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Close encounters with feminist science fiction in ‘Sisters of the Revolution’

By Elizabeth Hand
LA Times
August 6th, 2015


Mary Shelley usually gets mad props as the progenitor of feminist science fiction for her 1818 "Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus." But pride of place arguably goes to Mary Cavendish, who in 1668 penned a feminist utopian novel, "The Description of a New World, Called the Blazing-World," in response to Robert Hooke's "Micrographia," which in 1665 put microscopes on the map and coined the biological term "cell." Cavendish delved into speculation as to what might exist beneath and within the world we know, or think we know (alien life forms played a role). She was given the sobriquet "Mad Madge" for her pains.

Nearly 300 years later, things had improved … barely. "Women are writing SCIENCE FICTION!" trumpeted the flap copy for Margaret St. Clair's 1963 novel "Sign of the Labrys." Women, it went on to say, "are conscious of the moon-pulls, the earth-tides. They possess a buried memory of humankind's obscure and ancient past which can emerge to uniquely color and flavor a novel."

Those who don't possess a buried memory of humankind's obscure and ancient past are condemned to repeat it. So thank the Goddess for "Sisters of the Revolution," a superlative new anthology of previously published feminist science fiction by female writers, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer. Noted editors of numerous anthologies of speculative fiction, the VanderMeers have compiled one of the best volumes of feminist — or any other — science fiction in years. "Sisters of the Revolution" reaches back to the late 1960s and extends to 2012, with the lioness' share of tales originally published between 1980 and 2000.

There are classic, much-anthologized stories by well-known writers here. "The Screwfly Solution," a brilliant, terrifying tale of global femicide by James M. Tiptree Jr. [pseudonym for Alice Sheldon], carries even more impact in our own age of rampant violence against women than when it first appeared in 1977. An off-world feminist utopia confronts its own destruction in "When It Changed" by Joanna Russ, whose "How to Suppress Women's Writing" was a touchstone for second-wave feminists. Ursula Le Guin is represented by "Sur," in which a group of bluestockings mount an early 20th century expedition to Antarctica. "The Evening and the Morning and the Night" by Octavia Butler explores the global effect of a fictional neurovirus, and "how much of what we do is encouraged, discouraged, or otherwise guarded by what we are genetically," as she states in her short afterword to this poignant tale. Angela Carter's "The Fall River Axe Murders" follows Lizzie Borden on the sultry August morning of the day that her "Sargasso calm" notoriously erupts, suggesting motives that were ignored at the time.

But much of the pleasure in "Sisters of the Revolution" derives from encountering work by writers who aren't household names. The stories are arranged as to how they "speak to one another rather than chronological order". So Anne Richter's "The Sleep of Plants," deftly translated from the Belgian by Edward Gauvin, segues into Kelly Barnhill's dreamy and dark magical realist tale, "The Men Who Live in Trees," which slides into Hiromi Goto's "Tales From the Breast" ("You want to yell down the hall that you have a name and it isn't Breast Milk").

Readers can also compare depictions of maternal love in Kit Reed's viciously funny "The Mothers of Shark Island" and Nnedi Okorafor's "The Palm Tree Bandit," whose narrator tells her young daughter of her namesake great-grandmother's daring nocturnal exploits, and delight in riffs on such oft-told tales as Kelley Eskridge's gender-bending "And Salome Danced" and Nalo Hopkinson's creepy Bluebeard story, "The Glass Bottle Trick." And these are just a handful of the stories contained in this distaff treasure chest: Every single one is a gem.

Forty years ago, in her essay "American SF and the Other," Le Guin wryly observed: "The women's movement has made most of us conscious of the fact that SF has either totally ignored women, or presented them as squeaking dolls subject to instant rape by monsters — or old-maid scientists desexed by hypertrophy of the intellectual organs — or, at best, loyal little wives or mistresses of accomplished heroes."

There are no squeaking dolls or loyal little wives here, no old maid scientists — and if there were, woe betide anyone who took them at face value.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Ann VanderMeer's homepage | Back to Jeff VanderMeer's homepage




Midsummer Shorts: The Last of the Hippies: A Review (and more!)

By Ron Jacobs
Counterpunch
June 26th, 2015

Midsummer Shorts

It’s almost the middle of summer and the days are getting hotter and shorter. Vacations are beginning in earnest. The brief list below includes some reading possibilities for the beach, the woods, or even a hot and humid apartment in the middle of Manhattan.

Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know—Miquel Tinker Salas. This is not just a reference book; it is an easily accessible history of the country of Venezuela. Formatted into questions and answers, Salas has written a fair-minded text for the reader interested in knowing more about the country’s history and politics or the researcher looking for an up-to-date reference work. Every popular movement, every coup, and every major economic influence important to the nation of Venezuela is discussed here. The political perspective is representative of the popular will in Venezuela, with equal treatment provided to the various opposition forces in it society throughout history. In light of current realities, the author’s emphasis is on the role the oil industry has played in the economics and politics of Venezuela.

Armageddon Rag—George RR Martin. I have never watched an episode of Game of Thrones, nor read any of the books. However, this novel from Martin piqued my interest. I discovered it while researching my latest book and finally read it last month. When a retired rock promoter is grotesquely murdered in his Maine home, the novel’s protagonist (a journalist and novelist) goes on a search for his killer. His pursuit leads him to a bizarre plot to stage an Armageddon-like battle between good and evil by reuniting a revolutionary rock band and its dead lead singer. More importantly, this search is for the meaning of the 1960s and a query into why they ended the way they did. Martin’s writing keeps one turning the pages and, if one cares too, joining in on his fuzzily psychedelic ruminations over the lost potential that decade held.

Americans Against the City: Anti-Urbanism in the Twentieth Century—Steven Conn. Having lived most of my life now in small cities, but still having an affinity for the bigger ones, I found this treatise by Conn to be an interesting cultural exploration of the love-hate relationship US residents have with their large urban areas. Traditionally the entry points for many immigrants and the gathering place for arts and money, the social fabric of the city is a complex and occasionally divisive one. Likewise, as Conn makes clear, is the fear many denizens of the United States have of cities. It is a fear played out all too often in the l battleground of domestic politics and representative of several different elements of US culture–from religion to work and from debates over big government to decisions about transportation funding. This text focuses primarily on the twentieth and twenty-first centuries but provides a comprehensive history of the decades preceding 1900.

