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The Real-Life Stories Behind ‘Orange Is the New Black’

by Holly Eagleson
takepart
June 12th, 2014

Once you’ve binged your way through Season 2, get on these true tales of life behind bars stat.


The Real-Life Stories Behind ‘Orange Is the New Black’

(Photo: Orange Is the New Black/Youtube)

Caution: Spoilers ahead!

Can we all agree that Orange Is the New Black seriously upped its game with Season 2? From the masterful storytelling (how jaw-dropping was Morello’s backstory reveal?) to the unexpected moments of hilarity (pedal to the metal, Rosa!), we’re majorly missing the ladies at Litchfield already.  

Rather than wallow in OITNB withdrawal, why not seek out a few books and movies about the real-life stories of female prisoners? After all, you’ve got tiiiiime until Season 3. And schooling yourself on the human rights issues plaguing the prison system seems like the right thing to do if you’ve only been introduced to them through entertainment.

We put together a list of indispensable works about women in prison with the help of Victoria Law, author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggle for Incarcerated Women, and mimi lok, cofounder and executive director of Voices of Witness, a nonprofit that publishes oral histories of human rights crises, including Inside This Place, Not of It: Narratives From Women’s Prisons. Piper Kerman, activist and the real-life inspiration for OITNB’s Piper Chapman, calls Inside This Place “essential reading,” and we’d agree. It's a collection of moving essays by inmates that detail the indignities women experience before incarceration and the new ones they confront in jail, such as forced sterilization and physical and sexual abuse by staff. Law’s work is a must-read for anyone interested in how activism happens within the prison system—think the real-life Sosos and Sister Ingallses.

Sentences Served: 'Orange Is the New Black' Writer and Others Talk Prison Life

Once you’ve read those two, dive into these poignant works and cool projects that are organized by OITNB storyline. Some can be tackled during a lunch break. They’ll all change the way you look at the women’s prison system.

1. If you live for OITNB’s flashbacks to characters’ pasts, watch What I Want My Words to Do to You.

With its deft vignettes, OITNB chips away at the idea that inmates can be only perpetrators or victims—everyone is a bit of both. This documentary does the same by profiling playwright and activist Eve Ensler’s writing workshop for female prisoners inside New York's Bedford Hills Correctional Facility. Fifteen women, most doing time for murder, employ the power of the pen to reveal their compelling personal histories. At the close of the film, their stories are performed by celebrities such as Glenn Close, Rosie Perez, and Marisa Tomei. Though Ensler’s project was just one of many similar writing programs across the country, lok likes how it emphasizes community-building inside prisons. “It shows the process of women connecting with their own stories and developing their sense of agency over them, then being given a platform through the readings,” lok said.

2. If you felt for Miss Rosa’s struggle with health issues, watch Charisse Shumate: Fighting for Our Lives.

When Rosa was denied a potentially lifesaving treatment for ovarian cancer, she went out on her own badass terms. The vast majority of terminally ill women in the prison system aren’t so lucky. This 37-minute film looks at one such prisoner, Californian Charisse Shumate, who battled sickle-cell anemia, hepatitis C, and cancer while lobbying the system for better health care and compassionate release of terminally ill inmates. Her valiant fight for sick prisoners, as well as battered women, is an extraordinary story you won’t soon forget.

3. If you worry what will become of Daya and Bennett’s baby, check out Too Much Time: Women in Prison, by Jane Evelyn Atwood.

Caputo’s warning to Bennett that Daya could birth her child in shackles wasn’t an idle threat. That particular ignominy happens to incarcerated women worldwide all the time. It’s documented, along with many other startling abuses, in this remarkable book of photo essays recommended by Law. “You see in stark black and white all the horrifying aspects of prison life: pregnant women giving birth while handcuffed, self-mutilation, male guards strip-searching women,” Law said. Even the depictions of day-to-day routines in prison provoke alarm. “Seeing male guards able to frisk women, women getting dressed after a strip search, or women watching their families walk out of the visiting room really illustrate the horrors that prison life inflicts on people as a matter of course,” Law said.

4. If you were outraged by Gloria’s abusive boyfriend, watch Sins by Silence.

While Gloria didn’t end up at Litchfield for harming her violent partner, prison time is an inevitability for many battered women who are pushed to the brink and act in self-defense. This film explores the stories of women who kill their abusive husbands, profiling one prisoner-led organization, Convicted Women Against Abuse, that supports abused women on the inside. It sheds light on the disproportionately long sentences for women who kill violent partners and why many battered women are unable to use their history as a defense. It may sound disheartening, but there’s a happy ending: The doc spurred two California laws that protect abused women as they move through the justice system.

5. If Healy’s vile treatment of lesbians infuriates you, watch Out in the Night.

This documentary making the rounds on the festival circuit explores what happened when four African American lesbians fought back after being attacked for spurning a man’s advances. The incident, which took place in New York City’s West Village in 2006, spawned a media circus and sobriquets like “Gang of Killer Lesbians.” Despite their claims of self-defense, the women were convicted for assault and attempted murder and sentenced to lengthy prison terms. “The movie unpacks who has the right to self-defense, what would have happened to these women if they were white or hadn’t been poor, and looks at some of the prison conditions,” says Law. “People’s moms die and they’re not allowed to go to the funeral. Another woman finds out the state has taken custody of her child while she’s inside.”

Also worth keeping on your radar is the forthcoming documentary, FREE CeCe, produced by OITNB’s Laverne Cox, who plays trans inmate Sophia. It’s the story of Cece McDonald, a trans woman who was convicted of accidentally stabbing a man who attacked her outside a Minneapolis bar in 2011 and was sentenced to serve time in a men’s prison. The film zeroes in on controversial correctional practices with trans prisoners, like isolating them from the prison population by placing them in solitary confinement and denying hormone therapy.

6. If you’d love to read a real-life version of Litchfield’s The Big House Bugle newsletter, check out the Women + Prison project.

lok highly recommends this website, installation, and zine created by incarcerated women. “It’s really nicely designed—not what one might expect from a prison zine,” lok said. “I love the fact that the site not only gives women a creative writing outlet and offers human rights reports, but it has a frame of reference broader than just the US, highlighting imprisoned Iraqi women, for example.”

Law points to The Fire Inside as another great read that gives incarcerated women a megaphone to the outside. A grassroots newsletter produced by the California Coalition of Women Prisoners, it features heart-wrenching articles and poems that explain what it’s like to be locked away from your community and family. “Because you hear directly from the women themselves, it’s a great resource for people to start watching [OITNB] and wonder, 'What can I do?' or 'How accurately does this show reflect what goes on inside women in prison?' ” Law said.

