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Outspoken Authors Speakout Videos 2-5

Check out the panel discussion between Terry Bisson (Left Left Behind, Fire on the Mountain), Kim Stanley Robinson (The Lucky Strike) and Gary Phillips (The Underbelly, The Jook).

Below are parts 2-5 of the panel discussion held at CounterPULSE, October 13, 2010. 


part 2:

part 3:

part 4:

part 5:

In and Out of Crisis in Alternate Routes

By Carlo Fanelli
Alternate Routes: A Journal of Critical Social Research

In and Out of Crisis is a thought provoking, accessible and politically engaging contribution to debates on the origin, severity and historical significance of the so-called “Great Recession.” Furthermore, as the subtitle The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives suggests, Albo and authors provide an unapologetically socialist analysis of what to do about it. Albo, Gindin and Panitch remind the reader that the classical meaning of crisis is turning point, to which they ask: Has the crisis marked a turning point in the balance of class power and the organization of the state? Or can the political alliances and power structures that have dominated the last four decades be reconstituted in what so clearly has been a monumental crisis?

For the authors, the short answer to the first question is no and, for the second, yes. This book departs from the tendency of writers (both from the Left and Right) to view the current responses to crisis as somehow marking a return to Keynesianism, or in terms of states versus markets, finance versus industry. Instead, rather than lay emphasis on the economic determinations of the crisis, the authors seek to politicize and get at the social roots of the problem by moving beyond limited technical or policy solutions to capitalist crises by instead placing democratic and social rights at the centre of their analysis. As they state : “The interpretation in this book is quite distinct” (p.122).

Fortunately, the authors have preemptively summarized the outline of the book:

Chapter one explores whether or not we are currently witnessing the end of neoliberalism; chapter two engages in current debates regarding the nature of capitalist crises, and the relationship between the state, finance and production in a neoliberal era; chapter three traces the historical process through which, over a century punctuated by previous cries, the American State and finance developed in tandem, and came to play a new kind of imperial role at the centre of global capitalism; chapter four traces the development of the crisis that began in 2007 and explains the active role of the American state, both under Bush and Obama, in containing the crisis in ways that reproduced the structures of class inequality and power domestically and internationally; chapter five analyses how the relationship between industry and finance played itself out in the auto sector, bringing to the fore the full class dimensions of the crisis; chapter six reflects on the impasse of the North American labour movement and the implications for the North American Left; and Chapter seven tries to think creatively about alternatives, not least in terms of how advancing the case for democratic economic planning, including the nationalization of the banks and auto industry, must become integrated with demands for immediate reforms. (p.25)

If the reader does not have the time for chapters one through seven, chapter eight’s Ten Theses on the Crisis succinctly summarizes the gist of their arguments. For the purpose of this review, however, I would like to provide a glimpse of what makes In and Out of Crisis’ analysis distinct. Or, in other words, what are likely to be the major points of contention stemming from their investigation.

First, contrary to authors that claim that the New Deal was an attempt to impose greater ‘regulation’ or ‘controls’ upon capital, Albo et al argue that following the Great Depression of the 1930s, private banking institutions had been nurtured back to health in the post-war decades and then unleashed in the explosion of global innovations that have defined the neoliberal era. And that, despite the meltdown,  “[t]he conditions that kept neoliberal policies in play for so long have not been exhausted or undone by the crisis” (p.17).

Second, taking aim at a broad spectrum of liberal, Keynesian, Minskian and orthodox Marxist views that posit the end of the American Imperium, a return to greater 'regulation' or the stagnation tendencies of 'mature' capitalist economies (such as Robert Brenner and the Monthly Review School for instance), Albo and authors argue that, if anything, the crisis has reconfirmed the world’s dependence on the American state and financial system as capital everywhere ran to the safe haven of the US Treasury bond. As opposed to the end of American hegemony or the birth of a multi-polar world, the resolution of this international crisis has rested fundamentally on the actions of the US state in leading a more or less coordinated response, and in the process integrating the G20 members into the US’s informal empire in what has been an extraordinarily dynamic period of capitalism.

Third, Albo, Gindin and Panitch provide a unique examination of the relationship between states and markets, industry and finance and, therein, the class relations that underpin them. Rater than viewing ‘financialization’ as narrowly superstructural, parasitic or speculative, or as a result of the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, they situate finance-led neoliberalism in historical terms in the sense that financial volatility actually becomes a developmental feature of neoliberalism that reinforces, rather than undermines the central position of financial interests in capitalist power structures. In their view, neoliberalism is understood as a  “particular form of class rule and state power that intensifies competitive imperatives for both firms and workers, increases dependence on the market in daily life and reinforces the dominant hierarchies of the world market, with the US at its apex” (p.28).

Fourth, the authors claim that a new historical project must be placed on the agenda. In order to do this, the Left must come to the bitter realization that the forms of protest, means of organizing and daily practices of activism, most visible in the anti-globalization movements and world social forums, just aren’t working anymore. This means soberly reflecting on the impasse of the North American labour movement, in addition to the successful “disorganization” (on the part of capital) of old working class institutions (labour parties, cooperatives, benefit societies) that has been central to neoliberalism and which threatens to become a historic class defeat.

Throughout the book, Albo et al raise the question as to whether or not the Left can develop the confidence to think as big and radical as 'they'—the ruling class—are doing in terms of both how workers see the future and what needs to be done to build the capacities to get there. “The way forward”, they argue, however, “is not to take one step first and another more radical step later, but to find ways of integrating both the immediate demands and the goal of systemic change into the building of new political capacities.” (p.114) As they remind us, "democracy is not just a form of government but a kind of society," which unavoidably remains fractional and incomplete within capitalism (p.128).

A few questions, however, may beg further unpacking. In light of the shifting composition of the working class and the role of women’s reproductive labour, how would the expansion of collective social services such as in health care and education, for instance, impact women’s paid and unpaid life experiences given their position in the labour market as a whole and concentration in specific sectors?

Given the legacy of defeats and setbacks over the period of neoliberalism, how may unions—many trapped in erstwhile social-democratic parties and the constraints of formal union structures—find some basis of unity that could help shape collective struggles in working-class communities and connect the linkages between the employed and unemployed, and those denied a chance to work? What kinds of fresh organizational structures and emergent forms of activism throughout North America and abroad carry potential?

On the whole, In and Out of Crisis is all but certain to have a broad appeal to researchers and academics, as well as students and lay persons alike. The era of neoliberalism—that is, capitalist militancy, is by no means over. In fact, it seems to be gaining new momentum the world over. Albo, Gindin and Panitch, in their short but no less provocative book, do much to not only shed light on what led to the enduring socio-economic and political uncertainty, but provide a much needed analysis on what may need to be done in order to avoid such relapses in the future.

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Pike's Peak an Interview with Benjamin Whitmer

By Jed Ayres
Hardboiled Wonderland

October 29, 2010

Benjamin Whitmer’s novel Pike is the most exciting, kick ass debut of the year. There, I said it, the book backs me up. Set in the harsh wilds of rural Kentucky, Ohio and on the streets of Cincinatti, Pike bristles with danger, menace, and mortal volatility. The bleak, rugged physical terrain mirrors the psychic and emotional interiors of each character who have been put through hells as diverse as the intentions that paved the way.

