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A Line in the Tar Sands: A Review on Earth First!

By Sasha
Earth First! Newswire
March 3rd, 2015

So it appears that activists may have defeated the Keystone XL (except for the southern part). This is great news, because it puts a dent in the Alberta tar sands. At the same time, there are more pipelines being built out from the tar sands, and other tar sands mining operations are slated to be opened up soon. The Alberta tar sands is probably the worst ongoing industrial site of extraction in the world—it looks like “no mans land” from World War I, as the cover of the book shows, and in some cases, it is a real war zone. The spread of the toxic practice throughout the world is a direct result of the inability of modern society to shift away from fossil fuels—a crisis that comes from the lack of understanding of the advanced stage of the crisis of climate change. For this reason, it is imperative that people arm themselves with the truth, and the new book, A Line in the Tar Sands (PM Press 2014) will help anybody who wants to learn figure out the keys to unlocking the problems of the tar sands and different strategies and tactics activists have used to achieve some degree of success.

The editors Tony Weis, Toban Black, Stephen D’Arcy, and Joshua Kahn Russell, do a great job of intertwining the different narratives of struggle pertaining to the problem in all its magnitude without allowing the work to get bogged down in a pessimism that stifles direct action. With NASA continuing to warn the world of impending doom, drought imperiling lives from Brazil to California, and all prospects looking bleak, A Line in the Tar Sands provides some hope that cultures of resistance, grassroots activism, and conscious militancy will prevail.

According to the introduction, written by the editors, “Renowned US NASA climate scientist James Hansen has calculated that the tar sands contain twice the amount of CO2 emitted by global oil use in our entire history, and concluded that their continuing exploitation would be a “game-over” scenario for climate change.” All authors in A Line in the Tar Sands make it clear that the tar sands are a pivotal position in the fight against climate change. It needs to be shut down. Other crises are, perhaps, overlooked through this issue-specific work, but the essays do call for global solidarity against capitalism, which lies at the root of a collective crisis.
Much of the analysis that takes place in the first part of the book, called “Tar Sands Expansionism,” provides insight into the workings of corporate-led PR attempts to greenwash and compromise. Angela V Carter explains that the influence of petro-capitalism “leads to long-term institutional inertia, which keeps ruling governments focused on privileging and expanding the oil industry above all else.” In further detail, Randolph Haluza-DeLay calls out the Alberta Enterprise Group, among other industry-funded groups, and notes industry tactics of “the mobilization of identity,” and “to project its inevitability (‘there is no alternative’) and to place the entirety of the discussion on technical grounds, thereby displacing wide-reaching moral questions about Indigenous rights, social justice, and the protection of nature with narrowly defined technological and managerial ‘solutions.’” This splicing of identity politics with functionalism promotes blustering nationalistic claims, such as “the ‘ethical’ superiority of Canadian oil (in contrast to tyrannical regimes elsewhere).”

Ryan Katz-Rosene further investigates “how a combination of federal and provincial governments, industry, and high-profile apologists has attempted to construct these narratives by co-opting and discursively reframing environmental concerns… as a form of reactionary environmentalism.” The location of reactionary environmentalism within corporate-dominated sector reveals an important side to the debate over the tar sands occurring between radical and mainstream environmental circles, and the authors stand up for Indigenous rights and solidarity with frontline communities.

As Harjap Grewal notes in his essay on nationalism and the energy industry, reactionary environmentalism often opens up to more problematic narratives of nationalism and power; “With the economic recession and a documented rise in white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations through-out the West, any legitimacy given to these polarizing attitudes is extremely worrying.” Harsha Walia adds that the industry promoting the nationalist discourse also subverts it by exploiting migrant labor. “It is painful,” she writes, “and nothing short of cruel irony, to hear stories of migrant workers who have been displaced from their homelands due to Canadian mining companies or Western imperialist land grabs, and who are now forced to work in extractive industries within Canada that are harmful to them, to the land, and to the surrounding communities.” McDonald Stainsby pus it succinctly: “As social justice and climate activists, we simply must discard the same nationalist sentiments that have brought us the problem in the first place.”

In another important article about the Environmental NGOs’ role in sustaining tar sands, Dave Vasey looks to radical solidarity as a crucial underlying narrative: “Popular movements, such as Occupy and Idle No More, have at times articulated explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-colonial goals and concerns, and they have often prioritized the inclusion of those who are most affected by neo-liberalism and neo-colonialism in both their messaging and decision-making.”

Vasey looks to the Vermont community rights movement as a transferable model, writing that “almost thirty Vermont towns became ‘tar sands–free zones,’ passing resolutions against the transport of tar sands through the state in town-hall meetings that are part of a storied, direct democratic tradition dating back hundreds of years.”

But the important article, “Lessons from Direct Action at the White House to Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline,” written by Russell, Linda Capato, Matt Leonard, and Rae Breaux, indicates that more-privileged forms of activism may not extend as far as necessary to really attack the root of the problem—“It was humbling to learn that in the cases where some activists attempted to celebrate progress, those dealing with the worst impacts of the tar sands sometimes felt like their struggles were being made invisible.” The following article, “Gulf Coast Resistance and the Southern Leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline” by Cherri Foytlin, Yudith Nieto, Kerry Lemon, and Will Wooten, provides a refreshing look at environmental justice campaigns and allyship. They write, “[W]e are hopeful that the efforts of groups like TEJAS will play a key role in bringing about change in our affected communities and the way the nation regulates these capitalistic corporations that only destroy the gifts our Mother Earth has honoured us all with.”

But for environmental justice campaigns to work, according to an article by the Labor Network for Sustainability, workers must unite. “It is time for American labour to walk the walk. The climate crisis is here and now. To continue business as usual in the face of it is like ignoring the advance of an enemy army.” In their article on the labor movement, Greg Albo and Lilian Yap note that the outlook for the future must “insist that a rupture with the existing paradigm of production and work is needed—‘ways of living’ as the early ecology and socialist movements envisioned.”

Winona LaDuke provides another inspirational article, explaining that “When we destroy the earth, we destroy ourselves. So we must create sustainable energy and food economies for this millennium and for the generations yet to come.” Clayton Thomas-Muller follows LaDuke with a palpable sense of the crisis, “To see the tar sands themselves was devastating; to fly over endless clear-cuts, open pit mines, and smokestacks surrounded by pristine Cree and Dene peoples’ homelands was gut-wrenching.”

Sâkihitowin Awâsis provides an important and timely opportunity to make amends: “Anti-colonial campaigning against tar sands pipelines is very much rooted in Indigenous epistemologies and responsibilities to restore healthy relationships.” For this to take place, a proactive engagement of settler populations is necessary: “It is important to not act defensively when called out for colonial behaviour, whether intentional or not; it is the impacts that count. Anti-colonial efforts cannot try to justify the behaviour or undermine people’s experiences. Instead, look for actions with decolonizing potential.”

There is a lot to work through in A Line in the Tar Sands, but the inclusion of Native voices and anticapitalist prospects provides a breath of fresh air. While the sectarian conflicts on the left and in environmental groups often feel oppressive, leading to a sense of desperation and uselessness, this anthology promotes a return to the grassroots, getting hands dirty, and bringing the power to the power. We do this work because it is liberating, it is envigorating and joyful, and most of all, because we must.

The authors of A Line in the Tar Sands share a vision that will not be realized easily, but if the victories of Rojava, the Greek left, and elsewhere are any indication, a better world is possible.

It is equal parts understanding the problem, combining narratives, and fighting the power.

