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'Maria's Story' Is Salvador's Struggle

By Kevin Thomas
L.A. Times
December 07, 1990

"Maria's Story" (Monica 4-Plex), an example of the documentary at its most illuminating and succinct, introduces us to a remarkable and engaging woman, a dynamic 39-year-old Salvadoran peasant--a wife and mother of three who has become a charismatic guerrilla leader.

Short and stocky, possessed of an inner radiance, a ready wit, a healing touch, a strong intellect and matter-of-fact common sense, Maria Serrano is a kind of ultimate earth mother, a natural poet who can compare the flowering of revolution with giving birth.

Once we've made her acquaintance, felt her impact and been given a sense of her constantly roving--and highly dangerous--daily life, filmmakers Monona Wall and Pamela Cohen follow her on a visit to her hometown, Arcatao, which becomes a journey into the past that allows us to see how a farmer's wife was transformed into an implacable rebel. As we approach the ruins of what was once an attractive mountain community of 10,000, now reduced to a 1,000, black-and-white flash cuts of archival footage reveal its systematic destruction by the military.

It was here that as a child Maria, in her hunger for education that her family could not afford, agreed to sit on the floor of the local school so that she might learn. It was here that she met and married her husband Jose, to whom she remains passionately devoted, and later was forced to hear the shrieks of the tortured from the nearby headquarters of the security forces.

Although on the move since the destruction of Arcatao in early 1979, Maria did not formally join the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) until 1987, the same year that her eldest daughter was killed in an ambush. "If you adopt the armed struggle it's because you have no other choice," she says, "when you see the possibility of saving your life you save it, and if that means picking up a gun, you pick it up."

Maria herself observes that her story is the story of the Salvadoran guerrilla movement, and in giving it shape and meaning, the filmmakers, which include the graceful cinematographer John Knoop, confront us with our country's responsibility in the ongoing ordeal of Maria and her people while taking us way beyond political rhetoric. Maria insists that the Salvadoran civil war is not a struggle between the East and West--i.e., communism vs. capitalism. Rather, it's about "not having enough to eat, not having a roof over your head and not having justice." The sobering end crawl of "Maria's Story" (Times-rated Mature) states that the United States has given the Salvadoran government $4.5 billion to try to crush the FMLN.

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'Maria's Story' Untold . . . So Far

By Howard Rosenberg
Los Angeles Times
July 28, 1989

Words from a woman named Maria:

"There are four things in life that I don't think you can understand unless you experience them: One is childbirth. The second is seeing a loved one killed in the war. The third is running through army fire to safety. The fourth is living through a helicopter landing of hundreds of government troops."

The words are from "Maria's Story," an unfinished documentary about a woman--a farmer's wife and mother of three--long active in the leftist guerrilla movement fighting the government in El Salvador.

British TV rights to "Maria's Story" have been acquired by ever-bold Channel Four. But the hour documentary faces an uncertain future because the California film makers--after shooting 68 hours of footage during two arduous months with the rebels--have been unable to raise the $107,000 they need to complete it.

"When you are there, that is the whole world," said co-director Monona Wali, 33. "But on the evening news, it's a one-minute blip. So how do you bring back the importance of what you've seen and the importance of your project to people with 20 other proposals in front of them?"

Especially if your project expresses a point of view that may be unpopular with much of mainstream America.

The sympathies of Wali and co-producer/co-director Pamela Cohen, 30, are clearly with the anti-government Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN). They did interview the government's top military commander and the wife of recently elected President Alfredo Cristiani, the candidate of the rightist ARENA party. But their cards on the table:

"We make no bones about the fact that this is not a balanced program," Cohen said. "It is a story of a woman. It reflects her life, her experiences, her beliefs. It is the portrait of a person whose voice is violently censored in her own country, and whose story never makes it into U.S. media coverage."

Why this story?

"We wanted to put a human face on the war and get past the stereotype of people lurking in the hills," Cohen said.

Why this woman?

Cohen, who has been involved in four previous films about El Salvador, met Maria Serrano on a previous trip there: "She was one of our guides, and I was struck by her." Adds Wali: "She's one of those people who raises you to a different level. She has a vision what life should be, and she lives it."

Serrano is an FMLN leader and organizer who the film makers say fled to the hills and joined the rebels after angering the Salvadoran military because of her work in organizing peasants and farm workers. Her oldest daughter--a 19-year-old FLMN nurse--was raped and killed by Salvadoran troops who then mutilated her body, Maria says.

Although only 39, Maria appears much older in the pilot of "Maria's Story" that includes her emotional reunion with her husband, Jose.

After gaining access to the FMLN through "clandestine channels," the film makers spent a futile month in El Salvador in the spring of 1988 awaiting permission to join the guerrillas, only to be thwarted because of a Salvadoran military operation. They returned to El Salvador in December with cameraman John Knoop (another producer, Catherine Ryan, did not go along) and began their odyssey with Maria in the mountainous northern province of Chalatenango just as the guerrillas were gearing up for a big offensive.

"It was a real eye-opener for me," Wali said. "I had this idea that these were all going to be 18- to 20-year-old guerrillas, real combat revolutionaries. But there were 17-year-old girls and 13-year-old boys. There were 40-year-old campesinos (peasants) and people who were university-educated. The whole gamut."

Like the FLMN, the film makers traveled light: one change of clothes each, two small video-8 cameras, boxes of videotape, microphones, batteries and a solar unit to charge them. "You have to carry everything on your back and move fast in case you're shot at," Wali said.

A typical day with the rebels at the two major camps visited by the Americans began with a morning formation and singing of the FLMN anthem at 5:30 a.m., followed by half an hour of exercises and then breakfast (tortillas, beans and eggs were the staples). "Throughout the day people would be taking baths and washing their clothes on rocks," said Cohen, who speaks fluent Spanish. "Some people would just be hanging out, and a lot of what happened was not very exciting. There would be workshops on explosives, and there was a lot of shooting of guns, planning of military actions and going over strategy."

The rebels turned in very early on these short winter days, sleeping in twos (for warmth) in hammocks or on the ground.

The film crew had one close call, an evening mortar attack lasting about 90 minutes. "All of a sudden there was this huge explosion," said Wali. "Everyone got on the ground," said Cohen. "Then there was another explosion, and it was very close. You saw this bright-orange glare in the sky, and you felt it. Almost by instinctive consensus, everyone got up and went for cover."

The Americans waited out the attack behind a huge boulder. "There would be this whistling and then a pause," Wali said. "It was scary because you didn't know where it was going to land."

Amazingly, there were no casualties. Certain that they had been located by the Salvadoran military, however, the rebels abandoned camp at 4 a.m. the next day and moved on.

The Americans captured the mortar attack on film. But will a TV audience ever see it and the rest of "Maria's Story?"

