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An FMLN Woman’s Story of Courage and Conviction, 20 Years Later

By: Lynn Stephen
September 20, 2010

In June 2009, Mauricio Funes took office as El Salvador’s first leftist president. With more than 51% of the popular vote, Funes won the election as the candidate of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), the political party that was once a federation of guerrilla armies that fought the Salvadoran state to a bitter stalemate in the 1980s. María’s Story, a documentary filmed 20 years before Funes’s historic election, records a nationwide military and political offensive undertaken by the FMLN in late 1988 and 1989. This “final offensive” was a crucial step on the path to the peace accords signed in January 1992, ending the Salvadoran civil war. While many have heard the war’s gruesome statistics—which include more than 70,000 people killed, most of them by the Salvadoran military—few have had the opportunity to see what the war was like up close and personal. The power of María’s Story, now available on DVD on the occasion of its 20th anniversary, comes from the particular story of FMLN guerrilla leader María Serrano and her family, as well as the film’s innovative techniques.

The filmmakers spent two months in a provisional FMLN camp, capturing the day-to-day experience of the war as María and other guerrilla soldiers went from town to town. Under fire from bullets and mortars, the filmmakers used solar-powered, small-format video cameras to document the everyday struggles, violence, hope, and courage of FMLN fighters.

María’s Story, is a valuable documentary and teaching tool that will inspire audiences to discuss U.S. foreign policy, the reality of war, gender politics, and shared values of what constitutes justice and basic human rights. I have shown it about a dozen times to undergraduates, usually as a part of a general class on race, class, gender, and politics in Latin America. I often pair the film with María Teresa Tula’s book, Here My Testimony: María Teresa Tula, Human Rights Activist of El Salvador (South End Press, 1994).

Both are compelling and moving testaments of the passion with which FMLN-aligned women struggled politically, militarily, and personally in the Salvadoran civil war and the atrocious strategies of repression that multiple Salvadoran governments used between 1975 and 1992 to remain in power.

A family story—that of María, her husband, José, and their two living daughters—provides the film with a conventional lens, bringing out the experiences of love, family intimacy and loss, struggle, and survival that are a part of the war. The film is carried by the incredibly charismatic persona of María, a practical and inspiring thinker who motivates not only her own family to get involved in the struggle, but many others as well. The family story is somewhat romanticized with the happy reunion of María, José, and their two daughters in San José de las Flores for the first time in three years. But María’s retelling of the death of Ceci, her middle daughter killed in an army ambush in 1987, returns viewers to the horror of the war, which has affected every family. After retelling how Ceci was killed, María adds that soldiers split open her body. She doesn’t blame them for killing her daughter “because we are making a war,” but “these are things that no one can be prepared for,” she says, referring to her daughter’s mutilation.

The film begins in a guerrilla camp catching up with 39-year-old María, who explains that they are planning a military offensive in order to “defeat the enemy militarily, politically, and diplomatically” in order to build a new society built on “food, schools, and health” for all. Shortly thereafter we meet 13-year-old Minita, María and José’s youngest daughter, who tells us that she likes being close to her mother.“ If we had stayed in our house,” she explains, “they would come and kill us.” This matter-of-fact statement underlines the fact that she has been on the move since she was three years old. We then meet José, Maria’s husband, who works in supplies. They have been married for 21 years.

The next scene leads us across the Sumpul River, the site of various massacres, including a notorious one in 1980, when the Salvadoran military massacred more than 300 non-combatants in 1980 as they tried to flee into Honduras. We follow María, José, and Minita into their hometown of Alcatao, where they visit José’s father. A town originally of 10,000, only 1,000 people remain. Here, María takes us to the house where she arrived as a newlywed, gave birth to her children, and worked as a rural housewife and for a campesino union.

While in her hometown of Alcatao, María takes viewers on a tour of the old National Guard headquarters, which is not far from her former home. In 1979, Alcatao was taken over by the military, which detained and tortured people in the headquarters. María and her family left in 1979 and, as they explain in the film, have not lived there since then. María explains that she joined the FMLN in 1987. Many people who fled Alcatao were living in the mountains of Chalatenango, where guerrillas with the Peoples Forces of Liberation (FPL)—the largest of the five FMLN guerrilla groups—were also operating. Since they shared daily necessities in the same place, María explains, it just made sense to join up.

From there the film moves to an improvised guerrilla camp where there is strong anticipation of Christmas celebrations. An FMLN soldier who looks about 13 years old at most can be heard talking excitedly about the milk, bread, and tamales that will be given out on Christmas Eve. But a surprise mortar attack ends the anticipated festivities. “Open your mouths when the mortals fall,” María tells the filmmakers, since the pressure can cause eardrums to burst. On the run again, María’s guerrilla unit finally sleeps and then walks into San José de las Flores, a repopulated FPL community that has managed to construct houses, plant and harvest corn, and begin to plan things like schools and health clinics. Sister cities with Cambridge, Massachusetts, San José was an important focus of solidarity work, receiving support from U.S. and European committees that were crucial in helping it to rebuild and resist further military incursions. There, María gives a short inspirational speech and meets up with her husband and eldest daughter, Morena, who tells us how she went into health work when she was 13 with a strong push from María. The last portion of the film provides an upbeat assessment of the final offensive the FMLN was preparing in 1989.

