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Sober Living For the Revolution on

By Stefanie Knoll
Friday, May 7, 2010

I learned about Gabriel Kuhn accidentally - a comrade of mine met him at the London Anarchist Bookfair in 2009 and told me about this book on his return to South Africa. Excited about the book, I googled it and discovered that Gabriel was not only born in the same small town as I was - Innsbruck in Austria - but that he's also an anarchist (there aren't many in Innsbruck) and also straight edge (there are only three of us in Innsbruck as far as I know)! Excited as I was about this I got in touch with him and, after some e-mails sent back and forth in our Alpine dialect, he sent me a free copy for review, something which I must say I'm very happy to be able to do.

As soon as the book arrived (which, with the postal service in South Africa, can take ages) I forgot about the PhD I was supposed to write - I just couldn't put Sober Living for the Revolution down. It was just what I had been longing to read in these last years that I've been living in South Africa; in my circle of friends I'm the only remaining straight edge person, and possibly the only one in South Africa who is not Christian. Because of this I always have to defend why I'm straight edge and how this is connected to my politics (which I think it is) and this book does a great job in providing all the right arguments.

The hardcore scene in South Africa is lame - it's mostly white (in fact most shows are exclusively white), male and tough guy. Most bands are Christians and dedicate their songs to Jesus, and those few international bands that make it out here are almost always tough guy bands without any message...the usual commercial hardcore bands that have enough money to tour the world. There was one exception to this rule last year: Have Heart. I screamed my lungs out and wore the X on my hand with pride (I was the only one wearing it in the audience). Have Heart are not particularly political and I didn't watch them when I had the chance to in Europe, but hey, at least they're not Christians!

Back to the book. First off, it looks fantastic! Maybe it's our straight edge aesthetics, but I really like the design, and the back cover photo is amazing. Because of this, I made an effort to read it in public spaces so people could see it. Unfortunately, no one commented on it. The sadness of living in a place where drinking and driving is a national sport and seen as a great accomplishment (well, for those who can afford to have cars)....

Another thing that struck me immediately when I looked at the table of contents was that Gabriel really made an effort to interview a wide range of people of different nationalities, genders and sexual orientations. This kind of diversity is welcome in a scene that is too often focused on what's happening in the United States. The South African hardcore scene, for example, is completely oriented towards the US, and most bands sing in a fake American accent.

It's also interesting to note that most of the interviewees don't see themselves part of a straight edge movement any more; instead they distance themselves from it, with many not even attending shows any more. I guess they've grown out of it and have become disgusted by some of the prevailing attitudes, but at least all of them are still straight edge and none of them are dogmatic. They make an effort to show that straight edge isn't a puritanical position and distance themselves from conservative elements like hardline (a tendency which developed out of the militant vegan straight edge scene in the 1990s). The distancing from hardline is obvious, because such views don't go well with radical politics - the focus of this book - and especially not anarchism, the ideology most of the interviewees subscribe to in one way or another.

The book is structured as a selection of interviews and articles, with an overall introduction written by Gabriel as well as short introductions to each of the interviews/texts. It also contains a very helpful timeline graphic near the beginning that puts the straight edge scene into perspective. The book is divided into 5 sections: Section 1. Bands - in which famous radical straight edge bands known to everyone in the scene are interviewed. This begins with the band any discussion on straight edge has to start with: Minor Threat. In fact, all the other bands/interviewees/texts refer back to Minor Threat. Section 2. Scenes - interviews with various people from around the world talking about their local scenes. Section 3. Manifestos - a selection of three radical straight edge texts with follow up interviews. Section 4. Reflections - interviews with queer activists and feminists, as well as one straight edge crusty and one anarcho-primitivist. Section 5. Perspectives - five more personal articles.

Gabriel makes the scope of the book explicit in the introduction by stating that he's not claiming to represent the whole straight edge movement, only its radical fringe. He's looking at people who are, “engaged in political struggle and social transformation, but not judgmental, belligerent, or narrow-minded” (page 14).

What was not surprising to me, but is important for anyone who thinks that all straight edgers are conservatives, is that most of the radical bands were/are, apart from a few Marxist bands like ManLiftingBanner (who are interviewed in Section 1), anarchists! In this vein, there is a reprint of the CrimethInc pamphlet “Wasted Indeed: Anarchy and Alcohol”, another article titled “Towards a less fucked up world: Sobriety and anarchist struggle” and an interview with someone from Anarchists Against the Wall in Israel. Additionally, many of the interviewees explicitly state that they are anarchists.

Many interviewees also talk about veganism and the importance of animal liberation, while drawing a clear distinction between their views and those of the militant vegan straight edge (hardline) scene that started with the worst named band ever - Vegan Reich - and that now often uses the even more nauseating term “vegan jihad” to describe their views.

