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Low Bite on PinkPaper.com


www.pinkpaper.com
By Eden Carter Wood
30 June 2010

The narrator of this hard-boiled underground classic, Morgan, is in prison, having been convicted of breaking and entering with force. To pass the time she works in the prison law library and gives legal advice to her fellow convicts. She also drinks hooch out of a coffee mug, gives backchat to the sweaty guards, and says things like ‘Prison time is chicken bones, something to be sucked clean’. It’s a world of street-talk and swaggering and cigarettes, and people called Birdseye and Deuce is what this is. And very readable it is too.

Contrary to what you might expect, Morgan’s not exactly popular, however. Johnson the lesbian-hating warden hates her for one thing, and Alex the fashionably long-haired lawyer doesn’t like her giving free legal advice neither. Then things get even more interesting when Morgan and her fellow inmates think they’ve found a ticket to the free world, a ‘bloodstained bank account’ they hope to bleed dry from the inside.

Low Bite was first published in 1989, and has apparently been long out-of-print. Happily it has reappeared, as this slim, well-presented reprint is likely to appeal to tough-girls and prison guards everywhere.

Buy Low Bite | Buy Low Bite eBook | Back to Sin Sorraco's Page


Sober Living For the Revolution on PMR


http://www.politicalmediareview.org

by Simon Czerwinskyj
Tue, Jun 22, 2010


The contemporary vision of straight edge is a highly westernized one, focusing on plodding metal music and alpha male attitudes, with politics largely subtracted from the equation. This widely-accepted stereotype of straight edge is roundly contradicted by Sober Living For The Revolution. Editor Gabriel Kuhn conducts a series of interviews with a wide spectrum of politicized and intelligent straight edge musicians and activists, shedding light on a whole different side of the subculture.

Kuhn has compiled a far-reaching collection of interesting and active individuals who recognize the inherent political implications of straight edge, going beyond the ego-driven, solipsistic version of straight edge that dominates in America.

On its face, straight edge is a set of rules, proffering its adherents to live drug-free and avoid casual sex. By taking an international bent, Kuhn is able to transcend the superficial face of straight edge. He talks to a woman named Tanja from Sweden, who speaks to how straight edge was a natural, and common, progression for radical communities in Umea, “I believe, for example, that living drug-free is seen by many – in particular by many women – as a form of solidarity with underprivileged social groups because these groups often seem to be affected the most when it comes to alcohol and drug addiction…The idea that living drug free might allow you to do more effective work for other people really spoke to me.”

This line of thinking extends to other individuals embedded in situations where politics are less a choice than a way of life: Kuhn talks to Jonathan Pollack in Israel, who is a straight edger, anarchist, and supporter of Palestinian resistance and Robert Matusiak in Poland, who runs a record label and talks of witnessing the ruination wrought by alcohol abuse in Polish culture.

If I were to wedge an overarching theme into this book, it would be that the ability to focus, organize, and carry out resistance to any oppressive force is undermined by the use of drugs and alcohol, as Sober Living For The Revolution also includes an entire section of manifestos that tie straight edge to anarchism.  “Wasted Indeed: Anarchy and Alcohol” explores the idea of indulging in and getting drunk off of life and its pleasures rather than controlled substances, and by extension, eschewing the version of straight edge that preaches purity, abstention, and control. Kuhn has gone above and beyond in his attempt to include all voices; Nick Riotfag’s essay “My Edge Is Anything But Straight” analyzes and critiques the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol in gay social circles. Kelly Leonard, founder of xsisterhoodx.com, speaks of the female experience and struggle within the straight edge community.

The book’s success stems from the articulate and insightful interviews, thanks to Kuhn’s probing, evocative questions, and the well-written, contrarian essays that all redefine straight edge as a  liberating belief system and aid in the struggle. The only glaring weakness is the interview with Andy Hurley, drummer of Fall Out Boy and Anarcho-Primitivist advocate, whose inclusion in the book seems to be a result of his high-profile status rather than his ability to engage in a meaningful discussion.

Sober Living For The Revolution begins with an interview with Ian MacKaye, member of the seminal straight edge band Minor Threat and the ultra-DIY Fugazi, who always has a lot of acerbic and educated insights on nearly any subject. Although he would most likely hate the title, he’s become an authority on straight edge, as he was instrumental to its inception and wide-spread popularity in the 1980′s. And as he’s had many years to ruminate on what straight edge and its applications mean, he has a unique, wizened perspective that I believe encompasses the spirit of the book and straight edge itself:

“There have been so many times when I would read something like, ‘Ian MacKaye is a practitioner of the straight edge lifestyle.’ A few years ago it finally hit me what was so annoying about it: it’s no fucking lifestyle! A lifestyle is something that one chooses. Like, if you choose to live on a beach and go surfing all day, that’s a lifestyle. But being straight is the base, that’s what’s underneath all of this! We’re born that way!”


An Intelligent Take on the Economic Crisis


http://www.permanentrevolution.net/

by Graham Balmer
Summer 2010

The three Canadian authors and academics, two of whom are editors of socialist register, have written a concise account of the Great recession and the tasks facing the left. The main body of the book is only about 100 pages in length but they manage to cover a great deal of ground, even though its style is a little too academic in places.

They have previously contributed more directly to debates on global political economy and the first half of this book on the origins of the financial crisis is the more insightful and stands against the current of Marxist economics exemplified by the us academic robert Brenner and supporters in the British sWp.

The subsequent sections are largely from a North American perspective and they make some very good points on the issues surrounding the rebuilding of a socialist alternative while falling short of espousing an openly Marxist programme.

It is refreshing to find an analysis of the financial crisis that is not predicated on the low profitability of capitalism: “the origins of today’s us-based financial crisis are not rooted in a profitability crisis in the sphere of production as was the case with the crisis of the 1970s.”

The idea that the almighty financial bubble, rising house prices, household debt, etc, was capitalism’s attempt to mask chronic stagnation stretching back nearly four decades is the mantra of many. it is unsupported by the uncomfortable fact that the rate of profit was not stuck in the quagmire of the 1980s but on the contrary had risen to the level of the late 1960s by 2006 – even in the “sluggish” imperialist heartlands.

As the authors say: “overall, the era of finance-led neo-liberalism experienced a rate of growth of global GDp that compares favourably with earlier periods of capitalist development over the last two centuries.”

The recent global recession “was rooted in the dynamics of finance. in spite of some important exceptions (notably in the ‘Detroit Three’), American corporations came into this crisis in generally solid financial shape in terms of profits, debt and cash flow.”

Economic crises must be placed in historical perspective and Albo et al are probably right that “there can be a general theory of capitalist development and the contradictions which lead to recurrent instability and crises within capitalism, but a ‘law of crisis’ cannot be drawn across the history of capitalism”.

The interplay between the drag on profitability (Marx’s tendency of the rate of profit to fall) and the countervailing tendencies to it (Marx again) such as rising productivity and “new zones for capitalist development in Eastern Europe, Latin America, China, and india” is missing from many contemporary theories of crisis.

All crises exhibit some obvious core features and capitalists will always take the opportunity to weaken labour, but the causes can be as different as the response of the capitalist class - compare the “Volcker shock” from 1979 with its rapid increase in interest rates to 20% to “crush inflation”, to interest rates being driven down to virtually zero in 2008-09. The authors view the actions of paul Volcker in 1979, then chair of the us Federal reserve, as one of the defining moments in the introduction of neo-liberalism as the new economic orthodoxy.

Turning to the specific role of finance in capitalist crises, there are a range of views to consider; from the failure of government policy or regulation as highlighted by Keynesians such as the us academics paul Krugman and Joseph stieglitz, through to financialisation as a symptom of decline in the “real” productive economy from Marxists at Monthly review, robert Brenner and others.