7. If embezzling prison head Natalie Figueroa made you mad as hell, read Golden Gulag: Prisons, Surplus, Crisis, and Opposition in Globalizing California, by Ruth Wilson Gilmore.

Not every prison warden is criminally mendacious like Fig. But with the massive growth of the U.S. prison population (up a whopping 450 percent since 1980), more stakeholders than ever stand to benefit from the exploding prison-industrial complex. Gilmore trains her eye on California and the funds necessary to house its ballooning inmate population. She also examines how “three strikes” laws and other forms of punitive justice feed the need for more correctional facilities. Though it’s more of an academic work, Golden Gulag is an intriguing glimpse into the large-scale systems that transform human beings into a profitable, disposable population.

8. If you railed against prison conditions right along with the hunger strikers, watch this video about Riverhead Jail.

This Long Island, N.Y., correctional facility is one of the real-world settings for some OITNB scenes. Art seems to imitate life. Overcrowding, bathrooms overflowing with human waste, vermin, and black mold are just a few of the problems reportedly plaguing detainees, many of whom are low-level offenders stuck at Riverhead simply because they’re too poor to afford bail. Conditions are allegedly so deplorable that the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Suffolk County two years ago. The NYCLU recently launched a campaign called #HumanityIstheNewBlack to bring attention to conditions at Riverhead and nearby Yaphank Correctional Facility.

In her latest edition of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggle of Incarcerated Women (PM Press 2012), Victoria Law offers us a whole-hearted chronicle of despair and resistance in the modern prison industry. It is worth a good read by anyone interested in the sociology of American life, as well as any radical with friends or comrades behind bars. Law’s accounts of women prisoners taking action are so inspirational that you will never be the same after reading them.

With an approach resembling the old underground chronicles of the Soviet samizdat press, Resistance Behind Bars carries no piece of frivolity in its tight, hard-hitting prose. Law moves from facts to facts, drawing out broad truths about the prison industry’s systematic oppression of women throughout the United States of America. What we find is rampant sexual abuse, neglect, and manipulation—the holding of women in shameful conditions where prison becomes an almost airtight container for misogyny and patriarchy. But there is hope in resistance.

Law’s work is crucial, because the greatest recent works on the prison industry (for instance, Ruth Gilmore Wilson’s Golden Gulag, Micelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and the Let Freedom Ring anthology) are more focused on male prisoners. “Many activist-oriented publications mirror the mainstream media’s masculinization of prisons and prisoners, contributing to the invisibility of women behind bars,” states Law. “Because they receive much less attention than their male counterparts, women in prison receive much less support from both individual activists and prisoner rights groups.”

By revealing the obscured facts of prisoners’ oppression, Resistance Behind Bars exposes immediately the need for such a work. During an investigation of two women’s prisons in Michigan in 1994, the Justice Department found that “nearly every woman… interviewed reported various sexually aggressive acts of guards,” while a 1996 Human Rights Watch report exposes commonplace reprisals of guards against women who complain. In one mind-blowing statistic, Law explains, “[i]n both men’s and women’s prisons, prisoners are more likely to experience sexual violence at the hands of prison staff than from their fellow prisoners.

 

In his vital text The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn writes, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Victoria Law’s impressive chronicle opens the heart of humanity with stories of resistance—stories of love and patience more than rage and riot, which are most commonly associated with prison resistance.

Law’s intensive investigations obviate exhaustive knowledge of the day-to-day situations of resistance, such as the spreading of information, the slow motion of court cases, and the relationships of people involved. She discusses the surges of women’s movements behind bars, the media, communications, and alliances formed between heroic women willing to risk their bodies and their access to others for mutual aid and basic rights. Law notes the critical and lasting impact of magazines like Sojourner: A Women’s Forum, which helps women resist “feeling as if their words, thoughts and actions are meaningless. For these women, having their words and thoughts taken seriously is, in and of itself, a major achievement.” Media also presents “an act of subversion against both their own lack of agency and the isolating effects of prison.”

So much of the struggle against oppressive conditions takes place in the battle for information. Information being shared between people, on personal levels as well as through magazines, leads to liberation. One crucial chapter in Resistance Behind Bars illustrates this point through a discussion about detention facilities and women subject to incarceration awaiting deportation. Many of these women do not speak English, yet prison officials often place them among English speaking populations without any translators. The ability of prisoners to then work together to create unity beyond the language gap indicates the compassion and tender, careful relationship-building that accompanies being together in prison.

In a welcome addition to the second edition of Resistance Behind Bars, Law presents a stirring analysis of incarcerated trans people. Authorities place trans people in prisons according to their sexual organs at birth, a practice which leads directly to increased abuse and alienation. In one tragic example, Dee Farmer, a trans woman, was placed in Terre Haute (an institution that will ring a bell for ecodefense activist), where she was repeatedly beaten, raped, and infected with HIV. Trans men in women’s prisons have traditionally been confronted with abuse from guards, including even forced segregation. Cis-privilege, in general, is reified within the patriarchal container by the guards. Law declares, “[n]arratives of transgender, gender variant and intersex people’s resistance in prisons are rare. This should not be interpreted to mean that they do not resist prison abuses. Instead, researchers, activists, and abolitionists should see the conspicuous absence of transgender, gender variant and intersex stories of resistance behind bars as a challenge to dig further, figure out why such tales are absent and do what isneeded to both end the silence and support their struggles.”

Resistance Behind Bars is replete with such harrowing stories of women acting out of their own agency, against assault and neglect, with little tools to win the fight. One example is that of Stacy Barker, whose successful lawsuit against the Michigan Department of Corrections led to an onslaught of cell searches yielding “contraband violations” for iron pills and Ibuprofen. When the corrections officials used the violations to keep Barker from visiting her daughter, she joined a large suit against the regulations keeping mothers from their children—and won.

Much of women’s resistance in prison stems from letter writing campaigns, newsletters, and law suits. These efforts are forwarded by education efforts behind bars. Law discusses the awesome work of Marcia Bunney, who used her job in the prison library to teach herself law, eventually becoming one of five prisoner representatives of the National Steering Committee of the National Lawyers’ Guild’s Prison Law Project. The classes taught behind bars, Law shows, are frequently degrading, humiliating, and repressive, but offer rewards for those who can work through the system.


Even working through the system can bring new roadblocks, however. A request for medical treatment can bring unwanted reactions from authorities, for instance. “Women in prison face not only medical neglect and malpractice,” writes Law, “but also retaliation from the prison administration should they advocate for themselves and demand adequate treatment.”