Nazis in the Metro—Didier Daeninckx. This 1997 novel was recently translated from the French.
Like all good noir, its characters reside on the fringes of society, respectable and otherwise. An aging, not-very-popular-anymore novelist is attacked, that’s how the story begins. A fan and acquaintance who also freelances as a private investigator starts looking into the assault, unwilling to accept the police’s story. He uncovers neo-nazis and their opposite in the squats and streets of Paris. Gritty and fast-paced, this novel is like a good bebop jazz album, where the spaces that aren’t filled with sound are as important as the spaces that are.

The Last of the Hippies—Penny Rimbaud. Rimbaud helped found the British punk band CRASS. This book is a re-published tribute to Phil Russell (aka Wally Hope), who was a key inspiration for the Free Festival movement of 1970s Britain, a look at the anarchist movement of that time and a revolutionary call to battle. Hope was arrested on his way to the second free festival at Stonehenge and “found to be in possession” of three hits of LSD. He was committed to a mental institution, subjected to pharmaceutical “remedies,” and eventually killed himself. The book represents the counterculture beginnings of what would inform the anarchist/autonomen movement throughout the West from the 1980s on. Rimbaud and the publisher PM Press have included a new introduction for this edition. That introduction is quite a contrast to the naive and utopian hopes of the original text, which was published at the very beginning of the Thatcher/Reagan years. Alternately hopeful and depressing, this is an enlightening read.

Boo—Neil Smith. One of those modern novels that occupy a space between Young Adult fiction and Adult fiction, this well-written tale takes place in a heaven populated only by thirteen year olds and overseen by a god named Zig. This heaven is built somewhat along the lines of a public housing project with names of fictional characters such as Phoebe Caulfield and Sal Paradise given to the buildings. Simultaneously a novel about friendship and depression, youth and growing old, it is a coming-of-age story with a unique and unnerving twist.

Boston ‘78–Easy Skanking—Bob Marley and the Wailers. This recently released recording of the 1978 Boston Music Hall Bob Marley concert is not only an almost perfect reproduction of the Wailers’ sound, it also captures the excitement and energy present in every one of Marley’s performances. Fire one up (or not) and play it loud. Irie.

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Penny Rimbaud's homepage




Philly photographer releases 10 years of LGBTQ youth portraits Rachelle Lee Smith, a Philadelphia-based artist, has released a b

By Ernest Owens
Philadelphia Metro
July 7th, 2015


A local photographer who has specialized in portraits of LGBT youths for more than a decade was reunited with several of her subjects during a talk about her recently published collection at the Free Library.

“I just wanted to create a book that was for us, by us,” Philly photographer Rachelle Lee Smith, 34, told attendees Monday night during the talk at the Independence Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Smith was there to speak about Speaking OUT: Queer Youth in Focus. A photographic and personal narrative of 65 LGBTQ youths between the ages of 14 to 24, Speaking OUT originated as a personal project that was not initially intended to be published, Smith said.

“It sparked from a growing curiosity of the different coming out experiences of those LGBTQ around me,” said Smith, who openly identifies as a lesbian. “I was fortunate to have an accepting and loving family…but I knew that unfortunately this wasn’t the same result for many when I came to college.”

At age 21, the University of the Arts graduate began photographing and archiving the volunteer youth images of those lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and of queer identity around her. She would reach out to personal friends until word of mouth got the project recognition around Philadelphia.

“I later went to the Attic Youth Center, and then local campus groups reached out to me to share their stories as a way to volunteer themselves for the project. … We photographed each one, authentically hand printed, at my UArts studio behind a white background,” Smith said of the project, which started in 2002. “It was fascinating to me what images they would choose to describe themselves from the photoshoot…what personal stories they would write on them as a result.”

During the duration of the project, Smith would take time off to travel across the country and interview other youths.
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After being one of the first exhibiting artists at the Human Rights Campaign’s headquarters and later being commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, Smith realized that she “couldn’t just let these stories only be temporarily displayed.”

“People would often see these images and feel as though they wanted to take them home,” Smith said of her reasoning behind publishing them. “I felt as though this was a very important time to preserve these stories for various generations afterwards.”

Speaking OUT was published in November. After raising $25,000 in donations to help offset costs, Smith is now on a national book tour across the country showcasing the experiences of the LGBTQ youth that inspired her work.

But the tour has not come without a few hurdles along the way.

Earlier this year, while her collection was on display at the University of Connecticut, a protester vandalized the exhibit and inscribed “God hates the gays” on promotional material. To Smith’s fortune, the physical work was not damaged due to the protective framing over it.

Overall, she found the campus community’s response to it “the most empowering statement of all.”

“The incident brought spiritual groups and students together to respond in love and understanding to something more individually hateful than religious,” Smith said.

Since the memorable photo shoot, Smith has still kept in touch with many of the individuals featured in the text. She has even invited some of them to speak at events with her along the way.

“I was 21 when I was photographed. How I felt about myself was very different,” says Matty Lehman, now 35. Lehman, who then identified as “Beth” in the original photo, has since “become more reflective” of herself.

“To be photographed as a queer woman of color allowed me to feel as though I was entitled to those experiences,” said Alyssa Hargrove. Now a photographer for Getty Images and The Associated Press, Hargrove, now 24, still recalls “the big smile” she gave in the image taken of her at age 18.

“I was then expressing the joy I felt of my first kiss with a girl … Being a lesbian for me now has been about proving that we’re not just institutions but people who deserve love just like anyone else … That’s what this project was all about.”

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Rachelle Lee Smith Author's Page




John King: Book synopsises from London Books

From London Books:

John King is the author of seven novels – The Football Factory, HeadhuntersEngland AwayHuman PunkWhite TrashThe Prison House and Skinheads.

The Football Factory tells the stories of Chelsea boy Tommy Johnson and British tommy Bill Farrell, a World War II hero, and is set against a background of contemporary England, dipping into a series of related lives. Inspired by George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and its power-of-the-proles message, the book has been adapted as a play by Brighton Theatre Events and as a film by Vertigo Films. It has also appeared on the stage in Germany and Holland.