This book views finance as integral to capitalism and insists that counter-posing it to production is a false dichotomy: “Money capital, bank capital, credit and speculative capital are all necessary moments in the circuits of capitalist production and exchange. Capitalism is inconceivable without them.”

Although they argue that “fictitious capital generated in financial markets is not purely speculative in the sense that playing slot machines in a casino is speculative”, it could have been made clearer that it is only “fictitious” in the sense of being capital that is a paper claim on future profits (mortgage backed securities, etc) and is not directly invested.

This does not mean that the loanable capital that initially entered the system at the beginning of the paper trail is not “real”. The sucking in of profits into the us which were generated in the “emerging economies” was one factor in the sub-prime mortgage crisis; the capital became fictitious in the hands of Wall street but originated in the real surplus value extracted from workers in China and elsewhere.

This is identified as one reason for the financial bubble, along with the incorporation of workers into the financial system via pensions, credit cards and, of course, mortgages. The bursting of a housing bubble is a shock to the whole economic system in a way that a stock market collapse is not, as housing impacts directly on the construction industry and producers of durable consumer goods. Furthermore, for most people, the value of the family home accounts for most of their wealth.

There is an interesting discussion on the development of finance in the us and how state regulation has always served to protect the financial system; for example, the creation of the Federal reserve in the us after the banking crisis of 1907, roosevelt’s New Deal regulatory structure acting as an “incubator for financial capital’s growth and development” in the post-war period.

“The origins of today’s US-based financial crisis are not rooted in a profitability crisis in the sphere of production as was the case with the crisis of the 1970s”

Their analysis is more accurate and sophisticated than many on the left but suffers from one serious weakness. Although they are right to emphasis that finance is integral to capitalism and, most importantly, that this was not a crisis of profitability, they overplay the idea that little has changed with the credit crunch and the Great recession.

“The crisis of the empire is a crisis of all the capitalist states in the empire. There is not, in that sense, a direct relative loss of American power.”

The understandable desire to proclaim the demise of neo- liberalism and the end of us hegemony is tempting and has to be resisted when (at least to date) the Great recession has led to few fractures within the capitalist class. But it is not true that globalisation has been unaffected.

The unfolding Euro crisis and the tensions within the Europe over the bailout of Greece suggest there is significant fallout. Indeed, the whole crisis acts as a catalyst, speeding up the shift in the central axis of economic power within global capitalism, away from the G7 towards Asia.

The U.S. is still clearly the centre of global political, military and imperialist power, but this book does not really showcase the historic rise of China as an economic power over the last few decades.

The impact of the global recession in 2009 was not evenly felt, nor is the current rebound in industrial production. There has been a wide gap between the economic performance of the BriCs and Global south compared to the us, Europe and Japan.

The second part of the book covers the response of the us workers’ movement to the Great recession and offers a number of prescriptions for the way forward. As they say, “The political and economic setting facing the union movement today is, perhaps, the most difficult since the Great Depression”.

They offer a sober assessment of where the us left finds itself after decades of a neo-liberal offensive and declining union membership. There has been resistance in the us, and like in the uK including sporadic strike action and even occupations. But, to take one example, there have been few mass marches or community actions against people loosing their homes even though the foreclosure (repossession) rate has been very high in the us.

The US is still the centre of global political, military power, but this book does not showcase the historic rise of China as an economic power over the last few decades  

What can be done? They identify the numerous smaller opportunities to link up industrial and community struggles, private and public sector, the unionised with the unorganised, migrant workers and environmental campaigners.

There are also the bigger national movements demanding comprehensive health care provision, an “anti-concessions campaign” (i.e. cuts in pay, pensions, severance pay, etc.) and initiatives against further anti- union legislation.

Finally, the inbuilt limitations of trade unionism means that the involvement in these struggles of organised revolutionary socialists is crucial if system-wide questions are to gain a hearing and support: the nationalisation of the whole finance system, the auto industry; workers’ control, for demands around climate change.

They put it succinctly: “The way forward 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.”

This is what socialists are always grappling with, and there are a great number of ideas here to commend, but they rather lose their way at the end with vague calls for a “new political instrument for social struggle” and the need to “experiment in political parties of a new kind”, without spelling out what this entails exactly in terms of methods of organisation (i.e. the balance between unity in action and democratic internal debate), controls on leaders, and how parties are to be prevented from exercising bureaucratic control over movements, as opposed to gaining leadership rights.


The State as a Social Relationship:

Gustav Landauer Revived
http://www.jewdas.org

by Dov Neumann
25 June, 2010

Whilst in Sweden I was fortunate to bump into one of the most prolific scholars of anarchist studies active today. Gabriel Kuhn has not one, two but three books out this year, published by the newly established PM Press, and they couldn’t be more poles apart. One of them charts the Golden Age of Piracy’s radical landscape via a roster of thinkers that includes Nietzsche, Mao-Tse Tung and Foucault; another aims to establish the political legacy of the Hardcore Straight Edge Punk scene; the last provides the first major collection of English translations of a German-Jewish anarchist called Gustav Landauer.

Finally, Gustav Landauer in English! Well perhaps it says something about me but I harangued Kuhn for an interview, about Landauer specifically. It’s not that I’m not interested in proto-queer disabled pirates or anti-machismo sober revolutionaries, it’s just that Landauer’s big influence on many of my German friends has made me aware that his ideas are sorely missing from English speaking discourses.

So there we sat, around a large sticky table in Stockholm’s activist hangout number one – Kafé 44 – talking about a man who died ninety years ago; whose thoughts about socialism as anarchism, escaping the state, the Zapatistas (of 1914!), anti-semitism, oil corporations, mysticism and spirituality, and of course revolution itself, seem as remarkable today as they ever were.

Dov Neumann: Firstly, I’d like to say thank you very much for meeting me Gabriel.

Gabriel Kuhn: My pleasure.

DN: In front of me is a copy of what you’ve obviously been working on for several years now, Gustav Landauer's Revolution and Other Writings – a rather mammoth translation project if you don’t mind me saying so. To English speakers you’ve made available for the first time a serious body of the writings of probably the most important German Anarchist of the twentieth century. Essays, articles, pamphlets, personal letters, even a postcard.

GK: His politically focused texts anyway. I had to focus on his political writings because he also wrote a lot on the arts, literature and philosophy. His lectures on Shakespeare fill two volumes, for example, which isn’t exactly in the scope of this book.

DN: But Landauer died, or rather was killed, in 1919. Why revive him today?

GK: I think there are two aspects for me. Firstly, I think that if you translate a text – whether it’s 50, 100, 200 years old – if you consider an author important in anarchism, a social movement, philosophical school or whatever: it’s a valuable research tool in itself.
However, I would say that what’s special about Landauer is that he really presented a definition of anarchism and socialism – he used the terms interchangeably – that is, I dare say, pretty unique.
He began his theoretical development with a broadly ‘class-struggle anarchist’ approach to politics, but ended up developing something of a spiritual understanding of socialism. It strongly focused on people finding something within themselves that cultivated inner change, from which values like mutual aid and solidarity would come naturally; rather than through a rational code where you might think, ‘Well it’s better for others therefore it’s better for me.’

DN: He was quite opposed to that kind of rationalism, wasn’t he?

GK: Absolutely. He believed that on that basis you couldn’t develop socialism because people wouldn’t really feel connected to one another. To do so you’d have to, and this is where it becomes complicated because it’s mystical, discover the inner essence of humanity that lies within each individual. You have to turn inwards first and discover this inner essence, and then you will perceive humankind in a different sense and approach people differently.