Underlying the lack of care is a basic lack of counseling and information available to prisoners with AIDS and hepatitis C, but Law notes that prisoners team together to pass on their knowledge, speak out, file lawsuits, and make their daily lives livable. One example is that of Charisse Shumate, whose work with other inmates with sickle-cell anemia led to a class-action lawsuit, Schumate v. Wilson, that resulted in preventative care (although Shumate would succumb to her illness before the case was settled).

In the seminal In Russian and French Prisons, Peter Kropotkin declares, “No autocracy can be imagined without its Tower or Bastille.” The symbol of the central prison, and the possibility of its rupture, makes history. The U.S., with its tentacle-like prison industry complex provides multiple histories of oppression and autocracy. Law shows that much of the most important work to benefit prisoners comes from the prisoners themselves, in a heroic movement with support groups around the world working to fight the system. The hard task abolishing the prison industry is upon us, and it builds from the kind basic communication of facts and truths presented in Resistance Behind Bars—this is a method steeped in the feminist tradition, and it is one worth taking up at once.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Vikki Law's Page




Speaking Out: A Rainbow of Reasons We Need Diverse Books

by Amy Jussel
Shaping Youth.org
June 24th, 2014

June 25, 2014 You’re in for a treat if you’re following the hashtag #WeNeedDiverseBooks on social media or their DiverseBooks.org website, as it’s brimming with an extensive collection of worthy kidlit, summer reading, youth voices and amazing resource roundups curating books and authors bridging the diversity chasm that big publishers and media giants sadly miss.

From School Library Journal’s resources for diversity in children’s (kidlit) and young adult (YA) literature to Pinterest social media boards and Twitter lists inclusively reflecting robust storylines depicting every race, creed, color, sexuality, special needs group along both the mental and physical spectrums, diversity adds dimension and wisdom that help fill in the holes of our gaping knowledge chasms.

It goes without saying that choices and opportunities to “see yourself” in media make a huge difference to readers who identify with the characters, but equally important are the vast audiences reached gaining a greater depth of understanding of how others walk through the world.

Diversity is not just some politically correct method of social emotional learning and “teaching tolerance” either, it’s about genuine inclusion, acceptance, and the ability for media to uncork conversations about the human condition.

Ashoka conveys this beautifully in their “start empathy” initiative, building strong collaborative foundations with abilities to resolve conflict and listen with the keen senses of 21st century learning we’ll need in our global, interdependent society.

Before I get to the ‘positive pick’ selection for today’s diversity post, I’ll add “We need diverse books” not JUST for equality, but for plain ol’ QUALITY…a substantive multicultural lens to challenge our propensity to churn out formulaic “me too media and marketing” that continues to astound me with dumbed down “sameness” in cookie cutter mode from toys to fashion, books and beyond. Our choices in mass media have become like Pegasus with clipped wings.

NPR recently cited the CCBC data showing only 6% of children’s books published in 2012 featured diverse characters, capturing the vapid pulse of pop culture offerings quite well,

“First it was vampires. Then there were werewolves. This led to zombies, cyborgs, and fallen angels. In the end it was mermaids, rising from the waters to take the last gasp in a publishing craze we are all hoping is really dying out—that of the paranormal romance…”

Diversity is key…in characters, content, creativity and imaginative storylines

bringing us voices and views that haven’t been heard.

 

speaking out logo coverToday’s post is hand-selected as the perfect project to support for a rainbow of reasons beyond Pride 2014.

Award-winning photographer Rachelle Lee Smith focuses her lens on youth documenting the stories and experiences of LGBTQ youth in a dynamic photo essay compilation over the course of TEN years.

Her book is called, Speaking Out: Queer Youth in focus and is slated to be published by two indie publishers, PM Press and our friends at Reach and Teach, renowned for their stellar peace and social justice curations from toys, games and eco-friendly items to human rights projects bringing books into being that need strong backing and support sorely lacking in mainstream media.

The project’s video poignantly captures the importance of the work, hand-scrawled with emotional snapshots and vignettes of life by the subjects themselves to give voice to the vision.

 

“This project is important because it not only shows a moment in time…

…It also shows change over time.”

 

Speaking Out is a ‘for youth by youth’ compilation, seen in galleries, schools, magazines, U.S. Department of Education, Human Rights headquarters, youth programs, “and even in the church” as the video says, providing an authentic lens that helps to debunk stereotypes, open hearts and minds, and document the massive movement and colossal changes in the last decade that have shifted seismically in the lives of these kids.

Just think about that a bit. TEN years. Documenting the lives of the same youth over time…

A then + now photographic essay of feelings, changes, looks and growth from the very individuals growing up smack dab amidst these history-making culture shifts…It’s like a StoryCorps Smithsonian moment in photo essay form!

These kids are not only a part of living history…the IndieGoGo campaign to get the book itself published is a nod to the shifting media landscape and new world order in how worthy voices and talents emerge with small and mighty fervor.

 

speaking out processPublisher and co-founder of Reach and Teach, Craig Wiesner, said:

“Having a long-time activist like Candace Gingrich (Newt’s sister) writing the foreword and teenager Graeme Taylorwriting the afterword (on Ellen Show at age 14 here) it shows just how far we’ve come in the last 20 years and how much more we still need to do.”

As for helping others and opening dialogue, he added,

“A therapist friend insisted on taking our pre-publication print to a client who was struggling with his son coming out…If a book like this had been available when I was a teen, it would have saved me a lot of suffering.”

There are profound reasons this book deserves to come to light in an affordable, accessible manner, helping an entire generation, like the “It Gets Better” docu-series from the Trevor Project gained “viral” mass media momentum, heralded for literally saving lives with a keen focus on anti-bullying support for LGBTQ youth…or the recently post from The Good Men Project with the Lambda Literacy Foundation titled, “Can LGBT Books Save Lives?”

I don’t need the special ‘rainbow regalia’ or the special month of June’s Pride to wave the ‘fund this’ flag…

Speaking Out appeals to me universally as media that matters…Bringing forth indie, creative, visual insights into a portrait piece that’s easy to support as a staunch “Straight Against Hate” advocate of human rights for all, while giving some much needed Windex to an often stereotyped media lens of LGBTQ youth depictions.

All too often we see characters portrayed as caricatures.

speaking out visualThis non-fiction book upends all the contrived casting and instead turns the storytelling and starring roles over to real life youth, ages 14-24 who “provide rare insight into the passions, confusions, prejudices, joys, and sorrows felt by queer youth.”

