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George Hurchalla's Going Underground in Scanner Zine

Scanner Zine
June 27th, 2016

If the title of this book sounds a bit familiar (with the exception of it being a song by THE JAM), it’s because this is actually the second edition of the book first published back in 2005 (my review HERE). In this edition, David Ensminger took on the role of editor, producing a narrative that is still gripping and first hand, but is now slightly more pointed and concise with some notable changes between the two editions.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, this is part-autobiography of Hurchalla, part historical documentation of American Punk and part reference guide to American Punk scenes of the 80s. It kicks off in 1980 with Hurchalla in his home state of Florida suddenly being exposed to Punk Rock via his brother with his introduction to the SEX PISTOLS. From there, it looks at the early scene in San Francisco and then progresses, just as Punk morphed into American Hardcore, through all the important US scenes of DC, Texas, LA, NYC, Boston, Minneapolis, Chicago and Philadelphia - a city in which Hurchalla lived for a number of years.

Rather than rely on the oral history style of writing that many books of this type do, Hurchalla writes with a full narrative infusing the writing with his own personal experience and opinion. Much of the quoted material is taken from fanzines of the day, giving those quotes a sense of historical placement and first hand documentation rather than any form of eulogizing the past with the added effects of hindsight.

For those who already own the original book, you will notice a few differences. First, the original tome went through to 1992. That doesn’t change a great deal of the actual content, just abbreviates some of the final part of the book without having a negative effect. What is most noticeable to me is the culling of the chapters about Hurchalla’s time in Australia. I appreciate why they were culled, but those chapters in the original were greatly enjoyable and gave an ingenious perspective on what was happening in American Punk when compared with the less-aggressive but equally volatile music going on Down Under at the time. Another chapter that has been cut is the Punks On Film chapter. Again, this hasn’t had any lasting negative effect to the book, but I think the hysteria around the episode of Quincy made valid reading given the era and subject matter.

It’s not all about cuts though; there are several new, riveting chapters, some updates to the original text, additional references and some new pictures that combine to make this not just a reprint of a great book, but a viable and estimable tome in its own right. The photo reproduction in the new volume also seems to be slightly better in terms of tone.

This book is filled out with a fresh preface and, like all good historical and referential books, a full index - something the original book lacked.

As I have said before, anyone who was involved in the 80s Punk scene (in any country) will relate to many of the stories here. The narrative defines the pre-internet era and the hostility and danger of attending shows at the time. Hurchalla also constantly refers to the term Hardcore being too restrictive, too macho. He can clearly see that both X and SSD are Punk bands and the Hardcore tag is alienating and detrimental.

Ultimately, this is a most welcome reprint that is different (not better, nor worse) from the original. It also stands as one of the best books written about its subject. It’s sincere, intelligent and insightful and is not written by some hackneyed music journalist looking back; Hurchalla was there, on the ground living and breathing American Punk Rock and all that came with it. It’s that genuine sensibility that puts Going Underground head and shoulders above most others.


Buy Going Underground | Buy the e-Book of Going Underground | Back to George Hurchalla's Author Page




Jewish Noir in New Pages

New Pages
July 7th, 2016

A short story is the perfect medium for busy people, and Jewish Noir, heralded as the first book of its kind, presents a month’s worth of short stories to delight any reader of the genre. Editor Kenneth Wishnia sums up the lure: “[ . . . ] a majority of the world’s Christians are taught that if you follow the right path, everything will turn out well for you in the end. In Judaism, you can follow the right path and still get screwed (just ask Job). That’s noir.”

One dazzler in the book is “Living Underwater,” by B.K. Stevens. Anyone who’s ever worked for a control freak will recognize this characterization of Helen. She’s the new associate dean who’s changing the rules for college professors, Sam among them. It isn’t enough that she wants all syllabi redone:

“If you can’t document something,” Helen cut in, “how do you know it’s real? You can tell yourself that you’re doing a good job, but why should anyone believe you? Luckily, I’m here now, and I’ll show you how to document what you do.”

Doesn’t sound noir-ish? Just wait ‘til you see what happens to Sam.

Elsewhere, Michele Lang pulled me into “Sucker’s Game” with these opening lines:

“You’re the people killed Christ. Right?” I was already having a rotten time in third grade, and this gigantic, sweaty clown on my bus home from school wasn’t helping. He smelled like onions and coffee, a weird combo for a sixth-grader.

Said bully isn’t the only male posing danger as Lang moves her story along. “I knew he knew I was under the bed. [ . . . ] I was his target.” Talk about scary!

Travis Richardson presents the oddly titled “Quack & Dwight” focusing on a psychologist named Ben and his precocious eight-year-old patient Dwight Adolf Lange. “Nobody names a kid Adolf by accident,” says Ben. I liked this story of obsession, but I’m not sure a seasoned psychologist would be as “breathless” or “speechless” as Ben is when speaking with Dwight or his mom.

Included with new works by Jewish and non-Jewish writers is a story by the late Yente Serdatsky. Her tale, “A Simkhe” or “A Celebration,” originally appeared in 1912, but I had no trouble visualizing the group of friends listening to Semyonov talk about the beautiful Miss B, with this delicious line: “The women who once hated her got married to the men who were once in love with her.” The story gets serious, but ends up having a magical effect on Semyonov’s listeners.

Noir can be approached in so many ways. Pick any story. A lost Romanov treasure figures into Wendy Hornsby’s “The Legacy.” A biologist named Karen who studies eye color inhabits “Blood Diamonds,” by Melissa Yi. Check out this sentence: “Nestled on a bed of ice, four freshly harvested eyeballs stared up at her: two hazel, one green, and one blue. A great mini-mystery is “One of Them” by Alan Orloff whose characters battle against odds while trying to make things right.

All is not dark and edgy in these stories. Rabbi Adam D. Fisher inserts some humor with “Her Daughter’s Bat Mitzvah: A Mother Talks to the Rabbi.” He cleverly voices the mother in a monologue: “Rabbi, you don’t know me. I don’t go to services and I’m not religious but I’m proud to be Jewish. One day at work, this guy started talking about someone who tried to ‘Jew him down.’ Boy, did I give him an earful.”

