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In Against, and Beyond Capitalism: A Review

By Stella Darby
June 2016

My own nervousness about reviewing this short book of John Holloway’s talks matched my pleasure in being asked to do it. It felt daunting to publish my first-ever review piece on the work of a favourite author and teacher. Thankfully the book’s short, digestible format makes it easy to enjoy, and its content leaves as much space for critical engagement as it creates for hope and inspiration.

In Against, and Beyond Capitalism comprises three lectures–collectively titled “After Capitalism”–given by Holloway at the California Institute of Integral Studies on three consecutive days in April 2013. Andrej Grubačić’s preface introduces key theories and theorists influencing Holloway’s thinking. I initially wondered if diving straight in with negative dialectics, post-1968 Marxism, Italian autonomists, and state derivationism could be off-putting for the reader who (like me) feels intimidated by much of Leftist intellectual philosophy. However, this preface carefully highlights relevant terms and authors, situating the more accessible talks which follow within a helpful and concise theoretical context.

A short bibliographic note from Holloway closes the book with further thoughts on historical influences and current context. Between these book-ends, transcriptions of Holloway’s three talks–complete with audience questions and discussion–allow us to follow a journey which begins with “We” and urges us to carry a flag of hopeful defiance with its concluding message: “We are the crisis of capital, and proud of it!”

In his first talk, “Who Are We?”, Holloway discusses what he means by “We”. The non-identitarian stance he lays out here continues to be reinforced throughout the book.

Holloway’s “We” is not defined by characteristics or classifications, which–including the often-idealized proletarian identity–ultimately separate us from each other. Instead it points to dignity as an inclusive and connecting basic desire. As such, this concept of “We” places the power with people’s humanness, and with our ability to recognise others’ shared desires for dignity. It flips on its head the notion that we who dislike capitalism are all powerless victims of hegemonic neoliberalism: we are neither victims nor powerless, because capitalism’s functioning depends on our participation.

By reminding us that we all actively create capitalism, Holloway opens a space for us, whoever “We” may be at any given time, to contemplate how we’d like to do things differently. However, he never tells us what “doing things differently” ought to look like.

Multiple admiring references to the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, are accompanied by the caveat, “We must start where we are.” But Holloway’s foundational principle–that “We” ordinary people have the power upon which capitalism depends–establishes a theoretical imperative for conscious, collective discussion and choice-making about how we want to organise ourselves, and why.

The second talk, titled “Capital: The Social Cohesion That Strangles Us”, puts a visceral focus on capitalism–not as an immovable system but as a fluid way of relating to each other. We are not nouns, but verbs, says Holloway–constantly in movement. Yet through capitalism, we choose to relate to each other through objectified things that we produce with our labour. As Marx has shown, to do this we need to fix arbitrary, static value to objects and services–thus separating our creations and creativity from the human “doing” behind them. This focus on capital as a set of social relations highlights what’s so un-dignifying about it, what makes us angry, ill, dejected. Stuffing our time, energy and creativity into the box of monetary value–which has to push us ever harder to sustain its edge–simply hurts. We might respond with anger, sickness or withdrawal...all while continuing, understandably, to try and counteract these ills through the same processes of labouring and consuming that we are accustomed to, thus recreating these damaging relations day by day. And yet, alongside all of this, we are constantly creating “cracks”–taking action in small and large ways not driven by money but rather by care, creativity, dignity, love, anger, fun.

As in earlier books, Holloway steers straight for the rage and pain created by the twisted social relations of capital and, in touching this collective wound, opens us up to the possibility of doing things differently. At the same time, this emphasizes the capacity which already exists–in the cracks–for doing things in ways which affirm dignity and value life.

Revolution, for Holloway, means the expansion and multiplication of these cracks. It’s not so much a call to action as a call to connection, or re-connection: a call to relate to each other as the dignified humans we know we are, rather than as producers of stuff.

The third and final talk builds on the premises of collective dignity and suffocating capitalist social relations to convince us that capitalism is as vulnerable to us as we are to it.

Capitalism’s fluidity, its constant need to make monetary value keep pace with shifting human needs and wants and ingenuity, means that it must always demand more from labourers. Instead of seeing the repeated crises of capitalism as failures of those in power, Holloway invites us to see this as the failure and/or refusal of workers to effectively submit to domination. He recognises implicit “nonsubordination” as equally significant to overt anti-capitalism: perhaps workers express direct anger, or perhaps they simply drag their feet, or get physically or mentally ill–in any case, the productivity that capital depends upon is diminished. From this point of view, Holloway points out, demanding better regulation of banks and full employment is akin to saying “let’s put other bankers, other capitalists [in power]...ones who are more competent, who can really dominate us effectively” (p.55). So, we can choose victimhood, demanding that capital be shored up by state power so it can function more effectively at exploiting us, or we can embrace our collective power as the stick in the wheels of capitalism and decide that we want to do things differently.

And yet...we may well feel stuck between wanting to create alternatives and also needing to make a living. Just as he refutes the idea of revolutionary purity, Holloway acknowledges that it’s “probably best to actually recognize that we are caught in this contradictory situation” (p.65). How do we then “start from where we are”? By “hoisting a flag”, Holloway urges us–and by talking together about how we want to start walking away from capitalism and where we want to go, a little at a time, and proudly. Hence the title of this last talk: “We Are the Crisis of Capital and Proud of It.”