"Every morning I have to get up and psych myself before I get on the phone," said Cohen about her awkwardness in having to hawk her film so that she can complete it. "It's a very hard thing. You have to pitch it differently, because some people might be interested in the Central America angle, others might be interested in the woman's angle and others might be interested in the war."

So far, no one in the United States is very much interested at all, the latest rejection coming from the "Frontline" series on PBS. "They told me they're not doing any more El Salvador pieces," Cohen said. "It's hard when you keep getting nos, but you persist because you believe in your material."

Meanwhile, Wali and Cohen have been unable to communicate with Maria since leaving El Salvador. She told them at that time that she wanted to learn English once the war is over. But no one knows when that will be.

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Maria's Story in the Washington Post

By Hal Hinson
The Washington Post
June 28, 1991 

In some parts of the globe, walls have come down, wars have been won, but in others, the struggle continues. This is the point that "Maria's Story" encourages us to remember; it's lest-we-forget filmmaking.

This 53-minute documentary sketches the portrait of Maria Serrano, a 39-year-old peasant turned guerrilla leader who has spent the past 11 years of her life fighting in the hills of El Salvador. Strictly defined, the movie would probably qualify as agitprop; it makes no attempt at a balanced, comprehensive history of that country's long civil war. Instead, it's a one-woman's-eye view of the fight from its ever-shifting front lines.

What we get in "Maria's Story," which is partnered on the program at the Biograph with a poetic 28-minute short about freedom of expression titled "Grafitti," is history in a T-shirt and tattered army boots. The filmmakers follow Maria and her ragtag army of children and old men as they trudge through the hills to their makeshift campsites in preparation for what they hope will be their final offensive against the government. With barely enough money for shoes, much less weapons, this motley assortment is an army in name only; they look as if they couldn't knock off the lowliest of street gangs, much less a regular combat force.

Still, what these unlikely-looking revolutionaries lack in materials is at least partly made up for in ardor and determination. Everyone must do his part, Maria says, the young, the old, the pretty girls and "the ugly ones, like me." In the film's most compelling segment, Maria travels back to her home village, now practically a ghost town because of the long years of fighting, and talks about the events that transformed her from a plain, bookish farm girl into a guerrilla leader, and the story is all the more harrowing for the tone of pragmatic matter-of-factness that marks its teller's delivery.

The temptation in this variety of political reportage is to pounce on the tragic, and, in the process, reduce it to the sensational. But co-directors Monona Wali and Pamela Cohen never fall into this trap; they refuse to exploit either their subject or their audience. Even when Maria recounts the horror of her young daughter's mutilation at the hands of government troops, the camera doesn't swoop in, but remains at a respectful middle distance, as a sober, reverent witness.

In selecting their subject, the filmmakers have chosen shrewdly and brilliantly. Physically, Maria is squat and lumpy, but her sense of mission transforms her, and ambling among the people in one small village, joshing and shaking hands, she becomes a figure of almost mythic potency, a potato-sack Joan of Arc priming her troops for the coming battle. Gradually, the film becomes something more than a document of political struggle; it becomes a movie about rising to the call of greatness.

Maria sees her role as that of midwife to the birth of a new order in her homeland, and, in this regard, her fight transcends the politics of East and West, Marxism and capitalism. This is a war, she says, for food and decent housing and education. What the movie captures here is the drama of self-actualization; it's a movie about finding your path. Each time that Maria and her husband leave each other to play their different parts in the struggle, they embrace and say goodbye as if it were for the last time. Just before their big offensive, she tells him that she knows she will not live to be an old lady. But he is not to feel sad for her, she says, because she has done exactly what she wanted to do. With this said, she shoulders her weapon and disappears down yet another rocky trail.

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"Cook Food": A Manualfesto for Easy, Health, Local Eating (Interview)

Cook FoodAn Important New Book from Lisa Jervis
By Micky Z.
Planet Green
March 16, 2010

One of the many great things about PM Press publishing my latest book, Self Defense for Radicals, is becoming part of such an excellent roster of authors. For example, Lisa Jervis, who has penned Cook Food: A Manualfesto for Easy, Health, Local Eating. Lisa is the founding editor and publisher of Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture, the founding board chair of Women in Media and News, a member of the advisory board of outLoud Radio, and the current finance and operations director at the Center for Media Justice. Her work has appeared in Ms., the San Francisco Chronicle, Utne, Mother Jones, the Women's Review of Books, Bust, Salon, and more.

Here's the lowdown on Cook Food:

"If you want to eat healthier but aren't sure where to start, or if you've been reading about food politics but don't know how to bring sustainable eating practices into your everyday life, Cook Food will give you the scoop on how, while keeping your taste buds satisfied. With a conversational, do-it-yourself vibe, a practical approach to everyday cooking on a budget, and a whole bunch of animal-free recipes, Cook Food will have you cooking up a storm, tasting the difference, thinking globally and eating locally."

WATCH VIDEO: Take the 100-Mile Local Food Challenge

Cook Food, says Jervis, is an "attempt to provide some basic tools for people who want to be healthier and lighten the footprint of the way they eat. She says the book could be seen as "a call to action against our wasteful, unjust, destructive, unhealthy,, industrialized, corporate-dominated food system (with recipes)." Dozens of recipes...

Here's my e-mail conversation with Lisa:

Planet Green: Are you suggesting we can eat local, unprocessed, animal-free all of the time?

Lisa Jervis: I wish! But realistically, no. Even for people who have tons of time and energy to shop, garden, and cook, and plenty of cash to buy fresh food, there are barriers. A lot of spices aren't grown in the U.S., but I don't think anyone should try to cook without them! And then there's the reality that farmers markets are only in certain neighborhoods, and that fresh ingredients can be more expensive than processed food. Plus, some people's nutritional needs require eating animal products. For me, the point is to fit a healthy, humane, and—don't forget—pleasurable eating style comfortably into your life. And I just want to encourage people to do that and to share some tools to help make it easier.

PG: Define "healthy."

LJ: A lot of people assume that when it comes to food, "healthy" means "low-fat" or "low-calorie." That's a symptom of our culture's extreme fatphobia and the persistence of the medical establishment in wrongly insisting that being fat is automatically unhealthy. I completely reject that. Natural, unprocessed, unrefined fats are totally healthy. To me, the key to whether a food is healthy is how processed it is. The less processed, the more healthy. Things that you wash, chop, cook, and eat directly after they come out of the ground, as oppose to things that pass through a factory and end up in a bag or a box before you eat them.

PG:Define "processed."

LJ: There are two kinds of processing, really. Anytime you make something ready to eat (like by peeling it or cooking it), technically you are processing it. But when I'm talking about processed foods to avoid, I'm talking about industrial processing, which transforms a raw ingredient into something else entirely, either by removing some edible part of it (as in white flour), chemically treating it (as with many supermarket vegetable oils, which are treated with a chemical called hexane in order to extract the oil), or chemically or mechanically isolating one element of it and tossing everything else—or turning the other elements into some other food additive. Corn syrup, corn starch, and corn oil are in that last category.