At the book’s opening, Douglas Pike is a hard bitten old-timer who grudgingly takes custody of the twelve year old granddaughter he’s never met on occasion of her mother’s death. The girl is as hesitant to go with him as he is to take her, but neither has many options in life. A bent cop named Derrick Kreiger murders a kid in broad daylight and incites a riot on the streets of Cincinatti. When he's suspended from the force, he goes on an end fastening mission that leaves more than a couple bodies in its wake.

The characters Whitmer assumes you'll love as much as he does do awful things. They have terrible lives and bloody comeuppance, but his skill and compassion as a writer wont let you dismiss them as irredeemable. The ferocity of this book is something special and signifies the arrival of a major new talent and voice in fiction. Put Whitmer's next one, whatever it may be, squarely at the top of my anticipation list.

With little fanfare, PM Press's Switchblade line has carved out a niche for finely crafted, hardcore crime fiction with a social awareness, and Pike ought to win them a lot of attention. Benjamin Whitmer, graciously gave his time to answer a few questions:

First off, I know it's a line in the book, but it's also the title of your blog and the name on your Twitter account - Can you explain the significance of the phrase 'Kick him, Honey'?

It's just a stupid joke with myself. It was the first of many laugh-out-loud lines I hit in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and I think at one point I had some cockamamie plan to include it in every book I ever wrote. Y'know, to ensure thematic unity through my work.

Now I've just decided to kill a dog in every book instead. I hate dogs.

Reading your author bio, it sounds like you grew up looking at the world like it was wide open - still wild - and I'd say the characters in your book do as well. They treat societal laws as either ignorable irritants or hostile encroachments on their existence, how much of the author's worldview do they represent?

That’s a great question. Growing up, my mother definitely placed a premium on freedom. I had a lot of elbow room, and there was no censorship when it came to books or ideas. She also had very little interest in arbitrary societal norms – she’s probably the least judgmental person I’ve ever met. She’s an amazing woman, and those are the greatest gifts she gave me. But, of course, that freedom came with a cost. We were very poor, and there were chunks of my childhood where we didn’t have electricity or running water, let alone health insurance or any kind of financial safety net.

For all the talk that goes on in this country about freedom, there ain’t much to be had. There’s no aspect of our lives where we’re not subject to regulation and control, and, as everybody knows, we’ve got more people in prison than any country in the world, and most of them for victimless crimes. No matter how you look at it, when it comes to tangible freedom, the kind that allows us to live how we want to live, we’re one of the least free people around. That’s something my characters grate against, and I absolutely share that with them.

But then I think of before Colorado became a state, when it was pretty much a free-for-all for white settlers. And I think of when white Denverites were worked into a frenzy against the local Indians, and the First Regiment of Colorado Volunteers massacred hundreds of peaceful Cheyenne and Arapahoe camped along Sand Creek. And I remember how when they returned to Denver with scalped women’s genitalia stretched across their saddle pommels and Indian fetuses paraded on sticks, the whole town turned out to cheer them on. That’s a kind of freedom, too. And that tension about freedom is something that's been on my mind a lot. I tried to keep it in play throughout Pike.

So was Douglas Pike based on anyone in particular? Or Derrick for that matter?

Well, Pike was based on a few people, none of whom I should I probably name for pissing 'em off. But I did actually have a kind of model for both Pike and Derrick – somebody I could imagine when I came to a mental block.

In Pike's case it was Steve Earle, circa Transcendental Blues. Earle was just out of jail, and was looking big and burly and full of menace to prove himself. For Derrick it was Waylon Jennings back in his cocaine and speed days, around the time of Honky Tonk Heroes. Honky Tonk Heroes is one of the greatest country albums ever released, but you can tell it almost killed Jennings to make it. You look at pictures of him from that time and he’s drawn thin, strung out, at the absolute stretched-out end of reason.

Those were only a kind of body double for the characters, though, if you know what I mean. I didn't try to base the characters on them or anything. It was just a way of getting myself back on track when I needed to. I probably listened to those two albums, Transcendental Blues and Honky Tonk Heroes, three or four thousand times when I was writing Pike.

What importance did the geographical setting have?

All the importance in the world. I had the characters of Pike and Wendy in my head for years but I had no idea what to do with them until my wife and I moved to Cincinnati chasing a job. My daughter was born within a couple weeks of the move, and she had colic pretty bad. We were living in a tiny two-room apartment, and my daughter would cry for four or five hours at a clip, so when I was home from work I'd take her for walks – it was about the only thing that would calm her down – and let my poor exhausted wife get a little rest. We ended up walking all over the city at all times of day and night. Where we lived wasn't a real bad area, but we were bordering a lot of neighborhoods that were, so I'd throw a handgun in my diaper bag and we'd just roam for hours on end. It was then, walking around and looking at the city, that the story started to fall into place.

I always tell my daughter that she can't read Pike quite yet – she's only six – but that she's already been to all the locations. I don't think it's done her too much damage, anyway. She asks me for Cincinnati stories almost every night after storytime.

The beginning of the book places us secure in our sympathies with Pike and set firmly against Derrick, but by the end of the book, Pike's character and history challenge our loyalties to him while Derrick's revealed motives endear him a little bit. In your mind was one character clearly the sympathetic one?

No, not at all. I feel like I probably shouldn’t say this in polite company, but I love them both for exactly who they are. As I see it, that’s one of the differences between crime fiction and police procedurals, forensic whodunits, lone hero serials and all the other stuff (some of which I very much enjoy, for the record): with crime fiction, there don’t have to be good guys and bad guys. Instead, you can put motivation at the forefront and make crime a part of character, creating – at least in my mind – much richer, if maybe more disturbing, stories.

I know there are certainly times in my life when I haven’t been at my best. And I know plenty of people who managed to fuck themselves up real good and/or destroy the lives of those around them. But I’ve never met a single person who set out to do so. Every major fuck up I ever met was the product of poor circumstances, bad choices, and whatever flaws and damage they carried with them. I’m not sure you can pinpoint those bad choices or that damage, and in the case of fiction I don’t have much interest in trying – I’m not real interested in writing psychological whydunits, either – but it’s always there.

Those are the kind of people who interest me: heavily flawed, complicated, violent people, doing what they can with what little they have. Straight good guys and bad guys may exist, but I’ve never seen them outside of comic books. (And, come to think, most comic books are more complicated than that these days.)

Is Crime Writer, a tag you're happy to wear?

Yessir, no doubt about it. My next book actually won’t be a crime book; I’m co-writing Charlie Louvin’s autobiography for Igniter Books – which is about as exciting as it gets for me, being a hardcore country music fan. But after that I’ve got a second novel just about done, a third half done, and I’m researching for the fourth, and they’re all crime novels. They may be a little off center – at least I hope so – but they’re definitely crime novels.

Besides which, one thing I’ve learned over the past month is just how generous the crime fiction community is. I’d probably go broke if I tried to buy Keith Rawson and Brian Lindenmuth all the drinks I owe ‘em. Not to mention Switchblade editor Gary Phillips, who I just got to meet in person, and the rest of the folks at PM Press. And, of course, all the people who've been kind enough to contact me and give me their reaction to the book. I've been blown away, and there’s no way I’d want to jump ship.