As was the case at talks I’ve attended by John Holloway, some of the questions transcribed in this book exasperatedly ask, “But John, what should we actually do?!” Others query the particularities of a given situation. Holloway almost always evades giving direct answers to such questions. Despite the numerous references to Chiapas, he reminds us that there’s no point wishing we were Zapatistas; we must respond to our own contexts. Indeed, strategies and shared values need to be discussed by the people enacting them, not devised intellectually–not least because they need to be fluid and practical. Crucially, the philosophy presented here entrusts the particularities of a site of resistance to those engaged in it.

Specific recommendations would almost seem out of line with Holloway’s own theory. However, it would not hurt to explicitly encourage conversations about not just dignity but specific shared values: a given group of people must discuss what these are for them; why they are important; how they can be put into practice. If “We” is the theoretical and intellectual starting point for social relations of dignity, such conversations must be the practical one for many of the “cracks” Holloway wishes to promote.

Holloway is similar to many anti-capitalist theorists in eluding requests for advice, blueprints and fully-formed alternative models. Unlike others, however, his work does not seek to shock us into the awareness that something is wrong or to illuminate the problem with revelations of new technicalities. Neither does it present an analysis which requires resistance to subscribe to a particular interpretation of the problem in order for it to “count”.

Holloway’s approach assumes, rightly, that we are already deeply aware of a problem–and seeks instead to elaborate a framework of thinking which helps us articulate that sense of wrongness and reaffirm the dignity and possibilities inherent in our very awareness of it.

Such affirmation empowers and reclaims a diverse set of responses and alternatives to capitalism.

Like a good therapist, Holloway raises more questions than he answers and offers few concrete instructions. He sends us back “out to the see the rebellion inside people”(p.9), comforted by a sense of shared human experience and by the reminder that, no, we are not crazy. If our spirits balk at the everyday exploitation and abstract valuation that appear to define our survival, thank goodness, Holloway suggests–this means we are still alive, still human. In a society where even anti-capitalist activism often defines its success by constant linear progress in ever-more-urgent circumstances, Holloway’s thinking affirms the value of life–which rarely hurries down defined, linear trajectories. He invites us to “ask as we walk”, not as we run, and his words convey a calm, poetical slowness. As long as we keep moving at a pace guided by our dignity, there is hope of cracking the dynamic of capital, right where we are, right now.

Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to John Holloway's Author Page

“Positive Force: More Than a Witness”: Robin Bell’s documentary on “30 years of punk politics in action”

By Bryan
May 18th, 2016

Positive Force: More Than a Witness, award-winning videographer Robin Bell’s 2014 documentary on “thirty years of punk politics in action” — now streaming on Night Flight Plus — tells the story of the Washington DC-based punk activist collective Positive Force, who emerged during the so-called Reagan-era “Revolution Summer” of 1985.


Bell’s feature-length film features archival footage — including vintage live concert footage of bands like Fugazi, Nation of Ulysses, Bikini Kill, and more — along with interviews from some of punk’s most influential pioneers, like Ian MacKaye (founder and owner of Arlington, VA-based Dischord Records, and the leader of Fugazi) to Penny Rimbaud (of the UK anarcho-punks Crass), along with supporters and followers, many of whom have played Positive Force gigs, people like Jenny Toomey (Simple Machines, Tsunami), Jello Biafra, Dave Grohl, Ted Leo, Riot Grrrl co-founders Allison Wolfe (Bratmobile) and Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill), and others.


It all begins thirty-plus years ago, in the summer of 1985, on June 21st.

Bell’s film lays it all out with a variety of perspectives who approached the revolution individually and collectively, some of them taking their personal political punk proselytizing to extremes, while others were more passive participants in the socially-conscious DC punk movement (the majority of bands recorded for Dischord Records).


Fugazi live on January 12, 1991, at Lafayette Park in Washington, DC

Actually, the true “positive force” movement began even earlier — in Reno, Nevada, in 1984, centered around the band 7 Seconds — but their ideas quickly spread across the U.S., promoted through a March 1985 article in Maximum RocknRoll, and the focus in the documentary is on what happened in Washington DC.

At the center of those is the film’s anchor, Mark Andersen, one of the young co-founders of the Positive Force punk collective (along with Kevin Mattson), which began during that so-called “Revolution Summer.”


Andersen (co-author, along with Mark Jenkins, of a book on the history of DC punk called Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk In the Nation’s Capital) describes what happened during the summer of ’85 this way, writing last summer in an opinion piece that was published in the Washington Post:

“On June 21, 1985, a few dozen scruffily dressed kids declared ‘Revolution Summer’ with a thunderous ‘punk percussion protest’ at the apartheid-era South African Embassy. That night, the band Rites of Spring officially welcomed the new season with a sweat- and passion-drenched show at the 9:30 Club. Ridiculed by some at the time, 30 years later it has become clear these were ‘shots heard around the world.'”


Rites of Spring at the 9:30 club, July 16, 1981 in Washington, DC. (Lucian Perkins/Washington Post)


The Washington DC-based punk activist organization Positive Force originally became a loosely-organized group of young volunteers, an arts and social justice collaborative — some of them driven by their anarchist convictions or socialist convictions — whose “central mission,” according to Ian MacKaye, founder of DC’s Dischord Records and leader of the band Fugazi says, “was to organize benefits… they do protests and organize some demonstrations.”


The whole point, from the beginning, was to build caring, just and inclusive community, reaching out to those in need and building bridges between diverse communities. they organized punk rock concerts and educational events — some of them in such then-unconventional venues as churches and parks — which were all-ages and liquor-free, and all proceeds went to progressive groups who provided help and worked with seniors, the homeless, and other marginalized folks, regardless of their race, class, religion, sexual orientation, culture, nationality, and even language.