Buy A Line in the Tar Sands now | Buy A Line in the Tar Sands e-Book now | Back to Joshua Kahn Russell's Editor Page | Back to Stephen D’Arcy's Editor Page| Back to Tony Weis's Editor Page | Back to Toban Black's Editor Page




World War 3 Illustrated: prescient outrage from the dawn of the Piketty apocalypse

By Cory Doctorow
BoingBoing
February 26th, 2015

The Reagan era kicked off a project to dismantle social mobility and equitable justice began. This trenchant, angry, gorgeous graphic zine launched in response.

World War 3 Illustrated: 1979–2014, a 300+ page, hardcover volume financed by an oversubscribed Kickstarter collects and thematically groups the very best of more than 30 years of visually stunning, blood-boiling graphic outrage and calls-to-arms. World War 3 has featured some of comix's greatest underground talents, from Peter Bagge and Art Spiegelman to Sue Coe and Sabrina Jones, not to mention Fly, Spain Rodriguez, and many more, and their work for WW3 was always their rawest, most unrestrained material.

I got my copy through the kickstarter, and have only gotten to it now because it is so huge and deliciously well-made that it had to wait until I could sit down with it at the office -- at 3lbs, it was too heavy to contemplate reading on the road or even on the bus. But I had a couple hours free yesterday and I dived into this, and when I came up for air, I wanted to burn something down.

It's hard to recall, from this remove, how hard-fought the slide into corporatist dystopia has been. We didn't just wake up one morning with the expectation that only the richest would be able to avoid penury in their old age, that bank czars would launder billions for drug-lords and get off scot-free while the poor were packed into prison in unprecedented numbers on bullshit drug charges, that the war on terror would see Americans torturing their "enemies" in "black sites" abroad and in Chicago, that we would submit to total surveillance, to the elimination of due process, to the checkpoints for people driving while brown and legalized theft in the guise of civil forfeiture, impunity for rapists and no-knock SWAT murders as part of daily life.

But at every turn, people have fought. Brave, crazy, hopeless or crazed with hope, they fought. And World War 3 was there, its artists shouting out every time the authoritarian state palmed another card, sometimes getting arrested themselves. World War 3 is a genuinely radical publication, and it is also radicalizing. Reading it should make you furious, and hopeful, and determined to do something.

Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century marks the Reagan years as a turning point: the moment at which the scattered fortunes of two world wars reconverged into great masses of extreme wealth, exerting terrible, constant gravity on policy, dismantling anything that stood in the way of the creation of multi-generational dynasties of the feudal hyper-rich whose interests were first and foremost in government priorities. Since then -- through the whole WW3 era -- we've seen the dismantling of tenant protections, labor protections, progressive taxation, public schools and public health. Even the justice system and the prisons have been privatized. There is no more moving record of this period than the one you'll find in these pages.

 

Also of note is Bill Ayers's introduction, which contains all the fire and passion of his other graphic novel work, and will send you to the barricades.

Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page | Back to Seth Tobocman's Author Page




World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014 on Now Read This!

Now Read This!
August 27th, 2014


Since the 1980s and proceeding ever more unchecked into the 21st century, nations and human society have been plagued with horrors and disasters exacerbated if not actually caused by a world-wide proliferation of lying, greedy, venal, demented and just plain stupid bosses and governments.

These paragons have finally succeeded in elevating politicians of every stripe to that phylum of generally useless tools and pimples on the butt of humanity once only occupied by ambulance-chasing lawyers, lifestyle coaches and management consultants.

Since then so many apparently entitled and greedy archetypes like bankers, astrologers, wedding planners, doorstep evangelists, CEOs, celebrity gossip columnists, newspaper editors, the shamelessly privileged and all types of psychics have joined their rarefied ranks, and I’m thinking I probably need to either grow my own provably unadulterated coffee or further refine my critical parameters…

The century before ours wasn’t much better, but it did spawn a global awareness of the sheer symbolic power of art to promote debate, action and change. Politically charged, culturally aware imagery has been used over and over again by the underdogs – and, to be honest, the more savvy oppressors – in countless intellectual clashes as irresistible Weapons of Mass Deliberation…

This is a book that should make you angry and inspired. That is its point and purpose…

Created in response to Ronald Reagan’s presidency – possibly the only thing non-Americans can be thankful to the mad, bible-thumping bastard for – World War 3 Illustrated was founded in 1979 by Pratt Institute art students Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman in the wake of a rising tide of political conservatism, religious fundamentalism and unchecked capitalist autocracy.

The magazine quickly became a beacon and rallying point for artistic activists: a collective collaboration galvanising and powerfully polemical, covering a vast procession of issues the political Powers-That-Be and increasingly law-immune Corporate Hegemonies would prefer were never aired or exposed.

Always championing the ever-diminishing rights of the individual over the juggernaut of rapacious commercial expansion and global monetary domination, the magazine brought – and still brings – together creative freedom-fighters who oppose the insidious wave of creeping everyday injustices through art, information and – most effectively of all – opposing views and dissenting opinions.

Now the smart, informed publishing people of PM Press have released a spectacular and sumptuous hardback retrospective of World War 3 Illustrated; re-presenting some of the graphic gadfly’s greatest moments in a stunning collection no self-aware seditionist could afford to miss at a time when individual freedoms and planetary wellbeing have never been more endangered…

One crucial word of clarification: the Third World War hasn’t been declared and has no recognised Theatre of Operations. It’s an ongoing series of perpetual localised skirmishes intended to replace individuality with homogeneity, freedom with conformity, humanity with faceless consumerism and intellect, spontaneity and self-esteem with a slavish devotion to money and oligarchic, board-sanctioned options from a menu of consumerist choices designed to keep the merchant-machine running…

Stuffed with spot-art and themed chapters fronted by double-page Chapter Icons from Kuper, Scott Cunningham, Sabrina Jones, Tobocman, Susan Willmarth, Kevin C. Pyle, Rebecca Migdal, Sandy Jimenez, Ethan Heitner, Nicole Schulman, Christopher Cardinale and Hilary Allison, this grand bible of creative resistance opens with the rousing and informative ‘Introduction: In Cahoots!’ by veteran activist, educator and reformer Bill Ayers before the parade of artistic action gets underway.

Starting World War 3 reveals the way it all began in the essay ‘Manifesto’, by Tobocman & Kuper, before the early forays are revisited in ‘Old Pals’ by Peter Bagge, whilst “Dr. Froydo Baggins” diagnoses the scatological power structure of modern society in ‘Top Feces’ by Isabella Bannerman & Robert Desmond, and Chuck Sperry’s terrifying collage ‘Bud’ is followed by Tobocman’sstate of disunion revelation in ‘The World is Being Ripped’. The chapter is closed by ‘Dove vs. Technology (back cover #8)’ by Aki Fujiyoshi.

Theocracy unbound is the subject of In God We Trust? opening with ‘Rapture’ – Kuper’s terrifying visualisation of an actual speech by Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell – after which Erik Drooker moodily relates his ‘First Encounter’ with The Lord and Mike Diana explains how ‘Jesus is Suffering for You’…

Ryan Inzana describes his liberating escape from ‘One Nation Under Fear’ before ‘Pope Exposed (back cover #5)’ by David Shannon leads to the pantomimic revelation of ‘Jesus in Hell’ by James Romberger, and Isabelle Dervaux ends things on a blasphemous high note with ‘Walking on Water’.

The war on women is highlighted in Herstories, opening with Isabella Bannerman’s gripping ‘Herstories (cover #16)’ from 1992. This is followed by the evocative ‘Women’s Rights’ by Paula Hewitt Amram and the harrowing ‘Walking Down the Street’ by Sabrina Jones and a truly disturbing glimpse into the pressures on young girls to have sex in ‘K-9’s First Time’ by K-9 & Fly before Jones scores again with ‘Saudi Woman (back cover #14)’ to close the chapter.
Gentrification and the New York Elite’s attempts to forcibly relocate its poor by Fiscal Ethnic Cleansing are spotlighted in Captive City,beginning with the trenchant ‘Ave A’ by Anton Van Dalen and Tobocman’s ‘Why Are Apartments Expensive?’