DN: Difference is a key word for Landauer. For example he vehemently opposes Esperanto for trying to unite humanity with one language. He makes an almost Tower of Babelesque critique.

GK: That’s a good example of Landauer’s opposition to rationalist measures of bringing people together. I guess Esperanto was to him a cold, mechanical idea of providing some kind of common structure of finding one another. Rather, people best do so through cherishing their own cultural traditions, expressions and language.
The idea of a homogenous socialist utopia was not something that appealed to him. If you’re not able to embrace all cultural forms that human kind has produced: you cannot embrace all of human kind, you cannot establish socialism. His idea of difference goes beyond a mere concept of tolerance. Socialism has to ‘grow’, that’s a word that appears often in his writings, it has to grow from the diversity of human beings and cultures that make up humanity.

DN: Perhaps that relates to his agrarianism, his belief in the revolutionary potential of agricultural settlements – what we would now call communes. I laughed when I read in your introduction how he visited one of these pioneering settlements, the Neue Gemeinschaft, but left ‘Disillusioned with the escapism they mistook for social transformation’, as you wrote. My own experience precisely!

GK: His settlement idea is superficially one of a commune movement: you move to the country, set up your commune, hope that more and more people will do the same. That is part of Landauer’s idea, but that alone would not suffice. Your commune could never be an isolated island. It has to be connected to its context and it has to have an impact on society overall.

DN: Does this slow settlement idea make Landauer something of an ‘evolutionary’ anarchist?

GK: Some people have argued that rapid social transformations are contrary to his beliefs, and therefore he’s been criticised for joining the 1918 Bavarian Revolution. I see that as rather short sighted. Landauer did believe that in certain times revolution could be part of a movement to create a better world. He just never thought that socialism could be achieved by changing the structure of government or establishing workers councils. He saw it as an important step but not the one thing that would establish socialism.
Eventually, for Landauer, the state would disappear because it would no longer be necessary. He famously defines it as a ‘social relationship’ between people. You abolish it by developing different relationships and not by changing the political system or the economic structure.

DN: In a way that’s quite a Post-Structuralist way of understanding power.

GK: I think so. For example Foucault’s theory of power stresses that aspect, that a lot of our power structures are reproduced in personal relationships, not just in government institutions. So I think that is one aspect in which Landauer’s theories fit in with more contemporary theory. Another is with the idea of ‘counter-power’, where you try to build a parallel underground society and use that to escape and diminish the power of the state. I think a lot of contemporaries would find something interesting in Landauer’s writings which goes beyond merely satisfying a historical interest.

DN: Landauer had a Jewish background. Did that affect his ideas?

GK: His thoughts on Judaism emerged only later in his life. Like many secular Jewish intellectuals at the time he almost made a point of not addressing that part of his identity. The spiritual aspects of his central political text Revolution focus on Middle Age Christian mystics, not Jewish mysticism. Judaism comes in his later essays, where he confronts the anti-semitism inherent in the Beilis Trial, and seemingly discovers Jewish mysticism for the first time, with the help of his close friend, the Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber.

DN: Did he join in with Buber’s enthusiasm for some form of Jewish state?

GK: Landauer just started joining the discussion on Zionism a few months before he died. He was invited to a couple of conferences that dealt with Zionism and settlement projects in Palestine but he couldn’t attend because of the events in Munich, in which he was killed.

DN: He was invited by Nachum Goldman, founder and president of the the World Jewish Congress, right?

GK: Exactly. All we have there are a couple of letters between Landauer and Goldman where Landauer expresses, if you will, – hesitant – interest. It’s really hard to tell whether Landauer would have actively supported settlements in Palestine. Nevertheless, a lot of people in the early kibbutz movement were directly inspired by his idea of developing socialism through a network of agricultural settlements.
It’s hard to believe Landauer would have supported Jewish statehood. Perhaps he would have shared his friend Margarete Susman’s anti-statist interpretation of Zionism; Zionism as part of an international socialist movement. Even before the events of 1948 she declared explicitly that the Zionist movement must not turn into a nationalistic, nation-state-building movement: that would kill the whole idea.

DN: It has been argued that Landauer named his Sozialistische Bund organisation (Socialist Association) that way because of the link between the German word ‘Bund’ and the Hebrew word ‘bris’ (covenant). Would he perhaps have favoured the other significant Hebrew related Bund at the time – the Yidisher Arbeiter Bund (Yiddish Workers Association) – over the Zionist cause? Their values seem closer to his . . .

GK: I’m not aware of any direct links to the Yidisher Arbeiter Bund. That said, if he had lived longer, he would probably have seen the return of Rudolf Rocker [important German anarcho-syndicalist; leading light in London's Yiddish-anarchist movement, despite not being Jewish] to Germany, and it would have been interesting to see what their contact would have been.
In a sense, much of the Yidisher Arbeiter Bund‘s ideas would fit with Landauer’s beliefs. You have this universal, socialist-anarchist ideal, but if your cultural background is Jewish, or you come from a Yiddish speaking background, you want to pursue that as well, because that’s what allows you to formulate and express your ideas best.

DN: One of your next projects, I gather, is something of an accompaniment to your Landauer book. You’re translating a major body of writings from a German anarchist who is even less known outside Germany than Landauer: his friend Erich Mühsam.

GK: Yes. They were the two most important German anarchists of the century. Mühsam was influenced by Landauer’s spiritual socialism and they collaborated quite a lot in writing and action. Both had similar backgrounds – Jewish, middle class – Mühsam was ten years younger though and throughout his entire life saw Landauer as a kind of mentor-teacher. The main difference between the two was that Mühsam was closer to class-struggle anarchism, considering the proletariat a revolutionary subject. Landauer was more skeptical. . .

DN: Landauer called the proletariat ‘Significant but overrated’!

GK: Exactly. The other major difference was that Mühsam, while being very close to the ideas of proletarian council communism, was also a prototypical bohemian. Free love, artist-colonies and so on were important things for him. And that was a conflict between him and Landauer. Landauer considered the family the smallest unit of a socialist society, where you craft the solidarity and mutual aid. He had a well known love affair with a Swiss syndicalist called Margarethe Faas-Hardegger which ended when Margarethe wrote an article which criticised the nuclear family unit and argued for communal child rearing. He also didn’t feel comfortable discussing rights for homosexuals, which Mühsam was very involved in. So there was a conflict there, but they were good friends and shared a lot of ideas. Mühsam would eventually be one of the first prominent victims of the early Nazi concentration camps.


Gabriel Kuhn holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Innsbruck, Austria, and lives as a writer and translator in Stockholm, Sweden. Currently, he is mainly working with Unrast Verlag in Germany and with PM Press in the US.

Indulge in a Book | Download e-Book | Back to Gabriel Kuhn's Author Page



PM at the U.S. Social Forum

Join PM Press at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit, June 22-26, 2010. You can hit us up at the PM table for some radical literature and good conversation, or meet some of the authors of your favourite books and hear them speak.

What is the U.S. Social Forum?

The US Social Forum (USSF) is a movement building process. It is not a
 conference but it is a space to come up with the peoples’ solutions to the 
economic and ecological crisis. The USSF is the next most important step in our
 struggle to build a powerful multi-racial, multi-sectoral, inter-generational,
 diverse, inclusive, internationalist movement that transforms this country and
 changes history.

We must declare what we want our world to look like and we 
must start planning the path to get there. The USSF provides spaces to learn 
from each other’s experiences and struggles, share our analysis of the problems 
our communities face, build relationships, and align with our international 
brothers and sisters to strategize how to reclaim our world.