Proceeds also went towards fighting such varied issues as homelessness, hunger, racism, corporate globalization, sexism, homophobia, war, gentrification, and animal/earth liberation.


The DC collective originally gathered together at the Positive Force communal house in Arlington, Virginia (“a garden of radical possibilities”), which became a kind of community center and focal point from which that “central mission” MacKaye speaks of grew outward, into DC and beyond.

Andersen continues:

“The idea caught on and came to life in conversations, group houses, punk shows and protests. It was a rebellion against punk-as-usual and business-as-usual. This simultaneous challenge to the subculture and the wider world included new musical styles, an opposition to ‘slam-dancing’ and skinhead gang violence, and a critique of the sexism of the scene. It embraced confrontational, creative protest, animal rights, vegetarianism and communal living.”


Of course, the bands themselves were part of the reason that the music began merging politics with the hardcore punk climate that existed from the mid-1980s to the early 90s. Back then, DC’s dynamic local scene had sparked to life originally with bands like Bad Brains and Minor, to name just a few, but after that initial burst of energy the scene changed, but its influence and inspiration spread across the country, continuing to inspire new bands, like Nirvana.

In the documentary, Foo Fighter and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl recalls playing his first gig with the DC band Scream, a 1987 Positive Force benefit concert and march for Amnesty International: “I’m where I am today because of that show, that band, that march.”


In 1991, a group of girls and women in the bands Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and the Nation of Ulysses were inspired by what Positive Force was doing and it lit the fire that became the feminist punk movement Riot Grrrl, which they christened”Revolution (Summer) Girl Style Now.”

Today, Andersen’s DC-based Positive Force faction is the only one still active. As of January 2000, they had organized nearly 300 benefit concerts, raising more than $200,000 for organizations who help DC residents meet their basic needs or to produce “progressive/revolutionary change.”

Andersen occasionally organizes benefits from an office he shares with the We Are Family senior outreach network.


Robin Bell

The film’s director, Robin Bell — a professor at the Corcoran College of Art & Design and founder and owner of Bell Visuals, a boutique production company that supports social justice groups and environmentally sustainable companies — partially funded Positive Force: More Than a Witness with monies received from a class action settlement from his own wrongful arrest at a DC protest in 2002.


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

Spitboy Rule reviewed in Fourth & Sycamore

By David Nilsen
Fourth & Sycamore
June 2016

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

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

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

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

I would show them.”
– page 3

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

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

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

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

The Spitboy Rule is available now at GPL.

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

Liberation Land: Spitboy in the Daily Iowan

Michelle Cruz 4

By Tessa Solomon
Daily Iowan
June 23rd, 2016

The camera shakes, capturing in its grainy frame four women on a dimly lit stage. 

Their bodies are pierced, heads shaven, and demeanor unapologetic. They’re playing in a church basement, the dust and smoke in the air is tinted by the golden and crimson lights that hang above the stage. 

Some people in the thick crowd bang their heads. Others thrash limbs, as if gripped by the raw, gloriously dissident, hard-core punk. A timestamp denotes: Toronto, Ontario. 1993. It is the first major tour of Spitboy, a pioneering group of the Bay Area’s ’90s hard-core scene. 

Until now, the band members have lived mostly in the memories of those who attended their raucous shows, but with the recent release of The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band, they are on the cusp of immortality.

Author Michelle Cruz Gonzales, the drummer and a founding member of Spitboy, will read from her memoir at 7 p.m. today at Prairie Lights, 15 S. Dubuque St.

Her collection of essays delves into Spitboy’s conception and rise in San Francisco, a journey that entangles her numerous identities: punk, feminist, and Mexican-American. Loosely chronological, it begins with her childhood in a small California town plagued with racism and classism, an upbringing and environment that — despite longstanding cultural barricades — eventually led Gonzales to hard-core.

“The punk boys kept saying they were going to start a band, but they never did,” Gonzales said. “They would tell us, ‘Girls can’t play music.’ Well, we were doing it, and they weren’t.”

Hard-core is a genre defined by rhythm over melody; discord over harmony. Practitioners viewed Southern California’s post-punk sound as “poseur,” so hard-core guitars were distorted and amplified, while songwriting disregarded the typical verse-chorus structure. Their fuel was a furious desire to be authentic, to be heard, to always play louder, faster and, yes, harder.

“I had wished there was a female hard-core band,” said Gonzales. “I was trying to find a band like that, but then I realized I should form that band. I wanted to fill that void, to be the band we wanted to hear.”

After graduating from high school, Gonzales’ newly formed band, Spitboy, found that audience in the Bay Area. A variety of punk subgenres thrived there, finding a home in the Alternative Music Foundation, a music venue known in the crowd simply as “Gilman.” But despite the openness of the Gilman Street scene, hard-core was dominated by all-male bands such as Black Flag and Dead Kennedys. 

“We were playing hard-core music, but we were women, singing about women’s issues,” said Gonzales. “And I was this female, Xicana punk drummer trying to find my way and not always feeling like I fit in.”

It was a chip on her shoulder that took years to shake.  

“I always had a feeling of shame growing up poor. I had to prove that I didn’t fit into the stereotype of Mexicans,” Gonzales said. “But you put on your punk uniform and conform to this aesthetic, and when you do that, your cultural identity can fall away.”