What might be billed as almost a music video within the film features shots of guerrillas preparing bullets, bombs, Molotov cocktails, and other weapons to the tune of a catchy ballad about insurrection and revolution. María provides a stirring narrative that compares “the insurrectional moment” to “giving birth to a baby.” The next shot moves us into an intimate look at one small piece of this plan as María’s guerrilla group moves into a town and attempts to hold it overnight after running out a group of government soldiers after an intense firefight. We witness a young girl related to one of the guerrilla soldiers in María’s unit getting hurt in the effort. The army retreats, and the evening is marked by an inspiring display of FMLN troops who shout slogans like “Revolution or Death” and “Chalatenango Heroico.” The parting shots of the film pan over nature scenes as María reads a poem she wrote about her rebirth through the revolutionary movement and its relationship to the changing seasons.

Viewing the film 20 years after it was made offers an interesting optic on where El Salvador is now and where it has been since the peace accords. A series of right-wing presidents who endorsed a neoliberal political and economic agenda have left El Salvador with ongoing inflation, increasing problems with violence linked to the expanding activities of Mexican drug cartels and gangs vying for control of trafficking routes, and a large portion of the country’s 6.2 million people of living outside of the country (estimates range from 14% to 40% of the population).

The new DVD version marks the passage of time by providing viewers with short updates on the film’s main characters. María ran for and won a congressional seat in 1997. After serving one three-year term, she got fed up with national politics and went to school. In 2002, she got her bachelor’s degree in social studies and since 2005 has worked as an elementary school teacher and education advocate. José returned to their home in Alcatao to work their small farm while Minita, the youngest daughter, finished a degree in 2006 to be a nurse practitioner. Morena is a teacher in Chalatenango. Now a grandmother, María has a granddaughter, Carmen Aída, who finished a bachelor’s degree at the University of El Salvador. Thus all of the women and girls featured in this documentary have completed higher education degrees and become professionals—a remarkable achievement for people who survived 10 years of fighting on the civil war’s front lines.

While María and her daughters are pursuing traditional paths for women—in teaching and nursing—their legacy is to help people on a daily basis in concrete ways that can change their personal situations. As such, the update provides us with hope that many more young women will be able to make such choices and others without the decade of pain this family went through. At a larger level, the update puts the film back into a space of hopefulness and anticipation with the first FMLN president taking office. Let us hope that he can help to make María’s dream of food, health, and education for all a reality in El Salvador.

Lynn Stephen teaches anthropology and ethnic studies at the University of Oregon, where she directs the Center for Latino/a and Latin American Studies. Her most recent book is Transborder Lives: Indigenous Oaxacans in Mexico, California, and Oregon (Duke University Press, 2007).

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2010 edition of NACLA Report on the Americas.

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Angry Brigade in the (UK) Guardian

Et cetera: Steven Poole's non-fiction choice:

The Angry Brigade, by Gordon Carr
by Steven Poole
The Guardian
September 18th, 2010

The Angry Brigade, by Gordon Carr (PM Press, £17.99)

This fascinating history of "Britain's first urban guerrilla group" (who fought for the people while stealing their chequebooks) begins with the 1971 bombing of the house of the employment minister, Robert Carr, and then works back to the évènements of May 1968, and forwards through the complex police investigation by the newly formed "Bomb Squad", and then the lengthy and sensational 1972 trial of the "Stoke Newington 8", in whose flat had been found explosives, guns and the equipment used to issue the brigade's sub-Debordian public statements. Gordon Carr's narrative is scrupulous and suspenseful.

We also hear from one of the convicted, John Barker, proud of recent demonstrations against arms dealers ("[we] had the nous to do it without the melodrama of dynamite"; exactly what tune dynamite normally plays is left unclear), and one of the acquitted, Stuart Christie ("to engage in remote violence without taking full personal responsibility is reminiscent of the state itself"). A policeman offers a sober opinion about the inspirational power of French theory: "I didn't think Situationism was the driving force behind the Angry Brigade. It was a style that helped Barker write communiqués."

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The Busy Reader’s Guide to the Financial Meltdown

inandoutby Daniel Tucker
In These Times
September 11th, 2010 

During the years of the Bush administration and the anti-globalization movement, I tried to simply explain the term “neoliberalism” to classes, friends and fellow activists. I would say something like: “Neoliberalism is characterized by privatization, deregulation of labor and trade and the commodification of more intimate and complex aspects of life than previous eras of capitalism had produced.”