PG: Okay, let's say some Planet Green readers get your book, like what you say, and want to make some changes. Where can they start?

LJ: It was really important to me to make the book accessible for people who don't cook at all at the same time that experienced cooks can still find something in it for them. For people who want to change their eating habits, I suggest starting with the recipes. For those totally new to the kitchen, I've included some tips on stocking the pantry and what equipment you need; I've also laid out some methods and principles that a lot of cookbooks leave out. People who are totally comfortable in the kitchen but are newer to food politics might want to start in the resource section. And folks could also skip any more reading entirely, pick a recipe, and make yourself some dinner.

Two More Reasons to Buy Cook Food Now

  • Lisa has packed in 15 pages of valuable resources

  • You can connect with other Cook Food readers on Facebook
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Pies-in-face attack roils anarchist-vegan world

Vegetarian MythDemian Bulwa,
San Francisco Chronicle
Wednesday, March 17, 2010

(03-16) 18:30 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- An ex-vegan who was hit with chili pepper-laced pies at an anarchist event in San Francisco said Tuesday that her assailants were cowards who should direct their herbivorous rage at the powerful - not at a fellow radical for writing a book denouncing animal-free diets.

Lierre Keith, a 45-year-old Arcata resident, was attacked at 2:15 p.m. Saturday at the 15th annual Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair while discussing her 2009 book, "The Vegetarian Myth." A 20-year vegan, Keith now argues that the diet is unhealthy and that agriculture is destroying the world.

As Keith stood at a lectern at the Hall of Flowers in Golden Gate Park, three people in masks and black hooded sweatshirts ran from backstage, shouted, "Go vegan!" and threw pies in her face. While they fled, some in the audience cheered or handed out leaflets.

The attack, midway through a 30-minute talk, was captured on a video posted to YouTube and prompted blistering debates on radical Web sites.

Many people defended Keith - or at least her right not to be attacked. Others said she was dishonest and abusive to vegans and should not have been invited by the event organizer, San Francisco's Bound Together bookstore.

Police are investigating the incident but have made no arrests, a spokesman said. Keith said she did not go to a hospital and was able to speak at a second engagement later Saturday, but had sore eyes for a few days and developed an ear infection.

"The whole thing was designed for social humiliation," said Keith, speaking Tuesday from her sister's home in Kansas. "We're supposed to be against sadism and cruelty and domination, and these people were willing to do this to me."

Keith said her values are similar in most ways to those of her attackers. She believes in militant action, even property destruction, if it can lead to change. In her book, she said, she railed against factory farming and promoted the restoration of prairies and forests.

"It's insane. My entire book is about how the world is being destroyed," Keith said. She said the first pie hit her just after she uttered the sentence, "You should not eat factory-farmed meat."

Among those rejoicing in the pie attack was the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which often prints communiques from activists taking credit for attacks on animal researchers.

The group said Keith was wrong about veganism, referred to her as an "animal holocaust denier," and scolded her for calling the "agents of state oppression" - the police.

Her assailants were "masked marvels" who "made their statement very eloquently and succinctly on behalf of the billions of animals she advocates killing," the group said.

Keith said the attack appeared to have been planned on Internet sites dedicated to veganism. She called it a case of infighting that harmed activist causes.

"If this is what is considered radical action," she said, "this movement is dead."

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PM at the Left Forum

Each spring Left Forum convenes the largest gathering in North America of the US and international Left. Continuing a tradition begun in the 1960s, we bring together intellectuals and organizers to share perspectives, strategies, experience and vision. Last April's 2009 Left Forum, held at Pace University in New York City, included approximately 3,000 participants, over 200 panels, and 650 speakers from over 40 countries. For the US and the world, revitalizing an American Left has never been more urgent; Left Forum has a critical role to play in that undertaking.

SATURDAY, MARCH 20


Session 1: SATURDAY, 10:00 AM - 11:50 PM

 

Socialism in the 21st Century: Lessons from the Past
W510

Daniel Singer Millennium Prize Foundation
Robert Capistrano (Chair) -  Daniel Singer Millennium Prize Foundation
Fred Magdoff - Monthly Review
Barbara Garson - Board Member, Daniel Singer Millennium Prize Foundation
Leo Panitch - York University; Socialist Review
Salvador Aguilar Sole - University of Barcelona

 

Lessons from Latin American Social Movements for a US in Crisis
W612

Toward Freedom, Between The Lines Radio
Scott Harris (Chair) - Between The Lines Radio
Ben Dangl - Toward Freedom
Marina Sitrin - Author, Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina
Mario Murillo - Author, Voices of Resistance: Indigenous Radio and the Struggle for Social Justice in Colombia

 

 

Session 3: SATURDAY, 3:00 PM - 4:50 PM

 

A Panel Discussion on Anarchism and Marxism
W510

Andrej Grubacic (Chair) - San Francisco Art Institute, International Workers of the World
Cindy Milstein - Institute for Anarchist Studies; Renewing the Anarchist Tradition
Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz - Historian/writer

 

The Awesome Power of Union Democracy and its Implications for Dramatic Social Change
E329

Daniel Gross (Chair) - Executive Director, Brandworkers International Executive Committee Member, National Lawyers Guild Labor & Employment Committee
Kevin "Harry" Harrington - Vice President, Transport Workers Union Local 100 Member, Take Back Our Union
Sandy Pope - President, Teamsters Local 805 Former International Rep, IBT, during legendary UPS Strike
Vance Hinton - Member, Industrial Workers of the World, Starbucks Workers Union;  Henry George School

 

Session 4: SATURDAY, 5:00 PM - 6:50 PM

 

What Does Food Sovereignty Look Like? Imagining Food Sovereignty from a Variety of Perspectives
Student Union

Brenda Biddle (Chair) - Evergreen College; Anthropology, Graduate Center CUNY
Andrej Grubacic - San Francisco Art Institute, IWW
Gregory Wilpert - Sociology, Brandeis University; ZNet; Editor, Venezuelanalysis.com
Michael Menser - Brooklyn College, Brooklyn Food Coalition
Silvia Frederici - Hofstra University emerita Committee for Academic Freedom Africa
 

Rebel Rank and File
E326

Cal Winslow (Chair) - Fellow, Environmental Politics, UC Berkeley; Co-editor, Rebel Rank and File
Aaron Brenner - Co-editor, Rebel Rank and File; Editor, The Encyclopedia of Strikes in American History
Sandy Pope - President, Teamsters Union Local 805; Founder, Hard Hatted Women and Teamsters for a Democratic Union
Judith Stein - History, Graduate Center and City College of NY; Contributor to Rebel Rank and File
Steve Early - Former Communications Workers of America organizer, Author, Embedded With Organized Labor 

