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Urusla K. Le Guin’s Late in the Day In Rain Taxi

Klausner's Bookshelf
Midwest Book Review
February 2012

Ursula K. Le Guin’s newest book includes poems, an essay on poetic cra , and a postscript on the state of literature. The poems are well cra ed, each with a poignant message about humanity or nature.
 Le Guin says in her forward: “by demonstrating and performing aesthetic order or beauty, poetry can move minds to the sense of fellowship that prevents careless usage and exploitation of our fellow beings, waste and cruelty.” In both cra and theme, this new collec- tion meets her ideal.

Le Guin is better known as a novelist, the author of The Le Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, Earthsea, and so many others. Throughout her career, however, she has also been a poet. Her new collection is a worthy addition to her lifework, in which she has continually looked at the relationship of humans to the natural world and sought solutions to con ict and violence.

In “The Old Music” she uses the form of Goethe’s “Nachtgesang”:

The tunes of my own choosing
all sounded false and wrong

I sought a newer music,

I found an older song.

In returning to an older song, Le Guin uses traditional forms, free verse, and “free form.” She says: “By free form I mean a discernible pattern—involving a regularity, repetition of stanzas, line lengths, metric beat . . . that is unique to a certain poem.” “The Canada Lynx,” here in its entirety, is free form:

We know how to know and how to think
how to exhibit what is known

to heaven’s bright ignorant eye

how to be busy and to multiply.

He knows how to walk

into the trees alone not looking back,
so light on his so feet he does not sink
into the snow. How to leave no track,
no sound, no shadow. How to be gone.

Here Le Guin shows her trademark respect for the environment; with irony and humility, she acknowledges that the lynx may know more than we imagine. But she also exempli es the kind of freedom she es- pouses. “We can use rhyme, meter, repetition, however and whenever we choose—in conventional forms, or semi-conventional forms, or in once-only patterns we discover or invent. This, I think, is true freedom of verse.” In “Artemisia Tridentata,” she uses end rhyme and a single quatrain:

Some ruthlessness be ts old age.

Tender young herbs are generous and pliant,
but in dry solitudes the grey-leaved sage
stands unforthcoming and de ant.

She may be de ant—she’s an unapologetic anarchist and feminist, and certainly a literary sage—however Le Guin is anything but unforthcom- ing and ruthless. Goethe, in “Nachtgesang,” wrote: “Those eternal feelings / li me sublimely high, / away from the earthly crowd.” As she observes the world, Le Guin is as sublime as Goethe and yet more grounded in solid form, imaginative imagery, and empathy.

In the book’s postscript, Le Guin says, “Resistance and change o en begin in art . . . I’ve had a long career as a writer, and a good one, in good company. Here at the end of it, I don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publish- ing want and should demand our fair share of the proceeds; but the name of our beautiful reward isn’t pro t. Its name is freedom.” With such a view, Late in the Day is a tting capstone to Ursula K. Le Guin’s long career. The poems, with their diverse topics and varied forms, show versatility and compassion.

Buy book now | Download e-Book now | Back to the Author's Page




Jon Felton and his Soulmobile // Songs for A Wolf at the Gate

Spirit You All Music
June 7th, 2016

Frostburg, Maryland's Jon Felton has been at the wheel of his Soulmobile band for almost a decade now, but their latest effort brings their Kingdom-heralding, punk-flavored folk to a brand-new audience: kids. The album is a companion to Mark Van Steenwyk's book A Wolf at the Gate, which retells the story of St. Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio for children with beautiful woodblock-print illustrations and the author's characteristically Mennonite emphasis on peacemaking and non-violence; Soulmobile's music retains those weighty themes while sharpening them with charm and humor at every turn. As the cliché goes, Songs for A Wolf at the Gate is kids' music that grown-ups will appreciate, too.

After the wonderful opener "The Prayer of the Beggar King", which is one of the most memorable renditions of St. Francis' prayer yet put to music, Songs for A Wolf at the Gate acquaints listeners with its large cast. Van Steenwyk's book turns the legend of Francis taming a town-terrorizing wolf into a society-wide morality tale, so here the different levels of the town's social strata, along with the beasts of the nearby forest, each get a tune with its own distinct lesson. Felton goes full-Aesop on "The Song of the Raven", where he sweetly admonishes the hoarding bird for stealing away the other animals' food ("Raven, Raven, don't you know that's no way to live and grow?/Raven, Raven, it's better to go hungry with friends than it is to be full alone"), while on "The Song of the Nobles", the ruling class's raucous gang vocals sneer at the peasants they casually exploit.

Though this is his first kids' album, Felton is an old hand at playfully illuminating serious issues - he's a founding member and performer in the Carnival de Resistance, a circus aimed at spiritual renewal and ecological justice. Many of those Carnival accomplices lend their voices to Songs for A Wolf at the Gate. Most notably, there's Jay Beck, whose unmistakable booming baritone shows up throughout, with other contributions from Aimee Wilson, Seth Martin, members of Psalters and The Hollands!, and many more.

Another contribution is from Soulmobile's multi-instrumentalist BJ Lewis - the hilarious "12 Days of Christmas"-style "Kneeuhmajeans", which accrues new descriptors of the Beggars' destitute state with each repetition: "There is a hole in the tip of my cap/Toe of my sock/Knee of my jeans..."  That, along with songs like "Simple Gifts" (which has the classic accelerating chorus without which any children's album would be impoverished) are just a few of many indications that Felton and company didn't take the route musicians sometimes default to when creating for tykes: dumb down song structures, garnish with banjo, and call it kids' music. Instead, they have respect for the form and, after the pattern of masters like Ella Jenkins and Raffi, a deep respect for their young audience. It's that respect, combined with grin-inducing humor and good old-fashioned Appalachian folk music, that makes Songs for A Wolf at the Gate such a pleasure, no matter how long it's been since you've read a picture book.

Buy CD now




Strike: A Review

By Dale Heckerman
The International Marxist-Humanist
May 28th, 2016


In the field of radical labor history, Jeremy Brecher’s Strike! is held in high esteem by fellow leftists and labor historians and is considered one of the standard go-to reference books for anyone aspiring to learn labor history. I agree that this book is a must-read source of information on labor’s struggles in the United States during the period from 1877 to today. I believe that Jeremy Brecher genuinely cares about the plight of the working class as he painstakingly details numerous labor actions over the past, nearly one-hundred-forty years of labor history. I learned a lot from this book and it would be very difficult to sum up all the various strikes and labor actions he covers. I recommend that everyone read it for the wealth of information and insight this book contains.

We learn a lot from Brecher concerning the creativity and co-operation between workers that has been hidden from “conventional” history. A critical examination of the history of unions and union leaders is taken up, as well, which ranges from the heroic, e.g., Mary Harris Jones (Mother Jones), to the development of parasitic business unionism.

Brecher begins his book by briefly discussing the fact that strikes occurred during the building of the Great Pyramids of Egypt and that strikes had occurred as early as 1636 in North America, where the strikers were prosecuted as illegal conspirators. After recounting a few interesting observations by Alexis de Tocqueville in 1831, which will remind folks of what will be developed dialectically by Karl Marx in the following decade, Brecher starts his labor narrative in the year 1877.

Brecher’s Chapter 1, “The Great Upheaval,” marks the first great American mass strike, which occurred primarily on the railroads in the year 1877. In addition to the mass strikes, Brecher lists several pertinent facts relating to 1877 beginning with what became a monument to the Great Upheaval, the construction of armories in many major cities, built to protect “America not against invasion from abroad but against popular revolt at home.” 1877 was four years into the longest depression, which began in 1873, that capitalism had known. The Paris Commune was still fresh in everyone’s mind and its effect on the working class was particularly unnerving to the capitalists. The 1877 General Strike grew out of the failure of less violent forms of struggle. Brecher also covers the use of federal troops to break the strikes.

