So far, their insurgent perspectives have been told in a few zines and Mumia’s books.


Sakolsky, R. & J. Koehnline (1994). Gone to Croatan: Origins of North American dropout culture. New York: Autonomedia.
Shoatz, R. M. (2013). Maroon the implacable: The collected writings of Russell Maroon Shoatz (F. Ho & Q. Saul, eds.). Oakland, CA: PM Press.

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Silvia Federici On Witch Hunts, Body Politics & Rituals of Resistance

By Sarah Lyons
February 15th, 2019

Witchcraft has become a buzzword of late. In fashion, movies, TV, and on social media, women have begun to reexamine its meanings, and how it can be adopted as an archetype against patriarchy. But long before #witchesofinstagram was a hashtag, feminist and leftist writer Silvia Federici examined the hardly superficial ties between the witch trials, patriarchy, and the creation of capitalism.

Her landmark book on the subject, Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation, is twenty years old this year. The book is an investigation into the roots of capitalism, and its genesis through the great witch trials of Europe alongside European colonization of the New World. The work remains a scathing indictment of the patriarchal violence inherent to capitalism and places the figure of the witch at the center of the fight against capital.
Federici argues that the great witch trials of Europe were borne out of the process of accumulation by which capitalism came to be formed. While coming from the Marxist tradition, she breaks here with Marx, arguing that the violence of the witch trials is an integral part of capitalism, one that is inflicted upon Indigenous populations, the poor, women, and anyone outside centers of power within the capitalist system every time the economy expands. She argues—again, counter to Marx—that capitalism has never been a “progressive system” and definitely was not a necessary historical condition for the development of a non-exploitative society.

The witch trials were a time of massive change in Europe and the Americas, but Federici claims above all they helped usher in capitalism in three major ways: through the taming of the rebel body and Indigenous peoples (the “Caliban” of the book), the mechanization of the world, and the devaluing of female labor with the advent of waged work. Overarching to all of this is the struggle over the female body as the primary site of production of the workforce. Federici is unshaking in her claim that the struggle over the female body, and the struggle for bodily autonomy in general, must be an animating force of anti-capitalist work. As she told us when we met, “the struggle for the body of women [is] the last frontier of capitalism.”

I sat down with Silvia Federici in her Brooklyn apartment, on Earth Day, appropriately enough, to discuss Caliban twenty years later, Indigenous resistance, and the ongoing struggle against patriarchal capitalism.

It’s been twenty years since Caliban and the Witch came out. Obviously the political landscape has evolved quite a bit, but other things seem to have remained the same, like the question of women’s bodily autonomy. I want to ask you first, where do you think abortion stands in modern Left discourse, and do you think it’s being centered enough?

I hesitate to speak of ‘the Left’ as I am no longer sure of what is meant by this term. With respect to the 1970s, we have new social movements—the ecological movement, the feminist and queer movements e.g.—that are not reducible to what used to be the old, orthodox Left, and even the New Left. In today’s women’s movements, abortion is a central issue. What is still missing, however, at least in many white feminists groups, is the recognition that control over our bodies calls for a broader struggle, to determine the conditions under which we give birth, under which we raise children, to obtain the resources enabling us to become mothers without sacrificing our lives. This is why Black women, like Loretta Ross, have criticized the concept of ‘reproductive choice’ and called, instead, for a movement for ‘reproductive justice.’

As important as the struggle for abortion has been, we cannot forget that thousands of Black, Latina, proletarian women in the US have been sterilized and prevented from having the children they wanted. Today as well, when Black, immigrant, low-income women decide to have children, they are subjected to many abusive practices by the state, the police, the medical profession. In name of defending the rights of the fetus, women have been arrested when they were in car accidents, when they miscarried, when they were submitted to blood tests and the results were not clear and then they were accused of having used drugs to jeopardize the safety of the fetus.