And, not to be snide, and I hope it doesn’t come across that way, but if you set copies of the latest releases from, say, Jonathon Franzen and James Ellroy in front of me, I’m reading the Ellroy first. I may very well like the Franzen, I may even think it lives up to the reviews, but I’m reading the Ellroy first. I know that crime fiction’s one of the few places left in literature where we can still talk unironically about things like class, race, corruption, the meaning of violence, the consequences of history, and all the other stuff that moves me, so I’m reading the Ellroy first.

So, yeah, the crime writer tag is something I’m more than happy to wear. I’m very proud of it, and I just hope I live up to it.

How did you get hooked up with Louvin? And not to sound grim, but is there a rush to finish the book or a contingency plan in place if he doesn't see it to completion?

It was actually out of nowhere. Igniter Books is an imprint of HarperCollins run by Neil Strauss and Anthony Bozza, and they wanted to do a Charlie Louvin book, so Strauss contacted my agent and asked if he had any writers who’d be interested in the project. I, of course, jumped at the chance, and we sent Strauss and Bozza some excerpts from Pike. Long story short, they said lots of really nice things about the book, and the job was mine.

As to contingency plans, I don’t think there’ll be any need. Charlie and I have been working really hard and talking a lot, true, but he has more fight in him than I ever thought possible. I mean, it’s pancreatic cancer, so it’s a rough deal, but with the grace and strength he shows every day I have trouble believing he’s going anywhere soon. Maybe I’m fooling myself, but he’s pretty amazing.

Two of the characters in the book are a little pre-occupied with pedophilia - Wendy as a threat and Derrick as a flashpoint for violence - yet the closest thing to a healthy relationship described in Pike involves a grown man and an underaged girl. Care to unpack that a little?

I'm not sure I can, it's just kind of the way the story played out. One thing I would say is that I'm not sure that relationship is very healthy. I don’t want to give anything away for those who haven’t read the book, but that grown man has his own past he’s trying to redeem. Redemption, at least as it gets presented in a lot of fiction, looks like a tremendously violent process. It’s almost like an act of consumption. I mean if you’re redeeming your own fuck ups through the figure of someone else, you’re basically devouring them into your own life story, right?

Certainly the relationship would still be a stumbling point from any reader's point of view, but in the context of the world of the book, of where the characters come from and what they've dealt with, it holds the unique position of not already having destroyed those involved. It seemed to me one more instance of these characters' disdain for the law - of society of the heart - whatever. And how about the law - Jack, the sheriff? What kind of sympathy or esteem do you as the author have for him?

Ah, I got you. Yeah, I think that’s right. Pike certainly thinks that if the relationship is helpful to the grown man and the girl than society has no place getting involved. And that makes sense. As a society we’re real good at shoveling people into prison, but we have no interest in taking care of kids who are abandoned, abused, or starvation-level poor. It just doesn’t come up in the national discourse, except in the breathless horseshit that runs out of 20/20, Oprah (there goes the book club), or whatever. When you’re down to that level, you survive any way you can, and I think Pike would find passing judgment to be hypocritical at best. Of course, Derrick, he’s not real good at nuance in this case – like most people, I suppose – but sometimes things are more complicated than they look from the outside.

As to Jack, the Sheriff, he’s made his own poor choices, I think. Like the rest of them, he kind of blundered into who he is, and now he’s paying for it. I found him sympathetic, for sure. He’s done the best he could with what he had, it's just that what he had turned out to be inadequate. Which, I guess, it usually is.

How did you become involved with PM Press and the Switchblade line?

It was just good timing, really. My agent had been sending Pike around for awhile, and we couldn’t get anyone to bite. We got lots of really nice rejection notes, but they all ended with “way too dark for us.” I have a friend, however, who knows Ramsey Kanaan, the founder of PM Press, and he knew they were looking for books in the vein of Pike. I passed the information on to my agent, he sent it the manuscript off to the folks over there, and they took it. I was really, really excited, of course, and more than a little relieved. I was starting to think it was going to end up collecting dust in the bottom drawer of my desk for the rest of my life.

How long was it between finishing the book and seeing it published?

It was a while. I think three and a half years, maybe a little more.

And in the meantime what kept you occupied?

Well, I’ve got two small children, so that means I’m pretty much always occupied. But I also just kept plugging away. I wrote a second novel, and accidentally got about halfway through a third, and then for the last couple of months it’s been all Charlie Louvin all the time. My career plan as a writer is to make up for my deficiencies of natural talent with pure tenacity. I just figured if I kept grinding away, sooner or later somebody’d want what I was writing. Or, if not, than no harm done, because it gave me something to do that was reasonably harmless – depending on who you ask, anyway – and which I love doing. Some people live for racing cars, some people for building guitars, some people for cooking, this is what keeps me together.

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Calling All Heroes on BiblioBuffet

By Nicki Leone
October 31, 2010

It’s All About Who Has the Guns

"These were the mightiest men ever born upon this earth: mightiest were they, and when they fought the fiercest tribes of mountain savages they utterly overthrew them. I came from distant Pylos, and went about among them, for they would have me come, and I fought as it was in me to do. Not a man now living could withstand them, but they heard my words, and were persuaded by them."
–Nestor, to the Achaeans, The Iliad, Book I
1968. Mention it and the words that come to mind are violent: Protest. Riot. Militants. War. Assassination. Revolution. In the United States it was the year of the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, the assassination of Martin Luther King.  University campuses were disrupted by student rallies. The Civil Rights Movement was never civil. The Peace Movement, rarely peaceful.

Americans may be forgiven for thinking only of the troubles within their borders, but the unrest of 1968, the agitation, was worldwide. There were student protests against oppressive governments in Rome and Poland in the spring. In Berlin in April. Leeds University in England was brought to a standstill in May. May of ‘68 became the byword of student rebellion and wildcat strikes in Paris—what they called the Situationist International—a revolution of truly Parisian style, lead by avant-garde militants and using the arts to set up “experimental situations” (mostly of socialist design).

And, on October 2, 1968, just ten days before the Summer Olympics was to open in Mexico City, police forces shot into a crowd of students in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco section of the city, killings hundreds of people and effectively ending the rising revolts that had been orchestrated across more than seventy universities and preparatory schools in Mexico by an ad hoc organization of university students called The National Strike Council (Consejo Nacional de Huelga, or CNH). They were demonstrating against government interference in university autonomy—in effect, they were demonstrating for the right of freedom of expression, a right that had been ruthlessly curtailed as the government tried to prepare for the coming Olympics and tried to put on a good face for the rest of the world.

Student protests—like youth—have a way of flashing brightly and burning away to ash, but the CNH rebellion was better organized and more effective than the spontaneous rallies and riots that flared up in Rome, Berlin, or the campus of Columbia University, in New York City. The Beatles may have been singing about revolution, but the students at Vocational School #5 in Mexico City, the National Autonomous University of Mexico, or the Polytechnic Institute campus in Zacatenco were actually reaching for it.