But then there was the hassle of explaining the “neo” part, the confused definitions of “liberal” popularly used in the United States, and the difference between its theory and its practice, which has often involved a much deeper and more integral role for government than my simple summary could capture.

Then came the “Great Recession,”aka the financial crisis of 2007-2010. Everything changed. It is no longer difficult to plainly see the contradictions of the neoliberal policies of the last 30 years, especially the role of the United States government in facilitating the maintenance and consolidation of industrial and financial power despite rhetoric of “deregulation and privatization.” The bailout plan alone makes it hard to deny and easy to understand that the U.S. government is integral and necessary to the recovery and perpetuation of our global financial system.

In their latest book In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives, published by PM Press/Spectre Imprint (which is coordinated by Sasha Lilley of the wonderfully insightful podcast Against the Grain), Canadian political economists Leo Panitch, Sam Gindin and Greg Albo explain this in wonderfully clear terms.

In and Out of Crisis compiles several essays, many of which were developed for or inspired by the work of the Socialist Project, an independent socialist network based in Ontario. It is easy to tell that all three authors are educators (they all teach at York University in Toronto) because of their methodical approach. Key passages from the book are broken down in the final chapter as “Ten Thesis on the Crisis” which reviews and simplifies the history and analysis presented in chapters like “Surveying the Crisis: Is Neoliberalism Over?”; “Crisis Management from Bush to Obama”; and “Labor’s Impasse and the Left,” to name a few. The book was written as an educational and organizing tool.

 What makes In and Out of Crisis stand out, besides it’s post-crisis analysis of neoliberalism, is its belief in the renewal of the Left and its deep connection to actually existing social movements.

So many Marxist historians and philosophers write as if there is no social movement worth engaging. If there is a shout-out to an organizing effort, it reads as if it was pulled from a hat. These authors have put time and energy through the years in supporting organized labor throughout North America, particularly with the Canadian Auto Workers Union, where Gindin was research director.

The book presents the clearest explanation of the “defeat of labor” that has occurred in recent decades, going beyond simplistic descriptions of de-industrialization to elaborate on the interconnectedness between off-shoring, automation, free-trade policies like NAFTA, stagnant wages, and the integration of workers into the financial sector through pensions and real-estate investments. The trio’s focus is not limited to an exclusively union way forward, and they repeatedly call for the need to connect organized labor to other social movements to renew working-class culture and politics as a step towards creating Left political alternatives to capitalism.

 Only 129 pages long, In and Out of Crisis is a useful tool for busy organizers and activists who don’t have the time to dig into anything else. Its clearly articulated descriptions of the crisis and possible ways forward make it the most useful book to come out of the current crisis. I hope its used to its fullest potential.

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Resistance Against Empire on Political Media Review

CDby Simon Czerwinskyj
Political Media Review
July 21, 2010

Derrick Jensen just won’t quit, that’s for sure. The word “prolific” doesn’t really do Jensen’s output justice; this guy is like an anarcho-primitivist version of Stephen King. And much like Stephen King, he’s constantly finding new ways to evoke a feeling of terror in his readers. While King is constantly giving his readers the willies by way of fictional monsters and horrifying situations, Jensen shocks his readers by asking them to look in the mirror and examine how their lifestyles effect the Earth. And the conclusion is always the same: industrial civilization is killing the planet. Scary.

In recent years, Jensen has begun soliciting other socially conscious individuals for their opinions and testimony on where we’re headed as a species. Resistance Against Empire is his third collection of interviews with a broad range of activists, teachers, organizers, and advocates. While most of these talks are almost ten years old, the content is still extremely relevant. Jensen’s interviewees tackle modern slavery, US food aid to foreign nations, consumerism, privacy issues, military spending, nuclear proliferation, the US prison industrial complex, and much of what exists in between these issues.

The book begins with economist J.W. Smith. Smith talks about the economic exploitation of other countries by the US: for labor, for resources, and for the general buoyancy of our culture of convenience. Jensen’s style of interview is effective in that he lets his subjects talk; his questions are simple, his comments are concise, and he plays the soft-pedaling devil’s advocate to explore each side of the issue, eliciting answers to the well-worn “Well, isn’t it good for their economy?” arguments and other old mainstream media chestnuts. J.W. Smith lays out our strategy for US land monopolization in other countries: “At first by conquest, and then by inequality continually being restructured into law.” This theme runs through the book; by dispossessing people of their land, and thus their ability to grow their own food and be self-sufficient, they are left with few choices but the ones we provide them.