World Social Forum to USSF - Globalizing the Resistance

A global movement is rising. The USSF is our opportunity to prepare and 
meet it! The World Social Forum (WSF) has become an important symbol of global 
movement convergence and the development of alternatives to the dominant
 paradigm. Over the past nine years, the WSF has gathered the world’s workers, 
peasants, youth, women, and oppressed peoples to construct a counter-vision to
 the economic and political elites of the World Economic Forum held annually in
 Davos, Switzerland.

After gathering 100,000 people in Porto Alegre, Brazil in
 2005, the International Council (IC) decided that in 2006 there would be
 regional social forums to culminate in a WSF in 2007. The IC delegated
 Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ) to help shepherd the US Social Forum 
process, stating that it was strategic to hold a gathering of peoples and movements within the “belly of the beast” that were against the ravages of
 globalization and neoliberal policies in the US and worldwide. GGJ is an 
alliance that grew out of people-of-color-led grassroots groups who
 participated in the first WSF. These grassroots leaders initiated a process to 
create the first USSF National Planning Committee (NPC) and Atlanta was
 selected as the USSF host city. In early 2009, the NPC selected Detroit as the
 second host city for 2010.

Learn more about the World Social Forum and social forums happening around the world.

Who Will Be There?

 





 

Big Noise

Richard Rowley and Jacqueline Soohen are members of Big Noise Tactical Media, a New York based radical media group. Their groundbreaking feature films, Zapatista (1998), Black and Gold (1999) and This Is What Democracy Looks Like (2000), have won top honors at hundreds of film festivals from New York, Toronto and Los Angeles to Berlin, Seoul and Bogota. They have also produced television and video reports from the front lines of struggles around the globe. In 1999, as founding members of the Independent Media Center video team, they collaborated in cutting the historic daily satellite feeds from the WTO protests in Seattle. They have reported for national television news programs from Argentina, Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico, Ecuador, Brasil, East Timor, South Africa and Palestine, where they were the only media to break the siege on the Church of the Nativity.

Buy DVDs | Read more

 

CASA Collective

Teaching Rebellion / Ensenando Rebeldia: "Once you learn to speak, you don't want to be quiet anymore," an indigenous community radio activist said.  Accompanied by photography and political art, Teaching Rebellion is a compilation of testimonies from longtime organizers, teachers, students, housewives, religious leaders, union members, schoolchildren, indigenous community activists, artists and journalists--and many others who participated in what became the Popular Assembly of the People's of Oaxaca. This is a chance to listen directly to those invested in and affected by what quickly became one of the most important social uprisings of the 21st century.

Acompañada de fotografías y arte político, esta compilación poderosa de testimonios de organizadores, artistas, amas de casa, periodistas, estudiantes, maestros y otros que participaron en la Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca provee un vistazo abierto y honesto de las protestas oaxaqueñas del 2006 contra la situación política en el estado mexicano--protestas que se convertirían en una de las revueltas sociales más importantes del siglo XX1.

Buy book | Comprar libro | Read more 

 

Josh Macphee

Paper Politics: Socially Engaged Printmaking Today is a major collection of contemporary politically and socially engaged printmaking. This full color book showcases print art that uses themes of social justice and global equity to engage community members in political conversation. Based on an art exhibition which has traveled to a dozen cities in North America, Paper Politics features artwork by over 200 international artists; an eclectic collection of work by both activist and non-activist printmakers who have felt the need to respond to the monumental trends and events of our times.

Buy book | Read more 

 

Carlos Martinez, Jojo Farrell, Michael Fox & Silvia Leindecker

Venezuela Speaks!: For the last decade, Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution” has captured international attention. Poverty, inequality and unemployment have all dropped, while health, education and living standards have seen a commensurate rise. The international mainstream media has focused predominantly on Venezuela’s controversial leader, President Hugo Chavez, who has routinely been in the headlines. But without the active participation of large and diverse sectors of society, Chavez’s moment on the scene would have ended long ago.

Venezuela Speaks!: Voices from the Grassroots is a collection of interviews with activists and participants from across Venezuela’s social movements. From community media to land reform; cooperatives to communal councils, from the labor movement to the Afro-Venezuelan network, Venezuela Speaks! sheds light on the complex realities within the Bolivarian Revolution. These interviews offer a compelling oral history of Venezuela's democratic revolution, from the bottom up.

Beyond Elections: What is democracy? Freedom, equality, participation? Everyone has his or her own definition. Across the world, 120 countries now have at least the minimum trappings of democracy---the freedom to vote for all citizens. But for many, this is just the beginning not the end. Following decades of US-backed dictatorships, civil wars and devastating structural adjustment policies in the South, and corporate control, electoral corruption, and fraud in the North, representative politics in the Americas is in crisis. Citizens are now choosing to redefine democracy under their own terms: local, direct, and participatory.

Buy book | Buy DVD | Read more

 

SmartMeme

Re:Imagining Change provides resources, theory, hands-on tools and illuminating case studies for the next generation of innovative change makers. This unique book explores how culture, media, memes, and narrative intertwine with social change strategies, and offers practical methods to amplify progressive causes in the popular culture.

Re:Imagining Change is an inspirational inside look at the trailblazing methodology developed by the non-profit strategy and training organization, smartMeme. Founded in 2002, smartMeme offers tools, training, and strategy support to organizations and movements working for justice, ecological sanity and transformative social change. Re:Imagining Change is a summary of their approach, and a call to innovate our strategies for collectively addressing the escalating social and ecological crisis of the 21st century.

Buy book | Read more 

 

Turbulence

Movements become apparent as “movements” at times of acceleration and expansion. In these heady moments they have fuzzy boundaries, no membership lists--everybody is too engaged in what’s coming next, in creating the new, looking to the horizon. But movements get blocked, they slow down, they cease to move, or continue to move without considering their actual effects. When this happens, they can stifle new developments, suppress the emergence of new forms of politics; or fail to see other possible directions. Many movements just stop functioning as movements. They become those strange political groups of yesteryear, arguing about history as worlds pass by. Sometimes all it takes to get moving again is a nudge in a new direction... We think now is a good time to ask the question: What is winning? Or: What would--or could--it mean to “win?” 

Buy book | Read more

The events

SmartMeme
Story-based Strategy: How Grassroots Organizers Can Win the Battle of the Story
Event Date:  Thu, 06/24/2010 - 10:00am - 12:00pm

Cobo Hall: DO-03D

SmartMeme's training will focus on updating the timeless skills of storytelling and social change strategy for our current context of media-saturation, hyper-branding and 24 hour news cycles. This multi-media, interactive training will provide participants with hands on tools for framing their issues and useful frameworks to integrate messaging and storytelling into their organizing and campaigning. We will explore what it means to apply a "narrative analysis of power" to social change work and approach strategy through the lens of storytelling. We will share some of the story-based strategy approach for linking traditional organizing and movement building efforts with values based messaging, narrative concepts and creative action. This will include discussion of the relationship between meme theory-the study of how ideas spread and replicate-and movement building. Participants will get a chance to share some of their stories and unpack the "control mythologies" at play around the issue they work on. The training will cross issues and organizing experiences, use interactivity, small groups and skilled facilitation to help participants integrate messaging and storytelling into grassroots

Turbulence
Collaborative Investigation (Co-Razonando) in Times of Crisis: Bridging North and South, Activism and Academia.
Event Date:  Thu, 06/24/2010 - 1:00pm - 3:00pm

WSU Manoogian

This workshop is part of a collaborative effort between activist-researchers and researching-activists in the Americas to develop new concepts and practices adequate to the multiple, intersecting crises that characterize our times. We recognize that the inadequacy of old concepts and theories of social change contributes to crisis. While most in the mainstream look to policy experts, scientists and academics for solutions to the ecological, food, energy, economic, and political crises of our day, we believe that social movements are producing the most creative responses. Building on our different experiences within movements as well as international projects of militant or collaborative investigation, we will discuss the importance of spaces and projects to cultivate new conceptual and practical frameworks for pursuing activist work. The panel will combine the diverse experience and approaches of our presenters with collaborative media projects including Turbulence: Ideas for Movement (a critical transnational magazine) and community gardening projects in rural and urban areas (North and South). Following brief presentations the workshop will use small group work to explore other potential sites for collaborative investigation.
campaign work.

