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The ordinary, extraordinary life of David Hartsough

By Ken Butigan
Waging NonViolence
November 12th, 2014

Years ago, my friend Anne Symens-Bucher would regularly punctuate our organizing meetings with a wistful cry, “I just want to live an ordinary life!” Anne ate, drank and slept activism over the decade she headed up the Nevada Desert Experience, a long-term campaign to end nuclear testing at the Nevada Test Site. After a grueling conference call, a mountainous fundraising mailing, or days spent at the edge of the sprawling test site in 100-degree weather, she and I would take a deep breath and wonder aloud how we could live the ordinary, nonviolent life without running ourselves into the ground.

What we didn’t mean was: “How do we hold on to our radical ideals but also retreat into a middle-class cocoon?” No, it was something like: “How can we stay the course but not give up doing all the ordinary things that everyone else usually does in this one-and-only life?” Somewhere in this question was the desire to not let who we are — in our plain old, down-to-earth ordinariness — get swallowed up by the blurring glare of the 24/7 activist fast lane.

These ruminations came back to me as I plunged into the pages of David Hartsough’s new memoir, “Waging Peace: Global Adventures of a Lifelong Activist.” David has been a friend for 30 years, and over that time I’ve rarely seen him pass up a chance to jump into the latest fray with both feet — something he’d been doing long before we met, as his book attests. For nearly six decades he’s been organizing for nonviolent change — with virtually every campaign, eventually getting tangled up with one risky nonviolent action after another. Therefore one might be tempted to surmise that David is yet another frantic activist on the perennial edge of burnout. Just reading his book, with its relentless kaleidoscope of civil resistance on many continents, can be dizzying — what must it have been like to live it? If anyone would qualify for not living the ordinary life, it would seem to be David Hartsough.

As I finished his 250-page account, however, I drew a much different conclusion. I found myself thinking that maybe David has figured it out — maybe he’s been living the ordinary life all along.

Which is not to downplay the Technicolor drama of his journey. Since meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. as a teenager in the mid-1950s, David has been actively part of many key nonviolent movements over the last half-century: the civil rights movement, the anti-nuclear testing movement, the movement to end the Vietnam War, the U.S. Central America peace movement, the anti-apartheid movement, and the movements to end the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In recent years he has helped found the Nonviolent Peaceforce and a new global venture to end armed conflict, World Beyond War.

This book is jammed with powerful stories from these efforts — from facing down with nonviolent love a knife-wielding racist during an eventually successful campaign to desegregate a lunch-counter in Arlington, Va., in 1960, to paddling canoes into the way of a U.S. military ship bound for Vietnam; from meeting with President John Kennedy to urging him to spark a “peace race” with the Soviet Union, to being threatened with arrest in Red Square in Moscow for calling for nuclear disarmament there; from confronting the death squad culture in Central America and the Philippines to watching his good friend, Vietnam veteran Brian Willson, get mowed down by a U.S. Navy munitions train.

These are just a few of innumerable vignettes of David’s peacemaking around the world. But there is much more to David’s life story than these intense scenes of nonviolent conflict.

Much of this book recounts how the foundations of his career as an agent of nonviolent change were laid, slowly and organically. His decision to give his life to peacemaking was shaped by the inspiration of his parents, who were both actively involved in building a better world, and by a series of experiences in which he witnessed the impact of violence and injustice, but also at the same time met a series of remarkable organizers who were not content to simply wring their hands at such destruction, including the likes of civil rights movement luminaries Bayard Rustin and Ralph Abernathy.

Most powerful of all, David set out on a series of illuminating explorations, with long stints in the Soviet Union, Cuba and a then-divided Germany. Everywhere he met people who turned out to be complicated, beautiful and often peace-loving human beings. His nonviolence — and resistance to war — was strengthened by seeing for himself the people his own government deemed “the enemy.”

In Berlin — a city split between the East and West after World War II, but not yet separated by the wall the Soviets would build — he took classes on both sides of the divide and experienced up close what the “us” versus “them” of violence feels like: “In the mornings [at the university in the East] I would challenge the Communist propaganda and be labeled a ‘capitalist war-monger,’” he writes. “In the afternoons, at the university in the West, when I challenged their propaganda I was called a ‘Communist conspirator.’ I thought I must be doing something right if neither side appreciated my questions! I didn’t consider myself any of these things: capitalist, war-monger, Communist, conspirator.” Instead, he was a nonviolent activist challenging the confining labels that are used to foment the separations that fuel and legitimate violence and injustice.

David has rooted his lifelong pilgrimage of peace in a simple conviction: that all life is precious. He has helped spark and build one campaign after another when that preciousness is forgotten or undermined.

At the same time, he’s recognized that such a nonviolent life extends to himself. This is where the ordinary life comes in.

David and his spouse Jan live a simple life interweaving family time (including with their children and grandchildren, who live downstairs from them) with building a better world. They are activists, but they rarely let organizing keep them from taking a hike in the mountains or a walk along the seashore. They are regulars at the local Quaker meeting. For decades they have been sharing their home with countless friends, who are often invited to the songfests that they frequently organize in their living room. When I stay with them in San Francisco, there is always a bike ride through Golden Gate Park to be had or time to be spent at a garden a few blocks away with its dazzling profusion of azaleas. Rather than giving short shrift to the fullness of life, David has found a way to live, as we say today, holistically.

David’s life qualifies as “ordinary,” though, not only because it knits together many dimensions of everyday realities, but because it has dissolved the artificial boundary between “activism” and “non-activism.” All of life is an opportunity to celebrate and defend its preciousness, and this impulse gets worked out seamlessly in both watering the plants and getting carted off to a police van after engaging in nonviolent resistance at a nuclear weapons laboratory. Nonviolent action is a seamless part of the rhythm of life. It is a crucial part of the ordinary life. Once enough of us see this and fold it into the rest of our life, its ordinariness will become even more evident than it is now. This was Gandhi’s feeling — nonviolence and nonviolent resistance is a normal part of being human — and David has taken this assumption up in a clear and thoughtful way.

Anne Symens-Bucher reports that she’s increasingly living the ordinary life — she’s developed a powerful example of it called Canticle Farm in Oakland, Calif. And I feel I’m getting closer to it day by day. But if you want to read a page-turner that reveals how one person has been doing it for the last 50 years, get a copy of David Hartsough’s new autobiography, Waging Peace.

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A Line in the Tar Sands excerpt on the Socialist Project

Socialist Project
November 10th, 2014

Drawing a Line in the Tar Sands

Of all possible futures, the least likely is one in which business as usual continues unabated. Peoples’ movements will either succeed in transforming our economic and political systems to build a new world, or we will burn with the old one.

Our title invokes a metaphor of uncompromising resistance because the tar sands are an environmental injustice of the highest order. A ‘Line in the Sand’ means: it has gone this far, but no further. We are confronting an industry that is worth trillions of dollars, and is driven by some of the largest corporations on Earth, which have no goals that are any nobler than maximizing short-term profits and growth. The fight to stop this industry is clearly one of the epic challenges of our age, and only serious and sustained mobilization can turn the tide.

The Athabasca River Basin in western Canada contains one of the world's largest reserves of fossil energy in the form of bitumen, a tar-like substance that must be heavily refined to separate oil from sand and clay – hence the name tar sands.[1] The world's largest industrial landscape now sits atop the Athabasca tar sands, where the industry is wreaking devastation on the homelands of Cree, Dene, and Métis peoples, immense tracts of boreal forest, and the habitat of many animal species.

The Race to Extend the Age of Fossil Fuels: Profits, Power, and Claims of Inevitability

The tar sands landscape is marked by vast deforestation, strip mines, wastewater ‘ponds,’ and freshwater diversions; an expanding network of pipelines and roads; massive refineries and energy generation facilities; and the world's largest earth-moving machines. In addition to its physical size, the tar sands are regularly identified as the world's biggest energy project and site of capital investment. In a major 2008 report, Environmental Defence called it simply “the most destructive project on earth.”[2] If this industrial expansion continues across the Athabasca Basin in the coming decades, the tar sands extraction landscape would span an area the size of England.

While the Athabasca River Basin constitutes the heart of the tar sands industry, its infrastructure is increasingly continental in scope. Pipelines are the vital arteries of the industry, bringing bitumen to refineries and ultimately to markets, and they already stretch over thousands of kilometres across North America. At least 50 refineries have been handling blends of tar sands and conventional oil.[3] Still, this is not enough to satisfy investors’ voracious appetite for growing profits, which are driving an aggressive push to expand, construct, or repurpose a series of pipelines in order to increase rising volumes of production and transport.

Several thousand more kilometres of pipelines are planned, including TransCanada's attempt to expand the Keystone XL pipeline across the U.S. to refineries around the Gulf of Mexico; Enbridge's efforts to build the Northern Gateway pipeline across British Columbia to enable shipping on the Pacific Ocean; and TransCanada's plans to establish an Energy East corridor to the eastern seaboard, where Atlantic shipping and refining may occur. The appetite for growth is plainly reflected in the words of Alberta's finance minister, who claims that the industry soon will require “two or three Enbridge-Keystones” to handle the glut of unprocessed bitumen and continue expanding at the pace sought by investors.[4] At the other end of these pipeline arteries, there is a push for expanded upgrading and refining capacity, port facilities, and ocean-going tankers to widen distribution on a global scale.