Drooker then imaginatively shares some cold, harsh facts and statistics in ‘Shelter from the Storm’, whilst Steve Brodner plays Devil’s Advocate in ‘The Pound’ and Mac McGill interprets ‘Memories’ with apocalyptic panache.

Nicole Schulman then reveals why ‘You Can’t Go Home, Again?’ whilst Tobocman declares ‘War in the Neighorhood’ and Jeff Lewis wistfully bemoans how ‘I Was Raised on the Lower East Side’ to suspend the ongoing class war… until next time…

Autobiology focuses on differences of opinion such as the divisive nature of sneakers in ‘Skips’ by Sandy Jimenez, ineffectual relationships in Bannerman’s ‘No Visible Evidence’ and parenting in Scott Cunningham’s ‘Alien Metaphor’, after which Drooker relates a chilling anecdote in ‘The Fall’ and Kuper details how he was called as an expert witness in Mike Diana’s comics obscenity trial in the ‘Sunshine State’…

The misrule of Law comes under excoriating scrutiny in Under Arrest, opening with ‘Police State America’ by Tobocman, detailing how a black woman in New York was gunned down by a SWAT Team for incurring rent arrears, whilst Drooker’s ‘Coup d’Etat of the Spirit’ movingly recalls a friend who got on the wrong side of a police action…

‘Yard In!’, by Mumia Abu-Jamal & Gregory Benton, wryly pinpoints one of the many cruel insanities endured by Death Row inmates before Drooker’s ‘Prison Issue (cover #24)’ leads to Kevin C. Pyle’s revelatory expose of the mean-spirited “Diesel Therapy” used to break prisoners’ spirits ‘On the Road’. Benton then returns to offer a shred of comfort in ‘#AM-8335’.

Sperry opens the chilling Biohazard section with a bleak confrontation of ‘My Mother, My Mother’ before Pyle produces the most horrifying piece in this collection with his documentary detailing of the grotesque criminal acts of the United States Public Health Service which began a near-forty year long, generational study of syphilis by deliberately withholding antibiotic treatments from the African American community of Macon County, Alabama in the shocking tale entitled ‘Pink Medicine’…

Encroaching environmental catastrophe is the meat of Green House, Blue Planet, beginning with Tobocman’s captivating ‘What You Need to Know’, whilst Rebecca Migdal’s ‘The Food Chain (cover #41)’ precedes ‘Someday in the Future’ by Susan Willmarth, revealing how corporate misuse of the drug Diclofenac led to the near extinction of India’s vulture population and the almost complete destruction of the subcontinent’s food chain.

Drooker’s forbidding illustration ‘Moloch’, then leads to ‘Needle Factory’, a bleak cutting whimsy from Felipe Galindo, after which Sue Coe presents a series of ghastly images created in response to the monstrous Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2006 – ‘Murder in the Gulf’, ‘BP Burns Turtles’ and ‘Sold!’

At least Drooker is there to wrap it up with a hope-filled dream of ‘The Jungle’…

We Y New York opens with the ‘9/11 Release Poster’ by Kuper & Sperry, and an autobiographical reverie in ‘9-11-01’ by Fly, before Ward Sutton briefly interjects a sardonic aside with the ‘Fear News Network’ whilst counterculture pioneer and seasoned campaigner Spain Rodriguez tellingly dissects all stripes of ‘Faith-Based Terrorism’ and Mac McGill offers up another evocative expression of architectural Armageddon in ‘IX XI MMI’…

A discussion of Global Economy and the New World Empire begins with a strident lesson from Nichole Schulman in ‘Fossil Fuel’, whilst Kuper examines the concepts of war for oil in ‘Bombs Away’ and Tom Tomorrow lampoons government rhetoric and corporate Thinkspeak in ‘Are You a Real American?’ after which Chuck Sperry creates a visual icon for the new century in ‘Bush Hates Me’ and Tom Tomorrow hilariously peeks in on ‘Bush Dreams’.

The fertile soil is further ploughed by Sabrina Jones with the cruelly poetic ‘Chronicle of the New Crusade’, and Art Spiegelman doles out a strong dose of satire in his oil-mainlining Uncle Sam pastiche ‘Roll Up Your Sleeves, America!’, which is followed by Kuper’s infamous and controversial ‘Richie Bush in Hell’s Bells’ parody.

By brilliantly employing Harvey Comics’ Richie Rich character, the artist engendered the disapproval of US Customs who subsequently seized copies of this strip when it was reprinted in Slovenian magazine Stripburger…

This chapter closes with ‘Talking Liberties (cover #34)’ by Mirko Ilic and a montage of various works and public events in ‘WW3 Arts in Action’.

Promised Land? examines the ongoing Israeli- Palestinian Conflict, beginning with ‘Casting Stones’ by Drooker before Kuper bares his heart and soul recounting his many trips to Israel and how the country devolved to a point and state he could no longer recognise in ‘Promised Land’, after which Sabrina Jones shares her own personal experiences of time in the Holy Land in ‘Fear and Firecrackers’.

‘Art Against the Wall’ is an photo-illustrated essay by Eric Drooker describing the construction, impact upon and creative response to Israel’s “Security Wall” by the Palestinians it imprisons and isolates; a subject then expanded upon in cartoon form in Tobocman’s biting ‘The Serpent of State’…

Iniquities affecting the wider world come to the fore in Going Global, beginning with ‘The Quiet Occupation’ by Nicole Schulman, examining through specific, documented case histories, the incredible “Get Out of Jail Free” policy afforded to the American military in South Korea under SOFA (Status of Forces Agreement).

This appalling legislation has, since 1967, afforded absolute immunity to US personnel facing prosecution for crimes against the indigenous population ranging from theft and environmental damage to rape and murder…

The case of a San Salvadoran kid unfairly deported follows in Carlo Quispe’s ‘Pulgarcito de las Americas’, as does Jordan Worley’s provocative ‘Land and Liberty (cover #27)’, before a selection from Kuper’s visual diary of life in Mexico – specifically the brutal suppression of a Teacher’s strike – rounds out the chapter in ‘Oaxaca, Oaxaca’…

The horrendous scandal of New Orleans’ Federal abandonment is covered in After the Flood, commencing with an emphatic if subjective impression of ‘Katrina’ by McGill, after which volunteer worker Christopher Cardinale records his thoughts and interactions with hurricane survivors in ‘Coming Together’, whilst McGill records the fate of ‘Mrs. Spencer’s Home’ and Tobocman details the resilience of the people who returned in ‘Post Katrina 2nd Line’…

Attempting to end on lighter terms, Modern Times features outrageous and unbelievable exposé ‘On the Tea Party Trail’ by Kuper, then pictorialises the fine, independent folk of ‘Madison Wisconsin’ courtesy of Susan Semensky Bietila, before Tobocman & Jessica Wehrle delve in detail into the early moments of the ‘Occupy the City’ movement capped by another photo feature of ‘WW3 Arts in Action’ and Drooker’s sublime ‘May Day’ poster.

To add context to the collection Time Line then traces the history of World War 3 Illustrated through a short history of the planet since 1970, augmented by a stunning cover gallery of key issues of the magazine…

The most disheartening thing about this magnificent book is the realisation that so many of these issues – such as globalisation, one-percentism, women’s rights to equal pay and control of their own bodies, the maltreatment and exploitation of prison inmates, the disenfranchisement of African Americans and so much more – are still as being as keenly contested today as they ever were… although surely that’s only a reason to fight even harder and more creatively?