 

SUNDAY, MARCH 21

 
SESSION 5: SUNDAY, 10:00 AM - 11:50 PM
 

Remembering Giovanni Arrighi
W614

Verso Books
David Harvey (Chair) - Anthropology, CUNY Graduate Center; Author, A Companion to Marx's Capital
Beverly Silver - Johns Hopkins University
Leo Panitch - Socialist Review; Canada Research Chair, Comparative Political Economy; Political Science, York University

 

 

SESSION 6: SUNDAY, 12:00 - 1:50 PM

 

Morbid Symptoms: Health Care Under Capitalism
W615

Socialist Register
Leo Panitch (Chair) - Socialist Review; Canada Research Chair, Comparative Political Economy; Political Science, York University
Kalman Applbaum -
Julie Feinsilver -
Christoph Hermann -
Marie Gottschalk -

 

Speciesm: The Forgotten Oppression -- Why Should The Left Care?
W616

Kamil Ghoshal (Chair) - Philosophy In Action Network; Cantonese and Toisan Cultural Society
John Sanbonmatsu - Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Mickey Z. - mickeyz.net
Gary Null - garynull.com
Pamela Rice - VivaVegie Society

 

Punk Rock: Cultural Space For Transformative Politics?
W621

Ramsey Kanaan (Chair) - Founder, PM Press
Josh MacPhee - JustSeeds: Visual Resistance Artists' Cooperative
Mark Andersen - Positive Force DC; We Are Family
Anne Elizabeth Moore - Author, Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity
Katy Otto - Exotic Fever Records

 

Building the Power of Immigrant Workers in NYC's Vast Food Industry
W619

Daniel Gross (Chair) - Executive Director, Brandworkers; Executive Committee Member, National Lawyers Guild Labor & Employment Committee
Sekou Siby - Co-Director, Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York; Former Restaurant Worker
Art Ramirez - Lead Organizer, Teamsters Local 805 Fresh Direct Campaign
Diana Robinson - Organizer, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, Local 1500 Gourmet Grocer Campaign
Liberte Locke - Organizer, Industrial Workers of the World, Starbucks Workers Union

 
 
SESSION 7: SUNDAY, 3:00 – 4:50 PM
 
 

In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives
LHS

Leo Panitch (Chair) - Socialist Register
Sam Gindin - Packer Visiting Chair, Social Justice, York
Greg Albo - Socialist Register

 

What Does the Left Need to Know about Prison?
W504

Susie Day (Chair) -
Laura Whitehorn - New York State Task Force for Political Prisoners
Asha Bandele - Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Drug Policy Alliance
Vikki Law - Books Through Bars
Cleo Silvers - Safiya Bukhari/Albert Nuh Washington Foundation

 

No Families, No Justice: Building a Family-Inclusive Left Movement
W602

PM Press

Jennifer Silverman (Chair) - editor, My Baby Rides the Short Bus: the Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids with Disabilities (PM Press, 2009); core member, m*a*m*a (mothers alliance for mutual aid)
Amanda Vender - IndyKids
Lauren Karchmer - Regeneracion
Ileana Mendez-Penate - Regeneracion
Zera Priestess - Board Chair, Sistas on the Rise, Inc. (SOTR); founder, SoulSWEET Sanctuary

Rethinking Education
W609

Brian Kelly (Chair) - ZNet
Andrej Grubacic - San Francisco Art Institute, IWW
Meaghan Linick-Loughley - Anthropology, New School; Organization for a Free Society
Pat Korte - Radical Student Union, Organization for a Free Society

 




PM at the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair

Meet PM authors and buy some books at the Bay Area Anarchist bookfair

SF County Fair Building, Golden Gate Park

Saturday and Sunday

March 13th and 14th, 2010

Saturday, March 13th

(AUDITORIUM 10:30 am Sat.) Howard Zinn Tribute with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz & Andrej Grubacic

(CAFE, 12:00 Noon Sat.) Radical Parenting: Raising Kids and Creating Community A discussion of parenting creating community from a radical/activist perspective, including the need for parenting allies, and the importance of diversity to combat mainstream images and values towards parenting. With Vikki Law, Jessica Mills, Thomas Moniz, Jennifer Silverman, and Jeremy Adam Smith

(CAFE, 1:00 pm Sat.) The Revolutionary Legacy of John Brown. Participants:Terry Bisson, moderator, is author of bios of Nat Turner, Mumia Abu Jamal, and Paul Robeson, and also of Fire on the Mountain (science fiction) in which John Brown’s raid succeeds. William Crossman, Activist, musician, composer of the improvisational opera,  ”John Brown’s Truth.” Noelle Hanrahan, radio journalist, producer of “Dispatches from Death Row” with Mumia Abu Jamal. Robert Chrisman Essayist, poet, professor, (UC Berkeley, U. of Nebraska); founder and publisher, The Black Scholar. Robert Wells author Author, Huck Finn & John Brown; former activist with the John Brown Anti-Klan Ctte.

(AUDITORIUM 1:30 pm Sat.) Venezuela From the Bottom Up with Carlos Martinez: While President Hugo Chávez is often all we hear about Venezuela, a much larger story involving a wider cast of characters has gone largely ignored. Venezuela Speaks! is a collection of interviews with activists and participants from across Venezuela’s social movements, with topics ranging from community media to land reform, cooperatives, communal councils,  labor movements, and the Afro-Venezuelan network.  Carlos Martinez recently served in Venezuela as the program director for Global Exchange, where he coordinated dozens of delegations to Venezuela.  He now resides in San Francisco and is coordinator for the Center for Political Education. 

(AUDITORIUM 2:00 pm Sat.) Lierre Keith:  We’ve been told that a vegetarian diet can feed the hungry, honor the animals, and save the planet. Lierre Keith believed in that plant-based diet and spent twenty years as a vegan. But in The Vegetarian Myth, she argues that we’ve been led astray,  that agriculture is a relentless assault against the planet, and more of the same won’t save us. In service to annual grains, humans have devastated prairies and forests, driven countless species extinct, altered the climate, and destroyed the topsoil–the basis of life itself. Keith argues that if we are to save this planet, our food must be an act of profound and abiding repair: it must come from inside living communities, not be imposed across them.