A couple of the works were a little strong for my taste, but one was so suspenseful I had to turn to the end to see what happens. A man bursts into a synagogue escaping from someone trying to kill him in Charles Ardai’s “Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die.” No one can call the police because phones aren’t to be used on Yom Kippur. The killer breaks into the synagogue and demands to know which of a dozen old men, now all looking quite alike, is his prey.

These stories are just a preview of what’s in store for readers of Jewish Noir. The book’s back cover suggests it as a conversation starter about prejudice and ethnicity, but I read it as a series of masterful crime stories. Either way you choose, this is definitely an anthology to wrap your senses around.


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




Playing as if the World Mattered in Muse

by Russell Field
Muse

It is difficult to imagine that the link between activism and sport needs to be (re)asserted on a day in November 2015 when varsity football players and other student groups drew attention to institutionalized racism at the University of Missouri and forced the resignation of a senior administrator, and junior hockey players in Flight, Michigan, walked out on their team’s owner to force him to rehire a coaching staff they felt was unjustly fired.


Yet this is the position that Gabriel Kuhn takes in a new collection of visual culture that is intended to illustrate activism in sport. He perceives dual pressures: a reluctance among some on the Left (he notes Jean-Marie Brohm and Marc Perlman) to accept sport as a social practice capable of rising above its lot as capitalist escapism—masculinist, nationalist, and racist; and the ways in which moments and movements of protest and resistance in and through sport have been neglected and marginalized in the mainstream media. Kuhn’s aim is to highlight the visual texts of progressive “sports culture for a better understanding of the struggle for both better sports and a better world” (11).


Kuhn divides the book into three sections, which are both thematic and chronological. The first, emphasizing European workers’ sport (1893–1945), is the most coherent, focusing as it does on a well-defined collection of organizations. Kuhn highlights the growth, achievements, and tensions within socialist and communist sport in years leading up to World War II. He characterizes the second section as “sport and civil rights” (1946–1989) and includes diverse profiles of individuals, including Jackie Robinson and Marvin Miller (this section is where most of the content specific to the U.S. appears), journalistic endeavors (Miroir Sprint in France and Lester Rodney, sports columnist for the Daily Worker), and general movements (anticolonialism and the antiapartheid movement). The book concludes with examples of grassroots sport organizing (1990–present). This discussion of fan supporter groups and community sport organizations (drawn primarily from European football) is Kuhn’s comfort zone and features prominently in his previous foray into sport, Soccer vs. the State: Tackling Football and Radical Politics (2011).


Playing as if the World Mattered offers instances of activism, each well illustrated. There is value in having such moments collected together, but it is worth asking whose resistance counts. The account of “state socialism” does not include, for example, the 1963 Games of the New Emerging Forces in Jakarta. Indeed, virtually all of the examples in the book took place in the First World, and events in the Global South are often framed through northern activism, such as the antiapartheid movement. Nor does Kuhn offer accounts of resistance to ostensibly left-wing initiatives such as state socialism. A prominent exclusion is Czechoslovakian gymnast Vera Caslavska, whose Prague Spring–inspired resistance at the 1968 Olympics is not included in the extended discussion of the events surrounding the Mexico City Games.


The example of Caslavska is also illustrative of the absence of women generally from Kuhn’s discussion. Focusing the first chapter on workers’ sport, which included women [End Page 236] (more as participants than organizers), precludes any discussion of Alice Milliat, the Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale, or the Women’s Olympics/Women’s Games that took place during the interwar years. Instead, the legacy of individuals such as Billie Jean King are connected with the contemporary (re)emergence of sports such as roller derby and the fight for LGBTQ rights in sport.


Given that the book reads as a catalog of moments of activism, it is easy to quibble over exclusions. But rather than adding content, greater coherence over the interconnections between the examples included would be preferable. What constitutes activism? Is there a distinction to be made between activism in sport and through sport, and is such a distinction material? Are the themes that Kuhn identifies meant to capture myriad examples or present a coherent whole?


There is an unquestioned beauty in having neglected moments of sport...Read more at Muse

Buy book now | Download e-book now | Back to Gabriel Kuhn's homepage




Xicana Women Claim Their Rightful Place In Punk

by Nina Melissa Bautista
The Establishment
June 30th, 2016


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

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

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

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

I would show them.”
– page 3

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

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


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

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

The Spitboy Rule is available now at GPL.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michelle Cruz Gonzales’s Author Page 




Revolutionary Mothering in Black Girl Dangerous

by Cantrice Janelle Penn
Black Girl Dangerous
July 15th, 2016


I lick my lips, encrusted with bits of sea salt, as I text Alexis Pauline Gumbs—co-editor of Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines—from the sandy coast of the Carolinas about my forthcoming review of her book. After heading to the water’s edge without sunscreen, I now find myself nursing my first-ever sunburn on both brown shoulders, anointing them with my own kisses and a few drops of aloe vera. When I was little, other kids used to say that asunburn retained heat because the sun itself would literally get into your skin and stay there long after a day at the beach.

Revolutionary Mothering does just that—pulsing with electrifying storytelling, this anthology gets into your skin.

Alexis Pauline Gumbs, China Martens and Mai’a Williams have carved out a collaborative space in the shape of love, by offering us this broader definition of “motherhood.” They have effortlessly weaved together storythreads from all corners of the globe to produce this urgent, necessary project—one with the potential to serve as a working blueprint for our communities.

Inspired by its radical, feminist-of-color predecessor, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, this latest incarnation—originally entitled, This Bridge Called My Baby—is a loving meditation on multiply marginalized mama figures trying to make it work with what they got within the confines of the anti-Black, white supremacist, capitalist, ableist, cisheteropatriarchal systems that pin the proverbial boot against our chests, attempting to slowly suffocate us all as we struggle to draw a collective breath in the name of liberation.

This anthology centers the voices of Black mothers and mothers of color, queer mothers, poor and working-class mothers, disabled mothers, and immigrant mothers who offer their lived experiences in the form of poetry, essays, manifestos, photo montages and play scripts. But as a “non-parent” with my own complicated relationship with mothering, I didn’t think I’d be able to relate.

Thankfully, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I cracked open Revolutionary Mothering, finding story after story detailing real shit—the raw, the unpopular, the vulnerable. Stuff we’re not supposed to admit to in “woke” communities. Like the mother with dark skin who secretly hopes that her unborn child won’t inherit her own melanin and seems quite aware of how deep the well of internal oppression can run. Or the mother in the US who attempts to adopt a child from her home country, only to find herself navigating the very western, white systems that she otherwise actively resists. Or the mother who reflects on a heteronormative relationship maintained with her then-husband whom she carried financially through school while suppressing her budding identities.