This is a book that belongs in every library and on every school bookshelf, and it most certainly needs to be in the hands of every person who dreams of a fairer, better world…

Buy WW3 Illustrated now | Buy WW3 Illustrated e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page | Back to Seth Tobocman's Author Page




Drawn to New York: A Review

By John Seven
Vermicious
October 16th, 2013

Illustrator Peter Kuper has spent three decades slowly becoming a native New Yorker, and this new art book compiles the story of that metamorphosis through illustrations, comics and paintings that Kuper has done over those 30 years for various publications.

Like New York City itself, Kuper’s is not a clear narrative — or, rather, of course it is, it just doesn’t seem so by the presentation, and that’s what makes the collection so vital.

In trying to capture the city he both loves and hides inside, Kuper offers his work in a format that mirrors its most important quality — chaos.

It’s a chaos that is created from a lot of little voices attempting to harmonize, but not always succeeding, so over the course of the book you find several sweeping silent cartoons that take you on a tour of the city’s denizens, as well more autobiographical tales, as well as artwork capturing parks, water towers, crowds, city streets, the back seats of taxis, homeless people and buildings.

Kuper’s trademark surrealism offers cartoon scenarios where Donald Trump and Harry Helmsley build a giant wall through the middle of Manhattan, just like Berlin, and create a post apocalyptic absurd adventure, as well as numerous dream scenarios that throw the city into situations where the dreamer must confront his place within it.

Kuper finishes up the collection with work pertaining to 9-11 and how that changed things, including his conceit that New York City wasn’t really part of America.

Kuper’s New York is one filled with raunch and sleaze and weirdness in a more major way than exists now, when the sweeping and sometimes disturbing craziness of the city functioned as an abstract soap opera better than anything you could find on television. For those who never had the adventure of living in that New York, Kuper’s book does an excellent job of relaying that experience through the intensity and dark humor of his art.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page




The System: A review on Vermicious

By John Seven
Vermicious
August 15th, 2014


I’m betting that the only comic book artist who has drawn New York City more than Peter Kuper is Jack Kirby.

The difference is that Kirby’s stories involved NYC under siege by exceptional people, giants like Galactus or the Sub-Mariner. Kuper’s New York City is more down to earth, much more recognizable, and it’s largely an existence that rots from the inside, often in the most mundane ways.

In The System (Amazon, iBooks, Powell’s), Kuper uses his wood cut style — here in a beautiful color realization — to document New York City as a collection of interconnected organisms, as a living creature on the landscape. Originally done for Vertigo in the 1990s, Kuper takes into account his publisher and adds some intrigue to his story in the form of a murder investigation, police corruption, a terrorist, and a drug dealer, but none of these are so far out that they take away from the grounded quality of the story.

Kuper latches onto the human flotsam from all over the city — taxi drivers, strippers, street preachers, kids, cops on the verge of retirement, young people in love — and mixes them up in the grimy urban blender to see how they interact. There is plenty of tragedy to go around, some hope to soften the blow, and one cynical final point. It’s not a system I would necessarily want to be part of — and, full disclosure, I was once — but Kuper manages to capture it with an elegant, colorful flow and detail.

Buy The System now | Buy The System e-Book now | Back to Peter Kuper's Author Page




New book relates ‘global adventures of lifelong activist’

By Rev. Sharon Delgado
Faith in Action, General Board of Church & Society
January 26th, 2015

‘Waging Peace’

Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist by veteran activist David Hartsough is part autobiography, part recent history, and part call to action. This new book shows how a commitment to active nonviolence can plant the seeds and provide the impetus for significant social transformation.

In 2012 I was arrested with David and Jan Hartsough, Shirley Osgood and Janie Kesselman at a demonstration at Beale Air Force Base, near my home in Northern California. We were the first of many to be arrested at anti-drone protests at Beale, home of the Global Hawk, a surveillance drone that helps identify targets for armed Predator and Reaper drones.

Our arrests resulted in a trial that generated significant publicity. Our case and others like it at bases around the country got people discussing and questioning the morality of killing people by remote control.

Throughout the trial, David urged our lawyers to focus on the Nuremburg Principles and International Law, even though the judge refused to consider these factors as a defense. We were found “guilty” of trespassing onto base property.

Before being sentenced we each gave a statement to the court. David’s complete sentencing statement is an addendum to Waging Peace.

The judge could have sentenced us to six months in jail. After hearing our statements, she acknowledged that we were motivated by "deeply held ethical and religious beliefs,” and consequently sentenced us to just 10 hours of community service.

We continue to demonstrate at Beale, however. As David says, “Sustained resistance brings transformation.”

Many adventures

David is Executive Director of Peaceworkers, based in San Francisco, and co-founder with Mel Duncan of the Nonviolent Peaceforce.

In Waging Peace, David shares some of his many adventures in active nonviolence, as well as his strong faith and the spiritual beliefs that motivate his actions as a Quaker and as a Christian. This book engages the reader every step of the way.

Waging Peace is a compelling autobiography that tells the story of a life-threatening encounter David had at age 20 while sitting with African American students at a “whites only” lunch counter in Arlington, Va. A man held a knife to his heart and threatened to kill him. Fortunately for David, he had already incorporated a deep inner commitment to nonviolence, and was able to respond in a way that diffused the anger of his would-be killer.

As he tells the story of his childhood, David explains what brought him to this life-threatening event, how he handled the situation. He describes how the seeds of peace were sown by his remarkable parents, how he came to understand what Jesus meant when he said to love your enemies, how he began early experiments with nonviolence, and how he came to dedicate himself to living a life consistent with his values.

Modern-day history

David’s father was a Congregational minister who worked for the American Friends Service Committee, and his friends and colleagues had a big influence on David, especially the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. By the age of 15, David was organizing demonstrations against nuclear weapons.

In addition to being an autobiography, this book is a modern-day history of nonviolent social movements, written from the perspective of a committed activist. As an agent for nonviolent social change, David seems to have always been at the right place at the right time.

During the Cold War, David travelled to Russia and organized peace demonstrations there. As the United States and Soviet Union were threatening nuclear war over the divided city of Berlin, David lived in West Berlin just a few blocks from Checkpoint Charlie. He traveled back and forth to East Berlin, learning as much as he could and speaking out against both communist and capitalist propaganda. Ten years later the FBI issued a warrant for his arrest and questioned him about his activities there.

David and Jan, his beloved wife and partner in nonviolent action, stopped paying “war taxes” early on. David claimed conscientious-objector status and was an outspoken critic during the Vietnam War.

Committed to the good


David was protesting with his friend Brian Willson on the day that Brian was run over and his legs severed by a train carrying munitions to Central America. David writes about the trauma of that event, but also about how many people continued to block the trains. A short time later his elderly mother and father joined him and others on the tracks.

David and Jan traveled in Central American war zones during the 1980s, when U.S. financial support to corrupt regimes and death squads made such travel and life for people who lived there extremely dangerous. He worked in the United States with Cesar Chavez in the struggles for the rights of farmworkers.

In the 1990s, David was part of a Fellowship of Reconciliation delegation for peace in Bosnia-Hertzegovnia. He has travelled extensively in his peacemaking work, including to Iran and Palestine. His peacemaking work continues, including through Peaceworkers and the Nonviolent Peaceforce.

The book is written not only by an observer in these historic events, but from the perspective of one who is committed to the good: to compassion, justice and peace.

Call to action

In addition to being an autobiography and a first-hand history of social movements, Waging Peace is an inspiring call to action. Every page expresses David’s hope for lasting social transformation based on his faith and his experience. By reading about David’s adventures as a skilled practitioner of active nonviolence in key historical events of our time, the reader gains hope and confidence that significant change is possible.