This colossal enterprise is driven by a confluence of transnational energy corporations and finance capital. The world's largest oil and gas companies all have tar sands projects; banks and investment funds from around the world have increasingly joined capital based in Canada and the USA. In addition, the industry has been relentlessly subsidized and promoted by the Canadian and Albertan governments in a range of ways: decades of direct and indirect subsidies; lax regulations and a reliance on “self-regulation”; deep cuts to environmental monitoring capacities;[5] the failure to make serious, multilateral commitments to climate change mitigation; aggressive lobbying in the Canadian press and international policy forums; and missions to lock in trade and investment in the tar sands through bilateral and multilateral agreements.[6] Taken together, it is hard to overstate the magnitude of the economic and political power at hand.

Peak Oil; Peak Consumption

Yet pilot operations began in the late 1960s and the quantity of bitumen in the Athabasca tar sands has long been known, so an obvious question is: why has the industry heated up so much since the 1990s, after decades of far slower expansion? The answer relates in part to the fact that bitumen is much more difficult and costly to extract and refine into usable end products than conventional oil reserves. This means that returns on investment are much lower in the tar sands than in places with cheaper production costs (such as the Middle East, historically), at the same time as enormous capital investment is needed to enable the extraction, transport, and refining of bitumen. So it was not until world oil prices began to rise quickly in the face of growing limits to conventional supplies – reflecting the dynamics of “peak oil”[7] – that the tar sands industry became sufficiently profitable for many large-scale energy and financial corporations to ramp up their investments. Here, it is also helpful to remember that oil, coal, and natural gas account for roughly four-fifths of the world's net primary energy supply (that is, the sum of energy used in all production, transportation, and households).[8] Of these, oil is the most crucial, as both the greatest source of energy generation and the overwhelming source of liquid fuel that powers global transportation systems. The centrality of oil in global capitalism is reflected in the fact that oil-centred giants, like ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BP, Chevron, and Sinopec, consistently rank among the largest and most profitable corporations in the world. The geopolitical dimension of this push is plainly apparent in the Harper government's attempts to promote Canada as a world “energy superpower,” which is capable of enhancing the “energy security” for its friends, most notably the USA.

It is clear that the race to expand the production of unconventional reserves like bitumen is tied to the decline of conventional oil and gas reserves. In addition to tar sands, this general pressure is also central to the rise of hydraulic fracturing (more commonly known as “fracking”) for “tight” oil and natural gas and mining of kerogen shale (a bitumen-like substance), as well as increasing offshore drilling in deeper water and higher latitudes for conventional reserves.

This overall shift is increasingly being described in terms of a turn toward “extreme fossil energy,” because of the heightened difficulty, costs, risks, and pollution burden it entails.[9] The Athabasca tar sands are the world's largest “extreme energy” frontier, both because of the size of the area and the scale of bitumen deposits, and because the growth and technological development of the industry there is now helping to stoke the expansion of extraction in similar, though smaller, sorts of reserves around the world, in countries such as Venezuela and the United States.

To hear it from corporate and government elites, this turn toward extreme extraction is more or less inevitable. Their basic argument is that fossil fuels are the lifeblood of modern economies, so further extraction of unconventional reserves in the tar sands and elsewhere is needed to enable continued growth. The basic mantra is that more extraction means more wealth and more jobs. Some industry champions, such as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, take the claim of necessity a step further and celebrate the determination of investors who sink billions of dollars into the technology and infrastructure needed to make harder-to-use materials usable.

These claims of necessity contain a certain degree of truth, but a greater mistruth. The basic truth starts with the fact that fossil fuels permeate nearly every aspect of global capitalism and have a central function powering the relentless pursuit of growth and profits. Thus, the race to expand the tar sands and other forms of extreme fossil energy is indeed necessary to perpetuate the current order of things and, at least in the near-term, the success in this has been reflected in the diminished talk of peak oil. (Here, along with the tar sands, the explosive rise of fracking for oil and gas is especially notable). Of course, extreme energy projects can mean great earnings for financiers from Wall Street to Bay Street, and energy corporations from Calgary to Texas to Europe – though we must be clear that these industries also relate to jobs for ordinary people in countless ways, from the tar sands themselves to automobile assembly lines to a food system that runs on oil. However, the greater mistruth in the claim of necessity for the tar sands lies in the assumption that a growth-dependent, fossil fuel-addicted economic system can and must continue. The reality is that this course is far from inevitable, and that it guarantees disastrous outcomes.

The Line in the Tar Sands: The Growing Resistance

The stakes are rising as the tar sands industry pushes ever harder to expand production, pipelines, and export markets. Fortunately, a growing push-back is mounting against the mighty nexus of corporate and political power on a multitude of fronts. This opposition is grounded in the struggles of Indigenous communities in the Athabasca River Basin, and along existing and planned pipeline corridors. Here, residents have borne the brunt of the ecological devastation and adverse health impacts as their sovereignty has been undermined by both governments and corporations. Indigenous resistance has taken many forms, with community-based efforts to protect their land, water, and autonomy providing the foundation for broader initiatives like the Unist’ot’en Camp,[10] the Yinka Dene Alliance, Moccasins on the Ground gatherings, the Healing Walk, and the Idle No More movement.[11]

As proposals for new and extended pipelines have radiated outwards across the continent, opposition to the tar sands industry has also grown among various non-Indigenous communities and organizations. Movement strategists have often seen pipelines as a strategic vulnerability for the tar sands industry – for two major reasons. First, as suggested earlier, the industry is extremely fearful of how bottlenecks can constrain expansion, and hence both increased pipeline capacity and access to a wider set of refineries are deemed to be essential to continuing growth and investments. At present, much of the tar sands processing capacity is concentrated in the U.S. Midwest, and a glut in bitumen in the region has contributed to falling prices.[12] Tapping into further refinery capacity would increase profits, by avoiding such regional gluts, and by sparing the industry from the costs of building new upgrading facilities in northern Alberta, where these are particularly expensive due to the limits of existing infrastructure in this region. While such bottlenecks remain in place, campaigns against new and expanded pipelines have been able to slow investment in the industry, as investors have become wary of delays with additional pipelines (though it seems that some unfortunately are opting to invest in U.S. shale oil instead.) Rail shipments are growing, but these are more expensive, and cannot substitute for pipelines in terms of the scale of the expansion sought by investors.[13]

The second reason that pipelines are such a strategic vulnerability for the industry is that they provoke resistance by projecting serious eco-health risks onto ever more regions. These threats have been put on stark display in a number of recent spills, including those in the Kalamazoo River in 2010, and in Mayflower, Arkansas, in 2013. The risks of toxic pollution on land and in water bodies have repeatedly served to galvanize frontline mobilizations against pipelines and refineries, and these have grown into a major part of the struggles against the tar sands.

The most well-known pipeline battle has surrounded the Keystone XL proposal, but many other confrontations – ranging from direct actions to court cases – have been intensifying across the U.S. and Canada, as are discussed in several of our chapters. For instance, the Northern Gateway proposal has been met with mounting resistance for the hazards it would pose on land and with soaring tanker traffic moving in coastal waters and around the Haida Gwaii islands. In Ontario and Québec, there have been a range of mobilizations in different communities to oppose the reversal of the flow of the Enbridge Line 9 pipeline, which could enable the company to ship bitumen through southern Ontario and Montreal to the Atlantic coast. Opposition has arisen in response to Enbridge's Flanagan South Pipeline plan that would flow from the Chicago area to the Gulf Coast. After environmental organizations were unsuccessful in filing an injunction against the project, other strategies have been explored by the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance network, among others in the region. Anishinaabe communities in Minnesota have staged protests against the Alberta Clipper pipeline that already runs across their land (stretching from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin) and Enbridge's plans to dramatically increase the volume of bitumen being pumped through it. In addition, frontline opposition has emerged in response to megaload shipments through the U.S. Northwest, and to stop new tar sands mining in Utah.[14]

Frontline mobilizations from the Athabasca River Basin to sites for existing and proposed pipeline corridors and tar sands refining can be viewed as an extension of decades of environmental justice campaigning in North America, which emerged out of the disproportionate siting of polluting industries, dumps, and resource extraction among poor and often racially marginalized groups.[15] And just as many environmental justice campaigns have become better connected over time, building solidarity based on shared forms of oppression and aspirations, so too are the struggles of frontline communities becoming more entwined.

“The unifying element in these global and local struggles – the proverbial line in the tar sands – is a refusal to accept the legitimacy of the industry and a demand that the bitumen be left in the ground. ”

As the network of resistance has grown, it has increasingly intersected with the efforts of environmental activists and organizations fighting for action on climate change, who recognize how pivotal the tar sands are to any hope of preventing disastrous levels of warming. The unifying element in these global and local struggles – the proverbial line in the tar sands – is a refusal to accept the legitimacy of the industry and a demand that the bitumen be left in the ground.[16]

But beneath this broad goal, there are a diversity of targets and a multiplicity of tactics. The primary targets are, of course, the energy corporations at the helm of the tar sands industry, the Mordor landscape they are creating, and the infrastructure projects they are planning. Secondary targets include things like: government review processes, which promise at least a modicum of public participation; pension funds and financial institutions like the Royal Bank of Canada, which have a crucial role in capitalizing extraction, transport, and refining operations; and campaigns to affect fuel policies in the European Union, which might have forbidden tar sands imports.