What Revolutionary Mothering is not is another collection of writings by revolutionary-minded folks using all the right social-justice language and providing all the right answers as to how to mother children the “radical” way. It is also not an attempt to stuff marginalized parents or parenting into some other hegemonic box patterned after the oppressive systems that shape most of our world.

Instead, this anthology explodes with textured, necessary truth-telling, penned by the voices of those pushed to the margins and crushed by the state. Revolutionary Mothering offers tools of hope to help us redefine what “mothering” can mean for each of us. The emotionally charged accounts of motherhood lighting up these pages indeed challenge that tired, “having-it-all” narrative force-fed to all of us by mainstream media outlets, and instead, presents us with mother figures who operate in spiritual abundance through the communities that sustain them, whether a job, partner(s), or children are in the picture or not.

Brimming with rare treats and gems of wisdom—like June Jordan’s powerful essay, “The Creative Spirit: Children’s Literature,” in which she proclaims at the start, “Love is lifeforce” (a mantra that Gumbs affirms repeatedly), and Lisa Factora-Borchers’ line, “Transformation does not have a name or a label, it has a sound,” in the essay, “Birthing a New Feminism”—Revolutionary Mothering provides a loving home for stories on mothering our children, our communities and ourselves. I must also note the anthology’s beautifully illustrated cover—courtesy of Favianna Rodriguez’s artistic brilliance—with colors that pop and crackle against equally searing testimony.

As I return from my sojourn at the ocean, I now look to my blistered shoulders, which have lost a bit of their sun-scorched, violet hue. While the pain has subsided under my skin, its delicate layers are beginning to shed. After turning the last page of Revolutionary Mothering, I notice that my soul feels anew. My own spiritual layers peeled back. My heart open and ready to receive.

In times like these, Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines teaches me that hope, love and change are always possible.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Mai’a Williams Author Page | Back to Alexis Pauline Gumbs's Author Page | Back to China Marten's Author Page




Unmasking the Black Bloc: Who they are, What they do, How they work

By Devon Douglas-Bowers
Occupy.com
December 18th, 2014


“The Black Bloc always defend the demonstrations when the police come here.” - Ariane Santos, 26-year-old Brazilian student

“The Black Bloc anarchists, who have been active on the streets in Oakland and other cities, are the cancer of the Occupy movement.” - Chris Hedges

The Black Bloc: some love it, others hate it. Many condemn Black Blockers for engaging in property destruction and lack of central organization, yet others appreciate them and see their divisive actions as a positive, arguing for a diversity of tactics. However, what many are lacking is an understanding of the Black Bloc, it's history, the types of people who are in it, and the problems within.

While this is a brief exploration of the Black Bloc, those who are interested further should read "Who's Afraid of the Black Blocs? Anarchy In Action Around the World," by Francis Dupuis-Déri (translated by Lazer Lederhendler), which not only provided the research for this article, but also explores on a deeper level what the black block is, the tactics and beliefs of black blockers, and criticism of the Black Bloc.

To begin to discuss black blocs, there must first be an understanding of what a black bloc is. Black blocs are “ad hoc assemblages of individuals or affinity groups that last for the duration of a march or rally” in which members retain their anonymity via head-to-toe black clothing. While there may be uses of force, “more often than not they are content to protest peacefully” with the main objective being to “embody within a demonstration a radical critique of the economic and political system.” A black bloc can be one person or thousands. It should be noted the black bloc isn't a group, but rather a tactic to allow for radicals to engage in direct action without fear of arrest; while many black blockers are anarchist, not all of them are.

Origins

Black blocs came out of the autonomous movement in Germany in the 1980s, specifically West Germany where “radical feminists had a profound effect on the Automen, injecting the movement with a more anarchist spirit than was the case elsewhere in Western Europe.” The Automen expressed their politics via “rent strikes and re-appropriating hundreds of buildings which were turned into squats” that doubled as spaces for political activity.

There is no definitive moment when the term black bloc came into usage, although there are different stories. The first major arrival of a black bloc was in 1986 when a massive black bloc was formed to defend the Hafenstrasse squat where 1,500 black blockers and 10,000 other demonstrators confronted the police and saved the squat.

Black bloc ideas and tactics soon spread to North America via fanzines, personal contacts and punk music groups, but there is also a more interesting reason as to how black bloc tactics spread. Sociologists Charles Tilly, Doug McAdam and Dieter Rucht, all of whom specialize in social movements, have shown that “for different periods and places there exist repertoires of collective action deemed effective and legitimate for the defense and promotion of a cause. These repertories are transformed and disseminated over time and across borders from one social movement to another, in accordance with the experiences of militants and the changes in the political sphere.”

Essentially, tactics and ideas spread over time from one social movement to another depending on their effectiveness and how the tactics will work within the context of each movement. Two modern day examples of this could be the physical encampment of spaces from the Occupy movement and the "Hands Up, Don't Shoot" gesture from the anti-police brutality movement that has recently sprung up surrounding the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson.

The first time the black bloc made a major move in North America was during a January 1991 rally against the Persian Gulf war where the World Bank building was targeted. Black bloc tactics were also used by the militant anti-racist group Anti-Racist Action, which focuses on directly confronting neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

Who They Are, How They are Organized

While the black bloc may be made up of militants, they are consistently categorized as hooligans, thugs and youths who take joy in private property destruction. Thus, there needs to be further exploration of the types of people under the masks.

It should be noted the black blocs, at least in the U.S. and Europe, are generally overwhelmingly white and male. However, there is some diversity. In a communiqué published days after the demonstrations against the 2001 G8 Summit in Genoa, Mary Black (a pseudonym for a protester who took part in the protests) noted that most of the people she knew who used black bloc tactics “have days jobs working for nonprofits. Some are schoolteachers, labor organizers, or students. Some don't have full-time jobs, but instead spend most of their time working for change in their communities.[...] These are thinking and caring folks who, if they did not have radical political and social agendas, would be compared with nuns, monks, and others who live their lives in service.”