Speaking OUT gives a voice to an under-served group of people that are seldom heard and often silenced. The collaboration of image and first-person narrative serves to provide an outlet, show support, create dialogue, and help those who struggle.”

As Rachelle Lee Smith, the photographer herself sums,

“I believe there is power in words, strength in numbers, and freedom in art.”

This feels like a perfect project for Pride 2014, amped by the urgency of June’s hourglass running low…Their team just shared that if Speaking Out gets fully funded, The Arcus Foundation has promised an additional $10,000 matching grant. So help ‘em out if you can…

As always, I had to ‘dig a little deeper’ and ask Craig what that money ‘buys’ in this passion project, and he revealed that it’s the difference between a self-funded high end quality piece and a larger scale marketing effort to get it in the hands of those who need it the most, affordably and accessibly.

Now of course, I’m thinking of all the organizations that should partner and ‘pay it forward’ with their own social media outreach, from Advocates for Youth to PFLAG to the Trevor Project and Inspire Foundation…the massive coalition building in the anti-bullying and social emotional learning spheres could do wonders for all of us to learn about lives lived that may not mirror our own…(Great BuzzFeed post about WRITING from the perspective of characters that ‘aren’t you.’ )

Yep, diversity matters. And so does this book. Join me in “Speaking Out” with support. 

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




World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014 review on Comics Grinder

by Henry Chamberlain
Comics Grinder
June 23rd, 2014

“War in the Neighborhood” by Seth Tobocman

There is a stark beauty to be found in the 320 pages of this full-color special collection of comics, “World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014,” published by PM Press and set for release this July. I call it a stark beauty for good reason. I think it is the most economical way to express the urgency and the severity of the issues being confronted. It’s also a quick way to say that this is thoughtful and vital art that you’ll find in this collection of some of the best work to appear in the semi-annual anthology, “World War 3 Illustrated.”

kuper-world-war-3-Illustrated-2014

It can be a challenge to create a successful work with an activist theme. There is always the risk of you only hearing the sounding of the alarms. It makes me think of one of the most heartbreaking moments in a major motion picture. It’s right when Jack Lemmon’s character is finally going to go on live television and expose the nuclear energy industry in “The China Syndrome.” But, right at that moment, sirens go off, he becomes flustered, and everything he has to say comes across as histrionics. No one is informed about anything. Passions can run so high that we lose what is being said. Art can bridge that gap. There are so many artists that come to mind: Goya. Rivera. Picasso. Kafka. And, certainly, within the pages of this book.

Consider the rhythmic pacing of Seth Tobocman’s “War in the Neighborhood.” It goes at a steady six panel grid with some variation. The words evoke strong emotion but the orderly progression also evokes reason. Sure, there is fury but there is also logic. As our narrator considers the human struggle, some conclusions are reached: “If we can look at the abandoned building and imagine it full of people, if we can look at the vacant lot and imagine a garden, then why can’t we look at each other and imagine what we can become with time and work?”

“Promised Land” by Peter Kuper

In Peter Kuper’s “Promised Land,” he relates to us a lifetime of getting to know Israel, starting with a family stay when he was a 10-year-old. As he grows up, he comes to understand geopolitics and the less than ideal position Israel finds itself in. Among his observations, he recalls the events leading up to the 1991 Gulf War. It did not take much for peace-loving liberals to suddenly support military action.

Sabrina-Jones-World-War-3-Illustrated

In Sabrina Jones’s “Fear and Firecrackers,” we get another look at Israel, specifically Jerusalem. As Jones states, “The stones glowed with the sun and prayers and blood of millennia. Inside the walls, Muslims, Jews, and Christians live close together, in very defined quarters.” Jones gives us a window into everyday life. Part of the routine: If you hear one siren, it’s okay; if you hear two sirens, well it happens; and, if you hear three sirens, you go turn on the news.

“Art Against the Wall” by Eric Drooker

A page after that, you have Eric Drooker’s “Art Against the Wall,” a chronicle of his 2004 visit to the massive wall that the Israeli government claims is there for security. Drooker reported it to be twenty feet tall with a projected span of five hundred miles, all being built on Palestinian land. It snakes its way throughout the occupied West Bank. For Drooker, he found the wall an opportunity to create some murals with a peace theme.

“The Quiet Occupation” by N. Schulman

Proceed some more pages, and you’ll find “The Quiet Occupation,” by N. Schulman, a report on the abuses of the U.S. military in South Korea. According to The National Campaign For Eradication Of Crimes By U.S. Troops, there have been nearly 100,000 crimes perpetrated by American servicemen since 1945, 2 to 3 per day, including rape, murder, assault, and environmental contamination.

Schulman provides a precise and articulate account of the tragic circumstances in South Korea. There is rage. But there is a also a steady voice here that informs.

“World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014″ is an essential resource where you will find the sort of stories that can be vulnerable to being ignored or dismissed by mainstream media. It doesn’t mean that they are not true. It just means some stories need help, need a safe and reliable platform to be heard. Organized under categories and including a helpful time line, this book is sure to surprise, enlighten, educate, and inspire.

Visit the World War 3 Illustrated website right here. You can also find it here.

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




Until the Rulers Obey: A review on Upside Down World

by David L Wilson
Upside Down World
June 10th, 2014

One thing most social movements have in common is a striking ability to take the experts by surprise.

At a forum in New York last year, a senior analyst from a leading DC-based progressive research group admitted that until a June 2009 coup forced former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya out of office, “Honduras wasn’t on our radar.” The analyst’s organization was one of the best sources of information on the country in the months following the coup, but before the headline-grabbing event it overlooked one of the most interesting political developments in the hemisphere.

A mass movement had grown up in Honduras over the previous decades based on militant unions, increasingly assertive organizations of indigenous and African-descended Hondurans, campesinos demanding effective agrarian reform, and rapidly growing feminist and LGBT groups. This mass movement was the force behind President Zelaya’s shift to the left, the elite’s frightened decision to overthrow him, and the unexpectedly powerful popular resistance actions that followed the coup. Moreover, these events fit into a regional pattern: similar social movements have developed throughout Latin America and the Caribbean since the 1970s, providing the momentum underlying the “pink tide” that has swept left and center-left governments into power over the last 15 years.

In the United States, the media and the experts focus on the rise of leaders like Hugo Chávez, Evo Morales, and Rafael Correa without acknowledging the context in which they emerged: the growing power of los de abajo, “those from below.” This concentration on the idea of “great men” sometimes influences even the best U.S. progressive thinkers, leading them to ignore the role of grassroots social movements.