The difference between a riot and a revolution, it turns out, is all in who has the guns. On the night of what is now called the Tlatelolco Massacre, over ten thousand people had gathered for a rally, hoping to bring their cause to the international community. (¡No queremos olimpiadas, queremos revolución! “We don’t want Olympic games, we want revolution!”). The protestors were surrounded by military forces—including armored cars and tanks. Snipers from the Presidential Guard shot into the crowd to give the military the excuse to fire, and panic ensued. Estimates of the number killed range from forty to over a thousand, with “several hundred” being the most commonly cited number. Most of the leaders of the CNH were arrested, the massacre itself was erased from official records,  and the student movement fell apart.

In the way that the Martin Luther King assassination or Kent State has marked most Americans, the Tlatelolco Massacre remains a pivotal moment in Mexican politics—a point of anguish for those left to contemplate the ruins of their “revolution.” Paco Ignatio Taibo II was one of these. “At the beginning of 1969,” he writes “Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, vulture on a throne of skulls, reigned in Mexico. The student movement, massacred in the Casco de Santo Tomas, in the Plaza de la Cuidadela, in Tlatelelco, at Military Camp Number one—overthrown politically because it was unable to ally itself with the worker movement in the major cities—was in disarray. Thus began the long ebb after a struggle of 123 days in which thousands of Mexicans had come to life as human beings.”

Taibo II, who had been in the ’68 movement, did what a leftist intellectual, political insurgent literary critic and poet would do. He tried to put it all into a novel. The revolution, the defeat, the despair: “In defeat, we could only take refuge inside ourselves and in a bleak militancy for the hope of future fulfillment of the dreams of those 123 days. Under these deplorable conditions, this shortest of novels was created.” Taibo II then writes that he put the manuscript away in a drawer, pulling it out three more times over the next dozen years to rewrite it completely.

The result, Calling All Heroes: A Manual for Taking Power, may still be the “shortest of novels” but it lives up to each of the implications in its title.  Although one can’t help but wonder if the embittered author who penned the first draft in 1969 would recognize the final product, published in Spanish in 1982, or the English translation I just read, which came out this year.

The book is about one of those failed revolutionaries, two years after all the hopes for the movement have been swept away with ruthless efficiency by that vulture on the throne of skulls. Néstor, the disillusioned revolutionary, has walked away from his political compatriots and taken up a career in what he calls “yellow journalism”—reporting on the trivially sensational rather than the truth. In that capacity, he runs afoul of a serial killer who, predictably, guts him and gets away. Néstor is left to recuperate in hospital with nothing to think about but past failures.

In a haze of depression and drugs, Néstor decides that the revolution failed because it had no heroes. When friends—equally failed revolutionaries—come to visit him and sneak him cigarettes, their talk is full of movies they’ve seen and the endless low-level corruption of the state. “I’m going to get everyone together and we’re going to kick their ass.” Néstor announces. Who? wonder his friends. The heroes, he says.

And once this is decided, the novel slides effortlessly into the kind of fantastic reality that seems so plausible in Latin American literature and so contrived almost anywhere else.  Néstor starts writing letters, (well, dictating them—he’s still too weak to write but not too weak to talk to a beautiful ex-girlfriend who brings him things) calling to action the great heroes of the age. And no, we are not talking about Lenin. His letters are to people at once more familiar and more strange. Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Dick Turpin, also known as “The Highwayman.” Sandokan, Prince of Borneo, and his Tigers of Malaysia. The Mau Mau cheiftans of Kenya. The entire Light Brigade. D’Artagnan along with Athos, Porthos and Aramis. Sherlock Holmes (but not Doctor Watson. No, for this occasion Holmes is requested to bring not the Doctor, but the Hound).

They all come, of course. For their own reasons, but they come. They are all heroes, after all. Men of action and steadfast heart. And Néstor from his hospital bed prepares to unleash all the fury of literature down upon the corrupt and unsuspecting forces of the government. (Holmes and the Hound get the job of assassinating the President).

Néstor does not call on his former comrades to come into the plan. They have had their chance, after all, and they failed. He also does not make detailed plans for a revolutionary government—that is part of what failed in the first place; everyone argued about the new regime before the revolution had even been fought, much less won. No, Néstor’s plans are more direct this time. Cause chaos. Make the vultures pay.

Remove the yoke, and let the people rise. “You had to trust in the spontaneity of the people," he thinks, (because if you didn’t believe in that, then what the hell could a veteran of ’68 believe in), and add to it the precision of clockwork, a few touches of humor, a dose of the absurd, and a lot of vengeance.”

It is a description that accurately describes the novel, which is told in short chapters that alternate between flashes of rising suspense and epistolary accounts after the fact. It may be a description that accurately describes how to take power. There is quite a lot of humor (the Mau Maus get lost), and quite a lot of vengeance. I confess I’ve never seen Sherlock Holmes in quite such a ruthless light. Néstor has given his side the guns, and put them in the hands of men not afraid to fire.

Whether or not the revolution is successful is for the reader to decide. It is certainly entertaining to read, and not without its many moments of absurdity, humor, and pathos. It was begun by men who tend to succeed in what they do (the vulture on the throne of skulls doesn’t have a chance). But its success is not measured in buildings stormed or police brigades slaughtered, however satisfying that feels. Success is in whether or not revolution is the fire in which people “come to life as human beings” -- and that is something each individual human being can only do for himself.

But I can’t argue with the author’s idea that literature is the best way to kindle that fire.

Books mentioned in this column:
Calling All Heroes: A Manual for Taking Power (a novel) by Paco Ignatio Taibo II, translated by Gregory Nipper (PM Press, 2010)

Nicki works for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, developing marketing and outreach programs for independent bookstores. She has been a book reviewer for several magazines, her local public radio station, and local television stations. She was one of the founders of The Cape Fear Crime Festival, and currently serves as President of the Board of Trustees of the North Carolina Writers Network, and as Managing Editor of BiblioBuffet. Plus, she blogs at Will Read for Food.

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Pike: Best Book of the Year

By Charlie Stella
Temporary Knucksline

November 1, 2010

TK Special Review: The best book of the year … Pike, Benjamin Whitmer (PM Press)


It is rare, but there are times when a writer comes along who is so good one has to take special notice of him and his work. Recently I came across a few mentions about a book titled Pike by Benjamin Whitmer. Then I saw his Dancing with Myself interview over at Nigel’s joint, Sea Minor and thought he was interesting. I Googled for reviews of his book, Pike, and found this one in Spinetingler magazine.

Intrigued enough to make a purchase, I was fortunate to find the book on Kindle (although the formatting here wasn’t great—some run-in words, missing words, etc.). I had been reading Lermontov’s A Hero For Our Time (one of the kindle cheapies), but wasn’t enjoying it the way I had hoped. First chance I had, I gave Pike a look-see and found myself so engrossed with the story AND THE WRITING I hadn’t moved from where I was sitting (on the bench at the gym) and my legs went numb.

When I could focus on Pike again, I did so straight through to the end. Most of yous know how I feel about writing awards (across the board). While I’m glad for friends when they’re nominated and/or win, I don’t believe in any writing award (mostly because the sheer volume of books published in any given year precludes genuine vetting, but add the politics of the business to the scenario and what you're left with is ... well, it isn't legit). I’m afraid Pike will prove my point (since I seriously doubt the powers that be behind the politics of writing awards will give this wonderful book a fair shake). While Temporary Knucksline is no literary review or committee or anything other than a dopey blog (like all the other dopey blogs out there), it is going to award this novel the following: The best book of 2010 … hands fucking down.