All these facts are indeed important, but if we try to trace the self-development of labor dialectically we see that some important facts are left out, beginning with the fact that 1877 was the year that Federal Troops were removed from the South, thus ending Reconstruction and consequently freeing up more federal troops for use in the class war against labor.
 
The Unfinished State of America’s Second Revolution

Marxist-Humanists regard 1877 as the year of betrayal in the history of Black liberation, which has had lasting consequences to this day for Black liberation and labor. However, the unfinished state of America’s second revolution (America’s Civil War) isn’t the ground where Brecher starts his narrative. The following quotes may help explain what we mean by the unfinished state of America’s second revolution. The first quote is from Marx’s Capital, Volume 1 and concerns the effects of slavery in America on labor:

“In the United States of North America, every independent movement of the workers was paralyzed so long as slavery disfigured a part of the Republic. Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded. But out of the death of slavery a new life at once arose. The first fruit of the Civil War was the agitation for the eight-hour day.”

The following quotes describing capitalism in the United States following the failure of Reconstruction after the Civil War are from Raya Dunayevskaya’s book, American Civilization on Trial: Black Masses as Vanguard (ACOT):

“American capitalism… has been both raised up, and thrown back by the unfinished state of its revolution. Capitalism, not capitalism in general, but American capitalism as it expanded after the Civil War, sharpened the basic contradictions of the historic environment in which it functioned. This capitalism was tied to the cotton plantations.” (ACOT, p. 5, emphasis in original).
“No wonder we have advanced so little from 1877 when Union, ‘one and indivisible,’ meant unity forged in the struggle against labor for imperialist adventures. To understand todays racism as well as tokenism, it is necessary to return to that page in history when the ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ of Northern capital with the South set the stage for the unbridled violence against labor” (ACOT, p 12).

To understand the dialectic of labor we must turn to the past. We cannot understand history in the United States unless we understand Black history. The Black dimension has put American civilization on trial for nearly four hundred years since the arrival of Africans as slaves in 1619 and has been the “touchstone” of American history ever since.
 
Divide and Conquer

I think those of us who are even remotely acquainted with labor history are aware of the divide-and-conquer strategy used by capitalists to defeat the working class. Racism as the most commonly used form of betrayal is also familiar to most. But what happened to African-Americans following the Civil War has to rank as one of the most heinous examples:

“The three basic constituents of the betrayal, that is to say, the unfinished state of revolution, were (1) the freedmen did not get ‘the 40 acres and a mule’ they were promised; (2) the old slave owners did get back their plantations and thus the power to institute a mode of production to suit cotton culture; and (3) the crop lien system was introduced with ‘new’ labor; share cropping…. Once Congress, in 1867, failed to pass Thaddeus Stevens’ Land Division Act which would have given each freedman 40 acres and $50 for a homestead, the rest was inevitable” (ACOT, p. 11).

Consequently, most Black workers were to remain isolated in the South for several decades, divided from white workers and from most forms of labor organization bringing Black and white workers together against the capitalists.

Hopefully, I’ve been able to establish the ground needed to give a sense of the conditions on which labor, both Black and white have had to navigate in America. Jeremy Brecher covers most of the labor strikes from 1877 through to our time, but without the category of the Black dimension as touchstone of American as well as labor history, one can easily miss key moments in the dialectic of labor’s self-development. One such moment is that of Populism, which Brecher doesn’t mention and which briefly challenged the rulers of the benighted South.

Populism was in some ways a greater threat to the southern “plantocracy” than the Civil War because it was a revolutionary challenge from “within” the South, not from “without”. Populism succeeded in temporarily establishing white and Black solidarity. Unfortunately, Populism came to an end with monopoly capitalism’s transformation into imperialism that not only re-invigorated racism in the South but brought it to the North.

Brecher takes up the year 1886, the year that became the dividing line in American labor, and the year when no less than 80,000 were out on strike for the eight-hour day[1]. That year, the counter-revolution broke the back of labor by hanging its leaders, the Haymarket Martyrs in Chicago, Parsons, Spies, Fischer, and Engel. Brecher also gives us a very detailed account of the strikes of 1892-94, which included the Homestead Massacre, Coeur d’Alene’s mining strikes, and Briceville, Tennessee miners’ strike where miners gave armed resistance to military attack. Brecher also recounts how “The New Orleans General Strike revealed an extraordinary solidarity among all races and strata of labor.” Brecher ends this chapter with the great Pullman Strike, writing that Eugene Victor Debs ended that strike because “it might have eventuated in a revolution.”

Brecher’s focus is on “peak periods” of mass strikes and therefore he doesn’t necessarily cover strikes that don’t fit into that pattern, e.g., the Ludlow Massacre of 1914 in Colorado.

The Ludlow Massacre was an attack by the Colorado National Guard and company camp guards on a tent colony of 1,200 striking coal miners and their families at Ludlow, Colorado, on April 20, 1914. Approximately twenty-four people, including miners’ wives and children, were killed.

Some consider the Ludlow Massacre a watershed moment in American labor relations and perhaps one of the most violent struggles between capital and labor. The outrage over the Ludlow Massacre was influential in promoting child labor laws and an eight-hour workday.
 
From the IWW to the Depression Decade

Following shortly after the end of Populism came the emergence of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Brecher very nearly dismisses the IWW as “more of a social movement than a union.” The IWW was industrial unionism 30 years ahead of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and was built along militant class struggle lines. At its height, the IWW claimed over 100,000 members, with a not insignificant number of Black members.  Moreover, the IWW had unions in the prejudice-ridden South. The IWW (or Wobblies) was a militant revolutionary organization born out of the desperate conditions workers were experiencing during the turn of the twentieth century and brought together, for a time, the poorest and most downtrodden working people from every race and group, along with some larger-than-life characters. What other union has evoked the attention of poets, novelists, and radicals as much as the Wobblies? The Wobblies were imbued with the message of an alternative society run by and for the benefit of common folk. This message was explained, preached and sung around campfires of itinerant workers and in meeting halls across North America and around the world.
The Wobblies were always anti-war and advocated against suspicion and hatred of “foreigners.”

The turn of the twentieth century was a very intense period of class war that gave birth to an appreciation of spontaneity and of revolutionary ideas. Many Wobblies enjoyed reading Marx’s Communist Manifesto. And it was during this period that the Black labor activist Lucy Parsons, the widow of Haymarket Martyr Albert Parsons and a founding member of the IWW, advocated the tactic of “Sit Down Strikes. This was nearly thirty years in advance of the formation of the CIO and its successful sit-down strike against General Motors in Flint, Michigan in 1936-37.
The IWW led many successful strikes, the most famous being the so-called “Bread and Roses” strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1912 http://www.massaflcio.org/1912-bread-and-roses-strike. World War I and red baiting led to the persecution of the IWW and imprisonment of its leaders, which brought about the decline of the IWW (ACOT, p. 18).

The next period of mass strikes Brecher covers is 1919, which is obviously a very turbulent period in world history with the end of World War I, and, for a brief period of time, the success of the Russian Revolution. The wave of strikes in 1919 was truly massive and extremely diverse, and Brecher does a comprehensive job of covering this period. Of particular interest to me was the Seattle Strike of 1919, where the strikers not only took care of themselves, but also conducted “social services” by the various trades providing necessary services for the entire city of Seattle. In the case of the steel districts of Pennsylvania and the surrounding region in 1919, Brecher writes about the use by capital of between 30,000 and 40,000 Black workers as strikebreakers. These workers had little compunction about this because most American Federation of Labor (AFL) unions had been white only.

One problem here is that Brecher doesn’t write about the migration of 1-1/2 million Black workers who moved North before, during and after WWI only to do the worst jobs imaginable and who had to live in oppressive ghettos. Black soldiers who went to fight in WWI for “democracy”, came home at the end of the war to “Jim Crow”, the KKK (who followed the Black migration North) and the “Red Summer of 1919”. During the Red Summer of 1919, there were 26 race riots. Some of the Black soldiers who went back home to the South after the war were lynched in their uniforms. Can anyone now wonder why so many Black folks were attracted to Garveyism and Marcus Garvey’s back to Africa campaign?