“A Higher Level of Consciousness”

Until the Rulers Obey is a major advance in the effort to acquaint North American leftists with the Latin American grassroots. The book brings together interviews with representatives from some 70 organizations in 15 South and Central American countries, ranging from indigenous women in a Zapatista community in the mountains of southeastern Mexico to members of an anarchist collective in urban Uruguay.

Editors Clifton Ross and Marcy Rein provide coherence to the extensive material by arranging the interviews by country, with informative and balanced essays by specialists introducing each section. But there’s another, more basic, coherence to the anthology. As we read through the interviews, we see a recurring theme: the neoliberal economic policies imposed on the region over the past 40 years and their impact on people’s lives.

In Argentina the piqueteros’ roadblocks and the workers’ takeover of failing businesses arose from protests against the structural adjustments decreed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the “Washington Consensus.” Chile’s powerful student movement grew up in response to the massive privatization of education recommended by Milton Friedman’s “Chicago Boys” and implemented by Augusto Pinochet. Other movements have grown from direct confrontations with the multinationals. The Salvadoran community of San Isidro organizes around resistance to the Canadian-based Pacific Rim’s plans for a highly polluting gold mine, while campesinos in Paraguay's Popular and Agrarian Movement (MAP) struggle against the monoculture of GM soy that threatens their way of life and, through the massive use of insecticides, their physical existence.

These struggles broke out at a time when the political left and the trade union movements had been seriously weakened in most Latin American countries by repression from the U.S.-backed military dictatorships of the 1960 and 1970s—and sometimes by an internal process of ossification as well. The result was that the movements against neoliberalism had to take new forms, often based on organizing in local communities around issues like women’s rights and LGBT rights, or resistance to the centuries-old oppression of indigenous and African-descended peoples. Any imagined contradiction between “economic demands” and “identity politics” quickly became irrelevant, and liberation theology mixed surprisingly well with Marxist analysis and indigenous concepts like suma kawsay (“buen vivir,” good living”).

For all the variety of these forms, the grassroots movements haven’t lost sight of their essential unity, and this is an important source of their power. Latin America “has a higher level of sociopolitical consciousness,” Humberto Cholango, a leader in the Ecuadorian indigenous movement, explains in a 2008 interview—an awareness based on Latin Americans’ refusal “to continue being used by multinational businesses or foreign powers or by a small group of people in each country.” This “higher consciousness” is what now leads students in Santiago de Chile to march in solidarity with the struggles of the indigenous Mapuche and the opponents of mines and dams in the country’s distant south, just as in January 1994 tens of thousands of city dwellers marched in the Mexican capital to keep the military from crushing the Zapatista rebellion.

Confronting the Differences

The underlying unity doesn’t mean there is any shortage of political differences among the many social movements. Until the Rulers Obey confronts these differences, letting advocates of conflicting positions speak for themselves.

One important issue is the relation between the grassroots organizations and the leftist and left-leaning governments that have taken power since the 1990s. At one extreme we hear from government supporters like Rosangela Orozco, a Caracas community organizer with an unwavering admiration for the late President Chávez. Still, she admits in a 2012 interview that even the more radical officials in the Chavista government are “caught up in their own internal struggle about the form the state should take.” She adds that she and her coworkers “believe in self-management instead of relying on the president.”

At the other extreme, Bolivian sociologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui contends that the Movement to Socialism (MAS) party of Evo Morales actively harms the social movements. MAS coopts grassroots leaders, she says, “a cooptation that leaves the movements discontented.” She also criticizes the Morales government for talking about “this great Pachamama [“Mother Earth”], as an enlightened position internationally, [while] internally what they want is a developmentalist policy with hydroelectric [dams] that would drown indigenous lands, forests, and highways, all for an alliance with Brazil.”

The analysis from Latin America is often subtler than the either/or arguments we usually find in the United States. The veteran Peruvian leftist Hugo Blanco views the “pink tide” governments from an historical perspective. “I think that [Chávez’s concept of] socialism of the 21st century is very important chiefly because of its anti-imperialist character,” he tells Uruguayan writer Raúl Zibechi. “But when it comes to their confrontation with the indigenous people because of extractivism”—the exploitation of natural resources—“I support the indigenous people. For that reason, I think that these are intermediate governments that we have to support sometimes and fight against [at] other times.”

“To Recover Politics for the People”

The editors have done an amazing job in managing to assemble such a broad range of interviews, often locating the subjects and carrying out the interviews themselves with few of the resources available to mainstream reporters. Inevitably, some interviews are more informative than others, and there are gaps that Ross and Rein might want to fill in future studies.

One area that progressives here need to know more about is the innovative organizing strategies and protest tactics that have emerged in Latin America over the past decades. How, for example, did so many of these movements manage to grow despite the repressive machinery of the old military dictatorships? How do they organize the mass encampments, the hunger strikes, and the factory takeovers that have been so effective over the last 20 years? What are the mechanics involved in the grassroots plebiscites through which hundreds of thousands of Chileans and Mexicans voted on street corners or in community centers on propositions that the governments refused to put on the ballot?

After all, the point of studying these movements isn’t only to understand events in Latin America. The neoliberal program that pushed Latin Americans into action came to the United States later, even though it was imposed from here: in school privatizations, pension “reform,” austerity measures, strip mining, hydrofracking. Meanwhile, climate change and the international economic crisis are by their very nature global. Will neoliberalism have the same effect here as in Latin America and the Caribbean? Will U.S. grassroots movements also take the experts by surprise?
U.S. media often treat events and people in the rest of the hemisphere as distant and exotic, but in reality the actors in social movements there are “ordinary people” like ourselves; many now live among us, driven to immigrate to the United States by these same neoliberal policies. The experts breathed a sigh of relief when Occupy Wall Street appeared to fold, but the Occupy actions were never really more than a foretaste of what could happen here.

Grassroots activists in Latin America certainly see the connections. “Bolivia is in a very profound process of questioning all that is going on, as in the world in general,” Oscar Olivera, a leader of Bolivia’s “water war” against the Bechtel Corporation in 2000, told an interviewer in January 2012. “In the United States, in Spain, in Egypt a year ago, generally in Arab countries…. People want to construct something different: what we were proposing in 2000 and 2003, a new kind of economy, a way to recover politics for the people.”