Dupuis-Déri himself stated that in interviews he has had with black blockers, many had been involved in the social sciences and that “in a number of cases, their research projects dealt with the political significance and consequences of demonstrations and direct actions,” suggesting “that their political involvement was grounded in serious political thinking.”

Thus, those who involve themselves in black bloc tactics are not necessarily people who are at protests solely to break things, although such types of people do come in and cause problems.

Before discussing the issue of property destruction, it would be pertinent to know how black blocs are organized. Black bloc groups attempt to function in a horizontal manner, with each person having equal say in deliberating issues and where the goal is consensus rather than voting. In order to do this, black blockers form affinity groups, which are groups “generally composed of between a half-dozen and several dozen individuals whose affinity results from ties that bind them, such as belonging to the same school, workplace, or political organization.” By having previous ties to one another, members in affinity groups are able to coordinate much easier.

The Issue of Property Destruction

Not all black blockers engage in property destruction. While one may use black bloc tactics, there are different roles one can play. Groups take into account things such as a person's immigration status, health problems, previous arrest record and the like, and at-risk individuals can engage in low-risk tasks such as being “in charge of legal support in the event of arrests, or responsible for transportation, lodging, water and food supplies, media contacts, psychological support” and whatnot.

Black blocs meet to plan and organize before hand, but also during protests as well. One black blocker who took part in the protests against the G8 Summit in 2003 noted in her reflection of the events:

"I found it extraordinary that we could hold delegates' meetings right in the middle of the blocking action. There were barricades, fires had been lit, the police were slinging a lot of tear gas. And still, a meeting was called with someone yelling, 'meeting in ten minutes near the road sign.' The meeting took place barely a few hundred meters from where the police stood, and it allowed us to decide on our course of action. [...] The police officers see you as a crowd and assume you're going to act like a crowd, The affinity group model disrupts that dynamic: you don't act like a crowd anymore but like a rational being."

With regards to property damage, for black blockers, the target is the message. Targets are often chosen for their symbolic value. “On principle, Black Blocs do not strike community centers, public libraries, the offices of women's committees or even small independent businesses.” While this may be true generally, the use of property destruction by some black blockers can cause problems, such as can be seen in the recent Berkeley protests, where people were protesting the death of Eric Garner and individuals came and broke the windows of a number of banks. This is deeply problematic as it took the attention off the death of Eric Garner and the larger issues surrounding police brutality against the black community, and put the attention on banks. Actions such as these can potentially create a space for the police to justify a crackdown on all protesters.

The fetishization of property destruction is a problem with the black bloc, as in some cases “violent direct action becomes a means for a would-be militant to affirm [their] political identity in the eyes of other militants. This makes it very tempting for that person to look down on and exclude those who do not equate radicalism with violence.” Yet, not all black blockers engage in this fetishization and are aware of the dangers, such as with a participant of the Quebec city black blocs who stated: “I have no patience for dogmatic pacifism, but there is also dogmatic violence, which sees violence as the only and only means to wage the struggle.” The protester Sofiane noted that “We don't advocate violence; it's not a program... Because you can easily acquire a taste for violence, you get used to it... But when it comes to doing militant work, not many people show up.”

Diversity of Tactics

However, there are solutions to the problem of those wanting to engage in direct action and others who want to peacefully protest that should be quoted at some length. Around 2000, there were a few mobilizations in which it was proposed that certain areas of a city be identified by colors in order to allow different types of protests simultaneously:

"This was done at the Reclaim the Street rally in London on June 18, 1999; at the first Global Day of Action called by the People's Global Action, an anti-capitalist network founded in Geneva in 1998 and close to the Zapatista rebels.[...] Color coding made it possible to distinguish among three separate marches: blue for the Black Bloc, accompanied by the Infernal Noise Brigade band; yellow for the Tute Bianche [a militant Italian social movement]; pink for the Pink and Silver Bloc."

The organization Convergence of Anti-Capitalist Struggles used a similar tactic at demonstrations in which there were three zones: green, yellow, and red. "The green zone was a sanctuary where demonstrators were, theoretically, in no danger of being arrested. The yellow zone was for those undertaking nonviolent civil disobedience and involved a minor risk of being arrested. The red zone was for protesters who were ready for more aggressive tactics, including skirmishes with the police."

This allowed for the concept of a diversity of tactics to be respected, as well as for protesters to have spaces where more or less militant tactics were accepted, all while maintaining the safety of peaceful protesters.

Though the debate surrounding property violence is the largest and loudest of all, there are other problems within black blocs such as sexism and accusations of alienating the working class.

With regards to sexism, many critics of black blocs argue that militant direct action “partakes of a macho mystique and does not encourage women to join in” and that expressing one's anger through destruction “simply [confirms] and [amplifies] aggressive masculinity.” Furthermore, the sexual division of labor is often reproduced, with a woman who took part in a number of black blocs in the 2012 Quebec student strike saying that it was women who often did the shopping “when fabric was needed to make flags and banners.”

Dupuis-Déri noted that the situation hadn't changed, writing that “more than a decade earlier, during a meeting to prepare a black bloc in Montreal, the men ended up in the backyard of an apartment honing their slingshot skills while the women were in the kitchen making Molotov cocktails.” Thus, masculinity is not only reproduced in many black bloc circles, but also creates a space that rejects the participation of women and devalues their labor and thus their importance to the movement.

Some argue that black blocs alienate the working-class “with their clothing and lifestyle choices, which are associated with the anarchist counterculture.” While some may argue that there are those in the working-class who support and take part in black blocs, it should be noted that these are not fully representative of the working-class; there is a lack of people of color and women and so the black blocs are more representative of the young, white working-class.

Black blocs tactics are divisive and create a large amount of tension, even within far-left circles. Many condemn black blockers as being nothing but hooligans who want to break things. But by unmasking who they are, one can better understand them and their tactics and ideas, even if one disagrees.

NOTE: Occupy.com does not in any shape or form support or encourage property destruction or other violent activities associated with the Black Bloc.