Pike is more than a dark story about dark characters; it is the most impressive writing to come along in quite a while. Work like this belongs in English literature classes (certainly as required reading in any MFA coursework). For anyone into the darker slices of life, Pike will serve as a future template for crime writers exploring the real world.

Certain writers should be required reading in schools the way certain movies should be required viewing in schools (American History X, etc.). Pike is one of those books … the way Cormac McCarthy's works have etched their way into our literary Americana, so does Whitmer’s Pike belong there. This is superb writing, start to finish. Absolutely mesmerizing. This morning I reread Pike during my commute because it is really that good.

I’ll probably reread it again before the end of the week.

I never heard of PM Press or Benjamin Whitmer or Pike before bouncing around these dopey blogs we all write. If there was ever a good reason for them (these dopey blogs) books like Pike are it. This is more than highly recommended reading, amci. Reading this book is a Temporary Knucksline demand.

Hands down the best book I’ve read this year … I shit yous not.

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Some Thoughts on Synthesis and Political Identity

By Abbey Volcano

Theory in Action Special Issue: Building Bridges Between Anarchism and Marxism, William T. Armaline and Deric Shannon (eds.) Vol. 3, No. 4, October 2010

A Review of Wobblies & Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History, by Staughton Lynd and Andrej Grubacic

Wobblies & Zapatistas is a long and inspiring conversation between Andrej Grubacic, an anarchist historian from the Balkans, and Staughton Lynd, a longtime Marxist organizer from the U.S.  The conversation veers between many controversial and relevant topics for contemporary radicals. In this review, I will write about a few that stuck out to me for one reason or another.  Regardless of any criticism in this review, the book, overall, is very good and highly recommended reading for contemporary believers in other worlds organized more sanely and compassionately than our current one.

A major theme throughout these conversations between Grubacic and Lynd is the notion of a “synthesis” of anarchism and Marxism that will hopefully be able to revive and rebuild a radical Left movement in the States.  Grubacic writes, “We have insisted on the usefulness of reviving a synthesis between anarchism and Marxism that should combine prefigurative direct action and coherent structural understanding.[i]”  With this notion, the authors set the stage for anarchism to be articulated as a theory that lacks a “coherent structural understanding.”  “Anarchism” needs to be qualified here. After all, anarchism has been used to describe very different theories and practices that articulate their “anarchism” quite differently. The anarchist milieu is filled with many competing tendencies that are often at odds with each other: insurrectionary anarchism, green anarchism, primitivism, anti-civilization, individualist anarchism, social anarchism, class-struggle anarchism, pro-organizational anarchism, etc. The authors of Black Flame[ii] respond to this hodge-podge of theories by recognizing this problem and arguing for a “broad anarchist tradition” which places anarchism as a social movement that has its roots in the mid-19th century socialist Left, with writers such as Bakunin and Kropotkin. Interestingly, the authors of Black Flame have a fairly narrow definition for their “broad” anarchist definition which displaces (precludes?) figures such as Proudhon, Stirner, Tucker, and Tolstoy since they did not employ a class-struggle anarchism based in social movements.

Perhaps Lynd thinks that anarchism lacks coherence since the term can be used to describe so many different (anarchist) theories (although having points of unity such as anti-capitalism and anti-statism). That may be a valid point, but since there are so many different “anarchisms” then one cannot really write about “anarchism” as a monolithic and coherent theory and then try to critique it. Anarchism needs to be qualified in this sense. For instance, Lynd implies anarchism is merely anti-state:

…”anarchism” is an inadequate term to describe what the new movement, or movements, affirm. Like the Haymarket anarchists, like the IWW, those who travel long distances to confront the capitalists of the world at their periodic gatherings, are not only opposed to “the state.” They are equally opposed to capitalism, the wage system, and corporate imperialism[iii].

What distinguishes anarchism from other radical political theories is its rejection of hierarchy in and of itself. Anarchism is not merely anti-state or anti-capitalist. We are against domination, coercion and hierarchical control in all of their (sometimes invisible) manifestations. We struggle against white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, etc.  Anarchism calls for change on the structural, cultural and conceptual levels—of course we aim to destroy the state and capitalism, but we also aim to contract different and egalitarian social relationships that would make racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, etc. things of the past. We also create new social relationships, ones that mirror the future society we wish to live in, inasmuch as we can while living under the institutions that we have inherited. Conceptually, we aim to kill the cop in our head—a la the famous Situationist slogan.

Lynd explains why anarchism needs Marxism, but much of his argument is based on the misconception that anarchism is without theory and disorganized.  For instance, Lynd writes, “…I am worried that in the absence of theory, many of those who protest in the streets today may turn out to be sprinters rather than long-distance runners.[iv]”  In many instances Lynd would be correct, but his analysis erases certain strains of anarchism that are deeply committed to structural change and have coherent theories. Strategy is complex when it comes to anarchism. Unlike vulgar Marxism which has a clear trajectory and steps to arrive at “The Revolution,” anarchism is known for its self-reflexivity and our constant task of reassessing and, when in need, reformulating our goals and tactics and strategies to arrive at them. In this sense then, anarchism is in many ways experimentation, which does not translate into “theory-lessness” or incoherence.

Lynd supports the idea of experimentation in relation to social movements and their tactics, but at the same time, he insists that this experimentation needs to be “supplemented” with a structural analysis, by which he means that anarchism (the experiment) needs Marxism (the structural analysis): “As the new movement grows in dozens of scattered settings, so the anarchist mode of putting down roots in a variety of locations will need to be supplemented by structural analysis that helps us to prioritize, to concentrate resources, to abandon unsuccessful experiments without condemning persons who undertook them on behalf of us all.[v]” This is problematic because it paints anarchism as a nice idea that needs help to function. This is the synthesis of anarchism and Marxism. Anarchism is the free-spirited idealist that has a big stake in making our means consistent with our ends (i.e. focusing on prefigurative politics), but we are vague and theory-less and therefore “require” Marxism, the theory-giver and strategy-maker (which is the point Lynd is making when he writes “…I am convinced that anarchism needs Marxism.[vi]”)

The main point I’m making here is that there are articulations of anarchism that have a strong structural analysis and visions for a future society and how to get there. I would name these articulations class-struggle, pro-organizational anarchisms that employ an intersectional analysis and that struggle against domination, coercion and hierarchical control on the structural, cultural and conceptual levels. I’m not sure why these articulations of anarchism would “need” Marxism.

A more interesting question is, Do we need to frame the debate in this way? Queer theory has shown us that identity is complex and not always useful or liberatory. In many ways, identity constrains us. For example, in the realm of sexuality, we are given three boxes with which to understand our sexuality: hetero, homo and bi. The confusion and angst experienced when one tries to “figure out” which box they belong in can be dismantled when we remove these boxes as well as the desire to have such boxes. For instance, there are many types of sexualities that are erased when we are (only) given these boxes to choose from. Some sexualities are organized around desires that aren’t necessarily gender-based (i.e., BDSM, non-monogamy, fetish-sex, etc). As well, we come to identify ourselves through our erotic (gendered) desires. Instead of sexuality being something you do/act/perform, it becomes something we are. We are lesbian, gay, or bi. Instead, we could be people that happen to perform certain sexual acts at some points and other sexual acts at other points—those acts need not define us. This is the difference between saying “I am” and “I do.” There is a huge potential for liberation and freedom within the seemingly simple change in orientation from “I am” to “I do.”