Anuradha Mittal claims “Destroying local agricultural infrastructures is a central function of food aid”. International loan sharks such as the IMF and WTO effectively undercut local farmers in foreign nations in order to foist our cheap, imported food product on the population, who are then beholden to the economic will of these organizations. Author of The Politics of Heroin Alfred McCoy details the CIA’s role in enabling and supporting local warlords in Southeast Asia; the consequence of this support was the nurturing and expansion of the international drug trade by way of warlords turned drug lords. Subsequently, political power and gainful employment became entirely dependent on drug production and trafficking (again, the land and its people are co-opted by the “needs” of industrialized European and western nations). In essence, the drug war creates new, circuitous markets; as the myopic, media-savvy authorities stamp out one large drug trade for publicity’s sake, they’re blind to all the other resourceful drug lords springing up in the periphery. Prohibition increases production.

Modern slavery also thrives and depends on the needs and machinations of industrialized nations.  Countries with higher international debts have higher incidence of slavery, as gutted local economies are rife with desperate unemployed. The exploited are put in impossible situations, saddled with a debt they will never be able to pay (their work is merely collateral, and does not go towards lessening the initial debt), laboring in perpetuity under debts as small as $50 US dollars. Contract slaves sign a piece of paper they many times cannot read, which forgoes their rights and traps them in endless “jobs” (such as prostitution). According to Kevin Bales, due to a population explosion and economic and social vulnerability, 27 million slaves exist globally as of the year 2000. And currently, slaves are a lot cheaper: a slave in the 1850s was typically $50,000, while a slave today ranges from $50-60.

Privacy advocate Katherine Abrecht asks “How does our society get us to replace acute, healthy outrage with a chronic, there’s-nothing-we-can-do-about-it, soul-killing ache?” Resistance Against Empire  makes an attempt to enrage its readers into action through education, and will embolden sympathetic readers, while it probably will not change your average CEO’s mind (I wonder if Jensen has ever considering infiltrating CEO book clubs? Do CEOs read books? Or are they too busy eating babies?). However, there is a surfeit of viable solutions to alleviate the overwhelming amount of grim details, with each interview ending with a mere morsel of potential future progress. That said, Jensen has compiled an ambitious compendium of truly important issues, and the book is an eye-opening and educational read.

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Red Army Faction on

By Ernesto Aguilar
July 29, 2010

Though it has been out a few months, I find myself regularly going back to a fantastic book I want to recommend to students of progressive/radical history, and to those who might have seen the Academy Award- and Golden Globe-nominated Baader-Meinhof Complex earlier this year and wanted to know more about the story behind it.

When old friend Ramsey Kanaan forwarded me a copy of one of his recent projects from his new publishing outfit, PM Press, I was intrigued. Kanaan is known to virtually everyone in the publishing world as the guy who founded AK Press and was its heart and soul for many years. When he left to start PM, with a broader vision but the same irascibile approach, a daring publisher was born. PM’s collection on the Red Army Faction is one example of such.

The book is entitled The Red Army Faction, A Documentary History, Volume 1: Projectiles For The People and it tells the story of the entangled German left and far left that gave rise to the Red Army Faction, an ultraleft guerrilla formation mostly associated with Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof. Ron Jacobs, author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground, did a thorough review of this collection from the RAF’s heyday during which it committed sensational bombings aimed at challenging U.S. imperialism. But no review adequately can convey how important this book is to the progressive/radical history canon. Within English-language publishing, there are few works about the RAF, which alone makes this one the best book available.

Those who remember AK Press’ foray into RAF mythology, Tom Vague’s 1994 book, Televisionaries: The Red Army Faction Story, will be thrilled to find less storytelling and more history. The new PM Press collection, in fact, presents virtually almost every RAF communique and theoretical pamphlet from 1970 to 1977, its first period (the RAF would later be led by many others as leaders were killed or imprisoned). Over the course of 700 pages, readers get a sense of how intensely the RAF believed the left had sold out and hos Germany was again wedded to fascism. Its bombings, kidnappings, killings and street battles with police were conducted in this context. A second volume, expected to pick up from here until the RAF’s mysterious dissolution in 1998, is forthcoming from PM Press, though no date is set for its release.

However, this collection is truly a wonder and is well worth picking up.

By the way, Upping the Anti has a good review of the book in its latest issue. You can still land a free copy of the last two Upping the Anti issues.

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The Rise of Disaster Capitalism on Political Media Review

By Bill Templer

Political Media Review
University of Malaya

Investigative journalist Naomi Klein speaking on “The Rise of Disaster Capitalism” is a PM Press DVD produced by Bonobo Films.

It consists of a brilliant 65-minute talk Naomi gave on May 19, 2008 at the Friends Meeting House in London introducing the paperback edition of her book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York, 2007), plus a remarkably insightful 10-minute interview with Naomi done in London the next day.  Some sections of the talk are on youtube (1), but the whole is not, and is worth having in its entirety.