As already mentioned, the book opens with an interview with Ian MacKaye, singer of Minor Threat, the guy who created the term “straight edge” in order to encapsulate his personal policy of “don't smoke, don't drink, don't fuck, at least I can fucking think”. These lyrics, unfortunately, led many to believe that straight edgers are against sex but, as Ian tells us, this is a misunderstanding; he was simply referring to the prevailing attitude of the time of going to shows to get laid without caring about people's feelings. Many now interpret this as not engaging in promiscuous sex, only religious folks use it to justify their celibacy. Iain also mentions that he never wanted to create a movement, but hey, neither did Marx! He tells us about Rock against Racism concerts the band organised, and about Revolution Summer 1985, where, amongst other actions, they organised an anti-apartheid protest in front of the South African embassy. As he says, “Straight edge was just a declaration for the right to live your life the way you want to. I was not interested in trying to tell people how to do that. I mean, obviously things got pretty crazily perverted over the years.” (MacKaye in Kuhn 2010: 34). Finally, Iain also explains that straight edge is not a lifestyle. It's life - we're born that way.

Moving ahead, many interviewees point out that sobriety is crucial for those who want to help bring about revolution. In this regard, the example of how the US government brought drugs into African American communities to destroy the Black Panthers and criminalise poor communities is mentioned a few times. We also learn how Native Americans deal with the divisiveness of alcoholism in their poor communities. South Africa provides another example of the ravages of alcohol abuse: Soweto is full of alcohol advertisements and on weekends the only sober people you find in townships are the kids.

Facing the problems instead of escaping them seems to be one of the main rallying cries from radical straight edgers. Many of them also point to the lack of ethics in the alcohol and tobacco industries - huge corporations that clearly don't give a shit about their consumers (millions of whom die every year from alcohol and tobacco related causes) – and some also note that tobacco ingredients are tested on animals and a lot of alcoholic beverages use animal derived ingredients. As if these facts weren't enough of an indictment, tobacco companies have often chased away indigenous peoples to grow tobacco, or even tricked them into selling away their land for a pittance.

For me, however, the most beautiful article in the book was definitely Point Of No Return's “Bending to stay straight”, in which the connections between being straight edge, vegan and anarchist are looked at, as well as the the need for a sisterhood in this male dominated scene. If you only read one piece in the book, read this one! The interview with Frederico Freitas of Point Of No Return that follows the article talks about the connection between straight edge and anarchism in Brazil. He mentions that many working class and anarchist movements at the beginning of the 20th century viewed sobriety as important. The FAI in Spain before and during the Spanish Revolution of 1936 is one such example: FAI members did not drink or smoke (and many were vegetarians).

In the same spirit there is a great picture on page 127 of a Mayday march in Sweden that shows a banner reading, “Don't drink away the class struggle: drug-free organizing!”. I can definitely relate to that!
Another article I really liked was “The Antifa Straight Edge” manifesto, published by Alpine Anarchist Productions. I'm especially fond of this piece because it reminds me of a similar manifesto (against hardline) my best friend (the other vegan straight edge anarchist from Innsbruck) and I wrote in 2006 without knowing about this one.

Further along in the book are some articles and interviews with “queer edgers” followed by two interviews with feminists involved in XsisterhoodX. Both of these sections highlight the challenges queers and women face in the scene as well as the need for safe spaces; they also show how women are often central to the running of shows, etc.

One thing this book highlighted for me about the straight edge scene - especially the more political, vegan part of it - is that we are a relatively close-knit community. All of us seem to know one another directly or indirectly. For instance, while I've met some of the people interviewed in the book personally, I also have good friends who are good friends with many interviewees, from the US West Coast to Israel.

This book did also remind me of a sad realisation I've had a few times though, something I experience on a daily level in a circle of friends who are all pro-drugs: it's not them who have to defend themselves for taking drugs, it's straight edge people like me who have to defend our views, and this is especially true in the political and alternative scenes. To me, especially when I think back to what Ian MacKaye points out – that straight edge is not a lifestyle, it's life – this is a sign of just how upside down this world is. I hope readers of this review and book will consider this; hedonism seems to be our present paradigm and it fits all too nicely into the American dream/myth and into an individualistic neoliberal world.

In conclusion, I want to say that I learned a lot from this book. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in political hardcore and the political straight edge scene. It demonstrates conclusively that we are not a bunch of conservatives...Far from it!

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On sundays we'd watch the soldiers march at Windsor Castle,
With their drums & their busbies, er Majesty's Coldstream Guards,
& my mum would say how it made her feel so proud to be British,
& sometimes I still find the loss of that childhood land hard.

Changing the Guard
Changing the Guard
All that they're doing is
Changing the Guard.