The next period Brecher covers is the Depression Decade and again, he details the creativity and cooperation of workers this time, while they endured the extreme hardships imposed by the Depression. Brecher’s attention to detail makes it all the more inexplicable that he misses the key role Black workers played in the formation of the CIO. Without Black labor, the CIO could not have organized the basic industries where Black labor was pivotal. Furthermore, Black and white unity was now a fact of life that could never again be denied.

Moving on to the next period, “The War and Post-War Strike Wave,” Brecher’s blindspot regarding Black labor continues by not including A. Philip Randolph’s attempt to organize a Black “March on Washington Movement,” which prompted President Franklin Roosevelt to issue Executive order number 8802 barring discrimination in war industries and thus prevented the march. The next notable period of agitation by Black workers ignored by Brecher is that of the 1943 Black rebellions in New York and Detroit. Brecher does mention very briefly the miners’ strike, also in 1943, but doesn’t give it the attention it deserves as the only major union-recognized strike of WWII. Moreover, it could have been mentioned that there were a great number of Black workers in the mines.

Brecher explains how WWII had integrated the economy more than ever before and how conditions affecting workers across industry lines created the best conditions the country had ever known for a nationwide general strike. In response, the government took over the regulation of wages and worked out agreements between industry and the unions to control the workers. Brecher ends this chapter with the fact that despite these agreements, there were still wildcat strikes, but fails to mention a most important postwar strike, the 1949-50 Miner’s General Strike[2].
 
The Postwar Era
The 1949-50 Miners’ General Strike was the first strike against the new stage of production, automation, which had taken the form of the continuous miner, and which created a whole new stage of cognition that questioned the very foundation of capitalist production.  They raised issues like what kind of labor must humanity perform, and why must there be such a division between mental and manual labor, between work and life. And as alluded to above concerning the miners’ strike of 1943, the mining industry was where Black labor was both significantly numerous and integrated into the union. The 1949-50 Miner’s General Strike conditioned the dialectic of both white and Black labor’s self-development from that point on. When taking the subsequent Civil Rights Movement together with the workers’ battles against automation of the 1950’s and 1960’s, one could consider these movements in terms of both race and class. Brecher ends his Chapter 6, “The War and Post-War Strike Wave,” roughly in the year 1947, just short of President Harry Truman’s integrating the Army in 1948 at A. Philip Randolph’s prodding, as well as the 1949-50 Miner’s General Strike.

Brecher then proceeds with his Chapter 7, “The Unknown Labor Dimension of the Vietnam War Era Revolt.” After a cursory review of the 1960’s revolts Brecher resumes his labor narrative with the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Brecher acknowledges the changed attitude of workers in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s and their desire for more control over production, but doesn’t link this with the fundamental question workers have raised since 1950, “what kind of labor should people do”. Consequently, the workers’ desire for more control over production seems to appear ab novo around the year 1970.

Brecher covers the bigger strikes of the period of 1970 through to our time beginning with the U.S. Postal strike of 1970 and the use of federal troops to break that strike[3]. Brecher’s begins his exposition for the 1970’s by explaining, “workers’ action in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was increasingly independent of union leaderships, with wildcat strikes, contract rejections, informal direct action on the jobs, and rank and file caucuses all reaching their highest levels in the post-World War II era.” Add to this mix the deepest recession since the Great Depression beginning in 1973, declining profit rates, decreasing wages due to union busting and free trade agreements sending jobs overseas. We can thus easily visualize the end of the so-called “golden age of capitalism”, the period from 1947 through 1973. Workers have been in a downward spiral ever since.
 
The End of the Postwar Boom

I doubt if the above description depicting the end of the so-called golden age of capitalism will be new to many of us folks who lived through it. At any rate, we need to go beyond the mere phrase “declining profit rates” to state bluntly that there will be no return to any “golden age of capitalism” (which I think Brecher would agree with). To better grasp that fact, we need to grasp Marx’s concept of “The Tendential Fall in The Rate of Profit,” where he argues that the decline in the rate of profit is organic to the law of motion of capitalism.

I believe the following quotes from Michael Roberts’s blog are relevant here: “The key tests of the validity of the law in modern capitalist economies would be to show whether 1) the rate of profit falls over time as the organic composition of capital[4] rises; 2) the rate of profit rises when the organic composition falls or when the rate of surplus value[5] rises faster than the organic composition of capital; 3) the rate of profit rises, if there is sharp fall in the organic composition of capital as in a slump.  These would be the empirical tests and there is plenty of empirical evidence for the US and world economy to show that the answer is yes to all these questions.”

“And Marx’s law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall makes an even more fundamental prediction: that the capitalist mode of production will not be eternal, that it is transitory in the history of human social organization. The law of the tendency predicts that, over time, there will be a fall in the rate of profit globally, delivering more crises of a devastating character. Work has been done by modern Marxist analysis that confirms that the world rate of profit has fallen over the last 150 years.”

“As Esteban Maito concludes: ‘The tendency of the rate of profit to fall and its empirical confirmation highlights the historically limited nature of capitalist production. If the rate of profit measures the vitality of the capitalist system, the logical conclusion is that it is getting closer to its endpoint.  There are many ways that capital can attempt to overcome crises and regenerate constantly. Periodic crises are specific to the capitalist mode of production and allow, ultimately, a partial recovery of profitability. This is a characteristic aspect of capital and the cyclical nature of the capitalist economy. But the periodic nature of these crises has not stopped the downward trend of the rate of profit over the long term.  So the arguments claiming that there is an inexhaustible capacity of capital to restore the rate of profit and its own vitality and which therefore considers the capitalist mode of production as a natural and a-historical phenomenon, are refuted by the empirical evidence’.”

“Capitalism has a ‘use-by-date’.” https://thenextrecession.wordpress.com/2015/12/29/the-marxist-theory-of-economic-crises-in-capitalism-part-two/#comments

Brecher traces labor’s struggles through the last decades of the twentieth century that saw newer strategies for employer demands for concessions that were often backed by lockouts and the hiring of replacement workers. These forms of employer oppression were met by new and creative strategies of resistance from workers. One of the unlikely concentrations of resistance was Decatur, Illinois, where Caterpillar, Bridgestone/Firestone and A.F. Staley Manufacturing were all located at the time. The strikes at these enterprises started separately and eventually converged into a regional mass strike. Brecher ends his strike coverage on the eve of the millennium with a detailed exposition of the UPS Strike of 1997.
 
Mini-Revolts

Brecher’s last chapter “Beyond One-Sided Class War” ends the book with what he calls “mini-revolts”, the very broad range of mass movements more commonly known as, “The 1999 Battle of Seattle”, “2006 Immigration Protests”, “Wisconsin Uprising”, “Occupy Wall Street”, “2012 Chicago Teachers Strike”, and “Fight for 15”. I can only give a whiff of the different movements covered during the past 17 years or so and highly recommend reading Brecher’s account of what he calls mini-revolts for yourselves. Brecher’s very nuanced and detailed coverage of these movements demonstrates the interconnectedness and new broader forms of solidarity and organization developing between labor (union and non-union), social justice movements, immigrant rights, anti-globalism, anti-austerity, anti-war, environmentalism, the whole range of activism under the umbrella of intersectionality, etc. All these aspects of human experience are interconnected and should be examined together as well as separately. This can be heartening to us older workers who were wondering how we were going to achieve a revolution for a better life, especially given that presently, only about 12% of the workforce is organized in the work place through unions. Despite the decline of “institutional” unions, I believe we workers have more options than ever before and are no longer restricted to old narrow forms of bureaucratized unionism centered on manufacturing and service industries.