Black Bloc, Automen, Hands Up Don't Shoot, Michael Brown, Ferguson protests, Anti-Racist Action, Francis Dupuis-Déri, affinity groups, property destruction, diversity of tactics, Eric Garner, anti-police brutality protests

Buy Who's Afraid of the Black Blocs? | Buy Who's Afraid of the Black Blocs e-book | Back to Francis Dupuis-Déri's Author Page




Crashing the Party: A Review in Friends Journal

by J.E. McNeil
Friends Journal
June 1st, 2016

The author, a legal worker (non-lawyer) member of the National Lawyers Guild, stated early on that he proposed “to write about the legal and political events as both a firsthand participant and an objective observer.” From what I knew from various accounts—the press, the National Lawyers Guild’s, and my nephew’s (he had been arrested during the events in the book)—few, if any, of the participants in the horrific events surrounding the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, Pa., were “objective” about what happened.

But I was wrong. The book is a detailed, exacting retelling of the events before, during, and after—long after—the convention had left Philadelphia. It is a chilling story, well told. In it are many accounts of solidarity, betrayal, bravery, and brutality.

The basic story is about the groups who sought to protest many issues during and around the Republican gathering in Philadelphia in August 2000. Hermes notes that some of the actions had foreshadowing in the Seattle World Trade Organization protests. In those protests, the activists ably used various educational, street theater, and arrest-and-trial strategies as well as legal observers. And the government effectively used disinformation tactics, initially convincing the general public that the protests were largely led by violent, black-clad anarchists.

The alliances who sought to protest the convention spent more than a year planning and preparing—as did the police. The activists were spied upon, infiltrated, harassed, and eventually—in many cases before the events—arrested. In particular, the proposed peaceful street theater’s puppets, float, and banners were destroyed prior to the event, with everyone in the staging area arrested whether they were connected to it or not. The treatment of the activists by the police during the arrests and while in custody without bail hearings in jail was vicious. The criminal charges were outrageous violations of constitutional rights. People in authority lied and colluded. Eventually, 95 percent of those arrested were not convicted.

Many of the methods and strategies used by the activists will not be new to Friends, such as consensus decision making. Others will be things with which we are not in accord, such as “a pushback against the rigidity of ‘nonviolence.’” Hermes explains coherently the strategies of arrest solidarity, jail solidarity, and court solidarity as well. But he also includes mistakes and failures of the activists. He relates, for example, a story of activists robbed when they handed bail money to a young African American man whom they failed to vet as they normally would have. This event led to a discussion among the activists of the inherent racism in trusting people more because they are members of an oppressed class.

Hermes relates all of this in great detail, using transcripts, interviews, and media reports.
The book ends with his own analysis of the events and strategy and that of many of the other participants, by itself well worth reading. And clearly the events had several important results.

One result, and foremost for me, was the understanding at a new depth by the predominantly young, white, affluent protesters of just how horrible and racist the prison and justice system is in our country. Reading and hearing about something is very different from experiencing and witnessing it. Another result was the strengthening of direct action trends among young activists of color. As Kazembe Balagun, a SLAM (Student Liberation Action Movement) member noted: “direct action, done correctly, can foster solidarity across racial and gender lines, and that’s something we definitely learned.”

But even as some were radicalized, others such as Ryan Harvey, political activist and organizer, realized:

We have a lot of work to do, and most of it is not going to get done in the streets. It’s going to get done on the doorsteps, the libraries, the churches, the labor halls, the schools, the military bases, the parks, the prisons, the abortion clinics, the neighborhood associations, the PTAs.

Even if you do not share all of the beliefs of the activists, Crashing the Party is an important read for those who would like to understand the various anti-globalization actions before and since. Even if some of the political analysis leaves you cringing, Crashing the Party provides useful insights for peace work in our meetings. Even if you do not choose to engage in direct action or even protest, Crashing the Party is a revealing take about the dysfunction of our legal system, prison systems, and society.

We have a lot of work to do.


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Battling Convention Kris Hermes in Jacobin Magazine

 Police dogs at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, IL. Casa del libro

By Kris Hermes
Jacobin Magazine
July 19th, 2016

Inside the police’s playbook for repressing protests at national conventions.

Police dogs at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, IL. Casa del libro

In 1968, outside the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Chicago, police violently cleared the streets of antiwar protesters, smashing heads and clubbing with abandon. Inside, even some Democratic Party officials blanched at the level of brutality. Abraham Ribicoff, a senator from Connecticut, denounced the police’s “Gestapo tactics” from the podium of the convention hall, earning the ire of Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley and the applause of many delegates.

In the decades since, domestic law enforcement has stepped up its efforts to quell political dissent. While no convention since has devolved into such chaotic brutality, policing today is arguably more planned, militarized, and indiscriminately violent.

The contemporary policing model — one of “strategic incapacitation,” as the sociologist Patrick Gillham terms it — developed as a reaction to the global justice movement of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

After the “Battle in Seattle,” during which protesters shut down the 1999 World Trade Organization summit, Philadelphia police commissioner John Timoney and other officials traveled to the Pacific Northwest to study protest tactics and the police response, and to prepare for the Republican Convention scheduled in Philadelphia just a few months later.

Lessons well learned, Timoney oversaw the crackdown at the GOP gathering in 2000 and then, as Miami police chief, presided over one of the most brutal responses to political protest in modern history: the repression of demonstrators at the 2003 Free Trade Area of the Americas summit.

The “Miami model” established the rules of engagement that the host cities of political conventions now habitually employ to quash dissent. Chances are, officials in Cleveland (site of the Republican National Convention) and Philadelphia (site of the Democratic National Convention) will crib from the same playbook.

Advance Repression

The effort to thwart convention protests begins months before any delegate sets foot in the host city. Since 2000, every political convention has been designated a National Special Security Event (NSSE), which allows officials to establish a robust, multi-agency law enforcement apparatus (with the FBI and Secret Service at the top) and to have to access to millions of federal dollars for police equipment, weaponry, and personnel.

As the intelligence community sets up shop and local police stockpile weapons, public officials engage in a calculated effort to frighten residents. They warn of “outside agitators” and “violent anarchists,” seeking to foment divisions between the public and protesters and build support for the inevitable crackdown.

Meanwhile, FBI agents visit the homes and workplaces of known activists to ratchet up the pressure. Law enforcement infiltrate and spy on activist groups, even if there’s no credible threat of terrorist or violent activity.

The information gathered is shared at local or regional fusion centers and then used to disrupt political organizing. (While fusion centers are already set up in Philadelphia and Cleveland, it might be harder for Philadelphia police to carry out this part of the plan: thanks to a historic lawsuit and “mayoral directive” in the 1980s, city police must receive permission from the city’s managing director before infiltrating political groups.)