The justification for these abuses is the defense of life, but they are forms of racism and classism. The trend is for fetuses to have more rights than women, unless they have the resources allowing them not to depend on public institutions. This means that we need to re-conceptualize the struggle for control over our bodies so that it has a much broader horizon.

You talk a lot about this in Caliban and The Witch, about how this all stems from the mechanization of the body with the advent of capitalism.

As I have written (not alone in this), capital and the state have turned women’s bodies into means for the production of laborers and soldiers. This is why they have been so insistent on regulating our sexuality and reproductive capacity, and so punitive of any transgression of the rules. We hear about “test tube babies,” but babies are not born in test tubes, they are born from the bodies of women, and this is a power the state is determined, today as well, to control in every possible way. They want to decide who has the right to reproduce and who does not.

Women’s bodies are the last frontier capitalism has to conquer, because capitalism sees human labor as the main instrument of wealth accumulation, and therefore must control its source. How many children we produce determines the size of the workforce. Also how we raise our children makes a difference in how they see the world, how they struggle, what they struggle for. This is why we have ‘population control’ policies, carried out through forced sterilizations. This is why the state wants to assert its right to decide who is going to be born and who is not.

I have a friend who went down to do relief work in the US Virgin Islands after they were hit by Hurricane Maria. One of the things she brought down was birth control, because that wasn’t being distributed. What do you think about how our political culture puts reproductive health, reproductive justice, into a category separate not just from healthcare, but from all other discussions of oppression?

When the state provides ‘birth control’ it is in ways that women generally cannot control. They provide injections of Depo Provera or IUDs and other forms of birth control that are planted into women’s bodies and women cannot take them out except by going to a doctor. There is, however, a split today in the ruling class with regard to birth control in the so-called “Third World,” which is the former colonial world, never truly decolonized. The liberal wing of the state promotes birth control because they want to exploit women’s work, for instance in maquilas, special economic zones, where they lay you off if you get pregnant. There is also a fear of the kind of explosion that took place with the anti-colonial struggle. By promoting contraception there is a hope of ‘sterilizing the struggle,’ but again the contraception generally promoted is one women cannot control. On the other hand, the Right wing is more confident that they can control any rebellion with the power of arms, and they also welcome the development of a global baby market, through adoption and surrogacy. So reproduction today, as in the past, continues to be a ground of oppression, of discrimination and violence – for instance, the violence of giving birth to children you will have to give away, as during slavery, and now through adoption because of economic necessity.

There’s that reactionary anxiety about how if marginalized people have kids they’re going to go on welfare, and “we are going to have to give them healthcare.”

Yes, that’s a misguided, unfounded, racist argument. It presumes that “these people” will have to be impoverished, that they will not have the means to support their children. But instead of struggling so that everybody has the resources necessary to have a family, they demand more repression. They forget that programs like Aid For Dependent Children, that have been practically dismantled, were originally introduced to give widows the possibility of raising their children without being forced to rush to take a job when the husband died, and that it has been working-class women, most white, who have benefitted from them.

It’s also the state enforcing a certain type of treatment of women—criminalizing reproductive autonomy—and then taking no responsibility for women or their children after childbirth.

That’s right. The state cares for the fetus, but the moment the fetus is born and becomes a child they don’t care for it any longer. They are not concerned with the well-being of the new generation, but with disciplining women. After they are born, as far as the state is concerned, children can die. Actually, in the case of Black children, little is done to ensure that they have a safe birth. We have now reports of Black women, of all classes, having a much higher rate of infant mortality than white women, because of the stress they suffer from living in a racist society, and because of the actual lack of care they receive when they go to a hospital. This shows the hypocrisy and double talk of the “life protectors” of the “Right to Life” movement.

Usually, when people criticize that movement, they criticize the religious fundamentalist aspects of it, but very few people criticize the state or capitalism, at least in the popular discourse about reproductive justice.