But I clenched my fist & played rhythm for world revolution,
Though in Paris & Prague the same writing both sides of the Wall.
On sundays we'd meet in Hyde Park for each great demonstration,
But whoever you vote for the government wins after all.

Changing the Guard
Changing the Guard
All that they're doing is
Changing the Guard

Changing the Guard
For the sake of appearances,
Changing a few of the names,
Changing the Guard
For the tourists
& more of the same...

But I'll give you this song & the bag of old bones that goes with it,
There's some potcards of castles, some badges & maps you can't trust
Cos they're well out-of-date but the problem's still: how do we change the world?
& in all of this shit there's still one or two things that don't rust.

We're changing the Guard
Changing the Guard
All that we're doing is
Changing the Guard.

Buy CD now | Back to Robb Johnson's page | Back to Leon Rosselson's page


Oliver Twist, who doesn't exist, apparently now,

Sits at the back picking his scabs in my Literacy Hour,

But he's dreaming such dreams...

The Minister says: these are the ways we raise standards.
But which box do you tick when Oliver Twist's thinking in rainbows?
& dreaming...

His Grandad Tim Winters, 2 teeth left like splinters, says: well I was the same.
So it's nobody's fault, if you're on income support, you've got yourself to blame
for dreaming...

In the canteen, there's cabbage & beans & the odd dead samosa,
But you have to choose between a pudding & a juice if you're on free school dinners,
Both would be dreaming...

Oliver Twist, now you just look at the state you're in.
There's a box you can tick for a new nuclear submarine.
There's a box you can tick for some Olympic Games,
But pudding & juice, that would be dreaming.
That would be dreaming...

Oliver Twist, now you just look at the State we're in....

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We ride the train to work & read the news

The news is bad again, what else is new?
The pensioner who’s murdered on page 4
Page six has more bombs in a far-off war.
But then you see the skyline & the river in the sunlight
& every day, it takes your breath away,
& you look at all the faces with their stories and their secrets
Getting through another working day.

& our leaders making speeches,
They’re very good at making speeches,
How our soldiers have to be there,
& how we will not surrender,
But you never see them riding on your train.

We ride the train back home & read the news,
There’s not much on TV, what else is new?
The beggars hold out hands to catch the night,
The smart hotels and cafes shine so bright.
But then you see the skyline & the bridges with their lamplight,
& even now, it takes your breath away,
& you look at all the faces with their stories and their secrets
Winding down another working day.

& our leaders making speeches...

We ride the train to work & read the news,
You thank your lucky stars it wasn’t you,
It wasn’t you in Baghdad or Madrid,
Or on the train from King’s Cross when the bombs came home.
Picking up the pieces, picking up the pieces,
Picking up the pieces, picking up the pieces,

& our leaders making speeches
How our soldiers have to be there
& how we will not surrender
& you’re picking up the pieces
But you never see them riding on your train
When the bombs come home.

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I keep seeing us everywhere, as far as the eye can see,
It's like some river overflowing...
We got muslims, we got Christians, we got pagans, we got Jews,
We got atheists, anarchists, socialists... we even got a liberal or two,
On the day we all said Stop The War.

We keffiyahs, we got T shirts, hijabs & rainbow scarves,
We got placards that say we're angry, we got placards that make you laugh,
We got whistles, badges, banners, 10,000 djembes & a salsa band,
We got pensioners, we gor pushchairs, arm in arm & hand in hand,
On the day we all said Stop The War.

We got the actress & the bishop, we got tankies, we got Trots,
& some got extra sandwiches in case their mates forgot,
We got respectable housewives from suburbia who've never done this sort of thing before,
& the International Sex Workers of the World united, with the boy & the girl next door,
On the day we all said Stop The War.

We got that what's'ername from off of the telly, we got that bloke I met called Steve,
But we are more than just this 2 million, we are Ramallah & Tel Aviv,
We are New York, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Cape Town, Cairo, Bangkok to Glasgow,
It's like some river overflowing,
On the day we all said Stop The War.

Buy CD now | Back to Leon Rosselson's Page | Back to Robb Johnson's Page


They said we ought to have 3 minute's silence,
I thought: the dead of two world wars only get 2 minutes,
But then most of them didn't speak American...

They said we ought to have 3 minute's silence,
But all that I could hear was all these voices, screaming,
& most of them didn't speak American.

I heard ghost voices from Hanoi & Hiroshima,
I heard ghost voices from Beirut, ghost voices from Baghdad,
& the Secretary of State was saying: this is a price worth paying...
half a million children dead in Traq, that's a price worth paying... ?

They said we ought to have 3 minute's silence,
of course, Wall Street when it stopped could only afford 1 minute.
& then the million dollar bombs rained down
On a poor land where they don't speak American.

No more bombs & silences,
I think we ought to have a different kind of justice.