The talk was part of a fundraiser organized by the ‘Hands Off Iraqi Oil’ coalition (very active in 2007-2008,, along with activists from the Britain-based ‘War on Want’ associated with Hands Off Iraqi Oil, and many other anti-war and environmental groups. War on Want is a non-profit organization long committed to the struggle against neoliberal globalization, world poverty, Israeli apartheid and much more (

Many of you will know Naomi’s book, and its thesis of how casino capitalism in its present phase is using ‘shock’ tactics — from 9/11 and the ‘war on terror,’ to natural disasters like the Dec. 2004 tsunami, Katrina, resource wars in West Asia, the serial disasters of climate change — as a platform for taking over markets, raking in spectacular profits, extending corporate control in the wake of disaster and its aftermath, and the “collective vertigo” it often leaves people in.  For Naomi, “The market is the disaster itself and the response to it,” emphasizing the utter bankruptcy of the current economic model, a “class war waged by the rich against the poor,” and the need for “deep democracy” and a people’s alternative. 

In the states, she stresses, 9/11 is key to understanding how we got to where we are […] People know they’ve been living the ‘shock doctrine’ since Sept. 11. That shock, that blow to the psyche of this country, was expertly harnessed by the administration to push through policies that they could not push through otherwise (2).

In the May 2008 interview on the DVD, Naomi emphasizes that she wrote the book:

precisely to make people more resistant to the shock doctrine I hope the book would be a kind of ‘shock shield’  in a way, because these tactics are all about lack of information and disorientation,  What we need to get out of shock is a story, a narrative that explains what is happening around you.

The most ‘opportune time’ for deregulation and neoliberal restructuring, Naomi convincingly argues, is during severe crisis and its aftermath. And the architects of such free marketeering in the midst of chaos – the “privatization of disaster response” — know how to rationalize their greed full well, putting a ‘moral veneer’ on their rapaciousness. Naomi begins her talk with data from a 2008 empirical study on how corporate execs and conservatives are very good at ‘rationalizing’ inequality to justify their own actions, part of their own “ideological tranquillizer,” the psychology of guiltless greed.

The London talk centers more on theses and facts drawn from the Part 5 of the book: “Shocking Times: The Rise of the Disaster Capitalism Complex,” Part 6 “Iraq Full Circle; Overshock,”  Part 7 “The Movable Green Zone: Bugger Zones and Blast Walls,” and the conclusion “Shock Wears Off: The Rise of People’s Reconstruction.” Naomi also talks a lot about what’s happening in New Orleans by big capital developers, a “city that’s been stolen,” where public housing has been destroyed to make way for expensive new condos, and charter schools are enjoying a huge boom. Not in her book is a whole section in the London talk on crony capitalism in Burma and the push there in 2008 by the military junta to sell of much of the state-owned economy, and push privatization of prime agricultural land in the wake of the powerful cyclone that ravaged the coast, exemplifying what could be a neoliberal catchphrase across the crisis-ravaged planet: “the more people die, the more land there is to grab.”

These past months, the BP oil spill and its aftermath (3), the record heat and fires in western Russia and the incredible monsoon flooding across much of northwestern Pakistan are prime examples of serial crises of ‘extreme weather events’ multiplying under our eyes. What big bucks will be made off these crises, what new development projects railroaded through?  Naomi’s thesis will be reflected there too. As well as the idea that when most people respond to a disaster, it’s the expression of mutual aid, helping each other — not profiteering or looting. People show incredible resilience in the face of disasters. Disaster capitalists tend to see just the opposite of that: a blank slate, a clean sheet, an opportunity to invest and earn big profits.

The core idea for the book was sparked in part by the collapse of the Argentinian economy, which she experienced directly, and the “shock and awe” attack on  Iraq and what has ensued there since. Her concrete vision of people’s alternatives touched on in the book briefly and at the end of the London talk was shaped by “the movement of ‘recovered companies,’ two hundred bankrupt businesses that have been resuscitated by their workers, who have turned them into democratically run cooperatives” in Argentina.

She and Avi Lewis made a powerful documentary film The Take (2004) about this movement, though the film goes unmentioned in her book. You can download it cost-free and show widely, to students and activists (4). Naomi likes to see such indigenous responses by working people to the violent inroads of Capital as a form of what a New Orleans activist friend of hers calls “disaster collectivism,” the art of resilience in solidarity.

At the end of her talk and the very end of the book, Naomi highlights efforts by indigenous Thai ‘stateless’ fisher communities along the Andaman Sea coast, known as Moken or Chao Lay, who spearheaded a people’s movement to reclaim their own ‘undocumented’ land by direct action and rebuild their own settlements, a people’s resistance to the corporate developers poised to move in, She notes: “a manifesto drafted by a coalition of Thai tsunami survivor communities explains the philosophy: ‘The rebuilding work should be done by local communities themselves, as much as possible. Keep contractors out, let communities take responsibility for their own housing” (Klein, 2007, p. 465).  A year after Katrina, activists from New Orleans met with Thais in the grassroots reconstruction efforts, and told them: “In New Orleans, we’re waiting around on the government to do things for us, but here you all are doing by yourselves […] When we go back, your model is our new goal” (5).