Re:Imagining Change Book Release Party
Thurs. 6/24 6-8 pm
Free food & cash bar!

Celebrate smartMeme's Re:Imagining Change @ the Majestic Cafe
4120 Woodward Ave between Mack & Warren, Detroit 48201



Josh MacPhee and Dara Greenwald
Re-animating Social Movement Histories Through Visual Culture
Event Date: Fri, 06/25/2010 - 3:00pm - 5:00pm

WSU Cohn: 224

In this workshop, participants will learn about the importance of culture in social movement history. The presenters (Dara Greenwald and Josh MacPhee) have done extensive archival research to unearth the history of social movement cultures through posters, video, sound, and other materials. This will be a multi-media presentation with case studies of moments in which cultural production played a crucial role in movement development (including Anti-Apartheid, Anti-nuclear, and others). A participatory discussion will follow the presentation about the possible role that culture can/is playing in movements today and the ways learning history can activate and inform present struggles.

New World from Below Collaborative Book Party
Date: Friday, June 25, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m.
New World from Below Convergence Center
The Spirit of Hope Church, 1519 Martin Luther King Dr.

Participating Authors: Benjamin Holtzman, Cindy Milstein, Jeff Conant, Jordan Flaherty, Josh MacPhee, Justseeds Artists' Cooperative, Seth Tobocman, Team Colors Collective and the Turbulence Collective.




New Rounds of Enclosure and Resistance: Fighting Notes from "Transitional" Serbia


Interview with Pokret za Slobodu
(Freedom Fight Movement)

By Andrej Grubacic and Freedomfight (ff),
http://www.zcommunications.org

May 28, 2010

AG:  Let me begin by asking about the last round of privatization in Serbia.  What used to be called in the state-socialist system of former Yugoslavia, "socially owned property," is being enclosed and privatized. How advanced is this process of "privatization through bankruptcy" at the moment? And at the risk of sounding legalistic, how legal is this process of accumulation by dispossession?

 
FF:  The privatization of socially owed property is almost completely done. The few big structures that remain are now turned into state enterprises, like the Bor complex (mines and mining industry) or the arms industry in ?a?ak, Užice, Kragujevac and so on. There are also some mid-level and small socially owed companies that are still not privatized, and last year the government decided simply to liquidate them. This liquidation is not based on economic reasons - it is a completely political decision to shut down all the remaining socially owed companies. The Ministry of Economy calls it “privatization through bankruptcy.” The decision is absolutely illegal. Serbian law on bankruptcy proscribes the causes for starting the liquidation process, and the government’s order to kill an otherwise well-doing company just because it is socially owed is not one of them. This decision was a cause for several protests last year, and the strongest group of workers who are still fighting is the one in Ravanica from ?uprija. Last summer its workers blocked the factory to prevent the government’s people from taking over the management. The protest gained strong public support, especially after the newspapers published the fact that Ravanica is not only the last factory in ?uprija up for privatization, but also the only one that still works, and works very well. ?uprija used to have several well known factories, and literally all of them were closed down or went bankrupt in the privatization process. The government feared this would initiate further debate about the success of the privatization process in Serbia, so they retreated from Ravanica and confirmed the old management as the official one. At this point Ravanica is the last remaining socially owed company in Serbia that remains in operation.
 
As far as the state owed companies, the government is planning to sell the pharmaceutical factory Galenika, Telekom Company, JAT Airways and Elektrodistribucija. They decided to sell Telekom this year, which caused very strong public protest. Both big unions of Telekom are against privatization, and they are supported by lots of intellectuals, some media (Republika and Balkan online magazine) and a former Telecommunications Minister. We can expect big fight over the issue this summer.
 
AG:  Freedom Fight collective, or Pokret za Slobodu in Yugoslav, is a member of the Coordination Committee of Workers Protest in Serbia. What is the news from below? One of the goals of Freedom Fight, of Pokret, is to help create a horizontal, prefigurative, self-managed structure that would allow for a genuine workers self-activity - solidarity unionism. What is the reality of rank and file workers resistance, and what is the relationship with the old, vertical union structures?
 
FF:  Last year’s wave of protests was caused by the results of the privatization process. Privatization failed to provide promised economic development, and after this problem was further emphasized by the global economic crisis, people began holding strikes and protests. Lots of privatization contracts were canceled (Zastava elektro, Vrša?ki vinogradi, Ikarbus...), and several of these workers groups formed the Coordination Committee of Workers Protests. Pokret za slobodu is also a member of the Coordinating Committee. Forming of this Committee was not only a reaction to the government’s policies, but also on the policies of the big unions. It was previously the union’s job to connect the workers groups that are protesting, but they instead choose to take the government’s side. During the protest of the Zastava elektro workers, we witnessed the union actually sabotaging the workers’ plan to organize demonstrations in front of the Privatization Agency’s (PA) building in Belgrade. Then Pokret za slobodu called Zrenjanin and Belgrade workers to help them – they organized demonstrations together, and that was the beginning of the Coordination Committee. The Zastava elektro protest was successful. The PA was forced to cancel the privatization contract, but two months ago they sold Zastava elektro again to the Yura Company from South Korea. Yura officials banned union organizing, and most of the old workers who were in last year’s protests left the factory. They feel that the new sale of the company is a kind of revenge by the government for the protest. Furthermore, the pro-Government press is now attacking them by saying that they are lazy - that ”last year they were protesting for their jobs, but when Korean company offers them jobs, they refuse to work!” On the other hand, the protest of another group from the Coordination Committee, Trudbenik gradnja workers, was unsuccessful even though they proved that their boss was severely breaking the privatization contract. The PA accepted their evidence, and it released the official hundred-pages detailed report on how the boss was breaking the law, but then they said, ”OK, you guys were right, he is robing both you and the state, it is outrageous, but we won’t break the contract“. Just like that. Why? Because this was a clear message for all the other workers what would happen if they rebel, and especially if they are doing it outside of the union structures. The cost of this for the workers was very high – more than 200 Trudbenik workers were sacked by the boss because of the protest. At the beginning of the strike in August last year they knew what would happen if they turn it into a protest against the privatization contract.  But they took the risk, knowing that the canceling of the privatization contract was their only chance to get the jobs back. It was him-or-them, and they proved that the law is on their side, but now they are out, not the boss. At the same time, Zastava elektro workers are punished for their last year’s successful protest as well. The Coordination Committee is still far from being strong enough to help them, besides holding more protests, so at this point the situation doesn’t look good. However, we are expecting a new wave of protests this summer, and that would be the chance for our organization – Coordination Committee of Workers Protests in Serbia – to grow stronger.
 
AG:  So is this the new focus of your current activity? Are there any efforts to document the experiences of last  year and your struggle for solidarity unionism against the long theft we know as privatization?
 
FF:  Besides our work within the Coordination Committee, Pokret za slobodu is now trying to broaden the network. We are now establishing contacts with peasants associations. They are the group completely repressed by the government because they don`t have a level of organization strong enough to fight radically against either the government’s measures that are destroying their economy, nor against the private monopolies trading with the agricultural products which are the fruit of their labor. This is very important issue here, since over 2 million people in Serbia lives only from agriculture as their livelihood.
 