Labor is developing links with more and more diverse groups that hadn’t even been thought of previous to the new millennium. One example was the recent support shown between the Chicago Teachers, the low-wage “Fight for 15,” and the anti-Nato Summit protests of May 2012. The 1999 Battle of Seattle had emerged from the anti-globalization movement and found allies with Seattle’s King County Labor Council because of the connection they saw between the anti-millennium World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in Seattle with the 80th anniversary of the 1919 Seattle General Strike. The year 2006 saw the largest demonstrations for immigrant rights the world had ever seen with close to 5 million people participating, which was supported by both traditional labor unions and by less formal networks. The participants were from all walks of life, including both legal and undocumented immigrants.

Also, as we wrote in 2011: “In Wisconsin, the intersectionality of the protestors was remarkable and saw professors protesting alongside construction workers, African-American and Latin@ high school students rallying with 80-year-old white farmers. University of Wisconsin faculty pledged solidarity with state workers across the system, the elementary and high school teachers, corrections officers and nurses. One of the most active participating groups was the ‘Teaching Assistant Association’ and was involved in every phase of the protests.”

http://www.internationalmarxisthumanist.org/articles/labor-wisconsin-crisis-american-capitalism-dale-parsons.

In addition to taking on the banks and allying with many social movements, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) had numerous links with labor worldwide. The most significant labor action by OWS to me was when Occupy Oakland shutdown the Port of Oakland and Longview, Washington terminals on November 2, 2011. At that time, the organizers stated openly that they wanted to stop the “flow of capital.”
 
Conclusion
This is the last paragraph of Jeremy Brecher’s 2014 edition of “STRIKE!”: “Working people, along with the rest of humanity, are faced with a future that is unsustainable economically, socially, and environmentally. It will take more than a revolt to put that future on a sustainable basis. Ultimately it will take a transformation of human civilization. But when those in power perpetuate unsustainability, the world can only be put on a sustainable basis when people take control of their own activity and support each other to resist the authority of those in power.

Whatever may happen in the future, the heritage of worker self-organization will therefore continue to be a resource that we can draw on to construct collective responses to the problems we face.”

As I was completing this review, a colleague pointed out that the 1972 first edition of Strike! ended with a completely different chapter titled “From Mass Strike to New Society”. This version of “Chapter 9” ended with expositions of the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Italian Factory Occupations of 1920, and the Spanish Civil War of 1936-37. (This missing content from the 1997 and 2014 editions is something that other reviews I have read have failed to mention.) While Jeremy Brecher’s coverage of these revolutionary events wasn’t the most comprehensive, it is definitely still worth reading.

In conclusion, Brecher’s Strike! is a most valuable and revolutionary-minded study of working class self-activity and self-organization whose republication should be celebrated.  The book’s republication is especially timely during a period when young people and workers are questioning capitalism at a level not seen for over a generation.

At the same time, I have pointed to two problems in the book. First, by not discussing the dialectic of Black liberation and its integrality to the dialectic of labor and consequently, the integrality of race and class, Brecher is unable to establish as fully as he could have done the revolutionary praxis through which humanity self-develops. Second, Brecher’s neglect of the IWW points to his spontaneist [6] position, which neglects even revolutionary forms of organization, which do not necessarily have to be top-down.

My second criticism is not limited to Brecher’s book, but points to a broader problem of our age, how to work out a viable alternative to the existing forms of revolutionary organization (spontaneist or vanguardist), one rooted in a philosophy of liberation that points toward a humanist alternative to capitalism. Thus, Brecher provides us with a cogent critique of top-down labor organization, but does not offer a real alternative.  That is something that the present generation needs to develop.
 
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Dale Heckerman is a roofer working in the Denver area.

[1] I think more needs to be said about the importance to both capitalism and the working class in establishing the eight-hour workday. To begin with, the history of labor has shown that if the capitalists had had their way, they would have worked the working class to death. This fact confirms the next fact, that the eight-hour day saved capitalism itself (temporarily), by preventing the capitalists from destroying capitalism’s only value-creating substance, labor. The eight-hour day forced capital to increase productivity through the development of technology that increased the costs of production, thus speeding up the decline in the rate of profit, and consequently, aiding in the demise of capitalism. Finally, the increased productivity through the development of technology helps to insure the success of developing an alternative to capitalism by freely associated labor.

[2] See the pamphlet by Raya Dunayevskaya and Andy Phillips, The 1949-50 Miner’s General Strike, to grasp the full importance of that historic strike.

[3] To those who like to distinguish between the use of federal troops and the National Guard as if the National Guard were kinder, gentler goons, Brecher points out that the National Guard is equipped, trained and supported by the US Army. One only needs to think about the Ludlow Massacre, et al. and the fact that in 1970, 4 students were murdered at Kent State, Ohio by national guardsmen which inspired the murder of 2 students killed by cops soon afterwards at Jackson State College in Mississippi.

[4] From Marx’s Capital, Volume I, Chapter 25: “The composition of capital is to be understood in a two-fold sense. On the side of value, it is determined by the proportion in which it is divided into constant capital or value of the means of production, and variable capital or value of labor power, the sum total of wages. On the side of material, as it functions in the process of production, all capital is divided into means of production and living labor power. This latter composition is determined by the relation between the mass of the means of production employed, on the one hand, and the mass of labor necessary for their employment on the other. I call the former the value-composition, the latter the technical composition of capital. Between the two there is a strict correlation. To express this, I call the value composition of capital, in so far as it is determined by its technical composition and mirrors the changes of the latter, the organic composition of capital.”

[5] According to Marx, workers under capitalism are paid the minimum amount necessary for the workers to reproduce themselves, the minimum that is necessary to stay alive and provide future workers for capitalism through their children. Therefore, surplus value is equal to the new value created by workers in excess of their own labor-cost and the other costs of production.

[6] The tendency to believe that social revolution can and should occur spontaneously from below, without the aid or guidance of a vanguard party, and that it cannot and should not be brought about by the actions of individuals or parties who might attempt to foment such a revolution.


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In Against, and Beyond Capitalism: A Review

By Stella Darby
Antipode
June 2016

My own nervousness about reviewing this short book of John Holloway’s talks matched my pleasure in being asked to do it. It felt daunting to publish my first-ever review piece on the work of a favourite author and teacher. Thankfully the book’s short, digestible format makes it easy to enjoy, and its content leaves as much space for critical engagement as it creates for hope and inspiration.

In Against, and Beyond Capitalism comprises three lectures–collectively titled “After Capitalism”–given by Holloway at the California Institute of Integral Studies on three consecutive days in April 2013. Andrej Grubačić’s preface introduces key theories and theorists influencing Holloway’s thinking. I initially wondered if diving straight in with negative dialectics, post-1968 Marxism, Italian autonomists, and state derivationism could be off-putting for the reader who (like me) feels intimidated by much of Leftist intellectual philosophy. However, this preface carefully highlights relevant terms and authors, situating the more accessible talks which follow within a helpful and concise theoretical context.

A short bibliographic note from Holloway closes the book with further thoughts on historical influences and current context. Between these book-ends, transcriptions of Holloway’s three talks–complete with audience questions and discussion–allow us to follow a journey which begins with “We” and urges us to carry a flag of hopeful defiance with its concluding message: “We are the crisis of capital, and proud of it!”

In his first talk, “Who Are We?”, Holloway discusses what he means by “We”. The non-identitarian stance he lays out here continues to be reinforced throughout the book.

Holloway’s “We” is not defined by characteristics or classifications, which–including the often-idealized proletarian identity–ultimately separate us from each other. Instead it points to dignity as an inclusive and connecting basic desire. As such, this concept of “We” places the power with people’s humanness, and with our ability to recognise others’ shared desires for dignity. It flips on its head the notion that we who dislike capitalism are all powerless victims of hegemonic neoliberalism: we are neither victims nor powerless, because capitalism’s functioning depends on our participation.