David L. Wilson and co-author Jane Guskin are working on a revised edition of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers (Monthly Review Press, July 2007). Wilson also edits Weekly News Update on the Americas, a summary of news from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Buy the book now | Buy e-Book now | Return to Clifton Ross's Editor Page | Return to Marcy Rein's Editor Page




World War 3 Illustrated mention

by Mirko Ilić
Mirko Ilić
June 13th, 2014

'World War 3 Illustrated: 1979-2014'
 has selections of the best compilations done for World War 3 Illustrated, including mine, edited by Peter Kuper and Seth Tobocman.

"Founded in 1979 by Seth Tobocman and Peter Kuper, World War 3 Illustrated is a collective of first-time and professional artists who use confrontational comics to shine a little reality on the fantasy world of the American kleptocracy. This full-color retrospective exhibition is arranged thematically, and includes topic of housing rights, feminism, the environment, religion, police brutality, globalization, and depictions of conflicts from the Middle East to the Midwest. World War 3 Illustrated also illuminates the war we wage on each other—and sometimes the one taking place in our own minds."

In 2003 I was invited to contribute my illustration, "Dog of War"  to World War 3 Illustrated magazine for the cover of issue #34: "Taking Liberties".

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




Truthout Interviews Chris Crass on Feminism


by Ted Asregadoo
Truthout
June 22nd, 2014

Truthout contributor Chris Crass talks to Ted Asregadoo about structural and behavioral sexism, and the ways in which men can change their behavior to transform family relationships and the larger society to more equitable systems.

We are not unaware of the irony of this "Truthout Interviews" segment featuring two men talking about feminism, but you don’t have be a woman to be a feminist, since feminism, while about many things, is primarily about smashing the ideology of separate spheres that reinforces female subordination and male supremacy. Many know that ideology by another name: patriarchy. Whatever the term one uses, the everyday sexism that pervades society is something that feminists want to overcome. Since sexist behavior often stems from men, Truthout contributor Chris Crass primarily addresses men in his Father's Day offering for Truthout and other articles. As one of his friends pointed out years ago, despite his progressive political ideals, Chris had many sexist tendencies. He often explained things to women in long-winded speeches (i.e.,"mansplaining"), wouldn’t acknowledge women in meetings, rarely made eye contact with them, and dominated conversations. At first, he pushed back against the charge, but after he realized that it was not only his behavior, but also the behavior of the men in his group, he set about changing himself and pushing for structural changes in society.

It's the structural and localized changes that are discussed in this interview. From childcare, to the division of labor in the home, to rebuilding state welfare programs crucial for working families' equilibrium, Crass outlines a number of areas where feminism can create a more equitable society.

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

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Chris Crass's Author Page




'Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus' Will Document The Lives Of The Young Queer Community



by James Nichols
Huffington Post
June 17th, 2014

An incredible new book is in the works that will serve as the culmination of a ten-year effort by photographer Rachelle Lee Smith to document the lives and tell the stories of queer youth.

Called Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus, the project is slated to be a photographic essay that explores a wide and diverse spectrum of experiences among youth that identify as queer. Everyone involved in the project is between 14 and 24 years of age, and their feature involves a photo that each individual further personalizes with their own handwriting and story.

"It will not only show unification within the LGBTQ community but also the commonalities across all borders regardless of age, race, gender, and sexual orientation," Smith said in a statement. "It will do so in an easily digestible for youth by youth format and shows the progress and changes over the last decade."

Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus is currently engaged in an Indiegogo campaign in order to become fully funded. A prominent LGBT organization has also agreed to back the project with an additional $10,000 if the Indiegogo campaign is met. Head here to visit the Indiegogo campaign for Speaking Out: Queer Youth in Focus.

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




Imagine If Crass Was Funny: ‘Dead Kennedys: Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables’

by John L Murphy
PopMatters.com
June 13th, 2014

Intended as liner notes for the 25th anniversary of this punk album, Alex Ogg's project had to wait five more years for what turns into a longer book on a 38 minute 1980 LP. Legal disputes over songwriting credits, added to the protracted resentment between singer Jello Biafra and his bandmates, notably guitarist East Bay Ray and bassist Klaus Flouride, tested the patience of the author and theDead Kennedys, past and present.

This story, told efficiently by a veteran chronicler of punk, reveals that the American underground in the late '70s could match the best of the British punks when it came to political commentary paired with feisty music. Furthermore, unlike so many righteous punks before and after the Dead Kennedys, this San Francisco outfit retained its sense of humor.

However, as an Angeleno, growing up a near-contemporary of the band, I challenge Ogg's claim that this was the peak of proto-hardcore. To me, the band's debut resembled, but did not better, the blur and buzz of the Germs' first LP. I'll admit that unlike that short-lived L.A. band, the Dead Kennedys outlasted Reagan's first term. As the subtitle shows, Ogg narrates the start of it all, but he stops very soon after the album's release and their first tour.

How the Dead Kennedys scaled the summits of the American independent label punk scene so rapidly, Ogg reminds readers, can be credited to their discipline. More on the intellectual influences informing the band members might have answered the question of how they managed so quickly to create two classic singles, "California Über Alles" and "Holiday in Cambodia". Within this punk milieu, few contemporaries dared to roam beyond a handful of approved "provocative" topics. Most punk bands preached against racism, some against sexism, many against conformity, as expected for spiky non-conformists to conform.

Biafra, raised in Boulder, Colorado, and apparently embittered from delivering pizzas to smug lefty college kids his own age (he dropped out of an equivalent institution early on, the University of California, Santa Cruz, tellingly), decided to widen his target range. He spoke for an overlooked echo-boomer generation, coming of age during Watergate, too young to be hippies, but who had to listen to those not much older ramble on over and over about how great it was then and how dismal it all turned out by 1980, as youth woke up from years of Carter's malaise on the morning after, snuggled or smothered by Reagan's revived or reviled "values".

Although now a balding, gray statesman in cahoots with the state's prison guard union, and cutting deals with corporate sponsors while managing to rule to convey a pale-Green image in keeping with his earlier gubernatorial reign, Jerry Brown represented to this band a "Zen fascism" during the '70s. Risible though this seems to this Californian critic, in retrospect if not to Ogg, who takes this semi-seriously from the mouth of Jello, this song roused "the suede denim secret police" who were bent on arresting "your uncool niece". The Dead Kennedys spinned shock value by evoking Nazi imagery, and trafficked in such regalia by certain punk colleagues with lines like, "Come quietly to the camp/ You'd look nice as a drawstring lamp". Biafra's uneasy message, within the campy medium of the jerky anthem, either strengthens or weakens its lyrical conceits. Still, the song lives on, covered often, in lots of styles.