As the conventions approach, police descend on “convergence centers” or other designated protest spaces used to distribute literature, connect protesters, and provide trainings. The raids are carried out to deliberately disorient political activists, making it harder to build momentum and organize.

In the lead-up to the 2008 RNC in St Paul, law enforcement spied on the activist group The Welcome Committee for months, preemptively raided multiple activists’ homes, and arrested several organizers on conspiracy and terrorism charges. (Some activists sued over the house raids, and the city eventually dropped the terrorism charges.)

In addition, paid FBI informants entrapped two young activists, prodding them to make Molotov cocktails. Because of the FBI’s manufactured plot, the two men spent years in prison for building — but never using — the fire bombs.

Before the 2012 RNC, the Tampa Police Department inserted itself into many protest groups, employing “widespread use of undercover operatives to gather intelligence.” Tampa Police Department major Marc Hamlin later bragged at a security conference that the “organizational structure [of protesters] was extremely weak,” allowing undercover officers to penetrate and “take over” a protest group. When the dust settled, only the dismantled political group faced any consequences.

To justify their actions, police often craft outlandish, unsubstantiated claims about protesters. For example, in 2000, Pennsylvania state troopers spent a week searching a West Philadelphia warehouse full of art and protest materials. Despite finding no legal reason to shut down the building, Timoney falsely claimed that police found explosives and acid-filled balloons.

Before his fabrications were uncovered, police arrested more than seventy people and destroyed all of the First Amendment–protected banners, puppets, and literature they found.

An additional tactic used to stop protests before they start is to deny official sanction to disfavored groups. Both in 2000 and this year, Philadelphia rejected the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign’s application for a march permit. Last time, the PPEHRC took to the street under threat of arrest, but this time the group mounted a successful legal challenge and will march with a permit.

In 2004, ahead of the RNC, New York City refused to issue a permit to antiwar groups looking to protest in Central Park. Although activists eventually won their suit, the city successfully prevented people from gathering in the park.

Just for good measure, host cities also typically impose sweeping “no-protest” or “security” zones in advance, banning everyday items and curtailing free-speech activity. In 2008, in addition to instating tight controls on rally locations and logistics, St Paul drew a parade route that, in certain sections, was completely fenced-in and lined with heavily armed police. And at the 2012 RNC, despite expectations of few protesters, Tampa’s security zone covered the entire downtown area.

On the Ground

Pre-convention repression is just a warm-up for the main event. Once the convention begins, heavily militarized police show massive displays of force, at times outnumbering protesters; use tear gas, pepper spray, rubber and wooden bullets, tasers, and sound cannons to attack protesters; and detain hundreds after unlawful arrests.

Once protesters are in jail, police and city officials often do everything they can to keep them in detention. They slap excessive charges on protesters, impose prohibitively high bail, and refuse to release arrestees or allow them access to legal counsel, preventing them from getting back on the streets until the convention ends. At the 2004 RNC, police arrested nearly two thousand people and held them in conditions so squalid that New York City eventually settled civil litigation for $18 million.

During the 2000 RNC, Philadelphia police locked up some four hundred people, charging more than forty with felonies and the rest with as many as ten misdemeanors each.

The average bail ranged between $15,000 and $20,000, but those who police accused of being “ringleaders” were held on $500,000 and $1 million bails. Most were denied access to legal counsel and detained for several days before arraignment.

It has also become common practice for cities hosting NSSEs to obtain insurance policies.

The trend started in Philadelphia, when it bought insurance for the 2000 RNC to protect the city and its police from liability for rights violations, including assault and battery, false arrest, wrongful detention and imprisonment, and malicious prosecution. The city used the policy to pay for settlements from several civil lawsuits and arguably gave police license to act even more violently.

In the years since, St Paul, Tampa, and Charlotte (the site of the 2012 DNC) have all purchased similar policies.

What to Expect

To what extent will Cleveland and Philadelphia follow the same template as other host cities?

Neither city has disclosed what weapons they’ve purchased with the roughly $50 million the federal government has given each of them. But we know that Cleveland has bought riot gear and batons, and Philadelphia considered buying an armored vehicle.

We can assume that police will act like an occupying force. Cleveland police are likely already infiltrating activist groups — in April, they held a training to build “cohesion” between undercover operatives and uniformed police during periods of “civil unrest.”

If history repeats itself, law enforcement in Philadelphia will infiltrate political groups, statutes against it notwithstanding. Advances in communication technology like stingray devices will allow police to eavesdrop on cell phone communication without a warrant.

Challenges in the courts have moderately loosened the hold officials have over protest activity. Philadelphia’s refusal to issue certain protest permits and its ban on rush-hour demonstrations was successfully challenged and resulted in a court-ordered settlement. Cleveland announced a three-and-a-half-square-mile security zone and time-and-place restrictions on marches and rallies, only to see them struck down.

However, the court-ordered settlement in Cleveland still bans marches for most of the afternoon and all of the evening, an unrealistic and arguably unconstitutional policy that will certainly invite mass arrests.

Even in the best-case scenario, protesters in Cleveland and Philadelphia will take to the streets in a decidedly inhospitable environment. Activists and organizers will have to adopt innovative and creative strategies to try to circumvent state repression. Establishing a base of support with host city residents and solidarity with workers — especially those integral to the convention infrastructure — would be a good place to start.

Activists will also have to counter the prevailing media narratives, reminding residents that their cities are throwing expensive and often publicly funded private parties at the same time they shutter public schools, lay off public workers, and slash social services.

Regardless of what happens inside the convention halls, it’s outrageous that millions of dollars are being spent to suppress political speech — especially at time when both parties tell us that addressing our education, health care, and housing needs is just too costly.

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Wrapped in the Flag of Israel in Hypercultura

By Sorina Georgescu
Hypercultura
vol 6(15) 2014

1 At the crossroads between a coursebook[i], a piece of writing about life and a feminist manifesto, Wrapped in the Flag of Israel. Mizrahi Single Mothers and Bureaucratic Torture is, as the subtitle suggests, both an enlightening insight into Israeli intra‐racism and an orginal and valuable connection between two seemingly unrelated concepts: bureaucracy and torture.