By reminding us that we all actively create capitalism, Holloway opens a space for us, whoever “We” may be at any given time, to contemplate how we’d like to do things differently. However, he never tells us what “doing things differently” ought to look like.

Multiple admiring references to the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, are accompanied by the caveat, “We must start where we are.” But Holloway’s foundational principle–that “We” ordinary people have the power upon which capitalism depends–establishes a theoretical imperative for conscious, collective discussion and choice-making about how we want to organise ourselves, and why.

The second talk, titled “Capital: The Social Cohesion That Strangles Us”, puts a visceral focus on capitalism–not as an immovable system but as a fluid way of relating to each other. We are not nouns, but verbs, says Holloway–constantly in movement. Yet through capitalism, we choose to relate to each other through objectified things that we produce with our labour. As Marx has shown, to do this we need to fix arbitrary, static value to objects and services–thus separating our creations and creativity from the human “doing” behind them. This focus on capital as a set of social relations highlights what’s so un-dignifying about it, what makes us angry, ill, dejected. Stuffing our time, energy and creativity into the box of monetary value–which has to push us ever harder to sustain its edge–simply hurts. We might respond with anger, sickness or withdrawal...all while continuing, understandably, to try and counteract these ills through the same processes of labouring and consuming that we are accustomed to, thus recreating these damaging relations day by day. And yet, alongside all of this, we are constantly creating “cracks”–taking action in small and large ways not driven by money but rather by care, creativity, dignity, love, anger, fun.

As in earlier books, Holloway steers straight for the rage and pain created by the twisted social relations of capital and, in touching this collective wound, opens us up to the possibility of doing things differently. At the same time, this emphasizes the capacity which already exists–in the cracks–for doing things in ways which affirm dignity and value life.

Revolution, for Holloway, means the expansion and multiplication of these cracks. It’s not so much a call to action as a call to connection, or re-connection: a call to relate to each other as the dignified humans we know we are, rather than as producers of stuff.

The third and final talk builds on the premises of collective dignity and suffocating capitalist social relations to convince us that capitalism is as vulnerable to us as we are to it.

Capitalism’s fluidity, its constant need to make monetary value keep pace with shifting human needs and wants and ingenuity, means that it must always demand more from labourers. Instead of seeing the repeated crises of capitalism as failures of those in power, Holloway invites us to see this as the failure and/or refusal of workers to effectively submit to domination. He recognises implicit “nonsubordination” as equally significant to overt anti-capitalism: perhaps workers express direct anger, or perhaps they simply drag their feet, or get physically or mentally ill–in any case, the productivity that capital depends upon is diminished. From this point of view, Holloway points out, demanding better regulation of banks and full employment is akin to saying “let’s put other bankers, other capitalists [in power]...ones who are more competent, who can really dominate us effectively” (p.55). So, we can choose victimhood, demanding that capital be shored up by state power so it can function more effectively at exploiting us, or we can embrace our collective power as the stick in the wheels of capitalism and decide that we want to do things differently.

And yet...we may well feel stuck between wanting to create alternatives and also needing to make a living. Just as he refutes the idea of revolutionary purity, Holloway acknowledges that it’s “probably best to actually recognize that we are caught in this contradictory situation” (p.65). How do we then “start from where we are”? By “hoisting a flag”, Holloway urges us–and by talking together about how we want to start walking away from capitalism and where we want to go, a little at a time, and proudly. Hence the title of this last talk: “We Are the Crisis of Capital and Proud of It.”

As was the case at talks I’ve attended by John Holloway, some of the questions transcribed in this book exasperatedly ask, “But John, what should we actually do?!” Others query the particularities of a given situation. Holloway almost always evades giving direct answers to such questions. Despite the numerous references to Chiapas, he reminds us that there’s no point wishing we were Zapatistas; we must respond to our own contexts. Indeed, strategies and shared values need to be discussed by the people enacting them, not devised intellectually–not least because they need to be fluid and practical. Crucially, the philosophy presented here entrusts the particularities of a site of resistance to those engaged in it.

Specific recommendations would almost seem out of line with Holloway’s own theory. However, it would not hurt to explicitly encourage conversations about not just dignity but specific shared values: a given group of people must discuss what these are for them; why they are important; how they can be put into practice. If “We” is the theoretical and intellectual starting point for social relations of dignity, such conversations must be the practical one for many of the “cracks” Holloway wishes to promote.

Holloway is similar to many anti-capitalist theorists in eluding requests for advice, blueprints and fully-formed alternative models. Unlike others, however, his work does not seek to shock us into the awareness that something is wrong or to illuminate the problem with revelations of new technicalities. Neither does it present an analysis which requires resistance to subscribe to a particular interpretation of the problem in order for it to “count”.

Holloway’s approach assumes, rightly, that we are already deeply aware of a problem–and seeks instead to elaborate a framework of thinking which helps us articulate that sense of wrongness and reaffirm the dignity and possibilities inherent in our very awareness of it.

Such affirmation empowers and reclaims a diverse set of responses and alternatives to capitalism.

Like a good therapist, Holloway raises more questions than he answers and offers few concrete instructions. He sends us back “out to the street...to see the rebellion inside people”(p.9), comforted by a sense of shared human experience and by the reminder that, no, we are not crazy. If our spirits balk at the everyday exploitation and abstract valuation that appear to define our survival, thank goodness, Holloway suggests–this means we are still alive, still human. In a society where even anti-capitalist activism often defines its success by constant linear progress in ever-more-urgent circumstances, Holloway’s thinking affirms the value of life–which rarely hurries down defined, linear trajectories. He invites us to “ask as we walk”, not as we run, and his words convey a calm, poetical slowness. As long as we keep moving at a pace guided by our dignity, there is hope of cracking the dynamic of capital, right where we are, right now.

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“Positive Force: More Than a Witness”: Robin Bell’s documentary on “30 years of punk politics in action”

By Bryan
NightFlight
May 18th, 2016

Positive Force: More Than a Witness, award-winning videographer Robin Bell’s 2014 documentary on “thirty years of punk politics in action” — now streaming on Night Flight Plus — tells the story of the Washington DC-based punk activist collective Positive Force, who emerged during the so-called Reagan-era “Revolution Summer” of 1985.

POSITIVE FORCE 4

Bell’s feature-length film features archival footage — including vintage live concert footage of bands like Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, Bikini Kill, and more — along with interviews from some of punk’s most influential pioneers, like Ian MacKaye (founder and owner of Arlington, VA-based Dischord Records, and the leader of Fugazi) to Penny Rimbaud (of the UK anarcho-punks Crass), along with supporters and followers, many of whom have played Positive Force gigs, people like Jenny Toomey (Simple Machines, Tsunami), Jello Biafra, Dave Grohl, Ted Leo, Riot Grrrl co-founders Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile) and Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill), and others.

POSITIVE FORCE 8

It all begins thirty-plus years ago, in the summer of 1985, on June 21st.

Bell’s film lays it all out with a variety of perspectives who approached the revolution individually and collectively, some of them taking their personal political punk proselytizing to extremes, while others were more passive participants in the socially-conscious DC punk movement (the majority of bands recorded for Dischord Records).

POSITIVE FORCE 2

Fugazi live on January 12, 1991, at Lafayette Park in Washington, DC

Actually, the true “positive force” movement began even earlier — in Reno, Nevada, in 1984, centered around the band 7 Seconds — but their ideas quickly spread across the U.S., promoted through a March 1985 article in Maximum RocknRoll, and the focus in the documentary is on what happened in Washington DC.

At the center of those is the film’s anchor, Mark Andersen, one of the young co-founders of the Positive Force punk collective (along with Kevin Mattson), which began during that so-called “Revolution Summer.”