Naomi also reminds us that resistance to neoliberalism has been led by indigenous groups in Latin America, like the Zapatistas. I think that her entire argument, and several strands of analysis on the broader left, would be strengthened by looking in depth at the work of political anthropologist James C. Scott, in particular his most recent study The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (2009), and his earlier path-breaking studies (6). Scott’s ideas on how simple people resist hegemony and the state are very relevant to what is going on, maybe even in working-class school classrooms. As is his critique of “high modernist ideology” and the failed mega-schemes of the authoritarian state.

Naomi ends both her book and talk on this upbeat note:

Such people’s reconstruction efforts represent the antithesis of the disaster capitalism complex’s ethos, with its perpetual quest for clean sheets and blank slates on which to build model states. […] local people’s renewal movements begin from the premise that there is no escape from the substantial messes we have created and that there has already been enough erasure—of history, of culture, of memory. […]

As the corporatist crusade continues its violent decline, turning up the shock dial to blast through the mounting resistance it encounters, these projects point a way forward […]  Radical only in their intense practicality, rooted in the communities where they live […]  they are building in resilience—for when the next shock hits (p. 466).

As a social historian, Naomi also knows this disaster capitalism complex is another high-tech chapter in Western imperialism, and that the “shock doctrine” is nothing new. She notes in her London talk that in colonizing Massachusetts, the Puritans saw the spread of smallpox as a kind of “Divine plague” that helped cleanse the ‘Heathens’ from the land the settlers coveted. God was on the side of these ‘new Israelites,’ using disaster as murderous sickness to assist in the ‘conquest of New Canaan’ (7). And we are in deep denial about the history of this country, and the myths it was founded on. History, and understanding it better, is, Naomi reminds us, our “shock resistance.”

Buy the DVD. It is a lecture, the camera mainly on Naomi. But can serve as a good introduction to Naomi Klein’s ideas for students, local activist groups, and anyone interested in changing this System. She’s a remarkable speaker. There are other lectures of Naomi’s on youtube (8; see also [2]), but this one is special. Part of the proceeds from the sale of this first-rate DVD are being passed on by PM Press to War on Want.


1. London Talk, first 10 minutes:  ; excerpt on climate change: ; excerpt on ecological debt, ‘the key idea of our time’: .

2. Naomi Klein, Portland, 54-minute talk, April 28, 2008:

3. See comments by Naomi on the BP oil spill, May 28, 2010: ; idem, Gulf Oil Spill; A Hole in the World, The Guardian, 19 June 2010

4. See . The Take  (English subtitles).

5. Klein (The Shock Doctrine, 2007), p. 466. On the Moken/Chao Lay ‘sea gipsies’ struggle for reclaiming land and land rights, see ; but Naomi probably knows this positive light she ends her book on is largely unresolved even today, and the current situation is full of uncertainty regarding the land claims of the ‘landless’ and ‘stateless’ Chao Lay, see . Thailand remains awash with inequity, especially for its many indigenous minority peoples, largely in the northern hills, and the bottom 70% of its working families everywhere.

6. Scott, James C. (1987) Weapons of the Weak: Every Day Forms of Peasant Resistance (Yale UP); idem, (1992). Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (Yale UP); idem, (1999). Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed  (Yale UP).

7. See Templer, Bill (2006). The Political Sacralization of Imperial Genocide: Contextualizing Timothy Dwight’s The Conquest of Canaan, Postcolonial Studies 9(4), 358-391.

8.  See talk in Vancouver, Feb 27, 2007 ,  6 parts.

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Dispatches 6- "a worthy successor"

By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review
August 1, 2010

Big Noise Films continues its tradition of blistering journalism in volume six of its Dispatches series, the latest of which features some of the best reporting of the DVD releases.

Dispatches 6 starts with a punch, in telling the story of nine-year-old Ali Kinani, killed in a massacre of Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square, Iraq, following the U.S. invasion of the country. Military contractor Blackwater was largely blamed for the internationally notorious shootout in a civilian-filled district in 2007, though the company cast aspersions on everyone from insurgents to the U.S. military for civilian deaths. The massacre is a crime for which no one to this day has gone to jail. Journalist Jeremy Scahill, who authored the sublime Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, does a masterful job in “Blackwater’s Youngest Victim.” In this short documentary, he helps to convey a grieving family’s search not for money, but justice — in this case, an apology from Blackwater for the boy’s murder. The stoic recounting of Ali’s death by his father, Mohammed Kinani, is likely one of the most wrenching things you will see this year.

In Scahill’s nuanced storytelling, Mohammed Kinani presents a man who at once welcomed U.S. troops as liberators and the mix of dignity, determination and quiet anger that the killing of his son and subsequent denials by Blackwater have brought out in him. The segment is absolutely riveting, and a powerful beginning to this installment of the series.