One problem we face is the widespread tendency to look at the immediate causes and not at the structural trends. The religious fundamentalists, and the right in general, represent the interests of the state and capital. As I mentioned earlier, today the ruling class is more divided than in the past on the question of birth control, and of course abortion. But let’s not forget the struggle that had to be made to obtain abortion in the US in the ’70s. Until recently, the capitalist class was unified in its determination to forbid women from deciding about their reproduction. Democrats or Republican, their position was not very different from that of the Pope and the Right to Lifers. Both parties agreed on permitting or promoting the sterilizations of Black women and, in some periods, for instance during the Depression, white, unemployed, proletarian women as well when they saw them as ‘promiscuous’.

You talk again in the book about how what we would call now superstition, popular folk magic, animism, was something that needed to be eradicated for the development of capitalism to happen. Right now we are living in the era of a new occult revival. Witchcraft is becoming much more popular—I practice witchcraft. It’s certainly on-trend now, but it seems like it’s at risk of being absorbed into capitalism.

What many call “witchcraft” today is not what the inquisitors and magistrates, who sent thousands of women to death, had in mind. To them witchcraft meant a diabolic pact between human beings and the devil to carry out evil deeds. In reality, what they persecuted under the name of ‘Witchcraft’, was a different relationship between human beings and between human beings and nature, including the animal world. Many women, for instance, were accused of being witches because they cured people and animal with herbs, as well as incantations, or kept certain animals, participated in events—dances, collective festivals—that were considered dangerous, promiscuous, diabolical. Through the witch-hunts capitalism promoted a different conception of nature, more mechanical, more ‘scientific’ – a conception in which ‘nature’, was also described as controllable. The revitalization of magical conceptions of nature today is important if it gives us a better understanding of the beauty, power, and creativity of the natural world. It is dangerous if it promotes the idea that magic is about finding ways to manipulate relations, as it risks reinforcing the traditional, murderous, constructed view of witchcraft and witches.

On the topic of establishing a more intimate relationship with nature in spite of capitalism’s omnipresence, what do you make of Indigenous struggles across the world, like Standing Rock, for example?

They are extremely important, some of the most important struggles today in the world. The existence of Indigenous communities and struggles is a power for all movements, beginning with the women’s movement. Indigenous communities show that there are other ways of organizing society. Their views of what the land represents, of how crucial the relation to the land is to one’s autonomy, one’s capacity for self-government, one’s culture and spirituality, is an inspiration to all. Now women are taking the lead in Indigenous communities as well, challenging many forms of patriarchalism that still persist within them. At Standing Rock, it was the women who organized the reproduction of the encampment. They also created the wording and imaging of the struggle, describing themselves as ‘water protectors.’

Sometimes I find when I talk to other leftists about Indigenous resistance, they don’t know how to wrap their heads around the spiritual dimension to Indigenous resistance, and especially Indigenous female resistance.

Unfortunately, in the Marxist tradition there has been the assumption that social transformation is only possible if a high level of industrialization has taken place, or is taking place. But Indigenous communities are saying ‘No.’ Many refuse this logic and see capitalist development as nothing but expropriation and violence. In the Marxist tradition, instead, there is a conviction that capitalist development is a prerequisite condition for the formation of a communist society. Presumably, by expanding the productivity of labor, capitalism creates the material foundations for communism. Indigenous people have a very different view of it, because for centuries they have paid the highest price for this development. True, some have been making deals with the companies, but most have an anti-capitalist stance. The women in particular stand at the forefront of the struggle; they know that when the water is poisoned by oil drilling or by a gold mine people have to leave. It’s the end of everything, the culture, the language, the life of the community. That’s a very different perspective from the traditional Marxist viewpoint. Today, as we observe the catastrophes created by climate change and the contamination of everything we eat and drink and breath, more and more people are looking at Indigenous people for inspiration. We can also see that the productive powers of labor have been expanded to a maximum and yet, we are not any closer to ‘revolution’ than we were in Marx’s time.
The new upsurge of violence against women is due to the fact that in so many places women are leading the struggles.