Headhunters focuses on the lives of five men who form a light-hearted Sex Division, a league dedicated to female conquest. Carter is a charmer, Balti and Harry more dedicated to drink and curries than women, Will a thinker happy to settle down, while Mango is a wide boy in a smart car, an angry character traumatised by the loss of his missing brother. The Sex Division soon fades away, the so-called sex war meaningless when matched to the on-going class war, a tit-for-tat argument and prophetic dreams leading to a final explosion on the streets of London.

England Away is the third part of The Football Factory Trilogy, and in this novel characters from The Football Factory and Headhunters come together as they head into Europe for a football match against Germany in Berlin. Tommy Johnson narrates their passage through Amsterdam to Berlin, while back in London Bill Farrell retraces his war-time route to confront a horrific war memory, both men confronting their own demons, with very different results.

Human Punk is the first instalment of The Satellite Cycle and charts the life and times of Joe Martin, a Slough scruff who is changed forever by the arrival of punk rock in his school playground. Set in 1977, 1988 and 2000, the book follows his life through the eras of fading Old Labour, rampant New Tory, and emerging New Labour governments. With a soundtrack that features everything from The Clash to Argy Bargy via King Tubbys and The Ruts, Human Punk is about the importance of informal education and the power of friendship.

White Trash records the world as seen through the eyes of Ruby James and Jonathan Jefferies, at the same time dipping into the lives of a succession or men and women who are full of wisdom yet considered worthless by the money-motivated elite. Ruby is a hard-working nurse, while Jefferies is a mysterious time-and-motions expert, a sinister presence in the corridors of the hospital where she works. White Trash reflects the clash of two opposing mentalities and is essentially a celebration of everyday life and a defence of the NHS.

The Prison House is set in a foreign prison, Seven Towers, and is split into seven sections, each dealing with a deadly sin. Inmate Jimmy Ramone is a drifter, running from a truth he has yet to face, though it isn’t until the end of the novel that the reader learns the nature of his secret – and the crime he has committed. The Prison House deals with love and imagination and the will to survive, moving into split personalities and reality-splitting road trips across America and India, Jimmy finally able to confront the the nightmares lurking in the shadows.

Skinheads completes the loose The Satellite Cycle (which includes Human Punk and White Trash) and focuses on Terry English (original ska-loving skinhead), his nutter-nephew Nutty Ray (Oi skin and Orwell fanatic) and Terry’s son Lol (a fifteen-year-old ska-punk more than happy to embrace his family heritage). The futures of Terry and Ray are threatened by dark clouds, stories from their late-60s and early-80s youths weaving into the main narrative as they seek salvation. Skinheads is rooted in honour, decency and pride in self, family and culture.

Back to John King's Author Page




Putting solidarity back into Pride

The Socialist Review
By Nicola Field, Gethin Roberts
June 2015

Nicola Field and Gethin Roberts of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners spoke to Socialist Review about politicising this year's Pride season.

We’ve just seen a majority Tory government elected. How will this shape the context of the Pride marches this year and the wider work you are doing through the re-launched Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM)?

Nicola: The Tories, who were seen before the election by the bourgeois gay movement as heroes because they brought in gay marriage, have now shown their true colours. The cabinet is full of homophobes, such as the new equalities minister, Caroline Dinenage, who voted against equal marriage.

It exposes what they were doing as opportunistic, a kind of pink-washing, a way of appealing to liberals while carrying through a vicious assault on the working class through cuts.

Now they’re appeasing the right by kicking LGBT people in the teeth. It opens the door to us to reconnect the issues of class and sexuality. The cuts to welfare, especially housing benefit, will affect young LGBT people.

If you’re stuck at home with parents who don’t understand or you are in a rural situation or in a place where you feel isolated or unable to be yourself, you’re not going to be able to move away.

Cuts in health services mean that LGBT people won’t be able to access the help they need — maybe HIV services or mental health services. We know that LGBT people suffer particularly with depression, anxiety and isolation. Not being able to access services is life threatening.

With LGSM we want to put the politics back into Pride and march with trade unionists, regardless of their sexuality. It gives us a chance to connect the rights and needs of LGBT people with the class issue of opposing cuts and austerity.

Right wingers are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of the homophobes being in charge and we’ve got to show that we understand who our real friends are and who our potential allies are — and it’s certainly not the Tories.

Gethin: For me the most frightening thing is the contempt which is now really obvious and naked from the Tory party. Cameron has put the view that “we’ve been far too tolerant for too long”. It is terrifying that he can think that privately, let alone say it publicly.

We need to remind ourselves constantly that the majority of the population did not and would not vote for these people.

In stark contrast to what they’re proposing for trade union balloting, which is 40 percent of eligible voters, the Tories got less than 24 percent. In their own terms, therefore, they have no mandate.

What are your priorities for LGSM?

Gethin: The next few months will be very much focused upon how we can use the interest in the film Pride during the Pride march season.

We are there to encourage trade unionists and other activists, regardless of sexuality, to join us in putting forward the argument that sexuality is not something that divides us from each other; we have so much more in common.

We need to build solidarity with other groups — disabled people, people in receipt of benefits who’ve been victimised and targeted, Muslim communities and a whole range of other communities who will see for themselves very clearly that they are now in the sights of the Tories in the same way that the LGBT community used to be, and I think no longer is.

What Nicola said about pink-washing is absolutely right, but the battle for LGBT rights has moved forward so substantially in the last 30 years that our responsibility now is not to fight for our rights but to see that our rights are indivisible from the rights of all those others under attack. It’s about building solidarity. The connections we built 30 years ago are still there and still producing amazing things.

Some of us were in Istanbul, Turkey, recently and visited a picket line of electrical workers who had been on strike for 241 days, picketing the sites that they’d been employed at before they were sacked for raising health and safety concerns. We were very nervous, but we could not have had a warmer or more positive reception.

When we show solidarity with other people it is reciprocated, and that’s the way we will build a majority for change.

Nicola: We collected for the Barnet care workers when they were on strike, the bus workers and the Doncaster care workers.

We visited the National Gallery strikers and held a solidarity event with them on May Day, and we met the Kellingley coal miners who are fighting the closure of one of the last deep mines in the UK.