Waging Peace is a “how to” book for transforming our society and the world. It encourages us to start where we are, by learning and practicing nonviolence in all areas of our lives. It includes a wealth of suggestions and resources for would-be activists. This book not only gives practical direction, but also shows us the strong foundation built by others upon which we can stand in solidarity with other people of faith and conscience around the world.

After describing some of the astonishing changes that nonviolent action has brought about in recent years in places around the world, David writes:

What other spots on our earth are waiting for such stunning change? What corner is beckoning to your heart and spirit? Where is God leading you to invest your life on behalf of a world where all God’s children share the abundance and live as one family in peace and harmony with the earth?

David closes Waging Peace with this statement of faith: “Deep in my heart, I do believe, that — together — We Shall Overcome!”

You can order signed copies of Waging Peace from Peaceworkers or order from a local bookstore. It is also available on online outlets, such as Cokesbury.com.

Editor's note: The Rev. Sharon Delgado is a United Methodist member of the California-Nevada Annual Conference. You can read more about her at sharondelgado.org/.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento-based journalist. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

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No War No More: A Review of Waging Peace

By Seth Sandronsky
The Progressive Populist
February 15th, 2015

When schoolyard bullies hit David Hartsough, he turned the other cheek. How and why he did so compels one to keep reading his memoir, Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist (November 2014, PM Press).

In this page-turner, we follow an early encounter with bullying over decades to a path of nonviolent advocacy worldwide. For Hartsough, this journey of pacifism is bone-deep.

He continues to this day. No rest for a principled warrior of peace.

Hartsough delivers a nuanced account of the issues, places and people, a wide-ranging meditation on pacifism, racism and militarism. His is a unique view of dissent against wars, hot and cold.

This fact matters. He, as a citizen of the US, whose military reach spans the planet, occupies a vital spot to place his body in what Berkeley free-speech activist Marion Savio termed the machine’s gears to slow its lethal work.

Hartsough puts me in mind of Kathy Kelly, the antiwar activist from Chicago, imprisoned for protesting President Obama’s drone strikes that kill unarmed civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. Like Hartsough, she writes of becoming a peacemaker in part by “catching courage” to resist war, in and out of arrest, jail and prison.

Hartsough learns from and with his Quaker mom and dad. He does not stop there. One of his friends and mentors is Brian S. Willson, Vietnam War veteran turned peace warrior.

Hartsough is with Willson when he nearly dies attempting to stop the US government’s arming of Central American death squads. The reader is there, grippingly.

Like author and activist Staughton Lynd, Hartsough accompanies ordinary people displaying extraordinary heroism, from African Americans battling Jim Crow segregation, to Guatemalan and Salvadoran peasants struggling against paramilitary forces, dubbed ‘democracy promotion,’ drenched in civilians’ blood. Do as I do, is the recurring theme throughout Waging Peace.

Hartsough recounts, tellingly, of being nearly knifed by a crazed white racist who sought to make an example of the author at a segregated lunch counter in the South. Like the anti-slavery abolitionists who went to the South a century earlier, he is a “race traitor” who joins the freedom struggles of black Americans.

I see such interracial efforts then alive now with working-class whites joining advocacy groups such as “Black Lives Matter,” protesting via “die-ins” ongoing police killings of unarmed African Americans. It is striking to see the continuing relevance and significance of nonviolent strategies and tactics from the civil rights movement today. All the more so as that movement’s historic rise and demise paved the way to mass black and Latin imprisonment of redundant workers whose caging represents for-profit opportunities to capitalist investors now.

Across continents and over decades, Hartsough places his body on the line to resist war, for a world where humans resolve their conflicts without resort to mayhem and murder. He spices his memoir-writing with accounts of going hungry, and the pleasures of eating a sustaining meal that hosts prepare.

In the former Yugoslavia, Hartsough sees the wreckage of WW II. “I wondered why, with all our collective human intelligence, we have not been able to find a better way to resolve conflicts than bombing homes and killing the people in countries whose governments we don’t like.”

On pacifism, however, from the Cuban Revolution to the US Civil War, violence did birth new societies from the shells of the old ones. For instance, I am skeptical that chattel slavery, a “peculiar institution” of economic relations between slaves and masters, “free” and enslaved labor, would have ended without armed conflict.

In any event, Hartsough and his fellow pacifists educate and motivate each other and society broadly to proceed peacefully in the face of violence, risking life and limb. Decades later, Hartsough stands against the growth of nuclear weapons, his parents by his side.

Hartsough, from the civil rights struggles of the 1950s to the anti-drone protests of the current moment, pursues militant nonviolent protest for a social order not yet existing.

His memoir fleshes out the layered meanings and methods of laboring for a social system that does not create and rely upon armed forces seizing the land, labor and resources of civilians worldwide. His is a vital voice for a society of, by and for the best qualities of humanity: war no more.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento-based journalist. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

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‘Secret’ history of The Clash penned by Oberlin College assistant dean

By Michael Heaton
Cleveland Plain Dealer
February 4th, 2015


Randal Doane, 46, is Oberlin College's assistant dean of studies, responsible for academic advising and coordinating leaves and withdrawals for students. He also oversees a peer adviser program for first-year students and the senior symposium, a one-day conference in April featuring 50 seniors presenting their research to the campus.

He is in his ninth year at Oberlin College, and has lived in Oberlin for 15. He has a wife, and 10-year-old daughter. He also claims "amateur bike mechanic" as a hobby.

Doane also is the author of "Stealing All Transmissions: A Secret History of the Clash." The English punk band -- the classic lineup includes Joe Strummer, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Nicky "Topper" Headon -- became widely known as "The Only Band That Matters" in the 1980s, influenced a generation of musicians who followed and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.

Doane recently gave a talk on his book at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Archive. Doane spoke with Plain Dealer reporter Michael Heaton.

Q: When did the book come out?

A: October 2014.

Q: What kind of reviews has it gotten?

A: Los Angeles magazine listed "Stealing" among their best-of-2014 books on music, and I figure I'm the only writer to secure high praise in Counterfire, a socialist magazine, and PJ Media, a bastion for American conservatism. The reviewers who understand that it's not a Clash biography review it quite favorably.

Q: How did your membership in the Boy Scouts at age 13, in Stockton, California, bring you to The Clash?

When I was 13, I toured Europe and England with the Boy Scouts of America, and the eldest son of my host family in Coventry, England, made me a mix tape with tracks by The Specials, The Selecter, Echo and the Bunnymen, and The Clash. Once I returned to the states, and learned more about the do-it-yourself ethos of punk, my days as a scout were numbered.

Q: Did you ever see them play live?

A: I didn't, alas. My best opportunity to see The Clash was in Stockton, in 1984, after Mick Jones and Topper Headon had been kicked out of the band. I took a pass. I can't tell you why exactly, since nearly everyone in my high school went to the show. Maybe it's because nearly everyone in my high school went to the show.

Q: Do you remember some flash point at which you knew you had to write this book?

A: I had some interest from The New Yorker about a 10,000-word version of this story, but not sufficient interest, apparently. (I understand getting rejected by The New Yorker is not an exclusive club.) After that, I did some more research, conducted more interviews, and produced what I believe is a tidy 130-page book.

Q: You have a PhD. Was it difficult to shake a scholarly writing style when writing this book?

A: Um, no. I've always written with the hopes of being understood.

Q: Are you a secret punk in academic clothing?

A: If I told you, it wouldn't be a secret.

Q: What in your opinion is the funniest scene in the book?

A: That's a good question, and a difficult choice. The Clash and their entourage were full of compelling, hilarious characters, and seemed to bring out those qualities in their primary handlers at Epic (Records), too. One scene that's particularly fun entailed Dan Beck and Bob Feineigle at Epic Records doing an end-around on the staff in charge of product management for black radio, in order to get the song "The Magnificent Seven" to the local stations, including WBLS. Lo and behold, when The Clash came to New York in May 1981 for a three-week residency, WBLS had "The Magnificent Seven" in heavy rotation. There are good tales of mayhem in Barry "The Baker" Auguste's foreword, too.

doane headshot color(1).jpgRandal Doane is the author of "Stealing All Transmissions: The Secret History of the Clash." Courtesy  

Q: Why do you think living band members didn't want to talk to you about the book?