We are currently working on a film and a book about last year’s protests, because we believe it is important to analyze what really happened, its continued significance and to give our side of the story. The Serbian press is writing about workers issues only from the perspective of big politics or big unions, and we want to show the perspectives of the people who were in the protests. These protests are not just another subject of somebody’s political agenda, they are coming from the people, and what we are doing is trying to help these people be heard.
 
AG:  In my view, one of the truly "balkanopolitan" elements of the Balkan and Serbian society are the Roma - their struggle against hierarchical, state-imposed authority and regulation, against the market economy and systems of both state socialism and capitalism, along with their culture, are a powerful inspiration for dreaming another Balkans. On the other hand, and for this very reason, they were and remain to be the single most oppressed group in the Balkan states.
 
FF:  Roma are the only group in Serbia that is completely left to its own fate. It is a desperate, catastrophic situation. The number of itinerant poor is now even larger due to exclusion mechanisms of the neoliberal state. Roma live in the streets, they collect trash and paper in order to survive.  Some estimates put the number of Roma in Serbia at 600,000, although the 2002 census only registered 102,193 people as Roma. According to the UNICEF report on the condition of Roma children in the Republic of Serbia (2006), almost 70% of Roma children are poor and over 60% of Roma households with children live below poverty line. Children are the most imperiled, living outside of cities in households with several children. Over 80% of indigent Roma children live in families in which the adult members of the family do not have basic education.
 
AG:  And in the meantime, the activist scene in Serbia is, in my opinion, very disconnected from these realities – or at least it was when I lived in Serbia. I hope that some things changed for the better since then, and that there is now at least an attempt to bring about a relationship of active solidarity, radical community organizing, and "accompaniment“ towards the situation of Roma in Serbia and the Balkans as a whole.
 
FF:  The activist scene in Serbia is still weak and without influence, but there are some signs that this might change. Since the “transition“ process started in 2001, the bigest problem of the Serbian leftist comunity wasnt the fact that it was small, weak, outnumbered by Nazis and so on, but that it was incompetent and ignorant about local problems. Lots of energy was wasted on activities that had little to do with the actual problems of Serbian workers in “transition.“ And those problems were huge – too huge not to be seen and confronted. For that reason we can say now that it was almost lucky that most of the activities of the leftist collectives in the past decade went virtually unnoticed by the broad public. It was prety embarassing to have some self-proclamed anarchosyndicalist leaders preaching against privatization from the ideological point of view, but without a clue about the local context, as if they just fell in from another world. For years we were practicly the only collective that was working with the actual people on the ground in strikes. But since last year this has started to change:  there are several Belgrade collectives now that are trying to support different groups of people in strike or in some other kind of protest, which is very significant because only by broadening our movement will the current leftist scene begin to make an influence, even though for the time-being it is still small.
 
Andrej Grubacic is a member of Global Balkan Network, Industrial Workers of the World, and Workers Solidarity Alliance, as well as the author of forthcoming Don't Mourn Balkanize! Essays After Yugoslavia.


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The Truth About Vegetarianism on Mother Earth News

The Vegetarian Myth tells us that not eating meat leads to a sustainable diet. But eating plants won’t solve the planet’s problems.

By Lierre Keith
MotherEarthNews.com
June/July 2010

I was a vegan for almost 20 years.



I know the reasons that compelled me to embrace an extreme diet, and they are honorable — even noble. Reasons such as justice, compassion and a desperate, all-encompassing longing to set the world right. To save the planet — the last trees bearing witness to ages and the scraps of wilderness still nurturing fading species, silent in their fur and feathers. To protect the vulnerable, the voiceless. To feed the hungry. At the very least, to refrain from participating in the horror of factory farming.

These political passions are born of a hunger so deep it touches on the spiritual. They were for me, and they still are. I want my life — my body — to be a place where the Earth is cherished, not devoured; where the sadist is granted no quarter; where the violence stops. And I want eating — the first nurturance — to be an act that sustains rather than kills. This is an effort to honor our deepest longings for a just world. And I now believe those longings — for compassion, for sustainability, for an equitable distribution of resources — are not served by the philosophy or practice of vegetarianism. Believing in this vegetarian myth has led us astray.

Factory Farming is Not the Only Way


The vegetarian Pied Pipers have the best of intentions. I’ll state right now that everything they say about factory farming is true: It is cruel, wasteful and destructive. But their first mistake is in assuming factory farming — a practice that is barely 50 years old — is the only way to raise animals. In my experience, their calculations on energy used, calories consumed and humans unfed are all based on the notion that animals eat grain. You can feed grain to animals, but it is not the diet for which they were designed. For most of human history, browsers and grazers haven’t been in competition with humans. They ate what we couldn’t eat (cellulose) and turned it into what we could (protein and fat). But our industrial culture stuffs grain into as many animals as it can. Grain will dramatically increase the growth rate of beef cattle and the milk production of dairy cows. It will also kill them. The delicate bacterial balance of a cow’s rumen may become acidic and turn septic. Chickens get fatty liver disease if fed corn exclusively. Sheep and goats, which are also ruminants like cattle, shouldn’t touch the stuff either.

Not only that, but large portions of the world are utterly unsuited for growing large grain crops. And not just mountaintops in far distant Nepal, but close by in, say, New England. Cows are what grow here. So are deer, in their forest-destroying abundance. The logic of the land tells us to eat the animals that can eat the tough cellulose that survives here.

Considering Entire Ecosystems

Life isn’t possible without death, and no matter what you eat, something has to die to feed you. The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet, and more of the same won’t save us. Today’s industrial agriculture requires the wholesale destruction of entire ecosystems.
I want a full accounting, an accounting that goes way beyond what’s dead on your plate. I’m asking about everything that died in the process, everything that was killed to get that food onto your plate. That’s the more radical question, and it’s the only question that will produce the truth. How many rivers were dammed and drained? How many prairies plowed and forests pulled down? How much topsoil turned to dust? I want to know about all the species. Not just the individuals, but the entire species — the chinook, the bison, the grasshopper sparrows and the gray wolves. And I want more than just the number of dead and gone. I want them back.

Despite what we’ve been told, and despite the earnestness of the tellers, eating soybeans isn’t going to bring these plants and animals back. Ninety-eight percent of the American prairie is gone, turned into a monocrop of annual grains. Plow cropping in Canada has destroyed 99 percent of the land’s original humus. When the rain forest falls to beef, progressives are outraged and ready to boycott. But our attachment to the vegetarian myth leaves us uneasy, silent and ultimately immobilized when the culprit is wheat and the victim is the prairie.

The vast majority of people in the United States don’t grow food, let alone hunt and gather it. We have no way to judge how much death is embodied in a serving of salad, a bowl of fruit or a plate of beef. We live in urban environments — in the last whisper of forests — thousands of miles removed from the devastated rivers, prairies, wetlands and the millions of creatures who died for our dinners. Many inhabitants of urban industrial cultures have no point of contact with grain, chickens, cows, or — for that matter — with topsoil. We have no idea what nourishes plants, animals or soil, which means we have no idea what we ourselves are eating.

Hard Questions About Agriculture

What’s looming in the shadows of our ignorance and denial is a critique of civilization itself. The starting point may be what we eat, but the end is an entire way of life, a global arrangement of power, and with no small measure of personal attachment to it. I remember the day in fourth grade when Miss Fox wrote two words on the blackboard: civilization and agriculture. I remember because of the hush in her voice, the gravitas of her words, the explanation that was almost oratory. And I understood. Everything that was good in human culture flowed from this point — all ease, grace and justice. Religion, science, medicine and art were born, and the endless struggle against starvation, disease and violence could be won, all because humans had figured out how to grow their own food.