Its follow-up, "Holiday in Cambodia", has garnered fewer cover versions and parodies. It's a darker song, as its Pol Pot theme dramatizes, and it's more disturbing. It castigates those smug Boulder or Berkeley collegians, those who curry favor with bosses, those who pretend solidarity with the masses. It contrasts this mindset with what would happen when the self-proclaimed progressives of the West go East: "Well you'll work harder with a gun in your back/ For a bowl of rice a day/ Slave for soldiers till you starve/ Then your head is skewered on a stake."

Ogg skirts extended exegesis of these two songs, assuming that readers probably know them well, but he does take pains to, in true rock journalist fashion, tell us about the vintage tube microphones used to capture this song's roar.

Without the churning, Echoplexed, surf-tinged guitar of East Bay Ray, Klaus's doom-laden bass, and drummer Ted's bashing backing, however, these songs, for all their lyrical baiting, would not have succeeded. Ogg credits Jello's voice as a "human theramin" and attributes a Kabuki-like ranting and wailing for impact. Many listeners, myself included, have found Biafra's self-consciously theatrical delivery trying, but in live shows as on record, the Dead Kennedys sought to stand out from punk yammering.

Boosted by Geza X's production of "Holiday in Cambodia", these singles remain arguably the band's best vinyl moments. Geza X (member of the L.A. band the Bags, who crafted early releases from Black Flag, Weirdos, and the Germs, as well as San Francisco's Avengers) labored to make this song wail, so it's a shame that Jello's wish for him to produce their first album was rejected by the rest of the band. To me, this decision dulls the sonic power of Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, and it feels muffled as a result.

Recorded for $10,000, the album appeared in 1980 on the British indie label Cherry Red. Ogg reminds readers that between the Dickies signed by A+M in 1978 and Husker Du by Warner Brothers in 1985 (and by then, they were not really part of this scene anymore), no American underground band had been issued on a major label. The Dead Kennedys responded by starting the Alternative Tentacles label.

Distributors IRS had balked from releasing the album, due to a distant Kennedy acquaintance, for the barbed band name (amazingly or inevitably, preceded by a Cleveland band who then declined to go on with the same moniker) led to many double-takes and dead-on-arrival rejections by the record industry. Tracks included hints of musical influences as diverse as Duane Eddy's guitar, Buddy Holly's vocals, MC5's slogans, and Sparks' lyrics, attesting to the band's affection for their childhood idols.

It ends with a throwaway cover of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman's "Viva Las Vegas", made famous by Elvis Presley. True to the LP's prickly, brooding, snarling vibe-part Travis Bickle, part Mothers of Invention-the production was credited by the band to the friendlier of engineer Oliver DiCicco's two cats, Norm. Neither Lester Bangs nor Robert Christgau welcomed the record; the latter critic disdained its "Tiny Tim vibrato". Biafra sneers throughout the entire record, true, but this "sustains" Ray's guitar tremelo; it suits the frenetic delivery Jello Biafra adopts for his stage persona.

The original band was already splintering during the making of the record, with second guitarist and oddball (even by Dead Kennedys) standards 6025 soon departed. A new drummer stepped in-later to claim some of those songwriting royalties which have earned the ire of Jello vs. Klaus and Ray, one learns if in diplomatic fashion via the long-suffering journalist Ogg, who patiently hears each side out as they argue. This underlying subplot, still rankling these early bandmates to this day, provides a telling coda to the ambitions of many in the punk era to make a career out of their passion, vs. the compromises the original lineup fended off in their attempt to remain independent of corporate tentacles and truisms.

"Yakety Yak" compiles quotes about the band and album by celebrities in and beyond the rock scene. A closing chapter by Ogg's co-author Russ Bestley (of The Art of Punk), titled "Grafical Anarchy" shows how collaborator Winston Smith (who legally changed his name to that Orwellian protagonist) conspired with Biafra to create collages inspired by Situationists.

The LP cover never got the reproduction Judith Calson's San Francisco Chronicle photo deserved. This was taken during the "White Night Riots" following the short sentence handed down to Dan White after his "Twinkie Defense" for the shooting of Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1979. The front cover shows three police cars on fire; the back cover shot of a hokey music combo led to lawsuits by one of its members, so this image was defaced or replaced on later pressings. This pattern would repeat during the band's career, although Ogg avoids much mention of more litigation.

The political subtext of the band gains some attention, but how the members gelled to create these singles and the album from a perspective tinted by their predecessors from the '50s and '60s, whom other punks might have disdained, needed more elaboration. Bestley gives a nod to this crucial continuity as context links what the San Franciscans were doing, with jarring détournement (literally "re-routing"): cut-up montages from ads, photos, and pamphlets arranged to shake the viewer up.

Smith's Fallout Magazine helped rally recruits to the Dead Kennedys cause, but its contents and range don't earn the coverage that could have explained how printed texts and posters widened the band's DIY appeal. Certainly Alternative Tentacle's mail order reach, and diligent product placement in indie record stores, accounted for the international audience the band garnered. Given Bestley and Ogg's knowledge of these multimedia within political punk, more coverage was needed.

Jamie Reid for the Sex Pistols and Gee Vaucher for the English anarchist collective Crass served as counterparts in this guerrilla art form of collage as cultural critique. This packaging boosted the Dead Kennedys' impact. The band and Smith wrapped its records in striking artwork and album inserts. Among punks today, their red-and-black logo endures, but Ogg and Bestley glide past how those two symbolic colors might or might not stand for the band's principled assertion of anarchy. The band's commitment to radical politics as well as pranks and poses needed more elaboration.

As Biafra (an eventual Green Party presidential campaigner, he came in fourth in a nine-way race for San Francisto mayor in the fall of 1979 to replace Moscone) reminds Ogg, Jello mused on what the Dead Kennedys might achieve: "Imagine if Crass was funny."

The Dead Kennedys were. Whether this ensured their success or failure, you are left to ponder.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Alex Ogg's Author Page | Back to Winston Smith's Illustrator Page | Back to Ruby Ray's Artist Page




West of Eden reviewed in Humboldt Journal of Social Relations

By Sara Matthews
Humboldt Journal of Social Relations
Issues 36, 2014

The writing of history has left the American communal and “back-to-the-land” movements of the 1960s largely brushed aside, characterized as little more than the immature petulance of self-indulgent hippies seeking to escape responsibility. The editors of West of Eden: Communes and Utopia in Northern California contend that this portrayal is tinged with political motivations and has thus far succeeded in detracting from any serious inquiry into the subject. With this book, they aim to provide a starting point from which the American communing movements can be contextualized and analyzed in a meaningful way. The editors, historians Iain Boal and Cal Winslow, anthropologist Janferie Stone, and geographer Michael Watts, offer West of Eden to highlight the work of their larger “Communes Project,” a collaboration of the Institute of International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley and the Mendocino Institute. In doing so, they weave together an eclectic collection of essays written by 14 contributing authors (including the four editors) ranging from extensively researched histories to colloquial, first-hand narratives of the commune experience. Taken together, this collection succeeds in familiarizing the reader with the history, political motivations, and nature of the communal movement as it played out in northern California, while also initiating an inquiry into its lasting social and political impacts in contemporary America.