A mini-documentary that has gotten a fair bit of coverage, “White Power USA,” is the best-known part of Dispatches 6. Its premise — that the tea party movement, anti-immigrant uptick and hate-rock scene are part of a resurgent white nationalism taken hold since Barack Obama’s election and as a response to diversification — is not new, but some of the footage is chilling. Unabashed racists speak cynically of exploiting economic uncertainty and fears of the unknown to lure white people to a cause and a means of converting them to extremism. Longtime bigot buster Chip Berlet connects the dots here, reminding viewers that, when tea party activists and neo-Nazis talk of taking back “their” country “back,” the overtones are not without ahistorical assumptions of America as a white, Christian nation. Fading global Caucasian political, cultural and economic muscle, anti-racist organizers explain, generates disquiet among whites who fail to hold accountable the truly powerful who have exported jobs and bought off politicians. If you don’t believe the tea party is racist, it is doubtful you will be swayed by praise from people waving queer banners that look like Confederate/SS/U.S. flag mashups and admirers of Adolf Hitler. For tea party critics, those same declarations will only give fuel to views held already. In this sense, “White Power USA” does not make for an especially convincing case, but nonetheless the program is provocative in chronicling a political flashpoint.

A fascinating look by Greg Palast at the economic situation in Liberia rounds out Dispatches 6. Specifically, the woes created by debt speculators based in the United States, who essentially prey on one of the poorest countries in the world, are shocking. In his typically bombastic style, Palast goes that extra mile to find the “vultures” wherever they are to ask them tough questions. What Palast reveals is just as insightful, however. And finally the fight to save East St. Louis, once revered by Stokley Carmichel and H.Rap Brown as a perfect training ground for what a Black revolutionary town could be but now facing its end due to the death of industry, is profiled.

Big Noise’s Dispatches documentaries have brought some of the finest short documentaries to wide audiences. These stories have included racism and the drug war in Tulia, Texas, Israeli crimes in Lebanon, South American struggles against Chevron and so much more. The newest edition is a worthy successor to previous volumes.

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Maria's Story is "mesmerizing" says Aguilar on PMR

By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review
August 2, 2010

From 1980 to 1992, the Central American country of El Salvador was embroiled in a civil war between the military-led government and the Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional. The United States supported the Salvadoran government under the guise of anti-Communism and, according to many human rights groups, lent aid to paramilitary death squads in the process. Thousands died before officials and guerrillas signed peace accords and the FMLN became a recognized political party. Today, the FMLN has only recently ascended to power.

Maria’s Story: A Documentary Portrait Of Love And Survival In El Salvador’s Civil War, a newly reissued DVD of the documentary released some 20 years ago, tells the story of Maria Serrano, an activist and mother engaged in the armed struggle of the period on the side of the FMLN. Serrano, a onetime campesino organizer pushed into the revolution by government repression of the citizenry, gives a very personal account of El Salvador’s fight for resources for the poor. If you told her years ago she would be carrying a gun and leading military operations for the FMLN, Serrano says, she might have thought you crazy. But as the government became more intolerant and violent, hundreds of Salvadorenas and Salvadorenos linked up with revolutionaries in hopes of a better life and an end of measures that strangled with country’s underclass.

Credit is due to the filmmakers for avoiding the dewy romanticism that oftentimes accompanies stories of women, particularly mothers, in political movements. Life is hard in El Salvador’s jungles as seen in Maria’s Story. Serrano sardonically talks about the boots she must wear in spite of holes simply because they cost so much. And she and her children, who are with her in the forests out of necessity based on fears of death squads, treat their lives not as a hero’s journey, but a measure of seeking freedom. As Serrano tells the story, El Salvador’s civil war is not about the government versus socialist insurgents, but about economically disadvantaged people who have nothing fighting because they have everything to gain. Even if the fight means giving every child and every drop of blood, Serrano says, the guerrillas of this moment believe they have no choice but to take up weapons and force a change for the Central American nation’s desperately hungry and destitute people. Serrano warmth and devotion to the cause, in spite of the very real military threats guerillas faced in these days, is nothing less than stunning.

However, Maria’s Story avoids making this a tale of a woman humanizing the revolution through her gender, but of a fighter humanizing the revolution by seeing what poverty and suffering have wrought upon her people. This approach has a variety of effects, but most notably in Maria’s Story, viewers get a glimpse into a movement where gender is a consideration, but clearly so many women are actively involved in the revolution that relegated roles or gendered assumptions are tossed aside, at least in the film. Serrano effectively articulates the objectives of the revolution of the time, and reminds viewers that the guerrillas’ world is hardly glamorous. That larger purpose, she indicates, pushes them forward despite the miseries they face.

Maria’s Story gives a brief update of the protagonists featured in the film, but is fairly thin in terms of extras to the original documentary presented on the DVD. Nevertheless, the documentary is mesmerizing.