I believe that agriculture has created a net loss for human rights and culture: slavery, imperialism, militarism, class divisions, chronic hunger and disease. “The real problem, then, is not to explain why some people were slow to adopt agriculture, but why anybody took it up at all, when it is so obviously beastly,” writes biologist and author Colin Tudge. Agriculture has also been devastating to the other creatures with whom we share the Earth, and, ultimately, to the life support systems of the planet itself. What is at stake is everything. If we want a sustainable world, we have to be willing to examine the power relations behind the foundational myth of our culture. Anything less and we will fail.

Questioning at that level is difficult for most people. In this case, the emotional struggle inherent in resisting any hegemony is compounded by our dependence on civilization, and by our individual helplessness to stop it. Most of us would have no chance of survival if the industrial infrastructure collapsed tomorrow. And our consciousness is equally impeded by our powerlessness.

I don’t have a “10 Simple Things …” list for you because, frankly, there aren’t 10 simple things that will save the Earth. There is no personal solution. There is an interlocking web of hierarchical arrangements — vast systems of power that have to be confronted and dismantled. We can disagree about how best to do that, but do it we must if life on Earth is to have any chance of surviving.

Mutual Indebtedness

I have stopped fighting the basic algebra of embodiment: For something to live, something else has to die. In that acceptance, with all its suffering and sorrow, is the ability to choose a different way — a better way.

Consider the cow, a prey animal that has evolved to do one thing exquisitely: take cellulose — ubiquitous grass — and turn it into mass and motion. Like all members of a healthy biotic community, the cow produces food for someone else. Her manure feeds soil, plants and insects. The mechanical action of her hooves and her teeth helps the grasslands stay diverse. Her digestive processes free up nutrients — and not just for her, but for the whole community. Her body will become a meal for predators, scavengers and degraders of all sizes. Life is ultimately a cooperative process, unitary in its goal: more life.
The grazers need their grass, but the grass also needs the animals. It needs the manure, with its nitrogen, minerals and bacteria. It needs the mechanical check of grazing activity, and it needs the resources stored in animal bodies and freed up by degraders after animals die. The grass and the grazers need each other as much as predators need prey. These are not one-way relationships. They are not arrangements of dominance and subordination.

In his book Long Life, Honey in the Heart, Martin Prechtel writes of the Mayan people and their concept of kas-limaal, which translates roughly as “mutual indebtedness, mutual insparkedness.” Pretchel writes that “the knowledge that every animal, plant, person, wind and season is indebted to the fruit of everything else is an adult knowledge.”

This is a concept we need, especially those of us who are impassioned by injustice. The only way out of the vegetarian myth is through the pursuit of kas-limaal, of adult knowledge. If we choose to live in tune with nature, we won’t be exploiting each other by eating. Instead, we will only be taking turns.

This article is excerpted from The Vegetarian Myth (PM Press, 2009). While we expect that not all of our readers will agree with the opinions expressed in this article, we think it's a valuable perspective on food and farming that we hope will spur further discussion. We invite you to comment below. — MOTHEREARTHNEWS

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First Earth review on Ecovillagenews

First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture
By Diana Leafe Christian, http://www.ecovillagenews.org


First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture, by filmmaker David Sheen, knocked my socks off. A “why-to,” not a “how-to,” this evocative and beautiful documentary shows why building with earth — cob, straw clay, adobe bricks, rammed earth — works well structurally, lasts a long time, compels the eye and heart, is healthier for builders and dwellers than most other construction methods, and feels good to live in. And can even spiritually uplift and inspire the builders.

Filmed on location over four years on four continents, First Earth features curving art-poem dwellings in the Pacific Northwest in Canada and the US; thousand-year-old apartment-and-ladder architecture of Taos Pueblo; centuries-old and contemporary cob homes in England; classic round thatched huts in West Africa; bamboo-and-cob structures now on the rise in Thailand; and soaring Moorish-style earthen skyscrapers in Yemen. It engages the left brain as well, with brief appearances by renowned cultural observers and activists (Derrick Jensen, Daniel Quinn, James Howard Kunstler, Richard Heinberg, Starhawk, Chellis Glendinning, and Mark Lakeman, among others) speaking on what’s not right with our society and how building with earth addresses some of these ills, and major natural building teachers (Michael G. Smith, Becky Bee, Joseph Kennedy, Sunray Kelly, Janell Kapoor, Elke Cole, Ianto Evans, Bob Theis, and Stuart Cowan, among others).

”Earthen Buildings Are Best”

The film proposes that earthen homes are the healthiest housing in the world, while stick-framed housing and conventional buildings are soulless rectilinear sources of resource depletion and pollution. That curvilinear buildings elevate the spirit and cultivate the heart. And further, that since it takes a village to raise a child, one of the best things we can do for humankind and the natural world is to transform suburban sprawl into cozy, curvy earthen ecovillages. “In the age of environmental and economic collapse, peak oil and other converging emergencies,” writes David Sheen on his First Earth website, “the solution to many of our ills might just be getting back to basics, focusing on food, clothes, and shelter. We need to think differently about house and home, for material and for spiritual reasons, both the personal and the political.”

David Sheen, whom I had the pleasure of meeting and visiting with for a day recently, is a lively and stimulating young Renaissance man (check out his Anarchitecture website), who started out as a designer and graphic designer. (As I watched First Earth I thought, “Oooh, this is how a film looks when it’s put together by a graphic designer. All filmmakers first should be graphic designers!” )

David began studying, designing, building, and filming natural buildings in 2001. He apprenticed with natural building masters Ianto Evans and Linda Smiley at the North American School of Natural Building in Oregon, and Michael G. Smith at Emerald Earth Community in Northern California. He studied biomimicry, the study of nature's design principles and its application to human habitats, with renowned architect/designer Eugene Tsui. Born and raised in Toronto, David lived for several months in urban and rural intentional communities in the US, and for the last three years in kibbutzim in the south of Israel.

But Is This Always True?


I loved the film and recommend it highly. Yet I disagree with its premise.

Another traditional earthen building in Africa.
For example, one of my friends at Earthaven Ecovillage, where I live, is building a 12’ x 12’ x 12’ stick-built, shed-roofed dwelling with wood, and concrete, rebar, R-Foil building wrap, recycled cellulose insulation, and earth-plastered walls inside and out. As a rectilinear hybrid structure built mostly of wood, you could argue, based on the film’s premises, that it’s a soulless box whose materials and construction method harm the Earth. But is it really? The 2x6s were felled by the builder himself from onsite trees to clear fields for an organic farm, and milled less than five miles away in a sustainable sawmill. As a hybrid building, with both conventional and natural building materials, it’s contributing less pollution than a conventionally built building of the same size. As a passive-solar building, it has a slab-on-grade poured concrete floor (insulated against any winter cold from the Earth) and poured concrete countertops — both for thermal mass — and radiant floor heating for back-up.

It’s tiny, because my friend wants a simple unpretentious home that doesn’t cost a bundle or take long to build — given that construction time equals money. It’s mostly rectilinear because this shape is much cheaper to build in terms of labor and time than curving shapes, whether of wood or earth. Natural building is not necessarily cheaper than conventional building, contrary to popular belief. If you take into account the amount of labor time, which means either the owner-builder is taking off work (which costs the builder) or hiring labor or housing and feeding work-exchangers, it all adds up. The same friend built a similar 12’ x 12’ x 12’ home a few years ago in another part of the community, mostly by himself, and only on weekends and evenings after work. It cost him $8,000 in materials and about $8,000 in labor at his then-current rate if he had charged for it. (Another friend in another community is building a beautiful two-story, one-bedroom cob, strawbale, and adobe-brick home. Mostly because of labor, his construction costs are estimated to be almost $300,000 by the time it’s finished.)