2 The book is structured in thirteen parts: a “Note on Transliteration”, a “List of Illustrations”, an “Introduction”, six chapters – each with several subchapters, a “Glossary of Hebrew, Arabic and Yiddish Terms”, “References”, “Acknowledgements” and an “Index”. The main theoretical concepts throughout the book are “GendeRace”, “Zionism”, “Agency” and “Identity Politics”, each having its own way of using bureaucracy and perpetrating torture on the Mizrahi single mothers.

3 The author also draws from epidemiologist Nancy Krieger’s theory that links “chronic bureaucratic entanglements, hypertension, chronic pain and death”. This she further develops as “divine cosmology”, de ined as “the Divinity of the Jewish State” – Jewish people’s ’promised land’, now a real state, and the “Divinity of Chance” – “the goals the faithful have when they go on pilgrimage”. As these “divinities” suggest, we also have lots of humor in this book:

“A welfare mother petitioning a bureaucrat is like a pilgrim beseeching the jawbone of a saint. Mother and pilgrim are bound by the strict script of religious ritual on the one hand, and by serendipity on the other. A mother trying to track down her income augmentation might consult a bureaucrat at the NSB, the post of ice clerk, an appointed bank of icial, a case worker at the municipal welfare of ice, or others. All the while, she is constantly praying for a miracle. None of the avenues is guaranteed to succeed. She has no choice but to subject herself to this godly roulette. Godly it is because both mother and bureaucrat conceive themselves as integral parts of the miraculous ingathering of the Jewish diaspora in the promised land. This is the land of divine bureaucracy governed by ETSBA’ ELOKIM (the inger of God), where citizenship is one guaranteed miracle, so long as you can prove ive generations back of Jewish mothers. The other guaranteed miracle of Israeli Jews is an IDF draft notice to report of duty at age eighteen (19).”

4 The book is all the more interesting for being Smadar Lavie’s personal experience. The daughter of a Mizrahi/Arab/Yemeni[ii] mother and of an Ashkenazi father, she bene itted from a much better education than most Mizrahi women, being raised in a “largely Ashkenazi working‐to‐middle‐class neighborhood less than ten miles south of Tel Aviv” (11). Thus, unlike the average Mizrahi girls, she had access to superior education, leading her to the US as a researcher‐anthropologist. However, divorce from a violent husband and the loss of her 9‐year‐child’s custody, through a controversial Parental Alienation Syndrome charge[iii], make her take her child back to her family, in Israel. Here starts her drama as a welfare mother, after having resigned her tenured associate professorship at the University of California, Davis: her color – the Arab phenotype[iv], and her politics – anti‐Zionism – exclude her ”from academic positions that paid a living wage” (13). Here, she becomes the member of a feminist NGO which actively supports the anti‐governmental protests of poor Mizrahi women, such as Vicky Knafo, a protest – the Knafoland – that begins and ends Lavie’s book.

5 As the author declares in the “Introduction”, the purpose of her book is “my simultaneous existence as Mizrahi single mother on welfare, former university professor turned into feminist‐of‐color activist, and media personality” (22). To which she adds an “attempt to counter Israeli Anthropology’s insistence on harmonious inals” (22).

6 The irst important concept, the equivalence between “GendeRace”, bureaucracy and torture, can be explained by starting with the educational system in Israel, a gender‐segregated one, with “far fewer classrooms for girls than for boys” (50), with mainly vocational highschools (seamstresses, knitting, weaving), with fewer kindergartens only in the evenings. In other words, “inferior education, if any at all” (50). Bureaucracy, associated with physical force, is the educational of icials’ argument for enrolling “into boarding schools or kibbutzim any children about the normative two‐child family” (51). There, ”the Ashkenazi educators made sure that the boarded Mizrahi children would not intermingle with the superior Ashkenazi children” (51).

7 Work in Israel is another “GendeRaced” issue. Not only did and do the favored Ashkenazi women have dif iculties in inding a job and face lower wages than Ashkenazi men, but, well into the 1960s, the Arab Jews were the domestic servants, cleaners, launderers and agricultural workers. They were battered by their employers, they were victims of “sexual abuse and rape”. As feminists in the 1990s and the 2000s, Mizrahi ONGs are not allowed to ”educate our communities on feminism of color” (61).

8 As single mothers, they are too fond of the Jewish State to be really able‐willing to ight ”the somatic pain in licted upon them by the state’s bureaucracy”, which means queuing in huge lines at the welfare bureau, with endless papers to be illed in, in order to try to obtain their monthly income check:

“Even though she moves through time and space, she can only move through the time and space allotted by the regime. Because she loves her Jewish homeland and fears that genuine resistance will weaken her homeland’s stand against the Goyim[v], she can enact only a igurative simulacrum of resistance. The regime merely lays its web in wait for her to entangle herself (81).”

9 Another bureaucratic shortcoming is ambiguity and evasiveness, lack of any obvious rules, plus the demand of sexual favors by the clerks and/or potential employers, turning any success at the bureau into “a miracle”. The mother does not know and has no way of knowing, which actions correlate with success or failure” (82). Finally, the single mother is practically denied even the chances of obtaining her money through court. All judges care for are endless fees, papers, signatures and stamps, all these involving much more money than any Mizrahi single mother may produce. In other words, “Government bureaus are where the Divinity of Chance meets the Divinity of the State” (84).

10 Speaking about this “Divinity of the State”, Zionism is another central factor linked with bureaucracy and torture.

11 De ined as a “European ideology of Jewish nationalism whose main goal was to colonize Palestine in order to establish a Jewish State” (61), an ideology which perceives Arabs as “primitives”, Zionism is the “destruction of Palestinian villages” (61) and the portrayal of counter‐reactions as “pogroms” (61). Today, it means a huge social‐economic gap between the Ashkenazi ruling minority and the Mizrahi lower‐class majority. It means discriminatory education, employment and wages, plus the denial of “Arab culture and Orthodox Judaism”. It means the master narrative of the ight against the Goyim. And it means that “from the craddle to donning military fatigues at age eighteen, all Israel citizens tracing Jewish lineage learned that their most vital responsibility to the state was in creating new generations of Jewish citizens. Judaism is citizenship” (61). Finally, for Smadar Lavie, it meant not being allowed to study Jewish intra‐racism as a tenured professor, the only recommended ield being the binary Israel‐Palestinian con lict.