(CAFE, 2:00 pm Sat.) Women, Incarceration and Resistance Panel: Although the dramatic increase of women in prison has led to a growing interest in female incarceration, the voices and actions of the women inside often remain unheard. How are women inside challenging and organizing against prison conditions? How can activists and organizers on the outside support their actions and resistance?  A discussion on realities and resistance inside women’s prisons and concrete ways that those on the outside can support resistance struggles inside. Participants:Victoria Law and Laura Whitehorn

(AUDITORIUM 3:00 pm Sat.) Disability Advocacy and the Looking Glass: When to minimize, when to elaborate, and when to call in reinforcements. Sarah Talbot and Yantra Bartelli, parents of a deaf child with autism, offer some veteran insights into the tricky business of feeling out how to communicate with professionals from schools and state agencies in the most productive ways.

(AUDITORIUM 4:00 pm Sat.) Peter Gelderloos is the author of How Nonviolence Protects the State, as well as Consensus: A New Handbook for Grassroots Social, Political, and Environmental Groups, and the forthcoming Anarchy Works.  Peter is graciously filling in for Gabriel Kuhn. 

 

(AUDITORIUM 4:30 pm Sat.) Andrej Grubajic – Libertarian Socialism for the 21st Century.  Andrej is the author of Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History.

 

 

(AUDITORIUM 5:00 pm Sat.) Kim Stanley Robinson – The Politics Of Science. Kim Stanley Robinson is the author of many science fiction books (1984-present), major themes include Humanism, utopia, environmentalism, transcendentalism.

 

 

Sunday, March 14th

(CAFE 12:00 noon Sun.) My Baby Rides The Shortbus, with Sarah Talbot and Yantra Bertelli

 

 

 

(CAFE 1:00 pm Sun.) Socially Engaged Printmaking Today A dozen political print and poster makers gather to discuss Josh MacPhee’s new book Paper Politics, as well as the current state of political graphics making: What are we doing? Why? And is it working? Short presentations by a couple of the artists will be followed by a large roundtable discussion. Audience participation is encouraged.

(AUDITORIUM 2:00 pm Sun.) Owen Hill is the author of two novels and many books of poetry. Of The Incredible Double, David Ulin of the Los Angeles Times said, “…here we have the essence of noir, a life lived at the edges”.  Owen lives in Berkeley, where he works as a bookseller and curates a reading series.

 

(CAFE, 2:00 pm Sun.) Panel:  Prospects For Winning In An Age Of Crisis: In this current age of ecological and financial meltdown, what does it mean to win, and how we might actually do so.  Two books discussed:  In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives By Greg Albo, Sam Gindin, Leo Panitch Our world is in the grips of the most calamitous economic crisis since the Great Depression – and its epicenter is the imperial United States, where hallowed investment banks have disappeared overnight, giants of industry have gone bankrupt, and the financial order has been shaken to the core; and What Would it Mean to Win?, a collection of texts edited by the international Turbulence collective. Panelists include: Tadzio Mueller and Gifford Hartman of the Turbulence Collective; Sasha Lilley, editor of In and Out of Crisis; Andrej Grubacic, historian, fellow-traveller with People’s Global Action and co-author of  Wobblies & Zapatistas

(AUDITORIUM 2:30 pm Sun.)Terry Bisson: The bestelling “Left Behind” books are favorites of the Christian right and are about the so-called rapture (in which all the born-agains are yanked straight up to heaven).  Terry Bisson will be reading from his subversive satire of this demented series, The Left Left Behind.

 

(AUDITORIUM 3:00 pm Sun.) Cal Winslow – Labor’s Civil War In California.  Cal Winslow is a Fellow in Environmental Politics at UC Berkeley and Director of the Mendocino Institute. 

 

 

(AUDITORIUM 3:30 pm Sun.)  John Curl: A Century For Visionaries. The author of For All The People: uncovering the hidden history of cooperation, cooperative movements, and communalism in America, will talk about revolution in the 21st century, the world cooperative movement, collectivity, the struggle for the commons, the failure of the world economic system, and social renewal in a century for visionaries. John Curl is also author of Memories of Drop City, Columbus in the Bay of Pigs, and many volumes of poetry.  John Curl will represent the United States of America at the World Poetry Festival of 2010 in Venezuela.

(CAFE 4:00 pm Sun.) Labor Wars / Union Organizing panel

 




The Return of Staughton Lynd

By David Waldstreicher
History News Network
February 15, 2010

For the generation that came of age intellectually in the 1970s and 80s, Staughton Lynd’s Intellectual Origins of American Radicalism (1968) was one of those tattered Vintage paperback (number V-488 to be precise) you came across browsing in used bookstores.  It was like Black Power (or any text by Richard Hofstadter).  Something you couldn’t help being exposed to even if you didn’t necessarily feel drawn to it.  And Intellectual Origins could seem off-putting: the cover said Radicalism but it came with a red, white, and blue spread eagle motif.  Still, apparent mixed message notwithstanding, many students might have been moved to give it a look or three because the author has been so right on about Vietnam.

I picked up my copy while trolling for course books during my freshman or sophomore year in college.  It had a great impact on me and continues to shape my sense of the past.  Lynd’s chief lesson was that a dissenting tradition informed the American Revolution – a tradition that survived the capture of the Revolution by conservative nationalists – not least because it was older, broader, and more idealistic than the discourse upheld by conventional minders of the Revolution’s legacy.

Intellectual Origins came out a year after Bernard Bailyn’s The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution and, as the title implies, issued a potent and intentional challenge to that book’s interpretation of Revolutionary politics.  Radicalism, bourgeois or otherwise, cannot be understood as merely a “contagion of liberty” resulting from the Revolution.  Nor can it be grasped in terms of anti-conspiratorial ideology derived from early-eighteenth-century “real whig” opposition writings.  There was an earlier radical tradition, religious but no less radical for being so, that trusted in ordinary people’s consciences.  It was not so much American as Anglo (but not only that), in some iterations explicitly internationalist, and dissenting with respect to both church and state depending on the time and place.  We see echoes of it in many different sorts of attacks on wealth and power throughout U.S. history.  This tradition included Garrisonian abolitionism, native socialisms, aspects of Jefferson and Lincoln as well as Tom Paine.  Radicals could claim a true and thoughtful, not merely rhetorical or mythical, connection to the American past—as some of them have done ever since.

That this view was ever controversial, or that it raised some hackles in 1968, may now need explaining.  Between 1961 and 1968 Staughton Lynd published a body of work—articles and anthologies as well as the two works of history republished in 2009 by Cambridge University Press—that was remarkable for its breadth and vision.  Indeed, the rapid publication of his essay collection Class Conflict, Slavery, and the United States Constitution (1967) and Intellectual Origins by trade presses reflected the demand for his research and teaching, as well as the recognition he had already achieved among historians during the same years and, to a significant extent, before he became famous as an antiwar activist.  He certainly had every reason, while working on Intellectual Origins, to believe that he’d earned the right, and perhaps even had the responsibility, to creatively combine his political work and his historical writing—and that there would be a ready crossover audience for such an effort.  He had been hired by Yale because of his standing, in the public eye and in the profession, as perhaps the best “New Left” historian yet to emerge.  His writings on the possible confluences of history and activism were also widely admired and anthologized.  Being at Yale, in turn, made it even more likely that he would be turned to as a leader and speaker by the movement, whether at demonstrations against the war or at meetings of the American Historical Association.