Buy CD now | Back to Robb Johnson's Artist Page | Back to Leon Rosselson's Augthor Page



Who's that walking miles for water?
Who's that sweat shopping all day long?
In the hot south, in the cold north,
Who are these so proud & strong?

From the work bench in the back room
To the cradle beside the bed,
From the Mad Mothers to the Peace Campers
Who are thse seeing red?

These are Rosa's lovely daughters,
These care no man's blushing brides,
These are Rosa's lovely daughters,
& they will not be denied.

Now their fathers handshake their bargains
& their good wives stand around & weep,
But their hearts sing when they're dancing
"We are no man's to give or to keep".

These are Rosa's lovely daughters...

Me, I'm skewed, slewed, stewed & awkward,
Me, I'm clumsy luke a clown,
But these are wildfire in the backyard
& the big White House is burning down...

These are Rosa's lovely daughters...

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I dreamed the old dream just last night,
Red & green, & going home,
I dreamed of no wars left to fight,
Red & green, & going home,

I dreamed of those who know no rest,
Red & green, & going home,
The refugee & the dispossessed,
Red & green, & going home, (& so on, red & Green lines 2 & 4 rach verse)

Submarines ploughshared the sand,
& bactories turned to fertile land...

We healed the sick & the obscene,
The leper & the limousine...

We saw our likeness in each face,
& with each kindness gathered grace...

So broke the walls of greed & fear,
With love to all things living here...

These are old dreams, nothing new,
Of yet to come, nonetheless true...

Buy CD now | Back to Robb Johnson's Page | Back to Leon Rosselson's Page


Our Stories Can Take the Bastards Down

An interview with Sin Soracco and Patrick Marks, proprietor of The Green Arcade

PM: Low Bite was written in the 1980s. Why reprint it?

SS: This is your whack idea. What goes along with why you wanted to print this, in my mind, is you had the good sense, so far as we are all concerned, to choose The Green Arcade imprint not to be just some prissy-assed ecology stuff that everybody will get sick of — that’s valuable, ecology, it’s one of the pushes of the store — but we are talking about something else we love here, and what we love is trash crime. And trash crime that maybe is a little more crazed, with more going on than in the hard-assed noir genre with all the standard twists. What you managed to do by digging up this weird little cult volume was to find an old example of bad-girl trash crime. At the time it was done there were no female writers doing noir. Leigh Bracket was gone. Dorothy Hughes was way gone.

Dorothy Hughes was reprinted by The Feminist Press and there are people who are trying to retrieve a lot of those books. And I feel I have to add that The Green Arcade imprint will publish books on ecology — and also on what I call “green”: the built environment, food, culture, justice, and also writing about cities. And those — rebels and fl aneurs, poets and architects — who build, inhabit, and add something valuable to the places I love. One of the reasons that I wanted to retrieve you was because part of my idea of The Green Arcade, beyond what my idea of what “green” might be, is also the idea of the “arcade,” and the
arcade has to do with the multiplicities of space in the city —

The Arcades Project is one of the books on my side of the bed.

Walter Benjamin is one of the store mascots, along with Rebecca Solnit. So it has to do with starting right where you are, on Market Street, in San Francisco. And part of the thing about SanFrancisco, to me, is you, Sin Soracco. And here we are doing this interview at the Russian River. But the Russian River has been a big extension of San Francisco, San Francisco the Imperial City.

The river can be looked at as an extension of the City because it would not exist as it is at all without having had a functioning working class nearby. The redwoods right here in our backyard were logged to rebuild San Francisco after the 1906 quake. The City is the place, whether we like it or not, which infuses its aesthetic on the world. There’s remarkably cool shit in the City. And that impacts the way that we look at the world and what we decide is important and beautiful and worth treasuring. Low Bite doesn’t take place in San Francisco but was written in San Francisco. And even so a lot of the not-apparent stuff in the book was supported by the life I was living in San Francisco, that let me go work in the stupid-ass bookstore, come home, get loaded, or be loaded already, and sit down and tell stories. So this idea of telling stories is at the basis of your … mission?

Don’t really have a mission. But I really believe that our stories can take the bastards down. I like to put it that way because it is fundamental to any art form to challenge the prevailing social and cultural things that are happening. On the other hand, you don’t survive, as an artist, unless you have rich people supporting you. Or, contradicting that, unless you have a lunatic like Patrick at The Green Arcade who wants to publish what he wants to publish. He is not a San Francisco socialite with a trust fund who is able to patronize.

I am too a socialist! Let’s go back and talk about when you first started Low Bite and from where it sprang.

Okay. I am an ex-convict. I did years in California prisons and jails and I found it to be really just an extension of the kind of life that I was living.

You found the inside to be an extension of the life that you lived on the outside?