Many activists and organizations have converged in mass demonstrations, such as the rally to stop Keystone XL in the United States. Indigenous communities and environmental organizations have presented critical evidence and arguments to the public hearings and environmental impact assessments surrounding pipeline and shipment plans, or campaigners have presented rearguard legal challenges. In Alberta, the tar sands industry is facing legal challenges from the Beaver Lake Cree, the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, and the Fort McKay First Nation. Land defence struggles and direct action have ranged from attempts to physically disrupt production, to establishing blockades and encampments on key sites, to spectacular banner drops in the tar sands and on Canadian Parliament buildings. Public education has taken a range of forms, such as speaking tours and the creation of a range of Internet resources.
The struggles against the tar sands industry are also intertwined with an even wider set of movements that are striving toward urgent social, political, and economic change, as they work to build hopeful transitions away from a ruinous addiction to fossil fuels and the pursuit of endless growth. The corporate behemoths driving the tar sands are implicated in myriad injustices around the world, and they – along with their political minions – are among the most powerful forces in the world forestalling such transitions. Challenging these forces also entails a vast range of efforts to organize our societies more democratically, equitably, and sustainably, from our food systems to the design of our cities to the way we heat and power our homes.
It is hard to assess the degree to which different efforts and even victories in the short term might ultimately contribute to the big, long-term objective of keeping the bitumen in the ground. But at the very least, the resistance has already succeeded in making it clear that the continuation of the tar sands industry and other extreme energy projects are far from inevitable, as more and more people come to understand that these can and must be stopped.



Adapted from A Line in the Tar Sands: Struggles for Environmental Justice, edited by Toban Black, Stephen D'Arcy, Tony Weis, and Joshua Kahn Russell (Between the Lines, 2014). A Line in the Tar Sands is a collection of writings from 38 contributors. The collection includes activist, academic, and journalistic perspectives on indigenous, environmentalist, and social justice struggles.

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




Why we need to win the battle over the tar sands

By Brad Hornick
Rabble.ca
October 2nd, 2014

'the fight over the tar sands is among the epic environmental and social justice battles of our time'

As our governments willingly unleash unprecedented destruction upon the earth through the promotion of extractive industries, and growing mobilizations of climate activists challenge climate emergency, I am reminded of a cautionary warning: "the Owl of Minerva takes flight at dusk."

This environmental metaphor conveys that the awareness of a historical period only becomes apparent when that era is coming to a close and as we come face-to-face with urgent tasks that need to be addressed.

As if responding to this desperate need to hurry the inauguration of a new historical era, Stephen D'Arcy, Toban Black, Tony Weis and Joshua Kahn Russell, editors of A Line in the Tar Sands, bring together the voices of activists and academics to argue "peoples' movements will either succeed in transforming our economic and political systems to build a new world, or we will burn with the old one."

This argument, cemented by Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben stating "the fight over the tar sands is among the epic environmental and social justice battles of our time" in the opening pages, suggests the very active tar sands struggle is no less than a life-and-death battle for the future of the planet.

It is a battle that pits these peoples' movement against the largest and most destructive industrial project -- a project driven by the big the most profitable and powerful transnational energy corporations: ExxonMobile, British Petroleum, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, Sinopec.

And, this is a battle on a geological time-scale.  

These corporations are digging up carbon that was produced by billions of years of decomposition of organic matter and remained underground through natural processes, permitting life to flourish on the planet's surface.

In a few short years, this capitalist enterprise has caused a dramatic overburdening, creating massive levels of carbon pollution as waste and a dangerous imbalance increasingly undermining those very life support systems.

And all is driven by crass and class politics.

The tar sands agenda, argues Martin Lukacs, empowers the political machinations of the reactionary Right in Canada. It reinforces a corporate constitutionalism that locks-in trade and investment through bilateral and multilateral agreements that secure investment "certainty" through the engineered collapse of environmental regulatory frameworks.

"In other words," says Lukacs, "these are not pipelines to build a nation. They are a scheme by which to swindle it."

Yet, tar sands infrastructure is quickly becoming the heart of a continental fossil fuel circulatory system with bitumen arteries that deliver the life-blood that fuels a global productive metabolism.

To sever those Northern Gateway, Line 9, Trans Mountain, Keystone XL and Energy East arteries, it is argued, would threaten prosperity and the disruption the economic system as a whole.

However, James Hansen, says that "continuing exploitation of the tar sands would amount to 'game over' for the climate, as it promise[s] to ensure a range of very dangerous feedback loops [that] would kick in -- the so-called 'runaway' climate change scenario."

But, does the battle to sever the tar sands arteries qualify as today's pre-eminent "urgent historical task that needs to be addressed?"

Yes! A Line in the Tar Sands presents compelling arguments as to why this is the central campaign in the wider climate justice movement and how this campaign is transforming activism itself.

Two general trends stand out: inclusiveness and radicalization.

First, the anti-tar sands movement is increasingly influenced by the inclusion of those who are most affected: the frontline communities marginalized by race and/or class. The movement as a whole is thus becoming less middle class, white, male and privileged.

Crystal Lameman, a member of Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Alberta, Canada and an Indigenous rights and tar sands campaigner, notes:

My home is under attack by an industry and by the Alberta and federal governments, which will stop at nothing to get the bitumen from the ground...We are warriors -- Mother Earth's Soldiers...We must follow through for the children and our future. With our boots on the ground, we will persist as we resist the colonial structures that have been forced upon us.

Indigenous activists are, by far, at the leadership of this movement, providing a shrewd political analysis and a spiritual power into the generalized tendency towards despair concerning the large odds activists face.

Clayton Thomas-Muller, a member of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation in Manitoba, Canada and current campaign director for the Polaris Institute's Indigenous Tar Sands Campaign, notes:

A large part of the work of movement building was about defending the sacredness of our Mother Earth and helping our peoples decolonize our notions of government, land management, business, and social relations by going through a process of re-evaluating our connection to the sacred.

Second, the environmental and social justice concerns of the anti-tar sands movement are coalescing by drawing connections between neoliberal anti-environmentalism and much broader assaults on democratic processes and institutions. This leads to the deepening of critical stances against business-as-usual approaches of mainstream environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs), and harsh denunciations of reactionary environmentalism and false, market-based solutions, argues Ryan Katz-Rosene.

Mainstream environmentalism has recently been and will continue to be schooled in new organizing tactics from frontline activists. Dave Vasey, a grassroots activist in Toronto and active in Environmental Justice Toronto, Occupy Toronto, the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network and anti-tar sands campaigning, relates a specific case of ENGO "interference":

In addition, [ENGOs] agreed to work with industry to "bridge the gap" between activists and industry, which involved opposing community struggles. Some bridges don't need to be built, and prioritizing relationships with industry over frontline communities was a critical mistake for ENGOs. This helped industry create the social consent required for public relations, despite widespread opposition by many grassroots and First Nations activists.

More generally, the voice of systematic anti-capitalist and anti-colonial critique leads to an application of strategies and tactics towards more foundational structures through what Stephen D'Arcy calls "secondary targeting."

"Much of the movement's potency," he says, "derives not from its capacity to directly influence the tar sands industry itself, but from its capacity to disrupt the system of financial, political and ideological support on which the industry depends."

The climate justice movement will continue to radicalize and abruptly challenge the priorities of capital. It will confront the traditional environmental movement as well as Left politics as it forges a new constellation of political forces concerned with Indigenous rights and title, migrant rights, labour rights and the rights of nature.

The climate justice movement, to which this volume adds an essential contribution, is at the forefront of revolutionary politics because it is birthed at the nexus of critical contradictions in the planet's society/nature metabolism. The multiple voices in this volume are expressions of this wide historical planetary praxis, nature becoming conscious of itself. 

A Line in the Tar Sands
should be read by activists and theorists alike. It will assist the movement in moving forward.

Brad Hornick is a perpetual student now doing a Ph.D. studying the relationship of climate science to political activism. Check out his blog on rabble for more of his writing and follow him on twitter @bradhornick

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




The System on High-Low

By Rob Clough
High-Low
October 7th, 2014

In some ways, Peter Kuper's The System is very much of its time with regard to its view of New York City. Written in 1995, its Times Square is still sleazy and the city (especially its downtown area) was far less gentrified than it is now. That said, its central plot beats--police corruption, racially-charged violence, insider trading, the threat of terrorism--are still all too familiar. This is my favorite of all of Kuper's comics, as it synchs up his interests in urban storytelling, political rabble-rousing, silent storytelling and his personal relationship with New York. It's also his most visually inventive and ambitious, as he spray-painted stenciled sheets to get a gritty, graffiti-inspired effect on each page. Given that the visual theme of the book is the way seemingly random people and things intersect and affect each other, the fact that colors literally bled into one another from panel to panel only helped to reinforce this theme.
While The System is touted as a silent book and there is no dialogue, it's a bit of a cheat to say that it's wordless. Indeed, there are whole subplots of the book that take place in headlines, on newstickers and on TV screens that drive a great deal of the action. We learn that a detective investigating the murder of a stripper is guilt-ridden for accidentally shooting a boy by looking at the newspaper clipping he carries around detailing the incident. We learn that there's a presidential election coming up between the corporate-sponsored incumbent and his firebrand liberal counterpart, and we later learn of the challenger's tragic fate from the papers. We learn of a major battle between two corporate giants who are trying to take over a third company via computer screens and iconography. This isn't a knock against the book; indeed, the omnipresence of media is a reality in an urban setting. That said, this is a book that requires different kinds of reading and rewards readers for keeping track of small details.