Lynd emphasized, in the conclusion of Intellectual Origins, that the book was for “radicals.”  While writing it, he described himself in one of the many new magazines of politics and culture springing up at the time as “more and more committed to the thesis that the professor of history should also be a historical protagonist.”  He was also trying to “save the Movement of the Sixties” as he put it recently, from bad ideas and their effects (particularly “pop Marxism,” violent as opposed to peaceful revolutionism, and an avant-gardism that distrusted popular traditions).  If there was a usable, vital radical tradition, a historian could play an extremely important role as “the custodian of such memories and dreams.”

Lynd’s own sense of American memories and dreams had been decisively shaped, as he describes in his new memoir with Alice Lynd, Stepping Stones, by his initial decision, in 1961, to turn down ivy-league offers and teach at historically black Spelman College in Atlanta.  His dialogue with students and faculty there (he mentions Alice Walker and Howard Zinn), and his experience as a leader in the 1964 Mississippi Freeedom School project, undoubtedly helped him seek a synthesis.  “I did better scholarship on the Constitution while I was teaching five courses at Spelman, and traveling across town to borrow books from the Emory University library, than when I came to Yale,” he writes in his recent book with Andrej Grubacic, Wobblies and Zapatistas: Conversations on Anarchism, Marxism and Radical History.  (A Staughton Lynd Reader is also forthcoming in April 2010 from PM Press.)

His 1967 and 1968 books were in fact well received in the mainstream press and by well-respected historians.  Given their subject matter and broad ambitions, it is hard to imagine much better reviews.  Yet it’s now an established fact that the Yale history department, with the assent of the liberal historians who had hired him, had decided to get rid of Lynd for political reasons and chose to construe Intellectual Origins as an excuse, with an assist from Eugene D. Genovese, a historian and critic from the left whose objections had little to do with the merits of Lynd’s account of ideas in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.

Wittingly or not, Genovese seems to have functioned as something of a hired gun.  C. Vann Woodward was showing his review around the history department before it appeared it print, and Genovese was invited to teach at Yale for a year soon afterward.  Lynd’s neo-Marxism contended with Genovese’s more orthodox variety; his emphasis on abolitionists and founding fathers challenged Genovese’s exclusive interest in the old South.  Genovese had also publicly attacked Lynd’s politics before he reviewed Lynd’s two books in the New York Review of Books.  The review deliberately conflated the issues, calling Lynd a “demagogue” and wielding its title, “Abolitionist,” as a slur.  For Genovese, Lynd’s insistence on slavery as an issue during the Revolutionary era, and on the abolitionists as carrying on a broader tradition, was simply ahistorical.  Real abolitionism meant support for slavery’s antithesis, wage labor, which was unthinkable in the pre-capitalist, revolutionary era (or among slaveholders who were not capitalists)—an a priori assumption that, it subsequently became clearer, undergirded Genovese’s own work.  Genovese went further in denouncing Lynd’s elaboration and celebration of rights, natural law doctrines, and conscience as politically irresponsible.  In a subsequent exchange of letters in NYRB (which scholar Gary B. Nash remembers as deeply influential even as he recalls his wonder at Genovese’s vitriol), Lynd insisted “the Founding Fathers morally condemned slavery.”  Other countries abolished slavery between the Revolution and the 1820s:  “it is not in the least anachronistic to ask why the United States failed to do likewise.”

There’s still much at stake in this debate. If one ignores the part about capitalism and antislavery, Genovese’s argument that all talk about slavery’s relationship to the Revolution and the founding of the republic is anachronism or presentism is basically the same one now associated with Bernard Bailyn’s most famous student Gordon S. Wood (who also used the term “anachronistic” with respect to Lynd in 1969).  But even Genovese has admitted, recently, that slavery “loomed over the Constitutional Convention.”  To preserve his “honorable” planter class who “defended principles,” Genovese, however, has amplified their apologies for “slavery in the abstract,” ignoring the rise of racial defenses of slavery designed to deflect natural rights doctrines.  (Wood, for his part, complains publicly about books on slavery pouring from the presses, while carefully segregating the subject from his irony-laced narratives about founding fathers and “democratic” capitalism.)

More or less blacklisted from the history business, Lynd has raised tough questions about the academic life and its limits, urging radical historians to cast their net wider.  He also asks why historians have stopped doing “structural analysis” or proposing “big ideas that could be tested” (nor, I’d add, doing so while writing as clearly and accessibly as Lynd).  Lynd has commented that the academic profession now grants legitimacy to “stories of cancer-stricken chimney sweeps and unwed mothers so long as their authors still cede the main story to their more conservative colleagues.”  This is a point of tremendous importance. Even Gary Nash’s 2005 The Unknown American Revolution rests content to treat its story and characters as “alternative” – and to avoid a clash of interpretations over the Constitution, though that text has long been a battleground, and is bound to spark conflicts going forward.

What is striking in retrospect about Intellectual Origins is that Lynd did not claim more for the traditions he investigated than he could plausibly demonstrate.  For the variety of intellectual history-cum-radical memory Lynd practiced, it wasn’t necessary to trace strains of thought that flowed with the mainstream or became ideology.  What mattered were ideas that endured and came to inspire radical players in American life.

Ideas of this kind were implicit in the revolutionary mindset limned by Bailyn.  But he soon lashed out at historians like Lynd who focused on figures who called for fundamental social change.  Lynd, in turn, objected that Bailyn’s revolutionary consensus marginalized both John Locke and Thomas Paine, even while citing them, and neglected natural rights as a source of radicalism.  Bailyn’s “real whig” opposition sources of republican ideology also dismissed the radical side of the English Civil War and its legacies.  More recent historians like Jonathan Scott see the late seventeenth century as a time of “troubles” that sparked an “extraordinary intellectual fertility” which was international in scope and productive of precisely the radicalizing questions of conscience that Lynd highlights.  Writers on the left of the American Revolution, including especially Paine and Jefferson, began following the footsteps of the originary English rebels by questioning the inalienability of private property—the bedrock of government for Locke, but also the source of a potent critique of slavery (as a violation of inalienable property in one’s own person).

In the United States, the property question could never be divorced from the slavery question.  In Class Conflict, Slavery, and the United States Constitution, Lynd explained how and why the Revolutionaries crafted a “compromise of 1787”: northern capitalists and the plantocracy securing each others’ interests, in the process keeping the antislavery and levelling radicals at bay.  Just as persuasively, Lynd showed how Jefferson and his political heirs conceived of American history as driven by embattled farmers against conspiring urban elites.  The roots of such orthodox progressive history lie in the so-called great compromises of the early republic (Though abolitionists tried to undo that orthodoxy by forcing the nation to confront what they called its original sin).  Just as importantly, Lynd excavated the roots of contemporary American historical imagination in the abolitionists’ own debate about whether the constitution was proslavery (William Lloyd Garrison) or in the last instance antislavery (Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln).