A: I decided not to contact the living members of the band, actually. There is so much material in the archives and in great books about that era, and I'm confident that those materials are likely more accurate than the memories of Messrs. Jones, Simonon, and Headon. Also, each tale recounted to me by Barry "The Baker" Auguste, former back line roadie for The Clash (and author of the foreword), checked out perfectly. I couldn't have asked for a better comrade in the trenches of punk historiography.

Q: What was so special about The Clash that brings them such fevered following to this day?

A: I like Robert Christgau's description of The Clash as "politically effective and aesthetically effective." Their politics were great, from the get-go to the not-quite-glorious end, and they grew so much musically from album to album, thanks especially to Mick Jones and Topper Headon. Headon could play in any style, and that made it possible on "London Calling" for them to perform rock steady, reggae, ska, and straight ahead rock 'n' roll, and on "Sandinista!" to perform dub, hip-hop, disco, and soul tunes. Minus some of the filler on "Sandinista!" that's eight great album sides in 12 months. Who else has come close?

It's not just the music, though. Strummer especially wanted to get to know their fans, and -- like good punks -- The Clash rejected the growing divide between performers and fans that plagued the stadium rock acts of the late 1970s. In terms of that ethos: they started out that way, and ended that way. I wish there was more footage from their last gigs together, when they hit the road in England with plenty of guitars and no money (by choice), and they had to busk for their daily keep.

Q: What was so important about the free format NYC radio scene in the '70s that made the Clash's success possible?

A: Free-form radio started in the late 1960s, and WNEW in New York City had some of the biggest names in radio through the 1970s and 1980s. These guys played The Who, Sinatra, John Coltrane, readings by Shel Silverstein, and one of the key programs at WNEW was their "Live at the Bottom Line" series. It got started with Melissa Manchester, featured Bruce Springsteen just before the release of "Born to Run," and in 1976 included shows by a young Billy Joel, Donovan, and Jerry Jeff Walker -- the "Mr. Bojangles" guy. Meg Griffin joined the station in 1977 while she was in her mid-20s, and she would go to concerts at CBGB and elsewhere and, on her overnight shift, fill the airwaves with tracks by Talking Heads, Television, Blondie, and even The Clash. Her fellow DJs resisted it at first, but she kept playing punk, as did DJs at WLIR. And local rock scribes started writing about great discs from local bands and stuff arriving on import, and the fan base for The Clash and punk writ large kept growing. So, with The Clash coming back to New York for the second time in 1979 to play two shows at The Palladium, it was an easy sell for Harvey Leeds of Epic Records to get WNEW to do a live simulcast that reached from Philadelphia to southern Connecticut.

Q: Why is the subtitle the SECRET history of the Clash? Why is it secret?

A: It's logical for punk history fans to make the connection between "Stealing" and Greil Marcus' brilliant "Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the 20th Century," which includes some of the best writing on punk ever. I had "The Secret History," a novel by Donna Tartt, in mind when I came up with the title, actually. It's a secret of sorts since the big biographies on The Clash (Pat Gilbert's is my fave) effectively missed this story, as did Marcus Gray in his 560-page book about "London Calling."

Q: How difficult was it to get permission from Pennie Smith to use her iconic photo from the cover of "London Calling" as the cover of your book?

A: The difficulty was in finding Pennie, actually, and once that happened, and we got to talking, she was happy to license my use of the greatest photograph in rock history.

Q: What new music do you like? Are you still actively listening to the new?

A: I'm a big fan of Hamell on Trial, and I just picked up Sleater-Kinney's new LP on vinyl. I listen to stuff my 10-year-old daughter likes, too, including St. Vincent, Santigold, Rubblebucket, and The Julie Ruin.

Q: How does the music we listen to today have an influence on the written word and is that any different than when the Clash was coming up?

A: The digital era is fantastic, don't get me wrong. The quantity of good music today is astounding. In the final years of the analog era, there was simply less music and less writing about music and, depending upon where you lived, less access to both. So, if your tastes were not mainstream, it was easier to construct a consensus of fellow listeners and readers around bands like The Clash, and bands on the SST, IRS, or 4AD labels. Today, the access is phenomenal, but I believe these conditions don't foster the devoted, repetitive listening and depth of fandom when you're listening to one, maybe three, new LPs at a time.

Q: Why do you think the Clash broke up?

 A: In part, I suspect, because they never took a break. It was tour, rehearse, record, and tour, rehearse, and record. I think this was Strummer's doing, but Jones worked seven days a week during the lead-up to "London Calling." Had they taken a break early on, maybe Headon would have pursued proper treatment for his drug problem, and maybe Jones wouldn't have been so chronically difficult. "Rock 'n' roll Mick" was not an easy guy to work with, but music-wise, he brought the goods.

Q: Are you working on another book?

A: I'm working on a screenplay adaptation of "Stealing," hoping to cast Justin Bieber as the young Joe Strummer -- just kidding, Clash-o-philes! Seriously, though: If The Specials' Jerry Dammers were to inquire about collaborating on his memoir, I'd sign on in a heartbeat.

 

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A Brief Story of The Clash, Radio & the Fifth estate

By Bill Blank
The Fifth Estate
Spring 2015

In Decmber 1979, after stumbling through my first trimester at Michigan State University, I took the allotted three weeks off in suburban Detroit. While the media began priming the struggling known as The Clash.

The initial song, “London Calling,” from their double album by the same name (released January 1980 in the US), would always jump from the speaker, with the snarling lead singer, Joe Strummer, introducing a still refreshing stance; “London Calling/Now don’t look at us/Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.”

In Stealing All Transmissions, author (and assistant dean at Oberlin College) Randal Doane tries to capture this unique, roughly
three-year historical moment (1979-82) when The Clash, aided by an excited alternative press and select key radio sup- port, led a second British invasion of high-energy rock and roll, one often infused with explicit left- wing politics.

As proclaimed by the late bandleader Strummer, “We’re anti-fascist, anti-violence, we’re anti- racist and pro-creative. We’re against ignorance.”

More succinctly, the band frequently hyped as, “The Only Band That Matters,” was also the apex of political rock or protest music. Although not explicitly anarchist, naming one of their albums after the left nationalist Nicaraguan Sandinistas and making catchy power chord statements about the Spanish Civil War (not Revolution, as anarchists define it) in “Spanish Bombs,” or how capitalism creates the obedience required for submission to daily life in “Clamp- down,” are samples of how unusually subversive The Clash were at the time – and how timeless they remain.

A partial list of just some of the more well-known anar- chist bands heavily influenced by The Clash could include Anti-Flag, Chumbawamba, Citizen Fish, Crass (where singer Steve Ignorant took up Strummer’s challenge to form a better band), the Dead Kennedys, DOA, MDC, The Minutemen (with homage in “History Lesson Part II”), Poison Girls and, most recently, Pussy Riot. Yet even the most popular socially conscious leftist descendants, such as Billy Bragg, Rage Against the Machine, or Public Enemy, never equaled the impact of The Clash. It’s notable that the first Clash album, containing accelerated proto-punk screamers like “I’m So Bored with the USA” and “White Riot,” remains the all-time best selling import in the US, eclipsing any Beatles LP.