Gethin: During the Bafta Awards we were pleased to be outside picketing along with the cleaners and porters at the Royal Opera House in support of union recognition and the London living wage.

Nicola: Stephen Beresford [who wrote Pride] was inside collecting the award for the film while we were outside with our banner picketing!

Gethin: Stephen, to be fair, did express solidarity from the stage.

Nicola: When the film came out we found that young people in their teens and 20s were so inspired by the idea of solidarity, of changing the world and fighting a common enemy together.

Young people today have no sense of the political context of the 1980s. In the atmosphere of the time, setting up a support group was the obvious thing to do; it wasn’t any great revelation.

You could live on the dole, you could squat somewhere, and you didn’t have to work for benefits. Young people today need to understand that you should not have to qualify to survive.

Young people have been inspired by the political message of the film, and we’ve been able to connect that with what we want to do with the Pride marches.

We’ve already had support from several branches of the National Union of Teachers, Unison, the Royal Society of Radiographers, the Fire Brigades Union, Kellingley National Union of Miners and the Tredegar Town Band, who are currently performing at Sadler’s Wells with the Rambert dance company in a piece called Dark Arteries about the Miners’ Strike.

There’s also a group of sixth formers from Pontefract who have raised money from trade unions to organise a coach down to Pride, and they’re actually selling tickets to trade unionists!

The film made them want to march with us and has taught them how you make solidarity links in order to make it happen —– like in the film when Dai Donovan says this is what solidarity is: you shake hands and say I support you, you support me, wherever you are, wherever you come from.

And they have found that to be true — they had to go and speak at meetings and they learnt how to speak politically.

It’s crucial that LGSM uses the opportunity of the Pride season to unite everyone we can against austerity; this is the central message of what we are doing now.

Gethin: The other important message, especially in terms of London Pride, is that we do not want anything to do with the kind of people that the board have brought on board as sponsors.

We certainly don’t think that companies that don’t pay taxes in the UK should be given a platform at our event.

These companies are deliberately trying to associate themselves with what is seen as a progressive, right-on event, to deflect attention from the fact that they treat their employees appallingly.

There will be companies supporting Pride who use zero-hour contracts, who don’t pay the London living wage, even companies that don’t have trade union agreements. It’s completely unacceptable.

Very early on in our discussions with the Pride board it became very clear that they have no screening process whatsoever for donors.

The TUC ought to consider whether it should continue to sponsor Pride when that’s the basis on which they’re accepting sponsorship.

Is there resistance to Pride’s commercialisation within the wider LGBT movement?

Gethin: Over the last 30 years our minds have been colonised by the neoliberals and people think there is no alternative to the way things are. Many LGBT people think the battle is over because we have legal equality, but what is the point of that if we don’t have other basic human rights? If you’re unemployed and have no access to benefits, and now the Tories even want to abolish the Human Rights Act!

Nicola: Or if you’re being beaten up by a partner or family member and can’t afford to leave. Legal equality means little if these rights are taken away.

What do you think are the challenges for young LGBT people today?

Nicola: There is a contradiction between the outward appearance of the rights that have been won across Western Europe and North America and the reality for many young people, whatever their sexuality, who feel constrained, restricted, that there are lots of rules governing them, lots of disapproval, that there’s lots of misunderstanding.

I wrote a book 20 years ago called Over the Rainbow: Money, Class and Homophobia, looking at the way in which identity politics was colonising the LGBT movement.

It was pulling the movement away from a class analysis of sexual oppression into a set of hierarchies of oppression in which we were competing over who was most oppressed and challenging it through internal consciousness raising.

It was an incredibly paralysing approach which played right into the hands of the bourgeois gay movement, who were able to get on with making money out of the movement and commercialising it.

Looking at the LGBT movement now on the campuses we can see the modern version of identity politics in intersectionality and privilege theory. Queer theory is really the left wing of it, the best of the activists who we want to relate to.

But you get this notion of “you can’t say anything about this because you haven’t experienced it yourself”. If that’s the case then we will be a very beleaguered set of people! If you can only talk about your own experiences then you can’t reach out to support others.

We must remember that Pastor Niemöller poem where if you don’t speak out for others there’ll be no one left to speak out for you.

I think those young people who’ve been inspired by the film are fed up with being told they can’t understand or they can’t speak out.

They’ve found a place in LGSM where we say we don’t care who you are or where you come from or what your experiences are — you support us and we’ll support you.

Going back to your point Gethin about neoliberalism, it relates to the general election and why Labour lost — because they never challenged the notion that austerity is necessary and that the economic crisis was a result of Labour’s overspending. If there is no challenge to the neoliberal agenda then many people will accept it.

Gethin: Yes, and the result in Scotland confirms that — where an alternative argument was put by the SNP they won a resounding victory.

Nicola: I hope that isn’t a case of “poor-washing” by the SNP. I hope Sturgeon and the other new MPs prioritise an anti-austerity agenda that becomes a focus for political debate in this country.

I have just been commissioned by PM Press to write a book looking at class and sexuality today, about how sexual liberation is absolutely bound up with the question of class struggle.

That’s why it’s vital that we defend trade union rights and oppose austerity — and build a movement that’s capable of building another world, because it’s in that other world altogether that we’ll be able to find out who we really are.

Facebook: LGSM Pride 2014
Twitter: @LGSMpride
Pints and Perverts socials are held monthly at the London Welsh Centre on Gray’s Inn Road, King’s Cross.
For a list of Pride marches around the country go to prideinlondon.org/pride-uk-2015/




Gabriel Kuhn's Playing as if the World Mattered reviewed in the New York Journal of Books

By Russell P. Gantos
The New York Journal of Books
June 2015


Author Gabriel Kuhn’s Playing As If The World Mattered: An Illustrated History of Activism in Sports is a thoughtful and easy to digest compilation of one-page commentaries with supporting full-color images, tracking examples of activism within the changing influence of the role of sports as integral parts of all societies.

Covering a period of more than 120 years, Kuhn begins with the advent of sports clubs and sports associations in Europe in the 1890s and carries it through the role of sports as it collides with the Civil Rights movement right through today’s period of mega-professional sports teams and world-wide sporting events like the World Cup of Soccer and the Olympic games.