How does this pertain to Marxism and anarchism you may be wondering? Similar to the ways we’ve learned to identify (i.e., create static boxes that cage us and our potential) by our sexuality, we have also learned to identify by our political “identity.” The dialogue in Wobblies & Zapatistas uses a discourse where anarchism is put neatly into a box and Marxism is put neatly into another box. In reality, it is much more complex than that (just like with sexuality). What does it mean to say “this is anarchism” and “this is Marxism”? Doesn’t this just create neat little boxes with political identity now? Grubacic and Lynd are calling for a synthesis of the two traditions. This does bridge them, but it also reifies the rigidity of political ideology. In many ways, pro-organizational class-struggle anarchism is already doing what this synthesis calls for.

There are two issues with this synthesis. First, anarchism is being discussed as though it is a monolithic political ideology that is essentially anti-state and not much else. Secondly, borders are being erected as to what anarchism and Marxism are and are not, and then it is concluded that they “need” each other. If we learn anything from queer theory it’s that identities are fluid and this includes political identities. What does it mean to have a bounded “Anarchism” and “Marxism” when these are ideas that already bleed into each other in practice? Furthermore, we need a bunch of theories to pull from if we are going to be able to address and struggle against the complex problems in today’s society. We will need to pull from queer theory, feminism, critical race theory, radical environmental theories, disability studies, etc. Grubacic touches on this when he writes, “…this would mean accepting the need for a diversity of high theoretical perspectives, united only by certain shared understandings.[vii]” As well, we can see with Staughton himself that a good deal of anarchist prefigurative politics and experimentation has bled into his Marxism when he writes, “Accordingly, we should be gentle with ourselves if solutions to such problems do not emerge overnight. A period of experimentation, of trial and error, seems to me inevitable[viii]” and “We must allow spontaneity and experiment without fear of humiliation and disgrace. Not only our organizing but our conduct toward one another must be paradigmatic in engineering a sense of truly being brothers and sisters.[ix]” So too, many of Lynd’s responses to Grubacic’s questions incorporate a heavy reliance on anarchist prefiguration: “You have asked me to set out my thoughts about, How can we rebuild the movement today? I do so with humility. The answers will be demonstrated in practice.[x]”

An important aspect of anarchism is, perhaps, best articulated in the old IWW axiom “building a new world in the shell of the old”. This is crucial for a couple of reasons. One, we need to experiment with new relationships and structures in the here-and-now so we can see what works and what doesn’t—what is useful and what is not.  In the same light, why would anyone fight for something they did not have faith in? The first question I get from people who ask me what anarchism is or what it means is usually “But, how would that work? What would that society look like?” After I give a few examples, the follow-up response is usually, “How would anything get done without someone being in charge?” This communicates two very important things. One, we need vision. Two, we need proof, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, that organization and decision-making is best left in the hands of those who are affected by the decisions. Lynd shares this sentiment well:

               Additionally, I believe passionately that it is unfair and unrealistic to expect poor and oppressed people, or, for that matter, anyone else, ardently to desire and sacrifice for something they have not experienced. We learn, as the poet John Keats once said, from what we experience “on our pulses.” How can we expect people to hunger and thirst for something new and different if they have never even had a moment to experience it, to taste it, to live inside it?[xi]

               I agree that there is needed a “vision,” but I do not think ordinary persons bleed and die for a vision that they have not experienced. I think the vision must be rooted in daily life, and if it is not, nothing will happen. If the vision is the seed, daily life is the soil.[xii]

Lynd gives some beautiful responses to complex questions from Grubacic about how to rebuild a relevant and revolutionary movement today. Lynd writes, “Lastly, something that neither Marxists or anarchist have been very good at: We need to proceed in a way that builds community.[xiii]” It is stressed throughout this conversation that what we need, as Marxists and/or anarchists, is to organize locally and relevantly in mass-oriented and diverse ways… something far beyond summit-hopping[xiv]. Another stressed notion is that of a need for a coherent and shared vision of a future society[xv]. Not shared as in “uniform,” but shared as in “diverse and complementary.”

Other themes visited throughout this conversation between Andrej Grubacic and Staughton Lynd are the notions of accompaniment and the role of radical intellectuals, the role of women in radical movements, class unity that sometimes exists despite white racism, etc. The book is packed with conversations about issues that directly impact modern radicals and visionaries. For this alone, it is well-worth the time investment to read it. The text is mainly Lynd answering difficult and relevant questions that Grubacic has posed with storytelling. We are lucky that someone has captured the stories of Staughton and Alice Lynd, two lovers who shared amazing experiences organizing and struggling along with thousands of other folks throughout the 1960s and into today. We have a lot to learn from Grubacic and Lynd, despite, perhaps, taking issue with their proposed synthesis.

[i] p. 103

[ii] Michael Schmidt and Lucien Van der Walt, Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2009).

[iii] p. 19

[iv] p. 42, emphasis added

[v] p. 114

[vi] p. 46

[vii] p. 43

[viii] p. 105

[ix] p. 115

[x] p. 104

[xi] p. 50

[xii] p. 99

[xiii] p. 114

[xiv] p. 88-90

[xv] p. 98

Buy this book now | Download e-Book now | Back to Andrej Grubacic's Page | Back to Staughton Lynd's Page

The Angry Brigade on Living Scotsman
12 October 2010

It is said there are three things that the British do worse than their continental cousins: railways, fascism, and porn.

To the list could be added terrorism. This re-edition of Gordon Carr's history of the Angry Brigade, Britain's first urban guerrilla group, plunges us back into a time when a group of middle-class drop-outs thought that bullets and sticks of dynamite could rouse the western working class from its slumber.

Between 1970 and 1972, the "Angries" targeted government ministers, police stations and army barracks, embassies of 'oppressive' regimes, a Biba boutique and the Miss World contest. Only one person was hurt, and sometimes the damage was so minimal that, in the case of the London embassy of Franco's Spain, the alert was only raised by a cleaning lady some days later. The ambition of this home-grown group was, however, melodramatic and megalomaniacal. In one of their communiqués, they declared: "We have sat quietly and suffered the violence of the system for too long. We are being attacked daily." This campaign was masterminded by former members of the Kim Philby Dining Club at Cambridge University, who graduated to squatting and stealing students' cheque books.

The "Stoke Newington 8" were soon arrested. But despite their hatred of "the system'" they hid behind claims of innocence, exploited legal technicalities and, thanks to the very British leniency of the judge, turned the longest criminal trial in this country's history into a political circus where they could throw insulting remarks at the "pigs." It is the latter who emerge as the real heroes of this story, as Carr describes in detail the painstaking way in which they prepared and obtained convictions. Indeed, the only positive contribution made by the Angry Brigade was the creation of the Bomb Squad, which would be of great use against the infinitely more deadly threat of Irish republicanism.