Would you agree with eco-feminists who argue that we treat the earth like a woman’s body? Or that we treat women’s bodies like the earth?

In Latin America, women say: “My body is my first territory; so we have to defend our bodies if we want to defend our lands, our territories.” Eco-feminists are not saying that women are nature, but that there is a relationship between the way capitalism has exploited the body of women, and the way it has exploited the natural world, the lands, the waters. Like the exploitation of the land, the exploitation of women is a classic example of how capitalism has built its power robbing human beings and the natural world without any reservation and without giving anything back.

An important contemporary witch, Peter Grey, says that historically it can be hard to define what witchcraft is, but he writes if you look back in history “you will find the witch at the end of a pointed finger.” There are obviously parallels between the way accusations of witchcraft are deployed and the ways in which labels like “criminal,” “illegal immigrant,” and “terrorist” are used today.

Yes, the charge of witchcraft has been used to criminalize many forms of behavior and entire populations which the system wanted to destroy. “Witchcraft” has been defined in such a way that all kinds of practices can fall under this label. Witchcraft trials have also introduced new judicial procedures that condemn the accused even before they are tried. In addition, during the witch-hunts, witchcraft was described as a uniquely perverse crime giving the magistrates the right to torture the accused, keep them in isolation. Anonymous accusations were allowed; those accused of being witches did not have the right to know who had denounced them, what charges were moved against them. Today’s ‘war on drugs’ and ‘war on terror’ has employed similar procedures.

You talk about this form of Primitive accumulation is something we keep doing over and over.

Yes. The corporate world accumulates massive profits by expropriating people from their means of reproduction and then by criminalizing those who migrate to exploit them as cheap labor. It is really a perverse system. First the US and Europe, with the help of financial organizations like the IMF and World Bank, pauperize millions of people, then they jail them when they try to migrate to the very places where what once were their resources are being accumulated.

I want to end this on a somewhat positive note. There’s so much going wrong in the world, what keeps you fighting?

My optimism comes from the fact that the surge of institutional violence today is a response to the worldwide growth of movements which know that capitalism is a cruel, destructive, unsustainable system. The new upsurge of violence against women (for instance) is due to the fact that in so many places women are leading the struggles. We have seen it not only in Latin America, but in the US as well, at Standing Rock. Women are the ones who are fighting against fracking, to obtain better services in their communities, to keep alive their cultures and their children. So, we must see the other side of the repression. The wars, the tortures, the jails, the many forms of impoverishment that we see today across the world are a response to the fact that millions of people demand another society. But their struggles will grow no matter how much violence is unleashed against them.

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Solidarity and Manufacturing

By Eve Ottenberg
July 4th, 2019

If there’s one thing the hotel workers’ and teachers’ strikes last year have driven home, it’s that the future of American labor does not lie with manufacturing. Most of those jobs are gone. And according to David Ranney in his new book, “Living and Dying on the Factory Floor,” they’re not coming back. “The height of manufacturing employment in the U.S.,” Ranney writes, “was in 1979 when 19.5 million workers or 22 percent of the U.S. workforce were employed in manufacturing jobs.” The steel mills of Southeast Chicago and Northwest Indiana have shut down. So have the related factories where Ranney worked in the 1970s and ’80s and which he describes in his new book. “Today only 12.4 million workers,” he reports, “or 8 percent of the national workforce, are in manufacturing.”
This memoir describes “the exploitation of back breaking and dangerous labor and the often unhealthy and unsafe working conditions.” It is also about his South Chicago co-workers – white, black, Mexican – and how they divided along lines of race and nationality, until those rare moments when they defied management and their corrupt union and struck. As one worker, Lawrence, summed up this solidarity during a strike at Chicago Shortening: “There ain’t no justice…just us.” Or, as Ranney explains: “the strike exposed the fact that union, company and government institutions were united in opposition to a class-based ‘us.’ In the course of the strike…we overcame the divisive aspects of race, alcoholism and drug addiction in favor of solidarity.”