Intellectual Origins tells the sunnier side of the story: an important strain of radical and cosmopolitan thinking survived the compromises that secured northern (mercantile) private property by solidifying southern (slave) property.  Given that certain figures in the founders’ generation “demythologized” private property, the Revolutionary mind-set could still be a resource for those who argued against slavery, despite the Constitution’s turn toward the safeguarding of property as a greater good.  And, indeed, the struggle against racial slavery could be about more than that:  more even than a defense of a free labor system construed as the opposite of chattel slavery.  It might become, like the ideology of the Revolution itself, a site of internationalism in a nationalist age and of a critique of
capitalism insofar as contemporary capitalism relied on slave labor.

While the mainstreaming of antislavery in the north may have had much to do with its compatibility with wage labor, there were other aspects of abolitionism, especially in its more uncompromising versions, that existed in tension with the status quo antebellum and pointed toward democratic expansions of the political landscape.  It was the radical democratic imperatives of abolitionism, including advocacy of the right to free speech, perhaps as much as the insistence on free labor in the territories, that upset the political consensus over slavery.  On this score, recent appreciations of the abolitionists can be read as an extended footnote to Lynd.  What’s news here is the recognition now given to the role played by African American activists and thinkers.  The irreverent populists, influential Quakers, working-class William Lloyd Garrison, and anti-capitalist Henry David Thoreau we meet in Intellectual Origins, all of whom thought long and hard before acting to change history, are now familiar figures who live in your local Barnes and Noble.

Lynd was unusual, however, in underscoring the connection of abolitionism to the Revolutionary generation.  But that wasn’t a sign of willful nativism.  He refused to choose between a Revolutionary American and a cosmopolitan internationalist tradition, finding the influences twinned in radical and antislavery figures like Thomas Paine and Wendell Phillips.  His double-truth telling here anticipated a major theme in recent work on nineteenth and twentieth century America which promote a “post-nationalist” and post-imperial approach, focusing on black and white internationalists like David Walker and Frederick Douglass, who riffed on both the Revolution and its limits.  This new body of scholarship, though, tends not to go back to the roots of the story in the seventeenth century.  The few writers who do get back, like Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh in The Many-Headed Hydra and Linebaugh in his mind-blowing Magna Charta Manifesto, get attacked as romanticists and nit-picked for factual errors that are somehow excusable in works that celebrate radicals and runaways without raising issues of class, like Simon Schama’s Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves, and the American Revolution.

A look back at Lynd suggests that contemporary radicals may be all too invested in the myth of American consensus (in other words, they’ve read too much Bailyn and Wood, and not enough Lynd).  Lynd gives us a glimpse of a lost synthesis of American history that has rich implications for our own time.  In Lynd’s vision, wars—and, in America, the unavoidable turmoil that war provokes in the politics of race and class—generate crises that spur creative reassessments of social relations.  Lynd’s work reminds us that in times of national crisis people have often entered or re-entered politics to “cast their whole vote,” regardless of the previous rules of the political game.  Lynd’s account of the sources of radicalism in America before and after 1776 seems right on time now as well as being more in tune with recent scholarship than with mainstream work published circa 1968.

Even forty years later, Intellectual Origins and Class Conflict, Slavery and the U.S. Constitution seem remarkably fresh –in part because the bulk of the historical profession refused Lynd’s implicit challenge to develop a new synthesis encompassing both the Revolution and the Civil War.  His books and more recent reflections bear close scrutiny because he provides moral clarity –“The American Revolution had the possibility of abolishing slavery [but] the revolutionary leadership failed to act” – missing from the work of other historians, even those who lean left.  There’s nothing namby-pamby about the sense of possibility that’s alive in Lynd’s version of the past (He sees the Civil War as the first American revolution because “millions of dollars of slave property was confiscated without compensation”).  Lynd’s return – or rather, our return to Lynd – can remind us that radicals are always down for the count, and always getting up.

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ZNet interviews Gabriel Kuhn on Sober Living

Can you tell ZNet, please, what Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics is about? What is it trying to communicate?

The book explores the crossroads of straight edge and radical politics. Straight edge is a hardcore punk subculture defined by drug-free living that emerged in the early 1980s in Washington, DC, and soon became a global phenomenon. In its thirty-year history it has taken on different forms and gone through a number of eras. Politically, it has often been associated with self-righteous moralism and conservative puritanism, but that's far from the whole story.

Since it beginnings, many individuals, bands, and entire scenes have related straight edge to progressive and radical politics; partly because a "sober mind" was deemed the best foundation for effective political work, partly because the alcohol, nicotine, and drug industries were seen as tools used by the state and capital to exploit and pacify the people. The volume traces this history through a number of interviews, articles, and documents collected from four continents. It includes contributions by important figures of straight edge history like Ian MacKaye and Dennis Lyxzén, by legendary left-wing straight edge bands such as ManLiftingBanner from Holland and Point of No Return from Brazil, by activists from predominantly radical straight edge scenes like the ones in Sweden or Israel, and by radical activists with straight edge leanings like the CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective. The book also contains groundbreaking analyses of the relations between straight edge and queer/feminist culture – something I'm quite proud of.

In short, the book tries to communicate that drug-free living is not the exclusive domain of conservative fools, but a lively and active part of a radical political underground.

Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

I worked on this book as an editor. I compiled it, did the interviews, edited the contributions, put it all in order, and wrote the introduction. I have had the idea for the book for a long time, I just never thought I'd find a publisher for it. Luckily, the folks at PM were willing to give it a chance, and things went from there.

It's a book that really means a lot to me personally. I've been both straight edge and active in radical circles since I was sixteen, and very often – in all sorts of contexts – this has been met with bewilderment and the suggestion that this somehow posed a contradiction. Furthermore, I was very disappointed with some of the political ways that straight edge took, particularly when certain sections of the so-called hardline movement in the 1990s turned outright homophobic or condemned abortion. So I'm really happy that I was able to do a book presenting the straight edge community that I always identified with: politically conscious and aware, passionate and principled, but neither judgmental nor one-dimensional.

What made the book what it is?

Not to sound corny, but certainly the contributors. Working on the book was really a collective endeavor and an enormous pleasure. The process reminded me of how caring and supportive the international hardcore community still is. It was an extremely uplifting and encouraging experience.

What are your hopes for the book? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?