Yes, very much so. The diff erence, mainly, was that inside you had less choice. But cultural norms — depending on where you live in the City — it could be a little more ghetto than other parts of the City, but, in other ways, the attitudes, the demand for respect, the sly trying to get over, the forms of honor and friendship, the game you play for survival, the insubordinate life: the same. The main problem is you’re fucking locked up! You’re locked up and that sucks! And it’s dead boring, it really is. But it was, at the time, not utterly foreign, at all. Then I was back on the street, and sort of getting over my jailhouse
self — we did what we did in jail — tell each other stories, lies and otherwise. And the hilarious ones were of crimes gone wrong.

I think that one the great things about Low Bite is the humor and how it is used against the insanity and against —

Authority. The other day I was reading some recent political crap, and it’s the same as it ever was, but what I got was that the American system is founded on the abuse of power. If somebody has more money, if somebody has a position that is above somebody else, if they have money enough to buy and sell somebody else, they’re going to do so, they’re going to abuse that position. Every time. Down the line. Because they can. The American system is set up so that those in power can abuse it. Everybody knows that, except apparently they don’t. [Laughs] In terms of writing a book set in a woman’s prison, there were things that I wanted to use that world for. I tried very hard not to be overtly political —

It is, in fact, an extremely political book.

But I don’t want anyone to know that. I want to, hopefully, change the way they look at the world or at least while they’re reading it, they go, “Ah.” The fi rst draft, the fi rst 60 pages, I handed to one of my friends from jail, and she said she had to lay down when she was done and put a cold rag on her head. Because it was too real and she said, “You know, hon’, we had a lot of fun. We made it a point to have a lot of fun, and you are ranting and raving here, just puking horror on the page.” And I realized that if I insisted on writing that book, nobody but a real psychotic would want to read it. What I wanted to do was to bring people to jail and I wanted them to stay there long enough to read the goddamned book. If I did what I did originally, puke all over the page, nobody would have read it.

I think you were successful in bringing us into the jail. And keeping us there for the duration. And we actually had a good time with all those women. I’m tempted to say that it was a riot, but that might be a spoiler. But the system sucks, you get that.

I figured that one out every five people is gonna end up in jail and virtually everybody knows someone in jail. And it would be very nice if people got a clue as to what the American system does. And I don’t even go into the horrific places like Pelican Bay, or some of the women’s joints that are rougher, in terms of the physical situation, than the ones that I was in. And I think that it would be very diffi cult to get someone to spend an hour in Pelican Bay, or Florence, or Angola, or Lexington Women’s joint that closed in ’88. These max units are far more horrific than the ones that I was in. I think that it would be very difficult to get someone to spend an hour in Pelican Bay if they could simply close the book and just leave. I want to tell a story. I want people to get a clue about a world I am intimately familiar with and they are not. Virtually everything I write I choose to set in a world that is absolutely normal to me that a lot of people who chose to read English-language literature are unfamiliar with.

That probably goes for the publishing world as well. And most booksellers.

I was in New York City on a dance tour —

— Another story —

— and I stopped off , because they were working on the paperback of Low Bite, and I walked into this huge multistory publishing house and realized that there was not a single person out of the hundreds of little people running around the rat-maze in their little Diane Feinstein outfits who physically looked or moved like I did. And here I am writing the fodder for this whole machine. They all looked at me like I was a loon. I did adore my editor, but people would ask me, “Wherever did you get your ideas for your characters?” And I would say, “These are bits and pieces of my friends. Even the villains. I’ve taken people I love and used their gestures and added that to a make a villain. Every part of every character in every book I write is somebody I generally know and love. Except for the very oddest villains who are — you people!” [Laughs] There have been a number of times in my life that I have walked into some place, the publishing world for sure, and it’s “Oh my god, I really don’t belong here.” It’s like the dope smoker who walks into a room of straight people and asks, “What should I do with my face? How do I behave in here?” But one of the things I want to get at is the unbalance of power, and how we can undermine that. How we in fact live well. In spite of everything.

The character Morgan in Low Bite ends up doing rather well. Many of the women in the book are doing rather well.

That’s the reason the last line of the book is “How sweet it is.”

I wanted to ask you about noir.

When I wrote this, I submitted it, and several people read it. I won’t go into a very famous literary agent who turned it down, saying, “You write beautifully, but if this were from a guard’s perspective…” I wrote a fl aming letter back. There is still some creepy acrimony behind that. On the other hand, the people who read it and liked it said, “Oh my God, we are looking for noir fi ction, you are one the few women today who are writing noir fi ction.” I said, “Oh! Ah, what’s noir?” I wrote what I wrote because that’s the way I see the world. I did not know anything, including the noir movies. I’ve never studied literature or taken a class in writing.