There's an orderly sense of chaos in how Kuper designs his pages. He resolutely stays away from any set sort of grid pattern on a page to page basis. In the second chapter, a brutal race-related murder is framed such that the panels are all askew, as though they were rocking or vibrating. Some of his panel-to-panel transitions are simple, while others are more dramatic and abstract, like the scream of a murder victim giving way to the tracks and train of a subway. A pigeon is his go-to way of moving the action somewhere new, as the bird draws away our eyes when Kuper simply wants to shift scenes without having characters intersect.

Peter Kuper's New York is one with predators, prey, and those in-between, trying to live their lives. Some of the characters meet horrible and unjust fates. Others have surprisingly sweet happy endings. Some of the corrupt are busted, while many more of the corrupt continue to exploit and profit off of others. Some murderers walk away clean, while others are punished in the most dramatic and ironic ways possible. Kuper's amazing achievement is keeping over a dozen different stories tightly wound around each other, effortlessly weaving them in and out of each other over the course of a few days. Some of the stories are a bit on the broad side and even feel a bit silly (like a corporate saboteur being brought in to nuke a competitor's building), though after the events of 9/11, who can say what's broad? Relying on simple visuals means Kuper can't afford much in the way of restraint or subtlety, neither of which were ever his strong suit to begin with. In the system, he uses that bluntness effectively and beautifully, making each and every page look like a beautiful bit of street art. Street art is frequently simple, bright and direct, and that's what Kuper aims for here. That said, he also manages to throw in a murder mystery, a political thriller, a cop procedural and various other kinds of stories into the book all at the same time, and pulls each of them off seamlessly. More than any of his other comics, The System is admirable simply because of the beauty of its structure. I do think that the final-panel reveal of a (literal) ticking time-bomb was a tad on the ridiculous side and betrayed the cyclical nature of the storytelling in the rest of the book. It was too much an "end of history" moment for a book that essentially showed that at any given time in the city, there's a cycle of predators and prey, lovers and artists going about their day, the rich trying to exploit the poor and certain elements of the underclasses that try to fight back in their own ways. By teasing an explosive game-changing end felt a bit cheap and went against the grain of the rest of the book. That said, the rest of the book worked as a distillation of much of Kuper's career as an artist and editor.
This edition was published by PM Press; Vertigo originally published it as three monthly issues and then later a collection. This edition is in hardback, is printed at a larger size and on better paper. The colors absolutely pop off the page in this book, and the quality of the paper is a big reason why. The endpapers, commentary and interstitial material give the book a real chance to breathe. This is obviously the definitive version of this book, and I'd point any reader curious about Kuper's career to this book first and foremost.

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




Interview: Filmmaker Robin Bell on “Positive Force: More than a Witness”

By Gregory Ayers
DC Music Downloads
November 14th, 2014

When I first moved to D.C., an Anglican priest from the area told me there was “Washington” and then there was “the District.” He meant there was a stark divide between Washington’s image as a seat of privilege and power and the poverty and homelessness literally in the shadows of the nation’s capital.

Positive Force is an activist collective that’s worked for thirty years on behalf of “the District,” so it’s only fitting that one of the area’s best filmmakers and media consultants made a documentary about the group.

Robin Bell, the creative force behind Bell Visuals, is known for his work as a printmaker and live video artist. His portfolio runs the gamut from the political to the artistic, and includes videos he’s done with Thievery Corporation as well as camera work and clips for groups like Pardon Chelsea Manning.

Bell’s latest project is Positive Force: More Than a Witness: Thirty Years of Punk Politics in Action. Over the course of an hour, the film features the members and musicians behind Positive Force and the activist work they’ve done over the decades. Dave Grohl, Jello Biafra, Ian MacKaye, Kathleen Hanna, and Crass’s Penny Rimbaud all make appearances.

Many of Positive Force’s volunteers are featured, as well as co-founders Mark Andersen and Kevin Mattson and other key figures from the group’s history. One of the great things about the film is the wealth of interviews and archival, primary-source video footage Bell incorporates into Positive Force: More Than a Witness. Missed seeing groups like Fugazi, Beefeater, Nation of Ulysses, and Rites of Spring play live? Here’s your chance to see footage of their Positive Force benefit concerts and learn about what inspired these groups and many others.

When I spoke to Bell on the phone, he went to great lengths to point out that while he directed and ultimately edited the film, he had a lot of help from a number people, including producers Meagan Coleman and Hunter Harris, both of whom also assisted with editing, and Jerry Busher and Doug Kallmeyer, who created the film’s original score with Bell.

He also emphasized that a portion of the proceeds from DVD sales will benefit the We Are Family senior outreach network.

D.C. Music Download: Why did you want to make this film? Given your background growing up in the D.C. area, did you have any personal experience with Positive Force?

Robin Bell: I shared some space with Positive Force when I was working with the DC Independent Youth Center in 2003. I never actually volunteered with Positive Force, but I was around them and always liked what they were doing.

There was an opportunity to make this film about five years ago. We were asked to meet up with Mark Andersen. The group was looking to put together a compilation of twenty-five years of footage they’d collected over the years.

The idea came up to do something a little bit bigger, and conversations around that turned into me wanting to direct a feature doc about Positive Force.


Mark Andersen – Mission of Positive Force from Bell Visuals on Vimeo.

DCMD: Given Positive Force had all this footage – you’re working with thirty years of all this great material – how did you decide how to frame all this information?

RB: We chose by listening. Our first interview was with Mark. The interview went for almost three hours, just in one take.

We listened to people. We talked to people. We asked them, “What was important to you?” What events meant something to you? Who were the bands? Who were the people who were part of the scene?”

Over time, there were certain bands that would keep popping up: “Nations of Ulysses, that band meant so much at this show,” or “Fugazi when they played the Wilson Center that time.” Or Beefeater. We were so excited about the Beefeater footage.

The thing with docs and storytelling is that it’s a lot of trial and error. You listen to people, you talk to people, you figure out that the story will kind of develop. You have to start to choose what kind of voice you’re going to take and what style and just stick with that.

For us, it was really important that the concept of Positive Force and Positive Force itself, the group, were the main characters. We have all these amazing people who explain it, but it’s not about the individual per se, but the individual efforts together which made something much bigger.


Ronald Grey – Discrimination in DC in 1950 from Bell Visuals on Vimeo.


Jello Biafra – Making a Difference from Bell Visuals on Vimeo.

DCMD: What do you think is the place of Positive Force in 2014? Why are they still important?
RB: I think PF is insanely relevant today, with the mission of what they’re doing, the empowering of people to actually do something-to go out and organize collectively. It’s as simple as delivering groceries on a Saturday.

To the D.C. audience on Friday, if you still feel strongly about it [after seeing the film], you can come out at 11 a.m. on Saturday and deliver groceries to senior citizens. This is a busy time to do it. They’re also doing shows and concerts; you can help out and work on that. Or, if you have an idea, and you’d like to do something, come to the Positive Force meeting at three o’clock.

I think they’re [Positive Force] super-relevant. As a volunteer organization, it ebbs and flows. You have times where it’s really busy and there are a lot of new people and a lot of new energy. Then you have times where it kind of slows down. It’s just based on the nature of volunteer work.

One thing that’s amazing about watching the film is how people were a part of it, and then they stopped naturally. There wasn’t any trauma, there weren’t any issues. They had to go on and do their own thing. But their experience helped shaped their decision making and their ability to want to do something, which is really cool.

For Positive Force specifically, I think that’s why it’s still relevant and why it’s around today.


Dave Grohl – Community Centers from Bell Visuals on Vimeo.

DCMD: The film ends with the question, “Now what?” What’s that next step? What impact do you hope this film has on people?

RB: My goal pretty much from day one for people from an outside audience was for them to be inspired, to want to learn more, and to try something out for themselves.

In D.C., we’re really lucky to have these examples. In the film, [Positive Force veteran] Katy Otto explains how she thought that every city must have a band like Fugazi. That’s real. I think people in D.C. forget that we’ve got this insanely powerful group that makes real solid music and has a great way of carrying themselves.

Beyond any one style of music, I’m excited for friends of mine who are into electronic music, hip hop, classical music or country to listen to it and go “Wow, we don’t have a venue, let’s make a venue! Let’s organize, let’s do things,” taking a small piece of the puzzle and work on it.

Every person I’ve showed it to who isn’t familiar with the D.C. punk scene gets something out of it, and they’re still inspired by it. That’s something we set out do from the very beginning, to make a piece that’s not only about the past, but also about moving forward.

I love the bits in the credits – Penny [Rimbaud] pretty much sums it up, “It’s happening now, it’s happening now, it’s the moment.”

Positive Force: More Than a Witness premieres at 7 p.m. on November 14 and November 15 at St. Stephen & the Incarnation Episcopal Church. Get more details and purchase your tickets here.