Well, of course I hope that as many folks as possible will read these texts. Whether they will then all become straight edge or not is hardly the issue. I would hope that the readers understand that there are progressive and radical elements in the straight edge movement, and that many people are living drug-free because of strong convictions and not because it is a fad or a code of conduct promising false moral superiority. Beyond this, I hope that the book can raise awareness about the political implications of alcohol, nicotine, and illegalized drug use. Again, the exact personal choices that readers will draw don't matter much, I'd just like them to be conscious and responsible choices. Living straight edge is one option, but there are many others.

So, if I get a feeling that the book increases knowledge about progressive and radical straight edge circles and instigates discussion about the drug industry, then I'd deem it a success in a wider sense. Yet, I'd never question the time and the effort that went into it because it was all so much fun and got me in touch with so many wonderful people.

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European Anarchist Has to Cancel Trip to the U.S.

Life Under the Jolly RogerBy Matthew Rothschild
The Progressive
February 19, 2010

The anarchist author Gabriel Kuhn was planning on visiting the United States in early March and staying until May. He had speaking engagements set up at several colleges, bookstores, and coffeehouses. But he’s no longer coming.

Kuhn, who was born in Austria and lives in Sweden, wrote a prize-winning book on contemporary anarchism in the United States. And he’s the author of two new books published by PM Press out of Oakland. One is called “Life Under the Jolly Roger: Reflections on Golden Age Piracy,” and the other is “Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics.”

He applied through Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which has been in place for a little more than a year. This system is for people who are traveling to the United States from countries where the U.S. used to say you didn’t need a visa to come to America.

(For a list of those countries, click here.)

Now you need to have either a visa or approval from the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

So Kuhn, who has come to the United States several times before, logged onto the Homeland Security website and tried to get the travel authorization.

“I considered the process a mere formality,” he wrote in his own account of what happened.

“When the words ‘Travel Not Authorized’ appeared on my computer screen, I instantly thought [it was] a mistake. Certainly I must have missed a letter or digit in my application form. I checked the records. I hadn’t missed anything. Nonetheless, I applied again. It took only a few hours to receive another rejection.”

Joanne Ferreira, a press officer at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said she couldn’t comment on Kuhn’s specific case, but she said people are rejected for a variety of reasons.

“It could be criminal activity, or an immigration violation, or anything in his past,” she said. She added that people denied travel authorization could then apply for a visa.

Kuhn, who believes he’s landed on the No Fly List, understood he had that option but concluded it was unlikely he would be granted a visa, and if he did get it, he was worried he’d be turned away once he got here.

“Under these circumstances, it became impossible for me to continue planning my tour (which was to start in a month), and I had to cancel.”

Kuhn, who got a PhD in philosophy from the University of Innsbruck, tells me there is a lot of “official hype” about freedom of speech in America, but it’s not a reality here. Nor is the freedom to listen.

“This is what authorities try to undermine by keeping folks with ‘suspicious’ views from visiting the country,” he tells me. “This is nothing new. If we use anarchist history as an example, xenophobia and political oppression have always gone hand in hand. The first strong wave of anarchism in the U.S. between 1870 and 1920 was largely ascribed to immigrant groups (mainly Germans, Italians, and Russians). The ‘anarchist exclusion ban’ was passed by Congress in 1903, and the mass deportation of anarchists without citizenship in 1919 pretty much marked a final blow to the movement.”

Ramsey Kanaan, co-founder and publisher of PM Press, says the rejection of Kuhn’s travel authorization application “seems to represent a turn towards targeting radicals who have hitherto not fit the ‘war on terror’ profile.” He points out that even the Bush Administration, though not without questioning, allowed Kuhn in. “Why is it, under an Obama regime struggling to contain massive economic crisis, that this is no longer the case?”

Several people who set up U.S. venues for Kuhn are furious that he had to cancel.

Lynn Owens is an assistant professor of sociology at Middlebury.

“I was very angry to hear of Gabriel's exclusion from the U.S. and the subsequent canceling of his tour,” Owens tells me. “I had worked with him to arrange for him to give a talk at my school, excited to be able to squeeze a small amount of funds to bring in a speaker to campus who was outside the normal range of who normally comes, to expose the students (as well as, hopefully, members of the broader community) to new and less common political ideas and experiences. I am mad not only because we lost a great speaker; I am mad because we are losing the ability to move and act freely in this world, all under the guise of making us ‘safer.’ As someone who studies the role of travel, movement, and border crossings in the construction of social movements and political activism, I can tell you that programs like the unaccountable ‘No Fly List’ will have a serious effect on the possibilities for political action, both across and within borders. This is simply one more step in trying to not only delegitimate opposition, but also to make it increasingly difficult to build and maintain connections between activists.”

Immanuel Ness is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College, CUNY.

“Gabriel Kuhn is a highly recognized international scholar on anarchism who has a large following among students and faculty, perhaps the reason why the government is preventing his book tour,” Ness says. “The U.S. no-fly ban comes at a time when anarchist and socialist ideas are more compelling among college students than ever. We live in Orwellian times.”

Jesse Cohn, an associate professor of English at Purdue North Central, was setting up Kuhn’s Indiana itinerary. He’s worked with Kuhn on translating some of the writings of anarchist Gustav Landauer.

“The way I first got to know Gabriel,” says Cohn, “was through our collaboration on a translation of Landauer's eloquent denunciation, in the wake of McKinley's assassination, of ‘the notion that one can reach the ideal of non-violence by violent means’: ‘All violence is either despotism or authority.’ Raise your hand if you think this is an idea Americans need to be protected from! My response, apart from continuing to voice my opposition to such idiotic restrictions of the freedom to travel, will be to do what I can to make sure that Gabriel's books are read and shared and discussed, that the ideas travel freely where he cannot.”

Evan Scott, a member of the worker-owned Firestorm Café and Books in Asheville, North Carolina, echoes those sentiments.

“Our staff and community were disappointed and outraged to learn that Kuhn would not be able to travel in the United States, where his work is freely read and appreciated,” Scott says. “A year into the Obama presidency, this was a stark reminder that the federal government continues to exploit the fear of terrorism to restrict domestic political dissent.”

For his part, Kuhn says a lot of European dissidents don’t want to even try to visit the United States because it’s such a hassle.

“Especially since the mandatory fingerprinting and iris scan was introduced a few years back, many refuse to travel on principle,” he says. “There already exists a pretty strong ‘vulgar anti-Americanism’ among many left-leaning or radical folks, intellectuals included. I call it ‘vulgar’ because it’s based on stereotypes about the U.S. being nothing but a mixture of Hollywood, McDonalds, and Christian fundamentalism. Folks like me, who have spent a lot of time in the country and know that this is not true, have been trying long to correct these stereotypes.”

But given his latest experience, and that of others, he says, “It gets harder and harder to change people’s opinions.”

For more on Gabriel Kuhn


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