Though the small-scale job actions described in this book did not generally succeed, they were a main reason that Ranney, a leftist professor, gave up his academic job to work in factories. Not an agitator, he was more someone in supportive solidarity with other workers. Ranney recounts an intense instance of that solidarity: during one protest, when employees blocked a rail car from leaving the factory, a worker, Charles, said, “for us this is about how we are goin’ feed our babies, man. That’s something worth fighting for. Movin’ us out of here ain’t goin’ be easy.” This statement “galvanized” the workers, including the locomotive engineer, who decided not to cross their picket line and told their boss to “go fuck yourself.”

In the ’70s and ’80s, Ranney was affiliated with the Workers Rights Center, which he wanted to help connect more with its South Chicago neighborhood. Though steel was a big local employer – “at one point five steel mills in the area [South Chicago] employed over one hundred thousand workers” – Ranney worked first at a shop rebuilding centrifuge machines used in rendering at slaughterhouses. The centrifuges’ contents were grisly and the workplace dangerous. Next Ranney worked at a box factory, but his leftism got him fired. Then he was a maintenance man at Chicago Shortening, which made cooking oils, using “lard – the fat from pigs – and tallow – the fat from beef cattle.” The place emitted an overpoweringly nauseating stench. Workplace safety was spottily enforced. In one room with a sign “Danger! Flammable Gas!” people entered while smoking and later extinguished their cigarettes. Outside workers called pumpers climbed on top of rail cars, “dragging hoses and attaching them to fittings…They take lard or tallow out of some of these cars…The pumpers hook up steam lines to those cars…[to] keep the oil hot enough until they move out.”

Safety concerned these workers. There were “a lot of minor accidents from falls and burns. Also, clothes and boots don’t last long. Acid in the product and the chemicals used for cleaning or as additives eat boots away in no time. Work clothes soon become rags…Everyone complains about the low pay and shitty benefits. There is a general consensus that the union [Amalgamated Meat Cutters and Butcher Workmen Local 55] is corrupt and worthless.” The workers assumed company and union were mob-connected. Despite several serious on-the-job accidents – in one, a worker’s hand was crushed – inspectors did nothing. “The inspector pulls out a flash light and shines it in the general direction of the boiler…’Looks good boys,’ he calls over his shoulder.” Old equipment was not replaced. As for repairs: “We are always instructed to do the minimum.”

Union negotiations with Chicago Shortening were disorganized. Ranney posted a list of demands on the bulletin board, and later fought with the union rep, who tried to persuade workers to accept a lousy contract. The rep physically attacked Ranney. Other workers chased the rep out of the building. They walked out; later the police came. Ranney was arrested for trying to prevent a company truck from leaving with shortening. The next day, the strikers confronted a truck driver, who said: “Teamsters Local 179. They told us this ain’t a legal strike and we’re not to honor your picket line. Sorry, I gotta work too.” Strikers then pulled the pin connecting the cab to the rest of the truck, causing a delay of several hours. Ranney writes: “A little act of sabotage goes a long way.”

Chicago Shortening management finally realized it couldn’t run the plant without workers and so sent everyone home and temporarily shut down. Meanwhile left-wing groups arrived to support the strikers, including Iranian students who wanted to depose the shah. Later, a union vice president met with them, the company agreed to binding arbitration, and one worker, Charles, taken back on the job, was stabbed to death by scabs. It was a violent, dangerous, disorganized, exploitative environment.