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




World War 3 Illustrated: 1979-2014 -- The Best Collection of Radical Comics You May Ever Read

By Bill Berkowitz
Daily Kos
October 22nd, 2014

World War 3 Illustrated: 1979-2014 -- Thirty-Five Years of Bashing Stereotypes, Tearing Down Walls, Smashing Icons and Visionary Cartooning

In 1979, in the wake of a meltdown at Three Mile Island, the founding of the Moral Majority by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the murder of gay politician Harvey Milk in San Francisco’s City Hall, the Iranian hostage crisis, and the impending election of Ronald Reagan, Seth Tobocman and Peter Kuper, two art students at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, decided the time was ripe for an anti-war comic book.

In 1938, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two guys from Cleveland, had revolutionized comic books with the publication of a story called “Superman: Champion of the Oppressed,” in Action Comics #1. Forty-one years later, Tobocman and Kuper, who grew up in Cleveland and knew each other since the first grade, were ready to create a home for political comics, graphics and stirring personal stories. 

Tobocman and Kuper constructed a relatively simple, yet monumentally difficult game plan: Develop an outlet for their own work that emphasized their politics; and, create a space for like-minded artists and politicos whose voices needed to be heard. And, of course, make enough money to keep the presses rolling.

“The undergrounds were mostly gone and the alternative movement didn't exist yet. Since we'd done zines, the idea of self-publishing wasn't remote. Beyond publishing our own work we also wanted to print work that moved us -- much of it was on the street posted on walls and lampposts,” Kuper said in a recent interview posted at comicbookresources.com. “It was work that was talking about our reality in 1979 with a hostage crisis in Iran, the Cold War in full swing and a B-actor about to have his itchy trigger-finger on the nuclear launch button.”

It is now thirty-five years later and the Oakland, California-based PM Press has just published a elaborately designed full-color anthology titled World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014 (PM Press, July 2014, 328 pages, $29.95). The collection contains creative, hard hitting, and issue-oriented content, covering such subjects as police brutality, feminism, the environment, religion, political prisoners, housing rights, globalization, and depictions of conflicts from the Middle East to the Midwest.

In their Editor’s note, Tobocman and Kuper point out that once they began publishing their magazine, “all sorts of people were drawn to that banner: punks, painters, graffiti writers, anarchists photojournalists, feminists, squatters, political prisoners, and people with AIDS.”

The comic book: From the 1930s through the golden age of the 60s & 70s

Flash back to the mid-1950s: Raye Ellen, one of my downstairs Bronx apartment building neighbors, set-up a comic-book lending library. The process was simple; file out an index card with your name, phone number and apartment number; choose the comic books you wanted to borrow; list them on your index card; and, take them home for up to two days. If you didn't return the comics on time, there’d be no more comics.

It's been a long time since I've been a dedicated a comic-book fan. These days, I read the San Francisco Chronicle's Sunday Comics section and its two pages of comics just about every day.

Over the years, I've read and reviewed a handful of graphic novels and graphic journalism. The late Bob Callahan, who edited several cartoon anthologies, most notably The New Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Stories from Crumb to Clowes (2004), taught me a lot about the history and value of comics.

In his Introduction to The New Smithsonian Book of Comic-Book Stories, Callahan discussed the rise of America’s comic book industry: “The current era in American comic-book history swung boldly into place one brilliant San Francisco morning the late 1960s when and odd-looking man [Robert Crumb] … began to sell his own self-published comic book, Zap Comix. …The comic book itself was only about thirty years old when Crumb came along and rearranged it.  

“The format first came to life in the 1930s, when the larger newspapers found a cheap way to repackage their most popular daily serials inside these new pulp pages.” The “real breakthrough” took place in 1938, “when a couple of Jewish American high school students from Cleveland, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster,” published Action Comics #1, which contained a story called “Superman: Champion of the Oppressed.” (For more, see “Superman Co-Creators

Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster Discuss The Man Of Steel’s Origins [Video]” @ http://comicsalliance.com/....) Siegel and Shuster began to create a series of adventure stories, which transformed the industry.

Comic books about fighting the Nazis and Japanese during World War II – read by millions heading off to war -- were a new development as “Over the years, the comics more often responded to the spirit of disorder  -- to the divine virtues Sedition, Anarchy and Mischievous – than to the need to put anybody’s house back in order.”

Many modern-day comic-book illustrators and writers stand on shoulders of  Harvey Kurtzman, who is known for his “pioneering antiwar stories,” and brilliant “send-ups and parodies that made MAD Magazine the most celebrated comic of all time. Kurtzman stood up against Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch-hunts.

In 1954, The Comics Code Authority, a result from of almost daily newspaper tirades “connecting crime comics to juvenile delinquency,” led to publishers dumbing down the comic book. A seal on a comic book’s cover stating “Approved by the Comics Code Authority,” was aimed at protecting America’s youth from smut, profanity, obscenity, and/or communism. Comics were forced underground, and, according to Callahan, “it was twelve years … before open, smart, and adventurous comics surfaced again.”

By the mid-1960s, alternative newspapers across the country “threw open their doors to certain new and radical perspectives in art and politics.” From New York’s Lower East Side to San Francisco, from Crumb’s Zap Comix to artists such as Bill Griffith, Rick Griffin, Frank Stack, and Joel Beck, young artists and illustrators pursued their passion with a free hand and, well … an unbridled passion. Through the work of Justin Green, Spain Rodriguez, Gilbert Shelton, Kim Deitch, Carol Tyler and Harvey Pekar, “the undergrounds discovered their own literary destiny.”  
Stan Lee’s brigade of Marvel superheroes, -- the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men, and so many others – led Marvel to “become the most popular comic book company in the world.” Art Spiegelman’s brilliant Maus, “which dealt with his father’s tortured memories of life in Hitler’s concentration camps,” won Spiegelman a Pulitzer Prize.

World War 3 Illustrated: “Honest and rowdy, boisterous and straight-forward”
Peter Kuper told comicbookresources.com that when he and Seth Tobocman arrived in New York, they “were still fans of comics and had become serious about creating them, but there were few venues to get our work published.”

Seth Tobocman was “spurred” on by the Iran hostage crisis: “I knew a lot of Iranian students who were at school with me. So I knew about how the Shah of Iran was put in by the US and how my Iranian friends were afraid of the Savak, the Iranian secret police, even while walking around NYC. So when the Shah fell and Iranians took over the US embassy, I understood why they did that. But for many Americans this was an outrage, like 9/11, and there was this wave of patriotic hysteria. So I felt, if all these ignorant people can express themselves, so could I. I decided to throw my hat in the ring.”

Both Kuper and Tobocman are accomplished artists. Kuper has produced more than 20 books and his work has been featured in Time, The New York Times, and MAD Magazine, for which he has written and illustrated SPY vs SPY since 1997. Tobocman is the author of five graphic books and he has participated in exhibitions at ABC No Rio, Exit Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the New Museum of Contemporary Art.

World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014 is a beautifully crafted full-color anthology that is not solely politics: there are personal stories about life, death, love, hate, growth, stagnation, and the horrible loneliness of staking out positions you believe to be right.

Bill Ayers, the 1960s radical, co-founder of the Weather Underground, and a respected educator and author, who is perhaps best known for being the “pal” in Sarah Palin’s oft-repeated 2008 Presidential Election meme about Barack Obama “Palling around with terrorists,” writes in an Introduction titled “In Cahoots!”: “The artists of World War 3 have forged a space by turns harsh and exciting, honest and rowdy, boisterous and straight-forward, always powered by the wild and unruly harmonies of love. It’s a space where hope and history rhyme, where joy and justice meet. Their voices provoke and sooth and energize.”  

As you read through this strikingly designed book, one cannot can’t help but admire those many young, often obscure and struggling courageous comic book artists and cartoonists who, with unbridled passion, took on unpopular issues, bashed stereotypes, tore down walls, and smashed icons.

As Kuper and Tobocmen point out in their Editor’s note: “In many ways WW3 represents a microcosm of the type of society we’d like to see -- a place where people of various backgrounds, sexual orientations, and abilities pull together to create something that benefits the whole.”

With Iraq in chaos and the same tired and discredited voices trucked out by the mainstream media, a surveillance state run amok, income inequality continuing to  peak, prison privatization, climate change, unabated gun violence, and Tea Party madness, it’s important to have sharply honed, no bullshit, critical perspectives to mainstream blather. World War 3 Illustrated contributors, new and old, are now hard at work cooking up their next issue.

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




World War 3 Illustrated on Jewish Currents

By Nicholas Jahr
Jewish Currents
November 16th, 2014

I VAGUELY REMEMBER WORLD WAR 3. Growing up, I was dimly aware of it lurking behind sleek curves and rippling muscles, spandex and tights and capes, the glossy sheen coating it all. World War 3 was all hard angles and contorted bodies, fists and teeth and spraypaint and blood. It was a dispatch from another world, seemingly distant and yet too close for comfort, somehow a lot more immediate than the one right in my face, and screaming for my attention. These days the headlines have made it feel imminent. What better time than now to get it all between two covers.