His 160 pages covers a great deal of ground with example after example of activism threading its way throughout a pantheon of sports, from cycling to something known as radical cheerleading. It is an impressive pulling together of well-known and heretofore generally unknown to the general public, events, and individuals who played roles in the arena of sports activism.

While the book is definitely not for the average pro sports fan, those who have a keen interest in the role of sports as an influencer within past and future societies, particularly those who share Kuhn’s leftist viewpoint, will certainly find observations that should reinforce his belief that viewing and participating in various sports can and does have an important place in shaping the world in which we live.

The author concludes however, there should be a more enlightened goal for the role of sports within society, and that is to return to the ideal where everyone competes on a level playing field with no highly-compensated superstars, greedy owners or politicians who use sports for their own personal or political gains. What is lost is that despite its warts, mega-sports and world-wide sporting events do bring people of all races, income levels, and ages together in a shared passion for a beloved sports team. That too is a noble accomplishment.

Unfortunately, like a lot of great causes intended to help build a more perfect society, once people actually get involved, it pretty much all goes to hell, as Kuhn so aptly reveals.

Russell P. Gantos Jr. has been a researcher for more than 40 years as well as a journalist and newspaper sports editor and columnist. He has a degree in journalism from Ohio University.
- See more at: http://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/playing#sthash.FZQTqXVS.dpuf

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Waging Peace receives 2015 Skipping Stones Book Award!

By Daemion Lee, and Paulette Ansari
Skipping Stones Magazine
June 2015

David Hartsough has been a peace activist all of his life, and this book tells his story. Born in 1940, he par- ticipated in many of the major peace movements in the U.S. and around the world. His recounting of various nonviolent protests make this book more than his personal story. It also chronicles a his- tory of peace activism that Mr. Hartsough witnessed.

Both of his parents were activists, and the childhood memories he includes in the book present an interesting per- spective on the early makings of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1940s and 1950s. He remembers challenging his teacher over a patri- otic march around the flag to support the military draft when he was in fifth grade. He also met Dr. Martin Luther King briefly as a teenager, which proved to be a influential experience.

He recalls, when he was only twenty, sitting at a segregated lunch counter all day in Arlington,Virginia with other black and white college students. He heard a voice behind him say, “Get out of this store in two seconds, or I’m going to stab this through your heart.” An evil looking man was holding a switchblade about an inch from his heart. David was grateful for his many hours of nonviolent role playing just days before. Still, it took all the courage he could muster to put a smile on his face, turn and say, “Friend, do what you believe is right, and I will still try to love you.”The man lowered his arm, turned and walked out of the store.This single event proved the awesome power of God’s love.

Hartsough’s work took him from Cuba to Yugoslavia to Germany and back to America. He also went to Kosovo, El Salvador, Palestine, Iran and else- where. He continues to protest against war, racism, and militarization in nonviolent ways.

Hartsough is a Quaker and his sense of faith clearly sustains his work. He has witnessed much injustice —most chilling is his descriptions of the accident his friend Brian Wilson suffered in 1987 during a peace- ful blockade of a military train carrying weapons.Yet Hartsough has maintained a deep sense of compassion and a reverence for life that is evident in his writing.
This book shows what made Hartsough into a peace activist, and it chronicles the major achievments, as well as setbacks, in his life’s work. All together, this book is an excellent resource to help inspire those who will come after him.



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Positive Force: More Than A Witness reviewed on SLUG

By Nick Kuzmack
Salt Lake Under Ground (SLUG)

It’s always good to see what is preached in song lyrics, then practiced through example. Director Robin Bell takes the viewer through the extensive history of DC based punk-activist group Positive Force. Bell explores the origins during the Reagan era, the establishment of their communal headquarters, the beginnings of Riot Grrrl, the modern-day controversial affiliation with the mainstream and what it means to be an underground movement. Supporters like Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile) and Ian F. Svenonius (Nation of Ulysses) lend narratives of their varied experiences with Positive Force. This DVD is also packed with cool bonus features that look into Positive Force’s involvement with groups like the “We Are Family” senior service advocacy group. It also contains sweet music videos from groups like Chumbawamba’s “Rappaport’s Testament: I Never Gave Up” and Anti-Flag’s “You’ve Got to Die for the Government.” There are a lot of films on the gritty, rock n’ roll–inspired lifestyles of punk rockers, but not nearly enough idealize it. It is punk movements like these that inspire viable alternatives and the possibilities of creating a whole new world. So dig this, and be inspired to create something new.

Buy the DVD now | Back to Robin Bell's Director Page




Chin Wag At the Slaughterhouse: Interview with Kenneth Wishnia

RichardGodwin.net
June 10th, 2015

Kenneth Wishnia is the author of numerous highly acclaimed novels, among them 23 Shades of Black. His work is imbued with the hybrid knowledge of Noir. An articulate narrator, he is at once both ancient and modern. Kenneth met me at The Slaughterhouse, where we talked about identity and his fictions.

To what extent is identity important in your fictions?

Identity is tremendously important in my work. My protagonists are almost always marginalized outsiders, members of ethnic and/or religious minorities, or hanging by a thread economically. Some of this likely stems from the ancient tribal prophetic drive to “give voice to the voiceless,” a tradition going back to one of the earliest people’s prophet, Amos, an 8th century BCE “sheepbreeder from Tekoa” who is called upon by God to take on those “who defraud the poor, who rob the needy” (4:1).

Some of it is a reaction against a certain kind of contemporary “thriller” protagonist. You know the type—she or he is always a junior partner in some high-powered law firm who’s desperately trying to make senior partner; an intrepid investigative journalist or police detective whose job is in jeopardy; or a mid-level military or special agent, something like that. I think the idea behind such protagonists is that middle class readers will identify with them more than with a working class protagonist, especially since, in U.S. culture anyway, such professionals are seen as having more at stake, as having something to lose. As if working people don’t risk losing everything they’ve got if they dare to step out of line or miss a day of work.

In fact, I’ve found that once people reach a certain level of professional and economic stability, they are often far less likely to rock the boat, while those who have a much smaller stake in the economic system are often the ones who are willing to risk their livelihoods to take on the big bad guys.

Do you think there is a sub-genre of Noir that may be identified as the Noir of alienation, particularly when applied to the Jewish experience?