My friend is also building tiny, square, and cheap so he can minimize the energy he puts into his own home so he can get on with what ’’else’’ he does at Earthaven — operating a business which provides a needed onsite service and employs other members who need jobs; operating a small farm, which produces food and other products for the community (and in the future will employ others); and focalizing the new alcohol co-op. (See Will Earthaven Become a “Magical Appalachian Machu Picchu”?) He’s not putting much energy, time, and money into building the kind of beautiful home the film advocates because he’s putting it into building the community itself.

So this is why the idea that building with earth, and curvilinearly, is the ecologically sustainable way to build (“uncompromising!”) does not convince me. David and I talked about this briefly, and he gets it, of course. He knows the film paints a complex subject with overly broad brush strokes to make a point. And it does, beautifully.

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First Earth on Sustainablog.org

First Earth: Watch this Earthen Building Documentary Online
by Brian Loloia, http://blog.sustainablog.org
February 4, 2010


There’s a growing ecological awareness in all aspects of daily life, but some of our newfangled environmental actions have already been in practice for hundreds (or thousands) or years. “Green building” is an architectural movement that attempts to take the environment more closely into account in designing buildings, but the movement is generally very commercial.

Natural building is another form of more ecologically sensitive building techniques that is practiced by owner-builders and is even more spiritually focused on building healthy houses out of local and natural materials, including straw bales, adobe, cob, and other forms of earth.

However, building natural homes out of earthen materials is nothing new, as it has been practiced all over the globe for many hundreds of years, and David Sheen’s documentary, First Earth: Uncompromising Ecological Architecture traces some of the history of earthen architecture up until the present day, in places where people are attempting to bring sustainable forms of building back into mainstream consciousness.

FIRST EARTH is a documentary about the movement towards a massive paradigm shift for shelter — building healthy houses in the old ways, out of the very earth itself, and living together like in the old days, by recreating villages. It is a sprawling film, shot on location from the West Coast to West Africa. An audiovisual manifesto filmed over the course of 4 years and 4 continents, FIRST EARTH makes the case that earthen homes are the healthiest housing in the world; and that since it still takes a village to raise a healthy child, it is incumbent upon us to transform our suburban sprawl into ecovillages, a new North American dream.

Building eco-friendly homes with natural materials has a long history and First Earth does an excellent job of highlighting some of the history of earthen building. Building with straw bales, cob, and adobe are making a big comeback in more industrialized cultures, and it’s exciting to imagine a future where more buildings are built from local and natural materials, instead of materials that are manufactured in factories and shipped great distances, causing huge amounts of ecological damage.

This documentary is an exciting introduction to the hows, whys, and wheres of natural building.

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Historian questions W. Va. museum's coal displays

Historian questions W.Va. museum's coal displays
By Lawrence Messina
The Associated Press

June 5, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A slim, steel object resembling a rusty bayonet juts out of a wall in West Virginia's new state museum, a part of a series of exhibits meant to portray the history of coal mining in the Mountain State.

Known as a "Stickin' Tommy,'' it holds a stubby candle in a loop at its midpoint. Long before the days of carbide lanterns and helmet lamps, miners jabbed these into the seams they were working to light their way as they dug coal. The museum's artifact is stuck into a display meant to resemble the inside of an underground mine tunnel.

But according to labor historian Wess Harris, it is also upside down.
Harris explained that a hook that rises up above the candle loop should actually be facing downward. Miners would hang the shared wick of homemade candles on the hook as spares, he said during a recent tour of the museum.

The placement of the Stickin' Tommy is one of several errors in the coal-related exhibits alleged by Harris, an author and state Labor History Association board member who was named last year's "West Virginia History Hero'' for his work. He believes they mar the museum's attempt to tell a critical part of the state's history.

These concerns put Harris at odds with the state Division of Culture and History, which oversees the museum and has dismissed the questions he's raised about the displays.

"I cannot answer you why Mr. Harris still does not think that the facts as we have presented them are correct. We continue to believe they are,'' said Jacqueline Proctor, the agency's deputy commissioner.
Harris objects to the exhibits as the museum prepares to celebrate its first anniversary on West Virginia Day, June 20. The state spent five years and nearly $18 million to design and build its 24,000 square feet of exhibit space beneath the Capitol Complex's Culture Center. Replacing a previous museum that closed in 2004, the new museum's scope spans from prehistoric times to the present. It displays more than 2,000 artifacts plus more on a rotating basis from the state's 60,000-piece collection, Proctor said.

"It really represents West Virginia extremely proudly and well,'' Proctor said.

Some of the issues raised by Harris are similarly as technical as the Stickin' Tommy. The walls meant to mimic a mine tunnel, for instance, have sections above the coal seams meant to resemble rock. No such mine would look like that, Harris said.

"You weren't paid to dig rock,'' Harris said. "If the coal was three feet [high], you would only have three feet to stand up in.''

But Harris also sees a political bent to several of the coal exhibits. He disputes language in the narrative that accompanies the mock-up of a coal company store. It reads in part that most of these stores "offered necessities at affordable prices.''

The record does not support that, Harris argues, and he cites studies that found companies adjusted prices to control wages. He similarly bristles at the exhibit's treatment of the now-infamous scrip by which coal companies paid miners in lieu of U.S. currency.

"Your treatment of scrip as some sort of favor to the miners is an insult to the people of our state,'' Harris said in a March letter to Culture and History officials.

Other exhibits miss interesting elements of the events they seek to portray, Harris said. Several involve the trials that followed the 1921 Battle of Blair Mountain, where miners seeking to unionize the southern coalfield fought the forces of mine owners and Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin.

Miners played baseball in between court sessions. While described in one exhibit as a way to pass time, Harris said the evidence shows the games were instead a public relations ploy. Besides being a beloved American pastime, Harris said the miners played to raise money for charity.

"There was a huge effort to influence the jury, and to make friends,'' Harris said. "Good historians know that.''

Harris also takes issue with aspects of the portrayal of William "Bill'' Blizzard, the longtime union organizer who led the miners at Blair Mountain and was acquitted at his subsequent trial. One exhibit calls Blizzard a Socialist. He was instead a Republican for most of his life, Harris said.

Harris' sources on that include Blizzard's late son, who with Harris wrote "When Miners March.'' The 400-page book chronicles the unrest in the coalfields that culminated in the Battle of Blair Mountain. Its recently released second edition includes several of Harris' criticisms of the museum's coal displays.
The Culture and History Division reviewed 10 of Harris' objections in March, aided by several historians who helped shape the new museum. They ultimately rejected his allegations, while giving ground on some points.

They found that calling Blizzard a Socialist was imprecise, for instance, and that the exhibit about his trial could clarify that he was charged with treason against West Virginia rather than the United States. But they also noted that the company store exhibit is meant to span an era both before and after the 1930s labor laws greatly improved conditions for miners and their communities.

"There are positions that historians take and museum developers take regarding presentation of the facts,'' Proctor said. "We do not believe that the information needs to be changed.''

But Harris persists. He regularly leads tours of college students and other groups of the exhibits at issue. He said state Education and the Arts Secretary Kay Goodwin, whose department includes the Culture and History Division, recently joined in on one of them and afterward offered to help arbitrate his concerns.

"They don't have to change the exhibits a whole heck of a lot,'' Harris said. "Overall, the visual content is good. It's a wonderful presentation.''

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