I’m not sure that academia is necessary to storytelling. There were tales that black women, Latino women would tell, their stories, in the joint, and I’m sitting there going, “This is great, this is marvelous. You need to write this down.” And they go, “I can’t write.” And I say, “It doesn’t matter, get this down. Anybody can learn to write proper cash English — but not anybody has wonderful stories. Get this shit on paper, man! Your spelling and grammar can be cleaned up — you don’t want to write cash English anyway. It’s not fun to read. It’s the stories that matter.”

After the book came out, people would come up to me and say: “So, you write noir.” I would say, “Yeah, um, sure.” And I’m thinking,“what’s that?” I didn’t know. There’s no reason I should have known. There were books I liked, but really until I started to work in bookstores — I worked in a little bookstore, then I went to jail. And then I got out. And I got a job at Books Inc. in San Francisco where I met you, Patrick, and Alison Moxley and Margie Burke. Booksellers! Because I was such a hard-ass, no-one knew I was a cultural dud. I didn’t know anything about anything, except for crime. And then I was fortunate enough to work at City Lights. I now have a fairly standard understanding of literature. But at the time I wrote this — not much.

Low Bite was first published by Barry Giff ord under his Black Lizard imprint.* How did you find Barry?

Paul Yamazaki from City Lights. After I got the rejection letter from the famous lady telling me about writing the book from a guard’s point of view, I absolutely burst into fl ames and I wrote a letter back, which apparently burst into fl ames on her desk! Yamazaki said, “Black Lizard.”

Black Lizard was still pretty recent then, right?

They had a few titles out. Paul submitted it to them and they took it in about a week. And, oh: Low Bite — and Edge City [Sin’s second novel] and the story “Double Espresso” in Peter Maravelis’s San Francisco Noir — have never been edited. Copyedited, yes. Black Lizard did have a wonderful copy editor, who caught two things. What Barry told me with Low Bite was: “We don’t have time to do any of that. You get the fame, you get the blame.” Later on at Penguin, they sent Edge City to a copy editor; she didn’t like the book at all and she was tagging the thing with post-its. I have two of my bad girls on the street at night in North Beach and they remark how much like Dante’s Inferno it is. Post-it: “I don’t think girls like this would know Dante’s Inferno.” If anyone knows Dante’s Inferno, it’s people who have been in jail: it’s convicts, it’s ex-convicts, it’s people on the street — they know Dante’s Inferno. However, both books could have profi ted from a real editor. Nobody really put their hands on it.

But that is what I like so much about this book, that it is in the form you wrote it, and we have left it, and it is even more of an artifact. Telling the story is the thing. I wanted to ask you: How has prison changed since Low Bite was written in the ’80s?

Twenty years ago the health system sucked. It has, over those twenty years, with tuberculosis, Hep C, and HIV, become absolutely horrific. And that is not going to improve in California because the state is in a state of total collapse. So the people who are going to get hurt are the least of us. Now, for one my favorite soapbox moments: there are perhaps five percent of the people in prison who ought to be there. The other ninety-fi ve percent, by and large, are assholes but they shouldn’t necessarily be in prison. Now which is the fi ve percent? I am an asshole, so I will answer: they are the people I don’t like. They should never get out of prison, these people I don’t like. When you think about it, what the parole board does, what the judges do — the people they send to jail, the people they keep in jail, are people they don’t like. So, I have my own list. Anyone who tortures — gee, there goes the U.S. government — anyone who is cruel to animals or children. Mostly cruelty is the thing. Now, most of the murderers that I’ve known, many of them were not criminals. Many of them killed and would probably not kill again, unless of course the situation called for it. But of heinous crimes there is this weird idea that taking another human’s life is the ultimate bad thing to do. But I think the worst crime is horrific domination. Cruelty. Greed. Which goes back to my basic political feeling that America is based on abuse of power. And this is what I feel is most unforgivable. So, if things have changed at all, they have changed for the worse.

Low Bite has a certain story to tell today which is every bit as grabbing as it was twenty years ago.

Hopefully. Or as topical. It was a cult favorite. There were groups of odd people. I had one group of little old ladies who really liked it. One of them was a lovely, very delicate woman who came up to me later and said, “My only problem is,” — she was a Jungian therapist — “I did not get a feeling of redemption at the end.” And I said the redemption is choosing to live the way they want to in spite of everything. The insubordinate lifestyle. At the end of the book, they are all kicking, they are going along. They are all doing fine. And given the way the world is, I could not see any greater redemption.

Your redemption is throughout the book, it is ongoing.

She wanted something at the end. But what noir does excellently is that it leaves the story rumbling after that last page. I hate the classic mystery where all of the loose ends are tied up — unless they are very good. It is more fun to allow it to reverberate forward through time. And you, Patrick, have rescued the goddamned book — you have demanded that it will reverberate forward through time. [Laughs]

Do you want to talk about the cover of this new edition?