The theme of Jewish alienation goes back at least as far as the patriarchal era of the Middle Bronze Age (circa 1900 BCE) when God tells Abraham to leave his home city of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, with the warning: “Know well that your offspring shall be strangers in a land not theirs” (Genesis 15:13). Even the word Hebrews conveys our wandering nomadic origins: the root letters of this ancient tribal name, e-b-r, can be found in the words ebra and ever, which mean cross over and other side, respectively. In other words, the Hebrews have been transgressive border crossers since way back.

This legacy has bred prejudices and superstitions that have followed us into the modern era:

Think of all those absurd conspiracy theories about the Jewish plot to take over global media and finances, which along with other hate-filled stereotypes contributed to the deadly assaults on the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC (where the victim was an African-American security guard) and the recent attacks on Jews, police and representatives of free speech in Paris and Denmark.

That’s some pretty dark stuff.

It’s no accident that so many of the directors and screenwriters who explored the dark side of the American experience in the classic films noir of the 1940s-50s (many of whom were blacklisted as a result) were Jewish émigrés from Fascist Europe. But many of them were the U.S.-born children of immigrants, whose experiences clearly parallel those of the contributors to Jewish Noir, the anthology I am currently editing for PM Press (pub date: Oct. 1, 2015), who have endured more subtle forms of discrimination, exclusion, identity and/or uniquely Jewish moral crises.

I’ll close with a (generalized, oversimplified) statement about the (simplistic, triumphalist) Christian view of the world–e.g., the Hebrew God is distant and terrifying, while Jesus loves you–and especially the idea that, for Christians, if you follow the right path, everything will turn out great for you, whereas in Judaism, you can follow the right path and still get fucked (cf. Job). THAT’S noir.

How do you convey this in your novel 23 Shades of Black?

It’s central to the main character’s experience. The novel takes place in New York City in the early 1980s, when my character, Ecuadorian-American female detective Filomena Buscarsela, would have been one of the first Latinas on the NYPD. So not only is she a woman in a man’s world, she’s a woman of color in a white man’s world. And they put her through hell for it, which makes it very difficult for her to live up to the ideals she has set for herself.

She’s also something of an outcast within her own “community” as well: immigrants from Ecuador were still a very small group at the time, and she’s also a cop, so she is not fully accepted by the Latino community, either, which makes her a minority within a minority. (This phrase also describes the protagonist of my Jewish-themed historical novel, The Fifth Servant, and my current novel-in-progress, so it’s clearly a motif that I revisit again and again.)
So she’s alienated from her job, her community, and from American society in a general way as well. I guess that covers everything. So what’s left?

One idea I was working with while writing 23 Shades of Black was to invert a cherished Hollywood type: the righteous individual who, through sheer grit and determination, kicks open the doors to his or her group’s participation in some wider aspect of the culture that had previously been closed off. Baseball legend Jackie Robinson, who played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, is a perfect example of this type of individual, single-handedly breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball, and his place in baseball history is unassailable.

Hollywood just loves that kind of story.

But what if he had failed? What if the taunts finally got to him? Or, perhaps worse, what if he simply hadn’t been a very good baseball player? What might that have been like?

Rather than write about an untarnished superwoman who takes on all comers, beats the odds, and ends up triumphant, I wanted to explore the human reality of someone who simply can’t take the weight of the entire world on her shoulders, who shows incredible personal strength—but it isn’t enough. (I guess my Marxist upbringing is showing: collective action is the only way to go, people!)

That’s my idea of drama. And yes, when a righteous person tries their best and still ends up getting chewed up by the system, you’re in the realm of noir.

What event has changed your life?

That’s easy: Getting nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best First Novel for 23 Shades of Black. I went from a nobody to a somebody overnight. I went from pressing my face up against the glass looking through the bulletproof glass window at the party to being inside at the party. The only thing that could top that would be getting a call from Hollywood. (Hello, Hollywood. Hello? Hello? Anybody there…?)

How important is legacy to you as a Jewish man living in America?

I’ve certainly never been interested in writing something trendy that will sell tons of copies in a single season but will disappear and be forgotten within a few years. Books are supposed to have a longer shelf life than a carton of milk, after all. My goal has always been to write something that will still be readable—and still be read—in a hundred years (at the very least).

One example: A couple of years ago, I read the Ace Books paperback edition of Harlan Ellison’s MEMOS FROM PURGATORY, about his experiences going undercover and joining a street gang in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood in the mid-1950s. First published in 1961, it was 50 years old when I picked it up—and Ellison’s voice was as engaging as anything written today. In terms of emotional realism, it didn’t feel dated at all. I even wrote to Harlan Ellison to tell him my reaction, saying that this book was still fresh after 50 years, which meant that it would still be fresh after 100 years. (And so on, until the language changes so much they’ll need footnotes to understand the references.) That’s definitely taking the long view, but really, what writer doesn’t fantasize—even a little bit—about still being read centuries later?

I think this attitude has less to do with my Jewish roots than my general goals as an artist, but perhaps the fact that Judaism is a text-based culture with a written legacy dating back thousands of years could have something to do with it.

Graham Greene wrote, ‘There is a splinter of ice in the heart of a writer.’ What do you make of his observation?

Any artist, good or great, has to be a bit driven.

One thing that distinguishes writing from many other professions is the requirement for a certain level of analytical and observational distance—the separation that comes with the need to step outside a situation to observe or record it, while others seem to be able to live in the moment with no need to preserve something of the event (except as a digital photo) in order to use it as material for creative development, expansion, or significant alteration. We are the ones who look past the glitz in order to spot the staples holding up the chintzy curtains that seem to dazzle so many regular folks. This spoils some of the fun, of course. But we’re also less likely to be taken in by scams, especially if they involve written documents or email communication. I suppose we’re a bit like lawyers in that regard, trained to spot the inherent weaknesses and contradictions of a given text.

I think ALL writers have a bit of that “It’s great meeting you, but could you all please leave me the hell alone so I can go home and write?” going on. I know I do. The average shmuck thinks that being a writer means that they pay you millions of dollars, the book writes itself, and you spend the rest of the day drinking in a bar surrounded by admirers. They have no clue that it’s damn hard work and it takes a long time to get something to come out right. And when you’re working on something you end up resenting interruptions—dentist appointments, wedding receptions, phone calls from anyone who isn’t offering you paid work—and I think that a lot of people can’t relate to the fact that one has to cultivate a level of indifference to many distractions that seem to enthrall other people.