Ranney also worked at a factory that made railroad freight cars. The supervisor told him, “three months ago, there were two workers killed in accidents.” The union, a Boiler Makers local, seemed decent. Ranney also worked at a structural steel fabrication shop – manufacturing work that, he reports, is not much done anymore in the U.S. On probation, one new worker, not properly dressed, got badly burned. The book also describes a paper cup plant, a non-union shop but “the best factory job I have had.” Still, after labor unrest, Ranney got fired, then worked for a company that made “boards and other products used in foundries at steel mills to insulate molten metals.” The plant began to automate, which caused lay-offs, then a speed up. Hating the night shift, Ranney quit. It was 1982, and factories were laying off workers.
Today all the factories where Ranney worked except one are gone. The surrounding neighborhoods have either sunk into deep decline or been gentrified. At his memoir’s end, Ranney wonders what happened to his co-workers. One thing is sure – a lot of them left manufacturing.

Eve Ottenberg is a novelist and journalist. Her latest book is Carbon. She can be reached through her website.

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The Queerbook Commitee on Shado Magazine

The Queerbook Committee

in conversation with Jacinta Bunnell

shado sat down with Jacinta Bunnell, author of a series of colouring books that seek to dismantle and challenge traditional gender stereotypes, to find out more about her motivations and what more can be done to question the stereotypes around us. Jacinta speaks openly about her own background in gender studies and how this has informed her approach that seeks to provide an accessible and inclusive way to provide space for inclusivity and representation – as she says;

If you don’t see yourself in popular media, how will you know that the way that you think, feel, dress, build family, and love is normal?

Jacinta Bunnell – Photo credit: Cindy Hoose

You are the creator of intersectional, gender-inclusive colouring books which aim to ‘bring greater understandings of gender fluidity, gender diversity and sexual orientation.’ Can you tell us a bit more about the main impetus behind their creation, and why you chose colouring books as your medium?

When I was a childcare provider and health educator, so much of the children’s media I came across was heteronormative and sexist, so I came together with another creative friend, Irit Reinheimer (also a childcare provider at the time) to write the first book girls will be boys will be girls will be…. We initially made it for our friends and community, but found that it had a wider appeal than we had originally envisioned. I loved the process of creating the first book so much, that I went on to create three more. Currently I have two more books on the way.

My hope is for people to have fun while learning something. I hope that readers come away with a deeper critique of children’s media and the way it introduces us to specific ideas about gender and sexuality. Though my work directly draws from feminist and queer scholarship and activism, I love making it accessible to people of all ages through the humour and familiarity of a good, old-fashioned colouring book.

I want to provide media examples of real life: something other than the hyper-masculinity, hyper-femininity and compulsory heterosexuality that the mainstream media bombards us with. I want people to be proud of themselves.

What are some of the biggest influences/ experiences that have shaped your motivations for the colouring books?

I loved The Cunt Coloring Book by Tee Corinne from the moment it was gifted to me by my friend Amanda. That and Kate Bornstein’s My Gender Workbook were the greatest influences for my colouring books. On the flip side, I was very motivated by Disney, Mother Goose, Dr. Seuss, and the whole wide swath of mainstream, go-to children’s media. The frequent presence of micro-aggressions toward queer people and women within them made me want to fight back with something more positive. I have been in a life-long argument with Walt Disney!

You have an academic background in gender studies – can you tell us a bit more about how this informs your process?

I grew up in a small town. I am proud of and adore my working class roots. But there are some things that troubled me and I didn’t know how to put voice to them. No one spoke of feminism, gender fluidity, gender-based violence, racism or sexual orientation in my town, unless it were in a crude, mean-spirited way. Boys who did not present themselves in typically male ways were tied to trees by football players. Awful stuff. I had to wait until I moved away from there to learn about so many things.

I woke up to issues of the environment, classism, racism, homophobia and sexism when I got to college at age 17. I was a philosophy major and religious studies minor who consistently sought out every bit of writing I could find that was by, for and about queer people and women. I got involved in campus activism where for the first time, I experienced sustained communal work toward change and saw how that work affected real transformation, not just in individuals, but in institutions, curriculum and support services for students and staff.