While Gonzalez struggled to discover a happy intersection of personal identities, Spitboy combated an unwelcome association: the contemporaneous riot-grrrl movement.

“We didn’t want to be called girls,” she said. “Women in the ’90s Bay Area were very strong about being called women, to be looked at as an equal. Being called a girl seemed like going backwards.”

With respect to riot grrrl, the hard-core culture Spitboy embraced was different, both in sound and in attitude. This was a distinction Gonzales continued to emphasize years later. 

“When all these riot-grrrl and rock memoirs started coming out, I realized if I didn’t try to publish my stories in a book, they would be lost in history,” Gonzales said.

It became a mission for her to document the countries Spitboy had toured, the people the music had affected, and the unusual schooling she experienced along the way.

“Punk was a great education,” Gonzales said. “We were writing these treatises on feminist issues and using it as a vehicle to get these messages out — that you don’t need to be a man or be white to play punk.”

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

Revisiting Spitboy and Talking Punk Memoirs With Michelle Cruz Gonzales

By Tobias Carroll
Vol. 1 Brooklyn
June 16th, 2016

I never got a chance to see Spitboy, the band in which Michelle Cruz Gonzales played drums in the early and mid-1990s. They were a band that was spoken about reverently by friends of mine who were familiar with them; the fact that they’d released a split LP with the equally great Los Crudos also played a part. So when news emerged last year that The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band was set to be released this spring, I kept track of the date, and picked up a copy as soon as I was able to do so. The result is a terrific collection of stories from the road, measured thoughts on the dynamics of class, gender, and race that existed both within the band and the punk scene of the time. I talked with Gonzales over email about the process of writing the book, her other literary projects, and more. She’ll be touring the Midwest beginning on June 20th in Minneapolis.

The Spitboy Rule isn’t structured like a traditional music memoir — you focus more on individual moments and scenes rather than a straightforward chronological progression. When did you arrive on this as the best way to tell this story?

I didn’t want the pieces to be organized totally linear, and straightforward, and chronological would have been nearly impossible to write because memory doesn’t work that way. After writing the first six or so pieces and posting them on my blog, I realized it should be a book, so I looked at what I had, and made a list of all the other topics that I wanted to cover. I also knew that there were some themes that I had to address: women in music/punk, being the only person of color in the band, sexism in the scene, and so on. After working from the list I reviewed what I had and looked at where there might be gaps. Since Spitboy toured so much, and overseas, I also knew that I wanted to write a bit about each tour too.

How long after Spitboy’s breakup was it before you began writing about your time in the band? Was there one moment that prompted you to do so?

Spitboy broke up in 1995, and I posted my first piece “The Spitboy Rule” on my blog in March of 2013, so 13 years later. That same year I wrote a piece that mentions Spitboy for a stage show of readings about motherhood called “Does Your Mom Play Drums?” I’ve said this before, but for years, I didn’t want to be another boring adult talking about her glory days — back when I was cool, that sort of thing, so I didn’t talk about Spitboy that much at all, let alone write about it. I was in my online Wayward Writers writing community class when I first started writing about Spitboy specifically. One of the prompts that Ariel Gore assigned got me on the topic of Spitboy, opened the flood gates.

Have you found that most readers of the book so far have been familiar with Spitboy, or are more interested in the larger themes that you deal with in the book?

It seems like much of the audiences has been familiar so far because people tag me in photos on Instagram and Facebook, people who are Spitboy fans, whether they just discovered the band or whether we were their favorite band in high school. I’ve heard that a lot. One woman just told me that in high school that she made her girlfriend a handmade Spitboy t-shirt. The book, however, does seem to appeal to non-Spitboy fans too. Some of colleagues at the college where I teach have started teaching the book or pieces from it, and there’s a bookstore in Minneapolis, Moon Palace Books, that has a rock and roll book club. They’re reading it this month, and they just read Michelle Leon’s I Live Inside — she played bass guitar in Babes in Toyland. I doubt everyone taking part knew about Spitboy in the 90s.

You’ve written about music memoirs on your blog. Do you have a favorite? Are there any musicians whose as-yet-unwritten memoirs you’d like to read?

I think that my favorites so far are Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, and Boys, Boys Boys by Viv Albertine. It’s beautifully written and super soulful. And I loved Violence Girl by Alice Bag — we are total punk rock sisters, and I love how she writes so much about growing up Xicana in East LA and in the punk scene, and Dreadnaught by DH Peligro, which I love even more now after doing a reading with him and learning more about his process for writing it after growing up with dyslexia and being labeled and tracked in school.
My friend Nicole Thomas who played drums in Fireparty and now plays in Hard Left is writing her memoir, and I’m super eager to read it because I know it will offer another much needed perspective and voice on the topic and she will do it justice. I’m also excited to read Nicole’s book because more drummers should write their memoirs.

Your author bio mentions that you’re at work on a novel. How close to completion would you say that you are with that?

I’ve got a ways to go on the novel. It’s called The Republic of California, and it’s a satirical novel about a futuristic California that secedes from the US and kicks out all the people of color except for the Mexicans, and intermarriage of whites and Mexicans is forced for the purpose of creating a race of beautiful, hard working people. I wrote about 200 pages, and now I’m rewriting because it started off way too slow. Plotting is so hard! At the moment, I’m working toward getting another memoir published — Pretty Bold for a Mexican Girl: Growing Up Xicana in a Hick Town. It was written before The Spitboy Rule. I won’t likely have the novel finished until after next summer.