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Abolish Restaurants on

By Ernesto Aguilar
August 7, 2010

Restaurants serve millions of plates of food each year. Even as food service technology gets more modern and state-of-the-art, many traditions of the food service industry have held sway over the world of wait staff and cooks for years, virtually unchanged. Maybe, as the old adage goes, exposing ancient and troubled eatery practices with the light of transparency can force change. Though Abolish Restaurants: A Worker’s Critique of the Food Service Industry (PM Press, 2010) argues for an end to eating establishments, wide reading of this book could inspire something altogether different: reforms in how things are done.

In this persuasive chapbook, author Prole.Info utilize words and illustrations to tell two intriguing parallel stories: first, what the food service industry entails for those who work in the restaurants themselves, and then, the political and social implications of eating establishments on local economies and working people.

Some of Abolish Restaurants reads a bit like a Situationist coloring book, with a fair chunk of the text relating how miserable food service workers are in their jobs, how aggravating it is to deal with rude customers, or to be nice to people one does not like, and how fundamentally dispiriting restaurant employment can be. Although one can be sure food service can be a hard, challenging job, work unhappiness is a dominant theme that can eclipse and detract from other points. Can’t such be said of many customer-service-oriented jobs? Bundle the daily grind with corruption at varying levels of the business model and it is no surprise why the author so openly criticizes restaurants, even if the real beef has to do with an internal culture that accepts indignity as inevitable and an external culture presumed to not care about what workers must endure.
What makes this short read so interesting, however, are explanations for the uninitiated about how restaurants operate and the behind-the-scenes issues that the average customer probably takes for granted. Practices like tipping out are old hat for workers, but it is safe to say most patrons have no idea what it means. If you are not familiar with how restaurants operate on a daily basis, this book will be illuminating.

A subject needing exploration is how the spending environment is shifting. Surely cost comes on the radar of most, but the terrain of the business and the corporate aesthetic are also growing in importance. In this age of conscientious consumerism, it is wholly tenable that Abolish
Restaurants will make you think of how you spend your eating-out dollars. After all, in an age where buyers will spend more on meat from grass-fed cows, milk without hormones, locally made crafts and organic fruits and vegetables, labor practices are very much on the table for plenty of buyers. Disparities between kitchen and wait staff, for instance, are invisible to those looking at menus, but chances are such business practices may actually be of interest. Will this be the next great battlefield for those who have largely claimed victory in the mainstreaming of green products? Not all are shills boosting multinational businesses. A few behind the movement pressing consumers to spend their money ethically believe such spending can force businesses to treat employees better. And in this time where the need for jobs is converging with the expectation of workplace justice, is it really that far-fetched to wonder if works like Abolish Restaurants can help the public clarify these matters for themselves? One can only hope so.

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Signal: 01 "Visually delectable and politically pointed..."

signal:01By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review
September 4, 2010

Visually delectable and politically pointed, Signal: 01 bills itself as “an ongoing book series to documenting and sharing political graphics, creative projects and the cultural production of international resistance and liberation struggles.” Lofty much?

In all seriousness, all you need to know is that Signal: 01 is a beautiful chronicle of political posters, fliers and rebel art, along with incisive interviews with the artists who made them.

Edited by Alex Dunn and Josh MacPhee, Signal: 01 is anchored by a fabulous interview with Jesus Barraza, Melanie Cervantes and Favianna Rodriguez, three artists creating the most important works galvanizing the movements against Arizona’s SB 1070. No doubt those familiar with other upsurges have seen their efforts, though. From Palestine solidarity to urban farming, Barraza, Cervantes and Rodriguez have created the most iconic pieces since Emory Douglas took up the pen for the Black Panther Party. Though the interview was conducted before the Southwest struggle came to full boil, the trio talk about the process of art development, their diverse range of campaigns for which they have created art, and, as Cervantes puts it, the role of the artist as organizer.

An examination of Mexico City’s visual art inspired by the political movements of 1968 is a potent application about which Barraza, Cervantes and Rodriguez speak. National Public Radio referred to the Tlatelolco massacre of that year as a moment “cracking the system it was intended to preserve at all costs.” Militant and artist Felipe Hernandez Moreno, a veteran of the self-proclaimed ‘propaganda brigades,’ relates what those heady days were like in Mexico, and how the art of this time — a year which also featured the renowned Black Power salute by John Carlos of the Summer Olympics held in Mexico City — came to walls, buses and street lights everywhere. Peppered here are also tactical choices radicals made in production, art placement, actual distribution and evasion of the authorities. Although of a distinctly different time, Hernandez imparts knowledge for those not only making the art, but the craft that composes repression, inspiration and resistance.

Signal: 01 is dotted with stunning photography that will certainly reel in many people who are into unusual art. Political graffiti gracing trains, unique playground designs and the covers of the defunct Anarchy: A Journal of Anarchist Ideas are among the features here. Clocking in at just under 140 glossy pages, Dunn and MacPhee do an impressive job of conveying not only what is new and relevant in political art, but also its history and its presence in the everyday.

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