POSITIVE FORCE 7

Andersen (co-author, along with Mark Jenkins, of a book on the history of DC punk called Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk In the Nation’s Capital) describes what happened during the summer of ’85 this way, writing last summer in an opinion piece that was published in the Washington Post:

“On June 21, 1985, a few dozen scruffily dressed kids declared ‘Revolution Summer’ with a thunderous ‘punk percussion protest’ at the apartheid-era South African Embassy. That night, the band Rites of Spring officially welcomed the new season with a sweat- and passion-drenched show at the 9:30 Club. Ridiculed by some at the time, 30 years later it has become clear these were ‘shots heard around the world.'”

KELLYCOL22

Rites of Spring at the 9:30 club, July 16, 1981 in Washington, DC. (Lucian Perkins/Washington Post)

POSITIVE FORCE 10

The Washington DC-based punk activist organization Positive Force originally became a loosely-organized group of young volunteers, an arts and social justice collaborative — some of them driven by their anarchist convictions or socialist convictions — whose “central mission,” according to Ian MacKaye, founder of DC’s Dischord Records and leader of the band Fugazi says, “was to organize benefits… they do protests and organize some demonstrations.”

POSITIVE FORCE 5

The whole point, from the beginning, was to build caring, just and inclusive community, reaching out to those in need and building bridges between diverse communities. they organized punk rock concerts and educational events — some of them in such then-unconventional venues as churches and parks — which were all-ages and liquor-free, and all proceeds went to progressive groups who provided help and worked with seniors, the homeless, and other marginalized folks, regardless of their race, class, religion, sexual orientation, culture, nationality, and even language.

Proceeds also went towards fighting such varied issues as homelessness, hunger, racism, corporate globalization, sexism, homophobia, war, gentrification, and animal/earth liberation.

POSITIVE FORCE 6

The DC collective originally gathered together at the Positive Force communal house in Arlington, Virginia (“a garden of radical possibilities”), which became a kind of community center and focal point from which that “central mission” MacKaye speaks of grew outward, into DC and beyond.

Andersen continues:

“The idea caught on and came to life in conversations, group houses, punk shows and protests. It was a rebellion against punk-as-usual and business-as-usual. This simultaneous challenge to the subculture and the wider world included new musical styles, an opposition to ‘slam-dancing’ and skinhead gang violence, and a critique of the sexism of the scene. It embraced confrontational, creative protest, animal rights, vegetarianism and communal living.”

POSITIVE FORCE 9

Of course, the bands themselves were part of the reason that the music began merging politics with the hardcore punk climate that existed from the mid-1980s to the early 90s. Back then, DC’s dynamic local scene had sparked to life originally with bands like Bad Brains and Minor, to name just a few, but after that initial burst of energy the scene changed, but its influence and inspiration spread across the country, continuing to inspire new bands, like Nirvana.

In the documentary, Foo Fighter and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl recalls playing his first gig with the DC band Scream, a 1987 Positive Force benefit concert and march for Amnesty International: “I’m where I am today because of that show, that band, that march.”

POSITIVE FORCE 12

In 1991, a group of girls and women in the bands Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and the Nation of Ulysses were inspired by what Positive Force was doing and it lit the fire that became the feminist punk movement Riot Grrrl, which they christened”Revolution (Summer) Girl Style Now.”

Today, Andersen’s DC-based Positive Force faction is the only one still active. As of January 2000, they had organized nearly 300 benefit concerts, raising more than $200,000 for organizations who help DC residents meet their basic needs or to produce “progressive/revolutionary change.”

Andersen occasionally organizes benefits from an office he shares with the We Are Family senior outreach network.

POSITIVE FORCE 14

Robin Bell

The film’s director, Robin Bell — a professor at the Corcoran College of Art & Design and founder and owner of Bell Visuals, a boutique production company that supports social justice groups and environmentally sustainable companies — partially funded Positive Force: More Than a Witness with monies received from a class action settlement from his own wrongful arrest at a DC protest in 2002.

POSITIVE FORCE 1

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Spitboy Rule reviewed in Fourth & Sycamore

By David Nilsen
Fourth & Sycamore
June 2016


Spitboy, an all-female punk/hardcore band active in the first half of the 1990s, were far more groundbreaking than their short run as a band would seem to indicate. Emerging before the advent of the broader Riot Grrrl movement that swept through the underground punk scene (and broke into the wider culture) in the ’90s, Spitboy were political by their very existence, and their lyrics of female empowerment (and their insistence on distributing those lyrics on print sheets at concerts) further cemented them as feminist punk icons in the underground music scene of their time.

Michelle Cruz Gonzalez, drummer for Spitboy (and a couple other bands–Bitch Fight and Instant Girl), has penned an insightful and entertaining new memoir about her time in Spitboy. The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band (PM Press, 2016) tells of her upbringing in a small town in California, the formation of her first band as a teenager, and of course her time in Spitboy.

As a Mexican American in a predominantly white town, Gonzalez knew from a very early age what it meant to not fit in, to look different from the people around her, to be political by her very presence. This didn’t change as much as one would hope when she entered the punk scene. Even though punk was a movement of outsiders, it was still almost exclusively white and male when Gonzalez and her Spitboy sisters entered the fray around 1990. They had enough to push against as a band of women in a very male scene, but for Gonzalez, the only band member of color, this was doubly felt. While not the sole focus for Gonzalez in this book (or at the time of the events), the subtle racism she experienced, mostly of the sort that sought to erase her racial identity rather than mock or vilify it, is addressed throughout with honesty and insight, as is sexism the band dealt with.

“If not for being raised by a strong woman whose influences on me, negative and positive, were profound, I could have rebelled against subculture movements. But as a Mexican American, a Xicana in a hick town, I was never allowed to forget that I didn’t fit in, that I muddied their waters.

I would show them.”
– page 3

Spitboy is sometimes lumped in with the Riot Grrrl movement, but they preceded and really sat outside that trend at the time. This was partially due to a perceived rift with that scene, though Gonzalez clarifies in The Spitboy Rule this was never about any actual animosity between Spitboy and the bands associated with Riot Grrrl. Gonzalez explains how this started. At a show in Washington, D.C., just as Spitboy’s set was beginning, Gonzalez took the mic and made the announcement that the band didn’t expect men to stand in the back of the room (a common request from Riot Grrrl bands at the time, to allow their female fans the best and safest experience they could have at their shows), and concluded by saying, “We’re not a Riot Grrrl band.” The room went silent, and though Gonzalez and her bandmates had no enmity with the movement led by bands like Bikini Kill, the myth began to spread from that show that they did.

“‘ah, quit your bitching and play some music.’ It was a male voice, of course, and it came from the cowardly back corner of the long, dark, narrow room.
…
I waited, sticks poised in the air, ready to count the song off because sometimes the song alone was enough of an answer. But Karin had thought fast.


‘Hey, you know what you need to do?’ she said into the microphone. ‘You need to go to the library and read a fucking book.'”
– page 43

The Spitboy Rule is a quick read, and carries something of the do-it-yourself feel of the zines that mushroomed in popularity during the female punk heyday of the ’90s and helped to spread news and affection for that scene through an underground network of zinesters. Plenty of pictures are included, and the book’s conversational, hang-out tone makes these stories feel like they’re being told between songs at a show, or in the tour van right after. If you love punk music, or just want to read more about the experiences of a Xicana woman in a historically white male scene, check this book out.

The Spitboy Rule is available now at GPL.

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Liberation Land: Spitboy in the Daily Iowan

Michelle Cruz 4

By Tessa Solomon
Daily Iowan
June 23rd, 2016

The camera shakes, capturing in its grainy frame four women on a dimly lit stage. 

Their bodies are pierced, heads shaven, and demeanor unapologetic. They’re playing in a church basement, the dust and smoke in the air is tinted by the golden and crimson lights that hang above the stage. 

Some people in the thick crowd bang their heads. Others thrash limbs, as if gripped by the raw, gloriously dissident, hard-core punk. A timestamp denotes: Toronto, Ontario. 1993. It is the first major tour of Spitboy, a pioneering group of the Bay Area’s ’90s hard-core scene. 