I’m guessing you’ve been asked this a few times now, but I’m curious: does the release of this book mean that some of Spitboy’s music might be reissued before long?

Not so many people have actually asked me this, but I do have possession of nearly all the original reels if anyone wants to make an offer. I’d make sure the rest of the band was compensated on any sales, but don’t ask if we’ll have a reunion show because I doubt that would ever happen. I did start having this recurring dream where we decide to play and we show up to the venue and realize that not only did we not ever practice but that we don’t remember how to play the songs. I wake up super relieved it’s a dream every time.
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Buy book now | Buy e-Book now | Back to Michelle Cruz Gonzales’s Author Page 

Wolves, Gates, & Radical Faith

by Jared Bias
Pete ends
April 6th, 2016

The first time Mark Van Steenwyk and I (Jared) met, I was picking him and a group of mutual friends up from a Conference in Phoenix, where I was living and teaching at the time. Our destination: the closest karaoke bar we could find. Our mission: sing our hearts out to the 7 locals that were there until late into the night. Here it is, 4 years later, and his highly reviewed first children’s book, A Wolf at the Gate, is now being re-published by PM Press. So, I asked him a few questions about it.

1. Your first two books are That Holy Anarchist and The Unkingdom of God. Not really kids lit. What was going on in your life that inspired you to take a crack at writing a children’s book?

When I started writing it, I had a 6 year old who found books about war and fighting and knights and pirates thrilling. Since I wanted to stir a love for justice and peace in my son, I started looking for kid books about nonviolence. Most of the ones I found weren’t very exciting. Since I’ve been a fan of kid lit my entire life, I thought I’d tackle writing an exciting book that promotes peace.

At the same time, I was at a low point in my life as an activist and writer. I think I was burnt out on trying to convince adults to take Jesus’ radical message seriously. It takes an imagination to consider alternative ways of seeing the world, which is essential if we’re going to work for liberation. If an adult is unimaginative, it is extremely difficult to reach them with a message of liberation. That led me to consider focusing my creative energy on younger people. Not exclusively–I still plan on doing some of the stuff I’ve been doing the past 15 years–but I think writing for younger audiences is something I’m going to take much more seriously.

2. As a Dad to 4 little ones, I know there’s a million children’s books out there. Why this one? What’s unique about A Wolf at the Gate?

A few things. First of all, it tackles issues that rarely get addressed in children’s books: economic injustice, violence, and ecology. Secondly, it tackles them with a story that, while timely, feels timeless. A lot of reviewers have told me it feels like a classic. Finally, the illustrations by Joel Hedstrom are amazing. Absolutely wonderful. His images are bold…inspired by woodcuts and tattoo art. The combination of theme, writing style, and art make it the sort of book that a parent could read to their grade-schooler or give to their middle grade students to read on their own. And adults have enjoyed it too.

3. I have friends who grew up conservative but don’t want to raise their children with the same views about the Christian faith but aren’t sure how to go about it. Did writing this book shape how you present the Christian faith to your kid? If so, how?

Yes. The story is based off of a legend about Saint Francis, but isn’t overtly religious in content. It shows faith in action, relying on the narrative to challenge one’s faith rather than building an argument. Because of that, it has been picked up by a secular leftist publisher (PM Press out of Oakland) while still being celebrated by deeply religious folks (like the Catholic school in Florida that used it for their school retreat).

4. What is your favorite part of the book and why?

There are three parts that I love the most…when the three parental figures in the book (the wolf mother, the wolf father, and the Beggar King) go on a walk with the red wolf and try to help her understand some fundamental truth about the world. Her father teaches her about the cruelty of humanity. Her mother teaches her about the importance of being a neighbor. But it is the third vignette that is the most interesting to me. At this point, she is talking to the Beggar King as a peer. He teaches her a bit about the selfishness of humanity, but (as we see later in the book) she refuses to accept it.

5. Was A Wolf at the Gate a break from what you’ve written in the past or do you see it as part of the same themes and trajectory?

It is certainly a different genre, but entirely in keeping with themes I’ve worked with before–violence and nonviolence, hospitality and alienation, poverty and wealth. It is, I believe, my most important book. And it is a signal of things to come. I’m finding myself less constrained by genre. I no longer feel a need to write or do the sorts of things someone like me (a pastor and activist) is “supposed” to write or do. But, while I am giving myself permission to experiment with the shape of my work, the underlying themes will continue to stay the same.

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Legal Worker, Social Justice Activist Kris Hermes Honored With May Patriot Award

By Susan Gaissetrt
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
April 30th, 2016

BORDC/DDF is proud to present Kris Hermes with the May 2016 Patriot Award. Kris is a legal worker who recently served on the board and staff of the National Lawyers Guild. He has been a social justice activist since the 1980s, when he worked on the issues of global hunger and poverty.  In the late 1990s, he became a member of ACT UP Philadelphia, a group that works to advance social change on health care issues for people with HIV/AIDS. ACT UP Philadelphia describes itself as “a group of individuals united in anger and committed to ending the AIDS crisis through direct action.”

Direct action means just that: actively doing something that is directly related to communicating the message about the change you want to see in the world. Direct action means striking, demonstrating, and being involved in acts of civil disobedience, and those things often lead to getting arrested. At the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in 2000, thousands of protesters engaged in direct action, including members of ACT UP, and hundreds were arrested. Kris and others got to work defending them. He co-founded R2K Legal, a defendant-led collective composed of activists, legal workers, and law students to support those arrested during the GOP Convention in 2000.