Britain's urban guerillas never enjoyed the doomed chic of the Baader Meinhof Gang and the Red Brigades, who attracted genuine sympathy for their struggle against a state machinery still steeped in fascism. Unlike some of their continental counterparts, they did not go on to make an impact in mainstream politics. Under an adopted name, Anna Mendelson has received considerable acclaim for her poetry, but her cultural impact cannot rival that of another Kim Philby diner, one Tony Wilson, late owner of Situationist-inspired night club, the Haçienda.

In a self-serving addendum, Stuart Christie remarks that at least he and his comrades were not "Bolshevik psychos." But on Clydeside in 1972, Jimmy Reid and his fellow "psychos" had the gumption and guts to achieve something more lasting than anything that emerged from a dope and dole-dependent hippie commune in London.

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Tunnel People on [tk] reviews

Notes From the Underground
By Jessica Freeman-Slade
[tk] reviews
Issue VI, October 2010

When in 1906 the journalist Upton Sinclair released his novel The Jungle, critical of unsafe labor as well as meatpacking practices, he found himself disappointed by its reception: reform came not for the workers, but for the meat. Sinclair discovered readers were more interested in the bestseller’s exposé of unsanitary meatpacking practices than its searing portrait of the horrors of factory life; he noted, “I aimed at the public’s heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach.” When faced with exposés such as Sinclair’s, or Teun Voeten’s Tunnel People (PM Press, $24.95), it often proves less difficult for readers to stick with the unsightly details than to confront the book’s larger, more terrifying issues. Yet in Voeten’s book, whose central focus is the humanity of the tunnel people, it is impossible, dishonest, and ultimately the reader’s loss, to look away.

First published in Amsterdam in 1996, and now available in its first American edition, Voeten’s book details his experiences of cohabiting and corresponding with the residents of New York’s Amtrak tunnels from 1994-1996. Beneath Riverside Park, Voeten is led through the underground by a handful of guides. Its denizens become as familiar as family: most memorable are the affable Bernard, “New York’s most famous homeless man,” and the poetic Julio, who defends his albums of Beethoven, Mozart, and Tchaikovsky from marauding rats. Not every figure in this world is endearing—Voeten takes great pains to describe the ominously absent Bob, an insatiable speed addict whose vacated tunnel abode Voeten uses during his reporting, and the elusive Kool-Aid Kid, who leaves a trace of green Kool-Aid in every camp he vandalizes. Most of the people Voeten meets are far from caricatures: Frankie and Ment, two teenage boys who greet him with a baseball bat yet quickly decide to share their dinner, and Kathy and Joe, one of the few couples in the tunnel community, who carve out a domestic life in the most unlikely of circumstances.

When early stories emerged about the tunnel people they were labeled “mole people” and “CHUDS” (cannibalistic human underground dwellers). As Voeten notes, “There were urban legends about subway maintenance workers who had disappeared without a trace, having met their final destiny on the roasting spits of starving savages.” Yet Voeten’s subjects are anything but monsters, or even case studies: they are his neighbors. Voeten is humane and sympathetic at every level of his reporting, never patronizing, always aware of the choices these people have made. (Though he does not shy away from identifying the crack and heroin users in the bunch, he never attempts to change their stories or convince them to quit.) These are vibrant, funny, and often deeply self-aware people, cognizant that their situation is one they’ve created for themselves. Bernard, a philosopher to his very core, says, “One thing made me really sad—in the tunnels I never encountered a real human that accepted his fate. Most people here allow their past to haunt them. . . . I never saw here any spiritual growth.”

Voeten’s extraordinary tunnel photography demonstrates the macabre, labyrinthine quality of these quarters and this life, but nothing in his portrait is sugarcoated. Voeten details the disparity between what he found in portrayals of the homeless by mainstream media and reality:

The slapdash folder of the Coalition mentions that:

•    One out of five homeless people has a job but cannot afford housing.
•    One out of three homeless is a veteran.
•    Women and children are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

    From my own experience and from what the tunnel people have told me about their fellows, combined with data from sociological research and literature, I reach different conclusions:

•    More than fifty percent of all homeless have some kind of criminal past, are on parole or are fugitives.
•    Most homeless who say they are veterans have hardly seen a battlefield, or have been discharged from the service for all kind of reasons.
•    Ninety-five percent of the money you throw in that paper cup will be spent on crack.

It’s hard to read this book without getting mired in the thought that hundreds of thousands of people today have recently begun to think of themselves the way the tunnel people do—as on the fringe, better off scavenging for what they can get, with nothing significant on the horizon to keep them afloat. In light of the recession’s effects, and with the number of homeless families skyrocketing, tunnel life still seems a viable alternative to life on the increasingly crowded streets. As Voeten notes, then as now, it is nearly impossible to get a real sense of the homeless population—“families who are camping out in the highly crowded rooms in welfare hotels but still have some privacy are technically not homeless. The alcoholics who live in cheap motels in rooms of thirty square feet, or the poor black families who are cramped into squats are also not considered homeless. Overlooked in most studies and surveys are the ‘couch people,’ those who have lost their homes and are staying on the couches of friends or relatives.” In a study conducted in 2009, the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that on a typical October night, there are as many as 730,000 homeless people on the streets. That’s up from the 1996 statistic of 444,000 people, the year Voeten concluded his research. There’s nothing to suggest that the problem is abating—if anything, it’s exploding. And though the tunnels may have closed, their former residents seemed to anticipate this problem. “Bernard gazes up toward the grate. ‘Here it was a Heaven of Harmony. It became a Heaven of Headaches,’ he says dramatically. The sunlight falls down and lightens up his silhouette against the dark tunnel walls. With his high forehead and bald patch, his straight nose, and his powerful chin he looks like a stern prophet from the Old Testament. ‘But who am I to complain about chaos? Even God has to accept the existence of chaos.’”
In the summer of 1995, the tunnel people were evicted by Amtrak, once seemingly unconcerned so long as the trains continued to run on time. With the American edition, Voeten has added an epilogue updating us on his main characters. Some have restarted their lives, kicking drug habits and finding apartments through the Housing Works program. Others have died, horribly, of AIDS, violence, and continued exposure to street conditions. And some are still roaming, their whereabouts unknown. It is hard to know if any of the many reporters covering the tunnel people invested as much as Voeten in these people’s futures, “canning” with them, defending them against investigations by social services, and even smoking crack with them. Voeten’s journalistic objectivity can be questioned, but not his commitment to this story and these people. He seems to understand, perhaps better than his readers ever could, just how much these underground safety nets can mean to the people who benefit from their shelter. But more importantly, he has found a way to show us the tunnel people not by their statistical trademarks—drug addiction, alcoholism, crime, and AIDS—but rather through their humanity, their talents, their extraordinary attitudes of good humor and hope.

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North American tour raises awareness of successful social justice organizations

Community and Resistance tour stops in Greensboro
The Pendulum
by Marlena Chertock
October 5, 2010

On the night of Sept. 30, students from Elon University, Guilford College and UNC Greensboro and local social justice activists gathered in a community center in Greensboro to hear two traveling social justice organizers speak.

The discussion by two participants of the Community and Resistance Tour, which works to raise awareness of social justice organizations' successes, was held in the Hive, which serves as an office and event space for several Greensboro social justice organizers.

The tour started in August and has visited 65 cities in 80 days. It will continue through mid-December, according to Vikki Law, one of the tour's main speakers.