You also need to be ruthless when you edit, and many people cannot manage this level of rethinking about any type of problem, much less one that calls for serious self-analysis and criticism.

And of course, the best stories never end with an unequivocal triumph. There’s always a “Yeah, but…”

What do you make of the e-book revolution?

E-books are both good and bad for authors. They’re good for two principal reasons: easy access and no returns. I was once on a panel at Left Coast Crime, and after the panel an audience member came up to me and said, “Your book sounded really interesting, so I just bought it.”

She held up her smart phone and showed me that she had just purchased the e-book version of my novel The Fifth Servant. What’s not to like about that? Also, in terms of plain dollars and cents (or pounds and pence if you prefer), ask any author about their royalty statements, and they will usually complain about the large amounts kept in reserve against returns, or the large number of returns of physical books that this system allows. No one returns e-books. That sale is final.

On the down side, e-books can divert a lot of traffic away from independent bookstores, which are often our biggest supporters, so that’s not so good for us.

What are you working on at the moment?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m editing an anthology of all-new stories for PM Press called Jewish Noir, which is launching on Oct. 1 at the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City, followed by events in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and elsewhere. Anyone in the UK care to invite us all over for an event? The roster of contributors includes Marge Piercy, S.J. Rozan, Eddie Muller, David Liss, Charles Ardai, Gary Phillips, Heywood Gould, Jason Starr, and many more. For more info, go to: http://secure.pmpress.org/index.php?l=product_detail&p=733


I’m also working on an extremely ambitious Jewish-themed historical novel with parallel storylines set in the modern era and the 6th century BCE. I had to do a TON of research for this one, since I’m taking on the biblical era–and believe it or not, one or two people have written about the Bible before me, so I’d better know what I’m talking about. In any case, my take on the subject is sure to outrage all kinds of people. Ha ha ha.

What advice would you give to yourself as a younger man?
Spend a lot more time and money on publicity and promotion. (A lamentable state of affairs, but that’s how it is, folks.) Oh, and don’t forget to write The DaVinci Code.

What do you find to be effective methods of promoting your work and do you think publishing is in crisis?

Argh. I fucking hate the fact that we’re supposed to spend thousands of hours promoting ourselves. When the fuck am I supposed to do the actual writing? I have a full-time day job, an autistic son, and I’m supposed to write a piece for the Huffington Post for free? KRAK!

WANGGG! I did a piece for AlterNet last year called “Five Reasons Why Committed Activists Should Read Crime Fiction.” It’s a nice little piece and I’m reasonably proud of it, but it took me eight hours to do the work and I didn’t get paid one cent for it. GDDZZZZT! SISSS! BOOOM!

The people who set up and run the site don’t do it for free, but I’m supposed to put in eight hours of unpaid labor for them? KSSSHHHH! For the exposure, they say. I’m too old for that crap. When I was in my 20s, I routinely put in seventy-hour weeks for no money just to get experience. BADABOOM! STOMP! KSSHH! Even when I was in my 30s, and married with two children, I spent six months translating a novel from Spanish in order to get the experience, get a line on my resume, and maybe, just maybe, get some karma points for helping out a fellow author. I got $500 for six months’ work, so I sure didn’t do it for the money. YANNNGGGGG!

WEEEE-OOOO-EEEE-EEE! I also taught a bunch of college courses for no money at all while I was in graduate school just to get the experience that led to my full-time teaching job. But that was twenty years ago, and I’m sick of this new dynamic. KLANNGG! ANNGGG! ANNGGGG! All the big places have the money to pay for office space, electricity, equipment, and of course, administration costs. So fuck them. Pay me for my work, assholes. ZINNGGG! ANNNGGGG!

WEEEEEEEE! And if you want to read my work for free, go get one of my books out of the library. KSSSHHHH! BOOOM! KRNCHH! KRKRNCH! WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-OOOOOOOOOOOOOO-EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE! KONNNNNNNnnnnnnnggggggggggggggggg….
Guess I should mention that I’m currently reading Pete Townshend’s autobiography, Who I Am.
Does it show?

Thank you Kenneth for a great interview.

Buy Jewish Noir | Buy the e-Book | Back to Ken Wishnia's Author Page




Snapshots from the Bay Area left

By Todd Chretien
Socialistworker.org
May 27th, 2015


Todd Chretien reviews a combination memoir, history and political statement written by a well-known activist in the Bay Area.

IF YOU'VE been politically active in the Bay Area any time during the last 20 years, as I have been, then you will know Chris Crass, or at least know of him. He has earned a lot of respect among activists based on his work in Food Not Bombs (FNB), and then as an anti-racist activist and trainer in the Challenging White Supremacy workshops, the Heads Up Collective and the Catalyst Project.

Widely-admired author and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz wrote in a glowing Forward to Crass' Towards Collective Liberation that he is a mentor to a new generation of radicals. There are laudatory blurbs from the likes of historian Robin D.G. Kelley, legendary activist Elizabeth "Betita" Martinez, Black Lives Matter organizer Alicia Garza, Combahee River Collective founding member Barbara Smith, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement organizer Kali Akuno, and other left-wing voices such as Vijay Prashad, Maria Poblet and Silvia Federici, among many more.

Of all these, my favorite is from Yvonne Yen Liu of ColorLines.com, who locates Crass among a generation of activists who "refused to accept the end of history, that capitalism was the only way." As it turns out, I am a couple years older than Crass and also fit into what Jacobin editor Bhaskar Sunkara uncharitably (if lightheartedly) pegged as the "donut hole" of radical left politics--referring to the relative scarcity of long-term committed leftists who came of age politically in the late 1980s to early 1990s.

Our little generation is few in number compared both to the radicals of the 1960s and '70s struggles and the growing layer of young people entering left politics since the late 1990s, under the banners of global justice, the antiwar movement, Occupy, the Fight for 15 and Black Lives Matter.