I am so excited, so pleased about the cover. It is jailhouse, without Gent [Sturgeon] having even spent time in jail! The obsession of the hand-drawn background of the bricks: this is what we do in there; and if you see jailhouse art, there’s a tattooish quality, there’s a graffiti quality, there’s an untrained-artist quality. But what there is under all of it is that emotional kick to the gut. There is an intensity that says, “This is what I am doing. It is worth something. This is worth people paying attention to, even if all I seem to be doing is cross-hatching.”

And that relates to the same message behind story telling.

I have something important to say: Finding a venue where I get the respect and the love and the support to say it, is rare and wonderful and needs to be cultivated. There we go! PM Press. The Green Arcade. Gent Sturgeon. Patrick Marks.

Isn’t it a bit of a contradiction to want to live well and yet to be always in opposition to the outside, or the inside, and always against something?

But it is oppositional. For those of us who come from outlaw stock and that tradition there is a conscious decision, a responsibility to oppose what goes on and what is acceptable in the traditional balance of power. And I live in opposition to the traditional balance of power in most everything that I do. And the responsibility, further, is that we live well.

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Gord Hill, Indigenous Activist

and Author of "500 Years of Indigenous Resistance"
By Joan Brunwasser
May 24, 2010

My guest today is Gord Hill. He is a member of the Kwakwaka'wakw nation and the author of 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance. Welcome to OpEdNews, Gord. This is the first work I've read by an Indigenous individual. So, I hope you will forgive my unfamiliarity. Before we get started, please clarify something for me. It says on the book jacket that your nation is on the Northwest Coast and you write about the colonization of the Americas. Do you consider yourself Canadian, American, or neither, just a member of the Kwakwaka'wakw nation?

I consider myself an Indigenous person from the Kwakwaka'wakw nation, which is how I identify with Indigenous people across the Americas. I do not consider myself a Canadian as this is a colonial identity which has been created through violent colonization and oppression.

Let's talk about those colonization efforts. Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States gave me my first taste of this subject. He does a number on Christopher Columbus. But your book goes much more in depth. How did you organize and such a massive amount of information and craft it into an intelligible document? And didn't you find that daunting?

Intelligence is the gathering of information from various sources, subject to analysis and comparison, in order to derive the clearest picture possible of an area, situation, person, etc. Organizing the information of centuries of Indigenous struggle can be difficult, but the historical story itself helps because you have a basic chronology that serves as a guide. In many ways, the story is there, it's a matter of finding the incidents, personalities and patterns etc., that best relate what happened. In anti-colonial historical writing, this task is more difficult because the voices of the colonized are most often erased, distorted, and/or interpreted by the colonizer. I didn't find it daunting so much, mostly because I didn't realize the extent of research, organization, etc., that would ultimately be necessary.

How long did it take you to put this all together?

It was written during the period 1991-92, and was originally published in 1992, so that's quite awhile ago. It probably took a few months altogether.

Interesting, I would have expected much longer. I understand that the contents of your book first appeared in the revolutionary Indigenous newspaper OH-TOH-KIN. Why has it taken so long for it to capture attention beyond Indigenous circles?

To some extent it was being distributed in non-Native movements throughout the 1990s after Arm the Spirit published the article as a pamphlet, but that is now out of print. Arm the Spirit was an anti-imperialist group based in Toronto that no longer exists.

How did you and PM Press get together? I guess my question is, why now after all this time?

I first met Ramsey, who runs PM Press, when he lived in Edinburgh, Scotland. At the time, he was running an anarchist distribution of books, zines and records, and before he had set up AK Press. I think they found the original pamphlet, produced by Arm the Spirit, to be a good seller and when it was out of print, he wanted to re-publish it.

What kind of response have you had since the re-publishing?

Right now, I am more focused on the 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, published in April 2010, and doing promotional work on it. I haven't noticed any particular response other than some people are glad it is once again available.

You also go by the name Zig Zag. Where did it come from and what do you use it for?

Zig Zag was a 'code name' I used during the 1999 Cheam fisheries dispute when a Native Youth Movement security force helped Cheam fishermen oppose the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) enforcement of salmon fishing on the Fraser River. Code names aren't very useful once they've been used in such a campaign but I continued to use it as a 'pen name' afterwards.

You are an artist of breadth and talent. Can you tell our readers a bit about the various art forms you've been involved in over the years? Most authors/historians aren't so versatile.

I do a lot of black and white graphics for zines, magazines, and journals, as well as logos for groups. This also includes comics. I do some painting on canvas, mostly for sale, as well as lots of banners for rallies. I carve rattles, masks, miniature masks, plaques, as well as cedar boxes. I also silkscreen t-shirts, patches, etc.