12 The last two inter‐twined concepts, “agency” and “identity politics” are direct consequences of GendeRace and Zionism. We are talking about Hebrew media stereotypes of Mizrahi single mothers[vi] and we are talking about the denial of their agency through the “mirage of Mizrahi Ashkenazi Jewish unity to narrate how all Jews should ight on a single front so Israel – the little David – can survive surrounded by Arab Goyim Goliath” (79). As Smadar Lavie explains, this is just a mask to hide the State’s use of bureacracy “to crush, marginalize, contain and buy out individuals or groups within social protest movements”. The only protests allowed are those that “showcase the ’chosen people’s’ national unity devoid of race, class or religious observance. Movements that do not showcase this national unity are ignored. Eventually, all Mizrahi movements become sucked into the Palestine‐Israel binary and then disappear from the public sphere” (80).

13 Another way of denying such agency is the impossibility of turning bureaucratic pain into discourse. According to our author’s direct observation, single mothers did not even make the connection between the moment of opening and reading a letter about a new allowance cut or a new paper to be illed in, and their consequent burning of food or yelling at their children.

14 Unfortunately, Smadar Lavie’s Knafoland has no happy end. Being a book about reality, one of Israel’s realities happened to be a “Palestinian suicide bomber” who killed 23 and injured 130, thus ending both the truce between Israel and Hamas and the national and international media attention towards the Mizrahi feminist protest. No solutions to their problems. Only the warning that, should their children fail to be at school come 1 September, they would be reported “as delinquents to the Youth and Family Courts. The judges could then order the removal of the children from their homes to be forcibly placed into boarding schools” (145).

15 Only one possible ending:
“In a press corps’ caravan, they sped across town to cover the carnage at the border. Afterwards, they went to the American Colony Hotel Bar to get drunk. So did I, with my converted food coupons to purchase a drink I would muse for hours and my California English to gather info. Forever the anthropologist, forever collecting data (145).”

[i]The book explains a lot of facts and concepts regarding history, ideology, laws

[ii]Mizrahi – 50% of Israel population; they are Easterners or Orientals and have their origins in the Arab and Muslim world and the margins of the Ottoman Empire (Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Bulgaria, former Yugoslavia, India); they are the majority of Israel’s disenfranchised; Ashkenazi – 30%; they come from Central and Eastern Europe; they spoke Yiddish; they control the division of power and privilege in the State; other ethnic groups/races: Sephardim Jews (Spaniards), Palestinians (20%), Russim (10‐12%), Kavkazim plus Gruzinim (2‐4%)

[iii]Parental Alienation Syndrome – PAS – the assumption that a child estrangement from a violent father most likely precipitates from the mother causing alienation between the father and child (26)

[iv]Yemeni race marks: olive‐chocolate skin and dark brown eyes, wide eyelids, high cheekbones, prominent collarbone and wrist bones, narrow waistline with wide hips, short torso and Asian height (14)

[v]Goyim – non‐Jew; Arab
[vi]Mizrahi single mothers: ”bleached blonde hair, skinny jeans, smoking expensive import cigarettes – proof of their loose morals and wastefulness” (68)

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Wrapped in the Flag of Israel in Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work

by Barbara Levy Simon
Affilia
August 2016

Smadar Lavie has written a brave and scholarly autoethnography, using an extended case study method, of a social movement in contemporary Israel made up of single mothers within the Mizra- him, those Jews of color whose ancestors were formerly part of Muslim and Arab worlds. The Miz- rahim mostly came to Israel in the 1950s from countries of the former Ottoman Empire—nations in Northern Africa, Eastern Europe, Pakistan, and the Middle East. Although they make up 50% of the current population of Israel, the Mizrahim constitute the majority of Israel’s disenfranchised resi- dents and citizens (p. 1).

The author is a feminist anthropologist and Mizrahi single mother of Yemini ancestry. In 1999, she fled with her son to Tel Aviv, Israel, from her home in Berkeley, CA, where she had lived and worked as a tenured professor at the University of California, Davis, in order to protect her 9-year- old boy from her violent ex-husband who had just been granted full custody of the child. She pro- vides a firsthand account and analysis of her research and life experiences between 1999 and 2007 in Israel. While there, Dr. Lavie became an activist in and member of the executive board of a feminist nongovernmental organizational known as Ahoti, Hebrew for ‘‘Sistah—for women in Israel.’’

In 2003, Israel’s National Security Bureau (NSB), the equivalent of the U.S. Social Security Administration, mailed a notice to all single mothers informing them that the national government was immediately slashing their monthly income assurances (welfare checks), rent assistance, and income supplements. This set of drastic, welfare cutbacks left most Mizrahi single mothers without sufficient money for food, rent, or clothing.

Ahoti responded by organizing the Single Mothers’ March in 2003 on Jerusalem’s NSB. Because most Ashkenazi single mothers (Jews with European roots) were able to find financial and residen- tial help from their middle-class kin, the Single Mothers’ March was composed of only Mizrahi women, women of color living with their children in poverty. The author details what she sees as the impossibility of protesters succeeding in making demands on a state that they love. Lavie argues persuasively that single mothers of color in Israel, who are immigrants and refugees beholden to a state that has taken them in as citizens, are constitutionally unable to be sustained agents of their own liberation. Despite the racism and poverty they endure daily, the Mizrahi single mothers, suggests Lavie, are not psychologically or morally equipped to hold the State of Israel responsible for their oppression and poverty.

With theoretical sophistication and granular accounts of day-to-day struggles of her own and other single mothers’ efforts to survive and gain access to resources and entitlements as Israelis, Lavie sets forth a theory of bureaucracy as a system torture. She identifies in nuanced fashion the mental, physical, and existential torments that accompany the processes of requesting hearings, appeals, and procedural fairness. Kafka’s (1957) The Trial comes to mind as Lavie illuminates through diary entries, narrative accounts, and analytic paragraphs the intra-Jewish racism and class discrimination she and many other Mizrahim experienced and continue to undergo in seeking administrative and legal redress in Israel.

This is a painful account well worth reading. Social workers from many nations who are involved in difficult macro- and mezzo-practice would find illuminating the many elements of social move- ment activity and peer-group support that Lavie characterizes and theorizes so powerfully.

Reference

Kafka, F. (1957). The trial (Trans. Willa and Edwin Muir; rev., and with additional materials trans. E. M. But- ler; Illustrated by George Salter). New York, NY: Knopf.


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