World-War-3-show.inlineWorld War 3 kicked off in 1979, when two young cartoonists launched a sneak attack on Reagan’s America. Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman have been in the vanguard of the vanguard ever since, editing and contributing to the comics anthology they founded after coming to New York from Cleveland. They’re the radical Siegel and Shuster. Now PM Press has published a new collection, World War 3 Illustrated: 1979-2014. Whatever its flaws, it deserves a place on the shelves of anyone who gives a damn about comics or the political art of the last three decades.

“We didn’t begin WW3 with a formal manifesto,” the editors write in their introduction (entitled… “Manifesto”). It shows. There was no house style, no hard line to tow. Instead World War 3 called up a riot of styles, a frenzy of technique and imagery, a lot of brutal black-and-white and the occasional effusion of orgiastic color. The vernacular of mainstream comics was deployed in only the most perfunctory sense; recruits looked elsewhere, borrowing from many of the major trends of 20th century painting: Surrealism, Cubism, expressionism, woodcut, collage, photorealism, airbrush, graffiti… the list probably goes on.

Panel from Tobocman's

Panel from Tobocman’s “The World is Being RIpped”

Maybe it’s this adoption of techniques from more static forms which fosters an emphasis on the discrete image, the single panel (sometimes the whole page). If the simplifications of cartooning tend toward the iconic or an esculent abstraction, taken together these two tendencies can make some of the work feel static, as if the panels don’t relate to each other. But even when the panels are stronger than the pages, there are still images of intense power, not simply iconic in the sense that the many permutations of life are distilled into a single, more universal image, but also in the sense that those images convey values and ideas: they’re rallying points.

Relatedly, for self-professed radical artists, there’s very little experimentation in World War 3 with the basic grid, the flow of how a page of comics is read. Even if most of the contributors eschew strict representation to varying degrees, lining up with the 20th century avant-garde, they accept the same basic grammar used in mainstream comics. If it’s the one concession these revolutionaries paid to their ancien regime, its significance is arguable. Revolutionary content doesn’t always mean revolutionary form, of course, and the latter can winnow the audience for the former. At the same time it’s a reminder of how long its taken comics to mature as an art form, of its long and tortured adolescence (which has now seized the culture as a whole).

The collection is organized by topic (“Herstories”, “Autobiology”, “Biohazard”, “New World Empire”, you get the idea), which gives a sense of how consistent the group’s engagement has been on each front (very), although the scheme sacrifices any clear sense of progression and development (if there is one to be sussed out). If the analysis is occasionally simplistic, the agitprop is fiercely agitational. The collective has spent the last three decades drawing on the frontlines: struggles over equality, the environment, censorship, religion; the gentrification of New York City; the cancerous growth of the prison industrial-complex; the rolling catastrophe of U.S. foreign policy; the man-made disaster of Hurricane Katrina; the sheer insidious fear of the AIDS crisis.

But for fucking revolutionaries, the absence of pleasure, of actual orgies, of revolutionary fucking, is striking. We can muster only the No, not the Yes. You can’t help but think that this is the Left at a nadir: all critique and no program, no vision of a better world to rally around, to fight for. World War 3, of course, shouldn’t be blamed for the strategic confusion of contemporary left politics. Looking to comics to lead the way forward is asking a bit much.

 

WHAT CAN WE LOOK TO COMICS TO DO? Despite its maturation, the medium is still often perceived as innocent, as ‘kids stuff.’ Sure, that quality is in large part nothing more than a matter of perception — this is a medium which spent half a century catering to those kids — but it can still be useful. Readers still underestimate comics. And that means some styles can tunnel under their defenses and assumptions: people a viewer would write off on the nightly news become less foreign, more familiar; perspectives that would immediately be dismissed are given a hearing. Other styles make symbols plausible and systems apparent, even if the appeal is less to reason than to intuition. (Of course it doesn’t help if you’re only preaching to the converted, but transforming the system of distribution is another problem that goes beyond comics, and comics stores are not exactly known as hotbeds of left politics.) The artists of World War 3 get plenty of ammunition from both approaches.

Scott McCloud has reflected on the way comics depend on the participation of the reader:

Scott McCloud on Readers & Icons

Both instilling life in an icon and filling in the blanks between panels involve readers to an extent few other mediums rival. Comics are good terrain for political warfare because they force readers to do some of the fighting themselves.

 

BUT IS IT GOOD FOR THE JEWS? This is Jewish Currents, after all. “Promised Land?”, one of the volume’s penultimate sections, features contributions from all World War 3‘s longest-serving volunteers: Kuper, Tobocman, and Eric Drooker (who’s represented by a first-person essay accompanied by photos, so we’ll set it aside), along with Sabrina Jones. All four examine the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; all of them show off the possibilities of political comics.

Tobocman’s style is stripped down and iconic, and he uses it to conjure up the universal and systemic:

The transition from the round table in the fourth panel to the snake encircling the peace sign in the fifth to the calcified walls of the sixth gives the images a coherence they wouldn’t have separately. Nor would the text in the sixth panel (“AND WHEN ALL THE WALLS HAVE BEEN BUILT…”) hold up without the image that complements it. He gets across in eight panels ideas that others (myself included) have spent thousands of words communicating.

Jones pulls off the feat of conveying the physical and political geography of Jerusalem’s Old City in a single panel:

Art from Jones' comic

Panel from Sabrina Jones’ “Fear & firecrackers”

The history and veneration and segregation and suspicion and tension are all there in that one image.

Of the three, Kuper’s work comes closest to McCloud’s ideas:

It’s hard not to project yourself into the elation of Kuper’s first panel, to feel how crushed and diminished that sensation is by the end of the page. The ‘terrorists’ are just people he knows at work, and as you transition through the page (even if it doesn’t flow strictly panel-to-panel) you imagine knowing them too.

In different ways all three artists lead readers to see the humanity of people whose humanity is often dismissed.

The volume as a whole offers an implicit rebuttal to the persistent canard that ‘the Left’ (whoever that is, anymore) singles out Israel. There are dispatches from North Korea, Mexico, India; Jones is one of several contributors to take on the war in Iraq. Some will complain that the proportions are off; Kuper’s contribution begins with recollections of his first visit to Israel in 1969, at the age of 10. To the extent that Israel is given more attention, it’s due to a complicated sense of attachment, and of its importance to the world.

 

THE COLLECTION INCLUDES A TIMELINE OF THE WAR TO DATE, juxtaposing the major political events of the era with the history of the magazine and its contributors. Even after 300 pages, the omissions are striking: Where’s Steve Brodner at the 1988 Republican National Convention? No Brian Damage? None of the Eastern European contributors? No Stephen Kroninger? Not even David Wojnarowicz?! No Brad Will? Which makes the fact that the collection includes ten pages from Kuper’s (gorgeous) journal on the uprising in Oaxaca — given that his rich, gorgeous account received the deluxe treatment from PM in a separate 200-page hardcover — somewhat inexplicable. There’s still an impressive array of work to be found in these pages. Currents readers should recognize Spain, Tom Tomorrow, and of course Kuper himself (who has contributed small illustrations to The Nation, and is now the mastermind behind Mad‘s “Spy vs. Spy”). Everyone you don’t recognize is worth becoming familiar with.

This new collection is still indispensable until a better one comes along. You wish the early years were better represented, wish the cover gallery was full-scale, wish there was more material setting the work in context, wish there was more, wish we didn’t hear the distant echo of combat even in our own words, wish world war 3 didn’t feel so damn close at hand, but if it has to be, this is one of the books you want to have with you in the trenches.

Panel from Seth Tobocman's

Nicholas Jahr is a freelance writer and member of the editorial board of Jewish Currents.

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




New Forms of Worker Organization: A Review

By Stephen Campbell
Anthropology of Work Review
November 3rd, 2014

There has, in recent years, been no shortage of anthropologists framing their research in terms of precarity, which contextualizes precarious work within the social and human fallout of late 20th-century neoliberal restructuring.

Anthropological inquiries into the socially constitutive effects of neoliberalization or what might be seen as the creative outcomes of neoliberalism's creative destruction generally have been less explicit. It is in this vein that Immanuel Ness's recent edited volume, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class Struggle Unionism, emerges with particular relevance for anthropologists.

The book is a collection of globally dispersed case studies of workers' self-organization and collective action. Only one contributing author (Genese Marie Sodikoff) is an anthropologist; the remainder are mostly sociologists, political scientists, labor activists and organizers, and nongovernmental organization researchers. Nonetheless, the book advances an important thesis, which invites ethnographic inquiry from those whose research lies within the anthropology of work.

The foreword is written by radical labor historian Straughton Lynd, whose own writing on solidarity unionism informs some of following chapters. Ness, in his introduction, then situates the book's case studies within a global political-economic context of neoliberal restructuring, declining trade union density, and increasingly insecure working conditions. He adds a critical analysis of conventional trade unions (business unions) as characterized by hierarchical organizational structures; large, salaried bureaucracies; limited rank-and-file participation; an institutionalized negotiating role backed by state legislation; subordination to political parties; and a willingness to contractually renounce workers' right to strike in exchange for limited monetary concessions.

Against this conceptual backdrop, Ness presents the book's overall thesis. He argues that the neoliberal restructuring of employment relations variously implemented in countries around the world since the 1970s has, by undermining conventional trade unions, opened space for alternative indeed radical forms of workers' self-organization. Unlike conventional trade unions, such new forms of worker organization are characterized by flat organizational structures; direct rank-and-file decision making; autonomy from political parties; and a greater willingness to engage in strikes and other forms of (often extra-legal) direct action. In addition, the precarious working conditions resulting from neoliberalization have, Ness argues, incited workers to take collective action, which is now increasingly pursued outside of conventional trade unions.