The language invented in the halls of academia helps us push conversations forward in a way I am grateful for, but it is so often inaccessible to other people and leaves them feeling pushed to the outskirts, angry, confused and deflated.

An important aspect of your work seems to be representation; that young children will finally be able to see themselves in books rather than only being exposed to a heteronormative Disney portrayal of what is ‘normal’. Would you say that this is a driving force in your work?

Absolutely! I heard an interview with a marine biologist recently that reminded me of how important representation is. She talked about going to a concert and seeing an image of a squid for the first time on a t-shirt being sold by a band she loved. In one instant, it sent her down a pathway to learning about sea creatures and the ocean. Now she is a scientist who is helping us understand climate change. You have to trust that by putting new media out there for people to engage with and fall in love with, you are influencing the future in some way.

There is a canon of children’s stories that many of us have come to rely on as “our” stories for children.

In Disney films, females are classically portrayed as hapless, helpless, sexualized, weak humans who have to be rescued by birds, mice, deer, fish, fairies, elves, etc.

In Dr. Seuss, females are nearly non-existent, or the ten percent that do exist are portrayed in a negative light. In fairy tales, women are often battered, killed, raped or tortured. Many of these stories portray females as untrustworthy, backstabbing, or nagging. And don’t get me started on Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater! Nursery rhymes are not much better: females are usually described as pretty and helpless. There is so much more to a human being than that. There is cleverness, courage, adventure, zest, intelligence, love, inspiration, boldness, and the ability to bring joy to the world. These are all inherently female, male and gender fluid characteristics.

Why do you think it is important to look at seemingly ‘complex’ topics of gender and identity through a child’s lens?

I think we haven’t given children enough credit when it comes to their understanding of what we perceive as exclusively the adult world. If you look back on your own childhood, you were taking it all in, calculating what it meant to be an adult and what gender meant. You listened intently to what adults were saying and put it in a sort of file cabinet of your brain that informed your decisions about who to be and how to act. Children are witnessing this complexity all day long. Why not give them something that is just for them, that spells out another beautiful way to be and gives them something that could lead to questions they could ask trusted caregivers and parents?

While these colouring books are for all ages, how do you hope they will empower young children specifically?

If you don’t see yourself in popular media, how will you know that the way that you think, feel, dress, build family, and love is normal?

At what age do you think these gender stereotypes first start to cement themselves and what are the biggest problems/ most worrying examples you’ve seen from young children with regards to this?

At what age? In utero! What is the first question people ask to a pregnant person? “Do you know what you’re having?” as if that is the most important thing in the world. Think of all the comments and questions posed to new parents. “It must be a boy, he is kicking so hard,” “Those eyelashes are wasted on a boy,” gender reveal cakes, blue is for boys, pink bows to let you know this is a baby girl, etc.

Do you have any influences or inspirations within the LGBTQI community who are working to dismantle these gender stereotypes through arts?

My friend Ahmad is always doing something unique musically.

I have the blessing of helping to raise my niece, who is an actor. Getting to experience new batches of their and their friend’s work on stage and in film has been inspiring. I am always learning something new.

I have loved the work of Maeve End since the moment I met her at a farm benefit in a barn. She was playing songs that seemingly jumped from the pages of my books.

With so many gender stereotypes entrenched in the institutions and brands around us, what more can be done on an individual level, from parents and carers, to break down these gender stereotypes and support their children to grow up in a more inclusive environment?

Question everything. Talk about everything you see on billboards and TV with the kids you know.

If you are a media maker, think about family structures. Not every animal in every children’s book should be a HE! Not every family should be based around a white heterosexual couple.

I try to infuse all of my books with humour. Humour is a useful tool in bringing people together, despite divergent world-views. We can help people absorb the vastness of a problem if they are not on the defence from an attack. Once you have opened someone’s heart with a joke, a shared smile or a good laugh, you are better able to do the hard work of liberation together. Playfulness can be a terrific way to remove the armour we all walk around with.