"We've been doing a city a day," Law said. "In the past week we've gone from Milwaukee to Atlanta and up to the Durham/Greensboro area.


The other speaker, Jordan Flaherty, explained the tour's goal.

"The idea is we want to spread stories of people coming together, the ways in which people have actually been successful," Flaherty said.

"We know the problems, but there is not a lot of talk of what solutions are.


Law agreed with Flaherty.

"We're trying to share stories of social justice struggles and also the victories," she said.

"We don't, as a movement, savor our victories."

The mission is to spread and multiply the success, according to Flaherty.

"Hopefully we'll inspire people to document and share these stories of resistance," Law said. "It shouldn't just be a handful of people. It should be spontaneity, people rising up together, solidarity."

Law got involved in social justice work while researching women's prisons. She said most of the information she found was about what male prisoners were doing to resist.

"I started asking around, 'What are women doing?'" Law said. "The answer flabbergasted me. People told me women in prison aren't resisting, aren't organizing. I said this can't be true.


She said she researched more and found that women prisoners actually do organize, but there are efforts to silence them. The women prisoners organized most strongly against sexual abuse in prisons, according to Law.

Law gave several examples of women prisoners driving their guards out and demanding better living and working conditions, demanding to be treated as humans.

Many women prisoners would scream at the guards to leave a fellow inmate's cell, Law said. 

Law described one extreme circumstance where Joan Little, 21, stabbed a guard to death when he demanded she perform oral sex on him and threatened her with an ice pick.

According to Law, many of these events happened in North Carolina women's prisons.

"These women prisoner stories connect people on the outside," Law said.

"People start to see what was going on on the outside was exacerbated inside (the prison). Prisons are these exaggerated mirrors of what we're fighting on the outside."

Flaherty got involved in this kind of work when he lived in New Orleans.

"If you look at New Orleans in the last five years, it faced all these bigger issues on hyperspeed," he said, referring to the area post-Katrina.

Flaherty explained how the infrastructure collapsed. Teachers were fired overnight, the public hospital closed, the housing and health care system weren't functioning and the first city function to restart was a prison.

"Every single check and balance in the city failed us," he said. 

Police brutality became extreme and the police officers would plant evidence and hold secret meetings to rewrite stories, Flaherty said.

The media, coroner and government failed to investigate crimes and lawyers weren't representing their clients, he said.

Katie Yow, a community organizer in Greensboro, is one of the local organizers for the tour. She helped bring Flaherty and Law to Greensboro.

"Creating spaces to share work, history, stories and ideas between movements and between communities is a vital part of building our own communities' work, and building strength with each other on a national level," Yow said.

Elon's chapter of Students for Peace and Justice attended the Greensboro stop of the tour. SFPJ president junior Claire Healy explained why the group attended.

"The tour will educate SFPJ members on social issues and the tools of activism, allowing us to build upon our methods of making change at Elon," Healy said.

"I also expect it will provide inspiration and momentum for our campaigns this semester."

Healy said she believes it is crucial for SFPJ to make connections to communities and organizations like those in Greensboro because they are actively promoting peace and justice.

Law gave a helpful way to look at social justice work. She said there are intersections between different issues that should be looked at.

"Don't have to take on whole other social justice issues," she said. "These struggles aren't all these separate things in a vacuum. They are all larger struggles."

Flaherty suggested bringing local social justice organizations together once a month to eat. He proposed an organizer's roundtable, a place and chance for people to share what they're doing, he said.

Law said it has to be seen as a process.

"You're not going to build these ties overnight," she said.

Law also talked about having children grow up learning about social justice as a way to build a nationwide movement.

Law explained how the Zapatistas in Mexico inspired her.

The Zapatistas are a revolutionary group, formed in 1994, who work nonviolently for equality and solutions to poverty.

She said they would hold discussions while their children would run in and out of the meetings.

"So the children would grow up in the movement, with dialogues and conversations about social justice," she said.

She called this learning by osmosis.

Law said Greensboro has so many families involved in social justice.

The social justice community should support the families, so both kids and parents can be involved, she said.

Community and resistance tour speaks to need for systematic change

By Amanda Dahill-Moore
The Guilfordian
October 8th, 2010

On Sept. 30, downtown Greensboro's HIVE buzzed with activity.

"Welcome friends," said Katie Yow ‘08, as she opened the Community and Resistance Tour with a wide sweep of her hands.

"The HIVE is a radical community space," said senior and art major Hillary Flint. "It's a great way to connect to people outside of Guilford."

Opened in 2007, the HIVE seeks to provide a space where different communities within the Greensboro community can learn from one another, exchange ideas, and share stories and resources. The acronym stands for History, Information, Vision, and Exchange.

The Community and Resistance Tour unites activists, artists, and authors across the nation who address the necessity for systemic change in corporate media, prisons, and institutions of thought that perpetuate social injustice.The tour emphasizes community-building similar to establishments like the HIVE. Through open dialogue, the tour also seeks to connect grassroots organizations with independent media.

Jordan Flaherty and Victoria Law are two of the five speakers on the tour that is scheduled to stop at 65 cities in 80 days.

Flaherty, a journalist and community organizer, took the stage first. His main topic was in revealing the untold stories of institutionalized racism that threatened and destroyed lives in post-Katrina New Orleans.

"Seventy-five percent of African Americans displaced by Katrina say they want to come back, but feel ‘kept out' because of economic barriers," Flaherty said. "How did organizing fail? And what does it mean?"
Flaherty recounted stories of police brutality that claimed the lives of African Americans in the aftermath of Katrina.

According to Flaherty, the true stories were not told by mainstream media and it took three years for the work of grassroots organizations to hold the media and other institutions accountable.

"Part of the tragedy of Katrina is that the voices have been silenced," Flaherty said. "I want to amplify and multiply those voices."

Law, a writer and artist whose primary focus is justice in women's prisons, spoke next.

Law pointed out that injustice in areas as diverse as housing, education, and prisoner and women's rights all spring from the same flawed system.

"Keep in mind that prisons are an exaggerated mirror of what we are fighting for on the outside," Law said.

One of these issues is the chronic sexual abuse that occurs when women prisoners are under the complete power of male guards.

Like Flaherty, Law emphasized the need for voices to be heard. According to Law, silence and the fear of speaking out perpetuate these problems.

Programs are needed that "allow women a space to tell their stories, validate their existence," Law said.

In 2009, four women in Raleigh, N.C., filed a lawsuit saying that they had been raped, groped, molested, and threatened in prison. They filed a Class Action lawsuit, meaning that they would be able to speak on behalf of countless other women who had similar experiences but were afraid to come forth.

Many of the approximate 3,000 women incarcerated in North Carolina have a history of abuse and most come from the lowest economic rung.

"They need support and allies on the outside," Law said.

The evening came to a close with community members sharing their projects. Some of the projects and organizations included the Spectrum Doula Collective, a North Carolina project that provides care to any person experiencing any pregnancy outcome, and Queer People of Color (QPOC), an organization that supports LGBT people of color.

Isabelle Moore, a drummer for Cakalak Thunder, also talked about her experience "drumming for social justice."

"These struggles are inter-connected," said Flaherty when asked how people could unite their different causes. "There is huge power in people coming together."


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