Kris spent several years working on the R2K Legal cases, developing and  refining a set of tactics and strategies for pushing back against the inequities of the justice system and using court solidarity techniques. These techniques include having large groups of defendants collectively refuse plea bargains and demand trials; they forced the legal process to become political.

In 2004, Kris began research on a book about the 2000 Republican Convention. He spent years writing it, and it was published in 2015: Crashing the Party: Legacies and Lessons from the RNC 2000. In Crashing the Party, Kris details the experiences protestors had with law enforcement in Philadelphia and describes the gamut of coercive techniques used by law enforcement to suppress political dissent. They include:
    •    Denial of protest permits, to thwart protest planning
    •    Sweeping exclusionary zones
    •    Interrogation of activists
    •    Unlawful stop and search of activists
    •    Preemptive raids
    •    Widespread violence
    •    Mass arrest, with long detention, high bail, overcharging, and denying access to legal counsel

Kris has been to every Republican National Convention since 2000, providing legal support to protesters, and he’ll be in Philadelphia for the 2016 Democratic convention and in Cleveland for the corresponding GOP convention. In an interview for this article, he shared the following thoughts about why dissent matters and why both law enforcement and the media must protect and understand dissenting viewpoints.

On effective protest: “For effective protest to happen,” Kris says, there would need to be “a different approach to policing the event” than he’s seen in the past 16 years. Kris has “rarely seen police stand down and not use excessive force, indiscriminate violence, or a massive show of police force.” Protesters should have the right to  “be within sight and sound of the convention and be able to voice their grievances without being silenced by law enforcement.”

“The ability for people to be heard,” he says, “is crucial to advancing social change movements.” Ideally, the media would hear and understand the issues being voiced by activists and share those issues with the public. Ideally, the media would treat the message with respect.

What usually happens instead: In 2000, Kris says that law enforcement conducted preemptive raids and confiscated protesters’ signs, banners, etc. When the protesters had to march without their carefully planned communication props, the media reported that they looked aimless.

Another common theme that arises at events where protesters are present is that law enforcement uses the pretext of securing the event and its participants against terrorism. This pretext “conflates the perceived threat of terrorism with political activism,” Kris says, and this happens “consistently.” “The media does not question this conflation,” he says. So, protesters become associated with terrorists and, since a convention is a National Special Security Event involving the Department of Homeland Security, police departments receive extra funding to keep potential terrorists (read protesters) at bay. Kris says it’s a system that goes back a long way, but government continues to discredit protesters by using the terms “violent anarchists” and “outside agitators” to described people with differing viewpoints who might not necessarily be violent or dangerous.

“Not only is law enforcement acutely focused on suppressing dissent, the media is attracted to the ‘cat and mouse’ dynamic between protesters and police” and ignores the issues at the heart of the protest movement, Kris says.  And the suppression applies not just to the international media spotlight of a political convention, but to social change movements like Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter as well.

“Suppression happens in waves,” Kris says. We are certainly experiencing a tsunami of suppression right now, and we are lucky to have Kris Hermes on hand to help us ride the waves as we all try to swim together toward social justice.

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E. Ethelbert Miller, 2016 George Garrett Award Recipient

by Associations of Writers and Writing Programs

On Thursday, March 31, at this year’s Annual Conference & Bookfair, AWP awarded its George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature to E. Ethelbert Miller. The award recognizes individuals who have made notable donations of care, time, labor, and money to support writers and their literary accomplishments. The award is named for George Garrett (1929–2008), who made exceptional contributions to his writers as a teacher, mentor, editor, friend, board member, and good spirit. Garrett served for many years as the editor of Intro, an annual anthology of work by emerging writers; he served as one of the founding members of the AWP Board of Directors; he taught creative writing and literature for more than forty years; and he was the author of more than thirty books. As a writer, teacher, mentor, editor, or inspiration, Garrett helped many young writers who are now major contributors to contemporary letters. The award includes a $2,000 honorarium in addition to travel, accommodations, and registration to attend AWP’s annual conference, where the award is publicly announced and conferred.

AWP Board Chair Bonnie Culver served as MC for the ceremony, and in her introductory remarks, said of Miller, “As writer, editor, educator, public speaker, arts administrator, board member, and mentor, Ethelbert’s commitment to cultivate Martin Luther King’s ‘beloved community’ is decades long and all-encompassing, blurring the lines of artist and activist, intellectual and administrator.”

Culver detailed Miller’s many accomplishments. “Ethelbert brought scores of gifted writers to the university not only as readers, but as seekers and as students. And he’s mentored many younger writers beyond Howard’s campus—as a core faculty member, Writer- or scholar-in-residence, visiting professor, among other appointments worldwide. Yet Ethelbert’s influence has never been limited to the academic world; he has also worked to shape the literary field at large by influencing cultural policy and institutional infrastructures from positions of governance. He is the long-serving board chair of the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank in Washington, DC. He founded and chaired the Humanities Council of Washington, DC, served on the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, was a board member of PEN American Center, Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts, Provisions Learning Library, Capitol Letters Writing Center, Split This Rock, the Edmund Burke School, and AWP.

"E. Ethelbert Miller is a writer who was empowered by the Black Arts Movement to examine—and interrogate—the values and beliefs of his own life. His literary achievement includes eleven books of poetry and memoir as well as groundbreaking anthologies such as Beyond the Frontier African American Poetry for the 21st Century (2002), In Search of Color Everywhere: A Collection of African American Poetry (1994), Through the chorus of voices he has gathered in these books, his passionate editorial spirit reckons with our complex cultural moment.