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A review of Heart X-Rays, a mdern epic poem

By James Bourey
Broadkill Review
July 1st, 2019

At my first reading of Heart X-rays, I was inclined to question its claim to “Epic” status and, in fact, to question if there is enough connection between its various passages to follow a story which is the usual mark of the ancient epics such as The Iliad or Beowulf. Even many of the more modern epics – Stephen Vincent Benet’s John Brown’s Body, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Fall of Arthur, or G. K. Chesterton’s The Ballad of White Horse – depended on a clear narrative line, a presentation of history or myth with heroic characters facing great challenges. But then I considered other less conventional modern epics – Hart Crane’s The Bridge, Pound’s Cantos, and William Carlos Williams Patterson – and decided to take a closer look at Heart X-rays. And if we think of the division of modern epics into separate poems, cantos or numbered sections then this small book edges closer to fulfilling its title.
Now I’m not going to claim that this poem is on the same level as the classics but it does have a lot to offer in terms of commentary on our modern, narcissistic, media-driven way of life, though this is not an obviously political treatise. It is also a story of one person’s attempt to make a positive change in the world through the creation of places for hungry people to find nourishment. And the collaborative aspects of the book are often visible in the similar but distinct voices making observations on urban life, homelessness, shocked communities reeling after the commission of blatant hate crimes, and hunger.
And there is some fine poetry in these pages.
Who wedged the universe into an alphabet
within a computer screen? Scroll through
all the way. My homeless heart cannot fit
into any safe deposit box. I just left town.
Behind your tears,
      The past, behind your
           Past, this dirty web,
                 Behind each thread, ants
                     And spaceships, dinosaurs and
                           Hurricanes, a baby’s smile.
The above two passages are from the same section (both on page four) which begins with the line on page two – "Dreams of underwear cannot hide my nakedness." Then the section moves into a short-lined, rhythmic and rhyming twenty-eight lines followed immediately by dense stanzas which would work well in a stream-of-consciousness spoken-word riff. And then, just a little further on, we come to an italicized one-and-a-half pages of what truly is a spoken-word piece which includes directions to the audience - "Put yr hands up & say HEYYY!" and Just "holla!".
The sheer number of changes in these pages presents a challenge. A section called “Street Scene” is lyrical with lines like "there is no way to/ warn you; while you/ are walking rectangled/ into hypnosis”. A page later we are faced with “Charleston - after the shooting June ” which sets a terrible event squarely into the history of the city."Can it be that the mouth of your port,/ Charleston, still tingles with the taste of/ flesh in chains? I hear the coded talk-/ talk…” a moving and pointedly direct line to the present and past.
We move on, being jarred and cajoled, glimpsing humanity in its everyday beauty and all too frequent despair, and finding inspiration as well. The “Soul Kitchen” section is a chronicle and celebration of the founding and success of two locations of free meal service to hungry folks in Baltimore, MD, and Hazelton, PA, sponsored largely by Mr. Colasurdo. It should be noted that both authors have a long record of service to progressive and charitable causes.
So, in a very real sense, this is a “modern epic poem”. It has a big story to tell. It is grounded in poetic tradition, yet it stretches the boundaries of that tradition. It is pleasing to the ear. It is strong in its moral message. It is also entertaining in its fresh approach to language and narrative flow. It is well worth reading and I recommend it.

Jim Bourey is an old poet who divides his time between the northern Adirondack Mountains and Dover, DE. His chapbook Silence, Interrupted was published in 2015 by the Broadkill River Press and won first place for poetry chapbook in the Delaware Press Association writing competition. His work has appeared in Mojave River Review, Stillwater Review, Blue Nib, Paddock Review, Broadkill Review and other journals and anthologies. He is also a regular contributor of book reviews for The Broadkill Review. He has been an adjudicator for Delaware Poetry Out Loud and can often be found reading aloud in dark rooms.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to G.H. Mosson's Page | Back to Marcus Colasurdo's Page


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