The book's subsequent chapters serve as evidence, making this thesis globally relevant. Ness has brought together a group of authors able to illustrate worker responses in Argentina, Australia, China, Colombia, India, Italy, Madagascar, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Global diversity is one of the book's strengths, as it avoids a myopic focus on Euro-American deindustrialization. Instead, readers are able to compare and contrast forms of workers' self-organization in different kinds of societies in widely separated parts of the world. For example, in China's expanding industrial belt, Au Loong-Yu and Bai Ruixue explain how workers have come to see the state-controlled All China Federation of Trade Unions as ineffectual and irrelevant to improving their work situation. Chinese industrial workers have thus repeatedly bypassed their official union in order to engage in protests against privatization, and in wildcat strikes for higher wages and improved working conditions. In the United States' fast food industry, Erik Forman illustrates how low wages and despotic management practices have stimulated the reemergence of the Industrial Workers of the World, a militant, rank-and-file union that initially gained prominence as a radical force among precarious workers a century ago. In South Africa's postapartheid mining industry, Shawn Hattingh describes how workers' anger over precarious working conditions, persistent racism by management, and prison-like labor regimes has fueled wildcat strikes and sit-ins at most mines in the country since 2009.

There is, however, some ambiguity in these case studies when referred back to the introductory framing. Specifically, Ness writes that new forms of worker organization in both the global North and South have adopted an explicitly revolutionary agenda (11) and envision a world without capitalism (2). This ideological orientation is, to be sure, evident for organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World in the United States (chapter 11) and in the United Kingdom (chapter 12), or for Sweden's anarcho-syndicalist Sveriges Arbetares Centralorganisation (chapter 9). However, in other cases included in the book, such as those from China (chapter 2), Russia (chapter 3), India (chapter 4), and Madagascar (chapter 6), evidence for an explicitly revolutionary anticapitalist agenda among the workers involved is not presented.

In some ways, of course, any workers' strike has revolutionary implications. But if syndicalism necessarily entails a revolutionary agenda, are rank-and-file workers' struggles which fall short of articulating such an agenda perhaps syndicalist-like, but not syndicalist per se? And if so, under what circumstances and through what processes do the workers involved in such struggles shift toward a consciously revolutionary position? The point may be moot where workers are, in any case, engaged in militant, self-organized struggles. But for anthropologists concerned with the relationship between patterns of practice and the meanings generated by and for the agents enacting them, the questions become relevant. New Forms of Worker Organization will be of interest to anthropologists, and particularly anthropologists of work not necessarily by resolving these questions, but by raising them and stimulating further ethnographic inquiry. The book thus merits the attention of anthropologists, both as social analysts and as education workers facing neoliberal restructuring in their own academic institutions.

Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions.

What these efforts have in common is an approach that editor Immanuel Ness calls “autonomous worker organizing,” which is largely a renewal of an old form of unionism called syndicalism. He promotes it as the best way forward for labor, in the U.S. and globally.

Revival of Syndicalism?

Syndicalism arose in late 19th-century Europe as a more revolutionary alternative to the traditional unions of the time. Its goals were to improve working conditions in the near term, while organizing in the long run to overthrow capitalism.

It’s characterized by a participatory structure, use of direct action in the workplace, embrace of class struggle, rejection of electoral politics, the organizing of general strikes, and advocacy of workers’ control of production. This model rejects any partnership between workers and bosses, and sees the government as on the bosses’ side, not a neutral party.

The new book’s case studies take place in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, the U.S., and England. Most have a militancy that’s lacking in many traditional union fights. For instance, they use wildcat strikes and occupations. Ness suggests these diverse efforts share some of the core principles of syndicalism, particularly member-initiated direct action in the workplace.

The book’s U.S. example is fascinating: a detailed, firsthand account by a worker who participated in the Industrial Workers of the World fast food organizing campaign at Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities.

The campaign demonstrates the IWW’s “solidarity unionism” model. Without relying on union staff, workers run their own campaign, developing demands and using direct action tactics to fight for them. Jimmy John’s workers created an organizing committee, listed their demands, stopped work, marched on the boss, picketed and occupied the store, published a campaign website, ran a campaign for paid sick days—and over time, made improvements to wages and working conditions.

They also held a National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election, which they narrowly lost after a union-busting campaign by the boss. This raised questions among workers about the utility of the established procedures for organizing.

Bottom-Up Organizing

In many of the book’s case studies, nonunion workers organized independently because of disinterest or hostility from established unions. In others, though workers were unionized, their unions didn’t offer adequate channels to resolve their workplace grievances, so they had to take their own initiative.

Official unions often did little to help the workers, and sometimes even worked to undermine them. This was true in the chapters about several groups of auto workers—at Honda in China, Ford in Russia, and Suzuki in India. Despite the opposition of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Honda workers held a successful and high-profile strike for better wages, inspiring actions at many other plants.

When mineworkers in South Africa launched a wave of wildcat strikes and sit-ins, they faced interference from the National Union of Mineworkers on top of severe repression from the government, which killed dozens of workers in the mining town of Marikana.

Workers organizing independently within mainstream unions are covered in chapters on the militant subway workers caucus within the transportation union in Argentina and on workplace takeovers in the construction, garment, and mining industries in Australia. Workers took over the construction site at the famous Sydney Opera House and ran it for over a month—with greater productivity. They won higher pay and shorter hours.

Two chapters discuss autonomous workers’ movements or organizations that cross industries within a country: the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas) in Italy and the SAC syndicalist federation in Sweden.

This book provides a great overview of the non-traditional part of the global labor movement, which needs more attention. A common thread: workers are building power in ways that rely on worker initiative and solidarity, not on formal legal certification or union contracts.

It raises crucial questions about the role of rank-and-file power in a union revival, and offers a challenge to traditional union practices.

Much-Needed Spark

To solve the labor movement’s problems, first you have to understand their origins. In the U.S., mainstream unionists tend to believe the era after the 1935 enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was a golden age for organizing.

That law is seen as a progressive breakthrough that protected workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. In this version of the story, our current troubles are the result of a renewed corporate anti-union offensive begun in the ’70s and ’80s, coupled with a lack of enforcement of labor rights.

If that’s true, then the solution is reformed labor law and better enforcement. But Ness ends the book with a compelling essay that critiques this traditional understanding.

He sees the NLRA as a loss for the labor movement. It created a bureaucratized industrial relations system that stifled workers’ initiative and militancy on the shop floor. Unions traded away their disruptive rank-and-file power for an NLRA that shackled unions as contract administrators and eventually enabled their decline.

Ness shares the syndicalist view that disrupting production is what makes employers yield. Empowered workers should be free to stop work at any time, not hindered by the no-strike clauses and multi-step grievance procedures contained in most union contracts. Without this kind of militancy, he believes, there’s little chance of a revived labor movement.

If Ness is correct, the initiatives the U.S. labor movement has developed over the last few decades—more resources for new organizing, better corporate campaigns, increased turnout for elections—will not be enough. Instead, to make room for the widespread, combative workplace activism we need, unions will have to rethink our attitude toward rank-and-file power.

Of course this is risky. Strikes are often hard to win. Workers can usually be fired easily, no matter how organizing is done or who does it. But the resurgence of a participatory, syndicalist approach to organizing could provide a much-needed spark for labor.

Eric Dirnbach is a union staffer and labor activist in New York City.

- See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/review-alt-labor-or-not-it-will-take-rank-and-file-power-revive-us#sthash.pEZlw0kP.dpuf

Can recent experiments with alternative forms of organizing, such as worker centers and minority strikes, offer a solution to the labor movement’s long half-century of decline?

Racked by globalization, union-busting, and weak legal protections, unions in the U.S. have fallen from representing 35 percent of the working population in the 1950s to 12 percent today. Other countries have seen similar trends.

An excellent new book, New Forms of Worker Organization: The Syndicalist and Autonomist Restoration of Class-Struggle Unionism, presents examples of present-day organizing around the world—inside and outside of unions.

What these efforts have in common is an approach that editor Immanuel Ness calls “autonomous worker organizing,” which is largely a renewal of an old form of unionism called syndicalism. He promotes it as the best way forward for labor, in the U.S. and globally.

Revival of Syndicalism?

Syndicalism arose in late 19th-century Europe as a more revolutionary alternative to the traditional unions of the time. Its goals were to improve working conditions in the near term, while organizing in the long run to overthrow capitalism.

It’s characterized by a participatory structure, use of direct action in the workplace, embrace of class struggle, rejection of electoral politics, the organizing of general strikes, and advocacy of workers’ control of production. This model rejects any partnership between workers and bosses, and sees the government as on the bosses’ side, not a neutral party.

The new book’s case studies take place in Italy, China, Russia, India, South Africa, Madagascar, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Australia, the U.S., and England. Most have a militancy that’s lacking in many traditional union fights. For instance, they use wildcat strikes and occupations. Ness suggests these diverse efforts share some of the core principles of syndicalism, particularly member-initiated direct action in the workplace.