Where did all this creativity come from? Did you go to art school?

No, I took some art classes in high school but that's it. For carving, I spent about a year in Alert Bay, a community and reserve on north Vancouver Island where most of my family live. For silk-screening, I had a job in a screen printing factory where I learned some of the basics, then friends showed me how to make screens, etc. at a do-it-yourself level.

You sound like a natural. Can you tell us a bit about your youth - where you grew up, what it was like? I'm pretty certain it was a bit different from my own youth in suburban Chicago.

I was born in the south-central interior of BC [British Columbia] in 100 Mile House where our family lived for a few years. We lived in a rural area where my dad had a small mill operation. I remember bears regularly coming around the house. Then, we moved back to my mother's territory on north Vancouver Island, including Port Hardy, Fort Rupert (a reserve where we lived with my grandfather, Jonathan Hunt), Alert Bay, and Campbell River. This was all by the time I was in grade 5. Then we moved to the lower mainland and suburbs of Vancouver, including White Rock and Surrey.

When I was 13-14, I joined the army cadets which I stayed in for 4-5 years. I took many courses, including small arms, fieldcraft, first aid, basic parachutist, and arctic indoctrination. When I was 18, me and my mother moved to east Vancouver, and I joined the army reserves for about a year. At this time, I began listening to anarchist punk music and going to shows, which influenced my thinking and beliefs. Then I quit the military, which I had planned on making a career of in the regular forces. I first became involved in an El Salvador solidarity group, which at the time was in the midst of a guerrilla struggle to overthrow a right-wing fascist government. As my politicization continued, I began studying anarchism and publishing a zine entitled 'endless struggle'.

You live in two worlds. Can you tell us what that's like?

I think indigenous people generally live in two worlds under colonization, that of the indigenous and that of the colonizer. This is very clear in colonial states such as Canada in which there is a separate set of laws for indigenous peoples--the 1876 Indian Act-- which establishes a separate system of laws and regulations for controlling and managing indigenous peoples. Until the 1990s, the apartheid regime of South Africa was another example of this.

Under this apartheid system, indigenous peoples continually live in 'two worlds'--that of the indigenous and that of the colonizers. As a result, indigenous peoples are aware of this 'other' society, while the non-Native population is largely ignorant of the indigenous 'world' and life conditions. Non-natives may even live next to a Native reserve and not even know it exists, never mind the conditions existing within it. This apartheid basically creates conditions of extreme ignorance among non-Natives, which are easily exploited by the rulers to further divide and antagonize relationships between both.

For myself, I am involved to some extent in both indigenous resistance as well as general social resistance. I was largely politicized through the anarchist movement, so I maintain sympathy, communication, and, at times, participation in this movement, in anti-capitalist resistance. On the other hand, in order to be engaged in indigenous anti-colonial resistance, I must choose at times where my priority is to be focused. To be involved primarily in anarchist struggles, anti-capitalist movement, etc., means neglecting the indigenous movement, because large numbers of indigenous people do not want to be involved in non-Native movements, understably and in my opinion, correctly so.

Overall, especially in urban areas, it is a struggle for indigenous peoples to maintain their autonomy and independence, to self-organize as indigenous peoples, to maintain culture and social relationships, etc. Yet this is necessary in order to advance the indigenous movement. And yet, at the same time, alliances must be made with non-Native movements. I think Native peoples are more capable of establishing such alliances because of their exposure to both 'worlds', whereas non-Natives don't really know where to begin due to their ignorance and the conditions of apartheid.

In addition, being aware of this duality can also enable indigenous people to better use, for example, the system's technology, lines of communication, or even pop culture, in advancing their resistance.

So, what's your ultimate political goal? If you could wave a magic wand, what would you like to see for indigenous peoples in Canada and North America?

I kinda already answered this one-- shutdown industrial production and dismantle the state apparatus.

With the ultimate goal of what? Returning North America to its original, more pristine state?

With the ultimate goal of liberating people and land. North America cannot simply be 'returned' to its original pristine state as this would be an evolutionary process that would take hundreds and even thousands of years. Yet, it is clear that such a process cannot begin without stopping the current mode of production and the capitalist system it is based on.

Now I have a better sense of what you're aiming for. The story of Europe's colonizing of the Americas is a grisly one, not for the faint of heart. But 500 Years of Indigenous Resistance is critical to understanding North America's history without the sugar-coating. I highly recommend it. Thanks for talking with me, Gord. Good luck to you.

Check out Gord's Warrior Publications website: "Purpose: to Promote Indigenous Warrior Culture, Fighting Spirit, and Resistance Movement.

Warrior Publications is produced in the occupied territories of 'british columbia', 'canada'."

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