Revolutionary politics in the years of the Reagan-Bush ascendency were not particularly common--and the last 25 years have been, some important victories notwithstanding, a period of working-class defeat. So I have a measure of respect for anyone who made it through this period and lived (politically speaking) to tell the tale.


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TOWARDS COLLECTIVE Liberation is composed of four distinct, but related parts: Crass' autobiographical journey into radical politics; a social/political history of Food Not Bombs in the 1990s; an exposition of Crass' critique of oppression and capitalism; and a series of interviews with a variety of anti-racist and anti-poverty organizers from the Bay Area and beyond.

Bringing these strands together into a whole is at times a challenge, but Crass' conviction that a "vibrant and healthy democratic and socialist society" is within our reach helps bring the book into focus. Readers will be inspired by his optimism.

In this brief review, I want to focus on two points.

The first is about the concept of collective liberation--a phrase taken from bell hooks. Crass proposes this as a method to link the liberation of oppressed peoples with that of people described as possessing various kinds of privilege under capitalism, so that all can eventually unite to achieve socialism by means of mass, bottom-up, democratic movements.

The strength of Crass' thesis is the focus on collective struggle and systematic transformation, against an acceptance of a pluralist identity politics that simply aims to reapportion crumbs from the capitalist cake.

Crass rightly lays great stress on the structural and psychological impact of racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, his view of a bottom-up revolution is not based firmly on the power of the working class to overcome its internal divisions and overturn capitalism. Rather, Crass' political strategy includes a wish for "middle and upper-class people to decolonize their minds and work with working class and poor people for an economic justice agenda with socialist values."

The danger with this cross-class perspective--which also includes tactical support for Democratic Party politicians--is that it can blunt the practice of building working-class power and fall into a sustained focus on individual subjectivity, as opposed to mass struggle.

Much of Crass' life has been dedicated to direct action, large and small, so he is adamant that our "complex intersectional analysis of systems of oppression and privilege" not serve as an excuse for falling into passivity on the basis that it is impossible to "address all the shortcomings" of past movements all at once.

Nevertheless, I can't help but feel that Crass' emphasis on personal subjectivity reflects his experiences in a certain kind of struggle that has, historically speaking, failed to reach a certain critical mass of social power. This is not his fault, of course. For many people active in politics today, our lives have been devoid of the large, multiracial class struggles dominant in other periods of U.S. history, or which have taken place internationally.

Crass is right to emphasize the need for organizers to confront oppression, but he often speaks as if the ideas of collective liberation will have to be brought to the working class from the enlightened organizers who have absorbed Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which he praises for its call to "begin with the end in mind."

This isn't to say that Crass proposes to rely on the enlightened few to do the thinking and doing. It's simply that the twin concepts of class struggle and ideological argumentation--via trainings, readings, workshops, etc.--aren't fully reconciled in his account, so he tends to speak of one and then the other, rather than a relationship between the two.
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MY SECOND point deals with Crass' history of Food Not Bombs in San Francisco and elsewhere, from the late 1980s through to 9/11 in 2001 and beyond.

Crass was one of Food Not Bombs' central organizers beginning in the early 1990s, and his critical analysis of the group makes for fascinating reading--especially as someone who worked with and around FNB for years (hundreds of us were arrested together at a 1995 march for Mumia Abu-Jamal), but who could never quite figure out how it functioned. He describes the group's successes in defeating a string of anti-homeless measures taken by police and politicians, and at the same time, he pulls no punches when it comes to describing externally and internally generated fractures within the group.

Read alongside Max Elbaum's Revolution in the Air, the essay collection Ten Years that Shook the City, James Tracy's Dispatches Against Displacement and the STORM Collective's Reclaiming Revolution, among others, Collective Liberation helps paint a picture of one of the most tenacious and enduring left-wing movements and cultures in the country.

Unsurprisingly, there are times when Crass falls into an FNB-centric history of the period. Nevertheless, I realized that I never really appreciated Food Not Bombs as the well-defined political project he and many others conceived it to be. I'm not convinced FNB ever reached anything like the size and influence Crass claims--he estimates 50,000 members "at the low end" in the late 1990s in the U.S. and abroad--but it certainly was a critical component of the radical left in the Bay Area when I arrived in 1994.

It is in this spirit of historical reflection that I hope Crass reconsiders his dismissal of the Bay Area International Socialist Organization. He relegates our decades of work to what I consider to be an ill-informed and narrow-minded footnote--all we do is sell Socialist Worker, we stand on the sidelines, we never organize anything, etc.--which seems out of step with the rest of his approach.

In writing this review, I considered passing over this point without comment, but having spent almost my entire adult life operating in many of the same geographic and political spaces that Crass reviews in his book, it seemed dishonest not to lodge a protest.
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OVER THE past 20 years, the Bay Area left has revived and fractured again along several lines, but we're still here. The most recent challenge we all face is the rapid restructuring--physically, demographically and politically--of the entire region by an unprecedented influx of high tech, real estate, finance and health industry capital.

Either the Bay Area left finds a way to rebuild a sense of unity and momentum that can help make possible a new round of rebellion from below, or the Tech Bros will remake our neighborhoods in their own image.

Recently, there have been hopeful signs of collaboration and growth on the left--ILWU Local 10's shutdown of the Port of Oakland on May Day in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement was the most visible sign.

Many people connect this revival with the experience of Occupy Oakland. I won't disagree, except to say that Occupy Oakland was only possible because of the mobilizations against Oscar Grant's murder in 2009, and the hundreds of thousands of immigrants marching on May Day 2006, and the failed effort to stop the execution of Stan "Tookie" Williams in December 2005, and the Green Party's Matt Gonzalez almost winning the San Francisco mayoral election in 2003, and 250,000 people marching against the drive to invade Iraq in February 2003, and thousands going to Los Angeles to protest the 2000 Democratic National Convention, and the Battle in Seattle in 1999, and the UPS, BART and Contra Costa sanitation workers' picket lines in 1997, and the thousands marching for Mumia Abu-Jamal in 1995, and on and on.

In other words, if the resistance to global capitalism's outrages and the crystallization of the New Jim Crow state find expression in a bigger, more united left in the coming period in the Bay Area, then it is only because the left never stopped fighting. Disagreements aside, Crass' book contributes to our understanding of where we've been and where we need to go.


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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