Doane’s book oddly devotes much of its focus on the late 1970s New York alternative airwaves, chiefly the liberal WNEW-FM, and the even more free-form WPIC-FM, where rebellious DJs (and some more veteran rockers like Lou Reed) enjoyed a tenuous relationship with the underground sounds contrasting the more expensively produced, corporate rock dominating mainstream press,radio,and profits. Aging East Coasters might treasure the author’s detailed reminiscing, such as how Strummer openly made fun of cor- porate rock by the Eagles, Steely Dan, and Ted Nugent as early as 1979 (revealing some of the band’s more subtle hu- mor), but such memory detours overstate Doane’s thesis on the converging forces of rock promotion.

Nationally, commercial radio (and even some major college outlets) would soon become more corporatized, with content and airtime regulated down to the minute (and eventually down to the seconds). Bands like The Clash benefited greatly from these last gasps of marketable freedom (even mockingly embraced in “Complete Control”). As they conquered Manhattan and America in subsequent tours, The Clash seemed like one of the few bands undaunted by fans or rivals crying “sell-out,” as they retained the intense live performance as the lifeblood of their existence. Doane spends four pages explaining the iconic photo of the London Calling LP cover, but neglects the main story of how a truly amazing agitprop band deserved such a large and enthusiastic following.


A more thorough and insightful explanation of The Clash can better be found on film, with the underrated 2007 documentary Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten, directed by Julien Temple. That visual and audio summary of a genera- tion’s lost spokesman in the vein of Bob Dylan, John Lennon, and Woody Guthrie comes through in electric Clash footage, and rare Strummer interviews.The ever-active Strummer died way too young at 50 of an undetected heart ailment in 2002.

The Clash, despite its inherent contradictions as a major label (Columbia) rock ‘n’ roll band, remains a bridge to more radical politics for many, not just for their music and lyrics, but also to their sense of timing and urgency.

Despite the typical rock star idolatry and post-Lennon as- sassination fears, The Clash kept trying to reduce the distance between performer and audience, including frequently inviting audiences to join them onstage at some point during their legendary shows, much to the dismay of security personnel. Strummer and the band routinely made sure interested fans could meet up with them after the show in their dressing room or outside their tour bus to continue the dialogue (this openness once cost them some stolen equipment at a show in East Lansing, Mich.).

On a magical summer night in Detroit’s Grand Circus Theater, I eagerly caught The Clash at the peak of their commercial success, when their only Top Ten hit, “Rock the Casbah,” could be heard all over pop and rock radio not many months before the band began to implode.

In their sweaty dressing room after easily one of the best concerts I ever attended, Strummer shared his fondness for Motown, the Stooges and the MC5 (a few years later, the MC5’s lead singer, Rob Tyner, told me he thought The Clash impressively took what they were trying to do even further than the MC5 ever had).

I asked for Strummer’s autograph, blurting out how The Clash that night inspired me to drop out of college and pursue my own dream. Before I could specifically declare my aspirations, Strummer simply asked, “What’s the name of your band?”

Soon, I would determinedly embark on a worthwhile ten year hiatus from college, where I kept trying to link the energetic protest rock of my band to literature tables dominated by Fifth Estate back issues we set at the rear of smoky bars and dark venues where we played (with a Clash cover or two often breaking up our song list of originals).

In this new age of atomized, digitized music, where the internet dispenses and diffuses millions of songs disconnected from any real political movement, the resilience of live music still proliferates in the music of hundreds of anarchist bands unknown except to the related communities.

As at the dawn of recorded music, the stage and the street is now where most acts once again make their impact – and where pockets of meaningful resistance continue to echo the power of The Clash.

That signed address book with Joe Strummer wishing, “Good luck to The Blanks,” remains in the top drawer of my writing desk.

Bill Blank (William R. Boyer) left the drums, keyboards, and the songs in 1999 to teach at a public high school on the northwest border of Detroit. He teaches there still.





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Debt & the Movement That Is Challenging it

By Alex Knight
Fifth Estate
Spring 2015


The good people of Strike Debt have revised and expanded their very popular, Debt Resisters’ Operations Manual, (DROM) into a full-length book. It is half political and historical analysis of how indebtedness has come to define so many aspects of our lives and half a practical
how-to guide for people struggling with various forms of debt to seek individual relief and collective action.

Strike Debt defines itself as “a nationwide movement of debt resisters fight- ing for economic justice and democratic freedom.”

As an ideological and practical tool, the DROM is highly valuable and appropriate to our time of crisis. What remains to be seen is how to transform the growing distress of the millions affected by debt into a grassroots mass movement, which is the only vehicle that can ultimately overthrow the debt system (capitalism) and liberate the future. Organizing campaigns against more focused targets, such as the student loan industry, may be the best way to cohere the analysis and outrage of Strike Debt into national (or global) upheaval.

The Manual is very comprehensive in its survey of the pillars of debt. The original chapters from the old pamphlet version of the DROM are still here, in slightly updated form: Credit Card and Automobile Debt, Medical Debt, Student Debt, Housing Debt, Municipal and State Debt, as well as “Fringe Finance” products and services which primarily take advantage of the “unbanked” through such extortionate avenues as payday loans and check-cashing services.

In addition, the new DROM also includes chapters on Tax Debt, National Debt, Climate Debt, as well as Credit Scores, Debt Collection and Bankruptcy. Each chapter, written by different anonymous authors, is detailed in its approach yet broad enough to remain accessible to the general reader. The clear purpose is for those who suffer from a particular form of indebtedness to be able to understand the political significance of that debt as an institution, and therefore to politicize the personal and remove the veil of shame that tends to surround those of us who happen to be stuck with it.

This politicization of the personal is one of the great successes of the book. Rather than viewing one’s own debt as a mark of individual failure which sets one apart, the book argues, “[Debt] is quite typically the outcome of people and families just trying to survive under capitalism.”

Seeing this as a unifying, political force is what leads to Strike Debt’s brilliant slogan, “You Are Not a Loan.”

However, the challenge is how to turn theory into strategic action with the capacity to involve large numbers of people in a process of organizing for liberation. In this regard, the Manual offers only modest value. While the book’s historical/political framework is educational for those seeking social change, it comes up short in sug- gesting effective routes for people to apply those lessons in the practice of grassroots organizing.

Most of the practical, how-to sections of the book are focused on individual tactics for debt relief or avoidance. These are worthy of being included and not insignificant. Understanding how to contest one’s debt with collection agencies, or in court, could provide tangible relief and allow greater freedom for many individuals.

However, the book’s last chapter, “Prospects for Change” (subtitle: “Join the Resistance!”), which is one of the few sections dealing explicitly with collective action, is only seven pages long. Even the majority of that is taken up by historical review of past debt resistance movements rather than proposals for what can be done now and how ordinary people can work together to challenge the existing paradigm.

This deficit is unfortunate, but understandable. No one yet knows how to build a debt resistance movement today, or they would be doing it already. Strike Debt has shown in its actions to date that it is at least willing to experiment and be bold in its attempts to spark interest and participation.

Rolling Jubilee, one of their projects, buys bad debt from creditors for pennies on the dollar with funds contributed by supporters, but instead of collecting it, abolishes it. Their site, rollingjubilee.org, states, “Together we can liberate debtors at random through a campaign of mutual support, good will, and collective refusal.”

The effort has attracted major media attention to the debt system’s oppressive nature and that there are people standing up to it. But capitalism will not be defeated by spectacular theatre alone.

More inspiring was a recent disruption and takeover of a U.S. Department of Education meeting by Everest Avengers, a new group made up of present and former students of Everest College and other for-profit colleges in the Corin- thian Colleges network. This action was led by working class women and people of color, demographics preyed upon by for-profit colleges that offer the illusion of an education but saddle many less fortunate young Americans with debt that will last their entire lives.