Until now, the band members have lived mostly in the memories of those who attended their raucous shows, but with the recent release of The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band, they are on the cusp of immortality.

Author Michelle Cruz Gonzales, the drummer and a founding member of Spitboy, will read from her memoir at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St.

Her collection of essays delves into Spitboy’s conception and rise in San Francisco, a journey that entangles her numerous identities: punk, feminist, and Mexican-American. Loosely chronological, it begins with her childhood in a small California town plagued with racism and classism, an upbringing and environment that — despite longstanding cultural barricades — eventually led Gonzales to hard-core.

“The punk boys kept saying they were going to start a band, but they never did,” Gonzales said. “They would tell us, ‘Girls can’t play music.’ Well, we were doing it, and they weren’t.”

Hard-core is a genre defined by rhythm over melody; discord over harmony. Practitioners viewed Southern California’s post-punk sound as “poseur,” so hard-core guitars were distorted and amplified, while songwriting disregarded the typical verse-chorus structure. Their fuel was a furious desire to be authentic, to be heard, to always play louder, faster and, yes, harder.

“I had wished there was a female hard-core band,” said Gonzales. “I was trying to find a band like that, but then I realized I should form that band. I wanted to fill that void, to be the band we wanted to hear.”

After graduating from high school, Gonzales’ newly formed band, Spitboy, found that audience in the Bay Area. A variety of punk subgenres thrived there, finding a home in the Alternative Music Foundation, a music venue known in the crowd simply as “Gilman.” But despite the openness of the Gilman Street scene, hard-core was dominated by all-male bands such as Black Flag and Dead Kennedys. 

“We were playing hard-core music, but we were women, singing about women’s issues,” said Gonzales. “And I was this female, Xicana punk drummer trying to find my way and not always feeling like I fit in.”

It was a chip on her shoulder that took years to shake.  

“I always had a feeling of shame growing up poor. I had to prove that I didn’t fit into the stereotype of Mexicans,” Gonzales said. “But you put on your punk uniform and conform to this aesthetic, and when you do that, your cultural identity can fall away.”

While Gonzalez struggled to discover a happy intersection of personal identities, Spitboy combated an unwelcome association: the contemporaneous riot-grrrl movement.

“We didn’t want to be called girls,” she said. “Women in the ’90s Bay Area were very strong about being called women, to be looked at as an equal. Being called a girl seemed like going backwards.”

With respect to riot grrrl, the hard-core culture Spitboy embraced was different, both in sound and in attitude. This was a distinction Gonzales continued to emphasize years later. 

“When all these riot-grrrl and rock memoirs started coming out, I realized if I didn’t try to publish my stories in a book, they would be lost in history,” Gonzales said.

It became a mission for her to document the countries Spitboy had toured, the people the music had affected, and the unusual schooling she experienced along the way.

“Punk was a great education,” Gonzales said. “We were writing these treatises on feminist issues and using it as a vehicle to get these messages out — that you don’t need to be a man or be white to play punk.”

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Revisiting Spitboy and Talking Punk Memoirs With Michelle Cruz Gonzales

By Tobias Carroll
Vol. 1 Brooklyn
June 16th, 2016

I never got a chance to see Spitboy, the band in which Michelle Cruz Gonzales played drums in the early and mid-1990s. They were a band that was spoken about reverently by friends of mine who were familiar with them; the fact that they’d released a split LP with the equally great Los Crudos also played a part. So when news emerged last year that The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band was set to be released this spring, I kept track of the date, and picked up a copy as soon as I was able to do so. The result is a terrific collection of stories from the road, measured thoughts on the dynamics of class, gender, and race that existed both within the band and the punk scene of the time. I talked with Gonzales over email about the process of writing the book, her other literary projects, and more. She’ll be touring the Midwest beginning on June 20th in Minneapolis.

The Spitboy Rule isn’t structured like a traditional music memoir — you focus more on individual moments and scenes rather than a straightforward chronological progression. When did you arrive on this as the best way to tell this story?

I didn’t want the pieces to be organized totally linear, and straightforward, and chronological would have been nearly impossible to write because memory doesn’t work that way. After writing the first six or so pieces and posting them on my blog, I realized it should be a book, so I looked at what I had, and made a list of all the other topics that I wanted to cover. I also knew that there were some themes that I had to address: women in music/punk, being the only person of color in the band, sexism in the scene, and so on. After working from the list I reviewed what I had and looked at where there might be gaps. Since Spitboy toured so much, and overseas, I also knew that I wanted to write a bit about each tour too.

How long after Spitboy’s breakup was it before you began writing about your time in the band? Was there one moment that prompted you to do so?

Spitboy broke up in 1995, and I posted my first piece “The Spitboy Rule” on my blog in March of 2013, so 13 years later. That same year I wrote a piece that mentions Spitboy for a stage show of readings about motherhood called “Does Your Mom Play Drums?” I’ve said this before, but for years, I didn’t want to be another boring adult talking about her glory days — back when I was cool, that sort of thing, so I didn’t talk about Spitboy that much at all, let alone write about it. I was in my online Wayward Writers writing community class when I first started writing about Spitboy specifically. One of the prompts that Ariel Gore assigned got me on the topic of Spitboy, opened the flood gates.

Have you found that most readers of the book so far have been familiar with Spitboy, or are more interested in the larger themes that you deal with in the book?


It seems like much of the audiences has been familiar so far because people tag me in photos on Instagram and Facebook, people who are Spitboy fans, whether they just discovered the band or whether we were their favorite band in high school. I’ve heard that a lot. One woman just told me that in high school that she made her girlfriend a handmade Spitboy t-shirt. The book, however, does seem to appeal to non-Spitboy fans too. Some of colleagues at the college where I teach have started teaching the book or pieces from it, and there’s a bookstore in Minneapolis, Moon Palace Books, that has a rock and roll book club. They’re reading it this month, and they just read Michelle Leon’s I Live Inside — she played bass guitar in Babes in Toyland. I doubt everyone taking part knew about Spitboy in the 90s.

You’ve written about music memoirs on your blog. Do you have a favorite? Are there any musicians whose as-yet-unwritten memoirs you’d like to read?


I think that my favorites so far are Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, and Boys, Boys Boys by Viv Albertine. It’s beautifully written and super soulful. And I loved Violence Girl by Alice Bag — we are total punk rock sisters, and I love how she writes so much about growing up Xicana in East LA and in the punk scene, and Dreadnaught by DH Peligro, which I love even more now after doing a reading with him and learning more about his process for writing it after growing up with dyslexia and being labeled and tracked in school.
My friend Nicole Thomas who played drums in Fireparty and now plays in Hard Left is writing her memoir, and I’m super eager to read it because I know it will offer another much needed perspective and voice on the topic and she will do it justice. I’m also excited to read Nicole’s book because more drummers should write their memoirs.

Your author bio mentions that you’re at work on a novel. How close to completion would you say that you are with that?

I’ve got a ways to go on the novel. It’s called The Republic of California, and it’s a satirical novel about a futuristic California that secedes from the US and kicks out all the people of color except for the Mexicans, and intermarriage of whites and Mexicans is forced for the purpose of creating a race of beautiful, hard working people. I wrote about 200 pages, and now I’m rewriting because it started off way too slow. Plotting is so hard! At the moment, I’m working toward getting another memoir published — Pretty Bold for a Mexican Girl: Growing Up Xicana in a Hick Town. It was written before The Spitboy Rule. I won’t likely have the novel finished until after next summer.

I’m guessing you’ve been asked this a few times now, but I’m curious: does the release of this book mean that some of Spitboy’s music might be reissued before long?