"The same could be said for his coeditorship of Poet Lore magazine, a position he has held since 2002. As an editor, he reads thousands of yearly submissions and curates the biannual journal with an eye for presenting the most powerful work of emerging writers alongside that of established poets who count Poet Lore as a literary home—for some, their first home—as an advisory or contributing editor, past and present, he has also helped guide African American Review, The Black Scholar, Arts & Letters: Journal of Contemporary Culture, Callaloo, and Black Issues Book Review.

"In these many ways, he has become the face and voice of poetry and literary inquiry for writers and readers in Washington, across America, and beyond those borders.

"AWP’s George Garrett Award recognizes Ethelbert Miller’s extraordinary contribution as a literary activist—the identity he holds dearest—and as an artist whose creativity, decade after decade, continues to find clear and compelling expression through service.”

After receiving the award, Miller addressed the crowd at the reception. The following remarks have been adapted from his acceptance speech.

E. Ethelbert Miller: I’m deeply honored to be awarded the 2016 George Garrett Award. …

I never saw myself as simply being a writer. I define myself as a literary activist, a person concerned not only with the creation of literature but also its promotion and preservation. To be a literary activist is to embrace the marathon and not the sprint. It is important to be a long distance runner.

Our literary community consists not only of writers, but everyone who loves language, books and the art of storytelling. Our community embraces librarians, independent bookstore owners, as well as people struggling to write behind bars.

Writers must continue to create things that are useful—even if it’s only beauty. There is too much ugliness in the world. We must see our words as vessels for the imagination.
When we speak of community—let us speak loudly.

It is not enough to simply build—we must sustain institutions, we must cherish and protect them. Today there is still much heavy lifting we need to undertake. There is still the ongoing task to fight against the erasing of culture in different parts of the world as well as the censorship of ideas. If we write poems in private let us always protect our privacy.

There is always a need to uphold our sacred traditions while we continue experimenting with the new.

I believe writers reside in deep space, the space of depth where words matter. A place where we hold them close. Our space is wide and full of gratitude and love.

The greatest service an individual can make is to undertake the journey to reach another person’s heart. Too often this path is filled with obstacles and there is a tendency to stop, turn away and turn back.…

My dear AWP, You are my community, my Beloved Community. This award gives me the strength to rise early tomorrow and work long into the night.

A night filled with many stars and the glitter of promise and possibility.


Each year, AWP welcomes nominations for the George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature. Consult our award guidelines for more information. Award recipients are selected by AWP's Board of Trustees.

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The Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of May Day in the Socialist Review

by Mark Krantz
Socialist Review
May 2016

This is a collection of eleven essays on the history of May Day written by Marxist historian Peter Linebaugh “during the decades of conservative repression” in the US when celebrations of workers’ struggles of the past “were few and far between”.

Some of the historical details Linebaugh uncovers are fascinating and the links to contemporary events are inspiring. For example, he recalls how when the black activist W E B Du Bois heard that the Irish who led the Easter Rising in 1916 were being called “fools” by some on the left, he appealed to the heavens, “Would to God some of us had the sense enough to be fools!”
Linebaugh takes us right back to the early colonisation of America. Thomas Morton arrived in America in 1642. He wanted “to work, trade, and enjoy life with the natives”. Three years later he erected a giant Maypole at Merry Mount, under which recent immigrants like himself joined with Native Americans in a celebration of May Day.

William Bradford also landed in America in 1642. He sailed on the Mayflower. As a Puritan he was opposed to everything that Morton stood for. Puritans believed Native Americans to be “the anti-Christ”. They demolished the Maypole and had Morton deported back to England. His crime had been to celebrate what Linebaugh calls Green May Day. “May Day is very old, and nearly universal. It is a festival of planting, fertility, of germination. It is a community rite of social reproduction.”

Linebaugh describes well the Green side of the story of May Day — longing for “land once held in common” taken from the people during the enclosures in England and with the displacement of Native Americans from their common land. This fascinating book also traces the origins of Red May Day, commemorating the great struggle of workers for the eight-hour day that reached a climax in Chicago at the Haymarket. In 1886 the ironworkers of the Molders’ Union struck at the McCormick Works in Chicago. Someone threw a bomb, and four workers were convicted and hanged.

One of those hanged for the Haymarket bombings was Albert Parsons. He had been a Confederate soldier, but his consciousness was awakened by the reality of the American Civil War. He switched sides to join forces with the “former slaves and present wage slaves”. Expecting that he would himself one day be captured, Parsons foretold of “when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you are throttling today”. Parsons was part of the massive working class rebellion in Chicago. He described all those assembled at the Haymarket as “representatives of the disinherited”.

Since that day at the Haymarket the voices and actions of the “disinherited” have been heard around the world every year on May Day.

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The Spitboy Rule Mixtape

by Nancy David-Kho
Midlife Mixtape
May 12th, 2016

Michelle Gonzales and I met when we were castmates in the 2013 Listen To Your Mother show in San Francisco. Sure, her sexy boob tattoos hypnotized the audience, but it was her story about joining her son in his elementary school talent show that hooked them (and me) for life. Michelle’s got a new memoir out about her life as a Xicana punk drummer for the punk band Spitboy and I asked her to make us a mixtape inspired by her book, The Spitboy Rules

The Spitboy Rule Mixtape
by Michelle Gonzales

Like everybody else, Perimeno punk rockers probably do get stuck in a rut. Many listen to music from their youth, not bothering to seek out new music. Some refuse to listen to new music produced by their old favorite artists because they’re afraid it won’t live up to the music they were making when you first discovered them. For these reasons, I am thrilled to get this guest spot on Midlife Mixtape – to play some of my old favorite songs and some of my new ones.