The uniting thread among these essays is a focus on the burgeoning ventures in communal living that took place in the 1960s and 1970s, specifically in northern California. However, beyond this unifying theme, the essays vary greatly in content and style. The extensively researched and well organized exposition and argumentation found in many of the essays such as Jeff Lustig’s “The Counterculture as Commons” or Felicity Scott’s “Bulldozers in Utopia: Open Land, Outlaw Territory, and the Code Wars” can be contrasted, for example, with an excerpt from one of the many personal narratives that Cal Winslow aggregated in his contribution, “The Albion Nation”:

At that time, the SLA [Symbionese Liberation Army], that whole thing was going on. Things were really fractionalizing in the movement. I guess it was when Nixon was in power. I think people were a little disillusioned. The antiwar movement was falling apart. So that’s another piece of it. (p. 162)

The hodgepodge of writing styles and differing levels of biases at times leaves the reader scrambling to choose the correct lens through which to analyze the text. This occasionally results in a confusing read; however, it also one of the book’s strengths.

Because its base-level purpose is to provide a foundation for potential students of the subject, this volume makes good use of the wide range of sources by providing not only history, context, and suggestions on how one might think about the communal projects, but also by providing a window into the primary research from which these conclusions were reached. This results in no t only an engaging read, but also makes the book a convenient starting point for both secondary and primary research.

Another strength of West of Eden is the attention given to the role of differing conceptualizations of space. Multiple essays throughout the book engage with ideas of the reclaiming of space and the spatial relationships between the communing movements. In his recounting of the history of communing movements, Timothy Miller portrays the back-to-the-land movements in the early 1900s as being “solitary spaces” (p. 5). As groups of people relocated to the rural hinterlands, the goal of these movements was to fully support themselves on a plot of land, separate from the urban core.

These solitary-spatial projects, however, quickly found themselves to be unsustainable. Perhaps taking a note from history, the communing movements of the 1960s are found to be much less about discrete spatialization, with much collaboration between the rural and the urban. In introducing the major themes of the book, Boal describes the interaction between the spaces of city and country to be complex and unfit for any sort of dichotomous comparison (p.xiv).

Meanwhile, Lustig’s exploration of the physical and imagined “commons” speaks to the “political scaffolding” left by earlier movements as well as the roles of the open spaces of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and UC Berkeley’s campus (p. 35). He argues that the geography of these existing conditions played a critical role in the incubation of collective activity. Scott conceptualizes space in a different way, understanding the creation of communes as “an exodus from official systems of managing land and the built environment—from property rights and trespass laws to building codes as well as health and safety regulation” (p. 58). Through an examination of the legal battles of the “code wars,” Scott illustrates how the reactionary claiming of space was used as an explicit means of challenging the codes of capital’s spatial order. The claiming and reordering of space as means of achieving a political agenda is a reoccurring theme that is handled well throughout the book.

The final essay in West of Eden is a discussion by Watts in which he examines the
collection of communal movements in relation to the broader upheaval of world events in the 1960s. He sees these communing and back-to-the-land movements as being one of many paths that were taken during this time period in an attempt to construct an alternative world. While these movements were, by name and nature, communal, Watts argues that they were also highly individualistic and, in some senses, libertarian. Out of this, he contends, came of the emergence of not only the New Left normally associated with the American communing movement, but also the development of neoconservatives and the New Right.

While the communing movements did not last beyond the 1970s, their legacies are still felt in contemporary America. Today, we still see this “desire to control one’s own life” manifesting in discourse and political contentions across the nation (p.238). As we once again approach what some would call the “crisis of legitimacy for the institutions of capitalist modernity,” the scrutiny of these past communing movements becomes all the more relevant (p. xxiv).

West of Eden accomplishes the task of beginning the excavation of the American communing movements and provides an integral perspective, useful in any attempt to understand the complex political and social culture of northern California, southern Oregon,and, indeed, much of broader contemporary America.

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Cal Winslow's Page | Back to Iain Boal's Page




Interview: Peter Kuper and The System and World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014

by Henry Chamberlain
Comics Grinder
June 23rd, 2014

Peter Kuper is passionate about comics, New York City, and activism. He has established himself as a leading authority on all three subjects in a remarkable career that continues to explore and to grow. Where to begin? Well, many readers will know Mr. Kuper for his continuous work on “Spy vs. Spy” in MAD Magazine, since 1997. In that same year, his landmark graphic novel, “The System” was published. And it all begins with a love for underground comics and pushing the limits. This would lead to “World War 3 Illustrated,” started by Kuper and his childhood friend, Seth Tobocman. All sorts of subversive ideas were percolating between these two cartoonists while growing up in Cleveland. We discuss a key moment that brought things to a boil.Page 70 from

Page 70 from “The System” by Peter Kuper

In this interview, we focus on “The System” and “World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014,” both published by PM Press and out this July. During the course of our interview, we get a look into the process behind Kuper’s stencil work, a distinctive style evoking graffiti. It is a heroic style and one that is now part of the past. It was an authentic graffiti style, using actual spray paint aerosol cans. Of course, the time came to move on, for the sake of the environment and one’s own health.

Page 70 rough from

Page 70 rough from “The System”

Red Stencil from page 70,

Red Stencil, Page 70, “The System”

Red Spray Layer, Page 70,

Red Spray Layer, Page 70, “The System”

Peter Kuper proves to be an excellent interview. I think that is because he loves to share information. He is both a great artist and a great teacher. We cap off our interview with a look at his course on graphic novels at Harvard. But, first off, we begin with a look back at the first time that Peter Kuper met R. Crumb, as a boy. I hope you enjoy the interview. Just click the link HERE and scroll half way down the page to listen:

And be sure to visit PM Press right here. And Peter Kuper’s website right here.

You can find “World War 3 Illustrated 1979-2014″ right here. You can find the new deluxe edition of “The System” right here.

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



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