Not so many people have actually asked me this, but I do have possession of nearly all the original reels if anyone wants to make an offer. I’d make sure the rest of the band was compensated on any sales, but don’t ask if we’ll have a reunion show because I doubt that would ever happen. I did start having this recurring dream where we decide to play and we show up to the venue and realize that not only did we not ever practice but that we don’t remember how to play the songs. I wake up super relieved it’s a dream every time.
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Wolves, Gates, & Radical Faith

 
by Jared Bias
Pete ends
April 6th, 2016


The first time Mark Van Steenwyk and I (Jared) met, I was picking him and a group of mutual friends up from a Conference in Phoenix, where I was living and teaching at the time. Our destination: the closest karaoke bar we could find. Our mission: sing our hearts out to the 7 locals that were there until late into the night. Here it is, 4 years later, and his highly reviewed first children’s book, A Wolf at the Gate, is now being re-published by PM Press. So, I asked him a few questions about it.

1. Your first two books are That Holy Anarchist and The Unkingdom of God. Not really kids lit. What was going on in your life that inspired you to take a crack at writing a children’s book?

When I started writing it, I had a 6 year old who found books about war and fighting and knights and pirates thrilling. Since I wanted to stir a love for justice and peace in my son, I started looking for kid books about nonviolence. Most of the ones I found weren’t very exciting. Since I’ve been a fan of kid lit my entire life, I thought I’d tackle writing an exciting book that promotes peace.

At the same time, I was at a low point in my life as an activist and writer. I think I was burnt out on trying to convince adults to take Jesus’ radical message seriously. It takes an imagination to consider alternative ways of seeing the world, which is essential if we’re going to work for liberation. If an adult is unimaginative, it is extremely difficult to reach them with a message of liberation. That led me to consider focusing my creative energy on younger people. Not exclusively–I still plan on doing some of the stuff I’ve been doing the past 15 years–but I think writing for younger audiences is something I’m going to take much more seriously.

2. As a Dad to 4 little ones, I know there’s a million children’s books out there. Why this one? What’s unique about A Wolf at the Gate?

A few things. First of all, it tackles issues that rarely get addressed in children’s books: economic injustice, violence, and ecology. Secondly, it tackles them with a story that, while timely, feels timeless. A lot of reviewers have told me it feels like a classic. Finally, the illustrations by Joel Hedstrom are amazing. Absolutely wonderful. His images are bold…inspired by woodcuts and tattoo art. The combination of theme, writing style, and art make it the sort of book that a parent could read to their grade-schooler or give to their middle grade students to read on their own. And adults have enjoyed it too.

3. I have friends who grew up conservative but don’t want to raise their children with the same views about the Christian faith but aren’t sure how to go about it. Did writing this book shape how you present the Christian faith to your kid? If so, how?

Yes. The story is based off of a legend about Saint Francis, but isn’t overtly religious in content. It shows faith in action, relying on the narrative to challenge one’s faith rather than building an argument. Because of that, it has been picked up by a secular leftist publisher (PM Press out of Oakland) while still being celebrated by deeply religious folks (like the Catholic school in Florida that used it for their school retreat).

4. What is your favorite part of the book and why?

There are three parts that I love the most…when the three parental figures in the book (the wolf mother, the wolf father, and the Beggar King) go on a walk with the red wolf and try to help her understand some fundamental truth about the world. Her father teaches her about the cruelty of humanity. Her mother teaches her about the importance of being a neighbor. But it is the third vignette that is the most interesting to me. At this point, she is talking to the Beggar King as a peer. He teaches her a bit about the selfishness of humanity, but (as we see later in the book) she refuses to accept it.

5. Was A Wolf at the Gate a break from what you’ve written in the past or do you see it as part of the same themes and trajectory?

It is certainly a different genre, but entirely in keeping with themes I’ve worked with before–violence and nonviolence, hospitality and alienation, poverty and wealth. It is, I believe, my most important book. And it is a signal of things to come. I’m finding myself less constrained by genre. I no longer feel a need to write or do the sorts of things someone like me (a pastor and activist) is “supposed” to write or do. But, while I am giving myself permission to experiment with the shape of my work, the underlying themes will continue to stay the same.

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Legal Worker, Social Justice Activist Kris Hermes Honored With May Patriot Award

By Susan Gaissetrt
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
April 30th, 2016


BORDC/DDF is proud to present Kris Hermes with the May 2016 Patriot Award. Kris is a legal worker who recently served on the board and staff of the National Lawyers Guild. He has been a social justice activist since the 1980s, when he worked on the issues of global hunger and poverty.  In the late 1990s, he became a member of ACT UP Philadelphia, a group that works to advance social change on health care issues for people with HIV/AIDS. ACT UP Philadelphia describes itself as “a group of individuals united in anger and committed to ending the AIDS crisis through direct action.”

Direct action means just that: actively doing something that is directly related to communicating the message about the change you want to see in the world. Direct action means striking, demonstrating, and being involved in acts of civil disobedience, and those things often lead to getting arrested. At the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000, thousands of protesters engaged in direct action, including members of ACT UP, and hundreds were arrested. Kris and others got to work defending them. He co-founded R2K Legal, a defendant-led collective composed of activists, legal workers, and law students to support those arrested during the GOP Convention in 2000.

Kris spent several years working on the R2K Legal cases, developing and  refining a set of tactics and strategies for pushing back against the inequities of the justice system and using court solidarity techniques. These techniques include having large groups of defendants collectively refuse plea bargains and demand trials; they forced the legal process to become political.

In 2004, Kris began research on a book about the 2000 Republican Convention. He spent years writing it, and it was published in 2015: Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000. In Crashing the Party, Kris details the experiences protestors had with law enforcement in Philadelphia and describes the gamut of coercive techniques used by law enforcement to suppress political dissent. They include:
    •    Denial of protest permits, to thwart protest planning
    •    Sweeping exclusionary zones
    •    Interrogation of activists
    •    Unlawful stop and search of activists
    •    Preemptive raids
    •    Widespread violence
    •    Mass arrest, with long detention, high bail, overcharging, and denying access to legal counsel

Kris has been to every Republican National Convention since 2000, providing legal support to protesters, and he’ll be in Philadelphia for the 2016 Democratic convention and in Cleveland for the corresponding GOP convention. In an interview for this article, he shared the following thoughts about why dissent matters and why both law enforcement and the media must protect and understand dissenting viewpoints.

On effective protest: “For effective protest to happen,” Kris says, there would need to be “a different approach to policing the event” than he’s seen in the past 16 years. Kris has “rarely seen police stand down and not use excessive force, indiscriminate violence, or a massive show of police force.” Protesters should have the right to  “be within sight and sound of the convention and be able to voice their grievances without being silenced by law enforcement.”

“The ability for people to be heard,” he says, “is crucial to advancing social change movements.” Ideally, the media would hear and understand the issues being voiced by activists and share those issues with the public. Ideally, the media would treat the message with respect.

What usually happens instead: In 2000, Kris says that law enforcement conducted preemptive raids and confiscated protesters’ signs, banners, etc. When the protesters had to march without their carefully planned communication props, the media reported that they looked aimless.

Another common theme that arises at events where protesters are present is that law enforcement uses the pretext of securing the event and its participants against terrorism. This pretext “conflates the perceived threat of terrorism with political activism,” Kris says, and this happens “consistently.” “The media does not question this conflation,” he says. So, protesters become associated with terrorists and, since a convention is a National Special Security Event involving the Department of Homeland Security, police departments receive extra funding to keep potential terrorists (read protesters) at bay. Kris says it’s a system that goes back a long way, but government continues to discredit protesters by using the terms “violent anarchists” and “outside agitators” to described people with differing viewpoints who might not necessarily be violent or dangerous.

“Not only is law enforcement acutely focused on suppressing dissent, the media is attracted to the ‘cat and mouse’ dynamic between protesters and police” and ignores the issues at the heart of the protest movement, Kris says.  And the suppression applies not just to the international media spotlight of a political convention, but to social change movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter as well.

“Suppression happens in waves,” Kris says. We are certainly experiencing a tsunami of suppression right now, and we are lucky to have Kris Hermes on hand to help us ride the waves as we all try to swim together toward social justice.


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