Like us mid-lifers, a lot of old music holds up really well and deserves being discovered over and over again, but that shouldn’t stop of us from continuing to discover new music, new sounds, and new ideas. Many of the songs on my playlist are only on vinyl, some are only on CD, some are only on youtube, and all feature Latinos. You probably know this already, but not all Latinos play mariachi music or sing in Spanish – some say Latinos invented punk. I’ll let you all debate that. In the meantime, I’ve got a mix tape for you to listen to that includes some of my music and music made by friends.
“Take”  The Shhh

The video depicts a closeted trans woman attempting to steal a skirt from a small boutique run by Garlika Stanx and Alice Bag. Let’s just say the punishment does not fit the crime and the whole thing will warm your heart.

The Shhh is a side project of the legendary Alice Bag and Martin Sorrondeguy (Garlika Stanx). I could watch this video everyday, and if they ever go on tour, I am going to beg to be their drummer. If you don’t know, Alice Bag is the most famous punk rock Latina in the world, and the author of Violence Girl: From East LA Rage, To LA Stage, a Punk Chicana Story. Her band The Bags formed in the late 1970s, in the early days of punk. She inspired so many of us. Martin Sorrondeguy is the singer of Los Crudos and Limp Wrist. I’ve been friends with Martin since the Spitboy days. You can read all about our friendship in the book.
“Curiosidad” Los Crudos

Since I just mentioned Martin Sorrondeguy, I have to play a Los Crudos song, my favorite, “Curisosidad.” Turn your speakers down if you’re not used to pure hardcore punk, but don’t worry, like all Los Crudos songs, this one is short — just 50 seconds long.  It’s about rejecting shame and gendered racial stereotypes, accessing our curiosity, and questioning everything, and it has a great guitar lick.

“Babylonian Gorgon,” The Bags

This song is a near perfect punk song. In 1979, if someone asked you what punk sounded like, you would describe this song: fast, loud, with a driving beat, and defiant lyrics about a woman who owns her anti-social behavior, who refuses to live up to anyone’s standards. The singer, Alice Bag, is a true punk pioneer for all women in punk and for Latinas everywhere.

“In Your Face,” Spitboy

I often think of “In Your Face” as one of Spitboy’s signature songs, but that might just be because I wrote it. It’s about the objectification and commodification of women’s bodies to sell products. The lyrics are particularly succinct, and I still can’t believe I wrote it in my early twenties. If you watch the video closely, you’ll see that I break a stick and barely miss a beat when I have to reach out and grab a new one.

“Love Like Murder,” Kamala and the Karnivores

I play guitar and sing back up on this track from the three song 7” Kamala and the Karnivores release, “Girl Band,” 1989. Kamala and the Karnivores was a pop punk band that, at the time, was loved by nerdy dudes who fetishisized female musicians, and just about no one else. I was asked to join Kamala and the Karnivores after my first band broke up and before I formed Spitboy. Ivy, the singer/song writer, painstakingly taught me to play each guitar part, which I’d forget easily, so she’d have to teach them to me all over again. I said “yes” to playing rhythm guitar player because I was already hooked on being in a band, all female bands. Kamala was the drummer, so I couldn’t have taken over on drums for the person the band was named for.

I’ve noticed that in recent writing about Lookout bands that Kamala and Karnivores are finally getting the respect they always deserved, and when you hear “Love Like Murder,” you’ll get what I mean.

“Seriously,” I Object

There are actually no Latinas in the female fronted hardcore band, I Object, but “Seriously” is a Spitboy song, our first song, a song that I wrote. It’s a simple three chord song (it actually may have four or so) that I wrote in advance of Spitboy’s very first practice. It’s a song about sexual harassment, and I Object ’s version is so great. There’s nothing like hearing your own song covered the first time and hearing a band improve on it too.

“Xicanista,” Bombon Band

“Xicanista” is the newest release on my playlist, and the latest by Bombon Band, a surf rock trio of Xicanas from San Pedro, California. It’s a surf rock meditation whose only lyrics are “Somos Xicanistas. Somos Feministas!”

We are Xicanas. We are feminists!
“Gothic Summer,” Prayers

When fellow writer Tomas Moniz told me about cholo goth group, Prayers, I was all in without even hearing a single song. This song “Gothic Summer” sealed the deal, and then I heard singer Lefar Seyer/Rafael Reyes discuss the importance of self-love and how loving his band mate was a form of that love. I think I’ll be a fan forever.

You can see evidence of the affection he talks about it in the beautifully shot video. And who doesn’t love a video shot in a cemetery with black and Latino kids of various ages running around having the happiest water balloon fight ever? Prayers’ forthcoming EP is called Baptism of Thieves. The song “Gothic Summer” came out in 2014, but I’ll be rocking it all summer 2016. I hope you will too!


Want to read more? Michelle is giving away a copy of The Spitboy Rules to a lucky Midlife Mixtape reader! To enter for your chance to win, leave a comment below…we’ll use to select a winner on Wednesday, May 18 at 5 pm PST!

Want to see Michelle’s fancy tattoos in action? Join us on Thursday, May 19 at A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland at 7 pm where she’ll read and dish about life as a Xicana punk rock drummer!

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


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