The book’s U.S. example is fascinating: a detailed, firsthand account by a worker who participated in the Industrial Workers of the World fast food organizing campaign at Jimmy John’s in the Twin Cities.

The campaign demonstrates the IWW’s “solidarity unionism” model. Without relying on union staff, workers run their own campaign, developing demands and using direct action tactics to fight for them. Jimmy John’s workers created an organizing committee, listed their demands, stopped work, marched on the boss, picketed and occupied the store, published a campaign website, ran a campaign for paid sick days—and over time, made improvements to wages and working conditions.

They also held a National Labor Relations Board-supervised union election, which they narrowly lost after a union-busting campaign by the boss. This raised questions among workers about the utility of the established procedures for organizing.

Bottom-Up Organizing

In many of the book’s case studies, nonunion workers organized independently because of disinterest or hostility from established unions. In others, though workers were unionized, their unions didn’t offer adequate channels to resolve their workplace grievances, so they had to take their own initiative.

Official unions often did little to help the workers, and sometimes even worked to undermine them. This was true in the chapters about several groups of auto workers—at Honda in China, Ford in Russia, and Suzuki in India. Despite the opposition of the official All-China Federation of Trade Unions, the Honda workers held a successful and high-profile strike for better wages, inspiring actions at many other plants.

When mineworkers in South Africa launched a wave of wildcat strikes and sit-ins, they faced interference from the National Union of Mineworkers on top of severe repression from the government, which killed dozens of workers in the mining town of Marikana.

Workers organizing independently within mainstream unions are covered in chapters on the militant subway workers caucus within the transportation union in Argentina and on workplace takeovers in the construction, garment, and mining industries in Australia. Workers took over the construction site at the famous Sydney Opera House and ran it for over a month—with greater productivity. They won higher pay and shorter hours.

Two chapters discuss autonomous workers’ movements or organizations that cross industries within a country: the Confederazione dei Comitati di Base (Cobas) in Italy and the SAC syndicalist federation in Sweden.

This book provides a great overview of the non-traditional part of the global labor movement, which needs more attention. A common thread: workers are building power in ways that rely on worker initiative and solidarity, not on formal legal certification or union contracts.

It raises crucial questions about the role of rank-and-file power in a union revival, and offers a challenge to traditional union practices.

Much-Needed Spark

To solve the labor movement’s problems, first you have to understand their origins. In the U.S., mainstream unionists tend to believe the era after the 1935 enactment of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) was a golden age for organizing.

That law is seen as a progressive breakthrough that protected workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively. In this version of the story, our current troubles are the result of a renewed corporate anti-union offensive begun in the ’70s and ’80s, coupled with a lack of enforcement of labor rights.

If that’s true, then the solution is reformed labor law and better enforcement. But Ness ends the book with a compelling essay that critiques this traditional understanding.

He sees the NLRA as a loss for the labor movement. It created a bureaucratized industrial relations system that stifled workers’ initiative and militancy on the shop floor. Unions traded away their disruptive rank-and-file power for an NLRA that shackled unions as contract administrators and eventually enabled their decline.

Ness shares the syndicalist view that disrupting production is what makes employers yield. Empowered workers should be free to stop work at any time, not hindered by the no-strike clauses and multi-step grievance procedures contained in most union contracts. Without this kind of militancy, he believes, there’s little chance of a revived labor movement.

If Ness is correct, the initiatives the U.S. labor movement has developed over the last few decades—more resources for new organizing, better corporate campaigns, increased turnout for elections—will not be enough. Instead, to make room for the widespread, combative workplace activism we need, unions will have to rethink our attitude toward rank-and-file power.

Of course this is risky. Strikes are often hard to win. Workers can usually be fired easily, no matter how organizing is done or who does it. But the resurgence of a participatory, syndicalist approach to organizing could provide a much-needed spark for labor.

Eric Dirnbach is a union staffer and labor activist in New York City.

- See more at: http://www.labornotes.org/blogs/2014/10/review-alt-labor-or-not-it-will-take-rank-and-file-power-revive-us#sthash.pEZlw0kP.dpuf

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Towards Collective Liberation reviewed on Fellowship of Reconciliation

By Moira Birss
Fellowship of Reconciliation
November 2014

For those of us participating in the struggle to bring about systemic change, but who come from places of gender, racial, or economic privilege, Chris Crass’ Towards Collective Liberation provides a guide, based on the author’s years of experience as an organizer and activist plus interviews with others.

I first met Crass nine years ago, when I had just moved to San Francisco after college and was looking to plug into the activist world there. Our paths only crossed occasionally, but I remember Chris would always engage me in challenging yet gentle conversations about my activism and how I was learning and growing from it.

So it came as no surprise in the book that Chris’ organizing philosophy is based on praxis – and not just with relation to feminism, as the subtitle might suggest. He writes, “I believe in a praxis-based organizing approach in which we develop our analysis and strategy through a process that combines education, practice, reflection, and synthesis, so that our ideas and practices are evolving.” By learning from others, admitting and analyzing our mistakes, and incorporating those lessons back into our work, we as individuals and as collectives transform ourselves and the world. And Chris regularly reminds us of the importance of this constant transformation, because, “If systems of domination are interconnected, then systems of liberation are also interconnected.”

Part of what makes the book so special and accessible is how honest and vulnerable Chris gets about the development of his praxis-based approach – and all the stumbling and mistakes he has made along the way. This particularly struck me in the chapters on feminism and anti-racism. Chris openly admits his personal struggle in recognizing, admitting, and learning to deal with his own sexism and racism. “It was terrifying,” he describes, “because I could handle denouncing patriarchy and calling out other men from time to time, but to be honest about my own sexism, to connect political analysis/practice to my own emotional/psychological process, and to be vulnerable is scary.”

Similarly, he writes about confronting the ways he has benefited from white privilege. But Chris doesn’t just leave us despairing about these systems of oppression; he gives us ideas and tools for transformation. He offers ways white radicals can talk about and work on racism with each other, and dedicates a chapter to tools for men to confront patriarchy.

Chris also charts his experiences in collectives, like Food Not Bombs in San Francisco in the ‘90s. We see the tensions, contradictions, and learning that happened, which can inform future organizing and activism. His interviews at the book’s end serve a similar purpose, providing concrete examples of how activists and collectives have faced such challenges.

In addition to the personal insights, Chris bases his analysis on the long history of radical thinking, with a particular focus on writings by women and people of color. One thing I wished for is an annotated bibliography or reading list of the cited works. After all, we need all the tools we can get for the massive work of collectively transforming ourselves and the world.

But despite the obstacles, Chris leaves us with hope. As he writes: “I have hope because there is a radical vision of love at the heart of our movement and it is growing.”

Moira Birss serves as the Colombia project representative in North America for Peace Brigades International. She previously served for two years on the Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Colombia Peace Presence team (now FOR Peace Presence), and earlier as a FOR Freeman Fellow. She lives in Washington, D.C.

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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The Cost of Lunch, Etc on Rain Taxi

By George Longenecker
Rain Taxi
November 2014

In short stories, the reader has only a few pages to identify with the protagonist. This means that effective short stories require strong characters, concise plots, and memorable settings. It also means that it can be difficult for a novelist to make the shift to short fiction.  Happily, Marge Piercy has succeeded admirably with the twenty well-crafted tales in The Cost of Lunch, Etc., her first short story collection.

A prolific novelist, poet, and memoirist, Piercy’s books include Woman on the Edge of Time, Gone to Soldiers, and The Hunger Moon. As in poetry, short fiction involves working within a limited space, and Piercy uses the skills she has earned as a poet to craft rich, succinct stories with quirky characters and layered imagery.

Each story in The Cost of Lunch, Etc. has a female protagonist. Some are also partly autobiographical, such as “She’s Dying He Said,” in which Jewish heritage is central to Marah, who survives childhood German measles and rheumatic fever thanks to a hamsa, an upraised hand with an eye in the palm that wards off demons.  Marah says she has it to this day:

I said I could not abandon the name my Hannah (grandmother) had given me when everyone said I was dying and had given up on me—except her. I honor her with the Hebrew name of bitterness that she gave me so the angel of death would pass on. . . . I lived and grew up to write about her and many others whose stories would otherwise be lost. (39, 44)

In “Saving Mother from Herself,” Piercy writes of a hoarder, patronized by her children, who think her home is a rat’s warren of trash.  With a television crew they descend on her to clean out her prized possessions: 

They couldn’t understand how much pleasure I took in saving money and protecting good things that might otherwise end up in the dump. (17) How would you like a bunch of strangers to invade your house, take three-quarters of your possessions away, tell you what you’re supposed to think and feel? (19)

“What Remains” shows Piercy’s mastery of imagery. It’s a poignant tale of loss and redemption. The protagonist takes her dying sister’s “…peacock vase . . . a platter in the shape of a fish, her silverware.” Then, only reluctantly, she also accepts her sister’s cats. Despite her hesitance to take them, the surviving sister ultimately realizes that the cats bring her some solace from her grief: “I think she knew what she was doing when she bequeathed me her cats.” (73)

The book’s paragraphs are concise and poetic. Each sentence is purposeful, enhancing the setting and action. If Piercy’s characters make you weep, it’s because they’re so real. Having now written in every genre, she has shown that she is as capable with the short story as she is with novels and poetry.

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