 It is hopeful to see those most affected by student debt taking the lead to challenge it, since of the six million Americans currently in default on their student loans, 60 percent are women and a disproportionate 57 percent are people of color. Perhaps this new direction of organizing for-profit college students, facilitated by the Debt Collective, also part of Strike Debt, will lead to greater numbers of young people participating in their own liberation.

In Philadelphia, I have joined with other student debtors to initiate a campaign called Strike Student Debt, which aims to accomplish exactly that. Youth are always on the forefront of movements for liberation, and the student debt crisis in this country has reached epic proportions, such that 70 percent of college graduates in 2012 owed an average of almost $30,000 upon graduation.

Understanding that, we’ve decided to take Strike Debt’s excellent theoretical framework and attempt to construct an organizing framework that aims to mobilize large numbers of Americans through the principles of direct democracy and direct action. To this point, we’ve focused primarily on re- search and education, outreach, and a few local actions, but we aim to expand the campaign to other cities in the near future.

The question for us in Strike Student Debt, and for everyone concerned about debt in general, is how do you organize a mass movement against debt? Direct action campaigns have historically been very effective in targeting a localized source of evil, such as a factory or racially segregated facility, but where exactly does the production of debt occur? Can we throw our bodies on “the gears and the levers,” to quote Berkeley’s Mario Savio, by attempting to shut down private lenders or banks, which legally have no public obligation other than to make profit?


It is similarly difficult to image a student strike on campuses being effective enough to force universities across the board (some public, some private, some explicitly for- profit) to collectively agree to slash tuition. When something like this happened in the Maple Spring of Quebec two years ago, students merely prevented a potential tuition hike from about $1,000 to $2,000 at public universities.

Or, in Germany recently when students forced the government to remove all university fees, those fees had only existed since 2006. Unlike Canada, or Europe, the U.S. has gone much further down this disastrous road, and it may take mass confrontation with all the centers of power in this country, from Wall St. to Washington, to produce real change.

As the authors of the Manual point out, “Debt is a profoundly effective form of social control,” and so breaking the shackles of debt will not be a simple task of mobilization.

It also must involve regular people beginning to see themselves as unwilling to be controlled in the old ways.

This is a possibility that becomes more real each time we discuss it or take action that prefigures such a vision, and for that reason we all owe Strike Debt our gratitude for producing this substantial literary contribution.

Alex Knight is the editor of EndOfCapitalism.com. He is active in many social movements attempting to build new demo- cratic pathways. Reach him at alex@endofcapitalism.com.

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

Author, educator and organizer Chris Crass is often at the forefront of multiracial and feminist movements. Crass sat down with the Review this week to talk about his experience as an activist and his thoughts on antiracist organizing.

 The topic of your talk, “Anti-Racist Organizing in White Communities,” is something that our college has been struggling with, both as an institution and as a student body. Could you begin by talking about the difference between racist and anti-racist organizing?

It’s a really common experience for white people who are socially conscious and who are coming to awareness about issues of race, particularly with the campus having the Day of Solidarity. There’s going to be a lot of folks — white folks in particular — being like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t thought about this before,’ or, ‘I didn’t think it was this bad,’ or, ‘I thought this was something that was in the past,’ or ‘I don’t want to be part of the problem,’ and then one of the first next steps [ for those groups] is often the question of how to diversify. I’ve had a lot of experience being a part of mostly or all-white social justice progressive efforts where [that drive to diversify often comes first]. But the question that’s often more helpful is, ‘How can we be a part of challenging racism? How can we be a part of ending institutional white supremacy? What are positive steps, as a white environmental group, we could take to support environmental justice efforts by students of color?’ One of the ways that white supremacy really impacts white people is to invisible-ize the work that’s happening in communities of color, the leadership that’s happening in communities of color, the voices, the perspectives — sometimes you’ll have white activists come to consciousness about race and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to get people of color to join our group,’ and then there’ll be activists of color who will be like, ‘Well, we’ve been working on these issues for a really long time, so rather than coming to us and asking us to diversify your group, it’s more of how could you, as a mostly white group, support the work that students of color are already involved in and build partnership and trust.’

 

What are some positive steps that Oberlin can take toward anti-racist organizing?

Some key ones are learning about work that’s already happen[ed] historically in communities of color, learning about issues. So if you’re in a social justice or progressive student group that’s mostly white, what are issues that students of color are working on, and what are some ways that your group can help support that work? A way that racism often operates is [by determining] whose voices are prioritized. Who’s been told all of their life, ‘You have an important story to tell. You should tell the world about what you think.’ And then there’s a lot of folks — women, queer folks, trans* folks, working class, folks of color — who are regularly told, ‘You have nothing useful to contribute. These aren’t spaces that you even belong in, let alone that you should be working in.’ [It’s about] working to recognize those kind of barriers and having open conversations with activists, leaders of color on campus about the struggles that [you’re] facing and how to think about it together. It’s not going to folks of color and [asking them] to solve all the problems but having genuine conversations about how to overcome these obstacles.

 

How would you explain the reality of institutional racism to someone who might not be familiar with its historical and cultural background?

No one was born with it all figured out. First of all, the way that racism operates is that it socializes and rewards white people to be completely ignorant of racism. The fact that there are so many white people who feel attacked, or who think that it’s racist to even talk about racism, is evidence of how powerful racism operates. Because in communities of color, historically and today, the impacts of racism are so stark. Often white people today look back at white people in the past — whether it’s the white people who were participating, supporting, oblivious [to] or on the sidelines of slavery, or white people who were supportive or on the sidelines of Jim Crow and apartheid in the sixties — and say, ‘How could they have just done nothing?’ [They think] it’s so obvious. People 30 years from now will look back on us today and say, ‘How could white people have not been aware of the mass incarceration, of the mass poverty, of the incredible disparities and not done something?’ As students, [we need to] recognize that we are historical actors, and just as we look on the past and think it was so clear, people will look back on our day and think that it’s so clear. Because in the past, people often said that it was too confusing, that there was  no issue, that it was cultural. [We have to] recognize that we need to make a choice [about] what side of history we want to stand on. It can be a hard journey, but it’s one that ultimately connects us back to our deepest humanity. [We need to get] away from fear, away from ignorance, away from hate and toward a deeper love for ourselves and the people in our community. [People say,] ‘Well, the reason there’s so many black and brown people in prison is because of these reasons,’ and there’s all this justification in the way that the media portrays it, and throughout history that’s always been true. It wasn’t just this super clear cut obvious right and obvious wrong. So we need to take responsibility to investigate and learn and also to open ourselves up to really learning.

 

I’m sure, as a white male talking about feminism and racism, you have been told that you have no right to speak about these issues. Can you talk about your thoughts on who can legitimately contribute to these conversations?

We’re organizing students of color around ethnic studies, around anti-prison issues, around the over-policing of our communities and the underresourcing of our communities, but there’s so much resistance from so many white people who either refuse to believe that this is a reality or accept that it’s wrong but that there’s nothing that they can do about it. We need white people to organize other white people who can relate their own experience about coming to consciousness around these issues, to try to move and support more and more white people to join in multiracial efforts and take on injustice. For me, it’s always [about] trying to remember that it’s absolutely important to amplify and support the voices and leadership of folks of color. This is not about trying to get a bunch of white people to fix the problem for everybody else. Racism is really a cancer in white communities, killing white communities. [It] raises people to racially profile others, to hate or be completely ignorant of other people’s lives and experiences. For me, it’s less about taking [people of colors’] stories and bringing them to white people, and more about connecting with other people as a white person around: How can we come to consciousness about racism, how can we overcome some of the barriers that hold us back from becoming involved, and how can we make really powerful contributions to working toward social justice and structural equality?

- See more at: http://oberlinreview.org/5225/uncategorized/off-the-cuff-chris-crass-author-activist-and-anti-racist-organizer/#sthash.5w2pEyva.dpuf

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